Middle School Misery

Today’s Question: Middle School Misery

My son is finishing up 7th grade and had a terrible year. He is BEGGING me to homeschool him next year. He’s always struggled with reading but got through elementary school with help and support.

He’s a bright kid, knows everything about every type of animals and their habitats. He loves turning over rocks and finding bugs of all kinds. My joyful nature-lover has turned into a miserable, despondent lump.

We made him stick it out all year, hoping things would get better but he struggles with just about everything school has to offer: sitting in a classroom, listening, learning, doing homework.

He makes friends easily but I’m worried about how homeschooling will limit his socializing and mess up his opportunities for college and future. What should I do about my miserable middle schooler?    -Lynnette

Parent Educator Answer: Middle School Misery

This “middle school misery” is more common than you might think.

Kids who have undiagnosed learning disabilities can get through elementary school just fine, but middle school magnifies problem areas.

The workload creates a bottleneck for kids with attention problems.

Too much information comes in (that they are NOT interested in) causing attentional fatigue. This mental fatigue causes kids to zone out and miss critical instruction.

middle school misery

Kids who struggle to pay attention at school do not have a focusing problem when it comes to things they WANT to be doing. 

Some kids have the ability to HYPERFOCUS on things that fascinate them.  However, having too much uninteresting information at school doesn’t leave much time left over for one’s passion.

When there isn’t time to learn about things that truly lights them up, you’ll end up with a grumpy, zombie child.

Kids without learning disabilities can struggle with traditional school as well.

Highly sensitive children can soak up the insecurities on a middle school campus so that they feel lost and drained of their own energy.

With so much pressure put on kids to perform and the fast pace of society, the mental and emotional health of students is of high concern.

Any kid who has a predisposition toward anxiety may find their symptoms ramping up during these sensitive years. 

Our brains are not designed for the amount of input we are currently taking in. I’ve even noticed a change in my ability to focus my attention.

I used to read all the time but now my mind wanders more and struggles to keep attention on the page. I have to be really selective about what books I read because so few will grab my attention. 

 

Life Coaching Answer for Middle School Misery

Let’s start by accepting reality as it currently is today. You could argue that society is too fast-paced.

Perhaps schools should be designed to nurture the whole human being, not being so focused on college and the workforce.

It would be great if our educational institution were able to meet the unique needs of all children.

Could your child learn to adapt better to the system he is in? Maybe.

For clarity and peace, let’s just accept the schools as they are and your child’s brain and personality as it is.

Your son has an easy time making friends. Let’s assume that will continue wherever he goes.

He has an appetite for learning the subjects he is interested in which will probably rekindle once he has some free time and mental space.

We don’t know what the future will bring. If he stays in school, he may enter such a depressed state that he can’t handle high school, let alone college and beyond.

The same thing may be true if you pull him out and homeschool.

All we know is that, right now, he is struggling with school and he thinks he has found a solution.

Offer Contrast

An easy way to increase happiness is to offer contrast.

When you are blazing hot and you jump in a cold pool, it feels fabulously refreshing. If you are cold and jump into the same pool, it feels terrible.

Trying to drink 8 servings of water a day is tough for me, but when it’s hot and I’m thirsty, water is the best beverage on the planet!

I’m wondering if you could increase your child’s happiness by offering a contrasting experience.

I’m going to tell you a few different scenarios of other moms who were in your shoes. Surprisingly, they found homeschooling scenarios worked for them.

I can’t tell you what is right for you or your child. Only you know what’s best for you and your situation, but perhaps these stories from others will help you access your own wisdom.

My Son

My son incurred a head injury when he was 11 and could no longer function at school. ‘

His hormones were completely out of whack (cortisol through the roof and almost no adrenaline).

He couldn’t sleep at night, couldn’t get up in the morning, and felt easily overwhelmed and overstimulated.

He accrued many absences the first quarter of sixth grade and trying to keep up with assignments was stressing him out.

By November, it was clear: he wasn’t getting better.

We pulled him out and finally treated the concussion we should have treated back in May.

He enrolled in an online school, I worked from home, and he continued to play soccer.

By April, he was well enough to go with his class to 6th grade science camp for a week in nature. The more downtime he had, the more he could recuperate.

Life at home with mom for six months made him appreciate his classmates and the structure of school. He returned to school for 7th grade and stayed.

Sheri

Sheri pulled her son out of middle school at his request.

Her job allowed her to work remotely so she enrolled him in a Shakespeare theater program where he read, studied, performed, fundraised, learned set design, etc.

He got to study every aspect of theater with others who shared his passion, while she worked on her laptop and phone.

For the other subjects, he worked online or with a tutor at the kitchen table. It’s been a few years and he has no interest in going back.

Katherine

Homeschooling versus M,iddle School Misery

Katherine’s daughter’s anxiety was unmanageable. She felt pressured and was missing lots of school due to headaches and other vague symptoms.

Katherine found a retired teacher on Craig’s List with dyslexia training who was willing to come to her house for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week.

Her daughter missed her friends and did not like this new arrangement.

She still saw her friends after school and at gymnastics, but she relaxed, worked hard to get caught up academically, and learned to manage her anxiety.

The next year she felt stronger, more capable, and ready to return to school.

 

Eileen

Eileen’s 6th-grade daughter was sinking into depression.

Everything about school seemed like a chore: the work, the social dynamics, being pulled out for extra academic help.

Her parents pulled her from school and divided up her studies between mom, dad, and grandma.

They increased her time at her favorite horse ranch to 12 hours a week. To their delight, they watched the light come back in her eyes.

They don’t know what they will do next year, but they will let their daughter’s happiness and mental health guide their decisions.

I hope these examples of other moms give you support and guidance as you make a difficult decision.

Supermom Kryptonite – information overload 

Information overload occurs when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity.

Too much information causes a bottleneck in the brain. This thus increases feelings of stress and overwhelm and reducing the quality of our decisions.

The amount of information that we take into our brains continues to skyrocket.

If you think of a typical newspaper being about 85 pages, in 1986 we received about 40 newspapers full of information every day.

In 2007, this rocketed to 174 newspapers full of information we are taking into our brains every day.

Having too much information streaming in not only affects our children’s mental well being but ours too.

When we are trying to make important decisions, like what to do about our child’s education, it’s easy to get bogged down in information and choices.

Be wary of spending too much time online, googling, and gathering information.

The world is changing fast. It’s more important than ever that you slow down, focus on your child’s well being, and listen to your gut intuition.

Which leads me to recommend today’s supermom power boost, Forest Bathing.

Forest bathing
My happy place

Supermom Power Boost

Forest Bathing basically means to go into a forest and stay awhile.

Breathe. Sit. Walk. Savor.

Since I am writing this from my campsite in a magnificent redwood forest on the California coast, I couldn’t help but choose this for today’s power boost.

Forest bathing is a technique that originated in Japan during the 1980s and is suggested for preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.

Researchers in Japan and South Korea have gathered significant scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest.

Forest bathing (immersing yourself in a forest) is shown to have several benefits. It boosts immune system function, reduces blood pressure and stress, improves mood, sleep, and energy levels.

Being in the woods is shown to increase focus, especially in children with ADHD.

For moms, trying to make important decisions, there is tremendous value in cutting out all external input and listening to your own gut intuition, voice and values.

Let the forest shift you into a relaxed, receptive state FIRST. You will then notice how your creativity and quality of thinking improve. 

Quote of the Day:

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein 

Disrespectful Child

What’s the right way to handle a disrespectful child?

My son is 8, is a great kid all around, but he’s mean to me. He can be sweet and loving one minute, but a rude and disrespectful child the next. He talks back, ignores me when I’m talking, and “accidentally” bumps me with his backpack when we’re walking into school. The teachers have no complaints, he behaves perfectly at school, it’s only at home with me that his disrespectful behavior comes out. What am I doing that makes him treat me so poorly?    -Ava

Thank you for this question, Ava.

I’ll never forget when the speaker’s bureau I worked for asked me, “Could you teach a class on raising gracious children?”

I thought they were joking. They knew my daughter. They had been around her since she was a baby. Every time I brought her in, they would say “Hi, how are you?” “look at your cute shoes?” “How old are you?” She NEVER answered.

She would stare and glare but never smile and never respond, so I thought they were being sarcastic: making a joke about ME teaching a class on gracious children based on my very ungracious daughter!

The “people-pleaser” in me was embarrassed by her behavior, but my co-workers weren’t as bothered by her as I was.

They were serious.

I figured this would be a good challenge for me, so I took it on.

Here’s what I learned in my research and preparation for teaching this class on raising gracious children:  Children learn by imitation. If you are kind and polite, chances are they will be too. EVENTUALLY. When they are little, their personality, emotions, and other motivations come before social niceties.

So the real question I set out to answer is: “How do I act graciously, no matter how my child is behaving?”

I’ll dive into this in the life coaching answer, but first, we’ll start with the parent education answer.

Parent Education answer

We want to take a look at what might be motivating Ava’s son to be polite at school and be a  rude and disrespectful child at home.

Based on your scenario, I’m going to guess it’s one of two things:

1. He feels yucky on the inside and wants you to know it.

It’s possible he doesn’t know how to express his negative emotion in a constructive way, and/or he doesn’t feel like it’s ok to have negative emotions like anger or sadness.

If this is the case, helping him develop some emotional vocabulary is very helpful. You can do this by talking about your own emotions, “I feel so mad I want to hit something” (you could even find something to hit like a couch cushion or kick an empty cardboard box).

If you were feeling low, you could say, “I feel sad so I’m going outside to be by myself.” or “I’m disappointed that my friend canceled plans so I’m going to draw a picture of what I’m feeling.”

Showing him that everyone has negative emotions sometimes, and modeling how to cope in healthy and appropriate ways would boost his emotional intelligence.

You can also help him pay attention to his emotions when you notice he’s starting to misbehave by saying things like “You feel disappointed” or “You feel frustrated.”

Print out a page of different emotion faces and put it on your fridge to help him identify and understand the nuances of his different emotions.

When we are having strong emotions, they can feel really overwhelming. By naming them, we contain them; it makes them feel manageable.

I learned this when I was 14 and tried out for cheerleading. I worked hard and did my best but didn’t make the squad.

When I walked in the house after the tryouts, my dad said, “I thought you said you wouldn’t be disappointed if you didn’t make the squad?” I burst into tears, yelled, “I said I WOULD be disappointed!” I ran into the bathroom and slammed the door.

I remember looking in the mirror as the tears flowed down my face and said to myself, “I’m disappointed. Is that what this is? I’ve been disappointed before. I can handle this.”

Then I felt fine. I was totally over it. Even the following year when I tried out again and didn’t make it, I allowed myself to be disappointed without any drama.

Humans aren’t meant to be happy all the time. We want to make sure our kids have access to the wide range of human emotions, and we can do this by modeling it for them in a healthy way.

2. He wants you to discipline him.

Discipline comes from the root word discipulus- the Latin word for student. Kids like rules and structure when it comes to their behavior, even if they don’t show it.

When kids know what to expect, it calms them down. Sometimes they may choose to ignore our expectations, but it’s our job to lay it out there and tell them the behavior we want to see.

I struggled with parenting a rebellious child who was always fighting for power. I would try and offer her choices: “Do you want to wear the red or the blue?” She would NEVER choose one of my options. She’d always go for whatever I didn’t want her to wear, just to defy me.

I would offer mac ‘n cheese or peanut butter sandwich and she would declare that she will only eat red foods. As soon as my fridge was full of red food, she would switch to green. It drove me crazy because I wanted life to be easy and for us to get along. She just wanted to assert her power.

After much debate, I decided to put my strong-willed daughter in Catholic school. I was nervous. It was a great kindergarten program with the most fabulous teacher, but it was old-school strict.

These kids were taught to BEHAVE. I thought, “It’s either going to be great, or really terrible.” My plan was to switch her to a Montessori school for first grade, assuming Kindergarten was going to be a nightmare.

Her teacher was so savvy. My daughter tested her for the first four months. How much can I get away with? Do you really mean what you say? What if I do it this way? You draw the line here, what about here?

As soon as my daughter realized that she couldn’t outsmart her teacher, she relaxed. It’s like all that energy and attention she was putting into trying to control everyone and everything, could shift into learning and being a kid.

Some kids are strong willed and will fight for power, but it’s too much responsibility for them to be in charge. No five year old, or eight year old, should be in charge.

When kids know there is a strong authority figure present, they get to be a kid. They get to relax and play, knowing someone else will steer them back on track if they wander.

Could it be, Ava, that your son is asking for more discipline?

Life Coaching Answer: 

Based on your question, Ava, I’m going to guess that you bounce back and forth between anger “he shouldn’t be treating me this way” to helplessness “Why can’t he be nice to me?” This does not feel good.

It’s kind of like you’ve got this powerless, abandoned kitten on one shoulder whispering “please be nice to me” and a ferocious tiger on the other saying “you better be nice to me.” Bouncing back and forth between these two keeps you out of your power.

I want you to listen to the energy embedded in the last sentence of your question: “What am I doing that makes him act so poorly?”

Can you feel the emotion in that sentence? Self-blame? Guilt, maybe? It’s coming from weak energy.

Your first sentence felt the opposite: “What’s the right way to handle a disrespectful child?” Can you hear this one is a bit more annoyed?

It implies there is a right way and wrong way, and because you label the behavior as disrespectful, I’m guessing you are in anger.

Most people think that angry, ferocious tiger energy is you being powerful, but studies show the most powerful energy is calm, assertive energy.

In order to TEACH your child how to treat you, you’ve first got to find your calm, confident energy. Which means stepping out of blame and accepting reality without argument.

You aren’t a bad mom because your child misbehaves or is rude to you. Can you imagine a child that NEVER talks back? That ALWAYS says the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, since the day they learned to talk?  That would be weird, right?

Like a little Stepford robot child. If that happened you’d still probably be writing into me, concerned that your child is behaving too well. Something must be wrong with them if they never misbehave, right?

Our thoughts create our emotional energy. Notice how you feel when you think, “He’s disrespectful.” It makes you angry and annoyed. You want to snap back, yell, give him the silent treatment, basically mirror how he is treating you.

Notice how you feel when you think, “What am I doing wrong?” “Why won’t he be nice to me?” “I should have this figured out by now”.  Those thoughts make you feel weak. You give in, letting him have the power to treat you poorly.

You want to find a thought that gives you the feeling of calm confidence. The word that helped me was “teach.” I can teach her to be kind by my actions. I will teach her how to treat me.

Every time my daughter did something I didn’t like, I would treat it as a lesson. “When you ignore me, I feel unimportant. What I’d like to hear you say, is ‘Ok, Mom.'”Most kids don’t like learning the same lesson every day (especially strong-willed ones). This “instruction” motivated her to adopt the behavior I was looking for because being told the same thing every day became annoying.

When she talked back, I would remind myself, “She is asking me for more guidance”.In order to curb your son’s behavior, Ava, find a thought that gives you the feeling of calm, confidence. “I know what to do here” is a good one. Think it often and see if it helps YOU change YOUR behavior, giving you the change in your son’s behavior that you are looking for.

Supermom Kryptonite – The Dictator and The Wild Child

I learned about this concept from my first life coach teacher, Martha Beck. I obsessively read every book she wrote and learned about “the dictator and the wild child” in her book, The Four Day Win: End Your Diet War and Achieve Thinner Peace.

When people are dieting to lose weight, they very often create two opposing characters she calls The Dictator and The Wild Child. The dictator is the voice in our heads that only allows us to eat spinach and quinoa. We must do everything right, eat everything right, and never falter.

Most people can’t keep up with this perfectionistic discipline, nor do they want to. So they then create this wild child who rebels against the dictator and says, “Screw you! I can do what I want, eat what I want, anytime I want.”

Bouncing back and forth between these two extremes is exhausting and a huge energy drain. You decide you want to eat healthily, but then you rebel against yourself to the point where it feels like you are eating behind your own back.

These two extremes can play out in parenting as well as weight loss.  We develop this idealized version of ourselves; the perfectly balanced mom who does everything right.

Naturally, we can’t keep up with these perfectionistic expectations. We yell, we say things we regret, we snap at our kids, never understanding it’s because our expectations for ourselves aren’t allowing for imperfection.

If this sounds familiar, the fix isn’t more will power and discipline nor is it to beat yourself up. We want to LISTEN to the wild child. What does it need more of? What would feel joyful and playful to the wild child?

This isn’t an “angel and devil on the shoulders” scenario. Maintaining perfection isn’t part of being human so that goal will always create rebellion. Find some middle ground by asking “What emotion do I want to feel, no matter how my kid behaves?”

Supermom Power Boost – Becoming the watcher

A friend of mine described it best. She was in a hospital bed, having a severe allergic reaction to a medication. Her body was in anaphylactic shock and her brain was in psychosis.

As she lay there, she became aware of her body shutting down and her brain was spinning in crazy directions. Very calmly, she had the thought, “There’s a third thing”. My body is freaking out. My brain is in crazy town. But there’s a third thing. This part of me that can OBSERVE the other two things without attachment is very calm.

You don’t have to be in a life-threatening situation to become the watcher of your brain, we do it on every life coaching call.

When you become the watcher of your mind, you detach from the wild child and the dictator. You aren’t either one of those. You are the person who can observe them, watch them talk, argue, and fight but with detachment. It’s like being a scientist, just observing with curiosity, not buying into any story.

Learning to become the watcher of your brain and body is key to a peaceful, engaged life.

This is what meditation is all about. From the watcher position, you get to choose how to react when your kid talks back, what goals you want to pursue, whether you want to eat that candy or not.

Everything you want in life begins with becoming the watcher. Meditation, journal writing, life coaching, mindfulness all help develop this skill.

Quote of the day “Stepping back from the Dictator and the Wild Child and becoming the Watcher is like thinking you’ve been stuck on a railroad track, able to move only backward and forward, and discovering that you had the capacity to fly all along.”  Martha Beck

Fighting kids – How to get my kids to stop hating each other

Episode #14

Today’s Question:

My middle school kids are constantly fighting. They are close in age (12 and 13) and used to be the best of friends, always playing happily together. Lately, however, it’s been awful. They bicker and are constantly picking on each other, trying to bring the other down. I really want my boys to be friends again! How can I get my kids to stop hating each other? Sheila

Parent Educator Answer:

If your children used to get along very well, that tells me you did a great job of staying out of their conflicts. Children who are at each other from a young age have figured out how to bring mom into the argument and triangulate the issue. When mom is involved, kids can use siblings to fight for power, control, attention, superiority, etc. (If this sounds like you, or you have other issues with fighting siblings, go to www.lifecoachingforparents.com/record-my-question and tell me about your situation).

There is a lot to talk about with sibling rivalry, and we’ll need more than one podcast to cover all the topics. 

For this one, I’m going to assume that Sheila is not getting involved, but is just bothered by having to listen to her two precious babies go at each other.

There are many reasons why pre-teens might start picking on their sibling when they didn’t before. I want to focus on the two most common and developmentally appropriate reasons for this sudden change.

  1. Adolescent angst. Puberty does a number on kids. The hormones cause stronger emotional responses and mood swings, making ‘walking on eggshells’ an everyday situation. Puberty also usually involves hanging out with people who constantly scrutinize and criticize each other’s appearances, performance, speech, and food choices. You name it, some adolescent is judging it. When kids are soaking up everyone else’s negative, insecure emotions like a sponge all day long, they ring it out when they get home. Who is the easiest person to target? Their sibling.

The question I would want to ask my kid is, “Does it work?” If they feel yucky when they get in the car, do they feel better after putting their sibling down and pointing out all their flaws? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t, either way, teaching your child to reflect on their own words and actions is super powerful. 

Whether the answer to the question is yes or no, I would then ask, “Is there another way you can purge the yucky-ness of your day and feel better, that doesn’t involve picking on your sibling?”

Some kids purge verbally, by venting and getting it all off their chest. Some purge physically by hopping on their bike or shooting hoops. Spending time alone, taking a shower, writing in a journal, hanging out with friends, reading a book, are all ways pre-teens have found to feel better after being surrounded by negative people all day.

 2. The other reason why you might see an increase in sibling rivalry during puberty is your child (usually the older one) is wanting to create a bigger separation between himself and his sibling. This desire to be seen as older, wiser, different, and more mature grows really strong between 12-15. (This can be seen with twins as well). Adolescence is all about figuring out who you are and who you want to be? When kids are trying to figure out what their interests and skills are or which friend group they feel most comfortable with, they need to wiggle out of their child self like a snake shedding it’s skin. It can be hard for a pre-teen to know who they are if they maintain the tight relationship they’ve always had with their siblings, parents, or close friends. The pre-teen years are a time of rapid and massive growth and they need space to figure it all out.

It’s pretty common for kids to “cocoon” as they transform themselves from a kid into an adult. Cocooning can look like being in the bedroom or bathroom for long periods of time with the door closed, wanting more alone time, or cocooning with a best friend and excluding others. The sibling relationship connects to who they were as a child, some kids need to separate from it in order to become the adult they are meant to be. Fighting and constantly putting down a sibling is an effective way to separate.

It’s nice to know why things happen, but what the heck is Mama supposed to DO about it?

Parent Educator Tips for Sibling Rivalry 

  1. Stay out of it. As much as we would like to, we don’t get to decide what kind of relationship our kids are going to have with each other. Their relationship is their’s to figure out and we need to let go of any preconceived idea of what it’s supposed to look like. If your sister is your best friend, you might have expectations for your girls having the same close relationship and get really bothered when they “hate on each other”. 
  2. Protect their SAFETY. Wrestling and “horse-play” are great ways for kids to learn boundaries. When kids grow up “rough-housing” they learn about remorse, apologizing, inflicting pain, boundaries, and saying no like you mean it. Generally kids will stop on their own, right at the point where their sibling might get hurt. But, if they have triangulated a parent into it, or are using sibling rivalry to serve themselves in an unhealthy way, they may harm their sibling. Then, it is absolutely the parent’s job to protect the sibling.
  3. Treat your children as fairly as possible. If they sense favoritism, they may take it out on their sibling. Don’t compare: “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” Don’t label: “She’s the aggressive one, he’s the smart one,” and spend quality time with both.
  4. Let them see you resolving conflicts in a calm way with other adults.
  5. Establish house rules like “no hitting or hurting” or “no name calling”. Post them where everyone can see and have consistent consequences when those rules are not followed.

Life Coaching Answer –

Learn all you can about how to responsibly manage sibling rivalry but when it’s not working for you, life coaching comes in handy.

Kids fighting with each other is a circumstance. As much as she would like to, Sheila can’t make them change without the kids wanting to change. Wishing they would stop is like going outside everyday and yelling at the weather, telling it that it needs to be different. It might be true. You might be sick of the cold or rain, but feeling annoyed everyday because the weather isn’t they way you’d like it is fruitless and only causes suffering for YOU.

Sheila wants them to stop because she doesn’t like how she feels when they are fighting.

She’s probably thinking thoughts like…

“I want them to get along like they used to.” (arguing with reality)

or “They shouldn’t be so mean and hateful with each other” (too much negative emotion)

or “I don’t know what to do” (causes confusion).

These thoughts or similar ones cause negative emotions for MOM. It’s time to figure out what you have control over and focus on that.

How do YOU want to feel WHEN your kids are fighting?

You get to choose!

Do you want to feel confident? Think the thought “I know what to do here”.

Do you want to feel calm? Then think “I can trust them to work it out”.

Do you want to feel content? Think “This behavior is normal and temporary”.

When you are feeling a positive emotion, you will be more likely to implement the recommendations parent educators have to offer.

Before you are in the situation of your kids arguing, play it out in your imagination. Picture them fighting with each other, and imagine you are staying calm. Imagine evaluating the situation peacefully and objectively, “Do I need to keep him safe?” “Is he just purging the “yuck” he picked up during the day?” “Is he trying to separate himself from the family?” Observe the fighting with a scientific mind, then practice feeling calm/confident or whatever emotion you want to feel. Picture yourself taking action from that place. Imaging making comments appropriate to the situation like, “You guys sure like to fight” or “You must have had a pretty awful day today to be picking on your sister so much” or “Let me know when you are done fighting so I can make us a snack”.

You cannot control your children’s relationship but you can decide how you want to feel about it. When you stay calm, and model how to resolve conflicts peacefully, you are showing them another way.

Supermom Kryptonite – Mirror Neurons

We have mirror neurons in our brain that help us connect with the other people in the room. Mirror neurons are what make us smile when a baby smiles at us, or cry in a powerful “This Is Us” episode. When kids are “hating on each other” our default is to “hate on them” or “hate the situation.” We default to matching or mirroring the emotions of the people around us unless we do something deliberately different. We think,”You need to stop being so mean to your sister because it’s driving me crazy.” We think our argumentative teens are making us feel annoyed and frustrated, but our emotions are coming from our brain. Taking time to notice how we are feeling and deliberately overriding these mirror neurons is completely possible and a great thing to model to our adolescents. 

Try asking them, “How do you hang out with critical, insecure middle schoolers all day and not let it affect you?” They may not believe you if you tell them how mirror neurons work but this might plant a seed in your teen’s brain. When YOU learn to separate your emotions from your kid’s emotions, you will be modeling for them, how to separate from other people’s negative emotions. 

Supermom Powerboost – little ones

Even though you can override other people’s negative emotions by setting a clear intention for the feeling you WANT to feel, most of us don’t want to work that hard. If you are surrounded by cranky adolescents, go hang out with some little ones. Babies, pre-schoolers or any pre-pubescent kiddo is a joy to be around (especially when you aren’t responsible for their well being). When adolescent angst hit my home, I got myself a part-time job at an elementary school. It’s much easier to deal with argumentative teens when I spent the day with happy children who write me love notes and get so excited when “Mrs. Henderson” walks by. Do you have nieces or nephews to play with? Could you volunteer once a week or invite the neighbor kids over for a holiday craft? You don’t want to ride the emotional roller coaster of adolescence along with your kiddos. Find ways, like hanging out with small children, to keep you separate and balanced so you can be your best self for your teens and pre-teens.

Quote “Siblings: children of the same parents, each of whom is perfectly normal until they get together.” — Sam Levenson

Yell less by saying no more

Today’s Question:

My kids are constantly pressuring me for sweets. They ask for sugary cereal when they get up in the morning, cookies after school, and dessert before they go to bed at night.

My daughter tells me other kids tease her when she brings healthy food to school. She wants to bring processed junk food like everyone else.

Everywhere we go, people are offering junk to my kids. Lollipops at the bank, donuts after a soccer game, birthday celebrations at school, it’s everywhere!

My kids spot it, start begging for it and keep pressuring me until I give in or yell. It’s been happening more lately where I get so sick of their constant asking and begging that I scream, yell, and throw a frickin’ tantrum.

How can I find peace while living with sugar-crazed kids in a sugar-crazed culture? Lisa

Parent Educator Response:

You teach your kids how to treat you. Intermittent reinforcement is a conditioning schedule in which a reward (or punishment) is handed out in random intervals.

Gambling is an example of intermittent reinforcement. You never know when you are going to win, and that anticipation keeps you coming up back for more.

In Lisa’s case, she is unknowingly reinforcing her kids’ begging and pleading behavior, by intermittently giving in and saying yes. If she said yes, right away, every time, there would be no need for begging. If she said no every time they asked for sweets, they would get bored and stop asking.

Without realizing it, Lisa has created a scenario where her kids are randomly rewarded for their begging and pleading. Not only because intermittent reinforcement can be addictive, but because the reward is sugar, which releases dopamine, the reward chemical in the child’s brain.

This floods the brain with feel-good chemicals making the “sugar high” a fabulous reward and worth the occasional “no” response or mommy temper tantrum.

For Lisa to get her kids to stop begging for sugar, and for her to stop yelling, she needs to pick a rule (any rule) and stay consistent with reinforcing it. When she creates a boring situation for the kids where they don’t get rewarded for asking Mom for sweets, they will stop asking. She can yell less, by saying no more.

Life Coaching Answer: (or….why is this so hard to do)

It sounds like Lisa is battling something many moms struggle with: balancing “doing the right thing” with “making our kids happy.”

Sugar is a highly inflammatory food. Inflammation is the root of disease. Since we care about our children’s health, the “right thing to do” is to limit sugar intake.

Purchase, prepare, pack and serve healthy foods so our kids will be healthy. Whatever everyone else wants to do, is their business. If other kid’s parents have different values, so be it. If banks and dry cleaners want to offer candy to your kids, you can let your kid decide, or practice saying a polite “no thank you.” Consistency and conviction are key to making this become a non-issue.

Make sure not to be too restrictive, or too indulgent, or your efforts may backfire.

Those two things are hard to come by because although we care about our child’s health, we also really like making our kids happy.

We love it when their faces light up with joy and excitement! They look at us like every one of their dreams came true in the form of a frosted cookie.

When WE grant permission for a sugary sweet, then we are the givers of joy and happiness and they know it. Then, WE get a little hit of dopamine! The reward center in our brain goes off saying, “more of this please!”

We get hooked on being the source and provider of joy. This makes us want to hang on to all decision making power so that we can bathe in mutual happiness and dopamine with our sugar eating kids.

When you’ve got two competing beliefs like this, it’s easy to get stuck in a cycle of frustration. Leading to what I like to call, “the exploding doormat.” You get so tired of the begging and pleading not only from your kids, but also from the back and forth negotiations of these two competing voices, that you end up exploding and yelling out of frustration.

You just want your kids to STOP ASKING so you don’t have to listen to the negotiations going on inside your head. But because of the random reinforcement, your kids have been trained to keep asking, so it’s much easier to change mama’s behavior.

In order to quiet these voices, mama needs to make a decision ahead of time. Ever wonder why some moms don’t struggle with this problem at all? It’s because they have made a decision.

Here are some examples of decisions moms have communicated to their children to stop the sugar battle once and for all.

  1. You can have ONE treat per day. If you want that first thing in the morning, fine. If someone offers you candy later, you can accept it, but you have to save it for the next day. Or you can collect treats all day long then at night, choose one.
  2. I am not going to monitor your sugar intake anymore. If you eat so much that you feel sick and throw up, then maybe you will learn. This is your opportunity to learn which foods make your body feel the best. If, however, you are so full of junk that you stop eating the healthy food I am providing for you, then I will take the responsibility back.
  3. No treats during the week, we save that for weekends.
  4. You’ve got to earn your desserts. Score a goal, win a donut. Let your brother choose the TV show, earn some fruit snacks. Clean the bathroom, we’ll bake cookies. Eat your vegetables, get some ice cream. Do something you are scared to do like an oral report or trying out for the school play, win a trip to Starbucks.

The specifics of the rule you make aren’t as important as sticking to it with self pride, conviction and consistency. Think about 20 years from now, what are the results you will get from the two voices? The “I want my kids to be healthy” voice will result in healthier kids, with them respecting your authority and POSSIBLY having good boundaries with themselves and their eating.

The “I want to make my kids to be happy” voice will struggle when adolescence hits and they are grumpy and cranky. All the sugar in the world won’t turn that around, but you’ll bend yourself backward trying to get that feel-good dopamine hit from seeing them happy. Will you let them drink alcohol and smoke pot if it makes them happy? Will you buy them their dream car?  Trying to make kids happy all the time will exhaust you and make you, and them, miserable.

The best thing to do is to focus on making YOU happy, not your kids. If you are tired of yelling and being an “exploding doormat,” then focus on making decisions YOU feel good about.

When you have a very clear NO, there’s no need for yelling, no matter how much kids beg and plead. You get to be a mom you admire, today and 20 years down the road. Make decisions based on what will make you happy and proud of yourself in the long term.

Supermom Kryptonite: “False Joy”

“False Joy” is anything that brings you joy and happiness in the short term, but leaves you feeling yucky in the long term.

Eating sugar can give you a boost of energy and happiness, but in the long term can give you weight gain, increase the chance of disease, and make you sluggish and have low energy.

Be aware of the “false joy” hangover. You have fun shopping and splurging on things you don’t need, but the next day you hide your packages in your trunk feeling regretful and shameful. You stay up late binge-watching an entire season on Netflix, then wake up the next morning feeling exhausted.

When something brings you joy, how do you know if it’s real, long-lasting happiness, or a “false joy” that will leave you feeling hungover? You can tell by imagining how are you going to feel afterward.

Should you splurge on a vacation to Disney World? Of course it will be joyful, it’s the happiest place on Earth! But how will you feel AFTER you get back? Will you be glad you went and spent, or will you be so stressed and in debt that it will leave you feeling hungover? Only you know the answer.

Are you too tired to go to the gym? Would taking a nap bring you more joy than exercise? You’ll know by what you regret later. If you have a cold coming on, and you work out, you’ll feel worse after the gym and wish you hadn’t gone. If, however, you feel more energized after exercise, and are glad you went, then this is you following real, authentic, long-lasting joy.

 

Supermom Powerboost: Green Smoothies

Drinking your vegetables makes it way easier to get the recommended dietary amount. “Green smoothies” can improve your energy, your mental clarity, boost your immune system, improve digestion, hydrate your skin (making you look younger), and help you lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight.

Without the weird textures and smells, vegetable drinks are often more palatable for many kids. The look of them, however, turns people off. There are many varieties that taste quite sweet, so don’t assume they taste bad because they look bad. In order to get kids to drink “green smoothies,” mom needs to drink them without turning up her nose at them.

To get over the look of them, try bringing your ego on board. Chances are, your favorite Hollywood celebrity drinks them (you don’t get that thin by eating french fries) so imagine you are hanging out with your favorite celebrity, sitting on a patio in the sunshine, being admired by passersby and photographed by the paparazzi.

Think about how cool you look drinking your green juice, nibbling on raw carrots and hummus, just like the celebrities do. Imagine that people in your home town are impressed by you, “How does she drink something that looks so gross?”, “She’s must be so strong to not indulge in junk food”, “Her skin is glowing and she looks so young, it must be those green smoothies!”

Our ego is pretty powerful, why not use it to help us get the long term happiness we crave?

Today’s Quote:

“The most important thing is to ENJOY your life. To be happy –  it’s all that matters.” Audrey Hepburn

 

How to prevent “failure to launch”?

Today’s question: 

“My son is 16 and UNMOTIVATED. He gets by at school, but that’s it. He doesn’t play sports or have a job or even his driver’s license. I’ve given this kid every opportunity, and I’m resentful that he doesn’t appreciate it. I’m sick of nagging and trying to motivate him because clearly, it’s not working. I’m worried he’s going to be one of those “failure to launch” kids who’s thirty years old and just lays on the couch playing video games and smoking pot. This is unacceptable to me. How can I prevent a “failure to launch?” – April

Parent Educator Answer: “Failure to Launch” is a term used to describe a delay into adult independence and responsibility. Mom has a strong idea in her head of where a 16 year old should be (getting a driver’s license and job), but since he isn’t moving in that direction, she starts worrying about what this means for his future.

There are MANY reasons why we are seeing an increase in “failure to launch” scenarios in our culture. 

It’s common in Supermom culture to do too much for our kids. Optimizing children’s opportunities and focusing on kids instead of parental happiness is unnatural, and puts stress on the family. When we use stress and fear to fuel our actions (we’d better sign up for music lessons, private coaching, tutoring or else we’ll be left behind) our kids don’t learn to motivate themselves out of joy, passion, or interest.

With downtime and boredom, kids learn to listen to their inner wisdom and what interests they want to pursue for their adult life. American kids have less down time than ever before. When every spare minute is filled with a text, tweet, or video game, kids aren’t able to hear what their wisdom is telling them.

Our perfectionistic parenting culture puts too much emphasis on ‘doing everything right’ and meeting societal expectations. It’s really hard for a kid to transition into a new version of themselves when they are afraid of making mistakes or failing. Some kids think the safest way to avoid failure is to not try. Avoiding new things is a common way of coping with the anxiety and fear that naturally bubble up as kids grow into the challenges of adulthood.

Our culture creates the perfect recipe for “failure to launch”. While podcasts like this are trying to change the perfectionistic, work hard and blame the mom culture, what can this mom do to help her (possibly) fearful, avoidant son?

Right now, nothing. Because her emotions are rooted in fear, everything she says or does will add to his fear, increasing his tendency toward avoidance.

Life Coach Answer: I know it’s easy to look at your son’s current behavior and “futurize” and “catastrophize” imagining that he will never change. When you do that, you put your brain into the fight or flight response believing there is an emergency to be addressed right NOW. This angry, fearful energy makes you nag, complain, cajole, and TRY to get him to do what YOU want. He picks up on your fear, making him increase his desire to avoid the world.

Before you can take productive action, you need to release the anger and fear. Why? Because emotions are contagious. When you are calm and confident, he will pick up on that. In order to face the many challenges that lie ahead of him, he needs to have confidence in his ability to achieve AND to fail.

First, recognize that in this moment, all is well. There are no immediate threats to your safety or to his. Breathe and notice that all the drama is happening inside your own head. You are using your imagination to create a dreary future scenario. You could just as easily envision ten other futures for him instead of the one you currently are.

Most moms dread this “failure to launch” scenario because of what they would say to themselves and to their sons if this situation came about. “I failed. He’s a failure.” So let’s make a commitment right here and now that, no matter what, you will focus on love. “I loved him with all my heart.” “He is still 100% lovable, no matter what.” “Even if he never lives up to his potential, I will love him.” “My job is just to love, the rest is up to him.”

Now that we’ve got you out of fear, you can actually say and do things that might help.

Encourage small steps, rather than criticize. Find something to focus on that is a sign of growth or forward momentum, no matter how small. “You found the DMV website today, YEAH!” “You were nervous to ask your friend about his job but you did it anyway, that’s great!” Praising or rewarding him every time he faces his fear is how we undo perfectionism. Then, he can learn to associate the negative feeling of fear, with a positive result.

Meanwhile, you can hold a vision of him being brave and bold, until he can hold it for himself. Picture him taking chances, being brave, and feeling scared but doing it anyway.

Moms can help prevent “failure to launch” by remembering that the number one way kids learn, is by imitation.

I was introducing a group of girl scouts to jumping rope and how to run into it while it’s moving and then start jumping. One at a time, each girl positioned themselves to run in; studying the rhythm of the rope, trying to decide the optimal time to go for it. Their facial expressions showed fear, determination, interest, hesitation, and courage. One girl stood at the ready, nervous but determined, waiting for courage to kick in. Her mom felt uncomfortable seeing her daughter so hesitant, so she ran into the moving jump rope and said: “Look, it’s easy, just do it like this.”

Immediately, this girl’s face crumbled. She folded her arms, walked off, sat against the wall, defeated, and would not try again.

This was such a lesson for me. That sometimes, our competence can actually drain the confidence right out of our kids.

If we want our kids to do new and scary things, what helps them isn’t telling them about our successes, but about our failures. Instead of telling them about how you worked two jobs and got your license at 16, tell them about the D you got in Geometry and had to go to summer school for. Share that embarrassing story about asking that guy to prom who never actually answered you. Conjuring up your past mistakes and sharing them, might be just the thing your son needs to challenge himself.

Better yet, let him see you trying something new. Have him teach you how to use SnapChat. Let him laugh at your ineptitude at his favorite video game. Or, use this opportunity to pursue something you have dreamt of doing but haven’t had the chance.

Thinking about starting a side-hustle? Now is a great time. Have you been wanting to cut out sugar, carbs, or meat? Why not try it now? Sign up for that half marathon. Start that club you’ve been wanting to start. Budget. Meditate. Make sure it’s something personally challenging to you so he can watch you struggle and stumble. This is THE best way you can help your son. It takes your attention off of him and gives you compassion, remembering that change isn’t as easy as it seems.

Supermom kryptonite: Futurizing & Catastrophizng

Futurizing doesn’t sound like a bad idea, “Isn’t it good to be thinking about and preparing for the future?”  Yes, we like to know what to expect, but many people only envision the worst case scenario (catastrophizing). Our brains can’t tell the difference between a real life catastrophic situation, and the imaginary one we create in our mind. We react as though the terrible thing we’re imagining is actually going to happen.

Try this, keep the worst case scenario in mind, but, just for fun, imagine the best possible scenario in the same detail as you did for your worst case. The vision in your head will be wrong either way, but it is much more enjoyable to imagine everything going perfectly. Now try imagining the funniest case scenario. Then, the weirdest. Then, the most boring. Choose to imagine the one that feels the best to you.

It’s easier to have a life coach help you separate your current, present reality, from your catastrophic future but this will get you started. Your imagination is something you control, why not put it to good use?

Supermom power boostCompassion.

When we recognize that our frustration is really about us and our fears, we can let it go and make room for compassion. Compassion is a wonderful emotion but we can’t access it when we are trying not to feel embarrassed or think that we have failed as a mom. Accept that your child will NEVER live up to his potential but you get to decide how you want to feel about him while he is struggling, learning, growing, failing and succeeding. Love and compassion are always great options that feel good. Embarrassment and shame will not give you the result you want, which is to feel like a good mom.

Quote of the Day: “We change, we grow up, we fuck up, we love, we hurt, we’re teenagers. We’re still learning.” – By Unknown Author

“When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog, so that someone in the house is happy to see you.” Nora Ephron

Go to www.lifecoachingforparents.com/work-with-me if you want help with your teen.