Raising a Thinking Child


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28 January, 2011

thinking-kidsWhen my child was in the 2nd grade, and her teacher asked me why I didn’t sign her “homework” notebook, I told her it was because I was raising a “thinking” child.

It’s the same reason I didn’t:

  • Go through my kids backpacks every day
  • Pick out my child’s clothes
  • Decide if they would bring lunch or buy lunch
  • Make their lunch if they decided to bring it
  • Sit in the classroom and “observe”
  • Make a special trip to school to drop off a forgotten instrument, pair of cleats or science project
  • Talk to the teacher about my child’s “performance” without my child present
  • And 100 other decisions I made about my role in my child’s educational experience

I believed my primary job was to prepare my kids to leave home at 18 with the confidence necessary to make hundreds of decisions each day, the ability to overcome whatever challenge or obstacle they encounter and to do so with a sense of courage, curiosity and enthusiasm. That is how I defined my job as a mother. I made that decision when my first child came home from Kindergarten with a list of “expectations” the teacher had of me.

Truth be told, when I sat down with my children’s teachers and explained my philosophy, they were, for the most part, supportive. So I have nothing to complain about.

But recently, some of my closest and smartest friends have been struggling with balancing their decision to raise thinking kids and with the school expectations that parents play an “active” role in their child’s educational experience.

Here are a few tips on how to balance your decision to raise thinking kids (who are often, late, messy and leave their stuff behind in the car) with the schools request for over-involved parents.

1. Talk to the teacher. Yes, I know it can be scary, but most teachers I know really do love kids, want to work with parents AND are often times so overwhelmed with “stuff” they have to do, that their warm and caring side gets covered up. I encourage every parent to talk with their child’s teacher at the beginning of the year if possible, when they are fresh and rested and exited and they are open to creating an exceptional educational experience for your child. And if it’s March when you’re ready to have that conversation with the teacher, do it anyway.

2. Have your child present at the meeting so you set the tone for the year and the teacher knows that your child is part of this important conversation and that they will take responsibility for the decisions they make. This helps establish a logical balance of power between all the parties. If the teacher deals with homework that isn’t turned in by having kids stay after for an hour, you can smile and support the teacher from the get go. Imagine how far this goes in establishing a respectful and open relationship. One, by the way, your child is watching and will begin to emulate over time.

3. Decide if you will sign homework, reading, math or science books and then be honest with the teacher about who will be doing the signing. My children signed every piece of paper that ever came home that required a parent’s signature. If they were struggling in math, I wanted them to tell me, not a piece of paper.

4. Decide if there are instances when you would be willing to make a special trip to school to bring an item to your child and what those instances are so everyone is clear from the beginning. This goes a long way in creating consistency as well as allowing everyone to support each other in the process of raising thinking kids.

5. Decide if you will be using the “Portal” or online options or if you will get your information directly from your child; and then let your teacher know. Here is an example of just how awful this entire Portal thing can be.

“My niece’s middle school in (state shall remain anonymous) contacted her mother and scolded her for not checking her daughter’s school portal info often enough. They said if she didn’t check the portal at least once a week, her daughter would get points off her final grade. Her daughter is a straight A student.”

–Scary isn’t it?

6. Describe for the teacher your goals in raising a thinking child and what you are willing to do to remain true to your decision. Let them know that you want to work collaboratively with them and your intent is not to make life difficult for them. And in turn, you understand that they won’t do anything to damage the relationship you are trying to build with your child by insisting that you “make” your child do their homework and turn it in on time. Unless of course, you are both going to college with said child, in which case, have at it.

As the mother of 5, it seems to me that raising a “thinking” child in the 21st century, is nothing less than a requirement for every parent, teacher, coach or anyone else working with kids. But hey, that’s just me.


  1. Diane DaPolito says:

    Thanks Vicki. The timing, as always, is impeccable. I just had this exact conversation with a friend of mine this morning and I am forwarding this to her. She will appreciate hearing it one more time, and this time, from you…..xoxo Diane

  2. Cindy Pierce says:

    Lots of inspiration in here. Thanks Vicki. I have been a lemming on the signing of reading logs. Time to speak up. When I was a teacher, I was amazed how parents carried the backpacks into the room and helped them put away their gear until I set clear limits. When I asked them about it, they mostly admitted it was a way they “connected” with their children. Doing for is such a habit and makes parents feel purposeful and involved. Without PonT, so many of us would still be spending a lot of time wondering where “our” lunchbox and mittens were left. Personal productivity and brain space open wide once we break the habit. Thank you for the gift and the ongoing reminders.

  3. Catha Lamm says:

    Great advice — love the up-front communication approach.

    I got an email from a teacher recently that said, “Please help your children come to school with enough clothes to keep them warm and dry at recess.”

    I responded with this: “So you’re aware that my approach to this area of my kids’ lives is to stay completely out of it. They’re in charge of what to put on each day and I don’t say a word about it. I realize that if Charlotte makes a less-than-perfect choice it can be inconvenient during school, but I’m committed to the learn-through-personal-experience method so they get used to thinking about it for themselves each day. Just fyi.”

    I didn’t get any response to this, but I’ve learned that teachers really are generally open to this approach if we can take the time to explain.

  4. ben starr says:

    Any evidence that this method results in a more healthy adult?

  5. Vicki says:

    Thanks all, for your comments and stories. And a special thank you to Catha for answering his question with data that actually tells a much deeper story than – will these methods raise a healthy adult.

  6. Joan says:

    Living proof is the evidence. As the mother of 5 kids ages 5 -16, it may be more challenging to raise a thinking child when they are younger, but when thinking kids hit adolescence and soar – its all worth it. These adolescent kids are already healthier than many adults we know.

  7. Aimee says:

    Great advice. Vicki- would you suggest applying this parenting strategy to a 5 (soon to be 6 yr old)? My 5 year old is completely defiant and/ or pokey (depending on the mood) when it comes to his after school tasks, e.g. hang coat up, take off boots, empty back and lunch pack; get out homework folder. It can take him up to an hour to do this. I am to the point, where I do not want to give reminders and if the back and lunch pack is not emptied out and homework is not done; upon the next day of school I would share with the teacher the consequences of his choice to not do his assigned tasks and that would include not having any snacks packed for the day (he would get his hot lunch at school) and he would not receive a sticker for completing his reading assignment. Help! Have any advice?

  8. Vicki says:

    Um. Well. I don’t really give advice. I believe that ultimately, every parent has to consider what it is they want for their children and then create a parenting approach that has the best chance of getting them there.

    What I can tell you is this – think about what you want your child to learn. Forget about the consequences – they will take care of themselves. Your little 5 year old is doing the best he can right now. He requires more training, more support, more encouragement, more structure. Not consequences.

    So, take some time to get really clear. Then create a plan for how you want to parent and how you can teach your child to create an organized life that will help them feel successful each day.

    That really is what the Parenting On Track program does. it shows parents how to create and maintain a parenting plan for life.

    Good luck. And, if you are looking for more info, snoop around a bit. We have over 100 blog posts on the site.

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