Can You Train Kids to be Focused?

Your focus needs more focus” is a quote from the Karate Kids that we cite over and over and over to our kids. And over.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about focus issues in our family. My son, he’s a happy, joyous kid. He wants to be the life and soul of every situation: the goofball in the classroom. He’s confident, he’s kind, he’s funny. He also often speaks out of turn. His enthusiasm and assertiveness can come across as bossy and opinionated. He is also very easily distracted. Doodling, making origami, side conversations. Distraction management is a constant challenge. Bottom line: my son has the attention span of a newt. He’s never been “diagnosed” per se but all the signs are there. Put this all together and what do you get: a poor report card from school.

I was discussing this today with his pediatrician, someone who understands my son and always been an advocate for his effusiveness and character. He’s also someone who’s not quick to medicate to “cure” attention issues, something I value as I’m not convinced drugs are the complete answer.

So, as is the norm, G was goofing around during his annual checkup today and I asked him to quit it. My son turned to the doctor and asked: “Is this a serious conversation.” Dr McKenzie replied in the affirmative and G sat up straight, “Oh, in that case, I’ll pay attention.”

We picked up on this topic a few minutes later after some other questions about his diet, health and some prodding, and what Dr McKenzie said next really hit the mark.

“What you said before,” he explained to my son, “really showed me that you are mature enough to make a choice to be focused.”

We discussed how G is old enough to understand the situations in which he needs to be focused (in class, at karate, getting ready for school) and be aware of the triggers that draw his attention away (squirrel!)

“It’s not going to be easy, but the first step is first to make the choice to be focused when it matters most. Then you need to recognize the moment when you become distracted and become mindful of that feeling. Then remember your choice to be focused,” he continued.

This discussion was a game-changer for me. But more than that, it really resonated with my son. The fact that he was told that he is now mature enough to take charge of his own attention challenges. That the doctor believed he could do it, if he really wanted to.

We often talk with our kids about how happiness is a choice. We frequently address the topic of the right “time and place” for certain behaviors.

Now, we are adding “intentional focus” to this list.

16 Acceptable Snow Day Behaviors for the Working Parent

I may or may not have done – or be currently doing – all or some of the items below. Let’s get real:

  1. No bra, no makeup. Often no clothes. (But note: clothing is recommended when going outside to shovel)
  2. Lifted all restrictions on the kids’ screen and TV time
  3. Shaken your fist in rage at Mother Nature
  4. Threatened children with cookies/toys/violence should they utter a word during your conference calls or break their bones while jumping up and down on a creaky bed upstairs and directly over your work area
  5. Mandatory slippers
  6. Excessive Facebooking and Twittering
  7. Realized you’ve been sitting at your desk for 4 hours straight, jumped up (creakily) to do squats and a plank. Then sat back down for another 4 hours straight
  8. All day snacking (no meals)
  9. Worn headphones to drown out sounds of the children talking/fighting/playing/asking for lunch
  10. Banished kids outside in sub-freezing temperatures armed with shovels and snowballs
  11. Amateur homeschooling efforts
  12. Nervously and obsessively tracking weather.com to see when the snow will come to an end
  13. Pining for your colleagues’ faces
  14. Taking conference calls from your bathroom while hiding from children
  15. Jumping every time you get a text or a call for fear it’s the school announcing that tomorrow is another snow day (nooooooooooooo!)
  16. Lacing your hot cocoa while chanting repeatedly “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere”

Good luck fellow parents; may the force be with you.

Thank You, Taylor Swift, for the Parenting Advice

I’m a big Taylor fan and not just for her toons. Mostly because “Shake It Off” has become the most awesomest parenting tool.

Her popular song has helped me reinforce some key messages with my kids. Stuff parents have said throughout the ages – but somehow now, with the Taylor seal of approval, now the kids are listening.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” still rings true but telling a kid to “shake it off” when other kids say mean stuff seems to resonate more.

And yes, accidents happen, but if you can “shake it off”, child, then we can all learn and move on.

And so on.

I put Taylor’s words of wisdom to work recently with my daughter. We were selecting boxes of Valentine’s cards for her classmates. Now my kid’s a tomboy (and I love it) and in the past, she’s rushed to pick out Transformers or Star Wars-themed cards. But this year, she hesitated and instead, picked out a Hello Kitty box. Because, she claimed that her classmates don’t think it’s cool that she “likes boy stuff.”

Well, this made me mad. And so it begins, the peer pressure that makes kids feel they have to fit in rather than stand out. I get it, I really do. At their age, non-conformance is abhorrent. But I want my kids to be true to themselves and their passions. To stand up for their beliefs, have conviction. Even if that belief is that Transformers are cool. (They are.)

But how to instill in them that it’s OK to follow their hearts and be different? The kid and I had a serious chat. With tears welling in her eyes, she explained that she was embarrassed when the other girls told her it wasn’t cool to like boy’s stuff.

I looked her in the eye and asked, what would Taylor Swift do?

Shake it off, she responded, knowingly, her head held a little higher.

Thank you, Taylor.

 

Introducing the Birds and the Bees

This all happened much sooner than I had anticipated. I thought I’d have at least one more year, till my oldest would be in fifth grade. But over the past few months, my kids – independent of one another – started asking questions. My son had read stuff about DNA in one of his science books and was curious (“Look it’s so cool, the woman’s DNA is in an egg and it mixes with a man’s DNA which is in sperms.”) My daughter had overheard discussions about young teenagers becoming mothers (“Mama, can girls have babies?”) and also wanted the nitty-gritty details about how dogs breed (“But how do they mix the two dog breeds? I mean how?”) I’d done a fairly good job up until this point deflecting their questions or giving them just enough information to be satisfied with the answer but not enough to spark further curiosity.

But based on the frequency of their questions, it felt like the time had come to reveal all.

My kids are now armed with new knowledge and vocabulary. To all my parent friends, my kids’ teachers, their classmates and classmates’ parents, I apologize should you hear words – like scrotum – uttered by my otherwise sweet seven year-old. For some reason, she has latched on to the word scrotum. Go figure.

It’s not that I was trying to keep any of this a secret. It’s just once you breach this milestone, there’s no turning back. Not that it’s a bad thing to equip them with this information. But while you are filling in the gory details about how babies are made and how they come out, you may as well open the kimono on Santa, the tooth fairy and all that. Suddenly, all that is magical evaporates replaced with science and biology. Where’s the fun in that?

Anyway, I decided to buy books. I ordered two different books and read them cover to cover before handing them over to the kids, ever so casual. “Hey, you’ve been wondering so here’s something to read, and papa and I can answer any questions you might have.” No biggie, right? (“JUST DON’T DO THIS UNTIL YOU ARE AT LEAST 30, my brain screamed.”)

For the seven year-old, I selected the book It’s Not The Stork. All the basics are there, presented in very accessible cartoon format. She dug right in and has enjoyed it as much as reading her Magic Tree House or Pokemon books. No questions asked.

For the ten year-old, I bought It’s Perfectly Normal. To say it’s comprehensive is an understatement. The book covers a lot of territory, much of which makes little sense right now to him (sexting, gender identity, birth control … etc.) What I appreciated most about this book was how everything was presented in the context of acceptance, love and respect.

When I first gave him the book, he was mortified. he sat on the floor, head in his hands and said “I can’t believe you gave me a book about sex: it’s so inappropriate!” So I explained he could treat it like a reference book, dip into it every now and then whenever he had questions. I told him it wouldn’t all make sense now and that was OK. Needless to say, he has actually read it cover to cover. Also no questions have been asked though we have made it very clear that if and when he wants to talk, we are here.

Whether or not I’ve handled this right, I have no clue. It’s part and parcel of the whole operating without a handbook thing. And we are only at the beginning of this journey.

Still, there have been several hysterical moments. My daughter apparently lectured her grandparents over breakfast one morning about the two different ways babies are born. I’m not sure if they were horrified or amused. She also recently used the phrase “pretend he just sucked his testicles in” while her Hero Factory/Chima Lego creatures were play-battling in the back seat of the car. I almost drove off the road. She was also overheard explaining to her best friend about how a girl’s private parts are inside, while a boy’s hang out. Which, I guess, is correct. Not sure how that came up in their conversation.

And then there was the evening when I was telling the kids about how on that very night, 14 years earlier, their papa and I had met on our first date. I thought it was going to be a sweet conversation about falling in love and romance and all that.

However my son looked at me with a knowing look on his face: “Oh, I’ve read all about dates,” he said, eyeing me suspiciously. “And love. And penises.”

Ah well. This should be fun.

How I Measure the Passing of Time

The sheer volume of Cheerios that can be consumed in one sitting

They still hold my hand

How quickly his buzz cut goes from sharp to disheveled

Her diminishing fear of auto-flushing toilets

They want their privacy

Volume of homework

Discussions waver at any given moment between poop, Pokemon and deep questions about religion, life and death and right and wrong. Also tooting.

Kids portions at restaurants are now too small (for him)

She still wants to snuggle with me at bedtime

Their beautifully expanding minds and vocabulary – including awareness of curse words

The escalating pencil marks and dates on the kitchen wall

Chapter books and intense reading sessions

The tooth fairy visits more often

Their bed times and mine are getting closer and closer

They need me less and yet they need me more

Wanted: Distraction Management (For Kids and Parents)

This post had several working titles including “Mommy’s Sorry She Has To Go To Work,” and “Your Focus Needs More Focus.” Either way, there was some serious working Mom guilt combined with a heavy dose of standard parental frustration going on this week.

Weekday mornings require the usual routine for all parties, including basics like getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth and getting assorted necessary items for the day in their designated places (lunch box, backpack, shoes, jackets…) My kids have been doing this all their lives, with varying degrees of support depending on their ages at the time. Currently, they are old enough to do it all for themselves. The drill has been practiced over and over and over.

And yet.

Pavlov’s dogs perform better than my kids.

Distractions are everywhere. And I’m not talking screens, as we don’t allow them in the morning. Physical distractions (oh look, it’s a Lego/book/cat/brother/sock — insert pretty much any given noun.) Mental distractions (staring into space). Emotional distractions (I’m so happy I’m going to skip around and around and around).

Because T eats her food molecule by molecule, a simple bagel can last a lifetime. (Pretty certain she would not survive in the wild.)

Because G cannot move three feet without finding a random Lego to build or a piece of paper from which to make his latest Origami creation.

Because T cannot brush her teeth without getting lost in the vacuum of her mind while staring at the mirror. If I don’t disrupt her, she could be rooted there for hours. (I’d love to know what she’s thinking, but even she doesn’t know.)

Because when I send G upstairs to turn off his bedroom light (for the third time), next thing you know, he has a nose in a book. (Not a bad thing, I know, but a distraction when the school bell will ring in less than five minutes. And school is more than five minutes away.)

You get the picture.

I suspect I am not alone in this quest to figure out how to handle the distraction management with grace and without completely losing my cool.

Which is what happened earlier this week, prompting lashings of working Mom guilt.

It wasn’t quite the standard morning. We actually needed to leave the house earlier than usual, as I had an appointment and, since my husband was away on business, my kids had to accompany me. We’d had the pep talk the night before. We agreed that we would cooperate, focus, get it done — even if it meant eschewing some playtime because our time was more compressed than on a “normal” morning. We even agreed that they could buy lunch at school instead of making their own lunches like they usually do — a rare “treat.”

And yet.

The morning was a complete clusterf**k. In retrospect, I should have seen this coming, prepared ahead logistically and steeled myself emotionally. But, reminder after reminder turned into nag after nag and eventually escalated into yell after yell. It culminated in us running anxiously to the car, all breathless and on the verge of tears. I promptly informed my kids that I was very disappointed in them. They had made me late.

Ugh.

The second the words were out of my mouth, I regretted them. There was shameful, sad silence from the backseat. My beautiful, creative, high-spirited son hoarsely whispered, “We’re sorry we made you late again.” His sister, the whimsical one, tearfully echoed, “Yes Mama, we’re very sorry.”

I hate myself.

I’m the one who should be building them up, showing them how to roll with life’s challenges, how to “shake it off” or “let it go” (depending on whether you’re a Taylor Swift or Frozen fan). Instead, here I was squashing their spirits, trampling over their egos. I’m not setting a worthy example. Instead, I’m mandating that their innate need for creativity, free play and imagination be set aside to accomodate my timelines, my needs. I disgust myself.

And yet.

I have to get to work. So does my husband. As we move through our weekday frenzied mornings, our minds too are elsewhere — on deadlines, to-dos, on our smartphones and laptops. We, too, are distracted. Emails, texts, news feeds, tweets, calls. For me, as a working Mom, my actual work day starts the second I awake. This is my self-imposed tradeoff for the luxury of not physically getting into the office till 9.40 a.m. (since school drop-off is at 9 a.m..)

It’s all rush rush and we are all distracted. No surprise then that it’s a formula for stress and disappointment. Often, by the time I make it to my desk, I’m already exhausted.

And yet.

It’s not just the mornings; the evenings are similarly compressed and distracted. Shoes and jackets and backpacks are kicked off and discarded. Toys find their way to the dinner table. Unfinished homework needs finishing. Emails need answering (since I left the office at 5.20 p.m. to pick up the kids from their after-school program.) Dishes. Bath time, teeth brushing (cue shenanigans, bickering). Finally, bed and reading before they descend into the peace of slumber. More emails, unfinished work, deadlines to get a head start on. Fishing into their backpacks to discover a form that needs a signature, a party invitation. Who knows how long they might have been there.

My whole day — outside of time at the workplace — is spent trying to conquer all of these endless distractions and competing forces. How long can we continue this pace? I wonder. Is there an art to the distraction management that will make it all work better?

Because we could ALL use a little more zen.

(This article originally appeared on Huffington Post and on Medium)

 

Dear Apple & Facebook: Your Egg Freezing Perk is a Disgrace

Have you read that Apple and Facebook are now offering female employees a $20,ooo perk to freeze their eggs, so they can delay baby-making and make the most of their career paths without the distraction of raising children?

I find this abhorrent, for many reasons, which I’m trying to sort through. Here’s where my head is at:

I forge my own path. I decide when I have a family. I am responsible for my own career success. I may bitch about the challenges of being a working Mom but it’s my decision, my choice.

Motherhood is not a “perk.” It’s not a reward for going above and beyond at the office. It’s not an incentive. Egg freezing has no place as part of the “package.” Eggs are not a tool for negotiation.

Making the choice to have kids is an intensely personal decision. And getting pregnant isn’t always as easy as they say. And it gets riskier and more expensive the longer you put it off.

Dear Apple and Facebook, why not take that budget and use it to create more supporting work environments and schedules for working parents? How about a daycare facility at the workplace? Here’s an idea: how about subsidizing childcare, after-school programs or camp costs?

Now that is what I’d consider a perk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Mama, I Have No Underpants!”

I’m sure you’ll agree that this is not what you want to hear on an already-nutty school day morning. Yet, it happens with shocking regularity when, for some reason, yours truly hasn’t kept laundry-doing apace with children’s general daily dirtiness. Oy.

The answer they usually get from me is: “You’ll have to fish yesterday’s out of the hamper and turn them inside out.” Gross though it may be, it’s either that or free-breezing as there’s certainly not enough time on a week day to get a laundry cycle done before it’s time to take the little darlings to school.

This morning, a conversation with my 7 year-old revealed part of the problem.

Mama, this is my last pair of socks,” she pointed out while getting dressed.

Well then, what does that mean?” I inquired, hoping the she’d realize the obvious.

It means that there must be clean, folded clothes downstairs that need bringing upstairs.

Ah, there’s the problem.

My children believe that somehow the dirty laundry that they deposit into the hamper upstairs magically transports itself downstairs, into the washing machine and drier, and is then neatly folded by the laundry fairies.

Ah.

Today this changes. Today, starts the beginning of a new chapter in the Annals of My Children’s Laundry. Henceforth, the onus is on them to do the following:

  1. Pay attention to when they are running low on key clothing items. Low is the keyword here. This is surprisingly challenging for them.
  2. Bring the laundry hamper downstairs. Bonus points for no eye rolling or dramatic sighing. Or fighting over who does it.
  3. Put dirty clothes into washing machine. Bonus points for actually adding detergent and switching it on (which I taught them today.)

If items 1-3 are performed dutifully, regularly and with the appropriate attitude, then there’s a strong chance that I may actually see the laundry through the conclusion, even folding their dry, clean clothes for them. (Because, ssshhhh, I secretly enjoy doing the laundry but don’t tell the little people.)

However, if items 1-3 are not performed, then it’ll be back to fishing yesterday’s smelly socks or skivvies out of the hamper.

I Get Around

…. to quote the Beach Boys.

Over the past 2-3 months, I’ve not just been blogging here but have also popped up in a couple of other spots that you might have missed. So I thought I’d do you all a favor and plop them all in one place.

At the end of July, Dr Portia Jackson of the Working Motherhood community was kind enough to invite me onto her show. Working Motherhood features podcast interviews several times a week encouraging us working Moms to share our challenges, points of view and successes. You can listen to my interview here. (Heads-up: it’s about 30 mins long and let me tell you, working Moms, if you have 30 mins to spare, my advice is to grab a nap or get your nails done rather than listen to my drivel.) My main advice? Don’t sweat the small stuff, take it one day at a time and don’t take yourself too seriously.

As some of you might know, I attended BlogHer ’14 also at the end of July which was an incredible experience. I was surrounded by so many amazing bloggers and it inspired me to up my game. Consequently, two of my posts were selected in August as feature blogs posts on BlogHer (which reaches 100 million women each month) which delighted me no end – Taking Off The Training Wheels and Before You Judge: Here’s What You Don’t See.

From time to time, I contribute to my local newspaper the Framingham Patch. In August, Patch asked for readers’ thoughts following an incident when a mom’s son was ousted from his school for something she posted on Facebook. Social Expression and Responsibility tackles the obligation to consider your words before you post. Most recently, I tackled the pressing question of current society: Have We Reached Peak Pumpkin?

Meanwhile, the BreadwinningMom blog invited me to answer some questions about how I “juggle”. Not the beanbag kind, the working-mom kind – you can find it here.

And, as this little blog approaches 35,000 visits, I want to say a huge and heartfelt thank you to every single of you who takes a minute or so out of your busy lives to reach my words. Thank you!

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

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