Parenting can be a daunting experience. Wouldn't it be nice if our children came with a How to manual? Do you ever feel that right when you are getting the hang of parenting, your child changes and you are lost all over again?
The truths in this book will not only help parents and teachers better understand their children, it will also provide them the keys to better understand themselves. One of the fundamental truths of parenting is that it offers an opportunity to experience our maker in a different format. Through watching, listening, and learning from children, I have discovered four key skills that all of us have within us. I call these skills the golden keys.
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Unlocking the Genius within Your Child and You!
By Stephanie Shawn
Balboa PressCopyright © 2013 Stephanie Shawn
All rights reserved.
Key #1 PRESENCE (Be still, observe, and listen)
The first key to unlocking the genius within our children is our ability to be still and be present. From the moment our children are born, we have the opportunity to be present and observe their every move. We learn how they like to be held, what their cries mean, and what makes them laugh. We find that parenting is most enjoyable when we are present, relaxed, and experience the world through our children's eyes. The more we can share our child's perspective, the more we enjoy our role as a parent and all of the gifts this bundle of joy brings our way.
I recently had an opportunity to practice presence with one of my best friend's children. Her daughter Nev is three year's old, and recently has become one of my best friends. How did this happen? Well, Nev attends our preschool and daycare. Often, when she is in the daycare room, I will go in there to check in with the teachers and to observe the children at play. Nev loves to invite me to play with her. As her enthusiasm is infectious, I can hardly resist. And, since we "play" about once a week in this fashion, we have become best friends.
Just last week, I invited Nev to go on a play date with me. My own boys are teenagers now, and while I still love to do activities with them, I don't get to play "babies" at the toy store. This was going to be a blast and both Nev and I knew it! If you have never gone on a play date with a three year old, I highly recommend it. It is the perfect opportunity to practice presence, but it is also great for building self-esteem. When I arrived to pick up Nev from her home, she leaped into my arms and gave me the biggest hug ever!
The joy of her greeting set the tone for the day.
Once Nev and I arrived at the toy store, I became lost in her world. I let her lead me from area to area and show me in her three-year- old way to play. From reading books, to puppet shows, to playing in the kitchen, to putting babies to sleep, I became lost in the world of Nev. Before I knew it, an hour and a half had gone by. I am embarrassed to say that while I often played with my own boys when they were young, I for the most part wasn't 100 percent present for them. I'd go with them to toy stores, the park, or the pool; but in my head, I usually had my own agenda. I did not take time to be present and experience the world through their eyes as I did that day with Nev.
To "be present" is to live in the moment. People with great presence are excellent listeners and truly care about the people they are with at any given moment. They are not thinking about past or the future when in the presence of another. People with strong presence make those around them feel important. Do you know anyone like this?
The enemy of presence is busyness. This can be in the form of actual tasks performed or simply a busy mind. When we move from presence to busyness, we tend to experience feelings of frustration and impatience. Sometimes we even forget that our children are children and expect them to be like us and think like us. We mistakenly think it is our child's job to change and become like us. For example, I absolutely love activities that quiet me. Some examples of what I enjoy are great food, wine, enriching conversations, and a terrific jazz band. My youngest son enjoys more active activities. He is happiest jumping on a trampoline, playing hockey, or racing on a dirt bike. I used to try to get him to always take part in my interests. I justified this by telling him he needed to be well-rounded and see the world from many points of view. As a result, my son is not a picky eater, he enjoys jazz music, and will even go with me to an art museum. This is wonderful, but by only trying to get my son to see things my way instead of me also trying to see things his way, I was missing out on the lessons and gifts that he has to offer me. Once I decided to play football with him, jump on the trampoline, and learn to enjoy hockey, a whole new world opened up to me. While I still prefer a jazz concert to a hockey game, I find I now have enriched my life by opening up my mind to new things. This is not only true of participating in our child's hobbies and interests, but in their thought process and emotions as well.
By being present, we can better coach our children through their emotions. It is imperative that we, as the adult in our child's life, stay calm and demonstrate that our emotions are in control. I realize this is very difficult while a child is throwing a tantrum, hitting, or running around—but we do need to model the correct emotional behavior. Having the patience to stay present with your child, and really try to see what caused the reaction in the first place is so important. As adults, we like to assume or assess our children's behavior based on what we think they are thinking. Sometimes, we are very wrong. For example, just this morning a little girl in one of our preschool rooms impulsively ran over and hit one of the new children who walked into the room. She wasn't angry at all with this child, she was just overwhelmed with the emotion of excitement. Instead of shaming this excited little girl, her teacher simply verified her feelings, then coached her. It went something like this. "Suzy, I can tell you are so excited that Ellie is here today. I'm excited too and I have all sorts of feelings about that. When we get that excited, let's jump up and down next time or clap our hands. We can't hit Ellie because that hurts her." Then she had Suzy apologize to Ellie. Finally, before returning to play, the teacher had Suzy repeat back to her she will do next time.
Raising and teaching children is extremely rewarding when we watch and listen carefully to them. Putting ourselves in the role of a coach or teacher, versus a stern disciplinarian, gives us more positive energy as well.
I will never forget the day I truly became a teacher. I was teaching in a middle school at the time. It was my first year in a middle school after teaching in an elementary school for four years. I absolutely loved this particular class as I had taught them in the second grade, fifth grade, and then sixth grade. I had been able to watch my students grow up before my eyes, and I loved them. The only difficulty I had was that I was using the best methods I knew to reach them and I wasn't getting through. I remember pulling ideas from my own formative years and using strategies that worked so well with me, but even those strategies were to no avail.
Finally, one of my students came up to me and said, "I know that you are doing your very best, and we love you for it, but the methods you are trying to use aren't working because you aren't watching us." I had to think about that one for a bit. Sadly enough, he was right! I was so busy thinking about what my college textbooks said, what my colleagues did, and what my own teachers had done, that I wasn't looking at the audience at hand.
I began watching them—really watching them. And slowly, but surely, they taught me how to teach them. Some of the greatest lessons that they taught me are as follows:
When they say that having music on helps them to focus—it does.
When they say that they need small breaks—they do.
When they say that movement helps them to remember—it does.
When they say that drawing helps them to focus and remember—it does.
When they say that it's boring—it is.
My pace isn't necessarily their pace.
My interests aren't necessarily their interests.
Their jokes are genuinely funny to them, even if not to me.
Their fears are real.
Talking things out helps adults to learn, so what makes us think that children should be quiet?
Our children want to succeed. They are bright and know that there must be a better way. If we are present with them, perhaps we can help them to rediscover the love of learning!
Practice being present with your children today. Start with these suggestions.
1. Sit next to your child as he plays and just be there with him. Really observe him and try to see the world through his eyes and point of view. What did you learn that changes how you think?
2. Simply observe your teen as she is with her friends. Make this observation without judgment. Who is she and how does she perceive the world? How does she react in social situations? How does your perception of her change?
Key #2 LISTENING (Seeking to truly understand)
I have learned that by me listening to my children and how they think, I can better understand them and communicate more effectively with them. In his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey explains how true listening involves seeking to understand the other person first, before forming judgments or assumptions. I have found this to be especially important with children. When children do not feel safe enough to share their true feelings, they may grow up feeling that they do not have a voice or that they are not important.
Sometimes our children do things with the best of intentions, but unfortunately their judgment is incorrect and/or misguided. As parents, we have the opportunity to gently guide our children and teach them, with love, the correct way to react to a situation.
One of the most important things children have taught me is that they will tell me what they need. The question is—am I listening?
As parents and teachers, we desire the best for our children, and yet sometimes, even though we have the best of intentions, we cannot hear what our children are trying to tell us. Here are a few examples of what sometimes happens.
Preconceived ideas: Sometimes when our children say one thing, we hear another. For example, when our child says, "I can't do this; it is just too hard for me." We hear, "I'm lazy, and I don't feel like trying." So, instead of reaching out and saying, "Tell me what's hard. How can I help?" We say, "You can do this; you just need to try harder!" Or perhaps our child says, "Slow down, you're going too fast!" and we hear, "I'm not paying attention." Instead of saying, "Thanks for telling me. No problem," we say, "You just need to pay better attention!" These responses lead our children to feel frustrated and unheard.
I recently was reminded of an incident where I reacted in fear, based on preconceived ideas, as a classroom teacher. I had the opportunity to meet one of my former students, Justin now age 28, for a drink. I hadn't seen him since he was in high school and was quite impressed as I listened to his accomplishments. As we continued to chat, he looked at me and said, "Oh by the way, the album cover that I brought to class was not a bad one." I looked at him blankly for a moment, and then all of a sudden I remembered what he was referring to. The instance had happened over sixteen years ago, but it was clear that it had deeply affected him. This was not my proudest moment as a teacher.
During our poetry unit in my sixth grade classroom, I asked the students to bring in one of their favorite songs to really analyze. I stated that the song must be school appropriate. Justin brought in his song and was very excited to share it with me and the class. I took one look at the cover of his album and deemed it inappropriate. I never even let him show me the song!
I am mortified today that this was my response. And clearly, this was a memory that had stuck with Justin. Instead of listening to him, I made a judgment that bothered him enough that sixteen years later he brought it up with me.
Lucky for me, I was given an opportunity to apologize to him and correct my wrong. I asked him how he had felt that day in class. He stated that he was pretty disappointed as he had taken the time to choose a song he felt really fit the assignment. It was a classic case of me letting fear get in the way and inadvertently making a student feel shame instead of pride in the assignment. A more secure person would have asked clarifying questions.
Have you ever experienced something similar with a friend, spouse, or significant other? You say something that means one thing, and they perceive what you've said to mean something entirely different? Or perhaps they judge you as I judged Justin's choice in album covers. It's frustrating isn't it? However, as adults, when we feel this way, we are dealing with someone who is our equal; thus, we can stand up for ourselves. Often children feel powerless. They may even yell or throw a tantrum in an attempt to feel heard!
Our past: Many times our expectations are built on what works for us or on how our teachers and/or parents taught us. For example, if we need quiet when we study and our child tells us that they need noise to focus, we discount what they are saying because we cannot relate. I get more into this in chapter 6, as this chapter is written to help us understand how our children learn best.
Fear: Because we love our children so much and desire for them to be reach their fullest potential, we sometimes are afraid we are not doing the right thing. The one thing I know for sure is that if I make a decision out of fear, it will end up not being a good one. For example, when our children come home with a poor grade, we sometimes over react because we are so fearful that they will get a poor grade again, or that these grades are somehow our fault. A better suggestion would be to help our children problem solve a solution. For example, do they need to ask their teacher for extra help, should they, in the future, ask questions right away when they don't understand something?
When our children feel heard and their feelings are validated, they feel safe. We know that safe children have strong self-esteems, confidence, and excellent problem solving abilities. These are all great reasons to motivate us as parents and educators to listen to our children.
I learned the importance of validation when I was nine years old, and it has truly helped me as I parent and teach. Even as a young child, I believed in the importance of honesty. I truly believed in letting people know what I really thought, and I greatly disliked when people said one thing to a person's face, but then talked about them differently behind their back. It's not that I didn't sometimes do this myself, but when I did, I felt obligated to eventually tell the person.
As you can see, there were some definite flaws in my theory, and this somewhat backfired on me when my sharing what I had heard greatly hurt one of my best friends—Ana. She went home and told her mom I said that because she was an only child, she struggled with sharing. Her mother called the school stating that I had offended her child and had deeply hurt her feelings.
My teacher's approach was to make me sit in for recess. I remember feeling very scared and confused. I knew in my heart I would never never say anything to hurt my dear friend. I had simply shared with her what others were saying behind her back in an effort to help her improve her behavior. My teacher's reaction was that of fear in that she didn't want me to hurt others, yet that was never my intention. If my teacher had taught me about how to filter my thoughts and choose gentle words to hone my communication skills, I would have learned a beneficial life-long lesson.
The lesson I learned that day was to make sure that I do listen. I need to hear my children's and student's intentions before I make a judgment statement as to what I think they are thinking. This has helped me run both a calmer home and classroom.
Much research has been done on the importance of active listening. This can be accomplished by validating what someone is saying without making judgment statements or putting words in their mouth. For example, when our child comes home and says, "I'm so stupid! I hate English class, and I hate my teacher!" It is far better to say, "Wow! Today must have been a tough day, tell me about it." Other than saying, "You are not stupid, and I don't like you talking about your teacher that way." If we first allow our children to express what they are truly feeling, we can help them get to the root of the problem, and then guide them to find solutions. As we do this with our children, our children in turn can learn effective listening and validating skills as well.
Teaching children how to listen is crucial. A way to help children understand what listening is to define it for them. I tell children that listening is defined as "being able to repeat back that which the messenger has said." I go on to say, "If you can tell me what I've said, well then you have listened."
Have you ever asked your child to complete a series of tasks only to find one or none of them completed? For example, I remember asking my oldest son to brush his teeth, put on his pj's, and get into bed with a book. When I checked in on him in his room, none what I asked was done. Why is this? Well, when I asked him to do these things, he was highly engaged in play. He answered me by saying, "OK," but he truly didn't hear a word I said.
Excerpted from Unlocking the Genius within Your Child and You! by Stephanie Shawn. Copyright © 2013 Stephanie Shawn. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
A Note to the Reader.................... xi
Chapter One: Presence.................... 1
Chapter Two: Listen!.................... 6
Chapter Three: Validate.................... 12
Chapter Four: Teach.................... 18
Chapter Five: Beyond the key—other tools for parents and teachers.......... 29
Chapter Six: Using our keys to unlock the genius within.................... 34
Chapter Seven: Helping our children perform at a genius level while
Chapter Eight: Helping our children perform at a genius level in math...... 44
Chapter Nine: Helping our children perform at a genius level in reading.... 49
Chapter Ten: Helping our children perform at a genius level socially....... 65