Lock Lessons from Loss in Your Heart

Uncle Pete
Uncle Pete

My CRAZY Uncle Pete died this past week and was laid to rest. He really was nuts, but I mean that in a wholeheartedly loving way. He always made people laugh and never took life too seriously. How I wish we could have one more conversation with Uncle Pete, one more laugh, one more boat ride on a quiet lake to go fishing, one more Christmas Eve tradition– hootin’ and hollerin’ over our whacky Secret Santa game. We will all miss him so much.

As my Aunt said to me over the weekend, “Life is for the living.” So why would I waste blog space to selfishly talk about my sadness and seek sympathy for my family? Well, because perhaps there are rich lessons veiled in my reflection that we can impart to our children as we struggle with grief (sprinkled with regret) from losing a loved one.

I felt like the one silver lining in losing Crazy Uncle Pete was it rebooted me big time on what matters with our “lives for the living” and with our next generation in this world:

  •  Family and extended family really matter – and taking the time to see each other really does give us strength. Family is “going home” to reconnect with our roots. Are we doing enough to let our children know about their heritage?
  • Friendship is pure gold. A friend who comforts you in your dark storm is a friend to treasure. Are we doing what we can to be that friend to those who are struggling? We tend to be super supportive during loss, funerals – we are good friends, good daughters, good sisters, good cousins….but what can we do every day to have that same drive to support and show kindness to our friends?
  • There are so many random acts of kindness swirling around us during a grief-stricken time…so many people who do favors without the hunt for a gain. I ask myself, why can’t we all be in this mode as a common practice? And how would that change the landscape of our culture? Fun to dream of that better way.
  • At times of grief and loss, there is so much civility, such good manners, exhibited in abundance. How can we keep that vibe alive in our society on happy occasions, too, and on hurried weekdays when we are all out there dashing through the race of life?
  • When we suffer loss, many of us take stock in how we are spending our time each day, assessing what is and is not serving us well. Is there a way we can do self-regulation more regularly? Our most cherished possessions are the memories we’ve made with our dear friends, our family, and especially our children during their fragile and magical formative years.

So, my dear Uncle Pete: May you rest in peace. And thank you, Uncle, for the lessons this week; they are locked in my heart just like the memory of that day, long ago, floating in a little boat on Cape Cod.

Choose Kind,
Leigh Ann

Uncle Pete and Mom in Their Younger Days
Uncle Pete and Mom in Their Younger Days
Forever in My Heart
Forever in My Heart

Fair, Fun and Kind at 5 Years Old…or 35 Years Old

Guest blog iconWith twin daughters in preschool, we are never at a shortage of dinner conversation.  It’s at this time that I try to dig a little bit about what’s REALLY going on at school.  What are the best moments and the worst?  Who is making them laugh and cry?  When do they feel their bravest and their most scared?  The things I feel that I should know as their mom.  The things I know are sometimes hard to identify in myself.
This year, at almost 5 years old, they are beginning to see, for the first time, a line between boys and girls.  It started innocently enough.  They said they didn’t like it “because it’s a GIRLS song…” or “That’s a boys toy, where are the girl toys?”  Let me set the record straight by saying we own a wardrobe of princess dress up clothes, and they are housed in a box next to the matchbox cars.  We play with dolls and blocks.  We run fast, get dirty and like glitter.  We are equal opportunists when it comes to cool things.  And cool is subjective, not gender exclusive.  So these early comments were new and unexpected but harmless.  They still are.  But now, instead of looking past them, I’ve used them as a chance to explain why they don’t have to be the rule.
Now, when I hear, “that’s a boys game,” I ask, “what does that mean?”  I continue with, “I think it’s okay to like lots of things.  Next time just tell them it’s fun if everyone plays together.”  I remind my girls to include everyone — even (and especially) the kids who might not have been so nice the last time.  To play and sing and wear what is interesting.  Yes, that might be the pinkest, frilliest, princessiest thing in the store, and that’s fine.  But they love Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman and that’s pretty awesome too.  I remind them to tell others that boys and girls can do lots of things.  Lots of the same things.  If they want to.  But above all, to include and respect each of their classmates and teammates and friends.  Do I think other 4 and 5 year old are harboring ill feelings?  Of course not.  It’s hard out there for all of them when it feels like you have to fit in.  Even though I didn’t imagine it would start quite this early in life…it’s happening.  And it’s best for all of us if my daughters choose fairness, fun and kindness first — a vision shared by both MySuperFoods and Wear the Cape. I hope it helps remind me to do the same.
Katie Jesionowski is the co-founder of MySuperFoods Company.
superfoods

My Girl Bridget Jones under Siege – Aren’t We Better than That?

Comments today about the actress Renee Zellweger appear to be limitless, both in number and cruelty. Apparently, she has taken some actions that have her looking quite different—some say “unrecognizable”—highlighted by her seemingly wrinkle-free poses on the red carpet this week.

Social media has gone hog wild, taking some pretty brutal shots at this woman. The wave of negativity is unhelpful to Zellweger herself and anyone reading it, particularly young people who are still in the process of solidifying self-image and developing ideas on what kind of behavior is ok. Is harsh judgment about appearance and tongue-lashing (or, should I say, keyboard thrashing) what we want kids to emulate?

It’s hard to watch a mob taking swings at a stranger. In our last post tied to Anti-bullying Month, Dr. Philip Brown asserts that, “Adults should prevent bullying behaviors, not model them.” After all, the fight against bullying needs all hands on deck to reduce its harmful effects on our children, he said.

Instead of judging this talented actress on her looks and possible facial modifications, let’s focus on her talents. In the flash of abuse this week, have any of her critics mentioned that she holds the honor of Academy Award-winning actress for her role in Cold Mountain? As a society, let’s not “pile on” and judge—it wastes a lot of time and energy that could be better utilized tackling our world’s challenges (this is something that everyday heroes—people who are changing the world for the better—recognize and reflect in their actions).

As Jennifer Uffalussy of The Guardian put it, “As disturbing as it may be sometimes to see a public figure physically transform before our eyes, it’s even more troubling to see how effortlessly we rush to say something about that transformation.” Not sure about the rest of you, but today I choose to support my girl Renee and applaud her gifts as an actress. I might even break out some of my Zellweger flicks. Jerry Maguire, anyone?

Choose Kind,
Leigh Ann

P.S. Why ARE WE so concerned with how people look? I submit and ask us to consider very seriously that, instead, we SHOULD be more focused on who the person is at the core and what the person contributes to our society. Sadly, as TIME Writer Brian Moylan pointed out, “There is a very real reason why Zellweger would want a whole new face: we were all incredibly mean to her old one.”

Flickr/S Pakhrin
Flickr/S Pakhrin

“5 Ideas to Help Bring Bullying to an End” from Dr. Brown

Dr. Philip Brown, Ph.D.
Philip Brown, Ph.D.

It’s National Bullying Prevention Month, and this October there is much greater awareness than a decade ago about the serious impact bullying has on children’s lives. As parents, teachers and kids join hands to raise awareness about how to prevent bullying and how to respond when it occurs, here is Wear the Cape’s contribution, our top five tips for understanding and dealing with bullying:

5 Ideas to Help Bring Bullying to an End
By Philip Brown, PhD

  1. Bullying always involves more people than the bully and the victim.

Bullying is a social phenomenon and in order to stop it, everyone needs to be involved. In most bullying incidents, studies show that four or more additional peers are present[1]. Some assist by joining in the ridiculing or cheering on the bully from the sidelines, and others encourage the bully by showing signs of approval such as laughing or just watching and doing nothing.

What to do? Parents and teachers need to encourage kids to play an active part in their school community by providing opportunities to be positive role models of good character, exemplifying the values that connect people rather than divide them. Service projects that engage children across age levels and peer groups break down self-made barriers, create conditions to develop positive peer cultures, and help kids become upstanders rather than bystanders when it comes to bullying.

  1. Adults should prevent bullying behaviors, not model them.

Most parents and teachers don’t want their children or students to be victims of bullying. However, the authority and power adults have and need to guide and protect can also be used destructively. Correcting bad behavior is necessary, but putting kids down and indicating that they are bad kids or mocking their failings is bullying behavior that kids pick up on as okay and will learn to use on other kids themselves.

What to do? Correct the behavior, not the whole child. There is a big difference between “You didn’t do your homework, and we’ve talked about that before. What happened?” and “You don’t listen to me! What kind of a student do you think you are?”

  1. Bullying and conflict are not the same thing.

Conflict inevitably happens between people trying to get their needs met, and this can result in disagreement and hurt feelings. When people have strong disagreements, aggressive behavior and responses result that may appear similar to bullying. But there is an important difference. In situations of conflict, both parties have a degree of power, and there is a dispute over resources or decisions; there is no intention to victimize a person based on some characteristic such as their ethnicity or physical attributes. Another difference is that, for bullies, the reward is largely social – increased status, power, attention or revenge – not about an event or tangible reward. Kids are still learning how to navigate the complex world of friendships, which also leads to disagreements. Part of the growing-up process is learning how to solve these problems.

What to do? Don’t assume that every conflict requires identifying a bully and a victim. Conflict is a natural part of being human, and conflict resolution is a skill that children and adults alike need practice navigating with care and resourcefulness. Make sure your family and school teach and have learned basic conflict resolution skills.

  1. To break bullying cycles or patterns, learn to talk compassionately.

One student with a speech impediment is being belittled, teased, and often interrupted during his classwork. To address this pattern, his classroom teacher facilitates an intentional conversation designed to both break the pattern and help the children involved understand the impact of their behavior. In talking about being mean, the teacher also engages and reinforces the natural sense of empathy with which we are all born, but we all have to learn about and practice by being compassionate with different people in different contexts.

What to do? Compassionate communication helps in navigating interpersonal relationships. But if bullying behavior persists, intervention is called for: The victim will need specific support, and the perpetrator will require specific consequences.

  1. Give youth a voice and exercise your own voice, too.

Harassment, intimidation and bullying behaviors among children and youth are a peer phenomenon, and so kids are usually reluctant to talk with adults about it. Families and schools need to build in times and structures to help facilitate youth talking about their experiences, both positive and negative. Young people need to feel like they have an adult to whom they can turn if they are the target of bullying. They also need ways to feel safe expressing concerns about their peers’ bad behavior with adults and their peers.

What to do? Families and schools can create the conditions for youth voice by developing and reinforcing widely-shared, positive social norms (core ethical values), providing ways for all students to make valued contributions to the well-being of others, and implementing programs that regularly give youth a chance to speak their minds in a safe environment. Ask your kids how things are going at school, and stay tuned for signs of trouble with peers. Let them know directly and indirectly that they are not alone and that you are available to help them. Encourage them to be kind to others who are different than they are. Let teachers and school officials know that you support their bullying prevention efforts and programs, and hold them accountable for responding with care and appropriate consequences when bullying occurs.

[1] O’Connell, Pepler & Craig. Peer involvement in bullying: Insights and challenges for intervention. Journal of Adolescence. 1999 (22), p. 437-452.

The Proof Is in the Pudding

From left to right: Ron Litz, Emily Pollard, Katherine Szczubelek, Lauren Mead, and Stephanie Taeschler
From left to right: Ron Litz, Emily Pollard, Katherine Szczubelek, Lauren Mead, and Stephanie Taeschler

When it comes to tackling a giant challenge—say, showing kids across the country that it’s cool to be kind and that good character brings benefits in droves—words of support are HUGE. They’re the fuel to your engine, what you reach for when you need a hand to get back up. But even bigger than words are actions of assistance.

I am so incredibly grateful for the several amazing teachers from Park Middle School in Scotch Plains who have rolled up their sleeves. This awesome crew of five includes some of the key people who helped me launch Wear the Cape and the kidkind foundation almost a year ago and who are still hanging in there with me today!

In addition to their passion and volunteerism, the insight they’ve delivered about very real issues that our children face in schools today has been priceless to me and Wear the Cape’s mission.

I’ve found proof in the pudding. Thank you, my friends.

Choose kind,
Leigh Ann