Written on October 9, 2013 at 2:20 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about young people’s reluctance to reach out to their parents when they need them. Ever heard a kid say the following? “I don’t want to tell my mom (or dad) when something’s wrong because they’ll flip out.” Kids and teens say this to me so often and it always worries me. But after an unfortunate experience I had a few days ago, I’ve been thinking about it a lot more.
Elijah, my older son, started playing middle-school football this fall. My husband was adamantly against it at first, so Elijah campaigned for months. After a lot of family discussion, we allowed him to play and one of the main reasons was we had heard incredibly positive things about the coach. He has that combination of toughness and supportiveness that middle-school boys crave.
Last weekend they played against an unbeaten team and finished the game tied—after three overtimes. The boys were devastated, but after the game, as the parents all stayed behind and listened to the coach rally the boys, I was so grateful that my son was having that experience. He was being told he’d worked hard and should be proud of what his team had accomplished, and to focus on what they all needed to do better next time.
That makes what happened next even stranger. As I walked down the field to put my folding chairs in their bags, one of the boy’s mothers verbally attacked the coach right in front of her son, my son and another player. By the time I got back to where my son was standing, the mother had walked away but her child was standing next to his father in tears.
I don’t want to focus on the details of what the mom said and whether it was right or wrong. What I do want to focus on is the serious impact of “flipping out” in front of our kids—especially when we parents think we’re acting on behalf of our child. I’d bet any amount of money that the mother who yelled felt she was being the “momma bear.” She believed she was protecting her child and only doing what was right. But beyond the negative impact of her behavior on the coach (this a common reason great coaches give up teaching our kids), she is guaranteeing that her child will never go to her when he needs someone’s help.
It’s ironic. When we think we’re most strongly advocating for our children, we assume that they’ll see our behavior as being on their side. Using that logic, it’s natural that a parent would miss the obvious: Overreaction in any area of parenting (a problem with school, on a team, with friends) only convinces the child that their parent can’t be trusted to think through a problem calmly and strategically. What’s more, the child has good reason to believe that if the parent finds out about a problem, their involvement will only make the situation worse.
Probably every parent has had a moment when they’ve blown things out of proportion. I know I have. So what can we do? When we’ve gone over the top, we need to acknowledge it, first to ourselves, then to our children. We need to work on managing ourselves so that when we get worked up—no matter how justified we believe we are—we think through how we are going to communicate our feelings in a manner that gives the other person the best chance of hearing what we’re saying.
The mom at the game may have had a legitimate complaint, but because she conducted herself so poorly, the content of her words was lost. Her method of delivery was so inappropriate. If we think we’re losing control, let’s say it. As in, “Look, I’m clearly really upset right now, so I need a few minutes to get myself together.”
When we do things like that, take a “time-out” for ourselves, admit we made a mistake and tell our children that we’re sorry for overreacting, we’re going to do better and our kids will come to us. Why does this matter? Because we’re role modeling exactly what our kids need and want to see. When you make a mistake, you can talk about it. When you come forward and share a problem with someone you love, you’re a better person for it and your relationship is strengthened as well.
Have you ever “lost it” in front of your kid? Post a comment and tell me what happened.
Written on September 26, 2013 at 1:46 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
I’m halfway through my Masterminds book tour. New York, Baltimore, D.C., Columbus, Cincinnati, Detroit and Chicago are all behind me. Houston, Atlanta, Louisville, Denver, Seattle and L.A. are ahead. Already it’s been an incredible experience and I’ve learned a lot. So at the midpoint, I want to share a few personal highlights and some parental insights for Family Circle readers—some of whom have come to my events.
What We Do for Our Kids
First things first: A huge thank-you to the Baltimore audience for attending—even though you knew you’d be sitting in a gym with no air-conditioning in 95-degree heat. My brother and my sister-in-law were there, but that’s family. As I drove away, it really hit me how incredible it was to have 300 people willingly tolerate that situation. But it just goes to show you what people will do for their children when they think they can get more tools to help them. Thanks to all who came for believing I could do that for you.
My second thank-you is to my mother. Last week at a reception in Washington, D.C., after I acknowledged all the people in attendance who had helped me write Masterminds, she raised both hands above her head and then repeatedly pointed at herself. It is her right, as my mother. She can publicly claim her contribution to any success I have. Goodness knows, she’s had to acknowledge me, my brother and my sister when we weren’t making her look too great. So good job, Mom!
How Dads Are Weighing In
Now, on to the insights. Prior to this book, I’m sure you wouldn’t be surprised to know that mostly moms have attended my events. With the publication of Masterminds, I was hoping that I’d see more dads in the audience. And I am. But what’s so rewarding is what the dads are telling me. Picture this: I am in Columbus, Cincinnati and Chicago, and these big dads are towering over me telling me that after reading the book (especially the parts about how to ask your son questions without coming across as an interrogator) they’re having better conversations with their sons than they ever thought possible. In addition, many of them shared with me how much the book is making them think about their own experiences as boys and how it affected them as they grew into the men they are today. It’s truly incredible.
And think about this: They’re reading a book penned by a woman with the help of teens and they’re embracing the importance of what we’ve written. I have gotten so little defensiveness or “Who are you to think you can write this book?” I know there will be rough roads ahead (there always are), but it’s times like these when I think maybe we really can make things better for our families and communities.
One More Thing for Us Moms to Do
With moms, I’ve been struck by how worried many of them are that holding their ground and maintaining their authority with an older son will forever pull them apart from their child. So many are concerned that if they try to hold their son accountable to rules, he will do what he wants anyway and distance himself from her. I know that boys feel better about themselves when they respect their mother. I didn’t say “love.” I said “respect.” They also have better relationships with girls. But I think that we have a lot of work to do to strengthen women’s relationships with their sons: assuring them that a close connection with your son is only possible if you’re able to hold your own with him but at the same time allow him to come into his own, on his own time and in his own way.
As I meet parents and educators around the country, there’s been a lot of laughter, good-natured commiserating, hope and love as we talk about boys and how we can do our best for them. And I’m really looking forward to continuing the conversation with other communities and families. It’s one of those times when I truly appreciate how lucky I am to do this work.
How has Rosalind’s book changed the way you relate to your son? Post a comment and tell us here!
Written on August 29, 2013 at 4:57 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
In two weeks my book about boys, Masterminds and Wingmen, will be published. But I’ve just realized it didn’t include a critical issue I need to share with parents. So what better place to tackle that topic than my Momster blog?
In Masterminds, I spend about one-third of the book explaining how boys interact with girls. I cover:
- what they think about girls,
- their experiences with girls that they don’t tell adults about, and
- what their parents say to them about girls.
I also talk about girls as friends. Boys, especially in high school, often have friendships with girls that are incredibly meaningful to them. Here are a few of the comments that two of my high school guy editors shared with me:
“I love hanging with my boys but I’ve had the closest of relationships with my mom growing up so I naturally function better when I have close girlfriends around me.” —Ryan
“I think guys can look at girls and think of them as someone who they can talk to about sensitive subjects. You really can’t talk about sensitive subjects with your best guy friends because you know their opinion of you prior to whatever you have to say. With girls, you can tell them more without knowing them as well.” —Grant
That part I knew. What I didn’t realize can best be explained by Raffael, another guy contributor, when we talked a few days ago:
“Last spring I was really stressed out. I was playing football and filling out 22 college applications. So I decided to break up with my girlfriend. Two days later I realized that I had made a horrible mistake and I needed someone to talk to. I couldn’t talk to the guys on my team because we don’t talk about things like that. We talk about who we’ve hooked up with but not relationship stuff. So I take a really good girl friend out to dinner so I can get her advice and when I am walking out the door I tell my mom where I am going and she starts probing me with all these questions about the girl as if I want to hook up with her. This was my friend. And my mom is accusing me of trying to get with her just two days after this breakup.”
That’s the part I didn’t realize. Parents often reinforce the stereotype that boys and girls can’t be friends. We don’t mean to do it, but we do. Boys need friendships with girls for many reasons. They know having a strong friendship with a girl can give them the “girl” insight they need. But we all need boys to have strong friendships with girls so as they mature they know how to collaborate with girls, compete with girls and have healthy intimate relationships with them.
What do boys want from us? They want us to stop peppering them with questions that come across as if we think all they want from girls is to get it on. That’s true whether they’re in fourth grade and we’re teasing them about who they have a crush on, or they’re in high school and we’re assuming that their real motivation for having close female friends is sex.
This doesn’t mean it’s not possible for boys to be sexually attracted to a girl that’s a friend. But instead of comments, what boys want from us is relationship advice. I know that sounds completely different from everything we think about them, but it’s true. They want an adult who they can ask questions and get direct, straight-up answers from. They want an adult who role models how to have healthy intimate relationships and who treats their partner with dignity.
Do you think boys and girls can be “just friends”? Are you guilty of making your son’s friendships seem like something more? Post a comment and tell me.
Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the forthcoming Masterminds and Wingmen and the best-selling Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to www.rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question?
Written on August 15, 2013 at 8:00 am , by Rosalind Wiseman
Last week I posted a mother’s question about her daughter’s struggles to maintain friendships with other girls. Today I’m responding to some of the reader comments made in reaction to my advice.
While I certainly don’t have the one and only answer to this mother’s question, I want to show you what I think are the most important aspects of her story and, as a result, why I answered as I did. I also want to take this situation as an opportunity to challenge all of us about the advice we give our kids.
From my perspective, here’s what was different about her daughter’s situation—and, thus, more complicated.
- This mother described a pattern where her daughter would become friends with a group of girls and then be rejected by them.
- This rejection took place in and outside of school. (In an extended email from the mom, she mentions summer friends and swim team friends).
- She never knew why and, understandably, her daughter didn’t want to talk to her mother about it.
I suggested that this girl at some point prepare to ask one of the girls why they had rejected her. I said it wouldn’t be easy and, yes, the girls could simply be jealous. But if there was a chance that there was something this girl was doing that was off-putting to the other girls, it was important to know that.
Some readers really disagreed with me because they felt I was setting the girl up for more rejection. My response to that is: The girl is being rejected anyway. Being continually rejected but taking no steps to figure out what is going on and doing nothing to advocate for herself takes all power away from the daughter.
In fact, the goal here is to face a situation that is difficult and intimidating. If she prepares with support, she will be proud of how she handles herself—no matter how the other girl acts. True self-esteem only comes from facing challenges that are unpleasant and sometimes intimidating. If we don’t build up our children to be able to face difficult social situations, they will not be able to handle them. It’s not easy and they need support every step of the way. But they have to face these kinds of problems. If they don’t, we are setting our kids up for social incompetence.
Another reader said “any discerning mom would know” if the girl had social skills problems that were causing the rejection. The implication being that because this mom hadn’t identified her daughter as having social skills deficits, her daughter didn’t have them. I strenuously disagree with this statement. Not only because I have seen so many well-meaning parents be blind to the social skills deficits of their children but also because we, as parents, aren’t around to see how our teen children act around their peers. We may think we know, based on how our children act around us. But that is making a huge assumption that I have found time and time again is wrong. Our children often act differently around their peers than they do around us.
Another reader commented: “I used to remind my daughter that Girl World is not the Real World so that it doesn’t matter if she’s popular/accepted or not because she will never have to see any of these people again.” With all due respect, this is missing the point. Girl World—where conflicts are inevitable and some people abuse social power over others—is the Real World. Again, our children need to build social skills and you only build them by understanding and preparing for the inevitable—getting into a conflict with another person. No, you don’t have to be friends with everyone. Popularity isn’t the goal. The goal is maintaining a sense of self in the midst of a group.
Here’s a comment I really agreed with: “If she complained of feeling rejected, I would help her recall her social successes and what felt ‘right’ about them. I would encourage her to seek friendships that give her those feelings, and to provide the same in return to her friends. I might also remind her that she herself has rejected some people, by not inviting every child to her birthday parties, for example.” Here is a parent giving a daughter a concrete skill—checking in with herself about how she feels around her peers.
What’s most important to me is that as parents we really stop (me included) to hear each other and listen to our children when they are going through the inevitable but still really challenging and sometimes-painful conflicts they get into with their peers. I believe so strongly that our children are able to handle the messiness of these situations—including social rejection—if we support them behind the scenes.
What do you think about whether this daughter should confront a former friend? Post a comment and let me know.
Written on August 8, 2013 at 4:20 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
Recently, a mom wrote to me with the following problem:
“I have a 14-year-old daughter who is starting high school in the fall. Since she was a toddler, she’s always been confident and outgoing with lots of friends. She is beautiful, multi-talented and very smart. In the fall of 7th grade, her elementary school friends turned on her and she has not been able to find new ones since. Every time she makes friends, they eventually blow her off—making up excuses for not getting together or ignoring her when they see her—again and again. She ends up excluded, alone and blaming herself for somehow being ‘annoying.’ She gets defensive and angry if I talk about my experiences a zillion years ago or challenge her assumption that she is a loser. How can I help her?”
While this is not an unusual problem, the answer to it is pretty complex. But first let’s address the easier issue of this mother’s well-intentioned reaction to talk to her daughter about her own experiences and assure her daughter she’s not a loser. Both, in this case, are counter-productive for the following reasons. First, talking to the daughter about her past experiences probably comes across as if she thinks they’re the same and the daughter understandably doesn’t agree.
Second, instead of assuring her that she’s not a loser, a parent in this situation is better off saying something like: “If you really are feeling this badly about yourself, then we need to think through how you can feel better. You’re old enough that I know you want to figure this on your own but I’m asking that you trust me enough that we work on this together.”
Now, on to the more complicated issues. Girls in her position often learn to either hate other girls or turn themselves inside out trying to please the girls who are rejecting them. Not good. But here’s the hard thing to think about. Since this is a pattern of behavior, the big question is does this girl (and maybe by extension the mom) really want to know what the other girls think is the reason/explanation for their behavior? Because sometimes figuring out the reason for something can be pretty painful. In case either one of them do, here’s what I think are the most likely possibilities.
The girl really is as beautiful, multi-talented and smart as the mother says she is. As much as any parent loves having a child like this, it can easily cause friction with other kids. There are girls who are alienated because they’re good at something, intelligent, pretty and have a good body. (A girl can be pretty or have a good body without girls being jealous. If she has both, chances are good that they’ll either exclude her or worship her.)
Many parents, in reaction would say, “Those girls are all jealous and you can’t let them get you down.” This response is a way too simplistic soundbite. Jealousy is a complicated emotion and it often rages in the best of kids. Also there’s a very, very good chance that even if they were jealous, these other girls would never admit it to anyone—including themselves. Instead they would come up with reasons, that they absolutely believe, that justify their anger and rejection. Usually, the “reason” is that the girl is always trying to get attention or she thinks she’s better than the other girls because she’s always doing “x.” But that explanation doesn’t give any guidance about how the girl should manage herself so she feels better about how she’s handling the situation.
As a parent of a girl who is starting high school, this is the time for the daughter to figure out what’s going on—which means talking to some of the girls who have excluded her in the past. Here’s a suggestion for what she can say.
I know we aren’t friends anymore and I’m not calling you so things can go back to the way we were before. I’m calling because I really don’t know why you stopped wanting to hang out with me. I know this may sound strange but I want to know why. Maybe there’s something I need to hear and it may be hard for me to know but it’s important.
There’s a chance that the other girl will unleash on her. Or do the opposite by saying “No!” Or even say, “You promise you won’t get mad at me?” If that’s the case, the daughter can say, “I’m asking you to be honest but I hope you realize it may be hard for me.”
The big challenge here is separating the other girls’ baggage (jealousy, and insecurity) with the possibility there is something your daughter is doing that is pushing the other girls away: like not giving them enough space or not picking up small ways people communicate when they’re asking someone to stop doing something that’s irritating.
Bottom line is she shouldn’t apologize for her accomplishments or her natural characteristics. But if there’s behavior that she needs to self-reflect on, this is where she’ll learn to get difficult feedback from other people and uncover what she may need to change about how she conducts herself.
Remember I said be careful about the questions you ask because you may not really want the answer? Sometimes, even though it’s difficult and unpleasant, this is the way a girl can develop strong friendships she can depend on.
What would you advise this mom to do? Post a comment and tell me.
Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the best-selling Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to www.rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question?
Written on July 19, 2013 at 10:59 am , by Rosalind Wiseman
If you are a white parent of an older child or teen, have you discussed the Trayvon Martin tragedy with them? When the verdict came in over the weekend, I realized that I had not.
For a moment, I was shocked and then ashamed. I realized, as I have many times before, that my experience as a white parent raising a white son is a very different experience than it is for black parents raising a black son. I was reminded yet again, of what race “privilege” as a parent really is: the freedom to believe your child will be seen as a person, not reduced to a reflection of people’s fears and biases.
About six months before Trayvon’s death, I had a conversation with a group of high school boys about when and how they sneak out after their parents go to bed. At first the conversation was light and revolved around the boys comparing funny stories. But everything got quiet when one of the boys said:
You guys have no idea how different it is for me as a black man. So my parents don’t get suspicious, I wear sweats and a hoody so if they see me it looks like I’m in my pajamas. But what if someone on the street sees me trying to get in or out of the house like that? They immediately will think I’m robbing the place. Or if I do sneak out, then I have to walk down the street…a black man wearing sweats is not a good thing late at night in a suburban neighborhood. You know it’s only a matter of minutes before the police stop me and ask me if I live here. I could be wearing my school sweatshirt and they’d still question me.
As he related all the complexities of sneaking out his white friends were speechless. He was a good friend of theirs and they had no idea how walking through the world was so different for him. I remember one of the other boys saying, “If I ever get stopped by the police, all they assume is I’m high or drunk.” Another boy said, “I had no idea it was like that for you. I got caught in exactly that same situation last weekend but the police gave me a little lecture and then drove me home.”
If you’re a white parent and you haven’t talked to your children about Trayvon, please ask yourself why not? Does it seem too ugly and violent? Are you not sure what to say? Do we not see this as our issue?
It is our issue. Not only because we probably have friends of other races and/or our children do but because we need to teach our children to empathize—that there are people in our country who feel like their children are first seen as a problem and threat rather than a kid walking down the street.
Yesterday, I asked my boys what they knew about the case and they did know the basic facts. Then, we listened to the radio and read some of the newspaper accounts and opposing op-eds that followed the verdict as in USA Today or Wall Street Journal. We talked about racial stereotyping and fears that we all develop; whether we are aware of them or not.
But like much of parenting, the teaching moment came in an instant when I wasn’t expecting it. Not an hour later I was in the car with my boys when a guy in another car honked his horn and obviously cursed me out. Immediately my older son said, “Mom, that guy just swore at you, can I middle finger him?”
“No.” I replied. “We have gone over this a thousand times. No.”
“Why? He was cursing you. Come on, just one time,” my son said.
Then it hit me how to connect our conversations about Trayvon with this seemingly unrelated and ridiculous request. This is what I said:
Here’s one difference between you and Trayvon. As a young white man, you have the luxury of being foolishly rude without the other person assuming that you’re violent. Boys like Trayvon don’t have that luxury. They can’t middle finger someone without being seen as an angry black man. Now imagine that the guy who you get into the argument with, the one who just cursed me out thinks all young black men are punks who need to be taught respect. And you, as a young black man have had enough experience to know this. Sometimes you’re so mad about it you want to scream. Sometimes you’re scared and want to defend yourself. Do you see how easy it is for you to want to flip off that guy and not think anything of it? Can you see how different it is for other boys? Just think about it.
It got very quiet in the car and then my son said, “I get it.”
Have you talked to your child about Trayvon? What did you say? Post a comment and tell me.
Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the best-selling Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to www.rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question?
Written on June 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
Recently, I was sitting on my 12-year-old son, Elijah’s, bed. The lights were out and he was under the covers—as in he’d pulled the covers up over his face.
Me: Honey, it’s ok to say that you’re frustrated and upset.
Elijah: I’m fine, grabbing his pillow and putting it on top of his face.
Me: You can’t bottle up your feelings. It’s like you’re covering up a volcano. Sooner or later it’s going to explode and that feels even worse.
Elijah: Mom, please I just want to go to bed.
Me: Ok…just think about it. I love you.
This conversation occurred about two hours after Elijah had not listened to me or his dad and accidently dropped a 60-pound bag of concrete on our lawn at the exact time our automatic sprinkler system came on. And remember wet concrete very quickly becomes hardened concrete. In his defense, as a somewhat recent transplant from Washington, D.C., none of us have ever lived in a house with:
1. a backyard and
2. a sprinkler system
So it was understandable that he didn’t think about it when he ignored our warning to not leave the bag on the grass. Except for the part about ignoring us.
This incident also occurred a few days after another very unfortunate event inside the house. Elijah wanted to show me that he could flip a can of spray paint in the air. When he caught it, the little nozzle came off and red paint started spraying everywhere: the walls, the floor, the sink, the faucet. The goods news is that Murphy’s Oil Soap took off all the paint—but not without me expressing my frustration and anger.
Teaching our children that it’s healthy to express these feelings is one of the most important responsibilities we have as parents. But it’s not easy because very few of us are taught how to deal with these messy emotions well. That’s the thing about families. They give us endless opportunities to practice expressing healthy ways to be angry and encouraging it in our children.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t sit down with Elijah in a calm, kind voice and tell him how “concerned” I was about the paint and how I really “hoped” he’d be more thoughtful next time. No, I fumed. I did my angry sigh—the thing both my boys know is the sign that I am making every effort not to completely lose it.
But back to the concrete: As Elijah went through the usual phases of denial and blame (on his brother and the neighbor’s dog), he tried to clean up the mess…by tracking even more of the concrete throughout our house. At this point, my husband was yelling, Elijah was sulking and I wanted to run away.
Thirty minutes later, with everyone in a terrible mood and hating each other, Elijah went into his room. And there I was still feeling angry. I mean, really. How many times do I have to tell my boys to listen to me when there’s a real possibility of them damaging someone or something?
Sitting on Elijah’s bed, I knew that if I said anything more, I’d just irritate him. But I also knew that he was really upset about how angry his dad was with him. Elijah had done something wrong, without a doubt, but at the same time he was really hurting. So what do you do in that moment?
I walked out of his room and asked my husband to go in there and tell Elijah he loved him. Of course he wasn’t feeling very loving at the moment, but that father-son connection is intense and sometimes the best thing about having a spouse is they can remind you of the larger picture. He does it for me all the time. James got up and walked into Elijah’s room. I don’t know what they said. But I do know the next morning, we all felt better.
Written on June 6, 2013 at 8:15 am , by Rosalind Wiseman
A few days ago, a friend sent me a link that truly surprised me. It was an interview with Unlocking the Truth, a heavy metal band made up of three 6th grade boys from Brooklyn, New York, that regularly perform in Times Square. That’s right, they haul their instruments to Manhattan and rock their sixth-grade selves out in front of total strangers in one of the most public places on earth.
These kids define cool, as in ahead of the curve and setting the style that others are going to copy. But what I really love about these boys is what great role models they are for other children. Here are the “read between the lines” life lessons that I found in the article on them.
1. Follow your passions no matter what. In this case, Malcolm, Jared, and Alec are three New York City African-American boys who like heavy metal—usually the domain of white guys from Middle America. They’re showing all of us to follow our hearts—regardless of who we are or what we are supposed to be.
2. Be yourself, be proud and stand by your friends. They know they’re being judged on everything from wearing nail polish to playing heavy metal, but they have each other’s backs. When you’re in sixth grade everyone needs back-up like that. Actually we all need a friend like that no matter how old we are.
3. Put yourself out there. Can you imagine how much courage it takes to play in Times Square? “The Crossroads of the World”? These boys expose themselves to judgment and possible ridicule. But they don’t let it stop them from expressing their creativity. Whether or not you like their music, you have to respect that. This is exactly the kind of risk I always encourage my students and my sons to take.
4. You have to pay to play. They work hard to earn money but when they get hungry this is what they report: “We gotta pay for our own food and drinks and hot chocolate because in Times Square it’s kind of cold.” You may not think this is a big deal but think about it from a sixth-grade perspective. You might not like having to spend your hard earned money on hot chocolate but you’re realizing how hard you have to work to pay for that three-dollar drink. And you’re also learning not to depend on or expect your parents to buy everything.
Plus, not to be superficial but if you’re a boot lover, check out the boots two of them are wearing. So what do you think of these rockers? Post a comment and tell me.
Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the best-selling Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to www.rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question?
Written on May 23, 2013 at 5:31 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
There aren’t many times when I feel like “Never do X” is the right thing to say to your child. But last week I came across one. I posted on my Facebook page: “Never tell your son or daughter: ‘They’re bothering/teasing/hitting you because they like you.’” I don’t approve of that explanation because it makes it seem as if the adult condones this as an acceptable way to show affection and attraction. And obviously it’s not.
But after that post, I realized I was guilty of doing something I’m always reminding teens not to do: criticizing without making suggestions for how to make things better. So I’m going to use some of the online responses I got from readers to frame the way I think about this very common problem.
One reader wrote about emotional intelligence.
What do we say?! I always struggle with this! I try to say something like, “Sometimes people don’t know how to talk to people and are feeling lonely.” I need words!
This mother is trying to teach her child empathy—a worthy goal. While that’s fine as part of what a parent should say, it shouldn’t be the only thing. This doesn’t assure your child that they have the right to not like how the other kid is treating them. Also, it’s critical to stop yourself from making any assumptions about what’s going on and ask your child for details. Say something like:
“Thanks for telling me and I’m really sorry you’re dealing with this. Can you share a little more specifically what the child is doing so I can get a better idea of what’s going on?”
For younger kids you’ll probably want to add this:
“If the kid is doing something inappropriate or embarrassing and it’s hard to tell me, do the best you can. You won’t get in trouble for saying bad words right now because you’re telling me what’s happening to you.”
Another reader wrote about self-expression.
Some little girls were bothering my son (they are fifth-graders) and they don’t seem to have the maturity or social skills that make them understand it’s not okay. He did complain, though, and it stopped. I just wish an adult could help to come up with alternative ways to show someone they like them.
This is an example of how hard it can be to “teach” these skills to kids. The teacher is much more likely to see these dynamics but will understandably feel uncomfortable telling kids how to behave when they have a crush on someone. But the parent, who may feel more comfortable talking to their child, wouldn’t usually see this going on. It’d be easy to not realize they should talk to their child specifically about how you show someone you like them—unless it gets intense enough that someone complains to the school, like the boy above. These issues usually come up the most between third and fifth grade.
As a parent, have a two-minute conversation with your child that goes something like this:
“Sometimes in your grade people get crushes on other people. When a person gets a crush, they can be nervous around the person they like. But sometimes, and this can seem weird, they can show their feelings by bothering the person and even teasing or hitting them. Just because someone likes you doesn’t mean it’s okay for them to treat you like that. So if that ever happens to you or anyone else, I want you to remember that. And you can tell me and we can figure out what’s the best thing to do.”
A final reader wrote about ongoing problems.
My 12-year-old beautiful daughter has had a problem for many years of boys teasing her or “bothering” her to get her attention. So, what do you recommend we say or do instead?
As kids get into middle school, there really is a possibility of inappropriate sexual behavior and harassment, but it will be seen as liking the person. Again, it’s absolutely critical to ask your child the details so you and your child can distinguish what kind of behavior is going on and then decide what is the best way to proceed. But if I were the mother of the 12-year-old girl above, I’d say to her:
“I want to talk to you for three minutes about the way boys are treating you. How do you feel about what the boys are doing? If you don’t like it, can you tell them to stop and they do?”
If she is too embarrassed to tell you, tell her you understand why it’d be hard to tell you but you just want her to know that if she doesn’t like it she has the right to not like the attention, and she has the right to tell them to stop and have that request respected.
If she does open up to you, suggest that she say one-on-one (or by text or email, i.e., not in front of other kids) to the boy who is bothering her the most one short sentence that states exactly what she wants stopped. If she says she doesn’t want to be “mean,” this is a great opportunity to teach her that communicating her personal boundaries—in a clear and civil manner—isn’t mean.
What advice do you give your kids when they encounter situations like this? Post a comment and tell me!
Written on May 9, 2013 at 6:58 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
Age, as they say, is just a number. Yet so many of us still believe that once we register to vote, get married or buy a house, we’re magically teleported beyond the messy social situations of middle school. Not so. Case in point: two women who wrote to me with stories of grown-ups behaving like little kids—or if we’re being truthful, less mature than children.
Mom #1: I offended another mom with a joking comment on Facebook. I apologized twice via FB message, but never received a response and she unfriended me. Now when I see her, she ignores me. I don’t have to be friends with her. We weren’t really to begin with. But I am frustrated she won’t accept my sincere apology. What to do?
Mom #2: I play Bunko with some other mothers who always make plans for their families to hang out together but never invite me. When my kids are in similar situations, I tell them: “You can’t be invited to everything.” But I am really mad at these moms and have no idea what to do.
No matter what, it’s really helpful as a parent to have these moments to remember what it’s like to be excluded and how hard it is to confront people. But the silent treatment? The cold shoulder of the cool clique? What’s next? Arguments over buying the same prom dress?
So let’s get something straight: maturity, no matter how old you are, is about self-reflection. It’s about knowing how you contributed to a problem and being able to speak out when you don’t like something—all while treating yourself and others with dignity. And, as in the cases above, it’s natural to have the feelings these women are having.
What’s not OK (i.e. you’re now acting like you’re 12) is to allow those feelings to control your reactions. So here’s what I advise Mom #1 to do. Apologizing after she realized her mistake was exactly on point. But after the first apology on Facebook, she should have gone up to the woman in person and apologized again. So now, if she wants, she can apologize one more time in person to this woman. If the other mom really is an adult Queen Bee, she will pretend that she doesn’t even know what Mom #1 is talking about or offer a fake smiletell her don’t worry about it, and not mean a word of it. If she’s not an adult Queen Been, then she’ll genuinely thank her and both of them can move on.
But if Mom #1 does offer an in-person apology, no matter what, she knows she did her best and it’ll be easier for her to put this behind her. That’s because managing social conflicts online almost always makes the situation worse and at the least isn’t as satisfying.
Mom #2 has two options. She can decide she wants to talk to the women about it, but then she has to be prepared for the outcome she really may not want: they now invite her to their social activities. She has to ask herself if she even wants to hang out with these people. If she doesn’t then her options are to focus on playing Bunko or leave the group entirely. And this, by far, is one of the great benefits of being an adult. It’s not like when you’re in 7th grade and you have to go to school with these kids all day. You can pick up your stuff, turn on your heels and just leave.
What do you think about how these women should handle the middle-school situations they’ve become a part of? Post a comment and tell me.
Written on April 25, 2013 at 12:02 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
My husband and I have relentlessly taught our children to hold doors for people. We’ve told them they need to ask to be excused from the dinner table and they’re aware they should write “Thank You” notes for gifts. Trouble is, my boys haven’t exactly internalized those lessons. Over the years, I’ve seen that I needed reinforcements. Enter: Cotillion prep.
And yet I came to an awkward realization when a friend recently asked me why in the world I’d send my sons to cotillion. Aloud, I explained to her that the classes were simply basic manners and dance. In my head, I suddenly became aware that if I’d had a daughter instead of sons I’d never have thought to enroll her in anything close to cotillion.
If I’d had a daughter, I wouldn’t have wanted her learning the gender baggage that goes along with programs like this. As gleeful as I was to get my boys into suits and ties, I’d never have pressured a girl into a dress with white gloves. And I wasn’t alone. In my kids’ classes, many more parents of boys signed up their sons. There was even a last minute campaign to recruit girls.
Why were parents of boys so eager and parents of girls so reluctant? I think it’s because the drawbacks of sending a girl to cotillion are more obvious to all of us. Sending girls to a manners class where boys “choose” them to dance or they learn how to set a table sends the message that they’re expected to grow up to be perfect hostesses. It doesn’t matter that the boys are learning the same domestic skills alongside the girls. If we teach these things to girls, it feels like we’re betraying them.
I completely understand these concerns. But what’s amazing to me is that parents of boys (like me) so rarely think about how these gender expectations impact their sons. There are two reasons why. First, these gender rules don’t seem so bad for boys. A suit doesn’t seem as constraining as a party dress. Second, we’re desperate to civilize them. There’s an everyday reality that our boys can come across as loud, inconsiderate and sloppy. I’ll share what it’s like for me:
1. My sons move fast – and in doing so they can be blind to people around them. They literally have closed the door in the face of an elderly person. In spite of making them stand for fifteen minutes and open doors as a “teachable moment” (after doing this to that older woman), they still need more opportunities to slow down.
2. Last year, we moved to Boulder, Colorado from Washington D.C. Dressing up in Boulder means wearing darker jeans and a new flannel shirt. I’m sorry but my East Coast self just can’t handle that. Different situations demand different attire.
3. I strongly believe that personal style shows how a person wants to present himself to the world. That is entirely different than my son picking up the sweat pants he dropped on the floor last night and putting them back on because he can’t be bothered to open the clothes drawer. Honestly, I’d much rather have a kid who spiked his hair into a huge Mohawk and wore black skinny jeans than one who wears dirty sweatpants with holes in them – my boys’ go-to outfit.
4. Everyone needs practice dealing with horribly awkward social situations. And what’s more excruciatingly awkward than a school dance? By the time my boys walk into their first “Under the Sea”-themed 8th grade dance, they’ll feel a little more experienced and at ease with the whole thing.
But the question of gender baggage is important. I don’t want my children thinking that they should be polite to girls because they’re delicate or that boys fit into a “boy box” and girls fit into a “girl box.” Or that anyone who doesn’t fit or doesn’t want to fit into those boxes is somehow less worthy. So, while my husband and I talk to them about that in countless ways, this process has made me link these conversations and values to these classes. And yes, they’re rolling their eyes, and sighing as they say, “I know mom” but that’s totally fine.
The bottom line is I want them learning basic manners, giving up their seats and opening doors for anyone because they need to look out for and be considerate of other people. But there’s another thing. Last month, at my aunt’s birthday party, my older son asked my mom to dance. As I watched them, you can imagine how I felt. I may have to sign them up again next year.
Written on April 11, 2013 at 5:48 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
She came out singing, smiling, holding her head high. Like everyone else around her she was dressed in black, rocking and clapping as she walked. I tentatively reached out to hold my twelve-year-old son, Elijah’s, hand. But I didn’t look at him. The hand holding thing was risky. But I knew it would be way too much to see me cry and I could feel the tears starting. Elijah’s religious experience thus far was one year of Jewish religious school and a few Episcopalian and Catholic services with family. Now we were sitting in Glide Memorial Church in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco listening to my best friend Trina sing in the church choir.
Everyone is welcome. Everyone belongs here, the pastor said. Elijah’s eyes scanned the crowd and I could see what he was taking in as Trina and the rest of the choir backed up the pastor. Twenty-five-year-old gay men stood next to eighty-year-old black women . . . next to transgender men with long flowing hair . . . next to a white couple who looked like they belonged in my new and very white community of Boulder, Colorado.
I couldn’t stop my tears. My friend, Trina, is a cancer survivor. She was diagnosed at 37, six years ago. Like so many people who have stood next to a loved one who is diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, in an instant I was transformed by fear. I did the things you do with someone you love battling cancer. I prayed she’d make it out healthy. We shopped for hats and looked at wigs. We even laughed together after her surgery when she had to lecture her doctor. (He made the mistake of telling her what kind of breasts were best for her after she’d explicitly told him she didn’t need larger boobs than she had already.) But I will never forget the feeling of free falling when the news was bad . . . before it got better.
The choir continued to sing and I was overwhelmed.
I glanced at Elijah, who at 5’11’’ looks like he’s 16. My Elijah, who even at such a young age, has struggled. By the time he was in 5th grade, he hated school and generally believed that teachers and administrators were clueless. After going to a charter school where the teachers ignored him because he wasn’t academically struggling but was being bullied by other kids much smaller than him, we transferred him to a “progressive” private school. There the teachers treated “traditional” boys (loud boys who liked gross things, fart jokes and wrestling with each other) as if there was something pathologically wrong with them. By 5th grade my son had cultivated a troublemaker reputation so he could sit in the principal’s office and explain why her policies and punishments made no sense. Not only had he developed a hatred for school, but he thought most adults were hypocrites.
Last year we moved to Boulder. Elijah is happier now. Happier then he’s ever been. It’s ironic, because Boulder has such a hippy reputation. His middle school doesn’t tolerate disrespectful behavior but it doesn’t demonize boys either. His teachers allow him to write gory stories of zombies in creative writing and share, when appropriate, his extensive knowledge of battles. He is thriving. I have a happy child who respects his elders for the right reasons.
After the service, I asked him what was most surprising about it. Without a moment’s hesitation he answered, They said everyone was welcome here. But at first I didn’t believe it because that’s what people always say. But then I looked around and I could see it was true. That was good.
What I realized in that moment is that Elijah has had so many experiences of not being accepted for who he is by the people who are supposed to. Like so many of the people in that church, he understood how essentially important it is to be accepted and he knew that my friend had brought us all to that place.
There are moments in life of pure gratitude. That morning at Glide was one of them. My friend and my son, there together. In the place they should be.