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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.

Day 25: Kindness and Respect Challenge (Show me some love)

October 25, 2013

I know how to get what I need

Yesterday’s email from One.org described how much good the gift of a goat can provide an African family in extreme poverty. Great idea. Been gifting goats through OxfamAmerica.org for years. Glad to see more goats doing their part to help people.

So I started thinking about goats I’ve known… and remembered this blog from 5 years ago. Fits perfectly with the Kindness and Respect Challenge because it’s about love.

A Tale of Two Kids

Saturday I strolled alone through a golden vineyard. You may not have grapes growing near you, but if you spot a sunny day outside your window, get out in it! Drag your family along too.

In the short term, Nature will re-center you. In the long-term it might keep you saner when you’re locked in traffic, cooped up inside, or stuck anywhere you’d rather not be. Enjoying the natural world might also keep you safer. Because let’s face it, trolling malls can be scary dangerous. Just last week a bunch of Long Island bargain hunters trampled a store employee. Yes, they actually killed a guy who stood between them and 30% off of such gotta-haves as a pair of Hulk Smash Hands.

Nothing like that ever happens in vineyards, even when grapes with attitude are still on the vine. Of course, I wasn’t hunting for anything on Saturday, which is probably why finding the goats was so cool.

There were 15 of them munching grass within a spacious pen. It looked like a perfect home for goats. I’m just assuming, of course. But really, they seemed pretty happy. I don’t know that for sure, but none actively complained. Except for this one goat. He looked at me with what could only be called longing.  Like he suddenly realized that his goat-life was incomplete. Maybe the others felt it too, but they just stood and stared. But Goat the Brave trotted over, looked me in the eye and said, “I need some love. Can you help?”

I reached through the railing and petted him. He tilted his head toward the sun and smiled. “Ahh, that’s great. Now how about behind my left ear, if you don’t mind?” I didn’t mind. I was into it. Bonding by the fence the world went away.  Twenty feet back stood the rest of the herd, frozen, watching Goat the Brave get all that hands-on love. I felt their aching to be patted and cooed at. Yet, to the goat, they lacked the courage to step up and say, “Me too!”

After leaving the goats I headed back to the tasting room where guests sipped their Chardonnay and Merlot, downed salami and cheese, and enjoyed the music of the Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District Non-Marching Band (aka The Sewer Band), in which my David plays trombone.

Between sets I read on a bench in the late afternoon sun. A 5 year old girl (aka Little Spunky) spotted me and like the brave goat, wanted attention. More coy in her approach, she ducked behind a column and sang quietly to herself but not all that quietly. When I looked up from my book, Little Spunky lowered her voice and pretended to pick flowers. I sighed (loudly) and returned to my book, but faked her out and immediately looked up again. Ha! I caught her looking at me! This time she didn’t look away. Just smiled knowingly and said, “Santa’s coming!” The message was clear… “Don’t miss it, lady!” Then she climbed out of the flower bed and ran toward the music.

I followed. Within seconds, the band launched into “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and there he was!. And guess who was first to talk to the fat man in red, and receive a kindly smile and candy cane? Good guess. Way to go, Little Spunky. Way to go, Goat the Brave. You know how the world works.  When you need love and attention, you’ve gotta speak up.

 

 

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Day 24: Kindness and Respect Challenge (Dealing with broken glass)

October 24, 2013

Watch where you step. Watch what you toss.

I know a school where broken glass is a serious problem. Kids there freely toss it in classrooms and hallways, in the lunchroom and on the playground. Where do they get it? It’s everywhere for the taking and every day there’s more. The students at this school keep their pockets full so whenever they feel the urge, they lob sharp fragments at other students. When the glass hits the mark it pierces and often sticks. The fallen shards are left for others to step on.

Does it hurt the hands of the kids who throw the glass? Sure, but it’s worth a little pain because in this school it’s cool to make other people suffer. Pumps up the glass throwers and makes them feel powerful. And if all of this weren’t appalling enough, in this school kids are required to walk around barefoot. You heard correctly. No protection allowed for those tender little soles. If you visited, you’d see kids limping around with bloody feet and hands.

Not a place you’d ever send  your child, I’m sure.

So where is this school? Maybe you’re guessing it’s in that state. The place where parents have no common sense nor the time/inclination to teach their kids to be good people. If you guessed “Not my state,” you’d be wrong.  Actually, this glass-filled school is in your state. In fact, it’s the school your child attends.

(Excuse me while I cover my ears to mute the screams of: “You’re wrong, Annie! My child’s school does not have broken glass anywhere! Every corner of our school is safe.”

OK, you got me. There’s no actual broken glass lying around any school I know. I just made up the glass thing as a not-so-subtle metaphor for the teasing, rumors, harassment, and general peer-to-peer meanness found in every school.

So… now that we know what we’re talking about and we’re willing to admit that yes, there is some broken glass in our school, what are we doing about it? How might teaching our kids my glass metaphor change their attitudes and behavior? Try it and let me know what happens. The way I figure it, it’s worth the effort to protect their tender souls.

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Day 23: Kindness and Respect Challenge (Standing up for the underdog)

October 23, 2013

I seriously need a friend.

Kids and teens can view of themselves as powerless in a world where adults call all the shots. But that’s not the whole story. Kids have power. And every day, your children and mine get opportunities to use that power to do good or to do harm. Sometimes, turning a blind eye and choosing to do nothing results in more harm.

If we, truly value kindness and appreciate it when it comes our way, we can’t ignore suffering. We’ve got to do our part to keep kindness alive… every chance we get. And we’ve got to teach our kids to be kind. But how?

Child or adult, it takes extra social courage to exit our comfort zone and to help a vulnerable person. When kids ask me about standing up for someone who is being harassed, I tell them they should never put themselves directly in harm’s way. But I make it clear that there are many ways to help an underdog and let him or her know: “I’m not like the others who are giving you a hard time. I’m here to help.”

Fuel for Thought (for adults) —At different times we have all been underdog, top dog, and middle of the pack dog, so we know what it feels in each of those places. Being on the bottom, without support, can be terribly lonely. Think about a time when you felt like an underdog. Where did you turn for support? What response did you get?  Think of a time when you helped an underdog. What happened?

Conversations That Count (with kids)– Talk about the concept of a “pecking order” amongst animals and humans. Say this to your children: “Most of the time, when we’re not on the bottom, we don’t give much thought to those who are.” Now ask your kids what they think about that. True? Not true? How do you know? Talk about who is “on the bottom” in your child’s class. (Even kids as young as second or third grade have a keen awareness of social strata.) How do other people treat that child? How do you treat that child? What might happen if you stood up for the underdog?

Teach—Challenge your child to be a hero and shake up the social strata at school by standing up for someone who needs a friend. Follow up and find out from your child what happened with the challenge.

Please let me know how you teach your kids about the importance of standing up for the underdog.

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Day 22: Kindness and Respect Challenge (Knowing what’s needed)

October 22, 2013

This Real World Parenting Assignment is excerpted from my book, Teaching Kids to Be Good People. You can read another excerpt from it right here.

Let me give you a hand

Knowing What’s Needed (so you can be as helpful as possible)

Parenting and teaching are both highly nuanced arts. Being a good person also requires nuance, which is usually learned in the family. When we take a nuanced approach to helping people, by thoughtfully expressing our perspective, observing, asking questions, listening, understanding, and acting with compassion, we are more likely to be of real service to others.

Fuel for Thought—Sometimes our best intentions miss the mark and only make things worse. Sometimes we don’t take time to assess what’s really needed, or we make assumptions and end up not being helpful at all. Recall a time when someone’s well-meaning response actually made you feel worse. Recall a time when a compassionate, nuanced response was helpful.

Conversations That Count—Talk with your child about the way some people react more intensely than others. Maybe you or someone in your family is like this. Let your child know that this tendency may be part of our in-born temperament and it isn’t necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. If your child typically gets very upset when things aren’t going well, ask, “When you’re feeling that way, how would you like other people to respond so we can help you?” Listen to his/her answer and take note. Conversely, if someone else in the family is easily upset, ask your child, “At those times, how might we be more helpful to _____?”

Teach—Make a family agreement to try harder to understand each other when we are upset. Get into the habit of observing what’s going on and focusing on being truly helpful. Instead of making assumptions, let’s agree to ask each other, “What can I do to help?” Sometimes, the most helpful response is to hang in there with love and compassion.

 

 

 


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