The one thing stressed teens need from Mom and Dad

How helping fix problems and focusing on struggle can make it harder for our teens.

I had a hard time when I first became a Mom. Besides the normal, new mommy angst of “Am I doing it right?” I had a difficult baby. He had a hard time eating and sleeping. He needed constant movement, would get easily overstimulated yet easily bored and cried constantly. I needed support and I needed it bad. I joined as many new mom support groups as I could. One day, I found myself sitting in on a cement wall, alone, in someone’s backyard, watching my child, finally happy, sitting and playing with little rocks. The house was too noisy or crowded for my sensitive baby so I sat, exhausted, angry and lonely outside with the garbage cans and the dog poop. All the other moms were inside sipping coffee and chatting while their babies played happily on the floor.

Every once in awhile, a well-meaning Mommy would come out to check on me “You should come inside. He just needs to learn to deal with it. I’m sure he’ll get used to it after a bit.” A few minutes later, another Mom would come out, “You know what I do, I sleep with my baby, that way she feels secure and comfortable in the daytime.” After that I got, “What if you came inside and just breastfed him, then he’d feel comfortable and you could visit with us.” All the advice was valid and helpful but it just made me feel angrier and more alone. What I really needed was someone to say, “It’s really hard isn’t it. Some days just totally suck but you are such a good mommy. I don’t know how you do it all. Here’s a cup of hot coffee.”

I think we do the same thing to our teenagers. We underestimate the amount of stress they are under and we offer helpful suggestions and advice when all they really need for us to say “It is so hard and you are doing a great job. I am so impressed at how well you are managing. Here’s a cup of tea and a cookie.”

The more we can offer this kind of compassion and support, the better chance our teens have of developing their own compassionate “inner best friends” that encourages them through the tough times. Adolescence is the age where we start to develop our own “inner mean girl” who says things like, “What’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I get it right?” “Nobody likes me, I’m stupid, ugly, fat, lame”, “I’m going to fail”, whatever. This inner mean girl will take charge and steer our life if we don’t get a hold of her and cultivate an equally strong inner best friend.

Kids learn by imitation so the best way to help them cultivate a kind inner voice is to hear us say it to them. In order to offer compassion to our teens, however, we first need to offer it to ourselves. Think about it, these kids of ours used to light up when we walked in the door, now they close it on our face! They thought we were beautiful no matter what we looked like, now they criticize our outfits, our hair, our singing, our choice of words (or is this just me and my kids?). Our babies have turned on us and that totally sucks! We used to look to their joy and exuberance to cheer us up at the end of the day, now we have to work hard to not be pulled into their negative spiral. No matter what we say, we are wrong. Our babies have done a 180 and it’s ok to give ourselves sympathy and recognize this is a hard phase for us, too.

Once you are feeling heard and validated, we can take a minute to recognize that the teen years are inherently stressful. You have this body whose hormones are out of whack, that is highly tuned in to other people’s thoughts and opinions, who can spot a fake a mile away yet are surrounded by inauthentic teenagers. Our teens have brains and bodies that are wired to be outside, moving constantly, listening to their own internal voice, yet are sitting on hard chairs, between 4 walls for 7 hours a day, listening to other people’s ideas. Today’s adolescents are swimming in perfectionism and sometimes, all they need to get through another day is compassion.

Our teens don’t always need us to fix their problems or focus on the struggles with our helpful suggestions, sometimes they just need to know they can do it on their own. “You are doing an amazing job, I can’t believe how well you are managing.” “Do you know what a mess I was at your age?” “By the way, there is nothing you need to do today. The day is yours.” “I try to worry but when it comes to you, I just can’t think of anything. I just know your future is bright.” “You have such a good head on your shoulders, I know you’ll be able to solve any problems that come your way.” “How did I get so lucky to get such a great teenager?”

It’s not easy to let go of worry and control and start trusting our kids to figure things out by themselves. That’s why I created “Leading Your Teen” teleclass.

Would like some support figuring out whether it’s time to lean in or let go? Click here and I’ll tell you all about this 5-week class designed for parents who want to worry less, love more, and create a more peaceful relationship with their teens.

What’s your currency?

I was reading Amy Poehler’s biography, “Yes, Please!” and she talked about a moment of awareness in middle school that I loved and have been sharing with my summer camp girls. I’m roughly paraphrasing, but it was something like, “I realized I was never going to be the girl who turned heads, the girl all the boys wanted to be with, the most popular, the most athletic, or the smartest. But I was funny. So I decided my sense of humor would be my currency and I focused on building that.”

Middle school is the time kids start turning to the world around them and noticing what’s in, what’s out, how to blend in and not get made fun of. Kids 11-14 are trying to figure out who they are and who they are “supposed” to be and they look to peers and media for the answers. This often creates a perfectionistic image of the ideal look (height, weight, hair, skin, clothes, etc.) to the ideal friendships (outgoing & extroverted but a deep connection with a best friend, constant fun activities surrounded by friends, published on social media) to the perfect intelligence (smart but not too smart, confident but humble, get good grades but don’t work too hard). Yuck!

When kids buy in to this perfectionistic ideal they spend all their time and energy striving towards something impossible and exhausting.

This is why I loved the idea that kids could just chose their currency. Choose ONE THING they are going to focus on, expand on, and take pride in. Instead of trying to be perfect in every area, kids could decide they are already good at this one thing, and not worry about everything else.

What I found at my Launching Girl Leaders camps is that this was a really hard thing for the girls to reflect on. It was SO EASY for ME to identify their special skills, gifts and talents but it was hard for them to see in themselves. 

Here’s an example of some “currencies” these girls came up with

  • I’m really good at telling stories.
  • I like to ask questions and answer questions and am the first to volunteer, this seems to put other people at ease and helps them feel comfortable.
  • I’m really good at trying new things and physically pushing myself to the limit.
  • I love children and think I’m good with them.
  • I’m super determined. When I decide I want something, nothing will get in my way.
  • I really love animals and am inspiring my family to eat less meat.
  • I’m a good listener. People like to open up to me.
  • I’m nice to everybody. When someone’s friends are being mean, they know they can always sit with me at lunch.
  • I love playing games: board games, sports, video games. If I turn homework into a game, it makes it so much more fun.

Here’s your homework Mamas: I want you to help your sons and daughters, identify their currency. Give them some suggestions and ask them, “Which of your personality traits are you most proud of?” “How does this trait benefit others around you?” “Which of your talents would you like to focus on this year?” 

Then identify your own currency. I know that you have lots of traits that make you amazing. Pick one that comes so naturally to you, it’s like breathing. Think about what your friends and family praise you for. How does it feel to focus on this one thing that you already good at, instead of any shortcomings? Remember that without even trying, you are already good enough.

Would you like a career that is more in line with your natural currency? Schedule a free discovery call and lets talk about some new possibilities for you.

Teens and Funerals

You are going to think I’m weird

You are going to think I’m weird but since I just talked with my Launching Girl Leaders about your weirdness being an important sign, coming from your essence, I figure I should let my freak flag fly and tell you, I actually like going to funerals. I have two this week and I love the opportunity to come together and collectively celebrate the essence of this person. There may be a detail or two about their accomplishments but mostly, people speak about who they were: their unique personality, loves, joys, their weird and wonderful ways. Instead of putting on a social facade, there is a vibe of authenticity and genuine emotions. It’s also a great chance to reflect on our own lives and make sure we are living aligned with our highest values. I always come away appreciative of the life I have and inspired to make positive changes. With so much positivity, who wouldn’t like going to funerals?

Teenagers and pre-teens.

Teens don’t always tell us what’s going through their minds but they can get nervous in environments they haven’t experienced before, like a funeral. Some of the concerns teens may have are:

“What if I’m not sad?”

“Can I sit with my friends?”

“I don’t have anything black to wear”

“How long will I have to stay dressed up?”

“What if I see the dead body and freak out?”

“What if I can’t stop crying and embarrass myself?”

“Will have to talk to relatives I don’t know?”

“How am I supposed to sit that long without eating?” 

Because our kids look and talk so grown up, sometimes we expect them to act like grown ups. Most adolescents haven’t attended a funeral before so their pre-conceived ideas might be coming from movies, TV, or their own imaginations.

If you are taking your teen or pre-teen to a funeral, explain a few things to them ahead of time to engage cooperation, appropriate behavior and social etiquette.

 Express these to your kids and help set them up for a successful day:

  1. You do not have to wear black. Unlike TV, people wear patterns, prints and a variety of colors. It’s more important to dress modestly and formally, than to wear all black.
  2. You do not have to feel sad. It’s ok to just listen and learn about that person’s life. Being happy celebrates their life.
  3. It’s ok to be sad. Sometimes watching other people cry, makes us cry. Don’t be embarrassed if you are crying, but didn’t know the deceased, it’s good to be empathic.
  4. You do not have to look at the dead body if you don’t want to, it’s ok to stay in your seat. If you want to look, that’s ok, too. Just know that if you touch or kiss the body, it will be cold.
  5. You will want to eat before you go. The length of time funerals take can vary. There will be food after, but it’s ok to put a granola bar in your pocket if you need to sneak away and eat something.
  6. Grown ups will come up and want to talk to you. They will mention how much you’ve grown and ask you what you are up to. Fill them in on a few details of your life and ask them how they are doing. You might have to repeat the same thing multiple times and hug people you don’t know. It’s good practice for adult life and you can handle it.
  7. Funerals are a great time to talk about happy memories you have of the deceased, funny stories or special moments you shared with them. You don’t have to be sad in order to show respect.
  8. You will need to sit quietly and listen during the service. AFTER, you can hang with your friends, talk, climb trees, eat, but NO CELL PHONES! Posting pictures and #funeral on social media is not yet considered polite behavior.

Helping kids set goals

and goal setting for parents, too!

Last month I got to spend 10 days traveling around England with my teenage son. It was so great to have that one on one time with him, exploring castles and cathedrals, seeing historical sights and beautiful architecture, and visiting wonderful friends. This trip was my son’s dream come true and I’m going to use it as an example of how to turn a dream into an accomplishment.

Before you start helping your kids’ accomplish their goals, make sure you are a living example. Do you give yourself permission dream? Are you setting goals that inspire you? When we become parents, sometimes our kids’ dreams become our own. Children need to see us creating lives that inspire us, not just living our lives through them.

Whether it’s your dreams, or your kid’s, follow these 6 steps to setting and achieving your goals.

  1. Make sure it’s YOUR goal, aligned with soul’s calling. If your kid sets a goal to get straight A’s, but he’s doing it for you or for his teacher’s approval, it’s not the right goal. If your kid wants to “be rich”, she’ll need to be more specific about when, why and how much. One way to tell if the goal is coming from your essence and not your ego is to ask yourself, “If nobody knew I accomplished this goal, would I still want it?”
  2. Make sure the goal scares you a little. We have an innate drive to grow and expand who we are. Setting and accomplishing goals are important because it helps us become a different, more expanded version of ourselves through the process. When I first suggested to my son that he start saving up to travel to England, he was full of doubts. “It’s too expensive” “I don’t have enough money”, “My volleyball team needs me”, “Dad and sister don’t like museums or historical tours, they’d rather go to a beach resort.” The doubts are a good sign! It means you have to grow! Write down all of them and question their validity. Are they really true? How could you solve these problems? It is a hugely valuable life lesson to learn that just because you think it, doesn’t make it true.
  3. Believe in your ability to accomplish your goal. In my son’s case, family members started giving him travel books, maps of England, advice on where to stay. They asked him when he was going, encouraged him. I bought him England T-shirts and watched travel shows and documentaries with him. He was so surrounded by positive peer pressure that it became hard for him to believe this goal would not happen.
  4. Get specific. What’s the difference between a dream and a goal? NUMBERS. Put a date on the calendar. Find out how much you’ll need to save. (My son paid for his own plane ticket and some spending money). This will trigger more negative thinking, “I’ll wait” “I don’t know” “Maybe I should save for college instead”. Write down your doubts, notice how it detracts you from your goal, and recommit. Accomplishing goals is about commitment, focus and belief. Instead of wavering, start using the word HOW. How can I make more money before June? How can travel during off season without missing school?
  5. Go to your future self for advice. Imagine you have already accomplished your goal. You are yourself a year into the future and you did it! Ask your future self, “how did you make it happen?” “What steps did you take?” “What did you do when you got side-tracked and lost focus?” Have your future self write your action plan for you. What research do you need to do? How much money do you need to make? Who is a good person to share this goal with and who isn’t?
  6. Stretch yourself. Setting goals helps us discover new things about ourselves and benefit from “strategic byproducts” that we couldn’t have imagined before. Your goal might be to lose weight but in the process you find out you are allergic to dairy and you love doing yoga. I had a client “hire me to help with her career, but ended up saving her marriage.” When we do things outside our comfort zone, that feel aligned with who we are meant to be, all sorts of good things can happen. As little sister watched big brother accomplish his goal, now she is saving up to visit her friend and travel through Costa Rica.

I am working to turn my dream into a goal. Saying it out loud was scary at first (another good sign!) but here it is. My goal is to live in Lake Tahoe for a month next summer. If you know anyone who needs a house sitter, let them know I’m flexible on dates!

Want help setting goals turning your dreams into reality? Schedule a free discovery call at www.lifecoachingforparents.com/work-with-me

Got a strong-willed child?

Make your life easier by avoiding these two parenting traps.

Strong-willed kids know what they want and they feel determined to get it. Your opinion is heard, but just doesn’t carry as much weight as it does for a child who loves to please. Strong-willed kids like to learn experientially (just because you TELL them the ground is hot, doesn’t mean they are going to believe you until they try it for themselves). If your child has a strong desire to be in charge of themselves and follow through on their own ideas, this blog is for you. 

Raising a strong-willed preschooler takes a lot of work, patience and parenting savvy. As they grow older, their determination can be directed at things other than defying MOM & DAD. Often, these children will direct their passion towards women’s rights, animal rights, or other causes they feel strongly about. It can be a joy to watch these strong-willed kids make their mark on the world. 

HOWEVER, parenting them when they are little is a big job! We have to try and keep them ALIVE in order for them to change the world and we’ve got to watch out for the dreaded POWER STRUGGLE. Power struggles are a lose-lose situation (click here to read my blog about power struggles) and one of the biggest reasons we get into them is our desire to be a good mom. 

We often don’t even realize that our beliefs about being a good mom have been triggered. We might have subconscious beliefs that sound like this:

A good mom has a kids who get good grades and go to college.

A good mom has kids who eat healthy foods and bathe regularly.

A good mom doesn’t have children with depression or anxiety.

My strong-willed daughter is crispy red right now with a horrible sunburn. This triggers my “I’m a bad Mom” because a “good mom” wouldn’t let this happen.

I tried to put sunscreen on her. I offered, I cajoled, I reminded, but she’s a strong-willed 13 year old and I can only do so much to protect her fair Irish skin. I have learned that if she’s going to make smart choices, it has to be her idea, not mine. If I stay out of it and act like I don’t care, I’m hoping the pain of the sunburn will teach her all she needs to know. (I was hoping her Dad’s skin cancer treatments might send the message but NOT YET!) 

In order to not enter into a power struggle, I have to believe I am still a good Mom, even while she has a terrible sunburn and is damaging her skin.

I have clients who struggle in these areas:

Am I still a good Mom even if my son doesn’t go to college?

Can I be happy and proud of myself as a parent, even if my daughter is depressed?

What if he does break every bone in his body? Can I still think I’ve done my job as his Mom?

Don’t put your ability to believe you’re a good parent, in the hands of your children. It’s a disaster waiting to happen!  It makes us cling with fear and ferocity, to the manner in which our children live their lives. When they sense how invested we are in their behavior, it’s a recipe for rebellion. If you’ve got a strong willed child, notice where your biggest triggers are and consider the idea that you could be a great Mom, no matter what they do. Make room for imperfection in yourself and your children. It will make your life so much easier and your child won’t feel the need to rebel against you.

Believing we are good parents will make parenting a strong-willed child easier, more enjoyable, and pave a quicker path to happiness (and maybe even compliance) for the both of you.