Empower your child to thrive in uncertainty by setting the foundation.
I often meet moms on the playground who want their children to be programmers when they grow up. It’s written on their faces when they proudly show off their children’s advanced language skills. It’s implied during our conversation about their children’s love for Pokemon cards. It’s in the tone of their voice when I tell them that I used to be a programmer.
I see the love.
These moms want the best for their kids. They feel unsettled about the Age of Technology. Many of them quit amazing careers to stay home with their kids. It’s not about living the unfulfilled dream through their kids. It’s rather the hope that their kids will not have to struggle as much; their kids will have a head start; and their kids will fulfill the American Dream for themselves.
I was the same way.
When my son was 13 months old, he had pretty advanced physical skills that everyone commented on. I was happy. I was ecstatic. I wrote a blog post about it.
Could it be that he’s gifted?
This will make my parenting a lot easier if he was naturally talented. He can follow my footsteps to work in the field of technology, then he will be set up for life.
As a parent, this kind of thinking held me back.
By the time my son was 18 months old, I realized that children develop in different ways. My son’s focus on developing any one type of skill to the exclusion of all others at any one time is just the reflection of his single-mindedness. People mistake that for talent or giftedness. In my family, obsession and single-mindedness run for generations. The combination of the two if not managed properly can lead to mental health issues. My son seems to have inherited that.
He can’t just play. He has to accomplish his immediate goal.
By the time he turned two years old, he had an unspoken timeline of development that I came to trust. If I didn’t adhere to his timeline, there would simply be massive tantrums. He took his development very seriously. I couldn’t plan Montessori activities. Instead, I put all his educational toys in toy bins. Depending on what he showed me he wanted to play with in his morning free play session, I would go through the toy bin for actvities to introduce to him in the afternoon.
His learning changed everyday according to his schedule. He didn’t have the speech to communicate to me what he wanted to learn yet.
It turns out that the best lesson I learned from Montessori moms and reading Montessori education books is simply to “follow your child”. This concept works wonders to cater to your child’s own unique developmental journey. It also takes the “control” out of the parent’s hands.
When I release my parental control, I am open in my thoughts and actions. I am able to adapt and facilitate his education in ways that I am unable to when I held on tight to my preconceptions about what his education is supposed to be.
Through “following my child”, I have discovered a few ways to set him up for future success. I imagine these skills can be applied to all kinds of jobs that he will hold in the future. That is all that I can count on. I believe that being a programmer today is very different from being a programmer 10 years from now. With the rapid development of technology in the next 10 years, we will be in a different phase of the technology wave. In this new phase, new skills are required. I won’t know what those new skills are until we get there.
This is why setting the foundations for a child’s success is much more important than teaching an actual skill. This is why I focus on parenting him so that he can take ownership of his education down the line.
Here are 9 lessons that I use to set the foundation for my child’s success:
The World is Your Oyster
When I say, “dream big”, what goes through your mind? In my mind, I have a grand picture of how I want our family’s life to be in 10 years. This grand picture changes constantly. Every day, I discover new ideas in my work and my family. Then, I work those ideas into my grand picture of how I see the future. When my son asks me to draw a picture of a cow, I ask him: “You do it.”. You hold the key.
You have the vision. You create your own picture. That picture will change tomorrow.
That is beautiful. Now, we have more choices.
Boredom is Gold
Instead of overloading my son by teaching him the three languages that I speak, I let him have his free time. Free time is precious in early childhood. It is through all of this free time, he has learned to self-direct his activities from a young age. He learned to put together activities for himself. Often, he goes to the kitchen or the bathroom for materials to play with. I let him make messes and create concotions.
He is never bored. As a young child, he’s curious about his surroundings. He finds fun everywhere.
Tune Out the Noise
The problem with the traditional school setting for a young child who is set on his own developmental timeline is that there are simply too much noise. Noise comes in the form of activities from other children. My son simply freezes up in the face of all that bustling activity from other children. He goes into this hyperactivity mode where he can not listen to his inner self. He simply becomes active for the sake of activity.
That is not learning.
People say that a busy child is a happy child. I feel that it’s more complicated than that. A child who is learning might not seem very busy at all. Sometimes, when the child stares up at the sky to enjoy a moment of silence, this is when the child can think up ideas in peace and serenity. Enabling an environment where my child can focus on his thoughts is key.
Successful Social Interactions
Young children are very sensitive to their environment. They readily learn from the actions that are modelled by the adults and the children in their lives. They not only learn to imitate those actions. They also internalize those actions. This is why it’s almost critical that empathy, compassion and kindness is demonstrated early to young children.
I also go one step further. I painstakingly arrange “successful” social interactions for my child.
A successful social interaction is not an interaction free of conflict.
It is simply an interaction that goes through the whole cycle of conflict to lead to a resolution. For instance, if my child wanted a toy that another child has, I faciliate my child’s negotiation with the child so that they both have a toy in their hands at the end of the interaction. Children need to learn that the world is safe before their journeys begin. They also need skills to make their world safer for themselves. That’s why conflict resolution skills need to be modelled early.
Follow Your Heart to Keep Going or Not
Along with “following my child”, I tell my son to follow his own inner compass. People often think that we need to teach persistence. But, we really don’t. We need to teach our children to follow their hearts. They will learn to rely on their inner compass to decide when to keep going and when to quit.
Persistence is a skill that comes with curiosity and passion. Both curiosity and passion come from listening to one’s own heart.
When my son wanted to be on this one slide at the playground for the entire time that we are at the playground, I let him. He can tell me when he wants to quit. When my son goes to a party and wants to sit in the corner to read a book, I let him. He can decide if he wants to join in the fun or not. It is his social event.
Taste the Sweetness of Success. Taste the Bitterness of Failure
In early childhood, one critical skill to teach your child is how to handle failure. Many parents think that in order to teach a child how to fail, we have to set them up with situations where they will fail. That is a starting point. There’s more to that. Success goes hand in hand with failure. It is entirely possible to have your child experience both at the same time.
In early childhood, children can learn about the emotions of failure sweetened with a dash of sugary success.
When I see my son frustrated and failing at a situation, I consciously decide to help him to the point of tasting a dash of sugary success. Then, I let him run with it until he can be successful by himself. With just the right amount of nudging him in the right direction, he can overcome his own frustration and failure. The experience of learning about failure should lead him to want to fail over and over again. It should not lead him to tasting the bitterness of failure and then not wanting to fail again.
Consciously, Systematically, Expand My Child’s World
We don’t go out to restaurants. I know this might seem very extreme to some parents. How can you live a well-rounded life when your life is about your child. Let me explain. My child is probably the ultra sensitive type compared to a normal child. I knew from very early on that I needed to help him experience the world in a way that didn’t overwhelm him. Instead of putting him in the middle of bustling social interactions and hoping that he will adjust, I am taking a different approach.
I am systematically widening his circle year by year.
I am hoping that by the age of four, he will be able to go to restaurants with me. Each year since he was born, I have systematically added new places and new people into our life. Each time, I make sure that we frequent the places enough times so that he feels “at home”. Each time, I make sure that he interacts with new people only when he wants to. The goal is to introduce the world to my child without too much trauma and fear.
Rhythm is the Key to Learning
As a parent of Asian descent, it’s very easy for me to fall into the “tiger” mom mode. I can schedule endless activities and shuttle him to those activities so that he will be “well-rounded”.
I realized very early on that activities do not equal success or experience. In fact, real learning comes from “rhythm”.
When my son has a busy morning on the playground, the first thing that we do when we get home is to do “nothing”. We have silence all around. My son’s brain has been very active in the morning. His play session in the afternoon should be free, successful and nurturing. He tends to spend time working on his “experiments” or in his “imaginery” playsets. Sometimes, we hide in forts or under blankets. We talk about stories and imagine new scenarios. We also sit and stare at one another. Occasionally, my son initiates a game of yoga. Yoga is a frequent game in my home. But, it is mostly free flowing poses. My son has fun connecting poses together. He also uses my poses as his jungle gym.
Our rhythm is always: activity -> calm-> reflection
You Teach Me as I Teach You
This was the lesson that borne out of many failures from my own parenting. Along the way, I realized the wisdom in my child. People say that children don’t have wisdom. That is not true. In their inherent “pure” nature, they are wise souls. As I change my baby’s diaper, he looks up at me, smiles and puts his toe in his mouth. He’s teaching me how there’s fun in this moment of dirt and disgust. When I think I know my son for sure, he challenges me by changing and growing every day. The experience of helping him grow taught me immense life lessons and wisdom.
I try to reflect those wisdoms back to him. We connect and we learn from each other.
In the process of learning together, I have created a cooperative environment. This environment is what I believe the “ideal” working environment should be. I hope that one day, my son can find this type of working environment for himself. If not, he can create that working environment and in turn thrive in it.
Character is Everything
From a young age, boundary setting is the key to teach character to a young child. Setting boundaries naturally and without trauma is the key for young children to internalize those boundaries as their own.
It’s not enough to know that: I need to do the right thing. It’s much better to know: The right thing is the only choice.
Our moral values need to work with the universe that we live in.
In our age of increased technology, it’s imperative to have people in our work force who will align their ethics and values with humanity.
In my son’s interactions, I stress his need to assert himself. But, I also stress “consequences” of his actions. I show him the “consequences” through my words and my actions.
Through learning about “consequences”, young children can internalize a set of morals that they choose for themselves. The action of choosing the right morals and values, if repeated over and over again, is extremely powerful for a young child. This choice will help the child to internalize these values.
The child will also learn why those values are internalized. This way when the world changes, the child can reflect on how best to tweak those values over time to align with the child’s moral self in the best interest of world at large.
Parenting is the hardest job in the world. It is easier if we can set our children up for success by laying the foundation. Sometimes, it’s intrinsic that we “let-go” of our upbringing, our preconceptions and our ideas about who we think our children are. Once we relinquish “control”, we can see that setting the foundation of success can be a simple process.
This post is also informed by the following websites and books:
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About the Author
Jun Wu is a technologist turned freelance writer and a single mom. She lives in upstate NY with her son. She blogs on wellplayedchild.com about parenting and entrepreneurship. You can find her most active on her Twitter and Instagram accounts @wellplayedchild.