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How Jon Bon Jovi May Inspire Parents


While The JBJ Soul Kitchen is intended to help people who are hungry, it’s also a model for parents.

Jon Bon Jovi has just opened a “pay-what-you-can” restaurant in Red Bank, New Jersey.  But guess what? The premise of The JBJ Soul Kitchen restaurant is also a great model for parents.

How’s that? To understand the connection, we first need to learn how The JBJ Soul Kitchen differs from a traditional soup kitchen.

First, the food is gourmet-quality. The JBJ Soul Kitchen’s menu includes savory dishes such as grilled salmon with seasonings, pork chops with fig and apple chutney, mashed sweet potatoes, sautéed greens, and homemade carrot cake. The menu in itself underscores an important premise of the restaurant: Just because someone is homeless or in a need of a meal doesn’t mean that he or she wouldn’t also enjoy delicious, healthy food.

Second, there are no prices on the menu.  Instead, paying customers are encouraged to leave whatever they choose in envelopes left on the tables.  Those without money can bus tables or wait on tables or work in the kitchen. They can even volunteer elsewhere and earn a certificate that’s good for a meal at the restaurant.

That’s because The JBJ Soul Kitchen is based on another general premise: Those on the receiving end are also held accountable for giving something back.

So Bon Jovi is meeting a community need (i.e. feeding hungry people,) but he’s doing so in a way that honors and respects such individuals’ dignity. He does that by giving people options as he also holds them accountable for contributing something to the community.

That’s a great outlook for parents, as well.  We, too, can meet our kids needs in a way that doesn’t come across as pity or condescending or one-sided (where we do all the giving, and they do all the receiving).  Like The JBJ Soul Kitchen, we can present our kids with options for ways to give back to our family. That way, we also create a sense of community in our own homes . . .  where receiving and giving are then considered all part of the same circle.

Getting Rid of Distorted Fears, Part Two: Ten Steps to Conquering a Fear


When we conquer a distorted fear, we also gain a new sense of confidence.

Step 1. We talk about the fear when the child is not frightened.

Once in the fear mode, we don’t process information very well.  That’s why we only talk about the fear whenever our child is feeling safe and unthreatened.

Step 2. We use humor to underscore there’s no real danger.

Suppose a child is afraid to walk upstairs alone. In such case, we might say:  Every time family members walk upstairs, they get beamed up into outer space, right? No? Well, then every time family members walk upstairs, they go bald, right? No? Then what happens if you walk up the stairs alone?

Step 3. We put a positive spin on whatever the child fears.

For example, a child who is deathly afraid of skeletons now learns that her skeleton actually protects her jello-like brain from getting hurt! Who knew?

Step 4.  Our child creates positive intention statements, expressing what he’ll do (differently) when faced with the fear.

Such statements are written and posted around the house, as well as said aloud. Some examples of positive intention statements are:

  • I can hold my mom’s hand in the elevator and then ride it without screaming.
  • I can stand next to a dog without crying.
  • I can stay in my own bed without yelling for my mom.

Note that positive intention statements are not one-size-fits-all, such as, “I’m not afraid of (fill in the blank).”  Rather, they specifically spell out what the child will do differently (than prior times) when now facing the fear.

Step 5. We have dress rehearsals before implementing a new plan of action.

Suppose a child is afraid to go to sleep at night if the closet door is shut.  In such case, the parents and child create the same bedtime scenario—but during the daytime—to practice what the child will now do differently at night.

So in broad daylight, the parent initially assumes the role of the child, and the child just watches “the show.”  For example, one parent puts the child (the other parent) to bed and then shuts the closet door. The parent assuming the child role models how he’s cool with that . . . no yelling, no tears, nada.

Then it is the child’s turn.

Note that dress rehearsals may also include some fantasy. For example, if a child is afraid of dogs, a sibling can be the “dog” during the dress rehearsal. That way, the brain has chances to become familiar with what it’s going to do . . . but without anything that actually triggers the fear.

Step 6. We include something in our new plan that physically helps with anxiety.

We may give our child something, such as a squishy ball to squeeze, when first overcoming/facing a fear.

Step 7. We get rid of the distorted fear in baby steps.

Suppose a child is afraid to ride in elevators. After rehearsing riding in an imaginary elevator at home, our first trip to a real elevator may be nothing more than watching other people get in and out of one. That’s it—and the child knows, up front, that’s the only expectation.

On the second trip, we may now add pushing the outside elevator button, but we still never get in.

On the third trip, we put one foot in the door—and then take it out, and that’s it.

On the fourth trip, we step in so that we’re completely inside the elevator, but then we get out before it leaves, and so on.

Note that we may be able to accomplish more than one or even all of the above steps during the same trip to an elevator (depends on how easily the child does each prior step).

For some situations, our baby steps may focus on increasing the proximity to whatever is feared. For example, if our child is afraid of dogs, we may just first watch a dog from our front window, while we stay inside our house. Next, we may watch a dog down the street, and so on, working our way up to standing next to a dog and eventually petting it.

Step 8. We provide on-going dialogue that reinforces we’re conquering our fear.

As our child completes each baby step, the brain registers: “Hey, I survived!  Whatever I feared was going to happen, did not!”  So, it’s important to point that out.

We also want to thank our child for trusting us and for showing the courage to do something that makes him uncomfortable (but is truly safe). Here, we’re shifting the focus from the original fear to a broader concept  . . . one of creating brain maps that say, “I can do this.”

In contrast, when we keep our distorted fears, we reinforce brain maps that say, “Run! I can’t survive! I can’t trust anyone!”–even if that isn’t true. Throughout life, the former mindset is going to serve us much better than the latter.

Step 9.  We stack the deck.

It never hurts to work behind the scenes to ensure things go smoothly. For example, we can keep our child up way past his bedtime on the night he’s going to stay in his bed all night. We can pick a store with the cutest clothes—that just happen to be on the second floor—when we’re going to ride the elevator.  We can find a dog that has never barked once in its life when we’re going to pet it. :-)

10.  We repeat the positive experience in successive days.

This reinforces that new highways are strengthened and the old highway (i.e. the distorted fear) disappears.

Last, we want to celebrate in a way that appeals to our child—both during the process and when the fear is gone. We do so to honor the child’s willingness to conquer a fear and to rejoice that our child’s life will now move forward more smoothly—and with a lot more joy.

The Upside of Letting Go


When we’re not so attached to an outcome, we find ourselves smiling a whole lot more.

How many times have we been emotionally invested in an outcome, only to react with fear or anger or frustration when it didn’t turn out as we hoped?

Since we can’t control many of the outcomes in our lives, maybe it’s time to give up being so attached to them.  In such case, we still note what we’d like to happen—but then, we let it go, choosing to view all outcomes as just opportunities to learn and grow.

And guess what? Turns our there are lots of perks when we chose to detach from an outcome.  Here are just a few:

  • We don’t waste time worrying about what might happen.
  • We aren’t disappointed by whatever does or does not come to pass.
  • We don’t place judgment on the experience.
  • We aren’t tempted to cheat (e.g. on a test) since we are no longer fixated on the results.

Seems like a pretty good deal for simply shifting how we think.

Yet letting go is not always as easy as it sounds, especially when it comes to our kids.

For example, we’re often calm and collected when dealing with someone else’s child. But the minute our child does the very same thing, we morph into someone else. Why? Well, we’re very attached to our child’s future.

Yet there’s some irony here. The child we’re not nearly as invested in . . . gets the better side of us. Hmmm . .  maybe that awareness alone can help us lighten up when interacting with our own kids.

We may also have trouble letting go if we think we’re owed an apology. Nothing like feeling we’ve been wronged to justify “holding on” to something.

Yet, again, what does that really get us? I’ve found this quote to be helpful in such situations: “Apologizing does not always mean that you’re wrong and the other person is right. It just means that you value your relationship more than your ego.”

Last, I think it’s easier to be detached from an outcome if we remember that other people may also be involved in same situation. That means, by default, not everyone is going to get what he or she wants.

Carol Burnett underscored this kind of thinking when she first started her career. I recently watched an interview of her, and she was sharing how she never became upset or second-guessed her talent if she didn’t get a job after an audition. Instead, she just viewed the actor who got the role as . . . this time, it was the other person’s turn.

So, it comes down to this: Is it serving us (or our kids) well whenever we’re attached to an outcome? If the answer is no, then why not let it go and see what happens.

Since I’ve been doing that, I find that I’m traveling much lighter these days—and enjoying the journey so much more.

Instead of Being Defensive


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.

Why We Can’t Lose Hope


If we’ve lost all hope, what are the chances for a better future?

A lot of parents start Brain Highways with a sigh of relief and this sobering comment, “This program gives me hope.”  That statement always makes me sad because I think: How did those parents lose hope in the first place?

It’s a question worth pondering because I don’t believe there’s a single child in this world who wants their parents to feel hopeless about them.

So where does it begin?

I think much hopelessness is triggered by bold, “absolute” statements that some doctors, teachers, and therapists (i.e. people in authority) say to parents about their kids. The problem is . . .such statements don’t allow for the possibility that others—those with different perceptions and experiences—may differ greatly from what that person has just said.

For example, consider the difference between saying, “I don’t know how to help your child learn to speak” and, “Your child will never speak—and you need to accept that.”

Not only does the latter statement slam all doors of hope, but it’s accompanied by a strong subconscious message.  Namely, if parents cling to “false” hope, then they must be in denial. With the denial card on the table, the authority figure’s position is reinforced, suggesting he can “see” the situation much more clearly than the one in denial.

But since no one can predict the future for certain, I always wonder why it isn’t equally probable that the person in authority is the one in denial. Yet that’s not where such conversations usually go.

Instead, “absolute” comments often end up only reinforcing our own doubts. After all, we tried many approaches that did not yield desired results. We’re feeling helpless and vulnerable and have probably already wondered if we are at the end of the road, that there is nothing else we can do.

Most of all, we’re tired, so tired of searching for ways to improve the current situation that it seems unbearable to get our hopes up, once again.

So, it’s somewhere around this time, it just seems easier . . . to let go of all hope.

I truly understand how that can happen.  But I can’t accept it.

That’s because what started out as the most sincere desire to help the child has now inadvertently shifted to protecting parents from further disappointment. That means that somewhere along the line, the child is no longer the first consideration.  That means the child, by default, now becomes the recipient of all that hopelessness that hangs in the air, in unspoken messages, and in the way everyone looks at him.

And that just can’t be right.

Well, how do we turn that around?  We can post and remember this truth every day: “As long as we’re breathing, there are options. As long as there are options, we have hope.”

If we need an additional boost, we can also post this saying right below it: “The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.”

I’ve had the honor of knowing lots of families whose experiences underscore that sentiment. I’m also thinking it’s the kind of spirit every child wants to see in the eyes of everyone they know.


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