Let’s help girls be brave!
It sounds wonderful and obvious, right?
But how do we actually support the girls in our lives to be brave?
This is something I think a LOT about especially during this time of year when I have a leadership series for 10-13 year olds starting in March.
Quick story time:
I’ve been wanting to table at the farmer’s markets for years. Last month, I finally did it with the help of a 12 year old girl who has been to every single Girls Shine Bright event since she found out about our circles. She was so excited and made an adorable Girls Empowerment sign and we brought our for girls by girlsempowerment cards to share inspiring messages with our community.
NO ONE came to our table.
Many people looked over at our table and quickly averted their eyes. We did get a few smiles but no one stopped by.
It is hard not to feel disappointed when things don’t go how you wanted. It’s intense to put yourself out there, try something new and not get the response you wanted.
After the market, here’s what we did:
Before the next market, the 12 year old invited me to a business meeting (her words exactly). She showed up with creativity, inspiration and a willingness to move forward. She created amazing prizes: stickers of our girls cards and folded paper hearts that you could unravel to reveal a secret and inspiring message. We also found a prize wheel to borrow.
We tried the market again unsure of what would happen but feeling steady in ourselves and proud of what we created.
This time people did stop by and we had some really lovely conversations. People lit up when they received their inspiring messages created by girls!
And here’s the thing: even if no one came, we knew we would be okay. We survived disappointment before and we knew we could be brave and put ourselves out there again no matter the outcome. We know we are inherently resilient and fundamentally okay no matter what.
This is one of the core principles of my girls’ circles and it’s built into how I designed my upcoming leadership series for girls ages 10-13 that starts in March.
This leadership series is a unique place where girls will receive active support, encouragement and appreciation whether they do something flawlessly or whether they make mistakes or things don’t go how they want them to. It’s not about perfection. It’s about building that strength to be brave and to try something new. There aren’t a lot of places for girls to do this in our culture so that’s one reason why I created this leadership series.
Plus I wanted girls to have a place to:
And so much more!
The leadership series starts at the beginning of March.
There are many ways that we can support children’s education. One challenge that I hear from parents is that they notice their children’s light growing dimmer and dimmer as they get further along in school. From years of working with children, I have found that this highly actionable tip is one of the best ways to deeply support kids and help keep that light shining bright.
Look for their brilliance.
Here’s the why and the how.
Here’s what I know as a human and as an Educational Therapist:
We all want to be seen for our unique brilliance.
It feels really good.
But not everyone gets that experience.
Everyone is uniquely brilliant.
But not everyone thinks they’re brilliant.
This may be because most schools only recognize certain types of brilliance.
Like memorization, logic, focus, and following the rules.
It can feel crushing to have your brilliance go unrecognized and all of your tricky areas pointed out and measured.
This is exactly what happens to so many children at school.
But their brilliance is far larger than most schools can even imagine.
Empathy, baking, and speaking up are all kinds of brilliance.
Good sportsmanship, creative problem solving and painting are all kinds of brilliance.
There is also brilliance in noticing and checking in on someone who looks like they could use a hello and a smile.
There is also brilliance in humor, visual spatial awareness and kindness.
There are so many kinds of brilliance.
Unfortunately we learn that some kinds of brilliance are considered more valuable than others.
This is not true and it’s damaging.
The hierarchy that values some intelligence over others can dim a kid’s light or turn it off completely.
Everybody deserves a chance to shine bright just as they are.
So what can we do?
We can believe that all kinds of minds deserve to be honored.
We can see our children clearly, both the gifts and the challenges.
We can see what our children can do.
We can see what our children naturally do.
We can see what lights our children up.
We can see their brilliance because everyone wants to be seen for their unique brilliance.
Here is how we can do that:
Intentionally look for their brilliance.
However it appears, notice it.
Point it out.
Say it out loud to them (could be something as simple as “That’s brilliant!”).
Get excited about it… even if they roll their eyes.
Find ways to nurture it.
It sounds simple but sometimes the most brilliant things are the simplest.
Want to give it a go?
See if you can find 3 moments this week where you notice your child shine. Point them out, say them out loud, get excited about them and think about ways to nurture them. See what happens and let me know. Keep looking for their brilliance.
*Note: Brilliance can mean a lot of different things to different people. Here’s how I’m currently defining it: Brilliance is where someone shines. When you train your eye for it, it’s hard to not see it. It can look like something coming so naturally to someone. It can also look like someone being completely lit up or it can be a way of seeing or doing something that you would have never thought of yourself.
When I was hiking in the forest one day a couple years ago, I noticed a patch of clovers. Of course I looked to see if I could find a four leaf clover. I combed through the patch for some time but couldn’t find one. Then it hit me; I see four leaf clovers every day in my office. I work with children with learning differences who learn best outside of the box. Four leaf clovers are rare, they don’t fit the mold and can be such a delight when you find them. In fact we are taught to not only look for four leaf clovers but to look for them with excitement. What if we could see these kids who don’t fit the mold that way too? With excitement.
If you’re reading this article, perhaps you have a child like this and have noticed that your child isn’t like the other children. Maybe parent teacher conferences feel like a long list of what your child isn’t doing and you’ve tried to get support for your child in reading, writing, math, spelling, attention…. The list goes on. But still, your child struggles with feeling different, misunderstood and unable to keep up at school. Whatever they do, they just can’t meet the standards. Maybe the way they view themselves is very unkind and they begin to think they’re stupid but you’re not sure how to convince them otherwise.
I’d like to share with you what I see.
In my work as an Educational Therapist, my day is constantly filled with terms like dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and ADHD. The etymology of these words is rooted in “difficulty”, “trouble”, “bad” and “disorder.” But these words don’t quite line up with my experience with the children I work with. While the children I see struggle tremendously in school and I work to support them in those challenges, I also see something else that has been missed.
This is what I see when your child enters the room:
I see their strength from tolerating a school day in a system that was not designed for them.
I see their exhaustion from working three times as hard to do their best to keep up.
I see their resilience even though their school day has not gone as they’d hoped. Again.
I also see the things they can do. I see their unique talents and gifts that come so naturally to them. With some of them, it’s on point humor, with others it’s great conversational skills, and sometimes it’s the power of persuasion, or maybe it’s exquisite aesthetic awareness. Or maybe it’s deep, pointed questions that uncover what lies beneath the surface. Maybe it’s off the charts empathy or a deeply philosophical mind. I see these abilities and I value them. I point them out. I recognize them. I feel what a profound gift they can be to the world right now and for the future when they’re older. Even if school doesn’t value these skills, in my office, they are very valuable. I know how important it is that we value all kinds of smart.
Yes, there are profound struggles that come with being a four leaf clover in a school system designed for the more common three leaf clovers.
It’s not easy having an extra leaf and not fitting the mold. Yet maybe that extra leaf on the clover is precisely where their gifts lie. It’s what makes them unique. The current approach to supporting children who don’t fit the mold feels akin to taking a three leaf clover cookie cutter and trying to shape them to make them fit the mold. It doesn’t work and can feel painful. When we try to make them into three leaf clovers, we miss the essence of who they are and the precise things that they can uniquely contribute to their family, classroom and community. We miss out on witnessing their compassion, their insights, their wisdom, their humor, their art, their beautiful aesthetic awareness, their unique genius.
As a culture, we are taught to ask questions like “What is wrong with my child and how can we fix it?” and “What course of remediation or intervention will be the best?” These questions create a lens that affects how we view these four leaf clover children and the children feel the impact of this.
In my own practice, I started to ask different questions and as a result began to view and support children with a different lens. It started to ripple out into how my clients saw themselves. One student I worked with was grappling with his diagnoses and it was affecting his self confidence. One day, after months of using new questions as guideposts for our work, he was talking to me about his many siblings that also have ADHD, and he said to me, “Nicole, think of what we could do together!!!” His excitement and new outlook of possibility was contagious. It inspired me to imagine what all the four leaf clovers of the world could do together.
If you’d like to try out another lens and perhaps see what I see, here are some of my favorite different questions to try out:
“What can my child do?”
“How can I support my child’s challenges and gifts equally?”
“What is unique about my child and how can I nurture that and help them blossom and grow?”
These questions and an alternate lens of viewing your child can help them with their self-esteem, own their amazing 4 leaf clover-ness and help them find their way to their own unique version of success. Imagine what magic might be possible for our next generation if we collectively began to view and support four leaf clover children with excitement.
In education, there are trends that catch on and spread like wildfire. The two that I hear about the most are grit and a growth mindset.
For me, fads, trends and buzz words will come and go, but what never gets old is a deep respect, honoring + encouraging support for all kinds of minds no matter if they fit the narrowly defined box desired by schools or not. There is such an emphasis on changing the child, but we must not forget that we need to change the conditions of education so that each child can thrive and find areas where they shine. Every child I have worked with has shown me the areas where they shine, though many of their gifts go completely unrecognized and un-nurtured in their day to day school setting. Instead the emphasis is placed on how they can't remember their math facts or can't read at grade level or can't tolerate sitting still for hours on end, and then they are encouraged to "keep trying harder." Imagine how it feels to be on the receiving end of that.
The way we view and support kids needs to evolve. Some children may never commit math facts to memory or read at grade level or sit still in a class that is boring to them and that's okay. Likely fulfilling their unique potential and sharing their gifts with the world will not hinge on those things or if they do, they can use tech/work-arounds/get support from those around them.
My hope is that the timeless wisdom of holding deep respect, honor and providing encouraging support for every single child's mind is the next trend that catches on like wildfire.
Recently I was featured on a podcast. I talk about my work in the world supporting amazing kids who learn differently than school wants them to learn.
There is a write up as well. Here is my favorite part: "Nicole really wants to encourage a mindset shift. If you have a child whose gifts are not in alignment with the school system, it does not mean that there is anything wrong with the child… it's just a mis-fit. The American education system has a lot of problems, so shifting that perspective is the best piece of advice I can give –As well as to listen to your child over listening to the testing."
To listen to the whole interview, click here.
While I love to highlight and focus on the gifts and strengths of learning differently than school wants children to learn, the hardships do also need to be addressed. I remember about 5 years ago, sitting in one of my graduate school classes and raising my hand with a pressing question. I asked our guest speaker how to help children with their self-esteem. At that time, I had worked with many children who were hard on themselves and feeling down about struggling at school. I could see how deeply this was affecting them. Unfortunately I did not get a very helpful answer to my question at that time.
However, I stumbled across the work of researcher Kristin Neff and realized that I was asking the wrong question. It wasn't self-esteem that I could help cultivate, it was Self-Compassion! I came to this realization after watching Kristin Neff's TED talk on Self-esteem vs. Self-Compassion. I learned that "While self-esteem comes from comparing yourself to others, self-compassion focuses on being kind to yourself."
I have since used it in my own life, studied it when completing my Master's thesis and use it in nearly all of my work with children. If a child is beating themselves up about making a mistake, I ask them how they would talk to a friend if their friend made a mistake? Bringing awareness to how we talk to ourselves and showing them that there is another way can be very beneficial.
Want to learn more? I recommend watching Kristin Neff's Ted Talk: The Space between Self-Esteem And Self-Compassion.
I agree with the video below that we need an Emotion Revolution in our schools. Here are the pieces of information from research studies that struck me the most during this talk:
5 reasons why emotions matter:
-Attention, Memory, and Learning
-Physical and Mental Health
In a research study to investigate how American students feel at school, the top 3 feelings were tired, bored and stressed. Unfortunately I see this very frequently and experienced it myself. It is my hope that students, parents and educators can work together to help shift this and create an Emotion Revolution in our schools.
Check out the video below to learn more.
When seeking support for your child, it is common to want the best for you child and focus on getting them the best care possible. This can sometimes be an overwhelming process, so I like to ask parents 3 questions to help shift perspective a little bit.
1. What do you value most about your child?
2. What are your child's greatest strengths?
3. What obstacles and difficulties has your child overcome?