Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Some Parenting Q & A

I've answered quite a few questions via Formspring that I haven't mentioned here. And then, for a while, I forgot all about it and didn't answer any questions. Still have a couple left (but I'd love some more!).

Many of the recent(ish) questions I answered have to do with parenting, so here is a Jenn's Parenting Q & A Round Up of sorts.

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On occasion, you've noted that kids "aren't fully rational" (or something like that) until they're much older. While it seems obvious on the surface that this is true, I'm having a hard time figuring out which aspect of rationality they lack. Thoughts?

I've thought a lot about this answer (and some of this was discussed on Twitter, too). Here's a start.

I generally mean two things--that the brains of children are still physically developing (some things I've read suggest certain brain development doesn't finish up until the early 20's), and that they lack skill and experience in using their rational faculties.

There's not much you can do about the gray matter stuff (apart from eating right and avoiding drugs or injuries to the brain). Time will take care the brain development.

And in a sense, there's not *so* much you can do to a child to make him get better at checking premises and drawing conclusions (i.e. critical thinking) *in the moment.*

Parents certainly can influence this development (and I do my best!), but I can't make Ryan be any more rational than he is at this stage of development. Over time, through different experiences, he will learn the value of rationality--he will learn what happens when he makes certain decisions, and he will get better at evaluating premises and decisions.

It's interesting, too, to compare Morgan and my friend's daughter, Livy. Morgan is 5 and Livy is 6.5. Morgan can read very well, and has been able to do so for some time. Livy is beginning to read, but is at a more age-typical reading level. So maybe you can say that Morgan is conceptually advanced for her age (is that what giftedness is?). Livy is advanced in other areas, physically especially.

Yet Livy is ahead of Morgan developmentally, and there is a difference between how Livy makes judgments and how Morgan does. It's not merely that one girl thinks differently from the other--that's certainly true. But Livy is clearly more *mature* than Morgan. I wish I could find a way to be more concrete, but it's very hard.

When I signed M up for homeschool co-op classes, she typically took one class at her academic level (for older children), and a Pre-K class. She has enjoyed classes at both levels, but I think she maybe needed this Pre-K class more than she needed the academic classes. She is the only child who can read *at all* in the Pre-K class, but their activities and the types of things they talk about in that class is also a value to her. I don't think Livy would care a flip about this Pre-K class, for all she loves to color and make arts & crafts. She has matured beyond that level.

I don't know if this answer was at all helpful, but I sure enjoyed thinking about this question! Keep in mind, the sample size of children I'm intimately familiar with is small (n=4) and I'm not a brain expert peopleguy. :o)

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To extend the last q: kids can form concepts, induce generalizations, apply propositions deductively, etc. So what's missing?

Yes, they can do all of those things. It's experience they lack, mature brains, and I also think (forgot to mention this in the previous answer) that they need to *practice* consciously using their minds, focus. Someone who is having a temper tantrum can't focus and be rational. They will learn this skill as they get older (and we certainly do what we can to encourage it--Montessori's 'Don't Interrupt Someone's Work' rule can help a child develop this, I think).

Just like they need to practice everything--reading and laundry, for example--they need to practice using their brains. And sometimes they're in 'irrational' mode.

Kelly makes a point that I quite agree with, too, concerning non-punitive/non-reward-systems parenting. As a parent, I don't really know when the kid's "Hey I'm Rational Now!" light is 'on.' So I behave as if it is on, as my parenting default position, in a discipline or learning situation. If they are being rational, then they will respond much better to a teaching/guiding parent than a punishy-rewardy parent, I think, and without the unintended consequences of keeping the children focused on avoiding punishment or getting more rewards.

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Examples of Ryan's weird and hilarious ideas on politics? (Beyond that he's going to take over the world and force freedom on everybody, of course!)

There are many, for example, the fact that he "really likes Obama" but just "really really wants him to find some better ideas" for things. I still have no clue what that means.

His ideas about religion have been even more entertaining, but you'll have to ask another question to hear about some of those.

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I have heard a lot of people imply that home-schooled kids are more likely to be introverts. Is this true in your experience?

Interesting. I've never heard it expressed in quite that way. I have heard that many people think homeschoolers hide from the world, live hermit-like lives.

I know lots of homeschooled kids of all ages. They are regular kids. Some are introverts; some are extroverts (in fact, the most extremely extroverted kid I personally know is homeschooled). Some are quick to join in and lead games; others take time to warm up and get involved. Some are sensitive; some are not. All types and temperaments are represented.

The homeschooling families I know don't hide from the world--we are all out in it, living and experiencing the world every single day.

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What are some of Ryan's entertaining ideas on religion? :)

Once he told us he believed in gods. "Why?" we said. "Because SOMEONE in this family has to!" in a tone of voice that suggested he was tired of being burdened so.

Once he told us that he thought that god was everywhere, but then really it was a squirrel that lived in the woods behind us.

Once he and the little boy next door were discussing theology. The little boy said "Jesus lives in the sky and watches you." Ryan said: "Really? I only see clouds in the sky."

Often he wonders if there are aliens are other worlds, and how could we know about them, and maybe there are gods that we can't see. "Why wouldn't they tell us about themselves if they were real?" R: "Maybe they're just really shy or want to be spies."

Stuff like that. :o)

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What do you think about washing childrens [sic] mouths out with soap when they say terrible things?

I think it's barbaric.

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What is your favorite part of parenting?

There are so many wonderful things about being a mom. Let me think...besides the fame, fortune, of course ;) ...my overall favorite thing is when I've shared a true moment of connection with my kids.

Connection comes in many forms--snuggling with a baby or comforting a hurt/sad child with a hug. It's laughing hysterically together over a shared joke. It's getting excited together about an idea, when the child really understands a particularly abstract idea like freedom or math or a historical event or how to create something. Connection moments happen on adventures or at home, during conflicts and quiet times. They happen frequently every day, sometimes in surprising ways.

The way I parent is heavily focused on creating opportunities for connections because I think that if I behave poorly then I'm damaging chances for connections, weakening that common foundation for the future. Experiencing these connections is by far the most rewarding aspect of parenting and I am always mindful of doing my part to create opportunities for future special moments.

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How did you choose your kids' names? What other names did you consider?

Each kid has a different story for his/her name, but there were a couple of general criteria that remained the same for all.

1. They needed to match well with Casey--so preference was given to Irish/Celtic/Welsh/Gaelic names in general. No Gunther Casey (German though I am) was allowed.

2. And no rhyming--I couldn't even seriously consider "Stacy Casey" for example. To a lesser extent, Brendan was down on alliteration, so "Connor Casey" which we considered for both boys, came off the list for that reason.

3. And this one's just me--the names had to mean something neat-o. Jennifer means "white wave; white phantom; white ghost" and is Welsh (aka "Guinevere") in origin. My middle name is Ellen, which is a form of Helen, which is Greek and means "bright" or "beautiful." Brendan means "prince" and Patrick means "noble." Casey means "vigilant."

So we have Ryan (Irish, "Little King") Alexander (Greek, "defender of man"). "Little King" matches Brendan's "Prince." Get it? Alexander and Ellen are Greek in origin. (Who knew he'd be so interested in Alexander the Great?) Also, a "defender of man" should be "noble," another tie-in with Brendan's names.

Morgan (Welsh, "dweller by the sea" and alternatively, "bright") Fiona (Gaelic "pale") matches my names--Jennifer is Welsh and matches Fiona in meaning (white/pale) and Morgan can mean "bright" which is the same as Ellen.

Sean (Irish form of John, "gift of God") Riordan (Irish, "small poet king") matches Brendan again (king/prince) and even though we're atheists, he is a special value to us, no denying that. The fact that Riordan is pronounced the same way as the name of an Ayn Rand character (Hank Rearden) is a happy coincidence that makes the name a little more meaningful to me. But I chose it based on its meaning and the matchiness to Brendan.

Morgan was very nearly Erin. Ryan came close to being Brian (but I nixed that on account of there are already so many Brians in the fam, so Ryan was a rhyming compromise). Sean was going to be Sean--I campaigned hard for Riordan, but Brendan held firm. Sean's middle name was nearly Loughlin, which is Brendan's grandmother's maiden name, and she died a couple of months before Sean was born. If it had meant something interesting (can't remember what it means, something about a lake I think), I might have chosen that. But the king/prince link with Riordan was too strong.

I included a list of the baby names we considered in each kid's baby book.

I'd love to hear about how others have chosen names! Oh, and another thing, I pretty much got to choose the middle names. What happened was we had several options, and then I'd be all just-had-a-c-section and Brendan would say "Okay, whatever you choose, dear!" 'Cause he's a noble prince kind of a guy. :o)

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