Special guest: Melinda Wenner Moyer This podcast will focus on how to raise kids who don’t act like jerks—who aren’t racist, sexist, rude bullies and instead show up in this world as empathetic, kind good people. Melinda Wenner Moyer, who writes for Scientific American and The New York Times, offers her insights from assessing thousands of research studies on kids on this latest episode of How to Talk to Kids about Anything.
Special guest: Lisa Heffernan. This podcast will focus on raising independent teens so that they can become young adults who can take care of themselves and make good, wise choices on their own. What skills do they need? What must they learn? Dr. Robyn Silverman interviews Lisa Heffernan from Grown and Flown on the How to Talk to Kids about Anything podcast.
Dear Sweet friend,
How do you make sense of a senseless act?
When 17 people, students and staff, are killed in and around their school, a place typically regarded as a safe haven for those who attend, how can we explain it to children? How do we explain it to ourselves?
I’ve written several articles on how to talk to kids when bad things happen (like here and here). But we’ve gotten to a point when there is much more to the discussion that dealing with the aftermath, don’t you think? I would imagine you would agree, we need to turn our attention to what’s going on with our children these days that is laying the groundwork for such tragedies to occur.We need to turn our attention to what’s going on with our #children these days that is laying the groundwork for such tragedies to occur. #ParklandSchoolShooting Click To Tweet
- Mental Instability and the need for help: It’s easy for people to point to a killer and simply say, “he is mentally disturbed.” And yes, there are clearly mental issues happening here–chemical imbalances that need to be addressed. But what does this really tell us? What we need to take in is the fact that many people who have mental issues were once children or teens who needed help. Perhaps they needed counseling, medication or more. This is not something people can wish away- mental illness must be considered and treated appropriately when we see it.
- Lack of empathy: I interviewed internationally adored, educational psychologist, Dr. Michele Borba, for my most recent podcast and she talks a great deal about the lack of empathy as a precursor for future violence. When we can’t put ourselves in someone else’s position and feel how they feel in that moment, our behavior can become cruel and unfeeling. What does this tell us? It says that we must make working on empathy and other key powerful words with children a priority. Helping children identify their own feelings, read the faces and body language of others, predict future actions based on their behaviors and repair damage done is vital. We can’t only attend to academics. Character and whole-heartedness must be on our daily agenda too.
- Isolation and a need for a mentor: When I present to parents, educators or other adults who work with children, I often talk about the youth development research. One sobering statistic from a study done with Search Institute said that the majority of young people feel that they don’t have at least 3 adults to turn to in a time of need or challenge. What’s more is that many young people don’t feel that adults understand them or that adults can give them bad advice or leave them scrambling on their own when the advice doesn’t work. We need to help make things better, not worse. What does this tell us? It means that young people need us. They need us to take an interest, to listen, if asked for- they might need advice, but ultimately, they need someone to care for the long haul. Let’s be one of the three.
- Seen for their faults: In today’s society, people often feel scrutinized for how they don’t measure up. They “compare and despair” as my podcast guest, Debbie Reber said, which can only serve to make them feel like they can never be enough. One of the issues I often discuss in my presentation Be a Strength Finder, Not a Fault Finder is that often our labels (whether self-imposed or given by others) can define us and lock us into a negative state of being. “I am ugly…I am lazy…I am stupid…I am a bad kid…I will never amount to anything” – these become repeated mantras that don’t only play with our minds but guide our actions. They become self-fulfilling prophecies. So what does this tell us? It says that while we need to provide guidance and corrections for our children, we also must illuminate their strengths. We need to tell them of the gifts we see in them and in others—and hold a mirror up to them so that they can see themselves for what they bring to the table. When we lead with strengths, they guide us forward. When we lead with faults, they hold us back.
We are shocked, or tragically, perhaps not as shocked now, when school shootings occur. In the moment, it is so jarring and we feel like there is nothing we can do. Thoughts and prayers are lovely but they don’t address the issues. The actions we must take are ones that happen in the years before the shooting. And that means, let’s start on it now.
- Get children mental help when they need it.
- Do social skills training with kids who are lacking in empathy.
- Be a mentor or help find a mentor for children who can use some guidance.
- See children for their strengths, not simply for what they lack.
These are small things that make a big difference. And lord knows, we need a difference right now.
Sex. Death. Porn. Divorce. Conversations like these often make us squirm in our seats– even before we have these talks with our kids. So what happens? We wait. Sometimes we don’t have them at all.
Why don’t we have these tough conversations?
- We don’t know what to say: These conversations don’t exactly role off the tongue. Where do we start? How do we explain it? We feel awkward and out-of-our element. Even if we speak with others for a living, conversations with our favorite little humans can challenge us in ways that co-workers, students or someone else’s kids never could.
- They are embarrassing, uncomfortable or emotionally charged: Discussions about sex, divorce or death aren’t easy. There is a lot of emotion behind them that come from our own hang-ups, experiences and hot-buttons– sometimes on both sides. It doesn’t help that the more awkward and emotional we feel about them, the more our children tend to react to and absorb those emotions.
- We are afraid that we won’t know all the answers: What if our kids ask us something that we simply don’t know how to answer? We worry about feeling unprepared.
- These conversations can feel taboo: Are we supposed to be talking about this stuff? After all, in many cases, our parents didn’t talk about it with us. These are words we usually don’t say or speak about in hushed tones– or at least only with our closest friends.
- We feel our kids won’t want to discuss them with us: We may think that the kids would rather do something– anything- rather than talking to us about these tough topics. They might think they are weird, embarrassing or totally off-the-charts gross.
- We don’t know when to have them: Are our children really old enough to hear this? How do I say it in a way that won’t scare them? How do I say it so that they understand? When do I start these conversations with my kids?
- We assume they already know: This is the ultimate way to bury our heads in the sand. Maybe they already know! Someone must have spoken to them about this stuff– maybe even you- and they are all set now because that talk is crossed off your list.
While there are countless reasons why we don’t want to have these key conversations with our kids– there are just as many reasons why we must. Our kids need us to be open and honest with them so that they know they can trust us, ask us anything, come to us when the sh*t hits the fan or when life gets confusing or uncomfortable. It’s time to get comfortable with getting uncomfortable– let’s have these talks and let’s have them often. Today is as good of a day as any.
Need help? We’ve got the tips and scripts you might need right now- I want to help! With the top experts in their area, my podcast, How to Talk to Kids about Anything, gives tips, scripts, stories and steps to make even the toughest conversations easier. More are added each week. And there is no topic we won’t cover.
We’re here– and you’ve got this!
I was on Nightline the other night, talking about Elizabeth Thomas and her possible state of mind after being found with her 50-year-old teacher, Tad Cummins.
When a young girl is feeling alone or misunderstood, an older, trusted teacher can be a welcome person in her life. Usually a teacher-student relationship can be a wonderful source of help but clearly this relationship crossed the line and became inappropriate and exploitive. Being a teacher is a unique position of power and intimacy in a child’s life- you are trusted and you have proximity.
Elizabeth is likely in crisis right now. She needs love and understanding from her family and those who love her. This was a cry for help and now, she needs to get the help she needs to become healthy and secure in her life. What was she trying to tell her family? What was going on right before she left? These issues must be addressed as they were the catalyst to the incident.
How is she feeling? Nobody but Elizabeth knows for sure. But I would venture to guess that Elizabeth is likely feeling confused right now. This is someone she has trusted for a long time and likely believed was working in her best interest- this is not likely someone she saw as a criminal or inappropriate. So being taken away from him actually may feel like a loss for her- a loss of someone she trusted so much that she left her life with him. I imagine she is feeling many things right now so it’s time for some understanding and patience as she gets the help she needs.
*Now that child abuse charges have surfaced regarding Elizabeth Thomas’ mother, this adds and important layer to why Elizabeth left, why she got attached to her teacher in the first place, and why she seemed unhappy or reluctant to come back to her life in Tennessee. This girl needs patience, time and help– and it seems that her family will also need support in order for everyone to get back on track.
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.
If 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.
Do 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.
Carol Dweck: “The Power of Believing That You Can Improve”.
Dweck, C. (2012) Mindset: How You Can Fulfill Your Potential, New York: Random House.
My 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?
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!
As you can imagine, I have been receiving calls and emails this morning from the press asking me to provide tips on “the loss of Zayn Malik” from One Direction. At first glance, I thought he might have died and quickly looked up the story so I could comment effectively. But he didn’t die– he is simply leaving the group to move in a different direction– one away from his One Direction life. In fact, he declared that he wanted to live as a “normal 22 year old.”
Fans have reacted with everything from well wishes to anger to depression to extreme frustration and sadness. Why?
Social media and reality shows allow fans to have an all-access pass to watching and experiencing the growth, hopes and successes of their favorite stars over time. These young celebrities start out just like their fans in many ways– unknown and hopeful. Involved fans root for their favorite unknowns, cheer for them and even vote for them as they become a recognized entity and eventually, a star. But rather than these stars feeling untouchable to fans, they feel more like friends and family members.
Adding to what I view as the “reality effect,” music has an added benefit of creating and putting an indelible mark on our memories– providing a time stamp on important moments in our lives. It’s as if these stars are present in our lives, offering a comfort on bad days and a celebratory song on good ones.
So it’s not surprising that when Zayn Malik said his farewells to One Direction, many fans started grieving his loss as if he was walking out of their lives. It’s a break up for them, too. Fan watched him move from young hopeful to star from X-Factor to international recognition. And now he’s leaving.
While it may seem silly to many, parents and mentors can provide an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on as their devoted teens watch Zayn Malik move forward with his life. Shrugging off your child’s feelings will not win you any awards– so be empathetic without matching their intensity. You may even remember and share how you felt about a musician when you were younger but know that without the internet, you didn’t get as close and share in the life of that band member like your child feels s/he did.
As we know, time heals all wounds and of course, devoted fans can remember the good times simply by turning on One Direction and dancing to their hearts content. That’s the great thing about music– you can listen to it just as you remember it, over and over.
And of course, devoted fans can still watch their favorite group move One Direction forward without Zayn Malik– a change, yes, but as many of us can attest, change can be good even if it’s different.
Fans can also cheer for Zayn as he continues to post about his life independent of One Direction. They may even feel happy for him once the sting subsides– and as all pain does, this one will too.
So– bottom line. You may think it’s ridiculous but your devoted teen is really feeling pain and experiencing what they see as a real loss. Be gentle with them. They’ll thank you for it.
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.