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.

When was the last time you “wiped out”…and talked about it?

 

I can be incredibly clumsy. Anyone who is around me long enough knows I’m bound to run into something, fall off something, trip over something, or drop something. I’ve learned to embrace this aspect of myself and brush off the dust and ignore the bumps. I recently fell off my bike (ok…I fell off twice) – and while neither fall was serious or even stick-fallingwitnessed by many others….it was still horribly embarrassing. Getting back up on the bike still required a couple deep breaths and some inward self coaching. Other kinds of mistakes and failure (professional, relational, etc.) are no less comfortable, and they certainly aren’t welcome to the extent that I would willingly seek them out.

There are numerous articles citing abundant research about the growth mindset and the benefits gained when children make mistakes and experience failure. Research shows that when children are raised in reflective, supportive environments (at home and at school) they develop resilience and learn to view these challenges as learning opportunities. A recent article from Time called “Why Every Parent Should Suffer a Total Wipeout” goes a step farther by illuminating how little we may practice what we preach in a way that is transparent for children. Though the article is written with parents in mind, it’s not difficult to extend the message to teachers and any adults that interact with children in a nurturing capacity.

Do we recognize and appreciate the difficulty of what we are asking children to do when we urge them to persevere, try again, and keep their chin up? Do we empathize with how emotionally and physically exhausting it is to keep picking yourself up (literally or metaphorically) and throwing yourself into something again? Even if that thing is something you desperately love and want to improve at? How often do we truly try something that we have no idea how to do as adults? The author’s own experience of trying something new and finding it extremely difficult, watching others (even her own children) succeed more quickly around her, and needing to push through challenging emotions was a powerful opportunity for her to grow empathy for what we ask children to experience on a daily basis. Most, if not all, of their days involve encountering something completely new (a new math skill, book, idea, friend, game, conflict resolution skill, sport, and more). We ask them to try….and try again! We ask them to trust us that with trying and with time they will grow. We know this to be true…..but what if we also SHOWED them how it’s true for us as well?

When we’ve learned so much and spent so much of our lives trying, failing forward, and developing our skills, talents, and passions….it’s easier to stick to what we’re already good at and comfortable with than it is to try something completely new. But what is lost if our children and students never have a confident, articulate model to show them the healthy way through failure and challenge? What is the cost if we leave them with the false idea that perseverance is something only children need and failure when trying something new is only something kids encounter?

Believe in Possibilities, Get Happy, & Slow Down

There’s nothing like the impending New Year to send the web into a fierce storm of retrospectives and Top Ten (or any other number) lists reflecting on the highlights of 2014. So, I’m jumping on the bandwagon. Here are some (six, if you’re counting) of my favorite things worth noodling on as we hit the “refresh” button for another year.

2014: The Year in Ideas – An 8 minute recap of the most watched, most powerful, most moving TED talks of 2014. Prepare to have your curiosity piqued and your excitement ignited for the ideas ahead in 2015.

NASA Emails Working Wrench to Space Station – Wait, what?! This is just too cool. 3-D printers are being used to manufacture tools to suit the need-of-the-minute for astronauts troubleshooting in space. Need a tool? No problem – have that to you in an e-jiffy. Another reason to think carefully and innovatively about the future we are preparing our children/students for.

What Believing in the Possibilities can Do for Teaching & Learning – Meaningful, connected relationships and positive, authentic beliefs matter. Growth mindset. Growth mindset. Growth mindset.

TED Talk: The Surprising Science of Happiness – Whoa….a person can be happy when they don’t get what they want? Equally happy? EVEN MORE HAPPY?! Amazing stuff about the power you have to define and actualize your own happiness.

Women In Science Illustrations – An incredible look at one artist’s representation of key female figures in the history of science. Graphic design + inspiring women advancing the field of science = even more reasons to go forth into the new year ready to meet what comes.

Why We Need to Slow Down – Pause. Read it. Go slower.

How To Learn Absolutely Anything

In this article and video from Khan Academy‘s founder, Salman Khan, he explains why he will never tell his 5-year-old son he is smart. Khan’s article expounds on the research of Carol Dweck and others on the “growth mindset” – or the habits of mind that believe that intelligence is not predetermined. Rather, with effort, perseverance, and resilience you CAN learn new things. Khan writes,

I am more convinced than ever that mindsets towards learning could matter more than anything else we teach…The research shows that just being exposed to the research itself (­­for example, knowing that the brain grows most by getting questions wrong, not right­­) can begin to change a person’s mindset…when my son, or for that matter, anyone else asks me about learning, I only want them to know one thing. As long as they embrace struggle and mistakes, they can learn anything.

The trick to learning absolutely anything…is to think you can.