Recently I was reading the article, “Creating Mindfulness Experiences for Adolescents” by Argos Gonzalez. In his insightful article, Argos summarized how Daniel J. Siegel M.D. explains how the adolescent brain develops and grows in his book, “Brainstorm”. Argos incorporated this book into his curriculum while working with adolescents in the Bronx to give them a better understanding of how their brains are developing, why they have the emotions they do, and how adults view them. I thought this was genius because he is giving them to a magic mirror that helps explain what is going on inside of them. But it also sheds some light on the myths of adolescents as well. We were all teens once and how often did we feel like we were awkward in our own bodies, not knowing what direction we wanted to go in, and feeling like everything was life or death? (Read the article here:https://artoflivingretreatcenter.org/blog/creating-mindfulness-experiences-for-adolescents/).
Adolescents are so impressionable to outward stimuli and this vulnerability is deepened if a child does not have a foundational understanding of who they are as a human. This got me thinking about another book by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson Ph.D., “The Whole-Brain Child” that I read a few years back (yeah, I’m sort of a Daniel J. Siegel fangirl). At the time I was struggling to understand my own daughters brain during an incredibly stressful time in our lives. I wanted to be proactive about how I handled the problems that were occurring head on, but I also wanted to make sure I showed my daughter I respected her and her process. In the book, I got a better understanding of the challenges young children have with navigating their left and right brain. Siegel and Bryson discuss how the “Upstairs Brain” (which is in control of decision making and balances a persons emotions) are not fully developed until we are in our 20’s. This means that most of childhood is spent with our right brain (which controls emotions and non-verbal cues we give the world such as facial expressions, body posture, and eye contact) overriding our left brain (the part of our brain that thrives with logic and order) which results in young children getting frustrated and crying, yelling, or running away from what is bothering them. Or hitting, yeah there’s that fun behavior too. Over my 20 some odd years in Special Education I have worked with children from birth to high school and the common thread amongst all of them is they want to feel loved, respected, listened to and accepted for who they are. You know, like every other human being on the planet. Another common thread I’ve seen is that if a child does not feel this way they will become an adult that won’t respect others because they’ve never been taught how to respect themselves. How many people do you know that make bad choice after bad choice because they don’t feel they “deserve” to be loved and respected (yup, I’m raising my hand too!). This is a learned behavior and one reason is that we believe we are what we have been told about ourselves from some of the most important people in our lives.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Bob Goff, “Instead of telling people what they want, we need to tell them who they are. This works every time. We’ll become in our lives whoever the people we love the most say we are” from his book, “Everybody Always”. In his book, he beautifully articulates how we look to the ones we love to help us figure out who we are. Just sit and think about that for a moment. Now think of the magnitude of your own words on those you love. We literally have the power to create great good or....well, not good.
Most of my little friends are under 3 years old that I work with and have low verbal skills, struggling to figure out how to use the communication skills they have to get their needs met by those around them that may not understand them. I’ve had parents talk about what they perceive to be their childs deficits in front of their children as if they are invisible. Something I always point out is that typically a childs receptive language is much higher than we can imagine, even if they have low expressive language. In short; your child understands the words being used around them much more than the words they are saying. So, what are you saying? Building a confident foundation for your child during these early stages is paramount so be mindful with the words you're using in front of them. I love the term, “Catch them being good” because it’s such a great tool to reinforce positive behavior. We all want to do good, so make it easy for your child to see what is so amazing about them. This means making sure to throw yourself a little grace as well and notice all the things you're doing right, instead of pointing out your own perceived “faults”. By modeling this behavior you are “walking the walk” and are showing your child that you respect yourself as well as respect them, and it’s teaching them that it’s ok to make mistakes as long as we don’t give up.
So, your mission if you choose to accept it, is to make sure your child or students hear 5 things that make them so incredible. I can guarantee once this becomes a habit you will be able to catch them doing even more amazing things in the future! And when you do, connect with me and tell me about it! I’d love to hear about how you were a smile maker this week!