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What Do I Tell My Kids? (A Parent’s Response to the Newtown, Connecticut Tragedy)

I really don’t know what to say.  I’m heartbroken and speechless.

Facts are still coming in, and I'm just beginning to process everything myself.  What we’ve learned is that close to thirty people, including many children, were killed by a gunman this morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

I really don’t know what to say. 

None of us do.

But if we’re parents, we’ve got to decide how to address a horrific event like this with our own kids.  We have to find the words.

The events just took place a few hours ago, so I reserve the right to change my opinion.  But here are my thoughts on a first hearing, based on some questions I’ve already been asked.

 

Should I talk to my kids about what happened?

Usually, I’m in favor of arming children with as much information as possible.  But in this case, if you have young, even school-age, children, I’d be very careful about how much you tell them about what happened in Newtown.  It can be overwhelmingly frightening to a child (or even an adult) to hear that a person has carried a gun into a kindergarten classroom and begun killing kids and their teachers.  If your children haven’t heard about the shooting, I advise you not to open the door to that world.  It’s terrifying.

 

What if my kids have already heard?

If your children hear about the shooting from friends or the news or some other source, then it becomes paramount that you talk with them about what they’ve heard.  In this conversation, aim for four main goals:

Listen.

Begin by asking a few questions.  Find out what your child knows and how they are feeling.  A good question to ask is, “How did you feel when you first heard the news?” or, “What was your first thought?”  Listening is crucial here, because it will allow you to assess where your child is, emotionally, at this moment, and also because it will give you information that should guide the rest of the conversation.

Let your child lead the conversation.

Don't give your child more information then they need or already have.  They don’t need pictures drawn for them.  Answer their questions, and show them the respect of taking their inquiries seriously.  But address their concerns and curiosity without delivering extraneous information that will create more confusion and anxiety.

Help your child feel safe.

This is your highest priority right now. Information is important, but contextualize everything so that your child feels safe.  Explain how rare the situation is, and that they have no reason to expect that it would happen at their school.  Promise that you’re always watching over and protecting them.  Let them know they can absolutely count on you and that you will always try to keep them safe.

Be willing to return to the subject, but only if your child needs to.

Later today, or tomorrow, or next week, your child may need to talk more about what happened.  If so, talk more.  But if your child has moved on and isn’t showing any signs of worrying any more about it, then let them move on.  Don’t create anxiety by bringing it up again and again.

 

What do I do if I feel terrified myself?

I know that these types of terrible (but extremely rare) occurrences make us want to pull our children closer, and protect them more. And yes, you should hold your child close tonight and be grateful.  I know I will.  But don't allow your fears and anxieties to rage so much that your child misses out on freedoms and opportunities that produce mastery and competence.  And remember, too, that kids are very perceptive.  Be careful not to communicate so much of your own fear that you make your own anxiety theirs.

 

I feel a deep, deep sadness for the people of Newtown.  Tragedies occur, and far too often, we’re left without any answers.  I wish I had more answers right now, both for myself and to offer you.  All I know to say as we watch from afar, is that we should let this remind us of our responsibilities to our own children:  to listen to them, to protect them, to cherish them, and to communicate to them—as fully as possible—how much we love them.

 

The original version of this article can be viewed at Mom.me.

My 12-Year-Old Wants to See R-rated Movies. Should I Let Him?

I get asked lots of questions about parenting, and some of them are really hard to answer.

This isn’t one of them. 

I have plenty of friends who are good parents and let their tweens see R-rated films.  And while that does create some conflict in our household when my son doesn’t get to go along when his friends head to the theater, I feel really confident about my position on this issue.

Here are my reasons:

What we know about the brain.

One fundamental, brain-based truth is expressed in the phrase “neurons that fire together, wire together.”   That means that our experiences, which cause neurons to fire in the brain, create associations that impact future experiences and behavior.  This is true for older adolescents and adults as well, of course, but for an 11- or 12-year-old, there’s more danger because they aren’t developmentally prepared to deal with some of the content they’re exposed to in certain movies.  And once children are exposed to something, there’s no taking it back. 

I’m not saying that if preteens see a movie that, for instance, glorifies drug and alcohol abuse, they’ll automatically turn into addicts.  But when they see a lifestyle that looks that fun and exciting, it can be hard not to see it in a positive light.  Neurons have fired and subsequently wired.

Nuances can be lost on young adolescents.

Most tweens are simply not socially and emotionally ready to be exposed to the sophisticated nuances of sexual and relational situations that arise in certain movies.  (Language and even violence actually worry me less, although I know that’s not the case for everyone.)  The issue is that my son, for example, isn’t always going to notice that the racist character making all the jokes is being criticized; or to see that the meaningless sex might lead to some pretty negative consequences for both parties.  Put simply, his still-developing brain just isn’t ready yet to consider issues in a larger context.  In a couple of years, things will be very different, but for now, his brain is what it is.

These are the peak sensation-seeking years.

Researchers at the University of Missouri conducted a study that found that more exposure to sexual content in movies between ages 12 and 14 was linked to an increase in sensation-seeking (or risk-taking) behaviors, which included earlier sex and unprotected sex, among other things.  What’s worse, the increased sensation seeking can last into the early twenties.

Adult sexuality can be impacted now.

There is also research that shows that early sexual exposure impacts sexual preferences in adulthood.  Exposing our kids to sexual situations that are not based on love and respect could create problems later.  If neurons have wired together and linked up the ideas of sex and, say, abuse or mockery, a child may grow up to be guided by those same linkages and expectations.

Saying no has other benefits

Even though it makes things difficult, it’s not a bad thing for my son to see my husband and me decide not to go along with what “everyone else” is doing.  Plus, some of the parents we’ve told that we don’t let our son see R-rated movies might be impacted by positive peer pressure and reconsider their position.

 

Before I close I want to recommend a resource for parents: commonsensemedia.org.  Here you can find detailed information and recommendations about appropriate ages for each movie (or book or video game) you’re considering, and the information is presented in a way that’s full of, as the name implies, common sense.  My husband and I consult this site when making a decision about a movie or game to buy.   

There are plenty of parenting issues I’m not sure about.  But on this one I feel very clear about the need to protect my son a little longer.  When it’s time for him to see more adult-oriented movies, we’ll watch them with him and discuss some of the content, using it as an opportunity to talk about ethics, morality, and how to treat people.  For now he may think we’re the strictest and lamest dorks alive, but we’re doing what’s right for him, and he’ll know it in some future decade.

  

To see the original piece at mom.me, click here.

Playing and Learning: Imaginative games that teach social and emotional skills

When kids play, they learn.  And playing just for the sheer pleasure of it is fantastic.  But at times, you may want to find games that teach lessons as well. 

Here are some games you can play with your children to teach them social and emotional skills.

What would you do if . . . 

This is a game where parents present hypothetical, age-appropriate situations that ask kids to consider how they might deal with difficult situations they face.  For young kids you might ask whether it’s ever OK to lie.  For a school-age child, you might say, “If you saw someone being bullied in the lunch room, and there were no adults around, what would you do?”  Questions like these can be interesting to children and help develop their moral and ethical sensibility.

  1. Role-play

    Switch roles with your child.  You be your child, and let her be you.  Mutual empathy can go through the roof when we simply see things through the eyes of another person.  Yes, I said mutual empathy.  It’s never bad for a parent to walk a mile (or even a few steps) in the shoes of her kids.

    Trust fall

    This classic youth-group game lets you emphasize the point that you’ll always be there for your child.  Have her face away from you and fall backwards with her eyes closed, believing that you’ll catch her.  Then talk (briefly) about what it means to really trust someone.

    Expectation challenge

    You can raise some interesting questions by complicating the normal rules  of pretend play.  For instance, if you’re the super-villain being chased by your child, the hero, you might fall down and pretend to have sprained your ankle.  Your child must then consider whether and how to help someone, even if that person is the bad guy.

    Why was that cashier rude?

    When someone has been less than polite, play the “What caused that?” game.  Simply asking the question can begin to create empathy, since the answers could range from “Maybe her mom never taught her to be polite” to “I wonder if something bad happened to one of her kids.”

    Sardines

    In this variation on “Hide and Seek,” one person hides and the rest of the group tries to find him.  As each subsequent person finds the hider, that person squeezes into the hiding place.  Teamwork and cooperation are necessary to succeed.

    Amoeba

    Another “Hide and Seek” spinoff that requires people to work together.  In this case, the seeker searches for the hiders, and when each person is found, she joins with the seeker to find the other hiders.  With each subsequent “find,” the amoeba grows.

    Show me what it looks like when you feel...

    Ask your the child to act out different emotions, showing what feelings look like on our face and body.  This can create an emotional vocabulary and also develop more self-awareness.

    Guess how I’m feeling

    This is a twist on the previous game.  Here you act out a feeling and have your child guess your emotion.  Again, empathy and emotional intelligence are the goals here. 

    Telephone

    
Remember this one?  Have the whole group sit in a circle, and pass along a message from one person to the next.  Depending on the size of the group, you might want to go around twice.  It can be hilarious to see how much the message changes as it’s passed from one person to the next.  Use this as an opportunity to talk about the importance of communication and really listening.

 

 View this piece (as a gallery with photos) at mom.me.

Help! I'm Not Enjoying My Child

Do you ever feel like things aren’t quite right between you and your child?  Before you had kids of your own, you may have assumed that when you became a mother you’d feel wonderful about them all the time.  You knew, of course, that there would be occasional conflict; you didn’t expect them to be happy when you disciplined them, for example.  But still, you knew how much you’d love your kids, and you thought that that love would help you avoid most relational conflict with them.

Now, though, as your kids have grown past the baby stage and developed personalities and desires of their own, things aren’t always as happy as you imagined they’d be.  If you’re like a lot of mothers, you may feel guilty that things aren’t better more often.  You might feel bad that sometimes you feel like you don’t even like your children or your role as a mom.  You might feel like you’re the only one struggling with your kids.  You might wonder what’s wrong with you.

The truth, though, is that relationships ebb and flow.  We know that’s true, and we expect rough patches in long-term relationships.  

Guess what?  What you have with your kids is a relationship, too.  And you’ll go through rough patches in that relationship, too. 

Sometimes, you just aren’t in a good place to connect.  Maybe you’re not taking care of yourself and your patience is chronically low.  That’s not a good match for a child who is simultaneously pushing your buttons or who is struggling with patience herself.

Or maybe your child isn’t in a good place to connect.  She may be going through a phase where she’s experimenting with being a little more independent, and it means you’re not hearing much about what’s going on with her, and this is happening at a time when you’re craving more connection.  Sometimes needs of individuals in the family are in conflict, and we struggle. 

Rough patches just happen sometimes.  Here are four suggestions to help you get some perspective on the whole situation:

 

Take the long view.

Realize that it’s normal for relationships to have upswings and downswings, and if you’re not hitting your stride with your child at the moment, it will likely come back around.  Today may be tough, but tomorrow will be better.  Or this week may be tough, and next week better.  As children develop, it’s normal for them to disconnect from their parents in various ways at various stages.  Stay consistent and loving in your interactions with your child, and have faith that things will come back around.

 

Evaluate your child’s needs.

Ask yourself whether there’s something your child needs right now that he’s not getting.  More time with you?  More affection?  More attention?  Less conversation and more independence?  More responsibility?  Often, a child acts out because he’s needing something and doesn’t know how to ask.  So do your best to listen to his actions and see what’s going on.

 

Evaluate your own needs.

What do you need right now that you’re not getting?  Time by yourself?  Time with your spouse or friends?  More sleep?  More exercise?  You know that old saying:  If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.  So take care of yourself.

 

Keep investing yourself in the relationship.

Time, effort, and intention go a long way.  Just as in your adult relationships, you’ll see your relationship with your child grow and deepen as you put in the time and remain a consistent, steady, loving presence in his life.  As the relationship ebbs and flows, be the rock your child knows she can count on when she needs you. 

 

See the original of this article at mom.me.

Speak Up: Why Self-Advocacy is a Crucial Skill

I know. I've done it, too. We all have. Your child faces some difficulty, and you jump in right away to rescue them. To stand up for them. To make things right. You talk to a teacher. You handle things with their friend. You call their coach.

We need to resist this temptation to handle things for our kids.

Of course there are times we need to stand up for and defend our children. At times, we need to be absolutely fierce in doing so. But more often than not, we advocate for our kids when they should advocate for themselves.

It reminds me of that old saying: “Give a man fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” That makes so much sense, but when it comes to our kids, it’s hard not to spring into immediate action when we see them being treated unfairly or struggling in some way.

RELATED: Teaching Your Child to Share

But here are four main reasons to allow our kids to advocate for themselves:

1. Self-Advocacy Is a Crucial Skill

When we step in and handle a child’s problem, we short-circuit her opportunity to learn how to address a difficult issue. Having to visit with a teacher or address a problem with a friend can be a powerful learning opportunity. Give your child the benefit of getting practice using her voice and her logic. Teach her to assert herself, and to understand that she can be both respectful and strong. (And of course, you can always go with your child for support if she needs it.)

2. Discomfort Can Be a Good Thing

Even as you teach your children to assert themselves, remind them that it’s actually a good thing to have to do things that are difficult and that make them feel uncomfortable. To have to deal with a challenging situation, and to come out successful on the other side, is a great way to build resilience and confidence. Plus, it makes them more capable of dealing with other problems that come up in the future. You might even tell them a story about a time you had to handle something uncomfortable but how you triumphed.

RELATED: When Moms Lose Their Cool

3. We Show Our Faith in Them

Stepping in and addressing your child’s problem communicates that you don’t believe he can handle that particular situation, and that he needs you to handle things for him. Instead, let him discover how much he can do on his own. Again, every time he takes on a tough problem and handles it on his own, he’ll build competence, confidence and resilience. And you can demonstrate that you’ll be there to cheer him on!

4. It Lets You Save Your Voice for the Really Big Problems

You really don’t want to become “that mom.” It’s not that you need to worry about what people think about you; it’s just that if you’re the parent who’s consistently heading to school to discuss every little problem, and when a bigger problem arises you may not be taken as seriously. You will have lost your voice, so to speak.

Again, there are definitely times we need to step in and defend our children. You should be ready to do so, and your kids should know that you’re on their side and ready to do what you have to do on their behalf.

But, more often than not, we need to take a step back and allow them to handle things on their own. They can do it. They really can. And when we let them, we arm them with all kinds of skills that will make them that much better able to handle difficult situations down the road.

You can view the original of this piece at mom.me.

How to Handle Holiday Stress

Here's a season-oriented article I just wrote for mom.me.  You can view it here.

 

If you’re like me, you have a love-hate relationship with the holidays. The excitement on our kids’ faces can make all the work and effort worth it. But oh, the work and effort.

Are you dreading getting ready for everything right now? I don’t blame you. But there are a few steps you can take to de-stress the holiday season and make things more relaxed not only for yourself, but also for your whole family.

Then you can spend more time on enjoying the activities and infusing them with fun and meaning.

1. Remember what’s important. Here’s where it all starts. Often, our stress results from worrying about things that just aren’t that important. Can’t find the perfect wrapping paper? Probably not a major issue. Not sure where everyone’s going to sleep when they arrive to visit? That’s the kind of thing that will take care of itself. The focus of your emotional energy should remain on what really matters to you, whether that’s your family, or your religious tradition, or anything else. Yes, the details matter, but it’s the big things you want to focus on, like being together and creating meaningful memories.

2. Choose family over unexamined ritual. I realized a few years ago that at Thanksgiving, I was spending more time hustling around getting ready for the meal than I was actually being with my family. Once I saw that, I began to simplify everything on that day. Sometimes I order the traditional meal and have it delivered or pick it up beforehand. One year we ordered tamales from our sons’ baseball coach (who’s also a great cook) and had a Mexican Thanksgiving. The point is that I found a way to spend more time with my family, and less time worrying about meeting every single expectation surrounding a ritual that I may never have even thought about. The rituals often get in the way of what is most important.

MORE: Keep Your Holiday Budget in Check With These Tips

3. Build in breaks for yourself. You’ve heard it a million times: “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” A key to emotional and personal health during the holidays or any other time is taking care of yourself. So even though it seems like it would put you further behind if you exercised, went to lunch with a friend or meditated, don’t believe it. By taking care of yourself, you’ll be much more able to keep a healthy perspective and be the kind of mom you want to be for your family.

4. Relax your body. When we experience stress, the level of a hormone called cortisol spikes and can cause physical problems, including the weakening of our immune system. And you know you don’t want to get sick right now. So remind yourself to relax your body. Drop your shoulders. Take a deep breath. Unclench your muscles. Small steps like these can have major benefits.

5. Ask for help. Don’t do everything yourself. Have the whole family get out the decorations and trim the tree. Divide up your gift list and put different family members in charge of different tasks. Then have everyone meet in the living room to wrap presents together. You may need to be the overseer of all of these jobs, but the more you can delegate and share the load, the more relaxed and peaceful the season can be for all of you.

6. Enjoy the little things. As you’re racing around town trying to find the last few presents, and from the backseat your 9-year-old is (again!) narrating every detail of the climactic scene from The Empire Strikes Back, remind yourself that you’re spending time with your child right now. That doesn’t mean you don’t still hurry a bit, or that you have to feign surprise about Han Solo’s fate—you can even change the subject and suggest that you two sing together—it just means that you remind yourself that you’re being a mom right now, and that by simply being with your child, you’re making him happy. That’s a nice thing to remember.

My Daughter Wants to Go to Modeling Camp!

I recently learned of an increasingly popular summer activity for teenage girls: modeling camp.  As I understand it, parents of teens and even tweens shell out around $1000 to have their daughters spend five days learning to hold their shoulders back when they walk, turn with elegance, and flawlessly shape their eyebrows. 

If you’ve read much of what I've written in the past, you know that I believe that one of the best things we can do for our kids as they grow older is to feed their passion.  Sports, music, academics, dance, or whatever pulls them.  Self-esteem and confidence come from mastery, so giving kids a chance to do what they love and achieve success in those activities can be an important way for them to believe in themselves. 

Fashion and modeling may be a passion for your daughter.  If that’s the case, you might be feeling that you’re in a bit of a parenting dilemma. On one hand you want to feed that passion. On the other hand, you’re probably worrying about some pretty legitimate concerns, like these: 

I don’t mind my daughter competing, but I hate to see the competition focus on superficial issues like looks and clothes. 

We want our kids to learn to hold their own when they have to go up against others in their life.  But usually, that means developing a skill like in athletics or music, or working extra hard for a math competition.  Competing over who can look the prettiest isn’t exactly the character-building exercise we dream of as parents.

I don’t want her self-worth wrapped up in her external features. 

Another good point, especially considering that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder—which means that someone else will always be prettier, at least to someone.  Plus, what happens as your little girl becomes a woman?  If her self-esteem has been based on how she looks, she might struggle (even more than we all do) as she ages.

I’d rather she care less about what others think about her.

Granted, this concern might also apply if her passion were chess.  She’d still likely enjoy the accolades she’d receive from her chess teacher for successfully executing the Panov-Botvinnik Attack.  (Yes, I looked that up.)  And you’d still want to work with her about finding meaning from within.  But again, as opposed to most activities, modeling is, by definition, primarily about how you look to other people.

So those are probably some of the main things that bother you about modeling camp.  But what if you’ve thoughtfully addressed these issues with your daughter, and she still pleads with you to let her go?  What do you do?

I can’t answer that for you.  But I will make three suggestions for conditions you might require your daughter to accept before you even consider allowing her to attend modeling camp.  These might serve to counter-balance some of your worries:

Condition #1:  Sleepaway Camp

Before she attends modeling camp, make it a prerequisite that she attend some sort of girls camp that puts her in the outdoors, far from technology and all things having to do with materialism and looks.  Spending time in nature developing authentic friendships, as opposed to having to navigate the social jungle that makes up the normal environment for so many teenagers, can give your daughter the opportunity to look at her life and relationships in a whole new way.  She’ll learn how capable she is at many new things that she might not have imagined, while building confidence, competence, and resilience.

Condition #2:  Service Project

Require that your daughter get involved in, or better yet design herself, a service project that is completely other-focused. Whatever it involves—helping younger children or homeless people, or working on a downtown reclamation project—require her to spend a significant amount of time thinking about “inner-beauty” issues and meaningful ways to invest her time that have nothing to do with make-up or clothes or the length of her hair.

Condition #3:  Empathy-Focused Activities

A related suggestion is to encourage your daughter to “get out of herself” by spending time understanding the problems that others have to deal with. Maybe she joins a group helping teens deal with trauma. Or maybe she volunteers at a homeless shelter. The more she can think about and understand the real difficulties that real people deal with, the less you will have to worry about her dedicating herself to more superficial interests.

 

In the end, I can’t tell you what to do for your daughter. I’ll just encourage you to continue to pay attention to her passions and desires. As you do, remain a loving, constant presence in her life, one that stands by her and also challenges her to grow into the kind of person who lives life with depth and meaning.  If all that is taking place, you won’t have to worry quite as much about what will happen when she spends a few days learning how to move on a runway.

 

To see the original of this piece, go to mom.me. 

 

 

 

How to Talk to Your Tween Girl: Keep the connection even after she's done with the kid stuff

I've recently written two articles for mom.me about communicating with tweens.  Here's the one about talking with your pre-teen daughter.

 

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She’s not a teenager yet. But she’s sure not a child anymore, at least in the way she used to be. Just last week her school notebook contained pictures of cute puppies. Now she actually talks about cute boys.

One foot in childhood, one in adolescence. Sometimes sweet and playful, sometimes moody and sensitive. She’s a tween.

How do you talk to her? Here are some suggestions.

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Click here to read the full article.

Click here to read my article about communicating with pre-teen boys.

How to Talk to Your Tween Boy: Stay connected even as he exerts his independence

I have a twelve-year-old son.  Sometimes it's easy to talk with him, but sometimes, it's just not.  Here's an article I wrote about communicating with pre-teens. ----------------------

Attitude. Moodiness. An emerging desire for autonomy. A growing connection to friends that appears to coincide with a decreasing connection to parents. Any of that sound familiar? If you have a son who’s a tween—a 9- to 12-year-old—then chances are at least some of that rings a bell. And most likely, one of the challenges you’re facing at the moment is how to talk to your no-longer-a-child but not-yet-a-teenager son. Here are some suggestions.

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Click here to read the full article at mom.me.

Click here to read my article about communicating with pre-teen girls.

Overestimating Your Child's Ability to Deal?

We expect so much of our kids, don't we?  But when we misperceive their ability to handle themselves well, we make things hard on everyone involved. That's the gist of my new article at mom.me:

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I hear it from parents all the time.  They’ll come to my office and say, their voices full of frustration, “He’s capable of handling himself well.  He does it at school and usually at home.  But then there are times he just acts so immature and freaks out.”

Sound familiar?  Does to me, too.  In fact, it sounds just like my kids.

And like these parents, I’ll sometimes take the next, seemingly logical, step and assume that the fact that a child can often make good choices and handle herself well, means that she can always do so.

A father in my office last week described his daughter like this:  “She wants things her way.  And if things don’t go her way, she might lose it; and she could clearly make a better choice.  I know she can deal with stuff well, she just chooses not to.”

Again, this can seem like a logical conclusion.  But is it?  In other words, if a child often, or even usually, handles herself well, does that mean that when she doesn’t do so, she’s being manipulative or somehow choosing to make things hard on her parents so she can get her way?

Let’s apply it to ourselves.  Could someone say something similar about you as a parent?  “She’s capable of parenting well.  She does it lots of places, and usually she handles herself great at home.  But then there are times that she just acts so immature and freaks out.”  I don’t know about you, but if someone said that about me, my only response would be, “Guilty as charged.”

But obviously, you and I don’t have bad parenting moments because we’re intentionally acting belligerent so we can get our way.  Manipulation implies that we are calculating.  But when we mess up with our kids, it’s because the emotions get the best of us and we temporarily don’t act like the kind of parents we want to be.

You see the point I’m making.  Just because we parent well lots of times, doesn’t mean we can parent well all the time.  The way we handle ourselves really depends so much on

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Read the whole article here.

Sharing, Taking Turns, and Other Things That Suck

I don't know about your little ones, but mine didn't exactly come out of the womb wanting to share their toys.  Here are some thoughts on the matter. ----------------

I want it!

Give it back!

It’s mine!

Sound familiar? If you have small children, it does.

And, while on the one hand kids love to share and give—they light up when they give a present, for example—self-sacrifice doesn’t come quite so easily.

If you think about it, sharing is actually a pretty complicated social situation. It requires quite sophisticated thinking and emotional intelligence. It demands that we think ahead, consider another person’s desires, balance our emotions and control our impulses. Most adults sometimes struggle with these skills!

RELATED: 8 Reasons to Be Grateful for Tantrums

Sharing is an awful lot to ask of a little one, particularly when we intrude upon what she’s doing in a given moment. When young children have a hard time taking turns or sharing, it's often because they have difficulty handling their big feelings. They don't yet have the skills to say, "I'm sorry, but I’d rather play with these blocks by myself right now.” So instead, they handle the situation their own way. They throw a fit. They grab. They hit. They cry.

Sharing isn’t usually fun. And it’s not easy to do. But as you know, it’s one of the skills children need to learn. So how do we help them develop the ability to share and take turns?

Here are some suggestions:

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Read the rest of the article at mom.me.

Movin' On Up: Help Your Kids with Back-to-School Transitions

As kids get ready to head back to school, here's a new article about helping them deal with the transitions they're headed towards. -------------------

Whether we want them to or not, kids keep growing up. Each fall, they head back to school and wonder which teacher they’ll get, whether their friends will be in their class and what the new school year will be like. And we wonder, and often worry, right along with them. The transitions that produce the most anxiety are the ones that involve beginning at a new school, which happens when a child enters kindergarten, middle school or high school.

Here are a few ways you can help make this transition as seamless as possible for your children.

Tell the story beforehand. Much of the anxiety kids experience in new situations has to do with the fear of the unknown. So find a way to help them imagine and understand what school will be like when they get there. For older kids, this may mean simply walking through the class schedule and spending a few minutes with a map of the campus.

For younger kids, help them make a book. It can be fun to go to the school and take photographs—of the playground, of the classrooms, of the bathrooms—and create a book out of the photos. Use construction paper, iBooks, whatever. Just give your child the facts about the school and what will happen during the day. Then end the book with

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Read the whole article at mom.me.

Bathroom Privacy 101

Ever feel like you just can't find a minute alone--even to go to the toilet?  I get it.  Over at mom.me, I've posted a new article on the subject.  Here's how it opens: ------------------

If you have small children, you know they like to follow you into the bathroom. In fact, 92 percent of mom bloggers have written, at one time or another, about the simple desire for getting to go to the toilet by themselves. (Actually, I just made up that percentage, but it sounds about right.) It’s not that we don’t love being with our kids, but come on. Give a mother a break, right?

Let’s begin with one thing: Our little ones follow us to the bathroom not to invade our privacy, but because they just like being with us. Still, we deserve some alone time.

If you find that you need some privacy, or if your child is old enough to begin learning about specific boundaries and personal-space issues, here are some suggestions for finding a couple of minutes of “me time” in the bathroom.

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Read the rest of the article.

Should I Force My Shy Child to Participate?

I know what it’s like to have a shy child.  I have a picture of my oldest son at his friend’s four-year-old birthday party.  All of the children are gathered in a tight circle around a young woman dressed like Dora the Explorer.  All, that is, except Ben, who insisted on standing six feet away from the circle of not-so-shy kids. It was the same when he was two and I took him to a music class.  While the other children sang and danced and itsy-bitsy-spidered their hands like crazy, my shy guy sat in my lap and refused to do anything more than timidly observe.

My son is now twelve.  And while he’s definitely an introvert—some might still describe him as a little bit shy—he is very comfortable with himself, and even outgoing at times.  He looks people in the eye when he talks to them, he raises his hand in class, and he even frequently gets loud and crazy when he’s with his friends—even in public.  You should’ve seen him and his friends dancing together at a recent Dodgers game.

Researchers who study human personality tell us that shyness is to a large extent genetic.  It’s actually a part of a person’s core makeup.

However, as my husband and I learned with our son, that doesn’t mean that shyness isn’t changeable to a significant degree.  In fact, the way parents handle their child’s shyness has a big impact on how the child deals with that aspect of his or her personality, as well as how shy the child is later on.

Here are a few guidelines to help you know how to best know how to respond to your child’s shyness.

Watch your words. 

Talk about shyness as how your child feels, not who he or she is.  For example, if your daughter is hiding behind your leg and refusing to say hello to Grandpa, you might be tempted to say something like, “Sorry, Grandpa.  She’s shy.”  Instead, tell your daughter, “You feel shy right now.  That’s OK—you can say hello when you’re ready.”  It’s a subtle difference, but saying “You feel” is much better than saying “You are,” because it names a momentary state, rather than the essence of your child’s being.

Also, keep in mind that being shy is a temperament issue.  It’s neither good nor bad.  It’s just part of who your daughter is, like her height or the color of her hair.  So make sure that you’re not sending messages—either verbally or nonverbally—that communicate that you don’t like this part of who she is.

Don’t push too hard.

Research shows that kids whose parents push them too far, too quickly, end up withdrawing even more.  Because shy children feel uncertainty and anxiety in certain social situations, when parents force them to participate or to do things they aren’t comfortable doing, it just makes them more anxious, making it less likely they’ll be willing to give it a try the next time.  If your son is insisting that he doesn’t want to do something that feels terrifying to him, don’t force him.  Make sure that he’s confident that you will help him feel safe.  After all, it’s probably not that important that he take his turn at the piñata.

Don’t over-protect. 

On the other hand, it’s important that you give your child opportunities to succeed in new situations.  Help your little bashful one take gentle steps in the direction of achievement and accomplishment.  Freely use the phrase “I’ll do it with you,” and say things like, “I know it’s hard (or you’re uncomfortable), but I’ll be with you.  Let’s just give it a try.”  A gentle nudge might include saying “Let’s just go take a look.

There may be times when you need to pull back when you can sense that your child simply isn’t ready to do something.  Then you can respond with lots of empathy and comfort:  “Maybe next time, when you’re ready, we’ll try again.”  But keep in mind that mastery of new experiences builds confidence, so be careful not to deprive your child of these opportunities by rescuing her too quickly.

Celebrate accomplishments.

Notice and comment on even small triumphs.  “Way to go!  You got closer to watch the kids hit the piñata!  Maybe next time you’ll want to take a swing.”  Or, “I know you weren’t sure about it, but you tried it anyway!  I’m proud of you.”  Focus on your child’s effort, and the fact that he’s trying, not on whether or not he actually goes through with whatever you wanted him to do.  The more you can encourage and support him, embracing him for who he is, the more he will believe in himself and take on challenges as he grows into who he’s supposed to be.

7 Ways to Deal With a Toddler's Tantrum

I have a new post up at mom.me.  It begins like this: ---------------- I recently wrote about why we should be grateful when our little ones throw a tantrum. But aside from understanding that a tantrum is normal and even healthy, what else can we do when we’re actually in this kind of high-stress moment with our kids? I don't believe parents should ignore a tantrum. When children are truly out of control, that’s when they need us the most. We still need to set clear boundaries, but our response should always be full of love, respect and patience.

Here are seven suggestions for dealing with a toddler’s tantrum:

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View the whole gallery here.

8 Reasons to Be Grateful for Tantrums

Here's a new post on Mom.me.  It begins like this: ---------------

Grateful?  Really?

I know what you’re thinking: "File this one under 'You can’t be serious.'”

But I am serious.

Nobody likes a tantrum: not your little one, and certainly not you. But even though we don’t enjoy our kids’ tantrums, there are plenty of reasons to be grateful for the times when they get the most upset.

For example . . .

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Click here to check out the whole piece.

The Agony of Defeat: How a Parent Can Respond to Losing the Big Game

Here's another sports-related article I've just posted on mom.me.  It's about helping your kids deal with disappointment on the athletic field. --------------

As the Olympics kick into gear and dominate the sports scene over the coming weeks, we’ll get to repeatedly witness what Jim McKay used to call “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”  The competition itself makes for captivating television, and the climax of the competition is, of course, the thrill or the agony of the competitors.

Let’s look at the agony of defeat.  This can be painful enough to watch when the person going through it is a stranger on TV.  What do you do when your own child is the one hurting?  She’s just lost her big swim meet.  He’s just missed the penalty kick that could’ve won the game.  What do you say when your child is discouraged, and a post-game snack ticket isn’t going to do the trick?

Here are some suggestions.  Hopefully they’ll allow you to address the pain while also teaching the important lessons that painful experiences offer.

Let your child cry, and even sulk.

My husband and I actually teach our kids that during a game, they need to hold it together emotionally.  When their team needs them, that’s a time to focus on the present moment.  When they get upset during the game, we tell them to notice their emotions and then “put your feelings in your pocket,” where they can stay until the game is over.

But after the game, tears should be acknowledged and welcomed.  It’s not exactly groundbreaking science to say that unexpressed feelings can be problematic, both mentally and physically.  So when the game ends, it becomes your job to hold your young athlete while he cries, and to comfort him and soothe him.  It really is crucial that we not only allow, but encourage and teach our children to feel their feelings.  Especially when things haven’t gone their way.  That means we have to . . .

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Read the rest of the article here.

Dos and Don'ts of Being a Sports Parent

I have a new article (with gallery) up at mom.me that focuses on being a sports parent.  It begins like this. ------------

I’m no expert when it comes to sports. I don’t regularly watch ESPN or check the box scores. But as a mom of three boys who want to play every sport that’s in season, I’ve learned a thing or two over the last few years. A lot of what I’ve learned has to do with what we, as parents, can do to support our kids and help them get the most out of their time on the field or court. Having sat in the stands for literally hundreds of games, and considering that I’ve studied my share of child development research, I feel I’ve seen enough to put together the following list of suggestions. They're all based on one basic principle: How your children feel about sports, and about playing sports, often has a great deal to do with how you act while they’re playing.

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Click here to see the whole piece.

The Dreaded Potty Talk: Is This a Battle I Should Fight?

Potty talk and childhood go hand-in-hand.  I can’t fully explain why words like “poop,” “butt,” and “wiener” should be so inherently and universally funny to kids, but they obviously are.  How do you decide how big of a deal to make potty talk in your house?  Here are some suggestions:

 

Decide for yourself.

You may have heard that there’s the “correct” way to handle toilet humor.  Maybe your parents had a definite approach.  Maybe they still expect you to follow their lead.  But with your own children, the first thing you need to do is think critically and thoughtfully about how you want to handle this issue (and others) in your family.  Maybe you don’t really have a problem with hearing your kids talk and giggle about pee-pee.  Or, maybe it’s really bothersome to you.  Either way, form your own opinions rather than just following what you’ve heard you should do.

 

Know that it’s normal.

If your kids think “stinky armpit” is a hysterical phrase, then they’re completely normal.  Even if you decide you don’t approve of potty talk, you don’t need to worry that something’s wrong if your children guffaw at body humor.  And admit it:  Isn’t it funny sometimes to you, as well?  I couldn’t help but crack up a bit recently when my boys and my husband were dying laughing about a library book about the planet Uranus.  (Did you know that Uranus is made up of rocks and dust, and that people on Earth can’t see Uranus without a telescope?)

 

Emphasize what's really important.  

Think about what actually matters to you.  Do you find the word “butt-head” patently offensive, or is the problem that it’s hard to use it in a kind and respectful way?  In my own home, with my kids, our rule is that all speech needs to be respectful.  I don’t happen to mind potty words if my kids are being silly or playful.  It can get annoying, sure, but I don’t necessarily see those words as worse than other childish phrases and songs  But words that hurt someone’s feelings or show disrespect—whether they have anything to do with the body or the bathroom or not—are off-limits.

 

Talk about why words matter.

Help your kids understand that they should consider the words they use not because certain words are inherently bad, but because words are powerful.  They can hurt, or heal, or please, or build up, or tear down.  Explain that you have a reason for teaching them about the terms they choose.

 

Don’t demonize the words.

You may decide that you don’t want to hear potty language.  Even (and especially) if you don’t, it’s probably not a good strategy to outlaw them completely.  Making them taboo will only increase their power.  So instead, explain to your kids, in a matter-of-fact tone, that "potty words are for the bathroom, so it's totally fine to talk about poopy butts, but go talk about them in the bathroom."

 

Set boundaries when you need to.

Even if you don’t mind some giggling about bathroom humor, the chances are that you’ll get tired of it at some point.  You don’t have to listen to jokes about bodily functions 24-7, any more than you have to listen to the playlist of kids songs any time you’re in the car. 

 

Redirect.

When you do want to set boundaries, a good way to address the issue without banning the words and thus giving them more power, is simply to lead your kids in a different direction.  When they say “butt,” you say “earlobe.”  Find other body parts (“nose hair”) and silly phrases (“shamma-lamma-ding-dong”) that can incrementally lead the conversation elsewhere.  Or, simply offer a completely different activity that can give them positive attention in another domain:  "Let's get out the frisbee!"

 

Be respectful of others’ wishes.

If you have no problem with your kids using potty talk, it’s still important to talk to them about how other families might have different rules about what’s OK to say.  Make sure your children know that certain words are fine to say at home, but that they may not be appropriate at school or at some friends' homes.  It’s actually good for kids to figure out that there are different rules in different contexts.  

 

Prioritize the relationship.

However you decide to respond to the potty talk, make sure that your relationship with your children remains the central focus.  When you laugh with them, when you explain your reasoning, and even when you set boundaries, make it all a part of a loving relationship where, regardless of how you might feel about your children and the way they are talking, you love and approve of who they are, without reservation. 

 

The original version of this article can be viewed at Mom.me.

Why You Should Consider Sleepaway Camp

Considering a sleepaway camp for your kids this summer?  I'm a fan.  I've written about it in a new article at Mom.me.  Here's an excerpt: ------------------

I’m a sleepaway summer camp convert. Four years ago, when my husband and I decided to send our 9-year-old son to camp for two weeks, I was reluctant. But we knew the camp director personally, our son was ready and excited, he had a friend going with him, and my husband had visited the camp and convinced me to loosen my anxious grip.

Now, this summer, my son will return to that camp—he goes for four weeks now—and his younger 9-year-old brother will go for his first two weeks.

What converted me from my nervous reluctance and made me such an evangelistic proponent of sleepaway camp? There were lots of factors, but here are my top four:

Time away from electronics. Studies show that the stress hormone cortisol decreases significantly when people spend time in nature. And while I’m not anti-electronics, I do love knowing that my boys will be spending significant amounts of time this summer in the lake and woods, without access to any video games, social networking or even email.

Members of a community. At camp, kids stay in cabins with children from different regions and walks of life. They set tables together, perform daily rituals, and build deep friendships with kids they might not otherwise be friends with. Not only are they exposed to different types of people, but they also have to find ways to get along with them, and to work with them as they develop new relationships.

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