The 3 Key Non-Conflict Ingredients for Constructive Conflict

THE 3 KEY NON-CONFLICT INGREDIENTS FOR CONSTRUCTIVE CONFLICT

Kyle Benson

My partner took me out to celebrate my birthday over dinner and surprised me with axe throwing.

As my partner hit the bulls-eye and smiled at me, I thought to myself how she was, without a doubt, my best friend.

I’m sure you’re aware of the cliche, “Marry your best friend.”

Just like other cliches, there’s a reason it’s around.

Hint: because it’s TRUE.

There are three parts of a strong friendship based on longitudinal research of emotionally connected couples:1

One: Up To Date Love Maps

A love map is when a partner asks open-ended questions to get to know their partner better, creating a map of their partner’s inner world.

During dating, partners do this frequently. They ask questions about work, family, and each other’s likes and dislikes. Successful couples continue to ask these seemingly “basic” questions throughout life, especially around life transitions such as a new job, moving, having a kid, etc.

These love maps help us see what makes our partner unique, and in turn, feel seen by our partners.

For example, before surprising me with axe throwing, my partner began teasing me that she bought us tickets to a concert knowing fully well that I do not find concerts pleasurable.

I felt very unseen in that moment . I started thinking, If she actually bought us concert tickets, then she doesn’t really know me. I feared that she had a bad love map of my inner world.

But when she surprised me with axe throwing, something I do enjoy, I felt known. I remember thinking, What a great surprise and a fun way for us to spend time together.

When couples do not continue to update their intimate knowledge throughout time, it’s easy to feel emotionally distant and for each partner’s satisfaction to decline over time.

So go update your love map of your partner by asking an open-ended question. For ideas, click here.

Two: Frequent Expressions of Affection, Appreciation, and Admiration

When observing 3,000 couples interact during an “events of the day” conversation and a conflict conversation, Dr. Gottman and his colleagues noticed that emotionally connected couples had a habit of looking for what their partner does right and pointing it out.

Even as simple as, “I really appreciate you cooking dinner tonight. It was delicious!”

Couples with high levels of admiration speak positively about their partners to others. These emotionally connected couples are also verbally and physically affectionate with each other.

Couples who struggle with this area of the relationship tend to have a habit of noticing and pointing out the negatives in their partner’s behavior or character. Oftentimes, this leads to escalating conflict or avoidance of one another.

Have you developed the habit of being affectionate, appreciative, and admiring in your relationship? This is often one area that all the couples I work with benefit from by adding it back into their relationship.

Three: Respond to Bids For Connection by Turning Towards Your Partner

Every day, partners make hundreds of bids for connection. Even unhappy couples. These bids can be as indirect and as small as a sigh or as big and direct as “I need a hug right now.”

Whenever a bid is expressed, partners have the choice to connect with their partner’s bid.

Attachment theory indicates that how available, responsive, and engaged partners are, influence how secure the attachment bond between partners is.

At its basic level, when we make bids for connection we are asking the question “A.R.E. you there for me?”

When that answer is yes, we relax and focus on other things or being playful.

When that answer is no, we struggle. We wonder if we can trust our partner. Insecurity seeps in.

Ironically, after watching 900 clips of couples having conflict conversations, Drs. John and Julie Gottman came to the conclusion that most often couples fight about “nothing.”

Often it is less about the topic and more about “Can I trust you to be there for me?” “Will you seek to understand me?” “Can I count on you?” “Will you work with me to build a better relationship?”

Trust is built moment to moment when we connect with our partners. We know they can count on us and we can count on them.

These three ingredients mix together like concrete and are the foundation by which a relationship succeeds or breaks apart.

Couples who continue to build these three aspects of friendship within their relationship have been proven in observational studies to have a better time navigating conflict. After all, if you are close friends, it’s easier to feel like intimate allies in life and come together when things are difficult.

These traits of friendship provide partners with the ability to see their relationship for all of the great things it is – their shared humor, their affection, and the presence of positive aspects necessary to have healthy and constructive conflict.

This in turn enables them to transform their problems into material for constructing a stronger relationship, brick by brick.

Not only do these aspects assist with conflict, but they’re also shown to be the basis on which romance, passion, and good sex happen.

Getting to continuously know your partner, expressing all of the things you admire and appreciate, and consistently responding to their bids for attention strengthen the foundation of your romantic relationship.

A Fresh 60-Second Reminder that Will Change Your Mindset (and Spare Some Pain)

A FRESH 60-SECOND REMINDER THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR MINDSET (AND SPARE SOME PAIN)

Angel Chernoff

As you read these words, you are breathing. Stop for a moment and notice this breath. You can control this breath, and make it faster or slower, or make it behave as you like. Or you can simply let yourself inhale and exhale naturally. There is peace in just letting your lungs breathe, without having to control the situation or do anything about it. Now imagine letting other parts of your body breathe, like your tense shoulders. Just let them be, without having to tense them or control them.

Now look around the room you’re in and notice the objects around you. Pick one, and let it breathe. There are likely people in the room with you too, or in the same house or building, or in nearby houses or buildings. Visualize them in your mind, and let them breathe.

When you let everything and everyone breathe, you just let them be, exactly as they are. You don’t need to control them, worry about them, or change them. You just let them breathe, in peace, and you accept them as they are. This is what letting go is all about. It can be a life-changing practice.

At our annual conference, Think Better, Live Better, Marc and I guide attendees through this process of letting go—and breathing steadily through life’s twists and turns (you should get an HD recording of the event).

Truth be told, inner peace begins the moment you take a new breath and choose not to allow an uncontrollable event to dominate you in the long-term. You are not what happened to you. You are what you choose to become in this moment. Let go, breathe, and begin again…

Discipline vs. Punishment

DISCIPLINE VS. PUNISHMENT

Richard Innes

1956, London, England, UK — Seretse Khama, later the first President of Botswana when it gained independence, with his wife Ruth, and children in the garden of their Croydon home. — Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

God said, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” – Revelation 3:19, NIV

Nine-year-old Al had disobeyed his father who, as a strict disciplinarian, sent him with a note to a police station in London. When Al came in late after curfew, his father met him at the door and handed him a note and said, “Take it to the jailhouse.”

Al was terrified.

“The officer, a friend of his father, opens the note, reads it, and nods,. ‘Follow me.’ He leads the wide-eyed youngster to a jail cell, opens the door, and tells him to enter. The officer clangs the door shut. ‘This is what we do to naughty boys,’ he explains and walks away…. The jail sentence lasts only five minutes. But those five minutes felt like five months. Al never forgot that day. The sound of the clanging door, he often told people, stayed with him the rest of his life.

“The fear of losing a father’s love exacts a high toll. Al spent the rest of his life hearing the clanging door. That early taste of terror contributed to his lifelong devotion to creating the same in others. For Al—Alfred Hitchcock—made a career out of scaring people.” (From UpWords from Max Lucado, www.maxlucado.com)

True, discipline is important, but it always needs to fit the crime. Some children are impaired for life because of severe punishment as a child. Others are left terrified if they were beaten severely or abused. It is imperative that parents never discipline out of anger because that is punishment, not discipline. Discipline always needs to be in love. 

Those whom God loves, he disciplines in love—not punishes in anger. We need to do the same with our children.

Suggested Prayer:

“Dear God, thank You that when You discipline me it is always out of Your love for me and for my good. Help me to do the same when disciplining my children. May it always be in love and never out of anger. Thank You for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully in Jesus’ name, amen.”

When Toddlers Attack!

WHEN TODDLERS ATTACK!

Jessica Grose

A year ago, my toddler accidentally stabbed me in the right eye with a Doc McStuffins otoscope. I can’t really blame her. First of all, she was 2. Secondly, she had an ear infection, and I was trying to give her medicine, and so got extremely close to her face. She was flailing her arms in self-defense, and she just happened to have that purple plastic toy in one of her hands.

I tried to shrug off the injury. I went to work and suffered through several meetings. Then I went to buy an eye patch, thinking if I just closed my eye for long enough it would feel better. It didn’t help, and made me look like a pirate.

Later that day, I went to an ophthalmologist, who told me that I had a corneal abrasion and gave me prescription eye drops. I asked if this was a common injury for parents of young children, and he said yes, but that usually he sees it in parents of infants, who scratch their parents’ eyes with their talon-sharp nails. I was lucky that there was no lasting damage to my poor peeper.

Anecdotally, we at NYT Parenting have heard from many people who were accidentally injured by their small children. The biggest offenders are stepped-on Legos and L.O.L. Surprise! doll detritus, but head-butting is also an issue for parents of babies, who tend to have poor motor skills. Teresa Bowen-Spinelli, M.D., an emergency room physician in New York, said it’s typical to see twisted or broken ankles from tripping over toys and broken noses from head-butting.

But also, for men, she’s seen “injury to genitalia.” Maybe a kid throws a ball or swings a bat in unfortunately close range of your nethers, or you’re roughhousing and get an errant foot to the groin. Dr. Bowen-Spinelli said, however, that she’s never seen a really bad case of injured genitals, “because kids don’t exert that much brute force.”

So, how do you prevent injury by your little ones, who by definition can’t fully control their limbs yet, and who aren’t great at recognizing their physical limitations? Aaron E. Carroll, M.D., an NYT Parenting contributor and a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, said that the first thing to do is to be aware of the unpredictability of their thrashing. Understand that little kids “don’t have the guardrails of personal space,” and don’t understand when they “need to be more careful about flailing around,” he said. “They don’t have the same kind of differentiation between emotional and physical actions. When they might be frustrated or upset,” they don’t know how not to react physically.

With babies who are still getting their necks in control, be careful about getting very close to their faces, Dr. Carroll said. Both doctors recommended being mindful of your baby’s nails, and making sure to trim them frequently, for your safety but also for the baby’s. (If clipping your baby’s nails freaks you out, filing them is a good option, Dr. Carroll said. Dr. Bowen-Spinelli recommended cutting babies’ nails while they sleep, because they may struggle less.) If you’re giving your kid medicine she doesn’t want, as I did, Dr. Carroll suggested making it a two-person job, where one caretaker holds down the kid’s arms while the other squirts antibiotics into her mouth.

If your kid does accidentally hurt you, Dr. Carroll recommended keeping that string of expletives that you undoubtedly want to shout under control. “If it is by accident, don’t overreact, don’t scream and yell,” Dr. Carroll said. If your child is old enough (for many by age 2, though you know your kid’s cognitive abilities best), try to give him positive instruction about watching where he puts his body. And make sure you’re giving what Dr. Carroll calls “anticipatory guidance.” Which is to say: If your 3-year-old is learning how to play tennis, keep a close eye on that racket, because you can bet that a preschooler with a racket is capable of causing accidental physical damage.

Overall, though, some of these injuries may not be preventable — part of the fun of kids is their physical spontaneity and excitable play, and we don’t want to take that away from them, or from us. But, dudes, you may want to wear a cup.

Fighting Constantly After Baby? Read This

FIGHTING CONSTANTLY AFTER BABY? READ THIS

Jessica Grose

THE GIST

  • The vast majority of parents are less satisfied with their marriages after they have kids than they were before.
  • Mothers in heterosexual relationships report the lowest levels of marital satisfaction, mostly because they tend to take on more “second shift” work — housework and child care — than their partners do.
  • Listing and dividing household tasks (including child care) make both partners feel a greater sense of fairness, though those tasks do not have to be divided 50/50. 
  • Maintaining a sexual connection is also important — and reestablishing that connection takes time postpartum. 

The lowest point of my marriage was probably when I was excessively pregnant with our second daughter. It was 90 degrees outside every day, and I had blown past my due date with no signs of labor. I had trouble falling asleep but had finally drifted off one night when my husband came home from a work event and woke me up. I had a brief and fleeting desire to bludgeon him with a bedside lamp. 

I’m not alone: The majority of studies on marital satisfaction suggest that couples are less happy after they become parents, though the degree and length of unhappiness is more of an open question. Deeply unpleasant thoughts about your spouse will probably flit through your mind at some point during your child’s first year, mostly because of the extreme exhaustion infants create in their parents (there’s a reason extreme sleep deprivation is considered torture). 

I spoke to three experts — including a New York Times-bestselling author, a sociologist and a relationship-focused psychotherapist — about how to keep relations as positive as possible during your transition to parenthood. All the experts I spoke with said that taking a transparent, proactive approach to dividing household work — including child care — was the number one way to keep the rage-beast of new parenthood at bay. 

WHAT TO DO

Don’t be surprised if you’re not happy.

Though it’s normal for satisfaction to decline in any relationship over time, research performed within the past decade suggests that new mothers may be most vulnerable to that dip. Sociologists theorize that, in heterosexual relationships, mothers are more unhappy with their marriages after they have children because they tend to take on more “second shift” work — child care and housework — and begin to feel that their relationships are no longer fair. Surveys have shown that whether they work or not, mothers are doing more child care than fathers are. 

There is less data about same-sex and gender non-conforming couples, but there is some — albeit dated — evidence that biological mothers in lesbian couples spend more time doing child care than their partners do (though their partners still spend more time on child care than fathers in heterosexual relationships). Lesbian and gay couples tend to divide housework in a more egalitarian way than heterosexual couples do.

Take the same amount of parental leave as your partner (if you can).

If at all possible, make sure both partners are taking identical amounts of leave. Jennifer Senior, an Op-Ed columnist at The New York Times and author of the bestselling “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood,” said that imbalance in leave-taking can set the stage for an imbalance of caretaking that can last for years. The parent who takes less leave has less experience soothing the baby. So the parent who takes more leave — almost always the biological mother — becomes the default “baby whisperer,” because she has more experience. It’s hard to get out of that pattern once you’re in it. In countries where parents tend to take equal amounts of leave, like in Canada or Sweden, marital satisfaction rates are higher. The unfairness extends even to sleep: Past research has found that working mothers in America are significantly more likely to get up during the night with a sick or wakeful child than working fathers are — and sleep is more equal in countries with more egalitarian policies in place.

Manage your expectations.

“Take the image of the ideal parent and throw it in the garbage,” said Dr. Leah Ruppanner, Ph.D., a sociologist at the University of Melbourne who specializes in family and gender. She gives this advice especially to mothers, because there are much more aggressive cultural expectations about what a good mother is supposed to be. According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans still believe that women do a better job caring for new babies than men do (only 1 percent of Americans think men do a better job), and almost 80 percent believe women face a lot of pressure to be an involved parent. 

Make a list of tasks, and divide them fairly.

Senior suggested that parents should list all of their household tasks, including child care, and divide them in a way that seems fair — not equitable. For example: If one partner works 15 hours more a week than the other partner, then they will probably be doing fewer hours of house- and child-related work. But all the experts we spoke with agreed that ad hoc arrangements led to the most strife (and, in hetero couples, usually leave the mom feeling shafted). Merely making the list provides a way for parents to work through all of the potential pain points. 

Get granular with your list.

The writer Alix Kates Shulman created a “Marriage Agreement” with her husband when she had children, so that household responsibilities would be distributed fairly. She wrote about it in 1970, and her list gets very specific: “Transportation: Getting children to and from lessons, doctors, dentists, friends’ houses, park, parties, movies, library, etc. Making appointments. Parts occurring between 3:00 and 6:30 p.m. fall to wife. Husband does all weekend transportation and pickups after 6.” Senior said you should get as granular as possible when you’re listing and dividing chores — the more specific you get, the less resentment will fester.

Don’t be a maternal gatekeeper.

Some mothers believe themselves to be the superior parent, and engage in what sociologists refer to as “maternal gatekeeping” — they mediate their spouses’ interactions with their children. Practically speaking it often means nitpicking: “Why are you swaddling Ruby that way?”; “Jasper doesn’t like his bottle so cold.” If mothers want child care to be divided fairly, they have to let fathers do things their own way, even if it’s not your way (if the child is truly in danger, that’s another story — you should always intervene in that case). “You’re letting them learn how to respond to the kids,” Ruppanner said. “They learn how to do it. It’s not astrophysics.” 

Ruppanner suggested that if a parent is really struggling not to meddle, they should physically leave the house when their spouse is on duty — go for a run, take a nap, give yourself some personal time. 

Redefine your sex life.

Having a child is a “complete reorganization of the structure of your life,” said Esther Perel, M.A., L.M.F.T., a psychotherapist and author of the book “Mating inCaptivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence” — and that includes your sex life. Many biological parents are given the go-ahead to have sex six weeks postpartum, but that’s because “at six weeks you can be penetrated without tearing,” Perel said — and that doesn’t mean you’re ready for it physically or psychologically. Perel added that it could take as long as a year before you’re ready to have penetrative sex — so don’t be discouraged if you’re feeling uneasy at six weeks. It takes time to re-establish the rhythm and get used to a changed body and a restructured life.

Parents who gave birth need time to recover, and nursing parents may experience vaginal dryness because of lowered estrogen levels. About 90 percent of mothers resume sex within six months of birth, though 83 percent are experiencing sexual issues three months postpartum, and 64 percent are still experiencing issues at six months. Perel encouraged parents to “broaden their erotic interests” outside of penetrative sex and experiment with new erogenous zones. Continuing to connect sexually is important for keeping those hostile feelings at bay, for both parents. “On the long list of what your kids need, making sure the couple remains intimately connected remains very high,” Perel said. “There’s nothing holding a family together except the contentment of the couple.”

SOURCES

Jennifer Senior, author of “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood,” July 24, 2018

Dr. Leah Ruppanner, Ph.D., associate professor and co-director of The Policy Labat the University of Melbourne, July 25, 2018

Esther Perel, M.A., L.M.F.T., author of “Mating inCaptivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence” Aug. 3, 2018

Who Helps with Homework? Parenting Inequality and Relationship Quality Among Employed Mothers and Fathers,” Journal of Family and Economic Issues, March 2018

Gender Equality and Restless Sleep Among Partnered Europeans,” Journal of Marriage and Family, 2018

7 facts about U.S. moms,” Pew Research Center, May 10, 2018

For Sibling Battles, Be a Sportscaster, Not a Referee

FOR SIBLING BATTLES, BE A SPORTSCASTER, NOT A REFEREE

Heather Turgeon

Narrate what’s happening. Repeat back what your kids say to you. Try to be neutral.

Parents in my psychotherapy practice often ask how to make sibling conflict stop.

Understandably, they want the bickering, teasing, aggression and cries of “no fair” to end. But one of the best ways to dial up sibling love is not to squash conflicts, but to learn how to use them. Research supports this, and I’ve seen it in action.

For the most part, sibling conflict is normal and to be expected: Home is a safe testing ground for social dynamics. Siblings often want to play together, but it takes skill and patience when they’re different ages.

Be a Sportscaster

It’s our job to let kids know we see and hear them, but we’re not necessarily going to solve siblings’ conflicts for them (or else they never get the practice). When squabbles start, imagine you’re a sportscaster and describe what you see in front of you, without judgment and without taking sides. This simple practice lets your kids know you acknowledge and respect their struggles, but you’re not immediately jumping in with a solution.

Example: You hear shouting and walk in to find your kids looking upset with each other.

Instead of: Hey settle down in here! Jack, what did you do this time?

Say: I’m hearing really loud voices in here. Alex, you’re looking mad with your hands on your hips. Jack, you’re laughing. There’s a pack of Pokémon cards on the floor.

Narrate what’s happening. Repeat back what your kids say to you. Try to be neutral.

Ah, got it. You’re telling me he always takes the best cards. You feel like he’s the boss all the time. I see. Jack, you wanted to play the game you usually play and Alex wanted to change it up. Alex, you got frustrated and threw the cards. Am I missing anything?

When you repeat back their grievances, it helps kids start to hear each other and work on their own solutions.

Let Siblings Be Mad at Each Other

It’s a knee-jerk reaction for many parents to insist siblings be nice to each other, and try to smooth over tricky or unpleasant feelings. But siblings can feel love, anger, frustration and connection to each other all within the same day. If they get the message that we accept only their sunny feelings, they will either put more oomph into the darker ones so we hear them, or repress and hide them from us. Neither of these is a good outcome. Accept the negative feelings without judgment. The warm, loving ones will naturally resurface.

Example: He always ruins everything! I hate him!

Instead of: Hey, watch it. You need to calm down and apologize to your brother.

Say: Wow, you are super angry at him. What was it that made you this mad?

Example: I don’t want this new baby. I wish she were never born.

Instead of: Oh, you don’t mean that. You’re going to love her, you’ll see.

Say: I get it. Things feel so different now. It used to be just the three of us and it seems like everything changed. I feel it too sometimes!

Know When to Intervene

If you feel as if your kids’ relationship is bordering on emotional or physical abuse, it’s important to intervene quickly and be ready to separate them if necessary. But for the brothers and sisters who are merely annoyed, pause and listen. When voices start to rise and conflict is escalating, those are signs you may need to step in. Start with something like,

Do you guys need help figuring this out?

Can you give me some information about what’s happening here?

Kids are capable problem solvers, even the youngest ones. Assume they have good ideas and you’re there for support.

Use the Iceberg Analogy

Kids’ words and behaviors are only the tip of the iceberg. They’re the easiest to see and the part we fixate on. Usually, there’s something more telling under the surface. One sibling pushes the other not just to be mean, but because he’s angry, he’s testing boundaries, he’s been pushed at school, he’s tired, he’s overstimulated, he’s trying to get attention. As we teach and uphold family rules, it’s also our job as parents to look deeper.

Approaching the situation with curiosity will help you get to the root of the issue, and it also brings the family closer and makes the lessons stick.

Set Limits

The above are a few of the tools my co-author, Julie Wright, and I teach clients to help them tune in and understand what kids are feeling. But you need more for true conflict resolution. We call this strategy the A-L-P model, for the steps of attuning, limit setting and problem solving. Attuning means you lead with understanding, limit setting states the rules and realities, and problem solving is for coming up with alternatives and solutions:

Ouch, that looked like it hurt. Let me check and make sure you’re O.K. You were really mad and you slammed the door on his arm? Tell me what was going on. O.K., got it. You were angry and you wanted space from him. (Attune to both kids).

We absolutely cannot slam doors, because it’s dangerous. Remember that’s a family rule. (Limit Set).

Let’s get your brother some ice. Pause. What could you say, in clear, strong words, when you need space? Let’s write those down, because it’s really hard to remember when you’re mad. (Problem Solve).

This system helped a mom in our practice to feel empathy for her “problem child” — her middle son, who seemed to find every opportunity to provoke and aggravate his little sister. He was downright mean to her in a way that made the mom furious. She sometimes felt as if she didn’t like him.

We had her sketch an iceberg and fill in the possible sources of her son’s behaviors. As she did this exercise, she started to cry. She had written notes like, “Resentment toward little sister for being the baby of the family, attention from adults always on her, jealousy for her easygoing nature, overwhelmed at school, anger at recent family changes.” She worked on seeing him through this lens of curiosity and it made her less reactive and able to acknowledge his struggles.

Eventually, he started opening up and telling her more about how he was feeling. When she reminded him of family rules, rather than sending him to his room, she asked him what he could do instead of provoking his sister, and he actually started coming up with his own ideas.

As time went on, she still heard them fighting, but she also heard them working things out, chatting and laughing. The ratio of enjoyment to conflict was going up. Her empathy for her son was spreading through the family.

How to Set Screen Rules That Stick

HOW TO SET SCREEN RULES THAT STICK

Caroline Knorr

Easy tips for limiting kids’ computer, TV, game, and movie time.

In many homes, getting kids to turn off their cell phones, shut down the video games, or quit YouTube can incite a revolt. And if your kids say they need to be online for schoolwork, you may not know when the research stops and idle activity begins.

When it comes to screen time, every family will have different amounts of time that they think is “enough.” What’s important is giving it some thought, creating age-appropriate limits (with built-in flexibility for special circumstances), making media choices you’re comfortable with, and modeling responsible screen limits for your kids. Try these age-based guidelines to create screen rules that stick.

Preschoolers. There are lots of great TV showsappsgames, and websites geared for this age. But too much time spent in front of a screen can interfere with activities that are essential for growing brains and bodies.

  • Go for quality and age-appropriateness. Not everything for preschoolers needs to be a so-called “brain-builder,” but there’s a difference between mindless and mindfulentertainment. Our reviews can steer you toward titles that help preschoolers work on developmental skills like sharing, cooperation, and emotional intelligence.
  • Sit with them, and enjoy the discovery process. There will always be moments when you need to rely on the TV or an app to distract your preschooler while you get something done. But as much as you can, enjoy media together. Little hands and developing brains really benefit from your company (and guidance!).
  • Begin setting limits when kids are little. Habits get ingrained early, so try to establish clear screen-time rules when your kids are young. For games, apps, and websites, you may need to set a timer. For TV, just say “one show.”

Elementary and Middle Schoolers. At this age, kids love TV shows, games, movies, and online videos. They begin to explore more and hear about new shows and games from friends. Because they can access these things by themselves, it’s crucial to continue to supervise their activities and help them stick to your rules.

  • Start with an endpoint. Use whatever tools you have — your DVR, Netflix, OnDemand — to pre-record shows, cue them up, or plan ahead to watch at a specific time. That way, one show won’t flow into the other, and you can avoid commercials. If your kids are into YouTube, search for age-appropriate videos, and add them to a playlist to watch later. Because most games don’t have built-in endings (and are, in fact, designed to make kids play as long as possible), set a timer or some other cue that says “time to stop.”
  • Help them balance their day. Kids this age need guidance from you on a daily plan that includes a little bit of time for everything. And staying involved works: Kids whose parents make an effort to limit media use spend less time with media than their peers do, according to a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study. Use the American Academy of Pediatrics’ worksheets to create a family media plan. 
  • Practice what you preach. It’s tempting to keep reaching for your phone to check email, texts, Facebook, or the news. But your kids will be the first to call you out for not “walking the talk.” Plus, they’ll pick up habits from you. Model the media behavior that you want your kids to emulate.

High Schoolers. You’ll have more success with teens if you explain the reasons why too much screen time is harmful. For example, social media may contribute to anxiety

  • Help them make quality choices. You still have a say in what they see, hear, and play. Put in your two cents about the importance of quality shows, games, and movies.
  • Crack down on multitasking. High school kids who’ve discovered texting, IM, Facebook, and music tend to do them all at once — especially when they’re supposed to be doing mundane tasks like homework. But a University of Michigan study found that humans are terrible multitaskers and that the practice actually reduces the ability to concentrate and focus.
  • Find ways to say “yes.” Look for movies they can watch. Find games you’re OK with. If your teens ask to see something you don’t approve of, help them find alternatives.

Beyond the Talk: Teaching Your Kids About Consent

BEYOND THE TALK: TEACHING YOUR KIDS ABOUT CONSENT

Kateyn Ewen

The talk. The birds and the bees. The awkward conversation with your parents you dreaded as a child. It probably went something like this: “Well, when two people love each other very much…” followed by a vague description of the physical act of sex, contraceptives, pregnancy, and STIs.

But were you ever taught about consent? What about affirmative consent? Did your parents and the adults in your life practice consent with each other, and with you? The #MeToo stories about non-consensual interactions, specifically ones that live in the grey area or ones that happen in childhood, are something we should all strive to eliminate from the next generation by educating our kids today.

It is approximated that 63,000 people under the age of 12 are victims of sexual abuse every year. One in six boys and one in four girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. And those are just the ones who report.

If we can teach our kids about consent and show them how to practice it through our actions, through those little teaching moments, then maybe, these stories can be less common.

Here are seven ways to teach your kids, and the kids in your lives, about consent.

Practice consent by example
Before children even learn to speak, they learn by observing and mimicking the world around them. It’s called observational learning. By practicing consent with our partners, friends, and other children, we can begin to model what consent should look like to those ever-watchful eyes.

This also extends to how we practice consent in our relationships with our children. By giving children choices in expressing consent in how they would like to be touched, we teach them how to express it when we’re not around. For example, If you want to kiss your child goodnight, ask them, “May I give you a kiss goodnight?” and respect their answer.

Give them bodily autonomy
Giving children choice is a gateway to giving them the tools to express their consent. You can ask your child “Do you want to wear your blue shoes or your yellow shoes today?” In the same way, it is important to give children options when it comes to their body. For example, if they have a rash and they need ointment you can say, “You need ointment for your rash, do you want to put it on, or can I help you?”

Giving children simple choices every day shows them that they have bodily autonomy so that they can carry that into other interactions. In the same way, it is important to not take that bodily autonomy away from your children. A common way children lose their bodily autonomy is through adults coercing them to hug and/or kiss relatives and friends. It’s important to show children that they have a choice. If they say no, you can give them alternatives, like “How about a fist bump?” but the key is to respect a “no” that may follow.

Teach them to listen to their bodies
Consent isn’t just a verbal interaction, so it’s important that we teach children to listen to their bodies. What feels good and what doesn’t feel good to them? Teaching them what it feels like to be present in their physical self, and what it feels like to have their physical needs honored and met, is key to them being able to appropriately express their needs later.

Teaching children about their physical pleasure is something that Sue Jaye Johnson, a journalist and filmmaker, talks about working through with her daughters. In an interview for the Future of Sex Podcast, she talks about how her daughter will ask her to rub her back and how she then asks “Well, how would you like me to rub your back?” giving her daughter the space to think about her pleasure and express her physical wants in a productive way. In the same way, we also need to teach our children to listen to their gut feelings and instincts. Our bodies are a powerful tool in telling us that something doesn’t feel right. By encouraging children to give credence to these feelings and voice them, we encourage an understanding of their own pleasure and needs and how they might express that to future partners.

Give them the tools to express their physical wants and needs
Once a child has language at their disposal, we can begin to help them express their wants and needs though their words. We can teach them polite ways to decline affection like “No, thank you. I don’t want to hug right now.” But we should also be teaching them that they can just say “no” and that that’s ok, too.

Rather than teaching our girls the narrative that if a boy teases you, he likes you, we should be teaching our kids that if they don’t like something and ask someone to stop, they need to stop. If their words aren’t heeded, that may be the appropriate time to involve an adult or remove themselves from interaction with the offending kid. In the same way, it is important to teach kids to ask permission, with words and gestures. They can offer a hand to hold or hold out their hands for a hug, but they also need to ask, use their words, and know that someone may say no.

Teach them how to handle physical rejection
While we need to teach our kids how to say no, we also need to teach our kids to recognize and accept the rejection of affection. It’s important to encourage them to stop when someone says no, and to step in as adults when we recognize our kids being affection aggressors, holding other kids a little too long or a little too hard.

We can teach kids to accept rejection and redirect them. We can tell them that just because a friend doesn’t want a hug, that that doesn’t mean they don’t love them and we can direct them to show affection in other ways. You can tell your child to use words of affirmation, acts of service, or gifts to express affection. While channeling affection is important, it’s also important to just teach that it’s ok that someone doesn’t want something, in the same way that they may not want things at times. They are in control of their bodies, just as someone else is in control of theirs.

Turn awkward moments into teaching opportunities
Something I’ve talked a lot about with peers is how their parents handled sex scenes in movies and television growing up. As a millennial, the general binary in my generation is parents who fast-forwarded through sex scenes and parents who made you endure the sex scenes in a tense silence. In addition to this binary, there are a lot of movies and shows from my childhood, and from generations prior, that display non-consensual interactions in a way that makes them seem okay.

What if we didn’t let that slide? What if we took media and created a dialogue, especially with older children and teens? If you’re watching a movie with your kid that has a sex scene, use the time that could be spent being awkward to talk about what’s being done right and what the characters should be doing regarding consent in the interaction.

Believe them and advocate for them
Finally, and most importantly, it is essential to believe children and advocate for them. If your child expresses discomfort or unease, ask them about their feelings and validate them. This is a crucial step of Emotion Coaching. When you believe them, it creates an open channel for communication between you. It teaches them them to trust you and trust their own instincts. So in turn, they might also believe the story of someone else.

Ask them if they want or need intervention. It’s then your responsibility to advocate for them with whomever is making them uncomfortable. That might mean talking to a parent, teacher, coach, or other adult. Sometimes we’re the ones that need to step in and have those tough conversations until our children are old enough to have them on their own.

Rather than having “the talk” with your kids, think of teaching consent as an ongoing dialogue—a million little conversations and day-to-day actions that can help them feel comfortable and safe in their own bodies, and respect the sanctity of someone else’s.

How to Talk to Kids About Violence, Crime, and War

HOW TO TALK TO KIDS ABOUT VIOLENCE, CRIME, AND WAR

Caroline Knoor

Exposure to graphic images, distressing information, and horrific headlines can affect kids’ overall well-being.

Mass shootings. Nuclear weapons. A robbery at your local corner store. Where do you start when you have to explain this stuff to your kids? Today, issues involving violence, crime, and war — whether they’re in popular shows, video games, books, or news coverage — reach even the youngest kids. And with wall-to-wall TV coverage, constant social media updates, streaming services that broadcast age-inappropriate content any time of day, plus the internet itself, you have to have a plan for discussing even the worst of the worst in a way that’s age-appropriate, that helps kids understand, and that doesn’t cause more harm.

We know that heavy exposure to media violence, such as first-person-shooter games and cinematic explosions, can negatively affect kids. We also know that kids report feeling afraid, angry, or depressed about the news. But in recent years — prompted by increased terrorist attacks around the world — researchers are exploring the effects of “remote exposure” to real violent events. Remote exposure is when kids understand that something traumatic has occurred but haven’t experienced it directly. Unsurprisingly, its lingering effects include feelings of grief, trauma, fear, and other mental health concerns. Kids can be deeply affected by images of war-torn countries, bloodied refugee children, and mass graves and need additional help processing them. 

These tips and conversation starters can help you talk to kids of different ages about the toughest topics. Get more advice about explaining distressing newsdifficult subjects, and sexual harassment.

Tips for talking to kids about violence, crime, and war

Age 2–6

Avoid discussion of or exposure to really horrific news. As much as possible, wait until after young kids are in bed to watch the news, and save conversations about heinous subjects, such as Charles Manson or the latest Dateline murder mystery, for child-free moments.

Don’t bring it up — unless you think they know something. There’s no reason to bring up school shootings, terrorist attacks, threats of war, or the like with young kids. If you suspect they do know something — for example, you hear them talking about it during their play — you can ask them about it and see if it’s something that needs further discussion.

Affirm that your family’s safe. In the case of scary news, such as wilderness fires — even if you’re a little rattled — it’s important for young children to know they’re safe, their family is OK, and someone is taking care of the problem. Hugs and snuggles do wonders, too.

Simplify complex ideas — and move on. Abstract ideas can complicate matters and may even scare young kids. Use concrete terms and familiar references your kid will understand, and try not to overexplain. About a mass shooting, say, “A man who was very, very confused and angry took a gun and shot people. The police are working to make sure people are safe.”

Distinguish between “real” and “pretend.” Young kids have rich fantasy lives and mix up make-believe and reality. They may ask you if a scary story is really true. Be honest, but don’t belabor a point.

Age 7–12

Wait and see. Unless they ask, you know they were exposed, or you think they know something, don’t feel you have to discuss horrific news or explain heinous crimes such as rape, beheadings, dismemberment, and drug-fueled rampages (especially to kids in the younger end of this age range or who are sensitive). If kids show signs of distress by acting anxious, regressing, or exhibiting some other tip-off that something’s amiss — for example, they’re reluctant to go to school after the latest school shooting — approach them and invite them to talk.

Talk … and listen. Older tweens hear about issues related to violence, crime, and war on social media, YouTube, TV, and movies — not always reliable sources for facts. Try to get a sense of what your kids know before launching into an explanation, since you don’t want to distress them further or open up a whole new can of worms. Feel them out by asking, “What did you hear?,” “Where did you hear that?,” “What do you know about it?,” and “What do you think about it?”

Be honest and direct. Tweens can find out what they want to know from different sources, and you want the truth to come from you. It’s not necessary to go into extreme detail. About a family who held their kids hostage, you can say, “The kids suffered many different kinds of abuse. But they were rescued, and their parents were arrested. Often in cases of child abuse, the parents are very sick with mental illness or other issues.”

Discuss sensationalism in news and media. Talk to kids about how media outlets — including news agencies, TV shows, movie companies, and game developers — use extreme subjects to get attention, whether it’s in the form of clicks, viewership, or ticket sales. Share the old newsroom adage, “If it bleeds, it leads,” and talk about why we may be drawn to outrageous human behavior. This helps kids think critically about the relative importance of issues, the words and images used to attract an audience, and their own media choices.

Explain context and offer perspective. With your life experience, knowledge, and wisdom, you can explain the various circumstances around certain issues. This is the process that gives things meaning and clarity — and it’s important for kids to be able to make sense of negative and unpleasant things, too. To work through the powerful emotions that images of beatings, blood, and human suffering can bring up, kids have to learn to distance themselves from horrific events, understand the underlying causes, and perhaps get involved in meaningful ways to make things better, such as diplomacy and education.

Teens

Assume they know — but don’t assume their knowledge is complete. Teens get a lot of their information from online sources such as social media or YouTube, which can be misleading or flawed. Still, it’s important to respect their knowledge and ability to learn things independently because that’s a process you want to foster. You’ll still need to fill in the blanks, offer some history, and share what you know.

Get them talking. High school years can be tough, as teens start rejecting their parents’ ideas, becoming concerned with what friends think, and developing their own voice. This separation can be especially difficult when traumatic events occur or when you know they’re interacting with mature media. To continue the kinds of conversations you had when they were younger — and stay connected and relevant — resist the urge to lecture and instead ask their opinions about things. Encourage them to support their ideas with legitimate news sources, not just repeat what others have said. Say, “We may not always agree, but I’m curious to hear what you have to say.”

Accept their sources, but expand their horizons. Trending topics capture the headlines, but teens are just as likely to run across provocative subjects, stories, and characters on TV and in movies — such as the meth-making chemistry teacher of Breaking Bad — that get users clicking, viewing, and sharing. Give teens the tools to view information critically, whether they’re scrolling through Snapchat, Netflix or a free-speech site for extremists such as 4chan and 8chan. Teach them to question what they see by asking themselves, “Who made this?,” “Why did they make it?,” “What’s its point of view?,” “What information isn’t included?,” and “What would my friends think of this?” These media-literacy questions help teens evaluate information, think beyond the clickbait headline or funny meme, and look more deeply into a topic.

Offer hope. Mood swings are the hallmark of the teen years. But exposure to sad and depressing news, as well as to issues like violence, crime, and war, through social media, video games, and movies can make teens world-weary. Don’t be a Pollyanna (teens will see through that), but talk about meaningful ways to contribute something to the world — anything that benefits the greater good. The idea that you can make a positive impact restores the soul and boosts the resilience they’ll need their whole lives.

Managing Fear After Mass Violence

MANAGING FEAR AFTER MASS VIOLENCE

Jessica Grose

My older daughter was less than a week old when the Sandy Hook school shooting happened. I remember clutching her body to my chest and watching cable news, horrified by the world I had brought her into. For days after, I worried about taking her outside our home and into crowded places. I had a pungent, spiky fear that felt very real in the moment. If someone could gun down a bunch of 6-year-olds, I thought at the time, the notion of safety was ephemeral.

There have been more than 200 school shootings in the United States since Sandy Hook, and upward of 2,000 mass shootings, including the recent string of violence at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, at an El Paso Walmart and in Dayton, Ohio. While anyone’s anxiety could spike over so much death occurring in just a week in places that have a patina of wholesomeness, like a store or a food festival, parental anxiety may be particularly painful. Hearing about brave victims like Jordan and Andre Anchondo, who died in El Paso shielding their baby son, Paul, from gunfire, is harrowing.

Parenting is an ongoing process of learning to tolerate the idea “that you cannot entirely keep your children safe,” said Dr. Alexandra Sacks, M.D., a reproductive psychiatrist based in New York City, who called this struggle the “existential paradox” of parenthood.

I spoke to two psychiatrists and two pediatricians about how parents — and their children — can deal with increased anxiety and fear in the aftermath of these shootings.

Understand that a few days of increased anxiety is normal. “It’s an appropriate response to a really traumatic event,” said Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the George Washington University School of Medicine. If you need more downtime at home in the few days after such upsetting violence, you should feel empowered to take that space, Dr. Lakshmin said. And acknowledging your feelings is key — avoiding or pushing them down won’t make them go away.

Reach out to parent friends. Connecting with your community to talk through fears can help, Dr. Lakshmin said. That’s particularly true for parents of color or those from religious minorities, who may feel especially acute anxiety in this moment because of the white extremist ideology of many recent mass shooters.

Try to stick to your routine. “Every time a shooting happens, our sense of reality falls apart,” Dr. Lakshmin said. “The world you thought you were living in is not the world you’re actually in.” So trying to maintain your routine keeps you tethered to your day-to-day life. Overcoming your fears by taking your kids to the park, to the store or to camp as planned can help to keep the anxiety from overwhelming you.

Channel anxiety into action. Finding a way to contribute in the aftermath of a tragedy, whether by volunteering with organizations that work to prevent mass shootings or by helping a community affected, can help redirect your fears, Dr. Sacks said. The El Paso Times published recommendations for its community, as did the Dayton Daily News.

Step away from the news. If you find that reading or viewing the details of violent events is triggering your anxiety, try to edit your media diet, Dr. Sacks said. “I do hear from parents that they can be drawn to catastrophic things that happen with children in the news,” she said. “It’s incredibly painful to them, but they feel a pull toward these stories in their empathy and identification.”

It’s helpful to minimize kids’ exposure to news as well, said Dr. Jackie Douge, M.D., a pediatrician based in Maryland and a fellow at the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Don’t dodge the hard conversations. If you suspect your kids know about an incidence of mass violence, you should ask them what they have heard, said Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, M.D., an attending physician at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. “You don’t want to give so much information that you’re introducing trauma yourself,” Dr. Heard-Garris said. But “you also want them to trust you,” that you’re not hiding difficult things from them. If you start with what they know, you “can try to address any misconceptions, or rumors, any anxieties right then and there,” she said.

While “it’s affecting all children” negatively to hear about particular communities singled out for violence, Dr. Heard-Garris said, parents of kids who hear about their religious or racial communities being targeted can send them the following message: “I know there’s a lot of bad stuff happening in the world, but it’s my job as a parent to try to keep you safe.”

Destiny Chavez, 26, brought her two sons Ares, 6, and Arian Aguayo, 2, to pay their respects at the victims’ memorial on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019 in El Paso, Texas.Calla Kessler/The New York Times

Know when to get help. If you find that you’re anxious for more than a week, or if your sleep, eating or other routines are disrupted, it may be time to talk to a therapist. “If you’re finding these intrusive thoughts are not controllable and they become so loud that you’re taking a circuitous route to get to work, or not letting your kids go to soccer practice, that’s when I would say it’s time to see a therapist and have a more structured space to unpack these fears,” Dr. Lakshmin said.

The same goes for your kids — a little additional fear or anxiety is normal after traumatic events, but if their anxiety is affecting their relationships, sleep or their behavior at school, talk to your primary care provider, Dr. Douge said.

Your child’s fears may be triggered again by school lockdown drills, which millions of children experience each year, and which may leave kids traumatized. All you can do with the recurrence of fear is to reassure kids that these tragic events are still rare, overall, and that their home is a safe place for them to unpack their worries. Tell them: “Your teachers, your doctor, your pastor or rabbi, we love and care about you,” Dr. Heard-Garris said, and that home is “where they have this refuge from this crazy world.”