Continuing on from the last post on this topic…
There was something that Po Bronson wrote in his post about “Why Dumb Toys Make Kids Smarter” that really resonated with me and made me rethink everything I have been trying to do with Gavin.
“My previous book, What Should I Do With My Life?, was a portrait of a generation that had spent the first two decades of life ignoring their intrinsic motivations. They were bright and talented, but had spent so many years doing what was expected of them, and studying what society told them they should study, that they were no longer in touch with their natural desires. They’d been praised endlessly, told they were smart, and had no internal compass when it came to making career decisions. Learning to recognize their own passions was incredibly difficult and stunted. It had been drilled out of them as children.”
That paragraph could easily have been written about me. I grew up always doing what I was told to do that when it came to following my own heart’s desires, I was lost. I studied to be a dentist but I didn’t want to be a dentist. My problem was that I had no idea what I wanted to be. I quit dentistry and moved from job to job in the hope of finding something I would love to do. Always, I would find myself dissatisfied in some way. I was no longer in touch with my own natural desires. Having lived through this, I don’t want my children to go through live the way I did.
As a parent, I want to raise Gavin and Gareth to be happy, confident and successful. That means helping them discover what they are truly passionate about in life – not what I am passionate about in life. One of the problems parents face is the danger of living vicariously through our children. We often want our children to do a lot of the things we missed out on as children. Our intentions are good but not when our children do not share our passions – as they say, “The heart’s in the right place…”
Bronson writes it so well:
“Our son taught me an extremely valuable lesson. When it comes to kids, we often bring moralistic bias to their interests. There’s a pervasive tendency in our society to label things as either good for children or bad for children. Cultivating children’s natural intrinsic motivation requires abandoning all judgment of good and bad content. Society has a long list of subjects that we’ve determined they should learn. But learning itself is kick-started when enmeshed and inseparable from what a child inherently loves. How many parents are ignoring this, pushing flash cards and phonics cards onto their kids, attempting to trigger learning in an amotivational situation?”
“It’s important to underscore that this isn’t a philosophical argument—it’s a neurological argument. Motivation is experienced in the brain as the release of dopamine. It’s not released like other neurotransmitters into the synapses; instead, it’s sort of spritzed into large areas of the brain, which enhances the signaling of neurons. The motivated brain, literally, operates better, signals faster. Kids learn better.”
Having been pushed into a career I never wanted, I swore I would never do that to my own children. However, now that I am a parent, I realise that it isn’t always as simple as that. The lines are blurred and it is easy to confuse what we want with what our children want. It is easy to jump in and tell our children what we think is in their best interest just because we think we know better having experience more of life than they have. Yet, the real task lies in being able to encourage our children even when we don’t agree with them.
So when Gavin displayed a strong interest in playing with “masak masak” (cooking sets) – an activity usually associated with girls rather than boys – we heeded his interest and bought him his own set. The interesting thing was that when we were at Toy’s ‘R’ Us, a man gave hubby the most incredulous look when hubby held up the “masak masak” set to Gavin and asked him, “Gavin, would you like this?”
I honestly don’t know what the problem is with boys playing “cooking”. There are plenty of world famous chefs who are men. How else would they have gotten where they are today if they had not been allowed to cultivate their interests in the kitchen? Even if a boy is not destined to become a chef, knowing how to cook is definitely a basic life skill that will serve him well when he’s out in the big world on his own. I’ve also known plenty of men who have successfully wooed their prospective partners with a romantic, homemade dinner.
Even if the above reasons aren’t enough to convince a parent to encourage their son’s interest in cooking, then rest assured that a toddler boy’s early interest in cooking is both healthy and normal. I’ve seen plenty of little boys who enjoy playing not only with masak masak sets but with dolls and strollers, too.
Even if you don’t entirely approve of a boy playing “cooking”, there are lots of ways you can turn this interest into an educational activity. One thing I’ve done with Gavin is created a “recipe” book using stickers. I then ask him to find the ingredients, cut them up and put them into the bowl. We get to learn how to follow instructions, identify different fruits and vegetables, learn the individual names of different fruits and vegetables, and practice our manual dexterity with a pretend knife. To top it off, Gavin has loads of fun while we’re at it. Now isn’t that what learning should be all about?