A New Way for Parents to Problem-Solve: Are You a Rock, a Cotton Ball or a Rubber Band?

Guest post by Rebecca Bell

I recently attended a fascinating parenting seminar entitled, “You’re not the boss of me! Help your child be a flexible thinker (by being a flexible thinking parent).” The presenter was Donna Shea, who runs the Peter Pan Center in Ayer, which provides social, emotional and behavior coaching for children. She acknowledged that the following collaborative problem-solving framework came from Ross Greene’s book, “The Explosive Child” (a misleading title, in Donna’s opinion, because it implies you need a “problem kid” to benefit from these strategies, which is not the case.)

  • Plan A – adult (meltdown causing) – Rock
  • Plan B – Both (problem solving) – Rubber Band
  • Plan C – child (meltdown prevention) – Cotton ball

Plan A is to be used sparingly, mostly in matters pertaining to safety. Some things are non-negotiable. On these matters you are an unyielding rock. You do not debate these things with small children.

“No, you may not ride your bike without a helmet.”

“You must hold my hand in the parking lot.”

When you really need to use plan A, be firm but not angry – try not to yell. We lose ~30 IQ points when we’re angry, so the goal is to avoid full on screaming meltdown mode. You do not have to attend every argument you are invited to. Pick your battles, but then don’t negotiate. If your kid continues to pester, you can reply, “You already asked and I already answered.” Use Plan A in moderation, but be firm when you do.

One of the big revelations I had during the evening was when the presenter said, “Remember, if your child is complaining but still complying, you won – tune it out.” I know I have a tendency to keep cajoling when my kids are whining while completing a task, because I would rather have them perform it willingly and happily. But sometimes I simply need to settle for begrudging compliance and stop talking!

Plan C involves saying “Yes” to your child whenever you can, when the answer is of little consequence and you can truly not be resentful of the outcome. This may take work on your part!

“Yes, you may wear the tutu and the green striped leggings to the grocery store.”

“Yes, you can spend your allowance on another stuffed animal.”

Saying “Yes’ to kids is fun – do it whenever you can, instead of your default response being, “No.” It can be easy for me to get in a rut of assuming that everything my kids want is unreasonable, when in fact that is not the case.

Plan B involves 3 key steps:

1) Verbally express empathy for your child’s perspective. Repeat/reflect their words back to them.

2) State the position from your perspective. It’s important that this comes second, after you’ve expressed empathy. If you do step 2 first, you’re on Plan A. I know my natural inclination is to assert my parental authority first, and I need to work on being empathetic to my child’s perspective before stating my own piece.

3) Invite your child to a problem-solving party. This can take place immediately if you have time, or at a later time when the problem is not currently happening and everyone is calmer.

Don’t waste time in a prolonged yelling match when you could be using that time to teach negotiation, flexibility and compromise. Recognize that skill teaching is hard work, messy and time-consuming. But once it becomes second nature, it will get quicker and easier. Be a problem-solving detective and look for solutions that make everyone reasonably happy.

Finally, don’t compare your strategies to other parents. The real question is not, “Is this right or wrong?” but, “Is this working for us?” If it’s not, then it might be time to change something.

Useful links:

http://peterpancenter.com/

http://www.amazon.com/The-Explosive-Child-Understanding-Chronically/dp/0061906190#

 

Rebecca is a world traveler, a singer, a Scrabble addict, and a mom to two children. She’s a Brit who now lives outside Boston, MA.

Rebecca Bell

My Inevitable Back to School Blog Post

My favorite part of back to school – other than, you know, the obvious – is prepping all their supplies and backing them into fresh, crisp, clean new backpacks. Pencils have been deftly sharpened. Labels have been lovingly affixed. Everything is neat and organized.

For now. Because we all know that these backpacks will only stay fresh, crisp and clean for a few days. They will soon enough transform into disorganized, sticky receptacles that you are scared to dip your hands into for fear of yuck.

But today, I smile. Because they look like this. Ready to accompany my little darlings back into the land of academics, structure and the inevitable social nirvana/angst.

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Now, this wouldn’t be a self-respecting back to school blog post without some photos of the little darlings, heading off to seize the day. I’ve used the Shuttersong app to embed their voices into the images and really capture and save the memories of their enthusiasm for school at ages 7 and 9!

You can check them out here:

http://a.sso.ng/1/704494ea4ec2

http://a.sso.ng/1/da50e6a02a16

http://a.sso.ng/1/d2043325aa90

Happy Back to School!

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Invasion

They are everywhere. They are taking over. No surface is spared.

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When you remove them from one room, they appear in another.

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And then back again.

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On floors.

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On chairs.

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Everywhere.

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Transformers. Bionicles. Hero Factory. Chima.

Well done, toy manufacturers, well done.

I Am The Plant Torturer

Here in the US, you call it “green thumbs.”

In the UK, it’s called “green fingers.”

In France, it’s “les mains vertes” (green hands.)

Whichever the digit or the color, sadly, I don’t have them.

For I, my friends, am The Plant Torturer.

For decades, I have entertained hopes of designing and planting colorful flower beds. I dream of vegetable gardens overflowing with home-grown tomatoes, cucumbers, raspberries, green beans, kale and carrots from which to nurture my family with nutritious hearty fare. My home would be resplendent with vibrant orchids, begonia, lilies and african violets.

I have tried and I have failed. Under my care and supervision, so many flowers and plants have suffered, long drawn-out deaths. Either by the horticultural equivalent of  water-boarding. Or through unintentional starvation and dehydration. Some have survived: fated to exist in a barely-alive/half-dead and often a little crispy state. They simply exist, gasping.

It’s not intentional. I feel miserable about the torture I inflict. I’m really sorry, Earth. It appears I am missing the green gene. (As a side note, I am very good at and enjoy weeding. Go figure.)

It’s a darn good thing that becoming a parent isn’t predicated on having green thumbs, fingers or hands. Fortunately, I was able to create two perfectly beautiful humans that are fed and watered regularly. They are thriving and not at all crispy.

 

The Things You Don’t See

See that smiling woman cuddling her kids, you don’t see her anxiety and her battle every day with post-partum depression.

You don’t imagine the insecurity that business woman faces as she addresses a meeting.

You can’t fathom the self-loathing of that young woman who’s fighting bulimia and can’t wait to stick her fingers down her throat.

That homeless man was once a father with a regular job.

You don’t realize that you’re talking with a confident Asian woman who actually wishes she were white.

The car that’s driving slowly or erratically in front of you, annoying you – you’re unaware that a Mom is dealing with a screaming kid.

Your friend who’s always smiling and composed, maybe she’s hiding verbal abuse or an addiction to pain meds?

That kid you think is a bully, you don’t see how shy he really is. Or maybe he’s just hungry?

Maybe that rude individual talking loudly on the phone is dealing with a family emergency?

A distracted, grumpy colleague? She just broke up with her boyfriend.

That person who’s in such a rush to end a conversation with you probably needs to pee really badly.

Your girlfriend who doesn’t want to split the restaurant bill four ways might be worrying about how to make her next credit card payment.

What about the call service rep who sounds disinterested? This could be the only job he could find and he hates it. But it’s a job. A paying job.

 

The fact is, there’s an awful lot we don’t, won’t or can’t see. But we are oh-so-quick to assume and judge. Myself included.

What you don’t see about me is the constant burning and itching on my forehead, the invisible remnants of shingles from a little over a year ago. I’m not complaining. In fact, I even appreciate it. This burning-you-can’t-see is my daily reminder not to assume things about the people I know and the strangers I don’t.

And it’s also a persistent reminder of my duty to teach my kids to also be thoughtful and respectful of all the people they encounter and all the stuff they are dealing with that we can’t see.

 

 

 

 

12 Things I Won’t Miss About Summer Camp

I’m not ashamed to say that I can’t wait for summer camp to be done. We have One.More.Day. Tomorrow, with a boatload of glee and relief, we’ll be putting the kids on the bus for their last day of YMCA summer camp this year. They have had an awesome awesome summer but it’s definitely time for everyone to resume the structure of the school year. Of course, while there are many reasons to love summer camp, there are also quite a few things I will not miss …. until next summer rolls around.

  1. The compressed, fractious mornings: no matter how early we all get up and how organized we are, the last few minutes of getting ready to get out the door is always high drama and stress
  2. Mud in  lunch boxes and backpacks
  3. Stains: there are regular stains and there are summer camp stains which require either boiling or disposal
  4. Having to wake up my daughter early: an ugly preview of what her teens will surely be like
  5. Damp, stinky towels that have been dragged through dirt and then stuffed into backpacks
  6. Lost items galore
  7. “Hey mama, I have to wear red all week” (she has no red clothes)
  8. The constant warring over whether Pokemon cards, devices and “guys” (Hero Factory/Chima characters) can go with them to camp (answer: no)
  9. The discovery of said contraband being snuck into backpacks
  10. Gimp
  11. Dirt bombs in their hair that take more than 2-3 showers/shampoos to remove
  12. Torture by “this is a repeat-after-me” camp songs

I know, I know. In a few week’s time, I’ll be all involved in homework, PTO guilt and all that school stuff and will long for the “carefree” days of summer camp. But right now, I’m so very glad that it’s almost over.

 

 

 

 

A Little Silly to Start the Day

There’s a lot of nasty in the world right now: it can suck your spirit. My weapon to guard off the negative? A healthy dose of silly, especially when it includes my kids.

Now, you can’t force the sillies. They gotta happen spontaneously.

This morning, I snuck into bed with T shortly after her alarm went off. We were talking sweet nuthins and I can’t remember how or why but suddenly we were messing around with words and landed on the fact that ‘waffle’ and ‘awful’ kind of rhyme, especially when you pronounce ‘awful’ like ‘offal’.

“Waiter, this waffle is awful” I stated, and we both fell into a crazy heap of gut-busting giggles. The kind of giggles that set you up for the day with a smile on your face.

But it got even better.

Guess what papa had made the kids for breakfast?

Yup, waffles. T and I looked at each other gleefully and plotted.

She took a few bites then turned to her father. “Papa, this waffle is awful!” she giggled.

I giggled. We all giggled.

Silliness rules.

Taking Off The Training Wheels: A Mother’s Perspective

She’s a lot like me. A little cautious, a tad fearful. Prefers to set her own pace. Doesn’t take criticism awfully well. But determined, so determined.

Last year, she really tried it but took a spill. And that was it. Her confidence was grazed, never mind her knees. She decided she didn’t want any more of it. The wheels went back on. We didn’t push it.

A year later, things are different. After all, just look at the glee in her big brother’s eyes as he crazy speeds up and down the driveway, purposefully weaving this way and that, doing tricks? Taking spills but getting back on. She wants some of that action.

If I were the only parent, she may have never learned this. I’m the mother than cannot watch as they struggle to gain balance, take off and then wobble. With my breath catching in my throat, I put on an eager, supportive face but my insides are jelly, my nerves are screaming, waiting for the inevitable swerve and crash, tears and wails, grazes and bruises and hopefully, really hopefully, nothing worse. I’m terrified but I’m still cheering her on.

Fortunately, there’s him. Cool as a cucumber. Instructive. Determined and patient. Under his steady eye and hand, she really works at this, confidence building like a three-layer cake. And something clicks. She gets it. And she’s off, a little wobbly at first but she’s off. Self-propelled, balanced. Proud. The pedals turn, kinetically building energy, speed and conviction.

As she practices, her balance becomes stronger. The thrill of the ride shines in her eyes. “Wooohooo,” as she picks up speed. If she wasn’t wearing a helmet, the wind would be buffeting her hair, locks streaming out behind her like the dust Road Runner leaves in his wake.

I’m still terrified, of course. It’s the mother in me. But so proud of her hard work and grateful for his steady determination.

Of course, there will be spills, grazes and tears. But she will deal with them and get back on. She will learn when to switch into a higher gear, to look out for bumps in the road, to enjoy coasting, and when to apply the brakes.

And if that isn’t a metaphor for life, then I don’t know what is.

 

 

Don’t Buy Me Stuff

Back in my 20s when a good friend and I both lived in London, we used to take each other to the theatre for our respective birthdays. We both loved musicals and drama, and it was a wonderful and generous way for us to treat each other. It also helped that our birthdays were several months apart, so we got to see new shows every six months for a couple of years.

Fast-forward 20 odd years. Through good fortune and hard graft, I am lucky enough to have a beautiful home and a lot of stuff. More stuff, in fact, than I truly need. My family also has a lot of stuff, especially my kids. When stuff breaks or gets outdated or replaced by a newer better version of stuff, we get new stuff. Old stuff gets donated, recycled or thrown away.

So.Much.Stuff.

Too.Much.Stuff.

I’d being lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the stuff; that the fruits of our hard work enable us to acquire things. Some of these things we need, or at least we claim we need. Most of it we really don’t need, but we like to have, own, use, show off.

I feel guilty about all the stuff. Compared to others that are not as fortunate. I’d like to not only give away more stuff to those with more need but I’d also like to not acquire as much new stuff.

Charity starts at home, as they say. My kids need to learn that stuff doesn’t really matter. They don’t need to constantly buy or be bought new things. The need to understand the value of what they already have. And understand that being generous doesn’t always mean giving stuff away, though it’s a start. It’s our job to set this example, practice what we preach.

I’m thinking about this topic as my birthday is approaching in a few weeks. Birthdays, especially for kids, become the epicenter of getting more stuff. Often nice stuff. Maybe stuff we need but won’t buy for ourselves.

So here’s the thing. Please don’t buy me stuff. I have more than I deserve already. If I want, ‘need’ or desire something, I can go buy it myself.

Instead, treat me to experiences. Take me to the theatre. Let’s have a day trip. A picnic on the beach. Let’s do something unexpected and crazy and fun. It may cost money but maybe not.

You see, the more stuff you have, the more it collects dust. It becomes hard to find the one bit of stuff you value the most when there’s a whole big, dusty pile of stuff.

The opposite happens with experiences. Each experience can be treasured both in the moment, and after. Experiences can be shared. Experiences don’t degrade with time. Every time you unwrap them in your memory, they are lush with emotions, vivid with detail.

So, please don’t buy me stuff. I don’t intend to be ungrateful. I know there’s pleasure in selecting a gift for someone. I’m sorry if this request denies you that pleasure.

How’s this for a deal? I’ll treat you to an experience too. That’s way we’ll all have memories to cherish instead of piles of more stuff.

The Agony and Ecstasy of Summer Camp

School’s out, summer’s here. Parents everywhere are cheering. Or are they?

I hate summer camp

I hate that we have to be out of the house a whole hour earlier than during the school year, in time to catch the bus to camp. Our already-challenging mornings become even more compressed and panicky because, no matter how well prepared we are, kids just want to play – not pack their lunches, find their towel, apply sunscreen, brush teeth, etc etc. It’s the fear of missing the bus and having to consequently drive 40 minutes in the opposite direction from my workplace that fuels these mornings.

I hate that, no matter how well I’ve organized the camp clothing procurement process with the goal of having a sufficient supply chain of shorts, T-shirts, socks, swimsuits and towels, I still end up having to do laundry every single night. Because camp clothes aren’t just a little dirty – they are sweaty, sandy, muddy, dank, stained with arts and crafts and bug spray. They require boiling. I hate that stuff always gets lost, no matter how well labelled. Towels, water bottles, sun screen, swimsuits, lunch boxes, goggles, underwear.

I hate camp songs. Sure, they are cute at first. But when your kids sing them over and over, morning and evening and all weekend – especially those “repeat after me” songs – it’s enough to drive me loony.

I dislike “dress up” or theme days. Nine times out of ten we just don’t have the right costume, color or accessory just hanging around the house. Or, most likely, we forget. Then as we arrive at the bus stop and see other kids in whichever theme of the week attire it is, my kids are inevitably disappointed. (Side note: if they cared enough about it, they’d make an effort to remember. Right?)

I dislike family night. Not because I don’t want to experience my kids’ camp, meet their counsellors and friends, hang out and have fun – but because of the damn mosquitoes that see me and think “mmm, dinner.”

I hate the cost of 8-9 weeks of summer camp because, as a working parent, what else are you going to do? I also hate that I have to start reserving my kids’ spot at summer camp in January, for fear that it’ll book up really quickly and then we’ll be royally screwed.

I hate that many of the fun, smaller or specialist camps are not only crazy expensive but they also finish at 3 or 4pm? What’s a working parent to do?

But …. I love summer camp.

I love that my kids spend their days outside at camp running, playing, swimming, fishing, boating, archery, learning outdoor skills and much much more. It’s how kids were meant to spend their summers: carefree, making new friends, trying new challenges. Happy as pigs in …. well, you know. I love how my kids’ camp – the YMCA – provides sufficient structure for a camp of 800 kids but at the same time encourages discovery, expression and free-play.

I love how my kids’ bodies become firm and lithe during summer camp, their little arms and chests becoming toned and muscular thanks to twice daily swimming. I love how, every summer, their swimming skills get stronger. I love their stories of new friends and adventures. I love the relationships they build with their counsellors. I love their farmers’ tans, the healthy glow that bursts from their happy faces. I love how they grow every summer, not just in height but in strength (inner and outer.)

I love that they come home tired, filthy, and hungry. They eat their body weight in food for dinner and then sleep soundly for ten hours. I love that they are spending less time in front of screens. I feel like our money has been well-spent and my kids are making memories every year, building layer upon layer of character and confidence.

So yes, mention summer camp and I’ll both smile and grimace.  And yes, soon enough, the time will come that they go to sleep away camps for several weeks at a time. Then, I’m sure, I’ll be singing a different tune.

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