Monday, April 29, 2013

Talking to Kids about the Unthinkable

Just recently, parents around the world were in a shared struggle: How do I talk to my child about a bombing?

Sadly, in the wake of several recent news events, parents are having too many opportunities to practice these kinds of conversations.                                        

Still, it can be a challenge to find the right words or know how to respond. Here are some tips to guide you:

1.     Remember, if everyone is talking about it, your kids are for sure hearing about it.  It’s natural to want to protect kids from bad news but not telling them is often not the answer.

  • They’ll hear whispers. They’ll see sad and worried expressions around them.
  • If someone doesn’t say what the upset is, they will create their own story about it.
  • That story is often worse and more personal to them than the actual news event.
  • They’ll imagine you dying or divorcing before they think of something bad happening to people they don’t know.

2.     Tell kids in simple, direct terms what happened. Use short sentences. Be direct about the facts and don’t use too many adjectives.

You’re overwhelmed with
how awful the event is but the kids
don’t need to know that level of detail.

3.     Answer questions directly and only answer the question asked.

4.     Reassure kids of their safety. Younger kids will benefit from seeing safety measures in place (locked doors, closed garages, shut windows…) Older kids will benefit from safety reminders of what to keep in mind during times like this.

5.     If appropriate to your child, ask them how they might like to help. After the bombing, adults rushed to give blood. They donated money.  They went for a run, themselves.  

We feel soothed by
doing something instead of just watching.
Kids are the same way. 
Ask them if they’d like to do something.
Don’t be worried or attach a story
of your own if they say no. 

6.     Get back to normal.  If your TV isn’t usually on 24/7, turn it off during times of crisis (if it is on that much, stay tuned, I’m bound to have a blog about that at some point down the line!).

Maintain the family schedule and routine
as much as the situation allows. 
Kids are reassured by routine.
Adults are, too.

These are the talks no one wants to have. If you have to have one and are stuck finding the words, see my website for more information or contact me.  I’m happy to help you find the words for your speechless moments.

The Talk After “The Talk”: What to Say After They’ve Learned About Your Divorce or Separation

If you’re in the process of divorce or separation, you may have already had that difficult time of telling your kids. It’s painful, gut-wrenching, and can be the worst moment of any parent’s life.

You probably read a book or searched the internet.    

By now, you might feel comfortable with the phrasing “We still love you very, very much even though our love for each other has changed”.

You might have been able to choke through the words and repetition of “This is not your fault.  You did not cause this”. 

That is a tough talk and I am sorry that you had to have it.  However, the talk can’t end there but it often does. You have to have the talk that comes after. That thought might make you feel ill. 

It’s ok.

Once you’ve gutted through the moment of telling the kids the news, everyone will be on high alert.  You’ll be paying close attention them.  You’ll likely have told their teachers to do the same. 

You may or may not know this but they’ll be paying close attention to you, too. They will be measuring their reactions to you.

They may fear sharing their real feelings because they don’t want you to worry. They are likely  worried about you. They could be feeling angry with you and have no idea what to do about that.

The house can become eerily quiet and everyone is on eggshells.  Here are some talking points to get the dialogue started:

  1. It’s been a few days since we told you our news.  Do you have any questions for me? Answer the questions calmly, simply, and directly.
  2. What does all of this make you think about? Just listen and reflect back.  Correct any errors in their thinking. Don’t problem solve and rush to make it better.  They’re feeling what they’re feeling and whatever it is, it’s ok.
  3. We’re all so sad.  What’s been making you feel better? Here, you might offer some suggestions or share ways you have been coping with the sad feelings

Children are often on a need to know basis and during times of transition, they’ll need to know a lot.  Provide them with clear schedules. They should always know when they’ll see both parents.

Knowing what changes are coming is crucial to their sense of understanding and accepting the situation. 

The older your child, the more he/she will need to know.

Be prepared for silence.
Don’t take it personally. 
Your child is just reacting and
any combination of reactions is 
healthy, normal, and to be expected.

Ask your child what he/she needs.  Teens may need some time away and that’s fine but make sure you schedule the time for re-connection, too.

It’s ok to cry. 

Parents try so hard not to have their kids see their own upset.  It’s good modeling for kids to see both their parents’ sadness and their ways of coping.

Excessive and inconsolable emotion should be reserved, of course, for adult friends and family.                                                                                                           

Your family will be grieving and will need time and room for this. 

Some kids will want to keep going as normal and other kids will want to stay home.

They should still be told to go to school.  They have to learn ways of maintaining responsibility when life happens.

Consider letting them off the hook, though, for sports practices and social activities. 

They may need more quiet time.  Let them have it.

Separation and upheaval causes self-doubt 
and you can start to doubt that you know 
what’s best for your kids. 
 Trust yourself. 

You know your kids. Trust that you will know what they need and what’s best for them.

This is one of the toughest talks you can have with your children.  If you need some help, guidance, or moral support, I am only a phone call away.  I can help you find the words during this changing time.

Since Bootcamp Can't Really Be an Option...

It’s that time of year again… The mad dash toward wrapping up the school year. You and your family are facing end of year activities and sports playoff games.

Suddenly, it hits you.  You still haven’t decided a summer camp for your kid. 

Don't Stress. 
It's Ok. 
Stay Calm.

Choices are numerous: Ballet camp. Sports camp. Art camp. The YMCA.  Boys and Girls Club. The Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts.  How is a parent to decide? 

Here's how to set yourself AND your child up for success!

Know Your Child.  

You might want your arts and crafts loving child to be more active this summer.  If sports  isn’t his/her thing, don’t choose a camp with a heavy emphasis on activity.

Instead, find one that offers some special art or creative experience AND provides opportunity for physical activity. 

Sending a child to a camp, you think he or she should like, rather than one they will is bound to be a failure.  Your child will be grumpy and you’ll hear a lot of complaining!

Know Yourself! 

The dream camp may be out of your price range.  Its schedule may not be convenient for your child care needs.  There can be a number of reasons why the right camp for your child won’t be the right camp for you and that’s ok!

If you turn yourself into a pretzel and overextend yourself  to get this child to camp, you’ll make yourself crazy.

If you stretch your budget, you’re bound to feel the pinch.  In more ways than one.

What If my child has behavior issues?

Maybe it’s already been a tough school year and you’ve been called by the school more than once because of your child’s behavior.

Choosing a summer camp can be daunting. Here’s what to look for:

  • A camp that offers your child his/her favorite activity
  • A camp that has a schedule that is consistent day to day
  • Preferably a camp with a low ratio of kids to staff
  • A camp with a clear behavior management system
  • A program that offers kids choices of what they’d like to do
  • A program that runs long enough for your child to settle in and transition

To sleep away or not sleep away,
that is a good question!

Deciding whether or not your child is ready for a sleep away camp (never mind if you’re ready!) is a big decision.  Sleep away camps offer great experiences.  Kids and parents alike can do well with a short break away from one another.

Kids build skills and gain confidence in a variety of ways.  Parents can get time to themselves or have 1:1 time with other siblings.

Some things to think about that will increase your family’s success with sleep away camp:

1.     Is this child or parent driven?  If it’s driven by your child, you can start the conversation by asking questions that will test his/her readiness. If it’s driven by you, you should be prepared for the same in addition to how you will introduce the idea to your child.

2.     Visit the camp with your child and family BEFORE camp.  This is standard for most sleepaways but if not, ask.

3.     Know ahead of time what the rules for communication between family members are, including what technology is allowed.

4.     Find out procedures if separation anxiety creeps in and the child needs to come home.

Decisions like this can be overwhelming.  Still stuck? Check out my website. You might find your answer there or you can call me for some coaching and guidance.

It's Not a Bribe

Often times when I talk to parents about managing child behaviors, I will talk about implementing a rewards system.  Quickly, I’ll hear “I don’t want to bribe my child or I don’t want my child to learn that he gets things simply by doing what he’s supposed to”. 

They usually regret saying that soon after as they listen to me hop on my soapbox and proclaim:

Children learn with repetition and cues.
Earning something for
doing good cues the child to 
store that behavior in his/her memory
so that it can be repeated !!!!

Have you ever laughed at the line in the Jennifer Aniston movie “I want you to want to do the dishes?”

It is unrealistic to expect a child to want to do something unpleasant.  He or she doesn’t have the sophisticated processing skills necessary to be altruistic (Let’s face it.  We adults are known to struggle with that too!).

Kids have to know what’s in it for them in order to be committed to learning something they don’t want to. Rewards increase the likelihood that kids will choose something good again. 

After all, if we rewarded our partners
for doing the dishes, 
maybe they’d get done
without the argument, too!

Rewards and reward systems focus on the positive.  I believe strongly, too, in holding accountability and punishment.  Negative behaviors are going to get direct attention and an immediate response. It is only fair that positive ones do to.

Rewards are only one step and one tool for teaching positive behavior.  There are others and they change as the child increases his/her skill building and as they age. 

Despite your worst fear, I guarantee you that your seventeen year old will not still be expecting a reward if he brushes his teeth without you having to ask or doublecheck!

Work deserves reward.  We’re asking a lot of our kids.  They have to learn hygiene, manners, social skills, organization tasks, and school subjects all at the same time!!

Why not reward them
for doing a good job at it?
It’s only fair.

Still not convinced?  Want to talk about it more or which rewards system can help your family? Check out my website for more information.

"Love Story" had it very, very wrong

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry”.  

Oh, puh-leeze!!!!!!  Love means respect.  Love means care, concern, compassion!  Love absolutely means having to say you’re sorry!!

Here’s the unfortunate reality, readers, we adults screw up.  We make mistakes.  Big ones. Little ones.

When we make a mistake
with the kids we care about, 
the greatest gift we can give them
is an apology.

Does my bold print make the message louder and more clear? I hope so because I am so passionate about this!!!.

As adults, we carry innate power in the lives of children and we should.  Most times, we do know what’s best for them and we do know what they should and shouldn’t be doing but sometimes we make a mistake. 

  • We are late picking them up for an activity.          
  • We forget to sign a permission slip.
  • We yell out of frustration and impatience.        
  • We blame the wrong kid for a certain “crime”.

Despite our best intentions, we are not perfect (that’s a blog post for another time) and we make a mistake. Providing the child with the experience that when adults make mistakes, they apologize is a life lesson beyond measure.  Why?

Apologies teach kids they are worthy of respect.

Apologies build trust.  
Ignoring a mistake sends the message that adults don’t care about what they think or what their experience is. Seeing an adult admit to a mistake builds trust. Trust increases attachment and closeness.  

When we model for kids how to make an apology, they learn how to forgive. 
They learn mistakes can be forgiven. They will have an easier time believing in their worth after their next mistake.

When it’s their turn, they will be more likely to apologize.
You might be thinking that I am preaching to the choir.  You apologize to your child all the time.  If so, great.  But I do know some parents worry that an apology makes them seem weak. They think that an apology causes them to lose credibility with their child.

Some parents even fear their child seeing them in the vulnerable place of making an apology. 

Not true! Not true! Not true!  

Did saying it three times help? Hope so.
We’re all human and we all make mistakes. 

Teaching a child that adults are no different and that they are worthy of apologies, too, is a gift. It will last them longer than the time you can beat yourself up over it.

This is a tough talk and you might not be ready to have one.  Learn more about tough talks on my website.

How to Make Bedtime Your Favorite Time

Just reading this title has me laughing as I picture you readers yelling through your screens at me in ridicule and doubt!!

After all, bedtime has all the makings for a perfect storm of chaos! You’re tired.  They’re tired.  They just did homework or bath time and want to play.                    

All you want to do is get on the darned couch and settle in to your next episode of Real Housewives of No Place I Care About.  While I might question your choice of TV preferences, I do understand.

I believe that bedtime can be less stress on all of you.  Here are a few hints:

Dim the Lights

Yes, your partner might get the wrong idea but there will be time enough for THAT later, if you so choose.  What I am talking about here is literally dimming the lights of your home about an hour before bedtime.

If it’s summer and still light out, pull down the shades. 

Dim lighting will start to cue the body’s tendency to relax.

Lower the Volume

Again, you are setting the tone for your child to sleep.  An hour before bedtime, lower the volume of all electronics if they are on and lower your own volume as you talk to your child.

Establish a Routine             

As you get to know me, you’re going to hear this from me over and over:  Kids do well with routine, repetition, and tradition.  Doing the same thing at the same time increases their chance for success. 

If they know what’s coming,
it will become habit.

Create a routine that is realistic for you to follow. Trying to cram in too many things into one specific time frame is rough on all of you. 

As much as you might want to bathe, make the lunches, read the story, sing the song, and catch up on the day, there isn’t time for all of that.

Keep the bedtime routine simple with the emphasis on calming and nurturing activities.

Doing the same things, in the same order, with the same expectations each night will help all of you develop a bedtime ritual that meets your needs.

 For the Little Ones, Sometimes Bedtime and Bath time Don’t Mix

This one might hurt a little bit. As much as you might like the idea of bath time and bedtime going hand in hand, it might be setting your child up for failure. 

Little kids often love the bath.  They play in the water, get silly, have fun, and get all good and activated. 

That’s right when we adults like to say “Ok now, settle down.  It’s time for bed”. 


Just when the fun is starting, they’re thinking. If your child loves (or hates!) the bath, it is a time when their energy will increase. 

Best to have bath time taken care of at least an hour before bedtime.

 Even Routines Do Well With Reminders

Increase your chances of success by preparing your child for the transition to bedtime.

As you dim the lights, and lower the volume, start to cue your child with reminders that bedtime is soon.

Ask what book they are going to want to read or what song they might want to sing.

Cue them to clean up sooner into that time. Have just one toy out by the time bedtime routines start.  It will help you avoid control battles before bedtime.

Reminders throughout that hour remind the child that bedtime routines and expectations are coming up. Children transition better with reminders.

Talk with excitement about bedtime (you won’t even be faking it, right?) and how you’re looking forward to quiet time together.

Need more tips?  Still a doubter? Find me at my website to learn more.