Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Summer - A Special Time for Learning Something New

Henry James said, “Summer afternoon - summer afternoon...the two most beautiful words in the English language.”  Summer does bring to mind lazy days, travel, and cool drinks on the porch.  Summer can also be a time to learn.  Having a bucket list of things to learn over the summer can ensure that this fleeting time of year is also a fun adventure.

One summer, my daughter and I decided to take ice skating lessons.  It was not only a lot of fun and a great escape from the south Florida heat but a new physical activity to explore.  I think I had even more fun than she did.  As the only adult who enrolled in the program, two former Disney on Ice Skaters gave me private lessons!  My daughter and I continued ice skating into the school year, and she even had her birthday party at the rink.  Our summer learning was a new adventure, and we created very cool memories.

This summer my daughter wants to learn how to speak Korean so she can understand the K-Pop songs she loves.  We will have her teach us some phrases, and we will visit some Korean restaurants so she can practice.  I want to learn archery, and I’ll teach my family all that I learn.  I look forward to having a large target in our yard and practicing in the cooler part of the afternoon (after locking away the dogs so they don’t become moving targets!).  Bass Outdoor World has archery lessons for only $10.  My husband is taking up beekeeping.  We will learn along with him and enjoy the benefits of honey!
Here are 20 things that you can do together as a family this summer to create incredible memories and come away having learned something new:

You can learn to…

1.   speak a foreign language
2.   make jewelry
3.   write songs
4.   play a musical instrument
5.   ice skate
6.   swim or dive
7.   dance
8.   make ceramics
9.   knit
10.      write poetry
11.      paint
12.      take photographs (handy on your family trips!)
13.      bake desserts
14.      make pasta
15.      scrapbook (handy for documenting your family trips!)
16.      sing
17.      do yoga
18.      make lemonade from scratch
19.      roller blade
20.      snorkel, water ski, or scuba dive

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Boys into Men: The Power of Words

My daughter and I went out for an early dinner last week, and our table was next to a large table of adults and children celebrating a young boy’s birthday.  He was probably five or six.  The children were having a great time.  Then we heard the voice.  

Influence versus Force 
The voice was that of the birthday boy’s mom, and she had an agenda.  She wanted photographs of him with his guests, and she wanted those photos to be picture perfect.  Candid photos of him actually having fun were not OK.   He had to stand a certain way and he had to smile a certain way.  Her harsh tone sucked all of the fun right out of the party.  She was not influencing her son to be a happy part of the picture; she was forcing him to be a part of her picture.  When he didn’t comply, her next words were, “You are upsetting me.”  My daughter looked at me with very wide eyes that seemed to say, “Yikes!”  

Emotional Responsibility 
Mom was making a five-year-old responsible for her reaction and her emotions.  Her repeated claim - “You are upsetting me” – sounded like a threat of impending doom.  Something cataclysmic was about to happen when she actually reached the point of upset.  I don’t know what it was, but it didn’t sound pretty.  

Boys into Men: Big Decisions  
Our words are very powerful.  Our children are making decisions about the world, relationships, how men are, and how women are based on their interpretation of feedback from the important people in their lives.  These are very influential decisions that will guide their worldview.  “You are upsetting me” muddies the water about ownership of our emotions.  

I was very curious about what this young boy concluded from his interaction with his mom.  I wondered what he decided about having fun, pleasing others, and handling emotions.  I wondered what he decided about women.  Are women’s emotions his responsibility?  I have a hunch that he had probably heard those words from his mom before the birthday party.  She probably lets dad know that dad upsets her, too.  How dad responds to mom then paints an even bigger picture for this young boy.  From his father’s response, he gets feedback on how men relate to women.  Words are very powerful. 

In this moment at his birthday party was he thinking that he must comply with the requests of others in order to be loved?  Did he conclude that being upset was bad and having someone become upset was something to be avoided at all costs?   Maybe he simply concluded that mom was weird or bossy or not much fun or gets tense at high stakes birthday parties.  

The Birthday Gift  
I won’t know the answers to those questions.  I do hope, if we were to fast forward twenty years, that the decisions he made at his fifth birthday party have led to a happy relationship with his wife or partner and to lots of fun in his life.  Mostly, I hope he is crystal clear that although he does indeed powerfully influence others, others remain in charge of their emotional responses.  I hope, too, that his twenty-fifth birthday will be full of warmth, a professional photographer, and many candid photographs.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Transitions are Happening All Around Us

While writing the weekly newsletter for Redirecting Children’s Behavior instructors, Parenting News, a friend and colleague asked me to include articles about transitions.  Her son is turning 18, a milestone year, and is graduating from high school.  These are big life events, and each is a rite of passage.  We often think of that passage as one for the child alone.  It is a rite of passage for parents as well.

Here are six ideas for easing the discomfort of transitions by moving into a space of appreciation and acceptance.     

View this Time as Sacred
Transitions are sacred times.  They can also feel scary and chaotic. The fear and chaos can actually distract you from embracing the sacredness.  Pema Chodron in her book When Things Fall Apart, which is all about big transitions, writes, “Life is a good teacher and a good friend.  Things are always in transition, if we could only realize it.  Nothing ever sums itself up the way we dream about.  The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation in which we don’t get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit.  It is a very tender, non-aggressive, open-ended state of affairs.” 

Viewing the transition – no matter how big or small – as something sacred will allow you to slow down, feel the gratitude for what went before, feel the excitement of what is to come, and suspend the fear.    

Lean In
“Leaning in” is a way that Chodron recommends to get beyond the discomfort and the unsettled feelings.  She writes, “To stay with that shakiness – to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness… - that is the path of true awakening.  Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic – this is the spiritual path.  Getting the knack of catching ourselves, of gently and compassionately catching ourselves is the path of the warrior.  We catch ourselves a zillion times.”           

What is ‘leaning in’?  It is being vulnerable.  It is allowing yourself to feel what you are experiencing in that moment.  It is catching yourself, even on that zillionth time, and staying steady.  Chodron says, “…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back.  They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away.  They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck.  This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”

Acknowledge the Accomplishments and Honor the Process
For both you and your child, it is encouraging to acknowledge the accomplishments and honor the process.  The accomplishments are the achievements that you both have made.  The process is the energy and effort that you each put forth that has guided you to this place in time. 

A wonderful exercise is to recall all who have supported you along the path.  It could be your son’s first grade teacher – all of his teachers – as well as family members, music instructors, camp staff, doctors, neighbors, and friends.  Talk about how each person made a difference, encouraged you, contributed to your success and understanding, and was a part of the experience.   

You can also notice the effort that your child put forth to be where he or she is right now.  Recognize your own efforts.   Each of you can remember challenges - for yourself or for each other - and how you handled them.  Write these down, talk about them, and hold them in a place of honor in your heart. 

Encourage every member of your family to acknowledge the accomplishments and recognize the process.  The members of your family are your team.  Take some special time to acknowledge your partner as well.     

Spend Time
When things change, spending time together allows you opportunities to connect (often in newly developing ways) and to support one another as you move through the transition.  It also gives you a chance to fully feel that “open-ended state of affairs” together.  It gives you quiet amidst the chaos.         

Visualize How You Would Like the Next Experience to Be
Whether your child is entering a new grade level (moving from elementary school to middle school or from high school to college), whether it is the shared anticipation of the end of the school year and the beginning of summer adventures, or whether your child is having a milestone year such as sixteen or eighteen, explore the next experience.  What will life be like in high school or as an eighteen-year-old?  What do you want to feel?  Where will you need the most support?  What will you do this summer?  What are you most excited about?  Keep this conversation alive. 

Find ways to celebrate!  Include your child in the discussion so that he can celebrate in the way that he prefers.  We all have memories of awkward surprise birthday parties or events that didn’t feel comfortable when we were growing up.  Having your child involved in the decision-making and planning will get his investment in the celebration.  Celebrations can be small, large, quiet, or loud.  Make it your own!      

Congratulations on being where you are right now!