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Cyberbullying and teens: What we learn when Iggy Azalea unplugs from social media due to haters

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Good Morning America brought me into the studio to talk to Lara Spencer this morning (video) about Iggy Azalea, her departure from social media, and what her experience with haters might tell us about cyberbullying.  Let’s discuss!

Should people just give up on social media if they’re having these kinds of problems?

Whether social media is for you or not is a very personal decision.

If you are a celebrity with millions of fans or a non-celebrity, you may encounter the occasional troll who aims to provoke you. It can be stressful and upsetting. So if these interactions are influencing how you feel about yourself or how you go about your day to day life, the internet may not be a healthy space for you. If, however, you feel that interacting with your fans or those who know you and love you is worthwhile and outweighs the cons, continue on but know that if you are dealing with an actual cyberbullying situation (i.e. sexually explicit messaging, hate crime language, threats), you must document it and report it.

How can you avoid online haters?  

You have several choices. You can:

(1) Shut off or limit personal interaction with social media, as we see in Iggy Azalea’s circumstance.  Celebrities are always going to be targeted because you are talking about millions of fans and some who feel entitled to criticize and demean at will. Non-celebrities can typically be more choosy about their online interactions.

(3) Switch to social media that allows you to create your own cyber bubble made up of people you know and love and who love you. Switching to this type of social media will often help you to avoid internet trolls.

(3) Join whatever social media sites you want—but if and when encountering a cyberbully, don’t retaliate. Nothing creates more online haters than engaging with online haters. Block the cyberbullies if possible, document the messages, screen shot what was sent and report to the authorities, website and/or internet service provider.

By one statistic, over half of teens have been bullied online – and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying. It can be so hurtful — what should parents tell their children should this happen to them?  

When I’m presenting to parent and teacher audiences, this is one of the most typical questions to come up. If a child comes to you and tells you that s/he feels he is being targeted online, first say: “I’m sorry this is happening to you”—validate their feelings right away. Tell them “thank you for coming to me”—because it’s hard to admit that you are being bullied and you don’t know how to handle it. Then be sure to tell them that you are “with them every step of the way “and you and the child will “figure out what to do together.” You don’t need to know all the answers, but we want to ensure that our children don’t feel alone. You don’t want to take over for your child, but rather partner with them in finding the solutions.  Teens often voice frustration with parents or teachers who brush off the issue, tell them to just “get new friends” or start out helping and then refrain from following up.  We don’t want to make things worse.

And don’t forget—every child and teen needs to be taught how to interact on line. There should be an expectation of respect and strong character. As the cyber life is a huge part of a teen’s actual life, make sure you teach your child to use respect and kindness both off and online.

It’s worth repeating one more time, cyberbullying in the form of threats, sexually explicit messaging, stalking aren’t just scary, they’re crimes. They need to be documented, screen-shot and reported.

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Parenting Confession: 5 Ways to Stop Mommy and Daddy Tantrums

Shouting LoudIf you stopped me on the street and challenged me to come up with the top rule in my household, I would likely say; “Kind thoughts, kind words, kind actions.” Having a 4 ½ year old boy and an almost 6 year old girl, just 16 months apart and often wildly competitive with one another, necessitates having to repeat these words often.

As a child development specialist and professional speaker, of course I am supposed to live these words daily. And I try. I believe that my friends and family would say that I am kind-hearted and loving. But there are moments that I disappoint myself, as many mothers and fathers would likely admit, if not in public at least in the privacy of their own heads.

Have I upheld my top value? Have I been truly kind today?

We all lose our cool. Children whine and push our buttons. They fight and ignite frustration in us as we are trying to cook dinner, clean up and simultaneously give baths and kiss our spouses hello. Or try to kiss our spouses hello. Or honestly, maybe just think about acknowledging our spouses as they enter the home. Or maybe we can’t even do that.

For me, the frustration is cumulative. I have days when I give myself a pat on the back for taking a breath, centering myself and responding to my children as they jump on the couch one more time, push their sibling once again or talk rudely for the umpteenth time with a calm, kind, encouraging prompt; “try again, my sweet.”

But there are other days, usually after a nice long string of commendable ones, where I just crack in half like a twig and all that I’ve held together, all I’ve been praising myself for, comes oozing out in a toxic stream of yelling, or worse, grabbing my child and yelling; “No!” (and likely more words than that) in a tone that would likely put my own children in time out.

Now don’t get me wrong. Discipline is vital. And I will not tolerate hitting, hurting and overall disrespect or meanness within our family. But how can you stop a tantrum when you are having one yourself? While strong, definitive words are a must, control is also necessary. When we “lost it” with our children, control goes out the window. And believe me, I say this to myself as a parent as much as I say it as an “expert.” It’s hard. And sometimes, we just have to scream.

So I’ve been finding ways to wring out the frustration even while the frustration is happening and perhaps they’ll work for you too. And maybe, just maybe, if we talk about this topic, frankly taboo at a time when social media dictates saving face, smiles and sharing the “perfect life,” we can all grow from it. Or perhaps just not feel so alone in it.

  • Discuss it with a close friend: You know that friend who looks like s/he has it all together? Don’t be fooled. While everything may look flawless, every parent has challenges. Talk about your own frustrations and get it out of your system. It’s cathartic. But also listen. When friends share their parenting issues, you won’t feel so alone and you’ll be helpful them out too—which feels good. You may also pick up an idea or two that can help.
  • Take a shower, a bath or a walk: When things get really heated, make sure your children are in a safe place and go cool off in a hot shower. There have been times when I needed to put my child in his room to calm himself down while I jumped into the shower to do the same. There’s something about the sound of rushing water (especially when it’s drowning out a tantrum) that can recalibrate you. You are welcome to scream in there too. Or mumble expletives to your heart’s content. You can also repeat a mantra like “calm down” or “It’s OK” if that helps. When you emerge, you will likely be composed and able to talk to your child with kindness even during a stern or serious conversation. Of course, if a bath or shower aren’t possible, take a walk, exercise, clean or take a moment to stomp your feet in the closet. Whatever works. No judgment.
  • Remember they are still learning: This has been a transformative thought for me. These little beings have only been here on Earth for a short time. Their synapses are still connecting and working hard on firing away, yes. But while they grow and learn each day, they have not yet mastered the skills to always speak with tact, respond with poise and control their every action. Heck, adults are often still working on this too. So when I see behavior that seems off kilter, out-of-control or flat-out rude, I try to remember this incredibly important fact. They are still learning. That implies, we must teach them. Our babies. They deserve that from us even when they behave in a way that makes us crazy.
  • Use your ABCs: In this case, Actively Be Calm. Why? Because calm begets calm. I know; that sucks. And while you might be cursing this tip (and I mumble under my breath at it myself sometimes), as I mentioned above, you can’t tame a tantrum while having a tantrum yourself. I say “actively” be calm because it takes work and I don’t assume it’s easy. It’s not easy. It takes self control and focus that I don’t always feel I have access to in the heat of the moment. But there it is. Calm begets calm. Sucky but true.
  • Freak out only when necessary: Notice above that I didn’t say “Always Be Calm.” That’s because sometimes we need to make a point. When our child pushes another child on the stairs, throws a rock at your head or runs away from you into a busy street, you are welcome to have a freak-out session that tells yours child; this is serious. But here’s the problem—and I know you know this already but I’ll say it here. If you scream about everything, they will hear nothing. They won’t know when the issue is really serious when you provide the same response when your child calls her brother a “dingbat” and when she hits him in the head with a helicopter.

I could go on but I think that’s enough for now, don’t you? If I were to leave you with one other thought it would be “you can do this.” You are doing it. I’m doing it. Let’s not be so hard on ourselves (or other parents) given that we, too, are still learning. We were not born with the knowledge of how to be perfect parents and we will never be perfect Mommies and Daddies. Let’s simply try to be the best parents we can be. The best, perfectly imperfect, incredibly flawed but beautifully loveable parents we can be. And on days when we lose it, don’t worry. There’s always tomorrow.

Try again, my sweet.

Xo

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

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

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

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

I did chime in too.  Here is my take:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is Elephant Parenting or Tiger Parenting Right for You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much do YOU “unlike” like?

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


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

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

Now what?

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

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

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

A final word:

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

Just for fun:

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

Here’s to you!

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


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

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

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

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

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

What do you suggest the mother should have done?

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

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

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

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

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

(1) Is this the new normal?

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

(2) What should parents do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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?

 

 

 

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.