After reading my Being Mindful Of Your Nice To Nag Ratio post, I heard from K.J. Dell’Antonia at The New York Times Well Family Blog. She wondered, “What do you do when you have to correct a child because it is necessary, as in the case of a special needs or speech issues?” This is a great question! It’s very easy to get into a negative pattern of correcting or nagging too much to the point where our children feel counterwill towards us.
Dell’Antonia went on to post this super article: Are We Helping Our Kids Or Nagging Them? In it, she shares her personal experience where she ends up feelings as though she is sending her, “…unlucky child off to school with the extra burden of never getting anything right.”
I believe this is an important question to ask: Where is the balance between coaching and nagging?
It would be nice to draw a definitive line we could generalize to all children on this issue. Unfortunately this isn’t possible as our kids have vastly different tolerance levels for how much correction they can take and different levels of ability.
What I can generalize are four suggestions to saying your redirection in a way that won’t inadvertently plant the seeds of negative core beliefs in the child’s mind.
The more friendly and gentle your reminder can be delivered, the better. Constantly repeating yourself can be quite frustrating! If we start to use a sharp tone, our child might start to tune us out or feel badly. Think of the word: “NEUTRAL” before you start talking.
Show your child that the reasons for the instructions are not because of a lack of capability or a personality flaw, but more as instruction to grow.
Be very careful to keep personalized words like “you” or “why can’t you” out of your redirection. In the case of the mom whose child is pulling his hair so hard, he is creating bald spots, rather than saying, “Why can’t you stop pulling your hair?!” use language that focuses on what needs to be done. Saying, “Hands down,” with a smile, or simply, “Hands,” will remind this child to stop pulling. Also, “When your hands are off your hair, then it can grow back.” This is an example of the When/ Then parenting technique.
If the child continues to do something like this and is old enough to have a conversation about it, the parent could try, “I see that remembering to not pull your hair is hard. Let’s think of what we can do to remind you to stop.”
In the case of speech correction, perhaps explain to your child that you are helping her mouth to grow so she doesn’t feel like she can’t get anything right. That means saying something like, “I know that saying ‘s’ is hard. I’m going to remind you how to say that letter so your mouth can grow better.” This way the child will view the redirection as a learning point rather than because there is something faulty with her.
Children who are constantly corrected might start to believe they can’t get it right because there is something inherently wrong with them. Use your words to convey this isn’t the case.
Children need two kinds of breaks when they need regular instructions to learn or be safe: a break from hearing you give redirection—to have their parent be “fun mom” or “fun dad,” and a break from you altogether.
Remove your coach or teacher hat and interact with your child in a playful manner. Behaviour often heads south when a child reaches his or her correction tipping point so when you see this coming; think of ways to play your way through it. Let your child lead the activity to give her the feeling of having some power.
A child uses play to resolve conflict, work out things that are bothering her and get all the ya-yas out so provide your child with opportunities to play without you around. Exercise and being outdoors will make that play time that much more valuable.
One of my parenting mantras is, “Connect first. Instruct second.” If you are constantly instructing, then your child’s connection tank needs to be all the way full. Consider how you can interact with your child so your child believes she is connected, loved, important, heard and capable.
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In the process of considering what is the best way for my own children to learn, I’ve spent time discovering more about what hurts and helps children when they are at school. We are in the midst of exciting times in education where hundred-year-old methods are now being examined with a critical eye. It’s also a time when the level of stress in kids is higher than before. Perhaps the combination of these two things will finally bring about real change in education as a whole.
Children these days seem to have to juggle many things, which are increasingly taking focus away from the business of being kids: playing, resting, being curious, and building relationships.
I was at a learning conference for the Acton Academy schools recently, where a couple of the owners and I chatted about how many students in traditional schools are so preoccupied by people management, big feelings, and stress that they are unable to fully attend to their learning focus. In addition to this, they can’t be who they really are because they have to spend so much energy handling everything thrown at them each day.
Children have more homework (even though research still fails to prove any benefit to this practice), competitive activities, scheduled playtime, and screens than ever before. They are also experiencing the pressure of not being able to learn at the pace they need.
Learning content based on a calendar and schedule dictated by a group of adults can be quite stressful for those who don’t learn at that pace. I imagine that there aren’t too many children who learn at the exact rate for which the material has been prescribed.
Too often young people are being moved through a system of education that zaps their creativity, motivation, and natural love of learning.
I’m hearing that teachers, often overwhelmed with the challenges of pushing or pulling kids through this content given their vast differences, are sometimes using threats, removal of much needed recess time, and giving extra homework to try to get them through the material. I don’t believe that kids understand the content any better when they’re being dragged through it.
Even though I was a teacher in the public system for ten years, I pulled my children out of traditional school and started homeschooling them. I knew homeschooling wasn’t the answer for us so I used a year of trying it to consider what our options were moving forward. I really wanted them to be able to focus on learning and not the out-lying dynamics that focused their attention on keeping themselves together.
My question was this: what school environment would let my kids be who they are, learn at their own pace, stimulate critical thinking, be a positive environment, and help them discover their natural gifts?
I was looking for a system that was focused on the process of learning – not the content of it. We can look almost everything up so we don’t need to learn how to “know” anymore. What’s more important for my children is that they learn how to learn and how to just be.
When we started to look for an alternative form of education, I really wasn’t surprised to discover that homeschooling is on the rise. Also, that concepts like “micro-schools” using “disruptive education” are taking off at a rapid rate.
Within these models, the students have a great deal of influence in the programs! This is called: student-centered learning or learner-driven education.
I was particularly excited to discover the Acton Academy program, which we ended up choosing as the system for the school we started. While at a recent SXSW Edu chat in Austin, TX, I had the opportunity to hear the founder of Acton along with five veteran owners discuss their program.
They spoke about the joy their students experience in being on a “hero’s journey,” with the happiness, failure, peaks, and valleys associated with this kind of path. It was amazing to think that children and teens would have the opportunity to look at life this way.
They also spoke about how much the students thrive when they have a big say in their education. An owner from Chicago talked about the “freedom shock” the kids have when they go to an Acton Academy because it is a student-centered environment. He said there’s a period of time where they keep looking at the adults for direction until they realize they can make decisions for themselves, get up when they need to, and take responsibility for their learning. He said the parents experience similar shock when they don’t have homework or projects to push their kids through. I know that the parents of the kids in our school are sow thrilled they don’t have to deal with homework and “busy work” anymore.
The adults are there as “guides” more than “teachers.” An owner from Guatemala City remarked that their community feels like a family and they enjoy spending their energy on supporting each of the kids and talking about all kinds of important real-world concepts. For example, he shared that he views success as, “The ability to live in the present, fulfilled.”
Jeff Sandefer, the co-founder of Acton Academy (and the Acton MBA program) stated that they have 2,500 applications for new schools waiting to be reviewed: 100 are coming in per week! I’m not surprised given what we’ve experienced with the success of our program in the first year of running one in London, ON, Canada.
It’s heart-warming to know that it is possible for young people to learn with less stress and more excitement. I have heard that some parent councils and school administrators are considering how alternative styles of education might be used to some degree in the public system.
Viewing education with the goal of supporting children will help each of our kids keep their love of learning and gain skills beyond academics like empathy, compassion, and reasoning.
It’s exciting that parents now have more choices to help find a program that is a good fit for their child’s personality and to avoid situations where the child’s focus is continually taken away from learning.
I felt a little guilty yesterday as I rolled through the airport with one small carry-on bag and my purse – and nothing else. I remembered days as a mom of two young kids carrying a stroller and three bags (two crisscrossed over my chest and a backpack overtop that), sweating my way in and out of a bathroom and over to the departure gate - never mind getting myself and the kids through the flight intact!
I cringed, thinking about how physically demanding those years were and how I almost wanted to punch people who said, “How was your vacation?” It suddenly dawned on me: after years of feeling more exhausted than I thought was possible, I actually felt RESTED.
That realization brought tears to my eyes! “They” were right – those people who promised me it would get better – it actually does!
As I sat in the airplane casually eating my snack while watching an entire movie without being interrupted, I thought of all the things I thought I’d never experience again. I was wrong because now that my children are 9 and 7-years-old, I feel like I have me and my life back (for the most part). Parents of toddlers, know that I’m thinking of you, and please believe me that you will feel human again.
One of the things I did, as soon as it was possible, was to set a limit that I won’t get up from my meal unless someone is bleeding or on fire. They laugh at me when I say this, but now they realize that my eating time is part of my “me” time and battles, needs or missing objects can wait.
YES! This ACTUALLY happens. I suppose I should add “most of the time” to the sentence above, but I didn’t want to burst your happy bubble. As the kids get older, there might still be sleepless nights due to illness or picturing Voldemort in the closet, but sleeping more does happen. And, wow, you will feel differently.
I have actually gone to work with my pajamas on. When I posted that on my Facebook page I heard from dozens of parents of all the nutty ways they walked out of the house. I have to say my favourite was: those of you who wore yoga pants inside out with the white tag waving boldly in the wind like a tail behind you.
I still haven’t ventured into wearing anything white but I wear “nice” clothes and keep them mostly peanut butter and yogurt free for the day. (Does anyone else’s kids come running for a hug right after eating breakfast?!)
I have been coaching my children how to handle being in the house when I’m there but having a nap (yes, that happens, too!) or in the shower. They know not to answer the house doors under any circumstances – I lock them all before going into the shower – and not to think cutting an apple for a snack is a good idea. I certainly shifted from an energy consumption mindset to one of happily paying for the longest showers I’ve ever had.
We’ve been working on my kid’s not interrupting skills and have made dinner time a peaceful time. When my husband and I are at the table, we eat slowly and linger there long after the kids have left. After some reminding, the kids now know that if we are still at the table, they need to ask for emergency needs only.
I can’t tell you how simple it is to pack for a trip when I’m travelling by myself. I’ve become a minimalist packer so I can get around airports and streets that much easier.
After your youngest is about 4, kids can for the most part play on their own with friends or siblings, and they can do it for a decent amount of time without needing immediate care. The transition from arm’s length supervision to in-the-same-house supervision is an incredibly wonderful one!
I do have to say here that it is tempting to use that time to work, but giving yourself some time to just do nothing is an incredible gift to give yourself. I haven’t regretted choosing me over my to-do list.
It has been wonderful to be able to leave the house (without a screaming toddler attached to my leg) to go meet a friend for tea or even just a walk. I’ve also been able to have friends over with the kids around – and be left alone for the most part. And I’ve even mustered the energy to go out to concerts at night and make it past 10:30 PM!
I know you are reading this and pleading, WHEN?! WHEN will these things happen? Depending on the personality and abilities of your child, you might see some of these things starting around age 4 - once you’ve made it over the “fournado” hump. I’d say that once my youngest was 5 and he could play with the older sibling fairly well, things really changed for me. Please hang in there and carry on bravely. You’re doing the hard and profoundly important work of raising a person!
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