14 Mar 2019

You are the best parent(s) for your child(ren): #3. Build Competence

Stop and think about the things you are able to do.

Clean up after yourself
Make your way around
Find/make/cook/serve meals
Maintain hygiene
Converse with others, even strangers
Find information
Resolve conflicts
Make plans and set goals

and on and on... Life requires us to have a wide range of competencies! We cannot always be there for our children, and so they must develop and master these competencies.

It's true that when they are older (assuming the Net remains relatively safe), they can learn most things from Youtube. But, they must find the impetus to learn, and there are only two ways: you desire to learn, or you get desperate. One will probably lack joy and lustre.

When it comes to helping our children to learn and master skills, there is this fine middle - it has to be a little hard or nothing new is accomplished, but it has to be do-able.

I went by the rule when the kids were little, that 'as soon as they can todd, they can tidy". Going further back, as soon as they discover their hands, they can jolly well hold their bottles, lift the spoon to their mouths and even do simple wiping.

Young children find all of this fascinating and fun, mostly. Of course, they can also get tired and frustrated if they aren't the most co-ordinated (and will most certainly give up if they are criticised!)

This is where your power as a parent comes in: you offer them the meaning by the story that you spin.

Your story will either enable them or disable them.

So clumsy
I don't have time for this mess
How old already...

are possible storylines, as are these:

This is hard for you, but we can try it again
You will get better
Your muscles will grow and you will be stronger to do this
It's alright, I can just clean this up

A sense that I am able to learn, grow, and develop competencies must undergird life, or we become inflexible, frightened and mediocre.

Even as adults, we need others to believe in us and cheer us on. We need a mentor, a good book, a promise from Scripture or a good friend to tell us we are on the right track and that we can trek through a new terrain. We need emotional boost and a sense of safety that even in failure, we won't completely crumble. (see earlier posts on #1 Emotional Bonds #2 Safety and Security).

We can think our private thoughts of panic, but as parents, we need to have enough self-control to speak upbuilding and empowering words. We won't do it perfectly, but we can do it adequately that it becomes the dominant message. After all, when they start going to school (part of a society that will measure and often give them feedback without the emotional ballast) the prevailing message will become internalized if they do not have a stronger, more embedded belief that they are able.

I wonder if this may be the reason that kids who do well at school tests and so forth, sometimes crumble when they face the occasional failure.

This leads me to another set of competencies we need to intentionally teach: the ability to be self-aware, to reflect, to choose the stories we tell ourselves, and to embed our lives onto something larger, grander and stronger.

Being self-aware requires us to let kids have space to share their thoughts and feelings with us.
Being reflective means we have to let them meander for a bit and guide them towards helpful conclusions.

When my son was bullied at school, I was naturally very upset and it was easy to stick to a story of victimhood where I basically tell him to be wary, to avoid and to report. Those bits are wise, but they are incomplete. I needed to first hear how he is processing it. This helps him to know himself, the running commentary in self-awareness. I let him share how he feels threatened, unsure, and at the same time hopping mad and wanting to get back (if he was bigger). 
Next I pull back back from his version of the story to consider other points of view: what the other student may be feeling and thinking. How teachers tend to perceive and respond to such incidences. We talked too about how God has called us to be forgiving and loving.
Finally, we talk about options and which he felt he was able to do. Then I told him what I would do for him. 
I wish I could say it did not happen again, but it did. Each time, the experience though broadly similar had unique elements. He had to learn where he was being vulnerable, how he may be attracting unwanted attention, and how to deflect them.
A few months later, at a bedtime conversation, he told me he had a plan! In his words, "I must have a group". I heard it as 'gang' (my Hokkien, poor-town background kicking in) and gasped a bit, but listened on. He realised that being isolated rendered him susceptible, and that the answer was to be proactive about making friends. It is much harder to bully someone who is moving merrily in a group! 
We thanked God for our brains and prayed for the strategy to bear fruit. 

This ability to reflect, think from various angles and come up with solutions is a critical life competency. It's good not to feel nervous about your kids when they are in new situations because you know that they can bear with stuff or make sense of it then or later.

The conversation I had which included the moral dimension was central to this. We live in a moral universe and competencies without a moral compass will not be adequate. In fact, having a sense of what is right and wrong, what is expedient and what is loving, provides the scaffold for sorting through the options. 

Payback is a human instinct. But as the old saying goes, "an eye for an eye, and the world goes blind", we cannot afford to give in to this instinct. The only way is to tutor and tame it with a moral value, a greater truth we believe in.

I want my kids to be able to navigate the world, their world.
I want them to be positive, contributing members of humanity.
I want them to love themselves and appreciate others.

They need life competencies, and it is up to me, the parent, to enable them.

Q: What competencies do you want your children to have? What is your plan to enable them?

More {click on the link to read related posts} ~

At times, we will bump up against the monster called Parental Anger, where we are hopping mad at our kids, but the anger can fizzle out and become the energy to do better.

Or perhaps we are anxious about having our kids ready for a future we cannot envision! Are our kids Future-ready? They can be, if you have these 3 Anchors for their bright future!