"...leave them kids alone."--The Wall, Pink Floyd
I was in sixth grade, it was lunchtime and we were on the dirt and asphalt school playground. Lunchtime was unorganized free time to do whatever activity we wanted, loosely monitored by a roaming teacher. I and a group of friends were playing "first bounce or fly," a simple game in which a batter tossed a softball into the air and hit it out to the other kids. When you caught a fly ball, you became the batter. It was very simple and competitive, you catch the ball, you bat, no taking turns. So the more skilled players clearly dominated fielding and batting. And no one ever complained about it being unfair, we just understood the rules.
I was batting and about to hit the ball when one of my best friends, Larry, said it was his at-bat. I said it was mine (I don't remember what we were disputing as the rules were pretty basic) and to step back as I was going to swing the bat. He continued to argue it was his turn and refused to step back. I told him again I was going to swing and to back off or get hit. As I tossed the ball up and started to swing he stepped forward and reached for the bat. I missed the ball but nailed Larry smack in the forehead and he dropped like a sack of potatoes and started screaming. I thought I'd killed him. Of course, this quickly drew a crowd and the monitoring teacher.
Somehow we convinced the teacher it was an accident, Larry stepping in front of me just as I swung the bat. Larry was hustled off to the nurse's office, his parents called to take him to the ER where he was assessed and sent home. He was back in school the next day proudly sporting a goose egg on his forehead. Expecting severe consequences, Larry and I got nothing more than a severe talking to and a warning to be more careful in the future. I don't recall my parents being called by the school (I'm sure I didn't tell them what happened), Larry's parents didn't file assault charges against me or bring lawsuits against my parents and the school district. And Larry and I remained friends until we went our separate ways after leaving eighth grade.
So what would this scenario look like today? First of all, there wouldn't be this scenario. The playground would be a rubberized surface, not dirt and asphalt which could cause serious injury or infection if someone fell on it. Supervision would be by a teacher closely overseeing an organized activity. Dangerous objects like bats and balls would not be allowed in any case. If the game was played it would be under close adult oversight and would ensure that equal turns at bat were taken, eliminating any competition that might undermine lesser skilled players' self-esteem.
My parents and Larry's would have been brought in for a meeting and the school district's lawyers would be consulted in anticipation of lawsuits by his parents. An investigation by school district security would be launched, kids questioned to determine if an assault had occurred and I would be suspended pending a psychological evaluation and follow-up counseling sessions.
Wow! Things have sure changed since those days when kids walked to school without adult accompaniment and were pretty much out of parental sight from the time we got home from school until dinner time or darkness. Even darkness was not a boundary during summer time when games such as hide and seek were played until we were called in for bedtime.
Weekends were pretty much spent roaming our neighborhoods and exploring new ones, maybe returning home briefly for lunch before heading out for more roaming. And once we got bikes our roamings expanded exponentially. Today we hear about so-called "free range kids," (I thought "free range" referred to eggs from chickens raised outside of cages) the idea being that kids should occasionally be allowed out of sight and tight supervision of their parents. We weren't "free range", we were just kids being kids. If our parents worried about us, they never voiced it unless something really major happened. Crashing your bike or falling out of a tree usually elicited a warning not to do it again or be more careful next time.
Climbing and raiding a ripe cherry tree in a distant neighborhood, even when the homeowner threatened to call the cops, was exciting and tested our courage and willingness to take risks. Riding bikes down a steep hill with no hands or building a jump out of snow was thrilling and pushed our limits (some towns are now outlawing sledding as being too dangerous).
When I was twelve I had an afternoon paper route with about sixty-five customers. Every afternoon and early Sunday mornings I'd ride my bike to a location two miles from my house to collect and count my papers and then head out on my route regardless of the weather or vicious dogs. During the winter we delivered papers in the dark (kids with morning routes almost always delivered in the dark except during the summer), paid the paper their share and what was left over was our income. We were also responsible for collections. If we didn't collect, we didn't make any money.
Delivering papers taught us responsibility, perseverance, tenacity, independence and the ability to face challenges and build confidence. Except for the time I was bitten by a dog, I don't recall my parents ever expressing any worry about my safety. My dad told me to carry a big stick in my paper bag and that solved the dog problem.
Children are born with the instinct to take risks in play because learning to navigate risk is essential to our survival. Our earliest ancestors had to learn to run from some dangers or defend themselves against others. In risky play kids force themselves to overcome their fear by doing the thing they're afraid of. Overprotecting our children can result in more fearful children and possibly developing phobias. More harmfully, it denies them the necessary opportunities to face and overcome daunting challenges, develop independence, and the confidence to make sound decisions, skills that are essential to become successful and self-sufficient adults.
Next Time: THEFEARMONSTER's PLAYGROUND
"Perfection is not attainable but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence."--Vince Lombardi
When is good enough good enough? Most of us don't struggle with that question. It's not that we're sloppy or not conscientious, it just means that we have a realistic perspective on quality. But people who are perfectionistic struggle with this and as a result are likely to be highly anxious and fearful about not being good enough, often suffering from low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence. Perfectionism is a major cause of anxiety.
So let's look briefly at what some of the traits of perfectionism are and their causes as well as the downsides and risks.
* Excessive need for approval from others.
* A tendency to have inflexible and unrealistically high expectations of themselves and others.
* Being overly concerned with small flaws and mistakes in themselves or accomplishments.By focusing on what's wrong, we discount and ignore what's right. Here's a Yogi Berra story: When Yogi was coaching the Yankees he came into the locker room several hours before a game and ran into one of his players who was looking at game films of himself at bat. Yogi asked him what he was doing and the guy replied that he was in a slump and trying to figure out what he was doing wrong and not hitting the ball. Yogi said not to look at those films but look at films of himself when he was hitting the ball. It's the same idea. Focus on what is working.
Perfectionism very often has its origins in early childhood experiences. Its traits may be acquired from parents who are high-achievers or perfectionists themselves. Being frequently criticized or reprimanded by parents can result in never feeling good enough and striving to do everything perfectly, constantly seeking reassurance and approval. You come home with four A's and a B on your report card and catch hell for the B. And some people are just perfectionistic for no specific reason at all.
Not surprisingly, perfectionism is a cause of low self-esteem. It can drive us to chronic stress, exhaustion and burnout. The greater the perfectionism, the greater the anxiety. Perfectionists are typically fearful of attempting challenges or taking risks for fear of failing. Life becomes very limited and threatening. Perfectionists also exhibit high levels of chronic illnesses and have higher suicide rates.
Besides its impact on physical and emotional health, perfectionism destroys creativity, risk- taking and experimentation. Creativity and innovation demand the willingness to occasionally fail and the ability to distinguish between what's important and what's not. Always seeking perfection is also counter-productive as time is wasted trying to write one perfect story (an impossibility) when three excellent ones can be created in the same time spent.
Maybe most importantly is its harmful effect on children. If kids are never allowed to cope with failure they may avoid daunting challenges as adults (more on this in a future post). Learning to overcome obstacles, persevere and search for ways to succeed is essential to succeeding in life.
So overcoming perfectionism requires a shift in thinking and beliefs. Here are a few:
* Let go the idea that your worth is determined by achievements and accomplishments. You are lovable and acceptable as you are, apart from your outer accomplishments (they're only the tip of the iceberg).
* Recognize and challenge perfectionistic thinking in the way you talk to yourself. Watch out for "all-or-nothing", over-generalization and "should/must" thinking. As they say in AA, "Don't should on yourself."
* Don't blow small errors out of proportion. We learn from our mistakes and setbacks. Setbacks are temporary interruptions in progress. You can't have a setback if there hasn't been progress.
* Focus on the positives, what we've accomplished rather than what we haven't.
* Set realistic goals and be willing to adjust them if necessary.
* Cultivate more pleasure and recreation in life. Perfectionism makes us rigid and self-denying of our own needs. Take time every day to do at least one thing you enjoy. The Sioux Indians have a saying: "The first thing people say after their death is 'Why was I so serious?'"
If we put more emphasis and value on the process of doing things rather than just the product or accomplishment, life is far more enjoyable. Remember, life is more to be enjoyed than won.
Next Time: PLAYING WITH THEFEARMONSTER
Hi and welcome to my blog. I’m Jeff Aronson, TheFearMonsterSlayer. In this and future blogs I’ll share some simple, effective and fun tools for managing fear and anxiety. So, welcome aboard!