Archive for the ‘Tips and Tricks’ category

A New Year of Parenting Resolutions

January 5, 2014

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Christmas – with all its stresses and joys – has come and gone yet again.  If it feels like it passed quickly, take heart – so too will your years of parenting an adolescent.  It’s an important transition time, one to enjoy and explore rather than merely to endure.  That could be your first parenting resolution!   Here are three more to consider:

Respect your kids.  No matter how much you tell them to respect you, they’re not going to learn how unless you’re modeling it.  Parents show respect when they make requests with “please” (and follow up with “thank you”), when they don’t interrupt,when they speak in calm voices, and when they make eye contact.  Look back over that list – aren’t those all behaviors you want from your children?

Listen with empathy.  When I tell my husband about my bad day, I want him to say, “Wow,” or “That sounds awful.”  I do not want him to tell me that I shouldn’t be so upset, or that his day was worse.  Nobody feels the need to be understood more than an emotional, moody teen.  If parents won’t listen, there’s always somebody else who will.

Praise your kids more.  And in public, even if it makes them squirm.  But be low-key about it:  “Hey, I noticed you picked up your dirty clothes” will be more appreciated than, “Wow, you picked up your clothes?  Good for you!  Thank you so much!”  (And by all means, don’t sneak criticism into your praise, as in “Maybe there’s hope for you yet.”)

Enjoy, respect, listen, praise.  And have a happy New Year!

Christmas in Adolescence

December 23, 2013

grIt may sound like a Hallmark movie, but anyone who’s experienced Christmas in Adolescence with an adolescent knows the mushy, feel-good happy ending isn’t likely to happen.  For some, just having a non-UNhappy ending would be nice.

If you’ve got the teen who hugs herself and gushes, “I just love Christmas!” then you’re among the blessed.  But some teens are more like my son at 16 who complained about listening to Christmas music, refused to part with a penny of his own money for gifts, and on Christmas morning seemed uninterested in any of his presents (which had been carefully chosen by his loving mother).  How can you keep moody teens from ruining the holiday for everyone else?

First off, you can’t change the attitude.  If they’re choosing to be difficult, they’re going to hang on with all their might, leaving you two options: ignore the prickliness and pretend they’re happy, or excuse them from the festivities.  A direct confrontation would only make everyone tense.

Secondly, have a little compassion.  It’s a transitional time; middle school often marks a big change in how Christmas (often disguised as Winter) is celebrated at school.  The magic and wonder of childhood Christmases is waning, and they’re trying to figure out what’s considered too childish at their age and what’s still acceptable.

One way to encourage a little Christmas spirit is to steer their focus away from themselves.  Get them involved in baking, wrapping (messy packages are okay), addressing Christmas cards, or being helpful to someone in need.  Secret Santa deliveries to neighbors or relatives can give them warm feelings while teaching the virtue of generosity.

Like the Grinch, adolescents need to learn that Christmas isn’t about their own happiness.  Christmas – perhaps – means something more. . .

Inaction is Safer Than Wrong Action

October 28, 2013

candy

Last night our school held its annual Fall Festival, and several middle school students volunteered as helpers.  One of their jobs was to keep the candy prizes stocked from the stash in the storage room.  An adult helper was amused at how the students would hold their empty buckets over the large candy-filled bin and state, “I need more candy.”  “They didn’t see the pile of candy right in front of them!” he exclaimed.

They saw it, all right.  But they are still on the threshold between the worlds of children and adults, and in a child’s world, you can get yelled at for taking the initiative.

In class last week, Abi asked for my closet key so she could securely store her phone.  As she returned the key, I noticed the closet door was standing wide open.  “Abi,” I said, “your phone isn’t very safe if the door isn’t closed.”  “I know,” she said, “but that’s how I found it.”

Middle schoolers appear to have no common sense because what passes as “common sense” to adults is actually wisdom that comes from experience.   For most middle schoolers, it’s safer not to do anything and take the consequences.

A 7th grader was sent to my room by his teacher early in the day.   As my students rose to their feet to pledge to the flag, the 7th grader started to stand up, hesitated, and sat back down.  He was torn between standing – and risking the 8th graders telling him to sit because he’s not part of our class – or sitting and appearing disrespectful. He chose the latter.

Instead of yelling at middle schoolers when they choose not to do something, parents should first ask why, and then use it as a teachable moment.  Abi now knows that security is the best choice, and the 7th grader knows that standing is always respectful.

As far as the candy goes, it doesn’t matter.  It’s long gone!

 

 

Throwback. . .Classroom?

September 29, 2013

Respect HatHannah, my most frequent dress code questioner, had a valid question: “Why is it wrong for guys to wear hats inside the building?”   I told her I was sure that once upon a time there was a good reason, but all I knew was that it was tradition, a form of courtesy that isn’t always observed anymore.  I told her -and the class – how sad it is for me to see men with their hats on in restaurants and even in church.

I went on to discuss how much of what used to be common courtesy has gone by the wayside, which in turn has led to strangers screaming at each other in public, road rage, and bad sportsmanship at basketball games, among other unpleasant displays.

My students were curious about what other traditions have disappeared or are disappearing.  I told them that men used to stand up whenever women entered or left the room (it happens in almost every episode of Downton Abbey!).  In fact, I said, there was a day when students would rise to their feet every time an adult entered the room.  They were intrigued:  “Can we do that?”  I told them they could and cautioned them that it would have the most impact if they were silent as they did so.

They started it about a week ago and have kept it up, delighted and surprised at the reaction of teachers when they experience such a show of respect.  On Friday a parent volunteer came in and seemed embarrassed at the attention.  As I do with all astonished guests, I murmured, “Invite them to be seated.”  She did, and they sat, pleased with themselves.

I don’t know how long it’ll last, but secretly I hope it will become such a habit that they will forever be known as “That really respectful 8th grade.”

Back to School Battles

August 26, 2013

tnwgWhether school has started or will be starting in a few days, chances are the battles have begun.  They may be about what can or cannot be worn to school, which backpack or binder fits into the budget, or what a reasonable bedtime is.

Parents of middle schoolers quickly learn that “Because I said so!” doesn’t win many arguments; in fact, it leads to more arguments – and more battles.  It’s at this point that parents throw up their hands and say, “I don’t know what to do with him anymore!  I just can’t win!”

Remember that line from the movie War Games?  “The only winning move is. . .not to play.”  It’s great advice for dealing with emotional, unpredictable, fast-growing middle schoolers.  Try to avoid as many battles as you can.  Instead, try postponing – “I’ll have to think about that and get back to you this weekend” – but do give a deadline so you don’t sound like you’re just putting them off.  Or negotiate – “You can have that binder, or you can have the shoes you wanted; make a choice.”  Or hold your ground – but use empathy – “I know how much you want that shirt, and I’m sorry I have to disappoint you, but. . .”  (Be sure to give a concrete reason.)

The trouble with loud, messy battles is that you can’t really win.  Just like in thermonuclear war, the winner suffers as much as the loser.  And too many battles can cost you the most valuable prize of all – your relationship with your middle schooler.

Don’t compromise your standards, don’t wimp out on your parenting responsibilities, and don’t spoil your children.  But try to avoid ugly battles that cause more harm than good.  And do everything you can to stay connected to your middle schooler, even when you have to cause some disappointment.

In the meantime. . .”How about a nice game of chess?”

Are They Deaf?

June 9, 2013

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One afternoon Cynthia and I were out walking when we heard loud voices coming from somewhere nearby.  Concerned and wondering if we were coming up on a fight, we spied three freshman-aged boys about two blocks away. Definitely not fighting, they were having a good time laughing and talking – or rather yelling - at each other.

Teens are loud.  That could be the end of the blog right there, but let’s chat about why.

Like many activities that bother adults, being overly loud is part of The Bubble Effect (see “Wait. . .What?” for more on The Bubble).  Teens are still young enough to get louder as their excitement grows, and they forget others nearby aren’t sharing their enthusiasm.  This actually starts when they were four or five, but then they have higher, cuter voices.  By age 13 or 14 their deeper and stronger voices can really carry – and annoy.

When I observe this in the lunchroom, I’ll hold my hands about a foot apart and say, “She’s only this far away; you don’t have to yell at her.”  The response is always, “I wasn’t yelling!”  But the voices will be quieter as I walk away – for about seven seconds.

Sometimes I use a one-word prompt – “Volume!” – to let students know they’ve gotten too loud.  When out in public, I’ve been known to stare across the lobby with my best teacher face until a group of noisy teens figures out why I’m looking their way.  A look that says, “Really?” can be very effective.

Because until that moment, they’ve had no idea how high their volume is.

It’s An E-Ticket Ride

June 2, 2013

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“She’s so emotional!  When I started talking about her new school, she burst into tears, ran to her room, and locked the door!”

It’s a familiar story at the end of the year, whether or not there’s a new school involved.  Middle schoolers are such emotional creatures anyway, and all of the emotions that come with endings and new beginnings bubble up and overflow.  The adults in their lives find themselves riding a roller coaster with blind turns, breathtaking climbs, and alarming dips.

The best thing a parent can do is to hold their middle schooler’s hand during the scary parts, high five them during the exciting parts, and try not to be caught off guard by the next outburst.

At our school, the 8th graders graduate in June and go off to either 9th grade at a junior high, or freshman year in high school.  Doesn’t matter where they go, they’re leaving behind all that’s been familiar – for 10 years for some of them – and heading into foreign territory.  Their comments throughout the year swing from “I can’t wait!” to “I don’t want to go!”  I tell them they should be ready to leave but sad to go, and they appreciate that I understand how mixed up they are.

That’s the parents’ job, too – to show they understand.  A middle schooler will appreciate a parent who shows empathy far more than a parent who belittles – or worse, who tries to change – their feelings.

 

Caught!

May 24, 2013

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As I walked down the hallway this week, Taylor and Elysia sped past me going the opposite direction.  “Ladies,” I said, “thanks for not running in the hall!”  “You’re welcome!” they called back as they continued on their way - speed walking as before.

It’s important to catch kids doing the right thing – and then to comment on it.  We raised our kids with the philosophy: the behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated.  But you have to teach the desired behavior instead of focusing on the undesired behavior.  It’s easier to teach what to do than what to not do.  When I see kids running in the hall, I say, “Walk, please” instead of “No running!”  I’ve also told them it’s okay to SPEED walk – a tip these two girls took to heart.

Our Life Skills class planted flower seeds this spring; last week they brought their baby plants into the classroom so they could take them home.  When Dirk moved his from one side of the table to the other, he left a trail of dirt behind.  Without prompting, he grabbed the trash can and brushed the dirt into it.  When I thanked him for doing the right thing and not brushing it onto the floor, he grinned in appreciation.

Tell your kids what behavior you expect from them, and then when you catch them doing it – speak up!

Eggs Over Medium – and Hold the Phone

May 19, 2013

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We were out to breakfast one morning when I noticed two 12-ish girls sitting at their own table, near but not with their family.  As they chatted and giggled I realized what was unusual – neither had an electronic device in her hand!

When we go out to eat, most of the kids I see are either using their own phones, or – if they’re really little – their parents’ phones.  Or they’re playing on a Nintendo DS.  To see two girls looking each other in the eye while they talked and laughed was a nice change.

This may be one of the hardest skills for parents to model, because we’ve become so addicted to our smartphones that we check them every few minutes.  But table manners and restaurant etiquette can’t be taught just by talking about them; they have to be practiced.

The next time you take your family to a restaurant, try coming to an agreement before you leave.  Maybe phones are okay until the food comes.  Or maybe no phones out until after the meal.  Or turn it into a competition. . .

Have you heard about how college students will pile their phones in the middle of the table, and the first to give in and look has to pay the bill?  In a family, it might be whoever looks first has to do the others’ chores or put money into a family fund.  Awareness of the problem is the first step; agreeing on a solution is the second.

The bottom line:  technology should never be an excuse for being antisocial.

I’m Still Seeing Attitude

May 7, 2013

theone

I expected it:  some parents got defensive after the last post (All That Attitude).  “But,” they said, “what if I’m speaking in a calm and reasonable tone and I still get attitude?”

That’s when you use “The One,” which is simply your index finger pointed up, as in “Wait.”  Don’t comment on the attitude and don’t reply to what’s being said (it’s probably just to bait you anyway); instead, say, “Wow.  I don’t feel very respected by your tone (or words).  Could you try that again, but more respectfully, please?”  As lame as it may sound, I have almost 100 percent success with this.

If the comment is repeated in a nicer tone, then respond pleasantly or with empathy, depending on what is said.  For example, your reply to “Why do I have to do all the work around here?” might be, “It feels like it sometimes, doesn’t it?  I can totally relate.”

If it’s out of line no matter the tone, as in, “I said, ‘I hate my brother,’” don’t overreact.  You can deflect attitude by being neutral – try shrugging and saying, “Seems like everybody feels that way once in awhile.”  No need to lecture on using “hate” or other strong language; by middle school, they’ve heard it.  Again,  you’re being baited.

If the comment isn’t repeated because the speaker knows it’s over the line, or because not repeating it is a power ploy (“Just forget it”), then let it go.  End the conversation.  Change the subject.  Avoid getting sucked into a battle that isn’t related to anything else.

It takes patience and willpower to head off an Incident, and you may need to phone a friend to vent afterward, but stick with it and you’ll see the dreaded Attitude diminish.

(Just be sure you’re not the one who invites it back.)


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