In America there’s growing hatred and it must be stopped. What happened to our fellow citizens at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the supermarket in Kentucky are only the latest examples. These aren’t isolated “tragedies.” We unwittingly share in the rise of growing hatred in America if we don’t always step up and be our better selves. Here’s how.
Teach yourself and your kids to:
Look at this amazing framework from the ADL. It’s a simple, yet powerful resource. Stopping hate starts with educating ourselves and our children about what hate is, what forms it takes, and how it develops. Find a quiet moment, sit down with your kids, and together understand what you can do to stop hate in your community.
Being the oldest sibling and having a shy disposition isn’t an easy combination. Why? Oldest children are expected to be highest functioning and independent of all, to be more self-sufficient and mature than their younger sibs. They are continually frustrated with younger sibs soaking up their parents’ attention. Life rarely seems fair in their eyes, and they’re correct: it isn’t no matter how hard parents try. As a result, oldest kids have little choice but to get their emotional needs met outside their family with friends, peers, and organized groups. Anecdotally, there’s a reason why many of the CEOs and other high-achievers I’ve met tend to have been the oldest of the children in their families. They embraced independence early in their childhood (but almost all had higher social skills and that worked great) and they adopted an early world-view that they had to make it on their own. That built confidence. That build mastery.
But when the oldest also struggles with social anxiety or shyness, that can interfere with this progression to the outside world beyond the familiar comfort and safety of the immediate family. So while social anxiety stresses all kids, I think it’s hardest when first-born kids have it, because they get pushed quicker into the outside world without a role model in front of them to show them the ropes. Parents also are less experienced with their first born, so there’s more urgency and worrying communicated by parents. Anxiety is contagious. Many of the anxious kids I’ve worked with got a lot of that anxiety early on from their parents unintentionally.
Know that the shy, oldest child wants to be strong and independent, and get close to others outside their family – but it causes them fear. That fear often wins out, holds them back. The more they escape from social contact, it reinforces to them that maybe there was something dangerous or bad “out there.” Hence, they pull back further, stay indoors, don’t separate, go less on play dates, rarely do a sleep-over, they don’t reach out to other kids when bored but turn to screens to kill the time, a place where they “artificially” can feel competent/empowered (but it isn’t real, it’s virtual). Over time, avoiding contact with others solidifies beliefs like “I don’t really like the other kids,” “There’s something wrong with them.”… or worse “There’s something wrong with me.” None of these beliefs are necessarily grounded in reality, but once they build and get reinforced, they seem like reality, and they are powerful.
If you are seeing a lot of frustration, melt downs, and regressions in your oldest, it’s likely due to being stressed. So, start by giving it a name. Say “You’re the oldest. That’s the hardest position/job. There’s no one in front of you to show you the way. That takes courage. We expect more and that’s stressful. We will get you there but it will be tough. We’re not perfect and learning as we go along too… You need to be treated uniquely in this family, so help us to help you. Tell us what you need.”
Regarding social anxiety, do not push too hard or too aggressively to fix or treat it, but slowly move things in the right direction. Keep your child more and more engaged outside the home with positive and safe peer relationships and organized groups. For example, if he’s on the intellectual/artistic side think science activities, robotics, i-labs, maker spaces, and consider fun low pressure classes in art, music, and theatre groups. There are cool museum programs for kids, and think more “individual sports” like martial arts, tennis, cross-country, track, swimming, gymnastics, wrestling… and keep an eye out for more cooperative sports that tend to draw more academic type kids like ultimate Frisbee.
In short, everyone can shine. Everyone has potential and it has to be explored. Read up on Carol Dweck’s work on Mindset. Be flexible in your beliefs that we all have potential and making errors is just part of exploring our potential. Teach this to your kids as well. Therapeutically, if social anxiety is high, I would try to find someone locally that he likes, a therapist that he can meet with every few weeks or so, to touch base and develop his confidence. Why confidence? Confidence is the enemy of anxiety. The two can’t co-exist. Confidence always wins out. Find ways to boost his confidence, not just “teach social skills.”
A parent asked: Help! My son went from an A to a C+ in science… what is going on?? Parents are terribly scared. So many of you have put your finger on one of the most frustrating and scary moments in raising bright, young boys: Most boys are checked out of school. They won’t take pride in (or ownership of) their academic/school work until late, typically freshman to sophomore year, sometimes later. Meanwhile, parents know what’s coming. There are realities to consider. The stress builds at home. Everyone is overwhelmed!
Yes, he has stopped trying and he’s avoiding his work. Before you see your son as the problem, step back and see the big picture first
This has been one of the worst years in my memory seeing kids and families. They are completely stressed and beyond their ability to adapt to the demands placed on them. There aren’t enough tutors, pills, executive coaches, Russian Math classes, or psychologists to “fix it.” And, don’t forget the late long winter we had here in New England that just battered everyone down, compounding the situation.
The biggest problem, though, isn’t these boys. It’s us. We keep following the herd blindly and piling on more and more expectations, whether its grades, sports, social expectations. And we are doing it to them earlier and earlier. This is not the world we recall of our childhood.
Back to your unmotivated, school-hating son. What to do? Here’s what I recommend:
See the deeper, richer aspects of what’s going on beneath the shrugging that frustrates us as parents. Behind the shrugs and “bad attitude” there’s a real human being trying to grow up and feel good about himself.
Many parents that I work with ask the same question: “Should we medicate our boys?” Here are the basics you’ll want to consider:
Losing someone – a friend or family member – is such a difficult time. It’s also an important time to think about how to talk to your kids. Foremost, be honest and direct (avoid euphemisms) with your children, but–and this is key–pitch whatever you say to the developmental level of your child. The great psychologist Piaget offers us developmental markers to guide us.
Before 7 children think more magically, more imaginatively, and often think they can cause events outside of their control. This age group gets confused or misled most by euphemisms. They can’t think abstractly. Some very young children wonder if they did something to cause a death, simply because they’d wished it during an angry moment or had a fight just before someone died, so make sure they don’t think they caused it. And, offer only as much information as a youngster can handle. Young kids often circle back and ask for more information when they need it or can tolerate it. Otherwise, don’t overload them.
Between 8 and 11 or 12, kids are more sophisticated, but concrete in their thinking. They like to connect things, appreciate how things go together, and start to think about how the bigger world works. They can handle greater complexity, so don’t sell them short. Tell older kids the truth, but it’s a good practice to ask permission – have them tell you when they feel ready to talk. They too can get easily overwhelmed by the strong emotions associated with these tragic events.
Teens possess abstract thinking skills. They can handle more information than younger sibs. They can think more critically, have opinions, and strong beliefs of their own. It’s important to respect their way of understanding things. Tell them you are available to talk when they want. Tell them you’re sad and confused as well. But reassure them that, together, you will all get through this. Know that social relationships are important in the teen years, so they may want to be with friends more than usual. Encourage this and tell them its great to have good people to help them through tough times.
Finally – here are general points that parents should keep in mind:
Tooth decay? Pediatric obesity? Sleep deprived the next morning from all night trick-or-treating? How are you going to handle the day after Halloween? How will you deal with the sudden abundance of sweets your children will drag home?
After you inspect the candy, to insure it’s safe, and maybe claim the best treats for yourself, you need a plan. On average, kids bring home two plus pounds of sugar, cocoa butter, corn syrup, hydrogenated palm oil, and many other things few of us can pronounce or identify. Don’t get me wrong. I’m no prohibitionist. I love Halloween. I’ve been known to shake down clients for Kit Kat bars and Peanut M&M’s well into mid-November. But there have to be some guidelines to handle the confectionery loot.
Here are a few great ideas:.
Out of Sight… Out of Stomach
It’s simple, but it helps: By keeping most of the candy out of visual range, many children won’t be as tempted to dive in and overeat. I know parents who set up rules, before their kids don costumes. They establish the firm expectation that parents will be in charge of the candy once it arrives home. If kids don’t accept this, there isn’t any trick-or-treating. Tough love meets Halloween!
Treats for Track!
Walk or ride or run around the playground could earn a treat later on. Beyond the healthy, regular exercise all kids need, extra physical activity justifies being able to have an additional treat. This is a version of smart calorie counting. Children who learn to think about what they are eating each day, and how much they are burning off, will likely grow into young adults more aware of their bodies, nutrition, and more willing to engage in physical exercise.
Space It Out.
Candy has a very long shelf life. Break it up for long-term enjoyment. Spill out the contents of all those plastic pumpkins and pillowcases to visually plan what you want to do with so much candy. Maybe a few pieces at the end of the week, perhaps for getting to school on time or getting teeth brushed, for eating healthy dinner, for homework done. Maybe limit one or two a day after eating a health dinner.
Enlist your child’s help.
That may sound like asking the fox to guard the hen house, but children often come up with great solutions if you tell them they need to be in charge of their bodies and tell them they are smart enough to brainstorm solutions with you. “I need your help,” one parent I know recently said to her seven year old. “We have too much candy. I know its fun to eat, but we have to figure out a way to handle so much of it. I want you to enjoy it, but how can we keep from eating it all at once?”
Give Away and Share.
Finding people with whom to share your candy is a loving, caring act. Maybe it’s an elderly person on your block with whom your children don’t interact with very much. Maybe it’s your regular postal carrier, teachers, or a new potential friend. This is a great way to turn something often seen as frivolous, and sometimes greedy, as fueling positive social interactions.
When all else fails and there’s just too much candy, it might be time to throw some of it away. Better inside the garbage pail than too much inside your child’s tummy. Yet, is this the right message to be giving to your kids? Isn’t it wasteful to throw food away? Yes. Fortunately, there’s nothing of much nutritional value inside the colorful, shiny wrappers. Sometimes, throwing things away that we don’t need teaches kids not to be wasteful in the first place. Given how much we spend on Halloween candy, upwards of two billion dollars a year, it seems better we buy and consume less to start with. If the idea of throwing it away still bothers you, some communities have candy
Buy Back Programs help reduce the amount of candy consumption. Start one in your school or town.
I love my kids, but I’m exhausted and I think they are too. Any tips for restoring some balance to our home life?
Exhausted? That means you’re expending too much energy to run your household. Maybe you’re trying too hard. Most parents I know work to be their “best” and to do everything for their kids. I think they’re putting unrealistic expectations on themselves. Rather than trying harder, try this:
Above all, focus on the big picture – tell yourself what really matters is happening right now… right in front of you. That’s mindfulness, and it helps you appreciate precious moments. Start enjoying the time you have with your children. They won’t be young forever.
A mom from Arizona recently asked about a program she saw on the Internet to help her son be a better learner. He hates handwriting. It frustrates him. This program promises to retrain her son’s brain by using handwriting along with listening to music, so that his emotional systems are calmer and he can focus and write with less frustration.On the surface, the program sounds good, and seems like it would deliver on its promise. BUT, the scientist in me isn’t buying it, for now.
Here’s what I do to be a better consumer of treatments and promises of better living that we are all barraged with daily. Be your own scientist. Think like a scientist. It’s empowering to be a critical thinker!
A mom of two boys recently asked: “I have one son in private school and the other isn’t. Should I explore private schools for the other son, even though, he’s doing great in public school I want to be fair and offer them equal opportunities for success.”
This question really gets at key issues:
Go with your intuition more as your kids get older, treat them more as the individuals that they are.
High parenting expectations (while wonderful, and that’s how most of my clients are) can unintentionally and significantly sabotage best parenting practices. This is true especially in raising young high-energy, spirited boys. That’s because young boys by nature can be all over the map developmentally. Very attentive parents easily get pulled in a hundred directions. They end up chasing each challenge and worrying more and more. That only communicates anxiety back to their kids, which fuels more acting out. Parents need to build in the normal ups and downs of development so these messy moments can play out.
Better to take a low worry, it-will-all-work-out, big picture view. Stick to the basics behaviorally. Maybe add a visual simple chart with clear rewards that are frequent and reasonable. Ignore the tantrums and the inappropriate behaviors until kids calm down and then address what needs to improve. Keep a calm exterior. Don’t raise your voice. Know in your heart of hearts he will be fine, and he will.
Finally, look at what situations he does better in – shows his better self. From that, you can figure out best practices for each of your kids. Is it a calmer, less stressed, less crowded classroom or daycare setting? Is it a more experienced teacher and sitter that he does better with? Around sibs is he worse? If so, plan special 1-1 time to reward him for being patient. Make sure there is always lots of motor movement throughout the day – many breaks – especially before times when he might be expected to sit and attend.