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.

Moms helping daughters with friendship issues

November 7, 2015

We've got the tools and we're brave enough to use 'em!

We’ve got the tools and we’re brave enough to use ’em!

Last month I began partnering with the Girl Scouts of Northern California by presenting my  Girls Friendship without the Drama Workshops.  In the first hour I teach girls to navigate all kinds of sticky peer conflicts while the moms (and the few cool dads who’ve shown up) sit back, listen and observe. During the second hour the girls skedaddle into another room where they engage in more (supervised) friendship-building skills while the parents and I circle the wagons and get to the heart of what girls need from those of us who love them.

To date I’ve done nine of these workshops with another seven scheduled. Girls can’t wait to start using what they’ve learned. Moms are reminded how painful it can be feel “replaced” by a friend. Dads are stunned at how hard it is for girls to tell a friend, “Stop. I don’t like that.” Parents are thrilled to have new insight, language, and context to help their daughters do a better job navigating friendships.

Here are some tips to help you help your daughters and sons resolve the inevitable issues that come up between our kids and their peers.

Dealing with Friendship Challenges

  • Calm Down. No matter what awful thing some child has done to your daughter or son, calming down first makes it easier to get through the upset. So take some slow deep breaths and encourage your child to do the same.
  • Show that you get it. Acknowledge that it hurts when a friend turns against you. Reflect back what you hear, “You sound really hurt, angry, and confused.” Share one of your own “hurt by a friend” stories. Share what you learned and how you used it to become a more thoughtful person and a better friend. This models empathy and reassures your child that (s)he will survive.
  • What Can/Can’t You Control? Tell your child,You can’t control a friend’s behavior or feelings, but you can get a handle on your own.” When we try to control things we can’t control, it stresses us out and makes us feel powerless. Don’t let your kid go there!
  • You’ve got options! Even after a blow-up with a bff, your child is  far from powerless. She always has options. For example, your child might:
    • Never talk to that friend again
    • Get back at her by spreading gossip
    • Suppress the hurt and act like it didn’t bother you
    • Find new friends

Brainstorming should be open-ended. Encourage your child to freely explore ideas without your judging them. They’re just ideas and this is a clearing process. Even the worst, knee-jerk options offer great (and totally safe) learning opportunities. In addition, you’ll give your child a gift by talking about all of this. When s/he doesn’t have to worry about your rushing in to “fix” the problem, your child’s thinking process will be accelerated. Hopefully, she’ll move closer to the time when she no longer accepts disrespectful behavior from anyone, including herself!

At the end of the process your child may decide to take a vacation from the drama or to find the EXIT out of the friendship. That’s her choice. But just because she’s finished, doesn’t mean she has the right to make life unhappy for an ex-friend. I put it is this way: You have the right to choose your friends, but it’s NEVER okay to be cruel or disrespectful. Keep your distance if you choose, but always treat others the way you want to be treated. Old rule. Still applies.



What are Halloween’s teachable lessons for kids?

October 22, 2015

I'm a bad ass. Just for tonight.

I’m a bad ass. Just for tonight.

Around here we’re experiencing a black and orange explosion. Each year the Halloween house make-overs get more impressive.

We’ve still got nine days to go, so I thought I’d get ahead of the curve and write about Halloween’s teachable moments for kids. Non-spoiler alert: This is not a parent tip sheet on how to put reasonable restrictions on kids’ sugar consumption. (That’s not a bad idea, but I leave it to the nutritionists.) Instead, let’s talk about the “mask” kids put on for Halloween vs. the mask many of our tweens and teens wear every single day. Halloween is a time to pretend to be someone else. It can be great fun and I’m a huge fan. But what happens when your child wears a mask all the time, hiding who he or she really is because of fear of disapproval from peers or even from you?

I’ve been thinking about the fine art of faking it for a long time because I work with tweens and teens and, face it, they can be masters of deception. When I talk to kids about consciously putting on a “mask,” as we do  when we get up on stage to perform in a play or dress up to explore other identities, it fits right into the idea of figuring out who you are, which is the manifesto of adolescence. But when we get so attached to hiding behind the mask that we’re no longer conscious of wearing it then we are faking it without knowing it. That’s never a good place to be, especially at a time when our tweens and teens ought to be exploring what it means to be one’s authentic self.

I have asked kids: How do you know when you’re faking it? They’ve provided profound responses, like these:

I get a sinking feeling in my stomach.

I feel like what I’m doing is not really me, but I continue doing it anyway.

I feel like a fraud in my own body.

I feel like a jumble of very confused spaghetti.

We ought to encourage our kids to reflect deeply on who they are and who they are becoming. They need to think clearly, despite the cacophony of judgments and opinions happening around them and within them. The best way I know to do that is by telling them how much we appreciate who they are when they are being authentic. We need to also model authenticity in own our lives. That doesn’t mean that we are always a certain way. Our behavior and attitudes change depending on circumstance and setting, and that’s appropriate. But when it’s “just us,” in the family, we need to create opportunities to talk about what it means to be true to oneself and to have integrity. No faking it.



Parenting Question: Why is it good for kids to make mistakes?

July 20, 2015

I give up!!!!

I give up!!!!

Part 6 of my Parenting Q&A series brings a question about kids and mistakes. While it’s natural for parents to be on the look-out for our children’s missteps, how we respond can have a huge impact on a child’s developing autonomy and her view of a problem vs. a challenge.

When my daughter tries something and things don’t turn out the way she envisioned, she gets upset and gives up. We hear a lot these days about the importance of kids developing persistence and GRIT. What can I do to help her learn from mistakes and try again?

We’re all human and we all make mistakes. At least that’s what we say. But in some families children have learned it’s not safe to make mistakes because parents tease or shame.  If a child repeatedly makes the same mistake parents may get frustrated and say, “You know better than that!” But if children actually knew better they would do better. Right? The fact that a child makes a mistake should not be cause for a parent to jump down the kid’s throat. That kind of reaction will only teach children that mistakes should be avoided!

Here’s the truth about mistakes: They are amazing opportunities to learn. Think about the word mistake … it’s a moment when learning has not yet taken hold. When the learning takes, then we don’t make that mistake again.

Parents might gain insight into their attitudes about mistake by looking back to their own childhood and how their parents responded to mistakes. Maybe you got yelled at or punished. Hopefully, you did not get hit, slapped or spanked, but maybe you did. If you experienced that kind of parental response, then you learned that mistakes must be avoided at all costs. But wait a minute! What kind of lesson is that? The first time we try anything we are going to fail. It would be a lucky fluke if we got it right, first time out of the gate.

How about we turn this “Avoid mistakes” mantra on its head? What if we give kids the realistic expectation that they will fail and they’ll learn something useful from every failure? What if we give them permission to fail and try again?  When parents encourage their children’s to make mistakes, we teach them about persistence, GRIT and determination. They will learn to pick themselves up and evaluate what just happened. They will learn to modify their response so that their next attempt may result in a different outcome.  That’s how you raise successful children who are fearless in facing obstacles.


Parenting Question: Why Are Girls’ Friendships So Dramatic?

June 25, 2015

We’re up to Part 4 of this (mostly) parenting Q&A series. I’ll occasionally throw in a teen question because, hey, it’s always enlightening to hear kids talk about what we do that drives them nuts. Today’s question concerns the confusion of a parent whose daughter is having an emotionally difficult time (again) with a best friend.

Best friends forever, right?

Best friends forever, right?

Today’s Question: Why are girls’ friendships so dramatic? My daughter had a best friend from 2-5th grade. When that girl moved away, my daughter was distraught. Now she’s in 7th, with a new best friend who may be losing interest. My daughter is getting very worried and upset. What can I do to help her put this in perspective?

Since 1997, the #1 issue girls write to me about is betrayal or rejection by a friend. Specifically, “My bff has a new bff! What do I do?” The email writer goes on to describe how she’s crying herself to sleep, has lost her appetite and doesn’t want to go to school or anywhere! Parents are often confounded by the intensity of their daughter’s emotions in these situations. Moms and Dads want to know what they can do to help.

Here’s the way I see it: A girl’s dramatic response to a friendship that’s cooling off resembles how one might react to a romantic break-up. Some girls even refer to losing a friend as getting “dumped.” Girls’ attachment to other girls is a precursor to their search for the The One, aka the Soul Mate, if you believe in that kind of stuff. Even if you don’t, it represents a search for someone who “knows me” and “understands me.” Someone who will laugh at what I laugh at and be equally moved by the things that move me. Someone I feel so close to that I barely need to explain myself to them.

When a girl’s bestie loses interest, and, for whatever reason, wants to spend time with another friend, it’s a major loss. Girls often describe it in classic stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, until they can find their way to Acceptance. That’s where parents can help.

Tips for Helping Your Daughter Process the Loss of a Friend

1. Do not minimize your daughter’s angst. This “drama” she’s feeling and expressing is real. She needs your willingness to listen, without judgment. Dads, I know you want to help, and sometimes you may feel you have no idea where all these emotions are coming from. Moms, you’ve probably had some personal experience with friendship drama (past or present), so help your daughter’s father understand. Bottom line, the goal is not to commiserate with a sobbing girl, but to help her figure out a way through this.

2. Let your daughter talk about how she feels. Just listen with compassion and patience. When you do that, she will calm down because you are giving her an opportunity to express her feelings responsibly and appropriately.

3. Discourage her from getting on social media or her phone. Otherwise the whole thing will blow up like a conflagration, spreading like wild fire. Allies of both girls will feel pressure to take sides and rush onto the digital battlefield. That kind of drama is social garbage and no girl needs more of it in her life.

4. Work toward a reachable goal. After your daughter calms down, ask her “What is the best outcome you can imagine?” Likely she’ll say, “I want her to be my bff again!” Please gently remind her that she doesn’t have the power to control other people’s feelings or behavior, but she can help herself feel better about the situation. For example, instead of feeling sorry for herself, she could talk directly to her friend. This might result in a new awareness for your daughter in these areas:

a) what she needs in a friendship

b) where she draws the line in terms of how she lets people treat her

c) why it’s essential to have high standards for yourself and your friends

d) how important it is to be with someone who wants to be with you as much as you want to be with them

5. Encourage her to shop for a new best friend. Talk with your daughter about the qualities she deems important in a friend. Help her make a list (if she wants your help). Once she knows what she’s looking for she may decide that the “loss” she just experienced wasn’t so much of a loss at all. She may also be energized to go out and find a new best friend –one who provides more of what she needs.

I hope this helps you and your daughter. If you’ve got a question about parenting tweens and teens, email me.  If your 8-12 year old daughter could use some help navigating friendships, check out my latest book – The Girls’ Q&A Book on Friendship: 50 Ways to Fix a Friendship Without the Drama. 


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