Teaching Children the Courage to Go A Different Way

road_childrenSometimes it’s not about having the courage to try again.  Sometimes it’s about having the courage to try something different.

As my husband and I are working on “purging” our house of stacks of papers, old books, forgotten clothes, and random “what-nots,” I came across my diaries from middle school and high school.  There are some “deep” thoughts in there. Amazing what goes through the mind of a teenager.

Stuck in between the pages of my ninth grade diary was a page from one of my leadership camps was the famous “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” by Portia Nelson.

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place
but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V

I walk down another street.

Why do I bring this up?  When talking to children, sometimes we need to teach them the courage to go another way.  This may be “the road less traveled” or it may simply be a road less traveled…by them. Perhaps they need to try a new activity like martial arts, gymnastics, swim or dance– perhaps they need courage to move to a new town or enroll in a new school. Or maybe, they need the courage to make new friends when the current ones are just not the right fit anymore.

It’s hard. it’s scary.  It takes courage. But it may just be the best thing they ever did.

I was speaking to one brave and beautiful 15 year old yesterday who told me that she had to do “spring cleaning” on her so-called friends because they were not supportive of her– in fact, they made her feel awful about herself. They would tease her and make her feel self-conscious about her weight and her appearance.  Asking a teenager to switch groups of friends can be like cutting off part of yourself.  And at first, it looks like it’s a really important part of yourself, but as it turns out, it’s more like a growth you are better living without!

I lost touch with those “friends” and met all sorts of people. They were all about my size and we all wore the same size clothes and shoes. Soon we started having sleepovers randomly on weekends and going shopping. And they also had similar stories from when they were little that they were picked on for stupid things like being “ugly”. So we formed our own group of friends and we would go ice skating and meet all new friends. Eventually our group got so big that those other people started becoming jealous of us because we had real friends that loved us for who we were.”

There have been many times throughout my life that I’ve walked down the same street over and over.  Making the same mistakes and looking for different results.  It wasn’t until I decided to go a different way that well, something different happened.  Often, something better.

It’s important to help our children see that change can be wonderful.  It can open up a whole new– and better– world for us…if we just have the courage to walk down another street.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs


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Ask Dr. Robyn Silverman: How do I teach courage in new situations?

Many parents children get nervous during the first month of school. Everything is so new!  So it didn’t surprise me when this note about back to school fears and dealing with new situations came to my blog box recently.

Dear Dr. Robyn,

My child seems really anxious in new situations.  Now I think I might be more anxious than my child!  We recently moved and started a new school. I wonder if there is some way that I could help my child feel more secure about these different environments.  –Patti

Dr. Robyn Silverman Introduces the September Powerful Word: Courage

Courage Quotes

“The important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.” –Charles Dubois

“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.” –Soren Kierkegaard

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” –Elenor Roosevelt

“One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” –Maya Angelou

Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts. –Aristotle

“The courage to commit, even when our footing is unsure, is a crucial part of powerful character. By refusing to give in to fear, we show we refuse to give up on ourselves.” –Dr. Robyn Silverman

“The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.” –Ralph W. Sockman

“Courage is the ladder on which all the other virtues mount.” –Clare Booth Luce

“Yesterday I dared to struggle. Today I dare to win.” –Bernadette Devlin

“With courage you will dare to take risks, have the strength to be compassionate, and the wisdom to be humble. Courage is the foundation of integrity.’  –Keshavan Nair

“The best way out is always through.” –Robert Frost

“Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” –Winston Churchill

Please tell us your Powerful Courage stories this month!

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Getting children to redefine what their best is…everyday

Dr. Robyn SIlverman as a young teenager

Do you see “vision” in the eyes of your child?

Dr. Robyn Silverman for Powerful Words

Some might say that the difference between a successful child and an unsuccessful child is brains.  Others might say talent. Still others, might realize that it may just be the vision and belief that one can set goals, go after those goals, and succeed in achieving those goals.

When I was about 8-12 years old, I was convinced that I was stupid.  My brothers had been in all the advanced classes- I hadn’t. My brothers got high marks on all their tests—I didn’t.  My brothers were among those kids invited to their teacher’s home for a special celebration of “smartness” and I…played with the Barbie dream home.

It wasn’t like I was failing anything—I was pretty much just average. But boy—it was convenient to believe otherwise. “I’m not as smart as my brothers” and “I’m stupid” became my mantra.  It was my answer to all things challenging at school—all bad grades, the reason I was more of a follower than a leader among my friends, my fallback mantra anytime I got stuck in a pickle–  it provided my perfect excuse for mediocrity.

What’s funny about the repetition of a mantra is that not only do you begin to believe what you are saying—but so do others around you. My family just knew that they needed to help me out quite a bit since I could hardly do things myself.  My mother barely would say anything about the Cs on my report card because they were clearly the best I could do. My father admitted later on in life that he began to thank God that I was cute since I didn’t get blessed with the brains in the family. It’s not their fault.  I was VERY convincing.

So, when I entered 8th grade, I didn’t expect anything different than my typical average performance. Nobody did. But in meeting Mr. Hendrickson, who asked us all to call him “Hendi” since he was only 24 years old at the time, I had met my match.  Still young enough to know what a cop out looked like and old enough to know the difference between poor self esteem and actual stupidity, he called me into his office.

“What do you need in order to ace this next math test?”

“I can’t ace any test.  I’m a horrible test taker and I stink at math.”

“But what if you could?”

“Could what?”

“Ace the test. What would you need to do it?”

“Someone else’s brain?”

(The parent/teacher look.  You know the one.  You probably give it to your children when they make such remarks.)

“OK. I guess I would need a lot of extra help (but I couldn’t resist)…but a brain transplant couldn’t hurt.”

“Fine. My door is open to you everyday during free periods and after school. As for the brain transplant, you don’t need it.  But you need a thought transplant. You need a new definition of what your best is.”

“I try my best.”

“No, you try what you once believed was your best. You need a new definition. Your current definition is yesterday’s news. What do you want now? What can you do now? I don’t think you know what you are capable of.”

“Not much.”

“You’re doing it again. I’m not buying it. I want you to wipe clean the slate and see what’s possible now.  You’re going to ace this test.”

“If you say so.”

No , I want you to say so.”

“I’m not there yet.”

“Get there.”

“I’ll try.”

You see, I was basing my performance level, my attitude, and my belief in myself on who I believed I was—the stupid one—not on who I could be. Once this belief was exposed, I needed to either prove him wrong or prove him right.

So for the next 2 weeks I came in every day for extra help.  An opportunity had opened up—not that it wasn’t always there but I hadn’t been willing to take it.  After all, why bother when the results were bound to be the same?  Perhaps even with extra help, I wasn’t going to be able to do it.  But in the back of my head, a tiny voice asked meekly, but what if you could?

The day of the test came. I took it and didn’t feel half bad about it. Not that that would make a difference—since the results were bound to be the same.  But what if they weren’t?

It was later on in the day that I bumped into Hendi.  He stopped me in the hallway and said; “You did it.”

Not believing my ears I asked, “I did what?”

“You aced the test.”

Doubting these different results I questioned, “are you sure?”

To which he joked, “I’m not checking it again.  See… you can do it.  And now we all know.  We all have a new definition of what your best is. So, now you’re really in for it!”

It’s a day that changed more than just my definition of my best. It told me what was possible. It changed my vision of the future and redefined what I was capable of NOW rather than going by what I thought I was capable of then.  It infused me with confidence and the ability to push myself and to redefine what my best is every day.

Children must have the ability to dream if you want to see them rise to their potential . They must believe in what’s possible even if it hasn’t been done before.  They must be willing to challenge themselves and others. And yes, they must redefine what is “their best” everyday and refuse to live by yesterday’s definition of one’s best.

As parents and teachers,we must give children the permission to succeed—dropping who they might have been and building on who they can be. Sometimes we all get stuck in believing their performance sabotaging mantras. It’s time to stop allowing it to happen.

So, how are you inspiring your children to redefine their definition of their best?  Looking forward to hearing from you.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Dr. Robyn On Radio June 15th: Discussing Body Image

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Hi everyone!

Join me via the web or on the radio in Harrisburg, PA, for an hour long discussion on body image.  I’ll be on the radio show “Smart Talk” on the station WITF, an affiliate of NPR.

Host Craig Cohen will lead the discussion on Body Image. From the shows and ads on TV, to the models in newspapers and magazines, to storefront windows, to…well…anywhere you look – images bombard us that tell us what we’re supposed to look like. And many of those images are not only utterly unrealistic, they can do great harm – to adolescents especially – who grow concerned about their body image. Vanity also has led to a booming cosmetic surgery industry. But where’s the line between reasonable, appropriate efforts to look one’s best, and unreasonable, unrealistic efforts to reach some sort of ideal? And what does it say about us that we feel so compelled to always look “better?”

If you’d like to hear the full show at a later date/time, audio will be archived that afternoon at witf.org. Click on the SmartTalk icon and look for Monday’s blog entry on Body Image.

Would love to hear from you!

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Diet Doping: The Scary Link Between Body Image and Drugs

scaleDiet Doping: Getting Thin at any Cost

Dr. Robyn Silverman

For many girls and women, “feeling fat” has become a common part of everyday life.  Dieting has become normal.  Complaining about weight is a social expectation.  And doing anything you can to achieve the perfect thin body, acceptable.

A recent online poll of 993 teens and women has suggested that a whopping 1 in 10 girls and women are using drugs to lose weight even though 67% were in the healthy weight range. What does that tell us?  The healthy weight range is not perceived as thin enough.  Hollywood hard bodies and Vogue model legs and abs are what we’re striving for.  No, it’s not often linked to health, it’s linked to looks.

Often, when attempting to lose weight, young girls subscribe to unhealthy practices such as quick fad diets or acts of purging including vomiting and laxative abuse instead of using a healthy regiment of exercise and maintenance of a balances diet.  Girls and women are looking for the quick fix– what’s going to make them thin NOW- not what’s going to make them healthiest in the long run.  In doing so, they turn to what IS NOT healthy.  In fact, in the poll, 10% of respondents to the poll owned up to taking stimulants like cocaine and speed, 26% said they were abusing diet pills or laxatives and one in 5 admitted to suffering form eating disorders. What’s healthy about that? It’s a practice I like to call “diet doping” and I’ll be talking about it in my upcoming book coming out in 2010.

Think it’s only the caucasian girls?  Nope.  The intense pressure to diet has amazing cross over affects.  Studies over the last 25 years have shown that rate of these subclinical eating practices, dieting and purging, and diet doping are increasing among all social and ethnic classes.

It’s very important that we begin conversations with our girls early about what it truly means to be healthy.  In doing so, we must also commit to being healthy ourselves and refrain from criticizing ourselves, using destructive methods to lose weight, or applauding others who lose weight at all costs as being “disciplined” and “healthy.”  Let’s get back to basics. I mean, remember when healthy meant having good balanced nutrition, energy, good support and well managed stress?  Let’s go back to that. Who’s with me?

Be healthy together– I know many of you already are. All you Powerful Parents out there whose families are engaging in being healthy by attending your Powerful Words Member School are showing your kids YOUR definition of healthy. Doing fun extracurriculars, being around positive people, talking about the link between your character and your physical health– you should all be applauded for taking these positive steps. Keep it going!

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Confidence and Change: The Ultimate Frenemies?

stressed woman

Confidence and Change: The Ultimate Frenemies?

By Dr. Robyn Silverman

Confidence and change are often like oil and water. We are creatures of habit and we hate to upset the apple cart if we can help it. But given that change happens all the time and the powerful word of the month this month is confidence, I figured it was time to lay it on the table even if we all would rather ignore it all together.

As a new Mommy of our daughter, Tallie, I have had as much change as anyone can have at any one time. My previous “normality” at is related to sleeping, eating, and getting out the door has all gone out the window. And yet, I must maintain a sense of confidence in myself and my ability to get through it. For my sake. For my husband’s sake. For my daughter’s sake. It just has to happen.

It’s funny. A recent study came out that actually said young mothers (58%) are twice as confident in their own innate abilities to parent as older moms (27%) and fathers said they were even more confident than mothers.  Perhaps it’s a generational thing.  Perhaps it’s a gender thing.  Perhaps younger moms and fathers are just slightly delusional.  Regardless, at least half of moms and dads admit to feeling under-confident at times. No doubt change contributes to the doubt that enters are minds.

We all have changes throughout our lives. Our children go through it anytime we move, they change schools, or move up a grade. They deal with it when they move up a level in their activities. And don’t forget, they must cope with one of their biggest changes as they go through puberty. That last one often leaves us googling for the proverbial instruction book on kids…or wishing, at least, that it existed somewhere in cyberspace.

Change leads to questions. Questions rock our confidence boat. So what are we supposed to do to get over the hump?

(1) This too shall pass: My Mom would always say this to me when I was going through the “storm and stress” of childhood and adolescence. Perhaps she was saying it to reassure me. Perhaps she was saying it to reassure herself. Nonetheless it was and still is true. People do dumb things. People say dumb things. We might even make a mistake or two along the way. Change might make us feel like we’re walking on rocks but eventually the change becomes the norm and the norm becomes…comfortable.

(2) Enjoy it while it’s here: Yup. I’m not sleeping much. My daughter likes to lay all over me and wants to be picked up while I’m making dinner or just when I’m about to take a shower. I sometimes feel like I need a day off and I just started. But I know I’ll look back on these days and wish I didn’t shrug them off so quickly. So, I choose to enjoy this time. It might be hard but there is always a silver lining. Find it. Be grateful for it. Laugh. Believe me, it takes the sting out of getting up at 2am or feeling like you’re getting pulled in 20 different parental directions.

(3) Take a brain vacation: For you, that might mean getting a babysitter every once in a while to get a hold of your stress level. For your children it might mean going to a movie with her Dad to get her mind off her best friend being “mad at her” for the 20th time this week. Change happens but that doesn’t always mean we have to be in the thick of it. As they used to say, “take a chill pill” and everything will look better in the morning…or at least after watching “Dancing with the Stars.”

(4) Talk about it: Sharing experiences with like minded people can certainly help. Talk to other parents who are dealing with similar issues. Have your children talk to their older cousins or big brother or sister about their frustrations– or even their cool Auntie who always seems to have something brilliant to say. When we clam up, we feel alone. We feel as though nobody understands us. It’s simply not true. As tough as your situation might seem, someone else has gotten through it and knows the grass really is greener on the other side.

(5) What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger: Remember it. You might be tired. You might be frustrated. You might even be mad or depressed. But on the other side of all this change is a more knowledgeable, more experienced person who is stronger and better than before. Remember that last change you went through? You came out OK. Better, even. And don’t forget– without these changes and these experiences we would be born out of our skull. Nobody wants that.

So, are change and confidence really frenemies? Perhaps at times. Otherwise, they work symbiotically so that we become the evolved, exciting, energized and yes, sometimes exhausted people we are today and will be in the future. So here’s to change!

Please share your stories of confidence and change here in the comment section.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs