Friday, July 25, 2014

Roots and Fruit (MNM 4)



 . . . blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
 
whose confidence is in him. 
They will be like a tree planted by the water

that sends out its roots by the stream.
 
It does not fear when heat comes;
 
its leaves are always green.

It has no worries in a year of drought

and never fails to bear fruit.
(Jeremiah 17:7-8 NIV)


Welcome back!  Before we go any further, here are some of the main ideas we’ve discussed so far:

Most people believe a person’s intelligence is what leads to academic and life success.  But research shows that traits such as grit, perseverance, and resilience—in other words, the non-cognitive traits—are far more crucial than IQ, or cognitive ability.

From kindergarten to college, many of today’s youth seem to possess only the most meager supply of these characteristics.

This means it’s important for moms and dads—that’s you and me--to be intentional about nurturing their children’s non-cognitive qualities.  We can do this by creating opportunities for them to begin discovering and strengthening these traits, and by avoiding parenting pitfalls which inadvertently limit these opportunities.

When parents allow our children to practice characteristics like perseverance, resilience, and optimism, we aren’t just strengthening their non-cognitive ability.  We’re cultivating characteristics which are consistent with biblical values. 

We’re also responding to our culture’s call for individuals who possess these characteristics. 

In other words, we’re accepting our world’s rare invitation to bring our faith right into the open—to live out our beliefs in a way our world understands and even welcomes.

I hope these thoughts give fresh and exciting significance to this season of parenting your little ones.  But if you’re like me, it also feels a little intimidating.  So, before we go any further, you should know a few things.

First, a disclaimer:  I am NO super-mom.   When it comes to parenting, I am nothing more than a work in progress, and if you spent 10 minutes with me, you’d know that.  This has never stopped me from trying to pretend that I’m a super-mom, but I’m learning—very, very slowly—that pretending is just a bad idea.  The fact is I’m just an average, everyday mama trying to do her best and finding little successes some of the time.

Second, a warning:  Learning about the importance of cultivating my children’s non-cognitive traits has been inspiring, fascinating, and informative.  But it’s also a little dangerous—at least for me, and maybe for you too.   Here’s why. 

Most of the moms I know are regularly on the lookout for the latest and greatest parenting strategies, which are available all day, everyday.  It doesn’t matter where I turn—the radio, tv, social media, or the good old fashioned library—I run into someone else with a list of 10 tips to a great kid.  Because my heart’s desire is to be the best mom I can, I read that advice and faithfully add it to my “mama list.”  Maybe you have one too:  It’s the itemized list of everything I must to do in order to succeed as a parent and avoid failing my children.  Each time I read another piece of expert advice, my list gets even longer—impossibly long, in fact.   And what results is a dilemma faced by countless well-intentioned moms: When, in our desire to always, always be the best parents, we are constantly gathering information, we inadvertently set ourselves up for frustration.  Because the fact is not one of us will ever, ever measure up, because we will never, ever accomplish everything we’re
supposed to be doing as mothers.  Constantly updating the mama-list is nothing more than a recipe for frustration and guilt.

And when I go down the road of mama-guilt, I slip into some behaviors I don’t find particularly productive:
~ parenting to avoid the bad rather than cultivate the good;
~ parenting impulsively rather than intentionally;
~ parenting that's reactive rather than proactive;
~ parenting out of fear rather than trust

And that kind of parenting, my friend, saps the joy right out of your day.

So I’ve decided to take what may be an unexpected approach to this series on nurturing our children’s non-cognitive traits.  Rather than advising you to cultivate a list of traits, I’m encouraging you to cultivate a habit of trust that is rooted in truth:
  ~ trust in the truth that you are a flawed-but-capable mom;
  ~ trust in the truth that God has created your child (and you) with the innate capacity to learn, to grow and to mature; and (most importantly)
  ~ trust in the truth that God will guide your unique mothering journey, and that, like Jeremiah says, He will produce His fruit in your child’s life, and in yours.

Our job is to trust in the truth; His job is to produce the results. 

When we tend the roots, He grows the fruit.

I still have so much to learn, but I can confidently say this:  trusting doesn’t begin with my making a list of behaviors and systematically training my children to practice them.  It begins with putting myself in earshot of a loving Father’s guidance and trusting Him to do His part. So that’s where we’ll begin each part of this study—not by examining traits, but by anchoring our hearts and minds in the truth about our good God, and trusting in His ability, willingness, and desire to guide us along each step of the mothering journey.   


As you make your way through these readings, my prayer is that you’ll rest confidently in God’s ability to help you discern what “fits” you and your family, that you'll feel the freedom to pass over what does not, and (most importantly) that you will be encouraged during this precious season of your life.


We’ll start the study with our next post.  I can’t wait!



Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Q & A—Part Two (MNM 3)

Thanks to my talented friend, Suzanne Stelling, for this amazing picture!

Hopefully, you’ve been able to rest, relax and laugh with your family since reading the last post.   If not, I hope you’ll find that time soon.  In fact (and I’m sure you already know this!), it’s always okay to put this material on hold if you need downtime with your loved ones or just by yourself.  Those moments can be rare (especially for mamas with young children), but they are so important. Don’t be afraid to create time for them!  J

If you’re ready, though, we’ll start by revisiting the question from the end of the most recent post:

Alright.  I get what the non-cognitive traits are and 
why they’re important . . . . . . for GROWN-UPS!

But what does this have to do with my family right now? 
After all, let’s face it:  we’re still in diapers around here.

Boy, do I remember the years when I was home with my children.  It seemed like light years until my preschoolers would be stepping into that first college class or starting out in the workforce.  And it’s true.   There are a lot of years between now and when your little people will be big people.

Even so, here is what’s relevant for parents of young children during this season.  Even if today finds your baby toddling around with a sippy cup, your awareness of these skills can help you find parenting strategies that give her valuable opportunities to begin discovering and even strengthening her character now instead of later.  This knowledge can also help you avoid some very common parenting pitfalls that inadvertently limit those important opportunities for your children.

And one other thing:  helping your children develop non-cognitive traits (or any skill, for that matter) is a lot like training for a marathon or developing the strength to lift weights.  Those character “muscles” can’t really develop overnight, or even over a year.  Like anything else, it takes time and intentionality as you determine age-appropriate ways for your child to practice these characteristics.   

I’m beginning to see why all this is important.  
But I’m also a little curious about what this has to do with my family’s faith.  After all, shouldn’t I parent my child according to biblical values?

I’ll answer that question with a whole-hearted “YES!”  For so many reasons, I believe it’s vitally important for Christ-followers to ground our parenting choices in scriptural truths and principles.  For now, I’ll touch on two.

First, there’s nothing like bringing a child into the world to make us newly (and sometimes painfully) aware of how much we don’t know yet.   This may not be the case for you, but I need all the help I can get . . . especially since the decisions my husband and I make don’t just affect us; they impact two very-little someone else’s whose very well-being pretty much depends on us.  No pressure there, right?  And no confusion, either, with so many folks doling out advice about the best ways to raise kids.  We’ll talk more about this later, but for now, let’s just sum it up by saying that basing parenting decisions on scripture provides much-needed confidence during a season when the stakes feel just so very high.

Also important is this:  how my husband and I choose to parent our children doesn’t just affect our own family.  It impacts the people around us—our neighbors, our friends, and even the people we see when we’re out and about.  You may not have thought about this before, but how you and I parent (and especially how Christ-followers parent) has a direct influence on the quality of the communities where we live.  Again, no pressure there, right?

For these and other reasons, this parenting journey has given biblical wisdom a fresh significance in my day-to-day life.

So, what do the non-cognitive traits have to do with all that?   Let’s take another look at the list of non-cognitive traits from the last post:

Appreciation of Beauty

Bravery

Citizenship

Conscientiousness

Creativity

Curiosity

Enthusiasm

Fairness

Forgiveness

Gratitude

Grit

Hope

Humility

Humor
Integrity

Kindness

Leadership

Love

Love of learning

Open-mindedness

Optimism


Ownership

Perseverance

Prudence

Resourcefulness

Self-Control (Academic)

Self-Control (Interpersonal)

Self Efficacy

Self Esteem

Social Intelligence

Spirituality

Wisdom

Work ethic

Zest

As you look at each characteristic, consider this question:  Do any of these qualities contradict the kind of life to which Christians are called?

As I began immersing myself in this subject, I began to see that even though non-cognitive characteristics haven’t been identified as specifically Christian, they do bear a striking resemblance to the qualities which Jesus—as well as New Testament writers—instructed believers to live out in their daily lives.  In fact, although there isn’t a one-to-one correspondence between these qualities and the characteristics known as the fruits of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control—almost each of the traits can be connected in some way with the qualities Paul describes in the New Testament book of Galatians. 

What this means is that when Christ-followers’ lives evidence the fruits of the spirit, we are also developing—and putting into action—the non-cognitive traits.

This is good news, not just for parents and children but also for our world—especially since educators and employers are reporting the need for individuals to bring these qualities into the classroom, the workplace, and the community.  From where I see it, experts’ growing concern about the lack of these qualities sounds an awful lot like an invitation for Christ-followers to practice the values in which we already believe.  In some ways, the public call for adults to live out these traits—and for parents to cultivate them in our children—is creating a new and perhaps unprecedented opportunity for believers to more actively live out and talk about the values that are truly important not just to us, but to our culture as a whole.

I don’t know about you, but that is motivating. 

Okay, for me at least, it’s actually just plain exciting.

Alright . . . . I’m in.
But is it really possible to put these principles into action during the busy, hands-on, often chaotic day-to-day routine of a family with little ones? 
Because I’m gonna need a little help with that.

Me too, my friend!   Even though my children are a few years older now, I am still right in the thick of needing parenting guidance.  But between the truth of scripture, some things I’m learning through my research, and the practical wisdom we can all share with one another—mixed with lots of prayer for God’s help--I really do believe it’s never too early to start. 

I’m so excited about what we will learn together.  Remember to leave any questions or comments below.  And if you're ready for the last part of the introduction, you can find it right here.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Little Q & A about Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Traits (MNM 2)


After reading the introduction to this year’s Moms N More material, I’m hoping you’re beginning to become acquainted with the concept of cognitive and non-cognitive traits.   (Click here if you’d like to glance back at that post.)  I also hope you’re beginning to have a few questions . . . perhaps like these:


First:  Can you help me understand more about the difference between cognitive and non-cognitive traits?




Absolutely!  Here’s a little more information.

Cognitive traits involve a person’s natural aptitude for educationally oriented tasks such as computing (math), reading, and writing.  Schools assess these abilities with tests requiring students to demonstrate knowledge of an academic subject by performing well (knowing the right answers).  So, for example, if Sally has a strong cognitive aptitude for math, this can help her earn a high score on her algebra test this Friday.  Many experts link cognitive skills to an individual’s IQ.


Non-cognitive traits, however, have more to do with the manner in which an individual approaches cognitive and other tasks.  These traits—which include qualities like self-discipline, optimism, and emotional intelligence—cannot be assessed using traditional testing methods used in schools.  

However, as you can imagine, non-cognitive characteristics can have a tremendous impact on our test scores, not to mention our overall success in school, at the workplace, and in the community.  For example, John may possess strong reading comprehension skills; however, if he lacks the motivation to perform well on a test, he may not read the questions carefully and, as a result, receive a lower-than-necessary score.  On the other hand, if Michael struggles with reading but is highly motivated to perform well on an exam, he may earn a high score, simply because of how his efforts were impacted by his motivation. So a child's non-cognitive skills can actually trump his cognitive ability in terms of impacting academic success. 

Also important to know is that cognitive traits are relatively static, which means they cannot be substantively changed; however, non-cognitive traits are malleable, or changeable.



In short, a child’s cognitive ability can be seen in her knowledge about content matter, while a child’s non-cognitive traits are seen through her character.



Or, in other words, cognitive skills have to do with aptitudes, while non-cognitive skills have more to do with attitudes.




Next:  Okay, I get the distinction.  But I’d like to know more specifics about the non-cognitive traits.  What are they, exactly?

Ah, just the question I’ve been hoping you’d ask . . . . 



I don’t know about you, but I’m a list-maker.  So I’ve compiled just that . . . a sort of inventory with the names for 34 non-cognitive traits.  Maybe it will help.


Appreciation of Beauty

Bravery

Citizenship

Conscientiousness

Creativity

Curiosity

Enthusiasm

Fairness

Forgiveness

Gratitude

Grit

Hope

Humility

Humor
Integrity

Kindness

Leadership

Love

Love of learning

Open-mindedness

Optimism


Ownership

Perseverance

Prudence

Resourcefulness

Self-Control (Academic)

Self-Control (Interpersonal)

Self Efficacy

Self Esteem

Social Intelligence

Spirituality

Wisdom

Work ethic

Zest
By no means is this list comprehensive, but hopefully it provides some specifics about what is meant when people mention the phrase “non-cognitive traits.”  


Okay, that helps.  But where did this list come from?


Here’s a little more background:

The conversation about the non-cognitive traits is increasing amongst leaders from wide-ranging fields including medicine, education, psychology, and business.  My list is a compilation of characteristics mentioned from the following experts.  Journalist and author Paul Tough names grit, curiosity, perseverance, conscientiousness, self-regulation, and optimism as vital components for an individual’s success in school and in life.  He goes on to report how educators at Chicago’s KIPP School have not only identified similar qualities—grit, zest, academic and inter-personal self-control, optimism, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity—but have also created a character report card to evaluate each student according to how well s/he demonstrates these traits in the classroom.   Corporate professionals discuss the importance of employees possessing traits like leadership, ownership, and even humility.  Using slightly different language, child psychologist Madeline Levine advises parents to cultivate their children’s resourcefulness, enthusiasm, creativity, work ethic, self control, self esteem, and self efficacy.  One of the longer lists—developed by Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson and used as the inspiration for KIPP Schools’ shorter list  —boasts a whopping 24 traits.  These are the sources I used to create my list, but it only takes a few minutes of web-surfing to find more traits; however, many of the qualities overlap or parallel each other.  We’ll talk about that more later.

Alright.  But why are these traits such a big deal?

The non-cognitive traits currently are getting increased attention for a handful of reasons.

First, leaders in a variety of fields are pointing out that a person’s character is at least as important (if not more so) than his or her mastery of content. 

Second, these same leaders are expressing concern that these qualities seem to be on the decline in today’s youth.  For example, employers describe a majority of today’s job applicants as lacking “’communication and interpersonal skills’” as well as “creativity and collaboration.”  Educators, too, are noticing a decrease of qualities like perseverance in today’s students.  College admissions counselors, cites Madeline Levine, describe many current college applicants as “’failure deprived”, and I can’t begin to count the number of the students in my colleagues' and my classes who possess incredible academic ability but, sadly, seem unable to use it in their college work. 

Ultimately, leaders from a range of disciplines agree about two things:

Strong character—not just content mastery—is vital for success in school, work, and the community. 

Even so, today’s youth seem to possess an increasingly meager supply of these incredibly important qualities.

Wow.  That seems like a real problem.  What do you think might be causing this decline? 

Lots of attention is being given to the question of why many of today’s young adults seem to have a short supply of the non-cognitive traits.  Our educational system is one area that’s being examined.  Schools and teachers are under tremendous scrutiny as experts are trying to figure out strategies for helping students strengthen not just their knowledge of academic subject matter, but also the characteristics and behaviors they need in order to more effectively approach and master their school work.

However, what’s also being discussed is the need for parents to play a more active role in cultivating these traits in their children.  During the last few generations, parenting advisors have placed a continually increasing emphasis on the need for moms and dads to cultivate their child’s sense of well-being and self-esteem.  In one way, this makes perfect sense. We want our children to become adults who are strong, capable, independent, and successful.  So in order to reach that goal, we may tend towards parenting strategies which involve surrounding our children with experiences and environments that allow them to feel good about themselves at all times.   But what we don’t realize is that this emphasis is actually producing youth who are being described as “the teacup generation.”  On the surface, these children may look great—even exceptional; however, when the very-real challenges of adult life come their way, they are often fragile and insufficiently equipped.

Okay, I get it.  But what does this have to do with my 
family right now?  After all, let’s face it:  we’re still in diapers around here.

What a great question!  How about we tackle that one—and a few more—in the next post (which you will find by clicking here).

By the way, if you think of other questions, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment, talk to your MNM coach, leave a comment at the MNM Facebook page, or shoot an email to Rebekah Wilson or to me at annepharr@hotmail.com.