As a first-time grandmother, I watch my year-old grandson with fascination and amazement. Like all babies, fierce determination drives him to learn. He takes trial and error in stride and innately understands that failure is the cost of mastery. I watch him and imagine how amazing we all would be if we retained that unflappable determination.
Experience tells me that eventually, his confidence will diminish. Self-consciousness will compete with his willingness to risk trying new things. Saving face will become more important than working through the embarrassment of being a novice long enough to develop proficiency.
Fear of failure presses kids--and adults-- to avoid trying in the first place or to quit early in the process. This causes the loss of faith in ourselves and we succumb to discouragement.
As I write this blog post, the 2016 Olympics plays in the background. I consider these competitors. They did not fall prey to fear. They did not give up on their dreams. They embraced hard work and commitment, tolerated frustration, achieved success via the information distilled through failure and held onto their dreams of athletic excellence.
As parents, we can help our kids cultivate determination, persistence and acceptance of failure as an integral part of any learning process.
Another figure well-known for his determination comes to mind. Inventor, Thomas Edison who famously quipped, "I know several thousand things that won't work." His life serves as a wonderful model for persistence through failure. What made him so resistant to discouragement and surrender?
As Intentional Parents, how can we help our children be strong, confident and determined? How do we teach them not to fear failure? No surprises here. No magic. Our most effective tool is the way we live our lives so that we model what we wish our kids to learn. All parents know that toddlers study us to learn about their world (flush things down the toilet, unlock baby gates, open cabinets, etc). This learning-through-observation never stops. Whatever their ages, kids watch us and learn. We must always remain conscious of this fact and be very intentional about what we are modeling.
How does this look in action? Consider these steps:
First, set an expectation that success will NOT be easy. Emphasize how often we practice, rehearse, refine and repeat our efforts to learn and perfect our skills. Make clear that we expect to see the similar fits and starts in their lives. Assure children that we do not expect their proficiency to come easily, quickly or without stumbles and resets.
Second, show kids that learning is a lifetime process not just something that happens in the classroom. Let them hear about the challenges we face as adults which require our persistence and determination until we succeed.
Third, encourage effort. Talk about the tasks and skills which we are committed to learning both for work and for personal pleasure.
Convey that learning is valuable for its own sake, something we choose for ourselves, and not simply a burden imposed on us by others. Clue them in to the many tasks we face at work, home and in the community so they are aware of our efforts in action. Unless we call attention to our struggles, kids assume everything is effortless for us. (Obviously, we must use discretion so we avoid burdening our kids with worries that should sit squarely and solely on adult shoulders.)
Fourth, value failure as the road to success. As adults we know that instant success is a myth. Achievement results from effort, commitment and occurs in steps. Each attempt refines our learning and improves our skill, product or understanding. Comment on our own recognition of our incremental progress. ("Wow, I'm able to do that better than my previous time.")
Remember to note our own encounters with the reality of "two steps forward, one step back." Talk about failure in terms of how it propels learning instead of with an eye to fault-finding, comparing to others or belittling the lack of success. Convey an attitude of confidence that says success is possible. Do not play the blame game. It's a dead-end that distracts our attention from revising to fault-finding.
Fifth, share our own struggles to learn. Even if it feels a bit silly, we can take a page out of the toddler play book and speak our inner conversations aloud. This allows kids to hear healthy, respectful self-talk. (It also ensures that we practice what we preach: encourage ourselves. Too often our inner critic is the worst bully we encounter.)
Dreams are important. They spark our creativity, however, they are "future oriented” only. We must help them move beyond "magical thinking" and exemplify for our children that it takes energy and discipline to accomplish dreams--for children and adults.
We must model through our own lives that continual practice eventually lead to “unconscious” remembering and doing. Utilizing feedback fosters flexibility that bends us in the direction most needed. Instead of regarding mistakes as disastrous and dream-ending, we can teach kids to regard them as a way to expose needed adjustments that inch them closer to the fulfillment of their dreams.
How might your family benefit from this five-pronged approach to life as a learning conversation. What possibilities might it open? How might it strengthen relationships? Practice this for two weeks and notice how it influences family morale and then share your thoughts with us.
For a fun family read, that focuses on learning through failure, check out this review of Timeless Thomas written and illustrated by Gene Barretta. It opens with the lines, "Have you ever thought about inventing something of your own? You're never too young to try." What a fun invitation to spark a dream in a child's mind. Heck, I will paraphrase that quote and say, "You're never too old to try."
We all strive to get along well. But, conflict, breaches and breakdown inevitably touch every relationship. This is especially true within families, the home of our most intimate relationships. Here we are most deeply invested, most passionately committed, most thoroughly vulnerable and most frequently engaged. In the parent/child relationship, we add the extra pressure of loving and educating while simultaneously disciplining.
In our previous post we explored how parents might use our personal experiences of confronting challenges, developing strategies and handling obstacles as a teaching tool that our children can use as a template for their own lives. This post will focus on strategies to repair relationships after they have been breached, threatened or, damaged.
1. Acknowledge that a break in relationship occurred.
Why is this important? If we say nothing, admit nothing, the entire family must engage in a game of denial. We reinforce family taboos, declare subjects off-limits and leave each family member to flounder on their own. With this approach no one wins. No one learns to do better. No one feels better.
Admittedly, some parents find it difficult even inconceivable to admit mistakes to their children. To them, such a confession is unthinkable, unappealing and/or unwise. Perhaps parents fear looking weak, ineffective, out of control. Perhaps parents believe that if they admit imperfections their children will cease to see them as worthy role models or will doubt their parents' ability to steer the family ship through stormy waters and thus children might feel unsafe.
But Intentional Parents do not buy into this line of thinking. They recognize the importance of truth in relationships. They own their failures and use them to better themselves and their families. Intentional Parents admit when they've erred; they and their families benefit from that honesty. The children benefit also from the parents’ expression of vulnerability, and will learn the vulnerability is not a weakness but a strength.
2. Deliver the acknowledgement with calm, and untainted by any attempt to minimize, deflect, or, project fault to others or circumstances. (A half-hearted, excuse-laden apology makes things worse not better.) How might this type of an acknowledgement sound?
Last night things got rather ugly...
3. Take ownership of your contribution to the breakdown
I said some hurtful things and doled out some disproportionate consequences...
I didn't listen and just kept yelling...
I continued to argue long after any of us were rational enough to listen or compromise.
Notice that the statements reflect what I did, not what you made me do. Identify how you influenced the event--what you said or did. Include your non-verbal involvement: eye rolls, huffing and puffing, hands on hips, sneers, etc.
4. Allow other family members to identify their parts in the breakdown. The challenge her is to resist telling them what their part in the breakdown was. For it to be meaningful, it's got to come from inside themselves. They get to identify and own it using "I" language. Children may opt to remain mute, offended, parked firmly in the point of view that sees themselves as innocent and the parents as guilty. It takes time and practice for they are willing and feel safe enough to catalog their contribution to the breakdown.
5. Engage in solutions This is where parents express both their resolve to improve on their Intentionality, calmness and to better utilize their tools. Commit to calling a Time Out that gives all parties breathing space to calm down.
Revisit any consequences that were doled out in the heat of anger. We've all been there, engaged in a lunatic dance fueled by anger no one is rational. We furiously threatened that if they say/do one more thing we'll double, triple the consequence. No one listened. No one benefited. No one backed down. No one learned to do do better, be better.
Keep in mind that the intent of discipline it to educate not to punish. Reassess consequences for fairness, proportion and appropriateness. Redraft them if appropriate. But distinguish between being a push over who gives in to whining and being willing to admit that anger clouded judgement. To avoid encouraging an expectation that consequences are always changeable, when making any adjustment clarify why.
Most of us are familiar with the classic childhood song, "The Wheels on the Bus." My kids delighted in singing the lyrics and acting out the accompanying gestures --swishing wipers, rolling wheels, children bumping up and down, etc., .
As an adoptive parent whose children are now adults I have many fond memories connected to singing with my children as we traveled in the family van.
I also have many very vivid and a bit more challenging memories associated with conversations in our car.
For years, I wondered why my children chose our moving vehicle as the venue for charged conversations on important subjects. Fellow adoptive parents confirmed that their kids also did the same--usually when the driving conditions were particularly challenging--as were the questions that they raised. Nope, no easy questions with painless answers. Their inquiries usually focused on the complex and hard to explain aspects of adoption.
So what made the family car, bumper-to-bumper in traffic-- children's favorite spot for difficult conversations?
First, the expectation of eye contact was nearly eliminated. As Queen of the Safety Patrol, "Eyes on the road" was essential for driving safety. The kids knew this. I believe it factored into their decision to raise the questions while we bumped along, watching out for potholes both literal and figurative. The car also limited the ability for child or parent to leave the area when/if the conversation became too uncomfortable or difficult.
Once I became an NLP practitioner, I learned how parallel body positions reinforce an unconscious feeling or rapport. Riding in the car guaranteed this commonality. Our children yearn for our undivided attention & what better place than in the car, where both are confined for a period of time.
We parents can follow our children's leads and also choose the car as the "it" spot for important conversations. (Obviously, avoid conversations that might distress them; those are best held off road.) But the car is a great spot for planting "thought seeds" for future, more detailed adoption conversations. (We can also set and follow an agreement that we all avoid texting, thus modeling good behavior and upholding the family value system.)
Periodicaly toss out a mention of an adoption-oriented thread. For example on the way home from soccer, band practice, or academic games say something like, "I wonder if you get your talent for sports, music, etc, from your birth parents." Leave it at that. If your child wants to chat further, follow their lead. If they don't return your serve, you've still accomplished something important: you've demonstrated that this is a permissible, welcome, and safe topic, that you recognize--and appreciate. It affirms our acceptance of their birth parents as a valuable part of them and shows we understand that our children think about and value that part of themselves. This message is critical and must be frequently repeated in action and words.
As Intentional Parents we speak through both words and actions to show we are not only willing to listen when our children raise the subject, we must also raise it ourselves. These discussions do not always need to be BIG conversations--although sometimes they will be. Listen with an intention to understand not rebut. As the saying goes. "We have two ears and one mouth; there's a reason for this."
Rebecca Vahle of the Adoption Perspectives adoption radio network makes a similar point, "We must listen well to love well." Check out her amazing show and its archives. It is a treasure trove of adoption resources and perspectives from all aspects of the adoption constellation. She has interviwed GIFT coaches Sally Ankerfelt (the Benefits of Homeland Visits) and Gayle Swift (ABC, Adoption & Me and other).
Last week we explored one tenet of our philosophy of adoption. (The entire twenty-five point manifesto is posted on our website home page.) This week we turn to point four: 4. Support systems are vital in assisting families with the realities of living as an adopted family.
While the old adage, It takes a village to raise a child, is widely believed, the "village" serves an even more vital role in an adoptive family's life. Support benefits all family members as each must learn to dance with the after affects that adoption imposes on them. When each person's needs are adequately met, they are more fully available to connect with and support the rest of the family.
Appropriate support helps parents put the ghosts of infertility behind them, realign their expectations about parenthood from their fantasies to embrace the real children who are now a part of their hearts and families. Children receive much needed assistance in coping with their losses, integrating their biological legacy with their adoptive family heritage and in moving forward to a healthy adult identity that incorporates both their families.
This kind of well rounded support embraces adoption as a family experience that touches each and every family member. It avoids framing the adoptee as the only one with "issues" or "stuff" to deal with. When everyone acknowledges, accepts, confronts and handles their adoption-generated needs, it augments their ability to become an authentically High AQ* family that recognizes adoption as a life-long factor in their lives and enables them to use this awareness to benefit all of them.
Instead of burying the challenges, pain, and trauma which arises, well-supported families confront them. They remove the rose-colored glasses and evict the "elephants" from the room. In partnership with their personally-adapted support system, they deal with their "stuff". Most importantly, they do it together, not alone.
In the past many adoptive families misunderstood the depth of the change that adoption placed on the entire family. Rose-colored glasses persuaded them that all was well when in fact, parents still wrestled with the outfall of infertility; children fearful of offending adoptive parents struggled with unexpressed questions about themselves and their first families.
Families who admit problems exist and then get help, connect genuinely. They choose to move beyond the all-is-wonderful mask and instead choose to truly see who they are, what obstacles they must overcome and then do it together. In today's world of open adoption, relationships are increasingly complex, varied and constantly changing. Emotions run high on all sides so a neutral support person can be invaluable. At the hub of this complex web of individuals is/are the child/ren we all love. Their best interest drives us to be authentic, vulnerable, persistent and brave. That is not easy.
Many of us never truly explore what lies beyond the mask we show to the world. And once we are aware, we can create a family built on intention, which is especially "of value" when the family includes all those that make up the adoption triad. Most of the time it take someone else--like a coach--to nudge us into this awareness. Part confidante, part champion, she provides a sounding board, a neutral perspective, and encouragement.
Who is part of your support system? For your children? How well informed are they on the realities of adoptive family life? How might an adoption coach stand with you as you journey through life as an adoptive family?
Parenting can be very rewarding; it can also bring us to our knees, leaving us overwhelmed, frightened and desperate. Kids with tough starts, trauma histories and strong wills can prove difficult to manage. What parent has not had the frustrating experience of recognizing they cannot compel an uncooperative or unwilling child to do something? Consequences, incentives, threats, pleading…nothing works. Such power struggles leave parent and child exhausted, stressed and unhappy. Family life becomes mired in confrontation, exasperation and conflict.
So what recourse do parents have? Coaching uses some fundamental presuppositions to develop effective strategies that move families forward through difficulty, for example, accountability and working/not-working. Accountability examines how one’s own behavior—to whatever slight degree-- contributed to an outcome. This is very removed from either fault-finding or assuming responsibility that rightfully belongs to others.
Accountability helps identify leverage points for future change because our own behavior is the only thing over which we have total control. By backtracking through the decision tree that led to a given outcome, choice points can be identified that might have altered the result. The purpose is to identify an exit ramp from the chaos. Note that this removes the need to assign blame. Fault is irrelevant. Remember, the blame-game takes us out of the game instead of keeping us in it. When we are in the habit of telling our children what they did wrong, we end up alienating them instead of bringing them closer to us. Instead concentrate on making different choices and identifying which ones move the family closer to a mutual goal. This strengthens the relationship. It also reduces anger, shame and resistance, models respect and nurtures capability.
Another important coaching presupposition is working/not-working (as distinguished from the proverbial right/wrong viewpoint.) Right/wrong insists there is only one approach, method or strategy. It crushes creativity, initiative and self-designed problem solving and leaves little room to accommodate individual approaches, patterns and personalities. Right/wrong is more about compliance than competency or cooperation. Focusing on working/not-working allows parents to look at strategies and behaviors with neutrality. It keeps the focus on the goal. Success is determined by effectiveness. Was the goal achieved? If not, what can be tweaked? Added? Subtracted? No energy is wasted on insisting that one approach—MINE--is the correct way while yours is incorrect.
For example, imagine a parent requests a child take the trash to the curb and clarifies the time by when the task is to be completed. He gives the child room to shape the task to his liking, perhaps adding an element of fun. Pull it on his skateboard? Drag it his wagon? Run a timer to see if they can "Beat the Clock?" You get the idea. This allows both parents and children to focus on goals, on learning from mistakes and using such experiences as stepping stones to effective solutions and independence. The parents are not dictators giving orders; they are leaders who model respect and raise children who are thoughtful, capable and willing contributors.
Relationship offers the most reliable path to attachment, cooperation and strong family connection. When kids care about their parents, they also care about parental priorities, values and standards. One excellent parenting book is The Newbie’s Guide to Positive Parenting, second edition by Rebecca Eanes. Although not specifically directed at adoptive families, it definitely concentrates on sustaining connection, on parenting via modeling the attitudes and behaviors parents want their children to learn. Rebecca asserts an important distinction: "leading and controlling are very different." One invites cooperation; the other invites rebellion. One is respect-based; the other is fear-based.
An important mantra guides adoptive parents: "connect before correct." Positive Parenting includes a commitment to restoration, to repair and reconnect after breakdown occurs in family relationship. Parents must never withhold their love because of a child's inappropriate choices. Unconditional love is the lifeblood of the family relationship.
Here are a few memorable quotes from the book:
“Positive discipline isn’t about making a child pay for his mistake but rather learn from it”
“It’s about teaching them to do what is right instead of punishing them for doing what is wrong.”
“There is no such thing as an unimportant day when you are shaping a child’s life…Be intentional about what it is you are writing.”
The Newbie’s Guide to Positive Parenting is an excellent book. that will inspire you. Check it out.