The end of the year is a time of transition and change. Our newest intake of Year K students looks forward to commencing with us in the new year, with their sparkling eyes wide open and full of questions and hope. Similarly, we prepare to welcome new students joining us in other year levels for 2021.
Our signature transition program provides all of our new students with a smooth entry into our school, to begin their Moriah journeys. Parents engage in discussion with me throughout this process with a central theme at the core of every discussion. They collectively express their concern and hope that their child should feel secure and loved in their class and friendship group by being surrounded by people who understand and nurture them.
Growing happy students
Great thinkers, growth coaches, psychologists and educationists have engaged with the idea of how our thought patterns and approach to life become reality, and they have investigated the patterns of those who have interacted with life and its challenges successfully to emerge as high-performing individuals.
Essentially, their research reveals that it is critical that we, in our collective role as the significant adult growing the child (or student) in this world, should pay careful attention to the story we inadvertently write into the brains of these open, receptive little humans. We need to pay careful attention in order to co-author the narrative we write into their brains so that our children choose to respond to every situation in a way that grows them to be happy, well-balanced individuals. I use the term ‘happy’ in this instance not to refer to the euphoric, endorphin rush felt when someone says you look great or you were the bravest, smartest person in the room. I refer to ‘happy’ meaning a sustained awareness that you are in the correct balance, feeling a sense of peaceful satisfaction with the space you find yourself in at any given time. This lofty idea might feel unattainable and esoteric but I hope to map a possible pathway that adults can access in the hope of telling these developing brains the best story, so that our children get the narrative right and don’t need too much re-scripting in adulthood.
Positive thoughts create positive action
Ali Walker investigates this idea in her book, Get Conscious. She encourages us to choose positive thoughts and to learn how to direct our brains onto a productive trajectory. She stresses that our thoughts are just stories we tell ourselves. However, we discover that these stories are mostly written in childhood. The more positive thoughts we inject into the young brains of our children, the more positive thoughts they will generate to achieve a good outcome. Our thoughts come from any genre, or experience, and program our responses from early on in life. Every thought is a choice to listen to a story and if we prepare our young to respond to the story in a particular way, then we shape their thoughts and capacity to respond to challenge on purpose, thereby crafting a bestseller. This is as simple as resetting a script in the brains of our children when they say, “I have no friends”, or their teacher or the subject they experienced is “boring”. The adult engaging with them can rewrite their script so that they see a “boring” moment as an opportunity to turn on their listening skills and find something that is important that they can use creatively in their magnificent brain. Similarly, the child commentary of “I have no friends” can be investigated by the adult co-authoring with the child to explore the subtext, “I am not likeable”. They would rescript the story in the context of the child’s magnificent self and the steps to take to connect this self with the people best suited to it.
Holocaust survivor and psychologist Edith Eger endorses the above approach. She stresses the influential role childhood has on shaping the emerging adult and brands her therapy as Choice Therapy. A core value of Moriah College is to create responsible students. I reframe this as response-able students – students who are capable of making an active choice to respond to context or challenge on purpose using their survival toolkit and the scripting that adults provide. Edith Eger says, “You can’t heal what you can’t feel”, and to this end we encourage our children to be aware of what they feel using visible wellbeing and by naming and noticing what they are feeling and then setting the narrative they choose to live by. It is preferable not to assume the approach of forbidding a child to ever be near a particular “bad peer” because they will destroy their life, or stating that a child must be with a particular friend because they make their world happy. When the adult scripts this into the child’s brain, we make the choice for the child to learn helplessness and victimisation dependent upon the actions of another. Instead, it is preferable that we assume a stance where, as Steven Covey says, we begin with the end in mind. We write what we want the outcome to look like and then we enact the vision by taking one conscious, skilled step at a time.
Choosing our thoughts is critical because research has shown that our brain can’t distinguish between imagined thought (such as dreaming about ourselves being the recipient of an esteemed award on the stage) and reality. The power of positive visualisation or thought, the power of a positive narrative, can never be underestimated. The more we assist in crafting this positive narrative into the brains of our young, the closer we bring them to a sustained positive achievement in their lives. Recovery from illness, written notes of success or promises to achieve a dream before the actual achievement, have been documented again and again: great success is frequently the outcome when we visualise a dream and then live the reality to achieve it. Success commences in thought and bringing conscious awareness to intention, and there is no age limit to when this opportunity starts.
Training your mind through repetition or imagination can be equally as effective. When we tell our children simple mantras we open their minds positively. A simple mantra could be, “Today will be the start of something great, listen and look carefully, build each idea one detail at a time and great will happen”. This would most certainly be better than a parting commentary of, “If anyone is mean to you let me know and I will sort out the situation.” I know which mantra would make me feel that the world is a hopeful place that has opportunities for me to enact my dreams.
Whatever we tell ourselves on a regular basis, we believe. Whatever we believe, we act upon. Whatever we act upon becomes momentum in a particular direction and that momentum carries us into our life path. I personally live my life and my growth coaching framework using this approach and emerge in awe of its power time and time again.
Rewriting the script
We all have the capacity to reprogram ourselves and locate our genius self simply by choosing thoughts that make us feel good and unplugging from the negative narrative. It is important that we help children to set clear intentions in the stories they tell themselves so they know where they want to go in order to reach a clear ultimate vision. By co-authoring this great story, new neural pathways are set and the genius self is more likely to emerge heroic.
As educators, we often hear things like, “in our family we really struggle with reading, maths or sustaining friendships”. This leads to the “someone like me” narrative that Ali Walker describes being written into the brains of children – they live up to the story that is told to them about the people in their family. Instead, we co-author a story along the lines of Edith Eger’s choice to live life to the full and exercise change, which is synonymous with growth. The moments in the story that are challenging are the moments that we sit with children and encourage them to celebrate the learning. This does not mean that if they are on the receiving end of some mean on purpose behaviour, the child must celebrate that a negative action is happening to them and embrace this as a great experience. It means that the child sits in the moment and makes the choice with an adult to rewrite the response to the challenge. Negative experience is called out and pathways are located for support in order to rewrite the desired story. They are not a victim and the bad deed does not shape the child’s identity even though something negative happened to them.
Crafting this story into the minds of our young is indeed complex and has many nuanced aspects that require careful consideration. What is evident, however, from the discourse opened in this article, is that we all need to be aware of the stories we inadvertently tell our children or tell ourselves. When writing the story, it is always important to ask what is going on in this part of the story and what can I do now? When we interact with our students, it is important not to dwell on why this happened to them but rather look at what has taken place and what can be done moving forward to progress the story. Discover your inner resources to respond rather than react.
Happy story-writing, and rest assured there are many support people out there ready to co-author alongside you. We all have the opportunity to write great stories, we simply need to be aware of the significant of each sentence we script.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lynda Fisher is the Head of Primary School at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.