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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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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Three things t(w)eens should stop doing in 2014

January 9, 2014

Earlier this week I gave parents three tips for making home a more peaceful place in the new year. Since kids are part of the equation, it’s only fair that you guys also get some pointers so you can do your part to make your family a happier one. Here goes:

In 2014 you should:

The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room

Errr… hi, Mom. How’s it going?

1. Stop Leaving your stuff all over the place: We  know you’re exhausted when you come home from school/practice and all that. And probably all you want to do is collapse, get something to eat, and veg out. But seriously, if you drop your backpack, shoes, jacket, books, etc. wherever you feel like it, you’re just asking for an argument. It’s not that parents are neat freaks, it’s just that a lot of us have had it with picking up after our kids, especially when you could totally take care of your own stuff and put it where it belongs.

I was once doing a Parent-Teen Communication workshop and this girl raised her hand and said she wanted her mom to “yell less.”

So I asked her, “What does your mom mostly yell at you about?”

“The wet towels on the bathroom floor.”

“And you really don’t know how to get your mom to stop yelling about the towels on the floor?”

“No,” she said. And she really didn’t.

You do, don’t you? It’s easy. Hang up the wet towels without being asked and  fights about wet towels end there.

2. Stop taking out your bad mood on others. It’s tough being teen. Truly. If you asked your parents if they’d like to go back in time and be your age again, none of them would. They remember the stress, the confusion, the embarrassment, the longing, and the worry that no one you are crushing on will ever love you back.  On top of that, there’s the hormones, the zits, the homework, the social and academic pressure. Plus all the stuff that adults expect you to do and be. Oh, and you never get enough sleep! So, yes, there are plenty of things to make you crabby. However, it’s not fair for you to take your bad mood out on anyone else. Think about it this way, if your bad mood was a coal processing plant… you’re evil mood would be polluting your home and family. That’s unacceptable. Don’t do it any more. Instead, learn some awesome relaxation techniques and you’ll have some healthy ways to get yourself out of a bad mood. Your family will thank you and you’ll be happier too.

3. Stop making excuses. When you mess up (you’ve done it before, you’ll do it again… we all do. It’s called being human.) take responsibility. Parents and teachers really get their buttons pushed when kids make their mistakes someone else’s fault. You want to avoid arguments with the adults in your life? All you have to do is keep your agreements (Do what you say you’ll do, be where you say you’ll be and come home when you say you’ll come home.) And if something happens (stuff happens) that gets in the way of your following through on your word, than own it, no excuses. Your parents and teachers will respect you more when you take responsibility for your actions. You’ll respect yourself more too, provided that you a) apologize and mean it, b) make amends –fix what you “broke,”  c) actually learn something from the way things played out so that d) you are less likely to make the same mistake again. Or anything close to it.

That’s it. Are you OK with those three tips? I hope so. They’re yours now. Use them and you’re on your way to a happier new year.

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Happy New Year and mind the gap

December 31, 2009

The Gap of Dunloe, Ireland

The Gap of Dunloe, Ireland

The boy and his father stood in the middle of our quiet street. “What are you doing?” I asked.

“Throwing buckeyes!” the kid beamed as he and Dad playfully launched two more down the hill. I watched them in the Saturday sun and fell into a gap.

The world is full of gaps. Opportunity gaps. Credibility gaps. Some shouldn’t be missed, like Ireland’s fantastic Gap of Dunloe. And some, like the one in the London Tube, must be avoided. (Mind the Gap – lest you find yourself floundering between train and platform!)

Ever hear the term gap year? It usually refers to a break taken by high school or college grads that defers enrollment in the next phase of life. Ideally, one uses a gap year to do something completely out of the box: work, volunteer, intern, apprentice, self-study, travel… or any real world offering. The implicit goal is to figure out what you really want or don’t want to do with your life.

In January a couple of years ago, our daughter headed off for a travel adventure in SE Asia while our son and his girlfriend headed to Malaysia to teach English there. They each had vague plans for after. But gaps have a habit of transforming those who venture into them and that’s the whole point. I used their departure to ask myself, “Where can I find some gaps to give me more of what I need this year?” I realized I needed to get back to writing fiction. The result? My Middle School Confidential™ series.

Adults and teens say they want more time to do the stuff they really enjoy. Sounds like a worthy New Year’s Resolution. Instead of waiting for life to slow down how about looking for gaps? I’m not talking about major gaps that require chucking your “real” life for a year. I’m talking about tiny gaps we continuously overlook despite their fluttering, glowing and vibrating all around us. Gaps in the kitchen, in the car… in between gulping coffee and thinking about the next six things you have to do. The doorway into a gap might be the curl of your son’s hair or a bird flying over the freeway. Or… just about anything.

In the spirit of the new year, here’s a challenge. Right here, at your computer, fall into a gap. Go ahead, no one’s watching. As you read these words, stop for a minute. Breathe in… and notice yourself breathing in. Breathe out… and focus on breathing out. (C’mon, play along with me.) Slowly look around the room. Find something familiar and appreciate something new about it. Consciously turn off autopilot and life slows and quiets down a bit. What might happen if you consciously looked for gap moments and, for example, appreciated your children in new ways? How might your experience of parenting change? How about your perception of who you are and what matters to you as an individual?

Just to be clear, I’m not advocating dropping out and contemplating your cuticles 24/7. I’m simply suggesting that life offers more options than stress/productivity vs. nirvana/slackerdom. Look, I’m one of the most productive people I know and proud of it. So believe me when I say that you can find gap moments and still be productive. When I fall into a gap, which I’ve been doing more frequently (I’m in one right now), I simultaneously become calmer and more energized. That opens me up creatively, intellectually, intuitively… and my productivity soars.

I know from my email that teens are stressed. You can help them by finding gap moments in your own life. That can lower your stress levels which will decrease the overall stress in your home. Talk to your kids about the concept of a gap… a momentary break from day-to-day busyness. Model it for them. The payoff? You’ll begin to savor your life on a deeper level. And with your leadership your family will live in time instead of just passing through.

Happy New Year and watch out for flying buckeyes.

In friendship,
Annie

P.S. If you decide to take on my New Year’s Gap Challenge I’d love to hear from you. It doesn’t have to be anything cosmic, just a brief description of a moment when you slowed down and fell into a gap. Maybe I’ll include some of your gap stories in a future blog as inspiration for all of us who could use a break.

Filed under: Holidays,Parenting — Tags: , , , , — Annie @ 6:11 pm
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