“I can’t ask questions?” I asked my husband, my voice squeaking at the end of the sentence. “What am I supposed to say?”
When we decided to pursue speech therapy for my older son, we didn’t know what to expect. But whatever I was imagining, reducing the number of questions I asked my child wasn’t one of them. At the time, I felt like the speech therapist took away a core tool in my parenting and communications toolbox.
But since then, I’ve realized that no matter what parenting strategy I use, there’s one piece of parenting advice that has never failed me.
Worried about toxic anger in children and society today? Here are five steps towards supporting the kids around you in ways that will help them learn how to manage emotions in a healthy way.
Content warning: School and other mass shootings, domestic abuse
“That could have been our school,” I said, blinking, my breath catching in my throat. I think the first time I uttered that phrase was after the Columbine shooting in 1999, where two kids killed 12 students and one teacher. At the time, I was a junior in a large suburban, middle-class high school – one suspiciously like Columbine.
Back then, I didn’t think that I could be repeating that phrase so often as an adult. How I could have said it nine times in 2017 or a horrifying seven times by February of 2018 alone.
Like after every mass shooting, there’s endless discussions about how to prevent another one. Sadly, “thoughts and prayers” won’t cut it. I’m a huge proponent of gun control, especially bans on high-caliber automatic rifles and access to them for domestic abusers and others with violent histories. If you agree with me, I strongly recommend going over to Everytown for Gun Safety’s website and supporting that organization however you can.
But there’s another major factor that doesn’t get talked about enough: toxic masculinity and the anger that goes with it. In the wake of these shootings, people constantly talk about improving our mental health system. But the vast majority of people committing these crimes aren’t suffering from depression, anxiety, schizophrenia or other diseases we associate with mental health.
No, they’re suffering from anger. Uncontrolled, unstoppable anger. Rage.
Kids of all ages and sizes were swarming a giant, gray artificial mountain. If it didn’t have green slides down the face of it, it would be easy to mistake for real rock. My older son stood on a small hill in front of it, taking in the scene. Then he ran down the hill with a yell, ready to scramble up the rock face.
Last weekend, we went to Badlands Playspace, the closest thing we’re probably going to have in our area to an adventure playground. While it was inside and they didn’t have any way to set fires like the ones in Sweden, they did have the mountain and they use real power tools in their classes.
Although the facility impressed me, the kids themselves struck me the most. One could easily imagine something like this devolving into a Lord of the Flies scenario, with utterly dangerous chaos. Sure, they tell you that kids need to take risks, but you don’t really believe it, right?
But what I saw gave me faith.
This story was supposed to have a sweet and happy ending.
At midnight a few nights ago, just as I was about to go to bed, I heard my younger son (who is almost two) wailing. I rushed from the kitchen to his room. He was standing up in his crib, nothing visibly wrong. “Up up,” he demanded, hands raised.
So I picked him up. I walked over to his rocking chair, nestling him in my lap. I cradled him like a baby, one arm under his head, the other across his chest. My arm anchored him to me. His body sunk into mine.
“This might be the last time I do this,” I thought. “Take it in.” “Enjoy the moment.” “It passes so fast, you know.”
“O kookamonga flakes, o kookamonga flakes, how lovely are your branches!” sang my older son, to the tune of O Christmas Tree. Over and over again. On and off for more than two hours.
Near the end, my hand was twitching. I never, ever wanted to hear those words again. It wasn’t bad behavior – just deeply, deeply annoying.
But the next time he sang it, that feeling started to fade.
Having mothered through a great deal of annoying behavior – and certainly facing much more in the future – I’ve realized parents’ reactions to this behavior proceed through five stages. They’re much like the stages of grief, but hopefully funnier. Whether your kid is a nose-picker, whiner, or a constant singer like mine, knowing these stages might help you work through them a little faster.
When I hear parents say, “I don’t like playing pretend with my kids,” I think, “Oh, I love it!” But then I stop right there. I’ve realized that like all things in parenting, there’s an exception. A big exception.
That’s because I love playing pretend with my older son (nicknamed Sprout) when it’s time to actually play. Just not all of the time. He frequently doesn’t distinguish – or refuses to distinguish – when it’s time to play versus time to get stuff done. If he’s supposed to be getting ready for bed, he’d rather pretend to play drums or zoom around a roller coaster. Taking toys away is no use – the really good stuff is in his head. He can sit on the stuffed chair in his room and weave elaborate worlds out of whole cloth.
Skimming through Pinterest, I’m slightly overwhelmed looking at all of these lovely photographs. Let’s be realistic. I’m a lot overwhelmed.
I squint looking at homesteading blogs, wondering how these women grow all of their own food and make time for their kids. I sigh looking at the “green living” posts with their homemade cleaners. Does it count as green if I just don’t clean at all?
Maybe you feel the same way looking at me. You may think, “How does she find time for all of this stuff?” The answer is that I don’t. Not really.
Personally, here’s how my reality doesn’t come even close to matching my fantasy:
Two weeks ago, I was finally able to call my husband a chef. Looking at him in his white culinary school jacket with his name on it, I realized this situation wasn’t quite what I imagined when I watched him walk across that stage. Because instead of him being the head of a high-end fancy restaurant, he was teaching a bunch of preschoolers how to cook.
Want to teach your kids kindness but don’t know where to start? From learning how to listen to fighting poverty, here are more than 50 acts of kindness with real, concrete impacts for kids and families to do together.
“Was that a kind thing to do?” I asked my four-year-old right after he snatched a toy away from his younger brother.
He looked down and said, “No.”
“What would be a better choice?” I said, hoping he can figure it out on his own.
Teaching kids what kindness is and how to demonstrate it in everyday life isn’t easy. Even adults struggle to listen to people without judgment or jumping in with their own opinions.
It gets even harder when you think of kindness beyond being “nice.” Compassion and respect for all people involves examining a number of our society’s toxic systems and working to change them.
It can be overwhelming.
To make it a little easier, I’ve assembled a list of 50 acts of kindness for you and your kids to explore together. I’ve broken them into five categories, from building a kind mindset to challenging inequality. Many of these draw on research from Harvard University on encouraging kindness in children. You can get more information on almost every activity by clicking through on the link.
To get five days worth of in-depth descriptions of some of the most high-impact activities right to your email, be sure to subscribe to our Family Kindness Challenge!
It’s been a full year since Donald Trump became president. A full year since he stood on the National Mall and swore to “faithfully execute the office of President of the United States,” just as Barack Obama had done eight years before. Attending President Obama’s inauguration was one of the most patriotic moments of my life. Instead of attending Trump’s inauguration, I joined with half a million other women in the next day to raise our voices in protest.
Needless to say, I entered Trump’s administration ready to fight. In my Instagram photo from that day, I’m wearing my Wonder Woman shirt, my smirk and stance challenging the camera.
But despite my attitude, I was worried. In fact, I had been worried since I blearily read the results the morning after the election. I was worried for you and even moreso for the many families less privileged than ours. As we’ve seen since then, my worries about the treatment of immigrants, LGBT folks, black people, and poor families were justified. Everything has been as bad as we expected. In some cases, it’s been worse.