Anyone who has taken a timed test has felt that overwhelming rush of pure anxiety. Even decades later I can remember the surge I would feel when I got to the bottom row of math problems knowing that time was nearly out. Failure was never a fun feeling. Fast forward a few years to today and now I am the one giving these timed tests and I can say that it might even be harder to watch someone else fail. While volunteering today at my children’s elementary school I was giving timed tests for division for my daughter’s 5th grade class. As I watched the seconds on my clock slowly tick away as these young kids furiously were trying to finish in time, I was in agony. I felt impulsed to silence my alarm on the clock to give them a few extra seconds to finish but then I remembered that this would not help them in the long run. Failure, although hard to watch, is not bad. In fact, failure is often our best teacher.
Struggle and failure are a part of life–the key is learning how to deal with failure. Henry Ford is quoted as saying, “Failure is simply the opportunity to try again, this time more intelligently.” Failure is a way to learn–maybe what to do different–maybe what went wrong–but in my opinion the greatest lesson it teaches you is that you can do hard things and that failure doesn’t define you but can demonstrate the courage and strength that do define you–those parts of your character that help you to try again.
I will always remember the day that I “rescued” a butterfly that I had found in our backyard as a little girl. I watched it as it was emerging from its chrysalis and I could tell that it was struggling and not wanting it to experience any difficulty, I assisted in removing it from what I viewed as it’s cage. When it sad there limpless for an extended time, I went running to my mom who listened to my breathless explanation as I frantically tried to help this creature. My mom explained that it didn’t get enough blood to it’s wings–that struggling in the chrysalis was the way in which the blood went to the wings and would allow it to fly. My assistance had crippled the butterflies ability to fly on its own. Sometimes, just like me, out of love and concern we remove obstacles from the lives of our children that are meant to teach them about the inner strength they have which will let them fly on their own.
So, don’t be afraid of failure or even watching those you love fail. Although it is difficult to experience and agonizing to watch, it serves a character building experience in a way that no other experience can. God knows how to build and shape character.
Remember that we are all like pencils–each with an eraser at their disposal that has the potential to fix failures. It is an essential skill that we all need to learn to be able to fail and fix mistakes. An old man said, “Erasers are made for those who make mistakes.” A youth replied, “Erasers are made for those who are willing to correct their mistakes.” Allow failure in your life and in those you love. Erasers are a gift but only if they are used.
It is important, whether it is in your job, in your marriage, or with your children, that you are able to find joy in the process, not just in the outcome. The thought, “I’ll be happy when…” is the robber of many moments of happiness and joy. The key is to learn to celebrate the everyday small things.
It has been said that Rome was not built in a day. Neither are your relationships with your spouse or your children. In fact, most of the success comes in the small everyday actions that build cities, individuals and families. It is important to look for, recognize and celebrate those small moments that contribute to the process and find joy in them.
This is something that I strive to do and I make an honest effort to catch my children doing something good and I will make a mention of the impact of that effort. Many times they are unable to see how their actions whether they are positive or negative impact the world around them. Just yesterday, I accompanied my daughter’s 4th grade class on their field trip to visit the State Capitol building and I brought my 6 year-old son and my 4 year-old daughter. As we went to enter the building, my son, on his own accord, opened the door and then held that door open for the classes to enter. I mentioned what a thoughtful idea that was and how much he helped using his strength and hard work and how everyone was able to enter the building faster especially the students carrying the lunch bucket. Little did I realize the impact of that compliment and how many doors are part of the tour of the Capitol building ;). It became his mission to open the door whenever he could and to hold it open until he was the last one in the room. It was a small token of kindness but one that brought joy to many and helped him to develop hard work, think of others rather than himself and to be kind. Watching him became a moment of joy in the process of parenting for me.
It is easy to get caught up in the celebrations that are celebrated by others in the world–the valedictorian or the talented athlete. It takes thought and effort to find reasons and ways to celebrate character traits that are not measured by a GPA or a high vertical jump. While excelling in school or on the field are accomplishments from months and years of training, the true joy lies not in the outcome but the process.
I once watched an olympic athlete who placed second celebrate more than I have ever seen- in fact–I would go as far as to say that they outwardly celebrated more than the person who placed first by hundreds of a second. It could have been really easy to focus on those hundreds of a second that cost them the gold medal, but that outcome wasn’t their focus.
At my son’s T-Ball game a few weeks ago I was able to watch that same reaction by an opposing player who had some delays that affected his physical body but not his heart. After swinging and missing a dozen or so pitches, they brought out the Tee for him to hit off which in the Rookie little league is sometimes a fate worse than death. However, this boy appeared unaffected by this “plight” and then swung with all his might and after a few swings and misses from the tee, managed to hit the tee and the ball so that the ball was knocked off the tee and traveled maybe two feet before it rolled to a stop. That young man ran to 1st base pumping his arms in the air like he had hit a homerun in the world series. How amazing would it be if we all celebrated the small meaningful moments like him.
So, look for ways to highlight the small, everyday moments. You’ll be amazed at the joy you can discover there.
Empathy comes from being able to see something from someone else’s view. Unfortunately, many adults have never developed this necessary skill. Developing empathy is crucial and this is something that will help them thrive in creating connections with their teammates, peers and siblings. Not to mention, that helping your child increase their emotional intelligence and understanding will also increase the likelihood of them selecting a spouse with the same skill set. Being able to empathize with your spouse is one of the most important factors in a healthy marriage as it fosters understanding, forgiveness and connection. So, what can you do to teach your child about empathy? It honestly doesn’t take much and it is never too early to start.
In fact, researchers back in 1982 discovered that within a matter of days, a newborn baby will learn to discriminate between different emotional facial expressions like sad, happy and surprised faces.
By 5 months old, infants will learn to match the image of a sad or happy face with its corresponding voice.
By five years old, the child’s ability to recognize and label facial expression is nearly that of most adults.
It doesn’t take much to be able to teach this essential skill to your children. Here are five of my favorite ways to help them develop empathy.
One: Reading! When you are reading a board or picture book with a child, emphasize the facial expressions and focus on their feelings. “Ooh look at that pig’s face. He looks scared! I bet he is going to try and run fast!” Then, simply put them in that character’s place. “What would you do if your house got knocked down by a big bad wolf?” Do the same exercise yourself. “Oh man! If that happened to me, I would be so scared. I would probably try and run to find somewhere safe too!” Characters in books are a great way at being able to help your children learn to empathize with someone that is in a different situation than they are. Learning that someone could have a different thought or perspective than they do in a book allows them to look for that when they are dealing with situations that arise in their own lives. Books are FANTASTIC at being able to teach about emotions. Correlating facial expressions and emotions is key to helping your child recognize them in others throughout their day. This even works with your youngest kids- mimic the faces in the board books and repeat the word for that feeling: Surprise face in the book, mimic the face and say the word “Surprised.” For older teenagers you can even use books that were made into movies and see how the dynamic of the movie would shift if one of the side characters was the main character in the story. This is a shockingly simple way to see things from another person’s perspective and develop empathy.
Two: Resolving Conflict. Conflict especially between siblings is bound to happen and it can be a great time for teaching empathy. When I can recognize an emotion in one of my kids, I try and emphasize that to their sibling. For example, “Don’t just grab the hair brush from her. You wouldn’t like it if someone did that to you. Next time, just ask her first and she will give it to you.”
Try and place your child in the place of their sibling they are having a conflict with. “How would you feel if that happened to you?” Even if they respond, “Well, I wouldn’t care etc..”, you can redirect them to the facial expression or outward expression of their sibling and explain , “Look at her face. She does care and you would want someone to care if it mattered to you.” Emotions are often times ways to communicate messages that are unheard. Situations escalate when people don’t feel like they are being listened to or have a voice. We all feel emotions and we can relate to them. The emotions that we feel are communicating a message and if we can listen to what they are trying to teach us we can handle the situations better. It is important to help our kids recognize their own emotions and the messages those messages are trying to convey so that they can in turn realize that other people are the same as them–feeling emotions and it allows them to empathize.
Three: Make Discussing Emotions a Part of Your Day. When you are asking your child about how school was you can ask a question that can spark some empathy such as, “When did your teacher smile today? What did your teacher frown about today?” Help them to clue into the emotions of others. During dinner we take turns talking about the best part and worst part of our day. This helps to normalize that we all have difficult events that happen and also to look for good things that happen throughout the course of the day. They are able to develop their skill of empathy listening to others talking about their day. Empathy doesn’t mean that they have to feel the same way as the other person, it just means that they can understand why the person might feel the way they do. For example, one of my daughter’s really doesn’t like math and so it was hard for her to relate to my other daughter saying that math time at school was the best part of her day until we were able to explain it that they way my daughter who enjoys math feels is the same feeling that she has about her P.E. class that she really likes. You are relating the feeling, not having the same feelings for the same events.
Four: Emphasize Your Own Emotions. It is important for your kid’s to recognize feelings in others and there is no one that their recognize more than a parent. You can help them learn to put a label or a name to emotions by doing that yourself. For example, instead of simply saying, “We are going to be late–put your seat belt on!” add in the emotion that you are feeling: “I am nervous that we are going to be late. Put your seatbelt on.” You might just see that putting a label to your own emotions will help you process and communicate better as well.
Five: Seek to Be An Example of Empathy. It is has been said that the number one rule in communication is: “Seek First to Understand, and then be Understood.” It is important for all of us to feel listened to and understood–especially our kids. When your child is explaining why they behaved the way they did or why they made that choice, seek to empathize with them. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a consequence for their behavior, but it does mean that you are trying to understand and empathize with their feelings: “I can understand why you would be nervous and didn’t want to be embarrassed when you showed up at piano lessons with tangled, wet hair.” Kids don’t always know why they do they things they do, but they will seek to look for those reasons the more that we ask about them. When we model seeking to understand their emotions, they will seek more to understanding their own and then at the same time develop that skill to understand and empathize with others.
This answer comes down to six simple words: You cannot change anything without it.
No one is perfect in this life and mistakes are going to happen. What you need to teach your child is not simply how to avoid mistakes but instead how to fix mistakes–what to do if and when you make a mistake.
Psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck, a professor and researcher at Stanford University, is known for her research on mindsets-or the ways in which we view the world. She discovered that there were two distinct mindsets–a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.
According to Dr. Dweck, “[i]f 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.”
Developing a growth mindset is really key in being able to develop what Dr. Angela Duckworth found to be the single greatest factor of success. She conducted research at West Point Military academy, the National Spelling Bee and even a sales team at a professional company to determine who is successful and why. She found that a term which she called ‘grit’ was the single most defining factor in being successful. She defined grit as passion and perseverance for very long term goals. Grit is having stamina and sticking to your future for an extensive period of time.
Wondering where your grit level is? For those of you who are curious, below are two links for a short grit scale questionnaire developed by Dr. Duckworth – [The first one is an 8 question for children to access where they are on a grit scale and the second is a 12 question for adults.]
Having a growth mindset of knowing that your talents and abilities will get stronger through your effort and persistence is the motivating factor for developing grit, and thereby being successful. However, the key to both developing a growth mindset and developing grit is really honesty. Being honest with your thoughts and feelings is the first step to being able to recognize where you are and then being able to improve. Cultivate and teach your children the importance of honesty. It is the foundation of trust, success and change.
So, today’s Tuesday Tip: When a child (or anyone really) comes to you about a mistake that they have made, instead of giving into the myriad of emotions that it evokes, take a breath and say the words: Thank you for being honest. This reinforces that you value trust and honesty and reminds both of you that this is the first step in being able to fix any and all mistakes. Honesty- you cannot change anything without it.