A Boy, Three Fingers, and Lifelong Resilience

Resilience
Resilience

About a year ago, I worked with a client whose 9 year old (we’ll call him “Jacob”) was trying to deal with the pressures of being a little league baseball pitcher.  Despite the self imposed pressure of throwing more strikes than balls or hits, he had to deal with the periodic setback of a poorly played game. During one particular game, Jacob was slow to respond to a bunt that rolled toward 1st base.  After finally retrieving the ball, he dropped it, picked it up again, and then threw it to 2nd base where the batter had swiftly run.  Jacob grossly overthrew the ball into the outfield which allowed the batter to come all the way around 3rd base and reach home plate to score a home run.  That run broke the tie and resulted in Jacob’s team’s loss of the game.

Anyone who understands baseball knows that scoring a home run on a bunt results from a comedy of errors that can only occur in little league.  Jacob wasn’t laughing.  He was crushed at his performance and the heckling from his 9 year old opponents.

Jacob’s mom came to me concerned about his ability to “bounce back” from setbacks.  Every time Jacob loses, he gets a “funny feeling” in his stomach, frowns incessantly, and worst of all, blames everyone else on the team for their errors without addressing his own.

We got to work on right away on building Jacob’s emotional intelligence skills of resilience and accountability.  Many strategies helped him along his way, but one in particular stood out.

We asked Jacob to point his finger as if he was blaming a teammate for the loss of a game.  When he pointed his index finger we asked him where his middle, ring, and pinky fingers were pointing.  Jacob replied “back at me!” 

After that, every time Jacob blamed others (and that was A LOT!) his very dedicated mom and dad firmly yet lovingly reminded him to use the other three fingers pointing back at him to focus on what he could do to be accountable for his own actions. 

It worked!  Within a month, Jacob and his parents even created actions ideas for the three fingers.  They all started with the letter “s” which made them easy to remember.

The middle finger stood for “study and strength”.  After losing a game, Jacob was encouraged to study his errors and learn from them. Of course, his parents helped. After that, he would focus on very specific strengths that he brought to each game.  Jacob particularly liked to recall the number of strikes he threw with his famous curve ball and that made him happy.  With prodding from his parents, he learned to add additional strengths such as “I gave John a pat on the back after he struck out”, and “I hit a line drive when I was up to bat.”

Jacob’s ring finger stood for “slide off.”   He liked his mom’s idea of letting a loss or a poorly played game slide off his shoulders.  He would literally lean back to act out the thought. By viewing the loss as a temporary event, Jacob could start focusing on the next game.  (This thought process is part of a larger approach to learning the important emotional intelligence skill of optimism)

That led to “strategies” which was represented by Jacob’s pinky.  Jacob’s dad was particularly helpful in helping him to think through his plays and practice them. They would spend a couple of hours at the baseball field every weekend.  Besides improving his game, Jacob enjoyed the time with his dad and the feedback he received.

Jacob and his parents are to be congratulated.  They were active participants in the coaching process and worked hard in between sessions to overcome unproductive approaches and implement new ideas in order to achieve success in their goals.

This exercise didn’t just help Jacob improve his game or his mood after a loss; it helped him understand how to be resilient, optimistic and accountable to himself.  Research proves that these emotional intelligence skills will serve Jacob well in the problem solving arena for the rest of his life.  If he slips back in to the finger pointing blame game and its ensuing negativity, he just has to remember where the other three fingers are pointing.

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These Questions Will Get Your Kids Talking!

Curious parents want to know! 

What’s really going on when my kids are at school?  What do they think of their friends, bullies, class clowns, teachers, lessons, lunch or recess?   More importantly, when I ask my kids about how their day went, how do I get them to say more than “fine” or “good?”

Here is a small sampling of questions to jumpstart meaningful dialogue between parent and child.  Pick one or pick them all.  Just don’t pick them all at once or you’ll raise your kids’ suspicions and make them steer clear of your “interrogation!”

ABOUT PEERS and FRIENDS: 

  •  Who decides what to do at recess?  What makes it fun?  Who or what makes it stressful?
  •  Who did you eat lunch with today?  Do you eat with the same kids every day or do you mix it up?  Can anyone join you at lunchtime or do   they need (a ringleader’s) “permission?”
  •  What do you do to welcome the new kids at your school?  When are you a leader?  When are you a follower?  What makes you a good leader?
  •  Which of your friends would you nominate as “The Best School Citizen?”  What characteristics qualify them to earn this award?
  •  What characteristics do your friends appreciate about you?

ABOUT BULLIES and STRESS:

  • Which kids get in trouble the most at school?  On the bus?  Who / what situation challenges you the most?  Why?
  • If you could teach these kids a thing or two about staying out of trouble what would you teach them? 
  • What do you think makes bullies act the way they do?  What makes you angry about bullies?  What makes you feel sorry for them?
  • What one thing do you regret saying or doing to another student?  What would you do differently next time?
  • Name three things would make school less stressful.

 

IN THE CLASSROOM:

  • What teacher deserves a raise?  What makes their class fun?  What helps you to learn most effectively?
  • What class / teacher challenges you the most?  If you were the teacher in this class, what would you do differently?
  • Who makes the class laugh?  What makes this disruptive or fun for you?
  • Without actually doing your homework for you, what can I do to help you do your best?
  • Name three things that make you look forward to school.

 

Your children’s answers to these questions are insights as to how they make observations, formulate judgments, feel emotions, and make decisions.  Remember to keep your questions open ended by starting them with “who”, “what”, “where”, “how”, “when”,  “tell me more about…” or “describe….”  Though kids can still give you short answers, it will be harder for them!  Ask the questions in light-heartedly in a calm, relaxed setting and you’ll likely get some solid information.  Not only will you learn more about your child’s school life, hopefully you’ll learn new things about their personality and preferences.  Then, you can capitalize on opportunities to guide and teach them how to navigate the game of life. 

Please visit our comments section and let us know how these questions worked for you.  Feel free to add your ideas to the lists so we can learn from each other.

Susan Boyle, Bullying, Judgment, and Your Kids!

"Look!" "Lauren is wearing Ugg boots." "She thinks she's hot so let's teach her a lesson and just ignore her!" (Lauren got the boots as a gift from her grandmother. She was nervous about wearing them because she usually doesn’t wear designer brands.) "Josh's dad drives him to school when he lives only a few blocks away and could walk." "What a lazy loser!" (Josh’s peers don’t know that he has a fragile bone disease and that doctors have asked him to avoid tripping and falling on uneven sidewalks.)

“Those kids get straight A’s.” “They’re such bookworm nerds!” “No wonder they have no real friends.” (The straight A students are funny and personable if only some of their peers would give them a chance.)

We all pass judgment. Sometimes it can serve as a 6th sense that protects us from danger. Most of the time however, passing judgment is an unjust allegation. Kids in particular observe something and make up their minds about it before acquiring any facts. Their observation is a mere sliver of the big picture. Kids then go on to express this observation as an assumption using words that can be hurtful because they are not necessarily true. The words in turn can become nasty rumors and lead to schoolyard pranks that hurt, alienate, or otherwise harass the person being judged. Suddenly an innocent child is subject to teasing or full-fledged bullying. So what can we do to help?

Parents and teachers can choose from an array of ideas to help their kids to be fair and friendly instead of judgmental. My new favorite is the old classic video of Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent. I know. You’ve already seen it, but would you please consider watching it again with your kids or students beside you? Pay close attention to the judges and the audience. Assess their facial expressions and ponder what they might have been thinking both before and after Ms. Boyle sings. Then ask the kids what they observed. Query them on how passing judgment can be unfair. Ask why one of the judges called the incident “the biggest wake-up call ever.”

To really connect with your kids, consider sharing your own experiences related to passing judgment or being the recipient of it. Then ask them to share theirs. You might just learn something new about their “secret” life at school, sports or other extracurricular activities. Lastly, solicit your children’s solutions. Gandhi said “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” How do your children think they can be that change?

It takes a village so let’s support one another. After you watch the video http://youtu.be/RxPZh4AnWyk please come back and leave us a comment of the wisdom you and your children shared.

How Parenting with Emotional Intelligence Can Weaken Bullying

Somewhere out there is Laura.  I don’t know anything about her except that she wrote this poignant poem titled “I Am”.  The poem has been used in anti bullying campaigns around the world, and today I’d like to share it with you. 

I AM

I am the person you bullied in school I am the one who didn't know how to be cool I am the person you alienated I am the person you ridiculed and hated

I am the person who sat on their own I am the person who walked home alone I am the person you scared every day I am the person who had nothing to say

I am the person with hurt in their eyes I am the person you never saw cry I am the person living alone with their fears I am the person destroyed by their peers

I am the person who drowned in your scorn I am the person who wished they hadn't been born I am the person whose name you don't know I am the person who just can't let go

I am the person destroyed for 'fun' I am the person, but not the only one I am the person who had feelings too ..and I am a person, JUST LIKE YOU!!!

This poem evokes immense empathy by the preponderance of those who read it.  The dictionary defines empathy as“understanding” or “a deep emotional understanding of another’s feelings or problems”.  Having researched the value of emotional and social intelligence (ESI) skills in our youth, I can tell you that development of empathy as a key competency renders positive results for personal satisfaction and healthy relationships.   Though some believe that empathy is innate, I’m with the majority and believe that empathy can, and should be, taught to children at the earliest cognitive opportunity.  I envision empathy as a tool for carving out a kinder world in which there is diminished bullying and a population of children that is happier to the core.  Reading this poem with your kids and creating dialogue of what it must be like to be a bullied person is one approach to create awareness and fruitful action, but we need more.

Please contribute to our comments section and share your positive ideas or rewarding personal stories on how we, as a community can increase empathy to decrease bullying of any kind.  Then, consider sharing the article with anyone and everyone you know who can make a difference at home and beyond.  Ask them to participate too.  It does take a village!