Monday, April 29, 2013

Take Me out to the Ballgame

As baseball season begins, many parents find themselves concerned with whether or not their child has the right shoes or glove or technique.  Perhaps we should take a cue from the boys in the story though, and make sure that our kids have the right attitude as well.  Please feel free to share this post!  My husband sent it to me from work today and as I watched our son at his first baseball practice of the season, I couldn't help but tear up seeing all the happy, healthy, perfect kids smiling, catching and running.

"Baseball is the only place in life where a sacrifice is really appreciated."  ~Author Unknown

At a fundraising dinner for a school that serves children with learning disabilities, the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its
Dedicated staff, he offered a question:
'When not interfered with by outside influences, everything nature does, is done with perfection.
Yet my son, Shay, cannot learn things as other children do. He cannot understand things as other children do.
Where is the natural order of things in my son?'

The audience was stilled by the query.

The father continued. 'I believe that when a child like Shay, who was mentally and physically disabled comes into the world, an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child.'
Then he told the following story:

Shay and I had walked past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, 'Do you think they'll let me play?' I knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team, but as a fatherIalso understood that if my son were allowed to play, it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging and some confidence to be accepted by others in spite of his handicaps.

I approached one of the boys on the field and asked (not expecting much) if Shay could play. The boy looked around for guidance and said, 'We're losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning..'

Shay struggled over to the team's bench and, with a broad smile, put on a team shirt.. I watched with a small tear in my eye and warmth in my heart. The boys saw my joy at my son being accepted.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three.
In the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in the right field. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as I waved to him from the stands.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay's team scored again.
Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base and Shay was scheduled to be next at bat.

At this juncture, do they let Shay bat and give away their chance to win the game?
Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat. Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible because Shay didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball.

However, as Shay stepped up to the
Plate, the pitcher, recognizing that the other team was putting winning aside for this moment in Shay's life, moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least make contact.
The first pitch came and Shay swung clumsily and missed.
The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shay.
As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher..

The game would now be over.
The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman..
Shay would have been out and that would have been the end of the game.

Instead, the pitcher threw the ball right over the first baseman's head, out of reach of all team mates.
Everyone from the stands and both teams started yelling, 'Shay, run to first!
Run to first!'
Never in his life had Shay ever run that far, but he made it to first base.
He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled.

Everyone yelled, 'Run to second, run to second!'
Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran towards second, gleaming and struggling to make it to the base.
By the time Shay rounded towards second base, the right fielder had the ball . The smallest guy on their team who now had his first chance to be the hero for his team.
He could have thrown the ball to the second-baseman for the tag, but he understood the pitcher's intentions so he, too, intentionally threw the ball high and far over the third-baseman's head.
Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled the bases toward home.

All were screaming, 'Shay, Shay, Shay, all the Way Shay'

Shay reached third base because the opposing shortstop ran to help him by turning him in the direction of third base, and shouted, 'Run to third!
Shay, run to third!'

As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams, and the spectators, were on their feet screaming, 'Shay, run home! Run home!'
Shay ran to home, stepped on the plate, and was cheered as the hero who hit the grand slam and won the game for his team

'That day', said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, 'the boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this world'.

Shay didn't make it to another summer. He died that winter, having never forgotten being the hero and making me so happy, and coming home and seeing his Mother tearfully embrace her little hero of the day!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Breaking "Bad"

I'll be the first to admit, I am hardly a candidate for "mother of the year," but I'm often appalled and deeply saddened by the things I overhear parents saying to and about their children. In our house, we have pretty strict rules about the words we use when talking about each other. We do not label each other with negative words or practice name-calling. That's not to say we don't joke around, but words are pretty serious business around here.

You see, when my brother was about three years old, a daycare worker constantly told him he was bad. The thing is, he wasn't BAD... it's not like he was killing cats and burying them in the backyard... He was just a BOY. One day, my mom asked why he wasn't allowed to do something at daycare and his sad little reply was, "Because I'm bad." It was heart-breaking for my mother and for me as well. That moment stuck in my 16-year-old brain and has never left. It was apparent that he was ashamed of this label that had been assigned to him. That day, I realized the importance of the words we use when describing children's behavior and actions. Choosing our words carefully prevents children from misunderstanding what we are saying and also prevents them from taking those words and using them in negative self-talk.

Another way to describe this form of talking to kids is "shaming." It's not something that anyone likes to think they do or would readily admit to, but when a child is told that they're being "bad" or called a brat, or cry-baby, etc. they are really being shamed. Many well-intentioned parents and teachers use shaming to stop a certain behavior, and it can be a very effective tool. The downside to shaming is that it causes children to have negative thoughts and feelings about themselves. Shaming involves a comment -- direct or indirect -- about what the child IS. This gives children a negative self-image and does not teach them about the impact of their behavior. It happens to the best of us when we feel tired or frustrated or out-of-control. We say the first thing that comes to mind, which is often the most hurtful thing you can say. A child's self-identity is shaped by the things they hear about themselves. If children's emotions are dismissed or their experiences are trivialized, they grow up feeling unimportant and that feeling follows them to adulthood.

I've read this Peggy O'Mara quote a million times and I always thought it was a good one, but I never realized the science behind it until recently.  I've been reading a book by Lysa TerKeust called "Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions."  In her book she states that when we hear something or even say it to ourselves, it creates a small channel in our brains.  The more we hear these things, the deeper the channel becomes.  We are literally carving a path in our brains with the things we say.  When something is so ingrained in us (literally!) it's hard to believe anything else.

In an article on the website The Natural Child Project, Robin Grille and Beth Macgregor state:
"Recent research tells us that shame motivates people to withdraw from relationships, and to become isolated. Moreover, the shamed tend to feel humiliated and disapproved of by others, which can lead to hostility, even fury. Numerous studies link shame with a desire to punish others. When angry, shamed individuals are more likely to be malevolent, indirectly aggressive or self-destructive. Psychiatrist Peter Loader states that people cover up or compensate for deep feelings of shame with attitudes of contempt, superiority, domineering or bullying, self-deprecation, or obsessive perfectionism."
Shaming does not teach children empathy, in fact in does the opposite. Don't we all want kind, empathetic children who care about others and respect the feelings of others? I sure do! When we label our children, they become absorbed with themselves and their labels. They don't learn anything about recognizing other's feelings or emotions. Telling a child he or she is "bad" does not teach them the effects of their behavior. It does not show them the emotional impact their behavior has on others. It only causes them to think that something is wrong with them. Shaming does not teach respectful behavior. It only teaches submission and compliance to avoid punishment or to please others.

Empty threats and name-calling will only get you so far. It's also important to recognize the child's stage of development. Just because having a toddler is exhausting and sometimes frustrating does not mean that they are "bad." It probably means they are developmentally right on track!

It's hard to retrain your brain to say the right things to your kids, but isn't it work a try?  I love the positive talk that Aibelene used in "The Help."  After reading the book, I initiated something similar with my own kids.  Every night, no matter what has happened that day, I tell them the same things every night before bed.  I hope my nightly words of affirmation will create such a deep channel in their little brains that no one can ever undo it.  There are enough things in this world that can crush little spirits and I think it's my job, as a mom, to undo as much of it as I possibly can.  I want to give my kids the tools to have a positive self-image, to be empathetic, kind, considerate, and resilient.  I want to bubble-wrap their spirits with so much positivity that they will bounce back from whatever (or whoever) eventually knocks them down.