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It’s how we deal with mishaps that define success… or failure

Six years old and I find myself in a dark, damp stairwell. It contains only three chunky steps but in this space, time stands still. Not because I’m scared, but because I’m anticipating. I am about to take my turn in the school talent show, following my mom’s footsteps as a storyteller and magician. I know exactly the words I need to say, and the cuts I need to make with my big adult-sized scissors in order to magically transform the large newspaper fish mom helped me make into a teeny, tiny one right before everyone’s eyes.

Onstage, alone in front of the microphone, staring into a wiggly sea of children and properly seated parents everything goes wrong! The scissors, already too big, are fumbling around in my kid-sized hands, and they won’t cut. Now what do I do?

In a flash I find my mom seated in a folding chair off to the left where she nods warmly, encouraging me to go on. Believing in me. In that instant my courage swells, and I come up with a new solution – aha! – turn the newspaper fish around and cut from the other side. And it works! I proceed proudly, gloriously, and finish to loud applause for successfully pulling off my magic trick. I breeze through that dark, damp stairwell, and mom gives me a great big hug on the other side. “You know what Sammy?” she said. “When you figured out how to get through that problem with your fish, I was so proud of you. You really showed us all how brave you are!”

How many times do you find yourself, as a parent, in this same place? Where your child looks like they’re about to fail? Maybe your child tromps around the house in rages intimidating siblings and adults alike, everyone bracing for the ensuing meltdown. And you are poised to swoop in, demand “appropriate behavior,” and isolate him. What would happen if you stayed calm and silent, gave him an extra moment to work it out by calmly modeling support, patience, and love?

Just like preparing for a talent show, kids with intense brains need to practice exact steps to do a “good job” at showing respect, talking about feelings, working through problems. The best way to support your child is to wonder out loud, “What could we do here to get us through this challenging situation?” Offer your child support and respectfully invite him to have a voice in moving forward. Taking this time to come up with new solutions – and then rehearsing them – creates a new possibility and “map” for his brain to follow.

For ideas on how to parent in ways that are “light and welcoming,” I recommend The Indigo Children by Lee Carroll and Jan Tober. Chapter two is chock-full of ways you can build trust, respect and love between children and adults at school and home. You’ll also learn how to prepare your child for those inevitable moments when he wonders, “Uh oh, what should I do here?”

And just like any proud parent at the school talent show, you can let go and watch them prosper through it.

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