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Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Message

In the first year or so that my daughter, the Lovely K., was with me, she found phone conversations and leaving messages very challenging. She was eight, and had not had very much experience with phones in Ethiopia, if any. In many parts of the world, cell phones have leap-frogged right over land lines in places that never had phone service at all, but even so, not everybody can afford it. It is not unusual for just one person in an extended family or neighborhood to have a phone, and pass along messages and loan the phone as required.

But I digress. For many people, phones seem to be surgically attached, and it can be hard to bear in mind that talking on the phone is a skill we actually have to learn. In my childhood it was much simpler. We didn’t have answering machines, let alone cell phones. We had a weekly phone call with grandma, which accustomed me to speaking and listening to someone I couldn’t see, and therefore whose visual cues couldn’t help me follow the conversation. If we called a friend and nobody was home, the line would just ring and ring and ring, and we would try again later, or if the line was in use we got the busy signal, something that seems to be a relic of the past now.  I know, I know, "In my day..." is just about the most boring and curmudgeonly way to begin an argument!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Courage Question of the Day

Lion's Whiskers asks: What is, or was, your favorite bedtime ritual with your children?  What helped enrich your parent-child connection: reading stories together (which ones?), singing a song, saying a prayer?  

We'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Empty Pot

A traditional story of social courage for today has its origins in China. Or Bosnia – I’ve seen it identified both ways. It was retold very well in storybook form by author-illustrator Demi, and this is my retelling. If you want to learn it and retell it in your own words, here are my tips for how to tell a story

Long, long ago, the reigning emperor realized that because he had no son, he must select an heir to be emperor after him. Throughout the land, the news was sent: there would be a contest. Every eligible boy must come forward and receive one special seed. After one year, the boy whose seed had become the most thriving plant would wear the crown.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Courage Book Review - Who is the Other Mother? (and how do I get away from her!!?)

I was struck by Lisa's post yesterday about playing the Lion Game; what struck me was her young son's conviction that she really had "gone away" and had become something else.  In this case, she had become a lion to him, and he was as frightened as if it had really happened.  You could say that for him, it really had happened.  This is a confusion that children grow out of; when they're older they can recognize their parents under masks or in costumes, and not be bewildered.

Coraline   [CORALINE] [Hardcover]Yet the fear... do children outgrow it?  Today's review is of a spectacularly creepy book which enthralls middle grade children and unnerves parents.  Coraline, by the masterful storyteller of the macabre, Neil Gaiman.  

Here we have a child left to her own devices in an old house.  Her parents are busy and distracted.  She finds a mysterious passageway into a mirror house, and to her surprise and initial delight, she finds another set of parents.  

"Coraline?" the woman said.  "Is that you?"

And then she turned around.  Her eyes were big black buttons.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Playing the Lion Game

Around the time of my son E.’s first birthday he took charge of managing his separation anxiety, conquering fear, and developing a capacity for courage.  How exactly did he do that, you ask?  Well, we’d been reading lots of books together about animals, and making the requisite oink-oink here, baa-baa there, and moo-moo everywhere to help him learn to communicate in sounds and words.  I noticed that he jumped every time I made the rather dramatic ROAR! for the lion.  He loved my lion, and he feared my lion at the same time. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

"Choosing to go forward in the face of uncertainty is the willful, distinctly human act of optimism we perform each day.  We may know too much about the unpredictable ways of the world to expect a happy ending, but we can't help but hope for one all the same." ~ Fred Epstein, M.D., Author of if I get to five: What Children Can Teach Us About Courage and Character (2003)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Courage Challenge of the Day

This challenge is for teens who have their thumbs on their phones all the time, texting their friends to make plans to meet. The next time you have to make an appointment for your teen - doctor, orthodontist, college admissions office, department of motor vehicles - whatever it may be: have your teen make the call. Speaking on the phone to strangers is a lifeskill your son or daughter needs to learn. Yes, it may be simpler for you to make this call yourself, but resist the temptation to take the easy way out. If necessary, rehearse with your teen in advance or write out a cheat sheet. For some teens this will be a social courage challenge, for others an emotional one, and for still others it may be an intellectual one. But rest assured, if your teen has forgotten that phones were originally designed for speaking and listening with, this will be a challenge!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Focus Locus Hocus Pocus!

As a parent, I find that the more widely I read on subjects not related to parenting, the more I find ideas that give me a new way to think about my parenting decisions. While reading articles on business and marketing, I came across the subject of Regulatory Focus Theory.

This theory, formulated by Professor E. Tory Higgins at Columbia University, proposes that there are two categories of people when it comes to goals. There are the people who have a Promotion Focus, and people who have a Prevention Focus. Promotion Focus is what motivates a person to move toward an aspirational goal, working actively to achieve something that counts as an advantage. The Higgins lab puts it this way: "A promotion focus emphasizes hopes, accomplishments, and advancement needs." The Prevention Focus creates more cautious behavior, motivated by preventing loss, and is guided by obligation, duty, and rules. As the Higgins Lab says, "A prevention focus emphasizes safety, responsibility, and security needs." A person's regulatory focus can either be chronic or momentary, i.e. normal state or induced by a given situation.  Promotion-focused individuals may speak of their goals using language such as "I could" "I want to" "I plan to" "I hope to," while prevention-focused individuals may use language such as "I should" "I have to" "I'm supposed to" while discussing goals.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Courage Tip of the Day

Write yourself a thank you note.

Be sure to note all the things you do that make you an awesome parent! (i.e. showing up at your child's play or sports events, apologizing when you raised your voice, reading a bedtime story even when you're tired, listening intently to your child recount his/her day, being on time, making healthy meals...day after day after day, coaching your child to be courageous even when you were afraid!)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Water Seller's Donkey and The Sword of Damocles

I found a Rumi parable the other day that reminded me of the Greek story of the Sword of Damocles. Both have to do with envy, and speak to the need for intellectual courage in asking questions and checking our assumptions – especially when we are comparing ourselves to others. Here are both stories. I’ve told K. the story of the Sword of Damocles, but now I also have the Water Seller’s Donkey to share with her. If you want to share these with your child, feel free to tell them in your own words – as you’ll see, they aren’t long, and won’t be hard to learn.

A poor water seller had a donkey who carried the heavy jugs of water, and it was weary work; the donkey was always hungry and tired, and his hooves ached. One day, the sultan’s groom crossed paths with the water seller, and asked, “Why is this beast so thin?”
“I’m a poor man,” the water seller replied. “I do my best for him.”
“Let him come to the sultan’s stables for a rest,” said the groom.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Courage Book Review - Taking a Walk with the Buddha

Becoming Buddha: The Story of SiddharthaToday's courage book review offers two illustrated books for children of Jataka tales, tales the Buddha told, but to begin with, here's a beautiful picture book biography to put the Jataka tales into context:  Becoming Buddha: The Story of Siddhartha, written by Whitney Stewart, with really really beautiful art by Sally Rippin, and with a foreword by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. In simple prose, the story describes the journey of Siddhartha from wealth and privilege to enlightenment.   The Jataka tales were the stories the Buddha told to his followers to help them on their own journeys.  Siddhartha's journey was obviously one of spiritual courage, which we define as the courage which fortifies us as we ask questions about meaning and purpose.  His purpose was nothing less than to find the cause of human suffering.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hold Out Your Hand and Close Your Eyes!

Firstly, "Happy Father's Day!" to all our readers who are dads. Here's a great quote to start your day:

"My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me." ~ Jim Valvano
Now for today's post:

Further to the research in previous posts that I’ve shared about the importance of baby bonding, creating healthy attachment between parent and child, separation anxiety, and the development of object permanence—these games help build trust and playfulness into your everyday life with young children. 

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Courage Tip of the Day

Be a HIGHLIGHTER for your kids. When you see them do something challenging, even if it's as simple as remembering to hang up a coat or take turns, tell them you noticed! That's encouragement.

What we notice, we get more of!


Thursday, June 16, 2011


I’ve been thinking about emotional courage, and the struggle we have, as parents, to encourage our kids to do things on their own.  Lisa has explained this beautifully in her posts about internal vs. external locus of control.   Ironically, although we want our children to learn to look within themselves when they want to accomplish something, one aspect of emotional courage is having the courage to ask for and accept help.  Yes,  we want to teach the kids is to discern the difference between needing help and not really needing help.  Much of the time, when K. asks for help, she doesn’t really need help, she just doesn’t want to put in the effort or she wants company or attention – she has some other need that isn’t really a need for assistance with the task at hand.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Sky is Falling? Really?

It is the nature of children (and grown-ups) to tell stories. That’s a given. Stories act a social lubricant among kids, a currency of exchange, and as a way to share information about their lives and their relationship to the world – or information about how the world works. I know from personal experience that telling a story with an air of incontrovertible authority (my specialty almost since I gained the power of speech) or telling a story with emotional intensity can be very persuasive to the listener. Many listeners can be convinced of the truth of a story without ever pausing to ask questions, but if we don’t teach our kids to greet information with appropriate skepticism, we run the risk that they will grow up to follow rascals, demagogues and ignoramuses.  Intellectual courage allows us to question information, and social courage gives us the courage to resist using sensational information as a social currency or passport to attention.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Courage Book Review - Take Courage from the Story

"Take courage from the story" is a Dakota proverb, written phonetically as Nee yeh chee yi yo.  This was shared with me by my good friend, Joseph Bruchac, one of the country's most prolific authors and storytellers in the Native American tradition.  His own Abenaki heritage, and his close ties to the Native American clans of upstate New York (where we both live) and the whole United States, Canada and Mexico, have made him one of the premier interpreters of Native American and First Peoples stories in all of North America.  His many many books for children, teens, and adults have brought us countless legends, creation myths, trickster tales and hero stories. Many of these stories are traditionally told with the explicit goal of modeling and inspiring courage. 

So today, Lion's Whiskers is happy to present a brief sampling of the Bruchac bookshelf.

begins with an introduction in which Bruchac says the following:  "Many of the stories I've been given are tales designed not only to help the boy find his way to full manhood but also to help the man remember the boy within himself... One of the reasons I have devoted so much of my own life to the understanding and the respectful retelling of traditional Native stories is my strong belief that now, more than ever, these tales have much to teach us -- whether we are of Native ancestry of not.  Our own traditions can be made stronger only when we pay attention to and respect the traditions of people who are different from ourselves."  The stories in this collection are arranged geographically into four quadrants, giving us a chance to observe regional difference in the Native American experience as well as an opportunity to see the universal elements.  They are all about boys and young men, but there's no reason to think your daughter won't enjoy them, too.

The Girl Who Helped Thunder and Other Native American Folktales (Folktales of the World)However, if she prefers stories featuring female protagonists, you might reach for The Girl Who Helped Thunder and Other Native American Folktales (Folktales of the World)  (co-authored with James Bruchac, one of Joseph Bruchac's sons).  This collection divides the stories at an even finer geographic scale; each section begins with a one-page narrative introduction to the traditions of that region.  The creation myths, trickster tales and hero tales show us all six types of courage at work, at both the heroic and everyday level - and some stories show the lack of courage at work, too.  The vivid folk-art illustrations by Stefano Vitale have are beautiful and eye-catching.  Many of the stories, in addition to the title story, feature girls and women in heroic roles.

Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for ChildrenFinally, for a series of books that combines storytelling with hands-on activities, many of which might qualify as courage challenges for you or your child, is the "Keepers of the Earth" series of books written by Joseph Bruchac with ecologist, environmentalist, and nature educator,  Michael J. Caduto.  These books are:

These fascinating collections combine storytelling with exploration activities, leading parents, children and teachers into a deeper interaction with the natural world.  Physical courage, intellectual courage, moral courage, emotional courage, social courage and spiritual courage are all invoked, illustrated, and encouraged by these books.  Highly recommended. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg, as far as Joseph Bruchac's books are concerned.  Take a walk past the folktales section of your public library; you will find the path along the Bruchac books a long one indeed.  Stop and pick any of them for a message from the ancestors. You'll find yourself inspired.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

What Goes Around, Comes Around!

My two favorite moral commandments as a parent are as follows:   As you point one finger at another, notice that three fingers are pointing back at you and Treat others as you would wish them to treat you.  Essentially, my own abbreviated versions of the Golden Rule which shows up in Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Sufism, and many others. I’m big on empathy (putting oneself in another’s shoes) and on walking my talk, as I’ve mentioned.  My kids ensure that I hold true to my word.  Integrity is, after all, matching our words with our actions; and moral courage is dependent on personal integrity.

A classic tale from my own family’s treasure trove of tales that illustrates my moral commandments in-action involves my son and a very pregnant me.   

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Courage Tip of the Day

Tell your kids about a time you were scared; they don't always realize that grown-ups feel fear, too. This helps to normalize fear as a part of life. Through story you can help teach them to listen to their fear as their own alarm system, (like Peter Parker's aka Spiderman's 'Spidey sense') and also how to overcome both real and imagined fears.

Friday, June 10, 2011

5-Minute Courage Workout: Thinking Outside the Box

Compiled and written by Lisa and Jennifer:

The younger the mind, the more flexible the thinking.  Studies from social psychology and education show that younger children are not yet inhibited by more conventional, rational problem-solving.  We could all learn to think outside the box a little more.  Your child can help lead the way outside!

Here's a list of 5-Minute Courage Workouts by age range to improve intellectual flexibility.

 Grab Some Lion's Whiskers Today!
  • Toddler: you'll need to dig out some boxes from your basement or visit your local supermarket and ask for some.  Perhaps you even saved a giant box from a recent refrigerator or washing machine delivery?  Now, that would be great!  Place the box in the middle of the living room, stand back, and prepare to be amazed by how your toddler will explore what you think is "just a box."  Your challenge is to not assume what they make of the box and simply observe.  Get down on the ground yourself, crawl around and follow their lead around the box. See how the box transforms in your own eyes. 
  • Preschooler: find several boxes that can nest inside each other, like a set of Russian nesting dolls.  Large paper boxes, tissue or cereal boxes, and delicate velvet ring boxes.  Lay out all the boxes for your preschooler and say "What do you think these boxes are for?" Then, ask your child "How would you like to arrange these boxes?"  Be prepared to be surprised by the ways he/she may see the boxes in relationship to one another.  Encourage your child to think for him/herself.  If they want to have direction with this task, you could say "There is no right or wrong way to put these boxes together.  I am really curious to see what you create all on your own."  The way your child explores space and sees relationships between objects may cause you to look at spatial relationships in ways you haven't in years. 
  • Early elementary student: find a dozen random objects from throughout your house (look for variety) and put them in a box on the dining room table.  Ask your child to sort them without explaining or suggesting what the categories might be.  If your child really craves guidance, just say "Take your best guess about at least one way these objects can be related or similar."  Step back and resist the temptation to sort the objects for them.  See if you, too, can find more than one way to sort the objects into categories.  For example: color, shape, function, size, ownership.
  • Upper elementary student:  On your next drive or walk together, ask your child to imagine a world where there are no rules and that they didn't care what other people thought about what they (your child) did.  Now ask them what is the first thing they would do?  Share with your child what you would do if you didn't care what other people thought, and if you didn't box yourself into certain ways of thinking, feeling or behaving. 
  • High schooler or teen: It's time to rule the world.  Ask your teen what laws he or she would enact if put in charge of everything and everyone.  What kind of society would they like to create and what would it take to do that?  Dwell in possibility with them instead of immediately squashing idealistic proposals that you think would be difficult or unworkable or have dire unintended consequences.  Soon our teens will be our leaders; it's best to give them time for creative brainstorming now!

For every problem there is a solution; it might just take thinking about the problem in a way you may not yet have considered.  Or asking a different question about the problem. This courage workout can help you and your child experiment with new ways of tackling problems.  Maybe doing this workout will bring some humor and hope to problems that get us all stuck at times.  Review the Six Types of Courage to figure out which types your child needs to complete this workout.

Here are some additional 5-Minute Courage Workouts: Navigating the Neighborhood, Playing With Fire, A Fate Worse Than Death, Home Alone, Saying I'm Sorry, Talking DirtyIt's A Dog Eat Dog World

We'd love to hear about your results with one of these workouts, or share your own!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Warning! Caution! Dangerous Things!

“Playing with knives” and “playing with fire” sound dangerous, not surprisingly. If children are allowed to treat these things as toys they probably will get hurt. I wouldn’t let my daughter “play” with fire or “play” with a knife, but I certainly let her use them. After all, in the “olden days” children routinely used knives, and had lit candles in their bedrooms, and chopped kindling with hatchets and built fires in cook stoves and did all kinds of “dangerous” things. If we think of these things as tools rather than toys, we see them as part of a suite of skills to teach our kids, something around which we can build a courage challenge. Using these tools is not beyond the intellectual skill level or physical abilities of a child, like, for example, driving an 18-wheeler or playing a pipe organ is. If they were, then children in the “olden days” wouldn’t have been expected to do them.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Courage Question of the Day

If you had an abundance of social courage, what would you do? Try out for American Idol? Host a theme party? Wear something you wouldn't otherwise wear in public? Turn your front lawn into a wildflower meadow? Stop apologizing for your kids' manners?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Nemean Lion

We have a lot of lion stories on this blog! Choose a warm weekend night this spring to tell this one, but first, see if you can find and identify the constellation Leo. Sharing a story under the starry sky is magical, and because you do it in the dark, your child’s imagination is wide open. (We see Leo in the spring in the Northern Hemisphere: if you are in the Southern Hemisphere, you are of course looking for Leo in the autumn sky.)

Mighty Herakles (Hercules to the Romans) was made mad with rage by Hera, the wife of Zeus. In this fit of madness he murdered his wife and children. As punishment and penance, he was
assigned twelve labors, or enormous tasks,  (giving us the word “Herculean” for a huge job). The first of these labors was to slay the dreaded Lion of Nemea.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Courage Question of the Day

Lion's Whiskers asks: What life skills do you want to teach your child before he/she leaves home? 

For example: How to make fire...you never know when the Survivor producers may call? How to set the table and say "please" & "thank you"? How to raise money for a worthwhile cause and care about the planet they will inherit?  How to call 911?  How to use a knife in food preparation? How to wash laundry (without everything becoming grey), stain-remove, fold, and actually put it all away?  How to ride a bike or drive a car (safely)!?

Please leave your thoughts in the comments!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Cheese Stands Alone

I hit a parenting low point the other day.  I drove a piece of cheese to my son’s middle school.  Just the cheese and I, buckled in safely, driving together across town to attend my son’s French 8 Mardi Gras party.  I wasn’t invited, just the cheese.

The cheese was my cross to bear after being interviewed recently for a parenting magazine about when it is okay to rescue our kids, and deliver the cheese when they forget it, and when it’s not okay.  I’d shared with the magazine writer that I’m coaching my kids to be courageous in life primarily through encouraging an internal locus of control.  For example, I discuss with my kids at the beginning of each year what their responsibilities are and what mine are.  I also offer one free rescue per year.  This year both my kids used their freebie in the first few weeks of school.  I was able to do them that favor. Heck, I was even happy to help.  But I was clear that I would not be doing it again.  Since then, I’ve received no calls from my daughter and three more phone calls from my son begging me, in a pleading tone coupled with long awkward pauses.  “I don’t have any lunch money!” “I forgot to get you to sign my assignment, I'm gonna' lose 15 points if you don't sign my assignment today.” “I need my rowing gear.”  I problem-solved with him by phone and got him to identify a few possible solutions, but I didn’t rescue him. I know, I sound hard-core right?  Well, that's the thing about coaching courageous kids who have a belief and expectancy that they are the masters of their own destiny, as their parent you sometimes have to be hard-core.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Lunch Letters

Every day since K. arrived in this country at the start of second grade, I put a note in her lunch bag. When her English and her literacy were still limited, these notes consisted of pretty simple statements. “I love you, love Mommy,” or “You are a good girl, love Mommy,” or “Do your best, love Mommy,” were in frequent rotation in big, legible printing. As her reading improved the notes got a little more complex: “Work hard and have fun in school, love Mommy” or “Play fair with your friends at recess, love Mommy.”

By the end of fourth grade, her reading was catching up, and the notes became even more complicated. I printed out a business card-sized form with the following request: “Notice something special about, or do something helpful for, or say something nice to __________ today and tell me about it at dinner.” Then I’d fill in the blank with a classmate’s name. At first I put in the names of the girls in her class. The result was fascinating, because when she turned her gaze in this way to the individual girls in sequence she spent attentive time with them, which strengthened existing friendships and created new ones. She was looking for good qualities, and offering encouraging words, and sharing herself more than usual, and the other children responded with affection.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

"Loneliness, insomnia, and change: the fear of these is even worse than the reality." 
~ Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook, 1966