I thought I had my kids pretty well figured out, but they’ve surprised me recently. Some of those surprises have been pleasant (Wow…you’re really excited about mowing the lawn!), some are humorous (You’re really enjoying eating those jalapenos sandwiched between cucumber slices…interesting.), and some are tough (I thought we were past these sorts of meltdowns and tantrums.). Through it all, I’ve realized I need to go back to school on my kids. And I need to stay there.
What might feel like effective dadcraft can actually fall short if I’m not mindful and knowledgeable about my kids. And so, I’ve been thinking about a few ways to become a better student of my kids, so I can grow to become a better dad.
1. Spend time with them and reflect on them.
This seems obvious, but the best way to go to school on your kids is to spend time with them. And when you’re with them, take mental notes. Sometimes what you’ll discover is obvious (Okay, so next time I need to figure out a punishment, I’ll sit you down for a board game.) and other things may require some reflection. After the night wraps for the kids, spend time going back over the evening. Who seemed to come alive at different moments over the course of the night? What was a highlight? When was the laughter and joy the deepest?
2. Give them space to talk.
Listen to your kids. Ask them questions. Find those unique moments where their trust and love for you is expressed in candid thoughts and conversation. All sorts of fascinating insights and obscurities come forth in dialogs like this, and you’ll likely be able to pick up on where they’re growing. Things they’re thinking about. New interests, new fears, and new dance moves (see: The Floss, which all of my kids mastered before I caught on to what was happening here).
3. Recognize that different settings produce different results.
Some kids love the spotlight. Some seem to disappear when a crowd forms and then reappear when it dissipates. Some are at their best in a group of their closest friends. Some like good one-on-one time in the car running Saturday morning errands. Be aware that you can learn about your kids with how they respond in certain settings, and different settings allow you to learn different things.
In the course of my parenting, I so often think about what my kids need to learn and how I can help guide and teach them…but the simple reality I was confronted with personally is: don’t stop learning. Don’t rest in the belief that I’ve got them pegged. The best dadcraft comes from your relentless love and indefatigable learning.
“Back to school” typically means “the summer is over,” and that’s a great reason to read Jed’s “Reflecting on Summer.” It’s also a good time to remember that boys need to move (a challenge for those who are classroom-bound).