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Currently Browsing: Fresh Perspectives

Viewing Challenges as Gifts

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Challenges are gifts . . . but only if we’re open to receiving them that way.

Challenges are really just opportunities to learn. With that mindset, we embrace struggles rather than fear them.

What do I mean?  Well, suppose a child has Tourette’s Syndrome, which is characterized by uncontrollable sounds (e.g. coughing) or movement (e.g. facial twitching) which are called tics.

Okay, you may be thinking: What could possibly be the upside of that?  After all, kids are just going to make fun of that child.

And you’re correct . . . there’s a high probability that child will be ridiculed at one time or another.

But while we can’t control whether our child has tics or how others treat him when they appear, we do have the power in how we teach our child to respond—and how we then respond, in kind. Those are the gifts that are waiting to be unwrapped.

For example, if our child has Tourette’s Syndrome, we can teach him to answer in a way that empowers him and leaves no room for feeling like a victim.  Such a response might be, “My twitches are just a tiny, tiny part of all of me. How can I help you see all the rest of me?”

We can teach our child to appreciate and value friends who see beyond a physical impairment.

We can create opportunities where our child befriends another child with a different kind of disability, giving our child the chance to be the one who models recognizing and honoring the core of that person.

We can teach our child that another person can only hurt us to the degree that we allow.

We can model an attitude that reflects a sincere belief that challenges are opportunities to learn, reflect, and build character.  Consider how that greatly contrasts with our modeling endless worry over how our child is going to feel if the dreaded scenario ever happens.

In short, worrying only amplifies a feeling of helplessness. If it actually influenced a positive outcome, then sure, we should worry all day long. But it doesn’t. It just creates more angst.  In fact, the movie star Michael J. Fox says he never worries for one main reason: If the bad “thing” eventually happened, then he will have lived through whatever he dreaded twice.

So, yes, there are going to be challenges in all of our lives. Count on it. But when such struggles arrive on our doorstep, why not teach our children to ask:  What gifts are wrapped inside this challenge?

 

Family Recess

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Research has proven that playing is good for the brain.

I often ask kids what they like best about school. Hands down, the most common answer is . . . recess.  Intuitively, kids know what science has now proven—both kids and adults need time to engage in pointless fun.

We used to call that “playing.” Yet in our current, overzealous, gotta-make-sure-our-kids-get-ahead-world, allocating time to play is often relegated to a back burner.

However, research on play shows that it makes us more adaptable, and it actually improves how our brain functions. For example, when we combine physical energy with a sense of joyfulness (i.e. when we play), we reinforce neurohormones.  And when we engage in activities that free us from having a set outcome, there’s a positive effect on our mood and perceptions of time.

In fact, according to researcher Dr. Stuart Brown, we need play in our lives as much as we need sleep.

So what is Brown’s definition of play? He says real play has no purpose. We do it for its own sake. It’s voluntary. We may even lose track of time or temporarily forget who we are in real life.

What’s the purest form of play? That’s when we improvise, where we make up whatever we’re doing as we go along.

So back to recess . . . where activities have little or no structure, where nothing is measured or ranked, where kids are free to be loud and move as quickly or slowly as they choose. Is there any surprise that kids fly out the classroom door as soon at that recess bell rings?

But then, that bring us to this question: Since playing has a natural appeal and is now proven to enhance the brain, why not create family recess time in our very own homes?

Yes, why not have the whole family take a break from household chores or homework or paying the

bills. . .  to now play together?

Note this is not just time for our kids to play. The idea of family recess is for us to play with them.

And guess what happens when we do? We discover that even though we’re adults, we never really lost our zest for play.

We prove that all the time at the Brain Highways Center. Here, parents enthusiastically engage in playful activities with their kids as part of our curriculum.  In fact, it’s sometimes difficult to decide who’s having more fun when observing, for example, a beanbag “fight” between a father and daughter.

So for my proposal of family recess, any unscripted, joyful movement works. Here are some ideas to get you started, but be sure to ask your kids for their input, too!

  1. Have pillow fights.
  2. Arm wrestle.
  3. Engage in (human) wheelbarrow races.
  4. Build a fort.
  5. Play tug-of-war.
  6. Create and run through an obstacle course.
  7. Climb a tree (yes, moms and dads can do this, too).
  8. Play freeze (or other) tag.
  9. Jump rope.
  10. Jump (barefoot) on bubblewrap.
  11. Jump on the bed (why not?).
  12. Wear a blindfold, and then try to squirt each other with plant sprayers.
  13. Toss water balloons, where one person takes a step back after each time the balloon is caught.
  14. Roll down a hill.
  15. Make a puddle of water, and see who can make the biggest splash.
  16. Build a mud structure.
  17. Play hide-go-seek (inside or outside).
  18. Play a variation of hide-go-seek: Only one person hides somewhere in the house while everyone else shuts their eyes. Then everyone tries to find that person. When a person discovers the hiding place, he or she now quietly hides there, too. As the game goes on, fewer and fewer people are left searching for where everyone else is hiding. (It adds to the fun when everyone tries to remain quiet as more and more people squeeze into the hiding place.)

Note that family recess time is not viewed as procrastination, where everyone is just putting off what needs to be done.  Rather, the mindset is one that suggests less work and more play is truly productive.

In the twenty-first century, that kind of thinking may be viewed as radical and revolutionary. But in our home, we can make such perspective a way of life.

How Pink Slime Affects Us All

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Our choice of words often may have more power than we realize.

The meat industry has been using a ground mixture of scrap parts—mostly connective tissue and fat—as meat filler for years. But it was only after a microbiologist created the moniker “pink slime” that social media took note.

Yes, pink slime is a two-word combo designed to get your attention and cause worry.

But if two simple words can cause such frenzy in the media, how often does our choice of words trigger similar negativity and angst in daily life?  For example, do we refer to people as poor listeners, master manipulators, classic underachievers? Do we perhaps frame others as an unbelievable klutz or incredibly lazy?

If so, don’t those (and similar) word combos have the same adverse effect on people as the media calling meat filler pink slime?

In truth, there are hundreds of thousands of words at our disposal.  So, we decide whether we choose word combos that reek negativity or those that show insight and compassion.

For example, it’s possible that people have difficulty listening and completing tasks because they have incomplete lower brain development. It’s possible that people are uncoordinated because they have poor proprioception. It’s possible that people are tired because they are already compensating 24/7 for a brain that is not functioning as intended.

And if so, then why throw “pink slime” at them? Yet, that’s what we do when we frame people with negatively charged words.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that a mere choice of words—pink slime—made a story on meat fillers explode.  From what I’ve read, it seems like it was something worth investigating.

Just don’t think there’s any justification for flinging “pink slime” at kids.

 

What Word Needs to Go?

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Funny how a simple word can carry so much judgment.

What if our lives could be enhanced by eliminating just one word?  Sound too far-fetched?

Not really, when we see how the word “should” interferes with positive thinking and our daily interactions.

So, what’s wrong with the word “should”?

Well, if used when talking to someone else, “should” is always attached to some kind of (most often, unsolicited) judgment, whereupon the speaker assumes the addressee is “sub par” in some way.

But that judgment is based on the speaker’s own personal expectations—even though the thought is expressed as though the whole world is in agreement.  Most significantly, thoughts with “should” in them do not offer ways to help.

Here are some common judging statements and how they might be modified to do the latter.

“You should pay more attention when I’m talking to you.”
How can I help you stay focused when I’m talking to you?

“You should be nicer to your brother.”
Let’s role-play ways to play with your brother so no one gets upset.

“You should be more organized with your school work.”
Would you like ideas on how to organize your homework so that you know when assignments are due?

We also use “should” a lot in terms of how we view ourselves. In fact, many of us are harder on ourselves than others.

Here, our “should” thoughts seem to infer that we expect ourselves to perform at some high standard all the time. And, once again, that kind of judgmental mindset does nothing to move us forward.

So if we find ourselves saying that we “should have” done something, we can have fun and first mock ourselves—and then reframe the thought in a constructive way. For example:

“I should have known he was going to cause trouble.”
Why? Am I suddenly clairvoyant? 
I will address whatever happened in the way that that moves everyone forward.

“I should have never eaten that chocolate cake.”
Why? Am I never allowed to indulge myself?
I will limit myself to two desserts a week.

“I should have paid the bills on time.”
Why? Am I so perfectly organized (or have so much free time) that it’s inconceivable I could ever be late?
I will make paying the bills a high priority next month.

Even more positively oriented statements such as: “I should join a book club” can be tweaked to eliminate all judgment: “I will explore whether there’s a local book club I can join.”

So, hope the word “should” isn’t taking it personal when I write that I’ve decided to toss it out of my vocabulary. Just seems like a really easy way to stay positive.

 

Taking Care of Business

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Even backed-up traffic might be an opportunity to practice “taking care of business."

From the time my girls were little, they learned to do something we coined “taking care of business.”  That meant they figured out how to get their needs met—while staying calm and addressing the needs of others involved in the situation.

Both my girls are now in their mid-twenties, and they’re making their mark in the world. But over the years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up the phone where one of my daughters started the conversation by saying, “I took care of business today”—and then proudly proceeded to share how she approached a current problem with that mindset.

Last night I received one of those calls from my youngest daughter. She is the owner of the Brain Highways Center in Denver, and it turns out that the gas station right by her place was chosen by talk show host Ellen Degeneres to be part of a free gas give-away promotion.  But it was top-secret until the name of the gas station was announced to the public.

So there was pandemonium as soon as the people of Centennial (a suburb of Denver) heard the news. Lines and lines of cars backed up with people waiting for their turn at the pump.  Multiple police officers had to even arrive on the scene, just to keep the mayhem to a minimum.

But not everyone wanted free gas.  Some of those cars had parents and their kids, who were on their way to Brain Highways. Yet, they were now stuck in a line of backed up cars with no hopes of making their class on time.

Kiley (my daughter) knew those families would be upset if they missed class. She also knew that many of them came from as far as 60 miles away, so it would be extra frustrating to have driven all that way for nothing.

That’s when she decided . . . to take care of business.

First, she walked over to the gas station to get clarification as to what was going on and why the other businesses hadn’t been notified. (The promotion literally shut down every business in that shopping center.)

She quickly learned it was an Ellen Degeneres promotion and that keeping everything confidential—down to the last minute—was part of the deal.

With that information, Kiley graciously acknowledged how the owner of the gas station certainly wouldn’t have wanted to jeopardize the promotion by breaking the rules.  But, as the owner of Brain Highways Denver, she knew her families were going to be upset and frustrated if they missed class.  So how could they move forward?

Here’s what “taking care of business” brought about:

1) The police officers agreed to give V.I.P. treatment to the Brain Highways families by holding off oncoming traffic and re-routing the Brain Highways families into the shopping center.

2) Brain Highways staff quickly got on the phone and called the rest of the families who were scheduled to come to classes that day so they now had the heads-up to tell the police officers, “We’re on our way to Brain Highways.”

3) The gas station owner gave Kiley $400.00 worth of gas cards, which she, in turn, gave to her families and staff to help compensate for any inconvenience they may have endured while trying to get to the Brain Highways Center.

4) The owner of the gas station came over to the Brain Highways Center that evening to personally apologize, again, for the inconvenience.

To Kiley’s knowledge, none of the other businesses in her same shopping center did anything—other than complain and get upset over the situation.  My guess is . . . they’re still angry today about yesterday’s lost revenues.

But here’s the good news for those business owners and everyone else. Anyone can learn to “take care of business”—at any age.  It merely begins with this mindset: If we stay in our cortex and approach situations with a problem-solving perspective, it’s possible to meet everyone’s needs.

Now doesn’t that sound like a world we’d all like to live in?

 

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