Just a Word (or Two)

At our Jr. High Fun Night last Friday, I was coaching some parents on using one-word reminders.  “You need to write me a script,” requested one mom.

I use these reminders because they are less likely to make the hearer defensive, and because they aren’t direct orders.  They also don’t sound like nagging, nor do they have an “or else” message.

Here’s  a sample list of words and how I use them:

“Language” – Whenever I hear something inappropriate (including the popular phrase “That sucks”)

“Manners” – When “please” and “thank you” have been forgotten (e.g., “I need a new paper”)

“Walk” – Much gentler than “Don’t run!”

“Homework” – When someone is talking instead of working (usually accompanied by pointing at their paper)

“Volume” – When voices get too loud

“Hostile” – When they are being unkind

(Often I will tag on another word to make it a polite request, as in “Walk, please.”)

I get a kick out of hearing the students use the same phrases with each other – and with great success!  Spend just half a day in my classroom, and you’ll hear all of these at least once.


Wait. . .What?


I hear it many times each day:  “Wait. . .what?”  You can call it selective hearing – or you can call it selective deafness.  I choose to call it “The Bubble Effect.”

A morning conversation in my classroom might go like so:  “I want to pray for my grandpa, because his car died and now he has to get it fixed.”  Another voice will pipe up: “Wait. . .what?  His grandpa died?”  I will explain that it was the car that died, not the grandpa.  And then the next voice will say: “Wait. . .what?  Whose grandpa’s car died?”  And around we’ll go again.

It’s a fact of life with middle schoolers, right up there with waiting outside the bathroom door while your 13-year-old spends hours in front of the mirror.  And the two are actually related: they’re absorbed with their reflections because they’re studying the outward changes they’re going through, and they’re unable to focus on conversations around them because they’re thinking about the inward changes.  They’re stuck in their bubbles!

As they adapt to all these changes, I promise you they will creep out of The Bubble and gradually rejoin the world around them.

In the meantime, it’s irritating, but most of the time it’s amusing.  Take my advice – life with a teen is easier if you just shake your head and laugh.

Wait. . .what?

Morning Battles

One of the joys of Empty Nesting is getting up and leaving for school whenever I want to.  But I haven’t forgotten when my mornings went like this:

The alarm rings and I get out of bed, stumble into the the boys’ rooms, and wake them up.  After I shower I discover at least one boy still buried under the covers.  I remind him that I need to get to school early, and I head downstairs for breakfast.  Ten minutes later I find him still in bed, and now I start to threaten:  “If you make me late again, you’re grounded!”  This actually gets him out of bed, but he moves so slowly that I wind up sitting in the car waiting for him.  We leave 10 minutes later than we should, and I find myself dashing through the door at school a few minutes late.

To solve this issue, we tried several options which  met with partial success:  making lunches the night before, setting multiple alarms in their bedrooms, and promising a McDonald’s or Starbucks stop if we left early – all of which I recommend.

But what worked best for Matt, my most difficult morning riser, was sitting down with him and hammering out a customized Incentive Plan.

Because he liked complicated plans, we made it challenging.  If he could get up on time (and “on time” was clearly defined) for five days in a row, he would earn $5.00 toward the video game of his choice.  But if he went four days and then slept late on the fifth, he had to start all over again.  While he enjoyed the complexity of the plan, what he liked best was giving input on how it was going to work.

That’s your key to making mornings easier in your house.  Take the time to explain why tardiness is not acceptable, and then engage your kids in figuring out how to get up and out of the house on time.  When the plan you’ve agreed upon stops working, call a family meeting and come up with a new one.

(If all else fails – invest in a rooster.)


Dear Blog Readers:

Thank you for reading – and sharing – this blog for the last few years.  Now I have a favor to ask. . .

Today an editor at Focus on the Family showed great interest in publishing a book on parenting middle schoolers, co-authored by Cynthia Tobias and yours truly.  It looks like we’re really going to write it (a dream come true for me)!  Cynthia has already proven herself, but it would be good for the editors to know there are also people interested in reading my writing.  Having more followers on my blog would help my case immensely.

Would you please consider becoming an email subscriber?  If so, just go to the blog’s home page (mrsacuna.wordpress.com)  and look to the right.  You’ll see an invitation to enter your email and sign up.  You won’t receive any spam from WordPress – you’ll just receive my newest blog in your email every time I write one.

If you share my blog with others, or if you share it on Facebook, would you please invite others to sign up, too?  That way, if Focus on the Family checks out my blog, they’ll see there ARE readers out there who know who I am.

Thanks so much!

Mixed Reviews

The first week – or weeks – of school are ending, and chances are good that parents of middle schoolers can’t decide if it’s been a good start or a bad start!

A second grader will come home from school the first day and say, “Guess what?  Teacher has a rabbit in our class and she says we can pet it on Friday if we’re good.  And on Friday we get to buy popcorn for only 50 cents a bag – can I have 50 cents?  And guess what else? I got to sit on the carpet and read three books this afternoon and Teacher said what a good reader I am!”  And all this information might come pouring out before the parent can even ask how the day went.

The conversation with a middle schooler on the first day might go like this:

Parent:  How was school?

MS: Fine, but it was only the first day.

P:  Was it nice seeing your friends?

MS:  Yeah, but I don’t have Taylor in any of my classes.

P:  What was the best part of your day?

MS:  Well, my math teacher didn’t give us any homework, so that was good.  Nothin’ else was good.

And then day two might sound like this:

Parent:  How did today go?

MS: It was so awesome!  The fire alarm went off during algebra, so we all had to go outside and when we came back in, it was too late for a new assignment!

P:  Oh?

MS:  Yeah, and then at lunch we made Heather laugh so hard she blew milk out of her nose, and Todd fell out of his seat because he was laughing so hard.

P: Sounds like an interesting day.

Ms:  Yeah, I can’t wait to see what happens tomorrow!

There are a couple things going on here.  First of all, it’s not always cool to like school too much.  (In middle school it may not be cool to like anything too much, lest you bring upon you the scorn of your peers.)  Secondly, while a parent may want to know about teachers and classes, a middle schooler is mostly interested in friends and social goings-on.

The best thing a parent can do is sound interested in whatever is shared with excitement.  Try to show you understand why it was so funny/dumb/irritating, and you’ll be sure to hear more stories about fire drills and spewing food!