The Standardized Tests Challenged Us As Parents

Today is the day! A day we’ve worked so hard to get to, a day that appeared in the distance for real around January. We’ve been working with our kids on this for a few months, talking to them, helping them, talking with others about better ways to support them. It has been an exhausting and trying process, but it is finally here.

The New York State standardized tests.

The most stupid, obnoxious and utterly useless tests I could possibly imagine. The kind of tests that makes me question what kind of people actually oversee the education departments in this state and country. Do they even care about kids?

Oh for a second there you thought I was talking about tutoring my kids for this test? Heck, no! I’ve been talking about helping my children deal with the stress of these tests on them (and their classmates and teachers). Starting around January our children started getting stressed and worried and anxious about these damn tests. In January! The test is here and it is the middle of April.

Why would our kids worry so much? Because they are extremely attuned to the feelings of the people around them and they can feel how important this test is to the principal and the teachers. They can feel and absorb the stress of their friends and classmates, some of whose parents believe these tests are difference makers and their kids must do well, must achieve.

Whatever happened to being a child? Whatever happened to teaching so our kids will learn, not teaching so they can take a test that doesn’t affect their grade?

Therein lies the really interesting part for us. My wife and I argued about this, but not the kind where the gloves came off. The kind of argument where you believe what you believe is right, but you can totally see where the other one is coming from.

We both felt that this was one of those moments in parenting where we were certain this is one of the big decisions we make. What would happen if we screw this up? How would it affect them down the road? We both could see if we didn’t do something, it could turn out badly for them, but we could also see if we did do something, it could also turn out badly. Both options left us worrying about dire and/or unintended consequences. We can’t look forward into the future to see how it plays out one way or the other, but we have to make the decision now.

Do we opt our kids out of these stupid tests or do we let them take them?

One side argued; What if we let them opt out and they believe they are quitters, not believing they can handle these types of situations in the future?

The other side responded; What if we let them take the test and the stress makes them sick, hurting them?

In response; What if taking the test gives them a sense of accomplishment, that even though this was challenging they still did it?

In return; What about the fact that they are 10 years old and shouldn’t have to deal with this level of stress yet?

Is there really a right argument here? Was one of us really wrong? I don’t think either of us believed the other was wrong, just that we were right. Fortunately, our discussions never got too heated and in the end we compromised: we told them they could decide whether to take the test or not.

Maybe we punted, on reflection. Maybe we didn’t make the tough decision, but left them to deal with the weight of all of this. I don’t know. But what I do know is that after some serious deliberation, they both decided to take the test. Maybe they took the test in part because despite telling them for the past couple of years we don’t care about this test, by giving them the option to opt out we finally proved to them we really don’t. Maybe that lifted enough weight off. I’m not sure we will ever know.

I leave for work today feeling so proud of my children, that they were doing something that was hard and challenging. I hope they walk out of this having faced their fears and realized that their fears are much scarier than school, life.

In the end, the only thing of value my kids can learn from these stupid tests is who they are and what they can do will never be evaluated by a standardized test.

The Assumptions We Make As Parents Can Cause Their Own Issues


Recently I read an article about the messages we send our kids. In it Jim Taylor, Ph.D, author of Your Children Are Listening, talked about the conflicting messages we give our children and also where they come from. Coincidentally, I recently had an experience that made me aware (once again) of the assumptions we make and these two issues collided in my brain.

Sometimes we send our children explicit messages on purpose, things like manners, behavior, etc. Sometimes we send messages by example. I had a great professor in grad school, Stephen Treat, who said they never hassled their kids about their homework. He and his wife both had graduate degrees and they both taught at schools.

“Education was in the air we breathed in our home.”

But there are all those times as parents when we send messages to our kids without realizing it and may not even mean to.

For the last several summers, my wife and I have sent our kids to crappy camps. We didn’t know they were going to be crappy camps, but that’s how they turned out, unfortunately. But this summer was going to be different, dammit! This summer we were going to splurge on a special camp for two weeks and give our kids a great camp experience.

Except that at least one of them every day has been utterly and completely miserable, crying as if we were dropping them off at Guantanamo Bay instead of a cool camp. Yet they still had a good time. How do I know? I asked them.

“What was the best camp you’ve been to?”

“This one,” they both told me.

“Is that because the others were so bad?”

“Yeah,” they replied in chorus.

Okay, not a ringing endorsement, but an improvement over the years past certainly.

Except for the misery and torture they seemed to experience.

And it made me wonder why we were trying to give them such a great camp experience? They weren’t begging us for a better camp experience. In fact, I’m not sure they cared about camp all that much. It is just the time between when school ends and when it begins again for them.

Then it hit me.

My kids love school–excuse me. My kids LOVE school. They love learning. They love their teachers. They love their friends. They love the whole experience. Camp is an interruption for them.

I was the opposite. I hated school growing up. I looked forward to camp during the whole school year. Camp was the only place I felt special, felt confident, felt I was close to the real me. Nine months of feeling pretty terrible and two great months. I never wanted camp to end.

I wanted them to have the same kind of camp experience I did and I think they felt pressure to be happy there when in reality, they didn’t want to be at camp; they wanted school. I inadvertently imposed my own issues on them and maybe made things a bit harder for them. I think there were a lot of things about this camp that was tough for them to deal with (would’ve been tough for me to deal with, frankly), but maybe my assumption about how important camp is made things more difficult for them.

We’re always sending messages to our kids. Some are very obvious. Some are good. Some are not on both counts. I didn’t want to send a message that having fun at camp was important. It was supposed to be fun! (Ironically, I intentionally decided not to send them to a sports camp because that’s what I went to and knew that wasn’t for them.)

The truth is, I would much rather them LOVE school and be happy for 9 months out of the year than what I went through. It would be nice if we could help them enjoy summer a little better, but in the meantime, I’ll be a bit more aware of what message I send them about camp.

What inadvertent messages have you sent your kids?

In Just 16 Minutes

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

4:00am

That’s what the clock read. Is it raining? I should go look out the window to see if it is raining because if it’s not I can turn off the alarm and sleep a little later.

But I can’t get up to go check…tooooooooooo sleeeeeeeppppppppyyyyyy…

“LUCAS!” I heard myself scream. All of a sudden I am out of my bed so quickly that I forgot to get my glasses, running towards the stairs. I don’t know what I heard, but somehow I knew he was in trouble and he responded with a sound. I can tell from his voice he is on the stairs. Is the monitor working?

He started crying loudly.

I picked him up, halfway to the top of the stairs, and held him close to me, whispering soothing words, trying to calm and quiet him down. After a short period of time he was whimpering into my shoulder.

“Let’s go upstairs and check on Dorit,” I whispered to him. I thought I heard her stirring up there and can only imagine how our outbursts have frightened her.

I carried him upstairs, while he wrapped his arms around my neck. When I opened the door, I checked that the green light on the monitor is on (which it is) and I wonder why he didn’t say anything before he started the dangerous trek downstairs in the dark.

I put him down and checked on Dorit, who clearly seemed like she had been jolted awake. But my little girl is extremely good at falling asleep – I could not possibly count how many times she has been woken up by Lucas in the middle of the night and though we’re both a bit out of practice, I am sure she will fall asleep without my help.

Lucas and I sat and talked a little. I asked what happened and he said he heard a noise. That is often the case and my only guess is that he had a dream that woke him up and he was unable to go back to sleep. Instead of crying out loud, he started the journey from his room, through their playroom, to the stairs and down the stairs. If I hadn’t heard him on the stairs he would’ve had to go through the dining room, then through a small hallway leading to our bedroom. We use to keep a childproof device on the doorknob so he couldn’t get out, but have since decided that is no longer safe. It’s just that it doesn’t feel safe without it when he starts that adventure on his own in the dark.

I reminded him he is going to camp tomorrow and he needed a good night’s rest and he smiled. I reminded him he’ll see his teachers and new friends and he smiled some more. He finally seemed ready for sleep and I asked him to get into bed and he did without struggle.

“Tell me about your Happy Thoughts.”

“All the people that love me,” he says.

“That’s a good one…You know I’m one of those people, right? You know I love you, Lucas, don’t you?”

“Yeah”

Then I say my usual goodnight greeting. “SSsssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssoooooooooooooooooooooooooo much I love you, Lucas.” In the winter, he had gotten scared by the hissing of the radiator in the middle of the night so I thought maybe I could associate that hissing sound with something positive and it has stuck.

“So much I love you, too, Daddy.”

“Oh good,” I said smiling at him.

I kissed Dorit goodnight, made sure she was okay. I think she was still a bit shaken but seemed ready to fall asleep – if only we would stop talking.

I kissed Lucas one more time and opened the door.

“Daddy?”

Uh oh.

“Yes, Lucas?” I said cautiously.

“Maybe…”

Oh no.

“Maybe tomorrow after scho—Maybe tomorrow after camp…”

Please don’t ask me to pick you up Lucas. I can’t. I have to go to work.

“Maybe…”

Please, please don’t ask.

“Maybe we could call you?” he said finally.

“Absolutely! I would LOVE that. Let’s remember to tell Mommy in the morning okay?” I said with relief dripping from every word.

“Good night! I love you” and I closed the door and walked downstairs.

When I returned to my bed, finally, my heart still racing, thumping in my chest from the adrenaline rush of his first, almost unheard, cry. I looked at the clock and couldn’t believe what I saw.

4:16am