I recently made a 9-hour drive to visit my 7-year-old grandson, Jack. Living so far away, I don’t get to see him nearly as often as I’d like! With each visit, I try to soak in as much as I can about who Jack is, and who he is becoming. And with each visit, I learn something new— not just about my grandson, but about myself.
Jack and I packed a lot of activities into the 5-day visit — swimming at the beach, biking, kayaking, bean bag toss — and that’s just the outdoor stuff! Being mindful of every moment I had with him, there was plenty of time to pick up on some interesting themes that served as poignant prompts for self-reflection. These experiences surfaced several “check-in” questions for me.
Here are a few examples:
When Jack asked to go to a craft store to “pick up a few things,” I was a bit surprised. I didn’t know he liked crafts! As we meandered through the store aisles, he picked out what appeared to be a random assortment of items. I tried to interest him in a ready-to-go kit in which all the materials were in a box, along with directions for assembly. But no: He had a clear picture in mind of what he wanted to create and used his imagination to find the items that would fulfill his vision. A small oval mirror. Three little bags of rocks and sand. A bag of small plastic cacti. A Styrofoam platform. And voila — he had the makings to create a desert oasis diorama for his toy action figures! This young man was clear on his vision, committed to his idea, and wouldn’t settle for a mediocre easy way.
Self-check for long-term care administrators:
- Do I have this kind of constancy of purpose? Am I crystal clear about my own goals, and am I persistent in achieving them?
- Do I consistently hold myself to the highest of standards rather than settle for the path of least resistance?
I also reflected on the work we do in the aging services field. Given that so much of what we do in senior care aims to ensure compliance with tight regulations, to what extent does a compliance mindset get in the way of real innovation? Do we accept the “by-the-book” way to meet minimum standards or do we seek new ways to deliver exceptional care and service to customers?
Curiosity and humility
Jack took interest in conversations among the grown-ups and when he didn’t understand a word or concept being discussed, he asked for someone to explain. He had no fear of looking foolish or incompetent. He admitted he didn’t understand and had the curiosity to ask clarifying questions. It made me think about the times I’ve been in a meeting and refrained from asking a question for fear of looking ignorant or uninformed. Jack reminded me that setting aside ego and having the courage to be curious is essential to learning.
- Knowing that the human need for social acceptance is hard-wired into our brain, am I able to risk asking questions that make me feel vulnerable to other people’s judgements?
- In a leadership role, do I create an environment that makes it feel safe for others to ask questions?
Sure, Jack had a few challenging behaviors during our time together. Sometimes he was tired and cranky. Sometimes he was frustrated when he didn’t get what he wanted. A few times he “back-talked” and tested his boundaries. His dad (my son) remained composed, asked him to talk about his feelings, reinforced expected behaviors and enforced consequences. At 7 years old, Jack is learning self-management skills, but isn’t quite skilled at them yet. It made me think of many of us adults who have never mastered self-regulation!
- How successful am I when it comes to managing my emotions? Am I aware of my triggers and am I able to make intentional choices about how I’ll respond?
- Observing my son’s coaching skills, I wonder if I role model composure, compassion and consistency when I interact with others, especially in prickly situations?
As I left to begin the 9-hour drive back home, Jack threw his arms around me and said, “I love you grandma! Come back soon!” Music to my ears. This reinforcing feedback tells me that, through the eyes of this child, I am doing a good job at being a grandparent. Those two little statements from Jack made me feel so good!
- How frequently do I give positive, reinforcing feedback to others?
- Do I look for those moments when I can positively influence a person’s feeling of value and well-being? It takes just seconds.
None of what Jack did was unusual for a 7-year-old. But if you look underneath the actions and exploits of a child, there is so much we can learn about ourselves!
Nancy Anderson, RN, is the SVP of Engagement Solutions for Align.