Back to School Edition: Tip #7

Fish (2)

Thanks for reading my nine back-to-school tips in nine days!
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Back to School Tip of the Day #7

Teach your child to have an optimistic outlook. Several weeks ago, my nine-year-old son and his six-year-old cousin enjoyed a fishing adventure with my dad and my brother. For my sons, fishing with grandpa ranks up there with going on vacation, eating cookies for breakfast, and tormenting one another on their list of favorite things to do. They. Love. It.

After this particular fishing trip, my son had a fish story to tell, and he didn’t even need to exaggerate. He had caught the biggest fish that he had ever caught in this particular pond, his largest fish yet and one that exceeded his brother’s biggest catch so far, as well. He was so excited that he proudly posed for pictures (not his favorite thing), you know, just in case the Guinness Book of World Records called.

Fish (1)

Meanwhile, my nephew was patiently waiting to catch a big one himself. So far, he hadn’t been catching anything. When you are six, it’s hard to watch someone ten feet away experiencing success and feeling rewarded when you are working just as hard over here on the dock for nothing. Even adults find that situation annoying. But he waited, and he persisted, and he kept fishing, and it finally happened. The kid felt a tug on his line.

He reeled in his catch, his adrenaline pumping, with great anticipation hanging in the air. Everyone was watching to see what he had caught. Would this fishing trip be recorded in family history as the day that the big fish were biting? He pulled and reeled until the catch broke the surface, and there, on the end of the line, was the teeniest tiniest fish, wildly flipping and flopping, obviously unaware that he was too small for dinner.

Grandpa and Dad and Cousin all paused, wondering how he would react to the little fish dangling on the line. They expected disappointment, maybe tears, because this little fish could not compete with the fish that his cousin had caught. It was tiny.

My nephew looked at his miniature catch and studied it for a moment. The audience held its breath. Then the little man smiled from ear to ear and proudly announced, “This is the biggest baby fish I’ve ever caught!”

And that tiny fish has gone down in history – because it reminded all of us of something important.

That “baby fish” reminded us that the exact same situation can be disappointing or rewarding, simply depending upon how we choose to look at it. And I hate to accept that responsibility! When I am cranky and frustrated, I want to blame my situation. I don’t like the truth – that I actually control my attitude and my response. But my six-year-old nephew reminded me that I do.

I want my family to be the glass-half-full kind of people. I want my kids to see the good in difficult situations – and in difficult people. I want them to look at failures, at school or outside of school, as opportunities to grow. I want them to see struggles as learning experiences and mistakes as chances to recalibrate or change course. I want them to find joy in the smallest successes and inspiration in dreams that seem impossible to reach. I don’t want them to compare themselves to others.  I want them to see the tiniest catch as the biggest baby fish in the pond.

The school year will be full of challenges, but my goal this year is to instill a spirit of optimism in my children. I can’t prevent them from facing life’s challenges. I can’t protect them from dealing with difficult people. I can’t necessarily change the circumstances that they face. But I can do my best to model positive thinking and self-control away from the pond – because you will NEVER find me putting a worm on a fishing hook!  Maybe this is a goal that you can adopt, too.  Maybe all of us could benefit from a little more optimistic thinking.

Only two days left!  
This series ends Wednesday when my own kiddos head back to school!