Sometimes I find myself wanting to support my thoughts and opinions about parenting with data. Who doesn’t love hard evidence and proven facts to help strengthen an argument? But part of why I love coaching is that personal stories are just as important—perhaps more so—than what the experts say. Experts can study populations and norms and trends, but no one knows your family better than you, and no one knows my family better than me. So, in the spirit of sharing a little wisdom from one person in the know to another, I thought I would write about a couple nuggets I have come by in watching my kids grow. There is research to support some of what I share here, but there’s really nothing like seeing real life evidence to make you a believer. These observations have encouraged me in the noticing; perhaps they will bring you some encouragement in the reading. So without further ado, here are
TWO THINGS I SEE IN MY KIDS THAT GET ME TOTALLY EXCITED ABOUT PARENTING:
1. Early efforts in literacy really do generate impressive results.
Educators and literacy advocates have been encouraging parents for years to read to their kids regularly and often. This was not hard for me, as I have a voracious appetite for reading. Reading to my kids was one of the things I most looked forward to when I first got pregnant—so much so that I eagerly began before they were even born, lovingly reading Winnie the Pooh stories to my kids in utero, just hoping that my babies would inherit my love of reading and look forward to story time as much as I did.
As my kids have grown our habit of reading together has continued. We’ve shared many special moments together huddled around a good book. But I was delighted beyond words recently when I decided this would be the year I introduced Amelia, Abigail, and Gabriel to Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. Published in 1843, A Christmas Carol is not exactly written in what I would characterize as common second-grade vernacular. To be honest, many of the terms and phrases used are a challenge for me to interpret and I only hoped my kids wouldn’t get too insistent that I explain every word. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. Right around Thanksgiving we pulled out the old classic and started reading about Ebenezer Scrooge and his encounter with Christmas ghosts, and I am amazed at how easily my kids follow along and understand the various turns of phrase and complexities of the story. The maturity of their questions and interpretations boggles my mind. I was hoping our family could enjoy this classic tale together this year, but my expectations have been far surpassed in my kids’ level of comprehension and engagement.
This facility with the written and spoken word in antiquated language, I have no doubt, is a result of many years of reading and listening. It is very exciting to witness. To be sure, we still have lots of picture books in our home, and my kids pull Dr. Seuss and Beverly Cleary off the shelf as readily as they pull the classics. But the classics are available too, and I’m just so thrilled to see the power of literacy at work.
2. Kids these days do know how to play without screens, if given the chance.
Screens have become so ubiquitous in our kids lives, I know many parents who could not imagine their lives without them. Qualms about excessive media exposure aside, just the idea that our kids need to be constantly entertained was a notion that has never sat well with me. I will not accept it. Old fashioned as it may sound, I think back to my own childhood when car trips were endured with games of “I Spy” or “20 Questions,” reading books, playing simple lap games, or staring out the window. Many years ago a friend of mine commented that she didn’t want her kids to to become dependent on screen entertainment, but that she would never expect them to go several hours in the car without the option to watch a movie. It struck me as odd, this declaration made in such a way that suggested that of course kids need to be able to entertain themselves, but let’s be reasonable (wink wink). There must be a limit to non-screen activities, surely. How can we expect modern kids to live without?
It’s funny, even as I recall this conversation, that we seem to think that kids need a break from themselves, as though God created them capable of only hanging out with themselves so long before they meet the threshold, after which it’s only right that we step in and give them a reprieve. Now, I’m not against television or movies. I love a good flick and we have, and have used, the DVD player in our minivan. I’m not suggesting that we should never let our kids enjoy the entertainment of a screen. But I do find striking the modern-day attitude that screens are a necessity. That our kids can’t be okay without them. Or that they can’t stay out of our hair without them. That’s the real issue a lot of the time—that parents want a break from the kids, often for completely legitimate reasons, but don’t see any way to accomplish it other than plopping the kids in front of the TV. At first, this technique works wonders. Parents of young children can take showers and make phone calls in peace. But over time, if we rely too heavily on the TV to be the magic babysitter, what started out as a sanity saver becomes a habit that mistakenly lures us into believing that the only way for kids to stay occupied and out from underfoot is to put them in front of a screen and hope they enter a trance.
I am here to attest to the fact that kids, even kids in this day and age of technology, still know how to play. Given the opportunity, they will read books, build with blocks and legos and marble tower pieces, they will create imaginary worlds with dolls and action figures, and they will play tag and hide-and-seek. They will invent their own toys, they will wrestle, they will create art, and they will turn cardboard boxes into castles and boats and robot costumes. My kids do these things on a regular basis. They did not start out doing these things. When my kids were one and two and three years old they required my almost constant supervision. Encouraging them to exercise their imaginations was a time commitment on my part, and I readily admit that there were times when I plopped them in front of the TV because I needed a break and that an easy way to get it. Every parent needs down time; there’s no shame in using the tools we have to get what we need. But let’s be intentional about it, because if we’re honest with ourselves, some of those tools at our disposal have long-term consequences for our kids.
My investment of time in my kids’ toddler years has paid enormous dividends. Now, at eight years old, my kids are in the habit of using their imaginations. They are in the habit of finding their own entertainment. And when I need to get them out from underfoot, I direct them to their rooms or the basement and wonder of wonders, they go. Part of this, certainly, is the passing of time. Eight year olds shouldn’t need the same sustained attention as three year olds. But given the number of parents who can’t imagine a car ride without a DVD player or a trip to the grocery store without a smartphone filled with toddler apps, my kids are living proof that habits of the imagination can be fostered to great benefit for both parents and kids.