When is time to press the pause button?

my kids at the beach

Just breathe!

One of my kids’ principals from elementary school talked about the “mother bear” syndrome. It’s that creature that comes out of our skin when we think our child is being harmed. The mother bear may come out when our child is being bullied, or comes home upset about something their teacher or coach said.

I’m sure we’re all familiar with that gut-wrenching feeling when we want to protect our child. It starts with a burst of adrenaline and may result into marching into the principal’s office or picking up the phone to chew out a parent about their kid being mean.

In a parenting article, ‘To make sound decisions, employ the power of the pause,” in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman offer tips that will help us as parents as well as in the rest of our lives. Here’s an excerpt:

The pause is the space you intentionally create in your mind to pull back from circumstances and retreat into a quiet corner of your psyche — a place where you can calm your nerves, think about the end result that you want to achieve and plan the steps you will take to reach it.

The pause can mean the difference between reacting out of raw emotion and responding out of rational choices. Often, it can mean the difference between strengthening and ruining relationships.

Few things spark an explosion in our emotional state like a conflict can. But when we pause, sometimes even excusing ourselves from the room, we can take slow, deep breaths to calm our bodies and regulate the fight or flight hormones that are coursing through our veins. We can pray or meditate for a few minutes, and then we can ask ourselves a few critical questions:

– What emotions am I feeling?

– What triggered these emotions?

– What is the root problem here?

– What is my role in fixing the problem?

– What is the best outcome in this situation?

– What is the best way to reach that outcome?

Instead of reacting to a situation from the intense emotions sparked by the conflict, the pause gives you the advantage of responding thoughtfully, carefully and calmly.

I used to be an emotional parent who would react at the slightest wrong-doing I perceived. Through the years, I learned to wait at least 24 hours before taking action. Action to me meant sending an email, making a phone call or showing up in person for a face-to-face meeting. Often, after I slept on it, I had clarity. In most cases, the problem went away on its own. Then a new one would pop up. Can you imagine how much energy and outrage it would take if I reacted to every uncomfortable moment my kids encountered?

Now, I use the pause in my own life if there’s something I need to deal with. I weigh the pros and cons, decide what outcome I want–and if it’s worth the energy to pursue at all. It makes life run smoother in the long run. I’ve written about this here.

My kids call and ask for advice on how to handle a situation at work or with a roommate. I offer the same advice of taking a pause. Wait a day or two before making a decision. When we’re flooded with emotion, it’s hard to make the right one.

I think we can also use the pause button when interacting with our kids. If they are upset or angry with us, it’s time to press that pause button. We need to be the adult and not react in the heat of the moment or when we’re feeling hurt. A lot of pain can be avoided by taking a moment to reflect and think before we speak.

From the article:

As parents, we can also coach our kids through this process. When we see emotions begin to spike, we can gently pull the child aside, help them calm down and then walk them through the same problem solving questions that we would ask ourselves.

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Walking outside and enjoying nature can put things in perspective.

Do you have any other tips to offer for making rational decisions when we get upset? Please share below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

About That Unsolicited Parenting Advice…

brother and sister playing at the beach

My kids when they like to eat chicken fingers.

When my kids were young, I’d often get unsolicited advice from well-meaning friends and family members — and even complete strangers. I read with interest this article by Meghan Moravcik Walbert called Keep Every Single Parenting Opinion to Yourself for a website called Lifehacker.com. 

We’re living in a particularly divided country right now, but we are lucky to still have one great rage-inducing unifier among parents: We do not want your unsolicited opinions about our parenting. This is especially true if you do not have children of your own. (Dogs don’t count.)

I have to believe author Jill Filipovic simply wanted to argue about something unrelated to the literal end of our democracy when she tweeted this sparkling gem of an opinion recently:

Jill Filipovic
@JillFilipovic
I know the thing parents hate most is when non-parents assert what they will do as parents which is inevitably smug and incorrect, but I am 100% sure I will never assent to a “kid’s menu” or the concept of “kid food.”

In a follow-up tweet, she rhetorically ponders, “Do you think children in most of the world order off of a ‘kids menu’ and survive primarily off of chicken fingers and plain pasta?”

It seems her argument is that kids should have more variety in their diets, ignoring that kids’ menus exist to offer smaller, significantly cheaper portions of food for children to make it affordable and less wasteful when families go out to eat. But see, this is why parenting opinions from non-parents is so universally grating: They’re blind to fundamental aspects of parenting that are obvious to those of us who have actually done it.

Yes, you’re very smart, and you’ll introduce your kids to lots of flavors, and they’ll always eat exactly what you eat because there’s no way you’ll cook one meal for you and a separate meal for them. If you become a parent, what’s more likely is that we can look forward to hearing you say, “No, honey, you have to buy the dinosaur-shaped nuggets; he doesn’t like the regular ones.”

I have one dear friend, well more than one, who constantly criticized the bland
“kid food” I served my children. We would go to a friend’s and stay for a long weekend and I’d bring food for my kids to eat — things I knew they’d like. Yes, my groceries included chicken fingers. My friend didn’t understand why my kids wouldn’t want to consume her kale with quinoa or homemade chile rellenos. She’d point out another friend of hers who had kids who loved to eat all her veggies and her adult flavored dishes. My kids liked carrots, snap peas and the like — especially dipped in ranch dressing. At a young age, their taste buds were more sensitive to spice. It wasn’t long before they grew into more adult diets and indulged in sushi and spicy Mexican food. As adults they love to eat vegetables and they cook healthy and interesting meals. No, they are not living off of chicken fingers.

The point is that I’d get criticized by friends and family members who didn’t have kids, or had children who were infants or teenagers. They weren’t dealing with kids three to seven years old and they either hadn’t been through those experiences or they forgot about those glorious days.

I used to ask my kids what they wanted to eat. My daughter always said chicken. Once I made pan-fried sole for dinner. She said, “Now this is the chicken I like!” That was eye-opening to me, because I didn’t realize that she was calling most foods “chicken!”

One of my friends had a son a couple years younger than my kids. We were at a family-fun restaurant and her toddler son kept jumping out of the high chair. She said, “I really owe you an apology. All of those things I criticized or tried to give you advice about — I had no idea!”

There’s more great examples in the article about unsolicited advice and how parents think they would NEVER raise their voice at their children (who aren’t born yet). Read the entire article for yourself here. It’s an entertaining read.

Here’s another article I’ve written about unsolicited advice. Read it here.

children climbing on me at the beach

Life at the beach with two young kids.

What funny experiences have you had with people giving you unsolicited parenting advice?

Top Tip for Parents: Don’t Speak

 

swimmer in pool

My daughter swimming on her own during vacation.

“The first rule of sports (and all) parenting: Don’t speak,” is a great article I read 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 had 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.

By telling them, “But you looked so good” you are expressing that you aren’t listening to how your child feels. If they are disappointed and we try to make them feel better, we end up making them believe their feelings aren’t valid or important to us.

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?

 

teammates cheering swimmer at PAC 12s

Cheering on a teammate at the PAC 12 Champs.

 

 

Youth Sports: If I Knew What I Know Now

swimming pool in Palm Springs

Our beautiful city pool where our team practices.

I made a major mistake as a swim mom. This is a true confession of how I blew it and how I wish I knew years ago what I know today. I’m talking about understanding the role of a swim parent. I listened to a webinar yesterday by Growing Champions for Life’s founder David Benzel. He said he started his not-for-profit because he made so many mistakes as a sports parents and wanted to help others from making the same mistakes.

That’s how I feel, too. That’s why I began writing parenting advice for SwimSwam, the world’s most read swimming site. What I heard yesterday from Benzel made me remember a lot of the mistakes we made — yes, I’m dragging my husband into this, too.

Picture a triangle. In the center of it all is the youth sports team, whether it’s club or school. Your child, the student-athlete, is at the top of the triangle. The left bottom corner is the coach and the remaining corner is the parent. We each have a different role to play. It’s crucial we understand what our role is and not get in the other person’s lane.

For athletes, their role is to have fun, learn new skills and develop character through sports.

For parents, we need to teach character lessons, build family unity and reinforce sports messages.

For coaches, their job is to teach sports skills, build team unity and to reinforce character lessons.

That simple equation of Swimmers swim, Coaches coach and Parents parent hit home. I realized that one big mistake in swim parenting started when the kids were very young. There was a much more experienced swim dad who worked at the same firm with my husband. He told us how great a sport swimming was. He suggested reading up on technique because of the fine details like how a swimmer holds their hand and enters the water could make a difference in how fast they swam. That sounded so fascinating to me and my husband.

That little bit of advice and information opened up a can or worms. We thought it meant IT WAS OKAY TO COACH OUR KIDS. It’s not. It’s very confusing for kids when we are yelling from the sidelines, or telling them to do something a certain way after practice, on the drive home. Their coach may be focusing on something altogether different.

Now that I became a swimmer with my own coach. I understand that he often gives me one or two things to work on. He doesn’t overwhelm me with everything that’s wrong with my stroke. He tries to correct head position, or rotation. Something basic and integral, before moving on to the next “fix.’

As parents, we often have no clue what the coach’s objective is. We don’t know what they are focused on. By inserting ourselves into the wrong lane — the coach’s lane — we can cause confusion for our kids, frustration for us and the coach. I talked to my daughter about how we tried to coach and how wrong that was. She said, “You did forever. You guys never stopped.”

Another reason why it’s bad to put on the coaching hat, when we aren’t the coach, is this: kids want to please their parents. Continual coaching and correcting can make our children believe they have failed us.

Best to focus on telling our kids, “I love to watch you swim.” Tell them how proud you are of their hard work and let them have fun.

my kids and me at PAC 12 swimming champs

At the PAC 12 swimming championships with my son and daughter.

What experiences did you have as a sports parent and did you ever catch yourself coaching when you shouldn’t?

How to help when your child feels down

sad pug

Waffles looks sad, too.

As a parent, have you ever tried to help your child feel better when they’re feeling down — only to find you’re making them more upset or angry?

I have. I seem to do it quite frequently these days with my daughter. She’ll be upset over something, and I try to say something to make her feel better. Our conversations tend to get heated and I get berated for not understanding or for saying the wrong things.

I ran into an article today that is meant for younger kids, but I think I can use some of the advice. It’s from the Harvard Health Blog and called 4 parenting tips to break the negativity loop by Negativity loop accurately describes how I feel when I try to reassure or comfort my daughter and we go down a dark hole. Sperling offers advice on how to use validation so your kids know you’re listening to them.

Here’s an excerpt:

Start by validating emotions

Parents have a lot of wisdom to share with their children, and their advice often is filled with a lot of logic. Unfortunately, that logic tends to backfire when shared with someone experiencing an unhappy emotion, and can make the emotion even stronger. Both children and adults need to feel heard before their ears can open up and hear what else you have to say, so try to validate first before you try to help children appreciate positive aspects of a situation.

Validation allows us all to feel heard. You are not agreeing or disagreeing with the emotion; you’re showing that you see it. For example, if your daughter comes home sulking after scoring two goals in soccer and missing the final one, you might have the urge to say, “Why are you so sad? You scored two goals and looked like you were having so much fun while playing!” Your intention is kind, yet does not match your daughter’s experience. Instead, try reflecting how she is feeling by saying, “You’re disappointed that you didn’t make that final shot.” This acknowledges that your daughter is disappointed without agreeing or disagreeing with her.

Another tip she offers is to practice gratitude. She has several ideas depending on how old your kids are. Click to read more here.

She suggests having your child write three things they are thankful for and she states it will help improve their mood. I read a book called “Flourish” by Martin Seligman who is the Director of the Positive Psychology Center at U Penn. In that book, he described an exercise called the “Three Blessings,” where you write three things in your day that were positive and then write an explanation of why they happened. He found through his studies that the Three Blessings exercise is as effective as meds. I get started with it in the evenings and stick with for a week or two and then I forget about it. I’m going to make an effort to get back to that practice.

angry kat shreds tp

Olive in a negative mood.

How do you stop the negativity loop with your kids?

What we can learn from Sam Darnold’s parents and why I’m a fan

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I wrote this a while ago when Sam Darnold was a quarterback with USC. I liked his low key, humble way about him. Now he’s the QB for the NY Jets and I’m still a fan. As a mom who was engrossed for years as a swim mom, I found Sam’s parents to be exceptional at sports parenting. We can all learn a lot from them. 

They were parents who let their phenom athletically-gifted kid, be just that. A kid. We can learn so much from Sam’s parents regardless of the level of talent our kids have, or what their passions are. 

My husband asked me to read a story from the Bleacher Report about USC Quarterback Sam Darnold. I put him off for a day because frankly, I wasn’t that interested. I finally read it to appease him and found Sam’s story to be fascinating—mainly because of the parenting style of Mike and Chris Darnold.

From childhood through high school, Sam played basketball, football, and baseball. I think he played volleyball, too. His parents let him try and decide what sports he participated in. They didn’t make him specialize or get him private lessons or coaches. In fact, Sam believes his success in football is from playing all different sports and learning a variety of skills. In a refreshing story written by Jeff Perlman, you find out about a dying breed of parents—ones who believe in fun and no pressure. Parents who let their child lead his own life.

“USC’s star quarterback and his parents do not live by the LaVar Ball theory of the universe. They let a multisport supernova grow up into his own man. And that’s why this 20-year-old might be the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL draft.”

Yet the story of Sam Darnold isn’t the story of the modern quarterback, loud and sparkly and created to own the internet’s 24-hour hype machine. Nope, it’s the story of a young man on the verge of superstardom because, not long ago, he was allowed to diversify.

He was allowed to be a kid.

The Darnolds’ Capistrano Beach household is in the heart of south Orange County, where there are youth sports leagues atop leagues atop leagues, and private coaches atop private coaches atop private coaches.

In Orange County, it’s not uncommon for a nine-year-old pitcher to throw sliders and curveballs nine or 10 months of the year—with a father behind the backstop holding a radar gun. It’s not uncommon for a quarterback to play Pop Warner, then a season of flag and then spend the summer under the watchful eye of a $200-an-hour passing guru.

This was not going to happen to Sam.

“My parents,” the quarterback says, “wouldn’t have allowed it.”

On paper, this might come as a surprise. One would be hard-pressed to find a more sports-centric family than the Darnolds. Mike (Sam’s dad) was an offensive lineman at the University of Redlands, Chris (Sam’s mom) a volleyball player at Long Beach City College. Sam’s older sister Franki starred in volleyball at the University of Rhode Island and three of his cousins—Allie, Michele and A.J.—also participated in collegiate volleyball. Sam’s late grandfather, Dick Hammer, played basketball at USC and was on the 1954 team that went to the Final Four. He was also a member of the 1964 U.S. Olympic men’s volleyball team.

Put simply, organized athletics are a big deal in the Darnold world and have been for decades.

“But,” says Chris, “they’re not everything. We’ve always tried to keep things in perspective. Yes, our children have always loved playing sports. But around here, in this part of California, it too often becomes live and die. That’s a big mistake in my opinion. It has to be fun.”

“One day you open your eyes and it’s, ‘Holy cow, your son is in this position,’” Mike says. “I mean, it’s crazy, right? Crazy, crazy, crazy—one in a million.”

He pauses. Though Chris is acknowledged by family members as the emotional one, the father has been showing his soft side of late. He insists he never cared whether his children played sports or an instrument or worked a job—as long as they were involved and happy and tried different things. But to have a son as USC’s starting quarterback; to have a son who is a Heisman Trophy front-runner; to have a son who is humble and decent and respectful?

“Say what you want,” Mike says. “Sam’s not flashy, he’s not a yeller, he’s not a trophy collector, a bragger. But I feel like we worked hard to raise our kids the right way. And it’s paid off.”

I believe the Darnolds have lessons for many sports parents, myself included. Of course, they had an exceptionally athletic son who could have been recruited in basketball, baseball or football. But more than that, they raised a humble, balanced kid. They are proud of him as a person, not just as a star athlete. Their attitude and parenting style helped develop Sam into the man he is and will become.

I hope you take the time to read the entire Bleacher Report article about Sam Darnold and his parents. There’s also another great article in the Los Angles Times called “As expectations swell, USC’s Sam Darnold finds comfort at home near the beach” by Zach Helfand.

I’m excited to watch him play football this year. Here’s a YouTube of his 2016 highlights.

Click here to watch a recent interview with Sam Darnold by CBS’s Allie LaForce.

What do you think about kids specializing in one sport at an early age?

 

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photo of Sam Darnold from the Bleacher Report

 

Why are kids taking longer to grow up?

Have you noticed that our adult children are taking longer to fly the nest than previous generations? When I was young, it was common for kids to leave home after high school graduation. In my hometown, many got married after high school or college and started their families by their early 20s. Today, it seems kids aren’t grown up without our support until mid to late 20s. Add the pandemic to the mix, and I’ve read that more adult children than ever have moved back in with mom and dad.

high school students prom picture

Senior prom–the kids got together in person.

Several articles published reference a study by San Diego State University professor of psychology Jean M. Twenge. She studied millions of kids to come up with the fact that millennials are taking longer to grow up than previous generations. Twenge doesn’t make a judgment on whether that’s good or bad, she just states it as a fact.

In a talk I attended a few years ago for my daughter’s college, in one of the sessions led by an Associate Vice President of Student Affairs, Psychologist Kari Ellingson said the same thing. She said when we were young, kids matured into adults at age 19, 20 and 21. Today, those numbers are delayed to 26, 27 and 28.

In an article from the New York Times, called “The curse of the helicopter parent” Twenge and her study are cited:

New York – Parents may still marvel at how fast their children grow up, but a new study finds that US teenagers are maturing more slowly than past generations.

In some ways, the trend appears positive: high school children today are less likely to be drinking or having sex compared with their counterparts in the 1980s and 1990s.

But they are also less likely to go on dates, have a part-time job or drive – traditional milestones along the path to adulthood.

So is that slower development “good” or “bad”? It may depend on how you look at it, the researchers say.

The findings, published online in the journal Child Development this week, are based on surveys done between 1976 and 2016.

Together, they involved more than 8 million US children in the 13-19 age group.

Over those years, the study found, teenagers gradually became less likely to try “adult” activities – including drinking, having sex, working, driving, dating and simply going out (with or without their parents).

By the 2010s, only 55% of high school seniors had ever worked for pay – versus roughly three-quarters of their counterparts in the late 1970s to the 1990s.

Similarly, only 63% had ever been on a date. That compared with 81% to 87% of high school seniors in the 1970s through 1990s.

In the San Diego Tribune, contact reporter Bradley J. Fikes wrote: “Teens are growing up more slowly — and they seem OK with it.”

Mid- to -late teens are delaying the classic milestones of adulthood, namely working, going out without their parents, driving, dating, having sex, and drinking alcohol, according to four decades of surveys reviewed for the study, led by San Diego State University professor of psychology Jean M. Twenge.

Today’s 18-year-olds exhibit similar milestone behaviors as did 15-year-olds in the late 1970s, Twenge said. Moreover, they’re mostly doing this voluntarily — parents aren’t imposing this delayed independence.

The spread of smartphones, which allow teens to socialize from the safety of their homes, is part of the explanation, said Twenge. The author of “Generation Me,” she has released a new book on the generation born after 1995 called “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.”

When I look back on my teenage years compared to my kids, we had a whole lot more freedom. We were out all the time and our parents didn’t seem to care where we were. In fact, my parents were enjoying weekends on our boat or at the cabin and would leave my brother and me alone when we were teens. The same was true for a lot of my friends’ parents, as well. They didn’t keep track of us on a minute by minute basis. They also didn’t track us on “find my iPhone.” There weren’t any cell phones to call home and they just said to be home by a certain time.

I wonder how much influence our technology has today over our kids not growing up so fast? They aren’t getting together with friends to interact in person. They can do that from the comfort of their own bedrooms. Plus, they have all the entertainment they can consume, right on their iPhones. We helicopter parents keep a close eye on our kids and we know where they are at all times. By contrast, our parents told us to get outside and not come back until dinner. Between us and iPhones, our kids aren’t getting real-world experiences.

Everyone I knew growing up had some sort of part-time job in high school–even if it was working for their family’s business. I worked in my dad’s dental office and my brother bagged groceries at the local Safeway. Today, I know of very few kids with part-time jobs. My own son worked several jobs, but he was one of the few. He was an assistant lifeguard, then a coach for our team. He tutored in math and was paid to maintain a website. Very few of my kids’ friends had jobs after school. Teens today must not need to earn money because we are providing for all their needs and wants.

On the bright side, it’s good our kids aren’t running around at night unsupervised, drinking and having sex as teens. Also, they actually like hanging out with their parents!

 

mother and daughter sailing

Hanging out together in the summer.

Here’s a recent story I wrote that included psychologist Jean M. Twenge.

 

What are your thoughts about why kids are not growing up as fast as we did?