My husband and I went to a really great parenting talk last week by educator Andrew Mullins from Australia… I liked it a lot, and not just because of his charming accent, which made everything sound so friendly and hopeful! It was very positive and practical, and focussed on 15 specific parenting tips or goals to consider in helping prepare your child for adult life.
One of the things that struck me was that he emphasized the need to help your children build specific good habits, or virtues, that put together would give them strength of character and the ability to live well as adults. Rather than focussing on trying to make them happy now, he encouraged parents to look ahead and help kids acquire the skills they will need to live as happy adults…things like honesty, courage, perseverance, generosity and a spirit of service.
These virtues aren’t aquired simply by parents having good values themselves, although of course that’s important, too. But values without specific expectations to live up to them are like good intentions…nice but not necessarily effective. “I meant to finish the dishes…but I got distracted…” So it’s important to let your kids know what you expect and to follow up and make sure it happens. Inspecting their work makes sure it gets done and also gives kids a chance to feel proud when they’ve done it well and impressed you. It can be a lot of work to get kids to do chores, but feeling useful actually makes them happier in the long run.
Habits, Mullins explained, are formed by repeated actions, so if you want your kids to acquire them, you need to help them practice those good actions (like making their beds, completing a task, helping others) over and over. It’s also good to explain to them why these things are important, so they can make their actions their own, and form their minds. So the key combination is a solid explanation and many opportunities to repeat the good action. Whether or not they like this action, for example helping with the dishes, doesn’t matter that much. What matters is that they get used to it, so that later, when they grow up, getting them done will be automatic.
Good parenting, explained Mullins, requires a balance between being affectionate (very important) and being sufficiently demanding. Usually we can lean more towards one or another, but a balance is important here. We want to help our kids grow and strive for greatness with a lot of affection and support, knowing how to help them do their best…without being either harsh or overly indulgent.
Mullins, who I believe did his thesis in neural development and virtue acquisition, described how mirror neurons in young children help them learn by copying or mirroring what they see. He joked that to see our kids worst defects, we had only to look in the mirror! But this goes for their virtues as well. Kids will copy what they see, therefor it’s of utmost importance that we strive to live well ourselves, and to do it with a smile!
I really encourage you to check out his book, which has many more helpful tips, written in short, straightforward chapters for busy parents! My husband and I have been reading this book a little at a time together, and then taking a few notes about a concrete way we could apply this advice in our family life. We even had a family meeting to talk about it and make a plan together.
Perhaps some of you were also there at the talk…what did you find the most helpful? Or what is the best parenting advice you’ve been given…whether there or elsewhere?
Because of recent reports of a serious shortage of ridiculous nonsense on my blog, and lest you think it’s all doom and gloom in Crazy Land, I thought I would remedy the situation by telling you about all the silly posts I’ve thought about writing lately, but haven’t yet.
I thought about telling you many silly things, like how my house looks like a band of roving toddlers frequently celebrates raves in it, or that Santa crashed into it, with his entire sleigh of presents, and then left (not “Nice!”). But then I though I’d better clean up the mess instead of drawing cartoons of it.
One of my cartoons was going to be of me homeschooling the kids in the midst of the chaos. My husband would walk in the door and look a little stunned. Then my speech bubble would say, “Clean? Who me? I’m just the tutor!”
But I tried to make the right choice (at least a few times.) Scrubbing floor vs blogging. Ugh. Dirty floor, here we come. Hmmm, sometimes it’s no fun to be responsible. But don’t worry, I won’t let it happen too often!
I also thought about telling you about the incident with the soup pot. Sounds very innocent, doesn’t it? A pretty shiny silver soup pot. But you’ll see. It’s awful.
We walked in the door from an outing to be hit by a terrible stench. “Oh, yuck, I should’ve taken out the garbage with diapers,” I thought. So I did. No better. Must be something in the sink. Did dishes. No better. What is it?!
Then I checked the silver soup pot which had been sitting, looking pretty, on my stove all week, or possible since the Stone Age, I couldn’t be sure. Aaack! Broccoli from outer space with mossy tentacles , growing rapidly and certainly soon to be developing artificial intelligence, nourished by the primordial sludge of aqueous goop it sat in.
THE WORST SMELL EVER!!!
And I’m a mom, so I’m an expert in stinkage. I even feel sorry for the other nasty compost I rapidly dumped it on. It could be used as a deterrent for robbers. Just leave an open pot in front of your door. If the stench doesn’t stop them, they’ll trip on the pot, slip in the goop, and meet a ghastly demise in your entranceway.
…I think I may have watched “Home Alone” a few times too many as a kid. Possibly only beaten by “Ernest Goes to Camp” and “The Princess Bride.” All of which explains my highly refined sense of humour (i.e. the stupider, the better)…
So beware the covered silver pots sitting on your stoves. You never know what might be lurking within their deceptively shiny walls. And while we’re on the topic of animate kitchen utensils, you’d better watch this fabulous musical kitchen jam by the Muppets’ very own Swedish chef. Crank it up, and don’t forget to dance! 😉 It’s a very effective cure for moodiness known as “Muppet-Therapy.” But more about that another time…