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Education Leadership

No Auto-Pilot for Parenting

In Xenophon’s Oeconomicus, Socrates is getting a farming lesson from Ischomachus, an estate manager held in high regard.

Socrates says that if you don’t know what the soil is capable of growing, how do you know what to plant or sow?

Ischomachus gives a straightforward answer.

…you can tell by looking at the crops and trees on another man’s land what the soil can and cannot grow. But when you have found out, it is useless to fight against the gods. For you are not likely to get a better yield from the land by sowing and planting what you want instead of the crops and trees that the land prefers….Yes, and even if the land lies waste, it reveals its nature.

It would be foolish to try and browbeat soil into growing something that is not suited for that area. Even if you managed to squeeze out something, your time would have been better spent trying something else.

Take this beyond farming. Apply it to your children.

Each of your children is unique. They have different personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. They have a grain.

It would be foolish to go against that grain.

You want your kids to bear fruit. But it is foolish to try and force an apple tree to sprout a pear. To paraphrase Ischomachus: it is useless to fight against the way God created your child.

Get to know your child. Study them. Listen to them. Get to know the soil of their hearts. What are their natural proclivities? What do they shy away from? What do they most excel at? What do they most struggle with?

This doesn’t mean you need to lower your standards or shrug your shoulders if your child is failing to do something important. But maybe you are trying to teach them in a way that goes against the grain.

Can your son only sit still for 2 minutes? Adapt to that. Let him stand up and move around when doing schoolwork. At the same time, you can patiently work on improving his stamina for remaining still.

Is one of your children overly shy? Instead of forcing the issue, find other ways they can come out of their shell, switching up environments. I’ve found that even the shyest kids open up when they are invited to talk about something they are passionate about. An online fan club might be a good way to start.

Uniqueness also manifests in the rewards they prefer. Some kids float to the moon with mere words of praise. Others need lots of physical contact to feel approval. Some respond more to the direct rewards of cash and prizes.

If a kid craves words of affirmation for a job well done, but you act aloof and hand him a twenty-dollar bill instead, you are failing to read the soil. You are failing to plant what will grow best.

The point is to pay attention.

Raising children is a creative endeavor. It is not something you can put on auto-pilot.