Friday, February 25, 2011

A book recomendation

I just finished reading Raising Children Who Think for Themselves by Elisa Medhus, M.D., and it was incredibly thought provoking. I didn't always agree with her approaches or suggestions, but the main theme of the book - that children should be learning (through discipline, their environment, our role modeling and other means) to evaluate and assess their own behaviors, internally, based on their own expectations of themselves (that we've been teaching them) rather than external (either parental or societal) expectations of them.

In other words, kids who think for themselves. She raised a lot of interesting points, and provided a lot of practical examples of how to "guide, then step aside." I was really impressed with her knowledge of kids motivations for certain behaviors - and how to best guide them into turning their attentions in more positive directions.

I was, of course, horrified to see myself (or family members) in some of the more negative portrayals, because I know that the reasons we've done certain things have always been with the best of intentions, but the (often negative) outcomes are so easy to see when they're on paper like that. I recognized myself most when she talked about how often we step in to spare our kids (or, in my case, the nephews and niece in my life) from suffering & therefore eliminate their chances of learning from mistakes or problem solving their way out of them. I've noticed lately that I've become a 'warner' (my term, not the author's): I'm constantly saying "Maybe it's better if you tried it this way," or "do you really think it's a great idea to balance all of those dolls in one trip, why not make two?" Why not just shut your whore mouth (sorry: If you're not a Prankster, that probably seemed like it came out of nowhere, but I've been reading Aunt Becky a lot lately, and couldn't help myself) and just let the kid figure it out on their own? What's the worst that could happen? She drops the dolls and has to make clean up the mess? The horror! So I definitely recognized that I have a real need to step aside and just let them learn on their own - The worst part of this whole thing being, obviously, that I am a teacher, and know this already, so how did I get to this point of having to open my mouth all the time, but if I'm going to teach them to be willing to recognize when they've made mistakes, I have to step up and recognize my own as well. That's a problem area for Auntie NTE, and will be addressed posthaste.

So much of the strategies that Medhus proposes in her book are not new to me, but the practical parenting examples she incorporates into the text really made me think about how I am applying my training (and where I am failing to apply it), and how often, in the heat of any given situation, discipline doesn't stay true to it's logical guidance roots and instead turns into a form of punishment or control. It's easy to forget, when a four year old is throwing a tantrum in the store, that their problems are their problems, and I don't need to make them mine.

I will give myself a lot of credit for being the "this is unacceptable behavior" line draw-er in our house, but it's kind of hard to hold the line when there isn't a lot of follow through on the part of other people. After all, I am not these kids parents: They have awesome parents who love and care for them. But when the rules are so much different at Grammy's house then they are at home, it's hard to keep the behaviors that I consider unacceptable (whining and nagging, bickering and meanness) from bleeding over: Kids are going to get away with what they can get away with, and trust me, the kids in my life are no exception. So we have a little issue with consistency, and I know that doesn't help them to internalize things, but I'm really going to work on it for my part (and see if I can't convince my brother that he'd like to read this book as well).

Aside from "guide, then step aside", some of the other concepts that the author did a great job of explaining include the need for using guiding questions to help kids arrive at the right answers; the benefit of empathy in creating kids who aren't just focused on their own needs, but on the lives of those around them; the idea of respecting failure as a key step towards growth and that personal excellence is greater than perfection; the need for all consequences to arise as naturally as possible from a given behavior (and to be logical); and the vital role that adults play in modeling appropriate behavior.

It was all reasonable, common sense stuff, and it was presented in such a way as to not be overwhelming or tell you what a horrible job you were doing raising your kids: in fact, it was an optimistic and enthusiastic book whose title really reflected its overall goal - you can make changes in your behavior to help your kids make lasting changes in theirs. You can have kids who aren't motivated by whether or not they're going to be punished for doing something wrong, but rather on if something feels wrong to them and how important it is for them to follow that instinct. There are so many strategies for helping children gain confidence in their own decision making skills, in their ability to recover from mistakes, in their intuitions, and in their ability to do what's right when they recognize it.

I thought it was a worthwhile read, for parents and teachers (and aunties ;) ) because it helps you clarify what your intentions are as you raise your kids, or as you contribute to the raising of children: I know I want the kids in my life to be able to make their own choices and find their own ways in life, to be able to recognize happiness in whatever form it takes for them, and to have the courage to reach for it (regardless of if society says it is something they should strive for or not). I want them to be able to think for, and act, and believe in themselves, and I'm glad that I've got some more strategies to try in order to help them achieve that.

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