Family Stories Part 1


Historic Family Photo

Try something out, I want you to attempt three things. First, recall five instances when you face a challenge and you overcame in the last year. Second, recall five instances when you felt overwhelmed and discouraged in the last year. Was it harder to think about challenges you overcame? Did the overwhelm and discouragement memories come with better detail?

Now think of a story in your family that gets told about you or a sibling, or that you tell. How clear is that story in your mind? It’s the story about how you/they were a rascal, or made a bone-headed mistake, or rescued a situation. Whatever that story is, it is told in family gatherings, and something about the story at this point encapsulates the identity (or the family perceived identity) of you/sibling.

The difference in clarity that you have in recalling in these three events/circumstances is based on the repetition with which the story is told. You probably remembered the family story most easily, followed by the negative experience, followed by your story of overcoming. They fall in this order because of repetition. You’ve told/heard the family story a million times. You probably told your the negative story in one way or another at least a few times to co-workers, friends, family. How many times have you regaled of your accomplishment of overcoming your challenges this last year? Can you remember the individual resources you tapped, skills you relied on, efforts you made to overcome that challenge?

This is the position in which our students are growing up. They don’t have a lot of practice talking through and thinking about the successes in their lives. Consequently, they don’t have a strong grasp on what the resources are that they utilized to assert themselves in the past challenge to overcome it. Interestingly, many students prefer to try to forget about a challenge they overcame as soon as they can because of how difficult the task was and the fatigue from having to endure it.

Due to the resistance to analyze the behaviors to that got a student through a crisis/challenge, they engage new challenges without a firm grasp on the way they approached the last hurdle. Subsequently, new challenges are then faced with an inventory of resources. Rather they are engaged with a belief that it is a student’s natural talent that gets them through challenges, not all the hard work and strategy they put into addressing it.

In his book, How Children Succeed, Paul Tough, reports on a study that proved to be a mark of GRIT. The study had students write of a time they used personal strengths to over\come a challenge. They needed to identify what scenario and the resources they utilized including a personal strength to overcome the challenges of the scenario. After writing this, the student took a test. The students who wrote about overcoming a challenge fair significantly better than did the control group. Furthermore, the students that wrote about overcoming challenges ended up having long term benefits. Over the course of their high school career they performed significantly better than the control group. In his book, Flourish, Martin Seligman, PhD, describes an exercise he created based on this study that he called the “Strengths in Challenges.”

So naturally, I’m encouraging you to have more discussions with your children about how they got the A, or dealt with their friend drama, or got through that class with the teacher “that hated them.” Give them an opportunity to explore the resources and they used and how they demonstrated mastery. To get started, talk to your child about what they think their strengths are and what you would say they are (or take the Values-in-Action (VIA) on the website).  Once you both have an idea of them, ask them how they used their strengths to get them through a their challenge. Ask them about what resources they used, who they turned to for help, and what they found most supportive. Check in about their what they’ve overcome during the week, after report cards, or during your celebratory milestones (birthdays, New Years, graduations, etc.). Then the next time your child is faced with a challenge think through with them what strategies they might use to overcome it.

Remember how earlier we established that retelling stories encapsulates a family member’s identity, it actually has a role in forming it. The process of retelling the victories develops an identity for your children that will solidify a confidence that they are intrinsically capable to tackle challenges as they come. Your child’s perseverance is also the legacy you want to tell of your child.

Laughing with Your Kids: Impacts of Parent-Child Connections (Gene Wilder Interview: Part 2)


Gene Wilder makes two very good points in this interview. The first we covered in the previous post regarding children dealing with a parent’s ailment. This post focuses on the second great point Wilder makes in this  interview which is regarding the value of a parent’s laugh in a child’s life.

Despite not believing that he was particularly funny, Wilder describes being filled with the confidence to be in front of people by the experience of making his mother laugh.

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Impacts of Parent Problems on Children (Wilder: Part 1)



Gene Wilder makes two very good points in this PBS Digital Studios: blank on blank video. The one we focus on in this post is that children who have parents who are suffering with an ailment or illness should not be expected to bear that burden alone. Even when it looks like children are dealing with strenuous situations really well—Mr. Wilder was a funny kid—they are not developmentally equip to hold adult responsibility. Continue reading

Are you Tangled in Neural Nets? Part 3: How Memories Influence Parenting


We’ve covered a lot about brain process and memory.

Let’s quickly summarize:

  • Memories are made of all sensory experiences whether we are conscious of it or not.
  • Even though you may not be focusing on an associated sensory experience connected to memory, doesn’t mean the experience isn’t influencing your decision (the way you think of what happened). That unconscious influence sometimes is described as a “gut feeling.”
  • Experiences are interconnected and are cross-referenced by your brain to find a frame or script to follow for new situations.
  • Every time you remember something, some of the emotional state you are in when you recall it get injected into the memory of the experience.
  • Your brain’s understanding of a concept is created from experiences with that concept, and your experiences may be different from someone else’s (specifically, but not limited to, your child’s).

So, you’re afraid of asking, “How does all this neural net stuff play a role specifically for you as a parent?” I’m glad you overcame your fear to ask that, because Part 3 is about how these concepts fit with our understanding of parenting.

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Are You Tangled in a Neural Net? Part 1: Memories that Influence Now


We like to think of our brains as these computers that process information. Crtl-S and you lock away the memory for later retrieval. Then, Crtl-O, you open the file that factual event is in and view it in your mind’s eye.

Well if courtroom drama has taught us anything, it’s that an eye-witness’ memory can’t be trusted… and that a show lasting 20 seasons can still have several spin-offs. (I’m still waiting for Law & Order: Night Court.)

Obviously, our brains don’t recall information in a one-to-one ratio. Researchers have concluded from various studies, that when we remember an experience, we are in actuality remembering the last time that we remembered it, and even that gets convoluted with experiences from the present. That’s kind of a trip, huh? That was big news in 1999 and recently resurfaced with studies in the past couple years, but the implications of these studies can give us insights as people, and as parents. Continue reading

Why Can’t I Handle Crisis Parenting Situations Like MacGyver?


There was this show called McGyver in the mid-1980’s and early 90’s.  If you never saw the show, it was about a scientist/relief worker. Inevitably he would be in a life-or-death situation, and he would look around the room and find some odd assortment of chemicals to use in combination with his trusty swiss army knife. With just this motley concoction of chemicals, McGyver would construct a hot air ballon, flame thrower, fire extinguisher, etc. He would then, not only save himself and others in the situation, but he would entirely rectify the problem threatening the local townsfolk.

In general, we like to think that in a crisis, we are same way. We are not. Continue reading