Explaining the News to Our Kids

No matter how old your kids are, threatening or upsetting news can affect them emotionally.

If it bleeds, it leads. The old newsroom adage about milking stories for sensationalism seems truer than ever today. And with technology doing the heavy lifting — sending updates, tweets, posts, and breaking news alerts directly to our kids’ phones — we parents are often playing catch-up. Whether it’s wall-to-wall coverage of the latest natural disaster, a horrific mass shooting, a suicide broadcast on social media, or a violent political rally, it’s nearly impossible to keep the news at bay until you’re able to figure out what to say. The bottom line is that elementary school-aged kids and some middle schoolers have trouble fully understanding news events. And though older teens are better able to understand current events, even they face challenges when it comes to sifting fact from opinion — or misinformation.
No matter how old your kids are, threatening or upsetting news can affect them emotionally. Many can feel worried, frightened, angry, or even guilty. And these anxious feelings can last long after the news event is over. So what can you do as a parent to help your kids deal with all this information?
Addressing News and Current Events: Tips for all kids
Consider your own reactions. Your kids will look to the way you handle the news to determine their own approach. If you stay calm and rational, they will, too.
Take action. Depending on the issue and kids’ ages, families can find ways to help those affected by the news. Kids can write postcards to politicians expressing their opinions; families can attend meetings or protests; kids can help assemble care packages or donate a portion of their allowance to a rescue/humanitarian effort. Check out websites that help kids do good.

Tips for kids under 7

Keep the news away. Turn off the TV and radio news at the top of the hour and half hour. Read the newspaper out of range of young eyes that can be frightened by the pictures (kids may respond strongly to pictures of other kids in jeopardy). Preschool kids don’t need to see or hear about something that will only scare them silly, especially because they can easily confuse facts with fantasies or fears.
Stress that your family is safe. At this age, kids are most concerned with your safety and separation from you. Try not to minimize or discount their concerns and fears, but reassure them by explaining all the protective measures that exist to keep them safe. If the news event happened far away, you can use the distance to reassure kids. For kids who live in areas where crime and violence is a very real threat, any news account of violence may trigger extra fear. If that happens, share a few age-appropriate tips for staying and feeling safe (being with an adult, keeping away from any police activity).
Be together. Though it’s important to listen and not belittle their fears, distraction and physical comfort can go a long way. Snuggling up and watching something cheery or doing something fun together may be more effective than logical explanations about probabilities.

Tips for kids 8–12

Carefully consider your child’s maturity and temperament. Many kids can handle a discussion of threatening events, but if your kids tend toward the sensitive side, be sure to keep them away from the TV news; repetitive images and stories can make dangers appear greater, more prevalent, and closer to home.
Be available for questions and conversation. At this age, many kids will see the morality of events in stark black-and-white terms and are in the process of developing their moral beliefs. You may have to explain the basics of prejudice, bias, and civil and religious strife. But be careful about making generalizations, since kids will take what you say to the bank. This is a good time to ask them what they know, since they’ll probably have gotten their information from friends, and you may have to correct facts.
Talk about — and filter — news coverage. You might explain that even news programs compete for viewers, which sometimes affects content decisions. If you let your kids use the Internet, go online with them. Some of the pictures posted are simply grisly. Monitor where your kids are going, and set your URLs to open to non-news-based portals.

Tips for teens

Check inSince, in many instances, teens will have absorbed the news independently of you, talking with them can offer great insights into their developing politics and their senses of justice and morality. It will also help you get a sense of what they already know or have learned about the situation from their own social networks. It will also give you the opportunity to throw your own insights into the mix (just don’t dismiss theirs, since that will shut down the conversation immediately).
Let teens express themselves. Many teens will feel passionately about events and may even personalize them if someone they know has been directly affected. They’ll also probably be aware that their own lives could be affected by violence. Try to address their concerns without dismissing or minimizing them. If you disagree with media portrayals, explain why so your teens can separate the mediums through which they absorb news from the messages conveyed.

Additional resources

For more information on how to talk to your kids about a recent tragedy, please visit the National Association of School Psychologists or the American Psychological Association. For more on how news can impact kids, check out News and America’s Kids: How Young People Perceive and Are Impacted by the News,
This piece was written by Caroline Knorr for Common Sense Media.
Marie-Louise Mares, Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, contributed to this article.

100 Phrases That Help Raise Confident, Happy Kids

The words you speak to your kids can become self-fulfilling prophecies.


“The way that we talk to our children becomes their inner voice” ~ Peggy O’Mara

Positive affirmations are associated with many benefits: they can increase children’s creativity, confidence, self-esteem, and self-compassion and have also been found to lead to emotional well-being. However, teaching children to adopt positive affirmations has its fair share of challenges. As one study suggests, teaching your child to use positive affirmations cannot work if those affirmations are unrealistic. In other words, if your son is convinced that he is a poor runner, asking him to utter a positive mantra such as “I am a fast runner” won’t work. When you think about it, this makes sense.
Trying positive affirmations with kids is also tricky because children respond better to specific and explanatory affirmations. “I am a fast runner because I practice for 10 minutes every day”. “I am kind because I share my toys” rather than “I am kind”. Problem is, making affirmations conditional means that if your daughter ever refuses to share her toys, then that logically makes her “unkind”.
An alternative approach to promote your child’s self-esteem is to foster a positive affirmation environment in your home by focusing on words that build him/her up.
The words you speak to your children can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Your children can carry these words with them throughout their lives. Indeed, just as wounds inflicted in childhood can have consequences that last beyond the childhood years, positive words can have a positive impact extending well into adulthood.

100 things every kid needs to hear to develop a positive self-image

  1. I love you
  2. I love you just the way you are
  3. I’m here
  4. I’ll always be here
  5. I’m so proud of you
  6. I was so proud of you when you (…)
  7. You make me laugh
  8. It’s okay
  9. It’s not a big deal
  10. It doesn’t matter
  11. What do you need?
  12. I’m listening
  13. Let’s talk about it
  14. Let me think about it
  15. I’m sorry
  16. I was wrong
  17. These things happen
  18. I know you didn’t mean to
  19. I forgive you
  20. Forgive me
  21. I believe in you
  22. I need your help
  23. I need a hug
  24. I love your hugs
  25. Do you need a hug?
  26. Don’t give up
  27. I know you’ll make it
  28. You’re such a kind sister/brother
  29. You are so great with (…)
  30. You’ll make a great (…)
  31. You’ll be great
  32. I know you’re going to be awesome
  33. You have what it takes
  34. You’re going to nail it
  35. I’ll help you
  36. What do you want me to help you with?
  37. You can try again tomorrow
  38. What can I do?
  39. Let’s do this together
  40. We’re in this together
  41. I understand
  42. I’ll go with whatever you decide
  43. Help me understand
  44. You can be anything you want to be
  45. Let’s hang out
  46. I think you’re so cool
  47. I’m glad you’re here
  48. You’re fun to be around
  49. Can you show me what to do?
  50. You tell the most interesting stories
  51. There’s only one you in the entire world
  52. You mean the world to me
  53. Yes!
  54. I know you’ll make the right decision
  55. It’s your decision
  56. We’ll find the solution
  57. What do you want to do?
  58. What do you think?
  59. We’ll try out your suggestion
  60. You always have such great ideas
  61. You have such great memory
  62. I know you did your best
  63. You are my sunshine!
  64. You are good enough
  65. You don’t have to be perfect
  66. You don’t have to be like your friends/sisters/classmates
  67. Thanks for trying
  68. Thanks for being such a great kid
  69. You can stop if you want to
  70. You can ask me anything
  71. I’ll try my best
  72. I like seeing you happy
  73. You are my greatest priority
  74. You were right
  75. That’s a great question
  76. I don’t know
  77. I like hanging out with you
  78. You have such an interesting way of (…)
  79. Wow! How did you think of that?
  80. Come with me.
  81. I enjoy your company.
  82. You make me smile
  83. You’ve got the best smile ever
  84. You’re gorgeous
  85. Yes, you can!
  86. It’s okay to fail
  87. It will get better
  88. I miss you/I’ll miss you/I missed you
  89. It will be okay
  90. You are where you belong
  91. You look great
  92. It’s great how you always defend your opinions
  93. I respect you
  94. You deserve respect
  95. You always finish first!
  96. I know you’ll achieve great things!
  97. We’re lucky to have you
  98. We wouldn’t be the same without you
  99. I was thinking about that time you (…)
  100. I was telling (…) how funny/interesting/kind/thoughtful you are

How To Raise A Good Person – Instead Of One Who Is Just Afraid Of Being Bad

They have to be motivated by more than just fear of getting in trouble.

We discipline our kids for a reason: we want them to be good.
When a parent yells at their children or sends them to their room, it’s not because they want their kids to suffer. We’re not just hate-filled gargoyles who want to stamp out fun wherever we find it. We’re trying to help our kids understand that their behavior affects other people. We want to make them better people.
But there’s a difference between raising a child who is afraid of getting in trouble and a child who understands the difference between right and wrong. When our kids grow up, we won’t be around every minute of their lives. If we want them to make good decisions when we’re not around, they have to be motivated by more than just fear of getting in trouble.

Don’t rely on fear

For a lot of us, yelling is the only way we know how to do it, after all, it works. When you blow up on a child every time they don’t do what you want, their behavior changes. Those kids will make a mental list of everything that makes you angry, and they’ll make sure you don’t catch them doing it.
Something happens, though, in your kids’ heads when you try to scare them into being good. They stop noticing the effect they are having on other people and, instead, focus on the consequences to themselves. Being good becomes something they do to avoid getting in trouble, instead of something they decide to do.
They might be good when you’re around – but it won’t last. The second you turn your back, all that good behavior is going to stop.

Let your kids choose

Children aren’t evil. Even babies are naturally capable of kindness. Studies have found that babies as young as 14 months old will try to help people in need. There’s a natural goodness in every person, right there from birth. We’re social animals. We want to help each other out.
One of the best ways to kill that natural goodness, though, is to make kids do it. Children are actually more likely to help someone if they do it of their own free will. Experiments with children suggest that, if you force a child to do something good for someone, they’ll do the bare minimum, but if you let them decide whether they want to do it or not, they’ll go beyond.
What’s more is that they’ll keep doing it. Children who are forced to do charity work only do it when they’re forced to, but children who decide to do it themselves will keep it up. It becomes a whole part of their being. In fact, the more parents give their kids rewards, the less likely the kids are to act generously.

Teach your children to control their emotions

Remember when I said that kids are naturally good? Remember when you rolled your eyes and said, “That’s not my kid”? You weren’t wrong – just because kids are capable of goodness doesn’t mean they always do it. But there are reasons for that, and one of the big ones is emotion.
Kids get mad. They have impulses. They have urges. When people get emotional, no matter how old they are, they start making different decisions.
That’s one of the biggest challenges of being human – controlling your emotions. We’re filled with feelings that tell us to do things that are incredibly destructive, and we have to learn how to resist them. That’s a big part of being good.
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Talk About It

If you want your children to be able to walk into a new situation and figure out the right thing to do without your guidance, they need to be able to think things through – and that takes practice.
That’s why we need to talk about what’s right and wrong. Bring up ethical scenarios, like, “If you saw someone getting bullied, what would you do?” and let your kids weigh in. Listen to their thoughts, share a few of your own, and help them practice the mental process of how to be good.
It’s something you can work into any part of the day. You can do it when you’re reading stories or you can make a whole game out of it – but it’s especially useful when your kids misbehave.
When your kids do something bad, don’t just get them in trouble – ask them, “What do you think you could do differently next time?” Turn that bad moment into an actual learning opportunity and they’ll learn to be better people.

Walk The Talk

In the end, though, the most important thing is just to set a good example. Children copy their parents – it’s just what they do. No matter how you raise them, they’re going to end up an awful lot like you.
If you tell your kids to do what you say and not what you do, your kids are going to see that there’s a difference between the rules you set and how you lead your life, and that’s going to teach them to do the same in their own life – they’ll learn that they can set rules that they don’t necessarily have to hold themselves to.
On the other hand, when we practice what they preach, they not only copy us but they also get better at controlling their urges. When kids know they can trust their parents, it affects the way they see the world – and it makes it a lot easier to grow up a decent person.

Nurture When Needed- Lessons of Parenting Learned While Gardening

Compost is another good metaphor: present failures will yield future successes.

Five months before the birth of my daughter, my days became consumed in bulbs, blooms, and denial. I studied Burgess and Burpee catalogs and trembled at “What to Expect When Expecting”. There was, however, a missing chapter: “Your Husband Will Be Consumed in Stuff Not Remotely Related to Child Rearing.”
For some men, it’s simonizing the car. For others, it’s crafting a pub shed to hide and drown anxiety in craft brews. For me, it was turning over very suitable and mowable grass for organic veggies and flowers of every shape, size, and ethnicity.
I was to be the Noah of the plant world, my yard, the ark, and my soon-to-be baby dove would have a lifetime helping me weed and classify and debug every miracle of God.
My dear, patient, and exceptionally pregnant wife Mary Jane did not share my affinity for dirt, sweat, and sunburn. “If it was up to me,” she said, “I would have a concrete garden or a bamboo backyard.”
I was shocked. When we were courting, she loved the outdoors and courtyards full of blossoms. She loved leisurely strolls in Cape May, admiring the gardens, but never the hydrangeas, which she deemed, “old lady plants.” She loved picnics by the pond near her apartment, after, of course, I cleared enough toxic Canada goose poop for my floral blanket and graduate-student feast of baguette, jam, and shame. And she loved nothing more than getting lost in the loveliness of Longwood Gardens.
When I think of us in heaven, we are sitting forever entwined near the Chimes Tower with the hint of lavender and lilac surrounding us with the gentle murmur of the cascading stream. For some reason, I thought this love of gardens would one day translate into her wanting to help make our own This Side of Paradise. Alas, such Adam and Eve communal digging and planting and reaping were not to be. Whatever shambles I made of our new yard was my mess. No wife would kneel to the rescue in bonnet, gardening gloves, and denim blue overalls (no matter how sexy I made this image appear).
I was soon over my head in enthusiasm. Alone. With only my spade as a dance partner.
One Saturday, I found “the perfect” garden center, and I spent hours with two carts, hunting and dreaming and planning my garden. I had an eighth of an acre, but in my mind’s eye, I had most of Mullica Hill, like some Southern gentleman farmer.
Before I turned solid green to mushy brown, I even considered installing a year-round greenhouse somewhere by the grill. I stacked my small sedan into a nursery, sealed with every imaginable pollen. My nose tingled. My neck tightened. My head got dizzy. Was it the fear of being responsible for a child that made me so light-headed?
“I think I’m allergic to plants,” I told my wife.
She looked at the trail of mud on the white tiles in her new home.
“I got you some beautiful roses,” I said as my apology.
She looked at the twigs doubtfully. The twigs, she knew, were not for her.
As the due date was approaching, I underestimated not only the weeds and the aphids and the Japanese beetles, but this thing called “husbandly duties,” – not the sexually enticing duties. For some reason, this baby was draining my wife’s energy, so I did more shopping and caressed more feet. I made dinner and I washed the dishes. No pregnant wife of mine was going to bend over to scrub toilet and tub.
Okay, when the great outdoors called, she did sometimes scrub and bend. I have since learned that nothing, even digging out an overgrowth of mint, should ever come before dirt inside the home. Then came the breathing classes and the birthing classes and the lectures with the lactation expert and this thing called a forty-hour a week job.
Nothing stubs more green thumbs than full-time jobs.
Madeline broke on through at the end of October, our own Halloween pumpkin, but no pumpkins grew in my patch of despair. Death and decay festooned the yard she inherited. So from her brand-new painted “Children of the World” nursery, in fire-engine red, I held Madeline and showed her her kingdom. “This looks like a scene from The Waste Land now,” I said, “but next spring… Just you wait, girl. You’ll be the prettiest flower amongst a rainbow of flowers!”
Then, as if on cue, she spat up breast milk all over me.
After a few months home with Madeline, Mary Jane started to work two days a week. On Tuesday nights, she even dared to spare two hours to renew and rejuvenate away from the demands of Old MacDonald. Her notes read something like: “Please keep lotion on Madeline’s butt! Clean in a downward motion. There’s frozen breast milk in the freezer. Reheat in boiling pot. I’ll be thinking about you guys!”
When Madeline was able to stay upright, I would place a bonneted and sun-screened slathered baby by the garden beds and show her the difference between “good plant” (petunia) and “bad plant” (chickweed).  My daughter would be my accomplice, which lasted thirty seconds. She pulled out a mum and raised the kill proudly, grinning all three teeth, to show me.
(It turns out she was her mother’s accomplice.)
I made great use of nap times. There was no need to ask why dirt covered the baby monitor, or why there was grime on Madeline. In the midst of a baby meltdown, there was no time to rinse and wash. “I don’t use any bad chemicals in my garden,” I said. “It’s all organic!”
“So Madeleine may have manure on her?”
“It’s certified organic!”
A bountiful garden may have mitigated such unfortunate encounters. After all, Mary Jane is a dietitian, and impressing her with several varieties of beans and tomatoes and cucumbers may have been a successful bargaining cornucopia, especially since I was becoming quite the culinary star in the kitchen. I had come a long way since my infamous Flaming-Scallop-and-Hazelnut Creamer-Shepard’s-Pie days.
Alas, once again, my gardening failures far outweighed my successes. Those beautiful, flaming red bushes in the spring were sticks stuck in the ground by fall. My carrots were the size of pacifiers. My peppers had no pep. And those promising hybrid tea roses in the colorful packaging? One or two blooms, and then mildew, fungi, black spot, Japanese beetles, Dengue Fever, The Black Plague, and some pest called The Wiggles.
I am, however, not one to be daunted. Those tempting seed catalogues would arrive, and I would plan my Wonderland, and then months later, I would survey my Land of Indifference, the time when time slips away, a day here, a week there, then the horrifying yellows of August and the ragweed and the sun brutal on crops and ego and pride. Season after season, year after year, that spiteful August sun spotlighted my failures. Then, at dinner, I would say, “You know, babe. Maybe next year I’ll just fill in everything with stone and start a Zen garden!”
I forgot what she said. Many words are not fit to print in a family publication, but it nearly rhymes with neuron and rings to the key of “irrational exuberance” and “dead rose bushes in old pots.”
And let me tell you: dead roses are not romantic. A running refrain in our home is: “Time to put some plants in pots and forget about them.” I hate throwing anything out. Placing plants in pots allowed hope for better behavior, at least until winter. That hope always went to compost.
Compost is a good metaphor: present failures will yield future successes. Gardeners know more about failure than most… no, after writers. Gardeners know that we only get better the more we fail: Too much potash, not enough acidity, too much wood ash in the compost, too little nitrogen, pruned bush too late, too early, hay instead of straw for compost, too much description, too much overcrowding of adverbs. Well, there’s a consequence. Dead plants, bored readers. To gardeners and writers, it’s all trial and error and Youtube tutorials.
Gardeners carry on a long tradition of failures. I take this knowledge of failure, however, and I am, not only, better prepared for the next season, but I am better prepared as a father. An infected watermelon plant that I rushed to the county co-ed for immediate consultation is much better than a neglected, infected child.
The lessons in the field carried over into the nursery, onto the playground, and into the classroom. I was able to see the big picture, to nurture when needed, and to let the damn thing alone, too, to grow at its own pace. I can anticipate what too much watering will do for my child. I know when to let the pot go dry. I know when to power wash an aphid off a rose, like a bad boyfriend.
Over time, over many seasons, I learned about south facing and north facing. I learned about nitrogen. I started composting. I started to understand science. My blueberry bushes flourished in the acidic soil, and Madeline loved the blueberries. Then the birds devoured them, and so I used netting. Then they got caught in the netting, and nothing saddens a child more than a frantic bird. 
Over time, over many seasons, and an additional, lovely child, Nancy – who loves flower arranging and cutting, but not dirt and bugs – I learned even more. Now with more land, and some more time, I am inching closer to that coveted title… Master Gardener.
Now at forty-seven, I realize that gardening and parenting are not all that different. While it is true that when you plant a carrot, you get a carrot, when you plant a kid, you never know what’s going to spring up. Thirteen years later that simple carrot could turn into a cayenne pepper. A plant placed in a time-out pot will never call you a “bad, bad gardener!”
My daughter Nancy once asked me recently if I started gardening as a distraction or as a stress reliever. “I started gardening to become a better parent,” I said. “Do you think it worked?’
She gave me a late summer bouquet from the garden. She spent a long time selecting and cutting and arranging. She called it “Remnants of Glory.” I think she answered my question.

Have Manners Changed Too Much Over Generations?

Phones at the dinner table? How RUDE.

Have you noticed that kids these days do not have the best manners? When I volunteer at my daughter’s school at lunch time, I rarely hear the children saying please and thank you, although they are certainly not shy about requesting more ketchup or cheese for their plate. Sometimes I like to give them a manners nudge by serenading them with the phrase, “More cheese please?”
My husband and I have always made teaching manners to our children a priority. While we do not expect to flash back to the 1950’s and have our children address every adult they meet as Mrs. or Sir, we do ask that they say please, thank you, and excuse me.
Sure, it takes quite a bit of training (and sometimes nagging as well) from the time they speak their first word, but we know that having good manners will help them be kinder, nicer, more successful people throughout their lives.

Reason for this trend

A 2016 survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs found that 74 percent of Americans think manners and behavior have deteriorated in the United States over the past several decades. Interestingly, clear differences between what older Americans and younger Americans consider to be rude behavior were revealed in the study.
For example, almost half of Americans age 18 to 29 think it is perfectly acceptable to use cell phones in restaurants, while only 22 percent of those over age 60 agree. This discrepancy indicates a clear trend in how manners and rudeness have changed over generations.
What is the reason for this change? Experts blame technology and busy parents for this trend. When both parents work long hours and children are raised by other caregivers like nannies and daycare or afterschool staff, they do not receive the same guidance and skills to help them form good manners.
It also seems to be widely accepted that teachers do not need to be responsible for giving lessons about manners. That means it’s up to parents to instill these values with the limited time we have with their children. Also, many parents feel guilty about all the time they spend at work, so they try to act like their children’s best friend instead of their disciplinarian.
Second, technology gets blamed a lot for kids’ lack of politeness. According to Alex J. Packer, Ph.D., author of the book, “How Rude! The Teen Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out” today’s electronic devices and social media lead to a culture of rudeness.
Communicating in brief snippets with texts and tweets distorts the intended meaning of words and can lead to perceptions of bad manners. Spending so much time on devices also pulls kids away from personal interaction with their peers and adults. This means they are not practicing how to speak to others kindly. Finally, when kids communicate through electronics, they have more freedom to be rude since they can be anonymous and removed from the situation.  

Why Good Manners Are Important

If it’s becoming widely accepted that manners no longer matter, then why should we care whether our kids have good manners at all? Just because everyone’s doing it, doesn’t mean we should follow the downward trend. Good manners are still critical to a child’s successful growth and their ability to build positive relationships throughout their lives.
At the core, good manners reflect respect for our self and others. When we say please and thank you, we are taking the time to make someone else feel appreciated. Additionally, Dr. Pier Massimo Forni, professor and co-founder of the Civility Project at Johns Hopkins and author of “Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct”, explains that it is crucial for children to learn to connect civility with strength and determination. This is achieved through character development in the home, and these positive traits can be applied to other situations in their lives.
Our children depend on us to show them how to be trustworthy, considerate, and kind to others so that they can take these skills with them throughout school, the workplace, and in their relationships.  

How To Teach Children Good Manners

It’s never too early to teach your children good manners, but you may reach a point that it becomes a major struggle if you wait too long. One etiquette expert suggests teaching kids the basics of good manners by the time they reach eight or nine years old when they completely understand what respect means.  

Some of the Main Concepts to Teach Your Children

Using nice words

Teach them how to say magic words like please when they ask for something and thank you when they receive something. It is also important that they learn to say they are sorry and excuse me when appropriate. Bottom line – they should try to be as kind as possible to others and treat them as they would want to be treated.

Mealtime etiquette

Work with your children to develop appropriate behavior during meals and special occasions, such as:

  • Put away electronics.
  • Wait until everyone is seated and served before eating.
  • Use your utensils and your napkin.
  • Take small bites.
  • Chew with your mouth closed.
  • Don’t talk with your mouth full.
  • Keep your elbows off the table.
  • Don’t pick food out of your teeth in public.

Interpersonal connection

Give them the skills to be able to communicate and connect with others. Some guidelines include:

  • Not interrupting others while they are talking.
  • Speaking in complete sentences instead of one-word answers.
  • Give full attention to someone talking to them, which includes looking them in the eye. 
  • Be sure to smile to appear inviting and interested in what others have to say.
  • If comfortable, shake hands or hug the person.

Good sportsmanship

Teach your children to lose gracefully and to always thank their opponent at the end of a game. By focusing on the positive aspects of sports and games like taking turns, learning new skills, playing as a team, and reaching their goals, there will be fewer bad manners when they lose.
You don’t need to invest hundreds of dollars in an etiquette class for your little one like some parents are doing; you really can do this yourself. It’s all about being consistent and modeling the positive behavior. Be mindful of using kind words when you speak to your children and other people like servers in restaurants. If you repeatedly say please and thank you to them, they will start mimicking your language.

You can also use some fun, creative ways to instill good manners in your children


Teaching Our Kids to Be Losers

Losing is the first step in teaching our kids to succeed.

The email landed in my inbox on an otherwise calm day, but as I scanned the list trying to find my daughter’s name, I realized the tranquility was about to end.  
“Wren, we need to talk.”
I explained to her that the speaking part she auditioned for in the musical had gone to someone else, but she was given a non-speaking part and would still be part of the choir.
“Wait, did they not know I wanted a speaking part? I mean, do I need to tell them at the next practice that’s what I was trying out for so they will understand?” Wren asked, and I wondered if there had ever been a time in my life when I possessed enough confidence to see rejection as someone else’s obvious mistake.
“That’s not actually what happened,” I said and proceeded to explain the finer points of being a gracious loser and looking at the audition as one for her experience bank.  
“You tried and didn’t get it, but that doesn’t mean the experience was a waste,” I encouraged.  As tears rolled down her cheeks, I started wondering about the benefits of the experience bank since my heart ached for my oldest child.  
However, research has my back. Yes, Wren lost, but that is now being seen as the first step in teaching our kids to succeed.

How Participation Trophies and Praise Teach Our Kids to Stop Trying

In the age of participation trophies and praise just for showing up, our children are unfamiliar with the sting of loss and the lessons that can come from it, such as perseverance and self-confidence. As nice as it is to get a trophy no matter what, researchers believe this trend is depriving our kids of life-skills.
Po Bronson and Ashely Merryman, co-authors of the book Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children, found that kids who are always praised and given trophies tend to achieve less because they enjoy the praise so much they fear failure. Fearing failure means they don’t persevere when they come across a difficult task. They would rather receive praise for doing less than failing and losing the praise.
How we respond to our children losing also has a huge effect on how they view it. Psychologists have found that parents who are able to address their child’s failure as an opportunity to learn from their mistakes have kids who are more willing to keep trying, even when a task is difficult. Parents who instead tell their kids to stick with what they know when they fail in a new area are more likely to have kids who think all skills are innate and can’t be changed by hard work.  
Basically, these children come to believe intelligence is set and when they lose, they are not intelligent. These kids are likely to shy away from anything they don’t know they are already good at, because who wants to feel stupid?

The Pressure to Win

It’s not that we shouldn’t encourage our kids’ desire to win. Healthy competition is not bad, but winning should not be the final indicator of whether an experience was worthwhile or not.  
Psychology Today found that while the majority of people polled believe trophies should only be given to children who actually win, there is still room to praise effort and improvement. It doesn’t have to come in trophy form, and there’s no reason to avoid the obvious subject of loss as if it’s too shameful to discuss.  
However, sincerely praising a child’s effort and rewarding them for how much they’ve improved and tried is much different than giving a child praise for just showing up. When parents know and express the difference, they can help their kids value the effort that went into trying as much as the accolades that come with winning.

How Parents Are Programmed Affects Their Response

As parents, our innate desire is to see our children happy, and it’s never a parent’s desire to watch their kid fail, even if the child can learn something from the experience. Plus, parents who have memories of feeling like a failure will fight hard to make sure their child doesn’t carry the same scars.  
Brené Brown, author of “Rising Strong“, also points out that many of us see our child’s successes and failures as a reflection of us. As parents, it’s great to have the child who is winning because we feel we own part of that success just by being their parent.  
Our goal then, according to Brown and other researchers, needs to be to deal with our own feelings so we can better guide our kids to a more accurate understanding of how to fail and keep trying. Brown emphasizes teaching kids to be the author of their story instead of only casting themselves as the losers or winners. This helps reframe experiences, good and bad, as a part of the narrative of life, and that gives kids both a sense of control and a more comprehensive understanding of how our response to a win or a loss is often more important than the competition itself.

Beyond the Participation Trophy

Failure is an everyday practice not reserved only for auditions and sports competitions. Our kids are given opportunities on school assignments or other endeavors to use their skills, and they are also given the chance to find out their project might not be the best, no matter how hard they tried.
Jessica Lahey, author of “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed”, believes it’s just as important for parents not to meddle in a child’s assignments to ensure they score the highest grade or receive the most praise. Encouraging a child to work hard and put in their best effort is enough. Parents stepping in to make the project or assignment just a bit better so their child won’t face the uncomfortable feeling of not being the best is not teaching them a helpful lesson.
The child who works hard and still doesn’t win will likely do better with the outcome than the child who works hard then has their parent step in to make modifications to their work. Our actions, not just our words, teach our kids what we think about effort versus winning, and always being the safety net to shield our child from failure says we don’t value the experience as much as we do the outcome, nor do we consider their hard work good enough.


With the research on my side, I continued to talk to Wren about trying hard at new endeavors she wanted to master as opposed to sticking only with the safe skills she already knew she could perform. She received praise for her effort, for giving the audition her best shot and trying something new.  
Focusing on the hard work instead of the outcome had a desirable effect. She marched back in when solo singing tryouts occurred two weeks later, unafraid of failing. She was offered her first choice solo song and has since signed up to compete in a bookmark contest and a Grand Prix race where she builds her own car, despite not knowing the first thing about building a tiny, mobile car. She will likely lose the last two endeavors, and that’s just fine.
It’s nice to see kids win some, but it’s even better to see them become accomplished losers.

Raising Twins: Say Hello to Cuteness and Goodbye to a Whole Lot of Other Stuff

The twin experience is unlike any other. Being a mom to twins I can tell you first hand that there is nothing cuter, more rewarding and interesting than watching your little genetic mutations evolve into people.
Yep. Nothing better.
And nothing harder.
I’m probably not supposed to say that or admit that, but it really is bloody hard. I am sure there will be readers judging, considering me ungrateful to even think of complaining about my darling blessings. If that is you, please know that I am rolling my eyes right now. Of course, I am thankful for my healthy girls.  I’m not stupid and I know that things could have taken a million different turns for the worse carrying and birthing identical twins. I pride myself on revealing the ugly truths in life, though, so I must tell you that aside from being two of life’s greatest treasures, the twins are also twenty-pound pains in the ass.
And that is the honest truth.
When you give birth to twin you simultaneously give birth to a long ass list of things that suck like they have never sucked before. This is going to sound as if I am complaining, and that is because I am. I have been carting these kids around like their personal sherpa for three years, my arms hurt and my back is royally messed up, so just let me rant.
Here are some of the things that you can no longer easily do once you have twins:

Run into the store

No more throwing a baby on your hip and running in the Rite Aid to grab Tampons. Every trip out the door is equal to a mission to Mars. For years you will have to drag your four hundred pound stroller out of the trunk as well as your squirming bundles of angry just to purchase sanitary products. The way I deal with this is Target. If I have to torture myself like this, I might as well get some cute shoes and an armful of clearance items out of it. Will I forget the tampons? Probably.

Getting into the car

You now run an assembly line of humans. I wonder if my neighbors sit at their window every morning around 8:30 and just laugh at me making forty trips back and forth to the car, sweat dripping down my face, toddlers wiggling and screaming, backpacks dragging on the ground, crazed mom screeching, “GET IN THE CAR!” All of this just to drop the big kids off at school thirty seconds away. At least you get your exercise, right?  Yes, I am grabbing at straws on this one. This part of the day blows. Period.

Walk… anywhere

Go ahead and try to walk into any building holding two reluctant hands. You will be dragging them within ten seconds. Your arms will be burning, people will be staring and the twins will be limp, screaming noodles destroying your will to live. This, here, is why we twin moms suffer through the heavy, beastly strollers. This is way worse.


You will never sleep again. Someone always needs something and they never need it at the same time. Invest in coffee. Ask for boxes of it at your baby shower. My twins currently crawl into bed with me every single night. One kicks me in the face and the other pummels me in the groin. Both cry if I so much as move a finger. Most nights I end up sleeping at the foot of the bed, like the dog.

Stay healthy 

There is no way to combat germs between twins. They share everything, including the flu. Just plan on wiping snot for exactly half of your life.


Don’t even try it anymore. Just stand in the center of your home from six a.m. to 9 p.m. and wait for the multiples to interchangeably request and demand things from you. They will never approach you at the same time so just put this possibility outside of your brain.. forever. You are officially their snack b*tch.

Be private

You are now officially an open book to all strangers and their queries. People find multiples incredibly fascinating and will ask you just about anything and everything. You could be standing in the drugstore browsing the feminine hygiene products and just when you think you have achieved obscurity it happens. Some loud, curious stranger approaches, coos and gushes over with multiples… and asks if they were vaginal babies! True story, this happened to me, only I was at the zoo.
So yes, twins are a blast. They are an achievement and a gift. You will be in awe of them everyday. That said, you will also find yourself cowering in corners, standing in the kitchen throwing fruit snacks at them and praying for three straight hours of sleep.

How to Crush Your Parent-Teacher Conference

This morning I received a reminder text from my son’s school that Parent-Teacher Conferences are scheduled next week. Thankfully, it’s not my first rodeo.

 Just this morning I received a reminder text from my son’s school that Parent-Teacher Conferences are scheduled next week. In the best Pavlovian tradition, my mind immediately recalled a couple lines from Walt Whitman:

As the time draws nigh, glooming, a cloud,
A dread beyond, of I know not what, darkens me.

In case you don’t understand my ambivalence, and lest you think I’m being overly dramatic, I will explain. In the beginning, when I was young and naïve, a newly minted mom so-to-speak, I cheerfully anticipated every opportunity to meet with my children’s teachers. I still vividly recall my first Parent-Teacher night.
As I approached the school, mounted the front steps and opened the industrial-strength security doors, I was happy almost to the point of giddiness. I anticipated what I was sure would be a delightful conversation. The teacher and I would review some sample work and test results, but that wouldn’t take long, and then we’d share some amusing stories all featuring my intelligent and charming son. We’d wrap things up quickly, pausing a couple moments for me to graciously accept her invitation to help host the school’s upcoming symposium on parenting.
Our conference was nothing like I’d imagined it would be. Nor was the one after that, or the one after that. In fact, you could say that I have been the one being schooled all these years. What I have actually learned is not to expect anything from year to year. I was just as likely to hear praise and receive commendations as I was to meet with silent (and sometimes not so silent) condemnation and recommendations.  
I am now on the tail end of raising six children, and while these highs and lows have kept me alert and engaged, I feel a desire to pay it forward and share some hard-won lessons with you, possibly sparing you some humiliation:   

Dress nicely  

Think Office Casual, if you will. If, for example,  little Katie has gained a permanent spot at the time-out desk, and you show up wearing a color-coordinated ensemble, hair combed and if possible carrying a day planner or iPhone,  then you will appear to be a reasonable adult with whom the teacher can negotiate. On the other hand, if you arrive frazzled, carrying an over-tired toddler and looking like you just finished putting out an oven fire, little Katie’s fate for the year is set.

Know your child’s name and the teacher’s too, if possible  

This seems obvious, but I know that after a day of non-stop conferencing, it is possible for the teacher or the parent to lose track of where you are and who is being discussed.  This problem can be alleviated when school districts refrain from scheduling high school, middle school and elementary conferences on the same day.  It is also helpful to have a spouse who is willing and/or able to share in the conference experience, but we won’t get into that at this time.

Bring reading material

Preferably something that appears intellectual, so hide your cozy murder mystery inside the dust cover of “Moby Dick” or depending on your school, “Atlas Shrugged” Despite all efforts to map out an efficient and optimal plan, the conferencing parent will eventually get stuck waiting in a long line. I find that taking along a good book helps me channel all my pent-up energy.  This is energy I will later utilize as I try to convince this same teacher that pinning Steven’s homework to his shirt is still a viable option even though he’s now in grade ten.

A good pair of eyeglasses makes all the difference  

One does not want to discover that after waiting in line for 23 minutes there are two teachers with the same last name and that is why the drill team instructor has never heard of Wesley. While this might give you cause for celebration, you have now wasted 23 precious minutes when you could have been sitting in your actual line, which now winds out the door. Actually, in the effort of full disclosure here, I have to admit that I occasionally use wait time to people-watch and the glasses are useful then too. Better yet, bring your sunglasses so no one knows where you’re looking.  

Accept that your child has a public life that can be quite different from his or her home life

I first discovered this when all my daughter’s middle school teachers complimented me on her sweet and charming disposition, while my son’s fifth-grade teacher voiced concern over how withdrawn he was. At home, my daughter’s angst over suffering the fools around her was tangible. She’d recently campaigned to paint her bedroom black and I had, for a brief time, worried that she was suffering from some rare optical disease because her eyes rolled every time I walked into the room. Meanwhile, her brother kept the family in stitches with his jokes and antics. Go figure.

Above all else, keep this acorn in mind: it will all be just fine  

When I first started out on this journey, all I did was worry. Was my child having a good educational experience? Were we creating an environment that was nutritious, loving and nurturing?  Was s/he making enough friends? Did s/he have too many friends at the expense of his/her education? What about the national deficit? Okay, I still worry about the national deficit, but with time I have worked through all the other problems. The kids are turning out just fine, thank you, and are, in fact, thriving. Also, because of some dedicated teachers, they’ve learned a great deal. I have rarely met a teacher who didn’t actually care about my child at least a little and most of them care a lot.     
So, I’ve learned to worry a little less and believe in things a little more, to relax, somewhat, and to enjoy the process, to have confidence in my efforts and faith in my kids. Actually, another verse comes to mind, this time a lyric from Leonard Cohen:

Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering,
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.


How to Help Your Children Handle Their Emotions

If every moment has the potential to lead to an emotional breakdown, emotion coaching could offer a solution.

Before we tried emotion coaching, my son used his feelings as a weapon. Every moment was an emotional breakdown. If he was a little bit hungry, he would erupt into tears. If he was tired, he would throw himself onto the ground. It was like living with a Shakespearean actor who never quite caught the concept of overselling it.

Everyone in the family had a theory on what we needed to do. “Just ignore him,” was the grandparents’ suggestion. “He’s just trying to get out of things. If you ignore him, he’ll stop.”

“It’s biological,” was my wife’s view. “My brother did the same thing when he was child. There’s nothing we can do about it.”

“He needs to learn that big boys don’t cry,” was mine. “Let’s just let him bottle things up.  He’s not going to have aneurysm just because he didn’t let having a brown spot on his banana reduce him to tears.”

We tried everything, and everything just made it worse. The more we ignored him and the more we encouraged him to be tough, the more he cried and the worse the problem became. By trying to shut down his emotions, we weren’t letting him learn how to deal with them – and so they just become more and more explosive.

Then we tried something different. Desperate for a solution, we scoured the web for answers. We learned about emotion coaching and tried it for ourselves – and it really worked.

Emotion coaching is a way to encourage children to acknowledge their emotions and deal with them. Instead of teaching kids to hide them or to explode them everywhere, the kids learn to understand the root of their emotions and deal with them in a constructive way – and it really works. In fact, one study had 244 families try it out, and almost every one ended up with less emotional outbursts.

Here’s how it works:

Acknowledge the emotion first.

Your child has just thrown a toy across the room. Or maybe they’ve done something worse – maybe they’ve thrown it right at you. If you’re like most parents, common sense is going to tell you to discipline your child immediately – but research shows that might not actually be the best thing to do.

Instead, your first step should be to acknowledge your child’s emotions. Children don’t understand what’s going on instead of their bodies. They don’t know why they’re reacting like this either. There’s a good chance your child is watching his bad behavior with the same mystified confusion you are and, just like you, has no idea what provoked him to do this.

Your child is going to have to learn how to deal with this, and you’re going to have to the teacher. You’ll discipline him – but you have to acknowledge that emotions are the root of the problem, first.

Label and validate the emotion.

Giving the emotion a name can help a child handle it. Since they have no idea what’s making them act out, they don’t know how to stop themselves from doing it. Labelling the emotion is the first step in learning how to do that.

If your child seems to be angry, let them know. If your child is sad or frustrated or disappointed or jealous, tell them. Saying, “I can see that you’re angry” or asking, “Are you feeling jealous?” lets them know that there’s a real emotional reaction happening that they can learn to handle.

This will have a major effect on their lives. Children who learn to handle their emotions endure negative feelings for shorter times, relate to people better and have stronger friendships – so as difficult as this is now, it’s going to pay off in the future.

Discipline your child.

Your child isn’t getting out of this unscathed. You’re going to validate their emotions – but you’re not going to let them get away with being bad.

Tell your child it’s okay to have emotions – but that bad behavior is not. You might say, “It’s okay to feel angry, but it’s not okay to throw things.”

Then, discipline your child.

Berkeley University recommends sending your child to a time-out, which makes a lot of sense. This way your child’s not only getting punished, but they’re getting time to calm down and reflect on what they did. They’re going to look at what they felt, and there’s a good chance they’ll work through most of the problem on their own.

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More About Time-outs

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When time’s up, let them come out and make them apologize for what they did. Then it’s time to tackle the emotion.

Identify the source.

Try to help your child understand why they’re feeling this emotion. A great way to start this is just by asking. Let your child tell you why they’re feeling this way, and try to help them understand what might be making them feel angry.

Sometimes this is easy. Sometimes a child is angry because someone stole his toy, and that can be easy to point out and validate. Of course, as every parent knows, sometimes your child is angry because of something completely insane. No matter how ridiculous it is, though, it’s a big deal to your child – and you have to let them feel like that’s okay.

Talk about how to deal with it next time.

Just like children have to learn to read, they have to learn how to be good. It’s not something that comes natural. You’re going to need to teach them.

Once your child understands why they had the emotional reaction they did, you’re going to have to talk to them about how to deal with it. Share ideas about what to do next time – and let your child share a few of their own.

You might suggest talking about your feelings. You might suggest taking a walk, or stepping from the problem and coming back to it, or asking mom or dad for a hug. The key is to find a solution that makes sense to your child – because if it makes sense to your child, they’ll actually use it.

Emotion coaching takes a little bit more time than regular discipline – but not much. When you sit down and talk to your child about what they’re feeling, you’re giving them the skills to handle these problems when you’re not around. When you just discipline your child, they’ll only be good when you’re around.

More importantly, emotion coaching actually works. Our son is getting better at handling his emotions every day, and now when we see anger or sadness creep onto his face they’re aren’t followed by tears. Instead, our child is starting to suggest the solution that makes the most sense to him:

“Can I have a hug?”

Storytelling: The Punk Rock of Parenting

Free, authentic, real parenting can be found in the punk rock of our time: storytelling. So get wild and tell your child a story.

In the mid-seventies, authors of the fanzine Sideburns posted the following, “This is a chord. This is another. This is a third. Now form a band.”  And Punk Rock was born.


Music was no longer hemmed in by virtuosity, by production value, by promotion, or by…being able to play actual music. Punk rock asked only one thing: authenticity. A simple, real exchange from one person to another.
Parenting involves a lot of exchanges.
All day long we “exchange” with our kids. We tell them the rules, we explain why one food is better than another, we encourage cleanliness, we discourage pinching, we talk, we demonstrate, we enforce, we measure things every other minute until they are asleep. And then we discuss what happened with another adult.
It is hard work, it is tiring, and most of the time, we don’t think we are doing it right.  So…we look to the experts. We read books, listen to podcasts, attend workshops, maybe listen to our own parents — and does this make things better? Usually not. Usually, it makes us doubt more, wonder more, and then search harder.
Enter Punk Rock.
Free, authentic, real parenting can be found in the punk rock of our time: storytelling.
[su_pullquote align=”right”]Free, authentic, real parenting can be found in the punk rock of our time: storytelling.[/su_pullquote]Now – to be clear – I’m not talking about the fancy-shmancy storytelling, the children’s album storytelling, the one-man “Odyssey” or “Lord of the Rings” storytelling, or even the wandering bearded folk-tale-spinning storytelling. I’m talking about you…making stuff up.  Simple, unpolished, and clumsy storytelling – that is where the punk rock lives.
And this is how you do it in five easy steps (and by the way, this works for children ages 2 ½ all the way to 11.  Older than that … is another article):

Set an intention.

Say to yourself “I want to help Caleb go to sleep without my help” or “I want to understand why Lillian is so mean to the neighbor girl” or “Help me stop getting angry every time George smacks his lips when he eats.”
This is important because it helps you really understand what you want. Is this story for him? Or is it for you? What do you want to learn?

Forget the intention.

Do something else. Go to sleep. Meditate. Do whatever you need to let the intention go and move on. This is important because the best way to ruin a good story is to try to control it. Once you start steering the story toward relevance or sounding good or being intelligent or interesting, you start pushing it around. And stories like to be free. They are punk rock – stop telling them what to do.

Say, “Once upon a time.”

To begin, you need to surprise yourself and start telling a story about whatever comes to mind, or whatever you see in that moment. You can even ask your child to say an animal or a funny name or a place in the world. Be surprised and then immediately launch yourself into the story.

Keep talking no matter what.

Let the story be a bad story. Let the story wander around aimlessly. Let the story be boring. Let the story make no sense. You will want to be interesting because you’ll feel you are in competition with video games or netflix.  Try to let that go and just be brave (and I know this is truly an act of bravery) and trust.  Try to keep going – because something will happen — it always does.  If you pay attention to this wandering, boring, incomprehensible story, you will suddenly hear yourself say something that is actually pretty interesting, possibly even profound. You will see your child take note and a sparkle will appear in their eyes.

Get wild and go tell your child a story.

But here is the thing:  after you hear yourself say something interesting and profound, do whatever you can to continue to get out of the way. Return to boring if you have to, but resist the need to control the narrative and wrestle it to the ground — that’s not punk rock. Let the story smash its instruments and when it seems like it is time to end the story, end it. Walk off the stage with no apologies. Say “The end.”
Leave the story alone. The story is smarter than you are, so resist the desire to rationalize it.
Don’t ask your child questions like, “What did you think about that armadillo – it sure was angry, huh?” Just say “The end” and then do something else.
Later – maybe even a day after — something will float to the surface for you or your child. And something will change. The fear of dogs will be less intense. There will now be sympathy for the annoying kid with the trick bike. Your child will be less worried about the first day of school. You will understand her better. The two of you will be closer.
It is magic. It is genius. It works. It is punk rock.
So get wild and go tell your child a story.