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MOORE, OK - MAY 21:  Piles of debris lie around the northeast corner of Plaza Towers Elementary school after it was damaged by a tornado May 21, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. The town reported a tornado of at least EF4 strength and two miles wide that touched down yesterday killing at least 24 people and leveling everything in its path. U.S. President Barack Obama promised federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts.  (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)

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?

 

 

 

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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…

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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!

 

 

 

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.

Parents; How to Talk to Children about the Connecticut School Shooting

press_schoolshooting-300x182We have all heard the horrific news by now. At 9:40 this morning, a masked gunman named Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook elementary school and fired a gun around 100 times. He killed 26 people, 6 adults and 20 children under the age of 8 before killing himself.

Since then it’s been hard to concentrate on anything else but this story.  As a parent of young children, it’s the unimaginable. You send your children off to school hoping that they will be happy but knowing that they will be safe.  Typical worries of a friend not being so friendly or a teacher giving a bad grade may cross our minds.  But not this.

There is no making sense of this tragedy but we do need to be ready for questions.  What do we do for and say to our children about this senseless shooting?

(1) Limit media exposure:  Conversation and information about this tragedy should come from you, not the TV.  You know your children best and can limit details as necessary.  Information on the news is for you and is not age-appropriate for a child.

(2) Underscore safety:  Ensure your children that the authorities and people in charge at their schools are doing everything possible to keep everyone safe.  Help them to understand that a school shooting in one location does not mean that there will be another one in a different location.  These incidents are thankfully very rare and your children and their friends are not at risk because this has happened. In this case, as the gunman is also dead, there is a finality to this devastating rampage.

(3) Remain calm and levelheaded: While it is natural to be upset and infuriated about the shooting, it’s important that we don’t overwhelm children with our emotions.  They need to know that we are strong and reliable if they have questions—and that we are there for them if they need to talk.  If YOU need to talk about it, call a friend or speak to a loved one.

(4) Expect some unusual behavior or feelings: Sometimes news of this sort can make the children act in different ways.  Some will become withdrawn and quiet while others may become hyper or clingy.  Ask them how they are feeling and if they would like to talk. Assure your child that they are OK and give them space to feel anyway that they do—validating their feelings as normal and natural.  Help them to expend nervous energy in productive ways without pushing them.

(5) Discuss fears: Whether you sit with them and have a conversation or use art, role playing or dolls, allow children to express their fears.  What will help them feel safer and more secure?  Fears are nothing to be embarrassed about– today or any day. Sometimes just listening and being their can assuage their fears.

(6) Do not dismiss or avoid: It’s a tough topic.  But if your children are asking about it, talk to them in an age-appropriate way.  You don’t need to go into details and if you don’t know an answer, just say you don’t know! Assure them each time that they are OK and the people in charge are working hard to keep everyone safe.  Remember, if you aren’t talking about it and they want to hear an answer, they will go to another source.  YOU need to be the source.

(7) Hug them tight:  Nothing says safety and security like being tucked into your parents’ arms.  Tell them that you love them and that you and everyone who loves and cares for them are doing everything you can to ensure their safety.

The hug, of course, is also for you.  At times, having children can feel like a really big, tough and even frustrating job.  Everyone has their moments.  But today, take time to hold your children and tell them how grateful you are to have them.  That your life is enriched by them.  That they fill your heart with the most delicious happiness and you thank goodness everyday that they are yours.

Do it.  Again and again. You’ll be glad you did.