Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

Your Voice is Precious to Your Children

Your Voice is Precious to Your Children

Today’s digital opportunities for education are unparalleled and we are all so grateful for the gazillion ways we can ease the load of education by including technology into our homeschools.

We use DVDs, apps on phones and iPads/tablets, YouTube, Netflix, teaching videos from a variety of curriculum companies, Spotify, music CDs, Audible for read alouds, online classes that are video and live broadcast style, and more. These have enormous value which is why they are catching on so rapidly.

In our hunger to be up to date with technology and because of the promise of a little relief (freedom from the pressure to be ALL things to ALL kids ALL the days of their young lives), we dive right into their use with joy! And we should.

Here comes my own tiny caveat that I hope you’ll remember, though.

There is something about your voice (particularly the mother’s voice) in the educational life of your children that is unparalleled in giving them the soothing calming effect that lays the groundwork for learning. Your actual, literal, voice.

For instance, you could play a lullaby CD at bedtime. And that would be gorgeous. But your slightly tone deaf rendition, sung in the presence of your children, filled with heart, emphasizing the words that feel like love to you, will stay with your children forever. You don’t even have to sing every night. Singing to them a few nights a month creates a melody of love in their hearts that they will never forget. Your voice does all of that.

Actors who read classic works of fiction for Audible and books on CD are entertaining and wonderful, of course. Yet their voices will not catch and break the way yours will over the same passages. They will not gasp and respond in choked tenderness the way you will. They will not interpret the story through the lens of your family’s experience the way you can. They will not sound like you to your children.

And that is a loss in reading aloud. Reading aloud is more than getting through the chapters to the end. It’s more than entertainment or a show. It’s a chance for your children to experience you—your values, your priorities, your heartfelt connection to life itself. When you read, your children hear the lift in tone, the pain, the tenderness, and your mother’s love familiarity that warms and soothes them.

Teaching math may appear more effective coming through Kahn Academy or some other text book DVD program at first blush. It may well be that you ought to use that tool so that you, too, understand the methods being taught.

Still, it’s also important for your voice, your kindness, your natural vocabulary to expand and enhance what is given on the screen. Your children are wired to listen to you (even though I’m sure it doesn’t always seem that way!). They retain your words better than anyone else’s. When you share, and are giving and supportive, the tone of your voice (the timbre, the inflection, the accent, the melody of it) literally imprints in a way no other voice can or does! Paired with gentle contact (a hug, a smile, a stroke on the arm), your children have the greatest chance to be soothed and returned to calm (the right physiological space for learning).

My primary point is this: Mothers can create a much more profound learning and loving environment when they USE the beautiful voices their children already adore IN their educations. We are wired to listen to our mothers.

Give them what they need: your loving voice.

This study describes the research to back up this assertion.

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You Want Them to Disagree with You

You Want Them to Disagree with You

Trust me on this.

When you get that inevitable push back to your great ideas from one of your kids, the initial energy surge is, well, about like this:

“Wait, what? Why are you not cooperating with my genius plan for your life? If you simply do as I say, we will all be happier.”

Your “genius plan” includes a whole slew of practices and beliefs that wind up in disputes with your kids. You might ask them to:

  • Wear shoes rather than slippers to the store
  • Hang up coats before they sit to watch TV
  • Agree that brushing teeth prevents cavities
  • Choose to go to bed before 3:00 am without nagging
  • Realize that the family can’t add two ferrets to the pet menagerie
  • Accept the family budget limits; no big dreams
  • Enjoy G rated films rather than PG and R films
  • Support the family politics and religious viewpoint
  • Date the right people
  • Eat the food the parent prepares even if the child doesn’t like it
  • Help around the house without ever being asked
  • Finish every book, even if the child loses interest
  • Complete assigned schoolwork without ever complaining
  • Suck it up when having a bad day
  • Reserve silliness for the “appropriate” times
  • Put on a jacket because it’s cold
  • Never argue with a sibling
  • Always show gratitude properly to everyone
  • Be polite, kind, and generous no matter what

… you can think of more.

These seem like perfectly reasonable requests of a child—until you see them in a list… And then, don’t they feel like a straight jacket of good manners and expectations rather than the organic growth of a human soul? Is it possible to be kind, polite, cooperative, and helpful all the time, every day, no matter what? Yet this is what we ask!

Kids know (intuitively) that they grow when they challenge authority, when they ask big questions, when they resist what doesn’t feel right to them. They push back not to make a parent’s life miserable. They push back to explore the boundaries of the ideas that inform the request.

For instance, why is it better to hang up a coat when you first get home rather than an hour later after watching TV? Is one choice morally superior? Is one action more necessary? According to whom?

If we pause and consider why a child resists our plan, we discover that a whole different calculus is at work. The child has different priorities—and these priorities make a natural, personally-arrived-at-sense for the child. The choice to “civilize” a child into the family standards can be experienced as stifling, as nonsensical, as irritating.

You want them to disagree with you

When kids have had too many commands in a day, sometimes the child simply picks the latest one to resist, “But why? Why does it matter when I hang up my coat?” This question feels like disrespect when in fact it is the self standing up and asking to be noticed.

We respond, “Don’t try to get out of it.”

We say, “Coats need to be hung up immediately or you will never do it and then I get stuck with the task.”

We chide: “I’m tired of your stubbornness.”

We give up: “Fine. Leave it out. See if I care.” (Except that we do.)

What’s needed is engagement! Think instead: Aha! There’s a child thinking, processing, wondering.

“Good question! I like it when we hang up coats because it keeps the house a little neater for me and I am a nicer mother when my field of vision isn’t cluttered with stuff. How do you see it?”

If we share our truth and then invite comment, we give our children a chance to witness our own priorities and how we came to them. We allow them to mull over their own. It’s so tempting to play parent rather than to connect!

When your child challenges the plan, pause and remember: This brilliant child of mine is using her mind, is exercising his will and choices. Draw them out—”Tell me more about why you believe tooth-brushing is a waste of time and doesn’t prevent cavities. I want to hear more about where you learned that and why you believe it.” Then really listen!

Big debates on topics of moral importance to your family go much better if you’ve cultivated a habit of listening to your child’s pushback in the early years over things like bedtimes, jacket wearing, and what to eat for dinner.

Children and teens become self-regulating when they are allowed to challenge parental regulation. Boom Right? How are they self regulating if we tell them what to do ALL the time? The only way they learn how to form their own priorities is if we take them seriously when they tell us what those are!

If a child isn’t polite or doesn’t say thank you? What happens? What does that child experience? Sometimes they need to find out through action, not blame and shame.

A child who wants to stay up until 3:00 am to play an online game with a friend in another time zone is creating a new life habit—going to bed later, sleeping in. Is it worth it to find out if this is a boon to that child’s happiness and thus life before considering it from a parent’s point of view? We’re so quick to say, “You’ll be too tired tomorrow. So no.”

Your kids grow in direct proportion to how well you allow them
to explore their own understanding of why they do what they do.

The more children get to expose and articulate their own thinking, the more power they have to create meaningful lives. They may not always side with your interpretation of what creates a great life, but they will be better able to negotiate with you when they know that you respect their efforts to communicate their own vision.

Next time one of your kids argues with you, stop and think: “This is great! I see a mind at work. I must be doing it right.”

Then enter into the conversation with curiosity and love.

Image by Catherine Murray / Fotolia

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Obedience vs. Collaboration

Obedience vs. Collaboration

In all our fretting over how to raise kind, respectful children, the temptation is to double down on discipline—to require “instant obedience.” Even our dearly beloved Charlotte Mason talks about obedience as a core value in child-rearing, saying that a child who obeys promptly is a joy to his mother!

And indeed, if all those little rascals would just do what I ask when I ask it I would feel waves of joy—explosions of glee, wouldn’t you?

Most obedience systems rely on some kind of punishment to enforce them—be it, time outs or spanking or withholding of privileges (or even withholding smiles—I read that once!).

Charlotte puts a huge priority first on children being known as persons—respected for their current completeness (not immature adults in need of maturity before they deserve full respect). When she talks about a mother giving a command, Charlotte assumes that the parent has already given a child a chance to grow in a habit that takes into account the child’s current developmental stage. In other words, Charlotte believes in practicing a habit before expecting it to operate effectively.

Today, we call this interaction with children “collaboration.” Collaboration is the value that says:

“Together, we will secure a healthy, respectful relationship
while developing habits that help us meet our goals.”

Those goals are shared, not imposed.

Obedience is too often a synonym for “coercion” rather than “glad cooperation.”

Collaboration, as a value, allows us to take into account the child as person, and our unique vantage point as parents. We can first get to know what the child needs, address that need, and then work to create the conditions of partnership to achieve our goals.

Obedience vs. Collaboration

It might look something like this:

On occasion, I need to go to Target. Often, my kids are playing video games when it’s time to leave. I’ve recognized that this is a challenging transition for my kids. So I talk to them about how sometimes they will be interrupted based on my need over theirs. I’ve asked them how we can make the transition smooth, and we decided together that a five minute warning would help.

So we practice (no Target shopping trip about to occur). I give a fake five minute warning and we find out if it is possible to wind up games in 5 minutes. Kids give their input. “Yep, that was plenty” or “No, I need 15 minutes of warning.” More practice.

When the real Target-trip-moment comes, instead of expecting the kids to hop up and put away their games the moment I’m ready to leave, I follow our solution: “In fifteen minutes, we’ll need to go. Now is a good time to get to a stopping place on your game.”

Usually when you’ve taken the time to be respectful of your children’s needs, they are much more willing to respect yours. It’s a dialogue, it is not solved once and for all, and it doesn’t mean perfect cooperation at all times. What collaboration provides is a two-way street—everyone aware that their behaviors impact others both adversely and positively. Negotiating how to sustain the positive is the goal.

Respect for personhood is essential. Just because the situation seems easy for me to solve with one idea doesn’t mean that idea works for everyone. Collaboration requires a tolerance for views that interfere with our own best ideas about the subject.

In a writing-editing relationship, we’ve found this to be profoundly true. You get the most writing from a child whose writing voice and ideas are respected and valued. Over time, as the child practices writing about what he or she values and has the pride and love of a parent, a time comes when a parent can ask for writing related to a subject that is important to the parent’s educational objectives for the child…and the child will be willing to comply.

Collaboration in other areas of life builds trust and cooperation that facilitates learning in others. Collaboration leads to the “peace” that Charlotte promised. In fact, in trusting respectful relationships, kids do sometimes simply hop right up when you call them and that experience really IS pleasing to the mother.

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Still a winner!

Brave Writer Instructor Jean HallTen years ago Brave Writer held a Mom’s Writing Contest and the Grand Prize Winner was Jean Hall who went on to become one of our first writing instructors (she started in 2007)!

Jean is a veteran instructor of high school students and an expert at helping students become proficient in the SAT and ACT timed writing tests. Jean teaches: Advanced Composition 1, SAT/ACT Essay Class, Expository Essay Class , and Kidswrite Intermediate.

Here is Jean’s award winning essay:

Ugly Pants

Today, I bought my daughter ugly pants.

I didn’t plan to buy ugly pants. I certainly didn’t wake up this morning thinking, “You know, what we really need around here are uglier clothes for the children. Maybe some horrible pants!”

But my 10-year-old angel has a cute smile, and she is blessed with more persuasive skills than fashion sense.

It started with an innocent family trip through Target. While my husband and the boys looked at something distinctively manly, I stood browsing the swimsuits at the other edge of the aisle with my daughter and her best friend. Suddenly, their attention was drawn further into the clothing department by a rack of knit gauchos. A point. A squeal. Suddenly, the girls were no longer at my side. I shuddered and followed reluctantly.

I should explain that I have worn gauchos before. Somewhere along the fashion timeline that defines my place in history, gauchos were stylish, although I can’t pinpoint the exact date. It was definitely between the green double knit pantsuits I wore to start kindergarten in the mid-70’s and the purple velvet harem pants I wore to start college in the late 80’s. My childhood education is with conspicuous pants in fashion at both bookends.

Where did the gauchos fall in relation to the zipper-infested parachute pants? Were they before the yoke-front Lee jeans with legwarmers? After those goofy stirrup pants? Some of the fashions blur together. They were all cool at the time. Gauchos stand out in my mind because they were a style I hated even when I was wearing them. You see, I am a little sister. I grew up in hand-me-downs. Nothing unusual about that really. But gauchos came in to style at a time I was coming into self consciousness, and I wore them 2 years after most people had moved on. Gauchos made me conspicuous. I was different. I was snickered at and I knew it. An uncomfortable place to be.

Flash forward to 2006. I’m emotionally secure, and I sometimes choose to wear hand-me-downs. I outgrew the awkward stage of student trying to fit in with the other kids (somewhat after I outgrew the gauchos). But when my little girl pulled out a pair and begged to try them on, my instinctive reaction was to scream, “NO!” I wanted to tell her how truly dreadful those are. No daughter of mine is going to be seen in public in those.

But I didn’t. Because in that 10-year-old girl asking me for a pair of pants that I hated, I saw a quickly growing young lady with an overwhelming sea of decisions to make in her lifetime. In a few years, she could be choosing a wedding gown, not to mention a man to stand next to her in a tux. She will choose a college, a career, a church, a home, an identity. I want her to make those choices with the confidence and skill that comes from practice.

But there was more to it than just letting her learn to make choices. Within me, I have a strong moral code, a set of values, a standard I want to instill deeply in my children which will benefit them. I also have quirks, prejudices, and emotional hang-ups which will not. I want to teach my daughter, but not to force this matchless child into a me-shaped mold. My personal hang-ups are irrelevant to her. Why should she hate these pants because of my bad memories? That makes no more sense than teaching her to hate basketball because my coach benched me during a tournament, or to hate Jeeps because my ex-boyfriend drove one. These are not helpful guidelines for her.

My daughter adored the gauchos. And I told her she was beautiful in them, which she was. I chose not to burden her with my baggage; I’ll carry it myself. I separated her individuality from mine. It was the bravest thing I’ve done in awhile.

I will let her walk away from me as her own person. She will walk away with her own preferences and passions. Her own quirks. Her own hang-ups. Her own sense of style.

And her very own ugly pants.


Jean’s 2016 postscript to her essay: My daughter, now 20, still has a sense of personal style and a confident sense of who she is. She’s made most of the decisions I mention in the essay…except she walked away from the man she first wanted to marry because he insisted that she change to be more like him. And she said no. So I think that the goal I set out in the essay can be stamped successful.

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Do You have a Challenging Teen?

When your teen has a bad attitude

Here are three principles to think about.

1. Realize this is a developmental stage

When your child threw a tantrum at age two, you didn’t take it personally (well at least, usually you didn’t). You recognized immaturity, you recognized the lashing out as a function of that developmental stage of growth. You waited out the storm. You knew you would be okay with the little guy or gal in ten minutes. You offered snacks or a breast or time to cool down.

Teens throw a different kind of tantrum. They lash out at you, right where it hurts. They boldly go up against you and your ideas, fashion sense, food choices, political beliefs, how you breathe aloud in the car when they are in the front seat, which radio station you like, how you parent the other kids, what you expect of them.

It’s jarring to be on the receiving end of so much opinion, all about you! It’s so easy to take it personally! They know you so well, they can find ways to target any one of your own insecurities and nail it.

When you can, remember that this is a teen developmental stage—individuation—separation from you. It’s not rejection (their opinions will flip faster than pancakes on a hot grill!). It’s separation—testing their thoughts and ideas with the safest person in their lives: you.

They are also not yet ready to be adults so they boomerang between wanting a mommy, and wanting nothing from you, AND wanting to blame you when they don’t take enough responsibility yet for their lives!

When your teen has a bad attitude

2. Create avenues for communication

You do get to stick up for yourself, but you want to do it without getting into a big argument (um, so I’ve been told). 🙂 Sometimes I really need to be reminded of this by those near me and it helps. You can walk away, you can say, “I want to hear what you’re saying but I can’t listen when you are yelling at me,” you can say, “I’ll look into that” or “So that’s what you’re thinking and feeling! Thanks for telling me.”

You don’t have to defend or argue or take abuse. It is important to create avenues for the teen to be heard.

3. Look for points of connection

Schedule some alone time fun with that teen—in my house with Caitrin, I went to all her Guard (flag) events and we would come home late and I’d make her quesadillas and we’d all stay up talking and eating in the kitchen way past a regular bedtime. This became a connection point—an essential one. Look for those, even in a busy household. They do help.

And HUGS. 

Help for high school writers