How To Raise A Valedictorian
The other day I was talking to a friend about my daughter Loryn’s college scholarship. Bragging is what I was doing without realizing it. I am very proud of her. She has achieved more than I could have hoped for. One of fourteen valedictorians at our local high school with a 4.0 GPA she was an Academic All American in swimming, high school orchestra member and officer, National Honor Society inductee and the list goes on and on. See, there I go again. I’m proud of all of my children. I have three children, Loryn being the youngest. My oldest daughter Sarah is a special education teacher and another college scholarship beneficiary. My son Michael is a construction project manager who runs multi-million dollar projects for a mechanical contractor in Florida. I talk to all three of them almost every day. My friend wanted to know what my wife and I had done to promote Loryn’s success. Were we strict parents? Did we rule with an iron fist? Were we homework hounds? I told him that we hadn’t done anything. I told him she had done it all on her own, but afterward, it got me thinking. What did we do?
Parenting, in my opinion, is a seat of the pants operation. You learn as you go. Don’t read too many books. Use your instincts. I was very physical with my children when they were little. To this day we are a hugging type of family. Holding, cuddling, kissing and hugging are essential in establishing a nurturing trust with your kids. “Wrestle ‘em down!” was always my mantra. Tantrums and hissy fits were always dealt with by employing restrictive holds which I devised including, “The Straight Jacket” and the dreaded “Chinese Handcuffs”. They were very effective. Each hold had a special song to accompany the oncoming engagement. Sometimes just the song was enough. These holds were firm and controlling. The key word is controlling, not angry or abusive. Take the word “No” for instance. The word “No” is level-1. The word “No” with the “Look” is level-2. At level-2 the ”Look” precedes the “Grab” which is level-3. Although looked down upon among today’s permissive parents, a swat on the bottom was not uncommon when the serious situations arose. Sticking your hand on the hot stove or sticking a bobby pin into an electrical receptacle requires swift action. Too much talking and explaining just muddles the minds of those still developing acceptable behavioral parameters. It’s an understanding that goes beyond words. It’s primal. The key is respect for authority, your authority. Demand respect. Demand it early and always.
Early reading has been the key for most successful students. In my opinion children should be reading by the age of four. I don’t mean reading the New York
Times but a basic recognition of simple words and sentences. It only takes about a year to develop a reading program that allows children to recognize words and initiate the reading of these words in a favorite book. It’s tedious sometimes. It’s important that they like the book. Take them to the book store or library often and let them pick one out that they like. Don’t get distracted with your own interests at the book store, remember you’re there for them. When you get home sit your child down on your lap and read. Maybe a cookie might be in order. After all, he or she is only two or three. Be patient, gradually building up the time spent reading. Do it as many times a day as you can and do it every day. Consistency is paramount. Stay with it every day. You’ll be surprised with the results. Another thing, do some reading of your own. Let them see you reading. Discuss it with them. See if they can identify any of the words in the article or book you’re reading. Praise them for it. They want to be like you.
Music & Sports
I always viewed my children like projects. You’ve got to build. You’ve got to keep them busy. Many studies have proven the relationship between music and learning ability. When my children went to school I had two requirements for them, 1- Play a musical instrument and 2-participate in a sport. In the school system where I raised my children musical participation in school wasn’t an option it was a requirement. In the 5th grade students are given the choice of either playing a musical instrument or singing in the chorus. The nationally acclaimed Boardman High School Band & Symphony Orchestra is well known as one of the best music programs in the country. My son plays the trombone and guitar. My daughters play the violin and piano. Music teaches visual spatial skills and improves memorization aptitude. Playing a sport on the other hand, teaches team work and the ability to work with others toward a common goal. Participating in a sport also improves social skills. Sports and music instill a sense of belonging in children.
I have to include the spiritual side of parenting, or at least my experience. Moral conscience and empathy are not inborn. They have to be taught. There is no better place to teach them than in the church of your choice. I’ve tried to teach my children that you are no better than anyone else and nobody is better than you. We’re all in this life together as equals and there is a God that watches over us and loves us. I believe that if you instill a moral conscience in your child, he or she will carry it with them for the rest of their lives. All of my children have a religious background. I felt it was my obligation to them. I wanted to give them a sanctuary to go to if all else failed. It has proven it’s worth time and again.
Proactive parenting is tiresome with all the time/job constraints parents are faced with. In the end, it’s well worth it. Expect them to do well and give them the opportunity. Pay attention to their strengths and set them up to succeed. Parenthood is a stewardship. The world we live in does not allow time for the nurturing of children. We have to make the time. Take the time you might spend reading a book on parenting and spend it with your child. Nobody knows them better than you do. Let them reawaken the child in you. Invent secret languages, take them to the art gallery, be silly but always be the parent, always the authority. Think of yourself as their teacher, their first teacher, their most important teacher. It’s not all a bed of roses. You’ll hit bumps and grinds. I know I have. I hear people say, “I want my kids to do what they want to do. I’m not going to force them into anything.” Well that’s just wrong. They’re kids. They don’t know what they want to do. It’s your job to present things to them that you think are good for them and see them through. They are going to spend their whole lives doing things they don’t “want” to do in a big bad world where you will no longer be a factor. I’m a firm believer in the notion that if you don’t make your children do something, they’ll do nothing. Ask any number of parents with children in their twenties who are lying around on the couch all day and staying out all night. I’m sure you know some, I do. What’s wrong with these ne’er do well kids? Looks like bad coaching to me. We’re training them to be standalone individuals and productive citizens of this country. Demand respect and expect success. Train them hard, train them right with a hug and a kiss and a “I love you!”