How to cope when your kids are doing it all wrong

This is a guest post by Lehla Eldridge. Her blog is Unschooling the Kids. Lehla’s family lives in Italy.

“Just let me live my life” were the words that came out of my sons mouth yesterday as I tried to teach him about following a recipe. He was wanting to make biscuits, I was wanting him to follow a recipe. We hit a stalemate.

I caught myself in that moment, caught between the double me, the one that says, “But you will stuff up the biscuits! it is about chemistry!” I have written a cook book I know these things!’

Then Heston Blumenthal came to mind. He is a very creative chef. What if someone had clamped down on him and his cooking as a kid? He invents things around food. In reading his Wiki profile it seems he mainly taught himself and his big aha! moment was when he decided to QUESTION EVERYTHING. Which is precisely what my son is doing.

So, I pat myself on the back here as I turned on a pin of thought and emotion. Heston’s face came to mind as my son had his face in the pillows and really had had enough of his controlling mother. I thought. My son has a point. Reframe your thinking Lehla. Let your son lead and bring on the biscuit making.

We needed things, we went to the shop. As we walked down the aisle he said let’s get vanilla and orange extract.

I said, “Really? Together?” And then I said, “Oh I, yes let’s!” We also bought chocolate and flour. The rest we had at home.

The rest being: Salted peanuts, gluten-free flour, milk, an egg and sugar.

He said, “You can do it with me.”

I said, “Ok but I really struggle not to take over.”

He said, “Don’t worry.”

He had squashed the chocolate bar in to a ball and then added flour and milk and a whole bottle of vanilla extract and half a bottle of orange extract. Then he asked me to get the salted peanuts. I crushed them then put them in and he said ‘I didn’t ask you to crush them and put them in!’ I said ‘I can’t help it, I have to step away, I go on automatic pilot and I am really struggling to not take over.’

He said, “It’s ok.”

I said, “Can I grease the tray?”

He said, “Yes.”

We made shapes, then squashed them down and made flat biscuits, I told him that if you put flour on your hands when you squash them into shapes then they don’t stick to your hands.

We did it. The biscuits were in. Smells of a French Patisserie wafted across the kitchen.

Those biscuits were delicious.

This story could have gone another way but for me it took energy, it took leaps not to take over and even when I had decided not to, I did. Balancing when I am being helpful and when I am not is such an art.

I have ways of doing things and I am, through my kids, learning and unlearning and realizing that QUESTION EVERYTHING is right for me, too.

8 replies
  1. elaine
    elaine says:

    …It might be better if adults get out of the frame of mind of right and wrong! He was doing it differently – and that’s wonderful!

  2. Shiney Shoo
    Shiney Shoo says:

    I love this post, it is something I often find myself doing….. there is no right or wrong for kids, it is far better to let them discover for themselves and find their own way, originality comes from a free mind!….

  3. Kristi
    Kristi says:

    Really read specific examples here on how to not “take over,” and from different perspectives. I’m not a parent, but I am a design researcher (and I follow education topics). This blog gives me ideas and motivation for more inclusive, participatory design.

    Carry on!

  4. mh
    mh says:

    I don’t know.

    My thirteen year old cleans my bathrooms for money. I pay him to do this.

    We worked together and came up with a bathroom checklist, including washing and replacing all the towels and which cleaning supplies to use on which surfaces.

    There is no need tonag or remind him. I get clean bathrooms, he gets $1.50 per bathroom, twice a week.

    This is also how we work on garden chores like weeding. I make a picture list of plants to keep and pay the kids to yank out the rest.

    Pilots use checklists… There are times when following the instructions is useful.

    Some people are more creative and confident with more structure.

    Still, wadded up chocolate bars in baked goods sounds pretty awesome. Thanks for this great post.

  5. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I agree with – “it is about chemistry!” and “QUESTION EVERYTHING”. So now I’m wondering about the chemistry of your son’s recipe that made his biscuits a success. A one off is a nice accomplishment and a tribute to creativity but doesn’t necessarily represent a consistent result. It would be an interesting study (to me) to determine why his recipe’s chemistry did work. Knowing the why based on clearly and correctly defined actions is where learning takes place. Also kudos to you for letting your son take the helm.

    • Lehla Eldridge
      Lehla Eldridge says:

      Hi Mark, That is a great point but in truth if I were to figure out the chemistry and explain it to him he would possibly be out of the door faster than I could imagine. Mainly because he would sense I am trying to teach him something and that would possibly kill the moment. It is an interesting debate isn’t it, how do children learn anything if you don’t actually teach them? But they do. It is a hard concept to grasp and I still have to learn (unlearn) that all the time. It may seem fantastical this concept but if they are passionate about a subject they learn it, they ask the right questions, they want to know. The trick is to know when to step in and when not to and that for me is the balance.

      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        Thank you for your reply with an explanation Lehla. I now realize my comment made assumptions that says a lot about me. I really like the sciences, went to school (never homeschooled), graduated with a chemistry degree and ceramic science degree, and worked as an engineer. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else as my father was a big influence and was an engineer. My two brothers followed the same path afterwards as engineers but we all have different specialties in engineering. So now you know my STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) focused worldview. :) I very much agree with everything you’ve said above. You know your son’s personality, interests, etc. best. Best to you and your son in the homeschooling adventure. I look forward to reading your posts in the future.

  6. Mel
    Mel says:

    The big open question in my mind about homeschooling is what if kids are inherently just OK with status quo, and don’t question very much. What if my kids are fine with “whatever” — and would greatly benefit from being in a seminar setting and hearing a smart, curious kid ask great questions? Sometimes you need a peer group to carry you along and care about things you don’t inherently care about to help you know that caring about details, like chemistry, can have some cool ramifications. I appreciate the intelligent perspectives on homeschooling presented in this blog. I really want to be sold on jumping into this, but I’m not totally sold yet, especially for the youngest ages when kids can absorb information and ideas with rapid speed — much faster than a single parent can curate and present them. Even if a parent can take a kid to a science museum and give kid free run of the place, someone with enthusiasm for the subject is needed to make a subject come alive. It’s impossible for one parent to be able to know everything to push kids to academic heights to accomplish anything of significance. For example, my interests are in history and political science — there is no way I could have a discussion about chemistry and physics with my kid, who could turn out to be gifted with interest in more scientific concepts but we’d never know because I couldn’t possibly help open an interesting conversation on those subjects or be able to scaffold it well if my kid initiated that conversation. And let’s say my kid wanted to talk about the chemistry of baking … what would I do? Start googling a local chemistry college student to come over to dialogue? What if that chemistry student is dry and as interesting as sawdust so I needed to find a second or third student to find someone interested? I just can’t see how that works pragmatically on the range of subjects in life…

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