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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.

 

Why We Can’t Lose Hope

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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.

 

The Perfect Parent Illusion

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Whoever started the myth of “perfect parents” . . . never had kids.

Is the criterion for perfect parents . . . how parents’ kids turn out?

Hmm . . . we all know of amazing people who contributed greatly to this world, yet they suffered horrifying childhood experiences. And we also know of parents whose kids turned to drugs or traveled down other wayward paths despite growing up in a loving home. So those two realities kinda make it difficult to point to kids as proof as to who is and is not a great parent.

And yet, there’s no end to critics who judge parents based on how their kids are acting at any given moment. If such folks envision their criticism helpful, they’re mistaken. I’ve only seen those messages make parents doubt their own parenting potential, while perpetuating the myth that perfect parents even exist.

Well, they don’t. Maybe there are perfect parents among aliens, but not here on Earth. On this planet, parenting is a life-long course, where we are continually learning.

But what if we lose sight of that truth? Then our kids pay the price.

For example, how can kids feel safe and secure if moms and dads rank themselves anything less than a 10 (on a 1-10 parenting scale)? Would that be like boarding a plane and discovering our pilot ranks his aeronautical skills less than a 10? Would we suddenly feel anxious? Would we hope the co-pilot (or somebody) quickly steps in?

That’s why we really have to believe we’re a solid 10-rating when it comes to parenting. Anything less triggers our kids’ subconscious in a way that then throws them (and everyone else) off balance.

How does that happen? Well, if we don’t believe we’re 100% capable to lead, then why would our kids feel 100% confident to follow?

In such case, it’s no surprise that some kids try to take the reins. However, that often looks like defiance, like the child wants to control everything. But that control is not about wanting to lead. Rather, it generates from a feeling of insecurity that no one else is truly in charge.

So, first we have to relinquish the quest for “the perfect parent” since that seems to go hand-in-hand with parent rankings lower than a 10.

Then, in its place, we can ask ourselves two questions: How can we guide our kids in the most effective way? What can we do to establish a trusting bond between our kids and ourselves?

Here are some answers:

1. We’re open to new ideas (e.g. we don’t think “our” way is the only way to do something).
2. We view “mistakes”—both ours and our kids—as merely opportunities to learn.
3. We don’t hesitate to apologize to our kids if we wished we had responded differently.
4. We ensure our own “negative stories” (i.e. what others imprinted on us) are not passed down to our kids.
5. We help our kids discover their innate gifts and find ways for them to share those with others.
6. We approach situations with curiosity, rather than with judgment
7. We model and encourage our kids to explore options, rather than revert to fight or flight behavior.
8. We accept more than we expect.
9. We believe everything is possible (why not?) and pass that kind of optimism to our kids.
10. We take time out of each day to be truly present with our kids.

But most of all, we remember the above is not a linear process. That’s why we also forgive ourselves whenever we don’t portray ourselves as we may have wished. That, too, is a powerful message to pass onto our kids.

And guess what? If we give up the idea of perfect parents, then (by default), we also give up the idea of perfect kids.

Now, what kid wouldn’t want to grow up in that kind of environment?

No First-Day-of-School Angst

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On the first day of school, do kids sense our anxiety when we say good-bye?

What if we’re dumping a lot of our own first-day-of-school worries onto our kids? Since we don’t want to do that, here are some common triggers to avoid.

The Teacher
Is our reaction to our kid’s next year’s teacher based on personal experience, or is it coming from what we’ve heard on the soccer field, walking around the neighborhood, or playing cards at Bunko?

If it’s the latter, how many of those parents actually had first-hand experience with our child’s assigned teacher?

For example, one of my daughter’s absolutely best elementary school teachers was believed to be (by the neighborhood gauge) so dreadful that many parents considered changing schools rather than have their child enrolled in that class. In contrast, my child’s worst year was with a prior “teacher of the year” who was the neighborhood favorite. Go figure.

But my point: It’s only your child’s experience with the teacher that matters. So, why not keep an open mind for now?

Other Students
Some schools post class lists a few days prior to the start of school, while others send home a letter with just the teacher’s name and room number.

Of the two scenarios, the latter creates the most angst since parents (and kids) immediately get on the phone to see who else is in the same class. But what’s the message here? The school year is going to be terrible if our child’s best friend is in another classroom? Thought the classroom was . . . a place to learn. And what about making new friends?

Combo Classes
People don’t move into a neighborhood per criteria that ensures the right number of kids for each class at each grade level. So, sometimes administrators have to create combination classes (two grade levels in one classroom). That means some kids have to be in those classrooms, including . . . maybe ours. Before we start dwelling on problems a combo class might present, why not wait to learn how the teacher plans to meet different grade level expectations?

The Portable Classroom
Sure, portables may be not as cozy and attractive as the main buildings, but what’s the alternative? Would we rather the school ban portables and bus our kids to another school?

The First Morning
Is our send-off showing we’re confident the day will go well, or is it long and laced with a subconscious message that reflects our own doubts and worries?

The truth is . . . none of us know how the first day of school will go. So if worrying made a positive difference in the outcome, then I’d say . . . worry away! But it doesn’t. In fact, the more anxiety we have over our child’s first day, the more likely whatever we’re “putting out there” may even happen.

So why hold on to any first-day-of-school anxiety? Why not just look forward to the possibility of a new, wonderful school year?

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