The Middle Years – Ripe for Teaching
Aww, the middle years. Those years of 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. I used to call them the Golden Years- the easiest years of raising children. This is when they still think going to a pumpkin patch is going to a farm. When they can star in the school play and not even know how to carry a tune. When they might make their first lifelong friend. When the world is their oyster and everything is possible. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
Yet, without realizing it, I now believe those years are the most teachable time for you as a parent. Kids can truly learn to handle themselves out in the world and learn, hopefully, how to get along with kids and adults. Many times in my daughter’s blog, “I am my mother’s daughter. Now What?” by Carolina Duncan, she mentions how I taught her to “deal” with what was happening. I realized in reading them that those moments usually happened in the middle years, in very fleeting, nonconsequential moments. Like having my daughters go up to the takeout counter and order and pay for their own drink, and get the change back. Like having them call friend’s moms themselves and make driving arrangements. Like dealing themselves with a major change or loss in their life – a pet, a grandma, changing schools, moving to a new city, welcoming a new sibling (gasp!). For each one of these small moments, you need to offer your full attention and grace and talk them through it. Not with pity, but with power. In your voice they should hear not only advice, but also confidence that they can get through this. Let them express their feelings and even come up with a game plan themselves for handling whatever they are up against.
Gently guide them to think for themselves.
You hear and read so much today about helicopter parents and we will talk about that in depth in a future blog, but one aspect of this type of parenting is to do things for your children that they can do for themselves. In the middle years, that mostly applies to being exposed to and navigating the world at large, especially school and interpersonal relationships. I remember once my youngest was in kindergarten at a Montessori school. It seemed a group of boys were giving her a hard time. Today that might even be called bullying. I don’t really know the specifics because when I mentioned it to her teacher, he told me that he knew exactly what she was complaining about and he was watching the situation. He felt like she was handling it well and thought we should continue to let her handle it, herself. He would only step in if necessary. I took his advice. Never heard anymore about it. The next year, when she got to public first grade, she come home one day and told me a story in which some boys in the class were picking on the girl sitting next to her. When she stepped in and told them to leave the girl alone, one of the boys turned to her and called her a “pig face.” Appalled, I asked, “What did you do?” “I ignored him!” she said right back. I knew in that moment that this child would be okay in the world. It all goes back to empowering your child to make it in the adult world outside the confines of their safe household.
Don’t forget the Discipline! Take it Outside!
The middle years can also be a minefield for discipline. As a precursor to the pre-teen and teen years, your children will test the limits. And in any house, with two or more children, the power struggles will ensue. You know. Those snow days when cabin fever sets in. Kids arguing, bickering, arguing, bickering, and you can’t take it anymore. Here’s what I have to offer for the middle years – take it outside! Yep, that’s it. Send two or more kids outside, with their coats on, I might add, for 15 minutes and they will come back in different people! We had a great screened in porch for this. Worked every time. Once, when Caroline was in college, she and I were working with a group of middle schoolers at our local Boys and Girls Club, teaching computer programming. They were a challenging group, to say the least. But, they were quite taken with Caroline. They liked to find out all about her life. One day when they were diligently working, one said to her, “Is that your mother?” To which she replied, “yes.” “When you were little, what did she do when you got in trouble? Did she give you a whippin?” “Nope,” replied Caroline. “She would send me outside.” “Nuh uh,” the whole group gasped! “Without a coat?” Well, she didn’t let on. They thought that must be the most terrible punishment, ever. Who knew? Maybe more moms should try it.
Enjoy the middle years. They truly are golden.