If your kids are boring, you're doing it wrong

The other day I ran across a blog post (undeserving of a link, though there is a certain voyeuristic fascination to be had in reading it) that described children as boring little wretches, unsuited to inhabit the cerebral stratosphere of their elders. The mental model seemed to be something like the following:

Bad parenting mental model

The policy response to the misfortune of having children implied by the above is to foist them off on TV and day care until they grow up enough that you can tolerate their presence. That leaves you plenty of time for more intellectual pursuits, like tweeting, or speculating about the romance of the person in the next cubicle.

This reminded me of an earlier perspective on children, now thankfully less prevalent:

Their Hearts naturally, are a meer nest, root, fountain of Sin, and wickedness; an evil Treasure from whence proceed evil things viz. Evil Thoughts. Murders, Adulteries &c. Indeed, as sharers in the guilt of Adam’s first Sin, they’re Children of Wrath by Nature, liable to Eternal Vengeance, the Unquencheable Flames of Hell. – Benjamin Wadsworth

Untitled, Ansel Fiddaman, Pastel

My high school English teacher once pointed out that boredom is an intensely personal experience, not to be blamed on external causes. In other words, if you can’t find anything intellectually challenging or interesting about interacting with a child, you’re probably not trying very hard, and any resulting boredom is your own fault.

More importantly, parental boredom with children is not just a matter of the moment; it’s the product of a nest of positive feedback loops:

Kid Loops

If you start with the “kids are boring” mental model, you are likely to let these reinforcing loops run backwards, as vicious cycles. Then you’ll be stuck in a pattern of boredom and griping, spurred on by the fact that it’s abundantly clear to the kids concerned that you’re not having fun. (Even if they’re boring, they’re not stupid.) Claiming that kids can’t understand your complex life of the mind is no excuse – I generally find that, if I can’t explain something to a kid, my grasp of the topic is probably somewhat shakier than I’d hoped.

On the other hand, if you take teaching and learning as a challenge to be savored, invest time and energy in creating rich experiences for children, and recognize that you yourself always have something to learn, the positive loops run the right way, uplifting the lives of all concerned. Not every day with my kids has been easy, but I really can’t think of a moment in the last 9 years that I’ve been bored with them.

Untitled, Cade Fiddaman, Pastel

Pastels courtesy of Cade & Ansel Fiddaman. I did one too, but it wasn’t as good.

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