Kim Orlando, TravelingMom.com founder extraordinaire, asked me to share some examples from my first book, Showtime, which demonstrate flexible thinking and the power of positive choice-making. Here are just a few. All of the following ideas can be applied to traveling or living overseas.
The first one deals with feelings. Did you know that anger is the second feeling? You usually feel scared, hurt, sad or embarrassed first.
When I first moved to Mexico, I had to remind myself of that when a workman didn’t show up to fix my air conditioner on three separate occasions. Every time I saw him he told me, “Manana…” So I would wait around all the next day hoping for some relief from heat to no avail.
I was livid but my first feeling was sadness. I felt insignificant and abandoned in a strange new place. I certainly felt better when someone explained that manana doesn’t only mean tomorrow. When used by a worker it is a face-saving way of saying that he or she doesn’t have the skill or contacts to do the job properly. Manana can mean, “Not today!”
Travel Promotes Positive Thinking
A second point is that it’s important to monitor thoughts – especially during travels (because there IS added stress of meeting basic needs in unfamiliar territory). By thinking, “I am going to have a good day!” at sunrise you are primed to attract positive experiences.
Also, accepting the suggestions of family members or traveling companions lets them know they are respected, safe and appreciated. Travelers are never attached to only one plan. They know that the journey is more important than the final destination.
Lastly, it is in our nature to feel happy. Just look at your children during travels and you will be reminded to feel awe and wonder and amusement instead of anxiety or fear!
How to Help Children to Think Flexibly
1) Teach your children to observe. This is critical to traveling with kids. Upon encountering a new setting, teach children to watch how the people are behaving before making any attempt to interact. Are they having quiet or boisterous conversations? Are there children running around or are most people sitting down? This is the most important element in learning to adapt to a new environment and appreciating the wonders of travel.
2) Venture out. You don’t have to travel outside the country or move to a foreign land. If you live in the suburbs go into a rural area or the city. Most urban areas have ethnic sections such as China Town, Greek Town, and other neighborhoods that celebrate the food and culture of a particular ethnic group. The first people who approach probably want to sell you something, but walk on quietly and soak up every flavor, smell, sound and interaction.
3) Encourage reading. Children learn vicariously from strong characters. Authors usually plant valuable insights and lessons into their stories. Voracious readers tend to be wise people.
4) Show children that you withhold judgment. Avoid labeling any person or situation as good or bad. Mexico has what’s called a high context culture. There are definite differences between behavior here and in the States. I used to feel quite frustrated while trying to purchase something. Instead of attending to me immediately (what usually happens in the States), the clerks would finish their conversations before even acknowledging me. I labeled that as rude and “bad” behavior. Now I stand amused and use the time to breathe and relax… and feel grateful that I live in a place where human interaction is valued more than customer service and the exchange of goods for money.
5) Never confuse a child’s behavior with their worth. I NEVER use the expression, “You are a bad boy or girl.” It hurts me just to write it. Everyone is valuable and intrinsically good. There are only good people who CHOOSE to behave badly. Behaviors can be modified. . My dear friend, Natalee Wales, works in Toronto with refugee children who have been raised in very violent camps. They doodle guns and demonstrate insensitivity toward animals. Natalee realizes that they don’t do this because they are violent but because they know no different. She is a flexible thinker who is adding a great deal of love to the world.
6) Allow your children to roam and interact with others Once safe boundaries have been established during travels. I was in 6th grade when my parents took me to Hawaii. There I encountered two Japanese flight attendants who were on their way to the airport (in full uniform with suitcases). Because we all held books in our hands I smiled at them. One woman handed me an origami bookmark. With body language, I asked them to wait while I sprinted to our hotel room and grabbed two crocheted flowers I had made on the plane. When I handed them to the women they began bowing at me… so I bowed back. That exchange told me that no matter where I travel on the planet I would find caring, friendly people who would interact with me despite language barriers. That day I became a traveler.
7) Keep a journal. In addition to making diary entries, have children label the choices they make each day and the outcomes of those choices. Encourage children to find a correlation between the words and behaviors they choose and how their days unfold. When I taught first grade, I always encouraged apologetic parents to remove their children from class for travel. I even had a journal packet prepared and made that the only homework. I wanted the children to reflect on all that they were seeing and experiencing.
8) Encourage children to consider new possibilities. That I think flexibly helps me understand every confusing situation that I encounter. No, children aren’t trying to bother me while I’m swimming laps in a largely empty pool. They just have smaller personal space bubbles and don’t realize that I feel more comfortable with extra room.
9) Encourage children to problem solve. So many well-intentioned parents jump in to solve their children’s problems. Wait. See how resourceful and ingenious your child can be. Remember the person who tried to help a butterfly break out of its cocoon? The butterfly died because it needed to do the work itself. I know a man who didn’t have shoes. He started collecting pieces of tire along the highway to use as soles. He now sells his tire and rope sandals in the tourist market… and does very well for himself! There are no problems… only challenges to overcome.
10) Show your children that you sometimes change your mind. Show them that after considering new information you have changed your position. Wise people take their time in making a decision and are never afraid to admit they are wrong. Life is a map. There are many roads and rivers, turn-offs and mountains to climb or go around. If you make a wrong turn you find your way back and try again. Travelers know that they don’t have to find the short-cuts every day. There are innumerable ways to get from A to B. Enjoy the journey!
Kendra Delano has taught children to think flexibly and positively, overcome adversity and make great choices throughout her 17 year career as an international educator. She has lived in the US, Singapore, the Canary Islands, Spain, Canada and Mexico. Her first book, Showtime, has been referred to a Celestine Prophecy for children.