Three Plus Ways to Help Your Kids Through the Bump of Being Ostracized

I don’t know about you, but there have been times I have wanted to pull a child aside and get right in their face and tell them to stop being mean to my kid, or else….(fist up knuckles forward.)

One time, when my oldest was about 6 or 7, I spent days begging her to try swim team to see if she would like it (and I was feeling a little isolated and needed some new mom friends.)  FINALLY she agreed to do it, but it was an arms crossed and I’m going to hate every minute of it type of agreement.  But I did as I instruct my clients to do and I just listened to the words, not the non verbal behavior. So, “fine” with an eye role meant, “yes.”

So, we get her all suited up, new goggles in hand and a look like she’s going to melt down faster than an ice cube in a hot frying pan.  But I pretended not to see it and get her there, dragging her by the hand as she lagged behind with grumpus face.  I pulled up a chair, phone out with camera app open all ready to enjoy my parenting accomplishment of having an involved child.  I look over and this little (but appearing big) girl is standing between her and the one friend she knew (and who I had used as a tempting bribe to get her there) with her arms crossed and a horrifically mean look on her face.  This is a girl that used to be her friend. I watch but I’m not smiling anymore.  She then proceeds to turn her back toward my daughter and as my daughter tries to move to get around her the mean girl moves from side to side to block her.  The crestfallen look on my daughters face almost moved me to tears except it didn’t because I was too mad and was considering allowing my fight or flight response to propel me toward the girl to yell at her (and maybe just a little grab of the arm?)  Instead I looked at the girls mother to see if she was watching what was going on but she was busy chatting and laughing and being all popular.  My teeth were gritting together and I felt hate toward that child (and honestly, her mother too) that one should not admit, much less write down for all eternity to know.  But now you know, I wanted to bully that child right back. Mamma bear instincts full throttle.  But I didn’t.  My evolved brain over rode my ancient brain and I reminded my self that what doesn’t kill us….and deep breath.

Needless to say she did not go back to swim team, and I was fine with it.  I saw how it was more self serving than a true act of paying attention to who my kid really is.  Parenting fail number 307 out of 10,005.

But how do we help our kid when they are being ostracized or shunned by their once friend group? Especially when our Mamma or Papa bear instincts are flaring up which could potentially cause us to make a mistake we later come to regret (calling the parents before talking to your kid and then being hated by your kid for a week straight because you made the problem worse 🙋‍♀️ ,parenting fail number 650 out of 10,005.) I’m going to give a little spoiler here, yelling at or grabbing another child by the arm (even just a little grab) IS NOT the answer to the how.

There are a couple things I have learned about this from my fails and success as well as coaching countless parents through the same thing over the many years that I am happy I can share with you.

Step 1) (Wouldn’t that be so nice if parenting tips were always broken in to steps for us:)

We have to start with recognizing our own response. Recognize, pause, think.  Recognize the emotion that comes welling up inside of you when you hear the news.  Emotions are great, they are an indicator of where we are but they are not useful to lead with.  The more we make decisions when we are in an emotional state, the more problems we seem to create.  Often, a strong emotion we feel in regards to an experience our child is having comes from our own childhood experiences. We want to help our kid avoid the same uncomfortable feeling we went through and therefore we place more importance on the experience than perhaps is warranted.

For example, I was talking to a mom who was feeling very sad/mad about a recent experience her daughter went through on the first day of 8th grade.  Her daughter had been shunned by her friend group (welcome to this fine age when the shifting and reorganizing of friend groups is in full effect) and she was crying, which of course will break every parents heart.  I asked this mother if it reminded her of anything and she remembered not being invited to a birthday party and feeling very hurt about it.

These early childhood experiences are powerful and shape us in ways that aren’t always positive but contribute to defining who we are and the lens through which we look at life.  Of course we want our kids to have perfect experiences where their egos are left in tact and their self esteem soars through the air with the greatest of ease.  But this isn’t always reality. I have never in my life met one person who didn’t experience feeling left out or having someone be mean to them at some point in their lives.  Have you? Even the mean ones are acting the way they are because of their fear of being left out and needing some control. Therefore, we must control our own emotions so that we may assist our children thoughtfully through the inevitable challenges of social discord.  Handling it well will help them move through it, not get stuck in it.  Being a non-anxious presence in your child’s life is one of the greatest gifts you can give and the key to what goes in to handling it well. So Recognize (I’m feeling very reactive right now), pause (take a deep breath and release the emotion with your out breath) and think (what would my best, most thoughtful parenting self look like right now) RPT. There you go, let’s turn that into the next LOL, BRB, ILY, ETC.

Step 2)

Listen.  Listen with out interrupting. Be quiet except when you say,  “Tell me more.”  Stay calm and feel the desire to yell at the other child, call the parents, email the principal and… release.  Listen to their story.  Allowing them to process the story through language is very important.  Don’t offer solutions right away, don’t problem solve but listen and insert words that indicate their feelings are normal and tough and being heard.  I’ve said, “Wow, really?” “Ugh that is SO tough” “Then what happened?” “What did you think at that point?” I’m engaged in the story but not taking it over. At this point, after the story is over and the tears are causing the nose to run into their mouths, ask, “What can I do for you right now? Is there anything in this moment that would make you feel better?” See what they say and if they can’t think of anything you might say, “When I’m feeling like that all I want is a hug.”  There is nothing else you can do at this moment.  Even if you say the most brilliant problem solving ideas from your parental perspective, they won’t remember much of it because memories are stored in a different place during high times of emotion.  It isn’t retained in a meaningful way.  Not having to do anything but listen at this point also gives you the time to think about how you can be your most thoughtful self as you decrease emotion around it.

Step 3)

When the time is right, (later that evening or whenever you have asked if you can share some thoughts) teach your child they have control over how they perceive things.  With children, I use the analogy of different colored glasses.  I say, imagine there is a box in front of you that has loads of glasses that have lenses that are different colors.  Each pair you put on allows you to see the world in a totally different way.  Yellow makes everything bright and sunny, blue makes the same things look mysterious, and red makes those things look exciting.  If you are looking through the grey lens of feeling left out and hurt, make a choice to take those glasses off and put the yellow ones on.  Through these you might see the same situation as an opportunity to make new friends who are kinder, or you might be motivated to have a small gathering at your house with friends who you’ve been wanting to invite over. Or as you wear the yellow lensed ones you might even be able to see this situation and say, “Eh, their loss.”  Empower your kid with the knowledge they have control over their response to the situation.  Give an example of a time when you made a conscious choice to change the way you saw something. I use the example of when I’m driving and I notice my shoulders are up and I’m getting super pissy at the incompetent drivers around me, I choose to say, “Stop it.  I can’t do anything about this traffic so I may as well just be calm and happy.”  Let them know they can take control over how they see things or be a victim. Being a victim is NO fun. Giving kids the knowledge that they have a choice empowers them in many areas of their lives.  Ask them to try an experiment and see how it works for them.

Other various ideas of what you can talk about and do while being your child’s consultant is:

  • Encourage outside activities like sports, art classes, after school activities, church/synagogue groups, and yearbook or newspaper involvement at their school.  This allows them to have friends that go to other schools and make connections beyond their own small communities.  It also decreases phone and social media activity which, needless to say, does not help with FOMO.
  • Encouraging kids to write in journals, draw it out or any other right brain activity is very helpful in processing.  Every once in a while I’ll just buy my kids a nice new journal or sketch book and encourage them to write or draw.  We process the same issue very differently when we think, talk and write.  Cycle an issue through those 3 channels and see what emerges.
  • Social skills work.  Most of the time a kid being ostracized is the result of other kids being mean, but sometimes your child may need some help putting your suggestions you’ve taught over the years to practice. A colleague of mine, Kate Kelly runs some great groups for teens in the DC area. Things that we might assume children know, like making eye contact and smiling and asking questions or complimenting someone isn’t easy for all kids.
  • Reach out to other parents in the friend group for support if you are friends with them.  I DO NOT mean calling them in a reactive state, but rather a calm moment where you can share your child’s struggle in a non-accusatory way.  I had one mom do exactly that. She shared that her daughter was struggling socially in general, and the mother she shared this with was so grateful.  She could then encourage and remind her own daughter to be kind and inclusive to people.

I think the most important advice I can give around watching your kid struggle in any situation is not to get too anxious about it.  When kids have the added burden of worrying about your worry, it robs them of being able to process and live their lives in a meaningful and data collecting way.  That may sound a little strange but every single day your child’s brain is making meaningful connections and even the struggles are important for growth and autonomy.  Please don’t take over your kids problems.  It never has a good result long-term (or short term, please be reminded of my parenting fail 650 out of 10,005.)

We’re all just trying to do the best we can do and watching your child suffer is hard.  Be their safe place, their net, their biggest and best supportive consultants, walk along side of them but know that even the toughest of times are part of life and in the end, what doesn’t kill us… (keeps us in our seats at the pool so we don’t bully children back.)

Off you go to be your best-self parent ❤️

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

🍁Back to school! Who is Your Kid?🍁

It’s the start of a new school year and we want fresh starts, fresh motivation andback-school-vector-card-with-owl_109327-121.jpg
excitement from our kids! Rooms clean, clothes laid out, lunch stuff on the counter the night before and a beaming smile that says, “I’m going to conquer the $h*t out of this school year!” 💥💥💥

Some parents might get this from their kids and kudos to you!  You have a courageous and positive kid who manages to stay in the moment and not let anticipatory anxiety and negative thinking get in the way of their visions for themselves. That’s right, I said visions for themselves because these kids actually have one.  Your kids, parents, are in the minority, and the only thing you have to be aware of is when they are working TOO hard and may burn out.

Others may have kids who feel anxious, nervous, and stressed.  That anxiety may come out in hideous behavior that you have to work hard to translate and respond accordingly with love and connection even tho you want to strangle them. They are acting out what they are having a hard time putting in to words, so along with moving toward someone you want to run away from, help them find the language by asking questions that may help them identify and verbalize their stress.

Or the stress may actually be voiced and communicated and you will do your best to listen and not dismiss or problem solve. If you have a thought to share about what you’re hearing, ask permission to share it. These kids just want to talk and process, so shhh.

Others may be feeling it in their heads or stomachs, they may be quiet and distant and have an overall lack of energy. You will let these kids know that you are there whenever and however they need you, and you may test the waters with a few gentle question or a story of your own about being nervous about something in your past. Kids are never too young to learn about the mind body connection and how their anxiety may be contributing to their physical pain. But be sure not to dismiss their aches and pains as not real. They are. Here is an article written by a teacher for students to work on the mind body connection.  There are some very useful tools in there.

Still others may be acting “cool guy/gal” and pretending not to give two hoots about going back to school.  These kids remind me of Danny (John Travolta) in Grease when he acts all cool around his friends instead of the lovely guy who was able to show his softer side to Sandy during the summer.  Parents of these kids will let them know that they notice their confidence and they too have confidence they will do the best they can do, but also remind them that a lot of learning comes from making mistakes and messing up. How we learn from mistakes is what really defines us.  Collect that data about what works and doesn’t work and apply, now that’s cool 😎  

No matter how your kid is approaching this new school year, your job is to let them know you are there for them, and whatever emotion they are experiencing is normal and A-OK.  As a reminder to you parents, there is no right or wrong emotion or way of being when starting something new, and in fact, anxiety does serve a positive purpose to some degree. Here is a great Ted Talk which teaches you to reframe anxiety to have it actually work for you. There are some fabulous ideas in here that you might even be able to share with your kid.

As we all know at this point, kids frontal cortex is not fully developed.  Executive functioning for your kid can be like slogging through mud on a really hazy day.  But you are here to help! Not do for, but help (This is the basis for my upcoming class on September 18th, you should come!)  Help by asking questions that will help them engage their frontal cortex.  We ARE their frontal cortex! We can tell them things until we are blue in the face but a very, very small percentage of what we tell them will actually imprint in their memories.  Thinking for themselves, coming to their own conclusions, learning from their own mistakes, THESE are the things that will make our kids great. And don’t forget of course, leading by example.  If you yell at your kid to get off their phone while you’re on yours, well…you know who you are.

Here are some questions you can ask your kid to help them continue on their journey of the developing frontal cortex. You can ask kids as young as 5 and as old as 25 these questions.

  • What was one thing that happened last year that was good and you’d like to repeat? And what was one thing last year that actually didn’t work out for you that you DON’T want to repeat?  
  • What have you noticed about your best time of day to concentrate, morning? Afternoon? Evening? Before exercise? After?
  • Where do you think you are the most productive in getting your homework done? Dining room table? Room desk? Library? (If they say bed, challenge them to an experiment. One week of homework in their bed, versus one at a desk or table.  Then they can collect the data and decide.)
  • How do you handle your stress when you are at school?  What do you do or think?
  • If you could close your eyes and imagine your school year going exactly as you had wanted, what would it look like?
  • Which friend of yours is a good source of support for you? Who tends to be less available?
  • Are you a good friend to people? How?
  • Who has been your most important teacher so far?
  • What’s your plan for getting your work done? 
  • What’s the likelihood you would reach out to a teacher during their office hours if you needed help?

The questions could go on and on.  The best time to have conversations is in the car when they are trapped and can’t get out 🙂 You also don’t need (and shouldn’t) ask your kids these questions all at once…ease in.

Get to know your kid.  Put your fear for them, their future, all the worries you have had over the years away and get to know who they are.  We live such fast paced lives, I think we forget to pause and really look at them and learn who they are as individuals.  They are not just extensions of ourselves, they are SO much more than that.

If you ever wonder if a therapists kid has issues or wondered what a therapist may text their kid, here you go.  My own daughter expressed some concern and worry with me over text about the upcoming school year at her new high school.  She was feeling unmotivated, stuck and in a rut.  after she texted me a bunch of negative thoughts she was having,  I asked her if I could share a few ideas that she could take or leave and when she gave me the green light I texted this:

“I’m very glad you voiced that and wrote it out.  Now you need to do the reverse. Get your journal out and write out what you do want.  I want to feel focused, I want to feel motivated, I want to do my best in school.  You could work on switching your mindset now. Admitting that you’re stressed is the first step, but it’s too uncomfortable to just sit in that. Instead of negative, “what if’s” like what if I get lost, what if school is too hard, change it to what if I do great, what if the school is actually easier to move around than I thought! You have to work at life and your perception of it!

Her response was, “thanks mom.”

Teaching your kids that they are in charge of and able to shift their perceptions of what’s in front of them is a very valuable gift.

Good luck to you parents, I hope you have a VERY successful school year.  Listen more and do for them less.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The key to loving in a different way

I recently read an article entitled: “What does it mean to hold space for someone else” by Heather Plett.

I believe this is the key to good, open, honest communication. It’s an important article to read. You can read the article here: http://upliftconnect.com/hold-space/

So what does it mean to hold space for someone else?
“It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgment and control”

It sounds glorious, but the reality is this is very hard to do in our most important and closest relationships. Why? What gets in the way of this perfectly harmonious union? Well believe it or not, what you need to achieve the above, love, is also the very thing that stands in the way of accomplishing it.

We become confused about what love actually is and what loving another human being looks like. Love can look like care but care can also look like control. Love can look like guiding, but guiding can be judgment. Love can look like concern, but concern can also look like criticism. Love can look like inseparable romance, but inseparable romance can be dependence. We are under the illusion that we are in a loving relationship, but are we in the best most sustainable one?

Love is an emotion and no emotion stands alone. It is paired with anger, sadness, happiness and underlying it all, fear. On a very basic level, it’s fear for our survival. If the one we love does not fit what or who we think they should be, we will feel abandoned and alone, left to fend for ourselves and our offspring. Love becomes a need. And any time we need something from someone else there is the risk of disappointment. Why? Because love/need becomes focus on the other person, and this is the single most detrimental dynamic for ourselves and the relationship. You find yourself saying: “If they would just, then I could.” You have just hit a brick wall, a dead end in the maze of life. So let’s review: love + need=fear. Fear+relationship=focus on other. Focus on other=loss of self and the sum of it all is anxiety and discontent in the relationship. Isn’t it kind of crazy that our partner can become the one that can best trigger our fight or flight response? It’s a different kind of heart pounding then the one we started off with when the relationship was new.

In order to hold space for someone, you need to learn to love the person in a different way. Turn love/need into just love (the love probably very similar to when you just met the person) But how? Here are 3 suggestions. Please note before you read these that the theme of these suggestions is shifting focus from them to you; a key handed to you to love in a different way.

We must love and trust ourselves. I hate to sound cliché but it is absolutely true. It is trust that we can survive happily and courageously on our own if we need too. If abandoned in the forest our ability to make solid decisions in the moment, tap in to our resources, and find inner and outer strength would come through and allow us to survive. Once we trust that we can survive and are not dependent on someone else, we can look at our significant other as a partner, two people walking side by side. Two separate brains are better than one. Two merged brains (loss of self) bounce off each other, and like a wall of mirrors, disorientation ensues. So, loving in a different way means knowing that we want to be with this person not that we need to be with this person. Suggestions: Do something that requires you to feel alone and vulnerable. Take a trip alone, think of ways in which you would normally be dependent on your partner and do them yourself. Use the grill, cook a meal, pay the bills, recognize ways in which you have become dependent and work on changing that. Prove to yourself you are capable. A good question might be, “In what way am I focused on my partner rather than what I am responsible for?”

Recognize and respect your separateness. You are two different people in the world perceiving everything you come across in a different way from each other. This is a very simple concept that most people do not understand at all. While our current president may be high on the continuum of narcissism, we are all somewhere on the scale and we believe the only way in which to see the world is the way we see it. But understand that everyone is feeling the same way. The clashing of perceptions and the desire to have them be the same causes tension, and our main mission becomes getting the other person to see it like we do. This will never happen. This creates a huge wedge of sensitivity that causes fights and/or silent treatments and the partner whom we are supposed to love becomes scary and unapproachable. Loving in a different way means truly understanding that you and your partner will never share the exact same view of the world and the way things should be done. Loving in a different way means understanding that each of you brings a unique perspective and understanding to the relationship that must be honored, not judged. If one of you loves the beach and the other loves the mountains this is ok! You can still be good together if you respect the others interests.  Suggestions: Be truly interested in learning to understand the way your partner sees the world. Ask questions, be open to what you hear, don’t judge it or try to change it. Just listen. Experiment. Take one issue in front of you and explain what you would do, or how you see it. See how similar or dissimilar they might be.

Communicate with kindness. One of the main things that interferes with good communication is the inability to tolerate our partners range of emotions. Whether directed at us or not, we don’t want the other person to feel uncomfortable. Yes, because we love and care for him or her, but also because if that person is uncomfortable, we are uncomfortable (there are those merged brains again) , and we humans will do almost anything to avoid discomfort. If you are friends, partners, teammates you will recognize naturally the desire to communicate with kindness, interest and respect. We lose this when we are in a fear based state but once you realize you can trust yourself, that you are a strong individual in the world having and needing life experiences that enrich you and make you healthy and happy, you will want that for your partner too. Suggestions: Tell your partner what you appreciate about them on a daily basis. Take time to be grateful for how they contribute to your life. Thank them. Offer to do something that would be helpful to them. When they are having an emotional response to something, listen to them. Ask questions, do not be threatened or scared by their emotions that belong to them. Just be present with those emotions, and sit with them.

So what is the key to loving in a different way? Focusing on what you can actually control. Yourself.  It is the recognition that fear in a relationship increases the desire to control.  The very effort to try and make our partner in to what we think we need propels them in the opposite direction and creates the very fear we were trying to avoid.  Get in touch with what you fear, recognize your strength as an individual human in the world, and love someone for who they are not who you wish they were.

 

 

 

Love your chosen turkey (purposefully) over the holidays…

The holidays highlight the way our relationships operate in a way that just any other ordinary day can’t.  The planning, the shopping, the prep, the packing, the travel, and ALLLLL the mish mosh of personalities together in one room could singe any stray hairs off your uncooked turkey.  Speaking of turkeys, (sorry vegetarians, translate to tofu and veggies as needed)  as you’re thinking about what it takes to not burn your turkey, you could simultaneously be thinking about what it takes to not burn your spouse down.  Wait, let me come at that from a more positive angle…as you’re thinking about what it takes to prepare a golden brown and succulent turkey, you can simultaneously be thinking about what it takes to keep your relationship juicy and delicious. Hmmm, that’s better.  Good connotations.

Here are three things that could lead to a turkey disaster:

1)  Not planning ahead or reading a recipe for complete guidance or a little inspiration.  (Try to thaw a 15 lb turkey the morning of. Ugh, panic?)

2)  Incorrect temperature and/or incorrect cooking time.

3)  Neglect (Got to baste that mug…).

Here are three things that could lead to a relationship disaster:

1) Flying by the seat of your pants around the chaos without any intentions or thoughtfulness to your actions.

2)  Getting yourself all hot and bothered because you haven’t worked out or done whatever it is you do to keep yourself calm and cool and/or doing or focusing too much on one thing and not enough on the other.

3)  Totally ignoring your spouse, taking them for granted or just not being thankful for what they do bring to the table.

Gee, look at the similarities.  I think we’re on to something here if you’re interested in killing two birds with one stone.  Keep the analogy in mind through the day.  Whatever you’re doing for or to the turkey, do it with and for the spouse too…(goofiness recognized).

I’ll let you go to butterball.com to get further turkey cooking tips ( a cold water bath defrosts 4lbs per half hour, BTW) but here are some further thoughts on the above list and how to get to that juicy place in your relationship during the busy Thanksgiving day.

1) Plan ahead/read something inspirational.  Choose one or two things you will be super intentional about.  If you know that you always get irritated at your spouse when he watches football while you bust your ass, choose to react differently.  Either accept with love that that’s what he loves to do and you love him so staring at his butt crack as he grasps his can-o-beer is lovely OR talk to him ahead of time and hand him a list of the things that need to be done and discuss who’s going to do what (You better add the when in there too. Time lines can differ dramatically). Think about previous years.  What are your pitfalls of reactivity? If your wife runs around all stressed and you usually just get mad at her, do something different – joke with her or approach her ahead and ask what you can do to help minimize her stress.  If your husband and your mother get tense with each other and you normally get anxious and try to intervene, decide to let it go and let them hash it out,  breathe…  I will give you a hint about your pitfalls. They stem from having unmet expectations.  He “SHOULD” do this without me asking is a common one.  When you find yourself saying he or she “SHOULD” (insert anything), sound the fire alarms. That turkey’s chard.  Right now, stop reading and choose the two things you will intentionally do differently (this equals golden brown).

Like looking at a recipe for guidance or inspiration, maybe there are a few quotes or things you have read that shock your brain into that “Ah ha” moment. You know what I’m talking about. When what you are reading seems to pertain to you perfectly, something clicks and for a brief period of time everything makes perfect sense.  Here’s one for you: “When we are offended at any man’s fault, turn to yourself & study your own failings. Then you will forget your anger.” Epictetus.  AH HA!!!  Go into your long, busy weekend prepared and inspired instead of overwhelmed and spent.

2) Give, give, give GIVE! That’s what we are supposed to do over ThanksGIVEing however a line can be crossed when the neglect of ourselves back fires into us becoming selfish bi*%^#’s!  Keep a beat on your own temp and when you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed and focused on all the annoying aspects of those around you, take a time out.  Go for a walk or a run, sit down and read, watch something funny, call whomever is synonymous with you and a good mood. You are in control of your own mood.  No one is doing anything to you.  During this busy day, burning yourself out is easily done yet it’s difficult to recover from the ramifications.

Incorrect cooking times in a relationship translates in to focusing on the negative stuff versus focusing on the good stuff.  Make sure you’re cooking up the positive so you’re not desiring to use your spouses limbs as the dried out wish bone.  No good wishes can come true there! Balance, balance, balance. Keep your temperature even and your focus varied.

3)  Neglect.  It’s easy to fly by each other without stopping.  Stop, look at each other and smile.  If you go to bed at night and you or your spouse have a huge chunk of spinach in your teeth, that’s a true indicator that you forgot to look at each other and pay attention.  Sometimes it can be really fun to have a conversation with your guy or gal in front of other people.  You might hear stuff that wouldn’t ordinarily come out.  Hug, appreciate, laugh with, learn from and check each other’s teeth.

I hope you have a great Thanksgiving with perfectly cooked and loved turkeys.

Glennon Gordon, LICSW

glennontg@me.com