That's me. Suffice it to say, it was a looonng time ago. What do you notice first in this picture? The big wheel? The lack of a helmet? The cobblestone road? The tassels? That great head of hair?
What I hope you notice first is that smile. That smile is full of joy, excitement, and exhilaration... perhaps a hint of wildness. That was my childhood. Off on adventures, sometimes on my own but most often with a pack of kids roughly my age. Falling down, coming home with all sorts of bumps, bruises, and cuts. We didn't have cell phones. Our water came from a hose. If we wanted something, we had to figure out how to make it or get it ourselves.
Yes, we have learned a lot and the world has changed in many ways since the 1970s, but before you dismiss this as idealizing the past, consider this quote:
We are so busy giving our children what we never had that we forget to give them what we did have.
Politics aside, that quote from James Dobson resonates. In an attempt to provide our children with a better life than we had, and that is a basic parenting instinct, we all too often insulate them from the very experiences they should have. The very experiences that are integral to the process of child development. The very experiences that will shape their sense of self and their mindset for the rest of their lives.
The first part of the ILS Promise is that each of our graduates will have a strong sense of self. They will be comfortable in their own skin, they will be aware of their strengths and their challenges, and they will know how to access the tools and resources that they need to be successful. This doesn't happen by accident and it cannot happen in isolation.
In order to know yourself, you first have to recognize yourself. As children, we behave more like mirrors than self-aware beings. We look into the eyes of our parents, our coaches, our teachers, and the other adults in our lives and we see ourselves through their eyes. Simply put, as children, we do not yet have the capacity for self-awareness that is needed to know ourselves so we create a persona and a sense of self based on how others see us.
In order for our children to even begin to know themselves, we need to help them to recognize themselves, and we do this by training, yes training, ourselves to see our children for who they are. And this next part is critical, not for who we want them to be.
Reflection questions: How well do you see your child for who they are? How can you mirror what you see in them so that the reflection they see in your eyes is true to who they are as individuals?
Find & Exercise Your Voice
The second part of the ILS Promise is that our graduates will be able to exercise their unique voice as advocates for themselves and for others. As with developing a strong sense of self, children need to see, feel, and understand that their voice matters. This doesn't mean that they get a vote on everything, but rather that we provide multiple opportunities for children to explore and share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas.
Here again, our job is to reflect back what we hear, not what we want or hope to hear. As adults, we must resist the urge to judge and correct. We, the adults, must practice the art of patience and create space for our child's opinions, thoughts, ideas, and feelings. We must resist the urge to "lead" our children to a particular idea, opinion, or feeling because that is what we want. Our children do not need to be interrogated, they need to feel seen and heard.
Reflection questions: How well do you hear and listen to your child's unique voice? How do you create space for them to feel seen and heard? How do you let them know that you hear them, and not your own voice reflected back to you?
If you're overfocused on your kid, you're quite likely underfocusing on your own passion. Despite what you may think your kid is not your passion. If you treat them as if they are, you're placing them in the very untenable and unhealthy role of trying to bring fulfillment to your life.
Julie Lythcott-Haims is a friend of ILS. She is also a best-selling author, a Palo Alto City Council member, and a mother. Before this school year, every ILS family received a copy of her NY Times Bestseller How to Raise An Adult. I chose this book to anchor our community of learners this year because our children need us. They need us to see, hear, understand, appreciate, and love them for who they are. They need us to get out of their way and to give them space. They need us to stop overparenting and overprogramming them. They need us to set our worries and our anxieties aside and to let them continue on their journey... for it is their journey, not ours.
If you haven't read the book yet, now is a great time to start. Her 15-minute Ted Talk, with over 7.5M views, is a good teaser. Julie's book offers many strategies for raising children to be self-sufficient, resilient, and successful. Here are three to start with:
1. Stop overparenting your child. Allow your child to do what they can for themselves, and make mistakes while doing it. From carrying their own backpacks, to folding their own laundry, to solving their own problems. Our children need the experience of doing for themselves, and that experience often involves tears, bruises, and discomfort. We cannot deny them the fullness of their experience if we want them to know themselves.
2. Stop overprogramming your child. Childhood is not a race. Nor is it an empty vacuum to be filled, no matter how positive our intentions. Honor the sanctity of childhood by giving your child the gift of time. That includes taking part in activities that they are interested in, having sufficient unstructured time during their day, and allowing them some time to be bored.
3. Playtime plays a crucial role in your child's development. While structured play has its place, the body of research behind the importance of free, unstructured play, particularly outdoor play, is deep and wide. This goes hand-in-hand with the previous item, stop overprogramming your child. If you want to play with your child, then get down to their level and play the way they are playing. Get dirty, make mistakes, and fall down.
Still not sure? Scroll back up to the picture at the top of this post. When is the last time you smiled like that? When is the last time your child smiled like that? Learning to see your child for who they are isn't always an easy task, but is perhaps the best gift we can give our children.
Sara squirmed in her seat, gazing out the window while her classmates focused on the lesson. Her teacher had to repeat instructions multiple times before Sara began the assignment. After a few minutes, she was up sharpening her pencil for the third time.
Does this sound familiar? It's normal for kids to be restless or unfocused occasionally. We often hear from families who are overwhelmed by all the information and misinformation out there. Paying attention to what and when children eat, when and how much daily activity they get, sleep patterns, as well as practicing social and emotional skills such as mindfulness and how to ask for help are key ingredients for a healthy and happy childhood.
Is This "Normal" Behavior?
Behaviors such as squirming or getting distracted are common in children going through normal developmental stages. The key to understanding if this is cause for concern lies in frequency, severity, and duration of symptoms.
While all kids may occasionally:
Have trouble paying attention
Fidget or feel restless
In ADHD these behaviors are:
Severe enough to interfere with school, social activities, or home
Persistent over at least 6 months
Symptoms also change with age. Younger children may show:
Constant motion and trouble sitting still
Difficulty engaging in quiet activities
Older children may struggle more with:
Staying focused on tasks and following instructions
Organizational skills like keeping track of homework
Does my child have ADHD?
In his Ted Talk Changing Education Paradigms, Sir Ken Robinson shares the following:
“This is the modern epidemic, the plague of ADHD, and it’s fictitious. Don’t mistake me; I don’t mean to say there is no such thing as Attention-Deficit Disorder… What I do know for a fact is it’s not an epidemic. These kids are being medicated as routinely as we had our tonsils taken out, and on the same whimsical basis and for the same reason: medical fashion.
Our children are living in the most intensive stimulating period in the history of the earth. They’re being besieged with information and coerced for attention from every platform: computers, from iPhones, from advertising hoardings, from hundreds of television channels. And we’re penalizing them now for getting distracted. From what? Boring stuff.
At school, for the most part. It seems to me not a coincidence, totally, that the instance of ADHD has risen in parallel with the growth of the standardized testing. Now these kids are being given Ritalin and Aderol and all manner of things, often quite dangerous drugs, to get them focused and calm them down… It’s a fictitious epidemic."
As parents, we are programmed to react when we notice certain behaviors in our children. The truth of the matter is that not all brains are wired the same, nor do they have the same chemistry. Understanding how your child's brain works can be a tremendous gift for your child as it may help you to better see them for who they are.
Identifying ADHD starts with an evaluation by a pediatrician, psychologist, or psychiatrist to rule out other possible causes for symptoms. They will look for clear evidence of impaired functioning at home, school, or with friends that:
Is inappropriate for the child's age
Affects more than one setting like home and school
Has been present for at least 6 months
Parent and teacher input through interviews and rating scales provides key information on how symptoms impact the child's daily life.
Tips to Support Your Child
Here are some tips from WebMD to help your child thrive
:Get plenty of rest: Children ages 6-12 should get 9-12 hours of sleep per night.
Eat the right foods: Our bodies and our brains need the right nutrition to function. Check out these 7 Brain Foods for Kids.
Get organized. Use tools like daily planners, folders, and checklists to help stay focused.
Limit distractions. Create a quiet space for homework or reading time away from screens, loud noises, or visual clutter.
Add movement. Take breaks for a quick stretch, jumping jacks, or chair push-ups to help refocus their energy.
Use timers. Set gentle alerts to help transition between tasks or know when time is up.
Model mindfulness. Practice breathing, meditation, or yoga together to build their attention skills.
As Ken Robinson said in his famous Ted Talk, we need to "wake students up to what they have inside of themselves" instead of anesthetizing them against their nature. With the right support, children with ADHD can tap into their full creative and intellectual potential.
Imagination Lab School (ILS) is an innovative community of learners, serving students in grades TK-8 across Silicon Valley. We believe that every child deserves a space where they feel seen and heard, a learning environment where they feel both challenged and supported, and a team of caring adults who help each child learn and grow at their own pace.
I recently came across an enlightening article from HuffPost that examined how overprotective parenting can negatively impact a child's happiness and self-esteem. As an educator, I found myself nodding along to the insights shared by child therapists in the piece.
The Dangers of Overprotection
The article explains that many well-intentioned parents try to shield their kids from failure, hurt, or disappointment by being over involved and/or over programming their children. However, this excessive protection can backfire by depriving children of important learning experiences.
As child psychotherapist Jen Hartstein stated:
"I think parents often interfere in things because they’re worried about their children’s happiness, but what they’re doing is making it harder for their children to actually learn the skills to be happy."
This really resonated with me, as our mission at ILS is to ignite and nurture confidence, curiosity, and creativity in students. We want children to develop the coping strategies needed to handle challenges, setbacks and stressful situations.
The HuffPost article emphasizes that allowing children to solve problems independently helps bolster their self-confidence. I'm proud to say this aligns seamlessly with the ILS approach. Our hands-on, real-world curriculum provides plenty of opportunities for students to exercise autonomy. Children choose topics aligned with their interests and take ownership of the learning process. Our learning guides act as curators, facilitators, and coaches, allowing children to make mistakes and helping them reflect on how to improve. We also encourage healthy risk-taking through activities like student-led presentations, open-ended design challenges, project-based learning, and field experiences. Students learn to push their boundaries while developing tenacity and resilience. By fostering independence in a safe, nurturing environment, we believe children will gain the problem-solving abilities needed to navigate life's challenges. This sense of self-efficacy is a valuable gift parents can give their kids by honoring their emotional journeys, practicing gratitude, demonstrating unconditional love, minimizing comparisons to others, and minimizing praise. The article goes on to share that children develop a sense of mattering through daily activities such as household chores. We've found that simple activities such as carrying your own backpack, cleaning up your workstation, and having a community job at school helps children develop a sense of confidence and competence.
As child experts rightly point out, overprotective parenting and over programming can limit a child's happiness and self-confidence. At ILS, we strive to strike the right balance - providing support while encouraging independence. Our goal is to equip students with the mindset, skillset and tool-set needed to handle life's ups and downs. By allowing children to spread their wings, parents can help them soar.