Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lessons on the Soccer Field

In a recent conversation, I mentioned that my son is adopted from Korea.  A mom asked if we ever experienced prejudice.  The happy answer is there were only a couple incidents. By and large he was welcomed by schools, kids, parents and church.  But she asked how I handled the things that did happen.

The answer is simple: I took 2 steps backwards.  I often recommend this method when disciplining children but also any time you are going to react emotionally; step back, calm down and wait for a good response.

One lovely summer evening, our travel soccer team played a new opponent.  My son, Kevin, loved soccer and was very fast.  Along with his teammates, we were routing the other team.  Soon I started hearing things like: “there goes the Chink”, “Hey Chink boy”, “oh aren’t we all scared by the Chink”.  It went on and on.  No coach stopped it. This had never happened before and I was appalled and angry.

But I just sat there.  I wanted to jump up and stop the game but I knew that “interfering soccer moms” are rarely listened to and seen only as a pain in the neck.  My friends were watching me – I knew they thought I should react. But I continued to sit there.

After the game, Kevin and his teammates ran over and asked if I heard the slurs. I said yes but that the opponent team “was close, but no cigar”.  When they all looked at me puzzled, I explained that “Chink” was a derogatory word for a Chinese person, but Kevin was Korean so they got it all wrong.  The kids started laughing and in a move, I will never forget, they started dancing around Kevin, chanting a kind of rap: “Close, but no cigar; close, but no cigar”.  The tension was immediately over.

Two weeks later we played the same team.  Before the game I approached our coach and told him that if the same thing happened, I would not sit still, but would stop the game and remove Kevin from the field.  Our coach talked to their coach and whatever else they did; there were no more racial slurs.

Everyone learned so much.  Kevin continued to own and be proud of being Korean.  His friends learned that prejudice is often ignorant, mindless and just not true.  The coaches learned to take action (maybe late, but they would have learned nothing if I had embarrassed them by stopping the first game).  And I learned that supporting my son can sometimes best be done by looking at the whole picture – taking 2 steps backward and giving myself the gift of thinking.

The 2 steps backward rule works well in discipline too.  Wait until you are calm and have a plan.  Only then should you impose a consequence – I promise your children will remember what you are talking about and you will look much more like a leader to be listened to!!!!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Nature's Power In Raising Kids

During an early morning visit to see manatees on Florida’s Orange River, I heard a childish voice ring out across the stillness.  She was about 10 and was kayaking with her mother among these gentle, almost prehistoric sea animals.  “Look over here, look over there, oh my gosh, there are some more”; her innocent enthusiasm and delight left many of the park visitors smiling.

I also noted that she was completely comfortable with the kayak and handled it as a contributing member of the 2 person team.  She looked like a child that spent a lot of time outdoors.

It seems to me that children who experience nature and the outdoors on a regular basis develop many benefits.  It connects them with the great circle of life, the many mysteries of the world.  It dwarfs them in the larger scheme of things and teaches them that they are not the most important part of the universe.  They learn to respect nature and take their place in stewarding its gifts.  They learn how they can contribute to important ecological issues (saving the endangered manatees, for example).

They learn independence and resourcefulness as they master the skills needed to be strong and safe.  They face problems that need to be solved right now.  My brother once saved our cousin from drowning when the cousin fell off a rock at a very remote Northern Canada lake.  At the same lake, my friend and I struggled for 20 minutes to get back into a rowboat we had been swimming from.  The adults watched us from shore and would have come out to help us if we needed them, but they let us figure it out.  How proud and important my brother was when he became the family hero.  How much self confidence my friend and I gained when we got back into that boat.

Of course, there were many other factors in our growing up, but it is not surprising to me that my brother, friend and I all grew up to be confident, resourceful and independent people.  And we all continue to love the outdoors and nature.

My advice to parents is to get your kids outside as much as possible.  Expect them to entertain themselves in the yard.  Help them develop the skills and independence needed to ride their bikes safely so they can explore their neighborhood on their own.  Take them to parks and beaches and set them free to find the fun of building sand castles or playing in the waves.  Plan family hikes and visits to zoos and public gardens.

Call a time out from the addictions of the digital world – a world that is taking up much too much of our children’s time.  The digital world of tablets, ipods, tv, video games and computers is passive entertainment; the natural world is active entertainment.  Out of interactive, experiential activity, children learn responsibility, resourcefulness and respect.  Which by the way, are the main characteristics parents ask me to help them achieve with their children!