Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Teaching Boy.

I have no qualifications other than that; I have an opinion, have been a child and I am a parent.

But I feel sometimes that can be qualification enough.

I want to respond to a post I read. It seems I have more to say on parenting than I thought.

This is in response to an article by Mayim Bialik on Today Moms.

When I was young I was taught to say please and thank you with a wooden spoon.

In other words. I learnt to say things without genuinely knowing why I was saying them. I learnt to say them to get out of trouble/hurt, I learnt to lie.

When I went to school I learnt to memorise, I passed an entire geography test on Tasmania ( there was a picture of Tasmania with numbers all over it ) by memorising what number (1) corresponded with what town/city ( Launceston) on the map. If the teacher was smart enough to change the test from the cheat sheet He had given I would've been completely stuffed.

It wasn't until I learnt to drive at 17 that I actually remembered where the Midland Highway was, because up until that point I had never wanted to drive down it before.

So you see. I learnt a whole lot of stuff in school I will never remember because it wasn't relevant to me at the time and it wasn't even made to seem relevant. And to be honest, it's not relevant now.

In fact, I don't know most of my times tables instantly - if I want to figure something out it takes me longer because I never bothered memorising it and if I can't be bothered counting, I'll just get out a calculator.

I still sing my 6 times tables to the song on a tape that Mum gave me as a kid. 1 six is 6, 2 sixes are 12, 3 sixes are 18.. ( you get the point) it's not the best when I'm in the middle of a shop...

( I actually think its less important to know everything and more important to know where you can find out something )

So basically. I didn't know WHY I was learning a lot of things, and I didn't know WHY I was saying a lot of things.

All I knew was that apparently I needed to do, say or be something or I would get in trouble.

As an adult, I have a massive problem with motivation because I was never taught self motivation.

I was always motivated by ' getting in trouble ' and not the curiosity to learn and apply something.

So now my motivation doesn't depend on anyone else, I have little. Sound much like Gen Y?

Lots of us are all muddling around, because we don't know what we want to do, or what makes us fulfilled, in a melancholy state. Because we don't know how to be genuinely self motivated.

Ever heard the quote " I get more house work done in the 10 minutes before someone comes over than I do in a whole week?" Well, that's me. External motivation.

Now don't get me wrong, external motivation IS important. It helps regulate us so we know what is socially acceptable in certain circumstances. If we weren't externally motivated at some point we would all end up behaving like brats saying stuff like " I'm not doing it because I don't want to do it" or the current " YOLO" .

So there is a balance, in everything.

So here's where my childhood affects my parenting.


I try to parent genuinely.

I try to understand things are interesting to me and not to Boy. Things that are relevant to me are not relevant to him.

I use real world opportunities to teach and they tend to stick more than, singing the ABC song.

( He does sing the ABC song but his WHY right now is because he loves to sing, he just thinks its a nice tune..)

It's more important to me that he sits in a cafe and, looking at the waitress, orders from his menu. ( Seriously, way Mum proud )

It's more important to him and me, that he learns how to wipe, put his wee in the toilet after going potty, flush and wash his hands independently than it is for him to count to 100.

It's more important right now that he learns communication and self regulation than what the square root of any number is.

Shock, my 3.5 year old can only count to 16 and maybe 17 on a good day.

Why? Because he doesn't need to count any higher.

Right now, his real world application range for counting (" Mumma, can I please have three pieces of apple " ) stay within the limits of 1 - 17.

So he uses what he needs.

He is motivated by : communication.

( *I fully expect this will change in the future and I will hopefully adjust accordingly.)

I want something, I want a certain amount of something, or I need to describe something to get it.

So I'll use some counting, some colours, some shapes, some size references.

One day I sat with a bunch of shapes and tried to teach him their names and it just didn't work. He wanted to build a tower which he could knock down. He didn't want to look at shapes. He didn't have a reason.

Yeah I could've drummed it into him, until he'd memorised it and become a child genius.

But when I teach, I try to give him a reason. A reason why he wants to learn this. A reason why he wants to remember it and a reason why he wants to do it.

Today it's because he wants to communicate.

But this rarely ever happens over a piece of paper or siting at a table.

We started with:

" Mumma, look a dog "

Me " Wow. What a little dog "

( next time we see a dog )

" Mumma look a little dog "

Me " Wow. Look at that little brown dog "

Boy " Yes, and white too "

But this extends past general mathematics.

It also extends to saying please, thank you and sorry. It extends to sharing and behaving in a socially acceptable manner.

He will only remember it and do it; if its applicable to him. And I want him to do it because he is self motivated not externally motivated.

I want him to be genuine. There's nothing worse than getting a disingenuous apology as an adult. It sucks and it makes me feel invalidated.

The good thing on this occasion is that he genuinely wants to be heard, loved and accepted. He wants to communicate with me and others positively. And when someone is upset he knows that its not positive.

Which is why, if he asks politely for something, even if he doesn't say please I thank him for being polite and give it to him.

Imagine if you approached someone and said " would it be possible to have that put over there?" And instead of acknowledging your polite and reasonable request they said " Say please, say please or I'm not doing it for you" ...

Well, you'd say please to get what you wanted, and then you would learn to say it simply to get what you wanted. But I don't think you would learn to be genuine.

And ironically, insisting another adult say please is pretty rude in a social situation. We just don't say it to our peers. So why do we say it to our children?

Model the behaviour, praise them when they use it and teach them why so they learn to be genuine. ( rinse and repeat )

One of the other big issues I have is saying sorry.

If Boy upsets me or does something wrong I communicate why.

" Boy, you really upset me when you spoke that way. It hurt my feelings."

( and because he is 3.5 he doesn't get the implication that he should apologise, in-fact I'm glad he doesn't because one day this happened.)

" Boy you really hurt me when you threw the toy and it hit me, I feel hurt now.. ( awkward pause) ... you should say sorry.."

And then he said " I don't want to say sorry."

And I stopped .. and instead of forcing him to say sorry I said. " Ok, if it happens again you will loose the toy "

( please note: even if he apologises and says sorry there is still a consequence.. For instance: " Thank you for saying sorry, if it happens again you will loose the toy, perhaps you could do that outside so you don't hurt anyone else ")

I didn't force him to say sorry. And here's why. 10 minutes later he came up to me and he said " Mumma, you no sad, I'm sorry " and I knew he felt genuine remorse. He thought about it. And that was way more positive than forcing him to say sorry because I wanted him to.

It also taught me not to get hung up on receiving an apology to forgive. ( Hunna and I often model this behaviour in our own dealings- sometimes we need time to cool down before we can give a genuine apology. Because that's real life. )

In fact. I've over reacted about something and lost my temper, thought about it, and later apologised to Boy and he's even said " I'm sorry too Mumma"

Its the genuine positive communication, the type where he is the instigator and he uses his self motivation that makes me feel like we are raising him to be a darn real good member of society.

So I really don't give a hoot if he can't count to 59, why would he need to?

Sometimes, as a parent, there is so much pressure to make sure our children succeed by ' societal standards' that what we actually do is end up stifling their creativity, their ability to self initiate learning and their motivation to do good.


*If you want to know my philosophy on sharing, then I agree whole heartedly with that particular section in the article from Mayim Bialik.

Please note, I don't agree with everything in the article I am responding to.

*all of the above is my ( currently ) self validated opinion. Externally validated because I think I have a very patient, loving, genuine and polite son.

Which is probably partly to do with my parenting but more likely to do with the fact he's just a cool kid.


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