Dr. Ana Luszcynska, Chair of the English Department at Florida International University, wrote this letter to her Department and agreed to share it with our wider readership so we all may have more resources to assess and adjust our personal and societal awareness and priorities to end racism and oppression.
WHAT IS CURIOSITY? AND WHY DOES UNDERSTANDING IT MATTER, IN GETTING OUR CHILDREN TO ‘LISTEN’? by Jilna Patel Jasani
When our 4-year-old pushes our 11-month-old...
When our 7-year-old forgets something for the tenth time….
When our 6-year-old hoards her toys...
When our 8-year-old doesn't play fair…
When our 3-year-old has a meltdown…
When our 5-year-old lies about how much screen time he’s used...
When you think about your child's education do you feel relaxed and free or stressed and constrained? If the word "school" feels a bit stifling, perhaps this might throw open a door, or at least a window...
A parent from our school suggested we start a book club - obviously a virtual one in this time of social distancing - and she suggested we start with the book Free to Learn by Dr. Peter Gray. If you’ve read other blog entries here, you’ve seen the title referenced frequently. Like many other educators and parents, it was a seminal work for me so I was delighted others wanted to talk about it too. I hope by the end of this post you will be so curious yourself that you too will dive in and see how it might change your life for the better as a parent, person, and/or educator.
The Best of Intentions in Unprecedented Times
I had every intention of doing a lot of writing during this quarantine/isolation time - I thought at first it would be such an opportunity of time and space to reflect, refine, and to offer hopefully helpful thoughts and ideas. I thought maybe I would even publish two blog entries a week! Ha! That might have been the case were this just a kind of stay-cation, but it has been quite different for me, and I suspect for many others as well.
Only very recently, while I was once again flipping through Children: The Challenge for support and inspiration, did I come across a small but powerful section on caution vs. fear. How had I missed this before? Perhaps I had been focused on more practical things at the time - like how to maintain my sanity with three energetic children.
As an adult, I’ve come to understand how many bits of my childhood came to loom large in my adulthood. I see with compassion how my (incredible) parents’ well-meaning worries became translated into big scary fears for me. Sometimes these fears that are born in our younger years are the most potent, precisely because they have hazy origins or are remembered more in emotion than in easily articulated words.
Children often don’t want to tell us what has become a fear for them - I sure didn’t. Whether it’s from embarrassment, habit, or even the fear of the fear itself, children often shy away from discussing what’s bothering them. It’s very likely that our children are quietly crawling with large and small fears that play themselves out in large and small ways.
“Mo-om, he’s not sharing the goggles!” “I’m hun-gry!” "They're not being fa-ir!"
My friend and I are talking by the pool while our kids swim and play. It’s my friend time as much as theirs. Then comes that almost inevitable intrusion of a child whining for arbitration or seeking immediate gratification. They are looking for a parent to play referee and/or rescuer. These pleas are often quite effective in grabbing our attention and pulling us into these roles, and away from our own friend time. But they do more than just disturb our pool-side tranquility. Let’s look.
"Don’t touch that!" "Stop interrupting me!" "Take your feet off the couch!" "Be gentle with the cat!"
You know the feeling - the often palpable tension of the moment between your directive and your child’s compliance. The reaction to the direction can vary: perhaps your child pulls back and complies immediately, or they ignore you completely, or they sigh and roll their eyes, or they actively defy your command, or a host of other variations the provoke a variety of feelings in us. Our responses to their choices at that moment can also take on a multiple iterations: we repeat what we said, we expand on the reason why we told them to do what we did, we threaten some punishment/consequence if they don’t do what we said, perhaps we physically remove them from the situation, put them in “time out,” or we engage in a back and forth debate on the topic… Do you see anything here you recognize? It’s a common source of great frustration for both parents and children.
Is it possible to sidestep this power dance? Without claiming this tact is a magic wand, there is hope to be found in simply shifting from demand to description - from instruction to information. How could that change things?
They can’t find their favorite shirt. Someone wouldn’t share their ball today. The photo of them on Instagram was not very flattering. Their sibling joked that mom or dad was going to give away their iPad. BOOM. The world is over. Tears. Anger. The sky is falling.
Why are they making such a fuss over nothing? What’s the big deal? Get over it, right?
Let’s press pause. What makes something a “big deal” vs. a “little deal?” Importance is a pretty relative term. Food, shelter, and breathing aside, what constitutes important depends on who’s doing the constituting. And when something is relative, we would probably say it depends on your perspective. Good, perspective. Let’s get some perspective on this issue.
Have you ever heard about the importance of making your child “anti-fragile?” I’m guessing none of us would want our children described as “fragile,” but what in the world is “anti-fragile?” Nassim Taleb writes in Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder about things that become stronger under pressure, not things like faberge eggs of course, but things like bones, immune systems… and, one could argue, children.
You and I both know that we live in an extrovert’s world, especially in terms of what our culture values. The gregarious personality is celebrated, and often more quickly trusted and embraced. The quieter personality, in contrast, is often misunderstood and frankly mistrusted. If you don’t believe it, you might be an extrovert and should probably go right now and ask an introvert.
What does this cultural bias mean for our more quiet or socially-avoidant children? As it 100% affects their lives, it’s something we parents just can’t avoid ourselves, or be quiet about.
MAIN Author: CHRISTEN PARKER-YARNAL