Helper or enabler: which one are you?


“How do I know when I’m doing too much for my child? I don’t want to hover, but I also worry that there are things she can’t handle by herself.  When should I get involved?”  This concern is voiced by parents of kids who are in kindergarten through college.

The reality is that the way for kids to become competent and independent is precisely by tackling these things by themselves.  If they fall on their face, they get back up and figure out a better way.  For parents, it can be difficult to sit on your hands and watch it play out.

HelicopterParentHovering, enabling, helicoptering (is that even a word?).  They’re all related.  You’re smoothing the way, or taking over, so your child doesn’t have to experience pain or disappointment, or make mistakes. You’re smoothing the way so you don’t have to experience pain and disappointment.  How do you know when you’re enabling or helping?  How do you know when to step in or step aside?  Read on for two essential questions to walk you through it, as well as real-life situations and outcomes.

I usually define enabling as when you do for someone what he can do for himself. A helper is someone who is available to assist, when asked.  A rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “Whose problem is this?”  If it’s not a question of health or safety, the answer often is that it’s up to your teen to handle it.

Does it make a difference whether you think your child should be able to tackle it, or if he truly is capable of handling it?   Therewill be times you make the assumption that he can (based on age, intelligence and past performance), when, in fact, he may not be fully prepared to take it on. Other times you’re convinced there’s just no way. Either way, neither of you will ever know what he’s capable of until he’s nudged into taking action.  If you step in right away, there’s a good chance you’ll be the enabler.  I encourage you to step aside.

When you do, you demonstrate the courage to shift responsibility over to your teen or pre-teen.  The next question is for her.  “What can you do about that?”  With the right tone of voice, you are expressing confidence that she is capable.  Sometimes there is problem-solving to do.  Other times, it simply means taking the consequences for what she has, or hasn’t done.


What are some instances where this comes up, and what can your child do?

  • Questions about grades
    • She can speak to the teacher herself (and develop her own courage ‘muscles’).
  • Procrastinating with schoolwork
    • Do it, well or poorly, and (maybe) next time plan ahead.
  • Leaving lunch money at home
    • Find someone to borrow from, or go without lunch.  It will bother you more than it bothers her.
  • No clean clothes in the closet
    • Wear something that smells, is wrinkled, or has a stain.   Comments from friends will be much more effective than your nagging.  Nobody ever died from wearing dirty clothes (although you may ‘die’ from embarrassment… even though it’s not your fault.)
  • Leaving an assignment at home
    • Take the consequences of a zero for a missing homework, or a lower grade on a project.  (I know, it hurts to see him unnecessarily lose credit on something he completed. It if bothers him, too, next time he will remember.)
  • Needing a last-minute ride
    • Find someone else to drive, arrive late, or cancel plans.  (Kids are really quite resourceful when something is important to them. Watch how quickly she finds a ride!)

What if your child is stuck?  What you can do, after putting it back in his hands, is offer to be available should he want some help. Encourage your child to ask for help, as needed. Teach him to problem-solve, brainstorm, prioritize, and break tasks down into more manageable pieces.  Help her to anticipate problems, to look at past experiences for insights, to think things through so she’s responding, instead of reacting emotionally.

When you jump in to fix it, you’re reacting to your own discomfort… but make no mistake:  if you continue to hover, helicopter and enable, you’ll have more than discomfort later on.  What you do, or don’t do now determines how independent and successful your kids will be.


  1. Where am I on the helper/enabler scale?
  2. How does it show up in my child’s ability/inability to do for herself?
  3. What is one situation in which I feel able to take a step aside?


10 study skills to learn more, retain more, and get better grades.

multisensory learning

Most children have to learn how to study, and some need to learn how to learn.  If the material is difficult or boring, if they have trouble sitting still or are easily distracted, staying focused and retaining information is a challenge.  A recent program on NPR’s Science Friday offers some great study skills for getting the most out of study time without feeling tortured.  Brain research shows it’s possible to train your brain to learn more and be more creative.  Here are the highlights from the program, and they are skills that anyone can master.  In fact, your kids will probably be relieved and excited to try some of them.

Is there anyone who hasn’t experienced this?  You’re taking a test and all of a sudden your mind goes blank.  You studied, but have no idea how to answer the question.  Then you go to your next class and the answer pops into your head.  What’s going on?

We all have these times when we try so hard to remember something and we just can’t get to the information in our head.  The harder we try, the more frustrated we become. It seems that the brain has two neural states:  one for focus and one for resting.  When you’re focused, stuck and going around in circles, you can’t see other approaches to a problem.  The brain needs to shift into its resting state.  This allows it to tackle the problem again, refreshed and open to new insights.


Need some inspiration?  How about Albert Einstein, Salvador Dali and Thomas Edison? The solutions, masterpieces and inventions didn’t come without struggles and challenges. Their brains needed down-time, too.  The story is told that Edison would fall asleep holding a fistful of ball bearings.  When he was fully asleep, his fist unclenched, the ball bearings dropped and woke him up, and he had an answer, or at least a new way to think about the problem.

study skills for multisensory learning

So what are the best study skills for kids to refresh their brain and learn more effectively?

1)  It’s called the multi-sensory approach.  It works!   As a foreign language teacher, I know all about this one.  The more senses you use, the more you will retain. Period.  See it, say it a gazillion times, listen to it, touch it, move it, move around and through it, smell it. Make up a story about it.  Make every kind of connection you can to it, even if it only makes sense to you.

2)  Step away from the problem.  Don’t sit there, hour after hour, and still have no results. The same assumptions are running through your mind.  You may be stuck because they are incorrect assumptions, and you need a new perspective and new ideas.  Take a break with a refreshing drink, some movement, or even a short nap. Your brain is still working.  Something will shake loose while you’re on that break.

3)  Sleep on it.  Your brain makes new connections while you sleep.  ”It’s as if you go to sleep with one brain and wake up with an upgrade overnight.”
Six hours of sleep is really the minimum requirement for your brain to function well.  While you sleep, your brain cells shrink, and allow fluids to flow through and wash away toxins.  You have a fresh mind in the morning!  You don’t want to take a test with a “poisoned” brain, do you?


4)  Put ‘play’ back into learning.  Play is natural for us.  At least it is for very young children.  They experiment, get messy, try it one way, then another.  Remember Tinker Toys, Legos, and Lincoln Logs?  How about doodling, pretend play, Play Dough and clay?  Work it and rework it. Knock it down and start again. These kinds of activities will have your neural synapses firing like crazy.

5)  Bed, bath and bus.  All of these give you a break from brain fatigue, and put it into the resting states that allow you think more creatively… and come up with that darn solution!


6)  Leave your study area.  Trade your desk for the back yard, or the library for a football field.  A brief change of scenery (and some fresh air) may be just what you need.


7)  Get off your behind and move!   Stand up, walk, pace the room.  All kinds of movement and exercise are valuable.  Exercise allows neurons to grow and survive, and helps you learn and remember better.


                                              Need better study skills?

8)  Avoid cramming.  Does cramming work?  Yes, but only for the short-term. If your test is postponed, forget about it. You’ve shoved lots of information in, and when the test is over, it quietly disappears.  (After the final exam in my one and only calculus class, I promptly forgot everything I had studied… because I never really understood it to begin with.  All the last-minute studying did help me pass the exam, but I didn’t truly learn the material.)
9)  Tame procrastination.  Many of us are procrastinators.  Why?  Mostly because we’re avoiding something that is unpleasant in some way.  Take math, for example.  If math is difficult, you look at the math problem and the pain centers in your brain activate.  You avoid the ‘pain’ by avoiding math and paying attention to something else. What can you do about it?  You can trick your brain by setting a timer for 25 minutes.  Work for 25 minutes and be in the flow of the work.  Don’t focus on the aspect of it that causes the pain. Then take a break for 25 minutes.  Going back and forth this way minimizes the urge to avoid the task.
10)  Accept failure as part of learning. In English class, revisions are expected. Scientists revise hypotheses and testing methods.  The first try is rarely the finished product.  You have no idea how many rewrites and tweaks I do for every article.  The Founding Fathers didn’t do a draft of the Declaration of Independence and say, “Okay, we’re done here.”  Thomas Edison discovered 1,000 ways not  to make a light bulb.  Most efforts are not failures.  They are the normal process of going from point A to point B.

Managing your anger (when you’d rather pitch a fit).

Anger has the power to derail you and the people around you. Staying in anger keeps you estranged from your creativity and greatest potential.  Now who doesn’t want to be creative and self-actualized and have wonderful relationships?

Knowing how to effectively manage anger is part of Emotional Intelligence, a topic I’ve been discussing a lot this year.  (Watch a short video about EQ, or pick up a copy of the book, Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ, by Daniel Goleman, the father of EQ.)

Mastering these techniques can dramatically improve the quality of your life, and the lives of those you love.  It helps to understand where it all begins.  Imagine…

Someone cut you off on the highway.  You’ve come home to disorder and kids fighting.  It was a tough day at work.  All of them have the power to spark your anger.  It starts off with brain chemistry, but it doesn’t end there. You (and the people you love) don’t have to be a victim of your chemistry and emotions.

‘Fight or flight’ was originally a response to physical danger.  In our day, the danger is more likely to be an attack on your self-esteem or integrity, or maybe your frustration over increasingly stressful situations. Either way, this is still ‘fight or flight’ and your brain is telling you to ramp it up and do something!

Many times we are victims of our emotions, especially anger.  Do you act on it, and stay in that intense and volatile state?  Or do you learn how to soothe yourself?  Although you have little to no control over when you are carried away by your emotions, or what the emotion will be, you are the one who determines how long you’ll be held prisoner by it.  Yes, you have the power.

Let’s take the example of the driver who cuts you off.  There’s a reason it’s called road rage.  You feel the injustice of it, the inconsiderate, self-centered nature of the other driver.  Your brain releases chemicals, and  you want to fight back — pass him, box him in, punch him in the face.  This kind of anger can actually be energizing!  And then someone honks a horn behind you, and your anger grows, feeding on itself.  You’re stuck in a loop leading to rage.  What you focus on grows.  The longer you brood on what made you angry, the more reasons you come up with to justify your anger.

Let’s recap.  Danger can take the form of being misunderstood or insulted.  It can show up when you are frustrated at not making progress toward an important goal.  Your brain preps you to either put up a fight, or head for the hills.  What’s important to know is that the effect of these hormones can keep you in that emotional state for hours, on alert for more attacks.  Things that might not have bothered you before can cause an angry outburst.  And so the cycle continues.

This may sound extreme, but it makes the point.  So what can you do about it?  There are three basic methods of soothing the angry beast:

1)  Challenge the thoughts and beliefs that ignited your anger.  
It’s your first thoughts about what happened that nurture the first reaction of anger.  The more you think about it, you more you validate it and go along with it.  The sooner you intervene, the faster you break the cycle.

Go back to the driver who cut you off.  Did you make an assumption?  Maybe it wasn’t a case of someone joyriding without a care for anyone else on the road.  A friend shared that when she went into a difficult labor with her first child, her husband was driving 80mph in the left lane of the highway to get her to the hospital.  The other drivers had no idea of the urgency of the situation.  Do you see?  You don’t have all the information.

And even if the other driver was an inconsiderate, self-centered you-know-what, is that a reason for you to go off the deep end?  At the end of the day, how does that change your life?  Usually, not at all… unless it leaves you in a state where everything upsets you, and you take it out on your family and friends.  You can take the oomph out of your anger by trying to understand, or by lessening its importance.


2)  Cooling-down strategies.
We’re moving away from thought-based solutions to physiological solutions.  What can you physically do to settle down?

a)  Physically remove yourself from the situation.  When a conversation turns into an argument, you need to get away from the other person.  Take five – minutes or hours.  Get some distance, simmer down, and give him the chance to do the same.

b)  Do something, so you can distract yourself from negative thoughts.  This can be a long walk, a workout, deep breathing, muscle relaxation or time with a pet.  A friend of mine swears that you can’t feel sad and stressed when you’re gardening.  All kinds of stress-relief strategies can work here.  Distraction breaks the cycle of angry thoughts and allows your body and brain to move out of high alert.  CAUTION:  If you use this time to continue stoking the fire, you are setting yourself up for more of the same.

3)  Use self-awareness to keep from ‘going there’.
Catch your hostile thoughts as they appear.  Write them down.  You can defuse them this way, challenge them, and move on.  Remember, you have to be aware of a problem in order to do something about it.

Are you ready to take responsibility for your emotions?  Are you ready to leave behind the attitude of “He made me do it.  It wasn’t my fault”?  There’s no time like to today to begin.

There you have it.  And, as always, your children are watching everything you do.   You know that intense, difficult emotions and lack of self-control don’t go anywhere good.  Show them how you manage your own anger.  Not only will they learn this healthy way of handling it, your relationship with your kids will improve exponentially.

Problem or crisis… When should you start worrying?

Family in crisis

The first days of school can be exciting, or nerve-wracking.  Either way, everyone’s on their best behavior, planning for the best year ever.  You and your kids settle back into your routines.  Hopefully, all goes smoothly and a month or two later the kids are still on track.  But what if they’re not?  Or what if you’re starting to see little behavior changes?  Some parents mentally turn a small concern into a big problem and exacerbate the situation.

If this happens to you, I’m about to help you put a new spin on it so you can stay calm, your kids will remain calm and receptive, and the crisis can go back to being just a problem.  You can feel the fear and tame it. You can do this.

Family in crisis

Do you have a tendency to see problems as crises?  You’re in good company.  It’s called ‘catastrophizing’ and you’d be surprised at how many people do it.  I’m guilty of this from time to time, and have a tip to help you settle down and figure out how to ramp down the anxiety.

When something happens that gets your heart racing or quickens your breath (which can be frequent with your kids), STOP.  Take a slow, deep breath and think.  A crisis is something dangerous and potentially life-threatening. Is it a crisis or a problem to be solved?  Are you turning a molehill into a mountain by projecting way too far into the future?  Maybe it doesn’t merit that much drama and angst.  Stay in the moment and decide what must be done today.

Each of us has a different threshold for distressing things.  From missed homework to a major illness, they can all feel critical. It depends upon how different it is from what you consider ‘normal’.  If your child is a student who excels, missing assignments can feel like a crisis.  But is it?  It’s certainly a time to discuss it and explore what may have changed.  So you take the first step to find out what is going on in his life, and, if necessary, develop a plan of action or find resources to help him through it.  This lapse is a problem to be solved.

Problem or crisis?  You decide how much drama it deserves.

Back to school with ease and calm

The mornings are cooler and stores are advertising back-to-school supplies and clothes. Argh!  The first day of school is just around the corner.  The summer weather persists for another month or two, but the ‘lazy’ days of summer must come to an end. And so the cycle of summer-to-school begins again.

Are you ready for the kids to go back to school?  Are they ready?  If you’re like my family, we had mixed reviews about the end of summer and the inevitable return to school.  We loved the fresh air and sunshine, earning money at a summer job, and taking a family vacation. After a while, though, we all longed for a little more, or different, structure and predictability.

Most kids are looking forward to being with their friends from school.  Some relish the challenge of learning and achieving in the classroom.  (I hope you have one of those kids!) Others need the structure and goal-oriented nature of school and extra-curricular activities.

How do you make the transition back to school easier on all of you?

1.    Get excited about the shopping AND establish some guidelines.  Going from store to store to store is not only exhausting, it’s a recipe for overwhelm and indecision.  Make clear before you head out:
a.  what’s on your shopping list.
b.  what your budget is.
c.  how many stores you will go to.

Your time, money and patience are in limited supply.  That’s reality.  If your maximum number of stores is three, make sure your kids understand that by the time you get to the third store, a decision is expected, or the items are not purchased. It’s a great opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of what they need and want, to examine quality and quantity, and how to spend within their means (well, your means, if you’re paying for it).

If you shop online, these guidelines can apply.  I still encourage you to build in a little shopping expedition.  There’s a different energy to getting out of the house, and to using all your senses in the shopping experience.

In the end, the biggest piece of this is about setting expectations before you go.  You can avoid a lot of aggravation with a little bit of preparation.

2.    Buy something special for the first day.  Even high-schoolers will appreciate this.  Back in the days when we had far less, that new pair of shoes was a big deal.  Most of you can provide these things all year long, so finding something special may take some thought.  It doesn’t need to be big, like a smart phone or other expensive item.  It could be an accessory that wasn’t part of the original need-to-have list, a gift certificate, a manicure, or something  inspiring to hang in their locker.

Alarm clock3.    Ease back into routines.  Of course the first one that comes to mind is sleep and the dreaded alarm clock.  Take the remaining days or weeks to gradually change bedtimes and waking-up times.  What other routines can you begin to add back?

4.    Allow them to express any anxiety.  Will I make the grades?  Will I keep all my friends?  What about new teachers?  How do I fit in?  Even if they have a good track record in these areas, they are likely feeling stressed about it and should be encouraged to express it.  Above all, do not discount what they are feeling!  They’re entitled to their feelings, whether you agree with them or not.  This could be the time to talk (a conversation, not a lecture) about coping with stress.  Let them know that there’s normal stress and stress overload, and you’re going to check in with them if you see signs of them moving into overload.  They may protest, but they’ll also be relieved to know you have their back.

5.    Share your own stories about school.  It wasn’t always fun.  Your kids can appreciate the difficulties of school – both work and relationships – and be inspired by how you handled it.  Growing up is confusing, and you are proof that you can live through these baffling times.  Whether you liked learning or not, in hindsight you know it was (mostly) useful.  And to quote the late Robin Williams, “Nothing I learned was wasted.”

Do you have any special memories or tips about the back-to-school experience?   You can share them below.

Communication blunders: What you heard is not what I meant!

From a TV commercial –
Scene: Parents are in the kitchen. Daughter enters, hugs mom and screams,
“I just got into one of the best schools in the country!”

What the father heard:
“I just got into one of the most expensive schools in the country!”

This is a great example of how what you hear is not necessarily what was said, or intended. We see the world through our personal filter. The words that come into our ears can come out scrambled because of attitude, emotions, fatigue and stress levels. You’ve made it about you, even if, in that moment, it isn’t about you at all and it impacts all your communication.

Let’s go back to the commercial. The father, concerned about how to pay for this fantastic education, has already shifted into worry mode. The pressure is on, and he may not be able to express sincere joy for her accomplishment. If so, his daughter is going to be disappointed at his lack of excitement. This incredible moment is now heavy with anxiety on his part, and sadness or resentment on hers.

Conversely, remember that when you are sharing something and don’t get the response you are hoping for, it probably has little or nothing to do with you. Your listener is focused on how this impacts him or her.

So what’s a parent to do to improve communication and sharing?

1)  Put your listening ears on. Be attentive and engaged in really hearing what the other person is saying.
2)  Take yourself out of the picture. Easier said than done, but it is necessary at the time. People are trying to tell you something that is important to them. Do your best to put your reactions and needs on hold.
3)  Put the other person first. Let her have her moment. Be happy or comforting, or whatever is needed.

Now that you have refrained from reacting emotionally, it’s time for you to consider what this conversation means to you. Sit with it for while, if you need to.

1) Identify your concerns or fears. Be honest about them.
2) Share them more calmly with those who should know.
3) What is it you desire to accomplish or change?
4) What are the steps you need to take?
5) Who do you need to ask for help?

Whatever you are feeling is real; however, how you react and respond can make all the difference… for both of you. Be in the moment. Hear what is said. Hear what is meant.

6 steps to help your teen become the creator and master of his universe.


You are surrounded by people, and yet you feel alone.  Your kids are connected to others through their devices, but don’t really ‘feel’ connected.  Their relationships can change in the blink of an eye or in a keystroke.  Everyone goes their own way, busy, busy, busy.  In spite of texting, email and social networks, we’re all, parents and kids, feeling more disconnected and less supported than ever before.

It’s understandable, and it’s reversible. It’s also important that your teen take an active role in creating this connection, this village.  They need to know that they have the power to change this, and need your understanding and encouragement to be the change-makers.  It isn’t always easy, but it is definitely doable.

Let’s first take a look back to see how that network of support has changed over time.  You’ve heard the expression “It takes a village to raise a child.”  I believe that’s true.  When I was a child the network of people who were involved in my life, and my parents’ lives, was larger.  We depended more on people in our community to look out for us.   That included lots of neighbors.  Growing up in a six-story walk-up apartment building, we kids were in and out of multiple apartments every day, and had, in effect, multiple moms and families.  Parents called upon each other to fill in, when necessary.  They disciplined all the kids, as needed.  Neighborhood store owners recognized us, too.  The neighborhood was our extended family, and it nourished us and enriched our lives.

That entity of community, of neighborhood as family, has been disappearing for decades.  I, for one, miss that personal touch and connection, and know many others who yearn for it.  We all want to feel that we belong, that we’re not isolated. We have it in our power to revive at least parts of ‘the village’ and your children can be empowered creators, instead of passive bystanders.

Unknown How can teens become the creators and masters of their universe, and of a caring and supportive community? They have more influence than they know in building this network.  Here are six steps, filled with insights for your kids, written as if you’re speaking directly to them.

1.  Family Network -  We will love you no matter what.  But being part of a family means you have to do your part. Do your best to avoid sarcasm and put-downs.  We really appreciate it when you show interest and concern for us.  We have feelings, too, so be a willing listener when one of us needs to talk. Offer to help when you see something that needs to be done.  These will all go a long way in earning trust and gratitude… and our generosity, too!

2.  Parent-Teen CommunicationParents and kids will disagree.  Period. It doesn’t have to end in a battle, though.  There’s something you need to understand:  parents worry about their kids.  It can come out sounding like criticism, a lecture, advice and a battle for control.   Please be patient with us.  Let us know when you just need us to listen and when you actually want some help.  

3.  Other Adults in Your Life – While we so much want to be the person you turn to, we’re okay with you having another adult in your life that you trust.  We’re more than okay with it, we’re grateful and relieved, as long as it means you are getting what you need.  There are so many people in your world to whom you can turn for guidance, mentoring and support:  teachers, a favorite aunt or uncle, a friend’s parent, a coach, neighbor, grandparent, someone in your house of worship.  All you have to do is ask. teen and elderly neighbor

4.  Your Neighborhood – You probably know more people in the neighborhood than we do, but it can still be an impersonal kind of place.  You can build connections (and a good reputation for all kids).  Get to know your neighbors.  Smile and greet them when you see them outside.  Learn their names. Your elderly neighbors will be especially appreciative of a polite and caring young person.  They may be grateful for help with carrying groceries in and shoveling the steps.  They also love to share their lives and experience, so ask them about themselves, or to teach you how to do something.  If they are missing their own grandchildren, they will enjoy time with you.  I know, they are old and don’t understand everything about your world… but nobody loves you (and listens to you) quite the way they do.  You are an amazing force for positive attitudes and cooperation in your neighborhood, and for bringing people and generations together.

5.  School -  You may not like being there, but you can make it a place where you and others feel supported, and feel that you fit in.  When you just ‘put in your time’ you won’t feel that you belong to a community.  Join a club, try out for a team, volunteer in the media center.  Just as you do in your family, show respect and concern for others. Be the one who reaches out to those who are left out.  Don’t be a bystander:  take a stand against bullying.  Encourage others to follow your lead.  In other words, become a leader and make your school a safe and welcoming place for everyone.

6.  Parent-School ConnectionTalk to us about school.  And please remind us that you’ll share your day, only not the minute you walk in the door.  We forget that you need to shift out of ‘school mode’ after spending your whole day there.  (We’re still having trouble adjusting to the fact that you’re not seven years old any more, needing help with everything and sharing your whole world with us.)  Be sure to give us papers from school that we need to see.  Oh, and ask us for help once in a while.  We still like to feel needed.

Do you see the potential they have to shape their world?  to learn to advocate for themselves?  to be people of strength and integrity?  to build bridges with compassion and concern?  to become leaders? It’s not your job to do all this for them. 

Your job is to nudge them into the community, so they can be part of it and shape it into a place in which they will thrive.  

9 tips for guiding children into technology and social media

It’s never too late to establish guidelines around technology, but the earlier you do it, the better. Today’s tip covers multiple aspects about introducing younger kids to technology and social media. If your kids are older, the genie is already out of the bottle; however, you can revisit the rules already in place, or create/co-create rules if you have none. Depending upon how your summer is going and what activities your kids are, or aren’t doing, this can be just what you need to redirect your kids… and maybe you, too.

The virtual, digital world is your kids’ reality. It’s the only world they know. You can’t control it all; however, when you hand over this technology, you need to be clear about the ground rules. Here are some ways to set the expectations:

1) Start talking about it when they are very young, before you hand then the iPad or smart phone.

2) Model careful and limited use.

3) Remind them to limit screen usage. You can’t ban it, but you can redirect them. They were born into a digital world and needed to be reminded there is another world out there.

4) Motivate them to exercise and get more physical activity. The more time they spend watching a screen, the higher the risk of weight gain.

5) Encourage activities that invite socializing or other activities that involve other kids. Guide them to volunteering, hobbies and learning something new… live and in-person.

6) Ask them about the sites they visit, and you visit them, too. Learn what’s on them, and who’s on them.

7) Establish rules about privacy and not sharing passwords.

8) Set time and place limits for cell phones.

9) Create screen rules together.

It’s not your job to make sure your kids are happy.

I love Pharrell Williams’ song “Because I’m Happy”. It’s an upbeat, catchy tune, and you have to love the videos of all those people dancing.

But… in real life, there’s way too much emphasis on our kids striving to be happy. It just breaks your heart when they’re sad or disappointed, doesn’t it? And yet, it’s inevitable. As much as you’d like to, you can’t prevent it. We all know there is unpleasantness in life.  In fact, you’d probably admit that those difficult times made you stronger.  But back to your kids.  if you can’t control it, what is your role? You have the power to guide them through it when the inevitable happens. This is the greatest gift of all. Let’s take a closer look.Happy and sad faces
There’s a crazy belief, and it spread like wildfire, that kids must be happy all the time, that it’s not okay to be feeling whatever is… well, the opposite. Trophies for the winning and losing teams, intervening with teachers, offering food and ‘things’ to compensate for loss, saying ‘yes’ when you ought to say ‘no’, encouraging them to be upbeat when they’re sad… they don’t bring true happiness (whatever that word means).

I, too, have been guilty of saying to my kids, “I just want you to be happy.” Of course I want them to be happy. But if there’s one thing I know I can’t guarantee for them, it’s that.

Then what is your job in the drama of their lives?

Your job is… to hold their hand when they’re miserable.
Your job is… to walk with them through sadness and disappointment.
Your job is… to express confidence that they can get through it.
Your job is… to help them figure out how to bounce back.
Your job is… to guide them in finding healthy ways to cope.
Your job is… to be their parent.

No, wait. It really is all about you.

We hear a lot about our children being part of the ‘me’ generation.  And to an extent that’s true.  “Give me, buy me, get me, you know nothing, the world revolves around me and my needs and feelings.”  In their eyes, it’s all about them.  We expect it, and know that it’s part of adolescence.  But… how you deal with it is all about YOU.  Getting your message across and making a lasting, positive impact on them is about you.  What you feel and how you respond is up to you.  (See the end of the article for linked articles to support and motivate you in taking your first steps.)

You know how your kid always knows what to say or do to aggravate you? How she has an unproductive (read ‘negative’) attitude, pushes all kinds of boundaries, and drives you crazy?  You may yell or bite your tongue, punish or ignore, but every action elicits a reaction from you.  It’s actually a law of physics.

Guess what?  It starts out being about her, but ends up being about you.  Yes, you are always the center of the universe, even when it feels like it’s about someone else.  Whatever your reaction, it’s about you.
I know, you’d like it to be all about your child, or your spouse, or your co-worker.   Then you can say that ‘they’ need to change, nudge them to do so, and be annoyed when they don’t.  It takes the focus off you.  The fact is that the only one you can change is you.  The only actions and reactions you can control are yours…. and remember, if you let your emotions rule your reactions, you’re definitely not in control of anything.

Your deep desire is to be a positive influence on your children, showing them how to be productive, respond to stress in healthy ways, and be in loving, respectful relationships.  That doesn’t happen when you are sidetracked and lose your cool.  It doesn’t happen with nagging, lecturing and punishing.

When you work on you, you can have a positive impact on them.  How do we describe the parent who is doing this work?  This parent:

* is aware of strong emotions as they arise (instead of reacting emotionally).
* waits to respond in stressful situations (instead of saying something  she’ll regret or not enforce.
* stays focused and on topic (instead of letting a child distract her from the issue at hand).
* keeps the bigger picture in mind (because often the issue is more fundamental than whatever the child just said or did)
* understands that her child is watching and learning from what she does (even when her child protests that she couldn’t care less).
* holds herself to a high standard (at least as high as the one she sets for her child, in all things).
* examines her own attitudes and actions (instead of placing blame elsewhere).

This list places high expectations for parenting.  In your hectic life, filled with non-stop demands and responsibilities, it feels daunting, undoable.  It is doable, though, and doable by you.  As with all big projects (and this is a big one!), you have to start small.  Read through these points again and find one that you’re willing to try.  Below you will find links to previous articles that give strategies and insights to help you begin.

Being a parent can be more satisfying and rewarding when you’re the healthy center of your universe.  Now is a good time to start.

Emotional Intelligence
Name it to tame it
4 steps to stand your ground and outlast your teen
Watch out, because your kids are always watching you.
You have the answers.  Just start listening.
Be teachable.