Sunday, April 16, 2017

Children's Book Helps Kids Cope with and Grow from Failure (interview)


photo courtesy Tamara Levitt
Tamara Levitt is an author, producer, speaker, and mindfulness educator based in Toronto, Canada. She works as Head of Content at Calm, the mindfulness meditation app, and is also founder of Begin Within Productions, where she produces mindfulness based multi-media content. Ms. Levitt is the author of Happiness Doesn’t Come from Headstands and The Secret to Clara's Calm

You wrote Happiness Doesn’t Come from Headstands as a counterpoint to the classic children’s book The Little Engine That Could, which emphasizes that success requires hard work and determination. How do the two books complement each other?

The Little Engine That Could teaches the lesson of persistence, which is an important lesson every child should learn. The challenge we face is that not every goal is attainable. Often in life we put our efforts towards something and fail. So the question I wanted to answer in Happiness Doesn’t Come from Headstands is where to go from there.

There is so much emphasis placed on achievement that when children fail it leads to disappointment, frustration and shame. And those aren’t motivators to keep trying. Failing often leads to quitting and lack of self-worth.

In my opinion, learning how to respond to a failure is just as important as placing an effort on a goal. To learn to honor our limitations, practice self-kindness and self-compassion when we fall, and celebrate the things we can do in life is what leads to resilience, healthy self-esteem and happiness.

image courtesy Tamara Levitt

What can parents and teachers do to help kids challenge themselves but not feel devastated if they don’t reach their goals?


Children should absolutely be taught to challenge themselves and make efforts to reach their goals. But we also need to offer children permission to fail and the skills to learn how to accept, learn, and grow from their failure. 


Here are 5 tips for parents and educators who wish to support children develop resilience:
1. Celebrate effort not outcome. Praise and congratulate that they’ve tried irrespective of the outcome and even when they do succeed. 
2. Children emulate our behavior. Share your failures and show that it’s okay to fail when you do. 
3. Practice failure. Play a game of chance and discuss what they can tell themselves when they fail, and what compassionate words can they offer opponents when they win. 
4. Emphasize their learning successes. When a child is distraught about what they can’t do, remind them of all the wonderful things they CAN do and have LEARNED to do, and the wonderful qualities that make them who they ARE. 
5. Help your kids to feel safe when they fail. Make it clear that they are loved and valued regardless of what they can or cannot do.



image courtesy Tamara Levitt

Is this book based on your own experience with failure? How did you learn to accept your unmet goals and expectations?

It most certainly is. We often write what we know best. As an artist and entrepreneur, I know failure well - it goes with the territory. But familiarity with failure doesn’t make it easy. 

I had one experience in particular that was extraordinarily crushing. I worked on an entertainment property for 6 years, which ultimately, never came to fruition. I had a ton of “almosts” but no victory. So after 6 years of investing all of my time, energy and personal savings into this one project, I walked away.

Afterwards, I fell into a deep depression and was filled with shame. Because the project was a failure, it meant that I was a failure. This is what we learn: to equate achievement with self-worth.

Eventually, I gained perspective and found the strength to create again, and in that space, Happiness Doesn’t Come from Headstands evolved. I wanted to create something beautiful out of my painful experience, in order to help others.

In terms of learning how to accept my unmet goals and expectations, I offered myself the space to let go. It was extremely difficult but it felt like the kindest, most wise thing to do. And it was only when I was able to let go of that project that my book could be born. All endings lead to new beginnings.


In your opinion, what’s the connection among mindfulness, self-acceptance, and happiness?

Mindfulness involves learning to observe whatever is happening with non-judgment and acceptance so that we aren’t fighting our experience. When we aren’t resisting, and making things wrong, we’re much happier! We begin to relate to ourselves more kindly and with compassion. We become more forgiving and patient of others. And because mindfulness deepens awareness, we feel more connected to ourselves and to life.


What does ‘mindful teaching’ mean to you?

To me, mindful teaching means teaching with the understanding that every individual is unique as they walk their own path and they may learn, understand, relate to, and integrate teachings in different ways. So there has to be a fluidity to teaching; an openness that an instruction that's right for one person may not be for another. It involves meeting each student where they are so that instructions resonate. Last, mindful teaching involves deep compassion, humility, a lack of ego and authenticity. I am most drawn to teachers who are knowledgeable but who teach from the heart.


What do you do in your own personal mindfulness practice, and how does it help you with your work?

My daily meditation practice seats and strengthens my mindfulness practice and of course, the goal is to bring my formal practice into daily life, into my relationships and certainly work. 

image courtesy Tamara Levitt
As Head of Content at Calm, the meditation app, I’m offering guidance to hundreds of thousands of people each day, and I feel an extreme responsibility to do that with care and integrity. Luckily, my practice has helped me become more accepting of my challenges and where I get stuck, I make efforts to share my challenges openly in addition to sharing wisdom and lessons.

I always try to share from a place of authenticity, rather than pressuring myself to have all the answers and project false perfection. This to me is mindfulness in action. – It’s meeting ourselves where we are with gentle acceptance.


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