Grace

What happens when your expectations are high, but the reality is much lower?

Change!

 

The idea of having a family did not cross my mind until I was in my mid-thirties. My husband and I were not sure we wanted to have children. However, as we both grew older, the idea of having a family became more and more prevalent in our life. We were not able to have biological children and looked at other options for creating a family. We chose adoption through the foster care system. We wanted to adopt two children; we were blessed with four. 

 

In our minds, we had expectations about what our family life would be like: Days filled with joy and happiness, rainbows, and tripping through snowdrifts (it was January in Minnesota when they came to our home). Oh, we knew there would be times where we would struggle. I had read many parenting books about adopting children from hard places. I was prepared! Yeh right! 

 

I am glad my husband and I didn’t realize how little we knew at that time. Our expectations of parenting did not match our reality. Not even close! There have been times of tremendous joy and happiness, countered with times of overwhelm, worry, and struggle. It’s not easy going from 2 to 6 people in a house, literally overnight.

 

I had to let go of the expectations of a perfect family. However, in letting go of those expectations, I gained so much more!

 

Showing myself and others grace

 

Grace can mean courteous goodwill and can be challenging at the best of times. One of the changes I gained was to practice grace. I needed grace for myself before I can have it for others.

 

There have many times I have practiced grace for myself. One such instance was when my son had a minibike accident.

 

“What did you do that for?” is what I blurted out to our 10-year-old son after his mini-bike accident. He was riding his mini-bike in the yard, Racing faster and faster around the lilac bushes. I could see the deep path in the dirt around the bush. He cut a curve to close, and slip went the bike out from under him, slamming into the sharp, newly pruned branches.

 

After I asked my blunt question, he lifted his pant leg and displayed a deep puncture wound in his leg. Tears started to roll down his dirty cheeks. You can imagine the disappointment in myself for not showing empathy when my husband brought him to the hospital for nine stitches. 

 

In this instance, I had to allow a little grace for myself. The words slipped out of my mouth before I even thought through the impact of those words. I have done this more than once, not considering the effect of my words. 

 

Grace to Children

 

Our children came from a hard place. Their early childhood was less than idyllic. In listening to the podcast interview of Oprah and Dr. Bruce Perry by Brene` Brown, the question to ask about a child’s behavior is not “what is wrong with them” but “what has happened to them.” Early childhood trauma can have a lasting effect on a person’s health, behavior, and learning. 

 

When looking at a child’s behavior, ask yourself, what has happened to this child? What is the child’s story, and how can I give them some grace in this past stressful, overwhelming year? The act of grace comes in all forms, saying sorry, smiling at a child that has just made a rude comment, or taking a deep breath (or two) before you consider what to say. 

 

Take the time to give yourself, your family, and others a bit of grace in your life. Interestedly the word grace has increased in use over the 20 years – maybe because we need to show more of it. We all need it.

 

Photo Credit: Image by kalhh from Pixabay

Using Your Strengths to Overcome Challenges: Part 2

Stress, overwhelm, and anxiety are the words I use to describe my emotions during a time of crisis. What are the words that come to your mind when we talk about the current world situation?

 

Luckily for me, I can reach into my toolbox of resilience tools and pull out one of my favorite tools, strengths! My resilience tools are tools I can use to help myself and others bounce back in times of crisis.

 

In the last video, I shared about the four areas of strengths (Relating, Thinking, Executing and Influencing) and how you might see one or more of those areas in yourself. If I can see my strengths then I can also be intentional about calling upon one or more of those strengths to see my situation differently.

 

Today I share a short exercise for you to call upon your personal strengths and focus on using them throughout your day. 

 

My Top Three Secrets for Creating Mindful Moments

Our refrigerator has more uses than just keeping food cold. It’s my billboard for reminding me how to keep sane with all that goes on in my life. This makeshift “board” in the kitchen holds various reminders that keep me from losing my cool and help me stay focused on what is important in life.

My life can feel like chaos theory in action. I’m involved with our two active teens at home, helping our two young adult children navigate life, teaching, and trying to have some time with my husband.  With all that’s going on in my life, here are my top three secrets on how to create mindful moments for myself. Mindful moments allow me to have the energy to support others in my home and my work.

Secret #1

The first secret is to know the definition and feeling of Peace. I have the following quote on my fridge door:

Peace –  It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”

This simple refrigerator magnet reminds me to be in the moment. I need to stop and breathe, recognize that the only moment I have is this moment. Then ask myself, “how do I want to spend this moment?” The practice of mindfulness has helped me to pay attention to the heartfelt intention toward myself and others. I say practice because that is what it is, doing the same thing over and over within myself.

This morning I noticed that my son was very slow in getting up for school. In the past, I would have been loudly encouraging them to “get a move on and daylight is burning.” I would yell this up the stairs. This morning I reminded him of the time and when his friend was coming to pick him up. Then I went about making my breakfast. It was hard to not keep reminding him to hurry, but I stopped myself, took a breath and ate my eggs. He made it on time!

Secret #2

There are days when I can’t calmly take in the behaviors of my teens. This is when I use my second secret, giving myself an Adult Time Out. When the kids were younger, we had a “time out” chair for them. Out-of-hand behaviors got them a few minutes in the “time out” chair to calm down. Now they are a little big for the time out chair and yet there are moments I wish I could return them to that spot.  I am now the one that takes the time out.

In moments when my emotions are so heightened, I grab my journal and my needs and feelings cards off the top of the fridge. In a state of heightened emotions, I head to our bedroom for a little Adult Time Out.

What do I do there? I take out my feelings cards and go through them searching for the feelings I am currently having in my mind and body. I lay the cards out and ask myself, “What was I needing at that moment from myself and from others around me?” I quickly shuffle through the needs cards to search for those needs that resonate with me. Then I journal.

Sometimes my handwriting is large scribbles and heavy-handed. As I exhaust my emotions onto the page, my energy changes and so do my words, taking me to a place of calm. Calm enough to move from the bedroom into a discussion with those around me, I share what I needed and was feeling in the moment.

For times when I am not able to get away, I use another form of the Adult Time Out. I hum upbeat songs under my breath and busy my hands washing dishes or with some other task. This helps me to check in with myself and allows me to take a step back from the problem.

Secret #3

My final secret is the process of stepping back and taking a view from the balcony. I keep a poster on the front door of my fridge: “Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys”. The poster is a reminder that many of the conflicts and problems my teens encounter are not mine to own. The problems are theirs, and they need to solve them. Sometimes the solution comes through the valuable lessons learned from making mistakes. They will fail, begin again to become resilient adults.

We were at our lake cabin this past summer and I was walking with my sons in the woods. They were ahead of me arguing about something. At one point I wanted to step in and beg them to stop. Instead, I hung back on the trail and watched the conversation. Recognizing that this conversation was not “my circus,” even though they were “my monkeys”. Finally, the discussion ended and we were back on the trail heading for home with a whole new topic of discussion. I allowed my teens to come to the conclusion that they can agree to disagree.

Being a parent and teacher has been a journey of self-discovery for me. I have found myself learning more about how I want to show up in the world, My three secrets of being mindful, Adult Time Outs and removing myself from the circus have helped to keep me in the present moment. Knowing that all I really need is right here and right now.

Relationships Really Matter

In this week’s video, I ask the question: Who is the person that you would want to be stranded on a deserted island with for six months? Pick a person that you know and trust, not a celebrity. The follow-up question I ask helps students dig a little deeper into the relationships they identify.
According to the Search Institute, when students identify the positive relationships in their lives that have five key elements, they are more likely to develop motivation and other positive character strengths.
The activity I demonstrate in the video can easily be done with upper elementary to high school students. This simple activity can help young people to think about the elements of a positive relationship they have with the people they value in their lives.

 

The Power of Knowing Your Values

A few weeks ago, my daughter graduated from high school. We held the traditional graduation party to honor her achievement. As she stood by the entrance greeting the well-wishers to her party, I heard a variety of questions being asked:

What’s next for you?

What do you want to do?

Where are you going next fall?

All these questions had to do with her future, however, I believe there is one question we rarely ask of graduates,

Who do you want to be?

The underlying element of the “who” question is asking young people to communicate their personal values. Values are the foundational beliefs that we hold and that often shape our choices.

When a young person identifies such values, articulates these personal values, and has the capacity to act upon the specified values, the impact on learning can be significant. Here is a short exercise you can conduct with a young person to assist in identifying values that are personally important.

Identifying Values

We all have stories in our lives where we have felt proud of our accomplishments. Maybe it’s a story about overcoming an obstacle, working with a group of others to finish a project or setting out to do something never attempted before. Whatever the story that comes to mind, your values are hidden in that story.

This activity works best if you can tell your story to a friend or family member. The person listening to your personal narrative can help you identify the values within the narrative. If you need a list of values to look at while listening there is a list on the VIA Character Strengths website of 24 values people hold.

After you finish telling your story, ask your listener to help you identify the values you talked about in the story. Write those values down in a journal or notebook and write further descriptions of how each value shows up in your life. VIA (Values In Action) Institute on Character has a free online assessment tool for both youth and adults that can help identify your top 5 values.

Impact of Values on Learning

When a young person knows the values they hold, and is able to talk about their personal connection to these values, the result of this simple action can impact learning performance.

Dr. Claude Steele, dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Education, conducted a study involving white and African American Middle School students. In the experiment he had half of each group write about values that were personally important to them and why. In the control group, he had each of the students write about which values they felt were the least important.  This exercise was performed periodically throughout the school year, and the student’s work followed. The results, especially for the African-American students, was a significant increase in student performance in the group that wrote about their personal values. There was no change in performance in the control group or in students that were already performing at a high level.

There are several reasons why students who affirmed their personal values did better at school:

  1. Students were reminded of the number of resources available to them.
  2. The activity broadens the student’s perspective on themselves through a different lens. When a student identifies her values, maybe a test didn’t look so threatening when looking at the big picture of her life.
  3. Affirming values allowed students to take on challenges that aligned with their values.
  4. Teachers had a greater insights into the students by reading through the essays, and they were able to build positive relationships with the students.

 

Values and Relationships

Positive relationships can be formed with young people when they know their values and the adults that surround them can tap into and align with those values. This process allows young people to feel like they are seen and heard. In addition, adults can provide the support needed for the youth, and a positive cycle of affirming values can improve confidence.

Using the power of shared values can have positive and lasting outcomes for young people, leading them on a path to finding success.

The next time you are talking with a graduate or young adult about ask a simple question:

Who do you want to be?

 

This post is Part 2 in a four-part series. You can find Part 1 here.

The Power of Knowing Your Strengths

“How do you feel?”, I asked my daughter after our conversation.

“I feel totally awesome!” she exclaimed.

My son was not as expressive with his feelings as his sister after our conversation. However, in his easy-going way, he said, “I feel good.”

 

The conversation with my young adult children was about their talents. Talents are the lens that each of see the world through, it’s the thoughts, behaviors and feelings that naturally come to each of us. When time, knowledge and skills are put towards talents, then strengths are developed.

 

As a parent and educator, I am always excited when I learn a new skill that can benefit both myself and my family. The Strengths Communicator’s training with Leadership Vision has taught me a deeper understanding of the importance of knowing your strengths. I attended a two day training session in January and in March in Minneapolis. In between the training sessions I conducted six strengths conversations. After the last training session I completed six more conversations. The six-month training has allowed me to be a professional “story listener” as I listen for the behavior of strengths through the stories people tell me about their lives.

 

The Clifton StrengthsFinder is a tool that I have used with youth and adults over the past eight years. I first learned about the tool through leadership training and have used it extensively with the Girls Lead program.

 

The training gave me the privilege of having conversations with twelve people about their top five strengths. I was able to talk to family members, friends, colleagues, and complete strangers about their unique perception of life through the lens of their strengths.

 

The training allowed me to practice my listening skills and improved my understanding of the inter-dependency of the various strengths Each strength cannot stand alone. I imagine knowing your strengths is like the iceberg model:at the top of the iceberg are your top five strengths and the basic understanding of each strength. However, below the surface, the commingling of behaviors of each strength is supported by the culture, context, and environment. This commingling influences the perspective of each person to see the world through their own unique strengths lens.

 

People want to be listened to and heard. Each person also wants to know they matter and have value. I would end my conversations asking the person if they would like to hear what I had heard in the conversation. I reflected on the parts of the story that demonstrated strengths in action. Very rarely are people given the gift of having another person listen, reflect and identify their genius.

 

I have been an educator for over 25 years in a variety of different roles. My passion is to work with youth and educators to create positive learning environments –environments where people can thrive. What would our education system be like if we were all able to identify our own strengths and our students’ strengths? Then educators would be able to tap into those unique strengths and use those strengths to the advantage of the learning environment. I believe helping both youth and adults better understand their strengths can be one piece of the puzzle in creating positive learning environments.

 

The conversation with the people that volunteered has helped me to build a deeper understanding of how each of us sees life. I can now see the strength of Achiever in my son through his hard work, where I didn’t before our conversation. I now know that my daughter uses her strength of Strategic to think through alternatives to problems she needs to navigate in her senior year. I believe that deeper understanding and opportunity to listen to people’s stories has shown me the resiliency and beauty in each person.

 

If you would like to find out more about my speaking, training and consulting with educators and nonprofits in creating positive learning environments, contact me at kathy@wildewoodlearning.com for more information.

 

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash