A Boy, Three Fingers, and Lifelong 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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I Dare You NOT to Laugh!

April is Stress Awareness Month. If you aren’t aware of that fact, I’d bet that you are at least aware of all the stress in your life. But let’s not talk about our stressors. Let’s talk about what we can do to ease them. An old wives tale tells us that “Laughter is the Best Medicine.” Research suggests that this might just be true! Here’s why.

Laughter reduces the levels of stress hormones in our bodies. At the same time, it increases the release of feel good chemicals like endorphins. It can also help to boost the immune system to keep you more germ resistant and healthy.

Oh you want more proof? How about this? Laughter could improve your social life. When you smile or laugh, you make yourself more inviting. Think about it. If you saw a room full of people would you approach the brooders or the ones who looked happy? Enough said!

Laughter is contagious. Have you ever heard someone laugh so hard that you laughed too? Now imagine if you made other people laugh. I think you’d be building some seriously good karma.

Lastly, laughter is FREE. You have no fiscal excuse not to engage in it.

What does all this have to do with parenting? Quite simply, a less stressed parent is a healthier parent whose happiness will positively affect the family!

So what do you think? Can you commit to consciously laughing for the remainder of April? Here is a favorite video of mine to get you started. I know, I know! You may have seen this before but isn’t it worth repeating for all the reasons I outlined above?

Go ahead. I dare you not to laugh! When you’re done watching, come back and leave us a comment including what makes you laugh. What funny movies or jokes can you share with us?

In case the video link is not working, you can access the video here.

Dealing with Mean Parents and Mean Kids

empathy, emotional intelligence, resilience Like it or not, mean people exist.  They can be found anywhere from adult workplaces, to children’s schoolyards, to softball or football fields where we all gather for fun and friendly competition.  Mean people’s words and or actions can cause us emotional anguish.  Many operate intentionally while others function from a place of sheer ignorance not even realizing how negatively they impact others.

 So what are we supposed to do?

Dealing with mean people can be challenging.  We have many options including reacting with revenge, responding with grace, or simply ignoring them.  After securing personal safety, I like the idea of taking the “high road” whenever possible.  This means that one will not engage in any kind of revenge or retaliation.  Gandhi said “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth creates a blind and toothless world.”  That’s not good!

When mean people evoke an emotion in us it might help to ask ourselves “why do we feel the way that we do?”  We’ll often find that we’re taking their behavior personally, when it had little or nothing to do with us in the first place.  For example, your boss may snap at you because she’s having a bad day.  Her behavior is more about her inability to manage her own frustration.  Gosh!

Though mean people anger us, they often deserve our pity.  Evoking our empathy toward them can help diffuse hard feelings. This is a part of healthy emotional management not to mention building our own emotional intelligence including resilience.   Emotional Intelligence skills in children have proven to help them be better at self soothing in difficult situations.  They also excel in social settings requiring communication; cooperation and conflict resolution (click here for more information about emotional intelligence in kids).  Note that evoking empathy and being nice doesn’t mean we have to be someone’s doormat.  Sometimes it is necessary to create and convey parameters of how we would like to be treated.

Taking the high road is not always effortless but it can become easier when we are inspired.  I was recently inspired by this beautiful anecdote and would like to share it with you.  If you like it, you could share it with your kids.

When you have to put up with mean people, think of them as sandpaper. 

They may scratch you and rub you the wrong way. 

But eventually, you end up smooth and polished.   And the sandpaper? 

It will be worn out and ugly.

 Well, what do you think?  Would you rather be sandpaper or smooth and polished?  Please leave us a comment and share some of your ideas about dealing with mean people.

How one Mother's Dying Wish Impacts our Parenting

 Death is never easy to accept. When it comes prematurely, it yields unrelenting agony for those left behind.  Our hearts ache, particularly, for children who are not equipped to understand.

My own heart is aching for one very young fellow who recently lost his mom to cancer.  This mom had many roles but “mother” is the one she fought hardest for.  Motherhood is a job that can never really be finished.  There is always an opportunity to love, teach, impart wisdom, extend the hand of friendship, soothe pains, revel in joys, and of course so much more.   In a job that seems limitless, this mom had very limited time. 

I came to comprehend her plight most clearly when I read her last online journal entry.  She said it was the “most difficult” one to write as Hospice had been summoned and she knew her end was near.  She made a final request.   

The request was for letters that would help her son know her better as he got older.  Friends and family were advised that the letters would be held for him to read at an age that was appropriate and she asked that they indicate that age on the envelope.  Specifically, she longed for stories about the kind of person she was, or any other information that would help her son to know her as he became an adult. 

This dying mother’s request saddened me deeply, but it also inspired me positively to think about my legacy, and I am writing to inspire you to think about yours (if you want to). 

Besides a legacy in which we bequeath material items, what could we leave our kids that would enrich their being?  Here are some questions to ponder.

  • What do you want your kids to know about you?  Why?
  • What easy to recall stories can you share that will illustrate your strengths in overcoming adversity? 
  • How can you help your kids avoid mistakes by sharing stories about your weaknesses and how they debilitated your efforts or results?
  • What are the most important scriptural verses, or spiritual messages you’d like to impart?  How do you hope these will help your children?  Are there any specific situations you’d like to include?
  • What guidance will you impart to your kids about managing everyday frustrations, romantic relationships, community or corporate leadership, or their own roles as future parents?
  • Are their favorite books or movies that you would want to share so that your kids have insights into what moved you emotionally?
  • Do you have perspectives on social graces, etiquette, study skills or education that you’d like to convey?
  • Would you include a code of ethics, family “commandments”, or moral wisdoms that they could live by?

As you can imagine, this list could go on and on.  What is important is that you create it in a way that reflects what is most important for you, and what you think is important for your kids to know as they navigate their own lives.  You are the author of your legacy.

After pondering the questions, one might ask “how do I best convey my legacy?”  Here, we have to consider the child’s age and level of maturity, and the style that best suits the parent.  I have heard of one mother (also dying from cancer) who left her daughter videos on various subjects including how to apply makeup.  Verbal communication, letters or journaling, audio recordings, or even video are options.  Choose one or choose them all.

Alice Earle Morse wrote this quote:  "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, that's why it's called the present."

Since none of us have a crystal ball to know what will happen tomorrow, we can use the gift of time today.  What do you think?  How can we start to leave our legacy for the ones we love the most?  What would your legacy include?  What method is best for you to convey it?  Please share your thoughts in our comments section.


Life Lessons from An Elephant

Have you ever been so adamant about your opinion being the only right one?  Have your kids?  It is a trait common to all of us and one that can be dangerous.  Being “right” comes in handy if you’re on a debate team.   But if this isn’t managed in everyday living, it can contribute to inflated egos, offensive opinions, and frequent arguments with those who dare to differ.   And what if you’re actually wrong?  Being called out on errors and forced to swallow pride is not fun for anyone.  I know, I’ve been there! There is an opportunity here for parents and kids alike.

This thought provoking poem serves as a tool in reminding us that while we may be right, others can also be.  One characteristic of happier relationships is good listening.  When we do this, we become better learners since we consider perspectives other than our own.  Perhaps more importantly, parents and kids who can honor each other’s ideas (even if they don’t agree with them) are likely to have friendlier and happier relationships.  What do you think?

Please leave your comments when you’re done reading John Godfrey Saxe's ( 1816-1887) version of the famous Indian legend:


It was six men of Indostan To learning much inclined, Who went to see the Elephant (Though all of them were blind,) That each by observation Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach'd the Elephant, And happening to fall Against his broad and sturdy side, At once began to bawl: "God bless me! but the Elephant Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk, Cried, -"Ho! what have we here So very round and smooth and sharp? To me 'tis mighty clear This wonder of an Elephant Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal, And happening to take The squirming trunk within his hands, Thus boldly up and spake: "I see," quoth he, "the Elephant Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out his eager hand, And felt about the knee. "What most this wondrous beast is like Is mighty plain," quoth he, "'Tis clear enough the Elephant Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, Said: "E'en the blindest man Can tell what this resembles most; Deny the fact who can, This marvel of an Elephant Is very like a fan!" The Sixth no sooner had begun About the beast to grope, Then, seizing on the swinging tail That fell within his scope, "I see," quoth he, "the Elephant Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan Disputed loud and long, Each in his own opinion Exceeding stiff and strong, Though each was partly in the right, And all were in the wrong!


So oft in theologic wars, The disputants, I ween, Rail on in utter ignorance Of what each other mean, And prate about an Elephant Not one of them has seen!