Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Blanket Parenting Advice

I often get questions about different situations under the heading of 'Is This A Problem?' and while I'm struggling for an intelligent and informative response, I'm thinking Your child is awesome.  You should help me with my parenting issues.

The spouse of one of my Power Dads told me her mother directed her to add " by Kindergarten" to each of her questions to diffuse the anxiety of younger parents.  "Is my child going to learn to use the potty?" becomes "Is my child going to learn to use the potty by Kindergarten?" and an issue magically becomes a non-issue.

Our pediatric physician was more direct.  This person will easily have 90,000 people at his funeral because he was so awesome.  Throughout the entire time we qualified for his practice, no matter how serious our worries were, his answer as always "this is not a problem."  Looking back, I can see that he meant either a) this is not a problem, or b) this will take care of itself in a few years so stop worrying about it.

In the academic space, a bit more advice is needed because there are deadlines.  In most school districts, these deadlines reappear every year to provide second and third chances, although in some school districts there are far fewer seats after the first test.  Middle school provides a whole new round of opportunities, as does high school.  Frankly, the later opportunities are the only important ones in the long run, but this is not helpful if you have a shot at a great elementary school.

Here is my advice for academic excellence.  If you want a child who is far above average, you as the parent need to act far above average.  Average approaches are going to produce average results, except in cases where you've been doing something unusual for a long time and neglect to mention it to me.  When I ask  parents how their child scored a 99% on the COGAT and they respond "We didn't do anything" or "the kid just taught himself how to read" there has been much more going on than the parent realizes.  It's usually a case of the parent doing all the right things in a hand-on/hands-off environment without knowing it.

The material to grow cognitive skills is well known at this point.  I'm looking for a change in testing to respond to the routine high scores these days and I'm seeing early evidence.  There are programs, classes and books behind the rise in test scores.  The average outcome of this approach is great but no guarantee of 99%.  But there are thousands of parent-child interaction hours and when research takes the time to observe and measure the parent-child hours, the statistical importance of everything else diminishes. The what is important, obviously; a child can't exercise cognitive skills if the child is not exposed to anything that requires these skills.  The how is the deciding factor.

Ask yourself this question.  What is a GAT parent?  Am I measuring up?  How would a GAT parent spend their time?  How would a GAT parent show interest in things?  How would this person answer questions?  What books should I bring home?  Does a GAT parent use scaffolding, and if so, how much?  Should I push my child into something over their head or let them walk their step-by-step?  If you're looking to send your child somewhere to become GAT you might be looking in the wrong direction.

In the past few years, I've answered all of these questions and the answer always involves both options (if there are 2 options) or all options (if there are more than 2).  In our case, we forgo anything that involves the car or a building that is not our house, but that's our choice.  The one thing I learned from home schoolers is that you can teach your child in 20 minutes what would take 3 hours in a classroom setting.   The key is that we do a lot less and we stretch things out a lot more.   It's not the only key, but it's a good start.

In the face of little available information, my starting point was the simple observation that if lots of people do something, we don't want to do it.  I don't want that outcome.  I don't expect this road to be easy on anyone.  In fact, we've become quite adept at doing things that aren't easy because we've done so much of it.  But we'll make it easy anyway by following the Zero Expectations and Lots of Mistakes Are Good rules.  There's the "both" again.

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