Bullies And Their Friends

There has been so much said about the epidemic of bullying lately, from Ellen DeGeneres’ heartfelt plea to the “It Gets Better” video campaign, that I was beginning to think every angle had been covered. Then I read a post on comedian/actor Patton Oswalt’s website today. You might not know his name, perhaps you recognize his face, but you will surely remember his words because they are powerful and brave and ask you to focus not on the perpetrator or the victim but on the supporters and friends of the bully (profanities abound, just in case you may be offended):

@ 1:33 PM

“I’ve been watching a lot of these “It Gets Better” videos online. I’m glad they exist. I’m glad people are making them. I’d bet, if you could do some sort of poll, you’d find out that saying, “It gets better…” to a younger version of yourself is something that a majority of people would opt to do. The bullied and the bullies.

I was both. Bullied, and then a bully.

So this is my version of an, “It Gets Better” video. Only I’m not addressing it to the bullied. And I’m not addressing it to the bullies, either. I’m addressing it to the bully’s little friends.

Dear Guy Who Hangs Out With the Bully and Eggs Him On –
Good move. Really. I know what you’re doing, and I know how it seems like the smart move for you. ‘Cause I did it, too.

When I was in the fifth grade, I started gaining weight, and by the end of that school year, I was a fat kid. I’d been skinny and oblivious up until then – free time meant running around outside, playing soccer, climbing trees. Summer meant swimming.

But then I got swept up in reading, and movies, and music and other sedentary activities. My mind felt like a blazing stock car engine most days, and I didn’t miss the running around so much. If I could curl up with a good book, or a drawing pad, or an old monster movie on TV, all the better. Pretzels and chips and Cokes had the carbs and sugar to feed my swelling, itching brain – especially when I was re-listening to Devo songs.

By the time middle school started, I had the Victim Kit firmly sewed on. Cystic acne, headgear and braces, man-tits and a stupid haircut. Sixth and seventh grade were no fucking fun for me. Summer camp was torture, swimming pools were humiliation ponds, sports were a whirling wall of razors I didn’t dare approach.

By the time eighth grade rolled around, I’d adjusted my strategy. Figure out who the biggest bullies and abusers were, use my nascent comedy skills to make ‘em laugh and hone their taunts, and become part of the asshole entourage.

It was a survival strategy. I had a hand in tormenting an awkward girl named Robin in my eighth grade personal hygiene class. Also a fat(ter), asthmatic kid with a stutter at YMCA camp whose name I can’t remember and countless, faceless others as I glided painlessly in the wake of a trio of bullies whose names I also can’t remember. I only knew they weren’t bullying me, and were actually glad to see me in the morning, ‘cause here comes a guy who knows seven crueler ways to call someone an asshole or shithead (beyond just “asshole” and “shithead”).

By junior year of high school the braces and headgear came off, I lost weight and my skin miraculously cleared up. I got a girlfriend who taught me how to cut my hair. And I carried around (and still carry) a poison vein of self-loathing.

In someone’s memory – in many people’s memories – I’m a snickering, sneering asswipe who hurt and insulted them while peering out from behind the muscular lats of a bigger, more frightening asswipe. There are times when I firmly believe I should have also ended up like a lot of the bullies – stupid, directionless, job-bound and destined for obscurity, anger and oblivion.

It doesn’t fix a fucking thing, for me, to try my best to take the underdog’s side now. Or to embrace the awkward and outcast. That dark slice of regret and disgust with a younger self will never be erased…”

I hope you take the time to do so; I was really moved. I can’t add much more to what he wrote, except to hope that as parents we are able to teach our children to be strong enough to take the challenge he proposes at the end of his piece. And to do that, we need to model tolerance, respect and understanding so that our children grow up to know not only their own true worth but the worth of every soul they encounter in this world. A tall order to be sure, but one worth striving for.

Don’t Miss This: Dr. Wendy Mogel’s Lecture!

Many of you may know Dr. Wendy Mogel, internationally known clinical psychologist and bestselling author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and The Blessing Of A B Minus. But if you aren’t familiar with her or her work, there is a very exciting opportunity to hear her speak next month at the Westside JCC in Los Angeles. Our children’s preschool is hosting Dr. Mogel on November 29th at 7:30pm and has made the event open to the public. Tickets are $25 and space is limited.

In a world where entitlement and competition abound, and a culture that is often at odds with the one parents wish to uphold and instill, Dr. Mogel offers refreshing reflections that help us avoid anxious over-parenting as well as practical insights that point the way to raising self-reliant, grateful, optimistic children. I hope to see you at this event; I think it will be eye opening. Feel free to pass this on to friends who would be interested!

Looking Beyond Supermom

I saw this article last week in the New York Times Complaint Box titled Twin Discrimination by Susannah Meadows and have been mulling it over ever since. In it, the author writes about a class she tried to attend on her own with her twins but was told there was a requirement of one adult per child.

“The director of children and family programs explained that if in addition to paying double the $175 tuition for six classes, I wanted to hire a baby sitter to help me take care of my own children, well, then, the “Harvard of Flatbush” would accept our application…I explained that mothers of twins were not like other mothers. They’re saggier in the gut, perhaps, but reliable gold medalists in the wrangling competition.”

It was this last sentence that really caught my eye. My friends who are parents of twins and triplets always joke around that multiples are only given to those of us that can handle them; it takes a particular type of person to confidently and patiently be able to handle the chaos and massive multi-tasking that goes on when you are parenting multiple children of the same age. Not to say that we all do it perfectly all the time, but Ms. Meadow’s argument that as parents of twins (or more), we are so used to keeping an eye on and paying attention to multiple young children at the same time that a rule about needing someone’s help to do so should not be applied to us was interesting. I do sometimes wonder what parents of singletons are complaining about. But then I assume my friends with triplets look at me, with my twins, and chuckle about “how easy it must be with just two”!

I think that this notion that as a mom of twins I am somehow Super Mom and able to do things other mothers can’t is both empowering and intimidating. Yes, when I spend a full day with my two on my own I come away (on a good day) feeling confident and capable; but does that mean if I need a nanny’s help that I am insecure and incompetent? Perhaps this way of looking at parenting isn’t such a great idea. What I love most about this Times article is the paragraph where the director of the class the author was trying to attend gives her reasons for the one adult per child rule:

“Kate Blumm, a spokeswoman for the garden, said that with ‘the pedagogical philosophy we have for this program and age group, we find that this ratio works best.’ At home, we have a pedagogical philosophy, too. We emphasize the importance of independent drawer-dropping if one twin has to go and Mommy’s busy wiping the other guy.”

Meadow’s retort is the perfect example of why I love parents of multiples. It’s just not possible to always follow the “perfect” picture of motherhood painted by parenting books and parenting classes; when you have twins you sometimes have to throw your vision of perfect out the window and just do what works. And if that means one of your twins has to learn to pull his pants down and go to the bathroom without mommy’s help, well that’s not such a bad thing. Parents of multiples are among the most resourceful and unflappable people I have ever met. In many ways, you just have to be; it’s just not possible to be so perfect with twins, triplets or quads running around.


A friend of mine sent me a hilarious article this morning called Killing Off Supermom in which the author, Lisa Quinn, ruminates on this notion of motherly perfection:

“Here’s the thing: Perfection doesn’t even exist. Perfectionism is purely a mental, alienating, and unnatural state. It causes judgment and makes people feel bad. How can that be “a good thing”?

We kid ourselves (and do a disservice to our kids) by thinking anything will ever be perfect. Everyone struggles at some point in this life. Everyone. It is our duty as moms to make sure our kids know that, and are prepared for the hurdles life is bound to throw them. Supermom may have the best dressed, most mild-mannered, French-emersion educated children ever, but mine know how to make their lunch, dress a wound, and pick a lock. Who’s laughing now?”

Where does this notion come from anyway? I ask this because I confess that I have a little bit of this idea in me that I should be able to be able to throw the perfect holiday party, volunteer at the kids’ school, be well-read on every topic, do fabulous crafting projects with the kids after school, grow all my own organic vegetables (and have my kids eat them) and, at the same time, be a most wonderfully attentive, loving, connected wife and mother. Lisa Quinn again:

“It’s time to redefine what being a good wife, mom, hostess, and human being means. I don’t want my kids growing up with memories of how clean the house always was. I want them to remember the fun and the love. Who cares what anybody else thinks? You want to make memories in your home. And sometimes when you’re making memories, you’re making a mess. Embrace the chaos. While news of her death may be premature, Supermom is on life support. Maybe it’s time to pull the plug.”

There’s a small badge of honor I get to wear as a mother of twins; one which says I am capable and can juggle more than most despite the fact that my life is, perhaps, a bit more chaotic than yours. But the longer I am a mother, the more I realize that for me being a great mom is so much more about tuning in to my kids, spending time with them and learning about what makes them tick as opposed to all of the outward trappings of being a “supermom”.

Respectful Communication And Self Esteem

I had the good fortune last night to attend a meeting at which Sara Schuelein Perets, the director of our children’s preschool, was speaking. I have written about her and the school in previous posts and am truly a huge fan of hers. The topic of the meeting was using empathetic communication to avoid power struggles with our children. As parents we all want our children to have good self-esteem. But it is not where they go to school or what gadgets they have that gives them this; it is a relationship with their parents that is full of honor, respect and optimism that allows our children to grow up into the adults we envision them becoming. Our language, and the way we choose to communicate with children, reflects who they are and how they see themselves. For me, that is the key to self-esteem; the way we speak to our children is more important than anything we do or even what we actually say.

Understand Your Child’s Needs

So how do we build this honest relationship with our children? According to Sara, it all begins in getting to really know your child. As a preschool director as well as a parent and teacher educator, she knows that in order to do this you must learn to observe your children well. At every moment every child (in fact, every person) has a need. It is your job to figure out what your children’s needs are. Do they need to construct? Do they need to feel powerful? Do they need to figure out how things work? That is, ask yourself “in this moment that my child is (having a meltdown, banging a pot on the table, arguing with his baby sister etc.) what does he need?” Does he need a hug? Is he needing to understand how things work? Does he need to be understood? Is he in physical discomfort? If you are able to step back and consider what need is being met or what need is not being met, you will have a better idea of how to connect as opposed to simply reacting.

Learn About Child Development

Sara’s advice for the second step in building your relationship with your children is to really learn about child development. By this she doesn’t simply mean the “flavor of the month” latest in pop psychology, but by beginning with the real theorists such as Erikson, Piaget and Skinner [note: if these seem too intimidating, or you don’t agree with these theorists’ views, I highly recommend the series “Your One Year Old”, “Your Two Year Old” etc. I have “Your Three Year Old” highlighted in my “Great Parenting Books” section]. When you really understand a child’s stages of development you know what is age appropriate and you can accept what is happening much more easily. There is less anxiety as a parent when your 2 year old is biting if you know that this is actually a developmentally appropriate stage.

Reflect The World Back To Them

The next thing discussed was using reflective language. This allows your children to experience things through their own eyes as opposed to coloring it with our value judgments. If we can avoid evaluative statements such as “that’s a beautiful painting!” or “you did such a good job!”, we avoid raising children who become reliant on praise and who look to us to know whether something is of value. Instead, reflective language such as “I see you are painting a picture. Can you tell me about it?” allows them to reflect their place in the world and their experience as they see it. Additionally, as parents we need to reflect emotions that are varied, subtle and which move beyond just “happy” and “sad”: “I see that you are very frustrated/disappointed/lonely now. I’m sorry about that.” Be in the emotion with them as opposed to trying to solve it. Instead of saying “Don’t cry”, let them know that all emotions are fine, but all behavior is not. Really let your children feel the fullness of their emotions. If you are constantly trying to fix things for them you don’t allow them to feel the full range of emotions and they don’t learn to work through these emotions. I always point out (to women in particular) how frustrating it is for us when we complain about something and someone (usually our husbands) immediately launches into “fix it” mode; sometimes all we want is to be heard, to feel felt, to complain. The theory is the same when it comes to our children. You don’t need to solve everything for them; it is often better to just reflect what they are experiencing (“you’re having a hard time getting that puzzle done”) and then sit back and see what happens next.

Family Mission Statement

We’re all somewhat familiar with the idea of a mission statement from college term papers or even resume writing. Sara’s idea in this case is quite similar. Write one or two sentences that capture what you want to achieve as a family or what values you want to instill. In some ways, without this declaration of intent, you are just drifting through your days. So give it some thought; what things do you believe in? What do you stand for? What rituals have meaning for you? An example of a family mission statement is “To treat each other with love, respect and honesty and to always listen to each other”. Once you have your statement, frame it, hang it up, put it on the door of your children’s bedroom; basically, show that this statement has some value and importance to your family. And don’t forget, you’ll want to revisit your statement from time to time as your children get older to see if it needs updating.

Respectful Communication

Sara spoke about a few key ingredients for diffusing power struggles and building self-esteem, in particular “I” messages and tone of voice. Imagine that your child has thrown all of his toy trains around the room and is refusing to clean them up. You might feel like saying: “You are making such a mess! You never clean up and you’re making me so frustrated!”. The problem is, this type of language, and the tone in which you would probably would say it, succeeds in making your child feel small, weak, powerless and very defensive. The perfect scenario for a power struggle. If, however, you use a calm tone of voice and say something like: “I’m really frustrated. It looks like there are too many toys here; maybe we need to get rid of some” you are instead setting up a situation in which they have some power and they feel respected. When they feel this way they want to cooperate. When your children do what you ask them to do, don’t use “good job” as a way to praise or say thank you. Instead, say something along the lines of “I’m so happy that you remembered to clean up; that makes me so happy”. This way of speaking shows that you appreciate them; additionally it is specific enough so that they understand what they did to make you happy, thus giving them a clear idea of what they can do the next time.

Empathetic Listening and Being a “Big Boy/Girl”

The last part of the evening Sara spent discussing these last two concepts. When we set boundaries and our children experience natural consequences, they will probably be upset, angry, sad etc. We must be empathetic about these emotions. By saying to them “Don’t cry, everything will be OK” we are telling them that their feelings are not ok to have. You want to comfort your children but not coddle them. Additionally, teach them to cope and sort out how they feel. For example, if your child were to fall down you could say “Did you fall down? That must have hurt! Let me make it all better” which is a very natural reaction for most parents. However, you might want to draw out their experience by letting them tell you what happened and, as described above when I was talking about reflective listening, don’t add your judgments into it. Perhaps it didn’t hurt. Maybe they were startled or embarrassed or scared. Let them figure out their emotions and then, perhaps, offer an empathetic “I’m sorry you fell. That must have been scary (or whatever the emotion was). What would you like to do now?”

As for the “big boy”, “big girl” comments which many parents use as praise or a way to encourage cooperation, Sara’s belief is that this can actually backfire. For most children the world feels really huge and, in comparison, children can feel awfully small. Constantly referring to your children as “big” when they don’t feel that way can result in the child acting out in an effort to feel powerful. Additionally, when you label a child “big”, she then feels that she has to live up to that label which can cause regression in some instances. For example, Sara brought up the “big girl bed”. When your child moves from the crib to a big bed it can be really scary for them. If it is loaded with all sorts of “encouragement” about how the child is now a “big girl” and gets to have this wonderful new thing because of it, the child may think along the lines of “if I do something where I’m not acting big, will I have my bed taken away?”. Better to just call it a new bed or a big bed but not label your child as “big”. Another example Sara used was in reference to potty use. “Look at Johnny! He’s such a big boy, he goes pee pee in the potty!” and the there’s Sam who has felt like a big boy up until now but begins to wonder if maybe he’s not big after all because he’s not quite ready to use the potty. Better to just say Johnny must feel so proud of himself for peeing in the potty and Sam will go too, when he’s ready.

And so the evening ended. I think we could have gone on talking to Sara for hours more. I am a compulsive note taker when I go to these types of workshops. In part because I anticipate being able to write a post which I hope will interest and enlighten those who read my blog; I’ve also noticed that in taking these classes, attending these lectures and writing these posts I am able to take information I am somewhat familiar with already and make it fresh in my mind once again. Thus, today I noticed myself being much more patient and more in tune with our children. I think, for me, the act of writing about parenting keeps me in the moment and in the best frame of mind to be the kind of parent I want to be. Thanks for indulging me!

“Mompetitors” At The Playground

I saw this video the other day on a blog I like called Perfectly Disheveled and laughed so hard because I think we all know that mom who does everything “right”; she is so sure that her way is best and somehow makes you feel as though you are the worst parent ever when you admit to popping in a Dora video or when you open up your kid’s lunch box to reveal *gasp* goldfish crackers! Don’t we all know those moms who brag about everything from how their newborn sleeps through the night to the organic vegetables they grow in the backyard? Women who engage in this type of one up-manship have come to be known as “Mompetitors” and the behavior is both ridiculous and hard to avoid being affected by.

It feels as though there’s enormous pressure that comes along with being a parent these days. After watching this video I thought to myself: don’t we all have just a little bit of that overachiever, self-righteous mom in us from time to time? Just the other day I was at one of those indoor playgrounds, escaping the unexpected October SoCal rain, and saw a mom glued to her Blackberry the entire time her 7-year old daughter ran around intimidating and bossing around the other kids. I judged a bit. And then there are times when I judge myself so harshly because I can’t live up to some unattainable standard I’ve set for myself. The more information I obtain and the more knowledge I have about how I can help my kids grow up to be happy, satisfied, self-actualized people, the more I see the areas in which I am lacking and the more guilty I feel. This recent article in the The Huffinton Post talks about learning how to tell the difference between Mommy Guilt and Mommy Wisdom.

We’ve all got a tough inner critic–a mean-spirited, lying voice inside our heads that judges us, tells us we are likely to fail and compares us unfavorably to the people in our midst. If you are a mom, the inner critic likely sometimes shows up via Mommy Guilt — through persistent critiques about how you are falling short in your mothering. Maybe it declares you don’t spend enough time with the kids, or earn enough to give them all they deserve. Maybe it harps on you about not packing the lunches or pureeing the baby food or having a happier marriage for your kids to see…Then there’s Mommy Wisdom. Mommy Wisdom speaks in a different voice and it comes from a different place in you. Mommy Wisdom brings you important information about what your kids need, what you need, and where something in your parenting needs course correcting.

I think if I am able to be still and not listen to that very loud inner critic, I can tune in to my “Mommy Wisdom”. But that requires a lot of effort when you’re not used to doing it. And, as a mother of twins, it is quite easy to fall into the “mompetition” habit. As the mother in the video says “Well, I have a 5-year old, a 1-year old and a 2-year old, so it is just like twins”; there is nothing more annoying to a parent of twins than to be told this; and the urge to describe, in great detail, why multiple children of different ages is nothing like twins is a hard one to resist. But why do we do need to compare whose life is harder/better/more complicated? Is it to be known? Is it to feel better about ourselves? Is it to assuage guilt about something we fear we’re lacking? Is it because some women who, up until the birth of their children and a decision to stay home and raise them, have been so used to competing in the work force now don’t know how to shut that instinct off?

And so we have guilt, competition, insecurity and judgment; none of which make us better parents. I often tell clients that there is so much information out there about how to raise our children, there really is no one right way to do anything; you simply need to choose what works best for your family. What’s the use in comparing? None of us is the same, none of us has the same family structure or genetic makeup or personal history so how can we judge fairly? As the old adage goes, how can you compare apples to oranges?

What struck me as the most interesting part of this video was how much times have changed. When I was a child, my hippie parents’ way of thinking was considered radical. These days, it’s almost as if it’s the parent who follows a more “old school” way of child rearing (following the AMA vaccination schedule, allowing children to watch TV etc.) who feels the pressure to get with the program! Does the person on the side of “the establishment” feel the need to abandon their mainstream ways when faced with pressure about cloth diapers and homemade babyfood? Or does comparing your parenting methods just lead to polarizing people? The video I posted is titled “Why I Can’t Make Mom Friends”; It seems to me that accepting that we are all doing our best in each moment is key to eliminating this strange playground “Mompetitor” ritual thus allowing us all to simply enjoy our children and to enjoy parenting. And after my last post, I think that’s really where my focus is these days.

Loss, Bereavement And What To Do

A member of our multiples club just lost her newborn babies. Born too early via emergency C-section, one died almost right away, the other fought for a few days but, tragically, he wasn’t able to make it. Everyone in our club is feeling this loss, not necessarily because we knew this woman personally, but because each and every one of us can place ourselves in her shoes.

As a friend, there’s such a feeling of helplessness as you want to offer comfort; but not being able to fully put yourself in someone’s position or knowing you have what they just lost can make you feel awkward and uncomfortable. Many people who have experienced such a loss want to be able to talk about it, they want to be able to remember their babies and share their experience. Just being there and listening can often be enough at first.

As I’ve written before, a twin, triplet or higher order pregnancy is a high risk one. When you’re feeling well and having a fairly easy pregnancy, as I did, it’s sometimes easy to forget this fact. I am writing this post, not to scare anyone reading it who may be in the early stages of their pregnancy, but to provide a list of resources for you should you or anyone you know suffer through a loss like this. I did not join my multiples club until well after my children were born so if something so tragic had happened to us, I would have had no idea where to turn. The organizations and groups below can be a wealth of information even if all you want to know is how to support someone else going through a heart-wrenching loss.

National Organizations

  • CLIMB – The Center for Loss in Multiple Birth
  • MISS Foundation – Mothers in Sympathy and Support 1-888-455-MISS
  • Intervention Team – 24 hour hotline available with trained volunteers
  • On-going support : Local support groups, Online forum boards, Annual conferences, Newsletters
  • Free family support packets
  • HOPE (Helping Other Parents Endure) peer counseling program
  • KISS (Kids in Sympathy and Support) peer group for bereaved siblings
  • Community Outreach
  • Financial assistance to help with burial funds
  • MISSing Angel’s Bill – Birth Certificates for stillborn babies
  • Kindness Project
  • Parent Bereavement Contact for additional information: Sari Edber [email protected] or Tracey
  • Letteau [email protected] or [email protected] Tracey Letteau 213-804-7281

SHARE SHARE provides support for families after early pregnancy loss, stillbirth or newborn death.

California Local Support Groups

loss of baby

Long Beach Memorial Perinatal Loss Support Group

Open support group for parents who have lost an infant during pregnancy or shortly after birth. Open group, no pre-registration required. Facilitated by Rev. Sharon Yagerlener. Contact: Sharon Yagerlener (562) 933-1454 No charge for the group 2801 Atlantic Avenue, Long Beach, CA 90806 Meetings: 2nd & 4th Monday of each month 7:00-8:30 PM

Tarzana Support Group

Early Loss Support Group at Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center A support group for families dealing with miscarriage, medical termination of pregnancy, stillborn loss and newborn loss issues. Groups are led by a professional and new groups are formed as needed. The weekly group meets for six weeks (usually in the evening at the hospital). No charge for group. Call for dates and times: Wendy Kelman (800) 779-6636 or Women’s Resource Center (818) 609-2280

Therapist Referrals:

  • Joyce Boucher, LCSW, MFT, 310-455-1779, Santa Monica and Woodland Hills. Individual and couple’s counseling for grief and loss, including pregnancy loss, stillbirth, abortion, medical/genetic issues. Also working with cancer and general illness.
  • Pamela Varady, Licensed Clinical Psychologist. She sees adults, children, and couples for psychotherapy at her office in Santa Monica, California, and offers phone and e-mail consultations. 310-452-1273 AskDrVarady.com
  • Joan Rankin 310-815-9565 Culver City, mother of twins in addition to being a MFT
  • Barbara Brawerman, MFT, 310-274-2780, West LA
  • Carol Schneider 323-934-2366 Los Angeles (Pico-Robertson area)
  • Susan Swanson Davis, LCSW, 310-274-2780, Beverly Hills
  • Diane Ross Glazer, PhD, 818-592-6257
  • Dr. Walter Greenberg, Psychologist, 310-824-2087
  • Lina Kaplan, PsyD, 310-277-4305, Los Angeles. Clinical psychologist specializing in helping women and couples contend with the experience of pregnancy (prenatal) loss.
  • Gabrielle Kaufman, MA,ADTR,NCC, 310-289-2202, Near Wilshire and Crescent Heights, (National Certified Counselor and Registered Dance/Movement Therapist)
  • Colleen Kelly MA MFT, 310-266-4876, www.colleenkellymft.com 2001 South Barrington Ave, Suite 203, Los Angeles, CA 90025
  • Stephanie Book Koehler, MFT 310-391-5851 Los Angeles 90066 (Mar Vista) http://cuttingedgecounseling.com Trauma specialist who uses gentle, cutting edge techniques that go beyond talk therapy and are based in neuroscience. EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and EEG Neurofeedback.
  • Melissa Quade, MFT, 818-688-8166, Encino Focusing on helping women and families cope with pregnancy loss.
  • Jack N. Soll, MFT, 310-471-2210, Brentwood
  • Pilar Stein, LCSW, 310-990-5148, www.pilarstein.com
  • Ellie Ross, MFT, 310-586-6995, Santa Monica Specializing in loss related to infertility and pregnancy loss, and other couples’, families and women’s issues.
  • Patricia L Wisne, 310-828-1332, 1427 21st St, Santa Monica, CA 90404-2970
  • Tara Palansky, MFT, 323-860-8866 Los Angeles (Larchmont area – marriage and family therapist, specializes in grief/loss counseling and support)
  • Dorothy Weiss, Ph.D., 310-855-0388, [email protected] 8631 West Third Street, Ste. 620-E, Los Angeles, CA 90048,

Respect, Gratitude And The Well-Behaved Child

youre-not-boss-me-brat-proofing-your-four-betsy-brown-braun-paperback-cover-artBetsy Brown Braun began her lecture at Center For Early Education Thursday night by talking about her fears for our children and the world they live in; she focused, in part, on how we rush our children to grow up and yet infantilize them by not letting them do things for themselves or make their own choices; she cautioned parents against “preparing the path for the child, as opposed to preparing the child for the path”. Betsy also touched upon the fact that as parents we all want our children to be “happy”. However, happiness and self esteem aren’t gained by having parents who simply pave the way for a child to get into “the best” preschool so that they will get into “the best” elementary school and so on leading to an imagined vision of a happy life. Instead, Betsy suggests that parents strive to raise children who are satisfied and self-actualized, and that self-esteem is actually gained through struggle.

The title of Betsy Brown Braun’s latest book is “You’re Not The Boss Of Me: Brat-Proofing your 4- to 12-Year Old Child“. I was happy to hear her start off by saying that, in general, she doesn’t really like the term “brat”; but Betsy is smart about getting her message out there and knows that this is a catchy phrase and more people will buy her book with a title like that. She asked the crowd their definition of a brat and the usual words were called out: rude, disrespectful, back talker etc. Betsy then pointed out that what we generally refer to as a brat is a child who doesn’t do what we what them to do, in the way we want them to do it, when we want them to do it. This definition was eyeopening for me as I realize I often spend a lot of effort trying to control my children as opposed to teaching them. So, even if the word “brat” turns you off, Betsy really does have some very smart, helpful things to share about raising resilient, satisfied, respectful children.

Let’s begin with her discussion on Connectedness.

connect with momChildren want to please their parents and have their parents be proud of them. In order for a child to want to work with you he needs to feel significant and as though he makes a difference. When a child feels connected and close to you, her instinct to please you is activated. Thus, I try to keep the Johnnie Cochran-like phrase “Connect Before You Re-Direct” as a mantra in my head when the kids are making me insane. So how does Betsy Brown Braun suggest you encourage connectedness?

  • Spend time together
  • Spend time with your child and do what he likes to do, get into his world
  • Meals together NOT reading the paper
  • Have conversations; not just telling your child things, really listening and having a back and forth dialogue
  • Remember that when a child talks to you it is a gift
  • Treat your children with respect
  • Talk to your children as you would want them to talk to you
  • Be a container for your child’s feelings
  • Don’t take it personally when your children act out
  • Subscribe to “The Drip Method” of parenting. That is, don’t expect your children to feel instantly connected to you if you never make time for them but suddenly take them for a weekend to Disneyland. Instead, consistent “deposits” of time together (no matter how small) will deepen your connection.

Well-behaved children sense that they belong and are part of a team. They feel significant and loved but have to be accountable, take responsibility for their choices and don’t see themselves as the only one in the universe (or, as my friend Sharon says: “you want him to be the SON, not the SUN”). All of this leads to children who tolerate disappointment, tolerate frustration and can delay gratification. Remember that when there are “lousy local conditions” (as Betsy likes to call things like a missed nap or an over-stimulating atmosphere) you can’t expect a child to be at his or her best.

Responsibility is another key factor in well-behaved children.

responsibleResponsibility cultivated at the earliest ages leads to responsible children, young adults and so forth. Allowing your children to understand the connection between their actions and the resulting consequences is key. Children need a sense of importance within the family; that is, the child needs to feel that they are genuinely needed and valued for the smooth running of the whole family. The best way to encourage responsibility is to model it yourself:

  • Keep your promises
  • Follow through on commitments (not just with your children, but let them see you following through in your life as well) and insist that your child do the same
  • Obey rules, make good choices etc.
  • Never do for your child what she can do for herself (ie: don’t answer for her when an adult is speaking to your child etc.)
  • Allow your children to experience the consequences of making a poor choice
  • Look for ways for them to be responsible (ie: let them order their own food in a restaurant, picking groceries off the shelves in the market etc.)
  • Look for opportunities to feel needed outside of your home as well (helping a neighbor or a local charity)
  • Model responsibility in the world
  • Give your child personal responsibilities and chores

The next quality that Betsy discussed was Gratitude.

This can be a tricky one as, for some people, it is seen as a moral value and for others a character trait. However you view it, gratitude must be cultivated. Most importantly, we must remember that gratitude is an emotion that is dependent on empathy which requires a certain level of developmental readiness to achieve. Although toddlers are unable to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, it is still good to be in the habit of modeling this behavior so they begin to grasp it as they age. You can’t teach a child to feel, but you can sow the seeds of gratitude.

An important factor in developing gratitude is longing. Most of our children have not had enough experience in “not getting” so they are not able to see the big picture when it comes to being grateful. And usually, when we are “not giving” to our children there is an anger component involved (“Well, now you are NOT getting that new pair of shoes because you hit your sister!”) but this isn’t teaching a child about longing. Gratitude grows in proportion to the time and effort spent getting something your child wants. As Thomas Paine once said: “That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly”. I still remember the very first thing I ever bought with my own money as a child. Something my mother thought was frivolous and expensive ($20!), but when I finally was able to save my allowance and buy this thing (one of the first hand-held video games….yes, I’m that old) I really treasured it. And yes, I was grateful to have it. And how, according to Betsy Brown Braun, do we nurture a child’s gratitude?

  • Allow your children to long for something; this leads to appreciation and respect
  • Consider giving less (especially as the holiday season draws near)
  • Don’t be so quick to replace something broken
  • Remember that it is OK to say “when you’re older”
  • Remember that when feelings of gratitude and expressions of gratitude intersect that is real gratitude model real gratitude and appreciation of others
  • Enthusiastically accept gratitude expressed by your child
  • Don’t demand thanks, but model and appreciate it when it comes
  • Teach your child about writing thank you notes; even if they are too young to write, have them scribble, paint, draw something and talk about who it is for and why

And lastly, Respect.

Ah, respect. Who, as a parent, hasn’t felt disrespected by their children? But respect, like gratitude, must also be cultivated, not taught. Keep in mind that it is not reasonable to expect very young children to respect Mommy and Daddy; they don’t understand the idea. It’s also hard for children to be respectful of those they feel most comfortable with; but if they don’t treat others rudely, your children are “getting it”. Additionally, fear doesn’t create connectedness; scared children will follow the rules but they will not respect you. If you have preschoolers (or will soon) it is important to remember that children at that age are intoxicated by their own power and what their effect on the world is. Thus, practicing autonomy, expressing their will and, essentially, practicing disrespect is how children learn. Here are Betsy’s tips on developing your children’s ability to be respectful:

  • Use the words “respect” or “respectful” a lot, this gives them the framework to understand it
  • Teach your children about respecting themselves and their bodies
  • If children feel they can fully express themselves at home there is no need to be disrespectful
  • Treat your child with respect as, like with sleep, respect begets respect
  • Catch your children being respectful and acknowledge it
  • Use examples of disrespect (comment on what you see, read etc.)
  • Modulate your own reactions and keep in mind that big feelings, lack of impulse control and lousy local conditions can all lead to lack of respect
  • Use a phrase like “I know you’re X (really angry, really frustrated, really anxious etc.), but I know you can find a better way to tell me that”
  • Offer a do-over or a re-wind to say things in a nicer way (use this for yourself too if you lose your temper)
  • Sharing feelings is never disrespectful. “I hate you” is not disrespectful. “You are a poopy head” is.
  • Speak to the behavior, not the child: “When you call me names I don’t want to be with you”
  • Cultivate “the look” (a silent, pointed “look” that lets the child know you are very disappointed with their behavior) then walk away. Just remember to re-visit when everyone is cooled off. Communication is vital [note: although I probably have my own version of “the look”, it’s not something I’m proud of. With all due respect to Betsy, I would suggest telling your children that you are getting too frustrated/angry/worked up and that you need to cool down. Then return when you are able and continue to communicate].
  • When kids are treating you with disrespect they are actually feeling badly about themselves; it is your job to dig around and discover the root cause

It’s only been one day since this lecture and I already noticed the shift in my parenting today; I paid closer attention when they wanted to talk, I was more aware of behaving respectfully to them and, frankly, I enjoyed them a lot more today. I bought a copy of Betsy’s book; when I finish it I will let you know my thoughts. She’s speaking again at The Willows Community School on October 14th; I think it would be very much worth your while to check her out.