May ’20 Q&A – Hitting a Wall?

Q. I’m utterly overwhelmed. I’m resentful of those who have support from a partner and grandparents and guilty for feeling resentful. Frustrated that there’s no end in sight. Exhausted, emotionally and physically. Sad. I miss my family and friends. Lonely. 3 kids 1, 4 and 8 entirely on my own. Working 60 hours a week. Trying to be grateful I’m employed but there is no balance possible when you have 3 kids in tow. I don’t bathe or sleep without them and if I try they scream or immediately ‘need’ me for something which is their anxiety showing up. It’s endless. How do I stay sane?

A. One Mom I know describes her covid situation as “drowning in humans”. This sounds like yours as well. I cannot presume to solve your problems, but I hope we can reduce your angst.

First, go right ahead and feel resentful. Who wouldn’t in your shoes? Let go of that guilt. You have every right. Lonely and physically exhausted, sure. No way around that. But let’s try to unload the emotional exhaustion somewhat.

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The Lessons of Stress

Ever notice that when things are going really well and you feel balanced, you are patient, flexible, empathic, and fun-loving with your children? And when you feel generally crummy, stressed, tired and hungry, your focus turns in on yourself and you get quite controlling? It’s natural when something triggers you and you feel out of control of something (a world-wide pandemic perhaps), you grab something in your reach that you think you can control. Your children are easily grabbable.

So if this happens to you under stress, what do you think might be going on with your child when you react to his behavior thinking, He’s trying to control me?

He’s not trying to control you. He’s stressed. And it doesn’t take much to stress out a young child. The younger they are, the less control of their lives and the fewer coping mechanisms they have to manage that stress. Whenever a naturally egocentric child is not getting what he wants, he experiences stress. So he grabs for control wherever he can—grabbing things, grabbing attention, grabbing you or a sibling.

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Apr. ’20 Q&A – Trying to Homeschool and Police at the Same Time?

Q. I’m trying to find the balance of working from home, homeschooling my 8 yo, and watching my 15 yo to make sure he gets his work done and doesn’t spend all his time on YouTube and video games. The hardest part is seeing the effects of this shut-down on my teen who has lost all his social interactions. I feel like I suddenly have to change from parent to homeschooler and police officer. I don’t have the right tools. What do I do?

A. Those jobs descriptions are enough to drive anyone mad who hasn’t chosen them. And you’re right, you don’t have the tools for being a homeschooler and a police officer. This new world is enough to make us all feel ill-equipped. But family has not changed—only how it is conducted. It requires adjusting but not learning new skills.

First of all, you are not a homeschooler. You are a facilitator of your child’s online learning. When you fear your child is going to be far behind when he returns to school, then you must become a homeschooler. But ask any homeschooler and you will likely find that aside from curriculum, much of their children’s learning comes from exploring and discovering their environment. That’s why they homeschool.

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There’s a Crack in Everything

These are dark times even though it’s getting lighter outside. None of us ever imagined—even a month ago—that we would be sheltered in our homes, fearing the coronavirus, learning daily the frightening number of new cases and deaths, unable to get together with friends and family, wearing masks when food supplies must be refilled, and disinfecting mail and groceries.

Who knew we would either be lucky enough to be home with children scrambling to figure out how to homeschool and keep them occupied or unlucky enough to be an “essential worker” unable to be home with children out of school for who knows how long? Or to be alone. Or to be sick.

The unknown is frightening. When will Covid-19 be a thing of the past? Will it? When will we feel safe to send our kids back to school? Will we have a job, a business, a salary when this is over? Will town businesses, restaurants, and theaters reopen? What will life be like?

My favorite Leonard Cohen song is Anthem. I get a chill every time I hear, “There’s a crack, a crack in everything. That’s where the light gets in.” What an image for this time. There are cracks in this darkness and the light can come in when we see those cracks. But we have to look for them.

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Mar’ 20 Q&A – Stuck At Home With Meltdowns

Q.  Stuck at home with three kids is bad enough but one of them is going to drive me insane. My older and my younger are doing their work and managing okay, but my 8 yr. old refuses to do his school work, along with everything else, and has regular meltdowns. He’s always been tough and resistant to what I want him to do, but now he just won’t do anything I say and is starting to use profanity toward me and my husband. I yell, send him to his room, but mostly just give up. What else can I do?

A. I’m sure you are the voice of so many parents all over the world today cooped up at home with the whole family. You are scared and anxious, not to mention frustrated with kids underfoot all day long. So are your kids.

I am going to assume that your 8 yr. old is what I call an Integrity child. That means his individual make-up (not your doing) is extremely sensitive. He was born with a core sense of justice, rightness. He will not be told what to do and will not take no for an answer. This does not mean he is not caring and cooperative. It does mean that when you tell him what to do, he feels controlled because he is more sensitive to that than your others. And given the present circumstances, his sensitivity is on hyper-alert so he is stressed most of the time. One cannot be at their best when stressed. No one knows that more than you.

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Homebound with Kids: Crisis or Opportunity?

I am more scared about spending all day every day with my 4 kids and their different emotions and stages than I am about getting a virus.  Mom on facebook.

We are floundering in uncharted territory. Never could we imagine the scenario we are all living with this coronavirus. Now more than ever is the time to BREATHE, give everyone a break, and connect with those precious children of yours.

Yet at the same time, you and the people around you may be flipping in and out of panic or at least worry, fear, and overwhelm. You’re all cooped up in one place together and will drive each other crazy!

This is the greatest unknown we have ever faced. Humans need a sense of certainty and security. This pandemic has taken every shred of that out from under us. I offer here a few suggestions and realize every home situation is different.

Managing yourself in this predicament:

  • Many of you and your children have an inherent stamina to weather the storm, to acknowledge there is nothing to be done but wait it out. But others who have an enormous sensitivity to their own and other people’s tension and anxiety, just feel everything more intensely. For those, the need for order and stability is even greater. As well as the need for self-care.
  • Check in on your need to control. The more you need it, the more you become victim to fear and panic. When you feel it coming up, that’s the time for breathing deeply at the very least and maybe walking outside.
  • Check your catastrophizing. If you fear you will never work again, recognize that as a fear, not a fact. Then turn it into a fact. This is hard right now being out of work. I get afraid easily. Then your fear becomes self-compassion.
  • Find a mantra when that feeling of anxiety or panic arises. Something like, I can do this, We have each other, One day at a time, Keep on keeping on.
  • Actually schedule a time each day or at least every other to connect with a partner or trusted friend to explode your worry. Seriously. Do not try to bottle it up for the sake of your kids. You will be far calmer with your kids if you let out your anger, fear, or panic with someone who promises not to tell you to just calm down.
  • This can be a time to do things you never have time to do. Take a learning program or online yoga class, clean out that closet, wash windows. Plan something that can involve all of you. Or take on a project just for yourself you can do after the kids are in bed.
  • Practice connection. Watch for what each of your children needs, how they are different. Pay attention to and connect with the underlying emotions provoking behavior instead of yelling at or threatening the behavior.
  • If your kids are focused on screens, learn from them. Ask what about this game fascinates, challenges your child. Ask them to teach you how to play.
  • Have fun.

If you and your spouse are both working from home:

  • There will be distractions galore. Plan with your partner on-call working hours when you, not your partner can be distracted. Say from 9:00-11:00, if kids need someone, you are the go-to, not your partner.
  • Wear a certain color when you are not to be disturbed unless the house is on fire.
  • Designate certain hours when each of you are with the kids so the other can work—and when you are together as a family. Make it clear.

Talking to your kids about coronavirus:

  • The most important thing to keep in mind is egocentrism consumes your children’s brains until at least age seven, and then it only starts to wane. Your young children are concerned about one thing—what does this mean for me? Don’t expect kindness and consideration for others. But do model it.
  • It’s important to be able to answer your children’s questions honestly. That doesn’t mean every last detail. It just means don’t lie. It’s a tricky balance to communicate the seriousness of this pandemic to understand why they have to stay home, forgo playdates and sleep-overs, not take the car to visit friends, and wash their hands 20 times a day without instilling unnecessary fear.
  • Talk about how germs spread and scatter. Tell them that some germs give us a cold and some germs make us very sick. That’s why we have to be very careful about keeping our bodies healthy so they can fight off the bad germs.
  • For all kids, it is safe to emphasize that children either do not get the virus or have it so mildly it feels like a cold. Let them know, that you also would probably get it mildly. The reason it is so critical to stay home away from people is because it is so very contagious, spreadable. And that old people and those who are already very sick can actually die of it.
  • And yes, let them know this is critical for their grandparents. But they will be fine as long as they don’t get the germs.
  • With kids old enough to understand, talk about what you are all doing to help contain the spread of the virus even if you aren’t in danger yourselves. Discuss why it’s wrong to get together with other people on the chance you might pick up some germs and pass them on injuring people you may not even know. It’s a great time to talk about doing the right thing.
  • Plan ahead for how each child wants to handle meltdowns. Discuss the reality of being together all the time. What works best for each? Some may want alone time in their rooms. Some may want to stick to you more than ever. How will you all respect each other’s needs including yours?

Talking to your kids about schoolwork:

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What If I Mess Up?

Am I screwing up my child? Have I failed? I’m so afraid it’s too late. Ever have these fears? Well, you’re in good company. Parents, mothers mostly, worry far too much about failing as a parent. It can be a debilitating fear that obstructs making connection with a child.

I’d like to convince you that your failures can be your child’s best teachers—if you’re willing to own up to them and learn.

Hey, we’re all human. We all lose it, we all make mistakes, sometimes huge ones. That doesn’t mean we can’t recover and move on better than ever. Your children need to see you falling down and getting back up again so they can do that too. And when you mess up with your child, recovery means connection and repair. Repair teaches humanity, humility, responsibility, and strength.

The Do-Over is one of the most powerful repair tools a parent has. And the beauty of it is that you get to choose when to use it. No need to worry about doing your best at those times when you feel at your worst. It’s those moments when both you and your child are frustrated, tired, and no longer able to cope when everything goes south. That’s when you react in those ways you hate and hear your mother or father coming out of your mouth with words you swore you would never say. That’s when you think your child is trying to get power over you—because you feel like you have lost all yours.

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Feb ’20 Q&A – The Value of Allowance

Q. What is the right approach to give pocket money to 7.5 year old? I’m confused between giving some amount on a weekly basis as pocket money and keeping a list of chores which can be done to earn money. I don’t want her to think work needs to be done only when you get paid. Neither do I want her to think she is entitled to money.

A. I couldn’t agree more that teaching your child that work is done only when you are paid for it is a bad idea. That’s why allowance should never be attached to chores.

What I do believe is that giving an allowance to a child as soon as they are able to understand and be somewhat responsible about money is one of the smartest things you can do. Learning about money—how to manage it, save it, spend it, and value it—is as important for children as learning how to swim. “Entitled” to money—maybe not. But entitled to learn about money—definitely. And you must have it to learn. Critical for the years ahead.

If your children are used to using their own money and knowing what it is for, you will be teaching life skills in so many areas.

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How to Track Your Teen on Social Media (Ethically)

We all worry about the amount of time our kids spend on social media, how much of their energy it consumes, and how it effects our their behavior and emotions. Typically, a parent’s go-to is to fear the worst. When fear gets in the way, we go into control mode. We are constantly chasing the answer to, How much is too much? When and how do I put a stop to this madness?

When your kids reach the teen years, you have much less say over how they spend their time, and you worry and fear more than ever. Yet at the same time, having a connected relationship with your teen is paramount.

Andy Earle (https://talkingtoteens.com/), a researcher into teen life, has written this piece for me on how to stay aware and in charge of your teen’s social media time while maintaining trust and that all-important connected relationship.

How to Track Your Teen on Social Media (Ethically)

Losing track of what your teen is into online? Here are three ways to (ethically) track what your teen is doing. Parents today need to get more sophisticated on social media because teens are getting very savvy. We have to go beyond basic tools like SafeSearch and iPhone parental controls.

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Jan ’20 Q&A – When Correction Feels Like Criticism

Q. How can I help my 8 year old son understand that I love him just the way he is AND I want him to grow, learn and improve? He says he feels humiliated and ashamed every time I ask him to learn something new because he feels like I’m saying he needs to be better than he already is. His resilience is low and I’m trying to help him using all the techniques I can find. The school is trying to help also but last term he got a detention for not following instructions and then was so ashamed of himself that it really set him back again. 

A. It sounds like you have a sensitive son, which means he’s probably quite perceptive and intuitive in ways many kids aren’t. If that’s true, he will be extra sensitive to criticism and might perceive criticism when you don’t intend it that way. He may read you as telling him what to and then think you will be disappointed in him if he doesn’t do it or learn it the way you think he should. It’s especially important for you to encourage him in ways that allow him to make decisions about what he does and doesn’t do whenever you can — within your parameters of course.

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