Category: Reflection

One of my Daring Days

Our 12 year-old recently said to me, “Today is one of my daring days.” I don’t remember the context.

There was something to overcome and he overcame it. It might have been an orchestra concert to perform in or a tennis match to play. It may have been connecting with a new friend or sharing thinking in class. Regardless, “One of my daring days” stuck with me.

At 12 years-old he understands and can articulate that some days are daring and others are not. He knows that courage isn’t at the ready all time, but a character strength we have to understanding and intentionally enlist. He know’s even thought is’t not always available, that daring is accessible to him. He had access to it on that day and he recognized that access. I believe this sensibility will allow him to have increasingly more daring days, along with more automatic access to them as he grows. He seems to like the feeling. I was thrilled he mentioned it.

In mentioning it, he reminded me that while daring days are wonderful, some days are not daring days. Some days are cautious. Some days we get stuck in fear and find ourselves unable to move. He reminded me it’s ok to live some days within our comfort zones. Even to live some days regressed and motionless. Sometimes I feel like I can conquer any fear and travel any distance. Sometimes I feel locked in place. Human. 

Change, while essential and inevitable, requires daring. Even positive change. Change is wonderful and exhilarating. Change is also loss. Even when we change for the better, the better replaces what was in its place. Whatever was there before the better might not have been as good, but it may have been comfortable. 

“Better,” even though it’s better, can be scary. When we change for the better it often feels like we are then responsible for maintaining. Can we be expected to be our better selves indefinitely? What if we mess it up? There’s lots of pressure in change. On daring days, the motion of change, the growth that accompanies it, and even that pressure can be exciting. 

Our 12 year-old knew he was having a daring day. The possibilities were boundless. After the first daring thing he decided to do more daring things. He told me it was a daring day while we were driving toward home. After he told me he mentioned he was going to write when we got home. If you’re a writer you know it can be a daring thing to do. He was teaming with ideas and enthusiasm. He enlisted the daring he found access to. He maximized its benefits while they were in front of him. 

It’s ok to have days that are not daring. When we do have days that are, we should harness them. We should take action and make plans. We should specifically plan for open-hearted self love and for grace in the knowledge that we will continue experiencing many types of days, and that each one it gift; days we soar, days we doubt, days we show up, and days we hide. Each is a gift. Each has value.

We should ground ourselves in reality by being intentional about identifying our daring days, taking advantage of them, and settling in comfortably to the notion that our moods, our energy and our capacity to engage courageously in the world, both inside and around us, is subject to ebbs and flows. 

It is said that happiness does not come to the person who has the best of everything but to the person who makes the best of everything. We should consider that as best be can, forgive ourselves when we can’t, and dare to keep putting one step in front of the other with every bit of strength we have in every given moment.
In it together for the kids. 

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Awareness as an Anxiety Antidote

When the past and the future are out of mind the present is available. That’s why our breath is such a wonderful tool. Our breath is here now. Breathing is what we do in the moment. There is consistency and certainty in our breath. While we live and breath, our breath reliably moves in and out of our lungs. Unlike the many less connected facets of our daily lives that drive uncertainty and plague us with worry, doubt and fear, we can depend on our breath for comfort. 

When we focus on our breath we are focusing on our vitality. In that way, we can use our breath to be aware of reality in real time. Because anxiety is often based on unfounded, even fantasized accounts of the past and fictionalized predictions about the future, awareness of reality in real time can counterbalance it (anxiety, that is). 

Habitual awareness can serve as an extended antidote, diminishing the worry, stress and myriad other negative impacts associate with habitual anxiety. We are each already in the habit of breathing. Broadening the habit to a focus on our breath as we breath can have immediate positive implications on our behavior and long-term positive implications on our well-being.  

Over the past couple of decades I’ve exerted considerable effort and spent loads of time exploring and practicing strategies aimed at finding calm in the eye of the storm. So much time and effort that you’d think I’ve perfected it. Yeah, right. Come to find out, while most of what I’ve learned and relearned is based on a combination of awareness and common sense, it may still be a lifelong pursuit. Even as you read this reflection you may well recognize I’m not referring to anything you don’t already know. Especially if that’s the case, you also understand that knowledge and practice often sit at distance ends of a deep divide.  

That said, in my experience (and according to every philosophy, methodology or program dealing with problem solving, crisis management or deescalation I’ve ever come across) calm continuously surfaces as the ideal posture for maximizing safety, productivity and progress during stressful events or periods of time. Calm is a catalyst to well-being. 

This exploration of calm has been based in large part on the path I tread as a husband, a parent and an educator, it’s predicated on a desire I’ve long held to relieve the feelings of worry and stress I periodically (and sometimes habitually) fall into, and it is now proving as important and opportune as ever during a time when I see and feel a great deal of anxiety swirling around me, seeming to have a deep and determined impact on an enormous swath of the children I serve and the adults I partner with in that service. 

With the world on it’s side in so many ways, I often find myself wondering if now is the ideal time for simplicity. The challenge is, simplicity isn’t easy.

Timelines and obligations are real. The sun rises and sets, and in between those two events we do have to get certain things accomplished. How much time, though, do we spend toiling in worry? How frequently do we think about and relive our regrets, fret over the lack of progress we’re making on a task or a project, or doubt our ability to meed a target date? How often do we stand by while that thinking, reliving, fretting and doubting seizes our minds and our hearts? How much time do we spend outside of ourselves, watching as we perpetuate extended cycles of worry? 

What if we used the same amount, or even a fraction of that time for a focus on awareness? Without even considering a shift in how we feel or how we behave, could a simple shift in how we watch and listen to ourselves support increased well-being? 

What if instead of perceiving ourselves from the outside, as spectators, we intentionally kept and eye on ourselves from the inside? What if we zeroed in on our thoughts and feelings by way of a straight forward, pretense-free focus on our breath, even thoughts of and feeling around worry and stress? What if we accepted and attended to those thoughts and feelings with curiosity and kindness, not asking why but rather how it feels to feel the way we feel? 

Instead of considering what we can do to feel better, what if we could be calm and aware enough to simply ask ourselves to identify details about the thoughts and feelings we have while we are having them? What if a focus on our breath could help us? What if being aware could promote genuine learning and growth? A simple (not easy) path that, with practice and dedication might have the potential for prolonged and universal application and impact. By the way, as you know, breath as mindfulness tool is a centuries old concept that has had an incredibly  meaningful impact on the history and progress of humanity, across a multitude of regions, cultures and theologies.

Dr. Judson Brewer wrote a wonderfully thoughtful and well-researched book called, “Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to heal Your Mind.” In it, he points to habit loops through a reward-based learning paradigm as the basis for persistent entrenchment in anxiety. He recalls anecdotes from his research lab and clinic and puts forward simplified explanations of neuroscience to point out how we get ourselves stuck in habit loops through triggers, which catalyze behaviors and produce results that trick our brains into thinking some relief is at hand.

For example, if I wake up in the middle of the night feeling panicked about the uncertainly of a busy week ahead I might start making mental plans or checking emails. While planning and checking emails may give me a moment of relief and distraction from the worry, those behaviors are also likely to open the floodgates of stress and trip the signal wire for a worry habit loop. Dr. Brewer might map it like this:

Trigger: Middle of the night panic

Behavior: Planning/checking emails

Result: Temporary relief from immediate worry/perpetuation of extended stressfulness and possible trigger for additional feelings of panic

Alternatively, I could focus on my breathing (consistent and comforting) and turn into the  feelings of panic with awareness, curiosity and kindness, asking my mind, my heart and my body to describe what they’re feeling. I could live in the moment, accepting the situation, exploring what’s happening, allowing myself to spend time with with the panicky feelings, and providing my brain with some important data about how I process stressful situations.

I may not magically feel relieved from the panic and be able to quickly go back to sleep, but in theory, this alternative behavior could help me find pathways to breaking worry habit loops, not necessarily because I’m searching for those pathways, but simply because I’m developing a deepened understanding of myself and my capacities. Again, not easy but simple. 

Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the mindfulness standard “Wherever you go, there you are, reminds us that while being aware (specifically through the practice of mindfulness) is challenging work, it is worthwhile and growth-producing in that, “it literally allows us to see more clearly, and therefore come to understand more deeply, that which we were out of touch with or unwilling to look at (p.8).”

We are living through waves of trauma. If you, your kids or anyone around you are experiencing negative impacts from situational or extended anxiety, an intentional and dedicated focus on awareness through mindful breathing could be a step in the right direction. None of us wants to suffer. We are better for ourselves, the kids we serve and the adults we serve with when we’re clear-headed and calm. Face the challenges, celebrate the triumphs and approach stumbles and roadblocks with forgiveness and loving kindness, for yourself and others. 

It’s a journey for us all. One step at a time, with intentionality and togetherness we are strong. 

Thanks for reading…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

You Can Tell Me What The Speed Limit Is

A Scenario 

We were in the car the other day. It was a great day. It was one of those days we spent together from start to finish. Everyone got along. The 7 and the 8 year-old started playing immediately. It’s not that they never do this, but sometimes they wake up at odds. Sometimes one want’s to go downstairs and the other wants to stay upstairs. Sometimes one wants to watch a cartoon and other wants to watch a baking challenge. Sometimes one wants some space and the other wants to wrestle. 

This time, they hopped out of bed and got right to it. The 7 year-old was in our bed because he got up a bit early, but right when his big sister woke up she came to get him. She asked if he waned to play and this time he did. The stars aligned. They spent the next hour or so in their bedroom; imagining, laughing, encouraging and playing. 

After breakfast we decided to take a day trip. It was book stores, playgrounds, soccer balls, basketball and jump rope. We told stories, played games and had fun. 

There we were, on our way to another location for more family fun, when he turned to her and said, “You know, you should live with me when we grow up. That way, when we’re driving around in the car you can tell me what the speed limit is.” 

Keen. Even though he’s 7 years-old I’m confident he knows that the speed limit is posted. In that moment I had the sneaking suspicion he was actually telling his big sister that he loves her. I suspect he was giving her some insight into the joy he feels that they have one another, the understanding he has of their unconditional bond, and the vision he holds of their connected life. I don’t know that he actually believes they’ll live together, but it seems that he believes they will alway be friends, confidants, playmates and partners in life. It was a nice moment for me. 

I grew up with five siblings, each of us less than two years apart in age. Lorelei and I have been incredibly blessed to be able to build our family in this way. In large part, we planned for four close-in-age siblings so that they would each have the others for a lifetime of comfort, support, encouragement, celebration and unconditional love. 

Siblings don’t always get along. Heck, we don’t always like one another. There are ebbs and flows. However, in my experience, there is never a time…not a single moment, when siblings are not connected. I believe that anyone of us would tell any of the others what the speed limit is anytime there’s a need, without hesitation. 

My heart was warmed to hear the big guy connect with his sister in that way. 

Two Possible Implications

We’re on winter break. Life is really busy and really challenging right now. It’s difficult to keep our kids’ days filled with routine, normalcy and comfort. We see the trends and we hear the news. On all fronts, from community health to politics we need to navigate decision making for ourselves and for our kids, while providing them with just the right developmentally appropriate information to keep them balanced, reflective and joyful. They are kids, after all. Even in an imperfect world, they should be joyful. 

Consider the following possible implications drawn from the scenario above: 

Long-term social bonds are critically important to our kids’ well-being. 

As we guide our kids through the strange social landscape of a pandemic we should keep an eye on their friendships. Whether we’re looking at friendships between siblings, other relatives, school friends or kids in the neighborhood, we should notice and encourage our kids to perpetuate healthy bonds between themselves and those they connect with. We should help them make time to spend together. When needed, we should guide them in social conflict resolution while reminding them of the joy they feel when they are together with people they appreciate and understand, who also appreciate and understand them.

Our kids prompt one another, and us. 

This time, the 7 year-old prompted his sister to continue connecting with him. Sometimes the prompt is that he needs space. Kids do this to one another and they do this to us. As a grown up he will easily be able figure out what the speed limit is without assistance. They both know this, but he wanted her to know he needs, and will continue to need her. 

We should keep an eye on the language our kids use with one another and with us, so that we can support their needs in any given moment. When kids ask for our help with things they know how to do or can handle on their own they may simply be asking for some time together, or an acknowledgement of the bond we share with them. They may be reaching out with a message of togetherness or a request for comfort. Reading and responding to such prompts is well worth the time, every time. 

An Activity

What implications do you see? What learning can you discern from this scenario? Take a moment to reflect and consider a parenting/education guiding principle the “speed limit” anecdote brings to light. Share your thinking, with me or with anyone you turn to for processing along this unique and wonderful journey. You can use the “comments” section below if you’re so inclined. There is meaning to be found in even the smallest moments. Look and listen with an open heart and on open mind.

Thanks for reading…in it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

…and take.

We’ve been giving for while now. Parents and educators, we’ve spent the last couple of years pouring ourselves into finding ways to provide safe spaces within which our kids can learn and grow. We’re happy to do it and we will continue. Still, it’s hard…something we don’t always admit or take into account. 

We’ve tried with all our might to provide our kids with consistency and routine. We’ve found ways to let them be kids during a time that we didn’t see coming and often struggle to understand. We’ve seen the world shift in unthinkable ways. We’ve all been washed over by waves of trauma. Still, we continue to employ every ounce of our energy on behalf of a joyful and balanced childhood for our children. 

Through cavernous ebbs and unrestrained flows, we’ve realized that there has always been good to find, and with that realization we continue to find it. We’ve faced challenges with courage and grace, and we’ve celebrate triumphs with delight. I have no doubt that we will carry in this way. Our children are in good hands. I believe that with our love, guidance and support they will endure and become a generation of resilience like no other. 

Ironically, in this season of giving, I would suggest it’s now time to take.

Parents and educators, take a breath. Take a moment to relax. The work will be there when we return to school in the new year. 

Take self-care seriously. Start that routine you’ve been meaning to start. Get into a habit. Exercise each day. Take a walk. Take time to prepare healthy food and eat with meals with your friends and family. Take the liberty to eat some meals by yourself if you’d like. Enjoy every bite. Take trips to places you love. Take a nap. Take a step out of your door when the sun is shining, just to feel the warmth on your face.

These days can be wild and fast. A break is a blessing. Whatever urge pulls you to linger in hurried thoughts, whatever sense tries to trick you into sleepless nights, whatever confusion attempts to distract you, deny it. Deny it all. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to twist, turn and toil again very soon. For now, take what you know you need. Take what you know will help you continue to be strong in the coming days, weeks and months. 

Just like we give tirelessly for the kids we serve, take for them now. It will benefit them as much as it will you. It will allow you to regenerate into your best self. It’s time for balance. In the great give and take of this extraordinary ride, it’s time to take.

Thanks for reading…in it tougether for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

When It’s Just You And Me I Feel Like I Won Something

The end of the year and the holiday season can feel like an emotional rollercoaster. There’s so much to do, we’re exhausted, and let’s face it parents, guardians and educators…we have really high expectations of ourselves (sometime unrealistically high). I know a way to help relieve some of the stress of the end of the year, holiday season emotional rollercoaster. The challenge is, in order for it to work, you have to actually do it. 

Cast your mind to something that brings you joy. Imagine you’re in a place where you experience peace and balance. No matter what struggles persist in any given moment, we all have memories of good things. 

Is it making pancakes with your kids on a snowy Sunday morning? Is it a walk with your dog on a lazy afternoon? Is it the first sip of an excellent cup of coffee as you prepare to start the day? 

Time is generally short, but you should be able to manage a moment here and there for quite reflection. Our thoughts do guide our feelings, and our feelings do guide our actions. Rather than slowing you down or hindering progress toward your goals, stopping every now and again can steady your pace, enhance your resolve and bring you closer to achievement. When you do stop, do it with purpose. 

Have you found that moment of joy? Can you envision that peaceful, balanced place? Bring yourself there. Feel how it feels. Let yourself sink into it. Set a timer if you think you might get lost. It really only takes a moment. 

A moment of feeling positive emotion, connecting yourself with something meaningful, and engaging in mindfulness can fuel an extended burst of energy. Periodic moments of this type of mindfulness can generate consistent productivity and increase well-being. 

For example, last night our 7-year-old and I decided to take a trip to the skating rink Campus Martius. The two of us spent that day together. We started by making breakfast, we went for a walk, we baked a cake (which took most of the afternoon) and finally we drove downtown for an ice skating adventure. 

As tired as we were from a jam packed day, he was so enthusiastic about going downtown. I thought he was being fueled by the excited vision of gliding around the rink immersed in the glowing, downtown holiday energy. I think I thought wrong. 

As we pulled out of the driveway and headed off together he said, “Daddy?”

I said, “Ya, Buddy?”

Then he exploded my heart by telling me, “When it’s just you and me I feel like I won something.”

Even though you weren’t there you can imagine how that landed? Joy, peace and balance. A wonderful feeling. A moment of overwhelming emotion. A feeling you can’t exactly describe, and at the same time one you understand with an uncanny depth. One you wish you could hold onto forever. Euphoric. 

I was elated. I replied, “Me too, Bud. I defiantly won the prize of being your dad.”

To which he added, “…and I won the prize of being your kid.”

Aah.

There’s one. It’s a gift he gave me. I can recall that moment and feel uplifted whenever I’d like. Uplifted by generating the feeling of spending meaningful time with loved ones, celebrating togetherness, focusing on the heart rather than the mind, and on the who rather than the what or the where. I own that feeling. It’s mine to call on.

Through the triumphs and the challenges of daily life in a fast paced world we each own some such moments. Hold on to them. Write them down if you have to. Keep and recall them periodically. You don’t have to be feeing down, stressed or overwhelmed to enlist a mindful moment, either. Remembering that which brings us joy, peace and balance is a good practice no matter how we’re feeling. You can use it to lift you out of a funk or to keep you moving along when you’re light on your feet. 

Stay connected to the best parts of the journey and you will stay connected to what truly matters. Memories are only memories because they were initiated in the past. In fact, if you allow them to, they can stay with you in the present, through the emotions they generate. 

Feel and allow yourself to connect with your feelings. Use memories of positive emotion to drive continue positive emotion and well-being. If you try and fail, forgive yourself and try again. Give yourself grace during this time and throughout the year. You, and those around you, will be better off for it.

Thanks for reading…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

Shadowy Movement And Sound

Today I’m writing from the farm. The farm is about four hours north of Detroit. Lorelei and I took the kids up to see if we could get a glimpse of some colors starting to change and to lake some long, slow, deep breaths after another stretch filled with busy weekdays. The colors are starting to change but not quite popping, and the long slow breaths are as easy as every to take on the farm. 

During the past three or four trips to the farm we’ve been hearing what sounds like a relative large animal bounding about in the woods behind the farmhouse. We walk the trail system a couple times each day. The woods are dense, and until today, I haven’t been able to catch a proper glimpse of the creature that seems to be squatting on our property (or maybe we’re squatting on his). From the sounds and the shadowy movements I have been able to hear and see, I’m guessing it’s a big deer. My goal has been to get eyes squarely on the big guy…maybe even a recognizable picture or two. 

This morning I went out with our 10-year-old. We heard him…and then, for the first time, we saw him. He was far away and all but hidden by some thick brush, but we saw him. 

Upon hearing us coming he leapt in a zigzag motion, through the woods and away. He leapt amazingly high and turned with incredible precision. So much so, that when the kid reported back to his siblings he told them we saw gazelle. What good fortune for us. I don’t suppose there are many gazelle sightings in northern Michigan. A fun story, though.  

Regardless, after dozens of nature walks, over a period of multiple visits, with a singular goal in mind, we were able to move the needle forward on our goal. Our quest continues. This injection of energy is just what we needed to keep the momentum going, the mystery and excitement tangible, and the possibility alive. It wasn’t today and it may not be during our next visit to the farm, but we’re confident that eventually we will meet up with our bouncy, shadowy friend – hopefully from a distance, but meet up nonetheless. 

Through this experience I’m reminded of what it is to learn, for myself, for the many adult partners with whom I collaborate each day, and for the wonderful kids we serve. As we come to understand ourselves and one another, sparks of knowing swirl in our minds alongside the sparks of excitement that swirl in our hearts. 

I’m getting to know the woods at the farm. Through exploration and focused interest, I’ve come to realize that a friend seems to be living there. I’m excited to meet that friend and working to do so with intentionality. It’s the same feeling I get when I discover a pathway to learning, whether it’s my own pathway or a pathway the comes to light around the learning of another. As an educator and a parent, the hint of a pathway can propel me forward with the magical anticipation of possibility…as I believe it can for any growth minded person. 

Once we’re set in motion, visions and goals can unfold. When we know that something is possible, we can shift from imagination to eventuality. One of the challenges we face with eventuality it that it can be waiting around the corner or it can surface three years from now. Either way, with patience, persistence, knowledge and faith, we can traverse any learning pathway we set out upon. 

Sometimes we see shadowy movements along the way, sometimes we get glimpses of outcomes, and sometimes we find ourselves staring at crossroads marking the end of one journey and the beginning of another. In any case, it is our job to hold true to course, bobbing and weaving with the ebbs and flows, and putting one foot in front fo the other for ourselves and the children we serve. 

Each In Our Own Way (An Equity-Based Reflection On Helping Our Children Connect With, Appreciate And Love Those Who Look, Think, And Act In Vastly Different Ways From Them)

*The names I’m using in this reflection are not the actual names of any children involved. I’m using alternate names to protect privacy. 

Confusion, Worry And Fear

A few weeks into the new school year our youngest child, a six-year-old starting first grade, came home from school with a troubled mind. I could see that he was deep in thought. As we went about our typical after school routine he presented as worried and distracted. 

Before long he asked if he could speak with me alone. We went outside together, where he began to reluctantly unfold a story of two children at his school with special needs. As he told me about the kids, tears formed in his eyes.

First he told me about being scared. In his words, he said that Brandon was aggressive on the playground. He told me that he sees Brandon approaching kids and insisting on playing with them in ways that frightened him. 

He said that Brandon gets physical with kids; that he uses his hands and his body in ways that make him nervous and uncomfortable; that Brandon communicates in ways that are different from how the typically functioning kids he’s used to playing with communicate, and that he’s worried about having to confront the potential eventuality of Brandon approaching him on the playground. In his way, he asked for permission to not have to engage with Brandon as school.

Knowing our child, I could see the internal struggle that this ask, and this need presented for him. He’s an empathic, compassionate person. I could see him wishing he didn’t feel this way, feeling bad about himself, and feeling bad for Brandon. 

My Brain Won’t Let Me 

Next he told me about Marvin. He told me that Marvin is in his class. He said he could see that Marvin needs friends but doesn’t have any. He told me he’s not scared of Marvin because Marvin doesn’t behave in ways that frighten him, but in ways that demonstrate his struggles with communication and socialization. He told me that he thinks he could be the friend Marvin needs, but that whenever he thinks about becoming Marvin’s friend, his brain won’t let him. 

No two children are the same. That said, most children’s unique qualities don’t overtly differentiate them from the group. At least not in the eyes their peers. Most children, regardless of gender, learning style, energy level, interests, developmental readiness, capacity for age-appropriate communication, and lived experiences don’t stand out in ways that make them unapproachable. Brandon and Marvin are both visibly unique from most other kids. 

As parents, guardians and educators, we can tune in to subtle and explicit differences between children. Children, with their concrete, relatively inexperienced world views, tend to be less adept at identifying subtle differences, and they tend to be hyper aware of explicit ones. 

To no fault of their own, children tend to notice when other children behave in ways that appear “out of the ordinary,” and because they don’t have the knowledge or experience to process why a peer would look and sound so different, they can easily fall into worry and even fear around socializing with kids who they identify as acutely different.

Our child’s description of the struggle he’s experiencing around wanting, and attempting to support a friend with special needs (“my brain won’t let me”), tells us a lot about a critical and persistent social emotional challenge felt by all of children.

We know that, like our child, both Brandon and Marvin need to experience genuine friendships. We know that developing genuine friendships with people who present as different from us, whether vastly or subtly, is mutually beneficial. 

We also know that diminishing classroom, school and community cultures can quickly and easily (while often unknowingly and inadvertently) be built around kids who’s communication and behavior are outside of the norm. This is an incredibly important point for parents, guardians and educators to be aware of as we work hard to listen to and guide our children around challenges that surface at school. 

When children come home with negative reports and concerns about their peers, we can help them focus on an “each in our own way” lens by exploring context with them. We can remind them that each person views the world in a unique way, based on who they are and what they’ve experienced, and that our abilities and world-views tend to guide our thoughts, feelings and actions. 

We can teach them that we’re all learning all the time, and that generally, people want to do good things and be nice. When our friends aren’t being their best selves it can often be because they don’t know how, or because they’re hurting. Sometimes it’s challenging, but patience, understanding and kindness can help.

Positive classroom, school and community cultures can lift kids up and build bridges to health and achievement, while negative classroom, school and community cultures, pointedly focused on the expressions and actions of a particular child, can deteriorate that child’s self image, limit their potential, and engrain increased worry and fear in others. 

Fortunately, as parents, guardians and educators, we have the power to perpetuate change in this area, to build paradigms of understanding around diversity, to help our children uncover the inherent foundations of compassion that exist within each of them, to drive equity, and in doing so, to enhance their lives and the world in which we all live.

Not Answers…Opportunities

When we teach our children to embrace diversity, to move toward rather than away from that which is different and/or unknown to them, to be reflective in their processing of communication and interactions with others, to consider multiple perspectives, to seek understanding (even through worry and fear), and to pull from kindness where frustration persists, we give them opportunities to expand their horizons. 

When we guide children through problem solving in any area we provide them with safe, supportive spaces to grapple with specific challenges.  When we give children safe, supportive spaces to grapple with specific challenges we provide them with experiences that can support the development of their ability to grapple with other challenges. 

Children become better problem solvers when they have our permission to work on solving the problems that are in front of them. Along with that permission, they benefit from our support, our love and our guidance.

A Solid Foundation For A Lifelong Journey

Our child continues to tell me that he’s nervous around Brandon and that he still hasn’t approached Marvin or become his friend. He also continues to tell me that he thinks he can be the friend that Marvin needs. 

The other day he told me that he thinks the first step will be introducing himself. He said, “We’ve never even met…maybe if we met we would become friends.”  He’s outlined multiple pathways to officially meeting Marvin, from asking his teacher to introduce them to approaching him on the playground. He continues to grapple and I continue to support. 

I don’t have the answers. While I hope they do, they may never become friends. I nudge but I don’t push. I listen and I affirm the reality of swirling emotions. I don’t know how to ease the intensity of those emotions or impart a sense of comfort around this or any of the multitude of difficult childhood challenges. 

I do know that every child is living a life in which developing skills of compassion, along with the skills needed to communicate, collaborate, and otherwise engage with one another, is a potential pathway to increased joy and balance for them and for those who they meet along the way. 

I know that we serve children well when we drive cultures of acceptance in our classrooms, school and communities, and aid our children in understanding that they can and should love and embrace others, even those who behave in ways that confuse and worry them. 

When we help them see that the personalities, inherent capacities and lived experiences of those around them contribute to their thoughts, feelings and actions, we help them put behavior into context and better manage their  interactions and relationships.

As with all challenging journeys, the complex pathways of supporting our children’s positive progress and well-being are long and winding, they’re sometimes shrouded in mist, and they’re often confusing. I would suggest that an “each in our own way” lens is solid foundation for achieving healthy outcomes, for them and for us.

The Perfect Time to be Nice

 

We were at the playground, deep into a game in which I was an ogre, our 6-yr-old was my ogre kid, and the big brothers (9-yr-old and 11-year-old) were humans we were chasing. The goal was to catch them so that we could eat them for dinner. 

We were having a blast, running up and down playground structures, jumping, sliding, climbing poles, swinging on ropes, and growling. 

The engagement was high and the excitement was palpable. It was one of those games, where every once in a while a bust of energy shot through you and you burst into high speed. We were at if for two and a half hours before something interesting happened (our 6-yr-old can most often be counted on for something interesting – the others too, for that matter). 

The big brothers were several yards away, on the top of a hill. They were taunting us with some general, “Na, na, na, na, na’s” and their fingers were in the shape of “L’s” on their foreheads. Enough was enough for the kid ogre.

He turned to me and said, “They’re being so mean.”

Even thought they were just playing, he felt it. It was a game, but he felt sad that they were being so mean. Instead of crying, pouting, or quitting, he said, “This is the perfect time to be nice.”

I asked him what he meant by that. He explained. 

Now that we know what it feels like when someone isn’t nice to you, we should be nice to them, so that they don’t have to feel that way. He suggested that, instead of running after them, trying to catch them and eat them for dinner, maybe we should try to get them to be our guests for dinner, and eat vegetables.

The suggestion didn’t sound as fun to the big guys, so we compromised. I would still chase them, trying to catch and eat them, but my ogre kid would try to convince me to befriend the humans and become a vegetarian. Still fun, and we still got to pretend that someone was in danger of being cooked and eaten – a favored play theme among my kids.

We stayed a while longer and continued to have excited fun. 

Later that evening came to me with a big smile (that he was attempting to conceal) and said, “I had a lot of fun playing today.”

I said, “So did I, buddy.”

He said, “Ya, it was a really special time.”

My heart melted. We hugged. I would have liked for that moment to last forever, but as you know, they don’t (one of the reasons I write about them).

Here’s the thing…he’s was so right. When people are not being nice to you, it may actually be the perfect time to be nice to them. It’s healing. Even if they don’t appreciate it in the moment (or ever), it’s healing for you.

Najwa Zebian said, “Today I decided to forgive you, not because you apologized or because you acknowledged the pain you caused me, but because my soul deserves peace.”

Being mean is toxic. Being unkind is uncomfortable and stressful. Being hurtful is frustrating, and it diminishes well-being for both the hurtful and the hurt…both end up hurting.

Being kind is freeing. Being pleasant is elevating. Being friendly uplifts. Being nice is…well, it’s nice. 

We should be nice. In fact, anytime, and all the time, may be the perfect time to be nice. 

Thanks, buddy – you always know just how to deliver the message I need, in the moment I need it. I love you and I love learning from you.

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

Challenging Catastrophes

The other day I was running late. These days have been extremely long, so I get less time to spend with the kids. I decided several weeks ago that if I was going to be working most of the time, my life would be more in balance if I could at least say “good morning” and “good night” to my crew every day. I’ve been doing some morning work from home (and sometimes sleeping in a bit) so that I don’t have to leave before the kids wake up.

On the “running late” day, I had a meeting that was the same amount of time away as I was. If I got into my car just just as the coffee finished dripping I might have made it, but as you might guess, one of the things that tends to happen when I’m running late is increased forgetfulness. 

I was half a mile down the road before I realized my work phone was still on the kitchen counter. I needed it. So, I resigned myself to being late. I made the next turn-around and headed home.

What a bummer. My heart rate went up and I was flooded with frustration. I don’t like being late. It felt like a really big deal…a catastrophe even. But being late isn’t a catastrophe, it’s a challenge…if that. 

Here we are in a global health crisis, with a foundational layer of catastrophes surrounding each of us, and I’m letting my blood pressure go up because I’m running a few minutes late. There are many things we can latch on to as catastrophes throughout each day…things that simply aren’t.

The thing is, when we’re calm and confident we’re better for everyone around us. When we’re patient and thoughtful, those we serve and serve with benefit. Energy transfers. Heightened, negative attitudes and behaviors deteriorate well-being. We all know that, and with some focus and dedication, I contend that we are all capable of brining positive energy to any situation, even if we have to shift from impulsive negative energy. Breathing, and focusing on breathing tends to help me. Listening, too. When I listen instead of talk, I tend to be more thoughtful. 

As I pulled back up to the house I noticed that my wife was at the door, and our 6-year-old was waking across the porch with my work phone in his hand. This was not a catastrophe, this was an opportunity to get another hug from my kid. 

There’s actually a term for creating additional crisis during challenging times. The term is “catastrophizing.” We catastrophize when we assume the worst, and when we do, we bring crisis energy into the cultures in which we live and work. 

So, here’s the deal, when we feel our blood pressure going up, when our hearts start beating faster, let’s take a step back instead of a step forward. Let’s challenge the notion that we’re dealing with catastrophes. Let’s consider that any given catastrophe might actually be an opportunity. Every challenge is a chance. It really is. 

Some of these catastrophes are absolutely real, and it’s also real that when we approach critical situations with calm confidence, we are more likely to achieve positive outcomes. We can influence the culture and climate of the spaces we occupy in positive ways buy challenging catastrophes instead of finding them in places they really don’t belong. When running late is actually an opportunity for another hug, it’s a gift, not a catastrophe…and truly, every challenge is a chance – we should work hard to take them when we can.

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.

What Keeps Me Up At Night

I was walking with our 11-year-old at the Zoo yesterday. He said, “Daddy?”

I said, “Yes?”

He said, “What if aliens use the same words as us, but they mean something completely different?”

I didn’t need to ask for clarification…he went on before I could,” I mean, like, what if the word ‘want’ means ‘pickle’ to aliens, or what if the work ‘play’ means ‘book?’

His voice began to shake a bit, his energy level lifted, and his shoulder and arms started oscillating up and down, and back and forth.

He continued, “…and, like when they say that no two snowflakes are the same, that’s impossible. There have been so many snowflakes. It just ins’t possible that none of them are the same.”

He took a sharp breath and kept going, “…and if aliens do use the same words as we do but the means something different, they wouldn’t be able to understand anything we’re talking about. They might think we’re saying something different than what we’re actually saying. It would be so confusing!”

He started to make that face you make when you feel like crying but you’re not quite there. The kind of face you make when you’d like to be there…when a good cry might be just what you need.

He went through a series of equally interesting and unique diatribes on a variety of seemingly unconnected subjects before taking a deep breath, looking up at me, and letting me know, “That’s what keeps me up at night.”

Then, he said something I didn’t expect.  It was just about the most obvious thing he could have said, and I’m not sure why I didn’t expect it, but I didn’t.  He said, “…and I’m really tired of COVID.”

Aha.

Duh.

Surprise, surprise…our 11-year-old is tired of living his first year of middle school without having seen the inside of an actual school.

He’s tired spending time with his the top third of his friends’ heads from six feet away.

He’s tired of living every waking moment trying to start the next phase of his physical, emotional, social, and spiritual life surrounded by his mom, his dad, and his three younger siblings.

He’s tired of wondering if he’ll get sick.

He’s tired of so much being so far out fo his control. 

Or, maybe he’s truly and deeply concerned about the possibility that us and aliens seem to have no hope of ever understanding one another. Yah, that’s probably it.

They may not be telling us exactly what’s on their minds in every moment.

They may not know.

It might not always, or even ever end with, “…and I’m really tired of COVID.” 

It may not matter.

It may only matter that we take whatever time we can to be there. 

We can’t relieve our children of the inevitable hurt they’re going to suffer repeatedly over the course of their lives, but we can be there to listen as they process. We can make clear that we care, that they are not alone, that even challenging is also a chance, and that sharing emotions represents a really healthy kind of strength.

Listen. Make time. Genuinely listen. Value, celebrate, respect, model, guide, and validate. 

Kids of this COVID generation may turn out to be the most resilient human beings in history. They may be the ones to actually be the change we want; the change we need.

Heck, they may learn how to communicate with aliens. 

We can help them with our hearts, our minds, and our ears.

Funny thing, when we do…it helps us, too.

In it together for the kids.

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. Thanks.