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.

Holiday? It’s about Time

November 22, 2009


Hey, I'm here guys! Know what that means?

Hey, I'm here guys! Know what that means?

My Christmas cactus recently woke up from its summer stupor, which can only mean the holidays are coming up the front steps. If the last half of that sentence triggered a stress response, I apologize and I feel your heart palpitations. Holiday stress is very real especially if you’re anything like me when I’m on a quest for the perfect gift, the perfect turkey-brining recipe, the perfect holiday.

But, wait! My handy dictionary defines holiday as: “a day taken off for leisure and enjoyment.” Who was this Noah Webster dude anyway? Obviously he never shopped, hit an ATM, circled a packed parking lot for the fourth time, polished, cleaned, cooked, served, or stared bleary eyed into a packed fridge wondering where three more containers of leftovers could possibly fit.

Before we write-off Webster and his cockamamie definition, please note that in a perfect world holidays are meant to be a pleasant break in routine for you and your loved ones – well-deserved time to de-stress and appreciate being part of a family. Who knew?

As a family, we celebrated an unscheduled holiday in January 1996. A tremendous windstorm roared through our neck of the woods, knocking out the power. No school, no computers, no work. We gathered around the fireplace bundled in blankets as I read aloud from a giant book of obscure folktales. We paused at crucial plot points and guessed what would happen next. We acted out alternative endings. We played Crazy Eights by candlelight. We roasted marshmallows and shared memories from childhood. We ate outrageous ice cream sundaes for breakfast. Hey, we couldn’t just let all that Chunky Monkey melt, could we?

During that long blackout we depended on each other for warmth, comfort, entertainment, and connection. And we had a blast. Five days later when the lights went back on, we all felt a little sad.

21st Century parents and kids need family to provide a place to de-stress. Don’t think your kids are stressed? Here are typical responses I get when I ask kids “What does the word ‘stress’ mean to you?”

  • “A kinda mind overload.”
  • “Pressure and lots of responsibility on your hands.”
  • “Overwhelmed.”
  • ” Overworked.”
  • “…a lot of stuff that I have to do like homework, chores and other things a girl my age should not be stressing about. If I have to do all those things in ONE day I would just pass out. It’s too much pressure!!!!”
  • “A tax on your soul.”

Heart breaking, huh? And those are from 11-13 year olds!

Most things in this world are constantly changing but our unconditional love for kids isn’t one of them. We hurt when we see our kids so freaked out and wound up, but what can we do? You can’t stop the world, but you can slow down your own little corner and bring the family in closer. Don’t believe your kids would want to hang out with you? Probably not all the time. And be honest. You wouldn’t want to hang out with them all the time either! But they do want to spend time with you. Especially when you show them that you really enjoy being with them.

If everyone’s schedule is already packed and you just don’t see how you’re going to create a regular Family Time then I suggest you sit down with your kids and talk about the daily pressures each of you deals with. Discuss how spending time as a family can actually help you all stress less. Unplug the media for one night a week and do something you can enjoy together: Make a meal, work on a project, play a game, go for a hike, make music, dance, look at old family photos or videos, tell stories, read stories, laugh, relax.

Try it and you may get the same bonus our family got when the storm blew out the power… the gift of time, which is the first step to reclaiming the heart of your family during the holiday season and year round.

Filed under: Holidays,Parenting,Tips — Tags: , , , , — Annie @ 2:24 pm

Of course I’m listening! What did you say?

September 1, 2009


So connected and yet not



So connected and yet not

Good ol’ Mr. Rogers knew what he was singing about when he was putting on his sneakers: “I mean I might just make mistakes if I should have to hurry up and so I like to take my time.” When he was home, I’m sure his kids got at least the same level of attention as he gave his shoe laces. To his credit, that guy could really focus on one thing at a time.

Recently I’m becoming more aware of how cranky, stressed and distracted I get when I try to do a whole lot of stuff at once. So I’m trying to slow down and zero in. But it ain’t easy. Admittedly, as I’m writing this I’m also picking remnants of chewed almonds from in between my teeth, answering email, tweeting, and squinting at this sentence as I wonder how long it will take for the eyeglasses I left in our hotel room in Elko, NV to make their way back here. (Soon please!)

Tweens and teens constantly email me for advice. They say their parents “don’t listen.” Parents tell me the same thing about teens. We’d all like to improve parent-teen communication but we can’t do our part when we’re busy with six other things or even one other thing. (Same goes for improving communication between you and your honey-pie.)

Obviously you can’t always drop everything to listen to your child. But let’s be honest: not many of us do open-heart surgery or negotiate international crises at home. So when our kids want to talk, need to talk, we could take a break and focus on them if we choose to. But most of the time we keep doing whatever we’re doing and shift into an unconscious auto-listening thing (“Uh, huh. Uh, huh”).

Here’s why that’s a bad idea.

  1. It’s disrespectful. In a healthy relationship trust and respect have to flow in both directions. Want your kids to respect you? Then you’ve got to respect them. Auto-listening is rude.
  2. It’s not fooling them. Even toddlers have been known to turn Mom’s or Dad’s head to get their attention. If an 18 month old knows that no eye contact means you’re preoccupied, how can you hope to fake it with a teen? And why would you want to?
  3. You’re showing them that “other things” are more important to you than they are. You don’t really feel that way so why send that message? Your teens probably don’t get 100% attention from their teachers or their friends. Let them at least get it from you while you’re having a conversation.
  4. Auto-listening is poor modeling. Our kids don’t listen to us for a couple of reasons: a) they’re teens and they need to at least pretend to shut us out so they can build their own identity and  b) we haven’t spent enough time showing them what active listening looks and feels like. You can’t do much about their developmental need to shut you out, but making a real effort to listen (with eye contact, 100% of your attention, and an open heart and mind) teaches them to listen more attentively to you and others.

WARNING! Don’t assume an increase in real listening will eradicate all disharmony between you and your teen. (We’re working on communication here, not miracles.) But if you focus more on listening you can reasonably predict there’ll be less confusion about what was actually said in a conversation. That means less arguments studded with gems like: “I never said that!” “You never said that!” and “What are you talking about?!”

That’d be cool, right? Hello? Anyone there?

Filed under: Parenting,Tips — Tags: , , , , — Annie @ 7:27 pm
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