31 Ways to Say “I Love You”

It’s Valentine’s Day, and I always like to encourage the broader reflections on “love”, rather than the more narrowly defined “romantic” love that the media focuses on.  Here are some ways I like to show love for my kids (and husband, too).

In the last week, both my kids have sent me text messages saying “I love you, Mom”.  Wow.  Those are precious.

I also received a really nice text from my son before a class, saying, “Good luck, Mom.  I love you.”  It really does make me so grateful for the relationship we’re building.

#3 – snuggle up together.  Great for kids of all ages (and husbands, too).

#9 – write a note or send a text.  Data rates may apply.  With younger kids, a note in the lunch box is easy.  I used to write riddles or jokes on post it notes for my kids, or sometimes just “I love you – xo, Mom”.

#18 – be present.  Focus your love and attention on this moment.  It doesn’t have to be for an hour, but a few focused minutes of attention really build connection and that feeling of being loved.

#29 – let them teach you something.  It’s nice for kids to be the experts once in a while.  If you have a teen in the house, this is easy, as they’re probably your IT person, anyway.

To get the list with easy, day to day ways to show you care, just enter your email below.

What are some of your favorite ways to communicate love?

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Teen Stress: “Be There for Me”

The San Mateo County Department of Education’s “Respect 24/7” conference, held in late October, provided a sobering opportunity to hear teens talk about what they need from us as parents, teachers, school administrators.  Data compiled in the County of San Mateo Adolescent Report 2014-2015 reported that 23% of high school boys surveyed had suicidal thoughts in the last month, and 38% of girls. Sadly, recent teen suicides have only served as real life examples of the grim data.

What are we doing?!  And what are we going to do about it?

When asked, “In the past month, what caused you to feel nervous, depressed or emotionally stressed?”, 69% of survey respondents said school work, school projects and/or finals.  Another 33% cited parents and guardians.

What can adults do that actually helps when teens are going through tough times?
Just “be there for me” was a constant request.

Be approachable.

Be interested.

Really listen.

Ask about their whole lives, not just homework and tests and college entrance requirements.

Take aways:

1.  Teens often don’t know where the resources are, even resources on their own high school campuses.  More effective messaging will help reach teens, who are the end consumers of these services.  (Parents can help, too.  Talk with your teen about what’s available, where people can get help, etc.  Show (rather than tell) them that you know how to listen with respect, curiosity and empathy.

2.  Teens want to solve their own problems, and often think, “If I can solve it on my own, why wouldn’t I?”

3.  Many times the resources and people that are available – counselors, teachers, etc. – are not the people teens want to turn to.  As one teen said, “It’s also about how you want to be perceived.”

4.  Teens will likely turn to their peers first. That was really poignant: kids trying to help their friends deal with serious issues like eating disorders, self-harm, and substance abuse.

5.  Teens “know” that mental health “should” be a priority, but other things often take priority: their social lives, homework, the event of the moment.

6.  A desire for more preventative mental health resources – Parents reported that too often, their kid had to be in crisis to be eligible for services.
Many teens on the panel felt their parents were supportive, but their overall complaint was still, “We have so much on our plates”.

No parent wants their kid to have to navigate this stuff alone.

Given the rash of suicides in our area, the competitive pressures, and the statistics presented in the report, it’s time for adults to really listen.

As Martha Cabot, a young Gunn High student said in response to another suicide on November 4, “It shouldn’t take a suicide for the system to do something about the stress level and homework load at school. As 15,16, 17, 18 year old kids, there is not much we can do but spread awareness.  So please share this video...”  Henry M Gunn High School: 1 More Suicide Preventable

So take a deep breath and listen.  Take a step back and let go of the things that aren’t really that important.  Trust your teen to find her way, making some mistakes along the way – just like you did.  Make sure the message of love gets through.

In short, be there.  Your teen needs you now more than ever.

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Time Out – Bad News for Brains

A recent TIME magazine article by Dr. Dan Siegel explains why time out is not a tool you should be using with your kiddos.

First, Dr. Siegel says time out is the #1 discipline tool used by parents and the most recommended by discipline experts.

(Positive Discipline is an exception to the rule:  we don’t recommend adult-imposed time out. We’re kind of radical that way – we actually believe that people do better when they feel better!)

The research is proving that in spades these days.

Because the brain is forming itself in response to its experiences, the repetitive message that time out sends is “isolation!”, “rejection!”

You may be thinking, “Great – the kid will finally start to get the message.  Cause and effect!”

“When the parental response is to isolate the child, an instinctual psychological need of the child goes unmet. In fact, brain imaging shows that the experience of relational pain—like that caused by rejection—looks very similar to the experience of physical pain in terms of brain activity.” – Dr. Dan Siegel, M.D.

Shameless plug:  every Positive Discipline principle and tool is aligned with meeting our fundamental human needs (connection, to know we “count”, to have a sense of personal capability, courage) and effective for changing behavior.

Dr. Siegel says, “Decades of research in attachment demonstrate that particularly in times of distress, we need to be near and be soothed by the people who care for us.”

When your child is melting down, how good are you at keeping yourself in check, much less soothing your child?

Here’s the good news: with awareness and practice, you can change what you habitually tend to do.

sign up for the 3 night class series for a whole host of discipline strategies and tools that actually build your child’s brain and help him learn. You’ll feel better, too!

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The Power of Connection (part 3)

OK, now you’re ready to rock and roll – take care of the business at hand!

How to correct your child?

do over

Correction might mean you need to spend more time teaching or training your child.  Did the dishes get done poorly?  Do you need to supervise a bit longer?

You might need to check for understanding. Was the bedroom cleaned half-heartedly?  “What’s your picture of what needs to be put away in here?”

Make your expectations clear.

Correction might mean you enforce a limit you set earlier (doing what you said you would do).  This has the obvious benefit of providing accountability.  “As soon as your room is clean, you can play outside.”

Correction might mean you ask questions to help draw forth your child’s thinking and learning. “What caused that to happen?  What did you learn from the experience?  What will you do differently next time?”

Think about your long-term goals for your child when you employ correction. Doing so will help you choose a strategy that addresses today’s challenge while teaching your child know what to do next time.

Do you have a story to share, or a Positive Discipline tool that consistently works well for you?  Please share.

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Power of Connection (part 2)

Truth in advertising: connection before correction is one more area where before you can do the thing you need to do (correct your child), you have to do something else first (connect with your child).  And, in order to be able to do that very well, you need to be connected to yourself. Grounded.  Centered.  The opposite of being on your last nerve.

Your ability to remain an oasis of calm, create safety, and let your child know you love them beyond measure isn’t easy to do when you’re upset yourself.  You improve your odds when you are taking regular care of your own needs.  Willpower gets you only so far.  You really need some “reserves” to draw on in stressful moments.


By “connection with yourself” I mean you

  • practice self-awareness with respect to your energy level
  • notice your mood and be aware of healthy ways you can change your emotional state
  • pay attention to the way your body feels: tired, achy, harboring stress – or energetic and alive?
  • know when you’re maxed out – it’s not the rule in your life

In short, you regularly attend to your own needs: mind, body, and spirit!

Heck – these are just some of the things you need to do in order to feel sane, no matter who else you’re interacting with!

I know it’s often hard to put yourself first.  But, if you make your own needs a priority, and stop expecting yourself to function like a machine instead of flesh and blood, you’ll quickly notice the benefits

  • enjoy life more
  • feel happier
  • be more resilient
  • be able to approach all kinds of challenges with more energy and optimism
  • your ability to regulate your own emotions will improve
  • parent more effectively and model healthy relationship skills for your child

Are there one or two things you need to pay attention to?  You’ll feel better, I promise!  And we all do better when we feel better.

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The Power of Connection (part 1)

Jane Nelsen (author of the Positive Discipline series of books) says, “Children will listen to you after they feel listened to”. Sigh.


How do you know when someone is really listening to you?  Think about your own experience.

In my private coaching work with parents, I advise parents to “connect” before they correct their child.  Connection is about creating an atmosphere where a person feels listened to and valued.  It’s an emotional re-connecting that needs to happen before moving into the nitty-gritty details about what needs to change.  (That said, if safety is an issue, correct first. You can connect later!).

I know you may be thinking, “For Pete’s sake, let’s just cut to the chase and move onto what to do INSTEAD!”  I know.  Parenting is full of inefficiencies, isn’t it?  Here’s why it’s worth taking the extra time to connect.

When you (or your child) feel threatened (whether real or imagined) the limbic system in your brain quickly takes over.  The right side of your brain (home to the parts of the brain that store and process memories and emotions) and the limbic system are activated (think screaming sirens), your heart rate increases, your blood pumps faster, and your senses are sharpened.  All this happens in milliseconds to help you figure out whether you need to fight, flee or freeze.  At these moments – when your limbic system is in control – the brain is not interested in logic and lessons; all systems are optimized for survival.

When you correct your child, you want to give her information to help her do something differently next time, right?  If you want your message to sink in, your child needs to be calm enough to listen.  She needs to be able to activate the left side of her brain, where logic, language, and high level thinking take place.  Until you and your child can calm down, the limbic system (the survival mode) remains in control and the other side of the brain remains offline, so to speak.

So, connection is also about restoring a feeling of safety and calm.  This has to happen before your child can really listen.  You need to communicate acceptance (of your child, not necessarily her behavior).

Ways to connect with your child include

  • giving a hug
  • using humor to shift what’s quickly becoming negative energy
  • an unspoken gesture like a wink or a gentle touch
  • a loving look or a smile (!)

I’m sure you can think of other things you’ve tried that help your child calm down.  Pay attention to what works!

And if you’d care to share your own wisdom to help others, well that would be awesome!  We’re all in this together, after all.

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Fathers Know Best

Do you take risks, set boundaries, and move with confidence in the world?  You might say “Thanks, Dad!”

Most Dads do whatever it takes.  They work long hours.  They fix things (expertise not required).  They listen when you have had a bad day.  They give advice.  Mostly good.  They get to the point.  They instinctively abhor whining, laziness, and self-pity.  They’re also fun in a way that most moms aren’t.

It’s true.  Fathers have a special way with kids, and though they are infamous for disrupting bedtime routines (they possess an uncanny sense for arriving home just as children are settling down), there’s some recent research that points to just how important a man’s style of relating to kids can be.  Check out this recent Wall Street Journal article and video for the details.

Decoding the Father Factor

Roughhousing Lessons from Dad (WSJ)

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The “Best” Stress

As your kids head into summer, this is a timely reminder that many of the “stretching” experiences they will face (making new friends at summer camps, trying new experiences) are good for them!  And for you.  Sometimes parents worry more than kids do.

Are you one of those parents who tries to avoid putting your child in situations where you fear they may not be “successful”? I’m not talking about situations that are not child friendly, or situations that are beyond your child’s cognitive or physical abilities, but typical day-to-day activities that present a challenge, an opportunity for success or failure.  

Opportunities for success or failure represent a “growing edge” for both parent and child.

Po Bronson, author of Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children, spoke locally recently, and his talk made me think about the ways we seek to avoid stress – and try to protect our children, in particular.  Here are a few nuggets he shared that just might challenge you to go beyond your comfort zone, and to help your child lean into the best kind of stress.

The “Best” Stress?  Researchers agree that long-term stress is not good for you!  It’s especially hard on children.  Short-term stress, though, can help you or hurt you.  About one fourth of the population needs stress to do their best.   What kind of short-term stress is positive?

Taking risks to grow. Bronson shared some interesting research about second born children from his new book, Top Dog:  The Science of Winning and Losing.   In studies of 350 sibling pairs who play baseball, the second born are twice as likely to steal bases.  They are trained to think that way: they learn to take risks in their efforts to keep up with their older sibling.  They learn to keep coming back and trying again, effectively inoculating themselves against the fear of losing.

Competing against an appropriate peer group. Another example from the Air Force highlighted the importance of the peer group on competition and performance.  When low performers were mixed in with groups of high performers (in an effort to exert an upward “pull” on low performers), their performance levels actually dropped instead of rising.  But in groups comprised of strictly “middle” performers, who were basically on equal footing, the lower performing members did well. They could see they were very close to the highest performing members of the group, and that with effort, they could catch up.   Fair competition then, is excellent.

Cycles of intensity and sufficient recovery time between events. The best environments for learning focus not just on results, but on process, as well.  Research shows, for example, that children learn more science when they have to compete in science fair.  Science fair projects represent a type of “good” pressure and stress, in that they typically feature long periods of preparation, with an opportunity for the boost that accompanies a good showing or performance.   Some benefits include being part of a team, bonding, and collaborating.  Motivation does drive our physiology – our physical response to stress.  These types of positive stress still need to be balanced by sufficient recovery time.

Asserting yourself and maintaining connection at the same time. The last scenario Bronson discussed explored the critically important life skill of being able to stand up for yourself without pushing away from the other.  In longitudinal studies, middle schoolers who demonstrated this skill were more likely to report strong relationships later in life.  How do you teach that to your kids?  You’re doing it every day.  This is where parenting style, communication style, and allowing some reasonable arguing, honest negotiation, and compromise comes into play.  When you are overly controlling, or don’t allow your child to explore the limits in respectful ways, your child won’t learn this key life skill.

  • Offer your child a mix of activities and experiences that help teach the value of taking risks.
  • Provide opportunities for fair competition.
  • Model how to stand up for yourself without rupturing relationship.
  • Encouragement is key, as your child will experience set backs and failure along the way.
  • Resist the urge to over-protect your child

If you do this – stretch along your “growing edge” and resist the urge to over-protect your child – you’ll be giving your child invaluable life experience.

Stress can teach kids positive lessons:

  • Losing doesn’t destroy you.
  • You have to take risks to grow.
  • Failure may precede some of your greatest accomplishments.
  • Mistakes help you learn if you are willing to stick with it, make adjustments, and try again.

This article originally appeared in Parenting on the Peninsula magazine, December 2013.

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Take The First Step

Sometimes parenting can feel relentless.  Apparently being a teenager isn’t that easy, either.

under "stressure"

My son coined the phrase “stressure”, as in, “Mom, I’m under a lot of stressure.”

I immediately knew what he meant.

(It actually made me think of David Bowie’s 1981 song, “Under Pressure”.  Proof that I’m old.)

I asked him what the first step was that he could take to reduce the stress.  He immediately knew what it was (dealing with a project he’s been putting off).

I knew that pointing out all the times he could have chosen to work on it – but hadn’t – wouldn’t be helpful.  One of the skills I’m working on as a parent right now is to simply resist the urge to criticize.

I told him I could relate (validated feelings of overwhelm).

I ventured that it didn’t actually sound that bad from the outside looking in.  He assured me it was truly overwhelming.

I thought of a simple thing I could do that would help and asked if he wanted help.

“Would it help if I ______?”

Emphatic “Yes.”

It was a small starter step, so I did it.

That little starter step knocked 2 things on his list down to “annoying” from “overwhelming”.  As soon as we got home, he got started on the project.  Progress!

Sometimes, helping kids take that first step (not doing it for them) or break it down into smaller steps – is all it takes.  It’s an important life skill that many of us still struggle with.  Having someone come alongside and help you get started?  Priceless.

It’s not always that easy, but when it is, savor it!

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5 Ways to Deal with Attitude

Another milestone:  the “eye roll”.  Sigh.  It usually starts tentatively, then gets bolder.

If you’ve ever been confronted by eye rolling, you know it’s just a hop, skip and a jump from reading that dismissive body language to you saying something that will likely start an argument, or at a minimum, fuel yet another fruitless discussion where you lecture and your ‘tween/teen gives you the message that they’re just barely tolerating you (tolerating you because they’re still a kid, and you are still the source of food, shelter, cash and an internet connection).

Week 51 Emotion by Camera Eye Photography under CC By 2.0

But “attitude” doesn’t have to jack up your blood pressure.

Here are 5 ways to respond to attitude that are likely to take the “sting” out of it and subtly let your teen know you won’t give up that easily. Because hey, you were probably just trying to impart important information for successful living, right?

  1. Humor – When confronted with the eye roll, lean in with a look of mock concern and ask if they have something stuck in their eye.  Bonus:  guaranteed to make you a contender for “Parent of the Year”.
  2. Mindfulness – use attitude as a prompt to take a few deep breaths and celebrate the fact that your teen is doing her developmental job of pushing away from you and figuring out how to solve her own problems.  Recall that your parents probably seemed incredibly stupid (even impaired) at some point, and you managed to survive and turn into a reasonably productive, responsible adult.  Therefore, the chances are pretty good your teen will, too.
  3. Decide What You Will Do – You can only control yourself (despite fantasies to the contrary).  You can let your teen know you’re available to talk when you can have a respectful conversation, and leave the room until you’re both able to do that.  If you’re worried that this lets your kid off the hook, or teaches her that if she’s rude, you’ll simply give up – stay with me a minute.  You will go back later and talk about it.  If it’s a conversation worth having, it’s worth finding a time when your child is receptive.  On the other hand, if your child needs an answer from you, then this is a great way to let her know you won’t be dealing with the attitude.
  4. Use 5 words or less – Skip the lecture, and instead ask, “What’s my concern”?  Let your teen recount the litany of reasons why (x, y, z….).  This assures you she really does “get it”, and also gives your teen a chance to blow off some steam.  You’re giving her permission to complain while calling to mind potential obstacles, which she can then figure out how to deal with.
  5. Ask your teen for help. Best after the initial irritation has passed and you’re both ready to talk.  You might say, “I know __ isn’t a problem for you, but it’s a problem for me, and I really need your help to find a solution.  When can we talk about this?”

During (or after) these frustrating moments, you can (silently) remind yourself,  “Oh that’s right.  You’re a teenager.  Your brain is only half-baked.  And I love you anyway.  And we both know you’re gonna need a ride soon.”

While it’s never fun to deal with attitude, you can take steps to not take it too personally, which will probably help.  A lot.

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