Why I Don’t Want My Kids to Be Happy

Posted:
ELISABETH DUCKETT

Hours after my first child was born, I couldn’t sleep. I held the little bundle of adorableness in my arms and thought, As long as you are happy, nothing else matters. Flash-forward 17 years of parenting, and you know what? Happiness isn’t top of the list for my deepest wants for my kids. Somewhere along the road, I realized that my kids’ happiness is way overrated.

Every day, on Facebook and parenting message boards, I see my fellow moms complaining about how loads of homework and mean teachers are making their kids unhappy. Their kids are bored or stressed or under too much pressure. They aren’t happy, they worry. They need to be happy, they protest.

It seems as though parents nowadays equate happiness as a life devoid of boredom or dissatisfaction. Every activity children engage in, no matter how mundane, should be creatively constructed to engage and enlighten.

I get it.

You look at that little representative of all the best things about you rolled into huge eyes and a sweet messy smile, and you feel the urge to keep them happy at all costs.

You want to keep from them the agony of failure, the pain of rejection and the self-conscious awkwardness of not fitting in. You want your child to walk through the world believing they can do anything and be anyone and that they are special.

I get all that. I just disagree. Life insists you do all kinds of things that make you unhappy. I don’t want my kids to be happy. I want them to be battle-tested.

When kids are young, you create their whole world. You pick their friends, their clothing, their activities, their entertainment, their education, even their food. It’s easy to construct a perfect existence for them, filled with encouragement.

But that is not maintainable in the long run. At some point, the world gets hold of them, and there’s nothing a parent can do to protect them.

When I decided I was so terrific I should make more of me to populate this already overcrowded world, I figured I owed my kids a certain legacy of competence. I meet my responsibility with love, but I never lose sight of the fact that I am preparing them for something bigger than our relationship.

So, I don’t save them from the hurts of life. These little earthquakes feel huge at the time, but soon fade in importance. More times than not, my kids learn from those hurts, and they use the lesson to develop as people.

There are no lessons in happiness. People don’t grow from joy. The meat of life is in all those other emotions; fear, sadness, frustration. That’s where we do our growing — facing and learning how to navigate those feelings.

The best way for me to raise these people is to give them the tools to find their own way. I can’t follow my children through life clearing a path for them. But I can give them a machete and teach them how to clear their own path. Yes, I just suggested giving children weapons — it’s an analogy. That has been the tactic I’ve been following for the last 17 years.

I parent with love, but I parent with the day I can no longer parent in mind. In each ‘end of days’ moment my kids experience, we pick out the personal responsibility. We talk about our power, and finding the strength that only comes from failures. We talk about facing fears and find the opportunities within.

Parenting will always be a balancing act: Keeping our kids safe, keeping them moving forward and keeping them happy. To make that more doable for our family, I’ve given up on that last one. My kids aren’t always happy, and that’s OK. We embrace the pain together. Through each issue we face, they grow stronger and closer to becoming fully-functioning adults.

Nurturing Resilience: Reminding Ourselves What Kids Need

The Independent School Magazine Blog

We all agree resilience is a good thing. Essentially a synonym for pluck, grit, stick-to-itiveness, the ability to dust off one’s knees and get back on the horse or the bike or whatever threw you, resilience suggests positive adaptation, coming through a tough time, coping.

There are communities we point to as being particularly resilient — Sandy Hook, Connecticut, for example — and that’s the rub. To be resilient means a child has endured something horrific or, to a lesser degree, difficult. But there are opportunities that do not require suffering or loss or exquisite pain, and practicing the habit of resilience helps children learn to weather the storms that are an inevitable part of growing up.
The path can’t always be smooth; bumps and boulders help us remember that we are stronger than we know, more capable than we imagined. It’s hard to watch children struggle without jumping in to solve the problem.  But when we can avoid making that jump, we help them thrive. Here’s my own list of reminders to encourage resilience in our kids and in myself!
  1. Believe kids are capable and can manage without swooping in to “save” them. Communicate that you believe in her ability to solve a problem.  Answer when asked for help; don’t offer advice for what hasn’t been asked.
  2. Shut up and listen. Then ask: Do you want me to do something? If the answer is no, don’t do anything. Invoke the 24-hour rule before reacting. (As my mother used to say, things often really do look better in the morning.)
  3. In books and movies that you and your children or students share, talk about resilience — how did that character cope?  What would you do?  Invite problem solving about practical dilemmas into daily conversations.
  4. Let consequences run their course. As a parent, don’t try to soften the penalty for a daughter’s late assignment. As a teacher, be firm, fair, friendly and consistent applying consequences. Never shame a child for work left incomplete or some other task left undone.
  5. Take lots of opportunities to talk about empathy, saying, “How would you feel if?”
  6. Make the adage that there are at least two sides to every story a mantra in your home and classroom.
  7. Consistently remind children in your care that even grown-ups make mistakes: we can learn from things that didn’t go so well — learn what to do the next time, learn about ourselves, learn that the sun doesn’t fall out of the sky when we mess up. Model making mistakes so that your students or progeny can see your swift, un-martyr-like recovery.
  8. Kids need to dump: A college child calls, miserable; the parents are frantic — the next night Mom calls, worried, fretful — the child is fine. The storm has passed everywhere but at home as the parents nursed their distress. It is hard to remember that late at night.
  9. Things do blow over if we let them — it’s an art to know when to intervene and when not to.
  10. It’s painful for us to bear witness — we don’t like the feeling of “not doing anything,” but by allowing a child to take the time to work things out on her own, we are doing plenty.
  11. Champion risk taking as long as failure/consequences are neither life-threatening nor permanent.
  12. Kids feel good about what they can DO — chores, taking responsibility at home. They feel competent and needed doing laundry, walking the dog, cooking. Don’t let them off the hook.
  13. As much as I want to swoop in and make my son practice his math facts, I must remind myself that HE is the one who must do the work.  It doesn’t help him develop resilience if I am more concerned about his homework than he is.  When I step back, I help him take charge.  If I do things for him, I cut him off at the knees.
  14. We can’t stand by our children’s side and give them everything — it encourages helplessness, at best, and entitlement, at worst. Our superb schools abound in opportunity. Encourage, suggest, wonder, but allow the student to select what activities to pursue. Resist prescribing. Some things will not go well or be enjoyable — make a contract ahead of time about how long a commitment must be sustained.
  15. From time to time, when the stakes are not enormously high, we must allow students to falter while we stay quiet, watching and listening and breathing — we can’t save them from themselves or their actions; they need to find out how consequences work for themselves — we can’t give them a heads-up about every possibility.
  16. Limitations (like those found in music, poetry) can offer opportunities for stretching boundaries and overcoming obstacles. In structure, there is often freedom — limitations encourage problem-solving and creativity. Remind students that the struggle itself has value
  17. You can’t be a hero unless you go beyond yourself.
  18. Creativity, growth mindset, self-care, purpose, relationship are all components that help children cultivate resilience.  For more about this, check out Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls.
Resilience isn’t a race; we all make progress over the course of our lives.  When we cultivate resilience in ourselves, we help our students and children do the same.  Celebrate success but do not fear failure. It’s not the mistake that matters; it’s what we learn from it as we move forward that counts.

Ann V. Klotz is head of Laurel School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and the founder of Laurel’s Center for Research on Girls.  You can read her blog on the Huffington Post or follow her on Twitter, @AnnKlotz.

Overindulgent Parents May Breed Narcissistic Children

HealthDay

Kids who were told they were better than others came to believe it, researchers report

Overindulgent Parents May Breed Narcissistic Children

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, March 9, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Kids who think too highly of themselves likely developed their narcissism because their parents put them on a pedestal and doled out unearned praise, a new study claims.

Parents who “overvalue” their children — believing they are “God’s gift to man” — tend to raise youngsters with an overblown sense of their own superiority, researchers report in the March 9 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It comes pretty naturally,” said senior study author Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University. “Most parents think their children are special, and deserve better treatment. But when our children receive special treatment, they become narcissistic and come to believe they deserve more and are superior to others.”

On the other hand, simple parental warmth can provide a child with an appropriate level of self-esteem, but does not lead to narcissism, the researchers found.

“It’s good to be a warm parent and a loving parent, but it’s not OK to treat your children as if they are better than others,” Bushman concluded. “Everyone we meet is better than us at something, and the fact that we’re all human beings makes us equally valuable.”

In the study, researchers evaluated 565 children aged 7 to 11 from middle-class neighborhoods in the Netherlands, along with their parents.

Parents and children answered a series of questions designed to assess a child’s narcissism and self-esteem, as well as a parent’s warmth and overvaluation of their child. Researchers administered the questionnaires four times over a period of 18 months.

The research team found that parents who overvalued their children — reflected in statements such as “my child is more special than other children” — did end up with children who were overly convinced of their own importance.

“I honestly believe one of the most dangerous beliefs that a person can have is that they are [more] superior than others,” Bushman said. “When people think they are superior to others, they behave very badly. It’s much better to treat everybody like we are all part of the human family, and are all worthy of respect.”

However, parents who offered simple warmth — reflected in statements such as “I let my child know I love him/her” — raised kids who had good self-esteem but a more realistic understanding of their place in the world.

“Warmth doesn’t produce narcissism,” Bushman said. “It produces self-esteem, without the egotistical part.”

Interestingly, the researchers found no link between child narcissism and a lack of parental warmth. That’s inconsistent with what psychology experts have long believed, which is that children who have cold parents put themselves on a pedestal to try and obtain from others the approval they didn’t find at home.

Although this study only showed an association between parents putting a child on a pedestal and that child being narcissistic, Bushman said the study shows how parents do their children a disservice by providing too much praise.

“In America, we have it all backward. We assume if we boost our child’s self-esteem, they’ll behave well. We assume self-esteem is the panacea for every ill,” he said. “Rather than boost self-esteem and hope our kids act well, we should wait for good behavior and then give them a pat on the back for that.”

Parents should support their children and praise even failed efforts, but they must make their praise appropriate to the situation, Bushman said.

“Don’t issue blanket praise that’s not contingent on behavior,” he said. “Praise them for trying hard, and encourage them to persist and not give up in the face of failure. But make praise realistic.”

James Garbarino, senior faculty fellow at the Center for the Human Rights of Children at Loyola University Chicago, warned that parents who treat their children as though they walk on water are setting them up to sink like stones later in life.

“It’s a good investment to temper narcissism, because otherwise you are setting your kids up for a big fall later in life,” Garbarino said. “Eventually, life shows you that you’re not that special. You’ve heard the saying, ‘Time heals all wounds?’ In this case, ‘Time wounds all heels.’ ”

However, Garbarino also pointed out that these findings probably only apply to middle-class kids. Children from poor or lower-class families also can grow up to be narcissistic, but the cause may be different for them.

“Those kids did not end up in this study, so you have to be careful about interpreting it,” he said.

More information

For more on narcissistic personality disorder, visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

SOURCES: Brad Bushman, Ph.D., professor, communication and psychology, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio; James Garbarino, Ph.D., senior faculty fellow, Center for the Human Rights of Children at Loyola University, Chicago; March 9, 2015, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online

Yik Yak Not Appropriate for Kids

Common Sense Media

 

Parents need to know that Yik Yak is a free, local social-networking app that lets users post “anything and everything” anonymously, including a lot of explicit content that’s clearly not for kids. Yik Yak users post brief, Twitter-like comments, which are distributed to any 500 people using Yik Yak closest to them geographically (or more than 500 people, with in-app purchase). Yik Yak works via GPS to identify where the user is each time he or she opens the app and posts messages (called “yaks”) to other nearby users. People read and “upvote” or “downvote” other people’s posts to rate them. Message content ranges from simple questions (“Where are all the spring breakers?”), personal opinions, and local information, to negative messages aimed at specific people, sexually explicit messages, and posts about seeking or using drugs and alcohol. Unless the user’s location is toggled off for each post, it can be seen by others. According to Yik Yak‘s terms, users must be at least 17, although there’s no age verification on the app itself (there’s an initial content warning on the iTunes App Store that requires users to confirm that they’re 17 by tapping OK; there’s no verification or warning on Android devices). Bottom line: Yik Yak is not appropriate for kids.

How much screen time is OK for my kid(s)?

It really depends. Although the amount of time kids spend on screens has been a big news focus, what’s even more important is the quality of kids’ media and how it fits into their — and your family’s — lifestyle.

Pay attention to how your kids act during and after watching TV, playing video games, or hanging out online. If they’re using high-quality, age-appropriate media; their behavior is positive; and their screen-time activities are balanced with plenty of healthy screen-free ones, there’s no need to worry.

If you’re concerned about heavy media use, consider creating a schedule that works for your family. This can include weekly screen-time limits, limits on the kinds of screens they can use, and guidelines on the types of activities they can do or programs they can watch. Make sure to get your kids’ input as well so the plan teaches media literacy and self-regulation, and use this as an opportunity to discover what they like watching, introduce new shows and apps for them to try, or schedule a family movie night.

Finally, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) — one of the only established organizations to make recommendations on screen time — discourages screen time for kids under 2 and advises limiting daily screen time to one to two hours for older kids. Studies have shown a link between heavy media use and issues such as obesity, lack of sleep, academic challenges, aggression, and other behavior difficulties. The reality is that most families will go through periods of heavy and light media use, but, so long as there’s a balance, kids should be just fine.

Back To School – Helping Kids Transition

Kidshealth.org

Back to School

Whether their summer was jam-packed with activities or filled with complaints about being bored with nothing to do, kids often have a tough time making the back-to-school transition.

Battling the Butterflies

As with any new or potentially unsettling situation — like starting school for the first time or entering a new grade or new school — allow kids time to adjust. Remind them that everyone feels a little nervous about the first day of school and that it will all become an everyday routine in no time.

Emphasize the positive things about going back to school, such as hanging out with old friends, meeting new classmates, buying cool school supplies, getting involved in sports and other activities, and showing off the new duds (or snazzy accessories if your child has to wear a uniform).

It’s also important to talk to kids about what worries them and offer reassurance: Are they afraid they won’t make new friends or get along with their teachers? Is the thought of schoolwork stressing them out? Are they worried about the bully from last year?

Consider adjusting your own schedule to make the transition smoother. If possible, it’s especially beneficial for parents to be home at the end of the school day for the first week. But many working moms and dads just don’t have that flexibility. Instead, try to arrange your evenings so you can give kids as much time as they need, especially during those first few days.

If your child is starting a new school, contact the school before the first day to arrange a visit. And ask if your child can be paired up with another student, or “buddy,” and if you can be connected with other new parents. This will help both of you with the adjustment to new people and surroundings. Some schools give kids maps to use until things become more familiar.

To help ease back-to-school butterflies, try to transition kids into a consistent school-night routine a few weeks before school starts. Also make sure that they:

  • get enough sleep (establish a reasonable bedtime so that they’ll be well-rested and ready to learn in the morning)
  • eat a healthy breakfast (they’re more alert and do better in school if they eat a good breakfast every day)
  • write down the need-to-know info to help them remember details such as their locker combination, what time classes and lunch start and end, their homeroom and classroom numbers, teachers’ and/or bus drivers’ names, etc.
  • use a wall calendar or personal planner to record when assignments are due, tests will be given, extracurricular practices and rehearsals will be held, etc.
  • have them organize and set out what they need the night before (homework and books should be put in their backpacks by the door and clothes should be laid out in their bedrooms)

Although it’s normal to be anxious in any new situation, a few kids develop real physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches, associated with the start of school. If you’re concerned that your child’s worries go beyond the normal back-to-school jitters, speak with your child’s doctor, teacher, or school counselor.

Back-to-School To-Do’s

Parents themselves can be a little nervous about the first day of school, especially if they’re seeing their little one off for the first time or if their child will be attending a new school.

To help make going to school a little easier on everyone, here’s a handy checklist:

What to wear, bring, and eat:

  • Does the school have a dress code? Are there certain things students can’t wear?
  • Will kids need a change of clothes for PE or art class?
  • Do your kids have a safe backpack that’s lightweight, with two wide, padded shoulder straps, a waist belt, a padded back, and multiple compartments?
  • Do kids know not to overload their backpacks and to stow them safely at home and school?
  • Will your kids buy lunch at school or bring it from home? If they buy a school lunch, how much will it cost per day or per week? Do you have a weekly or monthly menu of what will be served?
  • Have you stocked up on all of the necessary school supplies? (Letting kids pick out a new lunchbox and a set of pens, pencils, binders, etc., helps get them geared up for going back to school.)

Medical issues:

  • Have your kids received all necessary immunizations?
  • Have you filled out any forms that the school has sent home, such as emergency contact and health information forms?
  • Do the school nurse and teachers know about any medical conditions your child may have, particularly food allergies, asthma, diabetes, and any other conditions that may need to be managed during the school day?
  • Have you made arrangements with the school nurse to administer any medications your child might need?
  • Do the teachers know about any conditions that may affect how your child learns? For example, kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) should be seated in the front of the room, and a child with vision problems should sit near the board.

Transportation and safety:

  • Do you know what time school starts and how your kids will get there?
  • If they’re riding the bus, do you know where the bus stop is and what time they’ll be picked up and dropped off?
  • Do you know where the school’s designated drop-off and pick-up area is?
  • Are there any regulations on bicycles or other vehicles, such as scooters?
  • Have you gone over traffic safety information, stressing the importance of crossing at the crosswalk (never between parked cars or in front of the school bus), waiting for the bus to stop before approaching it, and understanding traffic signals and signs?
  • If your child walks or bikes to school, have you mapped out a safe route? Does your child understand that it’s never OK to accept rides, candy, or any other type of invitation from strangers?

What About After School?

Figuring out where kids will go after school can be a challenge, especially if both parents work. Depending on a child’s age and maturity, you may need to arrange for after-school transportation and care.

It’s important for younger kids and preteens to have some sort of supervision from a responsible adult. If you can’t be there as soon as school’s out, ask a reliable, responsible relative, friend, or neighbor to help out. If they’re to be picked up after school, make sure your kids know where to meet you or another caregiver.

Although it might seem like kids who are approaching adolescence are becoming mature enough to start watching themselves after school, even kids as old as 11 or 12 may not be ready to be left alone.

If your kids or teens are home alone in the afternoons, it’s important to establish clear rules:

  • Set a time when they’re expected to arrive home from school.
  • Have them check in with you or a neighbor as soon as they get home.
  • Specify who, if anyone at all, is allowed in your home when you’re not there.
  • Make sure they know to never open the door for strangers.
  • Make sure they know what to do in an emergency.

To ensure that kids are safe and entertained after school, look into after-school programs. Some are run by private businesses, others are organized by the schools themselves, places of worship, police athletic leagues, YMCAs, community and youth centers, and parks and recreation departments.

Getting involved in after-school activities:

  • offers kids a productive alternative to watching TV or playing video games
  • provides some adult supervision when parents can’t be around after school
  • helps develop kids’ interests and talents
  • introduces kids to new people and helps them develop their social skills
  • gives kids a feeling of involvement
  • keeps kids out of trouble

Be sure to look into the child-staff ratio at any after-school program (in other words, make sure that there are enough adults per child) and that the facilities are safe, indoors and out. And kids should know when and who will pick them up when school lets out and when the after-school program ends.

Also, make sure after-school commitments allow kids enough time to complete school assignments. Keep an eye on their schedules to make sure there’s enough time for both schoolwork and home life.

Helping Homework

Love it or hate it, homework is a very important part of school. To help kids get back into the scholastic swing of things:

  • Make sure there’s a quiet place that’s free of distractions to do homework.
  • Don’t let kids watch TV when doing homework or studying. Set rules for when homework and studying need to be done, and when the TV can be turned on and should be turned off. The less TV, the better, especially on school nights.
  • If your kids are involved in social media, be sure to limit the time spent on these activities during homework time.
  • Keep text messaging to a minimum to avoid frequent interruptions.
  • Never do their homework or projects yourself. Instead, make it clear that you’re always available to help or answer any questions.
  • Review homework assignments nightly, not necessarily to check up, but to make sure they understand everything.

Encourage kids to:

  • develop good work habits from the get-go, like taking notes, writing down assignments, and turning in homework on time
  • take their time with schoolwork
  • ask the teacher if they don’t understand something

To ensure kids get the most out of school, maintain an open channel of communication with the teachers by e-mailing or talking with them throughout the school year to discuss your kids’ academic strengths as well as weaknesses.

Most of all, whether it’s the first day of school or the last, make sure your kids know you’re there to listen to their feelings and concerns, and that you don’t expect perfection — only that they try their best.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: August 2013

25 Cool Things Kids Can Learn Online (for Free!)

Links, videos, and instructions for really fun family projects.

With summer in full swing, lots of kids (and parents) are going online for ideas to keep busy. At Common Sense Media, we’re partial to activities that are a little, well, different. We’ve rounded up 25 unique things you and your kids can learn online (for free!) by a) watching a video, b) following instructions, or c) reading about a subject.

Note: Many videos include an advertisement at the beginning, and some websites might link off to other topics or sites that might not be appropriate for your kids. We suggest previewing or watching along with your kids.

To Hover or Hope – Tough Calls in a World of Risk

Are we raising “soft kids”?

Published on January 14, 2013 by Peggy Drexler, Ph.D. in Our Gender, Ourselves

By today’s standards, social services should have taken most us baby boomers away from our parents.

We were raised in a world of lawn darts, BB guns and second-hand smoke; without car seats, airbags or bicycle helmets. We gobbled sugar, swilled fats and consumed mushy white bread with the nutrients pounded out in processing.  We roamed our world freely, gone for hours, told only to be home when the streetlights come on. As a friend said: “I’m pretty sure my parents were trying to kill me.”

Yet: here we are. Aside from a few mended bones and some fading scars from stitches, most of us are little the worse for wear from growing up in a world before dodge ball became organized bullying.

Helmets, car seats and smoke-free homes are the logical outcomes of a smarter society. But for parents today: has common-sense protection crossed a divide to irrational obsession with driving risk from young lives?

That question, of course, must be asked in the chilling context of a very different world.  In the most normal of places on the most normal of days, 20 children went happily off to school in Newtown, Connecticut. They did not come home.

Threats are real. Fears are justified. And the instinct to protect our children is one of the crossbeams in our human architecture. But are those realities combining  to cause us to raise kids so emotionally and physically bubble-wrapped that they are paying a cost in confidence and, ironically, the well-being that we are working so hard to create? Have we lost our sense of the difference between risk’s reality and its mere possibility?

They are questions without easy answers.

A recent study from Norway concluded that playgrounds have become so low, slow and bouncy that kids have lost interest – to the point that there is a causal connection to childhood obesity. Is a slide still a slide if you don’t go flying off the end?

It’s yet another easy addition to the catalog of evidence that “we’re raising soft kids.”

It becomes less easy when you also consider CDC reports that, every year, 200,000 kids under age 14 suffer playground injuries serious enough to send them to the emergency room. A third of them are severe – fractures, concussions, internal injuries and dislocations. Approximately 15 of these injured children die.

How many of those casualties are worth a trade-off in a more formative playground experience?

Reaction to risk plays out everywhere parents gather with children to play. When a child falls, some will race to them like a lifeguard to a drowning swimmer. Others will watch, allowing the drama to play out, allowing the child to find his or her own resolution.

I’ve seen that choice – especially in emotional risk — from an interesting perspective in my work with single and two-mother families; where mothers know that their children start the day outside the norm.

As one lesbian mother told me: “At first, I would charge in to school to do battle every time there was a hint that my child was being taunted or bullied because of the makeup of our family. But I realized, I can’t be doing this when he’s 20 years old. So I started to think more about how to help him deal with it himself. I tried to give him the confidence and perspective to make the decision about when to walk away, when to laugh, and when to push back. He’s very funny, so that was his way in. The fact that he had two mothers became a non-issue. It would have taken a lot longer for kids to get him if they always had to get past me.”

So what’s a parent to do: try to banish risk, or learn to accept it?  Most of us in the mental health field suggest a mix of both. The question is whether a given situation carries a high risk of physical or emotional harm; or whether it is a bump – figuratively or literally – that is part of the invaluable life lessons that come from the  pain of hitting the ground hard, and the thrill of getting back up.

Like anything else in the complex and situational world of protecting the most precious thing the universe has ever created, distinguishing between the two may take a little practice.

Peggy Drexler, Ph.D. is a research psychologist, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Weill Medical College, Cornell University and author of two books about modern families and the children they produce. Follow Peggy on Twitter and Facebook and learn more about Peggy atwww.peggydrexler.com

Struggling to Talk to Your Teenager? The Greatest Lesson I Ever Learned.

Struggling to Talk to Your Teenager? The Greatest Lesson I Ever Learned.

 

By Andy Braner, President/CEO of KIVU

So many of my friends with teenagers complain about the one-word answers they get when they attempt to communicate. They find it incredibly difficult to cultivate meaningful conversations with the very people who live under their roofs. I’ve heard hundreds of parent/teen conversations that sound something like this:

“Hey Honey, How was school?”
“Fine.”
“Did you have a chance to do your homework?”
“Yea.”
“What did you think about the movie you went to last night?”
“Good.”

And those of us with teenagers understand how complex it is to crack open a conversation with our teens. It seems like just yesterday they were running through the house longing for our attention, and then one day they woke up and turned into the one-word Zombie clan. I know several parents who ask themselves, “Why should I even try?”

Not long ago, I learned a valuable lesson about talking with my kids. I have to approach their world where they are.

So often, I counsel frustrated parents who feel “Well, he should do this,” or “she should do that.” We all quickly forget that NOBODY wants to have someone tell them what to do. Why should our teenagers feel any different?

A long-time mentor friend of mine said once, “if you want to talk to your kids, you have to meet them where they are.”

So… I started to work this out in real time.

When my youngest son was growing through elementary school, I noticed he had a gift for engineering. He loved building things. Blocks, Forts and especially LEGOS were his passion. He loved doing math, following instructions and watching his creation emerge from the box of 1,000 pieces.

Can you imagine?

What do you do when you have a 5-year-old who can sit for hours on the kitchen floor putting together the Death Star Lego set with 5,000 pieces? If you have a kid like this, let me be an encourager for a minute and say you have a kid with a gift.

I remember hearing my mentor’s words echo in the stillness of my own desire to connect with my son: “If you want to talk to your kids, you have to meet them where they are.”

Now, for a little background, I graduated with a degree in Theater Performance. I’m an artist. One thing you must know about artists — we don’t do Legos! Our brain functions differently. Sitting down to count the number of nipples on a block to make sure it fits in another is the farthest thing from what I think is a good time. But for the sake of my son, I started sitting amongst his piles of Legos with him.

For years, I forced myself to sit and learn to be interested in what he was interested in, and guess what? Today we have an incredible friendship. All those hours I spent meeting my son where he was and trying to be interested in the things he found valuable are paying off now. Sure, we have our fights. I have to correct, mentor and parent him. But for the most part, we’re good friends. He knows I love him and value his opinion. I know better how his mind functions and what makes him tick. He knows I’m in his corner and am his biggest cheerleader and I know he respects what I think. This is the bottom line of what it means to develop meaningful connections in families, with friends and certainly with people we work with.

If you’re having trouble connecting with your teen today, step back, take a deep breath, begin to notice the things they find valuable and start to engage.

You’re never going to understand the heart of your student by just letting them “figure life out.” After all, we’re parents, right? It’s our job, our duty and our incredible responsibility to teach, to train and to mentor our teens so they can go on to have long-term healthy relationships. If you can model for your teen what it means to connect, they will take this lesson with them wherever life unfolds.

Be encouraged today.

There are answers to helping parents connect with their kids, even when it seems like you don’t.

Follow Andy Braner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/braner

 

28 Days of Gratitude (With Kids) This Thanksgiving

28 Days of Gratitude (With Kids) This Thanksgiving

Posted: 11/21/2012 12:36 pm
By: , Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer of Books, Kids and Family, National Geographic

I am on a Gratitude Jihad.

For years, Oprah has been extolling the virtues of her Gratitude Journal. I knew I should do this, but the truth was I didn’t want to add one more thing to my To Do list.

Then, two weeks ago, I felt really down. There was no particular reason; I was probably just tired and overwhelmed with responsibility. I picked up a pen, and on the back of a bill, I found myself scribbling down five things I’m grateful for. This is not generic “Health, Kids, Family,” stuff. I’m keeping myself real. Here’s a sample list.

1. I’m grateful I didn’t lose my temper once today with my kids. No Mean Mommy, a personal if invisible victory.

2. I’m grateful for my bedroom, (I recently painted half of it peach), and the fact that I’m in my bed.

3. I’m grateful to my ex-husband for all that he does to support our family. Most married couples don’t get along as well as we do, despite the fact we’ve been divorced for three years.

4. I’m grateful for my friend Rebecca, who prevented me from adopting an irresistible pooch from a rescue site. “An untrained 60-lb dog that makes poops the size of Dachshunds is not what your family needs right now,” she said bluntly. She’s right.

5. I’m grateful that I don’t have to walk a dog in the morning.

Writing down my gratitude is part of the 28-day gratitude course in Rhonda Byrne’s The Magic. I have been doing this daily for two weeks and can honestly say it is working. I mean, I just found half a million dollars. Seriously! I refinanced my house, and that will be my debt reduction. And I got a parking spot right in front of North Face when I had to return a jacket.

In Byrne’s sequel to The Secret, she reminds us that all the major religions have gratitude at their core. Maybe this is why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday — because gratitude is such a universal theme, something everyone can embrace. The only gift it requires is being present — and grateful.

This Thanksgiving, I’m taking her advice and helping my kids participate by expressing their gratitude for the things that make their lives special. Magic for minis. Every night, I lie in bed with each kid and ask them to be thankful for something, anything. It is also a good reminder for me to pause and be present with my own children after a long, tiring day.

Last night, I was lying in bed with my 6-year-old daughter Mackenzie. When I asked her what she was most grateful for, she thought for a long time. Finally she said “Parmigiano cheese.”

I tried not to let her see me cracking up.

But she’s right, it always comes down to the simple things.

So this Thanksgiving we’re keeping it simple, and we’re remembering what Thanksgiving is about – being grateful.

One of the projects we’re really looking forward to is decorating the table. Mackenzie is an artist at heart and is looking forward to designing Thanksgiving placemats — the National Geographic Kids site even shows you how to make awesome hand-print turkeys — for each guest. With twelve guests coming this year, that is a lot of turkeys to draw. Her real task, though, is to write or draw why she is thankful for each guest. This exercise not only gives her a LOT of practice with her turkey decorating technique, it also helps her focus on her relationships with her relatives, some of whom she only sees a few times a year. And talk about something that will melt the hearts of each guest when they sit down!

The ability to acknowledge and express gratitude is a gift. In my 28-day practice, I can honestly say that that when you look at your cup half full, it always is.