I recently attended a lecture with a few members of our Whole Child Parent Committee where Julie Lythcott-Haims spoke passionately about how to raise successful children. Not only was she informative, passionate and very funny, her insight was also based on both vast experience in education and years of research.
Her lecture spoke to the many facets of my identity: As a mother, I was quite literally taking notes. As an educator, I was curious about what we can do differently. As a curious thinker, I was fascinated by the data she provided. Needless to say, I was engaged in every moment of her talk.
From mental health to college admissions to helicopter parenting, Lythcott-Haims reflected on a number of relevant topics. Here are the bits of her brilliance that spoke deeply to me:
Although we are well-intended, we adults often deprive children of the opportunity to develop their self-efficacy. This certainly applies to me as a mother: It takes my very strong-willed 2-year old forever to “put her shoes on” -- they never actually end up on her feet. She so desperately wants the independence and gratification of doing it herself, so she often asserts herself “No, Mama. I can do it!” And while she can’t actually do it yet, I know that if I keep doing it for her, she’ll never be able to. This is no different than the mom who helps her child all too much when completing an assignment (ahem, science fair project), or the dad who swoops in, never letting his child fail.
Hardship, however, is necessary and this relentless quest for perfectionism harms our kids. We put too much pressure on our youth to be the the best. As parents, it pains us to see our kids struggle or fail or face adversity. While they’re likely grateful for the assistance in the moment (unless you’re my toddler who doesn’t want help with anything, ever), we aren’t supporting them in learning about themselves or the world around them. These experiences of failure are critical to building their resilience.
Kids need to be encouraged to find their passions (and not by December 1 of their senior year of high school when college applications are due). We need to encourage our youth to explore their interests and dig into their passions. As educators and parents, how might we provide our kids with varied opportunities to dig into their passions and showcase what they know and have learned? How can we do this in the classroom and at home? How might teachers and parents work as partners in this process so that our kids are loving learning?
I left the lecture with a great sense of hope and affirmation in my belief that educators and parents are champions for their kids and we must work together to support them as they learn and grow.
As parents, we overact (overprotect, overpraise, over-indulge, over-stretch) our children out of love; we, of course, just want what we believe is best for them. Sometimes we do this to in order to prevent them from failing or experiencing hardship. I have done this many times in my short few years as a mother (I’m working on not saying “good job” but that’s another blog post for another day), so I am certainly not pointing any fingers.
As educators, we overact, too. If I am being really honest, we sometimes become so frustrated by the over-actions of parents that we ride the pendulum to the opposite extreme. We grow exhausted and disheartened and put up walls in order to not engage. While this might seem like the best option at the time (and I have done it, too), I know that it doesn’t serve our students, parents or ourselves well in the long run.
As a teacher and a mom, I can tell you this with absolute certainty: Teaching is really hard. And so is parenting. Both require that you give so much of yourself to someone else (or 30-150 someone else's depending on what grade you teach). And both would be a heck of a lot easier if, as educators and parents, we had open communication and space to talk about these really sensitive topics. We are all, most importantly, doing what we believe is best.