Life's Tool Box – A Guide for Parents and Educators

July 17, 2011

Pool Test Kits: Litmus Test for Parenting?

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts — by Life's Toolbox @ 5:50 pm
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            In a recent conversation, my Dad mentioned the temporary closing of his community pool in Florida because of an over abundance of algae.  He reminisced about how carefully he watched the chlorine and algae levels in his backyard pool.  Since this week afforded me several opportunities to notice parents and children in public venues, I thought about those tools used to keep pools clean and safe – chemical test kits – and what they can teach us about good parenting.

Pool test kits usually consist of a number of vials and chemicals.  You put samples of pool water into the vials, add the specified drops of chemicals and compare the color of the resulting water to a chart to determine pH, chlorine and other levels.  Since weather conditions and usage can impact the readings, pool water needs to be checked frequently – commercial pools are supposed to check and record chlorine levels hourly.   Of
course, the only reason for testing is to determine whether any chemicals need to be added to adjust the water and make it safe.  Watching parents and their children in restaurants, and at social gatherings, I noticed great variety in how much “testing” and “adjusting” parents do.  Some continually checked in on their children, and when their behavior was too base, or bitingly acidic, took corrective action.  Other parents, often engrossed in their own socializing, paid no attention to their children, not tracking and never  adjusting their actions.  I don’t for a moment think it is accidental
that the children of those parents were often doing things I found problematic . . . grabbing, invading other’s space, throwing things and throwing tantrums.

Parenting done well requires constant testing, retesting and adjustment. We lack guides as clear as the color matched strips of the pool test kit.  But tracking a pool’s pH let’s you quickly catch and correct a problem before it gets out of hand and similarly, tracking children’s behavior allows for the constant little adjustments that helps them grow into respectful and healthy adults. Good parents employ active scanning and supervision, and are rewarded with teachable moments on which they can capitalize.  Noticing your child dive in to a restaurant buffet, fingering foods and elbowing others, provides an opportunity for teaching manners, hygiene and restraint. Monitoring a child’s increasingly tense mood offers a chance to distract
or engage and potentially avoid tantrums or meltdowns.  Watching and listening to children as they talk to peers and adults opens the door to lessons on communication and politeness.

Ironically, if you don’t look carefully for the parents who supervise and help make adjustments with their children, you may not notice them, because they are well behaved and appropriate.   Children with parents who left their pool test kit, and any other supervising or adjusting tools at home, are painfully obvious . . . and often highly disruptive.  You can easily imagine how annoying and unproductive it would be if the pool crew kicked everyone out hourly to get accurate readings and make adjustments.  Children can certainly be overprogrammed and overparented, taking all
the fun and freedom from childhood.  Equally annoying, and potentially dangerous however, would be swimming in untested and un-supervised waters.  To enjoy a  great swim you need a pool where pH and other levels are evaluated and where adjustments to keep them balanced are

As I watched children this week, including my own mostly grown ones, I thought about how their unique personalities and experiences shape them. Watching parents, and reflecting on our own parenting style, it became as crystal clear as a newly tested pool.  Children grow in part because of who they are. But regular evaluation and myriad little adjustments made over their growing years contributes to their going through life swimmingly.


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