Change the Label

How were you labeled as a child? Smart? Sweet? Athletic? Witty? Creative? Different? Etc.?

We’ve all experienced others putting labels on us at some point in our life. A positive label is easy to accept as truth. A negative one can be confusing, embarrassing, and make you sad or mad. I’ve yet to meet someone who is happy to be labeled a ‘bad’ person or kids who’s excited to be seen a ‘problem’ or ‘troublemaker.’ Labels can shape who people become and the choices they make, particularly when they don’t feel like they can overcome the label put upon them.

My oldest is experiencing being associated with a negative label first hand. He has struggled with emotional regulation. He can be as sweet as can be, empathetic and compassionate, but if he feels something is unfair or unjust (against him or someone he cares about) his anger rises, quickly. He loves playing football on the playground with some newer friends. These friends, who come from more challenging backgrounds than my son, exhibit behavioral issues (largely in the form of lack of respect to teachers regardless of the consequences) and have gotten themselves labeled the troublemakers. My son is experiencing guilt by association as a result. From my son’s perspective there is nothing wrong with these kids. He likes them and enjoys spending time with them. A teacher, who knows my son and his emotional strengths and weaknesses, has recently being coming down hard on my son for what he believes are trivial things — sliding down a banister at school and having to miss some of recess (my son claims he only slide down the banister two steps; and acknowledges that other kids who slide down the bannister also had to sit out); and asking to go to the bathroom only to go half-way down the hall and turn back around (never using the restroom). This seemed to make the teacher particularly mad. I was unable to understand from my son why, but believe it may be that some of his other friends have done the same thing and the teacher had had it.

My son was very frustrated and shared with me why the teacher was wrong and he was right. While I empathized with my son’s feelings of being wrongly targeted, I had to remind him that he had a role to play. “You shouldn’t be sliding down the banister even if it’s one step. Your teacher’s job is just like mine. Teach you things and keep you safe. If you slide down the banister and they don’t say anything or give you a consequence then other kids may think they can do it and get away with it too. What if a younger kid tries it and gets hurt?” I asked. My son tried to defend himself, “but I was barely on the railing.” “My point,” I continued, “is if you don’t want to sit out during recess, stay away from the banister. Period. There is no upside to sliding down even one part of it.” I went on, “You have to pick your battles and this one isn’t worth it.” He thought about what I said. We sat for a minute or so quietly. Then I added, “I want to go back and talk about labels. I don’t like them. People, particularly young people, can accept the labels they are given and let them define who they are or become. You are not a bad kid or a troublemaker. Do you do things that are wrong sometimes? Sure, but that’s part of growing up. I don’t know that your friends are either, but I do think you all are frustrating your teacher with your behavior. You don’t want to be labeled as troublemaker, because if you are, people will pay closer attention to what you are doing and will be looking for you to ’cause trouble.’ Someone who isn’t considered a troublemaker will be able to do the same thing and they won’t get in trouble, but you will. You don’t want that?” I paused, “You are going to be going to middle school in the fall and are going to have the opportunity to start over — a clean slate. You can get to decide how you come across to others. You can change the label.” He thought for a moment, as if he was thinking, and quietly said, “Okay. Thanks.”

I’m not sure if I got through, but am hopeful he’ll take what I said to heart. I don’t like labels. They generalize people too easily and can divert us from really getting to know someone, their story, and what redeeming qualities they have (because most of us do have some).

Has your child been labeled? How are you helping your child navigate labels?

Getting Caught Up in the Moment

Did you play sports growing up? Do you recall getting caught up in the action, whether you were playing or watching your team?

My son’s soccer team was recently invited to watch the local high school play in the state tournament. My son was excited to sit with his teammates and watch the teams play (a special bonus was that their coach was one of the coaches for the high school team playing). The kids quickly got caught up in the action. It was fun to see them interact, cheering on the team, doing the wave (without any care that no one else was doing it) and talking in their own team lingo as they observed the game. They also got caught up in the nastier side of sports, booing and finding ways to take digs at the opposition.

I got caught up in the action as well. It was a very aggressive and physical game. At one point, two players collided, resulting in one (from the team we were cheering for) bleeding from the head. When the referees proceeded not to issue a yellow card for the incident, I too got caught up in the moment. “When are you going to card #10, ref? This is ridiculous!” I yelled. My son was a little taken aback. One, because I had been relatively quiet up until this point, and two, I clearly reacted as though a true injustice had been done and either the ref was blind or incompetent. His reaction brought me out of the moment. I needed that. The ref’s job is hard enough, they didn’t need me yelling at them. I didn’t want my son thinking my behavior was right either. (On a side note, I don’t know how refs do it. I would sink into the ground if people were telling me how terrible I was while I was performing at my job. I don’t envy them, but do respect them, no matter how frustrating it can be when you see a missed call.).

The game was close right up to the end. The team my son was cheering for won in dramatic action. He was in heaven. He and his teammates celebrated and went off to find their coach to congratulate him. It was one of those moments where you recognize it’s special. It doesn’t happen often and you need to just enjoy it. I couldn’t help getting caught up in my son’s moment. It was pure joy.

How do you get caught up in special moments when they happen?

 

 

 

Super Bowl Sunday: Go Team!

Who are you rooting for today in the big game?

It’s been fun hearing my kids evaluate who they want to root for and why. They have sympathy for the Broncos because the Seahawks (our favorite team) beat them in the Super Bowl two years ago, and Peyton Manning is a good player. They like the Panthers because they’ve been dominant, they beat the Seahawks (we still wish we could get that first half back again), and Cam Newton gave us the ‘dab.’ So who do you root for?

My oldest had a philosophy when he was younger that didn’t disappoint…root for the team that’s going to win. Hard to argue with that, especially when you don’t have anything vested in either team. Of course, it will be fun to watch the commercials and eat some unhealthy food during the game, but ultimately it will be about us having some time together as our own team (family) and doing what many of us do here in America on Sunday afternoons, watch football.

How does your child decide who they root for? How do you, as a family, enjoy watching the game?

Go Team!

A Change in the Weather

What is your favorite time of year, and what makes it so?

In our house, Fall is right up there.  We made a list of our favorite things (kinda of like Oprah’s Favorite Things list, but made up of things you just can’t buy). 🙂

There are the normal things we look forward to every year:

  • Apple cider
  • The return of college football and going to Red Mill (Red Mill is a burger place that is open all year round. For whatever reason the return of college football reminds us it’s time to go back to Red Mill)
  • The leaves changing color, and
  • Going to the pumpkin patch (we’ll do that here in a few weeks)

And there are those things that are temporary, having to do more with my children’s ages and interests than anything else:

  • Watching my oldest son practicing soccer past sunset with his team
  • Spending more time with other moms during practice — we’ve found the kids don’t seem to miss us if we slip away for a hot beverage or quick meal and get back by the time it’s over
  • Watching and cheering my son and his teammates on at the game (it’s nerve racking for me)
  • Spending time on the playground with my younger son while older brother plays in a game (I’m much calmer here)
  • Decorating a gingerbread Haunted House (again, we’ll do that here in a few weeks…and as much as I’d like to think this will be a long-term tradition, I fear it will only last as long as the boys are interested in doing it).

Time continues to pass. The boys are getting older. We reached a new milestone this season. Our membership expired at the zoo. We’ve had a membership there since the kids were babies. They no longer seem interested in seeing the animals. Other parents warned us this was coming, but it feels a little like a change in the weather…nothing ever really stays the same, and that’s okay. The constant traditions of Fall I look forward to, they will always be there. The ones that are yet-to-be excite me. What activities or temporary traditions will the new seasons bring for my family? We’ll just have to wait and see.

What are your favorite Fall traditions?

Parenting is a Team Sport

Have you ever felt like parenting is a competition?

It’s a topic I often cover when speaking to parenting groups–being a parent can feel like many things including a rite of passage to see how we (as parents) can out do each other, or how our kids can. It starts when our child is very young — whose sleeping better through the night, eating better, rolling over first, standing up, walking, etc. We are proud of our child hitting a developmental milestone, and want to believe their success is largely due to our parenting skills, but in reality it is more a mixture of our child’s innate capabilities and disposition, which may or may not have been influenced by us.

While we may feel like competition is only between other parents, a topic that isn’t often spoken of is competition between the parents themselves. Competition between parents can be just as common, and is not limited to couples who are divorced. Competition between a couple can be more subtle in how it shows up: a child feels they can confide in one parent more than they can another and the parent who is left out feels sadness the child doesn’t have (or maybe want) to have the same relationship with them, or competition can arise when one parent connects/relates easily with their child, while the other struggles. There are many different ways the feeling of competition can arise, but parenting is not a competition; it’s about doing what’s right for our child, not us. This can be hard to keep front and center when we have our competitive juices flowing.

My husband took our oldest to his flag football game over the weekend. My younger son and I were going to meet them there closer to game time and were just about to head out the door when my husband called and said, “Don’t go anywhere, we’re coming home.” When they got home I asked what happened. I found out that our son was getting frustrated with what the coach was asking him to do. He was struggling to do the practice drill and was showing his frustration. Instead of being respectful to the coach and listening to what the coach was saying, he was getting more and more angry, and talking back. My husband told my son to calm down and be respectful, or we’re going home. My son jumped at the chance and said, “Fine, let’s go home.” I could tell by the look in my husband’s eyes when he told me that he hadn’t thought his threat would turn out the way it did. He had thought our son would calm down, and listen to the coach, because he wanted to play in the game. But he was stuck, like many of us when we may threats and are kids call us on it (anyone have to leave the restaurant or theatre — places you wanted to go, and then your child starts misbehaving or act up, and you threaten you’ll leave if they don’t calm down and they say basically indicate they never wanted to be there in the first place? Ugh!). I said, “Oh no, you are going to the game. That’s not fair to your team, but you’re not playing. You have to earn the right to play and you lost that right in the way you acted.  You are going to go there and support them — you are going to be their #1 cheerleader today, and you’re going to apologize to the coach for your behavior.” My son looked at me like he couldn’t believe this hadn’t happened earlier, and said, “Okay.” We got in the car and went to the field. He didn’t play, he did cheer and he apologized to the coach — not once, but twice. My hope was that he would understand you can never walk away when things get tough, you can’t let your actions let down a larger group (your team), and there are consequences, sometimes uncomfortable ones like apologizing to a coach, when you behave a certain way.

Later that night my husband and I were talking about what happened. Without discussing it, we easily could have been filed this incident in the competition file, where one parent did the “right” thing and the other did the “wrong” thing (one is a better parent than the other — see how easy situations can have that competitive feel?)…but that’s not the way we viewed it. Instead, one of us experienced, with the best intentions, a misstep and the other helped them recover. We are a team, and need each other’s help. Parenting is a team sport, not an individual one. We have certainly had scenarios where my husband helped bail me out of a misfired threat. We learn each time we experience this together, and allow ourselves the chance to discuss, reflect, and think about how we would handle the situation differently in the future. We get better together.

Have you ever felt like you were competing with another parent or your spouse? How do you parent as a team, versus as an individual?

Go Team!

12th Man – Junior Edition

Last week’s Super Bowl was devastating for Seattle Seahawks fans. To watch your team almost win the game and instead throw an interception, with no time left on the clock, was hard to accept. The 12th Man had to go through stages of grief: denial (no! no! no! That did not just happen!), anger (why didn’t they rush? why???), and finally acceptance (it is what it is…there is nothing we can do about it, so we need to figure out how to move on). Easier said than done, right?

We watched the game with my oldest son and were in disbelief as the fate of the Seahawks changed. He was upset (we all were). He outwardly showed it, and my husband and I inwardly reflected on how best to address the situation — had I been alone, my reaction may have more closely followed my son’s. When we had time to collect our thoughts, we worked to console our son–while we may have thought we were trying to console him, we were really trying to help him (and us) make sense of what just occurred. “Sometimes these things don’t happen like you hope they will. We have to remember both teams wanted to win as badly as the other. I’m sure there was a good reason they called that play.” While our words were rational, it was hard to find comfort in them. We all were hurting.

I’m guessing, like most 12s around the country, many of us didn’t sleep well on Sunday night. Getting up on Monday, only to be reminded of what happened the night before, was hard. I was concerned about how my son would do at school. I figured most of the students would struggle with what happened in the game, and I was right, but not for long.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the 12th Man is a strong community. One of my son’s teachers (part of the 12s) had the kids talk about the game and how they felt about it at the beginning of the school day. The class joined the rest of the school in a weekly assembly later that morning and talked about the game. My son shared what he learned during this gathering. “Mom, it’s really simple. They tried a play and it didn’t work. That happens sometimes,” he said. “It’s only a game. It’s not anything worth getting upset about. It’s not like it really matters.” Wow, sage advice, I thought. Teaching your child about life, is a big part of the parenting experience. My son was reminding me that while I like to think I’m his teacher, I’m also the student too. My son was teaching me now.

My son’s acceptance of what happened, helped me accept it too. Seeing Russell Wilson, Seattle’s QB, and Pete Carroll, Seattle’s Head Coach, talk about the play, why they did it, and how they were dealing with it helped too. It was another example of the 12s helping each other get through something.

Seattle should have won the football game, but may have won a bigger game in the long run–how to get through life, during good times and bad, together.

How have you handled unexpected disappointment? What support helped you get through it?

The Great Football Debate

Are you a parent who has concerns about letting your child play football?

I have shared in previous posts that my oldest son loves football and really wants to play. I love watching college football, and partly blame myself for getting him interested in the sport to begin with. My husband and I have allowed our son to play flag football up to this point. While we were hoping that would appease his desire to play the game, you can see his desire to play full-contact football everytime he watches a game, sees a high school player suited up, or walks into a sporting goods store. When he saw that you could buy football pads and helmets in a store you could see his eyes light up with delight. You could almost read his mind. I want those pads.

Our son recently asked about playing contact football with my husband and I. “I want to play!” he pleaded. My immediate response was “no way.” I followed it up with many talking points that backed up my position — it’s not safe, too many people get hurt, it can negatively impact your long-term quality of life, etc. My son didn’t hear anything after I said “no.” Instead of hearing me out, like any nine year old, he got more passionate with his plea. “You have to let me play. You just have to.” His petition lasted a full five minutes. He seems to have some talent (according to his biased mom), but even if he physically can compete, I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready for him to. While I wasn’t willing to budge, my husband was willing to hear him out. “We’ll consider it when you are in high school, and you show us you can compete, not get hurt and keep up your grades.”  My initial reaction was “what?”, but after thinking about it for a minute it made sense. Forbidding our son from playing would only make him want to play it more. I don’t want my child to miss out on experiencing something he wants to, but I also want to protect him and am responsible for helping him make good decisions. Allowing him to play football right now isn’t something I’m willing to do. I’m hoping (hopeful?) that with all the evidence and news around body and brain injuries in the sport, more will be done to make it safer so kids can enjoy the sport without having to sacrifice long-term health.

How do you talk to your child when they want to try something you’re not comfortable with them doing?

 

Good as Gold

The Sochi Olympics are coming to an end, and I am going to miss it. The athleticism, passion and commitment by the athletes is incredible. I always enjoy seeing an athlete experience their Olympic moment, particularly when it goes in their favor. Winning a gold must be a pretty spectacular feeling.

In a way, I felt like a I had my own Olympic moment this week. I experienced it during an unexpected teaching moment with my children. One of my son’s remarked that another boy in his class likes Hello Kitty. What made me recognize this as a teaching moment was when he added, “Isn’t that funny?” I asked him what was so funny about it. My other son joined in the conversation. “Hello Kitty is for girls, right?” he said. “Well,” I responded, “I can see why you may think Hello Kitty is for girls, but anyone can like Hello Kitty.” I could see the wheels turning in their head thinking this over. I added, “You might think of blue being a boys color, but girls can like blue too. And you might think of girls liking princesses and ponies,” I paused before adding for emphasis, “…and is Mom interested in princesses and ponies?” “No!” they both exclaimed with some delight. To drive the point further home I asked, “And isn’t football supposed to be for boys? Well, what is Mom’s favorite sport to watch?” “College football,” they sang. There were giggles all around and I felt like I got through to them.

As the giggles subsided, I circled back to my main point. “We all are different and will like different things, that’s what makes us interesting. It would be boring if it were all the same.” My sons latched onto this statement and shared their agreement. “If we were all the same we’d be robots,” my oldest said.  “Boring!” my other son and I said in unison.

I left the conversation feeling like I’d encountered opened my boys eyes to appreciate the joys of our differences. It was as good feeling, about as good as it gets. Was it as good as gold? It was maybe even better.

How do you help your child appreciate differences in others? What teaching moment has felt more like your Olympic moment?

Are You Ready for Some Football?

While the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos are preparing for the Super Bowl, my family is preparing for the game in our own way. No, we’re not preparing for a party, we’re preparing ourselves emotionally.

My oldest son is really excited for the game, and we’re trying to prepare ourselves for how to handle things should the game not go the way he hopes. I was the same way when I was his age: so hopeful my team would win the game, and inconsolable when my team was behind (and eventually lost).  The emotions would be so intense, the only way I knew to ease the pain was to leave the room, or turn the TV off.

We’re trying to show our son a different way to experience sports. Losing isn’t fun, and it can be painful to experience and hard to watch when you feel a connection with the team you’re rooting for. I suggested to my husband that we might have to turn the game off if it started going the wrong way, and my husband stopped me. “It will be a good opportunity for us to explain that what he’s feeling, although difficult, is something he needs to learn how to experience.”

He was right. Experiencing pain is difficult, and the game could present an opportunity for us to help our son start to learn how to work through the emotional pain of disappoint. I can’t say I’m thrilled at the prospect of this, only because this is an area I need to get more experience in myself.  We’re taught to avoid pain, particularly emotional pain by any means necessary.

Teaching children how to work through negative emotions isn’t easy. No one ever taught me as a child how to work through emotional pain and get to the other side. It’s taken much effort and personal reflection to understand this, and determine I want my child to have tools I only learned as an adult.

I have to admit, I’m not good at watching games where my team is losing, but I have an incentive to do it now: to show my child how to work through the pain that can come with disappointment. I might get a ‘hail mary’ on Sunday, with my son’s team winning and get to delay this discussion until we watch the next big game, but I’m not going to risk it. Just like the Seahawks and the Broncos are ready, I need to be ready to.

Are you ready for some football? I am.

A Little Competition

I was recently having coffee with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while and we were getting caught up on what was going on with our kids. Our local team is in the NFL Playoffs and the city has football fever. It prompted us to discuss our boys and athletics. She shared her son was in soccer and was amazed how quickly kids embrace being competitive. She commented that she and her husband had gotten caught up in cheering him on and wanting him to do well. Her comments resonated with me, as I’m sure they would with most parents.

When I speak to parenting groups I often talk about competition as part of the discussion. Remember when your child was born and you had them around other children their age?  if you are like most of us, you probably compared notes on where your child is with their developmental milestones. There was probably a conversation that mentioned something to the effect of: my child is ________ (fill in the blank: sleeping through the night, pulling themselves up, walking, eating solid food, never (or rarely) fusses, etc.). While the conversation isn’t about a sport, it is about how quickly or gracefully your child is progressing, and can start to feel as though your ability to parent is dependent on how quickly your child reaches a milestone. It can create great anxiety for a parent, particularly a new one. Just learning to care for the daily needs of your child, and taking care of yourself can be overwhelming, you don’t come into parenting thinking “I can’t wait to start competing with other parents!” None of us do.

As I talk to parenting groups I mention competition so the participants are aware that this feeling is normal and starts much earlier than many think. It also provides a great opportunity for each of us, as parents, to really understand how we view competition and what we want to teach our children about competition.  Do you thrive to compete and win individually? Do you prefer to collaborate and win as a team? Will you do anything not to compete? How much of your identity is associated with performance? What role does competition play into your “success” (as a person, or parent)?

Both of our sons play soccer in a non-competitive soccer league. We chose this league for a few reasons: the league had a good reputation and large membership (our thinking was: they must be on to something), and my husband and I needed to get clarity for ourselves on the role competition played in our own identities and how much we wanted it to play into our children’s.  I swam on a swim team as a child and learned that if I worked hard, I could win. I also learned that if I worked hard, the results would be better than if I didn’t. The second lesson was a much more valuable lesson for me as an adult. My husband ran on a cross country team. He learned that if he worked hard, his endurance to run long distances surpassed his expectations, sometimes resulting in him winning the competition. He also learned that sticking to something pays off in the long run, a valued lesson he’s leveraged as an adult.

Our boys view soccer in completely different ways. Our oldest wants to score goals and win games. My husband and I have always reiterated to our boys that they are in soccer to learn how to play and have fun, we don’t care if they score many goals or none at all. Our oldest has heard us say this numerous times, but continues to want to win. It’s more than that though, he wants to demonstrate that his hard work translates into successful results. We can certainly understand this desire, but continue to work with him on the dangers of this thinking. Having successful results is not always possible, no matter how well you prepare. It can be a slipper slope to feeling negatively about yourself and your capabilities when you aren’t able to achieve or maintain the results you desire or expect. Our youngest son could care less about being competitive. In fact, we’ve considered taking him out of soccer a few times, because he seems more interested in laughing and having fun than in learning to play. He continues to play because it keeps him active and he is having fun (that was one of the reason we said they were in soccer class after all).

As a parent it is easy to engage in the competition of parenting, the key is noticing it’s going on, and being clear on the role it plays in your life today and the role you want it to play in your child’s.

How does parenting feel like a competition? Do you feel like you’re competing with other parents, or is your child competing with other children, or both? What role do you want competition to play in your child’s life? What lesson(s) do you hope they will take or learn from it?