Just how brilliant do you allow your children to be? How much of a chance do you give them to learn things for themselves? And do you let them think for themselves?
Due to what we shall term ‘A Baby-Sitting Malfunction’ I ended up taking my 7 year old son to Toastmasters, my speakers club, on Wednesday evening. In lots of ways it didn’t seem like a good idea. For a start he would be up very late – I don’t usually get back till at least 11pm – and in addition to that he would have to sit quietly for the best part of 3 hours and listen to a variety of adults speak, and respond appropriately. He would also have to listen to me speak, and manage himself whilst I wasn’t sitting with him. Now my little boy is a very intelligent and lively young man and at the age of 7 is still capable of a full-on-screaming-abdabs tantrum on rare occasions, so taking him with me did have an element of risk attached. However, the babysitter had indeed malfunctioned, and I was speaking that night so I couldn’t exactly ‘bunk off’. As it was the summer holidays he could be excused the late night … so off we went.
In the car on the way there I told him how the evening would go, and he was really excited about it. When we got there I introduced him to some of my friends and then we went and sat right at the front. The president of the club was lovely. She included his glove puppet ‘squeak mouse’ when she mentioned the guests that we had in the audience, which he loved, then the speeches began. Would you believe it? My little roof-raiser sat quietly through the evening, clapped at appropriate occasions, and conversed politely with people during the break. When it was time to go home he told me he had had the ‘best time in his life ever!’ ‘Ever?’ I asked. ‘Well so far!’ he said 🙂
The club doesn’t allow you to join or speak till you’re 16, which is understandable given the fact that it’s a place for professionals to keep their speaking skills sharp, but it set me wondering. There are so many things our kids could do if we just gave them half the chance. I’ve talked about this before (Fearless as a Child). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about ‘hot-housing’ – forcing your kids into academic brilliance when they’re not up for it. But when you see your child has a natural ability for something, and most of all they enjoy it, how many of us support them to follow that thing through, even if it’s something they’re theoretically too young for? You know at the age of three and a half my son had an avid interest in dinosaurs. And I’m not talking ‘Harry and His Bucket Full of Dinosaurs’, I mean the real McCoy. We used to sit there reading from a book so heavy that he couldn’t even rest it on his little legs. The typeface was of course tiny, but the pictures were wonderful. He’d leaf through till one caught his eye, and then say ‘Mummy tell me about that one!’ and I’d read and explain the accompanying text. Then when he went to school he was suddenly plunged into a world of ‘Tom is here. Jill is here. Where is the dog?’ It switched him off for a long time, though thankfully he has had a brilliant teacher this last academic year who has turned him on to learning again. If your child picked up an academic book clearly written for adults, and asked you about the contents, would you read it to them? Not all parents would you know.
I think that as a culture we sometimes stunt our kids’ growth without even realising it. We don’t always give them the chance to find out for themselves. A dear friend once reprimanded me for giving her young son grapes still on the stem. ‘If you give it to him like that, he’s going to eat the stem too!’ she said. Well, maybe the first time, but he won’t do it again will he? How is he ever going to learn to pick the grapes off himself if you keep doing it for him? It’s a balance and not always an easy one to achieve. Of course you don’t let your children find out for themselves that walking into the road without looking could get you into trouble, part of a parent’s job is to keep their children safe. Yet there are so many things that they can work out for themselves thereby learning about the situation in hand, AND learning vital skills in terms of thinking and analysis.
Many years ago now I used to head up a Jewish Sunday school, and on one occasion the children and teachers were preparing for a meal to which all the parents would be invited. We were cutting a salad and I asked my teaching assistant to cut the tomatoes. I watched, astonished, as she pretty much annihilated them. She was doing her best. She explained to me that this was the first time she had ever cut a tomato! Wow! I was shocked. How is it possible for a person to reach a good 20 years of age and never learn to cut fruit and vegetables with a sharp knife?
Do you let your children use sharp knives? I do. How else will they learn? I allow my two and three year old to hold the knife with me so that they get used to the various motions of cutting. If it’s something easy, say my three year old has a small amount of cheese on her plate and she wants it in even smaller pieces I will allow her to use a sharp knife independently while I watch. And I let my seven year old son use a knife independently and unsupervised, because he has been using one so long that he knows how. If there’s something he isn’t confident about cutting he will ask for help. The other day he peeled a kiwi and cut it into pieces. That’s my boy! I don’t have to hide knives away from them because they know that knives can be dangerous if misused, so they treat them with respect. I explained to my kids that the most useful things are often also the most dangerous. Things like knives or fire, or cars or electricity. I explained that you shouldn’t be afraid of them, just learn how to use them safely and effectively.
Let’s empower our kids. Instead of cosseting them from life, leaving some of them ignorant and incapable and others so plain frustrated and angry that they have to launch a full scale rebellion just to gain themselves the right to live their own lives, let’s support them in following their capabilities and their dreams. I’ll tell you what, as a life coach and hypnotherapist I wouldn’t be dealing with half the cases I end up dealing with if people had given their kids a chance to start with. We all make mistakes, every one of us, so let’s not dwell on the past, but focus on the now and on the future. Ask yourself the question ‘How can I empower my child today to be the best that he or she can be?’
I was so proud of my son the other night. Several members of the club came up to him and congratulated him on doing so well, and he accepted the compliments most graciously. The experience may even have ignited in him a lifelong passion for the spoken word, and all because circumstance gave him a chance to experience being amongst people who have just that passion.
This week, empower yourself, others and most of all the children whose lives you are blessed to touch!