Humans like some control over their lives. Even our kids.
We believe that kids and teens want to feel respected and to have a safe way to begin to govern their own lives. We have been using variations of the All-In Method with our teenager since he was five or six years old. In asking him clear, age-appropriate versions of the intentions, concerns, boundaries, and dreams conversation, we have helped him to find his voice, and include his desires in events and decisions when possible.
We try to run our family as a democracy, but we are also clear that Mom and Bob are the ultimate dictators and can overrule certain dreams. After all, ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner isn’t a good idea. However, we can be flexible as to when chores are completed, and are able to offer more choices that suit everyone.
We can’t prove it has made our lives easier, but one anecdote from this past year points to how we find interacting with our teen. Sitting around the dinner table, L piped up, out of nowhere:
“I’m glad I’m being raised to care about other people’s feelings.”
Here are some examples of how we use the AIM with our son, and hope they help you develop a new, inclusive way of communicating as a family:
Planning the School Year
Before middle school began, we took our son for a family brunch to celebrate the end of summer and connect about the upcoming year. To help us understand what he was feeling, and to set expectations for a new school schedule, we used the AIM after we had all eaten
What do you hope to get out of seventh grade?
What are you worried about this year? What do you know about your new teachers? What do you think homework will be like this year? Are there other kids you worry about being around? What if there is trouble keeping up with a subject this year?
What are you sure you want to experience or not experience this year? What are the screen-time rules during the week? What are the homework and grade expectations this year? How many after school activities or sports are you considering this year?
If this turns out to be the best year ever what will have happened? What do you hope to learn this year? How do you want to feel about yourself this year?
Selecting the Right School, Program, or Camp
Any step along your child’s journey is a good opportunity to use AIM. Whether it’s choosing a kindergarten, summer camp, high school, or college, checking in as a family team can alleviate stress and help share the responsibilities.
At the time we’re writing this book our son is just 12 years old. In New York City, it’s the age of the high-school applications gauntlet, which, as the largest public school system in the United States, is something akin to Supermarket Sweep meets Hunger Games.
To help us keep focused as we sift through the over 700 high school programs, our family has used the AIM several times in getting us to the finish line. Our conversations have focused on:
- What kind of program our son wants to apply to (Film and photography, fine arts, sciences, or other specialized programs?)
- What kind of school he wants to attend (large public with multiple programs, small and private with a highly focused structure on one topic, etc.)
- Possible commute (a subway ride to a school on the other side of the city could take over an hour, one-way)
We want our son to feel agency in the process, like he has a voice but we also don’t want him to feel overwhelmed by it. He’s young and we don’t want him to feel too much pressure too fast. 12 years old is quite young to feel you are being judged as worthy or unworthy. The All In Method has been a useful guide when inviting his input.
What do you want to get out of your school or camp experience? What is important to you about a school?
What are you worried about when you think about high school or camp? What scares you about changing schools?
When it comes to choosing a school or camp? What must the school you go to have in terms of clubs, subjects, sports etc? What are the deal breakers (e.g. if it doesn’t have this I’m not going, if it has this I’m not going?)
Imagine yourself graduating from school in a few years and you are looking back on a wonderful school experience. What happened during those years? What did you learn? What did you experience? Where are you going next?
Make space to hear your kids, and share with your kids, these “missing conversations.”
Through the All-In Method we’ve discovered what is ideal for our family, and what’s ideal for our son as an individual.
We’ll continue to have variations through life’s challenges and opportunities, and we’ll be better prepared for making choices together.
Even better, he’s learning how to make more informed, considered choices on his own.