Posted in connections, mental health, mindset, parenting, thoughtfulness

Don’t be that uncle

I have a student who has been playing an instrument for a week.

He came to class completely disheartened and said, “My uncle said I’m never going to be able to play this.”

Don’t be that uncle.

Of course the kid is struggling and sounds terrible right now. He’s been playing for a week. Instruments are hard.

Build them up instead of putting them down.

(And deal with whatever baggage you’re carrying that makes putting down your automatic response.)

Posted in audience participation, ebb & flow, know better do better, marriage, mental health, mindset, parenting, thoughtfulness

Can you go a month without complaining?

A while back, I read a few articles about complaining and how it rewires your brain. Not in a good way.

Also a while back, I used to run 30-day challenges on Facebook.

Two of those challenges have been “life-changing” as per feedback from people in the group.

One was no added sugars (which we ended up doing for 45 days, because we started mid-month) and the other was no complaining.

The no complaining challenge was inspired by a meme challenging the reader to go 24 hours without complaining and “see how your life changes.”

Why not expand 24 hours into a month?

It made us all aware of how much we complain. Several people over the course of the month said it significantly improved their marriages, whether because they had a habit of complaining to or about their spouses.

We had interesting conversations about the differences between talking about negative things and complaining. (How would you distinguish between the two?)

I wrote a bit about my experience at the mid-month mark:

Talking about my no-complaining challenge last night, I was asked if I genuinely feel good, or if I’m just stuffing all the bad stuff. Thought about it, and 95% of the time, I genuinely feel good. The rest of the time, the feeling good does come later. I don’t, after two weeks, feel like I’m accumulating crappiness and am at some point going to explode.

I was thinking about this more, and I think it’s a simple shift in what gets attention. (Simple does not necessarily equal easy, though it’s not been as difficult as I expected. Especially because it positively reinforces itself constantly.)

For example, yesterday, I felt like crap. I’ve been fighting off a cold, and the cold was slowly starting to win. I was slightly stuffy and had absolutely no energy. Something I’d eaten or drunk made my stomach hurt every time I ate or drank (severely bloated), and I just felt miserable.

Any time prior to these two weeks, yesterday, I would have complained to people about not feeling well. I would have complained to myself about not feeling well. Instead, I just did what I needed to do and just didn’t talk about how my body felt. (Not lying, just not bringing it up.)

And you know what? I had a good day. It wasn’t a great day—I felt like crap—but it was definitely a good day. And I don’t think it would have been if I’d been complain-y all day. (I did slip twice, but both short-lived.)

Today? I feel better. Energy is back. Most congestion is gone. Tummy feels better (and I don’t look like I swallowed a balloon).

Happy Friday, everyone!

Recently, I’ve made this adjustment again. Not avoiding complaining altogether, necessarily, but minimizing.

I don’t run the 30-day challenges any more, but I am going to take this opportunity to challenge you to eliminate complaining today. And tomorrow. Maybe the whole weekend? Then see how long you can go.

See what differences you notice.

Report back.

Posted in connections, mental health, thoughtfulness

Oh Captain, My Captain

Yesterday was the 5th anniversary of Robin Williams’ death.

I remember the date because I wrote something about it on Facebook. (I’m not great any more at remembering dates, and I’m not sure this one would have stuck that specifically regardless.)

I’m not much of a movies or TV person, but he was phenomenal. Dead Poets Society remains my favorite movie (though I haven’t seen it in a while…).

Below were my thoughts that day, slightly edited because a couple of spots needed it.

 

Depression and sadness aren’t the same thing. We often say we’re depressed when we’re just really sad, and that muddles the issue.

“I’m here if you need me” doesn’t help.
“Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help” doesn’t help.

Setting aside your own discomfort, using your knowledge that you can’t “fix” it but can still be supportive, showing up and being a friend—those are things that might help. (It occurs to me that this is true in a cancer diagnosis as well, but that is a tangent I’m not going to take right now.)

The answers might be obvious to you. The path might seem clear to you. (If depression is not something you’ve experienced, their thought process might be maddening.) To the person mired in depression, the answers and the path are not clear or obvious—or perhaps they are and they’re just not the same vision—and you can’t change that, either.

What can you do? You can stick around until they figure it out. It’s like addictions in that way—only the person living it can fix it, but the people around them can help or hurt. It might not be obvious that you’re being helpful. Do it anyway.

O Captain, My Captain. My heart aches for the pain you’ve endured. I hope you’ve found the peace you sought.

Posted in education, know better do better, mental health, mindset, motivation, parenting, thoughtfulness

Standards and accountability and homework

One in three children in the US can’t read at grade level.

For many people, that means that schools aren’t doing their jobs and we need more accountability and more testing.

What if we redefined “at grade level”?

I got into this a bit the other day, but we have completely redefined “at grade level” since I was a kid.

My experience was different (I went to Catholic school for kindergarten), but my sister, two years younger, went to the public school where I went beginning in first grade.

She went to kindergarten for half days. In kindergarten, they learned the alphabet. I remember the rhyme for A. (I don’t know why I know that one at all, or why I don’t also know any others…)

A, A for Alligator Al

Apples, ants, and Africa

Acrobats and animals

A, A for Alligator Al

(I looked for it online but couldn’t find it. Is there something the internet can’t provide?!)

Reading was something we started in first grade. Kindergarten was for basics. (Kindergarten was also not for four-year-olds.)

There’s quite a bit of research that informs us that learning to read young isn’t useful. We can wait until 7 or 8 years old before starting, and the long-term result is better, because brains are more developed and are ready.

(This is not to say that there aren’t exceptions. Occasionally, kids read at 3 or 4 years old because they just pick it up or otherwise show readiness. But we shouldn’t base national standards on the outliers.)

It seems that we need to feel like we’re doing something instead of actually doing what’s best. Small kids need to play. They learn through play. Gross and fine motor skills are important.

What good is research if we’re going to ignore the results anyway?

Speaking of research…

Homework in elementary school isn’t useful.

Part of the homework problem right now ties right back in to the standards. Teachers are teaching content that isn’t appropriate for their kids (because they’re required to), so the kids need homework for reinforcement. Because it’s too hard. And because there’s too much of it.

So.

Let’s dial back the standards to something developmentally-appropriate.

Before we even do that, let’s have a conversation about what school is for. What’s the goal? What do we want kids to be able to do when they leave the system? Then: what are ways we can achieve that? (Separate post on that another day.)

We haven’t overhauled the system in a long time, and the system is in need of an overhaul.

Let’s dial back the standards to be developmentally appropriate.

In that upheaval, kids are more likely to learn to read when they’re ready. Which means more kids will be literate. And also that reading won’t have such negative emotions connected to it for so many people. Which means overall literacy will be higher. More people will read for fun and will be able to read and understand contracts and the like. And the tide rises.

I can’t tell you how many people have mentioned in casual conversation that they’re not good at [reading/writing/math]. That’s because of how it’s structured in school. And because they have negative emotions connected to learning it.

It’s not the schools’ fault. Legislation dictates what be taught at what level. In Arizona (and probably many or most other states), we have mandates on how many minutes per week be spent on the core subject areas, and the state standards outline all of the content knowledge and skills that need to be taught in that time.

(It’s a lot. It’s too much.)

We need people to stand up against the testing movement (which is lining some folks’ pockets while stressing our kids and teachers and stealing time and money from schools). We need people to look at the research and say, “Hey! I want our schools to do what’s best for kids. And this isn’t it!”

Teachers have been saying it for a long time, but our voices have been discounted. It needs to come from parents, from community members, from businesses.

We can do better.

Posted in cancer, education, mental health, mindset

Aggression

In my masters program, I had a class on group counseling. It was one of the most interesting classes I’ve ever taken.

A tiny slice that I remember: in talking about group therapy, you can put depressed people together and they don’t amplify each other’s depression. You can put anxious people together, and they don’t amplify each other’s anxiety. But if you put aggressive people together, they amplify each other’s aggression.

This is churning through my brain lately on several levels.

Micro:

We have some aggressive kids at school. If there are, for example, five aggressive kids in 4th grade and there are three fourth grade homerooms, what do we do? We can’t separate them all. If these types of kids (people) don’t function in a therapeutic environment together, how can they function (or thrive) in an academic environment? How is a teacher, who is not a trained psychotherapist, supposed to manage them?

Macro:

We have some aggressive people out and about. It’s more and more seemingly acceptable to be aggressive, and to meet aggression in kind. How are we supposed to make America great again [sic] if we’re just escalating the fighting? Compounded by aggression being considered valuable or desirable in many circles…

I tagged this post under cancer because aggression is spreading like one, and killing us like one as well…