Welcome to the final installment of the Around The World in Six Weeks Parenting Carnival! We’ve loved reading and sharing Christine Gross-Loh’s book Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us with you.
We’re excited to begin our next selection, Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture by Hilary Levey Friedman. The book analyzes our competitive culture of afterschool activities for even young children, from dance to soccer and chess. Please check out our Facebook page for our new Brilliant Book Club: Illuminating Reads For Parents. If you like to talk about books and hear what other parents are reading, this may be the community for you!
Please read the other posts in this week’s carnival:
Lauren from Omnimom: “My Biggest Parenting Critic Right Now? My Eight Year Old“
I have a teacher confession: As a fifth and sixth grade teacher, I would often do my students’ “classroom jobs” for them.
If you are the parent of an elementary or middle school student, you may have heard of job boards. On a bulletin board, all sorts of jobs are listed — from Class Librarian (in charge of putting back classroom library books) to Paper Passer (in charge of passing back papers). There are enough jobs for each kid, and students rotate through them.
In theory, I supported the idea of these jobs: they would help teach kids about responsibility, build a sense of community in the classroom. However, I was also a bit of a control freak about my classroom, and ten year olds are not known for completing all tasks completely and neatly. So I would just do it myself. If the classroom library got into disarray — if the titles were no longer sorted by genre and then in alphabetical order the way that I wanted — I would fix it. Most of the time when I wanted papers to be put back into folders properly, I would do it myself. I would even stack the chairs myself because I wanted it done a certain way.
I started noticing that other teachers did not do what I was doing: micromanaging the classroom. My teaching partner, a man in his fifties, left his students in charge of all the errands and tasks in his classroom. The class made a big deal of learning all the jobs in the beginning of the year. Later in the year, sometimes his classroom library was a mess. Or the juice wouldn’t be returned to the kitchen after snack. But he didn’t their chores for them. Instead, he tried to give consequences for neglecting responsibilities.
So the next year I gave up a little control. And the kids started to take their jobs seriously. (Maybe a little too seriously… There began to be arguments about whose turn it was to do more favored jobs and who was better at their jobs.)
Despite the good intentions of many teachers, Christine Gross-Loh’s section in her book on building character in kids makes it clear that parents throughout every culture have the primary responsibility for teaching responsibility to their children. And I must say that, as a teacher, I noticed — just as Gross-Loh did — that many American parents sometimes don’t do the best job.
There was the parent who would call and demand a conference about my new seating chart that placed her daughter next to a child with mild autism, and she wanted her daughter moved because her daughter found his rocking to be upsetting. There was the parent who actually drew and gave me her own diagrams of where she wanted her child placed in homeroom, as well as in every class during the day, from art to computer class. There was the parent who hid in the bushes (taking notes) during recess because she wanted to keep track of who her son played with at recess. There was the parent that I found afterschool going through my classroom waste basket because she was looking for notes that another student may have written about her son so that she could call and confront the other parent. Nearly every day there were parents who called to give me reasons why their child couldn’t complete their homework and shouldn’t be penalized (up too late at a sports game, visiting relatives, extra homework in another class).
But it’s also not always their fault either. Schools and other parents make it difficult to allow kids to have the sorts of responsibilities that children do in other cultures. At my school in Cambridge, in a lovely, safe and low traffic neighborhood, even kids in fifth grade had to be walked home by an adult, even if they lived on the same street. The first time I was told this, during my first days of teaching there, I laughed. Could that possibly be right? Ten or eleven year olds can’t ride home on their bikes when they live a few minutes away? Quite a difference from my own childhood when, even as a first grader, I walked home about a half mile by myself, and no one thought it was remotely strange.
Now, as a parent, I find myself in the same bind that I did as a beginning teacher. I know that even my two year old can start helping out a little bit, carrying his own little backpack or putting away a few of his toys. But it’s just so much easier to do it yourself. So I feed him his dinner instead of letting him feed himself. I carry him too often because it takes too long for him to walk down the street himself, as he stops at every pinecone and every bush and tree. I brush his teeth, instead of letting him do it, because it’s faster and easier.
What does Christine Gross-Loh suggest for American parents? How can we get out of this national situation of raising helpless kids?
1. Do not make chores optional. You are not doing your kids any favors by keeping them from work. Children are naturally and universally eager to help out when they are very young. But this changes as they get older. As Gross-Loh says,
“But when we ignore our children’s eagerness to participate when they are younger, they internalize the idea that contributing is unimportant and that they are helpless. They also begin to expect that things will be done for them.”
2. Give your child clear expectations about how they can help out the family. Teach your kids clearly that they will be expected to take care of their own things. Kids will need a lot of reminders, patience, and guidance when they are little.
3. Be age-appropriate in your expectations, and allow older kids to take care of younger ones. Other cultures understand that shared care-giving is an important way of teaching self-reliance and nurturing. In other cultures, from Europe to Central America, they expect more from their children physically, Gross-Loh points out, but do not overestimate what they are capable of intellectually. (Apparently — gulp! — in other cultures, kids don’t experience the dreaded “Terrible Twos,” which we know all too well in my household.) They are treated with kindness and patience, with the understanding that they will understand rules and mature as they get older.
4. Let your kid get around by herself as much as possible. Not only is fresh air, activity, and exercise good for children, but children learn confidence when they are allowed to go from place to place on their own. Honestly, some of the most magical moments of my elementary school years were those 15 to 20 minutes when I walked with my little brother. We could choose to cut through the woods, running home through the trees. We could choose to take the road. We could chase each other and play tag all the way home. Most of the walk home was up a steep mountain, and we could run up the mountain without even needing to catch our breaths.
In most countries, children walking home from school is a normal sight to see on a weekday afternoon. In Japan, for example, very young children are taught in school about how to be safe during their walks to school. In all cultures, it is expected that kids need practice and guidance to help them be more independent.
What are ways that you teach your children to be responsible, helpful, and independent? How does your children’s sense of responsibility or level of helplessness compare to your own childhood experiences?