It’s confession time.
Often over the past year-and-a-half, I’ve felt like a bad parent for what I’ve resorted to with my kids. iPad/YouTube babysitting, bedtime stories skipped (it’s been a few months now actually), discipline deferred or mishandled, and coddling when a clear, intentional, or clever strategy to tackle avoidance or noncompliance was called for.
I’ve comforted myself by blaming Covid and resorting to convenient platitudes … “we live in exceptional times”, “it’ll be okay when we get back to normal”, “we’ll start tomorrow.”
But, you know what? None of that really helps.
Especially when you know better. When you know the goal is to facilitate ever greater levels of challenge and productive struggle (appropriately scaffolded of course) towards mastery, to teach them to look for opportunity and develop the confidence to risk grasping it.
I think we all know, deep down, that the secret to a successful life lies in walking the line between the realm of chaos and the realm of order. Too much chaos and we eventually fold in on ourselves, unable to sustain the strain. Too much order, and we become complacent and risk stagnation.
We need challenges that we can overcome, hence we venture into that realm where the outcomes are beyond our control (although not our influence). We need to be stretched in order to grow in skill, in competence and in confidence. Of course, some of life’s challenges come unbidden (witness the pandemic). But the best way to prepare for those challenges is to choose our challenges in between those moments of unexpected challenge. Those chosen challenges could be a fitness goal, a course of study, or a habit to be broken or cultivated. Thus, when the unbidden challenges of life come knocking, we can at least face them with the confidence that comes from already having overcome the challenges that we have chosen and set for ourselves.
So here’s a little activity that is helping me at the moment. I hope you may find it of some value.
Essentially, it’s a “gratitude and goals” journal (if you’re looking for authority, think of Prof. Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset work, alongside a host of others).
I started by asking my son (who is admittedly seven years old) to list three things about which he is both grateful and proud (so it’s about making good use of resources and opportunities).
That I get to go to rugby and that I did the whole practice today.
That we have an outdoor learning space and that I finished ball skills there today.
That I have a new kitten and that I fed it today.
So far so good. Then I asked him to list three things he could do the next day that he would be proud of at the end of it.
Say good morning to the teacher doing screening tomorrow (he is extremely shy - see my confessions above).
Finish the whole of jiu jitsu practice tomorrow.
Move my kitten’s bed and food to the kitchen at night.
And so it proceeds. You get the idea.
The point is to wire the brain to look for the positives and the opportunities in life, and to cultivate a sense of agency and healthy confidence. We could all use more of that and I think we adults could benefit from this activity too.
In fact, I’m starting my journal now. Will you join me?
Somerset College: Executive Head