"Every child deserves Great Parenting & every parent deserves the Joy that Great Parenting can bring."

 

The Emotional Rollercoaster Of Back To School – Joy And Grief

With parenting comes a myriad of conflicting feelings. Some parents this time of year are jumping for joy with getting back into a routine, having structured activities for their kids, or seeing their kids back with their friends rather than wrestling with their siblings. Some parents, however, are feeling a deep sense of loss at the beginning of a new school year. You hear it most from parents of kindergarteners and college freshman. However, for me, it struck me almost every year.

The thought of getting ready for school to start is exciting. Shopping for pens and pencils, binders and notebooks, and new clothes gives a feeling of a fresh start, a new dawn. New beginnings usually generate anticipation and excitement.

Simultaneously September can mean endings of the preschool, elementary, or middle school years, or that much anticipated moment of dropping your child off for a year where they will live away from you. The depth of the loss parents can feel is real and may take you by surprise.

The ups and downs of all your parenting experiences is part of the journey. Without the downs, we can’t appreciate the ups, and vice versa. The question is how to respond to those feelings and how managing ourselves first can help us better assist our children in their ups and downs. Here are a few ideas of what to do:

Acknowledge how you’re feeling and let yourself feel it
There’s nothing wrong with a good cry or being honest about your relief and elation over having some space from your children during school hours. They are developing their lives, (and isn’t that the plan?) and you have done your job to create a capable independent child. You need your space and they need to increasingly cut the apron strings.

Talk to others
Find friends or relatives that you can talk to who will listen and accept. More than once I’ve chatted with someone who has just dropped their child off at college and we’ve both teared up. The 10 minute conversation after that moment was incredibly helpful to feel seen and heard. It’s alright to feel the loss of our children’s presence.

Set up a system to stay connected
Regardless of the age of your children, set up a little bit of structure in how you will stay in touch. With school-aged children it may be scheduling Special Time each day or a few times a week, with older kids not living at home it may be a weekly phone call to check in. At first it may seem like that connection time is for you, however, our children need that lifeline and a place, a time, and a person that they can count on to be themselves and unconditionally loved.

Remember that going off to school for a day, or a year, is not permanent
With good communication and an accepting relationship, our children will continue to come back and share their adventures and the wonder of their growth with you. Even when they are independently living on their own, and I hope they are sooner rather than later, their visits can be joyous. In our family we spend a week at the shore with our adult children and their significant others every year. We all look forward to it and have a great time reconnecting and playing. This year the day after everyone returned to their respective homes, I was so blue! You would think I would have this rollercoaster down by now. I had to remind myself, it’s the joy and grief of being a parent.

I wish for you the presence to acknowledge your joys and challenges. If your feelings of loss are preventing you from functioning in your everyday life and linger too long, please reach out to a professional. If you want a partner to help you continue to develop that two-way connected relationship with your child 2 1/2-18 years old, give me a call.

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Ready, Set…Go! Back to School

Ready, Set…Go!

It’s back to school and some of you are jumping for joy and others are sad to see the summer end. This time of year is one of the many endings-transitions-beginnings that we experience as parents. Here are a few tips to ease the transition and get off on the right foot.

End by closing out summer:

Traditions, ceremony, and rituals are a way for families to honor who they are and what they’ve done. Find a way to honor the summer that you’ve had as a family. Each of these suggestions is an activity to do together, casually, allowing input from everyone.

  • Make a scrapbook or slide show of your vacation
  • Make a list of the family’s top 10 highlights of the summer
  • Observe how each person in the family has grown and changed
  • Have an end-of-summer barbecue

This doesn’t have to be involved and time consuming, it is more about the acknowledgment of the end of one season and the beginning of another.


Transition to fall and school:

Work with your children, spouse, and caregivers to create morning, homework, and bedtime routines. Be very clear what responsibilities each person has. Even very young children can contribute to getting themselves ready for the day or for bed. When they do, they develop new skills and independence, and lighten the load for you.

Routines provide security because children know what to expect. Charts for sequencing (not to measure performance, that put stress back into the mix) helps kids stay on track. Let them create their own chart with your guidance of what needs to be done.

As children grow and develop competence, they can take on more and more. For example for breakfast:

4 years old: Take out bowls and box of cereal and pour it (you may have to create a low shelf that they can reach with supplies and train and practice pouring to get right amount and without spilling)

8 years old: crack eggs into a coffee mug, sprinkle some cheese on and microwave.

11 years old: make toast for the whole family, put out spreads for everyone to put on their own: peanut butter, mashed avocados, jelly, hummus

14 years old: make egg Mc-something sandwiches. Name it after your family: “Egg McButlers”

All of this takes some planning and training. The payoff is that kids are involved, engaged, learning not only cooking skills, but also math, planning, and time management skills. They’re also contributing to the group. Start slow with one thing at a time, take time for training, and practice a few days before school starts or on the weekend.

Begin a new year:

Talk about expectations. What will you expect kids to do for themselves, what will you be responsible for? What might their new class be like? If they are in a new school, what might be different?

Ask them about their expectations. What are they really looking forward to – seeing old friends, learning new subjects, joining a new club, eating lunch at a new time? What are they concerned about – not knowing the kids in class, being unfamiliar with school routines, not liking their teacher, having to do homework again?

Then, LISTEN. Really hear their excitement and their fears and let them know that, no matter what, you believe they can do it. Give them information to help the accuracy of their expectations.

Set up a time, preferably each day – even just 10 minutes – so that they know that they will get your undivided attention to talk about their new experiences. Keep asking curious questions. Staying connected will help them transition well and inform you as to what needs your attention and what doesn’t.

Remember that endings and beginnings are easier to see. Transitions are a little harder, so patience with everyone (including yourself) is critical. Focus on progress, not perfection. Before you know it, September will be over and you will all be in the swing of things.

Regardless of your approach, two things are certain: time will march on, and your children will continue to learn from all their experiences. Consciously making your life together engaging will increase the likelihood that they will be adopting good habits, growing, and thriving.

How will you mark the end of summer? What routines will you create to transition smoothly to the new school year? What expectations will you discuss with your families to begin a new chapter?

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Tips to relieve Back to School stress

Adjusted bed times, more structure, new routines, all of these can sound wonderful or horrifying. This can be a stressful time, here are a few suggestions to ease the transition for you and your children:

Give kids space to process

Sitting in a new classroom with a new teacher all day takes a lot of focus. Once kids get home after school they need a little chill out time. Resist the urge ask all those questions you are dying to ask and give them some space. Tune into when they are ready to talk and have the conversation then.

Focus on one thing at a time

Adopting new routines all at once can be overwhelming. Piling on new chores, responsibilities, and rules can push anyone over the top. Work on one thing at a time, give time for practice before introducing another.

Plan predictable uninterrupted time each day with each child if possible

Put down your phone and all other screens and spend time connecting. This gives them time to share their excitement and/or concerns with you as well as reinforces how much you love and value them.

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Self-Care, Self-What??

At my youngest’s 3-month well visit, my pediatrician started by asking my 4 year old, and almost 2 year old how they were doing, then he examined the baby. He turned to me and our conversation went like this:

Doctor: “Wow! The kids seem to be doing great, how are you?” 

Me: (Bursting into tears!) “I don’t know…”

Doctor: “I clearly struck a chord, what’s going on?”

Me: (Blubbering) “One child is talking all the time, and the other has never-ending energy, touches EVERYTHING, and climbs all over the place, and I’m exhausted and not getting any sleep, because I have to nurse in the middle of the night, I’m a mess!” 

Doctor: “You can’t do it all!! Here’s my prescription: your husband has to get up and do the middle of the night feeding. You need your energy and your sleep.”

Me: (Protesting) “But he has such a demanding job and commutes 2 hours each way into the city, and he works so hard!” 

Doctor: “YOU DO TOO!! He can handle this and if he thinks he can’t, have him give me a call. When the Mom is crazy, the whole family is crazy!”


For the next 2-3 months my husband did the middle of the night feeding and I gained some balance and energy back. He barely remembers the inconvenience, yet I remember it as a first act of self-care.

Taking care of yourself it hard, it might require admitting that you can’t do it all, are not superwoman, and need some help. When you take care of yourself you are modeling for your children that working together gets better results than heroically and single-handedly driving yourself into the ground, and it gives others the opportunity of contributing.

Self-care doesn’t only mean spa treatments and yoga classes! If you think you don’t have time, try some of these:

Assess what you are doing well, and what you need
Acknowledge your strengths, and what essential things are not getting done.

Make requests
You may need to announce you can’t do it all and need help from your partner or the rest of the family. Remember, there’s a reason that it takes 2 people to conceive a child. One person can’t do it all.

Reclaim what you deserve
Honor yourself in whatever moments you can. Self-care is more about an attitude of deserving (and you do deserve it!!) and kindness and respect for yourself, than greediness. Rather than thinking of it as being selfish, it’s self-full. Here are some not-so-time-consuming ideas, many of them can be done with the kiddos around:

  • Putting on perfume, shaving your legs, or doing your nails just because it makes you feel pretty
  • Mindfully eating a piece of chocolate by letting it melt in your mouth, noticing the taste and sensation 
  • Try Square Breathing: Breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, out for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, repeat 3 times
  • Track how much water you’re drinking. It should be 1/2 your weight in ounces. Congratulate yourself each day for how much you drank, not how you fell short.
  • Do a 1 or 2 minute meditation with your eyes closed, try Headspace or Calm apps – it’s great right before falling off to sleep
  • Take a 10 minute walk around the block
  • Sit outside for 10 minutes in the sunshine enjoying how it feels on your face and arms

You need space in your head and heart. You’re going to figure this out! You are going to find ways to persevere, your children are going to grow, you are going to make it through each day and learn something from each one. You can’t do it all, and you can do this. 

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The Secret to Staying Positive

I sent this blog out on Jan 24th of 2020, before COVID, quarantine, remote learning, the publicizing of the many racial injustices, and the Presidential Election. Even though our world has changed, the concept hasn’t. What we say to ourselves and what/who we surround ourselves with can keep us positive, or drive us to the negative. You have a major impact in managing you. I’ve changed one word in the blog below.  

Parenting Life can be very hard! The stakes are high, we don’t want to mess it up. It’s really important to us, and many of us are also juggling a job, caring for our parents, staying healthy, contributing to our community, keeping socially connected, and managing a marriage or other significant relationship, among other priorities. Many people have done some self-reflection work and made an effort only to surround themselves with people that are encouraging, supportive and aligned with their values. The fact is that it’s not someone else’s job to be responsible for our encouragement. As the quote states above, YOU are the most critical person in managing your balance, attitude, and perception of yourself. 

Below are some typical things parents say to themselves that don’t serve them. After that are some replacement affirmations to encourage and help you keep perspective.

Negative thoughts on parenting life – Are you saying some of these? What might your feelings and actions be if you are?

  • Why is this so hard?
  • I know better than to say that.
  • Again?!?!
  • I have too many things to do.
  • I don’t know what I’m doing.
  • My kids are so selfish.
  • What a brat.
  • They never think about anyone else.
  • Oh my God I’m creating monsters!

Try saying some of these affirmations to yourself and see how differently you feel. 

  • I’m doing the best I can given the resources I have.
  • I’m learning and growing as a parent everyday, just as they are learning and growing as children.
  • The things that need to get done will get done.
  • This too shall pass.
  • My kids don’t need me to be perfect, just to be me.
  • Taking care of myself is not selfish, it’s self-full.
  • Tomorrow is a new day. 
  • Things always look better in the morning.
  • There’s always a belief behind the behavior and it may not be what I’m assuming.

What are some positive things you say to encourage yourself?

Building Disappointment Muscles

Your preschooler cries everyday when you drop her off at school, your 9-year-old just found his sneaker was chewed up by the dog, or your teen didn’t make the varsity squad and is crushed.

All of these situations are upsetting to your children, and may be to you as well. We all want to jump in and take the sting away for our children, to protect them from sadness and disappointment. However, when doing that we are not strengthening them and helping them grow, we are buffering them from the reality that there will be disappointments in life. As well, we are subtlety communicating that we don’t think they are strong enough to handle negative feelings. Here are 3 (of many) ways you can look at these opportunities as a way to build resilience.

Have faith
Noticing when your children have been strong and reminding yourself that they are capable of handling tough situations will enable you to communicate that as hard as this is in the moment, that they are strong enough to get through. Also have faith in yourself that you can get through too. You can!

Remember the value of practice
If each time our children face disappointment we soften it or take on the feelings for them by spending an extra 10 minutes with the crying preschooler at drop off, immediately replacing the chewed shoe, or badmouthing the coach that didn’t put our kid on the team, we’re removing the opportunity for our children to experience the feeling and depend on themselves. Each experience is an opportunity to practice being disappointed and build the muscles to work it through.

Manage yourself
Resist the urge to succumb to your feelings of guilt, anger, injustice, or sadness as you won’t be able to attend to your child. Focus on validating their feelings and their ability to handle them.

Given all this, what do you specifically do?

Give your preschooler a big hug. Say “I love you and I know you’re going to have fun. I’ll see you right here when school is over,” turn her  over to the teacher, and walk away. Show up on time at pick up and acknowledge how brave she was to spend the whole time as school.

To your 9-year-old, say “Oh wow, Rocky did a number on your shoe, that’s so disappointing that it’s ruined. 😟 What other choices do you have to put on your feet today?” Give a hug.

To your teen, offer “I know you had your heart set on playing varsity this year, I’m sorry it didn’t turn out the way you pictured it. I’ve seen you handle disappointing things before, and I’m confident you’re going to handle this one too. I know it just hurts right now.”  Give a hug, if he’ll let you.

With opportunity, practice, and support from you, your children will come to learn that things don’t always turn out the way we want, and we are strong enough, and creative enough, to navigate the disappointments. We have strong muscles.

If you’d like help more consistently empowering your children to handle their own challenges, book a 30 minute consult with me HERE.

Until next time remember, parenting matters.

Just Pause – The “Hmmm” Response

The idea of a pause before reacting keeps appearing in my life, from a meditation teacher I spoke with recently that helps moms be more mindful, to a reference to Le Pause, the way French mothers are encouraged to wait 5 minutes when a sleeping baby starts crying to help the child learn how to get themselves back to sleep. It reminded me of this article I wrote a few years ago.

The “Hmmmm” Response

Your 9 year-old child tells you about a problem. For example:

  • “I forgot my worksheet at school.”
  • “I left my jacket at practice.”
  • “I need poster board for the project that’s due tomorrow.”
  • “My jeans are in the wash and I have to wear them today.”

Kids are not perfect. We all forget sometimes. We all make mistakes. How do we typically handle their comments? We come up with an answer, we problem-solve. In our minds it happens in a split second because we’ve been doing it our whole lives.

It might go like this:
Child: “I forgot my worksheet at school”
Mom: “Well I guess we’re going to have to be late for dance class and go back and get it.”

Quick, efficient, problem solved, right? Maybe for the moment, however, how is the child feeling? (guilty, inadequate, stupid) How is the parent feeling? (aggravated) Is the child going to do something differently next time? Maybe, maybe not. 

Kids have much less experience than we do. The question is, if we solve the problem for them, how will they get that experience if they don’t have to solve it themselves? That’s where “Hmmmm” comes in. Rather than immediately giving them a solution, stop and think “Who’s problem is this?” and if it is theirs, acknowledge with empathy that it is a problem for them. The conversation could go like this:

Child: “I forgot my worksheet at school.” **

Mom: “Hmmmm, that is a problem. I wonder what you could do to solve that?”

Child: “Can you take me back there now?”

Mom: “We’ll be late to your dance class if we do that. What other ideas do you have?”

Child: “Mom, why can’t you take me?”

Mom: “You have a commitment to be at dance class on time. I know you are a good problem solver, let’s think about other ways you could get your worksheet or a copy of it.”

Child: “I can’t think of any.”

Mom: “Who might be in your class that would have a copy?”

Child: “Ashley.”

Mom: “Can you call her and ask if she could scan it and send it to you?”

Child: “I guess.”

Mom: “If that doesn’t work out, what will happen if you don’t hand it in tomorrow?”

Child: “I’ll get a zero…but my teacher lets us miss one assignment per semester, I could use that, or I could get to school early and try to finish it before school starts.”

Mom: “Those are possibilities too. Which one would you like to try?”

Child: “Can I use your phone to call Ashley now?”

Mom: “Sure, we have to leave for dance in 5 minutes.”

Refusing to take over the child’s problem and coaching them through solving it themselves trains the child to think of many solutions, empowers them to take responsibility for their own actions, and encourages them to depend on themselves. Over time the child will stop trying to turn the problem over to you because they’ve prevented it or solved it themselves already. 

“Hmmmm” gives you the opportunity to pause and remember to leave the responsibility for solving the problem where it belongs, and grow more responsible, confident, empowered children.


**Note: At the initial statement of the problem, watch your self-talk. If you say to yourself “I can’t believe she forgot AGAIN!”, you will immediately be annoyed, stressed, and unable to calmly deal with the situation. If you can replace that with saying to yourself “How can I use this to help her learn how to solve this problem herself?”, you’ll stay calmer and see it as a training opportunity rather than a huge emotional inconvenience.

Book NOW for a complimentary 30 min breakthrough parenting phone session with me to hear how you can do this at Book a Session. There are more ways to help kids develop problem solving skills and manage your self talk. 

The Power of Choice

Many parents strive for a relationship of give-and-take, cooperation, and harmony with their children. One way to encourage a more cooperative atmosphere is to give choices.

It’s important that the choice is not IF something will be done, it should be WHEN or HOW. It’s not, “Will you put your pants on?” rather “Which pants will you put on, the blue or the black?” or for older children, “We’re going out to dinner at 6, what time will you be home so you can get ready?”.

Many parents don’t like this idea of choices as it gives them less control and predictability. For the same reason, our children don’t like NOT having choices, because they don’t have control or predictability. It’s not a matter of who has power or control, it’s a matter of distributing the control in such a way as to help the child gain experience while getting the work of the family done. Thus, it is important that the choices are acceptable to the parent. Free choice for children to do whatever they want, whenever they want, is not acceptable either. Freedom within limits is healthy and promotes problem solving, decision-making, and responsibility.

Here are some ideas about choosing when something will be done:

Allow them to choose if chores or homework get done immediately after school, before dinner, or right before bed (depending on the task). If it is a job that needs to be done at a certain time (for example, the dog needs to be fed before school), let them choose if they will feed upon getting up, after teeth are brushed, or after breakfast. If the dog follows them around for 30 minutes until he’s fed, the child is experiencing the consequences of not feeding the dog early enough.

Here are some ideas on choosing how something gets done:

Given that you’ve trained them on the task, for example, that the clothes need to go in the bathroom hamper, the books are put away in the book shelf neatly standing up straight, and the toys are put into the toy box neatly enough to put the top on, you agree to when the room will be cleaned up.

The process they use may be to:

  • Pick up all the clothes from floor (from all areas of the room)
  • Put away all the books (from all areas of the room)
  • Put the toys in toy box (from all areas of the room)
OR, they may:
  • Go to one corner of the room, put the toys, books and clothes from that corner away, then move on to next corner.
You may have a preference of your way of getting it done (and of course that is the “right way” – haha). Guess what…they have their “right way” too! As long as it’s getting done by the agreed-upon time, who cares?Allowing them to select the method and the timing gives them some freedom and control. As well, it gives them the opportunity to learn what is efficient for them and what is not. Insisting on your logic and process takes away the necessary process of thinking it through, a process that develops their problem solving. It also diminishes their power and control by keeping you the one in charge. This will spawn power struggles in other areas. As well, it communicates that they don’t have to be responsible for anything because you will take the responsibility and just tell them what to do. How can they take responsibility if you don’t give it to them?

Try giving your children more and more choices as they grow and you will see more cooperation, greater independence, and competence.

Be the Parent

I saw an article in The Wall Street Journal yesterday titled:
Be The Parent Your Teen Needs. Most parents of teens that I work with say things to me like:

I need my teenager to clean their room.

My teen needs to study for SATs.

My teen thinks I’m an ATM and always needs money!

When we look at it from the perspective of the teen, what do they really need, and are you providing it?

The article talks about intellectual, social, emotional, and physical (brain) development at different specific ages and that as your child grows their needs change. What strikes me most is that teens need firm and friendly training, boundaries (appropriate ones!) , trust, connection with you, and an atmosphere that allows them to make mistakes and to learn from them.

The point is: when teens are receiving support, encouragement, coaching, and some control over their choices, they start cooperating, are motivated, and participate with the family. They are also developing decision-making, problem solving, and relationship skills that will serve them once they leave the nest and last a lifetime.

So if you find yourself over-focusing on a clean room, SATs, or why they keep putting their hand out for money, look at what they are learning and focus more on what they need to learn while they are still under your roof, and, how as parents you can help them learn it.

How are you serving their needs for growth and development?

A link to the article is below:
http://www.wsj.com/articles/what-teens-need-most-from-their-parents-1470765906

Lying and Labeling

What do you do when you know  your child did something that you consider wrong?

When we know that our kids did something wrong, it’s better, more respectful and less threatening, to talk to them using a statement and not a question. A question accuses them and sets them up to lie to us.

For example:

1. Instead of asking “did you brush your teeth?” you can say “today we brush our teeth twice”, giving them a second chance to brush. The child knows he didn’t brush and he knows that you know he didn’t brush. This statement prevents labeling him as a liar. Also, we would never ask our boss or friend to open their mouth and let us smell to see if they remembered to brush their teeth, and that is why we shouldn’t do it with our kids. It’s disrespectful and trying to catch them in a lie.

2. Instead of asking the child “did you take this from Johnny’s house?” you can say “This is not ours. Looks like we need to drive to Johnny’s house and return it.” This statement prevents labeling him as a liar or a thief.

There are risks to labeling our children. If one child in the family is known as “the student” and another “the athlete”, they will most likely not try to develop any skills outside of that as that is what they perceive they are good at and nothing else. As well, if one child excels in an area, the siblings will likely choose not to compete in that area because that position is already taken and they don’t see an opportunity of competing for that skill. The risk of labeling your child is that they may end up believing the label and limit their potential to experience and develop themselves in other areas.

Labels that can be harmful or limiting:

Liar
Thief
The Baby
Artist
Student
Athlete
The boys
The girls
The smart one
The pretty one
The responsible one
Lazy
A slob
Perfect
Beautiful

Also, once we’ve dubbed our child “The _______” we cannot think of or operate as if they are anything but that. Our behavior will subconsciously communicate that that is our belief.

Seeing your child as a unique individual and calling them by name is more empowering, and gives them the gift of seeing them for who they are, not who you wish they were (or weren’t).

What labels do you use when describing your kids? What could you use instead?

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