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

Day 17: Kindness and Respect Challenge (Beyond Shut Up and Listen to Me)

October 17, 2013

Just shut up. No, YOU shut up!

So the US government shut-down is over and the default crisis has been diverted with seconds to spare. Cool cool cool.

This isn’t a political post so no worries. Today, I’m neutral. Really. I don’t care which side of the river you pitch your tent. I only care about teaching kids to be good people, and that includes treating other people with respect. We all remember respect, right? The fine art of  listening with an open heart and mind even when you don’t agree with what the other guy is saying. Even when listening to him or her makes your head explode.

What we all witnessed going down on Capitol Hill these past few weeks provides a great opportunity to talk to kids about compromise. When the kids in your life engage in a dispute on the playing field or a heated discussion in the classroom, what do they do? How do they typically behave when they’re locked in a disagreement with you or siblings or friends?

The slog has cleared in Washington and it’s a great time to have conversations, at home and at school, about getting along with other people. First you might start by asking yourself two simple questions:

  • “How well do my kids perform when it comes to calming down and putting in the time and effort to understand the other guy’s or girl’s point of view?
  • “In what ways could I do a better job helping my kids work together to move respectfully through a conflict to a compromise that serves the greater good (of the family, the team, the class)?”

Now that you’ve got something to think about, take the concepts out of your head and bring them into the real world of kids and the challenge of getting along with people. Talk to your children about resolving conflicts (online and off). Find out which of their approaches work well and which ones not so much. Make sure the discussion remains open and safe with all opinions respectfully listened to.

Oh, and don’t forget to model what you teach. For example, when your kids disagree with you and dig in their heels, how do you typically respond?

As always, your comments are valued and respected.


Check out Day 18 of the Kindness and Respect Challenge



NRA, come get me!

December 15, 2012

We have the right to be safe

There’s nothing more “right” than a child’s right to go to school in the morning and learn to read so she can open wide the windows in her mind and dream about the world and her place in it.

All children have the right to be loved and encouraged by their parents and teachers.

All children also have the right to be accepted by their peers, to play, and to come home safely to be with their family in the evening. And yes, all children have the right to sweet dreams. Sweet dreams are exactly right for children.

But last night, no parent who knew about Sandy Hook had sweet dreams. Not likely many children did either.

Something very wrong happened again. It’s been happening in America for a long time. It’s always hard to take it in, but we are experts at distracting ourselves. If it didn’t happen in our family, in our community… we forget.

It’s getting harder to forget.

But, as a nation, we are way past tongue-clucking, “what-a-tragedy” small talk. It’s absurd to pretend otherwise. It’s not as if we have no clue how to fix the problem. We know what to do to make it much less likely that another one of these will happen again. Does anyone really need to spell it out? OK. I’ll do it:

We have to do a better job identifying and reaching out to the troubled people amongst us (kids, teens, adults) and get them the professional help they need so they can feel “a part of” rather than “apart from” the rest of life. The rest of us will be safer.

We also need to reasonably restrict access to guns. There. I’ve said the four-letter word. Let the NRA come get me. I’ve got no gun here, so I’ll be an easy target. But please don’t bother posting comments about 2nd amendment rights. No hunter needs an assault weapon to shoot a target or a rabbit. Only a hunter of people needs an assault weapon. He has no license to kill so I don’t give a good goddamn about his rights.

I care only about the rights of children and the parents and teachers who love them. For those of you at a loss for the words to talk with your children about this tragedy, here is an excellent resource from the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement. (The fact that we even have such a place tell a lot about our current culture.)

Now please, email your Congressional representatives today and urge them to reinstate the federal Assault Weapons Ban.

Sign this petition from Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Or this pledge to take action for common sense gun legislation. Heck, sign every online petition on this issue. We have the collective power to do the right thing. ‘Bout time we got together and used it.


No constitutional right to be a jerk.

September 10, 2009

President Obama greets high school students (AP photo)

President Obama greets high school students (AP photo)

In last night’s speech before a joint session of Congress the President was clear about his goals for health care reform. He also delivered a clear message to Americans about the most effective way to deal with rude and disrespectful people.  When the President stated the fact that the health care reform bill does not afford coverage to people who are in the US illegally, Rep. Joe Wilson (SC) shouted “You lie!” making the Congressman the liar. But I digress.

The President could easily have responded  to unexpected rudeness as many of us have. He could have handily shot back a history-making zinger. But it was the President’s choice not to that was most note-worthy.

After the speech a friend on Twitter asked “Heckling the Prez? Sheesh! Explain that 2 kids! arg!” If you’re worrying about that, don’t. The real lesson wasn’t in the rudeness of Rep. Wilson (whose name will be remembered for none of the reasons his parents imagined when their son was elected to Congress). The real lesson for kids was delivered by President Obama, some of whose critics were so bent out of shape Tuesday when he visited a high school that at least one was seen carrying a sign saying “Keep the president away from our kids!” 

Kids, here’s the real lesson from last night’s “interaction”: When someone disrespects you, you can choose to retaliate or not. When some jerk calls you a liar, or worse, you can do what Barack Obama did last night… you can control yourself. The President’s display of self-respect as well as respect for the people in that room and for the office he holds sends just the right message.


#18: Mount Vernon – Welcome home, President Washington

February 1, 2009

President George Washington, age 57 from a forensic reconstruction

President George Washington, age 57 from a forensic reconstruction

My fascination with old houses probably began one day when I was 9 and wandered through a wooded area at the end of my street. The trail led into a clearing where I discovered the remains of an abandoned old mansion. Pretty cool find! Ever since, I’ve been hooked on the challenge of what could be pieced together about a life from the clues people leave behind.

Over the years I’ve gone out of my way to check out the former dwellings of the likes of Elvis Presley, William Shakespeare, President Franklin Roosevelt, Russian Czar Peter the Great, and Anne Frank.

That’s why, on our last day in DC, I was eager to visit Mount Vernon, home of George Washington. Turns out the  Father of our Country never spent a whole lot of time at home. OK, so he didn’t much help Martha around the house, but  let’s give the man his due respect. He was very busy serving his country, pretty much continuously from 1752-1797, without a lot of down time. He fought with the British in the French and Indian War (1754–1763).  Then he fought against the British as Commander of the Continental Army in the American Revolution (1775-1783).

With American independence won, Washington figured he’d retire to his working farm on the Potomac River. But in less than four years, he was off to Philadelphia to preside over the Constitutional Convention that drafted the U.S. Constitution.  And two years after that, in 1789, he was inaugurated as our first President. He served excellently for 2 terms – refusing to extend it to a third and thus setting a very wise precedent that two consecutive terms is all any US President gets. By all accounts, Washington was one of the top three of all times.

Done with public service in 1797, GW happily returned to Martha at Mount Vernon with the idea that he’d finally get to enjoy his home, his family, and his gardens. Unfortunately, just 2 years later, he died of pneumonia at the age of 67.  

Inside the slave quarters at Mt. Vernon

Inside the slave quarters at Mt. Vernon

Yes, Washington was a great man and as a nation we are incredibly fortunate to have had him as our first leader. But he wasn’t perfect. It might surprise you to know that Washington owned slaves. Probably not the way you want to think about him, but it’s true. And facts need to be remembered and factored into the mix for history to create a complete picture of the way things really were.

Here are some of the other sights from the wonderful and highly recommended Mount Vernon…

Mt. Vernon, as it is today

Mt. Vernon, as it is today

Not a bad view of the Potomac from the back porch of Mt. Vernon.

Not a bad view of the Potomac from the back porch of Mt. Vernon.

Annie gets needlepoint lessons from Lady Martha Washington, Oscar-worthy reenactor.

Annie gets needlepoint lessons from Lady Martha Washington, Oscar-worthy reenactor.

Recreation of General Washington at age 45

Recreation of General Washington at age 45

45 year old General Washington

45 year old General Washington from a forensic reconstruction

George Washington, taking the Oath of Office, New York, 1789

George Washington, taking the Oath of Office, New York, 1789

Ella from San Francisco

Ella from San Francisco

While we waited in line to get inside the house, we met a 9 year old girl and her mom. They were from San Francisco and pretty much like everyone else we’d talked to all week, they’d come for the Inauguration. I asked the girl why Obama’s election was important to her. Here’s what she told me:

Ella (age 9, San Francisco): I think it will  be part of the future. If there is a first black American President… who knows? We could be president too one day.

Annie: You mean women too?

Ella (smiling broadly): Yeah!

Yes we can.

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