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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


ABC US News | ABC International News

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.

Dr. Robyn Signature

 

 

 

Louis C.K.’s “Fat Girl” Scene Strikes a Cord with Women Everywhere

Last week, I was on Good Morning America to talk about Louis C.K.’s now famous “Fat Girl” scene in which actress Sarah Baker, gives a unique and honest perspective about being “a fat-girl in her 30s living in New York City.” And while some still complained that the scene was far from perfect, others found it “absolutely magnificent.”  Vanessa, the character played by Baker, simply put her opinions out there, without sadness or apology, and said what was on her mind.

Why did it strike such a nerve?

In short; when we are used to seeing fantasy, photoshop and fabrication of the truth, a little raw honesty goes a long, long way.  The character of Vanessa is vivacious, smart, interesting and beautiful and she tells Louis without any self pity, be honest with me, be honest with yourself and realize by saying “you’re not fat,” you discount me, you refuse to see me and you join the legions of others who stereotype because of my weight.  Being “fat” doesn’t take away a person’s gifts and strengths.  Being plus-size and amazing are not mutually exclusive.  Can’t she just be who she is and still be loved and celebrated?

What does this segment tell men?

This 7 minute segment tells men to (1) break the bond between the term fat and the ugly stereotypes that are unfairly associated with it, (2) hang up your hang ups and be with the person who you like and who brings out the best in you and (3) realize that the problem of stereotyping women is not just a woman problem, it’s everyone’s problem—don’t be another of society’s lemmings, be part of the solution.

What’s one thing we can take from this scene?

People aren’t seeing themselves reflected in the media and this is warping our concept of what is normal. I think society needs to see and hear from someone who so obviously breaks the stereotype, that everyone is worthy of being loved, everyone of us brings something important to the table and “fat” and “thin” are simply descriptors of body types not of worth or character.

Brief aside: I really enjoyed doing this segment on Good Morning America.  And an extra perk?  I met the enormously talented Jim Parsons that day who was also there.  Bonus!  Or should I say, Bazinga!

Now back to Louis C.K.  What did you think of the segment?

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Lorde of the Tweets: Lorde tells fans it’s ok to have flaws

On Good Morning America this morning, we talked about Grammy-winner, Lorde and her most recent viral tweet that showed two photos.  One photo showed Lorde with flawless skin, photoshopped to perfection.  The other photo showed Lorde completely natural, skin imperfections and all.

 

Why is this significant? Lorde is a superstar with millions of fans.  And in a society that often makes you feel like you’re not good enough as you are and that celebrities just walk around like the picture of perfection, Lorde’s voice is refreshing. She all at once tells us that we all have flaws, she’s not perfect and that we are all OK just as we are.

Is her message for girls or can it apply to boys as well? We know the pressure that girls are under to look a certain way. Lorde is a great role model for girls because she embraces her flaws. But I think this is something everyone needs to hear in a society that often makes you feel that you need to be photoshopped before you walk out in public.

What can moms do for girls who might be self conscious? I was presenting on the power of media messaging just last night and here are some Read more

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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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?