Parents: How back to school can change your life

Back to school isn’t just for kids and school supply stores. As parents, you’re well aware that this time of year affects you almost as much as it affects your kids. They may be returning to classrooms, homework, and friends, but you’re also returning to the parents-of-schoolkids life. Who says kids are the only ones who deserve coping skills for this transition? You do too!

So here are 4 tips – just for parents – for starting the school year off right:

  1. Set the right tone from the beginning, and be consistent! School should not equal drudgery, fear, or anxiety. How you view school, and how you convey that view to your kids, profoundly affects their feelings about learning, their teachers, and their purpose. Always speak of school as an exciting world of opportunities. Help kids see their teachers as allies who are there to help them prepare for their futures. Don’t make statements that imply that the fun is about to end as school starts. Think about it, school is where kids spend the vast majority of their time. Why would you want to paint a negative picture of their day?
  2. Carve out a special time and place each day for study, review of the day’s learning, and     reflection. Never let your children tell you they have no homework or nothing to do. Teach your kids that daily review of notes and quiet time to absorb them is crucial to learning. Cramming may get them a decent score on a test, but it won’t lead to true understanding. Always emphasize that learning is way more important than test scores. The irony is that if you emphasize learning, the test scores will follow. Even without review, quiet reflection is good for everyone and gives your kids a chance to decompress.
  3. Insist that there’s more to life than academics. If you want your kids to enjoy their school years, those years have to be comprised of more than just classes and homework. Make sure your kids have time for recreation, physical activity, and ways to use their brains outside of traditional learning. Whether it’s through chess, art, theater, music, sports, or clubs, kids need to learn the importance of a balanced life. Some of us live our entire lives without grasping that elusive concept, and we pay the price with health problems and depression. If they learn it when they’re young, they’re much more likely to incorporate it into their lives.
  4.  This is the tough one: Model these lessons in your own life. Yes, you have homework the minute school starts, beyond carpooling, and well, helping with homework. Your job is to show your kids that the same expectations you have for them also apply to you. That means you should approach your job with positivity and a dedication to lifelong learning. It means that you should have your own time each day for quiet reflection, review, and preparation. It means that you should model balance in your own life by seeking out physical activities, friends, and interests and hobbies. We’ve all figured out by now that kids are much more likely to mimic what we do rather than what we say. So your job, parents, is to walk the walk.

Just as you try to show your kids what good morals and ethics look like, you need to teach them what being a good student looks like. They need to see your actions back up your words, so consider this new school year a new beginning for you as well. Find the joy in your job, make time in your day for quiet reflection, and pursue at least one new interest that takes you out of your work routine. If you make only those three changes, your life will change for the better, and not only you, but your kids, will have a fantastic new school year!

For everything you need to know about having a great school year, check out Teenagers 101.

When people you love disappoint you

My all-time favorite Shakespearean quote reads, ““Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises; and oft it hits where hope is coldest, and despair most fits.”

In other words, all of life’s greatest sadnesses stem from unmet expectations. I like this statement because if you think about it, truer words have never been spoken.

Reflect upon what has made you sad in the past. An argument – disappointing because the other person just didn’t get it. A loss – you expected to spend more time with the person, but now they’re gone. A betrayal – that person was supposed to be loyal to you, but wasn’t. Name a sadness and at the core, I guarantee you there will be an unmet expectation.

If you are a human being, you’ve experienced sadness, and sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint what triggers it. But if you look at your sadness through an unmet expectation filter, it might help you process and understand it a bit better.

Last year, 2020, was by all accounts a year of sadness. Massive numbers of loved ones unexpectedly gone, some very young and full of life. Isolation. Lack of human touch or even contact. Businesses shuttering their doors. The nation dividing. Hateful speech, family members not speaking, and the media exploiting it all. And every single one of these occurrences stemmed from unmet expectations.

So what can you do to mitigate this sorrow that is sure to come? Some people suggest shifting your perspective and not expecting so much from loved ones, from the world, from anyone. Expect less, and you won’t be disappointed, they say. If you’re like me, for example – Type A, driven, motivated – you expect others to be the same. They’re not. The problem is that everyone, regardless of personality, work ethic, or belief system, expects others to be the same. And they’re not.

That doesn’t mean you have to stop having expectations of others. It means you have to stop expecting others to say, act, and believe as you do. This is very, very difficult. It requires you to accept that there’s more than one way to live, and your way may not work for everyone.

This becomes even more arduous when dealing with loved ones. Even if we are tolerant of those outside our circle, it’s difficult to extend the same respect to our family members. I believe this is grounded in our love for them. Because we care for them so deeply, and they us, we develop expectations of what they should do. Unfortunately, people often don’t live up to our shoulds.

And that’s where things really get tough. We find ourselves asking, Why would he do something like that? I’d never do that in a million years. You expected this from him, and unfortunately, you got that. Cue the sadness.

Since we know unmet expectations almost always bring sadness, and we know as human beings we always have expectations, perhaps we might tweak what we expect to avoid unnecessary sorrow.

How do we do that? For starters, know upfront that no matter how much you love somebody, no matter how well and how long you’ve known them, they WILL disappoint you. There is absolutely no escaping it. So if you both ACCEPT and EXPECT that it will happen, it might not hit you like a ton of bricks when it inevitably does.

It helps to understand that most people do not set out to let you down or to make you sad. They are living their life, doing the best they can, caught up in their own weaknesses, and the next thing you know, they hurt you, usually unintentionally and without malice. You have to expect that. If you do, you won’t be blindsided by it or take it quite as personally. It won’t devastate and paralyze you.

Allowing someone to be human and to make mistakes does not in any way make you a doormat or stupid or weak. It makes you human as well. It means you recognize that the other person is allowing you to make mistakes as well. For every person you can name who has disappointed you, I promise you’ve disappointed them in return. Whether they’ve made you aware of it or not, they’ve extended grace to you. They hope you will do the same for them.

Now, you always have the power to walk away, and you should if they let you down more than they support you, if their thoughtless behavior is a pattern rather than an occasional incident, if they are abusive or manipulative, or if their actions consistently take away your dignity or chip away at your character or standards.

Otherwise, try to see unmet expectations for what they really are – your ideal versus their reality. As willing as loved ones may be to give us what we want, they may not always be capable of doing so. The fact that they’d like to, however, is love in its finest form. Concentrate on that, and you’ll face less sorrow.

How to talk politics without starting a war

By: Dr. Rebecca Deurlein

We love our friends and families. Up until the advent of social media and the evolution of the idea that politics shouldn’t be a private matter, family and friendly gatherings were much more peaceful than they are today. With an upcoming, contentious election and more divisiveness than ever, politics seems to creep into every conversation.

Have you found yourself re-thinking friendships based on what is posted on social media? Are you disappointed with people you thought for sure thought just like you? Are you dreading the holidays and the inevitable generational arguments about whoever wins the office of president?

Well, get ready! The election is just days away and the fallout, I’m sure, will be memorable. By Thanksgiving, everyone will be champing at the bit to share their feelings, and it’s time for you to get in the right frame of mind to deal with it. But don’t worry, I’ve got some tips that will help keep the peace and maybe even draw your family a little closer together.

  1. You already know where everyone stands. Quit trying to change their mind. Chances are good that you’ve already been trying for quite some time. You know the phrase about “accepting things you cannot change”? Apply that here. No matter how much you want to win those you love and care about over to your way of thinking, you have to accept that they are their own people with their own perceptions. And perception, as they say, is reality. That means perception is a very, very strong thing, not something you can change over a turkey dinner or a Christmas ham.
  2. Remember that an argument can only happen if both people engage. If one refuses, there is no argument. Believe me, I understand how hard this is.  I’ve let my feelings and passions get the better of me when a family member or friend says something political that I think is absolutely absurd. But when I have raised my voice or bitten back, guess what the result was? Nothing by frustration, anger, and feet more firmly planted on each side. Arguing about politics is, quite frankly, pointless.
  3. If the person really wants to talk, then by all means do. This sounds like a contradiction, but it’s not. There’s a big difference between a discussion begun out of a desire to understand and an argument to prove you are right. Begin like this: “I’m not trying to start an argument, but I truly have a question I’d like your response to. I respect you and love you so I’m curious how you feel about this.” And then truly listen. Keep your mouth closed. Try to understand, just as you said you would. Don’t use the word, “but” as this immediately escalates the discussion.
  4. Set a tone of respect when friends and family gather at your house. If it’s your home, you make the rules. You know your group. If you fear there might be uncomfortable political talk, it’s okay to shut it down as soon as someone goes there. Simply say, “I know our world is all about politics right now, but I think we all need a break. Let’s agree to talk about everything else but, okay?” Then change the subject.
  5. Avoid triggers. Again, you know your group. If it’s a certain TV news program, turn it off. If it’s alcohol, limit intake. If it’s fatigue, gently tell the person that he seems agitated and maybe a nap would help. In my house, every time mom comes to visit, she likes to watch her favorite news channel. Unfortunately, this quickly leads to her yelling at the TV. So I asked her not to watch it when she comes to visit, to take a break from it all and just enjoy the family. She mostly complies, and I’m grateful that she tries.

What the world could really use right now is civil discourse, people who are calm, interested in learning, and open to discussion. We don’t have it, but I am prayerful that we’ll get it back. In the meantime, the one thing you can control is your home environment. Make it a place of respect, understanding, and patience.

How to “do school” when nothing is normal

I taught for 22 years and in that time, I never saw anything like what we are dealing with in 2020. Fortunately, I continue to work with teenagers, so I’ve been part of the conversation as to the best – defined as safest and most effective – approach to teaching in the time of Covid.

The first challenge is getting a quality education. Yes, teachers are working hard to make sure your kids get the content. But no, it won’t be the same as face-to-face instruction, working collaboratively, and the all-important hands-on learning. Studies show that kids must “do” to learn, so simply talking or reading about a concept doesn’t translate to true, thorough learning.

Whether your kids are schooling from home, using a hybrid model, fully back to school, or joining small groups for micro-schooling, I’d like to share some tips on how to make this year a success.

  1. Make sure your kids have opportunities for socialization. This is #1 for a reason – educational and psychological professionals nationwide are collectively concerned about the impact this virus is having on much-needed social time for kids. The good news is that home schoolers have been handling this beautifully for years and are proof that a child can be educated at home and blend in beautifully in social situations. So take a page from their book and get your kids involved in any program that is up and running. Maybe they can try a sport they never would have played otherwise. Or perhaps they’ll discover an activity that allows them to let off steam and have some fun with one other friend or a small group. The key is to concentrate on creating opportunities for your kids to be social, while helping them to discover what we already know – that the quality of friendships is much more important than the quantity.
  2. Recognize when you need help. Many parents discovered at the end of the last school year that trying to juggle it all – including overseeing their children’s education – was just too much. And it likely is, for even the most organized person! This is where you need to invite in the pros. Former teachers and content experts like myself are available to help kids stay focused and motivated, something that is hard enough in normal circumstances, but that much harder now. Without a set schedule, routine, and regular reminders, kids have to pull from their internal motivation and the resources at their disposal to complete assignments, study for tests, and get all the information they need in a brief online lesson. Most won’t. At this age, they need prodding, and the last thing you want as a parent is to spend your day nagging.
  3. Make sure your kids are physically active. It will be way too tempting for them to lie in bed all day on their phones or computers. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, this will take an enormous toll on their psyches as well as their growing bodies. They will need fresh air and sunshine, walks, and workouts to replace the physical activity they naturally would have gotten at school. With many organized sports on hold and PE no longer built into the schedule, kids will need to do this on their own.
  4. Provide a creative outlet for those who need it. Art and music classes, drama, projects – kids who rely on these activities for inspiration will struggle with online education. Just as athletes need to keep their muscles strong and stamina up, creative kids need to engage the right hemispheres of their brains to be at their best. Imagine how tough it is for theater kids to give up the camaraderie of rehearsals and performances. So try to find an outlet for them, whether it’s a small group performance with friends, private music lessons, or an art competition.
  5. Provide family support.  Many families report that quarantine time and the slower pace have helped them to draw closer together. Use this time to support your kids within the family unit and to have fun in ways you may never have considered before. Maximize the only chance you may ever have of regular family dinners, game night, puzzles, family walks and bike rides, cooking and baking competitions, and so on. You have a captive audience. Make the most of it!

If you need help, guidance, or resources with your middle or high school kids, please feel free to contact me through www.TeenagerSuccess101.com. I’m here to help in any way I can during this time of unknowns. The wonderful news is that kids are resilient and they will adapt, as long as they have the right kind of support along the way.

How to be your kid’s best role model

Billy is 13. He’s insecure and his greatest desire in life is to fit in. He used to feel free to be himself, but now, he’s sensing that he doesn’t always think and act like everyone else. He’s afraid of being teased, disliked, or worst of all, ostracized. He knows right from wrong, but peer pressure is strong, and belonging is everything. Now, more than ever, he needs a role model who helps him stay true to his convictions.

You might remember being 13 once. Or maybe you are raising teenagers now. If so, you’ve noticed that you are no longer their central focus. Their attention has shifted to their peer group. Where your opinion meant everything before, it is now usurped by the opinions of school mates, teammates, and social groups. If this is your first teenager, it can be alarming, but rest assured, it is perfectly natural.

This doesn’t mean, however, that it is time to back off and relinquish control. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Now, more than ever, your kids need you to stay strong as a consistent and positive role model in their lives. How can you do that when you feel like they are drifting away?

I recommend the following steps:

  1. Do not waiver from your beliefs, values and standards. This isn’t the time to become “cool” or act like your kids’ friends. You are not their friends; you are their parents. It is less important that they like you than that they respect you. So what if they think you’re boring because you don’t throw alcohol-infused parties at the house? Who cares if they think you’re a nerd because you insist they focus on their education? What matters is that you continue to hold yourself – and them – to the foundational beliefs and values that are most important to you as a family.
  2. If you are a faith-based family, continue to go to church and pray together. As kids age, they tend to balk at going to church. They question its value. They prefer to sleep in. They will use every argument under the sun to persuade you that they need a day off. If you’ve been a churchgoing family for years, you can simply assert that this is what you do as a family and you have no intention of stopping any time soon. It is an expectation that reflects your standards, just as you expect them to speak to you respectfully or visit their grandparents. Kids need prayer and a strong relationship with God especially during these years, when everything they’ve ever been taught is being tested. If you haven’t typically gone to church, that makes it more difficult but not impossible. Be real with your kids and tell them that you’ve discovered that churchgoing makes you stronger in your convictions, and you want the same for them. The best way to foster a growth mindset in your kids is to display one yourself.
  3. Introduce your kids to role models outside of yourselves. As you may have already discovered, when it comes to your teens’ opinions, you don’t know anything. Teens are less inclined, it seems, to take advice from their parents than anyone else. And while this can be hurtful and frustrating, you are not alone. It’s a natural part of discovering their independence for kids to separate themselves from their parents. Rather than fight that, provide them with resources and people you respect, and encourage them to consult with others who hold your same standards.
  4. Insist upon mutual respect. Welcome and promote questions and discussions. Show your kids that you are willing to listen to absolutely anything, as long as the delivery is kind and respectful. While you will insist on certain behaviors, let them know that you also value their input and will consider their requests, then allow them to have their way on issues that really don’t matter in the greater scheme of things. In other words, choose your battles. When your kids feel heard and are given a measure of freedom, they will be less likely to rebel.

Teenagers may not seem to notice or care about your actions or words, but they are taking in way more than you think. Pay attention to your language, your tone, and your actions because whether you realize it or not, they are.

For more tips like these check out Teenagers 101 here. For individual life coaching, contact Dr. D here. 

 

 

5 Parenting Resolutions for the New Year

The new year is upon us, and while I’m a big believer in reflecting on our choices and actions and how they panned out for us, I’m also a big believer in wiping the slate clean and allowing everyone to start fresh. With that mindset, I’ve put together a list of New Years Resolutions for parents. Yes, you should think about what’s worked in the last year and what’s failed, but then move forward into a new year with a commitment to better parenting. I can’t make any promises, but I’m fairly certain that practicing at least some of these will lead to a more peaceful home and a closer family.

  1. Make sure you save time for yourself. There’s a reason this is my number one item on the list. I’m going to give it to you straight: You can’t be a good parent – no matter how hard you try – if you don’t take care of yourself and attend to your own happiness first. Selfish? Not even a little bit. Strong parents make for strong kids.
  2. Decide as a family that you will all spend less time in front of a screen. I just returned from a family trip on a cruise ship, where we all put away our phones for an entire week. Here’s what we got instead: eye contact, uninterrupted conversations, random musings that come when you’re lying in the sun just thinking, and way more memories than selfies. If you want to communicate with your kids, put down the electronics and start talking.
  3. Commit to speaking more kindly to one another. While everyone gets angry, it shouldn’t be acceptable for members of a family to scream at each other on a regular basis, call each other names, say hurtful phrases like “I hate you!” or use profanity towards one another. Family members who respect each other live much more peacefully together. If you wouldn’t talk to your friends a certain way, you shouldn’t talk to your family members that way.
  4. Reserve dinner time as sacred family time. Sit down each night together and share stories of your day. If you’re religious, pray together. Share the dinner chores as a family so that everyone has a role in preparation or clean up. It may sound all Ozzie & Harriet, but families are closer when they covet each other’s presence.
  5. Laugh more, reduce stress, and increase joy. All relationships, whether friends, spouses, or parents and children, need fun and enjoyment to thrive. There may be plenty of pain in this world, but there’s also a great deal of humor to be found in day-to-day circumstances. Help your kids discover the inner joy that will sustain them through tough times by teaching them to find humor in their everyday lives. And just as importantly, quit stressing. Show your kids that gratitude and acceptance are two of the most freeing attitudes they can embody.

Happy New Year, everyone, and I wish you all the best in your parenting in 2020!

For more ideas about bringing your family closer together in the new year, check out Teenagers 101. 

5 Parenting resolutions for the new year

The new year is upon us, and while I’m a big believer in reflecting on our choices and actions and how they panned out for us, I’m also a big believer in wiping the slate clean and allowing everyone to start fresh. With that mindset, I’ve put together a list of New Years Resolutions for parents. Yes, you should think about what’s worked in the last year and what’s failed, but then move forward into a new year with a commitment to better parenting. I can’t make any promises, but I’m fairly certain that practicing at least some of these will lead to a more peaceful home and a closer family.

  1. Make sure you save time for yourself. There’s a reason this is my number one item on the list. I’m going to give it to you straight: You can’t be a good parent – no matter how hard you try – if you don’t take care of yourself and attend to your own happiness first. Selfish? Not even a little bit. Strong parents make for strong kids.
  2. Decide as a family that you will all spend less time in front of a screen. I just returned from a family trip on a cruise ship, where we all put away our phones for an entire week. Here’s what we got instead: eye contact, uninterrupted conversations, random musings that come when you’re lying in the sun just thinking, and way more memories than selfies. If you want to communicate with your kids, put down the electronics and start talking.
  3. Commit to speaking more kindly to one another. While everyone gets angry, it shouldn’t be acceptable for members of a family to scream at each other on a regular basis, call each other names, say hurtful phrases like “I hate you!” or use profanity towards one another. Family members who respect each other live much more peacefully together. If you wouldn’t talk to your friends a certain way, you shouldn’t talk to your family members that way.
  4. Reserve dinner time as sacred family time. Sit down each night together and share stories of your day. If you’re religious, pray together. Share the dinner chores as a family so that everyone has a role in preparation or clean up. It may sound all Ozzie & Harriet, but families are closer when they covet each other’s presence.
  5. Laugh more, reduce stress, and increase joy. All relationships, whether friends, spouses, or parents and children, need fun and enjoyment to thrive. There may be plenty of pain in this world, but there’s also a great deal of humor to be found in day-to-day circumstances. Help your kids discover the inner joy that will sustain them through tough times by teaching them to find humor in their everyday lives. And just as importantly, quit stressing. Show your kids that gratitude and acceptance are two of the most freeing attitudes they can embody.

Happy New Year, everyone, and I wish you all the best in your parenting in 2020!

For more ideas about bringing your family closer together in the new year, check out Teenagers 101. 

Helping your kids make the most of summer

The weather is warming, trees are shedding pear blossoms, and school (and all those busses clogging the streets) will soon come screeching to a halt. While teachers and students are counting down the days to their summer respite, parents are staring at the calendar wondering how the heck they’re going to keep their kids busy.

It’s a good question. Most teens are too young to work but too old for summer camps. Too many will simply get into trouble, especially if left alone all day with nothing to do. Others will sleep and sleep, Netflix binge, then sleep some more. That’s why all the experts recommend having a plan for your kids that yes, includes rest and fun, but also engages the mind and body and keeps kids active during their two-month break from school.

Below are some suggestions to help you get started on a summer break plan that will provide memorable experiences for your kids and peace of mind for you.

  1. Pre-College Summer Programs – In recent years, these “tastes of college” have tripled in number and become quite popular with 9th-12th With a wide range of offerings, universities across the U.S. provide programs for introducing students to careers or delving into an area of interest. It’s an opportunity to meet professors and admissions counselors, live in a dorm, and be around a whole new group of kids that just may become lifelong friends. And it’s a great resume builder!
  2. Community service – Youth who volunteer just one hour or more a week are 50% less likely to abuse alcohol and cigarettes, become pregnant, or engage in other destructive behavior. As if that weren’t a good enough reason, volunteering as a child greatly increases the likelihood of growing into an adult who volunteers. Working with those less fortunate naturally develops gratitude, work ethic, leadership, and an understanding of differences crucial to developing tolerance and erasing judgmental attitudes. Whether local or international, mission work and community service can provide a life-changing summer experience for kids.
  3. Internships – The federal government may not endorse child employment, but there is much to be said for non-paid internships and job shadowing. Middle and early high school kids are just starting to think about interests they may parlay into careers, but their understanding borders on fantasy-level. To give them a grounded, realistic view of what a veterinarian, for example, does every day, let them shadow a vet. Give them an opportunity to ask questions of the very people who are living out their dream. Whether they discover that their dream could become a reality, or they realize that the reality is nothing like they had dreamed, it is a win-win. Before you spend tens of thousands of dollars on a college education, give your kids an opportunity to explore the reality of their future degree.
  4. Academic advancement or catch-up – Summer is the perfect time to take courses outside of the normal class load. These can be reinforcement courses in areas of weakness, electives students wish to “get out of the way,” or next-level classes that help them get a jump on the competition. They may be offered through your local high school, community college, or online – just be sure that the course will transfer to high school or college credit. Summer is also a great time to take an SAT or ACT Prep course, to work on college applications, and to write college essays. Encourage your kids to complete these now, when they are not bogged down with homework and tests.
  5. Reading – I taught for a long time, and I know how kids can balk at the thought of reading. But one thing I discovered is that there is something for everyone. Non-readers just haven’t found their something yet. Or, they’ve been forced to read books they hate, so they’ve been conditioned to hate reading. Work to undo this. Reading can be a lifelong pleasure that opens new worlds, explores new possibilities, and inspires new ways of thinking. Every kid should have a library card. This is their free pass to discover what they like, to “try out” different genres and authors. Once they’ve found their literary sweet spot, they can customize it to their heart’s content. Some will prefer books on tape, others will go the e-reader route, and still others will love the feel of a book in their hands. And keep in mind that reading can take many forms: Maybe they prefer a magazine, Internet articles, or the Sunday paper. No matter what avenue they choose, they should be informed, and they should develop an appreciation for language and what it can convey.

Continuing to grow throughout the summer months is important, but so are fun and relaxation. Try to create a balance for your kids so that summer is neither all work nor all play. You will feel the positive effects in your home, and you won’t be nearly as eager to send them back to school come August.

Staying close when loved ones are far away

The most popular piece I’ve ever written was an article for Huffington Post called When Your Kid Leaves Home for Good. Although I wrote it years ago, it pops up intermittently, resurrected by the mysteries of the Internet, and when it does, I invariably get emails from people around the world wanting to share their sadness about their child leaving home. Obviously, it’s a topic with widespread application and deep emotional appeal. Everyone wants to know – How can I stay close to my kids when they’re no longer living under my roof?

The good news is that I’ve experienced this, first as the child and now as the parent, and I’m here to tell you it can be done successfully and very pleasantly. I find that my relationships with my adult children are better than they’ve ever been, and although my parents live far away, they maintain close relationships with their children and their grandchildren.

Not only that, but adult relationships with your children are twice as nice because you no longer have to parent them as strenuously as you did when they were growing  up. Sure, you’ll always be a parent, but now you can be a friend too. That’s a beautiful thing. Miles really don’t matter, thanks to technology and transportation. The logistics will take care of themselves; your focus should be on the relationship.

Below are five tips for fostering strong bonds among family members, the kind that aren’t strained by distance.

  1. Take advantage of technology. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but kids today aren’t big on talking on the phone. They like to text, send images and gifs, and even engage in conversations almost entirely comprised of emojis. Embrace this, even if you don’t understand it. Grandma who texts talks to my kids WAY more than Grandma who insists on phone calls. Which grandma do you want to be?
  2. Learn from your kids. Trust me, they have a lot to teach you. When you get the opportunity to spend time with them, or you actually do talk to them on the phone, ask them about the latest lingo and what it means. Get them to show you features on your phone you never knew existed. Ask them about their favorite shows on Netflix. Everyone loves to be valued and to feel that they have something to offer. When you become the students and let them be the teachers, you show them respect by welcoming them into the adult world with you.
  3. Honor family traditions. Kids rely on these and when they come home, it should feel like the home they remember. Their favorite meal, a family movie, or a neighborhood walk provide comfort and create a safe haven for young adults for whom so much is new and different. Grandparents should establish their own traditions, such as playing cards or building puzzles with the grandkids. Each visit will then strengthen the ties among extended family members.
  4. Love their friends. Young people’s peers are some of the most influential people in their lives. As you’ve probably discovered, what their friends think is frequently more important than what you think. Knowing that, make an effort to learn the names of your kids’ friends, to know something about them, and to get along with them. I love my kids’ friends. When I see them, I genuinely enjoy talking to them, and my kids know this. As a result, I’m much more likely to be invited along. Likewise, they are much more likely to visit my home and be perfectly comfortable there. Boyfriends and girlfriends are even more important. Make them feel like part of the family, and you’ll see much more of your kids.
  5. Be there, no matter what. Set the precedent early on that it doesn’t matter how far away anyone is. You can always be there with emotional support, encouraging texts, Facetime, and phone calls. It’s amazing how strong a relationship can be between people who only see each other a couple times a year. It’s all about being there in other ways, always letting the other person know you are thinking about them. Your kids will set the tone for how often they want to talk or text. Follow their lead. Don’t be a pest and don’t drop off the planet. Find what works for everyone and honor it.

As we begin a new year, think about the ways you can engage with your kids or grandkids that will speak to them where they are. Once you relinquish the need to be in charge and allow your kids to grow into the adults you always wanted them to be, you will be astounded by how much you genuinely like them.

Parenting to your child’s love language

“I don’t understand it. I’ve raised both my kids the same way, and they’ve turned out completely different!” I’ve heard this exasperated claim many times. Have you said it yourself?

I remember reading all the parenting books and columns I could get my hands on while raising my son and daughter. I wanted to understand why I got one result when I applied a parenting principle to my son and a completely different result with my daughter. After all, they were raised in the same household, same parents, same rules, same religious foundation, same everything. What was I missing?

One very big factor: They are two entirely different people. Their personalities, perspectives, choices, passions, strengths, weaknesses – all different. Yet I was treating them the same, thinking “same” was a synonym for “fair.” It isn’t.

Being fair is being judicious, with consistent rules and consequences. Your son shouldn’t get to stay out later than your daughter. Your daughter shouldn’t do more chores than your son. And discipline for one shouldn’t be more extreme than the other.

But with different personalities, values and interests, your children shouldn’t be treated the same, any more than you treat all your friends or family members the exact same way. As adults, we’ve recognized that other adults respond differently to statements, actions, and expressions of love. We adapt our behavior and expectations accordingly.

Look at marriage. Is your spouse just like you? I’ve been married almost 31 years and I’m here to tell you, my husband and I are very different people. Yet we cohabitate peacefully, resolve differences quickly, and enjoy each other’s company. And we have a deep love for one another that hasn’t faded.

But how does that translate to our relationship to our children? Well, think about the Love Languages, Dr. Gary Chapman’s philosophy about how to relate to those who aren’t like us. He says that everyone has a Love Language, a way that they are most receptive to love, leading to cooperation and returned affection. Just as adults have love languages, children do too. And knowing their love language is tantamount to some of the best parenting principles out there.

The five Love Languages – Physical Touch, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Gift Giving, and Acts of Service – represent how a person sees and feels love. For children of all ages, it looks like this

  1. Physical Touch – Hugs and kisses, sitting in close proximity, wrestling, back scratches, placing your hand on your child’s when talking, high-fiving, and snuggling all help these kids feel your love. While these same actions with another child can cause discomfort or embarrassment, the child who craves physical touch will count on it as a way to view your love.
  2. Words of Affirmation – You will know this is your child’s love language when their motivation and satisfaction grow as a result of verbal praise and recognition. These kids need to hear “I love you” and need you to tell them you’re proud of them. But be careful! They will quickly recognize false praise, as they are attuned to words and tone. Likewise, negative words cut to the core. So be sincere in your dialog and solve disputes through calm discussion, and they will respond!
  3. Quality Time – While all of us need human interaction and crave acceptance from others, kids who fall in this category base their view of relationships primarily on the amount and quality of time you spend with them. As you can imagine, these kids struggle when the two most important people in their lives are constantly at work or busy with other endeavors. It’s not that you need to be with them all the time, it’s that when you are, it needs to be about them, not about your phone, other people, or any other distractions. When they speak, look them directly in the eyes and give them your full attention. Make them feel that when you’re together, it’s only about the two of you.
  4. Giving gifts – These kids are thoughtful. It brings them joy to make others happy through gift giving. They put time and effort into their gifts because to them, giving to others is a true sign of love. In return, they gauge others’ love for them by the same measure. But don’t mistake expensive for valuable. What they are looking for is an understanding of who they are, what they like, and what brings them happiness. This can include homemade gifts, cookies baked just for them, or a handwritten card expressing your pride in their accomplishment.
  5. Acts of Service – No, these children do not expect you to be their servant, but they will feel the most loved when you serve them in a different way. Hosting their friends at your house; doing something when they ask you to do it, not in your own time; and making them feel valued by treating them respectfully, are all ways you can perform acts of service. Again, price is not a factor here. Stopping for a milkshake just because your daughter craves one is a small act that will bring big love rewards.

Figuring out who your children are and what makes them tick is the first step in knowing how to speak to them in the language that they appreciate. When that happens, the fact that your children are different will be a blessing rather than a curse.