Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Learning To Step Back: An Evening With Dr. Wendy Mogel

Dr. Wendy Mogel
Dr. Wendy Mogel began her excellent and often hilarious lecture Monday night, with a reference to a website called Bunk1.com where parents whose children are off at camp can view photos taken of their kids throughout the days and weeks as they enjoy their time away. Although this site was originally set up as a way for parents to see how much fun their child was having and, perhaps, purchase a few photos, it had become, for some parents, yet another method of involving themselves in every detail of their children's lives: "We notice that in all the pictures of our son, Jason, he is wearing the same shirt. We are concerned that perhaps he is also wearing the same underwear and were hoping that you could intervene."

Dr. Mogel said that she fears that we have become a generation so devoted to our children that we treat them like "handicapped royalty"; delicate flowers unable to survive on their own. In other words, "good parents gone bad". These days there is so much to worry about that we have no control over (global warming, toxins in our air/food/homes, financial meltdowns etc.), so many parents are latching on to the one area they feel they can control: their children. 

Thus, we have well-intentioned parents doing their utmost to make sure their child gets not just the good 2nd grade teacher, but the best 2nd grade teacher; or parents involving themselves so much in their child's school work to be sure their child gets a good grade, that they end up doing the science project themselves. But what does this do for our children in the long run?

"Become What Thou Art"
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Like a caterpillar in its cocoon, children need to go through phases, stages and experiences to metamorphose into the adults we envision them being. If we try to keep them in a protective bubble, we are actually robbing them of all the life experience that builds their character. Dr. Mogel pointed out that every parent has the obligation to teach their kids to swim; that is, we must teach them to leave us and make their own way in the world. And while the kids are learning to swim, they don't need parents in a row boat shouting directions!

According to Dr. Mogel, today's parents have a goal that they be able to reach a consensus with their children when there's disagreement. Perhaps this is because our parents didn't do this with us, perhaps it's because we are caught up in the "self-esteem movement". Whatever the reason, Dr. Mogel believes this is not the way to parent. Only half jokingly, she told the audience to use dog training manuals as a frame of reference. When training dogs, we don't ask them to come to a consensus, do we? No. There is an Alpha dog (mom/dad) who sets firm rules for the pack (your kids) & follows through consistently with consequences. This is how she suggests we approach setting rules and boundaries with our children.

Again, she points out, our goal is that our children grow up and leave our homes as full functioning, self-sufficient adults. No one wants to be the parent of the college student who comes home after the 1st semester because she can't handle the loneliness or can't regulate her sleep cycles or can't function because of a difficult roommate. College deans refer to many of today's students as "teacups and crispies". Teacups being the children who have been protected at every turn and can't cope on their own, and crispies being the burnt-out students pushed to the limit until they have lost the intrinsic pleasure in learning. 

 "I want your children to have that crabby, uninspired, unenlightened teacher; I want your children to experience being cold/wet/tired", said Dr. Mogel at some point. "I want them to learn how to deal with disappointment and frustration!" Just as Moses chose to lead the Israelites through the desert for 40 years, instead of 40 days, because he knew they would not be ready for the land of milk and honey without having suffered, Dr. Mogel reminded us that our children would not be ready for the land of milk and honey (eg: college) if we don't let them make good mistakes in the years preceding it. If they have satisfaction all the time, she cautioned, how will they ever recognize joy?

We worry about so many things when it comes to our children, said Dr. Mogel. We redshirt our kindergarten boys so that they might have every advantage. Schools have red washcloths to camouflage the blood from a child's cut so they won't get scared. We schedule them in every type of after school enrichment program in the hope of securing a bright future. Instead, Dr. Mogel encourages parents to let your children have adventures, experience things and engage in imaginative play. Good judgment comes through experience. Experience comes from bad judgment. 

Then how do we learn to step back and find the middle ground between over-involved parent and disengaged parent? Dr. Mogel had some excellent suggestions:
  • Be a witness without stepping in. You do not need to interfere at every turn. Remember the acronym WAIT (Why Am I Talking). It is possible to talk too much to your children; so much so that kids become "parent deaf".
  • When you say "no", keep sentences short and simple. Don't punctuate with the word, "OK?" (as in, "I want you to clean up your room. OK?" No, your child thinks, it's not OK)!
  • When your child negotiates, use words and sentences like Nevertheless, Regardless, No and that's final, I thought about it and the answer is no, I am not ready for you to ____ , I remember saying no and I'm not changing my mind.
If this feels harsh to you, remember that you are saying no to your children without consensus because you want them to learn how to say no, themselves, with firm, confident authority and to be able to say it with conviction when they are faced with difficult choices as they get older. 
  • Remember that just as your children will not fulfill all of your dreams, nor will they fulfill all of your nightmares.
  • Think of your child as a packet of unmarked seeds that you've been given. Your only job is to pick the big weeds, water and stand back to watch what grows.
  • The greatest predictor of success in life is empathy, optimism, a flexible reaction to setback and a sense of humor.
  • Tell your kids about your day. Let them know you are enjoying life because we want them to want to be adults some day!
Dr. Mogel ended her evening by asking us to imagine going through life with two pieces of paper, one in each pant pocket. On one is written, "I am nothing but dust and ashes" and on the other "The world was created for me and me alone" and to remember that we must see our children from both points of view.

Dr. Wendy Mogel is the author of the bestselling The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee, and the new book, The Blessing Of A B Minus. In addition to reading these excellent books, if you get an opportunity to hear her speak in person, I highly recommend it. I left feeling very excited about my pledge yesterday to let go of some control and can see more clearly how I can help my children more by doing less. 

Thanks for reading!
The Twin Coach

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1 Great Comments Made By Clicking Here!:

Marie said...

Wow-she sounds great. All these different philosophies make sense but also makes my head spin. It's all about balance.....

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