Parents: How to Use THIS Valentine’s Day Idea to Praise the Character of Kids

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I saw a few great photos circulating the internet a few weeks back showing how parents can put hearts on their children’s door with cute of funny reasons why they love their kids. I decided to take inspiration from that idea and put hearts on my children’s doors (as you can see throughout this blog post) to recognize their character and praise the actions they take that help others.

I feel like the Valentine’s Day fairy. Every night, when they are asleep, I quietly walk to their room and hang a new heart up on their door. They see it as soon as they wake up in the morning!

It’s important that these hearts are not just filled with hollow phrases. Empty praise doesn’t do much and saying “good job” is often a forgotten generic compliment. In fact, some studies tell us that praise can actually backfire and cause problems when it’s inflated, directed to how “smart” or “pretty” a child is, or, as you can imagine, obviously fake.

The key here is to be authentic.

 

Praise effort, progress, character, uniqueness and who the child you truly see in front of you. My children are quite different from one another– so I’ve been highlighting different strengths and parts of their character on their doors. They both LOVE it. I love it because it gives me an opportunity to underscore our family values while showing my kids how much I love and appreciate their unique qualities.

Of course, if you haven’t done something like this, who says you can’t start now? And if you have done some version of putting reasons why you admire your children up on their doors, who says you have to stop now? Ready for tonight!

Happy Valentine’s day to you! May you get a hug, a call, or a kind word from someone in your life. But if you don’t, could I do it here? You are valuable. You are gifted in your own unique way. We need you in this world and we are grateful to have you. Thank you for visiting and come visit again soon!

Warmest regards,

Dr. Robyn

Start Again! How Adele’s Public Mistake & Recovery at the Grammy’s Makes an Impact

What happens when one of the world’s most well-known and highly regarded superstars makes a mistake at the Grammy’s and asks to restart her George Michael Tribute? More than you think.

“I know it’s live TV; I’m sorry I can’t do it again, like last year. I’m sorry for swearing. I’m sorry for starting again. Can we please start it again? I’m sorry — I cant mess this up for him. I’m sorry, I’m sorry for swearing! I’m really sorry. Sorry.”

Young fans often see the highly airbrushed, perfectly lit, professionally made-up and styled version of their favorite singers and actors. It can do a number on the brain—making onlookers believe that perfection is possible and there are people who have achieved it. Such a conclusion can plant an insidious seed that strangles a young person’s self esteem- they strive for the impossible—both inwardly and outwardly, in appearance, academics, relationships. They miss the mark and feel worthless.

When we see the human side of the highly beloved and recognized, we realize five main lessons:

(1) No one is infallible. No matter how much money you make, how famous you are or how much power you have been given, people are flawed. We all make mistakes and nobody is immune to this time-honored tradition as a human being.

(2) It is possible to recover. When we make a mistake, we can restart. You don’t like how it’s going? Begin again. Try again. Life often provides moments for a do-over. All is not lost.On the other side of failure can be success if you go for it. Just keep moving forward.

(3) Assertively ask: When we make a mistake, we can ask to begin again. There is no need to bow your head in shame. We can often have another chance if we ask for it. This may be one of the most important lessons of the night.

(4) You will likely be loved even more for it. We are so used to seeing the perfect side of Hollywood and the music world- everything orchestrated and choreographed. This authentic peek into the character of this superstar, Adele, speaks volumes to young people about who Adele is as a person. Of course, as it turns out, faults are beautiful. Accept yourself, as is; you are enough.

(5) You can persevere and get to the other side. Another try may just be what you needed. No doubt someone in your life repeated some version of “when at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” or, as my mom always sung to me; “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.”  Turns out, Mom was right. Even if millions of people are watching and you are a mega-superstar.

It is apropos that Adele won tonight at the Grammy’s because each time someone in the lime light reminds us that we are all flawed and flaws are what make us unique and beautiful, we step forward into ourselves a little bit more. And that is a win for all of us.

~ Dr. Robyn

 

A Note to All Parents: I See You

Dear Parent,

blog_stressI want you to know that I see you. Parenting is hard and there are days, perhaps weeks or at least moments of any given week that many parents know they are supposed to be coming up with 50 ways to bolster their children’s self esteem and redirect their impulsive choices but what they are actually thinking about is 100 ways their child is acting like a pain in the butt. These are not bad people. They are real people with real feelings. They may be you. They may be me. There is no judgement here. I get it. And you know what? You’ve got this. You do. And on the days you mess up, as we all do? There is always another moment to try again. Parenting is the ultimate do-over. Thinking of you and reminding you, you are 10x the parent you think you are. xoxo #parenting

Much love,

sign

Dr. Robyn

Happy New Year: New Annoucement!

Hello sweet friends and colleagues!

USNews iconHappy New Year! I wanted to share some exciting news with you today. U.S. News and World Report has asked me to be a monthly contributor to their brand new parenting section of their publication. Here it my very first article, all about setting goals with children, that came out yesterday.

It it, I talk about the importance of not only making goals S.M.A.R.T. with children– but S.M.A.R.T.E.R! Check it out!!

As you can imagine, I’m already hard at work on February’s article—all about impulse control and children. With two young children, I have definitely been put to the test in that area—you?

I’ll be thrilled to share some other projects with you that I’m working on as they are completed. My hope is that you’ll be as pumped about them as I am!

Until then, I hope you have a wonderful end to your week!

Warmest regards,

Dr. Robyn

When Children Ask: How Can Trump Be President When He’s Been So Mean?

How Can Trump Be President When He’s Been So Mean? And Other Questions Children Are Asking After the Trump Victory

If you were to ask my children what phrase I repeat most, aside from “I love you,” they would likely reply; “Be kind and thoughtful.” Being a mother and a Child Development Specialist, building character is woven into the fabric of both my professional and personal life.

This morning, my 7-year-old daughter asked me, “But how can Trump win when he’s been so mean? Will he be mean like that as president?”

Perhaps you are having similar questions asked of you at home. After all, we spend much of our children’s childhoods talking to them about being kind, putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, thinking before we speak angry, cruel or ugly words. We also tell them that you catch more flies with honey, good people finish first and lift others up rather than tear them down.

It’s a confusing time. So how do we answer our children’s questions?

(1) Am I safe?

Children often worry about their safety first—especially when they see so many adults upset about the outcome of an event or election. Reassure them; “We are safe. Many adults work around the clock to keep us safe. I am working to keep you safe and so are your teachers. But even people you can’t see are working to keep you safe. We will be okay, even though there are many people upset and frustrated right now.”

(2) So he gets to make all the choices?

Children often view a president as the sole authority figure who gets to make all the choices. So tell them; “In America, one person does not get to make all the decisions. There are many people, with lots of education and experience, who work together with the president to make the best choices for our nation.”

(3) But what about all the things he said?

Donald Trump offended many people. Yes, even presidential candidates make mistakes. It’s okay to be disappointed in what he said. Just as he wants change for the country, he will need to work on changing the way he speaks and thinks about our diverse America. He will need to focus on making all Americans, no matter what the color of their skin, who they love or how they prey, feel represented and important over his presidency. As you know, America is about unity and justice for all. Mr. Trump has a lot of work to do and he says that he will work hard to be everyone’s president. Let us root for him to be the person he needs to be as president.”

(4) Doesn’t this tell everyone that people can be mean and still get to be president?

Discuss your values. Say; “It is not right to make other people feel inferior or insignificant. What Mr. Trump said about many people was not right. We do not feel he should talk in a mean way about others who are different from him. In our family, we believe in treating others with kindness and empathy. Our friends and family also believe in treating people with kindness and empathy. As president, we will hope that Mr. Trump will lead with character as he leads this country. In the mean time, you continue to be the good-hearted person you are, fight for what you believe is right (as we will too) and we will support you every step of the way.”

(5) Why did people vote for someone who said such mean things?

Most people did not like the way Trump spoke about women, minorities, immigrants, those who were disabled and other communities. Still, many people voted for Trump. Explain to your children; “While many people did not like the way Mr. Trump spoke to and about others who were different from him, many people were angry and wanted change. They didn’t like the way the country was being run. They felt they were overworked and underpaid. They believe that Donald Trump, since he has built a lot of buildings and had a lot of success in business, can make America work better.

(6) Is Donald Trump a bad person?

We can tell our children; “We must look for that good, align ourselves with that good and see that good in people, even when they have made bad choices. There are many good people who work in our government—many, many good people. They will stand up and say what is right. We know of Donald Trump from TV and from this election but we don’t know everything about him. We need to look for the good in him and pray that he shows that good to the world as he will represent our country. We can not focus on being fault-finders, but rather, strength-finders as we get to know Donald Trump.”

(7) Is America going to be okay?

No American wants to see America fail. “We will be okay. America is still the land of the free and the home of the brave. We have a rich history and amazing opportunities here in America. We are profoundly fortunate people even as we fight for what is right for all. We have much to give and contribute to this world. We will keep hope, keep believing, keep working and keep fighting for what is right, good, fair and necessary. Americans don’t give up!”

For many Americans who voted differently, there will be a grieving time. That’s okay. It’s normal to be frustrated, disappointed, angry or sad. Your children may reflect these sentiments back to you. Support them and be kind to yourself too.

For many Americans, this will be a time of reflection. Many people wanted to celebrate the first woman president and the sound of the glass ceiling breaking. They wanted to share it with their children. They wanted to share it with their mothers, their grandmothers, their Aunts and their sisters. There was hope. And while there is sadness, there still must be hope.

Finally, remember; a “Big Talk” with our children is really a series of many discussions that happen over time. Keep the door open, stay available for questions and feel free to say; “I don’t know.” And if you don’t like the way the conversation goes the first time, know there is always time for revision—to try again—and to even change your point of view. Sometimes, change can be good. In America, right now, we are counting on that.

Body Positive: 10 Tips to Creating a Better Body Image for You and Your Daughter

bigstock-portrait-of-a-happy-mother-and-61707815-200x300So many of my best “body image” conversations with my daughter happen in the bathroom while we are getting ready for bed. It is where I’ve gotten the question; “Do you think I’m beautiful?” and where, when she was just three years old, she said to me; “Mommy; you have a big tushy!” This is how that conversation went:

“Mommy; you have a big tushy!”

[Pause. This was one of those moments where I knew I could either mess up totally or help to set the positive body image values that I hold dear. Pause. Breathe. Smile.]

“Well of course I do! I couldn’t have your little ‘Tallie tushy’ on my big Mommy body! Then I couldn’t do all the things I love!”

“Like what?”

“Like…yoga, going for run or chasing after you!”

[I start to tickle her and we have a good laugh.]

“My body allows me to do all my favorite things. What does your body allow you to do?”

“Gahnastics!” She laughed. “And pwaying at the pak!”

“Yes! Out body allows us to do all of those things that we love.”

[I picked her up and we looked in the mirror.]

“Aren’t our bodies amazing? Aren’t WE amazing?”

“Yeah! We amazin’! I amazin’!”

Our bodies are the vehicles for everything we do- it’s how we participate in our passions, our favorite activities and our everyday. It’s how we express love, anger, sadness and frustration. It gives motion to our lives. We need to love our bodies because they make the lives we lead possible and by loving our bodies and being grateful for our bodies, we are able to use this vehicle to drive us anywhere we want to go.

So here are 10 Quick Tips that we can all do today to set the groundwork for positive body image:

  1. Speak with gratitude about your body: Talk about what your body allows you to do instead of how it appears. Love yoga? Softball? Running around after your niece and nephew? Your body allows you to do that.
  2. Create a Fat-Talk-Free Zone: Make your home or at least the dinner table your safe haven. Make it a blanket rule. Hang a sign that says “leave your fat-talk at the door.” They are always welcome to pick it up on the way out.
  3. Hang around with body positive people: If you always spend time with people who speak badly about their bodies, your body or the neighbor’s body, you will find that your mind goes there too. Let your friends know that you are trying to embrace a more body positive lifestyle and language and spend time with those who support it.
  4. Learn your hot buttons and acknowledge them: Is it every time you look at a certain magazine, watch a particular show or spend time with a specific family member that you start to feel dreadful about your body? Notice what sets you off so you can make some changes or at least confront the problem itself. Stop that subscription, turn off the show and stop making lunch dates with that person who makes you feel like you are not enough.
  5. Realize where the voice is coming from: Whose voice is it telling you that you need to change your appearance, lose weight or cover that mole on your chin? Sometimes it’s someone in our lives now—other times it’s the voice of an old boyfriend, kid from the 5th grade or long gone relative. By giving the voice a name, you separate it from your own and can tell it to go fly a kite.
  6. Say good-bye to perfect: There is no such thing and yet we chase it. When we let go of the unattainable, we can embrace the person we are rather than focus on what we lack.
  7. Exercise to feel good rather than to look a certain way: When we exercise, we reduce stress, get the blood pumping and produce endorphins that make us feel great. You don’t have to do something that bores you! Dance, do a color run with a friend, box or get silly with a favorite child in your life!
  8. Do for others: When we volunteer and help others in need, it gives us perspective. There are many more important thing in life that how we look. Do something that touches your heart and gives you a sense of purpose.
  9. Be kind to yourself- now: Don’t wait until you lose “the weight!” Buy yourself a nice outfit that makes you feel beautiful. Go out to lunch with a friend. Get a massage! You deserve to be valued now because of who you are.
  10.  Be a positive role model: It can be incredibly powerful to imagine yourself holding the hand of a young girl or boy—what would you want them to hear you say? What would you hope they would echo? There are always eyes and ears watching and listening. Be the example you always wish you had. (I did a podcast on this topic for SheKnows here)

While it may take some awareness and effort to move to a more positive way of thinking, feeling and acting when it comes to our bodies, it certainly is worth it. It will surely help those impressionable girls (yes, and boys too!) to see the value of “owning” and loving our bodies as they are but also it will help ourselves.

Create a habit of body positivity. You don’t need to do all 10 of these tips right away– but pick one or two– then keep adding as you put them into place! I’m rooting for you.

Warmest regards,

Dr. Robyn Signature

Listen Up: How to Really Listen So Children Feel Heard

Isn’t it the best when someone really listens to you?

If you think about your very favorite people to be around–your best friends, your treasured colleagues–there is likely one thing that they do better than most; they listen to you. Everyone likes to feel “listened to”—you, your partner and yes, the kids in your life too.

Gosh, it can be challenging to be a parent or a teacher and find all this time. We often have so much on our plates that spending the time listening when the laundry is piling up, we are on deadline and the kids need to get out the door, that listening gets filed under “things to do later.” It’s normal. For all of us.

listeningdog-450x447Of course, when we finally realize that something is “going on” with the kids in our life, it’s often been going on for some time. We wonder how we could have missed it. Let’s not beat ourselves us here. Being a parent (or teacher) today can be overwhelming and you are likely doing a pretty bang up job. We can always learn and get better- but that doesn’t mean we stink at it—it just means that we are forever learners and improvers. That’s where we are right here, right now.

So let’s chat about the skill—and the strategy—of listening.

As it turns out, listening can be a gateway into what’s really happening in your child’s life and how they feel about it. When we are really listening, we don’t just listen on one level—we listen on 3. It may sound tiring but once you sharpen this skill, you’ll be really psyched about it. Listening on all 3 levels is like being an amazing investigator and detective.

So here are the listening levels:

Level 1: We get in tune with our own thoughts, opinions, and judgments: We might be asking ourselves, “What would I have done in this situation?” “What does this remind me of?” or “How does what this person is saying pertain to me?” “How can I get back on track?” You know when you’re with someone and they seem to be sort of half listening? Or listening to respond with their own tidbit of information? Yeah; that’s not fully listening.

Level 2: We recognize the tone, pace, energy and agenda of the other person. With this level, we don’t just listen to the words but also the expression, the emotion, the tone, the speed, and the body language (if you are privy to it) that goes along with the words. You even listen to the hesitations and what’s not said. So imagine you ask a child “how are you?” and the child answers “fine.” When we are listening on level two, we might note that their answer is full of contentment, sadness, frustration or fear. In that case, “fine” might mean “good” or to the “in-tune” listener, it might mean anything from “I feel lonely” to “I’m hurt but don’t want to tell anyone.”

Level 3: We use our intuition, the information feeding into the environment around us, and the multiple factors that are impacting the conversation at any given time. This is 360 degree global listening. It takes practice. With level 3 listening, your gut fills in the story and you start to gain a more full understanding of the person in front of you. You take in consideration everything around you. Is the other person fulfilled? Annoyed? Blocked? In level 3 listening, used in tandem with level 2 listening, is about nuances and what’s beyond words. It often tells more than the words can ever do on their own. When we really listen, we can pick up on this stuff.

You don’t necessarily have to be gifted in listening to do this well– you just have to take the time to become invested. It’s about putting away the phone, moving our attention away from our own day and tasks, tuning in and connecting. You can be face-to-face, side by side or even driving in a car with your child in the backseat. Sometimes a child can feel more open when someone is not looking directly at them.

Of course, sometimes, we just don’t have the time. Not in that moment, anyway. But if you happen to tune in and hear something that makes you think “I need to listen to this closer,” tell the child; “I really want to be able to fully listen to what you are saying. Right now, I need to finish doing X. Can we talk at Y time so I’m not distracted and can give you the attention you deserve?” You are not superhuman- it’s okay to ask for time.

And please remember, if there are times when you simply aren’t the listener the other person needs—you can be the bridge to someone else who is right for the job. Sometimes getting that child to the right person is the best action you can take—as being truly heard is a gift.

About That Fictitious Facebook Family You’re Comparing Yourself to…

family_normalrockwellWhenever one of my kids has a problem (like every month!), challenge (every week?) or just drives me bonkers (umm, everyday?), it can feel like nobody else could possibly be going through the same thing. Why? Because what I refer to as the Fictitious Facebook Family (FFF) is perfect. They are always smiling. They are perpetually having fun. Everyone is basking in the happiness of love and seem forever grateful for each and every moment they get to spend together.

Well, life isn’t perfect. And not just for you! It’s not like that for me and it’s not like that for those families we compare ourselves to either. Why? Because, as one of my friends said to me once, “we are not in a Norman Rockwell painting!” We are real and human and flawed. Oh- there are periods of bliss, silliness, pleasure, true connection and triumph—yes! But those days or hours are interspersed with frustration, irritation, misunderstanding or sibling rivalry. Screams of joy are intermingled with shrieks of annoyance. They are. And not just once in a blue moon. Often enough that we can all feel like experts on the topic.

It’s funny; but when I speak to friends, colleagues, even professionals about this—they all admit that everyone is dealing with the same thing but nobody seems to talk about it. We laugh about the FFF and how what looks so perfect from far away can look like such a mess up close. It’s not surprising, is it? Life is messy.

The thing is– most people don’t take pictures of the mess. They don’t reveal their feelings about the fight they had with their child that morning or how, if they are being truly raw and honest, that there are moments when they don’t like their kids very much at all.  Or how guilty they feel about that. Or sad. Or just plain pissed off.

Well, I’m here to tell you that “perfect” is a bust. The FFF is a farce. And it’s okay. It doesn’t make you a bad person and it doesn’t mean your kids, your spouse or your family are terrible, awful or not good enough. It just means you’re all not perfect.

We are all just learning here.

And loving each other through it.

Loving ourselves through it.

My humble suggestion? Be honest about it. You might just get the support you need. We are all doing the very best we can and on some days, when it gets too messy, we can lean on others who’ve been there, who’ve done that and who’ve gotten to the other side.

And you know what? They’ll love you despite of the mess. Because of the mess. They love your mess!

And that is something to be truly grateful for.

Xoxox,

Dr. Robyn Signature

Talking with Children? One Quick, Must-Have Technique Every Parent and Teacher Needs to Know

bigstock-daughter-playing-with-cell-pho-83568338-450x300Many parents and teachers comment to me that when they are speaking to children or teens, they don’t listen! Does this sound like you? After repeated attempts to get them to put away toys or books, shut off the Ipad, get their jacket or eat breakfast, adults admit that they get so frustrated that they begin to yell, bark orders and take offending items out of the children’s hands to get them to focus.

Yup. I get it. I’ve done it too! It can be so irritating and infuriating to be ignored. You deserve respect after all you do! But what if our children weren’t consciously ignoring us but actually were just not really hearing us?

When we yell from the top of the stairs or call out across a room, I call this “back-of-the-head parenting” or “back-of-the-head teaching.” Some kids can respond to it but many don’t tune in when only one sense is being used to get their attention—especially when it’s not a primary one.

Many children, particularly ones that have trouble in the area of focus or have ADHD, have many radio stations playing at once in their brains. And guess what? You’re often NOT the loudest one. In fact, when they are watching TV, digging in the dirt outside, or even sitting in class, they may have multiple stations going on in their heads that has gripped their attention over yours. That spider they are watching? Rock and Roll. You? Easy Listening. Or worse. Muzak. (No Offense.)

So when speaking to children, engage more than one sense. That means talking to them and engaging their eyes and their ears. That turns your station on a little louder.

bigstock-young-dad-with-her-son-106991234-450x300Of course, for many children—this is still not enough! I often use a three-sensory approach with my own kids. Crouching down, I look them in the eyes, use my voice to convey what I need them to know and rest my hands softly on their shoulders or arms to ensure full focus.

“Noah; we are leaving in 5 minutes. We need to be on time because your friend is waiting and it shows kindness to be on time. Could you please get your shoes and socks on and meet me at the car so we can leave? Thank you. This is going to be fun!”

You are now the loudest radio station! No yelling required.

Speaking of yelling, there may be a time or place for that—but when it’s overused, as one of my best friends, child psychiatrist, Dr. Dehra Harris, says, “it’s like using the emergency break over and over again. It may work…but at what cost to the overall health of the machine?” Every parent gets exasperated sometimes (yes, me included), so we have to find other ways to address our children so that we can get their attention without hijacking it with screaming each time.

Believe me, I wish my kids would just listen the first time when I called down to them from the top of the stairs. I do! Life doesn’t always work the way we wish it did. We don’t always have the kind of children we imagined we would before we had them in our lives! It’s okay.

Instead of making ourselves crazy, try using this multi-sensory approach. It works, it’s easy and you can do it now. While it takes extra effort and work (I know, annoying- who needs more work??? BUT…) I think you will see that there will be a lot less frustration and a lot more listening, understanding and peace in your home, school, camp or wherever you may be today.

Dr. Robyn Signature

 

 

 

The Courage to Try: 7 Vital Tips to Help Your Kids Try New Things Even if They Are Scared

It was my 7-year-old daughter’s very first camp overnight. She was nervous, scared, excited and anxious.

Each night, before bed, she would start a looping monologue.

“I’m really scared about the sleepover…I’m going to miss you…what if I want to go home…what if I have to go to the bathroom…what if I’m scared?”

“Do you want to go on this sleepover?”

“Yes. But I’m really scared about the sleepover…”

This was getting us nowhere. Have you ever felt like that?

The truth was, we hadn’t had a great track record. Her first sleepover at Grammie’s last year ended abruptly with an ear infection and a fever. The second one took two takes—she came home before sleeping and after a pep talk about fear, she went back but I was there to tuck her in and sing her goodnight. And last weekend, her sweet friend from camp came over to our house to do a practice sleepover and wound up going home at 12:45am because she missed her mom and had a tummy ache. Sleepovers had not been the picture of success.

It’s hard when we want our child to try new things but fear has taken hold and won’t let go. So how can we help our children help themselves when trying constructive, new things that excite but scare them?

  • Note the time: If your child is extremely tired, this might not be the best time to have a serious conversation about fear. Brains are exhausted from a full day of work, play, school, camp, friends and activities by the time nighttime rolls around. You can say; “I know you are nervous about X and I’m happy to talk about it with you. Right now it’s very late. How about we talk about it in the morning when your brain is fresh and you’ve had a good night’s sleep?” Of course, if your child is staying up nights thinking about what it making him or her nervous, you may need to talk about it a bit. Often though, simply saying; “Your feelings are important. We will figure this out together. Let’s talk about it tomorrow when exhaustion is not in the driver’s seat of your brain” can be enough.
  • Help your child realize that s/he is in the driver’s seat: I love what Elizabeth Gilbert said in her “Letter to Fear.” “Dearest Fear: I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still – your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.” It’s vital that our children feel a sense of ownership when it comes to their feelings and their choices. I told my own daughter a rendition of this letter, changing it to fit a child’s language and development. It gave her the words as well as a specific mantra. Now she echoes back to me; “Mommy! I didn’t allow fear to drive my bus!”
  • Ask; what will make you feel more calm and less scared? When you ask this question, it allows your child to be talliesleepovernote-450x338proactive about what will help them rather than focus on the problems. This was the key to the overnight experience for us. Tallie decided that sleeping next to one of her counselors would help. I wrote a note to one of the staff members that said; “Tallie has a question for Amanda” but did not provide the question itself. I had told my daughter; “I will send the reminder but you need to ask the question. I won’t do it for you. I believe that you can do it yourself.” It’s important for children to learn to speak up for themselves even if they need a reminder or encouragement to do so. There is something empowering about saying the words yourself and hearing the answer with your own ears. When Tallie came home, she was happy to announce that she would be sleeping next to Amanda.
  • Have your child write down his/her questions—and ask them:Still, Tallie was nervous. She was filled with Tallie_sleepoverquestions1questions. What if she needed to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night? Would there be a nightlight? And the most looming concern– What if sleeping next to her counselor didn’t help? I had her take out a piece of paper and write down her questions. She penned them out herself right at our kitchen table, we put them in an envelope and she brought them in on the day of the big overnight meeting with her group and counselors. That afternoon, I got this email from her division head: “Tallie was so articulate at our meeting about the overnight tomorrow. She asked all of her questions clearly and followed the directions of waiting until the end of the meeting for the Q & A part before raising her hand. I was so very impressed and told her so!” Tallie came home feeling knowledgeable and certain about what to expect on her overnight. She was learning a valuable lesson—she could ask questions, get answers and ease her fears with the knowledge she gained.
  • Calm your own nerves: It’s normal to feel nervous about your child’s firsts—especially when your child is nervous too! I couldn’t help but wonder what I was going to do if the camp called at night telling me I needed to pick up my petrified child given that my husband was on a business trip and my son would be sleeping. So, I called in the reinforcements: my neighbor and two friends. If I needed to pick up my daughter, one of them would come over and sit in the house until I came back. Aside from that, I spoke to my friends about my concerns. It’s important to talk it out with those you trust so that you feel comforted and your fears don’t come out while encouraging your child. Talk, exercise, have lunch with a friend, do yoga. Calming your own nerves is vital if you are to calm someone else’s at the same time!
  • Realize the preparation and the problem-solving is part of the win: While we all want our children to have the win of actually facing their fear and seeing the end of their journey, there are plenty of wins to celebrate before the end. The process of facing your fear instead of simply turning your back and saying “I won’t do it” is a great exercise—and it’s progress! My daughter went from declaring “I won’t go on the overnight” to “I want to go but I’m scared.” That’s a win! She went from “I’m scared” to “I’ll ask my questions and ask for what I need to feel more calm and less scared.” That’s a win! Even if she didn’t sleep over in the end, she had made progress.
  • Celebrate the wins and connect it to your child’s character: Who had your child needed to “be” in order to face his or her fears and come out on top? Whether they took a few steps forward or they went all the way through the fear and came out the other side, this took courage. You can say, for example; “One thing I know about you now is that you have the courage to look fear in the face, ask the questions you needed to, make sound decisions based on what you heard and get out of your comfort zone. I am proud of you—but I hope that you are proud of yourself. I believe in you but more importantly, I hope you now see that you can believe in yourself. You are courageous and strong and you showed incredible gumption. Way to go!”
  • As it turns out, my daughter made it! I received an email from the person in charge who said;

    “You can be very proud of your daughter. She was a total super star on the overnight. She was an excellent listener and was very respectful when we said it was time to turn out the lights and get into sleeping bags. She has a blast swimming in the lake and jumping on the water tramp and was very excited about the ice cream bar! She did it!!”

tallie_sleepoverYes she did. She worked the plan and she did it. And this experience will become evidence that she can do many other nerve-wracking but exciting firsts in her life. Of course, it wasn’t perfect. I mean, this proud, grimy, totally exhausted girl came off the bus wearing an enormous t-shirt saying “I survived the sleepover” as she alternated between smiles and tears. But fighting fears is messy. It’s not perfect. It can take everything out of you just as it builds you up. And all of it sure is tiring.

When we give children the tools to empower themselves, they can do much more than they ever thought they could—and perhaps more than you thought they could too.

Here’s to many more courageous acts and exciting firsts!

Dr. Robyn Signature