Building a Growth Mindset

 

The other morning, we sat outside on our porch and I gave Madi a notebook to write in. She sat down willingly but then began to shut down and I could see her anxiety building. Writing comes easily and naturally to me, it always has but Madi struggles with both reading and writing. Writing is an instant stressor for her and often creates feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. Knowing this, I decided to use soft music, a tool that has worked with her before, to help her feel relaxed and focused. At first she sat there stuck and frustrated then I told her that she didn’t need to write anything in particular and she didn’t need to spell everything correctly. I encouraged her to write whatever came into her mind and as an English teacher I once knew said, “throw up on the paper and edit later.” So she began to write …

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She finished writing and handed this to me and I cried. I was so proud of her for processing her big emotions and not giving up. I gave her a hug and told her that I appreciated that she stuck with it even though it was hard. Then I said, “Look! Do you see how your mood changed as you wrote?” She smiled and nodded. Then we sat down together and edited the words she misspelled and she was open and receptive, feeling completely positive. It was a beautiful thing.

I have always found writing therapeutic, especially in terms of processing difficult emotion and anxiety. I struggled with anxiety from the time I was a child but did not know what I was dealing with until I was an adult. Because of this, I lacked the tools I needed to successfully and effectively process through my anxiety and this negatively effected many areas of my life and relationships. To this day, I am continually navigating this aspect of myself and learning to channel it in a positive way instead of allowing it to process through me as a destructive force.

Now as a parent, I have a child who deals with anxiety as well. Often, my own experiences with anxiety have helped me to model and facilitate the use of effective coping strategies for her. However, there are times that our anxiety bounces off each other and I struggle to maintain the calm composure she needs to learn how to process these heavy and challenging emotions. We have begun to refer to this as “crashing cars,” because sometimes when we are both struggling our emotional responses “crash” into each other.

Parenting has challenged me on every level of personal growth and development. It has made me aware of the areas in my life that are not so pretty and require intentional work to heal and create new path ways for negative emotions to become positive growth.

Recently, I’ve begun to use Carol Dweck’s Fixed vs. Growth Mindset research with Madi – the goal is to change the “I can’t” headspace to the “I can’t yet but if I keep trying, I will succeed.” In her book Dweck states, “For students with the growth mindset, it doesn’t make sense to stop trying … working harder was not something that made you vulnerable, but something that made you smarter.”

I am working to help Madi build a growth mindset while also giving her effective coping skills to help her process through the anxiety she experiences when things become challenging.  When challenges become a positive rather than a negative, it releases the pressure of perfection and allows for creativity to flourish. Fear of failure causes the brain to shut down and stifles the ability to process. We remove the fear of failure when we allow for mistakes and see them as stepping stones to growth and success. When we operate from a growth mindset, we can step back and take our anxiety for what it is – a feeling. No matter how genuine, difficult, and valid a feeling it is, we do not have to allow it to control us and dictate our life. We can simply sit with it, allow it, and know it will pass. Then move forward and tackle the challenge head on.

“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.”
— Carol S. Dweck

 

One Loving Choice at a Time

One of things that parenting has brought to the surface in my own life is my need for healing. It has required me to take ownership of my life and not allowed me to play the victim card. My daughter is counting on me to give her my best not my brokenness. Have I failed, do I still fail? Yes, I do. However, every day I am striving to be a more balanced and whole person. To create the boundaries in my life that I need so that I can mirror for her what being healthy actually looks like.

One of the biggest lessons I am learning through Madi is patience. I am not patient by nature but my daughter has required me to slow down and dig deep inside myself for the resources I need to remain calm and present in the moment. Yesterday, Madi was exhausted to the point of complete emotional melt down. A year ago, I was still struggling to handle these situations with grace and kindness and my reactions were often harsh or too emotional. I began to see a pattern – she would get emotional, I would react instead of respond and in turn, her emotions would escalate. It was not healthy for either of us. It was destroying the connection that I have always worked so hard to create with her. When she is feeling out of control she needs me to be in control. She needs to feel secure in me when she is feeling insecure in her self. So I began to actively check in with myself and become more in tune with her needs.

Yesterday could have been a disaster but instead it became a time of meaningful connection for both of us. Despite her protest and tears, I removed her from a high energy situation – her cousins at the Mall play area – because I knew she need space to reset herself emotionally. I chose to remain patient even though I was frustrated. We cuddled in the car and read Harry Potter, we went into Trader Joes and I bought her flowers, we drove back to my sister’s house just the two of us listening to Norah Jones and before I knew it, she was happily and peacefully playing with her toys in the back of the car while I drove.

You can’t fight fire with fire, it only increases the damage. Everyone is entitled to their feelings and even the little ones have bad days. I have bad days and I want people to understand and validate how I am feeling. How can I expect my six year old to feel any different or to respond in a more mature way than I am sometimes able to? As parents and as people, we have the choice to feed into negativity and anger or to actively work to bring love and peace into our situation whatever it may be. It’s not easy; gentle parenting requires a lot of energy and deliberate choice. Reacting is always easier than responding. However, if the goal is love and connection we have to actively work to maintain our relationships.

Parenting is hard, relationships are hard and not all of us have had the best examples of what a healthy relationship looks and feels like. We are all broken – but it is our responsibility to find healing for our brokenness instead of using it to hurt others. We can find a way to take our brokenness and turn it into something beautiful, healthy and whole if we are willing to work towards the healing we need. Love will always win if you let it and connection is more important than having the upper hand.

Let’s change the world together one loving choice at a time.

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As My Girl Enters 1st Grade

Miss M starts first grade tomorrow and as she goes into another school I am sitting here thinking about the power of voice, the power of owning your story and knowing that what you have to say is of value. My hope for her this year and every year ahead is that she will know the power of her own voice, that she will own who she is and stand confidently in herself. That she will be confident but kind. That she will say what she needs to say and stand up for those who need her to be their voice.

Too often as women and girls, we are told to tone it down and to be “lady like,” which typically implies quiet and small. While I want my daughter to have class and to be polite, I refuse to ask her to fit into the stereotypical mold of “being a lady.” She has too much insight and love to offer the world to just sit back quietly.

I want her to be brave, to forge ahead even when she is scared and accomplish all the things she feels in her heart she is meant to do. I don’t want her to feel that she has to “fit in,” rather my desire is that she would find the courage and strength to bring others in instead. To bring those around her into a place of love and acceptance, as they are and for who they are.

“Kind people are brave people. Brave is not something you should wait to feel. Brave is a decision. It is a decision that compassion is more important than fear, than fitting in, than following the crowd.” – Glennon Doyle Melton

When she was born, she came out yelling and she has been a force ever since. She continually challenges me. She is smart, she is tenacious and she is full of passion for life. She is also tenderhearted and kind. I hope that she will never lose these qualities. I pray that as her mom, I will be able to channel her in the right directions, encourage her, stand by her and never try to change who she is. My heart breaks and burst with pride at the same time as I watch her learn and grow.

So into a new school year we go, hand in hand.

Madi –

You are the joy of my heart, you are the greatest gift. May you always know the power you hold deep inside. May you continue to let your love and light shine brightly. May you always have courage and be kind.

I love you, xo

Mom

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Teach Them to Be Kind

Teaching kindness starts in small ways. As adults, it is challenging to reign in emotion and negativity on a daily basis and so children may hear and see things that are not kind, positive and gentle.  Children learn by example; how we react to situations, people, and circumstances becomes their guideline for behavior. One of the things that we tend to forget is that little ears are listening all the time and soaking in information. Children do not have the mental maturity to effectively process everything they hear. This is why they often misinterpret situations and assume things that are not completely true. However, unaware of their misinterpretation, they do not clarify their misinformation.

Think for a moment about comments that you might say in front of your child such as, “I can’t stand her, she drives me crazy … Did you see what she was wearing last night? … they’re white trash … I’m going to kill him … he’s such a jerk.” When we speak disrespectfully or negatively about other people in front of our children even in a joking manner, we are teaching them that this is normal and acceptable behavior. Knowing that children don’t alway interpret situations and conversations effectively, imagine what they are thinking if you continualisly make negative comments about certain people? They may begin to believe that it is okay to treat some people respectfully but that you don’t have to be kind and respectful to everyone. In essence, they are being taught that targeting someone is acceptable behavior.

Bullying in schools is a major issue and I can’t help but believe that part of it has to do with parenting. If we are not deliberately teaching our children to love with acceptance and treat everyone with kindness, who will? According to the National Center for Education Statistics, one out of every four students report that they are bullied. Though bullies are often potrayed as physically and verbally abusive to their victims, there are also those who bully in a microaggressive way. According to Dr. Derald Wing Sue“Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”  Bullying can be subtle and may be done in such a way that only the victim knows what is going on. As David Rivera states, “Many bullies do not use overt brute strength to overpower their targets, but rather engage in intimidating behaviors that are oftentimes covert and hard to detect.”

This year, I am working with 6th grade. It is my first experience working in a middle school. I love these students; I celebrate in their successes, give them extra support when they need it and love to laugh with them. However, it has been a very eye opening experience when it comes to how subtle bullying can really be. Our goal as a team of teachers is that our students would operate as a community, treating each other with kindness and respect. The school has brought in guest speakers to address the topic of bullying. The students all signed a class contract which included how they were to treat their classmates.

Once a week, I have lunch duty. I watch how my students interact with each other, how they choose their seats, how they like to save seats for certain people and actively avoid sitting with other classmates. I’ve seen the look of hesitation and uncertainty on the face of a student when they can’t find a place they feel comfortable sitting. It is heartbreaking, it is terrible and it is not okay.

Recently we found out that a student had been receiving harassing and derogatory messages for some time. The student threw them away, so there was no evidence at first. However, this student received another note and gave it to the teachers as evidence. The note said, “kill urself.” I don’t feel that I can even put into words just how horrific this is, how terrible. I am equal parts angry and sad. My students are eleven and twelve, how can one of them have that much hate towards another student? How can they be that disconnected from empathy?

The past couple of days as this has unfolded the words, “Teach them to be kind,” kept running through my head. We have to start when they’re young, we have to really think about the things that we are saying and doing around them. We have to be deliberate about connecting with our children and teaching them to have empathy and compassion. In her article, Acts of Kindness: Teaching Children to Care, Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell writes, “While kindness might seem pretty straightforward to learn, it’s a bit more complex than meets the eye. We don’t make children happy when we simply enable them to be receivers of kindness. We escalate their feelings of happiness, improve their well-being, reduce bullying, enrich their friendships, and build peace by teaching them to be givers of kindness.” 

So let’s consider the words we use and the conversations we have in front of our children. Are we teaching kindness or are we exhibiting negativity towards others? Are we practicing compassion and forgiveness? Let’s teach our children to be kind, let’s show them how to be builders of peace.

A Safe Place to Land

There have been many times during this process of separation and divorce that I have wanted to explain things to Madi but I can’t. There are things that are too far beyond her ability to comprehend and process. Sometimes she asks me the hard questions …
“why can’t you and daddy live together again?”
“why did we have to move from our old house?”
“why do I have to leave you?”
And my heart feels like it’s dying a little every time.

I don’t always have the words that she needs. I know that she will understand someday when she is older but I don’t want to bank on that and wish her life away. In these moments, all I can do is hold her close and validate her feelings. I let her know that it’s ok to be sad, that I feel sad too. I let her know that she is so very loved by so many people and that we will get through this together. Of course I wish I could erase the hard times in her life altogether.

I don’t have all the “right answers” or a magical fix, but what I do have is the ability to give my daughter a safe and secure place to land. Sometimes this is as simple as cuddles on the couch while we watch a favorite movie, other times it means being ok with “not ok” behavior. It can be easy to forget that children have bad days too. Often it seems that our adult expectation is for children to “behave” with little consideration as to how they may be feeling. I know that when I am having an especially rough day, I just want someone to understand that, be ok with it, and maybe give me a hug. Why should I expect any different from my child?

As adults, we won’t always have someone there to give us support when we need it. As a mom, I am able to give my daughter the support she needs. Often this requires letting go of my expectations of her behavior and allowing her to express her emotions in whatever way she may need to. On days where I am at my best, this is easy. On days when I am struggling myself, this can be especially challenging.

In her article on teaching children emotional intelligence, Dr. Laura Markham talks about allowing for emotion while still limiting potentially harmful actions. She states, “while you limit behavior, your child is allowed to have, and to express, all her emotions, and that includes feelings of disappointment or anger in response to your limits. Children need to “show” us how they feel and have us “hear” them, so meltdowns are nature’s release valve for children’s emotions. Instead of banishing your child to her room to get herself under control (which gives her the message that she’s all alone with those big, scary feelings), hold her, or stay near and connected with your soothing voice: “You are so mad and sad right now. That’s ok, Sweetie, I am right here, you are safe.”

When it comes to our children, the goal should always be for connection. When we tell our children to suppress their thoughts and feelings, we are creating isolation and shutting down meaningful communication and connection. “Children WANT to have happy, warm interactions with their parents. They want to be good people. Misbehavior comes from overwhelming feelings or unmet needs. If you don’t address the feelings and needs, they’ll just burst out later, causing other problem behavior (Markham, 2016).”Our children deserve to be seen and heard. Their thoughts, feeling, and emotions are valid and deserve respect.

There are various ways that I make a purposeful commitment to be there for Madi when she is having a rough time.  I never isolate her in the midst of her emotional outbursts. Even if she runs away and slams the door on me, I go after her. However, I respect that she may  need personal space. Sometimes I sit and quietly wait until she is ready to come to me and other times I am able to pick her up and hold her until she calms down.There are times during conversation, she may share a negative interaction she had during the day. I make sure to acknowledge her feelings about the situation, validate her right to speak up for herself  and still encourage her to be kind in spite of what other people may say or do. She’s a little girl with big feeling and it’s my job as her mom to help her sort them out.

When we take the time to connect with our children, to validate their feelings and give them a safe place to land, we are creating emotionally intelligent children. There is less of a need for children to act out when their emotional needs are being met. Of course just like us, children are human and will make mistakes. However, the way in which we respond to their mistakes will determine the value of lesson that they learn.

Sometimes Mama is Wrong

I was grumpy, I had a headache, and we were running late per usual. We were on the way to a birthday party for one of Madi’s best friends and had stopped to pick up a gift for her on the way.

We looked around at various things, I made different suggestions, all the while telling Madi that we needed to hurry. Madi finally found the gift she wanted to give to her friend, to me it seemed silly and I kept trying to redirect her to something else. She was insistent.

Instead of allowing her the flexibility to shop at ease and be free in her choice, I was stuck in my grumpy mood and did not honor her ideas or her feelings. In exasperation, I finally agreed to her choice.

At the party, when it finally came time for Madi to give her friend the gift, she was so excited! The gift was perfect – her friend loved it, all the children at the party were intrigued by the magical little music box with a plastic key.

As I stood there, my heart felt the weight of my mistake. When Madi had a moment, I called her over and I apologized. I said, “I am so sorry Madi, Mama was wrong and you were right.” Her face lit up with amusement at the fact that I had admitted I was wrong and she was right. We hugged each other and I told her I loved her and that her gift was perfect. Sometimes Mama is wrong.

It’s hard to admit that you’re wrong, especially as a parent, especially to your child, but it’s so very important to do so.

When parents apologize they are instilling a value system and a belief that it’s okay to be human and therefore imperfect. They are role modeling accountability. They are demonstrating that taking action to accept responsibility after a mistake is more important than the mistake itself. They are living the old adage “it’s not whether you make a mistake, it’s how you handle that mistake” … When parents overcome their fear of apologizing and say “I’m sorry” to their child, they give their child a gift of freedom to make mistakes. – Katie Roberts, Ph.D.

I am learning, learning to slow down, learning to listen, and learning to trust my child. Her heart and our connection is worth so much more than Mama being right.

I Adore You

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Sometimes these days seem

Too hard

The changes tossing us back and forth

Like a ship on a turbulent sea

Moments fly by far too quickly

Breaking my heart

I long for days past, sweet memories

When the world was just you and me

The tide has changed for us and yet …

Love remains even when we’re apart

I ADORE You

I LOVE You

You are my world

The song in my heart

The reason I keep on

We are STRONGER than this

We are BRAVER than this

We

Will

Be

Ok

We will find a new way …

Love you darling girl,

Xo

Mama