The Benefits: Being There is Validating—Making Me Real

We’ve discussed the complexities related to:
Traveling into unknowns
And those tied to the “right age to travel.”

While there are no doubt countless other complexities, I thought I’d balance the table a bit and talk about the positives of a homeland journey.

For starters, being there is validating. That is, for many adoptees, their very existence is made more “real” through experiences like:
• Seeing their original file or an intake chart,
• Meeting caregivers,
• And visiting people and places significant to the their adoption.

In my mind’s eye, I have such vivid memories of validating moments playing out

Meeting the doctor who delivered!

throughout the world as we’ve journeyed together. One of my favorite memories involved a 10 year old boy. He had been hospitalized prior to being adopted and our research revealed that the same doctor who had provided his medical care as an infant was still on staff. We asked if the doctor would be willing to meet the boy and his family. The response: A warm YES! On the day we visited the hospital, a very gentle, caring doctor arrived in the examining room, stethoscope in hand. “I must check you over to make sure you are as healthy as when I last saw you,” she said with a smile. She peeked in his ears, tested his reflexes, and listened to his heart, and more importantly seemed to know exactly what his heart needed. “I am very satisfied with what a strong young man you have become,” the doctor said. Both doctor and the boy were smiling from ear to ear. Validating.

Oh, those wonderful caregivers!

Other kids find validation via foster mothers, nannies, and other early caregivers….people who literally held their lives in balance until they arrived at their forever homes. “The best part of visiting my birth country was meeting my foster Mom. She held my hand the whole time and even insisted on feeding me at lunch.”That is a very common report from kids. Even kids who initially do not place so much emphasis on meeting caregivers seem to hold this connection in high regard.

There is something very powerful about first hand, experiential time in ones birth country. Returning from China Ties, Molly McPeak said these words with great conviction, “I knew I was adopted from China, born in Anhui Province, found somewhere in Tongling City, but when you actually get a chance to go back to your roots, everything seems to come together. Going to Anhui Province and seeing Tongling City for the first time brought me WAY back. Even though I can’t remember the years I was there, it felt like the missing part of me was finally found. I found out the reason behind my name and the actual site where I was found. All the missing information was finally right in front of me. I learned who I truly am.”

Yes, meeting birth family is HUGE when it comes to validation, but there are SO many other validating factors, and the reality is that even now, the vast majority of international adoptees are not meeting their birth families. So, understanding and recognizing the other things that provide validation for our children is especially important.

Validation brings a sense of “real” to kids, allowing them to begin to take ownership of their lives. It gives them an opportunity to move from hearing their stories, to being able to tell THEIR stories. Like a black & white TV screen suddenly doing high-def color!

Have you and/or your child had a validating experience while traveling? What have those experience meant to you or your child?

Cheering on Confidence Through Activity

Genuine confidence is a way of thinking about yourself and your abilities. Confidence is your perception of your own potential; it’s a kind of long-term thinking that powers you through the obstacles and tough times, helping you solve problems and putting you in the way of success. Your confidence is quite a separate matter from your social skills.
John Eliot, Ph.D.

An avid quote collector, Dr. Eliot’s words offer me a way to tie up the topic of helping kids relieve stress by becoming “endorphin motivated” through “locomotion motivation” which hinges on positive self perception, or confidence. As parents, how can we foster confidence in our children that inspires physical activity, a known stress reliever?

Be a cheerleader! Our children look to us for support, approval and encouragement (even if their actions say something different.) But cheering for the sake of cheering stops short of instilling confidence. Instead we need to take into account a child’s current skill level and cheer her on to the next.

Helping our kids set realistic goals is another confidence builder and physical activity motivator. That’s why, in my opinion, it is great for a child to be involved in an individual sport. Take swimming for example. Each race is an opportunity to improve on your own personal time. The benchmark belongs to you – it is yours to break, establishing a new personal best. And then, challenged to go beyond, the process begins all over again and confidence grows.

Hearing those cheers and reaching personal goals are two of the three components needed if we want to instill in our kids the desire to be physically active. The third component is FUN! Perhaps this fun comes from being with a certain group of people or maybe it is derived from a personal sense of accomplishment. Either way, the desire to be physically active is being reinforced, building a behavior for life.

Speaking of fun, in “Kid’s and Stress” I mentioned that laughter is an endorphin producing activity. That’s right. It turns out that the muscular exertion used to create a joyful “Ha, ha, ha!” produces a shot of endorphins. On that note, here’s something to leave you laughing!


Locomotion Motivation

This past weekend,  I noticed a group of kids playing out in their front yard.  Listening to the sound of their laughter brought back memories of the many hours my brothers and I spent outdoors engaged in a variety of individual and organized physical activity.  Our endorphin factories worked to the max as we played tag, hide and seek, and games that incorporated our imaginations with movement.

My mother’s directive for us to go outdoors and “blow off some steam” makes sense now.  Intuitively she must have known the positive impact of being “endorphin motivated,” even if she didn’t  know the word endorphin. Physical activity has many benefits that are both health-related as well as psychological.   But, how as parents, do we motivate our kids to achieve 60 minutes of physical activity a day suggested by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services?

Simply put, motivation is what encourages us to continue to engage in a behavior.   The September 2000 edition of the President’s Council of Physical Fitness and Sports Research Digestoffers a  model worth considering.

Self-perceptions, how a child feels about his/her self, is at the core of the model.  How are those perceptions formed?  For young children, feedback received from caregivers and parents plays a huge role in how feelings about abilities and performance form.  When significant adults in a child’s life  model physical activity its importance is instilled in a child.  Whether its going for a walk, throwing a ball, or riding a bike – doing these activities together demonstrates that activity is important for everyone.  As children grow in their physical skills, the reinforcement that parents provide of effort and accomplishment outlines a child’s image of self.

As children become older and involved in activities outside of the home, comments by teachers and coaches are added to the mix of information a child receives.  My son had the good fortune to play for the same soccer coach for 9 years.  Early on, feeling our son, Nick, was not receiving the playing time he deserved, we approached the coach.  Before responding to our concern, Coach invited Nick to join the conversation.  Talking together, we learned that Coach had established goals for Nick to achieve before he would be given more time on the field.  We also learned that he wasn’t taking these goals too seriously.  Coach concluded the conversation by encouraging Nick to move beyond his physical ability and achieve a higher level of performance that would not only benefit him but also the team.  These words stuck and continue to influence our son in new endeavors, both physical and otherwise.

Peer acceptance and friendship are powerful forces when it comes to self-esteem. This is especially true when it comes a child’s acceptance of his physical ability.  Remember how it felt to be picked first for a team?  And who can forget the disappointment of being chosen last?  Peer acceptance when it comes to physical ability is a huge influence.  Friendship, especially for those kids who feel like they are not accepted, serves as antidote for the negative feedback received.  Not only is participation more fun when done with a friend, it also provides the encouragement and support, both of which foster improvement.

So there you have it – Locomotion Motivation.  The positive feedback a child receives from their parents, caregivers, teachers, coaches, and peers nurtures positive self perceptions of physical ability leading to enjoyment and motivation for continued activity.

How have you seen this model play out in your child’s life? How about yours?

Kids and Stress

Becca’s recent posting “Easy Stress Reduction In a Busy, Crazy World”  got me thinking about how this applies to kids.  How do we help them become “endorphin motivated?”

Recognizing stress is our inability to meet the demands placed upon us, I believe that stress can be felt even in the youngest of children. Sometimes that stress comes from outside sources. For example, wet skin and feeling chilly when bathed for the first time resulted to my grandson’s rather loud expression of discomfort. Stress!

Sometimes a child, teen, or adult is unable to do what they believe is expected of them, leading to stress from within. Remember your first days in kindergarten and being asked get ready to go home in the middle of winter? How did it feel when some of the kids were able to zip their coats and the teacher had to help you? Even though the teacher was zipping coats for half of the students, you saw others performing this task on their own and felt this was what was expected of you. Stress!

And let’s not forget how perceptions impact stress. Think about the middle school student sitting by herself at the football game as her best friend visits with other kids. There are lots of explanations for what’s going on, but if you’re the person feeling left out it’s easy to perceive that you’re loosing your friend. Stress!

Physical activity produces endorphins in kids as well as adults resulting in stress reduction. According to a 2008 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children and teens benefit from 60 minutes per day of high intensity physical activity. According to the CDC’s 2006 School Health Policies and Program Study (published in a 2007 issue of “Journal of School Health”) only 3.8% of elementary, 7.9% of middle, and 2.1% of high schools provide daily physical education or its equivalent for the entire school year.

So what’s a kid to do? How can parents help? I’ll share some motivating ideas for the entire family in an upcoming post, including how laughter is an endorphin producing activity!