Life Lessons Series: Community is Better than Isolation

To be lonely is different than being alone.  Being alone sometimes is necessary, but being lonely is not.

A sixth way to expand your child’s world is to help him or her learn how to become a part of various communities.  A community is defined by proximity, shared goals and interests, or a shared identity or purpose.  In contrast, isolation is not belonging, or being separate either by your own hand or someone else’s.

Traveling long distances, communicating across the globe, and accessing information is getting easier, so as the world is expanding, it’s also easier to interact less.  People are less prone to live near family members, less likely to stay in the same community for generations, and rely less on friends, families, and neighbors than they did before.

The world is also shrinking, because we can fill up our lives with the wrong activities, so much so, that the experiences that give us actual emotional substance happen less often.  Today’s financial pressures cause more and more families to need two incomes to survive, and we are inundated with ‘busy-ness’.  What gives us real substance are those experiences when we are in community together.  When you help build up a person or group, and proliferate ideas or resources for the greater good, is when you gain substance.  I met a girl once who said, “my parents were well off, but they lacked substance”.  That’s a fascinating observation and affected her entire well-being.  I admired her for choosing to be different.

Life Lesson: “We give back to our community because it’s better for everyone, even us.”  If you’re not used to investing in your community, it might take some small experiences for you to see how it truly is better for everyone, and how it benefits you personally.  The penalty of isolating yourself is too high not to try.  By the way, you will need to make constant effort to be part of communities.  You, and the communities in which you belong, are in constant flux with regard to needs, fit, lifestyle or ‘culture’, and therefore ‘season’.

Einstein once said, “It’s strange to be known so universally and yet be so lonely.”  Regardless of your ‘station’ and personality, you must learn how to be a giver and a receiver.  Here are some baby steps to living better ‘in community’.  

  1. Name all the communities in which you belong, starting with your nuclear family and radiating outward until you realize you’re in community with mankind on Earth as well.  For example, I am part of my nuclear family, extended family, and my neighborhood, city, state, region, and country, and nations.  I am part of a community group for moms and babies, called Active Mama’s, and a homeschool group.  I am part of a prayer ministry and the people that share the same faith.  I am part of my alumni classes from two universities.  I am part of my work teams.  I am a part of my local Toastmaster’s chapter and Le Leche League Chapter.  I am a part of several different online communities.  I am among the very blessed adopted people on the Earth.  I am a female, and I represent the young thirty year olds in America.  You get the idea.
  2. Now, clarify how you belong in each group.  Are you a silent member, serve on a team, a leader, a volunteer, an expatriate? How much time do you devote to the group?  With whom and when do you interact?  Anyone you’d like to interact with but need an introduction?  How do these interactions feel to you?  Why are you experiencing these particular feelings?  Are there any unserved needs of yours for which you need to find a different community?   Which community will you forgo in order to make room for the new one?
  3. Write down why you are part of each group. What purpose does the group serve in your life?  What do you gain?  What do you give?  How much impact do you want to have, and how much do you want to impact the group, and at what level?  Could anyone else you know benefit from one of your communities?
  4. What are your action items from this exercise?  Is there anything you need to change as a result of this exercise?  On what timetable?  Any new realizations?  Do any of your action items require input or resources from other people?  What can you do about these changes in the next 2 days?

Once you can do this for yourself, you can do this exercise for your child.  Once you can do this exercise for your child, you can teach your child how to do this exercise for him- or herself.

Let me be more specific.  You can work with your child on how to cooperate and communicate; be well-liked, respected and valued; and get involved in community affairs.  You can learn how to stay informed, have a voice, be a good neighbor, and why and how to protect the environment.  You will learn when and how to obey ‘laws and rules’ and respect authority, and when and how to create changes and become a leader.  Your child will learn that community is better than isolation, and that being alone is sometimes necessary, but feeling lonely is not.  Your child will learn how to do that ‘higher level thinking’, that helps him or her see the big picture, have an opinion, and assert that opinion through tactical and practical steps for the greater good.  You will also both learn when and how to gracefully ‘bow out’ or ‘step down’.

I’m wondering how you all feel about this specific life lesson.  How motivated are you in your strategic decisions about the ‘who, what, when, where and how’ in your life?  What is the moment that causes you to get off your seat and move your feet, use your voice, and rally together?  Are you happier floating in the breeze, and taking life as it comes, or playing an active role in your outcomes?  P.S. I don’t think there’s necessarily a wrong answer here, as long as you realize the ‘absence of choices and voices’ is still a choice.  Finally, what other ideas do you have to help your children, and me, become healthy members of communities?

Love, Robyn

Life Lesson Series: Responsibility is Better than Immunity

Who is the most accountable person you know?

A fifth way to expand your child’s world is to help them become responsible humans.  Responsibility.  Responsibility is doing your tasks, taking care of your belongings, answering to your actions, following through on your word, and showing others you are dependable.  It leads to promotions in the workplace, better friendships, and far more functional family lives.

Responsibility is not easily learned.  We start by teaching our child to pick up his/her toys, care for belongings, and then finish homework.  Later we teach the child to tell the truth, return borrowed items on time, and apologize if necessary.  At some point, your child needs to learn why these lessons are important, and start internalizing each one.  In high school, teenagers should understand how to save, spend and donate money; how to treat their bodies in a way that promotes health; how to be a good friend and citizen; and how to be persistent in their goals.

Life Lesson: “Doing the right thing is hard sometimes, but you can do it.”  It’s true, isn’t it?  Doing what’s best is difficult.  Doing the right thing requires bravery, strength of will, and knowing what’s right in the first place.  It also requires a ‘get up and go’ attitude, and clear definition of tasks to be completed.

I took an ethics class in 2010.  It gave clear examples of how it’s very difficult to know what is right in particular situations, especially across cultures.  As humans, our values, traditions, non-verbal and verbal language, sense of fairness, age, maturity, security level, and much more, are all important factors to knowing what’s right.

Bravery and strength of will are developed through small triumphant trials repeated again and again.  Catch opportunities to identify when doing the right thing may have been hard for your child, and praise him/her for it.  Help him/her talk about how (s)he felt and decided to do the right thing.  Do not chastise your child for making mistakes.  Instead ask questions about how the child arrived at a particular conclusion and brainstorm better solutions (leading to better outcomes) together.  What a fantastic communicator you will have one day if you discuss hard issues regularly!

Help your child avoid laziness by demonstrating you’re not lazy yourself.  The use of appropriate rewards is a nice motivator too.  Try to understand how your child is best rewarded: a gift, praise, a pat on the back, spending time together experiencing or doing [insert item], or getting a free pass to skip the task every now and again because of consistent performance.  Make sure these rewards are age appropriate.  For my toddler, all he usually needs to hear is ‘I’m proud of you!’, or ‘I knew you could do it, or ‘Look, you did it all by yourself!’

Finally, ensure you are giving clear instructions.  We have all been in situations where we are unclear what someone else wants.  Make your instruction specific and descriptive.  Avoid ambiguous words.  Break larger tasks into smaller steps while your child is learning the new skill.  Assign achievable tasks. For example, consider the phrase: “I want you to clean up this room”.  How does a child interpret that sentence?  It’s better to say (to a toddler):

  • “I want you to put your toys in their bins, please.”  Wait for the child to do it, and then say “Thank you, good job! Now, please, put the bins on the shelves.”
  • Wait for the child to do it, and then say “Thank you, good job! Please wipe off the table now”.  And so on.
  • At the end of the whole task, you can tell the child, “See, that’s how to clean up the room!  And you did it all yourself!  Great job listening!”

As your child matures, if you’re instilling a sense of responsibility, you’ll find yourself having conversations with him/her about being self-disciplined, planning, persevering, doing their best, thinking ahead of time, accountability, and role models, etc.  Plant good seeds now.

How do you teach your kids responsibility in your home?  Is there anything to add to this list?

Love, Robyn

Be Spectacular Today – Feed a Kid, I will double your contribution from now till Nov 4, 2013!

My Son, Micah, and I are raising money to help make a difference for hungry kids!

I believe that no child in America should be hungry. But the fact is, this year, more than 16 million children in America will face hunger. That’s one in five.

Share our Strength is working to connect hungry kids with the food they need to grow and thrive, and I’ve signed up to help by joining Team No Kid Hungry! I’m sharing my strength to help hungry kids get the healthy food they need every day, and I need your help.

Every dollar you donate will make a huge impact for kids. In fact, just $1 can help connect a child with 10 meals.  Plus, I will personally MATCH whatever you donate.  So, from now until Nov 4th, your $1 will help connect a child with 20 meals!

Life Lesson Series: Mastery is Better than Loose Ends

What comes to mind when you see the word ‘mastery’?

A fourth way to expand your child’s world is to help them become experts in their fields of interests, and the task at hand.  Mastery.  Mastery means you take the time to develop a comprehensive knowledge or skill in a topic or ability – that’s the definition I’m focused on today.

We may not master every task we set to achieve.  We all have natural talents and abilities that make certain activities easier or harder for us.  We must admit though, exceptional proficiency, deep knowledge, highly refined execution, and/or stunning aesthetics are highly regarded.  Whether you are a yogi, a chef, a mother, a doula, a researcher, a teacher, a personal trainer, an artist, an advisor, a financial planner, a marketer, or a spiritual leader like a paster, or other, we appreciate those that take their mission seriously.

Life Lesson: “We can come back to this tomorrow.”  Since my toddler isn’t even two, I don’t expect he can sit and complete a coloring sheet in one sitting.  He loses interest, and he looses interest quickly in comparison to girls his own age.  That’s alright.  I tell him, ‘we can come back to this tomorrow’, and put his work-in-progress on the refrigerator so we can continue later.  Through practice, he is getting used to doing his endeavors to completion.  As he’s capable, he can decide when he’s finished with each task as he matures.

You cannot force mastery of a skill.  For mastery to occur, there must first be an attention span.  Of course, there are physiological milestones that must occur through child development for attention spans to lengthen.  Some people’s brains process differently, so they have other barriers to overcome.  Some of my closest friends could write, at length, about what has worked and not worked in their homes with their children, significant others, or even themselves.

There are other factors that play a role in one’s ability to master an undertaking: physical limitations, emotional barriers, proximity or logistics, financial aid, interest, etc.

Regardless of the difficulty of skill-acquisition, you can aid a child’s ability to master a skill by equipping them.  You can:

  • Remove distractions
  • Investigate your child’s learning style, and do your best to accommodate it
  • Engage in attention-building activities and games
  • Build unit-studies that specifically target and strengthen each weak link in the chain, one link at a time, until the whole chain is stronger
  • Be an encourager – through all the failures and false starts – be the biggest encourager available, your child’s most enthusiastic cheerleader, and wildly optimistic advocate
  • Choose the optimal time of day to work on the hardest duties
  • Ensure the physical needs of sleep and nutrition are met
  • Provide multiple opportunities for practice, again and again
  • Recruit outside help when necessary
  • Reinvent the charge at hand to make it interesting again
  • Be a great listener and observer
  • Provide constructive feedback
  • Teach time management skills, planning skills, and self-evaluation skills

Can you think of other ways you can help your children become tomorrow’s masters?  I’m so excited to watch our kids growing up together!

Love, Robyn

Life Lessons Series: Trusting is Better than Doubting

A third way to expand your child’s world is to teach him or her to be trusting.  Assume the best in other people.  Believe.  I think the best way to demonstrate you can trust people is to show your child how you give others the benefit of the doubt, or how you show grace.  The place this lesson starts is in the home, between you and your loved ones.    

No, you can’t trust everyone.  Children shouldn’t automatically trust strangers.  However, if you can teach your kids that you can live a life void of paranoia, you will all benefit.  Need to read more about the advantages?  Click here or here.

Life lesson: ‘I know you want to do the right thing.’ – that’s what I tell my son.  Instead of making statements about how my son may consistently do an activity poorly, or not listen, or even hit others, I tell him affirming statements to help him shape the way he talks to himself.  Then I help show him how to correct it.

We have so many opportunities to show we trust people.  We trust people when:

  • we don’t micromanage
  • we don’t nag
  • we start moving towards the car after telling the kids it’s time to get into the car (versus herding them up and hand-holding each one, for example)
  • we give the benefit of the doubt
  • we use positive speech
  • we forgive – my son apologizes and gives hugs
  • we encourage and invite them to try again – in fact, my son already says “Try again” (and he’s under 2 years old)

Of course, there are many moments trust is broken (with varying degrees of severity or impact).  It’s foolish not to address these ‘you-broke-my-trust’ times.  We don’t ignore these teachable moments, but we don’t make mountains or set up altars for sacrifice and demand penance (ha, ha) out of small matters either.  We don’t keep score and we don’t look back.  If there’s a pattern or trend we notice, we look for behavior triggers, how we can break bad habits, and form new ones.  We implement new rewards for breakthroughs, according to the degree of worthiness of those breakthroughs.  Then it’s time to move forward.  Yay!

In your everyday life, are you trusting of others?  Do you ever view someone or some thing with a touch of doubt, or misbelief?  Are there moments you find it hard to forgive?

What are some good ways to demonstrate trust in your own actions?

  • Be fully honest about your feelings, all the time.  It helps to figure out the best way to express yourself (time, word choice, tone, delivery method, setting), but it doesn’t help to hide your feelings.
  • Follow through, on time… or at least let the interested party know why you’ll miss a target.  This includes keeping promises to your children.
  • Drum up courage to do the right thing, every time.  If you do the wrong thing, go back and correct it.
  • Apologize for your mistakes.  It’ll be easy to show your kids you’re not perfect (if you’re like me), but you should say it out loud to them.  That way, they don’t have to be perfect, too.  No one is perfect.  That’s what makes the world interesting.  It’s okay.
  • As long as it doesn’t violate your own principles, stand by your family, friends and nation.
  • Don’t take things that don’t belong to you, including ideas.  Don’t claim ownership of ideas, styles, belongings, (etc.) that you didn’t create.

If you can demonstrate your own trustworthiness, and also assume the best in others, while communicating when there is disparity, you will become a better communicator.  People will know what you want and need.  Your children will see you as a role model for integrity.

What are some practical ways you’ve shown your kids how to be trusting or trustworthy?

Love, Robyn Cooper

Life Lessons Series: Empowering is Better than Deflating

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Autonomy (noun) as the state of existing or acting separately from others; the power or right of a country, group, etc., to govern itself.

A second way to expand your child’s world is to help them find their own sense of pride in their autonomy. Empower.  Helping children become more autonomous takes more of your time and guidance up front, but it makes them shine brighter!

Sure, you may have extra spills, have to listen more carefully to their desires, and need to put your own agenda on the back-burner a little, but your child will more likely grow up to be more capable and competent individuals.  Need to read more about the benefits?  Click here.

Life lesson: “[Name], do [task] or mommy’s going to help you. 1. 2. 3.”  Normally I don’t have to count to 3.

I just shared a sentence I use multiple times throughout the day with my toddler.  I don’t resort to spanking.  My next level of discipline is to show him how to do the task at hand.  If he shares an emotion (starts having a tantrum, shows an attitude) I address his emotion too, but I help him complete the task.  Don’t we all want to be able to do things on our own?

10 reasons I love this sentence “Do it or mommy’s going to help you”:

  1. My toddler has the choice to complete a task on his own first.
  2. My toddler proves he can successfully do the task – he proves it to himself, and he proves it to me.
  3. My toddler prefers to do things on his own, in his own way – why impose my way when he watches how I do it anyway.  ‘My way’ of doing a particular task is not ‘the point’ to him.  He often tests theories he’s come up with on his own.  Does he tell me he has theories?  Duh, no (grin).  I just observe him employing various methods on his own.  Sometimes, he says ‘Mommy help’, or comes to get me for my help.  That’s my invitation to help him.
  4. My toddler has so many additional learning opportunities through the day because I try not to step in and take over.
  5. My toddler still doesn’t escape ‘essential tasks’ – these are the tasks we must do regardless of our circumstance.  For example, if he spills milk, he needs to clean it up.  If he hits a friend, he needs to say sorry and offer a hug.
  6. I am more conscious of my toddler’s interests
  7. I am aware of my toddler’s attention span and distractions
  8. I have become better at understanding my toddler’s verbal and non-verbal cues
  9. we address the attitudes of our hearts during this process
  10. I’ve read character is built in children by the age of 5, so I’m doing as much as possible to build his character now.  Being confident, capable, considerate, making your own choices, and willing to correct your mistakes are essential components.

What are some areas you can help empower your children more?  What are some other character lessons you teach your children?

Life Lessons Series: Giving is Better than Taking

One way to expand your child’s world is to find ways to be giving. Volunteer.  It’s likely you’ll sleep easier at night by trying to improve someone else’s life or leaving the world a better place.

Even though you’re not getting paid, and may not personally benefit, helping others is worth your time.  Need to read more about the benefits?  Click here.

Life lesson: ‘We share because we like when others feel happy’ – that’s what I tell my son.  It’s so simple and so valid for many different situations.

I adopt this ‘posture’ in my life, and challenge you to do the same.  For example, at night I like to say a prayer with my hands open.  It’s symbolic because my hands are open to ‘receiving’, rather than closed because I’m holding onto something.  My heart is this way too.  I have an open heart so I can be giving to others.  I’d rather be able to say ‘yes’ in life, wouldn’t you?

Do you ball your hands up, hanging onto things or ideas too tightly?  What would become possible if you loosen your grip?  What possibilities are you blocking out by not saying ‘yes’?

What are some good ways to share?  You can share your resources, your toys, or your money; your time’ your thoughts, knowledge or expertise; or your connections or network.

I’ve seen some great examples of people sharing. Good friends of my family started an annual pub crawl to raise money for the Humane Society. Close friends have an annual Halloween party to raise money for UNICEF.  I love sending support to pastors and missionaries, children with needs or even just helping friends.

Be flexible – The way you can help others may change over time.  In my grade school years I used to visit nursing homes.  Then as a young teen I volunteered at my veterinarian’s office.  Later I helped out at the Humane Society.  I taught toddlers at our church.  I was a youth counselor at three different churches and then ran a young adult small group, and started a prayer group.  It’s nice to set a good example for your children in areas you can, and these areas will probably change over time.  A great friend of mine told me one of the greatest lessons she’s learned as a mom is to be flexible.  We can be flexible in our life, and still find ways to be giving.

Here are some other ways you can help others:

– Habitat for Humanity
– Big Brothers Big Sisters
– go plant some trees
– clean up a local park or walking trail
– pick up trash along a road or the highway
– listen to a friend
– baby-sit for a friend, or mop the floor in his or her home
– run a meal to someone who is sick

What ways have you found to be giving this year?

Love, Robyn Cooper