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.

“I’m never going to win!”

August 3, 2017

What's the use?

What’s the use?

We all want our opinions and feelings respected, especially by the people we care about most. A guiding rule for a healthy relationship (the only kind worth having) is: “I will respectfully try to understand where you’re coming from and you will do the same for me.”

Doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes we’re too upset to be respectful so we do things we later regret. Sometimes others disrespect us and we’re too embarrassed or discouraged to speak up.

When it feels like nobody treats you with respect, what then? Do you have fight with everyone? Or is it better to just accept it? That’s what this teen wants to know.

Teen: When I hang out with my friends  they do PE-related things. I act like everything is okay, but they know I suck at that kind of stuff. Still they always hold obstacle courses, running races and monkey bar challenges. It’s as if they do it to mock me.

Next, my parents. If I get anything below B+ on a quiz or test, they don’t bother noticing me. What’s worse is that when my twin sister gets something below a B+, they offer to help her.

Lastly, my twin sister. She is intolerable. She has successfully managed to steal my friends by lying. Every time I tell her to stop, she acts like I am bullying her. To others, she seems sweet, but she is sociopathic towards me. Except when she has no one else to hang out with. Then I’m her fallback. I try and stand up to it, but my parents have her back. It’s as if they have taught me a silent rule: “Don’t try to stand up for yourself because you are never going to win these battles.” So I have to put up with it. What do I do? –So Unfair

Dear So Unfair,

I am sorry you’re going through such a difficult time. I really am. Feeling comfortable and accepted by our friends and family contributes to our sense of well-being. When people are with us, we relax and trust they will treat us well. When we don’t feel accepted,  everything else in life can be more challenging.

You don’t have to and shouldn’t accept disrespectful behavior. Ever. Relationships change when someone has had enough of the status quo and decides to talk honestly about her feelings. You took the first step toward improving your relationships by writing to me. Now take the next step.

Parents. You don’t get to choose your family. Sorry, no trade-ins allowed. So what can you do with the family you’ve got?

Find a time for a private conversation with the parent that is easier for you to talk to. You might start by saying something like this: “There are times I feel you respect (care for, love, etc.) my sister more me.” Then take a slow deep breath and calmly, respectfully and without whining, shouting, or crying, give one recent example to illustrate your point. After you’ve said your piece, close your mouth and really listen to what your parent says. Then respond calmly. Then listen so more. This is how you give someone the chance to understand you better and give yourself the opportunity to understand them. You sound like a very intelligent and articulate person. I am sure you can do this.

Sister. You and your sister also need a calm, respectful conversation. There are things she does that you don’t appreciate. There are also things that you do which she does not appreciate. Working together can make your relationship more peaceful. Your parents’ support can help. They want you and your sister to get along better, too!

Friends. Sounds like the problem comes from the difference between your friends’ interests and your own. Make a list of all the things that you deem important in a close friendship. For example you can try to fill in the blank in this sentence:

“I want a friend who __________.”

Keep filling in the blank until you’ve created a good long list of qualities you look for in a friend. If shares my interests is a high priority for you, then you need to look for friends who enjoy doing what you enjoy. If PE activities isn’t your thing, what is? Think about it and figure out how you can connect with people who share your interests during the school year, on weekends and vacation time.

I hope this helps.

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Parenting worry: Am I playing favorites?

May 3, 2017

What if I don’t love them equally?

Conventional parenting wisdom dictates: Parents should (must) love their children equally. “Equal” implies “exactly the same.” Not buying that in theory or in practice. We all savor different qualities in the people we love. We cherish the time we spend together for very different reasons. Why compare? It’s pointless.

I have a daughter and a son. I would drop everything in a hot minute if they asked for my help because I love them both deeply, but not equally.

Got an email from a mom who seems uneasy with how differently she feels toward her 14-year-old son and his twin sister.

Mom: He always had good grades in middle school, even if he missed some homework. Now in high school he realizes that not doing homework actually affects his grade so he is doing all of it, except math.

He doesn’t do his pre-calculous homework since the teacher doesn’t check it everyday. He can’t keep up with the material during the class. He frantically studies the night before each test and he got B+ last semester. At least he studies before the test, but If he did his homework regularly he could have received an A easily without studying like that the previous night.  I know B+ is okay but I’m more worried about his habit of procrastination as well as his grade.

Even though I’m suffering inside watching him putting off his work we have a good relationship. He has friends and does sports, but no other club – he has no interest in putting his effort into anything other than sports.

His twin sister is doing great in every way – she has good friends, doing a lot of club/sports, as well as she gets perfect grade (because she DOES her homework in time even though she is super busy). The problem with me is that I know what homework they have because of her. If I didn’t know what homework he should be doing I would be less anxious.

I try not to say too much about it but it’s really hard (HARD) for me to watch him just spending time looking at his iphone even though there is homework to do. Should I just watch him and hope he will realize or should I have a some sort of conversation about it? I just tell him something like “Why don’t you do your homework before it’s too late?” He says, “OK,” but it never has any effect on him.

Annie: I think it would be helpful if you tried to step back a bit. Your son is doing so much that is “right.” He really is. In your own words:
“He got a B+ last semester in pre-calculus.” (A strong grade)
“He studies before the test.”
“We have a good relationship.”
“He has friends.”
“He does sports.”

Your worrying seems misplaced. He is young and time management is a challenging skill to master.

I understand it’s hard not to compare your son to his twin sister, but please remind yourself that he is not his sister. He is also not you. He is developing at his own pace with his own strengths and challenges. He will figure this out. He already has “realized that not doing homework actually affects his grades…” At this point, his good relationship with you is much more important than how he is progressing in pre-calculus.

Please try to relax about his math studies. At this point you should not be involving yourself in his school work to this degree. The “contract” is between your son and his teacher. When you step back and let him work it out on his own, he is more likely to realize the connection between attentiveness in math class, homework, studying, etc. and grades a lot faster than if you make this your project.

I hope this helps.

In friendship,
Annie

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How do I keep my kids from fighting with each other?

October 5, 2015

"I hate you!" "I hate you more!!!"

“I hate you!” “I hate you more!!!”

My two older brothers constantly picked fights with each other. I’m talking about shouting, punching, wrestling and chair throwing. While I wasn’t engaged in any of the physical stuff, one of my brothers took special delight in teasing me to the point of tears. My mom did a lot of totally ineffective yelling. Thankfully, the three of us get along very well now, but, man, it didn’t have to be the way it was back then.

I swore, as a parent, I’d do my best to raise my children in a way that gave us peace in the house. We all want that, right? We want our kids to get along with each other so that this life-long connection of theirs will be a loving and supportive one. We want them to grow up looking forward to visiting each other on holidays, with their own kids in tow, and really enjoy being together. Right? Of course!

So how do you get there if you’re currently entrenched in sibling wars? 

Start by taking a good hard look at the way you respond to your kids’ conflicts with each other. Your response can make a whole lot of difference when it comes to turning this ship around. Sometimes our kids fight and bicker and argue so frequently that we become desensitized to the noise and tension and just tune them out. You may only wake up when someone outside the immediate family notices the decibel level and comments, “Wow, it’s kinda loud in here. What’s going on with your kids?” To which you may respond, “Oh, they’re always like this.”

When you, as a parent, turns a blind eye to sibling conflict, the message you’re sending to your kids (especially to the current aggressor) is: “What you’re doing is OK with me.” But it’s not OK. Don’t accept the unacceptable. What you put up with you promote. Time for a change.

Tips to help you make a more peaceful home:

1. Tune in to the your kids’ conflicts. Disagreements are normal and beneficial in the social and emotional development of children. They need lots of practice negotiating, compromising, and problem-solving. But when hostilities between siblings heat up to the point of aggression (verbal and/or physical) your parental leadership is needed… now.

2. Stay calm. To teach kids to be respectful with each other, you need to respond to their conflicts calmly, maturely and respectfully. If you can’t do that in the moment (because your kids’ fighting has pushed your buttons way too many times), take a break… take some slow deep breaths…  and then start to talk to your children about what’s going on.

3. Talk to them separately. Give each child a chance to talk to you very openly and honestly about what is at the bottom of their constant hostility. After each has told you their “side”,  bring them together while you help them figure out a way respectful way through their conflict. Keep doing this and after a while your kids will do this on their own.

4. It’s your job. If you don’t teach them to deal with their emotions in productive ways so they don’t hurt each other, they won’t learn it. Ultimately your leadership will determine how your kids will resolve conflicts with each other, with peers and, later in life, with romantic partners.

If you could use some professional support, please avail yourself of parent coaching. There are many many great parent coaches who often specialize in helping parents resolve sibling conflicts. You might ask your pediatrician or your child’s school counselor for a referral.

I hope this helps.

In friendship,

Annie

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10 common BS excuses from kids and what’s behind them

May 27, 2014

It's all your fault!

You started it!

Empathy training begins at home. So does compassion training, truth-telling, good listening skills, and bullying prevention. And you thought helping with 7th grade math was going to be the hard part!

We want our kids to learn to be good people and most of us know that doesn’t happen solely by osmosis. So we teach them and we do such a good job that by the time they are five, they say “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry” on command. Underneath the programmed responses is the beginning of kids’ awareness of the right way right to treat other people vs. the wrong way. But because they are young humans they mess up. Often. They lash out and hurt the feelings and body parts of other children. And we hear about it. Yet no matter how many after-the-fact conversations that begin with “How would you feel if he did that to you?” they will continue to go out of their way to hurt other kids. So what’s up with that? Are your kids “bad”? No. Even though they do bad things, they aren’t bad kids. And don’t you dare think they are or, god forbid, tell them that!

Since they’re not bad, why do they keep doing this hurtful stuff? Simply because they haven’t yet learned to manage their destructive emotions (anger, jealousy, resentment, frustration and poor-me-ism, to name a few peace-busters guaranteed to bring out the worst in our species.) Consequently, kids of all ages maim first first and ask forgiveness afterwards. Another reason they do stuff they know isn’t OK is because they’ve constructed a set of handy justifications that makes it OK.

Because most kids get their peer relationship training with their siblings, cousins, and close family friends, let’s imagine a typical sister-brother conflict in your home. Suppose your 7 year old daughter purposely wrecks the Lego castle your 5 year old son’s been building all afternoon. He’s crying and screaming and you yell at her, “Why did you do that?!” Turn down the volume for a sec and listen to her justifications:

1. I didn’t do anything.

2. I thought he wanted my help.

3. I thought he was finished.

4. It was already broken.

5. He always hogs the ____.

6. He always blames me for everything.

7. He’s annoying.

8. His stuff was in my way.

9. He was doing it wrong.

10. You always take his side.

What can you say to any of this? Your own destructive emotions have launched surface to air missiles from your eyeballs and your tone of voice is ugly and scary. But who can blame you? This is already the third … no fourth… fight between these two and it’s only Saturday afternoon of this loong “Happy Holiday Weekend.” So if you’re not in your “Calm Mommy” place hey, we get it. But if you were sane and centered enough to actually hear and acknowledge every one of your daughter’s justifications (which doesn’t mean you’ve got to agree with any of them) she could rattle them off and pile them neatly to one side and maybe, just maybe, she’d then feel safe enough to lift the lid on her anger, tentatively reveal the soft underbelly of her heart, and tell you the real reason she’s determined to destroy her brother’s happiness.

Sniff… whimper… “I think you love him more than me.”

What do you say now, Mom?

 

 

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