Listening In

Does your kid ever appear to tune you out, only to find out they’re really listening?

When my youngest was small he LOVED the word “no.” He used it so often you’d wonder if he truly understood the meaning or was just messing with you. My husband and I decided to see how much he was listening to us by changing up the questions. “Are you hungry?” “No!” “Are you tired?” “No!” “Do you want to play with a toy?” “No!” “Do you want a million dollars?” Pause. “Yes!” So, he was listening.

Speed up to teens years, both youngest and oldest engage with my husband and I in different ways. The youngest more likely to talk and listen. The oldest more likely to nod, shake head, or grunt. Texting is sometimes the most effective way to get messages across. 😂

Though I’m unclear how often our sons actually listen to us, I was happily surprised when we were sitting in a movie and the previews were showing. Normally we tune them out, unless something about them really catches our attention. I wish I could remember which trailer it was but the preview showed the main character conflicted about what to do in a situation and clearly a future act of violence was on their mind. The supporting character said, “Don’t get even by hurting those that did wrong by you, but get even by doing right by those that helped you.” There was an audible gasp for those in the theater. It was profound in focusing on taking the high road, making choices that lead to opportunity, it was so well said and I was glad it didn’t come from my husband or I. The audible gasp by others in the theater caught my boys attention. What was just said was important perhaps even wise. They were listening.😊

How do you get your kid to listen (particularly when trying to get an important point across)? Have any parent-hacks you can share around how you got your child to listen?

In Train-ing

How will you get to your holiday destination(s) this year?

Our youngest is a huge fan of public transit and rail. My husband first introduced our boys to riding the bus when they were younger to get around town for their activities. Our youngest learned to get to middle school via light rail and bus when he entered sixth grade. That’s when we think the bug hit. He loved transit, the paths it takes, how it moves people around with relative ease. He was hooked.

You can say he’s a bit of an expert as he spends hours researching about metro and light rail lines around the world. Our summer vacation we used public transportation most of the time because of him. He planned it out for us — where to go, what line to take, knew the time tables — it was impressive. For his birthday, he took his friends on the train to the next city over to explore and celebrate (thank goodness the teens fare was free!😊).

His comfort with transit, and love for it, is infectious. I rarely took public transit before my son became so enthralled. He’s helped even his old mom learn a new trick. 😄

When we plan trips or go anywhere using transit is now part of the equation. Pluses of transit — it saves you money (no airport or downtown parking), is less stressful (you don’t have to deal with traffic), and for our son gives him greater independence (replaces what a bike did for me in my childhood); downsides — sometimes it can be unpredictable (running behind) and riding with others.

While we have no near term plans to travel I know many do. While my son is bummed he’s not mapping out a journey for us, he’s continuing to learn as much as he can on light rail and other public transit around the world so he can guide us on future trips. You could say he’s in training for his future (whether it manifests into a job, or just remains a passion). He makes me see travel in a different way. Holiday travel doesn’t have to be running around to catch your flight, or stuck on the interstate with everyone else. You have another option, the train. Depending on your destination, it might take longer but with way less stress, interesting scenery, and an opportunity to actually enjoy the ride.

How will you get to your holiday gatherings? What would make your holiday travel with your child or teen less stressful?

I will be away next weekend celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends and will return in December. Happy Thanksgiving!

Preparation

How prepared is your child to be independent?

My teens are opposites in many ways. One showers, wears deodorant, brushes and flosses without being asked. The other has to be prompted, reminded, nagged more often than not. They will take proactive action only in more extreme situations (e.g., they recognize they smell pretty bad too).

One teen can get around on public transit, without complaint. The other one prefers to be driven and picked up, and complains when these options aren’t available. 😉

Neither’s room is clean per se, but one child does put their clothes in their dresser drawers, and has made their bed more days than not. The other uses their room (more exact-their floor) as their dresser, and rarely makes their bed.

Our oldest is getting closer to the day he’ll be on his own, and my husband and I have discussed the need to get him better prepared—to live in a space he (and others) can tolerate, maybe even be proud of (that means being tidier and cleaning up after himself), getting himself to and from places without the help of mom and dad, and putting more care into his hygiene (I don’t know anyone who enjoys being around unpleasant smells).

We decided since football season has finished and our son can decide what he does after school (workout or come home), he can figure out how to get himself home — walk or public transit. The situation presented itself for us to get him doing this when my husband was tied up and I was across town when our son reached out to get a ride home. He’d have to figure out how to get home on his own (keep in mind he was about a mile away from our house). He was frustrated that we couldn’t get him but became really unhappy when we told him he’d need to start getting himself around without our help. “You can’t just change things!,” he said, “this is so unfair.” He continued to share how upsetting this change was for him. We gave him some space to calm down.

I went to talk to him after a while. He doubled-down on how ‘dumb’ and ‘unfair’ the change is. I doubled-down on the importance of us better preparing him to live on his own, and his need to demonstrate not only to us, but more importantly to himself, that he’s ready. That means he’ll need to navigate public transit sometimes, take ownership of his space (room) and personal cleanliness. He resisted. I reminded him no one likes change, it hard, and I understood he didn’t like it. He told me he was done talking to me and get out of his room. Power struggle ensues?🙃 I tell him I won’t leave until he can calm himself down. He resists (of course, trying to flex his independence). I stayed and made him show me a few deep breaths. His facial expression read I hate you so much. I get it. I had those moments with my parents too. Before I left his room, I reminded him his father and I weren’t helping him by helping him (cleaning up after him, doing his laundry, nagging him about personal hygiene, etc.). He was old enough and needs to take full ownership.

It’s tough making change, especially when resistance is high. It’s harder when it’s with someone you love. Its easier knowing it’s for my son’s benefit. He loses if we don’t allow him to grow and learn what he’s capable of.

How prepared is your child? What challenging situations have you encountered trying to help them and how did you overcome their resistance?

Strength vs. Weakness

How do you show your emotions to others?

I have to admit I struggled showing mine when I was younger. I didn’t allow myself to feel or experience my feelings as I thought they’d show weakness or an inability for me to solve problems on my own.

My oldest struggles experiencing his for similar reasons. He came home after sports practice, was mumbling under his breath, saying little to us, and closing his door in a way you knew he didn’t want it opened. He came out briefly to get dinner. When asked how he was, he looked at me incredulously and said, “practice sucked. I’m just so over it!” He’d had practices before he hated, but this felt like something more. You could tell from his body language he felt tense. I attempted to engage. He said something to the effect of “leave me alone, I’m about to blow a gasket.” My husband attempted to engage. Our son resisted. We decided we needed to let him cool down, and then revisit.

The next morning, before we needed to leave for school, I went to talk to him again. “What was going on last night?” I asked. He grumbled and shared he’d had a hard practice. I asked what made it tougher than usual. Turns out it was the wet and cold, I knew he was holding back. “What else?” I pressed. He sighed and said, “okay, when I was driving home and turning onto our street I thought I was clear, but noticed a car, at the last minute, who’s headlight was out.” I could tell they must have almost hit each other and it scared and angered him. I shared as much. “Anytime the unexpected happens, especially in the car, a normal reaction is fear — am I’m okay are they okay? — and then anger — how dare you scare me!” He looked like he was taking this in though we’ve talked about this before. I continued, “what I’m more concerned about is you being unwilling to talk about your feelings when you got home last night. What you were feeling seemed disproportionate to what you were sharing. “Mom, I don’t need a spotlight on me every time I’m upset.” “It’s not a spotlight,” I said, “it’s helping you work through your emotions. If you don’t talk to someone about your feelings and you hold them in, eventually they will come out in an explosive way that others won’t understand. You’re not doing yourself or anyone else any favors when you don’t work to understand your feelings and find a healthy release for them. Talking to others is one of the easiest ways. I’m here. You’re dad is here. Talk to your friends if needed, just talk to someone.”

He appeared to be considering our conversation. He’s becoming more independent and wants to handle things more on his own. I can appreciate that, but desperately want him to avoid the all-too-common pitfall that keeping your emotions to yourself and not experiencing and working through them is a sign of strength instead of what it truly is, a sign of weakness. I learned this when I talked to a therapist for the first time later in life. Learning how powerful and cathartic it could be to talk and work through emotions lifted my confidence in navigating life and armed me to better deal with challenges as they come my way. My hope is that my son sees how sharing and working through his feelings can benefit him too.

How do you work through and express your feelings? How are you helping your kid work through and express theirs?

Pushing through Scary

What everyday situation(s) scare you?

Getting a spider out of the house would be high on my list. For my boys it’s different. For my oldest it’s girls. It makes him so uncomfortable he just avoids, avoids, avoids. Doesn’t want to talk about. Doesn’t want to deal with it. My youngest it’s making friends. Or the knowledge it’s harder for him, as being on the spectrum makes it more challenging for him to pick up on social cues. He has friends, but hasn’t made new ones at his new school yet.

My husband and I feel like our kids listen to us as if we are Charlie Brown’s teacher sometimes – wah wah wah. It takes hearing advice or insight (even if it’s exactly what my husband or I shared) from another adult for the words to land. For my youngest, this truth occurred when he was at the doctor’s office for an annual check-up. He was sharing his struggles (our doctor also tries to assess their patients mental health along with their physical), and the doctor, who had some knowledge of the high school he goes to, encouraged him to join an after school club, or start one if the club he’d be interested in didn’t exist. My son nodded his head, but I could tell he wasn’t truly buying in (after all his father and I had encouraged him to do the same thing. Our son had been willing to do theatre but not pursue his other interests where he’d hoped to connect with others that share his passion for geography and transit.). Regardless, the doctor opened my son’s mind to revisit this.

During dinner we discussed the doctor’s visit including revisiting school clubs. My son resisted (it doesn’t exist), didn’t want to start a new club (no one else will want to join). He was digging in his heels regardless of what might husband or I said. We finished the conversation telling him that often in life, you have to take the lead, regardless how scary, to make things happen. If you don’t take action you’re just living in someone else’s world. That seemed to stick.

He went to his room. My husband and I went about our normal after dinner activities. We weren’t sure, if anything, our son would do in regards to what we had talked about. Lo and behold, within an hour he came out of his bedroom smiling a pretty big smile. “Mom,” he said, “I want to show you something.” I followed him into his room. He’d clearly been searching his school club site and found one that was for world (geography) enthusiasts. We read the description together. “You definitely can contribute here,” I said. He nodded (this time a confident you’re-right-mom kind of nod), and shared he’d reach out to the teacher advisor to join. His mood was lifted. Mine was lifted. He was proud he’d taken an action and saw the positive result that can come.

It can be scary to try new things including (perhaps especially?) meeting new people. Taking action, even if it isn’t always successful, allows you to grow, lessens the fear with practice, and more often than not, leads to success. I’m going to keep pushing my boys to take chances, and have more ownership in their life experience. Now, how to get my oldest to consider opening himself up to love??? 🥰

What scares your child? How are you arming them to break thru the fear?

Combating Sticks and Stones

Words can hurt, right? Even when unintentional.

My youngest has grown tall for his age (over 6’), understands the importance of healthy eating and movement to live a long and healthy life, but eats more than the energy he’s expending, and is quickly growing out of his clothes.

He and I were out for a walk when he shared a comment one of his fellow students made, calling him fat. Of course, I wanted to know details so I asked him, “What exactly did they say?” He shared it was someone he didn’t know, it happened in the hallway, and the person was smiling, made eye contact with my son, and said, “hey man, your clothes don’t fit,” and kept walking. He wasn’t laughing, his tone wasn’t harsh, but his words landed like a punch to my son’s gut. “How are you feeling?” I asked. “Sad,” he said. I understood. Of course the momma bear in me went into high gear, and I said, “if someone says that again, you can say, ‘well your personality doesn’t fit.’ It might confuse them in the moment, but should get them to think more carefully about their words to others.” I was angry.

We walked for a while more. My own feelings of insecurity and body image/shame that were more intense in my younger years came flooding back. I HATED that my child was having to experience people being so careless with their words, and trying to diminish my son and his self-worth. We talked about why the person may have said what they did — their own discomfort, or not feeling good about themselves and wanting to direct their negative energy elsewhere and my son being the unfortunate recipient. My son felt sorry for the other student and their ignorance. That student has no idea who my son is, or what he has to offer others (much like my son doesn’t know the other student).

We were fortunate that my son had been reached out to on the same day by his former school asking him to come back and volunteer, and commenting on how much he was missed. It helped ease my son’s pain. I was grateful.

Having a child that struggles with anything — looks, smarts, physical abilities, etc. is tough. People being thoughtless with their words and hurting others, just mean. I have to remind myself we all can and should do better. Be thoughtful. Be caring. Be kind.

How do you help your child when others aren’t nice? How are you modeling the behavior you want to see in your child and others?

Fight On!

Does your child play a sport?

Our Friday evenings are filled with football games. Our oldest plays mostly center and on the offensive line for his team. Going to his games is a mix of nostalgia (my high school experience going to games), nerves (still getting to know parents of the other players), and stress (for my son and the other players safety, how the game will go, etc.).

When I was in high school, our team was good. It was fun to see them win, it stung when they lost, but socializing with friends was the best part. Fast forward to now, my son’s team did well enough to win their division last year (moving them up), and now getting pummeled every game this year — so painful. Yet, while defeat doesn’t feel good, and can shake your confidence, the kids seem to be taking it in stride, and the school community more focused on supporting the players and just being happy to be together.

My son’s coach’s motto is “fight on!” It’s been the motto of the team for many years. And while it’s focused on the game of football it certainly applies to life. Keep going. Get back up. Try again. Keep fighting. Fight on!

My son’s team is being put to the test this year. Continued losses make it hard to get back up, but they support each other, want to get the best out of each other, and show each other they have given it their all. It might not be reflected in the final score of the game, but in their resilience in the face of defeat these kids are learning, they’re winning.

How does your child handle defeat? What positive impact comes from it?

We will be celebrating an older family member’s milestone birthday next week, so I will be off, but back the following.

Weathering the Storm

Watching hurricane Ian sweep across the state of Florida was hard. It’s hard anytime you see a natural disaster happening and have no ability to stop or change the course of what’s coming.

This storm was especially hard as our family has many loved ones that were in its path. Add a particularly rough work week, and there were moments I felt I was barely able to hold it together (unsure if a good cry and screaming would have helped). Just one of those moments where you know something has got to give.

As a parent you want to shelter your kids from worry or concern. It moments of great stress, it adds more stress if you try to keep it inside. My husband was great. He could see the stress and offered hugs and words of reassurance (everything’s going to be okay) when I needed it. Instead of potentially scaring my boys more by losing my cool (snapping at something small), I let them know I was having a rough week. It was going to be okay, but I was stressed and they could help me just by doing what was asked and cut mom some slack.

They agreed. My youngest now asks us how our work days are at dinner (yikes? Maybe I shared too much😬).

The hurricane is still moving. Many are still in danger. I’m fortunate that our loved ones were spared. So thankful. My oldest knew his grandparents might be effected. He (who normally doesn’t show/share his emotions) texted me (because that’s how he likes to talk to me more often than not 😂) to ask how they were doing. I could tell from all his questions he was stressed at the idea they might not be okay. I reassured him they were fine and encouraged him to text them himself (why do we often get asked to be the messenger?🥰).

How are you weather storms (literal or emotional) that come your way? How are you helping your kid navigate stressful situations?

Audition

Ever get stage fright?

That’s not exactly what happened with my son, but it was pretty close. My youngest started high school and has been looking forward to getting back into theatre. Being his first year, he wasn’t sure what he’d need to do to join the drama club. He learned they’d have auditions and he’d need to come, bring his paperwork, and read a script.

He was a bit nervous about going (naturally), but worked through his nerves and stayed until it was his turn. They called him to the stage and said, “Okay, you can start.” My son was confused and overwhelmed. He didn’t know what they wanted him to do and he broke down in tears. Thankfully, the adults realized they needed to give him more direction, gave him a minute to compose himself and handed him a script to read from. He regained his composure and redid his audition, this time feeling more confident in his effort. I met him in the parking lot following. He broke down in tears again talking about how embarrassing it was that he didn’t know what to do, and admitting that afterwards he realized he hadn’t read the paperwork completely and at the bottom it referenced coming with a monologue prepared.

We talked about this being a growing experience. That life will sometimes through unexpected things our way, and how we respond matters. He might not have liked how he responded, but recognized he was so overwhelmed that his emotions burst through. I reminded him that the good news was he survived and everything was fine after all. He appeared to take some solace in this. We talked about how he might handle the situation differently next time – be it an audition or something else. “I guess I’ll read the paperwork more closely,” he said. I told him that was a good way to avoid getting caught off guard, but the unknown can happen regardless of how well you plan. While he couldn’t come up with what he’d do differently, we discussed recognizing the feeling if/when it happens again and if possible take some deep breaths to give himself a chance to respond in a way he feels better about. It’s a start.

I’m proud of my son for trying and not giving up. I’m more proud of how in tune he is with his emotions and his understanding of his need to feel them, counter to how many of us who will do anything not to.

The drama season officially kicks off soon and the school has several plays. Whether he has a speaking role or plays Tree#3 😊 I’m grateful he’s sticking with it, as it proves even when we fall/fail/didn’t-realize-we-were-supposed-to-have-memorized-a-monologue there is always the opportunity to dust yourself off (regroup), and try again.

How do you handle the unexpected? How are you helping your child navigate a perceived failure?

Dress to Impress

At what age did you become conscientious at the clothes you wore?

For me, it was probably middle school. I cared about clothes — wanting to look nice — probably as early as kindergarten, but middle school it went to a whole new level. I became concerned about what my clothes said about me — did I come off as cool, lame, trying too hard, not trying hard enough, etc. Add that I wasn’t petite or small by any stretch just compounded the issue.

Thankfully, I have boys, and while all boys are different my sons haven’t had much interest in what others think of their outfits. My oldest can be found most days rain, shine, hot, cold, and anything in between in a hoodie and sports shorts. My youngest likes graphic tees, but only when they highlight his interests.

On the first day of school, my youngest put thought into his outfit. He wasn’t so concerned with his appearance as he was with letting people know he has an interest in transit. He was adorned head to toe in all things metro/subway. He knew it was overkill, but wanted to do it, in hopes others would engage with him on the topic. He came home disappointed. We asked if he got any feedback on his outfit and he said he didn’t. I asked him what he thought others were most concerned about the first day of school. He said, “themselves,” as he sighed and rolled his eyes knowing it was the truth. “Give it more time. You keep wearing it (as he has many pieces to choose from) and people will eventually notice.” He knew that, but was still disappointed. I can understand. You try to get affirmation or acknowledgement from others, and do not always get it. Especially when you are seeking it in a covert way. I reminded him to just be himself. People are getting adjusted to new classes, teachers, and peers, and he’ll find his group (be them transit enthusiasts or otherwise) before he knows it.

What does your child/teen do to connect with others?