In this month’s Parenting by the Book featured title, Smart Parenting for Smart Kids by Eileen Kennedy-Moore and Mark S. Lowenthal, the authors argue that a narrow view of kids’ potential is problematic, as it turns natural gifts into burdens. Therefore, if you’re truly interested in nurturing your child’s potential, Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal believe you need to frame potential as a process for growth, not a final product.
They recognize that this is hard to do in a society, which sends the message that “any parent who doesn’t sign her children up for a bevy of enriching activities is neglectful.” While we know overscheduled childhoods are an issue these days, it’s hard to resist. I laughed when the authors explained how most parents define overscheduled as more than what their child is doing. That’s so true.
Since there are a lot of ways to be “smart,” Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal wrote this book in the hopes of developing a healthy perspective on achievement. When they talk about “bright” kids, they mean any child capable of earning As and Bs. As clinical psychologists, they treat a lot of smart but unhappy kids.
They explain, “We live in a narcissistic age that emphasizes being impressive and seeking admiration. Sadly, smart kids are often the ones who are hurt most by this focus on externals. Because they can perform and that performance seems so important to everyone around them, they may start to believe that they are the performance.”
Therefore, they break their own book into coping strategies and each chapter begins with a list of questions, “Does your child…” so you can read it accordingly. The first chapter addresses tempering perfectionism. I really enjoyed it because so many of the techniques I hadn’t encountered elsewhere (and if you follow Parenting by the Book you know I’ve already blogged on nearly sixty titles).
According to Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal, “On the surface, perfectionism seems like a work issue, but it’s really a relationship issue.” They explain, “Perfectionistic children (or adults) feel as though they live their lives on a stage, in front of a harshly critical audience.” While the authors don’t mention social media, since the book is geared towards parenting children ages 6 to 12, I can’t help but feel like our society’s promotion of the incessant need to post updates for every “accomplishment,” regardless of how trivial, is only compounding this problem.
Since Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal believe the perfectionist views love as something that must be earned, it offers suggestions, such as resist the temptation to offer pointers. I am definitely guilty of this. While the authors claim it’s only natural for a parent to want to share one’s wisdom, “Unfortunately, children under the age of thirty usually don’t respond well to this.” Again, so true and one might even argue any age!
The reality is that what parents think is a learning opportunity kids equate to rejection. That’s why Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal maintain, “It’s best to leave the teaching and coaching to your child’s teachers and coaches.” When I started my teaching career, I used to tutor for extra money and most of the kids I worked with were teachers’ children. It wasn’t because they didn’t know how to help their child but that their children took the advice better from me than they did from them. And that’s exactly the reason why, if I’m having trouble convincing my children of something, I typically employ their teachers help, as they always listen to them.
The other great tip from this chapter involves homework. It’s something I used to warn parents against when I taught public school. Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal argue, “Don’t correct your child’s work.” They explain not only does it establish a dangerous pattern and confuse children with regards to whose responsibility the homework really is but it prevents the teacher from getting the feedback she needs to determine what your child does and doesn’t understand.
And if your child is a perfectionist, Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal claim, “[You’re] unintentionally communicating to [your] children that mistakes are intolerable and must be hidden.” They believe once kids view mistakes as unacceptable, they start making excuses and blaming others. Therefore, Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal suggest you explain to your child, “Excuses take away our power to make things better.”
Finally, according to Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal, “Never tell a perfectionist child, ‘Just do your best.’” Again, I’ve been so guilty of this over the years. Apparently, perfectionists interpret this as, “Do whatever it takes to get it right.” Instead, they suggest you preach “Make a reasonable effort” and help your children distinguish between the importance of tasks. Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal believe this is key to helping children grasp that effort levels should vary.
Smart Parenting for Smart Kids by Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal is full of practical strategies. There’s a wonderful chapter on Building Connections and helping your children reach out to others as well as Managing Sensitivity and Dealing with Authority. Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal offered some great advice on how to get your kids to listen to you and never asking your kid to do something more than twice. So if you’re looking for a resource to help you negotiate how to nurture your children into capable, confident, and caring people, then the smart thing to do is check out this title.