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.

“Sometimes I get really angry!”

November 13, 2017

What are you looking at?

Our kids live in a faster, noisier, more stressed out world than the one we grew up in. That contributes to more people “losing it” more often. Not surprising kids may wonder if they’ll grow up behaving as poorly as some of the adults they observe at home, at school, on TV. That was on the mind of this teen who recently reached out to me:

Teen: I get angry kind of easily and I’m afraid that I might abuse when I get older. Please help.

Annie: What makes you angry? Just certain things? Or everything and everybody?

Teen: Sometimes I just get angry because someone is bothering me and I ask them to stop and they don’t stop so I get really angry. I get angry over little things sometimes, too.

Annie: Humans have lots of emotions. Sometimes we get angry over little things and bigger things. Frustration, annoyance, irritation… those are parts of anger. Emotions are just emotions. They come and go, right? We don’t always get to choose how we feel about someone or the situation we find ourselves in. You feel whatever you feel in the moment. But here’s the thing, your emotions can’t hurt other people, but your behavior can. Sounds like you’re worried you will have trouble controlling your behavior in the future. Is that it?

Teen: Yes. I worry about that. A lot.

Annie: The future doesn’t exist. There is only now. This moment. But the choices you make, the way you act in this moment and the next one can lead to the kind of person you will become in the future. It’s all about your behavior. So, tell me, what do you do now when you get angry?

Teen: If I’m in class I go out in the hall and just cool down. But when I’m not in school I usually just hit something soft like a pillow.
Annie: I’m proud of the good job you’re doing cooling down. You recognize that it’s never ok to be violent. When you get angry you know what you need to do so no one gets hurt. Awesome! You said you were worried that you “might abuse” when you get older. Is there someone in your family who is not doing such a good job when he or she gets angry? Someone who is verbally or physically hurting others when they are mad?
Teen: I don’t know anyone in my family that abuses.
Annie: I’m really glad to hear that! You are being very responsible with your behavior when you’re angry and it sounds like the people in your family are doing the same. You’re learning from them to do the right thing. I don’t think you have anything to worry about.
Teen: Ok. Thanks.
Annie: You’re welcome. Email me any time you need to talk about something that’s worrying you.

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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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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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“My daughter is so dramatic. Is this normal?!”

January 25, 2016

Yes it is the end of the world and don’t tell me it’s not!

If you’ve got a tween at home you’ve probably dealt with an emotional outburst once or twice. Depending on frequency and duration, you may have wondered, “This can’t be normal!” Read on…

Dear Annie,

My 11 year old daughter is VERY dramatic.  Every situation seems like “the end of the world.” She yells, cries, and shuts down. Last night, she was having a meltdown and I grabbed her by the arm and firmly directed her to her room and she flopped on the ground as if I seriously pushed her! This is not the first time this has happened.  

I am usually very good about keeping my cool, but in her moments of complete breakdown I lose my cool, too.  She has a breakdown at least once a month. I need coping skills and I need coping skills to teach her.  (Her meltdown was over having a very small mustache and said she would be teased. This is understandable, but I feel like I could have handled it better and she could have too.) Please help! –Melting Down Mama

Dear Mama,

Whatever’s going on with your daughter is going on with most tweens. Not sure if that’s a comforting fact, but it ought to be. Your daughter is normal and so are her meltdowns. On top of that, anything having to do with her personal appearance is likely to make her feel insecure and highly volatile. OMG!

Every day her hormones challenge her ability to manage her emotions responsibly because the part of her brain that helps her regulate moods is still “under construction” and will be for at least another ten years. Seriously.

I admire your recognizing you could have handled it better. You know it’s not ok to let out your frustration by grabbing your daughter’s arm or getting physical with her in any way. You need to figure out how to calm down (fast) when she’s in one of her moods otherwise you’ll make the situation worse and alienate your daughter. I know you don’t want to do either.

When it comes to dealing with emotional tweens I’m a fan of preventative medicine. Please have a look at this stress-busting technique developed by Dr. Herbert Benson, M.D. (associate professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School). It is a simple method for achieving a Relaxation Response (vs a Stress response). Read through the steps and try them. This really works and yes, it takes practice.

I hope this helps you and your daughter. And remember, no one stays a tween forever. No one stays the parents of one, either!

In friendship,
Annie

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