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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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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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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Gettin In (or not): What is College Admission Really all about?

Message to a teenager who was accepted at her second choice school and is anxiously waiting for word from her first choice:

Sorry for your nail-biting time. You are a great girl and will land on your feet like a cat–as you always do. Congratulations on your A’s and B’s this year. Continue reading

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Authority, Discipline, Punishment, and 4 Rules for Getting Good Kids

The Secret of Raising Good Kids (Hint: Don’t Think Bad)

Judy Stone, one of the all-time great teachers, and I were in charge of 48 seventh and eighth graders for their lunch/recess period one day in March several years ago. Judy called us all together and said: “There are three rules: no running, no throwing balls and no jumping off the stage.” (We were in an old, newly acquired parish hall that had not yet been fitted out for children.) For 45 minutes there was no bad behavior, but we spent the rest of our time together adjudicating whether what we had just observed was “running” or a fast walk, “jumping” or a giant step. Was that projectile that went flying past us a “ball” or a wad of duct tape? Continue reading

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How to Learn from Children

Let Go and Listen

Thirty-two years ago, when my son Peter was eight, we were driving south from downtown Kansas City to our home at 3600 Charlotte. At 27th street we saw an enormous wrecking ball smashing into a ten-story building.

“Dad, can we stop?”

“No. We have to get home for dinner,” I said.

“Rats,” he said, and the simplicity of his reply went straight to my heart. The car hadn’t gone a hundred feet before I realized that “no” was the wrong answer. But momentum is a funny thing, and I just kept driving.

During my 44 years as father I have worked with thousands of other people’s children. Almost all the parents were good parents. Many of them are simply marvelous parents, Continue reading

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Can the Good-enough Parent Demand Mastery?

Great vs. Excellent

Last week when I wrote that trying to be a “superior parent” is crazy, I seem to have been like the little boy who said: “The emperor has no clothes.” The idea that if children get only the three things they need (love, respect as a decision maker, and accurate feedback) they will turn out just fine hasn’t been said much. Once said, however, almost everyone nodded, cheered, or breathed a sigh of relief. Striving to be “The Best Parent I Can Be” is driving parents crazy.

What about our children? Should they be striving “to be the best they can be?” Continue reading

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Playing Position around Homework

When two players on the same team both “go for the ball,” one of them is often “out of position.” When a parent says, “We had a little trouble with our homework last night,” someone is out of position. Continue reading

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Stop and Admire Your Work

Teachers and parents work for love. Something deep inside us, a motive we often take for granted, drives us to commit a part of our lives to children. We don’t take a test to determine if we have the requisite set of talents and abilities to do well at this, and we would be the first to tell you that when we started we didn’t have the skill set. We just take on the challenge our genius told us it was ours to take on.

Sheryl, the latest addition to my honor role of educators, told me her story last month. Continue reading

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