Parenting with Presence with Susan Stiffelman

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I read a lot of parenting books.  When parents come to me for help, I need to know what they’re reading and why it speaks to them.  When they come to me with the latest and greatest parenting “theory”, I need to understand why that particular style appeals to them.  I stay on top of the current research, I read until my eyes fall out, and I help parents apply that coveted information to their daily lives.

The truth is that parenting is challenging at times, and while books are full of useful information – learning to apply that information to the bumps in the road can also be a challenge.  If you really want to practice mindful parenting but find that it’s hard to do so when your children arguing about that one toy (again), you’re not alone.  Sometimes what we read at night doesn’t always work the next morning.

This time is different.  From the moment I opened Susan Stiffelman’s book, Parenting with Presence, I felt a sense of calm.  The chapter on throwing away the snapshot is worthy of a book of its own.  I think we all do this, to some degree.  We create a snapshot of what we want our families, our lives, our careers, and even our friendships to look like.  When those snapshots conflict with reality, we feel disappointed, angry, and sometimes depressed as a result.  We have to learn to start where we are – parent the kids that we have – instead of desperately trying to live up to the snapshots we created.

With a focus on self-love, acceptance, and compassion, Stiffelman guides us through the hard stuff – making peace with our own feelings and emotions while understanding why our children might feel hurt or upset at times.  Stiffelman provides practical strategies for parents and, more importantly, she also provides hope.  Parenting with Presence will shift your thinking and calm your soul.

Please enjoy Stiffelman’s 5 tips for parenting with presence below, and get your copy of her book here!

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Five Tips for Parenting With Presence

 

I had meditated from the time I was sixteen, so as I approached motherhood, I was certain I would be spared those dramatic, stressful moments I saw frazzled parents having with their children. Yelling or shouting? I would be too centered to succumb to that level of frustration. Trying to rush my child to get where we were going? I was confident about my ability to slow down and live in the moment.

 

Ha!

 

In theory, parenting with presence sounds easy enough. Putting it into practice in real time with real children is another thing altogether. No one can push our buttons the way our kids can — ignoring repeated requests to come to dinner after we’ve made something healthy and tasty, or refusing to stay in their beds when we’ve run out of steam and desperately want to go to sleep. Sometimes we lose our cool, and our way.

 

Parenting shows us just how human we are. Humbling, yes, but if we relax into the experience rather than resist the difficult moments, it can be one of the greatest opportunities we will ever have to learn how to love more deeply, live more fully in the moment and become more open-hearted versions of ourselves. A blessing of untold magnitude, but one with a never-ending invitation to stretch and grow.

 

Here are a few of the things I have learned about parenting with presence:

 

Be good enough. Our children don’t need us to be saintly or enlightened. We just need to be good enough. Don’t allow mean, critical voices in your head to tell you that you’re not adequately conscious or evolved. That voice — the one telling you that if you were more “spiritual,” you wouldn’t yell at your kids– is not your friend. It is only with a heart that is at ease with our imperfections that we can truly embrace the opportunities for spiritual growth that come with being a parent. When you lose your way, touch your heart with a “There, there” as you would comfort a child, and begin anew.

 

When your buttons get pushed, look beneath the surface. None of us like being ignored or dealing with tantrums. But when we feel especially triggered by our child’s unpleasant behavior, unfinished business from our own childhood may be rearing its ugly head. If your child’s anger makes your blood boil, it may be rekindling memories of a parent’s explosive temper. If you feel painfully disrespected when your kids pretend they don’t hear you, it may be activating the hurt of being ignored as a child. Our children can be invaluable beacons of light, illuminating our emotional dark corners to catalyze deep healing and open us to extraordinary dimensions of love and acceptance.

 

Commit to moments of full engagement. Most of us juggle the demands of our lives by giving partial attention to each activity without being fully present for any of them. We listen halfheartedly to our child’s story about Show and Tell while our wandering mind thinks over the emails we need to send. We rush our kids through brushing their teeth, counting the moments until we can fall wearily into bed. When our kids sense our divided attention, they often generate chaos and drama to bring all of us into the room, even if their behavior results in threats or punishments. Focus on the one thing you’re doing, whether it’s serving a snack or changing a diaper. Investing even a few moments of fully-engaged time with your kids can bring greater joy to your parenting life.

 

Challenge fear. Many parents are driven by anxiety. What will happen if she doesn’t finish her homework? What if he refuses to eat dinner…again? When we are ruled by fear, we tend to come across to our children as desperate and needy, effectively putting them in charge of our happiness. Make friends with the worst case scenario so it has less of a hold over you.

 

Unplug. These days it is nearly impossible to visit a park and not find parents checking their devices while the kids play, or strolling their baby while chatting on their cell phone. Rarely do you see families in a restaurant without at least one person—often a child— on some kind of digital device. We all know that the digital revolution has brought amazing things to our lives, but our children need regular doses of our presence. Yes, it’s great that you can reach out for the support of your cyber-tribe when you’re feeling isolated with little kids. But the next time your cell phone beeps, try staying a little longer in the 3D world.

 

My now twenty-four year old son walks into the house as I’m finishing up this article. I feel the tug of my writing, but the pull on my heart is stronger and I stand up to share a hug and a few moments of “How’ve ya been?” as we catch up after not seeing each other for a few days.

 

I have enjoyed many soul-nurturing experiences in my life but to this day, seeing my son still splits open my heart like nothing else can. Through the many rough patches and the countless days when I fell miles short of being as conscious as I had hoped to be, this love remains. Pure, perfect and miraculous.

 

# # #

 

Susan Stiffelman, MFT is the bestselling author of Parenting with Presence and Parenting without Power Struggles. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a credentialed teacher, and the Huffington Post’s weekly “Parent Coach” advice columnist. She lives in Malibu, California where she is an aspiring banjo player, a determined tap-dancer, and an optimistic gardener. Visit her online at http://www.ParentingwithPresence.com.

 

Based on the book Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids ©2015 by Susan Stiffelman. Printed with permission of New World Library. www.newworldlibrary.com

 

Your Must-Have Resource for Navigating Social Media With Tweens

Image via Amazon

Image via Amazon

When I think back to middle school, I can’t help but remember the notes passed in study hall or in between classes.  Do you like Katie?  Circle one: YES or NO.  Remember those?  They weren’t always about boys, of course.  Sometimes they were about friends.  Do you think Katie is nice?  Circle one:  YES NO I DON’T KNOW. This social hierarchy thing?  That’s been around forever.  We act like it’s a new development, but this has been happening for years.

What IS a new development is taking the notes (nice ones and not-so-nice ones) and attaching them to something like an Instagram – in the secret code of tweendom (you know, letters that you have to decode – which really means just ask a tween to tell you what in the world “#lmirl” means.)

While many tweens use social media to connect with others, some do make mistakes.  And some intentionally bully others online. That embarrassing note passed in study hall years ago is much worse today because now it’s posted online for others to see.  With a simple screenshot, that note can continue to be posted over and over again.  That note that you tore up on your worst day in middle school has the potential to stick around forever in the life of a tween today.  Let that sink in for a minute.

Helping tweens and teens navigate the bumpy road of social media is tricky.  On the one hand, you can’t just bury your head in the sand and hope that your kid never makes a bad choice.  Kids make mistakes – it happens.  Even though they think they know everything…they do need support and guidance.  On the other hand, they need independence.  They need to have friendships on their own terms.  They don’t need you hovering and “liking” their every move.

What’s a parent to do?

Allow me to introduce you to Galit Breen!  In her new book, “Kindness Wins“, Breen covers all things social media and guides parents through the process – a road she recently began traveling with her own girls.  Breen knows how to weave a story, and her personal anecdotes will capture your heart and help you feel understood.  Not all parents talk openly about the struggles of raising adolescents, and that can feel isolating.  Breen breaks it down and shares her stories in this empowering parenting guide with a simple message:  Kindness always wins.

Also?  Breen is no stranger to online bullying.  She knows firsthand the pain of a hurtful comment or two.  Instead of allowing online bullying to tear apart her soul, however, she turned it around and did something about it.  How’s that for inspiring?

Synopsis

If kindness wins, accountability rules. The need for this mantra is never clearer than when scrolling through posts and comments left online.

Approximately four out of ten kids (42 percent) have experienced cyberbullying. When we were young, our bullies weren’t usually strangers. They were the kids who passed mean notes about us in class, the ones who didn’t let us sit at their table during lunch, and the ones who tripped us in the hallway or embarrassed us in gym class. Cyberbullying isn’t all that different from the playground bullying of our youth and nightmares. But with social media, our bullies have nonstop access to us–and our kids. In fact, we’re often “friends” with our bullies online.

When freelance writer Galit Breen’s kids hinted that they’d like to post, tweet, and share photos on Instagram, Breen took a look at social media as a mom and as a teacher and quickly realized that there’s a ridiculous amount of kindness terrain to teach and explain to kids―and some adults―before letting them loose online. So she took to her pen and wrote a how-to book for parents who are tackling this issue with their kids.

Kindness Wins covers ten habits to directly teach kids as they’re learning how to be kind online. Each section is written in Breen’s trademark parent-to-parent-over-coffee style and concludes with resources for further reading, discussion starters, and bulleted takeaways. She concludes the book with two contracts―one to share with peers and one to share with kids. Just like we needed to teach our children how to walk, swim, and throw a ball, we need to teach them how to maneuver kindly online. This book will help you do just that.

Bio

Galit Breen was a classroom and reading teacher for ten years. She has a master’s degree in education and a bachelor’s degree in human development. In 2009, she launched a career as a freelance writer entrenched in social media. Since then, her work has been featured in various online magazines including Brain, Child, The Huffington Post, TIME, and xoJane. Breen lives in Minnesota with her husband, three children, and a ridiculously spoiled miniature golden doodle. You can learn more about Galit by visiting TheseLittleWaves.com.

FAQs

1. Why did you write this book?
I had a post go viral this fall about coments I received about my weight on an article I wrote about marriage. Not too long after that, my daughter and her friends began using social media platforms like Instagram. When I looked through some of the kids’ profiles, I realized there’s a lot of kindness terrain to cover. After my experience with unkind comments and fat shaming, I knew I wanted to do something about cyberbullying. This book is my “something.” This is a guide for parents, teachers, youth groups, etc. to use for teaching our kids how to be kind online. I think this can and should be taught. I used my work in social media to inform what needs to be taught and I used my background in teaching (I have an MA in education and I was a classroom and reading teacher for 10 years) to guide the how-to portion of the book.

2. What’s the book’s format?

The book can be read in one gulp or in sections. Each chapter in Kindness Wins covers one habit to directly teach kids about how to be kind online. Each section is written in a simple, parent-to-parent over coffee style and concludes with one resource for further reading, two discussion starters (one to have with peers and one to have with kids), and three bulleted takeaways. At the end of the book there are two Kindness Wins contracts–one for peers and one for kids.

3. What do your kids think about the book?

My kids are my biggest cheerleaders. My tween girls were two of my early readers and they gave me so very much feedback and things to (re)consider. They questioned and redirected my thinking. It was wonderful. Everything that’s right and relevant about the advice I give in this book might just be due to them! And my young son heartily approves of my cover colors. Thank goodness for that. :)

4. Who is this book for? Can kids read it?

Kids can definitely read it; you have my own tweens’ seal of approval for that. I wrote this book for parents in the trenches of raising tweens and teens, older kids who are teetering on knowing more than we do about maneuvering online. Parenting is hard. When our kids were little, we figured out that sharing our experiences, challenges, goals, and wins with each other was a huge relief and help. Now that our kids are a little bit older, we need just as much help but our support system is dwindling because parenting them feels more private, more their story to tell then ours. But there’s so much to be said about joining forces with our parenting peers and helping each other out. So this book is meant to be read and discussed by parents, friends, teachers, coaches, youth group and club leaders. It’s also meant to be read by–and discussed with–kids. Parents and kids, mother daughter book clubs, scouts, teams, classrooms. Reading this book is a step toward online kindness winning. But the conversations your reading will springboard are the leaps. Kids can, and should, read it.

5. What’s your favorite part of the book?

My favorite parts of the book are where my girls gave me feedback and took my social media examples from good to great. I also found quotes from authors and celebrities to begin each with. I love these so very much because it feels justright to have people from so many walks of life–kids to parents to celebrities–touting the same kindness wins message. At the end of the book I also include our favorite peanut butter cookie recipe–so you can make the cookies to have while you engage in the tricky conversations the book encourages you to. This specific recipe connects to the book, I swear, you’ll have to find out how inside, though! And it makes me feel like a good Minnesotan to not show up to the conversation empty handed!

Buy the book here!

Find Galit Breen here.

This book is a great resource for parents – but it also belongs in the hands of teachers and school administrators.  If we want to raise kind kids, we all need to be on the same page.

 

Disclaimer:  I am ridiculously proud to call Galit a friend (a really, really good one) and she did send me the book to read before it went to press, but that doesn’t change my opinion of this book in AT ALL.  Raising adolescents is complicated, and this book helps parents navigate these tricky but very necessary conversations.  It also brings us all together for a common goal:  Kindness.  Who in this world can argue with that?  Are you still here?  Go out and get a copy of “Kindness Wins”!

How to Inspire Your Kids to Spread Happiness

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Today is the International Day of Happiness!  While it might seem a bit much to dedicate a day to celebrating happiness, I think a day like this is exactly what we need in this world.  Research shows us that connecting to others increases overall happiness, so it makes good sense that theme of today is making more connections.

Sure, you probably feel connected 24/7 thanks to your super smart phone, but how deep do those connections go?  How often do you carve out time to actually engage with others in a meaningful way?  We are a generation of quick wit and instant gratification, and we need to learn to slow down and consider the messages we send our children.

In this busy, go-go-go time of parenting, we need to learn to step back and find time to strengthen our existing relationships and establish new ones.

Just yesterday and elderly woman stopped me on my way into Rite Aid.  I was in a hurry, but the smile on her face told me that she needed to have a conversation.  Sure enough, she wanted to talk about polarized sunglasses.  It was a new concept to her and she wanted to know if I had any thoughts about them.  For fifteen minutes we stood in the entryway of the store, chatting about the glare, eye strain and saving money with coupons.  Then she patted me on the back and walked into the sunshine with her new polarized glasses.

Did that small connection make her day?  I don’t know, but it sure made mine!  I told my kids about it over dinner.  We talked about grandparents and getting older and loneliness…and then they talked about little things that might make other people happy.

Adults tend to be over-thinkers.  We know too much about the great big world, and that causes us to think big.  We think in grand gestures, and that can stop us from actually taking the time to connect with others.  When spreading happiness feels like another thing on the list, it’s easy to push it down. If we look to our children, however, we find that spreading happiness and establishing connections is actually quite simple.  The key is to think smaller.

My daughter always reminds me that smaller is happier by way of picking wildflowers for me along our walks.  She puts them in glasses with water and places them on the kitchen table for all to enjoy.  And we really do enjoy them. My son shows his small acts of kindness with his words.  He whispers kind words and leaves me sweet love notes almost every day.  And it works.  His child-sized expressions of love bring me great happiness – and that melts the stress away.

So how can we inspire our kids to spread kindness and happiness?

Point out acts of kindness:

This brings us back to thinking small, especially when it comes to very young children.  You know that bird nest your child created out of twigs and leaves?  That’s kindness in action.  You know that flower your child just had to pick for Grandma?  That’s kindness in action.

Talk about the acts of kindness that you see each day.  Discuss how those acts might make other people feel.  Connect the dots so that your children learn that they have the ability to help others feel happy.

Praise thoughtful behavior:

Kids do kind things because they want to show others that they care.  It’s how they express their love and gratitude.  While you probably thank them for those little pictures drawn on tiny scraps of paper, you might not be as inclined to label that action as “thoughtful”.  You should.

You want to know eight words that will build your child up and inspire further acts of kindness?  Here goes:  “I love that you are a thoughtful person.”  Go ahead, try it.  Your child will smile, that much I know.

Teach positive thinking:

Life can be frustrating, even for little kids.  Negative thinking can get in the way of kind behavior and overall happiness.  When kids have an “I can’t” approach to the hard stuff, they have a hard time seeing a positive end result.

Teach them to reframe their thoughts.  Stop a negative thought cycle with these steps:

  • I can see that your frustrated.  This feels really hard.
  • Take three deep breaths with me to take a break for a minute.
  • Let’s think of some positive words we can use while we work on this problem.
  • I’ll stay with you, and you can let me know if you need any help.

Model kindness:

Take the time to make connections and engage in small acts of kindness in the presence of your children.  Bring in the neighbor’s trash cans, help someone carry groceries, hold the door wide open (even if you have to slow down and wait)…

Kids learn a lot by watching us.  Do we all have great days every day?  No.  But we can model kindness, talk about our mistakes, and teach our kids to spread happiness…all we have to do is slow down and stay connected.

Have a happy day!

Parenting Articles on Momtastic

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I’ve been so busy freelancing everywhere else that I haven’t taken the time to share everything here.  Many of you email me or look me up on Facebook to ask advice on specific topics, and I cover most of those topics on other sites.

I recently joined the writing team at Momtastic.  They have great parenting content over there.  Please check out the following articles published there (if any of them are of interest to you).  I’ll see you over there!

5 Secrets to Raising a Kid With Excellent Anger Management Skills

Why Play-Based Learning in Kindergarten Is So Important (Favorite article in a while!)

8 Surprising Signs Your Kid Is Addicted to His iPad (Don’t let the title scare you…)

Why No Good Can Come From Pushing Kids to be Early Readers

And…

How to Teach Your Kids About Strangers Without Using Crazy Scare Tactics (Important!)

Lesson learned:  Update more often.

Want Happy Kids? Teach Forgiveness.

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Forgiveness.

Chances are you’ve talked to your kids about forgiveness at some point. You’ve probably asked one child to forgive the other child for an unkind gesture or unfair treatment of some kind. You’ve probably talked about moving on, letting go, and getting over it. But have you actually taught your kids how to practice forgiveness?

Forgiveness is an essential life skill. It doesn’t get the attention it deserves, if you ask me. There are plenty of adults in this world who don’t practice the art of forgiveness in their lives. They might say they do. They might rely on clichés and phrases that speak to forgiveness, but do they actually take the time to forgive? Do they actually work through the feelings that serve as roadblocks to forgiveness and get to the other side?

Have you ever found yourself on the receiving end of a heated discussion when suddenly past issues enter the conversation? What begins as something seemingly minor can morph into an emotionally exhausting conversation filled with repressed anger and resentment that creeps out when tension spikes. These are the moments that speak to lack of forgiveness skills. These are the moments that cause hurt and sometimes irreparable damage to otherwise close relationships.

I’ve mediated these conversations in my office, and I’ve seen them in my own life at times. When people are unable to practice forgiveness, they carry with them feelings of anger, hurt, and resentment so strong that they struggle to maintain perspective. They have difficulty truly relating to and building close relationships with others when they struggle to forgive.

The benefits of learning to forgive are many. According the Mayo Clinic, forgiving people enjoy healthier relationships, less stress and anxiety, higher self-esteem, better immune functioning, and fewer symptoms of depression (to name a few). People who struggle to forgive, however, are more likely to become depressed or anxious, bring bitterness and anger to new relationships, and struggle to enjoy the present (among other things).

When it comes to raising happy kids, we need to consider the importance of teaching kids how to practice forgiveness. It isn’t just about a simple apology followed by acceptance. Forgiveness takes time and work.

Happiness is not the complete absence of stress; happiness is being able to work through stress, obstacles, and negative emotions and come out with a feeling of inner peace and a positive outlook. That’s a powerful lesson for little kids, and one that will help them for years to come.

So how do we teach kids to practice forgiveness? The obvious answer, of course, is that we practice forgiveness in our own lives. That is important. We need to use the words, talk about our feelings, and share our stories of forgiveness. When our children apologize to us, we need to forgive them out loud. When we’ve made a mistake, we need to own it and apologize and talk about forgiveness within the family. But it doesn’t stop there. Kids need to learn how to get from “I’m sorry” to “I forgive you” without glossing over the hard part in the middle.

Unpack feelings:

Kids are often put in the position of forgiving others without much discussion about what happened. Repressed feelings are a significant roadblock to true forgiveness. When we stuff our feelings, we give those feelings time to grow in size before they finally explode. They will explode at some point. They always do.

Kids need to understand that it’s perfectly normal to experience feelings of anger, frustration, disappointment, jealousy, and sadness when someone hurts our feelings. They need to express those feelings in a healthy manner. They need a trusted adult who can listen (not fix) and empathize. Kids need to work through their feelings before they can forgive.

Recognize their role:

I always tell my clients, particularly the ones with endless stories about being wronged, that even if you’re pretty sure that something is 99% the fault of someone else, there’s always that 1% out there waiting to be claimed. I have this same conversation with my kids, as well. Yes, your brother got frustrated and stormed off because you didn’t agree on a game to play, but what did your voice sound like when you shot down all of his ideas? Could his feelings have been hurt by criticism and voice tone?

When people argue or do things that hurt those close to them, big feelings are at play. Chances are, things are said and done on both ends. We all need to learn how to take responsibility for our roles in relationship issues if we want to be able to forgive and move forward.

Let go of anger:

This can be a hard one for kids (and adults). Anger is a powerful emotion, and it does snowball fairly quickly. One minute you’re fuming over a sarcastic comment that left you feeling hurt and the next you’re thinking about every moment ever that resulted in that same feeling. I see this a lot with young children in my office. One hurt opens the door to past hurts, and it’s very difficult to move forward when overwhelmed by a lifetime of hurt feelings.

Kids need to learn how to let go of angry feelings. A simple exercise in replacing negative thoughts with positive ones (rewriting the script as we refer to it in my office) teaches kids to verbalize their angry thoughts and replace them with positive adaptive statements.

You can’t force others to forgive:

There are those who choose to be forgiving, and there are those who choose to live with anger and resentment. A hard but necessary lesson for kids is that we can’t force others to forgive us and enjoy a positive relationship just because that’s the choice we want to make.

Forgiveness is a skill and it’s also a journey. It doesn’t happen overnight, and sometimes the choices of others will leave us feeling sad and disappointed. Opening the door to forgiveness, even if another one closes in your face, gives kids an opportunity to live a happier, healthier life full of deep and meaningful relationships. That’s a choice worth making, even if someone else makes a different choice.

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“.

Joining Forces with Scary Mommy

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It might take a village to raise a child, but it takes a tribe to kickstart a writing career.  I’ve been very fortunate along the way.  I’ve met some incredible people along this journey, and Jill Smokler was one of the first bloggers to help me get started (or take pity on my obvious lack of blogging skills – either way, I’ll take it).

Jill gave me a place to share a different voice early on in her guest blogging forum, and that experience was eye-opening.  I made countless amazing connections in the blogging world.  They helped me find my way, and I turned around and paid it forward to other newcomers.  The world of mom bloggers sometimes gets a reputation for being super competitive (that’s the nice adjective there), but I have found many friends along the way who are kind, helpful, hilarious, and just all-around good people.  They stand by me and I stand by them.  And we all continue to do our thing.

So when Jill asked me to join her team of experts at Scary Mommy…I jumped at the chance.  You’d have to be living under a rock to be hearing her name for the first time, but in addition to her fabulous writing, both online and in print (seriously, read her books now), she also launched a non-profit, Scary Mommy Nation, to help feed families in need.  Jill is one of the good ones, and I am beyond proud to join her team.

Head over there and check out my first article about picky eaters, but stick around a while.  She’ll make you laugh, she’ll make you cry, and she’ll inspire you to take a chance and do something new.

See you there!

 

Facebook Free for 40 Days…

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This is the sound that feeds my soul…

I gave up Facebook for Lent.

I know, right?  How will I get the most important news stories?  Do I really have to scroll through the CNN app on my own each day?  What about the cute pictures of kids and the funny updates that give me a laugh?  And oh, the Buzzfeed quizzes.  How will I ever crack the code now????

It’s only been one week and I feel like a different person.

Here’s the thing:  To some degree, I need Facebook.  I’m a freelance writer and the expectation is that I will share my articles on Facebook, Twitter, and anywhere else that people might listen.  Facebook is how I keep people updated on the progress of my book, and find a little cheerleading when I feel like I can’t possibly write one more word.

And on a personal level, Facebook keeps me connected to my friends in other cities.  I like seeing the cute little faces of kids in my feed that I wouldn’t ordinarily see and I enjoy the funny status updates from my friends.  It’s an easy way to keep in touch, and who doesn’t love easy?

I love my Facebook friends, I really do…

But I don’t love the white noise.  I don’t love the days when it seems like people argue simply for the sake of arguing.  I’m pretty tough and I can take a fair amount of criticism, but I don’t like it when people leave negatively charged comments on my Facebook updates containing parenting articles.  That’s what the comment forms are for on each website where you might find my work.  There is absolutely a place for that and I would love to hear what other people have to say, just not on my personal Facebook page.  In fact, I actually love when the comments appear on my Practical Parenting Facebook Page – when comments appear there (positive or negative), parents engage in meaningful conversations.  They share their own stories, concerns, and victories.  They help each other out.  That’s why I didn’t give up my professional page for Lent.  I want to to hear those thoughts and engage in those conversations.  We are all different, and meaningful conversations are good.  But arguments on my personal Facebook page?  No way.

But alas, sometimes the lines are blurred when it comes to personal and professional on Facebook, and sometimes you just need a break.  I’ve never been particularly good at white noise…perhaps it’s the introvert in me.  Perhaps not.  Either way, I took a break.

I’ve always prioritized being present with my kids.  I fought long and hard to have them, and I don’t let anything get in the way.  I let text messages go unanswered, I ignore email for days, and I am known to silence the phone when both kids are with me.  The only person who gets through is my husband.

The flip side of that, of course, is that my poor husband has to bear the brunt of me playing catch-up when the kids are asleep.  I quickly scan for priority email and other things that I should respond to in a timely manner before I cook dinner and focus on him for the night.  It’s ok.  He gets it.  We both work.  We both have things that need doing.  But still, the white noise crackles in the background – and the white noise doesn’t need doing.

I thought I would miss it more when I bid Facebook farewell for 40 days.  I thought I would feel disconnected and miss the small moments with my friends in other cities.  I thought I would worry about my work and disappoint my editors with my lack of social media activity.  But the truth is…I feel relieved.

(And I think my editors understand…)

I’m still working during my office hours and sharing my articles as necessary, but then I’m shoving my iPhone to back corner of my desk and moving on.  A sense of calm washes over me each time I water the plants the four of us planted last weekend without a hint of distraction.  A sense of strength courses through me when I run with my phone on DND.  And a feeling of connection keeps me focused when I engage in more meaningful connections with the people I encounter face-to-face each day.

(Incidentally, you NEED to read this article in Time.  Seriously.  I love this research from Boston Children’s Hospital…partially because I find myself conducting similar “research” often.)

The truth is that my friends know where to find me and when to text me if they want me to respond.  They know the best times to call to chat and the best times to leave a quick message.  They know that I am there for them 100% day or night when they need me.  And they understand the importance of stepping back and enjoying the present instead of looking to the virtual for feedback and connection.

I will return to Facebook when spring is upon us. I will continue to share my work and smile at adorable pictures.  I will make jokes that only some people understand (thank god for my brother…and Sondra) and post pictures of my own little cuties.  I enjoy the connection in bits and pieces, and I enjoy the old friends that have popped back into my life simply because someone had a really good idea…

But for right now, I’m taking time for me, my husband, and my littles.  Because even though I do my very best to keep my phone out of sight when I’m with my people…the only way to truly silence the white noise is to shut it down and walk away.

Until next time, my friends…

 

Tips for Talking to Kids About Predators

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There are some parenting topics that are very difficult to address.  Melissa is back this week with some startling information and helpful tips about talking to kids about predators.  I hope you will take the time to read and digest this very important information.  Thanks, Melissa.

This week in my town there was an incident that scared the daylights out of parents of school-aged children.  Police alerted the community to what was believed to be an attempted abduction of a seven-year-old girl who was riding her bike home from school.  It was the type of scenario we all dread and fear:  man grabs the girl and tells her to put her bike in the trunk of his car.  Thankfully, she sped away and told the parent at home, who called the police.  A day later, it was reported that it was actually a case of mistaken identity, not attempted abduction.  An older grandfather whose eyesight is failing thought he was addressing his granddaughter, whom he was supposed to pick up on that particular day.

While parents across our district breathed a sigh of relief and the police department shook off their embarrassment for sounding the high alarm, others, like my husband and I, took it as an opportunity to refresh our family’s protection plan and talk to our kids—again—about “stranger danger” and safe touching.

You may wonder, won’t that just scare my kids?  Isn’t it my job to protect them and not alarm them about dangers that are not likely to happen, if I keep close watch?  Wrong.  While this was a case—albeit, a mistaken one—of abduction, which is less common, sexual abuse of children is a very frightening and common reality with serious consequences.  Like stranger danger, it should be discussed with children even before they attend grade school and reviewed on a regular basis.

If you think the possibility of a man trying to grab your child on her way home from school is alarming, listen to these facts about sexual abuse:

 

  • Child sexual abuse is the use of a child for sexual purposes by an adult or older, more powerful person, including an older child. It is a crime in all 50 states (Committee for Children).
  • Studies suggest that about 1 out of every 5 American women and 1 out of every 10–20 American men experienced some form of sexual abuse when they were young (Committee for Children).
  • An estimated 180,500 children in the United States were sexually abused in 2005-2006 (Sedlak et al., 2010).
  • Most sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone the child knows and trusts. Snyder (2000) found that nine out of ten children who have been sexually assaulted know their attacker.
  • The offender often uses a position of power to take advantage of a child, usually developing a relationship before any sexual abuse takes place as part of a process known as “victim grooming.”
  • Young children are at the greatest risk.  Studies show that one third to one half of victims are under age 7 when the abuse begins.
  • Sexual abuse occurs in children from every culture, walk of life, and socioeconomic status.  Boy or girl, no one is exempt from the risk.
  • Children are not likely to reveal that abuse is taking place.  Studies show that only 2-4 of every 10 victims will tell an adult at the time of the incident, and even fewer will tell the authorities.

 

Scared?  You should be.  Our children are vulnerable, but there are ways for parents to prevent possible victimization.

 

  • From an early age, allow your child to say no to hugs or other affection, even from family members.  Children should be encouraged to maintain physical boundaries that feel comfortable to them.
  • Talk to your child about safe touching versus unsafe and unwanted touching.
  • Be sure your child understands proper names for their private parts, and that no one other than a parent (for a young child, for cleaning purposes), or a physician may ever touch them there.
  • Teach your child that while it is important to obey adults, particularly parents and teachers, they do not have to obey adults if an adult attempts to break safe touching rules, or otherwise entice the child to act outside of family rules or expectations.
  • Be open to answering questions your child may have, and do not hesitate to review the topic from time to time, particularly surrounding events such as the one which took place in our community.

 

For more information about how to talk to your child about safe touching, visit the website of the Committee for Children, at http://www.cfchildren.org/advocacy/child-safety.aspx

 

 

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5 Tips for Raising Positive Thinkers

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Some kids are naturally more optimistic than others.  Some kids just seem to approach all tasks, no matter how difficult, with a smile and a can-do attitude,  But others…others might seem a little more pessimistic or quick to throw in the towel when the going gets tough.  That doesn’t mean that those kids are quitters.  What it means is that they need a little help along the way.

It helps to consider why some kids immediately start chanting, “I can’t…” or “I’m not good at…” when things aren’t working out as planned.  For many kids, it comes down to a few issues:

Fear of failure.

Perfectionism.

Fear of disappointing others.

Low self-esteem.

And/or…

Low frustration tolerance.

It’s not easy to be a kid, and some kids have huge ideas…the kind of ideas that might be just out of reach when it comes to developmental level.  That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try.  Sure, you want your kids to set age-approriate goals so that they can succeed along the way.  But you also want them to reach a little so that they can begin to understand the importance of practice, patience, and learning from mistakes.

So how can you turn an “I can’t” kid into a can-do kid?  With a little bit of patience and a lot of positive energy.

Reframe it first:

If you have a kid who regularly declares defeat before even digging into whatever project takes center stage at the moment, chances are you have a little perfectionist on your hands who can’t stand the thought of failure.  And the only way to truly avoid failure is to quit before you actually give it a try (in the mind of a child, anyway).

Teach your child to reframe his negative thought immediately.  When my little perfectionist musician-in-training (not really, but in his five-year-old mind) throws up his hands in defeat the minute he forgets a song lyric, I give him a simple task:  “Flip it.”  The first few times I needed to be a little more specific, as in, “Let’s say something positive about what you can do instead of giving up right away.”  But now we’re down to two words.  Before we even discuss the issue at hand, I help him flip the negative thought into a positive.

Reframing negative thoughts helps break the cycle of giving up in frustration.  It retrains the mind to find one small positive to keep you going.  When there is a light at the end of the tunnel, you will fight to get to it.  If you all you see is darkness, you’re more likely to curl up and hide.

Look for obstacles:

Kids have a lower frustration tolerance and are more likely to become sad and upset when they are sleep-deprived, hungry, or sick.  Assess your child’s physical and emotional state before launching into a speech about following through and trying harder.  Major life lessons are often lost on exhausted, starving, and/or sick kids.

Often, a little snuggle time with mom or dad and a comforting snack can bring back the positive.

Empathize:

Remember that time that you cried for three hours after you struck out three times in one game?  Your little baseball player needs to hear that.  Or how about the time that you froze during the school play and completely forgot your lines until someone whispered them to you?  Your little actress might need to hear that one.  You get the point.  Empathize with your child.  Share your own childhood stories and talk about times that you felt the very same way.

When parents empathize with their children, their children feel understood and less alone in their frustration or sadness.  They also see that their parents survived those very big feelings and overcame whatever failure caused the negative feelings in the first place.  That can be very eye-opening for little kids.

Celebrate failure:

Ok, maybe don’t throw a party with balloons and streamers and cupcakes…but learn to find the positive in failure.  You know what the best part of failure is?  Learning something new.  Finding a new path.  Exploring a different option for the next time.  Have you updated to the iOS7 yet?  New path necessary.  They’re probably not sobbing in frustration at Apple headquarters, but you can bet they’re working on something better.

Kids need to learn that failure isn’t the end of the world.  But that’s not an easy task, so they need you to help them get there.  Remain calm.  Let them cry and yell and vent their feelings, but then help them find the silver lining.  Ask questions about what might have gone wrong in order to kickstart the problem-solving process.

And learn to laugh about, own up to, and share your own failures along the way.  We all make mistakes and we don’t always get it right on the first (or second, or third) try.  When we show kids that we also struggle at times, they learn that it’s ok to get back up and try again…that perfect doesn’t actually exist.

Model it:

If you want your kids to have a positive attitude, you have to have one, too.  Watch your words, body language, and mannerisms around your kids.  You might think they’re not paying attention when you’re venting to another mom at school before the bell rings, but they usually are.  Save the venting for a time when the kids aren’t around, and rely on a positive attitude in front of your kids as much as humanly possible.

When you keep your emotions in check and use adaptive coping strategies to work through difficult tasks (deep breathing, taking a quick walk, frequent breaks, asking for help, a cup of tea) your kids learn the importance of learning to work through their feelings while tackling difficult tasks.

How do you help your kids stay positive?

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