Especially for Educators

Celebrating the Wisdom of Teens—Really!

I’m ridiculously amazed at how much my son has grown in the past few weeks while I’ve been conducting what I think of as my “compassionate observation experiment.” 

My intention during this time was to focus on replacing instruction from me about what he should do and be with compassionate observation of who he is already, where it seems he wants to go, and how it works best for him to get there.

It’s an experiment that builds on the belief that he is already good and wise at the core of his being (even as a teenager!) and therefore, that he knows more about what’s best for him than I do.  (For my college-aged readers, I want you to know especially that I believe this about you too.)

Side note: This is the idea that academic and life coaching is based on too and that’s why I love it so much.  It opens a whole realm of untapped wisdom that we often overlook.  

This belief in the inherent wisdom of individuals contrasts with dominant views about teenagers that emphasize their poor judgement, lack of knowledge and experience, and resulting need for lots of adult instruction and control over their lives.

There’s some truth to this more deficit-based perspective as well, of course.  Teens do, in fact, have undeveloped brains with some significant disconnections between the logical, rational part of the brain and the parts that determine their emotions and actions.  They often do need adults to “connect the dots.” 

Still, teens (mine included) tend to get PLENTY of instruction and control from parents and teachers and counselors etc.  In this experiment, I wanted to tip the scales a bit in the other direction. 

Talking to Kids About Race in Emotionally Charged Times

Waking up at 5:30 am to prep for a 7:00 am radio show interview this week reminded me of my early years as a teacher, when I would wake up at 5:00 or 5:30 to try to get to my classroom by 6:30 or 7:00 am, before the kids came at 8:00.  Or when I was a director and had to wake up at 4:30 am to figure out whether to open the program or close for snow or ice (hands down my LEAST favorite part of that job.) 

I am not naturally a morning person, so in both the teaching and parenting worlds the early morning requirements are not my favorite!  (Maybe you can relate?)  We do it, though, because those kids matter and they need us.

Doing an early morning radio show this week was worth it to me because I got to talk with writer, blogger, and radio host Monique Ruffin about issues near and dear to both our hearts:  questions around race, racial justice, how we can move towards more health and healing.  

Like getting up early in the morning, conversations about race and racism can be uncomfortable, but as parents and teachers, we’re already used to doing hard stuff to make the world a better place for kids.  We can learn how to do this too.

In the interview, I talked about my own journey from:

  • protected, shy, White child discovering the story of Martin Luther King in my school library and getting odd comments from the librarian about my interest,
  • to “inner-city”-teacher-trying-to-save-the-world-and-(unconsciously)-assuage-my-white-guilt,
  • to burnt-out-“inner- city”-teacher-retreating-into-research-and, which also lead to a deep dive learning about self-compassion and self-care,
  • to being a White person (still!) who is finding new ways to engage as partner with People of Color in communities of mutual respect and as myself, a sensitive, mostly introverted, spiritual and reflective teacher/writer/historian/life coach.

If you’re interested in hearing some of my journey, you can listen to yesterday’s interview here – or you might want to read my very first blog post if you didn’t catch that one. 

For today, I want to share a few ideas I shared when I spoke with Monique a few months ago.  At that time (prior to the presidential election in the U.S.) we were talking specifically about how we, as adults, can talk with kids about racial bias and violence at a time when it is increasingly visible in schools and in the media.  

I don’t have all the answers, for sure.  But I have learned a few things on my journey that you might find useful as you seek to help the kids you care about become happy and healthy citizens of an amazing and diverse world.

1. Do your own work around your personal racial (and cultural/ethnic) identity/identities. This work is will be ongoing, complex, and different for People of Color and White people in many ways, but committing to take that journey and get whatever help we need along the way is an essential foundation for our work with kids

  • For White folks this process may involve starting with the realization that we have a culture and a racial identity.  We are not just “normal.”  And then learning how to face what that means in our history and how we can begin to move through shame to develop a positive racial identity.  It also involves doing this work without making People of Color do it with us or for us.
  • For People of Color, the identity journey often (almost always) involves working through anger, times of focus on one’s own racial/cultural group, and maybe also addressing some “internalized racism”—places where there’s been a rejection of self because of the ways Blackness or Brownness is devalued in the surrounding culture.   

2. When possible, process your emotions—whether those related to history, your current experiences or racialized incidents in the news—without involving the children in your care.   If we’re afraid, or angry, or defensive, or shocked, it is helpful if we can protect our children from the full force of that emotion (though not from all of it.)  To do that, we need to process our feelings with other adults or by journaling, meditation or prayer. 

3. At the same time, be authentic and honest – in developmentally appropriate ways.  A few examples:

  • Admit to your six-year-old that you’re scared, but tell what you are doing about it and how committed you are to keeping them safe.  Don’t say you’re not afraid when you are.  They’ll know.  
  • Don’t tell your eight-year-old  “all police officers are helpers” if you don’t believe that to be true.  Talk instead about how she can determine who is a helper and who isn’t, how to read cues in the behavior of adults to determine who is safe or not, where they are likely to find safe adults and some examples of safe adults they know and where they would find them. 
  • Teach your children about the ways that the world can be unsafe for them or their friends—just like you do when you tell toddlers that dangerous to run into a busy street and then teach them how they can determine when it’s safe to cross.  (Most parents and teachers of color are doing this already, but White adults usually need to learn how.) 
  • When a child brings up a racially charged incident, follow their lead.   Ask them questions to see what they know and how much you should say to address their need in that moment.  They will let you know what they're ready for.  If you aren’t sure what to say, it’s okay to let them know that too.  Tell them you’ll get back to them, and then do make sure you do it.

4. Lay a foundation of intentionally supporting a positive and realistic racial identity for your child or students (YES! This includes White children) and also support positive views of people who are different from them.  We don’t leave children on their own trying to figure out how to count.  We help them learn.  We correct them when they make mistakes.  Why would we leave them alone in trying to figure out this really confusing and hard part of life? Kids know and notice A LOT more than we think they do.  Even children as young as two are noticing racial differences and biases.  They may, for example, begin to think that all teachers are white or all housekeepers are Latina, if that’s what they see in their neighborhoods.  They may begin to think that brown skin is ugly or abnormal or scary if they never see brown-skinned characters in books or dolls.  But we can combat these stereotypes by seeking out toys and books and stories that challenge them, going to varied cultural events in other neighborhoods, talking directly about for where stereotypes show up in books or on T.V.

5. Be patient and compassionate with yourself.  This is hard stuff, that’s why we often avoid it if we can.  Give yourself time to learn.  Get support.  Don’t be afraid to let your kids/students know that you’re a work in process.

I’ve compiled a list of resources for those of you who are interested in learning more and finding greater support for yourself around these issues.  It includes websites, books, blogs and organizations for parents, teachers and kids.   (And please feel free to share with me what you’ve found to be helpful as well!)  Shoot me an email at and I'll add your ideas or leave a comment below.  

This is barely the tip of the iceberg, I know, but I hope it gives you a place to start.

Here’s to thriving!



What Do You See? What Do You See?

As you know if you read my post last week, I’ve been observing my younger son closely—taking a break from giving him instructions about how he should live his life. (Yes, I still tell him to put his dishes in the dishwasher!)  I must say it’s been a really fun experiment! 

I don’t know how all the energy stuff works in the world, and though I think there’s some truth in it, I also think there are some serious gaps/errors in the whole Law of Attraction/The Secret idea—you know, the “what you think about is what you get” concept. 

But at the same time, I’ve certainly found that my own experiments with changing my focus and my stories about life, focusing on what’s good, using my imagination in positive ways to envision what I hope for, often have a hugely positive impact in my actual, physical life.

This is one of those times. 

During the past week, it’s as if I opened a door to growth for my son, just by backing off and observing him with a spirit of compassion and curiosity.

It may be coincidence (the only way to know will be to keep trying new experiments to see if a pattern appears), but without my prodding in the past week he’s moved out towards: 1) doing something he loves in the arts AND, 2) conquering the ever-illusive concepts of geometry in his own way.  These were goals his dad and I had for him, but our rules and plans about how he should reach them had thus far had little effect.

In addition, I’ve noticed that he’s responding to his dad and me in more mature ways in relation to the responsibilities and expectations we have for him, expressing his own desires and preferences in ways that leave room for us to work out a plan that feels good to all of us. 

For example, on Sunday I wanted him to go put his clothes in the dryer at a time when he didn’t want to do it.  I said I didn’t want to go to bed without feeling sure that it was going to happen.  Rather than getting defensive or yelling something to the effect of “I’m fifteen.  Why can’t you just trust me!  I’ll get it done!”  He said, “If I don’t do it, no screens for me tomorrow.”  I said, “Okay, that works.”  And when I woke up in the morning the clothes were done.  Win. Win.

I also learned that he doesn’t just like music, or rap, he likes “lyrical rap” specifically.  This is a new term for me.  And it’s given me a hint about how I might be able to help him move in a direction he’s interested in. 

It struck me that I’ve been practicing this kind of curious and compassionate observation, not only with him, but with myself—and with similar positive results.  (Maybe next I’ll try it with my husband!) 

Building a Life You Love, Step 1 (and a tip for 2017 planning)

Happy New Year! 

I feel as if I should be writing about how to set your intentions or goals or something to that effect, as that is what most of the writers I follow are doing, but the problem is that I haven’t set mine, so it would be a bit inauthentic to act as if I’m on top of the whole new year routine.

I did pull out my “Priorities and Goals” folder last weekend (pleased as anything that I knew exactly where it was!), but I still haven’t managed to do more than skim through my 2015 review and 2016 intentions.  So, if you wanted to pause and think about what you want out of 2017 and you haven’t done it yet, I’m right there with you!  And I want to remind you that we haven’t lost our chance just because it’s past January 1. 

I, for one, plan to pause and look back at 2016 and sit with my hopes and intentions for 2017 this coming weekend—and maybe in bits and pieces over the month of January.  Maybe you, like me, don’t feel able to find a big chunk of time to do it, but you could schedule a half hour here or there.  That’s fine.  That’s good.  Just do that. Or do nothing, if that feels more appealing.  You can still build a great life this year, with or without January goals/intentions/resolutions.

For those who do want to set some intentions for the new year over the course of the month of January I’ll share something each week that might help you as you do. 

Today, it’s a great question I was asked by coach Joanna Lindenbaum yesterday, “How do you want to FEEL in 2017?” I love this question.  Still pondering it for myself.

I think “delighted,” might be part of my answer, which is interesting considering that this has been a rough few weeks for me in the “delighted” category and not because of anything “technically” all that difficult.

The thing is I’m pretty good at BIG THINGS.  Major crisis?  I can handle it.  But bad weather in Southern California when my oldest son is here for a short visit – I LOSE MY MIND.   I scream at my husband and at California itself.  “California is sooooo mean!  It’s not fair!” I say!  I pout.  I stomp.  I cry.  I act as if I am about two-and-a-half-years-old. 

The emotional challenge I experience in the face of small everyday disappointments is not new for me (though the frequency has decreased.)   What IS new for me is my reaction to my meltdowns (a.k.a. my complete failure to be who I want to be and who I believe I should be in these moments) and to other kinds of failures: missed deadlines, blown budgets, embarrassing outfits, etc.  

I want to share with you what’s changed for me because I believe it is a foundational piece of the path towards building a life you love—and loving other people too!

Cool Stuff For You to Check Out!

Happy Almost 2017! 

I’ve come across some great resources this week as I’ve been re-entering post-holiday life (I know we haven’t hit New Year’s yet, but I’m pretty much back to normal life and work now, so it feels to me like post-holidays.) 

Here are a few favorites I want to share with you.

If you’re feeling a desire or longing that is so powerful you’re not sure you even want to feel it, check out the blog post Want to Dial Into Desire? from Emerging Women  Here’s my favorite line: “To dare to want in the face of possible disappointment, shame or guilt—now that’s courage.”

If you want to plan for the new year in a way that works better than repeating the same old resolutions you’ve tried multiple times before check out Todd Henry’s podcast Four Questions to Help You Start Your Year Right.

Also, if you haven’t read it yet, please check out Sue Monk Kidd’s amazing historical novel The Invention of WingsIt’s moving and inspiring.  I finally listened to it on audible and the narration is great too. 

Then go see Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in “Fences” and if you need some lighthearted fun check out my new hometown Los Angeles in the movie-musical “La La Land.

Finally, any of you who have checked out my guide Stop Surviving the Day and Start Loving Life saw that I mentioned Anna Kunnecke’s amazing program The Queen Sweep.  She’s doing a mini-version RIGHT NOW - for free!  Sign up!  Seriously.  It’s full of great tips that will make your life run more smoothly with more beauty in it.   

By the way, I don’t have any affiliate relationships with these resources.  Just love them.  Enjoy! And I’ll “see” you in 2017.

Here's to thriving!