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Toolbox Tips

…because you can never have enough tools in your toolbox.

Each month in the Boys Alive! newsletter, you’ll find a Toolbox Tip that will help you keep your sanity, help your child, or offer you a chance to understand yourself more deeply. (Not subscribed? Sign up in the box above.)

September 2015: Psychogeography

Psychogeography – A big word meaning the effect your location has upon your interaction with another. In other words, when you call directions upstairs to your son from the kitchen, you’re likely going to get different results than if you were sitting side-by-side on the couch.

Here’s an exercise from my book, Boys Alive! Bring Out Their Best, that you can try with an adult partner. I encourage you to move through each location to truly experience the effect and to get your unconscious mind on board to help you realize the next time you might be tempted to send your voice up that staircase in the morning!

Many parents have found this exercise taught them the single concept that had the most impact on all of their communication with their children!

And they no longer had to ask, “Why do I have to repeat what I say a thousand times?”

Psychogeography Practice Exercise:

Speaking this nonsense phrase in a neutral voice: apples, pears, bananas takes the focus off of word meaning and voice tone and places it on body language.

In each of the following positions, be sure to speak in a neutral voice, take a deep breath between interactions, and allow the “child” to process the effect the “parent’s” words have had.

1. Parent faces Child about 1 foot apart. Parent says, “Apples, pears, bananas.”

2. Parent faces Child standing about 10 feet apart. Parent speaks phrase.

3. Still 10 feet apart, Child turns back towards Parent. Parent speaks phrase.

4. Parent stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Child, both facing in the same direction. Parent places hand lightly on Child’s shoulder. Parent speaks phrase.

5. Child squats down to about 3 feet, facing Parent. Parent speaks phrase.

6. Parent squats down to about 3 feet, facing Child. Parent speaks phrase.

Before discussing, switch roles and repeat the exercise. Use the following questions to guide you:
1. Which positions were comfortable for you?
2. Which position(s) were less comfortable for you?
3. When was it easier to listen?
4. When was it easier to ignore the speaker?

Consider your own parenting psychogeography:
1. When your requests are most effective, where are you located in relation to your boy?
2. Where are you located when you make requests that you have to repeat?
3. How often do you give directions or make requests from another room?
4. How often do you talk to your boy when your back is turned?
5. How often do you talk to your boy when his back is turned?
6. Note which interactions are least effective and re-run the scene through your mind, changing your psychogeography. How might the situation change?

This a subtle and profound tool for understanding our fellow human beings – they aren’t just for parent-child interactions! This tool will give you more flexibility and compassion in any interaction.

August 2015: Changing Attitudes

Here’s a little peek into the human mind and how you can actually help yourself or your child experience a complete attitude shift.

“I can’t do it.”

“It can’t be done.”

“No way!”

Do you answer with, “Of course you can!” “Just give it a try!”

How does THAT work out?
When a human brain hears a question – no matter how unthinkable or impossible – it automatically imagines an answer.

Try it for yourself. Imagine something you don’t think you can do…then ask yourself: “What would it be like if I could do ______ really well?”

Your brain automatically imagines it.  It can’t help it!

Here’s the thing: It moves your mind from the frozen “impossible” position to, “Hmm…what would it be like if I could??”

So, by asking a question, you are pointing your child’s mind towards imagining an answer. We’re WIRED to notice questions and imagine answers.

It also loosens up attitudes that seem to be stuck. “Yeah, I know it’s impossible. Of course you can’t. But I was just wondering, what would it be like if you could _________?”

So rather than start off contradicting your child – and locking him into his attitude – here’s what to do:

1. Agree with them that they can’t, or it’s impossible, whatever the limitation is.

2. Ask, “But what would it be like if you could?”

Try it out.  Let me know what happens.

Adapted from NLP Comprehensive, 2006.


FOR MORE POSITIVE LANGUAGE try these from @sylviaduckworth:

10 Growth Mindset Statements: What Can I Say to Myself?

I’m not good at this.  TRY: What am I missing?

I’m awesome at this. TRY: I’m on the right track.

I give up. TRY: I’ll use some of the strategies we’ve learned.

This is too hard. TRY: This may take some time and effort.

I can’t make this any better. TRY: I can always improve so I’ll keep trying.

I just can’t do Math. TRY: I’m going to train my brain in Math.

I made a mistake. TRY: Mistakes help me to learn better.

She’s so smart. I’ll never be that smart. TRY: I’m going to figure out how she does it.

It’s good enough. TRY: Is it really my best work?

Plan “A” didn’t work. TRY: Good thing the alphabet has 25 more letters!


July 2015: Spelling Strategy

Have you noticed how some people seem to be ‘natural’ spellers?  Maybe you are one.  When creative spellers ask them how they do it, they may say it just looks right without being able to explain why.

This Spelling Strategy is a playful way to learn to spell and also effective for remembering names.

Give your child the imagination of a forehead screen – a magical visual blackboard at forehead level and about arm’s length from the body. He can imagine the blackboard and the letters he’ll see on it to be any color or texture.

Begin with familiar and one- or two-syllable words.

  1. Write the word on paper.  If it is long, divide into syllables:  pine-ap-ple. Look at the word, remembering what it looks like.
  2. Look up to his forehead screen with closed eyes and see the word as written in #1.   Spell the word backwards, out loud. Do this 3 times.
  3. When he can spell it backwards comfortably, have him sound out the word while looking at the word on his “forehead screen.” This attaches the sound of the word to the picture of the word.
  4. Spell the word from his forehead screen with his eyes closed, out loud, repeating as needed.
  5. To solidify his learning and engage muscle memory, have him write the word with his finger on his thigh.

That’s it!

Some children find it very difficult to visualize internally.  Before attempting spelling words you could start with visualizing something fun, “Close your eyes and tell me what grandma’s dog looks like.”

Why spell backwards?  It is difficult to spell a word backwards unless you can actually see the word – key to spelling correctly.   Try it with names, too!

This is an NLP Spelling Strategy and is adapted from Rediscover the Joy of Learning.


June 2015: The Power of the Pause

The male brain tends to take a little longer to process your words. That means you need to s-l-o-w down (especially if you are a very verbal female).

Use your breath. When you train your brain through practice when interactions are calm, you’ll be prepared to breathe during stressful situations and include a PAUSE – which may make all the difference in the result!

An added benefit: “Healthful effects of slower breathing coupled with a calm mind have been well-documented. Animals that breathe the slowest live the longest. Elephants are slow, deep breathers in comparison to mice.”
Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 5.58.43 PM
Try this exercise, adapted from the book, Boys Alive! Bring Out Their Best:

  1. Place hands palm down across your belly button. Imagine you are floating a toy boat, slowly up and slowly down, upon your belly.
  2. Slowly breathe in through your nose on a count of 3, filling your lungs with air, and raising the toy boat.
  3. Hold breath for a count of 3 and release through your mouth completely, for another count of 3.
  4. PAUSE for a count of 3.
  5. Breathe in slowly and continue.

The PAUSE for a count of 3 is the habit you want to gain. This is the opportunity for you to assess a situation, realign your thoughts, gather your emotions, and a time for your child to process what you’ve said and make appropriate/alternative choices.

Focus on the Power of YOUR Pause to give you more of the right kind of power – in any situation. Your toolbox will overflow and you’ll be more calm and skillful!

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