“Oy Oy Oy, … Now What Are My Kids Up To?”

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So we are into our first trimester of school. Kids are feeling their oats. They might just be figuring out how much manipulating or foolishness they can pull off. Mom, the honeymoon is over. And we love them for that, because it’s what kids do! Please don’t tell them that.

These two stories point out how smart our kids are, and why too many rules don’t work. I believe they demonstrate higher order thinking skills, right out of Common Core: analysis, logical reasoning, critical thinking, and problem solving

My favorite story about manipulation is one, thankfully, kids can’t readily do in this day and age because teachers have finally gotten computer savvy and learned the tricks of the trade, but I have to tell it at least once a year.

Greta, a twelfth grader and tennis phenom, had a grade point average of 3.5. She took a full program of Advanced Placement classes, tennis practice for three hours a day, homework in the evening…time was not her friend. Her English teacher gave the class an assignment for a research paper due on a particular Friday. Greta waited for the last minute ( Don’t judge her. I’m sure you’ve done the same.) I was her educational therapist at the time. She somehow failed to tell me anything about it. On the following Monday of the due date, she came to my office for our weekly session, all smiles. “What’s up,” I asked. “I had a ten page paper due on Friday ( I just love my students who tell me everything). So I sent the teacher ten blank formatted pages. This morning she said she got the email, but all the pages were blank.” Greta laughed. “I told her that I didn’t know what happened, but I do have a hard copy in my backpack.” Greta bought herself the weekend!” I’d be lying to you if I didn’t think about giving Greta a high five for ingenuity!

Let me say it again: analysis, logical reasoning, critical thinking, and problem solving

RIGHT?

Chandler, a foolish high school junior, had been sneaking out of the house on school nights for months. He climbed out his sister’s window when she was asleep, went into the garage, put the car in neutral, manually opened the garage door, and in the dark, pushed his parent’s SUV two blocks so that they wouldn’t hear him. One night his sweet little sister awoke. Thank goodness for that. I think his parents told him he’d be grounded until the evening of his wedding. (Again, love that my kids trust me with their stories.)

I could go on and on, but I’m sure you have your own stories. In fact, I’d love to hear them if you wish to share.

But I do think some antidotes to manipulation and foolishness are making sure that we give our kids confidence and teach them to communicate. Children want to please us no matter how old they are. And confidence and communication need to be taught! Don’t get me wrong, they are still children and will do what children do…manipulated and do crazy things. We want them to do that. But we want them to do the smart thing when they are up against an important challenge.

Be careful to pick your battlefields with caution.

One of the most important things we give our kids is the belief that they can be successful. But don’t give them empty compliments like, “good job. Way to go…” Tell them exactly what they did well and what could use some elbow grease. A suggestion I was given as a new teacher was not to get into a head to head with them. They usually win. Give them choices. Give them weighted choices…two things that you can live with. “Do you want to brush your teeth first or put on your pajamas?” “Do you want to do your math homework first or your English essay?” Try and stay away from things like, “Do you want to get good grades or make your mother sick?” Not recommended. I didn’t say it was easy.

I might get some kickback for this, but we need to hold our teachers accountable for this as well. We have your kids in our care for 35 hours a week or more. I used to be an inclusion specialist for moderate to severely disabled students. I had to visit many classrooms each week. Most teachers are committed to their work, passionate about what they do, but there are some who must have gone into teaching because they don’t get along with adults (I actually had a teacher once tell me that). Why argue with kids about sharpening their pencils to the point where it takes longer to argue than it does to sharpen the darn thing. And some students need to just move around. But that’s a subject for another time.

Years ago I worked at a private school for students with learning differences. I worked with an extremely wise school psychologist. He told me that he thought too many grade school teachers who can’t get close to their students end up teaching middle and high school classes. Though every child deserves the caring relationship of a teacher, the kids who need it most are our secondary students. He explained that they are experiencing a plethora of new, and what seems to them, strange thoughts and at such a vulnerable time in their life…the hormones, the insecurities, the anxiety, the Instagramming. They are climbing out of windows for Pete’s Sake.

All I’m saying here is…take a deep breath…don’t box yourself in when there is a conflict with your children. Give them choices that you can live with. Support confidence. Provide certainty . That doesn’t mean you high five them because they closed the window after they snuck out of the house. And communicate, communicate, communicate…

And lock the windows!

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