Sunday, October 31, 2010

Shakespeare and Spock, on Halloween

Hamlet, at age six (with Yorick)

Lady MacBeth, at age nine. Thoroughly mad, but too young to want to say 'damn' spot, so it was just 'Out, spot!"

Captain Spock, at age eleven.

Hamlet with his friends Scooby-Doo and a Star Wars denizen, before the start of the Halloween parade. Hamlet's friends didn't know who he was, so he introduced himself to everyone as "I'm Hamlet, prince of Denmark." Only one adult responded, "Something's rotten over there, prince!"

Parenting based on vision, not fear

I poked about on parenting web sites yesterday doing a bit of market research. I was surprised by how little most of the articles resonated with me. So many were based on the question, "Is it wrong to...?" or "Should I allow my child to...?"

I thought These are the wrong questions.  They are questions based on fear, not vision.

They are based on the fear that we'll somehow do parenting wrong (face it: we will). They are based on the fear that our kids won't fit in (hopefully, in some ways, they won't: not everything about pop culture is good). They are based on our insecurity as moms and dads.

How about focusing on what kind of people we want our kids to be, instead?

Here's what I want for my kids:

  • I want them to be caring, thoughtful people, who take the time to notice the needs of others -- and do something to help.
  • I want them to be engaged in the problems of the world, and to be able to think clearly about how to resolve conflicts.
  • I want them to be people of honor and self-respect, whose word is trusted and discretion unquestioned.
  • I want them to have real passions, and interests that will make their world bigger than they can ever imagine.
  • I want them to have strong coping skills, so they can rebound from setbacks and persevere when things get tough.
  • I want them to take responsibility and accept accountability, even when it's awkward and painful to do so.
  • I want them to be able to argue at a level that goes beyond "He's stupid" and "They're evil."
  • I want them to make decisions based on the right thing to do instead of what they want to do.
That's my vision. It informs everything from how much screen time my kids have to what kinds of activities they participate in. Do we allow texting at the table? No, because that's neither caring nor thoughtful of the people you are with. Do we give each child a computer, to minimize conflict over screen time? No, because that doesn't teach kids to share and work out problems.

The thing about parenting that's based on vision is that the kinds of questions you ask yourself become things like Would doing this bring us closer to the kind of family we want to be? and Would allowing that make my daughter a better person? We're looking forward to our real goals. We've got a heckuva lot better chance of reaching our goals if we factor them into our parental decision-making than if we don't.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Procrastination and real consequences

There's a decent body of research that shows that the way around procrastination is to commit to doing something at a particular time, in a particular place. Once our brains have visualized the what and when and where, our followthrough rate increases dramatically. So if I need to work on a project that I really would rather avoid, the trick is to say to myself, "After lunch I will get a cup of tea and sit at the end of the sofa and begin writing." Specificity saves the day.

Teaching kids to overcome the tendency to procrastinate is another thing. It's a hard concept when they're too young to have a real sense of time, or of tradeoffs. Saying, "If you spend your time playing now, you won't have time to do X later" is way too abstract -- and who cares about later when you're six?

I have no research to support this, but I suspect there's something about not being the center of Mom's attention that brings on a veritable plague of procrastination.Today I spent half an hour reading Beowulf aloud to Dancer. Little Guy -- who had to fold his laundry and put it away and get dressed before starting his school work -- was suddenly unable to stay on task for more than 27.5 seconds.

This kind of thing can make me nuts. And yet, what kind of nut am I to think that a six year old boy is going to follow through on a series of tasks, unsupervised, while Mom pays attention to someone else? Who's really the source of the problem here?

Time passed, progress was slow, and we had to leave at 11:15 to take Snuggler to speech therapy. From there we were heading directly to our last medieval arts class. Little Guy loves the medieval class, and today they are doing their performance of Chanticleer. And so I did something I often do when there's a big I-wanna-do-it sitting out there later in the day: I told him that we would go, but he wouldn't go into class until his work was finished. He would sit outside the class until he was done with his math and his reading and his writing.

This is far more effective than saying we won't go. I came up with this approach because I needed a legitimate consequence that does not punish my other kids. And I find that the mere fact of being on the way lends a level of gravity to the situation that I can't generate at home. And finally and most importantly, this approach makes getting the work done my child's problem, not mine. He wants to go to medieval class, and -- "No, I did not say you could finish your work on the way home; I said you could sit outside class until you were done" -- he will figure out how to do what he has to do.

Which he did. He carried and borrowed his way through his math problems as the train clattered downtown, then swerved his way down the sidewalk reading his Magic Treehouse book. And just as we arrived at medieval class he finished the last chapter.

"Mommy, would you really have made me sit out?" he asked. I looked him in the eye, and raised an eyebrow.

Yes. Yes, I would. Because the only way one learns to be efficient is if there are real consequences to procrastination. And besides, I knew that at worst he'd miss ten minutes of class.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Kids and perfectionism, again.

I was talking with some other moms yesterday and mentioned that I think one thing we parents need to do is to let our kids see how we struggle. To kids it seems we know how to do everything -- and we seem to know how to it without difficulty. They might have to try 14 times to get it halfway right, but Mom and Dad just do it. Is it any wonder they get frustrated?

Around here, I sometimes forewarn my kids about how many tries it's likely to take before they start to feel competent at something. Will it take three times? 15? 50? We work hard on heading off frustration before it begins. That doesn't always work, but it does set expectations more appropriately, and that shortens the cycle.

If we want our children to be lifelong learners, and to develop persistence, we'd better have the humility to let our kids see that sometimes we have to work hard to figure things out, and we have to practice, and we have to pick ourselves up without a huge fuss when we stumble.

I say that, knowing it's harder than I think. Not just because of the humility piece, but because as adults so much of our thought process is invisible to kids. With this book I just finished my kids definitely saw me working hard; I was on the computer when they got up, and when they went to bed, and every spare second in between. I talked occasionally about what I was doing (Snuggler in particular was interested in how I made decisions, and the process of wordsmithing). But I don't think I ever mused aloud, "Now how am I going to do this?" when I hit a challenge I'd never faced before. And I hit quite a number of those kinds of situations. So from a kid's perspective, that challenge didn't exist. They never heard about it, so they didn't know where I struggled unless I said something like, "I need to take a break. This is too complicated right now!"

On the other hand, I did point out that the writers whose work I was editing (most of whom are professionals, and earn their living from writing) spent hours crafting -- and then polishing -- each piece before I ever saw it, and that here I was spending hours re-working some of that. The process of improving a piece of writing is a thing unto itself; what you end up with depends in large part on your willingness to think openly and critically about your work. Young kids have no clue about process unless we show them.
We are all better at working at some kinds of challenges than others. I tend to be good at it at my own writing, and because of that I stay away from working on writing with my kids. (They aren't going to appreciate my critical eye, I'm sure!) Snuggler is phenomenal at sticking with art projects.  Little Guy is terrific at working out problems with one of his inventions, but heaven help us if he doesn't get his math right away. And so on. It helps me to remember that they're not perfectionistic about everything. And it helps to remember that we adults don't persevere with everything, either. And I remind myself that if I want to teach my children to rebound from mistakes, my perseverance in working toward that goal has to be greater than their perfectionism.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Free time

Snuggler was a big baby. She was 9lb, 2oz at birth, and weighed 30 pounds at nine months. All that mass in a baby-length bundle was like hauling a medicine ball around; she was my only child who didn't spend her first year in the baby carrier. My back couldn't take it. But I got so accustomed to hefting Snuggler that when I went to pick up a friend's (much smaller) baby, I almost heaved the tyke across the room! I wasn't expecting him to be so light.

I'm having a similar experience now that the book manuscript has been submitted. I have work to do, work that's piled up and begging to be done, but the load is so much lighter it feels like next to nothing. A couple of hours here, a few hours there, and I could toss it off. If you'll pardon an indelicate analogy, the sense of liberation is as amazing as the first time you pee after having given birth to your first child. Who knew there was that much space in a bladder (or a day)?

And so I contemplate what I shall do with my new-found free time, the time that, pre-book, felt so tightly packed. There is a great deal that went un-done around the house in the past several months, so I need to wrestle myself into doing repairs and closet cleaning. A full fridge and pantry would be of benefit, too. I've already planned some art projects to go with our homeschooling, which is a luxury we haven't had for the past two months. I owe Little Guy some chemistry experiments.

But mostly my mind is turning to new projects... 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Shakespeare and Kids, II

Last night we went up to see Much Ado About Nothing at the children's theater. My kids had several friends in the cast, and though an 8pm show isn't ideal for us, it was the only performance that fit in our schedule.

As we were leaving, I noticed that Little Guy was bringing Stuffy, his comfort dog. I wondered aloud about that -- Stuffy doesn't come as many places with us as he used to -- and Little Guy replied, "He's going to Shakespeare for Dogs. He's going to see Mutt Ado About Nothing!"

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Making Progress on Parenting

Andrew has taken Little Guy to soccer in recent weeks; I've been on Snuggler delivery duty. You may recall that the last time I wrote about Little Guy and soccer, he moped about the field, sullen and insulted that others were faster or more adept, angry that the teams were unfairly divided.

Today Little Guy was out there, running around, racing after the ball. No more petulance, no anxiety, no tears when a call went against him. The coach came over to me partway through the drill session, gushing, "It's like he's a different kid!" Little Guy was playing the game. And he was happy.

So what happened? There are only three things, I think: constant emphasis on how important it is to put in effort, praise for when he worked hard, and the passage of time.

Time is a hugely important component in dampening anxiety. Most of us know that frisson of newness, and can empathize with first-day jitters... up to a point. When there's still anxiety on the third or fourth or fifth time, it can get annoying. And yet as long as the anxiety is lessening, we are making progress.

If I can get Little Guy to stick with something long enough to get over the hurdle of newness, we've got a running chance. The other hurdle to leap is my own: I've got to get over my aversion to dealing with yet another situation that isn't going to go smoothly. Parenting challenges -- especially public ones -- are tough to slog through, especially when everyone else's kids seem to be happily cruising through life. So I have to tell myself the same things I tell my son: Relax. Breathe deeply. Concentrate on making progress, not on instantly solving the problem. 

Every parent has times when parenting is more work than we want it to be. But so what? So it's hard. That doesn't mean it's too hard. It means we have to work harder, or smarter, or get help. The more time we spend complaining about the difficult aspects of parenting, the less energy we're putting into parenting itself.

Friday, October 22, 2010


How did I not know about these? Saw them today in the Post Office, and had to buy a sheet, even though the other comic-stamps were things like Archie and Beetle Bailey. I couldn't let them just sit there when I have a Calvin & Hobbes fanatic at home.

Copyright is the U.S. Postal Service.

Entertainment for kids during meetings

I took Dancer to a high school open house this a.m., and had to shlep Little Guy along. At the last minute I realized I needed something for Little Guy to do while we listened to people yap. I searched frantically through my 'special drawer' and came across a package of 1.5" adhesive circles, technically called 'mailing seals'. I'd bought them to make stickers for a community event (Avery offers free software online for this).

Lemme tell ya, hand a 6-year old a couple of sheets of blank stickers and some colored pencils, and you can buy yourself a good chunk of quiet time. (Well, except for the whispered, "Hey Mom! Look at this!") Great stuff.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Making charcoal

Dancer is taking a class called Caveman Chemistry, which goes through chemistry from a kind of as-humans-learned-about-it approach. Very hands-on, very cool. The first week they had to make fire. Then they made charcoal. Part of Dancer's homework this week was to teach someone else how to make charcoal. This morning she got everything set up -- a 16oz can, a tuna can, a chopped-up piece of clothespin -- and handed us the instructions.

  1. We put the pieces of wood in the 16oz can (wrapper removed), and put the can on the stove.
  2. We covered the can with the tuna can (wrapper removed), which had a hole poked in the top, near the side.
  3. We turned on the stove. At first steam came out, which Dancer said was because of the water in the wood.
  4. Then when smoke began to emerge, we had to keep lighting matches near the hole. We went through about eight matches before a stream of fire lit over the hole. Dancer said those were the oils from within the wood.
  5. We turned off the stove when the fire stopped, and peeked inside.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On soccer and self-improvement

I became a soccer mom this fall, for the first time ever. I'm not sure how we managed to get through sixteen years of parenting without ever having a child do team sports, but we did, and I've gotta tell you it's a mercy.

I do not like being a soccer mom. It's not the game (I kind of like the game). It's not the coaches. It's not the other parents. It's me. I don't like myself while I'm at my child's soccer game. I feel agitated and irritated, enthusiastic and bored, frustrated and snarly. And I have no idea why.

I'm definitely on the bandwagon with the See the Gross Slimy Creature Emerging From Yourself and Find a Way to Transform It orchestra. I'm a firm believer that part of the reason we're supposed to be fruitful and multiply is because being a parent brings all our weaknesses to light, where we can decide what to do about them. If we're remotely wise, we look at our glaring flaws and say, "Eeew! I want to be a better person than that!" And then we start to look at parenting as more than the process of guiding a wee one into adulthood. We start to look at it as a valuable, long and oft-repeated cycle of opportunities to improve ourselves (and guide a wee one into adulthood).

Example: I'm reasonably certain there's never been a mother who, after surviving a grueling year with a rambunctious three year old, thought Gosh, I'm even more patient than I thought I was! (Personally, I've been a parent of a preschooler five times, and my conclusion is that if I were God, I would've counted 1, 2... 4. Age three is one of those mysteries on a par with why babies aren't born potty trained.) No, we become more patient because our puny but strong-willed offspring help us realize that we're nowhere near as patient as we thought. And our offspring are a big enough motivation -- because we care about them and about being good parents -- for us to dig deep and find ways to become more patient. And that's good.

But I still hate watching my kid's soccer games. If I figure out why, I'll let you know.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Dancer called me today; a friend of hers from the neighborhood invited her to go to a tap class. I said sure, if she could find a pair of tap shoes. (Oddly enough for a non-tapping family, we have a lot of tap shoes hanging around!) I'd meet her to pay for the class. Dancer's always kind of wanted to learn to tap. This was local, inexpensive, and she had companionship. Worth a try.

Little Guy and I arrived just as the class was starting. The guy teaching the class is a pro, and those kids were moving fast! Someone told me the other girls had taken the class all last year. I couldn't mentally map half the sequences at half the speed (and let's just forget about trying to make my body do them!) It didn't seem to phase Dancer a bit. She just tapped away -- no problem. Where did all that coordination come from? Don't look over here.

Sometimes the other-ness of my children is mindbending. How can this graceful child possibly have sprung from the same gene pool as me? Of course she did, and of course my kids are similar to me and to each other in many ways. Figuring out the she's-like-me or she's-not-like-me thing is complex. It's kind of like looking at a coin: one side has a likeness, and one side doesn't. Same coin, different perspective.You have to have the whole coin for it to have value.

Which means, I guess, that we have to value the parts of our kids that leave us mystified as much as the parts with which we resonate.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A brief update

Snuggler said the other day, "Writing is like taking medicine." Some days that is so true. Some days things flow, and the brain ticks along cooperatively, and there's a sense of artistry and immense satisfaction in your work. Other days -- meh.

Today I made progress. Real progress. I sent in the beginning of the book, and after taking a brief break to work on a completely unrelated project (deadlines are stacking up around here like landfill), I am closing out my work day by... writing.

Things I've been thinking about:
  • Junk mail. We don't get much, because we don't buy much. But I equate toy catalogs with  math, because every time one arrives Little Guy creates a wish list and then adds up the prices. It always totals more than he has, so then it's subtraction time. Ultimately he decides that he'd rather not spend his money... until the next catalog comes in.
  • High schools. The listing of public high schools in this city is the size of a phone book. Most can be eliminated as possible places to attend simply by looking at the graduation rate. Dancer is in 7th grade, and ballet puts a serious crimp in how many schools we can visit. So we're starting a year early, to narrow down the options.
  • Dogs. We're supposed to have a home visit from a Bichon Frise rescue group soon. Then hopefully we'll be adopting a dog soon. I think that's good news.
  • Pumpkins. Pet peeve of the week: it ticks me off that you can't cook most of the pumpkins that are for sale these days. It says something about our society that we value decorative pumpkins more than cookable ones.
  • White and Nerdy. This is one of Eldest's favorite songs, and her a capella group sang it today as part of a concert, to great appreciation. Wish I coulda been there. If you don't know the song, you can watch Weird Al's version online.
  • Sleep. Good night!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A sort-of guest post

I am working. The kind of intense don't-bother-me working that doesn't make for good parenting except during breaks, when I grind my gears and shift into Mommy mode. I am so close to having this book finished... and so close to another regularly scheduled deadline that it's sniffing my pant leg wondering why I'm not paying it no nevermind.

So while I'm hoping that the candle I'm burning at both ends doesn't run out of wax (or drip on my laptop), I offer this short story written my nine-year old Snuggler.

See Plot Run

Once there was a boy named Henry. Henry was a quiet kid who worried quite a bit. One day in writing class, he had to write a narrative. Henry immediately started to worry. What if he couldn’t come up with a plot? What if he made a mistake? What if his writing teacher didn’t like his story? Henry worried through all the rest of his classes. Whenever he worried, his palms got sweaty, so he couldn’t hold a pencil. He worried all the way home. He worried for an hour more at home, thinking up more and more things to worry about.

 His mom told him, “Henry, you need to do your homework, or else you won’t have it when you n

Monday, October 11, 2010


I've been musing on the New York Times article on kindergardeners who bully. I'm thinking that one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was that they didn't gossip. Ever. If they spoke about someone else's weaknesses it was with compassion and a desire to help. My folks both knew a lot of people, not all of whom were easy to get along with. But I can't recall either of them ever saying anything derogatory about someone else, or telling others about a person's weaknesses, or being malicious in any way.

I don't like gossip, perhaps because I was raised without it. People get hurt. I feel yucky after I talk unkindly about someone. I know it's easy enough to have that dirty feeling fade; but I don't think inuring myself to the aftereffects is the solution. I'd rather steer clear in the first place.

Years ago, when I still hung out in ballet studios while classes were in session, the gossip just about drove me around the bend. Fortunately I had the excuse of managing small children while my bigger kids were in class, so I escaped having to listen to most of the unending talk. One day I stopped to ask one of the champion chatterers about something and mentioned, "Nah, I don't gossip." She replied, in utter amazement, "But... but...your life must be so full!"

Well... yeah.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Other lives

I went to visit Big Guy this evening. His new "home" is in another part of the city, a very different neighborhood. I got off the train a stop early (there was a gobbledegook message about skipping some stops, and it was easier to disembark than to translate) and walked for a while. Might as well have been in a foreign country -- or four. A few people were speaking English, many Spanish, some Chinese, and apparently some Tamil, because the movie marquee boasted a Tamil-language show during the month of October.

I like walking along wondering at lives so massively different than mine. I follow a woman with my eye, trying to decipher from her appearance what kind of home she lives in, where she's from, what her last argument was about. I look at the produce in the street-side markets, eyes zeroing in on the vegetable I've never seen, debating whether my Spanish is good enough to ask the greengrocer how it's cooked. A group of southeast Asian women come by wearing a curious apron of horizontal stripes, and I have no idea from which country they have emigrated. I stop in an empanada shop and buy savory treats for the ridiculous price of a dollar apiece.

I stop to see Big Guy, who flings himself into my arms shouting, "Mom!" We stand there embracing hard for a bit; some of his fellow-residents looking on with curiosity, and a trace of envy. Big Guy is a bit sad, quite lonely, but holding up. He has much to tell me. The staff are good and supportive -- which we know from experience is not a given -- and that is a huge relief. The other kids, well, they're not such great companions, a bit on the rough side. Whenever Big Guy makes a smart-alek remark, someone is likely to throw a punch at him. But for the time being, it remains manageable. And I assume he'll learn to keep his mouth shut, eventually.

I am allowed to take Big Guy out for a walk. We stop to buy a small notebook so he can log whenever he gets punched or hit by someone else. It makes a difference, if you ever suspect there's a possibility that you may eventually have to intervene, to be able to point to a piece of paper and say, "He's been punched by this person nine times in two weeks." I am a big believer in paper trails.

I bring Big Guy back to his room, and give him a hug goodbye. There will be chicken and mashed potatoes for supper, and Big Guy tells me he is pleased they will be real mashed potatoes.

I walk away, in a mix of feelings as complex as the babble of languages on the street, and head back to the train. As the light fades, a man calls out from a doorway, "Massage? Massage?" I am mildly confused until I realize the man behind me is the target of the inquiry.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Shakespeare and kids

I'm not sure if it's a homeschool thing or a city thing, but my kids -- and many of their friends -- like Shakespeare. When Big Guy was seven he dressed in a toga for Halloween and recited most of Mark Antony's "Friends, Romans, countrymen" speech. For years his favorite movie was Henry V.

We've seen a number of the comedies in free summer productions, but generally eschew the tragedies for the younger kids. Nevertheless, the plots are in the air; Little Guy bought a skull-shaped goodie-bucket and is planning on being Hamlet for Halloween. He's in the process of memorizing "Alas, poor Yorick!" to add a touch of authenticity (though Snuggler had the brilliant idea of adding a "Hi! My name is..." sticker for good measure). Snuggler was toying with being the ghost, but then found a pretty, long dress at Goodwill and will be Ophelia.

Today the kids came home from the neighborhood Harvest Festival, and among their prizes were gooey eyeballs.

"Look, Mom! I'm King Lear!"

I think that's all he knows of the plot -- that someone goes blind. But maybe not.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hands-on learning

I signed the kids up for a medieval arts residency, five 3-hour sessions during the month of October. My motivation was twofold (mixed motives abound in parenting!): it sounded cool, and I desperately needed the block of time to work on my book.

Last week when we walked into the first class there were about twenty replicas of medieval instruments, ranging from harp to hurdy-gurdy to shaum. The kids sang rounds in Old English and Italian, learned about parchment, and sewed their own journals using bodkins.

Today was the second class, and Snuggler and Little Guy came out bubbling about all the things they learned during the lengthy slide show on medieval art. They are preparing to put on a play based on the story of Chanticleer in Canterbury Tales, too.

Very happy kids. Just as happy as they are when they come out of their geography/geology class after using the stream table to carve out peninsulas and gorges. They had half the subway car smiling yesterday as they competed to pronounce isthmus correctly on the way home.

My kids like hands-on learning. Most kids do. I was feeling a bit guilty that I haven't done a better job of seeking out more classes like these, until I remembered that they're incredibly hard to find. A lot of classes sound good on paper but lack depth or organization -- and they usually cost a fortune. I used to be good at doing this kind of stuff myself, at home. There was a time when we did Chinese calligraphy and pretended to stock a covered wagon and made Noh masks. I don't have the luxury of either time or energy to do that now, so I'm very glad that for this term, at least, my kids are getting rich hands-on experiences elsewhere.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dealing with life when it shouldn't be this way

This week I was thinking that I can deal with most ups and downs of life as long as they're organic. What I have a very hard time with is when the rollercoaster is caused by people who aren't doing their jobs. The primal roar that emerges from me when I've been jerked around because of someone's incompetence or mini-power play is rather impressive. It's impressive enough to cause me to stop and think about it a bit.

Most people in the world are jerked around a lot more than we Americans are. My mind boggles to consider what it must be like to be at the mercy of an arbitrary justice system, or to have your life dictated by a corrupt administration, or to be stuck living in a refugee camp with little or no recourse when something goes wrong. It would kind of be like taking my most intense outrage and raising it to the ninth power -- and living in that state all the time. Except, of course, you couldn't live like that or you'd go barmy.

When something doesn't work the way it should, Americans tend to bluster and shout, "It shouldn't be this way!" It's only later that we (sometimes) add, in a disgruntled mutter, "But it is the way it is." People who live in third world nations would probably flip that around, shrugging with resignation, "It is the way it is," and only maybe, on occasion, remembering, "But it shouldn't be that way."

Both thoughts are necessary. If you can't accept the reality you're dealing with, you'll be miserable. And if you don't remember that things ought to be different, you'll never work toward changing them.

I see this struggle in my kids, in their obsession with fairness. It's tough to instill in children that they need to be fair -- and that they shouldn't get too upset when life isn't fair, because that's just the way things are.

I have a friend who managed this very nicely by nodding to her kids when they came to her with complaints of institutional unfairness, and saying in a very matter-of-fact way, "Yeah, that sucks.I'm not sure there's much we can do about it." But this is the same friend who is a master at constructive complaining, and who has set a clear example to her children of how to change things when change is possible. I think she's on the right track.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dealing with perfectionism in kids

We have our share of perfectionists around here. Alas, they do not obsess about clean floors or neat handwriting or neatly folded clothing in completely-closed dresser drawers. Instead they get upset when they don't understand things the first time through, or have to correct their work, or don't win.

The most effective way to handle this kind of problem, I think, is the Carol Dweck approach to praise: focus on effort, not on results. But when a child is already emotionally stuck, I resort to my mantras:

1. Practice makes progress.
2. It's nothing personal: there's a reason there's an eraser on every pencil.
3. Yet. You mean, 'I can't do it yet.'
4. You don't have to hate it, you just have to work at it.
5. When you're 'no good' at something you can do more of it and get better, or do less of it and get worse.
6. It's not a crime to make a mistake. Especially if you fix it -- and learn from it.

If someone's deeply stuck and panicky, we aim for eight deep breaths, belly out like pregnant ladies. It helps to clear the fog of anxiety, and get those brains working again.

It's a long, slow battle. We haven't gotten there (yet), but practice makes progress.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A visit to Eldest

Call me crazy, but sometimes a mom's gotta see her college girl. And sometimes a mom's got a big deadline and needs a block of time to do some work. And sometimes those two needs coincide, and spending four hours on a bus each way makes a whole lot of sense, because unless you sit in front of two 20-something girls who speak loudly and like, use the word like almost, like, every third word (which I did, and did not appreciate at 7am), you can get a whole lot of work done.

How is Eldest? Fabulous. We went for a long walk and had lunch at a kinda cool middle eastern restaurant, then took another long walk back to her dorm. Hung out there while she prepped for teaching her SAT prep class tomorrow; I worked. Then we went for a long walk in a different direction and ended up in Chinatown for supper. Along the way to and from all that we talked about her music groups (she's singing in a concert choir as well as an a capella group) and what was harder than she expected about college (getting herself fed at breakfast and lunch), and how to do laundry.

I got to hug her and walk hand-in-hand, re-stock her with fresh-picked MacIntosh apples, and be happy to be with her. It was short, but it was a whole lot better than nothing at all.