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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Self-Reliant Children


It seems liked I've been having the same conversation but with different parents over the past few weeks.  The theme of our chats has been raising self-reliant children (in a sometimes self indulgent world). 

Raising children is the MOST important job you will ever have.  Two of my children have graduated from OSU and live on their own.  My third is in his last year of high school and taking classes at PCC.  It seems like they were all infants just the other day.  From my 29 years of hands on research as a parent, I know that KIDS GROW UP QUICKLY.    Based on the 27+ years I've been a teacher, I wanted to share some thoughts on what I think is the most important gift you can give your child.  I am going to start with a story and end with a few bullet points.

My mom called recently to tell me my "sister" was having a birthday.  She has always referred to her pets as my siblings, but I will never claim Junie B. (a pup they've had for 2 years) as being related to me.  When they got her, they said she was “super smart and absolutely perfect as long as you hold her all the time and listen to her closely so you know her needs and wants.”   She had them wrapped around her little paw.


In hindsight, I can see that my mom's comments showed that the dog was training THEM to meet her every desire.  They now sometimes describe her as a very spoiled dog and may even, on occasion,  call her "monster, beast or brat" even though they love her very much.   That my mom and dad raised such a dog astounds me!

My parents were both teachers and for decades, it was their  goal was to make sure that all of those in their charge would develop the skills they needed to be independent.   They both acknowledge now that they've failed miserably with their puppy.  As a result, dog sitters won't come back and my parents worry that Junie B. won't be adoptable if anything ever happens to them. My human brother and I certainly won't be eager volunteers.

This puppy is the PERFECT example of what we DO NOT want for our kids. 
  • We want our students to grow in their ability to self-manage, self-assess and self-advocate . 
  • We want them to work through failure and know there are powerful lessons they can learn.
  • We want them to be able to build the skills in the safe environment of school so that they are able to move to the next level confidently.
  • We want them to take appropriate risks,  learn from failure, try again and fail better each time until they get it right.
  • We want our children to be ready to go into the world and navigate WITHOUT US!

In College and Career Ready:  Helping All Students Succeed Beyond High School, Conley notes that one of the academic behaviors successful students show is self-management. Self-monitoring, self-awareness, and self-control are independent of cognitive strategies or content but should and can be practiced daily.  We work daily to build skills, including self-management skills, so that students can become increasingly independent.   In my personal opinion, CONFIDENT INDEPENDENCE is perhaps the greatest gift we can give our kids.

What are some practical things we can do today in order for us to show our kids we have ABSOLUTE CONFIDENCE that they are getting more independent every day?
  • Allow them to be responsible for their mistakes.  We often rush to fix or blame but in doing so, we lose valuable (and affordable) teaching opportunities.  Guide them in identifying what was wrong and figuring out how they will fix it.
  • Allow them to be independent when they can using the safe systems schools have in place knowing that there is a lot more guided support in the elementary school than there will be in later years.  Examples:
    • If you live in a bus zone, let them ride the bus to and from school.
    • If you get a call that they've forgotten lunch or their homework,let them live with the consequences at school. 
    • Assign chores so they know how to feed themselves and clean up after themselves
  • Be careful with your words and always consider whether you are subtly modeling your confidence in their verge of being increasingly capable.  Use the word "yet" so they know that things will happen someday even if they are not ready yet.
  • Know that school resources are extremely limited so if your child needs extra mental health help, we are not necessarily the place for services.
The elementary years will FLY by and your kids need to know you love them and have absolute faith that they are going to be ready for whatever they choose.  I've been teaching long enough that I've heard the sorrow in parents' voices (15 years after elementary school) when, full of regret, they share their wish that a child would have learned to take responsibility, control impulses, or think beyond themselves BEFORE being of an age when jail, pregnancy, drug addiction or death were the very real consequences.  When I see you at the grocery store 15 years from now, I want to hear how your child is thriving!

Thank your for sharing your precious children with us! The goal of the Beaverton School District is to prepare children for college and career.  Please let me know how I can partner with you in this important task.