The Invincible Thirty-Something and the Three Joys of Parenting a Difficult Child

“You were a difficult child,” my mother said to me in one of the last few conversations we had before she died.

“I know,” I replied, and we held hands. Continue reading

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Failure to Launch? Stop Parenting and Be a Parent

With a simple click, Amy French – at home, work, or on her cell phone – can find out how her 13-year-old son, Bryan Kimball, did on an exam or if he turned in his homework.

French is on PowerSchool, a “Web-based student information system” used by the North Stonington School District. She scans through Bryan’s different courses, checking his grades or emailing a teacher. It’s 24/7 access to all information concerning her eighth-grade son.                    Sasha Goldstein in theday.com

Increasing communication between home and school is a good thing, of course. Kids need to know that parents and teachers are in communication and working together, and I am all for technologies that serve that end. Improvements beyond the standard technologies of email, phoning, notes in backpacks, newsletters and chatting in the parking lot? Sure, let’s see how they work—watching out, of course, for the unintended negative consequences.

And there will be negative consequences.

Parental fear about children’s success can be self-fulfilling, Continue reading

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Be a Parent: Five Mantras. Your Only Hope for a Long and Happy Relationship with your Child

A father sent me this email the other day:

Want to be a great parent? Remember these five mantras:

1. Stop Parenting.
Stop using parenting as a verb, as in “How should I be parenting my child?” Those parenting books on your bedside table—put them on a shelf and replace them with a novel.
2. Be a parent.
3. Have a relationship.

The relationship that began at birth—let it build and grow as you interact and learn from each other.
4. Be your dynamic self.
Learn. Listen to your own genius, let it guide you in helping your child learn the requirements of her environment, and let yourself be changed.
5. Have fun.
Notice, delight, respond, conflict, challenge, inquire, define, love, and watch how the child’s unique character reveals itself to you. Notice how that character is driven by some ineffable inner voice, her own unique genius.

Even as she grows increasingly independent of you, she will always be interdependent with you. Allow yourself to be interdependent with her (as in “Hmmmm.”)

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How Do You Get Your Child to Love Learning?

Well, it’s a trick question. Your child automatically does love learning. The question really is, “How do we get him to love to learn what we want him to learn?” It should be the job school to get kids to love school work, but what if they are not doing their job?

When a child is not motivated by school work, getting that to change is tricky business—it’s not hard; it’s just tricky. Here is one success story with a few moments of parental brilliance that might inspire others to be creative about how to get our children to love doing school work on their own (based on a year’s worth of email reporting on Daniel’s progress through fifth grade.)

Email from Daniel’s Father on September 28

Daniel makes no bones about not liking school and only being interested in video games (specifically “Zelda” games–Daniel is in love with Zelda). Continue reading

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Blessings on the First Day of School

On the first day of school, Peter had had a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast. His teeth were brushed, his lunch and snack were in his backpack, and his favorite shirt was on his back. As his father scurried around the kitchen, he talked to Peter saying things like, “Have you got your lunch? Have you got your backpack?”

Peter was in the lead as they stepped out the door and down the steps to the car. Five feet from the car his father yelled: “Peter! You don’t have any shoes on!”

Looking down at his stocking feet, Peter saw that it was true and said, “Okay. But you don’t have to get mad at me.” Continue reading

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Vulnerability on the First Day of School: Weakness, Worry, Worthiness, and Seven Ways to Ensure Success

On the first day of school Leila’s mother said: “Leila was looking forward to school all summer. Then two nights ago she started getting anxious.”

I know Leila struggles with “giftedness.” Nonetheless, I asked, “What was she anxious about?”

“Will my friends be in my classroom this year?”

All children are completely different, each with their own peculiar set of strengths, weaknesses and things to worry about. However, the number one reason children go to school is to be with other children, and regardless of whether they charge into school on the first day all smiles or cling to their parents’ legs, they are all the same in one major respect: their bottom-line aim is to avoid embarrassment.

And embarrassment is a possibility for each one of them. “Will I say something stupid in opening circle?” “Will I measure up?” “Will anyone like me?” “Am I worthy?”

We humans are social animals. We all want to be worthy and are aware that our weaknesses put us at risk. We are anxious that our vulnerabilities will trip us up. So in most social environments we lead with our strengths, trying to hide our weaknesses. We can expend a great deal of psychic energy trying to hide those weaknesses.

And yet, school is usually designed to make hiding hard. Continue reading

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This March on Washington, Where’s the Dream?

At the end of this month there will be a  “Save our Schools March” on Washington. Unlike the 1963 March on Washington, there is no clear, shared vision of what it would look like if the desired changes happened. What would it look like if teachers and parents “took back the schools?”

Last month I published “Nine Lies about Academic Achievement that Parents and Teachers often Seem to Believe—but Don’t Really” in which I suggest that parents and other educators actually do know what we want. We want schools to graduate young people for the world as it is rather than for the industrial age.

The good news is, we know what those graduates should look like. Educators from Tony Wagner at Harvard to Linda Darling-Hammond at Stanford have identified the kinds of skills the world will require of our graduates: focusing, making connections, changing perspective, creating, making judgments, finding meaning, working with others, managing conflict, planning, taking on challenges, persevering, etc.

Citizens with these skills, however, will not come from whomever wins the big debates over testing, teachers, unions, accountability, privatization, vouchers, charter schools, and so on.

The great news is that the changes we want have already occurred in some schools for some students. Hundreds of schools across the country, both public and private, rich and poor, are learning communities whose cultures are focused on bringing out the best in each person, building their character and their competence, and growing their authority. They have abandoned the Pyramid Model. For these schools and the people in them the game of school is not the “Get the Right Answers Game” but the “Work with Others to Investigate Interesting Questions Game.” These schools are graduating young people for the future—any future.

I have met many of these young people. They are everything we say we want: confident, creative collaborators who can communicate, they can speak and write, and solve problems on their own and also know when to involve others, and they are not into measuring up but rather into making a difference. They are trying to find their own unique place in a very wide world, and seem quite ready for the dynamic never-ending process of self-reinvention.

Moreover, they aren’t all under 30. Apparently this change has been going on for at least a generation. A parent at one school was going on about how wonderful her daughter’s school was. He said: “I visited 15 different schools. I could tell in five minutes that I wanted this school.”

So, I asked, “Terrific, but what’s so great?” Continue reading

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Nine Lies about Academic Achievement that Parents and Teachers often Seem to Believe—but Don’t Really.

Nine Lies about Academic Achievement that Parents and Teachers often Seem to Believe—but Don’t Really.

Why do Americans want one set of things for our children and then behave as if we want another? Parents and teachers I talk to want their children to be self-confident learners who are good at working with others, and they want school to help with this.

Of course we want our children to read, write and learn the language of mathematics, but we want much more, too. We want them to learn the requirements of our family and our society and to become active participants—leaders, actually—in an increasingly democratic world. We want them to grow up with self-discipline, respect for others, critical thinking, self-confidence, resilience, a love of learning, and the internal motivation to make something of themselves. We want them to be people who take responsibility and make a positive difference to others, their community, and the world, …and the world needs people who think creatively—now more than ever.

When it comes to school, however, we often behave as if all we care about is test scores and what colleges our children attend. In urban systems our expectations drop even lower to things like “Our goal is for all students to be at or above grade level.” We are even blind to the obvious fact that such a goal is impossible and self-defeating.

Why? Fear.

When we are confident and courageous, we act as if authenticity matters. We trust the part of us that knows that success and happiness depend on pursuing your own calling and finding your own niche in society. We realize that great colleges are looking for leaders, people who think creatively and make a difference. We, therefore, act as if we believe in the genius of each individual child and encourage them not to lose sight of their own personal mission as they find their fit in society. We create environments at home and at school that value inquiry and are open to the wisdom of silly questions. Achievement is put in its proper place as a subset of learning. We have a sense of humor.

In an atmosphere of fear, however, our minds are taken over as if by an evil empire dominated by a social pyramid where life is a race to the top. In this model it is quite reasonable to be afraid that some children will be left behind. In fact in this model the vast majority of children will be left behind, and only a few will make it to the top—it’s a pyramid, right?

We seem to believe the many myths of this model–lies like: Continue reading

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How Parents and Teachers Can Get Bad Results with “High Expectations” for Children?

What Does it Mean to have High Expectations for Children?

All the research shows (what our intuition knows) that children rise to our expectations of them. The work of Carol Dweck reinforces this wisdom. Continue reading

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Parents, Teachers, Do You Trust Your Children? What Does it Mean to Trust a Child?

“I Want to be Trusted.”

When Katie was growing up, every once in a while she would blurt out an emphatic, “I want to be trusted.” She would always say it with an intensity that was a little startling, as if she were mad at not feeling trusted, or profoundly afraid that she would not be, or terrified, herself, that she was not trustworthy. Perhaps it was an emotional outburst in anticipation of a scary decision she was about to make. Continue reading

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