Because I am fortunate enough to have friends in lots of places around the world, I have spent the past month enjoying pictures of my friends’ kids posing for their obligatory ‘back-to-school’ picture.
Along with these images have come the plethora of ‘back-to-school’ checklists – lunches, school supplies, curriculum ideas (I have lots of teacher friends, too, it turns out) and reminders about peanut allergies, talking to your kids about bullying and inclusion and ideas to simplify your morning.
But this week – in the wonderful, quiet stillness of my empty house – I want to remind you of three of my favourite tools for raising adults by 18 – ‘next right steps’, celebration, and rhythm, ritual and rest.
‘Next Right Steps’
There are lots of charts and graphs and images out there showing that what chores your 4-year-old should be able to manage on their own, or what skills your 13-year-old should know already, and back-to-school time is often when start to see these lists going by, and start to compare our children against them.
Sometimes these lists represent reasonable guidelines, and sometimes they can help you identify areas that your child is missing out on, but that’s possibly all they’re good for. That’s because too often these charts and guidelines fill us with shame and inadequacy, making us either despair of ever making a difference, or causing us to get angry with our kids for not knowing these skills yet (and consequently making us look bad!)
So instead, here’s my suggestion. Instead of getting caught up with the lists of ‘shoulds’, I would encourage you to make a list of all of the awesomeness your child is already doing. That’s right. Start with the good – the great – the amazing.
Once you’ve written that down, CELEBRATE that and then watch your child for a week or two, and see what areas they seem to be craving increased skills or independence. Do they keep showing up in the kitchen while you’re making dinner? Then maybe it’s time to start teaching them how to cook. Do they keep insisting that they can ‘help’ when you’re at the grocery store? Then it might be time to start teaching them how to choose produce, read a grocery list, comparison shop, push the cart or bag the groceries.
The key is to look at where your child currently is and then to teach them the next right step to succeeding at the things they are passionate and interested in.
Does this mean that you won’t keep insisting that they clear their plates from the table, even though they’re not interested in the slightest? No. Some jobs have to be done regardless of whether we want them to be or not. But by focusing our parenting energy on the things that our child is currently passionate about, we no longer need to wage a constant battle against our child’s creative interests. Instead, we get to join forces with our child and harness our combined energy to see some real progress!