Most of us are walking blindly into repeating all the mistakes of parenting that our parents made on us.
Baby not taking the nipple?
Baby got a cough?
Baby’s poop’s green?
As a new parent, what’s the first thing you do when you have new baby issues?
You ask you self what would Mum and Dad do?
The second thing?
You call Mum and Dad.
Maybe you search it up online and then ask Mum and Dad what they think about the online suggestions.
The second we become parents we revert completely to programming. Mum and Dad are our golden example of parenthood; they got us here, we’re good, so they know.
Our programming comes from;
- What Mum and Dad (and maybe siblings, friends etc.) tell us about parenting.
- What Mum and Dad did when we were young.
- A few specific incidents from our youth that we really want to replicate or avoid.
In other, words, in this most complex and important of roles, we passively obey unquestioned programming. It’s comforting, like it carved on the rock of ages, you’re not responsible.
We feel like parenting is too important for us to even consider using our own minds to make decisions.
But, what if your parents weren’t that good at parenting?
What if their parents weren’t that good?
What if when you follow the line of common wisdom back you get lost in the nightmare of history?
But careful, you’re starting to think for yourself, and now your kid’s at school and you’ve got 30 pairs of parents all reading from the rock of ages, pushing common wisdom on you that persuades you not to trust your own mind.
The worst crime of parenting — according to ‘the rock’ — is to force your ideas on your children, to live you dreams through them, to create weird kids who get bullied?
But actually, the rock is the problem, the Chinese whispers.
We do need to use our own minds, we can create whatever we choose, and its our responsibility to do it.
So are you taking conscious responsibility for your child’s future?
Ask yourself these three questions;
1. Are you building their self talk?
I speak to my son (7 years old) as if he were an adult. There’s no subject I wont talk to him about.
A lot of parents try to shield their kids from the harder aspects of life — death being a big one — but actually kids are fascinated by this, and they begin to develop an idea of it as soon as they’re born.
Chinese thinkers suggest that children have a much more intuitive grasp of death having so recently arrived out of non-being.
It’s your job as a parents to help and guide them form there ideas.
One great book that helped my son arrive at consciousness as My Hidden Chimp by Professor Steven Peters which is great for letting kids understand that emotions can be managed and that they have a higher, conscious brain which they can use to control their feelings and their lives.
We do Christmas and Easter but without the b.s. — these are holidays people celebrate and we’ll all have a fun day with presents and amazing food — we’ll talk about Father Christmas too and we even put snow prints on the floor and leave out mince pies and all that — but when he tells me that Father Christmas can’t possibly be real, I explain that it’s a sort of magic we people can come up with and deploy at will.
Let him know he’s a very smart kid.
That in the future he’ll run a company or a country or lead research into something important. Work, from day one, on building that natural confidence in his own intellect and capacities.
You are creating the self talk that will live with your child for years, decades, maybe forever, it needs to be confident and limitless.
Let’s say you’re at the supermarket checkout and you’ve had a tough day and you running late. Maybe you had an argument with your parents, or some bills came in which you don’t see how you’ll get paid, or you just lost grip of your time management.
Your child sees a pack of sweets at the counter.
‘Can I have these please Daddy?’
He thinks: I’m given no reasons, so I’ll ask again
‘Can I have these please Daddy?’
‘No. they’re too expensive.’
He thinks: Sweets are cheap, we must be poor. Money is difficult. We dont have much.
‘Are we poor Daddy?’
‘No, we’re not. Stop asking stupid questions’
He think’s ‘I asked a stupid question, maybe I am stupid, but I don’t know why.’
‘Can I have these sweets please Daddy.’
‘No, look you’ve been winging all afternoon, you don’t deserve the sweets’
He think’s ‘I don’t deserve the sweets.’
You weren’t thinking about him or the sweets the whole time but you might have managed to convince him that he’s poor, stupid and unworthy.
Get him the sweets unless you have a good reason not to.
You’re kid is really smart and very philosophical and very impressionable and he worships what you say.
2. Are you building their skills?
Almost every day since he was about 3 or 4 I’ve worked with him on English, Math, Piano, sometimes science, philosophy.
He’s well into the routine now and he enjoys it because he does so well at it and he knows what its for.
He’s taking Grade 4 piano in a few weeks and rather than us working on the Year 2 SATS tests (for 7 year olds) he’ll be doing this year (which he can already get 95% in every time) we’re working on the SATS tests that Year 6 kids take when they’re 11.
This does make some of the work challenging for him. But challenging is involving and it means we can work through stuff together and he gets to learn more (which he loves).
He also gets to be a brilliant 7 year old who can do stuff most 11 years cant do.
As a teacher, I have to admit that a lot of the process of schools is holidng kids back from learning.
He cruises through the Year 6 SATS once we’ve had some practice runs.
I just got a school report back for him and he got 100% in Maths, Reading and English in the Year 2 SATS, so clearly pushing him onto harder stuff doesn’t mean he does less well at his schoolwork.
Often my friends and family have suggested that I started him too young and academic things and work him too hard — that’s the social wisdom of my circle.
I’m very glad I chose to ignore it. You should too.
Books is the number one recommendation and I still think back to when he was two and we started reading every night — we read The Very Hungry Caterpillar over and over until he could read it himself — that’s where it started, then after that a slightly more challenging book and onwards from there, pushing at his level of understanding, trying to celebrate what he can do and always nudge him on, slightly.
That nudge zone can be uncomfortable.
Sometimes he doesn’t want to learn new passage on the piano or a new formula in maths. Sometimes he cries and we learn it anyway, sometimes its best to let it go for that day.
Try to push them on, but listen and love.
But I’d suggest two big caveats:
Do go against school
Yes, you want your child to be exceptional and that means resisting common prejudices and pressures but DO NOT think you can train your kid better than school can.
School is an essential part in that training and if you want him to be confident he has to be acing school, academically, socially.
My focus is on Maths and English for that reason. These are the core academic skills and will set him up for success throughout school. The feeling that he is really a smart kid and going somewhere will need to be reinforced by his teachers and classmates, on the evidence of his schoolwork and effort.
Aim at a diversity of skills
My Dad raised my brother to be a concert pianist. By the time he was 18 he was an excellent player but he wasn’t that good and he wasn’t really into the idea of being a professional musician.
He’s a music teacher now but says he’d much rather be a carpenter.
The problem with my Dad’s education style was that he put all his eggs in one basket and he neglected the self talk, world awareness part.
So let your child be skillful in a range of things and that way he’ll be able to choose what he wants to do when he is more fully conscious of the world and himself.
3. Are you making him free?
I’m probably giving the impression that I’m a overbearing slave driver — which I can be sometimes I guess. My wife and son call me a ‘rooster’ on account of my always going around the house crowing motivation at everyone.
But — and this is me following my wife more than my own ideas (my programming being pretty useless in terms of the conscious crafting of people) — the flip side of our approach is a lack of rules which don’t make sense to us:
· I’m not too bothered about my son’s table manners — I want him to enjoy his food, fork or no fork. (My Dad and brother go mad about this!)
· He can go to bed when he wants — usually it’s the same time as us — 10.30ish
· He doesn’t do chores because we’re better at that and that’s his down time.
· I don’t expect him to please my family or my friends — he’s not my doll.
· I’m not worried if he doesn’t want to socialize with other kids that much
· He can watch what he wants, play what he wants, on the TV and internet (with some observation and time limits).
· Often, we let him choose what he wants to do for fun, where he wants to go for holidays or days out, what he wants for dinner (some pretty strange locations we end up at and bizarre food combinations!)
He gets confident through this.
If we don’t really see the logic and importance of a social rule, we drop it.
The life of a child is stuffed with ‘rules and regulations’ that make no sense and have no real value to them. These rules disengage their minds, because their unreasonable. School is largely the process of holding back education and parenting, if we’re honest, is largely the process of holding back growth.
Kids know this.
Hence the teenage years.
Keeping up with the Jones’ is the danger here (especially if your surname is Jones).
So when I go to see my parents and my son is eating with his hands, not chasing around with the other kids, not telling cute stories of what he did at school, or offering cards saying ‘I love my Grandma!’ — but is instead sitting in the dog basket reciting a book he’s memorized about the Romans or the Cretaceous period — my family assume I’m a terrible parent and they need to intervene, to ‘socialize him.’
He doesn’t compare himself to others. He is a little strange, sure, unique and singular.
He’s got lots of great habits (which I help him with) but he doesn’t really follow rules.
Now he’s outperforming the other kids by miles and my family are starting to reluctantly change their views.
You have to be singular if you want to be successful.
You have to be free.
Otherwise you’ll just follow the crowd to the suburbs and the melodrama.
How do you know if you’re doing it right?
It’s not just that he’s always happy, that he’s smashing exams and tests that make people say ‘Wow! He’s 7?’ and that he’s getting on really well at school.
Every few days he does something that shows that the three aims — self talk, skills, freedom — are coming on together.
He independently chooses to do something and explains why he wants to do it that way and then sits down and uses his skills to make something awesome.
He writes his own songs on piano ‘because I really need a more jazzy piece to play.’
He writes stories and comics that go on for pages ‘because the story about the Elephant being scared of the mouse is dumb and it should go like this.’
He researches all the different extinct animals so he can find a way to save them ‘because the earth is angry with us humans.’
This is what I want to give him. Conviction, courage and skills.
I imagine him sometimes as a 30-something, graduate from Oxbridge, CEO of some worthy company, handsome, healthy, happy guy telling his kids that his Mum and Dad got a few things right.
This post was previously published on A Parent Is Born.
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