The 3 A’s

Another memorable school year has come to a close. I’m still pinching myself when I see how much my children have grown this year, not only in inches but in character. Thanks to some amazing teachers who have really gotten to know and value who they are, they have excelled. Anna and Brody seem really comfortable in their own skin. They have lots of close friends. And, their grades couldn’t be better. I celebrate these milestones.

But when I reflect back on the most success that they’ve had, I really think it’s their maturity and sense of responsibility that’s made me most proud this year. I’m not saying there’s not more room for growing :), but I have most impressed as a mother by their acknowlegement of mistakes and gratitude for rewards.

Take, for example, Anna asking to bake another cake and promising to clean the kitchen. Six months ago that meant she threw all the stuff in the sink, ran some water, and left the batter and piles of measuring cups and bowls to soak. But most recently, the poor thing had a huge baking fail. Nothing worked, not even the cake mix. She spent an hour of time and resources working on this half-baked, tie dye cake only to spend even more even more time cleaning up the disaster of a mess. She wanted to do her old throw-in-the-sink-trick. But, I reminded her that wasn’t going to work. So, she proceeded to quietly cry while she unloaded, loaded, and cleaned the entire kitchen. She said she was “so disappointed”. There was no talking back or arguing. She did it and then moved on. (Success!!)

Then there’s Brody who thinks he’s never wrong; it’s always someone’s else’s fault! And being a 10, almost 11-year-old boy, he gets frustrated when he has to do something he doesn’t want to do too. But, I hold my kids to high but reasonable standards and will not accept disrespectful back-talk. Like in life, there are consequences for poor choices. But, he’s a good kid who is human.

So, when he most recently said something completely rude to Bo at dinner about “getting his soccer goal done already” when Bo had spent hours researching and building the thing, Bo was furious. Luckily, he contained his anger but told Brody how mad that made him when he was doing something nice for him. Instantly, Brody knew he shouldn’t have said it and looked ashamed.

He was sent upstairs to start the bedtime routine. When I went into his room to check on him, he was crying. He said that he “regretted saying that”, and I know he did. I told him that we all say things we don’t mean. Then, I simply said he needed to fix this and left. I didn’t tell him what to say or do next. I didn’t continue lecturing. He needed to feel bad and sort through things on his own.

After a few minutes, I overheard him go to Bo in our bedroom. He burst into tears and said he was sorry, and that he didn’t mean it. (Success.)

I really do not believe in making kids apologize if they are not sincerely sorry. But, I also really believe that feeling remorse for mistakes you’ve made and then fixing it is such a valuable life skill. It’s one that doesn’t come easily as our egos don’t want to lose. No one likes admitting that we are wrong.

What Anna and Brody are achieving this school year is humility and responsibility. Every time they have come to me within the past 6 months and told me that they are sorry on their own, I have felt proud. And, when they choose to tell me what they know they have done wrong, I know we are moving towards accepting our faults and becoming better people.

This year in my small group counseling sessions, I came up with 3 simple steps to resolve a problem.

Acknowledge– accept and acknowledge what you’ve done is wrong or hurtful. Say is out loud. Admit it!

Apologize– say you’re SORRY like you mean it. “I am sorry.”

Aim to please– then, decide what you can do to make that person happy. Stop making excuses and think about what will make it right! Take action; don’t just feel sorry. Do something to make it better.

These 3 A’s are just something many people don’t do. But if more people did, think about how much more quickly we could move on and grow. It works. When my children have made mistakes or just been ungrateful and then they realized they shouldn’t have acted that way, they have begun to repair. They have been moving away from the me-world and into the we-world.

As a mother, I appreciate this so much! A heartfelt “I’m sorry” can go a long way. Steps to show you care about your actions make others like, trust, and forgive you. Doing something that makes someone else happy builds closer relationships. We are not perfect and I know Brody and Anna will continue to test limits and make mistakes. But, I feel good about where they are heading, towards a healthy balance of personal wants and the needs and consideration of others.

They get an A from me for being super kids!

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Oh, the joys of sibling rivalry! I always wanted a boy first, to be the protective, cool big brother. Be careful what you wish for because this dream came true, but it hasn’t been sweet vision I imagined! While my son may be the Golden boy at school, he’s a very different person at home. Like many kids, he’s moody, he saves his worst for home, and his sister just gets on his nerves for no good reason at all.

It truly hits are soon as he sees his sister and interacts with her for the first time in the day after school. There’s no ‘hi’, no sweet hug, no positive anything at all. We don’t even make it to the car, most days, before they’re already at each other. Usually, but not always, it’s him wanting to aggravate her (I think it’s become his favorite hobby lately!). Using his little sister to take his daily frustrations and anger out on has become part of his daily routine, and maybe mission.Then, she gets mad and retaliates. And so on, and so forth. It’s so fun especially after dealing with many angry and fighting children all day long.

There are consequences for behaviors such as hitting, kicking, body-slamming, and name-calling (which is usually her).While this doesn’t happen a lot, it does happen more than I’d like to deal with. This week, my straight-A son has been a pill. He’s basically unhappy whenever he’s at home, and he even admitted this to me last night.

He’s angry with me for giving him consequences and thinks I’m so much nicer to Anna. He proceeded to explain that:

I’m just reacting to the way you treat me.

Huh….. (we’ve always thought he’d make a good lawyer with the way he likes to argue and insist it’s always someone’s else’s fault!) But, I liked the way he was thinking and this turned into a somewhat productive and calm conversation.

Good begets good. While I agreed that yes, I am indeed treating her differently and maybe even nicer, it’s because she’s being nicer to me. What I disagreed on was who started it. Is he reacting to me, or am I reacting to his behavior?

Which came first? The chicken or the egg?

It’s the same way between students and teachers, friends, spouses, and family members. There’s an energy between people. We want it to be positive and produce more positive interactions and reactions but we can often times get caught in a negative cycle. Who started it? YOU started it! It’s easier to blame than to accept you’re part of the problem.

When we’re annoyed, or frustrated, or irritable, we are quick to point the finger. There’s been a lot of finger-pointing this week and, then, more unhappy, moody behavior. So, I sat on his floor and chatted with him about what he meant. He pointedly said he hasn’t been happy at home this week (he’s been grounded all week). He admitted he doesn’t act like he’s been acting at school. He listens, is kind, and does his work at school. (…..We’re just hoping for for some of this at home…just give us something!)

What started as frustration with me, then jealousy with Anna, then turned into stress over an essay he has to write at school, Brody explained. You see, the more I listened calmly, the more he wanted to vent. We all have hard weeks when the little stressors seem like mountains and not molehills. And, we should all have someone to talk to and vent to.

Reacting negatively to someone’s negative actions is natural, but is it always productive? Asking yourself, what part do I play?, leads to a better, reflective place.  I’ve learned that when we just punish, and react, there’s no room for growth and change. There’s not going to motivation to change if a child already believes that you think they’re bad and going to make more bad choices. Now, Brody knows that I don’t think he’s a bad kid but some weeks, he needs (we all need) some extra reassurance that someone believes in them.

Brody did have a point. We all play a part. They will just react and keep on reacting to you if everyone’s grumpy. And, you can’t teach and listen if you are still angry. We have to forgive and move on. It’s hard but we have to be the grown-ups and make wiser choices, not reactive choices. I’m so fortunate to have a son who will talk to me and explain how he feels, whether I agree with it or not. It’s good practice for leading a happy and productive life that’s moving forward instead of staying stuck in a reactive place.

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#counselormom

#practicingwhatIpreach!

#stubborngenes

#backontrack

Raise ‘Em Right

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Interesting that I first started writing this draft on October 3, 2015 after another mass shooting on an Oregon campus. I didn’t finish my thoughts and now sadly, the thoughts are just as relevant today after another hate crime by another American (not refugee) lunatic yesterday in Colorado. The most recent mass shooting is yet another reminder that this society is hurting and in need to reform in more than one way! No, this isn’t about gun laws and reform, which have been needing to change since Columbine. That is one huge piece of the puzzle but that’s not all. What is missing from these shooter’s lives? What makes one so psychotic? What leads one so far down this path of despair that they choose to kill others. How do they become this depressed? And, what can we do as a society to stop these senseless acts of hate?

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Like many of our societal ills, this is a symptom of a larger problem. “Guns don’t kill people. People do.” This statement has always gotten under my skin because I’d like to remove the trigger. There are a lot of crazy people, people who are unpredictable, vengeful, angry, and lonely. I’d like to know my family is protected from them. Making it difficult to get a weapon is definitely one way we could obviously do that. When I see automatic weapons for sale on Facebook through West Knoxville trading so you can go to your local Walmart parking lot to purchase, I cringe. It’s just too easy.

Over half of mass killings, defined as killing 4 or more, are committed by family members. Less than half are complete strangers. Most killers are white males, with black males coming in second. What do they all have in common? They’re nuts. Most have mental illness such as schizophrenia. Most are described as ‘loners’. And, they have guns, many guns.

But what’s just as frustrating is not doing anything to prevent these men from wanting to kill others. They are sick. They are mentally ill and many times, there are many signs that they could do something dangerous. Many are isolated,  holed up, don’t work, don’t have close relationships, and owns lots of guns. We should know they are not healthy. WHY isn’t anything being done!???

Because this society doesn’t value prevention. We are all about band aides. We jump to give pills instead of preventing the sickness. We want the quick-fix because we are so rushed. We don’t believe in mental health and don’t value or pay mental health workers enough. We cut School Counselors first. We let people slip through the cracks. We spend our tax dollars on prisons instead of education and mental health. It’s illogical. More importantly, it isn’t working. The stats are going up and not down.

We need more fathers in their children’s lives. Many troubled children I work with have a lack of a positive male role model in their lives. I’ve heard more than one kid tell me that their dad or their uncle is in jail, and they’ll probably be in jail one day too. It’s their norm, which I’m quick to point out is not a normal goal! Then, there are needy children have a father that is unreliable or absent in their life. Children need these dads, and their mothers need them too.

Overall, we need to be more connected. We need more involved parents, positive outlets, mentors, and opportunities for youth to discover a talent and passion so that we are raising successful, happy, and caring individuals who have feelings of self-worth and don’t feed themselves with hate. We need to teach empathy and tolerance, and we need to in schools everyday. We need to value  empathy and social/emotional health as much, if not more than, math and language arts! We need to encourage our kids to reach out or just speak up if they notice a peer that’s hurting.

Prevention is the key; we need to prevent raising more crazy people! If we raise kids to value and accept others, and to also feel confident and simply satisfied with their lives then they won’t be filled with hate.  Everyone needs to feel like their life has purpose.

In this heavily armed country, for every one American killed from terrorism inside and out of the U.S., 1000 will be killed in the U.S. from a firearm. Over 30,000 U.S. citizens will die because of an armed U.S. citizen snaps this year. Now, that’s a problem that’s not instantly going away so we should focus on the manageable, the children who are still forming their values and building a future. They are the ones we need to protect most, and they’re the future citizens of this society.

Starting with your little family, have a conversation about guns with your children. Talk about ‘what would you do’ scenarios with them. Teach them about empathy and encourage generosity too. Express your concern over massive amount of assessments in school to state officials and your local school board, giving your children’s teachers more time to really get to know their students and to have time to teach important life skills too. Also, advocate for Mental Health workers and School Counselors 🙂 who have ridiculously large case loads, especially in Knox County Schools. And, finally and most importantly, love and raise your own kids right! Feelings of connectedness and self-worth will create loving, helping, and productive citizens.

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It’s a Little Problem

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Something clever I have taught ‘my kids’ in guidance class for as long as I can remember is to distinguish between a big and a little problem. It starts in kindergarten and goes all the way to fifth grade, sadly: the tattling. Kids want to make themselves look better by making others looks worse. Wait, adults wouldn’t do something so childish too, would they!? Or, sometimes, the student really believes telling on a classmate is necessary, that it’s helpful.

So, I teach them the 3 D’s (and this is not an original thought).

1. Is it dangerous?

2. Is it destructive?

3. Is it disturbing? (as in an uncomfortable touch)

The last one is a little challenging to teach the younger students because they may feel disturbed by a peer tapping their pencil. The disturbing action is one that makes you feel uncomfortable, strange, or like “something’s not right here” (something a veteran counselor taught me). But, overall, the 3 D’s cover all major problems that make it necessary to get help. They are a BIG deal, as I say. I teach my own children this too but it’s way more challenging at home when it seems like a discipline to tell on the sibling!

If there’s a little problem, then I teach the students to “blow it away” like a dandelion. I have them practice visualization, picturing themselves picking the dandelion and slowing blowing the seeds away, like their problem. The goal is to have them take a deep breathe, think, and then decide what steps are necessary instead of automatically assuming the worst. This technique works great with anger management as well. It’s so simple, yet so difficult for children and especially adults to do.

As parents and teachers too, we model ways to manage frustrations and anger. We may been freaking out and overeating to everyday, simple stress and showing our kids that they should too. It’s a lesson I work to remind myself.

Is this a big or little problem? Will this matter tomorrow, or better yet in a month?

If not, then take steps to relax. Some people naturally roll with stress better than others, while many of us require conscious effort to choose how to handle what we may consider stress. Recently, I even laughed and reminded a rude stranger in Kroger. I was pushing my cart around a corner, maybe a little fast because I walk fast, and another woman was coming around at the same time. While I immediately smiled, swerved, and said, “Opps, I’m sorry”, she rolled her eyes, frowned and kept on. How rude and unnecessary! I laughed and responded without thinking, “It’s a little problem!”, to which I got no response by the way. When I was young, I remember my aunt Kar smiling and waving like crazy if anyone got road-rage and honked at her. I always thought that was so cool, strange, and funny.

There really are a lot of big things in the world to stress about but I choose to focus on the good too, and mostly. It doesn’t help us or anyone around us if we overreact to ‘little‘ things. We can choose to show our kids when we need to worry and how we can choose to let the small things go. It does take practice and effort. It can be challenging when you feel adrenaline pumping and want to react. Really, though, it benefits us physically, spiritually, and of course, emotionally when we “blow it away” and keep on.

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