Rosalind Wiseman

Putting an End to Negative Self-Talk in Kids

Written on November 11, 2014 at 5:51 pm , by

A little negativity can go a long way. So when you’ve got a kid who is constantly down on himself, getting him to listen to a positive perspective can seem like an impossible task. A few days ago, the following email from a parent with just this problem landed in the inbox of our parenting expert, Rosalind Wiseman. Here’s her advice for silencing negative self-talk.

 

Q. My 10 year-old son has such a defeatist attitude. He’s always saying, “I’m no good at this or I’m no good at that.” His so-called teammates and friends blame him when they lose games and they never invite him to anything after school. I always struggle to think of the right things to say that my son will actually take to heart. How can I help him?

A. I understand how frustrating this is for so many parents. You feel like there’s nothing you can say to make it better. And if you don’t say, “No honey, you’re great!” you worry that it sounds like you agree with him. So here are my suggestions.

1. Stop using “You’re so great” as your go-to response. It comes across as not listening to your child. Instead, what I find more helpful is to say something like this:

You: I’m really sorry. Will you tell me a little more about why you’re feeling this way? Are there specific things you’re feeling down about?
Your child: I’m so slow. I get teased all the time because I’m the slowest kid in the world. No one has ever been as slow as me in the history of my school.
You: Wow, that’s really hard. I can imagine how annoying that is because it’s not like you want to be slow, and then the kids who tease you make it even worse. There are a couple of things I want you to just consider, not necessarily agree with, but just consider. No one can be good at everything. But the same is true the other way. No one is bad at everything either. I want to make a list of the things you’re good at and the things you’re not so good at. Then you can choose if you want to work on something on your list you want to get better at. Like if you want to get better at running, you can work on that.

2. Consider who’s inspiring these comments. Since classmates or other kids on the team are feeding negative comments to your kid, you might add something like this:

“I know it’s a lot to think about but I want to talk about what’s happening with your friends too. If other kids are mean to you, there are two ways I think you can handle it. Maybe you can think of more. You can laugh it off. Like, if kids on the basketball or track team are teasing you because you’re not as fast as them, you could say: ‘Yes, I’m really slow.’ Sometimes admitting it takes away some of the teasers’ power. Or you could choose not to run in any races or play in any games until you feel more confident. What do you think is a good way to handle it?”

Then listen to your child as he thinks through what he wants to do to have a little control and dignity in this situation.

3. Think about the benefits of being left out here. On the issue of those boys not inviting your son to things: take a step back. I know it feels bad when other children don’t include your child. However, in this case, do you want your son to be in a situation where they could easily ridicule him under the guise of joking around and playing? Overall, what he needs to do is work on the things he identifies for himself that he wants to get better at and then choose genuine friends who make him feel good instead of tearing him down. Even having one friend who treats him well is way better than hanging out with a group of kids who make him feel bad.

How would you handle a kid who’s down on himself? Post a comment and tell me.

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice here

Do you have a parenting question? Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.

 

 

When Dads Need Help Understanding Tween Girls

Written on November 3, 2014 at 10:24 am , by

Carpools are supposed to make everyone’s lives easier, but this one ride may have caused more trouble than it was worth. Check out our parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman’s correspondence with a mom who was upset by a dad who made her daughter feel like an outsider.

Dear Rosalind,

The father on carpool duty picked up my daughter and his from dance class and then took them to a party my daughter wasn’t invited to. When he dropped his daughter off, the windows opened, everyone saw my girl and she was humiliated. She is rightfully questioning whether this girl is a thoughtful friend, while I’m left wondering how to talk to the parents about this so the same situation doesn’t happen again. It’s hard enough to navigate new friendships and the party circuit without parents undermining your kid.

Signed,
Disappointed by Carpool Dad

 

Hi, Disappointed,

I am not excusing his behavior, but I always try to understand why a parent would do something that’s insensitive to a child. Once I understand it, it’s easier to figure out how to talk to the parent so it doesn’t happen again.

In this case, I am guessing that the dad didn’t have a clue what was going on until it was unfolding. Even if he did, he probably did what a lot of us do in awkward social situations: pretend it’s not happening. Think about it from his perspective. He’s picking up carpool and when he realizes that your daughter isn’t invited, he’s between a rock and a hard place. If he had called you from the car, that would have been worse for your daughter. If he hadn’t put her in his car, he would have had to leave her at practice. So my question to you is: What would you have liked him to do?

And regarding your daughter’s friends who attended the party, unless they’ve been excluding her in other ways, they could have felt awkward about the whole thing too. I totally understand that your daughter felt terrible and left out. However, I think this is one of those times (unless there is a pattern where the girls are being mean to her) when you acknowledge how crappy the situation is but she’s strong enough to feel those bad feelings, admit them and then move on.

Look forward to hearing back from you and I hope at least some of my advice is helpful.

Best,
Rosalind 

 

Dear Rosalind:

Ideally, I would have liked the father to bring my daughter home before dropping off his daughter at the party. We have seven elementary schools that feed into three middle schools, so there are new faces right now, and new friendships forming/shifting. My daughter was upset not to be invited, but not devastated. She didn’t think much of her friend going on and on about the party in the carpool ride. She interpreted that as rudeness and thought her friend should know better. She was most embarrassed by being seen in the car by friends she did know who were already at the party. She hasn’t let it bother her since and has moved on—a good sign.

Anyway, I resolved this with the parents, by text, and I’ll paraphrase.

Me: With that party, last week was rough on my daughter, so just wanted to let you know that it’s not a problem to shoot me a text or call, even last minute, if it’s not convenient to bring her home, or if plans change, it’s easy for me to come down to the dance studio. I know how quickly plans change with tweens on a Friday evening!

Other mom: I’m so sorry about that. I was away when the last minute request came for my daughter to go to the party and I was trying to communicate everything to my husband but was busy and didn’t think about all the implications.

Me: I absolutely know there was no ill intention, just wanted us all on the same page for the carpool to work for all the girls.

 

Now, here’s my bottom line after the back-and-forth with this mom: What I love about this parent is that she’s role modeling appropriate involvement in her tween daughter’s life. She recognizes her daughter was upset but not devastated. She reaches out to the other parent to share her concern but is clear about wanting to move forward for all the girls. The only thing I would like even more is if the dad was involved as well. We need to bring dads into these situations more often, especially when they are directly involved, as this dad was. I get that this can be hard, but I’d like to encourage dads to be involved in the social dynamics that can come up.

How would you handle this carpool conundrum? Post a comment and tell me.

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice here

Do you have a parenting question? Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.

 

What’s Up with Your Son and His Sneaker Obsession?

Written on October 7, 2014 at 1:06 pm , by

 

 

When little boys get into their first superhero costume, magic occurs. They know they have super powers. They think they can fly, bend steel and outrun the wind. A few years later, when it dawns on boys that maybe their Batman capes don’t give them these powers, they seek out something else. Sneakers.

A boy’s love affair with his “kicks” is intense. If you’ve ever seen a boy lace up his new sneakers (that word moms usually use) and run around the shoe store, you know what I mean. In the right pair, boys believe they will jump higher and run faster. You can see it in the gleam in their eyes—they are invincible.

But there’s nothing new about shoes being a big deal for boys. From Vans to PF Flyers to Chuck Taylors (“Chucks”), shoes matter. The love of kicks is deep. And for this generation of boys, it’s basketball shoes.

The first Air Jordans came onto the market in 1985, right after Michael Jordan first laced up those black-and-red shoes to match the colors of the Chicago Bulls. David Stern, the NBA commissioner at the time, fined Jordan five thousand dollars each time he stepped out on the court because his shoes didn’t have enough white on them. There was nothing David Stern could have done to make Michael Jordan or his shoes look cooler. Jordan was breaking the rules and he looked good doing it.

But why else are shoes such a big deal for boys?

Shoes are the fashion choice that all boys can participate in without being teased. When you go with your son to a store like Foot Locker and the salesperson in that black-and-white striped shirt comes over to your son, what does he ask? Does he ask what size shoe your son wears? No. The smart ones say, “Hey, man, what are your colors?” What other article of clothing could that happen with? Where else could that question be asked without drawing embarrassment from your kid?

The last time I went with my sons, I had a hard time holding back my laughter as I listened to their intense discussion with the salesman. I watched them wander in front of the wall of shoes, saw their intense gaze and subsequent handling of the shoes while they each stared off visualizing their future greatness on the basketball court. The entire thing was completely ridiculous—a fact that I kept to myself.

What isn’t ridiculous and what parents need to be very aware of, is that shoes are a huge indicator among boys about status and money. The shoes boys most covet are heavily marketed to them and extremely expensive. (Nike Kobes are about $170 and LeBrons can go up to $250.) If parents are willing to pay for them, that says a lot about how they’re buying into the marketing campaigns that are targeting our boys and, by extension, our wallets.

Also keep in mind that boys often have judgments about who has the right to wear these shoes. As in, if you wear them but you can’t hold your own athletically, boys are going to make fun of you to your face or ridicule you behind your back.

I am writing about this to suggest that when your son is begging for new shoes and spends hours looking at his various options online, don’t make fun of him or belittle his apparent superficiality. Instead, see this an opportunity to talk about financial responsibility and perception of his image. Tell him how much you are willing to spend. If he still insists that he has to get expensive shoes, tell him he has to use his savings or work to pay for the rest. Then ask him how he thinks his life will be better if he has the shoes he covets and really listen to his answers, because he is giving you a window into his world.

But what if you’re having the opposite experience and your son won’t get rid of his shoes. Are you that mom who’s desperate to buy him new ones because the old ones are so disgusting? The reason he’s doing this may be because he doesn’t want to buy into the materialism of the other kids. Boys can do things for amazing reasons, but it’s hard to see—even when it’s right in front of our eyes. Again, this is an opportunity to look beyond the shoes and ask the boys in our lives why they’re doing things that make so little sense to us. The strange thing is that if we do, we really may learn something.

How does your son feel about his favorite pair of sneakers? Post a comment and tell me.

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice, here

Do you have a parenting question? Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.

 

The Downside of Dress Codes

Written on September 11, 2014 at 5:36 pm , by

A few days before I started sixth grade at a private school, I went with my mother to get my uniforms. While she beamed, I remember miserably pulling the green-and-white-striped dress over my head. My mother, like many parents to this day, believed that uniforms were the answer to stopping social competition among students and contributed to an overall positive school atmosphere.

But here’s the problem: Way too often administrators and teachers enforce their school’s dress code by disrespecting and shaming their students, as with a recent incident involving a superintendent in Oklahoma. Not only is this unethical but it contributes to a school environment where the children don’t trust the adults to exercise their authority ethically. What should be a moment in the hall of “Please take off your hat” or “That skirt is a little short” becomes a humiliating power struggle where the child has no opportunity to learn whatever lesson the adult believes they are trying to teach.

Before I go on, let’s articulate the standard arguments to support school uniforms and dress codes. It is said that they:

1. Set a standard for students that learning environments should be given respect and prepares them for a professional environment as adults.

2. Contribute to students respecting themselves.

3. Decrease materialism and social competition.

4. Stop children from wearing clothes that are offensive or promote illegal or unhealthy substances like drugs and alcohol.

5. Contribute to school spirit and unity.

On the face of it, all these goals are entirely reasonable. Unfortunately, uniforms aren’t a magic bullet to stop “fashion show” competition between students. Kids know who has more money either because the student boasts about it (which is common) or other people talk about it. If it’s important to a student to show how rich their family is, they will figure out a way to do so, from donning $300 headphones to sporting $200 sneakers to bragging about what cars their parents have.

What’s more, no matter how great the school or how well-intentioned the rules are, a dress code and the way it is enforced can mask double standards and abuse of power. For example, the way boys and girls get in trouble for violating dress codes is different. Boys get in trouble for wearing clothes that are “disrespectful.” However they define that (sagging and baggy pants, wearing a hat inside), far too many adults start the interaction with boys by using their power as an adult to dominate them in public (by yelling at them in the hallway in front of their peers). And if the boy doesn’t immediately comply, his behavior is seen as defiant and requiring punishment. I am not excusing bad manners, but adults need to have common sense when they talk to people with adolescent brains. No one likes to be called out in public—especially teens—and when you do that, the teachable moment is lost.

In contrast, girls get in trouble more often for violating the dress code and are usually accused of presenting themselves in sexually inappropriate ways. Girls who go through puberty earlier and/or are more voluptuous are also disproportionately targeted (which also disproportionately impacts African American and Latina girls). Yes, a girl with a voluptuous body can be distracting, but that doesn’t mean the male students around her should be held to such a low standard that they aren’t expected to treat her respectfully. Teaching girls to respect themselves should focus on being proud of who they are—not shaming them for looking sexually promiscuous. This is a teachable moment about your hopes for your girl.

If your kid’s school has a dress code, it’s critical to instruct your child how to accept the responsibility they have as a member of the school community while recognizing that sometimes the way the code is applied is unfair.

Whether you have a son or a daughter, here’s what you can say:

If someone talks to you about being out of dress code, do what they say. If you feel that they have been rude to you, I still want you to do what they say but then tell me and/or tell the administrator you trust the most. But if you’re genuinely confused about why you’re out of dress code, or what you’re wearing is important to you and it’s not communicating something rude or degrading about someone else, you have the right to respectfully ask why you are in violation. If you feel strongly about this, you can research your rights about freedom of expression in school and bring that to the administration. You may not get what you want, but it’s important to know your rights and I will support that.

 

Here’s what you should say specifically to your daughter:

This is difficult to speak about with you, but it’s important to me that I do. Your school has a dress code. For girls, that often means not presenting yourself in a sexual manner. I want you to be proud of your body and I never want you to be ashamed of it. But way more important to me than the dress code is you. You are a smart young woman with a lot to contribute to this world. Like all young women, you’re growing up in a world that dismisses your opinions and rights by trying to convince you that the most important thing about you is your physical appearance. Obviously, you are so much more than that. I want you to be proud and comfortable with how you look. But I also want you to be proud and comfortable about who you are beyond that. So I’d like you to think about that when you get dressed for school. Can you put the clothes you like and that are within the dress code on one side of your closet and the ones that are not on the other side? 

If administrators at your school are shaming girls, you need to speak out against it. Schools can have standards. They can even have standards that you disagree with but need to learn to live with. What you should not tolerate are adults who are responsible for the safety and education of your children to think enforcing the dress code gives them the right to shame and disrespect children.

How do you feel about dress codes at school? Post a comment and tell me below.

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice, here

Do you have a parenting question? Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.

 

 

Talking to Your Kids About Michael Brown

Written on August 28, 2014 at 5:20 pm , by

As it is for many moms, early mornings are my favorite time of day. It’s peaceful, and the only time I can think quietly without interruption. A few days ago, as the sun rose, I sat with a cup of tea and couldn’t stop thinking about Michael Brown’s mother. She would bury her son on this day. The same day I was getting my boys ready for their first day of school. As I stared at my tea all I could think of was how to talk to my boys about the funeral, how another unarmed young man of color was killed by a police officer, and about the photos of heavily armed police pointing automatic weapons at and using tear gas on protesters, and how a member of that police department boasted at a public speech about killing minorities.

As a white mother with teen sons, living in Boulder, Colorado, I am far away from Ferguson, Missouri, in many ways. Boulder is a lovely place to live. As in many towns like it, people here pride themselves on being “progressive” and would never see themselves as supporting racial discrimination. But there are very few people of color living in Boulder. Yet they are here and, not surprisingly, my children have reported the often ignorant, and sometimes malicious, racist comments their white classmates make about African Americans and Mexicans.

Last year one of my sons told me that there was a group of wealthy white boys at his school taunting Hispanic students, calling them “beaners.” I told him I wanted him to say something to those white kids. He didn’t want to. The next time it happened, I talked to him about the relative privilege he has at that school because he is an athlete. I also wanted him to realize, if it was hard for him to speak up, how much more difficult it may be for someone with less social power. My son is starting eighth grade. I have no doubt there will be many opportunities for him to practice speaking out, and I hope one day he does.

Teaching your children to speak out against bigotry is an ongoing process. We can’t just tell them from time to time, “Racism is wrong.” Or, “All people are equal regardless of the color of their skin.” It is about knowing that no community is immune from racism and bigotry—including mine and yours. It is knowing that it’s common that “nice” kids make racist jokes and comments. It is knowing that your own children can make hurtful comments about other people or stay silent when someone else does. We have a responsibility to teach our children to effectively and unflinchingly realize that they have an obligation to make the world a more just place for all, and then give them the skills to make it happen.

Boulder isn’t unique. My consistent experience working throughout the country is that self-identified progressive communities believe they are above the racism they see, read and hear about in the media. The vast majority of parents within these communities can’t imagine their children degrading their peers because of the color of their skin. They can’t imagine their child making a racist or sexist  joke. They’ve told their children that racism is wrong, so there’s nothing more to say.

But there’s a lot more to say. Many white parents I’ve talked to don’t want to bring up something so unpleasant and ugly with their kids. Here’s the deal: It is ugly. It is unjust. But race privilege means you have the choice to avoid it. African American, Hispanic and other minority parents don’t have that choice. It’s our responsibility to take care of one another. And that means taking the blinders off.

Being a parent means educating your children and having hard conversations with them about how messed up the world is. It’s about allowing them to get upset about it, angry about it and then challenging them to make it better. It’s about reading and watching with your child the reports coming out of Ferguson, going back to the reports about Trayvon Martin, printing out and reading what people are saying about these issues (Ta-Nehisi Coates has been my go-to writer this year).

We need our children to understand that the democracy they study in school is messy. It has an ugly history of how it has treated many minorities in this country and that legacy profoundly affects all of us to this day. If we don’t educate our kids, we sentence them to ignorance and not developing the skills and courage to stand by their peers for the collective and individual dignity of all. So sit down and watch Michael’s funeral service with your teens. Ask your child what it feels like to bear witness to this community’s anger and grief. Just be still for a moment and then vow to do something to make it better.

More Than Just a Crush

Written on August 21, 2014 at 1:33 pm , by

“Back to school” is about getting back into the groove of a more structured life. It’s about buying supplies in time—not for the first day of classes but before they’re out of stock. It’s about what teachers your kid got and if they’re loved or hated.

But guess what it’s also about for a lot of kids? Crushes. The horribly awesome, terrifying, nerve-racking experience of seeing someone for the first time and falling for them hard. It could be their hair, the way they say hello, their cool red jacket, whatever—doesn’t matter. In an instant, the world will never be the same. And even if they don’t have a crush on someone, chances are good they’re going to have a friend who does and that will upend their world too.

Being aware of crushes falls into the parenting gray zone. You don’t want to stalk the school hallways or wait for your child to come home and immediately ask them about their or anyone else’s love life. Really…you don’t. Even though you may want to. But you do need to be aware of crushes as the possible source of your child’s weird mood swings. Or the potential reason behind a sudden increase in the amount of time spent texting. (They’re discussing with a friend exactly how the crush said “Hi” or how the crush affects social dynamics between your child and his or her friends.)

It’s really important to remember that crushes and puppy love aren’t insignificant. Just because kids are only holding hands or simply staring at each other doesn’t mean the feelings they have are meaningless. Take a minute to remember your first crush and how you felt around that person. See? Not meaningless. So don’t say things in front of your child about how fleeting crushes are or how they don’t really matter.

And just because I said no stalking, that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to your child. Sometime when it’s calm and quiet, like at the end of the day, you can say something like this.

YOU: Now that you’re in sixth grade, you might notice that people can get crushes on each other or really like each other.

YOUR KID: Mom…I really don’t want to talk about this.

YOU: This is going to be brief but it’s important to me that you hear this. Having a crush can feel great. It can also feel terrible. And it can feel both at the same time. Sometimes friends can get involved and make the whole thing even weirder. Feelings can be confusing. You don’t have to talk to me about any of this but you can if you want. Regardless, here are four things I want you to keep in mind.

1. Friends shouldn’t be mean to you or deliberately embarrass you about your crush. If your friend has a crush, the same rules apply about what you say to them.

2. If you have a crush and you get rejected it’s not going to be easy, but you can’t be rude or mean in person or online. If your friend has a crush and they get rejected, I don’t want you to join in if they start going after the person either.

3. Friends don’t have to agree with why the crush is so crush-worthy. If your friend thinks that the crush isn’t cute, that’s okay. Friends can disagree. What’s not cool is if a friend makes fun of liking the crush or embarrasses you in front of other people.

4. Sometimes friends, even really close friends, can have a crush on the same person. Covert operations to make the competition look bad almost always backfire and destroy the friendship.

Remember, these experiences are important, so if you ever do want to talk about it, I hope you can talk to me or someone else about them. Okay, I’m done unless there’s anything you want to ask. 

Then don’t wait around with an intense mom or dad expression on your face that signals to your child that you expect to have a deep, meaningful conversation. Just walk away. I promise that if you do, they are much more likely to come to you when they want to get something off their chest.

On the flip side, if your child is the loved one, it can feel great—or really awkward, depending on how they feel about the person who likes them. What’s most important: no humiliating the other person if they don’t like them.

And I have one pet peeve: If your child tells you that a kid of the opposite sex hits them at school or teases them, please don’t say with a grin on your face, “I think they like you.” And definitely don’t say, “You know why they’re probably doing that? Because they have a crush on you!” (See my previous post, “7 Words You Shouldn’t Say to Your Kid.”)

We don’t want to teach our children that an acceptable way to show you like someone is to be mean to them. Plus, we weren’t there. Maybe the other child doesn’t like your kid and now you’re enabling your kid to read the situation wrong. Maybe other children were teasing the child about liking your son or daughter, so they felt forced to be mean to them to make the matchmaking and teasing stop. If our children tell us these things, we can say:

That’s too bad. Maybe I can ask you some questions to help you think it through. Did it feel playful or mean? Did they do it around other people?

Let’s use this as an opportunity to teach our kids how to tell when someone likes them, how to be respectful when the feelings aren’t mutual, and how to be a good friend through it all. Handling all this is tricky stuff. We have to be ready to ask thoughtful questions so our kids can navigate this really rocky terrain—and then do their homework, their sports activities, their chores…It’s a lot.

What Happened After My Son Said, “Mom, I’m Going to Do Something Really Stupid”

Written on July 17, 2014 at 1:31 pm , by

 

Full disclosure: My boys have committed countless ridiculous, embarrassing, dangerous and stupid acts that I’ve never shared publicly. And it’s been tempting. After all, I’m a parenting expert and I have children who never seem to miss an opportunity to make me feel how ironic my professional title is. But I do honor my children’s privacy, and I do recognize that it may be especially irritating to have me as a mother. So I’ve kept the “mom” sharing to a minimum.

But two weeks ago, Elijah, my 13-year-old son, lit a smoke bomb not seven feet from me. In my living room. Just to be clear, “living room” means “inside my house.”

You light a bomb in my house, I get to tell the world.

The official reason I’m doing this is because my husband, James, and I thought a lot about how to use this experience as a teachable moment. It’s also an opportunity to practice what I preach. But the other reason is that it just makes me feel better to share with other people how mind-blowingly stupid my boys can be.

Here’s how the whole thing went down:
After spending the day playing in a basketball tournament, Elijah brought two teammates back to the house with him. A couple of hours later, I was sitting on the couch next to Elijah when Miller, an exceptionally nice kid, told me he needed to go downstairs because he “didn’t want to keep his mom waiting” when she picked him up. He really said that.

A few minutes later Elijah said to me, “Mom, I’m going to do something really stupid.” I immediately responded, “Whatever it is, don’t do it.”

But for some reason my radar was down so I didn’t pay attention when Elijah left the room shortly after making this declaration. When he returned a few minutes later, he nonchalantly walked by me and set off the smoke bomb. Immediately, blue smoke filled the room, and then the house; which caused all the smoke alarms to go off. At that exact moment, Miller’s very nice father and his two adorable younger sisters rang the doorbell.

First, I focused on damage control. Turn off the alarms, get the nice family out of the house, and then deal with the real problems at hand. I still had Jackson, Elijah’s other friend, in the house. I didn’t want to lose it in front of him because he’d already seen me truly rage—a few months before, at 3 a.m., in my bathrobe, no less (due to another mind-blowingly stupid thing my younger son, Roane, did involving a rug and salsa, but I digress). Determined to keep myself under control, I calmly asked Jackson to walk home and brought Elijah into our room—where James was trying to calm himself down—for sentencing.

Here’s the challenge. In these moments, when emotions are at their highest—

  • embarrassment because of the nice family at the door
  • fury at your child, and
  • the glaring realization that you might possibly live with the world’s worst roommate, who might burn your house down if you stop paying attention for five minutes

—it’s really hard to think clearly and act maturely. But you have to if you want any chance of getting through to your child and keeping your sanity.

In the five minutes between getting everyone out of the house and talking to Elijah, here’s what James and I decided were the most important things we needed to communicate.

  • We both accept that our children are fascinated with fire and what happens when things explode. That is why we have educated both of them on fire safety and fireworks. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always translate into good judgment on their part.
  • We recognize that we can’t leave Elijah unsupervised in the house until he can prove he has better judgment. That will take time—which is annoying but true.
  • Because Elijah demonstrated disregard for the safety of our home, he will be responsible for the majority of its upkeep in the hope that he’ll appreciate to some extent how hard it is to maintain a house and what a colossally bad idea it is to burn one down.

I know Elijah respects us. I know he has a degree of fear of us. But he has yet to experience the horror you feel when something you’ve done goes terribly wrong. Not all 13-year-olds are like this, but he is a supremely confident man-child who has never been able to just take someone’s word for it. Since he was 2½ and stuck a metal shower ring into the heating system and short-circuited the electrical system of our house, he has been an “experimental learner.” So my goal is to get Elijah to connect his higher processing with his let’s-see-what-happens-if-I-do-this thinking. That’s going to be one of the main objectives of his adolescent development.

But it’s going to be a long road. I kid you not, today—not two weeks later—Elijah woke James from his Saturday afternoon nap and asked, “Dad….Dad…Dad…Do we have any flammable liquids in the house?”

A Summer Code of Conduct for Your Kids

Written on July 3, 2014 at 8:00 am , by

 

Since I moved to Colorado from Washington, D.C., almost two years ago, I have grown to love summer. First off, there’s no humidity. As a native Washingtonion, I thought living in the wet, moldy sponge that is D.C. from June through September was normal. What’s more, every day here is beautiful, there aren’t annoying bugs everywhere, ice cream is plentiful and people are in a good mood. The only complaint I have: The school ends the third week of May. That is just way too early.

To be fair, no matter how hard we parents work all year, for our kids, summer should be a time to sleep in late, relax, roam around, and hang out with friends. But in order for parents to not get really irritated and start walking around the house muttering about how lazy and slovenly their children are, we have to have an agreement about how summer is going to go down.

So three weeks into their vacation, I told my boys: “I want you to relax and have fun and neither of us want me constantly nagging you or raging at you (“raging” is the word my boys use to describe my very calm requests). So here is how I think we have the best chance of accomplishing these very important goals.” Then I shared with them my “Summer Code of Conduct.” Perhaps these rules to relax by will help you preserve your sanity this season.

1. If you want to kick back. . . don’t leave cups and dishes around the house. This is especially true if you have eaten cereal and/or drank chocolate milk with an inch of chocolate sludge at the bottom and left it wherever you finished it. This is also true with clothes (dirty or clean), technology accessories like ear buds or headphones, new or used tissue paper, sports equipment, art projects and any small pets. You won’t be able to relax because all of these actions will automatically result in your parent flipping out—as in making you clean everything you have spread around the house and nagging you as you do it).

2. To be left alone. . . you must read a book of your choosing, outside if possible, and enjoy it. Your parents will leave you in peace while you read—unless they see that you are hiding a handheld device behind the book. If you are, we get to make you do additional chores around the house such as loading the dishwasher (see #1), folding laundry, taking out garbage and more.

3. When hanging out indoors with your friends. . . know the house rules. If you’re hanging out at another person’s house, you are expected to follow the other family’s policies without argument. Likewise, your friends are expected to follow our family rules when they are at our house. If not, your parent will make it clear to your friends what the family rules are.

4. When hanging out outdoors with friends . . . respect the freedom we give you. Summer is time to spontaneously hang out with buddies. But that will happen much more easily if you check in with your parents on a consistent basis. So when your parents ask you by any method where you are and when you will be home you need to answer concretely. For example, “Soon” and “In a little while” are not appropriate answers to a parents’ text message about when you will be returning home.

5. While improving your video game or tech skills . . . Watch the clock. I know video games aren’t all bad. They just can’t take over your life or be a major source of conflict between siblings. So each child can have ninety minutes per day on the device of their choosing for fun. Basic necessities must be taken care of before engaging any technology, which are defined but not limited to putting on clothes, brushing teeth and hair, and taking care of any pet needs. All technology activity must end an hour before bed (to assure a good night rest) and devices be charged in parent’s bedroom. Other projects involving technology are excluded from the ninety minute limit.

6. If you want to impress me. . . . tell me how you plan on giving back this summer. A couple times a month over the summer, the family and whatever friends want to join in, will do community service together. Examples are making dinner for a children’s or teen shelter, painting a family homeless center, gardening, mowing lawns or getting groceries for an older person. When I know you’re up to some good, I can kick back and enjoy summer too.

Have you laid down some rules of the road for your kids this summer? Post a comment and tell me what they are below.

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice, here

Do you have a parenting question? Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.

 

 

Dealing With Bullies (When You Disagree With Your Partner)

Written on June 18, 2014 at 5:41 pm , by

The only thing harder than helping your kid handle bullies at school is helping your kid do so when you and your spouse aren’t on the same page. Our parenting expert, Rosalind Wiseman, received a letter from a woman struggling with just that situation. She has a picked-on kid and a hands-off ex who disagrees with her tactics. Here’s what happened and what you can do to handle similar situations within your family.

Q. “When my son, Nick, told me he was being bullied at school, I immediately called a meeting with my ex-husband, the principal, a counselor and my child. But my ex doesn’t think our son is being bullied. He thinks I just don’t understand “boy world.” The principal was glad the situation was brought to his attention but mentioned that Nick needs to “loosen up” because he doesn’t like to make mistakes and he’s rigid when around other boys. Nick is very upset that I called the school meeting; he also said that even though the bullying subsided for a few days, it has started again. He has begged me not to discuss it again with school officials or with his father. Most recently he asked if he could have liposuction near his armpits because the boys are saying he’s fat. I’ve spoken with my son about bullies. I’ve also talked about the power a bully gets from provoking a desired reaction. Nick clams up and doesn’t want to hear my suggestions. I’m so afraid the bullying will escalate that I’m considering signing him up for a martial arts class, and I even showed him how to physically defend himself last night.”

A: Your parenting dynamic is pretty common, but it makes it much more difficult for your son. The dad wants his son to stop complaining and deal with the other kids (the Boy World thing he wants you to understand), and you want to comfort your child. Both of you are right. Your son, as you and the school agree, is socially inflexible and that makes it harder for him to get along with his peers. But that doesn’t justify the other boys bullying him. He needs social skills and emotional support, and he needs parents who recognize the value of each. But as long as you and your ex have judgments about the other’s point of view (to put words in both of your mouths, he thinks you coddle him and you think he’s callous), your parenting dynamic will make it much harder for your son to learn what he needs to in this situation.

And this is why your situation is so applicable to so many families. The fact is all children are going to experience conflict with their peers. How the adults in the child’s life guide him through the process of responding to conflict is often the invisible force that either increases the child’s emotional resilience and strengthens the family, or decreases the child’s emotional fortitude, makes him more vulnerable to abuse by his peers, causes him to feel ashamed that he is a target, and makes him resistant to asking for help. All that happens while he’s still desperate for the bullying to stop and caught between his parents’ opposing opinions.

Helping your kid navigate his way through dangerous territory doesn’t mean leading him by the hand.

For your son’s emotional well-being and physical safety, you first need to say something to him about your family situation. Something like:

Your dad and I both love you—we just have different opinions about how to help you. That’s one of the reasons why we need to have someone at school help us think through what you need to feel more in control of the situation. But I also want you to know two things: You are always entitled to your feelings. If you’re upset about something, you have the right to be upset. What we want to do is help you decide how to pick your battles. For example, kids putting you down about your body or saying you don’t belong is wrong and needs to stop. But when you’re playing a game with your classmates and you get upset about a rule being broken we need to find different strategies so that you can talk to the other kids in a more effective way, one that doesn’t come across as rigid. That’s what your father and I want.

It’s a hard balance for you—for any parent in your situation. You have to simultaneously give Nick confidence that he can face kids’ cruelty and/or allow him to feel the consequences of his inflexibility (kids reacting negatively to him) so he has the internal motivation and confidence to make things better for himself. And you have to do this all while feeling incredibly anxious and powerless to make it better for him.

Until this becomes a reality, here’s how you can help your child deal with conflicts at school.

Unless you have experiences with the school that demonstrate incompetence or unprofessionalism, have faith in the counselor and the administrator, but don’t hesitate to demand what you need. Ask the counselor (or whomever you’re talking to) to help you come up with three responses you can say when Nick complains about the mean things his peers are saying (like the weight comments). What I say to kids in Nick’s situation (being bullied, but they don’t want to report it) is this:

I’m really sorry this is happening and I wish I could make the problem disappear, but you know I can’t. What I can do is listen to you and help you come up with the smartest strategy for dealing with those kids. We won’t be able to make 100% of the problem go away, but if we can make the problem go down even by 20%, hopefully you’ll feel better and more confident about how you’re handling it. Once that happens, those kids have less power over you.

It’s also time for you to back off from being so visibly involved because your efforts to comfort him can easily come across as coddling. Not only is that embarrassing to your son but it also sends the message that you don’t feel confident that he can handle his problems.

You mentioned wanting him to learn martial arts. So let him research what style he likes. Let him check out a class and decide if he likes the teacher. He needs to start building good relationships with adults anyway. Encourage him to join a class that he likes and let him learn from that teacher. One thing to note: Unless you have martial arts experience, I would avoid teaching him self-defense. Even if you do, I’d still think twice. My husband and I have black belts in multiple styles of martial arts, but when our oldest son was bullied (he was around the same age as Nick, as well as the tallest kid in his class) we didn’t teach him ourselves. Well, we tried a few times, but it always ended in tears and frustration. We trusted in his karate teachers and school counselor, and I credit both for why he is in a better place today.

I am not telling you to stop comforting him. He needs to know he can always go to you. But I am saying, often the most comforting thing a mother can do is to show your confidence that your son has the strength to face these problems with conviction and with the support of capable adults around him.

Have you had child-rearing disagreements with your husband? Post a comment and tell me about it below.

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice, here

Do you have a parenting question? Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.

Six Demands Parents Should Make of Their Kids

Written on May 15, 2014 at 9:30 am , by

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was the first time I’d spoken at a high school graduation and I was nervous. The senior class—a group of young women I’d worked with off and on over the last two years—had invited me. In the weeks before, I had rewritten the speech countless times. I wanted it to be inspirational but not superficial.

Graduation day was beautiful, but even more wonderful was watching these incredible young women walk past their beaming families as they joined me on the stage. I stood up and walked to the podium. I looked out again at the parents and then turned to the students. Overcome by the moment, I put my speech notes down and spoke from my heart—as a teacher and a parent. This is what I said:

I demand great things of you. Not that you go to the “best” schools, make a lot of money or grow up to have perfect-looking lives. I demand that you have the courage to ask yourself and others hard questions that make you uncomfortable. I demand that you do so with an unshakable commitment to civil dialogue in every aspect of your life.

I demand that whenever possible, you collaborate with smart, passionate, capable people who don’t take themselves too seriously and have a good sense of humor. Keep people close who will tell you when you messed up but say it with love and care. As a special bonus, if you have complementary skills you can work together to accomplish great things.

I demand that in your jobs, families and community you look for ways to address social, political and economic injustice.

I demand that you always remember that your dignity and the dignity of others is not negotiable—ever.

I demand that you remember that your dignity and the dignity of others matters the most when it’s hard. Like when you see someone being taken advantage of, when you are so angry with someone and all you want to do is get revenge, or when you face someone who believes that their truth trumps all others.

I demand that when you are in a group of people, you be aware of whose voices in the room are being dismissed. When you notice this silence, support that person’s right to speak and be heard.

When it gets hard, and it probably will, the people who love you and care for you will be on your side. That is our obligation to you.

I could barely get through the speech because it was in that moment that I truly remembered why I love and value working with young people so much.

As my sons get older and I’m yelling at them about picking up their dirty socks off the living room floor and could they please take their headphones off before I throw them in the trash, I easily forget what I remembered so clearly on that podium with those girls. And then, I take a breath and it all comes back.

What’s the number one demand that you make of your child? Post a comment and tell us below.

 

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice, here

Do you have a parenting question? Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.

What Boys Think About Teen Pregnancy: “Her Decision Dictated My Future”

Written on May 9, 2014 at 11:48 am , by

 

Let’s be honest. When we say “teen pregnancy” we really mean “girls getting pregnant.” It’s as if all boys cared about was having sex—without giving a thought to the possible consequences. But it’s not as simple as that. Almost all the young men I’ve worked with who experienced a pregnancy scare (or a pregnancy) had complicated reactions to it.

To get some insight into the boy perspective, I asked Tom,* one of the young men who helped edit my recent book Masterminds and Wingmen, to share what he went through with his high school girlfriend. Here’s what he shared:

“When I was a junior in high school, I had a girlfriend who was a senior. We lost our virginity to each other. There was this week where I could feel her tension but I didn’t know what was going on. Then she told me that her period was two weeks late.

I remember it so vividly and what I was thinking. I’m dating this girl but I’m not ready to marry her. I’m looking at her mom and my future life with this person and that’s terrifying. At 18 you’re beginning to understand the larger implications because in my high school there was a girl who had a kid. I’d heard stories of people my age getting married and then you’re in it forever.

Part of me thought this was a team decision and part of me didn’t. Her decision dictated my future and it was really uncomfortable to have that in someone else’s hands. But my mom always said if I got someone pregnant it was my responsibility, and with her that was huge. My dad left my mom when I was 2 and she was pregnant with my younger brother. She took responsibility for us. So when she said that to me, and that was before I was having sex, I got it and I remembered it. She was good about that—laying the groundwork before I was actually doing these things.”

Tom brings up incredibly important issues. First, even if teens don’t tell their parents or other adults in their lives what’s going on, those adults have tremendous influence. Whatever those adults have said to them about pregnancy in the past is immediately front and center in their mind. Time and time again, boys have told me that in these situations they want to be able to talk about their feelings but don’t feel that they have the right to.

Second, their past has a deep impact on the future they imagine. If their own fathers have not been around, they feel deeply conflicted or often fantasize about how they’re going to be a better father than they’ve had.

Third, and the biggest issue I’ve seen by far, is how they listen to and respect their partner’s emotional reactions to the pregnancy. It’s hard for them to courteously articulate what they want in light of what their partner also wants. It’s so hard because boys and young men are so rarely taught how to have these incredibly difficult conversations. Adults don’t often know how to.

One of the most important things we can do as parents of boys is to engage them in conversations around all these topics. Talk to them about their possible emotional reactions to getting a sexual partner pregnant. When we don’t include boys in the conversation, we contribute to young men not feeling they have a right to an opinion when they get a girl pregnant, and condoning boys believing it’s not their responsibility when they get someone pregnant. Having these conversations doesn’t condone irresponsible sexual behavior. It is a critical opportunity to articulate your values about personal responsibility, meaningful emotional connection and facing difficult, seemingly overwhelming situations with integrity and grace.

*Name has been changed.

Have you talked to your teenage son about pregnancy? What did you say? Post a comment and tell us here.

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question? 

Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.


 

 

Handling Adult Bullies—At Your Job

Written on April 29, 2014 at 1:40 pm , by

Mean girls don’t disappear once you graduate from school. Our parenting expert, Rosalind Wiseman, received a letter from a woman struggling with a workplace bully making her 9-to-5 miserable. Here’s what happened, why it occurred and how anyone can regain their power while keeping the peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q. I’m a 27-year-old woman who never learned how to handle bullies. I’m currently working with a woman who behaves not unlike a middle-school mean girl. I’ve never spoken to her (she’s refused to speak to me from the minute she started). She has successfully made me an outcast. When people realized they had no reason to dislike me, they stopped and now she’s on a campaign to do it again.

I’m her primary victim, but she’s terrorizing a few others. She usually does this by coming between the friends or even family members of the people she targets (charming them into feeling like she’s their best friend, latching on tight and then using suggestion to turn them against the target little by little). The thing is, I love my job and I love all my coworkers, but this one person is creating such a hostile environment that it’s causing me extreme stress. I tried talking to my supervisor, and he told me not to let it get to me. Please offer advice about how to end this once and for all. Thank you.

A. The answer you need begins with the very first sentence you wrote to me. Like so many adults, you never learned how to handle bullies. They had power over you when you were young and they still have power over you now.

When I work with young people, they often feel that bullies have mythological power over them, and I think that’s what is still happening to you. Look back on the way you described the situation—you are allowing this woman to make decisions about your own conduct at your place of work. You’re also making a lot of assumptions. Because you’ve never spoken to her, you’re relying on second- and third-hand information. I’m not saying she doesn’t isolate people. She clearly has been rude and unprofessional to you. What I am saying is that you bring a lot of baggage to this situation and it’s stopping you from handling things in a way where you have any control. The moment she didn’t talk to you, you responded by allowing her to set the terms of your dynamic with her.

Here’s the bottom line: Your reaction to her is compromising your professionalism. Your stress level is hurting your job effectiveness as well. For the sake of your emotional health and your career, it’s time for you to face the problem. But I’m not going to advise you to make some dramatic scene. Instead, take a step that looks small but isn’t. Have a quick face-to-face conversation with her in which you say something like, “This is uncomfortable to admit, but for some reason we haven’t talked and it’s important to me that we have a good working relationship.”

Whatever she says in response, your goal is to shift the dynamic between you so that you have a little bit more control over the interaction. You’re not doing this with the expectation that things will change between the two of you or that she’ll in any way respond positively. That’s not the definition of success here. Success for you will be to begin taking steps to advocate for yourself while treating her with dignity. By conducting yourself in this manner, you are taking control of your professional reputation.

Have you ever had to deal with a workplace bully? Post a comment and tell me about it here.

 

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question? 

Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.