I was in Atlanta spending time with my mom and family last weekend for Easter. I spend a lot of time talking with her because she's in her 70's and I don't know how much longer I will have her. We cover a lot of topics and one topic that comes up a lot is kids. I was telling my mom that I spend a lot of time UnTeaching my kids. This conversation started after we talked about how there was something I learned in Sunday School that didn't exactly go along with my moms personal beliefs. It was a minor thing but I was hung up on it for years. She said that if she had known, she would have taught me differently and I let her know that I understand that now and so now, I teach my kids differently.
When I take my kids to church or school or any other group or community that they learn from, I now realize that my kids probably believe that what they teach is exactly what my husband and I believe. SO, I delve into what they are learning at school or church or wherever. I know kids hate talking about what they learned that day and yet it's important for you to find out . Of course you won't find out EVERYTHING they are learning about but you CAN get to the basics. I remember my sister in law talking about the Big Bang at a Thanksgiving family gathering (OK, so I'm married to a family filled with Engineers, Scientists and Teachers) and my middle child says "I don't believe in the Big Bang Theory.". I glanced over at my husband and I thought his head was about to pop off. Before he could say anything, I decided to ask her a question "What is it that you don't like about the Big Bang?". She said "Well I believe that God created the universe." and I said "What if God created the particle and caused the Big Bang?". I looked at my sister-in-law and her face was one of confusion and she said "Wow, I hadn't thought of it that way before.". This also got my daughter thinking that rather than thinking it's one or the other, it could be a combination of both.
This conversation is a great example of what often happens when we are not aware of what our kids are learning and thinking. Conversations with your children is critical. These life conversations reveal a lot and can assist you to determine what is going on. When you discover that your kids are learning something you may not agree with or have a different perspective on, that is a great opportunity to share your perspective. When I offer my perspective, I don't offer it as gospel truth (well, sometimes firm facts are called for … again.. a family of science nerds) . My husband and I usually respond with something like this, "what we believe is…." or "What if…" because we want them to create their own opinions and gather their own information, we feel that it's important that they have a different view or opinion to look at or additional facts in order to prompt them to think about things.
I worked at my kids' elementary school for three years and spent a lot of time in the classroom. I have a TON of respect for what teachers do and my kids have had some wonderful teachers. I found that they are very restricted in what they can do to encourage creative thinking. People, your kids are NOT going to get a lot of critical thinking skills at school because of the way our school system is set up and you are going to have to teach your kids how to think for themselves and not take everything as truth and that's the end. Curiosity often inadvertently gets squelched because of well meaning teachers and other adults. Teachers and parents and other adults use phrases like "you're supposed to" and "you should" and "the right way to…" Language like this would have them believe that there is only one way to do anything. I want my kids to think of 100 ways to do things. Teachers usually mean in a certain instance but that message doesn't always reach kids and they think it's always.
Now, let me just say here that it doesn't mean that you don't set standards for your kids. Offer them ways to clean the kitchen and if they find other ways that are not as clean or helpful then make clear your standards for cleanliness and helpfulness. We all need a sense of order and cleanliness. My kids will often take short cuts and I won't let them risk my families health because they don't want to wipe down the counters with cleaner.
My husband and I get involved in their lives and not overly involved where we hover and disable them. Kids really need to learn to do things for themselves. I don't get involved in their drama or quarrels with others. We as parents teach our kids how to work things out for themselves and we step in on the rare occasion we need to. Teaching them how to think for themselves and how to do things for themselves is critical for survival in their adult years. If you set up a system for them that is so rigid, that doesn't teach them how to come up with options and break convention and think creatively, they will move from system to system and not create a life with a system of beliefs that serves them. What I mean is that they will go from education system to education system to military to religion to sports or other systems. There's nothing wrong with systems like that, it's just that they need to be part of a persons own system and not look for a system to plug into.
So, how does this advocate thing come in?
Well, advocating for your kids teaches them many things: that you believe in them, that you are there for them when they need you most,and that everyone needs a little help along the way. My middle daughter had a teacher who was relentless. It was for a class that wasn't a core class. My husband talked to the teacher through e-mail and then requested a meeting with her. She was constantly nitpicking our daughter. Once we met with her in person and we found that she had sent several notes home that we never saw I asked her why she didn't just call us if she wasn't getting the notes back signed. She had no answer for that. She would embarrass our daughter in front of the whole class in hopes of shaming her to be prepared for class. When we met up with her, we started to understand how our daughter didn't care for the teacher and why she was doing poorly in her class. In her school, there was no option to drop out of the class. Although it was an extracurricular class, the school required everyone in her grade to take it. SO… we just told her that we couldn't care less what grade she gets in the class and that the teacher was obviously not interested in listening to anyone. We told her that if the teacher had problems with her that we would stick up for her. She continued and made her Cs and was finally outta there.
She knows that we are looking at her view of things and in this case, we were right there with her. We don't let them get away with excuses for not doing homework or acting up in class. We do support them when they are being treated unfairly or when the teacher doesn't understand certain things about our kids.
My son is a very active kid. His orchestra teacher was having a challenge with him talking in her class. I requested a meeting to A) let the teacher know I care about the issue and B) to understand what was going on and C) to bridge the understanding gap. I found out that it's a class that lasts for an hour and a half, a LONG time for a 6th grade boy. We all 3 worked on a way for them to resolve the challenge. I explained that Jake was new to the school this year because we just moved here. He hasn't made friends to go out and play with near by so he's not using his energy at home. He is very social and loves to connect at school and it happens that his best buddy is in that class. I explained to Jake that the teacher has to work with different sections and that just because she's working with another instrument section that he can't just chit chat. Our solution was to have a special signal just for my son in class to let him know to quiet down and the teacher agreed to give him some social time during class that wouldn't disrupt the class.
Notice I'm including the kids in these meetings. They are learning about how to get to the core of the matter and how to negotiate a deal.
In this day and age, I come across so many parents who have unwittingly given up their power. We have grown up learning that you don't question authority, you don't question the teacher, you don't question the principal, you don't question the Sunday school teacher or the preacher. A lot of parents go with what the teacher says because there is a great level of trust and that lingering belief that the teacher knows best. While I respect teachers and what they do (hey, my dad was a teacher… a lot of work for little pay) I know that they do not know everything about what is best for your kid. Often times it's just the need to fill the teacher in on what else is going on. When I worked at the school I found that when teachers had more information about a kid from the parent, they were better able to assist that child. We as parents need to realize our power to advocate for our children and stand up for them or help the other adults in their life understand any special needs or background. I had one mom tell me that her daughter wasn't advancing in accelerated reading because she didn't like the books. I told her to tell her teacher to move her up a level and she responded with "I can do that??".
As my kids grow older into their teen years, we are teaching them about how to talk to adults and how to be advocates for themselves. Our oldest had a job last year working at a grocery store. She complained about a boy who was inappropriate. He was flirting with all the girls in a way that made them uncomfortable. He also once took the "register closed" sign and tapped my daughter on her bum. Her dad told her that he was inappropriate and that she needed to have a conversation with the management of the store because she deserved to feel comfortable in her work environment. She was concerned about getting him fired or being seen as a complainer but her dad made her more comfortable with the idea of talking to management. The response was good and the store took appropriate action to make sure that the boy got sensitivity training. He probably had no idea how uncomfortable he was making people. She did the right thing and it turned out well. Now we know that when she comes across a situation where she's not comfortable, she will be willing to speak up.
We also believe it's important to learn how to connect with people and in turn how to leverage that. I have intentionally connected with others for business and some of those connections turn into friendships and I have made friendships that also became business relationships. I have found that friends are always happy to help out their friends and when I need something or a connection I ask. When my daughter filled out her application (online) and went down 4 times to get an interview she had no luck. I happened to be friends with the wife of the store manager so I popped in and asked him to help out. Next day she was hired. I only stopped in after my daughter had done the leg work, she did the application and went down several times for the interview. She also had to pass the interview. Advocating for her showed her that I was confident in her skills to work there and it also teaches her how to tap into relationships to get assistance when it's needed. Think about it, if your friend comes to you and asks for help, you help them right?
Maybe you think you don't have those kind of connections but you can always make them. If you don't know someone, often your friends do and you can ask for an introduction. One of my best friends had a son interested in becoming a police officer. She got herself a job at a police station and started making connections to get an insiders view on how the system works. She made good connections for her son and he became a police officer. He did his part but she had a great connection and all the insider information that others might be unaware of and created an advantage for her son because she believed in him and did what she could to get him started on the journey he desired. Sometimes it's as simple as letting your kid know that you will get their book published for them when they finish writing it, sometimes you talk to your friend who works at the grocery store, sometimes you make an intentional connection to get your kids what they need.
I let my kids know about the connections I make all the time because it's important for them to learn how to do the same thing in order to be advocates for themselves and one day for their kids. They watch us in action to see how we make genuine connections.
How can you be an advocate for your kid?