Encouraging Change and Adaptability in Children

Change can be exciting. It can be terrifying as well, and depending on your personality, your reaction to even hearing the word ‘change’ can cause different physical responses. Captain Picard said, “There is a way out of every box, a solution to every puzzle; it’s just a matter of finding it.” That ability to create a solution to a challenge is great, but in order to even think of the solution sometimes, though, we need to be willing to accept change, either in ourselves or in our situation. How can we better prepare our children to be able to adapt to change and prepare themselves for survival so that they even look for the ways out of the box or the window where there isn’t a door?

Teaching children that change is not always fearful or scary can be challenging depending on our own personalities and their natural inclinations. But, I feel like it is a valuable trait to encourage. Life’s constant tumult can become less terrifying if we know that we are adaptable and can survive despite being thrown off-course.

There are several books that can ease transitions like moving, adding a new family member, experiencing death, etc. These are great ways for little ones to become exposed to change especially early in life when they don’t have the vocabulary to express what they’re feeling or even understand what they’re feeling in many ways. By having the concept of change as a regular theme in books or other entertainment, change itself can be normalized as a part of life even if the changes being discussed do not actually take place in the child’s life. We don’t have to move, for example, to enjoy The Berenstain Bears: Moving Day.

Suggested Books:

The Berenstain Bears Moving DayThe Berenstain Bears’ Moving Day by Stan & Jan Berenstain – 5 stars

A classic. A little bear and his parents move from one house and town to another. Sister Bears hasn’t been born yet, so if kids know about her, they will almost certainly ask where she is. This is a great book for exploring the pros and cons of moving, pointing out how scared Brother Bear was in many ways, but how there were also opportunities.  Not everything was perfect – he did leave some friends behind – but there can be positive aspects even in such a big transition.

The Noisy Paint Box

 

The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock – 5 stars

A boy experiences change in his own life by discovering a ‘noisy’ paint box – he hears colors as he paints. The change that he effects on the world because of his painting style and influence is incredible

 

A Chair for My MotherA Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams – 5 stars

A family’s possessions are lost in a fire, and the girl, mother, and grandmother save pennies and spare money until they’re able to afford a new chair. The beauty of such a desire and goal tugs on the emotional heartstrings in ways that ‘another’ princess book just cannot do. This book explores kindness, empathy, and adapting to change.

A color of his ownA Color of His Own by Leo Lionni – stars

A little chameleon changes constantly throughout the book trying to find a place to belong. The search for belonging also invites discussion with little ones about what it means to belong, to even change how we behave depending on who we’re around or where we are (home v. school, with friends v. with grandparents). These are little, daily changes that are lovely to explore.

Press Here

Press Here by Herve Tullet – 5 stars

There are no life changes noted in this book, but the book gives little readers control over what happens next. Having power in a situation where things are changing as you read through the plot is a valuable experience. If we are always powerless, we will not try to enact change. If we have even small bits of power and see the effects of what we can do, we may grow even stronger.

 

Sources & Further Reading

“Jean-Luc Picard.” Wikiquotes. 12 April 2017.

“Liberal vs. Conservative: a neuroscientific analysis”

Marginal Gains in Parenting (aka small changes for big wins)

I know you’re psyched about the prospect of marginal gains in the context of parenting, so let’s jump into it! Oh wait, you may not know what marginal gains are unless you work in certain sectors or unless you listen to Freakonomics podcasts.  In that case…

Marginal gains are little changes that can lead to big rewards. Additional definition information is here.

cyclistDave Braisford worked with the British cycling team, and by focusing on marginal gains in a variety of ways for the team, he led the team to win the Tour de France… several times. Simple things to improve health included educating team members on how to properly wash hands and having rooms cleaned and disinfected ahead of cyclists arriving to stay the night. Improvements on the actual racing included focusing on body position while riding. If you’d like to learn more about the changes he made, I highly recommend the Freakonomics podcast that tells the story of what he did and why.

The point is that these weren’t major changes, but they all added up. Each one was measurable in some way, and while no single item likely was the difference in winning or not winning the competition, the total helped to create a powerful, champion team.

After listening to the podcast, I’ve been thinking about where I may be able to make marginal gains in my own life, especially for parenting and maintaining a work/life balance that lets me end the day without being totally wiped out. (Hey, it’s a nice thought at least.)

Opportunities for Marginal Wins in Parenting

Here are some of the areas where I thought or heard about tactics to reduce stress, time, or energy and improve the relationship between child/parent:

Morning routine

It can be difficult getting kids up and going in the morning so that you don’t start the day feeling behind. While this isn’t a solution that I’ve personally tried, I have heard of friends who tried having kids sleep in the clothes that they were going to wear the next morning. That was one less task to address in the morning and made it easier to get out the door. What else could be streamlined? The breakfast routine could be moved to the car by having a cereal bar instead of cereal. Parents could not put on makeup. If I’m going to be seen by coworkers, I’m putting on makeup. I feel better with it in a professional setting. But, I have moved showers and cleaning up to the night before instead of in the morning to reduce time variations in how long it takes to wake up and get out the door.

teddy bear, medicine, thermometerVitamins and medicine

Fighting because your child has to take medicine that doesn’t taste good? Consider ways to improve the taste without having to buy something totally different (though buying a different flavor cough medicine should be cheap enough that that’s a reasonable thing to consider if that’s your problem). Many pharmacies can flavor liquid medicines for you if you ask for it. My daughter used to take a liquid multivitamin (since New Jersey doesn’t put fluoride in all the water), so the pharmacy offered to flavor it with grape and other options. Another option is to add something that won’t interfere with the performance of the drug. I could add some honey or natural cough syrup to some spoonfuls that I would give to my daughter since the active ingredients weren’t harmed by being combined. Check with your doctor if you’re concerned about this. But, finding something that tastes good or at least okay greatly reduces fighting during what may be a daily ritual of taking vitamins. Arguing with a sick child who needs medicine but hates the flavor is also a drain on the parent and child in what’s already a stressful, tiring situation.

Commuting time

Being in the car or other form of transportation is necessary. Unless you’re lucky enough to walk your children a block to school, you’re likely transporting them on a regular basis. Are they staring out the window at nothing while in the car? Are you talking with them? Conversations are great to have, but we can’t constantly be ‘on’ in that way for kids. Either there’s a lot of traffic so we have to focus on just driving safely, the car trip is too long for that to be a reasonable option, or we need our own personal time to think for a few minutes. Instead of just leaving kids hanging with no stimulation, educational games are a good choice. My daughter has a Leapfrog tablet that lets her practice writing her letters, forming words, caring for sick animals (an Octonauts game), and considering other people’s feelings. These are all skills that she can practice in an entertaining way that I can’t do with her while I’m driving her.

Bedtime

I don’t want to spend three hours trying to get a child to sleep. That’s uncomfortable for everyone involved. At a certain point, I don’t care if the child wants to sleep on the ceiling. If the child is comfortable, happy, goes to sleep well in that position/area, and nothing is causing physical, emotional, etc harm, that’s fine. My daughter wants to sleep with me several nights in a row, but she goes to sleep very easily there versus hours awake elsewhere, fine, just go to sleep. Saves me from being worn out at the end of the day.

Thinking

We can change how we think ourselves and present the world to our children. “Children are often taught to think that mistakes are bad. They get red lines in their books when they mess up. This is why they fear to put their hands up in class and struggle to take risks. But in an experiment where children were taught to think of weaknesses not as embarrassing, but as opportunities to learn, they became more inquisitive and resilient. They also performed better.”  Who wouldn’t want to give our kids a leg up in bettering themselves?

 

I need to think through more ways to have marginal gains in a variety of areas of my life,  from the mundane like commuting to changing my mental state. I’d be interested in any suggestions you may have. Small changes. Big wins. Better life.

 

“Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practiced every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day. It is the accumulative weight of our disciplines and our judgments that leads us to either fortune or failure.” — Jim Rohn

 

Resources and Further Reading

 

Being My Greatest: Taking the Positive Path Instead of the Negative

Wanting to know what “could have” been is such a common desire that we see it as a theme in movies, TV shows, books, and more. If we knew that Choice A would get us the girl, the riches, and happiness, we’d love to be able to peer in into the crystal ball to see that and not pursue Choice B.

Robert Frost captured the idea in his famous poem “The Road Not Taken.”  Like many of his poems, it’s very easy to read, but in a way, it’s too easy to read it and think you’ve understood it. his language is simple, but the ideas under it can be very complex. I encountered the poem for the first time when I was in middle school, and it was only after being assigned to write a paper on it that I dissected it enough to note that Frost never said that he made the right choice or that he was happy about his choice; he just says that his choice “has made all the difference.” It could be a bad difference or a good difference, but Frost isn’t clear in a way that I’ve come to realize is very Frost.

The choices we make on a daily basis obviously affect us and where our lives will take us. But, sometimes things just happen to us, too. Regardless of why things may not turn out well, though, there seems to be a reanalysis of what happiness is, what is acceptable at X age in our lives, and more. For example, as I’m going through great life transitions, I’ve set eyes on being happy in 2-5 years in a very different way than I would have a few years ago. What will make me happy and how I can achieve that happiness will be very different, and it requires a different way of thinking and even what I find acceptable in some ways from what I would have thought a few years ago, but we are adaptable creatures. Our choices craft us and our lives. They point us in a direction, and that direction may not be “the best”.

In fact, if we could see all of the possible ways our lives could have taken, our current situation is almost certainly not the most optimal outcome. But, it’s the outcome that we currently know.

And, so, it is the best that we can possibly have because it’s the only one we have. As Sia says in “The Greatest,” “I’m free to be the greatest, I’m alive”. We are free to be our best selves in the here and now because it’s all we have. We can be the best versions of ourselves.

When I wake up on Mother’s Day, a day that my ex-husband is almost certainly going to try to destroy like he did a daycare event this past week relating to it, I have the choice of being my best self, which means being a great mommy to my daughter, focusing on the positive and love in my life, rather than sinking to his level of animosity and negativity. I will be the greatest me. That may not end up being much in the grand scheme of humanity, but it is the best I have to offer myself, my daughter, and the world, and this is the path diverged in a crazy world that I can choose to take.

Children see the way we respond to challenges and how we choose our paths. As much as I want my daughter to be smart, I also want her to be independent and strong. I want her to analyze the choices before her and make the best decision she can with the information before her. So, I must do the same and set a good example that hopefully she will copy. For her, I will be strong as I am attacked. I will survive despite attempts to destroy me.

What We’ve Been Reading: Infusing the Everyday with Fantasy and Imagination

All of these books encourage kids to use their imaginations and to think about their worlds in a different way, combining fantasy elements with items they encounter in reality.

Encourage children to think and wonder by asking questions to deepen the reading experience, and follow up on the concepts and ideas later when the child is playing. For example, if you read Dragons Love Tacos, talk about dragons at dinner or encourage the child to be a dragon and eat pretend spicy tacos. What happens if you take this action, or what would happen if the character in the book had done this instead?

And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss 5 stars

It feels strange to “rate” anything by Dr. Seuss since so many are classics. This is a good book for a child around 3 or 4 learning to imagine. Point out the differences between each page and how the “story” of what the narrator imagines changes. A child a bit further along, maybe 4 or 5, may be able to have a discussion with you as well about why the narrator chose not to go with any of those stories but instead with the boring truthful story.

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin – 5 stars

Fantastic for getting my daughter to engage with imagination. She understands salsa and tacos since she eats them. Combining these normal items with the fantastical creature of dragons was a sort of mental “ah-ha!” moment that encouraged her to combine other mundane and fantasy items in her imaginative play. You’ll never be able to find a book that pleases everyone, but this is certainly worth trying for most kids.

 

Ladybug Girl Loves by David Soman and Jacky Davis – 4 stars

With a simple plot, the book highlights the things that the little girl loves to do, like swinging and playing superheroes with her friends. These are all very simple concepts, but the presentation seems to encourage children to be themselves and enjoy childhood. Absolutely, go dress-up like a ladybug and get on the swing! Be in your costume and just play with your dog in the backyard! That’s awesome, and if you want to do it, child, you absolutely should; there is no shame in being a child, using your imagination, or doing what you want because it makes you happy and isn’t harming anyone else.

The Berenstain Bears: When I Grow up by Mike Berenstain – 3 stars

By no means is this a bad book, but I gave it 3 stars instead of higher because it’s so simple that except for being in the Berenstain Bears series, it could be easily missed in the pile of other books that introduce kids to jobs and what adults can do for a living. Brother and Sister Bear learn about a lot of different kinds of jobs that they can have, and it’s useful to pause on pages to look at the various jobs being described. I liked that the illustrations seemed aware of gender issues and had female representation in some jobs that might be considered historically male-dominated and male representation in some jobs historically female-dominated.

Curious George Goes to the Hospital by Margaret H. A. Rey – 5 stars

Kids understand going to the doctor even if they’ve never been to a hospital, so this is a way for them to understand what may happen in a hospital as well as to encourage their imaginations. George gets into all sorts of trouble, but he gets into fun trouble oftentimes, even making a little girl in the hospital laugh who had been so sad. What other things could George do? What sorts of things would you, the reading child, like to explore in a hospital if you could? What else could we do that may make us sick enough that we may have to go to the hospital (George swallowed a puzzle piece)? These are easy questions to extent just reading the book into a deeper conversation as you’re reading together.

Seeds Planted in Dark Times & Inspiration from J. K. Rowling

Easter has just passed us, and the holiday is often associated with a renewal of spirit and earth as spring comes in and plants begin to bloom. There is certainly celebration this time of year, but I appreciated the sobering notes of a minister I heard speak this past week. He referenced the hard times that we have to go through, literally and metaphorically, in order to come to this time of rejuvenation.

plant sprouting, seeds growing from the dark, renewalThe seeds that blossom so beautifully in the spring are planted in the dark of winter when all may seem bleak and the seed itself but a dead, dull thing.

The seeds of change and life in our own twisted paths are planted when all may seem dark in our lives. I love that. Having been going through a rough time recently, with a divorce and related issues creating great diversity on a daily basis, I found this inspiring, as well as the following excerpt from J. K. Rowling’s commencement speech at Harvard’s 2008 graduation ceremony quite inspiring:

“I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

Like Rowling, I have my daughter. While things may seem bleak, I am alive, and I have my daughter. She cannot, will not, be taken away from me. Every day, if I cannot find the will to fight for myself, I can always find the drive to endure for her. If we cannot find the energy to rise up for ourselves, seek someone, something other than yourself to get out of bed in the morning. I keep a picture of my daughter near me through the day so that I can look on her face when I think I’ve hit my limit. Looking at her face, I seem to tap a well of strength that seems bottomless and strong, and I keep swinging.

Meditation

What do I have this moment?

I am breathing. My daughter is alive and thriving. We are intact physically, even if we stumble emotionally and spiritually through the day.

What do I need by the end of the day?

To get through the day.

What do I want by the end of the day?

A step forward or at least not a step back. It can be a small step, sending a job application out or having paid all the paid the bills on time. I want a few moments of meditative peace to myself so that the next morning might find me mentally and spiritually more healthy for attending to my daughter and to myself. Even if today does result in a step back, I want to recognize that it does not undo my progress. Tomorrow is another opportunity for moving forward again.

Today I plant the seeds for a future where I can grow stronger and new branches as an individual, as a mother, and as a participant in the variety of relationships that I cultivate with wonderful individuals around me.

 

For Further Reading

If you are interested in reading the transcript or seeing the video of Rowling’s commencement speech, she gives a humorous, serious, heartbreaking, powerful speech about her own personal renewal and the fierceness she had to cling to.

Transcript of her speech

Video (~20 minutes):