What My Kids Learned While Staying Wet

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This was one of my first blog posts. This is also one of the pieces that I wrote about how positive swimming has been for me, my husband and kids. I hope you enjoy it!

One of the most important things they learned is perseverance. That stick-with-it never give up attitude that is ingrained in their brains after years of trying for swim goals and just missing them. Then trying and trying again and again until they make them. The very nature of swimming 50 weeks a year, six days a week, makes kids tough.

I’ll never forget my daughter’s frustration of missing her junior national cut by fractions of a second for two years. She didn’t give up. She worked hard. She would still miss.

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“Are you kidding me!” She said looking at the scoreboard to see her missing the coveted junior national cut by mere tenths of a second after dropping three full seconds on an 800-meter freestyle race.

The next race, she said, “I’m so done with this!”  She dove in with more determination than ever, and yes, she made her cut, dropping seconds on her 200-meter free and coming in second place to one of the fastest girls in the country.

So, what does all this have to do with life?  Take her hardest class, AP Stats.  She knows that she can do it. She just has to put in the work and time. That may mean getting up and into the classroom at 6 a.m. for extra help, rather than staying warm tucked into her bed. But, she does it — all on her own — without me suggesting it. Her teacher told me, “I know that she will do whatever it takes to be successful, so I am not worried about where her grade is today.”

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My son also swam. He worked so hard for every goal, trying to qualify for meets through ten years of year-round swimming. I’ll never forget his determination as an 8th grader. I was a chaperone for his Washington DC trip with his class. He knew he’d be missing too much swimming, so he would run up and down through the Mall, up and down the steps to the Lincoln Memorial, while everyone else strolled. At night in the hotel, he ran the gray cement staircases, up and down the five flights.

When he returned to the pool, he did it! He made his first Junior Olympic time.

Now he’s in college and he knows how to persevere. He wanted to work at the campus radio station. He put in his application as a freshman and was declined. As a junior he has been assigned a time slot on the FM station, moving up from his prior show on the AM.

You can listen to his show on kcsb here Fridays at 4 a.m. PST.

He wanted to be in the College of Creative Studies, “a graduate school for undergraduates.” He applied and was devastated when he was declined. I told him to move on, it was okay, get a ‘normal’ degree. But, he didn’t give up. The next year he applied again and was accepted. Learn more about the UCSB CCS program here. Just click.

I’ve had friends ask why my kids spend so much time in the pool, aren’t they missing out?

I beg to differ.  Spending most of their lives in the water has served them well. Being mostly wet has given them skills for life.

Find a local swim club here on the USA Swimming website.

 

 

Photo credits: The Palm Springs, CA Pool — one of the most beautiful views while swimming ever. My daughter diving wearing the yellow cap. Yellow-capped swimmers sometime at some club meet. And a great meme for a distance swimmer.

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The Pitfalls of Perfectionism and How We Can Help Our Kids Deal With It

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My son with his bandmates at his California Scholarship Federation banquet where he was named valedictorian.

In a recent article in the Washington Post called “Perfectionism among teens is rampant (and we’re not helping)” by Rachel Simmons, the author has three good tips for parents to help their kids with feelings of pressure and anxiety which stem from perfectionism.

I’m a perfectionist and I slave over my articles looking for typos. I come unhinged when one gets by me. Then, I expected nothing less than greatness from my kids–who by the way–didn’t let me down. When my son wanted the title of valedictorian and set out a plan his freshman year, I was there to help him make it. I’d remind him of his goal and to not let up his senior year during his quest. My daughter’s goals were in swimming and she was hard on herself and would turn frustration and disappointment in herself into fuel to try again and succeed.

I remember back in the days when I’d volunteer in the classroom, I’d watch kids who couldn’t finish their work if their life depended upon it. They’d write a sentence and then erase it, repeatedly. It was never perfect enough for them and they’d end up with a smudgy mess, which caused them more distress. My heart ached for these kids, and I tried to let them know they could just write anything down and it would be okay. My son struggled with his college essays because he said, “This is the most important thing I’ve ever written” and he would stare at a blank computer screen for eight hours each day.

Here’s what I learned from the WAPO article about perfectionism and how it leads to anxiety and depression. However, there are ways we can help our kids overcome the problems with perfectionism:

 I’ve spent the last two years talking with parents about the unprecedented stress and anxiety plaguing their adolescents — nearly half of whom, according to recent studies of college students, report feeling “overwhelmed by all I had to do.” Our conversations often end with parents expressing a mournful wish: “I just want her to be happy,” they tell me. “But she puts so much pressure on herself.”

As parents, we say this phrase from a place of good intention. We want to signal to our children that we don’t need or expect them to be perfect, and that we will love them no matter what. Yet the very phrasing of the statement — “on herself” — lays blame for distress at the feet of our teens, rather than a culture that is stoking the flames of their anxiety. It puts the onus for change on kids – just chill, we seem to be saying, and you’ll be okay! – letting the rest of us off the hook, even as we may unwittingly exacerbate their distress.

In fact, we may be making it worse. A new study called “Perfectionism Is Increasing Over Time” finds that young people are more burdened than ever by pressure from others, and that includes parents. Psychologists Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill found that unhealthy perfectionism has surged among young adults, with the biggest increase seen in those who feel pressured by the expectations of others. Perfectionism, the study’s authors say, is a mix of excessively high personal standards (“I have to excel at everything I do”) and intense self-criticism (“I’m a complete failure if I fall short”). In its unhealthiest forms, perfectionism can lead to eating disorders, depression, high blood pressure and thoughts of suicide.

Stop using those words. Parents might do well to consider a different tack. “It’s so hard right now to feel like anyone is successful enough,” you might say. “We are all feeling the pressure, and I hope you’ll tell me if I can do anything to make things easier.”

Look at the big picture. No matter how much you urge them to relax, and how much you mean it, your child probably grapples with highly stressful environments away from home, whether it’s where they go to school, the teams they play on, or the peers in their social circle. Most teenagers I know long for empathy from their parents about their struggle. Validating how tough it is out there will go a long way.

Make sure your actions match your words. Many teenagers I’ve talked to call their parents’ bluff when told that they just “want you to be happy.” They suspect what their parents secretly want is a high GPA. New research is confirming teens’ claims, finding that, when it comes to parents, there is often a split between what we tell our children — “just do your best!” — and what we may actually believe.

I believe the article I wrote last week about being “good enough” is important. It’s okay not to be the most outstanding, but more important to be balanced in life with love, work, hobbies and enjoying what you do.

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My daughter with some of her spoils from swimming.

 

How do you help your children overcome the tendencies of perfectionism?

Parents shouldn’t dwell on children’s problems

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When kids are little, they have smaller problems.

If you’re a parent like me, we tend to get caught up in our children’s problems–whether it’s a failing grade on a test or hearing that someone talked behind their back. When my kids are unhappy, I’m unhappy and I want to: 1. Find out as much information as I can and 2. Go to war or solve their problem. I’d start off by asking my child a whole bunch of questions so I could sort out what was going on for myself. Then I’d often call someone to vent, like a close friend or family member, to get their opinion and ask for advice. What was the point of all this talk? Was I really helping my child–or not?

In a Wall Street Journal article called “Don’t Overdiscuss Your Teen’s Problems” by Jennifer Breheny Wallace, she says “Well-meaning parents can sometimes dwell too long on a child’s difficulties with friends and school, doing more harm than good.”

 

You can read a few excerpts here:

When the mean girls (or boys) strike at school, many parents naturally want to ask about every last detail—and then they continue to check in to see how the situation is going. A growing body of research suggests, however, that dwelling on such problems can do a child more harm than good.

Talking through a child’s troubles is healthy in moderation. But when children routinely engage in what psychologists call “co-rumination”—excessively rehashing and speculating about problems with a parent or a friend—it can amplify stress, impair judgment and increase the risk of developing anxiety and depression.

Co-rumination involves continuously repeating details or feelings about a situation, or discussing it again even when no new information is being introduced, says Amanda Rose, a psychology professor at the University of Missouri, who developed the concept in a 2002 journal article. “Parents who co-ruminate with their children are on the right path in building warmth and closeness in their relationships,” she says. “They just need to learn to stop some conversations sooner.”

Now that I’m no longer on the daily parenting track and am an empty nester, I can look back and realize that I was a co-ruminator and probably should have stopped conversations much sooner. My daughter said I liked to rehash the rehash. I had an overzealous opinion of what was right or wrong and I never could leave a wrong untouched. If I believed a teacher or so-called “friend” hurt my kids, I became the mama grizzly. In reality, kids do behave badly and can say mean things to each other. It doesn’t make it okay, but replaying it with your child is definitely not going to make them feel better.

I am learning to listen and not say too much. The problems my kids encounter today, I do want them to share with me, but I’m not here to solve anything. I can’t wave a magic wand and make it better. They are on their way to becoming independent adults and can figure out what they need to do. When my son calls up and says, “I need your advice on something,” I mostly listen. He wants someone to discuss an issue with and usually comes up with his own solution. He’s asking for a sounding board, not a problem solver.

 

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I miss hanging out every day with my kiddos.

 

What is your opinion about discussing problems with your kids? How do you approach a situation where they’ve been hurt and are unhappy?

About Those New Year’s Resolutions…

 

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How can I be a better parent to these two this year?

January is a great time to think about how we can be better—whether it’s nutrition, working out, cleaning closets, quitting bad habits, or getting more work done. It’s also an ideal time to reflect on what’s working and what’s not. I try to set realistic goals for the New Year and not something too huge or unrealistic. It amazes me how the time flies by and stuff I was sure to get done by summer managed to get by me—again!

I ran into a slew of parenting tips to start the New Year. If you browse through daily newspapers and blogs, all sorts of parents will tell you how to be a better parent in 2018. In The Herald-Tribune from Florida, two moms with nine kids between them, Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman, wrote “PARENTING: The goal of the elementary years is independence.” Although their article focuses on the elementary years, it’s something I can still work on with my kids. They are in transition points in their life, becoming adults. Independence is something they crave, yet they still want to be pampered and taken care of by mom and dad. Here’s some of the advice from Jenni and Jody:

 

“Most people embrace the idea of goal setting just before the new year, especially when it comes to personal, professional and financial growth. But how about setting goals for our children’s growth?

If you have an elementary aged child, this is the perfect time to set some goals for your child’s independence.

For starters, the elementary years are the training ground for learning to take care of themselves and their things. It’s the season when they develop habits of brushing their teeth, washing their hands, making their beds and keeping their space clean and organized.

Life is busy and often it’s easier to pick up the toys or do the dishes ourselves. But if we start the new year with the goal of helping our kids become independent, it can prevent us from doing things for our children that they should be learning to do for themselves.

This means taking the time to carefully teach them these skills and then coach them along as they become more and more proficient. In the end, it will save time as we nurture and cultivate independent kids who can take care of themselves and contribute to the household.

The elementary years are also the time to begin teaching our kids to become academically independent, to take responsibility for their education. It starts by giving them systems and tools that will help them become more mature students.

For example, we can create a checklist for our kids and then help them end each day by cleaning out their backpacks, making sure they have everything they need for the next day and writing down questions to ask their teachers about things they didn’t understand in their homework.

We can also set goals during the elementary years to help our kids learn to advocate for themselves. Of course we always want our children to know they are supported and that, in their homes, they are part of a family (a community) that operates as a team, where everyone is loyal to one another and committed to each other’s success. But that doesn’t mean that we fight our kids’ battles for them. No, our job is to help our kids become independent and learn to effectively stand up for themselves.”

I read “8 resolutions for better parenting in the New Year” By David G. Allan on CNN’s website. He had some good practical advice that starts with being in the moment. I get admonished by my daughter for not paying attention. It’s usually because of my iPhone. I confess that I get busy looking at texts or emails. My son will text me while I’m with my daughter, and she’ll say “I’m here with you now!” A good goal for me in 2018 is to put my phone down! It reminds me of a video by “Smog and Fog” called “Put Your Phone Down.” 

Here are the first three tips out of eight from Allan:

“If you’re looking to improve your parenting, you’re not alone. In my opinion, it’s an essential area of course correction, up there with weight loss, better eating and better spending, arguably more essential.

What’s beautiful about parenting resolutions is that your kids benefit too, and likely your spouse and any potential future grandkids. You get a lot of bang for your resolution buck.
As with any resolution, honestly examine areas where you feel you could be doing better or want to improve. Below are eight parenting resolution thought-starters in categories we all probably need to give more attention in the coming year.

Being there
There’s a lot of talk, many articles and a long shelf of books on mindful parenting. But it all boils down to this: When you’re with your kids, give them full, curious and happy attention.

Be more laissez-faire about some things
You may be burdening yourself with milestones and cultural expectations that really don’t matter if you pause to think about them. Here are some developmental achievements you don’t really need to waste time, energy and anxiety pushing. Rest assured these will almost always work themselves out in due time.

Don’t drive under the influence of your phone
Here comes your PSA: More than 40,000 people died on US roads in 2016, according to National Safety Council estimates. Many roadway fatalities involve drunken driving, speeding and not wearing seat belts (so don’t do any of those things, clearly), but increasingly, accidents are being caused by people texting or talking while driving.

DWD: Driving While Distracted
Fifty-one percent of teens reported seeing their parents checking and/or using their mobile devices while driving, according to a Common Sense Media poll last year. And when you repeatedly model a behavior in front of your kids, that’s called teaching.”

 

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Me and my son in San Francisco.

What are your goals for the New Year? Did you make a list of New Year’s Resolutions?

 

Parent tips for the roller coaster ride of raising teens

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We’re past the roller coaster ride of the teen years. Onward to the quarter-life crisis.

Has any parent not witnessed the eye rolls, backtalk or even a door slam? Most of the time my kids were wonderful. But we had our moments. I especially remember a tough period with my son where I said things I would love to take back. I didn’t mean those words but I was frustrated beyond belief with his behavior. That’s not an excuse, but it’s a pretty accurate assessment that I felt out of control. I heard from one friend that when our kids get ready to leave the nest they work on pushing us away.

Today I read “3 Myths About Your Teen’s Bad Attitude” in Time Magazine by Alan Kazdin and learned that our kids are not acting out on purpose. “Alan Kazdin is Sterling Professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry at Yale University and director of the Yale Parenting Center; he is a former President of the American Psychological Association and teaches a course open to the public on Coursera: Everyday Parenting: The ABCs of Child Rearing.”

According to Kazdin, our young adults are going through development changes and are not in control of how they treat us. Of course, we’d all prefer civility and want our child back, but give it time and space and they will once again be the people we love to be around. In the article, he gives a few tips on how to make the situation better not worse. He says to focus on the positive things and don’t be heavy-handed with punishment. If we rely too much on punishment, our kids may resort to worse actions to escape punishment or pull further away from us. His third tip is to compromise. Find something that you previously said “absolutely not” to and give in. Kazdin also makes the point that the developmental changes take place at different ages with adolescents.

His tips may seem contrary to what you’d like to do, but he says they are effective. Our goal is to change the annoying and troubling behavior of our teens and bring them closer to us, not make it worse.

Here are some excerpts about three myths Kazdin brings up about our adolescents:

3 Myths about Teenage Attitude

1. Your teenager’s behavior is deliberate.

It may be of little consolation, but your teenage daughter has little control over the bad attitude. She is not manipulating you on purpose or spending all that time in her room scheming about new ways to annoy you. In fact, she too is a victim — of all sorts of biological and psychological changes over which she has little control. She is going through a rollercoaster of adolescence, and you are on the ride with her.

As an important example of what is going on, the brain changes are extensive: more rapid development of the brain areas and functions that increase impulsivity, risk-taking and being influenced by peers. Those areas of the brain structure and functioning that we wish would be well established, such as self-control, restraining oneself and making decisions rationally, are coming online more slowly and will not be more fully developed until later adolescence.

2. Reasoning with the teenager will help.

Reason rarely persuades anybody to do things we know we should do — such as exercising or avoiding fast foods. It is even less likely to work with your teenager, considering all those developmental changes.

However, it is wonderful to be reasonable with your teen. It demonstrates for them a way of thinking, handling conflict and solving problems, and it can have longer-lasting effects on how your eventual adult approaches life.

3. Punishment will change the behaviors and attitudes you want to get rid of.

Teenagers may simply isolate themselves even more and have even less time with the family and in the presence of a parent. That will decrease the chances of a positive influence.

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Hiking with my son this past summer. 

How do you handle it when your young adult is rude and no longer wants to hang out with the family?

5 Things That Affect Academics

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My daughter swimming with club teammates during break at the home pool.

I received a letter from my daughter’s University — The Center for Student Wellness — with interesting information for parents of children of all ages.

They said in the letter that they’ve found on their campus five main issues that affect academics:

  1. Stress
  2. Anxiety
  3. Work
  4. Sleep
  5. Cold/flu/sore throat

imgresThe letter went on to explain that while sleep is fourth on the list, sleep affects everything else on the list. I’m not quite sure how they distinguish “stress” from “anxiety”  because they seem to go hand in hand. However, they state that lack of sleep can be mistaken for stress–which in turn can lead to anxiety. That can make your student more susceptible to getting sick–which also will affect academics. They suggest seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Then your child will be in a better mood. Plus, they will score higher on tests and keep a higher GPA!

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As the parent of swimmers, my kids were good sleepers. My daughter still swims and she has no problem falling asleep. Ever. 

My tip for getting enough sleep is simple: Swim! It even works for me. I feel so much better after a good night’s sleep and I’m likely to get more work done and have a positive attitude.

Here are the tips from the University of Utah on getting a good night’s sleep:

  1. Go to bed around the same time every night, and wake up around the same time each morning.
  2. Have a quiet, dark space to sleep in that is not too hot or cold.
  3. Be sure to remove distractions like televisions, iPods, computers, and tablets from bedrooms. Beds shouldn’t be used for activities like reading, watching movies, or listening to music.
  4. Begin powering down lights and electronics about an hour before bed.
  5. Avoid large meals, nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol right before bed.
  6. Limit naps to 20-30 minutes a day.
  7. Engage in regular physical activity.

BINGO! There is it. Number seven. If you have a child in athletics — particularly swimming — your child will sleep. Maybe that’s why they say that swimmers have the highest GPAs of all sports? Even though they get up at the crack of dawn for practice–they’ve had a full night’s sleep.

My kids during break.

My kids during break.

 

How does sleep or lack of sleep affect your day?

One Tip for Parents: Don’t Speak

 

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My daughter swimming on her own during vacation.

I read a great article, “The first rule of sports (and all) parenting: Don’t speak,” in the Washington Post by Nancy Star:

 

Your child doesn’t have to play in the Super Bowl for you to know the feeling. Their team was supposed to win and then they didn’t. What do you do? Being the mother of two girls who played soccer and ran track, I thought I knew the answer: Talk it through. Tell them you love them. Say it’s just a game. Remind them there’s always a next time. Isn’t that what good parenting is all about? Keeping channels of communication open even in tough moments?

Turns out the answer is no. I learned this when I had a “don’t speak” moment.

I understand this all too well. After my kids would have a disappointing swim, I’d try to reassure them. I wanted to take away their hurt and make them feel better. Most often after I’d say, “That wasn’t so bad,” or “You have another swim ahead,” I’d be met with negativity and a statement like “I sucked!”

I’d get a barrage of negativity that would take me by surprise. I never figured out that I wasn’t making it better for my kids, but was making them feel worse. They weren’t ready to talk about a bad swim with me and “hash and rehash,” as my daughter would say. I read in a David Benzel sports parenting book, “From Chump to Champ,” that we should wait for our kids to talk to us. We need to be there and listen. But, if we start the conversation first, even with the best intentions, they’ll probably pull away and stay quiet. They want to please us so much and may take any little thing we say personally, as though they’ve let us down. It’s best to be quiet and listen. They may surprise us and open up more than ever if we let them take the lead.

Here’s more from the Washington Post article with the mom watching her daughter’s varsity soccer team lose their final meet. She received advice from a dad, Peter, who had more experience with soccer parenting and she followed it.

“Their lead slipped to a tie toward the end of the second half. In the last minute of play there was a stumble, scrambling and a goal for the other team.

Parents supplied transportation for home games, so we waited while our daughters gave sullen high-fives to the winners and then huddled with their coach, listening as he shared his disappointment. When he was done they separated and, backpacks slung over shoulders, trudged across the field toward where we stood.

Watching their grim faces approach I wished a meteorologist were present to confirm my suspicion that 22 high school girls who’ve just lost a chance at a state title can change the atmosphere, collectively sucking the light out of the sky. Their fury was frightening.

But Peter had been through this before. “Don’t speak,” he said. As I started to turn my head he added, “Don’t look. Just walk. Go to your car. She’ll find you.”

I tried not to move my lips as I objected. “All I want to say is I’m sorry.”

“Don’t,” he advised. “Don’t speak. Not until she talks to you.”

Because he had been through this before, I listened and walked to my car alone. I felt her before I saw her, walking silently beside me. Reassuring phrases immediately formed in my brain but, channeling Peter, I said nothing.

A moment later I noticed her teammates walking with their parents, mothers mostly, who offered words of consolation. “Are you okay?” and “You played well,” and “There’s always next time.” To me the words sounded gentle and kind.

The girls did not agree. “No,” they snapped, and “I sucked,” and “There won’t be a next time.”

By the time we reached the car, every daughter except mine was crying and the moms were, understandably, annoyed and lashing back. “Why are you yelling at me?” and “Being upset is no excuse for being rude.”

We were silent on the ride home, silent as I turned on to our street. It was when I pulled into the driveway that my daughter finally spoke. “That was such a bad game.”

I nodded.”

How do you handle your children’s athletic or academic disappointment?

 

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Cheering on a teammate at the PAC 12 Champs.