A Parent Primer on How to Deal With Bullies

It’s time to get a refresher on how to train our kids to stand up to bullying and how to advocate for them.

The moment your wrinkly, wailing baby enters this world, there’s one thing you’re sure of: you’re never going to let anyone hurt your precious child. If they try, they’ll first have to contend with mama bear.
By the time your child enters elementary school there’s one thing you’re sure of: you can’t possibly protect your child 24/7.
You have flashbacks of third grade when you were made fun of for the unlikeliest of things: your name, your lunch, your outfit, your glasses, you name it. While cyberbullying has taken the risks and repercussions to a whole new level, “traditional” bullying is still pervasive with one in three children reporting being bullied in school.
It’s time to get a refresher on how to train our kids to stand up to bullying and how to advocate for them.

1 | Watch for signs

Sometimes, bullying is not overt and children may not be able to put a label on it. When my son was in Kindergarten, for instance, his best friend would often force him to erase pictures he’d drawn or words he’d painstakingly written. When I asked my son about it, he matter-of-factly replied that his best bud had ordered him to erase his work, “or else he won’t be my friend.” It wasn’t a one time deal. My son couldn’t play with other kids or sit next to anyone else during circle time “or else.”
It wasn’t name calling or hitting but it was a power imbalance that amounted to bullying. Often times, we have to watch for the warning signs which could range from aggressive behavior at home to poor grades at school to something as innocuous as erased pictures. We need to take bullying seriously especially when it’s clearly a pattern of behavior that the aggressor exhibits.

2 |  Don’t confront the bully’s parents

As a parent, you instantly bristle with emotion when you know your child is a pawn in a bully’s hands. You want it to stop and you want it to stop now. But confronting the bully’s parents about their child’s behavior will likely elicit a defensive argument. Now is the time to use one of those “Keep Calm” slogans you see everywhere: Keep calm and talk to the teacher. Escalate the conversation to higher levels of authority like the elementary school coordinator, the school counselor, and the principal, if it’s not tackled at the teacher level. Bullying is not about a kid having a hard day. It’s a community problem and requires the community to come together.

3 | Empower your child

As important as it is to teach your child self-confidence, they also need a game plan for when a bully tries to engage them. Here are some strategies that experts suggest:

Teach them to report the situation

According to stopbullying.gov, only 20 to 30 percent of children report bullying to an adult. That’s a shockingly low percentage for such a pervasive problem. Teach your child to call bullying out, rather than excuse it, and encourage them to tell a parent, teacher, or coach about the problem.

Teach them to stay confident

Train your child to make eye contact and stand tall but never engage physically with the bully. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, it’s best not to encourage your child to fight back, as it could lead to more aggression.

Teach them to stay calm and be kind

This two-pronged approach is advocated by leading social skills communicator Brooks Gibbs. In a widely-viewed video outlining these two techniques, Gibbs teaches children strategies which are perhaps counter cultural.
The first rule – don’t get upset – teaches the child to play it cool. When the child (and this works best with tweens and upward) responds nonchalantly to the bully’s aggression, he or she communicates a simple message: what you’re saying doesn’t bother me one tiny bit. The fallout of this is that the bully gets bored. Once emotion is taken out of the picture, the bully has no ammo to continue his or her verbal tirade.
The second rule Gibbs advocates – treat them like a friend – goes one step further. It means showing kindness to the perceived enemy. And, yes, that’s as hard as it sounds. Gibbs’ theory is that if you respond to a bully’s verbal aggression with kindness that throws them completely off kilter. Bullying, Gibbs says, is an imbalance of power. Kindness unhinges that power struggle.
With a little bit of practice (okay, maybe lots), kids (and grownups) can get emotionally resilient and outsmart the bully. Bullying doesn’t have to be a rite of passage or an incontrovertible part of childhood. Let’s show our kids there are ways out.

Be a Guide, Not a Guard and Raise a Happy, Responsible Kid

As guides, we help children develop internal motivation to do what is right because it’s right, rather than to do what is right to avoid being punished.

“Be a guide, not a guard” perfectly describes the kinds of parenting behaviors that create happy and responsible children. It’s a term I learned at a recent training session focused on reducing controlling parenting behaviors.
When I ask parents “what have you tried to help change your child’s behavior?” little breaks my heart more than hearing a long list of punishments. The story will go something like “the rule is that he is to clean up his room but he never does it so we took away his tablet, then banned watching TV, we smacked him, we put him in time out all day, cancelled his play dates with his friends and then grounded him for a month. It doesn’t matter what we do, he doesn’t care.”
This is parenting like a guard. It is inflexible, rules-based parenting that requires punishment when a child doesn’t behave. The punishments often escalate and may be harsh, cruel even. In the worst case scenario, a child raised in a controlling environment will comply due to a fear of being beaten but will not do anything other adults say if there is no risk of being hurt. The most anti-social children are often parented in this way. They don’t care about the meaning of the rules set; instead they decide whether to comply based on whether they will get hurt. Controlling parenting practices are also correlated to poor mental health in children and youth.
When we parent like a guard we are trying to stop behavior through control and dominance. In an attempt to get rid of the behaviors we don’t like, we use consequences. A guard expects trouble and treats people as such. A guard does not care whether you feel sad, confused or don’t feel like you belong. A guard only cares if you comply. As a guard we can’t be flexible and this means if a child doesn’t comply, regardless of the reason, our only option is to escalate the consequences until they do. Even if this means excluding them from the very systems we want them to belong to.
When we parent as a guide we work to encourage behaviors we want to see in our children. We help children belong in our world and all the systems that come with that. We use care and compassion in our parenting practices. When we see unwanted behavior that cannot work or is unacceptable in our systems, we look at what steps we can take to help that child learn to fit better in our world. We don’t use harsh consequences that will exclude the child from the system; instead we see their difficulty as a skill deficit. We don’t use escalating consequences; instead we look for ways for children to want to be part of the system and to want to please us.
As guides, we help children develop internal motivation to do what is right because it’s right, rather than to do what is right to avoid being punished. We want our children to comply because they want to be part of our community, they want to help us and because they understand the value of their chosen behavior.

How to be a guide

See your child’s perspective

Being able to hold your child’s perspective is essential to being a guide. It helps parents understand how best to help their child. It helps us identify that difficult behaviors are often related to emotions or skills deficits. This doesn’t mean we accept all behaviors as ok, it means that we understand that there is a meaning to whatever behavior we are seeing.

Encourage behavior through praise and noticing

Children love receiving genuine praise and being noticed. If they feel you genuinely care about them rather than that you are trying to control their behavior, they are more motivated to work for you. Children are less receptive to praise that functions to control behavior such as “aren’t you a good boy for sitting up straight today?” A genuine “I can really see you are listening, and that makes me feel good” is more effective.

Promote values-based living

Show your child what matters through the way you live. If you want to raise a kind and responsible child, lead by modeling kind and responsible behavior. Notice when your child is kind and responsible and praise the behavior.

Be flexible where possible

Give your child opportunities to choose. Avoid controlling choices unless there is a good reason not to offer a choice such as safety or legality. Guides raise kids who choose to be responsible. Guards raise kids who conform to avoid a consequence.

Promote intrinsic goals over extrinsic goals

Encourage your child to do things for personal growth, for health, to create meaningful relationships and contribute to their community as opposed to doing things to achieve financial success, popularity, power or for their image. People with intrinsic goals are happier and engage in more pro-social behavior.
Next time you see your child doing something that you don’t like, whisper to yourself: “Be a guide, not a guard.”
Acknowledgement: Thanks and gratitude to Darin Cairns for introducing me to the helpful term “Be a guide, not a guard.”

Like Water on Waves

This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. Enter your own here!
Dear Daughters,
When I was 13, my step-father told me that victims of attacks – women – were attacked because they’d asked for it. If you ask her, almost every woman could recite to you a litany of personal micro-aggressions. Mine is not unique, and yours won’t be either.
Much later in my life, when I discovered I would give birth to you, my daughters, I felt my duty to raise you in a world that objectifies and dismisses you, become a task I was unqualified for. How could I teach you to withstand this onslaught against your body, when I was not able to do the same for myself? When I learned that you were girls, still safe in the haven of my body, a place where no one could touch you without permission, reduce you to the parts that make you girl, and imprint on you the idea that you are less, I wished to find the same safety for you in the physical world.
You are too young to begin recording a lifelong list of transgressions against your character. So I am speaking to you not as your mother, but as your sister, a woman who stands beside you and says, I’m listening; I hear you.
You told me once, “My friend said he was better than me because he’s a boy,” and you lowered your head in shame.
Does a drop of water on a wave know its forward momentum? Imagine, daughters, the potential of every single woman, like water on the wave, if she could gather forces from her sisters around her. Energy builds along a line, moving from droplet to droplet to disrupt a calm surface. If we, as women, push this energy forward, one moment at a time, we become the wave that crests and shatters back against the shoreline.
You said, “Today on the playground a boy kissed me three times even though I told him to stop.” Even though the boy was much younger, four or five and I tried to make excuses for him, –perhaps he is struggling to learn his boundaries, perhaps his mother saw and quickly reprimanded him – I was filled with a sense of dread.
My role as your mother is to live by example. I am determined to show you the good in the world – the men who will march beside you, and the women persisting in a roomful of male politicians – while simultaneously teaching you how to stand against the jagged outcrops in defiance.
In Kindergarten you said, “My friend showed me his private parts,” and I gripped the steering wheel of my car. My mind began to churn against the unconscious cultural rhetoric: children are exploring identity and relationships; no physical harm was done; boys will be boys. I caught a glimpse of you in the rear-view mirror. Your face was pale and your eyes were filled with shame.
You admit you wish you were a boy because they get the best jobs and live the best lives. If you become a woman you will eventually become a mother, and this terrifies you. I am despondent that I have not been able to provide you enough examples of women who persevered.
I am a body divided. I teach you practical things like how to tie your shoes and brush your teeth. At the breakfast table, over bowls of soggy cereal, or in the car on the way to the grocery store, I attempt to fortify your character. I tell you to be polite but firm, respectful but courageous. I say, use your voice, your vocabulary, articulate and command respect; be quiet, this is not a time for you to speak. I give you a model of contradictions to follow, and am terrified.
As your mother, I am sorry that I could not protect you from these instances that have lessened you. As a woman, I stand here to be a witness to your life, and remind you that you are heard. My job as your mother, as a woman, is more urgent now. I am here to protect and love you, to shape your character, raise strong independent thinkers who demand equality, who, when they hear the common voice croak the words meant to subdue and demean, have learned to shout louder, and be the crash of the wave as it breaks on the rock. Be like the water on the waves, my girls; push forward.
Love,
Mom

Women vs. Other Women and the Myth of the Zero-Sum Game

While she’s waiting, she begins to question the very worth of this victory: If she’s so triumphant why is she alone?

A woman’s primary nemesis is a scale – not the bathroom variety, though its adversarial powers are fierce – I am talking about a balance scale, the kind whose likeness is etched in bronze outside a courthouse. The kind of scale that compares the weight of one thing to another and registers the slightest sliver of inequity by dramatically tipping its arm. A woman imagines herself standing alone in the little gold dish on one side of the scale. She is weighted, grounded, secure. She wins if she is more, and she is more only if the other side is less. Like a zero-sum game, the outcome is distributive, never integrative, never shared. All or nothing, winner take all.
In the second gold dish, on the opposite side of the balance arm, stand other women. Women she knows, women she loves, women she has never met yet knows intimate details about. Women who hurt her feelings back in high school, women who pretend to be interested when she talks, yet can’t bring themselves to ask her about her life. Women who begrudge her success in whatever realm it may be: another pregnancy, weight loss, a promotion, a good manicure. Women who complain about her behind her back, or don’t invite her, or don’t bother to learn her name. Women she is “friends” with, but who won’t give her the satisfaction of “liking” the pictures she posts of her daughter’s first tooth, her 5k run, or her 10th anniversary.
These other women, they weigh against her, weaken her, upset her advantage. Standing alone in her little gold dish, she worries their gain will be her loss. She becomes suspicious, reading maltreatment into motives and assuming the worst. She grows wary and defensive and, by turns, isolated and disconnected. She has invested so much time and effort into this notion of measuring herself against another – surely, it means something. It has to mean something. Only one woman can be the best mom, the most organized, the fittest, can have the cleanest house or the smartest kids. Only one woman can tip the scale.
In the interest of self-preservation, she retaliates, scrutinizing her competition, always looking for a crack. She judges, she’s sarcastic, she’s critical, she arms herself with snark. She withholds compliments lest they detract from her own appearance and give the other side an edge. If there’s a finite amount of admiration or approval in the world, she’s not going to waste it on others. Classic strategy of a zero-sum game, remember?
She plays like she’s been taught, mimicking the catty, spiteful maneuvers of effective women everywhere. She grows a second face to wear, like her mother and her mother’s friends, and keeps it by the door in a skin-deep jar. Beauty, her most valuable asset, is the commodity she traffics. If she wants to win favor – men’s favor, in particular – this is how she must act. Girls compete for self-worth, right? That’s just what they do. That’s what the cosmetics industry, soap operas, “Real Housewives,” Miss Universe Pageants, Angelina vs. Jen, and every season of “The Bachelor” espouse: The only way to win is to make them lose.
She wants to win, and let’s say she does. She tips the scale, and finally, after all that fighting, she can rest on her laurels and receive her prize. She waits in her little gold dish, tired and depleted, thinking “What on earth could be worth all this conflict?” She waits, rehearsing a gracious acceptance speech, and she wishes she had someone to share her good news. She can hear the other women from across the long arm of the balance scale, laughing and talking as if nothing were lost. While she’s waiting, she begins to question the very worth of this victory: If she’s so triumphant why is she alone?
She wonders how winning at the other’s expense could be considered a victory at all.
Still no one comes, and she sears with the growing realization she’s been played. She has been duped by the myth that building someone else up must come at a cost to her, for it doesn’t. Life just isn’t a zero-sum game. There is not a limited supply of goodness and beauty, success or happiness.
The truth is the other women grew exponentially as they gave, their strength increasing with every share. Competing with them only kept her apart. This scale – this rudimentary, archaic device – this scale is her opponent, not the creatures on it. Rivaling did nothing but reinforce the status quo, a status quo that dictates aggressive self-promotion and pits the women against each other, a status quo that levies vulnerability and rewards isolation. Why does she invest in it?
Luckily, there is a way out. An easy, obvious, immediate way out.
She withdraws her fortune from the zero-sum bank, climbs out of the little gold dish, and joins the other women.

I Don’t Regret My Birth Plan: Notes From the Forever C-Section Mom

We all have the ideal plans for how we’re going to raise our kids and how they will turn out. Then life happens.

The pregnant woman sitting next to me at the park talks jubilantly about her upcoming birth and the way she hopes her labor plays out. I smile and nod, feeling excited on her behalf. I have four children, and the birthing days are solidly behind me.
“Did you write a birth plan?” she asks me.
“Yep. Every time.”
“What happened?”
I hesitate, always hating the answer. “I had three C-sections.”
I am the ultimate cliché, the woman who detailed her plans for birth, going slightly over the recommended limit of one page for a birth plan. My husband and I took a birthing class and watched “The Business of Being Born”, taking notes for later reference. I dreamt of unmedicated birth, immediate skin-to-skin contact, and going home quickly after labor.
Then, for three separate reasons – breech baby, three-weeks-overdue baby with no signs of labor, identical twins with TAPS – I was taken to a sterile OR to be sliced open, my children removed from my body that was numb from the waist down. I baked under the heat of the OR lamp while still shivering and wondered what I had done wrong. I was handed my babies before I promptly puked. Still, I attempted to cradle them in shaking arms, my body wrecked from all the medication.
It wasn’t until I needed a procedure to obtain a sample of my endometrial lining that l learned I have a defective cervix, one that simply will not dilate. It was a painful discovery, both in a physical and emotional way, but I chuckled maniacally thinking of my still-saved birth plan stored on my computer.
How the hell was this little discovery supposed to make me feel?
A friend said I should be grateful. In countries where access to C-sections isn’t promised, I would have likely been dead, an obstructed labor taking my first daughter as well. I tried on gratefulness and truly did feel thankful that all of my births ended well. However, I still felt like a fool, a woman who felt humiliated by my own body and its betrayal of me.
I’ve had a year to absorb the defective cervix news, and in that time, my feelings have changed. Today, my decision to write birth plans makes me proud. I’m glad I did it, that I trotted into my doctor’s office each time with my wishes spelled out in ink. I’m glad I was educated about childbirth, that I went from knowing nothing about having a baby to researching and planning for months for the birth I felt was right for me.
It was my first step towards mindful parenting, the process of weighing all my options and settling on what I believed was the ideal outcome for our family. Of course, the ideal didn’t pan out, but having a plan in the first place gave me a jump-off point to work from. What could we salvage from the plan? How could we adjust? What was best for everyone when the circumstances shifted?
This lesson, it turns out, is one that every parent will have to learn at some point. We all have the ideal plans for how we’re going to raise our kids and how they will turn out. Then life happens. We regroup. We save what we can. We find ways to be thankful along the way and fully grasp that none of this was ever truly in our control. We keep trying.
I also gained experience in standing up for what I believe is best for my kids. When I planned to VBAC with my son, I received a variety of responses. People laughed at me. They expressed shock that I wasn’t signing up for another C-section without a fight. Many questioned if VBACs were even a thing and if I was endangering my son by trying.
I held my ground.
I now do this regularly when people question my decisions to homeschool, to not dress our twins in the same outfits, or to try gentle discipline instead of spanking. I didn’t successfully VBAC, but I knew it was the chance I wanted my son to have, so I tried to give it to him. I wouldn’t take that back.
Writing a birth plan prepared me for looking ahead and making conscious choices. It taught me that I don’t have to follow the crowd or someone else’s way of doing things. I can chart my own course and do everything possible to navigate the experience and land where I want.
I can also live through it when life inevitably has other plans.

What This Harvard Project Determined About Raising Kind Kids

The Graduate School of Education at Harvard University project, Making Caring Common, came up with five strategies to teach kids how to be kind.

Being kind to others seems to be going the way of the dodo bird. I am appalled by the nasty comments I see floating around Twitter and Facebook. The shaming and the bullying. The judging and the hate. Social media has given an outlet for people to voice their deepest, darkest, meanest, most critical thoughts and people seem to be leaping aboard the nasty train in droves.
But I also see stories that give me hope the world is not lost. Stories of love, acceptance and random acts of kindness. It’s these stories I want to share with my kids. To teach them being kind has a huge impact on their own lives as well as the world around them.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise kids need to be taught empathy. Spend one minute in a room with two toddlers and only one Thomas the Tank engine, or spend one recess outside at an elementary school and you will quickly discover this is true.
So why are we not spending the time teaching our kids how to be kind?
We can sit back and blame it on being too busy. Trying to keep up with family, work, school, homework, extra curricular activities and social obligations in a day where 24 hours just isn’t long enough. Or we can blame it on the ever-growing pressure to focus on giving our kids the competitive edge. Or we can blame it on social media, technology and world events.
Rather than blaming, however, we can look inward and see what we can do to initiate change. And it starts with how we parent.
To address teaching empathy, The Graduate School of Education at Harvard University and psychologist Richard Weissbourd initiated a project called Making Caring Common. In 2013, they conducted a survey of 10,000 middle and high school students. What they discovered is that almost 80 percent of kids rated personal success and happiness as their main priority, while only 20 percent rated caring for others as a top priority. Those results are sobering. And a wake-up call that changes need to be made or we will end up with a society of narcissistic, self-serving buffoons.
They came up with the following five strategies to teach kids how to be kind.

1 | “Make caring for others a priority”

As a mother of three kids, I hear myself ask on pretty much a daily basis “How would you feel if…?” But it is not enough to ask the question. I want my kids to understand and internalize how their actions affect others. How their words and deeds can be used to either heal or hurt.

2 | “Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude”

Caring about others beyond ourselves not only makes the world a better place, but research shows that it also makes us happier, healthier and more successful. Practicing gratefulness and counting our blessings reduces anxiety, strengthens relationships, and fosters hope. So why not teach it to our kids?

3 | “Expand your child’s circle of concern”

There is life outside of our homes, our communities, our cities, our countries. There are people outside of our families and friends. Help our kids to see others, recognize their value, and include them within their world. Playing with the new kid at school, asking the grocery clerk how her day is going, saying thank you to the waiter at dinner are examples.

4 | “Be a strong moral role model and mentor”

Actions speak louder than words. But words matter too. How we talk with our kids and interact with them has a direct impact on how they will treat others. As parents, we need to pay attention to the messages we are sending our kids. When we get cutoff in traffic, when we’re running late, when the barista gets our coffee order wrong. And when we screw-up, which let’s face it, we all do, we need to acknowledge our mistakes and apologize.

5 | “Guide children in managing destructive feelings”

We’ve all been there. The flailing, the screaming, the sudden melting away of bones resulting in a puddle of enraged toddler on the floor. However, temper tantrums and angry outbursts serve a purpose. Not only do they provide an emotional outlet for our children, they also provide us with the opportunity to teach proper coping skills, such as deep breathing and finger counting. These strategies will help them understand and manage their feelings which in turn will increase their ability to be empathetic.
Yes, it takes a lot of time and effort to raise kind, caring, socially responsible kids. But in the end, isn’t it worth it?
This article was originally published at Her View From Home.

Just One More Time

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
There is a skate park in our town, built sometime in the decade before we moved here. It’s steep concrete bowls are confined to a space that could park a half dozen cars. It’s because of this park that our youngest son received a used skateboard from his best friend on his seventh birthday. We saw excitement, not determination. That would come later. But, that skateboard, in a tiny skatepark in rural Colorado was the fuel for a dream.
By his eighth birthday he wanted to be a professional skateboarder. His mind was made up. Two years later he was still skating at the park everyday after school and all summer. In the winter he’d read skate magazines and watch the same videos over and over. Just before his 12th birthday a half-pipe ramp became available in Denver. If you don’t know what a half-pipe ramp is, imagine two, vertical, 12-foot walls you roll off, no nets, no ropes, and no rules. It required two truck trailers to move the wooden monster 180 miles up into the mountains to our back yard. I was less than excited to buy it, worried about injury, and thought it was total overkill on my husband’s part to be the cool skate dad. It would require hundreds of hours to assemble. I shelved my aggravation and pulled out the screw gun. It was my son’s communion.
He skated that ramp nearly every day. The number of people who could skate our behemoth paired down to a narrow few. After a few hours he was generally alone again. Back and forth. Fall. Climb. Skate. Fall. Climb. Skate. He’d bake in the summer sun and shovel the snow off before school in the winter. He’d skate at night under farm lights. His dad and I would watch him practice the same trick repeatedly, for hours. I’d try to talk sense into him after watching his 50th failed attempt, but he’d always say “wait, just one more time,” until he’d either land it, or collapse in a demoralized heap. He competed in any and every competition in Colorado. Later, in the pursuit of his passion, we’d spend a couple weeks a year traveling to competitions in California. Oh, California. The skate Mecca.
Watching passion at work can be a gut-wrenching experience. For years he made lists of the tricks he wanted to learn and stuck these lists to the fridge. He followed his heroes on Instagram and Youtube, bought into brands, and saved for gear. There were countless pep talks, and so much frustration. He had so much love for this sport that beat him to pieces. It wasn’t the competition he loved, but the camaraderie he found with other skaters. He was finding his people in this artsy, off beat, punk rock world and to lose them would have been unbearable.
He was a good skater but isolated by climate and geography from becoming great. He worked and saved his money. He planned. He skated the wooden beast that his dad had known, early on, would be what he needed to stay inspired and relevant. He graduated a semester early and at 17 moved to Southern California. His grandmother gave him her old Subaru and we watched as he drove away on a brisk, brilliantly blue, winter day.
We never told him it was going to be hard, or that he should go to college (though he had good grades). We never told him he should have something to fall back on. He was too excited, so full of hope and passion. He was so much braver and fiercer than I had ever been, with a sense of humor that could help bolster his resolve.
As parents, we watch our babies move through a series of somewhat predictable progressions. In the early years, their reward is, in large part, the adulation of a caring adult. That back and forth feels so natural. But, later their independence and character seems to hijack the process and it’s hard to build them big enough wings. It was hard to watch my baby step out of the nest, and off the edge, with nothing but words of encouragement because his determination was always a force beyond my understanding, but something I learned to respect.
It’s been two years. He’s worked numerous jobs, and found his crew. In the last nine months he’s traveled to Australia, six countries in Europe, Mexico, and China exploring and competing with many of the skaters he worshipped. He’s happy and busy. An artist, and an athlete willing to practice the same trick over and over and over until he can barely stand. Then he’ll yell to his friends, ”wait, just one more time.”

How to Find the Right Music Teacher for Your Kid

If your kid is passionate about music, how do you find a music teacher who will bring out the best in them?

Your child is passionate about music, has a great sense of rhythm, and begs to learn an instrument. How do you find a music teacher who will bring out the best in your child?

Parents of musically-inquisitive children rarely know where to start. Many have little direction, and typically seek music instruction locally, through word-of-mouth referral, and where it is affordable and convenient. Some teachers may be accomplished musicians, some may be retired music educators, some may have been teaching privately for years, and some may be just getting started.

However, what works for one child may not work another. Just as some classroom teachers follow a structured curriculum and have difficulty accommodating each child’s unique needs, some music teachers adhere to rigid views of what is acceptable pedagogy. They insist on a strict format of study and don’t know when to hold back or when a talented child needs more encouragement.

Recent articles have highlighted the emotional and cognitive benefits of music instruction and the long-term effects of musical training on the brain, but finding the right teacher for your child can be a challenge. Specific qualities seen among excellent music teachers are outlined here, but what’s also critical is the teacher’s understanding of your child’s developmental, emotional, and motivational needs.

Here is one example of what can go wrong:   

Jake’s parents responded to their five-year-old’s sense of rhythm and interest in piano by seeking lessons at a large, well-known music school. The school had fairly rigid expectations – for example, requesting payment up front for an entire nine months of lessons. Before agreeing to this, Jake’s mom requested a trial lesson first. Jake was assigned to a young teacher, who initially told his mom to wait in the hallway along with a group of other parents. She insisted on attending the lesson, though, so she could assess the teacher’s approach and see how Jake responded.

The teacher asked Jake to play something, since he had some rudimentary understanding of musical notation that he’d acquired from his parents (both had studied music in the past). When he could not follow additional written instructions on the page, the teacher appeared frustrated and asked him the meaning of a particular word. Jake became quiet and said nothing. His mom had to remind the teacher that Jake was only five, and could not read words like that yet.

When asked how future lessons might proceed, Jake’s mom was informed that she would not be permitted to stay in the room despite Jake’s wish to have her present. After they left, Jake told his mom that he did not like the teacher. The entire experience was a disappointment, and they did not return. Jake’s mom kept searching, and eventually found a lovely, experienced private teacher, who was highly attuned to the developmental needs of young children.

Situations like those that occurred with Jake’s family happen frequently. While Jake’s first teacher may have been an accomplished musician, she seemed unfamiliar with how to engage with Jake and what was appropriate for a five-year-old. Many parents without a musical background may be afraid to assert their concerns, and tolerate a stale, uninspired, and often developmentally-inappropriate approach to learning.

What should you consider when searching for a music teacher for your child?

1 | Recognize your child’s temperament and developmental needs

Each child is unique. A six-year-old clearly requires a different approach than a teen, and a good teacher will appreciate this. Wise teachers know how to capture your child’s interest, instill motivation to practice, and help her set reasonable goals. Anything too demanding will result in resistance. Anything too simplistic and rudimentary will be viewed by your child with skepticism. Even a young child can sense when a teacher’s expectations are out of sync with her abilities.

2 | Stay attuned to what is happening during lessons

Music lessons are different from classroom instruction. Don’t let a teacher keep you out of the room. While you must respect the teacher’s authority and should not interfere during the lesson, you also need to know what’s working, what your child is expected to learn, and how he responds. Find out how you can (or should not) help in between lessons to encourage him with motivation and practice. Older children and teens may be more comfortable without you present; however, some contact with your child’s teacher will keep you informed about you child’s progress and aware of areas that need improvement.

3 | Notice signs of resistance in your child

Your child will convey signs of resistance, such as boredom, frustration, and disinterest in her music instruction, just as she might with schoolwork. This can be expressed through lethargy, avoidance, anxiety, and even melt-downs when practice becomes too overwhelming. Be alert to any signs that your child worries excessively about disappointing her teacher, or feels ashamed of a poor performance. Some resistance may be due to normal avoidance of hard work, but it also may signal that she is not getting what she needs from her lessons.

4 | Keep expectations in check

Watching a child’s musical development can fill any parent with pride. How you respond to this, though, can impact your child’s motivation, drive, self-confidence and even his potential to rebel. Excessive boasting about his successes, overt or even subtle pressure to achieve, or dejection if he performs poorly at an audition can have an impact. It may be confusing for him to distinguish his passion and drive from the needs of his family.

It’s just as essential to find a teacher who understands the emotional impact of his or her words, and who refrains from any coercion, pressure, excessive criticism, or shaming. Instruction and critique must be offered in a respectful, upbeat, and encouraging manner, reinforcing that mistakes are a necessary part of learning.

Children who feel excessive pressure to excel or are shamed for their mistakes, even if these messages are not overt, may develop perfectionistic standards or low self-esteem. They may push themselves relentlessly and become increasingly anxious, or may slow their progress, refusing to take on challenging new assignments where they might struggle or fail. Some may give up completely. Older children and teens who are confident in their abilities may be more receptive to a challenging and rigorous approach; however, your child’s temperament is a better predictor of whether this would be beneficial than her age or talent.

Supporting, encouraging, and nurturing a musically talented child can be a challenge. There are few resources and no clear roadmaps for parents. Finding the right teacher takes time and effort. Don’t necessarily settle for the first teacher your meet, or the one your neighbor recommends. Keep searching until you find the right fit.

Trust your instincts – after all, you know your child best! Keep in mind that your child’s needs may change over time as he matures both developmentally and as a musician. Sometimes a new teacher may provide just the right motivational boost to reignite that spark. Most of all, enjoy this wonderful journey with your child!

How to Know You’ve Turned Into a Country Bumpkin

When you first move to the country, after living in the city your whole life, you stick out like a perfectly manicured thumb.

When you first move to the country, after living in the city your whole life, you stick out like a perfectly manicured thumb. You don’t know the rules, the customs, or the subtle societal mores dictating behavior. You have misgivings about fitting in: Why doesn’t anyone else wear bangs? Am I supposed to dry clean this Carhartt coat? Will I lose my chopstick dexterity without a Korean barbeque within walking distance? To your rural neighbors – most of whom belong to one of three familial factions – you are an outsider, an interloper, a passing transient who won’t last through the harvest.
But you do.
You make it through that harvest and the next, and before you know it, 10 years have passed since you moved to the sticks. Your initial reservations dried up long ago like the spring mud that evaporates into filthy summer dust and covers everything. Now, you feel like Linda Hamilton in “Terminator 2” with a chiseled resilience to endure any hardship thrown your way: 15 snow days in one month due to impassable roads? Meh. Local grocery store doesn’t carry Sriracha sauce? Whatever.
But be honest, City Girl, you are still a socially-driven creature with a hardwired need for acceptance. A fleeting doubt escapes: Do I pass? Am I one of them? If you’re still not sure whether your transition from City Slick to Country Hick is complete, here are 18 ways to tell:
1| You’ve conceded that it takes 30 minutes to drive anywhere, but you have zero tolerance for traffic. If you can’t go 65 mph the whole way without stopping, you fly into road rage – UNLESS you spot a turtle moseying across the highway, in which case you slam on the brakes and help the little feller to safety.
2 | When your friend’s baby registry includes a camouflage crib set, not only do you not snicker, you buy it for her.
3 | You’ve synched your kids’ vaccination schedule to match your septic tank evacuations so you don’t fall too far behind on either. Let’s see, the last time we had the septic tank pumped, little Janey got her MMRI … and now the toilets are overflowing, so she must be due for her booster shot!
4 | When you say “My hood has some rough places” you literally mean “The triangular amenity attached to my coat that covers my head in a storm has some places where the material is not smooth.”
5 | You’ve witnessed at least one squirrel/possum/rabbit giving birth, then Googled: “What do I feed newborn squirrels/possums/rabbits?” Followed by: “How to raise baby squirrels/possums/rabbits?” And finally: “How to dispose of dead, possibly diseased, baby squirrels/possums/rabbits?”
6 | The Lands End catalog makes you feel frumpy and out of style.
7 | What you find most offensive about the show “Naked and Afraid” isn’t its derogatory depiction of women, its cheesy dialogue, or the ridiculous premise; no, you’re most offended by the phony way they split firewood. An axe? Please.
8 | You’ve attended a donkey basketball game and knew most of the players.
9 | You don’t object to your husband’s decision to mow giant crop circles in the yard with the tractor in order to “add a little mystery to summer.”
10 | In the winter, you don’t drive anywhere without chains, a winch, blankets, boots, road flares, and a dish to pass, because country folk are known for their flash-mob-stuck-in-a-ditch potlucks.
11 | Your kids have spent more time in hunting blinds than in a shopping mall.
12 | You are proficient in vehicle mud spatter. By the subtle variation in color and texture of the muck dried onto someone’s car, you can tell the exact road they live on.
13 | Homegrown tomatoes have absolutely ruined you for the pale, mealy ones in the grocery store, and even though you spend a small fortune growing your own, every spring you feel compelled to plant a vegetable garden.
14 | You schedule your kids’ dentist appointments on the opening day of rifle season because you know there won’t be any school.
15 | You couldn’t care less about wearing white after Labor Day, but you wouldn’t be caught dead without the snowplow on your tractor after Halloween.
16 | When your husband gives you a diamond bracelet for your birthday, you smile politely and thank him, but deep down you’re disappointed because what you really wanted was that set of Waterhog floor mats.
17 | You’ve become a venison snob; if it’s not a bow kill, you want no part of it.
18 | You learn the secret to a happy marriage isn’t spending time together; it’s letting your husband have a pole barn.
Obviously, “You can take the girl out of the city, but you’ll never take the city out of the girl,” is just a meaningless adage intended to keep the blood lines pure. Rest easy, sister. You’re killing it in the country.
This article was originally published on Sammiches and Psych Meds.

On Halloween, by a Candy-Loving, Dentist's Daughter

I’ll admit, as a dentist’s daughter and a lover of candy, I’m a little Jekyll and Hyde over the matter.

Halloween (and in particular the candy procured) is one of my favorite Holidays – which is curious considering my dad, his dad, and my dad’s two brothers were all dentists. Of course, growing up the candy-loving daughter of a dentist had its daily challenges. Simply biting down on a blow-pop induced heart-wrenching guilt. (That sticky sugar just sits between your teeth!) But – oh holy day! – on Halloween, my dad the dentist smiled his pearly white smile, and allowed me to guiltlessly celebrate the holiday in all of its sugar-laden, cavity-inducing glory.
Even as an adult, there are many reasons to love Halloween – the crisp fall air, the childhood excitement, the silly and scary decorations, and obviously the candy – plus, there is no atoning for our sins and no sitting through sermons. It’s a holiday of untainted indulgence, until I learned information that shook my moral compass: A nationwide program called Halloween BuyBack is working with dentist offices nationwide for children to trade in their candy in exchange for money. I’ll admit, as a dentist’s daughter and a lover of candy, I’m a little Jekyll and Hyde over the matter.
To better grasp this internal conflict, it helps to understand that a comically tortured relationship with candy runs in the family: My dad used to keep a personal stash of sugary orange circus peanuts and sticky black licorice in his office cabinets – right next to boxes of “Stillman, DDS” engraved toothbrushes. He is now retired from his practice, but according to the website halloweencandybuyback.com, it doesn’t matter: This year an estimated 22,000 dental offices will be participating. I checked the website, and there a six dentist offices within five miles of my house alone. That certainly makes it convenient for my family, but do I make my kids bring in their loot?
While the child in me sees Halloween BuyBack as a Halloween horror story, the mom in me sees the obvious benefits. Like so many parents these days, my husband and I are stringent when it comes to our kids’ sugar intake. We are aware that too much sugar may lead to childhood obesity and childhood tooth decay, not to mention that my kids are like suped-up wind-up-toys when they get a pinch of the white stuff. We never give them soda. Juice is for special occasions. Dessert is a treat, and often taken away for bad behavior. Yes – when it comes to sugar, we are a million times stricter than my parents ever were, despite my dad’s dental profession.
Yet, like my parents allowed for me, Halloween has always been a free-for-all for my kids. So when I brought up the cash for candy concept with my third grader, he looked at me like I offered him broccoli for dessert. “No way!” He said incredulously.
With logic on my side, I tried to talk sensibly: First of all, he could not possibly eat all the candy he’d collect, even over several months, even with my help! And then there’s the “selfless lesson” because it’s for a good cause – the candy goes into care packages for US Troops. Lastly, it’s bad for you! It will rot your teeth and your body!
But honestly, my heart wasn’t in the argument. Nostalgia (and hypocrisy – I’m eating sour skittles as I write this) get the best of me. I remember the thrill of dumping my precious treasures into my desk drawer after a long night of hitting every house in my neighborhood. When I was little, I would have screamed like I saw Freddy Krueger at the thought of someone ripping my hard earned candy from my sticky fingers, and no amount of cash would have lessened the blow. (Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who asked the Tooth Fairy for gummy bears.)
But I’m an adult now. The teacher of healthful living, and selfless giving. So this year, I’ll try to be a better person. I’ll let my kids run house to house until their little arms ache under the weight of all that delicious, teeth-rotting junk-of-the-Gods. Then, that first night, I’ll let them gorge until they feel physically ill (like roll around on the floor, clutching their belly, ill). The next day – candy hangover in full effect – I’ll have them fill a ziplock bag to take to their local dentist office. I’m not sure who this will be harder on, them or me.
In the weeks following, they’ll each get a piece for dessert or as a treat in their lunch, until they forget it about it altogether. The rest is mine, all mine (duh!). And yes, Dad – I promise I’ll floss.