Archive | Encouragement

Why DO you want your child to develop grit?

by Victoria Thorp

gritbookimageIn recent weeks, a new book called Grit,” by Dr. Angela Duckworth has made quite a splash, with coverage in news outlets from CBS News to NPR to the New York Times (even David Brooks loved it).

Maybe you’ve read these stories or perhaps bought a copy of the book yourself.  Or maybe, because it’s spring and you can barely manage the onslaught of graduations, science fair projects and final exams, you’ve been in a media blackout. Either way, I have good news: this post will explain what ‘grit’ means and why it matters to you as a parent.

Angela and I in San Francisco, May 2016

Angela and I in San Francisco, May 2016

Full disclosure: Dr. Duckworth is a friend and former colleague of mine, so I’m not new to the topic of grit, nor am I fully objective about Angela. But here’s the thing about Angela: besides winning a MacArthur ‘genius’ grant and working as psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, she’s also the mom of two middle school girls.

And I know from a recent conversation with Angela that she’s just as humbled by the challenges of parenting as we are, despite a best-selling book and her professional success.

Here’s my attempt to boil down her brilliant book into one page…

What does ‘grit’ mean?

Dr. Duckworth (hereafter to be described as Angela) defines ‘grit’ as a combination of passion, effort, and persistence applied toward a goal over a prolonged period of time.

Why does grit matter?

According to Angela’s extensive research, grit appears to be a strong predictor of life-long success and happiness — perhaps more so than innate talent or IQ.  “Our potential is one thing,” she writes. “What we do with it is quite another.”

As a parent, I appreciate this definition because it breaks down the ‘talent myth’ that seems to dominate our popular understanding of why people are able to accomplish their goals. Whether it’s looking at athletes, artists, or even entrepreneurs, stories of victories and accomplishments are usually told as if these winners were born with a particular gift that made their dominance  inevitable .

What’s different about grit?

Angela’s explanation of grit provides another narrative for understanding these stories, too. One that examines the persistence that these champions applied towards their goals, their ability to not give up even in the face of failure, and the specific, difficult and prolonged practice they applied to the craft/sport/skill they were trying to improve.

Here in the Bay Area, Steph Curry is the most famous example of an athlete who wasn’t considered to have much potential as a youngster, but who’s risen to the top of the game through his determination, endless practice, and dedication.

So how can we find our passion (or help our kids find theirs)?

FullSizeRender (8)

Never discount the power of the chart to motivate kids to reach a goal- especially charts they make themselves (note that goal has yet to be met but working on it!)

At least where I live (Palo Alto, California, U.S.A.), passion is the newest element that kids are supposed to add to their dazzling college resumes. It’s not enough to have great grades and do varsity sports, now teens are supposed to also have a “passion,” whether it’s global warming or raising foster dogs.

That’s why I loved the part of Angela’s book where she explains in detail what it means to have a passion and explores exactly how people stumble upon the “thing” that they end up pursuing with so much grit.

Angela has some experience with trying to find a passion because she spent time as a neurology grad student, management consultant, high school teacher, and tech COO before realizing that her true path lay in the study of psychology (she entered the PhD program at Penn when she was pregnant with her first daughter).

Why it’s hard to find a passion

Some people may realize like a bolt of lightening that they want to study sharks or cure childhood obesity, but most of us won’t have the luxury of this sort of epiphany.

We’re more likely to figure out what we love through multiple exposures and prolonged engagement with something that we might ‘sort of’ like or be ‘kind of’ interested in.

In fact, it may take longer than you’d imagine before you realize what it is that you must pursue.

The reason it takes so long is because of how our brains work.

When people are bored, they know right away. Researchers can ask people if they’re bored when doing a task and they will be very clear if the answer is yes.

It’s much harder to ascertain if a person is truly interested in a task.

When researchers ask people, “Are you interested in what you’re doing?” the answer is often, “Not really.” But these same people will manifest behavior that looks a lot like interest — continuing to do the task, not wanting to break away from it, etc.

It takes lots of exposure to something for kids to develop an interest in it…

For parents, this means that we have to keep exposing our kids — over and over again — to activities, ideas, and pursuits that they may not express a ton of interest in.

Sounds hard, right? Likely it’s a process we’re all familiar with at the dinner table. You’re tempted to never make broccoli again after your kids reject it a few times. But you know their tastes keep changing and experts recommend that you bring back foods that were previously rejected or your kids will eat nothing but white rice for the rest of their lives.

So when it comes to interests and passions, it’s most beneficial to our kids if we give them multiple exposures to a variety of different pursuits … that we not have a fixed mindset about what may interest them as they grow and change.

So if kids try lots of things and quit, what then?

This photo links to Angela's TED Talk

This photo links to Angela’s TED Talk

Angela has a rule in her house — never quit on a rainy day. In other words, never quit because of having to play in bad weather or striking out, or experiencing some other adverse situation.

Instead, encourage your kids to get through the season and to not quit until there’s a natural stopping place (could be the last session you paid for, etc.)

What if kids have a passion for something that you find less than inspiring?

From Minecraft to marijuana legalization, kids can get fixated on pursuing interests that feel less than ideal. So what to do?

That’s a tough one and Angela has not addressed it directly. But she does have another rule in her house I thought was a good: everyone has to do one ‘hard thing.’  

On CBS news she said, choosing the ‘hard thing’ is not an open-ended question — it’s multiple choice.

While her teen girls might be passionate about Instagram, Angela is clear that they can’t choose that as their ‘hard thing.’ Instead, it has to be a sport or musical instrument.

Sports or musical instruments may not be right for your family, but the idea is to encourage your kids to pick something they have enough interest in to pursue and get them to stick with it long enough to make progress.

Can grit be taught or is it just a trait you’re born with?

There’s a lot of debate about this question. Angela gives some ideas for how to ‘grow grit’ but they are more anecdotal, perhaps because the research here is a bit less clear.

I have two girls and one is definitely more naturally gritty in the way Angela defines it. She sets goals and tends to stick to them, and loves to practice and get better — she’s inspired to improve (flute and soccer are her main areas of focus).

My other daughter has lots of big ideas, but often abandons her plans before they’re fully realized, and isn’t particularly driven to practice. So my tiny data set would lead me to the conclusion that there is some innate element to grit.

While you can’t teach your kids to have innate drive, by setting clear expectations around commitment and practice, you increase the likelihood that they’ll experience the relationship between effort, time and progress.

My daughter worked for a year to over come her fear of running hurtles.

My daughter worked for a year to over come her fear of running hurtles.

My less gritty daughter’s found a track program that she loves. She’s kept running for several years. She’s motivated to train with her team; and while she doesn’t do much practice on her own, she’s made noticeable improvement. The findings in Grit support the idea that sustained practice is best done with a coach — and that it’s tough to independently figure out where and how to improve.

I have no idea if my girls will pursue these interests for their whole lives, but I’m trying to encourage them to keep going long enough to feel competent, as I do believe competence builds confidence. And you can’t get to competence without putting in the time.

One big thing that ‘gritty’ people have: purpose

And finally, one of the most compelling parts of Angela’s exploration of grit is the connection she makes to purpose.

From her many conversations with gritty people, she discovered that beyond perseverance, persistence, and prolonged practice, they all shared a belief that what they do is important, valuable or makes a difference in the world in some way.

This was true for musicians, athletes, business people, and even one sanitation worker she interviewed. And she has some great tips for trying to find purpose. (Read the book!)

So now you’re wondering…how gritty are you?

You can take the ‘grit scale’ and find out how you rank on Angela’s assessment.

I’m in the mid range in terms of grit — I bounce around from interest to interest and have never had a laser focus on one thing. It’s a good personality for a writer! But reading Angela’s book gave me new inspiration to look hard at the things I dabble in and try and commit more deeply so I can continue to grow and learn. Even an old dog can get gritty…or so I’d like to believe!

Are you getting gritty with your kids? Or skeptical that grit is yet another parenting fad? Post a comment and let us know!

Victoria is the founder of Palo Alto Pulse, a website that shines a light on the people and ideas that make Palo Alto such a cool place to live. She is also a senior contributing writer for the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund in San Francisco, where she supports the work of KIPP charter schools and other innovative educational organizations. Victoria lives in Palo Alto with her two teenage daughters, her husband and, the grittiest member of her family, her dog Abby.

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The Hug: It’s How You Ask that Makes All the Difference

Hugs-2Shortly after Eric finished up my 7- week parenting series, he sent me this story which beautifully illustrates the power of asking for a hug.

Last week on my way home from work, my wife Stephanie sent me a text that our daughter Grace (5) was being a handful, was in a horrible mood and that she had had it with her.

When I got home, I walked into the house and went straight to Grace and asked her for a hug. At first she turned her back and crossed her arms, and said no.

I then decided to ask her one more time and after a 5-second pause, she turned and gave me a big hug.

Steph said it was like someone flipped a switch on Grace. She went from being in the worst mood to acting as if she was having the best day ever.

It’s amazing to see the kind of impact and dynamics that something as simple as asking for a hug can have on a 5 year old.

Honestly, before taking your class, I probably would have come home and punished Grace for misbehaving and the entire afternoon would have been ruined for the whole family.

Asking for a hug sounds almost too easy, right? Too simple to be true?

However, while it’s simple… there’s a subtle tweak that’s key to the effectiveness of this parenting strategy.

“I could use a hug” vs. “Can I give YOU a hug?”

The first taps into your child’s deep need for significance and belonging. When you ask for a hug from your child, you acknowledge that they make a difference to you and in fact have a positive influence on your life.

In the later, you are reinforcing what your child hears and perhaps feels frequently: That children need help from grownups to feel better.

The parenting tool of asking for a hug (for YOU) is simple, easy, and effective if done from the perspective of genuine connection, genuine desire for your child to assist you! (Plus, who doesn’t love hugs? I love it!)

Try it out.

Ask a friend to be your parent and say these two phrases to you:

Could you give me a hug?

and  

You look like you could use a hug.

Do you notice a difference in how you feel after each?

This week look for an opportunity to ask your child for a hug.

I’d love to hear how it goes in the comments below!

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Why Lazy Parenting Maybe the Ticket to Raising Smarter, More Responsible Kids

It just slipped out. I didn’t mean to say in front of the 25 parents who’d come to learn strategies to solve sibling conflict. There’s something about it that just didn’t sound right. Actually it sounded like the antithesis to everything out there selling like hotcakes in the world of public opinion parenting.

I said it. “Positive Discipline (PD) is lazy parenting.”

While that’s not exactly accurate, it can feel effortless when you’re in the PD Zone compared to the prevailing helicopter/effortful parenting mode.

Here’s what I see with parents I work with and what I’ve experienced firsthand…

You’re working so hard to parent your child in a way that will encourage them to grow into loving, responsible, contributing members of society. Let’s add a cherry or two on top and throw in hard working, honest, happy, conscious of the world around them, yada yada the list goes on.

Looking at it straight on, it’s freaking intimidating.

No wonder you’re stressed about the hitting, lying, excluding, whining, complaining, isolating, arguing and bad attituding that’s happening today.

Who has the luxury to be lazy when vigilance is required to produce the qualities you know are so important for your child’s success?

What’s clear is that while control might feel necessary, and to some degree satisfying, in the moment, control, as a parenting style doesn’t invite the long term character traits you desire.

In short, control creates hollow results. When you do it all for your child (decide it all, manage it all, enforce it all), you inadvertently rob your kids of the opportunity to practice valuable life skills that they can only learn by doing.

With ‘good character’ as the destination, your child must travel through mistake-ville which inevitably leads to growth-town. They need to learn how to solve problems and think critically about the world around them in order to become who you want them to be. And that takes practice.

 

I stand behind what I said.

Here are three real life examples, featuring a variety of ages, followed by the how-to tips for effective lazy parenting.

Example #1 from Kelly:

Lazy ParentingWhile enrolled in my spring sibling series, Kelly sent me this email after our first session.

These pictures were taken on Father’s Day right after I used “put in same boat” technique & validation. The boys were fighting over the chair (we only had one) and I said, “hmm, one chair and two boys?”... Then Emmett had a solution. Xo

“hmm, one chair and two boys?”… elegant indeed. No refereeing or setting a timer to make sure it was fair, just a simple, observing, genuinely curious question.


It's often not what happensKelly’s story reminds me that w
hen you don’t take sides, fix, solve, control — children have the space to use their own intelligence to figure things out and come up with their own, often elegant solutions.

That said, if your children are accustomed to you fixing, solving, refereeing, it will take training, practice, and time for them to reach for their own intelligence when faced with a problem.

Kelly’s tool of choice in this example was to ask a curiosity question (being genuinely curious about what solution they would come up with!) while treating kids the same (in PD lingo we call this putting them in the same boat… or in this case chair!)

Example #2 from Rochelle:

I have long been critical of parents who swoop in to solve their kids’ social problems, whether they be in school or on the athletic field. But when it comes to homework, I was clearly piloting this ‘chopper.’ Despite the fact that my son was just two years away from going off to college, I was still checking the online homework program for assignments and grades on a daily basis and harping at him about the status and quality of his work.

Both of us were miserable: my son blamed me if he missed an assignment and I felt angry because he wasn’t taking responsibility for his own work. But why should he? How could he, when I was always looking over his shoulder?

This year my husband and I decided we would take a different approach, we’d let our son be the master of his own destiny, free to make his own mistakes.

It was scary; he’s a junior in high school and there’s a lot of pressure on him to do well in school. While we worried that our messy, disorganized son, would lose important papers and forget about tests or quizes, we have been more than pleasantly surprised. He has risen to the occasion.

When he forgot to do an AP assignment, he took responsibility for his inaction, contacted the teacher and asked for an extension. It was the first time I could genuinely say I hoped she would be supportive and honor his request. He’s learning to take responsibility, we’re learning to let go and let him succeed (or fail) on his own, and our relationship is so much stronger for it.

Rochelle’s tool: having faith in her son period and showing faith in him by giving him the opportunity to make mistakes and then learn from his mistakes. Rochelle is taking the long range view, knowing the lessons he will learn outweigh the in-the-moment forgotten assignments, etc.

Example # 3 from Eric:

Eric emailed me this success story during our 7-week Parenting with Positive Discipline series.

Last week on my way home from work, my wife Stephanie sent me a text that our daughter Grace (5) was being a handful, was in a horrible mood, and that Stephanie had had it with her.

When I got home, I walked into the house and went straight to Grace and asked her for a hug. At first she turned her back and crossed her arms, and said no. I then decided to ask her one more time and after a 5 second pause, she turned and gave me a big hug.

Steph said it was like someone flipped a switch on Grace. Grace went from being in the worst mood to acting as if she was having the best day ever.

It’s amazing to see the kind of impact and dynamics that something as simple as asking for a hug can have on a 5 year old. Honestly, before taking your class, I probably would have come home and punished Grace for misbehaving and the entire afternoon would have been ruined for the entire family.

Eric’s tool: Asking for a hug (note this does NOT mean asking your child, “do YOU need a hug?” You spark your child’s sense of significance when you ASK them for a hug signalling that your child makes a difference to you — they’re giving you a hug has an impact.) Pretty easy.

Warning:  Don’t try letting go of control once and give up when the results don’t look exactly as you’d hoped. Children need to adjust to your new behavior — they’ll test and maybe test some more until they can trust your change is enduring.

What does lazy parenting require from us?

  1. Flexibility – if you’re not dictating and controlling the outcome, you need to be open to a different outcome.
  2. Patience – when children are figuring it out they’re bound to make mistakes, a mess, etc. Beam out to remember the bigger picture — long term character building and ahhhh lazy parenting!
  3. Humility – finding that place inside that accepts your limits – you might not have the answer, and what a relief that you don’t have to solve every problem.
  4. Faith in your kids — messy faith. Their solution may not look good and the neighbors could see or hear a mess. Your belief in them, regardless of what their solution looks like, will go a long way to build their problem-solving muscles.

What Kelly, Rochelle and Eric demonstrated seemed pretty easy and parenting can be— AT TIMES — when we’ve established a relationship of trust. Lazy, or if it makes you feel better, call it ‘conscious effortless parenting’ is possible, feels awesome, and can be yours!.

I want that for you!

Share your experience of lazy parenting in the comments below. Don’t be shy.
And if you’re ready to take your parenting to the next level, join my class beginning next week. As of right now, there are still a few spots. Join me! 

Want to read more about this topic? Here’re some good posts:

Being “In Control” – The Possible and Impossible In Parenting from Hand in Hand

Control Freak vs. Pushover Parenting: Why Niether Works

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How to parent in the midst of catastrophic health issues

baby-37519_150This summer’s been a doozy. What once felt like a series of mini health crises has come to feel like the norm with appendicitis, stress fractures, depression, drug addiction, cancer and even death becoming a more common part of life.

Last summer, I started writing a post about how to parent when you feel distracted or distraught by a loved one’s suffering.

It’s a hard topic. So hard, that I never completed the post. I couldn’t bring myself to put a bow on it and send it to you. My thoughts never felt right or complete or enough.

Now, it’s back around as I’m dealing with my own health struggles. This week I had two areas of infiltrating basal cell carcinoma surgically removed from my face. With the surgery behind me and plenty of ice packs, I feel a sense of deep gratitude. My doctor described the tumors as nasty and aggressive and I’m lucky that they could be removed.

So I ask for myself and maybe you too – how do you parent when you’re struggling with your own or a dear one’s illness?

This is what I’ve gleaned talking with some of you and pondering the question these last 12 months:

  • Keep it simple. When your child’s needs feel draining of the little resources you have  serve macaroni and cheese or Cheerios and let them watch TV. It’s okay.
  • Prioritize. Allow what’s most important to rise to the top. Family, food, sleep, and exercise (if possible) make up my essential list.
  • Say no mostly and yes only if that YES will enhance your life. Time and energy are limited. Use yours wisely.
  • Reach out intentionallyAsk for help — as my friend Liz says, “you may need to get over yourself” to do this. Remember that close friends want to lend a hand, particularly when a bigger situation leaves them feeling helpless.

I “got over myself” this past week when my friend Carolyn came bearing flowers the day before my surgery. Having had a similar experience, Carolyn warned me that the hardest part for her had been after the procedure, when she had to remove and replace the bandages. I immediately asked if she would be willing to come over and help me do that. She said yes, and little did I know just how important it was to have her for moral and physical support. With 22 stitches across my hairline — and as the doctor put it, “too many to count” in my nose — I was weak and close to fainting. It took us an hour and a half to remove and replace all of the dressings that first time. I can’t imagine what it would have felt like to do this alone.

  • Stick with the facts. Depending on the age of your child, share relevant factual information, but only the surface story. They don’t need to know the details and certainly not your “what if” fears. While your fears may be in the realm of possibility, they’re not the facts.
  • Be childlike. As much as you can, allow your child’s aliveness and awe of life to touch you and lift you into the present.
  • Dare greatly by saying no to guilt. Instead, accept that you may be more foggy and distracted than you’d like to be with your kids. It’s okay. Don’t add parent guilt to the list of your full bucket of worries. In Daring Greatly Brené Brown writes, “To set down those lists of what we’re supposed to be is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly” (Page 110).
  • Lower your expectations. Finally, be realistic about how much your kids, depending on age, will be able to empathize with you or the situation. In my experience that’s NOT MUCH. They don’t get it, nor should they.

photo 1A few years ago, my brother’s best friend and brother in-law, Steve, died unexpectedly during a surgery. Because Steve was beloved by his community as a volunteer firefighter during the Easter Long Island pine barren wildfires, acting as Chief of the fire department at the time of his death, founder of the junior volunteer firefighter training program and a village civil servant, the community put on a huge uniformed procession for the funeral. Being family and a close friend, my brother delivered the eulogy. In the midst of the long funeral procession through town, his 8 year-old son Aidan turned to him and asked in a tired voice, “when is this going to be over?” My brother was both heart-broken and relieved by the question. How could Aidan, who’d loved Uncle Steve deeply, be ready to move on? Be so oblivious to the gravity of the situation? Be so cold as to be DONE with Steve? At the same time – in Aidan’s question my brother heard hope and the possibility that life could go on – that tomorrow would eventually arrive and maybe it was sooner than my brother thought possible. In his son’s words were the innocence and gravity of the truth that we do go on, even when we lose the unloseable friend, even when we suffer unimaginable pain.

I’ve decided that it’s okay that I don’t have a bow on this one. Its a question that doesn’t have a neat answer.

Please chime in with your thoughts and questions in the comment section. How do you parent when you feel overwhelmed by your own or a loved ones health challenges or a death?

What advice would you add?

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Part Three: What You Say Either Helps or Hurts Sibling Relationships

Practice Scripts for Parents: So you can stop unwittingly contributing to your children's fighting

Practice Scripts for Parents: So you can stop unwittingly contributing to your children’s fighting

In Part One we looked at the tremendous learning that results from sibling relationships.

In Part Two we looked at the importance of staying out of your kids’ fights after establishing — and repeatedly reminding kids of — family rules and expectations. (Here’s the index with all of the resources.)

Here in Part Three we’ll explore what you do, unintentionally, to increase sibling acrimony and what you can specifically, say or do instead.

Imagine …

Scenario 1:  You’re at a work meeting with your colleague (Joe) and your boss (Big Cheese). You and Joe present what you’ve been working on for the last month at which time Big Cheese looks Joe in the eye and says, “Joe what you’ve done here is outstanding work— you’re exceptional, you really are.”

Be with that. What runs through your mind, your heart?

Scenario 2:  You come home after what’s been a bad day and share with your spouse what happened at work, “I just finished this huge project. Joe and I presented it to the Big Cheese, and well, you had to be there, but I felt really unappreciated. It made me feel like crap actually. I put so much of myself into that project, but he didn’t recognize me at all.”

Then your spouse replies,You know you make a difference — the work couldn’t have been done without you. You need to remember you’re good enough whether someone tells you or not.”

Be with that. What runs through your mind, your heart?

While these are adult scenarios, what they illustrate are common mistakes we make with our children. Sometimes, daily.

The first scenario highlights the perils of praise — the non-specific superlative — and how the use of praise is particularly detrimental to the sibling bond.

How did you feel when you imagined yourself in the scenario?

In parenting class we role-play a parent praising one child but not the other. The volunteer playing the sibling not receiving praise — without exception — feels badly about themselves and usually resentful of their praise worthy sibling.

The un-praised sibling goes on to assume that the accolades lavished on sister or brother mean they’re destined to fall short… big time. Right or wrong this is a predictable human response.

In scenario 2, I’ve put the spotlight on how the denial of feelings, while well intentioned (like praise), is in fact discouraging because it communicates that we’re wrong when what we crave is to feel understood.

Below are four parent behaviors that hurt sibling relationships, followed specific examples of what they sound like and what you could say instead.

PRAISE   ➜  ENCOURAGE

  • Wow — you’re the fastest swimmer out there! ➜ I love to watch you swim!
  • You’re such a good boy! ➜ I appreciate your help, you made my day easier.
  • With more work, you’ll get it right. ➜ Look how far you’ve come, you can do it.

DENY FEELINGS  ➜  ACKNOWLEDGE FEELINGS

  • Just get along — she’s your sister!  ➜  It sounds like you’re feeling really sad and hurt.
  • Don’t say you hate your brother — that’s not nice.  ➜  It looks like you guys aren’t getting along right now and could use some time away from each other.

COMPARISON  ➜  DESCRIBE BEHAVIOR (put kids in the same boat)

  • Why can’t you just be nice like your sister!?  ➜  I can see you’re really cranky right now… come find me when you decide you’re ready to talk.
  • Why do you always make things so difficult?  ➜  Kids, I have faith that the two of you can work this out together. Come find me if you need help.

LABEL  ➜  DESCRIBE WHAT YOU SEE, FEEL OR THE PROBLEM

  • You’re the family artist.  ➜  You really love to create!
  • Why are you always such a bully?  ➜  I see that the blocks are all over the floor, what can you do to help the situation?
  • I can’t take it — you’re such a slob!  ➜  Milk is all over the floor — what do you need to clean it up? 

When spelled out like this, it’s crystal clear to me that

So it’s time to practice!

I know how hard it is so I created this Script to make it a bit easier.

Download it — print the pages you find helpful and PRACTICE.

If you live in the Bay Area, join me and Marcilie Smith Boyle for our Mini Series on how to manage Sibling Conflict in June.

Share your insights, questions and feedback below or write to me privately. I’d love to hear from you.

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How to Cope When Your Kid Feels Miserable

We want our kids to be happy and feel good about themselves — knowing they’re struggling can feel unbearable.

Today’s post is about how to deal with your emotions around your child’s disappointment — a question that Michelle so eloquently asked last time. Here’s my own poignant parenting story….

Years ago when my son, I’ll call him Sunny, was 11 or 12, baseball season had ended and he wanted, with all his heart, to make the all-star team so that he could continue to play. He’d been chosen in years past but knew it was competitive. Being Sunny, he was optimistic and it was clear that playing more baseball was the most important thing in the world to him — hands down. A perfect recipe for parental anxiety.

Each day he’d come home and ask, mom, did the coach call? A look of hopeful anticipation in his eyes.

My heart broke as I had to tell him, 3 or 4 days in a row that no one had called. Silence. Are you sure? Ouch.

Sunny was the kid who went through life, like a duck, letting harsh things that happened to him roll right off. So when he uncharacteristically invested himself in this outcome, it was all the more painful to witness.

At the time I knew that a rescue attempt was ill advised. I felt helpless and didn’t know what to do. While it sounds like a minor letdown now, this disappointment was HUGE in his life, and I was at a loss for how to support him.

Looking back I think his dad or I could have shared our own painful experience if only to join him in that dark space.

I doubt it would have made him feel better but company always helps.

As the parent, I needed to also take a stance that would help me better cope with the urge to jump in and make things better.

As a coach, I often help clients find alternate points of view on an area of their life where they feel stuck.

Below is an example of different perspectives you can step into to shift YOUR experience when your child goes through their inevitable disappointments.

GRITTY VIEW:  The research is clear that children who’re able to persevere through trials and tribulations have an essential characteristic for success – grit.

While they’ll remember epic disappointments, if they’re able to weather them with a sense of grounded security, your kids will more likely learn to forge ahead, a quality that will undoubtedly serve them well in life.

Parental fixing (or on the flip-side, shaming) blocks your child from learning this valuable lesson. Fixing and shaming, while they look different, convey the same message to your kid — I don’t believe in you.

I don’t remember where I heard this but I love its clear wisdom.

POETIC VIEW:  “For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.”  ―Henry W. Longfellow  

Broadening your perspective through poetry and philosophy can be just the tonic you need to pull you out of the painful, cramped feeling of “not enough” that tends to overwhelm you when your
child feels badly.

Andrew.Khalil.GibranMINDFUL VIEW: Practicing mindfulness strengthens your ability to have boundaries.

The Quick Calm Technique created by Andy Smithson of truparenting.net is a tool that when practiced can move you from heated to less heated 🙂

Here it is in a nutshell:

Click to learn about the entire Quick Calm Toolkit

Click above to learn more about the entire Quick Calm Toolkit

Use this technique to bring yourself down from anger, anxiety, sadness… these steps enable you to respond more proactively — more mindfully — to any situation you find yourself caught up in. You have power over how you feel.

PASSIONATE VIEW:  When you take time to nurture your own passions, you get less tied up in knots about the minutiae of your child’s life. This helps you avoid the unwitting substitution of your child’s experiences for your own.

Here are some examples of activities (outside of work and parenting) that parents have shared with me that bring meaning and passion to their lives:

  • join an adult sports team
  • volunteer in an underserved school
  • write a blog or novel
  • coach a team (outside of your child’s)
  • volunteer at a hospital
  • train for a triathlon

If you don’t want to do it for yourself, then you’ve got to do it for the sake of your kid. Only when you nourish yourself and cultivate your own interests will your child see a way to do this for herself.

MY VIEW: One of the gifts I’ve found through using Positive Discipline is a path to keep things simple.

If I’m bending over backward to make something happen for my kid, I hear that voice inside warning me something’s off or as Michelle put it — “THAT’s INSANITY — DON’T DO IT!”

Still the impulse and overwhelming sadness remains.

Don’t push it away. Rather, let yourself feel sad and have a chance to heal from your own old wound. When you get triggered by your child’s disappointments — take that step back from your kid and look inside — work on your own or with a therapist to experience your not so buried feelings so that you can move on rather than continuing to stuff it down or overreact to events in your child’s life. Be real and feel your feelings.

When you feel stuck in your own or your child’s disappointment, try one of these perspectives or cultivate a view of your own. Standing in a different place could be just the reset you need to reorient yourself and move forward in the direction you want to go.

If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!

Wanna talk? Schedule a time here.

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Q & A: Where Do You Draw the Line Between Empathy and Helicopter Parenting?

Empathy v. Enmeshment ImageQ: As the mother of a middle school girl, I struggle to be empathetic without jumping on the roller coaster of her ever-changing moods, emotions and dramas. And, as a woman in her late 40s, my emotions are often a 6 Flags of hormonally-induced thrills, so staying detached feels nearly impossible at times

Recently my seventh grader tried out for the school musical. After a series of micro disappointments this Fall (not making the “A” soccer team, getting put into an advisory group without any good friends, being just slightly outside of the ‘cool’ group, etc.), she was serious about getting a good part for the show. She practiced her song with a singing teacher several times and felt good about it.

Several days went by while she waited for the cast list to be posted. I worked on shifting her language away from ‘good’ and ‘bad’ parts in the show, to some limited success. I wanted to support her enthusiasm but it was draining to stay positive given my fear of the potential bad news ahead.  

This daughter can be fairly stoic, but when she saw the cast list, she ran up to her room and sobbed so loudly I was afraid she would choke.

After a few minutes of trying to let her release her disappointment on her own, I went in to check on her. With your thoughts of empathy fresh in my mind, I resisted the temptation to tell her the emotions would pass or it didn’t matter or that the part was probably better than she thought, blah, blah, blah.

Instead, I let her cry, supporting the wildly strong feelings raging through her. Unfortunately, it was just a matter of time before I was crying too, and then we were both sobbing at the injustice of the world (did I mention I am a pre-menopausal woman with raging emotions?)

I managed to get myself together and put her to sleep, but then I could not stop crying. I just felt so sad for her and could not put it away. It took all the strength I had not to email the drama teacher and ask her if there was any way to revisit the cast list. Which is just a simply INSANE thing to even think, let alone seriously consider!  

So here’s my question: how can we support our children with their dreams, projects, efforts and goals (especially our daughters) without getting enmeshed in the outcome? How can we let our older children navigate the disappointments and challenges of life without getting sucked into the emotional turmoil that goes along with the journey? Where do you draw the line between empathy and over involvement/attachment?

A: First, Michelle, congratulations on your success in avoiding many of the common barriers to empathy. What you did was no small feat — staying out of judgement, taking her perspective and touching a place in yourself (maybe a bit too deeply) that understood her feelings.

Simply defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another,” empathy is nuanced. While you were able share your daughter’s feelings, it proved difficult to pull yourself out.

To answer your question, here are my ideas to strengthen your empathetic response even more while simultaneously moving you out of the helicopter parenting zone altogether.

From Helicopter Parenting to Empathy

  • Validate her feelings. In your story Michelle, you give nice examples of how you did this — letting her cry and stay in her feelings, etc.
  • Resist the urge to fix. You write, I resisted the temptation Shift fromDisappointment =-3to tell her the emotions would pass or it didn’t matter or that the part was probably better than she thought, blah, blah, blah. This is cause for celebration! When you’re done partying let’s look at what you describe your fear of the potential bad news that she didn’t get a “good” part. Your feeling of fear fuels your underlying belief that something needs to be fixed. You can do one of two things here, keep your fear AND bite your tongue, which
    you did, or, with the help of a friend, coach or therapist, internally shift your perspective from disappointment = bad to disappointment = opportunity for growth. (I’ll go into this more in my next post). What I’m suggesting is more than a surface shift — that’s why it requires support.
  • Share your own story of disappointment. By sharing a simple one sentence story of a time you didn’t make the team or you weren’t invited to the party, you let your daughter know that she’s not alone and most importantly, that she belongs. (A sense of belonging in family is profoundly impactful to a child’s sense of well-being.) For example, I remember when I longed to be chosen to play the role of Mary in the church nativity, yet I wasn’t picked and I felt terribly sad. One sentence that’s it. I can hear parents ask “Isn’t there more to say than that?!” No — children are self focused, your goal here is to simply let them know you’ve been there — voila.
  • Be present. It’s not what you say that will make a difference, but simply your presence, your ability to be with your child. Ground yourself in what’s most important to you, tuck your phone and other distractions away and like the Beatles so beautifully sang, let it be.
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness strengthens our ability to have boundaries which according to Brené Brown’s research is key to empathy. If we get stuck in the other’s emotion, we don’t actually support that person – boundaries are key to empathy.

One of the many gifts in your story is how fully engaged you are in your daughter’s life.

Thank you Michelle for sharing your story and question, deepening our understanding of empathy. I appreciate and honor your willingness to be vulnerable — it can feel scary to divulge our struggles when we’re “supposed to be” the all-knowing parent!

Are you wanting someone to walk you through a parenting challenge like the one that Michelle shared? If so, visit my schedule to find a time for us to meet via phone or Skype.

I know that parenting is important to you — it’s worth taking time for yourself, so that you can be the parent you want to be, even in your most challenging circumstances.

Take a moment to share in the comment section below how you relate to Michelle’s story and what you want to remember from today’s post.

If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!

Wanna talk? Schedule a time here.

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So your toddler wants to run your baby over with his tricycle… how to protect your children from each other!

During a parent education evening last week, I rattled on about the importance of encouragement in parenting and shared my favorite slogan, “Children Do Better When They FEEL Better.” Then an arm shot up.

One of the parents, Sarah, looked sincerely puzzled and asked a simple question that got every head in the room nodding:

“Encouragement and Positive Discipline are great when it’s a low stakes situation, but what about when safety is involved? How should I respond to a threat of physical harm from one of my children to the other in a positive way?”

When I asked her to explain her situation, Sarah told the following story (which may be very familiar to anyone with children close in age and remembers, or is going through, the baby/toddler sibling combination):

It was the end of the day, about an hour before my husband got home… typically my roughest time. Gus (3) was zipping around the house on his tricycle when he headed straight for his little brother (6 months), stopping just a hair from Fisher’s little fingers.  I told him not to do that, that he could hurt Fisher and it didn’t feel safe to me.  A minute later, he did the exact same thing and I basically flipped my lid.  I yelled, “STOP,” stormed over to Gus, pried him from the tricycle, and let him cry on the ground as I put the trike outside.  I felt really protective of Fisher and that I needed to stop Gus. I felt awful for yelling and reacting in a physical way because he was so sad afterwards. But how else could I show him that I was in charge?

Sarah’s story highlights the primal nature of being a parent. We’re hard-wired to protect our children from a perceived threat, even if that threat is their sibling. Keeping your children safe is your first priority as a parent and if a quick intervention — sometimes ungraceful or inflated — is urgently needed to protect a baby or younger sibling from harm, you need to do that, and quickly.

But I encouraged Sarah (as I would any parent) to turn from the immediate danger to look for connection and encouragement with the older child instead of punishment. I know this sounds crazy and counter intuitive but here’s what Positive Discipline teaches us:

The most fundamental encouragement you can give your child is letting him or her know they’re significant even when things are not going well.

(Significance here means has value, has meaning, matters to you and to the broader community, etc.)

What does encouragement look like in this situation? How can Sarah communicate that Gus has significance?

Sarah could physically block the trike from Fisher’s path (as it does not appear that Gus intended to stop on his own) and take a deep breath (essential in such a case).

Rather than lifting him off the trike right away, she could gently and firmly lift just Gus’ hands off the handlebars, look into his eyes and say:

Gus, wow, my heFundamental Encouragement Matterart is beating really fast because you really scared me by coming that close to Fisher’s hands. (Pause and breathe.)  I could use a hug right now – could you give me a hug? Let’s bring your brother in, I bet we could all use a hug to feel better.

If this feels impossibly warm and fuzzy in such a potentially dangerous situation, consider this story from Gus’ point of view.

Rather than feel punished and sad (as he clearly did when the trike was chucked outside and he was left crying), Gus might think, “I did something wrong that really scared my mommy. What I do has an impact. I’m important to mommy and I can even help her feel better.”

The most fundamental encouragement you can give your child is letting them know that they have significance, even when they’re misbehaving.

In this scenario, asking for a hug is encouraging – very different than offering a hug because you’re engaging your child in being part of the resolution in an active way.

CHILDREN DO BETTER WHEN THEY FEEL BETTER!  (we all do!)

Even when our children misbehave – if we can take steps to help them feel better, rather than making them feel worse, we are much more likely to encourage the kind of behavior we want to see from them in the future.

4 Steps for changing our response from punishment to encouragement:

  1. Shift your assumptions: Work on moving from my child will learn to behave by being punished to my child will learn to behave by getting the message that he or she matters.

For an example Sarah also shared a story of how she “felt a shift from the tricycle incident” just the day after my presentation. She wrote:

Gus was standing on his stool near the stove where I was getting ready to cook an egg.  He tossed the hot pad that was on the counter onto the hot pan.  I exclaimed surprise and got the pad out.  I told him that was really scary and we absolutely do not throw things on the pan. He didn’t seem to be doing it out of defiance, which probably helped my reaction just be scared and then clear. But it was like we were scared together, learned something, and then moved on. No tears, no drama…so much better. It just gave me a taste of what you were talking about.

  1.    Plan ahead:  We’ve all yelled at and lost it with our kids, but by thinking through possible responses to common challenges ahead of time, we have a greater chance of pausing and consciously responding rather than giving our knee jerk reaction.

For example, I have a son who leaves what I call anonymous messes quite regularly around the house. This is a common challenge that I’ve planned ahead for by deciding on a few ways to respond when I’m next faced with his mess. Just yesterday, I found what looked like spilled detergent on the floor near the washing machine, covered with pillow cases. I suspected he left this mess and rather than simply accuse him and rant AT him for not taking the time to clean up, when I saw him I’d calmly asked a few clarifying questions, had he been doing laundry (yes), did he know about a spill, (why yes he did — this fessing up is progress), what could he do about it now? (This is a challenge for me but staying calm and building cooperation — progress, not perfection — is a huge victory for me and the only way I can do it is by planning for it).

  1.   Assemble your parenting toolkit: Know your game plan by having tools at the front of your mind (Such as, “I need a hug,” asking WHAT & HOW questions like “what’s your idea to solve this problem?”). Sort through the Positive Discipline Tool Cards and pick three you’d like to try.
  1.    Get support: Reach out for professional support. Even if it’s not with me, find someone who can help you weather the shift and put this new approach into action over time. It’s about progress — not perfection!

Regardless of the age of your child, encouragement through connection, in place of punishment is life changing — for both parent and child!

Please share in the comments below simple ways that you can remind your child of their significance (that they matter) today. In doing so, you’re giving us ideas that will encourage us to plan ahead – step 2 above! We’re all in this together 🙂

If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!

Wanna talk? Schedule a time here.

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Why Susan Sarandon has a Hold on Me

Years ago I read an interview with Susan Sarandon.

When asked if she missed the thrill of working in between jobs she said no, there’s nothing I’d rather do than spend time with my childrenThey’re the most fascinating people I know.

Smile

Photo credit: Incase

Can’t you just hear her saying that?

Although I read them years ago, her words (how I remember them) continue to cycle through my memory and with them comes more than a pang of inadequacy. She’s clearly an attentive, interested mother who’s produced spellbinding people to boot!

Don’t get me wrong. I couldn’t love my children more than I do – they are kind, cool, quirky, creative… downright good people.

Nonetheless, the image of the hip, engaged Sarandon mama has stuck with me. I don’t measure up. I’m not good enough.

When my second son was six, a friend he affectionately called his “God Brother,” invited him to camp on the beach in Hawaii for 10 days!

Sure we hesitated, it seemed dicey to have our child a stones’ throw from the ocean and so far away from us. But we trusted the parents, he was eager to go and we wanted to encourage his openness.

I was thrilled.

When we spoke with him on the phone he enthusiastically cheered that he was having the time of his life (his exact words).

Am I a good mother? How is it that I enjoy my little one being so far away – for so long?

Susan Sarandon has become a symbol for me – beyond Bull Durham and Thelma and Louise – she’s the uber interested mama who prefers the company of her children over her friends and her cool tribe of actor homies.

My fantasy continues… when Susan goes out to dinner with her kids, there’s no scuffle over devices because each family member is wrapped in titillating conversation or simply basking in each other’s company. Her kids prefer the company of their mom to friends (okay, Lisa now you’re just being silly).

Who’s your version of Susan Sarandon?

Is there someone you measure yourself against? Someone you use to judge yourself?

Maybe it’s your neighbor Jane whose kids always say thank you, their pearly whites shining through their gorgeous smiles.

Maybe it’s your cousin, the preschool teacher whose children abhor television and sugar and spend their days tending animals and making toys from scraps they find in the woods.

If you’re like me, you hold tightly to an idealized version of someone else as evidence to support an underlying angst that you’re not a good enough parent.

That sense of not enough pulls you away from the present moment.

I’ve no doubt that the mere act of becoming aware of your version of Susan Sarandon will go a long way to tame it. But what else can you do?

Remember my New Year’s invitation back in January? Some of you took me up on it and MANY of you wrote to say you thought it was a good idea.

Good ideas need action.

What’s one thing you LOVE about yourself as a parent?

What’s your specialty – reading bedtime stories? Being there for the neighborhood kids? Lightening up a tense moment with a perfectly timed joke?

Imagine if you spent a fraction of the time you do berating yourself for not living up to your Susan Sarandon, in taking stock of your positive qualities.

How would you feel? What might change?

Share right here and now: One thing, big or tiny that you do well as a parent. You deserve to take a moment to celebrate what works.

For kicks, share what it is about your ideal that “gets” you. That should provide some fun reading in the comments!

(If the website is getting in your way – send me an email – it can be one sentence or even one word!)

If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!

Wanna talk? Schedule a time here.

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Kids and Chores: Why Giving Up (and Giving In) Hurts Everyone

Let’s face it. Most kids today  s–l—i—-d—–e  when it comes to contributing.

You go through the motions of assigning chores, but most of us find that it’s just easier to do them ourselves. Especially if the alternative is to beg, cajole and demand that they take out the recycling, take out the recyclingtake out the recycling!

Who can blame you? Why bother? It’s painful all the way around.

Here’s what I learned during supper with my Granny. From my vantage point, she’s not your average centenarian.

Sure, it’s the middle of summer and she’s wearing her blue wool sweater. But she’s got ALL her wits. — Only her hearing and sight are diminished.

granny photo with Sonja

Granny reading with my daughter

At 103, she’s a beauty with a blunt white bob, light blue eyes and a genuine interest in others that permeates every conversation.

She loves to ask about details. And she’s interested in mine.

On this occasion I made a conscious effort to ask her the questions… at least one.

Dinner with Granny

Due to her hearing loss, a snippet of our conversation (in a dining room full of people) went like this…

GRANNY, I’M STILL TEACHING PARENTING CLASSES.

Won-der-ful! (her pronunciation deliberate and bright)

I’M CURIOUS ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A MOM. AFTER 78 YEARS OF PARENTING, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON? 

I really don’t recall (she waves her hand and shakes her head as if that’s too far back to remember)… but mother and father (she’s referring to her parents) did a marvelous job.

WHAT DID THEY DO THAT WAS SO MARVELOUS? 

(She pauses for a few moments to consider before answering) I was allowed to help with a lot of things. We didn’t have any help so we were the help.

She grew up in a modest, hard working immigrant family in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Her mother from Denmark, her father from Norway and she the youngest, by far, of 3 and the only girl to boot. She said her brothers always teased her saying she was favored.

So when she says she was allowed to help, she means it – she felt special sitting beside her mother making and mending clothes, weaving rugs, cooking meals, planting vegetables in the garden, etc.

Granny is a practical woman. Learning useful skills that enabled her to contribute to the wellbeing of her family was deeply satisfying.

Our conversation went on, she acknowledged how proud I must be of my growing children – my voice echoing throughout the dining room.

It’s that simple.

I’m struck by the power of a sense of usefulness to withstand the test of time. With love and caring as a cornerstone, Granny’s sense of being a useful member of the family is paramount in her childhood memories.

I know I struggle to get my kids involved in day to day housework. You and I both know, it’s so much easier to just do it ourselves!

Over dinner last summer Granny reminded me of just how worthwhile that effort is.

My story

Yesterday I had laundry that needed to be unloaded, carried, sorted and put away. Seven year-old S. was in a bit of a snit after-school and I knew asking her to help with this relatively light task could easily back fire and become an unpleasant battle.

Here’s what happened:

Me: I’m going to get the laundry – you can come give me a hand or meet me to fold it in my room.

She didn’t say anything but scurried along beside me (things are looking good!)

I took towels out of the drier.

Me: How many can you carry?

She got silly.

S: Mommy, put them all on my head, I CAN DO IT!

I played along for a bit and then just grabbed a few towels so that she could see as she walked, covered in towels, to our room.

In my bedroom she watched as I began folding clothes and towels and stacking them on my bed.

Me: How about you take alike things and put them away in your drawers – like this stack of pants?

S: Okay. (Miraculously she purposefully takes a few trips, arms fully loaded, and then decides it would be interesting to switch with me and be the folder)

We went on like this until the task was complete – all clothes and towels folded and put away. This is a minor miracle – usually things get put away over the course of a day or two – often clothes take the most direct route – basket to body).

Here are four fundamentals to keep in mind to increase your odds of success when encouraging kids to pitch in:

  1. Do house work WITH your kids – side by side if they are 7 and under. When they’re young they still love doing most every task with you so use that to your advantage while you still can!
  2. Shift your focus from getting the job done perfectly to seeing it as an opportunity to be together teaching your child life lessons/skills.
  3. Take time for training. With younger kids this means methodically doing a task together, with older children it means using a specific list of ”to do’s”, rather than a vague “clean up the playroom.”
  4. Hold the jobs lightly. While follow through is extremely important, you’ll win more cooperation by saying “I notice the dog looks hungry,” rather than demanding, “Rachel, feed the dog right now!”

Let’s brainstorm specific jobs kids can help with around the house. I hope this list encourages you in this challenging and wildly worthwhile parenting responsibility.

Here’s a list by age:

My daughter cleaning up a spill

My daughter cleaning up a spill

2 to 3

  • put toys away
  • feed pets
  • wipe up spills
  • put dirty clothes in hamper

4 to 6
the list from above plus

  • unload clean flatware from dishwasher
  • weed
  • water plants
  • set house alarm
  • bring in mail 
  • help prepare meals
  • scramble eggs

    My niece preparing apples for crisp

    My niece preparing apples for crisp

7 to 10

the lists from about plus

  • vacuum
  • help make and pack lunch
  • help do laundry
  • help load/unload dishwasher
  • help grocery shop
  • help make dinner (apple pie)
  • take pet for walk
  • make toast

10 to 13

the lists from above plus

  • fold and put away laundry
  • wash car
  • wash windows
  • babysit younger siblings
  • take out garbage & recycling
  • garden tasks
  • run walkable/bikeable errands

14 and up

I’m helping Granny make her famous apple pie crust!

the list from above plus

  • grocery shopping
  • cooking full meals for family
  • extended sibling sitting
  • transporting siblings and running errands in car

Being allowed to contribute has an impact that lasts a life-time.

I’ve only scratched the surface with these ideas. Please share yours in the comment section below and help grow these lists…and in doing so – help us all have more satisfied families!

If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!

Wanna talk? Schedule a time here.

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