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How to talk so kids will listen… Chapter 4: Encouraging autonomy

Ah Ah, here’s a subject I am comfortable with!

Since our kids are small, influenced by L’éveil de votre enfant, from Chantal de Truchis-Leneveu (in French.. but the best book for small kids parents) and Montessori pedagogy (that I really dug in, since I passed a 3-6 year old Montessori teacher diploma when we were living in South Africa – though with little practice since it was a home study and I have only been to a few workshops to complete it), I surf on autonomy waves ! Thus, I know this chapter will probably be an easy one…

Besides, I can see that I am much more advanced on that particular topic than the other moms I see! Yes, all these mums who control every detail of their children’s homework… The mum chat group receives every days messages such as “Is there any science homework today? My son has forgotten his textbook ar school, could someone send me page 22? What will be covered in tomorrow math test?”

There even is a mum who goes up in the classroom every morning to take a picture of the homework board to make sure she has the right version (sometimes a tiny bit different from the one that teachers put online at the beginning of the week!), in case her son doesn’t copy them correctly… (I would be surprised if he copied them correctly since he doesn’t need it : his mum does it for him!!)

I compare that to my “Alice, did you do your homework?” Yes, no, that’s enough. Unless she asks for help  I don’t know what she is learning, when she has exams, I let her completely in charge. And if she forgets a book, well she doesn’t do her homework, will need to arrive earlier the next day to do it, and the following time, she will remember! In short, on this subject, I think I’m at my ease…

Well… I actually still have things to learn!

 

First idea: let children make choices.
We already discussed the notion of choice that gives them control over the situation. In our family, it is something we already do well.
Simple decisions, but allow them to be an actor, and not just obey:
“What shirt do you want to put on this morning? “You would rather go to the park or to the pool?…”

Second idea: show respect for a child’s struggle
A revelation! It’s amazing how sometimes details can be fundamental…
In this chapter, I learn to no longer tell a child that it’s easy.
Let me explain: we often try to encourage the child by commenting: “it’s easy, look”. Sure, but…

If he can’t do it, it is precisely because for him it is NOT easy! So, telling him that it is, we’re really sending him the message that it shouldn’t feel hard, that he sucks for not getting there,  and besides, if ultimately successful, well that’s because it was easy, so thats no achievement… What if we shifted it around?  “Oh, wait, it’s hard to buckle  the overalls… Sometimes, it helps when you start like that.” The child feels understood, and the “sometimes” helps to make sure that if he still doesn’t get there, he doesn’t feel incompetent.

Third idea: Don’t ask too many questions
This is a personal challenge… I always want to know the details! “How did it go? What did you do? Who were you next to?” But it seems logical to think that the child is actually able to tell us what he wants to share, and might not need to be forced to share everything! Our questioning might convey more control than interest. Typing these words, I realize that I still struggle to get away from this model…

Fourth idea: Don’t rush to answer questions
Here again, ¡qué dificil! And yet, I find it compelling when I read it. This is a natural way to bring the child to try to think for himself.
“Why…?
-hum… That’s a good question, what do you think?”
And let them come up with an idea before explaining.
Good thinking I am reading this part again…
The situation where I do that best is when they ask for advice:
“Mum, what do you think I should do?
-mmm… It’s delicate, what do you think?”
Possibly help reformulate the problem, enumerate the various solutions, but let them explore a bit before giving my opinion (and even, sometimes, once the preliminary work done, there’s no need for us anymore…)
We might wonder: why shouldn’t our children benefit from our experience? Why not give them advice?
Well the point of view of the author, that I find very interesting, is this: by giving the child tips on how to manage the situation, it may go well, or we could observe the following reactions: the child feels silly for not thinking about it by himself, the child considers that we are not to tell him what to do and feels annoyed… In addition  acting on an advice that is not their idea will not encourage them to take responsibility for the decision.

However, it doesn’t mean we would answer “It’s your problem, find the answer alone.” Because that would be not paying attention to their problems…
There is a happy medium, and we can help the child to think:
-based on what you tell me, you hesitate between two possibilities…
-in fact, the question you ask, it’s…
Then once we left him time to think about it, we can even make suggestions, or share our opinion, while remaining open-minded.

5th idea: encourage children to use sources outside the home 

Don’t always rely on their parents. Children will learn little by little that the whole world can help him, that he can find assistance outside dad and mom, and that is definitely a step towards autonomy. It can be put into practice with a doctor, a store manager, a librarian, staff of the school… And it will help develop the ability to approach people, interact with a human being, in a world focused on phones, where physical contact is decreasing! For now, at home, that applies principally with Oscar (13): I used to contact the piano teacher every time the sporting activity time slot was changed. Now, he is in charge of organizing the schedules directly with his teacher.

6th and last idea: Don’t take away hope
Yes, that also is important! Let them experience how tough it is to lead a project…
“Mom, I want to start a music band.
-that’s a good idea, how are you going to do that?”
Of course I know that half of his classmates will not come on that day, that we should not always rely on the answers seriously, that it’s not easy to find a place, etc… But is it really a good approach but to kill the dream in the egg? That is also part of experiencing life! He will realize the difficulties soon enough, and in any case needs to see a few projects fail before he will succeed!
(Note later: Unfortunately, the band has actually failed… But at least he was enthusiastic for a time, and he tried to organize!)

 

The formal list of advices in the chapter stops there, but then, there are still some good ones:
Don’t speak about a child in front of him.
Let the child answer.
“Is school going well?
-I suppose she should answer that”
Avoid saying ‘no’. Because it is a little bit like taking away hope! It does not mean we should say yes to everything, but we can find alternatives in the responses. For example, answer Yes, but complement it:
“Can I eat that chocolate?
– of course, after dinner for dessert!”
Or else provide information:
“Can I go play?
-Dinner will be served in 5 minutes”
And if you’re not sure, just take time to think about it:
“May I invite X for a sleepover?
-Let me think about it.”

There you go, this is exactly the idea of the path I am following : there are always things to learn!

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