Sibling Rivalry Doesn't Have To Poison Your Home

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Sibling relationships are incredibly complex, and there’s no predicting or controlling the bonds that yours will eventually have…or have not. However, an inviolable role of mindful parenting is ensuring that home is a safe place for every person in the family. Do that, and there is a very good chance your kids will find much to appreciate in one another. Perhaps not immediately, but surely in time!

But first, let’s agree on a few truths (the good, bad and ugly) about siblings:

·      Siblings can be natural allies

·      They’re also sometimes rivals

·      The dynamic between offspring is affected by things outside everyone’s control (e.g., birth order and temperament)

·      Siblings don’t need to be best friends but they must respectfully co-exist

·      Siblings can gain great skills (how to manage parents; how to navigate the world) simply by watching one another

·      It’s normal for siblings to argue -- about toys, boys and even nothing at all

And here’s the final “truth.”

·      Raising multiple kids under one roof (or in the case of divorce, under two) can be a significant challenge for parents

Fortunately, the solution is something I believe is vital for healthy families. And that is creating, articulating and honoring the core values about the type of family dynamic and home environment you intend to foster.

      When we had our first child, my now co-parent and I were in lockstep about our parenting values and aspirations for family life. As they grew up, our kids came to know exactly what those values and aspirations were. Not simply because we articulated them frequently, but because we held everyone in the family to them. Here are some key values that can impact sibling ties.

Family is sacred.  From the start, we considered our family unit, our family space and the time we spent together as sacred. We ensured our home was a safe place for every member, and encourage our kids to try things out at the dining room table without consequence or ridicule (unlike in the school cafeteria). The sacredness applied even when (especially when) we disagreed or were angry.

Family members are kind and respectful.  Our kids knew there would be zero tolerance for bullying, physical abuse or excessive tension between them. They knew the expectation was that they be kind and respectful to one another – and to us. Full stop.

Hitting is not an option.  We drew an extremely hard line at anything physical. We did not spank our children and they were not to hit one another. Naturally we intervened when they were toddlers and hitting and biting one another was to be expected developmentally, but relatively early on they learned that getting physical would not be tolerated.

Get along or go it alone. It’s easy for parents to fall into the trap of blaming an older child for infractions or always making the youngest the victim. Not to mention, it’s easy to spot the actions of the retaliator…but miss the jabbing of the instigator. We decided early on we weren’t going to police our children or preside as judge and jury over their sibling shenanigans. When our kids seemed unable or unwilling to manage their disagreements (decibel level is a great cue), we simply sent them to their respective (or separate) rooms, instructing them that they were welcome back into the family space as soon as they felt they could be kind and respectful and work out their differences. It’s also important to remind everyone in the family that playing (and living) together is a 2-, 3- or 8-way street as the case may be, and that everyone contributes to the tone of the home.

Kids are allowed a sacred cow or two.  Teaching siblings to share is great. But sharing everything? Not necessary. Let you daughter have her treasured truck or you son claim “his” side of the room as off-limits. Of course siblings can’t call “dibs” on everything, but it’s appropriate for them to claim some things as theirs alone.

If it isn’t working, PIVOTWhile most parenting values don’t change much over time, certainly how we enforce them may. So if you’re reading this and thinking, “My value is that our home is sacred, but my kids are always at each other’s throats!” – all is not lost!

The best antidote for losing one’s way is simply to stop long enough to figure out what the problem is, re-articulate your values around it and then back that up with action – even if you’ve let bad behavior go on for far too long. For example, “Daddy and I are tired of you three arguing at dinner all the time. Starting today, if anyone is mean or dismissive to anyone else in the family, you’ll be excused.” Then follow through.

A helpful way to think about raising siblings is to be conscious about what it is you want for your children when you’re dead and gone. Like most parents, you probably want your progeny to love one another…to count on each other…to help each other when it counts. Live your values and it will come to pass. (Mostly) guaranteed.

 

8 Steps for Teaching Resilience

Think back through the past week and call to mind all the setbacks, curveballs and challenges you had to navigate. (Pause).

I’ll bet you fashioned quite a list. Chances are, you found (or are working on) a workaround for each one. That’s resilience. It’s a learned skill parents need to teach kids…a lesson best taught (and practiced) early and often.

As much as we may want to shield our children from life’s disappointments, they will face inevitable setbacks at every stage of development:

·      A toddler playmate breaks a favorite toy

·      Mommies and daddies go off to work leaving little ones in the care of relatives or babysitters

·      The long-anticipated first day of school disappoints

·      A treasured family pet dies

·      A ‘tween bestie suddenly prefers other friends

·      The starting position on the baseball team goes to a classmate

·      A teen is bullied online

·      A high school senior receives rejection letters from every one of her top choices

·      New college grads have trouble find a job that fits

No matter what form the problem takes, children often look to parents to make the problem and its pain go away. As they should. Yet as every parent knows, we too feel the pain of our child’s rejection, hurt feelings, grief or loss of hope. So how do we help our children manage setbacks and effectively manage change – and deal with our feelings as well?

It begins with recognizing that while we may have suffered a narcissistic injury that we’ll need to address, our first responsibility is to attend to the needs of our kids.

Here’s an example. Let’s say your uber-talented son didn’t make the cut at the performing arts high school that’s part of an established pipeline to his top-choice prestigious music school, while a less capable (in your mind) student was accepted. Your teen, who has long labored evenings and weekends practicing his horn and composing new music, is understandably devastated that his hoped-for academic path is now off-course. There’s a decent chance he’s pissed off, too.      

Were you to magnify his ire by railing against the injustice and trashing the admissions office, it may feel as if you’re being empathic because you’re reflecting your kid’s feelings. Think again. Rather than helping your son manage the situation, you’re actually escalating it. While he may feel momentarily justified and “supported” by you, relief of this sort is extremely short-lived. Worse, he won’t have learned one positive thing about how to successfully manage his feelings or chart a new path forward.

Teaching children resilience is a two-fer, enabling parents to help their kids develop a sense of self-efficacy in dealing with setbacks, as well as helping parents free their kids to differentiate from them – a critical developmental activity.

 Here are 8 steps (which will not happen in one conversation) for doing just that:

1.    Listen to what your children have to say about the setback – in as much detail as they want to share (and don’t be shy about prompting).

2.    Invite them to describe how they feel about it – and express empathy for their pain or unease.

3.    Ask them if they have any ideas for managing the situation (naturally, young children may need some strategizing help).

4.    Let them know you support their efforts. Ask them what they think they might need from you to move through their feelings and find a workable solution.

5.    Make sure they know you have confidence in them, and that you trust they will reconcile the situation.

6.    If they choose to figure out and/or execute a fix-it plan without your aid, don’t keep asking them how it’s going.

7.    Reiterate that learning how to fail is just as important as learning how to succeed (actually, it’s even more important!). Kids need to understand that the only real failure is not learning from our mistakes. It’s helpful to share examples of how you’ve bounced back from failure.

8.    Take time to process how you feel about your kids’ setback AWAY from them. You may be heartbroken, disappointed, frustrated, scared, etc., but you must process those emotions independently or with the help of another adult. This way you can be present for your child and not contaminate the situation with your issues.

A deeper dive on number eight is in order.

So often parents come to me personally distraught about whatever issue their kid is navigating. We forget that the job of parents is to give our children the dignity to have their own lives and to support them in solving the problems that arise as a result.

Parents need occasional reminders that our children are not extensions of us. When they become tweens, their friends become more important than we are and they start to pull away from us. Often, parents struggle with what they perceive as rejection. But that’s not what’s happening at all. They are simply differentiating from us – a necessary and critical developmental milestone. When we are clear about where we end and our kids begin, we’re better able to accept, tolerate and celebrate their choices, successes and failures as theirs, not ours. 

As it turns out, parenting is a master class that helps parents hone their own resilience when it comes to their kids’ differentiation

How to 'Pivot' when Changing Parenting Rules

Wouldn’t it be amazing if the job of parenting were static, predictable and one-size-fit-all? All you would have to do is establish a single set of rules for your kids… for every age, stage, birth order and circumstance…then sit back and pull the appropriate levers when necessary and watch them grow into kind, resourceful and resilient adults.

      Tween misbehaving? Slide Tab A into Slot B. Toddler won’t stop throwing her peas? Rule X, please. Teen driver doesn’t see the point of seat belts? Apply Rule D and forget about it.

       Sound utterly appealing? Yes. Based in reality? Not even close.

       Every parent comes to know there is no blueprint for raising children, no rulebook with proven answers. It’s a learn-by-doing job of promoting and supporting the development (emotional, physical, intellectual and social) of unique human beings. And because they are a) constantly changing and b) so different from one another, parenting defies the predictability of, say, the laws of gravity. It’s got much more in common with whack-a-mole. Just when you think you’ve got things under control, up pop a couple of situations you hadn’t encountered before.

       So what now?

       In a word, pivot. Change the rule to meet the particular challenge of each child as the need arises. That’s the job.

Let’s face it, all of us make errors of judgment along the way. But just like you wouldn’t keep driving if you exited the highway headed North when you needed to go South, you can pivot and change your parenting rules – even midstream – to fit your kid’s needs.

Yet many parents worry about changing the rules.

I hear examples like these every time I speak about a parent’s right (and responsibility) to change course along the way:

       “I gave my 6th grader a smartphone before I read the research on the impact of too much screen time on young brains. How can I take it back?”

       “My middle child was always such a good student, so after starting high school I said he could continue to have friends over during the week. I didn’t anticipate how much his homework would suffer. When I mentioned revisiting that decision he was furious so I dropped it.”

       “The rule for my older daughter was no pierced ears until 16, but I think my younger daughter is responsible enough to handle it. But that seems so unfair to her older sister, who had to wait.”  

       Rather than being a sign of weak parenting skills as some may fear, changing course when needed is a sign of strength. It means you’re aware enough to see that your present rule about “whatever” isn’t aligned with the outcomes you want for your kids. Other parents fear being “inconsistent” or worse, undermining their authority by changing their minds. Here’s the paradox: there’s no better expression of authority than making a change due to changing circumstances or the realization that you didn’t do enough due diligence before making a decision. Pivoting can be an object lesson for your kids, actually. It helps them see that they can end a friendship if it becomes unhealthy or change their college major when they uncover their true passion.

Mindful and intentional parents stay alert for those times when the rules need to be tweaked. For example:

·    You realize a rule you’ve set doesn’t fully align with your parenting values

·    You come to believe that the rules you set for your older kids were too strict / not strict enough.  

·    One or more of your kids have unique challenges reaching certain development milestones

“But that’s not fair!” is sure to be voiced whenever a set rule (especially one your kids approve of!) is altered. That’s why how you communicate the change is key to its success.

I coach parents to be upfront with their children about what isn’t working or isn’t optimal – for them or the family as a whole. Be sure to explain why you’re changing course (see bullets above) and talk to them about the new rule. Invite your kids to offer feedback or suggest a possible solution although as the parent, you’re the final arbiter. Then agree to a time period to try the new approach, after which you’ll regroup and reevaluate to see how things are working. If you still believe the situation needs another tweak, make it.

Pivoting is a great opportunity to model how humans learn to adapt when we realize something isn’t working. In a world of constant change, what better gift to give your kids?

How To Turn Our 'National Conversation' Into A 'Teachable Moment'

Toss the phrase “national conversation” into the ether these days and it’s abundantly clear you’re referring to the explosion of sexual harassment and sexual assault claims in entertainment, media, politics, and beyond. While the daily reveal of perpetrators has abated somewhat, what hasn’t stopped is the energy driving the conversation, as well as the analyses and proposed remedies by lots of folks.

As a parenting coach and champion of children, however, my interest is singular: How do we turn this national conversation into teachable moments for our kids?

There are several vital issues to establish upfront. First is the understanding that any time there is a power differential between people, the potential for harassment and abuse exists. With children, however, this imbalance is profoundly predatory. Kids simply aren’t skilled discerners about inappropriate adult behavior and they tend to trust the words – and follow the instructions of – adults.  

Second, it’s essential to not assume the binary that it’s always a male predator and female victim. Sexual harassment and abuse is applicable to both boys and girls, no matter where they fall on gender and sexuality spectrums.

Third, the current conversation isn’t about “stranger danger.” Perpetrators of sexual abuse against kids are generally known to their victims; a personal relationship with an abuser may, in fact, make abuse more probable.

While not every adult in authority is creep-worthy, the list of possible predators is, sadly, broad. It include parents, stepparents, older relatives, teachers, coaches, scout leaders, babysitters, adults in religious, community and other family-centered organizations, camp counselors, workers in the home, friends’ parents, older students and members of law enforcement.

No parents can bear to imagine their child might one day be a victim. If you ever find yourself face-to-face with this horror, your foremost job will be to create a supremely safe environment for your child to talk about it without shame or fear. You will need to take time to process your rage and fear, as well as reach out to therapeutic, legal and law enforcement resources. But first, your child will need you in these very particular ways:

·      Stay calm and present.

·      Be an active listener.

·      Ensure he or she feels heard – and believed.

·      Have as many conversations about it as your child wants and initiate them when you sense    there may be more they need to share.

·      Assure them with absolute certainty that you take their experiences seriously and that you are there for them 100% – even if you don’t have all the answers in the moment.

·      Express admiration for the courage to share their story.

·      Above all, let them know you’re going to keep them safe and that you will get them the help they need.

Since it’s almost impossible for most kids not to have heard something about this story, I’d encourage parents to have teachable-moment conversations with your kids (of most ages) that can both shore up previous discussions you’ve likely already had about staying safe, as well as give them an opportunity to share their feelings and ask questions. Here are a few pointers:

Young primary school-agers are likely not aware of the current societal reckoning, but it’s wise to gently and regularly talk to them about the basic rules of safety.

With tweens, I’d address several topics. First, they need to understand unequivocally that their body is private. No one has the right to touch them in a way that makes them uncomfortable – even if the touching is innocuous or acceptable by other people’s standards. Encourage them to trust their intuition; if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

Another fact your tween needs to understand is that responsible adults – whether strangers or adults known to them – always respect the boundary between themselves and children. Reiterate that responsible adults never look to children for help, or ask them to keep secrets from their parents, or threaten them or their families. Given the viral spread of the news and the #metoo conversation on social media, most teenagers are aware of what’s been going on, have likely talked about it with peers and it may even have been a topic in the classroom. At home, it can be a springboard for conversations that confirm sexual flirtation from adults is never okay, about not blaming the victim and reminding them that if they see something, say something.

Have some sort of safe code with your kids that clearly communicates that they’re in trouble and need an out. For example, if my kids were in a situation they were uncomfortable with and wanted my help or a ride home, they knew they could text me “911” and I’d pick them up immediately.

Most importantly, let your children know that it’s never too late for them to talk to you about something that may have happened in the past. Don’t for a second think it’s an invasion of their privacy if you probe when it’s obvious by your kids’ behavior that something is wrong. Without doubt, if your child has been victimized, it is manifesting in some way.

Our job as parents is to keep our kids safe. We do that most effectively by paying attention to them and their lives and not letting our concerns go unaddressed. We tell our kids all the time to trust their guts when something doesn’t feel right. As parents, let’s do the same.

The Importance of ‘Family Time’ When College Kids Come Home For Break

Last year your junior successfully completed the college selection process I blogged about, survived the college campus visits during senior year and has been happily ensconced in his or her ideal-fit university since September.

Then came Thanksgiving break. Prior to their arrival, you’d imagined leafy walks arm-in-arm with your offspring or, at the very least, looked forward to seeing their shining face across the Thanksgiving table laden with their favorite foods.

What happened? They graced you with their presence for 45 fleeting minutes during the entire four-day weekend! And you had to share that time with the family pet who was greeted with more enthusiasm.

No more, you promised yourself. Come Winter break, that wayward child is going to spend time with the family – and love it!

Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?

What could be satisfying, though, is a negotiated two-party solution. Your newly independence-loving college freshman agrees to a set amount of family time in exchange for the freedom to catch up with their besties and do everything else that college kids long to do during their month off.

Getting there will take more than a wish and a prayer – but not much more. Here is what I recommend:

Communicate your needs and expectations.

Begin a conversation before Winter Break so everyone fares better between semesters. Naturally, every family is going to have different needs and desires about how much family time is enough. No matter the amount, the tactic is the same: Clearly communicate exactly what it is you and your co-parent want and need from your kids. That’s critical, because they won’t have any idea what we’re expecting if we don’t tell them. For example, I typically ask my home-for-the-holidays kids for one or two family dinners per week, as well as their presence with our extended brood on the actual holidays. Any other family time (and it turns out, there’s plenty) is a bonus.

Articulate the “Why.”

Saying what we want isn’t enough. Parents need to communicate why family time matters. This is a values conversation, and I never miss an opportunity to tie my values into my conversations with my kids. I happen to believe spending time together is one of the best ways to strengthen our family community. So I make sure I remind them of that.

Manage unreasonable expectations.

Rein in on asking for the moon. Once our kids are in college, it’s not appropriate for us to hold them hostage 24/7 when they’re home. When you carefully examine your own expectations of them and make reasonable requests, you model for them how to navigate differences and be respectful others. For example, while my college kids don’t have a nightly curfew, per se, I tell them that when they come home at 3 am it’s disruptive to me. Let them know you understand their needs (to see their friends; lounge in their rooms; paint the town), too.

Acknowledge when they do as you’ve asked.

The power of “Thank you” cannot be overestimated. Don’t take it for granted that you asked your kids for something important to you and they did it! Not only does it make our kids feel appreciated for making the effort, subsequent visits home are much more likely to go better too. 

So, if Thanksgiving wasn’t everything you hoped it would be, make sure you wrap up this all-important conversation sooner rather than later. Once they leave, email me and let me know how it went!

10 Tips for Raising Resilient Kids

As the end of November rolls around, many of us are compiling our Gratitude Lists for the big day that’s just around the corner.

·      Healthy children

·      Success at work

·      Being with family at the holiday

It’s not hard to be grateful for the good things in our lives, is it?

As a parent and parenting coach, I want to share some even better grist for your Thanksgiving thank-yous this year. This year, I am encouraging my family, friends, and clients to be grateful for the challenges our children face – because navigating tough times successfully is what transforms kids into resilient and capable adults

Why would any parent be grateful for difficult situations that cause our children to struggle, have their feelings hurt, or even fail? According to a growing body of research, just about every parent on the planet should be. Psychologists and researchers have demonstrated that what differentiates kids, what helps them to develop the resilience and “grit” so crucial to navigating modern life, is learning how to deal with the challenges and tough times that are central to the human experience.

Most of us tend to define gratitude and success far too narrowly, equating them with the times when everything is going smoothly. We implicitly teach that to our kids too by ameliorating their troubles and spoon-feeding solutions to them. 

Parents do better by their adults-in-training when we focus less on self-esteem and more on self-efficacy.  Here are 10 tips that can help you raise resilient kids who become resilient adults.

1. Check your parenting expectations at the door. Do whatever is necessary to get it out of your head that “good” parenting is defined by how much smooth sailing your children – and your family – experiences.

2. Change how you talk to your kids. Instead of promising, “Don’t worry; I’ll fix it” say “I know things are hard, but if you persevere, I promise you’ll find a way to resolve this – and be better for the effort.”

3. Get out of the way! Don’t always race ahead of your kids to level the playing field, literally or figuratively. If your 8th grader wants friends but is having trouble making them, don’t try to arrange things behind the scenes. Instead, help him navigate the feelings of rejection and teach him skills for finding his tribe.

4. Stand by your child. Yes, get out of the way, but that doesn’t mean going away. Your kids need your support and motivation even more when their life gets hard. Offer suggestions when asked – or when they are truly at an impasse.

5. Honor their emotional experience. As hard as it is to see your “baby” in pain, let her or him know it’s OK to be upset by an upsetting situation. Above all, be empathic when your child communicates their hurt feelings. If they aren’t talkers, be mindful of their behavior and help them identify what they are feeling. Listening is critical.

6. Set boundaries for expressing emotion. Some parents may be tolerant of their kids swearing or yelling or breaking things when they’re angry. I wasn’t. I was supportive of my kid’s anger and sadness, but I saw it as my job to teach them how to feel their feelings without being abusive to others. For the littler ones, be sure to provide plenty of “containment” for their more difficult emotions so they’re safe.

7. Express confidence in their abilities. Persevering through challenges is uncharted territory for young kids. Telling them how much you believe in their abilities helps them come to believe that they are indeed capable of advocating for themselves. Once they have a few successes under their belt, you can reference those when the next hurdle arises.

8. Model resilience. One of the biggest ways parents can help their kids is to stop interviewing them each night at dinner and create a dialogue instead. Share how you faced a challenging discussion with your boss or what happened when you told a close friend a truth you had been avoiding. I constantly share my foibles and what I learned through them with my kids. It’s helped them to see my humanity, too.

9. Trust the process. Teaching your children how to deal with problems is one of the best gifts you can bestow. Frankly, I wouldn’t have “perfect” kids even if that were possible. My oldest son, now in his first professional job, would say his current success – and his outlook on life – has more to do with the academic nosedive he took as a sophomore than with all the easy times combined.

10. Be grateful for every bump in the road. Each time you feel frustrated for your child or want to swoop in and fix everything, remember that your new definition of “good” parenting is resilient children who feel a sense of empowerment, ownership and self-efficacy when it comes to life’s challenges.

Empower you children to own their successes and failures and you put them in control of their destiny. That’s the best goal of parenting there is.

3 Rules for Acing the College Selection Process

If you’re the parents of a high-school junior, right about now your family is gearing up for the trip to crazy town that is the modern college-selection process. Determining the right set of colleges to apply to when senior year rolls around can be harrowing if you follow the crowd and fixate on securing a spot at one of the elite schools that only a teeny-tiny fraction of applicants achieve.

As an alternative, I offer the Dana Hirt Promise: You can help your child navigate (and master) the process with relative ease – and distance yourself from its nuttier aspects – by following three key rules:

Rule #1.  Understand that crafting the perfect resume guarantees nothing…except potentially an overwhelmed, burned out kid.

Rule #2.  Empower your teen to take the reins.

Rule #3.  Make “fit” – not college ranking -- the focus of the selection process.

Bonus Advice: Consider this recommendation you may find surprising.

Rule #1 is self-explanatory – and I implore you to take it to heart. Why? Because much of the time, the college admissions process is an exceedingly subjective and arbitrary one. Idiosyncratic and institution-specific, there’s just no way to game the system. This is not to say that achievement of all kinds in high school is not important. Naturally good grades, club involvement, leadership activities and all the rest are great! They just don’t guarantee acceptance letters. 

Rule #2 is a win-win-win. First, empowering teens to take the reins of the college investigation and selection process gives them the opportunity to work to the limit of their developmental ability on a long-term, multi-faceted endeavor.

The second win is this: The more students have a voice and vote in determining the schools they apply to (and ultimately attend), the better their chance of success. In my personal and professional experience, students who had a true say in their college selection had a higher tolerance for the tough times that inevitably surface during a college career.

Lastly, parents win by keeping your family off the roller-coaster. Your role, strategically, is to help your teen develop a structure for the project and offer guardrails when he veers off course.

Here’s the most important rule of all: Leverage your experience and expertise by helping everyone keep their eyes on the prospective student’s temperament, interest and abilities – the essentials for Rule #3’s all-important idea – “FIT.”

Considering there are approximately 3,000+ 4-year colleges and universities in the United States alone, finding the right schools to apply to is a daunting task.

But not if you and your teen put ‘fit’ at the top of your agenda.

Parents and teens alike need to ignore the plethora of lists that rank a university’s cache and desirability and focus on FIT. Here are the most fundamental and personal criteria:

Personality and interests. Challenge your high schooler to write down the key aspects of their personality and interests. After outlining their temperament, interests, and wants and needs, the things that matter in this category are setting (suburban, rural or city-based); geography (distance / ease of travel home); social scene (love Greek life or hate it?); and culture (religious school, traditional institution, liberal/conservative). Campus visits are hugely instructive when it comes to finding a school that “fits.” I remember my eldest son was on one campus for just 10 minutes before he knew it wasn’t for him. The school he eventually went to? He felt “at home” immediately. Empower kids to trust their instincts and ‘listen’ to how they feel on campus.

Make campus visits more economical by viewing “like” campuses closer to home. For example, a large state university campus looks and feels a lot like all the others (flora and weather aside) – certainly enough alike to give your teen a sense of what to expect. Likewise with a technical college. Better to save your traveling dollars for specialized schools, as well as those your child has a strong interest in.

Academic interests. When kids know what degree they’re after, then the smartest option is to pick the schools with the best academic department in that field that he or she can get into – even if the school’s overall ranking is lower. If your teen is unsure of a major, consider Malcolm Gladwell’s theory of “relative deprivation,” which he describes in his book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants. From a college admissions standpoint, the theory purports that students who end up in the top 10% of a lesser-tier school fare much better than those who end up at the bottom 30% of a top-tier school they just squeaked into.

Money. Finances are always a part of the equation. That’s why I advocate looking far beyond the top 100 schools to the expansive range of options that will better fit your teen – and likely, be more affordable. Ultimately, your teen’s choices of where to apply will come down to the best combination of fit and finances.

A Few Additional Tips

I googled “college selection process” and immediately received about 10 million hits. Who’s got that kind of time? In addition to you and your teen asking a trusted few who’ve been through the process for their preferred resources and favorite websites, here are a few of mine:

·      Given the ratio of students to guidance counselor at public high schools, many parents pop for an independent consultant to aid the search

·      Many parents, myself included, consider College Confidential an invaluable resource. Check out their parents’ forum.

·      Education First’s Explore America website provides a thorough overview of the college visit

·      The Fiske Guide to Colleges is also a must-read resource

And finally, the promised…

Bonus Advice

Consider the value of a gap year. I outline the many benefits of a gap year and how it can be important for a teen’s development in my blog post on HuffPost, but if you’re time-stretched, here are the highlights:

·      It will help your child become more independent, resilient and capable of weathering and thriving during high times and low

·      Most colleges will accept deferrals for a gap year – and will even defer scholarships

·      The benefits of expanding one’s world view are immeasurable

It may be a tad bumpy, but enjoy this ride. Trust me – your nest will be empty before long.

'Parenting Values Primer': Plan Ahead and Be Prepared

I’m seeing pregnant bellies everywhere.

It’s likely not statistically significant. Truth is, I’m navigating my first Fall without a child at home – and I’m missing them. My self-prescribed antidote is to smile broadly at pregnant women I pass on the street and happily greet stroller-bound children at coffee shops. When my enthusiasm began to straddle the line between uber-friendly and creepy, I knew I needed another remedy.

So I turned my attention to all the folks on the very-front-end of the parenting journey and how they must be feeling.

Twenty-three years ago, when the nurses told me I could bring my first son home from the hospital, I distinctly remember thinking they were nuts. Why would they send this helpless infant home with us? Where was the instruction booklet? I sat in the back and gripped the car seat as my husband drove well under the speed limit. I trembled most of the way home.

Mine remains a fairly common experience. Most new parents feel some measure of anxiety, overwhelm and bewilderment. And it’s not all self-induced. New parents are inundated with parenting information (often contradictory), well-meaning advice (always unsolicited) -- and even public admonition (never welcomed).

The best way to stay parenting-steady no matter who’s offering “help” is to establish your own values to parent by. To do this, you and your partner will need to have a conversation – most likely a series of them -- on the values that will govern how you raise your kids.

Here’s an analogy: If you were married within any kind of religious tradition, you likely had to meet with a spiritual advisor to be sure you and your partner were aligned on the core values that impact marriage. You likely covered topics like religion, sex, money, kids, personal ambitions and goals. After all, who wants to find out after you’re married that you and your spouse have radically opposing expectations you can’t possibly reconcile?

Aligning around parenting values takes a similar approach. By reflecting on and discussing your core parenting values in key areas, you’ll have a baseline for a crucial discussion and, eventually, a blueprint by which you can raise your family.

Of course, aligning your parenting values isn’t foolproof – nor will you and your co-parent be in lock-step on every issue. Parenting is a joint responsibility, and each parent has different tolerances. But when it comes to the big issues – as the buckets below suggest – you at least need to be walking within the same guardrails.

Principles of healthy parenting have long been studied by psychologists and academicians, and much sound advice can be found online and in books. Doing a little research and reading might be helpful. But remember – this is your family, and so it is your opinions that count.

Caution: As you and your co-parent navigate the values conversation, be aware of your experiences as children. The natural default is to want to parent exactly like or nothing like the way you were raised. Be mindful of what you want to bring forward – and the issues you’ll likely need support around. 

Here are some key values buckets and thought-starter questions to jumpstart this critical conversation.

 

Pregnancy and birth plan

·      What if you discover your child has special needs in utero?

·      How do you envision the birth process? Do you have a birth plan?

·      Whose decision reigns if the birth mother changes her mind about the birth plan during labor? And who will advocate for her?

·      Who (and what media) is allowed in the birthing room?

Family

·      In what ways will you prioritize the needs of your new family?

·      Will in-laws have open-access to your home immediately after the birth and forever more?

·      If you plan to use parents and relatives as babysitters, are there boundaries and rules they must agree to?

·      Do your kids have to kiss or hug relatives if they aren’t comfortable?

·      How will you respond to and support one another around family-of-origin triggers?

Communication

·      What is your plan for handling divisive or intrusive complaints and/or recommendations by outsiders?

·      Will you argue in front of the kids?

·      How will you handle disagreements about parenting decisions?

·      How will you decide on the division of household and childcare labor?

Discipline

·      Is there a parenting style you can both align on?

·      What are your respective views on spanking?

·      Are there cultural considerations to discuss?

Health / Lifestyle

·      Breastfeeding vs. bottle-feeding?  How do you feel about formula?

·      What are your positions on vaccinations?

·      Will you feed your children only organic food?

·      How much screen time is OK?

·      What about digital safety and exposure? Will you freely post photos online?

·      Do you have a position about gender-neutral clothing andtoys?

Religion

·      Does it matter to both of you? Neither of you?

·      If only one parent cares to pass on a religious tradition, must the other parent be involved or at least outwardly supportive?

·      Is religious education important?

Education

·      Public or private?

·      If private, what financial plans do you need to make to secure that?

·      Is it important that your children interact with kids of diverse cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds?

 

It’s a lot to consider, I know.  And clearly this is not an exhaustive list. Yet for thoughtful and intentional parents like you…these are questions worth talking about to begin the dialogue to coalesce the couple as parents.  Parents who will be sharing the most important job they will ever have.

This conversation will be dynamic and ongoing. You can’t know how you will react to the challenges that lie ahead, but if you start working now on being intentional parents governed by agreed-upon values you will be better prepared!