Parents and Teachers: How to Talk to Children about the Paris Attacks

paris-attacks-2How to Talk to Kids about the Paris Attacks and Other Tragic Events

By: Dr. Robyn Silverman

Many of us stayed up late watching everything we could about the tragic Paris Attacks on Friday night. We waited to find out more on Saturday about how many lives were lost, if the perpetrators were all captured and how France and other nations were going to respond.

As a mother of a 5 and 6 year old, I kept the news off while they were in the room and remember running up to the TV to turn it off when a Sunday morning story about the death toll suddenly came on—that’s not the way I want them to find out. Still, I don’t have my head in the sand. it’s important to be prepared to discuss these tragic situations as children hear a great deal in school and from their friends. And with older children in late elementary school, middle school or high school, they likely have head about it already.

How should parents handle it when a large-scale tragedy occurs in the world such as the Paris Attacks?

  • You are the trusted source: If you have a feeling that your children will hear about the tragedy in school, talk to them about it as soon as possible. You can give them the information that is true, appropriate and helpful. Older children might want to learn more about who was involved in the attacks- and there are some websites that provide easy-to-understand information that you can read together or you can read and then discuss the points that you feel are necessary. For example there is this and this for explanations of more complicated facts.
  • Use age-appropriate language and information: Children don’t need to hear the gory details. Give them the information that they need to know in words that they would understand. You can be factual without being gruesome. It is important to set the tone and provide the facts instead of allowing someone else, who may not be correct or appropriate, to do it for you.
  • Allow emotions and fears to surface: Don’t dismiss your children’s fears or emotions. Rather, allow them to have a safe place to express them. If you are upset (as humans, of course we are!), you can talk about being sad or frustrated without going into full detail or matching their intensity. For example, you can say; “I am sad this happened to these people” or “I am frustrated that I can’t help.” In fact, it’s best for adults to talk to other adults about their own feelings rather than delving in deep with children who may not be fully equipped yet to understand.
  • Let them know they are safe: Children are often concerned with their own safety and the safety of their friends and family surrounding them. Make sure they know that events such as these are rare. Talk to them about the adults in this world who are doing what they can to keep the people safe. Discuss the helpers, the heroes and those who are taking action to create peace in this world.
  • Keep an open door: Many children will need more than one conversation to put their questions, fears and concerns to rest. Let your children know that you are available to talk to them if they have questions. You may not know all the answers, but you will do your best to find them out or explore them with your child. For older children, don’t assume that they fully know what’s going on or that you know what they are thinking or feeling. Ask them what they know and how they feel about it. If you feel that there is a better person for your children to talk to about this tragedy, be the bridge or the passageway to the right person so your children feel that their questions have been answered.
  • Honor the loss of life: Whether the tragedy was Sandy Hook, The Boston Marathon bombing or the Paris Attacks, find ways to honor those who were lost. This may be orchestrated through a moment of silence, a family donation or finding ways to help personally.
  • Understand that children all react differently: Some children will want to talk about what’s happening while others might clam up. Some will have lots of questions, while others might seem disinterested. All children react differently. Be aware of hidden signs that a child is upset. For example, sleeping more or having trouble sleeping, withdrawing from friends or wanting to spend more time with family, acting out with poor behavior or wanting to stay home from school. Be open if and when your children become open to talking about the Paris Attacks or tragic events like them.

The best thing we can do for our children is to give them the time, space and arena to discuss their feelings and questions. Just being there can be a comfort when tragedies like the Paris Attacks, the Boston bombing, Sandy Hook occur. And of course, as always, hug them tight and tell them that they are loved. Feeling safe and secure can go a long, long way.

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Dr. Robyn on GMA: Are Participation Trophies a Celebration of Mediocrity?

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Good Morning America came to my house last night to ask me about a hot button topic discussed this morning on the show.

http://abcnews.go.com/beta/Lifestyle/pittsburgh-steelers-james-harrison-back-sons-participation-trophies/story?id=33130650

gma_participationtrophies-300x225James Harrison, football star on the Pittsburgh Steelers, is one tough linebacker.  He also has drawn a hard line when it comes to parenting.  On Instagram this past weekend, he reported that his 2 sons received “participation trophies” and that he was returning them.

 

“While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy” (photo). “I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best. Cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better…not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy.”

Harrison used the hashtag #harrisonfamilyvalues to punctuate his point.

While many agreed with Harrison’s views, some also disagreed. Here’s what I think:

For some children who may have participation challenges due to social skills or shyness issues, a participation trophy can be a tangible way to encourage those children to participate more and celebrate their participation. For most other children, they don’t need participation trophies and can, in fact, learn important social skills and sportsmanship from winning and losing.

As parents and teachers, here are some important tips:

(1) Disconnect the term lose from loser: As parents, we need to help children learn how to be a gracious winner and, just as important, that even when you lose, it doesn’t make you a loser. When a child experiences a loss in competition, it can help to strengthen that child’s character because that child can see that there is always next time– always another chance– always more hard work s/he can put in to learning and growing.

(2) Use a loss as a lesson: Allow your children to lose! Remember, no loss has to beat you down– not in competition and not in life! What can you learn from the loss? How can you get better? What can you do differently next time? This conversation might not happen right away– but once the frustration of the loss dies down a bit, a conversation can be a wonderful way to turn a loss into a win. (See me talk about this more on another segment regarding losing and grit that aired on GMA here)

(3) Share your grit to glory stories: Grit, going after a goal with passion without letting obstacles get in the way, is a vital part of character development.  Show your children how grit helped you get through! When did you lose? How did you react? Parents and teachers can share their stories and what they learned from winning and losing. You might be surprised by how inspirational you can be!

Children are all different– and you know them best! The answer to this question regarding participation trophies is NOT about age or development but rather about what your personal child needs to thrive and take a step towards independence. For some, participating in itself is a win. For others, the bar needs to be set higher.

In the end, all people need to learn how to cope when they don’t win and once they do, that’s a win they can take with them for the rest of their lives.

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The Upside to Lying: Dr. Robyn Silverman Discusses on Good Morning America


ABC US News | World News

How about THIS for a new spin on lying? A new study suggests that kids with a good memory also happen to be good liars!

We all know that lying is pervasive in childhood. So perhaps it’s good for parents to know a marker for good liars is having good working memories—in particular, good verbal memories, which makes sense because they need to remember what they said and who they said it to so they can keep all their lies straight.

The new study in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology shows that when the researchers from the University of Sheffield gathered more than 100 children, ages six and seven, and told them not to peek at the answers on the back of a card detailing a fictitious cartoon character, the best liars were revealed. Then researchers questioned the children, spotted the liars, and evaluated their ability to lie in the face of two questions that would catch them red-handed. The “best” liars told a whammy each time, while poor liars did it only once or not at all.

It takes mental effort to keep all the stories straight—so the researchers conclude that the liars may have better working memories and may even be “smarter.”

We explored a few key questions this morning on Good Morning America.GMA_childrenlying_800_400

So many parents would say they didn’t teach their children to lie, but rather that it seems like an innate behavior. So, where are they learning it and why do they do it?

Research has told us that 1 in 5 interactions are lies! Adults and children do it. Some people lie because it gets them out of trouble while others lie Read more

THAT moment in the bathroom with your daughter

wey_77b_mommykiss-225x300We all get that feeling that we are messing up our children sometimes. I do too. Often…if I’m being honest.

I look back to when we first took our daughter home from the hospital and remember my husband and I looking at each other and wondering how in the world they let us take her.  We had no idea what we were doing!

And there are days, with both our children, that we still feel the same way. Do you feel that way too sometimes?

But as much as we think we are messing up at times, it’s also very likely, we are doing something VERY right.  Never forget how powerful you are.  Our children are taking in our words.  They are watching our actions.  They are adopting our values. And it does make a difference.

Everyday, there are opportunities to shape our children.  Of course, it’s what we do overtime that makes a lasting impact.  And sometimes, we DO get it right. And sometimes, we even get a chance to realize it.

Last night– I had THAT MOMENT in the bathroom while brushing teeth with my daughter:

T, age 6: “Mommy; am I beautiful?”
Me: “Yes. When people are kind and full of character, it comes out their eyes and in what they do and it makes them beautiful. And people who are nasty all the time, even if they are pretty on the outside, are not beautiful.”
T: It doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside. It’s the inside that counts.”
Me: “That’s right, Baby. People focus too much on what they look like on the outside and not enough on who they are on the inside.”
T: “Yeah. Because it’s what’s in your heart that makes you beautiful.”
Me: “Yes, my Sweet. That’s exactly right. Are you learning about being beautiful on the inside at school?”
T: “No, Mommy. I learned it from you.”

They are listening. You are enough. And maybe, just maybe, we’re not messing up this parenting thing as much as we thought.

Carry on!
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Tips on Helping Teen Fans Deal with saying Goodbye to Zayn Malik from One Direction

zayn-450x327As you can imagine, I have been receiving calls and emails this morning from the press asking me to provide tips on “the loss of Zayn Malik” from One Direction.  At first glance, I thought he might have died and quickly looked up the story so I could comment effectively.  But he didn’t die– he is simply leaving the group to move in a different direction– one away from his One Direction life.  In fact, he declared that he wanted to live as a “normal 22 year old.”

Fans have reacted with everything from well wishes to anger to depression to extreme frustration and sadness.  Why?

Social media and reality shows allow fans to have an all-access pass to watching and experiencing the growth, hopes and successes of their favorite stars over time. These young celebrities start out just like their fans in many ways– unknown and hopeful.  Involved fans root for their favorite unknowns, cheer for them and even vote for them as they become a recognized entity and eventually, a star.  But rather than these stars feeling untouchable to fans, they feel more like friends and family members.

xfactorzayn-450x300Adding to what I view as the “reality effect,” music has an added benefit of creating and putting an indelible mark on our memories– providing a time stamp on important moments in our lives. It’s as if these stars are present in our lives, offering a comfort on bad days and a celebratory song on good ones.

zayn_malik-450x229So it’s not surprising that when Zayn Malik said his farewells to One Direction, many fans started grieving his loss as if he was walking out of their lives. It’s a break up for them, too. Fan watched him move from young hopeful to star from X-Factor to international recognition. And now he’s leaving.

While it may seem silly to many, parents and mentors can provide an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on as their devoted teens watch Zayn Malik move forward with his life.  Shrugging off your child’s feelings will not win you any awards– so be empathetic without matching their intensity. You may even remember and share how you felt about a musician when you were younger but know that without the internet, you didn’t get as close and share in the life of that band member like your child feels s/he did.

As we know, time heals all wounds and of course, devoted fans can remember the good times simply by turning on One Direction and dancing to their hearts content. That’s the great thing about music– you can listen to it just as you remember it, over and over.

And of course, devoted fans can still watch their favorite group move One Direction forward without Zayn Malik– a change, yes, but as many of us can attest, change can be good even if it’s different.

Fans can also cheer for Zayn as he continues to post about his life independent of One Direction.  They may even feel happy for him once the sting subsides– and as all pain does, this one will too.

So– bottom line. You may think it’s ridiculous but your devoted teen is really feeling pain and experiencing what they see as a real loss. Be gentle with them.  They’ll thank you for it.

Pros and Cons of Children in Sports: Dr. Robyn Silverman on The Today Show

The Today Show brought me on today to kick off a series on children and sports along side football player, Greg Jennings!

What are some of the benefits that children gain from playing sports?

There are so many reasons why sports are great for kids, from the obvious physical reasons to learning social skills to lowering the probability of engaging in risky behavior like drug abuse. But one of my favorite benefits of sports and one I love to present about to children and adults—is that sports can help develop character and grit in children—teaching them to set goals, go after them, overcome barriers and showing them that if these kids dig deep, they have what it takes to achieve those goals.

There are so many pressures placed on the parents and the kids. If you want your child to be the best, you need to get the private coaches or you need to have them practice five days per week. At what point is enough, enough?

First, I think one of the key phrases we need to illuminate here is “if YOU want your child to be the best.” Children have to be as invested (or more) in their particular sport as their parents are or “enough is enough” is going to come way too quickly. Sports are about the children and the team, rather than the parents’ goals.

That aside, a good parent often knows when their child has had too much. When your child’s grades are plummeting, they always seem exhausted, overwhelmed, agitated and physically unwell, they have no time for friends, family or the other things they love, it is likely time to help them re-evaluate their priorities and what they truly want to do. We want our children to learn grit, character and the keys to success, but we don’t want to compromise their long-term mental or physical health.

What are some of the sacrifices families may need to discuss when children are involved with sports?

Sports can provide so many wonderful learning and health opportunities from physical strength, flexibility and endurance to mental strength, powerful character and lowered risky behavior.  Sports can be wonderful for children!

However, especially as the child grows and becomes more competitive in sports or involved in certain sports, time, money and energy will be allocated to this particular sport for this particular child.  That means the time, money and energy will not be allocated elsewhere.  Some sacrifices may be unstructured playtime, down time, extra homework time, sleep and other activities that your child also wishes s/he’d be allowed to do.  Lay them out on the table with all those who will be impacted in the family (the driver, the parent who has to wake up or travel with the child, the parent paying, the child) and decide if the sacrifices are worth it before you move forward.

How can children balance their schedule?

Competitive sports can get intense.  And while our children are todayshow_march2014b-300x225involved in sports, we also want them to stay on top of their academics, spend time with friends and family, relax and engage in other activities that they love.  But our children can’t do everything.  Some options to think about are (1) Limit the number of competitive sports to one (or maybe two if they are seasonal) per year, (2) Consider recreational sports instead of competitive ones or do a combination of each, (3) Schedule in breaks during the week or during the year when the pressure is off and the children can just be children.

How do we know if children are in sports for the right reasons?

Why are your children in sports?  There are clearly many benefits, however, we want to make sure our children are involved in sports in which they love and they want to participate.

As parents it’s vital that we don’t;

(1) Live vicariously through our children.  The question is, are they doing it for themselves or are they doing it for you?

(2) Merge with our children. Meaning, don’t allow the sport to become more important to you than to the child.  When we take over their responsibilities, attend every practice and game, talk about the sport all the time, coach them and say things like “we had a great practice today” and “we have a game on Saturday.”

(3) Wig out. If your moods depend on your children winning or losing or you find yourself screaming at the children or the coaches during the games, you may need to take a step back.

For all the parents out there, what is the most important thing to keep in perspective?

Our children aren’t all going to be Olympians and world class athletes.  And that’s OK! Remember that sports are supposed to be fun and teach kids about life and themselves—they’re not all about fame, fortune and winning.

Cyberbullying and teens: What we learn when Iggy Azalea unplugs from social media due to haters

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Good Morning America brought me into the studio to talk to Lara Spencer this morning (video) about Iggy Azalea, her departure from social media, and what her experience with haters might tell us about cyberbullying.  Let’s discuss!

Should people just give up on social media if they’re having these kinds of problems?

Whether social media is for you or not is a very personal decision.

If you are a celebrity with millions of fans or a non-celebrity, you may encounter the occasional troll who aims to provoke you. It can be stressful and upsetting. So if these interactions are influencing how you feel about yourself or how you go about your day to day life, the internet may not be a healthy space for you. If, however, you feel that interacting with your fans or those who know you and love you is worthwhile and outweighs the cons, continue on but know that if you are dealing with an actual cyberbullying situation (i.e. sexually explicit messaging, hate crime language, threats), you must document it and report it.

How can you avoid online haters?  

You have several choices. You can:

(1) Shut off or limit personal interaction with social media, as we see in Iggy Azalea’s circumstance.  Celebrities are always going to be targeted because you are talking about millions of fans and some who feel entitled to criticize and demean at will. Non-celebrities can typically be more choosy about their online interactions.

(3) Switch to social media that allows you to create your own cyber bubble made up of people you know and love and who love you. Switching to this type of social media will often help you to avoid internet trolls.

(3) Join whatever social media sites you want—but if and when encountering a cyberbully, don’t retaliate. Nothing creates more online haters than engaging with online haters. Block the cyberbullies if possible, document the messages, screen shot what was sent and report to the authorities, website and/or internet service provider.

By one statistic, over half of teens have been bullied online – and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying. It can be so hurtful — what should parents tell their children should this happen to them?  

When I’m presenting to parent and teacher audiences, this is one of the most typical questions to come up. If a child comes to you and tells you that s/he feels he is being targeted online, first say: “I’m sorry this is happening to you”—validate their feelings right away. Tell them “thank you for coming to me”—because it’s hard to admit that you are being bullied and you don’t know how to handle it. Then be sure to tell them that you are “with them every step of the way “and you and the child will “figure out what to do together.” You don’t need to know all the answers, but we want to ensure that our children don’t feel alone. You don’t want to take over for your child, but rather partner with them in finding the solutions.  Teens often voice frustration with parents or teachers who brush off the issue, tell them to just “get new friends” or start out helping and then refrain from following up.  We don’t want to make things worse.

And don’t forget—every child and teen needs to be taught how to interact on line. There should be an expectation of respect and strong character. As the cyber life is a huge part of a teen’s actual life, make sure you teach your child to use respect and kindness both off and online.

It’s worth repeating one more time, cyberbullying in the form of threats, sexually explicit messaging, stalking aren’t just scary, they’re crimes. They need to be documented, screen-shot and reported.

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Is struggle good for kids? Kate Winslet talks about the good in divorce

katewinslet“I think it’s very important to teach your children to struggle on some level,” actress, Kate Winslet tellsHarper’s Bizaar this month.

This month, Kate Winslet is featured in Harper’s Bizaar. In it, she talks about her divorce and how it created a struggle for her children– and that struggle can be good.

How can this be?

  • When children go through a struggle and come out the other side, they learn that they are stronger than they thought—that they can handle more than they dreamed—and that they are more prepared for what life will hand them.
  • They can learn that change can be good. Change is going to happen—so being able to handle change and see the silver lining is important to moving forward. Perhaps they can see that there is less fighting or less stress—that the new solution is actually more comfortable.
  • A moderate amount of struggle can show children that powerful character and grit can get them through to the other side. Grit is developed when our children are put under reasonable pressure and they find that by reaching inward and reaching out to key adults and friends, they can endure and thrive (I speak about grit in several of my presentations and believe it is a necessary quality in our successful leaders)

What should this say to us as parents?

Allow your children to struggle a little! Growth happens when our children are challenged slightly above their abilities and they rise to the occasion.  If we consistently try to “save” them, they avoid the struggle as well as the growth.  In terms of life circumstances such as divorce, not making the team or fighting with a friend, allow your child to work through their feelings as well as solutions.  You can be there to support– just not take over.

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My 4 year Old Gets his Freak on: Superbowl Half Time Show

Just a little comic relief on this snowy Monday– my 4 year old flying his freak flag during last night’s SuperBowl halftime show with Missy Elliot and Katy Perry. I never knew he had so many dance movies.  Next step…hip hop class?

 

Parenting Confession: 5 Ways to Stop Mommy and Daddy Tantrums

Shouting LoudIf you stopped me on the street and challenged me to come up with the top rule in my household, I would likely say; “Kind thoughts, kind words, kind actions.” Having a 4 ½ year old boy and an almost 6 year old girl, just 16 months apart and often wildly competitive with one another, necessitates having to repeat these words often.

As a child development specialist and professional speaker, of course I am supposed to live these words daily. And I try. I believe that my friends and family would say that I am kind-hearted and loving. But there are moments that I disappoint myself, as many mothers and fathers would likely admit, if not in public at least in the privacy of their own heads.

Have I upheld my top value? Have I been truly kind today?

We all lose our cool. Children whine and push our buttons. They fight and ignite frustration in us as we are trying to cook dinner, clean up and simultaneously give baths and kiss our spouses hello. Or try to kiss our spouses hello. Or honestly, maybe just think about acknowledging our spouses as they enter the home. Or maybe we can’t even do that.

For me, the frustration is cumulative. I have days when I give myself a pat on the back for taking a breath, centering myself and responding to my children as they jump on the couch one more time, push their sibling once again or talk rudely for the umpteenth time with a calm, kind, encouraging prompt; “try again, my sweet.”

But there are other days, usually after a nice long string of commendable ones, where I just crack in half like a twig and all that I’ve held together, all I’ve been praising myself for, comes oozing out in a toxic stream of yelling, or worse, grabbing my child and yelling; “No!” (and likely more words than that) in a tone that would likely put my own children in time out.

Now don’t get me wrong. Discipline is vital. And I will not tolerate hitting, hurting and overall disrespect or meanness within our family. But how can you stop a tantrum when you are having one yourself? While strong, definitive words are a must, control is also necessary. When we “lost it” with our children, control goes out the window. And believe me, I say this to myself as a parent as much as I say it as an “expert.” It’s hard. And sometimes, we just have to scream.

So I’ve been finding ways to wring out the frustration even while the frustration is happening and perhaps they’ll work for you too. And maybe, just maybe, if we talk about this topic, frankly taboo at a time when social media dictates saving face, smiles and sharing the “perfect life,” we can all grow from it. Or perhaps just not feel so alone in it.

  • Discuss it with a close friend: You know that friend who looks like s/he has it all together? Don’t be fooled. While everything may look flawless, every parent has challenges. Talk about your own frustrations and get it out of your system. It’s cathartic. But also listen. When friends share their parenting issues, you won’t feel so alone and you’ll be helpful them out too—which feels good. You may also pick up an idea or two that can help.
  • Take a shower, a bath or a walk: When things get really heated, make sure your children are in a safe place and go cool off in a hot shower. There have been times when I needed to put my child in his room to calm himself down while I jumped into the shower to do the same. There’s something about the sound of rushing water (especially when it’s drowning out a tantrum) that can recalibrate you. You are welcome to scream in there too. Or mumble expletives to your heart’s content. You can also repeat a mantra like “calm down” or “It’s OK” if that helps. When you emerge, you will likely be composed and able to talk to your child with kindness even during a stern or serious conversation. Of course, if a bath or shower aren’t possible, take a walk, exercise, clean or take a moment to stomp your feet in the closet. Whatever works. No judgment.
  • Remember they are still learning: This has been a transformative thought for me. These little beings have only been here on Earth for a short time. Their synapses are still connecting and working hard on firing away, yes. But while they grow and learn each day, they have not yet mastered the skills to always speak with tact, respond with poise and control their every action. Heck, adults are often still working on this too. So when I see behavior that seems off kilter, out-of-control or flat-out rude, I try to remember this incredibly important fact. They are still learning. That implies, we must teach them. Our babies. They deserve that from us even when they behave in a way that makes us crazy.
  • Use your ABCs: In this case, Actively Be Calm. Why? Because calm begets calm. I know; that sucks. And while you might be cursing this tip (and I mumble under my breath at it myself sometimes), as I mentioned above, you can’t tame a tantrum while having a tantrum yourself. I say “actively” be calm because it takes work and I don’t assume it’s easy. It’s not easy. It takes self control and focus that I don’t always feel I have access to in the heat of the moment. But there it is. Calm begets calm. Sucky but true.
  • Freak out only when necessary: Notice above that I didn’t say “Always Be Calm.” That’s because sometimes we need to make a point. When our child pushes another child on the stairs, throws a rock at your head or runs away from you into a busy street, you are welcome to have a freak-out session that tells yours child; this is serious. But here’s the problem—and I know you know this already but I’ll say it here. If you scream about everything, they will hear nothing. They won’t know when the issue is really serious when you provide the same response when your child calls her brother a “dingbat” and when she hits him in the head with a helicopter.

I could go on but I think that’s enough for now, don’t you? If I were to leave you with one other thought it would be “you can do this.” You are doing it. I’m doing it. Let’s not be so hard on ourselves (or other parents) given that we, too, are still learning. We were not born with the knowledge of how to be perfect parents and we will never be perfect Mommies and Daddies. Let’s simply try to be the best parents we can be. The best, perfectly imperfect, incredibly flawed but beautifully loveable parents we can be. And on days when we lose it, don’t worry. There’s always tomorrow.

Try again, my sweet.

Xo

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