To Forget or to Fail?

Have you ever struggled to do something, and when you couldn’t figure it out you felt like you were a failure and worried about your abilities to do the task?

I’ve certainly experienced this, and my youngest son has experienced it too. It started with….the spelling test. Each week my son comes home with a list of words he needs to practice for his class’s spelling test. He copies the words on Monday and is supposed to practice them each night. We were studying before a Friday test, my husband and I trying to help him learn his words. He was getting confused by how to spell the words: ocean and motion, count and country. They sound like they should have similar spelling, but do not. Or are spelled similarly, but sound like they aren’t. My husband and I offered up a couple of tricks for how to remember the difference in how the words are spelled.  We had our son write the words down, we used the ‘flow’ of the letters (e.g. think about the letters trying to stay together in the water) to try to help him remember how to spell ocean. We had him hop on one foot and recite “t-i-o-n” (we thought it would be a fun way to get the letters stuck in his memory). You could see him trying so hard to remember how to spell the words. He was struggling and very frustrated that it was so hard for him. There were tears of frustration at one point. It was difficult to watch, and realize our efforts were not having the intended impact. After 30 minutes at this, we turned a corner, and he could spell each word. We decided he was as prepared as he was going to be for the test.

The following day, when our son got home from school, we asked how the spelling test went. “Okay,” our son replied. “Did you remember how to spell ‘ocean’ and ‘motion’?” I inquired. My son paused for a moment, his face got scrunched up and he said, “No, I forgot.” You could hear the disappointment in his voice. “I guess I failed,” he concluded. I was still processing what he said when my husband jumped in. “Does forgetting how to spell a word mean you failed?” My son looked at him confused…you could almost see his mind working to figure out how to answer this, questioning himself and thinking the right answer might be maybe? My husband jumped back in and answered it for him. “No, it doesn’t mean you failed. It means you forgot. People forget things all the time. You just have to keep practicing and eventually you’ll get it.” My son seemed a bit relieved. He took a breath and relaxed, he understood he wasn’t a failure because he couldn’t remember a few words. He had an opportunity, and the potential to be a great speller. Persistence, practice and not giving up on himself was all it would take.

It was a good lesson for my son, and a good reminder for myself. Even as an adult I sometimes get frustrated when I struggle to do something correctly the first time around even if it’s new to me (I’m an adult after all, aren’t we supposed to know how to do pretty much everything by now?). Yet, I know that’s not true. We all are learning all the time. We can be new to learning something at any age. We have to be easy on ourselves, understand where we are in the learning process, and keep at it until we get it. We have to model how to handle these struggles to our kids.

How do you handle and/or internalize your own struggles? What do they say about you? How does your child experience struggles? How do you help them see them in a different (and more positive) light?

12th Man – Junior Edition

Last week’s Super Bowl was devastating for Seattle Seahawks fans. To watch your team almost win the game and instead throw an interception, with no time left on the clock, was hard to accept. The 12th Man had to go through stages of grief: denial (no! no! no! That did not just happen!), anger (why didn’t they rush? why???), and finally acceptance (it is what it is…there is nothing we can do about it, so we need to figure out how to move on). Easier said than done, right?

We watched the game with my oldest son and were in disbelief as the fate of the Seahawks changed. He was upset (we all were). He outwardly showed it, and my husband and I inwardly reflected on how best to address the situation — had I been alone, my reaction may have more closely followed my son’s. When we had time to collect our thoughts, we worked to console our son–while we may have thought we were trying to console him, we were really trying to help him (and us) make sense of what just occurred. “Sometimes these things don’t happen like you hope they will. We have to remember both teams wanted to win as badly as the other. I’m sure there was a good reason they called that play.” While our words were rational, it was hard to find comfort in them. We all were hurting.

I’m guessing, like most 12s around the country, many of us didn’t sleep well on Sunday night. Getting up on Monday, only to be reminded of what happened the night before, was hard. I was concerned about how my son would do at school. I figured most of the students would struggle with what happened in the game, and I was right, but not for long.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the 12th Man is a strong community. One of my son’s teachers (part of the 12s) had the kids talk about the game and how they felt about it at the beginning of the school day. The class joined the rest of the school in a weekly assembly later that morning and talked about the game. My son shared what he learned during this gathering. “Mom, it’s really simple. They tried a play and it didn’t work. That happens sometimes,” he said. “It’s only a game. It’s not anything worth getting upset about. It’s not like it really matters.” Wow, sage advice, I thought. Teaching your child about life, is a big part of the parenting experience. My son was reminding me that while I like to think I’m his teacher, I’m also the student too. My son was teaching me now.

My son’s acceptance of what happened, helped me accept it too. Seeing Russell Wilson, Seattle’s QB, and Pete Carroll, Seattle’s Head Coach, talk about the play, why they did it, and how they were dealing with it helped too. It was another example of the 12s helping each other get through something.

Seattle should have won the football game, but may have won a bigger game in the long run–how to get through life, during good times and bad, together.

How have you handled unexpected disappointment? What support helped you get through it?

The Great Pumpkin

Many of us have watched the “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” Halloween special before. It’s been an annual tradition in our family through the years. The show took on a new meaning for me this year.

My youngest son had returned from a trip to a local pumpkin patch with some classmates and had just sit down to watch some Halloween cartoons when I arrived to pick him up. He was not happy with my timing. This has happened before in the past, when I seem to show up at the wrong time (meaning I’ve shown up when he is in the middle of an activity he is enjoying, or getting ready to start one). I typically allow him a few minutes to finish the activity or do the new activity ever-so-briefly, and assumed my strategy would work with my son on this particular day. It didn’t. Instead my son had a meltdown of volcanic proportions. He became very vocal (loud) in front of the room of kids saying, “I want to watch the movie. I will NOT go, you cannot make me go.” His other classmates saw what was going on, and tried to console him, reminding him there would be other opportunities to watch the film, but he wasn’t hearing any of it. “NO, NO, NO!” was his reaction. He stood up and ran away from me. I was a little taken aback and was quickly reassessing how to best handle the situation. I was in a room full of people (adults and kids) and my son had taken the spotlight away from the movie and had become the show. My inner critic was creeping in (if you were a better parent, this wouldn’t have happened…why aren’t you able to calm your son down?). I asked my son to step into the director’s office (where they normally send kids to calm down) and had to take a few deep breaths. I was partly mortified at his behavior, disappointed in myself for not being able to address the situation without it getting to the point that it had, and frustrated that any of this had occurred. After a stressful week of work, it was the last thing I needed.

It was one of those moments where I really had to pause. My emotions were high. I wanted to handle this in a positive way (though there didn’t seem to be anything positive going on in the present). I had to really think, how do I help my son through this situation? After a few moments it dawned on me. This wasn’t about watching the movie (he could watch it anytime), but not having control over the situation and not liking that–and that, I could understand.

I was able to get my son out to the car (though I did have to carry him), and eventually calm him down. I’m not sure he really understood why he got so upset, but we both knew we didn’t want it to happen again. My son and I made a deal, when we are upset or disappointed about something it’s okay to have the feeling, but we have to talk about it in a way that helps you get what you want or need. He’s young, he’s learning. I’m learning too.

I have a greater appreciation for It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, as a result. It’s a story about wanting something to happen (you want to see the Great Pumpkin) and the disappointment that comes when it doesn’t happen as you’d hoped. I’ll remember my son’s disappointment and how he (and I) will grow from it.

What holiday show has taken on new meaning for you and your family as you raised your child?

Are You Ready for Some Football?

While the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos are preparing for the Super Bowl, my family is preparing for the game in our own way. No, we’re not preparing for a party, we’re preparing ourselves emotionally.

My oldest son is really excited for the game, and we’re trying to prepare ourselves for how to handle things should the game not go the way he hopes. I was the same way when I was his age: so hopeful my team would win the game, and inconsolable when my team was behind (and eventually lost).  The emotions would be so intense, the only way I knew to ease the pain was to leave the room, or turn the TV off.

We’re trying to show our son a different way to experience sports. Losing isn’t fun, and it can be painful to experience and hard to watch when you feel a connection with the team you’re rooting for. I suggested to my husband that we might have to turn the game off if it started going the wrong way, and my husband stopped me. “It will be a good opportunity for us to explain that what he’s feeling, although difficult, is something he needs to learn how to experience.”

He was right. Experiencing pain is difficult, and the game could present an opportunity for us to help our son start to learn how to work through the emotional pain of disappoint. I can’t say I’m thrilled at the prospect of this, only because this is an area I need to get more experience in myself.  We’re taught to avoid pain, particularly emotional pain by any means necessary.

Teaching children how to work through negative emotions isn’t easy. No one ever taught me as a child how to work through emotional pain and get to the other side. It’s taken much effort and personal reflection to understand this, and determine I want my child to have tools I only learned as an adult.

I have to admit, I’m not good at watching games where my team is losing, but I have an incentive to do it now: to show my child how to work through the pain that can come with disappointment. I might get a ‘hail mary’ on Sunday, with my son’s team winning and get to delay this discussion until we watch the next big game, but I’m not going to risk it. Just like the Seahawks and the Broncos are ready, I need to be ready to.

Are you ready for some football? I am.