Friday, March 27, 2015

Free labor: The case for childhood chores

Here's why I don't like Batman: He has Alfred. Because Bruce Wayne is well off, he doesn't have to sort his own socks or cook his own meals or really do any chores. He is a horrible role model for my son.

I like Spiderman. Peter Parker has to get good grades, maintain an after-school job, save the world and still take out the trash. That takes good time management skills. 

But, for now, my son is still in love with Batman. I'll have to slowly bring him over to the ways of the webslinger.

As my son has gotten older, we've allowed him to have more responsibilities. And part of those include giving him chores to do. Because something odd happened with children and chores in the past fifteen years - they seem to have gone away and been replaced by way too many after school activities. The Wall Street Journal has a comprehensive piece on the disappearance of household chores from a child's week and why they need to make a comeback.

My son has chores around the house, and they are not linked to any type of allowance. (Think about it: Do you get paid to wash the dishes in your house? No? Neither should he.) Instead, we focus the conversation on how we all live in the house and it is all of our responsibilities to take care of it.

It's time to bring back childhood chores. Here are some ways to go about it:
  • Frame the conversation: Do not complain about your chores unless you want to hear your children complaining about theirs. Neutral language only.
  • Give regular responsibilities (as in: You are responsible for keeping the family room clean) and then additional ones as needed (as in: Today we are all going to work in the yard so we have a nice place to play).
  • Make it a game. Yes, some of my games are silly, but they work really well with children.
  • Don't micromanage. Maybe it takes your child longer to sort the socks or he doesn't fold the towels the same way you do. So what? Let them complete the chore without hovering over them.
 What chores are your children responsible for? Share with me in the comments.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Blinding them with science

One day far into the future, when my son accepts his Nobel Prize in chemistry, I fully expect him to thank his Mom for doing all those "way cool" egg experiments with him on that one rainy Saturday afternoon. "Because of her," he will say, "I learned to look at the world as a place filled with answers. You just have to know the right questions to ask." And I will tear up, and it will be lovely. (Trust me.)

My Mom always helped me with science when I was younger: All those last-minute science fair projects (sorry, Mom!), the bug collection (really sorry, Mom!), the tree log (in retrospect: not as bad as the bugs) and various projects in between. She helped me, but neither one of us enjoyed it. The first bit of science I enjoyed was chemistry class in tenth grade: I didn't need any help for that one and it was a fun class.

So, that is the science I am starting with for my son: Chemistry. A study conducted by George Mason University recently attempted to find out what sparked the interest for today's greatest scientific minds. Researchers were attempting to zero in on a new way to foster a love of sciences in earlier grades. But it wasn't school or teachers that provided the catalyst: It was families. Most participants cited doing experiments at home or a field trip with their family that gave them a lifetime interest in science.

So what does that mean for our house? It means I am going to break out those easy science experiment books and start combining ingredients that make a big reaction. It means that we are going to grow our own slime and crystals and that the kitchen is going to get messy. And it means that I am going to watch my son closely to see what he wants to explore next. And hopefully, we'll find some science that we both enjoy.

What was your favorite science class in school? Share with me in the comments.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The case for more cuddling

One day when I dropped my son off to school, a little girl in his class came over to greet him with a giant hug and some happy words. My son bared it, the girl walked off and my son looked up at me and said, "These girls - they always want to hug me."

My son's school is technically a hug-free zone (for the students - teachers are definitely allowed to fulfill the children's hug requests because it is still pre-Kindergarden). On this particular day the teacher ignored the little girl's hug because I was standing right there and my son didn't push her off. But, we did have a conversation around hugging later that day to make sure he understood that it was OK to say "no" if he didn't want to be hugged.

"The only girl I want to hug me is you and Nana," he told me.

My response back to him was that I love hugs. I love them from him, from Daddy and even from my coworkers (we ask people before they join our team if they are huggers or non-huggers and respect those wishes, but I for one love working somewhere where I can get a hug whenever I need one.) I told my son that the reason I love hugs so much is that because they help keep us happy and healthy.

Which is mostly true. It's really touching that keeps us healthy, but I thought I would stick to hugs. In this long piece by the New Yorker, you can read about several studies that involve the power of touch and the way that our brains can tell the difference between a massage chair and an actual hand massage. (Warning: The first part about the babies in Romania is really sad.) It was fascinating to read about the ways touch is needed to keep us at our peak condition - from infancy all the way through advanced age.

So, for me, I will keep accepting (and dishing out) those hugs and home and in the office. And I will take every opportunity to cuddle up with my men at home.

Are you comfortable with hugs from friends and coworkers? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, March 23, 2015

You aren't that good at this; and that's OK

You're at a party. Not a children's birthday party (for a change) but a party with only grownups. Some of the guests are talking about politics, others are talking about their new hobbies or careers and still others are discussing literature. You find yourself chatting with a person who has lived an extraordinary life. As they continue talking you learn how they have had success at sports, in the business world and in their family life. They tell you about the places they've traveled to. The person tells you about the wine that you are drinking and can tell you everything about the place you've chosen to take your next vacation and wants to solve all your problems for you. That's right: You are stuck talking to the person who is good at everything.

But here's the problem: No one is good at everything. And the people who think that they are good at everything are horribly boring to talk to. We know this as adults, so why are we forgetting to teach that to our children?

By now you've probably seen the study on how we are all raising narcissistic children by overpraising their talents. We know that their little egos are fragile and we want to bolster them up, but we need to learn how to do this without letting them think they are better than everyone else.

So how do I tell my son that I value him - that he is special to me - without letting him think that he is special to the whole world? Here's my plan.
  • Let him see the bad days, too. I have good days at work and I have bad days. On bad days I usually try to push it all away so I can focus on him, but I think I need to let him know that not every day is perfect and that is OK.
  • Praise specifically. I am definitely guilty of telling my son what a good boy he is, when I should be more specific with my praise and tell him he does a nice job helping me clean up around the house or that I like the way he colors in the lines.
  • Point out our differences. I am a pretty good storyteller, so if my son wants someone to make up a story with him, I'm his go-to gal. But if he wants to build a space ship out of Legos, he is better off asking Daddy who is much better at engineering and design.
What are you really truly good at? Go ahead and brag a little in the comments.