Tag Archives: experience

Looking Back on The Gift of Experience

There was a lot of talk over the last year about giving experiences instead of gifts, from minimal and cheap (on demand backrubs, drive in the country … the gift of you!) to over-the-top fancy (baloon ride over Everest anyone? Party with a rock star?). Whatever you spend, it’s about how family trips, explorations, and shared projects are the things kids remember, far more than the toy that breaks, runs out of batteries, or just loses its appeal. Kids are adventurers and romantics at heart: just look at many of the toys and games they love. The experience-as-gift movement is an acknowledgement that the world is full of adventure and romance, and kids instantly respond to being out in it, climbing, running, exploring … yes, even learning.

We are parents of adult children (technically, though one is still at home and in school), and we have a complicated perspective on this. As children age, they are less interested in doing things with their parents. I, Dave, ask my 18-year old son almost weekly if he’d like to go for a run, a bike ride, a hike, or even just to “do something”. He says, “No,” a lot these days. If I gave him An Experience for Christmas–say, a “Hike With Dad”–it might not go over too well. He’d rather do other things; gaming with friends, indoors or out. But, honestly his responses would be harder to take if we had never done anything together. Our kids say “No” to such experiences not because they aren’t interested, but because they’ve *been there done that*. And they’ve “been there” because we brought them there. They’ve “done that”, because we did it with them. (And, we know, they aren’t done visiting the places we introduced them to … they’ll keep going back with friends, loved ones.)

Dad can still get the boy out for an experience. It’s hard, but it still happens. The secret is picking an experience that he hasn’t had yet. Two years ago it was a week-long trip to Oregon to race in a triathlon. Next year it’s a trip to the Sierras to climb a peak that dad climbed last when he was 18. Oof. What am I going to follow that with? Space tourism?

But he says “Yes.”


This post originally appeared on the Parenting on The Peninsula Blog.

What We Say, What We Teach

We want our children to know our values. For example, we want them to hear our opinions about justice, peace, war, nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.

But there are times when our opinions might not be very helpful to a child, like when those opinions are about the child. Consider the way we talk to and about our children, and how our opinions, both positive and negative, can effect them.

Most of us assume that when we talk to our kids, we should be positive: “I like that drawing!” “What a good job you did with that project!” “I’m so proud of you!” We give children our opinions, and though we make an attempt to keep our opinions positive, there’s a good chance that the overall effect is not always positive. The problem with opinions is they establish a kind of merit system that is unsustainable. Because either you only give positive opinions (which sets your child up to imagine they only do great work), or you respond honestly to their efforts, with legitimate criticism, which is not really the best role for a parent to play (and can be exhausting for the child). Think about it: would you criticize according to adult standards (harsh!), or would you compare your child’s work to that of their peers? “The immaturity of your drawing can be excused, but it isn’t really showing the depth of emotional understanding that is common among your classmates.” Yeah, weird.

The other side of the coin is when we talk about our children with other adults, when we think we’re out of earshot. Here we can be a bit negative, because this is where we voice our anxieties, our frustrations, our fears. We think we are out of earshot, but it isn’t easy avoiding the curious, listening ear of a child. Children pay very close attention to what their parents say. And what is it like to hear your parents talk about you with other adults? Even things we might think are not essentially negative can sound negative in this context: “He’s very shy! I can’t get him to play with other kids!”; “She can’t handle much more of this event … I can tell she’s about to melt down; we’ll be leaving soon!”; “He’ll never eat that, he hates vegetables!” ….

What kind of communication can we replace these examples with? Are there better ways to talk to and about our children?

When a child is working hard on a task, and an adult says, “Wow, what a great outcome!”, what does this do? If their work is indeed great beyond expectation, then … wow, great! … But what will we say when it isn’t?. Rather than express an opinion (which is akin to a judgment), better to speak to the child’s experience. “You are being so careful with your work!”, or “Drawing is hard, but you’re working at it.” Speaking to the experience is judgement-free, and can be a real encouragement to a child, even helping them find words they can use to describe their own complex feelings. But kids can be pretty judgmental toward themselves. Without going along with the judgement, we can validate their feelings. When they are frustrated, or tear up a picture they’ve been working on, we shouldn’t be afraid of their strong feelings or try to make them feel better. Instead of “But that was a great drawing!”, we might say, “You’re very frustrated and you wanted to tear that picture up! … Maybe you’ll draw another one.” Agreeing with a frustrated child validates and encourages them in a way that misplaced praise (“But I loved that picture”) can never do.

And, talking about a child to others when that child is around? How about just not doing it. Don’t express opinions about your child when they are nearby, for all the reasons we’ve mentioned so far. Either you will reveal your anxieties in a way that they shouldn’t have to bear, or you will be tempted to false enthusiasm. If you are about to leave an event because you know your child is about to melt down, how about instead of blaming them for needing to leave, express some solidarity with them … “I’m feeling kind of tired, this has been fun, but I think we’re going to go home.” Children will pick up on their impact on your life, and if you are able to speak to the experience of a tiring day, without naming them as the reason it has to end, they will be less burdened. Less, “He’s about to blow! We’d better go!”; more “This has been a long day, let’s go home and have some family time. I’m ready to relax!”

One of the great things we get to teach our children is that life is not all about performance. Life is about experience, and the way we talk to and about our children is one of our great teaching tools.


[This post originally appeared on the Parenting on The Peninsula Blog]

What We Don’t Know

We could talk your ear off about childhood and parenting. Between the two of us, we have lots of experience and training. Anghelika directs a parent-participation preschool, and has worked with kids and parents for 25-ish years. Dave teaches and tutors kids from 1st to 12th grade and is a clinical psychology student. But ask us about the kid in our house who is finishing High School and we are no longer experts. We are parents. And being a parent is totally different than knowing a lot about parenting.

It’s so comforting to be old, experienced, and learned. Except when it’s not. Because our kids, who are entirely unique and not necessarily inclined to behave according to expectations, always surprise us.

In the field of psychology, there’s an eagerness to establish a science of how people tick. This will, it is believed, counter the assumption that the cure of souls is a touchy-feely affair. There is a lot of good research out there, and lots to learn about how people work, generally speaking. But the best minds in psychology (in our opinion) are the ones that recognize that people are too complex and … well, alive, to fit neatly into a formula about how humans grow or develop.

Generally speaking, as educators and parents with an almost-empty nest, we know some stuff about parenting. But parenting, like counseling or teaching, is not really general. It’s personal. As parents, we have the same problems that all parents have: we get confused, frustrated, and disappointed. We worry, panic, and despair. We also laugh, cry, hope, and rejoice. Not much of it is scientific. Not much of it is predictable, even if a scientist might be able to predict it. Yes, we are a bundle of contradictions. We’re parents: we can’t be systematic or formulaic with our kids.

One of the best things that we can do is to keep learning from one another, because when we engage with other parents (and the occasional expert), we get to have our assumptions challenged and we get to learn tricks about making good soil in the gardens of our homes. But, we have to remember that what happens in gardens is often mysterious. We can prepare the soil, but we can’t make the flowers grow.

So we do our best to prepare the soil, but then we stand back and watch with no small measure of wonder at the growing of our kids into amazing individuals. We try to be present, to let them reveal to us who they are, and we get ready to be surprised and inspired.

We have seen some pretty surprising and inspiring things in our home. We could talk your ear off.

[This post originally appeared on the Parenting On The Peninsula blog]