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.

No, Mom! You’ll make things worse!

December 6, 2014

Still chugging along on The Girls’ Q&A Book on Friendship blog tour. Since early November I’ve stopped at 20 blogs, logged thousands of virtual miles, and answered over 100 friendship-related questions. This question comes from educational psychologist Amy Fortney Parks, founder of TheWiseFamily.com. It’s an important one because when it comes to conflicts between our kids and someone else’s, it can be tricky to know when to step up and when to step back.

How do I talk to my daughter’s friend’s moms about some of the dynamics happening between the girls without being judgmental?

What did you say about my kid?

What did you say about my kid?

Annie: Because you don’t want to create more drama than the girls have already dished up on their own, you must communicate to the other mom respectfully, otherwise, you’re going to make things worse. You don’t need me to tell you how parents get instantly and intensely defensive when someone criticizes their children. Hello, Mama Bear! So, think about what you want to say and take at least ten slow deep re-centering breaths before you say it. (Seriously. Breathe.)

Here’s a trick I know about expressing something the other person is unlikely to want to hear: Soften your heart and speak calmly. You might say something like this: “I’ve been noticing some tension between my Gabriella and your Celeste. I’m wondering if you’ve noticed it too?” By starting the discussion this way, you are inviting the other parent in, rather than pushing her away with accusations. You’re asking her to take part in the problem-solving, parent to parent. This is very different from saying something like this: “Celeste has been so mean to Gabriella. My poor daughter cries herself to sleep each night. What kind of girl are you raising?!”

Choices matter when it comes to our words, tone of voice, attitude. This is a lesson we want to teach our daughters so they’ll be more likely to stop, re-center, and think before they act. It helps tremendously when we model it in our own lives too.

Bonus Question for you> How are you teaching your kids to be aware of the way they speak to other people?

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Making peace this summer with your teens

June 30, 2014

Give peace a chance

Give peace a chance

In addition to raising young adults who chew with mouth closed, pick up after themselves, and return library books on time, the gold ring of this parenting gig (after the “under the same roof” phase ends) is a healthy relationship with your adult kids. I’ve been a mom for 34 years and believe me, that’s what you’re after. But how do you get there from here? It can be a hard slog. Especially if you’re currently the parent of a tween or teen and already clocking in way too much time yelling and mis-communicating. It’s stressful enough when they’re in school most of the day, but now it’s summer and said t(w)een may be hanging out under said roof. Result? More time for fault-finding on both sides. yippee. But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can be the change-agent your parent-teen dynamic needs. Here’s how…

Parenting plan for getting along better with your t(w)een

1. Sit down and ask your child: What would you like me to do less of this summer? Make the question sincere and make it safe for your child to answer honestly. Whatever he or she says, stay calm and do not get defensive. This conversation has the potential of greatly improving your relationship.

2. Take what you’ve heard to heart. If you want to teach your kids to be respectful of others you must treat their feelings and thoughts with respect. If you need a clarification, ask for it. “You say you want me to nag less? Gee, I don’t think I nag at all. Please give me an example of what you mean, sweetie.”

3. Work together to address the request. After you understand your child’s request, see what new ways you can come up with to lessen the unwanted behavior (e.g.. nagging). Relationships are a two-way street. If there is a ‘nagger’ there must also be a “nagging-inducer.” Explore both sides of all issues.

4. Monitor your progress. Once you’ve identified a problem and strategized a solution check in with each other periodically to see how you’re feeling about the changes. Praise where praise is due. Make modifications when needed.

5. Reverse the flow. It’s a two-way street, remember? So give yourself a chance to tell your t(w)een something you’d like less of from him or her. Follow the rest of the steps and see how it goes.

Good luck! I hope this helps you and your family this summer.

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“How was school, sweetie?” “Fine.” End of conversation!?

February 21, 2013

I originally wrote a version of this article for TakePart.com where I contribute a weekly education post. Check out the rest of my articles there.

Tea and Sympathy

When kids start school a piece of us leaves with them every morning. When they return, we’re eager to hear about their day so we can reconnect emotionally and gauge how they’re doing out in the world.

When asked, “How was school?” kids who are natural talkers will overflow with details. Others will simply say, “OK.” End of conversation. At that point, a wise parent would smile, nod, and let the day’s dust settle. Later, patience may be rewarded as the child reveals bits of news over the course of the evening. Either way, most parents love hearing about their elementary school children’s successes and disappointments. We also delight in every chance we get to offer encouragement and advice when needed. These interactions just may be the juicy heart of parenting.

By middle school, however, kids tend to be more guarded when they talk about things that happen away from home. Of course, parents and kids still need to connect, but our part of the conversations should factor in an appreciation for their ongoing need to keep parts of their lives private as they transition into young adulthood.

Let’s say you do respect your kids’ boundaries, but you’re still frustrated with the lack of information you get about what’s going on in school. A good way to improve communication is to:

1. Show that you’re interested. This point seems so obvious I almost didn’t include it, but then I got a teen email tailor-made for this article:

Dear Annie,

My parents never ask how I’m doing. They just walk in and complain about how their day was terrible. Then I think, “Why won’t you ask your two lovely daughters how their day was?” When they decide to ask, I just get awfully nervous. I feel as if I say the wrong thing I’ll get judged.”

–Cutie Klutz

Sounds like this family is missing good opportunities to connect with each other. And I’m guessing Mom and Dad aren’t even aware they’re being perceived as disinterested and “judgmental.” Cutie has offered an overlooked perspective: that of a child who wants to talk but feels her parents don’t want to listen. Food for thought.

Moving on…

2. Give kids time to decompress. Talk is more likely to flow naturally after the shoes come off, food’s dished out, and everyone has had time to relax and be at home.

3. Be a safe person to talk to. Kids have lots of feelings about what happens during a typical school day. Talking about feelings helps us understand ourselves and other people better. When your kid wants to talk, unplug, open your heart and mind, and dial back your inner judge way back. Also try not to poo-poo your child’s challenges as “kid stuff” nor to leap into “I’ll handle this” mode. Parenting is nothing if not a balancing act.

4. Be a good listener. That’s the hallmark of every good parent. In fact, during the teen years, the most effective parents often report how they’ve learned to “talk less and listen more.” Excellent advice for anyone who wants a child to talk more. Also useful for anyone who wants to teach kids that we show we care about others by listening with an open heart and mind.

5. Model what you want. If you want your child to share more with you then how about if you get into the habit of sharing more with him/her? For example, over dinner you might say, “Today was tough. One of my coworkers always interrupts me at meetings. It’s really annoying. You know?” This simple, open-ended question might prompt your child to commiserate and share about a challenging peer relationship s/he’s dealing with. Authentic conversation on!

In case you’re wondering how I responded to Cutie Klutz, here’s my reply:

Dear Cutie,

We all want and need to be listened to– especially by the people we love. Since sharing anything with your parents makes you “awfully nervous,” how about starting with something small, simple, and positive? Like, “I talked to this new girl from Wisconsin. She’s cool.” Or, “I got an A on my Spanish test. I studied really hard so that felt good.” I hope you try this, Cutie, because your Mom and Dad love you. If you give them a chance to chill for a bit after work and you challenge yourself to speak up a bit more, they just might become better listeners. I hope so!

In friendship,

Annie

Filed under: Parenting,Tips — Tags: , — Annie @ 3:51 pm
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We kids need to know about friendship… Part 2

October 31, 2011

This is part two of my series on Friendship Q & A with kids. Today I’ll focus on specific friendship problems caused by ineffective communication (which includes no communication at all!) Part 1 of the series, which started last week, deals with general questions about friendship. All of the questions in this series came to me from a group of 4th-8th graders. Enjoy the exchange and please use them as discussion drivers with your own children and/or students.

 

Friendship can feel like a struggle for control

1. “My bff is super sensitive and sometimes when I’m not trying to be mean to her, it comes across mean and I’m trying to not do that but it’s hard because she’s more sensitive than me. So I’m wondering how to avoid hurting her feelings.”

Good communication is often a challenge… and not just for kids! From time to time even the most intelligent adults have trouble in this area too.  You have probably already noticed that words are powerful. They can be used for helping or hurting. For example, by choosing the right words, you can encourage someone when they’re ready to give up. With just your words, you can calm someone who’s upset.  You can use words to share your enthusiasm and to show love and appreciation. Positive words are truly amazing!

On the other hand, words can hold negative power and sometimes what we say and the way we say it hurts people. That can happen when we’re angry and purposely using words to try to “get back at” someone for something they’ve done to us. Or something we think they’ve done. But sometimes, even without trying to hurt anyone… without trying to “be mean,” our words can hurt people anyway.

You’ve asked a great question and I’m really proud of you for wanting to “avoid hurting” your bff’s feelings. With people who are “super sensitive” it pays to be super careful choosing your words, your tone of voice and your attitude. And you can do that! The other thing you can do is to talk to your friend about this situation. You might say, “You know how sometimes I say something, without trying to be mean, and your feelings get hurt? I feel really bad when that happens. What can we change so that doesn’t happen as much?”

When friends can talk to each other about misunderstandings they end up with all-around better communication. When you’ve got that, there’s a good chance both friends will do a better job taking care of the friendship.

2. “My friend does this thing when he’s done talking and I start to talk but then he starts to talk when I’m in the middle of my sentence. I can’t talk. What can I do?”

Sometimes people get so excited about what they want to say, they interrupt other people. When it happens once in a while it’s not a big deal. But it sounds like this happens to you often with this friend. It also sounds like maybe you haven’t yet talked to him about it.

You are your friend’s teacher. Sounds strange, but it’s true. We teach our friends how we want to be treated. If, for example, you keep quiet when your friend cuts you off in the middle of your sentence, then you are “teaching” him that it’s OK to do that. I know you don’t like it, but if you don’t speak up, he thinks you don’t mind. So… what you need to do is teach him that you don’t appreciate his cutting you off that way. You don’t have to make a big deal about it. You just need to say something like this, “Sometimes when I’m talking, you start to talk right in the middle of my sentence. That bothers me.” Then close your mouth and LISTEN to what he has to say about it. My guess is that he probably not aware of this habit he’s gotten into. So all you have to say is, “If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll just let you know next time it happens.” And make sure that you do just that!

Oh, and one more thing… be cool. If you jump on the guy and get angry with him, as in “There! You see!? You’re doing it again!!” You’ll probably end up creating a lot of stress in the friendship. Instead, the next time he does it (after you two have talked about it) just put up your hand and say “Hold on. Let me first finish what I was saying.” That ought to fix the problem.

3. “What do you do when you and your friend had a fight and you want to make up but you don’t know what to say?”

Friends have fights and people get angry. But if friends value the friendship, they’ll cool off after a while and agree to talk about what happened. That’s called Making the Peace. It takes two people to have an argument and it takes both of them to work together to get to the bottom of the disagreement. Sometimes it’s hard to say “I’m sorry.” Sometimes saying, “I’m sorry” isn’t enough. The first step in Making the Peace is to come together and talk, calmly and respectfully to each other (not about each other behind his/her back). Give each person a chance to tell his/her side of the story. When Friend A is talking, Friend B gets to LISTEN. No interrupting No correcting. No eye-rolling. No texting! When Friend B tells their side of the story, Friend A just LISTENS.  Learn what the other person was thinking and feeling during the fight. Figure out a way to handle things differently the next time. You can do it!

The following two questions are so similar so I put them together in my answer.

4. “What should you do when your best friend ignores you?”

5. “If one of my best friends is mad and nothing is making him happy and he won’t talk to me to make it better, what do I do?”

It’s very difficult for two people to communicate effectively if one person isn’t talking. Two friends can’t get to the bottom of the problem or work on it together if one person has shut out the other one. Maybe writing an email or an old-fashioned letter would help in both of these situations. The message would be simple and straight forward: “What has happened to our friendship? I want to talk to you about it.”

If you don’t get an answer, then maybe it’s time to take a vacation from the drama of this friendship. Instead, of stressing out about getting the silent treatment, reach out to other friends and/or try to make some new ones. Real friends don’t ignore each other and don’t shut off communication when they’re mad. You deserve to be with friends who treat you like a real friend.

 

 

 

 

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