Thinking Outside the Box for School-Resistant Kids
Frustrated Teen

My proposed solution is simple: don’t waste a lot of time and money pushing kids in directions they don’t want to go. Instead find out what weirdness they excel at and encourage them to do that. Then get out of the way. ~ Seth Godin

Q. What is the best way to respond to my 12 yo son who refuses to go to school? It started after he had 2 teachers who focused on the things he couldn’t do. We eventually pulled him and put him in private school but that only worked for about a year. We pulled him altogether last year on the advice of his therapist. Virtual school was a nightmare, and we were taking care of my dying father in the house too. It was too much. He really hates school. He is super smart but has dysgraphia, ADHD and anxiety so he really struggles.

A. I imagine there are a lot of kids this pandemic has pushed to the surface who were falling through the cracks pre-Covid. The silver lining of this struggle may be that you have come up against a dead end with traditional school before serious problems arise for your son in high school. This is a tough problem but one that needs solving sooner rather than later.

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3 Ways to Set the Emotional Tone for the New School Year
Masked school kids

I know I’m not alone in thinking this school year would be sort of back to normal. But it’s not over yet and many believe it won’t ever be. We are in a new reality that we first believed temporary. Our kids are going back to school but this year with no option for remote learning. In some parts of the country that may seem fine, but in other parts parents feel like they’re throwing their kids to the wolves.

What kids care about is their own experience. Navigating masks and relationships back at school can be tricky for kids wondering where they stand. Friendships are likely shifting leaving hurt and unhappiness for many. Some kids are fine with masks and forget they are wearing them. Some are hypervigilant and feel unsafe if others are unmasked. And some are sensitive to masks or are simply resistant. Some worry about getting exposed. Does that mean quarantine, missing school, bringing Covid home, getting sick, ending up remote?

While they have their own physical and emotional responses to the situation, children are highly influenced by their parents’ reactions and responses to this year’s new and changing protocols. All of which affects how they manage their experiences.

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‘Mom! You’re so annoying!’
Mother and her son arguing at home

Q. I know that it’s normal for adolescents to reject their parents to some degree but my son (11) has been coming out with some very explicit insults about me. After school today, when I only said, “Hello”, he replied “You’re so annoying.” I said that I felt it was an unkind thing to say (he has said it a number of times lately) and he said, “Well it’s true, you do annoy me – a lot.” The previous time I said, “What is it about me that annoys you?” and prior to that had let it pass. I can brush it off and not take it personally a few times but when it’s repeated, it’s hard not to feel angry and hurt. Other times he wants to tell me things and is physically affectionate. I don’t expect a growing young person to hang out with Mum, but I give him the best of my care and kindness and all he feels is “annoyed”? It’s not that he says it that I have a problem with – it’s that he feels it. Please help with how to interpret and respond to this.

A. I had the worst year ever with my daughter when she was 11. She was my button-pusher and I learned so much from parenting her. At 11, her brother went away to school, and she hated being the only one, feeling like she was being watched all the time. She threw a lot of nasty barbs my way, which I didn’t always duck from (but should have). So, I know the hurt you are feeling. I wish I knew then what I know now.

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Just Being
Father and son relaxing in front of a colorful house

This summer, especially following this Covid-fraught school year, I want to revisit my Be more, teach less philosophy. Kids love summer. It’s a time to be laid back and let go of all the tension around schoolwork and grades. And this year especially, after the stress of remote learning, very little socializing, everyone home on each other’s back, a good deal of simply being is called for.

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Cookie Momster
Mousetrap in Cookie Jar

Q. I am currently feeling like a failure as a parent. My 12 year old daughter is smart, well behaved, does well in school. However, she sneaks food. In this area, we fight and tempers flare creating a hostile environment at home. She loves junk food like cookies and chips. We have a policy at home where the kids get to choose 2 junk items from the pantry as snacks after school. It works in most part, but she ends up taking 1-2 extra things to her room. I am worried about the impact of constant junking on her teeth & overall health. She just cannot stop herself from eating. I cannot constantly monitor her and increasing the ‘allowed’ unhealthy stuff on a daily basis is not an option.

A. My advice is to focus most on the facts that your daughter is smart, well-behaved, and competent. It’s all-too natural for our fears to get in the way of trusting who our children are. She is not yet thinking about what is good for her health and well-being and what she should be doing to enrich herself and her body. That’s not her job—yet.

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Social Media Masquerade
Girl in festive dress and carnival mask posing

We get freaked out about how our kids present themselves on social media and what and how they communicate. Much of that freak-out is justified. But remember, for centuries we have been altering our public self-image. Directing portrait artists and photographers to present the best you; attention on clothes and makeup to enhance appearance, wigs to cover unwashed hair. Letter writing has always allowed carefully thought-out words as opposed to spontaneous and possibly awkward conversation. We have always cared about our public image. Nothing new here—except social media presents a constant reminder that one’s “real” self is deficient.

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Embracing Screen Time
Teenage boy with headset playing video game

Q. My son is 15 years old, so that means I shouldn’t tell him what to do, right? We have a pool, and I’d rather he swim than play video games. He prefers the latter. He seems to be all done with pool games as are his friends. When they come over, they sit with their feet in the pool and wait for their required outdoor time to end so they can go inside and play video games. Although I’ve adopted a pretty good ability to not be controlling, I’m finding it harder to apply this to my 15 year old than my older son. He wasn’t as much of a video game kid. Neither of them have been outdoor kids and I guess I have to finally get over it. Any thoughts or comments?

A. Letting go of control, what our children do and how they do it, is the greatest challenge for any parent. We have learned from lots of mistakes and want our children to benefit. But did we benefit from what our parents tried to tell us? We all have to learn in our own way at the time that is right for us.

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Finding the “I” in Motherhood
cropped view of child holding tray with breakfast, mothers day card with heart sign and mom lettering, while mother stretching in bed

Our second Covid Mother’s Day is upon us. How will you spend it? Will your children bring you breakfast in bed and give you loving cards? Or will you be on duty once again, feeling resentful of the mothers who get breakfast in bed?

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No Malicious Intent
Five years old child cooking in the kitchen

Q. I am at a loss for how to parent my 5 yo daughter. She does whatever she wants, including things that are dangerous or destructive, even when she knows and has agreed to the rules. This morning we were all in the living room and she left to go to the bathroom. After a little while I went to see what she was doing and smelled a very strong odor. I asked her what it was, and she said bug spray. She had found a can of bug spray and sprayed the entire thing over every surface of the bathroom. She has also taken pens, etc. and written on anything and everything including walls and furniture. She’s taken scissors and cut things. She’s dumped out entire packages of food to make her own creations. She’s squeezed out entire tubes of toothpaste. She says she knows she shouldn’t do these things but does them because she just wants to. Nothing has ended in a lasting solution. I’m not handling things well. I yelled a lot this morning. Right now she is being supervised 100% of the time. I don’t like exerting that level of control and I don’t think it’s really healthy for her or me, but I don’t know what else to do.

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Being a Better Pandemic Parent: Lighten Up
High angle view of father and son wearing sunglasses

This year has brought us all to our personal edges. I’m guessing you are exhausted and done with it. You want your kids back in school with a schedule you can count on, and you want your life back to normal. You’re also probably juggling guilt about not being a good enough parent during these times and fear that your children are glued to screens and falling behind in school.

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