The Holidays Are a Magnifier

The Holidays — the six weeks of Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, and New Years — are a magnifier. In general, happy people get happier, sad people get sadder, lonely people get lonelier, etc. This is true for children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly.

For some, life is going pretty well, and the holidays are the most wonderful time of year, chock full of sentimental decorations, music, food, smells, and traditions that celebrate love, peace, family, friendship, and all that is good in life. The holidays are the icing on a good cake. Bring it on. All of it.

For others, the holidays are not so happy. Instead, it is a time full of the most painful reminders of what is not present in their lives.  Continue reading “The Holidays Are a Magnifier”

Motivate. Don’t Manipulate Your Kids.

lonely boy2Once again, his room isn’t clean, not by any standard. Her backpack, jacket, and shoes are scattered about the floor of the hall, again. His grades are sub-par in math, again. She is making the family late to school, again. He seems to be nonchalant about his music audition this weekend. She isn’t running enough to prepare for soccer tryouts next week.

How do you approach the lack of motivation: carrot or stick?

What’s the best approach: direct confrontation, positive affirmation, a new system of consequences? Push hard or back off? Constructive criticism?

Who knows? It’s a minefield, to say the least.

It’s a thin line between motivating your child and provoking him or her to rebellion. Motivating a child, especially a teenager, is not an easy road. There will be resistance, mistakes and regrets, and that is if you are doing it right.

Continue reading “Motivate. Don’t Manipulate Your Kids.”

Connect + Guide + Enjoy = Good Parenting

You are never done parenting.

There is never enough time, energy, money, or wisdom to do it all right.

Parenting is incessant, and perfection is impossible.

No professor will give you an A for all that you did for your children this semester.

No counselor will tell you that you can now celebrate because you have accomplished all the objectives of parenting.

No PTA will give you an award for excellence.

However, you can try to keep it simple and just do your best one day at a time.

Keeping it simple, for me, looks like this.

ConnectGuideEnjoy

 

If I am doing those three things moderately well today, then I am doing something truly great.

I am being a good parent.

I am not perfect, but I am doing something very good well.

 

Ordinary Parenting

Parenting is messy. It’s often a blender full of emotions, tasks, and conflicts. That why we so often feel pureed by our family life.

Parenting is mundane. It requires incessant planning, cleaning, cooking, driving, laundry, arguing, more driving, phone calls, filling in forms, more driving, more cleaning, on and on.

But parenting is also a “glorious ordinary.” It is a beautiful mess.

This video illustrates this well.

Do you look for beauty in your messy everyday life? It’s there, but you have to look for it. Slow down, look around, and ponder the mundane elements in your home. Find some everyday wonders.

Look at your dog. Really look at him. He may need a bath, and he causes problems, but what a loyal companion he is, putting up with your inconsistent love.

Look at your messy kitchen. It looks better when clean, but a clean kitchen is not alive. A dirty kitchen exhibits nourishment. It’s the scene of the best aromas of life and some of your greatest meltdowns. The kitchen is the heart of the home, where real drama plays out and real food feeds the weary. Continue reading “Ordinary Parenting”

Living in Crisis

 

Our family is in crisis. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last.

Three weeks ago, our severely disabled 13-year-old daughter, Kathryn, had a full spinal fusion surgery. According to the “pain team” of anesthesiologists and neurologists, it is the second most painful surgery to recover from. (It’s second only to a certain kind of chest surgery.) So, we have been dealing with a lot of crying, screaming, tears, flailing arms, beeping machines, doctors, nurses, specialists, sleepless nights, and hospital meals – just to list a few of the trials of the last month. It’s been a hell of a month.

Depressed manTo add to the complications, both my wife and I have been dealing with health problems of our own that manifested in the week before the big surgery. Julie earned herself a hernia in her abdomen, which was surgically removed three days before our daughter’s surgery. She is not allowed to lift anything for several weeks, which is pretty challenging for the mother of a disabled girl. In addition, I earned myself an ailment called Meniere’s Disease, which landed me flat on my back on two occasions with two-hours of nasty vertigo – both episodes were during the week of Kathryn’s surgery.

Fortunately, we have a good support system made of our family, friends, and medical community. Continue reading “Living in Crisis”

Ten Ways to Help Someone in Personal Crisis

Our family has been going through rough waters related to some serious medical issues, and we have only been making it with the help from family and friends. People keep asking what they can do to help us. They want to help, but they don’t know exactly how. We have been very specific with them, which they appreciate.

Certainly, every situation is different, but here are some tried and true ways to help others in great need. 

1. Write notes, emails, texts, Facebook posts, or tweets of encouragement.

2. Gifts – flowers, fruit, ice cream, coffee, magazines, books, movies…

3. Gift cards to nearby restaurants, grocery stores, coffee shops, movie theater…

4. Do Errands – groceries, library, dry cleaners, or whatever they need.

5. Do Laundry. This can be a huge help for a family.

6. Housecleaning or yard work.

7. Child care, pet-sitting, or house-sitting.

8. Visit, according to their best day, time, length of visit, etc. Just ask what they prefer ahead of time.

9. Listen to them vent about their problems, if that is what they want to do. Be the listener, not the advisor. See note below about the ring theory.

10. Bring humor. It’s good medicine. Share funny stories. Bring a light heart, not your own set of first-world problems that you want to gripe about.

Just remember that every family is different and every crisis is different. Do your best to customize your support for their specific situation. Ask what they prefer, and ask them to be specific. Sometimes the giver must drag the information out of the receiver. Be persistent in finding out how you can bless them in the most helpful way possible.

NOTE: An important aspect of caring for someone in need is the language that we use with them. My copy editor and new friend, Meghan Pinson, sent me this outstanding article about how to communicate with people in any sort of crisis. It’s the ring theory, and it is such a brilliant concept that you must read it. CLICK HERE for the article.

 

Storm Preparation

A Creeping Crisis

Some crises develop gradually. Some are excruciatingly slow.

Perhaps it is the approaching death of a parent with terminal cancer. Or it is the military dad/son/husband who will be deployed to an overseas conflict. Or it may be a huge financial crisis, which will likely take away the family’s savings and home.

In these situations, the anticipation of the looming crisis is a danger in itself, for anxiety can take deep root early, and that can be paralyzing.

At some point a person facing a slow-moving crisis makes decisions (conscious and subconscious), to deal with it or ignore it. Psychologist call it the “fight or flight” response. We can run from our problems or fight them head on. Of course, we often do both. We fight something for a bit, then flee it for a while. I suppose, that is not a bad strategy, actually, as long as the general attitude is to win, not just avoid. So, we can fight. Regroup. Then, fight again. Continue reading “Storm Preparation”

The Sacred Honor of Being a Parent

A Unique Relationship

Parenting is a unique relationship, wherein the parent is authorized by law and by God to protect, provide, nurture, and discipline. Ultimately, the parent must somehow control self and child enough to train for independent success.

Parenting is a special relationship, one in which the parent is fully responsible for the children in the early years and only a little less responsible as the children grow older. It requires enormous sums of time, energy, and money. It requires tough love, tender affection, as well as the shades of grey in the middle.

Parenting is so challenging because every situation is complicated and varies from past situations. What works today may not work tomorrow. And the stakes are high for the parent because the “success” or “failure” of the child directly reflects upon the good or bad reputation of the parents.

What other relationship comes close to that kind of responsibility and intimacy?

Parents Are Heroes to their Kids

Thanks to Family Share for the video. Super Work!

From the Mouths of Babes

This from a 6th grade teacher who I respect a great deal:

I teach a class titled Emerging Leaders, and we talk about “self awareness” to start the quarter. For the lesson I was doing, I decided that asking these 2 questions would be interesting.

1. Name one or two things that your parents to that make you feel awesome and that you will do when you have children some day.
2. Name one or two things that you will do differently when you become a parent.

Hold on to your hat, because I love these answers! Kids really DO need boundaries and DO want to spend time with parents, and they don’t want to fight with their folks. They want to be listened to. Enjoy.

What I love that my parents do:

Have a family night
Helping with homework
Take me to the movies
Shopping at stores that I like
I can tell my mom ANYTHING (good or bad) and they love me no matter how annoying I am
My parents will always love me, no matter what, and they will always be on my side
Me and my dad always play catch
My parents never stop loving me
They will ALWAYS go to my sporting events.
When I win, they always cheer me on
I will go shoppnig with my daughter and make her feel special
Having a night that we all do something together
Being proud of good grades
My dad wrestles with me when I’m down to cheer me up, and my mom rewards me for getting good grades and doing chores.
They make me eat healthy
My parents still rough house with me and play games
I like when my parents take me out to an attraction of some kind or when we go on vacation.
I will give my kids many opportunities
I will go shopping with my daughter
Go fishing
Go out to eat as a family
I will pass down a family “blanket”
Have a family night
Have a pet and take care of it together
I want to appreciate my kids
I’m going to listen to my kids before I ground or punish them.
I’ll give my kids allowance and rewards for good behavior.
I will let my kids start having decaf coffee at age 10
I will reward good behavior and punish bad behavior
I will go to the movies
Just spend time with me for an hour or 2
I will give my kids some freedom at age 11
I will be kind and gentle to my kids.

Things I won’t do:

I won’t tell my kids bad things about themselves
I won’t cuss at my kids
I won’t make them do so many chores.  I have other stuff to do like homework and sports
I will listen to my child’s side of the story before I punish them
I won’t be super strict about a lot of things
I won’t be too hard on my kids
I wont’ work super late. I will have time for my kids
I won’t make my kids eat something they don’t like
I will change how I punish my kids
I wont’ fight with my kids at all
I won’t yell at my kids or them them get in with a bad crowd
I won’t let my kids watch too much TV
My kids will get phones when they get to junior high school
I won’t yell and scream at my kids
I won’t make them feel bad by saying “I had nothing when I was your age or I have horrible parents”

 

Mister Rogers

I’m a huge Fred Rogers fan, so I was skeptical when I heard about the video remix recently done about him. I expected something satirical and mean-spirited, so I watched with my guard up. Instead, we have this.

There are so many things to learn about in this world and so many people who can help us learn.” – Fred Rogers

Thank you, John D. Boswell, for making this video. And thank you, Fred Rogers, for being a great man, a great teacher, and for leaving behind a great body of work for children throughout the world. Rest in peace, Mister Rogers.

Protecting Kids From the Inside Out

Unlike consumer products, parenting comes without instructions or guarantees. We all want our children to grow up happy, healthy, successful, and involved with positive-minded family and friends. However, our children live in a broken world, and it has a way of breaking young people, sooner or later, one way or another. But there is real hope because some young people do indeed grow up well. So, what’s a parent to do, in the face of the sinful human nature and a toxic popular culture, to raise a truly healthy young adult?

We tend to focus on what we can implement to protect our kids by setting appropriate boundaries, establishing positive activities, and providing safe environments in which our kids can grow. While those are all important aspects of raising “good kids,” they are not enough.

1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord does not look at the things of man. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Apparently, God is more interested in the inner life than the outer life, therefore we should be concerned primarily with the inner life of our children. Unfortunately, most parents focus primarily on the behavior of their kids – the outer life. Parents often react to symptoms, rather than causes. But outward behavior is not isolated from the heart of the child. Behavior is a reflection of the inner reality. Therefore, it is not possible to fix outward behavior permanently without dealing with the problems of the heart.

There is no formula for fixing problem behaviors in children, but an inside-out approach will be more effective than behavior management.

Growing Up Too Fast

A major source of the problem is that kids are growing up too fast. Continue reading “Protecting Kids From the Inside Out”

Disappointing Birth Brings Hope

By Julie Kerckhoff

Mary and Joseph had just survived an untimely, government-mandated trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem with Mary “great with child.” Mary, who was chosen by God to have His son, had undergone six months of ridicule for being an unfaithful fiancé. By Jewish law, Joseph could have stoned her or at least dismissed her as his upcoming bride. Joseph had nine months of jeering and questionable looks for why he would marry such a loose, unfaithful woman and not shame her as a Jewish example. His carpentry business went way down as well, because no good Jew would support such abhorrent behavior.

Exhausted, they finally made it into Bethlehem only to find out they were too late. Their slow pace, possibly because Joseph was being considerate of Mary’s pregnancy, allowed every other traveler first dibs on the rooms. God had not even saved them a decent place to rest. God, their heavenly Father, who miraculously conceived the child in Mary’s womb to be their Messiah, had not provided a place for them? Really? Was God really in control? Continue reading “Disappointing Birth Brings Hope”

Raising Boys to be Real Men

Boys are misunderstood.  Too often, they are disciplined and shamed by their teachers, parents, or grandparents because it is falsely assumed that good boys should act just like good girls.

Raising boys is a topic of numerous books, but one that stands out is Raising Cain, by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson.  I had the privilege of hearing them speak at a conference, and their wisdom impressed me deeply.  Here are my notes and thoughts from two of their sessions.

Emotions.  Give boys permission to have an internal life. Give approval to their wide-ranging emotions, as long as they behave civilly. Their tendency will be to hide their emotions at every turn, but this is not healthy. Help them use words to express their feelings effectively, since it is not in their nature or in their culture to speak openly about their feelings. So, give respect to their inner life, and speak about your own inner life. Share your likes, dislikes, fears, sorrows, regrets, hopes, and weaknesses with each other.

Activity.  Accept the high activity level of boys as a healthy part of who they are. Give them a safe place to express their need for action. Embrace their physicality as natural, normal, and in need of channeling, rather than suppressing.  Boys need to learn to manage their physicality, but they do not need to be shamed for their exuberance.

Speak to them.  Talk to boys in their language – in a way that honors their pride and masculinity. Be direct with them. Say what you mean and mean what you say.  And when possible, use them as consultants and problem solvers. They will love feeling important to you. It is important to communicate with them in a way that honors their wish for strength and respect.

Re-define courage.  Teach boys that there is more to being a hero than physically defeating an enemy. Continue reading “Raising Boys to be Real Men”

Middle School: Top Ten Things to Know

The following is an open letter from my boss, Steve Hall, Head of Middle School at Westminster Christian Academy, to our parents. It’s one of my favorite pieces about teaching and parenting young teens.

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Dear Parents,

The middle school years are a unique time of life.  It is crazy, wonderful, exciting and baffling. As a public service, I’d like to share with you some basic truths about the middle school student living in your home. In the style of the late night shows, I’d like to share with you the Top Ten Things You Should Know About Your Middle School Student

:

10.  Each student has one compelling mission each day: avoid embarrassment! It is true that most students believe everyone is watching them at all times. Each student believes a misplaced word, a stumble in the hallway or a failure to meet the unwritten rules of middle school culture — though, in reality, unknown to all — will be seen and remembered forever by all classmates. Parents, don’t take it personally if they don’t want to hug in public anymore.

9.  Although all outward evidence suggests otherwise, you are a very important person to your child, and your child feels more secure and valued when you care enough to talk with them about anything and everything. Don’t let the rolling eyes or mock disdain deter you. It’s one of those unwritten rules they have to follow as teenagers.

8.  You will require a haz-mat suit and gas mask to handle the unique aromas coming from young teenagers. You have never, ever encountered anything quite like a classroom containing the smells of sweat, an overabundance of body spray and perfume, wet socks and hot, breathing children following PE class. The truth is that kids are self-conscious about the changes that create these issues. It’s a time of a great deal of change in height, weight and appearance. Your child needs a proper diet, plenty of sleep and good hygiene. Be courageous as parents and talk about these changes. The more you talk about them, the easier the discussions will become. Continue reading “Middle School: Top Ten Things to Know”

I Believe in Encouragement

By Lauren Baum, in her senior English class at Westminster Christian Academy, St. Louis (Class of 2011).

Without any hesitation, he said, “I’d be better off dead.” Hearing those words come out of my best friend’s mouth tore my heart apart. He has repeated that phrase more than once, and my mind continually plays it over like a voice recording.

I met my best friend about three years ago. After knowing me for six months, he told me about his struggles with depression. Sadness was not the only emotion that came over me; I was shocked. He seemed so outgoing and happy all the time. I soon learned that he was physically and emotionally abused as a young child, prompting him to bottle up suicidal thoughts. I cannot begin to imagine the physical pain he has suffered during his lifetime.

He refuses to talk to others about his depression because he now distrusts adults, especially those in his family. Nevertheless, he feels as if I understand him and that I know the right words to speak. Consequently, when it comes to helping him, convenience is not in my vocabulary. It does not matter where I am or what I am doing, for he takes priority. Sometimes he just needs the assurance of my voice telling him that everything is going to be okay and that I will not let him down.

Many students at his school mock him when they notice the scars on his arms from cutting. As he sees it, other kids have every right to tease him and to look down on him. But no one holds such a right, so I encourage him to ignore the heartless kids who treat him less than human. When he feels the weight of judging eyes or hateful voices, I always remind him that I care about him unconditionally.  Just hearing me say I will always be his best friend seems to give him the security he needs to keep on going.

My best friend once told me that if he had not had me, he would not be alive. He said that my encouraging words convinced him not to take his life. I never took a bullet or rescued him from a burning fire, but, in his eyes, I saved his life. Our friendship has taught me that no matter the situation, a single kind word can impact someone’s life. With the fragility of life as it is, I believe in the necessity of encouragement.

Never Too Young for Compassion

Sometimes, a single, simple act of compassion can change the world for someone else.  As a middle school teacher, I have witnessed this, not daily, but certainly monthly.  More often, I have witnessed the converse, in which a single simple act of cruelty can ruin someone’s day, or year.  However, the power of compassion is every bit as strong as any cruelty.  And children are often compassion’s most powerful agents.

In the book, This I Believe, there is an essay which beautifully illustrates how a child can change the world for someone.  I also think it shows how a child can be trained in righteousness by an adult. In this case, the adult is hidden somewhere behind the scenes, actively teaching the child how to be compassionate. In his essay, Miles Goodwin, an attorney from Milwaukee, writes of a life-changing moment in his life:

“On June 23, 1970, I had just been mustered out of the Army after completing my one-year tour of duty in Vietnam. I was a 23-year-old Army veteran on a plane from Oakland, Calif., returning home to Dallas, Texas.

I had been warned about the hostility many of our fellow countrymen felt toward returning ‘Nam vets at that time. There were no hometown parades for us when we came home from that unpopular war. Like tens of thousands of others, I was just trying to get home without incident.

Continue reading “Never Too Young for Compassion”

Questions to Ask Kids

Kids want to be known, and not just by their parents (their #1 source of value).  They want their teachers, coaches, scout leaders, and neighbors to know their names, their interests, and their talents.  Granted, some kids seem to want to be left alone, but even the shy ones deeply desire to be known by others on some level.  It’s ingrained in all of us.  Nobody likes to called by the wrong name (sibling confusion is common).  Nobody enjoys being overlooked by the cool coach who loves to talk with the cool kids on the team.  And when it’s halfway through the year and the teacher still can’t remember your name, it hurts.

Some adults are natural-born kid-lovers.  They just know exactly how to talk to kids and make them laugh.  Somehow they get away with teasing them to no end, or the kids just flock to them because they feel safe and loved with them.  They make great youth leaders, mentors, and assistant coaches.  However, it’s not so easy for most adults to connect with kids, especially if they don’t think they have anything in common with them.

Fortunately, it’s not rocket surgery.  So, here are some easy conversation starters.  First and foremost, always call a kid by name every time you see him or her.  If you can’t remember his or her name, then find out (to avoid the same problem next time).

“Hey, Joel…

How’s it going today?  What’s up this morning / afternoon / evening?

What did you do this last weekend?  What was the best / worst part of it?

What are you doing this next weekend? Anything fun or unusual?

What are you doing for Christmas Break?  (Adapt to whatever break is upcoming)

What sport are you playing this season?  How’s that going?  What position do you play? What team?  Who is on that team that I might know?  Who’s your coach?  Where do you play?  Does your teams travel?  Is it your favorite sport?  Do you think you’ll play that in high school?

Continue reading “Questions to Ask Kids”

The Value of Pain

As I walk through the halls after school, there is a barrage of faces along my path.  Some I know well; some I don’t know at all.  Some are happy; some look very frustrated.  But all of these kids have stories inside.  Some of their stories are silly — full of joy from a life yet unblemished by heartache or tragedy.  And some have stories they keep to themselves because they are not the kind that they want to tell or others want to hear.  There are some broken kids out there, some of whom will mend well, and grow up to be good and strong.

As I walk briskly by them each day, I think about what stories I know.  Not enough, unfortunately.  But I know that boy; he’s has had serious struggles with perfectionism and an eating disorder in middle school and is now very healthy, athletic, and academically successful.  I know that girl, whose mother died of cancer when she was ten; her dad remarried a woman whose spouse also died of cancer.  Their blended family is an inspiration.  I also know the story of that girl, whose little brother has Down’s Syndrome and whose parents are on the brink of divorce; she’s serious, smart, and sometimes silly.  Actually, I just know bits and pieces of their stories, but it’s enough to see the depth in their eyes.  I know that they know pain.

Continue reading “The Value of Pain”

Raising the Perfect Parent

Always Kiss Me Good Night: Instructions on Raising the Perfect Parent (compiled by J.S. Salt) is the best advice that kids (ages 8-12) have for parents. Here are a few gems.

  • Make me be beautiful. (Jackie)
  • Write notes on my lunch box napkin. (Jenny)
  • Think when you were a kid and not yell so much. (Joe)
  • Be proud of me, even when I don’t get all the answers correct. (Sachi)
  • Sit down and have a conversation with me. (Kathleen)
  • Treat me like you treat your customers. (Karen) Continue reading “Raising the Perfect Parent”

Prepare Them for Life

Protection and provision are not enough.

“Here’s the paradox: If we protect our children too absolutely, we actually end up exposing them to other risks.  And leave them without the skills, experiences, and minor life lessons that they’ll need to handle the big challenges as they grow up.” (Perri Klass, M.D.)

When children are very young, they must be protected and nurtured in absolutely every way.  An infant is helpless and needy at all times.  He must be fed, clothed, changed, transported, and even cajoled into sleep – or else he will get sick and die.  Babies are totally unprepared for life.  Now flash forward 18 years, and that same human, now full-grown, had better not be helpless or needy, or else something very wrong has taken place in the meantime.  That 18 year old should be a strong, self-sufficient young man, able to learn on his own at school, have a variety of healthy relationships, and be able to do the jobs that other adults require of them, in order to have any success in his adult life.  After all, he is a legal adult with all the rights and privileges that come with: working, paying taxes, continuing education, voting, getting married, having children, and even fighting in a war.  He should be ready to fly on his own – maybe not soar yet, but fly enough to survive.

In a recent article about “helicopter parenting” we get a glimpse of the problem from the eyes of a college professor.  “Kathleen Crowley, a professor of psychology says parents’ eagerness to overdirect their children’s lives has led to young adults who are less independent and creative than the generation before. Twenty years ago, Crowley announced an upcoming test in her college classes and that was the end of the discussion. Now, she says she’s expected to provide students with a study guide so they know exactly how to prepare, and she’s had these same young adults come to her in tears because they’d earned their first B and didn’t know how to cope. Because of this “extended adolescence,” when these students graduate and enter their careers, they’re now offered workplace mentoring and on-the-job training just to ensure their success.” (Jennifer Gish)

So why are so many 18-28 year old men and women still in adolescence?  Why are so many having nervous breakdowns in the midst of their inability to deal with the trials of life?  Why are so many young men and women crippled (socially and emotionally) in the adult world?

The answer may be simple, but the solution is complex.  The young man’s parents, teachers, and coaches may have done a fine job of protecting and providing, but they did not prepare the child for adulthood.  The solution is not so simple.  HOW do you prepare a child to succeed on his or her own?  (The following is not a comprehensive list)

Continue reading “Prepare Them for Life”

Kindness Matters

Now and then, the tables are turned, and an everyday kid doing a good deed gets some attention.

Let’s all remember that there are plenty of kids out there growing up and making a difference now.

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Sportsmanship is alive

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

It’s such an easy gesture yet it’s rarely seen…the simple act of sportsmanship.

Early in the game played on the lush fields of Westminster Christian Academy in Creve Coeur, Webster Groves lacrosse player Caroline Burk went down with a leg injury.  As coach Josh Palacios  ran to his player, she was already being attended to by Westminster Christians’s Danielle Pfyl.  The two helped Caroline to the sidelines.

These days the act is rarely seen away from the high school playing fields.

Over the course of covering six St. Louis Cardinals games so far this season, this photographer has seen more jawing between pitchers and hitters, both demanding respect.  In one instance the banter almost resulted in a bench clearing confrontation.

They could learn just a little bit from Danielle.

Read the Comments from both players here.  Wonderful stuff.

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Related Post: athletics-is-a-means-to-an-end

Our Friend, Failure

I once heard a speaker named Dan Miller at an educator’s conference tell the audience about how he learned to fly an airplane.  First, you should know that he is disabled from polio as a teenager to the extent that he can only use one arm, and he walks with a serious limp.  His sickness had canceled his first flying lesson; becoming a pilot was his childhood dream.

In his autobiography, he admits that “Planes require two good hands and two good legs to work the controls, yokes, radio, and rudder pedals.  ‘Airplanes crash,’ they would say.  ‘You’ll kill yourself.’  ‘You only have one good arm.’ ‘Your legs are too weak.’  I heard a lot of dream-breaker statements… My first lesson was awful!  I had to reach across my body for the flaps, throttle, and trim.  Every time I’d reach for them, the plane would dip, tip, and do everything but fly straight and level.  I went all over the sky.  I couldn’t fly.  My lesson was a total failure.  But I could give up on my dream yet… The next try, though still not good, was better.  I tell people, ‘If it worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly at first.’

Dan eventually got his pilot’s license and has enjoyed many years of flying adventures.  He also taught himself to play golf with only one arm, and he’s good.  He scores in the mid-80’s regularly and has a hole-in-one to his credit.  Impressive.

Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first.  That is wisdom for all ages.  We need to embrace failure as a friend who is honest enough to tell us that we still need to work harder, listen to others, think more clearly, and learn more information. Failure has something to teach us every time.  That’s what makes people successful — learning from mistakes and persevering slowly toward the goal.

Consider this…

Whether it’s a left-handed layup, a math problem, or a new technological skill, kids need to be encouraged to do things poorly at first, then a little better each time, until they make real progress.  Then encourage them some more.  “See! I knew you could do it! You have improved so much! I’m proud of you. Really proud.”

Try it.

Continue reading “Our Friend, Failure”

Well-Mannered Teen Rebels

With the decline of civility and manners in public life, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that so many young people lack basic manners.  There are other factors, of course, such as the breakdown of the family unit and the lack of privacy and decorum in the media.  There is much to be said about how bad it is and what has caused the lack of decency and manners, but I want to offer a positive perspective for those who care to train kids to be polite.

Kids with manners will stand out as all-stars, like never before. It is simply amazing to see how kids with good manners are rewarded for being counter-cultural.teenboy

A friend of mine needed some help moving into his new home.  He said, “I had two students from a huge public high school help me move this summer. I was a little leery when I learned that they were two of the top athletes in the school.  They had better manners than just about any high school kid I’d ever met. I asked them about it and they essentially said that interacting with adults the way that the majority of their peers made them just look like everybody else. They said they could have gotten a tattoo to be different the same way as everyone around them. Or, they could do something really different and simply go through life saying ‘please, thank you, yes sir and no ma’am.’ I paid them double what I said I would.”

Let’s help kids get this sort of edge on the competition.  That means we have to model good manners, explain why it’s helpful, show them how to do it, correct them gently, and thank them for the times they get it right.  It will pay big dividends for them for the rest of their lives.  Good manners will yield success for young people in some surprising ways.

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LINKS to specifics lists of good manners:

http://www.wikihow.com/Have-Good-Manners

http://www.rd.com/living-healthy/good-manners/article27599.html

http://www.cyh.com/HealthTopics/HealthTopicDetailsKids.aspx?p=335&id=2526&np=287

Training Up Independent Kids

Embracing Mistakes; Developing Problem-Solvers

Thomas Edison believed that failure was not a bad thing; it merely directed him closer to success.  He embraced his mistakes as opportunities to learn, and he ultimately succeeded as the greatest inventor of all time.

The truth is that you want your children (or students) to learn from their mistakes, which means that you are going to have to be okay with them making mistakes.  You want them to learn that they are capable of creating solutions to their own problems.  You want them to struggle with fixing their own troubles.  And you want them to know that their parents, teachers, and coaches are sources of wisdom and help along the way.

“So at the heart of good parenting is the conviction that the mistakes and failures of our children are not the enemy
.” (Silk 51)  In fact, mistakes are often the greatest teachers.

Continue reading “Training Up Independent Kids”

Role Models

Charles Barkley, the great basketball player and television personality, once said at the height of his NBA career, “I’m not a role model… Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids. If you want a role model, look up to your parents. A lot of guys can dunk a basketball who are in jail; should they be role models?”

Chuck caught a lot of heat for his seemingly callous remarks because it sure seemed that he just didn’t care about kids or anyone other than himself.  However, if you listened to his follow-up remarks, he clarified that kids should be looking up to their parents, coaches, teachers, and other adults who are sacrificing and training them in the real world.  In addition to being obnoxious and entertaining, Sir Charles was “tipping his cap” to the real heroes in the world and downplaying his own ability to inspire young people to true greatness.

He knew that he was not even remotely qualified for the job of role model.  And he certainly didn’t want any of that responsibility.  He half-joked, “I heard Tonya Harding is calling herself the Charles Barkley of figure skating. I was going to sue her for defamation of character, but then I realized I have no character.”

Now, some of us want to be role models for kids.  But if we are honest, we must admit that we aren’t worthy of the title “role model.”  We are all broken people with insecurities and character flaws.  And that is on our good days.  However, perfection is not a requirement for being a role model.
Continue reading “Role Models”

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