Chances are you haven’t met my almost five-year-old, except for those obligatory readers from my extended family (hi mom!). I happen to think he’s amazingly brillant and brilliantly amazing. I’m sure this is why he has a healthy self-esteem.
Every now and then someone who doesn’t have kids yet will ask me what we did to make him turn out so wonderful (because they only see him at his very best). And I have to answer what every parent out there would say, “I’m not exactly sure (I’m just barely put together at the moment, and it’s probably not from yelling at him to hurry into the car).”
We did our share of reading parenting books to prepare (a few of my favorites) – of course, we’re the kind who also have books on how to buy your first house and train a golden retriever. I also have a degree in education with two and a half years of psychology courses that should count for something. Add in twenty years of babysitting and childcare work, and surely we weren’t going to screw him up too badly.
I know when I was pregnant, I had all of these plans: he wasn’t going to be particular, a picky eater, hyper or loud. And when he was about five days old, I cried over the crib at that squirmy, opinionated newborn who was already particular, picky, hyper AND loud. Despite my best efforts, all of those character traits can still be found. I have reluctantly learned there are things about your children that you just can’t change – it’s nature, nurture, history, genetics, his God-given traits, or etc. You have to learn to live with them and let go (much like a healthy marriage, I might add).
But before you throw your hands up in the air and park your rear on the couch (next to me, mind you), I will share what I think may be the one best parenting decision we’ve made.
When our son was three, we wanted to find a school that offered more childcare than Mother’s Day Out, but we didn’t need as much as full-time daycare (we have done both of those, too). We were lucky enough to find the Little Tree Preschool: “learning to know, learning to grow, learning to live.” Little Tree is a school that focuses on children with autism and other development disabilities. My son is a typical kid.
And it truly has been the very best decision we have ever made.
At the Little Tree, they praise appropriate actions and reactions (positive reinforcement!). Sometimes they practice holding hands, and other times, they sing songs about when to keep your hands to yourself. He is learning to be kind even when someone is yelling at him, patient when he is not the loudest person in the room, and forgiving when someone thinks his arm looks tasty. After a year and a half, he rarely bats an eye when another child has a tantrum, he talks about all the children as his best friends, he knows that everyone learns at their own pace and he understands that he can be a teacher to someone else as well as learn from others. When he had a meltdown while playing YMCA soccer with his classmates because he couldn’t get a goal, I teared up watching one of his teachers get down on his level, hug him and give him the encouragement he needed. I’m not sure that’s what every soccer coach has a chance to do.
True, we are taking credit for someone else spending 35 hours a week with our son. But I know he’s receiving the kind of care and instruction that is shaping his perspective of others. I would recommend all of us place our children in just such a preschool. If you don’t, however, have a child with a disability, you may not know if you have the blessing of a Little Tree Preschool in your community. I’m truly sad for you, if you don’t.
But if I’m honest with myself, and you, I realize that we were probably nurturing a lot of these behavior traits already whether it was intentional or not. Maybe there are a few things we parents can do. I would love to hear what you do in your own home.
If I didn’t have a Little Tree Preschool near-by, I would seek out families who have children with disabilities for play dates, and I would invite them to my church. (Wait, is my church inclusive? Another great conversation.) I would intentionally place my child in groups and settings where he was with other children who look differently than him. Actually, that’s good advice for us adults, too.
Ultimately, I realized that parenting should be less about how clean they keep their room (very important to me!), what age they potty train (a late 3.5 for us), or whether they throw a fit in the checkout line (they will no matter what techniques someone tells you). I’m still going to worry about these things from time-to-time, but I’m learning to let go. After all, we’re trying to raise a little boy with a tender heart and a loving hand. That’s enough for me.