by Kristine Gresh
…Because bits of random advice from a mediocre Mom increase at least one level of credibility when neatly packaged in list form.
This month: Raising a ‘free-thinking’ kid
It’s my introductory month here on BirminghamMommy.com (which I’m stoked about, by the way) so I thought I’d discuss the most important thing I hope to pass on to my child – an open mind. Simply put, a closed mind is dangerous. And such a waste. So, if you’re in this boat with me (the one that wants to sail our kids over to “independent thinking” and away from “I-don’t-know-why…that’s-just-what-I’ve-always-been-told,” here are a few tips…
- Let your child make age-appropriate decisions and then (crucial part) make sure you adhere to said decision. If he’s a baby, let him choose a favorite stuffed animal, even if it’s not the perfectly adorable one you bought and have been gently nudging in his direction. As he gets older, let him pick out outfits, bedtime books, and favorite places to go. When he first starts writing words and sentences, don’t rush to correct his spelling – instead, let him tell stories and express feelings with his (at least usually ‘phonetically accurate’) words and tell him you’re thrilled he’s writing. There’s plenty of time for correcting things that don’t impact your child’s immediate safety or health.
- Answer questions with questions. Not certain questions, of course, and don’t do it all the time, because that’s just annoying. However, there are moments when a child will discover something on his own (which is the best way to completely understand and retain information anyway) if prompted to try come up with a possible explanation himself. Plus, once in a while, if you start a whole conversation with your response to a child’s question, you might be giving him more than he was asking for. Literally. Example: Your grade school child wants to know what happens when two people get married. Fearing it’s time for “the” discussion, you begin sweating and putting into plain words the “birds and the bees,” remaining as composed as you possibly can in this situation. He listens, politely nods, and says, “Okay, but I mean do you have to find somebody with the same last name as you?” See, if you let them do more of the talking initially, you tend to find out exactly what it is they are curious about. Trust me.
- Let the kid see your open mind in action. As adults, we are sometimes jaded by our history, life experiences, etc…and we tend to make snap judgments about people and places, sometimes without even realizing we are doing it. Try to pay attention and remember you’re being watched and imitated. Children and their young minds…these are sponges we’re dealing with. If you do voice a strong opinion about something, try to (at least on occasion) also voice a few facts and feelings that led you to it. If your child can understand your thought process (or even simply see that you used one) he might be more apt to do the same next time he’s looking to form an opinion, instead of assuming opinions are to be made quickly and without much thought.
- Always reinforce that it’s alright (even preferable) that people act/look/do things… differently. Just because most people eat turkey on Thanksgiving, it’s fine that the family next door (who happen to be vegetarians) eat tofu. It’s not weird, it’s merely different… and that makes our community, our country, our world a better, and an exponentially more interesting, place. (Note to self: possible bumper sticker idea.) This particular lesson can sometimes be difficult to demonstrate, because we all tend to think that the way we do things is the most appropriate and dare-I-say ‘superior’ way. But children need to grow up knowing that diversity is a good thing. (Personally, this is the one I take to the extreme in our house…trying to work in discussions about things that other cultures do or believe or simply looking up a random word in a few foreign languages just for the fun of it – hopefully fostering my kid’s ability to see variety as an appealing part of life and not an abnormality.)
- Travel. Simply put, traveling allows your child (and you) to experience things from all sorts of different perspectives. And it is fun (well, it’s fun if you leave the stress and the “oh-no-he-will-cry-on-the-plane-and-maybe-he-won’t-find-something-to-eat-at-the-hotel-restaurant” behind). Traveling helps your child become more adaptable. Traveling also helps him learn that routines and schedules might be fabulous for keeping order at home, but sometimes letting that all go can lead to some of the most relaxing and enjoyable times a family can have. Too strict of a regimen and your child will start to think it’s not okay to think outside the box. Again, dangerous and wasteful. Bottom line: get going.
Kristine Gresh is a Birmingham-based freelance writer who thinks it’s okay to choose to have just one child, or to enjoy an afternoon cocktail with a friend instead of cleaning…and that it’s definitely okay to jump on hotel beds.