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

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7 attributes children learn from Olympians

Sandi Stevens McGee and Dr. Robyn Silverman

copyright: Sandi Stevens McGee and Dr. Robyn Silverman

What does it take to become an Olympian in life?

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

New York Times

New York Times

Shawn Johnson sticks the perfect landing. Nastia Liukin falls flat on her back and gets back up. Michael Phelps wins another gold medal.

No matter what event you like, it’s difficult to watch the Olympics and not feel inspired. I can’t help myself—I have to stand up, my palms get sweaty, and I find myself shouting “go, go, go!” and “you can do it!” at the TV.

Children can learn a great deal from our Olympians. They’re not just role models; they are character in action. They take all of the Powerful Words that we learn and make use of them in their daily lives.

Here are just a few questions you can pose to your children:

  1. Perseverance: How do your child’s favorite athletes show perseverance in every part of competition and every practice? How can your children show the same kind of perseverance in their own lives?
  2. Discipline: What kind of discipline does it take to achieve a goal like being a member of the Olympic team? Where do you show discipline in your life?
  3. Responsibility: What do you think are the responsibilities of an Olympic hopeful? What kinds of responsibilities must you meet on your quest to be your best?
  4. Determination: Why do you think being determined is so important on our quest to reach our goals? When have you felt determined? What goals have you achieved by being determined?
  5. Indomitable Spirit: Which athletes kept going with all their effort even when they weren’t “the favorite” or even when they were behind? How did that indomitable spirit pay off? When have you showed indomitable spirit in the face of challenge?
  6. Respect: How do you see the Olympians showing respect for themselves and their fellow athletes? How do they show respect and sportsmanship for the judges and their fans? How do you show respect to others each day?
  7. Courage: How do you think these athletes developed the courage to compete on the highest level? How do you think they stayed courageous even when they failed or fell? When do you show that kind of courage and how can you show even more?

The Olympics can be a great stepping stone to talk about your family’s values and well as what it takes to be the best in any area of interest. This is a great time to talk about some amazing athletes and how your children can integrate what they see on their quest to become Olympians in life.

(Over)Protective Parents: Helpful or Harmful?

Are Some Parents Too Overprotective? What do you think?

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

My mom and I were speaking on the phone yesterday about a recent New York Times article on overprotective “helicopter parents,” their children and overnight camps. Did you see it?

Parents are “bombarding the camp with calls: one wanted help arranging private guitar lessons for her daughter, another did not like the sound of her child’s voice during a recent conversation, and a third needed to know — preferably today — which of her daughter’s four varieties of vitamins had run out. All before lunch.

We were laughing about how times certainly have changed since we were all younger– when parents told us to get up, rub some dirt on it, and give it another go. My Mom and I were trying to remember if I ever called when I was away at camp– maybe once– but we’re not completely certain of that figure. Of course, we didn’t have cell phones, email, web cams, or texting when we were kids– but would we have used them if we did?

People have been throwing around the term “helicopter parents” for quite some time now to describe parents who are overprotective of their children to a fault. Some people hate the term and others believe it’s spot on. Mothers and fathers often cite that “times have changed” and more hand-holding is necessary, even though, by many accounts, children in the United States are safer than ever. So is our attempt to protect negatively affecting our children’s ability to be self-determined and independent? What do you think?

Who: Sociologists find that helicopter parents tend to be mothers and fathers of “Millennials,” children of baby boomers, born between the early 1980s and 2000.

They saw their youngsters as “special,” and they sheltered them. Parents outfitted their cars with Baby on Board stickers. They insisted their children wear bicycle helmets, knee pads and elbow guards. They scheduled children’s every hour with organized extracurricular activities. They led the PTA and developed best-friend-like relationships with their children…Today, they keep in constant touch with their offspring via e-mail and cell phones. And when their children go off to college, parents stay just as involved.

Where do we see it: It’s been reported that overprotective parents are noticed on sports fields, schools, colleges, after-school programs, and now, even overnight camps. As I mentioned above, an article in the New York Times reported that overprotective parents have seeped into the camp culture, a place where children’s distance from home was often equated with “growing up” and “standing on their own 2 feet.”

In fact, the camps are now employing full-time parent liaisons to counsel parents from 7am to 10pm via email and phone. This position has become absolutely necessary because camps feel that they need to cater to the increasing number of parents who:

make unsolicited bunk placement requests, flagrantly flout a camp’s ban on cellphones and junk food, and consider summer an ideal time to give their offspring a secret vacation from Ritalin.

While camps want to accommodate parents, they worry that their over-involvement is negating the point of camp—a place to learn how to solve problems and make decisions without parental involvement. ]

What’s going on? Many reasons have been cited as motivators of overprotective parents. Parents are overprotective for all different reasons. In some cases, parents perceive that when they do something for their child, it comes out better. In other cases, parents feel a need for control in a world that seems more unpredictable and scary that it was when they were younger. Some parents have a fear of failure and hate to see their children struggle while others have a fear that their children will succeed and no longer need them as much as they did at one time. Still others feel entitled to check in with or about their children at any given time or they feel empowered by living vicariously through their sons and daughters who are doing things that the parents might not have been able to do when they were younger.

Here’s the rub from several sides:

(1) A study shows…Parental involvement can be very helpful. Data from 24 colleges and universities gathered for the National Survey of Student Engagement show that students whose parents were very often in contact with them and frequently intervened on their behalf “reported higher levels of engagement and more frequent use of deep learning activities,” such as after-class discussions with professors, intensive writing exercises and independent research, than students with less-involved parents. “Compared with their counterparts, children of helicopter parents were more satisfied with every aspect of their college experience, gained more in such areas as writing and critical thinking, and were more likely to talk with faculty and peers about substantive topics,” said survey director George D. Kuh, an Indiana University professor.

(2) A mixed reaction… Lenore Skenazy, a columnist for the New York Sun as well as a mother of a 9 year old son, recently talked about allowing her son to ride the subway on his own. People voiced both dismay and encouragement and called her everything from neglectful to a breath of fresh air. She used the incident to create her own blog about kids and independence, called Free Range Kids. The idea behind the concept is to live responsibly (seat belts, helmets, airbags, etc.), but not to restrict your child’s actions out of fear.

(3) The negative side of over-protectiveness, including:

(a) Undermining children’s confidence in their own abilities to take care of themselves and get things done;

(b) Instilling fear of failure such that they are denied the chance to learn how to persevere while standing on their own 2 feet;

(c) Stunting growth and development—in fact, studies have shown that these children lack some of the knowledge to negotiate what they need, solve their own problems, stay safe, and interact in close quarters with others;

(d) Inability to launch because they’re unsure of their passion, their own direction, and what to do next, if it means doing it on their own;

(e) Taking more staff, teacher, and administrator resources that would be directed towards their children but instead, must be used to tend to parental needs and wants; and, ironically,

(f) Raising parental anxiety levelsresearch has shown that parents who consistently judge their own self worth by their children’s success report feeling more sad and having a more negative self image than parents who did not engage in this behavior.

So, what do you think? Are parents going too far to protect their children and teens or are they justified in doing so? Do you think the affects are more positive or negative? Why? This is a heated topic with many different opinions. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Please comment below!

Related:

Letters to their helicopter parents from their children: first of series

Dr. Robyn Silverman Interviews Cheri Meiners and Reads Her Children’s Book

Dr. Robyn Reads Try and Stick With It and Interviews Author, Cheri Meiners

Dr. Robyn: We are focusing on the Powerful Word, Determination, this month. The students are learning how they can use determination in their lives everyday! What are some easy and interesting ways that parents can help their children learn determination?

Meiners: The ‘Try and Stick with it’ book includes several fun activities at the back for parents to do with their children, as well as 12 strategies that children can use to develop perseverance and determination (note, see video of Dr. Robyn reading the book above). Parents can also talk about people who have shown determination in overcoming a problem, or at developing a new skill. This can be done through reading biographies, or talking about people you know. You might also discuss scenarios that children typically face, such as those in the book, and talk about how it feels to accomplish something that you put your mind to.

Dr. Robyn: What made you decide to write the book?

Meiners: I started writing this series and this book, particularly, to help children see how a skill like determination is developed, and what the positive outcomes can be. The first books I wrote were for my own children, and I realized that other parents could benefit from having these character building skills taught visually and logically to a child. The books are written in the first person so that the child, through repetition, begins to understand and apply the principles internally.

There are two themes that I wanted to address in this book. The first is that we all need to have the flexibility, courage, and determination to try new things. The determination to try something new builds self-confidence, and is the starting point for future growth. And then, of course, it takes determination to continue in a challenging path—but it brings rewards to oneself and others.

Dr. Robyn: All the Powerful Words Member Schools are teaching the youngest students that determination is a “no quit-go-for-it attitude.” We want children to learn the importance of seeing things through until they reach the end. In your view, why is it so important for children to learn to “stick with it.”

Meiners: Everything that a person learns, knows and accomplishes comes from ‘sticking with something’ because all skills take time and practice to develop. A person who has practiced determination is also much stronger and able to handle adversity when faced with it. We all face problems and challenges, and determination can help in overcoming them. All the medical and technical advances and artistic works that we enjoy in our culture are the result of determined individuals. Each of us has something important to share with others, but those skills and our own character must be developed through perseverance and determination. When children ‘stick with it’, they also learn about themselves–what things they like to do, and what things they are good at. ‘Sticking with it’ will also help a child get along with others because other people will learn to trust and count on a person who has the determination to follow through with commitments.

Dr. Robyn: Sometimes it can be difficult for young children to see things through until they reach the end. For parents and teachers, it can be hard to watch their children cope with failure and rough spots along the way to success. How can parents help to support determination in their children when children are struggling?

Meiners: Giving praise and encouragement for children’s efforts can motivate children to develop greater determination, and when used consistently is a powerful tool in shaping behavior. Also, be specific in pointing out the steps that they have already taken in reaching a particular goal, and let them know you believe in their ability to accomplish it.

Thank you!

Cheri J. Meiners, M.Ed., has her master’s degree in elementary education and gifted education. A former first-grade teacher, she has taught education classes at Utah State University and has supervised student teachers. Cheri and her husband, David, have six children. They live in Laurel, Maryland.

Want to Read the Book Yourself? Here’s how! Try and Stick With It (Learning to Get Along)

Randy Pausch: On Loving the Teachers who Don’t Give Up on Us (and Are you Ruining My Child’s Self Esteem?)

“Experience is what you get is when you didn’t get what you want…We send our kids out to play football or soccer or swimming or whatever it is… for indirect learning..we don’t actually want them to learn football… We send our kids out to learn much more important things; teamwork, sportsmanship, perseverance, etc. etc.” –Randy Pausch

Dear Parents,

This inspirational video is of Randy Pausch giving his last lecture. The full YouTube version is posted here– and well worth the view– but here’s is a shortened version (10 minutes) that played on Oprah for your convenience. In the spirit of Gratitude Month and Teacher Appreciation Week at all our Powerful Words family schools, it seemed fitting to post something about the teachers and role models who push us and never give up on us even when we’re ready to give up on ourselves.

Aren’t you ruining my child’s self esteem?

By Dr. Robyn Silverman

Mrs. Phillips came to talk to me while her son, Patrick, age 8, was in class. “Patrick was upset the other day because his teacher corrected him three times on one of his skills. When you tell him he’s doing something wrong, aren’t you ruining his self esteem?”

This story came to mind today when I was watching a video of the inspirational “last lecture” of Randy Pausch, who’ll likely die of liver cancer within the next few months. I love watching videos like these because they shine such a bright light on learning and put a fire in my belly. In fact, they make me feel like running to the helm of a ship and yelling “I’m the king of the world!”

Anyway, Professor Pausch said; “when you’re screwing up and nobody’s saying anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up…your critics are the ones who still love you and know you can.” Boy, do I agree with that–although, it’s not always easy to experience criticism and it can be excruciating to watch someone we love being critiqued.

I’ll let you in on a little secret–I wrote an article on my own experience with this phenomenon. At Tufts, my advisor was known to be the toughest in my department. My dissertation was often filled with red marks and comments like “no!” “wrong!” and “don’t say this” throughout it’s 150 pages. While I’m not recommending my advisor’s blunt delivery, I appreciate his persistent pushing. Would he be helping me by giving me a disingenuous pat on the back? Certainly not.

Interestingly, after I was awarded my doctorate, he did say something to me that I’ll never forget; “I was hard on you because I always knew you could do better. And you did. In fact you did so well that you became one of the very best.” I felt as though I had destroyed every brick wall placed in front of me and I was ready to take on the world.

So, what about the claim Mrs. Phillips made about her child’s self esteem? While too much criticism in the absence of praise can be detrimental, too much praise in the absence of critique is just as damaging.

Feelings of self worth, esteem, and gratification come from overcoming challenges. They derive from hard work, perseverance, self discipline, and self reliance. They don’t come from simply being the best but rather, doing one’s personal best and raising the bar higher every time we approach a skill. These feelings don’t come from our teachers and parents telling us we’re doing well when we aren’t or telling us we’re doing “the best” when we’re not putting in “our best.” They come from when others, whose opinions we value, tell us that they know we can do better and then notice it when we do.

In the end, we gain self esteem when we break through brick walls when even we wondered if we could.

As parents, while it may be difficult to watch out children be critiqued, it is a gift to find teachers who care enough to push them and see to it that they reach their potential. It’s this experience that they can take away from their Powerful Words family school and apply it to everything they do.

Nobody ever feels satisfied while leaning against a brick wall that blocks their dream as their superheroes yell “at-a-boy!” But I’ve certainly felt the rush of achievement when I’ve barreled through brick walls, bruises and all, with my mentors and loved ones nodding their heads saying, “we knew you could do better. And you did.”

Here’s to you– for seeking out teachers who inspire your children to live out their dreams,

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