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Showing posts with label Dr. Lisa's Parenting Tip. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dr. Lisa's Parenting Tip. Show all posts

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Making Failure Okay

A couple of years ago, Jennifer, my husband and I took our kids to a ropes course called Adirondack Extreme. It is described as an “Aerial Tree Top Adventure” which includes a complex ropes course suspended between trees at 10 to 60 feet off the ground. It promised to be a fun physical courage challenge. Little did I know that it would be more of an emotional and social courage challenge for me. The labyrinth of ropes wouldn’t prove to be my biggest adversary, but untangling myself from my own perfectionism would be.


Jennifer did not climb due to an old injury, but she supervised our daughters on the kids’ course. My husband, our son, and I challenged the adult course. We attended a brief instruction on how to put on our harness, how to securely hook and unhook ourselves along the course, and how to ask for help—if push came to shove and we decided we were done at some point along the increasingly challenging course. I paid pretty close attention to the introductory talk, but only half-listened to the “asking for help” part. As I’ve written about previously in my post “Quitters, Campers, and Climbers,” I’m not much of a quitter. I’m a climber who, I'm embarrassed to admit, even sometimes secretly feels superior to quitters.


By the time I reached mid-course, my then 12-year old son was lapping me. He seemed recklessly, blissfully unaware of all the risks that I was quickly becoming aware of as I looked down from the tree tops to the ground twenty, then fifty, feet below. He just kept saying “Mom, this is SO much fun. It’s easy!”


I can assure you this course was NOT easy! And I was so over the idea of this being fun. The more joyless and humorless I became, the more rigid my body became.  My joyful son, on the other hand, had the agility of a monkey; while I swung precariously, holding on for dear life with increasingly sweaty palms, between the various rope mazes. He was fearless, while I was quickly becoming fearful.


One of the big differences between kids and adults in terms of risk assessment is the cognitive tricks that our minds begin to play with us as we develop. According to child psychologist Dr. Tamar Chansky (2004), in her book Freeing Your Child from Anxiety: Powerful, Practical solutions to Overcome Your Child’s Fears, Worries, and Phobias, we feel anxious when we begin to confuse the possibility of occurrence with the probability of it actually occurring. Dr. Chansky writes that the “Anxious Response= Overestimation of Threat + Underestimation of Ability to Cope.” So, while I was focusing on whether or not the ropes were strong enough to hold me, the possibility of falling, how painful it would be to hang upside down for an extended period of time waiting for help, whether or not my children (who I no longer had in sight) were okay or not, and how embarrassing it would be to quit; my son was enjoying each new obstacle on the course while feeling totally secure in his crotch harness and physical ability.




At the second to last level, all alone now on the course, I was officially scared. But quit? OMG, no way! Quitting = Failure, to the perfectionist mind.  Which is, as Jennifer wrote in her last post Failure is Always an Option, “tantamount to total annihilation.” At the very least, annihilation of the ego. Success for me, at times, can be deeply intertwined with trying to prove that I’m lovable and valuable. In short, I wasn’t a kid who learned that her success in life is based on who she is, not on how she looks or what or how well she does. A perfectionist places more value on how she appears to the world than on who she is on the inside.  This misplacement of her inherent value creates a fragile ego swinging precariously from one success to the next, desperately trying to avoid the identity-crisis pitfalls that mistakes, and especially failure, threaten.  It's also what makes perfectionists highly competitive and probably not all that relaxing to be around sometimes. Needless to say, this aspect of my personality is not particularly healthy--nor is feeling secretly superior to quitters, for that matter! These are not personality characteristics I wish to pass along to my children. Instead, I parent my kids in ways that focus on their inherent value.  I focus less on how they look and what grades they get, but more on the core qualities they are developing as kind, loving human beings.  I encourage them to listen to their limits and feelings, to focus on their successes, to identify goals that are truly important to them (not society at large), to do their best because there is no such thing as perfect, and to be gentle with themselves when they make mistakes.  I’ve coached them to develop an internal locus of control (you can read my parenting tips here: Are You an Inny or an Outy?) And I'm known for saying "I love who you are, and who you are becoming."  Let’s be honest, embracing this kind of unconditional acceptance of both ourselves and our children is kind of radical—especially today in our culture of overachievement! Dr. Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection is a great resource for anyone interested in understanding and letting go perfectionism!


One of the many gifts of being a parent, in my opinion, is that we get the chance to teach (and learn from) our kids what we, too, need to learn in life.  In essence, parenting has given me the opportunity to release myself from perfectionism's uncomfortable grip and develop the kind of self-acceptance and love that my kids seem to instinctively possess.  And now I was about to model that it's sometimes okay to quit!


When I reached the next tree post, I found myself hugging and not wanting to let go of that tree with the kind of intense love usually reserved for extreme environmentalists. I was done! It was suddenly much more important to me to listen to my body’s limits and find my kids on the course than to prove to myself and others that I could finish. Suddenly, quitting was not only an option, but it was okay. I couldn’t remember the code word the guide had told me to yell if I needed to be rescued, but in any situation screaming “HELP!” usually works.  I started with a timid “Helloooooo. Guide?!” which quickly progressed to screaming above the treetops “HELP! I need to get down now.” 

In a matter of minutes, a very kind and capable young man arrived on the scene to lower me from the towering heights of my new BFF. I told him I was okay and felt surprisingly calm.  I wanted to reassure him that I wasn’t going to cling to him like a crazy lady when he finally reached me.  He, in turn, reassured me that this kind of thing happens every day.  That made me feel a lot better!  I found myself laughing, recalling my high-pitched screams for help above the tree tops, and relaxing as he lowered us to the ground. I was amazed not to be embarrassed. The earth did not open up to swallow me whole when my feet reached terra firma. Throngs of people weren’t waiting on the ground to laugh, jeer, and otherwise poke fun at my failure. These are the kinds of thoughts that keep perfectionism well-fed, by the way, and keep us from trying things that might mean risking failure in some way, shape, or form. In fact, I felt kind of proud of myself. I had actually asked for help and received it! Trust me when I say, it took more emotional courage for me to quit, ask for help and trust that it would arrive, and social courage to risk embarrassment amongst my peers and family, than the physical courage to force myself to finish the course.


I could have focused on my failure and spiraled down into an abyss of low self-esteem, but I made my failure okay by focusing instead on what I was able to accomplish. I made it okay to quit by untangling who I am as a person from my perfectionist expectations.  I discovered that the belief that you are already “good enough,” no matter what you are able to accomplish, is perfectionism's personal kryptonite. Adopting a new respect for quitting has also freed me up to be willing to climb again! 


By honoring the type of courage I actually needed to develop, I was able to reframe my perceived physical courage “failure” as an emotional courage accomplishment. We can do this for our kids, too, by helping them to recognize the gains they make everyday, by breaking apart difficult tasks into smaller more manageable and achievable ones, and by celebrating their successes. We can help them identify which of the six types of courage they are developing, and are capable of, in everything they do!


As I was writing this post, I asked my daughter to define failure.  Her answer: “There is no such thing as failure Mom. Whatever you are able to do is okay.”  When I also asked if she'd like to try the adult course with me again this summer, now that she's almost 12, she said: “Probably not.  I'm not a big fan of heights.”


You can read more about coaching kids to face challenges in my previous post: Discourage/Encourage: What’s a Parent to Do?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Scared of Flying No More!

Fear of flying is no joke--especially for kids!  Here’s some advice to help children overcome aerophobia--most of which I put into practice with my own daughter to help her overcome her fear of flying, which I wrote about in my previous post “Fear of Flying: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Feeling!”:   
  • Talk about your child's fear.  Let's face it, it is kinda' strange to fly so high above the ground!Empathize with them by normalizing fear as part of life and that we become stronger and more courageous by facing our fears--which gets easier the more we do it!  Don't unnecessarily minimize how big their fear may feel.  Help them to break it into smaller, more manageable, pieces.   For example, if your child is afraid of flying figure out if it is being in a small, enclosed space; or is it the loud sounds of the engines; or leaving their doggies behind at home; or possible turbulence during flight? Next, take steps to overcoming each fear.  Brainstorm ways to have courage facing a particular fear and perhaps even simulate facing those bite-sized fears like leaving the dog for a day, using ear plugs around a loud lawnmower, or likening riding in a plan to the roller coaster you may have ridden last summer. 

  • It is helpful to demystify flying and address some of your child’s questions about how safe it is as a method of travel.  Reading books about air travel, describing and visualizing a flight from beginning to a safe and happy landing, and educating your child about how safe flying is and how many millions of people arrive safely to their various destinations every day can be helpful in reducing anxiety.  Even going through a car wash together, or simulating a flight by watching a YouTube clip like this one, or setting up the pillows and a cardboard plane control panel in the living room—complete with self-made sounds and effects—may help to acclimate your child to the feelings, sounds, and sensations similar to those of being in an actual plane.  Normalize turbulence as part of the natural waves of wind the plane will ride up and down during the flight—especially when riding over mountains. 

  • Provide some valuable facts about flight safety.  Frame those facts in ways that kids can understand.  For example, explaining how safe flying is in comparison to driving doesn’t help really--it just made my daughter begin to question even getting into the car.  Fear is contagious that way!  Ask them to visualize the 4.5 million people everyday who fly safely in planes!  Remind them that many of those millions are kids off to visit their beloved grandparents or to see Disneyland for the first time.  Help them visualize such a large number like 4.5 million:  it is way more people that all the people living in Alaska and Hawaii combined, and about as many as live in the entire State of South Carolina. 

  • It is helpful to challenge some of those fear-inducing thoughts by brainstorming solutions to every worry and/or testing if the fearful thought is actually accurate, true, or simply irrational.  Take a piece of paper, divide it in two, and make one side for thoughts that are “True” and one for those that are “Not True.”  For example, “Everybody dies when they fly”— phobic thinking actually sounds like this.  This particular thought would go on the “Not True” list.

  • I’ve also taught my children that if they change their thinking, they can change their feeling.  I encouraged them to notice that when they pick a different thought, their feelings follow suit.  As I've written about previously, in Mental Pathways of Courage, it can take only approximately 90 seconds for feelings to catch up with our thoughts.

  • It is important to focus on the positive benefits associated with flying.  For example, the fun stuff you can do on board, the nutritional/favorite snacks and drinks you will pack, his/her favorite stuffy along for the ride, the movie you will bring to watch or book to read, special friends/family you are travelling to visit, the sights you might see along the way, and any other things your child might be looking forward to about the trip. 

  • Move around during the flight, should aerophobia’s close cousin, claustrophobia, also be contributing to your child’s fear of flying. 
  • One parenting site recommended wrapping little gifts to unwrap each hour on the flight to add something to look forward to and to countdown the hour(s) until you arrive at your destination.  

  • It is also useful to inform the airline staff that you have a hesitant flyer on your hands and any and all treats or accommodations they can make to ensure a relaxing flight would be most appreciated. 

  • Arriving to the airport relaxed helps (not that my family has ever been able to manage this one—which may well have also contributed to our daughter’s anxiety! We even slept through two alarms for our most recent early morning flight.  We were the last to check in and board, but we made it!) 

  • Teaching some simple body relaxation techniques to your child can help them learn the difference between tense and relaxed muscles.  Kids don’t automatically notice the difference.  So, start with your toes, showing them how to squeeze/tense and let go/relax each muscle group, ending with your faces.  Liken a tensed body to uncooked spaghetti (straight, rigid), relaxed bodies are like cooked spaghetti (loose, wiggly and jiggly).  Use visual imagery to help them tense and relax, this audio script may help. When stressed or worried during the flight, remind each other to use progressive relaxation to help your body tell your mind that all is well.  To learn more about Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), consult this book: The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook (Davis, Eschelman, & McKay, 1988).

  • Airline attendants are full of helpful advice. Those vomit bags may also come in handy for some much needed anti-panic deep breathing relief.


  •  If your child’s fear is debilitating, or close to being so, it is also a wise investment to consult a local child-oriented mental health therapist to prepare for any upcoming trips—especially if as a parent you, too, suffer from aerophobia.


  • Lastly, clap those hands loud and proud to thank the pilot for your safe arrival on the tarmac.  Be sure to celebrate each of your child’s successes along the journey to conquering their fear—no matter how small the steps or how short the flight—just keep gently moving forward through the fear instead of letting it limit your lives! 

Any advice you'd like to share about how you've helped your child overcome a fear?  We'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Fear of Flying: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Feeling!

My husband and I travel a lot with our kids.  They’ve ridden in planes, trains, automobiles, bike trailers, RVs, and a hot air balloon; on bicycles, ferries, kayaks, canoes, sailing boats, power boats, and inner tubes; by air, sea, river, lake, and land.  So it came as a bit of a shock when our daughter announced at age 8 that she would no longer fly in an airplane.  She would drive across country to visit our family that particular summer, but refused to fly.  Houston, we have a problem! 

Our daughter had officially joined the approximately one in six Americans who are afraid to fly.  Fear had her in its tight grip and wasn’t letting go anytime soon.  Problem was we were a few months away from flying home to visit our relatives in Canada.  We were not prepared to drive the over 3,000 miles again in our RV.  Two summers of such travel had worn us, and our somewhat anxious and diarrhea-prone dog, out!

Aerophobia, it turns out, is one of the top fears of most people.  The website www.fearofstuff.com/phobia-stats indicates that approximately 1 in 23 people suffer from phobias, with nearly 11.5 million sufferers in the U.S. alone.  A quick Amazon.com search yields some 4,000+ titles devoted to the topic of overcoming fear of flying. 

What I’ve learned about children who fear flying is that they can learn that fear through the anxiety of a parent.  Aerophobia can also be triggered by watching some disturbing news or movies, reading a book featuring air tragedies, experiencing turbulence on a flight, or due to the death of a family member or friend (either in a plane crash or not), or by overhearing people talking about plane crashes or other anxiety-provoking stories.  We could all be more mindful that our kids are ALWAYS listening, whether they seem to be or not.  They hear and absorb the news we listen to on the way to school and work, or the TV news we leave on while we cook, or the conversations we have with friends on the phone.  Though it is always useful to discuss with children the origin of their fear; it can be often be difficult for them to recall or pinpoint the exact triggering event. 

My daughter’s fear of flying might not have been such a big deal except for the fact that we live across country from all our family!  The particular summer after she became a card-carrying aerophobic, we weren’t prepared to drive across country to accommodate her fear.  Given my training as a child/family and mental health therapist I also know full well that avoiding what we fear has a nasty way of not only perpetuating fear but also contributes to what is commonly termed (by mental health professionals anyway) “generalized anxiety.”  I wrote more about this topic in my last post, Making Friends with Fear. 

Here’s my interview with my daughter about her fear of flying.  I thought it would be helpful to get a kid’s perspective on how to combat fear--because in my experience, kids have a lot of clarity about life, and are most definitely some of the most inspirational people I know: 

Me: When did you first become afraid of flying?
My daughter:When I first heard the story of 9/11. I was about 8 and we had just moved to New York. A friend’s mom told me about it and I thought I would never want to be on a flight like that.  I couldn’t understand how someone could do something so terrible as fly a plane into a building.”
(My personal preference here is to always have these kinds of difficult discussions between a parent and child—but we may not always be our child’s loving bearer of bad news.  Debriefing news they may hear at school or on playdates or from older friends is important.  Share your perspective on tragic events like September 11th, your values and life-affirming beliefs, with the goal of reassuring your child of his/her safety).   

Me: What about the next flight you flew after becoming afraid? Can you remember the next flight was with me and your older brother going to visit family in Vancouver?
My daughter:I was just after my 9th birthday.  I had to work up the courage to fly.  I just thought about how beautiful it would be when we got to our destination. I just kept thinking of all the people I would get to see again.  We even flew a couple of those littler commuter planes for shorter times, which were kind of cool.”

Me: Do you remember that you wanted me to hold your hand and to give you some Rescue Remedy® gummies?  Do you think that helped?
My daughter:I don’t know.  Not really.  The Rescue Remedy® gummies were tasty and helped with chewing so my ears didn’t pop.  It helped more to think of positive things that I was looking forward to.

Me: Most recently, you flew with the most confidence I’ve seen in the past few years during our last winter vacation.  What do you think shifted?
My daughter:I just thought that my fear was just in my mind.”

Me: How did knowing that your fear was just in your mind help?
My daughter:Because then I knew it wasn’t real.  Which meant I could get over it in my mind. It was up to me to fix it.”

Me: You still wanted to hold my hand on the way to our destination, but do you remember saying to me on the way back “I don’t want to hold your hand this time ‘cause I’m going to fly with my big bro next summer on our own and I need pretend now that I’m okay, so I’ll be okay when it comes time to fly on my own”?
My daughter:Nope.” (Typical!)

Me: What made you decide to get over your fear?
My daughter:I wanted to be able to go on all sorts of family vacations.  I’d also like to someday fly without you guys, just with my big brother to visit family in Canada on our own.”

Me: If you were to offer some advice to another kid who was feeling afraid of flying, what would you tell them?
My daughter: Just think about what it will be like when you get to your destination.  Just focus on all the beauty around you, as you look around you on the plane.  Like the clouds and ocean you can see below you. I took a lot of really cool photos on our last trip.

Me: What do parents need to know about helping a child with a fear of flying?
My daughter:You can help them, but ultimately it is in their minds so there isn’t a lot you can do.  You just need to listen to them.  It helps to talk about it.  But not too much.  Just enough to let them know it is okay to be afraid sometimes.  Let them figure it out on their own, because if you try to fix it—which you can’t anyway—it won’t help them solve the problem on their own for the long-term.”

Me: Do you feel afraid anymore of flying?
My daughter:Nope.” (She's 11 now.  It took some practice, with a few flights between ages 8 and 11 and visualizing herself someday being able to fly confidently, but I'm happy to report that she is a confident flyer today!)


For some tips on helping your child overcome his/her fear of flying read my follow-up post, "Scared of Flying No More!"

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Making Friends with Fear

Me making friends with Fear
As some of you dear readers may recall, I decided to adopt a fearless approach to life in 2012.  Trust me, co-writing a blog about nurturing courage in kids will force you to examine (in depth) the ways you may be both the brave and cowardly lion.  Since I also currently treat both children and adults with anxiety, I thought it especially important to put into practice some of the approaches I’ve been encouraging my patients to adopt.  Taylor Clark’s new book Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool (2011) also woke me up a little.   

Clark’s research shows that currently the U.S. is ranked “the most anxious nation on the planet, with more than 18 percent of adults suffering from a full-blown anxiety disorder;” stress-based ailments costing “an estimated $300 billion per year in medical bills and lost productivity;” and our annual usage of anti-anxiety medications doubling from “$900 million to $2.1 billion” (p. 11).  Clark also interviewed Dr. Richard Leahy, psychologist and anxiety specialist, who cautions that adults aren’t the only anxiety sufferers these days (something I, too, can attest): “The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s” (p. 11).  Acceptance and Commitment Therapy specialists Steven Hayes, Jason Luoma, and Robyn Walser, in their therapy manual Learning ACT (2007), caution that one of the main contributors to anxiety is experiential avoidance.  In normal speak: the more we avoid what we fear, the more anxiety develops.  So, starting with identifying the things we’re afraid of and developing a plan to face those fears step-by-step is a good place to start boosting one’s courage capacity—and decreasing our generalized anxiety at the same time. 

 
I mentioned in my New Year’s post (click here to read it) that learning to snorkel without panicking would be one of my “learn to live fearlessly” goals.  Let me back up and explain a little.  Four years ago, I joined the masses of North Americans dealing with anxiety and had my first official panic attack. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

What Would You Do if You Weren’t Afraid?

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.  To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable."
~Helen Keller


It’s New Year’s Day and I’m taking a different approach to planning my 2012 New Year’s Resolutions.  I’ve tried and failed many times in some of my previous vain attempts at perfectionism disguised as self-improvement.  In fact, when reading Gretchen Rubin’s bestseller, The Happiness Project, the only commandment for happiness (submitted by one of her readers) that resonated with me long after finishing the book was: “I am already enough.”  These days I prefer books that open my mind to possibility, rather than filling it with worry about all the ways I am not YET enough.  I'm trying to adopt a more relaxed, hands-in-the-air-less-white-knuckle-approach to riding this roller coaster called life.  I like books that are more bucket list than to-do list.  Though goal-setting is important and empowering, mining our dreams often requires getting fear out of the way first.  Diane Conway’s book What Would You Do if You Had No Fear?:  Living Your Dreams While Quakin’ in Your Boots, for example, is filled with stories of folks who mustered the courage to conquer their fears and follow their dreams. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Up and Over the Black Belt Wall!

Lisa's son performing his personal Black Belt form
I recently wrote about Jennifer's daughter and my two children's Tae Kwon Do Black Belt journey in a post entitled The Black Belt Wall.  All three children faced their own individual courage challenges over the four years of study required to attain their Black Belts.  Over the course of the final two days of testing, a couple of weeks ago, each Black Belt candidate was required to perform approximately ten different belt forms (a set series of jumps, kicks, chops, and other martial arts moves), a lengthy work-out, 100+ sit-ups, 100+ push-ups, 500-1,000 jump ropes, a 15-minute run, several sparring matches, their own personal form performed for all attendees, and finally to read a personal essay about their individual journey to becoming a Black Belt.  I'm happy to report that each of them successfully completed their test and were subsequently awarded crisp new Black Belts embroidered with their names!  It was truly inspiring to be witness to such a motivated, talented group of young people, ages 9-16, each achieving a long-cherished and hard-won goal. 

As parents, we provided the gas, transportation, monthly school fees, and the "You can do it!" motivation (when needed).  It was our kids, however, working under their martial arts instructors' mentorship, who had to show up for each class, dig deep in moments of fear or boredom, and have the emotional, intellectual, social, and physical courage to stick with a sport that is learned one move at a time.  Like in the classic movie Karate Kid (1984) when young Daniel is asked to help Karate Master Mr. Miyagi, one paint brush stroke at a time (instead of getting his much-desired and expected martial arts instruction), our kids not only had to develop trust in their instructors and themselves, they had to develop the kind of patience with the process that is in short supply in our instant gratification culture.  The courage development associated with this kind of time-honored teacher-student relationship and the courage challenges involved:  priceless!  Jennifer wrote a great post about this recently, too, in Wait for it...Wait for it!  

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Black Belt Wall

Lisa's son competing in board breaking in November, 2011 as a "Recommended Black Belt"
Jennifer and my children are testing for their Black Belts in Tae Kwon Do (TKD) this weekend.  It’s kind of a big deal.  This test, six and a half hours in total, is the culmination of four years of study.  They have each hit their own personal Black Belt walls and wanted to quit.  As I wrote about in Quitters, Campers, and Quitters:  Which One Are You?, what matters is that they didn’t quit and, as their parents, we didn’t quit on them. 


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Quitters, Campers, and Climbers—Which One Are You?


I would have thought that one of the side effects of writing a blog about courage would be an increase in my own courage quotient. In fact, over these past months researching, discussing with Jennifer, and writing about how to nurture courage in kids, I’ve noticed more moments when I’ve wanted to quit than climb.  Granted I’ve recently taken on several new projects and a new job, my kids started new schools, and my husband started a new business in one of the toughest economic climates since the 1930's.  My learning curve is steep and the challenges real.  But as someone who’s prided herself on being what Dr. Paul Stoltz (1997) defines as a “climber” in life, noticing that my inner “quitter” is alive and well is, well, humbling. 

In his book The Adversity Quotient: Turning Obstacles into Opportunities, Dr. Stoltz outlines three types of approaches that people take in life, using mountain climbing as a metaphor.  Listed below are his definitions, excerpted from the introduction of his book (1997) :

"Quitters simply give up on the ascent—the pursuit of an enriching life—and as a result are often embittered.  Quitters tend to blame others, become overwhelmed, and allow adversity to endure longer than necessary (5-20% of folks, according to a poll that Dr. Stoltz and his team of experts took of 150,000 leaders across all industries worldwide).

Campers generally work hard, apply themselves, pay their dues, and do what it takes to reach a certain level.  Then they plant their tent stakes and settle down at their current elevation. Campers tend to let adversity wear them down, resort to blame when tense or tired, and/or lose hope and faith when adversity is high (65-90% of folks).

Climbers are the rare breed to who continue to learn, grow, strive, and improve until their final breath, who look back at life and say, “I gave it my all.” Climbers tend to be resilient and tenacious.  They focus on solutions versus blame, and they are trusting and agile (the rare few)."

The adversity continuum ranges from: "avoiding, surviving, coping, managing, to harnessing adversity." (This brief summary is taken from The Adversity Advantage: Turning Everyday Struggles Into Everyday Greatness by Erik Weihenmayer, Paul Stoltz, and Stephen R. Covey, 2006).

Here’s an example of how I was humbled recently by my inner quitter.  We had relatives visiting from the West Coast who wanted to see the place where our ancestors had fought as United Empire British Loyalists during the Battle of Saratoga.  We lost that battle, which provides some nice foreshadowing to what happened next. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Raising a Good Citizen of the World

"I've learned that courage and compassion are two sides of the same coin, and that every warrior, every humanitarian, every citizen is built to live with both.  In fact, to win a war, to create peace, to save a life, or just to live a good life requires of usevery one of usthat we be both good and strong." 


Eric Greitens, Author of The Heart and The Fist:  The Education of a Humanitarian, The Making of a Navy Seal (2011)


So, what’s a parent to do to help raise a good citizen in this world? 
Let's face it our kids need to be equipped to be able handle increasingly complex moral issues involving a multitude of cultures participating together in a global economy (stacked precariously on  questionable foundations), with exponential population growth, and environmental concerns that don't leave any corner of our globe unaffected.  The ripple effect of our daily decisions from how treat our neighbor, to whether to vote or not, to where we spend our money, to how we deal with our garbage now send ripples farther and wider than ever before in history.  Learning to solve our planet's problems in sustainable, cooperative ways is more important than ever!

Here are Dr. Lisa's suggestions to consider:
  • Nurture a strong, secure, and loving bond with your child from infancy through adolescence.  Through this bond, you can become a powerful mentor for your child—especially during tough times. 
  • Show empathy and compassion for others.  Share out loud your curiosity about how others feel, think, believe, and live.  Make it okay to discuss differences and notice all the similarities the human family shares.
  • Offer lots of opportunities through family time and socialization opportunities for your child to develop care and concern for others, their community, and the environment.
  • Model the values you wish your child to embrace: honesty, kindness, etc.
  • Define the values that matter to you as a family, notice them in your everyday life,  discuss why they are important to you?  Pick a value a week, like those Lion's Whiskers  associates most with moral courage
    ·         Loyalty
    ·         Trust
    ·         Honesty
    ·         Integrity
    ·         Accountability
    ·         Responsibility
    ·         Fairness
    ·         Impartiality
    ·         Justice.
  • Show self-discipline in creating the kind of life you wish them to emulate.
  • Teach goal-setting and decision-making skills.
  • Discuss and weigh the pros and cons associated with simple and complex moral dilemmas involving not only “right vs. wrong,” but also even more complicated “right vs. right” or “wrong vs. wrong” scenarios. 
  • Show respect for yourself and others, especially your children.
  • Put the Six Types of Courage into action—let your child witness you walking your talk, taking personal responsibility, and having the courage to stand up for what you believe in.
  • Embrace a multicultural perspective for what is good and right in this world—you don’t have to eat, marry, or pray like others, but you can still model respect and tolerance for differences.  You can venture to be curious about, seek to understand, and even embrace different cultural beliefs as appropriate.
  • Model what a good citizen is for your child, and work together to make your family, community, and the world-at-large a better place to live.  Seek out lots of opportunities to do good and be charitable in the world together.
  • Pick a cause you believe in to contribute your time, money, signatures, and care to as a family.
  • Praise your child when they act in ways that are moral, good, and in sync with your family values.
  • Provide a community of like-minded friends, family members, teachers, religious and/or civic leaders for your child to learn from.
  • Read traditional moral tales (this is a link to Jennifer's bookshelf) and discuss the life lessons they understand imbedded within the story.  Jennifer regularly provides tales to choose from in her previous posts, too!  Just click on this link to find a treasure trove of moral courage stories to share.  Help them put into their own words the moral of the story, see if they can offer an example from their own life when they’ve had to “never give up,” “do the right thing,” “tell the truth,” or “be loyal to a friend”.  Highlight future opportunities for them to put into practice the particular value you wish them to emulate.  Narvaez, Gleason, Mitchell, and Bentley (1999) caution parents and teachers that simply reading moral stories to children does not guarantee their understanding of the core moral message.  In the imagination of a five year-old, a story like The Little Engine That Could (1930), the “Little Engine” could be faced with the nonmoral theme (one highly related to courage) of simply never giving up.   A nine year-old reader, on the other hand, may relate to the underlying moral lesson pertaining to importance of perseverance in order to help others. As children mature, and their prefrontal cortex continues to develop into young adulthood, they are capable of increasingly complex interpretations and better able to identify complex moral dilemmas and a story’s underlying moral message. 
For more guidance about how to help your child become a responsible citizen, Navaraez (2005) helped develop this downloadable book, thanks to funding from the U.S. Department of Education and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. 

How are you raising your child to be a good citizen?  We'd love to hear your ideas, too! 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Hard-wired to Care: You Matter in the Moral Life of your Child!

Current moral psychology research indicates that as parents we are our child’s first and most important teacher of the difference between good and evil, right and wrong.  The good  news is that from birth, humans (and other primates for that matter) are hard-wired to care.  According to psychologist and primatologist Franz De Waal (2010), empathy, or being able to feel/care/think on another’s behalf, is an instinctual, adaptive capacity that helps us all survive. 

Empathy is at the root of being a good person, or ape, whatever the case may be.  Infants as young as six months old can differentiate kindness from meanness.  By 12 months, infants begin to express care for others in distress. And by 14-18 months, these children show signs of altruistic (unrewarded) helping behaviors towards others (Decety, Michalska, and Kinzler, 2011).  Moral reasoning develops as children learn to integrate their inborn empathy with more complex social-reasoning abilities.  As parents, we have the responsibility to help our children learn how to connect and activate, through practice, that wiring through our care for them.

Developing a moral conscience is no longer understood to be a logical or even stage-by-stage process as proposed by the grandfather of moral development theory, Lawrence Kohlberg (1984).  Social Intuitionist theorists like Jonathan Haidt (2001) conclude that human beings are much less logical and much more intuitive, emotional, and automatic in their moral decision-making and responsiveness.  Moral psychologists like Darcia Narvaez, have developed several integrative theories, weaving together current neurobiology with more traditional cognitive and developmental psychology theories concerning the nature of moral development.  Her research explores questions of moral cognition, moral development and moral character education.  She is, in essence, trying to show that moral behavior in humans is driven  by both bottom-up (reptilian brain instincts and limbic system responses) and top-down processes (higher brain metacognition and executive function linked with the development of our prefrontal cortex).

What does all this have to do with parenting and moral courage?

Narvaez’s Triune Ethics Theory (TET) (2007), concludes that a “fully functional moral brain” is an evolutionary adaptation dependent upon modern childrearing practices that support healthy attachment.  Such secure parent/caregiver-child attachment leads to the kind of neurobiological development necessary for moral behavior.  Which in normal speak means, with regards to the moral development of your child, YOU MATTER BIG TIME in helping to wire your child’s brain in ways that are both adaptive and moral!  Read my post from last week, for an example of how much parents do matter!

Moral conscience, therefore, is now understood to be an instinctual and learned skill best passed on from parent to child through loving communication, care, and consistency.  It all starts in the chemical soup called LOVE and with the way we hold our babes!

It is the heart with which you bring to parenting that will help define your child’s orientation towards prosocial behavior (which is loosely defined as: empathic caring about the welfare and rights of others and acting in ways that benefit humanity).

However, Narvaez and Vaydich (2008) caution that modern parenting practices, particularly in America, either do not afford or underestimate the importance of spending the kind of time ensuring secure parent-child attachment.  They and others, like De Waal, voice concerns that we must not drop the ball on being the kind of attentive mentors our kids need to develop a healthy moral conscience.  It can be hard these days with so many different technologies, extracurricular activities, and financial realities competing for our attention.  Especially as our children enter adolescence, when their moral compass increasingly shifts towards the magnetic appeal of peer and mainstream media influence.  It takes moral courage to be the parent who shuts down the party where alcohol is served to minors.  To demand better workplace hours, benefits, or childcare policies so your children are made a priority.  Or to advocate for your child in a school where bullying may be the elephant in the lunchroom cafeteria.

When we are engaged in consistent, loving parenting—which is at the basis of secure parent-child bonds—everyday teachable moments with our children abound.  Teachable moments that can facilitate the transmission of moral values through moral instruction, modeling, supervision, and even the kind of story-telling associated with helping children to become good people. 

Narvaez and Vaydich (2008) urge educators, too, to become the kind of safe, caring mentors children need.  They believe school teachers are placed with an increasingly heavy burden of responsibility in helping to shape the future leaders of our world, in lieu of parental involvement and supervision.   In fact, these researchers encourage teachers to establish the same kind of secure attachments with their students, through attention and emotional awareness, in order to help ensure children will learn and follow the moral guidelines with which classrooms best function.  Moral guidelines like: be kind, wait your turn, share, pick up your garbage, tell the truth, and don't poke your classmate!



For a list of ways to help support your child's moral development, be sure to read my post next Sunday!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Using Moral Courage to Navigate Facebook and other Social Jungles!

On the eve of my son’s adolescence, he begged me to let him have a facebook account. At the time, there was a loosely followed guideline that only those 13 years and older could log on and join.  Since I didn’t really understand yet how best to navigate my first born’s adolescence anymore than facebook’s social jungle, I was stalling for time. 

I was also, it turns out, arbitrarily setting his adolescence entrance at age 13 and at facebook’s front door.   I could have opted for the more traditional Native American vision quest to mark his transition from childhood to adulthood.  But with no Native American ancestry whatsoever, such a quest would not only be totally out of integrity, but likely to involve a lot more preparation and trouble.  What wilderness could he wander alone in anyway to complete the sometimes weeks long journey from boy-to-manhood?  A place devoid of traffic, people, and other modern day distractions where he could survive with little water or food, where I wouldn't go nuts with worry? How long could I put off his school’s attendance officer calling every morning wondering whether or not he had yet achieved the necessary spiritual insight and maturity sufficient to return a more mature young man to middle school?  The East African male circumcision was out of the question, too, for obvious reasons.  So, facebook became intertwined with my son’s quest for more independence and offered a secret passageway to a parallel universe far, far away from anything mom or dad could even remotely understand. 

Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of facebook.  I am, however, shamelessly using it to help promote Lion's WhiskersI also didn’t know yet the kind of evils we would encounter together in this particular social networking jungle. 

The arbitrary age limit thing didn’t stop him from pestering me a lot.  I half-listened to his complaints about how EVERYONE else and their mother has a facebook page.  Even when he said “Mom, someone at school has made a facebook account with my name.” I absentmindedly responded, “Well, just tell them to delete it!” 

A few months passed.  Little did I know the scope of my son’s classmate’s moral indiscretion.  Or the impact that someone hacking into our family’s life could have!  Because I did not take the time to understand my son’s pleas, or facebook for that matter,  I was ill-equipped and too distracted to help him navigate this moral morass.  Big mistake!  He eventually took matters into his own hands, with the help of an older friend, and created his own facebook account with a pseudonym. Since  his classmate wouldn’t stop impersonating him, he reasoned he should alert his friends that though they thought they were “friending” him on facebook, they were actually communicating with an imposter.

We are pretty connected, my son and I.  He also breaks pretty easily when I kick my training in therapy/interrogation techniques into high gear.  I could tell he was hiding something.  Something was heavy on his heart.  It took about a day for me to discover that he had just joined the facebook generation, albeit as a dude by the name of  “Ferbmeister.” He faced the consequences from us.  He was lectured pretty heavily about the ills associated with lying, unsupervised computer access, and the fact that two wrongs don't make a right. 

As his parents, we spent an entire weekend trying to understand who and how this other child had managed to “friend” people we knew all over North America.  Not one parent of any of the other children alerted us to the fact that this impersonator was “friending” them on behalf of our son, despite having their suspicions and knowing that our kids weren't allowed on facebook.  Thankfully, one was willing to share who the impersonating child was.  If we don't stick together as parents, with a common vision to help guide our children towards moral, right, or otherwise kind behavior, our children are at risk for not developing the kind of moral courage we are proposing through Lion's Whiskers.

Next, I mustered the moral and social courage to confront, albeit diplomatically and without accusation, the parents of the child who we knew was impersonating our son.  Their response was defensive and they minimized the impact of their child's actions.  “It’s just kids being kids.  Besides, our child isn't really ever on the computer and wouldn't know how to do such a thing even if they were.” WHAT?!  I mean I’ve heard of putting your head in the sand, but this parent had theirs deep in the Sahara!

ostrich head in sand

Whether out of embarrassment, denial, or a lack of comfort with the kind of authority we have the privilege to hold as parents, it is, in my opinion, unacceptable to shelter our children from the consequences of their actions. 

We never received an apology from the child or the family, nor were any of our friends notified that who they thought they were communicating with for all those months was not, in fact, our child.  It took weeks for us to undo the child's handiwork and for the child to finally delete the account, after we alerted the powers that be at facebook.  It saddened my heart that this child would not receive the benefit of a consequence to help them correct their moral compass in the direction of ethical, kind behavior.  And it really angered my kids. 

Kids, for the most part, have a pretty good sense of the difference between right and wrong on the playground, so this wasn’t much different.  Research now shows that from birth, humans are hard-wired to care.  As parents, we have the responsibility to help them learn how to connect and activate, through practice, that wiring through our care for them.  Developing a moral conscience is no longer understood to be a logical or even stage-by-stage process.  Rather, it is a learned skill best passed from parent to child through loving communication, care, and in my case, finally listening to my child’s pleas for help  and asking others to be accountable for their actions—even if they aren’t willing to be.

My kids demanded justice.  “Mom, how come you give us consequences and so-and-so has none?  That just doesn't seem fair!

I, in turn, asked them, “How do you think we would have handled this situation if you had been the one impersonating a classmate?” 

Their answer: “You would make us apologize, delete the account, and probably even make some other kind of amends to make things right again.”  “You bet I would,”  was my emphatic response. 

Unfortunately, morality is sometimes a double-edged sword.  Even when we show care for others, they may not care about us.   Even when we do the right thing, it can often be hard.  We may risk our own safety, welfare, social acceptance, or even imprisonment for the causes we believe in.   How then do we teach our children to do the right thing?  Especially when life doesn't seem fair.  Well, we can be the kind of people we hope they will someday become.  We can model for our children how to react in ways that are life-affirming and not to be victims of our circumstances.  We can advocate for them when they need help.  We can dig our heads out of the sand!

Gratefully, many months after the facebook fiasco, my son's teacher not only arranged a ritual in the woods whereby each child had the opportunity to cross over a metaphorical threshold into adolescence.  She also tried to intervene with my son and his imposter.  She could see the distrust and distance the incident had created between them.  She asked the offending child to apologize.  My son was forgiving, but remained unimpressed.  Kids are like that.  They remember who pushed them off the swing, bit them in playgroup, or stole their identity. 

A few months later I ran into the child on the playground.  The child clearly wanted to avoid me, looking embarrassed and ashamed.  I said, with kindness and compassion in my heart, “You never need to avoid or be ashamed around me.  I care about you and I care about my son.  We all make mistakes.  I just wanted you to know the impact of your actions.  I wish you well.”  I turned the other cheek, so to speak. 

Never underestimate the impact of your real or virtual moral footprint, especially in the lives of your children!


For more on the moral development of children, and how important YOU are as your child's first and most important teacher...be sure to read my post "Hard-wired to Care: You Matter in the Moral Life of Your Child!"