Archive for August, 2011

There is a tendency for youth to rebel. Perhaps it is a natural part of maturation, as individuals struggle to understand the world and themselves, to change the world and to gain self-power.

In today’s society, given all that our youth have at their disposal and the magnitude of possibilities out there combined with their still immature minds for the most part, this struggle can be a dangerous thing. I remember when my own children were growing up and I contemplated the rebellion stage – my worst thoughts were that they’d not call home if they were going to be late or that they would arrive home drunk. Today, the worst includes violence and destruction. That is scary!

Recently, I not only have seen on the news the devastation left behind by mobs of individuals trying to make some statement, whatever that might be, but I have also read blogs that indicate that the statement is that the youth aren’t going to let society and governments control them, that the old ways are over and a new social norm is coming. And I cringe. It isn’t the thought of change that is unsettling; I wish it was that simple.

The evolution of society is a given. It will happen. Changes will come. There are systems currently in place that do not fit us any longer. It is time for them to go. This does not mean that chaos and destruction need to be the changing force. As I watch the news and the online discussions about the mobs, several questions go through my mind:

* do the participants even know why they are doing what they are doing?

* have they voiced their opinions and taken the appropriate channels in order to make change?

* why do they feel they need to be aggressive, confrontational, and violent to make their point?

* (which takes me right back to the first question:) what is their point?

* and, most importantly, what can we do, as parents and educators?

Our Role

Our role, as always, is to role-model and to guide. Through these two avenues we can teach our children/youth how to voice their opinions and questions and how to seek change in an appropriate and effective manner. I want to note, here, that I am aware that some people would question the use of “appropriate” in that statement. “Appropriate” would be based on the current social standards, which perhaps is the very thing the youth are rebelling against. It is my opinion that the most effective change process takes place through using the current systems. To me, this allows the message to be heard and not be lost behind the reaction to the alternative methods used.

Effective communication in part comes from speaking in a way that others can understand. During my parenting programs, when talking about good communication, I use an example of a child who whines. Rather than just saying “stop whining”, I suggest saying something like this: “It sounds like you have something important to tell me but when you speak like that, all I hear is the whining and not your words. Tell me again in a normal voice.”

Actually, the scenario above teaches several key elements:

* compose oneself prior to acting

* clarify your intention and your plan of action

* recognize how the message will be received

* know your audience

* present your message in a way that it has the best chance of being heard

Another scenario that I use is when a child wants something but the adult is currently busy. A possible response could be: “I am busy right now. Come back in 10 minutes and ask me again. Then I can give you my full attention.” You could also throw in a question asking the child to identify whether the situation is urgent or not. We wouldn’t want them to wait 10 minutes if there was a fire, for example. Teaching them to identify the best time and place to voice their opinions is also one of the key elements of effective communication.

Another important part of our role is “role-modeling”. This, perhaps, is the hardest of all as we have to “practice what we preach”.  Our actions are the real teachers, so when we are complaining about the neighbour but never address the issues with him/her or we simply scream accusations and demands at them then we are probably sending the wrong messages to our children. When we come home from work and talk about threatening to quit and/or wish harm would come to our boss or to irritating customers, well, you get the picture.

Besides the role-modeling, we should also let the children practice the lessons. How do things work in your home or classroom? Do you encourage the children/youth to speak their mind and seek change? Do they have a voice in what the norm is for their environment? If they identify something that they feel is not right, do you listen (really listen) or do you shut them down because you are in charge?

So how are we doing as parents and educators? Are we role-modeling how to think before we speak? Speaking in a manner that will be heard and understood? Finding the right time and place to voice our opinions? Having clear intentions? Seeking the appropriate channels to take action? Listening to others’ opinions and suggestions?

At times it is much easier to just say “do as I say and not as I do”, but it really isn’t the best way to help our children develop good social and personal skills and to help them learn how to rebel and make change in an effective manner.

The Challenge

Here’s a challenge for you for today: observe. Observe people in the community, observe yourself, observe the children and youth you come in contact with. What are the messages being sent regarding voicing opinions and making change? How often do you see the children empowered and how often are they told to keep their ideas to themselves?

On a scale of 1 to 10, how are we doing?


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What are we teaching our children?

“Everything we say and do and don’t say and don’t do is a lesson”. I believe strongly in this Wisdom and sometimes I cringe as I see it playing out in society. A video was shared, today, on a social media community, showing adults “helping children” set up lemonade stands at the White House in order to make a point.

Apparently it is against the law (or by-law) to set up a business / sell things in that area without a permit. Those protesting this, it seems, believe that children’s lemonade stands should not fall under this law. And thus, situations such as in the video take place, where children (or I should say parents) set up lemonade stands where they will be seen by White House law enforcement so that … so things will play out as expected, people will be arrested and turmoil will ensue.

To me, the video was very unsettling on so many levels and my stomach is still churning. “What are we teaching our children?” Yes, it is important that we teach our children to stand up for their rights and to voice their opinions in an effort to make change. However, in this video I saw some other lessons in play:

* it is okay to break the law when you don’t agree with something in your society

* police officers do not deserve respect

* it is okay to use children/others to try and manipulate the system

* create a negative situation and then “cry foul” when the results are the very things you were hoping for

* rules are for other people, not “me”

I’m sure there are more lessons, some of which might even be good ones (although I couldn’t see any in the video that I watched). As the video played, I wondered what the parents would think if the children used these strategies in the home, trying to force the parents to give in to the child’s wants. “No TV after 6PM? Oh yah? I will deliberately turn the TV on and bring friends over as well.  And if you touch my hand that is on the controller, I’m shouting “abuse”!”

Everything is a lesson and the lesson may not be the one you are intending!

There. Now I’m feeling better, having gotten that off my chest.

“Everything we say and do and don’t say and don’t do is a lesson. What are we teaching our children?” (~DP 1997). Let’s make the lessons good ones.

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Yesterday, I witnessed pure, unadulterated love.

While standing in a line at the store I saw my grandson (two months old) stare into his mother’s eyes with a look that really is indescribable. I can try and put it into words but I will never do it justice.

The look, to me, portrayed total trust and pure love and was, yet, something more. I think, as I write this, that the look is what we all search for in our lifetime – inner peace. In that moment yesterday, there were no fears, no doubts, no troubles. All was right with the world.

This sense of peace is what we are born with, (I can only assume), and then for most of us, that feeling is stripped away or I should say hidden behind layers of life experiences. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could keep it from being buried? How can we help our children maintain this sense of wholeness?

The quick and easy answer would be to make sure everything in life is wonderful for the child – that they are never involved with anything traumatic or disappointing. But life is full of challenges, even if it comes from growing too big for a favourite tricycle. Try as we might, we cannot protect our children from all things troubling, nor do we want to, to be honest.

What we can give them is a perspective of empowerment, resiliency, and joy. Rather than protecting them or treating them as victims to circumstances, we can teach them how to see experiences as opportunities to learn and grow and to be grateful for the events. We can teach them how to see the good and to separate their paths from others on an emotional level but, yet, still remember that we are “one people”, “one universe”.

As with most things, the “answer” is both simple and complex and we, as mentors, also have our own lives to deal with at the same time, so there lies the challenge of being a parent and/or educator! But I am hopeful that we can do this and our society will become stronger and happier because of our efforts.

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I believe that every experience in our lives brings us wisdom and it also develops our perception of the “truth”.

Whether you look at the wisdom or the truth of a situation, a key element of each is perspective. The human mind, which is great at analyzing, processing, and creating, has to base its thinking on knowledge it already has. This knowledge, due to many factors, can be limited and it also can be distorted by faulty thinking.

I re-read that last paragraph and, although it makes sense to me, it also has my head spinning. Thinking based on faulty thinking, knowledge that is skewed: where lies the truth?

Do we really know what the truth is? We often think we do. Let’s look at the world of science, for example. Truth: the world is flat — until a new truth was discovered. Truth: Pluto is a planet – until.. well, the experts are still in disagreement about its title. On a personal level, I have reached many milestones of “truth” over the years, each time thinking that I have it figured out, only to discover later that there is another layer to the knowledge. Sometimes I find that my personal “truths” have been based on emotional baggage and once the “wounds are healed” that there is a purer truth underneath.

This blog is still confusing. And perhaps that is the life of a human – a journey of becoming aware of one’s thinking, of looking at situations with an unbiased eye, of finding one’s limiting thoughts and assumptions, and of continually seeking clarity.

Being aware of the jumble of factors that our minds have on discovering and receiving wisdom, how do we teach our children what we have learned? First, we need to recognize and respect that everyone’s brain works differently than our own, based on how they gather and process information. We also need to recognize that their self-talk (see previous blog) and their perspective of a situation are different than ours and we should not assume that we know what they are thinking.

I am reminded of a story that I read one time. (I apologize for not being able to credit the author as well as taking some liberties with the story as I do not remember the specific details.) The gist of the story is as follows: As a young child, the author had been traumatized by a ride at Disneyland and, there after, refused to ride roller coasters. It became a joke in his family. As a grown man, he finally shared the reasoning behind his childhood fear. Waiting in line for the ride, he had watched the carts take people into a mountain and he had watched carts come out of the mountain – empty. In his mind, the mountain was eating the people. With that wisdom, that truth, wouldn’t you, too, want to avoid that ride at all costs?

Unfortunately, with the above story, he never shared his perspective when he was younger and nobody was able to give him the facts to broaden his knowledge base and challenge his fears. And here lies the wisdom for us as parents and educators. Ask – find out what the child is thinking, how he/she is interpreting an event. What is his/her “truth”? Knowing the child’s perspective, we can provide more information and we can teach the child how to think beyond one’s point of view and how to look for flaws or limits in one’s own thinking.

A goal of our education system is (or should be) to teach children “how” to think, not “what” to think. The “what” is a lot easier but definitely not as effective. Our brains are not wired to be robotic thinkers. Knowing our limits, our distorted thinking processes and the power our emotions have on what we perceive as “the truth” is one of the keys to healthy living.

We hold the keys for our children. We must be sure to pass them along to this next generation.

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We all have them – those little tape players in our minds that play messages that help us overcome challenges and interpret experiences, but that can also stop us from moving forward in our lives or have some other effect on choices we make in life.

I think I can… I think I can… I think I can… I know I can.”

Some of us have audio tapes that are very supportive and positive, while others have less effective messages that disempower and put up roadblocks. How do different people get such different self-talk messages playing in their heads?

On one side of the coin we have the belief that we are born with a predisposition to the negativity. Perhaps genetics plays a role. I do believe that we are each born with a particular personality or style of interacting with the world. Some individuals are “people people” and some are analyzers, some people are more reserved while others are more interactive, and some… well, you get the picture. As to whether the negativity factor is part of a person’s natural make-up – I don’t believe so. But I am not aware of any scientific proof – I only have my own PolyAnna predisposition behind that assumption.

On the flip-side of the coin, the other option regarding the source of negativity is learned behaviour. Over time, based on our experiences or, I should say, our interpretation of our experiences, we develop an understanding of how the world works and how to live in this world. Some of these interpretations come from our own thinking processes but most, in my opinion, are planted by others – taught to us by our mentors and role-models.

Don’t do it. People will make fun of you. You are going to make a fool of yourself!”

Coming from the world of Early Childhood Education I know that the first five years of life play a huge role in a person’s development and adults, primarily parents and teachers, impact this development through their interactions with the children in their care. I also know that children pick up language, cultural norms, and accents before they are even able to talk but I hadn’t thought about the development of the self-talk recordings until now – until I started watching my new grandson as he begins his journey.

And now I’ve started thinking … will the comments made in his presence during his first two years of life influence the self-talk tapes that he will carry with him for much of his life? Can we, as adults in his life, create healthy effective messages by planting the seeds of empathy, resiliency and empowerment? And what are those casual statements that we make that are detrimental? If we can weed those out and keep from speaking them, will his path be shifted towards a more positive outlook of himself and of life?

How much of an impact can a simple rewording make? A quick experiment: how do the following statements make you feel and what self-talk messages start to play when you read them:

  1. Oh no …now look what you did!
  2. Oops… look what happened!

Perhaps version one is the beginning of blame and a self-identity of being inept, helping to form the self-talk messages of “I am such a klutz” and “I can’t do anything right.”

The message development may not only be impacted by comments made towards a child, as in the above example, but also by the child hearing people speak their own self-talk messages aloud. A parent who habitually berates him/her self with the message “How could I be so stupid” may be planting the seed of a self-identity message that could be nurtured in the mind of his/her child, forming the next generation of “How could I be so stupid” thinkers.

Pre-language but not pre-self-talk.

And of course it doesn’t stop at infancy. Our actions and words are continually having an impact on others’ self-talk and our own messages are being influenced by others, no matter what our age is.

Self-talk messages: It’s something to think about.

What do you think are some of those statements that we make that, perhaps inadvertently, have a negative impact on a child’s self-talk?



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Today’s Child – “Our” Child.

“Everything we say and do and don’t say and don’t do is a lesson.” What are we teaching our children?

I spoke those words one day during a parenting program that I was facilitating a long time ago and in that moment my life changed. I became aware.

The moment those wise words were given to me and I let them be spoken I started a journey into understanding behaviour from a deeper perspective than ever before. Behaviour is learned, yes. We are role-models, yes. But — the extent the role-modeling goes, the impact of the smallest of actions, and the possibilities that this awareness created, well, it was like listening to the Hallelujah Choir singing in my ear.

Even today, over a decade after being told that Wisdom from “the sources beyond”, I can still get shivers of excitement and fear as I contemplate the power (good and bad) that we have, usually without even thinking about it. When we sit, “vegging out” on the couch, we are teaching a child about life; when we speak to someone on the phone, when we argue with a family member, when we eat spaghetti, when we make a comment about the neighbour – we are teaching our children.

How we argue, voice our opinion, interpret an event, and stand while listening to someone speak – everything is teaching a child something. That is powerful stuff, but then when we throw in how the child interprets what they see and hear, well, “scary” just reached a new level!

“Everything we say and do and don’t say and don’t do is a lesson.” Everything.

Now, what do we do with that information? … besides panic? Hopefully, through this blog we can take some baby steps towards being the best village in which to raise our children.

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