Free to Be (And to Wear Backwards Jeans)

19 Aug

Originally published on Babyssentials

For most parents, the choice to send a child to school is made for many reasons; you want your child to learn, you want your child to socialize, you want your child to expand his or her horizons, and, perhaps most importantly of all, you want your child to gain independence.

Well, of course you want your child to be independent, and for his or her wings to be spread as he or she soars, skyward.  In theory. We, as parents, want our children to do things by themselves…as long as these things are done the right way.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.

I don’t do this. I am fine with whatever my child chooses to say/do/be/wear/learn.

And, most of us do feel that way. In theory.

As a teacher, I am all about independence. I have my four year olds hang up their own coats, unpack their own lunches, and even wipe their own noses (among other things), in the name of self-sufficiency. And, most parents are more than appreciative of these philosophies. That is, until the child comes home wearing their red shorts, backwards, with their orange socks, one pulled up to the knee, with chocolate, and some boogers, smeared all over his face. That’s when things get a little, well, messy.

I have seen, time and time again, as a parent arrives to pick their child up and “correct” something that the kid has done, whether it is to reverse an inside-out t-shirt, comb some crazy looking hair, or to put the right shoe back onto the right foot. And, as a mother, I totally get why any parent would do just that. You want your child to be tucked in, buttoned up and ready to face the world, so to speak. However, all of this “fixing” can come at a cost.

For children (and people) of all ages, self-esteem is a most precious commodity. If a person, large or small, is constantly being corrected, he or she will ultimately give up. A child who reaches to put on his own shoes, only to have his mother correct his placement, will, eventually, stop reaching. He knows he can’t do it right. He knows his mommy is going to have to fix them. Why try? Why even bother?

In my classroom, if a child has done something by himself, then that something is absolutely perfect. If an “E” is written backwards, then that is the best “E” I have ever seen. If a turtle is drawn with a million eyes, I do my very best to stare, fascinated, with great admiration for the tiny artist’s work. In fact, when I give praise to a child, I try to refrain from saying, “Good job!” or “Perfect!”.

What do those compliments actually teach these children? In my opinion, they teach the child to do work to get a pat on the back from good ol’ teach. Not that those feelings of pride aren’t important; they are. However, I’d rather the pride be organic, and coming from deep within a child’s little soul, so that she is doing her work, putting on her clothing and living her life for herself. To praise a child’s work, I’d much rather say, “Wow, look at what you did all by yourself. You wrote a lower-case ‘w’.” That, to me, means so much more.

Parents, listen up. Your child will, eventually, learn the “facts” that he or she needs to in order to succeed in school. Your child will, ultimately, be able to put on his or her own shirt, zipper his or her jeans and be able to head out the door without your help. By not “helping” or correcting or fixing, your child will, in the end, develop into a confident, self-assured, self-reliant human being, who has faith in his or her own abilities to do anything from acing a test to wiping a snotty nose.

That sense of independence is the greatest gift you can give your child, starting at a very early age, if you can bring yourself to take a step back, swallow your pride, and grin and bear it as your kindergartener goes to school with mismatched shoes, on the wrong (happy little) feet.  He or she will thank you for it, later, I promise. Maybe not for the zany looking kindergarten class picture, you may catch some flack for that one, but most certainly for the feeling of self-confidence that will grow within your child with each passing day.

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One Response to “Free to Be (And to Wear Backwards Jeans)”

  1. Maya August 19, 2010 at 11:16 am #

    😉 Love it. Thanks for posting this!

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