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My son is being bullied

My son, Troy, is nine years old and he is being bullied by a younger child at day camp, a seven year old. He tries to stay away from him, but this child seeks him out, and seems to have a real gift for knowing when the adults will be looking the other way. I’ve asked Troy why he doesn’t stand up to the other boy, and he says he’s tried telling him to stop. But the child does mean things like closing his fingers in drawers and he can’t always be confronted before he does them. 

Troy is getting angrier and this makes him scared he’ll do something that will really hurt the boy and get himself into serious trouble.

This sounds like a very painful situation both for you and your son. You don’t say how long it’s been going on, but even a day or two without resolution can cause an enormous amount of strain for a child.

I assume that you’ve made the day camp teachers and director aware of the situation? This should be the first thing, of course. If you can increase the awareness of the teachers somewhat, the child will find fewer opportunities to target Troy. Be sure to include Troy in a conversation with the teachers or director. It will be most helpful if Troy can talk about his experience and feel heard by those who are in charge of safety at the program.

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to go to work on helping Troy to feel safer and more empowered in general. A child who is targeted by bullies typically is experiencing feelings of disempowerment in a general sense, not simply where the bullies are finding him.

How often are feelings discussed in your family? What are the rules for sharing feelings? If someone is scared, who can they tell? Can a child tell a parent if the parent scares them? Under what circumstances? How would the parent react?

The single most important gift a parent can give a child is to be interested in knowing and loving who they are: warts and all. No one on Earth is perfect, that is the nature of our Earthly existence. We all embody goodness and flaws. In some families, the emphasis on good behavior is so strong that a child can struggle with handling the darker emotions such as disappointment, anger and disgust. Children need more support with these difficult feelings, but often they receive less. 

For example, sometimes the behaviors children engage in when they’re in the midst of challenging feelings cause a parent to feel out of control, so the parent exerts control over the child, perhaps by saying “go to your room!” A child who is expressing disappointment or anger in a usual, childish way, maybe by having a tantrum or using rude language—then receives this message from being sent to their room (1) that disappointment and anger are inappropriate emotions to have, (2) there must be something wrong with him for having them, and (3) he will be banished if he has these feelings, so he’d better learn not to have them.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that Troy has had tantrums. You make no mention of that. But it does seem that Troy may have somehow gotten the idea that it is not okay to have anger. And however that happened, as his parent, it is now up to you to help him learn to trust all of his own feelings.

How to do this? Happily, it doesn’t have to be difficult, and it will be very positive for you both. 

The most important thing to do is to establish connection with yourself. Since you are the parent, you are leading your child by example, and you cannot teach what you don’t embody. This involves acknowledging and validating all the feelings inside of you when they happen. There are some journaling techniques that are helpful for identifying and connecting with our feelings, and other foundational parts of ourselves. Here’s a short video based on the work of Virginia Satir talking about those parts, and a companion exercise called “Drawing your Iceberg.”  These videos are only 10 minutes each and if you can incorporate these concepts into your daily life, you will find that all aspects of your life and your child’s life start coming into alignment. Watch the videos once and try for a week, you’ll see.

After establishing your connection with your Self, and from that foundational point, you need to support your child’s connection with himself. This should be easy and fun, and hopefully the two of you will come up with creative ways to do this.


If you’re looking for ideas to get started, you might watch Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out together. It’s a wonderful introduction to the feelings that live inside us and their helpful nature. Children’s books, and literature in general, offer the opportunity to talk about the feelings of the characters. The author of the Harry Potter series did a particularly good job of developing the emotional lives of her characters. Even older classics, such as Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, offer similar opportunities. And children can be read to up until the age of 11 or 12, there’s no need to stop just because a child is a competent reader.

Once conversations about feelings have begun, it becomes natural for the child to share more about how he feels. All of a child’s feelings should be validated—that is, accepted for what they are. There are no wrong feelings. Feelings are messengers that inform us of how we are impacted by something. They may suggest actions, and unsupported, they may lead to actions, but feelings are not actions in and of themselves. When a child shares his feelings, he is inviting you to become a trusted advisor. And all that is necessary is that you validate those feelings, to hear them and allow them to be.

I haven’t said much about how to advise him about the bully. I’m afraid that spending time talking about the bully isn’t going to help your son, and it really sends the wrong message, that bad behavior is what gets attention. Talking about how your son FEELS about the bully, and validating those feelings, that will be helpful, even if it takes many conversations. 

Being present with your own feelings about the situation, apart from your son if they are intense or disturbing for you, that is the first step. How do you feel about your son’s situation? Really explore this. Write your feelings down, in a list. Look at the list of feelings. Validate them. You may not be happy to see those feelings on the page, but they are messengers, and we’d rather know some unpleasant truths than shoot the messenger, right? Nobody’s happy to get an overdraft notice, but if the bank didn’t send them and rather just let our accounts deplete until they were forced to close them… well we wouldn’t like that, would we?

Validate your own feelings and sit with them. Then do the same for your son when he tells you about his. Express your love for him and your confidence in him to find a solution. Because he can. Hold him and love him when he cries. He doesn’t need to worry about following instructions when dealing with a bully. He needs to remember who he is, to remember that his experience matters too, and that you always want to hear about it. The actions he takes when he is connected to Self, well, they’ll be a bully’s kryptonite.

Photo by Lukas from Pexels.

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Children, and the consequences of failing them

June 27, 2019’s Rolling Stone article has brought to our attention that children are still being kept in cages on our southern border, for the apparent “crime” of their own vulnerability.  Quotes from migrant children—many quite young—obtained from one-on-one interviews by volunteer attorneys, express simply what it is like for them to live without the basic necessities of life, including adult protection and love. Some of these children are parents themselves—doubly vulnerable, truly—prevented from giving care to their own infants and mocked by the adults we assume are charged with the care of all.

There’s a lot to unpack here. I have no reason to believe this report is untrue. Believe me, I wish it were, and will rejoice if it isn’t, even if it means I eat crow. I am struck with horror that I live in a world where my fellow adult US citizens—the ones responsible for this unfolding debacle and assault on decency—are capable of perpetuating this neglect that within hours reached the severity of abuse on vulnerable children, our fellow humans. My heart is sore with grief, and I have been feeling helpless in my anger. As a US citizen I feel responsible as well.

My experience working with children and adults with post-traumatic stress related symptoms means that I have some understanding of the short- and long-term consequences of depriving children of their needs, both to the individuals and to humanity at large.

Children need to feel safe. They need to feel loved. They need to believe that discomfort is temporary and manageable. Children come to the understanding that the world is sufficiently safe when they receive validation and support for all of their emotional and physical needs. This belief that the world is safe enough is the foundation upon which each individual builds the most important structures of their lives: relationships, beliefs, personal contributions and freedom.

Feelings of abandonment, rejection and fear occur very easily in children—and those feelings need to be resolved in a short time and with the support of those with whom they have bonded, their parents and families. These are children’s true emotional needs, and they are deeply intertwined with their physical needs.

What happens when all of a child’s needs aren’t met? A child’s view of the world is still developing—and adolescents count as well, especially if they have become parents themselves.

Children who have been severely neglected and abused, as these children have by the United States government, go into survival mode. In survival mode, they quickly come to believe that they have no power, that only those outside of them have power, and they must conspire to steal or cajole any power they want from those others. From there, they are primed to believe that those outside of them with power will use it to further their own interests, exploiting the vulnerable.

What are the dangers of children growing up believing these things? When a child must live in survival mode for any length of time, they are in danger of staying there for the rest of their lives.

I spend considerable time in this space discussing the importance of each individual’s feelings, perceptions and beliefs. A child who feels afraid and abandoned due to trauma will come to the false belief that they caused the trauma and are therefore unworthy on a deep level. This belief is likely to persist. If they receive some support during a later recovery and they come to understand intellectually that they were not at fault, it is still likely to persist, becoming a denied feeling. Denied feelings of unworthiness are behind behavior that causes people to exploit, mock and denigrate others. They are also behind addiction, anxiety, depression, and the feeling that one has nothing original to contribute because one is unwelcome as a member of society.

The expectations create a self-fulfilling prophecy. The traumatized child, when grown, spends a disproportionate amount of their energy anticipating that they, alone, are responsible for keeping themselves safe. With only the intention to survive, they assume that others will not be responsible for the impact of their own behavior, and they begin to compensate even before they meet. This is off-putting for healthy, non-traumatized individuals, who are then likely to avoid socializing or collaborating with someone who continues to experience the effects of childhood trauma. For those traumatized as children, this leaves only those who are similarly challenged with whom they may form relationships. Some of those individuals will lean toward exploiting others as their coping strategy of choice, others will avoid exploiting others as best they are able but feel a pervasive sense of powerlessness and lack of belonging.

The individual suffering from unresolved childhood trauma is likely to be condemned to live life in fight-or-flight, engaged in a constant struggle for survival, seeing all individuals around them as either friend or foe. They will have limited ability to develop all their strengths or to appreciate the strengths of others. Differences of opinion are likely to be seen as threats to existence. Friends with whom they differ too frequently or severely will become foes.

A healthy adult who experiences trauma only in adulthood is far, far less vulnerable than a child.

The creation and perpetuation of a polarized, dystopian future is what these detention centers are engaging in right now. If this were all, it would be bad enough. The risk is also quite real that some of these children will begin dying within days of preventable infections and poor nutrition.

Emotional and physical health are being stolen from these children, and this robbery—for it is, indeed, a violent robbery—continues every single hour that they are kept in barbaric holding cells and away from their families. The impact of this situation is worse than any of us thinks. Human decency requires us to take a stand.

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels.

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My mother tells me that my Dad left us when he got a divorce. Did he really leave us or just my Mom?

I am older now and starting to see he may still love me but for years I have not felt that he does. My Mom told my sisters and me that he left our family when he got a divorce from my mother. I am 16 now and since we still see him frequently, I’m starting to think my mother made this up. She still says it all the time and it has been 8 years since they divorced. He remarried last year and she was bothered I went to the wedding.

I’m very glad you wrote. This is a situation that comes up sometimes—not always, but often enough—when parents divorce.

Divorce is experienced differently by each person involved. The parents don’t have exactly the same experience as each other. Their own parents and extended families have their own experiences of it. And the children of the couple certainly have their own experiences. Even if some are happy that the divorce is occurring, it is not a universally positive or negative experience for anyone. What it is, is a very substantial change for everyone, especially for the kids.

There are whole books and courses written to guide parents in supporting their children after divorce. Like most things in life, these books and courses are optional. And that is probably how it should be. I’m not a big fan of forcing people to do things. I enjoy my freedom, and like for others to have it as well.

I am also not a fan of telling children to consider their parents’ needs and emotions first, as that goes against what’s best for kids. However, you are old enough to understand that divorce is painful for the adults involved. I say this not to elicit your compassion, but to give you some insight as to why they might be behaving as they do. 

When people—even many adults—are in the grip of pain and suffering, their ability to see things from another’s point of view can be greatly compromised. This can sometimes be the case with parents who are undergoing divorce. As much as part of them wants to be present for and do the right thing for their children, they may simply lack the knowledge, skills and resources to pull it off while they’re feeling flattened by a divorce.

It sounds like, to some degree, this was the case with your mother. It is in no way a necessity in western culture when two adults divorce, that the one who leaves the primary household is “divorcing the family.” Sometimes it does wind up that way, but the children typically figure it out for themselves—the parent doesn’t honor scheduled visits or keep their promises—it isn’t announced to them by the other parent.

Often a parent who is feeling betrayed heals in time and stops saying the things they said in the early days, moving on with their life. But sometimes not.

The best way to approach this is to focus on what you wish to build and how you wish to form your relationships as a developing adult. The first and most important thing is to identify how YOU feel about these situations—and it really is a series of situations involving both your parents and now others as well—and allow yourself to have those feelings that are yours, separate from your mother’s feelings. She is allowed to have her feelings, and her beliefs, but they are just that: her own feelings and beliefs. 

No doubt there are facts regarding your parents’ marriage that led to their divorce. Some of these may be particularly hurtful to your mother. Unless they present a legitimate risk to you or your siblings, though, there is no need for you to be told of them, or for them to factor into your relationship with your father.

You are entitled to have your own feelings about anything. Feelings just are: they are your body’s spontaneous reaction to whatever is happening around you. They happen in order to inform your decision making. Now that you are getting older, you need to understand what your feelings are doing for you and realize they exist for your support. Although they may be uncomfortable at times, they are your allies. Think of them like Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust in the movie Inside Out. A funny, helpful bunch, right?

As long as you are underage, you are required to follow your custodial parent’s rules, or be subject to whatever legal consequences they impose for breaking them. It sounds as though your mother isn’t interfering in your relationship with your father and stepmother any more than repeating the same thing she said when you were eight. Not ideal, certainly, but it could be worse.

My question to you is, what feelings do you have when she does this? Allow yourself to have those feelings. At some point, you may want to share them with your mother. Of course, you may not want to, that is up to you. It’s a good idea to share them with someone you trust. Some kids talk to their friends, others a teacher. If you wanted your own therapist you could tell them and they would keep your feelings confidential, even from your parents. One or two conversations might help more than you realize.

Your mother is going through her own transition now, as you will be of legal age in less than two years’ time. She is bound to be experiencing some stress due to this. You should not be focused on caring for her—you must focus on caring for yourself—but it is helpful to know what is likely happening for her.

When you arrive as a full participant in the world of functional adults at the age of 18, I believe you will find that the ones who do best are those who know that they have their own feelings and beliefs, and don’t automatically assume others share them. You can start now, realizing that you are a separate individual from both your parents, and ultimately you will make up your own mind about what to think, believe and do.

Thank you for writing today. I wish you the best of luck and the greatest excitement for your future!

Photo by Ana Francisconi from Pexels.

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Is it okay to let my 6-year-old play by herself in the backyard?

She seems to be okay when I let her, I was just wondering what you think. We have gates and fences around too… our kitchen window faces the backyard so I’ll do dishes, clean up the kitchen and do laundry, and just keep checking on her. What do you think?

You’re describing typical childhood up until 1990. And not just in suburban America with yards and fences, pretty much throughout. It’s how I was raised. I was running over to my friend’s house next door, alone but with permission (when I remembered), at the age of 3. And I spent hours in the back yard alone. If my mother checked on me every 15 minutes then I’m impressed. And we moved away from that house when I was 6, so I know I was young.

From the age of 2-7 months (in the seventies), my parents put my baby sister out in the back yard in her baby carriage underneath the crabapple tree for a nap for an hour or two every afternoon. Her only protection was a mosquito net. Mom said she knew she was awake when the carriage shook—the carriage was too far to hear even through an open window. We had neighbors on the left and right—no fences—and the back yard was completely open to a hayfield where the local kids roamed at will. Is she still alive? Sure. She was never abducted, even though we had the usual collection of questionable neighbors. She’s a chemistry professor now, actually.

When my son was 9—so we’re talking the late 1990s now—we lived in a pretty, historic neighborhood on a river with a river-side park (it was called Riverside Park, in fact). I was confident that he was careful and made good choices, so he had the run of the neighborhood. He knew his boundaries and to my knowledge didn’t test them. He had friends he usually roamed with. One afternoon he was down by the river alone and he ran into a photographer from the local newspaper who was taking pictures of the skyline. The photographer took a picture of my son, standing right next to the river on a rock, and the picture made it into the paper. After everyone exclaimed how pretty the picture was and how nice that Matt had been in it, what do you think I heard? “What was he doing by the river alone?”

He was being a normal kid, that’s what he was doing. He never, to my knowledge, fell in. In fact, when the river was at its normal level, falling in would have just led to wet clothes. There wasn’t a drop off. When the river was roaring, he stayed away from it, like everyone else.

So why did adults start to get so scared to let kids out all of a sudden? It wasn’t my generation specifically. My own mother became suddenly hyper-vigilant about all the same things too, and frequently questioned whether I was keeping her grandchildren sufficiently safe.

I believe it was the combination of the internet bringing what had been local news stories to national attention more quickly, and the rising awareness of our own fear which those stories brought with them. Because abductions occurred back then, they absolutely did. As a percentage of the population, they occurred more frequently than now. 

But news circulated more slowly. An abduction was likely to have been reported in the local paper and once or twice on the local news: that was all. How easy is it to miss one announcement on a TV program that can’t be replayed? And newspapers did their best to entice people to read them, but every story had the same type and presentation. Plus some people didn’t have time to read the paper cover to cover (busy moms, anyone?). While others simply turned away after a brief glance at a story about an abduction, perhaps afraid that to think too hard about it would be to become too afraid for the safety of one’s own kids. 

Let’s say it’s 1975 and a father reads a news story about an abduction in the paper after work one evening as his wife prepares supper. He experiences some fear and thinks “I don’t think the kids should play outside unsupervised anymore.” He calls his wife from the kitchen, where she’s been cooking, wrangling kids and trying to get the table set for dinner. “Dear!” he calls. 

“What is it, darling?” she replies as she sticks her head through the kitchen door into the living room, wiping her hands on her apron, the little ones engaging in their usual noisy chaos. 

And then this father thinks: “Does she really need more to do? Do I want my kids to be scared? Do I need to share this tragic story with her right now? After all, it happened across town. And nobody really knows what happened to the child. Probably she’ll show up in a few days and be fine, and the newspaper won’t bother to print that.” So he sighs, smiles at her and gets up to wash his hands saying “why don’t I give you a hand?”

And she says, “It’s almost on the table. You always have such perfect timing.”

And so it was. More or less. I’m not saying the kids that were abducted decades ago turned out to be fine—we know many of them didn’t. But would it have been better to have caused all the mothers and children to be more afraid for the duration of childhood? I don’t think so. Growing up in fear damages a child’s trust in their world. It doesn’t result in the healthy skepticism around strangers that we hope for, it creates anxiety.

Fear is a valuable emotion and it’s natural to have some as parents. It’s not an emotion that we’re meant to share directly with our children, however. We prepare our children for safety in the way that we encourage accountability, good boundaries and good habits. 

Don’t parent your child in a way that you don’t feel good about. But if this seems right to you, don’t let anyone else pass their fear to you.

What you’re thinking about doing is arguably the best way to raise kids. You do you.

Photo by Porapak Apichodilok from Pexels.

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Watching Cinderella with our kids

How many of you enjoyed the story of Cinderella as a child? It may seem like I’m addressing the female readers here, and perhaps I am. My younger brother was game for stories that featured women and girls and were written from their perspective. He still seems to be and I’m grateful for that, as I imagine are his wife, daughter and son. But I never got the impression that going see Disney’s animated Cinderella in the theater (it was the seventies, The Little Mermaid hadn’t rebooted Disney princesses yet, nor had the VCR brought movies to our living rooms) was something he preferred compared to creating makeshift bicycle jumps with his friends and risking their skins. He seemed to enjoy the story, though, at least as much as the popcorn we snuck in.

I was struck today that the pattern of Cinderella’s life has as much to teach adults as children about achieving their dreams and creating their hearts’ desires.

The beginning of the story is always more of a prologue. It talks about a well-loved only child of a loving couple of some means. The details differ depending on what version, but there are at least two constants: (1) the family was loving, the couple loved each other and they loved their child; and (2) they were financially comfortable. The very young Ella did not experience want. She had everything her young and tender heart desired: a world that was made of unconditional love and abundance. Then her mother died, giving her a few words of advice, and she and her father grieved. And a period followed when she lived only with her father, who was as attentive as she needed, which varies across the stories.

The story really begins with the explanation that her father wished to remarry, and the introduction of the stepmother and her two daughters. It is always implied that the father chose the stepmother because he believed she would bring good fortune to the family, although not directly monetarily. She typically has rank and breeding, if not always gracious manners. And Cinderella always welcomes her stepmother and stepsisters with her open and loving heart.

Then there is a period of time where the blended family of five seem to live together harmoniously. There are hints that it’s quite different from the original family of three, unconditional love not flowing as freely between all the members. Cinderella notices and continues to put her best foot forward, rooted in her innocence, ignorant that family can harbor dark, unspoken conflict. Her father falters in some way. The story is not his, so we don’t really know it. Ultimately, he absents himself from his daughter’s life, leaving his wife in charge of the family, in a way that contains at least two of the components of weakness, negligence and bad luck. Cinderella’s world is reformed in a new and very harsh image. The unconditional love and abundance into which she was born appears to be gone. In all the movies, the father dies. And the widow is left with her two daughters and stepdaughter, living in her husband’s home, which has been Cinderella’s since childhood.

Am I the only one who thinks at this point how much better off she would’ve been if her father hadn’t married and Ella had inherited the beautiful house when he died? She may not have had the income to keep it, but she would have had some tangible assets of her own, and no doubt a few precious keepsakes, left by her parents. But she is always described as completely alone in the world, in a time and place where it seems there is no system to prevent orphans from being exploited. So it seems that was never possible. Likely the same way it was never possible that Harry Potter could’ve “accio’d” his broomstick back during his escape from the Dursley’s home, broken Hedwig out of her cage so she could fly on her own and saved himself both those painful losses. Someday I’ll find a purpose for my ability to change the direction of wildly popular, epic stories. But I digress.

As it is, Cinderella must watch her stepmother and stepsisters use, be careless with and even deride the only remaining evidence of her beloved dead parents’ lives, which includes herself. It’s at this point in the story—the moment of realization—that I marvel at the cruelty of the imaginations of the Brothers Grimm. Although, if you read the original (link at the bottom), in many ways it’s even worse than our movie makers have interpreted. Don’t read it to your kids without previewing it yourself, believe me.

It seems that the purpose of all the Cinderella stories is to link goodness with beauty, bravery and the ultimate achievement of heart’s desire. And when we consider that, it always seems to me that the story has something to teach us as adults, as well. Or rather, to remind us of.

All the movies develop the stepmother’s story to a degree. We see how angry she is, and how harboring that anger affects her every minute of every day. She is tired, her face is drawn, she is short-tempered, even with her own daughters. How enraged she becomes every time she is faced with the power of unconditional love that she sees in the home around her—which she now regards as a prison and largely disappointing—but especially in the unquenchable glow of Cinderella’s goodness. The stepmother has been hurt terribly in the past. Like Cinderella, we know nothing of it. It makes it easy for us to hate her.

And the stepmother seems ignorant that she has been given both an opportunity and a choice. She can choose to avoid the pain of healing by perpetuating her suffering on one who is as innocent as she was, or she can reclaim her own goodness by embracing Cinderella as a daughter. To do this, the stepmother believes she would risk losing everything she actually has. Lose the appearance of prosperity, which would expose her to humiliation by showing the truth of her own struggles—her true poverty—to the world. We know the choice she makes. We know if Cinderella were not present, she would have been more cruel to whichever she perceived as the weaker of her own daughters.

As I was walking my dog this morning, it was a beautiful, 78 degrees (Fahrenheit… I’m in the states), sunny day, with a bit of a breeze. I sought the shady sidewalks for Lila’s comfort as well as my own. My skin is pale and light-sensitive, she’s furry of course and her feet come in direct contact with the pavement, so shade suits us both. As I very naturally made the choices that would be most comfortable for us, I looked up at the tree we were standing under. I noticed how it spread its branches and held its leaves, gently swaying in the breeze. And how much cooler it was in its shade. I was overcome with gratitude for everything that had brought me to this exact place and time where I could have this experience.

With my gratitude, my muscles relaxed. I felt lighter, more energized. And I remembered that throughout all of the Cinderella retellings she very naturally gravitates toward relationships and activities that bring her joy.

She doesn’t have much to choose from, does she? In the animated Disney version, she makes friends with the mice and birds. In the more recent live-action Disney version (starring Lily James, such beautiful costumes and passionate acting!) Cinderella also makes friends with the mice. And she sings the songs of her childhood that seem to bring her back to that place of unconditional love. All of this without giving any impression of effort. If you watch her, Cinderella releases herself into these beautiful, small reveries, and they become the most powerful of all.

Cinderella’s anger has a place too. It is in anger and frustration that she jumps on a horse and rides, bareback, into the forest, where she meets the prince for the first time. Anger isn’t our enemy. It’s a sudden realignment that comes from our higher self that asserts “this is not who I am!” It’s meant to create a speedy change into a new and preferred reality. It always feels a little out of control, but in the same way extreme sports do. If you’ve ever enjoyed skiing—downhill or water—surfing, shooting the rapids in a kayak or canoe, or even just pushing through a very difficult and effortful challenge and coming out victorious, then you understand what anger is meant to do for us. It provides the energy to get us there. It is not meant to live with us at the destination, however. And though it might’ve been too soon for many of us, Cinderella forgives her stepmother before she even leaves the house.

Parenthood and family living can feel like being lost in the forest sometimes. Or at the Sisyphusian mercy of endless chores that only need to be done again tomorrow. It can feel challenging to remember to find and identify things to truly and deeply appreciate. Finding and nurturing our own connection to the limitless, unconditional love that the universe has for us not only makes the going easier, it brings us closer to our heart’s desire. We’ll know we’re on the right path by the beauty we find along the way.

Thank you for joining me today.

English translation of the original Cinderella, published by the Brothers Grimm in 1857

Photo credit: Pixabay on Pexels.

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Does my daughter deserve punishment?

Today I found out my daughter played on her iPad instead of doing her homework after school. She said she forgot but I knew she hadn’t. She finally came clean and said it was just because homework is so boring. I don’t really want to punish her because I understand how she feels. What should i do?

Problems like this are the bane of a loving parent’s existence. We worry that if we make the wrong choice we’ll damage our child forever. 

If we fail to administer a punishment—and good on you for calling it what it is—we may set our child up to believe that she’s not subject to the same rules as everyone else. On the other hand, you want your child to understand that rules always exist to serve a larger—and well understood—purpose, and that they also need to be interpreted within the context in which they’re applied. To be too rigid in enforcing the rules, you could damage your child’s trust in you, which depends on her belief that you see, hear and value her as an individual.

I’ll to speak directly to your first question, though. “Does my daughter deserve punishment?” I guess I’d have to ask whether you consider punishment a teaching tool, or rather a sanction or penalty. In experimental psychology’s operant conditioning, “punishment” is defined as “…any change in a human or animal’s surroundings that occurs after a given behavior or response which reduces the likelihood of that behavior occurring again in the future. As with reinforcement, it is the behavior, not the animal, that is punished.” See that? The behavior is punished, not the person. So no person can deserve punishment as a teaching tool.

On the other hand, if we look up the word “punishment” in a thesaurus, a long list of grisly words rolls out, including “sanction,” “penalty,” and tellingly, “suffering.” The thesaurus seems to reflect the most common interpretation of the word, not the one that psychologists, educators, doctors and parents prefer everyone think they are using.

Your question has drawn back the curtain. That’s one reason I like it so much.

So to restate: if punishment is used as a teaching tool, it is never something that the learner deserves. Punishment is a tool that the teacher (or parent-as-teacher) employs toward a desired end, in a way that is designed to reduce the behavior that preceded it, in the future. That’s all. It is meant to be administered dispassionately—not coldly or insensitively, though. And in a way that is sensitive to the real needs of the learner. This is why every single researcher in the civilized world, in every single field of study, who designs an experiment with human or animal subjects must submit their experiment for review before and approval by an ethics committee. Do you know how many ethics committees exist for this purpose, and how much potential research goes through them? In contrast, the “consequences,” “discipline,” and yes, “punishment” employed by parents are a lot more like the wild west. Even under the best of circumstances.

So you were right to ask the question. Obviously something about the situation didn’t sit right with you. You empathized with your daughter, who finds her homework tedious and un-fun, and was looking to feel happier after the rigors of her school day. Well, I feel for the both of you. And the problems with homework meeting the needs—or not—of today’s students are a topic for another post.

So how can you learn from this situation, work with your daughter and possibly adjust the circumstances to better meet all of her needs?

Restrictions do need to exist around use of electronics for children. You should use a combination of environmental modification and monitored expectation, a/k/a rules. Environmental modification might involve restricting access to screens, or possibly the internet, until after a certain hour, or until certain criteria are met.

The rules, themselves, ought to function more like signals. When they are broken, it’s a signal to you, the parent, that something is off and some communication between you and your child is needed. If a rule is broken regularly, perhaps the child isn’t ready for that level of autonomy, or perhaps you haven’t fully understood your child’s needs around the issue. This could be because you haven’t investigated all the aspects thoroughly, or it might indicate a communication problem between you and your child. 

The biggest problem with the old-school concept of a child deserving punishment (to suffer) as a consequence for rule breaking is that it undermines your child’s trust in you, without teaching them anything valuable. The suffering caused by parental punishment doesn’t teach the kind of lessons that help a person get ahead in our fast moving, connective, highly social culture. It teaches suspicion, damages healthy trust and it feeds the harboring of fear that must be kept hidden at any cost. It might be considered decent training for prison. I say that to be funny, because I don’t even think it would best accomplish that. 

When children suffer, as when any of us suffer, they have feelings of fear, sadness, helplessness, grief. The difference between children’s suffering and adults’ suffering is that children require significant emotional support with feelings like these. If they must endure these feelings without the emotional support of a parent—because they perceive their parent as wanting them to suffer, so they are not open to receiving emotional support even if offered—then they will not become adept at managing these feelings. They will be prone to anxiety, depression and all the physical, psychological, social, even cognitive and academic problems that go along with them.

So what to do about screens, homework and unsupervised time for grade-school-age children? You’ll need to come up with a solution that fits your situation exactly. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that every family develop a Media Use Plan, and they offer guidelines on their website. Include your daughter—the whole family should be involved—in the making of this plan. Point out the restrictions that are for her benefit and explain that they are not based on a desire to thwart her autonomy. She may not enjoy them, but you can help her to stay present with feelings she may have, such as frustration, anger, disappointment. By the time she is sixteen or so, and you allow her to exercise more autonomy regarding media choices, she will have developed the self-control to do so responsibly and safely. 

All children do need to relax after school. When I was growing up, I achieved this objective with a snack and 30-60 minutes in front of the TV. Today’s parents had computer and video-games as after school options. 

One of the most important things we can do as parents is to examine what our own habits were for that important time, and to decide whether they served us well. Honestly, I don’t think my hour of TV after school was beneficial at all. I was more checked out than truly relaxed. If they weren’t, we can support our children in developing healthier ones that truly excite them. Before the invention of the TV, children usually walked home from school or took a city bus, getting exercise, fresh air, social interaction and a sense of freedom. They played outside with friends. Maybe they read a book, or worked on a woodworking or sewing (both artistic) project they were interested in. Or played an instrument. Or used a chemistry set to almost blow up the basement, like my Uncle Greg did. 

True relaxation and release is less complete when we are interacting with a screen than when we are engaged in activities that involve more of our body and mind. It is vital to make time for both, and to make it fun. Support your children in pursuing healthy and exciting interests in the non-screen world. Let them see you doing activities that are nourishing to yourself away from screens. And remember to have several regular times every day that they can count on when you give them your full attention. With love…

Photo by Drew Rae from Pexels.

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How can I motivate my 8th grade son to be more responsible?

My 8th grade son doesn’t seem to care and lacks motivation. I know this is typical, but I think he might be an extreme case. Please help.

He asked to go on two class trips. Each was expensive and I had to work additional hours to pay for him to go, and his father and I agreed to send him. 

This year he never dressed for gym, even though I put clean clothes in his backpack, and he failed the class. So he was kicked off the 8th grade trip. He knew that an F meant dismissal from trip and still decided not to participate. I asked him why he never dressed for gym, since he is athletic. He replied he didn’t want to. 

Last year, he stole a vape pen from a gas station and smoked in school and got suspended. He was kicked off the 7th grade trip too. He blamed peer pressure for that. 

The house rule is maintaining a C average to keep a cell phone. He hasn’t done that. His test scores are great, so it is not a lack of intelligence. He doesn’t do work in class. 

His orthodontist says he needs braces, but the dentist said to wait because he doesn’t take care of teeth. I have to watch him or he won’t brush his teeth. He says he wants braces, so I don’t understand why he won’t brush his teeth. The dentist has spoken with him. 

We are in contact with his school. The principal says we are doing the right things. 

We take him to therapy. His therapist says he’s well adjusted, but lacks motivation. 

How can we help him find motivation? I’m worried that he’s not developing good habits and this is going to hurt him later.

We’ve had him tested for ADD and ADHD, that’s what I thought he had. But therapist and doc said no.

What a time you’re having! Eighth graders tend to be around 13 or 14, so I’ll assume that’s your son’s age, unless he was advanced a grade, which would put him around a year younger than that.

I want to congratulate you for all the wonderful things you’re doing. Obviously you love your son and want to provide him with everything he needs, the normal things he might want, and you’ve sacrificed to do so. You have wisely chosen to engage a therapist, and you’re staying in touch with the school. You’ve thought about what the issues might be and been really proactive. And still, you haven’t seen the change you’ve hoped for. This sounds very difficult for you. We all know that there are a limited number of days in childhood, and when as parents we watch them tick by, and our child isn’t engaged, we fret that they’re not going through the stages they need to grow into a strong, capable, well-adjusted adult. That is a lot of pressure on you.

I will be honest, it sounds as though the situation is complex and nuanced. One clue is that you mention that your son’s test scores are great and you say you know that he doesn’t lack intelligence. I find myself wondering if he might be gifted. You say you’ve had him evaluated for ADD and ADHD, but has he had a full psychoeducational evaluation?

Giftedness is one of the most neglected and ignored forms of exceptionality. The word “exceptionality” is often used when a child has a disability, but it can just as rightly be used to refer to a child in the gifted range of cognitive functioning. All children who fall outside the middle 95% range of intellectual functioning—that’s an IQ of less than 70, or 130 and up—they have additional cognitive and socio-emotional needs that are unique to them. Now for gifted children, sometimes those needs are easily met within the families where the child lives. Often giftedness runs in families, and if the parents are gifted they may quite naturally support their gifted child. But sometimes the unique needs of the gifted child aren’t naturally and easily met for any number of reasons. And it sounds to me as though that’s what’s going on here: your son has some cognitive and emotional needs that aren’t being met.

I’m betting you would like some practical suggestions. Fair enough.

Let’s start here: how does your son feel about his therapist? Does he enjoy going to sessions? If he’s been working with the therapist for 3 or more months, have you seen any improvement at all? If the answers to the second and third questions are “not much,” I would consider looking for a new therapist. You have reasonable goals for your son’s functioning. Good therapy should enable progress. 

Now if you haven’t seen much progress but your son has a good bond with his therapist, I wouldn’t suggest changing. What I would suggest, however, is that you go looking for a second therapist who understands family systems, and have a couple of appointments just for you. Make sure you sign releases so the two therapists can talk.

Now I’m not saying there is anything at all wrong with you and the way you’re parenting. You sound wonderfully and deeply caring of your son and his needs. But if your house’s foundation was starting to collapse, you wouldn’t necessarily take a chance with your family’s safety and try to repair it yourself, would you (if you or your spouse are a building expert, insert a different metaphor along the same lines)? A therapist with family systems knowledge can be like hiring a lawyer, financial advisor or CPA: an expert who can really help move things in the right direction, when needed.

A little bit about child development, because it’s very relevant for this age group. Between the ages of 12-15, the adolescent brain is experiencing growth second only to infancy, between birth and age 2. The neocortex—the part of the brain that handles reasoning and decision-making—is undergoing great and rapid change, perhaps even more so if your child is gifted. The limbic brain—the part of the brain that experiences and regulates emotion—is also undergoing tremendous growth. Do you remember the destabilizing changes the body goes through during pregnancy? Well, your son is experiencing something similar, but without the perspective an adult would have. Add to that the fact that the young, adolescent male has a massive amount of testosterone surging through his body, relative to older adolescents and adult men. This means your son is not only more of a stranger to you than either he or you had planned, but he feels like a stranger to himself as well.

I very much doubt that your son’s actions amount to any kind of organized plan his part. And while there is evidence that he is not motivated to do as his parents, school and dentist would have him do, it is possible that he is working to discover what does motivate him, or that he would like to, if he could feel the support you provide. And this is an important quest.

Development of a stable sense of self is the main task of early adolescence. That involves knowing what one does prefer, and what one does not, and being confident that it is okay to have these personal preferences and that no one outside of oneself is owed a reason. It’s perfectly normal for children not to find their schoolwork or classes interesting, particularly at this point in history, and most particularly gifted children. If you aren’t interested in “unschooling” (Google it) or sending him to a progressive school (Waldorf, Montessori), supporting him through this stage so that he develops the internal resources he needs is going to involve a few important things. Mainly validating whatever real feelings he has around things like schoolwork and hygiene activities, and lovingly supporting him in doing them well enough (not perfectly). 

Scolding, nagging and punishment is unlikely to be effective, and more likely to produce kind of a lethargy such as what you’re seeing. This shouldn’t be taken lightly. It could develop into depression and make him vulnerable to substance abuse and other risks in the future.

Behavior plans are also not very likely to be effective with gifted children, unless (1) the child participates fully in the development of the plan, and has complete buy-in, (2) the plan is relentlessly strengths-based, and (3) the plan includes an emotional support component.

And that brings me full circle, back to you as parent. Our children are here in order to make us aware of that which is out of alignment in ourselves. When a child is having a problem, the whole family is having a problem. It does no good to place blame at the feet of one member, particularly a child. I have never seen a family that succeeded in doing this that could be described as a happy family.

And it’s important to remember that the main goal for our children is not to arrive at adulthood having learned perfectly to do as they’re told. What kind of adult would that produce? We live in a growing, exciting, ever more complex world. We need more creative, smart humans, not ones that feel like round pegs smashed into square holes. And sometimes the most creative and the smartest experience the greatest challenges.

If your budget doesn’t stretch for a full cognitive assessment, it doesn’t hurt to proceed as though your son is gifted anyway, at least as regards supporting his individuality. It will do no harm and can only help.

Finally, it really is most helpful for parents to receive supportive, psychodynamic therapy or skilled coaching when they are having significant difficulty with a child. It’s best, if the family has two parents living together, for the parents to go to therapy together, to a different therapist from the child if he’s already established with one, as yours is. If that’s not possible, then one parent can go alone. That parent will have a bigger task, but by stepping up and looking at the situation as an adventure and chance to learn and grow, they will be able to be a positive force for change and know that they stayed in there when the going got tough. There can be great satisfaction in that. My admiration and love to you all.

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Can I Insist that My 17-year-old Wear and Not Wear Certain Clothing?

My 17-year-old daughter wants to wear all kinds of clothing that range from offensive to dangerous. Short shorts and skirts, bared midriff, suggestive sayings, shoes she’ll break an ankle in… it seems like I can’t even predict what she’s going to look like when she goes out.

I want her to wear Levis jeans like she used to: she comes home with a pair that looks like it was painted on. I was always taught that a natural look for hair and makeup are best: her hair might be any color on the neon spectrum at any given time, and you can’t even see her face under all the makeup. I think wearing a dress for services is important: she prefers to dress like she’s a member of some other family.

I don’t want to control her every decision, but I’m afraid that she’s going to be seen by someone she might want a job from later and have ruined her chances, or that she’ll get into a situation that’s over her head. I’m worried that men will think she’s older than she is. That she doesn’t have enough life experience to know how to protect herself.

I try to set some rules for clothing, but then I find out she’s sneaking around, putting on different clothes at her friends’ houses. I don’t know what the other parents are thinking, but I shouldn’t have to let their low standards dictate how my family dresses! Am I right?

I can hear how upsetting this is to you. Once you had a daughter who you recognized and it made your heart glad. Now, in her place is someone who looks a bit like her, but is acting secretive and doing things that conflict with your values. And that girl that you nurtured so gently is nowhere to be found. It’s almost as though she left without saying goodbye. There’s bound to be some grief.

Of course, you expected the teen years to be difficult, right? I’m assuming so, on some level, because parents of teens are always saying how difficult they are. But perhaps your expectations only went skin deep? Maybe you were thinking: “yes, but Marigold has been such an easy child. I’m sure our problems will be nothing big, a short answer here, a bit of snappishness there, we’ll point it out, she’ll apologize as she always has, and next thing you know she’s off to college.”

If the challenges you’re having with your daughter right now are greater than you expected, then you’re also grappling with disappointment. How is disappointment usually handled in your family? When one member is disappointed with another, what happens? Do they tell them? Do they get angry? Do they make excuses for them and suck it up, keeping their disappointment to themselves? Do they say nothing to the one who is disappointing but become short tempered with someone else? How was disappointment handled when you were growing up?

Disappointment is truly one of the more challenging emotions most families deal with. And the behavior of teenagers brings issues parents have managing disappointment right to the surface. Teens are hard wired to want to try things that are different, novel, even risky. The adolescent age 15-21 has one developmental task: educators and mental health professionals call it “up and out.” It’s their task to build up enough energy to launch themselves into the big, scary world and begin to function as an adult there, providing for themselves and making an adult contribution. Most of their behavior occurs because this is what they need to accomplish.

Sound scary? If you really think about it, it is. And yet, fear is the last thing anyone wants to project when they’re taking on a new and challenging task. Healthy teens know this instinctively. So many of their actions are bold and reckless. And as with anyone doing bold and reckless things, they’re also very self-focused, which can be worrisome to a parent as well. Your child has decided they won’t feel their fear, so you, as parents, feel ALL the fear: theirs AND yours! This is why my heart goes out to parents of teens. I’ve been there. And it is scary.

To your question: no, you don’t have to let anyone dictate your values to you. But the clothing we wear reflects more than our values. There are cold-blooded killers who dress in the same conservative suits as those whose values you admire and seek to emulate. Sure, “the clothes make the man,” except… when they don’t.

You’re worried that your daughter will run into someone she may want a job from in the future and hurt her chances dressed as she is? Well, for one thing, there’s as good a chance when she meets this phantom future employer that she will impress them with her bold expression of self and make a valuable contact. It may have been true fifty plus years ago that children entering the workforce were likely to be working for their parents’ peers. Today? Much less likely. Her future first boss may be only a few years older than she is and twice as edgy. You simply don’t know. Take a deep breath and acknowledge what you’re feeling: fear. It’s okay. 

The most important aspect of the parent-child relationship between the ages of 15-21 is keeping lines of communication relatively open and maintaining their trust in you. You, as parent, will be the one feeling the fear (anywhere from just your share to both your shares). It’s okay to let your child know when you are afraid, and why. You’re transitioning as well, to an adult relationship with your child. You would be straight with an adult about your feelings concerning them, so be straight with your teen. But respectful, as you would be with an adult.

You notice an outfit that complies with the law regarding indecent exposure but sparks fear over the attention she’ll get? Take a breath. Own the fear, silently, for yourself. If you need to say something, try:

“I get worried when I see you dressed that way, we’ve talked about why. But I trust that you know what you’re doing. And you can call me if you need a ride from anywhere for any reason. Know that. I love you. Have a nice time.”

Then? Wait up. This stage won’t last forever either. With love…

Photo by Matheus Bertelli from Pexels.

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Can Parents Tell Their 17-year-old Daughter What to Wear?

I mean, she’s a young woman and not a child anymore so she can make decisions on her own…right?

Those last few years at home. Sometimes it seems like they can be akin to a hostage negotiation. Or a rock fight. 

It doesn’t have to be this way, but I can say that and still have to pay a buck to get a McDonald’s coffee. On sale. In other words? My opinion gets me nothing. What happens between parents and their 17-year-old is co-created entirely by them.

And it’s hard to give a precise response not knowing who wrote this letter. It’s unlikely to be one of the parents, since it’s asking for permission to disagree with them. It might be an aunt, a cousin, a caring friend, or even the teenager herself. I’m going to to assume the latter.

In the US, where this letter is from, 17 can be a fraught age. Parents still bear legal responsibility for the actions of their 17-year-old, and they must continue to provide food, shelter, minimal clothing and access to education. A 17-year-old can’t enter into her own contract of any kind, so whatever she does—even working a job—she needs her parents permission. And in less than a year, if her parents wish to, the law permits them to order her out of their home and refuse to provide any more support of any kind.

Childhood for humans really wasn’t designed to end abruptly, however. There are so many skills to be learned in order to function in our complex, post-industrial culture. It’s much easier to learn those skills gradually, and as my mother used to say, with your feet under your father’s table every night.

The truth is, however, that a home with reliable meals and emotional support from parents isn’t always something a teenager can count on. Sadly, parents often aren’t at their best with teenagers, taking the teen’s rudeness and rebellion personally, alienating them in the process and to no one’s benefit.

So what’s a 17-year-old young woman to do, whose parents are dictating her wardrobe?

The first thing you can do is know how you feel about it. Your parents may or may not want to hear how you feel about their wardrobe rules, but at least you can be honest with yourself. Perhaps some of the feelings you have are emotions whose expression isn’t encouraged in your family. That can make it challenging, but know this: you have every right to have all the feelings and to be honest about having them.

Trying to pretend you don’t have a feeling that you really have is a lot like telling a baby to wait to be born after you close the big deal on the thirty-first: babies don’t wait, and feelings don’t either.

So what can you do with these feelings? First of all, simply allow yourself to have them. Any feeling that exists is okay to have. If you have it, you just do, and you must acknowledge it. And know that it arrived to help, even if it’s painful. Our feelings arise to help us know how the world impacts us. We can’t make good decisions without being honest with ourselves about how something makes us feel.

If you don’t believe it would be wise to tell your parents your feelings, many teens choose to tell their friends. This is a perfectly sound strategy. Sometimes it’s called “blowing off steam.”

It’s possible that you, yourself, may be the only person you can be honest with about how you feel, and if that’s the case, tell yourself. Literally. Go for a walk alone in the woods and tell the trees how you feel. The trees actually do want to listen. Write your feelings down in a journal, if you like journaling, and if you have any expectation of privacy. Or write them on the back of an envelope, read them, breathe, thank them, then destroy the envelope. Or write them in a note app on your phone, do the same then delete.

You could write a song, or poetry, even if you’re not musical or a writer. You might surprise yourself. But it isn’t about the finished product, it’s about learning to give your hard-working emotional body a bit of ease when it’s struggling. It’s about learning to take care of yourself emotionally.

The truth is, parents can make all kinds of rules, reasonable and unreasonable, regarding clothing, piercings, almost anything you can think of. And if you can’t convince them to change their minds, and you break the rule, then you’ll have to endure the consequences. And if you plan for your parents to provide some support for you during college—be that tuition, room and board, or simply allowing you to live at home to keep costs in check or have a place to stay during the holidays when the dorm is locked—you will have to continue to follow their rules, reasonable or not.

Most parents will start to give more freedom when their trust in you has grown. You and your behavior aren’t the only factors contributing to the development of that trust, but they are the only factors you have control over. Take care of yourself, validate your own feelings, remember you have worth no matter what you’re told, and look for those in the world whom you respect and who appreciate you. If you can turn those four into habits, you’ll be free soon enough to wear any clothing the law allows. 

And one more thing. Transitions are often challenging, and 17 is a transitional age. You are a unique, talented and worthy being on the edge of coming into her own power. It is your birthright to create the life you desire as an equal with all the other beings on this planet. Take time with the process. I convey my love and support to you and your parents.

Tomorrow: parents write.

Photo by Ivandrei Pretorius from Pexels.

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Why won’t my 4-year-old use her indoor voice when we’re in an Uber?

I’m embarrassed when I have to take Uber with my daughter because she will never use her indoor voice. She always has to talk very loudly. She doesn’t understand that people are in earshot and we can hear her just fine. I always have to remind her 3000x a day at least. Nothing I ever do works. I’m not a loud talker so I don’t know where she gets it from. Help!!!

Yes, the inside voices problem. 4-year-olds cast it like an instant-embarrassment spell. And wouldn’t it be nice if our young ones remembered what we told them and applied it in future situations? If only it were that easy.

I’m assuming if the problem has gotten bad enough to ask on the internet that you’ve talked with her pediatrician about it? That should be the first step. She’s not too young to have her hearing checked, so do that first.

Now I’m going to assume, for a moment, that her hearing is fine. This isn’t an unusual problem for parents of young children to have, and most kids have normal hearing.

The first thing I’m going to ask is: how do YOU feel about the problem? Now I know you can’t talk to me (although if you want to tell me in the comments you can), but you can know how you feel about it. And I’m not talking about a one-word answer. Sit down and jot a few feelings words about how her loud-Uber-voice makes you feel. Just for you, you’re not going to tell her. Once you get a feeling word, go back for another, then another. See if you can’t drag up several diverse feelings that you have, most of which are lurking under your dominant feeling. 

Got your list? Good. Read it back to yourself, while breathing. How do you feel about having those feelings? Be honest. Write those down too. Then read the list one more time, thank the feelings for showing up to help (if you can manage some real gratitude it really helps), then throw the list away.

It’s really difficult when our children don’t follow the instructions we’ve given them right away. It can be tempting to think that they’re deliberately disobeying us. But very young children—under the age of 7 or 8—their neocortex isn’t well developed. That means they don’t organize anything very well, including the information we give them about when to do what in whatever situation. So we need to expect that they’re going to forget our instructions, and apply them wrong. It’s helpful if we can avoid letting our frustration convey blame as we realign our expectations—after all, do any of us appreciate feeling chastised while we’re learning? Does it make the learning easier? We also need to revisit the truth of the expectation that they’re going to make the same mistakes several (or many) times—and even more when they’re tired, hungry or having intense feelings of their own. We need to allow ourselves to relax, have our own feelings, and then perhaps issue a few preparion instructions in advance.

For example: you’ve called the Uber. You’re waiting, and she’s waiting with you. Or you could even do this before you call the Uber. You might say, “Okay, Janie, so we’re about to get into an Uber again.”

Janie: Looks up at you and nods enthusiastically.

Mom (once you have eye contact): “So what do you remember about Uber?”

At this point, Janie may say anything. She may even shout “we use our indoor voices!” Or, if she doesn’t get there, after listening to what she does say, you might offer, “do you remember what kind of voices we use when we’re talking in an Uber?”

Janie shouts: “Indoor voices!” 

Mom: “That’s right! Good remembering. Can we practice our indoor voices?”

Then do some practice. Ignore when she’s too loud, just say “That was good! Can you say that even softer?” or “Can you pretend you’re telling me a secret?” When she gets it right, say “Good job! We’re really ready now.”

When you’re in the Uber, keep good communication with her. If she starts to get a little loud, try a quiet signal, like your finger on your lips with a serious but encouraging expression, and nod when you notice she’s made an effort. Avoid correcting her out loud: she may be embarrassed in front of the driver. If she gets embarrassed she’s less likely to remember what’s expected. 

Bring a toy or book to read together on rides. 

An Uber ride is a transition that involves a stranger and a strange environment, and young children can become fearful during transitions. Don’t expect to surf the web, answer emails or take phone calls during an Uber ride with a young child. Most kids will be around age 7 or 8 before they develop a sense of safety around transitions that are familiar to them. If it happens younger for yours, that’s great, but keep expectations modest and everyone will arrive happy.

Featured image by Di Lewis of Pexels.

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