GUEST BLOG POST: Same Day Different Choices by Kendra Delano
My five-year-old son, Caden, is out on the lagoon in the back yard right now. A local is teaching him how to catch fish using an old water bottle, some fishing line and a hook. We live a short kayak ride from a five mile stretch of beach about 20 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Friends and family ask WHY I want to live south of the border. I could say to escape the news and the depression over economic downturns. I could mention the low cost of living and high level of services I enjoy in Mexico. I could definitely talk about the weather, the surprising animal and plant life, snorkeling and SCUBA diving, adventuring into underground sink-holes called cenotes (seh-NO-tays), etc. But the main reason I am here and make it a point to introduce my children to a variety of experiences is that I want them to think flexibly. What does that mean? I learned the term at the Intercultural Communications Institute while doing an activity involving an envelope filled with small assorted items such as a dog bone, a nail, a penny, a paperclip. The instructor asked us to sort a few of the objects into a group (such as the bone and coin which are both brown). We took turns making groups and had to figure commonalities. It was a fun task. More importantly it taught us that each object has many characteristics. A penny has words and numbers on it, it is round with flat sides, it is made of metal, etc. A penny is not black and white and neither is any person, place or scenario.
I have a company called Same Day Different Choices. Through children’s books and musical performances I present a number of events. How the main characters respond to the different events takes them toward a negative or positive outcome. The books actually start IN THE MIDDLE and move to the right or the left. They teach children to think positively and make great choices. Imagine how instilling this kind of thinking in a child can add so much happiness to their lives. They get to focus on WHICH behaviors and thoughts will bring them joy, love, health and abundance. No longer will their egos defend faulty positions. They will simply be able to say, “I could have made a different choice.” This type of thinking comes naturally to children who are encouraged to think flexibly. There is more than one way to accomplish a task or look at an event. These books create AH-HA moments (paradigm shifts) for children.
Robin Gorman Newman, MotherhoodLater.com mom extraordinaire, asked me to share some examples from my first book, Showtime, which demonstrate flexible thinking and the power of positive thinking and choice-making. Here are just a few. The first one deals with feelings. Did you know that anger is the second feeling? You usually feel sadness, fear, embarrassment, or loneliness first. I had to remind myself of that when a workman didn’t show up to fix my air conditioner on three separate occasions. Every time I saw him he told me, “Manana…” So I would wait around all the next day hoping for some relief from heat to no avail. I was livid but my first feeling was sadness. I felt insignificant and abandoned in a strange new place. I certainly felt better when someone explained that MANANA doesn’t only mean tomorrow. When used by a worker it is a face-saving way of saying that he or she doesn’t have the skill or contacts to do the job properly. Manana can mean, “Not today!” After my five-year-old son calms down from feeling angry we go back over the scenario and identify the first feeling he had. I empathize with him. Then I ask how he could have handled that painful feeling differently (instead of raging, for example). Sometimes just labeling and acknowledging the first feeling brings unexpected gratitude from him because I shed light on why he behaved the way that he did. A second point is that it’s important to monitor thoughts. By thinking, “I am going to have a good day anyway!” even after a disappointment, a person is primed to attract positive instead of more negative events. Teach your children not to dwell on what happened but to focus (actually visualize) what they would LIKE to happen. They need to label what they want and expect it! Lastly, it is in our nature to feel happy. Just look at your children each day and you will be reminded to feel awe and wonder and amusement instead of anxiety or fear!
Caden just came into the house as proud as he could possibly be. He asked if I would like to take the small fish he held in his hands and cook it up for dinner. Ummm, let’s take it to a restaurant. Surely someone other than I can take it back into the kitchen and make some terrific fajitas out of it! I’ll teach him to catch and release tomorrow.
Top 10 for Helping Children to Think Flexibly:
1) Teach Your Children to Observe: Whenever someone enters a new setting, he or she should learn to watch how the people are behaving before making any attempt to interact. Are they having quiet or boisterous conversations? Are there children running around or are most people sitting down? This is the most important element in learning to adapt to a new environment.
2) Venture Out: Travel. You don’t have to leave the country. If you live in the suburbs go into a rural area or the city. Most urban areas have ethnic sections such as China Town, Greek Town, etc. Realize that the first people to approach you are usually in some form of sales and marketing. Quietly walk on. After that soak every flavor, sound and interaction in!
3) Encourage Reading: Children learn vicariously from strong characters. Authors usually plant valuable insights and lessons into their stories. Voracious readers tend to be wise people.
4) Show Children that You Withhold Judgment: Avoid labeling any person or situation as good or bad. I have an example. A friend’s teenage daughter was telling about a girl with a poor reputation. I asked WHY she thought that girl went with so many different boys. After a pause she replied, “Because her dad left home a long time ago. She doesn’t see him so maybe she needs more attention from boys.” Bingo. Encourage children to understand and think below the surface.
5) Never confuse a child’s behavior with their worth: I NEVER use the expression, “You are a bad boy or girl.” It hurts me just to write it. Everyone is valuable and intrinsically good. There are only good people who CHOOSE to behave badly. Behaviors can be modified.
6) Encourage children to label their feelings (develop self-awareness): Stick to the basic ones: mad, sad, glad, hurt, ashamed, afraid, and lonely.
7) Keep a journal: In addition to making diary entries have children label the choices they make each day and the outcomes of those choices. Encourage children to find a correlation between the words and behaviors chosen and how their days are unfolding.
8) Encourage children to consider new possibilities. As a teacher I used to read the story of Chicken Little to my first graders. After the story I asked, “How is Chicken Little the same as a child who shouts, “He stole my pencil!?” I asked the children to brainstorm how a pencil could have found its way into a classmate’s desk. They answered that it could have fallen on the floor and been picked up, that it could have rolled over to the desk, that the same brand of pencil could have been purchased by two different students, etc.
9) Encourage children to problem solve: So many well-intentioned parents jump in to solve their children’s problems. Wait. See how resourceful and ingenious your child can be. Remember the person who tried to help a butterfly break out of its cocoon. The butterfly died because it needed to do the work itself!
10) Show your children that you sometimes change your mind. Show them that after considering new information you have changed your position. Wise people take their time in making a decision and are never afraid to admit they were wrong.
Kendra Delano has taught children to think flexibly and positively, communicate effectively, overcome adversity and make great choices throughout her 17 year career as an international educator. She has lived in the US, Singapore, the Canary Islands, Spain, Canada and Mexico. Her first book, Showtime, has been referred to as, “A Celestine Prophecy for children.” It is available on-line at www.SameDayDifferentChoices.com. Kendra currently lives in Puerto Aventuras, Mexico with her sons, Jay and Caden.