Story: My strong willed 8 year old was diagnosed with anxiety and displays this with anger. Last March I got diagnosed with cancer and needed surgery. His anxiety hit the moon. He’s been acting out by throwing a ball at kids, stepping on their feet, throwing sand, yelling, etc. I practiced your principles of empathy, and he was able to tell me about a kid teasing him for not climbing the rock wall. I would never have found this out had I not set aside his behavior and my problem, used compassion and empathy, and listened. Yesterday when I picked him up, he came running into my arms and cried and cried really, really hard. WOW! He hasn’t cried like that in years. He cried the whole way home and continued at home and let me just sit there with him. I used empathy when needed and let him say all these horrible things about a kid who’s been bullying him. Bingo, I got to the root of his behavior, went right past those weeds. I did my best to
It’s really easy to get down on yourself for behaving regretfully toward your child. What’s hard is forgiving yourself because you’re human and making amends.
Repairing mistakes is one of the best skills you can teach your child. Isn’t this what we want them to be able to do? Repairing, apologizing, owning up and being accountable for your behavior is the sign of a strong, responsible person—exactly what you want your child to become.
But it’s hard for many parents to own mistakes and make repairs. When you have learned through your childhood that apologizing, showing vulnerability by admitting mistakes is a sign of weakness, it is hard to do it with your child. It can feel like admitting defeat, losing authority, giving in. But the opposite is true.
Coming down off a righteous pedestal to apologize, to say I see it differently now and wish I hadn’t said what I did, to admit wrong-doing, is not backing down or being inconsistent and wishy-washy. On the contrary, it is the powerful thing to do.
Q. I am the mother of two kids, 6 and 8. My mother’s overprotectiveness and interfering nature drives me nuts. She is a fixer for sure and has even called my boss when I shared problems I was having at work. It’s like she is my children’s parent, and I am the nanny. She tells me what to do and what they need. My parents are hugely helpful as my husband and I work from home and the kids are with them 4 days a week. But they give the kids way too much sugar and buy them things without consulting us. I don’t feel like I can tell them not to because they do so much for us. My husband thinks they don’t trust him to look after us. They are always dropping off things they think we will need. I feel angry and guilty and don’t know what to do.
A. I hope that grandparenting will one day become as popular a topic as parenting has become. Grandparenting is not parenting—unless the grandparent has had to assume that
Q. Ines, 8, is a very sweet playing, sporty, capable but gentle friend. On the playground one of her better friends at school is starting to bully her. Tonight she was crying as the girl was telling her to go into a dark shed in the playground. Ines said she didn’t want to as she was afraid of the dark. The friend teased her for being a cry baby and insisted etc. My question is what do I do? I encouraged her to say STOP! and that you don’t like the way she is treating you, but she says that is not kind and she doesn’t want to be like her friend. I said to her that she needs to say stop for her friend’s sake too. She ‘practiced’ saying it but sounded like a mouse… that’s not going to transmit a message of strength. She’s going to a party tomorrow and this friend will be there. Ines is afraid that this girl will insist that the room be dark. I know the parents well and could talk to them
Instead of starting off the new year with resolutions you are likely to ignore, how about deciding to accept yourself and your kids just the way you are?
You might find that acceptance is much harder than setting unrealistic goals that keep you in a state of tension when you can’t meet them or control them in your children. The task is realizing that the only way for change to occur is to first accept yourself, quirks, problems, and all.
Acceptance is what you and your children need the most. If you’re reading this, I can guarantee that your children know you love them. But…do they know you accept them? Or do they think you wish they were different? Be in your child’s head for a minute and answer that question.
Acceptance has to do with the expectations you set—consciously or unconsciously. Do your kids think they meet up to your expectations or do they believe they can never be good enough for you? How about you? Do you believe you’re good enough?
When you know you are good enough,
Tis the season—for stress, impatience and probably some unrealistic expectations and resentment over why your family isn’t like the happy ones you see on Instagram. That means trickle down stress for your children, no matter what age. Your littlest ones may show it in irregular sleep, eating, toileting and generally cranky behavior. Your middle ones may show it in angry outbursts and words that push anyone’s buttons. And your teens may simply disappear to their rooms to get away from it all.
But all are at risk of some major meltdowns. Mainly because children can’t hold onto as much stress as we can—note: this is a good thing—and are far more likely to let it out at home with the safest people in their lives. More good things.
Nobody likes dealing with kids’ meltdowns. Especially kids. Please do not be influenced to ignore or threaten your child by those who say, “He’s doing that on purpose. He’s just trying to get your attention.” We’ve all had meltdowns. They’re not fun. Your kids aren’t doing it on purpose. And of course
Q. We have a 4-year-old turning 5 next month, and we have a lot of toilet talk going on. We’ve tried ignoring it, explaining why it’s not okay and that it’s not okay to use in our house. Nothing seems to work. He just lays around and says: penis, boobies, vagina and other words. No swear words but typical toilet talk. Also he’ll poke me or others and say I can see your booby, bum bum etc. Also with his 1-year-old sister and dogs. Any advice would be appreciated as it’s starting to be such a theme and hard to help him know that it’s not okay to yell this and say it all the time.
A. Actually, it’s you who needs to know it is okay. Your son is right on target developmentally when it comes to “toilet talk.” Four and five-year-old’s have curiosity about their bodies, compare themselves to others, especially the opposite sex, and want to discover what bodies do and what makes them different. Because they are this age, they get silly about it all.
After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, I wrote an article called Look for the Helpers inspired by Fred Rogers. I am redoing it with the same basic
message—sadly because so much more has happened. Not only has gun violence increased, but our democracy and our climate are threatened. Whatever side of the political spectrum you fall, the recent overturn of Roe vs. Wade by the Supreme Court requires discussions with your children. How do you assure their safety at school? How do you tell them that the highest court in our nation has undermined the liberty of women?
My son just gave the commencement address at the high school where he teaches.
He too was inspired by Fred Rogers’ words:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother
would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are
helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my
mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still
so many helpers—so
As I sit blissfully holding my infant grandson, I am struck by his fragility and vulnerability. He is dependent on us, his caregivers. And we in turn look to every possible behavioral sign to determine what needs caring for. Is he hungry, tired, does he have an internal pain, does he need a burp, a suck, a bounce, a diaper change? We rotate through the possibilities hoping to land on the right one, thrilled when we do, worried when we don’t.
When he’s content, he coos and looks around curious about all he sees. When something is wrong, he makes a pained face and cries. We answer those cries. We will do so for a good long time to come.
Caregivers must pay attention to behavior that signals a problem the child is having—a need that must be met. As he grows, his cries turn to whines, hurts to frustration and anger. Sensations of discomfort, pain, and hunger get complicated with jealousy, confusion, shame, fear, embarrassment, anger. As he learns he is a separate entity, he understands that he can
Q. I am really trying to parent my two kids, 5 and 7, differently than the way I was raised. I am good at telling my husband and my friends that I want to parent with connection. But when they say what does that mean, I’m lost. I get about as far as – ‘Well, it just doesn’t feel right to parent the old way.’ And of course I have my days when I lose it and do everything wrong. I wonder if you could help me think thru why I want to do a connective approach and what I can say to my naysayer friends.
A. This is a common conundrum for many parents who want to parent differently but who haven’t yet absorbed the principles of why or experienced the results of a connected relationship yet. It takes time to incorporate a new method before you can explain to others why you are doing what you’re doing.
It also requires a certain amount of child development knowledge not well understood in traditional parenting to know what can be