The Pain of Patience

We live in an era where there is very little that we have to wait for. With the advent of the smartphone we can summon any knowledge almost instantaneously. Lately, we don’t even need to pick up the phone we can just say “Hey Siri, what is 276 divided by 3?” or “Google, what’s the weather going to be like tomorrow?, or “Alexa, order me some more paper towels.” I can have almost anything I could ever think of needing or wanting delivered to my door in 2 days. Patience is becoming an increasingly untested and under-practiced virtue. More and more we are able to quickly eliminate the feeling of discomfort that comes from not knowing, not having, or not doing. As a culture, we are increasingly unable to tolerate uncertainty and the unsettled moment.

I wonder what the impact of this is on children. I wonder how our culture’s relatively new discomfort-avoidant habits, ones we are largely still unaware of, are subconsciously governing the way we design educational experiences and make decisions.

I am growing more confident each year that, as parents and teachers, we are inflicting unnecessary discomfort on our children because WE are feeling uncomfortable. We are demanding that children master skills sooner and faster when research shows that children’s brains are not developing any more quickly than they were twenty years ago. The lie we are telling ourselves? If we require them to show mastery sooner, then it is good for them. When we approach sticky and complex developmental milestones (walking, speaking, reading, numeracy, etc.) by trying to get it out of the way more quickly we run the risk of limiting the development of a growth-mindset and we rush childhood, at potentially great loss to the child.

We are afraid of the discomfort that comes with setting a boundary that a child is unhappy with…so we agree to let them keep their iPad in their bedroom or get them their own phone – giving them unmonitored access to images and words they might not have the skills to process. We are afraid of the discomfort that comes with choosing to slow down when the world around us is speeding up…so we sign them up for another activity – increasing exhaustion and the inability to enjoy and sit with “down time”. We are afraid of the discomfort we feel when a neighbor’s son or brother’s daughter is reading more advanced books than our same-age child…so we send them to a tutor after school even though they are still well within the developmental norms for progress and growth – increasing anxiety and a fixed mindset around learning.

There is nothing inherently wrong with screens, after-school activities, or tutoring. There are many wise, thoughtful reasons to include them in our lives and our children’s lives. I am urging us to examine our motives. We want to do right by our child, but many times we falsely equate that with ourselves feeling comfortable and confident. In doing so, in many instances, the discomfort of the child is increased as their brain and body are overloaded in our increasingly fast-paced and achievement driven world. And the additional truth is: we are not any more comfortable as parents or teachers.

What if we did things differently?

Parenting, and teaching – but more-so parenting, is incredibly vulnerable. Being a parent is public, and with that comes a fear of judgment and the desire to “parent” correctly so that your child will never needlessly struggle or suffer or hurt. This is an impossible standard. Life will always show up, and what shows up at some point will always include some measure of struggle and hurt. We can all agree on this, because we have all experienced it in our own lives. Not one of us has had a bump free road.

What if, instead of rushing to act and make the uncomfortable thing go away (whatever it is)….we paused…to breath and to wait? What if we, as adults, took on the hand-wringingly difficult and uncomfortable task of being patient as a child reveals to us who they are and how their brain works? What if, instead of giving lip-service to the belief that we “prepare the child for the path and not the path for the child” we actually let the child experience the path…and walked it with them (instead of trying to do it FOR them) when it gets hard and uncomfortable? What if we collectively acknowledge that patience is painful….and agreed to try and practice it so that someday our kids will have models of patience to look up to?

I think we would be giving our children the incredible gift of an un-rushed childhood. Patience might be painful….but I think it could also be culturally transformative.

Empathy vs. Sympathy

When somebody (of any age) shares meaningful events or emotions with you, how can you respond in a way that invites connection?

As we seek to help children become people of strong character…
As we listen to our students share pieces of their worlds with us…
As we interact daily with colleagues, families, and strangers…

…this short, beautifully animated lesson from Brene Brown on the “how” of empathy is powerful and transformative.

In Memoriam: Teaching & Living Whole-heartedly

The Monday after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was full of uncertainty in elementary classrooms across the country. As children in mine shared their feelings during morning meeting, it became clear that (unsurprisingly) they were feeling a tremendous range of emotions – some of which they surely had difficulty even putting a name to: Sadness, fear, and confusion topped the list. There were also students who voiced a shadow of guilt as they talked about the laughter and joy they’d experienced at birthday parties or other adventures over the weekend.

This led me to think a lot about, and eventually share with them, what I believe to be one of the best ways we can truly, daily, lastingly honor the memory of the 26 lives lost that day: and that is to live and love vulnerably, whole-heartedly, and authentically…with profound gratitude, connection, and joy.

I invite you to watch Brené Brown’s TED talk on the power of vulnerability and living whole-heartedly.

http://youtu.be/X4Qm9cGRub0

I pulled out some sound bytes that I intend to soak in more deeply in the coming days, weeks, and months:

  • The root of the word “courage” is the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage literally had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” 
  • Authenticity is the willingness to let go of who you think you should be to embrace who you are.
  • Vulnerability is not always comfortable or enjoyable but it is the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging, and love.
  • Children don’t need to be treated as, or made, perfect. They are imperfect, wired for struggle, but are incredibly worthy of love and belonging. We can give them belief in their worthiness.
  • Let yourselves be deeply seen, love and care with your whole hearts, practice gratitude, lean into joy, and believe that you are enough.

I truly believe that if we are willing to be authentic, vulnerable, open-to-struggle-and-failure, whole-hearted teachers and people that there is hope that the children we teach will be able to create a different world. In doing so, we become kinder and gentler with ourselves, and kinder and gentler with each other and children. May such teaching, living, and caring truly honor the memory of the children and educators lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School, as well as those who struggle on without them. May such profound belief in the worthiness of each child color their future with the pursuit of whole-hearted living as well. You are each, and we together, enough to make a difference.