Life Lessons I Learned From My Kids

You know you’re on the precipice of either a breakthrough, or a breakdown, when you find yourself consuming more self-help books, how-to blogs, and ra-ra podcasts than you’d like to admit.

Each medium, an IV drip of motivation, inspiration, and positivity. A necessary form of nourishment for the soul; a form of life support on the uncomfortable path to transformation.

Nevertheless, it can still be hard to stay motivated, even when you wear it as armor.
Without a direct emergency line to motivational moguls, I uncovered a different approach: I tuned into the source present in front of me. Which revealed an unexpected source of mentorship—my kids.

5 Life Lessons My Kids Taught Me:

1. Figure it out as you go.

Sounds counterintuitive to what we learn in all the books by all the experts—no target, no bullseye. Not only that, but I’m a six on the enneagram. Which means I am a security oriented personality type. I like to know where I’m going, how I’m going to get there, and exactly when I will arrive. I set up a plan, aim for a desired target, and work doggedly to achieve it.

The other day my son was playing with a bin of free floating legos. A mismatch of pieces from various sets. He played for hours, connecting and constructing. No instructions. No design in mind.

When he finally brought me his creation, eager to show off his work, I delightedly oohed and ahhed and asked him what he had made. He pinched his eyebrows together, seemingly confused by my question.

“I’m just figuring it out as I go,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

His words took me by surprise. While I live for goal setting and the notion that if you don’t have a target, you’ll miss every time, I also respect my son’s esteem for the process.

His words reminded me that sometimes, we just need to let go of expectations. To build without any plan, instructions, or predetermined goals.

To allow your mind to freely create, anticipating what might be. You never know, sometimes it turns out better than you could have planned.


2. Reward yourself.

My children are recognized for their contribution to the household. Each of them has a chart—an incentive system. Complete the task, earn a sticker. Put away clothes. Get a sticker. Make the bed. Sticker. And after so many stickers, they earn a reward. The purpose is to establish a set of clear expectations that ultimately lead to a sense of fulfillment and self-worth.

As we assume more responsibility with age, the rewards may grow in scope (the annual vacation, the latest flat screen TV), but decrease in frequency.

We find ourselves burning out from the daily mundane tasks that sustain our lifestyle. The work is hard and the payoff is often too far in the future. Children aren’t the only ones who need to feel like their contributions count. You need the proverbial sticker too.

I’m not suggesting you create yourself a sticker chart. But, reward yourself in frequent increments. You can set a system where you earn an hour of you time. Or buy that new device you’ve been stalking on Amazon. Or finally break off a piece of that Kit Kat bar. Take your pick.

Either way, if you don’t reward yourself (before the annual vacation), you may find yourself resenting the things you should be most grateful for.


3. Give running hugs.

There is nothing like being on the receiving end of a hug that begins with a starting line. That’s all.


4. Take a time out.

I call them mindset resets—a moment to gather yourself by distancing yourself from a situation with space, time, and a simple activity. I can spot the signs when my kids are spiraling. Tired? Cranky? Frustrated? I instruct them to take a “mindset reset,” or more commonly, a time out.

They keep activity books in their room for such instances: coloring books, crossword puzzles, how-to-draw pages, etc. It’s not really a punishment; it is a punishment preventative.

I find that they almost always return refreshed. What if we developed an awareness of our own irritability and could redirect ourselves to a mindset reset? Just google “therapeutic benefits to coloring” and you may find yourself happy to take a time out.


5. Go back to the basics.

My son is in preschool. I imagine him spending the mornings singing the ABCs and dancing the hokey pokey. When I picked him up from school the other day, he bashfully shared his writing notebook with me.

This week’s theme: the body. Slowly, I decoded the scrunched letters to read—antigen, white blood cells, red blood cells. My eyebrows arched in confusion while I praised his work ethic. “Wow! That’s amazing!” I went on to inquire, “So . . . what’s an antigen?”

He shrugged his shoulders and squeaked in his sweet, small voice, “I don’t know” before prancing out the door.

I am a teacher. I am all for challenging our children. I advocate for rigorous curriculum, but I also wonder what happened to the good ‘ol basics? The fundamentals necessary for growth?

There is a reason for the saying “back to basics.” It’s because the basics are HARD! The basics are the most important part of any beginning. So, when you’re feeling overwhelmed or searching for simple solutions, I challenge you to go back to the basics.

P.S. An antigen is a substance that tells the immune system whether something in your body is harmful. And yes, I had to google it.

It’s not unnatural to fall into survival mode, our movements fueled by fears and worst case scenarios. We act to prevent them so we won’t have to push through them.

Luckily, we can draw wisdom from the little ones coming up behind us. Even if it is inspired by a two-year-old’s tantrum.

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