7 Tips to Connect with Your Tough Teen

7 Tips to Connect with Your Tough Teen

TeenOnPoleMondayMy relationship with my teen has been jaggedy.

Over the past several months I’ve felt tested and provoked like never before. It’s not easy. We’re on solid ground right now but I admit to having intermittent moments of insanity.

One thing I’ve learned as a parenting educator and so called expert is that I’m not the only one going through this… that’s a relief. 😌

Are you facing challenges with your teen that leave you doubting yourself?

As my teen has veered into the territory of seriously challenging behavior, I’ve kept one goal in mind, as hard as it is, stay connected.

7 ideas for how to stay connected to your teen – even when they’re REALLY pushing your buttons:

  1. Exaggerate positivity — A study by Deborah Yurgelun-Todd found that teens use their “gut” as opposed to their frontal lobe to interpret facial expressions. In short an adult’s “fearful facial expression” was misinterpreted as anger, confusion or sadness 50% of the time.

Source: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/interviews/todd.html

Source:www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/interviews/todd.html

Knowing this, I’ve amped up my enthusiasm when I interact with my son and try to greet him with a huge “I love you” smile on my face  — one that can’t be misinterpreted — when he comes home.

This strategy has helped me regain some closeness with him, and he frequently asks me to check in on him when he’s waking or retiring for the evening. You still matter to your teen, even though they’re doing their darndest to push you away.

2.  Use a quiet tone of voice — Although you may be feeling emotional, when possible use a quieter voice with your teen. Similar to facial expressions, teens can interpret increased volume as anger.

3.  Be explicit — When you ARE angry or annoyed about something say it in plain language, using as few words as possible. For example:

I’m angry that you didn’t text me letting me know you’d be late.

I’m angry because I’ve been so worried that something happened to you and I love you.

Try to avoid lecturing or adding editorial comments (e.g., “We have talked about the need to text me back a million times and I’m sick of it!”). You may find that stating your feelings clearly calms you down too.

[tweetthis]Sometimes it takes a moment for us to uncover why we’re angry at our teen… oh yeah, it’s because I would step in front of a bus for this kid if necessary![/tweetthis]

Deborah Yurgelun-Todd’s study supports this strategy, too.

4.   Make yourself available to your teen, even when it feels inconvenient. The other night I was snug in my bed when my teen came home and asked me to come watch Survivor with him. I did 🙂

5.  Use humor — Teens take themselves seriously. The angst and insecurity they feel is real for them even though you may see it as overly dramatic​. I’ve found ​humor – the cornier the better – can​ provide a counter weight to all that teen gloom. Ridiculous as it sounds, I use silly voices, faces and poop talk. These tactics lighten ME up and make ​me laugh.

I’ll spare you the details but one night I was woken by police banging on my door. Apparently I had to retrieve my son from a parking lot not far from my home. When I arrived, he was fine, his “crime” with sitting in a car with a girl (no substances). He got in the car and looked at me, afraid of my reaction. I cracked a smile and started laughing. He said “Mom, I’m glad you’re laughing. I’m sorry you had to to come get me.”

Use your sense of humor to bring levity to what can feel like a heavy relationship with your teen. They’ll be relieved that you’ve got space to breathe and have fun and it just might open the door for them to do the same.

6.  Post a visual reminder that clearly shows the essence of your child Find a photoOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA of your teen as a younger person – a photo that you love – with an expression on their face that captures your heart. Carry this photo with you or put it somewhere easy to see. Use this as a visual reminder of who this kid really is in his heart. Your teen can look and act downright ugly and an image can remind you of the deep love you have for him, even when you’re not feeling it every moment.

7.  Take care of yourself — Make this a priority because in order to be on top of your game, in order to actually do 1 – 5, you need a deep well of strength to draw from. Remember, children do better when they feel better and so will YOU. You can’t expect humor, listening, positivity, etc. from yourself when you’re depleted.

Exercise, rest, see friends, get outside- whatever fills your tank, find time to do it. Your teen will thank you!​

​Parenting a teen is no joke. Dig deep, breathe deep, and in that quiet space invite faith that they will be okay, that you’re doing the best you can by being present when you can, setting limits as needed and providing unconditional love. They won’t be an adolescent forever.

Lastly, although parenting a teen can lead to a deep desire for control – especially when their behavior seems out of control – the same principle of kindness and firmness applies. Although I’m tempted to ‘lay down the law’ with my teen, I know that if I lose connection with him, I have no chance of helping him make good choices in his life.​

Have you found other ways to manage difficult adolescent behaviors? Please share in the comment section below or send me an email. I love to hear from you.

If you’re in the Bay Area, join me for Parenting with Positive Discipline. This series is geared for parents of children of all ages.

Ready for more, watch this in-depth interview where Dan Siegel discusses his book Brainstorm ~ the scientific developmental stage of adolescence.

It’s crazy out there… so what do you want for the holidays? World peace?  I’m with you! Here’s how we get it…

It’s crazy out there… so what do you want for the holidays? World peace? I’m with you! Here’s how we get it…

If you’re like me, you’re struggling right now to wrap your head around all that’s been going on in the world.

I don’t pretend to have the answers, but from my perspective it seems like disconnection is at the root of so much of the insanity and violence.

I believe that deepening and strengthening our connections — to each other, to the planet, to our families — is our path to healing.

It might seem  simplistic, but I’m convinced that our collective well being and health begins with the health of our families.

And where better to start than with the holidays?

We all crave warm, loving connections with our family and children, this time of year more than ever. Bring on the dark storm so that we can be snug together, play a game, listen to music, and share a meal.

And while there may be heated moments of competition or disagreement, it’s all good because we’re together, making time for each other.

The following gift ideas may help you with this goal.

The list is organized into four categories:

  1. Tools
  2. Practices
  3. Games
  4. Books

DinnerBell

Tools

  1. Dinner Bell. This is so simple yet almost daily I’m reminded of the power of our dinner bell. Whether I make breakfast, a snack, lunch on the weekends, or dinner, I often notice a wee bit of tension building when my child isn’t eagerly awaiting my labor of love. Then I see the bell and it dawns on me: “Just ring the bell.” I can feel my expectations melting away with that simple action. Message delivered. I can breath and move on.
  2. Mobilhome. Our devices get in the way of real connection. The
    Mobilhome is a super cool way to — without making a stink — let your friends and family know that when socializing in your home, you encourage a device free zone. By establishing a place for everyone’s phones, you’re acknowledging the value of spending undistracted time together. The Mobilhome is an original artisan project created by Yvonne O’Hare (we met at a writing workshop). When ordering one, use the code “holiday2015” until December 15 for an extra 10% discount with free shipping. If it’s out of your price range simply find a basket for phones to call home.ConnectionsIMG_2146
  3. Positive Discipline Tool CardsI gift these to parents who
    enroll in my Parenting with Positive Discipline series. They are concise and powerful. Topics include: allowance, letting go, setting limits, kindness and firmness at the same time, silent signal and 47 more! 
    Great for when you need a focused idea on one particular challenge.

Practices

  1. “Passing the Squeeze,” a ritual shared by my friend Catherine, will help you slow down and mindfully connect before meal time. You begin each family lunch or dinner with “passing the squeeze.” Everyone holds hands (people may choose to close their eyes if they wish). The person who cooked starts a hand squeeze in one direction and it gets passed around. When the squeeze gets back to the person who started it, she squeezes hands in both directions and then everyone squeezes hands. For extra credit meditation kudos, the person who cooked rings a meditation chime. Everyone listens for as long as possible before picking up cutlery and chowing down (I’ll let you know how that goes over at our house:).
  2. Family Meetings… Why have family meetings? They
    1. Build closeness by creating a sense of significance and belonging for all.
    2. Give children and their parents a place and time to practice leadership, responsibility, problem solving, empathy and love.
    3. Establish a forum for communication that becomes increasingly significant as children mature.connection

Once you begin to hold family meetings you’ll experience even more tangible and intangible benefits for your family!

Join my list to download: Unlock the Power of Family Meetings: Your Free 7-Step Guide.

Games

  1. Qwirkle. I love this game! Using six unique colors and shapes your mind is challenged to find configurations that conform to the rules (no repeating) and give you the most points. It takes 30 – 60 minutes to play depending on how much conversation and silliness you enjoy. Recommended for ages 6 and up.Connections
  2. Sorry. Be sure to get the original version. What can I say? This is simple and fun. My son warned me against recommending Sorry because he said it gets people too riled up 🙂 That said, it’s most fun when everyone gets invested, regardless if you’re 7 or 70! It’s equal parts skill and luck… maybe more luck. Old school fun!
  3. Hunt the Thimble. My friend Anna loves to play this one on Sunday evenings after their family dinner at her mother in-law’s house. Try it when you’ve got friends over or with the extended family. All ages! Here’re the steps to play:
    1. Find a thimble
    2. Choose someone to be “it”
    3. Tell that person to leave the room
    4. Choose another person to be the hider
    5. Call in the seeker to start looking (it should be hidden within eyesight, not under or in anything)
    6. The whole group can yell out “colder!”…”warmer…” Until the thimble is discovered.
    7. Let the last hider now become the seeker, and so forth until someone rings the dinner bell 😉

Side note to parents of teens… it’s more important than ever to make the time to play games and simply find ways to be together. Don’t rely on your kids to come to you and ask for this time  — if they do, consider yourself lucky! When your teen resists family time, I suggest persistence. Let them know that being with them is important to you. Here are general tips from Aha! Parenting for keeping connected to your teen.

Books  

My grandfather used to read stories aloud and even when I was too young to understand the content, I have warm memories of sitting on the floor next to him as he read while the entire family listened. The tone of his voice and response of those listening was enough for me. Here are some of my favorites to read to my children.

  1. All About Alfie by Shirley Hughes. I received this as a gift when my second son was born (thanks Mark and Kelly). I love these old school stories, set in London, about Alfie and his little sister Annie Rose. For ages 3+.
  2. The Tale of Custard the Dragon by Ogden Nash. So 51hLCXgz4BL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_fun and lyrical! Enjoyable for every age! Here’s a taste:

    Belinda lived in a little white house, with a little black kitten and a little gray mouse, and a little yellow dog and a little red wagon, and a realio, trulio little pet dragon…. Custard the dragon had big sharp teeth, and spikes on top of him and scales underneath, mouth like a fireplace, chimney for a nose, and realio, trulio daggers on his toes.

  3. Sarah’s Unicorn by Bruce Coville. While this is great for early readers, I read it over and over to my children when they were 4 to 8 years old. We’re talking pages falling out. It was the hands down favorite for my son who struggled most with reading and finding interest in books. It’s out of print but you can find it used.
  4. Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and Trumpet and the Swan by E.B. White. What I love about E.B. White is his spaciousness – these stories are told at a human pace and scale. And what could be better than a mouse and a pig for main characters. The Trumpet and the Swan was harder for my daughter to relate to… maybe because she’d been immersed in the Harry Potter series and the change of pace was too dramatic? For ages 6+.Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 1.49.30 PM
  5. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown. This one is for YOU to bolster your connection with yourself!! I come back to this book again and again as I find its message Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 1.48.14 PMcontinually challenging and interesting. There are 10 guideposts for living our most excellent imperfect life. Take this a step further by gathering your most curious friends, and meet monthly to explore each guidepost.

Cultivate those activities that feed your connection to self and others.

Relax and be present. That’s what your kids want from you more than anything.

To increase the likelihood that you can relax and slow down, focus on Wreath lisa - Version 2activities like these:  

  • Take a bath
  • Exercise, take walks
  • Cook or take out foods that make you feel good
  • Make time to read a good book
  • Go to bed early
  • Do something creative

In general, try to keep it simple, focus on the inside, notice the hilarity
and joy of spending time with kids… generally BE KIND TO YOURSELF. That’s it.

When Kids Lie

When Kids Lie

 

Guest post by Marcilie Smith Boyle

The topic of lying came up in my parenting class last week. We were role-playing parents’ typical responses to a lying kid:

“Honey, did you just lie about that? Are you sure?” (When parent already knows the child is lying)

“Are you kidding me? You just lied straight to my face. How COULD you?”

“That’s it, no more (fill in the blank__________) for you!”

Everyone agreed that the typical responses above didn’t help the child learn to be honest, but they also wondered what the heck else to do!

Strangely, the very next night at bedtime, my own teen looked my husband straight in the eye and said he didn’t have his phone in his room (which is not allowed in our house.)

We scanned the downstairs charging area where the phones are supposed to “sleep” at night, and didn’t see the phone there. Or anywhere else. So I went back upstairs and knocked on my son’s door. He opened it and handed me his phone.

I had a really important conversation that I needed to finish and I knew that Dad would not let me finish it. I’m done now so here you go, he said.

I replied, You know, if you had explained that to Dad, maybe he would have let you finish your conversation.

No chance, my son replied.

Well, I said, you didn’t give him a chance. He might have. And even if he didn’t, was the lie worth the loss of trust and relationship?

Good night, Mom. Apparently, it was.

Good Night, C. We can talk more about this in the morning. I love you.

It’s an interesting question for parents to ponder: sometimes, to the child, the lie is worth the loss of trust and relationship. And sometimes, the lie is protecting trust and relationship (in their mind, anyway, because “If Mom found out that I actually did steal that candy bar, she would lose her trust in me and our relationship would suffer.”)

So what to do? How do we help our children to become honest, trustworthy, and develop integrity for doing the right thing?

“We may treasure honesty, but the research is clear.   Most classic strategies to promote truthfulness just encourage kids to be better liars.”   Po Bronson, Nurtureshock

Here are a few tips gathered from various experts on the subject.

  1. Just know that all kids lie. Home observation studies found that “four-year-olds will lie once every two hours, while a six-year-old will lie about once every hour . . . 96% of all kids offer up lies.” (Nurtureshock by Po Bronson) I used to feel completely betrayed when I discovered that my child lied to me. Now, I am less personally appalled, which means I can respond with less emotion, and increase the odds of productive learning in the aftermath.

  1. Avoid punishment. When children first begin lying, they do so to avoid punishment. The threat of punishment puts the child’s focus on self-preservation, rather than on the bigger issue of doing the right thing. “In studies, scholars find that kids who live in threat of consistent punishment don’t lie less. Instead, they become better liars, at an earlier age – learning to get caught less often.” (Nurturshock)

  1. Don’t trap your child in their lie. If you know your child has lied, don’t ask them if they have, which is an invitation to dig themselves even deeper into the lie. Instead of “Have you washed your hands?” when you know they haven’t, describe what you see: “I see dry hands,” and invite the next step: “would you like some help washing those germs away?” (Dr. Laura Markham, AhaParenting.com)

  1. When your child has lied to you, be honest yourself. Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott of Positive Discipline recommend you say, “That doesn’t sound like the truth to me. Most of us don’t tell the truth when we are feeling trapped, scared, or threatened in some way. I wonder how I might be making you feel that it isn’t safe to tell the truth? Why don’t we take some time off right now? Later I’ll be available if you would like to share with me what is going on for you.”

  1. Reward honesty with immunity and appreciation. This advice comes from Dr. Victoria Talwar, one of the world’s leading experts on children’s lying behavior. If you want the truth from your child, teach them the worth of honesty by telling the child, “If you are honest with me, I promise that I will not punish you and in fact, I will appreciate you even more for telling the truth.” Her research shows that offering immunity PLUS praise for honesty reduces lying by between 50-75%.

  1. Deal with the actual problem. Lying about having hit one’s brother is a problem, but the real problem is feeling the need to hit in the first place. So put the focus on the hitting and look for solutions to that problem, rather than on the lying. (Positive Discipline A-Z)

  1. Be aware of what you are modeling. Turns out, adults lie too, at a rate of about one per day, on average. (Nurtureshock) The vast majority of these are little white lies to avoid hurting feelings, protect ourselves from looking bad, or avoid engaging in something we’d rather not. When a telemarketer calls and asks if you are home, do you ever say, “I’m sorry, she’s not here right now”? Our kids are listening!

As for my own situation with my teen, the next day I told him, “Dad and I really value trust. And we also recognize that you feel might feel trapped – you both want our trust and you want to be connected to your friends as school, especially when there’s a lot going on around Homecoming and homework and the PSAT. We understand that. We try hard to be reasonable people and when you’re feeling pressure to conceal the truth from us, we hope that you will let us know so that we can look for a win/win.”

Will he lie less in the future? I don’t know. I can’t make him be honest. All I can do is my best to create an environment and a relationship that makes honesty easier. And model it myself, of course.

I’ve decided to notice how often I lie today. Already caught one! (I can’t believe it! Dang!) More results later. ( ;

Why Lazy Parenting Maybe the Ticket to Raising Smarter, More Responsible Kids

Why Lazy Parenting Maybe the Ticket to Raising Smarter, More Responsible Kids

It just slipped out. I didn’t mean to say in front of the 25 parents who’d come to learn strategies to solve sibling conflict. There’s something about it that just didn’t sound right. Actually it sounded like the antithesis to everything out there selling like hotcakes in the world of public opinion parenting.

I said it. “Positive Discipline (PD) is lazy parenting.”

While that’s not exactly accurate, it can feel effortless when you’re in the PD Zone compared to the prevailing helicopter/effortful parenting mode.

Here’s what I see with parents I work with and what I’ve experienced firsthand…

You’re working so hard to parent your child in a way that will encourage them to grow into loving, responsible, contributing members of society. Let’s add a cherry or two on top and throw in hard working, honest, happy, conscious of the world around them, yada yada the list goes on.

Looking at it straight on, it’s freaking intimidating.

No wonder you’re stressed about the hitting, lying, excluding, whining, complaining, isolating, arguing and bad attituding that’s happening today.

Who has the luxury to be lazy when vigilance is required to produce the qualities you know are so important for your child’s success?

What’s clear is that while control might feel necessary, and to some degree satisfying, in the moment, control, as a parenting style doesn’t invite the long term character traits you desire.

In short, control creates hollow results. When you do it all for your child (decide it all, manage it all, enforce it all), you inadvertently rob your kids of the opportunity to practice valuable life skills that they can only learn by doing.

With ‘good character’ as the destination, your child must travel through mistake-ville which inevitably leads to growth-town. They need to learn how to solve problems and think critically about the world around them in order to become who you want them to be. And that takes practice.

 

I stand behind what I said. [tweetthis]Positive Discipline can feel downright relaxing at times – – – lazy even. And that’s a good thing![/tweetthis]

Here are three real life examples, featuring a variety of ages, followed by the how-to tips for effective lazy parenting.

Example #1 from Kelly:

Lazy ParentingWhile enrolled in my spring sibling series, Kelly sent me this email after our first session.

These pictures were taken on Father’s Day right after I used “put in same boat” technique & validation. The boys were fighting over the chair (we only had one) and I said, “hmm, one chair and two boys?”... Then Emmett had a solution. Xo

“hmm, one chair and two boys?”… elegant indeed. No refereeing or setting a timer to make sure it was fair, just a simple, observing, genuinely curious question.


It's often not what happensKelly’s story reminds me that w
hen you don’t take sides, fix, solve, control — children have the space to use their own intelligence to figure things out and come up with their own, often elegant solutions.

That said, if your children are accustomed to you fixing, solving, refereeing, it will take training, practice, and time for them to reach for their own intelligence when faced with a problem.

Kelly’s tool of choice in this example was to ask a curiosity question (being genuinely curious about what solution they would come up with!) while treating kids the same (in PD lingo we call this putting them in the same boat… or in this case chair!)

Example #2 from Rochelle:

I have long been critical of parents who swoop in to solve their kids’ social problems, whether they be in school or on the athletic field. But when it comes to homework, I was clearly piloting this ‘chopper.’ Despite the fact that my son was just two years away from going off to college, I was still checking the online homework program for assignments and grades on a daily basis and harping at him about the status and quality of his work.

Both of us were miserable: my son blamed me if he missed an assignment and I felt angry because he wasn’t taking responsibility for his own work. But why should he? How could he, when I was always looking over his shoulder?

This year my husband and I decided we would take a different approach, we’d let our son be the master of his own destiny, free to make his own mistakes.

It was scary; he’s a junior in high school and there’s a lot of pressure on him to do well in school. While we worried that our messy, disorganized son, would lose important papers and forget about tests or quizes, we have been more than pleasantly surprised. He has risen to the occasion.

When he forgot to do an AP assignment, he took responsibility for his inaction, contacted the teacher and asked for an extension. It was the first time I could genuinely say I hoped she would be supportive and honor his request. He’s learning to take responsibility, we’re learning to let go and let him succeed (or fail) on his own, and our relationship is so much stronger for it.

Rochelle’s tool: having faith in her son period and showing faith in him by giving him the opportunity to make mistakes and then learn from his mistakes. Rochelle is taking the long range view, knowing the lessons he will learn outweigh the in-the-moment forgotten assignments, etc.

Example # 3 from Eric:

Eric emailed me this success story while he was enrolled in my series:

Last week on my way home from work, my wife Stephanie sent me a text that our daughter Grace (5) was being a handful, was in a horrible mood, and that Stephanie had had it with her.

When I got home, I walked into the house and went straight to Grace and asked her for a hug. At first she turned her back and crossed her arms, and said no. I then decided to ask her one more time and after a 5 second pause, she turned and gave me a big hug.

Steph said it was like someone flipped a switch on Grace. Grace went from being in the worst mood to acting as if she was having the best day ever.

It’s amazing to see the kind of impact and dynamics that something as simple as asking for a hug can have on a 5 year old. Honestly, before taking your class, I probably would have come home and punished Grace for misbehaving and the entire afternoon would have been ruined for the entire family.

Eric’s tool: Asking for a hug (note this does NOT mean asking your child, “do YOU need a hug?” You spark your child’s sense of significance when you ASK them for a hug signalling that your child makes a difference to you — they’re giving you a hug has an impact.) Pretty easy.

Warning:  Don’t try letting go of control once and give up when the results don’t look exactly as you’d hoped. Children need to adjust to your new behavior — they’ll test and maybe test some more until they can trust your change is enduring.

What does lazy parenting require from us?

  1. Flexibility – if you’re not dictating and controlling the outcome, you need to be open to a different outcome.
  2. Patience – when children are figuring it out they’re bound to make mistakes, a mess, etc. Beam out to remember the bigger picture — long term character building and ahhhh lazy parenting!
  3. Humility – finding that place inside that accepts your limits – you might not have the answer, and what a relief that you don’t have to solve every problem.
  4. Faith in your kids — messy faith. Their solution may not look good and the neighbors could see or hear a mess. Your belief in them, regardless of what their solution looks like, will go a long way to build their problem-solving muscles.

What Kelly, Rochelle and Eric demonstrated seemed pretty easy and parenting can be— AT TIMES — when we’ve established a relationship of trust. Lazy, or if it makes you feel better, call it ‘conscious effortless parenting’ is possible, feels awesome, and can be yours!.

I want that for you!

Share your experience of lazy parenting in the comments below. Don’t be shy.

Want to read more about this topic? Here’re some good posts:

Being “In Control” – The Possible and Impossible In Parenting from Hand in Hand

Control Freak vs. Pushover Parenting: Why Niether Works

How to parent in the midst of catastrophic health issues

How to parent in the midst of catastrophic health issues

This summer’s been a doozy. What once felt like a series of mini health crises has come to feel like the norm with appendicitis, stress fractures, depression, drug addiction, cancer and even death becoming a more common part of life.

Last summer, I started writing a post about how to parent when you feel distracted or distraught by a loved one’s suffering.

It’s a hard topic. So hard, that I never completed the post. I couldn’t bring myself to put a bow on it and send it to you. My thoughts never felt right or complete or enough.

Now, it’s back around as I’m dealing with my own health struggles. This week I had two areas of infiltrating basal cell carcinoma surgically removed from my face. With the surgery behind me and plenty of ice packs, I feel a sense of deep gratitude. My doctor described the tumors as nasty and aggressive and I’m lucky that they could be removed.

So I ask for myself and maybe you too – how do you parent when you’re struggling with your own or a dear one’s illness?

This is what I’ve gleaned talking with some of you and pondering the question these last 12 months:

    • Keep it simple. When your child’s needs feel draining of the little resources you have  serve macaroni and cheese or Cheerios and let them watch TV. It’s okay.
    • Prioritize. Allow what’s most important to rise to the top. Family, food, sleep, and exercise (if possible) make up my essential list.
    • Say no mostly and yes only if that YES will enhance your life. Time and energy are limited. Use yours wisely.
  • Reach out intentionallyAsk for help — as my friend Liz says, “you may need to get over yourself” to do this. Remember that close friends want to lend a hand, particularly when a bigger situation leaves them feeling helpless.

I “got over myself” this past week when my friend Carolyn came bearing flowers the day before my surgery. Having had a similar experience, Carolyn warned me that the hardest part for her had been after the procedure, when she had to remove and replace the bandages. I immediately asked if she would be willing to come over and help me do that. She said yes, and little did I know just how important it was to have her for moral and physical support. With 22 stitches across my hairline — and as the doctor put it, “too many to count” in my nose — I was weak and close to fainting. It took us an hour and a half to remove and replace all of the dressings that first time. I can’t imagine what it would have felt like to do this alone.

    • Stick with the facts. Depending on the age of your child, share relevant factual information, but only the surface story. They don’t need to know the details and certainly not your “what if” fears. While your fears may be in the realm of possibility, they’re not the facts.
    • Be childlike. As much as you can, allow your child’s aliveness and awe of life to touch you and lift you into the present.
    • Dare greatly by saying no to guilt. Instead, accept that you may be more foggy and distracted than you’d like to be with your kids. It’s okay. Don’t add parent guilt to the list of your full bucket of worries. In Daring Greatly Brené Brown writes, “To set down those lists of what we’re supposed to be is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly” (Page 110).
  • Lower your expectations. Finally, be realistic about how much your kids, depending on age, will be able to empathize with you or the situation. In my experience that’s NOT MUCH. They don’t get it, nor should they.

photo 1A few years ago, my brother’s best friend and brother in-law, Steve, died unexpectedly during a surgery. Because Steve was beloved by his community as a volunteer firefighter during the Eastern Long Island pine barren wildfires, acting as Chief of the fire department at the time of his death, founder of the junior volunteer firefighter training program and a village civil servant, the community put on a huge uniformed procession for the funeral. Being family and a close friend, my brother delivered the eulogy. In the midst of the long funeral procession through town, his 8 year-old son Aidan turned to him and asked in a tired voice, “when is this going to be over?” My brother was both heart-broken and relieved by the question. How could Aidan, who’d loved Uncle Steve deeply, be ready to move on? Be so oblivious to the gravity of the situation? Be so cold as to be DONE with Steve? At the same time – in Aidan’s question my brother heard hope and the possibility that life could go on – that tomorrow would eventually arrive and maybe it was sooner than my brother thought possible. In his son’s words were the innocence and gravity of the truth that we do go on, even when we lose the unloseable friend, even when we suffer unimaginable pain.

I’ve decided that it’s okay that I don’t have a bow on this one. Its a question that doesn’t have a neat answer.

Please chime in with your thoughts and questions in the comment section. How do you parent when you feel overwhelmed by your own or a loved ones health challenges or a death?

What advice would you add?

Part Three: What You Say Can Help or Hurt Sibling Relationships

Part Three: What You Say Can Help or Hurt Sibling Relationships

Practice Scripts for Parents: So you can stop unwittingly contributing to your children's fighting

Practice Scripts for Parents: So you can stop unwittingly contributing to your children’s fighting

In Part One we looked at the tremendous learning that results from sibling relationships.

In Part Two we looked at the importance of staying out of your kids’ fights after establishing — and repeatedly reminding kids of — family rules and expectations. (Here’s the index with all of the resources.)

Here in Part Three we’ll explore what you do, unintentionally, to increase sibling acrimony and what you can specifically, say or do instead.

Imagine …

Scenario 1:  You’re at a work meeting with your colleague (Joe) and your boss (Big Cheese). You and Joe present what you’ve been working on for the last month at which time Big Cheese looks Joe in the eye and says, “Joe what you’ve done here is outstanding work— you’re exceptional, you really are.”

Be with that. What runs through your mind, your heart?

Scenario 2:  You come home after what’s been a bad day and share with your spouse what happened at work, “I just finished this huge project. Joe and I presented it to the Big Cheese, and well, you had to be there, but I felt really unappreciated. It made me feel like crap actually. I put so much of myself into that project, but he didn’t recognize me at all.”

Then your spouse replies,You know you make a difference — the work couldn’t have been done without you. You need to remember you’re good enough whether someone tells you or not.”

Be with that. What runs through your mind, your heart?

While these are adult scenarios, what they illustrate are common mistakes we make with our children. Sometimes, daily.

The first scenario highlights the perils of praise — the non-specific superlative — and how the use of praise is particularly detrimental to the sibling bond.

How did you feel when you imagined yourself in the scenario?

In parenting class we role-play a parent praising one child but not the other. The volunteer playing the sibling not receiving praise — without exception — feels badly about themselves and usually resentful of their praise worthy sibling.

The un-praised sibling goes on to assume that the accolades lavished on sister or brother mean they’re destined to fall short… big time. Right or wrong this is a predictable human response.

In scenario 2, I’ve put the spotlight on how the denial of feelings, while well intentioned (like praise), is in fact discouraging because it communicates that we’re wrong when what we crave is to feel understood.

Below are four parent behaviors that hurt sibling relationships, followed specific examples of what they sound like and what you could say instead.

PRAISE   ➜  ENCOURAGE

  • Wow — you’re the fastest swimmer out there! ➜ I love to watch you swim!
  • You’re such a good boy! ➜ I appreciate your help, you made my day easier.
  • With more work, you’ll get it right. ➜ Look how far you’ve come, you can do it.

DENY FEELINGS  ➜  ACKNOWLEDGE FEELINGS

  • Just get along — she’s your sister!  ➜  It sounds like you’re feeling really sad and hurt.
  • Don’t say you hate your brother — that’s not nice.  ➜  It looks like you guys aren’t getting along right now and could use some time away from each other.

COMPARISON  ➜  DESCRIBE BEHAVIOR (put kids in the same boat)

  • Why can’t you just be nice like your sister!?  ➜  I can see you’re really cranky right now… come find me when you decide you’re ready to talk.
  • Why do you always make things so difficult?  ➜  Kids, I have faith that the two of you can work this out together. Come find me if you need help.

LABEL  ➜  DESCRIBE WHAT YOU SEE, FEEL OR THE PROBLEM

  • You’re the family artist.  ➜  You really love to create!
  • Why are you always such a bully?  ➜  I see that the blocks are all over the floor, what can you do to help the situation?
  • I can’t take it — you’re such a slob!  ➜  Milk is all over the floor — what do you need to clean it up? 

When spelled out like this, it’s crystal clear to me that [tweetthis] conscious parenting is a practice, not the default for any of us.[/tweetthis]

So it’s time to practice!

I know how hard it is so I created this Script to make it a bit easier.

Download it — print the pages you find helpful and PRACTICE.

If you live in the Bay Area, join me and Marcilie Smith Boyle for our Mini Series on how to manage Sibling Conflict in June.

Share your insights, questions and feedback below or write to me privately. I’d love to hear from you.