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 parents should stop doing in 2017 (if we want more peace at home)

January 1, 2017

This is an updated version of a 2014 blog. The tips still work. Maybe now more than ever. 

Well-meaning New Year’s resolutions typically peter out by January 15th. If we’ve been zigging, it’s hard to start zagging and keep at it. Which is why self-improvement is so hard to do. I’m thinking it just might be easier to stop doing something that’s not working than to start in with a whole new game plan. I asked a bunch of teens what they’d like their parents to stop doing in the new year. Instantly, they came up with these three. I pass them on to you, since we’re all in this parenting trip together and building a healthier relationship with our tweens and teens is good for everyone.

That's it! I've had it with kids!

That’s it! I’ve had it with you kids!

1. Yelling. Parenting can be messy and stressful. With everything that’s expected of us it’s easy to get frustrated or overwhelmed. If yelling has become your go-to place, you need to stop. When you lash out at your kids, your spouse, or your dog, you are polluting your home and hurting your family. If you don’t have at least one healthy stress-management tool that you’d be happy to see your kids emulate, you’ll be a less effective parent. I recommend breathing. Breathing requires no gym membership or special shoes. It’s free and always available. Yes, it’s habit-forming, but in a very good way. Try this 6-step Relaxation Response. It works. Tip #1 – Stop yelling and start breathing and your kids will give you less to yell about.

2. Tuning out. Parents, teachers, coaches… adults in general spend a lot of time telling kids what to do, how to act, and what to believe. When kids take the bold step of opening up to us (because they need to be heard), we often don’t listen… not one hundred percent. When we do listen, we may jump in and invalidate what we hear if it makes us uncomfortable.  (“You don’t really feel that way.” “Oh, that’s not true.”) We want our kids to stand up for themselves amongst their peers – whether they’re being overpowered in the kindergarten playground or in a teen relationship. But how are they going to learn to be speak up if we don’t give them practice by respectfully listening to what they have to say?

Tip #2 Stop tuning out and start listening with a more open heart and mind and your kids will feel more confident in themselves.

3. Rushing around. Every family needs down time without distractions, digital or otherwise. Hopefully we all got a healthy serving of down-time during the holidays. Vacations are great, but they’re not enough. Not in the noisy, speedy, aggressive world we live in. Most of us need and deserve daily down time, alone and together, as a family. If your kids are still young enough for bedtime stories, what a great chance to cuddle and reconnect each evening. If your children are past being read to, you can still make it a nightly ritual to check in with them for a quiet talk about how the day went for each of you. This is an excellent way to teach kids that conversations are a two-way street. If you want to raise young adults who are empathetic, show your empathy. When you notice something affecting your child’s behavior you can ask, kindly, “You seem upset. What’s going on?”  You can also ask this simple question, “What can I do to help?” That lets a child know you care. It also helps him or her think about what kind of help they need.

And let’s not forget meal time. Maybe you’ve heard this before but the research findings are so amazing they’re worth repeating: Kids whose families sit down and eat dinner together at least three times a week get all kinds of benefits. Have dinner together at least 3 times a week and your kids are more likely to do better in school, less likely to use alcohol or illegal drugs and to engage in other high risk behaviors. They’re even less likely to have friends who do drugs. That’s some powerful mojo.

Tip #3 Stop rushing around and start carving out end-of-the-day time to be together right where you are.

Happy New Year from our home to yours. May 2017 bring you and your family many of opportunities to celebrate life and to help others. World peace begins at home.

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Dealing with feelings so no one (else) gets hurt

November 12, 2015

I'm so MAD I could... ?

I’m so MAD I could… !

From the moment we learn a baby is coming we begin a life-long journey to understand this new person. At first it’s a clear-cut mission. I am key to my child’s survival. I must understand what the child needs and provide it. Sure there may have been lovers who proclaimed, “You are my life.” “I’d be lost without.” “I would die without you.” That is fantasy. But our baby’s need for us doesn’t get any realer. Without our love and protection… the child would die.

As kids grow they learn to take care of their own physical needs. Feeding. Toileting. Bathing. And they learn to decode the world by exploring its textures, tastes and sounds.

How about learning to take care of their emotional needs? Little children have big emotions. Tweens and teens often experience off-the-chart emotions. We parents need to hang in there, continually trying to understand what’s going on. We often do it by asking:

How do you feel?

What scared you?

Why are you crying?

This line of questioning helps kids tune in to their emotions and learn about what sets them off.

She was mean to me!

He hurt my feelings!

These conversations are important and helpful, but that’s not the end of the story. If we make it the end kids can get stuck believing: My feelings are most important of all. That mindset just isn’t very helpful for raising kind, respectful and socially courageous kids who do the right thing, online and off.

After your children have talked about their emotions and had a chance to calm down, it’s time for the rest of the story. Ask: “What can you do about this situation? What would be helpful? What would not be helpful?”

Encourage your children to explore their options, aka their next best move because, even though our feelings matter, ultimately, our behavior matters more.

So… how do you feel about that perspective? What do you think about? And what are you going to do with it?

I look forward to hearing from you.

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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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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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