I visited a friend who has a friend who has a house on Martha’s Vineyard for a work retreat, and I couldn’t stop myself from sneering a little at the mommas getting on the boat for summer vacation. You know, like, the whole summer vacation?
(Let’s be honest, I should have tried a little harder to stop myself.)
You ask, am I jealous? YES. Totally. 100%. No denying.
For the most part, though, these aren’t the “Tiger Moms” we’ve been hearing about through the years. These are moms who are looking forward to relaxing time at their island home. And though I know very little about what happens in the lives of children who spend the summer months at their other house (yes, still jealous), it’s likely that their time is spent in very different ways than the children of Tiger Moms.
Tiger Moms, grrrrrrrrr. These are women who are dedicated at extraordinary levels to enriching the lives of their children through consistent exposure to intellectual activity; encouraging them to practice Bach’s Chaconne from Partita in d minor until their fingers are swollen; traveling hours, with free library passes in hand, to the Bodies exhibit at the Museum of Science; first in line in January to sign up for the summer institute for the gifted and talented.
While they do have critics, and boy do they have their critics…everywhere…, Tiger Moms are kicking my ass at parenting. And “NO!” they do not hibernate during summer months. That’s when they kick it into high gear like a Kentucky Derby race horse on the inside track. (I can picture them peeling away from me as I wave the cloud of dust from my eyes.)
Learning from the Tiger Momma – without the “hysteria”
You can learn something from everyone, and I think Tiger Moms have something going here. We know through decades of research that a very real phenomenon called summer learning loss plagues classroom teachers at the opening of every academic year.
This isn’t a hard concept to grasp as most of us vividly recall those early weeks of the school year walking through the school hallways in a haze, desperately trying to reset our circadian rhythms to the obscene hours that schools typically start, and feeling like we wanted to pound our heads against the wall because we know we knew that last year, but now – for the life of us – that learning seems to have disappeared.
Summer learning loss a real thing, and Tiger Cubs probably don’t deal with this phenomenon as acutely, so that’s a plus-one for the Tiger Mom. My own children, however, seem to be just fine and happy resting on their laurels through another episode of WildKratts (thank you very much). Yet, I know it’s worth taking a page from the Tiger Mom’s book. What do I mean here?
Kids add important skills in the summer too
A lot of very important learning happens during the summer months. I stalwartly defend the summer vacation that has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years – and not because I like my ten-month academic calendar (though it is nice to be a SAHM for two months). It is because we know through decades of research that critical to a child’s academic success is developing strong social and emotional skills (think grit, perseverance, patience, humility, tenacity to name only a few).
Summertime, as it turns out, is the perfect time for parents to work with their children to develop, strengthen and hone those crucial soft skills.
There are many ways that you can work with your kids on these skills. Step one would be to improve your feedback to your children. We are a nation obsessed with telling our kids they’ve done a “good job,” though it tells a child nothing about what was “good” about the “job” they did. Ergo, they may not realize when they’re repeating it or should repeat it.
Changing meaningless praise to meaningful feedback
An alternative is to name the behavior and and commend them on it. For example, imagine your child is having a difficult time piecing together the three dimensional homage to Mickey Mouse they’re creating from felt, tape and glue. (This scenario did just happen this morning. My daughter’s art unfolds on many planes.) You see them quelling their rage with the Elmers. After over an hour they create their…er…masterpiece. Instead of saying, “Good Job!,” you might say,” That was really frustrating, but you really stuck with it.” Or, “You had something in mind the whole time and you made it!”
If there’s one thing we know about offering praise to a child, there’s a way that leads to entitlement, and there’s a way that leads to motivation. These commendations acknowledge the child’s perseverance, not their “talents.”
I’m slowly learning the art of higher-quality feedback under the tutelage of our family’s favorite Kindergarten teacher – a women who’s been working with five-year-olds for over forty years. She would point you toward a great book by Adele Faber that helps you fill in the spaces when you don’t know how to respond to your child’s meltdown.
Getting gritty with it
Another soft skill worth developing is your child’s grit, which sounds peculiar and slightly machiavellian, but many athletic families parent this disposition to a science. Parenting your child’s ability to lose with grace is something that is often overlooked, and there are very real academic benefits when kids have a gritty outlook.
Finally, help your child learn some good old-fashioned self-restraint. This one is particularly difficult for me because short term allowances for indulgence tend to lead to more quiet-time in the house. Long-term, however, I know what happens when you over-indulge a child.
My seven year old was fascinated by this famous study that found that children who could put off eating a marshmallow with the promise of two marshmallows in the future were found to finish college at higher rates and were generally more successful in life. Viewing the video together also provided a good opportunity to introduce the notion of self-restraint.
Teachers need parents’ help with soft skills
Social and emotional skills are where kids (and teachers) need the most help from parents, because with an average student teacher ratio of 21:1 for elementary schools and 26:1 for secondary schools, your child’s teacher cannot patiently peel your kid off the ceiling – as the other kids watch – after she couldn’t calculate the correct least common denominator. (Don’t worry kid, I can’t remember how to do that either.)
These soft skills lead to clear academic bennies. And, anyway, wouldn’t it be nice to raise children who don’t kick, scream and stage a (usually public) hissy fit after losing a soccer match or game of “Go Fish?”
So while I won’t be making my children practice their (imaginary) cello, or complete pages of the district-endorsed workbooks to keep their academic skills sharp over the summer, I will be embracing my inner-fledgling-tiger-momma by working with my kids this summer on social grace and emotional intelligence. Let’s wish us all good luck on that!