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.

“Sometimes I get really angry!”

November 13, 2017

What are you looking at?

Our kids live in a faster, noisier, more stressed out world than the one we grew up in. That contributes to more people “losing it” more often. Not surprising kids may wonder if they’ll grow up behaving as poorly as some of the adults they observe at home, at school, on TV. That was on the mind of this teen who recently reached out to me:

Teen: I get angry kind of easily and I’m afraid that I might abuse when I get older. Please help.

Annie: What makes you angry? Just certain things? Or everything and everybody?

Teen: Sometimes I just get angry because someone is bothering me and I ask them to stop and they don’t stop so I get really angry. I get angry over little things sometimes, too.

Annie: Humans have lots of emotions. Sometimes we get angry over little things and bigger things. Frustration, annoyance, irritation… those are parts of anger. Emotions are just emotions. They come and go, right? We don’t always get to choose how we feel about someone or the situation we find ourselves in. You feel whatever you feel in the moment. But here’s the thing, your emotions can’t hurt other people, but your behavior can. Sounds like you’re worried you will have trouble controlling your behavior in the future. Is that it?

Teen: Yes. I worry about that. A lot.

Annie: The future doesn’t exist. There is only now. This moment. But the choices you make, the way you act in this moment and the next one can lead to the kind of person you will become in the future. It’s all about your behavior. So, tell me, what do you do now when you get angry?

Teen: If I’m in class I go out in the hall and just cool down. But when I’m not in school I usually just hit something soft like a pillow.
Annie: I’m proud of the good job you’re doing cooling down. You recognize that it’s never ok to be violent. When you get angry you know what you need to do so no one gets hurt. Awesome! You said you were worried that you “might abuse” when you get older. Is there someone in your family who is not doing such a good job when he or she gets angry? Someone who is verbally or physically hurting others when they are mad?
Teen: I don’t know anyone in my family that abuses.
Annie: I’m really glad to hear that! You are being very responsible with your behavior when you’re angry and it sounds like the people in your family are doing the same. You’re learning from them to do the right thing. I don’t think you have anything to worry about.
Teen: Ok. Thanks.
Annie: You’re welcome. Email me any time you need to talk about something that’s worrying you.

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“My daughter is so dramatic. Is this normal?!”

January 25, 2016

Yes it is the end of the world and don’t tell me it’s not!

If you’ve got a tween at home you’ve probably dealt with an emotional outburst once or twice. Depending on frequency and duration, you may have wondered, “This can’t be normal!” Read on…

Dear Annie,

My 11 year old daughter is VERY dramatic.  Every situation seems like “the end of the world.” She yells, cries, and shuts down. Last night, she was having a meltdown and I grabbed her by the arm and firmly directed her to her room and she flopped on the ground as if I seriously pushed her! This is not the first time this has happened.  

I am usually very good about keeping my cool, but in her moments of complete breakdown I lose my cool, too.  She has a breakdown at least once a month. I need coping skills and I need coping skills to teach her.  (Her meltdown was over having a very small mustache and said she would be teased. This is understandable, but I feel like I could have handled it better and she could have too.) Please help! –Melting Down Mama

Dear Mama,

Whatever’s going on with your daughter is going on with most tweens. Not sure if that’s a comforting fact, but it ought to be. Your daughter is normal and so are her meltdowns. On top of that, anything having to do with her personal appearance is likely to make her feel insecure and highly volatile. OMG!

Every day her hormones challenge her ability to manage her emotions responsibly because the part of her brain that helps her regulate moods is still “under construction” and will be for at least another ten years. Seriously.

I admire your recognizing you could have handled it better. You know it’s not ok to let out your frustration by grabbing your daughter’s arm or getting physical with her in any way. You need to figure out how to calm down (fast) when she’s in one of her moods otherwise you’ll make the situation worse and alienate your daughter. I know you don’t want to do either.

When it comes to dealing with emotional tweens I’m a fan of preventative medicine. Please have a look at this stress-busting technique developed by Dr. Herbert Benson, M.D. (associate professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School). It is a simple method for achieving a Relaxation Response (vs a Stress response). Read through the steps and try them. This really works and yes, it takes practice.

I hope this helps you and your daughter. And remember, no one stays a tween forever. No one stays the parents of one, either!

In friendship,
Annie

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How do I keep my kids from fighting with each other?

October 5, 2015

"I hate you!" "I hate you more!!!"

“I hate you!” “I hate you more!!!”

My two older brothers constantly picked fights with each other. I’m talking about shouting, punching, wrestling and chair throwing. While I wasn’t engaged in any of the physical stuff, one of my brothers took special delight in teasing me to the point of tears. My mom did a lot of totally ineffective yelling. Thankfully, the three of us get along very well now, but, man, it didn’t have to be the way it was back then.

I swore, as a parent, I’d do my best to raise my children in a way that gave us peace in the house. We all want that, right? We want our kids to get along with each other so that this life-long connection of theirs will be a loving and supportive one. We want them to grow up looking forward to visiting each other on holidays, with their own kids in tow, and really enjoy being together. Right? Of course!

So how do you get there if you’re currently entrenched in sibling wars? 

Start by taking a good hard look at the way you respond to your kids’ conflicts with each other. Your response can make a whole lot of difference when it comes to turning this ship around. Sometimes our kids fight and bicker and argue so frequently that we become desensitized to the noise and tension and just tune them out. You may only wake up when someone outside the immediate family notices the decibel level and comments, “Wow, it’s kinda loud in here. What’s going on with your kids?” To which you may respond, “Oh, they’re always like this.”

When you, as a parent, turns a blind eye to sibling conflict, the message you’re sending to your kids (especially to the current aggressor) is: “What you’re doing is OK with me.” But it’s not OK. Don’t accept the unacceptable. What you put up with you promote. Time for a change.

Tips to help you make a more peaceful home:

1. Tune in to the your kids’ conflicts. Disagreements are normal and beneficial in the social and emotional development of children. They need lots of practice negotiating, compromising, and problem-solving. But when hostilities between siblings heat up to the point of aggression (verbal and/or physical) your parental leadership is needed… now.

2. Stay calm. To teach kids to be respectful with each other, you need to respond to their conflicts calmly, maturely and respectfully. If you can’t do that in the moment (because your kids’ fighting has pushed your buttons way too many times), take a break… take some slow deep breaths…  and then start to talk to your children about what’s going on.

3. Talk to them separately. Give each child a chance to talk to you very openly and honestly about what is at the bottom of their constant hostility. After each has told you their “side”,  bring them together while you help them figure out a way respectful way through their conflict. Keep doing this and after a while your kids will do this on their own.

4. It’s your job. If you don’t teach them to deal with their emotions in productive ways so they don’t hurt each other, they won’t learn it. Ultimately your leadership will determine how your kids will resolve conflicts with each other, with peers and, later in life, with romantic partners.

If you could use some professional support, please avail yourself of parent coaching. There are many many great parent coaches who often specialize in helping parents resolve sibling conflicts. You might ask your pediatrician or your child’s school counselor for a referral.

I hope this helps.

In friendship,

Annie

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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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