On Mean Girls and Raising Kindness

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By now you know that I’m big on things like happiness, kindness, and empathy.  You know that I believe in following your dreams and raising thoughtful, caring children who aren’t afraid to go their own way, but who also understand the importance of celebrating differences and learning from others.

If you’ve followed me for a while now, you definitely know how I feel about bullying – all forms of bullying.  Covert relational aggression, commonly referred to as “mean girls”, is certainly nothing new…but it is beginning earlier than it once did.  The best way to put an end to this kind of behavior?  Empower girls.  Teach them how to relate.  Show them a better way.

Head over to the Huffington Post and check out “Want to Stop Mean Girls?  Raise Nice Girls, Instead”.  Let’s do this together.  It takes a village to raise a village of kind and caring kids, after all.

When Introverts Go To School

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School is a busy place.  From morning meeting until dismissal, kids learn, interact, work hard, and move from task to task.  They have a few small breaks here and there, but they don’t have much downtime.

The introverts in the classroom crave downtime.  They need time to close their eyes and think about that beautiful sunset last summer or check out while they draw something calming.  They need Legos, puzzles, or building blocks.  They need writing that is their own.

And yet, they don’t seem to get it.

For an introverted child, sitting in the classroom and coping with all of that stimulation and interaction is emotionally draining.  If your introverted child comes home exhausted and near tears at the end of the day, it’s because it takes a lot to hold it together through all of that.

Forget about the homework.  Dial back the activities and play dates.  Focus on factoring in that downtime.  Downtime, in the mind of the introvert, is recovery time.  I would know.  I’m the master of turning it on and then heading into recovery.  Recovery is essential.

For more on helping introverted children thrive in an extroverted classroom, please head over to HuffPost Parents and check out, “The Introvert in the Classroom“.

On the Importance of Recess

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At the beginning of every school year, I hear the same complaint from frustrated parents.

Forget about the fact that a brand new school year can be completely overstimulating as kids start fresh, exhausting as they transition from summer, and anxiety producing as they learn the nuances of a new classroom with new expectations.  When kids experience these emotions they tend to react in their own ways.  Some get silly and have trouble settling into the new routine.  This is often interpreted as “disruptive”.  Some cry.  A lot.  Those kids are quickly identified as the “sensitive” kids who need to learn to separate.  Others shut down and become silent – afraid to make waves, these kids count the minutes until pick up.  And some seem to settle in fairly quickly…only to melt down at home.

The common complaint that comes in year after year isn’t about the behavior of the child, though. Yes, behavioral concerns often land tired parents on my couch, it’s true.  But the complaint that generates the most email…is benching kids at recess.  Benching kids has become a go-to intervention in many schools, public and private, and kids lose out on much-needed time to decompress because of it.

Classroom management is no easy task.  While the frustration on the part of the parent makes perfect sense, it’s also important to look at the overall picture.  What, exactly, is the teacher dealing with in the classroom?  What drove the teacher to that level of intervention?  And what alternatives exist?

When I hear from teachers, they often mention feeling alone in a sea of behavioral issues.  Many feel that they don’t get enough support when it comes to classroom management.  I worked in education for many, many years.  I know the importance of supporting teachers with classroom management.

Stop by Huffington Post Education for more on the importance of recess and how teachers can get around benching kids.

 

How to Help a Suicide Survivor

In case you missed it, please stop by the Huffington Post and read “There’s Nothing Selfish About Suicide”

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It didn’t take long for the negative backlash to set in when word spread that Robin Williams took his life.  Across all channels of social media, people started throwing around words like “selfish” and “weak”.  His daughter shut down her social media accounts as a result.  Because what people always seem to forget when it comes to celebrity news is that for every celebrity that comes under attack, there are family members directly affected by the attack.  In this low-empathy society fueled by technology and instant gratification in 140 characters or less, people forget to think about the other people.  The people wrapped in grief, that is.

For every person who commits suicide, there is an average of six survivors directly affected by the loss.  That’s six people, on average (sometimes many more), left to pick up the pieces, process their grief, and somehow find a way to move on.

It’s no easy task.

Loss is difficult no matter when it comes or how it happens.  Cancer, heart attacks, car accidents, strokes…loss can strike any family at any time without much warning.  The difference, of course, is that people can talk about things like cancer and heart disease.  They can ask questions, find concrete ways to help (like driving a friend to a medical appointment), and understand the disease.

Sadly, mental health is still very much a taboo topic in our society, and suicide isn’t a word that rolls of the tongue.  In fact, many people go to great lengths to avoid using it at all.  I recently heard a friend describe suicide as, “the thing he did” in reference to her loss.  Survivors of suicide shouldn’t have to blur their words or sweep their grief under the carpet just because we, as a society, don’t know how to talk about mental health.  No, that’s not right.  It’s up to the rest of us to learn how to talk and listen without judgment or criticism.  It’s up to us to learn how to be comfortable with the topic.

Survivors of suicide tend to feel very isolated in their grief.  They might not reach out for help because they fear the response of others when they finally begin to talk about the suicide.  You can help.  You can be the lifeline that helps a friend through a tragic loss.  And all you have to do is be present.

Keep showing up:

When the dust settles and the casseroles have all been eaten…that’s when the sheer loneliness sets in.  The “what ifs” plague suicide survivors because you can’t help but replay every little sign that you missed along the way.

Keep showing up.  After the extended family disappears, after the burial, after the invitations for dinner dwindle…that’s when your friend needs you.  Your friend doesn’t need a fancy dinner or room full of people.  Your friend just needs you to listen, talk, and hold her hand.  Your friend needs your strength until she can find her own.

Use the words:

You can’t sugarcoat suicide, and avoidance of the word only adds a sense of shame.  There is no shame in mental illness.  At all.  Talk openly about depression, anxiety, suicide, and all other areas of mental health.  Ask questions for clarification.  Listen with an open heart and an open mind.  Don’t be afraid of the details.  Discussing the details will help your friend move on from the guilt and shame that suicide survivors often experience.

Be the driver:

You know what’s hard?  Therapy.  Hollywood paints a semi-entertaining picture of therapy, but therapy is hard work.  It’s emotionally taxing, at best, and healing takes time.  People need support beyond the couch.

You would drive your friend to a chemo appointment in a hot second, right?  So why not do the same for a friend going to a therapy appointment?  It’s difficult to get back in the car and drive home after an emotional therapy session, even with a debriefing.  Often to drive your friend to appointments.  Make time for coffee or a walk outside after.  Your friend will feel less alone and better able to work through her emotions as a result.

Send notes:

The hand written note has become a thing of the past, it seems, but it can really help a friend working through grief.  Suicide survivors often feel alone in their survival, and a personal note in the mail can help them feel connected to the outside world.  Human connection is a powerful force.  Be the force that helps your friend stay afloat.

Ask:

Not sure how to help your friend?  Ask and ask again.  Your friend might not want to burden you, but the more you ask and the more you offer – the sooner your friend will realize that you intend to stick around.  Ask what you can do, when you can come by, and what errands you can run.  Don’t take no for an answer.

I was genuinely moved and surprised by the incredible response to “There’s Nothing Selfish About Suicide”.  As I work my way through the email that continues to pour in I am struck by how many survivors feel so completely alone.  Many admit to making up stories about their loss to avoid the shame and silence associated with suicide and mental illness.  We need to do better than that.  We need to help each other out, one conversation at a time.  And that begins with all of you.  Talk.  Be comfortable.  Be supportive.  It just might change a life for the better.

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On Redefining Happiness…

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The Making Caring Common Project released some very interesting research last week, and if you haven’t seen it you should really take a look.  Titled “The Children We Mean to Raise: The Real Messages Adults Are Sending About Values”, the results of the survey eye-opening.  Bottom line:  You might think that you prioritize prosocial behaviors such as empathy, kindness, and being a caring person, but there’s a significant chance that what your child is internalizing is that you want her to be successful.  In fact, only 19% of the youth surveyed (from all over this country) picked “caring” as a priority for their parents.

I hear a lot about kids being “overindulged” or “not having enough responsibility” today.  But this isn’t about chores or too much designer clothing.  This about core values.  This is about the race to nowhere overwhelming our children.  They work hard to succeed in school, on the field, and just about everywhere else, until they pass out from exhaustion and do it all over again.  Kids are being pushed to succeed at all costs, and prosocial behavior and kind and caring character seem to top the lists of costs.

The good news is that it’s always a good time to work on character building.  We have the ability to send better, more positive, messages to our kids every single day.  But it has to start at home, and it has to be a daily effort.

  • Talk about what it means to demonstrate kind and caring behavior.
  • Learn about positive role models – both historical figures and people making a difference today.
  • Choose a family community service project to work on throughout the next year and see it through.
  • Use kind and caring language in your home.
  • Build each other up every single day.  Bad days happen, but there is always something good to highlight (no matter how small).
  • Eat meals together as much as possible and talk as a family.
  • Encourage expression of emotions and teach your children how to cope with negative emotions.
  • Three words:  Family game night.
  • Put down the technology and connect on a human level.  We are moving too fast and glossing over the good stuff.  Reconnect as much as possible.  Model healthy use of technology for your kids and be the kind of parent who isn’t afraid to set limits.
  • Be empathic.  Every.  Single.  Day.

There are endless ways to model and teach kindness and caring and I would love to hear all of yours.  I would also love to have you stop by The Huffington Post to check out “7 Ways to Redefine Happiness and Raise Kind and Caring Kids”.

See you there!

Life Lessons from Dad

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I sometimes wonder what little bits of wisdom my kids will hold close to their hearts as they grow.  At 7 and 5, they are kind, loving, and thoughtful.  They enjoy spending time together and look forward to family time more than anything.  They are funny and witty, bright and engaging.  They ask questions about big things, little things, and things somewhere in between.

We talk a lot.  We enjoy slow meals with long conversations and we read constantly.  Is this what they will recall when they get older?  Or is the the non-stop playing, long summer days on the beach, and sunsets that linger just long enough?  Hopefully, they will take a little bit of everything with them.

When The Huffington Post asked me to recall life lessons learned from my dad, I found that I couldn’t stop writing.  The finished piece is part of a Father’s Day series, but truly I could have written the whole series.  How do you cram 23 years of life lessons into 1000 words or less?  Well…you don’t.  But I did share a few of my favorite dad-isms…

Please stop by The Huffington Post.  Then grab your favorite drink and savor that sunset, wherever you are…tomorrow is a new day.

Happy Father’s Day!

On putting an end to “Boys will be boys”

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There’s this saying in parenting and it kind of drives me nuts.  It’s been around since I was a kid, and it continues to thrive today.  People use it to describe things they feel can’t be changed, but it’s really nothing more than an excuse.  And it needs to change.  Because if we continue to socialize boys to believe that they are incapable of thinking and considering others before acting, then we will never raise a generation of children who treat each other with mutual respect.  And I don’t believe in “never”.  So it’s time to start a parenting revolution, my friends.  It’s time to put an end to…

“Boys will be boys.”

Do boys play more physically than girls?  Depends on the boy.  And the girl.  Do boys get silly and messy and loud sometimes?  Yes.  Do girls?  Yes.  Do boys fidget at school and call out answers without remembering to raise their hands?  Sometimes.  Do girls?  Sometimes.

Do you see where I’m going with this?  Society dictates that we teach little girls to be proper, polite, respectful, and quiet.  But boys?  Oh, they’re just boys.

I have one girl and one boy.  They have different personalities, for sure.  But this is what they have in common:  They are loud, silly, musical, playful, creative, covered head-to-toe in dirt, markers, or paint most days, smart, good problem solvers, kind, caring, loving, empathic, curious, and full of stories.  They don’t hit others because they know that hitting is wrong.  They don’t tease others because they know that teasing hurts.  And they embrace differences and learn from others.

They are all of those things and more because they’ve been nurtured and taught and loved unconditionally.  Nothing is ever perfect and life isn’t always easy, but the light outweighs the darkness and kindness counts.  Teach kindness.  It’s never too late.

And head over to The Huffington Post for more on raising kids who respect one another.

 

Play More Often for Happy Kids!

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I’ve seen some great articles on the importance of play in the past few months.  This is a good thing.  While people all over the country continue to argue for or against changes in public education, the truth is that our children are the ones caught in the middle.  Our children are experiencing high levels of stress and insufficient time to play.

Play is crucial for developing minds.  And before you start to think that this only applies to very young children, it actually applies to kids of all ages.  The benefits of child-centered unstructured play are well-documented, and we need to start giving kids more free time to tap into play.

I’m super proud of this article over on HuffPost Parents this week, and truly humbled by the positive response to it.  If we all work together, we can decrease stress levels for children and raise happy kids.

Please head over there and check out “Stressed Out in America:  5 Reasons to Let Your Kids Play”.

 

Get a HAPPY Start to 2014!

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Happy New Year, Practical friends!  We hope you enjoyed a wonderful holiday season are are ready to hit the ground playing in 2014!

We are snowed in here in Connecticut and loving every minute of it.  The kids are excited to finally see some snow that actually sticks around and head outside in the 10 degree (brrr!) weather to make snow angels and snowmen/snowgirls (obviously).

I kicked off the New Year over on The Huffington Post with some tips on setting some goals that will positively impact your kids.  This is the year of HAPPY KIDS!  Please stop over there to check out that article.

At some point I will have to get back to reality and finish writing The Happy Kid Handbook, but for now I’m off to throw a few snowballs!

Enjoy your weekend and may you have an easy transition back to reality…

Parents – Wake Up!

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I don’t know how many children have to take their lives before parents wake up and get angry…really, really angry…about bullying. But I, for one, can’t take it for one more second.

Head over to The Huffington Post.  Read it.  Get angry.  Share it (please, for the love of children everywhere, share it.  Use your voice.  Be the change that we need to see.)

And then go back to your family and raise better kids.

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