My kid used to be full of pep — but something’s changed. How do I put the twinkle back in his soul? — Peppy Mum, MN
That weekend, my kid limped around the house as if she was carrying the weight of the world on her back. She’d done poorly on a significant test, despite staying in for recess to work on the subject most days for months. She knew she’d be kicked out of that advanced class and her esteem was in tatters. And though I hugged her and spoke words of love, words of empathy and words of wisdom, I eventually conceded my words weren’t working.
Fortunately, the universe came to my rescue, and that’s when I stumbled upon Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk! So I sat my daughter down in front of the TV, warned her to watch the entire 20 minutes, because “this might just change your life” — and then I left the room. And she did!
Amy Cuddy’s work as a social psychologist at Harvard Business School focuses on body language and how the poses people hold impact their sense of power, confidence and spirit — and how they will affect how well they do in challenging situations and ultimately in life.
Cuddy states that, like animals, people “express power through open, expansive postures,” and we “express powerlessness through closed, contractive postures.” Think of the peacock spreading its tail or the caterpillar curling up on the path! Cuddy’s research proves that when a person holds an expansive power pose — standing straight with hands on hips and stance widened, or sitting upright in a chair with legs uncrossed and a bright smile — the pose creates those same feelings of inner strength, authority and dynamic spirit that allow for positive, empowered behaviors.
Why does that happen? Amazingly, Cuddy, Dana R. Carney and Andy J. Yap of Columbia University found that high-power poses elevate the hormone testosterone (which is linked to power and dominance in the animal and human world) by 19 percent in both men and women and decreased the stress hormone cortisol (which can cause impaired immune functioning, hypertension and memory loss) by about 19 percent for both men and women. In comparison, low-power poses actually decrease testosterone by roughly 10 percent and increased cortisol by a massive 17 percent. Not surprisingly, both men and women using high-power poses reported increased feelings of confidence and were more likely to take risks!
What’s the win? Teaching our kids to embrace these simple poses can help inspire them to handle the daily difficulties — the tough questions, the awkward social situation, that challenging test — that are a part of the school experience for many.
Cuddy says that by teaching kids to hold a power pose for just two minutes at a time, they will change their hormonal state so that their testosterone levels surge and cortisol levels shrink. This will help our kids’ brains think better, remember better and allows them to connect to their most authentic and powerful self, which means they’ll be better equipped to handle whatever comes their way.
For girls especially, who are less likely to use power poses in general compared to boys, this physical change may literally create a mental, emotional and spiritual change that will transform the quality of their whole life from mediocre to magnificent! Or at least, as Cuddy likes to say, (our kids will) be able to “fake it until they make it and eventually they’ll become it.”
Jane agrees: “I was a poor test taker my entire school life. I never did my best under pressure and my grades never truly reflected my ability. Because of my anxiety, I decided to have counseling on the run up to my graduate exams to teach me strategies to help me manage my fear. Through the counseling, I learned about power poses and I was inspired to use them during my last four-hour final exam.
“What did that look like? Between essays, I would take a bathroom break where I’d stand in front of the mirror, and punch at the air like a winner shouting, ‘Yes!’ The pose completely energized me. I felt strong, accomplished and capable. Each time I strode back into the test room, I exuded confidence. I was able to think clearly and remember all the quotes I’d learned. I probably spent about 20 minutes away from the test room in total, while everyone else kept their heads down scribbling, but it was worth it. I passed my final with flying colors!”
So, if your kid has been suffering in silence in Physical Ed or has been feeling like a failure because he hasn’t found that good friend, or is going through a rough patch, show him the Amy Cuddy Ted Talk! Watch it together and then encourage your kid to embrace the power postures for two minutes at a time, knowing that a change in posture will change his thinking, lift his spirits and allow his soul to soar, for a renewed teen spirit that simply shines.