Remember when you were a kid and you did something “just for the fun of it?” When you were not looking for a specific end result such as an excellent grade, a trophy, or an accomplishment that you could declare on your college application?
October’s talk explored the notion that children need more of this kind of “just for the fun of it” activity. Today, our kids face competitive academics, over-scheduling, and the pressures of social media. Kids need time to just ‘be.’ Parents who try to control too much of their kids’ lives may contribute to their heightened stress and anxiety. Instead, parents can better help their children by encouraging more downtime, meditation, and sleep. This is what I learned last month.
PDW took a field trip in October to attend Severna Park High School’s Author Talk with the writers of the “The Self-Driven Child.” Dr. William Stixrud and teen coach Ned Johnson believe that parents need to encourage a healthy sense of autonomy in their children. Parents should think of themselves more as “consultants” and less as “project managers.” Showing children that we trust them to make their own decisions and take responsibility for their actions helps them to grow strong and confident, and to learn who they really are. It helps them to build their resilience as they work through challenges for themselves. We all want our children to have a healthy brain so that they can enjoy adulthood. Stixrud and Johnson are here to help us work towards that goal.
There are multiple paths to success. Stixrud and Johnson put it plainly that not every child should be on the same path to adulthood. What “success” means to one child could - and should - look quite different to his friends. The invaluable part of growing into adulthood is having that chance to thrive; a chance to see that success can be defined in many different ways. When a child feels loved, trusted, and supported he will find the courage to make his own decisions and forge his own way.
This duo has an approachable, easy-going manner of explaining their research. They believe in parenting with kindness and compassion. They spoke of the importance of thinking beyond your current situation in order to plan for the future. They have a fine sense of humor, which comes in handy when parenting. Their advice is backed by their extensive research and experience counseling thousands of teens and children. They shared their personal stories of trying to practice what they preach, like the time the pre-teen son of Mr. Johnson failed to complete a school assignment. When asked why he had not completed the assignment, he replied, “Because Mom forgot to remind me!” Mr. Johnson and his wife later spoke alone together about how their son should not rely on reminders from his mom and better yet, that she should cut back on the constant reminders and hand-holding.
We all found ourselves smiling and nodding our heads in agreement throughout the discussion. Many attendees stayed after the talk to continue the conversation with these two engaging researchers. They were open to staying as long as needed, to talk one-on-one, answer individual parenting questions, and to offer more specific advice.
My firstborn will probably be going away to college next fall. I plan to continue to make an effort to follow Stixrud and Johnson’s guidelines in order to let her feel confident enough to let go when that time comes. While our children living under our roof my husband and I need to allow for small failures so that they are able to learn for themselves and grow. Often this is easier said than done, so this reminder is always welcome.
My husband’s cousin Chad tells the story of trying to travel to Kansas City from a college trip abroad in time to meet up with the whole extended family for a special reunion and portrait session. I find this to be a great example of resilience; a young man who weathered the storms and figured out things for himself. This was decades ago, when the now forty-something Chad was a young adult. He had called his grandmother to explain that he faced multiple travel delays and inconveniences in Europe. He was not certain that he would return in time for the big family portrait appointment. All his grandmother said to Chad was, “I know you can do it. We’ll see you there.” There was no offer to help, to come to his rescue, or tell him it would be acceptable if he missed the family portrait. Chad then worked out a plan to fly back into the country, first landing in New York, catching a train to St. Louis, then finding a bus to take him to Kansas City. This ultimately involved a straight two days of travel. He did not rely on the help of his parents or grandparents. He made multiple phone calls, arranged rides from other travelers, re-arranged ticketing, and finally got himself to Kansas City. He knew this was important to his grandparents and he knew that he was the only one who would be able to work through the challenges. Apparently, Grandma also knew that she could count on him to help himself. There were no questions like “Do you think you can possibly handle all of this?” It was simply, “We’ll see you there.”
And they did!
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