Tough Conversations with Kids: Honesty is Key

Why is it important as a mom to be honest with your children, rather than to sugar coat or avoid hard topics?

Our kids are watching us all the time. If they see us avoiding hard topics, or backing away from the things that make us uncomfortable, we teach them to play it safe and stuff their feelings down. It’s our responsibility to teach our children the meaning of emotional honesty and how to work through our challenges with transparency and the willingness to learn from conflict. This is why it’s important to clarify our own values and hone our communication skills—especially when it comes to talking to our kids.

Admittedly, it’s tough to be the initiator of the hard conversations. It requires getting conscious and clear about your own intentions; it also requires figuring out whether or not your child can handle what you are offering them. I have discovered that I need to be very sensitive and respect their individuality and needs. We as moms can’t just push the conversation onto them. We must be creative about how we go about talking to them—because, let’s face it, just as we are usually trained to expect our kids’ respect, they are trained to internally roll their eyes at what we have to say! But in being honest, we give our kids permission to do the same. However, it’s important to go into these conversations without expectations or the desire for positive reinforcement and feedback. We are not here to get our needs met by our children. Regardless of how your kids react, just know that you are setting a foundation for honest discussion that will absolutely have positive long-term effects on them and your future relationship.

How do you think embracing these tough conversations can strengthen a mother’s relationship with her kids?

Embracing tough conversations shows your kids that you will be there for them, no matter what. When no topic is too taboo or off limits, your kids learn that they can trust you unconditionally. You build valuable channels of communication that matter, because they foster true connection and become the foundation for your relationship when things get tough.

So many young people fear disapproval, which can keep them from coming to their parents with challenges and important questions. But when we as moms willingly move toward the tough conversations, our children realize they can trust us. Just remember, communication is a two-way street. And when you show respect for your kids’ unique perspectives, you also end up learning from them. I promise that they will appreciate you for this.

For many parents, we’ve been ingrained with the notion that we have to fix or teach our children, and that they should automatically respect us because we’re the grown-ups. Obviously, this isn’t the best way to promote active and meaningful dialogue. And because hard conversations are already so sensitive, we need to go in with the desire not just to talk, but to listen. This starts with treating our kids as the unique, powerful human beings they are. We can do this by asking them what their needs are and creating the space for them to fully be themselves in the conversation. We can also do it by being discerning about what does and does not merit these kinds of discussions. Sometimes, it’s okay to let it go and trust that our kids will figure things out for themselves.

Should moms be worried about using the right words and saying the right thing or in these kinds of conversations is it better to be raw and vulnerable with your own children? Why?

Obviously, we need to make sure that we maintain appropriate boundaries with our kids, depending on their age and maturity level, and the topic of conversation. However, I always advocate being vulnerable and truthful. Believe me, it is possible to be mindful and respectful without censoring yourself. Tackling the hard conversations means you need to acknowledge your truth, your humanity, and the fact that life is messy—and “messing up” is just a part of all of that. When you are willing to be that real with your kids, and to embrace your own “flaws” without any shame, it shows them that they can trust you even more. So stop trying so hard to be a “good” parent and trying to get it right according to someone else’s standards—and trust yourself! You also don’t need to pretend that you have all the answers. For a parent, there is nothing more vulnerable than admitting that you don’t know, and this can be a powerful bonding moment! Just be honest about it, take this opportunity to be curious and nonjudgmental, and explore some possibilities with your kids.

By Kelly McNelis, founder of Women For One

Have you had the talk with your daughter? Just 4 Questions can save her life.

by D. Bryant Simmons

datingDating abuse is a reality not often discussed when the topic turns to domestic violence. Adults tend to dismiss the social interactions of pre-teens and teens as puppy love—immature and unequal to the romantic relationships between adults. Well, did you know that one out of three adolescent girls has been a victim of verbal, physical, or emotional abuse from someone they dated?i And nearly half of teenage girls know someone that is dealing with dating abuse.ii What you don’t know about your kid’s relationship with their boyfriend or girlfriend could be the makings of a life or death situation.

Before dating becomes a possibility, before the “first kiss, there are four questions every mother and father should ask their daughter.

1. Do you know what makes you special?
Ignore her awkwardness and wait patiently for a real answer. The goal is not for her to state the obvious, that she’s tall or athletic or has a decent head of hair. The answer has to be more than skin-deep. Affirm the qualities that she’s recognized and add a few of your own. Give her examples. Remember the time that you….I was so proud because….

2. When you start dating what rights do you have?
She has the right to end the relationship at any time. She has the right to withhold consent for anything at anytime. If she doesn’t think of these rights describe situations where she would want to enact these rights to help her understand each one. Then restate the rights in a concise manner like above.

3. When dating what responsibilities do you have? To yourself, to the other person, and to your family?
This is your opportunity to lay out any rules you may have and dispel any dating myths. For instance, if a date spends a lot of money on you, then you owe him….

4. How do you set boundaries and how do you respond when someone disrespects those boundaries?
State clearly and explicitly what you expect and why at the beginning of a relationship. Have a no-tolerance policy regarding your physical and mental safety. No-tolerance means no second chances. If someone crosses the line tell your best friend, your parents, someone who cares about you. Ask for their support. Then report the person to the authorities. Do not let them get away without legal consequences and a permanent record. End all contact with the person.

You may have doubts about bringing law enforcement into this. We are talking about adolescents and teenagers here, right? They’re young. They can still change. Well, people do not change their behavior when the behavior doesn’t result in significant consequences. Here’s some more food for thought. If it happens again, this time to a different girl, and this time he goes even further the police will have to take it seriously. His parents will have to take it seriously because now we’ve established a pattern.

Encouraging a no-tolerance policy is the only way to say unequivocally to our girls, “That is unacceptable. You deserve better.” And have them believe it.

5 Things To Discuss Before Your Teen Heads Off To College

talking-with-momCommunication between college students and parents is key. Here are five important things to talk about before your teen leaves home:

The Budget

One of the biggest potential sources of family conflict is the college student budget. Whether you are funding your child’s education, or expecting him to come up with the money himself, your child will need to be on the same page. If your financial assistance will be limited, it’s important to explain what help you can provide and how it will be distributed. Plan to deposit five hundred dollars a month to help out? Say so. Don’t expect your child to intuit your financial plan.

Parents often promise to pay for college in full, but may not define their expectations clearly. Maybe you have been saving since your child was a toddler, but how to you plan to disperse the funds? What if the savings won’t be enough to cover living expenses all four years? Paying for college extends well beyond tuition.

Points to consider:

·      Who will pay living expenses? Will those be paid directly by parents, or will money be deposited in an account for the student to use to pay bills him/herself?

·      How will food, transportation, and clothing be paid for?

·      What about the cell phone?

·      Will parents pay for health care?

·      Who will pay for extras?

The Timeline

College isn’t always four years of coursework. Some students extend time in college because their programs last five or more years. Some change majors. Others take it slowly for the first couple of years.

If your plan is to fund college for your child, does your strategy take these things in to account? Is there a time limit to your financial support? How about your patience? Are you prepared to pull the plug if your child is on the seven-year plan? If so, maybe she needs to hear your thoughts ahead of time, so she can find a part time job or pick up the pace.

Crisis Situations

Medical or mental health crisis: Record numbers of college students are seeking mental health support according to recently published studies. Common mental health related causes for leaving college include: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, excessive drinking, and drug use. Are there medical or psychiatric issues that might prevent your college student from completing school uninterrupted? If so, under what circumstances might you need to bring him home? Does he know when to ask for your help?

Academic Crisis: Do you have a plan for failing college grades? Most paying parents won’t want to continue writing checks unless kids are producing passing grades. Have you discussed your views with your soon to be college student?

Breaks From School

Some parents express frustration when kids arrive back home during college breaks, dump their laundry next to the washing machine, and flop down into bed for the duration of the school break. If your son or daughter is home on break, do you expect him or her to help around the house? Work a summer job? Be up and at ‘em by nine every morning and in bed before midnight? Whatever your expectations, be certain to spell them out before the first academic break begins.

Plan B

Recent statistics estimate that almost half of college enrollees drop out before completing a degree. No parent sends a kid to college hoping she’ll drop out, but with estimated dropout rates so high, all parents and new college students should discuss alternative strategies in case college doesn’t work out.

 

Dr. Melissa Deuter is a psychiatrist in San Antonio, TX who specializes in the care of emerging adults. www.MelissaDeuter.com; @MStenDeut

 

Cool Convos

by Tim Hoch

boy-teenWhen my son was twelve he was invited on a beach vacation with his best friend’s family. His friend’s mom (we will call her Doris) took my son and hers to the mall to shop for beachwear. They were in the market for a pair of flip-flops. Doris walked into Pac Sun, the boys close behind.

“Can you help me?” Doris tapped one of the teenage sales clerks on the shoulder.

“Yeah, what do you need?” he grunted.

“I’m looking for boys’ thongs” she declared.

Doris’ son tried to slip away unnoticed while my son and the clerk did a poor job stifling their laughter. After a few seconds of mortified silence, Doris persisted:

“My gosh, you act as though you’ve never even heard of thongs for little boys.”

Just before they left for the trip, Doris came by and spoke of the difficulties of raising a young man.

“He hardly even speaks to me. It’s like he’s embarrassed to be associated with me.”

I just smiled. What I wanted to say is: “You’re doing it wrong.”

Lord knows, I’m no expert. I’ve had more than my share of cringe worthy attempts at navigating the teenage discourse dynamic. But I have been able to decipher some hard and fast rules when trying to converse with kids. Here are a few:

Rule number 1: Don’t use outdated cultural references or phrases. No one “talks to the hand.” Nothing you want to discuss is “gnarly” or “rad.” Fo-shizzle.

Rule number 2: Don’t join their conversations unless you’re invited. I was driving my daughter and three of her friends to an eighth grade dance. They were giggling and whispering about some of the boys in their class when I decided to chime in. Bad idea. They don’t want my opinion about whether a certain classmate is a “sweet kid.”

Rule number 3: Don’t interrupt or argue. That is not a conversation. It’s a lecture.

Rule number 4: No nicknames. Even if your son’s friend is named Tony, don’t refer to him as “T-bone.” Your daughter’s friend is “Elizabeth” not “Lizard.”

Rule number 5: Try to have a functional understanding of (and ability to pronounce) things that are important to them. For example, don’t keep referring to twitter as “tweeter” or Instagram as “Instant grams.”

Rule number 6: Conversations are not teaching moments. So don’t make them one. Don’t criticize them or tell them how you would have handled a situation differently. If your child says something that bothers you, hold that thought. You will have time to circle back to it later.

Rule number 7: Don’t dismiss their thoughts as “silly” or “stupid.” My daughter once told me about a difficult day at school. She was in a fight with one of her best friends. It was a silly argument and I told her so. Big mistake. She would come to the same conclusion on her own a few days later. I didn’t need to speed it up for her. I just needed to listen.

Rule number 8: Don’t rely on your kids to fulfill your need for conversation. Develop your own interests, your own “cool” independent of your kids. Show them that you have a life outside of whatever they are doing. They will engage you on it. Trust me.

Rule number 9: Do not use any of the following phrases in conversation: “When I was your age…” or “If I were you…” or “pull my finger.” Just stop.

Rule number 10: Don’t gossip. There is nothing more pathetic than an adult who gossips with kids. And adults who gossip with kids about other kids? They should be paraded through the gates of hell….in boy’s thongs.

Tim Hoch is the author of 50 Rules for Sons. For more information, please visit www.50rulesforsons.com

8 Ways to Stay Connected With Your Kids

by Kathi Lipp

happy familyI thought I was close to my kids. Then I bought my daughter a toothbrush. That’s when I found out how clueless I really was.

“Mom! A Barbie toothbrush! How could you buy me a Barbie toothbrush?” Kimberly shrieked.

“Sweetie, you like Barbie. You just asked for a Barbie for your birthday,” I said sweetly, trying to not let my aggravation show.

“Mom, that was two whole months ago. I don’t play with Barbies anymore,” Kimberly said, stomping off.

With hectic schedules, overbooked kids, and worn-out parents, it is hard for us to keep up on toothbrush styles, much less work on shaping our children’s character. But carving out time to spend with our children is a must.

Recent research shows that children who spend time talking to their parents, taking part in family activities and meals, and building family traditions with their parents are less likely to engage in harmful activities. During these times of simply hanging out with their parents, kids tend to open up more easily about sensitive topics and explore issues in greater depth. Those same conversations about school, God, friends, and science projects rarely take place solely in a 10-minute chunk of “quality time” at the end of a long day.

As Dr. Janice Crouse, a respected authority on family issues, explains, “Kids learn our values when they are spoken to respectfully and feel free to ask questions. When we spend time with our children, we can be sensitive to the teachable times in their lives. Even while I watched television with my kids, I would ask them leading questions. ‘Did you see how that man treated his wife? How could he have handled that situation better?’ Those discussions helped my children become more discerning and discriminating in what they watched and the activities they participated in growing up.”

To avoid a repeat of what is now referred to as “The Barbie Incident,” and to keep the lines of communication open between the members of our family, we have come up with eight ways to stay connected with each other. Try them out in your family, or use them to inspire bonding time that’s unique to your family.

1. Take a One-on-One Vacation
My friend, Kim, and her husband, Jim, had long promised their children that when each child turned 16, he or she would go on an extended vacation with one of their parents; their daughter, Sarah, would go with Mom, and their son, Ryan, with Dad. The only requirements were that it had to be in the continental U.S. and that the kids had to help plan the trip.

“Money was tight, and we had to give up a lot in order to afford the vacations,” Kim explains, “but we knew how important it was to spend that time with each of the kids.” Time alone with a parent during the teen years can be just the ticket for a teenager who needs to be reminded that she’ll always have a safe haven as she moves out into the world.

If an extended vacation is impossible, try a long weekend with each of your children, like my friend Lynn. She and her husband, Mark, have taken turns going on a weekend getaway with their boys, Jake and Ben. Lynn got the first opportunity when each of their sons turned 10, and Mark two years later when the boys turned 12. Lynn says the best part about the trips was getting to see the uniqueness of each of her boys. While Ben wanted to get dressed up and go to the area culinary academy with his mom to try new and exotic dishes, Jake was thrilled to pedal across northern California on a guided bike tour with Lynn bringing up the rear.

Finally, if a weekend away won’t work, an overnighter in a local hotel or campground can go a long way toward strengthening the bond between you and your child.

2. Plan a Family Night
Once a week, we have a “Family Fun Night,” with one family member in charge of the planning. They get $15 to feed and entertain the troops. Our family has experienced everything from a bake-at-home pizza and a video rental of The Princess Bride to a home-packed picnic at the duck park followed by an afternoon at the local nickel arcade. Not only does Family Fun Night give us an opportunity to spend some time together, it forces our kids to plan, budget, and take other people’s likes and dislikes into consideration. We also find that giving the children the chance to plan the event helps them enjoy this time a whole lot more.

3. Eat Dinner Together
It sounds so simple, but when our family is balancing work, kids’ band practice, the golden retriever’s vet appointments, and church choir rehearsal, our van passes beneath the Golden Arches more times than I care to admit. Now we make it a priority to sit down and eat a meal together at least five times a week. These range from dinner at a local restaurant to pancakes and bacon on a school morning to a Saturday tailgate before the big game. Not only is this a time to nourish our bodies with food, we nourish our family with good conversation and fun.

When my kids were in junior high, we were seated around the dinner table, discussing what it was like to be a kid when my husband and I were in elementary school. “You didn’t have computers?” our son asked incredulously. “That’s right,” my husband replied, “we didn’t even have a microwave.” Justen thought about that for a moment, “Then how did you cook?” I am sure that he was not commenting on my culinary talents.

4. Have a Date Night
My son, Justen, and I began this tradition when he was 7 years old and we continued into his late teens. About once a month, we choose a night to go out on the town, just the two of us. It may be hamburgers and strawberry shakes at the ’50s style diner in town, picking up mystery novels and hot chocolate at our favorite bookstore, or playing Skee-Ball at the local arcade. Whatever the activity, it gives us a chance to talk without the distraction of the phone, his siblings, or the Cartoon Network.

To create your own date night, ask your child what type of activity he’d enjoy. Maybe you both love Japanese food and want to try out the new sushi restaurant in town. Maybe you’re astronomy fans; take a star walk sponsored by a local planetarium. The object of your evening is to get out of the house and do something you will both enjoy and can talk about in the years to come.

5. Pray Together
It sounds like a given, but it took many years before we got into the routine of praying together as a family. So we made it part of our regular routine. We decided to have everyone write out any prayer requests on an index card and place it in a basket on the breakfast table. Each morning, we divide up the cards, and have each family member pray aloud for the request. We pray for missionaries and math tests, friends who are sick and puppies who are about to be born. No request is too trivial.

My friend, Kimberly, prays with her son, Matthew, each night before he goes to bed. He refuses to put his head on the pillow until all of his friends, grandparents, and stuffed animals have been upheld in prayer. It certainly makes bedtime last a little longer, but this is a special time of closeness for Kimberly and Matthew that is rarely missed.

6. Write a Love Note
In the middle of our cluttered kitchen counter sat a small, lidded basket, better known as the “family mailbox.” Often when I would check our little basket, there will be a sticky note with the words “I love you, Mommy,” written in my daughter’s best 9-year-old cursive with green glitter pen.

Our family mailbox is a great way to encourage each other and brighten our kids’ days. My son is long past the age of wanting notes in his brown paper lunch bag where his friends can see them, but he never minds finding a note or a small treat in the family mailbox.

To start your own family mailbox, all you need is a basket, a pad of paper, and a pen. Start the ball rolling by writing notes to each member of your family. You could start with a note of encouragement, or maybe a Bible verse. End the note with a question, such as, “If you could be invisible for a day, what would you do?” I promise you will get some fascinating mail in your little basket.

7. Break for Coffee
after a long day at school, kids need a chance to unwind before diving into their history and algebra homework. Once they’ve had a chance to pet the dog and put away their backpacks, we would gather around the kitchen table and have our after-school coffee break. We had popcorn and hot chocolate, cookies with a tall glass of frosty milk, or pretzels and lemonade. This is when I’d find out about the day’s happenings at school, how much homework there is for the evening, and, most importantly, how I could pray for my kids while they are at school.

To have your own coffee break, all you need to do is prepare a simple snack and be ready to ask open-ended questions. Instead of “How was your day?” ask, “What did you and Haley talk about at recess this morning?” or “I know you studied really hard for your chemistry test; was it as tough as you thought it would be?” Try to stay focused on your kids during this time. Look at them, listen to their stories no matter how convoluted they get, and make sure you share a little about your day as well.

Some kids just need to decompress after school and don’t feel like replaying their day right away. For other families, it might be nearly dinnertime before everyone is home. The point of the coffee break isn’t to add more stress to your lives, but to give you a regular time to talk through the day. So fit your coffee break in where it works best for you and your children.

8. Start a Parent-Child Journal
When my daughter Kimberly was 8, we started sharing a mother-daughter journal. One night she would lay it on my nightstand for me to write in; the next, I would tuck it under her pillow for her to record her thoughts and dreams. Through the pages of that little book we’ve shared secrets, settled arguments, and discussed life. It’s been a great way to talk about all the fun and not-so-fun issues going on in my little girl’s life. It has also given me the opportunity to share Bible verses, advice, and love notes in a non-threatening way.

It’s easy to get the ball rolling on a parent-child journal. Find a notebook, attach a pen, then write a question to start the conversation. Ask about school, friends, books, or anything else that interests your child. Ask open-ended questions, like “Tell me about the best book you’ve read in fourth grade.” This will help you get more in-depth responses, as well as having even more to write about the next time you share journal entries.

All of these ideas take planning and time, and there have been times that I’ve wondered if it’s worth it. Yet those seem to be the days when my daughter comes running in to tell me about the new elephant joke she heard at school, or asks my advice on how to handle a problem with her best friend. With a chuckle I realize all that effort has created a deep, lasting bond that will keep our family connected for years to come.

 

Kathi Lipp is the author of 21 Ways to Connect with Your Kids which can be purchased on Amazon. For more great ideas on connecting to your kids, go to www.kathilipp.com