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.

Three things parents should stop doing in 2014

January 5, 2014

Self-improvment New Year’s resolutions usually fade after Week 2 because they require us to do things we’re not used to. Most people aren’t wired that way. So I’m thinking it might be easier to stop doing something unhealthy rather than to start a whole new regime. So here’s my list of three common things parents should stop doing this year.

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

That’s it! I’ve had it!

1. Yelling. Parenting is messy and stressful. With everything that’s expected of you 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 stress-management tool in your toolkit (alcohol and tobacco do not count), you aren’t fully equipped for your parenting job so you’ll be less effective. I recommend breathing. It will help you learn the relaxation response. 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. Stop yelling and start breathing and your kids will give you less to yell about. Guaranteed.

2. Tuning out. Parents, teachers, coaches… adults in general are always 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 aren’t listening… not one hundred percent. And if we are listening, as soon as we hear something that indicates a “problem” we may well jump to invalidate it (“You don’t really feel that way.”) And yet, 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? 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, and hopefully you all got some during the holidays. But most of us need and deserve daily down time… together… as a family. If your kids are still young enough for story time, 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 a great way to teach kids that conversations are a two-way street. Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you’re always the one asking “How’s it going?”) 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 and your kids are more likely to do better in school, less likely to use alcohol or illegal drugs, and less likely to be overweight. They’re even less likely to have friends who do drugs! Don’t you love it?

Happy New Year from my family to yours.

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Day 3: Kindness and Respect Challenge (It’s hard to be kind when you’re stressed)

October 3, 2013

At the top of the trail a deer blocked our path and I freaked, albeit it quietly. In case you’re reading this from the snake and piranha invested Amazon and are thinking, “A deer?! Gimme a break!” we’re not talking Bambi here, we’re talking something along the lines of this (minus the frigid air, which also freaks me out):

Hey, hikers, where do you think you're going?

David quickly put our 6-month-old Pupster on leash, which reduced my anxiety a tad. Nothing like imagining your dog skewered on an antler to trigger a stress-response. And that’s really what this was about for me. Stress. The raw, unseasoned fear that the buck would decide deep within the recesses of its little deer brain, that we were a threat and needed to be run off the trail. I’m still mending from a broken foot bone and not quite back to walking straight, so the prospect of running for my life stressed me further. Ah, stress. And the adrenalin that drives it. That stuff makes us less likely to respond kindly and respectfully to anything.

With ominous intent, David and I flapped our arms. The Pupster wagged her tail fiercely. The deer just stood there. We stomped our feet. Nothing. We added a sound track of intimidating growls. The deer blinked. Then he took a tentative step toward us! At that point I considered picking up a rock and hurling it in Buck’s direction. But then I remembered The Kindness and Respect Challenge I’ve given myself this month. I took a deep breath and announced to David, The Pupster, the deer, and the Universe, “I will respond with kindness and respect.” With those magic words Buck turned away and walked uphill, into the trees.

Another skewering respectfully averted.

PS Check out Day 4 of the Kindness and Respect Challenge.

 

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Stress Dismissed: Why Family Meetings Actually Work

October 26, 2012

I originally wrote a version of this article for TakePart.com, an interactive publisher and the digital arm of Participant Media, the company responsible for award-winning films such as An Inconvenient TruthFood Inc.Waiting for SupermanCharlie Wilson’s WarContagion and The Help.

Falling into a less stressful school routine

Back in early June, sweet summer beckoned with infinite possibilities. Hopefully some of the good ones became realities for you and your family. Either way, summer has come and gone, the frost is on the pumpkin, and we’re up to our knees in a new school year.

Now and always, you are your child’s most influential teacher. Which means that every day you have wonderful opportunities to lead and mentor so that next June you and your child can look back and say, “This has been a great year.”

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. How about calling a family meeting to take stock of how things are going? Don’t like the term family meeting? Call it whatever you want, but before any more time flits by, gather the troops for an open conversation centered on what is working well with your Monday-Friday routine and what isn’t. This conversation may take 30 minutes (give or take), so everyone ought to be comfortable. Sitting around a table is good for that. It also encourages eye contact, always a plus when talking to someone. Appointing a “secretary” with a pen and paper to record ideas/agreements is very helpful. Oh, and snacks are always appreciated.

One more suggestion—during family meetings, unplug from all phones, etc. I realize many of us, and our connection-addicted kids, may feel uncomfortable without our phones, but unplug anyway. A digital-free family meeting sends a message: This discussion is important to our family and we want everyone to have a chance to speak and to be listened to with respect. That means no interruptions.With ground rules established and the clear goal to improve family relationships vs. playing a blame game, let the conversation begin.

School-related causes of family stress include:

  • Getting out the door in the morning (including waking up on time, bathroom, getting breakfast, preparing lunch, getting schoolwork into backpacks, etc.)
  • Afterschool activity schedule
  • Afterschool childcare arrangements
  • Afterschool pickup schedule
  • Dinner
  • Homework
  • Bedtime

As you and your kids focus on each of these areas ask, “How is that working for you…son/daughter? Here’s how it is for me.” Be honest with each other. If, for example, mornings are tense because Brother can’t get himself up and out the door on time, then it would be foolish (OK, insane) to go through a whole school year like that. Something has to change. Talk about how it feels to wait for him, stressing, and then to have to drive to school like a crazy person because you’re late. Talk respectfully (no blaming or shaming). Then work together to create some solutions so the family doesn’t get locked into a continuous loop of unacceptable behavior.

The same goes with unacceptable parent behavior. If, for example, Dad agrees to pick up Daughter after sports practice at 5 p.m., but ninety percent of the time he arrives at 5:20 p.m., then something needs to change. (Are you listening, Dad?)

Talk and listen respectfully. Brainstorm new strategies. Hold each other accountable. That’s the way to conduct a successful family meeting. But don’t stop with the negative stuff! There are things that you and the kids are doing very well this school year. Take time at this meeting to acknowledge the cooperation and the successes. Those are the things your family wants to—and needs to—keep repeating.

Vote! It's good modeling for your kids.

 

 

 

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Unplugging

July 11, 2012

This is Part 2 of my 4-part Bing Summer of Doing blog series. If you just got here and missed Part 1, let me explain. I’m the Bing Summer of Doing ‘expert‘ of the week. Part of this awesome responsibility involves blogging about the word of the day.  Today’s word is unplugging. The irony of writing about unplugging while plugged in doesn’t escape me, but if I wrote on the back of this envelope, you wouldn’t see it, so…

Bing Summer of Doing - Pull the plug and.. DO

Winnie-the-Pooh said, “Sometimes I sit and think. And sometimes I just sit.” He also called himself a bear of “little brain” but I disagree. Just “sitting” is the best thing you can do at certain times. And if you’re just sitting in a park, on the beach, on a fallen tree in a forest… you’re probably in a good place, mentally and emotionally.

I’ve noticed that it’s summer. Funny how a whole season can sneak up on you like that. Actually, it’s more scary than funny.  Sometimes, my time on the computer seems endless and I feel like I live in a casino – no windows or evidence the earth is turning. But I see that it’s beautiful outside (yes I do have a window) so I’ve decided to unplug. Not forever,  just for some significant part of each day –  as a way to grab back some balance in my life.

What am I unplugging from? How about these three things for starters? Negativity. Routine. Technology.

Unplugging from destructive emotions: Instead of marinating your soul in anger, frustration, jealousy when the mood strikes, how about simply recognizing the feeling? And then… take a few slow deep breaths. (INHALE s-l-o-w-l-y and evenly through your nose. Relax your jaw and open your mouth.) Then EXHALE s-l-o-w-l-y and evenly through your mouth. Repeat. …. again. Again. Now smile (a half smile will do). Good. You’ve just unplugged from an upset and hopefully you’ve done it before causing any damage. Nice going.

Unplugging from routine: Routines offer security. They can also be fun and creativity drains. Fight back by changing something you’ve been doing automatically every day. Try a miniscule shake-up like brushing your teeth with the opposite hand. Dang, unplugging from your routine could be as simple as sitting in a different place at the kitchen table. Or skipping the table altogether and taking your salad or sandwich out on the front steps. There are so many ways to dance through your day, why not make up some new moves? When you do, you’ll find your usual dance partners have to come up with some new moves of their own.

Unplugging from technology: Life isn’t virtual. It’s real. Simple truth. So easy to forget. Years ago, a storm blew out our power for 5 days. No school. No computers. No work. Me and David and the kids read aloud from a big book of obscure folktales. We paused at crucial plot points and took turns guessing what could happen next. We acted out alternative endings. We played Crazy Eights by candlelight. We roasted marshmallows. We all shared memories from childhood. And by the second or third day, we were eating outrageous ice cream sundaes for breakfast (hey, we couldn’t let all the Chunky Monkey melt, could we?). I was more than a little disappointed when the lights came back on and we all plugged in again. But you don’t need a power outage to take a healthy break from social media and the rest of it.  I’m not saying you should become incommunicado for a week and freak out your friends and family. I’m just saying that by spending most of your waking hours with your head in a screen, you miss a lot of the juice of life. That’s just a waste, because the real stuff — the shared joys and disappointments between friends and family — need to be experienced face to face, not just via text and FB posts.

So I’m unplugging today. When I mentioned this to David, he said, “So you’re not going to do anything?” Wrong! I’m going to do plenty of stuff… not sure what yet, but I know, for sure that I’m not going to check my email 75 times. Tweet. or Surf. Just for today. And see what unfolds when I push back the digital infringement and make some room for other things. I’ll report back later. In the meantime, how about if you slowly take your hands off the keyboard, step back from your computer and go outside and play with a friend?

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