Are You Parenting Independent Adults?

Recently I was made to consider whether my children were turning into independent adults! It was an interesting question when contextualized in a framework of independence vs financial support, but independence isn’t just about money is it! And so I’ve been musing! And I conclude that overall bringing up children to be independent is flawed! It’s even more flawed if that means you think independence comes from throwing them in at the deep end and shouting to them to swim or sink! Withdrawing support, for instance, when they are 18 years of age and saying “you’re on your own now” isn’t the answer either. But neither is facilitating a cash-cow or magic porridge pot. And this is why I think so.

Independence in the true sense of the word has a multifaceted meaning.  The dictionary covers the adjective in many ways

  1. not influenced or controlled by others in matters of opinion, conduct, etc.; thinking or acting for oneself: an independent thinker.
  2. not subject to another’s authority or jurisdiction; autonomous; free: an independent businessman.
  3. not influenced by the thought or action of others: independent research.
  4. not dependent; not depending or contingent upon something else for existence, operation, etc.
  5. not relying on another or others for aid or support.
  6. rejecting others’ aid or support; refusing to be under obligation to others.
  7. possessing a competency                                             (www.dictionary.com)

So, a fair conclusion would be not being subjected to an external influence but having intrinsic competencies.  So why in that case do I say it is flawed.

The reason comes from a lack of understanding about the human condition which intrinsically is a social beast in my opinion.  Although, there are some who prefer to deny this or equally survive well out of the social arena of community, to a larger extent, we all depend on others for most of our lives.  When we are born we are solely reliant on our family and carers, through school we rely on our educators to instruct us, into teenage years we are influenced by our friends and social circles, in adulthood we rely on others for our businesses to function, on others to care for our health needs, on others to negotiate many other arenas through to our senior years where we rely on the kindness, compassion and generosity of others to support us in our daily living.  I appreciate that this isn’t always the case and the norm deviates somewhat in many instances, but critically a generalised view can align with this.

We thus are social creatures – negotiating life through our interactions with others. Is it therefore at all feasible that we can do this without being influenced by these interactions?  I think not!  A cursory glance at teenagers and their propensity to be influenced by those with whom they befriend provides just one example but also consider the employment arena.  Here we must behave in a manner that is considered appropriate in line of the environment that we are in.  If we do not, then we get fired, lose our job and our wages on which we rely to provide us with life’s necessities vanishes in that instance.  Is that then independence?  We may feel we are living independent lives, away from home, striding out and making our mark on the world but truly independently?  I think possibly not quite as much as we might think!

Therefore, it follows, what does it mean to bring children up to turn into independent adults?  And this is where I believe, what we really need to do is bring our children up to be adults who have a high degree of autonomy. In biological terms, autonomy refers to growing naturally or spontaneously, without cultivation.  The organism that grows autonomously still requires a set of prescripts to survive – water, light, the right temperature, homeostasis etc, but intrinsically it grows naturally and spontaneously and that I believe aligns well with how I believe we should bring up our children.

That said, we need to give them the set of rules early on to do this.  In the first seven or so years of life, they need a strict code to adhere to in order to provide a firm basis in which to further develop.  In the next seven years, I consider that they need to learn what autonomy is, how it can help them in their daily lives, in their decisions and their planning, their behaviours and choices before the moving on to test the rules (the schema) that they have developed in the latter years of childhood into early adulthood.  The numbers are arbitrary but the pattern holds true.  By the time then a child has reached their majority and indeed moved into their early 20’s, they should have the tool kit that autonomy offers to be sure that they can navigate and manoeuvre through life from now on with a good degree of reliability and confidence.

This doesn’t mean they don’t need to still turn to others nor does it mean that they won’t be influenced by others, but hopefully they will have the ability to check their actions to see what is truly driving them and to make choices from the feedback they receive. Autonomy is a powerful tool for children to have.  It enables them to make their own decisions but more importantly it provides feedback so they can check those decisions against other criteria.  And thus it helps pave a way forward that is critically evaluative – that understands the consequences and seeks out better and more sustainable ways of operating within the prevailing culture or even choosing to step outside the culture.

A child then who grows into an autonomous adult, will been empowered to make decisions; to make choices and to assess the consequences of those choices.  They will understand how their network helps or hinders.  They will be able to consider what they need to facilitate the choices they make and over everything else they will have a cultural tool that challenges them to take responsibility for their actions; to be respectful of themselves and others and to handle their lives with care, compassion, kindness and a savviness that can only come out of true intrinsic autonomy.

And so, are my children turning into independent adults?  To the person who asked this, I think I would answer “no!”  They are autonomous young adults who know where their strengths lie but also their weaknesses, they understand the power of having good networks that support and build up and are aware of the pitfalls; they work with a toolkit that allows feedback, that corrects and enables them to move onwards making the best of everything and they take responsibility for their lives – the good, the bad and the ugly and seek out ways to improve constantly.  And that is good enough for me!  Some may call it independence, and certainly self-reliance and free choice is part of it but moreover, I prefer autonomy having the “freedom to determine one’s own actions, behaviour, etc.” whilst appreciating everything else that goes hand-in-hand of having the best chance of a successful adulthood.

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Bad Results? Moving Onwards and Upwards

Reset Parenting

This week thousands upon thousands of students in the UK have been receiving their AS and A Level results.  Next week the GCSE results will be out.  For many the grades received will access and promote their dreams and aspirations for the future and all will carry on smoothly, but for some their exam results will interrupt their future plans and introduce a platform of confusion. Such disruption to these students can prove to be quite challenging for them and at this time they will need nurturing through such a difficult time with compassion and empathy by those around them.

But how can parents and carers help at this time and what steps will help the students involved?

Critically and essentially parents/carers need to be available.  Avoiding urges to cast judgement and issue blame is essential at such times for whilst  the emotions are heightened, the first port of call is…

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Exams: Parental Stress and Anxiety

It’s that time of year again ….

Reset Parenting

This week sees the start of the GCSE and AS exams amongst others in the UK and presumably world-wide students will be preparing for exams and feeling the pressure of these.  But as a parent how do we cope with the fallout of the exams at home, not only helping our children deal with the stresses and strains of the end of year tests and exams, but also keeping ourselves mentally prepared to deal with the variety of emotions that present from supporting children’s heightened states to maintaining our own internal worries and niggles.

For many parents, as their children prepare for their final exams at school, they are all too aware of the weight that these will play into the future.  Parents worry about the amount of work their children are doing, how they are in themselves, whether they are looking after themselves in general, as well as whether…

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Restorative justice

I was asked recently what I thought about restorative justice. A lot one might say browsing through this blog and indeed, I could probably write an evidence based report on studies that have been done, but for a minute, I’m going to afford myself the luxury of reflecting on what it means and has meant to me, as a parent of four children, who I have pretty much brought up myself.

Restorative justice is a new buzz word in education. It encourages a process of repair but as a parent where can you start because this is surely the end result of a long long process that needs to start years in advance and what’s more I believe it starts with the parent.

For years in this country we have been taught to apply the carrot and stick. A carrot eliciting praise and a stick focussing on consequences for behaviour. Based in behaviourist principles, a lot of the practice of this methodology appears to have deviated significantly from its roots. Everyone knows that if you offer someone an incentive, they will often jumps through hoops to get the said incentive and parenting is no stranger to this. Consider for a minute, the star charts and other such models that have run through generations now. The promises that encourages a child to do good to get good. But is it that simple? And where does it end up?

For sure, when my children were little they were rewarded for good deeds. We had a system of marbles. Collect so many marbles and there would be a prize. That prize might not have been a tangible object, as was the fad at the time, it might have been something else. It didn’t always cost money but it did focus on the do to get model of child development. If rooms were tidied marbles would be added to the jar. If someone did something for someone else, marbles would be added to the jar. “If” equalled marbles but there was a huge problem with this and that was that the “IF” was often a prescription handed down from adult to child to fulfil complicit in power relations. The child did the “if” to get the marbles and the idea was that behaviour was shaped accordingly! WRONG!

Children are clever creatures who know when they’re onto a good thing! They want marbles and they will do anything to get them but does that actually teach them to do for themselves. Of course it doesn’t! And why is that wrong? I hear you say. After all through life we work to be paid, we’re kind to people to get them to like us etc etc. However, none of those associations necessarily bring about inner happiness and that’s where we go wrong. If you teach a child to behave in a set way because they improve an internal locus within them, then you teach them to reward themselves. That feel good feeling that comes about from harnessing something for ourselves. Translated at school, if a child learns something because they want to learn it, and enjoy the feelings that come from their own achievements, then I believe they smooch with their own neurology to trigger further feel good factors and so a concentric circle of good comes about. It doesn’t happen over night but it’s a slow gradual process that develops over time.

Asking a child how they feel and encouraging them to express those emotions using various medium brings them into touch with a side which I believe for far too long has been bypassed. So a child is kind, maybe consoles their friend, strokes the dog, runs upstairs to fetch something and when they come down beaming because they know they’ve done good, rather (or maybe as well as) putting a marble in a jar, encourage them to really experience the positive emotions that are besetting them at the moment in time. And so it goes on. Help them to own their own lives!

Sounds corny? Well maybe but there is a greater truth in there which we have mentioned before because as they approach adulthood and leave school and all the strings of reward slowly diminish each time they do something, they are then armed with an inner tool kit which will furnish them with their own rewards for ever more.

Furthermore, encourage children to be empathetic, compassionate and to have an understanding of how others are feeling. When a sibling does something good, foster an approach that celebrates their success by considering the positive feelings that the sibling is feeling and echo those through the family. When a friend is down and your child says “Alice was sad today” dig a little deeper and see if they can think why she might have been sad. Not to think how they would feel if they were in that position but how she is feeling, why she is feeling like that and what she is seeing from her perceptive.

Likewise do the same when negative behaviours arise. Rather than jumping on the blame and judgement band wagon that doles out consequences likes there’s no tomorrow, without condoning bad behaviour, ask “why do you think Jack did that”. “What do you think made him do that” “Where did that anger come from?” Moreover, ask “What do you think Jack needs to do now” all the time keeping the focus on “Jack” so that your child starts to build up a cognitive repertoire that enables him/her to see actions from another angle.

And then try and encourage a third party perspective. “What actually happened” “How did that occur” from the altitude perspective. This is particularly helpful when processing through a situation where maybe your child isn’t blameless in the equation despite the bad response they have received from another. “What do you think “Teddy” would say if he’d been looking on” because Teddy just might have something to say about both parties.

The same happens later on when a child comes and asks for advice. Don’t just reel off a list of options but get them to see if from another perspective. Suggest they consider what they would say if their friend was asking them the same question. All along helping your child engage with all the different perspectives that are available – not just their own. And more importantly paving a pathway that respects the thoughts, feelings and opinions of others whilst retaining a firm footing on their own thoughts, feelings and opinions at the same time.

It isn’t easy. But how does this relate to restorative justice. Schools now, all over the country, are being encouraged to consider implementing systems that use restorative justice to improve outcomes, less bullying and less exclusions but the fact is, a restorative justice policy in school, will just be that a policy if we don’t change our approach to children’s discipline much much earlier on.

Children need adults to help them foster their future for sure. They need positive role models to follow and they need to learn the veracity of truth and responsibility over blame and judgement. But firstly, and foremost, they need to be able to appreciate how the other person is feeling – what they are thinking – why they might be behaving in a certain way. Having an open ended approach to this, encourages children to listen and to understand.

Importantly though, children need to have their voice heard. They need to forge behaviours that help them learn to express their feelings openly and appropriately but these all need to be on the bedrock discussed above. In the early teenage years, when my children came home with disputes and quarrels or bickered between themselves as siblings do, we had the “point penguin”. We would sit around the table and the person who was holding a stuffed toy penguin would put forward their point whilst the others listened and it always surprised me how much could simply be accomplished by listening. The emphasis was not on punishment – in fact I can’t remember the last time I punished my children – but it was on true listening and then open whole hearted apologies where they were necessary with a firm plan of action to move onwards from that point. That involved understanding that the party that was hurt, might need a little time too. A simply sorry was the first part and the action plan (for want of a better word) encouraged ongoing “repair”. But critically that happened with children who were already able to access theirs and their siblings emotions to understand what had gone on from an altitude perspective.

We therefore didn’t trade in consequences but focussed on outcomes. More importantly, I think this shows, how implementing a system of restorative justice in school cannot happen in isolation. There needs to be programmes of cognitive development that are based in touching base with feelings and accessing third party perspectives.

More, and possibly much more, importantly though it starts with the adults. If adults are locked in the old carrot and stick mentality or subscribe to blame and judgement, then restorative justice just will not work. Children mimic adults – the celebrity culture demonstrates that clearly. Adults have to pave the way and have to subscribe to lowering the power relation threshold sufficiently to enable open and healthy discussion in a safe and secure environment. It starts with a belief that there is always hope. The buy in that change can happen but also not a buy in to change that is forced on another but more so nurtured. Change doesn’t happen overnight and no adult in the world can force a child to change for the child has to do that changing themselves. The power in that comes when they choose to change – when they look in the mirror and challenge themselves not because they’ve been told they need to but because they want to because they truly understand how they are impacting on another and want to be a better person. And that only comes from being able to see every side of the equation.

So, if you want to change your child’s outcome help them to want to change themselves but first of all challenge your own thoughts and feelings to see if you’re ready for the ride. It isn’t simple but it is worth it and it all starts with believing in the capacity of humankind.

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A Personal Review of The State Education System (not the teachers)

Tomorrow sees the beginning of the final full term of compulsory education in school for my children! They have all been very fortunate to have been taught by some marvellous teachers to whom I take my hat off. And no more so do I doff my cap to these people because of the ridiculous system in which they work. 
State education nowadays alienates kids, devalues parents and spits in the face of good teachers. It saddens me so much that the joy of learning has been sacrificed in a test-centric system. It breaks my heart that the power of becoming an independent learner has been slaughtered on the alter of a business based system that has introduced academies and super heads. It kills me to see tomorrow’s generation being processed as a statistic without regard for their own uniqueness.
To date my children have never once had a detention in school and will no doubt leave with stunning reports about their behaviour and progress and so I don’t say this because of anything they have or have not done nor with malice and bitterness but out of a centre of observation that has seen how many others this system has failed. It knocks the stuffing out of so many children and reduces them to their lowest common denominator over building them up to be strong, confident and worthy citizens of tomorrow.
Until we truly embrace an education system that celebrates human potential and exalts each individual’s gifts, there will continue to be parents out there like me that breathe a sigh of relief on their child’s last day in this system. Moreover the tragedy will also continue whereby children will leave confusing their dislike of the school system with dislike of education generally being anxious, stressed and rejecting the freedom and opportunities that lifelong learning brings.
Therefore if you have a child still being state-processed please help them learn to love their ability to learn. Help them cherish and respect the knowledge that is out there for them to attain. Work with them to understand their own true worth and potential. Instil in them joy – joy for even the smallest thing they learn and give them the understanding that even when they feel they have failed in the eyes of the state system, they are still on the first step to success.

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Parental Love

All you need to know about bringing up a child ….

Ginz&Tonic

(All you need to bring up a child)

For all the facts and figures
The books and the insights
There’s only one thing that you need
To bring your kids up right
And that is love in plenty
Love like you would have wished
Your own would have endowed on you
The sort of love that’s dished
Up with no price tag on it
No onward cost or bill
That’s free and unconditional
That says I’ll love you til
I have no breath left in me
That goes to the moon and then
Comes back; that’s never ceasing
And does it all again

A love that isn’t hidden
Disguised in any form
Not wearing bribes or sweeteners
That’s given as a norm
A love that doesn’t measure
In school grades or elsewhere
A love that’s off the scale; that sits
Unselfishly out there
For such love’s omnipresent
Comes from deep…

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Motivating The Unmotivated

I have a 15 year old son.  He doesn’t like school very much and he certainly doesn’t like giving up his time to revise for exams.  Sound familiar?  He’s obviously doing something right though because he got an excellent report commending him for his attitude towards work but with exams coming up, it’s like getting blood out of a stone to get him to sit down and spend any revise and compounded by the good report!  So what do you do?

Let’s face it.  Revision is boring!  It’s a heinous task for many young kids who would much rather be doing something else.  Sitting down in a quiet place going over the same old same old with teacher’s voices ringing in their heads and the old nag nag nag of maybe Mum or Dad, doesn’t really tick teenage boxes.  You can bribe them with sweets, trips out, rewards but the bottom line is, when all is said and done, these incentives have short term worth.

So what can be done?  How do, we as parents motivate the unmotivated?

The bad news is that there is no simple solution!  The good news is that there is a lot we can do as parents.

The number one rule though is not to alienate the child in question.  If you have a stubborn child, the expression, you will drive the devil in, comes to mind.  Been there?  Thought so – so have I!

Alienating teenagers just reaffirms what they think they already know and that is adults don’t understand.  My son didn’t do very well in a surprise test at the beginning of the year and the comment on the paper from the teacher was “This is the worst test I’ve ever marked”.  Six months later, my son, despite considerable improvement and a little more praise from this teacher, is still brewing on that comment and why?  Because it seriously undermined his faith in himself.  It sets him on edge and the old defences come up.  It instils fear which paralyses the brain and it does nothing to encourage him to try a bit harder and to do better.  It’s a hard hitting statement that does nothing to reinforce a better pathway and for that reason, despite considerable improvement since, it’s knocked him for six.  Likewise, as parents we need to avoid making hard hitting statements.  “You’re so lazy” “You’ll fail” “You’re driving me mad” all only serve to knock a child down when really we want to encourage them.  How much better would it have been for that teacher to write “you clearly struggled with this, but let’s see how much you can improve next time round”  Or how much better for the parent to say “so you don’t like this work thing eh?  OK well let’s look at what you do like and maybe what you’d like to do” (as a means of identifying that really what you like to do (in the future) means a little more hard graft now.

It’s very easy to fall into a negative mindset and is very disparaging to have a child that won’t work but that’s about your emotions – not theirs.  Tweaking the way we see lazy and failure is the first step to understanding that we have a lot of power to encourage our young people to see the validity in work and the reward of success.  And by turning out negative phrases into more affirming ones that proactively seek out change is a good first step in working with the child as opposed to against them.

Secondly, identifying what they want to do in the future opens up a plethora of opportunity.  Pretty much everything nowadays relies on at least some success at school.  We’re not talking As and A*’s but a good basic grounding in the core subjects.  Helping a child to have a focus on what they want to do and working out a strategy to reach their goal, empowers the will to do it.  If they see that they want to be “x” and that they need “abc” to get there, then “x” becomes the focus and “abc” the means to achieve that focus.  They will want to get through the “abc” to get to “x”.  It’s like a meal – you might not like the carrots or the greens, but clear the plate and the chocolate pudding is waiting at the other side!  Of you might not like having to walk to the pub, but that cool, delectable glass of wine waiting there for you is a good enough pull.  If the focus is attractive enough, the magnetism will be there.

In the case of my son, he wants to be a professional musician with a trajectory to go to Music College to take do his undergraduate in performance.  That is his sole goal.  He practices for hours every day.  He loves his music and doesn’t want to do anything else but thankfully he realises to achieve his ends, he has to tick a few boxes en route; those boxes being a good clutch of GCSE’s and a few A Levels to access the music course he wants to do.  And so the exams become part of the integral part of his journey to his dream.  His trajectory might be a degree but equally there are few jobs nowadays that will not want the basics so school (or learning) is important.

But is that enough motivation?  End goals and dreams are a long way off when you’re a teenager.  So what else is holding a child back.

For some exams are daunting!  The sheer number are overwhelming and let’s face it, with government targets, the pressure at school is often immense.  The pressure from other children is often also an issue with competition rife and certain parents adding to that by pushing their children all the way.

Pushing, a child, to my mind, simply doesn’t have longevity.  Some might swear by it, but in the long run the only person that is going to make a difference in your child’s life is your child.  If they are not doing it for themselves, they ultimately will not do it at all.  And the earlier they learn the power in autonomy and self-propulsion the easier everyone’s life will be.  Helping them realise what they need to do and to assist in that process, however, is not pushy.  It’s all down to how it’s done and it’s all down to who ultimately is driving the process.

As parents, we need to hand the keys over and then sit in the passenger seat as a navigator.  Our children have chosen their destination (remember setting the focus earlier), but as co-driver, we as parents have access to the map to help steer a course as and when needed.  Part of that is seeing the blocks and road closures.  Another part of it is seeing where the roads are busy and jammed.

In terms of motivation, this means asking open ended non-judgemental questions and keeping the lines of communication open.  It also means making a realistic assessment of what your child can cope with.  What do they need to do well at to achieve their goal.  What do they like doing and importantly what don’t they like.

So for instance, the school’s agenda might be ten end of year exams.  They’re internal and therefore not the real GCSE’s but they are an important foundation for what is to come.  However, that foundation is as much an emotional one as an academic one.  If you’re child goes into the exams prepared with realistic expectations (that are their expectations) then they will perform better in the real things with less anxiety.

There is a lot written about coping with anxiety and revision aids.  That’s not what this blog post is about so do go google strategies to help with that but importantly let’s be resolved to work with our children.

As for my son, he’s now working with me on his revision.  We sit down and go through a page or so at a time.  We make it interesting sometimes unconventionally so but the bottom line is that despite the yawning that goes on, the subject material is going in.  We’ve chosen a few subjects to really focus on and will be assessing his performance in those this year.  The rest will come later.  Remember the schools may set their exam dates but learning is a lifelong matter.  We will be continuing past the exams chipping away with the target in sight.  And what’s more we’ll be making plenty of time for entertainment and doing what he likes best too.

At the end of the day life is a series of steps; one at a time!  The key is to enjoy it and know that if a child loses the joy for learning then they will not learn.  Make it fun!  Or at least as fun as possible! And over everything – work with them.

Good luck!

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