August 11, 2012

The Pendulum of Parenting

Parenting is a subject which I think I know a lot about, yet I have no direct biological experience of. 

[Just steparenting. And being a nanny in my 20's. It so happens that the little girl in my charge has grown up now and tracked her nanny down. She still lives in Seattle and we are connected. Okay time for an "Awwww!"]

The reality is that I work with students, but the true "client" is the parent, and I have a lot of communication with them. Many times i find myself on hot coals, dishing out tips delicately, on hot topics like preventing power struggles, not pushing too hard, not giving in too much, how to discuss learning disabilities with kids, or their brain, and then there are sleep patterns, social skills, and nutrition. Like I said: Tender Topics. With some parents, I feel they are on their best behavior with me, but my intuition screams about what is most likely the reality at home:

The touchy parenting topic comes up in our Learning Specialists Consulting Group, (which is supposedly quarterly, but...well...). We end up delivering all sorts of tips to our clients for how to be a parent, a teacher, a coach, and a cheerleader to their child. And it only works if the parents are curious about how to improve as people, parents, and family members, and are curious about their child. (as opposed to having an agenda). At our professional gatherings, we end up swapping parent stories, since they are so much a part of the results equation, then espousing quippy suggestions about how to interact with anxious parents, marshmallow parents, or disorganized parents.

When all goes well, in the tutoring situation, we are on the same page about what the child needs, the parents establish warm and humorous rapport with me, and fine-tunes it with their child, so that they use their time wisely in between sessions. And then there are times when it does not go so well. That is when I bring out articles, handouts, or quickie memorable gems, like "When the outcome isn't important, give your child the power to choose. When it IS, make yourself clear, and decide, and don't waver. No apologies. No negotiation." 

I get some of this from my gut, and a lot of it from LOVE & LOGIC. Their premise is about preventing battles using choices and natural consequences. Their marketing materials make it seem, of course, that harmony will reign and that every waking moment will look like this photo, but I DO love the humble nature of the creators of the program: a father and son team who did not always collaborate!

I see all kinds of parenting in my private practice, and sometimes I broach the subject of suggesting they do something concrete to prevent power struggles, establish a "tone" in the home for learning, motivate without candy, and be engaged without being overbearing. That brings me to the pendulum. I steer parents into the center as much as I can, with compassion and humor.

The pendulum is what I observe, and parents are sometimes blind to, and most teachers talk about. Parents at one extreme end approach kids with a "They will find their way" mentality, often coupled with "I don't want to label them," and, at its worst, "I don't use any negative consequences." These are what I call Marshmallows

A version of this is the parents who simply have their kids run the show, and they insist on not interfering. They are trying so hard not to raise their voices, or be stern or punitive, that the children run the household. These are what I call Rotweiler Owners, because I have been in households where the dogs run the place. It is apparent the minute I arrive. In this case it is the kids. 

And finally, the Hover-ers. I don't use the term, "helicopter" because that implies that the parent is pressuring their child to succeed, or micromanaging them, but that is not always part of the mix. Sometimes they are simply so intertwined, anf blur the boundary between them and their child, that they apologize on behalf of their child, prompt them while they are speaking, help them so much with HW that the child does not get the satisfaction of independence, and oh, they worry. These parents are professional anxiety-ers. And remember that ADHD morphs into Anxiety, so genetic apples falling from trees are at play here. Drill Sergeant parents is what the media calls one sub-category of these.

So.....either I have a healthy distance from the maternal (and often genetic) tug, and am using that bird's eye view of the parent-child fabric of emotions so as to offer deep wisdom, or I am pompous, off-base, and would be better off keeping my mouth shut. The plethora of articles in the past year about these pendulums (with differing names and nuances) is a testament that I am not so far off.

August 10, 2012

In the Ideal World...Teaching like Homeschoolers

We should suspend the regular English curriculum for a semester and teach “Reading and Writing.” Every student would produce an essay each week and spend time at the teacher’s desk being edited. We would hire or train teachers to do what my first editors did: Cross out cute phrases, ask what I was trying to say, break overlong sentences into pieces, ask for specific examples, replace inactive verbs with active ones, and so on.