Tomorrow is Mother's Day and while I could fill today's post with all sorts of creative gift ideas, that is what most of last week was about (topped off with a final surge of creative ideas by our very own Peggy). Instead, today I am going to share a parenting idea with you and then let you tell me what you think.
The concept is Concerted Cultivation. Here's a short story to put it in context.
About a month ago Matthew came home from his Pre-K class complaining that his teacher never calls his name to do art. All the other kids got to make bumble bees except for him. Translated (by a mom who spends much of her day working with college-aged kids who have a completely external locus of control)... "Poor me. I am a victim. Everyone is out to get me. Poor pathetic me."
Immediately I asked Matthew if he told Ms. Latrice he wanted to do art or, in fact, if he asked her why it seems his name never got called to go to the art table. "No" to both, he replied. We spent the next fifteen minutes talking about what he might say to Ms. Latrice at school the next morning. We talked about how he might tell Ms. Latrice he was feeling left out without accusing her of being mean. In fact, by the end of the conversation we decided the best approach might be simply asking Ms. Latrice how she decides which kids in class get to do art and when.
The next morning in the car I reminded Matthew of our plan to talk to Ms. Latrice. He was getting cold feet and tried to convince me that I should talk to her for him. I assured him he could do it and then we walked through the conversation one more time. Once in the classroom, I held Matthew's hand as we walked up to the teacher and then I set the stage by telling her that Matthew had something he wanted to ask. Sure he hemmed and hawed a little bit, but in the end he successfully spit out the question.
Ms. Latrice, like the pro that she is, immediately got on eye level with Matthew and quickly explained, because the art project was elaborate and required lots of help by the teacher and the teaching assistant, that she was calling students to the art table by rows. He was in row four and she simply hadn't gotten there yet. She thanked him for asking and finished off the conversation with a big hug. Matthew skipped off with a smile on his face, proud of what he did, and more confident about his place in the classroom. Maybe on that day Matthew learned that advocating for himself does not have to be scary and we can do it in such a way that people don't feel defensive or affronted.
That sort of interaction, according to Malcolm Gladwell's most recent book, Outliers, is called Concerted Cultivation and that practice, over time, can put children at a real advantage. Concerted Cultivation can come in a lot of forms. It can be coaching children through an interaction like the one described above or it it can be observing your child's innate interests and skills and then intentionally creating opportunities for them to engage with them. Either way, this attempt to actively assess a child's talents and opinions exposes them to a constantly shifting set of experiences. They learn teamwork, how to cope in highly structured settings, and how to interact comfortably with adults and to speak up when necessary.
Sometimes just assigning a name to an experience or set of circumstances allows us to talk about something, that earlier might have seemed too abstract or nebulous. Using the phrase, "Concerted Cultivation," I can think of all sorts of situations growing up where my parents were trying to cultivate - in a concerted way - the interests, skills, and opinions of my sisters and me. Here's one. Before my sisters began high school at the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan, my mother registered them for a summer-long experience exposing them to unique locations and experiences throughout the city. This did two things. First, it built confidence in my sisters that they could maneuver city streets on their own and second, it gave them appreciation for the endless opportunities to which they would now have access.
Here's a small example of where they might have missed an opportunity to cultivate. I was a shy child who loved to fly low on the radar. The less attention I drew to myself the better. Consequently, when we ate a restaurants, I was always too shy to ask for a doggie bag. In fact, I would beg my parents not to ask for a doggie bag, because even that was too embarrassing for me. While my parents wouldn't abide by my "No Doggie Bag" rule, they never forced me to cultivate the skills/confidence necessary to speak up for myself and request a doggie bag just because, yes... I had the nerve to want to bring my leftovers home! Of course, in the end, maturation took care of my "bone to pick" with doggie bags (puns are the lowest form of humor), but maybe some opportunity was lost to build my assertiveness at an earlier age.
So, now that we have this shared language of "concerted cultivation," tell me what you think. Do you agree? What examples might you have of doing it well or of lost opportunities? Can you reflect on examples of how your parents might have done this (or not)? This year we will celebrate Mother's Day by rolling up our sleeves and getting into the trenches of parenting. Tell me your thoughts about "concerted cultivation."