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

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!



The Dos and Don'ts of Helping Your College Grad

Calling all helicopter (and other) parents of soon-to-be college grads!

Wondering if it is acceptable to lend a job-search hand to your kids? There’s great news on that front according to placement prosif we rein in our exuberance and let their kids do the heavy lifting.

I like the simplicity of Dos and Don’ts. Ever the optimist, let’s start with the DOs.

DO…be supportive. It takes courage for anyone to pit their skills, smarts and savvy against other qualified candidates – no matter how welcoming the job market. Parents can offer reassurance that our kids are on the right path or provide a tweak in their approach, and that may be all that some college grads want or need.

 DO… encourage your college senior to take every advantage of their college placement office. These pros offer resources to help students launch a successful job search, including resume writing, job fairs and help preparing for interviews. In addition, they can help grads tap into alumni networks. And they’re part of what all those hard-earned tuition dollars fund, so students ought not miss the opportunity to get their money’s worth! If available and affordable, working with a career coach can help them align their strengths and their professional desires.

DO…leverage your network of relevant friends and business associates. Help the college grads in your orbit learn more about available careers and tap into the hidden job market through informational interviews. Not only do such meetings help prospective graduates learn about the day-to-day reality of particular careers, they also provide opportunities to practice talking about their capabilities in a professional setting.

To close friends of the family, you can probably send a group email to share that your child is soon to graduate and to be prepared for a reach out, which of course they are free to decline. I have served in this role for a number of my friends’ children and have enjoyed every encounter and helped make valuable connections.

To business and professional colleagues, I’d err on the side of individual emails asking if they’d be open to hearing from your child who just graduated from [name of university] with a degree in [blank]. Be sure to offer a wide berth for them to bow out if the timing isn’t right or if they’d simply rather not. If they do agree, only then would I send a second email with a cyber introduction to your grad.

DO…offer your grad these fundamental tips about informational interviews:

·      Arrive promptly and dress professionally

·      Use a notepad to keep track of your questions and take notes

·      Keep mobile phones off and out of sight

·      Ask both broad (How did your career get started?) and specific and relevant questions (What is the profile a the person most recently hired at my level?)

·      Inquire about internship opportunities

·      Don’t leave without asking to be connected to another professional (or two) to interview

·      Be responsible for ending the meeting on time

·      Follow up promptly with a written thank-you note if possible

DO…recommend a pre-career lesson in financial literacy. Have them spend a session or two with a financial adviser (some do it gratis in hopes of future business) so they can learn what salary they’ll need to earn in order to meet the demands of their soon-to-be-adult life. Many parents entirely fund their children’s college careers, making our kids entirely clueless just how much it costs to house, feed, clothe, entertain and build a nest egg for oneself. Becoming financially literate about budgeting and how to take advantage of 401k plans are lessons well learned.

DO…remind them that social media is not just about having fun! And while it may seem obvious, it doesn’t hurt to remind our grads to leverage social media platforms for professional networking like LinkedIn, Meetup and Jobcase. In addition, its helpful to remind them that their social media presence is available to potential employers and they should be thoughtful of how they could be perceived based on what they post.

Now, what shouldn’t parents do?

DON’ anything your graduate could and should do for themselves. In other words, don’t write their resume or cover letters; set up appointments, research (or accompany them to) job fairs, asking interviewers for questions in advance or attempting to sit in on interviews. These may sound like absurd acts, but placement professionals say parents have tried to control the process in just these ways.

DON’T… attach your grad’s resume or boast about their achievements and aspirations when you contact your network. Relaying pertinent information is strictly your kid’s responsibility. As is diligently preparing themselves for these interviews.

DON’T… steer your kids into a personally admired or known-to-be-lucrative career. We all want our children to have a fulfilling and rewarding professional life. That’s a given. But when you try to cajole your grad into a career of your choosing, you not only undermine their confidence in their capabilities and desires…you’ll more than likely put them on a path that will require them to retrace their steps once the inevitable dissatisfaction sets in.

DON’T…continue to support them without forethought and communication. If you want to provide financial support for your burgeoning careerists – especially if your kid’s dream job doesn’t pay enough to support them fully – consider several forms of in-kind contributions.

Perhaps you could let them live at home (with agreed upon rules and ongoing communication). You might also agree to keep them on your health insurance until age 26. Or offer the use of an extra family car. If you choose to provide direct financial assistance, set expectations for when the money train will stop or clarify the kinds of expenses you are willing to cover. After all, isn’t helping our children grow into competent, capable and confident adults the end-result we’ve all been working toward?



Should Your Child Take a Gap Year?

The idea of taking a “gap year” – born of the independence of the post-war 60s generation that challenged themselves to create a life different from their parents – has come a long way in 70 years. Since the new millennia, it’s been taken up by parents and young people alike who have lived through the accelerating pace of the new world order – and see little chance for such an extended pause once they start college and forge fledgling careers.

If you read my post in late 2017 about coming face-to-face with my empty nest, you’ll recall that all three of my children took a gap year between high school graduation and the start of their college career. And they did so with my blessing – and strong encouragement.

As I write, increasing numbers of high school seniors are in the process of planning their upcoming gap, which is typically defined as deferring college acceptance for a year to pursue a variety of travel, volunteer and/or non-academic activities and interests. While it’s becoming increasingly more common, parents still have a lot of questions about its wisdom and benefits, such as:

·      Will my child fall behind his grade-level peers?

·      What if they decide against college all together?

·      Isn’t it scary when your child is in a foreign country far from home?

·      Is it expensive – and is it my responsibility to fund it?

·      What does a “successful” gap year look like?

Before I elucidate why I believe a gap year is valuable (wearing my Human Development and Learning specialist hat), as parents we have to redefine success as navigating the entirety of the experiences, no matter how (or when) it ends. Ultimately, a successful gap year is about giving our children a unique opportunity to grow, developing the skills necessary for navigating our modern world and becoming resilient, capable people.

In that vein, success doesn’t mean that each program you child embarks on will meet their expectations. Nor will the people they meet along the way necessarily lead to career connections or lifelong friendships. For some families, financing a gap year is an essential part of the planning process, in part driving what the gap will look like. Fortunately, there are numerous opportunities to volunteer for nonprofits the world over that include room and board. 

Above all, a successful gap year certainly doesn’t mean that there will be no bumps on the road. The most amazing result in my family’s experience is what a parent might least expect. Namely this: All three of my children say their gap year was successful not in spite of the missteps and challenges, but because of them!

Clearly, nailing resiliency is just one reason to consider a gap year. Here are some others:

Developmental Maturation. Four years of college go by quickly, and all parents want their children to use their time well as they figure out their majors and navigate a different kind of independence. But not all 18 year olds are created equal. A gap year allows kids who are less developmentally mature to grow up a bit more. Then there’s this: there is both anecdotal and increasingly quantitative research that demonstrates that gap year students out perform their non-gap-year peers.

Academic Refresh. Some kids have burned the candle at both ends during high school, and frankly, they are burned out. A gap year enables them to take a break from academic pressure and scholastic demands so they can enter college renewed and reinvigorated.

Interest Exploration. Most 18-year-olds don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. A gap year can expose them to career options, internships, personal exploration and more.

World View. We live in the most interconnected and interdependent world in our history, yet many of us know little about our global community. Gap year students fortunate enough to travel or pursue an opportunity in a different country end up with greater global awareness and often develop fluency in a foreign language. 

Tool Belt. Undeniable benefits are the skills learned, the resiliency discovered and the confidence acquired. All of these get added to the metaphoric tool belt our children need to succeed in the college environment – and beyond.

Many of the greatest gains from a gap year are intangible, and some benefits only reveal themselves as a result of the experience. My youngest son completed his gap year (and documented it on his blog) before starting college in Fall 2018. Here, in his own words, he shares the surprising things he learned that year that he simply did not expect.

1) Everyone I encountered who were also taking a gap year had their own rationale, none more significant than the other, but it was interesting to see what motivated people and how diverse the population of gap year students is.

2) I was amazed at how different foreign culture really is. Though I had traveled internationally and extensively, the opportunity to really immerse myself in foreign culture showed me that my narrow American perspective is not the only way to live life.

3) I was surprised by how much I grew as a person
and an intellectual. Most people think that a gap year is a break from the intellectual and educational world, but I found myself learning more than I ever did in a traditional school. The magic of experiential learning is real.

 Enough said.

3 Step Response to the Teenage Distress Text

Back in the day (as a 70s-era student), when something happened at school – my feelings were hurt, I’d aced a test I’d been nervous about or I wanted permission to go to a movie with a friend – I had to wait until I got home and saw my parents to talk / boast / ask permission, as the case required. Or what about when I was homesick at summer camp? By the time my parents received my snail-mailed letter bemoaning my fate, my sadness was long gone and I was cavorting with my campmates.

These days, texting places a direct line to parents in the palm of virtually every kid’s hand. And many parents have unwittingly made the mistake of buying into the cultural (and child-driven) expectation that communication should therefore be instantaneous and immediate.

 Not so fast.

It’s important to recreate the distance between the onset of a child’s every problem or negative emotion and our instinctive and understandable drive to fix it. Let’s face it: our children aren’t in dire jeopardy when their feelings get hurt or if they’re disappointed in their performance on an exam or on the soccer field. So how can we, as parents, best help our kids?

If your endgame is to help your children learn to navigate unpleasant experiences and feelings, don’t miss this all-too-frequent opportunity to help them develop resilience and agency using this 3-step approach:

1.    Acknowledge but don’t engage

2.    Empathize rather than escalate

3.    Encourage insights that leads to self-efficacy

Acknowledge but don’t engage. Some modern parenting approaches make parents feel that to prove their devotion (and fitness), their job is to be their child’s ally at every turn. But when we react to a child’s text by immediately soliciting more details or instinctively siding with their point of view, we not only shortchange what should be a face-to-face encounter, we run the risk of escalating their emotions or anxieties.

By all means, if your children text to tell you the teacher hurt his feelings or her best friend snubbed her, acknowledge the situation with a short response that promises more conversation later. It’s important to ensure your child feels heard and can count on your support, but not wise to engage in an emotionally charged text dialogue.

Plus, when we give the situation time to simmer in the child’s mind, they just might come up with a solution themselves.

Empathize rather than escalate.

To a child (of almost any age), a small slight can sometimes feel like the sky is falling. It’s an age-appropriate response. But as parents, we should not match their hysteria or emotional temperature. Our job is to acknowledge our children’s pain and give them something their minds aren’t yet capable of delivering: perspective.

By over-identifying with our kids’ emotions or probing for hidden motives by their friends / teachers / coaches, we keep children stuck in the problem. Empathize and be supportive, but ask the types of questions that help them see the bigger picture. Simple phrases such as “Tell me more” and “Why do you think that happened?” gives kids the opportunity to unpack the experience so you can help them identify the salient issues and their role.

Encourage insight that leads to self-efficacy. It’s easy to point the finger and make others responsible for our feelings. It’s typical for children to blame others and feel victimized. But psychologists note that each time a parent swoops in to fix a problem or mend a relationship for their children, they push them one more step away from self-knowledge and self-efficacy.

As a parent with perspective, your role is to help your child identify how they may have contributed to the problem and the steps they can take to amend it. For example, ask questions that probe their part in the drama. See if this is a situation that has occurred before. With that information in hand, the two of you can brainstorm about what is in the child’s control. How can they be empowered to amend the situation by changing their own behavior?

This is also a great time to model how you’ve reacted to a problem at work or with a friend. Knowing that Mom and Dad also deal with challenging relationships and negative emotions – and lived to talk about it – gives children the courage to give growing up a try and figure out the solution themselves.

In the end, we want to build resilient capable kids who will remember to text every once in a while after they have left home because they want to say hello, not because they have a crisis for us to solve.

5 Reasons Why I'm With HER (Julie Lythcott-Haims, that is)


Seconds into Julie Lythcott-Haims’ talk from the stage a few years ago, I knew I was hearing from a kindred spirit. An advocate of raising our children to become competent adults, this former Stanford University Dean of Freshmen, attorney, author – and mother of two teenagers – reflected on her surprise at just how ill-prepared she had found the young people on Stanford’s campus to be.

She’s written a New York Times Bestseller on the topic and accompanying TedTalk garnered 3.2 million views. I admire her greatly – and agree with her wholeheartedly. In fact, her thesis, that we hamper our children’s development and their futures when we hover over them, smoothing every bump in the road lest they trip and have to figure out how to right themselves, is the way I raised my children, as well as the foundation of my parent-coaching practice.

What kids need most from parents is unconditional love, that’s a given. Parents also have the fundamental, irrefutable and powerful job of educating, protecting and nurturing our children.

But also tops on the list of parental to-dos is this: We must get out of our children’s way and let them fall, fail and falter so they can figure out how to succeed.

Believe me, I understand the urge to step in. It’s much easier and more efficient if we tie our toddler's shoe rather than wait the interminable 20 minutes for her to do it herself. Yet being bigger, faster and stronger than our kids doesn’t give us the right to rob them of the most important lessons that failure and hard times can teach. 

If we do everything for them, we’ll have reared a generation sadly and seriously ill equipped to take on the essential jobs of running our countries and saving our planet.

Let’s set our kids up for true success in life by adhering to these 5 ways to raise competent, compassionate and resilient adults.

1.    Let them do it themselves (even if it’s not perfect).  It doesn’t matter if that’s tying their own shoelaces when they’re toddlers or negotiating what they consider to be an unfair grade with a teacher, mastering a skill gives children the confidence to face the next challenge that comes their way. If you’ve assigned them a task and they do it – but not up to your adult            standards – let it be. By redoing their work you undermine their sense of pride in accomplishing the task.

2.    Let them fight their own fights. Intentional parents let their children resolve their conflicts – or learn valuable lesson by trying. Of course, if there is a risk of grave harm you need to intervene. But generally, getting in the middle sends the message you don’t believe your kids are capable of navigating and negotiating a conflict on their own. A wound like that may never fully heal.

3.    Let them fail. Watching a child fail is probably one of the most excruciating things a parent can do. But it’s also a priceless opportunity for our kids. I remember when my eldest, then a sophomore in college, fell behind and was poised for academic probation. He was a bit frantic when he realized the predicament he was in, but having been allowed to fail multiple times during the course of his young life, he knew what he had to do. And he did it.   

4.    Let them struggle with things that are hard.  In an animated video about helicopter parents shared by The Atlantic magazine, Lythcott-Haims notes most parents are enthusiastic about letting their kids struggle with learning how to walk, but generally start stepping in soon thereafter. Don’t. They eventually learned how to walk, didn’t they? I promise they’ll learn how to do most of the other stuff they need to survive without constant parental interference masquerading as loving support. 

5.    Let it begin today!  Even if you failed to do the previous 4 things when your kids were 2 or 4 or 10, begin today. Better to realize you’ve handicapped your child and pivot than to keep on making the same mistake! It won’t be an easy transition for either you or the kids, but with practice everyone will get the hang of it. Best yet, your children will bear the fruits of their labor, even if they’re cranky about the extra effort in the short run.


By the way, if you haven’t read Lythcott-Haim’s book, get yourself to your library, neighborhood bookstore or favorite online vendor. It’s one of the best parenting books around.  And for more reading on the subject, check out my HuffPo piece from 2014

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

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.