The Comeback

Has your child ever made a remark that has stopped you in your tracks?

When my oldest son entered middle school he struggled with people who made unkind comments. We talked about strategies for how to handle and one way we discussed was to have a comeback. Not an equally unkind comment (e.g. an eye for an eye), but a smart comeback, a clever comeback. One that shows you caught the person’s unkind comment and you’re handing it back to them (with the intent of getting them to become more self-aware and be more careful with their negative comments and how they use their words in the future).

Examples:

Unkind comment: “You’ve got a big nose.
Smarter comeback: “The better to smell jerks like YOU with.”

Unkind comment: “You’re weird.”
Smarter comeback: “Everyone’s weird, including you for saying that.”

I didn’t realize how far my son had advanced in his comeback skills until we were looking at some apps he’d downloaded. I was asking him to show me what each app did (as a parent, I wanted to ensure that there was nothing inappropriate). He showed me an app where you race cars, but the app’s title implied it was about wrecking cars. “Are you supposed to wreck the cars?” I asked. “Sometimes,” my son said and proceeded to show me how you could do it.  I commented, “Oh, you lost a wheel!” I laughed because the car appeared to be racing just fine even though a wheel had fallen off. “Well, you lost your youth” my son replied. It was matter-of-fact and direct. I don’t think he liked that I had laughed at the wheel falling off and was treating my comment as ‘unkind’ vs. an honest, non-emotional observation. “My youth?” I said. He smiled, “well, yea!” He looked sheepish as if he realized he may have had a disproportionate reaction to the situation. I couldn’t help but laugh, “Well, I know someone who better watch it or they may lose their youth if they don’t watch what they say to their Mom.” We both laughed at that.

When I grew up, I would and could have never had this conversation with my mother. It would have been seen as being very disrespectful. I’m not sure I was excited being told by my son that I’d lost my youth, but I was impressed by his comeback. It was clever, a bit out of left field for the situation, but I had to give him credit.

Self-advocacy can be hard to navigate as you age. Asking for what you want is key, defending yourself in a way that gets your point across without escalating the situation is another. My son is gaining ground in defending himself. I have to applaud him for that.

How do you help your child self-advocate? How do you help them respond when people direct unkind comments at them?

Object vs. Equal

How do you experience your value?

As a child, I would tell you I experienced my personal worth or value when I did something I was proud of — worked hard to accomplish a difficult task, tried something I was afraid of, or pushed myself to get even better at something I was already skilled at. While I was personally proud, being acknowledge by others, particularly my parents and peers, went a long way in how I saw myself and what I had to offer others. Another way I was valued was by conversations I used to have with my father as I got older. He would often pull me aside to help me through a difficult situation. He would talk to me, give me his perspective and then remind me what I brought to the situation. He told me how he “saw” me and the value I had to offer, the value I didn’t necessarily see in myself.

My oldest son questions his value. He feels this particularly as it applies to the opposite sex. As we encourage him to explore being friends with girls, maybe even test the waters of having a relationship, he is vehemently against it. He isn’t willing to reach out because he concretely believes he will be rejected. As he puts it, “what do I have to offer?”, “I not good enough for them,” so “what could they possibly see in me?” I don’t know that I was able to verbalize these sentiments until I was much older and after much therapy. This got me asking myself when do we start viewing ourselves as objects vs. equals? Things vs. beings that have value. I was acknowledged by my parents, I believe I had experiences where they tried to get me to understand my value outside of my physical self. Yet, here is my son, a smart, nature-loving, athletic kid that struggles with his self-worth.

I felt the spotlight that others assigned a value to my outward exterior most intensely in middle school. My weight fluctuated as I entered puberty. Growth spurts, moving from one state to another, and the loss of a familiar summer sport (I moved to a city that was small and didn’t have a swim team) contributed to my weight struggle. I didn’t know why I wasn’t thin like my siblings. I would have done anything to be. Diet, shame and self-hate never seemed to produce the body that I wanted. It was a burden I carried for decades and only in recent years have I begun to unravel and loosen its grip on me. I would do anything, and I mean anything to help my children avoid this. I’m not sure how to do this, other than diets are a no-go for my kids (healthy eating and getting them moving/exercising — check, putting them on a diet — not gonna happen), to continue to expose them to object vs. equal type thinking of themselves and others — the trappings and how easy they are to fall into; and how to recognize them, avoid them and choose a more enlightened and less self-defeating path.

I have to be on the lookout for opportunities to talk to my sons about these things. I caught my sons recently when they mentioned how “hot” a TV personality was. Thankfully we were in our house without anyone outside our family around. “That is a person playing a role,” I chided. “How do you think they would feel if they knew you only thought about them in how they look on the outside?” My boys didn’t like that I had ‘caught’ them in object thinking. “Well, Mom, lots of people think she looks hot, it’s not just us,” one son replied. “That’s the problem,” I continued, “if you don’t realize you’re doing it, you’ll continue to do so. This causes damage when people only see their worth based on what others see on the outside and don’t spend time to get to know what’s on the inside. Do you understand?” “Yes,” they chimed in unison.

This isn’t an easy lesson to teach. We are bombarded with messages that we are only as good as our outward appearance, there are industries built on us buying into this. It’s our job as parents to be aware of these pervasive and consistent untruths that are being told. And help our children combat them.

How are you combating object messaging your child receives? How are you combating messaging that values only your or your child’s outside appearance?

Kids Have Power

Have you ever seen the power kids have?

We are walking in the March for Our Lives march this Saturday, March 24th because we need to talk a stand to make our kids and our society safer. We’re walking because it’s important to us. And while I wish we the adults had already addressed these issues years ago (Columbine should have been enough, Sandy Hook should have been the last straw), I’m proud the students called us out on our inability to ‘do something’ and are helping lead this effort. I’ve seen the power kids can have first hand.

I witnessed kids having power in multiple ways — with their honesty, their bravery, their resilience, and their joy. I witnessed a different kind of power when my son (then 10 years old) went to a high school soccer game with his soccer buddies. Their coach also coached the high school team who was playing in the district tournament. The stands were filled with high school kids and their parents. The game was close, both teams were playing hard. Some players were being a little overaggressive — tripping, acting as if they’ve been tripped (oh, the acting!), and physical — running into/hitting each other. One player on the opposing team went into another player so hard he caused his victim to start bleeding profusely from the head. My son and his friends didn’t like what they saw one bit. You started to hear them chatter, “hey, that wasn’t fair.” “Why isn’t the ref giving him a card?” and on it went. I didn’t have a good answer. I wasn’t sure a card was in order either. Not to worry, the situation was reversed soon enough, to where the aggressive player, who had caused the other player to bleed, was clipped and started to bleed (much less so) from his knee. He threw his arms up in the air to the ref and started arguing that the other player should be penalized and how much he’d been wronged. My son and his friends weren’t having any of it. One of them stood up in the stands and said, “Oh, did you get a boo-boo?,” and the other boys immediately chimed in. “Ah, does it hurt? Do you want your mommy?” I don’t know where my son and his friends got this, I’d never seen them act this way before, but I have to tell you it got the crowd and the players attention. The opposing high school students weren’t happy about the comments but couldn’t say anything — what were they going to do yell at a bunch of kids in front of their parents? And the parents couldn’t say anything because, well, they’re the parents and they are supposed to set the example, right? The player, stopped complaining and quick ran across the field as far away as he could get — he didn’t come near us the rest of the game — I can’t say for sure, but would tell you it appeared he might be avoiding our side of the field. I smiled to myself and thought, “Wow, these kids have power.”

Don’t underestimate the power of a child’s voice to make change — it has power. Whether its small and finite — like getting an older kid to stop his behavior on the soccer field, or big and bold — like the Parkland, FL students who are getting us off our backsides to do something about guns in our country.

What (super) powers does your child have? How you are you helping them find their voice?

You’re a Good Friend

How many good friends do you have?

My youngest son and I continue to read our new favorite book, The Asperkid’s Secret Book of Social Rules: The Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens with Asperger Syndrome by Jennifer Cooke O’Toole. What I love about this book is how much of this information benefits people on the spectrum and those of us who aren’t.

My son and I are now in the part of the book that is about friendship — what makes a good friend and how to go about cultivating a friendship. As I read the chapter I was struck by how much I would have benefitted from someone telling me this information when I was my son’s age about what makes a good friend. When I was young, I didn’t think about friendships in layers per se, but did understand I had different friends — some were kind, some were kind when they felt like it, some could be trusted, others couldn’t, etc. In the book, it spells out characteristics a good friend has. Some of the basics: Smiles when they see you, likes some of the same things you do, shares some of the same opinions, invites you to hang out. And others that are more advanced and truly define a good friend: stands up for you (even if you’re not there), stops you if you put yourself down, listens, sees talents in you that you hadn’t noticed, likes you for exactly who you are. There are many more characteristics she names, but you get the picture, she is shining a light on what a true and worthwhile friend is.

After reading this I reflected on my own childhood friends. I had some friends that had some of these characteristics, but don’t think I had any ‘true’ friends until I was college-age. As I’ve grown older, I’ve sought out, cared for and worked to develop healthy and meaningful friendships vs. giving equal care and time across all friends regardless to what they bring to the relationship. I wondered how I might have invested my time differently with people earlier in life if I had had this information. I thought what the author said was so valuable I grabbed my older son and said, “I need to read this to you.” He has friends much like I did in middle school — some are nice, some are nice when they feel like, some can be trusted, and others cannot. After reading with both my boys I felt like I had given them a path to know how to spot a good friend and better spend their time with people who will value them and their friendship and reciprocate in kind.

Friendship can be a tricky thing to navigate, especially if you don’t understand what a good friend ‘looks’ like. I’m grateful I’ve had an opportunity to enlighten my kids (and remind myself) about what a good friend truly is.

How are you teaching your child to spot (and make) a good friend?

One Day At A Time

How do you handle stressful situations?

This year has been off to a somewhat stressful start for our family. My job has evolved and I’ve taken on more responsibility. My oldest picked up new classes and is feeling the stress of higher demands on his abilities and performance. And we got a cat (but you already know that).

Early in January, I was having moments where the new responsibilities were too many and coming at me too fast. In those moments I’d feel overwhelmed, and experience a wide range of emotion from fear–can I handle everything that is being given to me? to anger–why is this happening me? to hope — okay, I think I can do this; only to find myself repeating this loop over and over. It was exhausting.

My oldest was going through the same. Taking on assignments that were pushing his comfort level. Due dates that seemed aggressive. Grades hanging in the balance. He too was dealing with a range of emotion from fear — how am I doing to do this? to anger — why are they asking me/making me do this? to hope — okay, maybe I can figure this out. The same loop repeating over and over, and just like his mom, he was finding it exhausting.

In moments of stress, we seek out coping mechanisms. All my former coping mechanisms were not having the intended affect. Food — no thanks, no appetite — I’m too stressed. Meditation — okay I’m meditating, but I’m only slightly less tense after doing so. Giving myself a break — too tense and overwhelmed to even consider it. I had a moment of clarity when I was discussing my situation with a peer. “I’ve got to just take it one day at a time,” I said. I don’t know where it came from, but it was like a light turned on. Part of my struggle was that I kept jumbling everything I had to do today, tomorrow, next week, next month, etc. into the ‘have-to-do’ compartment of my brain which was setting off my ‘help-I’m-overwhelmed’ alarm bells. When I said it outloud, I could almost immediately feel the stress diminishing. One day at a time. I can handle this. Just focus on today. Not tomorrow or the day after that. Just today.

After having this ephiphany I shared it with my son. When he next shared how stressed he was, I asked him what he had to get done that day — not the next or the following, just that day. When he replied with items he had to do he had a similar reaction. He even smiled and said, “I can do that, mom.”

His relief matched mine. I’ve heard the phrase “one day at a time” a million times, but never really took it to heart, until now…when I had to.

How do you cope with stressful situations? How do you help your child cope when they are stressed?

Learning Together

What are you teaching your child?

As a parent, I’ve always felt my role is mainly comprised of two things: to teach my children things (how life works, how to be a good citizen, how to prosper, etc.) and to keep them safe. I’ve been keenly aware since becoming a parent, that while my husband and I are doing most of the teaching (in addition to their formal education and instructors), we’re also learning from each child–each is different, has varying needs and ways in which they learn–so we can help them thrive.

My husband and I became increasingly aware that we were going to need to increase our knowledge of kids on the autism spectrum after our youngest was diagnosed. He has always done well academically, but struggled socially. He has a happy disposition, and people generally like him, but he is challenged with making meaningful and lasting connections. In doing some research I came across a book, The Asperkid’s Secret Book of Social Rules — The Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens with Asperger Syndrome by Jennifer Cook O’Toole. My son and I started reading it together. For me, it was like shining a light in a dark space. I started to understand the true challenges my son faces and why. For the first time, I started to get a much better understanding of how my son’s brain works. I wasn’t the only one who was learning. My son started to get a much better picture of what we’ve been trying to teach him and why.

The book references those that are high-functioning as Aspie’s, and those that are not on the spectrum as Neuro-typical (NT). Oh, how I love that difference. It provides an alternative to speaking of behaviors in terms other than normal and abnormal. My son is a pretty normal kid with the exception that his brain is wired to think and process information differently. My son and I have been learning together. We are having ‘aha’ moments where we are understanding each other and social situations described in the book more clearly. My son even had a moment of self-reflection where he realized how he’d handled a situation as an “Aspie” vs. a “NT”, and how he might handle the same situation differently in the future.

While I have always prided myself on being a good teacher to my child, I’m finding more satisfaction learning together. I need to learn more. Learning together now, while I can still help my child as he grows, feels like winning the lottery. Thank you to Jennifer for this book. For the light bulb moment, and more that will come. Not just for my family, but hopefully for many others.

What are you teaching your child? How are you learning from or with your child to help them as they grow?

At the Crossroads of Raising an Independent Child

Are you trying to raise an independent child?

I am. I was raised to be independent, it was a conscious decision on my parents part. They were involved in my life — they taught me manners, how to be safe, led groups I participated in, they advocated when they needed to for me, came to every recital, game or event we were participating in and cheered me on — all while teaching me to be independent. I was taught how to take care of my space, learning how to set the table, clean-up (table, room, house), vacuum and wash clothes. I was taught how to earn money, encouraged to get a job when I turned 16. They encouraged me to play sports, music, etc. and try new things. They gave me the skills I needed to go out into the world on my own.

I have always taught my kids about safety, though I’m always unsure how effective what I’ve taught them will be (I hope it will be sufficient); I’ve taught them manners (which we are still working on); and my kids have responsibilities around the house, and are encouraged by us to try new things, but know there are still many my skills my husband and I need to teach our kids.

As I’ve previously shared, my oldest is in middle school and is still adjusting to all the changes that have occurred. We got him a flip phone (his first phone) when he started school so he can stay in touch with us so we know he’s gotten to school or is on his way home. The flip phone was chosen because of the limited capability it has. It was a conscious decision on our part. My son first started with only texting me as we had discussed — when he got to school and we he was on his way home. Then he started adding a phone call into the mix. Or two. Or three. He doesn’t seem to understand mom has a job and can’t always grab the phone right away (though he does know I’ll call him back as soon as I can). And while I love the fact that my son wants to talk to me — whether he’s calling to tell me about his day or a struggle he had, I feel like I’m at a crossroads. Almost like a mother bird that has pushed her son out of the nest only to let her baby bird come back onto the ledge of the nest to hang out. Don’t get me wrong, I love talking to my son. I am so grateful he wants to call me and talk, but I wonder if I’m delaying his ability to be independent. I did not have a phone when I went to school. I had to figure out how to get where I needed to be when I needed to be there, and I only called my mom or dad when there was an emergency (I can remember this happened once in high school when my car had a problem and I needed my dad’s help to figure out where to get the car towed to). I remember not wanting to bother my dad at work, but couldn’t think of any other way to handle the situation. My dad was grateful I called, but that only happened once. In reflection, I feel like my parents had pushed me out of the nest — it wasn’t a ‘don’t come back’, it was a ‘you’ve got this, don’t like us hold you back.’ I don’t want to hold my son back. I want him to have confidence in his ability to navigate situations and feel empowered to do so.

I’m not sure what the future holds, but I am aware that my husband and I need to be thinking about how we are helping our children be independent — successful on their own. Of course I don’t want my child to pull away from me, but I believe this is a necessary for them to truly grow.

Thankfully I have time, but I’m at a crossroads, and hoping I pick the right path.

How are you helping your child be independent?

 

Talk to Me

How would you rate your communication between you and your child?

Growing up, I would have told you I had good communication with my parents. I openly shared with them what was going on in school and with me personally. It wasn’t until I was a parent myself that I realized my communication with my parents was probably closer to okay than good. I never felt comfortable talking in any great depth to my parents about the important stuff–kids being mean at school, my body, feelings of insecurity, the opposite sex, the act of sex, and more. I held back sharing information out of embarrassment or feeling foolish (shouldn’t I know how this works?). I don’t think I was much different than my peers, I think that’s how many of us grew up.

My husband and I have been committed to having better communication with our kids then we had with our parents. We try to talk more openly about the body and sex and allow our kids to ask questions about anything. We’ve told our boys on a number of occasions that in some areas mom and dad are new talking about these things with kids. Our parents weren’t comfortable or never offered to talk to us somethings and we are navigating new ground. We might mess up, but we’re going to try our best.

My oldest is becoming a young man, and my youngest isn’t far behind. Having our kids talk to us about the uncomfortable stuff makes me grateful (uncomfortable, but grateful). I can see how they could easily decide to only share only the good information, what they think we want to hear, instead of sharing good, not so good, ask questions, and reach out when they are confused or don’t understand how something works, why something happened, etc.. I particularly enjoy when we have a conversation and one of my boys will say, “I’m so dumb, I should know this” and I get to respond, “how in the world could you have already known this? What do you think growing up is all about? If you knew everything already, there would be no point in parenting, we could just birth you and turn you loose in the world.” That always makes them smile. The movie Boss Baby gives them a mental picture of what that would look like, and they find that hilarious.

Navigating parenthood is challenging. As a parent, feeling like you are doing a good job can be fleeting. My barometer is set to how openly my sons feel they can talk to me. If they want to keep talking, hopefully that means my husband and I are doing something right.

How is your communication with your child? How are you helping them feel comfortable to talk to you about uncomfortable things?

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?

Kids and War

How do you explain war to your child?

My knee jerk reaction is to try to shield them from the horror. There is nothing pretty about war. What is going on in Syria is unbelievably sad, and angering. To see people suffer, lose there homes and have to flee their countries in order to survive is unfathomable. Seeing innocent people killed, particularly the children by chemical weapons is devastating.

My boys have been wondering what is going on in Syria and why. It’s hard to explain. It’s ultimately about people not being able to get along and resorting to violence instead of finding peaceful solutions. I get that solving these types of problems aren’t easy, but I really want my boys to know that war is not the answer and never will be.

My youngest son got some exposure to war recently in his social studies class.  The class was studying Native Americans and their struggle to maintain control of their native land from the settlers.  Each class member was assigned a position — you either were a Native American tribe member or a member of the American military. My son was part of a tribe. The class was given different situations and asked how they wanted to handle it. In one situation, both groups wanted a piece of land and neither was willing to give the land to the other. Their choice was to 1) sign a treaty that allowed them to share the land, or 2) decide to fight the other for the land. My son said, “Mom, I signed the treaty, but others kids in the tribe decided they wanted to fight.” “What happened? ” I asked. “Well, I lived,” said my son, “those who fought died.” Wow, I thought, this is a pretty good lesson he’s learning. The next challenge the class was faced with was 1) stay on the Reservation and be safe, or 2) fight and have to get your land back. “What did you choose?” I asked my son. “Well, I was going to go back to the Reservation because I wanted to be safe, but got accidentally shot by one of my classmates who thought I was trying to leave the Reservation,” he said. The idea that my son got ‘shot’ by friendly fire didn’t go unnoticed. Seems  this class activity was a little more realistic than I would have thought. “What did the lesson teach you?” I inquired. “Well, fighting almost always results in death. You might as well find a way to make peace.” Wow. Nine years old and he’s already figured this out. I wish some of our world leaders could.

How do you talk to your child about war? How do you help them understand unexplainable things?