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Listen Up: How to Really Listen So Children Feel Heard

Isn’t it the best when someone really listens to you?

If you think about your very favorite people to be around–your best friends, your treasured colleagues–there is likely one thing that they do better than most; they listen to you. Everyone likes to feel “listened to”—you, your partner and yes, the kids in your life too.

Gosh, it can be challenging to be a parent or a teacher and find all this time. We often have so much on our plates that spending the time listening when the laundry is piling up, we are on deadline and the kids need to get out the door, that listening gets filed under “things to do later.” It’s normal. For all of us.

listeningdog-450x447Of course, when we finally realize that something is “going on” with the kids in our life, it’s often been going on for some time. We wonder how we could have missed it. Let’s not beat ourselves us here. Being a parent (or teacher) today can be overwhelming and you are likely doing a pretty bang up job. We can always learn and get better- but that doesn’t mean we stink at it—it just means that we are forever learners and improvers. That’s where we are right here, right now.

So let’s chat about the skill—and the strategy—of listening.

As it turns out, listening can be a gateway into what’s really happening in your child’s life and how they feel about it. When we are really listening, we don’t just listen on one level—we listen on 3. It may sound tiring but once you sharpen this skill, you’ll be really psyched about it. Listening on all 3 levels is like being an amazing investigator and detective.

So here are the listening levels:

Level 1: We get in tune with our own thoughts, opinions, and judgments: We might be asking ourselves, “What would I have done in this situation?” “What does this remind me of?” or “How does what this person is saying pertain to me?” “How can I get back on track?” You know when you’re with someone and they seem to be sort of half listening? Or listening to respond with their own tidbit of information? Yeah; that’s not fully listening.

Level 2: We recognize the tone, pace, energy and agenda of the other person. With this level, we don’t just listen to the words but also the expression, the emotion, the tone, the speed, and the body language (if you are privy to it) that goes along with the words. You even listen to the hesitations and what’s not said. So imagine you ask a child “how are you?” and the child answers “fine.” When we are listening on level two, we might note that their answer is full of contentment, sadness, frustration or fear. In that case, “fine” might mean “good” or to the “in-tune” listener, it might mean anything from “I feel lonely” to “I’m hurt but don’t want to tell anyone.”

Level 3: We use our intuition, the information feeding into the environment around us, and the multiple factors that are impacting the conversation at any given time. This is 360 degree global listening. It takes practice. With level 3 listening, your gut fills in the story and you start to gain a more full understanding of the person in front of you. You take in consideration everything around you. Is the other person fulfilled? Annoyed? Blocked? In level 3 listening, used in tandem with level 2 listening, is about nuances and what’s beyond words. It often tells more than the words can ever do on their own. When we really listen, we can pick up on this stuff.

You don’t necessarily have to be gifted in listening to do this well– you just have to take the time to become invested. It’s about putting away the phone, moving our attention away from our own day and tasks, tuning in and connecting. You can be face-to-face, side by side or even driving in a car with your child in the backseat. Sometimes a child can feel more open when someone is not looking directly at them.

Of course, sometimes, we just don’t have the time. Not in that moment, anyway. But if you happen to tune in and hear something that makes you think “I need to listen to this closer,” tell the child; “I really want to be able to fully listen to what you are saying. Right now, I need to finish doing X. Can we talk at Y time so I’m not distracted and can give you the attention you deserve?” You are not superhuman- it’s okay to ask for time.

And please remember, if there are times when you simply aren’t the listener the other person needs—you can be the bridge to someone else who is right for the job. Sometimes getting that child to the right person is the best action you can take—as being truly heard is a gift.

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About That Fictitious Facebook Family You’re Comparing Yourself to…

family_normalrockwellWhenever one of my kids has a problem (like every month!), challenge (every week?) or just drives me bonkers (umm, everyday?), it can feel like nobody else could possibly be going through the same thing. Why? Because what I refer to as the Fictitious Facebook Family (FFF) is perfect. They are always smiling. They are perpetually having fun. Everyone is basking in the happiness of love and seem forever grateful for each and every moment they get to spend together.

Well, life isn’t perfect. And not just for you! It’s not like that for me and it’s not like that for those families we compare ourselves to either. Why? Because, as one of my friends said to me once, “we are not in a Norman Rockwell painting!” We are real and human and flawed. Oh- there are periods of bliss, silliness, pleasure, true connection and triumph—yes! But those days or hours are interspersed with frustration, irritation, misunderstanding or sibling rivalry. Screams of joy are intermingled with shrieks of annoyance. They are. And not just once in a blue moon. Often enough that we can all feel like experts on the topic.

It’s funny; but when I speak to friends, colleagues, even professionals about this—they all admit that everyone is dealing with the same thing but nobody seems to talk about it. We laugh about the FFF and how what looks so perfect from far away can look like such a mess up close. It’s not surprising, is it? Life is messy.

The thing is– most people don’t take pictures of the mess. They don’t reveal their feelings about the fight they had with their child that morning or how, if they are being truly raw and honest, that there are moments when they don’t like their kids very much at all.  Or how guilty they feel about that. Or sad. Or just plain pissed off.

Well, I’m here to tell you that “perfect” is a bust. The FFF is a farce. And it’s okay. It doesn’t make you a bad person and it doesn’t mean your kids, your spouse or your family are terrible, awful or not good enough. It just means you’re all not perfect.

We are all just learning here.

And loving each other through it.

Loving ourselves through it.

My humble suggestion? Be honest about it. You might just get the support you need. We are all doing the very best we can and on some days, when it gets too messy, we can lean on others who’ve been there, who’ve done that and who’ve gotten to the other side.

And you know what? They’ll love you despite of the mess. Because of the mess. They love your mess!

And that is something to be truly grateful for.

Xoxox,

Dr. Robyn Signature

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Talking with Children? One Quick, Must-Have Technique Every Parent and Teacher Needs to Know

bigstock-daughter-playing-with-cell-pho-83568338-450x300Many parents and teachers comment to me that when they are speaking to children or teens, they don’t listen! Does this sound like you? After repeated attempts to get them to put away toys or books, shut off the Ipad, get their jacket or eat breakfast, adults admit that they get so frustrated that they begin to yell, bark orders and take offending items out of the children’s hands to get them to focus.

Yup. I get it. I’ve done it too! It can be so irritating and infuriating to be ignored. You deserve respect after all you do! But what if our children weren’t consciously ignoring us but actually were just not really hearing us?

When we yell from the top of the stairs or call out across a room, I call this “back-of-the-head parenting” or “back-of-the-head teaching.” Some kids can respond to it but many don’t tune in when only one sense is being used to get their attention—especially when it’s not a primary one.

Many children, particularly ones that have trouble in the area of focus or have ADHD, have many radio stations playing at once in their brains. And guess what? You’re often NOT the loudest one. In fact, when they are watching TV, digging in the dirt outside, or even sitting in class, they may have multiple stations going on in their heads that has gripped their attention over yours. That spider they are watching? Rock and Roll. You? Easy Listening. Or worse. Muzak. (No Offense.)

So when speaking to children, engage more than one sense. That means talking to them and engaging their eyes and their ears. That turns your station on a little louder.

bigstock-young-dad-with-her-son-106991234-450x300Of course, for many children—this is still not enough! I often use a three-sensory approach with my own kids. Crouching down, I look them in the eyes, use my voice to convey what I need them to know and rest my hands softly on their shoulders or arms to ensure full focus.

“Noah; we are leaving in 5 minutes. We need to be on time because your friend is waiting and it shows kindness to be on time. Could you please get your shoes and socks on and meet me at the car so we can leave? Thank you. This is going to be fun!”

You are now the loudest radio station! No yelling required.

Speaking of yelling, there may be a time or place for that—but when it’s overused, as one of my best friends, child psychiatrist, Dr. Dehra Harris, says, “it’s like using the emergency break over and over again. It may work…but at what cost to the overall health of the machine?” Every parent gets exasperated sometimes (yes, me included), so we have to find other ways to address our children so that we can get their attention without hijacking it with screaming each time.

Believe me, I wish my kids would just listen the first time when I called down to them from the top of the stairs. I do! Life doesn’t always work the way we wish it did. We don’t always have the kind of children we imagined we would before we had them in our lives! It’s okay.

Instead of making ourselves crazy, try using this multi-sensory approach. It works, it’s easy and you can do it now. While it takes extra effort and work (I know, annoying- who needs more work??? BUT…) I think you will see that there will be a lot less frustration and a lot more listening, understanding and peace in your home, school, camp or wherever you may be today.

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How I Talked to my Children about the Black Lives Matter Protests and How You Should Too

robyn_purple42-200x300The other day, my children, ages 6 and 7, asked me why people were protesting at the Town Hall building we passed after leaving the animal shelter we visited. People were holding up signs saying; “Black Lives Matter” while police patrolled the area from the perimeter. Even though I knew it might be a tough conversation to have, it felt necessary. It felt on purpose. You know what I mean?

I explained, as many times as necessary, how there are some police officers who made horrible mistakes and who were very wrong and that people are rightfully angry–and there are many police officers who are kind and helpful and who keep us safe but are often mistrusted because of some officers’ actions. We talked about people dying due to the color of their skin (Tallie, my 7-year-old, exclaimed, “again!” And I corrected; “no, baby…still.”) I answered many questions as honestly and humbly as I could. I hate having to have this conversation. But I will have it as many times as is necessary.

A woman overheard me talking about it at a local restaurant to Noah (he was confused why police officers were there at town hall protecting the people who were protesting and wondered if they might get shot and wondered if those police officers would shoot people). This was not a time to clam up even though it took some persistence and deep breaths. She came over to me after the conversation and said; “I heard you talking about the protests. You did such a great job. I’m just the Aunt and the kids asked me about it but I didn’t know what to say. I’m not good at this.”

I will say here what I said to her. “How wonderful that they turned to you when they needed clarification. They trust you. None of us have all the answers. You don’t need to have all the answers. Just answer them as honestly as you can in words they can understand. Be present. Sometimes that’s the best we can do. And just being there and being as honest as we can– it’s enough.”

It’s time to have these tough conversations. It has to start now if we are going to make change happen. And believe me, this conversation is not over. The best conversations are never given only once but over and over in more nuanced ways. Let’s simply begin and get the ball rolling. There’s no time like the present! ‪#‎Peace‬ ‪#‎StPaul‬ ‪#‎BatonRouge‬‪#‎DallasStrong‬

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Self Esteem & Success: How to Develop the C.O.R.E.™ of Your Children and Students

robyn_purple42-200x300Self Esteem & Success: Have your Children and Students Developed their C.O.R.E.™?  

Dr. Robyn Silverman

Self-esteem is a powerful thing. From the outside, some kids may seem to have it all, but at their core, they may feel as if they can’t do anything right. You know what I mean? I know you do- you’ve experienced it yourself and seen it with your own eyes.

On the other hand, some may seem to have been dealt a poor hand in life and yet, as their core, they behave as if they can do, be, or have anything. When mindset, heart, and opinion of self are crucial predictors of success, self-esteem can certainly make the difference.

In order to help our students thrive as powerful character-based leaders, they must see themselves and their contributions as worthwhile. When I speak to audiences around the world about construction of self-esteem, I detail my C.O.R.E. concept: Comparison, Observation, Recognition, and Experience. See how it applies to the children and students in your life!

What’s at their C.O.R.E.bigstock-girl-with-thumbs-up-10873130-450x450

Comparison: How do I stack up vs What strengths do I bring to the table? Those with low self-esteem often short change themselves while either elevating others or cutting them off at the knees in order to elevate themselves. Powerful role models don’t need to make comparisons to demean. Rather, they focus on what each person can bring to the table to form a cohesive group. 

Observation: Do the messages I glean demean me or support me?Messages come from many sources— such as the media, peers and parents. What messages are being sent to different students at your school? When we feel we are unacceptable to those we admire and trust, lower self-esteem is likely. Strong role models seek out people who make them feel that they are okay just the way they are as well as who help them to deflect, reframe, or challenge the accepted belief. Strong role models also do this for themselves.

Recognition: Are my qualities and assets overlooked or celebrated?Those with low self-esteem are more likely to receive low praise. On the other side of the spectrum they may receive too much “empty praise.” The phrase “good job” is uttered no matter what they do so it doesn’t hold meaning anymore. Strong role models are built with real praise. When we celebrate meaningful assets in our children/students and connect them with character, process and outcome, words can be harnessed and used whenever that person is placed in a leadership position.

Expertise/Efficacy: Am I honing or phoning in my skills? True internal drive, determination and stick-to-itiveness allow us to reach mastery. The development of expertise also depends on the character to do each challenge to the best of our ability—to knowingly do it right even if we have the chance to “phone it in.” In our society, this takes more ethics than we might give credit for. “Quick fix” appearance-over-substance culture has taught young people to develop their personas instead of the person—to develop persona in lieu of their character. When expertise is acquired in an area of real interest, whether it’s in skills, teaching, or coaching, young people can hone and even personalize their skills. Let’s face it; it’s gratifying to make progress and achieve in areas that are meaningful to us.

Sample questions to assess esteem:

  • What three things do you like about yourself?
  • What three things could you teach someone how to do?
  • What three people make you feel good about who you are?
  • What experiences make you feel powerful and confident?
  • How can our opinion of ourselves affect how we work with or lead others?

What is at the C.O.R.E of your children and students?

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Tips that Work! How do I get my kids to do their chores?

Chores. So many children dread them. Why would anyone want to work when they would rather play? Cue the frustration, fighting and fury!

choresIt doesn’t have to be this way. And tasks at home must get done! So how can we get our children to do their family “chores?” Here are my “4 Cs” that can get everyone to pitch in and help out!

 

 

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Conversations that Matter: Leadership and Making Mistakes

When do you talk about the importance of making mistakes? When can you convey, at home or at work, the growth opportunities that happen because you go out on a limb and make mistakes? I say; whenever the opportunity presents itself.

In the 2-minute video above, I talk about seizing the opportunity and conveying to ourselves and to those we teach, inspire, train, guide or lead that when trying newer skills:

(1) Mistakes are normal.

(2) Mistakes often show that you had the courage to try.

(3) Mistakes allow you to learn and grow.

(4) Aim for doing your best NOT being perfect.

(5) Our flaws are what make us human, lovable and interesting.

bigstock-mistake-concepts-with-oops-me-94865918-450x300If you think about it, if we aren’t making mistakes, it may be because we aren’t trying something new or we aren’t truly engaging in the learning process. Without mistakes, how would we know that we do our best when we have more time to study (and worse when we leave it until the last minute)? Without mistakes, how would we learn when we get our best work done, where and when we are the most productive (and when we are not), who are the right people to surround ourselves with and who drag us down? We must love ourselves as the learners we are and realize that without learning, there would be no growth. As leaders, growth is what makes us better, stronger and more skilled.

In other words; don’t fear mistakes, embrace them. They are the ticket to your next learning opportunity.

Dr. Robyn Signature

 

 

 

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Can Adults Benefit from the Concept of Not Yet too? Yes they can!

growth-mindset-brain-scan-square-450x449Do you or those with whom you work or live often give up or shut down when a skill or concept is a bit out of reach? Are you or those you work with using language like; “it can’t be done,” “I can’t do it,” “I don’t know how,” or “It can’t happen?” You might be dealing with a fixed mindset that needs to be shifted so you (or the person in question) can grow.

This past year, I’ve talked a lot about the concept of “Not Yet” when presenting to business leaders and adults who work with children, teens and young adults. The idea of “not yet” here comes from Carol Dweck who discusses the “Not Yet” concept when presenting about shifting the mindset of young people. When we use the concept of “not yet,” she explains, we set children up with a growth mindset—one that allows them to see that while they have “not yet” mastered a new concept, they are on their way. They are making progress.

Those who had a fixed mindset only focused on the fact that they hadn’t mastered a skill “now” and therefore were more likely to cheat and assume they were unlikely to improve. “Not Yet” can make a big difference. Interestingly, they use the concept of “not yet” in my children’s school. And yes- I think we are missing something if we only apply it to kids.

So what about the concept of “Not Yet” for adults?

Whether you are an entrepreneur, parent, coach, teacher, CEO or business employee, you, too, have to shift your mindset to one that embraces “not yet.” Do you believe you can improve? Do you have room to try out new skills so you can get better? As adults, it’s so easy to get stuck in a rut perpetuating the myth of “this is how it’s always been done” or “old dogs can’t learn new tricks.”

Frankly, I think that is a bunch of garbage.

Do you want to employ the concept of “not yet” and change your results? Then, let’s go for it.

Here are some quick tips to keep in mind:

  • Try new skills with the knowledge that you WILL improve. You may not have the concept “yet” but it’s simply a matter of time and practice. Believe that you will improve and master the concept.
  • Stop the negative self talk. Having a negative nag in your ear is never a helpful strategy for success. Answer negative self talk with the concept of “not yet” and then keep practicing and working towards your goals.
  • Show yourself the evidence: As you work to improve, chart or write down your progress. Learning to become a “runner” for the first time? Write down how long you were able to run for today. Trying to stay calm in the morning rush without yelling? Chart how long you were able to make it this week and what strategies worked for you. Trying to get better at presenting at work in front of others? Write down what you did better today (clear voice, clear concept, succinct points, etc). When you look at the evidence, you will see how you are improving over time.
  • Keep going: If Rome wasn’t built in a day, 1000 practices before you become an expert and it takes at least 30 days to create a habit, how long will it take you to see improvements? That might seem like one of those convoluted word problems from middle school but the point is—improvements take time. Don’t stop. Persevere. Engage that indomitable spirit and you will leave your fixed mindset in the dust.

Remember to embrace yourself as a learner who can improve. You are “in process.” You may not have the skill, the concept, or the knowledge today—but that doesn’t mean you won’t in time. You just don’t have it yet.

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Carol Dweck: “The Power of Believing That You Can Improve”.

Dweck, C. (2012) Mindset: How You Can Fulfill Your Potential, New York: Random House.

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Evolution of Another Body Image Conversation with my Daughter

monsterhighMy daughter is rounding the corner to age seven in February and if there is one thing I’ve discovered in the time that I’ve been her mother, it’s that all “big talks” are really just a series of small conversations about big issues. Body image is no exception.

Since I talk about body image in many of my presentations and keynote addresses, it’s no surprise that this is a hot button issue for me. I want my daughter to feel confident AND also know how to discern negative messages that come to us in the smallest, most benign-seeming packages. Studies tell us that consistent exposure to images, videos and other media that show extremely thin, unrealistic depictions of girls and women, can have an adverse effect on the body image, self image, attitudes and feelings of girls (and boys as well!).

Many parents and caring adults (mentors, teachers, family members) who have contact with girls (and boys!) often ask me for examples of specific conversations I’ve had with my own children so they can see how to have one of these small conversations that can make a big difference. Of course, your own presence, interest and love will come out in your own words. As I often say, “be ready!” These conversations can sneak up on you. AND if you aren’t quite ready– just tell your child; “I want to think about my answer for a little bit because it’s important– and I will get back to  you later on today. OK?” Then, make sure to follow up! And, if you missed an opportunity or you wish you said something else– no worries! There is no expiration date on do-overs! We all need them. ?

Here’s how my conversation went with my own daughter yesterday and today:

T, age 6 3/4, looking at a toy catalog: Mommy? Why don’t you like Monster High Dolls?
Me: Well, I don’t like that all of the dolls have the same, very unrealistically thin body that nobody would ever have in real life. Also, they are extremely made-up and the outfits aren’t appropriate as they are very short and tight. I wish they looked and acted more like real girls who all look different–girls who have healthy bodies of all different shapes and sizes– with kind faces rather than all those mean scowls all the time.
Later that day…
T: I did realize one positive about Monster High Dolls, Mommy. They come in different colors.
Me: Yes, I like that too. Because we are all different colors, aren’t we?
This morning…
T: You know Mommy, you’re right. These Monster High Dolls have the skinniest legs that nobody could ever really have. They look weird and then they have these big feet in very high heels that you can’t do anything in ever. They should make them look more like real girls. ‘Cause that would make sense!

Bingo.

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

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

By: Dr. Robyn Silverman

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

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

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

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

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

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