The last book I want to discuss in this series was one given to me by Dr. Aniruddha Malpani. It is Raising Alex: Teaching a Child to Make Smart Choices by Steve Reilly. It is a slim book (100-odd pages) but the messages runs deep. As one who became a father recently, I found it a fascinating read with also the hope that I can use the advice in raising Abhishek.
Reilly writes the book as a parent raising his daughter Alexis. As he mentions in the book, he is not a trained child psychologist he is just Alexs dad. His learnings come from his own mistakes. As he puts it: I have taken the time, however, to think long and hard about the this topic, because I care more about being a father to Alex than anything else I do.
The book is peppered with incidents most parents will be relate to. Reillys handling of these situations is very instructive. Here is one where Reilly and Alex are outside a video arcade (not for the first time).
Again I gave Alex five dollars and reminded her we would leave when she’d used up her money. She ran into the arcade. I watched her from a distance. She was walking around with her bulging pocketful of quarters trying to decide which games to play. (She was trying to determine which game would give her the most tickets – she loved getting those tickets.) The closer she got to using up her quarters, the more intensely she looked around at the games. She was trying to decide. Finally she was down to her last two quarters.
“Which one do you think I should play, Dad?” she asked in frustration.
“I don’t know, Alex. Which game is the most fun and gives you the most tickets?”
She finally decided on Skiball and won a few tickets. Turning to me she pleaded, “One more dollar? Dad, can I have one more dollar? I promise I won’t ask for any more.” “No, Alex. Like I said, when you’re done, you’re done. Let’s go for our walk now … ”
Children need adults to tell them “No.” I believe they often want us to say it as well. When Alex stood outside the arcade pestering me for quarters, tears streaking her face, I think on some level she appreciated my not giving in to her. Those tears might have given Alex more control over her dad, but not over her life.
I admit it was difficult saying no to her and it was tough to watch her struggle with the choices she was trying to make. But that is the dilemma we all face as parents. I love Alex so much it is painful to watch her struggle with her choices. But I would rather help Alex grapple with the choices she makes while she is still young. After all, how many years can we “control” our children? I expect I’ll have Alex’s attention until she is, oh, perhaps twelve years old. After that (maybe even earlier), other influences – her peer group, television, and (God forbid) boyfriends – will begin to outweigh mine. So I figure I had better teach Alex to make good decisions before she turns twelve. Attempting it later on would only frustrate us both.
Reillys discussion in the book focuses around three themes: boundaries, encouragement and consequences. [In fact, as I read the book, I couldnt help thinking that much of what Reilly says also applies in the workplace when we have to manage people.]
Reillys advice is very practical and easy to understand. As he puts it: As parents we want our kids to grow up safe; and yet, we want them to feel loved. But more than that, our children need to develop judgment their own judgment so they can take care of themselves when we arent around. We need to teach our children to get along without us.