Tag Archives: Parenting

Letting Kids Fight it Out

Isn’t it strange how we can quickly forgive people who do wrong to us, but really struggle to forgive those who do bad things to the people we love. We become so fiercely protective of our loved ones that we become ferocious beasts out to shield them from any pain. This is especially problematic when our kids come to us complaining about a fight they got into with a friend or a classmate. I am not talking about bullying here – that ALWAYS needs to be taken seriously, but rather when there is an argument or falling out among friends. All kids have them and, I have learned, they tend to get over them very quickly. The hard part is parents might not be able to bounce back as quickly and may have a hard time of letting go of their animosity toward the child that hurt their kid’s feelings.

So, what should you do if your child comes home complaining of an argument with a friend?

  • Talk with your child about what happened. Ask how they feel about it. Be open and receptive to whatever they want to share.
  • Ask how they want to handle it. Are they going to give it time to blow over? Are they going to try to talk with their friend? Do they want you to talk with the other child’s parent(s) about what happened? It is critical your child play an active role in deciding how to manage the situation. You are modeling for your child how to work through a social problem and how to act accordingly.
  • Help to direct your child to healthier solutions – more talking through problems and less punching the other child in the nose.
  • Give your child the support needed to follow through on their plan. Be open to discussing how the process is going for them.
  • If your child is ready to forgive the child and move forward in their friendship, stay out of the way. Kids have their feelings heard easily, but also tend to forgive quickly, too.
  • If a problem persists with a specific child or group of children, discuss with your child whether this is a relationship that should continue. Be prepared to set limits if necessary.
  • The big thing is to get out of their way. Let them handle it if at all possible. They are learning important conflict resolution skills.
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Childhood Bullying Sucks

In the past 10 years or so “bullying” has become a buzzword we use to justify our children’s behavior. Anytime there is some sort of school violence, specifically a school shooting, we immediately look for some pattern of bullying to explain the child’s actions. As soon as I see something like this posted, my immediate thought is what does bullying actually mean. I went to www.stopbullying.gov to get their definition. It reads:

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.

Sometimes bullying is easy to identify and other times it is more difficult. Let me give an example – if the stereotypical bully walks up to a smaller kid, hits them on the back of the head and demands their lunch money, most people would not struggle to call this bullying. But what about when bullying is more subtle?  Here is another example – I had a client who experienced significant social problems. He was difficult to get along with and was not liked by his classmates. The other children ignored and isolated him and rejected his attempts to play with them. He identified them as “bullies”. Typically girls who bully are more likely to engage in this type of social or psychological bullying, but it occurs in either gender.

So what can we do if a child is being bullied?

What the child can do:

  • Talk to your parents, teachers, principal, coach, and anyone else who might listen. You aren’t (and shouldn’t be) in this alone. Keep asking for help until you get the help you need.
  • Remember bullies are typically looking for a reaction. If you can find a way to withhold that reaction from them, they will get bored and move on. It completely sucks that they will likely continue to do this to others, but you may be out of the line of fire at least.
  • Remove yourself from situations where bullies congregate. This depends on your situation – it can be a specific basketball court or hallway or team.
  • Look at your own behavior. Is there something you might be doing to contribute to this dynamic? This does not mean it is your fault, but there may be things you can do to make it easier on yourself. My client who was not liked by his peers was assisted by working on his social skills so he could read and interpret others’ social cues more easily.

What parents can do:

  • Try to maintain open communication with your kids, so they are more likely to come to you with a problem.
  • Talk about bullying both specifically and generally so your child knows your position on bullying.
  • Take it seriously when your child tells you he/she is being bullied. Talk with them about it and make a plan on how it is going to be addressed. Follow through and follow up.
  • Talk with your child’s teacher, coach and/or principal about bullying. Ask for help. Demand it if it is not offered.
  • Do what you need to do to protect your child – change groups/classes/schools if necessary.
  • Get your child additional assistance – this can include a therapist to talk out feelings. You can also seek out additional support for skill acquisition (i.e., sports, academics, social, etc).

Bullying is terrible. Children can be driven to a number of actions based on this experience including violence against themselves and others. They do not have the awareness or maturity to know it is only temporary and they can be free of it with either age or assistance from others. They feel trapped in their pain and are looking for any escape possible. Let’s help them identify alternative options and get them through to the other side.

Keep Your Power

Many of you know I have a daughter, Charlie (her real name), who is 9 years old. Well, Charlie is in 4th grade this year and every year since Kindergarten she has been complaining about another little girl, Jenny (not her real name). Jenny is reportedly not very nice. She supposedly says mean things about my daughter is does not want her friends to be friends with Charlie. She has been a frequent topic of conversation between me and Charlie. Initially the focus of these conversations was on why Jenny might be acting this way. I tried to build empathy in my daughter about Jenny’s lack of friends, her poor grades, and how sad she must be to be too tall, short, thin or fat (whatever her problem may be). We talked about low self esteem and how children will often engage in bullying behavior because they do not feel very good about themselves. I even made Charlie attend this little girl’s birthday party last year when she was invited because I felt badly that so few kids were going to attend. Charlie wondered why she had to go when this child is so mean to her and even asked if she wasn’t rewarding Jenny’s bad behavior by going to the party. (She is a psychologist’s kid, right?) But, I made her go anyway. I think I was doing my daughter a disservice.

What I should have been talking to her about what keeping her power and not giving it away to others. What does this mean? It means spending your time focusing on, talking about and wasting energy on people who only bring negativity into your life gives away your power. I should have been telling her to walk away from this child and focus on people who bring positivity and light to her life. I should not have forced her to try (over and over again) to be the bigger person. Self-preservation has its place. We’ve now had this conversation, but have also been able to discuss protecting her power in other ways as well. If there is a soccer coach that seems impossible to please or a teacher who cannot be satisfied or a sibling who never seems happy, sometimes you need to take the loss and move onto people who are able to accept your efforts and appreciate them. There is a saying, “Throwing good money after bad” – this applies to effort and energy as well. If you have tried, and are satisfied you have done your best, and they are still not content – maybe it is them, not you. Let go and move on.

This does not just apply to 9-year-old girls. It applies to all of us. If your boss is never satisfied, eventually you need to quit banging your head against that wall trying to satisfy them. Learn to live with their dissatisfaction or find a new job. If your partner (boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife) never seems to feel you or what you do is good enough, stop killing yourself. Either accept their disappointment and figure out how to live with it or it is time to end the relationship and move on. To keep trying is to give them the power you should have in your own life. You are allowing them to dictate whether you are good enough, smart enough, nice enough, anything enough. You get to decide this. Reclaim your power and make these determinations on your own behalf.

You don’t have to try to be friends with a really mean little girl. You don’t have to allow her to treat you badly while you empathize with whatever it is that makes her treat you so badly. Sometimes you need to take care of yourself. It isn’t selfish to keep your own power.

What My Daughter’s Toothbrush Taught Me

My daughter got a new toothbrush this weekend. It is one of those where you push a button and the green light lights up. It stays green for roughly one minute, then briefly turns yellow and finally turns read to indicate you have brushed your teeth long enough and can now stop. I was brushing her teeth tonight (my first time with the new toothbrush) and couldn’t help thinking how nice it would be to have a timer like this in a number of areas in my life.

Exercising – I would LOVE a timer that would signal when I had worked out for the optimal amount of time with the optimal amount of effort and could stop guilt-free. This would help me optimize my workout without having the responsibility of knowing when I was slacking off too much. I really struggle with knowing if I should have run longer or harder or was what I did “good enough”.

Work – Oftentimes we are required to work a specific “shift” for our jobs (i.e., 9-5 or 10-8) and know we are done working once the magical hour arrives, but wouldn’t it be nice to have some way of signaling we had completed our optimal amount of work for the day and could call it quits. Something that indicates we have reached some threshold and surpassing it would lead to reduced productivity. I think this is the “law of diminishing returns” or something like that (I am currently too lazy to look it up).

Parenting – I think we (parents) often struggle with knowing when we have done “enough”. We are always worried we should be doing more for and with our children. (I know I do.) Would it not be stupendous to have a way of knowing you have done enough so your kid will be OK. Once this enough is reached, you could relax a bit without too much guilt.

Giving back – Many of us want to repay those who have given to us by returning the favor to others. We want to help those who are less fortunate and support those who require assistance. The difficulty is there is always someone who needs something. Where do we draw the line? When have we done enough? I would LOVE some sort of gauge that could tell me I have given back enough to avoid guilt when I sometimes have to (or choose to) say, “No”. Some indicator that my karmic debt has been repaid (even if only temporarily).

Saving – Oh, how I wish I could somehow know exactly how much money I need to have saved to take care of me and mine in the future. There are definitely numbers out there floating around, but there never seems to be a point where you are told to stop, relax and enjoy yourself. I wish my bank account came with an alarm which would sound once my account reached a balance sufficient to take care of my family’s future needs (even though I think I might never actually reach it).

In writing this I had a couple of thoughts. First, I spend way too much time thinking about my daughter’s toothbrush and how it impacts my world view. Secondly, most of these topics really focused on the idea of “good enough” and my desire to find some external gauge by which I could determine when I finally reached it. Maybe I need to make these determinations on my own rather than relying on someone or something else to decide for me.

Protect the Possibilities

Your life is filled with endless possibilities and one of the most important things you can do is avoid limiting those possibilities before you are ready. Consider this – when we are born, the world is vast before us. We could grow up to be so many different things. As we grow and develop, some of those possibilities begin to fall away naturally. For instance, I am “almost 5’3” tall. It quickly became apparent I was never going to reach a sufficient height to become a great basketball player, so that possibility dropped off for me. Fortunately, I did not have aspirations for the WNBA, so the loss of this possibility was not deeply felt. This process continues throughout our lives as we begin to hone our interests and abilities. This is a natural and healthy process.

What I want to caution you about today is to avoid limiting your possibilities prematurely. You may be depriving yourself of something potentially amazing. How do these possibilities get unnecessarily limited? Here are a few ways:

  • Dropping out of high school. Blowing off your education limits your career path tremendously. This doesn’t have to be a permanent limitation (you can always go back to school), but it is always harder to go back than you might expect.
  • An unplanned pregnancy. I love kids. I have a kid and think she is absolutely amazing (I am a little biased), but having a child when you are unprepared limits the other options available to you.
  • Getting arrested. A criminal record can follow you for the rest of your life and limit your choices. If incarcerated, you are limited in your selection of even the most basic things (what to eat, where to go, when to shower, etc). Even if you aren’t imprisoned, this record can limit the types of jobs you can obtain and who would be/might be willing to hire you.
  • Drinking and/or doing drugs. If you are one of the lucky ones who are able to “dabble” in drugs and not become addicted, you are still restricting your future opportunities. Your relationships can be damaged by your substance use, you can suffer financial hardships, you can get arrested (see above) and you can lose focus on the things that matter in your life. What if you are not one of the “lucky ones”? You get to look forward to possible alcohol or drug overdoses and addictions. Your life will be constrained in so many ways.

Do your best to keep your options open. It is almost always better to have too many alternatives available to you rather than too few. Protect your possibilities. They have value and so do you.

How to Raise a Teenager without Ending up in the Loony Bin (Technical Term!)

There are few things that terrify parents more (other than bringing a brand new baby home from the hospital) than the thoughts of one day parenting a teenager. Teenagers strike fear in the hearts of parents everywhere. Winston Churchill once said, “It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma: but perhaps there is a key.” He was talking about Russia during World War II, but it appropriately applies to teenagers as well.

Here are some suggestions about how to best survive the teen years with your sanity intact and your child still speaking to you:

  1. Develop freedom and trust gradually over time. You are going to have to be the lead on this. Teens cannot prove they are trustworthy until you give them a little room. Parents often default to the “trust is earned, not given” theory of parenting. This becomes impossible to satisfy. Give them some freedom and see how they do. If they behave responsibly, give them a little more. Their independence is directly related to how well they have managed in the past. If they are responsible, they earn more freedom. If they are inappropriate, they earn less. Have this conversation with your teen – better yet, start having this conversation when they are even younger. Discuss the importance of checking in. Most teens have phones at this point – establish the rules about when you would like to hear from them while they are out.
  2. Encourage open communication with your teen. This means you may hear things you do not like and/or do not want to hear. This may be uncomfortable, but it is OK. You can survive discomfort. You want your teen to have a sounding board that has more life experience than his or her friends. They may not always follow your advice, but you definitely want to be one of the voices they consider.
  3. Remember you are their parent first and foremost. You are not their friend. You should not be their friend. It is great if you and your teen enjoy spending time together and have similar interests or hobbies, but at the end of the day you are their parent. They need friends their own age. You need to maintain the parental hierarchy. You are the final word on what is acceptable and what is not. They need to know that someone has expectations for them and will hold them accountable for their behavior. They may rebel against you, but you are what makes them feel safe.
  4. Do not get into debates with your teen. Unless you are arguing the finer points of Team Peeta vs. Team Gale, once you enter the debate, you have already lost. How? They can keep up the argument forever! It is great to have a discussion with the sharing of ideas, but once you have made a decision you have to stick to it. You teen needs to learn that no means no – it doesn’t mean argue harder or louder. It is important for your teen to learn to respect you as an authority figure as they will have to respect future professors and employers.
  5. Encourage your teen to be involved in extracurricular activities. Ideally this activity will have some form of group dynamic (school play, sports team, band, etc) because this will help them learn to work with others toward a common goal. You will also have the comfort of knowing where your teen is after school each day – Yay! – which leaves less free time to be having sex, doing drugs and drinking. (They still could be engaging in all of the above, so be vigilant.)
  6. Know the kids in your teen’s life. Know their friends. You are NOT one of the crowd, but you want to know who they are and what they are into. Have good snacks at your house. Be open to them spending time at your home. You will learn so much about your child by watching them interact with their friends. Do not cross the line though – never be the parent who throws wild parties for their teen’s friends or buys drugs or alcohol. Remember you are not their friend, you are their parent.
  7. Be involved at school. There are rarely the opportunities to volunteer at the high school on the same way there were in elementary school, but you can know your teen’s teachers. Go to Back to School Night. Attend Parent-Teacher conferences. Keep an eye on your child’s grades and contact the teachers if there is a problem. Most schools have an online parent portal where you can keep track of things like grades, homework completion and classroom attendance – check it.
  8. Find ways for your teen to earn money. I understand – academics are tougher now than ever before and many teens cannot manage school, extracurricular activities and a job, but you can find ways to make money more meaningful for them. Have chores available to earn extra money. Encourage babysitting for neighbors. Have errands your driver can do on your behalf. This will allow two important things for your teen: an awareness that money has value and doesn’t “grow on trees” and some extra cash in their pockets for fun with friends.
  9. Give your teen a good once over every day. You want to notice any changes in how they look, how they act or how they are feeling. This can be your first warning sign a problem may be developing. Ask how they are doing and what is going on in their lives. Be interested.
  10. Choose your battles. There are an infinite number of things you can battle with your teen about on a daily basis. Don’t. You will be exhausted and so will they and you will only be driven further apart. Identify what matters most to you and your child and choose those battles that are central to those issues. You may decide loud music is tolerable while falling grades are not.
  11. Talk to your teen about the dangers of being a teen. Talk about drugs and alcohol. Talk about sex and relationships. Go one step further and help them problem solve possible solutions to situations in which they might find themselves. Brainstorm solutions they feel like they could live with (and still return to school on Monday).
  12. It is 100% OK for your kids to feel bad sometimes. If they have done something wrong and now have to face a consequence, do not feel you have to rescue them. If they have hurt someone’s feelings, let them sit with the guilt – it may prevent them from repeating the same mistake in the future. You can tell them you still love and respect them, but it is natural to feel guilty when you have done something wrong.
  13. Most importantly, remember, just like your teen, you are not perfect. You will make mistakes. Acknowledge them (if needed, apologize for them) and move on hoping to do better next time.

Parenting Styles – You get out what you put in.

I was thinking earlier today about the different ways parents raise their children and how different kids respond to each of those styles. It can be confusing because one child can really blossom under the guidance of his/her parents while another (in the same household) really struggles – creating a battle royal for all involved. It can drive both the parent and the child insane. It shows that we, as parents, have to have some flexibility in how we approach our children and need not to have a cookie cutter approach to parenting – it needs to be more individualized.

Here is a recap of the different parenting styles:

  1. Authoritarian Parenting
    In this style of parenting, children are expected to follow the strict rules established by the parents. Failure to follow such rules usually results in punishment. Authoritarian parents fail to explain the reasoning behind these rules. If asked to explain, the parent might simply reply, “Because I said so.” These parents have high demands, but are not responsive to their children. According to Diana Baumrind, these parents “are obedience- and status-oriented, and expect their orders to be obeyed without explanation” (1991). This parenting style is often portayed as abusive, but this is definitely not always the case. Consider the movie Footloose (either the 1984 or 2011 versions) – the father (reverend) laid down the household rules and expected his daughter to follow them without question. He was the head of the household and did not tolerate disobedience.
  1. Authoritative Parenting
    Like authoritarian parents, those with an authoritative parenting style establish rules and guidelines that their children are expected to follow. However, this parenting style is much more democratic. Authoritative parents are responsive to their children and willing to listen to questions. When children fail to meet the expectations, these parents are more nurturing and forgiving rather than punishing. Baumrind suggests that these parents “monitor and impart clear standards for their children’s conduct. They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. They want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible, and self-regulated as well as cooperative” (1991). This parenting style is typically portrayed most positively in TV and movies. An example might be the movie Easy A (2010), the main character has an open dialogue with her parents. She and her brother are free to express their thoughts and feelings, but the parents continue to offer guidance and support.
  1. Permissive Parenting
    Permissive parents, sometimes referred to as indulgent parents, have very few demands to make of their children. These parents rarely discipline their children because they have relatively low expectations of maturity and self-control. According to Baumrind, permissive parents “are more responsive than they are demanding. They are nontraditional and lenient, do not require mature behavior, allow considerable self-regulation, and avoid confrontation” (1991). Permissive parents are generally nurturing and communicative with their children, often taking on the status of a friend more than that of a parent. Frequently these parents were raised in an Authoritarian household themselves and swung to more Permissive parenting as a reaction to their own parents. In the media, these parents are portrayed as being desperate to be their child’s friend at all costs. Consider the movie Mean Girls (2004). The main mean girl, Regina’s, mother wants to be part of her inner circle. She wants in on the latest styles and gossip and never addresses her daughter’s behavior. Regina is free to do whatever she wants to whomever she wants.
  1. Uninvolved Parenting
    An uninvolved parenting style is characterized by few demands, low responsiveness and little communication. While these parents fulfill the child’s basic needs, they are generally detached from their child’s life. In extreme cases, these parents may even reject or neglect the needs of their children. A prime example might be the movie Matilda (1996). In the movie, Matilda’s parents provide a roof over her head, clothes to wear and food to eat, but they are completely disinterested in her to the point that they don’t even think to enroll her in school. She is a non-entity in their world and they happily sign her over when her teacher wants to adopt her.

Now, you may be wondering what happens to kids who are raised in these different parenting styles? Well, research has shown:

  • Authoritarian parenting styles generally lead to children who are obedient and proficient, but they rank lower in happiness, social competence and self-esteem.
  • Authoritative parenting styles tend to result in children who are happy, capable and successful (Maccoby, 1992). Remember this is the one that it typically portrayed most positively!
  • Permissive parenting often results in children who rank low in happiness and self-regulation. These children are more likely to experience problems with authority and tend to perform poorly in school.
  • Uninvolved parenting styles rank lowest across all life domains. These children tend to lack self-control, have low self-esteem and are less competent than their peers.

What style of parenting did your parents use when you were young? If I had to guess based on memory, my mom was a mixture of Authoritative and Permissive (depending on the day and the issue). For instance, school was never given a pass (it was ALWAYS important), but I sometimes got away with more than I should in the behavior department – I was a smart ass. Are you planning on (or do you already) parent your child(ren) in the same style your parent used? I think we are a little less Permissive than my mom was, but there are two of us and she was a single parent. Do you think it is possible to raise kids with different parenting styles depending on their personalities or are there variations within the styles that are possible?

Not My Daughter’s Best Friend

I was sitting recently with a client and her mother. My client, a 10-year-old girl, was explaining to me that her mother was her friend, in fact, her very best friend. She stated this as if it was a positive thing, but all I could think was this was the root of most of their difficulties.

Consider this – the foundation of the majority of friendships is equality. Both people have equal say in what they do and how they do it. This does not translate well in the parent-child relationship. How can you be your child’s friend and their parent at the same time? Simple answer, you can’t. Friends are often supportive of one another no matter what – a parent cannot do this. A parent needs to praise positive behaviors while offering consequences (punishment, discipline, whatever) for negative behaviors. A parent helps a child to problem solve difficult situations even if the potential solutions are uncomfortable or, at times, painful.

Here are some warning signs you are becoming too much a friend and not enough of a parent to your child:

1. No Routines or Limits

For many parents, life can get too hectic to follow through on their parenting plans, especially if it will take some work to get the kids on board. After a while, their family’s lack of routine can result in lazy, spoiled teens or tweens without schedules and responsibilities.

2. Avoiding conflict

Many parents find it easier to give in to their tween or teen’s demands than get into yet another argument, so they become more lenient than they’d like. This may be particularly true for parents who didn’t like the strict way that they were raised, so they relax the rules.

3. Making school (or other activity) an excuse

Savvy teens who want to shirk their responsibilities at home often use schoolwork (or sport’s practice or music lessons) as an excuse, because parents are usually pushovers for anything supposedly related to academics.

4. Being overly concerned with your child “liking” you

Some overly permissive parents are more concerned with their teenagers liking them than being effective authority figures.

5. Rewarding kids with technology

Tweens are getting smartphones at younger and younger ages, often because they wear down their parents by begging for the devices. But giving in isn’t good for your child, even if you justify that she can call you if she unexpectedly needs a ride home. (I am guilty of this one!)

Parenting is a tricky balance sometimes. You want to feel connected to your child and for them to trust you to be able to come to you with questions and concerns. You want them to respect you as an authority figure to be treated with respect at the same time. This is the tightrope. It can be a struggle to figure out how to be open enough so they will want to talk with you, but still maintaining their respect for your position as parent. You can be a friend to your child, but first and foremost, you need to be their parent. Your child needs the comfort of knowing you are there if things ever go sideways and they can count on you to pull them back if they are out of line. Clear expectations and boundaries are comforting even when they chafe against their burgeoning independence. If anyone has this sorted out, please let me know – it definitely would make things easier at our house!

Finger Cuffs

The other night, my husband and I were downstairs pulling dinner together while our daughter, Charlie, was upstairs running through her solos for dance. We could hear the music blaring from her phone and the occasional thump as she landed a leap or an aerial, but otherwise it was relatively quiet on the second floor. All is calm and peaceful on the Tonelli front, when what do we hear? “Ow! Ow! Mommy! Mommy, help, help!” As you can imagine, we went tearing up the stairs only to find our daughter in the fetal position sobbing. We weren’t sure if she had pulled a muscle, broken a bone, who knows. We were able to calm her down enough to get the story – cat attack. It seems our cat, Minxie, had been overly excited by Charlie’s dancing and had tried to grab one of her hands as it swung by. Minxie sunk a claw into Charlie’s juicy little finger and a tug of war ensued.

The Great Kitty Hand War led to a much deeper philosophical conversation than I had intended to have with my munchkin that night. I explained to her when the cat has a claw in you, pulling away only make it hurt worse and deepens the wound. We talked about how moving toward the cat, will release the claw allowing you to free yourself. This made me think of those Chinese Finger Traps – you remember the ones, right? There’s a picture below if you need a reminder, but the idea is the more you try to pull or force your way out, the more trapped you become. Life is like this in so many ways. Power struggles rarely end with a true victor – just bloody fingers in my daughter’s case. It isn’t about being the strongest (or the most stubborn) that gets you ahead, but how well you think through the problem. Often, if you can give a little, the other side may give you want you want.

This is something I try to explain to the teenagers in my practice. I most often see power struggles between this group and their parents as they want more independence/freedom while their parents want compliance/obedience. I discuss with my clients how, if they can give their parents a little (decent grades, respectful interactions, and following basic rules) then their parents may just give them more of what they want (later curfew, spending money, greater freedom). I too often see parents and teens stuck in Chinese Finger Cuffs, both pulling in opposite directions, neither getting what they want, trapped. You don’t have to be a teenager to follow this advice. The next time you are in a power struggle, take a moment and don’t pull back. Instead, take a step forward and see if the trap doesn’t loosen, just a little.