Catching Glimpses of a Man in My Teenage Son

I knew it would go quick, but still my mind could never fathom, never fully grasp that this baby would someday become a man.

I catch a glimpse of my son through the dusty blinds in our living room, iPhone wedged in his pocket, the late afternoon sun in his eyes. My son, lean, lanky, and all legs, is outside with a friend.
Foolishly, I refer to it as a play date, ruffling his independent feathers and causing a dramatic eye roll. He corrects me, firmly telling me it’s called hanging out now. He can’t see the lump in my throat or detect my discomfort as I adjust to this new terminology.
Wasn’t he just five the other day, drinking juice from boxes, munching rainbow goldfish, and listening to the high pitched strains of “The Backyardigans”? Now he favors the quick talk-rap tone of “21 Pilots”, walks down to the local deli by himself for chips, and guzzles six Deer Parks a day.
I remember when he was one. A round, tow-headed lump of love balanced on my ample hip in the grocery store. A woman, older by decades, dressed in a pale grey coat, stopped to touch his feet. Fleshy, plump, and irresistible, my son’s toes were often admired while I stood in line to buy puréed apricots and strained peas.
“It goes quite quick, dear,” she said.
I hated that, hated when people told me how fast time goes when there is a child in your life. As if there was something I could do to slow it down, something I could do to drag out the years so they wouldn’t slip by me in a blur of tantrums, spit ups, and nap times. I knew it would go quick, but still my mind could never fathom, never fully grasp that this baby would someday become a man.
Some days I wanted it to go quick. To be free from the demands of a needy infant, ornery toddler, insolent youth. Always needing something. A diaper change. A new plastic toy. A download for his iPod.
He’s not so needy anymore. I’m adjusting.
I peer at my man-child through the dusty blinds. The glint of early evening light hits the slope of his angular nose. Where is that basic button, the nose every toddler has? Now there are tilts and indentations where there used to be podgy flushed cheeks. His voice, once soft like a marshmallow, has become edged with roughness.
I remember when he learned to crawl. The knees of his celadon onesie stained with grass, the furrow between his blonde brows deep with determination. Go! Go! I said, and he was off, like a lightening bug out of a paper cup. He liked that taste of freedom. I could barely keep up.
As I watch through the dusty blinds, the autumn sun highlights the soft down of hairs sprouting above his triangle tipped lips. The girls are starting to take notice. I watch his gait as he swaggers down the hill toward the deli in loose jeans and Vans – cool, confident steps and a wry smile on his face.
My son likes this freedom. I’m adjusting.
I adjust when he wants to Snapchat with his peers instead of talk to his weary, frayed-around-the-edges mom. I adjust when he coolly asks me to borrow my tweezers so he can pluck his fuzzy unibrow. I adjust when I ask if he needs help with something, and he answers, “No.”
Because that is what mothers do. We love, and we guide, and we teach, and we show, and then we must pray and let go.
That letting part. That takes some adjusting.
This piece originally appeared in The Elephant Journal.

Determined to Create Your Dreams? Don't Forget This

Life without grit is like eating unsalted popcorn or beginning your day with no coffee.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
Life without grit is like eating unsalted popcorn or beginning your day with no coffee. Grit is the juice behind determination the part of you that is going to accomplish your dreams no matter what. I would say all three of my daughters have grit, an insatiable determination to live a better life than their dad and I. “You guys are so boring, you just do the same things all the time.” Perhaps according to their worlds our adult lives lack a bit of luster but what our girls may not be privy to yet, is having determination is only part of creating your vision.
You see for most of our lives, my husband and I have dug in our heels, taking on the many responsibilities and tasks a family of five can bring. Like most people, we are pretty determined to pay the bills, save money, and create a life worth living. However, life’s unexpected trials and challenges threw a few curve balls, getting us to the point where we felt like quitting the game.
Getting up off the ground and dusting yourself off certainly takes a bit of will power however, it is only through love and connection you will be able to heal the cuts and bruises these experiences bring. Now, we have all been there. The toddler who suddenly wants to do things for himself or the adolescent who looks forward to turning 18. It is normal, natural, and healthy for children to crave and desire independence. However, what they might not know now is that it will be their sense of connection to others which will help heal the wounds of their past along the way.
Try as hard as you like, nobody gets through childhood with a clean slate. For many, it will be those childhood ouches, hurts, and mishaps which get them to dream in the first place. “Dream big,” I tell my girls. “Break down your goals into manageable, realistic steps. Take time to connect. Make eye contact with friends and family, enjoy nature, make an effort to speak to others in person (particularly the hard conversations) give and offer hugs, value meal time.”
Our children may not realize it now, but it is these small rituals which serve as the backbone of their dreams. Sure, determination will keep you motivated, but love and connection is the key to inspiration.
So next time you or your child aims for the gusto, takes on a new challenge, and sets a goal, foster that sense of determination with praise and encouragement. Be mindful however, of not losing sight of how love and connection will serve each of you along the way.

What New Science Tell Us About Kids' Memory and What That Means for Parents

Your kid’s brain is not able to recall detail and stories of events in the same way that your adult brain is.

Have you ever asked your school-aged child what they did today and got a response “nothing” or “I can’t remember?” Or taken them on an amazing adventure or outing only to find they have little recall of the event just that evening? If you have goals of creating great memories for your children, as many parents do, this is a little frustrating to say the least. If you think it’s just your children, take heart – new research shows you’re not alone and that ongoing development in the brain in the school aged years is most likely responsible.
The study involved 70 children aged six to 14 years old and 33 young adults completing a memory test and MRI scans. The memory test looked at the participants’ ability to remember details or general characteristics. MRI scans compared the brain structures involved in these tasks for differences across age groups. It was previously thought that these structures matured before the teen years.
Rather than finding that performance on recall and memory for details was standard across all age groups, the researchers found that older participants did better. This also correlated with differences found in the brain scans between the age groups. Sections of the hippocampus responsible for memory formation, stabilization, retrieval, and separation of detail were found to continually develop across age. The MRI scans showed these structures did not stop maturing until sometime in adolescence.

What does that mean for parents?

If your child tells you they don’t know or can’t remember, accept it as true. Sometimes parents interpret these messages as “I don’t want to talk about it,” “I’m not ready to talk about it,” or that the child did not enjoy or appreciate an event. Instead, believe them. Your child’s brain is not able to recall detail and stories of events in the same way that your adult brain is. The structures for it to complete this process are just not there yet.
In the case of a pleasant event that you were part of it is helpful to retell the story with your children and look at photos from the event. This may help build your child’s memory of the event over time. Also, children very much enjoy storytelling and will often happily listen to your version of events. Many parenting experts promote the idea of retelling shared family stories. These shared family stories become part of the family culture and help promote a sense of connection and belonging.
When children lose things and are unable to recall their steps, as often happens in my home,  the developing brain is also likely to blame. Rather than interpreting this behavior as lazy or unhelpful, recognize that your child’s brain isn’t remembering the details and sequences like an adult brain. Wherever possible offer easy systems and support to prevent difficulty in finding items.
When children experience a distressing or traumatic event, recall of the detail of the event is often difficult. This is in part due to the impact of trauma but also a developing brain. It might be tempting to push for detail in your attempts to right things or get the correct help. This is problematic as children who want to please will sometimes report things that didn’t happen at all. Rather than pressing for detail, provide a safe, loving, and accepting presence, protect your child as necessary, and seek professional guidance on how to help your child best. Let your child know that you are okay with them not being able to fully explain and that you still love them no matter what happened.
Keep planning those wonderful events for your child. Your child may not recall those events in particular detail but often they will remember how they felt. When I ask adults in therapy about their childhood, I often find an emotional shift occurs as they talk about their family’s vacations or their parents’ support of their sporting activities. Even thought they don’t have a lot of verbal detail attached to the memories, their faces will light up as they discuss with warmth their emotional memory of childhood.
Most importantly, give your child and yourself time to grow with your child’s developing brain. Children generally want to please their parent, so if they don’t it is most often due to a skill deficit. One day they will recount a story in full detail. You may even find yourself wondering whether the story required such a long and detailed retelling.

4 Practical Ways to Tame the Homework Headache

Before homework turns into a battle of wills or a cascade of tears, try these tips to keep the peace.

Everyone had a busy day. Maybe it was at school learning and working hard. Maybe it was at home keeping up with the household. Maybe it was at work doing what you love or what needs to be done. Maybe it was endless errands that left you feeling like you spent the day in the car.
No matter how you spent the busy day, now everyone is home and ready to relax, but there’s that pesky homework to take care of. Before it turns into a battle of wills or a cascade of tears, try these tips to keep the peace.

1| Be present

I know this is hard. We have so much to do, and we multitask. Dinner is not going to cook itself, right? Multitasking, however, may be causing more stress and mistakes.
The more present we can be the more quickly things seem to get accomplished. If your child struggles with homework, your availability can make a big difference and allow you to answer a question before frustration takes over.

2 | Side by side reading

Many kids have reading time as part of their homework. Show kids that reading is a priority by making that time a family reading time. Everyone can participate.
Grab something for yourself and sit down and read. It can be the novel collecting dust on your nightstand or the newspaper. Even something for work could count, as long as it is dedicated reading time. (And no, Facebook doesn’t count.) Even a little kids can sit with a stack of books to look through. Modeling good reading habits goes a long way in teaching kids that reading is a part of everyone’s life.

3 | Know what makes your child tick

Some people insist that doing homework right when kids get home is the best way to get it done. While this ensures a less tired child, that may not work for every kid.
Some kids need time to decompress from a busy school day. You may find that a half hour for snack and playing outside works wonders. Try out some different times and see what works for your child. Once you find what works best, try to make it consistent.

4 | Wave the white flag

Sometimes you just need to surrender. There are days that feel overwhelming and the homework is just too much. While it is important to teach responsibility, we need to be able to recognize when something is truly too difficult for a child to work on independently. Often this indicates that more instruction is needed in the classroom before the child can do it without teacher support at home.
Instead of forcing a truly difficult task, talk about it with your child and make a note for the teacher that it was exceptionally hard. This is not an excuse for not wanting to do homework. Most teachers would much rather know that a student is struggling at home than have a child in tears over their work or, even worse, a parent complete the assignment.
Homework is an opportunity to practice things learned in class and provide feedback for the teacher about how much of a concept a child grasps. Teachers have no desire to know that a parent is capable of completing that math worksheet. Open communication with the teacher, parent, and child makes homework a much better experience for everyone.
Homework can be a tricky task after a long day. For most kids homework is a reality of school life. Making the best out of it will help both you and your child.

5 Payoffs of Watching Your Kid Battle Through a Sports Injury

As with every sport, the risk of injury looms. What’s amazing as a parent is seeing the perseverance of a kid determined to heal and get back in the game.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
If you have a child who is all-things athlete, you understand the depth beneath his/her competitive nature. The kid who lives and breathes sports has an internal drive for success that is off the charts. Watching the Olympics proves this truth.
As with every sport, the risk of injury looms. And you know how devastating a setback can be for your child. But what’s amazing as a parent is observing the perseverance and commitment of a kid determined to heal and get back into the game.
My daughter played seven sports in her first 11 years. When you look at her DNA under a microscope, pretty sure a Nike swoosh shows up. And she played each one with full abandon, expecting perfection of herself even as a pip squeak t-baller. She even had a two-year stint as QB on the football team, not a single bone of fear in her body.
Now she plays collegiate basketball – a level of competition in a different realm. She is a monsterish 5’ 2”; all you need to know about her will to succeed in a game dominated by girls who hover around the tall tree mark. Speed and moxie get the job done.
Unfortunately, even her mettle couldn’t prevent a significant labrum tear in her shoulder during her freshman season. Somehow, she found the grit to play out the year in pain. But what really amazed me, was her mindset and approach to off-season surgery and rehab. A determined purpose to heal and get back on the court left me slack jawed with admiration. And I know so many of you parents have witnessed the same resolve in your courageous kin.
If we take the time to reflect on how our athletic kids respond to injury, we can walk away with a heart full of lessons to buoy us going forward. Setbacks of all kinds await us in the future, and here are five gifts from watching a teen battle through a sports injury to tuck away for safe keeping:

1 | Attitude is everything

Teens get a bad rap for their rapid cycling mood changes. Sometimes their ‘tude gets underneath our skin. But if you look closely, you’ll find they often have us adults beat when it comes to positivity during times of stress. Mind over matter fuels the athlete.

2 | Embracing pain has great dividends

Athletes don’t let pain deter them. Their inner compass points true north: the place where the potential for victory AND defeat always co-exist. Learning to embrace the same paradox in life –accepting the struggles along with the joys – is a life-giving mentality we can all benefit from.

3 | Competitiveness can be a good thing

When the drive to be competitive transcends being a sore loser, the payoff of such determination is confidence. Athletes who lay everything on the line for the love of the game, rather than creating a springboard from which to boast, develop a type of moxie hard to match. And this resolve carries them through injury. If we choose to battle negative thoughts for the love of life, imagine the blessings we’d reap.

4 | You’re never too old to be a kid

If you are an athlete at heart, the joy of playing a game never leaves your spirit. Which means kid vibes run perpetually through your veins. Seems like this playful energy is what fuels the injured athlete and causes them to approach injuries with grace. Imagine if we all could see our setbacks through the eyes of a child.

5 | Life goes on … no matter what

Not every athlete recovers from an injury. But what is amazing to watch is how a kid rebounds from the loss. They continue to battle through the emotions even if the physical fight has reached an end. Kids, because of their limited life experience, take every day as it comes better than adults. And they choose to trust in the unknown going forward. As grown ups, we often struggle when life presses the pause button on our deep seeded efforts; already exhausted from decades of disappointments and let downs. What if we let go of what’s shaped us and start each new day with a fresh slate on which to chalk up our experiences?
So, here’s to the bright side of our child’s athletic injury. Kids teach us countless lessons, but some of the best things we learn correlate to some of the worst things they experience. And the best way to reward our kids for their positivity, grit, and grace is to adopt their philosophies and pay forward the results.
That’s how we make the world a better place one determined effort at a time.

Don't Talk to Your Sons About Sex – Talk About This Instead

If you’re wondering about the right time to talk to your son about sex, then recent research has some recommendations for you: don’t.

If you’re wondering about the right time to talk to your son about sex, then recent research has some recommendations for you: don’t. Don’t talk to your son about sex. Instead, talk to him about relationships. Talk to him about romance. Talk to him about those funny feelings in the pit of his stomach and how that certain person turns his brain to mush. Talk to him about what a healthy relationship looks like, talk to him about mutual respect, and, oh please, talk to him about consent. Talking to him about sex? It doesn’t appear to be working. So, y’know, don’t.

I said, “Hey, What’s going on?”

The majority of sexual education in schools is based around contraception, pregnancy, and avoiding sexually transmitted diseases. The problem is that these programs aren’t answering the kinds of questions school kids have about sex and relationships. The programs assume girls are the gatekeepers of sex and pitch lessons towards them. They underestimate the emotional capacity and interest of boys and, tellingly, these programs just aren’t working.

In America, 66 percent of 12- to 25-year-olds report regretting their first sexual experience. However in the Netherlands (proud owners of a relationship-based sexual education program that begins at age four), the same age bracket reported “wanted and fun” first experiences. Interestingly, states that run abstinence-only programs have the highest rate of teen pregnancies.

By focusing on the facts surrounding sex, we’re missing the relationships component and our kids know it. Teenagers are confused about relationships and sex, and they aren’t finding the answers in the classroom. This is where parents can step in, but don’t have “the talk.” Have lots of talks, and have them early and often. Because all the things we know about boys and sex? None of them are true.

Boys only care about one thing

Is it romance? Or is it boobs? Research says it’s connection. We are all aware of the culturally sanctioned stereotype of the sex-obsessed teenager: the boy who places his friends at the center of his world and uses and discards sexual partners like takeaway coffee cups. This notion of toxic masculinity does teenage boys a disservice. While some may focus on living up to this unfortunate standard, research suggests that teenage boys need and want information about relationships much more then they want tips on picking up.

A study conducted on 105 10th grade boys found that the vast majority preferred and were seeking out meaningful relationships rather than sexual activity. This research appears to be consistent across the life span, with a comprehensive study on adults finding that the most commonly wanted sexual behavior was romance and affection. These most-wanted behaviors included things like kissing, cuddling, and saying sweet things to each other.

The assumption that boys only care about sex renders them invisible in discussions regarding the emotional components of relationships. As it turns out, this is information they sorely want and definitely need. Which leads us to: where are they actually getting their information?

They’ll find out from their friends

Boys already know all about sex, right? They learn from their friends (who know everything right?), and general society, and sometimes even from pornography. The problem with their current sources of information is that their friends are relatively clueless, society lacks the depth needed to navigate the murky waters of positive sexuality, and pornography rarely portrays healthy sexual relationships. All of these sources of information are inadequate and can reinforce the negative stereotypes regarding teenage boys.

People who are working with adolescent boys report the same finding over and over – they want to know what to do about emotions. Professional mentors and youth workers have found boys need permission to talk about feelings, otherwise they won’t. They follow the expectations of their gender and don’t talk about how they feel. This leaves boys with fewer outlets for emotional development and impacts their chances of healthy romantic relationships.

However, when they’re given the expectation that emotions are valid and anticipated, then they’re all over it. The things boys were interested in? How to ask someone out, what to do if they liked someone, how to let someone know they liked them, and what to do if someone likes them. Relationships were the basis of their concern.

What about, *gulp,* pornography?

Pornography is a poor teacher about relationships. Even if boys are using sexualised language, this doesn’t mean they understand sexuality or that they have the tools to cope with it. Polly Haste, a researcher on sexuality and relationships, found that even 12-year-old boys (who had already seen pornography), were concerned about the availability of porn and the view of sexuality it offered. They were also highly aware that adults often thought of them as “experienced,” so they were hesitant to reveal the extent of their inexperience or insecurity regarding sexuality.

When boys don’t anticipate being taken seriously by adults, they don’t talk to them even though their concerns regarding sex were still there. Teenage boys know that they’re not getting the information they want; what they need is a mentor or parent to fill this role. Parents and mentors need to talk to their boys, and adolescence is too far along for boys to learn about healthy relationships and sexuality. This conversation must start early, with the expectation that boys are capable of having rich emotional lives and making good choices. This doesn’t mean talking to a four-year-old about sex, but instead about love and relationships.

“When two people love each other very much…”

It becomes easier to talk about sexuality when you think of love as the basis of it. Talking about how we show each other love every day can be a great conversation starter. Asking your kids questions like, “What makes you feel loved?” and “How can you be a good friend?” can help them make good relationship decisions later on in life.

Problem solving and decision-making skills are imminently transferable. By learning these skills early in life, children are already on the road to making healthy romantic and sexual decisions. Talk about what kinds of intimacy make you feel safe and what kinds don’t. Talk about having feelings and how fantastic it is to be a man and be emotional. Talk about what consent means and how they can practice. Model consent with your children. When playing wrestling or tickling games make sure you have your child’s full “Yes!” rather then a lack of “No.”

Parents can also model great relationships, and model respect for other people’s bodies and emotions. By gaining an awareness of their own boundaries and the kinds of friendships they value, boys can use those decision-making skills when they start entering the world of romantic relationships.

Teenage boys are inherently capable of having rich and mutually fulfilling relationships. They want to know about love, they want to know how to show love, and how to be loved in healthy ways. When boys are told it’s okay to talk about their feelings, they talk!

They are also very aware that their current sources of information are failing them. This is where parents and caregivers can step up. Talking to boys about sex rarely involves talking to boys about sex. Instead, talk to your sons about love, that’s what they’re actually looking for.

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.

When Sass Is the New Tantrum

I have bad news: The tween years are basically the toddler years on steroids.

I often doubt that I’m mature enough to be a parent. I still stifle a laugh every time I hear a toddler shout “NO!” in defiance to his poor mom. Lately I find I’m caught between laughter and surprise when my own child, now a middle schooler, cracks wise. We are a long way from her shouting “NO!” but we have entered a new era: The Sassy Years.
Admittedly I struggled a bit when my oldest was a toddler, but I was a preschool teacher before I was a mom so I knew that at ages two and three children are establishing their independence. They are testing the waters of asserting control and making choices. Toddlers are at a crossroads between being babies and becoming “big” kids, and with that comes new emotions, new vocabulary, and new physical abilities.
Sound familiar? Because I have bad news: The tween years are basically the toddler years on steroids.
Oh, sure, you think it can’t be as bad as the toddler years, but it’s all relative. Your tween/young teen has a whole set of tools in her arsenal that she didn’t have as a toddler. Plus peer pressure. And electronic devices with which to ignore you. And the uncanny ability to pick up all of your bad habits.
Let’s just say that you use sarcasm frequently in your day-to-day conversations. Who can blame you? Sarcasm has permeated our language, thanks to sitcoms and multiple online platforms that reward witty one-liners. But what happens when your tween utters “Way to go, Mom” when you drop your phone or run into a wall. (I may have some coordination issues.) It’s not cool to hear your mini-me ridicule you. What’s more, because of your own smart mouth she doesn’t seem to take you seriously when you reprimand her or give her The Look.
So not only do we have nearly full-size humans sassing us, we’ve probably undermined our ability to discipline them because we can’t stop being smart alecks ourselves.
Way to go, us.
Don’t panic yet. Our tweens may have new tools in their arsenals, but so do we. Though weird behavior patterns and tantrums may have thrown us for a loop when they were toddlers, eventually we learned that there’s usually a reason for that behavior, like being overtired, over-hungry, or overstimulated. We eventually figured it all out, or at least figured it out enough to survive.
Much like the tween years mirror the toddler years for kids behavior-wise, the explanations for their behaviors can also mirror the toddler years. I learned this in a child development class years ago, but now I need this information for my own kids instead of someone else’s.
My trusty child development textbook “The Developing Person Through Childhood and Adolescence” by Kathleen Stassen Berger says tweens who talk back may be trying to (unconsciously) establish with their parents that they are no longer little kids. Young teens who can’t stop with the sarcasm may be masking real emotions and sensitivities they don’t yet know how to deal with. Sometimes they are just modeling the behavior the adults in their lives have shown them and aren’t aware of what is inappropriate for them to say or do.
This behavior can sting for us as parents because we take it personally. We suddenly feel like we don’t know our children anymore. It can also sting when those remarks are actually disrespectful. We raised them better than that, didn’t we?
We did. We just aren’t done yet.
We can take those moments to remind our offspring about our family’s values regarding respect. I’ve found my daughters often don’t realize they’ve been disrespectful and are even embarrassed when I bring it to their attention.
A sharp wit is a personality trait that may not go away. Instead of squashing those natural impulses, we can guide children towards respectful and thoughtful behavior. Sarcasm and humor aren’t always inappropriate, so bringing thoughtfulness into the picture allows them to fine tune the behavior themselves. As we did when they were toddlers, we can still ask them how they would feel if their own words/actions were used against them.
It also helps if we acknowledge to our children the (perhaps less than ideal) example we have set. Putting our language and our roles in context for them may not make them happy, but it’s important to establish the difference in expectations between parents and children for the sake of consistency in discipline.
This is another one of those parenting issues in which we have to pick our battles. Sometimes it’s better to bite your tongue and move on instead of reprimanding a child every time they say something you wish they hadn’t.
Continued problems with rudeness or disrespect shouldn’t be brushed aside, however. While it is considered normal for adolescents to back talk sometimes, repeated insolence, rudeness, or disrespect towards parents, teachers, or peers are signs something is not right. Enlisting the help of a professional may be necessary to get to the root of the issue.
Ultimately, sass or backtalk or whatever you want to call it is – in normal circumstances – like an emotional growth spurt in your child’s search for identity. It isn’t so much a problem to solve as it is an opportunity to build your relationship with your child. We should guide them through this stage of life so they can succeed as independent adults who don’t regularly get shunned for inappropriate, smart aleck remarks.
I still have work to do in this department myself. I started asking my 11-year-old to consider “Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?” before she speaks. She unapologetically adds “Is it funny?” to the list every time – after which I struggle to stifle my laughter.

Don't Feel Guilty If You Don't Have Time for Family Dinner

How can your busy family carve out 15-30 minutes a day to check in and spend quality time together? Here are five alternatives to the revered family dinner.

It’s 4:50 p.m. on a Wednesday, and this is the scene at my house: I’m madly rushing to finish up cooking dinner, while tripping on my one-year-old who, in preparation for her witching hour, has thrown herself at my feet. Meanwhile, the five-year-old is bemoaning his starvation, despite the fact that he had a snack an hour ago, and his dinnertime smoothie is already in front of him.
I slam their food on the table, like an ornery waitress at one of those 50s-themed diners, but I won’t be sitting down with my kids to eat tonight. Sure, I may plop down in exhaustion on the chair next to my son, but I’ll be up in three minutes, cleaning up spilled milk from my kindergartner or thrown food from the toddler.
My husband won’t be joining us either, thanks to his Silicon Valley job with a long commute and even longer hours.
Yet again, we won’t be having a family dinner together. Even though I know my husband and I spend plenty of time with our young children, I still feel guilty from seeing report after report extol the virtues of having every member in the family sit down together for an evening meal.
I know we’re not the only family who’s not having dinner together tonight and feeling bad about it. But a study from 2012 can assuage our guilt. Researchers from the University of Minnesota found that family dinner itself did not create the benefits that have been previously reported in children whose families share nightly mealtime. Those benefits were lower obesity rates, greater academic success, and fewer instances of substance abuse and delinquent behavior. Instead, family dinner was “a marker for families that have a bundle of traits that contribute to good child outcomes,” MinnPost reported.
Families that regularly have mealtime together tend to have more time and money and are more likely to have a non-employed stay-at-home mother than families who don’t dine together, according to the report.
Unlike in previous studies on family mealtimes, researchers for the University of Minnesota report were able to use data that asked both children and parents questions about their family life, and it asked these questions at several different times during the participants’ childhoods. The data came from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, a long-term study of a sample of 18,000 children.
The study’s conclusion is a classic example of confusing correlation for causation. It’s also reminiscent of recent research that indicates that the previously-reported benefits of breastfeeding have been exaggerated. (Breastfed babies tend to be in families with more resources than formula-fed children, and this socioeconomic status is more likely the cause of these children’s better health and well-being.)
In a similar vein, Bruce Feiler, a New York Times columnist and author of “The Secrets of Happy Families,” argued that it’s not the family dinner that yields the benefits, but the quality time spent together – no matter the occasion or time of day.
In his research into tens of thousands of cataloged chats around the dinner table, Feiler found that there is actually only 10 minutes of real conversation.
“The rest is taken up with ‘take your elbows off the table’ and ‘pass the ketchup’ and all that kind of stuff,” he told radio program “The Splendid Table.”
So if regular family dinners don’t work for your family – like mine – there’s no need to feel guilty. Ann Meier, co-author of the University of Minnesota study and University of Minnesota associate professor of sociology, told MinnPost that family meals “may be a nice kind of ritual context for good parenting to happen,” but families can connect with each other at other times and in other ways.
Feiler came to a similar conclusion, saying that as long as families can find 10-15 minutes a day to bond and have that “real conversation,” they will reap the same benefits as having family dinner. Taking the concept of “time-shifting” from the work world, he said, families who can’t eat together nightly can simply time-shift their family time.
How can your busy family carve out 15-30 minutes a day to check in and spend quality time together? Here are five alternatives to the revered family dinner:

Family breakfast

This is one of the alternate rituals Feiler recommended, but is family breakfast a truly viable option for families scrambling to pack lunches, make daycare and school dropoff, and get to work? Apparently so, I found when I crowd sourced family-dinner-alternative ideas from friends and parenting groups on Facebook.
“We only do family dinner one to three times per week, but we have breakfast together every morning,” said Beth Wolf, mom of two children under four in Chicago. “The kids get us up early anyway!”
Family breakfast is an ideal choice for families with little ones who are up at the crack of dawn. If you’re up with your kids and sleep deprived long before you have to start your morning commute, why not share some eggs and toast together?

Video chats

Since my kids changed their nap schedules this summer and started going to bed at 7 p.m. – before my husband even gets home from work – an evening video call through the Houseparty app has become part of my family’s daily routine. It’s a chance for my son to tell Daddy about what happened at transitional kindergarten that day and the toddler to say “Dada, Dada” excitedly when she sees her dad’s face – and a great replacement for the family dinner that doesn’t work with our family’s schedule.
Family video chats are well suited for families where a parent travels a lot or works odd hours, like Laura Birks-Reinert’s family in New Jersey. Her husband works nights, so she and her twin six-year-old boys Skype with Daddy at 7 p.m. every day, sometimes during bath time.

Play

Many families feel like mealtimes aren’t the best time for real conversation anyway. Families with young children often spend most of dinnertime cleaning up spills and managing one crisis after another. Tweens and teens feel like they’re being interrogated about school and friends when everyone is gathered at the dinner table, staring at them.
Family play time might, in fact, be a better way to spend quality time than mealtimes.
“In our home, our family spends plenty of time together,” said Teresa Currivan, parent coach and mother to an 11-year-old in Oakland, Calif. “As long as some of that is quality time, I’m fine skipping the family dinner. Our family does improv games together, Nerf battles, etc. Play lends itself to more connection than sitting and eating together all the time – at least for my gang.”
Blogger and author Kelly Holmes has instituted five to 10 minutes of family cuddle time in bed after everyone returns from work and school to give her family of five a chance to re-connect before their busy evening routine starts.
While family play happens more spontaneously with little ones, there’s still ways to engage with older kids. Families can gather for weekend board game nights or participate in daily conversation games that author Bruce Feiler recommended. Those games include “Bad and Good,” in which every family member takes a turn telling one thing that was good about their day and one that was bad, and “Pain Points,” where everyone talks about a difficult situation they’re facing.

Special weekly routines

Like the weekend board game nights I previously mentioned, creating weekly family traditions is another great way to bond, especially as your kids grow older and want to spend less time with you and more time hiding in their rooms (on Snapchat with friends).
Move family dinner to Sunday night, and invite the kids to help you prep and cook. Bring the family together for Sunday brunch, go for a walk Sunday afternoon before dinner, or sit down for a movie and bowl of popcorn Saturday night.

Driving time

Make use of all those hours you spend in the car, shuttling the kids to and from after-school activities. Instead of conversation during family dinner, this is where your family’s real discussions can happen.
Car chats are what works best for Jacqui Pastoral-Conclara and her husband in San Bruno, California, as they drive their three boys, aged 11, 13 and 15, to after-school sports and weekend travel tournaments.
“I found that the time we drive to the games is the perfect opportunity to connect with my kids,” she said. “They tend to be introspective and profound in these conversations when trapped traveling in the car with their parents.”
And if your child is feeling a bit reticent about opening up on their own during the drive, try one of Feiler’s conversational games: “Bad and Good” or “Pain Points.”

A special note about teenagers

Remember that University of Minnesota study showing that family dinner isn’t what leads to the positive outcomes in children? There’s one exception – teenagers. (Teenagers are always the exception, right?)
According to the researchers, adolescents whose families shared mealtimes tended to report fewer symptoms of depression. Study author Ann Meier theorized that these regular family meals might be an opportunity for parents to check on their teenager’s emotional well-being and intervene if necessary.
Note: There was no similar association between family dinner and adolescent substance abuse or delinquency, like shoplifting or damaging property.
But again, if you’re a parent of teenagers and can’t fit nightly family mealtimes into your schedule, connect with your kids with Sunday dinner or conversation during car rides.
No matter what your children’s ages, try to take at least 10-15 minutes a day to really be there for them. Put down your phone, turn off the TV or car radio, open your ears, and see what happens.

What You Can Do When Your Kid Prefers One Parent Over the Other

Though it’s not uncommon for children to prefer one parent over the other, it totally stings. Here’s what you can do to make it through.

“No! I want daddy to do it!”
Your three-year-old has wedged himself between the bed and the dresser and refuses to let you help him get dressed.
“Daddy’s at work right now. Mommy’s here! I can help you.”
You attempt to get closer and his little hands push you away.
The hurt inside you grows. “What makes dad so special? I’m here with you all day. And this is the thanks I get?” you think to yourself.
What are you supposed to do?
It’s not uncommon for children to prefer one parent over the other.
Sometimes this is due to a change in the parenting roles: a move, a new job, bedrest, separation. During these transitions, parents may shift who does bedtime, who gets breakfast, or who is in charge of daycare pickup.
Sometimes, a preference comes around the birth of a sibling. One parent cares more for the infant, while the other parent spends more time with the older children.
And sometimes, it’s just because daddy does better bathtimes. Or mommy tells better bedtime stories.
Regardless of the reason, being rejected by your child hurts.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to survive this difficult stage.

Tips for the “non-preferred” parent

Manage your own feelings

It’s okay to feel a variety of feelings when your child pushes you away. And, it’s okay to tell your child how you’re feeling (“I feel sad then you tell me to ‘get away!’”). But keep the big tears, angry thoughts, and hurt feelings to yourself and fellow adults, rather than sharing them with your child.

Build connection

If the relationship between you and your child is strained, take time to work on strengthening your bond. Spend quality one-on-one time with your child on a daily basis. Join your child in activities they enjoy. Or create “special” activities that are just for the two of you.

Empathize with the struggle

There will be times when the other parent is not available to come to your child’s rescue. In these moments, start by empathizing with their big feelings. Then, set a boundary. “I know you wish daddy could help you. It’s hard when he’s at work and mommy has to help you get dressed instead.”

Look for tips

As hard as it may be to admit, there may be something to learn from the “preferred parent.” Maybe the songs dad sings during bath time take the anxiety out of hair washing. Or the little game mom plays gets him moving in the morning. Stay true to yourself, and see if you can incorporate some of these tips into your parenting too.

Positive self talk

It’s easy to get down in the dumps or to start doubting your parenting when your child prefers another caregiver. Remind yourself that this is a stage, that you are the parent your child needs, and that your worth is not defined by your child’s positive response. If you can’t shake the negative feelings, seek support from a mental health professional or a parent coach.

What if you’re the “preferred” parent?

It’s hard to be pushed away by your child, but being the preferred parent can lead to feelings of helplessness, confused, and torn between two people.
Here are some tips for you:

Support the “non-preferred” parent

It’s easy to jump in and “save the day” when your child is calling for you. Instead of swooping in, encourage your child’s dependence on the other parent. You can stand close by, respond with empathy, and remind your child that he is loved by so many people, including the “non-preferred” parent.

Talk about “same” and “different”

When you are alone with your child, emphasize things that make each parent unique. Brag on the other parent’s strengths. Point out things that you both do well. Or, have your child list a few things she loves about both parents.

Be aware of hurt feelings

Keep in mind that the other parent may be struggling with your close relationship. Even though your child’s preference may make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, the other parent may be feeling jealous, frustrated, or hurt. Put your pride aside and give them time and space to talk openly about their feelings. (Remember, the tables may be turned in the future!)
Thankfully, your child is growing and maturing.
With time, they will move past this preference and realize that it’s possible to love both parents in unique ways.
Until then, take a deep breath, find some inner strength as you are passed over for hugs and kisses, and silently smile when the other parent is called in to change a messy diaper.
This article was originally published on Imperfect Families.