January 18, 2016
Posted By: Web Admin
WRITTEN BY MICHAEL W. LEACH
Parenting is hard work—we all know it—but the more I watch my daughter weave and bob her way through childhood, the more I come to believe that being a kid is even harder.
As a child, I struggled through school. For years, my sense of inadequacy in the classroom wreaked havoc on my psyche. Even now, as a grown man and father, some childhood triggers still get me, which is why I’m bound and determined to keep my 8-year-old from suffering a similar fate. Unfortunately, the gauntlets today’s youth navigate seem far more complex than those I faced as a kid.
For starters, I don’t remember doing homework in second grade—a practice that, today, begins in kindergarten. And then there’s the standardization of our educational system, which makes the classroom challenging for students with kinesthetic (needing movement) or divergent (whole-picture thinking) learning styles.
Now more than ever, it seems kids are expected to fit into a box of what it looks like to be a “good” student. Thankfully, the school system in Bozeman is second to none at spotting those kiddos who need a boost; and the resources available for parents to champion our children are plentiful. But in reality, my greatest concern isn’t my daughter being at the top of her class. She shines where it matters most: little person integrity. And I trust that our dedication to summer reading workshops and nightly homework will help her reach her potential in the classroom.
What concerns me most is her self-esteem.
I simply want her to feel competent in the classroom—and, more importantly, that she’s always “enough.”
So how do we coach our kids in a way that builds confidence and sense of self? I won’t pretend to have the answers. I’m no parenting expert; I’m just a dad who loves his daughter and strives to get it right. Parenting classes, coffee shop sit-downs (with Thrive parent liaisons), picking the brains of my favorite moms while reading what the experts have to say seem like a good starting point. I’m someone who can’t turn off the brain-train, always stressing about getting it right—which may be why I love those studies that tell us worrying makes us happier (the research actually exists: see Stephanie Vozza’s article at Inc.com). Turns out there’s worry that’s productive (how can I best address my daughter’s question about why she works with a reading specialist?) and worry that sends us spinning (what if my child gets bullied?).
As parents, we care, and care deeply; but we all go about showing we care differently. I’ve come to believe parenting is much like coaching. Kids know if we’re being real, if our words and actions are authentic. It follows that our parenting style is, and should be, uniquely our own. Still, there are a few methods I’m pretty sure can work for all of us and, in the process, go a long way toward helping our children grow comfortable in their own skin.
Little things mean a lot to little people. I’m convinced that gestures like walking my daughter to class each morning or waiting for her in the foyer after school provide stability and consistency for her. I know how fortunate I am to be able to do these things (the negatives of being a cash-strapped author are oft-times outweighed by the freedom my feast-or-famine career affords me); but there are simple rituals each of us can embrace that might just go a long way in making our children feel loved—and “enough.”
When my daughter entered kindergarten, I started what, for us, has become a tradition. Truth be told, I suspect it means more to me than to her, but regardless, I like to believe it makes a difference. I can’t take credit for the idea, as it’s something I saw on a cafeteria lunch date during my daughter’s first week of school. I loved it, adopted it, and made it my own.
What’s the big secret? I write her a note. Some are short, some longer. In kindergarten and first grade, she took them to her teacher or an adult in the lunchroom to read to her. Now she reads them on her own, occasionally asking for help from a friend with a higher reading level.
They all differ, depending on what’s going on in her world and life; but the premise is consistent. “I’m proud to be your dad.”
Each one ends the same, “Love, dad.”
When I asked one of my “go-to” moms for advice on what to call this monthly parenting column, she replied, “What’s your greatest strength as a parent?”
I didn’t have to think very long. For me, it’s expressing love.
I’m not sure how much my daughter actually digests of those notes I stick in her lunchbox before she heads out the door; but I like to think those two last words make a difference.
And I intend to keep it up, in hopes that my scribbled words help her believe that, no matter what, she’s always enough.
Michael W. Leach is a father, author, motivational speaker and rabble rousing green guy. His latest book Be Audacious: Inspiring Your Legacy and Living a Life That Matters, propels millennials to change the world. His blog BeAudacious.com is basecamp for adventurous people striving to live extraordinary lives. He lives, loves and dreams with his wife and daughter in Bozeman, Montana.