My son and I were talking about mowing our grass. He loves watching me mow our big yard from the elevated wooden deck. In my early days as a teacher, I probably would’ve scoffed at the idea of letting my child watch me mow grass. “Absolutely not,” I can imagine myself saying, “We can’t trust him to stay up on the deck. He’ll run off the deck the first moment he gets a chance. He has to be inside.” But, after learning about setting respectful boundaries with my kids, the thought didn’t seem ridiculous at all. I knew he had a great amount of respect for what I told him was dangerous…and up to this point, I had been right every time. So, when I tell him I only feel comfortable mowing while he’s on the deck, he stays put. I just cringe at the thought of my young ones getting anywhere near the mower while it’s running.
I assumed he would get bored watching me and just play with something on the deck or go back inside. He doesn’t though. He studies every shift and turn, and his eyes remain fixed on me as I mow the grass. He gets his Little Tikes truck out after I’m done and pushes it around, copying my lines, and my three point turn I use! I’m proud that we’ve been able to establish a boundary that respects his desire to be involved and lets me be confident that he’s safe. I feel like if we can continue on this path that helping to maintain the yard might not feel like that much of a chore to him, because he’ll be allowed to take ownership of the work he can do, instead of being focused on what he can’t do.
Anyway, back to the discussion. I told him when he’s older he’ll be allowed to come down from the deck and be on the grass while I mowed. He said, “but Anna won’t be able to come outside yet. Because if she sees me get down from the deck she’ll want to come too.” My eyes opened a little wider, because I’m talking to a 3.5 year old, and I thought, “Did he really just think of his sister’s safety as a basis for making a decision? I’ve known third and fourth graders who aren’t doing this!” I was impressed and proud that my son was aware enough about his influence on his sister and how that should impact our decisions. I credit our respectful interactions and our intentional “sportscasting” that have helped him be this aware, especially at 3.5 years old.
Sportscasting is a surprisingly powerful idea I learned from reading No Bad Kids by Janet Lansbury. The concept of sportscasting has several intersections with Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset, Adele Diamond‘s research of executive functioning, and William Glasser’s Choice Theory. Not to mention the work of Magda Gerber, who inspired Lansbury to become the parent, author, and parenting coach she is now. During play, we generally observe our kids and don’t interject comments. But, sometimes they look to us for something. Sometimes we know exactly what they’re looking to us for, but other times we need to get a little closer to see. Whether it’s something they’re doing or something being done to them we simply describe our interpretation of the events without labeling anything as good, bad, nice, or naughty. I say things like:
“Oh, I see. You were trying to lift that log and it fell and hit your foot! That must have hurt.”
“You bumped into your tower and then it fell over.”
“You’ve been trying to get those blocks to fit together for a while and you finally got it!”
“Your brother bumped into you and you fell over. I think you feel upset about him pushing you.”
This seemingly meaningless dialogue ends up helping the child’s brain create new connections all the time. Most notably it is helping their brains connect actions to consequences. My son has become so used to us helping him see the connection between his choices and consequences that he’s not only doing it on his own, but he’s showing concern for others…and isn’t that what this whole “raising adults” is all about?”
I hope this story can help any educator or parent think a little differently about what our words might imply in our interactions with children. Maybe children can handle more direct information than we are accustomed to giving, and maybe we owe it to them.