I have three kids. Raising them is quite a challenge. They are very good students and excellent with a great personality, each one unique in his own way. Not of them is a genius. Being in the business of educating people, I want to share some insights from parenthood.
For this post I was inspired by what I read here,here, here,here and here.
The best advice to a new parent
When I was about to become a father (10 years ago), I was panicking. How could I raise kids in the optimal way to be happy and successful? What should I do and in which order? A friend and a colleague of mine, who had become father aa year before me calmed me down. “Do not worry. Whatever you do your kid will blame you for ruining his life. So relax, and enjoy the time you two spend together”.
Believe it or not, this advice calmed me down. Whenever my kids call me the best parent in the whole world or blame me for ruining their life, or when my wife tells me I could do more – I remind myself that whatever I can do, it will never be enough.
What is the cost of success?
My parents raised me in a very competitive way. Each time I lost in something I felt that I am worthless, each time I won I felt important. The connection between how we feel about ourselves and what we achieve is not a healthy one. We need to take risks, and occasionally we will lose. Our self-esteem should not drive us to excessive risks and should not be shattered every time we fail.
Unconditional love is a tricky concept. It’s not like we should allow the other person do whatever he wants. Setting boundaries is important. It is more about associating the reward with who the person really is and not with a specific event of success or failure. I do not want my kids to be professional athletes, push through stress and injuries – if they are healthy and enjoy physical activity, I am happy.
In the same way, I do not drive my kids to academic successes. I do try to feed and nurture their curiosity, we ask complex questions and look for tricky answers. I want them to be able to research and work because they want to and not because they get grades or get paid. I do hope that (eventually) they will become scientists and entrepreneurs, and I want them to be intrinsically motivated.
I try to be honest with my kids. When our beloved cat died, I did not hide that from them. Instead, I explained the cycle of life, and they expected it. There are several common mistakes regarding honesty which probably should be avoided:
- Hiding bad things. Some things are good and some are bad. Whenever bad things happen the child will feel it. If the child is not exposed to the truth, this will add a mystical layer to the bad things and cause anxiety.
- Treating a child like a grown up. The child’s brain is not fully developed. Whatever information we are sharing, it needs to be adapted to the child’s developmental stage.
- Inadequate response. The brain needs constant feedback in order to develop. If our responses are inadequate, the child may get confused. If the child fails and we tell him he is great, this will generate narcissism. If the child gets obnoxious and tests the boundaries we should not calmly tolerate such behavior. If the child does something great, do praise the child.
- Forcing to accept toxic people. Some people are toxic. If these people are kids of our friends or our cousins, we should not force our kids to love them. We can teach our kids to accept these people for who they are, be polite and helpful, but we do not need to make them love anyone.
- Never lie or accept lies. It is OK not to answer a question, or exaggerate creatively the actual events. Manipulative behavior or open lies should not be accepted. When I catch my kids telling lies, I explain them about the personal sacrifices other people made because of these lies and how it made them feel.
Instead of trying to influence my kids directly, I try to have open discussions with them. Speech is a powerful tool. People, especially kids, tend to copy words and thinking patterns of others. When we discuss things, my kids instinctively mirror my thinking patterns. They also mirror the thinking patterns of other people around them. My kids spend a lot of time with my parents, and I often find myself engage in the same discussions I had with my parents.
We have many gadgets. My kids are very sensitive to things we use: gadgets, brands, movies, hobbies. We spend time researching and comparing the “things” on the internet. Consumerism is a form or religion practiced in 21st century, and I encourage my kids to be both adopting and critical towards things. Things are just things, and no matter what things you have they will not make you socially invulnerable or happy. Shared experiences are more rare and cherished than things, I do believe my kids value things less than experiences.
I think my kids are exposed to many more languages than I was. Hebrew is their mother tongue, but they get a lot of Russian and English. Through they are exposed to more exotic languages, such as Portuguese and Japanese. Occasionally I supplement the linguistic exposure with relevant cultural exposure through stories and videos. Cultural curiosity and sensitivity is very important for us.
My kids are still small and usually research on YouTube. We have many books at home, and the kids occasionally read stories for fun. When we want information instead of fun, we go to the internet.
Recently I found out that my kids prefer to watch educational TV instead of other kid shows. They find it more intellectually stimulating, we also can discuss the things they see together and further research them on the internet. I do not force them to watch educational shows, they are drawn to them intuitively since the are curious by nature.
For young kids, hands-on activities are more important than reading. They love chemical experiments, construction toys and tinkering. The situation should change when the kids get a bit older and more capable of abstract thinking. This is one of the reasons we recommend to teach speedreading only at the age of 13. My 10-years old understands the concept of preread-read-analyze but still lacks the discipline to use it each time.
Through their activities, the kids are exposed to many sorts of complex ideas and I make sure they here some relevant words and terminology. I do not believe in learning words out of context. The spelling bee is somewhat overrated in the age when there is a speller in every device we use.
Handling fears and defiance
It is OK to disagree. The parential response should be adapted for the child’s age. The basic narrative is similar. Each time we disagree I ask the kids about their goals and discuss pros and cons of alternative solutions. The analysis is typically some sort of role play. Typically the kids adapt the solutions that are more useful and socially acceptable. This specific response activates creativity and teaches the child there are many solutions to a problem.
[Not always I have time and attention span to implement this method, and every time I do something else I regret it.]
Visualizing possible scenarios and how to act in each case is a great tool to deal with potential issues before they rise. We daydream about various events and discuss possible outcomes. In the right situation, the children react accordingly to what we discussed. Some of the scenarios deal with personal safety.
As a parent, it is important to stay calm and in control. No matter how much visualization and preparation we did, if we do not react properly on the emotional level, our stress will be contagious.
I will write down some of the insights in a list:
- No matter what you do it is never enough
- Success has a cost. Are you willing to pay?
- Honesty counts
- Value shared experiences over things you own
- Curiosity and motivation are more important than specific knowledge
- Hands-on activities and daydreaming take priority over formal learning