How to Prepare Kids: When Life Happens

(Written several weeks ago)

Life happens folks. And it’s happening bigtime for me these days. And by happening, I don’t mean in a good, fun way. I mean the tough stuff. The stuff that challenges everything you know to be true. The stuff that tests your faith and piles up conflicting emotions like a Jenga tower waiting to tumble. The stuff you can’t do much about and yet you have to deal with each day. The things that happen to a lot of us, at some point. Thoroughly confused? I thought so. My cryptic and vague wording is by choice–I believe in sharing but I also believe in not oversharing and being more specific doesn’t lend to making my point. For the record, I am fine. I’m basically just trying to say, life just got more challenging and that’s what happens sometimes. Life can be hard and then sometimes it gets even harder.

As an adult, I’ve been through enough to know how to plow through, keep the faith, trust the universe, learn from it all, and focus on what I can control. But it’s made me wonder–how can I prepare my children to cope? Having key coping skills is an obvious necessity in life but we very rarely talk about it in specific terms with children. Heck, it’s not always clear even for adults. Learning to cope is part of the journey of life and it often evolves right alongside it. That said, this has to be one of the most important parenting responsibilities aside from keeping them alive and healthy.  The ability to cope not only has significant mental health implications but also, it’s what can make or break a happy and productive life because, as we all know, life happens. What can I arm my kids with now? How do I prepare my children for the inevitable times when life happens?

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As parents, we shield our children from pain and failure but often these things are the best ways children learn to successfully cope. But to what degree do we let our child fail or experience pain? How do we know when they’ve really learned? Every kid is different so figuring this out varies by family. But one thing parents can do immediately is to talk with their children about feelings from an early age. Help children learn the right words for what they are experiencing and then intentionally talk about how best to cope, what that can look like, what has worked and what has not. Helping our children become emotionally aware and learning to vocalize feelings is a great first step.

There’s a lot of research and plenty of articles on the subject and most of it is all good information. But we have to become more intentional and proactive about teaching children how to cope. We can’t just wait for life to throw a teachable moment our way (even though that is always helpful). We have to talk openly about challenges, let them see us struggle, be frustrated, conflicted, defeated, or sad. Then, we have to let them see us figure it all out and keep living a happy, productive life. Throughout it all, we have to make sure we are talking to them about what they’re witnessing in specific terminology and with words they understand. I’ll never forget scolding my son a few times for not being respectful. Several months later, while fussing at him again for the same thing, he finally asked what I meant by respectful. Helping children understand the big concept of coping includes using the simplest words or phrases they might know.

We can’t explore how best to make sure children learn to cope without acknowledging the importance of seeking professional help when needed. There’s no rule that says you have to know how to deal with stuff all by yourself. When in need, there is no shame in asking for help. It’s always a good idea to have someone in your corner, to give you solid advice and help you think through life and its various ups and downs. Who doesn’t need to hear from a personal cheerleader and a supportive member of your personal fan club? Sure friends and family can be great resources for a lot of this but there is something unique about confiding in someone whose sole purpose is to provide unbiased support to make your life better. Intentionally talking with children from a young age about possibly having a “feelings coach” can set the tone of it being okay to reach out for help.

My family has just started using an easy, comprehensive app called “Calm” to allow us to process our day and to help us all decompress in the evening before bed. It makes us regroup as a family, helps put the pace of life in its place, and reminds us that we have to take care of ourselves, including our ability to process and handle challenges. It’s only been 5 days but so far, it’s been great particularly for our youngest who naturally fights going to bed.

Whether it’s meditating, becoming involved in hobbies like cooking, gardening, playing a sport, just keeping busy or seeking professional help, it’s crucial that we help children learn how to figure out what they need to cope in life, particularly when it gets hard. Like most things, if you’re a parent, this starts with you.

Your Mama Is An Outsider

It finally hit me. I am an outsider. I’ve felt different more times than I care to count but until recently I’ve not given it much thought or embraced the notion of being an outsider.

When I was born, my older twin siblings didn’t want much to do with me as they had each other. I tried desperately to make them play with me but mostly, I was left to play by myself.

When I went to middle and high school, I was one of two black students in a predominantly white private school in the South. There were countless moments of feeling uncomfortable and singled out simply because I was different.

When I went to college and pledged a sorority, I was surprisingly blackballed by a childhood friend. After the shock and humiliation wore off, I found myself on the outside of a group of people I once considered friends.

When I got pregnant with my first child, I was not married. The pregnancy didn’t come as a shock to my now husband and I as we were in love and excited about our future together. To this day, however, there are still a handful of people who go out of their way to make their disapproval known.

What I Hide on Social Media

I have a fabulous life. No really, I do. I have two amazing children, a loving husband and family, good friends, and many interests. I get to travel to amazing places, meet amazing people, and do amazing things. Mostly, I get to raise my children and revel in the routine of going outside to play with our neighbors, shuttle from activity to activity, volunteer at school, manage our home and cook dinner. I get to do these things and so much more. It is nonstop work but it is a blessing. If you’re not convinced of just how blessed I am, check my social media feed. It’s a reflection of my life and proof positive that everything is wonderful. Or is it?

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This is me….way too much.

A few weeks ago I posted a short video of my son enjoying some grape jam at breakfast, a picture of my friend’s “Sexy Lips” necklace and a reference to one of my favorite poems, Desiderata, in honor of national poetry month. In weeks past I’ve posted pictures of date nights, spring break, sporting events and more. See? Wonderful, right?

The Things We Tell Our Children

Last school year my daughter, Gigi, came home distraught one afternoon—she had her first misunderstanding with a good friend. It was drama filled and in her young mind, she didn’t think they would ever be friends again. She didn’t have perspective, just hurt feelings and sadness. Like most young children, all was better within a day or so. Gigi worked things out with her friend and that began our journey teaching Friendship 101.

After a recent disagreement with a neighborhood friend, I paused while giving Gigi my normal advice. “Friends go through things from time to time,” I told her. “If you care enough about the friendship, you will find a way to work it out. All you have to do is try to communicate as best you can and that goes both ways. You have to listen as well and it will all work out.” And that’s when I heard myself.

How Bruno Mars Helped Me Become a Better Parent

Last night my daughter and I went to the Bruno Mars concert in Los Angeles–it was everything! That young man is truly talented and reminds me so much of Michael Jackson around the time he moonwalked during the Motown 25th televised show. Bruno performs with the same intensity and passion. Aside from having great music, a good voice with range, and backup dancers and singers that take you back to the boy-band era, Bruno Mars feels the music and makes people enjoy it in a way that’s truly special, like mid-career Michael Jackson.

 

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Bruno Mars XXIV Karat Magic Los Angeles Concert, November 2017

It’s probably important to note that Michael Jackson was my childhood idol. From “Blame it on the Boogie” and “Everybody” to “Lovely One” and “Beat It,” I knew almost every lyric, to every song, after first discovering him through the Off the Wall album (his best album, period). The childhood nostalgia came flooding back to me last night as Michael was my first concert and here I was with my daughter, at her first concert. It was incredibly special.

Naturally today, we are paying for it. My daughter was up and out last night much later than I’d anticipated and both of us are slower than normal. But it was worth it and a tremendous reminder to me to bend the rules occasionally and just enjoy my kids. And not just through big firsts like last night, but each day. Chucking the responsibility of managing the family schedule and making sure everyone does what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it, is necessary from time to time. I’m so happy I overlooked my daughter’s bedtime and initial concerns that the content would be inappropriate (an aside, there was a lot of cursing but if you’ve heard the album, you know as much and my kids have indeed heard the album. Judge me if you want but they now know which words they can use, and which they can’t). I’m glad that I let her have this fun experience. It’s one she (and I) will cherish for the rest of our lives.