I’ve been trying to identify and understand more recently…humans and society as the large scale identity that it is. When considering where are as an individual, we tend to focus within a smaller scope, thinking of ourselves as the product of last generation…and the catalyst that will produce and move forward the next generation. It’s most available to us to recognize the immediate past, present, and future. However, it’s so fascinating to consider yourself as the culmination of all of the history of human beings that came before you. You are the cutting-edge human…the one confronting the world at most immediate and present time. As a parent, you are the embodiment of all of the knowledge and parenting skills from all of the parents leading up to you. You are so very sophisticated and elaborate. You contain a history of multitudes. You’ve arrived in this world, equipped with a certain ability to parent…it’s in your genes. And that confrontation that you have with our current, technologically advanced society…makes available all of the information that you need to develop into the best parent in history! It’s a real special ability. But I like to think of it more as a ‘responsibility’.
The care and support and development that you provide for you immediate child is important. I’ll talk more about that in a bit. But that particular responsibility is just a microcosm of the large-scale duty of our generation to move the world forward in the most productive way possible, in order to be part of that history of human beings becoming more effective and efficient and functional in the world we have today. Can you imagine? It’s your turn to play this ultra-significant part in the development of humankind. What more purpose and meaning do you need?
This stuff motivates the hell out of me. Yes…within parenting…but also in fitness, in writing, in following my passions. Everything that has ever happened…has led up to this current moment with you right now. What are you going to do with that?
The practices and behaviors of current parenting are on one hand, highly sophisticated and just barely out of reach of parents, while on the other hand, very simple and traditional. Let’s talk about the former first. It’s our children (not us as parents) who actually embody the most up-to-date individual that is weathering the conditions of the ever-renewing present moment. Yes…we are part of that too. But we are already becoming dated… ‘out’dated you could say. This is somewhat evident in how children grasp onto technology so effectively, and how we struggle to understand what all the teenagers are doing right now…with Fortnite and Snapchat and all. ‘I don’t get it…so the pictures disappear after someone sees them? What the hell is the point then?’ I heard someone close to me say these words about kids using Snapchat. Creating and using and making a utility out of current trends and technology is our children’s responsibility. They are confronting this present moment my revivifying the ideas and culture and traditions of the past, into a new and useful output in the present. Remember, you did the same thing when you were young. I do my very best to respect and appreciate their contribution. And that’s not easy because I’m not that. It’s not entirely possible for me to get there. It’s easy for us to fall into the structured thinking of ‘kids these days’ or ‘get off my lawn’. That’s not showing empathy. That’s not trying to understand. We can and should try. It’s worth the effort. And it’s especially beneficial if you have your own child.
Recently, I attended a Fall celebration in my daughter’s kindergarten class. After enjoying some snacks together, the teacher had the students use some time for structured play. There were 4 stations, and the students were able to choose which station they wanted to play within. My daughter and 3 other boisterous girls chose the ‘kitchen’ for their station. I sat near them, and they asked what I wanted them to make me. They then pretended to cook and prepare me a meal, all while socializing and laughing…it was genuine play, and it was fun to watch.
All of a sudden, my daughter walked away from the group. And by the way, my daughter is very social…she really enjoys being talkative and engaged with a lot of others. I thought nothing of it though…maybe she was getting a drink or another toy to bring to the kitchen. After a few minutes though, and pretending to enjoy my meal, I turned to face the rest of the room, as I had been facing the kitchen which sat in the corner. I noticed that my daughter was now at the Lego playing station. There was only one other boy playing there. So, I went over to that station and started playing Legos with them. I asked my daughter why she left the kitchen station…just because I was surprised she’d leave the boisterous corner with all of her girlfriends, and go to a quiet station with just one student. She looked me directly in the eyes and told me that she noticed the boy was playing alone, and that this boy doesn’t know how to speak English yet. My eyes immediately welled up with tears. I didn’t get too emotional though, and said, ‘wow, that was very nice of you.’
After speaking with the teacher, I found out that this boy recently arrived here from the Congo in Africa. And…that he only knows a couple of English words now, but the students are proving to be very helpful in his language acquisition.
I don’t bring up this instance to show how empathetic and insightful my daughter was in that moment. Although, I do feel that it was a very special moment in which she demonstrated those traits that seemed to be out of a 5 year old’s grasp. I speak about this because these moments (the behaviors we want our children to perform) happen all the time. Some aren’t to this degree…some are much more enlightened. It could be a child holding a door for someone else. It could be your child recruiting the help of your partner to get you the most special and fitting Christmas gift…because maybe you mentioned something about it back in June…and they held onto that. Regardless of what this desirable and thoughtful behavior is, it warrants a response other than, ‘good job honey’…it warrants deliberate reflection.
I hear many parents, especially of toddler aged children, saying, ‘good job,’ to them probably close to 100 times in an hour. It can be for the simplest and most mundane task. They pick up a toy…’Good job!’ They bit a teething ring…’Good job!’ First, I don’t agree with praise for every single thing a child does. Sometimes the cartwheels my daughter does…absolutely stink! Now, I won’t be insulting or cold-hearted in my reaction, telling her that it wasn’t so good. But it’s not ‘Good job’. Also, it’s very practical for an individual to discover the cause and results of their actions somewhat more organically. We don’t need to say anything for every single behavior. They will efficiently discover results, either by the value (internal or external) that their behavior delivers to themselves…or (and this is a more fitting and increasingly valuable response as they age) by how their behaviors have an effect on others around them…other peers…society…not screened and filtered by Mom or Dad. One thing that makes me cringe is when I ask a child (for instance) ‘how do you like swimming?’ And after a second or two…when the child is almost ready to speak up, when they have gone through the processing and formulation of a response, which takes longer than adults…the mom interrupts the process and tells them, ‘say I like it!’ I get it. It’s hard. But we need to let go.
On the other side of this is when your child does something that (to you) does actually justify reward or positive reinforcement. Since that day that my daughter went over to play Legos with the student that was playing alone…I have sat her down, without any TV or other stimuli going, and discussed with her how proud I am of her for that behavior…what that behavior and understanding can also lead to…why it’s significant in other ways…why she should keep doing it…and how I love her for behaving that way. I’ve done this 2 or 3 times. The first time was all of that reflection. The second and third time was really a short reminder of the experience and how I feel about it. It’s still deliberate reflection though…it’s not just a quick ‘good job’ while she’s watching a JoJo Siwa video. That type of parenting won’t result in behavior that you want.
This deliberate reflection takes about a minute the first time…maybe 15-20 seconds on the subsequent visits. It’s a really effective way of having an authentic discussion with your child about how you want them to behave. They’re yearning for that conversation. And you’ll appreciate the talk too.