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.”

My 4-foot, 11 inch Mother is the Biggest Person in Any Room

If my parents had stayed in the Bronx, I might have grown up thinking my family was like all the rest.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. Enter your own here!
Mothers. We come in various ages, shapes, sizes, and temperaments. We bring our love, our quirks, our fears, and sometimes a little bit of our crazy to the job of parenting.
My parents grew up in the Bronx, New York, as next door neighbors. Yes, my mom literally married “the boy next door.” They are 100 percent Italian and grew up in a neighborhood of other Italians.
I’m sure they thought that everybody woke up to the smell of “gravy” cooking on Sunday mornings in preparation for the 3 p.m. dinner with 19 other relatives. I’m sure it was normal for families to scream and yell and gesture wildly during meals and for mothers to chase people around the house with wooden spoons and other impromptu weapons of torture.
If my parents had stayed in the Bronx, I might have grown up thinking my family was like all the rest. But my parents relocated us to Orange County, California, where it quickly became evident that my family was not the norm.
Let me rephrase that. More specifically, “one of these mothers is not like the others.” For anyone who has ever been driven crazy by their mother, I hope you can relate.
Here are a few things other moms definitely didn’t do:
Other moms did not make their child’s friends wash their underarms and feet when they came over to play after school. “You girls stink,” she would say. “You have B.O. and I don’t know if it’s your underarms or your feet, so go wash them both.”
Totally mortified, I would take my friends into the bathroom to wash up, and I would wonder if anyone would ever want to come over to my house again. Somehow, they always came back, probably because we had good snacks.
Other moms did not picket at school and start a petition when their youngest daughter was not named 8th grade valedictorian.
Other moms did not hire a stripper for their son’s family-friendly 18th birthday party in the backyard. Because what boy wouldn’t want his mother there when interacting with a stripper?
On a similar note, other moms did not also hire a stripper for their daughter’s 21st birthday dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Las Vegas, with her boyfriend and all four grandparents present.

Finally, other moms definitely did not hire an older, unattractive man to come dressed as a pink monkey for their three-year-old grandson’s birthday party and then – surprise! – take off his monkey suit to double as a stripper for the 21st birthday of her youngest daughter, terrifying all children (and adults) in attendance.
Other moms did not write a letter to Rosie O’Donnell (who had one of hottest talk shows on TV at the time where their son has just been hired in the mail room) to brag about how talented he is and how he basically should be running her show. Italians calls this the “my son” syndrome.
Other moms did not somehow force the school district to re-route the entire bus schedule so that their children could be dropped off directly in front of their house rather than on the corner bus stop like all the other kids.
Other moms did not go against the wishes of their grown children and secretly baptize their grandchild in the laundry room sink. With “permission” from the local priest, of course.
Other moms did not fill their entire car with lemons and picket in front of the car dealership (standing up through the sunroof with a giant sign that said “Lemon by BMW”) when it had mechanical problems.

Other moms did not bring a six-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade to their 17-year-old daughter’s high school prom date’s house and give it to his mother to keep in the fridge because “Jami doesn’t like beer.”
Other moms did not tell their daughter’s new boyfriend, after knowing him for five minutes, that she wants another grandchild, then add that, at this point, she doesn’t care if they get married. She will even raise the child as long as they can just make one for her.
Other moms did not block traffic at the roundabout in front of the high school at pick-up time as they stuck themselves out of the sunroof waving a giant bouquet of balloons and honking their horn to wish their daughter a Happy Birthday.

Yes, my mom did a lot of things other moms didn’t do.
On second thought, perhaps other people didn’t have a home that was constantly filled with family, friends, food, and laughter, or a mom who let her kids’ friends live with them when they needed a place to stay.
Maybe other people didn’t have a mother who “adopted” the little old lady who sat alone in the back of the church every week and invite her to family dinner every Sunday.
Maybe other people didn’t have a mother who cooked dinner for her grown children and grandchildren every Tuesday night, year after year, making nine different dishes so everyone could have their favorites.
My mom stands only 4-foot, 11 inches, but I’ve never thought of her as small. To me, she was always the biggest person in the room (and by biggest, I mean loudest).
All kidding aside – from your eldest daughter who pours the milk before the cereal, to your only son who hasn’t touched a public door handle in 20 years, to your youngest daughter who will only eat ice cream with a fork – we may have turned out a little quirky, but all in all, I guess you did okay.
So thank you, my crazy Italian mother, for all those childhood memories, for being our fiercest protector, our strongest advocate, and our worst nightmare.

Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby's Plagiocephaly Helmet

Here’s a list of things to expect if you, too, find yourself in the position of being prescribed a plagiocephaly helmet for your bundle of joy.

We knew our son’s head shape was “not quite right” when he was born. He was born at 35 weeks, and he had a moment of performance anxiety during the birth, which resulted in him getting stuck.
That was fun.
The combination of his early arrival (and even softer head than a full-term newborn) and his period of “stuckness” resulted in him being born with a flat head, or if you want to be fancy about it, “Plagiocephaly.” We didn’t know it at the time, but he was also born with “Torticollis” which is a stiff neck muscle. It meant he could only turn his head to one side.
Because we are avid rule abiders in this house, we followed all the safe sleeping guidelines. We put bubs to bed on his back for every sleep and nap. So slowly over the first weeks of his life, his soft little head pressing down on his firm little mattress got progressively flatter and flatter – not only on the back, but on the one side that his head naturally turned to. It now turned this way not only because of his stiff neck (we’d started doing stretches, so that was improving), but also then because of the flat spot. Think of it as cutting a segment out of an orange – the orange is always going to roll towards the flat surface and stay there.
I am a Googler (aren’t all of us new parents?), so I was pretty reassured when I saw that flat spots were pretty common and that “Plagiocephaly” is the most common craniofacial problem today (partly due to the safe sleeping guidelines – though it is infinitely better to have a baby with a flat head than one who can’t breathe, so I am definitely not advocating going against the guidelines). When I started attending a community “Mother’s Group” they covered Plagiocephaly. This was also reassuring, as a few other mums in the group raised their hands with similar concerns to me. So, I was feeling pretty good until the midwife caught side of the side of my son’s head while we were having tea and biscuits after the meeting and said, “that’s actually a really remarkable case,” turning his head this way and that. Remarkable, really? I appreciated her candor, but I definitely started worrying again then.
She gave me a card of an Orthopedist who could assess my son and perhaps prescribe a “Plagiocephaly Helmet.” The helmet’s purpose is to alleviate pressure from the flat spots, allowing the skull to grow into the spaces provided inside the helmet – they make a cast of your baby’s head first, so the spaces in the helmet match the flat spots in your baby’s head. She said she wasn’t supposed to give out the contact information, because some doctors in our area did not agree with the helmets and thought they were a waste of time and money (they thought the problem would fix itself with time). I’ll never know, because my anxious personality propelled me towards this Orthopedist’s office as fast as my legs could take me (not that fast actually, as I was also dragging along a four-month-old).
The Orthopedist certainly did prescribe a helmet. He made the cast right there during the first appointment, and I’ve made a list of things to expect if you, too, find yourself in the position of being prescribed one for your bundle of joy.

1 | They are not super cheap, considering they are mostly foam

Our helmet set us back $500. I guess this is why some doctors will advise against them if they do feel the problem will correct itself in time. I felt it was worth it for us, for the peace of mind of knowing we were doing everything we could at the time. Also, this cost included all follow-up appointments and adjustments to the helmet every month (as his head changed shape) so it is actually pretty reasonable when you look at it like that.

2 | It is not about cosmetics

You may think it is a little over the top for me to have gotten so worked up about the fact that my baby would have a bit of a flat head. My main concerns were not cosmetic (though of course I don’t want him to look funny!) – I was thinking about stuff like him not being able to wear glasses comfortably (both hubby and I do, so it is pretty likely he will need them), or even sunglasses. Or not being able to wear safety helmets or hard hats without having specially made ones. This may not be an issue if the flat spot was just on the back, but because his head was asymmetrical (the flatness was on the back and one side) it would have been.

3 | They are not as uncomfortable as they look

I have to go by observation on this one, because my four-month-old didn’t actually turn around to me and say “hey, this isn’t so bad.” He wore his helmet 23 hours a day. It was only off to clean it and to give him a bath. He slept in it, and his sleep did not change or regress. He was a happy, giggly baby, and didn’t really even seem to have a major adjustment period to it. It was really, truly, so fine. And when he got it off, he adjusted well to that too.

4 | The earlier the better

The earlier the helmet is on, the shorter time period it needs to be on and the more effective it is. My son was in his helmet from four months old until about eight months old. This is around the earliest it can go on. Helmets are believed to work best between approximately the ages of five months and eight months. There was another young boy who came to the office who had gotten his helmet on much later, and it was on for ages longer and didn’t end up working as well. This is apparently to do with how fast our son’s skull bones fuse together and the head being more malleable at an earlier age.

5 | You may get some looks

Everywhere I went during the months of the helmet, I felt like I was being stared at. I tried to give people the benefit of the doubt, and assume they were staring because it looks so damn cute (it really does). They were also probably wondering what it was for, as the helmets aren’t super common where I live. Strangers were nice to me – they offered to let me go first in queues, asked how I was doing, or asked to carry things for me.
Sometimes people would ask what was “wrong” with my son. My usual answer was that “it’s just on to reshape his wonky head.” I would play it cool, but sometimes my feelings were quite hurt when they said that. Some people told me that they thought my son had a mental disability, or a developmental disorder and it was on for protection (for head banging). I’ll admit, it made me feel a bit self-conscious.

6 | You do miss the unrestricted snuggles and nuzzling against your baby’s head

This was the main thing I was excited for when I learned he could take his helmet off – the head nuzzles! Until then, we did lots of head nuzzling at bath-time, and at other times we snuggled him through the sometimes uncomfortable feeling of a hard block of foam on your face. He still felt cozy, warm, and snuggly, I’m sure.  It was just us who were a tad more uncomfortable! Worth it!

7 | If you don’t clean the helmet every day, it will smell

All you have to do is wipe it down using rubbing alcohol and a cotton wool ball once a day (before bath time, so it has that half an hour to dry before he gets back into it). Leave it for a day and suffer the stench!

8 | You will get creative with tummy time

Even though the helmet is on, which relieves the pressure off the flat spots, we are still told to pay attention to positioning. So, stretches to help move his heads both ways, repositioning his  head on their mattresses, and tummy time – lots of tummy time! If the child doesn’t like it (ours didn’t at first) this can be a challenge. We had to think of lots of ways to make it fun – think plastic sandwich bags filled with paint for him to squish, mirrors, music, blow up balls, and lying down with him making funny faces. It is actually quite fun to think of ways to extend the time they spend on their belly. And you get to lie down for a minute too!

9 | You will miss it when it’s gone – a bit

This is similar to when you see someone you are close to without their glasses on. It just doesn’t look like “them” for a while, as you get used to its absence. Sure, we saw the “real him” every night at bath time, but he always looked just a little bit naked (that’s a bad example because he was in the bath, but you get the idea). It probably took a good two weeks for us to not feel like something was “missing.”

10 | It isn’t so bad

It’s just a few months, which pass by in the blink of an eye in infancy. It’s a bit of a cost, but that includes everything. The babies aren’t affected by it physically or emotionally, and it really doesn’t affect their mood or sleep or anything (at least in our experience, and in talking to other helmet parents).
The best part: It worked! My son now has a perfectly asymmetrical, round head. He is none the worse for wear.

Why Your Response to Your Baby's Cries Are Hardwired

A new study found that infant cries activate certain brain regions connected with movement and speech in mothers.

Few things tear up my nerves as much as hearing my baby cry in the car. It doesn’t seem to matter if my infant is fed, freshly diapered, and otherwise content – the second I strap him into his car seat, he falls apart, and sometimes I do, too, because what’s worse than hearing your baby wail but not being able to stop it? After failed attempts to soothe him from the front seat, I end up white-knuckling the steering wheel, with my heart racing fast and my mind made up that I’m never leaving the house again. It goes against every instinct I have not to pick up my poor baby, but of course I can’t hold him in the car (which is why he’s crying in the first place).
Turns out there’s a valid reason for my car-ride stress. In a new study from NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), researchers found that infant cries activate certain brain regions connected with movement and speech in mothers. The study team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to conduct behavioral and brain-imaging studies on a group of 684 new mothers in the following 11 countries: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, France, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, South Korea, and the United States. In the study:

“…Researchers observed and recorded one hour of interaction between the mothers and their 5-month-old babies at home. The team analyzed whether mothers responded to their baby’s cries by showing affection, distracting, nurturing (like feeding or diapering), picking up and holding, or talking. Regardless of which country they came from, mothers were likely to pick up and hold or talk to their crying infant.”

Moreover, the team discovered through fMRI studies of other groups of women that hearing infant cries activated similar brain regions in both new and experienced mothers. The crying stimulated their supplementary motor area, linked to the intention to move and speak; the inferior frontal regions, related to the production of speech; and the superior temporal regions, associated with sound processing.
According to these findings, my urgent impulse to jump in the backseat of the car, scoop up my baby, and calm him with kisses is a hard-wired response (but also, obviously, a terrible idea). When we’re not in the car, however, this need to console my baby, driven by parts of my brain related to movement and speech, is beneficial, since babies need attentive caregivers for healthy development. This study could thus help professionals better understand, identify, and help people at risk of being inattentive or harmful caregivers to young children.
The consistency of behavior and underlying brain activity in the study sample made up of women from all over the world suggests that mothers have an intrinsic response to their babies’ crying. So I guess I can’t blame the anxiety it causes me (solely) on my high-strung nature, or the intense child-centric society in which I live. I suppose I also can’t blame my husband for putting headphones on in the car when the crying gets to be too much, because what this study has also done is expand upon previous research showing how the brains of males and females respond differently to infant crying.
While I’ll continue to avoid any nonessential car rides with my little man until he grows out of this phase (which he will, right?!), it helps to have a better sense of why it’s so distressing and to comprehend on a cognitive level what’s happening when I listen to him cry.
Now, if only I could find a study that reveals the trick to making babies love (or at least tolerate) the dreaded car seat.

Who Has Time to Write?

If you’re the kind of person who needs intellectual stimulation in order to feel satisfied, don’t buy into the myth of “supermom.”

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
When my youngest daughter was a baby, just a few years ago, I used to bundle her and her two-year-old sister up in snowsuits and take them to a Friday morning coffee klatsch called “Globally Minded Moms.” The group of us, all mothers with young children, would watch a TED talk or read an article in preparation for a discussion about something – anything, preferably about something other than parenting. I was at one of these meetings one morning when the topic of writing and motherhood came up in connection to an online lecture we had watched. I mentioned a story I’d been working on when a someone who didn’t usually come to our meetings interrupted me to say, “Who has time to write? I don’t even have time to fold my kids’ laundry!” She went on to tell us about a new app she had bought which kept all of her housekeeping duties organized. It even reminded her to change the tea towels in the kitchen, since, she assured us, this absolutely needed to be done every day, and did we know how many germs were on those things?
Who has time to write? The accusation in that question stung, even if unintentional. How is it possible to defend our writing time when, even when the babies are sleeping, there is always laundry to be folded, tea towels to be changed? And if you slack off a little, even for a day, well, just think of the germs! Your whole family could get salmonella poisoning.
And then there’s that other question lurking there, barely veiled beneath the one asked aloud: how can you be so selfish?
I will admit, quietly, usually muttering to myself while doing the dishes, to being artistically ambitious, although I don’t have much to show for it. Even modest ambition can be seen as a character flaw in women who are also mothers, because the expectation for mothers is selflessness. I have a hard time with that word, selfless. Self-less-ness, the state of being without a self. And yet I feel a pressure coming from absolutely everywhere – from people I love and respect who refer to it as “babysitting” when a father cares for his own children, to my own inner dialogue, critiquing the state of my house and questioning my priorities – to justify my time spent writing with some sort of selfless and practical excuse. But here is the thing: I really do believe that my writing is good for my daughters. I’ll gladly discuss a few reasons why here, in the company of other readers and writers. However, in our day to day lives, I strongly believe that we should not be required to defend our writing as though the imperative to write (and, more importantly, to read and also to think) stems from some sort of selfishness or narcissism or even immaturity. After all, this is 2017. It should go without saying. But it often doesn’t feel that way for writer-mothers.
Having my kids see me work at my writing has helped them to develop their own passion for reading and writing. My six-year-old sometimes sits at the table with me and works on developing storylines and illustrating her own books while I work on a draft. She has a natural sense of structure, and her stories often have several threads which come together at the end. She has written a series of books which end with a family pet making a joke and the family realizing they can understand the pet’s speech.
If, like me, you’re the kind of person who needs the intellectual stimulation of reading and writing in order to feel satisfied, then don’t buy into the myth of the “supermom.” How much more present I am for my kids, more patient and playful, when I’ve had that occasional hour to read and write. It recharges me. But, if the prospect of spending months making hand-embroidered bunnies for all the kids attending your two-year-old’s birthday party appeals to you, then go for it. Just don’t expect to have any time left to write.
Many beginning writers stack the odds against themselves, waiting for the perfect time and space, quiet, and private. If you’re a parent of young children, that’s never going to happen. If writing is really what you want to do, don’t use the lack of quiet time or the myth of the supermom as excuses not to write. In fact, as I write this, I am sitting on the couch with my four-year-old daughter. She’s watching Scooby Doo, I’ve got earplugs in and dirty teatowels dangle from my stove. In the current climate of competitive parenting, this is something you would think I’d feel guilty about. I don’t.
This article was originally published in the Saskatchewan Writer’s Guild publication, Freelance, in the summer of 2017.

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.

A Tale of Growing Up and A Drive-Thru Memory to Keep

The thought of placing a drive-through order gives me the jitters. “What? Don’t worry, I will place the order,” he says, his tenor that of an adult.

“Mama, can you stop at McDonald’s drive-through? I’m super hungry,” says my 14-year old son.
It’s Thursday evening and we are returning home from his Taekwondo class.
“It’s a week night. I cooked stir fry okra today. Your favorite,” I tell him.
“I don’t want to eat that. Please.”
Why is he refusing to eat at home? He knows our family’s rules: we only eat out on weekends. My son is an only child, so I worry about him growing into a selfish and insensitive adult.
I was born and raised in India in a middle class family. My family did not own a car; my siblings and I bicycled to school, exposed to the sun in summer, buttoned up in raincoats in monsoon, bundled up in scarves and hats in winter. Eating out was restricted to an ice-cream cone once a year, on the evening our final exams culminated. I never tried to bend or question my parents’ rules.
I talk to him about spending wisely and saving hard-earned money. I eulogize the benefits of eating fresh, home cooked food. I demonize the empty-calorie comestibles sold by fast food restaurants.
My son pulls a long face. That and the fact that he will be fleeing my nest in another three years soften my heart. He is a good kid. It’s not his fault that he has not seen poverty and longing up close.
I have to accede to his request today.
The thought of placing a drive-through order gives me the jitters. I tell my son that I have never, in my 15 years of life in the US, done a drive-through.
“What? Don’t worry, I will place the order,” he says, his tenor that of an adult, resolving a puerile conflict.
I glance at my son in the passenger seat. His head is bent into his phone. The line of black hair on his upper lip appears thicker and darker. Pimples and their remnants dot his forehead and sideburns. A whiff of Axe deodorant escapes from his underarms.
This boy, who came from the smiley shaped incision on my abdomen, now towers over me. He has never noticed that his dad has been on the wheel anytime we have done a drive-through. What else does he not know about the machinery of our life as a family?
What does he mean by he will place the order? He doubts my spoken English. He corrects my pronunciations, tells me which syllables to stress in words like Indianapolis and Kentucky. But I am an Information Technology professional and am gainfully employed by an American business.
My mind begins to wander. We recently watched an Indian movie “English Vinglish” on Netflix, in which the protagonist is an Indian mom who visits the USA to attend her niece’s wedding. This woman, who has a tremulous command over English, tries to order a coffee at Starbucks and ends up being insulted by the barista.
My son is unconsciously drawing parallels between that woman and me. I have never heard Starbucks baristas speak in a condescending tone. The plot is implausible to me.
My hesitation is not because of my lack of language but because of my short arms. I am a tiny person. My mind is mired in doubts – what if my arms don’t reach the window and I drop my credit card or the food packet?
Finally, I scrape out courage from each cell of my puny body and pull into the drive-through lane, approach the microphone and rattle off the order of one Filet Fish sandwich with a medium fries. The person on the other side does not say repeat or pardon.
My son looks up from his phone. I approach the payment window, steering carefully. The window guy’s fingers reach mine and I hand him my credit card. Success. We then float – my son, my Lexus, and I – as an autumn leaf to the next window, where another oblivious partner hands me the paper package.
I hand over the steaming package to my son, without even looking at him, like it was a mundane activity.
“Thank you, mama,” my son says, looking at me with eyes brimming with pride.
My son narrates the story to my husband later that evening. “Mama is brave,” he says, “She just needs to try.” Animated conversations and moments of levity have become rare in our house.
The teenage years have pulled my son into a shell of reticence. He answers in deep sighs, bored monosyllables like “yeah” and “no” or boorish phrases like “kind of’” and “not really.”
My son has stopped lingering in the kitchen. Before, he used to turn over the parathas for me or shell the boiled eggs for curry, all the time chattering. I had to ask him to stop the blabber or my fingers would forget to add some vital ingredient, like the ginger-garlic paste to the egg curry.
He has moved his homework station from my kitchen island to the den. He leaves the den only when called. He eats with us every night and heads upstairs to his room soon as he is finished.
I don’t complain but I have not stopped missing him. I miss trimming his nails every weekend and pouring eye drops in his eyes every night. I miss helping him with his homework. I miss his telling me of his tummy aches. I miss his asking me simple questions.
As I lie in bed, I feel accomplished and happy. I have conquered a fear and I have built a strong memory with my son. This memory is most precious. My son might forget how I raced in my heels to his daycare. He might forget how I wracked my brains over his Math Counts problems long after he went to bed. He might forget how I folded his laundry and placed it neatly in his closet when his dad asked him to do it. He will never be able to forget this drive-through experience that we shared. Perhaps, he will narrate this tale of his puny mother’s courage to his kids.

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.”

Why Confidence in Yourself as Parent is What Really Matters

Turns out that whether or not you think you’re doing a good job as a parent might matter just as much as your parenting skills.

Would you describe yourself as a good parent? Turns out that whether or not you think you’re doing a good job as a parent might matter just as much as your parenting skills.

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” In parenting research terms, this is referred to as parenting efficacy. Research suggests that whether or not you believe you’re able to provide the social, cultural, and emotional support your kid needs in ways that lead to positive development impacts his or her development.

Parenting efficacy is the extent to which parents feel capable of effectively managing the challenges their kids encounter. Several studies suggest that this parenting efficacy has an impact on children’s adjustment. It involves issues such as how far parents are willing to go to solve challenges, their stress levels, how they promote their kids’ self-efficacy, and the overall satisfaction they derive from parenting. Parenting efficacy is also influenced by whether or not parents feel supported, and by the positive relationships and interactions they share with others.

According to Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy, people with high self-efficacy are motivated, more likely to take on difficult tasks and to invest the necessary effort to complete tasks, and are also more likely to persevere. In contrast, those with low self-efficacy have greater self-doubt, higher levels of anxiety, avoid difficult tasks, and are more likely to view difficult situations as threats rather than challenges they’re able to overcome.

High parenting self-efficacy is particularly important in early childhood because this is an unpredictable period during which kids learn most. Moreover, the relationships built in early childhood set the stage for successful parent-child relationships in adolescence and beyond. Several studies have linked low parenting self-efficacy to problem behavior during early childhood and to issues such as substance abuse and delinquency in adolescence.

The good news is that self-efficacy is not a fixed trait. In other words, it’s possible to strengthen your parenting efficacy. Here are a few tips to help you promote effective parenting practices.

1 | Be in the know

Research confirms what we already know – when you feel competent in your parenting role, you are more likely to be warm, sensitive to your kids’ needs, and engaged in their learning and development. It’s easier to think of yourself as a competent parent when you have the skills to respond to your child’s needs.

Keeping up-to-date with information from reliable sources can help provide you with useful parenting information. That said, not all the information will necessarily apply to your family. It’s important to pick what works for you and your kid. Focus on both your strengths and weaknesses to decide what matters most and how best to get to your parenting objectives.

2 | Monitor, don’t spy

You’re more likely to feel confident in your parenting skills when you know what your kid is up to. According to the behaviorist theory, kids imitate the models with whom they identify. These models could be their friends and parents, but they could also be TV personalities or other people in kids’ environment. Several studies suggest that kids exposed to violent models are more likely to be less empathetic, engage in aggressive behavior, or demonstrate fearfulness.

It’s important to know who your kid is hanging out with and what he’s watching, but this doesn’t mean you need to spy on him. Watching his favorite show together at least once, playing video games together, and organizing play dates is an easy way to monitor your kid’s activities without spying.

3 | Work on your stress and depression levels

Parenting self-efficacy and stress levels are inseparable. Research suggests that parents with high stress and depression levels are more likely to have low parenting self-efficacy, and the higher parents’ self-efficacy levels, the less likely they are to suffer from anxiety, stress, and depression.

Working on the issues underlying your stress and depression can help increase your parenting self-efficacy. It’s also easier to help your kid manage her stress and anxiety when you have learned to manage yours.

Other studies suggest that parenting self-efficacy is also higher when kids are less emotional. Indeed, there are many occasions on which misbehavior can be explained by kids’ inability to manage difficult emotions. Using appropriate strategies to talk to kids about emotions and help them learn to manage those emotions by themselves can help strengthen your parenting self-efficacy.

4 | Strengthen your support network

The more supported you feel in your parenting, the more likely you are to develop a high level of parenting self-efficacy. Couple support is one of the most important determinants of this self-efficacy. Sharing parenting tasks with your partner reduces the feeling that you’re overwhelmed or stressed, and increases your confidence in your parenting.

Parenting support may also be provided by family and friends. There’s evidence that this support enables parents to deal better with stressful events and to feel that they’re doing a good job as parents. Strengthening your support network also means knowing whether or not to avoid people who constantly criticize your parenting.

5 | Strengthen your kid’s self-efficacy

Strengthening your kid’s self-efficacy also strengthens your parenting efficacy. There are several easy habits that foster kids’ autonomy. When you provide unstructured but creative environments, you motivate your kid to solve problems by herself and you also foster her creativity.

6 | Create opportunities to bond

Strong families spend time together. Creating opportunities to bond strengthens family relationships. If you don’t already have one, start a family ritual. If done right, family rituals can help the whole family connect, reduce sibling rivalry, and strengthen your parenting self-efficacy.

No matter what parenting style you choose, remember that believing in yourself is a job already half-done.