Parenting for the Zombie Apocalypse

School is cancelled for the third time this trimester due to extreme cold. Today’s bonus time with the kids has given me an opportunity to reflect on how my parenting philosophy and style has evolved over the last decade. When the kids were little, I sweated the small stuff. I wanted to make sure they felt special and were on time, prepared, and neatly dressed for the carefully selected enrichment activities that filled our weeks.

Now, I’m just focused on trying to prepare them for the upcoming zombie apocalypse or adulthood. Whichever comes first, I figure we are covered either way. To that end, I’m trying to impart in them self-sufficiency, resilience, and guile. As we go through our days, weeks, and years, I am trying to mentally move beyond the day-to-day and as challenges arise, figure out what they can learn from the challenge that will help them to ultimately survive the zombie apocalypse (the ZA), or again, thrive in adulthood.

To that end, here are some parenting guidelines:

  • Acknowledge and appreciate birthdays, don’t try to make them special. In the upcoming ZA, no one is going to have the time or resources to give them an amazing birthday celebration every year. They will be happier in the long run if they don’t expect to be wow’d on their birthday.
  • Authority and rules matter. If you are going to break them, consider it carefully and be prepared to take the heat and defend your actions. Chain of command, expectations, and rules will keep their group alive during the ZA (or again, in the work world). Any deviation from these must be carefully weighed because there will be consequences. During the ZA, helicopter parenting will not save them from their poor choices.
  • Everyone needs to understand nutrition, be able to politely eat food they hate, and be able to cook. Our kitchen is not a restaurant. If they don’t like what is for dinner, they are to keep it to themselves. I gave them cookbooks for Christmas, if they want to eat food they like, they should learn to cook. Who know what food will be available during the ZA or if they might need to impress a boss or international client over some kind of disgusting meal. Being able to eat food you hate without visibly gagging is a life skill.
  • Everyone does their own laundry. Don’t have clothes you need for school or the presentation? Too bad, you know how those machines work. This is the easy to teach, just stop doing their laundry and watch them rise to the challenge. Again, a life skill that granted, will probably be more important if the ZA does not actually come to pass.
  • Learn how to fail. Today’s parents frequently skip over teaching the kids how to fail. They instead focus on preventing failures or rescuing kids from their failures. Many kids never learn how to fail. They need to know how to handle a failure, work through it, learn lessons from it, and move on. Kids need experience with failure and how to survive it to know they are capable of handling the inevitable setbacks during the ZA, and/or adulthood.
  • Friends matter. Taking the time to make and nurture good friendships is as important as doing well in school. When you are MaGyvering the creative attack on the zombie’s stronghold, you will need your friends to watch your back. Friends are also essential for celebrating life’s victories and mourning life’s loses. Being there for a friend is one of the great joys in life.

Know that the assignment due tomorrow that hasn’t been started, the messed up piece during the recital, the “A” in science, and the “F” in history are not important. What is important is what is learned from those successes and challenges. Learning to make the most of opportunities presented, make your own opportunities, and move forward, even in the face of failure, is what matters. Successes and disappointments all create emotional, intellectual, and physical responses. When parenting for the zombie apocalypse, take the long-range view that you are shaping responses, building habits which will guide them in the future. Today doesn’t matter.

Oh and fire, everyone should know how to build a fire.

Crime, Punishment, and the Gifted Child

One aspect of gifted parenting that I’m sure we are getting wrong as much as we are getting right is disciple and consequences. Highly, exceptionally, and profoundly gifted children operate at levels high above what is typical for their age in both their performance, and their ability to analyze situations. They also can be exceptionally volatile, extremely sensitive (especially if they are low on fuel or sleep), and typically they have asynchronous development.

From a parenting perspective this means that an older elementary school child may expect to be treated as an adult (or at least like the much older students who are his or her intellectual peers), may feel the deep moral injustices of the world (especially his or her world), may be able to negotiate and argue on the level of an average adult, and yet still throws temper tantrums that would put the average two-year-old to shame.

One of our chief jobs as parents is to prepare our children emotionally, intellectually, and morally to thrive in the world as adults. We need to guide them in learning good habits and help them understand that negative behaviors have unpleasant consequences. We also need them to realize that these consequences aren’t the end of the world. That throughout life, they will, at times, screw up and they will have to face the music. They need to learn to bounce back. Resilience and maintaining a positive attitude, despite things not working out the way you had hoped, are important for both career success and overall happiness.

Children who never have to deal with consequences for their actions, miss out on learning how to move forward after a setback. This is one of the tragedies of helicopter parenting. When we swoop in to save our kids, we cheat them out of learning how to survive and thrive in a world which is not always supportive and forgiving.

On the other end of the spectrum, if they feel a punishment is too severe, they can enter into an over-stressed catastrophizing mode where not only do they not learn the behavioral lesson you are trying to teach, they may fight more, shut down, or become depressed.

The tricky part from the parenting perspective is how to gauge what is an appropriate consequence for a highly sensitive child who is misbehaving. Especially if that child has intellectual ability and emotional control with a multi-year developmental difference. Do you punish them as you would a 3-year-old who exhibits the same behavior or like the 22-year-old who can understand the societal and moral reasons why their behavior is inappropriate?

As parents we rarely get it right. We vacillate from consequences that are so minor the kids fail to learn and change their future behavior to consequences that unexpectedly cause an over-the-top, crippling, emotional reaction. When either one of these happen we, as parents, have to learn and adjust. Consequences that were too weak are increased on the next infraction. Consequences that were too sever demand that we spend extra time working with our children — talking with them, one-on-one to help them put the consequences in context and develop resilience so they can move on. We sometimes need to help them understand that although their superior debating abilities will not make their parents change their minds (at least not most of the time), tomorrow is another day.