This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“You are so brave.”
The young woman in white pants and cold shoulder top said those four words emphasizing each syllable like she was going to pin a Purple Heart to my wrinkled t-shirt. I started to ask why.
“You are so brave for not dying your hair.”
And then she slipped away. I am assuming she went to her $400 highlighting appointment or aisle four for gluten-free bread. I was headed to aisle six to break up a canned corn fight directly from the movie Brave.
I am a hair coloring virgin. I have two kids so obviously not a virgin-virgin. My hair has run the gamut from to-my-butt to cut-it-short-break-up-revenge pixie. I didn’t have kids until my mid-30s so while they look young, my hair keeps no secrets. It is increasingly saltier in part because of the hubby and kids.
My spouse desperately wants to have silver-tipped temples. At work, he suffers through not looking his age in part because of his 20-something-looking, but really 40-something dark hair. I joke when I half-prayed I would love curly hair instead of stick-straight, I should have specified all at once. The new white hairs are coarse and curly and stand out in stark contrast to my stick-straight dark brown hair.
On the other end of the spectrum, my tween daughter wants a hair change color, but of the blue variety. Ironically, the day before the “you’re brave” woman arrived on the scene, the blue hair came up in a way that got someone giggle/grounded (you know the mom moment – when you have to punish but need to look away).
“Mom, if you dye your hair and won’t let me get blue streaks – that makes you a hypocrite.”
The irony. If I wanted to look younger, I needed to dye my hair but in doing that would invoke the wrath of the younger crowd and apparently lose my “Brave” card in the process.
After I pulled both kids out of the produce section and took their banana weapons we entered more dangerous territory. The hair coloring aisle. Kid Two immediately pointed out the blue dye. I pointed out the ice cream that could go back in the freezer section
Once we got home from our three-hour grocery store tour, I had time (alone) to think about the well-meaning woman in aisle four and what I should have said to her. It all went back to one main question.
Does not coloring my hair make me brave? Does it make me less successful? Less determined? Less of a mom?
The flood of responses filling my head outside of the grocery store all ended with: no. While the implication was that going out in public with salty hair was in itself a brave fashion choice, there is nothing intrinsically brave about not dying your hair.
After I got over initial moment of clarity, I made a list of what does make a person brave. Not one involved hair dye.
My 40-something mom friend in the midst of Stage 4 cancer. Worrying about her family. Facing her own mortality far too soon. Finding wigs to cover up scars and bald heads. Brave.
The family of my mom friend who just lost her colon cancer battle. Brave.
My mom friends taking their kids to cancer treatments wondering if they will survive. Praying for clear scans. The moms who have lost a child to cancer. Brave.
Single moms going back to work. Brave.
Recently divorced moms escaping domestic violence. Brave.
Moms in blended families making it all work for new kids and new spouses. Brave.
Moms in the military serving their country. Brave.
Families I saw in Costa Rica this summer with nothing trying to make happy lives for their children. Brave.
The woman with a screaming baby AND a toddler in the grocery store. On a flight. In the library. Brave.
Women who run for office and try to change the world. Brave.
Teachers. Brave.
Nurses. Brave.
Firefighters. Brave.
You are all determined. And brave.
The list is never-ending. That white-panted woman probably thought SHE was being brave for pointing out my un-dyed hair. Using the word brave as a flippant badge of honor for fashion or hair choices or even normal parenting cheapens it in a way that dishonors the people I do truly think are brave.
And so I offer an apology to those brave women (and men) for my momentary, misguided shift into your category. True bravery should be recognized and celebrated and exalted from the highest rooftop. And even on occasion in aisle five. You are brave. I am just in need of a new hairstyle.

How to Set the Bar High Without Teaching That Performance Determines Identity

How do we, as parents, set the bar high for our children, all the while making it clear that what they can accomplish does not determine who they are?

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
Crickets chirp from fields of goldenrod when our first grader brings her school folder to the deck. It’s a muggy September evening in western Pennsylvania, and our family clings to the fringes of summer with homework sessions on the deck and evenings spent chasing butterflies through the wildflowers.
I’m expecting a quick math worksheet, but instead, my daughter hands me a foreboding yellow paper containing eight short words: her first spelling list. I wonder how we went from diapers and stroller walks to the big-kid world of spelling tests in what feels like mere minutes.
“Can I please go play in the yard?” the blue-eyed girl begs. Staring at the spelling list, I face an undeniable moment of decision. I can choose to let her frolic wildly among Joe-Pye weed and black-eyed Susans to checking mulch beds for toads and milkweed leaves for butterfly eggs, or I can draw a hard line and tell her we have to study for spelling now.
The perfectionist within me white-knuckles a fleeting sense of control over my child’s life, and most of me wants to tell her we need write our spelling words before we play. But from somewhere deep within, a voice reminds me that I’ve wasted far too much of my own life believing that my performance determines my identity.
How do we, as parents, set the bar high for our children, all the while making it clear that what they can accomplish does not determine who they are?
I want my daughter to know that she is wildly loved by her father and me regardless of her test scores. I also want her to score well on tests and value the priority of hard work. I want her to know that kindness and compassion are more important than worldly success and material possessions, but I also want her to work hard at the tasks that generally result in success and prosperity.
In a split second, I choose to send my child to the fields of wildflowers and postpone spelling words until the dusky hours of evening. As I watch her from the deck, I carefully ponder how we might teach her to pursue brilliance, all the while, understanding that exceptional results in any area of life can never define her. Here are four specific ways to instill a sense of determination without creating a performance-based identity:

Teach excellence instead of perfectionism

My personal struggle with perfectionism has revealed a frustrating reality in my life: Perfection in most areas is unattainable because there is always a step higher. There is always a possibility for a neater house, higher-paying career, leaner figure, and more organized car.
Instead of teaching our kids to pursue perfection, we serve them well when we teach them to pursue excellence. Perfect is defined by a flawless final outcome; excellence is defined by the assurance that we gave it our best shot. A perfect test score is nothing less than 100 percent. An excellent test score might just be a 75 percent that came at a high cost of 100 percent effort.

The bar measures effort, not outcomes

Setting the bar high means we value our kids’ effort more than we value what they produce. A home run that wins the game is great, but a hard-earned single after six straight strikeouts is even better. An award for being the best of the show is exciting, but simply showing up might be the greatest victory of all for the child who struggles with anxiety.
When we set the bar high for our kids, we set it for superior effort, not a worldly standard of superior outcomes.

Praise virtues over talents

A friend of older children once reminded me that she’d rather hear that her child is kind and thoughtful than intelligent and exceptionally gifted. We need to remember that the kind act of sharing the tire swing on the playground speaks more about a child’s heart than a perfect grade on a math exam.
In a recent study, it was found that Emotional Intelligence (the ability to connect and relate to others) is a greater determining factor for success in life than Intelligence Quotient (a score of cognitive ability). Teaching our kids to treat others with kindness might actually determine their future success more than drilling math facts

Cultivate a sense of worth that is unrelated to the opinions of others

Most importantly, our kids need to understand that they are loved simply because they are ours. There is nothing they can do to earn our love. A child with this understanding has a firm foundation beneath his feet as he walks into a daunting and intimidating world.
Set the bar high, parents. Just remember that it is a bar of effort instead of outcomes.

New Ways to Praise: Moving Beyond "I'm Proud of You"

We praise our kids for everything they do – broad praise that actually means little but has a major impact.

It’s built into the way most of us parent. We praise our kids for everything they do – broad praise that actually means little but has a major impact. Contrary to what many parents think, the impact is not positive.
Authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman share the negative impacts of overpraising kids in their book “NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children.” They emphasize the importance of praising a child’s sincere effort and improvement on a task as opposed to labeling them as smart and throwing praise at everything they do. Kids who are overpraised and labeled as naturally smart are actually less likely to take on challenging tasks. They veer away from anything that takes effort.
More recent research has gone even further in proving that overpraising is a big mistake. Besides encouraging our kids to give up when things get hard, it also gives them inflated egos and may cause them to become narcissists later in life.
Though research points out that there may also be a genetic link to narcissism, children who are already predisposed and grow up with parents who constantly overestimate their worth and abilities stand a higher chance of turning into narcissists.

Do we say nothing?

The hardest part about this information is that parents, especially in the Western world, are primed to praise. We want to tell our kids how well they are doing, and we want them to feel valued.
These aren’t bad desires, but raising kids who constantly reach for external praise, especially if we offer it when they don’t do anything extraordinary, is a bad idea. We want kids to be intrinsically motivated, working to achieve their best because they want to.
There is praise we can offer in the right circumstances that can point kids inward. It can also focus them on hard work and effort as opposed to innate smarts. Instead of falling back on the old “I’m so proud of you” try one of these alternatives.

You should be proud of you

When we tell our kids we’re proud of them, we train them to seek out our approval. We should teach them to seek out self-approval, being proud of an accomplishment when they know they put in all the effort they could.
This doesn’t mean only being proud of themselves when they come in first place. Teaching our kids to be proud of themselves means teaching them that life is about the journey. Maybe they made a B on a test, but they know how hard they studied and what a challenge the class was, so they are proud of that B more than they would be an A in an easy class. It’s a lesson in appreciating their own effort.

That took a lot of work

There is nothing wrong with acknowledging how hard our kids work. The key is to make sure the work is worthy of notice and to praise the effort, not the outcome. Praising the effort means our kids will learn to appreciate the work part of succeeding instead of assuming it should come easily.

I see the progress you’ve made

My oldest daughter sauntered into a gymnastics class and displayed the cartwheels and round offs she taught herself in our backyard. She walked out an hour later in tears.
Her form needed work, and this gym offered her challenges she’d never dreamed of facing. After she fell, her coach wisely gave her the advice that gymnastics is like life: What matters is if you get back up.
She did, and every week she’s improved. I’ve told her that, never falling for the trap of telling her she’s doing everything perfectly. That would be insincere and untrue, and she knows it. Praising her progress gives me a way to offer affirmation for her hard work and encourage her to appreciate the effort she’s put into gymnastics.

You grew a lot from that challenge

Acknowledging failure is necessary. No one is going to win all the time, and participation trophies given to everyone often rob our children of the chances to experience, and learn from, failure.
We can talk to our kids about experiences that don’t go well while still praising their ability to grow through the situation. Maybe a child doesn’t make the team or win first place. Instead of railing against the people who didn’t choose them or making excuses for why they lost, we can point out ways they grew. Did they try something difficult, develop a new skill, or find a new passion they can continue to follow? All of these are worthy of our attention.

Changing our method doesn’t mean withholding affirmation

We don’t have to be stoic, unresponsive parents to raise kids who are intrinsically motivated, nor do we have to underplay the accomplishments that are worthy of notice. What we need to do is become aware of how often we train our kids to seek external motivation and how much we heap empty praise on our kids for doing the bare minimum.
Withholding praise feels foreign at first, but it’s a change that offers long-term benefits to our kids. Reducing the risk of raising a narcissist and teaching kids that hard work is an important part of life are benefits that make watching our words worth the trouble.

How the F-Word Brought My Daughter from the Bottom to the Top

When we began our competitive gymnastics journey with my younger daughter, I had no idea what we were in for. That first year was a giant rollercoaster of big ups (she placed third on her team at her first ever competition) and major downs (she placed dead last out of her entire level a few months later).
I worked hard to not project my feelings and emotions onto her, other than to let her know how super duper proud I was of her hard work. I let her lead the way, even when my soul felt crushed by her scores.
It wasn’t until she came out of a competition and walked over to me, her head hung low and tears dripping down her cheeks, that I knew we needed to do something. Despite scoring higher than she had in the previous two competitions, she was disappointed to yet again watch another teammate take home the big team trophy.
I reassured her I was proud of her and she was getting better, but those tears broke my heart. I had been able to stay on the sidelines so long as she was happy and excited about competing. When she started feeling down about it, I knew something had to change.
My mind raced with questions: Why were her scores going down? What was it about her performances that earned the lower scores even though she didn’t have any falls or big bumbles? Why were her teammates, who she had been on par with at the beginning on the season, passing her by? What could we do to help?
These were the questions I took to one of her coaches, who was very reassuring and confirmed my own suspicions: My extremely bendy girl who can do all the big skills is just too wiggly – the exact reason we enrolled her in gymnastics to begin with. At the lower levels, the big moves don’t matter so much. The judges are looking for body control. It’s all the in between wiggles that effect the scores.
Throughout the season, I had noticed her little eyes darting from here to there while competing, not paying attention to her task at hand but instead watching what others were doing. I’d see it in practice, too. She’d constantly watch the other girls rather than focusing on her body and routines – and that’s when she’d get wiggly.
So, we began working on it. We would head to the backyard regularly and go over her routines. I didn’t correct her form. I simply counted her wiggles. She’d get excited when there were only a few and, if she’d wiggled a lot, she’d demand to do it again so she could be better. Sometimes I would even do the routine so she would count my wiggles.
I decided to introduce her to the power of the F-Word and how she could use it to her advantage. I’d tell her before she practiced: “Remember the F-Word!” and she’d giggle or nod confidently. I started giving her little pep-talks before competitions: “Don’t forget the F-Word! Picture that big trophy at the end of the beam, in front of you on the floor, on the top bar and at the end of the vault. Don’t worry about anything else!” We even had a special signal I could give her through the gym windows from the lobby to signal, “Think about the F-Word!”
The F-Word became a sort of mantra for us to help remind her of one thing:
Amazingly, it worked. She started scoring in her team’s top three again, even though the team had nearly doubled in size over the course of the season. She achieved all-time high scores and placed in the top tier of her level despite being one of the youngest. I saw her confidence bloom before my eyes. The joy of gymnastics returned to her.
There’s no doubt that my daughter’s gymnastics journey will continue to have many more ups and downs. I know more tears will streak her face. But I’m happy to know we have found a powerful tool to help propel her forward and keep her from giving up: the F-Word.

This Is a Love Letter to the Sisterhood

This a love letter to the sisterhood. This is an homage to all the women who hold us up.

This a love letter to the sisterhood.
This is an homage to all the women who hold us up.
The ones who walked before us, leaving behind a trail of wisdom crumbs for us to follow in the dark.
The ones who walk at our side, whispering those two sweetest words, like a salve to our tired soul:
“Me, too.”
The ones who walk behind, not there yet, who look at us with big eyes and remind us of where we have been and how we have grown and what we have conquered.
This is for the women whose hearts split into a thousand pieces as they give small pieces of themselves to their family, their job, their friends, and their neighbors.
The women who see suffering and resist the natural impulse to shrink away, who meet it instead with an ear, a shoulder, an embrace, a meal.
The women who carry themselves and their babies through a world that still sometimes scares them with heads held high and shoulders back because they are warriors. Because they are afraid and they do it anyway.
The women who learned to stop apologizing for what they are not sorry for.
And for the women who love themselves enough to say no.
This is for the women in the trenches and on the ground and in the schools and in the hospitals and in the community centers and serving in the government buildings.
The women who marched and the women who cheered them on.
This is for the women who work because they have to or because they can.
And for the women who stay home because they have to or because they can.
This is for the women who have taken their bodies back and learned to love the soft places.
The women who wear what they want and let themselves be comfortable or sexy or modest or whatever the hell they want to be because it is theirs to choose.
The women whose scars and stretch marks map a story of survival and strength across their bodies for them to consult whenever they are feeling lost.
This is for the women who dance, alone or in a crowd, and let themselves remember what moving felt like when it was for nothing else but the raw joy of it.
And the women who sing unapologetically in their cars or in the shower or on stage, faking out simply for the freedom of hearing their voice.
This is for the women who create: babies or art or sustenance or beauty or words, worship, a testament of our feminine belief that yes, still, even now, the world is worth making better.
This is for the women who love fiercely, without restraint, and forgive the same way.
The women who don’t forget, not once, not for a minute, how far we have come, and how far we have to go.
This is for all of us who stay a little bit on fire inside.
This is for my sisters.
I love you.
I see you.
Thank you.
This was originally published here.

Why We Need to Actively Teach Girls to Value Their Intelligence

What causes girls to believe this stereotype that boys are innately smarter and how can we change that?

Remember Winnie Cooper, the girl next door, aka Kevin Arnold’s love interest on “The Wonder Years?” Well, turns out that the actor who played Winnie, Danica McKellar, was far more than a pretty face.
After her role on “The Wonder Years” was done and dusted, Danica went on to major in Mathematics at UCLA and became something of a calculus whiz. In fact, the quintessential girly girl, with her perfectly shiny hair and her damsel-in-distress eyes, now has a physics theorem named after her (or at least the actor who played her). Last year, NOVA’s “Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers” video featured Danica for her prowess in mathematics.
In the video Danica admits that she was worried she wouldn’t make the cut for Math at UCLA. “Who did I think would do well? Somebody who looked the part more than me,” she says.
That same mindset seems to have seeped into the minds of our girls as well. In a 2017 study by researchers from three US universities, it was found that six-year-old girls are less likely than boys to believe that members of their gender are “really, really smart.” In fact, by the age of six, girls in the study tended to steer clear of games that were meant for the “really, really smart.”
Yes, as a parent, I was aghast too. This was a 2017 study – not something from an era where girls were told they were made of “sugar and spice and everything nice.” And yet, the study showed that six-year-old girls were significantly less likely to associate brilliance with their own gender. Like Danica, did they feel like they didn’t quite look the part?
In an article in The Guardian, Christina Spears Brown, the author of “Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue,” says, “This study shows that girls are internalizing those cultural messages early in development, believing that yes, they may work hard, but they are not naturally really smart.”
She adds that the research fits in with previous work, which found hard work is attributed to girls, and natural ability for boys.
The fact is that both boys’ and girls’ achievement in math and science is on par with each other at the K-12 level, according to the National Science Foundation. However, research shows that while women receive over half of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the biological sciences, they receive far fewer in the computer sciences, engineering and math. While women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, they account for only 29 percent of the science and engineering workforce.
A 2014 study summarizes that, “across the academic spectrum, women are underrepresented in fields whose practitioners believe that raw, innate talent is the main requirement for success.”
This under-representation of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers possibly points to this bias that begins in early childhood. What causes girls to believe this stereotype that boys are innately smarter?
In a New York Times article, professors from NYU and Princeton suggest that American kids are picking up cultural stereotypes about brilliance. They point to media as one avenue that perpetuates this idea through consistent images of male brilliance. Then they turn the spotlight on where it gets slightly uncomfortable: our homes. The article refers to a 2014 study where it was found that American parents googled “Is my son a genius?” twice as often as they searched for “Is my daughter a genius?”
We definitely don’t want to make this a boys versus girls battle of who is smarter. But we do need to make sure that we’re encouraging hard work and tenacity and intellectual brilliance to both boys and girls.
While none of us want our kids to be arrogant about their smarts, we need to be cognizant of empowering our girls with the idea that they are brilliant enough to do anything with their lives.
Here are some ways we can break gender stereotypes when it comes to intellect.

Be aware of your own biases

How often do you and I picture stern-faced, Albert Einstein look-alikes when I think of scientists and engineers? Admittedly, for me, it’s more often than not. Over the years, it’s what I’ve seen in the media. It may not be a hard-nosed bias, but it is a stereotype that we may have unwittingly bought into and inadvertently passed on to our kids.
We need to examine our daily lives as well. Are our kids seeing that while mom and dad may have different roles, they are both capable to taking on tasks for the “really, really smart.” I know that sometimes out of sheer laziness or unwillingness to learn, I tend to pass on the “smart” tasks to my husband without really evaluating how my own kids may be internalizing the false message that dads are more intelligent than moms.

Avoid generalizations

When we paint in broad strokes and speak in generalizations, our kids view the world through the lens of social stereotypes. In an article in The Conversation, NYU psychology professor Marjorie Rhodes recommends language that uses specifics – instead of making general claims, even if they’re positive traits.
Instead of saying, “Girls can be mathematicians,” we should focus on the individual. Affirm your child by saying, “You can be a mathematician if you want to.” If your child speaks in a generalization (“boys like science”) steer the conversation toward who in particular your child might be referring to: “You mean, Jared likes studying science?” These may be minor nuances in language, but it’s definitely another tool in your arsenal against gender stereotyping.

Skip the self deprecation

What if you sucked at Math in school? Maybe your child doesn’t need to know all the gory details. If you lead with a, “That’s so hard. I gave up on Trigonometry when I was your age” spiel, chances are your daughter will follow suit. In a recent interview actress-turned-Mathematician Danica McKellar says that at book signings she often discovers that boys and girls approach math very differently. “The issue is they don’t think of themselves as being really good at it,” Danica says, referring to why girls tend to drop out of math courses. “Math is always going to have stumbling blocks. Boys tend to see it as a temporary stumbling block … girls see it as evidence of what they’ve known all along – that they don’t belong in math.”
We need to teach our kids that challenges are just a bump in the road. Like the scientist Marie Curie is quoted as saying: “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

Question it

Point out gender stereotyping when you see it. Start with asking questions yourself. Then let your kids fire away. Let them question if there are girl colors and boy colors, if soccer is only for boys, if girls can go to Mars, if only boys can be pilots. Then show them examples of those who bravely and unapologetically break the mold.

Intentionally incorporate women role models

Yes, the idea is kind of archaic, but it’s still worth a shot. In our conversations with our kids, we need to weave in examples of women who beat the odds to make a name for themselves as scientists, astronauts, engineers and mathematicians.
The website A Mighty Girl lists dozens of age-appropriate books about women with brilliant, scientific minds. Stories about women like Caroline Herschel who discovered two galaxies with a homemade telescope, about Grace Hopper, the clever woman who invented the COBOL computer language, about Jane Goodall who learned to communicate with chimpanzees, about Eva Lovelace, the “enchantress of numbers” and many other inspiring women.
Children’s books like “Amazing Grace” and “Allie’s Basketball Dream” can start the conversation about how our talents and our passions are not dictated by our gender.
I think back to the conversation in the movie “Hidden Figures,” where John Glenn tells the guy in charge of spacecraft design Al Harrison, “Let’s get the girl to check the numbers.”
Harrison asks, “You mean Katherine?”
“Yes, sir, the smart one. And if she says they’re good, I’m ready to go,” responds Glenn.
John Glenn, the first American who orbited the earth, put his life in the hands of a brilliant woman. A woman who everyone else underestimated. A woman who didn’t quite fit the bill.
There may be some “hidden figures” in our classrooms and in our homes. They don’t want to risk the spotlight because they don’t feel like they “look the part.” It’s time to tell them that, in fact, they do.

Rewards and Bribery – Aren’t They the Same?

Some parents assume rewards and bribes are synonymous. They aren’t. There’s actually a huge difference.

That’s the question I most often hear after I introduce the concept of rewards to improve behavior. Some parents are resistant to the idea because they assume rewards and bribes are synonymous.
They aren’t. There’s actually a huge difference. Rewards improve behavior while bribery can make it worse. Here’s why:
Children learn at an early age to act in certain ways to accomplish their goals. Generally, kids want more of something desirable (cookies, attention, bedtime stories) or to avoid unpleasant stuff (carrots and baths). The way they’ve learned to achieve all that is through whining, complaining, throwing a tantrum, pushing buttons, and negotiating.
Parents are often so frustrated by these behaviors that, at the minimum, they admonish and provide lots of attention to the child. At worst, parents just give in. When that happens, parents are rewarding the very behaviors they want to stop.
Rewards are any reinforcement that encourages a behavior. For some reason, rewards can have a negative connotation. But that’s silly. Life is filled with naturally-occurring incentives. If I do good work at my job, I’ll get a raise (reward). If I return a lost puppy, I might garner a cash reward. Even the nice warm fuzzy feelings I receive when I bring a meal to a sick friend is a reward. And those rewards serve as inspiration for me to do those same actions again.
Bribery is entirely different. Instead of warm fuzzies, think negotiating with a terrorist. It may sound like strong words, but that’s one important way to tell the difference between rewards and bribery. When parents give out a bribe it feels icky, desperate, embarrassing. Bribes usually happen when children are acting up at the exact moment parents are most vulnerable: at the supermarket, on an important work call, waiting in the dentist’s office for an emergency root canal. In that moment of desperation, the parent will offer anything for the child to behave.
When that happens, the kids have parents in a headlock. The kids are in charge, and they know it. Parents who use bribery on a regular basis have children who learn to exploit them when they are most defenseless. That’s no fun.
Instead of bribing kids to behave, parents should ignore all whining, complaining, and tantrums. When children see that their behavior isn’t producing the desired result, they will cease the behavior. Why tantrum for a toy at Target if the toy never comes? Why beg for a cookie while Mom’s on a work call if the cookie is denied? Kids are incredibly perceptive, and they don’t want to waste their time.
Sometimes kids do need a little extra incentive to act in a preferred way. Parents can use rewards set up in advance to help encourage good behavior. Decide what your child needs a little extra motivation to do and reward for that behavior. If your daughter never puts her clothes in the laundry, start rewarding her with a point for every day her laundry is in its proper place. After so many points, give her a pre-determined reward such as an extra bedtime story, a snuggle, a sweet, or a new app.
Remember these important tips to differentiate rewards and bribery:

  • Rewards are never given in the moment of misbehavior. That’s a bribe.
  • If a child asks, “What will you give me if I…” that’s a bribe.
  • Rewards are never negotiated.
  • Rewards feel good to give a child.

Lessons on Living Right I Hope to Teach My Daughters

I’ve learned some lessons and had experiences growing up that I want to share with you when you are able to understand.

To my girls,
You’re growing up so quickly it’s scary.
As your mum, I feel like it’s my responsibility do the best job I can to provide you with the tools to prepare you for the most fulfilled life you can possibly have.
When I was a child, I enjoyed living in the moment and didn’t think about the future. In my teens, I started to think about what job I’d do and what my husband might be like. But it’s only in the last few years that I’ve thought about how much the decisions I make affect my life – things I wish I’d thought about more when I was younger, in hindsight.
I’ve learned some lessons and had experiences growing up that I want to share with you when you are able to understand. I hope they help you in some way to develop into the wonderful women I know you’ll become.
So here goes:

Dream big

Discover your passions and pursue them. My hope for you is that you end up with a job you enjoy, one that fulfills you. Think carefully in school about what you would like to do. You may want to be anything from a lawyer to an air hostess or a counselor. Weigh all your options and ask questions.

Be kind

Think of others. Wonder why someone acts a certain way and try not to judge him or her for it. If you can, try to be there for that person. Everyone – and I mean everyone – faces a private battle you will know nothing about.

Count to 10

I’ll never forget hearing your gran say this to herself when things got tough. It allows you to take a moment before you react to something, and in many cases, it can stop you from saying something you might regret.

Be proud of your body

It is unique. No one body is the same as another, so please don’t compare yourself with others. Look after your body. Don’t look at it in the mirror and pick fault. It’s so much more important to be strong and healthy. Eating well and exercising are the most important things you can do to achieve this. You may have flaws and imperfections, but they make you you. Your body shape does not define you.

Don’t follow the crowd

As a schoolgirl, I found there were so many little cliques. Popular, geeky, clever, or sporty. You may feel you need to try and fit into one of these to be accepted. Choose friends who accept you for being you. Develop your own sense of style.
Peer pressure is a tough one to deal with. I remember quite a few friends trying smoking and drugs. I flat refused, knowing these things were wrong for me. Even though it made me feel like I didn’t fit in as well, those friends later said they admired me for standing my ground. And I was healthier for it. Do what you know is right for you and not because everyone else is doing it.

Be a good friend

Friends will come and go throughout your life. Don’t lose touch with the ones that matter. Just because they may be experiencing different things from you, it doesn’t mean you can’t be there for each other. Take time to really listen to them. They may need a good friend to support their decisions.

Look out for your sibling

You may not remember, but, Millie, you were an amazing sister when Eve was born. You’ll find your sister annoying at times, but when you’re older, I hope you’ll be best friends, like me and your aunties. There’s nothing that can compare with the experiences you share with each other. Family is important. Be there for them. Don’t let arguments or misunderstandings cause divisions. Life’s too short not to spend with those you love.

Don’t bottle things up

Cry if you need to. You will experience highs and lows. You need to share these with someone, good and bad. Talking is the best thing you can do. It can help you work things through and decide your next action. Don’t ever be ashamed of what you have to say, even if you feel vulnerable. You should always feel you can talk about anything with people you trust.

Don’t judge or hate others

The world can be a cruel place. It starts in school. Kids can be mean. You may experience it yourself or see it happening to your friends. People do things for a reason. They will pick on others or start wars because they are scared and insecure or jealous. Feel sad for them. If you find yourself caught up in the middle of anything, tell someone. Don’t let others make you feel inadequate, and don’t retaliate.

Love yourself and find those who love who you are

You need to be happy with who you are. Be proud and surround yourself with people who accept you. You will meet the right partner in time. You are unique and wonderful. Don’t ever pretend to be someone you’re not.

Go with your gut feeling

Sometimes in life you need to make tough decisions. Weigh your options, but in the end, go with what you feel is the right thing to do.

Don’t over-pluck your eyebrows or bleach your hair

Both fairly permanent disasters. I should know! In particular, steer clear of Sun In. I had to have my hair dyed for years until it finally grew out. It’s good to try different things to see what suits you, but I promise, these won’t.

Look around and above

Look at the stars. Always wonder. The world is so much bigger than us. Take time to appreciate it. If you ever feel down or need space to think, take time for yourself and enjoy your own company. Go for a walk in a park or the countryside. Surround yourself with nature. It gives you the time and space you need to reflect.

Open your heart

Don’t be afraid to put your feelings out there, whether for a friend or partner. You may get hurt, but it’s all a journey in helping you find the right people in your life.

Get off your phone and talk

There is nothing better than a good chat. Seriously, texting and emailing can be quick and easy, but so much less personal. Don’t lose that face-to-face contact. It allows you to truly see how someone is feeling.

Maintain a good work/life balance

Join a club, take up a sport, learn a different language, have fun with friends. Whatever you choose, do something that makes you feel happy.

Enjoy time at home with your family

You’ll soon leave on your adventures, and I hope you have plenty. (Unless you choose to stick with us, in which case, be prepared to pitch in!) I know we’re not as cool as your friends, but don’t forget, we know you well and will always be here for you, no matter what. Home is the place you should feel safest.

Never stop learning

At school, you’re made to learn. Once you leave, you can choose to keep your mind open or let it close. You could learn anything – a new language or painting or drawing or learning about the past. Keep your brain active.

Pick your battles

There will be times when you should stand up and say something. There will also be times when you shouldn’t. Have faith that you’ll know the difference.

Save money

It’s easy when you’re young not to think about your future and spend your money on the moment. There are so many things you will have to pay for…a car, a house, holidays. Don’t get caught out. (And don’t want be like your mum and spend loads on clothes just because they’re discounted!) It only makes you feel good temporarily.

If you experience unrequited love, you’ll be okay

If you’re like me, you’ll probably have a crush or two in school (and after). Unfortunately, your crushes may not feel the same way. It will feel like the end of the world (I feel your pain!), but don’t feel too sad about this. You will meet the boy, and then the man, who deserves you. It’s all part of growing up and discovering who and what you like, which is never a waste of time.

Have no regrets

Better to do something you reget than regret something you didn’t do. Take chances and seize moments. It doesn’t matter if things don’t work out. At least you tried. Be proud of that. Look forward, not back.

Have children when and if you feel ready

Enjoy your life before you have kids. Being a mum is a game changer. It can be pretty exhausting (way beyond the pregnancy and newborn days), and you’ll experience lots of challenges. But your kids will be the most precious people in your life. Treasure the wonderful times, and don’t feel guilty for feeling overwhelmed. It’s perfectly normal. Anyway, you can always ask grandma for help!

Always be honest

Tell the truth about what you are doing or how you feel. Lying and covering things up will catch up with you eventually.

Enjoy your life

We only get to live it once. Just remember that. Go out there and make your mark on it. I know you’ll make us proud.
My hope is that you can talk to me and your dad about anything. We’ve gone through so many happy and sad times, individually and together. We understand what it’s like to grow up. We’ll never judge and always be there for you, no matter what.
Most of all, though, I want you to be happy and feel loved. I can already see the amazing adults you’ll become and can’t wait to follow, love, and support you on your journey.
Love always,
Mum xxx
This piece originally appeared on the author’s blog.

Admiring My Kids For the Role Models They Are

Here are five ways that my kids are my role models and exactly the kind of people I’d like to be when I grow up.

I try not to be “one of those moms,” but I suppose the moment you start to think that, perhaps that’s just what you’ve become. This is my story.

I was out shopping at a local, popular, one-stop store where you can get everything from groceries to clothing to over-priced coffee to must-have bargains in bins that greet you upon entering. I love this store. I love to shop there and typically I love the clothing for my little girls. On one shopping trip, I was perusing the clothes when I came across this cute little top that read “future role model” on it.I

I smiled to myself upon seeing it, and then for some reason, it stuck with me. Why “future”?  Why not now? This shirt began to bother me on so many levels. While it’s great that we would want our children to be role models in the future (of course I do), why is that something for the future only?

Then I came to the conclusion: it’s not. We should be teaching our children to be role models now for their peers and all other humans in the world. Really, as I thought more and more, I’d say most kids are looked up to just by being, well, themselves. How many times have I caught myself in awe of something my kids have done or said?

So amidst all the craziness that is mom-life, here are five ways that my kids are my role models and exactly the kind of people I’d like to be when I grow up.

1 | The ability to call out others for wrongdoing

So far this relates more to my eldest than my younger, but I am sure that it’s coming. My oldest seems to have no fear of calling either my husband or me out when she feels that we have wronged her, or even when she feels that one of us has wronged each other.

For example, if my husband and I have a heated discussion in front of the kids (judge away), little ears are listening. Afterwards, she has been known to tell her father or myself that we shouldn’t talk a certain way or say a certain thing. (No, I’m not necessarily talking about cussing or anything like that. Even the tone we use can cause her to correct our behavior.)

While I’m not a fan of her correcting either of her parents, there is something to be said about her ability to recognize adults acting inappropriately and having no qualms or hesitations about setting that behavior right (or at least attempting to). I do hope that she is always as fearless in her fight for what she feels is wrong in this world, and will stand up to people who don’t treat others with respect.

2 | The ability to be awestruck by the simple beauty of life

“Mom, look at the beautiful pinks and blues and whites in the sky!”
“Mom, look at that rainbow!”
“Mom, is that a bird nest?”
“Mom, can you smell those flowers?”
Every new sight, smell, or sensation is miraculous to them, and through their eyes becomes miraculous to me as well. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by life that, as adults, we forget sometimes how much awesome surrounds us on a daily basis. An observant toddler is just the ticket for rediscovering the world around you.

3 | Endless energy

I’m not sure how much explanation this needs but, in case you are unaware, kids have a shit load of energy to burn at all times. I admire this fire power and wish I could siphon off a little for myself but, alas, just watching them sometimes sucks it right out of me.

4 | A never-ending fountain of creativity

My daughters, like many other kids, are incredibly inventive. They will sit at the table and go back and forth making up stories, jokes, songs, you name it. They love to paint, draw, and color with any medium I will allow them. They pretend to be characters from shows, books, and movies they’ve seen and re-enact parts, create new twists, and intermix plots to their little hearts’ desires. They never run out of ideas, and their imagination and creative abilities are completely astounding.

5 | They are sponges for learning

Learning takes time, yet for my kids, it seems like they soak up the world around them and are able to spit incredible amounts of learned information right back out at me. Sometimes the information is things I wanted them to learn, and other times they catch me completely off guard.

For example, while sitting at the kitchen table and coloring one night, my eldest and I were going over aspects of the alphabet, like what letter started our last name or something like that. Out of the blue, my youngest softly spelled, “W-O-O-D.” I whipped my head around to get her to repeat it, but her shyness and reluctance kicked in, along with a big ol’ grin because she knew she’d retained and correctly used some pretty impressive information. She was only two and a half at the time, and had most likely heard me teaching her sister to spell and had picked it up at the same time. This kind of miraculous-learning moment seems to happen all the time with my kids, and their abilities to do so reinforces why I look up to them

A role model is someone who has admirable features, someone you wish you could be like “when you grow up.” Honestly, when looking at the characteristics and abilities of my own children, there are no other two people I’d want to emulate more. Do they have it all figured out yet? Of course not. They’re toddlers. Do I want to take after them in all aspects? Hell, no. They still like to touch gross things and do some crazy shit but, all in all, they are two awesome little people with some amazing qualities that are totally admirable.

How I Know My Tween is Adulting Better Than Most Adults

Raising confident daughters who have strong senses of self-worth is my main goal as a mom. I think I’m doing just fine.

We have a female-dominated household – my husband is the only dude among us. Each one of our three daughters is a cool chick, doing her thing in her own unique way (as long as it’s what everyone at school is cool with, of course).
I could write an entire book about each of my kids because I’m an observer like that. I love analyzing the shit out of the people around me. (Yes, I am watching you.) But, we all know the only peeps who’d want to read a mother’s in-depth psycho-analytical description of her kids would be the mom herself, the kids (when they’re older), and grandma.
For the sake of this piece (and in a bid to be relevant to the online world) I’ll just go ahead and get to the point: My eldest daughter just turned 13 and she is a force to be reckoned with.
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First of all, she is a rock-solid acrobat who is, literally, upside down more often than not. (And yes, she “obviously” has the Instagram feed to prove it). She is also slightly cynical with a natural ability to see through people’s bullshit.
She drives me crazy and makes me so proud on the regular. Such is life when you’re parenting a 13-year-old. Am I right? I mean, come on people! Can I get a “Hell Ya?!”
Raising confident daughters who have strong senses of self-worth is my main goal as a mom. Sometimes I worry that I’m not doing enough to ensure this.
Recently, though, my eldest girl made me feel like my work here (in the area of self-worth) is pretty much complete. I mean, I know my work here is only just beginning, but for a few bafflingly spectacular moments I saw a level of wisdom in my child that let me know my time spent explaining the derogatory nature of Drake’s song lyrics was time well invested.
Our recent exchange went something like this:
Teen: “Mom, Jake asked me out.”
Me: “Oh, really? When? What did you say?”
Teen: “Last night. In a text. And…I told him to fuck off.”
Me: *gulp* “Oh? And why is that?”
Teen: “Because he has a girlfriend already, Mom! He shouldn’t be asking me out when he already has a girlfriend.”
Me: “And you felt the need to use the F-word?”
Teen: “YES! He’s a player; the kind of guy who, when he gets older, will have sex with as many girls as he can, Mom.”
Me: “Fair enough. Well done, kid. Well done.”
See, what I mean? Quite the jaw dropping, what-the-hell-just-happened, parenting moment, isn’t it? I couldn’t help but feel proud – proud of my child’s natural ability to know she deserves better than what that little douche canoe was offering up. I also whispered a tiny “WTF?!” to myself, because: a) my daughter was being asked out by someone, and b) she has a real little edge to her. She swears and calls people out on their bullshit.
My F-bomb-dropping teen likes to wear what everyone else is wearing. She also likes to listen to the music everyone else is listening to. When it comes down to it, however, my girl has a mind of her own and she’s not afraid to “text” it.
My teen can fry an egg AND she knows an asshole when she sees one. She is basically adulting better than many adults. Now, if I could just get her to tidy her damn room…