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.  

1 comment:

mariana said...

Thanks Metta for sharing!
Love you!