A Teacher's Advice to Parents in One Short List
According to studies and parents themselves, parenting can make you tired, overwhelmed and anxious. And no wonder. The parent zone includes marinara drizzled onto your new beige carpet, more hours in the car than in your bed and entire mountain ranges of laundry. Plus you are responsible for the health and well being of someone who means more to you than joy itself. My sense is that researchers who study parenting are finding nothing new; exhaustion, occasional (or perpetual) feelings of being overwhelmed and chronic anxiety have plagued parents since basically forever.
But a certain type of anxiety is new. This type of anxiety drives you nuts by asking: am-I-good-enough ? I blame this new, contagious form of anxiety on school. Testing, rigid standards and more testing have ushered in an era of pervasive judgment that has become the new normal. A typical mom worries about whether she is doing a good job and about whether her child is doing a good job. Will a 70 percent grade on a second grade math test lead to a lifetime of poverty? Should I nag my seven year old to study or have I already nagged too much? Kids are on edge too, anxious about whether every single little thing they do is praise worthy.
During the past 22 years while education bureaucrats with misguided theories blew billowing clouds of anxiety across the land, I taught in a small, independent school outside of this worry cloud. The school is not one of those fancy private schools with high tuition. It is free from high stakes testing and rigid external standards. Student feedback is not given via grades and training students to work for rewards is avoided. Instead the focus is on engagement in a wide range of activities which include, in addition to the usual academic subjects, knitting, playing musical instruments and gardening. Teaching is done through the telling of amazing stories including those from history that capture the students' imaginations. Anxiety is replaced with a sense of wonder and a feeling of gratitude. All of this enlivens the teachers and brings happiness to the children. A similar approach can work for you as a parent as you explore the idea that the core of good parenting (like good teaching) is the fun stuff. To learn more: waldorfschoolofcapecod.org.
1. Share activities and hobbies that you and your child enjoy doing together.
Consider walking in the woods, baking, model rocket building, gardening, knitting, biking, stamp collecting, playing board games, sewing, camping, crafting or simply throwing a ball back and forth in the yard. Don’t make it a chore. Pick pastimes that you love. The ideal constellation of activities will include those you and your child both relish, that involve planning, cooperation, conversation, coordinated action and full engagement. When children work, play, cook and eat alongside parents, they learn that adults are on their side. They discover that participation for its own sake is joyous. If you can keep competition and worry about achievement out of it, they become self-motivated. They learn to listen, to take turns, to focus on doing the right thing at the right time. As a teacher I have learned that engagement is 90 percent of success in school and in life. When you enjoy judgment-free activities with your child, you teach engagement.
2. Share stories
You already know that reading a bedtime story is a sacred ritual, but do you know it is just as important to tell stories, both those you invent and true stories from your own life? Young children are thrilled by an ongoing story about a talking pirate cat, a time traveling mouse or a telepathic elephant that you create especially for them. But, the easiest stories to tell are those from your own life. Once you start telling these true stories, your kids will ask for them again and again. Tell about that time you were the child who created the marinara art on the new carpet, the tale of how you met your spouse, a narrative about how you overcame a fear or dealt with failure. Your child will come to know you deeply through these stories and you will enjoy the telling. Keep reading too. Find books you enjoy sharing with your child and don't get stuck in picture books. Start reading easy chapter books to your child by kindergarten so that she learns to develop pictures in her own mind. This ability to create these inner images is vital for every academic subject and for a future in so many occupations including inventor, artist, engineer, writer or parent.
3. Share the best of yourself by taking time to nurture yourself.
Start by replacing anxiety with the power of gratitude. The following exercise in thankfulness is, surprisingly, the epitome of self care. Simply find five minutes a day to reflect on your gratitude for your child or another loved one. Bring an image of that person (or pet) into your mind and feel grateful. Stick with that feeling. You will be surprised by the inner peace that floods your being. This works best in a hot bath or by the fire with a glass of wine. Studies (which, to be completely honest, did not include the bath, the fire or the wine) show that this daily practice will improve your immune system, create a more coherent nervous system and increase your happiness.
more about gratitude here:
Kim Allsup is a teacher who shepherded four groups of students for multiple years. Her first group is now in their early 30s. She writes about their grade one through six journey in her memoir A Gift of Wonder (to be published next year.) She teaches at The Waldorf School of Cape Cod and blogs at Growing Children (childrengrowing.com) (https://www.facebook.com/growingchildren/)