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.
Viewing close ups of the chins of competitors in the 2014 Skeleton event – a mere two inches above ground as they mimicked human bullets shooting head-first, 90 mph, down ice-paved half-tunnels – even die-hard Winter Olympics fans found themselves asking “Are they nuts?”
And guarantee if you strapped someone from the 18th century in the passenger seat as you drove 80 mph down a freeway, or flew 300 mph 30,000 feet above ground, they would ask the same about you.
Whether someone is deemed as heroic or crazy has little to do with their actions and everything to do with perspective. Perspective permits humans to pin medals on soldiers dropping bombs on villages and label mentally-ill children shooting up classrooms “monsters”. Perspective inspires care and compassion for people with cancer and justifies condemnation and incarceration for those suffering the disease of addiction.
Here’s the catch….unless someone has somehow figured out how to be the exception to all creation, she is always doing the best within her circumstances ….given her capacities and respective challenges.
Admittedly tough to remember when a gun is pointed at your head ….or upon learning a loved one is dead.
The veil that separates one human being from another is never more seductive than when it appears to protect, nor ever more blinding.
So where does such knowing leave us?
Exactly where we are, each of us learning to ride this skeleton of a body we have been given, a skeleton that – with only the rarest exception – is hard-wired to love self and others. Some of us winning Olympic medals, others struggling simply to make it through another day, but each of us appreciative of care, coaching, and encouragement along the way.
Every human being ever born arrives hard-wired with two assignments – thriving and communing optimally with others. Free will does not mean you choose these assignments, merely the amount of suffering you and others endure until you acquire better skills.
People who excel in this Mandatory Curriculum are our Curriculum Scholars. Nelson Mandela, who made the great transition at the age of 95 on Dec 5th, 2013, is one of humanity’s finest. Mandela not only thrived personally despite obstacles that would have left others disillusioned and embittered, he empowered millions of others to thrive also.
My eldest daughter, Ari Cover, emailed me a photo of her swearing in as a lawyer in the state of California on the same day Mandela passed. The reminder that new Curriculum Scholars begin their humble journeys daily comforted me as I contemplated the capacity for others to carry Mandela’s torch forward.
A few days later I underwent a highly recommended diagnostic procedure. Emotion imprints memory so if you’ve ever had a colonoscopy, no further description regarding the setting for what I will share next is necessary. If not, picture yourself in a hospital bed; needles and wires taped to multiple points on your skin, hospital “blues” covering about as much of your backside as a baby’s bib, and dozens of glowing people bustling about with smiling faces – because, after all, they engage in this extreme level of human care dozens of times daily.
In discussing prior hospital visits with one luminous nurse, Jenna, she shared with me that she was the mother of twins. Without my prompting, she added that one of her sons had a higher than average aptitude for reading, the other below average. Her anxiety about this single skill being purported to determine her sons’ adult success – understandable given the US constructs prisons based on third grade reading levels – grated against her higher intelligence.
I applauded her intuition and reassured her that, “Human beings Mandatory Curriculum – more important than reading – is feeling competent among and engaged with peers. Prioritizing this, throughout every educational process independent individual learning curves, delivers success.” Jenna’s eyes sparkled with unintended tears and she replied, with a renewed fire burning in her voice, “I would love to get a group of people together to discuss this.”
Not only was Jenna wholly unaware of my day job as Founder of Parenting 2.0 – supporting more than 3500 members in over 65 countries doing precisely that daily – she was also unaware of my feeling that I was flailing in my role as torch bearer.
For our second annual professional conference, P20 Talks 2013, over 100 Ambassadors were invited to organize regional gatherings. I’d signed on to host one in my new city of Corvallis, Oregon. Yet here it was mid-December and – thanks to the combination of attending other’s events, record freezing regional temps, icy roads and snow – I’d yet to do so.
I often coach others in the importance of keeping the faith even when all odds seem against you. “Human beings are not the exception to all creation”, I remind them, “it is a benevolent universe and it will support you in surprising ways when you step out in faith and serve others.” Indeed it does. Indeed it does.
Spirit is one of the foundational items on the Life Skills Report Card, located under the top category of Personal Care. Popular while it is to equate the term spirit with religion or cheerleading – I included it on the Life Skills Report Card to represent energy. When people’s energy levels are low we describe them as “dispirited”, when they are high we call them” inspired”.
Factor in the ways human health and happiness improves when people live highly inspired lives and it is easy to agree that human beings are hard-wired to be inspired. As with other foundational Life Skills, like interpersonal communication and safety, free will does not mean we get to choose the class – merely the amount of misery we endure until we improve our competency levels.
So how do we empower children with tools for excelling in this critical life skill arena of spirit? What skills did you learn? Who were your teachers? Who are they today?
“We’ve got spirit yes we do, we’ve got spirit how bout you?”
During my “oh so cool” high school years, chanting this popular cheerleading phrase held about as much attraction for me as singing nursery rhymes. As one of five sisters growing up in the era of feminism, I simply did not get the double standard of all-girl cheer squads cheering for all-boy athletic teams. Then God, in all her wisdom, gave me two daughters – one became a competitive gymnast and Captain for her high school cheer squad. The T-shirt she wore read:
“Athletes lift weights, cheerleaders lift athletes.”
Me of little faith. The mistake I made in high school was thinking female cheerleaders had the short end of the stick in the equation. Today, I know that encouraging others to persevere during times of struggle is even more personally inspiring than having others encourage me.
Today, I not only applaud cheerleaders singing their spirit song, I also possess deeper appreciation for the wisdom of my childhood nursery rhymes and sing them too.
“Love is like a magic penny, hold it fast and you won’t have any. Spend it and you’ll have so many, they’ll roll all over the floor.”
If you were fortunate to learn to read as a child, The Emperor’s New Clothes is likely one story you remember. Hans Christian Andersen’s 1800’s adaptation tells of a vain King who falls prey to swindlers that create a robe they describe as “invisible to stupid and incompetent people.” Pride and fear prevent the King and other adults from acknowledging that the fabric – in fact – does not exist. Only when His Royal Highness marches in a public procession, does a small child declare “He isn’t wearing anything.”
Suffice to say, a fairy tale about an Emperor strutting around naked has a way of sticking in a kid’s memory. The elements of a fearful populace and an arrogant ruler are also tragically accurately descriptive of governing bodies not simply past but also present.
What shocks me most today, as swaddled, dead babies blanket hospital floors in Syria, terrorists shoot shoppers at a Nairobi mall, and the United States ticks off Cinderella hours to a governmental shut down, is the blind eye human beings around the planet continue to turn to reality.
You cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that created it.
Conflict resolution is the one skill every person needs throughout their lives – more times than they will dress themselves.
So how do we prepare children and teens to excel in this critical arena?
Despite ample evidence confirming that this educational method – consistently cited as the high bar of performance in parenting – perpetuates systemic problems rather than alleviates them, we turn a blind eye to the facts, parade in the robes of vanity, and sell the – so porous as to be wholly vacuous – “fabric of society” to generation upon generation.
The good news, as the voice of the child in The Emperor’s Clothes so beautifully illuminates, is we do not need to be either the most powerful or the most numerous to effect change. We simply need to be courageous and state the truth publicly and plainly. Doing so is the commitment of Parenting 2.0.
Editor’s Note: This blog is dedicated to the more than 100 Global Presence Ambassadors promoting a new paradigm for Life Skills Education by hosting regional gatherings around the planet for P20 Talks 2013.
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.
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, the word family in the US conjured up a visual of mom, dad and two and a half biological children. Yes the half was always a bit challenging – and good preparation for the definition of “family” today. Ask any person on the street to describe their “family” and you will get a myriad of additional responses: “single parent homes,” “step parents and step children”, “adopted children,” “foster children,” and “same gender parents.”
As complexity increases so too do the challenges. When not properly respected and proactively addressed, family problems become societal problems. No one lives in isolation. If a neighbor’s child struggles and ends up committing a crime, your taxes will be utilized to prosecute that child. Every adult – whether a parent or not – has a role in raising humanity.
Consequently, families today are attracting heightened press and societal attention. Bright lights do not only reveal the problems you seek to find, they expose issues long hidden. “Do as your parents did unto you” and “Children learn what they live” are now revealed as the impossibly, impoverished educational paradigms they have been for decades. Institutions that previously processed human beings like so many crayons in a box – shunning those whose uniqueness challenged their constructs – are cracking. Child abuse, molestation, poverty, human trafficking and starvation, can no longer be written off as “someone else’s problem”.
Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming. Helen Keller
All of this brings us to the one constant. Regardless ever changing cultural norms and composition, families are universal and remain a primary classroom for children. Their success around the planet is critical to all of us. So thank goodness for the passionate ones, the courageous, the can-do, the caring – people like Rhonda Sciortino. Rhonda endured severe poverty and physical abuse as a child and today teaches others to “Succeed because of what you’ve been through.”
As Rhonda and others who have travelled the journey over centuries have learned – and modern work in neuroscience and trauma now confirm – far from being “forever damaged” human beings are only as limited as their educators. Life skills benefit from the same things as academics: wisdom of third party instructors optimistic of children’s success, practice over years, and appreciation that failure is an essential part of any learning process. Children who take the harder classes in the mandatory curriculum of surviving and communing with others, and have exceptional teachers, end up becoming humanity’s curriculum scholars.
Editor’s Note: This blog is dedicated to the Parenting 2.0 humanitarians that volunteered to serve as Thought Leaders for the Modern Family Panel at P20 Talks 2012: Rhonda Sciortino, Dr. Pilar Placone, Dr. Jeannine Zoppi, Jeff Everage and Diana Sterling. P20 Talks made history by gathering professionals across multiple professional fields and continents to illuminate Life Skills as distinct, foundational skill sets critical to thriving and teachable by third party educators.
What was the last thing that troubled you? Was it a disagreement with a colleague or a loved one – a child perhaps? Where did you learn communication skills? Who were your teachers? You were taught reading and history in school but were you also taught interpersonal communication skills? Did you ever contemplate your role in making history?
Rest assured you are. Every exchange with fellow human beings – whether disagreeing with someone at the office, disciplining your child or fighting with your spouse – contributes in thousands of ways to the larger story of humanity. Central to every interaction – business or personal – is communication.
How do people learn this critical Life Skill? From communication experts? Conflict resolution classes? Not usually. They learn from role modeling.
Why is it human beings enthusiastically embrace quality education from third party educators for everything from soccer to science, yet accept children simply learning what they live when it comes to interpersonal communication? What price does humanity pay for its failure to better appreciate this critical Life Skill?
Adults do, of course, routinely prepare millions of people to respond to crises in the communications arena – doctors, lawyers, law enforcement, military. Isn’t this about as logical as telling people to jump in the cockpit of 747’s absent quality instruction then cleaning up crash sites?
When couples struggle in relationships they are encouraged to attend “therapy.” Therapy comes from the word “remedial” meaning “to restore”. If you break a leg you attend therapy to restore your motor abilities. If you suffer a stroke, you attend therapy to restore cognitive abilities.
What couple attending therapy to learn quality communication skills ever enjoyed what anyone would define as highly competent ones? They are not restoring anything, they are learning it for the very first time. Shame is a lousy ingredient in any educational process.
If we can construct rockets that deliver people to the moon, might we also construct more dynamic means for empowering every individual with the skills necessary for success in the mandatory curriculum of communing with others?
How might the world change if instead of having “child care centers “ around the planet we respected these same facilities as Communication 101 Centers? How might school children blossom when we affirm for them the many ways people communicate – verbal and non-verbal – and their capacity to expand upon parents’ teachings? How might divorce rates decrease when these same children become adults and create their own families?
Options for change are as vast as the universe when we take the first small step of acknowledging the centrality of communication in every avenue of human interaction and advocate a more proactive educational process. Doing so will constitute one giant leap for mankind.
Editor’s Note: In 2012, Parenting 2.0 members made history by gathering professionals across multiple disciplines and continents for P20 Talks. P20 Talks was the first professional conference to recognize Life Skills as distinct, critical skill sets teachable by third party educators. Thought Leaders for P20 Talks 2012 Communication 101 panel included: Dr. Rosina McAlpine, Dr. Raelynn Maloney, Dr. Yvonne Sum, Melissa Pazen, Mark Romero, and Susie Walton.
Music is much like humor, that which is heavenly to one individual can be tortuous to another. Bob Dylan was popular when I was young. I, however, pretty much classified his music as “Songs by which to hang oneself.” Then one weekend I took a road trip in a VW van from Seattle, Washington to Calgary, Alberta for a family wedding. The only radio station we could get in those (pre-Wi Fi in the palm of your hands) days was airing a weekend long Dylan tribute. My first thought was “Who needs a noose, the trip alone will kill me.”
Me of little faith. By the end of the fifteen hour drive I’d broken through whatever boundaries of space and time divide the intolerable from the divine and was a very much still alive Dylan fan. Fast forward thirty years and I hear Leonard Cohen singing “Anthem” for the first time. Cohen’s (Darth Vader mimics Johnny Cash) delivery makes Dylan sound like Mary Poppins. Fortunately, I was attuned to finding symphonies where I’d previously prayed for silence.
“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
I recalled Cohen’s prophetic verse this morning during a conference call with Thought Leaders for our P20 Talks August 2012 Conference. https://www.parenting2pt0.org One lovely woman, Deborah McNellis, was describing how children are like the paper snowflakes they create – each unique yet all of them equal – and the importance of seeing wholeness through the holes. Want though parents do for their children to have happy, peaceful, productive lives, some of their most valuable life experiences will come from surviving the seemingly intolerable – when paper thin perceptions of self give way to awareness of that which is infinite and glorious. So where does all of this leave those of us nurturing a more holistic and dynamic narrative for raising humanity? Embracing humility.
Every day, millions of children go to school tired, dehydrated, and hungry simply because parents and other primary care givers are unaware of the problems that stem from failing to prioritize children’s foundational care. This compromises every aspect of students’ performance and places very real burdens on children and schools. On Friday May 4th, 2012 P20 is asking adults everywhere to stand up for children’s foundational health by leaving back packs at home, sharing the concept of The Life Skills Report Card, and discussing consequences of too little sleep, water and exercise. Please help us spread the word by sharing our press release with Facebook friends, schools, and community news reporters. https://www.parenting2pt0.org/media/ Twitter fans please include #P20BPFF when tweeting so we can thank you! Hugs!