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If you’re the parent of a young child or toddler, you know the joys (and consequently devastation) of a helium balloon. My 4-year-old, Jackie, held tightly to the string of a balloon that had been floating around the house, left over from a surprise “just because” package from work. Her face lit up with pure delight as she ran around the house with it. I warned her not to let go of the string, because if she did, it would float to the top of the high ceilings in the living room, making it unreachable. She dismissed me with a “Yeah, yeah mom,” as kids do, and continued to play as I made lunch in the kitchen. 

One minute later, there was a terrible shriek. Bone chilling. And the weeping and wailing began. Jackie had accidentally let go of the balloon and, sure enough, it had floated up to the high ceiling, out of reach. And now the world was ending. (TBH, I may or may not have rolled my eyes.) As I stopped preparing food and prepared to go comfort Jackie, I heard her younger 2-year-old sister, Maddie, attempt to comfort her. “I’m here! I’m sorry, sissy! I’m sorry!

Jackie’s response through screams and sobs? “No Maddie, it’s not your fault. You don’t need to apologize. THE BALLOON NEEDS TO APOLOGIZE!

If you’re the parent of a young child or toddler, this scenario seems pretty typical, right? But what do you do when this is a daily occurrence? Or even multiple daily occurrences? What if your child cries easily and often? They have multiple meltdowns a day because they are so highly sensitive. How do you handle the crying, outbursts and tantrums and still discipline a sensitive child, without crushing their spirit? 

Recognize That Emotions Are OKAY.

Many of us were taught at a young age to suppress our emotions, whether it was our parents’ intentions or not. Telling a child, “You’re fine… don’t cry…” when they’re upset minimizes their feelings. Instead of building a connection and safe space for them to process through, it actually tells them that their emotions make you feel uncomfortable, angry or annoyed and can slowly chip away at the sense of security they feel with you. We are often triggered by our children’s behavior, taking us back to how we were parented. So be intentional about allowing their big emotions and responding with connection instead of reacting as if they are wrong. Make space for them to feel, no matter if you see their emotions as logical or ludicrous. Try switching up, “You’re fine… don’t cry…” to “I can tell you are feeling ____. It’s okay to feel that way. I’m here.” 

Help Them Learn Emotional Intelligence.

ABCs and 123s are great for our children to learn, but what about emotional intelligence? Children are not born knowing how to regulate their own emotions. It’s absolutely a skill that needs to be taught! So help your child learn to recognize what they are feeling by giving them the vocabulary of emotions. Talk about your own feelings, read books about naming and dealing with emotions, and above all, be there for them without judgment of their emotions. Then, help them find effective calming strategies like: Count to 10, Take Deep Breaths, Read a Book, etc.  Often if your child is acting out, or “misbehaving,” it is most likely due to an underlying unmet need like being hungry, tired or feeling disconnected. Grabbing a snack solves 97% of our household meltdowns. (Because yes, kids get HANGRY, just like mama!)

Practice A WHOLE LOTTA Patience With Your “Orchid Child.”

Human development specialists W. Thomas Boyce and Bruce J. Ellis explained the opposite ends of the human temperament continuum using two Swedish words, Orkidebarn, which translates to “Orchid Child” and Maskrosbarn, which translates to “Dandelion Child.” Where Dandelions are known for surviving the most challenging circumstances and still thriving, Orchids require “just right” conditions to flourish and grow. Children who show more of an “Orchid child” temperament are just the same. They need more time, patience and help at learning to self-regulate their emotions. So hang in there! Be the calm in their chaos, and show empathy and compassion for their big feelings. It’ll take time, but they will learn how to process through their emotions more quickly and effectively as they mature.

Have Confidence In Disciplining Without Damage.

For many parents, the term discipline has been confused with punishment. We want to discipline (aka teach) our children in order to prepare them for the real world. However, neuroscience shows us that children’s brains are naturally impulsive and lack the self-control of adults. Many times children simply cannot (as opposed to will not) follow through with our demands because their brain doesn’t yet have a fully-developed frontal and prefrontal cortex, both of which are crucial to regulating self-control. However, parents often try to force their children to learn to obey through consequences, time outs and other methods that serve to control the behavior. And these types of discipline can absolutely get our children to conform, but that may not necessarily teach them what they truly need to be successful in life: self-control. 

In order to teach self-control to our sensitive child, we need to:

  • First focus on responding with connection. Get down on their level, or try to make eye contact with them. Acknowledge, name, empathize and validate the emotion they are feeling. For example: “I can see you are upset because you don’t want to stop playing. That is very difficult. I understand.”
  • Then, stay calm and caring while still maintaining control of the situation. Avoid raising your voice, pointing fingers or threats. Make space for them to feel angry, upset, frustrated, sad, etc., without trying to “fix it.”
  • Next, provide a simple directive on what needs to happen. The fewer words you use the better. An example may be: “It’s time to leave,” or “We are leaving now.”
  • Then, firmly hold the limit you’ve set. Avoid trying to explain your reasoning or rationale at this moment. For instance, don’t say, “We have to leave right now or we’ll be late and then we’ll miss the whole appointment! Hurry up!”
  • Finally, once the emotion has been regulated (through the help of naming the emotion and working through it using calming strategies), we can come back full circle to discuss step-by-step what happened, without blame or shame, and provide ways to handle a similar situation better next time. (Ask your child what they could do differently next time. If they aren’t sure, provide some options such as using a specific calming strategy and talking about what they are feeling. Be sure to end the conversation with encouragement for next time and remind them that you love them, no matter what!) 

★Bottom Line: You’re NOT Doing It Wrong… It’s Just That Hard

No one has this parenting thing down to a “T.” You know, there’s no such thing as a perfect parent. A sensitive child can be extremely draining… but rest assured, you are not alone. Connection is the key to handling a highly sensitive child, or any child for that matter. You’ll just need to cultivate a bit more patience with your Orchid child. Helping your sensitive child learn how to self-regulate their big feelings will take longer, since their brain needs to be more developed (i.e., older). But give it time and you will see tremendous growth! Meanwhile, keep those tissues handy.

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When it comes to parenting and feeling like stress is taking over their lives right now, most parents (especially those with school-age children) would probably say their stress level is at a 12 on a scale of 1-10. 

In fact, many completely identify with and find themselves crying right along with Blake McLennan from Arizona. Her parents filmed her crying and lamenting how it’s not okay that everything is closed and that she can’t have play dates with her friends, that school is not taking place and most importantly, McDonald’s has closed their playground. 

It’s true. Stress is at an all-time high and many parents are feeling its sting.

  • What should I do about childcare?
  • What’s the best decision about school?
  • How am I going to work and have the kids at home trying to do online classes?
  • Is my job on the chopping block?
  • What if one of us gets COVID-19?
  • Will my college student go back to school or are we stuck together for the semester?

So many questions and so few answers. It’s enough to make any parent ask, “Where do I go to resign because I feel like I just can’t do it anymore?” Not that you would ever do that, but this is intense. Parenting is stressful during “normal” times, but throw in a pandemic and many parents are wondering how they can continue at this level of intensity and stress.

Here’s a word of comfort for you. Parents and children have gone through pandemics and other incredibly hard things before and came out on the other side of it. You will, too!

These things may help decrease some of your stress as you trek through this and get to the other side healthy and whole. 

  • This seems like a no-brainer, but acknowledge that you are stressed out. Talk with your spouse or a good friend about all that is stressing you. Most everybody can identify with these feelings. Even though they can’t do anything to change the situation, they can listen and that is a huge help.
  • Chances are pretty great that you are a good parent, so stop telling yourself you aren’t. It just creates more stress and it probably isn’t true. Keep in mind that you are having to make hard decisions based on your own unique circumstances.
  • Stop comparing yourself and your situation with others and the choices they are making. The only person who knows what’s right for your family is you. 
  • Breathe! Seriously, to decrease your stress, make time to breathe. Incorporate these times into your day, especially when it feels like your stress is taking over. Just 60 seconds of deep breathing with your eyes closed can help reduce stress and make you less irritable with your children. 
  • Decide on a routine. Not only will this reduce your tension levels, it will reduce the stress your children feel and act out on. Morning, noon and evening routines and rituals can drastically reduce stress overload for everyone. This doesn’t have to be complex. Just little things can make a huge difference.
  • Avoid saying, “I didn’t sign up for the parenting pandemic plan. This is just too hard.” Your brain believes what you tell it. Actually thinking this thought all the time creates more stress. It is hard, but you can do it. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and give yourself and those around you some grace.
  • Be really intentional about getting enough rest, eat as healthy as possible (binge-eating actually makes you feel worse), and exercise. You may not feel like exercising, but physical activity that makes you sweat gets rid of toxins in your body and helps you think more clearly. You hear this all the time, because it’s important and it’s true, especially in times of extreme stress. Plus, you can’t be the parent you want to be if you are running on empty all the time. Believe it or not, not doing these things increases your own stress levels and the stress levels of those around you so you kinda can’t afford not to take good care of yourself. This is probably one of the most powerful tools you have to keep stress from taking over your life.
  • Journal. Putting your feelings and all the things that are troubling you down on paper can help you process what you are experiencing. It also provides another way for you to figure out exactly where your stress is coming from in order to better manage it.
  • Manage your intake of news and social media. You really might be shocked at how your anxiety levels decrease when you remove these two things from your day. Try it and see what happens.
  • When you feel yourself getting ready to lose it with your kids, consider putting everybody in quiet time (including yourself) for a few minutes so you can get your bearings. Phone a friend, put in a good movie, have a dance party or do anything that will break the cycle you are currently in and redirect everybody so you can continue moving everybody in a constructive direction.
  • Schedule time to do fun things. This is vital, especially during high-stress times. Make your own Slip ‘N Slide, play in the sprinkler with your kids, play a game of Horse, go on a hike and find a creek to play in, go blueberry picking or plant a garden. Think of play as a necessary escape from reality.

The next time you feel the stress monster creeping up your back, through your shoulders and into your head, take the reins and tame it by using these strategies. The stress will be with us for a while, but we don’t have to let it get the best of us!

Other blogs on this topic:

Dealing with Parenting Stress During COVID-19

Supporting Families During COVID-19

Parenting Stress and Depression Risks

How to Make Stress Relief a Part of Your Kids’ Lives

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If you see a difference in your parenting styles (and you will), let’s go ahead and throw out the “bad parent” moniker. This would be an inaccurate appraisal, and it’s much easier to work through parenting differences than it is to make a “bad” parent “good.” 

To helmet or not to helmet?

My wife wants our kids to wear helmets no matter when they bike. I, on the other hand, don’t feel strongly about helmets. Does that make me a bad parent?

Let me explain. This had been an ongoing dilemma in my family when it came to bicycling around the neighborhood. My wonderful wife, who is an equally wonderful mom, comes from the camp of parenting that prepares for the worst. She can just picture one of our daughters sailing like a dart over her handlebars and crashing into something much harder than the human head. Obviously, helmets are a thing for her

I, on the other hand, come from a different philosophy of safety all around. I grew up trying to take my bike over and through things where it wasn’t exactly designed to go—and I don’t remember a kid in the neighborhood who had a helmet. Heck, I still have the scars on my knees from road rash. And so, I tend to think, if they aren’t jumping over ditches or trying to break the sound barrier, why wear a helmet? 

This was an obvious disagreement in our parenting. And it would have been very easy for one of us to think, I can’t BELIEVE she makes them/he doesn’t make them wear a helmet! I’ve never seen such bad parenting!

Maybe this is where you’re at—about helmets, discipline, what your child eats, how late they’re allowed to stay up, who they can hang out with, how long they can play video games, how they are allowed to speak to you, what “good” grades are or a “clean” room, or you-name-it. 

So what do you do if you suspect that your spouse is a bad parent? 

**Please note that this article is NOT about an abusive or neglectful parent. The physical and emotional safety of a child is not a difference in parenting styles. Anyone who knows of child abuse happening should call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).**

🔎  The first question you need to ask is, “What is it that makes me think they are a bad parent?” Is the reason truly something that warrants the label “bad?” 

Or, is it a matter of their parenting style being different from yours?

I’ve worked with youth and parents for many years, and one thing I have come to understand is this: the vast majority of parents out there aren’t bad parents; they are simply doing the best they can with what they’ve been given. 

We all parent through the filters of our past experiences: the way we were raised, what we’ve observed in other parents, what we’ve read, and learned. This means that there are inevitably going to be at least some differences between how you and your spouse parent

Amy McCready, the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, offers some very helpful steps in working through what to do when you disagree on disciplining your child. And I believe these translate well to all disagreements on parenting. Here are a few: 

1. Find (Any) Common Ground.

What aspects of parenting do you agree on? Look for parenting strategies your spouse uses that you appreciate. Are they good listeners with your children? Do they devote quality time to them? Are they calm in the face of parenting chaos? 

Even if all you can say is that you appreciate how much your spouse loves your children, that’s a positive you can recognize and work from. Identify these common parenting values and build on your commonalities. 

2. Explore the Underlying Reasons Why You Disagree.

Talk together about your disagreements and try to understand where each of your parenting styles come from. Understanding the origins of our parenting styles helps us to better appreciate these differences. Ask: 

  • What were the parenting styles used in each of our homes?
  • Which patterns do we want to change from how each of us was raised?
  • Which healthy patterns do we want to be sure to repeat? 
  • What parenting information have we each learned that affects how we parent our kids? 

3. Select a Signal.

Establish a non-verbal signal between the two of you that says, “We clearly don’t agree on this and should talk it out away from the kids.” This helps you to avoid disagreeing in front of the kids about your parenting decisions. McCready says that 95% of issues don’t have to be solved on the spot, and the signal gives parents a chance to take a breather and figure out a course of action a little later.

4. Avoid Good Cop, Bad Cop.

It’s important for your kids to understand that you and your spouse are a united front when it comes to parenting. Even if you disagree on how to parent in some respects, you never want to undermine your spouse’s parenting decisions in front of the kids. 

Don’t set your spouse up to be the “bad guy” by saying things like, “Well, your mother wouldn’t like that very much” or “When your dad gets home, he’s going to be very mad that you…” These phrases communicate to your kids that you each think differently about the situation and therefore you don’t support each other. Children need the security of knowing that both of their parents are a team in their parenting decisions. 

5. Seek Support.

Disagreements are going to happen because your and your spouse’s parenting styles originate from different places. So, finding common ground in your parenting will be an ongoing process. Seek encouragement from more seasoned parents who you respect and that have had obvious success with their own children. Consider taking a parenting course or share books or articles on parenting with each other. And if disagreements persist and become worse, consider seeking the advice of a therapist that specializes in parenting and family

Just in case you were wondering, our kids wear helmets when they bike. I still don’t know if it’s completely necessary (you may disagree—that’s okay). But it’s important to my wife, and so I support her feelings for that. And as much as it goes against my nature, I still remind my kids to wear their helmets when they go biking (without, of course, saying “because your mom wants you to”). 😉 

It is possible to come together and be on the same page with your parenting. But it does take work, some compromise, and plenty of discussions. Commit yourselves to constant communication regarding your parenting decisions, and understand that working out disagreements doesn’t happen overnight. But the process is worth it for both your kids and your marriage.

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Of course my child knows I love them!” But do they? Really? To be clear, I’m not questioning whether you love your child; I’m questioning whether your child knows that you love them. Do they know how broad, wide, and deep your love is for them? There’s more to your child feeling loved than saying, “I love you! Goodnight!” every night.

Google Autocomplete can be illuminating. For those unfamiliar with it, as you begin typing a search into Google, Google begins to finish it for you with the most popular searches put into its search engine. So, typing, “How do I get my parents to” will autocomplete with the most popular searches that begin with the same phrase. This particular example is as heartbreaking as it is illuminating. 

The number one autocomplete is: How do I get my parents to love me?

★ What would lead kids, tweens, and teens to google ways to get their parents to love them? Is there a disconnect somewhere? Are we overestimating how much affection our kids feel? Are we not communicating love in ways that resonate with our kids? Some kids don’t even think their parents like them, let alone love them. Even if you feel confident that your child knows they are loved, there’s always room to learn more ways to deepen it.

Here’s How To Make Sure Your Child Knows You Love Them

1. Understand Your Child’s Heart

  • Dr. Gary Chapman wrote a great book, The Five Love Languages of Children, that suggests we all communicate and receive love uniquely. Sometimes the way we communicate love doesn’t match up with how our kids “hear” love and we love right past them. We might be providing tons of loving, affirming words, but our child might really feel loved the most when we spend quality time with them. His website is really helpful and has great resources!
  • What do they ask of you? This can provide insights into how they receive affection. 
    • Do they ask you to come and play with them? (Love = Quality Time.) 
    • Do they ask if you think the picture they drew is pretty or if you are proud of their report card? (Love = Affirming Words.) 
    • Do they ask for help with homework or their hair? (Love = Helping Them.)
  • How do they express love and affection to you? This also provides insight into their heart and what says, “I love you” to them. 
    • Do they want to sit in your lap and give you hugs? (Love = Physical Connection.) 
    • Do they like to make things for you like drawing you a picture or bring you things like a dandelion? (Love = Gifts, Tokens of Affection.) 

2. Spend Time With Them.

  • We can kid ourselves by saying things like, “I don’t spend a lot of time with my kids, but when I do, I make it count.” It’s great to “make it count” (quality time) but our kids need “a lot” of time, too (quantity time). There really is no substitute. Kids spell “love,” T – I – M – E. 
  • Be intentional. Routines, rituals, and structure provide predictability and ultimately help kids feel safe. When children feel safe, they feel loved and can thrive. Regular parent/child dates. Dinner together as a family. Friday Night Game Nights. Appropriate  and consistent expectations communicate, “I love you and care about your wellbeing.” 

Look for and even plan for informal time together. Get on the floor and play with their toys with them. Watch them play video games. Take them with you to run errands or hang out with you while you’re working on the car. Lots of bonding happens organically just being together.

3. Expand The Bandwidth Of Your Communication

  • Your words are powerful. Not just what you say but how you say it. Remember, your body isn’t on mute. An angry “Because I said so!” could be a calm “Here’s why this is important…” Don’t underestimate the power of your words in forming your child’s perception of how you feel about them
  • Listen. Really listen. So many kids say their parents talk at them, not with them. You can’t make your child talk to you, but you can be present and create an atmosphere and relational environment where talking is much more likely to take place. Don’t be quick to jump in with a judgment or lecture.
  • Say, “I love you.” Not just at bedtime, but say it at times when they don’t expect to hear it—when they’ve done something wrong and had to be corrected, when they are down on themselves and don’t feel lovable, random times like car rides or when they are just walking across the room. It is important that children understand that there is nothing that they can do to make you love them more or love them less.
    • Other phrases that say “I love you” without saying “I love you.”
    • I believe in you.
    • I’m proud of you.
    • I’m always here for you.
    • I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.

Whether you know it or not, you are always sending messages revealing how you feel about your kids—and they are paying attention. Think about that for a second. If you think it’s possible that your children might wonder how much you love them, you don’t have to let them wonder. Be intentional and talk with them about it. With loving your kids, make sure it’s a show AND tell.

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Frustrated. Bored. Sad. Anxious. Stressed. Angry. Scared. 

“My parent(s) lost their job.” 

“Is this about to be the end of the world?” 

“My best friend’s mom is being tested for coronavirus.” 

“Is this online school from home really getting me everything I need?” 

“My sister is getting on my everlasting nerve.” 

“Is someone I love going to die of this?” 

I’m not describing the questions, emotions, and thoughts of adults through COVID-19, though many share them. I’m talking about our children.

Many are hearing a new vocabulary that causes them to experience emotions during COVID-19 that are new to them.

Words like quarantine, shelter-in-place, unemployment, pandemic, stimulus, COVID-19 conspiracy, create questions and a need for understanding. It may signal that their world, their family’s world is changing or in their mind, moving away from something they’ve grown comfortable with and reliant on.

Our children are experiencing a moment in time that may well leave behind some defining changes in how they live their lives. My grandparents remembered the great depression like it was yesterday even though they were children when it took place. My parents remember the Civil Rights struggle vividly. They were teenagers. I remember 9/11. They will remember being quarantined, school shut down for months, sports and music seasons canceled, parents trying to homeschool, and being confined to the house. 

They will remember it because of the emotions that they experienced.

Many will know someone that contracted COVID-19. Others may not. But it doesn’t mean they aren’t affected emotionally. As parents here’s what we can’t do. We can’t…

  • Ignore the possibilities that COVID-19 is affecting our kids emotionally.
  • Tell our kids that their feelings are right or wrong.
  • Tell them how they should feel.
  • Make them talk.

Here’s what we can do.

We can…

  • Provide a safe space for them to share. Must be non-judgmental and listen with as few expectations as possible. The fact that they can share with you what they are feeling can rob the emotion of some of its debilitating effects.
  • Help them name their emotions. Whatever they share is real to them. Take time to understand what they are thinking and feeling. (Check out the Feelings Wheel for a list of emotions. THIS is another good guide to emotions.) Encourage kids to write down the emotions they have felt or are feeling during COVID-19. Write them down as they talk about them if necessary.
  • Simply be present with them to provide a sense of belonging. Whether they are talking or not, spend time with your kids doing things together. This often helps to set up organic conversation later.
  • Acknowledge our own emotions and share how we are dealing with them. Be honest and open enough to acknowledge some of the effects the COVID-19 quarantine is having on you.
  • Make sure physical needs are being met—full night’s sleep, healthy eating, exercise, getting outside. These all help our brain better process our emotions. We don’t process our emotions as well when we’re hungry, angry, tired or lonely.
  • Encourage them to talk with other trusted adults (grandparent, aunt, uncle, youth pastor, coach). I have accepted that there are some things my 13-year-old daughter feels more comfortable talking to her grandmother about than me. This isn’t a time for me to be jealous or controlling. I should be thankful that I have support to help us all.
  • Look for behavioral changes. Is your usually quiet child talking all the time now? Is your social kid spending a lot more time by themselves? Are there some behavior cues that let you know they may be dealing with some unresolved emotions during COVID-19? 
  • Develop rituals and routines. A routine can provide consistency and stability for our children. Within the routine, there are often spaces that lend themself to sharing and talking. Mealtimes, bedtime routines that include some time to reflect on the day, quiet time, family temperature checks, family meetings are just some of the environments where talking can take place. 
  • Be patient. As adults, we sometimes don’t share until we’re ready to share. Your child may be the same way. Simply letting them know that they can come to you at any time is reassuring.
  • Seek out professional help. If your child is obviously being emotionally affected in a significant way and they are possibly a danger to themselves or others, counselors are accepting appointments via video.

Helping a child process their emotions means being prepared at any time for them to start talking.

You can’t plan or schedule emotional processing. I’ve had my daughter tack on a comment at the end of a trivial conversation that set off an alarm that something was bothering her. A little question like, “Will we have enough money to buy ice cream?” from my son signaled that he had been thinking a lot about how the current situation is affecting us financially. 

Listening. Listening is the name of the game. We’ve all heard the old adage, “We have two ears and one mouth to listen twice as much as we talk.” As parents, we have to work to practice this principle. The more our kids talk, the better. The less we lecture at them, the better. This is a time where we as parents can be a tremendous aid to the emotional development of our children which will serve them greatly for years to come.

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I have always prided myself on being a good friend – the type of friend that seeks to protect those I care about from hurt, harm or danger – even self-inflicted hurt, harm or danger. I was in no way prepared for the gigantic increase in those protective feelings when I became a MOTHER. The idea that my babies (now 21, 16 and 13) would feel even an ounce of pain or disappointment that I could not prevent was unfathomable to me. 

That’s when the Mama Bear persona took over – I’m going to protect my children from everything that can harm them. I was diligent with child-proofing and safety concerns.  

I put covers in the outlets. I gave away furniture that had sharp edges. I never left them alone in the tub or in their high chair. I had gates and locks on cabinets, door handles and even the toilet seat (sometimes to my detriment.) It was my responsibility to keep them safe! 

It was a long time before I realized that I was taking every responsibility onto myself. I had the pleasure of meeting Hal Runkel, MFT and the words that he shared changed this Mama Bear’s life. He said, “You are responsible to your children, not for them.” 

Huh, what?! Who they are is because of me, right???  That is the breeding ground for Mom Guilt. I had to make a major shift in my thinking. Yes, when they are infants and toddlers we have to be more diligent in our protections, but as they grow and develop, it’s our job to teach them how to make good decisions and wise choices for their lives.  

Then, I remembered the lesson taught to me by my mother as I got older. I would ask my mother if I could go do something. Her response was, “Gena, I don’t want you to, but if you feel like you have to, go ahead.” Another, huh, what?! moment. I was asking for a clear yes or no answer. What she introduced into my life was natural and logical consequences – the old If/Then Theorem. If I go to the movies and behave well, good for me. If I go to the movies and act like an idiot, well, then I suffer the consequences. That changed my parenting life and the life of my boys.  

The first time I remember allowing a natural and logical consequence for my son was on a 3rd grade field trip.  In K-2, I would check his backpack and agenda for things to sign. In order to support the teachers, we were asked to give our children a little more independence and responsibility. So, it was his responsibility to bring his agenda and field trip forms. I knew about the trip and reminded him to get me to sign the form. He did not get me to sign the form and consequently, he did not attend that field trip. Was that fun for me to see my child disappointed? No, but I had to teach him that there are rewards and consequences in life.  

My son is now a junior in high school, preparing to make the decision on where to spend his college days. I hope by teaching him that he owns the responsibility for his actions and decisions it EMPOWERED him to grow and protect HIS name and reputation and chart HIS own course for the future. 

Are you in Mama Bear Mode? Are you keeping your child safe, or keeping your child from developing personal responsibility and being prepared for their future?

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Parenting a teenager can be a mind-boggling experience. 

One minute they are yelling things like:

“I hate you!”

“Don’t speak to me.”

“Nobody else’s parents do that.”

The next minute you are holding their head while they are sick, they ask you to borrow the car or they want to snuggle up next to you on the couch. It’s enough to make your head spin and cause you to question, “Is this the same kid who said he never wanted to see me again minutes ago?”

Parenting teens is not for the faint of heart. When parents who are currently raising teens compare notes with those who have lived to tell about it, you might think there really is a universal playbook teens use to make parents question their sanity. At any given moment, you may even wish you could ground your teenager for life. BUT, that would defeat the whole purpose of adolescence.

Adolescence is when children learn the skills and strategies of adults and that takes time and patience. But honestly, the process can be painful for the whole family.

Consider these things:

  • Parenting experts say that one of the reasons adolescence is so challenging is that parents often don’t recognize the strongest needs of their teen.

  • Parents look into their teen’s world through adult eyes and needs. They tend to miss all of the change and internal conflict their teen is experiencing in continuing to have their needs for belonging, freedom, power and fun met.

  • Parents need to feel in control whereas their adolescent is competing for his freedom. 

  • Both parent and teen have well-developed strategies for getting their needs met. These differing needs and strategies often intensify to the point that the relationship between parent and child becomes strained.

During adolescence, kids needs you more than ever before. Adults should not assume that once teens begin to look like adults they will automatically start thinking like an adult, relating like mature adults and making responsible decisions.

If you are leading an adolescent into mature adulthood, here are a few things to consider:

  • Remember your own teenage struggles.

  • Don’t panic. It is important not to let your fears control you.

  • Don’t overreact. Most teens say they do not open up to their parents because they tend to overreact.

  • Make sure to handle things in a way that builds your teen up versus tearing them down.

  • Take time to enter your teen’s world – spend time with them, listen to their music, get to know their friends.

  • Provide direction according to their needs… not yours.

  • Understand that teens don’t want you to fix it for them. They want you to listen to them. A teen’s self-confidence is built through learning to problem solve and come up with reasonable solutions.

  • Separate the behavior from the teen. Love your teen, but don’t be afraid to deal with unacceptable behavior.

  • Develop a support network of parents who have been there, done that.

  • Remember, you and your spouse are on the same team.

Raising teenagers is a predictable challenge for most parents. Keep perspective and recognize you will survive. After all, your parents did.

When you dreamed about your wedding, did you ever think so many people would participate in the process? 

Your mother is hurt because you aren’t wearing her wedding dress. The maid-of-honor has forgotten it is your wedding – not hers. Your fiance’s family thinks the wedding plans are too formal. How will you choose two flower girls when you have six cousins who are the right age?

“These are the landmines that often hit brides out of left field,” says Elizabeth Thomas, co-founder of The First Dance. “After planning our wedding and finding out the hard way that lots of people had strong feelings about certain aspects of ‘our’ day, I wondered if there were other brides out there feeling the same way. I found out there were tons of them. My father and I decided to build this website to help engaged couples manage the people stress of wedding planning and have more wisdom to carry over to their marriage.”

Checklists can’t predict which wedding tasks or people in your life have an emotion, opinion, or stake in how to complete a task. To make matters worse, sometimes the person with the emotion or opinion doesn’t even know it until it’s already final or it’s too late. Thomas discovered this when her wedding invitations arrived.

“I was so excited!” Thomas says. “I went into the living room to show my dad. Keep in mind that up to this point he had not seen nor expressed any interest in the invitations. He took one look at the wedding invitation and panicked! He started moving from room to room, but no matter what lighting he was in they were too difficult to read. They were unique invitations with red ink on red paper, orange ink on orange paper and yellow ink on yellow paper. We have a ton of middle-aged and older guests who will have similar eyesight to my father. Reprinting the invitations was out of the question. Needless to say, it was an emotional moment!”

Ask any bride what they are experiencing. You’ll find that underneath the “it’s my day, my way” mentality is the desire to have a joyous wedding planning experience. Nobody enjoys making their mom angry, stressing their dad about invitations or frustrating their groom. Some brides stress so much trying to maintain their ground that they just give up and let someone else have the final say.

After surviving her own wedding, Thomas believes that couples can intentionally make the wedding planning experience pleasant for everyone involved. Here are a few ways to make that happen:

To the bride: Over-communicate about wedding plans that involve your groom. Whether you two agree that he’ll do a few tasks or you want his opinion on something, if he has no clue then he will have no idea what the decision is about. He needs to know who is impacted by it, the work involved and the timing of the task. Huge breakdowns happen when grooms are not given specifics around tasks. Then, the bride invariably believes he doesn’t care or is not being supportive enough.

To the parents: Keep your cool when others lose theirs. It’s not your wedding, but you do have a stake in it. Don’t be passive or pushy, but recognize that this is about more than money. It’s about emotion, relationships, loyalty, obligation, influence, control and competition. Money should not trump relationships. Don’t use it to blackmail, threaten, or manipulate – or you will pay a big price.

Know your role in decisions. There are three general roles:

  • enthusiast

  • adviser

  • partner

Roles will vary issue by issue and family by family, but should be as clear as possible to avoid problems. Sometimes clarity only comes after a disagreement or conflict.

“I think the best wedding day is when the people you care about most feel loved, heard and valued,” Thomas says. “Every wedding checklist item is ultimately about your values, communicating those values with your spouse and about, well, married life!

“Weddings, like marriage, involve hundreds of routine decisions, big and small. They involve small and large sums of money, and require a lot of work. The outcome of the planning and wedding day itself will stay with you and your loved ones forever. It can change your relationships for better or worse and set the stage for how you go through life in the future.”

Lots of celebrity moms go out on the town and party with their famous kids. But while some teens might think it sounds really cool that a mom would party with them, most young people say they don’t want their parents acting like they do.

According to Dr. Kevin Leman, author of Adolescence Isn’t Terminal, It Just Feels Like It, some parents believe they need to become their teen’s best friend in order to navigate the teen years.

Many parents believe that teenagers know enough to make good decisions with little or no guidance from their parents. However, brain research has shown strong evidence that when it comes to maturity, control and organization, that’s just not the case. In reality, all key parts of the brain related to emotions, judgment and thinking ahead don’t finish forming until the mid-20s. This means teens definitely need their parents actively involved in their lives.

“Sometimes as the parent you have to make decisions that will not be popular with your teen, but are in their best interest,” says Leman.

Teens do not want their parents to act like them, talk like them or dress like them, either. Despite grunts, attitude and carrying on, young people do want you to act like their parent.

“Kids who have parents who try to act, look and talk like teenagers tell me that they feel very self-conscious and embarrassed when their moms or dads attempt to be teenagers,” Leman says.

If you really want to be your teen’s best friend, here’s what Leman suggests:

  • Make your home the center of activity. Instead of your child always being somewhere else, make your home the place they want to be with their friends.

  • Listen to your teen when he or she is ready to talk. Being approachable is the key, even if it is 1 a.m. and you go to bed at 10 p.m. This gives you a chance to continue to build a close relationship in the midst of your child’s growing independence.

  • Be an imperfect parent. It isn’t about you being perfect. Admit your mistakes and don’t be afraid to say, “I am sorry.” Share stories about when you were a teen. Be real.

  • Spend time with your teen. Make it a point to notice what they do well. Be approachable. Guard against becoming a critical parent who only notices mistakes and weaknesses. Be REAL with your teens: Real, Encouraging, Affirming, and Loving.

  • Expect the best from them. Keep your standards realistic. Expect them to make good choices. Research shows that daughters with affirming fathers are most likely to marry a guy with those qualities.

  • Don’t snowplow the roads of life for your teen. When they fail, let them experience the consequences. There is no better time for them to fail than when they are at home around people who love them. You can actually help them get back on their feet.

  • Love and respect your mate. Young people learn how to treat their future spouse by watching you. Model the behavior you want your children to practice when they are married and have children of their own.

  • Never beat or bully your child into submission. Take time to think about what you will say or do and the outcomes you are looking for. Shepherds use their rod to guide their sheep, not to beat them into submission. As parents, our role is to guide our children and teach them how to live as productive citizens.

  • Pray for them daily. The teenage years can be very challenging. Make sure your child knows you are on their team and you love them unconditionally.

“Your goal as a parent is to help your children become all that they can be,” Leman says. “The best way to steer our kids through the stage of adolescence is to know ahead of time what type of children we want to raise.”

Most parents have probably thought they couldn’t wait until their kids got older so parenting would be easier. But those currently parenting tweens and teens might have a few words to say about it. You know, the idea of things being easier as the tribe gets older.

“I have three sons, two of whom are teens. I would say our parenting efforts have ramped up substantially with our teen boys,” says Gena Ellis. “You think because they can feed and clothe themselves, shower without supervision and they seem more independent that you can back off. But really, the teen years almost require more parenting, just in a different way.”

When children are young the focus is on teaching them right from wrong, how to be polite and what it means to share along with learning to count, and know their colors. As children mature things get a bit more complicated as parents realize the decisions made during these formative years will impact them in the future.

“In the early years, I think both my husband and I were under the impression that the younger years would be the most intensive for us as parents,” Ellis says. “Now that we have moved on, we realize that adolescence is no less intense and that our boys still need us actively involved in their lives. Not overly-involved, but involved enough that we can help them continue to grow and learn what it means to be an independent adult. We are very clear that adolescence is no time to take a back seat when it comes to the parenting journey.”

When Ellis’ oldest son forgot to turn in a paper, her first reaction was to pick up the phone and call his teacher to explain that he had been at band rehearsals all week until late in the evening. As a result, he was running behind on his school work. Instead of doing that she asked her son about the situation. He told her he had already spoken with his teacher and explained the situation. They worked something out and mom never had to get involved.

“I was very proud of my son,” Ellis says. “It made me know he has been paying attention to all we have been teaching and modeling for him when it comes to taking responsibility and being accountable. What he learned from this experience was far more powerful that if I had intervened in the situation.”

Here are a few thoughts on parenting tweens and teens:

  • Make sure you are handling things in a way that builds up your teen versus tearing them down.
  • Provide direction according to their needs, not yours.
  • Understand your teen doesn’t want you to fix it for them. They want you to listen.
  • Learning to problem solve and coming up with reasonable solutions builds a teen’s self-confidence. The more they can do this in a supportive home environment, the better off they’ll be in the real world.
  • Keep your expectations realistic.
  • Spend time with your teen. They may act prickly like they don’t want you around. Don’t misinterpret their behavior.

“When they are little, children need you in front leading,” Ellis says. “When they are older they need you behind them, encouraging them.”If you think parenting gets easier as your kids get older, you might want to think again. Here are some helpful tips for the teen and preteen years.