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.

What a long strange trip it’s been. Time for a breathing break…

October 22, 2016

Don't forget to breathe

Don’t forget to breathe

I’ve done a crazy amount of breathing since Trump won the GOP nomination. Had to. I mean really, the way this guy talks reflects so much scary stuff it would challenge the Dalai Lama’s equilibrium. (OK, maybe not the Dalai Lama, but my sanity for sure.) So I breathe. Doesn’t always help. At best it provides only a few seconds of relief from catastrophic thinking, but even so… it’s all I’ve got when my stress response spins out of control.

With the debates over and fivethirtyeight.com now reflecting a sizable advantage for Hillary Clinton, my blood pressure has returned to normal. But breathing still comes in handy to help deal with day-to-day frustrations.

Last week I visited a Bay Area middle school to talk with 6th-8th graders about healthy ways to manage stress. I finished the student sessions with a Breathing Challenge. It goes like this: Sometime during today, you will experience at least one situation that triggers a strong emotion. When it happens, catch yourself in the middle of a freak-out, take a slow deep breath (or three or four) and think about your next best move. Email me and let me know what happened.

I told the students their email would be their entry into a contest to win a free copy of my book Too Stressed to Think: The teen guide to staying sane when life makes you CRAZY.  I would award one book to one student in each of the three grades.

Twelve of the 1200 students entered the contest. Their experiences were so transformative I couldn’t resist sharing them with you. (For the record, I’m guessing many more of them used the breathing technique I taught, they just didn’t follow through with the email part.) OK… here we go. Be inspired.

1. Today, my siblings started talking to my friends leaving me to walk alone all by myself. Usually I would run up to my brother and punch him in the face. But instead, I breathed in and called him. He said that he had simply thought that I was with them the whole time so, it wasn’t intentional. After hearing that I just ran ahead and caught up to the group completely calm.

2. Today my brother did something and I got blamed for it… like always. I did the breath in then out and that helped to calm down. Now instead of talking back I could just accept it.

3. Today my chorus teacher was being SUPER hard on us because we are trying to learn a song. I did the breathing exercise. It worked completely thank you so much, I felt great for next period in PE and I ran my mile super fast.

4. Tonight when I wanted to keep messing around with my volleyball, my dad asked me to do the dishes. I REALLY didn’t want to do. I started getting mad when he said I had to but I took a deep breath and I did the dishes, and that made me feel good so I continued to help my parents make dinner. I was so glad I knew that breathing trick!

5. Today when I was taking my math test, I came across a difficult problem. Instead of not doing the problem like I normally do, I took a deep breath and tried to do the problem. And you know what? I actually solved the problem.

6. Earlier today my dad and I were eating lunch when he told me that I had to clean everything up when we were done. I told him I didn’t really feel like doing it because I was having a really bad headache from all of my school work. He yelled at me for not doing what he asked and I was feeling really stressed, so I inhaled and exhaled just like you told us to. That was the way I got my headache to hurt less and for me to calm down a little.

7. I saw my best friend laughing with someone who is mean to me. It bothered me. I did a breath and asked my friend about it. She explained that she was not laughing about something the mean girl had said. It turned out that she was laughing with one of my other friends and not the mean girl. The mean girl had just joined in to the laughing.

8. My brother was really stressing me out in the car today when he was singing and stomping his feet when our parents were in the store and being really annoying!!! So, I did what you told me to do- inhale slowly and exhale out. It really worked.

9. I used my breathing tool when my friend in cross country practice kept trying to pass me. I got really annoyed, but once I did the breathing, I felt much better.

10. Today I wasn’t able to remember my homework. This made me stress. “What is my homework? How can I find out????!!!!” I thought in my head. I couldn’t think because I was so frantic. I then thought about you. I took a long deep breath and went to my binder. My memory started to flow and I remembered it was #102-104. That doesn’t matter, but the point is that I used your method to solve my problem.

11. Today I was doing homework and my little sister came in and started stepping on it. I started to get really mad until I realized what I was doing and used the breathing technique you talked about. I calmly led my little sister out of my room instead of doing something that would have made it worse.

12. Today my dad said that I could hang out with friends but then he changed his mind after I told my friends I could go. So I got REALLY MAD! But then I talked it out with him and took breaths and calmed down. Your advice really helped me, thank you so much!!

That’s it for today. Enjoy your weekend. And don’t forget to breathe.

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A Tale of Two Jars

September 16, 2015

Was that really helpful or not so much?

Was that really helpful or not so much?

Imagine two empty glass jars. One labeled Helpful. One labeled Not Helpful. Imagine each time you say something to someone (online or off) you must put a marble in one jar or the other. By the end of the day which jar has more marbles?

Getting along with each other has always been a major challenge on this planet. Each day, each of us has the power to increase hostilities or increase feelings of friendship and cooperation at home, at school. Everywhere. It’s really that simple.

Think about the two jars with this hypothetical situation:

A group of kids sit at a lunch table with one empty seat. A new kid comes over carrying a lunch tray and asks “Can I sit here?”  For each choice, which jar gets a marble, Helpful or Not Helpful?

Someone says “No way!” H or N

New Kid throws a french fry at someone. H or N

Someone lies and says, “Sorry, but I’m saving this seat for my friend.” H or N

New Kid lies and says, “No problem.” H or N

New Kid says, “I don’t want to sit with you. You’re mean.” H or N

Someone says “Sure” and makes room. H or N

Someone frowns but doesn’t move. H or N

Someone quickly puts her sweater on the empty seat. H or N

Someone says, “No weirdos at this table.” H or N

Someone laughs. H or N

Someone feels bad, but says nothing. H or N

Someone says, “Don’t be mean. Let her sit with us.” H or N

Someone whispers, “Why can’t she sit here?” H or N

Someone shrugs and says nothing. H or N

Someone pretends to text. H or N

Someone from another table and invites New Girl to sit with them. H or N

Now count your marbles. How many in each jar? What would you personally do in this situation? Not sure? That’s honest. Think about it some more. I understand this isn’t an easy question. Talk to your children. Your partner. Encourage your kids to talk to their friends. Share the idea of the two jars with them. We all agree that everyone wants to be treated with kindness and respect. That’s so clear. But when it comes to how we treat others, moment to moment, not so clear. Which jar are filling up today?

NOTE: I’m leading a series of Girls’ Friendship Without the Drama Workshops for the Girl Scouts and anyone else who wants to get a group of 15+ together to learn to be more helpful.

 

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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.

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Parenting Question: How do I keep my child away from a bad friend?

June 6, 2015

For the next few months my blog will focus on answering your parenting questions about raising tweens and teens as well as letting you in on some of the letters I get from tweens and teens. So if you’ve got something on your mind that you could use help with, send it to AskAnnie. (Of course it will be posted without any names, so no worries there.)

Today’s question: How do I keep my 11 yr old away from a bad friend?

And you still think she's your friend?!

And you still think she’s your friend?!

First you’ve got to realize that your definition of a “bad” friend might not be the same as your child’s. In fact, if your child has a history with this friend and is very attached, trying to pry her away will most likely land you smack in the middle of an ugly, pointless power struggle in which you will become the bad guy.

The most effective way to handle something like this is to help your child develop standards for what constitutes a good friend vs. the other kind. You can do it by making observations about what you see. For example, you might say, in a neutral voice, “You know, honey, I’ve noticed, when you come home from Jack’s house you’re usually in a bad mood. Sometimes you take it out on your sister. Sometimes you’re rude to me. I’m wondering what’s going on here?” Right then and there, you create a safe environment for your child to think about what you’ve observed and to let you in on where this chronic “bad mood after being with Jack” might be coming from.

Another approach is to share what you see when the two kids are together. You might say something like this, “I notice when Jack comes over, he seems to be bossing you around. Sometimes I hear bad language and I’m not happy with that. It seems like you two spend more time fighting than getting along. What’s up with that?” After an observational statement like this, simply close your mouth and listen to what your son or daughter has to say.

These techniques let you inside the mind of your child more effectively than provocative statements. (“You don’t actually like that awful boy, do you?!!”) Loaded questions like that don’t go over well with tweens and teens.

If you have good reasons, you are also perfectly within your rights to say, “Your friend is no longer welcome in our home and here’s why…” That conversation can be an eye-opener for your child and provide lots of food for thought.

Bottom line, the best way to influence tweens and teens in the direction of more positive friendships is to make neutral observations so the conversation can open up rather than shut down. That’s how to infuse your child with essential information about what it means to be a real friend.

I hope this helps. And until next time, happy parenting.

 

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