When my daughter Alexa was in first grade, it was routine for her to collapse on the couch with her backpack after school and report how many “Cards” her classmate Jesse turned that day.
“Cards” were behavioral cards. Each student started the day with a green one. When a child did something the teacher – “Mrs. Steen the Mean Machine” – deemed inappropriate, she turned the card to another color. First offenses earned a yellow card, second orange, third red etc. After turning four cards, the student was “disciplined” by being confined to the classroom during recess.
Jesse happens to be Alexa’s first cousin. She adores him. It distressed her greatly to see him publicly shamed on a daily basis – hence the urgency of her after school reports.
Cards, when conceived, were accurately considered more compassionate than previously employed “three strikes with a switch” strategies. Since they failed to decrease students’ humiliation in the mandatory curriculum of mattering and feeling competent among peers, however, they still struck hearts if not hands.
When a child struggles with math, we say the math is difficult. When a child struggles with self-regulation we say the child is difficult.
Why? Self-regulation is a skill, a skill that benefits from the same educational process of every other skill: an accurate initial assessment of starting point, reasonable steps to success, proactive instruction, commitment to practice over time, praise for incremental progress and faith in capacity for mastery.
Shame retards the educational process. When the human brain experiences fear or stress, oxygen flow to the pre-frontal cortex – the part of the brain where rational thinking occurs – is reduced and stress hormones preparing the body for fast aggressive action are released. The capacity for self-regulation and learning become more difficult, not less.
In the same manner we don’t consider a first grader learning addition as “misbehaving” and a tenth grader learning calculus as “behaving”, the terms are no more appropriate when a child is learning self-regulation – or any other Life Skill.
Weeks and months passed, Jesse’s “behavior” did not improve. Instead, he grew to accept turning cards and being punished as normal. His classmates learned to judge his whole character and perceive him as a “bad” student rather than respect him as a peer learning a particular skill.
Teachers are not typically educated in means to teach self-regulation, neither are parents. When a child cries while shopping with adults, he is more likely to be lectured or spanked than he is to be respected as learning, overwhelmed, and encouraged.
Dictates and punishment dominate the educational process of Life Skills. The good news is, this can change. It changes when we remove behavioral lenses and put on educational lenses. It changes when we respect every human being at every stage of their life journey as learning and doing the best with their circumstances. It changes when we recognize that struggling children aren’t “bad”, they are struggling. It changes when we cease feigning competency in arenas where we ourselves are not skilled and embrace the wisdom of others. It changes when we commit to change.
Last month I violated one of the most sacred tenants of bloggers – consistency. I failed to post a blog for July entirely. Hindsight being twenty-twenty, I can chastise myself for maintaining an end of the month posting schedule, or credit the unanticipated surprises and demands of transitioning from a home in California to a cabin in Oregon.
But the truth, if I am completely honest, is something far more chronic. The truth is I am enormously – indeed spiritually – conflicted every single time I compose a blog.
Not for lack of something to say. As everyone who knows me personally will be happy to confirm, I am intensely passionate engaging in two-way conversation regarding the importance of humanity embracing a more proactive educational process for Life Skills. I am conflicted because I am brutally aware that, by blogging, I am adding to the avalanche of unidirectional information that assaults individuals daily – the avalanche that, mere survival mandates, human beings respond to with a deaf ear.
As I shared in my introduction to P20 Talks 2012 – “Life Skills Educators market themselves primarily independently. And what happens with that is it is like going to the symphony and having every instrument play its own song. People aren’t going to the symphony. Parents aren’t listening. Critical resources are getting buried, life-altering resources.”
I write today not because I am no longer pained, but because I am pained more deeply. I am pained by news headlines that celebrate the fifty-year anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have A Dream” speech alongside discussions of chemical attacks and international warfare. I am pained by the fact that an even greater war, fought not on streets or battle fields but within homes, delivers epic silent suffering and death daily.
The day will come, when after harnessing space, the winds, the tides and gravitation we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world we shall have discovered fire.” Pierre Teillard de Chardin
I write today out of gratitude for the Thought Leaders that travelled from multiple continents to San Diego, California one year ago for P20 Talks 2012 – the first ever professional conference for Life Skills Educators – and the more than 100 Global Presence Ambassadors hosting regional gatherings around the globe for P20 Talks 2013.
I write today, because we too have a dream..a dream of a time when human beings everywhere embrace third party wisdom for the skills necessary to succeed in the mandatory curriculum of communing with others. A dream of a time when children learn not merely the three R’s, reading, writing, and arithmetic but also the three C’s, concern, compassion and conflict resolution.
How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before improving the world. Anne Frank
What is the point of education? To prepare children to thrive in a diverse world? To ignite their unique passions and empower them to support others in thriving? What top three skills do human beings need to succeed? Is interpersonal communication on the list? What about conflict resolution?
If there is one arena where the disparity between the educational processes of academics and Life Skills is most glaring it is interpersonal communication skills. For math developed countries regularly provide children trained educators, multiple age-appropriate resources, and opportunities to expand their competency levels over years. For conflict resolution – by contrast – children are called names (bullies, mean girls, ADD) ostracized, disciplined, and incarcerated. Why?
What does placing thirty children with diverse interpersonal skill levels in a classroom, mandating they “get along,” then shaming and punishing them when they struggle communicate about adult respect for interpersonal communication?
What avoidable pains are suffered by children and adults in homes around the planet daily? What does employee conflict cost companies and societies? What do prisoners cost taxpayers? What human potential is thwarted due to our failure to prioritize this critical Life Skill?
Although societies wholesale ignore teaching children the skills necessary to avoid conflict in grade school, they regularly prepare adults to respond to conflict: psychologists, therapists, doctors, lawyers, law enforcement, military etc.
Isn’t this a bit like telling people to jump in the cockpit of 747’s absent instruction then cleaning up crash sites?
We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them. Einstein
What is needed to effect substantive social change? Parenting 2.0 provides a top ten list for a paradigm shift, we welcome also your suggestions.
1/ Respect human hard-wiring. Unless someone is the exception to all of creation, they are hard-wired to thrive – they are always doing the best within their circumstances given their abilities.
2/ Acknowledge the mandatory curriculum every child faces – feeling they “matter” and having friends.
3/ Prioritize teaching children the skills necessary for success in the arena of interpersonal communications from pre-school to graduation.
4/ Appreciate every stage of the learning curve equally. Just as we don’t call a first grader learning addition “bad” and a tenth grader learning calculus “good”, the terms are no more appropriate in the arena of interpersonal communication and conflict resolution.
5/ Celebrate diversity. Humanity, like all of creation, is magnificently diverse. Human beings have different brains, different temperaments, different sensitivities. Rather than disparaging these differences – acknowledge and celebrate them. Learn from others rather than mandating or feigning homogeneity.
6/ Embrace humility. We would not call a mechanic that could not tell us what is under the hood of our car an expert. Human beings are still learning what is under their human hoods. Discoveries of the human brain alone in recent years have proved many things once understood as fact to be wholly false. Until we can construct a human being from scratch in a lab, let us remain humble and curious during the discovery process rather than all-knowing and self-righteous.
7/ Express gratitude. Instead of teaching children to always want more, teach them gratitude. Millions of human beings struggled for today’s children to enjoy the blessings they do – millions more still lack basics like food and water. Express gratitude, pay it forward.
8/ Heed your Human GPS. Every living thing has a God given inner GPS. Instead of teaching children merely to listen to the instructions of others, teach them also to listen to their human GPS – they are equipped with one for a reason.
9/ Applaud failure. Failure is a sign someone is trying something new. Trying new things is courageous. To applaud success and decry failure is to celebrate the cake and disparage the farmer.
10/ Love. Human beings thrive when loved, brains work better, health is enhanced. Let’s acknowledge the value of love and respect its power and supremacy on the list of human needs when teaching the three R’s.
Editor’s note: This blog is dedicated to the Parenting 2.0 humanitarians that graciously served as Thought Leaders for the No More Bullies panel at P20 Talks 2012: Devin Hughes, Dr. Donna Volpitta, Dr. Samantha Madhosingh, Dr. Deborah Gilboa, Catherine Mattice and Dione Becker. P20 Talks 2012 was the first professional conference to recognize Life Skills as distinct foundational skill sets teachable by third party educators.
The greatest burdens in life are not those we know, they are those we ignore, those we accept as “normal”. How tragic that human beings in any country need look no further than their children to find the greatest suffering.
Parenting 2.0’s International Backpack Free Friday’s public awareness campaign invites adults everywhere to stop and take a fresh look at children’s foundational health – their mandatory curriculum. Are they well-rested? Hydrated? Fed? What is their stress level? How heavy is their backpack?
An August 2008 WebMd.com article stated that the AAOC (American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgery) says a child shouldn’t carry a backpack that exceeds 15%-20% of their body weight.” It further shared that “A reasonable recommendation is a 10% cutoff weight for bodyweight. This will help reduce the risk of injury related to falls and relieve pain that comes from wearing giant backpacks loaded with school supplies.” With 10% as the more conservative target, here’s a breakdown by body weight for measuring how much your child should be lugging around in his backpack:
Child’s Weight Backpack Weight
50 pounds 5 pounds
75 pounds 7.5 pounds
100 pounds 10 pounds
125 pounds 12.5 pounds
150 pounds 15 pounds
Backpacks, however, are merely the tip of the iceburg – the problem we can see. During classtime – and yes permit me to acknowledge we are speaking about the “fortunate” children on the planet if they are in classrooms – backpacks are typically on the backs of chairs or in lockers. This is when children’s greater suffering continues – suffering that stems from being dehydrated, tired, emotionally stressed and hungry. While initially less obvious, all of these are well-documented to negatively impact every aspect of human functioning.
In my prior role as director of an academic tutoring club, I was shocked at the condition of children arriving for paid tutoring sessions – many parents took better care of their cars.
Where are our priorities? When will we focus attention on children’s readiness to learn rather than simply what they are learning?
Students who falter in school are more likely to embrace lives of crime and end up incarcerated. With incarceration considerably more expensive than school, isn’t it worth every adult taking a broad lens to means for improving children’s odds of educational success?
As the mother of two (now adult) daughters I know well the demands facing those on the front lines raising humanity. Be they parents or teachers, the fact is, they’re busy. Criticsm and complaints don’t inspire human beings to higher performance, they hinder it. Parenting 2.o is committed to lifting the burdens off children and schools by sharing the concept of Life Skills Report Cards year round and supporting adults performing the most important job on earth. Backpack Free Friday is the day we draw broader public attention to our activism and link arms to be the Change the World awaits. Thank you for joining us by sharing news of Backpack Free Friday forward.
Cheeks are flushed, heart is beating overtime, brain is helpless to regain the reigns, it’s official, I have a crush. Why is it we never see these things coming?
It started slow, as they often do. A simple hello. But I soon found myself noticing that his emails were the highlight of my day.
I love how he gives everyday people a voice. I love how he has created a dignified platform for every single human being to sing their song, shake their mojo, and speak up for the welfare of others. I love when he shares news of their victories – my heart and soul literally soar with affection for their triumphs.
Yesterday I came out and confessed my crush as Founder of Parenting 2.0 for Change.org and registered a petition calling on schools in the US and Canada to teach interpersonal communication skills. I am excited about the number of people Change.org can help us reach as we advocate proactive education of Life Skills.
The time is here for more people to acknowledge that if we can teach children math and music from third party educators we can most assuredly stop calling them names (Bullies, Victims, Drama Queens) – and punishing them – when they struggle on playgrounds absent formal instruction in interpersonal communication.
The time has come for us to take a broader stance as we advocate a more dignified curriculum for this foundational Life Skill. I am enormously grateful for the platform of Change.org to expand the advocacy of Parenting 2.0.
Today I invite you to join our chorus and experience the power of a loving crush once again – or perhaps for the very first time – in your life.
Sign the Teach Interpersonal Communication Skills to All Children petition and share with your peeps.
Hugs! Mama Marlaine