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Talking About Tough Subjects In Tough Times

Sad Boy My stomach hurts, my head hurts, and my heart hurts. It is difficult to find words to express what I am feeling this week, but I will try. I hope that my words encourage some of you to share your thoughts with me. Let's have a conversation. Last week, I was horrified by the light sentence doled out to a convicted rapist. The rape occurred at Stanford University, 10 miles from my home, and a place I drive past almost daily. My outrage at the sentence and the message that sent is palpable. But what made me the most upset was the letter written by the rapist’s father, defending his son and his son’s actions. Reading the father’s words helped me understand how this young man could grow up to be a rapist – one who thinks of no one but himself, who thinks he is better than others, who feels entitled to take whatever he wants, and who values personal power and control over anything else. This week, I am horrified and saddened by the Orlando massacre, where 49 innocent people lost their lives in another act of terror and hate. I am always upset when the face and name of the murderer is shown on television, though I understand why that must happen. And then I listened to the words of the criminal’s father, who expressed love for his son but also hatred for people who happen to be gay. His words helped me understand how this young man grew up with hatred for a certain group of people, and who felt that his life and his beliefs are more valuable than others. These stories help to validate what I teach parents every day: how WE act as parents, what WE say as parents, what WE role model as parents help develop our children into successful adults. I do not blame parents for the actions of their adult children. But I do believe that how we raise our children, how we treat others, how we talk about others who are “different” from us, all impact the type of person our child grows up to be. I encourage parents to always remember the goal of parenting: to raise a successful adult. An adult who is honest, kind, thoughtful, accepting, generous, open-minded, helpful, polite - to everybody, regardless of their color, religion, nationality, or sexual orientation. And in order to raise a successful adult, we need to be successful adults, and to role model and teach those traits every day. We need to teach our kids to speak up for themselves, and for others who might need help. We need to teach our girls to say “No” loudly and firmly when they need to. We need to teach our boys that “No” is a signal for them to stop – immediately- no matter when it is said. We need to teach our kids that sex is an act of caring, not an act of scoring and controlling. We need to teach our kids that all people are created equal, and that being kind is a virtue. We need to be good people in order to raise good people who in turn raise good people. This has been a terrible two weeks for us. We need to hold serious conversations with our children about issues that many of us are not able to fully grasp ourselves. We need to reassure our young kids that we are strong, and that we will do everything we can to keep them safe. We need to show our kids the heroes and the positive things that happen even in a terrible situation. We need to move forward and live our lives with confidence, and free of fear. We need to hug our kids tightly and appreciate all the small beautiful moments that make up our day. And we need to open our hearts, open our minds, and be kind to each other. Together, we will get through this.

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When Sad and Scary Things Happen

Unfortunately, we are dealing with another tragic terrorist attack in our world, this time in Paris. It is on the news, on-line, and being spoken about in public. Our children ARE hearing about this, and they do have questions. Here are some tips to help our kids: 1) Limit access to TV and news on-line. Remember that many restaurants have TV's. 2) Pay attention to how you are acting, and to what you are saying. Your kids are always watching you - so please show your strength and calm. 3) Be willing to talk with your kids, and answer all their questions. 4) Watch the language you use. Avoid big words (death, always, never). Use small words (hurt, sometimes, a few). 4) Share what Mr. Rogers advised: "In a scary time, look for the helpers. Because there are always helpers". Please let me know if you have any questions, or if you just want to talk. If you are having a tough time with this, it is difficult to take care of our children. So please be sure to take care of yourself. When we fly, we are told to put our own gas mask on first, and then help our children. And please share your coping ideas here - let's all work together to get through another tough time.

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A Potty Training Success Story!

A potty training success story shared with me by one of my coaching clients. Maybe this can help you and your family. Congrats to Mom, Dad, and Jackson! "When my son, Jackson, turned 2 we started introducing the potty. My husband and I talked about it daily and would mention, “one day you will pee in the potty like Mommy and Daddy.” At 3 he decided, before bath time, to pee in the toilet and we got super excited! He did it a few times but then went back to wetting his pants and refusing to pee in the toilet. Of course we then moved to bribery with candy and toys, which worked for a while, but then he decided that wearing his pull up was better than our bribes. My husband and I decided to take a break on trying to "force" the issue. By the time he turned 4, I was at my wits end. Asking him to use the potty turned into unbearable tantrums and frustrations. Finally, I talked with Susan and she gave an excellent idea! Both Jackson and I looked at the calendar (I have a giant one hanging on the wall), circled a date, and said “no more pull ups after this day.” Then each evening before bed, we would mark a red X the day counting down. Sure enough, since that day, we have had no accidents, fully potty trained (during the day AND night), peeing AND pooping in the toilet!! We couldn't have been any prouder! Or more shocked! It has been a full 2 weeks and has been great!! Thank you, Susan!"

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Elaine’s Living Legacy

Several years ago I became friends with a lively, funny, spunky elderly woman named Elaine. I began spending one afternoon a week with Elaine in her apartment, just to keep her company and help her with small tasks such as tending to her many plants which she loved. I would arrive to find her watching her “shows”, soap operas she had watched for years. We would discuss the character’s actions in great detail, even though I had no idea what was happening. I simply nodded my head in agreement with whatever Elaine said, and gasped out loud when she did. We also had lengthy political discussions. After being a Republican most of her life, she was a huge Obama fan and was proud to have voted for him. I always enjoyed my time with Elaine, and looked forward to our weekly visits. Elaine-Plant-1-168x300 About 2 years ago, Elaine moved with her wonderful daughter to their new home in Los Angeles. I was very sad to see Elaine leave, but was honored to accept one of the small plants from Elaine’s porch that she and I had watered and cared for together. I moved the plant to my back yard, and have named it Elaine’s Flower. Nothing too original, but accurate. Every time I go in the back yard, I see Elaine’s Flower and think of my friend with a smile. Elaine passed away shortly after her move, but her plant lives on in my home just as she lives on in my heart. So I have an idea for you. Take your child to your local nursery, buy a beautiful plant, and bring it home to your backyard or your window sill. Give it a name, water it when thirsty, feed it when hungry, and appreciate it together. Take a picture of your child and the plant the first day, and regularly after that. See how your plant and your child are blooming, and appreciate them both every day. Just one more way to build a connection with your child.

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Asking About Guns: Do You? Would You?

When my son Brandon was five years old, he had a buddy that lived half a block down from us. One morning, he set off to play at his friend’s house, and came home about 30 minutes later. When I asked him why he was home so early (I had hoped for a longer break than that!), Brandon said “William (not real name) asked me if I wanted to see his dad’s gun. I didn’t want to and so I just came home.” After praising Brandon for making a safe and wise decision, (and after catching my breath and calming down my heartbeat), I told him that he was no longer allowed to play at William’s house. That William was welcome to come to our home, but that I was no longer comfortable with Brandon playing there. I had no idea where William’s father stored his gun; I had no idea if the gun was locked away or in an accessible location. All I knew was that if William was offering to show the gun, my kid was not going to be in that house. I also understood that I had no idea if any of Brandon’s other friends had guns in their homes. But certainly, no other child had ever told Brandon about one. This incident happened twenty-five years ago. I had taught my son that he was not to play with guns; that they are dangerous and not a toy. But I never thought about asking parents if there was a gun in their home before I sent my child there for a playdate. I didn’t do it then and I’ve never suggested it since. But here is an article that got me thinking this morning. When I speak to parents of tweens and teens now, I suggest that, when their child is invited to a freind’s house, they first call the parents to verify if an adult will be present, if your child indeed has permission to be at their home, and if alcohol will be served to minors. Maybe I need to expand this list to calling parents of toddlers and asking about guns. Do you do this? Would you do this? It might be uncomfortable; it might anger another parent. But it just might save a life. What do you think?

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My Kid Doesn’t Listen To Me!

It’s a question I get asked daily. Parents say to me “My kids don’t listen to me.” And what they mean is that their children don’t do what they tell them to do. Their kids don’t obey them, they don’t follow directions, and they don’t come when they are called. It is a really difficult part of being a parent – being ignored and not listened to is a very frustrating feeling. And almost every day a kid says to me “My parents don’t listen to me.” And what they mean is that their parents don’t listen to them. Kids feel that they are interrupted, not allowed to express themselves, and not believed. It is a really difficult part of being a kid – being ignored and not listened to is a very frustrating feeling. I met with a wonderful little girl this week. She is a very bright, very articulate 5th grader. She admitted to me that she does not always follow her mom’s directions. When I asked her why she chose not to obey her mom, she said “She says so many things to me, that I don’t know what I really need to listen to. Her words go in my ears, but they don’t go in my brain.” Isn’t that great? Think about that. We need to hear, no, we need to listen to, this little girl’s wise advice. If we want our kids to listen to us, we need to talk less. We need to make it clear when something we are saying is important. We need to get physically closer to our kids so we know they can hear our voice. We need to ask them if they heard what we just said. We need to have them repeat what we just said. And then we need to follow through with making sure they did what we told them to. If we want our kids to listen to us, we need to listen more. We need to give our kids our full attention. We need to feel that what they are saying is important. We need to be patient and listen to their entire story. We need to care about what they are saying. We can teach our children how to listen by listening to them the same way we want them to listen to us. Imagine how great it will be when you and your child both feel heard and understood. Imagine how great it will be when your words go past the ears and all the way into your child’s brain. Awesome.

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Ask For Help This School Year

This month Kim Seidel wrote a great article for Bay Area Parent Magazine, and asked me for my opinion on the topic “Ask For Help This School Year”. Kim’s great article highlighted the fact that parents find it hard to ask for help, and yet no parent has all the answers. It is so interesting to me that moms and dads are so eager to offer advice (which often is appreciated) but have a very tough time asking for help. As I said in the article, “We have these expectations that we should be able to handle it all by ourselves. I don’t know why we think that.” I think asking for help is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness. Parenting is the hardest job in the world, and yet there is no formal training. We can read books, but nothing truly prepares us for the reality of having a child who needs us every minute; who has numerous and varied needs that we are expected to fulfill; and for whom we are totally responsible. Of course we need help – and help will only arrive when we ask for it. My mother-in-law always told me that “an unhappy mommy cannot raise a happy child”. I didn’t agree with everything she said, but that statement I agree with. Children need parents who are relaxed, confident, happy, and calm. Please don’t try to do everything by yourself – please understand that the smartest parents ask for the help they need. In fact, you can always ask me. I will help any way I can. My kids are 25 and 21 – and I still ask for help when needed!

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A Family Tragedy

Palo Alto Daily

A FAMILY TRAGEDY

In wake of murder-suicide children need candid answers By Emily Richmond Palo Alto Daily News Staff (1997) Palo Alto parents should provide their children with candid answers to questions about the apparent murder-suicide of a J.S. Stanford Middle School student and his parents, a grief counselor said yesterday. Susan Stone, who heads the trauma response unit of Family Service Mid-Peninsula, said parents should be prepared for their children’s grief and fear. “It’s normal for children to be scared and look to their parents for answers,” Stone told the Daily News. “Parents need to listen to their kids and validate their feelings. And parents shouldn’t be afraid to bring the subject up.” Stabbed The bodies of Elena Fedotova, 38, Vladimir Pokhilko, 44, and their son Peter Pokhilko, 12, were found inside their Ferne Avenue home Tuesday at about 3:30 p.m. Peter and his mother were stabbed to death and Pokhilko died after apparently slashing his own throat, police said yesterday. “This type of tragedy makes us all rethink our own mortality, even if we didn’t personally know the people involved.” –Susan Stone Outside the crime scene Tuesday, an 11-year-old boy asked a police officer if there was “lots of blood” inside the house. Stone said this is a typical reaction from younger children. “When children think of someone who’s dead, they’re usually scared of the blood,” said Stone. “Parents need to address those fears openly and honestly.” The first step, said Stone, is to put the event in context. “Parents need to emphasize that this is a really unusual event, and not something that should ever happen,” said Stone. “The children’s fears are likely increased because this is something so unfamiliar and involves a parent doing harm to their own child.” Violence real Even older children and teenagers can have difficulty dealing with the shocking details, said Stone. “To a certain extent, older children are desensitized to media violence on television and in movies,” said Stone. But she said that Tuesday’s murder brought home the violence to youngsters. “(The) violence became real to some kids for whom it had never been real before. And there’s no way you can become desensitized to that,” said Stone. Police have their own debriefing programs and trauma counselors, said Stone, who frequently visits companies and work sites after an accidental death or suicide. Stone was called to Great America amusement park in Santa Clara two weeks ago following the death of a park visitor killed when he tried to retrieve his baseball cap from underneath a roller coaster. Grief counselors were on hand yesterday at JLS. Peter’s teachers and classmates recalled him as an excellent student and talented artist. His classmate Peter Stepanov said his friend enjoyed fishing, math, and taking his basset hound, Holmes, for walks. “Talking about a person and remembering them is an important part of the grief process,” said Stone. “It’s essential that people have an outlet for their feelings and someone to listen.” Hotlines can help Anyone needing help–not just parents and children–can call Family Service Mid-Peninsula’s hotlines, said Stone. “I imagine we’ll have more calls to the hotlines once the house is closed and police leave,” said Stone. “When the action settles down is usually when it begins to sink in.” Parents should watch their children for changes in sleeping or eating habits, excessive crying or sudden fears, such as a refusal to walk to school alone or sleeping with the lights on. Adults may also find themselves experiencing delayed reaction to the trauma, said Stone. “It’s normal for people to wake up one morning a few weeks from now feeling a little weepy.” said Stone.

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Five Biggest Mistakes Moms Are Making Today

CUPERTINO, April 22. — Nobody ever said moms were perfect. But their imperfections can be corrected, according to one prominent parenting coach. Susan Stone Belton says that poor ol’ mom usually means well. It’s just that she may be responding emotionally rather than rationally, especially when it comes to raising her kids. “There really are specific ways to deal with the day-to-day crises with kids and end up with successful adults,” she said. A mother of two teenagers herself, Stone Belton has 35 years experience in child raising. She is often called upon by schools and government departments to discuss successful parenting. In honor of Mother’s Day, Stone Belton has issued her 2005 list, “The Five Biggest Mistakes Moms Are Making Today.” Here is her list:

  • Thinking she should have all the answers
  • Believing she can control her children’s behavior
  • Putting too much pressure on her kids
  • Accepting stress and arguing as an everyday part of parenting
  • Feeling that being a mom isn’t very much fun
Stone Belton contends that you don’t have to have a PhD in “Mometry” to be an expert mother. However, she does believe that knowing how to handle kids is not instinctive and that mothers must learn what to do when confronting problems with children. To assist moms who might be grappling with some or all of the five biggest mistakes, Stone Belton has posted her solutions on her Web site (http://susanstonebelton.com/mom/) “As you’ll notice, the solutions are not that difficult to use,” she said. “But what a difference using them will make to Mom. She really can have a happy Mother’s Day after all!”

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