6 Simple Perspective Shifts that Will Transform Your Parenting

One of my latest gigs was to help out Sumitha Bhandarkar, the editor of AFineParent.com summarize some interview she did. These weren’t just any interviews. These were interview with experts in the parenting field: Psychologists, Parentologists, Therapists, and Counselors. The talks were about everything from bullying to emotional intelligence to getting cooperation to how the Dutch parent/see the world.

I also did two round-up pieces for her. This one below is from the Perspective Shifting segment of the conference. And I have to say they did shift a lot of my perspectives on different bits of my parenting.

This conference is from May 22 – 26th and is FREE!!!! But only for those dates, so mark them on your calendar. (If you miss it you can buy copies of the talks.) So I highly encourage you to read through and see what advice these experts have to offer you.

And some of the talks aren’t just for parents. They are for anyone who has to get along with people. (So that makes 99% of us, right?)

6 Simple Perspective Shifts that Will Transform Your Parenting

Here’s a parenting conundrum for you…

Sometimes you chug along… Everything flows smoothly. You are on top of your game. Every time you see your friends struggling with this particular aspect of parenting, you wonder: Why? What is the big deal?

And then there are other times when you just can’t seem to get something right. It doesn’t matter how hard you try or how many new “techniques” you test… some issues that bothered you when your kids were 3, are still issues when they are 13. And you’re just stuck and spinning your wheels.

Case in point: I have a tween. Some days we are getting along great. He wants to spend time with me. We are having deep conversations about what is going on in his life. I’m rejoicing that we have such a close and loving relationship. And then I’m suddenly on a tilt-a-whirl! Suddenly he’s mad and shouting and then I’m shouting and then WHAM! He’s stomped up to his room and slammed the door. It doesn’t matter how many times we go through this it’s always the same and I just can’t figure out why.

What gives? Why is it that we are so good at a few things, and suck at others?

Turns out there is a simple explanation – perspective.

I was putting together the summaries for the talks at the FREE online Positive Parenting Conference that Sumitha is working on, and every now and then the speaker would say something that made me go “Aha!”

These are fundamental shifts that knock down some long held belief or value. Or makes you see things in a completely different light.  It’s these that make the difference between whether we ace an aspect of parenting, or struggle with it endlessly.

I’ve put together a few of these perspective shifts for you to consider. Take a look. Who knows… maybe one of these will transform one of your “I don’t know what to do” items into a “I’ve totally got this” item!

Alright, here we go –

Connected Hearts Journal

A few weeks ago I told you about the Connected Hearts Journal being funded on Kickstarter.

Well, it has been fully funded! Meaning that if you order or pay into the Kickstarter you are for sure getting a journal. And if you want one there is only 30 hours left to get one for yourself and your child.

This journal is a safe space for you and your child to share thoughts, feelings, and memories. Writing together and sharing your writing and thoughts can create a bond that will last through even the worst of the teenage years and uncertain times in your own life.

And even if you don’t choose to take advantage of the low price that comes with this Kickstarter campaign get yourself a notebook and start journaling with your child. This particular journal makes it easy and fun to do, but just journal.

Journaling the Journey: Writing Makes Everything Better

Something I do as an Organization Development professional and a Life Coach is journaling. Not so much that I become a navel-gazing moron, but I write down enough so I can sort things out in my head.

All OD pros do it. We’re taught to journal as part of the training. It becomes second nature to all of us.

Journaling helps me to clear my mind; express my creativity; know myself better.

When I know myself I can see how I am influenced by and how I influence the world around me. I can learn what brings me joy, or sadness. I can learn where my triggers or “buttons” are and even the responses I have to those “buttons.”

I learn my programming.

But it’s more than just knowing. It’s also being able to contemplate why. Why am I programmed this way? Why is it I love the smell of rosemary? Why does the color blue make me so happy?

And why, for example, don’t I like it when my kids’ playing hits a certain volume or pitch?

I gave myself time to write it down. And I learned that once a certain volume and pitch is reached, even if it’s laughter, someone gets hurt soon after. Crying and yelling starts. And I end up stomping up (or down) the stairs yelling and mad that they can’t just play together without someone getting hurt.

But now that I know all this – the button and response – it means that I can consciously watch for the trigger. In fact, the more I journal and contemplate I can even watch for the finger about to push the button.

Once I can do any of that I can then consciously change the response.

Journaling isn’t just for psychologists or organization development professionals. Journaling isn’t even just for adults. Children also benefit from writing down their thoughts.

Children’s journaling doesn’t have to be just writing. Poems and essays are great, and so are drawings, collages, stream of conscious lists. Journaling builds empathy and gratitude in children. It brings what they know subconsciously up into conscious realizations.

Journaling gives children a safe way to express negative feelings. Children can write out stories about bad days or rotten experiences. They can sketch out scripts to test conversations they might have with a classmate who is picking on them.

Journaling helps them play with mental creativity. Drawing, writing scripts, creating comic strips. This kind of creative self-expression can also help children heal from physical and emotional damage.

This kind of healing through self-expression is part of the reason why those fancy adult coloring books are so incredibly popular right now. Coloring, collage, and doodling all have the effect of lowering stress, increasing focus, and developing mindfulness in both adults and children.

Usually I just use a notebook as my journal. I go to the local bookstore and pick out a book that speaks to me. I let the kids pick out whatever speaks to them.

You have to love the journal you are using. You need to want to carry it with you all the time. You have to love the feel of it in your hand and the look of it as it sits on your desk or on your bedside table.

270929e58cd262f03ec5dacb3117f28b_originalIf this is your first time journaling you might need a journal that is also a little bit of a guide. This new one called The Connected Hearts Journal put together by Sumitha Bhandarkar is actually one that combines a journal for parents and a journal for kids.

It has questions that prompt introspection and deeper thinking, helping me to get to know myself better as a parent and my boys to get to know who they are. Especially for my tween, who is right smack in the middle of becoming someone new.

The Connected Hearts Journal also has a sharing section, but still allows for my boys to keep their own secrets. It lets me tell them how much I care for them and gives them the chance to figure out where their own strengths lay.

Children don’t have the experience to be introspective or to make connections into their subconscious without someone to help them. You don’t have to use a journal like this, but for those of us who don’t have a lot of experience teaching kids about writing, a journal like this helps to guide them into being able to more freely express themselves in a safe and private environment.

Even if you just get a regular spiral-bound notebook, start journaling. The benefits are worth the time. Even if you just have 10 minutes once or twice week journaling can lower your anxiety and help you to better understand yourself.

How to Deal with the I WANT Monster, Positively

How to Deal With the “I WANT” Monster Positively

by Malinda Carlson. Published at http://www.afineparent.com

I hate shopping with my children.

There. I said it. And I’ll say it again.

I hate shopping with my children.

There is nothing I dread more than taking my kids into a store. Any store. Grocery. Clothing. Toys. Especially toys.

It’s not that they are bad children. They are well-behaved for the most part. But at some point as we are wandering around the store the “I WANT” Monster appears.

The “I WANT” Monster is a wild little Tasmanian devil. He comes whirling and spinning out of his cave at the first scent of anything bright and shiny and new.

“I want this.”

“Can I have that?”

“I need these.”

“Please, please buy me those.”

Everything around them is a candy-colored rainbow. It’s sooooo tempting.

“I just can’t stand it!” panted my 7-year-old son, standing in the Star Wars aisle of Target, tortured by the clones and Jedi surrounding him.

Me either, son.

What’s with all this greed? Where does the “I WANT” Monster come from anyway?

Every child wants things. Heck, we all want things. Just today I was tempted by a really pretty china bowl with metal hummingbird on the rim and a hot pair of heels that would look perfect with a dress I have.

In a world of television and social media overload our society has pushed “keeping up with the Jones’s” to a whole new level. It’s hard to curb materialistic desires, but here are 5 techniques that can help.  (Keep reading at A Fine Parent!)

How to get Back on Track after a Shouting Match

I wrote this article for AFineParent.com and it was published this week.  I am so, so proud of this piece. It’s not just for parents, though! It’s for anyone who has ever had a disagreement with their spouse, friend, sibling, or co-worker.  The steps here are things I use as an organization development consultant when I go in to help resolve conflicts.

Okay, maybe I don’t have co-workers tell each other “I love you.”  But it is important to find a way to show respect for your  co-worker and their ideas. The concept of Unconditional Positive Regard is universal and there are many ways of conveying it.

I hope you enjoy the article. I would love it if you could leave comments at AFineParent, like it on the site, and share it with your friends.


How to get Back on Track after a Shouting Match

In my house 90% of all arguments start with a “Can I?” followed up with a “No.”

Then CRACK! We’re off to the shouting matches.

Here’s a recent shout-a-thon.

“Can I have a PS4?”


“But why can’t I have a PS4?? Alex has one! And so does Miles!”

“But you are not going to have one. You don’t need one!”

“But they have Star Front Battle Wars! I love that game!”

“I said NO!”

“But I WANT it! And I am GOING to get it!”

“You. Are. Not! Now, you listen to me, young man! There is no way, on this green earth, that I am going to buy you a PS4!!”



Did all that shouting solve anything? Nope.  Am I proud of myself? Not in the slightest.  In fact, as soon as I calm down I feel awful.  I shouted at my child! I’m not even sure why. I must be the worst parent ever!

Sound familiar?

I’ll let you in on a little secret …


Tween Emotional Tsunami

My 10 year old no longer wants a hug when I drop him off at school. When we go on the tram there is no acknowledgment of any relationship at all between us. It’s a complete pull back of affection.

But then there are times when he floods over us, drowning us in his desperate need for an intense, bone-cracking, never-ending hug.

This storm of emotions started about a year ago. It started with moments when he violently pushed us away, wanting nothing to do with us followed by demands for hugs, words of affection, and snuggles at bedtime. There was no predicting his moods. All his emotions were intense and huge. It was like being tossed around in a tsunami.

We have entered the Tween Tsunami Zone.


All the child psychologist experts tell parents to expect this kind of roller coastering of emotions as teenage hormones begin to rev up, getting ready for the big surge when they become full-fledged teens. We hadn’t even begun to wait and watch for these surges when BAM! here they were.

Our friends with teenagers tell us their horror stories to prepare us for full-blown teenhood.

  • It’s just like when he was two, except he was more reasonable then.
  • You are not to acknowledge their presence or the presence of their friends unless they ask for food or money.
  • He will smell so bad you will want to move him to the top floor of your house to keep the funk contained.
  • Your grocery bill is going to triple.
  • He’s going to make decisions so stupid you will not even believe it (like setting off fireworks in the bathtub).

E is practically a textbook tween.  He is spending hours in his room reading books – in fact, demanding it to the point where he and his little brother are fighting about rooming rights in their shared space.  He is rolling his eyes and huffing at me when I ask him to do things he feels he shouldn’t have to do or are stupid (which could be the same thing).  The slightest criticism or correction sets him off in an explosion of temper. He suddenly has an opinion about his hair length and wardrobe. Spending time with his friends has become waaaay more important than family game night.

All the signs are there. He doesn’t smell horrible yet and he hasn’t shunned us completely, but that time is coming.

So, short of inventing time travel and going back to when we were perfect and he was our little snugglie-boo, what can we do about it??

Here’s what we’ve come up with so far:

Give him space when he asks.

Hug him when he needs it.

Insist on family game and movie nights. 

Continue with electronic-free family dinners.

Insist on being treated with respect at all times.

Give him clear responsibilities.

Pick our battles.

Hang on for dear life.

This won’t make the path perfectly smooth. It won’t prevent him from thinking we are the most boring, uncool, dumbest parents ever. But hopefully it will keep us from getting swept away.

Traveling with Children: Tips and Tricks from Someone Who’s Been There

As you can see from my blog we travel with the kids. A lot. They go everywhere we go, whether they like it or not.

Many friends and acquaintances are amazed. After telling one friend about a recent trip she said, “Oooo! You are so brave to do all that traveling with the boys!”  I hadn’t thought of it in terms of being brave. Sure, I was nervous about going by myself to Scotland with the boys, but that was because I was outnumbered.  But going to another country is just what a family vacation is here in Europe.

And since we seem to be going somewhere every other weekend, I’ve developed some tips and tricks to make traveling with the kids easy and as pain-free as possible.  You shouldn’t let having kids stop you from going out and seeing the world!

Here are 8 Things I’ve Learned About Traveling with Kids:

IMG_1144Always have something for them to do when they get bored.  Because they will get bored. It doesn’t matter if you are going to Disneyland or Grandma’s House, boredom is going to happen, esp on the airplane, in the car, or on the train.  You can bring a book, or one of those awesome travel games, or a toy or whatever, as long as they have something that will keep their attention and let them play quietly.  You will enjoy yourself more and so will the people around you.


Stay in an apartment.  This is an especially convenient and typically cheaper option if you are staying somewhere for a week or more.  We have a place that we usually rent via Vacation Rentals By Owner (www.VRBO.com) on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. On Holiday Lettings (www.holidaylettings.co.uk) we rented a great apartment for our week-long stay in Scotland. My friend Pat stayed all over Europe and America in some really, really posh places using AirBnB. Plus it gives you the chance to have a meal in when the kids are too exhausted to behave in a restaurant. And if you have picky breakfast eaters, you can go out and pick up exactly what they like and have a nice slow morning before charging out to conquer the city.


Remember to snack. Kids get hungry. Often. If the chance to stop at a cafe or ice cream parlor presents itself then stop. However, I always go out with a little something in my bag because there isn’t always a cafe or shop close by where you can buy something. It can be easy like a cereal bar, or a container of goldfish crackers (a solid plastic container so they don’t end up being goldfish powder), or some sliced apples in my purse for the boys.  Sometimes I have all three!

Henrik at the Art Museum 2015

Prepare to go slow. Kids just can’t move as fast as we can. Especially when it’s urgent. Their legs are short. Their wills to move it to catch the last tour of the day for the interiors of Prague Castle are limited. Plan accordingly. If it’s really important to you do it right away in the day. The practice some Zen breathing.


That look on E's face is, "There is pizza everywhere!"
That look on E’s face is, “There is pizza everywhere!”


Don’t expect them to get how awesome it is.  We went to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower. I thought it was the most awesome thing ever. I got to see one of the iconic buildings of our time! I was totally geeking out! The boys, however, were unimpressed. I begged them to understand how cool this was, but they remained unmoved. What they were truly impressed by was the number of pizza restaurants on each street.



The Land of Legos.
The Land of Legos.

Let them pick some activities for the trip. This gives them some control over a trip that is usually all about what Mom and Dad want to do.  They get to plan it out themselves. It also gives them something to be excited about and it is a handy thing to encourage them to think about when they are bored.


Don’t push through meal times.  This kind of goes with Having Snacks, but it’s even more important.  I know that the kids and I can be having the best time in the world and then as lunch approaches and our blood sugar starts to drop we start sniping at each other for the stupidest of reasons. (How can your shoe be untied again??) Thanks to Tina Fey this is now known as being “Hangry” – experiencing irrational anger because you are hungry. And not only does stopping for a meal provide much needed energy, it is a nice sit down break for everyone. Just say no to being Hangry!



Accept that things aren’t going to go as planned. It always happens on every vacation. We went to Hadrian’s Wall and it misted on us and rained a bit. But we just put on our rain jackets and headed out.  I also remember one time we had planned to go to the dinosaur museum and found it closed for renovation, so instead we happened upon a park with the most amazing carousel (the Europeans love their carousels).  There are always other things around to do and sometimes they are even better than what you had planned.

This is certainly not all there is to traveling with kids. But it basically boils down to: be prepared; eat often; be Zen.  So get out there and travel! Go see things!


An update on the Summer Screen Rules

Well, we are a week into summer vacation here in the SFC household.  As you may remember I posted about the Summer Screen Rules here and I thought I’d give an update.

It’s actually working!!!

Firstly, it helps that E is goal driven and the rules are clear.  If this is what it takes to get an iPad or movie in his hands then he is going to do it as fast as possible.   It also helps that H follows older brother lead in a lot of things.

The first few days E was up at 6:30am making his bed, doing his math page and reading his book.  He even mopped the kitchen floor and did a load of laundry while I was sleeping to complete his chores. (!?!?!?!)

Furthermore, he has not complained once about the tasks he has to do. He just does them and move on into iPad time.

And H is good with it, too.  He wakes up, does his imaginative playtime with E and a pile of Legos, makes his bed, and then I sit with him as he does his reading, his math from one of those great Brain Quest books, and his writing.  For his writing, since he is 6, he decides between a word sheet in the Brain Quest book and continuing to use his “reflections” book from school.  The teacher was having the students draw a picture and then write a sentence about the picture as their reflection of the day or weekend.  He really likes it. And he especially likes that he has a choice.

The chores we have for him are scaled to his skill level.  He dusts, he folds towels, he puts away dishes.  Not without whining, but once he gets going he’s good.  And the whining is getting less and less as this becomes “just how things are done.”

And then they sit and play the iPad.

The one area that hasn’t gone according to plan is playing outside for 30 minutes.  On the really hot days it gets hot fast.  The shutters are closed and the windows sealed by 9am.  If we don’t go to the pool in the afternoon, our practice has become to go outside in the evenings to bike or have a water fight.  The neighbor boys are home and battle can be epic.

But all-in-all it’s going really well!  Tomorrow Aunt Ellie comes and the day after Uncle Erik joins us!  We are going to take them to a mountain (also a heat avoidance maneuver) and show them around Basel.  And then a few days after they leave the boys are I are off to Edinburgh, Scotland for a week!

I hope your summer vacation is as relaxing as ours!

Counting Down to the End of School

We have 7.5 days of school left here in Switzerland and the boys are counting down. I am counting down too, but instead of checking the calendar 18 times a day and jumping around the house shouting about how I’m almost free like they are I am coming up with strategies on how to save my sanity.

One of the banes and yet saviors of my child-rearing existence is the iPad. It can hold their attention for hours, giving me needed time to myself, but it is such an attraction that they whine and plea and beg and generally make themselves 10th level nuisances until I give in. My thoughts lately have been how to use the iPad as a tool, but keep them from needed a 12-step program at the end of the summer.

A friend of mine recently posted a great meme from YourModenFamily.com about rules for summer.

summer strategiesI think this is a great template for me/us.  It keeps some routine, responsibility, and non-iPad stuff in our summer days.

However, I think I need to expand on this list for my older son.  He is older and is capable putting more time into things.  This is what I’ve come up for him.

summertime rulesAccomplishing this list could take anywhere from 3.5 hours to 4 hours, depending on how quickly they can make their beds and do their two chores.  I think half a day without screens is ideal.  And if we go to the pool that’s even longer without screens.

I am hopeful that the Swiss culture of letting kids have their freedom will allow them to have a fun and free summer.

I also am hoping to be able to do some day trips with the boys and really take advantage of our location in Switzerland.  Who knows where we’ll go? Maybe a weekend in Paris? Maybe to the Matterhorn?  We’ll see what the boys choose.

Also during this summer the kids and I will be going to Scotland!  I am extremely excited!  We will be seeing  Loch Ness, Glen Coe, and Hadrian’s Wall just to name a few places.  Our base of operations will be Edinburgh so we will be seeing a ton of things in Edinburgh, too.

And we are having visitors!  My brother-in-law and sister-in-law are coming in the first part of July and then my parents are coming back to visit in the later part of August.

As I read through this post I am seeing that we are going to be packing a whole lot into the scant 8 weeks that they boys have off from school.  Now maybe I’ll be checking the calendar 18 times a day!

Raising Gritty Kids

What is Grit?

I was first introduced to the concept of “grit” while watching the movie True Grit. If you haven’t seen it, 14-year-old Mattie Ross leaves her home in Illinois alone to find the man who killed her father in Arkansas. She finds Rooster Cogburn and declares him the man with the “grit” necessary to help her go into Indian Territory, find the killer, and bring him to justice. The journey ahead is hard and the characters are continually beset with challenges and close calls, but they succeed through sheer determination. Through Grit.

There is a lot of talk about “grit” and raising children with “grit” in today’s psychology and education journals.  My sons’ school even did a great workshop on building determination through failure; which inspired me to read more about grit.

In her Ted Talk, Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychologist, MacArthur Genius Grant winner, and former teacher, discusses grit. Her research has found how much grit and determination a child has to be a better indicator for success than IQ scores or talent. That it is more important to have the tenacity to pick yourself up after a fall and keep going than it is to have natural talent or incredible intelligence.

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future; day-in and day-out. Not just for the week. Not just for the month. But for years. And working really hard to make that future a reality.”

I have a gritty child and a no-so-gritty child (NSG child). One of my children, the NSG child, LOVES to win. He will do anything to win and if he loses, or even thinks he’s going to lose, he cries and wants to quit.  The other one doesn’t even seem to realize he’s lost and just wants to keep repeating the task until he’s satisfied with the outcome.  Being a life coach and Master’s Degree of Organization Development holder I immediately went into my psychology books and education journals to find the best way to help our NSG-child find his inner grit.

What is success? What is failure?

Educators and psychologists define success as a mathematical equation.

Success = (effort x ability)
manageable task

Written out, if students take the maximum effort they are capable of, multiplied by the abilities they have, and put those into a task the can achieve they will have success.

Simple, right?

So what is failure? Well, it’s not achieving the success you think you should have had in a task.  Putting in too little effort. Not having enough natural talent.  Taking on a task that is to complex or difficult. In the equation above, having any of the numbers out of balance can lead to failure.

Failure isn’t nice. It doesn’t feel good. And it’s not supposed to.  At a primal level, failure hurts to ensure we do everything we can not to feel that hurt.  But failure is necessary in giving kids grit.

We’ll say a student always puts in the maximum effort they are capable of.  And we’ll say they have a good level of ability. The trick to success in learning is to make the task one that is in an area slightly beyond what they can already do without help. This is called being in the Zone of Proximal Development.

The concept of the Zone of Proximal Development was developed by the psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who believed the best learning could be achieved by guiding students into situations where they are not 100% assured of success and failure is an option and experiences where they would need guidance to succeed.

How do our kids get “gritty”?

Praise the work, not the achievement.

Carol Dweck, a professor in the Department of Psychology at Stanford University, has done a lot of research on the effect of motivating children’s performance. Children who are praised for effort, rather than outcome care more about the process of learning. Whereas the children who are praised only for succeeding care solely about the final grade rather than what they actually learned.

I know that when my kids show me something they’re proud of the first words out of my mouth are “Good job.” In our society the words “good job” are used so often they don’t mean anything anymore. They are merely pacifiers for people who don’t know what else to say.  Try telling them “You worked really hard on that,” or “I can really see all the effort you put into drawing that picture,” instead of defaulting to “good job.”

Let them take risks

John C. Maxwell, author of Falling Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success, says that in order to actually succeed at something worthwhile you need to take risks. Risks should be calculated with something at stake and a payoff at the end.

A risk could be anything from trying a math problem that seems to be above a child’s current level, to letting them fill the washing machine without supervision, to allowing your child to participate in a ropes course.  A risk can be anything that pushes them beyond their comfort zone and into the Zone of Proximal Development.

Allowing children to take these calculated risks helps them to build their confidence in themselves. They learn who they are: their strengths and weaknesses, what they enjoy doing, and how badly they want to succeed. On the flip-side, it is also crucial for us, as parents, to see our children taking these calculated risks and succeeding in order to build confidence in our own parenting.

Let them fail

This is a tricky one and it tied in with letting them take risks.  As I noted previously, knowing your child is going to fail and then letting it happen is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do as a parent. But failure is necessary for building grit. They need to know that life goes on after a failure and that they can survive and try again.

When they fail don’t say it doesn’t matter. It’s natural for parents to try and soothe away the hurt, but the failure matters to them. By saying it doesn’t matter you are invalidating their feelings, thereby removing the stimulus that makes them strive for improvement.

In 2005, Steve Jobs gave the commencement address at Stanford University. He goes into detail about the building of Apple. The dreams he had; the hard work that it took; and the success he and Woz were having. And then he was fired. Very publicly and very painfully. He felt he had failed. But, and he admits this, if he had never been fired he would have never started NeXT or Pixar or met his wife or made Toy Story and he would have never been in a position to come back to Apple and spearhead the iPod revolution.

Think of what would have happened if Steve Jobs had only success in his life?

Analyze the outcome

Building grit starts with looking at what happened – whether you won or lost – and analyzing it. We’ve all done it or seen it done. Steve Jobs certainly thought about what happened.  And haven’t we all watched the after-game interviews of a ball game and listened to the reporters ask the players, “So, what happened out there?” The players start talking about their game, highlighting the successful and unsuccessful plays crucial to the outcome of the game.

That is analyzing the outcome.

We use Appreciative Inquiry in our house. Appreciative Inquiry is a way of analyzing situations or organizations using positively worded statements to talk about tough topics. For example saying What can I improve on instead of What went wrong makes confronting failure feel less unpleasant and more constructive.  Appreciative Inquiry is in organization development to help executives and employees focus on accepting where the company is right now, strengthening what is going well, looking at what could be improved, and how to improve or change those areas. (David Cooperrider has a great book on this, published in 2007.)

As a parent it’s hard to slow down and think about what currently “is” when you’re trying to do laundry, cook dinner, and coordinate homework simultaneously, but that is just what is needed in order to have a grit-building conversation.

It’s especially important when you are helping at NSG child develop grit. A grit-building conversation after a little league game or a math test would look like this:

  • Hey! You won (or lost)! (acknowledge what is)
  • What do you was your best moment? (look at what went right)
  • Where do you think you could improve for next time? (what didn’t work)
  • What do you think you’ll do next time? (How can you improve on what went right and wrong)

Children who are low on grit are very reluctant to face their weaknesses. My NSG son will stall for time, change the topic, or even pretend to be reading a book to delay talking about where he fell down.  However, he loves talking about what he did well. Using Appreciative Inquiry and starting out by analyzing the good moments helps to get my son talking and gets us into reframing failures into an Ah-Ha moments.

Get rid of labels.

When your daughter comes home with an A on her test it’s so easy look at her beaming face and say, “You are so good at math!” We mean it with all our hearts and we really do want our babies to think they are good in math and talented in music.   However, these labels can be double edged.

Labels such as “good in math,” “quite a reader,” or “you’re smart” actually build our children’s identity in such a way that these traits become fixed in their minds. They believe this is what they are. It limits what they can become.

They are good in math instead of someone who works hard at math.

They are smart instead of someone who tries their best.

Carol Dweck called children who identify themselves in these ways as having a “fixed mindset” in her paper Parent Praise to 1 – to 3 – year old Predicts Children’s Motivational Framework 5 Years Later.

In her book titled, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck discusses studies that demonstrate that children who have these fixed mindsets and fail believe that they failed because they aren’t smart enough or good enough to succeed. They believe something is wrong with them.  For example, “a good reader” who then becomes challenged by a book tends to stop reading that book.  They stop rather than fail because if they fail they become “not a good reader” anymore and that creates an identity crisis.

However, children who have been told, “You worked hard” and had the effort they put in praised have developed “growth mindsets.” Children with growth mindsets view these same failures as minor setbacks and as opportunities to learn.  They want to try again after they experience failure.

Get gritty with them

In Facing Failure and Breeding Success, Mr. Richard Barth and his co-authors suggested restructuring schools into a safe places to encounter and learn from failures.  As parents it behooves us to take it a step further and restructure the home into an effort laboratory.

I always felt as though I were on a grand adventure when I was in my college chem labs.  Full of unknowns and potential explosions.  Like any laboratory, this one is full of experiments and unknowns to be discovered, but hopefully with few explosions.

One of the most fun experiments in the effort laboratory is a regular family game night. Board games like Settlers of Catan, Stratego, or Castle Panic are wonderful for not only teaching grit, but also building family bonds. Our family game night is Sundays. After the game is over we have fun talking about how the game went. “Wow! That was fun.  H won! I thought I did great at X. What do you think you did great at? I think I should have moved this piece earlier. What do you think you could have done better at? What do you think you might do next time?” It teaches grit in a fun and subtle, but meaningful way.

Another fun experiment is doing a project together.  Planning a long-term project with your child, something that isn’t done on the first day and that will challenge the both of you, is a great way to develop grit.

The project can be anything that requires long-term goals.  From building a shed or peddle car to planting and caring for a garden.  The important thing is that you make it a habit to analyze how the project is going and make adjustments as you go along.  And don’t be afraid of letting them see you struggle.  You’re being an example of what having grit looks likes.

My husband and the NSG child (along with a visit from my husband’s father) built a slate patio two summers ago. They had to rip out the vegetation that was there, level the ground, and put in the slate. It was an entire summer of slowly working and adjusting and fixing.  The NSG child learned a lot about grit and at the end we were able to have a lovely barbeque to celebrate our achievement!

Feeling the grit

Some children take longer than others to develop some grittiness.  They aren’t very confident in themselves and, therefore, don’t want to put in much effort.  The key to getting them hooked on feeling gritty is to help them experience some successes.

Getting grit into your child can be a slow process.  It starts with asking yourself a few questions.  What is your child talented at?  Are there any manageable tasks you can think of where your child can experience success with small amounts of effort?

Once they’ve experienced a series successes and you have some practice at analyzing the outcomes in a fun and low-key way, make the tasks require just a little more effort.  Don’t worry about going slowly.   One of the worst things that can happen is that your son or daughter feels like they are too far over their heads too quickly and respond by shutting down.

If that does happen take a few more minutes than usual to analyze the outcome.  Then take a few steps back and have them try things you know they can already do to build up their confidence again.  Or, if they want to, you can assist them on the task.  Let them take the lead, but be there to lend a hand.

My NSG child is becoming grittier everyday.   It all started with praising his efforts to build his confidence instead of using labels as praise.  Then we started giving him tasks we knew he could succeed at and as he found his efforts rewarded with success he wanted to try harder.

Once he found a certain number of successes we began analyzing his outcomes using Appreciative Inquiry.  Game night was crucial for this as it included everyone in the analysis and we kept the tone fun.  As he become more comfortable with the whole process we started pushing the tasks into the Zone of Proximal Development.

Now he is excelling at math and trying some of the challenge problems his teacher is putting in front of him instead of just turning in blank pages when he felt challenged.  He is back to reading anything he can get his hands on instead of sticking to less challenging books.  And, as you read previously, last week he took on his fear of heights and did the ropes course down in Langenbruck.

I can’t wait to see what he’s going to try next!