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There’s scientific evidence that healthy relationships are foundational to a healthy life. But in childhood or as a young adult did you ever learn the skills that lead to healthy relationships? Me neither.

Instead, the Happily Ever After myth falsely teaches us that connection with others comes naturally and that humans have an intuitive sense of how to be kind and respectful.

Um, no. In reality, these skills are learned.

When I became a parent, I quickly realized I needed much stronger relationship skills. My toolbox for maintaining my relationship with my husband while working, caring for babies and myself was pretty empty. I felt overwhelmed, exhausted and alone.

From this dark place, I started a journey that has shifted my life in profound and positive ways. And this journey to become better at relationships has flowed into every aspect of my life. (including this blog and my books!)

Parenthood has definitely been my gateway to growth. Here are four relationship skills that I’ve found to be really important in my family. I hope they are helpful to you and your family as well.

Four Relationship Skills that are Important for Families

(That are Not Taught in School)

  1. How we communicate really matters. Blaming statements and criticism fuel conflict. Try to express your needs without them. Starting tough conversations with “I” instead of “you” can change the whole conversation.
  2. “Name to Tame” emotions. Notice and feel emotions instead of avoiding, ignoring or burying them. Only when we recognize our emotions, can we work through them. By strengthening our own Emotional Intelligence, we’re better able to help our loved ones manage difficult emotions in a healthy way.
  3. When overcome with anger, take a break. When we’re so angry that it’s difficult to communicate respectfully or rationally it’s time to pause. Go for a walk, read a book or do something to calm down and take your mind off the issue. Then, from a place of calm, address the issue.
  4. The only person we can control is ourselves, but that can be really powerful. When you feel triggered by something or someone, pause and try to ground yourself instead of reacting. Then, with a level head, choose how to respond.  I’ve noticed that when I stay grounded in these moments, the outcome shifts.

PASS IT ON. Jessica Speer’s weekly BLOG focuses on helping kids and families thrive. Posts offer simple ideas to help kids and families connect & foster healthy relationships. If you know someone who might appreciate this content, please pass it on! Click here to follow blog via email or Facebook.

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Way back at my baby shower in 2006, I received a simple book filled with blank pages. The instructions read, “Every year, write a birthday letter to your child and add it to the book. When they turn 21, give them the book as a tribute to their childhood.”

So, on my daughter’s first birthday, I started writing.

I wrote about how she grew and changed. I wrote about special moments. I wrote about our family. I even wrote about struggles and tough times.

When my second daughter was born, I started another book for her.

Every year around their birthdays, I set aside time to write their letters. These two books have grown into a repository of special memories. I add school photos, ticket stubs, Santa letters, art work and any tokens that reflect my daughter’s lives. The process has become a vivid reminder of the gift of parenting as well as its temporary status.

As I tuck birthday letters #13 and #11 into each book and stash them away, I’m so grateful for this baby gift that has grown into so much more.

Do you have a baby gift that was extra special or similar tradition? Please share!

PASS IT ON. Jessica Speer’s weekly BLOG focuses on helping kids and families thrive. Posts offer simple ideas to help kids and families connect & foster healthy relationships. If you know someone who might appreciate this content, please pass it on! Click here to follow blog via email or Facebook.

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In Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker needed help to become a Jedi Knight. He needed someone to provide guidance and knowledge so he could learn to use The Force wisely and effectively.

That’s where Yoda came in. By allowing Luke to work through challenges, Luke gained important skills, confidence and eventually independence. Yoda’s wisdom and grounded support brought out the Knight within Luke.

I love this storyline because it’s an inspiring model on how to guide kids through friendship struggles – the Yoda way.

As parents, it’s extremely hard to see our kids struggle. We want to alleviate their pain and solve problems, so we jump right in and offer quick solutions.  But often, our efforts only make US feel better. And we miss the opportunity to help our kids navigate their emotions, feel heard and develop healthy relational skills.

So how do we guide kids through friendship struggles – the Yoda way?

  1. Listen hard and empathize.

When we help our kids identify and talk about their feelings, we’re helping them develop emotional intelligence. Ask what emotions they’re feeling. Ask questions to get a clear understanding of what happened. Get a deeper understanding of his/her world. Social dynamics are more complex than they first appear.

After you’ve listened deeply and helped your child identify emotions, empathize. As humans, it’s incredibly healing to feel heard and understood. When I do this step right, my kids feel loved, supported and our bond grows stronger.

  1. Keep your emotions and reactions in-check so you can best help your child.

As caregivers, we feel our kid’s pain. My heart actually aches when my kids are in emotional or physical pain. If I have a big reaction and jump on my own emotional roller coaster, I’ve robbed my daughter of the opportunity to process her situation. I’ve missed the chance to make her feel heard and understood. So, I try to control my instinct to fix or react. Instead, I listen and try to stay grounded.

  1. Have child lead problem solving.

Once you and your child have a good understanding of the situation and she/he is feeling more settled, ask if he/she has any ideas on possible solutions. You can share your ideas too, but make sure that your child takes the lead and makes the final choice on their path.

  1. Be their cheerleader and coach.

Chances are, your child is going to be nervous about implementing their solution. This is your chance to be their cheerleader and offer encouragement. (“You can do this!”) Check-in with them later to see how things went and continue your support as needed. Through this process, your child is developing the confidence to solve his/her own problems.

On my good days, I remember to tap into my inner Yoda. When I do, I find that these moments with my kids help them better understand themselves and strengthen our relationship. Sometimes I fall back into my knee-jerk-fix-it-mom-mode, but luckily that’s happening less and less these days. If you try these steps, I would love to hear how it goes!

Helpful books:

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, by John Gottman

Little Girls Can Be Mean – Four Steps to Bully Proof Girls in the Early Grades, M. Anthony and R. Lindert

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Okay, I have to admit that I created this list mostly for me. As a consummate task-master, I need all the reminders I can get to monitor my overactive “Get’er done” mode.  When I’m in the mode, I have a hard time snapping out of it.

Yes, it’s awesome to get stuff done, but not at the expense of really connecting with the people I care most about. So, I’m trying hard to manage my time and attention so that when moments to connect arise, I don’t miss them.

When I’m sitting alone in front of my computer, I’m a task-master extraordinaire. But when I’m at home with my family, I’m trying to snap out of it, slow down and give those around me my attention and energy.

As my kids grow, moments to connect are becoming more limited. There are fewer skinned knees that need a kiss, less help is needed for homework and there are fewer moments with everyone at home at the same time. So it’s even more important for me to be fully present. Luckily, each day brings a new opportunity to practice…and new opportunities to connect.

PASS IT ON. Jessica Speer’s weekly BLOG focuses on helping kids and families thrive. Posts offer simple ideas to help kids and families connect & foster healthy relationships. If you know someone who might appreciate this content, please pass it on! Click here to follow blog via email or Facebook.

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There are so many things I love about this Parenting Manifesto by Brene Brown. I’ve read this to my kids and they love it too. Thank you Brene for sharing this beautiful reminder of the path to deeper connection and joy!

PASS IT ON. Jessica Speer’s weekly BLOG focuses on helping kids and families thrive. Posts offer simple ideas to help kids and families connect & foster healthy relationships. If you know someone who might appreciate this content, please pass it on! Click here to follow blog via email or Facebook.

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The past few months, I’ve been spending time in classrooms doing research for my new book. I’m exploring the “weird stuff” that happens in middle school. I’ve asked over 100 tweens and teens, what should be included in this book and the responses have been powerful.

The most frequently shared response is….JUDGEMENT.

Not surprisingly, judgment fills the halls of middle school. Judgment on what you wear, who you hang out with, what you do or don’t do, etc.

This reminded me of researcher/author Brene Brown’s findings on belonging versus fitting in. In her book Rising Strong, Brene shares how middle school students described the difference between belonging and fitting it. Here’s what they said:

Fitting-In: when you want to be a part of something but others don’t want you to be

Belonging: when you want to be a part of something and you feel welcome

Brene also found that what’s even more difficult for kids is not belonging at home. They said things like:

 “I’m an athlete and my parents think only stupid people are athletes.”

“My dad was captain of the football team and my mom was a cheerleader. It’s hard for them that I am not into that stuff.”

“It was really hard on my mom that I didn’t get asked to dance.”

Brene stresses that parents should focus on making sure our kids feel like they belong, letting go of the need for them to be popular, letting go of the need for them to be something they’re not.

True acceptance is a deep expression of love. This doesn’t mean parents need to let go of rules and clear boundaries. It means cherishing kids for who they are, as they are. Encouraging them to be themselves instead of trying to fit-in.

My time in the middle school has been a vivid reminder of the importance of making sure my kids feel true belonging at home. I’ve been trying to notice if my expectations are overshadowing their path. Trying to give them space and encouragement to be themselves, which in middle school…is a true act of courage.

PASS IT ON. Jessica Speer’s weekly BLOG focuses on helping kids and families thrive. Posts offer simple ideas to help kids and families connect & foster healthy relationships. If you know someone who might appreciate this content, please pass it on! Click here to follow blog via email or Facebook.

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There are many things I wish I’d learner earlier as a parent, but helping my kids manage anger in a healthy way tops the list. Like many people, I grew up in a home where anger wasn’t managed in healthy way. So I had no tools to reference in this area.

I’d try to remain calm during tantrums, but inevitably I’d get triggered and end up angry too. (which was not helpful!) Eventually I found some great resources that helped me become a more emotionally intelligent role-model to my kids.

Photo by Daria Obymaha on Pexels.com

Here’s what I found most helpful to help kids learn how to manage anger in a healthy way:

  • When your child is NOT angry, discuss that anger is a normal human emotion and that with practice, people learn how to work through anger in a healthy way.

Strong emotions can be overwhelming for children. Helping children understand and manage strong emotions is a skill that takes practice and guidance.

  • Talk with your child about what might help them work through anger in a healthy way. Help them create a plan or poster with strategies they would like to practice when they are angry, such as:
    1. Let off steam through dance, running, jumping rope or other physical activities your child enjoys.
    2. Take five deep belly breaths when they notice the tension of anger in their body.
    3. Take a “calming break” by going to a special place filled with comforting objects like toys and stuffed animals. Reading a favorite book or listening to music during a calming break is an excellent alternative to time-outs.
  • Calmly reflect back what you see when your child is getting angry.

Say, “I notice your voice is getting loud and your fists are clenched. I bet you’re feeling really angry right now.” Rather than punishing kids for expressing anger, practice empathy and teach self-soothing skills.

  • Help your child recognize where they feel anger in their body (i.e., jaw, breathing, shoulders, fists, heart)

Noticing bodily cues builds awareness, which is the first step in managing anger.

  • Praise good behavior and anger management skills when you notice your child practicing them.
  • Model these tools with your own anger and frustration when it arises.

I’ve noticed that when I keep my emotions and reactions in check, I stay grounded and can best help my kids navigate their emotions. Like everything, sometimes I do this well and other times I don’t. Luckily, my kids and I are all learning to be more emotionally intelligent in the process.

PASS IT ON. Jessica Speer’s weekly BLOG focuses on helping kids and families thrive. Posts offer simple ideas to help kids and families connect & foster healthy relationships. If you know someone who might appreciate this content, please pass it on! Click here to follow blog via email or Facebook.

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Many schools have done a great job raising awareness about bullying. Bullying is never okay and needs to be addressed immediately.

With this heightened awareness, I’ve found that many kids have a hard time differentiating between bullying and mean behavior. Understanding the difference helps kids know how to navigate each situation.

Mean behavior is saying or doing something to hurt a person.

Bullying is a cruel act done on purpose and repeatedly that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power.

QUICK QUIZ – Is it Mean or Bullying?

  1. Jake tells Marco that he can’t play basketball at recess because he’s the worst player in the whole grade. Mean or bullying?

Answer: It appears that Jake is being mean. His words are intended to hurt Marco, but there’s no evidence of repetitive behavior or a power imbalance.

  1. Molly’s making fun of Piper for wearing the same pants to school every day.  In gym class, Molly says Piper smells and later she writes the words “You stink” on her desk. Mean or bullying?

Answer: Molly’s acting like a bully. She’s making fun of Piper repeatedly with intention to cause harm. There’s also evidence of a power imbalance.

Context is important to understand meanness versus bullying. But regardless, these behaviors are not okay.

Dealing with mean behavior is a part of life that we all learn how to handle.  With guidance and support, kids develop skills to deal with meanness, such as speaking up, learning resilience and putting energy into kind friendships instead.

As parents, it’s important to validate a child’s feelings when someone’s mean to them and help them decide how they’d like to respond. (Ignore, speak up, etc.)

Bullying, on other hand, is a different matter and needs to be addressed. Bullies try to have more social or physical power over their targets. They try to make their targets cry, feel scared or lose their temper. And bullying has lasting negative effects.

Even though it may be hard, encourage kids not to give bullies their power. Help them practice standing tall and pretending to be bored or unimpressed. Then walk away and get help from a trusted adult.

Since kids develop healthy social and emotional skills at different stages, unkind behavior is unfortunately common. These moments provide families an opportunity to revisit conversations about meanness and bullying and how to navigate situations. And if your child is feeling overwhelmed by mean or bullying behavior, be sure to get support from the school as well.

Additional resources:

StopBullying.gov

Bystander Revolution

Cyberbullying Research Center

Stomp Out Bullying

PASS IT ON. Jessica Speer’s weekly BLOG focuses on helping kids and families thrive. Posts offer simple ideas to help kids and families connect & foster healthy relationships. If you know someone who might appreciate this content, please pass it on! Click here to follow blog via email or Facebook.

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There are several parenting lessons I wish I’d figured out earlier. For instance, how to navigate toddler tantrums and help my daughter work through anger in a healthy way.  I figured out that lesson about three years later than I wish I had.

As parents and humans, we can be really hard on ourselves.

Even though I know we are all doing the best we can with the skills we’ve got, the person I find hardest to forgive is myself.  I have many lingering regrets about parenting and relationship choices I wish I’d done differently.

But, what if the whole point of parenting, and all relationships, is really about growth? Personal growth. Being more connected and loving to ourselves and to those around us. Realizing the things we are doing/saying or not doing/saying that could use some fine tuning or a major tune up.

For me, parenthood has definitely been my gateway to growth. And this growth has flowed into other relationships in my life as well.

Here are a few of those life lessons that keep crossing my path:

  1. How we communicate really matters. Thanks to thought leaders like Brene Brown and John Gottman, I try hard to avoid blaming statements, criticism and shaming others. Here’s a recent blog post I wrote about how simply starting conversations with “I” instead of “you” can change the whole conversation.
  2. The only person we can control is ourselves, but that can be really powerful. When I feel triggered by something or someone, I pause and try to ground myself instead of reacting. Then, with a level head, I choose how to respond.  I’ve noticed that when I stay grounded in these moments, the outcome shifts.
  3. Notice and feel our emotions instead of avoiding, ignoring or burying them. Once I dug into my own Emotional Intelligence, I was better able to help my kids manage their difficult emotions in a healthy way.
  4. Gratitude. My oldest daughter turns 13 this week. 13! Our time as parents and our time on this planet are limited. As you may have noticed in my blog, family dinner has become a special time for my family to connect. Here are a few recent topics that help us stay focused on how very lucky we are.

 So yes, we are going to goof up as parents, friends, partners, spouses and co-workers. But those mistakes that resurface again and again open a door to growth if we decide to dig in. In what ways has parenting or life inspired your personal growth? Please share!

PASS IT ON. Jessica Speer’s weekly BLOG focuses on helping kids and families thrive. Posts offer simple ideas to help kids and families connect & foster healthy relationships. If you know someone who might appreciate this content, please pass it on! Click here to follow blog via email or Facebook.

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After a quick poll of my friends, I couldn’t find any with positive memories of “The Talk” with their parents when they were kids. Instead, I found knowledge about human reproduction was gathered in a variety of ways, including: the 5th grade school talk,  details gathered from friends (often incorrect), books left discretely on bedside tables, movies, adult magazines, etc.

Needless to say, family conversations about changing bodies, reproduction and sexual health were rare and uncomfortable for my generation.

As a parent, I feel these conversations are really important, so I wanted to see if I could change that. My hope was to create a home where these conversations were perfectly normal and my kids felt comfortable enough to ask me anything.

For the most part, it’s worked. Age appropriate conversations started when my kids were toddlers and continue today. And they’re not really awkward.

Here are a few tips that have helped along the way:

  1. Start Early – Toddlers are filled with questions and not embarrassed like older kids. When my kids had questions, I tried to answer them in an age-appropriate way as simply and honestly as I could. This opened the door for more conversations later.
  2. Read Books Together – I found many great books at the library that I’ve brought home over the years. Most are written by child development experts and filled with age-appropriate information. 
  3. Try Not to Flinch – As parents, we’ve all been caught off guard by a question we weren’t expecting. In these moments, I try my best not to flinch or respond in a way that makes my child feel embarrassed or ashamed for asking the question. Inside, I might be thinking “yikes”, but on the outside I try to appear calm and happy to talk.
  4. Buy Some Time if You Need to Think About Your Response – If you’re like me, you may need a few moments to figure out how to respond in an age-appropriate way. In these moments I say, “That’s a good question. I’m so glad you asked. Let me think about the best way to explain this…”
  5. Regularly Remind Your Kids That You Welcome Their Questions – I also remind my kids that sometimes what they are hearing from friends may not be correct, so they can always check with me.
  6. Find the Right Moments Instead of Forcing Conversations – Maybe we just listened to a news story that touches on an important subject or maybe we are taking the dog for a walk. Finding the right moments really helps.

If you have additional ideas and resources that you’ve found helpful to encourage open communication in your home, please share! Together we can raise a generation of kids where “the talks” are hopefully a lot less awkward and a lot more helpful.

PASS IT ON. Jessica Speer’s weekly BLOG focuses on helping kids and families thrive. Posts offer simple ideas to help kids and families connect & foster healthy relationships. If you know someone who might appreciate this content, please pass it on! Click here to follow blog via email or Facebook.

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