I love a good discussion. Questions posed, ideas flowing, abundant evidence of problem-solving, all qualities of a rich exchange and for me, very life affirming. Sure, I can sit and think on my own, be focused and satisfied, but there is nothing as fun or stimulating as a group think. With this in mind, if discussing frogs, space aliens, or hurricanes with your child, include another family member or friend in the conversation. Include lots of others in the conversation. Let the questions, ideas, and solutions multiply and unfold.
If you have read my activity blog posts, they tend to be written from the perspective of an adult or the reader who alone is following the interest of a child or grandchild. This is just an easier way to write, but by no means do I think that a child’s interests should only be explored in dyads or one adult and one child. When at all possible, include your partner or a grandparent. Include a sibling, as long as he or she is willing to engage positively. A third, fourth or fifth perspective should expand possibilities and perhaps someone will have some legitimate expertise to deepen thinking.
Think of discussions in the car, at the dinner table, while taking a walk, or when just sitting around enjoying one another’s company. Any gathering is an opportunity for asking questions and seeking answers and the more input a child has, the more likely he is to learn as long as everyone is enjoying the process. Additionally, should that child return to that topic for further discussion, which is a sign of interest and revisiting issues ensures the deepest learning, if you are the only guide then what? By sharing discussions, everyone is onboard and can follow through when the next teachable moment arises.
In my academic field, we often reference family systems theory (Minuchin, 19850). In short, families are not made up of just individuals, but interrelated subsystems. Family scientists have been most interested in the parent-child or the marital subsystems. A husband or wife can individually impact say family emotional climate, but qualities of their marital relationship also can have an impact. Occasionally, a sibling subsystem also gets our attention as researchers. Family subsystems larger than two individuals have not garnered as much attention, largely because it is difficult to study them. Imagine how hard it is to capture empirically the interactions of triads, or groups of three families members all examined simultaneously. One area that has attempted with some success to capture triadic interactions is called coparenting that tries to capture the qualities of a triad including mother, father and a child.
In its broadest definition, coparenting refers to support and coordination (or lack thereof) between individuals who share responsibility for rearing children. The term includes a reference specifically to parents, but I can imagine scenarios where two grandparents can be cograndparenting, or a parent and grandparent can productively coordinate their efforts when helping a child. In the popular press, this term often refers to two parents who are divorced and coordinating, or not, the tasks associated with caring for their children. In these discussions, the role of the child often gets lost and the exes get all the attention. But back to its broadest sense, research has established that the quality of coparenting has the potential to influence children’s well-being. When the parents/partners are supportive of and cooperative with one another, guess what, children benefit. Showing displeasure, anger or even being competitive, is clearly not helpful and can even be harmful to a child.
So, include other partners, family members, and even friends in your conversations with your child about the natural world. Work as cooperative teams to create an inspired exploration and share the joy of discovery. If the other parent or grandparent is not present, at least alert them to the child’s interest so that they too can engage and continue discussions of that topic. You may have to remind others not to provide the answers right away, but rather to help the child to think critically. Know it alls are not supportive or helpful. Of course, it is essential to be available when your child asks to be with you and only you. When your child is feeling more social, work toward establishing group curiosity. Two guides are better than one!
Minuchin, P.(1985). Families and individual development: Provocations for the field of family therapy. Child Development, 52, 289-302.