Archives for September, 2010


Personal Change is Hard! Be Patient!

Personal change is hard, hard, hard!

Whether it's my students trying to develop better study skills or me trying to change a bad habit, progress can seem  glacially slow and like two-steps-forward-one-step-back.

Any sort of personal change is a learning process, requiring the re-wiring of mental circuits. Neurons in the brain need to reconfigure themselves into new pathways, and this takes time and effort and repetition.

Personal change also requires renovating one's identity, one's sense of self. The brain is especially resistant to this kind of change, because maintaining a solid identity is extremely important to healthy psychological functioning (just imagine how terrifying and disorienting it would be if you couldn't hold onto your fundamental sense of Who I Am).

So, it's a mostly good thing that we can't change ourselves too easily. But still, when change needs to happen, gee, it can be such a struggle!
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Getting Yourself Heard

Do you know this Emily Dickinson poem?

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant---
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind---

I love Dickinson's insight: In order for people to hear the truth it must be delivered artfully. Tell ALL the truth!, but tell it skillfully, using strategies that present the truth in ways that get through.

Here are a few ways to slant the truth so it doesn't dazzle and blind our loved ones and cause them to tune it out:
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Emotions and Feelings

The Power of Knowing Why and How

I feel better when I understand WHY and HOW things work.

Are you like this?

I'm sipping my morning coffee and reading today's Beyond Blue. Therese Borchard reports that the sound of water calms her down. For her therapist, clouds do the trick.

Knowledge is what calms me down. Information, especially about human behavior, emotions, how the human brain works, always makes me feel better.

Knowledge gives me the power to change many things.
And even if I can't change things, knowledge often helps me predict what's coming.
I feel better prepared, less often shocked by some unforeseen event.
The more I learn, the more I see the order in the world. This is so reassuring!

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Little Monsters (Part Two)

After weeks of avoiding the question of who – if anyone – has the right to judge the relative success or failure of parents, I had an experience that bumped the subject to the forefront of my mind.

What was intended to be a brief, last-minute trip to the grocery store before my daughter's dinner, bath, and bedtime turned into a late-running, lengthy fiasco thanks to rush hour traffic and a glut of people with the same idea.

As I wove my shopping cart through the congested aisles, I couldn't help but notice the same black-haired, blue-eyed boy over and over again; seven years old but already strikingly handsome, this kid was tearing around the store, parting the crowd everywhere he went with a child-sized cart-cum-battering ram.
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Little Monsters (Part One)

I've been planning to tackle the ever-popular question of whether or not "non-parents" are entitled to judge the technique and misbehaving children of "parents." Such a post has been requested by a bunch of people, some who have children and some who do not.

For instance, when I began kicking around the idea of starting a blog about the bizarre social consequences of becoming a parent, my friend Sarah wrote:
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The Handsome Daughter

One of the first issues that arose during my pregnancy was whether or not we were going to find out the baby's sex before birth. I didn't especially want to but my partner really did, and when he suggested half-jokingly that he could find out and keep it to himself I decided to go ahead and ruin the surprise with him. We'd find out eventually anyway, he rationalized; what would a few months earlier or later change? (I'm pretty sure it's about the method of discovery and not the timing, but anyway.)

Once I'd signed on, I really looked forward to the possibility of the baby not crossing its legs during our one ultrasound. I had wanted to wait partly because I love surprises and partly because I didn't want to give false weight to our child's male- or female-ness. In the end, I realized that our excitement didn't stem from a specific desire to know the sex of our child but a general desire to know something.
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The Baloney Factory: Defending Identity and Self-Image

The maintenance and restoration work on my dilapidated "vintage" convertible finally became too much for me, and I replaced it with a nearly-new, low-maintenance Honda sports car.

I stopped by Al's shop to show off my new toy. Al's the guy who works on our cars and who adopted my old LeMans. He restores old muscle cars and shows and races them. I was sure he'd gush over my nifty new acquisition, and at first he did just that:

Wow! Great car! Is that a custom exhaust system?


What a sound! Nice!

Yeah, I really love it. Want a ride?

Nah, says Al. Cars don't really do anything for me.

(Cars don't do anything for him!?! Huh?)
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Learning to Be Responsible and Autonomous

It is back-to-school time which means I have a bunch of new tutoring students. I'm spending lots of time explaining to parents what I do, how I work, what I believe about learning and child development, and what I strive to accomplish with my students.

I'm usually hired because a student is struggling with some school subject (most often, math), and so the surface goal is to help them improve in that area. But my overarching goal is to guide and support each student toward becoming a more confident, effective, autonomous learner, to understand and deal with his or her own learning strengths and quirks. I want my students to grow up to be good thinkers,  confident and successful adults, active and sensible members of society.
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