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.

Your Kid Wants a Tattoo or Piercing? Don’t Freak Out, Talk.

Tattoos and piercings are not new by any means, but studies show that more kids are getting them even at younger ages than in the past.

For the first time ever, the American Academy of Pediatrics decided to review the incidence of youth tattoos and piercings in depth.
Led by Dr. David Levine, a general pediatrician and professor at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, and Dr. Cora Breuner, an adolescent medicine specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, the new AAP report highlights the potential health risks and social/emotional consequences of tattooing and piercing in adolescents and young adults.
Tattoos and piercings are not new by any means, but studies show that more kids are getting them even at younger ages than in the past. According to the Harris Poll in 2015, about 30 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo, up from 20 percent just four years before.
Tattoos are especially popular among younger generations, with nearly half of all Millennials sporting one. According to the Pew Research Center, about a quarter of 18 to 29-year-olds have piercings in locations other than their earlobe.
This may not be a big deal for some parents, especially those who have their own tattoos and creative piercings. But for some parents, it becomes an issue to add to the long list of parenting dilemmas. Permanent body art may not even be on their radar if nobody else in the family enjoys that form of expression or if their cultural or religious beliefs consider the practice taboo.
We have two choices: forbid our kids to get tattooed or pierced and risk that they do it anyway behind our back (and possibly get hurt or regret it), or initiate an open dialogue and work with our kids to guide them to the best decision possible.

Identifying why your child wants it

The first step is to explore your kids’ goals and motives for wanting a tattoo or piercing. This conversation can lead to a simple answer, like they just want to show off their artistic flare. Alternatively, the conversation could open the door to issues you were not aware of.
According to the Harris Poll, people typically get tattoos because it makes them feel: sexy (33 percent), attractive (32 percent), rebellious (27 percent), spiritual (20 percent), intelligent (13 percent), employable (10 percent), and healthy (9 percent).
If your daughter wants a tattoo at age 15 to feel sexier, then a red flag may go up. You could broaden your conversation to her reasons for wanting to attract more attention, her current sexual activity, and the feelings she has about her own body.
If your son wants a tattoo to feel tougher or more rebellious, you may want to explore his level of anger and aggression. Is he having trouble making friends in school? Has he displayed signs of bullying?
If your child wants to ingrain the name of a significant other on their skin, you may need to talk to them about the level of commitment involved and the possibility of future heartbreak.
Finally, if they are doing it for spiritual reasons, what is the message they want to communicate, and why now? Should you be concerned about the influence a religious leader or spiritual mentor has on your child?
We need to take the time to listen to our children’s reasons so that we can help guide them. The answer may be very simple and positive, like they want the word “peace” on their body because they wish for world peace. It’s hard to argue with that.

Addressing your concerns

Talk to your children about exactly what getting a tattoo or piercing involves. They may be so set on it that they haven’t thought through some of the possible risks or downfalls.
For starters, the AAP report addresses the possible job market repercussions down the road. Some employers may frown upon visible tattoos in the workplace, which can limit your child’s job prospects and success. In a 2014 survey of nearly 2,700 people, 76 percent thought that tattoos and/or piercings had hurt their chances of getting a job, and 39 percent thought employees with tattoos and/or piercings reflect poorly on their employers.
While your child may be many years away from getting their first job, it’s important to talk to her about how a tattoo or piercing can impact her life in the future. Ask her to consider the risk involved, taking into account that life dreams should take precedence over a potentially rash, trendy decision in her teenage years.
Consider a compromise. Suggest that your child get a tattoo in a place that would not be visible on the job. Piercings are a bit more challenging. Clearly, a tongue ring could hinder one’s speech, and other piercings on the face in particular may motivate an employer to choose another candidate.
Tattoos, moreso than piercings, are pretty permanent. When you talk to your kids about getting a tattoo, be sure to bring up the fact that this commitment is not easily erased. Laser removal can also be costly – up to $300 per square inch of treatment area – and may only be partially effective.
Plenty of people have admitted regrets that you should bring to your child’s attention. According to a survey, nearly a quarter of people with tattoos say they regret getting them because they were too young, their personality changed, it no longer fits into their lifestyle, they chose someone’s name with whom they no longer associate, it was poorly done, or it’s simply not meaningful to them anymore.
Perhaps most important, weigh the health risks associated with tattoos with your child before he goes ahead with it. The most serious complication from any form of body modification is infection.
Other health concerns related to tattoos include inflammation, abnormal tissue growth like keloid scars, and vasculitis, a rare inflammation of the blood vessels. Body piercings have also been associated with pain, bleeding, cysts, allergic reaction, and scarring. Tongue rings, meanwhile, can cause tooth chipping.
Once you’ve openly discussed the pros and cons, give your kids some time to ponder their decision. Ask them whether they feel it’s really worth it, all things considered. How will the tattoo or piercing enhance their life? How will it hinder them? Are there alternative forms of expression they would be happy with, such as creative fashion choices or changing their hair color and style?
No matter their decision in the end, at least you sparked a mature conversation that will bolster their respect for you and remind them of your genuine, loving interest in their life. When something more serious comes about, they will know they can turn to you, which is, of course, more important and lasting than any tattoo or piercing.

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.

4 Ways to Make Your Kid a Conscientious Citizen

There are things you can do now, long before your kids hit voting age, to encourage an active participation in the democratic process.

It is 2000, I’ve just turned 18, and I’m excited to vote in my first presidential election. It’s Gore and Bush, in it until the very end. I watch the debates, register early, and read up on the issues. I ready myself for November. It feels momentous.
I’d grown up in a house talking politics – always a one-sided discussion. They were tried and true red, through and through. But my grandparents were all blue – democratic hardliners who survived the Depression and refused to call Reagan anything but “that actor.” There was no safe subject between the generations.
Regardless of party lines, however, they all taught me to care. It never occurred to me not to cast my vote.
This notion of not voting is arising more and more among current young voters. Only 55.7 percent of the eligible voting populous showed up to the polls in the 2016 presidential election. That’s a sad statistic for the present and a daunting one for the future of our country.
But there are things you can do now, long before your kids hit voting age, to encourage an active participation in the democratic process.

1 | Talk about the issues

Don’t hesitate to talk taxes and health care and women’s rights in front of your kids. Let them hear both sides of every issue. Do they wonder why they always have to go to the dentist, the pediatrician, and the eye doctor before the first of the year? Explain high deductibles and why they matter.
Is there a filibuster in the Senate? Let your kids watch them squirm and fall asleep in their seats like children. Is your state primarily Republican or Democrat? Tell them why this matters. The more you talk about it, the more they know it needs to be talked about. This isn’t just stuff for government class. This should be part of the fabric of everyday life.

2 | Make it historic

My parents never took me along when they voted. They always went while I was in school. But when my son was seven months old, I strapped him to my chest and took him to the polls in 2012. We both got “I Voted” stickers.
Voting should be a celebration, a historic act of freedom that we don’t let pass by without a sense of importance. To vote is to execute your democratic right to freedom. It puts action behind words and should be something to commemorate.

3 | Encourage empathy

A recent program called Fast Track, originally created to help at-risk kids succeed in school, had a positive side effect. By encouraging social skills, specifically empathy, it created better voters. Of the adults who were in the Fast Track program as children, 7.3 percent of them turned up at the polls as adults.
John Holbein, the Brigham Young University professor in charge of the study, explained in a recent article in New York Magazine that “[T]here are people experiencing various things in their lives: various hardships, various difficulties, various obstacles in their lives. [Fast Track] gave [kids] the ability to see that and say, ‘Okay, what am I going to do about that?’”
If kids don’t care about what happens to anyone else, they won’t care about the big issues. Teaching your children to notice and invest in the people around them teaches them to care about the world at large.

4 | Promote perseverance

School, work, relationships, health – all the most important things in life require dedication and personal investment. The same goes for active citizenship.
Encouraging your kids to stick to the hard things – the new sport, the rough patch in math, or the after-school job – will also build the perseverance that will get them to keep fighting for the issues that matter most in their country. Being a good citizen means putting in the time to stay informed, to stay involved, and to stay in the ring just as long as the guys on the other side of the issue.
It is a great thing to give voice in politics and to participate in the checks and balances of the system. As parents, we can help our kids while they are still young to feel that they have a voice and to want to share it because it matters.

New Research Says Gamers Learn Better Than Non-Gamers

Your kids may be right: playing video games may not be a waste of time but may help learning and memory function.

Your kids may be right: playing video games may not be a waste of time but may help learning and memory function.

A new study out of Germany says that gaming helps cognitive learning and problem solving. In order to investigate memory formation and sensory processing, researchers at Ruhr University Bochum’s Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience pitted video gamers against non-gamers in a learning competition. “The video gamers performed significantly better and showed an increased brain activity in the brain areas that are relevant for learning,” according to the study.  Sabrina Schenk and Dr. Boris Suchan led the team, who used 3T Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to examine 34 subjects’ brains as they performed a weather predication task using cue cards.

Schenk and Suchan explained, “The participants were shown a combination of three cue cards with different symbols. They should estimate whether the card combination predicted sun or rain and got a feedback if their choice was right or wrong right away. The volunteers gradually learned, on the basis of the feedback, which card combination stands for which weather prediction. The combinations were thereby linked to higher or lower probabilities for sun and rain. After completing the task, the study participants filled out a questionnaire to sample their acquired knowledge about the cue card combinations.”

The MRI imaging showed brain activation in the hippocampus (the area connected to memory and learning), the occipital visual areas, and in areas related to attentional processes. “Our study shows that gamers are better in analyzing a situation quickly, to generate new knowledge and to categorize facts – especially in situations with high uncertainties,” said Schenk. (And the researchers questioned if video game playing couldn’t help older adults who need memory improvement.)

Before you and your kids celebrate the benefits of video games too much, you should take note of another study, published in August in Nature and Molecular Psychiatry, that states that action video game players may actually reduce grey matter in the hippocampus (which would negatively affect memory). Gregory West, of the University of Montreal and lead researcher on this study, said in an interview with Parent.co, “There are many different types of video games that we now know can have a differential impact on the brain. Our research specifically examined only two types of video games: first person shooting/action RPG shooting games and 3D-platform games….We showed a causal relationship between playing these games and changes in grey matter within the hippocampal memory system.”

West and his colleagues have studied video games for a number of years. He said originally he was interested in the positive cognitive affects of action video games, particularly on visual attention, motor control, and the brain’s reward system. Then, starting in 2015, they found evidence that linked action video game consumption to negative effects on memory (because of hippocampus grey matter reduction), so they started analyzing what types of video games caused what types of effects.

“3D-platform games, such as Super Mario 64, promote the hippocampal memory system,” West said. Logic and puzzle games do, too. West recommends parents limit young children’s game playing to these types of games because he says there is no research examining how action video games impact developing hippocampus. (The University of California, San Diego Cognitive Science Department says the hippocampus continues its physical development into the first two and a half years of life.)

One of the questions West has about the German study and its results is that the researchers seem to “lump together games that ask players to perform very different tasks into one category of ‘action video games’.” he said, “For example, StarCraft is highlighted as an example of a type of video game their participants often played. However, StarCraft is, in fact, a real-time strategy game that has very different content compared to a first person shooting game. Because of this, it is difficult to determine what type of gameplay experience is responsible for their observed results.” (Dr. Suchan did not respond to our inquiry about this.)

One thing that all researchers and gamers can agree on is that playing video games affects our lives, our abilities, and our brains in a variety of ways. Therefore, with some parental oversight, let the games begin.

How Kids Can Cope With Stress in Our Unpredictable New Reality

This practice gives kids strategies for developing self-awareness, improving mental focus, handling emotions, and increasing kindness and empathy.

In the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, six of the largest school districts in the United States closed, and 1.7 million American students missed school. This figure doesn’t take into account school interruptions after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and elsewhere where officials have no clear timeline for school re-openings for over 350,000 students.
According to some experts, such school closings could have disastrous consequences the likes of which we’ve seen only after Hurricane Katrina. I worry about the students in Texas, Louisiana, Florid, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands who have been displaced by these recent storms, because they may experience the kind of stress my New Orleans students had to handle in 2005 and 2006. Officials on the ground are already reporting a mental health crisis in Puerto Rico. And, as if the hurricanes aren’t enough, scenes of assault weapons spraying bullets on a crowd in Las Vegas pop up in our children’s news feeds and cause more anxiety.
After Hurricane Katrina forced evacuations and devastated New Orleans, I returned home and volunteered to teach creative writing in a public school. My plan was to help children write stories to express their emotions and creative voice. I quickly discovered, however, that many of my students had high levels of anxiety and poor academic success. They had difficulty focusing in class, following my instruction, and sitting still to write. They also fought with each other on the playground. As I got to know them, I learned why.
Many of these children were growing up in poverty, and their families had limited resources to evacuate during the storm. Some had stayed in New Orleans and witnessed trauma. After Katrina, their families moved to other cities – often living in shelters – and my students had missed school. Like many displaced children, they exhibited depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders. Some also faced other adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), including abuse, neglect, exposure to unsafe environments, and a broken family structure.
Research has shown that children who experience stressful events at an early age may have behavior problems and below-average academic and literacy skills. They are also at increased risk for developing health problems as adults. The good news is that children often respond well to interventions, including classroom mindfulness activities. With a mindfulness program, teachers have reported improved classroom behavior of their students especially in the areas of paying attention, self-control, participation, and respect for others. As a long-time practitioner of mindfulness, I decided to teach my students mindful techniques at the start of each writing class.
Mindfulness is a method of paying attention – on purpose, with kindness and patience – to what’s going on inside and outside of you in each moment. This practice gives adults and children strategies for developing self-awareness and acceptance, improving mental focus, handling difficult emotions, and increasing kindness and empathy. In my writing class, I taught my students many of the mindfulness exercises I still use today as a way of preparing them for the day, and for writing. Here is a sample:

Mindful breathing

Feel your breath come into your nose or mouth, into your lungs, and into your tummy. Feel your lungs release each breath before you take another. Put all of your attention on the air going in and out. If you start thinking about something, shift your attention back to your breathing. This exercise helps you focus on where you are and what you are experiencing in your body in the moment.

Squeeze and release

After taking three mindful breaths, focus your attention on your feet. Squeeze all the muscles tight and then release. Move your attention up your body, squeezing and releasing all your muscle groups until your reach your head. End with three more mindful breaths. This exercise, too, brings your awareness to the physical sensations in your body. You can try it lying down to help you relax.

Mind bubbles

Try this one as a way to release the stressful thoughts that are bothering you. Think of your worries as bubbles that pop. Take three mindful breaths and imagine holding a bubble wand. Breathe in and notice your worry. Breathe out and blow your worry through the wand to form a bubble that floats away and pops. This is a way to see your thoughts as temporary and release them. Repeat the visualization until you feel ready to continue your day. This exercise may not take away immediate problems, but it gives you a tool to release troubling thoughts so you are better prepared to face your life.

Finding the pause

Breathe normally, and at the end of each breath, notice the short pause before you breathe in again. Relax a different part of your body during each pause. Continue as long as you wish, relaxing your whole body a little more with each pause. This exercise helps you handle your emotions and problems with more confidence.
I taught my students these or similar techniques, which we used before writing. In the absence of a controlled study, I can only report that I saw many changes in my students over the school year. At the start of my class, the majority of my students could not write a complete grammatical sentence much less a story with an intact narrative thread.
By the end, every student contributed at least one complete story to our classroom collection, which we printed and bound. They also performed on stage, many reading their writing aloud to a packed auditorium. They also improved in paying attention and controlling their behavior. We simply got along better by the end of the year, and my students were calmer, at least in our classroom.
For the teachers and school administrators who have been affected by the 2017 storms, I wish them courage as they face the challenges of returning to school. They too had to evacuate or shelter in place and may struggle to create a safe environment for their students who could be traumatized. I hope they can put interventions in place that allow for healing and growth during this tough time.
No matter how bleak or surreal our daily reality becomes, our kids don’t deserve to fall into a desensitized-yet-anxious funk we often feel, especially after a series of crises. We owe them a way to cope. Mindfulness is a helpful tool.
For more on mindfulnes, visit Barefoot Books. Whitney Stewart is the author of “Mindful Kids: 50 Activities for Kindness, Focus, and Calm“.
 

Lessons From Dyeing My Hair Blue

As a mother who sometimes screams, who is unsure of herself, I’m still practicing how to accept my own imperfections. My own failings.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme was Determination. Enter your own here!
It’s the end of middle school when my best friend, Janine, and I show up to a sleepover with freshly dyed hair. It is so fresh that we haven’t yet washed it because we didn’t read the box, or maybe we wanted to make sure it really stuck.
Janine is tall and lanky and more gorgeous than she realizes. She’s half-Chinese and her jet black hair barely shows glints of the red Manic Panic she chose to put in it. My long dirty blonde locks are fully blue. Our spunkiness is (in our own eyes, at least) the talk of the sleepover party.
At some point, we realize that we are going to start staining pillows and sleeping bags if we don’t wash the dye from our now burning scalps. I hop into my friend’s shower, and a few minutes later I hear screaming. Her mother has gotten wind of the fact that there is blue hair dye running down the drain of her brand new shower in her brand new bathroom.
A moment later she bursts in and jerks back the curtain. She screams at the top of her lungs, like I’ve only ever heard my own mother scream, when she sees the deep blue circling down the drain as I cover my body with my hands. She slams the bathroom door and moments later, I can still hear her raging inside her bedroom.
I jump out of the shower and pat myself dry. Quickly, I throw my clothes back on and race downstairs where the rest of the girls are cowering, wide-eyed. Janine’s hair is still covered in red dye. We exchange a look that says “let’s get the fuck out of here” and in an instant, run out the back door. We roam the neighborhood a while, then head to my house which is only a few blocks over. We tell my mom the party was a bust and Janine sleeps there instead. We both decide our friend’s mother is a horrible bitch and to never see her again.
The next day, I’m in my room when I hear a knock at my front door. I’ve hardly been upset about what happened. It’s just good preteen gossip. I’m sure Janine and I laughed about it, or said horrible things about the woman who reamed us out and ruined the party. But my hair looked awesome so what else was there to worry about? When I hear the knock, I run downstairs to get the door. My mother works from home, so I’m guessing it’s just one of her customers who doesn’t know that they are allowed to let themselves in.
I bound down the steps and when I get to the bottom, notice who’s standing on the porch. I freeze, wondering if I have time to hide. It’s my friend’s mother. I have no idea why she is here – I had plans never to see her again, and now she’s standing on my front porch. I imagine she’s looking for my mother. I’m afraid she might scream at me again. Slowly, I open the door and step onto the porch, head down.
She takes off her thick, black sunglasses and reveals her red-rimmed eyes. They are swollen and puffy in a way mine have only looked when I cried all night over a boy. I’m used to her looking so sophisticated, I realize. Her hair in a short pixie cut and her all black clothing. But right now, she looks broken. I look at her sad eyes and before I can say anything, she starts to speak.
“Sarah, I am so sorry about what happened last night. I am so, so sorry. You have no idea how sorry I am. I’m so embarrassed for how I acted.” Tears start streaming down her face. I can’t believe it. I’m shocked that she is apologizing to me when clearly, I was the asshole who showed up at a sleepover without washing the dye out of my hair. But before I can say anything, she wraps me in a hug.
“No – it’s okay,” I manage to get out. “It’s really my fault.” But she won’t let me own it.
“All the dye came out. It washed right down the drain. I ruined the party. I’m so sorry. I had no right to yell at you.” She was so sincere, so devastated, and I’d just been going on with my self-absorbed preeteen life, barely hanging onto the night before.
I’m sure I called Janine to tell her what happened the second I went back to my room. I’m sure I played it off like she was insane for showing up at my house – like, who does that? But a part of me was jolted. This woman, this 40-something, responsible mother, was badly hurting. And partly, it was because of me. But it was also partly because she made a mistake. A mistake she couldn’t take back. And for a second, I saw her as a human instead of my friend’s mother.
Until that point in my life, I hadn’t seen mothers as real people. Certainly not my own. It would be years before I really learned this truth completely. Until my own anger or selfishness caught me off guard as I struggled to parent my own children. But seeing her intense vulnerability, splayed out on my front porch like that, caused a delicate shift. I felt connected to this person in a way I couldn’t really deny. I didn’t hate her, even if I might pretend to to my friends. I understood her.
Years later, I saw her at a birthday party for my best friend’s mother. And she brought up the blue hair dye incident. “Oh! I was so awful to you girls that night … I’m so sorry!” she said. All these years and she was still carrying guilt from screaming about what she thought was the death of her new bathroom. Instinctively, I put my hand on her shoulder. I had a six- and two-year-old at home, and I wanted to bawl my eyes out right there.
“Please,” I told her. “We were brats. Are you kidding me?” I felt her relief. I, as a grown woman with my own children, understood. Parents are still human beings. Parents need things for themselves. A new bathroom. A vacation. A fucking moment of silence. Parents have deep, horrible emotions that they can’t control, the same as teenagers, the same as four-year-olds. I didn’t judge her then and I certainly didn’t judge her now.
As a mother who sometimes screams, who is unsure of herself, I’m still practicing how to accept my own imperfections. My own failings. I had once believed that motherhood itself would morph me, if by magic, into a much better human. In some ways it has, but my faults have not evaporated either. I haven’t found myself overflowing with endless love and compassion always.
On my worst days, when I’ve let my children down, when I’ve yelled, or been impatient, a thought lingers in the back of my mind – I am not the mother I imagined being. I keep a pair of dark sunglasses in my purse, even in the winter.

According to Study, This Personality Trait Might Bully-Proof Your Kid

Researchers have identified one key personality trait can mean the difference between bouncing back from bullying and being incapacitated by it.

Anyone who’s ever been bullied knows that it’s not an experience you soon forget. At  28 years old, I barely ever think about the awful few months I was bullied in the fifth grade. But when I do, I still feel a twinge of pain recalling how traumatic it was, and I hate to imagine my kids ever going through something similar.
All things considered, though, I overcame being bullied as a kid and blossomed in the years afterward. I recently came across a study that helps explain why that was possible.
Researchers at Florida Atlantic University and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire set out to discover why some youth victims of bullying recover from the ordeal while others are shattered by it. In their new study published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect, these researchers reveal that one key personality trait can mean the difference between bouncing back from bullying and being incapacitated by it.
That trait is resilience – the capacity to readily recover from adverse events or adjust to change.
Using a validated 10-item biopsychosocial scale, researchers looked at the relationship between the experience of bullying (including cyberbullying) and resilience. The scale contained mantras, such as: “Having to cope with stress makes me stronger” and “I can deal with whatever comes my way.” The scale was intended to evaluate resilience as a protective factor and healing force.
A Science Daily study suggests that possessing resilience can help prevent kids from being victimized by bullying and can help lessen the harmful effects of bullying when it does occur, either in-person or online. Bullying will always hurt, of course, and it should never be tolerated, but data from this study demonstrates how resilience can help kids, in a sense, choose whether or not to permit the pervasive damage it can cause.
Authors of the study, Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D. and Justin W. Patchin, Ph.D. hope that their study will show families, schools, and communities the value of raising resilient children in a day and age when finding effective solutions to bullying is more imperative than ever. The tragic consequences of bullying seem to be in the headlines constantly, and the Internet has created many more avenues through which it can happen.
“We want children to learn and develop the skills they need to deal with problems,” says Dr. Hinduja, as quoted in Science Daily, “and yet we rarely help them engage with those problems so that they can grow in their ability to solve them. Instead, we seek to constantly protect and insulate them – instead of bolstering their self-confidence, problem-solving ability, autonomy, and sense of purpose – which are all innate strengths.”
It’s important, they explain, for parents and other adults involved with children and adolescents to teach them strategies for coping with bullies, for ‘rising above’ the cruelty. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), other ways to foster resilience in kids and teens include helping them learn how to:

  • form connections
  • help other people
  • maintain a routine
  • take a mental break
  • practice self-care
  • create and work toward goals
  • develop a sense of perspective
  • develop a positive outlook
  • see the humor in life and be able to laugh at oneself
  • recognize past accomplishments and history of overcoming obstacles
  • and accept change as a part of life.

Raising compassionate kids and teaching them not to be bullies themselves is also extremely important, but that’s a whole separate post.
Continued efforts are certainly needed to tackle the issue of bullying from all angles. There are no easy answers. But this study does give me hope (and a much-needed sense of control) that by nurturing resilience in our kids, they can learn to survive and thrive at school in the face of adversity – far preferable to keeping them in a bubble.

Why Bad Behavior Is Not Synonymous With Bad Kids

Your kid’s behavior is neither driven by “badness” nor is it a sign of bad parenting. Rather, it’s a sign that you’re not speaking the same language.

Have you ever thought “my kid couldn’t possibly do that” just to find out that he can and he did? Sometimes kids do, well, bad things. Sometimes they’re difficult. But your kid’s behavior is neither driven by “badness” nor is it a sign of bad parenting. Rather, it’s a sign that you’re not speaking the same language. Here are a few tips to help you hit it off.

1 | Get on the same wavelength

You know how sometimes you’ll say something totally innocent and someone else will take your remarks as a personal attack? Well, sometimes it happens even with our own kids. Despite speaking a common language, family members may have different interpretations of family dynamics and behavior.
In other words, families in which members are not the same wavelength have higher levels of tension because of the different ways in which they interpret the same thing. What you perceive as concern, your kid may define as intrusiveness. Being on the same wavelength means making sure your kids understand why you do the things you do, but it also means being able to understand why they act like they do. It also means being clear about your expectations.
Being on the same wavelength means being receptive to your kid’s point of view even when it differs with your own, and being big enough to own even your smallest mistakes.

2 | Your child’s temperament matters

Researchers from the University of Washington found that tailoring parenting styles to kid’s personalities had a significant impact on behavior.
Over a period of three years, the researchers observed how 214 kids interacted with their mothers in the home environment. They observed issues such as everyday conversations, common problems, and conflict (for instance, resistance to homework or chores). They also analyzed parenting styles and focused on issues such as warmth, negativity, autonomy granting, and guidance. Kids’ anxiety and depression levels were also measured and their personality traits identified. The kids were nine years old when the study began.
The researchers came to the following conclusions:

  • The kids’ whose mothers were warm and encouraged them to be independent had less anxiety and depression, but only if these kids had good self-control
  • The kids who had good self-control but whose parents were over-controlling and provided them with few opportunities to cultivate independence had higher levels of depression and anxiety
  • The kids who had poor self-control were less anxious when their mothers provided more structured environments and less autonomy
  • If the mothers of kids with poor self-control skills provided little control, the kids’ anxiety doubled
  • Maternal negativity increased depression among kids low in fear

As the study shows, parenting styles are more likely to have an impact on kids’ behavior if they are tailored to their personalities.

3 | Parenting is a relationship

Relationships thrive when there’s mutual respect. They thrive when all concerned parties feel appreciated and heard. How we treat our kids speaks volumes about how we view our relationship with them.
Much evidence suggests that adopting a positive discipline approach improves kids’ well-being and behavior and also strengthens the parent-child bond. Positive and intentional parenting approaches can enable parents to use discipline techniques without negatively affecting kid’s development outcomes.

4 | Don’t forget that emotions are a big deal

It is now widely accepted that kids’ inability to manage their emotions explains much of their “misbehavior.” Indeed, much like adults, kids find it hard to communicate about complex issues. When you use age-appropriate strategies to help your kid identify his emotions, you help cultivate his emotional intelligence. You teach her that it is normal and okay to have emotions, but also that each and every one of us can learn to control our emotions. Evidence suggests that kids who have learned to regulate their emotions have lower levels of depression and anxiety.

5 | Need for professional help

In the study cited above, the researchers from the University of Washington found that kids’ temperament may render them vulnerable to certain behavioral problems, regardless of parenting. In other words, despite your best intentions, you might be unable to help your kid. When you lack the necessary skills and resources to help, turning to a skilled professional can help both you and your kid get over difficult moments. Remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Teaching Children to Carry On, Through Grief

Last fall, as our beloved family dog faded quickly into his final weeks, I tried to prepare my children gently for his passing.

Last fall, as our beloved family dog faded quickly into his final weeks, I tried to prepare my children gently for his passing. It seemed unfair that they would have to endure this flagrant loss in the very same year during which their parents had separated and were heading for divorce.
With one hit still fresh and our recovery scarcely in progress, we were faced with a stark and painful illustration of how significantly our family was changing.
At first, I wanted desperately to protect my children – if one narrow column of time could bulge with such excess grief, then what would my children begin to believe about the rest of their lives, sprawled out before them like an open, lawless range?
The end was inevitable, of course. Our dog was 13 years old, ailing, and miserable – visibly ashamed by all the accidents he was having in the house, by all the falling down, by the not getting up again. He was still my dog, my loyal pard, but he was not my dog anymore.
I found a veterinarian who would perform euthanasia at home; I tried to use the time leading up to our appointment wisely.
I talked to my children in the morning, snuggling under blankets on the couch while I sipped my coffee and reflected, out loud, that death was the sad underside of the things we loved. I didn’t mention the appointment for euthanasia – that concept, I thought, was more than they could bear. I only told them that our dog was sick, and that his death was imminent. I brought it up at dinner, in the car on the way to piano lessons, while reading books before bed.
“It’s coming and it’s awful, but it’s going to be okay,” I said. It was a common refrain that particular year.
For my four year-old son, it helped when we spotted death as a natural part of life wherever we could. One afternoon in late September, we sat together outside on the patio.
“You see that tree out there, buddy? The dead one?” I asked, pointing to a slender elm at the back of the yard, silenced by disease.
“Yeah, I do,” he said, “The one that’s naked, you mean?”
I nodded.
“So leaves are clothes for trees?” he imagined.
“Yes,” I said, “and that one doesn’t need them anymore.”
I explained that the tree’s body was no longer working and it might fall on its own, but its roots would always remain in our soil.
In contrast, my older two children entered the maze of grief in their own ways. My 11-year old daughter simply wanted to turn back time and allow our dog to be a puppy again. My eight-year old son wanted me to please stop talking about it and let it be over with – he had only the exit sign in mind.
What were any of us supposed to be feeling and doing during that time? Anything, really.
Standing in the middle of grief is agony, but if we step back and look over it – a corn maze in autumn, if you will – it is only the process of transition between the living and the dying of something we love. It has both an entry and an exit point, with a myriad of routes from one to the other. Around each corner lies yet another component: anger, sadness, despair, and even love at its most overwhelming, for when we lose a thing, or decide we must let it go, we begin to see its value more clearly. Grief evolves, therefore, over time. As a mother, I am grateful for this simple fact.
Together, my children and I recorded our pup’s paw print, first with poster paint, and then with a plaster mold. Neither project emerged perfectly: capturing an outline of a dog’s paw in any medium is like trying to catch everyone smiling using a camera obscura. It didn’t matter – the project itself was part of our process of letting go.
Finally, when the dog’s last full day was upon us and my children were all tucked away at school, I began to focus on my own process. How much time could I actually spend that day, lying next to my old friend, cradling his head, draping my leg over his side, sobbing?
I had ordered a set of palm-sized memory stones, each of them etched with a paw print on one side and our dog’s name on the other. I laid all five stones on the kitchen floor in front of him. Curious, he sniffed them, wetting each one with his velvety nose. An hour later, the veterinarian arrived, and a quarter of an hour after that, it was over.
When our children came home that day and their father and I told them our dog was gone, they began to buckle and wail. We held them – on the floor, on the couch, wherever they landed – all five of us awash.
Then, we remembered: once, I had to break him out of the dog pound with a carpool of preschoolers in tow. Twice, he got his head stuck in a garbage can.
We laughed, and I offered everyone a memory stone. Our youngest child took his and closed his fingers around it. Each of our three children could drop their stone into a pocket, bring it in the car, tuck it under a pillow. They were tactile, intimate charms that my children would carry with them everywhere, as the grieving do. They would each do so, that is, until such time as they didn’t need to anymore.