When A Group of Great Girls Goes Bad: Basic Drama or Cultural Breakdown?

Girls rock.  Put a bunch together and it can be a great deal of fun, laughs and heart to heart conversations. Except when it isn’t.

Sometimes groups of girls have problems getting along.  They fight, gossip and hurt each other’s feelings.  At times it feels like a uphill battle while at the same time a downhill freight train with no intention of stopping.

I’ve been working personally with specific staff members and girls this year from a variety of schools and camps.  And even though I’ve been doing group coaching for a long time, I always find it an eye-opening study of girls culture, friendship and positive mentorship. Most recently, the leaders of an organization had asked me about one group of girls, in particular, who seemed to be in an endless fight. This daily argument not only was causing internal havoc in the group but was also exhausting the staff and leaving them with questions, concerns and a whole lot of frustration.

After a meeting with the girls personally, I realized that the problem was not, in fact, day to day fighting.  Rather, it was a much larger cultural problem that had festered like a toxic wound at the heart of the group.

Does this sound familiar to you?  It can be exhausting to deal with the day to day issues that emerge in such a group because there never seems to be an end.  That’s because the daily problems are a symptom—not the cause.  The question becomes; are you dealing with the root of cultural turmoil or are you trying to band-aid the daily indicators of that turmoil?

Here is a way to determine if you have a deeper problem than the standard daily grind:

  1. Same thing, different day: The girls always seem to be fighting about something. Complaining, arguing and gossiping are typical.  Someone always feels left out, picked on, stepped over or disregarded.
  2. Similar themes keep emerging: Not only are the girls fighting all the time but they are fighting about the same things.  What kinds of themes emerge?  Being left out.  Cliquiness. Looks.  Attention.  Boys.  Material goods. Meanness. In the case with this one set of girls, they were arguing about  2 things– “bragging and ‘top this’ behavior” as well as the flippant way the girls dealt with each other’s feelings.  Upon sitting down for our meeting, girls talked about feeling frustrated, awkward and depressed when others talked about money, clothes and trips they got to go on each year.  They also divulged that they felt horrible when other girls said something “mean” and then called them “sensitive” when feelings got hurt.
  3. The problem never feels solved: Staff are arduously attending to day to day spats and fall out but feel like they are on a proverbial hamster wheel.  You hear from staff that “this is a particularly tough group,” they “can’t get through to them,” and they’ve “tried everything” but aren’t getting anywhere. As you can imagine, it there is a larger, cultural issue, dealing with individual daily fights doesn’t get to the heart of the matter.
  4. The staff, teachers or counselors are fed up, deflated & defeated:  Not only are the staff articulating frustration, they are starting to check out.  When arguing ensues, they step out, turn away, or try to check it off as quickly as possible so they can move on.  Follow up feels fruitless or “inviting more of the same” so it doesn’t happen. This is not out of laziness but rather lack of knowing what to do differently to get a better result.  You hear from them that the girls “don’t respect them,” “don’t listen,” and “apologize but don’t mean it.”
  5. Every girl feels hurt: Even though some girls are more popular than others, in a group where cultural breakdown has taken place, there are a great deal of hurt feelings.  Most girls, at some point, feel left out, gossiped about or disregarded.  In a young teen group I recently had the pleasure to work with, a group dynamics exercise was the perfect catalyst for an honest discussion about how they felt when a part of the group and when ostracized or alone. And when they really got honest, they were able to admit that they both felt this way and were the cause of others feeling this way. These were awesome girls but their best was being squelched by negative, recurring behavior that became an part of the group culture.

When working with groups in which cultural breakdown has clearly occurred, honest discussion is necessary.  Only then can we identify the hidden problems, isolate the instigators, set ground rules for respectful behavior and allow the girls an opportunity to authentically apologize and be accountable for their actions going forward.  Such honest discussion can’t be a one-time thing but rather done periodically with frequent follow up with a trusted, well-regarded mentor.

And one final thought—when you manage negative behavior, it’s also helpful to encourage positive behavior to take its place.  Instead of focusing on faults and failures, what strengths does this group have?  What individual assets can the girls highlight in one another?  How can they have a hand in developing a positive and powerful group of girls in which everyone feels respected?

While problems are still going to occur—as this is not a utopia—we must provide the girls with the skills to deal with them.  How can we encourage them to be inclusive rather than exclusive?  How can we support them in speaking up while still being kind and open-minded?  It takes more time and more effort but in the long run, teaching these life skills and following up on their effectiveness can transform the culture of the group and in turn, the girls themselves.  And when the girls are transformed—the culture of the groups they are part of in the future will be better for it.




Bad Parenting Day: 10 Tips for Making Tomorrow Better

blog_stressYesterday was one of my worst parenting days.  You ever have one of those?

Coming off a night of tossing and turning I just shouldn’t have gotten out of bed.  But with a 3 and a 4 year old, you really don’t have that option.  So groggy with a bit of cotton-head I got up at 6:45 when my daughter called for me.  Both of my kids always love to get up deliciously early.

My daughter got up on the wrong side of the bed.  Everything from her dreams to her outfit were wrong.  She didn’t even want to wear the underwear I had put out for her.  Really?  “It’s freakin’ underwear,” I could hear myself repeating in my head.

My son had just gotten up with my husband and was playing one of his new birthday games, Hungry Hungry Hippos.  As my kids are allowed to open 2 gifts per day in the days following their special day to control the indulgence avalanche, he was ready to open his second gift.

It was a remote control car.  Harmless enough—but a source of great argument when you have two children who are raised in a home where there is no such thing as a “girl toy” or a “boy toy.”  They both wanted to play with it.

Two extremely “Type A” children, one car, one remote. You see where this is going?  If they weren’t arguing with each other about whose turn it was, they were frustrated with the car for not doing what they wanted it to do. Boy throws remote on the ground.  Remote breaks. Time out in the corner issued.  Fixed remote. Girl gets impatient- tries to take remote.  Boy swats girl. Remote gets thrown again.  Breaks again. Another time out.   More frustration. Pushing. Shoving.  “It’s mine!” “I want it!” “You can’t have it!” Grabbing. Tackling. Remote gets thrown…Repeat.

I usually keep my emotions in check when it comes to parenting but spoiled, rotten behavior infuriates me.  Entitlement gets under my skin.  Lack of gratitude simply pisses me off.  So I lost it.  Getting two garbage bags, I walked into the den and took the car, the remote…and every other toy they had in there.

“No toys for the day!” I shouted out of sheer aggravation.  “If you don’t treat your toys kindly and you can’t treat each other with respect, forget it.  No toys.  No TV.  No Ipad.  Nothing.  Nothing at all that costs money,” I barked out while feeling the heat of my anger in my furled forehead.  “You may have a piece of paper and crayons.  You may read.  You may go outside but go nowhere special.  I refuse to have ungrateful children who don’t know the value of what they have. You clearly have too much that you think you can treat each other and your stuff like that. So there are no toys for the entire day!  And we’ll see if you earn one or two back for tomorrow.”  Then I just got quiet.  I could hear my breath.

It doesn’t make me proud when I lose my temper.  I think it’s kind of ugly even though it’s human.  As a Child Development Specialist who speaks around the nation on parenting and working with kids I often expect myself to be text-book perfect—even though that’s completely unreasonable.  But I said what I did, so no toys no matter how much they apologized or whined for them.  Especially if they whined.  That really drives me nuts.

My head swam for the rest of the day.  I felt deflated.  I felt like a failure.  Why were my kids acting like this? Questioning why I couldn’t have just kept my cool and talked it out with the simultaneous compulsion to make kindness, gratitude and respect a big deal issue, I wondered if I did the right thing taking away everything while also contemplating if I should ever give the stuff back.

By the time one of my closest friends came by to drop by a CD of photos from my son’s birthday party, a very happy day indeed, I had moved from anger to sadness.  We talked it out and the cloud was lifting.  I read 2 articles that were circulating about having bad parenting days— and reminded myself that I’m not alone in grappling with all this stuff. My friend told me to take it as a sign that I was a good Mom, that these feelings were normal and it was time to let it go. I made a conscious decision to take a breath and shrug off the morning.  It was the middle of the afternoon, after all.

By the time dinner time rolled around, I was fine.  The nighttime ritual went well and everyone went to sleep on time.  I was in bed by 10:30.  I wanted to keep this day as short as possible.

Upon waking up when my son called for me at 6:45, I made a decision that today was going to be better.  And it was.  I even gave a few of the kids’ toys back because they were behaving quite well.  Not perfect—but that’s never required.

So when they started arguing about the “Build a car” toy that came with its very own drill, screws and bolts, I was ready.  We had a plan for positive turn-taking and sharing.  And when my daughter took one of the screws my son had just reverse drilled and he swatted her again, I took a breath and remained calm.  The car was removed temporarily and my son had a time out. He walked back in the room and I helped him say what he needed to say to be both assertive and respectful.

“When it’s my turn…” I prompted.

“When it’s my tuwn, pease don’t touch it, Tawwie,” he said assertively.

“And when it’s your turn…”

“And when it’s your tuwn, I won’t touch.”

“And I’m sorry…”

“And I’m sowwy for hitting you.”

After my daughter apologized for taking the screw in the first place and all was well again, they worked together quite nicely, taking turns and sharing. I told them how proud I was of them. Three screws drilled in, three screws drilled out.  Switch. So the morning had started off on the right foot despite the minor sibling rivalry and the day before was becoming a distant memory.

I later took my son to his 3 year old doctor’s appointment and then over to meet his counselor at the little camp he’ll be going to over the summer.  We met my husband for lunch at a little place in the next town.

While at the restaurant, we played “I spy” and drew in a coloring book.  But my son started to get impatient and yelled. I immediately took him outside and explained; “Going to a restaurant is a privilege.  We must be kind and thoughtful of other people.  We can not yell—we must speak in a soft, inside voice.  Do you understand?”  We went back inside and all was well until a second yell.  The kindness message was repeated with the added remark that if he couldn’t keep himself from yelling, we weren’t going to be able to stay.  If he wanted to stay, he needed to follow the rules and speak in an inside voice. He agreed.  No further incident happened.

Just before leaving, a lady of about 75 came to the table and leaned over to me.

“I’m really impressed by how you handled the situation with your son today.  You are a wonderful parent.  I can tell you that I’m proud of my 3 children and I have 8 grandchildren.  Many parents don’t do what you do.  You’re doing an excellent job.”

I nearly cried.  Tears did in fact come to my eyes.  “I can’t tell you how much I needed to hear that today.  I truly appreciate your kind words.”

 “We all need encouragement” she continued.  And you can be proud of the job you are doing.”

Wow.  So let me leave you with what I learned from this whole situation—which really is the most important part of all this, isn’t it?

  1. We are all going to have bad parenting days.  But there is always tomorrow.
  2. Clear the “cache” at night.  Don’t take the rain from yesterday into the possibility of a sunny day today.
  3. Make a conscious decision to have a good day, even when you are tired and don’t think you have it in you.
  4. Talk to a good friend.  Good friends totally rock in these circumstances— they can help you put things into perspective and move forward.
  5. Remember it’s a bad parenting day.  You are not a bad parent.
  6. Don’t expect perfection.  You are human, after all.
  7. Go to bed early.  Sleep helps.
  8. When your kids do something wrong, take a breath. Then speak.
  9. Praise your children when they get it right.  They need to hear that.
  10. Tell parents when they are doing a great job.  They probably need to hear that too.  I know I did.

So let me say it now. You, too, are doing a great job.  You may not always get it right.  You may lose your sauce some days and think you are the worst parent ever.  You’re not.  And even if things aren’t going well right now, remember, there is always another moment…another day…another chance to make it better.  What I’m saying is; even a great parent can have a bad parenting day.  Onward, fine parents!




Parents; How to Talk to Your Children about The Oklahoma Tornado

“Hi Robyn; We’re fine. It missed us by 2 street blocks.  We’re fine, our houses are fine. So sorry we weren’t able to call or text during the storm.  We love you guys.”

In the recent past, I’ve written articles about how to talk to children about horrifying events such as the SandyHook, Connecticut shooting and The Boston Marathon bombing.  In both articles, while incredibly concerned, I was not touched personally by the tragedies.  I had lived in Boston for many years (I received my PhD from Tufts University near Boston) and made many friends there—but nobody I knew had attended the marathon and all were perfectly safe during the tragedy.

Yesterday, a massive tornado hit Moore, OK.  I couldn’t believe it when I saw the name in the news.  Moore?  I have a deep personal tie to Moore.  Both my children were born there.  Both of their adoptions took place in Moore.  And most significantly, the birth family of both my children still live in Moore.  Their birth mother, their birth father and their birth grandmother.

Many of you who are constant, devoted readers of my parenting site know that we have an open adoption plan with my children’s birth family.  This is not just on paper.  We are extremely close with the birth family—so much so that none of us regard each other as “birth family” and “adoptive family” (I only use those names here to avoid confusion)—we just call each other family.

I am so happy to report that our family members in Moore are all safe.  The message on the top of this article was left by our children’s birth grandmother.  We have been in contact over the last 2 days and while our whole family had quite a scare, they got out of the storm unscathed.  The tornado passed 2 miles away from my kids’ birth father’s house and a ¼ mile from his girlfriend’s place of work.  He was holed up in a bank vault for safety while my kids’ birth mother took refuge in a Walmart with a hundred other people.  The kids’ birth grandmother literally drove herself away from the oncoming storm.  The whole thing is beyond scary.

The experience has given me a more nuanced perspective of how to talk to children about frightening events such as this tornado in Oklahoma.  Since my children (especially my 4 year old) know about the storm and how it affected our family, it is from this perspective that I write my tips today.

(1) Ensure your children know that this tornado is not a threat to their safety: “Is the tornado coming here” my daughter wondered?  Sometimes just saying; “no, it’s all done” is enough.  Other times, for the very curious child, this may be a good  for a little weather lesson.  You can say; “Just like a speed bump in the road slows down cars, most people believe that something gets in the way of tornadoes making them slow down until they are no longer tornadoes anymore.  That’s what happened to this tornado! So no, it’s all done.  The tornado is not coming here.”

(2) Listen to their fears:  Parents often want to “fix the fear” or diminish the importance of it as soon as possible.  Take a moment to listen instead.  It is valid that your children may be scared.  Ask questions like “What is scaring you?” and  “What might make you feel better?”  Reflect their concerns by saying: “Yes; it’s scary to hear that the tornado hurt some people” or “I get the feeling that you are worried about tornadoes coming to our town.”  Steer clear of saying; “Don’t be scared” or “Stop worrying so much” as it invalidates their emotions—which are quite real.

(3) Turn off the news: Make sure the information your children are learning is from you rather than from the TV.  The news can be very graphic and not at all age-appropriate.  While you may want to keep posted on what’s going on, do it privately rather than in front of your children.

(4) Let them know about the positive stories: This morning I heard about a teacher who kept her students safe in the school while the tornado came through town. Tell your children about that. There have been reports that, through his family foundation, Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant pledged $1 million to the American Red Cross disaster relief efforts in Oklahoma. Tell your children about that.  This morning it was reported that the OK Highway Patrol confirms that 101 people were found alive in Moore overnight. Tell your children about that.  In this tragedy, there was good news—and children need to know about these stories. There are a lot of helpers and we are so grateful.

(5) Encourage them to do something to help: My daughter is only four and my son is just shy of three—but that doesn’t mean they can’t do anything to help.  They can write letters, draw pictures and may even be able to help donate items needed.  But perhaps their voices of love may be the kindest thing to provide.  We had our daughter call her birth mother, her birth father and her birth grandmother and leave a message on their phones (getting through is still tricky).  She was able to say; “Hi, I love you and I’m so glad you’re safe.”  The act of “doing” can be very reassuring for a young person.  Actually, it can be very reassuring for all of us!

During all of this—stay calm.  Our children absorb the emotion we release.  That doesn’t mean we need to be stoic or happy—it just means that we should leave the heavy burden of our feelings to our peers and our adult loved ones.  You can say; “I’m sad for all the people in Oklahoma who are having a tough time right now because of the tornado.  I wish it didn’t happen.”

Because really; don’t we all feel that way?




Mind Your Manners! 5 Ways to Tame Rude & Crude Behavior in Your Children

manners_introphoto1-684x1024Dr. Robyn Silverman answers one parent’s question about how to instill manners in her children– especially when they haven’t been overtly enforced in the past.

When children are very young, making people laugh or getting a look of shock is easy encouragement for someone looking for a little extra attention.  While it may not be so funny anymore, your children may still be looking for a positive reaction. They may also form some negative habits– resulting in poor manners. Creating new, positive habits around manners may take some time but will certainly be worth it as he shows others consideration, respect, and kindness.

We also can’t deny that boys, especially, get attention for lack of manners.  Peers might laugh or think such boys are courageous or “cool.”  Media underscores rudeness and lack of manners– so it makes it harder to raise boys without these negative influences.

In her video above, Dr. Robyn suggests and explains the following tips to help instill manners in children (watch the video for more information!):

(1) Nix the negative labels

(2) Dine away from home sometimes to provide opportunities to rise to the occasion.

(3) Explain, expect but don’t lecture

(4) Compliment, praise and be grateful when you see manners

(5) Don’t laugh at poor manners

And remember to be consistent!

Explore the answers to your parenting questions here and on our Facebook site or even on twitter! Join us!  We’re always talking about something interesting…

Mom & Dad; Are we safe? Talking to your children about scary things presented in the news

martin_bostonmarathonAs we now all know, yesterday’s tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon resulted in at least 176 people injured.  Nine of them are children—at least 8 of whom are being treated in hospitals.  One child, 8-year-old Martin Richard, was killed during the Boston Marathon explosion while enjoying ice cream with his family. His 6 year old sister lost her leg and their mother underwent brain surgery due to her critical injuries.

There are many other stories of families affected and many of us have been touched either directly or indirectly by this senseless act.  One of my good friends just reported that her son’s friend may lose his hearing because pellets were sprayed from the bomb and got lodged in his head. He was there to cheer his dad on who was running the marathon. The juxtaposition of happy joyous cheering, eating ice cream and enjoying a special outing with the family with the horror of a senseless bombing is hard to fathom.  It’s even harder to explain.

As we talked about during the Newtown Connecticut shootings and other stories of senseless child murder, these are unimaginable acts that are likely to bring about questions.  Some are easy to answer.  Others feel nearly impossible.  Still, we can’t put our heads in the sand, as we want our children to hear the truth in an age-appropriate way from someone who knows them best—and that likely means you. Remember, if you aren’t talking about it and they want to hear an answer, they will go to another source.  It is our job to be the source.

So how do you talk to your children about ugly, scary things that are talked about in the media?  What can we do?

(1) Media exposure should be limited:  Information is best coming from a trusted source who is sensitive to the way your child can best receive it—at a time when is best for your child. You can limit details based on age and maturity—and seeing gruesome photos and frightening video is inappropriate for most children. Information on the news is aimed at adults—not at children.

(2) Let them know that responsible adults are working to keep us safe and healthy: When situations seem unsure, children need to know that the grown-ups are helping those in need.  Authorities are working to keep people safe. Medical staff, like doctors and nurses, are helping those who have been hurt.  And be sure to let them know that this incident is rare and in no way means that it will happen again in the same or a different location.

(3) Stay calm and keep your emotions on an even keel: It is normal and natural to feel frustrated, sad and angry when senseless acts occur.  As a parent, teacher or child mentor, being “there” for young people sometimes means keeping our emotions in check so that we don’t overwhelm or alarm our children.  While you certainly don’t need to be stoic or aloof—and you can talk about feeling sad when things like this happen—the full gravity of your feelings should be reserved for other trusted adults in your life.

(4) Expect questions to come over time: Children aren’t always ready to talk when you are.  That means that it’s normal for children to have questions about sensitive topics over time.  It may go on for weeks—a question here and a question there—never lasting more than a minute or two.  Other times you may have a few longer conversations. Children process tough topics in different ways.  It’s OK if you don’t know the answer—sometimes it’s more important to simply listen.  Other times, you may need to tell them you can find out the answer for them at a later time.  You are a source of comfort and information—but you don’t need to be Wikipedia.

(5) Remain open to talking about fears and concerns:  Don’t be surprised if fears and concerns seem illogical, disconnected and come at unusual times.  You might be driving your child to an after-school program on a beautiful sunny day when your child pops a question about something horrific that happened days or even weeks before.  Your child may develop a temporary fear of the dark, loud noises, people in uniform or otherwise while trying to regain their footing.  Ask them; “is there something I can do to help you feel safer or more secure?” or “Would you like advice or would you prefer that I just listen?” Be patient and open to talking, reassuring and even just “there” during these tough times.

(6) Know that unusual behavior or feelings may arise: Sometimes frightening and unexpected news can make children act in different ways.  Some may become clingy or hyper while others may become withdrawn and quiet. Some may sleep more while others may sleep less. Still others may eat more while others may report that they aren’t hungry. Ask them if it would be helpful for them to talk out their feelings. Assure your child that their feelings are OK and give them space to feel anyway that they do—validating their emotions as normal and natural.

(7) Don’t stop living: Sometimes you may want to just construct a bubble for your family to live in just to keep potential dangers out.  I get that.  I’m a parent too.  But living in fear is no way to live.  Instead, enjoy everyday.  Love deeper.  Hug longer.  Tell your children how grateful you are for their safety, their health and their presence in your life.  Teach your children to do the same.

And don’t forget to tell your children about the good in the world.  There aregood people. Very good people.  As Mr. Rogers’ said; “look for the helpers.” People who look out for others.  People who put themselves out in order to take others in.

Instead of blocking out the world, let us teach our children to become the kind of people that make this world a better place.  Children thrive when they feel that they can contribute to their family, their community, their country and beyond.  Encourage them to do that.  By doing so, you will teach them that there is a lot more good in this world than there is evil.  And, yes, they are a big part of that good.

In other words, they don’t just need to look for the helpers, they can become them.




Ask Dr. Robyn: Teaching Children to Keep a Positive Attitude In New Situations

Dear Dr. Robyn,

My daughter will be going to a new school next school year. She didn’t have a positive experience this year since her friends got into a fight, asked her to choose sides, and she refused to do so.  They wound up both turning on her.  She now wonders if it’s her and thinks that the new school will just be more of the same. What should I do?  — Rachel:  Tallahassee, FL

blonde_smile2-259x300In the above video, I talk in depth about 6 tips to helping children keep a positive attitude including:

(1) Realizing the prior situation was specific

(2) Watching the language you use

(3) Governing your thoughts, feelings and actions

(4) Presenting the evidence to the contrary

(5) Visualizing positive results

(6) Helping her to connect with others

Let me know YOUR thoughts– how have you helped your children to adopt a positive attitude in new situations?  Leave your thoughts here or come join us on Facebook!




Boy Toys, Girl Toys and What Kids Learn When We Allow Them To Choose

vet_hospitalsmAs a parent, I often wonder about how the toys and role models in my children’s lives translate to behavior.  I tend to be the kind of mother who encourages a wide range of toys, games and books.  I am less about banning (unless it is truly counter to our family’s core character-based values) and more about providing a continuum of options so that my children gain experience, choice and understanding.

That means that we have everything from princess dress up and dolls to blocks, science kits, dump trucks and dinosaurs.  And both of my children play with whatever they choose to that day.  Yes, my son has put on a tutu while bouncing and laughing in our basement bounce house and my daughter has crashed Batman and Wonder Woman action figures into a tower of blocks, saving the “little people” trapped inside from disaster.  I’ve played race cars with my son while crawling around on the kitchen floor and my husband has played dolls with my daughter while cuddling in the den. To me, it’s all good.

But I sometimes see that a range is not provided or accepted in households around America and elsewhere.  Boys play with “boy things” and girls play with “girl things” exclusively.  What do our children miss out on when toys, books and games are selected for them rather than allowing them to gravitate naturally to what interests and intrigues them?  What do they gain when they are the masters of the toys, games and books they see?

While it may not be obvious, my feeling is, quite a bit.  When our children are masters of their own toy rooms, they learn what they love.  They gain a more complex understanding about history, empathy, technology, language, engineering, art and science.  They learn that their personal passions are valid and imagination or play of many kinds are fun.

I asked my 2 ½ year old son what he liked about wearing a tutu in the bounce house a few weeks back and he told me; “It’s funnyyyy! And I yike how it goes up and down when I jump!” Yes, yes, that makes sense.  He likes the science of it—a piece of clothing that catches air when you jump is cool! Isn’t that…awesome?!  And here some might be stressing out about what wearing a tutu in a bounce house can do to a boy’s “future masculinity” but truthfully, he couldn’t care less.  He’s having a blast! Can’t we just let children play?

Skip to the cars as I asked the same question; “What do you like about racing cars in the kitchen?” My son answered; “they go weally, weally fast and woooooh they cwash!” Yup. Physics. Mechanics. Cause and effect.  Good for every gender!

spidermansm-200x300My daughter has been known to “acquire” my son’s Batman figure as well as his Spiderman book.  She asked for a Superhero book of her own for her most recent birthday that features Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman all together.  She’s even going as Wonder Woman to a Superhero/Princess birthday party this weekend.  When I asked Tallie what she likes about Wonder Woman, she told me; “She’s cool! She fights cwime!” Justice. Power. Self reliance.  Good for every gender!

And the lessons generalize to other areas of life. I saw something pretty remarkable the other day at the playground.  As Tallie was climbing up a steep slide, she struggled to reach the top.  Her brother, already at the top put out his hand and exclaimed; “Tawwie! I’wl save you!”  I saw her stop for a moment and look at her brother. Then she just kept climbing as she called back; “I don’t need saving! I can do it myself!”  These words are rooted in countless conversations we’ve had while playing both princesses and Superheroes.  Don’t wait to be saved; save yourself.

superheroessmThis morning, Wonder Woman single-handedly stopped an oncoming train from crashing into the building of blocks that we all built together– and Batman rescued the people off the train. Unfortunately, there was a casualty.  The Wonder Woman action figure was decapitated.  Who makes a Superhero with such a flimsy neck? She’s an Amazon Princess Warrior for cripes sake– not a runway model! Ah, well, off to the store to invest in a Wonder Woman toy that can hold her ground…and keep up with my kids!




Picture Day, Hot Pink Socks and Raising an Assertive Daughter: When Values Can’t Be Conditional

pinksocks-243x300“I want to wear the pink socks.”

“Honey, you have a blue and white dress on.  Please just wear the white socks.”

“But I want to wear the pink socks!”

“Tallie, I’m exhausted.  Please stop arguing with me.”

“I want to wear the pink socks!”

“Fine! Wear the pink socks!”

My 4 year old daughter puts on the hot pink socks. I angrily stomp upstairs and ask myself why she doesn’t want to listen to me and just put on the socks. They’re just socks! So I go back downstairs to plead my case.

“Ugh, Tallie.  It’s Picture Day.  You can wear the pink socks any other day.  Can you please just wear the white socks?”

Tallie puts on the white socks.  I win.  Or do I?

I want my daughter to be assertive.  I want her to stand up for what she believes in, follow her own lead and make choices that are meaningful to her no matter what anyone else thinks.  I really do. We talk about being assertive.  I ask her to be assertive in restaurants when ordering.  With friends on play-dates.  With her brother when choosing a movie to watch.  Being assertive is important.  But can she be assertive on any other day but picture day?

As it turns out, values can’t be conditional.  They can’t depend on schedule, holiday, company or place. As parents we may know that intellectually but in practice, the notion can seem like quite a nuisance.   Well, in the short run anyway.

So I thought about it.  And after Tallie left for school I confessed my blunder out loud.  Raising healthy, strong daughters is an everyday thing, not a sometime thing.  It’s not about convenience, it’s about commitment.

So I plopped the hair on top of my head in a clip, put on a warm up suit, brushed my teeth and walked out the door with hot pink socks in hand.  I drove to the school and went inside.  Then I asked if I could see my daughter for a moment.

When Tallie came out, she looked a little confused.  Why was I there?  I knelt down infront of her and took her hands.  Speaking softly and looking her in the eyes, this is what I said;

“Tallie; this morning Mommy made a mistake.  You really wanted to wear the pink socks and I told you I wanted you to wear the white socks.  I got very upset and yelled.  That was not OK. Mommy was wrong.  You know that I want you to be able to speak up and tell me and everyone else what you want.  That was what you were trying to do this morning and I wasn’t letting you.  That was wrong. So if you want to wear the pink socks, here they are.  Do you want to wear the pink socks?”

Tallie shakes her head yes.  I smile.

“Can I put on the pink socks now?”

“Yes you can.”

I help her put her pink socks on. Tallie smiles.

“It’s OK, Tallie?”

Tallie nods.

“So My Love, when someone comes to you and tells you that they are sorry and that they made a mistake, that’s when you can say, when and if you are ready; ‘It’s Ok, everyone makes mistakes.’”

“It’s OK, Mama. Evweeone makes micktakes sometimes.”

Tallie kisses and hugs me.

“Thank you, Tallie.”

“I’ll miss you Mama.  See you yater.”

As Tallie turned around and walked back to her classroom in her blue dress and her pink socks I couldn’t help but smile.  I don’t know if she’ll remember this exchange but I know I will.

You see, they were just socks.  Hot pink socks. But that’s my daughter.  We don’t always get the big moments in life to announce our values and transfer them to our children.  We get the tiny moments.  The moments that come and go so fast you can miss them if you aren’t aware of them. It’s these little moments that build one on top of each other until they create a value that sticks with your child wherever they go in life, whether you are with them or not.

Today it’s socks.  Tomorrow it’ll be something else.  Friends.  Drugs.  Sex.  What she wants to do with her life.

My husband and I are creating an assertive girl.  Assertiveness can not be contingent on convenience.  It just doesn’t work that way. And believe me, sometimes raising an assertive girl can be a pain in the butt—but I think it’s worth it.  Don’t you?




The Infertility Club: Shifting My Goal from Pregnancy to Adoption

In honor of my daughter’s 4th birthday, I’m republishing my adoption series.

robyn_tallie-292x300As you can probably imagine, I felt like the shoemaker’s daughter. I didn’t just work with children and families, I provided parenting tips and tactics to moms and dads around the world…all the while housing a secret that taunted and tortured me every day. I couldn’t get pregnant. Well, that’s not exactly true. I was pretty good at getting pregnant. I just couldn’t seem to stay that way.

After repeatedly bashing myself and feeling every emotion from maudlin inadequacy to stark raving anger, I decided to donate my body to science. Yes, I became a card carrying member of the ever-popular but rarely discussed “infertility club” which allows millions of women to play the role of “the willing pin cushion” in the quest to become a parent. Not that I wasn’t grateful for the possibility—it’s just challenging to keep up your enthusiasm when your hormones are fluctuating between those of a moody adolescent to those of an over-heated menopausal woman. And this was normal. Or so they said.

When you join the “infertility club” you start out thinking that there are certain thingsyou’ll have to do and certain things you’ll never do in order to get pregnant. Well, at least I did. I found myself making concessions and deals–“I’ll take the pills but I won’t do the injections” – “I’ll do the injections but I won’t do IVF.” But years get long and time gets short and well, desperation sets in. “I’ll never do injections” turns into “just make it quick” as you hand your husband a 2-inch needle, turn around and close your eyes. You’ll do anything. You don’t know if it’ll work but you’re willing to try. You have to have a baby. NOW.

Each time you think “could this be it?” And sometimes it works. And it’s a miracle. It’s exactly as it was intended to be. But other times, as in our case, it wasn’t that simple. The drugs did their job but my body played hooky. Each of my four pregnancies ended in miscarriage.

As a woman, this was unacceptable. I had the will. I had the heart. I had the parts! After years of trying not to get pregnant, this was supposed to be MY time. I was ready…and waiting.

Of course they told me that it wasn’t my fault— but you can’t help blaming yourself. I went over every place I had been, every food I ate, and everything I did over the previous weeks. Was it the sushi I ate before I knew? The 5 pound bag of potatoes I lifted at the market? The plane ride I took to my cousin’s wedding? Your head tells you “no” but your heart demands an explanation.

And with the blame game came the ridiculous claims and promises—”Next time, I’ll keep my feet up in the air. I’ll stay on my back. I’ll barely move until it’s time to push.”

I felt so alone. Pregnant women were everywhere. And babies. In the park. In the library. At the market. What angered me the most was seeing parents yell at their children—or worse yet, ignore them. I wanted to throttle them and say, “Don’t you see what you have here! You should be grateful every single day!” But I kept my mouth shut and merely grumbled under my breath. I promised myself that when I did have a child, I would cherish every moment. I would make myself remember that there are women out there willing to trade places–even on the most challenging days—just to have a turn to be called “mommy.”

I often found myself in tears but nevertheless, I carried on. I tried new things. I learned more about my body than I ever wanted to know. Temperature. Timing. Patterns.

Roadblocks came up frequently. In our case, after the doctors put me out and retrieved a total of 38 eggs during two different IVF procedures, they explained to me that something was wrong with my eggs. My husband and I tried to keep things light. We had countless jokes. Eggs Behaving Badly! Eggs Gone Wild! How would you like your eggs? Scrambled!

So we turned to the women whose eggs were pristine and in demand. Egg donors. Never heard of it? It’s very hush hush. Most people don’t talk about it. I actually felt a little naughty while interviewing them since the whole thing felt so “underground.”

Truthfully, it was kind of like online dating. What do you look like? What are your hobbies? Could I implant some of your DNA in my body so I can have a baby?

I thought, could this be our solution? Could this be the ticket to Babyville? But we kept getting tripped up. This one had already donated up to her limit. That one couldn’t get off work. This other one didn’t respond to the drugs. But we had to try again. We had to get in sync. We had to take more drugs. We needed another week, another month, another round.

Every couple has their breaking point- -when they say, “enough is enough” and they put down their needles. They throw away their pills and they take a much needed, life-altering, deep breath.

Our breath of fresh air came on April 12, 2008. It was the day our final donor told us she wasn’t going to be able to make it. It was the day we decided to stop researching new ways to get pregnant and start looking for ways to have a family. It was the day we decided to adopt.

I didn’t know exactly how it was all going to play out but I did know one thing that day. We were going to have a family. Finally, I knew for sure. And it was one of the best days of my life.

Dr. Robyn Silverman is a child and teen development specialist, professional speakerand parenting expert often seen in national press such as on The Today Show, Anderson Live, Good Morning America and various print media.  She won a Silver Award for this Adoption Series from Parenting Publications of America. Dr. Robyn is proud to have built her family through the amazing process of Open Adoption. The first of this adoption series is posted here.

Should I lie? 10 Gut-Checking Questions Parents Must Teach Their Children

lying2-276x300The first time your child lies to you can be a shock to any parent.  And while lying is part of growing up, we don’t want to encourage the behavior.  Our children need to learn right from wrong, reality from fantasy and truth from untruth.

The Powerful Word of the Month this month is Self Control– and part of self control is taking a moment to think to oneself; Is this safe? Is this fair? Will it work?  When it comes to lying, taking the time to think through both good and bad solutions can make the difference between right and wrong.

As parents, we always want our children to choose the safest, most fair and best decisions. When we are with them, we can ensure that it usually happens that way. When we aren’t, we leave it in their hands. This is why so many parents can’t sleep at nights even though we’re all so tired, right?

We must arm our children with some Powerful Questions that can help them to choose right over wrong.

(1) Is it safe? Or, perhaps for some we can teach, “If I lie, is someone likely to get hurt?” Some children will lie to protect someone– whether it’s a sibling or themselves. Sometimes when they are “sworn to secrecy” it’s not a big deal– someone is planning a special birthday party or a big surprise and they need to pretend they know nothing about it.  But other times lying about something can be unsafe. Think of the child who was told “not to tell” that a friend was planning to run away, an older sibling was throwing up after each meal or a younger sibling was climbing over a fence near a lake.  That’s when this question becomes crucial.

(2) Is it fair? This question certainly requires perspective-taking.  Clearly they are going to be more inclined to say something if it’s not fair to them.  But what about others?  Think of the child who knows that a friend is cheating off another student’s paper in class and both children involved get in trouble.  What’s fair?  Think of the child who knows that her sports team is doing something underhanded in order to get into the finals.  Is this fair?  The perspective-taking question that pairs well with this one is; if the tables were turned, would it seem fair to you?

(3) What is my gut telling me to do? When we teach our children to listen to their gut, we are providing them with a very important skill. Our bodies often tell us what our minds our try to disguise. If your child chooses right or wrong, ask them, what made you make that choice? What was your gut telling you to do? What will you do next time?

(4) Will I be able to look my parents/friend/teacher in the eye after I do it? We often know when our children are lying because they can not look us in the eye. Helping your children to understand that answering “no” to this question is a sign that they may be on the verge of making a poor choice.

(5) Could I look at myself in the mirror after I do it? This is really the crux of it, isn’t it? In fact, this is the way my own mother explained the meaning of integrity to me. If our children feel that they could not look at their own selves in the mirror after making this choice (and be proud of what they did), they should take it as a warning. Their conscience is telling them that the impending choice could bring them a feeling of regret or shame.

(6) Would I do this behavior whether someone was watching me or not? I often explain to children that the definition of good character is choosing to do the right thing whether all eyes are on you or all eyes are looking away. If your child can not answer “yes” to both scenarios, then she should probably not be doing it.

(7) Does the end justify the means? This can be a tough concept for children. After all, if they want an A on their book report and get an A on their book report that should be a good thing, right? Yes, accept when that A is achieved through dishonest means such as cheating. Sometimes, children have trouble remembering that parents actually care more about effort and character than about their children being the very best regardless of the cost or means. We must be patient and clear up this confusion so that children will choose “right” over “best” when faced with a question of integrity.

(8) Am I doing this because it is right or because it is popular? We have all heard of peer pressure. This phenomenon can happen on a variety of levels. Think of the child who argues that his friend, who clearly lost the race, crossed the finish line first. In this case, the child succumbs to the rules of friendship over the rules of fairness and integrity. We also see it when the child pretends not to like someone because his friends don’t think the person is cool. Either way, he is letting the popular thing get in the way of doing the right thing. We must teach our children not to allow popularity to cloud their judgment because in the end, the truth usually comes out.

(9) Am I being who I am or am I being who others want me to be? This question coincides with number 6. We want our children to be themselves. When they alter their thoughts, actions, appearance, or choices because others want it that way, they are doing a major disservice to themselves and others. On the one hand, they are not allowing others to get to know the real individual behind the farce. On the other hand, they are building their friendships on a lie. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run with the Wolves, wrote, “If you live your life trying to please others, half the people will like you and half won’t. And if you live your life according to your own truth, half the people will like you and half won’t.” The underlying question it brings up is; “which half do you want as friends?”

(10) If I get caught lying, will I get in trouble? So, the lie unravels.  Everyone knows the truth.  Are their any negative consequences?  Obviously for the child who kept the “surprise party” a secret or even told her mother; “I’m going with Dad to lunch” when she really was going to set up for that party, there is no getting into trouble.  But what about the child who lies about a grade she got on a today’s quiz? Tells you she already studied for tomorrow’s test when she didn’t?  Says “I don’t know” when you ask where her big brother is when she knows he’s doing something you’ve told him not to do?  Your child likely knows that consequences would be imminent.

As we know, mistakes will happen. If we use those mistakes to help our children make better choices next time, we will be strengthening their integrity.

In the end, we are cultivating future leaders. And I imagine, as Powerful Parents, you would agree, that we want our future leaders to base their decisions on well-instilled values and principles rather than what is fast, popular, and self-serving.  These questions are part of critical thinking skills that they can apply today and for the rest of their lives.