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Instead of Being Defensive

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When we get defensive, we’re no longer communicating on steady ground.

Suppose we’re at a birthday party, and someone makes a negative remark about our child’s behavior. If we personalize the comment, we may do one of the following:

We make excuses.

You know, Sammy was up late last night. That’s why he’s out-of-sorts today.

We argue.

You’re wrong. Sammy did not do (whatever the person said happened). You’re just always on his and my case.

We respond with sarcasm.

Like your child is perfect . . .

We blame others.

Well, Sammy was at his father’s all week—and he just lets him run wild.

We trivialize.

Oh, boys will be boys.

We give a speech.

You have no idea what my life is like. I’m trying to juggle working full-time and meeting my kids’ needs. I’m doing the best I can  . . . (and so on).

But, in truth, how many times does a defensive response improve the situation?  In my life experience, I come up with zero.  So, here are some alternate ways to respond when we think we’re being judged:

We might pause and ponder:

What does that comment reveal about the person who made it (rather than the one it was directed to)?

We might probe for more information.

“What was your intent in sharing that comment with me?” shifts the focus back on the person who made the comment.

We might respond with a ready-to-go phrase,

“Thanks for the feedback” acknowledges what was said, without specifically addressing its content.

We might respond with a ready-to-go one-word response.

“Ouch!” –said with a smile, shifts a negative tone to a more playful one.

Of course, being defensive often escalates into a battle of just proving who’s right and wrong.  For example, suppose we think we arrive on time at our mother-in-law’s house for dinner. But she tells us that we are 30 minutes late, and now all the food is cold.

Yet, we’re sure she told us 6:30, not 6:00—heck, we can even dig up the email that proves our point.  So we go back and forth, insisting we were told 6:30, while she remains adamant that she always said 6:00.

But in such case, does it really matter who is right?  Wouldn’t it be in everyone’s best interest just to move forward and enjoy the meal?

That means if told we’re late (even when we think we weren’t), we can also say, “Thanks for your patience. What can I do to help get the meal back on track?”

And who knows? If we model circumventing defensive arguments, our kids may also start to respond with grace and style when they think they’re being judged.

Seems like a great tool to have in a world that’s not always so kind.

How We Are More Alike Than Different

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What child doesn’t want a sense of independence?

I know a lot of kids with labels such as autism, ADHD, bipolar, and more.  I think such diagnoses were given, in part, to help others to better understand how these kids are “different.”

But that’s where I disagree.

I actually think we’re way, way more alike than we are different, and we do a great disservice to kids when we present them as being unlike the rest of us.

I can already hear the protesters to that statement.  After all, how can a child with autism be like others if he hits himself until he bleeds?

But is self-injurious behavior really unique just to those with autism?

No. Self-injurious behavior is common among many people. There are those who hurt themselves by staying in toxic, emotional relationships. There are those who hurt themselves by doing drugs. There are those who hurt themselves by starving themselves to be thin. The list goes on.

We also often think nonverbal or kids with limited speech are different because they don’t communicate they way we do. But who says talking is the only way to communicate? And why do we assume that not being able to talk is synonymous with not being able to understand what’s being said?

Yet, I’ve had parents insist their nonverbal child doesn’t comprehend what’s being communicated, which then justifies why they don’t talk to these kids in the same way or as often as they do everyone else.

But none of us understand what’s being communicated all the time.  Who hasn’t known a spouse or friend or teacher who wasn’t really processing what we were saying?

Then there’s the belief that kids with diagnoses get over-stimulated. Yet, all kids (and adults) have a breaking point where they need a sense of calmness and quiet in order to regroup.

Likewise, we’re all the same in regards to sitting still. While the amount of time we’re able to do so may differ, the need to get up and move—after sitting for a period of time—is universal.

And what child wouldn’t feel pride after taking on a challenge or gain confidence when given new responsibilities? What child doesn’t want people to accept and honor him for who he is—right now?

Sometimes, I think parents of kids with diagnoses forget the common thread among all kids. For example, what child hasn’t experienced being excluded or feeling disappointed?  Such experiences are not unique with labels. And what child wouldn’t exhibit out-of-bounds behavior if people always excused such actions and didn’t believe he was capable of anything better?

So it comes down to . . .  are kids with diagnoses really different than the rest of us, or do we make them different by how we interact with them?

That’s why I propose a new way of thinking. I believe we are most alike in that we are all different, unique human beings.

Why does it have to be more complicated than that?

Staying in the Moment

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Are we always “present’ when we’re with our kids?

When thinking about our kids, we often spend a lot of time lamenting the past and having angst over the future.  But there’s a problem with doing that.

We lose the moment. And that means we miss who they are right now.

So why do we jump back and forth in time? Well, we often use the past to justify our present actions, and we regularly leap to the future when we’re fearful something “might” happen.

To be sure: The future needs a new public relations campaign. That’s because most of us associate some kind of apprehension or dread with the unknown.

But uncertainty about the future also means . . . anything is possible!

Think about it: Would any of us really want to know our kids’ future with absolute sureness? Yikes. To me, that kind of knowledge would create even more angst.

So if the moment is where “life” is really happening, how can we stay there?

First, we become aware of when our thoughts are time traveling.  With such consciousness, we can then immediately return our focus to the present.

For example, suppose we’re watching our child during soccer try-outs. Instead of enjoying the moment, we suddenly find ourselves thinking: “Oh, no! There are some new kids who are really fast. That means Tommy may not make the team this year. If he doesn’t make the team, that’s going to be embarrassing. He’s going to be so upset . . .” and so it goes.

However, if we’re cognizant of staying in the moment, we return to the present the minute we realize we’ve left it.

But yes . . . . that’s much, much easier said than done.

So, I find it helpful to have some ready-to-use phrases to pull me back to the present: They are:

Drop the story (whenever I’m thinking about something that happened in the past or could happen in the future).

Drop the judgment (whenever I’m attaching some evaluation to something that distracts from what’s actually happening)

Now, it’s also possible to be at that same soccer try-out without any angst—and still leave the moment.  How?

Well, we might find ourselves planning what’s for dinner, when we’ll get our next work-out in, how we might reorganize the pantry—instead of watching what’s presently happening on the field.

For those kinds of thoughts, I tell myself: Drop the to-do list.

Note that staying in the moment is not just for adults. We also model and teach this to our kids.

How do we do that? Well, we can start by encouraging our kids (and ourselves) to look for people who are in the moment.  For example, I was recently at a resort. Musicians were playing in an outdoor area where lots of people were passing by. While the music was certainly enjoyable, it was a three-year-old girl that made me stop.

She wasn’t just dancing to the music with zero inhibition. She was feeling it—in every part of her body. As she blissfully moved this way and that, the people passing by didn’t even exist.

And you know what? I found myself in the moment, enraptured by her joy.

We can also seek programs and experiences for our kids that focus on being in the moment. For example, learning how to be present is an integral part of our new Brain Highways Sports program.

Is this component common among most activities for kids? No. But who knows what might transpire if we (as parents) start asking for it to be included.

And it’s funny. Once you start thinking about staying in the moment, you realize that people you’ve always thought of as calm, grounded, and engaging –are those who do live in the present.

For example, my dad will be 94 next week. He has lived through the depression. He’s a WWII veteran. He has long lost count of how many funerals he’s attended. He’s had five cancers.

Yet, he has never wished for more than he has. He doesn’t judge people or himself. He isn’t fearful—and that was incredulous to watch with each of his cancers.

And while I’ve known that people of all ages love chatting with my Dad, I now realize it’s because he’s always “right there” when he’s with you.  Whatever you’re interested in, so is my dad  . . . at that moment.

You know what? Tonight, I’m going to call my Dad and thank him for being present throughout my life.  I’ve never done that.

As parents, I’m thinking that’s a call we’d all like to get one day.

Do We Encourage Passion?

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What makes your child “come alive?”

If we polled parents, most would likely respond they encourage learning, kindness, and responsibility in their homes.

But what about passion?  Do we inspire kids to discover their passions? Do we model ours?

For example, there’s not a member of my immediate or extended family that isn’t familiar with Ernest Shackleton, a not-so-well-known Antarctic explorer who failed in every one of his major exploration goals, yet the tales of his attempts are beyond comprehension.

Our family knows that name because my husband, by chance, read a book ten years ago, Endurance, which recounted Shackleton’s attempt to cross the Antarctic continent through the South Pole.

But something about Shackleton’s leadership, perseverance, and quest lit a spark in my husband.

After reading that book, pretty sure my hubby researched everything ever written about that man. :-)   Yet as a family, we loved how my husband would become so uncharacteristically animated every time he shared some new fact with us.

In other words, his passion for Ernest Shackleton was clear, and it was catchy. That’s what passion does. It awakens something in us that can then transfer to others.

Steve Jobs knows about passion. When he spoke to Stanford graduates in 2005, he told them, “ . . . the only way to do great work is to love what you do.  If you haven’t found it, keep looking. Don’t settle.”  Probably explains why Steve Jobs kept working even after he was very rich.

I’m lucky in that I’ve always been passionate about my “work.”  The saying, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life” has been my experience.

So when my girls were young, I wanted to instill that same kind of thinking in them. I recall when my oldest daughter was four. She was coloring while I was telling her I wanted her to love whatever work she chose as an adult.  I remember her pausing before looking up to say: “Then I think I’ll be a colorer.”

While she did not pursue a career in art, she did find one she is passionate about.

And that’s the point. It’s not about making sure our kids, right now, discover their lifetime passion (as if there was only one passion available to each of us). It’s about encouraging and modeling passion, right now, so that’s always a part of their lives.

 

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