Bullying: An ounce of prevention

posted by Beret

Just read Leslie Blanchard’s essay about her approach to the problem of bullying: making sure that her child sees outsiders as a human beings. I have pasted it here, but you can click here for the original link.

A note from Beret: In the comments section of the Ms. Blanchard’s article, I noticed that some folks interpreted the author’s intervention as “forcing a friendship.” By my reading, she was merely teaching her daughter the power of social capital, and insisting that she take the time to meet someone before deciding she didn’t like them. That seems reasonable and potentially life-changing for both sides of the bullying equation.

4th Grader Comes Home With Disturbing News—Then Mom Realizes Her “Worst Nightmare” Is Coming True

It wasn’t pretty, but I prevailed…

daughter

By Leslie Blanchard

I will never forget the day my daughter told me that Bethany, a girl in her 4th grade class, was annoying her.

“What is she doing to you?” I questioned, instinctively protective.

“She’s following me around on the playground and sitting by me at lunch!” she quipped, as if that would sum things right up and get me squarely on her side of the matter.

“You mean she’s trying to be friends with you?” I asked incredulously.

I realized immediately that I had a problem on my hands. I was raising my own worst nightmare. Smack dab in the middle of my brood of five kids, was a charismatic, sassy, leggy, blonde, dance-y, athletic girl oozing confidence … and apparently annoyance, directed toward another little girl that wasn’t lucky enough to be her. Inconveniently for my daughter, her own mother WAS Bethany in grade school. Freckled of face and frizzy of hair, I was an Army brat, always the new girl clamoring for a friend, drawn to the natural confidence of girls like my daughter. This conversation found me vacillating between heartache and fury, but one thing I knew for sure: Mama was about to put her money where her mouth had been all these years.

The battle of two very strong wills ensued at my home the next morning. It wasn’t pretty, but I prevailed. My daughter attended a private Catholic grade school, where on any given day, she and a handful of her cohorts ruled the roost. One quick phone call to Bethany’s mother that same evening confirmed my worst fears. My daughter and her posse were using everything short of a can of “Cling Free” to rid themselves of the annoying Bethany.

I’m sure there are parents out there who will say I overreacted. But, I firmly believe we’ve got to start to address our country’s bullying epidemic right at the heart; by re-defining bullying at its very core. To me, the rejection and complete lack of interest my daughter and her “clique” displayed toward Bethany was the beginning of a subtle type of bullying. It is true (confirmed to me by Bethany’s mom and teachers), that there was no overt unkindness or name-calling, etc., just rejection; a complete lack of interest in someone they wrongly concluded had nothing to offer them. After experiencing childhood myself and raising five of my own, I’ve been on every side of the bullying social dynamic, and I am convinced this is where it begins. A casual assessment and quick dismissal of an outsider.

We would serve our children well, in my opinion, if we had a frank conversation with them about Social Darwinism and what motivates human beings to accept and reject others. It happens at every age and stage of life, race, creed and religion. It has its roots in our own fears of rejection and lack of confidence. Everyone is jockeying for their own spot on the Social Food Chain. I feel like I have experienced demonstrable success with my children by tabling this dynamic right out in the open. Parents need to call it by name, speak it out loud, shine a bright light in its ugly face. We need to admit to our children that we too experience this, even as adults. Of course it’s tempting to ‘curry favor’ and ‘suck-up’ to the individual a rung of two above you on the Social Ladder, but every single human being deserves our attention and utmost respect. In spite of this, we have to constantly remind our children and ourselves that everyone can bring unexpected and unanticipated value to our lives. But we have to let them.

It’s simply not enough to instruct your children to “Be Nice!” You’ve got to be more specific than that. Kids think if they aren’t being outright unkind, they are being nice. We know better. Connect the ugly dots. Explain the Darwinistic social survival instinct that’s often motivating and guiding their impulses. I promise you, they can handle it. They already see it on some level anyway. They just need YOU to give it a voice and re-direction.

As for my girl, I instructed her that she was going to invest some time and energy getting to know Bethany. I assigned her to come home from school the next day and report three cool things she found out about Bethany, that she didn’t previously know. My strong-willed child dug in. She did not want to do that. I dug in deeper. I refused to drive her to school the next morning, until she agreed. It seemed that, at least until now, I had the car keys and the power. Her resistance gave us time to have the Social Darwinism conversation. I walked her through my “ATM Machine Analogy.” I explained to her that she had social bank to spare. She could easily make a withdrawal on behalf of this little girl, risking very little.

“Let’s invest!” I enthused and encouraged.

She got dressed reluctantly and I drove her to school. She had a good day—what was left of it. But, she was still buggy with me when I picked her up, telling me that her friends’ mothers “stay out of such matters” and let their daughters “choose their own friends!” (Such wise women.) And then she told me three cool things about Bethany that she didn’t previously know.

I checked back in with Bethany’s mother by phone two weeks later. It’s called follow through. (I don’t think enough of us are doing that. We “helicopter” over our kids’ wardrobes, nutrition, sleep schedules, hygiene, science fair projects and then pride ourselves on how “hands off” we are on social issues. If I had a dollar for every time I wanted to say, “Seriously? You micro-manage the literal crap out of every thing your child does from his gluten intake to his soccer cleats, but THIS you stay out of?” No wonder there’s zero accountability and a bullying culture!) Bethany’s mother assured me that she had been welcomed into the fold of friendship and was doing well.

Bethany’s family moved to another state a few years later. My daughter cried when they parted ways. They still keep in touch through all their social media channels. She was and is a really cool girl, with a lot to offer her peers. But the real value was to my daughter, obviously. She gained so much through that experience. She is now a 20-year-old college sophomore, with a widely diverse group of friends. She is kind, inclusive and open to all types of people. When she was malleable, impressionable and mine to guide:

—She learned her initial instinct about people isn’t always correctly motivated.

—She learned you can be friends with the least likely people; the best friendships aren’t people that are your “type!” In the world of friendship, contrast is a plus.

—She learned that there are times, within a given social framework, that you are in a position to make a withdrawal on behalf of someone else. Be generous, invest! It pays dividends.But, most importantly, she learned that, while I may not be overly-interested in what she gets on her Science Fair project, couldn’t care less if she’s Lactose Intolerant or whether her long blonde hair is snarled, she’s going to damn well treat people right.

Parents—your kids are going to eventually develop the good sense to wear a jacket and eat vegetables, invest your energy in how they interact within society. If we insist on being the hovering Helicopter Parent Generation, let’s at least hover over the right areas.

About the Author: Leslie Blanchard is a wife and mother of five, who tattles on her husband, her own mother and her children by chronicling the insane and mundane in all of their lives in a fairly public way. Collectively, her family more or less rues the day they purchased her an iPad. Now that she’s officially a blogger, Leslie lies in the tub, neglecting her considerable responsibilities and muses about marriage, motherhood, friendship and other matters of life outside the bubbles. Read more from Leslie on her blog A Ginger Snapped: Facing the Music of Marriage & Motherhood.

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On Barbies and Bodies and Beauty

Posted by Beret.

Puberty is a wild ride; I must have forgotten. Or maybe–despite the hideously awkward classroom discussions and cheesy pamphlets–I just experienced puberty as my own ridiculously crazy life, rather than as a period of adjustment and development that everyone experiences.

Most even survive.

As the parent of two tweens, I get to relive plenty of adolescent drama and excitement, and this time around, I’m hyper-conscious about what I do and say that might impact the way my girls are thinking about their own health, beauty, and developing bodies. I want them to know that they are growing and changing in just the right way; that human beings are beautiful, and that each and every one deserves respect and kindness no matter what they look like.

Well, almost everyone.

I want to set my girls firmly on a path away from self-doubt and—I’ll be honest here, though it’s terrifying to do so–as far from self-loathing, eating disorders, cutting, binge drinking, and drug use as possible. I thought I’d start my campaign by addressing the issue of healthy body image. But how to tackle it? And am I far too late?

A former colleague once said to me, “I always felt confident and beautiful. My mother did a great job of convincing me.” At the time, I just marveled, feeling a little jealous. These days I feel a little desperate. What did she say and do to make her daughter feel so good about herself? Because that’s what I want to be saying and doing.

Recently, Mattel launched a whole host of new Barbies, including a rainbow of colors and sizes: petite, tall, and curvy. That should help get the conversation started. Now everyone understands that beauty can take any shape or form. Right?

Image credit Mattel, via Vox.com.

Image credit Mattel, via Vox.com.

Yet when left alone with curvy Barbie, even very young girls typically take off her clothes and laugh. “Hello, I’m a fat person. Fat, fat, fat,” a six-year-old had Barbie say in the testing rooms (From Time Magazine, Jan 28, 2016). Though kids were more diplomatic when adults were present–“Barbie is chubby”–I found this revelation profoundly depressing. Doing more research did not make me feel any better. According to the National Eating Disorders Association website, 42% of first grade girls wish they were thinner. And in an article entitled, “Why Do Women Hate Their Bodies?” I learned that “35 percent of girls ages 6 to 12 have been on at least one diet, and 50 to 70 percent of normal-weight girls think they are overweight.” Dissatisfaction with one’s body starts early and leads nowhere good. If you diet frequently, for example, you’re much more likely to binge eat (12 times!) and eventually progress to a full-blown eating disorder, which has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness (NEDA).

Despite Sarah Koppelkam’s Huffington Post a while back, I don’t believe silence is the answer. In her words: “How to talk to your daughter about her body, step one: Don’t talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works. Don’t say anything if she’s lost weight. Don’t say anything if she’s gained weight. If you think your daughter’s body looks amazing, don’t say that.” I just don’t see how silence can work. It’s not like parents function in a vacuum. Every day, we’re swimming against a tide of an average of 3,000 advertising images–and all the messages hidden therein: what is beautiful, what is valued, what is not.

When I was an adolescent, Maybelline launched a campaign with the tagline: “Maybe she’s born with it; maybe it’s Maybelline.” Rough translation: either you’re born with it, or you buy it. Even back then I thought the tagline was laughable. But despite that fact, I still have a cupboard full of cosmetic crap because deep down, I internalized the message that making myself sexually desirable was a big part of my job. Girls dye, pluck, diet, and take laxatives. Seemingly reasonable women I know have used botox, broken their ankles trying to hurry in high heels, and gotten their eyes done. Why do we continually try to look “better”–a.k.a., align more closely with the propaganda?

The concept and development of self-image is a complex web of interconnected issues with roots that run deep and touch on topics of gender, power, race, and equality. I realize I am merely scratching the surface in this discussion…and I’m not ready to take on the world at the moment. I just want to help my two kids negotiate it and feel good about themselves.

Here are my immediate goals as a parent in the arena of body and self-image. I want my girls to be comfortable with who they are–size, shape, skin, clothing, intellect, abilities, choices. I want them to stand tall and enter the world ready to take aim.

Plus, it wouldn’t hurt if they showered now and then.

In the absence of any profound wisdom to share at the moment, I present a lovely set of interactions brought to you by a student at the Chicago High School for the Arts, who captured what happens when you tell people they are beautiful. It’s a start.

Got any suggestions? Feel free to join the conversation in the comments.

Misfit Lit: Counting by 7s

posted by Beret.

Age Range: Grades 5-8.

I’ve always had a soft spot for what I call “misfit lit.” Into this category I throw a few of the best books for young people I’ve read in the recent past: Loser, by Jerry Spinneli; Wonder, by R.J. Palacio; and A Mango-Shaped Space, by Wendy Mass. A major appeal of these books is that everyone feels like an alien at some point in their lives–often and particularly in middle school. Delving into the brain of an outsider and seeing how they experience and cope with difference can be both comforting and empowering. It could also encourage young people to look for what they might have in common with others, no matter how different they appear to be.

Counting by 7s is no exception. What is unique is that we spend a good deal of the book inside the head of Willow Chance–a girl with incredible intellectual gifts and a penchant for botany, medical texts, and the number seven. The author, Holly Goldberg Sloan, does not water down Willow’s vocabulary or personality in any way to make her character easier to swallow. In fact, it isn’t important for the reader to understand everything the main protagonist says or does throughout the novel in order to grasp her emotional turmoil and her desperate need to cope and connect. Continue reading

A Brief Discussion of Gratitude in a San Serif Style.

posted by Beret. To the two of you who also subscribe to my personal blog, Bad Parenting 101: apologies for today’s simulcast!

In honor of the upcoming holiday, I wanted to take a moment to think about gratitude.

If that sentence gave you the heebie jeebies, join the club. For some unknown reason, I have a deep-seated repulsion for Chicken Soup-y type aphorisms and daily meditations.

Perhaps it is accentuated by the cliché art and bad fonts which typically accompany such things.

Don’t get me wrong. I love sunsets. In fact, I would be thrilled to be present for the moment depicted above. But what’s great about the setting sun over the lake is definitely not the cloying overscript on a two-dimensional reproduction.

Moreover, just because I won’t hang that poster doesn’t mean I have a beef with fostering gratitude. On the contrary! Gratitude is essential. I’m working on this often, striving to be a better person, and I certainly don’t want my kids to grow up to be selfish brutes. So…presenting…

A brief discussion of gratitude in a sans serif style.

A memorial billboard for mca from www.freshnessmag.com.

A memorial billboard for Adam Yauch, aka MCA from http://www.freshnessmag.com.

Semi-recent articles in the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, the Atlantic Monthly, and Family Circle once again outline that teaching gratitude to your kids is important. Do it.

Why? Fostering gratitude doesn’t just make more tolerable people; it makes happier people. Jeffrey Froh (PsyD) did a study with middle schoolers. He asked one group to list up to five things for which they were grateful everyday for two weeks. Another group listed hassles, and the last group filled out surveys. The first group showed a marked jump in optimism and overall well-being that extended for a while, even after the study was completed. Those students also had a more positive attitude about school in general. Feeling grateful boosts happiness, gives people better perspective in life, and improves relationships at home, school, and work. (from Family Circle)

To sum up what I’ve learned…most experts recommend:

  • Model gratitude. Big surprise. Thank your kids. Thank your significant other. Thank friends, cashiers, relatives, teachers, baristas, maybe even the DMV clerk. After all, it must be a sucky job.
  • Give positive reinforcement. Even just “hey, thanks for noticing.” or “I appreciate your comment,” can help the set a pattern of behavior.
  • Give them less. Have kids work toward something they want, do chores, earn money. Let them know the value of an item. I could buy you those shoes, but then we can’t order pizza tonight. Lost a backpack? Help earn a new one. Talk about how work hours translate into garbage pick up, electricity, gasoline, vacation. Read aloud Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In addition to being a humorous and vivid story, it discusses hard work, chores, about wasting nothing. There is also a great discussion about the value of a silver dollar that Almanzo would like to spend at the fair. Another book recommendation: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter. If that doesn’t make you appreciate having heat and food on the table, I don’t know what will. Amazing.
  • Volunteer as a family. We’ve started very small. We collect our change and bring it to CoinStar periodically, which allows us to select a charity and send it electronically. What could be simpler? It teaches them that even pennies and nickels can add up to something significant. We’ve also baked cookies and given them out to homeless people, sold cupcakes to raise money for charities, and currently we foster kittens for the SPCA.
  • Coach when appropriate. I often have my kids make their own purchases, even when they are using my money. I remind them to say thank you (before or after the transaction, not during. I try to avoid barking at them while they are mid-transaction) and ask them to leave a tip when appropriate. They need little nudges along the way. “I was disappointed that you didn’t seem more grateful after I helped you with your homework. I could have been doing other things.” Reminding them of opportunities to be aware and thankful is not cheating.
  • Structure a moment of gratitude into the day. Practice, practice, practice! Gratitude is a muscle that needs exercising. Examining life for the positive helps lay new pathways in the brain, creating a positive mindset. That explains why Jeffrey Froh’s experiment had such an impact. This is big! I grew up saying grace at the table, so it feels natural to ask my kids, “What are you thankful about today?” when we sit down to eat dinner. I answer the question, too.

I highly recommend Shawn Achor’s TED talk on Happiness. Don’t be put off by its title: “The Happy Secret to Better Work.” It actually includes the happy secret to better life. There are amazing nuggets tucked in amongst some amusing anecdotes. Among them: “90% of your longterm happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world.” In other words, by your MINDSET. Further study has shown that increasing positivity increases creativity, energy, and intelligence, because the dopamine released not only makes us feel happiness, it turns on the learning centers of our brains.

In the last two minutes of his talk, he outlines five quick and easy ways to increase happiness–based on research and not hopeful speculation. Guess what comes in at number one? Write down three new gratitudes each day for 21 days in a row. That is why I now have a gratitude journal, though I can’t call it that, of course. The phrase “Gratitude Journal” makes me gag a little. I have a crass name for it which I can’t repeat here, but which makes me laugh every time I take it out. I figure that makes me happier, too.

Too Cool for School (Supplies)

From Kojo-designs.com.

From Kojo-designs.com.

posted by Beret

Wait. What? It’s September?

My nine-year-old spent the last couple of days of summer vacation in bed, eyeballs glued to Youtube. I was pretty busy having an aneurysm about how to drop off and pick up my kids on opposite sides of town–simultaneously–so I had no clue what was going on up there. But while I tried unsuccessfully to tame my logistical beasts, she taught herself how to do absolutely everything else.

When she wandered downstairs to ask, “Can I make lip gloss out of Vaseline and crayons?” I just stared. “I don’t know if that will work,” I finally said, and she rolled her eyes. “Of course it works,” she responded. “Also, it’s completely non-toxic.” During the ensuing silence, I realized she meant “may I?” not “can I?” which made me feel a bit better. Perhaps she hasn’t completely eclipsed my knowledge base yet.

In all honesty, I had noticed it was September, but being aware and being prepared are not the same thing at all. So when the 11-year-old started complaining about her boring, clunky binders, it was Miss 9 who had all the answers, not me. “Just paint an ombre in a chevron pattern,” she said. “All you need is some acrylic paint and some tape.”

Voilà:

Miss 11's binder project. Whether this is really an ombre effect, or more of a gradient, is up for debate among word fiends.

Miss 11’s binder project. Whether this is really an ombre effect, or more of a gradient, is currently up for debate.

Miss 9 discovered the binder project during her Youtube binge. You can find directions for it about 3 minutes into this video. It was fun, easy, and made all the difference in the cruel world of middle school. We started rooting around, looking for other, cool school-related projects.

What follows are a few of the awesome things we discovered.

Metallic magnets for your locker:

From: http://kojo-designs.com/2013/11/diy-metallic-alphabet-magnets/

Soooo cool and so very simple. From kojo-designs.com.

Book covers with special bonus from the indefatiguable Martha Stewart:

Thanks, Martha!

Thanks, Martha! A way to keep the assignment notebook handy.

She's unstoppable!

Book jacket with pockets. Same link as above.

Got comics? or old calendars? or outdated maps? Slap some clear contact paper on that and go! Awesome.

Got comics? Old calendars? Or outdated maps? Slap some clear contact paper on that and go! Awesome.

Washi tape-covered pencils. Now that Target and Amazon and Walgreen’s are all peddling washi tape…might be time to try it!

Image and idea found on mashable.com. Directions here.

Image and idea found on mashable.com. No-brainer directions here.

Adorable bag for miscellaneous supplies:

Awesome lined bag tutorial from The Creative Place. Please note: I'd advise you to just buy satin cord to serve as the drawstring, unless you like impossible challenges. The rest is easy.

Awesome lined bag tutorial from The Creative Place. Please note: do yourself a favor and just buy satin cord to serve as the drawstring, unless you like impossible challenges. The rest is easy.

Also, I saw directions to make monster bookmarks that were waaaaaay too complicated. Here’s the super simple way I posted a while back:

The easy way.

The easy way.

They did it the hard way, though I love their accessorizing ideas:

From Tally's Treasury.

From Tally’s Treasury–obvi!

Oh and p.s. If you want to make the crayon lip gloss, click here for directions.

Feel free to post links to other interesting ideas in the comments!

This Book is Like Whoa

“Now here is my secret. It is very simple. It is only with one’s heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince. Cover art for Wonder (above) is by Tad Carpenter, image from http://campusmlk.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/wonder.jpeg

posted by Beret

R.J. Palacio’s novel appears to be written for eight- to twelve-year-olds, but is, in reality, a compelling and inspiring book for readers of most any age. I do realize that Gina mentioned this book in a post from a while back, but after reading it myself, I felt it deserved a devoted post all to itself.

Wonder is the story of August Pullman, a boy born with severe facial abnormalities. He has been homeschooled by his mother his whole life, but when he turns ten, his parents decide to enroll him in a private middle school in New York City. Imagine all of the fear and insecurity, the freaky social and physiological transitions occurring at that time of life, and then imagine having to weather them all with a face that triggers screaming and crying, shocked stares, rude comments, and double-takes. “I won’t describe what I look like,” August says. “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”

August emerges as an honest and straightforward narrator, explaining in unemotional terms what it is like to walk through the world as he does. He maintains a sense of humor through many of his struggles, as well as a remarkable tolerance and understanding for the way people relate to him. Usually.   Continue reading

Cryptology for kids

spy vs spy from www.strangehistory.net/

Mad Magazine’s spy vs spy from http://www.strangehistory.net/

posted by Beret

Ages:  Any, although kids 8-11 get particularly fired up about secret codes. That’s typically the age when kids decide that a little privacy would be great–especially if younger siblings are involved.

Many aspects of being a spy are, in reality, probably unappealing:  lying, hiding, sneaking–all while your life is in constant jeopardy–plus a boatload of observation, sales, and psychological manipulation, according to former C.I.A. operative Lindsay Moran. Still, the idea of secret messages never gets old, and I’m excited to show you a few simple codes to get kids started. Continue reading

Finding Your Way: Maps, Compasses, and Treasure – Oh My!

posted by Gina

When I was a kid, there was no internet and there were no smartphones. The same is true for when I was a high school and a college student. The practical upshot of this meant that I was lost a lot of the time.

Turn right, then left. Second street over.

Continue reading

Get Outside!

The grip of winter has left New York.

Mostly. It was kind of chilly yesterday.

BUT! The flowers are blooming, the cats are sneezing, and I can leave the apartment without 20 layers of clothing. Bliss!

Which gets me thinking about spring time, and the start of summer, and how those of us living in the cities can get that desperate craving to reconnect with something green. As I was scouting about these internets, continuing to put off the massive, massive research paper I have due next week, I found this nifty website. And you should scope them out.

To get you started, here’s a page I particularly liked, especially in light of needing to commune with trees again. Have you ever hugged a tree? For real? I did it in a college science class, and I will tell you, it was actually kind of amazing. Go hug one. And then adopt it. Then do some of this other stuff.

Happy Spring!

ENVIRO KIDS Games & Activities

Kids living in urban centers, or even suburbs, are often disconnected from the nature. Here are some activities you can do with kids with nature and our environment:

Outdoor activities for kids and parents

Adopt a Tree

While taking a walk or hiking, have your child to pick out a favorite tree in a  park or forest and “adopt” it. Essentially, your child will take on the role of being   the tree’s caretaker. Do bark rubbings with crayons and paper; leaf collection and pressing in the fall; and look for flowers and fruit in the summer. Each year, take pictures of your child standing beside the tree. You can even bring   along measuring tape to track the tree’s growth. Kids can also research the tree on the internet: where the tree is commonly found, usual life span, height, etc.

Clean Up the Earth

A good way to teach our children about taking care of our…

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Book Review: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

From iwalmartimages.com.

From iwalmartimages.com.

posted by Beret

Ages: 7 to 107

This book is miraculous indeed.

It is simply worded, beautifully illustrated, and hits like a sledgehammer.

Don’t be fooled by the flowery font on the cover, the sweet pencil sketches, or the gentle cadence of the first chapter. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is not a Hallmark commercial. It is not for the faint of heart. It is the sort of book which, when read aloud, makes your child look at you sideways and say, “Why does your voice sound tight and strange?”    Continue reading