A Parent Primer on How to Deal With Bullies

It’s time to get a refresher on how to train our kids to stand up to bullying and how to advocate for them.

The moment your wrinkly, wailing baby enters this world, there’s one thing you’re sure of: you’re never going to let anyone hurt your precious child. If they try, they’ll first have to contend with mama bear.
By the time your child enters elementary school there’s one thing you’re sure of: you can’t possibly protect your child 24/7.
You have flashbacks of third grade when you were made fun of for the unlikeliest of things: your name, your lunch, your outfit, your glasses, you name it. While cyberbullying has taken the risks and repercussions to a whole new level, “traditional” bullying is still pervasive with one in three children reporting being bullied in school.
It’s time to get a refresher on how to train our kids to stand up to bullying and how to advocate for them.

1 | Watch for signs

Sometimes, bullying is not overt and children may not be able to put a label on it. When my son was in Kindergarten, for instance, his best friend would often force him to erase pictures he’d drawn or words he’d painstakingly written. When I asked my son about it, he matter-of-factly replied that his best bud had ordered him to erase his work, “or else he won’t be my friend.” It wasn’t a one time deal. My son couldn’t play with other kids or sit next to anyone else during circle time “or else.”
It wasn’t name calling or hitting but it was a power imbalance that amounted to bullying. Often times, we have to watch for the warning signs which could range from aggressive behavior at home to poor grades at school to something as innocuous as erased pictures. We need to take bullying seriously especially when it’s clearly a pattern of behavior that the aggressor exhibits.

2 |  Don’t confront the bully’s parents

As a parent, you instantly bristle with emotion when you know your child is a pawn in a bully’s hands. You want it to stop and you want it to stop now. But confronting the bully’s parents about their child’s behavior will likely elicit a defensive argument. Now is the time to use one of those “Keep Calm” slogans you see everywhere: Keep calm and talk to the teacher. Escalate the conversation to higher levels of authority like the elementary school coordinator, the school counselor, and the principal, if it’s not tackled at the teacher level. Bullying is not about a kid having a hard day. It’s a community problem and requires the community to come together.

3 | Empower your child

As important as it is to teach your child self-confidence, they also need a game plan for when a bully tries to engage them. Here are some strategies that experts suggest:

Teach them to report the situation

According to stopbullying.gov, only 20 to 30 percent of children report bullying to an adult. That’s a shockingly low percentage for such a pervasive problem. Teach your child to call bullying out, rather than excuse it, and encourage them to tell a parent, teacher, or coach about the problem.

Teach them to stay confident

Train your child to make eye contact and stand tall but never engage physically with the bully. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, it’s best not to encourage your child to fight back, as it could lead to more aggression.

Teach them to stay calm and be kind

This two-pronged approach is advocated by leading social skills communicator Brooks Gibbs. In a widely-viewed video outlining these two techniques, Gibbs teaches children strategies which are perhaps counter cultural.
The first rule – don’t get upset – teaches the child to play it cool. When the child (and this works best with tweens and upward) responds nonchalantly to the bully’s aggression, he or she communicates a simple message: what you’re saying doesn’t bother me one tiny bit. The fallout of this is that the bully gets bored. Once emotion is taken out of the picture, the bully has no ammo to continue his or her verbal tirade.
The second rule Gibbs advocates – treat them like a friend – goes one step further. It means showing kindness to the perceived enemy. And, yes, that’s as hard as it sounds. Gibbs’ theory is that if you respond to a bully’s verbal aggression with kindness that throws them completely off kilter. Bullying, Gibbs says, is an imbalance of power. Kindness unhinges that power struggle.
With a little bit of practice (okay, maybe lots), kids (and grownups) can get emotionally resilient and outsmart the bully. Bullying doesn’t have to be a rite of passage or an incontrovertible part of childhood. Let’s show our kids there are ways out.

My Kids Said “Mom” 159 Times in 6 Hours and I Nearly Lost It…Until I Made a List

At the end of the day, let’s face it – kids and their questions are frustrating, maddening, and hilarious.

Let me start by saying that I love my children. More than anything in this world. More than the nirvana of shopping alone at Target, more than Ben & Jerry’s Truffle Kerfuffle. Even more than Maggie Smith on “Downton Abbey”.
BUT. If I hear the word “Mom” just one more time today, I am going to lose my shit.
In fact, I just googled “how many questions do kids ask in a day” because I know I’m not alone here. Are you ready for this? According to a UK study, moms field nearly 300 questions a day from their offspring, making them the most quizzed people around, above even teachers, doctors, and nurses.
Fun fact: Girls aged four are the most curious, averaging a question every one minute, 56 seconds of their waking day.
No wonder emails go unanswered, laundry piles up, library books expire before they are read, we scramble at the last minute for that birthday gift (please don’t ever leave me, Amazon Prime). We are constantly interrupted during any given task.
As an experiment, I decided to make a list of all the times I heard the word “Mom” followed by a question or comment for the rest of the day. I grabbed a small notebook like Harriet the Spy and lasted six hours before my hand cramped from all the writing. In those six hours, I was beckoned ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-NINE times.
While I won’t torture you with reading all 159 questions and comments posed to me, here’s a small sampling below:

Nine-year-old daughter

“Mom, come look at this picture of Miley Cyrus.” (Please let it be the Hannah Montana version of her.)
“Mom, guess how many butt cheeks are in our house?” (Um…does the dog count?)
“Mom, who are you?” (Like, in an existential way?)
“Mom, this kid at school said that one middle finger equals 20 bad words. How is that possible?” (Oh, it’s possible.)
“Mom, I just found a HUMONGOUS house in California and it only costs $14 million dollars.” (Okay, I’ll get right on that purchase, sweetie.)
“Mom, can I put a ghost detector app on your phone?” (I’d kind of rather not know when there’s a ghost near me sooo…no.)
“Mom, I have a super duper secret.” (There should be no secrets from your mother. Ever.)
“Mom, do you want to play catch with me?” (Can’t, because I need a free hand to write down the 29 questions you will ask me while playing.)
“Mom, can I have a timer?”
“Mom, I can run down the hall and back 10 times in 37 seconds. Do you want to try?” (I’m good, thanks.)
“Mom, do I have to get the flu shot tomorrow? Because I’d like another few days to rest in peace before they poke a hole in my arm.”
“Mom, I got hurt.” (x3)
“Mom, what are we doing today?”
“Mom, can I invite a friend over?”
“Mom, what’s for dinner?”
“Mom, can I have candy?”
“Mom, do you think my Halloween costume will be good?”
“Mom, can you tell the dog to move so I don’t hurt him?”
“Mom, is today October 15th?”
“Mom, what’s a compass?”
“Mom (watching me type), why are you doing that?”

15-year-old son

“Mom, can you tell Ava to leave? I’m trying to watch a show.”
“Mom, have you seen my phone?” (x3)
“Mom, I can’t find my phone.”
“Mom, can I borrow your phone?”
“Mom, she’s bothering me again.”
“Mom, what are you writing?”
“An article.”
“On what?”
“How many questions I’m asked in a day.”
“Why, is it a lot?”
“Seriously? I’m adding that one.”

18-year-old daughter (away at college)


Mind you, I did this experiment on a Sunday, and my husband was home the whole time. He is a great, very involved, hands-on dad. But do you know how many questions I heard them ask him during that time?
ONE.
When I said no to playing catch with my daughter, she asked him to play. He immediately said yes, probably because he wasn’t exhausted from 158 prior questions.
When I sat down to write this, I only had to glance at the kids’ lists to realize something significant. The older they get, the less questions they ask. The less they share. The less they actually talk. They have their friends and their smarter-than-a-mom phones.
I mean, my older kids would never ask me what the population of China is, they would simply google it. To my little one, I’m still the go-to, the one with all the answers. And I guess that’s a pretty great thing to be.
It’s hard to face the fact that, though my older kids still need me, it’s just not in the same way my younger child does. Someday all too soon my nine-year-old will be my 18-year-old. One morning, I’ll wake up and there won’t be anyone left to pepper me with questions all day long. And the thought of that makes me sad.
Sad enough to try harder not to lose my shit when I hear the word “Mom” one too many times in an hour. Because, at the end of the day, let’s face it – kids and their questions are frustrating, maddening, and hilarious.
Feel free to comment with some of your kids’ best questions. I’ve only heard upwards of 159 today. I think I can handle a few more.
This post was previously published on the author’s blog.

Who Has Time to Write?

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

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

What This Harvard Project Determined About Raising Kind Kids

The Graduate School of Education at Harvard University project, Making Caring Common, came up with five strategies to teach kids how to be kind.

Being kind to others seems to be going the way of the dodo bird. I am appalled by the nasty comments I see floating around Twitter and Facebook. The shaming and the bullying. The judging and the hate. Social media has given an outlet for people to voice their deepest, darkest, meanest, most critical thoughts and people seem to be leaping aboard the nasty train in droves.
But I also see stories that give me hope the world is not lost. Stories of love, acceptance and random acts of kindness. It’s these stories I want to share with my kids. To teach them being kind has a huge impact on their own lives as well as the world around them.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise kids need to be taught empathy. Spend one minute in a room with two toddlers and only one Thomas the Tank engine, or spend one recess outside at an elementary school and you will quickly discover this is true.
So why are we not spending the time teaching our kids how to be kind?
We can sit back and blame it on being too busy. Trying to keep up with family, work, school, homework, extra curricular activities and social obligations in a day where 24 hours just isn’t long enough. Or we can blame it on the ever-growing pressure to focus on giving our kids the competitive edge. Or we can blame it on social media, technology and world events.
Rather than blaming, however, we can look inward and see what we can do to initiate change. And it starts with how we parent.
To address teaching empathy, The Graduate School of Education at Harvard University and psychologist Richard Weissbourd initiated a project called Making Caring Common. In 2013, they conducted a survey of 10,000 middle and high school students. What they discovered is that almost 80 percent of kids rated personal success and happiness as their main priority, while only 20 percent rated caring for others as a top priority. Those results are sobering. And a wake-up call that changes need to be made or we will end up with a society of narcissistic, self-serving buffoons.
They came up with the following five strategies to teach kids how to be kind.

1 | “Make caring for others a priority”

As a mother of three kids, I hear myself ask on pretty much a daily basis “How would you feel if…?” But it is not enough to ask the question. I want my kids to understand and internalize how their actions affect others. How their words and deeds can be used to either heal or hurt.

2 | “Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude”

Caring about others beyond ourselves not only makes the world a better place, but research shows that it also makes us happier, healthier and more successful. Practicing gratefulness and counting our blessings reduces anxiety, strengthens relationships, and fosters hope. So why not teach it to our kids?

3 | “Expand your child’s circle of concern”

There is life outside of our homes, our communities, our cities, our countries. There are people outside of our families and friends. Help our kids to see others, recognize their value, and include them within their world. Playing with the new kid at school, asking the grocery clerk how her day is going, saying thank you to the waiter at dinner are examples.

4 | “Be a strong moral role model and mentor”

Actions speak louder than words. But words matter too. How we talk with our kids and interact with them has a direct impact on how they will treat others. As parents, we need to pay attention to the messages we are sending our kids. When we get cutoff in traffic, when we’re running late, when the barista gets our coffee order wrong. And when we screw-up, which let’s face it, we all do, we need to acknowledge our mistakes and apologize.

5 | “Guide children in managing destructive feelings”

We’ve all been there. The flailing, the screaming, the sudden melting away of bones resulting in a puddle of enraged toddler on the floor. However, temper tantrums and angry outbursts serve a purpose. Not only do they provide an emotional outlet for our children, they also provide us with the opportunity to teach proper coping skills, such as deep breathing and finger counting. These strategies will help them understand and manage their feelings which in turn will increase their ability to be empathetic.
Yes, it takes a lot of time and effort to raise kind, caring, socially responsible kids. But in the end, isn’t it worth it?
This article was originally published at Her View From Home.

4 Ways to Make Your Kid a Conscientious Citizen

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

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

1 | Talk about the issues

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

2 | Make it historic

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

3 | Encourage empathy

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

4 | Promote perseverance

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

How to Guide Your Kid's Inventive Spelling

Encouraging your child to use invented spelling will help her become a successful student, even if the immediate results look disastrous.

Invented spelling – young children’s attempts to write words by recording the letter sounds they hear – has long been common in early childhood classrooms, but new research has brought it into the spotlight this year. A recent study suggests that engaging regularly in this analytical process is more effective at preparing children to read than focusing on word memorization.
What does this mean for parents? Well, for one thing, you can stop worrying that a note from your five-year-old that says, “U R A GRT MOM” means she’ll forever be reliant on spell check. Encouraging your child to use invented spelling will help her become a successful student, even if the immediate results look disastrous.
It also means you might struggle with how to best help your beginning writer. The following tips come from my experience as a kindergarten teacher and have passed the true test: I have a five-year-old inventive speller at home.

Take yourself back to kindergarten

As a proficient reader and writer, your brain works differently than a young child’s. You have a massive mental bank of words you read and write automatically. So it’s understandable if you’re out of practice at relying heavily on letter sounds.
It will be easier for you to help your early speller (and read what she writes) if you temporarily suspend your knowledge that the ending “shun” is often written as -tion or that care written without the “e” would technically be pronounced as the word meaning automobile.
Go back to the ABCs. Consistency between home and school is always helpful, so find out how your child’s teacher introduces letter sounds. Many teachers use a keyword carefully chosen to teach each one, as in this common phonics program. Instead of “E is for Elephant,” it’s Ed, to make the “short e” sound crystal clear. No xylophones or x-rays, either. The keyword for X is fox to teach the ending /ks/ sound.
For extra credit, watch this video clip to confirm you’re pronouncing each sound correctly when helping your child.

Set up for success

You can avoid some common pitfalls by being ready with supplies and ideas when your child wants to practice writing. It’s hard for new writers to plan use of space, so squeezing words into small areas will likely be frustrating. My son always chooses the tiniest scrap of paper, so I try to quickly swap it out for something with plenty of room.
Consider ditching the standard no. 2 pencil, also. Pencils break at the wrong moment and erasing can easily become a messy obsession. These nifty crayon rocks are a fun alternative. They come in a velvet bag, which makes them feel treasure-like, and have the added bonus of a shape that encourages a correct pincer grip. Many teachers also favor these felt tip pens, which slide easily across the paper.
It can be frustrating for everyone when adults can’t read what a child laboriously wrote. If you encourage a new writer to label an item in a picture or an actual object, you have a giant clue as to her intended message. Give your child a stack of large sticky notes and have her label things around your home. “Dangerous!” by Tim Warnes is a hilarious picture book about labeling that inspired my son to whip through an economy-sized pack of Post-Its.
There are many authentic contexts for writing lists, which are a logical next step after labeling. Suggest grocery lists, real or pretend menus, to-do lists, top 10 lists, and so on. You’ll have the list’s context to help you decipher each word. My son spent all summer getting ahead of the game and writing wish lists for Santa. A tad consumer-driven for my taste, but he was highly motivated to include as many sounds as possible so his message was legible.
Finally, if you encourage your child to attempt writing short sentences within a functional framework, the task feels worthy enough for him to see it through, and you’ll have something to go on when you try to read it. Encourage him to write thank you notes, signs, birthday cards or a caption to accompany a picture he drew.

Help, but not too much

So much of parenting is about striking the balance between giving help and leaving enough space for independence. Once your child gets the idea of saying words slowly and writing down letters for sounds she hears, let her go for it.
Constant correction or giving into to “How do you spell…?” requests quickly creates dependence. I find it useful to suddenly become very busy in another room when my son is trying to write something. When I’m out of sight, he trusts himself more.
At the same time, new writers need to maintain momentum. If your child is stuck on a sound, especially if it’s one you’re sure he doesn’t know yet, just supply it so he can move on. It’s okay to provide tips like how to spell the ending “ing” or “it takes s and h together to start shell” without lengthy explanations. My son often gets hung up on people’s names, which can be phonetic minefields anyways, so I just write them on a piece of scrap paper for him if he asks.
Like potty training, training wheels, and Velcro shoes, invented spelling spans just a short phase in your child’s development. I keep reminding myself to appreciate (rather, APRESHEAT) the window it offers into my child’s thinking. I know that, soon enough, the only notes I’ll get from him will be texts that he won’t be home for dinner.

When Parenting Ignites Your Imposter Syndrome

I’ve always wanted to be a mom and was decently prepared for it…so I never would have expected to feel like a big old fake.

Today, my spouse and I did something new that marks a transition in our parenting journey. We took our very first preschool tour. It was good, but I found that I felt unbearably awkward through a lot of it.
Sure, we learned a lot about the educational models they follow, and got to see the classrooms in person and ask some important questions. But I spent the majority of the time half wondering whether I was even supposed to be there, which is ridiculous.
I am a 32, with a child who will be ready to begin their pre-K program next fall. The application window is right now. Of course, I had every right to be there, as did my partner. (We even RSVP’d several weeks ago). Yet that awkward self-consciousness still permeated the experience.
Afterwards, my spouse turned to me and said, “I wonder if I was the only one there who felt like they were wearing an adult costume?”
“Well no,” I responded, “because I definitely did, too.”
“I felt like a stack of kids in a big coat!” she said, invoking my favorite metaphor for imposter syndrome, and a popular cartoon trope. “I kept waiting for someone to find me out!”
As a freelance writer active in a community of women and transgender writers, I’ve had a lot of conversations about imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome, also called imposter phenomenon is described by Dr. Pauline Clance (one of the psychologists to first describe it) this way:
“I experienced IP feelings in graduate school. I would take an important examination and be very afraid that I had failed. I remembered all I did not know rather than what I did. My friends began to be sick of my worrying, so I kept my doubts more to my self. I thought my fears were due to my educational background. When I began to teach at a prominent liberal arts college with an excellent academic reputation, I heard similar fears from students who had come for counseling. They had excellent standardized test scores grades and recommendations. One of them said, ‘I feel like an impostor here with all these really bright people.’ In discussing these students, Dr. Suzanne Imes and I coined the term “Impostor Phenomenon” and wrote a paper on the concept.”
In my totally unscientific experience, imposter syndrome seems to be experienced a lot by women, trans people, and nonbinary people. Perhaps we just got into the habit of constantly second guessing ourselves at a young age, or maybe coming up against gender bias again and again has affected us more than one might expect. Regardless, these feelings are real and can have a pretty dramatic effect on anyone experiencing them.
When I started writing professionally, it may have made sense to feel like an imposter. I had to present myself as a professional to editors, but I was very new to being a professional and didn’t quite believe it about myself. I often worried that I would say something that would give me away, everyone would realize I was woefully underqualified to write words, and I would go back to my old job selling dog food.
What actually happened was that I said plenty of wrong things (I was brand new, after all) and I received gentle and kind corrections. Mostly, the people I worked with were more than happy to fill me in.
You’d think those feelings would have dissipated with time and success, but they honestly haven’t very much. With each new assignment, I often find myself worrying that the next email in my inbox will be, “Why did you think you could write? You clearly can’t!”
Because I talk with other writers all the time, I know that such feelings are surprisingly normal, but I still wish I could make them go away. I’m decently confident, but I still feel like I’m faking it a lot of the time. I have always assumed this is (mostly) due to the fact that I don’t hold a formal degree.
Hi, my name is Katherine, and I don’t hold a formal degree.
Only, if my education (or lack thereof) was the reason for my imposter syndrome, why do I feel like an imposter when it comes to parenting? I’m pretty sure you don’t need a degree to parent! I’ve always wanted to be a mom and have been planning to have kids my entire life. I was decently prepared for it…so I never would have expected to feel like a big old fake.
I took Dr. Clance’s IP Scale quiz, trying to pay careful attention to my feelings about parenting and being a parent in the world. I scored a 78, which means I “frequently have imposter feelings.” The maximum score on the quiz is 100.
In groups of moms, I often worry that the other moms will figure out that I’m not really “one of them.” Whenever we’re faced with a new parenting task, like introducing solid foods to our baby, I’ve felt absolutely certain that I wasn’t good enough. (Please note that my two-year-old now eats three meals and two snacks every single day of his life, and in retrospect, I can see that I was perfectly competent – as are most parents – in helping him get to this point.)
I don’t know how to turn off my parenting imposter syndrome, but I do have one small sliver of hope in all this: My partner and I can’t be the only ones.
When other parents also feel like outsiders or fakes, like a stack of kids in a very big coat, and I can see from the outside that they are definitely not those things…maybe other people can see that I’m a decent mom, too? I sure hope so.

New Research Says Gamers Learn Better Than Non-Gamers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Halloween, by a Candy-Loving, Dentist's Daughter

I’ll admit, as a dentist’s daughter and a lover of candy, I’m a little Jekyll and Hyde over the matter.

Halloween (and in particular the candy procured) is one of my favorite Holidays – which is curious considering my dad, his dad, and my dad’s two brothers were all dentists. Of course, growing up the candy-loving daughter of a dentist had its daily challenges. Simply biting down on a blow-pop induced heart-wrenching guilt. (That sticky sugar just sits between your teeth!) But – oh holy day! – on Halloween, my dad the dentist smiled his pearly white smile, and allowed me to guiltlessly celebrate the holiday in all of its sugar-laden, cavity-inducing glory.
Even as an adult, there are many reasons to love Halloween – the crisp fall air, the childhood excitement, the silly and scary decorations, and obviously the candy – plus, there is no atoning for our sins and no sitting through sermons. It’s a holiday of untainted indulgence, until I learned information that shook my moral compass: A nationwide program called Halloween BuyBack is working with dentist offices nationwide for children to trade in their candy in exchange for money. I’ll admit, as a dentist’s daughter and a lover of candy, I’m a little Jekyll and Hyde over the matter.
To better grasp this internal conflict, it helps to understand that a comically tortured relationship with candy runs in the family: My dad used to keep a personal stash of sugary orange circus peanuts and sticky black licorice in his office cabinets – right next to boxes of “Stillman, DDS” engraved toothbrushes. He is now retired from his practice, but according to the website halloweencandybuyback.com, it doesn’t matter: This year an estimated 22,000 dental offices will be participating. I checked the website, and there a six dentist offices within five miles of my house alone. That certainly makes it convenient for my family, but do I make my kids bring in their loot?
While the child in me sees Halloween BuyBack as a Halloween horror story, the mom in me sees the obvious benefits. Like so many parents these days, my husband and I are stringent when it comes to our kids’ sugar intake. We are aware that too much sugar may lead to childhood obesity and childhood tooth decay, not to mention that my kids are like suped-up wind-up-toys when they get a pinch of the white stuff. We never give them soda. Juice is for special occasions. Dessert is a treat, and often taken away for bad behavior. Yes – when it comes to sugar, we are a million times stricter than my parents ever were, despite my dad’s dental profession.
Yet, like my parents allowed for me, Halloween has always been a free-for-all for my kids. So when I brought up the cash for candy concept with my third grader, he looked at me like I offered him broccoli for dessert. “No way!” He said incredulously.
With logic on my side, I tried to talk sensibly: First of all, he could not possibly eat all the candy he’d collect, even over several months, even with my help! And then there’s the “selfless lesson” because it’s for a good cause – the candy goes into care packages for US Troops. Lastly, it’s bad for you! It will rot your teeth and your body!
But honestly, my heart wasn’t in the argument. Nostalgia (and hypocrisy – I’m eating sour skittles as I write this) get the best of me. I remember the thrill of dumping my precious treasures into my desk drawer after a long night of hitting every house in my neighborhood. When I was little, I would have screamed like I saw Freddy Krueger at the thought of someone ripping my hard earned candy from my sticky fingers, and no amount of cash would have lessened the blow. (Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who asked the Tooth Fairy for gummy bears.)
But I’m an adult now. The teacher of healthful living, and selfless giving. So this year, I’ll try to be a better person. I’ll let my kids run house to house until their little arms ache under the weight of all that delicious, teeth-rotting junk-of-the-Gods. Then, that first night, I’ll let them gorge until they feel physically ill (like roll around on the floor, clutching their belly, ill). The next day – candy hangover in full effect – I’ll have them fill a ziplock bag to take to their local dentist office. I’m not sure who this will be harder on, them or me.
In the weeks following, they’ll each get a piece for dessert or as a treat in their lunch, until they forget it about it altogether. The rest is mine, all mine (duh!). And yes, Dad – I promise I’ll floss.

Putting the Train Together Again

Perhaps the hardest thing about being a divorced parent are the moments you feel real, powerful grief when your child is with you and you can’t show it.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
For months after I sold the house, it remained inside a large plastic bag in the loft. One of my daughter’s toys. The pieces were disorganized, and I was not certain that we had them all.
One day I began to organize the loft. Christmas was on the horizon, and our artificial tree was in the corner behind too many items for it to be accessible for the holidays. I got to work. My five-year-old daughter was with me.
“Daddy!”
“Yes, sweety?”
“Is that the pirate train?”
“I think so. Let me check.”
It was.
“Can we build it again?”
“I don’t know, honey. But we can try.”
“Oh Daddy, please let’s do that right now!”
“Maybe once we get the loft better organized. Okay?”
“Okay.”
The toy was a plastic pirate ship. A train track circled around it. As the train made its way up towards the mast, it reached a smooth part of the track where it would invert on its rapid descent down. Katie loved it. We had kept it outside on the covered portion of our pool deck, since it took up so much space in our small home.
Now that home was gone, one of many casualties of the divorce I had filed for nearly two years before.
Losing your first and only home feels like parting with one of your internal organs. A part of your life is over, and it isn’t coming back. And just like the body that must live and go on post-operation, you have to thrive once more though it may not immediately apparent how to do so.
I pondered the pirate train and its current state of affairs. I knew we had to be missing a few pieces. I didn’t see the train itself anywhere, just the caboose that attached to it, and while I may possess certain talents building things without a clear plan isn’t one of them. I saw all these obstacles before we started, but I didn’t want to disappoint my daughter. We spread the pieces out on the living room floor.
“Alright, sweetheart. Let’s see. I think this is the mast.”
“What does that mean?”
“The part that goes on top. Here.”
I fixed the mast to the topmost portion of the pirate ship.
“Daddy, look. The track goes together here.”
My champion puzzle-maker was right.
“Katie, that’s really smart. Good job. Let’s see how to do the rest of it.”
We set up the rest of the track. There were a few long plastic arms that didn’t seem to fit anywhere.
“What about these, Katie?”
“I don’t know, Daddy.”
“Me either. Let’s think about it.”
We both looked at the half-completed structure in silence. Then I had an idea.
“Look, Katie. This one goes here.”
“You’re right, Daddy.”
Then one of the arms connected and made a support for the other.
“That’s it, Daddy!”
As I enjoyed our success building together, I felt a tinge of sadness. I knew we couldn’t completely rebuild her toy. It wasn’t that it was broken, precisely. It was incomplete and destined to remain so. That’s why the pirate train could never be put together again.
Realizing that the same thing had happened to our family, a shudder went through me. I couldn’t put our home or my marriage back together, either. It didn’t matter what I did. I didn’t have all the pieces. Our old life was gone and more for my daughter than myself, I grieved. I was the one who filed for divorce and I still believe that I had to do it, that there was no other choice. But that didn’t make it easier.
Perhaps the hardest thing about being a divorced parent are the moments that you feel real, powerful grief when your child is present with you and you cannot show it. It takes every ounce of restraint you possess.
Sometimes, if we can learn from their unique form of wisdom our children lead the way. This was my daughter Katie. Her attitude was constructive. Absolutely, she wanted to build the entire train. She regretted that we couldn’t do so. But she has enjoyed playing with the mostly-finished structure for weeks. She didn’t regret, she just moved forward. She epitomized determination.
I may be a dummy, but watching her I knew she was showing me exactly how to move on and that I had the internal resources to do it.
“Besides, Daddy, maybe Santa will bring me something better for Christmas.”
“He just might, Katie. Christmas is only a couple of months away.”
Hope for the future that has every reason to be better than the past, no matter what is behind you. That’s what my daughter taught me. I hope I can teach her half as much.