Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunday Parenting Round Up (Plus Bonus Ramblings!)

(Originally posted at Rational Jenn)

Hi everyone! I hope you are having a nice weekend. We are experiencing our first really lovely weekend weather in a while. The summery weather is just gorgeous, and it's not truly hot yet (yay).

Unfortunately, Morgan has been sick since Friday evening, when she developed a fever and fell asleep at the free concert we attended! She woke up and was able to enjoy some of the songs, but we ended up leaving a bit early, poor thing. Nobody else is sick--and M's only symptom is this fever--but I'm nervous about Sean getting sick. He and I are supposed to head to California on Thursday for my grandfather's memorial service. But there is nothing I can do about it, so I'm trying not to borrow trouble.

Since we've been hanging around the house all weekend, I've managed to get more decrapifying accomplished. And that is a good feeling! And I've been thinking, thinking, thinking, too--another good feeling.

Oh the Thinks I've been Thinking!

I've been keeping up with the excellent discussion in the comments section of the TV post over at The Little Things. Very interesting to think about. (The discussion is a continuation of the one begun over here on my television post.) It's worth taking the time to read through, if you are interested in parenting and epistemology. Which, you know, I am. :o) I'm especially interested in anyone's thoughts on the most recent comment I wrote, in which I said:

"To return to the issue of focus, here’s a question I’ve been pondering all week–can small children really even be out of focus? I’ve never seen a bored toddler, so I am wondering if the state of being unfocused on reality is something that kids have to (unfortunately) learn."
[Here comes some thinking out loud--beware: semi-formed thoughts ahead]

Seriously--I have never met a bored toddler. Even my own kids are never bored. Is that a stage kids reach at an age older than 7, in which case, we have yet to encounter it here? I'm wondering if boredom is a learned thing, something that happens when a child grows accustomed to having adults plan his activities for him? (I realize that boredom is not the same thing as being unfocused, but I think they might be next door neighbors.) Anyway, this is something I've been chewing on--the notion that a person being unfocused, in the way Ayn Rand described:

one who can ". . . let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make." (Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness)

--is something that must be learned. That kids, once they become conceptual (or maybe before?), are rarely or never out of focus--not that I've observed. Their attention is turned on and their minds are active. Now, not being fully mature, maybe the quality of a child's mental focus differs from an adult's--I don't think a small child will have an awareness that "I am purposefully directing my mental activity." in the same sense an adult would. Anyway, interesting.

[end semi-formed rambling (yet focused!) thoughts]

You can leave your thoughts here or at Amy's.

Other Parenting Ramblings From Me

Kelly has a terrific post up over at her blog: "Only Make Limits They Show You They Need." It's a parenting principle that I agree with, and I'm glad Kelly figured out how to put it into words. Go read her post right now--great. I think one of the parenting principles I've identified--what I call "Err on the Side of Freedom." is actually a corollary or companion to this one (could it also be called "Set Only Necessary Limits"?).

To take a concrete example I recently wrote about--the day when Ryan did not want to drink water after playing outside in the heat for several hours--I saw that Ryan needed this limit, for his own health and safety. We do not have a set rule along the lines of : "You must drink water every 30 minutes when playing outside." Because such a rule isn't generally necessary. But on that particular afternoon, I saw that Ryan needed help taking care of his body, and that's when I set the limit : "Drink or go inside." Now if this became a consistent thing he needed help with, then we might make some kind of blanket guideline--but I'd do that only if it were necessary.

Now sometimes, it's not quite clear if a limit should be set. On that afternoon, I first noticed how hot Ryan was looking, but I didn't immediately tell him to get a drink. First I weighed all of the information I knew about the situation: I noticed how hot it was; I figured out how long he had really been outside; I took into account his difficulty in stopping his activities to take care of his body; I recalled that I hadn't seen him go inside the house (where the water is). In this instance, the limit clearly had to be set by me, and we had our discussion.

But what if the factors had been a bit different? What if he had only been playing for a short while, or the weather had been cooler? Then I might have reminded him to drink some water and then given him a chance to do the right thing. This is erring on the side of freedom. If I am making an error in whether or not a limit ought to be set, then I'd rather it be the result of my not setting the limit, giving him the freedom and opportunity to handle the (potential) problem independently. In these circumstances, there would have been much less of a risk of dehydration, and so I would have rather he demonstrate to me whether he could make the appropriate choice.

The advantage to the child of Mom not setting preemptive limits and/or waiting just a little bit longer before setting a limit is, as I mentioned, that it gives the kid a chance to make an independent choice. Now he might make a good choice, or he might make a bad choice. Either choice is going to have some results that he will then experience. The advantage to Mom is that sometimes I get to see someone rise to the occasion and handle something just fine--and I might not have been aware of the child's capabilities until I saw that. Also, if there is a failure or negative outcome, Mr. Reality is at fault and not me--the child is not (as) tempted to make it personal against me. Which I enjoy very much. So a parental preemptive strike carries parent-imposed consequences, which I think are inferior to reality-imposed consequences (all things being equal).

The trick, as ever, is figuring out those gray areas. Once again, just because I think there may be a bit of confusion on this matter still--I am not a permissive parent, and I'd never let the kids do anything seriously dangerous, because I like them an awful lot and went to quite a bit of time and trouble to grow them and all. We hold hands in crowded parking lots and walk with the blades of the scissors closed, pointed down, and in our hands. It is a struggle for me to Err on the Side of Freedom and to Set Only Necessary Limits--but with years of practice, I'm pretty good at it. Well, better than I was.

And Just a Couple More Parenting Links

I have Motherlode, the parenting blog of the New York Times, on my Google Reader. For the most part, it doesn't impress me too much--I rarely find anything new or interesting. The purpose of the blog seems to be nothing more than a way for the NYT to say: "See? We care about parenting! See how it's here on our website?" The blog author, Lisa Belkin, says all of the predictable things about all of the predictable parenting topics. Very uninspiring.

Usually I just skim the posts and just when I think "Bored Now." and consider deleting it from my Reader, something of interest will pop up. So without further complaint, here is a link to The End of Over-Parenting? where Belkin writes about the apparent shift in parenting trend (I'm not sure if I could rightly call it 'parenting philosophy') away from so-called "helicopter parents" to, well, parents who parent more like me! I guess I'm a "free-range parent." I like that, but I'd like to think I'm a "rational parent" and my kids are "free-range kids." ;)

And finally, I learned about this article in The New Yorker about kids and self-control via the Objectivist Kid. I remember learning about the Marshmallow Experiment somewhere along the way, don't you? Kids were given a choice: one marshmallow now, or two marshmallows in a few minutes. The same researchers who performed the original study back in the 60s noticed a correlation between the patient kids and how successful they became later in life and are now in the process of trying to figure out where in the brain the ability to delay gratification lies, and how to teach techniques to kids and adults to help them improve their self-control. That was a very brief overview of the article, and it's possible I've misstated or misunderstood something (I read it all the way yesterday and that was a long time ago), but really, it's fascinating. Particularly since I am always thinking about how to help my own kids develop inner discipline. Go check it out!

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