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


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

When Are We Going to Do Something Serious about Bullying?

BullyingDr. Robyn Silverman

When I was in 5th grade, I was bullied.

It was one of the worst years of my life—perhaps THE worst—because going to school was so horrible and yet I had to do it 5 days a week. I still remember the knots in the pit of my stomach—waiting on line to go into the school—waiting for the laundry list of female relational aggression to start. Everyday was the same. Target…ostracized. Rumors…sent.  Eyes…rolled.

The teachers never knew what to do.  I was labeled “sensitive.” It was my problem—they felt bad about it but “kids will be kids.”

So I stood there on the black top during recess, completely alone, clearly unhappy, clearly apart from the crowd, and yet…nothing.  The one time something was done, I was sent to the library as the rest of the class sat in the classroom with the teacher and talked about…me.  Then one of my “friends” who bullied in me in school came to get me, gave me a stare down before entering the class, told me not to “lie” and left me in her dust.  Then the teacher talked to the class with me present.  It was humiliating.  It didn’t help. At. All.

So when I read the other day in the Washington Post that the laws that were enacted to cope with the bullying problem, especially since the shootings in the 90s, offer practically no protection—mostly because, well, they aren’t really being enforced, I got that familiar knot in my stomach again. If you’ve never been bullied, it is the most sickening, exhausting, heart-wrenching feeling. You don’t feel comfortable walking around in your skin.  You want to be anywhere but there.  You want to be anyone but you.

It’s actually one of the reasons I created Powerful Words.  And one of the reasons this month’s word, courage, is so important. I wanted to help kids like me—I wanted to help kids like those who bullied me—I wanted to help them early so that maybe…I don’t know…maybe an infiltration of character education would help a few people avoid what I went through…or worse. All children need to learn about respect, courage, impulse control, kindness, and the many other Powerful Words we cover.

And as it is, the laws wouldn’t have even been helpful for someone like me.  I was only in 5th grade. The laws only apply 6th-12th. So what about those kids who aren’t yet 12 years old and in the 6th grade?  Some will never reach it.  Just take a look at these sad cases:

An 11-year-old had complained of teasing and was found hanged in his Springfield, Mass in mid-April.

A 10-year-old boy hanged himself in a restroom stall in a suburban Chicago school,

An 11-year-old boy was found dead in Chatham, south of Springfield,

An 11-year-old daughter hanged in a closet of their Chicago home.

All complaining of bullying before the tragedies.

One of the big problems here is that people are quick to point the finger at who should be in charge of teaching children not to bully and inflicting consequences if there are incidents.  Parents point to teachers and school officials to take responsibility, teachers and school officials point back at parents.

“A lot of this has to be handled in the home,” said Peter Daboul, chair of the board of trustees at New Leadership, the Massachusetts school where her son was a 6th grader.

But what happens when the fingers get pointed? Nothing gets done.  Result? Kids suffering.

I also find it very frustrating that relational aggression is clearly given “a pass.” Even those states that are doing something about bullying (like threatening that schools will lose their funding if they don’t keep good records and transfer bullies after 3 offenses, such as in Georgia), these departments are only tracking broad offenses like fighting and threats. So much for spreading rumors, being ostracized, and intense teasing. Those wouldn’t qualify or be recorded.

There is still great confusion about how to define bullying, what’s offensive, what’s child’s play, what can lead to tragedy. What counts? Blows to the head? Cyberbullying? Taunts and teasing?  “One of the questions is how do you quantify bullying? It could even be as simple as a rolling of the eyes,” said Dale Davis, a spokesman for schools in DeKalb County, Ga., where Herrera committed suicide.

Maybe we should ask the kids…who are being bullied.

“In 2007, nearly a third of students ages 12 to 18 reported having been bullied during the school year, according to data on more than 55 million students compiled annually by the National Center for Education Statistics.”

So where are in this? Just spinning our wheels until something more tragic happens that leads us to wonder if what we are doing already is the right thing to do?  I can tell you now—it’s not. I mean, 55 million kids sounds like a lot to me.

Or perhaps I’m just being sensitive.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

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

Daddy’s Little Girl and Mama’s Boy: Bonding with your Opposite Gendered Kid

father and daughter

Dr. Robyn Silverman

As I’m writing my body image book, due out in October of 2010, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between mothers and sons and fathers and daughters. Powerful Parenting certainly must deal with more than just same-sex relationships within the family structure.

We often hear about the special relationship between parents and their same sex child. Who hasn’t heard of a daughter trying on her Mommy’s high heels and a son mirroring his Dad while he shaves? Our sons and daughters are figuring out how they are supposed to act and who they are supposed to be like. While children are able to connect with emotionally available parents of either gender, it’s only natural for children to identify with their same sex parent whose “femaleness” or “maleness” is a commonality they both share.

mother and son

But while a child might identify with a same-sex parent, as Powerful Parents know, that doesn’t mean that the child is any less bonded with the opposite gendered parent. In fact, between ages 3 and 5 years old, the opposite sex parent often becomes a focus for a young boy or girl. It’s common for a daughter to become “Daddy’s Little Girl” and a son to become “Mama’s Boy.” This powerful attachment doesn’t replace the same sex relationship but rather helps the child to learn that s/he doesn’t have to reject anyone to love both parents. This healthy resolution helps to set the foundation for resolving feelings and establishing relationships as s/he grows.

The opposite sex parent-child relationship provides a template for opposite-sex relationships as adults. What can a mother teach a son? Aside from the unique qualities the mother might have personally, such as an artistic flair or an athletic predisposition, a mother shows her son how to treat a girl and the special qualities and nuances of the opposite sex. What does a father teach a daughter? Studies repeatedly show that girls who have a strong relationship with their Dads are more confident, self-reliant, and successful overall compared to those who have distant or absentee fathers.

So how can we foster these bonds within the family?

  1. Take the cultural labels with a grain of salt: While we might not like it much, society often shames a boy who has a strong attachment to his mom. Girls relationships with their Dads are typically viewed in a more positive light yet still branded with labels such as “tomboy.” Be aware of these cultural messages and don’t let anyone taint your special relationship with your opposite sex child. A strong mother-son and father-daughter relationship is not only acceptable but beneficial to your child and to the family.
  2. Open up communication: Just because you might not understand some of the things your opposite-sex child is interested in doesn’t mean you can’t. If you don’t know something, ask questions. Even if something might seem goofy, silly, or so “not you” it’s vital that you validate your child so that s/he knows what he says and does concerns you. Never trivialize or make your opposite sex children feel strange and be sure to answer their questions.
  3. Spend the time: It’s been shown that fathers tend to spend more time with their sons and mothers spend more time with their daughters. Take interest in your opposite-sex child and find something that both of you like to do together. For those of you who have sons and daughters in a Powerful Words Member School that teaches martial arts, gymnastics, dance, swimming, or another activity be certain that both parents are part of their opposite sex child’s experience. Maybe you can even take classes with them! Outside of these activities, find other ways to connect even if you find activities that are new to you and perhaps a little out of your comfort zone.
  4. Be fully present: Give your opposite-sex children your full attention when they’re talking to you. Look them in the eyes. Shut off the cell phone, the ipod, FaceBook, and your email. Your actions will always speak louder than words. Your children want to know that nothing is more important than the time you spend with them.
  5. Treat your child with kindness and expect the same back: Parents sometimes get caught up with messages like “boys will be boys” and “girls will be girls” and use these stereotypes to explain away rude behavior. This is especially true when it comes to sons—warning mothers not to “sissy-up” their boys by putting a stop to aggressive conduct. As powerful parents, we know that character does not need to be sacrificed in lieu of self expression. Be kind to your sons and daughters and expect the same in return.
  6. Give them a great example: A mother can be a wonderful model to her son just as a father can be an important model to his daughter. How do you act towards others? Everything you do and say is absorbed by your children. In the same vein, what are you watching on TV or looking at on the internet? When a father is saying negative comments about women on the internet or a mother is watching aggressive men on TV, it sends messages to your opposite-sex child about how to view him or herself.
  7. Provide your perspective: As a woman, mothers can provide their sons with a glimpse into how women like to be treated as well as how women and girls think. Similarly, a father can help a girl understand the “male perspective.” These can be valuable insights as your children enter their preteen, teen, and adult years.

A mother is the first woman in her son’s life. A father is the first male in his daughter’s life. That means they set the precedent. How do you want your child to be treated by the opposite sex during their teen years? What do you want them to look for in a spouse? The mother-son attachment and the father-daughter bond may need to overcome some differences but in the end, coming to terms with these differences helps your child learn how to create healthy relationships with others. These healthy relationships are the foundation of happy, powerful families.

Here’s to your success!

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Congratulations Powerful Kids!

clap and congratulations

Powerful Words, in conjunction with Dr. Robyn Silverman and

the Powerful Parent Blog want to congratulate:

Aaron M. who is a 10 year old Black Belt in the Junior Star program at Yuen’s  in Canada.

According to his instructor, Mr. Perry Bateson,

“This month, since our POWerful word is CITIZENSHIP, we are encouraging our students to be good citizens in our community. As a school we fund raise every August for Schools supplies for students who are less fortunate than others. Arron decided to collect bottles to recycle. He took them in and raised $20.00, Aaron then went to Staples and spent all his earned money on school supplies. He brought it into the school and put it in the School supply box and was about to leave looking for no recognition of his efforts. Way to go Aaron.

And Kari J:

Mr. Bateson went on to inform us that:

“One hour later Kari J. a 9 year Black Belt in the Junior Star program did the exact same thing as Aaron. Kari came into the school with two full bags of school supplies and put them in the school supply box. Kari gathered up $50.00 worth of bottles put them in the back of her moms truck took them done the bottle depot cashed them in and went shopping. Keri is an awesome Citizen at 9. We are very proud of these two students and I know by the end of the month this list will be very long.”

WONDERFUL, Mr. Bateson, Kari and Aaron! You are Powerful Kids!

And another congratulations goes out to Zoe L from Alpha Martial Arts in Seattle Washington!

Her instructor, Mr. Herrman, tells us that he issued Zoe a challenge to clean her room as part of Citizenship month.  Of course, character begins at home!

Here’s Zoe cleaning her room as her challenge this month! Congratulations, Zoe and Mr. Herrman!

Zoe from Alpha Martial Arts doing her Citizenship Challenge for Powerful Words

Please send in your photos and stories about your students and children exhibiting the powerful word of the month!  Congrats again!

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Dr. Robyn Silverman introduces the Powerful Word for August: Citizenship

The Powerful Word of the Month is Citizenship!

Citizenship Quotes

“Citizenship is about give and take.  We must take pride in our community but we also must give of ourselves.”  –Dr. Robyn Silverman

“Rules are not necessarily sacred, principles are.” –Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead

“A man is called selfish not for pursuing his own good, but for neglecting his neighbor’s.” — Richard Whately

“As the purse is emptied, the heart is filled” –Victor Hugo

“Every good citizen makes his country’s honor his own, and cherishes it not only as precious but as sacred. He is willing to risk his life in its defence and is conscious that he gains protection while he gives it.” –Andrew Jackson

“The first requisite of a good citizen in this republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his own weight.” — Theodore Roosevelt

“It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union… Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less.” –Susan B. Anthony

“The job of a citizen is to keep his mouth open.” –Gunther Grass

“Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.” –George Jean Nathan

It’s going to be a great month!

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs