The title of this article was derived from an old quote, "If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a Merry Christmas". I first heard the line in an episode of The Big Bang Theory, a comedy show. Sheldon, an eccentric character, delivers the line with great disdain to a professional colleague, who impacted the removal of Pluto (one of Sheldon's favorites!) from planetary status. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdDk6E3AtbQ]
The original quote gives reference to people who make excuses or use redirection to avoid taking ownership. I have used poetic license in this article to tweak the line's start to "If shoulds and musts...". This change shifts focus from excuses or redirection, to the demands we place on ourselves and others.
Time and time again us or our child think to ourselves things like...
- "I must do a great job on this project."
- "I must score a goal."
- "I must get an A on this test."
- "S/he (significant other, friend, coworker) should listen to my advice."
- "S/he shouldn't keep doing that."
- "I have to get into this college. "
- "He really needs to explore a career in…"
- “You need to text me back immediately when I message you. "
- "He (your child) must listen to my directions the first time."
- "She (your child) shouldn't disrespect me in front of others." (think about the grocery store)
- "He have to get the lead role."
- "He (your boss) should give me the raise I deserve."
Whenever we tell ourselves things like this we leave ZERO room for any other possible outcome. This type of thought is extremely rigid and inflexible. The reality....we can not control the world around us, we can only chose how we want to respond to it. Using words like "should", "must", "have to", or "need to" creates a demand and makes the situation a matter of black and white.
I see patterns like this time and time again with countless clients. There is no discrimination, as it affects young and old, male and female alike. The negative patterns of demands result in people getting stuck in negative thinking loops that chip away at someone's self-esteem after "failing" over and over or building up someone's stress and anxiety over "having to" do something every time. All of these things lead to stress and can permeate an individual's life in various ways affecting work, school, family, relationships, friendships, athletics and more. The key is to first identify these demands and build up an increased awareness of what we say and how often we say it. Write them down. Keep a journal of them. Many of my clients are absolutely shocked by just how often these words enter their daily thoughts and/or conversation. By building up mindfulness of when these demands creep in, it allows someone to pinpoint exactly how much of an issue demands are for them. It is no wonder people are stressed when I hear many of the demands. People are expecting themselves (and others) to be perfect or jump through impossible hoops. This is when the real work begins. Stay tuned for a follow-up installment in which we look at how to unearth these demands.
Side note....the title picture of this article comes from a couple of sweets I enjoyed when I was a kid. The first is salt water taffy. It was a delicious treat my brothers and I would get when we visited our grandparents. We'd all go to the Ocean City boardwalk at the Jersey shore and get a big bag of them. No boardwalk trip was complete without a round of putt-putt and perhaps a few rides. The piece de resistance though was the fresh, warm, scrumptious Johnson's carmel popcorn overflowing that clear plastic bucket. Mmmm. :)
Mark Van Zant is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Play Therapist who works with families, children, and adults. Mark utilizes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help countless clients deal with challenges including depression, anxiety, behavioral issues, and low self-esteem.
How many times have you thought to yourself or said to your spouse, “I hate seeing our child suffer this way.” Maybe it was loads of homework, an extended saga of being left out, a mean comment on the playground that left your boy or girl reeling. Maybe it’s that nagging uncertainty of not being as pretty, as popular, as athletic, as tall, as funny or as smart as “the other kids”.
We do everything in our power to provide what our kids need to succeed and be happy, right? Healthy foods, fun vacations, private education, electronics, playdates, select soccer, dance classes, math enrichment, Adidas, Abercrombie, Netflix... But as the experiences of their social environment, their interactions with that unpredictable thing we call life broaden, how does a parent control the sufferings they inevitably encounter? What are we supposed to do to help?
Dr. James Dobson, in his book The New Hide or Seek says there might be one missing ingredient to that list of parental provisions: a mild amount of adversity. “Contrary to what you might believe, the ideal environment for your child is not one devoid of problems and trials. I would not, even if I could, have swept aside every hurdle from the paths of my children, leaving them to glide along in mirth through childhood. They deserve the right to face problems and profit from the confrontation.” He goes on to describe two rocky years in middle school that prompted intense feelings of inferiority and self-doubt. However, it was those years that yielded the biggest contribution towards his adult personality than any other period of life: “My empathy for others, my desire to succeed in life, my motivation in graduate school, my understanding of inferiority, and my communication with teenagers are primarily the product of an agitated adolescence. Who would have thought anything useful would have come from those twenty-four months?”
What’s the secret behind this? The human drive for compensation. “Inferiority”, he says, “can either crush and paralyze an individual, or it can provide tremendous emotional energy to power every kind of success and achievement.” Dr. Dobson ascribes the difference between a child who collapses under the weight of difficulties vs. the child who uses them to “supercharge personal initiative and drive” to that child’s compensatory skills. And, he says, it is the parent’s job to help the child find those skills.
So what is your child good at? Or have the potential to be good at? And what skills could you begin to make him or her begin to develop at an early age that will turn into a source of self-confidence later? Could it be learning a musical instrument or a sport, breeding animals, starting a small business, developing an artistic talent or a writing ability? Dr. Dobson’s own dad, at age 8, announced to his son that he was going to teach him tennis. It was the last thing little James was interested in spending his Saturdays on. But his respect for his father made him endure months of boring and excruciating drills until the day he found that he could play - and beat – one of his buddies. And he held onto that ability throughout high school when things got tough. Although the discipline during those early stages may have to be parent-imposed (rewarding, pushing, threatening, begging and bribing are all legitimate means if needed, mom and dad!), the resulting skill will become its own reward and motivation. Equipped in this way, you send your children into adolescence with another source of self-esteem than the acceptance of other students – which will invariably fail them somewhere along the way.
1. Both parents need to be on the same page; lots of communication and agreement on how to discipline and reward your children.
2. Respect is huge. Dads need to give moms their backs and never allow any form of disrespect without severe consequences.
3. Kids should make their own beds, clean their own rooms and have daily household chores which are age appropriate.
4. Vary the diet and do not let them become too picky with their food…they need to try a little bit of everything.
5. Buy them what they need, make them pay for what they want. This example of self-control should be seen in their parents as well.
6. Strongly encourage them to find a summer job starting in High School and continuing through college. They should have their own bank account and learn how to manage their personal spending from an early age.
7. Bad actions have consequences. Stick to your word; it has to “hurt” for behavior to change.
8. Take them out of their own little worlds through mission trips, visits to soup kitchens, etc… Hopefully the parents will reflect this spirit of selflessness and service in their own lives. Help them learn to share their toys with other siblings and friends.
9. Form responsibility by making them do their own work. Resist the temptation to do their science projects, research papers and homework for them.
10. Foster a strong prayer and Sacramental life; without God’s grace, all of this will be impossible. Again, the priorities of parents are absorbed by the children. Is God truly first?
* Fr. Michael Sliney LC is a guest contributor. He currently works in New York City with the Lumen Institute.
Have you ever wondered why we, at The Highlands School, practice gender specific education? It is not because we are some neo-puritan sect that believes it’s sinful for boys and girls to talk to each other. Nor are we trying to operate as a minor seminary/convent. We aren’t even driven by the fear of the students getting cooties from the opposite sex (why some of our younger students may appreciate single gender). The answer is actually far simpler than that. A single gender environment provides us with the best opportunity to accomplish our goals of educating and forming our students.
As a Regnum Christi school, the Regnum Christi charism shapes our educational principles. We seek to educate the whole child and accompany him in his personal development, taking into consideration all the dimensions of his person (intellectual, character, spiritual, and apostolic). This personalized approach requires an understanding and acceptance of each student’s uniqueness. A part of that uniqueness is hardwired into the biological differences between boys and girls. By having gender specific environments, we can instruct and form our students with an approach and message tailored to them.
Additionally, research shows that boys and girls act very differently in coed environments vs. single gender ones. This is especially pronounced in middle school and early high school when our students are the most self-conscious and developmentally are forming their own self-identity. During this period of time they learn how to form colse relationships and to a large degree it’s through those relationships that they define how a man or woman should act. When a boy or girl does not learn how to form intimacy with their own gender during this time, it is much harder to do later in life. Conversely, when the intimate relationships are formed with the opposite gender during this time period, so too does the definition of how a man or woman should act come from the opposite gender. You don’t need to look too far in our society to see the effects of teenage girls defining themselves by and acting based on what a teenage boy says, and vice versa.
Even more than the in-class benefits, we at The Highlands School create a single gender environment as often as possible (classroom, lunch, recess, etc.) so that we can foster strong relationships with their same gender, help them define what it means to be an authentic Catholic man or woman, and nurture their growth along with their classmates. There is a reason why all the top high schools in DFW are single gender environments. Interestingly, despite the clear benefits of single gender environments and their preponderance at the high school level, we are completely unique in reaping all these benefits in our middle school as well. We also have an extra advantage being gender specific on a coed campus. After maximizing the single gender environments during the most developmentally critical grades, later on, when their identities have solidified and confidence in who they are as a person has grown (typically junior and senior year), we have the option to seamlessly introduce the students back into coed settings to whatever extent it is beneficial to them, preparing them for a college classroom.
Being a Regnum Christi school with the mission of forming Christian leaders who will transform society necessitates that our students become strong, and confident men and women, informed by the truth and fullness of the Catholic faith. A single gender environment is the time-tested best way to accomplish this goal.