In our recent newsletter, we discussed the problems with the constant measurements we force onto our kids.
Measurements, according to Goodhart’s law, stop being good measurements when they become the aim.
Pair that obsession with metrics with a culture of anxiety and comparison, and you get the opposite of learning. Kids taking “focus drugs” and cheating on tests to make sure they live up to everyone’s expectations for scoring high on the measurements, which may have been arbitrarily set to begin with.
On the other hand, there is merit to measurement. Great athletes meticulously measure their stats and try to improve them little by little. Business leaders measure sales performance month-over-month to achieve their goals. Writers make sure they keep an audience’s attention by measuring engagement.
Let’s look at six measures that actually matter in your kid’s life.
You can literally measure the creativity of your child with a Torrence Test. But putting a hard number on a soft skill creates the pitfall of anxiety and comparison.
The test measures divergent thinking. If I give a kid a brick, for example, and ask him how many ways he can use it – the more unique uses he thinks of, the more creative he is (at the time).
It’s better just to notice our kid’s creativity and be careful not to accidentally squash it. You don’t need constant measurement or comparison for that.
When kids make a chair into a fort or make a spaghetti mustache, they are practicing creative thinking, which will help them later in life. Creative play is the exploratory learning process that allows kids to find the limits of the world around them, and maybe eventually find new solutions to old problems.
It’s tempting to get them to do things “right,” but leaving room for “wrong” allows your kid’s imagination to expand.
All great creatives – from inventors, to investors, to revolutionary painters – had expansive imaginations and gave themselves to do things the “wrong” way.
Measure your kid’s creativity by noticing all the divergent thoughts they have about objects in their life. What’s the best use of an old turkey baster?
To grow creativity, play along and encourage kids when they engage in creative play.
Kids ask “why?” all the time.
Deep down, we all know it’s a good thing that kids are so curious – even when it’s a little annoying.
Rules, school, and measurement sometimes suck the curiosity out of kids. If your kid isn’t intrinsically motivated to explore anymore, something may be wrong. It might be time to get back to first principles.
First principles just mean: what are we doing and why?
We all could use this. At what point did we start doing things from obligation rather than curiosity? Maybe you retrace your steps to that moment, and then let go of those obligations. Life is too short not to be curious.
Of course, obligations are part of life. But by taking a moment to think about which ones you really want to keep, and which ones you are hanging onto for no reason, you can free up more space for curiosity for you and your kid.
For example, is your kid under pressure to get all As, but would rather explore a single topic they are obsessed with? It might be time to drop the obligation.
To measure curiosity, notice if your kid leads the way to learn about new things, or if you have to drag them along.
To increase curiosity, get back to first principles and have a discussion about what your kid is motivated to learn about. Get rid of obligations that are no longer serving you.
The sting of boredom is life’s bicep curl. It’s supposed to burn.
If we stick with it, though, we see muscle growth.
Kids and adults alike these days are missing a lack of boredom. We are entertaining ourselves into surface-level stupors with our ever-babbling phones and TVs.
Without the strain of boredom, we never discover what really calls to us in the deepest ways.
Stressed-out parents often respond to a kid’s complaint of boredom by handing them a phone to entertain them, or suggesting a particular activity. Understandable, but not good.
When a kid complains “I’m bored,” a good answer might be a shrug. “And what are you going to do about that?”
Let them complain. They are “teething” with their new interests. But they have to go through it.
You can measure how long a kid can handle boredom without pitching a fit.
Allow them to be bored for longer and longer periods of time. Notice when they finally start to go off and pursue their interests to soothe their own boredom.
There’s a rule in some retirement communities: staff are not allowed to do anything for a resident that they can still do on their own. This prevents them from withering away or giving up.
The opposite process is going on with your kid. They need total assistance when they’re born, and then less and less over time.
For example, if you help them dress today, it might be faster, but you’ll still be dressing them in a year because they won’t have learned how – and you’ll have wasted a lot of time in the long run.
This is true for every aspect of your kid’s life: learning, reading, making friends, making money, and so on. Push the baby bird out of the nest, even when you’re both scared and your kid isn’t sure he can fly yet.
You can measure how self-driven your kid is by seeing how much responsibility they can handle compared to their peers (a light comparison can be good every now and then, but don’t do it from a place of anxiety).
You can encourage drive by tapering off your assistance until they are standing completely on their own.
The hardest part: letting them fall when you know you could help them.
Puppies play fight for many reasons:
- Practice for real fighting
- Bond with their siblings
- Share physical touch
- Learn the boundaries of their bodies
- Calibrate aggression
Kids play for similar reasons, and many more. We’re still learning how important play is for proper development – but it’s super important.
Through play, kids “ritualize” the social rules. They learn to play fair. They learn to share. They learn not to be a pushover. They don’t need to read a bunch of self-help books – they just get a “feel” for it by playing.
Rough-and-tumble play is necessary, especially for boys, not to have social and anxiety disorders later in life.
But the play is not just wrestling and sports – it’s learning how to play in the world of ideas, too. Can you have a friendly argument without getting too aggressive? Can you play a competitive board game without flipping it over if you lose? Can you push your ideas forward at work without getting defensive or bossy?
These indispensable life skills come down to being able to play well.
You can just watch your kid play with other kids. Is she able to share attention? Is she well-liked? Is she generous and kind toward less-popular kids?
You can improve your kids’ ability to play by letting them go off with their friends and not watching them too closely, or trying to intervene. Kids will work it out.
Then, when they come home, open discussions about how their day went. Help them gain some wisdom about how to play well with others.
When we are born, our attention is like a snowstorm. Chaotic and unfocused.
Slowly over time, we gain the ability to focus on one thing. For babies, this happens in bursts of a few seconds. Toddlers build up to ten minutes.
Kids can vary, but this should be increasing over time. Specialists say “normal” attention span is about 2-3 minutes per year of the child’s age.
It’s still difficult for adults to wrangle ourselves into paying attention to one thing. We all need practice — and your kid is watching you. Like working out, you practice by doing a little more each time without overwhelming yourself.
Notice how long your kid can stay on task. No need to compare him to others. Start where he is, and make little steps forward.
See if you can get him to stay on task just a little longer the next time. Take plenty of breaks – remember, you have way more practice focusing than he does.
A growth mindset ties it all together
What unifies all these measurements? They’re not fixed, they’re malleable. Each can be improved over time.
By measuring your kid on meaningful skills that can be improved, you show them (and remind yourself) that life is better when you’re growing. No one measurement is the end-all-be-all.
Your kids are not their SAT scores.
No measurement can capture your kid’s potential.
Thanks for reading.