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.

“I’m never going to win!”

August 3, 2017

What's the use?

What’s the use?

We all want our opinions and feelings respected, especially by the people we care about most. A guiding rule for a healthy relationship (the only kind worth having) is: “I will respectfully try to understand where you’re coming from and you will do the same for me.”

Doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes we’re too upset to be respectful so we do things we later regret. Sometimes others disrespect us and we’re too embarrassed or discouraged to speak up.

When it feels like nobody treats you with respect, what then? Do you have fight with everyone? Or is it better to just accept it? That’s what this teen wants to know.

Teen: When I hang out with my friends  they do PE-related things. I act like everything is okay, but they know I suck at that kind of stuff. Still they always hold obstacle courses, running races and monkey bar challenges. It’s as if they do it to mock me.

Next, my parents. If I get anything below B+ on a quiz or test, they don’t bother noticing me. What’s worse is that when my twin sister gets something below a B+, they offer to help her.

Lastly, my twin sister. She is intolerable. She has successfully managed to steal my friends by lying. Every time I tell her to stop, she acts like I am bullying her. To others, she seems sweet, but she is sociopathic towards me. Except when she has no one else to hang out with. Then I’m her fallback. I try and stand up to it, but my parents have her back. It’s as if they have taught me a silent rule: “Don’t try to stand up for yourself because you are never going to win these battles.” So I have to put up with it. What do I do? –So Unfair

Dear So Unfair,

I am sorry you’re going through such a difficult time. I really am. Feeling comfortable and accepted by our friends and family contributes to our sense of well-being. When people are with us, we relax and trust they will treat us well. When we don’t feel accepted,  everything else in life can be more challenging.

You don’t have to and shouldn’t accept disrespectful behavior. Ever. Relationships change when someone has had enough of the status quo and decides to talk honestly about her feelings. You took the first step toward improving your relationships by writing to me. Now take the next step.

Parents. You don’t get to choose your family. Sorry, no trade-ins allowed. So what can you do with the family you’ve got?

Find a time for a private conversation with the parent that is easier for you to talk to. You might start by saying something like this: “There are times I feel you respect (care for, love, etc.) my sister more me.” Then take a slow deep breath and calmly, respectfully and without whining, shouting, or crying, give one recent example to illustrate your point. After you’ve said your piece, close your mouth and really listen to what your parent says. Then respond calmly. Then listen so more. This is how you give someone the chance to understand you better and give yourself the opportunity to understand them. You sound like a very intelligent and articulate person. I am sure you can do this.

Sister. You and your sister also need a calm, respectful conversation. There are things she does that you don’t appreciate. There are also things that you do which she does not appreciate. Working together can make your relationship more peaceful. Your parents’ support can help. They want you and your sister to get along better, too!

Friends. Sounds like the problem comes from the difference between your friends’ interests and your own. Make a list of all the things that you deem important in a close friendship. For example you can try to fill in the blank in this sentence:

“I want a friend who __________.”

Keep filling in the blank until you’ve created a good long list of qualities you look for in a friend. If shares my interests is a high priority for you, then you need to look for friends who enjoy doing what you enjoy. If PE activities isn’t your thing, what is? Think about it and figure out how you can connect with people who share your interests during the school year, on weekends and vacation time.

I hope this helps.

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Mom, can you just be quiet and listen?!

May 3, 2016

You're not listening to me!!!

You’re not listening to me!!!

Somehow my mom and I just didn’t get along when I was in high school. (Hey, it happens.) I was an overweight, overachiever who believed nothing I did was good enough. It didn’t help that my dad, aka my #1 fan, died suddenly when I was fifteen. I was my mom’s youngest child, only daughter. After she lost my dad she couldn’t give an insecure teen the support and encouragement I craved. Conversely, she expected, no hoped, I’d provide her with support and comfort. That didn’t happen.

I remember her yelling: “You’re not listening to me!”

I was listening, I just didn’t like what I heard. I didn’t agree with her and I wasn’t going to do what she said. Even if she had a good idea, I’d reject it, on principle. What principle? That it was her idea.

Our relationship turned into a quagmire of hurt feelings, misunderstandings and miscommunications.  We both longed for a cease-fire, but didn’t how to call one.

When I moved across the country, distance made the heart grow fonder. And when I became a mom, my mom and I learned to appreciate each other a lot more.

Now you understand why an email from a teen with parent problems gets to me. And why I do understand.

Like this one:

Teen: I have this disorder where I feel like I’m suffocating in my own self but can’t die. My mom says she understands but I think she understands what she wants to believe and now she says she wants to send me away to foster care because she doesn’t want to deal with me anymore… what do I do??

Annie: Aside from your mom, who else have you talked to about your feelings of “suffocating in yourself?”

Teen: I have a counselor but whenever I try to talk to him it never comes out right.

Annie: How about writing out what you’d like to say… like in a letter? Take your time. Choose your words carefully. When your letter says what you want it to say, go to the counselor and hand him the letter. Sound like a plan?

Teen: yeah. Thank you, but what do I do about my mom??

Annie: Hopefully, after you talk to the counselor, he will have a conversation with your mom and help her understanding your feelings better. You need her help but she can’t give you what you need until she understands what’s going on. It’s going to take both of you working together to make this better.

Teen: Hey, so I talked to my mom myself and explained everything and it helped sorta. We still have a lot of work to do.

Annie: I’m proud of you for talking to your mom. That took courage and you did it! I’m glad it helped. Keep talking and listening to each other.

I hope you and your mom have a Happy Mothers Day.

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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Complaining vs Making it Better in 2015

January 7, 2015

"This is yuck. Make me something else!!"

“Why did you make this for dinner!”

When children reach a certain age, they will, if we’ve encouraged them to do so, voice their opinions. That’s very healthy and should be encouraged. But sometimes this opinion-sharing turns into a constant barrage of complaints. That can pollute family life. So tell the truth, do your kids complain a lot?

Some folks look at protestors as “complainers.” I disagree. The goal of well-intentioned protestors is to work for more equality, justice, safety, and sanity in the world.  All good things, right? That’s why we need our protestors and should join them whenever we feel the urge to support a cause. Complainers, on the other hand, are typically motivated by ego and jealousy.  We don’t need more of that.

The following is an excerpt from my book Teaching Kids To Be Good People. If you’d like less complaining from your kids this year, read on…

 There is an important concept at the foundation of Jewish tradition known as tikkun olam (repairing the world). It refers to going out of one’s way to make things better for others. Good people are doers, repairers of the world. Complainers have a lot of negative things to say, but they are rarely people of positive action. Making our children more aware of complaining vs. helping encourages them to do good.page171image11880

Fuel for Thought—When you personally feel something isn’t OK, how do you usually respond? Are you more likely to take direct action or complain? Remember that you are modeling for your children the behavior you want to see in them. Think about the people you know who are (or were) “complainers”? What is it like to be with those people? How is your mood and attitude affected by being around a complainer vs. someone who addresses problems with a positive attitude?

Conversations That Count—Talk with your child about the amount of complaining in the family. (No need to single out any individual, because we all do it at times.) Some complaints point to things can be changed. but most complaints aren’t helpful because they refer to situations that can’t be changed. (“This math assignment is too long!” “Why did I get her for a sister?”) Ask your child to “play back” complaints s/he regularly hears from you. Then you play back complaints you regularly hear from your child. (It’s fine to get silly. Humor is a great way to make it easier to speak the truth.) How much of the grumbling and whining amongst family members has become a bad habit with no real intention toward making things better? What might the family do about that?

Teach—Assuming everyone wants less complaining/nagging, challenge each member of the family to catch himself/ herself (not anyone else) in the act of complaining. Instead of complaining about someone or something:

  1. Communicate directly about what needs to be done.
  2. Skip the complaining, and do some or all of whatneeds to be done (on your own).
  3. Change what you can change, and change yourattitude about the rest.

Have a family meeting next week to discuss the progress the whole family has made in creating a more positive atmosphere.

As always, your comments are warmly welcomed on this blog. Happy New Year!

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