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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.

Parenting Question: How do you get kids to make their own school lunch?

August 4, 2015

Cooking and eating together. Family fun.

Cooking + eating together = family fun.

I watch a lot of competitive cooking shows (Chopped, Beat Bobby Flay, Next Food Network Star. And Top Chef (Which has been where?! Can anyone please tell me?) In between slicing, dicing and schvitzing, contestants often give loving shout-outs to Mom or Grandma for turning them on to cooking. Kids need to learn to feed themselves, so we’ve gotta teach them to cook. Where to start? How about something simple that doesn’t require sharp knives and fire?

Today’s question comes from a parent who is ready to hand over some kitchen duties to her children.

How can I get my kids to make their own school lunches?

It’s almost back-to-school time and lunches must be made, but not necessarily by you and you alone. So, how can parents effectively get kids to make their own lunch or at least start engaging them in the process? If you think about the developmental stages of childhood, there are many things we do for our kids before stepping back. I’m thinking… teaching kids to feed themselves, get their own drink of water, take themselves to the bathroom, tie own their shoes (Do kids’ shoes even have laces anymore?) We show kids how, we help them while they’re learning, then we sit back and let them do it. Or we should.

So what is the barrier to teaching kids to make their own school lunch?

Our attitude determines how comfortable our kids feel about working in the kitchen vs just showing up to be fed. Do you feel that food prep, cooking, etc. is something your kids should be doing for themselves? If not, then they probably won’t either. Kids are human. I have this on good authority. We tend to be lazy. If someone will do something for me, on a regular basis and to my satisfaction, then why the heck should I bother doing it myself? “I have enough to do,” thinks the child. “I have to wake up on time every morning and brush my teeth and get dressed for school. I have a backpack that needs to be packed and… ”

OK, lots for the tykes to master before they graduate from high school. But let’s not get overwhelmed here. Let’s refocus on the original question about school lunch.

Food is wonderful. So is eating. You can engage kids in the process of making lunch by talking about what they like and don’t like to have for lunch and why. Talk about nutrition and why certain foods are going to help them do their job as a student better than others. Involving kids in the process of shopping for food, prepping food, and even growing food is a great way to start putting them in the driver’s seat. And who knows? They may want to start making their own breakfast soon, too. And after that? They’ll make meals for you!

Before you start, make sure hands are washed and that everything is accessible and at their level. Before they cut anything, make sure you teach your kids the safe way to use cutting tools in the kitchen. It goes without saying that all the utensils you give them are safe for their age-level. OK. I said it anyway.

And make sure you up the fun-ativity quotient from the start. Make food prep fun. (Being in the kitchen with a hypercritical parent is not fun.) Offer lots of praise for progress and back off little by little. You’ll soon hear your child crowing, “Hey, Mom! I made my own lunch!” At which point you offer high-fives all around and say, “Can I have a bite? Mmmm… delicious.”

Remember, we are here to teach our kids to become fully-functioning independent young adults and making your own food is definitely part of being independent. So… what’s for lunch tomorrow?


Parenting Question: How do I teach my tween to set boundaries?

July 30, 2015

What's wrong with you? Can't you take a joke?!

What’s wrong with you? Can’t you take a joke?!

For better or for worse, our tweens and teens spend immeasurably more time with their friends than we did at their age. UOK wid dat? If we allow it, digital access enables them to connect every waking hour. These interactions strengthen interpersonal skills as often as they undermine them. Our kids must learn to set boundaries with other kids so they’ll develop confidence in who they are and what they need in a relationship.

Today’s question comes from a parent whose 10-year-old daughter has two challenging friendships.

Friend A says things to my daughter  that undermine her confidence (“Everyone knows your writing sucks.”) but then laughs it off as a joke. Friend B is very sweet and kind, but too clingy. She always wants to do whatever my daughter does.  Are there phrases she could use to help her tell the bitchy chick to change or go away, and to tell the lovely friend to be more independent?

– Frustrated Mom

Setting boundaries is something we all have to learn, because we need to teach people how to treat us. When we stay silent in the face of insults or we laugh along with the people mocking us, we send this message: “It’s OK for you to put me down.” Since that’s not the message your daughter wants to send, she needs to speak up for herself.

When Friend A makes nasty comments then hides behind “Just kidding!” your daughter needs confidence to let the girl know she just “crossed the line.” Ah, but how?

Many girls equate challenging a friend with being “mean” and that’s part of the reason they avoid “confrontations.” Make sure your daughter understands this isn’t a confrontation, it’s a respectful communication. Let her also know that standing up for herself (or others) doesn’t make her “mean” it makes her brave.

Advise your girl to stay calm and strong while she makes eye-contact, and simply speaks the truth. She might say something like this to Friend A: “That didn’t feel like ‘kidding’ to me. It hurts. If you’re really my friend, you won’t do that again.” Now Friend A has been put on notice and your daughter has taken back her power. If your daughter needs help saying these words, role play with her until she feels ready for the conversation. Hopefully this will work. If Friend A continues to make cutting remarks, then your daughter will have to continue standing up for herself and/or find the EXIT to this friendship.

In the case of  “too clingy” Friend B… that’s a bit trickier. Your daughter has the right to choose who she spends time with but she doesn’t ever have the right to intentionally hurt anyone. (Remind her how it feels to be on the receiving end of one of Friend A’s zingers.) But that doesn’t mean she must continue to allow herself to be smothered in her clingy friend’s embrace. She might say something like this to Friend B: “I like spending some time with you but not all the time. I want to spend time with other friends, too. So today, let’s hang out together during lunch recess. Then tomorrow I’m going to hang out with Friend C.” That’s a clear communication and it is sensitive and respectful. Friend B may not be happy to hear that she won’t be with your daughter tomorrow, but if your daughter stays calm and delivers the message clearly and confidently, Friend B will (eventually) figure out that she needs to widen her friendship circle.


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: What’s the most important thing I should teach my child?

July 13, 2015

That was challenging, but you did it!

That was challenging, but you did it!

Here’s Part 5 of my parenting Q&A series. Today’s question may be one of the most fundamental I’ve received in my 18 years at this online parent education gig. Here goes…

What is the most important thing I should teach my child?

Obviously an essential part of every parent’s job is teaching your children to survive, to keep themselves safe. But I’m going to take a different tack here. My answer to your question is: Teach them to handle their distressing emotions, i.e., the emotions that throw us off-center, muck with our moral compass and interfere with clearly thinking. I’m talking about anger, jealousy, resentment, etc. Oh and let’s not forget frustration and rejection! These emotions can very easily push us over the edge. And when we go over we are much less likely to treat others with respect and sensitivity. This is the why people become violent. Why we so often hurt each other.

When we teach kids to manage their distressing emotions they are in a much better place to deal with life’s challenges. And you don’t need me to tell you there are plenty of challenges to be dealt with… at least a dozen turn up in your path every day. Emotions are like solar flares.  We need the tools to regulate and rein them in.

I’m not suggesting that we teach kids to try to rush ahead of our children and clear their path of all possible obstacles. Nor should we teach them to take everything as it comes with a cheery smile, pretending everything is OK when it isn’t. No way! A more realistic and valuable approach is helping kids understand that they will be pushed to the edge at times. They can count on feeling frustrated, hurt, and angry at times. Our feelings are important, but our behavior is even more important. Our behavior in the face of really strong emotions is something we need to master. Mastery comes from practice.

So let’s give our kids lots of practice in calming down. Lots of practice in finding the words when they feel out of control. Words are very important. We need to help our kids understand that even when we feel we’re about to lose it, it is never OK, to be cruel or disrespectful to anyone. The best way to do this is to model it. Our kids give us plenty of opportunities to show what it’s like to get one’s buttons pushed. They do that to us every day! We need to show them that we know how to control ourselves so that they can learn to do it too.

I hope this helps.

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