All posts tagged encouraging bravery

When kids speak up: bravery and fallout

I posted a few months ago on the topic of truth-telling. (Encouraging bravery in telling the truth)  This topic has been on my mind again, due to an incident with our 4 year old. She recently told me that a neighbor girl, who is a few years older, had played with her in a way that bothered her. I could tell she was hesitant to bring it up. What I did not want to do was make it into a huge issue, or impose ideas on her; I wanted to validate her feelings, talk about personal boundaries, and look for a path forward. She insisted she still wanted to play with her, she just didn’t want her friend to behave in that way anymore. I told her that given what she had told me, maybe it’s best if we only have this girl over here where I can directly supervise, or when we are all outside together, to which she agreed. I also told her that we would be calling her friend’s mom, to make her aware of the situation. (Which we did.)

Fast-forward a week post-discussion. Our daughter knocked on her door to invite her outside with us. She came back slumped and sad, and said that she isn’t allowed to play with her anymore. “But why, mom?” I tried to run through a list of reasons her mom might have for not allowing her daughter to play. I was hopeful that it was just a one-time thing. As it turned out, she was no longer allowed to play, period. Later on, my daughter came to me and said, “Mom, I lied. I was just telling a Lie.  She didn’t do that stuff.” I was patient. I wanted to see where she was going with this. Not getting any reaction from me, she pushed on earnestly, “Go call her mom again and tell her she can play now because I was just lying!”

She had seen how telling me what happened had prevented her friend from playing with her any longer. She hoped by taking it all back that she could also have her friend back. I could see a Life Lesson at work, and not an easy one. There are few things in life as painful as when our decision to speak up appears to punish us. (Though the pain of not speaking up is one of them.) Sadly, from a young age, well-intentioned parents subtly punish children for speaking up, who consequently learn that sometimes not saying anything means fewer people get hurt. What do I think about that? Absolute bullshit, of course. The trust and honesty from our children is more valuable than your fear/anger/embarrassment as a parent, which is more than heavy enough to destroy both with a glance.

I have tried to explain to my daughter that she is not being punished. Speaking up honestly about things that bother us is worthwhile in and of itself; the truth strengthens us, makes us brave, and sets us free. We can’t control how others will react, and rightly so; telling the truth isn’t to control, it is to release. She felt right about telling me what had bothered her, just as I had to tell her friend’s mom. I told her I wished that I could make it as simple as sparing her friend, but the implications of concealing reality in order to protect someone can sometimes be worse. There is always a bigger picture.

Lessons for when kids speak up:

  1.  Don’t react. It’s not our job to impose shame, guilt, or regret.
  2.  Listen, encourage, and explore the outcomes.
  3. It takes bravery to speak up, so we must nourish that bravery.
  4. The power of truth is release, not control. It won’t shield us from consequence.

Raising a Go-Getter

Raising our children to be creative go-getters can be challenging, particularly if we do not feel we always embody those traits ourselves.

Last year, Lady Gaga revealed her own brilliant thought experiment she uses to empower herself to write music:

“I wanted to thank Whitney because when I wrote ‘Born this Way,’ I imagined she was singing it — because I wasn’t secure enough in myself to imagine I was a superstar,” Gaga told the crowd at the Staples Center. “So, Whitney, I imagined you were singing ‘Born This Way’ when I wrote it.”

Narratives are powerful, and we have creative control over how we cast ourselves in our lives. If we –or our children- don’t feel bold enough to conquer new territory, that aversion alone imposes limits on our achievement. To break the cycle, try to envision the strongest, bravest, and most ambitious person you know, and imagine they fell into your shoes. What steps would they take to get back into a position of privilege?

Tips for creating empowering narratives:

    • The next time you are tempted to say “I can’t do that…” think of someone who could. How would they go about accomplishing the task? What kind of wisdom or advice might they impart? We must let our kids see us be inspired by the strengths of others, and open to channeling them.
    • Show them how. When a child is too nervous to participate in something new, but wants to, set an example by doing it yourself, with enjoyment. Having them just watch is rarely enough; we we have to also create the narrative in which they can identify and feel secure. “I’m going to go down the waterslide first.” And then, “Wow, that was fun! This time, want to do it together?” When we have a strong mentor (real or imagined) we can capitalize on their momentum and before we know it, we’re doing it ourselves.
    • Take some pressure off. If your child is getting frustrated trying to draw something, take a break to look up paintings other artists have done and take note of all the different styles in which something can be drawn. Let them know it takes many hours, days, even years of practice before we are able to achieve proficiency at a new skill, but there are endless ways of doing something well.

 

Making Threats

Lately, I’ve been noticing my four year old has been threatening me. Not with violence, but with arbitrary consequence. In the car today I heard, “Mom, if you don’t give me the iPad right now, I’m going to rip my dress.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself at the absurdity of tearing her dress so I would hand over the iPad. Indeed, I could see the logical gears turning in her head. She wanted to play with it, and I had refused (were my reasons for refusing justified and articulated properly, or just a knee-jerk imposition?), so she was employing a bargaining tactic she thought might motivate me to change my behaviour.

It’s not bargaining or negotiation that there is problem with; after all, it is valuable for us to learn how to productively further our cause or advocate for something. However, threatening to destroy or withhold something if someone doesn’t comply with your demand is coercive, and neither productive nor rational.

Yes, I have to take full responsibility for this behavior.

“If you don’t brush your teeth, we can’t read a bed time story.”

“If you don’t come with me right away, you will have a time-out.”

Really, it’s painful to think of myself saying these kinds of things on the regular.

Threats are fear-based, they don’t allude to (especially not to a young child), a raison d’être, nor do they teach self-motivation. Employing fear as a regulating tactic is a profound act of desperation on the part of parents whom are themselves lacking in the ability to self-regulate.

“Do you feel like that’s just the way it is? If your kids don’t do what you say and you’ve asked nicely more than once and they continue to “push your buttons” and “test your patience”, do you feel justified in your yelling? Or threatening? Your counting down? Your infliction of pain on their bodies (aka “spanking”)?  Or do you sense there’s another way? ”
 
-Jennifer Lehr of Good Job and Other Things You Shouldn’t Say or Do

The first step in teaching kids to be effective, rational communicators involves first allowing them the opportunity by being rational and open ourselves. My reasons for withholding the iPad in the earlier situation had something to do with my thinking that she spends a lot of time on it and should find something more creative to do. Yet, I enjoy spending time on MY devices when and how I please, and if my partner were to nonchalantly decide I couldn’t have them, and that was that, I would probably feel quite outraged. Even if he had a valid concern, would suddenly withholding them or criticizing me be positively motivating, or the best way to approach the situation? Surely, if I could not convince him to give back my phone, I might try threatening to take something of his away to see how it feels. Aha!

So really, she was employing the only effective tactic she saw available for her in order to advocate for what she wants. And, if I continued to resist her protests in the same manner, she likely would have become emotional, which could have triggered further breakdown in our communication, all over my own discomfort, lack of patience and desire to control:

“In a culture that normalizes power-over and control of others, especially children, how a child communicates and expresses herself can become a battleground… Even when we accept the need for the expression of emotions, we may want to limit its length. At some point we think the child should feel better or that the expression is no longer authentic. I have often heard adults tell a child who has cried for a period of time, “Okay, you’ve cried enough; it’s time to stop.” This is another form of trivialization. The root of trivialization is anger: we are angry that the child is burdening us with her emotional expression “for no reason at all.” Notice that all of these reactions are based on the feelings that are triggered in the adult by the child’s emotional expression. We feel sad, uncomfortable, or angry, and our response to those feelings is a desire to control the emotions of the child so that we ourselves can be more comfortable. In fact, we make the child responsible for our own emotions.”
 
-Teresa Brett, author of Parenting For Social Change

As parents, we are often so focused on the behavior that results from these power struggles that we neglect to first reconsider our initial request and approach. Rarely is behaviour rooted in a desire to “defy”, but rather a result of un-met needs.

Next time you are challenged, ask yourself:

  • Is my request reasonable?
  • Do I model the behavior myself?
  • Is (s)he tired? Hungry?
  • Am I pre-occupied or distracted?
  • Am I providing stimulating ways to engage in the behavior I am requesting?
  • How can I augment my approach without resorting to threats?

What are some ways you have been challenged in self-regulating for your kids?  Feel free to share your experience!

Using a Real Voice

I have noticed that the voices grown-ups use when talking to kids are often raised and annunciated; spoken to emphasize the stature of the person they are directing.

These aren’t the voices we use when conversing with peers.

As a kid, I hated being spoken to in a sugary, over-emphasized voice that was reserved for children. It was alienating. And I certainly couldn’t comprehend speaking in such a foreign, silly voice myself.

Recently, I started paying attention to myself when talking to my four year-old. With a thud my chest only makes when being hit with reality, I conceded that the voice I kept putting on was not the one I use when speaking intimately with my partner or close friends. While it was indeed much sweeter, displaying the special sort of fondness I have for my daughter, (also called Motherese, which can be effective with babies,) but it was also mildly contrite, and patronizing. It may have even been loud. Most shockingly, I would sometimes even talk too close to her face to try and keep her attention. Not exactly behavior I want her mimic.

Why is it so hard to wear our real voices with kids? One reason is that we are conscious of the fact that we are teaching them. Yet, for me, the most effective teachers I’ve encountered are the ones able to connect their ideas with me intimately in a way that leaves me feeling inspired. They are usually ones that talk in voices that draw us in, not push us away.

So, how can we get better at talking intimately to our kids, (in real voices)?

Some ideas:

    • Use more challenging words.
      Saving a complex word for some later date has no benefit. We can teach complicated words fluidly by including already known synonyms with them.

 

    • Take a genuine interest.
      Kids might not understand every component of what is going on around them, but neither do we. Immerse yourself in the marvel of their interest, an aim to give more compelling narratives each time.

 

    • Engage in the moment.
      This is what kids are naturally good at; they immerse themselves seamlessly in inner worlds though make-believe and narratives. Most of us grow out of our action-figures, and into jobs, hobbies, and events, but there is still that same joy in surrendering to an experience and feeling the thrill and sublimity of simple games.

 

  • Imagine how you want him/her to interact with you.
    Most of us hope our kids will learn to articulate themselves to us calmly, honestly, and respectfully. Yet it’s unrealistic that they will learn to do this if we don’t start with them.

Have you found it difficult to talk in a real voice sometimes? I will be practicing mine more.

Encouraging bravery in telling the truth


Yesterday, I called my mom up to confess to her of an incident I recalled from my youth. As a young teenager, I had stolen some money from her drawer, and lied about it.  At the time, I had rationalized my actions, and then put it out of my mind.

Worse than the guilt I now felt, was the prospect of now having to call my mother to tell her. Not because I was afraid of her reaction, but because the very act of admitting it made me feel a twinge of fear. The mere suggestion of confronting the truth, out loud, was painful.

Why can the truth be so intimidating? It’s because it is powerful, It is inescapable, and ‘resistance is futile’. No matter what stories we construct in order to shield ourselves from it, or deny it, we cannot alter it. When we have been lying, the truth always threatens to expose us. And yet, it is the only thing that can set us free. The truth empowers us; it is the life force. It is undeniable.

I swallowed my fear and called her. My mother was surprised, but thanked me for the call. In a later message, she assured me that the past is in the past, and that any kids will do that at some time or another, and in know way does it discolor how she felt of me. “But,” she wrote, “Thank-you for being brave.

Brave enough to admit the truth: If a child suspects his parent may punish him for telling the truth, he will learn to lie in order to shield himself from consequence. It’s a protective instinct. One of the greatest services we can do for our children is to create room for them to speak the truth, to be relieved of burdens, by greeting their confessions with patience and gratitude as opposed to punishment and hostility. This can be hard to do in the moment, when your preschooler is showing you her lipstick portrait on the white walls,  but when you fast-forward 20 years, the incident will seem trivial; what remains will be the lesson and the attitude towards truth.

eHow has some suggestions for fun activities to encourage truth-telling in children: http://www.ehow.com/list_6454312_fun-activities-kids-telling-truth.html