Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Emotional Storm Warning!

For us Midwesterners, severe weather warnings are just part of the landscape. You can be enjoying yourself at your local lake in the golden sunshine, and all of a sudden the weather sirens are going off, and when you grab the kids and run to the parking lot on the other side of the hill, the sky on that side is dark and the trees are lashing back and forth and you yell “Go, go, go!” as you whip everyone in the car and make the judgment call that you can get home to your cozy basement before the hail strikes or the tornado obliterates the entire above-ground portion of your house.

I’m pretty good with those atmospheric-type storms. What I’m not so good at is the emotional storms. If you have a toddler or a teenager, or if you just have “that kid,” you probably know what I’m talking about.  You can just be going along, having a nice sunny day, when suddenly out of nowhere . . . emotional storm alert!  Your kid comes in the room and starts broadcasting severe emotions on all frequencies, whipping up into hysteria.

I am NOT good at handling this. To me it feels like an emotional assault, with my whole body jangling like I had two double espressos.  I’m the kind of parent who yells, “You have to calm down!!!!” (Irony Alert . . .)  Sometimes, though, I actually manage it to handle it better. Here are a couple of things that can help.

Remember that kids are prone to emotional storms. They just are, especially at ages where they are really growing a lot, like preschool and adolescence. Try to let it roll over you as much as you can. It will pass just like the weather. You can remind your kid of this too. Sometimes our perception of life is skewed and we can’t even tell we’re not thinking clearly. But more than likely in an hour or tomorrow we will feel much better.

Don’t try to reason or solve problems during emotional storms. Like a Vulcan, I often try to wield Logic to fight Emotion, but problem-solving during an emotional storm is completely useless. If your kid isn’t responding to your calming attempts, you both might need to just be alone for a while to pull yourselves together. Analyze it later if there is actually a problem to solve.

Go back to basics of self-care. It’s pretty obvious to us when a toddler loses it because they’re hungry or overtired. This is true for adolescents (and adults) too.  Is your kid hydrated? Have they eaten in the past three hours? Had a shower today? Stretched their legs or moved to music? Have they over-exerted themselves and need a break? Help your kid remember they’re human and teach them these basic self-care tools.

Teach self-compassion.  I think it’s good to teach kids, especially teens, that’s ok to have even strong emotions and that they can handle them.  A recent study at Berkeley found that doing a loving-kindness meditation helped teens be significantly less stressed.  Here is the one that they used: 

Don’t forget to give yourself some loving-kindness too if your kids’ emotional storms are tough for you. Like the Midwest weather, the one thing you can count on is that if you don’t like your kid’s emotional weather, it will change. That at least is some comfort to make it through the high winds and hail.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Death Grip on Summer

Ten years ago with five kids, summer seemed endless, and not in a good way. By the beginning of August, I was done with making chicken nuggets three times a day, done with breaking up fights, done with “what are we going to DO today,” done with barricading myself in the bathroom to do a conference call, futilely hoping that everyone wasn’t wondering why it sounded so “echoey” and what were those shouts and pounding noises. Stick a fork in me, I was DONE. 

By the time we navigated the Buying of the Shoes (why are you always sold out of kids’ sneakers, Target? I’m looking at you), the Finding of the Non-Branded, Non-Pink, Non-Mini-Streetwalker clothing, the purchasing of the dry erase markers that are still on the school supply list even though the school has had smartboards for what seems like a decade, I was extra-crispy done.  I brushed the kids’ hair and took photos and waved the kids around the corner on the bus, then did the happy dance in the driveway and usually had a thank-God coffee with friends. Or a nap.

Now, I’m dreading the end of summer. I look at their backpacks which are still stacked in living room, untouched since June 8, with last year’s papers (and hopefully not last year’s lunch) inside, and I don’t wanna. I don’t wanna. Why is that? Really, two reasons.

I don’t wanna monitor or help with homework. Dang, but it’s nice in the summer to just “be” with the kids without having to make them do too much of anything. It’s nice never to have a four-hour bombshell dropped into my day because someone needs help with a paper or project. Pretty soon, I expect to begin having my recurring nightmare where, after graduating high school, I decide to go back and repeat my senior year and I can’t do the work suddenly and they strip away my diploma. I blame you, kids, and you, school, for this anxiety dream.

I don’t wanna do extra-curriculars. I don’t wanna have every evening and weekend booked for some lesson or activity for somebody, including me.  Our kids are homebodies and don’t play sports, and it’s still nuts. This is the insane suburban life many parents lead.

As usual, though, just writing this out is therapeutic for me. I know that summer and school are just seasons of life with kids. I’m truly grateful that summer actually exists for me now as a time of relaxation. That’s all because the kids have gotten older and more independent and require less and less assistance with what senior caregivers call “activities of daily living.” I can see the light at the end of the tunnel where in addition to making their own lunches, they’ll be able to handle all their own homework without zero oversight, drive to their own activities, and do their own shopping. One day, if I’ve done my job, my main job as a parent will just be to enjoy the kids’ company whenever I can get it – the Reign of Perpetual Summer. I’m gonna savor the degree of Perpetual Summer I already have with kids. It’s gonna happen. And how sweet it will be.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Authoritarian Parent, Or???

If you’ve been around the parenting block once or twice, you’ve probably seen the standard Four Parenting Styles. As usual for parenting advice, there’s a minefield of errors for you, with three errors and only one right way. Your choices are Authoritarian (bad, sure to turn your child into a sad, depressed sheep-robot), Permissive/Indulgent (bad, will make your kid an entitled jerk), Neglectful (bad, will bring Child Welfare down on your you-know-what) or Authoritative (the magical balance that produces great children).

I’ve never been happy with these quadrants. For one thing, I never like it when there’s only 25% of being right and 75% of doom and disaster. For another, I don’t like how “authoritative” and “authoritarian” sounds like practically the same thing. I would never in a million years describe my parenting as “authoritative.”  Raising kids who blindly submit to authority is my nightmare. Freedom!  America!

Still, “how much do you emphasize authority?” is a real thing in parenting. I happen to think there’s a lot of good parenting all along this continuum. It just depends on what values are the most important to you as a parent. I found some insight on this topic in a very weird place this week while discussing a political psychology paper with one of the kids. 

Turns out, for a couple of decades now, political pollsters have been using a simple four-question parenting quiz to measure something they call “authoritarianism.”  With each question, respondents are asked which of two traits were more important in children: independence or respect for their elders; curiosity or good manners; self-reliance or obedience; and being considerate or being well-behaved. Score yourself: you get one point for the first choice, five for the second, and three if you think they are truly exactly equal in importance.

Political psychologists use these questions as a shortcut way to identify people who are disposed to favor hierarchy, loyalty and strong leadership — those who picked the second trait in each set — what experts call "authoritarianism." But I think it’s incredibly interesting just in itself as a parenting question.

Picked choice two? I’m guessing “authoritative parent” feels great to you. But there doesn’t seem to be a good name for “choice one” parents: the ones that prioritize independence, curiosity, self-reliance, and consideration in our children. It sure ain’t “Permissive” or “Neglectful.” It takes a ton of parent engagement to develop these traits in children. What’s the opposite of authoritarianism: the word for favoring collaboration, skepticism and shared initiative?  

I asked Mr. Online Thesaurus and racked my English major brain, and I’m not sure there’s a word for this in English. The Anti-Authoritarian Parent?  I sure like that better than Authoritarian, Authoritative, Permissive or Neglectful, but it’s not very satisfying either. I will have to revisit this in another column. We need both kids of kids in society to make the world go round. Which kind are you raising?