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.

Parenting Question: How do you get kids to make their own school lunch?

August 4, 2015

Cooking and eating together. Family fun.

Cooking + eating together = family fun.

I watch a lot of competitive cooking shows (Chopped, Beat Bobby Flay, Next Food Network Star. And Top Chef (Which has been where?! Can anyone please tell me?) In between slicing, dicing and schvitzing, contestants often give loving shout-outs to Mom or Grandma for turning them on to cooking. Kids need to learn to feed themselves, so we’ve gotta teach them to cook. Where to start? How about something simple that doesn’t require sharp knives and fire?

Today’s question comes from a parent who is ready to hand over some kitchen duties to her children.

How can I get my kids to make their own school lunches?

It’s almost back-to-school time and lunches must be made, but not necessarily by you and you alone. So, how can parents effectively get kids to make their own lunch or at least start engaging them in the process? If you think about the developmental stages of childhood, there are many things we do for our kids before stepping back. I’m thinking… teaching kids to feed themselves, get their own drink of water, take themselves to the bathroom, tie own their shoes (Do kids’ shoes even have laces anymore?) We show kids how, we help them while they’re learning, then we sit back and let them do it. Or we should.

So what is the barrier to teaching kids to make their own school lunch?

Our attitude determines how comfortable our kids feel about working in the kitchen vs just showing up to be fed. Do you feel that food prep, cooking, etc. is something your kids should be doing for themselves? If not, then they probably won’t either. Kids are human. I have this on good authority. We tend to be lazy. If someone will do something for me, on a regular basis and to my satisfaction, then why the heck should I bother doing it myself? “I have enough to do,” thinks the child. “I have to wake up on time every morning and brush my teeth and get dressed for school. I have a backpack that needs to be packed and… ”

OK, lots for the tykes to master before they graduate from high school. But let’s not get overwhelmed here. Let’s refocus on the original question about school lunch.

Food is wonderful. So is eating. You can engage kids in the process of making lunch by talking about what they like and don’t like to have for lunch and why. Talk about nutrition and why certain foods are going to help them do their job as a student better than others. Involving kids in the process of shopping for food, prepping food, and even growing food is a great way to start putting them in the driver’s seat. And who knows? They may want to start making their own breakfast soon, too. And after that? They’ll make meals for you!

Before you start, make sure hands are washed and that everything is accessible and at their level. Before they cut anything, make sure you teach your kids the safe way to use cutting tools in the kitchen. It goes without saying that all the utensils you give them are safe for their age-level. OK. I said it anyway.

And make sure you up the fun-ativity quotient from the start. Make food prep fun. (Being in the kitchen with a hypercritical parent is not fun.) Offer lots of praise for progress and back off little by little. You’ll soon hear your child crowing, “Hey, Mom! I made my own lunch!” At which point you offer high-fives all around and say, “Can I have a bite? Mmmm… delicious.”

Remember, we are here to teach our kids to become fully-functioning independent young adults and making your own food is definitely part of being independent. So… what’s for lunch tomorrow?

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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: Why Are Girls’ Friendships So Dramatic?

June 25, 2015

We’re up to Part 4 of this (mostly) parenting Q&A series. I’ll occasionally throw in a teen question because, hey, it’s always enlightening to hear kids talk about what we do that drives them nuts. Today’s question concerns the confusion of a parent whose daughter is having an emotionally difficult time (again) with a best friend.

Best friends forever, right?

Best friends forever, right?

Today’s Question: Why are girls’ friendships so dramatic? My daughter had a best friend from 2-5th grade. When that girl moved away, my daughter was distraught. Now she’s in 7th, with a new best friend who may be losing interest. My daughter is getting very worried and upset. What can I do to help her put this in perspective?

Since 1997, the #1 issue girls write to me about is betrayal or rejection by a friend. Specifically, “My bff has a new bff! What do I do?” The email writer goes on to describe how she’s crying herself to sleep, has lost her appetite and doesn’t want to go to school or anywhere! Parents are often confounded by the intensity of their daughter’s emotions in these situations. Moms and Dads want to know what they can do to help.

Here’s the way I see it: A girl’s dramatic response to a friendship that’s cooling off resembles how one might react to a romantic break-up. Some girls even refer to losing a friend as getting “dumped.” Girls’ attachment to other girls is a precursor to their search for the The One, aka the Soul Mate, if you believe in that kind of stuff. Even if you don’t, it represents a search for someone who “knows me” and “understands me.” Someone who will laugh at what I laugh at and be equally moved by the things that move me. Someone I feel so close to that I barely need to explain myself to them.

When a girl’s bestie loses interest, and, for whatever reason, wants to spend time with another friend, it’s a major loss. Girls often describe it in classic stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, until they can find their way to Acceptance. That’s where parents can help.

Tips for Helping Your Daughter Process the Loss of a Friend

1. Do not minimize your daughter’s angst. This “drama” she’s feeling and expressing is real. She needs your willingness to listen, without judgment. Dads, I know you want to help, and sometimes you may feel you have no idea where all these emotions are coming from. Moms, you’ve probably had some personal experience with friendship drama (past or present), so help your daughter’s father understand. Bottom line, the goal is not to commiserate with a sobbing girl, but to help her figure out a way through this.

2. Let your daughter talk about how she feels. Just listen with compassion and patience. When you do that, she will calm down because you are giving her an opportunity to express her feelings responsibly and appropriately.

3. Discourage her from getting on social media or her phone. Otherwise the whole thing will blow up like a conflagration, spreading like wild fire. Allies of both girls will feel pressure to take sides and rush onto the digital battlefield. That kind of drama is social garbage and no girl needs more of it in her life.

4. Work toward a reachable goal. After your daughter calms down, ask her “What is the best outcome you can imagine?” Likely she’ll say, “I want her to be my bff again!” Please gently remind her that she doesn’t have the power to control other people’s feelings or behavior, but she can help herself feel better about the situation. For example, instead of feeling sorry for herself, she could talk directly to her friend. This might result in a new awareness for your daughter in these areas:

a) what she needs in a friendship

b) where she draws the line in terms of how she lets people treat her

c) why it’s essential to have high standards for yourself and your friends

d) how important it is to be with someone who wants to be with you as much as you want to be with them

5. Encourage her to shop for a new best friend. Talk with your daughter about the qualities she deems important in a friend. Help her make a list (if she wants your help). Once she knows what she’s looking for she may decide that the “loss” she just experienced wasn’t so much of a loss at all. She may also be energized to go out and find a new best friend –one who provides more of what she needs.

I hope this helps you and your daughter. If you’ve got a question about parenting tweens and teens, email me.  If your 8-12 year old daughter could use some help navigating friendships, check out my latest book – The Girls’ Q&A Book on Friendship: 50 Ways to Fix a Friendship Without the Drama. 

 

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Parenting Question: What do I do when my kid is in a bad mood?

June 17, 2015

This is Part 3 of my Q&A blog series in which I alternately answer parenting questions and teen questions. If you’re just joining us, you can check out Part 1 How do I keep my child away from a bad friend?” and Part 2Who was that guy my mom was with?”

You've been warned!

You’ve been warned!

Today’s Question: I get that nobody is happy all the time. I’m not! But when my 9 year old son is in a bad mood, it’s not fun for anyone. I’ll admit, I’m not always very patient with him when he’s like that. Obviously that doesn’t help. So, what do I do when my kid is in a bad mood?

Bad moods are kind of like stinky cheese. You open the wrapper and they permeate everything and everyone. The unhelpful thing that parents often do is try to get a child out of a bad mood by distraction or becoming the court jester.  When parents rush in believing it’s always their job to turn that frown into a smile then they’re in for a lot of trouble and they’re not helping their children learn to deal with the ups and downs of life.

Life can be really frustrating. Life can be disappointing. And, if your child expects that everyone will be treated equally, then life is also unfair! OK, so we’re all agreed that crap happens and so do bad moods. Kids need us to teach them essential life skills: resilience and GRIT, which is all about being able to rub up against the challenging aspects of life without wilting and giving up. GRIT also involves the ability to figure out what’s your next best move in the current situation.

When a bad mood strikes there isn’t really anything that a parent has to do. That may be a newsflash for some. It’s only when the bad mood is accompanied by unacceptable behavior – rudeness, unkindness, destruction, etc.  that parents need to intervene. Otherwise, how will our children learn to be good people?

I was talking to my friend, Dr. Deborah Gilboa (AskDrG.com) about her most recent book, Get the Behavior You Want Without Being the Parent You Hate. One of the points she made that jumped out at me was about how we need to teach children that their feelings are less important than their behavior. She’s spot on. As caring parents and educators, we have focused too much on children’s emotions. (“What are you feeling!?”) When that becomes the end-all and be-all, kids assume that their emotions are more important than what they do or say. What little Max feels is not an acceptable excuse for everything he may do. The clear message for Max: Feel whatever you’re feeling. If you’re in a bad mood, be in a bad mood. But you do not have the right to intentionally be cruel or in any way disrespectful to anyone (online or off).

Instead of providing kids with excuses for bad behavior (“She just did it because she was upset.” “He only said that because he’s jealous.”) let’s do a better job teaching them how to deal with unsettling emotions. Let’s also help them understand that sometimes, even when we are disappointed, hurt, or frustrated, we can calm down and express ourselves without hurting anyone.  These life skills will help all of us behave in ways that make us feel good about who we are.

Got a parenting question about raising tweens and teens? Just ask.

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