Intentional Parenting

by Kim A. Howe, M.S.
Published: 7/30/2013
This past weekend was awesome:
  • No soccer games.
  • No basketball games.
  • No dance recitals.
  • No gymnastics.
It was great for us, and the kids enjoyed it as well. We spent most of the weekend outside playing with the kids and relaxing. It made me think about why we do so many scheduled, structured activities with our children. We all want the best for our kids. This is why we make sure they are exposed to so much. Oftentimes, however, these good intentions are harming our kids more than helping them.

Madeline Levine addresses these and more issues in a recent issue of her newsletter called "Challenge Success." Here are a a few of my favorite recommendations from the article.

Less Overscheduling

Kids need more time to just hang out and be kids. We try so hard to make sure that our kids have everything, but by doing so we are robbing them of something else — unstructured downtime. Creativity requires unstructured time to think, experiment, draw, create, or play. Just be sure that all the extra time is not spent on video games and television shows. These can easily stand in the way of unstructured downtime as well.

The Gift of Failure

The research going on within the field of gifted education is telling us that intelligence is not enough for success. Here are some examples:
  1. Renzulli incorporates creativity and task-commitment into his definition of giftedness.
  2. Kids praised for being smart stop taking risks to avoid losing their status.
  3. NPR recently aired a story identifying struggle as a precursor to accomplishment.
  4. Perseverance and grit were identified as key indicators of success.
A recent TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth also highlights the value of grit, which she defines as "passion and perseverance for very long-term goals." It is a short video, and very worth watching.

Children cannot develop grit and perseverance unless they have experienced failure. If we keep stepping in, we are robbing them of valuable experiences.

The Freedom to Be Imperfect

For some kids this is easy. My son is far from perfect. He makes lots of mistakes, comes up with new ideas, and really puts himself on the line all the time. Sometimes we wish he would try to be more perfect. For my daughter, however, the idea that she would not do something perfectly and in total control really holds her back and keeps her from trying new things.

Instead of pointing out what is wrong, start pointing out what is right. Praise the small steps toward trying new things, even if they aren't done perfectly.

More Contributions, Fewer Entitlements

The key is being intentional about developing your children instead of doing everything for them. This may be more difficult at first, but in the long run all of these recommendations will make life easier and more relaxed.

Think about how your life would be different if you implemented these recommendations:
  • Don't overschedule your children's (and your) calendar.
  • Let your children fail instead of stepping in and rescuing them.
  • Let your children be imperfect instead of constantly pointing out problems.
  • And this last one — let them help out more around the house.

Helping Your Children Grow

Creativity is an engine that runs on the ability to persevere through failure. Your child's curriculum should provide an opportunity for him to experience constructive failure. This doesn't mean getting the wrong answer on a low-level worksheet, but it means trying something new that may not work or writing an original and creative essay or poem. If your child's educational output is highly structured and defined (every answer goes on a line that has been provided), your child will not have this experience.

Moving Beyond the Page is built around engaging projects, interesting writing assignments, and fun activities. All of these provide opportunities for children to take risks. They will experience failure, imperfection, and success in a way that they won't get in a curriculum that is built around textbooks and worksheets with highly defined output.

Our curriculum is also designed to enable children to develop more independence and self-confidence. As children grow into the older self-directed levels of Moving Beyond the Page, they will be doing more for themselves and will be seeing themselves as capable contributors.

It is much easier to agree with these recommendations in principle than it is to put them into practice. Take a look at your parenting and teaching style and see how you are encouraging your children to become creative and capable individuals.

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