Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mindfulness: How children can develop self-discipline!

Like a boss!
This summer I've been teaching summer school. It's been a really great experience so far. They gave me specific standards to cover, but all the freedom in the world to get this accomplished! That was a huge win-win in my estimation! To make things even better, I've had the opportunity to also share some brain-based learning strategies with this great group of kids over the last three weeks. Hrmmm, so I guess it's a win-win-win (and here I thought it couldn't get any better).

Now I didn't want to overwhelm this group with strategy after strategy that they would have difficulty remembering. I wanted this to be meaningful and applicable. I share many of my standard fare, especially the attitude they should develop toward hard work and how their brains get smarter under those conditions. My favorite thing to ask (both young and old alike) is "what is 1+1?" They always seem confused, as if it is a trick question, before finally (and always timidly) answering "two." I then offer them an OVER THE TOP congratulations, quickly followed by the proclamation that they have learned absolutely nothing. If it is easy, you're not learning. However, if it is HARD, then be happy because it means you really are learning something. Kids get this and it is an important thing for them to understand.

Yet, the one point I kept hammering over and over is mindfulness. I repeated over and over that I was just going to be with them for a few short weeks. My goal was to help them get a head start on the upcoming year. I was very frank when I explained that we didn't have the time to set up a complex discipline plan, etc., etc. blah, blah, blah (I think that was what I said verbatim too). Instead I told them, over and over, that they had to be mindful of what they were doing. "You all know what you should be doing, right? I've got a lot of teaching I need to do with you. We just don't have the time to go over things that you already know." I didn't say should know. These are things they know, period.

I was blunt, I was honest, and I was sincere when I told them that there are two types of people in this world...those that tell themselves what they need to do and those that wait to be told what to do. I truly enjoy a lively and talkative classroom (totally another subject, but if your kid is a talker, that is a GOOD thing), but during transitions between activities and walking down the hall, I do not tolerate error. They must walk with military precision! Well...within reason. During these times, rather than give them an endless loop of commands stating what they should do (get back in line, stop talking, turn around, get off the wall, pay attention, rinse, repeat), I just consistently kept asking them to be mindful of where they were, and what they should be doing, along with the occasional refresher of why this really should matter to them. Hey, you won't be in my class next year...I'm just trying to do you a solid.

It really clicked with these kids. After 2 1/2 weeks, all I had to do today was say "where are you?" or "be mindful" and it worked wonders. The crowning achievement was a wiggly and talkative boy, who reminded me quite a bit of a kid I once fostered. He was trying hard and doing his best until today. Today was different. Today...I said nothing to him and instead he told himself what to do. THAT is golden! One of the biggest obstacles for teachers and parents is the whole "out of sight, out of mind" attitude kids naturally have. When the cat (that's you) is away, the mice will play! But this was different. I experimented on a small group trying to get them to be the boss of themselves. I asked one girl "why do you want other people to be the boss of you and tell you what to do?" This isn't just about school I told her. I know a lot of adults that have to be told what to do before they act. What will you choose to do?

Do you always want people telling you what to do because you can't make the right choice yourself? Be your own boss! Do what you know is right, before someone needs to tell you, and as a SUPER AWESOME BONUS, I told them parents go gaga when kids do this! It's a wondrous event that scores many points with us parental figures and that is always a good thing (hey, I had to tailor my presentation to my audience). The most successful people in the world all universally share the same trait...self-discipline. They do what needs to be done, because they know it needs to be done, not because they are told to do it. They are intrinsically motivated! They are awesome! Do you want to be awesome? Be your own boss then, and I'll help by reminding you along the way until you learn to do it yourself.

Studying is hard, listening is hard, paying attention is hard, behaving in class is hard...but you make it harder on yourself if you wait around till someone reminds you to do it, not to mention, it does nothing for your self-confidence. Self-confidence comes from doing, not delusion. These are all things we must practice. I've often said that perseverance trumps education and intelligence, but how to develop the ability to persevere? You must develop self-discipline, and a simple way to help our kids is mindfulness. Remind them, guide them, and model it for them. It won't happen overnight, but there are few things you can teach your children more valuable than to be mindful and develop self-discipline. Be your own boss or someone WILL do it for you! It's one or the other.