Cutting Your Own Path

What reminds you that winter is over?

For me, it’s when the tulips and daffodils finally bloom. They are at full peak where I live and are a constant reminder that warmer weather is coming. This winter was bitter cold and gray. The sun and blooming colors is doing all of us well. There is nothing better than walking down a path or street that’s bursting with different colors. It’s quite glorious.

My sons know that winter is over when we go outside more, and this year the occasion was marked with their bike riding. My youngest has finally learned how to ride his bike to where he can really enjoy it. It was a struggle for him to learn — getting started was what tripped him up.  Getting started with any new task we are learning can trip us up, right?

I was talking to a friend who is going through a career change. She has struggled with cutting her own path (I think something many of us can relate to). It reminded me of how my son struggled to learn to ride. He convinced himself the path he needed to take to learn to ride was too unfamiliar, would take skills he didn’t have and couldn’t master. He was struggling with unfamiliar domain. I shared with her my passion for teaching my boys how to make their own way in the world and help show them how to cut their own path. It had made me think about how when you navigate something new, it’s like looking at an overgrown path littered with brush that you have to cut away. At first, hacking at the brush can be tough, unfamiliar and even scary, but after a while, you figure out how to do it and start getting better at making a clearing you can pass through.  When you emerge into the clearing you appreciate the path you’ve made and the place you’ve arrived. I’m not planning to take my children to the jungle or give them a machete to clear brush, but I do want them to know that they have it in them to get from the can’t (ride my bike) to the can (I did it!). Much like the seasons. You sometimes have to make your way through until you make it to the other side. It’s worth it, the scenery at the end is incredible.

How are you teaching your child to make their own way?

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?

Thanks, Coach!

Have you ever struggled to get better at something you thought you should already be good at?

I have, and it’s no fun, whether it’s struggling to do a new task at work, or unsure of how to handle a new childrearing situation. I catch myself thinking why don’t I know how to do this? and because it’s easy to convince yourself that no one else is sharing your struggle to think is something wrong with me?

I saw my son experience this very struggle with his new soccer team. While he understands the fundamentals of the team, learning strategy for how to move around other players and the rules on the field are still something new to him. He became frustrated in a practice and the coach came over to talk to him. My son expressed his disappointment in his lack of knowledge and ability to execute what he was being asked to do. This came in the form of an emotional outburst that was a culmination of his frustration. The coach wasn’t having any of it. He told my son to listen to what he was saying or get off the field. My son promptly walked off the field.

As a parent, it’s hard to watch your child struggle with something. While part of me wanted to go and talk to him about what I just witnessed, it felt like this was something I needed to let the coach handle for the time being. I didn’t want to undermine the point he was trying to make, and I didn’t want my son to think I thought he was failing or not doing things right. I could already see he was really disappointed and down on himself. I could almost hear what he was thinking, why can’t I do this? Why isn’t this coming more naturally? What’s wrong with me?

The coach waited a few minutes and then came over to my son who was close enough for me to overhear the conversation (but not right next to me). The coach asked him why he was sitting on the sidelines. My son replied, “Because I’m terrible and can’t do the drill right!” The coach bent down so he could get eye-to-eye with him and explained, “You’re a kid. You’re job is to learn. To get better at something you have to practice. Do you think Rinaldi never practiced? He practiced all the time. You’ve got to practice to get good at anything,” he continued, “My job is to show you what you need to do, and when I see you not doing something right, it’s my job to show you a better or different way.” He finished, “You’re not terrible, but you won’t know that unless you get back in there and try.” My son seemed to take his words to heart, but wasn’t convinced. The coach then added, “if you don’t practice, you don’t play in the game,” which was enough to get my son back on the field.

The coach and I made eye-contact and he mouthed, “I got this.” And sure enough he did. My son listened more carefully throughout the remainder of practice and even scored a goal towards the end of the practice game. You could see his confidence grow. His expression reminded me of my own experience when I’ve learned something I’ve struggled with, finally getting over the hump and realizing I can do this. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with me after all. It feels great.

I’m thankful that the coach helped my son through his challenge. Not all coaches would have done that, but in my opinion, the good ones do. Struggles are going to happen, and as much as we’d like to help our child, it will sometimes fall to a coach, teacher, leader or a friend’s parent that they respect. As much as I am present with my child, others being present–really seeing my child and helping them see their own potential–will be a big part of his experience growing up. I’m thankful for those who have already played this role, and those that will in the future. Thank you!

Who helps your child work through things they struggle with? Who is a mentor or role model for your child?