While children love to be free to do whatever that want, they are wired to value and rely on scheduling. Why? Because, simply, they have short attention spans. In general, children need to feel like they are free to make their own decisions within reasonable boundaries. There’s an innate part of them that knows they need to learn and on their own time will do so. As a parent, our job is to facilitate this process so that they can do it properly as adults
and embarrass us. Here are a few ways that I balance this with my eight-year-old nephew/son and three-year-old daughter.
Selecting Activities and Committing
My nephew watches all things karate on TV. He loves Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and swears this new version is better than the old one *rolls eyes*. He’d be kicking and pretending to do what he sees his favorite heroes do. So my mother signed him up for karate class. However, after about three months into taking lessons he was over it. No, he’s not quitting. He’s been told “Money has been spent on this and this is something you wanted to do; so you’re going to do it.” He has quickly gotten over that and as the test for him attaining his yellow belt has come closer he is excited to have accomplished something.
My nephew made a choice. He wanted to do something. When he realized that it was more learning and hard work vs being fun he got bored. He wants to be a ninja tomorrow. Makes sense because he’s a kid. However, sticking with this activity and seeing results made him want to continue. Last month at school a kid grabbed him and he was able to defend himself. I think that made him feel like he was Raphael.
Teaching Yet Making Time For Creativity
I have all but made up in my mind that my three-year-old daughter is going to be a soccer prodigy. She has been able to dribble a ball since she was eighteen months and she has already started being trained by coaches. I paid attention to how her coaches would teach the children fun ways to learn proper footwork technique in a way that’s palatable for them. So I copy it and do it at home with Cydney. Every five minutes it’s onto doing something else all while making the lesson fun.
I do the same with my nephew playing basketball. I want him to practice dribbling with his left hand and letting the ball roll off of his finger for a proper shooting technique. I’m hard on him about it saying “You want to learn how to do things right because it will be harder to correct later.” That’s an important life lesson. When it’s all said and done, we play horse where he gets to compete with me by attempting crazy shots.
Letting Children Learn Things in Their Own Time
Teaching my daughter how to use the potty has been quite the struggle. No, really; we’ve been at this for almost two years. Any technique you can think of we have tried it. Letting her wear underwear thinking she wouldn’t like the feeling of being soaked? That doesn’t stop her stride at all.
One day she was asked “Cydney, how come you don’t use the potty?” She replied “Because I don’t think about it!” Keeping in mind what I have learned about Freud’s stages of psychosexual development, I have let her figure it out on her own all while making going to the bathroom part of her routine. She has been getting better at it and is at the point where she will let me know in public when she has to go. It’s a process, but in her own time she’s getting there.
Keeping an Eye From Afar
People can judge the dad way of watching kids all they want; but it works. We just “listen for silence.” Part of the reason is because we’re busy watching a game or something children eyes shouldn’t see. However, there’s a method to the madness. This fulfills the children’s need to play how they want to play. They know the rules and more often than not they won’t fight or put themselves in harms way.
I let my kids do their thing when I am writing. They know that every few minutes I am coming in to check on them. When they really get bored, they will come to me asking what are we going to do and asking for me to play with them.
Fighting Their Own Battles
Fighting one’s battles can come in many forms. Everything from trying to open up a jar I probably closed too tight, figuring things out for homework, or trying to get past that really hard stage in a video game and be adverse. I almost never step in. If my nephew comes to me with something he can’t open up I will just look at him until he really gives it his all. When he asks for definitions for spelling words I tell him to “Look it up.” Quick side bar: the digital age has made kids lazy! If my nephew needs the definition of a word he doesn’t have to skim through a dictionary. He can just halfway type the word into his phone and it’ll give him the correct spelling and meaning.
Anywho, the purpose of this is to emphasize doing things on his own all while watching him. When he is successful he gets the praise that encourages him to continue to keep going. After giving a valiant effort he knows I will step in and it will make him feel good knowing that we accomplished something.
Being Cognizant of How To Give Criticism
This is a fine line. Normally I go with the sandwich technique. I will be playing basketball with my nephew and see him make a shot from far away. He will look at me in full celebration mode saying “Did you see that?!” I’ll first respond acknowledging his achievement. Second I will say to him that he needs to stop leaning forward with his shot and show him how to shoot correctly. Then I will give him another “That was a really good shot, though.” It gives him what he wants and in a subtle way lets him know how to improve.
Knowing that You Aren’t Perfect
While I want to be a superhero to my nephew and my daughter, I am not afraid to let them see me fail. We all look up to our parents as demigods who can do no wrong. Once they find out that we are in fact flawed individuals the world comes crashing down around us. We’ve done this with our parents as well. Seeing me not succeed yet giving my all makes it okay if they do not; as long as they try.
My nephew and daughter are young, however I do think that this train of thought will make it easier to talk about any and everything when they are much older.