Many things my husband and I needed to know before bringing a baby into our lives, we learned through raising a puppy together. We had a Great Pyrenees while I was pregnant. His nocturnal nature and all-night barking serenades prepared us for frequent interruptions in our sleep after our baby arrived. Cleaning up messes from both ends of a sick puppy prepared us to deal without anger with the same coming out of our child. And the need to never let the dog feel that he was our alpha helped us to know that our kids must always respect us as their authority, even if they didn’t agree with us.
I’m sure that parents can learn these important principles without having to raise animals as a prerequisite. Lately, though, I have seen several parents ignore the last one, and it alarms those of us who are teachers. I have to admit that I make comments under my breath when I see children throwing temper tantrums at stores and their parents desperately trying to get them what they want so they’ll be quiet. “Thanks, Lady. Ruin them and then send them to school for us to deal with.”
I was grocery shopping this weekend, as was half of my town. The aisles were already pretty crowded. I had just finished an aisle and was making the blind turn for the next aisle when I was cut off by a pint-sized shopper. She couldn’t have been more than six. She was pushing a full-size cart, and her mother was dutifully following with her own. The mother was chirping, “Now where do you want to go next?” Upon my attempted entrance into the same space the child was exiting, the mother coldly stared me around her child. I smiled, but it was clear that I was threatening her child’s independence.
Okay, I’m all for teaching our kids to be independent. That’s the crux of my whole philosophy at school. But at six? With no regard for anyone else? Not so much.
We parents do have a big job. Readying our children for school… for college… for work… for life. We have to fight the urge to cripple them so they’ll never leave the nest. “Cripple” seems like a pretty harsh word. When a parent does not teach his teen to fend for himself but instead continues to do everything for him, he is crippling that child for survival in the real world. It may or may not be on purpose, but it’s a problem nonetheless.
I digress. The point is that, even though it may be easier just to do it ourselves, we must take the time to teach our kids how to survive. We’ve got to teach them to do laundry and cook and use tools and get cars serviced.
Until recently, parents were doing just that. What has caused the change? The fear of public scrutiny might be one deterrent. Fear of breaking a child’s spirit is commonly blamed, as well. I tell parents that our teachers break the child’s will, not his spirit. Lately, a third reason, evidence of which I’ve seen a lot recently, is that some parents are just too busy with their own lives to do the parenting job. Not okay.
Dear Parent-Using-that-Last-Excuse: you brought your child into the world. It is your responsibility to do the hard job of raising him… well. Your child will be a functioning part of society soon. It is your job to help that child gain a vision of the future, to equip that child to attain and keep that vision, and to teach him to be a conscientious and productive member of society.
So... we have pretty great parents at our school. These parents are making the choice to invest in their children’s futures now. There’s one area in which I think some cautionary advice still applies, though. That area involves giving in to the irrational fears that gifted children (and adults) tend to have. I’ve told you before that I irrationally believe there are sharks in my pool in the deep end every time I swim in my pool. It’s not rational. I get it. The important point is that I keep getting in my pool. When a gifted child has an irrational fear, it’s important to address that fear head-on. These kids are smart. It doesn’t take long to figure out how to “develop an irrational fear” of chores, homework, and all sorts of unpleasantries! A fear of math or using utensils at a restaurant or such should be addressed as it happens. To not do so is to create another Sheldon. As much as I love “Big Bang Theory,” I am appalled at the way they let Sheldon get away with dictating their lives around his fears. But, they’re adults; they’re making their choices. Children should not wield that kind of power. If you find yourself being held hostage by a list of demands based solely upon an irrational fear, it’s time to help junior through this fear and to the other side.
At this point, I should distinguish between a rational fear and an irrational fear. A rational fear may have a known cause, or the cause may be unknown. Regardless, the fear is still rational and must be dealt with accordingly. I’m talking about irrational fears… like my fear of sharks in the deep end. Like the idea that, as long as I keep my toes under the covers, nothing bad under my bed can get me, or the fear that, if I touch people, I will get a bad disease. It is not okay to let our kids nurture these fears. Many a student has talked himself into a math phobia. Lots of kids hate math. It’s hard. That doesn’t make it a full-blown phobia.
In short, the parent should be the alpha in a familial relationship. Children who have strong, positive role models for parents are much better prepared for the real life ahead.