Does anyone remember a show where Bill Cosby sat down with kids and asked them questions and the studio audience laughed as they said the “darndest” things? I remember seeing it in high school and being annoyed at the phrase “darndest.”* But the kids were pretty cute.
As a school psychologist, I get some awesome answers to questions from kids, many of which I can’t post because they are confidential and/or answers to IQ test questions which are secure. I really don’t want the WISC police contacting me, thankyouverymuch. What I can share is a random assortment of metaphors and mantras that my kiddos have come up with over the years that have helped me help other kids. I love metaphors and mantras. I love using the ones kids come up with in counseling sessions to help make sense of things. I throw out all kinds of metaphors and mantras to explain grief, attention problems, friendship issues, behavior control, learning disabilities, you name it. The ones that stick become therapeutic.
So, courtesy of my yoots, here are a few metaphors and mantras that I use regularly:
1) For Procrastination: “Get it done, then have your fun!”
This one came from a middle school gal who was combating procrastination. I so wish someone had worked with me in middle school on that, so I could have saved myself a ton of late nights in high school and college (and beyond, let’s face it.) We drew “Procrastination Monsters” and talked about what “feeds” them (Facebook is a delicious and common one…). We talk about how to quiet the Procrastination Monster with our thoughts. She came up with “Get it done, then have your fun!” and I have to admit, when writing reports, this has come in handy for me. Take that, P-Monster! Btw, my P-Monster is purple and looks just like the Weight Watchers monster, only instead of dangling donuts, he dangles Pinterest to tempt me.
2) For Test Anxiety: “Just keep swimming!”
If you haven’t seen Finding Nemo, what is wrong with you? It is the top selling DVD of all time (thanks, Wikipedia). Oh, sorry, didn’t mean to judge. Anyhoo, for those of you who haven’t seen it, there is this fish named Dory, who gives advice to Marlin, a fish who is nervous, to “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” One of my high schoolers I work with once told me he chants this when he starts to get worry thoughts about finishing tests on time, and it refocuses him. Adorbs, right? I personally have used this in finishing reports, modified to “Just keep writing, just keep writing…” Have we noticed a theme here about me having to write a lot of reports? Sorry newbies, it’s not all P-monsters and clownfishes in this job, there’s a hot mess of paper too. Wheeeee! Just keep writing, just keep writing…
3) For Self-Esteem: “The Casino Effect”
We all have little friends we work with (and probably some adults too) who are a little down on themselves about their abilities. Working with kids with learning challenges brings out a lot of negative self-statements, like “I’m not smart because everyone finishes their work before me.” These kids are classic “fixed mindset” kiddos, ála Carol Dweck’s theory, in which you believe your talents and abilities are set in stone—either you have them, or you don’t. In that case, you have to prove to yourself over and over again, and are constantly trying to look smart and talented without effort or mistakes.
So I was working with this high school girl at this fancy schmancy high achieving school where many of the kids bragged about not having to work hard (thus, they're smart!). Kids would whip out their A papers and tests to show off their achievements and compare results to others. Girlfriend worked her tail feathers off and got Bs, and felt badly about herself. She didn't understand why she had to work so hard and no one else did. One day, she came into session beaming. She had figured it out! She told me she was watching a TV show in which a woman won a bunch of money at a slot machine. With great fanfare, the machine went off with lights and sounds, balloons fell down from the ceiling, and the woman jumped up and down with joy as everyone looked on. But my gal said she noticed the people in the background were also playing the slots and not saying anything. She deemed it “The Casino Effect”—people don’t brag about when they lose. They say nothing. She reasoned that there were a lot of kids in her class who maybe didn’t do so well, but she never noticed them. She only noticed the “winners” with the A papers. And she didn't know what it really took for them to get that A. It reminds me of a quote I saw on Facebook when I was procrastinating one day: “Don’t compare your behind the scenes work to someone’s highlight reel.” You never know what others had to do behind the scenes to earn success.
So there’s a few goodies to try out in your work with kiddos this week (that is, if you’re not off in Seattle, gallivanting around the NASP conference without me this week). Feel free to share any other mantras or metaphors you have used in working with kiddos. Share the love. After all, it is Valentine’s Day. :)
*Once a grammar nerd, always a grammar nerd. I refuse to use the elliptical machine where I have to stare at the sign with the grammatical error. I spend 30 minutes mentally scratching off the apostrophe in the phrase “Sound is to be turned off on all TV’s except when a major sporting event is on.” Many things are wrong with this, including the apostrophe. First, please don’t assume I like sports and want to hear them, even if it is a “major” event. Secondly, I don’t think golf counts as a “major” sporting event. Please turn Rachael Ray back on so I can go home and ruin the workout I just did by making a buttery risotto.