January 10, 2010

Teaching Children to Make Smart Decisions

Fanfare For the Common Man- Aaron Copland

"Dad, can you come help me?" The call was from my son. He was in the middle of some intense building with his Legos. Five minutes later the call came again and I realized that I hadn't moved. I had been lost in thought in front of the computer.

I stood up and walked into his room and he asked why it had taken so long to respond. I apologized and told him that I had been working. It is one of the challenges of having a home office, work creeps into daily life in ways that it might not otherwise do.

He smiled as I sat down and showed me our project, a giant Star Wars Lego set. It was a birthday gift from aunts and uncles. I smiled back at him and told him that I was excited to work with him. All true. There is a special joy in watching your child do these sorts of things.

As we opened the box he began to tell me about some things that were going on at school. I listened to him talk about how some of the other kids are getting into trouble. It wasn't a surprise to hear these stories or the names of those involved.

He paused and I told him that this is another example of a situation in which he would have to make smart decisions. We talked about how sometimes it is easy to do. Sometimes the smart decision is obvious and sometimes it is obscured by other things.

I was pleased when he asked me to define obscure. He seems to love words in the same way that I do. So I told him that it is similar to trying to look at something through fog or a water bottle. And then I took advantage of the Legos and built a little structure that I used to explain things further.

It wasn't anything complex, this little structure. But it was a useful tool to demonstrate that you can't always tell what impact adding or subtracting a piece to a situation will have.

The big guy asked me to clarify what I was talking about and I explained that a parent's job is not to live his life. I told him that some of his friends have parents who are crippling them because they never let the kids make mistakes and that I wouldn't do that.

My job is to try to give him the tools to make smart decisions. He needs to understand that dad will always try to help. As his father I am obligated to protect and defend him which is why I want him to learn to stand on his own.

I told him that it hurts me when he feels badly and that I don't like it. He nodded his head. Halfway through third grade, he is nine. Half his life with me is over. It is hard to believe that time is moving so quickly.

There were a few times while we were building where he complained that I was staring at him. He was right, I was. How can I not, he is amazing to me. I watch this boy stare at the directions, read them and apply the information. The Lego pieces are taken in his hands and formed into something cool.

Such pleasure, nachas in watching him. I told him again that I was proud of him and he asked why. My response, "because." He fed my own line back to me and told me that "because" is not an answer. So I smiled and told him that it is because of a million things and that is true.

For a moment I got lost in thought again and remembered playing with Legos some thirty years or so ago and wondered if my parents had the same feelings about me. I'll have to ask them.


How It Is said...

I thought this was beautifully written and the sentiment lovely ... you made me think about my 14 year old , 3/4 of his life is over with me and yet I feel I haven't given him all the tools he needs to "face the world" - or make "smart decision" as you say - I like that - thanks for the inspiration

bernthis said...

I too try and teach my daughter to make decisions for herself, to show her we don't always get want we want and mostly, the rewards that come from practice.

Jack said...

Hi How,

Thank you. Do we ever feel like we have done all we can for our kids? I wonder.


That is a good way to do it. Practice makes such a difference.

Heather Kephart said...

What a sweet, poignant interaction between father and son. Amazing, isn't it, when our children exceed our expectations and surprise us with their curiosity and intelligence?

I'll bet your parents were thinking the same thing. We're the lucky ones. :)

Jack said...


I am blessed to have kids that are smarter, funnier and better looking than me. They crack me up.