Annie Fox's Blog...

Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

On becoming a more tolerant, patient human being (Damn it!)

August 18, 2009

Sometimes we all need a new perspective

Sometimes we all need a new perspective

Face it, the people we live with (and love and cherish more than life itself) can push our buttons like nobody’s business. (That expression never made much sense to me but I’ve always liked the sound of it.) This button-pushing fest can be especially competitive between parents and teens. They give us “that” look,“that” attitude, etc. etc. and we just lose it. And you don’t need me to tell you that we parents do and say things that irritate the crap out of our teens.

But who’s the adult here, right? It’s bad enough to blow up (or melt down) with our own flesh and blood, but when I think about what my “moments” taught my kids about self-control, conscious choice-making, and treating others with respect, well, I want to turn myself in to the bad parent police. OK, so no parent is perfect. And we all have gone off the deep end from time to time. We need to forgive ourselves in the same way that we forgive our kids when they act… crazy.

A new school year is about to burst forth with all kinds of never-before-seen challenges to our parenting chops. If you haven’t reached human perfection yet, you might want to try this simple process. It can help you be more of the parent you want to be more of the time. (i.e., especially when someone in your family is being soooooooo annoying!)

When a family member does or says something that grates on your nerves, ask yourself:
1. What’s going on with me right now? Irritation? Embarrassment? Frustration? Boredom? Resentment? Jealousy? Identifying what you’re feeling is the first step to understanding yourself and your reactions and taking those reactions off automatic pilot.

2.Why is this bothering me so much? We just may be least tolerant of those whose behavior reflect traits that we least like in ourselves. That’s something worth thinking about when a family member starts to drive you crazy.

3. What’s my usual way of responding? What are the usual consequences of my response? How do those help/aggravate the situation? Thinking clearly about your usual reactions can encourage you to explore other options. Especially if what you normally do just makes things worse.

4. What does this person need? That’s not often asked when people push your buttons, but if you can ask it and consider the possible answers, negative family dynamics may start to shift. For example, does this person (my son/daughter/partner) just need someone to listen to them and acknowledge their feelings? Sounds like what most of us want and need at different times. So the problem may not be what the person wants, but rather their inability to ask for it directly. If you can figure out what they want and you can provide some or all of it, you might find a) their “irritating” behaviors become less frequent, b) you feel more compassion and love towards them, and c) you feel good about having freed yourself from an unhelpful automatic response. Win-win.

Begin today. Talk honestly with your teens about the challenges all people have expressing our needs and responding to family members in conscious and compassionate ways. Share with them what you’ve learned about being part of a family. (The positive legacy and the not so.) Remind them that families are forever, but family dynamics are not carved in stone. Just because two people have always interacted in a certain way doesn’t mean they can’t change. With compassion and a willingness to be honest about your feelings and your needs, you teach your children that healthy adults can continue growing in positive directions. Bottom line, just like our teens, we parents are also works in progress.

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Podcast for Parents: Advocating for your special needs child

August 16, 2009

''Schuyler's Monster: A Father’s Journey with His Wordless Daughter'' by Robert Rummel-Hudson

''Schuyler's Monster: A Father’s Journey with His Wordless Daughter'' by Robert Rummel-Hudson

All living things, with the exception of clones and genetically engineered corn and soybeans, are unique. Of course that includes children. Every kid has a collection of traits, quirks, interests, annoying habits, talents and abilities that makes him or her truly special. That’s why education should be “special” for every child. Unfortunately it’s not. Far from it.

In spite of the “Everyone turn to page 57 in your math book” approach to learning that is so 20th century and still going strong, typical children will muddle through their K-12 years and come out the other end having succeeded to one degree or another.

But for the millions of “special needs kids” who are entitled by law to receive truly special education, many are being grossly short-changed. Why? Crippling state budget cuts aside, the crux of the problem is sometimes in the approach of educators who prejudge a child’s ultimate learning potential and design programs based on what a special needs student “can’t” do rather than acknowledging what he or she may not be able to do “yet.” Education is about opening doors. No one can map out the limits of any child’s potential. That boundary line has been drawn yet.

All kids need parents to advocate for them. Special needs kids need especially loud and pushy parents to go to bat for them at school and help them get what they require to succeed.

In this week’s podcast I talk with Robert Rummel-Hudson author of Schuyler’s Monster: A Father’s Journey With His Wordless Daughter. We talk candidly about his daughter Schuyler, born with a rare neurological disorder that makes language acquisition extremely difficult. We discuss the challenges of connecting with a special needs child and the obstacles parents often encounter when dealing with schools. We also talk about what every parent of a special needs child needs to know in order to be your child’s most ferocious and unyielding advocate.

Have a listen here:

If you have iTunes, you can subscribe to this podcast in the iTunes Store.

Or, you can download an MP3 version here.

Upcoming guests include:

Wednesday Martin, author of Stepmonster: A New Look At Why Stepmothers Think, Feel And Act The Way We Do

Ayelet Waldman, author of Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, And Occasional Moments of Grace

Izzy Rose, author of The Package Deal: My (not-so) Glamorous Transition from Single Gal to Instant Mom

Diane E. Levin, co-author (with Jean Kilbourne) of So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood And What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids

Rachel Simmons, author of The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence

Special thanks to our friend and musician/composer Curt Siffert who let us use his song, “Broken Frost” for the opening of this podcast.

*What’s a podcast? “A podcast is a series of digital media files, usually either digital audio or video, that is made available for download via web syndication.” – Wikipedia… So, in this case, there’s an audio file for you to listen to (in addition to reading the above).

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Pass the sugar and some parental support

August 14, 2009

Tea and empathy

Tea and empathy

This morning my brilliant friend Jane had me over for breakfast. No, that’s not what makes her brilliant. Nor was it the impressive spread of eggs, fresh fruit and truly outrageous croissants. What makes Jane brilliant is that she knew the other invited parents needed community support. Why? Because each one had just dropped off a son or daughter at Freshman Orientation. What a great idea to bring parents together at the same tremulous moment their 14 year olds begin the last chapter of childhood!

I wasn’t there as a fellow freshman parent. Been there… twice. Four times if you want to count college. I was there as a parent who is 15 years ahead on the path. I’m happy and relatively sane which goes to show that my kids survived high school and so did I.  I was asked to speak for a few minutes. Here’s the gist of what I said:

Be the kind of parent you wished you’d had in high school. Now’s your chance to act on all those mental notes from your teen years. C’mon, you know what I’m talking about. They all started with “If I ever have kids, I swear I will never ______.”  Or “When I’m a parent I will let my kids  ________ .” OK, maybe all those things you wished your parents had done or not done don’t seem like such great ideas now that you’ve got teens, but maybe there are a few items in the areas of trust, understanding and respect that you’d like to incorporate into your parenting skill-set. What are you waiting for?

Tune in with less talk and more empathy. Teens really appreciate being  listened to. We all do. It’s a sign of caring and respect. When you consistently give it to them, you’re more likely to get it from them. They’re also more likely to be caring and respectful of other people as well.

Respect their privacy. You don’t need to know everything they’re thinking or feeling. They’re not 4 any more. Besides, the teen brain has dark, gunky corners. You probably don’t want to be privvy to all that’s in there. Nor do you need to be. Great parents are great because they respect boundaries with their teens while making it known through word, deed and attitude that they are (and always will be) on their kid’s side. 

Use your parenting network to support each other. No teen (or parent) gets through high school without hitting some bumps. Hopefully your kid’s won’t be the life-altering variety. But whatever they are, parents do better managing crises in their families and showing true leadership when they’ve got other parents to talk to. 

Keep your eye on the prize. Which is…?  A healthy relationship with your adult children after they’ve graduated from high school, college and launched themselves into a truly independent life. That’s something you should be working on every day starting now. How do you know when you’ve achieved it? Your adult kids call you just to talk. Or to get your opinion. Or to share a win. Or a loss. They enjoy coming home and they willingly help out while they’re there. They have grown up. They’re on their own. They honor your parenting with the choices they make. And while they love and respect you, they do not need you. And knowing that makes you very happy. 

I could have gone on, but my tea was getting cold.

If you like Jane’s idea why not talk it up with the parents in your circle? This kind of gathering works for parents of first day kindergartners, first day 6th graders… you get the idea.
So. Go. Talk amongst yourselves.

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Come down from that tree, it’s back-to-school again…

August 5, 2009

I'm not coming down and you can't make me

I'm not coming down and you can't make me

Recently a media outlet in Dubai asked me to weigh in on back-to-school issues. Just goes to show that a) when you’re on a deadline, even Annie Fox is an “expert” and b) like kids everywhere, young ‘uns in the world’s second largest oil economy have “issues” when it’s time to crack the books again.

The interviewer’s questions were good. I give my answers a solid B+. Maybe an A- (depending on whether she grades on a curve). 90% of my responses will probably end up on the cutting room floor. (While down from its peak, print real estate is still expensive in Dubai.) The pearls that see the light of day aren’t likely to be seen by many of you, so I thought I’d post the whole banana. You may find some valuable tips as you and your kids head back into the fray. If not, you can always use my blog to line your virtual bird cages.

Q: Why can the time leading up to the start of a new academic year be stressful, for both children and parents? What can we do to make it better?

Transitions can be hard for people of all ages. We get into a routine where we feel comfortable and competent – familiar with our surroundings and the people we share our lives with. All this helps us feel safe and at ease. Then we start a new chapter with many unknowns. We’re likely to feel a little anxious about what’s ahead. It’s the same with the transition from summer to school. Lots of worries and questions can fill the minds of parents and kids: Will I like my teacher? Will I get teased? Will my child make friends Will my child be able to keep up with the work? etc.

We can best alleviate this kind of stress by staying in present time. In other words, deal with what’s happening now. Also, recognize that many of the “fears and anxieties” that trigger a stress-response are, in fact, non-existent. They may happen in the future or they may never happen. If they do happen, it’s not likely they will happen in the same way (and to the same degree) as we’ve imagined.

Talking about fears and worries is a good way to quiet an over-active imagination. Encourage your child to talk about what’s on his/her mind when thinking about going back to school. As you listen, do not correct, interrupt, reinterpret, evaluate, invalidate, etc. Just listen as you child expresses the feelings behind the worries. After your child has spoken his mind, reassure yourself and your child that you will work together as a team to deal with any and all challenges that come up during the new school year. In fact, taking the point of view that this is a “challenge” vs. a “problem” can also go a long way in alleviating anticipatory stress.

Q: What are the main things children worry about before returning to school?

Social acceptance and academic success. Why? Because for a child (and for parents as well), being popular and getting good grades are the most important measures of school success. Whether that’s an accurate assessment of “success” is another story.

Q: What challenges do children who are starting at a new school face? How can you best prepare your child for these?

Changing school due to relocation: New school new kids. This is challenging at any age, but particularly for middle school students as they are “peer approval addicts” and coming into a new school where peer groups are already tightly bonded can create the feeling that “I don’t fit in with anyone!” If at all possible, move before the first day of school. Connect with a couple of new neighbors with kids the same age as yours. Starting the first day with at least one person that you know can make a huge difference in transitioning into a new school. Also, contact the principal before school starts. Introduce yourself and your child… Go to the school together for a meeting. Get a tour. Find out if they’ve got a buddy system for new students (even if it’s only for the first few days. Having a friendly student assigned to helping a newbie learn the ropes, is a huge plus!) Also talk to the principal about extra-curricular activities that match your child’s interests. (Teams and clubs are great ways to make new friends.) Talk about the route to school as well.

Going to school for the first time: Assuming that parents have instilled a positive attitude about going to school and getting an education, it’s very likely that a young child going to school for the first time will see it as an adventure that they’ve been eagerly awaiting and a sign that they are growing up. If, for whatever reason, a child feels anxious about being away from home/Mom, etc. make sure that he/she is not picking up any of your own separation anxiety. If you’ve got any worries swirling around in your head (“Will my child be safe?” “Will he fit in?” “Will I be able to carry on with my day without thinking about him every minute??”) deal with your own stuff in healthy ways so that you only communicate confidence in your child’s ability to manage in a new situation without you. “School will be fun!” “You’ll do great!” “Every day when you come home, you can tell me all the cool things that happened in school.” Also, many of the tips from the previous answer (changing school due to relocation) fit here as well. Do whatever you can to make the child familiar with the new school, activities, principal, route, etc. Be positive and your child will be too.

Moving up to high school: Everyone in the freshman class is in the same boat. That’s a good thing! School administrators, counselors, and teachers all have loads of experience helping freshman become acclimated to high school. As a parent, acknowledge that feeling a bit anxious about starting high school is absolutely normal. Reassure your child that you have total confidence in their ability to deal, and that you will be there to support them in dealing with whatever challenges come up.

Q: What school supplies does every child need at the beginning of a new academic year?

A clean, well-lit, organized space to study and do homework in. Everything else will either be provided by the school or itemized on a list. Buying a bunch of stuff before your child knows what the teacher wants each student to have is a waste of time and money.

Q: How can you help your child ease back into the routine of early mornings, homework, extracurriculars?

A week before school starts, help your child get back on a “school schedule” by enforcing a realistic bedtime that will, in fact, mirror the time he/she needs to get up for school. Also, before school starts have them do a “test run” of getting up at the right time, getting ready and out the door and getting to school. Let them do the whole thing so they can see how long it actually takes. That’s the only way they’ll know how much time they need in the morning.

As for easing back into the routine of homework and extra-curricular activities, you can’t really “test run” those. But you absolutely can discuss what worked and what didn’t work in the way school obligations were handled last year. Do not repeat behaviors that caused stress! Now’s the time to think about changing what didn’t work.

Q: What advice can you give to children who are afraid of making new friends?

Children who haven’t had good success yet at making friends may well feel nervous about giving it another try. Parents can help with younger children by setting up play dates with especially friendly kids. A little success and confidence in making friends on a one-to-one basis in a home environment can go a long way to building friendship skills at school. For older children, encourage participation in after school teams, clubs, etc. Make sure you let the child’s interests determine the activity.

Q: What are your top 5 tips for parents dealing with a child that doesn’t want to go back to school after the holidays?

  • Encourage your child to talk about what’s going on. Talking about fears with someone who is really listening, can decrease the power of negative emotions.
  • Listen with compassion and understanding to what he/she says. Don’t interrupt or invalidate. Whatever your child is feeling is NORMAL. Tell him/her that. Also express your confidence in your child’s ability to be a great friend and a good student.
  • Brainstorm (together with your child) a list of all the things he/she did/accomplished last school year that he/she feels proud of.
  • Brainstorm (together with your child) a list of all the things he/she did last year that he/she would like to change. Remind your child that you cannot change the behavior of others nor can you undo the past. But we can learn from the choices we make and consciously choose to make different (more helpful) choices in the future.
  • Work with your child to set some realistic goals for the first month of school, be they social or academic. Then agree to meet again one month in the future to check the progress he/she has made in reaching those goals.

OK, there you have it. You’re all set for school. But wait! It’s only August 4th, 5th… whatever. Still summer. How about getting off the computer and enjoying what’s left of it? And take your kid with you!

fyi: If you’ve got a parenting question, email me… I’ve got plenty of answers (They’re in my closet. One is sure to fit.)

Filed under: Parenting,Tips — Tags: , , , — Annie @ 2:43 pm
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