Seek opportunities to experience awe with kids

awe inspiring fireworks“Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast or beyond human scale, that transcends our current understanding of things,” according to Dacher Keltner. He leads UC Berkeley’s Social Interaction Lab and he helped Facebook create the recent additions of emoji’s to the Like feature.

When is the last time you felt awe?

For me, it was experiencing a whole sequence of events line up so that I was in the right place at the right time to be of assistance to someone. The sheer number of converging variables demanded an explanation beyond coincidence.

For Immanuel Kant: “Two things awe me most, the starry sky above me and the moral law within me.”

Michael Lerner says: “Nothing is more contagious than genuine love and genuine care. Nothing is more exhilarating than authentic awe and wonder.” He says that the universe produces a feeling of awe for him.

Goodness. Beauty. Truth.

Adults and children alike experience awe. We hold that in common. Feeling amazed by goodness, beauty or truth seems to be a universal human response. I ask myself, “Is awe one of the pathways God provides for humanity to experience God?  Could it be that feelings of awe are yet another attempt made by a loving God to connect with each of us? How can I provide awe-inspiring experiences for the children in my life?”

Ideas for kids

The second half of this article gives specific ideas of how families can experience awe.awe nature walk

Paula Scott, from her article here on awe, adds another idea, “High school teacher Julie Mann takes her students on ‘Awe Walks’ to connect with nature or art. When they write about these experiences and share them in the classroom, she says, kids who never talk in class or pay attention come to life. ‘It helps them feel less marginalized, with a sense that life is still good.’ She suggests journaling, collage, photography, drawing as ways for students to reflect about awe for time, space, amazing events and people.”

Click to Tweet: We call it goosebumps, spine-tingling, tears in our eyes amazement. Good ideas here to add more wonder to everyday life. Click to Tweet

Challenge kids to excellence without criticism’s sting

My husband Bob, even in his 60’s now, remembers his junior high school art teacher. His job doesn’t require much by way of drawing skills, but he does have to sketch the occasional diagram or flow chart to illustrate a concept. Often while doing that, he finds himself apologizing for his lack of artistry.

He was generally a good student, but not in art class.

The art teacher told him he’d pass him under one condition: that he never enroll in another art class again. Now, Bob can tell that as a funny story, meant to make fun of his lack of artistic skills, but I find it deeply sad.

Think about the impact of that comment coming from a teacher. Granted, some people have more innate ability than others, but everyone can grow. What would a comment like that sound like had it come from a math teacher? “You’re no good at math. Why don’t you give up and focus on something else?”

True, my husband had no innate talent for art. But what are some other ways his art teacher could have approached the situation?

Excellence without the sting

  • Skills can be learned. Focus on teaching skills. Not everyone is destined to become an artist, but everyone can improve their drawing skills and move toward basic competency.
  • excellence in creativityDefine art more broadly as creativity. Maybe drawing isn’t everyone’s preferred medium, but that doesn’t mean artistry can’t be expressed in other ways. Some people are creative with words, with ideas, with people, with structures. Find that creativity.
  • Enjoy the act of creating art. Instead of feeling shame over the results, learn to experience joy in the creative process. This is the equivalent of singing in the shower– who needs an audience when expression is the goal?

How do parents handle similar issues with our children?

Do we place such an emphasis on excellence and proper behavior that we discourage or shame our children when they don’t fit the cultural standards?

Correction can be discouraging

excellence social skillsA friend of mine recently saw a mother and her three-year-old daughter at church. She was a cute, sweet little girl and my friend said hi to her, smiled and waved. The little girl immediately hid behind her mother’s legs and her mother began prompting her: “Say hi back, Klarissa.” And she started crying.

My friend felt bad for putting the girl into the situation in the first place, for it was one she recognized. Her own daughter, now a teenager, had responded the exact same way when she was younger.

Not everyone is naturally good at talking with people they don’t know very well. Yet it’s a skill that everyone will need at a basic level.

What if this mother explained to my friend– in front of her child– that she’s not very good socially and therefore excused from giving a polite response? On the other hand, what if she forced her to carry on lengthy conversations with strangers regularly, paying no heed to her natural inclinations? Both extremes can be damaging.

Or correction can be effective.

What the mother did was talk with her daughter at home and tell her, “Sometimes when we’re out, people I know will say hello to you. You don’t have to talk with them for a long time, but it’s polite to say hello back.” They practiced it and she understood the expectation. Next time they ran into that situation in public, the girl still hid, and the mother still had to prompt her to say hi back… but she had courage and did it. And her mother praised her for the effort.

This type of approach is the better one for setting her up to have successful social skills in the future: encouragement, teaching, practice, and taking small steps forward… even in areas we’re not naturally good at.

Tweetable:  We want kids to do their best, performing with excellence. Our criticism is intended to spur them on to a higher level, but here is a timely reminder to check ourselves before our words sting.  Click to Tweet

5 coaching questions to use with your teenager

By Tara Miller, guest blogger

coaching questions teenThe mother of a 16-year-old girl decided that instead of giving her daughter relationship advice– which she knew would likely be unwelcome and unheeded– she’d take a coaching approach instead. She’d ask questions and reflect back only what she was hearing. So she said to her daughter, “I know you’re struggling with your relationship with your boyfriend right now and considering whether to break up with him or not. I have something I think might be helpful. What if I ask you five questions, and just listen to own responses without giving any advice or feedback or suggestions?”

“Well…” said the daughter uncertainly, “What are the questions?”

“They are five basic questions that can be applied to almost any situation: What’s working? What’s not working? What are you learning? What needs to change? What’s next?”

“I guess those sound safe enough… not like they’re trying to push me into making a particular decision.”

coaching questions teens date“Okay, what’s working?”

“We have fun sometimes when we’re hanging out. He can be really funny and I like going out.”

“Anything else?”

“Also, it’s really nice just to have a boyfriend. It’s not like I’d be going out with anyone else if I weren’t going out with him.”

“What’s not working?”

“Well, he can be really argumentative sometimes. And he talks a lot… often about things I’m not very interested in like video games. That can be boring. Sometimes it’s hard to me to get much airtime in our conversations. And when I do, he kind of dismisses my opinions if I disagree with him.”

“What are you learning?”

“Some of the things I thought I wanted in a boyfriend are important– like wanting someone who is outgoing because I’m really not. But also I’m finding there are limits to that. Maybe being outgoing, but not talking ALL the time.”

“So you’re re-thinking through what qualities are important to you?”

“Yes. And I’d like someone I agree with on some basic beliefs. I’m surprised how differently we think about important issues like politics and what’s important in life and how we interact with our friends.”

“What needs to change?”

Without a breath or a pause, she responded, “He does!” Then both mother and daughter started laughing. Because when you realize the whole person needs to change, rather than just making adjustments in a relationship, the decision has become clear. This couple was simply not a good fit.

“What’s next?”

When they had recovered, the mother asked, “What’s next?” And they talked through a plan how for to break up in a respectful and appropriate way that would take into account that they still had to see each other in various settings.

These five questions can be applied to just about any situation where you want to leave a person room to reflect and consider an issue without being told what to do. Simply ask the five questions, asking “anything else?” to make sure you have gotten all of their thinking, and give them space to process. You’ll be amazed at how much becomes clear and how empowering the process is for teens.

Tweetable:  You’ll be amazed at how much becomes clear to teens when a parent simply asks these five questions, asking, “anything else?” to make sure you’ve got all of their thinking–and give them space to process. Click to Tweet

Father’s Day: time for kids to make a card

Father's Day artLucky moms! Kids are in school when Mother’s Day rolls around. Teachers and aides orchestrate the card and gift projects. Dads are not so fortunate. But you can step into the teacher’s shoes and provide fine gift ideas–and for the cards, some messages for the handmade Father’s Day card, courtesy of those holiday professionals at Hallmark. See the complete article here.

Father's Day gamesTry to make this fun!

Start by asking some conversation starters to help you and the child focus.

  • How are you and your dad the same?
  • What is your dad really good at?
  • What makes you proud of daddy?

Father’s Day message starting points:

Now the child might be more ready to write a brief message of appreciation.

  • “You taught me many of the important things I know like….
  • “I don’t know where I’d be without your….
  • “You’re in some of my favorite memories like….
  • “Thank you for being there with just the___ (eg. love, wisdom,  guidance) I need.

If the relationship is complicated

One Hallmark writer suggests that the child, “Be warm and sincere in your message. Focus on what’s positive and true between you. Tell him you’re thinking of him. Or simply wish him a great day.”

Family relationship not required for Father’s Day cards

Father's Day swimThere are plenty of father-like figures in people’s lives, even it’s they’re not officially relatives. Even if the child’s father is present in his or her life, a card for a man who is making spiritual, emotional or relational deposits in the child’s life deserves to hear about it.

  • “Having you in my life has made all the difference in the world to me because….
  • “You’ve always gone above and beyond to support me and celebrate important times in my life, like when….
  • “I don’t know where I’d be without your….

If the child is very young

Consider doing a questionnaire or interview format with the child, like this example. It’s the kind of activity some teachers do for Mother’s Day.

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”Mark Twain


Helping kids make decisions: the forced choice approach

By guest blogger Tara Miller

forced choice exerciseOften in life, we are faced with choices between two—or more—good options, but we don’t have the time, energy or money to do all of them. We have to choose. It’s especially difficult to choose when both options seem quite good.

When the person making the choice is a child or teenager, it can be particularly tempting to simply tell them what you think they should choose. After all, you have experience and insight that they don’t. However, if you want them to truly commit to their own decision, they’ll need to take ownership of it themselves.

The “forced choice” approach

Here’s a coaching-based exercise you can use called the “forced choice” approach. In this case, I used it with my 18-year-old daughter who was choosing a college this spring, but it could be applied to any situation where there’s a choice to be made between options.

Knock-out factors

My daughter had first narrowed down her choices using some “knock-out factors.” These are criteria that would make her decide against a school outright. For a serious student athlete, a knock-out factor might be a school not having a good basketball team. My daughter had two knock-out factors: she wanted a school that was out-of-state and she wanted one where the campus felt like a positive fit on an intuitive level. One school looked perfect for her on paper, but when she went to visit it failed the knock-out test. It quickly fell off her list and she didn’t apply there.

forced choice universityAfter the narrowing process, she was left with two colleges. Both of them seemed to be equally good choices, she had been accepted to both, and she could picture herself attending either school rather easily. So how should she make this decision?

Think through the reasons

I started by asking the opening question: “What are you seeking to accomplish by going to college?” This question was designed to help her think through her reasons for going at all and to consider what she most wanted from the experience. She responded that she wanted to get a degree so she could go on to graduate school; she wanted the opportunity to make friends and live away on her own, and she wanted what she called, “the college experience.”

Criteria to evaluate

Then I asked her, given that processing, what criteria she wanted to use for evaluating a college.  Here are the options she generated in no particular order:

  • good opportunities to make friends
  • professors who are engaged and available
  • good preparation for graduate school
  • good financial package/pricing
  • opportunities for fun off campus
  • good study abroad program
  • an acapella group

Compare options: Which is more important?

Then came the forced choice part. I asked her to compare each option with each other option and ask, “Which is more important?” No ties or passing, and sometimes she found the choices very difficult, such as when I asked, “Which is more important—a good financial package or a good study abroad program?” Whichever option she deemed more important got a tally mark, which created rankings.

So she made 21 choices– comparing each item with each other item. Here are the rankings she came up with. The tally marks at the end of each item reflect how many times that item was chosen over other items, resulting in a weighting of how important each item was to her.

  1. good financial package/pricing (6)
  2. good study abroad program (5)
  3. good opportunities to make friends (3)
  4. professors who are engaged an available (3)
  5. good preparation for graduate school (3)
  6. opportunities for off-campus fun (1)
  7. acapella group (0)

Some takeaways

The financial package held a lot of weight for her as she was concerned about going into debt. She really, really wants to study abroad– even more so than she had thought. An acapella group is just a nice-to-have, not an essential. Off-campus fun doesn’t mean as much to her as opportunities to make friends on campus.

forced choice coin tossShe can now use these criteria—weighted by importance—in order to decide between colleges. And if two schools come out basically the same even when compared, there’s always the coin flip test: toss a coin in the air, call it, and when it lands gauge your level of disappointment or excitement.

What are some choices the kids in your life are currently facing? How might you use this exercise to help them make decisions that are most in line with what they value?

Tweetable: Is your son or daughter processing an important decision? One mom shares a coaching exercise she used that helped her daughter choose which university to attend. Click to Tweet

Grandparents as spiritual guides for their family

grandmother guidesTo a culture increasingly entertained (or disgusted) by its own superficiality, the role of grandparents as spiritual guides seems like a good use of one’s later years.  Who better to draw young family members into deeper life issues than their most credible, experienced elders?

Grandparents can find simple guidelines from Rabbi Edythe Mencher. I’m quoting her, but personalizing it for grandparents. She writes, “The earlier we facilitate [a child’s spirituality] the better prepared the child will be, now and in later life, to turn to God for assurance, comfort and understanding.”

Tip:   Confront your own misgivings. You don’t have to resolve all your doubts in order to talk to your grandchildren about God.

Each of us can come to a unique knowledge of God just as our ancestors did. It’s the struggle to find God that counts and we should not shy from it.

God is the lover of the human race… our aim is to emphasize that the relationship between God and God’s creations is one of love. More important than the love of God is the child’s awareness of it.

Tip:   Learn to interpret questions your grandchild asks about God before replying or changing the subject.

Don’t impose pat answers. Allow children to take their own journey of discovery by expressing their ideas freely. Make sure you are listening carefully to their questions– they may not be asking what you initially think they are asking, and it’s important not to answer what they’re not asking. They’ll feel missed in the conversation. Ask follow up questions if you need to.

grandparents guide playTip:   Share your own wonderings about God and the universe.

Include God in everyday play activities. Acknowledge God’s place in our day by day reality. One way to do this is to notice when a person’s conduct resembles God’s action as it is manifested in the world and in life. Human beings are [created in God’s image]….They are godlike when they act with decency and compassion or when they… still forgive the flaws of humanity.

Tip:   Help your grandchild develop trust through your loving care, supported by your faith.

grandparents as spiritual guides The biblical term for faith designates an attitude of trust between humanity and God. To have faith… is to “entrust” oneself to God and to feel secure in this trust. The believer, as Shalom Ben Chorin put it, ‘does not believe in God; he or she believes God…’ expressing trust that the living God is near us….”

See Rabbi Mencher’s complete article here.

Tweetable:  #Grandparents! Convincing a culture increasingly entertained (or disgusted) by its own superficiality that your grandchildren’s belief in God should matter to them seems like a good use of one’s later life. Interested doing this better? Click to Tweet