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 https://bit.ly/2nnlpW5

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.

Post-Election Letter to My Children

This has been an unparalleled election season. Like more than 50% of Americans, I anticipated a different outcome.

As the victor became clear, my first thoughts were of my children and my fears about how the policies of our new president would affect them in years to come. After taking time to process my own response, I composed and sent the following letter to my children on Wednesday morning, November 10. I shared it with a few close friends who urged me to post it on my blog.

I hope it is helpful.

 

Dear Oliver, Kalie and Quincy,

 Perhaps I should have had this letter ready to go first thing this morning or even last night. However I, like many, failed to recognize the profound disillusionment and disenfranchisement experienced by so many Americans who seem to have voted for a political outsider who filled the campaign trail with rallying rhetoric and promises of a better life. I'm no political expert...and I don't fully understand what happened in this election. What I do know is that we are profoundly lucky in our lives, which makes it is easy for us to trust a system that, although flawed, has served us – or at least not betrayed us.

Democracy…so central to our freedom in this great country…requires dialogue, compromise and commitment to ideals of unity, not division. Let's work to hold our elected officials to that standard and hope that the mandate for reform will push collaboration and not obstruction. We must stand with the groups that have been victimized and marginalized by Trump on the campaign trail. As Jews, and as human beings, we cannot stand by or fail to speak up for women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, those with disabilities, immigrants, veterans and other minority groups.

As I face this new day...one I could not have imagined...one that fills me with fear...I am also thinking about tomorrow.

 I have lived my life motivated and mobilized by anxiety and fear rather than paralyzed by them. That approach is intentional and reflects my values. It is a volitional choice I have made, and I have worked hard to model this to the three of you because anxiety, fear, disappointment and rejection are part of life. It is not realistic to eliminate them, but it is empowering to learn how to use them to help us grow and change. Resilience is key...and challenging times like this are tests of our grit and our resolve, and we will persevere.

This is a moment where despite my fear, despite my anxiety, and despite my profound sense of despair, I am going to find a way to mobilize and reengage and be part of the solution. I want to do whatever it will take to heal our country, because the vast divide that has been identified and highlighted by this election cycle is ultimately destructive and dangerous for America.

I encourage you today to take the time you need to grieve and to mourn.  I feel your pain and wish I could hold you all in my arms.  But tomorrow, I encourage you to awake with a renewed commitment to being citizens of this country and citizens of this world.

This will manifest differently for all of us. You get to decide how to use your spheres of influence...you get to choose how you can make your mark...what you will do...what you will say. There is no right way, nor is there only one way. But promise me that despair won't win the day...that apathy won't be victorious...that hate won't prevail. Find your path...continue to be engaged members of your community in whatever ways you define them.

I need you to know that I am beyond proud of the three of you. You are the greatest joys in my life. I know that you are fundamentally engaged, responsive, committed people who are going to be part of the solutions in this country.

Today we mourn. Tomorrow we recommit to Tikkun Olam...healing our world.

I love you beyond measure.

Mom ❤

 

5 Pieces of Advice for Parents of High School Freshman

Sweaty palms and jangled nerves.

Anxiety about navigating a new world.

Intense desires to fit in.

Frenzied fears they won’t.

That’s the emotional terrain most teens traverse as they make their way across the wide expanse from elementary to high school.

It’s a sizable transition by all accounts – social, psychological, academic and physical. The rub is that the transition needs to be experienced… your teen can’t really prepare for it. But as parents, you can help along the way.

That’s why this posts offers guidance on the 5 most relevant and fraught topics your freshman (or freshwoman) will continually face as he or she evolves from an incoming 9th grader to bona fide high schooler. They are, in no particular order:

1.    Drinking and drugs

2.    Making friends

3.    Academic expectations

4.    Romantic relationships

5.    The digital domain

 One caveat: There are no magic solutions or established protocols that will work for every teen in every family. What’s essential is that as parents, you understand your own feelings about these high-stakes high school hurdles. That enables you to make intentional decisions based on your values – and the outcome you want for your child. Then you articulate them again… and again.

Let’s talk teens.

1.    Drinking and drugs.

Personally, my values are that teenagers should not drink or take drugs. My (now grown) kids knew this because I told them – early and often. And the more they heard me say it, the more it was in their head when they were faced with that choice.

Unlike my teenagers, I had the parental gift of perspective and insight, so I shared my knowledge about drugs and alcohol with them, especially regarding the:

·      Difference of the alcohol levels in beer vs. spirits

·      Implications of mixing uppers (like red bull) with downers (alcohol)

·      Difference of the effects of drinking on a 200-pound boy vs. a 100-pound girl

·      Legal consequences of drinking or taking drugs on school property

·      Legal consequences of driving while under the influence

·      Legal implications for me if minors drank in my home

Granted, my telling them all these things didn’t prohibit my children from making their own choices (good and bad), but they absolutely knew what the pitfalls and consequences could be.

Most important, we always had a plan in the event their decisions turned out badly. My kids knew they could call me at any time if they needed a ride. And if they texted me the phrase “911,” that was code for me to rescue them while they could still save face with their friends.

 2.    Making friends.

The headline?  Play dates are over.

 In elementary school you had some say – or at least sway – over your kids’ friends. But in high school, who your teen befriends is no longer up to you.

Big changes are afoot socially. Eighth-graders who were on top of the food chain just 12 weeks prior now find themselves at the bottom. Fueled by a desire to fit in and be accepted, most teens find themselves in wholly new territory.

High school is a great time to explore new friendships. It’s a time to try on different personalities, and maybe even re-invent oneself entirely. While I can relate to the desire for your special frosh to meet and hang out with other “good” kids, their reinvention might just look cockeyed from your point of view. My advice? Let them be.

It’s actually okay to be a little permissive if your teen explores in arenas that aren’t mortally threatening (Goth dress or unconventional hair color, for example). If their choices are discordant with your family’s values, then of course it’s time to step in and make your values known – again. Outside of that, try not to be authoritative in this arena.

The bottom line?  Kids need to work out their friendship and relationship issues on their own unless you’re specifically asked. Then you may share these five ideas with your frosh. Otherwise, provide support, empathy and insight, but don’t interfere.

3.    Academic expectations

The academic divide between grade school and high school can be daunting. More is expected of high school students. And there is less hand-holding by teachers (and there should be less hand-holding by parents!)

It is difficult to stay out of the way and not help or rescue your child as they struggle with this transition. Do your best to let your son or daughter navigate the new academic demands and manage relationships with their teachers. Be empathic to their struggles, while you help them advocate for themselves.

I appreciate the difficulty of watching a child struggle and resisting the urge to fix the problem. By all means, listen to their concerns and help them uncover ways to approach the problem. And provide a reality check for an anxious teen who can’t fathom recovering from a poor grade.

But when we get overly engaged, it disempowers our children and sends the message that we don’t think they can handle the challenges they face. If we want to build resilient, confident kids, we have to let them deal with these situations, and learn that they can, indeed, figure out their academic problems and do well. Here are some tips worth passing on:

·      Encourage them to build relationships with their teachers and regularly check in with them on their progress

·      Take advantage of in-school resources like writing labs, National Honor Society tutoring, and mentorship opportunities          

·      Identify a go-to person in each class (may not always be a friend) that can be relied upon to provide notes or a heads-up about missed assignment after an absence

 

In a very real sense, your teen’s mastery of the challenges of high school academics are the 21st century skills they’ll need for post-graduation work and their college career.        

4.    Romantic relationships

Just like with drinking and drugs, I didn’t tell my kids how I felt about teens and sex in one big talk prior to high school. I shared my values with them over and over again. And I assure you, they weren’t always receptive to these conversations.

If you’re not comfortable talking about sex with your kids, get help getting there. Your kids need to know your values about love and sex. Not telling them is a missed opportunity to spark a dialogue. It may not happen in the moment, but if your teens hear you speak naturally and often about typically taboo or uncomfortable topics, it’s more likely they’ll see you as someone with whom they can discuss these issues.

If your kid is the one who is uncomfortable having that conversation with you, give them a great sex-ed book or two. Do not let them construct the narrative about healthy sexuality exclusively from the Internet and their friends. 

Just like with alcohol and drugs, as parents we ought to share essential info with our teens:

·      The efficacy of various birth control methods – and access to them if you’re comfortable with that

·      Dangers of sexually transmitted disease

·      Importance of consent and being a respectful partner

·      Issues around sexual orientation and acceptance

·      Emotional attachment as a consequences of sex

·      Impact of drugs/alcohol on decision-making and sex

And with young women 16 to 24 experiencing the highest rates of rape, sexual assault and stalking, teens need to know how to take action if any of these occur.

Sharing my values about sex may not have always led to the outcomes I personally wanted for my kids, but it did lead to learning opportunities for them, as well as conversations by which they could begin to establish their personal values about sex and relationships. I call that a win.

5.    The digital domain

When even the youngest of the current crop of parents were in high school, tweeting, sexting, texting and social media were unimaginable. Today, it’s the world in which we live… and around which your teens’ lives will forever revolve.

Talk with your teens about what is appropriate to view online and what is appropriate to share online. They do not know this innately, and therefore are more vulnerable to predators and other severe consequences.

It’s especially important that teens understands several things about their digital footprints:

·      The acronym “www” stands for worldwide web, which is exactly how far their posts travel

·      There is no privacy on the web; everything posted is officially on the record –potentially for all time

·      Unflattering digital exposure can be easily viewed by college admissions officers and future employers who aren’t above relinquishing offers based on what they see online

While the idea may be a tough sell to a 14-year-old, talk regularly about how you practice social media professionalism and point out examples of social media gone wrong whenever you see it.

Well, there you have my 5 pieces of advice for parents of high school freshman.

Here’s a bonus piece of Intel: If you do not want to be one of those parents freaking out because your incoming college freshman isn’t ready for university life, begin their preparation today.

Do not handicap your high school freshman by protecting them from failing. Do not handicap them by interfering with every decision they make. Let them stumble… or even fail.

As educational reformer John Dewey insisted, failure could be as essential to learning as succeeding. Your job is to give your teen every opportunity there is to practice self-reliance and problem solving in high school. The best you have to offer is your support, validation and empathy as they do the hard work of growing up.

One final note:  While I consider myself a parenting expert, it’s been more than a few years since I crossed the threshold into high school for the first time. So if your kids seriously tune you out – or if you sense they’ll be more responsive to hearing about high school from someone born in the 21st century – here’s some advice from the pros – high school sophomores! Their recommendations aren’t half-bad.

  

Want FREE parenting advice? Email and ask me a parenting question.

 

 

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.