Apr 162012

When I was 9 years old, I was visiting my grandma, who lived on a dirt road in a small town, population 6,000.  If you needed help, you relied on neighbors that lived one farm over.

I loved climbing trees, but it scared my Grandma half to death.  The higher I climbed, the more often the screen door would fly open and I would hear her say:  Steph-nee, do you know how far we live from the nearest hospital?

Of course I didn’t, nor did I care.  I was an expert tree climber and no one could tell me otherwise, until I stepped on a dead tree limb that left me hanging 20 foot from the ground.

I held on for about 30 seconds until my little fingers could no longer hold my 60 lb body.  I dropped 20 feet out of the tree and hit every limb along the way.  And you know the first thing I did?  No, it wasn’t check for scrapes to see if I was ok.  It was looking around to see if my Granny saw me fall.

I would rather say my battle wounds came from falling out of a tree, rather than my granny spanking my be-hind!  I had scrapes and a bloody knee.  My fingers hurt and my foot felt sprained.  That day, I realized I wasn’t an expert tree climber, but I was definitely an expert tree faller; and I felt pretty good about that.

A skinned knee is like a “bade of courage.”   Kids are just waiting for someone to say (in a high-pitched voice of concern):  What Happened?  Cue their big smile.

If my kid hurts their foot, even a little, they want to use crutches for days, just so they can tell others about their fun adventure.  Let their boo boos, ripped up jeans, dirt on the knees and oppsie daisies be a sign of courage. They took a chance and have a story to tell.

Summer is around the corner!  It’s time to start planning!  What will the kids be doing for the 60 plus days of summer?  It’s time to make a plan, whether a family road trip, joining a sports team, visiting grand parents or heading to summer camp, it’s time to turn off the TV, give the video games a rest and head outdoors.

Often times, we caudal our children.  We anticipate the 2 year old falling, with a “First Aid Kid” at arms length.   Since they were born, we’ve had fears regarding: child safety issues, injury or teasing.  We over-schedule their athletic events, their music lessons. They need a black book to keep up with it all.

Of course, we want the best for our kids, but it’s important to determine what IS best.  Keeping them in-doors, protected and safe, or teaching them life lessons that will afford them the independence to keep THEMSELVES safe.

Life lessons come in many ways, but often times in an effort to keep the knees from getting skinned or their emotional psyche from getting bruised, we sit in front of them, like the Olympic Sport Curling (whisking the broom from left to right, in a frenzy, making sure little Henry gets to where he needs to go without getting hurt).  We can’t roll them in bubble wrap, though I’ve seen parents “virtually” do this very thing.

Like a bird that’s trying to hatch, if we do everything for Mary or Johnny, they won’t be strong enough to stand up to bullies at school, handle college peer pressure, enjoy the great outdoors of summer camp, or handle life’s unexpected challenges, because mom and dad aren’t there to fix it.  We can’t always be their safety net, their first aid kit.  At some point, we have to let them become strong, confident individuals – on their own.  You’ve given them the foundation they need; let them fly.

It’s time to unplug the electronics, send them to casual play, where there are no fixed schedules, time clocks and hurry ups . . . just trees, bikes, pine straw and great imaginations.  For in this free time, their imagination will grow and their exploration skills will kick in.

When kids learn about nature, they’ll want to take care of it.   When they play with others, compassion will rise; team spirit will be built and character will grow.  So unplug your kid’s life this summer and jump into the great outdoors with gumption and gusto, enjoying the value of a skinned up knee.

Here’s to living the Best Version of You.

 Posted by at 4:02 pm
Apr 122012

On my pre-schooler’s first day of class, an assignment was sent home requesting they create a show-and-tell board.  They wanted a description of who he was, how many siblings he had, pictures of the family and fun activities enjoyed during summer break.  My son couldn’t write – he was 4. Nor did he know what the word “description” meant.  He couldn’t count to 20 and they wanted him to do what?  So I had pictures developed, bought poster board, and let him do whatever he wanted with his little marker and glue.  It looked just like you would have imagined.  It was pitiful, funny and messy.

You should have seen the look of accomplishment on his face, beaming with pride as he carried his over-sized masterpiece into the classroom.  You should have seen the look on my face as I walked into the classroom and saw the Mona Lisas of artwork: stenciled letters, 3D art images, created by very talented parents.  It looked as if PR firms had been hired to design some of the projects.   At first, I was embarrassed.  Had I made a mistake?  Was it my assignment or his?

As parents, we obviously want the best for our children.  If I could roll mine in bubble wrap to keep them from getting hurt, I would.  But it’s to their detriment when we hover over our kids, intervening in their squabbles with friends, doing their work for them, or negotiating their grades at school.  We’ve become an advocate in places we don’t belong. In short, we’ve crossed the line. It’s OK to give them advice, guide their hearts, help them behind the scenes, but not fight their fights or navigate their future to the point it becomes a disservice to everyone involved.

In the CNN.com article How to Ground a ‘Helicopter Parent’, Dr. Nancy Weisman, a licensed clinical psychologist, notes that it’s important for kids to understand that they are not going to be rescued. Otherwise, they may feel a sense of entitlement.  In dealing with powerful people, Dr. Ken Haller from the St. Louis University School of Medicine suggests that as parents, if we bully to get our way, it sends a message to our children, that we need to be “controversial and adversarial.” He suggests teaching them the “art of negotiation” as a more valuable tool.

It’s important to be their advocate when they’re younger, their guide, their counselor in their teen years, but don’t hover over them, trying to make sure they don’t slip and fall.  In failure, there are lessons to be learned..  There is value in a skinned up knee.

Remember when you were a kid, running through the house, perhaps you slipped and wiped out, badly? It looked painful to everyone else, yet you jumped right back up and kept going.  You had youth on your side.  Now, when you take a fall, it’s not as easy to jump back up.  Failing at the age of 10, 16 or 22 is way easier than failing at 43 when there’s much more at stake: kids, marriage, jobs, mortgages.

If they fail an assignment or miss class, make them meet with the teacher instead of you.  It’s called accountability.  If your teen didn’t complete an assignment, let them deal with the consequences.  The best lessons-learned are taught in the “School of Life.”  Important information can be gleaned from failure.  Some say:  Failure is not an option.  I say:  It’s as amazing learning tool. If you fail, collect data from what went wrong.  Take those mistakes and turn them into success.  Talk to anyone who owns a profitable company, and they will tell you, more character was built during failure than in victories.

Unfortunately the new rules of today apply:
* Don’t mark student’s answers wrong with red ink, it hurts their emotional psyche.
* Parents are meeting with employers to negotiate their children’s salaries.
* No swings or dodgeball games, kids may get injured.
* Everyone gets a trophy for participating.  It’s important that every child feels special.
* Tell your kids they are great at everything.  The truth will hurt their feelings.

Don’t micro manage your kids, always trying to fix, strategize, advocate and mediate their life path.  Let them learn from their mistakes.  It gives them confidence that they can solve their own problems.

The question remains, how do you give your children the resources they need to become responsible citizens?  Give them responsibility.  Make them accountable for their consequences, instead of trying to take the bullet for everything that goes wrong. Give them chores at an early age; make them do their own homework with limited parental involvement.  Have them fill out camp forms, do laundry, earn their own spending money.  In those self-sufficient tasks, life-lessons will be their best coach.  How do you handle letting go of the control and allowing your kids the opportunity to learn and grow on their own?

Here’s to living the best version of you!

 Posted by at 7:43 pm