Let them break stuff

My children are professionals at breaking stuff. They broke our trampoline. And they broke the next one!  They sometimes break plates, frying pans, even gardening tools, which you’d assume where pretty hardy.  While I get frustrated with all this seeming waste, they are also inherently learning now to do stuff.  By washing dishes, and chipping a plate, they are learning how not to break plates.  By using the gardening tools they are learning to garden.  By using the frying pan to make scrambled eggs they are learning how to cook.

Each of these actions represent a further learning:  how to make a contribution to the family.  They are growing confident in their abilities to add value – cleaning, cooking, gardening etc.

If we don’t let them help and make a contribution for fear that they will chip plates, break things and otherwise make our lives more of a hassle, we subtly communicate to our children that we don’t trust them.

If the person they care about most in world doesn’t trust them, they of course won’t trust themselves.


Put down your kids stuff

I recently fetched some friends from the airport, and I saw with dismay two healthy young girls, about 8 years old,  sitting on their carry-on wheelie bags while their exhausted mom trudged along in front pulling them by each case’s rope.

A similar story unfolds at my children’s school – parents carrying their children’s bags into school for them.  Often more than one bag. And walking along in front of the parent struts the child.

This is a physical expression indicative of a wider issue among parents – this tendency to take on stuff that is rightfully the child’s to own and manage.

I’m not only referring to their physical stuff – parents love to take on their children’s psychological and emotional stuff too.  If children are bullies, or mean to other kids, parents jump in a try to solve the problem before their child ever feels the consequences that are rightfully theirs to experience.  Conversely kindness and generosity will be experienced directly by the child too. Nagging them to do homework falls into this category – they should experience the consequence of not doing their homework, of not putting their clothes in the wash, of not taking care of their sports equipment, etc, etc.

Yes, we as parents are there to teach and guide them but there should be a line drawn in the metaphorical sand beyond which whatever life presents them with belongs entirely to the child.

The more we let them practice dealing with the things life throws at them, the more resilient they become, and the more confident in themselves they will be.

Teach your children to stand up for themselves and experience life’s consequences while you are there to buffer and guide (and help them pick up the pieces!)

Live your own life and give them the tools to help them live theirs far beyond when you’re around to mop up for them…

The Fussy Menu

My children think they live in a restaurant.

They seem to think that it’s my duty as their parent to give them an endless variety of custom-made meals, designed to suit each of their individual preferences.  While I acknowledge it’s my duty as a parent to feed my child healthy, tasty food, it’s NOT my duty to provide all the extras and the nice-to-haves, the treats and deliciousness, nor to cater to their food predilections.

Recently my son started loudly complaining about having to eat peanut butter sandwiches for school EVERY DAY.  This was after a week of general complaining about the food I give him.  The solution?  He went straight onto The Fussy Menu.

The Fussy Menu goes like this: if a child starts to get into being fussy about the food he eats, he gets a warning.  Perhaps two.  Then if he’s fussy again then he goes onto the Fussy Menu.

On the Fussy Menu, the child gets 7 days of the same food every day, minus the treats.

He doesn’t get any yummy flavored yoghurt, no cheese, no breakfast cereal.  But he does get plenty of overripe, bruised fruit.   If we go out for a meal, the Fussy Menu child gets the simplest food I can find.  In addition, I don’t hold back for the other kids – they get things we would not routinely have.  Biscuits, rusks, exotic fruit finds their way into the normal menu – the Fussy kid has to just suck it up because he did this to himself.

The bonus which I had not anticipated is that the other two children notice what’s happening, and it eliminates their fussiness too.  They quickly decide they definitely don’t want to be on the Fussy Menu.  This week Son 3 was starting to get fussy, and Son 2 told him ‘D, you’re running towards the razors edge (of the fussy menu), I’m definitely running away from it!  The message had obviously been received by Son 2.

I’ve only ever had to put a child on the Fussy Menu once –  A Simple Solution to an annoyance.

How to keep negotiations to a minimum

Children have an insatiable ability to sap energy in an endless series of pointless discussions, negotiations and decision-making.  After all,what do children have to think about other than getting what they want, when they want it?

For sanity’s sake, I try to keep negotiations with my kids to a minimum.

To achieve this I automate as much decision-making as possible.  Three children means lots of competition for resources, such as time and attention, as well as who sits where, who gets to choose the TV programme, etc, etc.

To manage these decisions we have a ‘Choosing day’.

The child whose Choosing Day it is gets to make all the decisions, have all the rewards and do all the chores.  No negotiating necessary.

For example, the Choosing Day person gets to:

  • sit in the front seat of the car (and the other 2 follow their set places too);
  • choose which TV programme they all watch in the evening and gets to sit on a special chair;
  • sit next to me at meals;
  • make any other unexpected decision that comes up that day…

On the flip side, the Choosing Day person also:

  • feeds the dogs;
  • lays the table;
  • helps prepare meals;
  • whatever is appropriate for their age and ability…

The children love this system, as they  know they get all the ‘good stuff’ (decision making, the best seat, etc…), they do the chores for one day, and have 2 days off.  The adults who help take care of the kids know very easily who they can ask to help and who gets to make the decisions.

The kids can relax, safe in the knowledge that all systems will fall into place, and their turn will come around soon enough.  There’s no feeling of scarcity now.

It’s an especially useful way of handling unexpected highly desirable decisions like who gets to sleep over at Grandad – they take turns in Choosing Day order.

No Discussion Necessary.

And it leaves me free to use my energy for negotiating when it really matters.

Confident, Curious, Compassionate

School’s traditional focus on the 3 R’s (reading, (w)riting and (a)rithamtic) is obsolete – the new focus is on the 3 C’s – Confidence, Curiosity and Compassion.

The age at which children learn to read and write is far less significant than whether they turn out to be confident, curious and compassionate people.  Most children in competent schools will learn to read, write and do maths – that’s a given.

A more significant consideration is ‘What next?’  What do they do with that ability?

Are they confident in their ability to face challenges and solve problems?  Are they curious about the world and want to seek out new knowledge and experiences? Do they see and understand with compassion towards both people and the Earth as a whole?

Many traditional school systems are so focused on reading, writing and doing maths, that they can lose out on more important abilities in children.  It is far easier to teach children spelling than teaching them to trust their natural instincts to question and challenge.  It is far easier to teach adding and subtracting than to teach confidence in themselves to find creative solutions to problems.
And far easier to teach children to lead and take charge than to teach compassion and kindness.

We constantly hear and read articles about the world of work our children will be entering and what they need to be prepared for.  The consensus is that they will require radically different skills than the ones we have traditionally been teaching them.  This new world of work will be dominated by technology and mechanization.

In order to provide value, our children will be required to do things that computers cannot.

They will need the confidence to work cooperatively in teams, across many nationalities and cultures.  To progress through their work lives they will need curiosity about new information, methodologies and combinations.  They will need to a different approach to information.  Not reading it, but filtering the nonsense and turning the rest into knowledge and insight.  They will need to be supreme problem solvers, but to do it with compassion and an appreciation of the wider implications of their solutions.

What are you doing to develop the 3 C’s in your children?