Tuesday, June 08, 2010

More Parenting Q & A

It's been about a month since I've posted new answers to my Formspring questions (thanks btw!). They've revamped their site and it's really improved. For the longest time I couldn't even get to the site easily.

Here are a few of the more interesting questions and answers over the last month, mostly about parenting. And if you want to ask me something else, please do! Help me avoid laundry and housework, I'm begging you!

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How do you define success as a parent? How is similar to or different from recognizing success or failure in any other pursuit or career?

An interesting thing to consider. How will I know if I've been successful as a parent?

I can say I was a successful parent today because I handled all of our problems according to my principles--kindly, firmly, no losing my temper, helping the kids do their own problem-solving and learn about each other's perspectives. Today I was a successful parent not because they learned something specific or because I did my part perfectly, but because I did my part well and in a principled way.

After they're grown, though, will be a different test of my (our) success as a parent. If they choose to pursue their values according to the virtues I advocate, and if we have a healthy relationship based on mutual respect and truly enjoy each other's company, then I'd consider that an OUTSTANDING success. And my parenting principles are aligned well with those goals.

But the kids each have free will and will make choices, and I might disagree with some of those choices. I have to accept that as their mother, there's only so much I can do, that you can lead a child to reason but you can't make him think. If for whatever reason, a child of mine refuses to think for him/herself and chooses a different path for his/her life, then it will break my heart. But I don't think that *necessarily* will mean I have failed as a parent.

Parenting is a process, not an outcome. I think parenting done according to rational principles is a definition and execution of the process, but since the outcome is also dependent on the child's choices, I think it's a mistake to focus solely on how they turn out as adults.

The only person I'm in complete control of in this relationship is ME. And as long as I'm able to parent according to my principles and live according to the virtues, and make up for the times when I make mistakes at this, then I will have done my part and will consider myself successful in both the short- and long-term.

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There has been a lot of talk about 'giftedness' lately. It seems that most children have the potential to be outstanding in some area; do you think 'gifted' kids are just good at things that would be noticed in a school setting? Is there more to it

This subject is interesting to me as a former gifted kid. If my kids were in school I'd probably be working to make sure they got extra enrichment (gifted or not).

My best friend from middle school has a PhD in Education and her specialty is gifted education. I asked her about the definition of giftedness and this is her reply:

"No one in the field can agree on a common definition. The I.Q. definition of gifted is a person who scores 130 or above on an I.Q Test(Stanford Binet, Wisc, OLSAT, COGAT, NNAT). This is two standard deviations above the norm. However, gifted programs like the one in BISD take kids at a lower I.Q. around 125 and above to make sure they don't miss anyone and include high achievers. Other psychologists define gifted as doing better than the average kid in the four core areas, leadership, creativity or performing/visual arts. Every school district has a different defintion. The bottom line is it is kids that are well above average and because of this need more than what is provided in regular school."

So I think what she says supports the idea that giftedness is often defined in terms of academics. However, I think there can be non-academic areas, too (beware--this is just my unprofessional opinion coming up).

My daughter would certainly be considered gifted, and she is academically. In the academic skills that she has acquired at her age, she is very much like me.

Ryan's academic skills are not as outstandingly far ahead as Morgan's, with the possible exception of history. However, he is clearly an amazingly bright imaginative child who can make abstractions and connections in creative ways, often beyond his years. Not sure he'd make it into the gifted program in a school setting though.

Part of the reason this interests me is that I am really curious to find a definition of intelligence that I understand. Giftedness is high intelligence, I think. Is giftedness the same as talented? Should the idea of giftedness be applied only in academic ways, or should it be broadened to include athletic superstars and musical types? Maybe it already is defined that way and I just don't know about it.

I do think some kids are clearly a couple of standard devs from the mean (in both directions) and I can see that these kids need different kinds of assistance. I certainly did, and for the most part, got what I needed. I do think that homeschooling my kids will help them that little bit extra, since our "school" is quite small and very individually focused. One thing I hope for them is that they will truly be able to proceed at their own pace--that's my main complaint from my own education--being in a traditional school (private and public) slowed me down and I truly wish I could've escaped high school earlier.

So, not much of an answer, because I have so many questions about this subject myself. It's so interesting to think about, as I look back on my education and think about the things we're doing in our homeschool.

Oh, my PhD friend suggested the Hoagie's Gifted website. It's been a while since I've checked it myself and I should really go over there. Might be some fun stuff.

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How do you discuss concepts like "god" or "universe" with your children? Generally, they will look out for answers regarding existence! But how do you tell them that existence exists and other things?

We tend to address these questions as they come up. My kids are especially talkative and full of questions that surprise me.

They've asked us about what goes on inside churches and how did humans get here and whether or not there are aliens in the universe. Our strategy has always been to answer as honestly as we can in a way they can understand. Unless my husband jokes with them about it--once he told them that church is a place where people go to judge each other's outfits (or something like that)! He answered seriously after that, though.

Our other tactic is to always always refer them to reality, and explain our own thinking process as well as we can, so they can follow our chain of logic (if possible).

It's easier to explain our (non) beliefs about gods and space than it is to explain why other people might believe in a god or think the Earth is younger than the fossil record demonstrates (that hasn't specifically come up yet, but we'll probably have to address that soon, going by the line of questioning lately). That others believe in gods, that family and friends believe in a god is much more difficult for them to grasp.

And the social conventions, too! It's sometimes not polite, really, to talk about how you don't think there is a god or that god might be a squirrel in the back woods (for example) with random people at the grocery store, or the probably very religious people at homeschool soccer. Explaining WHY it's not polite, and why it's okay to say your thoughts on the matter sometimes but not at other times, and what those situations might be can be hard to 'splain. :o) Ryan, the oldest, is better at understanding the changes in social context now that he's matured a bit. Not that I mind getting strange looks from people (TOTALLY used to THAT by now), but the purpose of soccer is to play soccer, and it's not the best time for a big old theological discussion.

Thanks for your question!

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How did you know that Brendan was the guy for you?

Well, he's good-looking, funny, and was the singer in a band! What's not to love? :o)

But really, after we had lots of debates about ideas, we found ourselves in general agreement...then he read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead...and that sealed the deal. :o)

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What do you think the purpose of pretend-play (pretence) is in childhood? Beyond just "having fun", why specifically do you think children enjoy engaging in projects of fantasy removed from the world-as-it-is?

I saw a couple of others answered this question, too. I haven't read them yet, but I think it'll be interesting to compare our answers.

There's a couple of ways I look at how my children play. Sometimes it's for fun and entertainment--just like how I play (and other adults, too). Sometimes what looks like "play" to me is more comparable to an adult's "productive work." And sometimes I think it can be limit-testing and learning about reality.

For the regular-old-play kind of play--it's just like how adults play, and for similar reasons. They want to relax and do something fun, like watch a movie or go for a walk or read a book or play a game like chess. There are of course zillions of options to choose for fun and entertainment and relaxation, and all of us human beings seem to desire that from time to time. Kids are no exception to this.

But I think you're asking about the other two types of play (correct me if I'm wrong). I believe that kids are generally hell-bent on learning how to be adults and grow up already (although not necessarily consciously). So they spend lots of time practicing to be adults and learning how to do adult things. They imitate us, try things out for themselves. Kids seem to want to DO when they're trying to learn something. We adults often will read a book about something we're learning, make a few notes, integrate the ideas, then move on. For kids (my kids anyway), learning to do something new is a full-contact sport. Furniture must be moved (and/or protected). Bodies must be moved. Armies must be arranged Just So and battles must commence all over the living room. When I'm figuring out something strategic, I'll make a few notes maybe. Ryan will organize a game with friends and line up armies and work out the problem on a grander scale.

And they're not content to just do something once. They repeat things they are learning, over and over. Sometimes it looks like meaningless play, boring and unnecessarily repetitive to us adults, but then again, sweeping the floor has lost much of its shine since we've done it so often. For kids, they love to experience the process of learning something new--and they love to experience it over and over and over. You know how a first kiss is awesome, but you can never get that experience in quite the same way ever again (with the same person I mean)? I think maybe kids can. That's how it seems to me--sweeping the floor is endlessly fascinating and the wonderful thrill of learning and doing something new lasts and lasts!

They imitate us, too, and when Sean scribbles on a piece of paper and declares it an airplane, part of me melts with the cuteness, of course. Awww....he was "playing" and "drew" me an "airplane!" The wee dear. But really, from his perspective, what he was doing was Work. He sees me and the other kids writing and he wants to do it too. It's why I can't get mad when he flushes the toilet 15 times in a row. It might look like he's "playing" with the toilet, but really, he's learning what it's like to do something that he sees everyone else in the house do on a regular basis.

The last kind of play, fantasy play, is interesting to me because it's seems like part-entertainment and part-trying-out-something-new. And it's also limit-testing, I think. Kids test their parents' limits (and how!) but they are also learning about Mr. Reality. Can horses fly? Do people really live inside the television? Is magic real? How can I know what it might feel like to be a fireman? Using their imaginations and testing the boundaries of reality can be fun, interesting, and a way in which to explore ideas they are interested in.

Humans have imagination, the ability to think up things and situations that aren't directly experienced in reality. Kids develop this ability pretty quickly, but since they're still learning about reality, it seems like it's hard for them to distinguish the boundary between reality and fantasy at first, like for many years maybe. But lots of practice living in fantasyland and realityland and moving between the two will help them recognize where the boundary is, I think. And learning to imagine yourself in different situations is a first step toward the skills of sympathy, empathy and maybe even introspection.

We've used fantasy and imagination in many useful (and fun) ways. When Ryan was worried about what might happen in a peanut reaction, we role-played what would happen. He was a fireman or doctor, and I was the patient who'd eaten a peanut. When kids are in that period where the boundary between reality and fantasy is really fuzzy (IME between 2.5 & 5-ish), we've used some fantasy/imagination-based strategies to help them overcome fears. Ryan was afraid of pirates--we gave him "pirate spray" (spray bottle of water) to spray all over his room. We told him it was water, and we said "Let's use our imaginations to pretend this is powerful pirate spray and that any pirate who smells it will run away screaming because he'll think it's really stinky." (Or something like that.) When one of them says or does something that hurts another's feelings, we say "How do you think you might feel if someone had done that to you?" Again, imagination, if you know how to use it, can help in so many ways.

Hmmm...so long. I hope I answered your question in there somewhere. And as usual, I'll issue my standard disclaimer: Dammit Jim, I'm a Mommy not a child psychologist! :) But I have read a bit about this stuff in various child development books which I can find if you want. Oh, and my personal experience involves a small sample size, n=4. So, you know, whoever reads this, do your own due diligence and all that. :o)

1 comment:

C. August said...

I use the same strategy when my kids ask about god or some other oddity. I try to help them understand the facts of reality in the context of their own knowledge, and also admit when I don't know something. As you said, it's easier to explain why I don't believe in god, as well as point to the facts of reality that lead me to that conclusion, than it is to help the kids understand why some people would have such a strong belief in the irrational.

For instance, we were watching a show called "Mystery Hunters" which is kind of like a kid's version of MythBusters. Each show, the two teenage hosts examine two different mysteries or myths, either recent or historical.

This weekend, one of the segments was about Tollund Man, a mummified corpse from Denmark dating from the 4th century B.C. The host was speculating about what happened by examining evidence like the remains of the last meal the man had eaten, as well as what is known of the culture at that time.

Eventually, she settled on the widely held theory that he was a victim of human sacrifice, and discussed why that might have happened. Showing a historical reenactment of downtrodden people around a campfire, they showed them essentially drawing staws (or in this case, picking the one burned piece of bread from a pot).

My daughter asked, "why would they do that?"

"Well, because of the god or gods they believed in, they thought that when things were really bad, the only way to make their crops live, or to find food, was to sacrifice a person to the gods. They thought it would make their lives better for some reason."

She said, in one of my favorite statements in a long time: "But it wouldn't make HIS life better!"

That's my girl!

ps: last night after we read books at bedtime, we had a discussion about Egyptian mummies and how and why they removed their brains through their noses. She's 6!