I've been spending a lot of time reading books lately. Parenting books, parenting memoirs, even child development textbooks. Some of them were ones you recommended, some I found through searching around. All this reading was inspired by my recent struggles with Noah. I don't think I've done this much reading about parenting since I was pregnant and Noah was a newborn. I read almost everything I could get my hands on. I find that I never really agree with anything fully - but even those books which I staunchly disagree with give me a better perspective on WHY, exactly, I'm doing things the way that I am.
I think it's been wonderfully beneficial for me to take this time to read. This, I suppose, is the academic side of my personality: I really learn well with a couple books in hand. I'm feeling re-invigorated, re-committed and full of perspective. I think I had forgotten things about parenting that I knew once upon a time. I think my expectations for Noah had been somewhat impractical for his developmental stage. And I realize that having a second child (since those heady days of reading about babies and children and being able to think of only one child's needs) has muddied the waters of parenting strategies.
Daily life is going really well a result of all this reading. Which is not to say that we're problem-less – hardly! But at least I'm feeling a lot more confident in dealing with the problems. There's little doubt in my mind that we're standing on the precipice of big changes with Noah: there are reasons WHY formal education begins almost everywhere between 5 and 6 years of age. In some ways, I guess children are children for a reason. How cliché, huh? In other ways, the paradox that is my 5 year old is is keeping my mental facilities at work.
Yesterday, on the way to camp, he informed me that he wanted to get out of car all by himself. Okay, fine, I said. He proceeded to give me explicit instructions about how I would walk around the car in such and such direction and attend to his brother and NOT STOP to help him. Because he could take off his own seat belt and get out of the car and open and close the door. And I DIDN'T NEED TO STOP AND WAIT FOR HIM, OKAY? Okay, I said.
As we walked from the car to camp drop off, his hands were shoved in his pockets. And there were yellow bungee cords hanging out of his pockets. You know, the ones we use to hold our car trunks closed? He was taking bungee cords to camp. We continued walking, and I figured I would address it as I said goodbye. Basically, those yellow bungees would not be staying at camp with Noah. I wasn't mad, I thought it was funny, really.
I still goofed up. I say this because if you read the developmental studies, you know that 5 years don't really understand The Truth or Lying yet. AND you shouldn't give them the opportunity to lie. I should have said something like, "Noah, I see you have some bungees cords. How about if I take those back to the car with me so that you can play with them at home (and they don't get lost at camp)?" Instead, AND IN SPITE OF THE FACT THAT I HAD A GOOD 2 MINUTES TO THINK ABOUT THIS ON THAT WALK FROM THE CAR, I said,
"Noah, what do you have in your pockets?"
"Oh, really? I think I see something in your pockets."
"No, I don't have anything! Mommy! WHY do you think that?!"
Here's where all those parenting books suddenly kicked in, and I realized, ugh, I wasn't really addressing the situation very well, I could be addressing it better. I backed up.
"Noah. I see the yellow bungee cords hanging out of your pockets. Why don't you give them to me, so I can take them home?"
Noah handed over the bungee cords, smooth as silk. And you know, maybe I just have a tendency to over-think this stuff, but the procuring of the bungees and shoving the bungees into his pants pockets had been so PLANNED. Noah thought about what he was going to do, he planned it out (sort of sneakily) and then he executed his plan (sort of badly). Then I noticed and I responded to him accusatorial style. But he didn't really know it was bad or he knew, but not like you and I know. So really, I started to make the whole situation worse by accusing him; and I wasn't handling the situation the best for a 5 year old brain with fuzzy margins on Truth. Maybe I wasn't even handling it well for an older brain. But, anyway. Blech. That's kind of simple. But it's taking a lot of my time to put all my new found knowledge into action lately.
There aren't a lot of books out there about 5 years olds. I find that frustrating, because I actually believe 5-7 year olds are going through a lot of changes. It would be helpful to clarify what exactly is going on in their brains and how to recognize it's manifestations and how to respond to it. For example, a 5 year old is probably going to learn best by the modeling of a parent (or other adult), but by 7 years old, he might learn best by trial and error.
The conclusions of this statement are almost mind-blowing to me. Another example: when we recently inquired about violin lessons for Noah, the instructor asked if Fritz or I played. We don't. She then suggested that Fritz and Noah learn at the same time. They could split a lesson for the next year. Or we could wait another year or so and then Noah would be old enough to (maybe) find his own internal motivation. How does that make you feel as a parent of a little kid? Pretty powerful, I think.
The best rationalization I can come up with for WHY there are so few parenting books for 5-7 year olds is that most 5-7 year olds are off to school. As parents, we don't exactly brush our hands of our kids, but we do believe that their teachers are now better experts and they will let us know if they see something outside the normal range. In support of this observation, some of the most informative books I've picked up are either written by early childhood educators or they are for the training of early childhood educators.
I've been thinking about typing up all my notes from all the reading I've been doing and sticking them on a 'Page" off to the side of this blog. In the end, I don't really know if that's helpful. I read – and note – things with our own particular challenges in mind. What do you think? Hmmm. What I'm pretty sure about is that 5-7-year-olds are a definite hole in the world of parenting books. Somebody (with more experience and qualifications than me) would be wise to write a helpful book specifically about this age range for parents. Finding a few insights in each of 30 different parenting books is as time-consuming as the mental exercise of putting that advice into action.