Parents: Turning a Wait into a Math Lesson

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I was waiting for Metro on a summer day, in a Washington, D.C. station.  The station was hot, crowded, and the trains were running late.  As I stood waiting, I noticed two mothers nearby, both with young sons.  Both children were whining, and my initial reaction was relief that I was not also dealing with a young child in this heat, bad enough I had to stand here and wait myself.  But as I stood watching, I was struck by the different way in which the two mothers were dealing with the wait.

One mother was explaining that the trains were running slow because they were so crowded.  She pointed up at the display that showed the wait for the next train, and started counting down with the numbers on the display.  Her child stopped whining, and became engaged with watching the seconds and minutes count down.  Not only was she teaching her child patience with patience, but she was also developing math skills.

The second mother reacted to her whining child with a swat on the behind, and language that really surprised me. Language not appropriate for sailors in a bar (no offense intended to sailors in bars), and certainly no way to model behavior for a child.  She also threatened to not get him a promised treat later.  His behavior escalated, hers escalated…and I am sure I don’t need to explain the moral of this story.

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