I was volunteering all day long at my sons' school's Field Day, which meant I was standing out on a grass field helping lead outdoor games from 9am to about 2:30pm. Thankfully I got to go inside for about half an hour to eat lunch, which made the Media Center feel like a desert oasis, but I was looking fairly lobsteresque by the end of the day.
Yes, I put on sunblock.
No, I didn't reapply as I should have.
I know, I know.
As many of you know, my family moved last year, so this was my boys' first Field Day at their current school. While we were walking home, the three of us chatted about how the day went, what was their favorite game, and so on. As we're talking about the day, one of them said very matter-of-factly:
"I liked Field Day better at our old school."
My first instinct was to shut down his complaining. "Oh, come on. You had fun, didn't you?" But before the words could leave my mouth, I stopped them. He really wasn't complaining, he was stating his opinion. Instead I asked him what he preferred in one over the other, and how the two schools' Field Days differed. I volunteered every year at our old school, so I was familiar with the two events. While I knew they were different in multiple ways I was curious why he felt the need to make such a distinct comparison.
He spoke of specific games that were staples of Field Day at his old school that he missed, and also of how the old school's Field Day was all day and the current school splits the grades up into morning and afternoon, so Field Day was really only a half day event. He even said, with his elementary school age logic, "I know that doing that allows them to make sure the field isn't so crowded, but we didn't get to do as much." I knew that to be true because they didn't even get to do all of the games on the field, because one of my boys never came to the station I was working at.
While they still had a good time, and I'm glad they did, I see no problem in letting them voice what they liked and didn't like about the event. Our children have opinions, and by teaching them that their opinions matter we are teaching them confidence. Had I shut him down, wouldn't I have just been telling him, "Oh, what you have to say about it doesn't matter. Just have fun and don't think about it."? Is that really what we want to teach our children? We would never say, "I don't care what you think", but isn't that what he would have heard?
As they get older, our kids are going to become adults that have to decide the best way to solve a problem in their careers, who to marry, even what political candidates to vote for, and all of that involves trusting your opinion. How can we teach them to value not only their own but others' opinions as adults if we don't value them when they are young? If they are taught at an early age that their opinions don't matter, how will that lesson translate when they are older?
Think about it.
Listen to your children, and let them express their opinions openly. Yes, sometimes it will be just complaining, and you need to handle that, but if it is simply "I prefer this over that", ask them why. Engage them. Help them learn to trust their instincts and opinions, because those will be immensely valuable skills as they get older.
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