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Nine Ways to Handle Sibling Rivalry

Or how to keep my sanity while my kids are fighting. Our kids fight over toys, candy, electronics, bed times, and when one is chewing too loudly or taking up too much space in the car. They fight for our attention, to get the other in trouble, because they're bored, and because it's fun. (Not for us certainly, but sometime for them.) Here are some ways to keep our cool and to reduce the number of fights. • If there is no blood, just ignore the fight! Children argue to get their parents’ attention. If you run to them at every yell or complaint, you have taught them that arguing with their sibling gets your attention. If one child is being hurt, then of course you must intervene immediately. But one kid yelling at or pushing the other does not require an immediate parental intervention. • Accept sibling rivalry as a normal and expected part of family life. Most children fight with their siblings. It is not a sign of a bigger problem or of family dysfunction. It does not mean they will grow up hating each other or with twisted psyches. Didn’t you fight with your siblings? • Avoid comparing one child to another. Your children are individuals; allow them to express themselves in their own way. Just because one kid accomplishes something does not mean her sibling is capable of doing the same. And just because you are angry or annoyed with one child does not mean you should express those irritated emotions to all your children. • Respect each child’s need to be away from his siblings. Kids need time to play alone without including their siblings every time. Each child should be allowed to have certain items that he doesn’t have to share. It is also okay for a child to NOT include his siblings in play dates. • Make sure that you are not playing favorites among your kids. Give each child a turn to sit next to you in a restaurant or while reading stories. Also, don’t always assume the bigger child is the aggressor and the little child is the victim. It could be the other way around! • Spend one-on-one time with each child every day. Even if it is just 5 minutes with each kid! • Do not take sides. Listen to both of their stories or tell them both to take a break. Do not discipline one over the other unless you saw the entire incident. • Teach them how to resolve the issue themselves. This is an opportunity to teach conflict resolution, negotiation, problem solving, and other important life skills. You can start the ball rolling by giving them a choice, such as, “I will give you 5 minutes to decide which show to watch, but if you can’t agree, then the TV will be turned off.” Let them know that you trust them to resolve the issue themselves. • Accept all feelings but not all actions. You can tell your kids “It’s okay to disagree with your siblings or to feel annoyed with them, but I expect you to use your words to resolve things. In our family, it is not okay to hit.” And finally, remember that the relationships your children have with each other will be the longest of their lives. They might be fighting now, but they won't be doing that forever.

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March For Our Lives

This past Saturday, I joined over 1.5 million fellow Americans in the "March For Our Lives" protests organized mainly by teens around the country. These teens were asking for common sense gun control laws including stricter background checks, an age limit of 21 to purchase a gun, and a ban on bump stocks and semi-automatic weapons. And we were there to support them. The tens of thousands of people marching with me in San Jose were of every color, every age, every nationality, every gender, and included both gun owners and those who would never consider owning a gun. (I think you know which one I am.) As we marched in a light but steady rain, we discussed politics, every aspect of gun control, and what can be done to keep our kids safe. We chatted with each other and with strangers. Everyone was polite, friendly, and motivated to help bring about change. And while I felt determined and proud to be marching, I also felt so sad. My children now aged 33 and 29, did not have active shooter drills in their classrooms. They were not taught how to barricade their classroom doors. They were not scared to go to school in the morning. And while I taught my children about stranger danger, to lock the front door, and to be aware while walking alone, I did not have to discuss mass shootings with them. And I'm sad that so many young parents and young children are now having these conversations. So how do we talk about this with our children? Pre-schoolers don't need to be told about these adult issues. Make sure you are not discussing them or listening to the news with your children present. And go to all the marches you want. They will love being in a parade. Younger elementary school kids are being taught in school to hide under their desk and to be quiet during a drill, but they don't need to totally understand why. Just call it a Safety Drill, just like a Fire Drill. Older elementary kids can be told that there was a shooting in a school, but we don't have to share every detail. Explain that now all students, in every school, are practicing what to do if something like that happened in their school. (But we don't think it will.) And our middle and high school kids already know the news and the details, so use this as a teachable moment in time to discuss it with them. Ask what they think. Ask their opinions. Ask about how it feels at school or if kids are talking about it. And encourage them to look for their voice to be heard. What do you think? How do you feel? And what are you saying to your children? Please share your thoughts and ideas, so we can all learn from each other. This is tough.

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Eleven Steps to Calmer Parenting

Parenting is the toughest job in the world, but also the most rewarding. The journey is long, and how we approach each day makes a huge difference in how we feel. Remaining calm is good for our own mental health but also a wonderful lesson to our children. Children often act the way their parents act. So take a deep breath, remember that this stage will soon be over, and demonstrate a sense of calm and control. The calmer you are, the calmer your children will be. Take care of yourself. It’s hard to take care of your children, your partner, and your home when you haven’t first taken care of yourself. In order to be the best parent you can be, you need to make sure that you are feeling as good as you can. So exercise, eat right, say “no” when you want to, and don’t feel guilty. Your children deserve a happy and healthy parent. Stop trying to be perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect parent, so stop aiming for that. Just be the best parent you can be; allow yourself to make mistakes and show your children that striving to do your best is always the goal. Sleep in one weekend morning. When I had young children, Sunday was the morning I could sleep in. This simply meant I did not have to be the first adult out of bed at the first sound of a kid’s voice. Having an extra 20 minutes in bed alone was a weekly luxury that helped start my Sunday in a calm mood, and actually made the whole week better because I knew my morning was coming. And Saturday morning was Dad’s turn. Give yourself a 10 minute time-out. When you arrive home from work, your children are excited to see you and have a lot of things to share. Give each one a quick hug, then go into your room alone for 10 minutes. Change your clothes, breathe deeply, and transition from “employee” to “parent”. This short break will rejuvenate you for the rest of your busy evening. Your kids won’t like it, but you will, and they will learn to accept it. Stick to a schedule. Having a regular time to wake up, leave for school, get home from work, eat dinner, and put the kids to bed makes the day go much more smoothly. Being consistent with your schedule eliminates a lot of decision making, and contributes to a calmer household. Have date nights. You chose your partner for a reason, but it is sometimes difficult to remember why during the chaos of raising kids. But one day the kids will be grown, and you two will be alone again. Keep your relationship fresh with a weekly or monthly date night. Just a simple movie and dinner with adult conversation is a wonderful treat. Stay connected to your friends. You spend a lot of time setting up play dates for your kids. Well, set some up for yourself. You deserve to have fun too. Be yourself. Of course you are a parent, but you are still you, complete with emotions, hopes, and ideas. Parent the way you want, not how your mother-in-law expects. Allow your children to see your true feelings and your silly side. Don’t let the title of “Parent” make you into a new person, just a more special one. Take a deep breath. Not everything is an emergency. Some things can wait. So just take a deep breath and enjoy this roller coast ride of parenting. Enjoy the highs but don’t get too low with the lows. Things will always get better. Don’t yell. Just tell. When our kids yell at us, we feel tense. When we yell at out kids, we feel worse. It is much easier for people, including your children, to listen to a firm but calm voice than to a yelling voice. You want your kids to listen to your words rather than to focus on your anger. Laugh more. What your kid is doing might not be funny to you, but it sure is funny to everyone else. So go ahead and laugh more. It can’t hurt, and it might just make you a calmer parent.

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The True Goal of Parenting

Life of a Child I write this week with such a heavy heart. I am very saddened by the latest mass shooting in Florida. (The lastest? How terrible that I have to say that.) Seventeen more people have been killed at a school, including 14 children. A school - where moms and dads send their children every day, counting on the adults there to teach them, to care for them, and to keep them safe. School shootings just feel especially wrong, and especially scary. During these tough times, as we struggle with our own emotions, and with how to answer our children's questions, it is especially important to remember the true goal of parenting: To raise a successful adult. To raise an adult who is kind and considerate and honest and giving and thoughtful and who looks out for their fellow citizens. And the time to start these lessons is today. Now. No matter your child's age. Let's all agree today to teach our children to be kind, to be an upstander, to sit next to the friend-less child at lunch, to invite the lonely child for a play date, to think of other's feelings. Let's role model being polite to the homeless person we pass on the street, to take cookies to meet the new neighbor, to offer a hand when a friend needs help. There is a lot of work to be done in this country to protect our kids and ourselves. I feel a little helpless to bring about change. But there is one thing I can do: I can teach my kids to be successful adults. I can connect with every child I come in contact with so no child feels alone. I can look out for kids who might need my help. I can be a person of love and calm and acceptance. And I can ask you to please do the same.

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What Is Anxiety? And How Can I Help?

anxious girl An increasing number of phone calls and emails I receive are from parents expressing concern that their child is exhibiting anxiety. They are questioning if their child is okay, and if more professional help is needed. To help answer some of your questions, here are notes from a talk I recently gave a local elementary school on the topic of anxiety: Most peo,ple, of all ages occasionally have feelings of anxiety, or stress. A small amount of anxiety is normal and can even motivate us to stay alert, to be focused, and to be aware. Most anxious kids (and adults) are worried about what MIGHT happen — that something will go wrong, or feeling like danger is just around the corner. Anxiety is felt physically, emotionally, and in the way people view the world around them. Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions. And the most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Children with GAD might worry excessively, be very hard on themselves, strive for perfection, seek constant approval or reassurance, have trouble concentrating, experience sleeping problems, and be irritable. Children and teens may also have physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or muscle tension. It might cause them to miss school, be late to school, or to avoid social activities. It is common for children and teens to avoid talking about how they feel, because they're worried that others (especially their parents) might not understand. They may fear being judged or being considered weak. And the less they talk with someone who can help, the worse they feel. It is very difficult to know when our children are dealing with typical, normal stress, or when perhaps our child is dealing with an Anxiety Disorder. If you feel that your child’s level of anxiety is lasting a long time, is out of proportion to their real situation, and is affecting your child and family on a daily basis, then I would recommend consulting with your pediatrician. The goal is to manage anxiety, not to eliminate it. Don’t avoid situations just because they make your child anxious. We can’t remove what makes our child feel anxious, but we can teach them what to do when they feel anxious. Respect but don’t enforce, your child’s anxiety. “I understand that you are nervous about the doctor’s visit. But I will be with you and we will do this together.” Learn and teach deep breathing and relaxation techniques. Massage, sound machines, and counting to 10 can help in stressful moments, and when your child feels their anxiety building. Pay attention to how you respond to and handle your own stress. It’s not fair to put your personal adult stress on your children. Share your own stories of how you overcame your own anxieties. Be aware of what stress we are putting on our kids. Have reasonable expectations for your children, and remember what it’s like to be a kid. They can’t be perfect – because there’s no such thing as perfection. Respond with empathy – consider their view. They need to feel heard and understood before they can be ready to listen themselves. “It is hard to speak in front of your class; that can be scary. So let’s practice together so you can feel more confident tomorrow.” Ask open ended questions. “What do you think your test will be like?” is a more supportive question than “Are you worried about your test?”. And finally, be calm, be loving, be patient, and be a good listener. Your kids aren’t misbehaving when they are feeling very anxious; they are simply still learning to navigate their lives. And some kids need a little more help, or a little more time. Have any questions? Please feel free to email or call me.

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Time to Enjoy YOUR Holiday Traditions

holiday card (2) As we head into our final weeks of holiday preparation, I want you to identify your most favorite holiday traditions. Opening one present on Christmas Eve? Lighting the candles together on Hanukkah? Having a family dinner on Christmas Day? (Going to a movie on Christmas morning with my kids is my favorite tradition which we will again do this year.) We all have our favorite things from our childhood that we want to continue with our kids, and some we feel obligated to continue. But now you are the parent and you get to decide what your holiday traditions will be. The truth is that we can't do everything and we can't have everything that we want (or think we want). I see families being stressed and anxious and bothered by the holidays, and unable to fully enjoy this time of year. I would like to see you and your family enjoying the holiday season with anticipation, excitement, and joy; not with dread, exhaustion, and high expectations. Look at the difference between “need to” vs. “want to”. When you hear yourself saying “I need to do mail holiday cards”, stop and ask yourself if you need to or if you want to. If you truly need to, then either do it yourself or get others to help. But if you don’t NEED to, if you really WANT to, then do it with joy. Let’s teach our children that the holidays are a time to be together, to connect, to enjoy each other. If we demonstrate that the holidays are stressful and filled with pressure trying to fit everything in, that is the lesson they will take with them into their adulthood. Let’s teach our kids the true meaning of the holidays: peace and love and fun and excitement. So go ahead and write a letter to Santa, light the candles together, pull a tag from the Giving Tree, or go to a movie. Enjoy your five most favorite traditions. But do them all with joy and love, and let go of the rest. My family joins me in wishing you and yours a memorable, fun, and safe holiday season and a happy, healthy 2018.

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My Favorite Holiday

Thanksgiving Photo I love Thanksgiving. I call it the "F" holiday: fall, family, friends, food, football, and fun. I love that there are no gifts, only those of being together and connecting. I love cold mornings and cool days. I love the smell of roasting turkey. As a child, I loved getting together with my extended family. Now, my family and I love hosting friends at our home who are missing their families. Come on, it's a great holiday! Thanksgiving is a day when you don't have to worry about what your kids eat. Serve every dish family style, and let your kids choose what they want to eat. Maybe you have a kid who will not eat turkey, stuffing, OR mashed potatoes. (I know, weird, right?) So you can also serve macaroni and cheese, and not just to your child, but as another side dish for every guest to enjoy. And encourage your kids to put black olives on their fingertips and eat them one at a time. (I know, weird, right?) Encourage, but don't force, your child to eat. Let this be a relaxing meal, for you and for them. Thanksgiving is the holiday I use to begin teaching children about charity, about sharing with those less fortunate, about thinking of others before themselves. So this week, go grocery shopping with your kids. Let them fill the cart with canned goods and a turkey, and then drive directly to a homeless shelter or food bank. Have your children experience the joy of giving. What a valuable lesson to teach your kids. I hope you and your family have a very Happy Thanksgiving, and a fun long weekend. Perhaps I will see you at the San Francisco Zoo the Friday after. That is where my kids and I always go on the busiest shopping day of the year. We like walking in fresh air and being together more than fighting crowds and being consumers. Whatever you do, it's a chance to create some family memories, so just have fun together. Enjoy!

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The Importance of Empathy

Empathy Photo Every weekday, by 6:00am, I am at the YMCA to work out. And every morning, I am greeted with this “Empathy” sign. And I smile, every time. Empathy: what a great value, what a great skill. Empathy: the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes and see things the way they see things. Empathy: a trait that successful adults have and that we need to teach our children. Being empathetic means that we understand people’s views besides our own, helps us to be kinder to other people, and gives us the ability to be open-minded, friendly, and considerate. Empathy: a skill that will greatly increase the communication we have with our kids. When we can put ourselves in our children’s shoes, and try to see things the way they see things, it makes it a lot easier for us to connect with our kids and to have healthy conversations. (Plus, we need to remember that they are kids, and that they express themselves the only way they know how. Is it immature, and frustrating, and annoying sometimes? Sure – because they’re kids!) So how do we teach empathy? By being empathetic! By saying things like “I understand”, “that makes sense”, “I can see you are frustrated”, and “it's okay to feel that way”. We also can teach empathy by being polite to the homeless man on the street, by donating our gently used clothing to those less fortunate, and by having people of different races, nationalities, and ages in our friend circle. When we respond with empathy to our children, when we truly listen to our children, we are letting them know we understand; we are letting them know that it's okay to say what they said; we are letting them know that their feelings are valid and accepted. Our responding with empathy makes our children feel heard and understood. And when they have expressed their feelings and opinions, when they feel heard and understood, they are able to then listen to us and to move on from the topic they are feeling stuck on. When you display empathy to your children, to friends, and to strangers, you will naturally be teaching your children to be empathetic and kind. When you display empathy to your children, they will start to be empathic and kind to you and to others. And isn't that a goal of parenting?

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Getting Ready For School…Already!

Summers always go by so quickly, and this one is no exception. It is hard for me to believe that some schools are starting in just three weeks. Growing up in Chicago, we went back to school the Tuesday after Labor day…every single year. So school in mid-August seems wrong! But it is what it is, and so to get ready, here are a few ideas. It is not too early to begin planning for your children’s return to school. One idea is to transition your kids slowly from their summer schedule to their school hours and routines. For two weeks before school starts, have your kids go to bed and wake up at the times they will for school. For the same weeks, eat meals at the times they will on school days. Their little bodies take time to adjust to new a new schedule. QjUzMzQwM0RBRjFFQjlDMTBCNkU6YmUxZjNiNWM5YjVmZGViM2Q0YjZhNGQ1 Some children are nervous about being left alone at school and will have a difficult time saying good-bye. Remember that a short good-bye is better than a long one. When leaving your child at school on the first day, or when you say good-bye at the school bus stop, give your child a hug and a kiss and say “Have fun at school! You can tell me all about it when you get home”. And then just walk away with a wave and a smile. If you are confident and excited about saying good-bye, then your child will have the same positive feelings, and will have a great start to their school day. Some children are also nervous about meeting new people. Before school begins, practice with your children what it will be like to meet their new teacher and new classmates. Teach your children to listen carefully to their teacher so that they learn the classroom rules and the teacher’s expectations. Encourage your kids to introduce themselves to at least one child who was not in their classroom last year. Talk about how most children are nervous, and that it is a kind thing to reach out to a new student who might not know anyone. Children (and parents) want to feel confident and prepared when they start a new school year. Buy school supplies while the local stores are fully stocked. Take the kids with so they can try on a new backpack, and allow them to select their own school materials. Pack all the supplies into the backpack when you get home, and you both will be ready for the first day. If your child is going to walk or ride their bike to school, practice the route with your child at least twice before the first day of school. If biking, teach your child to walk their bikes through all intersections, to bike in a single file, and to always wear their helmet. Explain that they are not allowed to pass another biker, as this will force them into traffic. For the children who walk to school, see if you can find a walking buddy. It’s always safer and more fun to walk with someone else. And of course, if you drive children to school, always make sure every child is properly buckled every time! Mornings are often a hectic time, and we often feel stressed by trying to get out of the house on time. To make mornings easier, make lunches the night before, leaving only the refrigerated items to be packed in the morning. Have each child lay out their clothes, including shoes, the night before, and have them put their backpacks by the front door. Doing some preparation the night before can make a much smoother morning, and have everyone leaving the house happy and calm. To keep track of everyone’s schedules, post a family event calendar in a public place preferably near the telephone. Use magnets to attach the calendar to the refrigerator, or just hang it on the wall. Assign a different marker color to each family member, and write events in the corresponding color for each person. A bulletin board in the kitchen is also be very helpful to post school lunches, sports schedules, and notes that must go back to school. Take time every night to discuss the next day’s schedule and make sure all items are ready. Whether your children have had a good day or a bad day at school, they want to tell their parents about it when they get home. It is important that all children are able to talk about anything and everything with their parents. We encourage our kids to talk when we show them that we are good listeners. What we hear from our children is often more important than what we say to our children. To be a good listener, be willing to listen to all stories, do not interrupt while they are talking, and do not yell if they tell us something we don’t like. We need to listen to our children the same way we want them to listen to us. Listening to our children shows that we value them, and think what they have to say is important. Enjoy the rest of your summer, and good luck in the upcoming school year!

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The Value of Chores: What, When, and Why?

What? Here are some suggestions, though you know your child best. Remember sometimes kids are more capable than we give them credit for, so ask them which chores they think they can do. They just might surprise you. Ages 2-3: Hang wet towel on hook, put toys in bins, put trash in the garbage can, throw dirty clothes in hamper, wipe up spills, help put away groceries, dust the coffee table Ages 4-6: Help fold towels and socks, sort dark and light laundry, assist in meal planning, wash vegetables, help to empty dishwasher, feed the pets, clean room, use whisk broom and pan Ages 7-10: Use an alarm clock, prepare own snack, load and empty dishwasher, put away clean laundry, complete homework, read to younger siblings, cook simple foods, water plants Ages 10+: Manage an allowance, make bed, operate washer and dryer, mow the lawn, cook a meal, wash the car, babysit younger sibling, haul garbage and recycling cans to curb Teenagers: Every single thing you can do. (Legally.) When? Today. Now. Not many parents of grown kids tell me “I wish I had given my kids fewer chores when they were young”. Most wish they had given their children more chores and more responsibilities. So start today, no matter your child’s age. It’s never too late.Siblings Doing Dishes Why? Because a family is a team, and the team works better when everyone pitches in. Because assigning chores says that you believe in your children, you have confidence in them, and their help is needed and appreciated. Because completion of chores makes children feel capable, valued, and helpful. Because chores helps children learn time management, the value of hard work, and how to work as a team. Because successful adults know how to do laundry, make beds, empty dishwashers, mow lawns, care for pets and plants, work with others, and clean up their own mess. And it is our job to teach them how to do these things, and more, one small step at a time.

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