Three 'Must-Dos' To Help Kids Cope With Violent Events

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. Breaking news reveals that extremists – home-grown or international – have struck with violent precision.

It’s happened yet again – this time twice within a single weekend in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.

While there have sadly been many active-shooter events in the intervening years since 9/11, the news of these early August attacks brought me back in an instant to the day when the ongoing national nightmare was spawned.

By the time I picked up my then-seven-year-old son from school on September 11, 2001 he knew that planes had destroyed the Twin Towers. He had been worried about Grandma and Grandpa, who lived in New York. It astounded me how quickly he made the fearful connection between the attack and his grandparents’ safety…and that he lived with that fear until I arrived to pick him up.

Whether a terrorist strike is on the scale of 9/11, Sandy Hook, or the recent ones in Texas and Ohio, your children may be afraid, perhaps angry and naturally curious about its impact on their lives – especially now that school will soon be back in session.

Here’s one thing you can rely on: Your kids will be exposed to an uncontrollable media assault on multiple platforms, as well as information – and misinformation – from friends and schoolmates.

As concerned and hungry for information as we, ourselves, may be, our job as parents in the face of this type of crisis is threefold:

·      Control your kids’ environment

·      Share only age-appropriate information

·      Don’t answer questions they haven’t asked

Control your kids’ environment.

It’s impossible to control media entirely, but parents need to own the conversation. That starts with being sensitive to what and how much information about active shooter and other violent events your kids are exposed to.

As much as you can, shield your children – especially more vulnerable school-agers – from the media onslaught. Play music rather than news on the car radio. If the TV is on at home, play or stream movies or children’s programs to avoid “breaking news” updates.

Think beyond media. Remember… kids have elephant ears. Your child may look engrossed in a coloring book or a video game while you and your friend talk about the news, but their attraction to and curiosity about adult conversation will heighten their interest in what you’re saying.

Finally, gather as much info as you can from school administrators and teachers about what, if anything, they’ve officially communicated to the children in their charge. If there were an attack somewhere in the world – but it’s not getting much media coverage – I wouldn’t bring it up unless I know it was discussed at school.

One additional note on environments: Given the cultural acceptance of guns in the home for many people, it is completely appropriate to ask whether there are guns in the home prior to a playdate or sleepover. I coach clients to inquire about that simply so they can make an informed decision about their kids’ safety. Many gun owners understand the responsibility well and have gun safes and other preventative measures in place; but, it is your responsibility to ask.

Share only age-appropriate information.

Between lock-down and active-shooter drills at school – not to mention parental lectures about “stranger danger” and the sanctity of their bodies – modern kids are well aware of the potential for both violence and personal harm. Yet if an actual event occurs either at school, in the U.S. or globally, fear will likely overcome them… again, especially school-age children.

Reassurance is a parent’s #1 responsibility. But don’t be dishonest. If the recent attack was at a school like theirs, kids will likely ask “Am I safe at school?” You certainly cannot say, “I promise nothing will ever happen at school.” But you can reassure them that you have full confidence that Principal Jones, Safety Officer Sam and their teachers are doing everything possible to protect them.

As someone who is herself quite sensitive to visual imagery, it behooves us as parents to be exceptionally mindful about what our kids see – not only what they hear. They can’t ever unsee images of mangled and bloodied bodies, so especially guard against their exposure to graphic visuals.

Teens, of course, are capable of a much more in-depth conversation. With their near-constant presence on social media, teens likely will know many of the details of the attack and its consequences. They may even have opinions they want to share with you. Invite those conversations. Just make sure they’re not within earshot of younger siblings. For your part, be honest with your teen, but remain measured and mindful.

Don’t answer questions they haven’t asked.

Parents often presume kids know more than they do. We also tend to invest more meaning in what they say than what is they actually know or feel.

So check yourself. When your kids ask questions, reflect their question back to them so you’re absolutely confident you know what they’re asking. Find out what they know – and how they know it.

It’s possible they’ve only heard bits and pieces from schoolmates. Let the facts guide your decision-making about what – and what not – to say.

Above all, find out what their precise concerns are and address them rather than go over the details about the actual event. For school-aged kids in particular, too much information is easily overwhelming, scary and hard to process.

As the intensity of the coverage dies down, job #2 for parents is to stay vigilant about any lingering fears and concerns your kids may have. Are they clinging to you more than usual? Afraid to go to school or sleepovers? Wetting their bed? Watch for and attend to these signs of anxiety with reassurance and, if warranted, professional support.

While we cannot guarantee our kids will never be exposed to or involved in such attacks, as parents we have a critical role to play in helping them process violence. If you have any specific questions you’d like me to address, please email me at danahirtparenting@gmail.com

Back-to-School Checklist

No matter what summer looked like for your family, now is the time to for parents and kids of all ages to start setting expectations and creating routines for the school year.

Remember – transitions are hard! Once kids get into routines and patterns of behavior, they can be hard to disrupt, which is what makes advance preparation so important. Good news is that with a little practice, they’ll soon get the knack of being back in school! And so will you.

Below are some general tips for back-to-school prep and a few age-specific challenges worth noting.

When to talk “back-to-school”? Although parents think about back-to-school planning long before they talk to their kids about it, early August is the time to start sharing your back-to-school plans and expectations with the kids.

Caveat. You know your kids best. If they’re more vulnerable to transitions than their peers, you’ve probably already started to prep them in specific ways that meet their unique needs.

Have a family meeting. Share your ideas for morning and after-school routines to get everyone on the same page with the plan that works best for your family. For example, in my home, one rule was that before bedtime, backpacks had to contain all the requisite homework, permission slips, fees, gym clothes and miscellany for the following school day – and lunches were packed and in the fridge. It wasn’t flawless, but there were surprisingly few mishaps. When I noticed a slide into last minute scrambling, we had a meeting to recommit to the plan.

Shop early!  New clothes, shoes and/or uniform staples. Sports uniforms. School supplies. Lunch boxes. If you want the best selection and pricing, don’t wait to load up on school gear – especially if you have more than one to shop for. If you’re unsure of what specific supplies your kids will need, ask the school for a list. But be prepared for another run during first week of school once teachers weigh in on required items for their class.

Calendar it.  Seeing their schedules on paper (or digitally) makes it easier for kids to understand what the week looks like. Be sure to notate any regular tutoring sessions, music lessons and after-school sports. If you don’t want homework to fall through the cracks, use this strategy to help your kids internalize what needs to get done – and when.

Embrace the dress rehearsal!  If there is a new school, a new start time or a newly working parent in the picture, I highly recommend doing a trial transportation run, whether that’s walking them to the bus stop, riding the train together or driving to school at the appointed time. Even if there isn’t anything “new” about the school year, a dress rehearsal is still a good idea – especially if a caregiver is involved.

Here are a few ways to mitigate developmental challenges 

Little people. If there’s an opportunity to take your preschooler or kindergartener to school in advance (many schools offer visiting days) don’t miss it. The fewer the number of surprises on Day One, the better your little one will feel. Letting them meet their teacher, see their classroom and sayhi to a few classmates-to-be goes a long way toward reducing their anxiety and increasing their excitement.

Once school starts, be early for drop off – and on time for pick-up. Early arrival, especially at first, means there are fewer children to overwhelm them. And don’t be late! They need to trust you’re coming back. If a sitter or nanny is doing the pick-up, impress timeliness upon them as well. And just an FYI, don’t schedule play dates that first week. Your kiddies will likely have expended their psychic energy for the day as they adjust to the new school routine. Let them chill. 

Primary schoolers.  The big changes here are more structure during the school day and the onset of homework. This focus on more work and less play is a big transition for your kids, so be sure to be supportive as they adjust.

Many schools have “Move-up Day” towards the end of the school year, when kids get to see their new classrooms and meet their prospective teachers. If your child got to experience this, be sure to remind them of how excited they were last Spring.  

Middle schoolers.  There’s even more compartmentalization and structure in grades 6-8, so be sure they know in advance what to expect. Homeroom. Moving to a new classroom for each subject. More (and tougher) homework. These are the norm. Not to mention, there are a lot more personalities to adjust to.

This is also the stage to establish a regular place for homework, whether that’s in the kitchen (if they prefer your presence) or at a desk. Ease their anxiety by maintaining a fully stocked school supply cart close at hand. (TIP: Always keep several tri-fold poster boards in your home school supply closet. I guarantee you there will come a time when you will thank me!)

Be sure to explore in advance whether your middle school offers team sports – which is a fun and exciting addition for kids. Be sure to note try-out times, which often happen in advance of the school year.

High school. This is the big league for teens no matter what grade. To usher it in for incoming freshmen, consider hosting a BBQ for kids and their parents. It helps to put everyone on an equal footing. Plus your teen may click with someone in a more casual and less pressurized setting.

Typically, returning high schoolers have some work to complete over the summer. By now, that should be well in hand. If not, address it yesterday. Set a deadline of one week prior to the day school starts so that the last week before classes start is pure summer (for parents, too!). Encourage them to strive to submit their best work because this is their only chance to make a good first impression. 

Clothes? If there’s a dress code, make sure they know it. Otherwise, let (most of) their choices be. As I advise all parents of teens, pick your battles…because there will be plenty of them.

A super important note about teens with special needs. In the primary grades, it’s primarily the parent’s responsibility to partner with the school to ensure IEPs and 504s are communicated and adhered to. But once your teen with a learning difference hits high school, you need to support them in taking responsibility for their learning – and their learning profile. If not, they won’t know how to advocate for themselves in college.

If you’d like to discuss your back-to-school challenges, just email me.

Enjoy the last few weeks of summer vacation!

 

 

Adding Up the Reasons to Teach Children About $$$

Think about how many times you have seen a child harangue a parent at the checkout line, begging and whining about “needing” some perfectly positioned treat or toy. Well-rested, unstressed parents simply smile and ignore the beggar at their knees, sticking to their family rule about eschewing impulse buys. The rest of us? We reflexively give in because we are just too tired to argue and/or leverage yet another teachable moment.

But when you add financial literacy to the family toolbox, you won’t need to argue nearly as much.

That’s why I sat down with a friend and expert in finance who has coached over 3,000 people through bankruptcy. He knows the value of financial literacy – and the downside of ignoring this crucial life skill first-hand – and he agrees that it is never too early to start teaching our children about money.

He shared his three-step approach with me, which I’ve filtered through a parenting lens. But first…let’s turn that lens on ourselves and explore what a good parental mindset about money looks like.

BE CONSCIOUS.  Before we can teach our children about the value of money, it’s critical that parents are clear about our own relationship with it. Here’s how:

Know your values.  Being clear about your parenting values is the first part of the consciousness-raising equation. Your values serve as a sort of built-in parenting guide, so extending those values as part of your decision-making around money will make every financial choice clearer and easier. For example, if your children’s education is an important family value, you know you will need a plan to save enough to pay for private school and/or college.

Be mindful of emotions.  Be attentive to emotional spending, which gets many parents in trouble. Impulse buying, whether in the checkout line or online, can easily blow a budget – and you won’t even remember where the money went (or probably have anything to show for it).

Communication is central to being conscious about money. Have ongoing conversations about financial compatibility and financial decision-making with your partner. With financial infidelity on the rise, you also want to be sure that you and your partner are a money match. Don’t wait for a problem to arise to discuss financial issues because it can make the conversation unnecessarily dramatic.

BE DISCIPLINED.  Start with an assessment of your needs – and be sure to separate your needs from your wants. An assessment can also help you identify short-term, intermediate and long-terms goals. A simple assessment begins with tracking all your expenses (fixed, variable and periodic) for several months so you get an understanding of where your money is going.  

Make savings a family affair. Let’s say you need to save for retirement and you’d like to plan for a family vacation this summer. Set your goals and make them explicit. Agree on areas to pare back so that larger goals get met, and then create a spending and savings plan that makes the entire family accountable. Be sure to put it down on paper in black and white. Remember the Chinese proverb, “The palest ink is stronger than the sharpest memory.”

Another important tip: create an emergency fund. People get into trouble when they don’t account for unanticipated expenses like unforeseen home repairs or medical bills. 

BEWARE. We are bombarded with seductive advertising everywhere we go: the gas pump, online, backs of buses, on the train. These retail tricks are designed to get us to open our wallets – and they work! Protect yourselves by being conscious of the ways in which you can be influenced by media and empower yourself to stay on track.

So how does this approach relate to how we talk to our children about money? Let’s take being conscious. What are you modeling for your children? Do you mindlessly toss items into the grocery cart? Does Amazon regularly drop off packages filled with your impulsive purchases? How does your metaphoric checkbook reflect your parenting and financial values?

BE A MODEL AND MENTOR. This is my addition to my finance pro’s advice.

Beyond what your kids observe you doing, begin having an active conversation with them even when they are young. Recent studies show that children as young as 3 and 4 can understand the basic financial concept that you need money to buy things. Believe it or not, they can also learn the difference between the things they want and things they need.

There are myriad opportunities to engage our kids in age-appropriate ways that teach them about the value of the dollar. Give them an allowance and have them allocate their money into three buckets: save; spend; donate. Get children involved in philanthropic endeavors big or small. This could mean having them donate an outgrown toy or coat, a family outing to serve food at a shelter or service agency or coming up with a proposal all their own to present to your family foundation.

Kids will respond to a financial education if it’s consistent. So take advantage of everyday opportunities to involve your kids in age-appropriate financial discussions. Ask them to tally the grocery tab while you’re going through the aisles. Task them with researching vacation destinations when provided with a budget. Make them calculate the tip when you are out for a meal.

When I was a teen, my currency was cash. And when my wallet was empty, I was done spending. I had to wait until the next allowance or baby-sitting job to fill my gas tank or head to the movies. Today’s kids rarely see or use cash. They live in a Venmo, CashApp, and ApplePay world. Most of their financial management is conducted on their phone, not in a bank. This makes financial literacy all the more crucial because money is often invisible to them – especially understanding the difference between debit and credit.

When it comes to kid-specific money strategies, I believe that once a child is old enough to be out and about without parents, they should have a debit card to use for emergencies as well as for expenses that everyone agrees on. With this privilege, of course, comes the responsibility of reviewing their spending with you regularly. If it aligns with your values and you are able to do so, provide teens and college-age kids with a low-limit credit card in both their name and a parent’s. When they are earning their own money, let them get their own credit card so they can start to build their credit rating.

NOTE: Experts suggest separating a joint card from your primary card and opening individual cards if you’re providing this for more than one child. That way if a card is lost or stolen, it only impacts one child – who also gets to experience the natural consequences of not being mindful.

Talking about money and finances with kids should not be taboo. Nor do you have to share the cost of your home or the balance in your savings account to start having real money conversations with your children. Remember, transparency and honesty are not synonymous. You can be honest with your children without disclosing private information that is not age appropriate. 

The most important takeaway is to start teaching financial literacy to children as early as possible. It is never too late to start and the benefits are huge and relevant for their lifetime.

 

3 Things Every Family Needs

Family – at least the construct traditionally defined as two opposite-sex parents and their biological children – was considered the norm (and by extension, the “best” for kids) for most of the last century. But no longer.

The notion of family has moved away from rigid structures and defined roles, morphing and expanding significantly. From step to extended, blended to adoptive, gay to single, multi-cultural to co-parent…what makes a family the best one for children is one in which there is the greatest amount of three vital ingredients: love, safety and acceptance.

And it doesn’t matter which adults that love and acceptance comes from. Of course kids need what “parents” can do and contribute to children, but you don’t need a “mom” and a “dad” to take optimum care of children and give them what they need to become healthy adults.

I’m not saying traditional families aren’t valuable or sound, but its not the only way to parent intentionally or effectively. No matter your current situation, it’s always a plus to invite other people into your family circle – through your community, church, school or other affiliation – who can help you create the type of family you know is best.

I tell my kids all the time – still – that the rest of the world can say all it wants about them, but they can count on the fact that our family will always be the safest place on earth for them.

And just for the record, our family isn’t just the 4 of us.

For starters, it’s me, my 3 young-adult kids, my ex-husband and our two extended families, which include stepsiblings. Add to that my ex’s wife, her parents, my boyfriend and his family, plus a coterie of adult friends and their kids who have been welcomed into our family (and us into theirs) over the years, and you get a sense of just how broad my notion of family has become.

Here are a few real-life examples of how that works:

Because of my ex-husband’s schedule, he was unable to attend our youngest’s recent parents’ weekend at college. So his wife joined me instead and the 3 of us had a great time exploring the campus and town together.

Then there’s our holiday plan. Since there is a finite amount of time all 3 kids can be together over the winter break, we’ve decided all of us, including the kids’ father and his wife – will go on an unbelievable cruise to Antarctica together! 

This one I just love: A couple of years ago, my youngest son Quincy and I were at an event and we were introduced to a gentleman. When he found out my son’s name was Quincy, he said, “How unusual! You’re the second ‘Quincy’ I’ve heard about this week.” It turned out that Quincy had sent his stepmom an email requesting donations to a charitable organization with which he was engaged. She had forwarded it to her father. “Grandpa” not only made a donation himself, but he forwarded the email to his vast list of contacts. The man at the event? He was one of those contacts and he, too, made a donation to Quincy’s cause!

So if you feel constrained by society’s once-meager definition of family – broaden it! For sure, kids need what “moms” and “dads” can do and give to them – but those roles needn’t be defined by gender or biology. So go ahead and welcome in trusted people who will model and bestow the love, safety and acceptance every child needs to become a loving and accepting adult.

There is so much in life we cannot control – but we can control who we let into our children’s lives and our homes. The best part about it is that we each get to choose who’s in our family, making sure our kids get the maximum amount of love, safety and acceptance available.

Now that’s a family I want to be a part of.

 

Why It's Okay to Hate Your Toddler

Hating toddlerhood?  You're not alone.

This is an actual post from a parenting group I belong to on Facebook.

Swear. To. God.

At post time, there were 171 Likes / Comments…and counting!

If you’re one of umpteen parents challenged by devilish little ones, you’re clearly not alone. Frankly, what’s not to hate? Toddlers are irrational, highly emotional, demanding – and completely powerless over their lives. A perfect storm, particularly because they possess ZERO capacity to act reasonably once they’ve hit their limit (or sooner, depending on the provocation).

It's just how they roll.

In developmental terms, they have the vital job of exploring their vast world – and asserting their (presumed) mastery of same – by any means necessary.

Fortunately there are some very effective parental workarounds for the conundrums that beset toddlers and their handlers. In this post, I share some of the most exasperating questions I hear from clients, as well as my tested and proven methods for taming the oh-so-terrible 2s and 3s!

Why can’t I stop the meltdowns?

Kids throw tantrums because they’ve completely exhausted their physical and/or psychic capacity. When we put toddlers in situations that exceed their capacity, we invite catastrophe.

That makes Rule # 1 for stopping the meltdowns to be mindful of your toddlers’ limits – and don’t exceed them.

Rule #2 is to prioritize the “red rules” – those things you and your co-parent (and other caretakers) agree are non-negotiable and always enforceable. For example, considering most toddlers are sapped by bedtime, do you really need a list of 5 hygiene-related tasks every night? Could simply brushing their teeth be the one must-do, leaving flossing, moisturizing and the like for those days when they’re in a more agreeable mood?

Rule #3. Stop talking and start doing. Even just 30 seconds of this video gone viral proves the point.

 While having a deep convo with your kiddie may seem like the in-touch-parent thing to do, “processing” with a 3-year-old is a complete waste of time and oxygen.

Picking them up and buckling them in the car in their pjs, if necessary, so you can get them to daycare and you to work? That they understand in a heartbeat.

 If I let my toddler win an argument, aren’t I teaching them that my rules don’t count?

See Rules #2 and 3. 

Plus, pick your battles. Give your children choices so they can learn to assert some control over their lives. You’ll be surprised to see just how empowered they feel when they get the opportunity to select from two options.

Don’t be surprised, however, when they select door #3 - from which you haven’t proffered a thing. But if that option doesn’t put them in danger or isn’t truly inappropriate, let it go! Rain boots on a sunny day? Plaids with stripes? Who cares! Allow your toddler to assert his or her independence on things that ultimately don’t matter.

Why is my toddler so temperamental and whiney?

Most toddlers who present that way have exhausted their capacity and you’re seeing the manifestation of that. Much of the time, whiney kids are actually hungry or tired or have some other physical or emotional need you can fulfill.

And yes, sometimes toddlers are just whiney. Remember, though, their lives are all about are wresting even a miniscule measure of control from a situation in which they are generally powerless. So when they whine or scream No about something you ask them to do, they are simply trying to assert their independence.

 Why are transitions so difficult for my toddler?

Toddlers like routine. In new or unfamiliar situations, they’re simply less resilient.

When you interrupt your established routine with a new activity or a trip, they often deal with their anxiety by whining or tantrumming. So prepare them for the transition as much as possible.

An upcoming trip? Try this: “We’re going to Grandma’s tomorrow after our Mommy and Me class. You’ll get to sleep in your cousin’s room on a special cot. Do you want to bring your bear or your blanket… or both?”  Talk about the upcoming activity in a positive way, and share the fun they will have as a result.

 Is it ever OK to spank my toddler?

In my opinion, it is never, ever okay to hit a child. I’ve raised my voice at my kids. I’ve bribed them. But I never spanked them.

Why not?

It’s not an effective strategy. It doesn’t teach them anything, except that mommy or daddy can be scary.

If you want to spank your toddler because she isn’t listening, for example, forgo the swat and figure out another way to teach him to listen. As the adult, it’s your job to experiment with multiple ways to make your point so your child learns what you expect from them.

Speaking of raised voices… save your SUPER voice for truly dangerous situations. You want your toddler to hear that voice and freeze.

 How should I respond to my very picky toddler when it comes to food?

Again, choice is helpful here. Keep healthy foods cut up and accessible.

Make new foods available. Don’t try to cajole your kids into eating them, but be sure they see you eating them! Try not to give them their staple favorites at each meal, or they will be inclined to shy away from new options. Be willing to keep trying, but know it may take a while for picky toddlers to adjust. 

I promise they won’t starve themselves, however. Eventually they’ll get hungry enough and will eat something you’ve provided. If you’re still not sold, there are plenty of picky-eater tricks to try online.

 I’m a stay-at-home parent. What do I do with my toddlers all day long?

Toddlerhood can be especially tough for stay-at-home parents who don’t love this age. If you fall into this category – as do a lot of cerebral and verbal people who want their kids to get their puns – I want you to feel permission not to love these toddlin’ years.

Regardless of your predilections, the same solution applies. You’ve got to find ways to use your community. Meet up with other moms of toddlers. The kids need toddler-to-toddler interaction, and it also helps them to hear from and interact with other adults.  

Leverage every low- and no-cost opportunity your community provides – and there are plenty. Libraries. Bookstores. Toy stores with play stations. Indoor malls.

Distraction is what you’re after.

If you need to spend the morning at the service station while your car is serviced, pack a bag with 15-20 things that will amuse your kids for at least 5 minutes each. If you need to take a shower – give your toddler a morning bag with several toys, keep the bathroom door open and scrub-a-dub.

Toddlerhood may make you feel imprisoned at times, but remember…it’s not a life sentence. These few years – and all those adorable things your kid says and does – will be over before you know it. 

When is the best time to make the transition from crib to toddler bed?

Hold out as long as you can! I wouldn’t take a toddler out of a crib until they demonstrated a full ability to climb out of it. In fact, pad the area around the crib and wait until your toddler’s dismount is a perfect 10!

I kid.

If your toddler can be in a crib comfortably and safely – I say leave them there. Why make the transition before you need to? Their development will not be impaired. When you think about it, a crib is just a toddler bed with safety rails.

Whenever you decide to make the switch, make sure the rest of their life is relatively calm, and do what you can to ease the transition for your toddler.

 Is co-sleeping okay?

Co-sleeping is an individual decision. I personally think it’s better for parents to be alone and for toddlers to learn to self-soothe, so it wasn’t the right choice for me.

Most experts say it’s OK if it doesn’t create tension between parents – and as long as the child isn’t totally dependent on co-sleeping.

 Should I make a point to interest my children in non-gender-traditional toys and activities or let them choose?  

It’s always important to be thoughtful about the toys you’re bringing into the house. Truth is, though, I bought my older son dolls, and he used them as projectiles. He even pretended carrots were pistols.

My other son, born after my daughter, did play dolls with her – until the day, unprovoked, he declared those days were over.

Interesting, from the ages of 2-4, that same son carried a purse (black patent leather with a pink heart!) that held all his little toy planes and trucks. He just liked to have his belongings with him. At 4, he unceremoniously traded in his purse for a knapsack.

 

It’s safe to say toddlers absorb some gender-identify info from a variety of sources, including toy stores, and opinions on gender-specific toys vary widely. My opinion? Be mindful of what you buy –and of your own bias – and then do what you believe is right.  

 Is there a right or wrong time to send my toddler to preschool or daycare?

I’m going to fall back on the “personal choice” option here. Well, that…and an honest understanding of your tolerance level for this stage.

If you have the freedom to be home and explore the world with your kids…

If you (generally) love doing so…

And you’re good with giving your toddlers ample opportunities to socialize with other toddlers…

Then feel free to keep them at home with you. What’s important developmentally is that kids begin to practice individuation from Mommy and Daddy at this point of their young lives – but they don’t need to go to school to do so.

If you’re not in love with toddlerhood, or you need coverage, by all means, enroll your child in a preschool or daycare program that gives you the respite you need to be the best parent possible when you trek home, toddler in tow.

Here’s the crux: You don’t want your child to get to kindergarten without being socially exposed to other toddlers and adults. Beyond that, do what works for your family -- although I’m not sure I’d endorse the following option (also a FB entry.)

Why is it so hard to remember that, as the parent, I am in control?

I understand that it feels as if you are being held hostage to your toddlers’ irrational demands. But feelings aren’t facts.

Naturally, you can’t lock them in room and walk away. Your job as a parent is to stay in control despite their protestations (NO! I can do it myself! Mine! “Listen to me, Linda!”)

Toddlers aren’t the only ones with finite capacity for life’s frustrations. Parents, especially the caretakers of toddlers, don’t get enough sleep and may not be eating as healthily as possible. But even when you are not feeling particularly resilient, it’s important to continually remind yourself that you ARE in control.

Here’s the last word on taming your toddler: When things don’t go according to plan, don’t negotiate, legislate!

And enjoy the ride!

 

How to Support – and Set Limits - for Toddlers, Tweens and Teens Post-Divorce

 

In a previous post I outlined the top four reasons co-parents need to be extra vigilant post-divorce. To recap… co-parents ought to do whatever it takes to make the period immediately post-divorce as secure and protective an experience for our children as we can.

BUT.

As vulnerable, anxious and upended as your children’s lives may be, divorce isn’t an excuse for bad behavior.

I can practically hear you thinking, “Really?”

Really.

Many newly divorced feel guilty that the marriage didn’t work – and even guiltier that kids have to pay part of the price. But tough times…even as tough as divorce…don’t give your kids the right to process their feelings and emotions in ways that are disrespectful to you or their siblings, break house rules, or, well, break anything.

Here’s a news flash: Your divorce won’t be the last emotionally negative experience your kid has to endure. Bad things happen in life all the time. As parents, our job is to help our children develop tools that allow them to navigate difficult times. In fact, research shows that not only do most children of divorce have healthy adulthoods, it’s how you parent post-divorce that makes the biggest difference in how your children recover…not the divorce itself.

In this post, I wanted to outline the key behaviors your Toddlers, Tweens and Teens may exhibit post-divorce, as well as several ways to support them and, ultimately, your family, through the process. 

 

Toddlers.

The most resilient of the three age groups, toddlers can easily adapt to the new normal because they don’t have mindful reference points for pre- and post-divorce. What they may notice is that Daddy or Mommy isn’t around as much, and they may experience separation anxiety regarding the more-absent parent.

 

There are two basic signposts your toddler is feeling stressed: Shifts in sleeping and eating patterns, which you can address in your customary ways, and tantrums. Given their undeveloped prefrontal cortex, anxious or stressed toddlers often simply lose it.

 

What to do?  Offer your teed-off tots their “angry bear” or “angry pillow” so they have a tangible object to be mad at. And make it clear that hitting one’s brother or biting sister isn’t an option.  Be especially mindful that transitions can be challenging for toddlers, so consider that when planning the custody schedule.

 

Tweens. 

School-aged children tend to be the ones who are the most surprised, scared, and worried when you tell them you’re divorcing. They don’t know what to expect, and even if they did, they have little agency to affect it.

 

Tweens are also more likely to be highly vigilant about your feelings – and act accordingly. If they feel Mom is vulnerable, they won’t say they’re scared for fear it could make her more upset. Walking on eggshells becomes their go-to method for navigating what feels like shaky territory. You may also notice them isolating from both family and friends, as well as some changes in their sleep, eating, and energy habits.

 

What to do?  Validate their feelings. Give voice to their concerns. Make sure they know you’re aware they’re having a difficult time. Invite them to share their feelings. Encourage them to visit friends and engage in favored activities.

 

It’s important to keep the conversation going, because you never know what you’ll learn. For example, when I divorced 8 years ago, talking to my school-aged kids revealed they were particularly worried about their Dad, who had moved out of our family home. I reassured them it wasn’t a betrayal of me to check on their father.

 

Cautionary note: Don’t let your issues be their concern. Take the opportunity to share your emotional experience with measured, age-appropriate honesty. It’s possible to tell your kids you’re sad without revealing the level of devastation you may be feeling. For example, I remember those first few weekends they were gone I missed them terribly, but I didn’t tell them that.  I dealt with it with my friends and my therapist– and then happily listened to them recount their exploits when they came home Sunday evening.

 

Teens.

Your high-schoolers will likely be the least surprised of all. In fact, your announcement may just validate their felt-sense that all was not well with your marriage. But often their “aha” moment is accompanied by anger at feeling deceived.

 

More emotional outbursts and rebelliousness than “normal” – as well as a dip in academic performance - are telltale signs your teen is feeling the stress of the family rupture. And don’t be surprised if your friends-focused teen becomes even more so. They may even find a special comfort in their BFs – and their BFs’ homes.

 

What to do?  It’s crucial teens know that you and your co-parent are there for them. Assure them they can speak their mind, as well as have a little distance from you if needed, as long as they do so in respectful and agreed-upon ways. All kids, but especially teens, need to know they have a right to feel badly, but not to act badly. If they weren’t allowed to swear at you before your divorce (and let’s hope not!), they don’t get a pass to do so now.

 

BTW, post-divorce is a time when all kids should have the opportunity to talk to a therapist if they need to – or if you think they need to. In the latter case, even just a few sessions offer a safe and private place for kids to share their truth with an objective adult.

 

My kid seems to be doing fine. Should I be looking for signs of trouble?

Each child comes to terms with divorce differently. Some will be immediately sad, while others may need more time to process the information. Denial, sometimes coupled by the fantasy that Mom and Dad will reunite, is also a perfectly normal response.

 

Another cautionary note: A muted initial response doesn’t mean that things will stay calm or good. There are a lot of transitional moments post-divorce, and feelings and reactions can be delayed.

 

Naturally, no one would advocate divorce as a life-skills “teaching moment.” But in my personal experience and with my coaching clients, when co-parents stay alert, present and in good communication with their kids and one another, divorce can be a situation from which the entire family recovers.