Three Tricks for Getting Kids to Start Thinking for Themselves - Part OneMar 02, 2021
Three Tricks for Getting Kids to Start Thinking for Themselves - No Matter Their Age PART ONE
How I Got These Skills….by Accident
I know that not all of you have children - and, to be fair, not all of you want children. But don’t go thinking this blog isn’t for you, just ‘cause of the title. Notice, I didn’t call it “Three Tricks for Getting YOUR Kids...blah blah blah”. Totally intentional.
Whether you have - or want - kids or not, the fact is lots of us have fairly regular interactions with the “more youthful” set of humanity. Long before I had kids, I was spending nearly all my time with kids. In fact, I went from being a kid to teaching, coaching, and mentoring kids (and their mothers, but that’s another story for another day).
I didn’t realize for many, many years that that pretty much non-existent transitional period (from kid to adult-kid) was the best thing that could have happened to me, as far as talking to, coaching, and motivating (not to mention understanding) kids.
Because part of my psyche never really grew up (as my kids will be quick to tell you), sure, but also because I’ve never forgotten what it’s like to BE a kid.
Honestly, I think that is the better part of the struggle that adults have with youth - and it’s why we get the “you just don’t understand!” line as much as we do. For all intents and purposes, we don’t understand, because we’ve forgotten.
Anyways my good/bad luck put me in a position to have the mindset necessary to meet young people where they’re at - and what a blessing, let me tell you, now that I have kids of my own! The other piece is communication skills - and because that’s also what I do, my poor children are ‘communicated with’ within an inch of their lives.
I’m NOT suggesting you put your mouth on auto-pilot (even if you could). Far, FAR from it. It’s actually about INTENTIONALITY.
Interestingly, the skills we’ll talk about here, today, are applicable to EVERYONE in EVERY SITUATION. For real. I won’t rehash “listening” as a skill, ‘cause I’ve done that recently How to Listen Instead of Just 'Hearing, but if you haven’t caught it, I highly recommend that you do so - and not even just because I wrote it ;-)
What does “Thinking for Themselves” even mean?
So! What’re we looking at? Well, when I use this phrase, I mean exactly that. Many kids are being raised in a time and a place where the answers are given to them (I’ll give examples, just you wait!) by everyone and everything.
Want to know about Cheetahs? Ask Google.
Want to know what ‘beautiful’ looks like? Check out Insta.
Want to know what to think, and when? Listen to your teacher, the prescribed curriculum.
Want to know what to believe? Find the nearest faith centre or spiritual guru.
Want to know how to feel? Listen to the latest sexualized pop or TV reality show or toxically positive preschool children’s program.
Want to know where the backpack has been left? Ask your mom.
Want to know why the homework isn’t done - and no one reminded you? Ask your mom (again).
Censor the books but let ‘er rip on Netflix.
Of course, to some of you, it may seem that I’m laying this out in the extreme form. But am I really? Really, really?
I don’t think so.
One thing I learned working with kids before (and after) I had kids is that this is REAL - I am not imagining things.
There are REAL Consequences
Here’s another question: What is the COST of this?
I can think of at least 6 ‘prices to be paid’:
- Kids who can’t think for themselves (obviously)
- Kids who blame others for anything and everything
- Kids who don’t do anything unless someone tells them how, when, etc.
- Kids who never learn to lead
- Kids who fail at adulting
- Kids who place an extraordinary - and unnecessary, frankly - burden on their parents (and, let’s be honest, odds are good that it’s a mom - or another woman - carrying it).
That’s just off the top of my head - I’m sure if you and I were to sit down and brainstorm, that list would get a whole lot longer.
When Can I Use These Tricks?
The simplest answer is “all the time”, but it’s not exactly true. I mean, when there is danger involved, thinking for oneself isn’t always an available option.
A story: We have a cabin in the Rocky Mountains where we spend big chunks of our summer. As it’s in a National Park, we get to enjoy the amenities and realities that affords. One big one (figuratively AND literally) is bears.
No, not Winnie-the-Pooh friendly Teddy Bears. Real, bite-your-ass-off bears that are wild - a reality frequently lost on tourists who do stupid things like give their kids lollipops and push their kids towards the bear, all for a photo op.
SEE???? This is the result when kids who didn’t learn to think become adults. Natural selection.
But that’s actually NOT the story I want to share. This one is about my sons and their cousins. Now, while bears don’t roam about day-and-night, they are something you need to keep in mind, especially at the start and ends of “the season”, when black and brown bears come down the mountain looking for food (grizzlies tend to stay up in the alpine regions).
Anyways, on this hot summer day in August, about three years ago, four boys were running around in my yard. The two eldest were my sons (at that time 12 and 9 years old). Their cousins were 7 and 5 if memory serves. The youngest has Down’s Syndrome, but he’s a regular playmate of the older boys’.
My Jeep was parked about 50 feet from the front door of my tiny cabin. I was in the kitchen, cooking and more-or-less keeping an eye on the kids. Generally, we get some warning there is a bear in the area. Not today.
All of a sudden I heard wild screaming - and it took a moment to recognize that it was really screaming, and not play-screaming.
I whipped open the door to a bear standing about 20 feet from me. The two middle boys (my youngest and his cousin) were already in the Jeep (I keep it unlocked, thank god), and my eldest was running madly and chaotically around in semi-circles between the Jeep and the cabin. He was hysterical. Why? His cousin with Down’s was wandering cluelessly about 15 feet from the bear, completely ignoring the pleas from the Jeep for him to come. My eldest was beyond logic - he knew he should be in the Jeep, but he also knew his cousin didn’t have the capacity to understand the very real problem - and danger - at hand.
I yelled at the top of my lungs - no mean feat, by the way - for him to ‘GET IN THE JEEP NOW!!!’ and the tone and volume were enough to break through the raw panic (I was perfectly prepared to run right in front of the bear to grab him if it didn’t work). Meanwhile, my husband had come around the corner, scooped our nephew up, and threw him (quite literally) in the cabin.
We yelled for the other boys to stay in the Jeep, and we all waited for the bear to meander away.
Only then did we evacuate the kids, and notify all the neighbours that there was a “bear in the area” (this is a tiny community where neighbours and phone trees are still intact). We congratulated the boys and reassured our oldest that we understood his conundrum - and panic.
This is an example of when not to ask a kid to think for themselves.
Obviously, I would hope.
I mean, was I going to say, “Now, son: there’s a bear there and your cousin is nearby and doesn’t understand the danger. You need to protect yourself. Oh, and you should think about how to protect him, too.”
Yeah, that’s about as stupid as it sounds, tbh.
So, the tricks work when imminent danger isn’t at play.
What Ages Does This Work For?
Honestly, any. Seriously. I was using these techniques when my son was 18 months old - and yes, he had limited understanding, so I had to use a tone of voice and objects, etc., to try and convey my intentions. The point at that stage wasn’t to do anything other than model a behaviour and communication pattern that would continue throughout his life.
And yes, when he was seven, nothing I did seemed to make sense to him - he skipped the terrible twos and opted for the ‘satanic sevens’, IMO. But I kept doing it.
When he was 14 and was sure he knew and understood everything in the world, and that I was clearly just trying to subvert his awesomeness, these were the ONLY things that kept me sane (and kept him alive).
I’ve used this with every kid from every background I’ve ever taught, including differently-abled individuals like my nephew. It’s important to adjust your approach, language, energy, expectations, and sophistication level, depending on the child in question. Every person is different, and that requires YOU to consider them as such. Custom communication is where it’s at.
The point is not that it is perfect. There will be days you succeed, and days you pull your hair out.
But you will see a significant difference in the quality of your relationships, and - perhaps even more importantly - the quality of the thinking, decision-making, accountability, and increasing maturity in the kids you’re working with.
So, I Have an Assignment For You
Before I just go ahead and give you the goods, I want you to take some time to think about and observe your own interactions with others - with or without the addition of kids.
Consider the six “prices to be paid” I listed earlier, and reflect on your own life - are you a victim of this? Are you a perpetrator? Are you one of the few that has somehow dodged one or more of these bullets? (if you are, great - now go out there and show others how it’s done!!)
Come back next week, and I’ll share the tools - in the meantime, I invite you to guess what the three tools might be. In fact, if you have some guesses, I’d love to hear them! Hit me up at [email protected]!
One final thought, before I sign off - I am 210% aware that life doesn’t always allow for such level-headed approaches: sometimes our stress levels are so off the charts, we’ve lost the plot. Sometimes we’re so busy we don’t know which end is up. Sometimes kids are being little shits. Sometimes there are clinical and/or psychological factors at play. I don’t live in a coconut, and I know you don’t either. Life happens. The point is that you’re creating AWARENESS, which can lead to CHOICE. You’re at least showing up to play, right?
“Every human has four endowments; self-awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom. The power to choose, to respond, to change.”
~ Stephen Covey
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