Tagged: Limitations

Maturity, Autonomy and Independence

We’ve been working with our 10 year-old on a decision for the past couple of weeks. There’s a summer opportunity we’ve been excited about for him. He has not been excited with us. In fact, he doesn’t want the opportunity. He tried it last year and found that, for him, the cons outweigh the pros. 

We believe the challenges involved would help him develop increased maturity, autonomy and independence. We think the experience, cons and all, would help him build strength. We wanted him to try it one more time. When we told him that’s what we wanted he told us he felt like he was being forced to do something he didn’t want to do.

This was a tough spot. This is the type of decision parents talk about not having access to instructions for. Do we insist that our ten year-old engage in a growth opportunity because we know it’s good for him, or do we give him space to make the decision for himself because we trust that he knows what’s good or him? Maybe the decision itself is the opportunity. Maybe it’s a chance to let him make a decision and live with it. Maybe it’s a safe way to give him a taste of responsibility. 

We decided to exhaust the dialogue with him. We decided to give him some space and time to think and reflect. We hoped he would see things our way after a while. We worked through thoughts and emotions with him for a couple of weeks. We shared our thinking and our feelings and encouraged him to do the same. We told him it was his decision, and we also tried to try to persuade him. We did our best to keep it guilt free, but we could see him struggling with not wanting to disappoint us. 

We gave him a timeline, at the end of which we sat on the couch together, put forward our closing statements and asked him to make it official. Would he take it on or not? He was energized and lighthearted. We could see he knew the decision was his, and we could see he gained strength from that. I started to see the irony.

With a smile he asked if he could use one of our phones to text the other phone his decision. He asked us not to look until he was clear from the room. He texted and left. This is what we saw when we turned the phone over: “I appreciate everything you’ve said but I need to make a decision, so I’m going to say…um, uh, I don’t want to – but I love you:).”

A demonstration of maturity, autonomy and independence. This experience has me revisiting the balance of goal setting and decision making with my kids as they progress toward independence. Turns out there’s more than one path to learning and growth. Once again, the kid opened my eyes. 

We can’t know for sure what’s right in any given situation. When we provide space and time, when we listen with compassion, and when we allow ourselves to consider other people’s perspectives, I feel like we’re on the right track. 

Thanks for reading…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

Spending the College Fund on a Pony

The other day our 8 year-old daughter approached me and began with, “Daddy?”

I asked, “Yes?”

She continued, “Are you and mommy saving up money for me to go to college?”

I answered, “We sure are. We’re saving up money for you and your brothers to go to college.”

She said, “Great! How much is it going to cost?”

I told her, “Sweetheart, between the four of you it’s going to cost tens of thousands of dollars.”

“Wonderful!” She said, followed by, “I have an idea.

“Let’s hear it,” I prompted.

With an altogether straight face and not a hint of hyperbole, she introduced an option I had not yet considered. “Instead of sending me to college, you could use that money to buy me a pony.”

I realized she and I have very different perspectives on the matter. I also understood that we both have a stake in the outcome, that we were going to have to agree on a meaningful path forward, and that the meaningful path should result in fulfillment for her. After all, it is her life we were talking about.

Maybe, she would be happier with pony ownership that she would with a college degree. Maybe, if we end up spending her college fund on the purchase of a pony, she would end up becoming a pony farmer. Maybe pony ownership is something she feels strongly about and something she could find joy from. Maybe she would raise the first pony to ever win the triple crown or start a pony-pulled sled team that would eventually compete in the Iditarod. Maybe, if we deny her the pony we would be denying her the opportunity to live out a dream.

On the other hand, it seems to me that lot’s of kids talk about wanting ponies. Maybe it’s a passing fancy. What if depleting the college fund in favor of the pony is the wrong move. What is insisting on a college degree is actually the sound decision. Maybe it’s too soon to turn the long-term planning over to our 8 year-old. Besides, I can think of multiple degree that could potentially lead to any farming. Maybe we take it one step at a time and expand her options. 

Maybe there’s a middle ground that would be suitable for all involved. We could send her to college while supporting the pony dream, and help her understand that there’s more than one way to achieve a goal. We could impart the valuable life lesson that not having something today doesn’t mean you’ll be without it down the road. Maybe insisting on college over a pony would help her understand that sometimes in life, “first thing’s first” is a good way to move about. 

Either way, she had obviously done the research (thank you internet). We want to encourage that exploration. We also want her to know that we value her voice. We want her to know that her perspective matters, and we want her to feel good about the journey she’s on.

In the end, whatever happens, it’s clear to me that whatever we decide we need to work as hard as we can to understand her perspective and stand behind the vision she has for her own life. Kids don’t have a ton of life experiences they can draw on for long-term decision making. While that sometimes causes them to want to spend their college funds on ponies, it also causes them to have open minds and open hearts, and to believe in a wonderful range of possibilities. While steering them in “right” direction is critical, we should simultaneously seek to support them maintaining that magical perspective for as long as they can. 

Thanks for reading…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

Emotional Support Plant

We were watching the movie “Sing 2” this weekend. In one scene, Miss Crawly (Buster Moon’s secretary) was driving to the country to locate and recruit the famous, hermitic, aging rock star Clay Calloway. Buster Moon and his cast of characters needed Clay in order to be able to put on a big show in the big city, but Clay was not easy to find, nor would he be easy to convince. Miss Crawly had set out on a seemingly insurmountable mission. 

As we watched her drive down the winding country road, we noticed that there was something in the passenger seat of Miss Crawly’s car. After a moment I realized it was the fruit basket Buster Moon sent with his secretary as a piece of the puzzle to try to win over Mr. Calloway. I pointed it out. Our 7 year-old matter-of-factly said, “Oh, I thought it was her emotional support plant.”

He never fails to amaze me. I don’t know where he heard the phrase “emotional support plant”, why he remembered it, or how he made the connection, but it was a reasonable thought. Miss Crawly was in a very difficult position. Sure, “Sing 2” is a piece of fiction and Miss Crawly is an imaginary, anthropomorphized elderly lizard, but she was dealing with some really tough stuff. She might have needed an emotional support plant.

Like Miss Crawly, parents and educators are dealing with some really tough stuff right now. Also like Miss Crawly, we are showing tremendous grit. We are resilient and determined, and we are pushing through challenge after challenge for the benefit of our kids. Instead of emotional support plants, we have one another. 

I like the idea of an emotional support plant. Plants are steady and stable, and if you take care of them, they thrive. We need to be taking care of one another. We are here for one another. We need to remember that we are not alone, and that we can only weather the ebbs and flows of this uniquely challenging time hand in hand, and heart in heart.

The best thing we can do for one another is be present and available. We’ve been doing a great job of providing our kids days filled with joy and balance, in large part because we’ve been doing the same for each other. These days are not always easy, however, each one is an opportunity for learning and growth. Once again, our kids remind us of what’s important. The emotional support we provide for one another is the foundation for everything else. Our partnerships are the key to our well-being and our progress.

Thanks for reading…in it together for the kids!

Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead.

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.

…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.

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.

Some Strategies For Coping With Anxiety

This is a uniquely challenging time. We’ve been engaged in a new type of uncertainty for a while now. Information comes in waves, and often in pieces. Parents, guardians and educators have been charged with putting those pieces together day by day and moment by moment…and to our credit, we’ve done so in ways that have kept our kids safe and balanced. It has not been easy task.

If you’re like me you have good moments and not so good moments. Some of the questions we have to ask ourselves have no “right” answers and some of the directions we have to go in have really winding roads, with hazards that are shrouded in mist until they’re directly in front of us. 

If you’re like me you’ve been able to celebrate some wonderful successes over the days, the weeks, and the years…and you also stumble, fumble, crash hard into walls and find yourself filled with worry at times. Our kids are everything. Keeping them safe, healthy and learning is priority number one.

For us, and for our kids, these strange days come along with increased levels of stress. Anxiety is real and it’s present at varying degrees among adults and children alike. As we walk this path together, I would suggest that staying mindful of the presence of anxiety in ourselves and in the kids we serve is one way to perpetuate the safety, health and learning.

I came across this TED Talk the other night. It focuses on coping with anxiety. This is the link: How to cope with anxiety (Olivia Remes) 

The message may resonate with you or it may not. I understand that while we are all living through a pandemic, we’re each living experiences that are unique to us. Whether or not you identify with Remes’ message, I believe the strategies she outlines can provide fodder for reflection, and possibly some tools to help as you work to find joy and balance in these uncertain days, for you and for your kids.

Do It Badly

It’s easy to get stuck under the weight of these intense challenges. We want so badly to do things the “right” way for our selves and for our kids. We want, and we need to get it “right” so intensely that sometimes it’s difficult to put one foot in front of the other. When that happens, we can try to remember that taking action, even if we get it “wrong” at first, can be better than staying in a rut. Remes suggests that one way to mitigate the anxiety of any moment is to plow forward. Take action. When you set yourself in motion you can give yourself momentum. One foot in front of the other. If you can muster the strength, get started and adjust along the way.

Forgive Yourself

No one is perfect. As we struggle with the challenges associated with really tough times and uncomfortable feelings, we experience ebbs and flows. In order to make it through the ebbs and into the flows we’ve got to treat ourselves with kindness. When you stumble, fumble, crash into walls and worry, shake it off as quickly as possible. Show yourself the grace that’s needed to keep moving forward. Don’t dwell in the past. Don’t dwell in any moment. If you can practice forgiving yourself for the missteps, you may find that the positive steps forward come with greater ease and efficiency.

Find Meaning by Helping Others

While self-care is critically important for our well-being, it can also be important to take breaks from a focus on ourselves in order to find, and truly experience meaning, especially when high levels of stress turn that focus to the negative, which can be frequently during uniquely challenging times. We can find strength in the compassionate work we’re doing for our kids and for one another. When we lift one another up and hone in on spreading joy with kindness and intentionality, we tend to feel enhanced positive emotion, which has the power to mitigate some of the harmful, anxiety producing impacts of the layers of trauma that exist within and all around us. 

In many ways, we’re living through the same “storm,” however, we’re each doing so in “boats” that are unique to our specific experiences. These strategies may be easier for some to enact and more difficult for others. You may find them connected to your world view and you may not. My hope is that, whatever you’re experiencing and however your responding those experiences, Remes’ suggestions can bring you some pause for reflection, some confront in the “storm,” and some ability to work through the particular challenges you’re facing, on behalf of yourself, each other and the kids we serve. 

Don’t forget that you’re surrounded by people who care. There is strength in community. As you reflect on your daily practice and on your progress, remember that we are always stronger together. Turn to those around you for support, practice projecting grace in every direction along the way, and stay in motion. The truth is, we’re doing incredible things…and we got this!

Intentionally Letting The Learning Unfold

At the start of the school year it’s important to remember that we’re on a journey with each child, that learning and growth take time, that we have one another to reply on for support and collaboration, and that there is no “right” path, but rather, that we have to navigate the twists and turns with an eye on how they impact each of us and how they impact each of the kids we serve. 

Our youngest child had his first soccer practice this week. Each of our four kids have played, or is currently playing recreational soccer. It’s been a wonderful way to get them engaged in a collaborative space, it’s helped develop social and problem solving skills, it’s perpetuated the strengthening of courage and character, and it’s been fun. Each of our three older kids seemed excited to sign up from the earliest discussions. This one was reluctant. 

In the beginning, when we started bringing up that he could play soccer soon, he told us that he didn’t want to. He said that he wasn’t good at soccer, that he wasn’t fast and that he didn’t like it. He told us that he wasn’t going to play. We didn’t push too hard, but we did push a bit, and we worked to find examples in every day life of why those things weren’t true. 

We’d see him running in the yard and point out how fast he was. We’d watch him kicking the ball around with his siblings and express all kinds of excitement and awe over his “incredible soccer skills!” We’d point out the joy we saw him experiencing when he was playing in informal settings. Eventually he acquiesced. We got him signed up. 

At the start of practice he barely moved. I introduced him to the coach. He responded to a brief line of questioning with some pretty subtle head nods and stood almost motionless on the field while the majority of the other 6-year-olds tossed and twisted around like little kids do. He was the only one wearing a mask. I told him he could take it off. He told me that he didn’t want people to see his face. The coach was running practice games. He pretty much stood still for the first 10-15 minutes. It was a slow start.

I was supportive. I didn’t redirect him by shouting from the sidelines. When he looked over I smiled and gave him a thumbs up, truly not knowing if that was the “right” things to do. Eventually, he began to move slowly, pushing the ball around the field with minimal force and very little enthusiasm. Then there was more, and in time even more, until he was almost fully engaged in a game of soccer freeze tag. I could see he was starting to enjoy himself and that he was appreciating being at practice.

Then the scrimmage began. Still wearing the mask, he decided to try his hand at goalie. Right off the bat the other team scored. My heart sank. I thought that would be the end of it. When he looked over I gave him another thumbs up and a few encouraging claps. He slowly crept out of the goalie position and moved up to forward. I was hanging on for dear life, hoping for a miracle. 

The whistle sounded, the kids pounced on the ball, and he came out with it in front of him. He ran, he kicked, he out maneuvered the defense, he made his way to the net with the ball still in front of him, he shot…he scored!

Kids called his name, they cheered, they gave him high fives…thank goodness! The next time he looked over at me I gave him another thumbs up, some more encouraging claps, and once again I motioned that he could take his mask off. This time he did. Low and behold, when he did, there was really big, genuine smile underneath it. 

Each in their own time and in their own way…that’s how kids learn. As parents and educators it’s our job to provide them with information, opportunities, grace and guidance. We don’t always get it “right,” and sometimes the love we have for our kids drives us to want to move learning along faster that it wants to move along. We should give ourselves grace, too…after all, we’re doing the best we can. 

The beginning of a new school year can be as stressful as it is exciting. Patents and educators need to stay connected, exhaust every dialogue, trust one another and remember that we are in it together for the kids. With patience and intentionality, each of them will get to where they need to be, in their own time. 

Every child is unique and every step is meaningful. There is no “right way” or “right time,” there is only seeking to understand one another and each child as an individual, digging deep into their unique personalities and needs, and doing our best to help them find joy and balance in every every moment. Its a journey. 

Now I have to find a way to help the kid understand that it’s not only about scoring goals. But that’s for another day. We’ll enjoy this moment for a while. One step at a time. 

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.