Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Child Does Not Just Grow, It Has To Be Built One Day At A Time.

One thing I really love about my children, and many of the kids I know, is that they really have absorbed many of the life lessons taught to them by parents and other adults, including those about self-confidence and showing their love. Now, I don't think that I am like those parents who produce champions like the Williams sisters, or many of the female tennis stars, by being over-bearing and running the kids' lives as if on a clear timetable to some goals. My approach is a kind of laissez-faire, with an emphasis on learning by doing and watching how those you should respect act. It's in line with the 'teaching to fish' approach: learn how to do it, not get me to do it for you. It applies a lot to thinking as well as doing. It means that you can move confidently that your child does not need you by his or her side to get things right; it's been figured out by them themselves. They then behave as you want and get applauded for their general manner and conduct.

Specifically, as a pertinent example, if my five year old asks me how to spell a word I work to get her to understand her letter sounds and their combinations; I tend not to spell the word for her. It's hard for some adults to not do the latter because when asked "How to" they interpret that as "Do for me" and it's quicker to just say D-O-G, than wait for the child to figure out the sound patterns. But I have a lot of time on my hands, some would say, so I go with my approach. I always found that the lessons were better cemented that way.

In the field of coaching, of course, I could not play for the under-12 girls' team, not least because I was a bit over age, so the girls had to learn the best they could at practice and try to apply the training. Parents asked me, enthusiastically, what they could do to help me. I would reply, "Care well for your child. Make sure she is well rested for practice and matches. Encourage respect for you and me. Make sure they are on top of their school work. Tell me of medical problems, especially their monthly cycles. Get in your car and come back in two hours." The message took a while to set in, but it meant that they did not try to 'play' for their kids--you know all that 'body English' you see as parents go through every action with their child, and almost die when the kid falls or makes a mistake. My other advice was, "Never argue with me or the child during a match. NEVER. Please do not arrive late. Enjoy watching them develop and encourage them and the team. Let me coach. Let the referee do his or her job." I like to think that those pointers explained why over seven years my team rarely ran into trouble with the league in general, or with officials or opponents on match days. My team parents were not those who ran onto the field when 'Katie' fell (not allowed), or yelled profanities at their child (you're gone from my team), or cursed the officials (you're gone from my team), or only cheered their kid (you get the disapproving 'look' from the coaches and the girls on the sidelines).

Life lessons extend to emotional expressions. I loved every kid on my team, and my first born daughter was not on the team for many years, which made me an oddball for some; most knew that I had coached boys teams for a while so wondered why I had not formed a team around my child. But in the USA you cannot go around hugging other people's children or some dolt is going to call you a molester or worse. So, I had to have all the right warm words, or I would use the parents to give the hugs for me.

My first born has never had grief from me for running up and offering to kiss me, or hug me, and even when she was in 12th grade and still now when she is at university she does it without a hint of embarrassment. When we have our spats now, we always part on a hug and a kiss.

My youngest is in my eyes another child who has already absorbed some of those same life lessons. I now tell her, "Never leave the house without saying goodbye or giving me a hug or kiss," and she gets called back into the house if she forgets on her way to school--school can wait. She smiles and says, "Sorry, Daddy," and plunks me with the kisser. Her affections are high and visible. But she knows herself well. She is encouraged to be the best, but gently. She is urged to improve, but not to gloat in surpassing others. Crying should be kept for things that are truly painful, not just because of disappointment: tears are too precious. Fall down? Dust off your hands and check for cuts. Her well known expression is, "I'm okay."

So, today, on one of those days that kids wait all year for, and adults seem to treat with a good degree of indifference once the number starts with a 3 or higher, my little ambassador showed me how she had learned some her life lessons. She had stealthily run around last night with a piece of paper. I saw evidence of writing with a Sharpie pen--marks on the kitchen counter and we had a 'chat' about paying attention to 'mess' you create. I heard her giggling and scurrying every time I was walking nearby before I put her to bed. This morning, she gave me the 'golden present' (see image--click on it to enlarge). Well, in her words, it was a card and a present. Of course, I love it. But then I asked her about the figures. This was really interesting.

She is the biggest person drawn, and with a huge cell phone too. (I take this as her seeing that she really is the 'grown up' she thinks she is.) Her parents are there, beneath her and small. (I take that as meaning that we are not dominating too much, but supporting her by our presence.) Her picture has a heart (not easy to draw but important as a sign of her love) and flowers (easier than picking and arranging and a sign of her desire to give something tangible) underneath them. It shows some good spelling, and the handwriting is neat. (At home, she and I are working on writing in a straight line, though her teacher wants to see smaller letters--she's about a year younger than most of the class, so I say, "That will come".)

Pride is supposed to be a sin, but I think that is meant to be pride limited to oneself. I am so proud of my children and others like them and their parents who are becoming ambassadors for many kinds of good upbringing.

Discipline is not about a stick, or a raised hand, or a raised voice, but about understanding how to act properly. It is best when it becomes self-directed. You have been shown "how to" now "do". With work. With speech. With play. And on each day.

And yes, while I am a strong advocate of 'it takes a village to raise a child', for me, the real seeds must be well planted at home.

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