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When “Going Viral” is a Bad Thing: What Parents Need To Know

We’ve all heard the term, “going viral” and we all know what it means. What we may not realize is just how quickly it can happen.

It’s fine when it’s a cute video, but what about when it’s a picture or video of someone in a way that they wouldn’t want themselves seen? Or a story that paints a person (true or false), maybe your child, in a bad way.

That’s when it can get even worse. It’s bad enough that someone has to see the post about themselves, but knowing that people are talking about them behind their back makes the pain increase exponentially. The comments will likely not remain “just online”, either. Too often, the targets of the bad behavior are attacked offline as well.

When I’m presenting to students or parents, I always use the example of Six Degrees of Separation, which states that that everyone is six relationships (or less) away from any other person in the world. The scary part is just how quickly this can happen!

Making this as conservative as possible, we’re going to pretend that each person who sees a picture shares it with just one other person in each round, but in reality, it could be sent out to dozens of people in seconds. Maybe hundreds. Here’s how it works:

  1. One person takes a pic and sends it to a friend. Two people have now seen the pic.
  2. Both of them decide to share the pic to just one person. Now, four people have seen the pic.
  3. Each of them repeats the process. Now, eight people have seen it.
  4. Each of them repeats the process. Now, 16 people have seen it.
  5. Each of them repeats the process. Now, 32 people have seen it.
  6. Each of them repeats the process. Now, 64 people have seen it.
  7. Each of them repeats the process. Now, 128 people have seen it.
  8. Each of them repeats the process. Now, 256 people have seen it.
  9. Each of them repeats the process. Now, 512 people have seen it.
  10. Each of them repeats the process. Now, 1,024 people have seen it.

In only ten rounds, over a thousand people have seen the picture. In another 10 rounds, it will be over a million people. And this entire process may take only a few minutes!

 

Why This Matters

What we do and say, as well as what other people say about us, can affect us offline. It can affect us as soon as it happens or years later, when we’ve long forgotten about it.

From schools looking for new admissions to employers looking for potential new hires to people curious about who they may be about to go on a date with, people need to realize that the #OnlineMeetsOffline lesson can cause real problems or open new opportunities for them. What they find largely falls upon us.

Social media sites, especially Twitter, are very easy to search if you know how to do it. Human Resources employees and Admissions Officers are well versed in how to do it.

What’s the Solution?

To be perfectly honest, there really isn’t one. At least, not a full proof one. With today’s graphics software, it’s very easy to manipulate an image that can be very convincing to most people. That said, a good start is to minimize your child’s pictures online.

We all want to show our kids off, but we may be doing them more harm than good. In France, parents can actually be arrested or sued for posting pics of their children online – it’s considered an invasion of their privacy if it’s done without their consent.

Make sure that your kids avoid posting images that can be taken the wrong way. – Yes, that’s almost impossible. They can start by never sending any inappropriate pictures of themselves with anyone – ever! I recently watched “Do Revenge” on Netflix. It’s a new release and the problems all start when a senior girl sends a topless video to her boyfriend, only for it to be seen by every kid in the school. That’s when the problems start for the girl, and she becomes a pariah bent on revenge.

The best advice that I can give on this topic is that an ounce of prevention is not worth a pound of cure – it’s worth an immeasurable amount of cure!

We all need to realize that what we do online can have long-term consequences. If we realize that what we say online may be read in open-court one day, we may choose not to do some of the things that we might do otherwise. It may take some of the fun away from using social media, but it can prevent a lot of problems down the line!

This Holiday Season, Commit Your Family to a “Vow of Yellibacy”

Let’s face it, yelling is one way to let off steam. And we seem to be letting off more than our share these days. Unfortunately, the holidays is a time when stress builds and we let off steam with one another. Studies show that both kids and parents alike are far more stressed than just a decade ago. Those studies also show that family yelling matches and flaring tempers are especially prevalent during tough economic times–like now, and there’s proof: An online survey of 1300 U.S. parents named yelling—not working or spanking or missing a school event—as their biggest guilt inducer.

Our tempers do affect our kids. Yelling can also become an easy habit that can ruin family harmony. Just tolerating yelling just teaches a kid that the way to get what you want is by upping the volume. And beware: the more yelling, the more it must be utilized to be effective. So family members get used to the screaming, the pitch gets louder, the frequency gets longer and soon everyone starts using it so they can be heard. Yelling is also contagious so chances are once one family member has learned to scream another will catch the “screaming bug.”

If you want to boost your family’s harmony and reduce those yelling matches, then something needs to be altered, A.S.A.P. Here are the seven steps to reduce this vicious yelling cycle. Change takes commitment, but it is doable. Stick to that plan!

7 Steps to Reduce Yelling, Curb Tempers, and Be a Calmer Family

STEP 1: Take a “Calmer Family” vow. Begin by gathering the troops and convey your new “no yelling” expectations to all family members. Everyone must know you mean business that yelling will no longer be tolerated. Explain that while it’s okay to be angry, they may not use a yelling voice to express their feelings. If the member needs to take a time out to calm down, he may do so. Some families take a “no yelling” vow and sign a pledge, and posted as a concrete reminder. Hint: Kids mirror our emotions. When you raise your voice, they raise theirs. When you get tense, they get tense. The fastest way to help your kids reduce anger is for you to be calm.

STEP 2: Learn your stress warning signs. Stress comes before anger. Anger comes before yelling. The best way to stop yelling is to identify your own unique physiological stress signs that warn us we’re getting angry. Explain to your kids that we should tune in to them because they help us stay out of trouble. Next, help your child recognize what specific warning signs she may have that tell her she’s starting to get upset. For example: “Looks like you’re tense. Your hands are in a fist. Do you feel yourself starting to get angry?” Anger escalates very quickly: if a kid waits until he is in “Melt down” or a “screaming match” to get himself back into control, he’s too late—and so are you to try and help him. Here are a few common warning signs: Flushed checks. Pounding hearts. Louder voice. Clenched hands. Grinding teeth. Rapid breathing. Body vibrates. Drier mouth

STEP 3. Identify family temper triggers. Yelling matches typically happen at the same time such as when you just get home from work, homework time, the morning mania or witching hour. It helps family members learn to recognize one another’s time vulnerabilities–or the time they are most prone to yell. For instance: John: First thing in the morning when he’s always grouch. Kenny: around 2 pm when he needs a nap. Mom: 6 pm when she’s trying to get dinner going. Members just need to be a bit more sensitive.

STEP 4. Teach healthier alternatives to express needs. Many families yell because they simply don’t know how to express their anger another way. So teach a healthier way.

  • Teach “I” messages. Explain that instead of starting messages with “You,” begin with “I.” It helps your kid stay focused on the person’s troublesome behavior without putting the person down so the chances for emotional outbursts (and yelling) are lessened. The child then tells the offender what the person did that upset him. He may also state how he’d like the problem resolved. For example: “I get really upset when you take my stuff. I want you to ask me for permission first.” Or: “I don’t like to be teased. Please stop.”
  • Label emotions. Encourage members to acknowledge their hot feelings to one another. “Watch out. I’m really getting upset.” “I’m so angry I could burst.” “I feel so frustrated that you’re not listening to me.” Labeling the feeling helps both the yeller and the receiver calm down and get a bit of perspective. Give everyone in your family permission to verbalize their feelings and then honor them by listening to their concerns.
  • Give permission to “Take Ten”. Let everyone in your family know it’s okay to say, “I need a time out.” Then take a few deep breaths or walk away until you can get back in control. Then give that permission. If the yeller doesn’t stop, ask him to go to time out. Set up a place where a yeller can calm down.

STEP 5. Refuse to engage with a screamer. You know this one: “If your kid screams and you scream, you all scream. So make a rule that you will NOT engage with an out-of-control kid. Wear a bracelet to remind you. Or tape a red card to your wall so when you see it, it tells you: “Stay calm!” Here are a few other tips:

  • Create a warning signal. Some families make up their own “family signal” such as pulling your ear, holding up a red card or a “Time Out” hand gesture. You agreed upon by all members and it signifies someone is using an inappropriate voice tone. Then use it the second his voice goes one scale above a “normal range” give the signal. It means he needs to lower his voice immediately or you won’t listen.
  • Do NOT engage. If he continues using a loud, yelling tone, absolutely refuse to listen. Firmly (and calmly) explain: “That’s yelling. I only listen when you use a calm voice.” The moment you yell back the yeller knows they won and the yelling cycle continues. If you have to lock yourself in the bathroom do so. The screamer needs to know yelling doesn’t work. Walk away and go about your business until he talks right. As long as he yells, keep walking.

STEP 6. Reduce stress as a family. Find what is adding to your family’s stress that is triggering those yelling matches. While you may not be able to get dad’s job back or gain back your retirement fund but you can do things to reduce the stress in your home. Here are a few things.

  • Keep to routines. Sticking to a routine helps reduce stress because it boosts predictability and boosts security. While everything else around them may seem to be crumbling those bedtime rituals, nighttime stories, hot baths, hugs and backrubs remain the same.
  • Cut down. Too much going on? Cut one thing out of your schedule. Just reducing one thing can reduce those yelling matches because you’re cutting the stress.
  • Monitor news consumption. Limit viewing those stressful news stories or better yet, turn the TV off during the news hour. Kids admit those stories are scaring the pants of them (and us) and will boost our stress—and tempers
  • Find ways to relax. Find no-cost ways to reduce stress as a family. Meditate with your kids, do yoga with your daughter, ride bikes with your preschooler, listen to relaxation tapes with your kids. Not only will you reduce your stress but you’ll also help your kids learn healthy ways to minimize theirs. It will also reduce the yelling.
  • Rebuild relationships. Are your kids yelling because they’re not being heard? Or has yelling been going on so long and now relationships are jarred? Find one on one time with those family members who need you most.

STEP 7. Stick to your Calmer Family, “Vow of Yellibacy” at least 21 days. Change is hard work. Be consistent. Your kids need to know you mean business, so stick to your plan at lest 21 days. Get a monthly calendar and mark off each day you stick to the plan. You should see a gradual reduction in the yelling. If yelling continues despite your best efforts or escalates, then there is a deeper underlying problem. It’s time to seek the help of a mental health professional for your child or a therapist for you and your spouse or family. But commit to following through so you do temper those tempers and you become a calmer family.

Above all stay calm. Kids mirror our emotions and just-released research proves that our kids are picking up on our stress. They also copy our behaviors. When you raise your voice, they raise theirs. When you get tense, they get tense. The fastest way to help your kids reduce stress and help kids calm down is for you to be calm yourself.

So are you ready to take that Vow of Yellibacy??

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Thrivers Book CoverAcross the nation, student mental health is plummeting, major depression rates among teens and young adults are rising faster than among the overall population, and younger children are being impacted. As a teacher, educational consultant, and parent for 40 years, Dr. Michele Borba has never been more worried than she is about this current generation of kids. In THRIVERS, Dr. Borba explains why the old markers of accomplishment (grades, test scores) are no longer reliable predictors of success in the 21st century – and offers 7 teachable traits that will safeguard our kids for the future. She offers practical, actionable ways to develop these Character Strengths (confidence, empathy, self-control, integrity, curiosity, perseverance, and optimism) in children from preschool through high school, showing how to teach kids how to cope today so they can thrive tomorrow. THRIVERS is now available at amazon.com.

Parenting: An Imperfect Role Model

As a mother, I used to think I had to set the perfect example, especially since I have two daughters. I had to work hard. I had to eat the healthiest foods. I had to dress well. I always had to arrive on time. I had to be nice. I could never tell a lie. I had to donate money to anyone who ever asked. And I could never mutter a bad word, even during life’s most frustrating moments.

Striving for perfection, however, was exhausting. It was also impossible to achieve. Take the time my daughter Annie and I got rear ended by a reckless driver last year on our way home from a piano lesson. A few choice words slipped out of my mouth that day. Annie quickly learned that her mom was hardly “perfect” and never would be.

And that, I decided, is okay.

Even the most perfect among us are hardly perfect. We get angry. We get grumpy. We snap. We judge. Simply put, we don’t always do what’s considered the right thing. Most of the time, however, we’re just decent people, trying to do the best we can. I call it being human.

Letting my daughters see my imperfections gives them — and me — room to breathe and allows them be the imperfect people they are. It frees them up to relax a little when they mess up. It also teaches them to forgive others when they are imperfect and to move on with the bigger picture in mind.

Does that mean there are things I’ve done that I don’t regret? Absolutely not. Does it mean I think it’s okay to be rude, inconsiderate and crass? Not at all. What it does mean is that I don’t pressure myself to always do the right thing, even when I know my kids are watching me.

Freeing myself from the strict standards of perfectionism allows me to relax and teaches my kids the best lesson of all: no one is perfect.

And that’s perfectly fine by me.

Sibling Warfare? Stay Neutral!!

When your kids practically come to blows over which one got more cream cheese on their bagel, you know you’ve got a serious case of sibling rivalry. It’s likely you also know that there’s no avoiding it. “The only way to prevent sibling rivalry is to only have one child or to space kids 18 years apart,” says John Rosemond, author of The New! Six-Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy Children (Andrews McMeel Publishing). But while you may not be able to keep the peace between your kids, there are things you can do to squash the squabbling.

Be Switzerland Resist the urge to rush in, because “when you intervene, you’re likely to identify one child as the villain and one as the victim,” says Rosemond. The obvious problem: It takes two to squabble, and you may be unfairly maligning one kid. The not-so-obvious problem: You’re creating a dynamic that will quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy. “If that victim gets attention for being a victim, he’s going to continue to elicit that villain behavior from his brother or sister,” Rosemond says. Instead, let them work out squabbles themselves. (Note: If your younger child is 3-years-old or under or you sense either child is in physical danger, by all means play ref.)

Don’t compare siblings to each another You probably know not to say, “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” But it’s a common mistake to compare kids in even more subtle ways: “Julie, look at how nicely your brother is playing with those puzzles.” It’s fine to praise one child’s unique skills; just make sure you don’t have a hidden agenda — like getting Julie to stop hurling puzzle pieces across the room.

Be a supermodel You and your spouse provide a powerful example of how two family members should speak to each other. “If the kids see you arguing and calling each other names, it’s hard to get across the message ‘We don’t do that in this family,’” says Rosemond. So play nice with your spouse, and who knows? You just might hear less bickering from the playroom.

Give each kid space You know the famous line by Robert Frost about how fences make good neighbors? Well, imaginary lines (in the car, in a shared bedroom and so on) make good siblings. To avoid turf wars, “the ideal situation is for each child to have his own clearly defined space,” says Rosemond. If you can’t spare a bedroom, give each child his own desk or toy chest in the communal space.

Don’t insist on shared playdates Sure, it would be easy if your 7-year-old could take your 4-year-old under her wing whenever she has a pal over. But asking older kids to always include younger ones on playdates and fun outings can create serious resentment. Giving older kids private time with their friends will make them more likely to play nicely with their siblings when nobody else is around.

How Kids can Learn to Resist Temptation…and Why They Need to

The Famous Marshmallow Test and Implications for Our Kids’ Later Success

In 1960, Walter Mischel, a psychologist at Stanford University, conducted the now famous Marshmallow Test. Mischel challenged a group of four-year-olds: Did they want a marshmallow immediately, or could they wait a few minutes until a researcher returned, at which point they could have two marshmallows? Mischel’s researchers then followed up on the children upon their high school graduation and found that those who had been able to wait for those marshmallows years before at age four now were far more socially competent: they were found to be more personally effective, self-assertive, and better able to deal with the frustrations of life. The third who waited longest also had significantly higher SAT scores by an average of two hundred points of the total verbal and math scores combined than the teens who, at age four, couldn’t wait. Those results clearly revealed the importance of helping kids develop the ability to cope with behavioral impulses and learn self-control.

Mischel, who is now a professor at Columbia, and a team of researchers are still tracking those four-year olds. Hundreds of hours of observations have been conducted over the years on the participants. At first researchers figured that the children’s ability to wait just depended upon how badly they wanted the marshmallow. But it became apparent that every kid wanted the treat. Mischel now concludes that something else was helping those kids put on the brakes so they could delay their desire. The finding is a critical secret to success and here it is:

Those kids who were able to hold off and not eat the initial marshmallow had learned a crucial skill that helped them do so.

The researcher calls that waiting ability “Strategic Allocation of Attention.” Jonah Lehrer described the self-control skill in an enlightening article entitled, “Don’t!: The Secret of Self-Control” (which I strongly recommend you read).

Instead of getting obsessed with the marshmallow—the “hot stimulus”—the patient children distracted themselves by covering their eyes, pretending to play hide-and-seek underneath the desk, or singing songs from “Sesame Street.” Their desire wasn’t defeated—it was merely forgotten. “If you’re thinking about the marshmallow and how delicious it is, then you’re going to eat it,” Mischel says. “The key is to avoid thinking about it in the first place.”

That finding has enormous ramifications for our children’s social, academic and even moral success.

Why We Can – and Must – Teach Our Kids to Delay Gratification

But here’s the good news: Mischel and his colleagues believe that parents and teachers may be able to teach children skills that help them learn how to delay gratification and stretch their patience quotients. As Lehrer explains in that The New Yorker article:

When he [Mishcel] and his colleagues taught children a simple set of mental tricks—such as pretending that the candy is only a picture, surrounded by an imaginary frame—he dramatically improved their self-control. The kids who hadn’t been able to wait sixty seconds could now wait fifteen minutes.

“All I’ve done is given them some tips from their mental user manual,” Mischel says. “Once you realize that will power is just a matter of learning how to control your attention and thoughts, you can really begin to increase it.”

Meanwhile research is currently under way in classrooms in which teachers are teaching students “waiting” skills and the preliminary results are promising. The real challenge will be to see if those newly-learned waiting skills can be turned into life-long habits–especially in this N.O.W. culture in which our kids have learned to expect instant gratification and reward, ASAP.

The findings of this research are too critical to overlook. Our first step is to start looking for those countless little everyday moments we can use to help our kids learn to put on the brakes. There are dozens of opportunities. Best ideas are always simple and can be used everywhere (at the grocery store, in the car, at Grandma’s in the classroom, on the soccer field). And then once you find one that works for you, use it over and over and over until it becomes a habit. Here are a few from Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine.

1. Change the focus

Mischel found the more abstractly kids thought about the marshmallow, the longer they could delay. Teach one of these tips: “Focus on the least appealing part of the distractor.” “Don’t think about the taste but focus on its shape or color.” “Put a frame around the distractor in your head, like a real picture.” (Those kids could wait almost eighteen minutes!)

2. Use mental diversions

Temptations can rob kids’ focusing abilities and decrease attention spans. Mischel discovered that when he taught kids easy mental tricks, their focus and self-control improved substantially. The trick is not to think about how delicious that marshmallow is but learn a distraction diverter…

  • Ask your child: “What will be the hardest part?” or “What’s the toughest thing to control? or “What would tempt you most?”
  • Temptations could be “Playing Fortnite instead of doing homework,” “Eating cake instead of dinner” or “Shooting baskets instead of doing my chores.” (Then hide the temptation!).
  • For younger kids you simply divert their attention. “Look at that bird on the tree!” “Count the number of peas on your plate!” “How many things can you find that start with a “B” in the room?

3. Stretch waiting time

Mary Budd Rowe, a noted educator, discovered that children need “wait time”—more time to think about what they hear—before speaking. So whenever you ask a question or give a request, remember to wait at least three seconds for your child to think about what she heard. The child will absorb more information, be more likely to respond, and probably give a fuller answer. That also means that during those three seconds you need to wait patiently, and continue to give your kid your full presence. Just to see how well you’re doing, the next time you ask your child a question, time yourself: How many seconds are you waiting until you get impatient for her immediate response? Stretch your waiting time.

Your child may barrel straight into every task right now, but your ultimate goal is to gradually stretch his ability to control those impulses and learn to wait at his level. Start by timing how long your child can pause before those impulses get the best of him. Take that time as his “waiting ability” -and then slowly increase it over the next weeks and months.

  • “Wait just a minute, Sweetie. Mom is on the phone.”
  • “I know you want a cookie, but you’ll have to wait ten minutes.”
  • “Sorry. We’re going to open presents after we have our dinner.”
  • “Nope. You get your allowance on Saturday. No loans until then.”

The secret is set your waiting expectations a bit longer than your child’s current waiting ability and then slowly stretch it without snapping it or giving in. (Think of a rubber band: “Stretch but don’t snap.”)

4. Play waiting games

Research shows that what a child learns to say to himself (or “self-instruction”) during the moments of temptation is a significant determiner of whether he is able to say no to impulsive urges and/or wait. Keep in mind that those kids who were able to hold off and not eat the marshmallows usually had learned a skill to help delay those urges. Here are six strategies from that help kids control impulses. Choose the one that works best for your child and then practice, practice, practice together until that new habit kicks in and he can use when he feels those impulses taking over.

  • Freeze. In a calm voice say this to your child: “Freeze. Don’t move until you can get back in control.”
  • Use a phrase. Have him slowly say a phrase like “One Mississippi, two Mississippi.”
  • Hold your breath. Tell your kid not to breathe as long as possible and then to take a few long, deep breaths. (Just make sure he remembers to breathe!)
  • Count. Join your child in slowly counting from on to twenty (or fewer with a younger kid).
  • Sing. For a young child, ask him to pick his favorite tune, such as “Frere Jacques” or “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and hum a few bars.
  • Watch. Have him look at his wristwatch and count set numbers of seconds (such as ten). Expand that number to what is appropriate to the child.

Of course, don’t stop here. There are dozens of ways to teach your child to wait. The key is to find a strategy that works for your child, and then keep rehearsing it until your child can use it without you. A couple of weeks ago I encountered a mom and her four year old utilizing a great “waiting game” strategy. It was in the woman’s restroom of the Denver Airport with one long line (not the thing any young child needing to use that the bathroom wants to see). Her mom took one look at the line, rolled her eyes and then calmly turned to her daughter. “Boy, looks like a bit of a wait, so we’ll have to stand in line. Meanwhile why don’t you sign the “Birthday Song” about three times and I bet it’ll then be your turn.” That little girl’s impatience quickly morphed into singing a tune of the song. Half the line of women joined in to accompany the tune and her mother was right. At the end of the third chorus, she was at the front of the line. Smart Mom!

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Thrivers Book CoverAcross the nation, student mental health is plummeting, major depression rates among teens and young adults are rising faster than among the overall population, and younger children are being impacted. As a teacher, educational consultant, and parent for 40 years, Dr. Michele Borba has never been more worried than she is about this current generation of kids. In THRIVERS, Dr. Borba explains why the old markers of accomplishment (grades, test scores) are no longer reliable predictors of success in the 21st century – and offers 7 teachable traits that will safeguard our kids for the future. She offers practical, actionable ways to develop these Character Strengths (confidence, empathy, self-control, integrity, curiosity, perseverance, and optimism) in children from preschool through high school, showing how to teach kids how to cope today so they can thrive tomorrow. THRIVERS is now available at amazon.com.

It’s Fall: What Can I Expect As Far As My Child’s Allergies?

fall allergies - runny noses and itchy eyesWe are currently in the middle of the allergy season created by ragweed. We had thought we had made it through the spring and summer allergy season with our immune system health in good shape when all of a sudden it seems to return with a vengeance: watery, itchy eyes, constantly clear runny itchy nose, clearing your throat and trying in vain to scratch the back part of your palate with the back of your tongue. Here we are again, but in the spring/ summer seasons this was due to trees and grass. Every season has its own list of usual suspects to create allergy symptoms.

The end of summer and beginning of fall sees the end of the ragweed season and the onset of more indoor things to spark the symptoms of allergy. When families start to close up their homes for the colder weather to come, many allergens are trapped indoors such as molds and dust. Many people are allergic to just these factors, made worse by the onset of school and the ability of children to begin bring home the “bug of the week”. Colds become more frequent and the onset of asthmatic symptoms add to the coughs, runny noses and itchiness, along with such factors as spending more time indoors with your furry pets. The leaves are beginning to fall and the wind is beginning to whip the leaves around and fragment them causing a different kind of dust.

Added to that, as families begin to turn the heat on in their homes, two things happen; all the dust that has collected in the ducts now is blown into the indoor environment to mix with all the other allergens and the indoor air begins to dry out. This potpourri of particles is just about everywhere, just waiting to irritate your respiratory tract if you happen to have allergies.

The symptoms of allergic problems do not necessarily change with the seasons and probably the same medications your Doctor recommended in the Spring will also be effective, but if you have difficulty controlling the problem, get in touch with your healthcare provider – they can help you make sure your children are not bothered with these symptoms in school.

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