Whenever I’m asked if we sell educational toys or books that build self-esteem, I wince a little inside. As parents, we all want academic excellence and healthy self-esteem for our children. But when I hear about parents feeling pressured to ”enrich” their children’s lives with systems to teach babies to read or DVDs that ”teach” toddlers self-esteem, I wince.
Not an ”educational toy” was in sight last weekend as my grandson busied himself creating a robot from a cardboard box. Taking a quick break to watch me use my curling iron, he asked what the stand on the bottom of the iron was. I showed him how it elevated the iron off the counter, preventing it from being burned. Later that afternoon, when he was having a difficult time getting his robot to stand by itself, he rigged up something that enabled it to stand perfectly. When I asked how he thought to do that, he reminded me of the curling iron stand. Little did I know my explanation would become an educational ”tool.” But that’s the point. Educational tools and toys are pretty much free for the picking whenever we choose. Sadly, they weren’t chosen for a little girl I was walking behind recently. When the girl lagged behind to smell some beautiful flowers, her mother harshly admonished the girl to ”STOP IT!” As the mom resumed chattering on the phone, talking about how her daughter was just diagnosed with allergies, the now-skipping girl began singing, ”I have allergies, allergies!” When she interrupted her mom, asking, ”Mommy? What’s allergies?” the mom exploded with, ”I AM ON THE PHONE! What is WRONG with you?!!!”
Ironically, never have we been so inundated with books and tools to give children a head start cognitively and to boost their self-esteem and confidence. But in the case of this little girl, how many interactive DVDs and educational toys will it take to undo the message her mom was sending? In pondering the different learning experiences of these two children, I began thinking about the importance of parenting between the lines. In other words, when it comes to raising children, it’s not so much about the big stuff — the trips to amusement parks, the enrichment programs, and the array of expensive toys and technology. It’s about the little moments in between that help prepare our children to navigate the world.
The winter holiday season is full of big moments, but let’s not forget all the small ones our children are absorbing — how we respond when they ask if reindeer have wings or if they can help wrap presents. My hope is that we use these small moments to stop and listen to our children’s questions and remember that no thing can ever replace the value of connecting with our children when it comes to educating and building self-esteem.