My son, Aaron, is now 15 years old and I'm 50. Quick math would prove I'm definitely older, but does this mean I'm automatically wiser? I'm not so sure. In life learning opportunities occur every day, in fact multiple times each day, and we learn best when we are willing to open our hearts and minds to the lessons being offered.
It is said that when the student is ready the teacher will appear. And I believe this to be true.
And so I'd like to share the story with you of how my son became the teacher and I the student.
Would it be fair to say that no one truly knows how another person feels? Unless they tell us, and even then they may not share the whole truth.
So do we ever really know? Probably not, but we are influential and how we treat and talk to others can go a long ways towards how they feel about themselves.
When Aaron was maybe 7 or 8, he had already been playing hockey for several years. And like the other hockey parents we'd sit in the stands and watch our kids practice. There were times as I watched Aaron he looked timid to me. When a new drill started I saw him purposefully maneuvering himself to the back of the line so he wouldn't have to go first. He looked confused on the ice and unsure of himself, and when "I"
compared him to the other kids on the team I was his harshest critic. As his dad, I wanted him to succeed so I felt it was time to share my years of worldly wisdom (insert joke here) thus helping him excel.
So what did I do? I waited till we got in the car to drive home and then I gave him my best motivational speech (meaning that I trapped him in a confined space and began my soliloquy). I told him in no uncertain terms that if he wanted to be successful he had to go after the puck, be first, show initiative, grab the tiger by the tail! Be the first man on the ice and the last one off. Never give up. Push past the pain. I told him he'd only succeed through hard work and perseverance.
By passing on this advice I felt confident I was setting him up for high achievement and success not only in hockey but in all areas of life. Or so I thought.
What transpired before my eyes was exactly the opposite. He didn't succeed at all; in fact he withdrew even further and tried less.
My "motivational" speech wasn't working. I had paralyzed him.
And for me this is when the lesson began, and thankfully I was open and ready to learn it?
When I asked Aaron how he liked hockey he told me a half-truth... he said "it's okay I guess."
But it wasn't okay.
In that moment I realized "I"needed to change how I was communicating with my son.
So I told Aaron from now on when it came to hockey there would be 3 rules:
Number 1 rule - Have fun!
Number 2 rule - Have fun!
The 3rd rule - if we go out for a Pop after the game say it, rather than spell it because the guy behind the counter is only a teenager and trained to give you what you ask for and if you spell pop mistakenly as poop you'll get what you ask for. And nobody wants poop! This was designed to make him laugh and was a play on the first 2 rules. (Yes it was lame, but it worked)
I repeat, nobody wants poop, but by putting all that pressure on my son to be perfect, I was making him feel like poop. And in reality I was the real poop. There was lots of poop to be had.
As I changed how I talked with him I learned he really did like hockey and he enjoyed playing with his friends, but, like all of us, there were times when he was unsure of what was being asked of him and he was afraid to fail. Slowly we began to talk about this together.
As I began to change the way I communicated our drives home after practice began to change. I was listening more to what Aaron had to say and to what he wanted to talk about. He began having more fun, and you could see his effort on the ice beginning to change.
Brain research shows that when anxiety goes up intelligence and creativity goes down. Conversely and more importantly then as we lower our anxiety we allow our intelligence and creativity to explode!! And that is exactly what happened. By having more fun I watched Aaron change on the ice(and in life). He was enjoying himself and succeeding, demonstrating more self-directed hard work and determination. He was now the one driving his progressions, challenging himself and moving himself to the front of the line.
He began to excel.
Skip ahead to 2015, Aaron's now 15 and in his 3rd year of running track. This past August in Montreal he competed in the Legion's Youth National Track and Field Championships. In the Boys U16 100 meter hurdles he set a new National Record running faster than any other U16 boy in the country since the meet's inception in the 70's. Also competing in the Pentathlon event he was victorious becoming the #1 ranked U16 Pentathlete in Canada setting a new Alberta Provincial Record in the process and nearly besting the National Record. And as the competition came to a close we learned that Aaron was named the Most Outstanding Athlete of the entire meet chosen among all athletes, from all provinces and all ages.
Now when I bring up the old "fun, fun and say poop" story with him it's just lame. But it's a National Champ who's telling me it's lame. A National Champ that at the age of 8 knew more than I did about how we can make others feel by how we talk to them.
I hope I never forget that lesson. I know it's okay to make mistakes. Everyone does, sometimes we say the wrong things or misread the situation and mess up, and sometimes we fail. I think the learning comes in realizing it's not the mistake so much as it is what we do after it that's important and how we use it to support the learning and growing that comes from it.
I guess you could say mistakes are like Poop;
"Even a little Poop or Manure is necessary sometimes to grow flowers."
Or in this case a National Champion and an even better Human Being. Thanks for the lesson son. I'm always open to learning.