Teaching My Son To Be Himself

I can be kind of a perfectionist, so I had a major triumph last week during project time with Little Man.  Let me back up.  I had an even bigger triumphant mommy moment last week when I planned a project for us to do together.  Like, ahead of time, not just fishing for some broken crayons and mostly-used-up coloring books in a desperate attempt to entertain.  No, I mean I purchased some supplies and had a general plan for some quality activity/bonding time.

Pat me on the back.  Oh yeah.

Thanks to the ever-wondrous dollar bins at Target, I found some foam leaves, and then some googly eyes in the craft aisle.  My idea was to make little leaf men and then hang them up somewhere so we could have a (semi)permanent reminder of quality mother-son bonding time.

Great idea, right?

This is what I thought the leaf men would look like:

Mr. Leaf! He’s so happy!

This is what they actually looked like:

He has so many eyes “so he can see everything.” It makes sense.
He has a sad face because “he has four eyes.”
He just wanted this one to have six eyes.
This one, too.

It really took a lot, and I mean a lot, of willpower on my part not to be all “hey….why don’t we try one with just two eyes?”  He actually did choose to make a few conventional leaf men:

They all look so well-adjusted, don’t they?

After we made all these slightly Tim Burton-esque leaf people, I used a cardboard rectangle that we happened to have on hand and drew a tree, grass, sky, and clouds (and an airplane, upon Little Man’s request).  Then I affixed some tape to the board and voila!  A tree for all the leaves!

see the airplane? see it?

While the project didn’t exactly turn out the way I envisioned, I was somehow able to remember that the point of having this activity time was to spend time with Little Man, and to let his own vision of creativity shine.  You know, when I get perfect-looking school projects, it’s nice, and they look great, but I know it’s not really what my child would do if left to his own devices.  No, this is a child who wants to make monster/alien looking leaves.  Because that’s what he sees.  That’s where his mind is taking him.  And if I don’t ever let him express himself, but always force guide him to do what I imagine things should look like, how will I ever really get to know him, and how will he develop the confidence to be himself?  

So this was our project.  Look how happy he is.  He played with those leaves for a good part of the afternoon.

that is one unique tree, and I love it

How do you foster your child’s uniqueness and creativity?  

34 thoughts on “Teaching My Son To Be Himself

    1. Thanks, I was really, really proud of myself. Seriously. Later that day, the boys deconstructed all the leaf men, and now my home is covered in googly eyes. I’m still finding them!

  1. That’s awesome! Why shouldn’t leaves have a gazillion eyes? Spiders do! Love your son’s happy face. Keep being an awesome enabler and don’t let anything destroy his creativity. We need more of it in the world! :)

    1. oh, the mess of little ones eating. I feel your pain there, but it really is the best thing for them. We have a permanent mess around the dinner table on account of independent eating. :)

      1. I can relate to that scene! It’s just not worth my time to feed them, when they so love feeding themselves, and are growing ever-more capable, too.

  2. Rivki:

    Just yesterday a friend wrote a blog that reminded me that I need to be kinder to and less judgemental of myself. This is what I wrote to her:

    “Brava Barbara!
    What a gift this blog is to me today. I have struggled all my life with trying to be perfect OR perhaps I should say what I perceived as perfect. I am trying to be kinder to myself these days, less judgemental when I find that everything in my universe is not under my control.
    I have entered in NANOWRIMO and while reading your blog realized that I am doing it again. Wanting what I write to be perfect; worrying about being judged and found lacking. Oh, it’s such an isidious worm that crawls up inside my head causing me to doubt my instincts, my efforts, my achievements.
    Tomorrow morning I will look into my mirror and say, “Remember what Barbara said.” Thank you and Bless you!”

    Enjoy every day with your children and remember that all children should have unscheduled time to learn to amuse themselves whether drawing, daydreaming or role play. Sounds like you are much further down the road to self realization than I was at your age! Smooches.


    1. Aw, thanks, Diane! Good luck with battling perfectionism and good luck in NANOWRIMO! That’s really exciting. I would love to do that someday in the very, very distant future, probably. :)

  3. That’s a great art project! I don’t have any kids, but I understand the feeling of wanting everything to be perfect and “right.” I teach middle school math, which isn’t very creative most of the time. Usually the most creativity I have with my students is allowing them to solve a problem more than one way. =) But I would be afraid to teach something like yearbook or newspaper because I’m afraid that I would try to take over the students’ work. Good for you for letting go a little!

    1. We had a lot of fun with it. Lol on the middle-school math creativity. I’m sure you could spice it up somehow, but I guess at the end of the day, the right answer is still the right answer. I always liked that about math.

  4. You will appreciate this: Knowing I have an art background, a local kindergarten teacher called me and asked me to be her aide one Friday morning (Her regular aide had a doctor’s appointment.). The complicated art project the teacher had planned for her students was too hard for them. She began going around the room and re-doing the projects. At my end of the room, I was doing the opposite. I encouraged coloring outside the lines and gluing willy-nilly. Yes, I know she wanted to send home “pretty” projects. I’m not sure what kids learn from that, though. Needless to say, I haven’t gotten any more calls to help out in that classroom. Were the googly eyes stickers? Don’t kids just adore putting stickers everywhere?! My favorites are the glittery leaves; I might have to go get some! Have a great Shabbos!

    1. I love that! I’m getting a kick out of the mental image of willy-nilly glueing. heeheehee. The googly eyes were indeed self-adhesive. I don’t like working with glue. It’s messy and then you have to wait for it to dry…self-adhesive is my favorite. Those glittery leaves, too. Also my favorite.

  5. Love love love this project! And the lesson your son taught you. They really do teach us, don’t they? I love his “spec”tacular eyeball leaves. They are perfectly perfect. A nice way to teach how unique each leaf is, indeed we all are! Have a lovely Shabbat!

    1. They really do teach us, when we let them. It’s like a have a little mini Rabbi living in my house, keeping me in line and teaching me valuable lessons. I love it.

      1. I think I have the same thing going on here. I just wrote about something for Monday. It doesn’t seem like a big deal — kind of like your leaf-man expectations. And yet, this could be a thing. Hopefully, he is more wise than I am.

  6. #1. You are so clever
    #2. He is so adorable.
    #3. Love the message here which totally relates to my post this week too from another angle. Two great minds think alike!

    1. I was totally thinking that when I read your post! Great minds, indeed! Not that we’re biased or anything…um, nope, not at all. And thanks for the ego boost and nachas compliment. :)

  7. That’s amazing! I have to admit, I’m exactly the opposite. As a teacher, I’m so into letting the kids have their own vision on how the project should be. I’ve had parents ask me what it’s supposed to have been (um, read the newsletter) and complain that their child’s doesn’t look as good as the sample, or another child’s. I have to explain to them that I worked with each child (in small groups) and each one has a reason behind why they put each piece where it is. To take that away, to make the same project 20 times, would take away their ability to choose, their confidence in their own decisions, and their freedom of imagination. Really awesome project, and I’m so proud that you had that self control. Judging by the smile on his face in the last picture, it was probably totally worth it.

    I’m more a perfectionist in home organization though…. *sigh*

  8. Very cute! I buy up a bunch of used costumes at the thrift store during Halloween time and also add hats, masks and other accessories to the mix. The kids use them to put on plays for us. It’s so cute! :)

  9. I haven’t been here in a longgg time but I just wanted to pop in and tell you how much I love this post (and the pictures!). We all have expectations of our children but it’s so important to allow them to be creative and do their own thing without correcting them in the process. This project is so cool and I love the way you let your son be his own person and decorate those leaves the way HE wanted to, not the way mommy wanted it!

    You sound like you are doing a great job encouraging him to explore his own ideas and develop as a healthy, growing little/big boy!

    1. oh, it’s SO nice to see your name pop up here in the comments! I hope I’m doing a good job. I feel like we don’t really find out until they’re adults, you know what I mean?

      1. Thanks!
        We can’t worry that far ahead. The main thing is to try to do what’s right for now…results are not really in our hands in that way. There’s so much that goes into the development of a child. As long as you know you are doing yours, doing your best, you don’t have to worry about all that’s gonna happen in the future. Hashem will take care of you…He always does!

  10. OMG, I have to write another comment… :-D I laughed out loud, so wonderful, those multi-eyed leaves!
    What I can remember just now is my daughter’s habit, when she was about three, to dress, undress and redress her dolls/pet animals/ other playthings all the time for different occasions. An Alien figure with red, shiny skin and golden goggle-eyes in a romantic flower dress with matching velvet hat, slightly irritating. Or later, when she decided her pet animals were a corps de ballet rehearsing Swan’s Lake and made costumes for the teddy bears, cats and dogs. – I can’t say it was a question of enhancing her creativity. We just had to let her be. (Like in your story with the leaves.)

    1. I love the image of the hodgepodge stuffed ballerinas. That’s great. It’s so nice when we get to see how their preferences develop, and how they play if left to their own devices.

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