Friday, May 30, 2014

Raising Our Kids - File Number Two

This post is the second in a series of posts I am writing about parenting strategies a la Metta and Marcos.  Some may make you think that we're crazy, but this is what we identify as being US.  

  • Sticking with it when introducing something new.  When life goes according to plan, I like to introduce important things when I have the energy and time to be thorough and teach them well.  There are many examples with weightier implications, but water color paints always come to mind when I think of this.  When we first gave Gigi water color paints it was important to me that she learned how to rinse her brush between colors, and apply pure colors to the paper, rather than painting with the muddy hues that would result from simply giving her the paints and walking away.  It took time and it was tedious to have to remind her to rinse her brush between colors, but once it became part of her muscle memory for painting, I phased out my prompts and have not directed her painting since.  Sometimes new learning requires undivided attention and time (two things that are hard to come by in my home) but I find that if we teach well at the beginning, in the end we spend way less time and energy fixing things that were not taught nor learned well.
  • Articulating feelings, giving them words.  Most kiddos are familiar with the emotions of happy, mad and sad, but life starts to take on other emotional nuances fairly early on.  So we have made a point to label emotions so that Gigi and Orion can learn to articulate what they are feeling.  The way it looks in our home is: "Oh Buddy, you look frustrated!" or "You seem really disappointed that Michael is not available to play with you" or "Were you feeling nervous around that big dog?"  It seems like emotional intelligence learned while young pays dividends in later relationships - with others and with ourselves.
  • Actively ignoring.  This is something I have brought with me from my time as a graduate student in Social Work.  Active ignoring is the conscientious decision to help a behavior to disappear by withdrawing attention from it.  Harmful or destructive behaviors are not what I'm talking about, but rather, things that are simply annoying.  Behaviors like screeching and licking have had fleeting moments of glory in our home, but because we have intentionally turned our backs and put attention into something new that distracted the screecher/licker's attention away from the behavior without ever having rewarded it, the behavior phased out pretty quickly.  It is SO hard to actively ignore behaviors that drive us crazy, but since both positive and negative attention can encourage bad behavior to continue, we have had better luck by turning our backs consistently until the phase passes.  
  • Talking Empathetically.  Gigi and I often have discussions about how our behavior and words impact other people and how they feel when we treat them certain ways.  Gigi is not wired to care yet about other people's feelings too much, but with some prompting she is able to imagine standing in another person's shoes so that she can feel how they might feel.  And then she gets it.  We talk about how kids feel when we say "go away!" or "I don't like you!" or " you are stupid!", and so she just doesn't say those things.
  • Turning away when I don't have the energy to follow through.  Sometimes I am just at my wits end, and I know I don't have the energy to intervene yet one more time when something obnoxious is going on.  So, I have noticed that sometimes I intentionally turn away from naughty behavior or walk into the next room, so that I can pretend it doesn't exist.  This is not parenting at its finest, but I feel ultimately that telling Gigi or Orion to stop a behavior or making a threat if the behavior doesn't change - and then not having the energy to follow through - is much more detrimental than simply ignoring it.  As a mom my most powerful tool is my example, but my second most powerful tool is my word, and if my kids learn that my word is not backed up with the force of my action, then we are all in trouble.

Friday, May 23, 2014

School Girl

In Prieto news, we've been in the process of seeing if Gigi (who just turned 4) will be able to start at the local Waldorf School this fall.  This week we went to a reception for new parents at the school and although I'm very solidly NOT a weepy person, being there touched on something deep and I found myself brimming with tears at the 7th grade quartet playing gorgeous music in the background, the students who were there serving as ushers, the art on the walls, the depth, kindness and insight of the other parents at the school.  As a child I probably took a lot of my growing up in a Waldorf School for granted, but now as a parent I feel so awed to think that perhaps I will be able to provide THIS for my own child.  THIS music, THIS art, THIS community, education and worldview.

And then today it was confirmed that we can't afford to send her next year.  We were so, so disappointed.  We wrote an email to the administrator thanking him for his help and told him that we would try to enroll Gigi again next year.

And then we received an email back from him, not an hour later.  It said that the Financial Aid committee members just happened to be there when he received our email and they would be happy to accept what we had put forward as our doable amount this year.  Marcos read the email out loud and we all yelped and hollered, and it scared Gigi and she cried!

So we are full of excitement, and so much gratitude.  With two years of coop preschool that we have loved so much, I feel like I have given Gigi what I can, and it's time for her to be in a school setting.  Financially this will be a real stretch for us, but I have been so touched that although Marcos has never spent a day as a Waldorf student, he is so fully on board with this idea of providing a Waldorf education to our children, at the expense of other things that are also important to us.

There is a lot of gratitude in our home tonight.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Raising our Kids - File Number One

The post is the first of a series of posts I am writing about parenting - specifically, what Marcos and I do with our kids.  I am very self-conscious about putting this out into the world - not because I feel shy about our techniques, but because it could easily be seen as a bit of self-glorification and that is not the spirit in which it was written.  We simply received the question one day of "what do you do with your kids", which got us thinking "hmm, what DO we do with our kids?", which turned into a bullet list we brainstormed during a road trip, which turned into feelings of complete overwhelm as I realized how long the bullet list was, and then it turned into this.  I thought to flesh out our bullet list in a private letter to the asker of this question, and then figured that since I'm taking time to write, I might as well put it in our blog so that I will always have these thoughts in our family history.

And then, of course, if our kids feel traumatized in later life they can look back and see where we went wrong, and know how to be wiser than we have been.  But so far so good... right?

So, these are a few things we feel are essential parts of our parenting.  Parenting in the style of Metta and Marcos Prieto.  
  • Teaching about the world.  Even as far back as high school, I was always impressed with parents who answered their kid's questions thoughtfully and thoroughly.  We have tried to do that for Gigi as she has become a sentient, curious little human being, and I love her hunger for information.  She is constantly asking me why things are the way they are, and how to make things ("mom, how do you make cheese?"), and she asks me to define words she isn't familiar with.  It can be obnoxious at times to hear why, why, why, but I try to remind myself that her curiosity is what will give her the information she needs in order to one day RULE THE WORLD.  Or whatever path she chooses to pursue, of course...  I also recently came across an article that has helped me to differentiate my approach: in the past, whenever Gigi asked questions to which I did not know the answer, my response was, "let's go look it up online".  I wanted to provide her with an immediate, solid answer.  However, in my recent readings I was reminded that not all questions need a concrete response, and that encouraging a child to use their imagination to come to different possible answers to their questions can be very beneficial.  We want our children to become problem-solving, innovative, creative adults, so letting them spend time in their imaginary world is sometimes a good alternative to rushing to the internet.
  • Using complex vocabulary.  I figure the best way for our kids to have a good handle on our native tongue is to hear a wide range of words used in context as they are growing up, and so we have not made our language overly child-friendly through the years that our children are learning to speak and communicate.  There are probably occasional miscommunications, and often Gigi asks us to define words she does not understand, but the result is that she has a good vocabulary and some ideas about interesting concepts.
  • Media. Marcos grew up in a world of TV and video games, and I grew up in a world with limited access to media, and we're constantly navigating a middle ground for our own kiddos, especially Gigi who is at a perfect age to be enamored with characters and movies.  My general approach to TV and movies is that most of what we would expose our kids to is not inherently terrible, but a lot of it comes down to opportunity cost: what am I NOT exposing my kids to, because they are watching a show, or are on a tablet? If my kids are engaging with media, they are NOT outside exploring nature or running around, they are not looking at books, doing crafts or coloring, building with toys, nor using their imagination to create. That is not to say that we don't ever do shows, but in general I am guarded about the type of shows Gigi watches, and how much time she spends staring at a screen. 
  • Reading Books. We have entered into a phase where going to the library is really difficult, and not very fun, because Orion wants to run around and pull books off of the shelves.  However, we try to go once every week or two so that we have a large supply of new books to read with the kiddos.  It is just worth it, to see Gigi hungrily flipping through the pages of each book when we get home, and choose her favorites every night at bed time. There is a lot of terrible children's literature out there, and I feel like half of my time at the library is spent weeding out the junk, but it's worth the hassle: literacy is crucial, and sometimes a good thoughtful storyline can impart a message much better than I can with my lectures.
  • Coaching through Social Interactions.  It can be incredibly tiring to intervene and coach our kids through social interactions, but being able to release them into the world with kindness, assertion, gratitude, honesty and friendliness is well worth it in the end.  When I hear Gigi independently thank her friends for coming to play, or ask politely for people to take off their shoes when they come over to visit, or navigate through a tough social situation, or dictate to me the message of thanks she wants me to write down in a card for a friend's gift, my heart is so warmed.  We still have a lot of work to do, but Gigi is becoming old enough that our "politeness prompts" are fading out, and her own social voice is becoming stronger.  Recently, I noticed that when we were at a playdate Gigi often took a back seat to her friend's directives about what they were going to do together, what role Gigi was going to play, etc.  So in a quiet moment with her the next day I mentioned my observations, and Gigi expressed that she wasn't sure what to do or say, but that she DID want a turn to choose the activity when she played with this friend.  Together Gigi and I came up with a number of things Gigi could say to assert herself, we practiced them that day, and we practiced them again as we drove to this friend's home the following week.  During their play time I listened in, and heard her repeat the words she had carefully rehearsed.  She was awesome, and I was so proud!  She and her friend still struggle sometimes for control of their shared time, but I am so happy that Gigi is learning to be assertive and negotiate tricky social situations.  I know that there is an argument for backing off entirely and letting kids figure out the world on their own, but our style is more of a coached-socialization model, for at least these first few years, to plant our kid's feet on a solid foundation from which they can blossom into whom they will.