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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QUESTION: Is it Fair for Kids to Make Wreaths and Ornaments in Public School?

People talk about it often. Separate of church and state.  And around the holidays, the lines become garbled.  Holiday concerts. Arts & Crafts projects. Holiday shopping. Given this yearly situation, my friend, who happens to be Jewish, posted a question yesterday on her personal Facebook page, that garnered 85 heated comments as answers:

Does it bother anyone else that in public school the kids are making wreaths and ornaments? Am I being too sensitive? I am so tired of fighting the same fight.

So…what do you think?It was a spirited, fascinating discussion. Some friends simply stated; “No, you are not being too sensitive” or “I would feel the same way.”  Others recommended a more inclusive approach that called for representation and crafts from a variety of different religions while others felt there was no place for any of these religious symbols in school.  Still others felt that these crafts had a definite place in school– especially when the majority of kids (while not all) celebrated Christmas.

I did chime in too.  Here is my take:

“I certainly see the issue. It would certainly be more inclusive if there was a celebration and lesson plan around several of the holidays represented in the classroom.

When writing our Powerful Words character education program each year, I love to write in a section that allows children to talk about the holidays. I usually choose a word that allows for some grounding in discussion– whether it’s open-mindedness, tolerance, patience or friendship, I love providing curriculum that deciphers both similarities and differences within and between holidays and the way people celebrate.

For example; “last time we talked about having being open-minded to learning and trying new things. Today let’s use our open-mindedness to learn about the holidays people celebrate at this time of year. What are they (i.e. Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa)? What holiday do you celebrate? What do you do on your holiday? What do you eat? Favorite part? We may celebrate differently (even if they celebrate the same holiday!) but open-mindedness allows us to still learn from each other and be good friends!”

I then provide notes to the teachers about similarities and differences that children might find interesting. For example, the reasons why people celebrate the holidays are different but the way people celebrate can be similar (lighting candles, eating a meal with family, giving gifts, etc). It’s nice to allow for ways for the children to feel that they have something in common to unifyat this time of year.”

I’d love to hear your take.  Should public schools do crafts and concerts that center around Christmas if the majority of the children celebrate this holiday? Should public schools do crafts and concerts that put any religious motifs at it’s center? 

Or, should there be a definitive separation of church and state such that December lesson plans leave out holidays and just focus on winter?

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Is Elephant Parenting or Tiger Parenting Right for You?

Should you be more like an Elephant or more like a Tiger when it comes to parenting?  I was on Good Morning America this morning to talk about parenting styles and what’s best for Moms, Dads and their children.

Is Elephant Parenting a good approach for parents to take versus the more strict disciplinarian “Tiger Mom”?

The elephant mom style is one grounded in the belief that children, above all, need to be nurtured and protected, especially while very young versus the ultra strict “do it now, get it done, get it right” approach of the tiger mom. Which approach is best to use? The truth is that every child is different and children need different approaches as they grow. There are moments that call for both approaches but most of our best parenting is more nuanced and falls somewhere in between.

Remember; there is no perfect way to parent and there is no “one” type of child. When I’m presenting to parents I tell them, it’s not about being perfect, it’s about being present. Your child will need different approaches from you at different times.

Do you think people can get too focused on adhering to a particular style of parenting?

I feel that when people become so focused on one particular parenting approach—especially when it falls so far into the extreme, we can miss some opportunities to provide our children with exactly what they need and what we frankly believe is the right thing to give. A parenting philosophy can guide you but my belief is that most children need a soft place to land when things go wrong and most children need a nudge in the right direction when they’re not giving their all or with something new. We need to really tune in and listen to our children and tune in and listen to our gut—and where those converge is the sweet spot of parenting.

And you say parents shouldn’t worry too much about “screwing up” their kids, right?

Everyone is going to screw up. Again, it’s about being present, not perfect. But the best thing? If we mess up, parenting provides opportunities for do-overs. So don’t despair! If you don’t like how you handled a particular parenting situation, do something different the next time.

What approach do YOU think is best?  I’d love to hear from you here, on Facebook or on Twitter!

Dr. Robyn Signature

 

 

 

Am I Like-able? Teens, Self Esteem and the Number of Likes They Get on Social Media

How much do YOU “unlike” like?

I was recently on Good Morning America talking to Robin Roberts about how social media has become a constant part of the teen world. Teens are learning that the number of likes they receive is equivalent to how likable, popular and worthy that they are. While it shouldn’t be about quantity, but rather quality, given that many of these likes come from people these kids barely even know, when it comes to social media, it’s a numbers game—the more likes you receive, the better these teens feel.


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Welcome to the 100 club— the exclusive club invented for those teens who’ve received 100 or more likes on a social media photo or post. Getting the most likes is the new extreme sport. The need for likes and getting an “in” to the 100 club makes a competitive sport out of social media- where the trophy is the privilege of saying you are in an exclusive club—which is not attainable for all.

Teens are at a time in life when they want to fit in and feel the approval of peers, getting likes is an immediate, albeit flawed way, of finding out “am I worthy, am I popular and am I likeable?” Getting likes fits our immediate push-button culture and the need for immediate feedback and gratification even if it’s from people that our kids don’t know well. Not getting the likes, the positive feedback, can feel like a slap in the face and a blow to the self esteem—not good enough. You see the number of likes, but so does everyone else. It’s easy for them to wonder; am I like-able enough?

Now what?

When presenting to teens and parents on this topic, here are two of the takeaways I provide:

First, break the like habit. Ask your teen, what are you hoping for when you post that photo? If the sole reason to post is to garner likes, you may have a slippery slope as it’s a self esteem trap. Make sure your teen is getting out and about, face to face with 3D people- through sports, drama club, martial arts, dance, cheer so they can get away from the likes, set meaningful goals and feel significant achievement.

Second, send a clear message to your teens that it’s who you are– not your number of likes that make you worthy. Social media can be a self esteem trap.  Teens may believe it all comes down to numbers when it’s really about quality of connections with your true supporters, how you feel about yourself and the gifts you contribute to the world.

A final word:

Don’t forget– the example we set is also vital to our children.  Many adults will go through their days, heads down and eyes buried into their phones, looking at how their posts fair on their social media pages.  It’s easy to get caught into the same trap at their children.  We must keep it all in perspective while acknowledging that everyone likes to get a pat on the back or a high five– even if it’s virtual.

Just for fun:

taylorswiftandme-1After my segment on Good Morning America, I ran into Taylor Swift in the elevator!  What a fun, happy treat.  I posted the selfie of us and you know what?  I received the most likes I ever got.  Ironic given the segment topic!

Here’s to you!

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Talking to Kids When Bad Things Happen: MH17 Plane Downed

When flight MH17 was downed between Amsterdam and Malaysia, Good Morning America asked me to come in and discuss it.  In particular, how do you talk to children and teens when bad things, like this plane crash, happen?

1. We live in social media world. There are going to be all kinds of graphic and upsetting images on Twitter and Facebook. What should you do about teens who may be exposed to disturbing visuals?

While it’s easy to turn off with younger kids, with teens, you can’t just turn off the TV and hope they don’t see anything.  There are images and access to news stories everywhere. So tell your teen, “you may be curious and you may seek out or receive images or information that make you feel concern or bring up questions in your mind.  I would like you to come to me about any questions you have and then we can go to the credible news stations and get the most accurate story.”  You may not be able to control the media but you may be able to control how your teens absorb the information. Helping teens to become more media literate will help them to better deal with our world today.

2. What about younger kids? What should you say to a child who may have heard something upsetting?

With younger children, think through 3 things.

  • First, your words. They should underscore safety and let them know the adults in charge are doing everything they can to find out what happened and take care of everyone. Make sure your words are concise, easy-to-understand, age-appropriate and of course, answer the question.
  • Second, pay attention to your voice.  Ensure that it’s calm (as your children will reflect your reaction).  While you can talk about your feelings and say that you feel sad about what happened, be careful not to match the intensity of the emotion you might feel.  You are talking to a child– not a friend.
  • Third, be there.  Children don’t often talk about important topics in one conversation.  So make sure that when one discussion closes, you leave the door open to future conversations.

(3) How do you know if your child may be having a problem dealing with what happened?

You know your child.  When behavior seems abnormal, you may have a problem.  Are they eating more or less, sleeping more or less, acting out, withdrawing or seem highly anxious.  All of these abnormalities may show you that your child is having trouble dealing with something.

It’s normal to feel anxious when something tragic like this happens.  However, if you feel that your child’s behavior needs additional attention, seek out help from your child’s pediatrician.

4. What do you say to reassure kids who are afraid to fly after this?

  • Make sure your child knows that a plane crash or a plane downed is extremely rare.  Air travel is one of the safest ways to travel!
  • Validate your child’s feelings.  Let him know it’s normal to feel anxious about flying after something like this occurs.  Then reiterate that you are there for him and you will get through this together.
  • If possible, speak to a pilot, look at planes and do research on how planes work.  Sometimes knowledge can be the best answer.

 

Verizon Viral Ad for Girls: What are We Telling Our Daughters about Math and Science?

It was a great Good Morning America segment this morning!  We focused on a new viral Verizon campaign and ad that questions whether it’s time to move from telling our girls that she’s simply “pretty” to telling them that they are “pretty brilliant” too. What are we telling our girls about their abilities in math and science?  Can we attract more girls into STEM?  We explored this topic.

Why are we seeing greater numbers of ads reaching out to young girls and women giving them the message they can be more?

First, let’s not forget that these companies want to sell products and in these ads they are appealing to big markets, women and girls. But aside from that, I think these companies are seeing that by moving away from looks and celebrating the strong minds of girls, they can inspire a larger pool of future game-changers.  These are the people who can invent something important and become the next generation of leaders in their companies. We are looking for leaders, not hood ornaments.

The ad quotes a statistic- 66% of 4th grade girls say they like science and math, but only 18% of all college engineering majors are female. So where does the disconnect happen? Is it the fault, as the ad suggests, of parents?

Parents get such a bad rap—but it’s not just parents, it’s society as a whole.  If a girl is interested in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math, many of the toys that support those interests are in the “boy” section, the protagonists of the majority of books & movies in this genre are boys—and while there are companies and wonderful grass roots efforts to change that, there is still a message we are working against that says STEM is not for girls and if you go in that direction you’re different, nerdy or boyish.

How does this play out with my own daughter?

My daughter is full of life and curiosity—and, as I tell her and my audiences when I present on this topic, you can’t fuel curiosity if you’re worried about getting your hands dirty. My daughter wanted to be a veterinarian now she wants to be a pediatrician.  She’s interested in science. So when she’s outside digging in the dirt, mud under her fingernails, a worm in her hand and not a care in the world, I say “go get ‘em girl.” That’s curiosity and learning at work.

What can parents do to help daughters reach their potential?

(1) Develop your child’s gifts.  Interests do not come with gender label on them.

(2) Compliment her on more than just her looks because she is so much more creative and nuanced than that.

(3) Develop her character.  Show her and tell her that powerful words like persistence, focus, goal-setting and commitment are vehicles to realizing her dreams if she simply chooses to employ them.

(4) Expose her to people and companies (large and grass roots) that believe that girls can be and do anything!

What are your thoughts about this topic?

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Mom Leaves Child in Car for Five Minutes and is Charged with Misdemeanor


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Kim Brooks left her child in the car for 5 minutes to run into a store and get her child a pair of ear phones.  Her four year old son stayed in the locked car, the windows cracked on a mild day because he didn’t want to go in with her.  It seemed harmless enough but someone was watching– and taping– the incident.  The video footage was turned into the police and Kim’s world was turned upside down for a while.  She was charged with a misdemeanor.

We see this happen all the time — parents leaving children in cars. Thank God it wasn’t a bad outcome for the child. What’s your take on this?

First of all, I feel for this woman. As parents, we juggle so much and we all have lapses in judgment but they are not all caught on tape. So we can debate whether we are too overprotective and how we were all left in the car when we were little and came out just fine but the truth is, we are under surveillance by everyone with a camera on their phone- welcome big brother, 1984. Since we have laws in many states that say it’s not ok to leave a child under 6 in a car alone, that means no matter what your personal view, even if you know in your heart it will be just fine, we have to follow it. It may just be caught on tape.

We also have to realize that while it may seem silly to have to take your child into a store for a 2 minute errand even if the car is only 10 yards away, we need a definitive line.  As Dan Abrams says in the piece, and I agree, how can we be arbitrary?  We can’t say it’s OK to go into a store for 5 minutes but not twelve or to be 10 yards away from the car but not 17.

I think this strikes a cord because so many of us have been in this situation– some may have even left their children in a car when they’ve run in to get their dry cleaning.  This could have happened to a lot of people– this woman is not unusual.

What do you suggest the mother should have done?

I’m a busy mom of a 4 and a 5 year old and believe me, it’s not always fun to bring them into stores. So there is no judgment from me. But here’s the thing: (1) we have to be able to tell our children, “I know you don’t like this, but it’s not a choice. You have to come with me.” And (2) as I’ve done before with a sick child, I left the doctor’s office and went to my local Pink’s pharmacy and had a sick, sleeping child in my back seat- I called them up from right in front of their door and said; can I give you my credit card over the phone and is it possible for you to meet me by my car, my child is sick.

As much as we live in these crazy times, we also live in times when people will help us out. I encourage parents to seek out their help.

*Remember; this is not a bad parent, this was just a lapse in judgment.  And really?  We’ve all had those.  Let’s wish her the best.

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Parents: Boys Are Sexting More Now Than Ever– What You Need to Know

Today_aug2013I was on the Today Show this morning talking about teens and sexting.  A new study suggests that boys are sexting more than ever–  aiming to get the attention of girls in profoundly inappropriate ways.  Here are some questions parents have asked me– and some answers that I hope will be helpful to you as you navigate today’s high tech culture with your children.

(1) Is this the new normal?

This kind of behavior has become a lot more common likely because there is so many messages out there that are telling young people this is the norm. Pornography is just a few key strokes away.  Objectication and sexualization is part of the natural landscape of advertising and marketing to teens today.  (3) Hook up culture is celebrated in many TV shows and reality shows for teens. And don’t forget (4) Real life politicians, sports heroes and entertainers are made into household names for doing it, make excuses for it and are excused for doing it.  These messages happen 24/7 so their frame of reference is, this is the norm.

(2) What should parents do?

When I’m presenting to parents or educators I tell them that they must look & listen, Engage & explain and Be a powerful example.

  • Look/Listen:  What is my child doing?  What is he watching?  What kinds of texts is he sending? What is he saying about girls?  To his friends?  To girls?
  • Engage & Explain: Ask directly. For example; Dr. Robyn was saying on The Today Show that boys are sending texts to girls about hooking up and having sex—is this happening in your world?  What do you think about it? Be very clear that what he is seeing and hearing on the internet and on TV is not the norm.
  • Provide a powerful example: There are too many messages out there that are telling your children that hook up culture is to be expected—so show them what it means to have a meaningful relationship based on respect, kindness and character.

(3) When should parents talk to their children about it?

Parents need to start talking to their children about the power of the media, their bodies and treating people with respect and kindness from a very early age.  This is not one conversation but a series of conversations we have over a childhood so that when we move into sexting, dating, hook up culture and sex, it’s not strained or strange—it is a natural continuation of countless conversations you have had with your child.  We can’t just have “the sex talk” we need to have the relationship talk, the character talk, the technology talk and many others to raise a healthy, respectful child. Conversation not only with boys—but absolutely with girls too who may have more power than they think to change the way boys talk to them and relate to them.

(4) Boys are acting with clueless aggression that is fueled by anonymity so I tell them that a good litmus test is– Would you be embarrassed if this text was seen by your mother or your sister?  If yes, it’s probably not something you should send.

What do you think?  Is this a concern of yours?  How do you deal with it?

Dr. Robyn Signature

 

 

 

The Problem with Labels: Confining, Constricting and Compressing Our Children’s Potential

labelWe don’t mean to do it.  But so many of us do it anyway.

“This is my shy one.”

“She’s my tom boy.”

“He’s my clown.”

“She’s my reader.”

“He’s my little athlete.”

“She’s great in spelling.”

“He’s great in math.”

“She doesn’t like sports.”

“He can’t sit still for a minute.”

When we label our children, we unwittingly define them.  We provide definite limits that tell our children what we think of them, what we expect of them and who they are to be.

Most of us have heard of the movie, Field of Dreams.  The message repeatedly relayed is “If you build it, he will come.”  I think of labels similarly; “If you label it, they will BEcome.”

Sometimes, this seems like a win.  We label our child a “great student” when we value academics or an “amazing athlete” when we value sports.  What could be wrong with that?  The problem is detected when we realize that the labels deter the child from taking healthy risks and trying something new.  “I am a great student” and therefore “I’m not an athlete.” Or “I’m a great athlete” so “I won’t try out for the school play.”

Labels are accentuated when a comparison is put into the mix.  Brothers and sisters are often unintentionally pitted against each other by parents who categorize them.  The intention is not to harm, but rather describe.  But if we label one child “studious,” another “athletic” and still another “artistic” these areas become that child’s jurisdiction.  This can be detrimental to both the labeled and the other sibling.  The former can feel trapped and the latter can feel timid about trying that activity.

When it comes to gender, labels can feel like a safety net to ensure gender alignment (i.e. He’s all boy, She’s a girly girl), an affront (he’s effeminate, she’s quote boyish) or a self-fulfilling prophesy (she’s bad in math, he’s a class clown).

As we all want our children, both boys and girls, to have every opportunity to flourish into the person they are meant to become, it’s vital that we stop labeling and acknowledge room for growth, change and reinvention.  As a child is “becoming,” there is ebb and flow.  Labels can disrupt and “dam” progress and process.  To maximize potential, let’s leave development as fluid.

bravegirlsA new alliance I am part of called “Brave Girls Want“, is a force of leadership asking everyone from parents, educators, loved ones, legislators and businesses to support, empower, and encourage brave, adventurous, strong, smart, and spirited girls. We are looking to rid the world of labels that confine, constrict or compress the growth of our girls so they can be their most authentic and awesome versions of themselves.

As part of Brave Girls Want, we are planning to invade Time Square on October 11th, coinciding with the International Day of the Girl. For 7 days we will rent a billboard in Time Square and talk about what we want for our girls and what they are telling us they want for themselves. Fewer limits, more choices. Less photo-shopping, more real images.  Less sexualization, more time to enjoy childhood.

Please read about the initiative and help us in any way you can. Check out the IndieGoGo campaign—there are lots of ways to help make this action happen!

After all, these are our girls. All of our girls.  And we can make a difference.

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