Head of School Blog

Letting Our Children Take the Lead

Last year I started a tradition that has enriched and transformed my practice in ways I never could have imagined: I started meeting with every Kindergarten family for a one-on-one meeting. My goal? To listen to what’s on the hearts and minds of parents raising children at this particular point and time. I have a series of questions I like to ask: What do you do as a family? What excites you about parenting in this day and age? What keeps you up at night? However, the most important part of the experience for me is simply to listen.

This past week I had a session with a family that I found particularly inspiring and courageous. What I am tagging as courageous might at first blush not seem so profound, but on deeper reflection, it absolutely is. The parents I met with have learned to let their child take the lead with how they support his interests. Why is this so deserving of recognition and admiration – why should this be a topic for my blog? Because in my experience, so many parents are feeling concerned about our uncertain future, and are understandably so intent on ensuring that their child has every opportunity open to them and that they are fortified with a long resume of skills and experiences, that it is very easy to fall into the trap of over-scheduling.
What’s the problem with overscheduling? For one, children may be taxed with the many different skills and talents they are expected to develop, and running from tutor to activity they might begin to think, “I’m never going to be good enough.” For another, children need down time – enough to allow boredom to develop as a catalyst for figuring out what internal desires or interests may exist. Of course, the very worst outcome of all, children might believe that parental love and attention is something that is to be earned through achievement.

Internationally acclaimed clinical psychologist and parenting expert Wendy Mogel (who wrote the New York Times Bestseller The Blessings of a Skinned Knee) reports that the process of parents becoming what she calls “transcript pimps” is actually beginning to backfire. Instead of developing strength and resilience in children, Mogel reports that college deans have created the nicknames “tea cups” and “crispies” to describe a portion of the incoming population. “The ‘teacups’ have been so managed, overprotected, and supported by their parental handlers that they lack the basic life skills needed to survive away from home,” Mogel writes, “The ‘crispies’ are so exhausted from grade-grubbing and worrying about what is going to be on the test that they’re burned out. They find no pleasure in learning.” Mogel goes further to say that one parent expressed to her that “Our children are going to file the largest class-action suit in history against us. They are going to sue us for stealing their childhoods.”

I’m sure we all remember the thoughts and feelings of wonder we had when looking down at our newsborns while they slept like angels (at least some of the time): “What is s/he going to be like? What path will s/he forge in the world?” Somewhere along the line, if we’re not careful, that question loses its innocence and we begin thinking we can build the child we always hoped to have. The beauty of the parents I met with last week is that by following their child’s lead, they’re learning how to play again. “We’ve never been very physical, but every weekend we’re out there playing ball at the park or riding bicycles.” What better way to celebrate the gift of children in our lives!

To read more about this topic, check out the following articles:

Wendy Mogel on being present with our children

Following your child’s passions

Accepting your children for who they are

Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear them! Email me: jsingleton@allsaintshoboken.com