Anna Dusseau | 18th May 2020
I have this memory of my dad putting me to bed. I didn’t like the dark, so he would stay by me until I fell asleep. After a story, I would lie awake looking at the long shadows on the ceiling, listening to my dad’s voice. “Get to sleep, my pony girl,” he would say. And then: “Get to sleep, my amazing reader, motorbike rider, crazy inventor, pirate fighter, risk taker, book writer…” I was none of these things. Or, if I was, it was just the beginning of an idea. I do remember I was into Pippi Longstocking and spent several months with a bar of chocolate tucked into my sock ‘just in case’. In short, I was a normal kid. But these words have stayed with me and now, when I put my own children to bed, I do the same thing; I make sure they go to sleep feeling like anything is possible. But there’s more to bringing up strong, positive people than just this.
Never criticise who they are. This is incredibly basic, but worth mentioning nevertheless. Our children are growing and changing all the time; they deserve the right to make mistakes and learn from them. They deserve the right to shed skins and move into new identities and behaviours without judgement. Above all, avoid any criticism that is a direct blow to who they are, such as: “you are a selfish boy” or “you talk too much.” Think it, by all means – we are only human and sometimes these guys push our buttons – but remain resolutely supportive and positive about the fundamental person that your child is. They will feel it, even if they can’t articulate that now, and in years to come, they will thank you for having this unwavering faith in them.
Approval, not appraisal. Sugata Mitra introduces about a wonderful concept in his TED talk on Child Driven Education which he terms the ‘grandmother technique’ of learning. ‘What is it?’ asks the teenager in the story. And Mitra replies: “Well, what you’ve got to do is stand behind them and admire them all the time. Just say to them: That’s cool! That’s fantastic! What is that? Can you do that again?” Children flourish when given undiluted praise for their efforts, however minimal or imperfect. They thrive on your encouragement and, given time, have the natural instinct to be self-reflective, to consider how to develop and improve. Try to allow them the space to do this by saying “Wow! What a superb picture! Can you talk me through it?” rather than “That’s great; how about adding some flowers in the field?”
#Grateful. We all love this hash tag, but are we really teaching our kids to live this way? We are an ordinary family – not rich or famous or above average in our intelligence and warmth – but I grew up being told that I was fantastically blessed and this is what I now do with my own children. “What? Daddy said you can have a movie night just because it’s Thursday? You guys are the luckiest kids on the planet!” “Oh my goodness, bike ride and baking in one morning? Do you have any idea how cool your life is?” Because, if you don’t teach them now to be satisfied with the small things and to feel #grateful every day, they never will. It’s not about arrogance. It’s about living well, enjoying the simplicity of climbing a tree to eat chocolate cake on the second branch, and not striving for what is always out of reach.
These are the things my dad taught me and it’s only now in my adult life, raising my own kids, that I realise how fortunate I was to have this model to work by. It’s got me through a lot and is probably a big part of what gives me the confidence to homeschool. And, if you’ve come this far, you might like to know that there’s a tiny downer to the story of my dad putting me to bed, because my parents were separated and one of the reasons I couldn’t get to sleep is because I knew that when I woke up in the morning, my dad would be gone and I wouldn’t see him again for a while. But it’s okay. Because this post proves that something beautiful can come out of even difficult situations. It is living proof that we should all, no matter what our circumstances, be raising our kids like rockstars.