From the Headmaster—Guest Author Jon Maksik
Failure is Good

"42, Mariano Rivera" by Mimi Stuart ©

“42, Mariano Rivera” by Mimi Stuart ©

GUEST AUTHOR Jon Maksik writes:

A cynical colleague once cautioned me about using the word “failure” when discussing children. “Challenge,” he said would be more soothing. Becky wasn’t failing to meet her responsibilities and getting a ‘D’ in the class, she was facing challenges and if she would only live up to her potential, etc. It was only a semantic feint but one that reveals both the residual muck of the so-called “Self-Esteem Movement” and, more important, our apparent lack of respect for our children. Becky, of course, knew exactly where she stood: She needed to do her homework and study.

And, Becky certainly knew where she stood when she was in first-grade and the teacher put her in the Papayas (which was, wink-wink, the kids who didn’t read as well as the Kumquats). It wasn’t exactly a secret which fruit group read, counted, and scrawled the best letters, any more than it was a secret who did the best tricks on the recycled Brazilian wood play set outside. It wasn’t Becky who needed the disguise; that was for her parents. Becky just needed the teacher’s encouragement to hang in there and keep working; she’d be a Kumquat soon enough, and if not, well there are other fruits. From the moment our sons and daughters waddle into the world of other children, they almost always know where they stand.

Maybe Becky’s teacher hadn’t read the studies that reveal an entire generation (Let’s call it the, I feel really good about myself, but I can’t add or find Pakistan on a map generation) of Americans whose self-esteem is so elevated that they believe they know things they don’t. Becky’s first Little League coach didn’t need to read the studies. He knew that when she got her first hard ground ball at shortstop, the “Great Fielder” trophy from last year’s tee-ball banquet wouldn’t help much. What did help was getting clipped in the jaw with the ball and getting right back on the field. The coach knew that when you fall or fail, you get right back up and try it again.

I don’t know a single accomplished adult who hasn’t failed often. Yet, when we become parents our instinct to protect our children can so overwhelm us that we seek ways to shield them from learning the very lesson that offers the best protection—falling and getting back up. We send them to schools where they are “not allowed to fail,” where their every talent and attribute is celebrated. And if they come home discouraged? We call the school. Our kids get certificates for showing up but not always for doing something really well. What devastation to the “self-esteem” of the kids who didn’t get an award. In forty years of teaching I never met a child who bought that “everyone wins” snake oil.

Becky gets why she isn’t at the top of her ninth grade math class and it isn’t because she “doesn’t test well,” or “the teacher doesn’t understand her learning style.” It’s because she isn’t very good at math and would rather be reading or painting or playing ball. And it isn’t because her grade is filled with mean girls that the school won’t do anything about. We aren’t paying all this money so she can come home miserable every day. The problem is that those other girls “don’t feel good about themselves,” that’s why there’s beer at their parties. And what, by the way, is the school going to do about that?

Ok, this is a bit hyperbolic, but I’m betting that some of it sounds familiar. Becky and her friends do thrive on encouragement and success. As parents—and teachers—we should work hard to help them discover what they love and then support those things with all our hearts. Our children need to know we believe in them, but if they’re going to believe in us, we need to be honest with them and respect their intelligence. No baby talk, no fruit groups, no excuses, no suing the school.

Our children look to us to gauge how they’re doing and how to function in the world. More than look to us, they watch us. Ever have a fight with your husband or wife? No yelling, just one of those run of the mill quarrels in another room so the kids wouldn’t know. They knew anyway, right? They don’t miss much about their parents and they want the truth, including what we think they’re good at. If we try to fool them, they’ll look elsewhere to figure things out.

Do you remember that day when your little boy was learning to walk and fell hard on the pavement? Shock, maybe pain, then…he looked at you to see what it all meant. I’m betting that if you leapt up and raced over to him looking terrified, he cried as if he’d been snapped in half. If—far more calmly than perhaps you felt—you walked over and lifted him up with a smile, he probably didn’t cry much at all and you taught him something about falling down and getting back up. What we learn about falling down and getting back up goes a long way to define the kind of person we become—which is to say what we learn about failure is what makes us successful.

As for Becky, she’s the only girl on the high school baseball team and she’s hitting .333. That means she fails to get a hit twice out of every three times she comes to bat and which, for those of you who don’t follow baseball, is Hall of Fame hitting. For those of you who do know baseball, you know that it’s hard as hell and that you can call striking out a “challenge” if you want, but it’s really just striking out.

by Jon Maksik, Ph.D., who served as headmaster of the Community School in Sun Valley, Idaho, from 1987 until his retirement in 2006.

Read Jon Maksik’s “Teaching Kids to Leave” and other articles.

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Text… phone call… email…
“Oh…what were you saying?”

“FIRE” — Jarome Iginla by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

What happens to your memory when you multi-task? It turns out that texting or cell phone interruptions mingled into face-to-face conversations weakens your memory. Fragmented attention does not allow you to focus on any one thing long enough to code it into your memory well. Poor memory leads to making frustrating mistakes and wasting time. Research shows that a person who is interrupted takes 50% longer to complete a given task and will make 50% more mistakes.

More importantly, fragmented attention does not make the person you’re talking to feel valued. Plus it’s just rude!

Focused attention is essential to working memory. Neuropsychologist John Arden explains that, “if working memory is impaired, long-term memory will experience a famine of new information. If the road to long-term memory through working memory is blocked, the ‘supplies’ or memories can’t get through.”

If, for example, you are texting during dinner while conversing with your family, your focus will be fragmented and your working memory jeopardized. When you are distracted, you forget the detail of the story being told — your working memory hasn’t been encoded into your prefrontal cortex yet. So you have to ask, “What were you just talking about?” after glancing at a text.

Paying attention is key to good memory. Arden recommends the following to cultivate memory:

1. Resist having your attention fragmented.

2. Schedule social media, text messaging, and phone calls to specific times of the day, when others are not wanting your attention.

3. Focus your attention on each task until it is completed. With better prefrontal cortex activation, your working memory will function well enough to code information into your long-term memory.

It pays off considerably to pay full attention to the work at hand and the people around you — it enhances your memory, makes you more effective, and improves your interaction and relationship with others.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Reference and great reading: John B. Arden’s “Rewire Your Brain: Think Your Way to a Better Life.”

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Getting your child to develop self-esteem:
“Honey, you’re so smart and talented!”

“Morning Lily” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Parents who praise their children too much, give constant advice, ask too many questions, or joke around all the time are not doing their children any favors. While parents who become fused with their children usually have the best interests of their children in mind, they harm their children by inadvertently serving their own insecurities. Such expressions of too much attachment result in children becoming dependent and incapable, or secretive, detached and rebellious.

We are talking about extremes of course. It is equally harmful to be excessively critical, indifferent, or humorless. This article, however, is intended for parents who tend to be too attached and involved in their children’s lives.

Praise for Self-esteem

In hopes of fostering their children’s self-esteem, parents sometimes praise and compliment their children too much, which can result in the following problems:

1. When a child gets used to a lot of praise, he or she can become dependent on external validation, losing sight of his or her own internal compass.

2. Too much praise can lead a child to feel inadequate because excessive praise actually expresses the parent’s anxiety over the child’s self-esteem. Expressions of support tinged with anxiety will then backfire.

3. The child sees that the parent is being disingenuous and trying to manipulate the child. As a result, the child loses respect for the parent.

4. Too much praise can result in children becoming fearful of being found out, that is, fearful of not living up to being as wonderful, creative, and smart as they are supposed to be. As a result, they stop trying.

It is generally nice to receive praise and recognition for a job well-done. Parents shouldn’t go to the extreme to ignoring their children’s hard work and accomplishments. But they should avoid trying too hard to make the child feel good.

Too Much Advice

Giving a great deal of advice is often an expression of excessive attachment. Parents who give endless cautionary advice cause their children to tune them out and ignore their warnings. These well-intended but meddlesome parents are the last people children will turn to when they really do need advice.

While it’s important to keep children safe (age appropriately), too much direction implies that the parent thinks the child has no common sense or judgment. This often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the child may learn to feel incapable of having good judgment.

Analogously, in the United States, we are warned of every potential hazard on roads, ski slopes, and at playgrounds. As a result of expecting to be warned about every potential danger, we often stop paying adequate attention to our surroundings to notice danger with our own eyes.

In effect, children develop better judgment when they have to practice using their judgment while growing up rather than counting on receiving warnings from others. Children learn best through experiencing their own mistakes and learning from consequences. Ideally, they are gradually given more and more age-appropriate freedom and responsibility, avoiding both extremes of being mollycoddled and being neglected.

Too Inquisitive

A parent who is overly interested in the details of his or her child’s life is often unknowingly trying to satisfy his or her own longings and needs. Perhaps the parent wasn’t a successful athlete or wasn’t as popular as desired. Perhaps the parent didn’t get the appreciation and attention craved for from his or her own parents. He or she can now attempt to live the desired childhood through his or her own child’s life.

However, too much interest in every detail of their children’s friends, activities, and grades causes them to feel invaded by the parents’ attempt to fuse with them. Again it causes them to become either compliant, incapable, and dependent, or secretive, detached, and rebellious.

It’s better for parents to live their own lives, while being open to conversation without pushing themselves into every detail of their children’s lives.

Too Much Joking

A sense of humor is a wonderful trait to pass on to one’s children. Too much joking around, however, broadcasts the parent’s need to be liked and accepted by the child. Too much jesting breeds over-familiarity that prevents the needed separation between the parent and the child. It also can result in a lack of respect for the parent because the parent appears incapable of taking him- or herself seriously.

Respect

Parents may think they are being loving by praising, joking, advising, or inquiring into their children’s lives. Yet these attempts at interacting with their children often reveal the parents’ unmet needs rather than respond to the children’s own needs. In excess, these ways of relating squash the healthy separation and respect between parents and children.

Ideally, we can strive to relate to our kids without trying to give them the childhood we wished we had. Instead, we can leave enough separation that will allow us to respect their differences in personality and desires, and allow them to develop judgment and independence, through which they develop self-esteem. Ironically, when we try a little less, our relationships often become more natural, connected, and respectful. When we stand back a little, we also allow more space for our children to grow and to move toward us, because they won’t dread being overwhelmed by excessive parental energy.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read Dr. Madeline Levine’s “Is Your Parenting Style Based On Faulty Thinking?”


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Developing New Habits:
“I never exercise the way I should. I went to the gym twice and then gave up.”

"Long Drive" by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

It is not easy to change old habits, but it can be done. Research shows that people who are successful in developing new habits, such as exercising, tend to apply the following guidelines to motivate themselves:

1. Focus on pleasure. Frame your new habit in terms of what will give you pleasure. Remind yourself that you’re choosing a healthy lifestyle, which is more pleasurable than one of inactivity.

Choose a sport or exercise that interests you or that will bring you joy. Don’t go to the gym if you’d rather go on a walk outside. Figure out a way to enjoy the activity, such as doing it to music or with a friend.

2. Make a step-by step plan. Having a series of intermediate goals rather than one over-arching goal diminishes your fear of failure and the magnitude of the goal.

3. Implement change in increments. We can change our habits dramatically if we change them incrementally.

Consistency is key. So start with realistic expectations of yourself. For example, start with a minimum of five or ten minutes of exercise a day, though you might aspire to an hour a day. You’re more likely to develop a new habit if your goals are achievable. Starting is the hard part. Once you start walking or swimming and enjoying it, it’s easier to stay out longer.

4. Reflect on regrets and benefits. Think of how much you’ll regret it if you don’t exercise. Research shows that a few moments of reflecting on potential regret will motivate a person to get started.

5. Tell your family and friends. Telling others of your goals helps motivate you to achieve them and might also encourage them to participate. When you state your goals publicly, you increase your motivation to live up to them, and you also garner the support of others.

6. Reward yourself. Be grateful for every step you take and give yourself a reward for every intermediate goal achieved.

Exercise becomes easier the more you pursue it, because it triggers mood-enhancing endorphins, and gives you more energy, health, and vitality, making it increasingly desirable in itself.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Sports Psychology I — GOALS: ‘I really want to win, but I never do.'”

Reference: Richard Wiseman, Author of “59 Seconds: Think a little, Change a lot.”

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Blame: “It’s all your fault!”

“Purpose” — Einstein by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

When it comes to blame most people fall into two camps. They either blame everyone else for their pain or they blame themselves for all of their problems.

In reality, there’s enough blame to go around — for ourselves and others.

The benefit of apportioning blame

While assigning blame seems like an exercise in futility, it does serve a purpose, as long as you don’t dwell in negative emotions that can accompany it. The purpose of assigning blame is to develop the ability to recognize problematic patterns in your own and others’ behavior.

For example, if you have a friend who repeatedly disappoints you by promising one thing and doing another, it’s important to make the connection — “I probably can’t trust what my friend promises.” That friend is responsible for her words and her actions or non-action and she is to blame for not following through.

However, if you continue to count on that friend, then you are also to blame for the disappointment that results, because you have not learned from your experience. Blaming yourself here is the acknowledgment that your desire for a positive outcome tends to blind you from recognition of the other person’s weaknesses.

The problem with dwelling on blame

Even if we carefully divvy out the proper proportions of blame, we can still get stuck brooding in the state of blame. “Ah, look what he’s done to me and look how I’ve contributed! Can you believe this rotten state of affairs?!” Dwelling in blame, resentment, and anger will only worsen relationships and bad situations.

Blame is only useful in problem-solving when we use it to figure out how to avoid repeating the harmful behavior, not when we use it to brow beat ourselves or others.

How to use blame to improve your life

Here are some questions we can ask ourselves in order to move from blame and shame to arranging positive change:

1. How do I tend to project my fears and hopes onto others, contributing to the way people will respond to me? How can I change that?

2. How can I change my interactions with others to avoid repeating this painful pattern?

3. How should I change my expectations of others to avoid inevitable disappointment?

4. Am I allowing myself to dwell in blame?

5. How can I change the focus of my thoughts and feelings to help me move on? Nobody can “make” us feel any particular way — only we have control over our own emotional reactions and the focus of our thoughts.

In short, we can draw conclusions and learn from those who are to blame, be it others or ourselves, as long as we don’t drop into a state of self-pity and hopelessness or start carrying a grudge.

No heavier burden than to carry a grudge. Let go, don’t judge, Forgive.

~Ros McIntosh “In Search of the Good Life”

by Alison Poulsen, PhD


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Interrupted and Ignored by the Extroverts in your Life

"Effervescent" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Effervescent” by Mimi Stuart ©

“I am often the one who does most of the listening. I am introverted, and am attracted to extrovert energy. The beautiful, warm, interesting stories at first are a delight, but quickly start to overwhelm me as the relationship develops. Often, when I feel ready to talk, I am not listened to with the same attention, or even worse, interrupted and ignored.”

One-sided extroverts, one-sided relationship

Extremely extroverted people can be fun and interesting to have as friends, as they entertain and radiate energy. Extroverts generally like talking and being the center of attention. Since the extrovert’s vibrancy is enjoyable, and his or her dominance shields you from having to share your own ideas and thoughts, the dynamic of being ignored and interrupted by extreme extroverts may at first go unnoticed. In the early stage of the relationship, you may feel comfortable that there’s no pressure to reveal yourself.

Yet after a while it becomes frustrating and overwhelming to be in a one-sided relationship where most of the attention is focused on the extroverted individual. Extreme extroverts tend to be self-involved and often lack depth because they are generally not self-reflective. Thus, they tend to be disappointing as best friends, confidantes, or long-term romantic partners.

Developing balance

More balanced people, on the other hand, may not be as exciting at first, but they are often more capable of reciprocal interaction, showing interest in you, and enjoying two-way conversations, all of which are ultimately more stimulating and fulfilling in a long-term relationship.

When you are attracted to a person who is the opposite to your personality, it usually indicates a need for you to develop some of that trait. In your case, becoming a bit more extroverted might involve becoming more comfortable putting yourself out there and developing outgoing energy when you choose to. You can start with small steps—for example, by giving your opinion or telling a story rather than asking questions and prompting further monologues by the extrovert.

As you push yourself to become a little more balanced, and avoid being drawn in too closely into the orbit of super magnetic (i.e., self-absorbed) extroverts, you will develop more well-balanced relationships. If you get involved with people who are more balanced from the beginning, you are less likely to become resentful.

Dealing with extreme extroverts

When dealing with an extrovert who interrupts and ignores you, be direct and up-front. “Hey, I need to talk to you. Is this a good time?” or “You seem distracted. I was hoping to provide some input. When would be a better time?” or “I have something I’d like to talk to you about. Is now convenient?” It’s important that your tone of voice does not convey weakness, resentment, or anger. Be matter of fact. But don’t continue the conversation if you’re being ignored. While you cannot control another person, you can avoid giving up your power by no longer participating in a one-sided relationship dynamic.

In essence, my advice to an introvert who suffers frustration with extreme extroverts is threefold:

1. Develop relationships with people who are more balanced,

2. Do not be a passive co-conspirator. Challenge yourself to give your input, opinions, tell stories, and shine your own light rather than simply ask questions and listen, and

3. When dealing with an extrovert, speak up for yourself in a matter a fact way, without resentment or anger.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen


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