If you have (or had) toxic relationships of any kind, read this now!

IF YOU HAVE (OR HAD) TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS OF ANY KIND, READ THIS NOW!

Karen Salmansohn

This is a vulnerable story – about an unconventional therapist I saw – who helped me to learn how to get out of bad toxic relationships.

About a decade and a half ago I used to joke that for me all dating should be re-named ‘blind-dating” – and instead of saying I was “seeing someone right now” – I should be more honest, and say, “I’m dimly viewing someone.”

I remember I was once “dimly viewing” this particular guy. I’ve written about him before.

I explained how every time I said this guy’s name, my girlfriends would sing the theme song to Batman. Not because this man looked great in black Spandex tights. No, no. It was because he was a bad man.

“Dadadadadadada Bad-man! Bad-man!” my girlfriends would sing, right after I’d finish telling a particularly bad Bad-man episode—of which there were many.

Let’s call this ex of mine “Bruce Wayne” – to protect his not-so-innocent secret identity.

Today I want to share something I never told you about Bruce.

Ready?

Bruce’s “dadadadadada bad-behavior” began very early on – a few weeks into our relationship.

Yep, right out of the gate Bruce displayed what I felt were highly controlling and jealous behaviors, products of paranoia.

Yet I continued to date him.

I even went away with Bruce for a weeklong vacation in Turkey – where we had a very big fight one evening.  I made a silly joke to our Turkish waiter – who then laughed – and touched my shoulder before he left our table. Bruce then became convinced that I was flirting with this Turkish waiter.

Bruce specifically wanted to know if I’d rather be dating this Turkish waiter – a man who could barely speak English – plus lived well beyond a 5,000 mile radius of my zip code.

I kept reassuring Bruce I was not the teeniest bit interested in this Turkish dude – yet Bruce refused to talk to me for a full two days of our vacation!

When I came home from vacation, I sought out therapy.

I found a nice older psychotherapist, named Sid, who eventually became like a “grandfather from another great-grand-mother.” I adored Sid.

“You’ll never believe what Bruce said/did last night,” I’d begin each and every therapy session. And then I’d launch into another “Dadadadadadada Bad-man Episode”!

  • “Bruce said he doesn’t want me to have brunch with girlfriends on weekends anymore – unless he comes along.”
  • “Plus, he doesn’t want me to take an evening painting class – because he thinks I just want to meet someone.”
  • “Also, he doesn’t want me to go to the gym  – because he thinks I just want to meet someone.
  • “Aaaaannnd…he told me he doesn’t like it when I come home happy from work – because he worries I enjoy work more than him! He actually became angry the other day because I came home so happy!”

Each week I’d tell Sid story after story – quickly followed by rationalization after rationalization – always explaining why I should stay with Bruce.

“You know what your problem is Karen?” Sid asked me one session.  “You’re so smart, you’re stupid.”

I laughed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You are able to over-think things so much – that you wind up talking yourself out of what you already know.”

“So you think I should break up with Bruce?” I asked.

Sid sighed loudly. “I’m a therapist. I’m not supposed to tell you what to do. But if you want my honest opinion… I can’t believe you’re gonna stay with him, when he’s an asshole.”

“Wow! I can’t believe you just called Bruce an a***hole,” I said. “But you’re right, he is an a**hole.”

“Actually, I didn’t call HIM an a**hole! I called YOU an a**hole. You heard me wrong. I said, ‘If you continue to stay with Bruce, then YOU are an a**hole.’”

“What? I’m not the a**hole! Bruce is the a**hole!”

“At this point, Karen, if you stay with Bruce knowing what you know – then YOU are the a**hole.”

“I’m the a**hole?”

I repeated this word out loud – a word as opposite in content as a mantra could ever be – but alas, more powerful than any mantra I’d ever used.

This word “a**hole” became my wakeup call!

Sid was right. If I stayed with someone who was so very toxic to my wellbeing  – then I became the A**hole to me – for allowing this soul-crushing, freedom-squelching relationship to continue!

“Listen, Karen,” Sid said, “at this point in therapy we are simply wasting time talking about Bruce – and how messed up he is. Quite frankly, you are only using stories about Bruce to distract yourself from your real issues – and the important inner work you have to do on yourself. It’s time we talk about the white elephant in the room: your wounds! There’s obviously something so wounded inside of you, that you feel the need to stay with Bruce – when he is so toxic.

Although this story about toxic relationships happened well over a decade ago, I think about it often.

I particularly think about it whenever I’ve found myself starting to enter into what I intuit might be a toxic relationship – be it in love, business or friendship.

I feel if we’re not careful we can all find ourselves wasting a lot of precious tick-tocking time complaining about how badly someone is behaving towards us.

If you’re dealing with bad toxic relationships, you need to stop asking…

“Why is this person treating me this way?”  

“Why did this person do that crappy thing to me?”

“What is wrong with this person?”

“Are they an a**hole?”

“Sociopath?”

“Narcissist?”

“Isn’t this person simply just a terrible person?”

The really important questions to ask… so you can move on from bad toxic relationships…

“What did I miss in the vetting process that I allowed this person into my life?”

“What is wounded inside me that I choose/chose to stay with this person for as long as I do/did?”

“How can I grow from this experience – so it doesn’t repeat itself into a bad pattern?”

“Do I want to make this a story about how I was a victim – or how I became a victor?”

“Do I want to waste my time, thoughts and energy on toxicity or use it for a higher purpose?”

“Aren’t I wise and strong for how I moved on to be with better people and live better days?”

If you’re presently caught up in telling stories about the toxic misbehaviors of someone – the time has come to stop getting caught up in name-calling, contempt and blame.

The time has come to recognize you’re just distracting yourself with all the drama, chaos and static!

Yep, the more you stay with and/or complain about a toxic person, the more you’re merely delaying doing the important inner work you need to do – to heal your wounds, expand your limiting beliefs, and show yourself far more love and respect.

All of this time expended on them could be time spent on expanding you – growing who you are!

My lesson/your lesson:

  • Don’t be an a**hole to yourself.
  • Stop staying with (and/or complaining about) toxic people.
  • Choose to focus your time, energy and conversation around people who inspire you, support you and help you to grow you into your happiest, strongest, wisest self.

Heal and move on from toxic relationships.

When times are hard, remember this one thing

WHEN TIMES ARE HARD, REMEMBER THIS ONE THING

Angel Chernoff

One of the most important moments in life is the moment you finally find the courage and determination to let go of what can’t be changed. Because, when you are no longer able to change a situation, you are challenged to change yourself… to grow beyond the unchangeable. And that changes everything.

Of course, when hard times hit there’s a default human tendency to hold on—to extrapolate and assume the future holds more of the same. This doesn’t happen as often when things are going well. A laugh, a smile, and a warm fuzzy feeling are fleeting and we know it. We take the good times at face value in the moment for all they’re worth and then we let them go. But when we’re depressed, struggling, or fearful, it’s easy to heap on more pain by assuming tomorrow will be exactly like today. This is a cyclical, self-fulfilling prophecy. Know this! If you don’t allow yourself to move past what happened, what was said, what was felt, you will look at your present and future through that same dirty lens, and nothing will be able to focus your foggy judgment. You will keep on justifying, reliving, and fueling a perception that is worn out and false.

But make no mistake, this is more than simply accepting that life will improve as time passes. Yes, “time heals wounds,” but yours is not a passive role in the process of healing and moving past pain. The question is: where are your present steps taking you?

It doesn’t matter what’s been done; what truly matters is what YOU DO from here.

Realize that most people make themselves miserable simply by finding it impossible to accept life just as it is presenting itself right now.

Don’t be one of them!

Let go of your fantasies. This letting go doesn’t mean you don’t care about something or someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only thing you really have control over is yourself, in this moment.

The best action you can take right now is changing your thinking, instead of trying to change the broken world around you.

And there is a path. Marc and I have walked this path ourselves many times. A decade ago, in quick succession, we dealt with several significant, unexpected losses and life changes, back-to-back, including losing my brother to suicide, losing a mutual best friend to cardiac arrest, financial unrest, and more. Trials and tragedies strike indiscriminately and nobody is guaranteed safety. But, by changing your thinking, bad times and rocky patches can become the proving ground for achieving renewed happiness.

The key is to understand that no matter what happens, you can choose your response, which dictates pretty much everything that happens next. Truly, the greatest weapon you have against anxiety, negativity and stress is your ability to choose one present thought over another—to train your mind to make the best of what you’ve got in front of you, even when it’s far less than you expected.

Yes, YOU CAN change the way you think! And once you do, you can master a new way to be.

To Counter Loneliness, Find Ways to Connect

TO COUNTER LONELINESS, FIND WAYS TO CONNECT

Jane E. Brody

A four-minute film produced for the UnLonely Film Festival and Conference last month featured a young woman who, as a college freshman, felt painfully alone. She desperately missed her familiar haunts and high school buddies who seemed, on Facebook at least, to be having the time of their lives.

It reminded me of a distressing time I had as an 18-year-old college sophomore — feeling friendless, unhappy and desperate to get out of there.

I didn’t know it then, but I was in the age bracket — 18 to 24 — that now has the highest incidence of loneliness, as much as 50 percent higher than occurs among the elderly. For young adults, loneliness and social isolation are major precipitants of suicide, experts say.

Fortunately, I visited the university health clinic where an astute psychologist examined my high school records, including a long list of extracurricular activities, and noted that I had done only schoolwork during my first year in college.

“There’s nothing the matter with you that wouldn’t be fixed by your becoming more integrated into the college community,” she said. She urged me to get involved with something that would connect me to students with similar interests.

I protested that as a biochemistry major with classes six mornings a week and four afternoon labs, I had no time for extracurricular activities. And she countered: “You have to find time. It’s essential to your health and a successful college experience.”

Having no better option, I joined a monthly student-run magazine that fit into my demanding academic schedule. I soon fell in love with interviewing researchers and writing up their work. I also befriended a faculty adviser to the magazine, a grandfatherly professor who encouraged me to expand my horizons and follow my heart.

Two years later as a college senior and the magazine’s editor, I traded courses in physical chemistry and advanced biochemistry for news reporting and magazine writing.

The rest is history. Armed with a master’s degree in science writing and two years as a general assignment reporter, at 24 I was hired by The New York Times as a science writer, a job I have loved for 53 years. In making rewarding social connections in college, I not only conquered loneliness, I found a path to a marvelous career.

“Social connections, in a very real way, are keys to happiness and health,” noted Dr. Jeremy Nobel, founder of the UnLonely Project and faculty member in primary care at Harvard Medical School. In an opinion piece in The Boston Globe written with Michelle Williams, dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, these experts stated that loneliness and social isolation play “an outsized role” in preventable deaths by suicide.

They urged that social relationships be considered a national public health priority “to roll back those heartbreaking, preventable deaths of despair.”

But it’s not just young people who are lonely. “More than a third of adults are chronically lonely, and 65 percent of people are seriously lonely some of the time,” Dr. Nobel said in an interview. Among the groups with especially high rates of loneliness are veterans, 20 of whom take their own lives each day on average. Even half of chief executives experience loneliness (it can be lonely at the top), a state that can adversely affect job performance.

The rate of persistent loneliness is also high among older adults, who, in addition to limitations imposed by chronic illness, may suffer the isolating effects of mobility issues, lack of transportation and untreated hearing loss.

However, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University, told the UnLonely conference that no one is immune to the toxic effects of social isolation. “It’s so distressing, it’s been used as a form of punishment and torture,” Dr. Holt-Lunstad said.

“Loneliness saps vitality, impairs productivity and diminishes enjoyment of life,” Drs. Nobel and Williams wrote. Its effects on health match that of obesity, alcohol abuse and smoking 15 cigarettes a day, increasing the risk of an early death by 30 percent.

The aim of the UnLonely Project, Dr. Nobel said, is to raise awareness of its increasing incidence and harmful effects and reduce the stigma — the feelings of embarrassment — related to it.

“We want people to know that loneliness is not their fault and to encourage them to become engaged in programs that can diminish it,” he said. One program featured in the film festival depicts a group of older women in the Harlem neighborhood in New York who participate in synchronized swimming. One of the women said she didn’t even know how to swim when she joined the group but now wouldn’t miss a session.

In Augusta, Ga., in partnership with AARP, a program of painting together, as well as music and dance, was created for caregivers who often have little opportunity to connect with others and reap the benefits of mutual support and friendship.

Doing something creative and nurturing helps both caregivers and people struggling with serious chronic illness get outside themselves and feel more connected, Dr. Ruth Oratz, medical oncologist at New York University Langone Medical Center, told the conference, convened by the Foundation for Art and Healing.

The foundation’s goal, Dr. Nobel said, is to promote the use of creative arts to bring people together and foster health and healing through activities like writing, music, visual arts, gardening, textile arts like knitting, crocheting and needlework, and even culinary arts.

“Loneliness won’t just make you miserable — it will kill you,” Dr. Nobel said. “Creative arts expression has the power to connect you to yourself and others. How about a monthly potluck supper? It’s so simple, such a great way to be connected as well as eat good food.”

Much of modern life, though seeming to promote connectivity, has had the opposite effect of fostering social isolation and loneliness, experts say. According to the foundation, “Internet and social media engagement exacerbates feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety.”

People rarely relate intimate tales of misery and isolation on Facebook. Rather, social media postings typically feature fun and friendship, and people who lack them are likely to feel left out and bereft. Electronic communications often replace personal, face-to-face interactions and the subtle signals of distress and messages of warmth and caring such interactions can convey.

So consider making a date this week to meet a friend for coffee, dinner, a visit to a museum or simply a walk. Online communities like Meetup.com can be a good source for finding others with common interests. If nothing else, pick up the phone and have a conversation with someone. Chances are, you will both be better off for it.

Why So Many of Us Wait Until It’s Too Late

WHY SO MANY OF US WAIT UNTIL IT’S TOO LATE

Angel Chernoff

Ready for the hard truth? Too many of us are still hopelessly trying to “find our passion” in life—something we believe will ultimately lead us closer to happiness, success, or the life situation we ultimately want. And I say “hopelessly” primarily because passion can’t really be found. When we say we’re trying to find our passion, it implies that our passion is somehow hiding behind a tree or under a rock somewhere. But that’s far from the truth.

The truth is, our passion comes from doing things right. If you’re waiting to somehow “find your passion” somewhere outside yourself, so you finally have a reason to put your whole heart and soul into your life and the changes you need to make, you’ll likely be waiting around for an eternity.

On the other hand, if you’re tired of waiting, and you’d rather live more passionately starting today and experience small positive changes, it’s time to proactively inject passion into the very next thing you do. Think about it:

  • When was the last time you sat down and had a conversation with someone nearby, with zero distractions and 100 percent focus?
  • When was the last time you exercised and put every bit of effort you could muster into it?
  • When was the last time you truly tried—truly tried—to do your very best?

Like most of us, you’re likely putting a halfhearted effort into most of the things you do on a daily basis. Because you’re still waiting. You’re still waiting to “find” something to be passionate about—some magical reason to step into the life you want to create for yourself. But you need to do the exact opposite!

Start doing the hard yet necessary things, with your whole heart and soul fully invested.

And of course, if you’re struggling with any of this, know that you are not alone. Many of us are right there with you, working hard to think more clearly, respond more effectively, and get our lives back on track.

Significant Mother

SIGNIFICANT MOTHER

Robert Landon

Beth was my ex-stepmother, but “mother” was still a part of her title. Could I share a home with her?

Beth and I first lived under the same roof in 1982, when I was 13. My father, who was 47 at the time, invited Beth, then 23, to spend the summer in the Maine lake house he and I had fixed up the summer before. I refused to leave my room the night she arrived.

Without laying eyes on her, I knew she would be another of Dad’s interchangeable “little chickies” as he called them — the skinny, busty former students he liked to date.

The next morning, I was eating Honey Nut Cheerios when I heard her coming down the stairs. My father had already retreated to his desk upstairs, purportedly to work on a lecture on Puritan literature, but mostly to take hits from a hidden bottle of vodka.

I planned to freeze Beth out of existence with my thoughts — a superpower every gay boy needed in the 80s. But instead of making awkward chitchat, Beth just smiled, picked up her copy of “Crime and Punishment,” and ate her own Cheerios in silence.

When done, she asked if I liked the book I was reading — stories by John Cheever. Dad asked such questions only to hear his own opinion. Beth was actually curious to know mine. She was making me like her before I had the chance to hate her.

Soon on sunny afternoons, Beth and I lay on the dock together, tanning and lightening our hair with lemon juice, as one did in the 80s. Neither mentioned a shared lust for a neighbor — a combination seminarian and jock — who joined us for a swim from time to time.

Dad and Beth married the following September. By May, two semesters later, my father’s tantrums had driven her away. Amazingly, he never once had an ill word to say about Beth. And this was a man who in five minutes could convince you Gandhi was a narcissist and Jesus a sociopath.

He did have bad things to say about his first wife, my mother. And she gave him reasons. Beneath her charms lay inchoate storms of hurt and aggression. As Dad was leaving her for the last time — I was 12, a year before Dad met Beth — she told him she was going to take me to “Luna,” a recent Bertolucci film. A terrible look came over his face, not rage this time but horror.

After he left, I was too terrified to look at the art house flyer taped to the fridge. My mother never did take me to see the movie, but a few years later, “Luna returned for a Bertolucci retrospective. This time I did read the flyer and wished I hadn’t. “Luna,” it turned out, was “the story of the incestuous relationship between a mother and her teenage son.”

To be clear, my mother had never acted on the themes of the film, but she craved an emotional closeness that was too much for a son to give.

At 17, I went as far away as I could, first to college in California and then on to a journalistic career I kept undercutting with debt-fueled geographic cures that never worked for long — not Los Angeles, not Paris, not even Rio de Janeiro.

At first, Beth and I stayed in touch, but like me, she kept moving. She married again, had a daughter, divorced and, as a social worker/actress, constantly chased cheap New York City rents. By around 1995, the handwritten phone numbers in our respective address books were no longer valid.

When Dad died in 2005, the vodka finally having wiped out his liver, my sister tracked down Beth’s email and cc’d me. I was living in Rio, where I thought I’d found both happiness and a mate for life. Right away, Beth and I were yakking the way we had on the dock. Soon, I was visiting her for weeks at a time, ostensibly to work on a screenplay but mostly just to be together.

In 2013, a Supreme Court decision legalized same-sex marriage, enabling my Brazilian husband, 14 years my junior, to immigrate to the United States as my spouse. We moved to Upper Manhattan — two blocks from Beth. The Brazilian complained that she and I analyzed movies to death. We both thought, but we live to analyze movies to death.

One afternoon, I left him on the couch playing video games and texting bar plans that I no longer wanted to be part of. I walked to Beth’s, where she and I talked about substantive things — books, movies, joys, griefs. On the way back, I realized I wasn’t just bored at home. I was also lonely.

It was the Brazilian who left in the end. Beth comforted me as neither of my parents nor the Brazilian could have — she was patient, protective but never pitying, sure of my strength.

Suddenly, she and I were both single and struggling to pay Manhattan rents. Why shouldn’t she move into my extra bedroom? I hesitated, ostensibly because of her clutter problem. I once left some junk mail on her coffee table, only to find it in the same place when I returned six months later. When I threw it away, she was actually a little sad. I, by contrast, strove for the modernist austerity of the homes I wrote about for architecture magazines, and threw away not only clutter but even things I actually needed.

However, clutter was just cover for a deeper fear. By living with my father’s former wife, would the incestuous waves, at last, pull me under?

In 2010, Mom learned that her gut discomfort was stage-four colon cancer. “Forgive me …,” she said nine months later, from her hospice bed. Whether because of the pain, the morphine, or her own hesitation, she couldn’t name the thing to be forgiven. “For … for … well, you know,” she said.

I had found peace with my dying mother, but was still haunted by her earlier avatar — the Medea willing to psychically drown her son. Beth was my ex-stepmother, but “mother” was still a part of her title. Could I really share a home with her?

Then when I was 47, I lost my biggest freelance client. My finances were in free fall. Two months later, Beth, by then 57, moved in. I gave her the master bedroom and the two largest closets. In return, she ceded all aesthetic control of common spaces.

The clutter problem turned out to be only a minor annoyance. When her things piled up, I placed them on her bed while she was out.

The Mommy issues took longer. I would share details of my own peccadilloes, but plugged my ears and hummed when Beth did the same. “So you can talk about sex and I can’t?” she asked. “I guess that’s another one of your double standards, sweetie.”

Like aversion therapy, this controlled exposure has had marvelously curative effects. Now, Beth can get as graphic as she wants, and it is fine — at least tolerable. And gradually I have come to see my mother as a charming, cultured woman who, in 1980s Baltimore, kept up with Italian cinema.

Beth and I still analyze movies to death, but now from the comfort of the sectional couch I bought with the Brazilian. I am still regrouping for my next foray into love and marriage, but most days that question seems moot.

I’m still learning that a happy home is constructed not with Modernist furnishings but emotional safety — a language that, after nearly four decades, Beth is still teaching me to speak.

How Parents Can Stay Close to Grown-Up Children

HOW PARENTS CAN STAY CLOSE TO GROWN-UP CHILDREN

Julie Halpert

Gayle Rosen and Andy Sugerman with their sons, from left, Alex, Eli and Sam Sugerman in Willis Creek Slot Canyon, Utah

Many parents sending kids off to college worry that their time as a family is over. But that isn’t always the case these days.

The Sugerman family’s trip to Southern Utah this past May involved a treacherous drive. There were hairpin turns; the three adult children needed to move boulders to clear a path for the car. “We were on these roads which were barely roads, climbing up canyon walls,” said Andy Sugerman, of Ann Arbor, Mich. “It was night. The sky was beautiful. Everybody was fully engaged.” The value of shared adversity and overcoming these obstacles together allowed for bonding unlike any other kind of experience, he said.

Many parents sending kids off to college weep over their empty nests, thinking their time as a family is over. And a generation ago, young adults often wanted to get as far away from their parents as possible once they entered adulthood. But that isn’t always the case these days. An increasing number of young adults move back home for summers or after college. And even for those who launch quickly, family vacations present an opportunity for parents to remain close to their adult children.

The trip to Utah was the latest annual family vacation for Mr. Sugerman, his wife, Gayle Rosen, and their three sons, Eli, 25; Alex, 23; and Sam, 19. The family’s first outdoor adventure — a road trip across the West in 2008 — was motivated by the recognition that “as the kids were getting older, the opportunities for time together would be more limited,” Mr. Sugerman said. Since then, the family has explored 28 national parks together.

Ms. Rosen presumed that as the boys grew into young adulthood, they’d lose interest in being with their immediate family and that the trips would stop. But that has not happened.

“The opportunity to go on a cool outdoor trip with my family continued to present itself, and I’ve continued to take it,” said Eli, who lives about four hours away from his parents, in Chicago. “I see no reason why an end would be in sight.”

Ms. Rosen feels fortunate that her children still want to go. “I love being outdoors with them. We all unplug and I get to see the amazing human beings they’ve become,” she said.

A variety of factors are keeping young adults connected to their parents — both geographically and emotionally. Research by Karen Fingerman, a professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, found that, compared to the mid-20th century, young adults today tend to be less financially stable and are more likely to marry later — keeping them closer to their families — while many more of them live with their parents. She also discovered that technology and accessibility of transportation make it easier to stay close. “The culture is shifting toward increased contact and increased interdependency” between parents and their young adult children, Dr. Fingerman said.

Her work indicates that 30 years ago, only half of parents reported weekly contact with a grown child, while currently nearly all parents had contact with a grown child in the past week, and over half of parents had contact with a grown child every day. She found affection and intimacy between young adults and their parents rising as well. Dr. Fingerman said this is generally a positive development that benefits both generations. As young adults turn more to their parents than their peers for guidance, “they’re getting better advice from people who care about them,” she said.

Although you can foster close relationships without spending money, taking a family vacation with young adults is a growing trend, said Rainer Jenss, president and founder of the Family Travel Association, a company that encourages family travel. He points to Backroads, a Berkeley, Calif.-based company focused on upscale active travel for families as an example. Next year, Backroads will introduce a “20s & Beyond” segment dedicated to parents traveling with their children in their 20s and 30s. Tom Hale, the company’s founder and chief executive, said that last year, 6,500 parents and their adult children went on the company’s trips, even though the trips weren’t specifically aimed at this older age group.

Diane Sanford, a relationship psychologist based in St. Louis and author of “Stress Less, Live Better: 5 Simple Steps to Ease Anxiety, Worry, and Self-Criticism,” suggests these trips go better if parents manage their expectations, don’t overschedule and allow everyone to have time to themselves.

Laura Sutherland, who lives in Santa Cruz, Calif., and her husband, Lance Linares, have taken their son, now 30, and daughter, now 32, on 10 trips since they graduated from college. The trips now include their spouses. Ms. Sutherland recommends booking accommodations with private rooms if possible. She assigns everyone responsibility for preparing or treating for a meal — and pitching in with cleanup. “We have clear communication in the beginning that parents shouldn’t be servants,” she said.

If budgets or timing don’t allow for travel, hiking close to home or going out for lunch and a visit to a local museum can work, too. As young adults strike out on their own, there’s a delicate balance that parents need to achieve. It starts with respecting kids’ growing independence in adolescence, said Dr. Ken Ginsburg, co-director of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. They should feel comfortable coming to you for advice. By the time they are young adults, it’s no longer a one-way street.

“When you honor the fact that they can guide and support you, you’re developing a relationship that can last for decades,” Dr. Ginsburg said.

Dr. Sanford says if a dispute arises, instead of reacting or getting angry, “pause, take a breath and ask yourself whether it’s more important to get your way or have the opportunity for a good relationship.”

Carl Pickhardt, a counseling psychologist based in Austin, Tex., and author of the blog “Surviving Your Child’s Adolescence” and the book Who Stole My Child? Parenting Through the Four Stages of Adolescence, encourages parents of adult children to repeat a few mantras to themselves: I will respect the choices you make and how you face the consequences; I will not criticize or censor your behavior in any way; and I will cheer you on as you engage in life. He said to never provide unsolicited advice, but to request permission, saying something like, “I have some advice I would like to give that would be helpful, but only if that’s something you would like me to do.” Dr. Ginsburg suggests determining if your child wants you to listen or to provide advice, using language like: “I’m so glad that you always feel you can come and talk to me about these things. How can I be the most supportive?”

Dr. Ginsburg emphasized that there are some situations that call for a parent to become involved if the adult child’s safety is at risk, including dangerous depression, significant and substantial drug use or domestic abuse.

As young adults struggle with their identity and their life goals, parents should rest assured that they continue to play a vital role, Dr. Ginsburg said. “You are the person who is going to love them no matter what.”

Whether you take a vacation or just spend time together at a movie or a restaurant, he noted, “Your highest yield time is to just be with each other and enjoy each other.”

Advice From a Formerly Lonely College Student

ADVICE FROM A FORMERLY LONELY COLLEGE STUDENT

Emery Bergmann

Last fall, I made a viral video about having trouble making friends. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Emery Bergmann in a scene from a video about loneliness that she made as a Cornell freshman last fall

Being known as “the girl with no friends” wasn’t my favorite part about having made a video that went viral — but you take what you can get.

About a year ago, as a college freshman at Cornell, I was assigned a short video project for my Intro to Digital Media course.

I decided to focus on my disappointment with the early weeks of college: How I couldn’t get past superficial conversation, how I couldn’t seem to enjoy parties, feel comfortable on campus, or just meet people who I wanted to spend more time around. I felt so lost and beyond confused.

I had been a pretty social person in high school and I fully expected to make great friends right away when I got to college. It’s supposed to be the time of your life, right?

I had been looking forward to college for years. I started studying for standardized tests in 10th, hammering out extracurricular activities and A.P. courses all through 11th, and spent senior year typing applications till my fingers practically bled. I got into a great school, pleasing myself and my family. This was not the payoff I expected.

The worst part was that I felt as if I were the only one who was this lonely. I’d see all these freshmen walk in packs — just massive groups of friends already formed in the first two weeks of school. I couldn’t muster the courage to ask people to get lunch. It was so frustrating. I immediately turned on myself — criticized and blamed myself for being weird and unapproachable.

I spent a ton of time on social media, constantly checking in on my high school friends and seeing how they were getting along at their colleges. They’d post more and text me less. I really tried to put myself out there, but the more people I met, the more defeated I felt. I wasn’t interested in forging fake relationships out of necessity, I wanted genuine friendships that I could treasure. Why couldn’t I find them in my first month on campus?

I poured my loneliness into the four-and-a-half-minute film I made, called “My College Transition.” I posted it on YouTube expecting only my professor and a couple friends to see it.

It now has over 275,000 views and hundreds of comments. I had students from all over the country reach out to me and express their experiences, thanking me for making them feel less alone. Administrators from various universities wrote to me asking for permission to show the video to their freshman class. I even landed a few freelance video design jobs. I spoke on panels, gave tons of interviews and won an award at a film festival.

It was overwhelming in the most beautiful way, and was further proof that I wasn’t alone in my experience. It also showed how necessary it was for people to be open about isolation on college campuses.

Now a sophomore, I see how ridiculous my expectations were for my first year. To assume I could instantly meet my New Best Friends while also getting used to a new place, starting a new academic career, and learning how to adjust to life away from home — that’s a full plate already. Some of the high school friends I was missing had been my friends for my whole life.

Expecting close relationships like the ones that had taken years to develop was unfair to myself and the people around me. Going to college is a massive change — so many students are being uprooted from the familiar comforts of their homes and thrust into a completely new place. It was beyond unrealistic for me to anticipate a seamless transition.

After I posted the video I had people of all ages and genders reaching out to me, explaining how they felt the same way when they started a new job, when they moved to a new place, even when they started retirement.

Loneliness is too often paired with self-blame and self criticism: “I can’t find my place among these people, so it must be my fault.” My social life became a big game of trial and error, slowly learning in which groups I felt welcome and included. It was hard! It was draining! But by putting myself out there, I found so many communities on campus to invest myself in, and where I knew I would be happily received.

The video was definitely a conversation starter, and it made people more likely to open up to me about their struggles as a freshman. But I don’t think the video was any sort of motivator for people to actually become my friend.

Now, a year after making the film, I’ve settled in to college a lot better. But I see the new batch of freshmen around me and imagine many of them are going through the same transition. Here’s what I know now that I wish I could have told my younger self.

The notion that my college friends should be stand-ins for my close relationships from home: impossible. One of the great things about going away to college is the chance to meet people who are not the same. I learned to cherish each relationship for its uniqueness, for the different perspective and ideas it brought into my life. At first I searched for people who reminded me of my friends from home, who would play a similar role in my life that they do. But I began to realize that no one can stand in for or replace them — which was oddly comforting, and a relief to acknowledge.

I had to minimize my time on social media. It became a platform for comparison. I evaluated every picture my friends posted, determining whether their college looked like more fun than mine, if they had made more friends than I had, just meaningless justifications for my unhappiness. It was comforting when old friends reached out to me to say that they related to the video. Many of them were people I thought were having a fantastic time at school. Social media reinforces the notion that you should always be enjoying yourself, that it’s strange to not be happy and that life is a constant stream of good experiences and photo-worthy moments. I taught myself that everyone’s college experience is different, and slowly, I started to embrace the uniqueness of my own.

Transitions are always hard — regardless of your age. But the social expectations around college put overwhelming pressure on students to fit in seamlessly into their campus, without truly acknowledging the difficulty of uprooting your life and starting fresh. The hardest thing to tell struggling freshmen is that acclimation takes time — and “thriving” even longer. Making friends is an active process, and all the preconceived ideas college students arrive with can make for a defeating experience. Understand that your loneliness is not failure, and that you are far from being alone in this feeling. Open your mind and take experiences as they come. You’re going to find your people.

How to Be a Modern Parent

HOW TO BE A MODERN PARENT

Perri Klass & Lisa Damour

We all want to be the best parents we can be for our children, but there is often conflicting advice on how to raise a kid who is confident, kind and successful. Throughout the circus act of parenting, it’s important to focus on balancing priorities, juggling responsibilities and quickly flipping between the needs of your children, other family members and yourself. Modern parents have the entire internet at their disposal and don’t follow any single authority. It’s hard to know whom or what to trust. Here, we’ll talk about how to help your child grow up to be a person you really like without losing yourself in the process.  

Your Parenting Style

Good news: There is no one right way to raise a child. 

Research tells us that to raise a self-reliant child with high self-esteem, it is more effective to be authoritative than authoritarian. You want your child to listen, respect and trust you rather than fear you. You want to be supportive, but not a hovering, helicopter parent. 

All of these things are easy to set as goals, but hard to achieve. How do you find the right balance? 

As your child develops, the challenges will change, and your thinking may evolve, but your approach should be consistent, firm and loving. Help your child learn through experience that making an effort builds confidence and helps you learn to tackle challenges. Calibrate your expectations about what your child is capable of doing independently, whether you have an infant learning to sleep through the night, a toddler helping to put toys away, or an older child resolving conflicts. 

Remember, there is no one right way to raise a child. Do your best, trust yourself and enjoy the company of the small person in your life. 

Conquering the Basics

Your healthy attitude toward sleep, food and discipline will affect your children in the most important ways.

How to Put a Baby to Sleep

Right from the beginning, babies vary tremendously in their sleep patterns. And parents, too, vary in terms of how they cope with interrupted nights. 

There are two general schools of thought around babies and sleep after those early months when they need nighttime feedings  — soothe the baby to sleep or don’t — and many parents find themselves wavering back and forth. Those who believe in sleep training, including many sleep experts, would argue that in helping babies learn to fall asleep by themselves and soothe themselves back to sleep when they wake during the night, parents are helping them master vital skills for comfort and independence.

Two techniques for this are:

  • Graduated extinction, in which babies are allowed to cry for short, prescribed intervals over the course of several nights.
  • Bedtime fading, in which parents delay bedtime in 15-minute increments so the child becomes more and more tired. 

And many parents report that these strategies improve their children’s sleep patterns, as well as their own. But there are also parents who find the idea of letting a baby cry at night unduly harsh.

Whatever you try, remember, some babies, no matter what you do, are not reliably good sleepers. Parents need to be aware of what sleep deprivation may be doing to them, to their level of functioning, and to their relationships, and take their own sleep needs seriously as well. So, ask for help when you need it, from your pediatrician or a trusted friend or family member.  

Bedtime

For older children, the rules around sleep are clearer: Turn off devices, read aloud at bedtime, and build rituals that help small children wind down and fall asleep. Establishing regular bedtime routines and consistent sleep patterns will be even more important as children grow older and are expected to be awake and alert during school hours; getting enough sleep on a regular basis and coming to school well-rested will help grade-school children’s academic performance and their social behavior as well. Keeping screens out of the bedroom (and turned off during the hours before bed) becomes more and more important as children grow — and it’s not a bad habit for adults, either. 

As your child hits adolescence, her body clock will shift so that she is “programmed” to stay up later and sleep later, often just as schools are demanding early starts. Again, good family “sleep hygiene,” especially around screens at bedtime, in the bedroom, and even in the bed, can help teenagers disconnect and get the sleep they need. By taking sleep seriously, as a vital component of health and happiness, parents are sending an important message to children at every age.

Social Issues

Bullying

You can take steps to help your children manage both bullying and conflict – and you’re at your most useful when you know which of the two you’re trying to address. Children who are being bullied are on the receiving end of mistreatment, and are helpless to defend themselves, whereas children in conflict are having a hard time getting along. Fortunately, most of the friction that happens among children is in the realm of conflict —an inevitable, if unpleasant, consequence of being with others — not bullying.

If children are being bullied, it’s important to reassure them that they deserve support, and that they should alert an adult to what’s happening. Further, you can remind your children that they cannot passively stand by if another child is being bullied. Regardless of how your own child might feel about the one being targeted, you can set the expectation that he or she will do at least one of three things: confront the bully, keep company with the victim, alert an adult.

When the issue is conflict, you should aim to help young people handle it well by learning to stand up for themselves without stepping on anyone else. To do this, you can model assertion, not aggression, in the inevitable disagreements that arise in family life, and coach your children to do the same as they learn how to address garden-variety disputes with their peers.

Gender

For children, gender is an evolving concept, and not one that they always see through the same lens as adults. Three-year-olds are able to label themselves as boys or girls, yet most boys this age believe that they can grow up to be moms if they want to, and vice versa for little girls. By ages 4 or 5, children come to view gender as a fixed trait. This is often when they develop princess or superhero obsessions, perhaps dabbling in extreme femininity or masculinity to compensate for their sense of losing half of the gender pie.

Left to their own devices, most children move away from rigid gender views before adolescence. All the same, girls generally enjoy more leeway than boys when it comes to gender identity. Tomboys are cool, while boys often vigilantly police one another for behavior they perceive to be feminine.

As a parent, you want to help your child feel good about being a girl or a boy, and to define what that will mean for him or herself. This can involve helping them question highly stereotyped and heavily marketed media representations of gender. And we want to remember that gender identity operates independently of sexual orientation. Who our children feel themselves to be doesn’t tell us whom they will love.   

Morality

All parents have in common the wish to raise children who are good people. You surely care about how your child will treat others, and how he or she will act in the world. In some households, regular participation in a religious institution sets aside time for the family to reflect on its values and lets parents convey to their children that those beliefs are held by members of a broad community that extends beyond their home.

Even in the absence of strong spiritual beliefs, the celebration of religious holidays can act as a key thread in the fabric of family life. Though it is universally true that children benefit when their parents provide both structure and warmth, even the most diligent parents can struggle to achieve both of these on a regular basis. The rituals and traditions that are part of many religious traditions can bring families together in reliable and memorable ways. Of course, there are everyday opportunities to instill your values in your child outside of organized religion, including helping an elderly neighbor or taking your children with you to volunteer for causes that are important to you.  

Above all, however, children learn your values by watching how you live. 

Academic Pressure

When it comes to school, parents walk a difficult line: You want your children to strive and succeed, but you don’t want to push them in ways that are unfair, or cause needless stress. At every age and skill level, children benefit when parents help them focus on improving their abilities, rather than on proving them. In other words, children should understand that their intellectual endowment only gets them started, and that their capabilities can be increased with effort.

Children who adopt this growth mindset – the psychological terminology for the belief that industry is the path to mastery – are less stressed than peers who believe their capacities are fixed, and outperform them academically. Students with a growth mindset welcome feedback, are motivated by difficult work, and are inspired by the achievements of their talented classmates.

To raise growth-mindset thinkers you can make a point of celebrating effort, not smarts, as children navigate school. When they succeed, say, “Your hard work and persistence really paid off. Well done!” And when they struggle, say, “That test grade reflects what you knew about the material being tested on the day you took the test. It does not tell us how far you can go in that subject. Stick with it and keep asking questions. It will come.”

Parents should step in when students face academic challenges that cause constant or undue stress. Some students hold themselves, or are held by adults, to unrealistic standards. Others missed a step along the way, study ineffectively or are grappling with an undiagnosed learning difference. Determining the nature of the problem will point the way to the most helpful solution.

Technology

Here’s how to raise a child with a healthy attitude toward shiny screens and flashing buttons.

Screen Time

You could try to raise a screen-free child, but let’s be honest, you’re reading this on a screen. As in everything else, the challenge is in balancing the ideal and the real in a way that’s right for your family. Start by thinking about positive screen-related experiences you want to help build into your children’s lives: watching a movie as a family, reading a book on an iPad, FaceTiming with out-of-town relatives. Technology plays such an important role in children’s lives now that when we talk about it, we’re talking about everything from sleep to study to social life. 

“Technology is just a tool and it can be an extremely enriching part of kids’ lives,” said Scott Steinberg, co-author of “The Modern Parent’s Guide to Facebook and Social Networks.” “A lot of what we’re teaching about parenting around technology is just basic parenting,” he said. “It comes down to the Golden Rule: Are they treating others in a respectful and empathetic manner?” 

Phones and social media give older kids opportunities to reckon with responsibilities they haven’t had before, such as being sent, or asked to share, an inappropriate image, said Ana Homayoun, author of the book “Social Media Wellness: Helping Teens and Tweens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World.” Parents need to keep talking about this side of life with their children so they don’t leave their kids to navigate it alone. 

And then there’s the question of protecting family time. Mr. Steinberg advises setting household rules that govern when devices may be used, and have clear, age-appropriate policies so kids know what they can and can’t do.   

Some of these policies will be appropriate for all ages, including parents, such as:

  • No phones at the dinner table.
  • No screens for an hour before bedtime.

It’s important to practice what you preach. And in addition to taking time for family meals and family conversations, parents should be taking the time to sit down with young children and look at what they’re doing online, rather than leaving them alone with their devices as babysitters. 

Parents as Digital Role Models

When a parent wants to post on social media about something a child did that may embarrass the child, Ms. Homayoun said, it’s worth stepping back to consider why. Are you posting it to draw attention to yourself? 

You should respect your child’s privacy as much as you respect the privacy of friends, family members and colleagues. As cute as it may seem to post pictures of a naked toddler, consider a “no butts” policy. That may not be the image that your child wants to portray 15 years from now. 

“We need to, from a very early age, teach kids what consent looks like,” Ms. Homayoun said. “It doesn’t begin when a kid is 15, 16 or 17. It begins when a kid is 3 and he doesn’t want to go hug his uncle.” Or when he doesn’t want you to post that video of him crying over a lost toy.  

Our children will create digital footprints as they grow, and it will be one of our jobs to help them, guide them and get them to think about how something might look a few years down the line — you can start by respecting their privacy and applying the same standards throughout their lives.  

Tech Toys

It’s easy to dismiss high-tech toys as just pricey bells and whistles, but if you choose more enriching options, you can find toys that help kids grow. For young children, though, there’s a great deal to be said for allowing them, as much as possible, to explore the nondigital versions of blocks, puzzles, fingerpaints and all the rest of the toys that offer tactile and fine motor experiences. As children get older, some high-tech games  encourage thinking dynamically, problem solving and creative expression.  

“These high tech games can be an opportunity to bond with your kids. Learn more about how they think and their interests,” Mr. Steinberg said. Some games encourage kids to be part of a team, or lead one. And others let them be wilder than they might be in real life – in ways that parents can appreciate: “You can’t always throw globs of paint around the house but you can in the digital world,” he said.

The Right Age for a Phone?

“Many experts would say it’s about 13, but the more practical answer is when they need one: when they’re outside your direct supervision,” Mr. Steinberg said. Ms. Homayoun recommends them for specific contexts, such as for a child who may be traveling between two houses and navigating late sports practices.  

Consider giving tiered access to technology, such as starting with a flip phone, and remind children that privileges and responsibilities go hand in hand. A child’s expanding access to personal technology should depend on its appropriate use. 

To put these ideas into practical form, the website of the American Academy of Pediatrics offers guidelines for creating a personalized family media use plan.

Time Management

Balance both your schedule and your child’s with a reasonable approach to time. 

Overscheduling

We all know the cliché of the overscheduled child, rushing from athletic activity to music lessons to tutoring, and there will probably be moments when you will feel like that parent, with a carload of equipment and a schedule so complicated that you wake up in the middle of the night worrying you’re going to lose track. But it’s also a joy and a pleasure to watch children discover the activities they really enjoy, and it’s one of the privileges of parenthood to cheer your children on as their skills improve. 

Some children really do thrive on what would be, for others, extreme overscheduling. Know your child, talk to your child, and when necessary, help your child negotiate the decisions that make it possible to keep doing the things that mean the most, even if that means letting go of some other activities. 

Remember, children can get a tremendous amount of pleasure, and also great value, from learning music, from playing sports, and also from participating in the array of extracurricular activities that many schools offer. However, they also need a certain amount of unscheduled time. The exact mix varies from child to child, and even from year to year.  On the one hand, we need to help our children understand the importance of keeping the commitments they make — you don’t get to give up playing your instrument because you’re struggling to learn a hard piece; you don’t quit the team because you’re not one of the starters — and on the other, we need to help them decide when it’s time to change direction or just plain let something go.

So how do you know how much is too much?  Rethink the schedule if:

  • Your child isn’t getting enough sleep.
  • Your child doesn’t have enough time to get schoolwork done.
  • Your child can’t squeeze in silly time with friends, or even a little downtime to kick around with family.  

And make sure that high school students get a positive message about choosing the activities that they love, rather than an anxiety-producing message about choosing some perfect mix to impress college admissions officers. The point of scheduling is to help us fit in the things we need to do and also the things we love to do; overscheduling means that we’re not in shape to do either. 

Taking Care of Yourself

Being a parent is the job of your life, the job of your heart, and the job that transforms you forever. But as we do it, we need to keep hold of the passions and pastimes that make us who we are, and which helped bring us to the place in our lives where we were ready to have children. We owe our children attention — and nowadays it’s probably worth reminding ourselves that paying real attention to our children means limiting our own screentime and making sure that we’re talking and reading aloud and playing. But we owe ourselves attention as well.  

Your children will absolutely remember the time that you spent with them — but you also want them to grow up noticing the way you maintain friendships of your own, the way you put time and energy into the things that matter most to you, from your work to your physical well-being to the special interests and passions that make you the person they know. Whether you’re taking time to paint or dance, or to knit with friends, or to try to save the world, you are acting and living your values and your loves, and those are messages that you owe to your children. 

You may not be able to pursue any of your passions in quite the same way and to quite the same extent that you might have before you had a child. You may have to negotiate the time, hour by hour, acknowledging what is most important, and trading it, perhaps, for what is most important to your partner, if you have one. You’ll be, by definition, a different painter, as you would be a different runner, a different dancer, a different friend and a different world-saver. But you may well come to realize that the experience of taking care of a small child helps you concentrate in a stronger, almost fiercer way, when you get that precious hour to yourself.

How to Find Balance

Lots of parents worry that their children get an unreasonable amount of homework, and that homework can start unreasonably young. While it may be easy to advise that homework can help a child learn time management and study habits, and to let children try themselves and sometimes fail, the reality is that many of us find ourselves supervising at least a little. You should speak up if it seems that one particular teacher isn’t following the school’s guidelines for appropriate amounts of homework. And for many children, it’s helpful to talk through the stages of big projects and important assignments, so they can get some intermediate dates on the calendar. If the homework struggle dominates your home life, it may be a sign of another issue, like a learning disability. 

For many families nowadays, the single biggest negotiation about time management is around screen time. This may be because screens serve so many purposes in children’s lives, so that screen time can be homework time (but is the chatting that goes on in a corner really part of the assignment?) or social time or pure entertainment time. Bottom line: As long as a child is doing decently in school, you probably shouldn’t worry too much about whether, by your standards, the homework looks like it is being done with too many distractions. 

And remember, some family responsibilities can help anchor a child to the nonvirtual world: a dog to be walked or trash to be taken out. And when it comes to fun, let your child see that you value the non-homework part of the evening, or the weekend, that you understand that time with friends is important, and that you want to be kept up to date on what’s going on, and to talk about your own life. Ultimately, we have to practice what we preach, from putting down our own work to enjoy unstructured family time to putting down our phones at the dinner table to engage in a family discussion. Our children are listening to what we say, and watching what we do.

How to Help Your Child Succeed at School

HOW TO HELP YOUR CHILD SUCCEED AT SCHOOL

Jessica Lahey

In the high-pressure, high-stakes game of school, it can be difficult to know which parenting strategies really promote learning. A successful experience in school is not only about report cards. Ideally your child will learn how to learn, retain information, think independently, ask questions and develop an increasing sense of competence. Here are some guidelines for making sure you start on the right foot and keep enthusiasm and momentum high throughout the school year. 

Key Values

There is so much to think about each school year, but above all else, these simple rules can help keep you stay focused on what’s most important for school success. 

Do

  • Focus on the process, not the product.
  • Encourage kids to self-advocate.
  • Keep a long-term perspective.
  • Maintain a healthy sleep schedule.
  • Love the child you have, not the child you wish you had.

Don’t

  • Overschedule.
  • Worship grades.
  • Encourage helplessness.
  • Compare kids to one another.
  • Love kids based on their performance.

Value the Process Over the Product

Very young children are naturally driven to learn and explore. They are at the very beginning of their lifelong quest to understand and gain mastery of the world around them. As they reach out, fall and get back up again, they gain a heightened sense of mastery, competence and self-efficacy. Somewhere around kindergarten, however, parents and teachers begin to undermine this process by devaluing the process of learning and replacing it with a mad dash for the end products. Suddenly, the intrinsic motivators of natural curiosity, competence and self-efficacy are less valuable than extrinsic motivators such as stickers, points and grades. Unfortunately, extrinsic motivators undermine kids’ desire to learn over the long term. Want your kid to lose interest in school? Pay them for their A’s and worship at the altar of grades. If you’d instead like your kids to remain curious and hungry for mastery, here are some tips for re-orienting kids’ priorities.

  • Keep report cards off social media and the refrigerator. We can tell our kids that we value learning all we want, but when we gush over grades and stick them to the refrigerator, we show them that what we value most are the grades. Of course, grades are what most parents are stuck with, even if they are flawed and incomplete indicator of learning as well as what’s known as an “extrinsic motivator,” which has been shown to reduce motivation over the long term, undermine creativity, and encourage cheating. Some schools have moved away letter-based grades and are using reports focused on mastery- or standards-based evaluations, which can help parents and kids focus on what’s being learned rather a grade. No matter what kind of report your child gets, humble-bragging about it on social media only feeds parental competition, raises the pressure for kids and teaches them that your love and approval is contingent on the content of their report card. 
  • Focus on the process they used to get that grade. When we invest less energy and emotion in the number or letter at the top of the page, we can begin to ask our children questions such as, What did you do to get this grade? Which study techniques worked for you and which ones did not? What are you going to do differently next time? 
  • Look forward, not back. The best question parents can ask when faced with a grade, whether high or low, is: How are you going to use this experience to be better next time? This technique works particularly well for anxious and overly perfectionist kids, because they can get stuck in a negative feedback loop, obsessing wholly on the numbers and grades. Helping them shift their focus back to the process can alleviate that anxiety, particularly when we help them prioritize the aspects of learning they can control. 

Model: Talk about your own failures and successes with your kids, showing them that you, too, are invested in the process of learning. If you berate yourself over failures, so will they. If, however, they see you being brave and learning from your mistakes so you can be better next time, so will they. 

Value Goals Over Grades

One easy way to invest in process is to set goals, both individually and as a family. Try to do this at the beginning of a new school year, the first of the month, or the beginning of a new season.  Keep the discussion light and low-pressure. This process isn’t about getting better grades, it’s about supporting learning as a family. 

Everyone (yes, that means parents, too) sets three short-term, achievable goals oriented around tasks and improvements under your control. For example, “I’m going to get all A’s this semester” is too broad and too difficult to control. Instead, try “I’m going to ask for help in math more often,” “I will plan one extra help session a week,” or “I will practice my multiplication three extra times this month.” 

One of those three goals should be a challenge. We can’t hope to convince our children to be emotionally and intellectually brave unless they see us do the same, so set some goals that get you out of your comfort zone. Take guitar or dance or Spanish lessons, try an activity you have never tried before, or pick up a new hobby. This is, after all, how we expand our cognitive potential and make new connections in our brains that can help us become stronger, smarter and more efficient learners. 

A few years ago, one of my sons’ goals was to make a few new friends, a goal that was both challenging and important to him. 

Before you set new goals, take the time to assess how everyone did on past goals. Review these goals once a month or once a semester. If you fail to achieve your goals talk about why, and what you plan to do differently next time. If you succeed, celebrate that achievement! 

Model: Watching a parent set a scary, ambitious goal and talk about the process of achieving it is the most direct way to teach children that learning and striving to be better are human goals, not just school goals.

Maintain a Long-Term Perspective

Education and parenting are both long-haul endeavors, and improvements don’t happen on a daily basis. 

  • Don’t live in the daily emergency of this homework or this test. Instead, think about where you’d like your child to be in a year or five years in terms of competence and growth. Which is more important to you, that you deliver your child’s forgotten math homework today or that she develops a strategy for not forgetting her math homework tomorrow?

Model: When things go wrong in your own life, talk about them. Keep your focus on doing better next time and your long-term perspective. For example if you mess up at work, frame your discussion around improvement and long-term progress: “Well, this work project did not work out the way I wanted, but I still love what I do and want to be doing something related in five years. Here’s how I plan to learn from this so I can get there.” 

Help Them Find Balance

Kids are overscheduled, families are in a constant rush, but a few, strategic pauses in your family’s day can make a huge difference. 

Help Kids Create Effective Good Routines

Present mornings, chores and homework time to kids as a problem to be solved together. In a quiet, calm moment, say, “You know, mornings are really hectic around here and it’s hard for everyone to remember to get out the door with everything they need. How do you think we can make mornings easier and happier?”

Kids are more likely to stick with a plan they created themselves. Buy-in happens most often when kids have a hand in creating strategies, and sometimes it’s more important to be functional and efficient than to be right. 

Try asking, “What would be your ideal morning routine look like?” or “What would a perfect homework day look like for you?” then help them come up with ways to make those visions real. 

Help kids operationalize the systems they create. If it’s a planbook, talk about setting intermediary deadlines. If it’s alarms on a virtual calendar, try different sequences of alerts ahead of a due date. Think of your role in this process like that of the training wheels on your kid’s bike. As our children get more sure of their strategies and systems, we can raise the training wheels up until they are no longer needed at all. 

Model: Talk about your own systems, when they fail, why they work for you. As I get older, I find I have to write more things down or I will forget them. When I do, I mention this to my kids, and they have even helped me brainstorm ways to get things down on paper before I lose them to the ether. 

Encourage Good Study Habits

  • Ensure quiet time in your home. Multi-tasking is a myth, especially for kids. Shut off the TV, and if they like to  play music, studies show that music with lyrics undermine concentration and productivity. 
  • Ask your kids what their perfect homework routine might look like. Help them create that vision. Some kids might want a break after school to blow off pent-up energy, others may want to get the homework done first so they can get on to free play. Let them choose the space, too. Just because you envisioned a central study location in your home when you designed it does not mean it’s going to be their preferred spot. 
  • Limit phones during homework time. Phones are a distraction when they are in the room, even when they are turned off, one study shows. If they are a distraction for adults, with their fully mature executive function skills, they are even more distracting for kids, whose frontal lobes (and the executive function skills that originate there) won’t be fully mature until their mid-20s. 

Model: Let kids see you working distraction-free, in an environment that promotes focus. As ever, kids do what we do, not what we say. Work on your projects the way you’d like to see them doing their work. 

Plan for Technology Use

Have a plan in place for family tech usage. This can be around minutes, data or context. If you want family dinners and homework to be tech-free zones, agree to that ahead of time. Then sign a tech contract. Some kids respond to the clarity of a signed contract you can point to for reference. Here are some contracts I love, from Juliana Miner, author of “Raising a Screen Smart Kid”and Devorah Heitner, author of “Screenwise.”

Model: When I ask kids what they’d most like me to convey to their parents at my speaking events, one of comments I hear most often is something like: “If you want us to turn our phones off, or spend less time texting with our friends, then parents should do the same.” When we ask kids to make sacrifices we are not willing to make ourselves, they see us. 

Communication Between School and Home

When students, parents and teachers communicate openly and honestly with each other about what’s happening at home and in the classroom, everyone can stay focused on the learning. 

Keep School-Home Lines of Communication Open

The research is clear: Family involvement and positive home-school communication have been associated with improved grades, positive behavior and attitudes about learning, increased participation and increased attendance. Start by finding out how your child’s teacher would like to be contacted, and honor his or her preferences by sticking to that method. 

When something comes up, go to the teacher first, and not to the principal. That is both unfair to both the principal and the teacher. Besides, the principal most likely was not present in your child’s classroom to witness the events in question, so it puts him or her in an awkward position. 

Remember the good moments too. Thank teachers for their efforts on behalf of your child. Thanking teachers lets them know that you respect and appreciate what they do and how they do it. I have an envelope full of these notes accumulated over 20 years of teaching Latin, English and writing, and I often refer back to them when I’m having a bad day or feeling unappreciated. Gratitude matters. 

Model: Don’t bash or undermine a teacher in front of the kids. Kids hear what you say about their teachers, and it’s essential to preserve the student-teacher relationship at all costs. It can be confusing for kids when parents say negative things about their teachers, just as it’s upsetting when one parent speaks ill of the other during a separation or divorce.  

Promote Self-Advocacy

Starting as early as kindergarten, children need to be encouraged to speak up, tell adults what they need, and stand up to people who are not treating them the way they want to be treated. Self-advocacy is a key part of building a child’s sense of self- efficacy, or the understanding that they have the power to control and change their behavior, motivation and environment. 

When your children come to you to complain about how another child or a teacher treated them, ask  what they said or did (or what they plan to say or do) to make sure they are heard and understood. Simply asking this question can help children reframe the situation and consider what they can do to effect change themselves.

Expect children to be a part of home-school communication from the first day of elementary school and increase your expectations for their involvement each year until your child is the main conduit of information between home and school. You can provide support, of course, but somewhere around the beginning of middle school, your child should take the lead.   

Get support for your efforts to boost their self-advocacy. Let teachers know you are making this shift so they can support your child’s efforts to be more effective in their communication. 

Coach your children through talking with teachers about problems and talk through the approaches they can take. You can write scripts or role play if a child is anxious about the discussion. This can actually be a fun way to dispel anxiety and play-act the conversation until your child is comfortable. 

If children are facing especially stressful challenges as a result of bullying, special education needs or mental health issues, school counselors can be parents’ greatest ally. Today’s school counselors are mental health professionals who are able to guide students in school and provide referrals as needed to other mental health and academic support professionals in the community. They can even direct parents to low-cost or sliding scale providers if needed, and ensure continuity between school-based services and outside providers. 

Model: Talk how you ask for help and assert yourself even when it makes you nervous. Explain how you make sure your needs are heard and addressed. If you need to talk to your boss about a misunderstanding at work, make your kid a part of a dinnertime discussion about ways you could approach the conversation. We are, after all, our children’s first teachers when it comes to conflict resolution and self-advocacy. 

Work With Their Bodies, Not Against Them

As the best learning happens in the context of healthy brains and bodies, here are some ways to ensure kids are ready and able to learn. 

The Link Between Sleep and Learning

Sleep is integral to learning and memory consolidation, so prioritize sleep over other activities. If your child isn’t getting to homework until late, think about what else in the family schedule can move to make that a priority. Talk about scheduling before committing to a new extracurricular activity in the first place. 

School-age children need 9 to 11 hours of sleep every night in order to be physically and mentally healthy. And teens need 8 to 10 hours of sleep. But studies show that they are getting far less than that. This is partially because of two developmental changes during adolescence:

  • Sleep phase delay. When teens tell you they simply are not sleepy at night, they are not lying. Due to shift in their circadian rhythm during adolescence, they get tired later than children and adults. In light of this, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to account for teen sleep phase delay and promote teen mental and physical health. 
  • Less awareness of fatigue. Teens are also less likely to feel the effects of their sleep deprivation, which can lead to falling asleep in school or worse, behind the wheel of a car.

Remember, “catching up” on the weekend does not work because it can throw off children’s circadian rhythms further, compounding the problem.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends adolescents try keeping a sleep diary to put the reality of their sleep habits in black and white. It’s hard to claim you are getting enough sleep when the numbers tell a different story.  

If your child asks for “just one more hour” for homework or to prepare for a test you can tell them that all other things being equal, an extra hour of sleep will likely be more valuable for memory consolidation than an extra hour of study. 

Model: Let kids see you value sleep. Allow the house to get quiet an hour before a reasonable bedtime, put your devices away, pull out a book and keep good sleep habits yourself. 

How Kids’ Brains Work

Until fairly recently, scientists believed that because childrens’ brains are done growing by the age of 10, their brains are mature by 10 as well. This could not be further from the truth. Kids’ brains are still developing on a cellular level, in a process that won’t be completed until their mid-20s. 

Children’s brains develop in fits and starts, with a first period of massive growth and development between the ages of 1 and 3, and a second during adolescence (between 11 and roughly 25). During these periods of heightened change, their brains are said to be highly “plastic,” meaning they adapt and grow rapidly in response to their environment.  

Increased brain plasticity also means increased potential for learning because brain cells morph from their immature, inefficient “gray matter” state to their more mature and efficient “white matter” state, while building up to 100,000 new synapses per second. Brain cells talk to each other via synapses, and it’s a “use it or lose it” situation. The more brain cells talk to each other via these new connections, the greater the brain’s potential to process and learn.

The last part of the brain to mature is the frontal lobe, where organization, time management and all those other executive function skills happen, so be patient. Middle and high school kids can’t possibly manage all the challenges school and society throws at them, so support kids as they try, fail and try again. 

Model: Brain power is built through challenge and so-called “desirable difficulties,” learning tasks that lie just a bit beyond our ability level or comfort zone. The more our kids see us take on challenges and learn from our mistakes, the more likely they will be to do the same.

How to accept each other (without killing each other)

HOW TO ACCEPT EACH OTHER (WITHOUT KILLING EACH OTHER)

Bruce Muzik

This is the final installment in our mini-series on how to accept your wife (and have her accept you) warts and all.

So far, all we’ve learned is that I’m a recovering messy person who spent a night in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.

Only, kidding!

I’m not recovering.

Anyhow, I’ve tried my best to keep learning about appreciation entertaining, and we’ve actually come pretty far together.

We’ve learned that acceptance is cultivated by:

  1. Assuming a Positive Intention
  2. Appreciating How Your Differences Benefit You
  3. Awareness of Each Other’s Broken Toes

The forth and final skill that cultivates acceptance is this:

Acceptance Skill #4:
Understand the Meaning of Your Partner’s Past

One of the many lessons I have had to learn is that my wife’s reactions only make sense in the context of her past experiences.

For example, when I learned that her mother gave her away (at 3 years of age) to her grandparents, it began to make sense why she needs to feel that I want her and am not going to reject her.

Knowing this, I can take extra care to reassure her that she’s my #1 whenever I suspect that she might be feeling insecure.

It’s not rocket science.

When I can see how her past shapes her present experience, I don’t take her reactions as personally.

I can support her when she snaps at me in times of distress. In the past, I’d have defended myself.

Your ability to resolve conflict quickly and lovingly is directly proportionate to your ability to understand how your partner’s past experiences have shaped their present emotional landscape.

Empathy is the natural result of making this connection.

So, how do you get to the point where your wife’s past makes sense to you?

Well, first you have to understand her past.

A good place to start is to ask your wife about her childhood.

Then ask her to talk about her relationship with her parents.

Obviously, you don’t want to come across like the Spanish Inquisition, so set up the conversation by telling her that you want to learn more about her past so that you can better understand her.

Most people love talking about themselves, so as long as you’re curious, attentive and supportive, she will likely open up.

Now, see if you can connect the dots from what she shared about her past to how she behave now.

In Week 5 of my online coaching program, I’ll assign you some questions to ask each other that will help get this conversation flowing.

So, to sum this series up… We’ve learned about 4 skills that cultivate acceptance. They are:

  1. Assuming a Positive Intention
  2. Appreciating How Your Differences Benefit You
  3. Awareness of Each Other’s Broken Toes
  4. Understanding the Meaning of Your Partner’s Past

Believe it or not, acceptance doesn’t take long time to cultivate. It happens in a split second once we see our partner in a new way.

Consider this:

How different would every interaction with your partner be if you both knew that you were loved just the way you are?

Instead of an argument exploding into a fight, you’d soothe and comfort each other.

Instead of walking on eggshells around each other, you could talk honestly about how you’re feeling and your partner could listen without taking it personally.

Instead of being defensive, you’d be curious as to what was upsetting your partner and offer comfort and support.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

I hope that you’ve found this mini-series helpful.
 

Till next time, be kind to each other.

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