PCWS families and other community members were lucky enough recently to take a cross-country road trip with Jack Petrash, longtime Waldorf teacher and parent educator. We hit the road in our refurbished Airstream…oh, okay, it was a metaphorical journey—but a meaningful one nonetheless. Jack gave us a picture of the child at different stages of development, and how we as parents can shift our parenting to meet those different needs. Here are some top tips for each age, along with the lovely metaphors Jack used to illustrate the parent’s journey.
Early Childhood—The East Coast
Imagine that our children come from the mysterious ocean, meeting us on the shore. We begin our journey together, traveling fairly peacefully across the East Coast states—with a minor bumpy period as we cross the Appalachians—also known as the 2s and 3s.
Focus on holding young children and keeping them warm and secure. Young children need to know their new environment is safe. Our physical touch gives them comfort.
Establish a rhythm for the day, to give children a sense of safety. It does not need to be a complicated routine. Breakfast, a walk outdoors, indoor play, lunch and a nap… and so on.
Differentiate between time at work and time with family. Try to have a mindful moment before you are with your children, to prepare yourself for time with the people you love most in the world.
Act in a way you want your children to imitate. Our actions speak louder than words, and young children learn by imitating us. Find something simple and meaningful to do in their presence daily, which they can join in if they choose, like sweeping the walk.
Invite children to join in the work of the house, rather than ordering them. At this age, children do not differentiate clearly between themselves and others, so “Let’s clean up” will work better than “You clean up.”
Elementary School Years—The Midwest
Starting around age 7, there is a shift in our children—we might say they have crossed the Mississippi and entered the Midwest. To children at this age, time feels expansive, much as the Great Plains feel. Days are long, summer seems endless. It’s a relatively peaceful time—if we can keep societal pressures to speed up to a minimum.
Around this time, children shift from learning from what we are doing to learning from what we are feeling. They sense what we are feeling and soak it in. They love to see us joyful—and by showing them our joy, we teach them to be joyful.
Teach good habits at home. Children are ripe for habit development right now, but we must teach without nagging. Take a deep breath: habits take time to develop. But the good habits our children develop now will serve them when they are teens and no longer want to listen to us.
Establish rituals and traditions. We help children build memories of a happy childhood by going to the same place for summer vacation year after year, enjoying the same birthday restaurant, having a few special places where our family goes hiking, and so on.
Prepare for crossing the Missouri River around age 9. Children at age 9 are wakening to the world, feeling more separate from others, and realizing they have an inner world you cannot enter. This time can be sad for parents, but it is an important part of establishing independence. Recognize that and you will cope better with the change.
Use this shift at around age 9 as a signal to begin talking more to your child. They can understand things they could not before. Talk more now, and less when they are young children, because as young children they are following your actions more than your words.
Around age 12, we hit the Rockies—adolescence. Critical thinking comes to the forefront, including plenty of critique of us as parents.
Use these new critical thinking skills to your advantage. Children want to know what we think so they can debate it. This process helps them define their values.
Stand strong for your values and family expectations. Teens have their own logic and can be as good as a high-powered team of lawyers. Have a back-up plan for when you are about to give in, a ‘lifeline’ person you can call to remind you to stay strong. We are called in these years to stand up for what we believe. Our teens need this example.
Listen with open ears and heart. Teens want to know that you won’t tell others what they tell you, that you won’t manipulate them, and that they can say anything and you will just listen. Allow them to think freely, even when you do not allow them to do freely.
Find the time they are prone to talking and take advantage of it. It might be late at night, in the car, after they’ve had some caffeine, while they are eating…experiment til you find the sweet spot.
Please share with us what you’ve found as you travel this ‘journey of life’ with your children!