by Amy Alamar, EdD
Dinner is on the stove, I have one more work call to make, two kids are working on homework and my oldest son missed the late bus from school. I drop everything and run out to get him. Expecting at least a “thanks,” he looks at me instead and asks, “do you have a snack or any water?” Are you kidding? I ran out here in the middle of everything else going on and you’re not only ungrateful – but you ask for something more? I overreact, enumerating all the many things I do for him and arrive home in a huff because I feel that I haven’t been given the appropriate credit. After I take a moment or two, it’s with some reflection I see I haven’t really given my son a chance to express gratitude. Sure I would like him to think of it on his own, but it’s also my job to teach him that. Perhaps next time I need to take a deep breath. Afterall, I could have asked him to try to find another ride home, but I opted instead to rush out of the house to pick him up. And, instead of getting annoyed, I could have had a conversation with him to help him better express gratitude. In other words, I could apply some reflective practice to help me through a consistently rough time of day.
What is Reflective Practice?
It’s very easy to doubt yourself in a job that changes every day and for which the only measure is the most important thing in the world to you: your child’s safety and happiness. Try applying reflective practice, a tried and true concept in education that allows you to turn your experience into wise choices. Reflective practice is using your past experience to help inform your future decisions. It’s learning from your mistakes, but also from your success. It’s actually quite simple, but it’s not easy. It takes time, effort, and commitment. Teachers use it to perfect their instruction and to engage with their students. I have taken the theory and applied it to parenting.
Learn from Mistakes:
Your kid threw a fit, or talked back to you. Homework ended in tears…. you name it. It’s often hard to deal. It’s ok for you to react in the moment, and if you overreact, you can forgive yourself and move on. But it’s important to take a moment to compose yourself and think about what led to that bad moment? Focus on the triggers of the fit rather than the big emotions. If your kid threw a tantrum, what was it about? Are you upset about the fit or the source of the behavior? Maybe your child acted out due to hunger, exhaustion, lack of communication. If your child tends to throw a fit when hungry, make sure you have snacks available. If your child is grumpy when sleepy, work on their bedtime routine.
Learn from Success:
Try to replicate the magic moments. Back-to-school shopping with my three kids, all looking for very different items ranging from rulers to running shorts, was a fantastic experience this year. They helped one another find sizes and were patient as we looked for specific items for one child at a time. We even all stopped to have a leisurely lunch. Reflecting on this success, I think the big difference between this outing and others that have ended in much less ideal ways: realistic expectations were set in advance. I had talked with them briefly and mentioned we were a bit last minute and might not get everything done. I even asked them to keep track of what they each needed and to help me identify a time next weekend in which we could catch up. The knowledge that we didn’t have to get everything done in one trip helped me relax and set their expectations. So, moving forward I know that this preface will help de-stress us all.
Try this simple exercise when you you notice something that repeatedly succeeds or conversely, fails miserably. Try to make the most of it. Make a concerted effort to change your habits where you see them contributing to continued disappointment or frustration. Work on one small area you can change. It will be a small victory at first, but definitely worth the effort.
Amy combines academic research, educational practice, and real-world experience in her writing and workshops to help parents find perspective and develop confidence in raising their families and to help teachers better understand their own practice. She gains invaluable insights from her own personal research subjects (AKA her children and husband) whom she learns from and enjoys every day.
Amy Alamar, EdD, has worked in the field of education as a teacher, teacher educator, researcher, parent educator, and education reformer for over fifteen years. In late 2014, Amy published her first book entitled: Parenting for the Genius: Developing Confidence in Your Parenting through Reflective Practice (For the Genius Press, 2014). The book is a comprehensive guide to becoming the most thoughtful and confident parent possible, with anecdotes and details relating to the guidance and support of children in specific age ranges throughout their formative years. Amy is also a contributing author to the Disney parenting website, Babble.com.
As a frequent speaker to parent and faculty groups, Amy focuses on a wide range of parenting topics including student stress and wellbeing, raising digital natives in the information age, and parenting kids with character. She also conducts faculty development workshops that focus on engagement with learning, professional communication, and curriculum design. She was an invited guest of Michelle Obama at the White House for a conversation about kids’ health in 2016.