August 2015  |  Margin: More Than the Extra Space on a Page

by Sylvia Robinson, Ph.D. Executive Director/Principal

Do you have mixed feelings as the start of school approaches? Are you looking forward to your children returning to the routine of school and, at the same time, wishing summer would go on and on? Have you ever thought about what makes summer so appealing?

Dr. Richard Swenson, author of The Overload Syndrome, would likely explain that what we love about summer is the extra “margin” we enjoy. Schedules are more relaxed, neighbors are outside in the evening, children have time to just….play, and it seems there is more time for the things we know really matter.

It would be great if we could just coast into margin all year long the way it often seems to happen in the summer. Alas, it takes planning! Dr. Swenson describes overload as the fatigue, red ink, hurry, and anxiety that comes with having nothing held in reserve for contingencies or unexpected events. The cure is margin — a sense of energy, black ink, calm, security, and space between ourselves and our limits. Ironically, those who fail to plan for margin are those very same folks who don’t experience it. Those who intentionally plan for margin enjoy contentment, simplicity, balance and rest.

At RMCA, we are intentional about margin. For example, we have a Margin Day between parent orientations, open houses and the first day of school. It’s a day for everyone to breathe between the onset of school events and the “First Day of School.” We avoid homework on weekends and on nights that we have school events, such as concerts. Speaking of homework, we typically assign it well in advance, so that parents and students can own evening times and make their own plans. Protecting margin takes work. And, we don’t always get it right. There are seasons that are definitely busier than others. But, instead of giving up hope for margin, we are called to protect it all the more.

Likewise, I urge you not to give up planning for margin as the school year approaches. Your family will thank you!

September 2015  |  For Mothers

by Sylvia Robinson, Ph.D. Executive Director/Principal

Summer days now seem long past. The children are back in school. [Insert long, deep sigh.] Now what? Volunteering, carpooling, homework, perhaps even our own careers, of course! But is that what we find ourselves longing for?

Most of us have active social lives but do we have real friends? The pressures of juggling motherhood, career, and marriage can cause true friendship to drop too low on our priority lists during these busy years of raising a family. Finding oneself without a close friend with whom we can share our lives, we are tempted to pour ourselves all the more into the chasm of never ending work (at the office and at home). The result? We are less able to be the mother, wife, and person we want to be.

The other place we pour ourselves, is into the lives of our children. We can be tempted to treat our children as confidants and advisors. Without close friends of our own, we may begin to share our problems with our children. When we lean on our children during times of hurt, disappointment, or anger, we make it impossible for our children to get on with the business of growing up. We are taking the very emotional energy and sense of security they need to work on their own development.

Our children will want to help us if they see is hurting. If we become overly involved in our children’s lives to fend off our own unhappiness, they are willing to sacrifice their own needs to meet ours. One would think that pouring ourselves into our children, our talents, our concerns, our aspirations, would help them grow. The truth is, the less room they will have to develop their own talents, concerns and aspirations.

Autonomy, not dependency, is always the goal of good parenting. Mother birds know the value of nudging their fledglings out of the nest so that they learn how to soar on their own wings. May we mothers find a flock of good friends so that we may do just that!

October 2015  |  Self Esteem vs. Self Efficacy

by Sylvia Robinson, Ph.D. Executive Director/Principal

We hear about it all the time. Be true to yourself. Be careful that you don’t damage their self esteem! Love yourself. Believe in yourself. But, what children need doesn’t end with self esteem.

What has been linked to success more than self esteem, is self efficacy. Self esteem is how you feel about yourself and is often based on false messages we receive from others. Self efficacy is a belief that you can act upon and impact your world. It is based on experiences. A sense of self efficacy comes when we try something and it works! Therefore, our sense of self efficacy is generally more stable and based on reality. And, studies show that our sense of what we are able to accomplish as a result of our own actions (self efficacy) is a much better predictor of success in life than self esteem!

The good news is: parents can affect it and increase it. How can we build self efficacy in our children?

  • Help them frame their experiences. When they make do well in school, help them see that it was because they worked hard, studied, etc. Don’t attribute their success to “luck” or some other external factor outside of their control.
  • Give specific encouragement. Instead of saying, “You can do it!” say “I know you will think of something because I’ve seen you solve problems like this before.”
  • Challenge negative thoughts. Replace negative thoughts with a positive, truthful idea.
  • Show appreciation for process. Instead of “You did well because you’re so smart!” try “You did well because you kept at it and tried different solutions!”
  • Provide opportunities for mastery experiences. Use your knowledge of your child’s strengths to give opportunities for them to control their environment. Design occasions for children to make decisions, use and practice their skills, and try different paths to achieve their goals.

This sense of personal capability will take your child far in life. Their experiences will build, one upon another, to produce persons who will not only know what they want and but have the capability to achieve it.

November 2015  |  Gratefulness

by Sylvia Robinson, Ph.D. Executive Director/Principal

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” ~ Cicero

RMCA students begin each school morning reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, our school motto, and our Five Pillars of Character which are: Be Ready, Be Respectful, Be Considerate, Be Honorable, and Be Grateful. We discussed each of these pillars thoroughly before we landed on this simple but profound chant.

I particularly like that being grateful is included in our list. Of the Five PIllars, it is the one that, at first look, seems responsive. The rest are obviously proactive. Being grateful is something we do in response to what has been given to or done for us. Some might say that, because gratitude is reactive instead of proactive, we don’t control it. I’d say they are wrong.

Gratitude is something we choose to be. Yes, it is in response to our situation, but we can choose to be grateful for what we have and are, or we can want for more. There are many studies that show positive effects of a grateful heart.

Forbes Magazine published an article on November 23, 2014 about the benefits of being grateful. These benefits included:

  • Providing opportunities to increase relationships;
  • Scientifically proven improved physical and psychological health;
  • Enhanced empathy and reduced aggression;
  • Improved sleep;
  • Better self-esteem; and
  • Increased mental strength and resilience.

During this season of Thanksgiving, let’s begin a new habit of gratefulness to last the year long.

December 2015  |  Cultivating Affinities

by Sylvia Robinson, Ph.D. Executive Director/Principal

If only education were just a matter of filling a child’s brain with information. If only. It would be so simple — like filling a bucket. Our job would be to figure out what to put in the bucket and then, “fill ‘er up!” This would be great news if we all acted solely upon what we know. But we don’t, do we?

I know that exercising in the morning is a great way to start my day. Yet, I often choose to sleep in. I know that riding my bike to the store will save fossil fuel. Yet, I opt for fast and convenient. I know that allowing my child to experience uncomfortable consequences will help teach them responsibility. Yet, I rescue and remind them…sometimes!

The point is, we don’t just operate out of what we know. We operate out of what we love (or want) and out of our habits. Now this is a much more difficult goal of education, to ensure that children don’t just know the right things, but will do the right things about what they know. Another word that describes this kind of action is called virtue.

One way to teach virtue is to providing opportunities in which to grow a habit. If we practice doing the right things, we will often do them out of habit. For example, when children participate in serving others in a multitude of ways, it becomes something that they do without thinking. Of course you volunteer in your community. Of course you offer to help someone in need. Of course.

Within these habit-building opportunities, there must be love. We must show, by example, that we love whatever we are cultivating. If we love serving others, our children will find it easier to love. If we love gardening, skiing, reading, painting, or playing an instrument, and provide our children positive, loving experiences with those things, they are likely to love them, too.

And so, teaching (and parenting), becomes an activity so much closer to farming that manufacturing. We lovingly plant, we faithfully weed and water, and we wait.

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