Parenting Pilots

Children teamIf we are wise in business, we rarely jump right out there with a new product or service which is radically different from what we are presently offering. Instead, we pilot it, measure its success and then decide whether to proceed with it.

The same wisdom can be applied to parenting.

To begin, what is a pilot? It is a program which does something new. It is of a defined duration. It has a goal or measure of success that it can be measured against. It is renewable or can be discontinued based on its success.

Here are some parenting areas where a “pilot” may serve you well:

1.  Food Choices

In our family of genetically picky eaters, my husband and I made a rule that although kids were not expected to like everything they were offered, they had to take one bite, give it an honest chance and if they still didn’t like it, they didn’t have to eat it. It would be offered again at a later time, just in case their palate had matured, and we were diligent in exposing our kids to a wide variety of foods, both in type and ethnicity. We also allowed them to serve themselves as soon as possible so they started to get a feel for portion control.

What about dessert? This is a personal call, but in spite of the cutely named “dessert tummy” they both claimed to have, we assumed if they were too full to eat what they had served themselves, then they were too full for dessert.

2.  Team or Group Activities

We wanted to expose our children to a wide variety of opportunities and some of those were team (soccer, basketball, lacrosse) and some were group (band, choir, theatre) activities. We did not want to live through our children in any way, but would rather they try several things and find their personal passion. There were simple rules for these pilots.

  • A team sport is a commitment, and they understood that they would have to complete the season regardless of whether they loved the sport. After the season ended, it would completely be their choice to continue or try something different but they were not allowed to let their team down. Group activities like band, choir,etc. fall into this category as well.
  • They must be proactive if they wanted to change outside of a preset schedule. Our younger daughter decided she didn’t love the oboe she had opted to play in 6th grade band and wanted to switch to choir mid-year. We required that she investigate whether there was room in the choir for her to join it after the semester’s end if she wanted to make that change. She had to contact the teacher, find out what the procedure was and then start it. She joined the choir and it was a perfect fit for her all the way into high school.

3.  Other Activities

Playing the piano, taking computer classes, the list goes on and on with our busy children. Consider limiting their activities to one outside of school and church until they are old enough to help with transportation and costs. Piloting an activity may be just the ticket to trying something out without investing a great deal in it. Some parents will be shaking their heads, saying , “But I have to make him practice, otherwise it will be a waste!” If you are making your child practice or participate in something they don’t have a great desire to do, you may want to examine your motives. Also, understand completely that at some point you will not be able to enforce what you think they should do and they may abandon it solely because all of the joy is gone from it. Your pilot will fail and will actually become something negative.

4.  Driving

We have talked before about the car being a family asset that your teenager is allowed to drive. Consider a pilot that eases him or her into driving on their own. Set limits regarding passengers, curfew, time, loud music or anything else that may concern you for a certain period of time and then relax them based on performance.

5.  Dating

Ah, the scariest pilot of all, right? Talk it over before this becomes an issue and set out what you feel are reasonable guidelines for your teen’s dating pilot. Here were a couple that proved useful for us.

  • No dates with anyone more than one grade level above them. As a very wise band section leader told our older daughter, “Seniors only go after Freshmen for one thing. Remember they are on their way out, but you have four years ahead of you.” I could have hugged her!
  • No car dates until Senior year. Until then, either Dad or I drove them to the movie theater and picked them up, or they drove to it in their own car after they were driving. Our goal was to keep them from being dependent on someone else for their transportation in a dating situation.
  • Get out of jail free card. No matter what the situation or circumstance, all they had to do was call and ask us to pick them up and we were there, no questions asked.

You will think of hundreds of other things you can use the pilot concept with. The key is always to be reasonable, clear and give your pilot a time limitation. The goal of a pilot is to start or encourage success, and you won’t know if you have done that unless you stop, communicate and evaluate. Good luck!

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