going off the rails

I talk to many parents whose teenagers have developed serious problems with drugs, alcohol, addiction to media, toxic relationships and more.  Mostly this began in the middle school years, and just like a train coming down the track, the parents could see it wasn’t going anywhere wonderful.  Sometimes the situation was ignored, thinking it would go away, and sometimes the parents jumped in with both feet to try to derail what was coming.

Sometimes the situation could be handled and the teen overcame their challenges to envision a healthier future . Sometimes the child went right on to have increased difficulties with these same issues, now with difficulty having a functional young adult life.

I wish I could say I knew what helped one teen and why another teen .  Obviously, individual teens respond in different ways to intervention and we don’t always know what will help a particular teen.  I am not a mental health professional, and do not offer the suggestions below as such, but know these were some of the commonalities I have heard in talking to parents whose teens were successful in getting their lives together.

Open communication and respect for what the child or teenager was going through, even if the parent didn’t understand it all.

Unconditional love, BUT especially for older teens the understanding that you cannot control their choices and  you cannot enable them and protect them through their choices.

Understanding that you, as parents, and the other members of the family, have the complete right to be safe.

Investigation into psychological help, counseling, or residential programs early on instead of waiting.  Yes, you cannot run away from your problems but for some teens a change of scenery with qualified help really is wonderful and a game-changer.  And the earlier this happens, sometimes it can really make a difference.

Sometimes more structure.  This may include things such as changing school settings to a smaller, more structured program.

Increased physical exercise as possible.  Sometimes if a teen is suffering from anxiety or depression, this seems nearly impossible, but it does seem to help if the teen is open to it.

Increased time in nature with family.  Some parents have reported great success with camping, long-term hiking, or other excursions into nature.  Again, the earlier, the better.

The biggest piece of advice I have heard is that if things are going off the rails at ages 12-14 get help right then and there.  Do not wait! Investigate options thoroughly, and see how your child responds.

I would love to hear what you all think.  Let’s all help each other.

Blessings,
Carrie

 

 

 

the 3 stages of adolescence: takeaways for parenting

There are three distinctive stages of adolescence, and our best parenting should grow in response to these stages:

Ages 13-15/16 Early Adolescence

This is the stage of distance between “self” and “other”.  It involves the adolescent measuring him or herself against others. It is a time of uncertainty, emotional extremes, confrontation to clarify oneself against confrontation, and a time of building one’s own worldview apart from one’s parents.

best parenting:  walking the line between boundaries that provide safety and the slow opening up of the external world outside the family

Ages 15/16 to 18:  Middle Adolescence

This is a stage of more personal responsibility; typically a time of not wanting to be identified with childhood and a great enthusiasm for new challenges, wider contexts, and experiencing the push and pull of intimacy where oneself is expressed but there is still room for the other person; sensitive adolescents can struggle during this time

best parenting:  be on guard for escapism in response to that pull of vulnerability versus self-set boundaries; help the middle adolescent take responsibility and not lose oneself within the wider world; artistic work is important during this time period

Ages 18 t0 21:  Last phase of Adolescence

This is a time of figuring out not only who am i? but what do I want? meshed with the understanding of what am I capable of?  This must come from the will; mature adolescents will see where their path of development helps their fellow man.  This is a time of choosing their place in life, their work, perhaps a significant other or significant community.

best parenting:  since action comes from being capable, providing support and encouragement for capacities and capabilities is important; support for the ideas of the late adolescent; the encouraging of community

Share some of your best parenting practices for adolescents!

Blessings and much love,

Carrie

why is my six-year-old so mean?

One of the most popular posts I ever wrote was talking about “defiance” in children under the age of six. In part, I wrote:

They are not “defiant”; defiance implies a fully conscious knowing of right and wrong and choosing to do the opposite, wrong, thing.  Since in the land of Waldorf parenting we believe the first seven years are a dreamy state, a state where logical thought has not yet entered, a state where the child is one giant sense organ (an eye!) and just taking in sensory impressions without a filter, there can be no “defiance”. Many times the power struggles we create with our children are a result of our own lack of knowledge of developmental stages, not having the right tools to guide our child, our own inner issues at the moment and not as much to do with the child as we thought!

Of course a small child wants what they want when they want it.  This is part of the fact that the small child lives specifically within their bodies and within their WILL.  Thinking comes in much later.  A two-year-old  will push against forms that you create in rhythm; this is why the rhythm is for YOU if you have a child under the age of 6.

But what do we do around age 6 when nearly everything a six year old does can seem mean, antagonistic, or a wrestling of power and clashing of the wills?  Doesn’t that behavior seem defiant and aren’t they “old enough” to know better?

Six is still very tiny, my friends.  I know it doesn’t seem that way when your oldest is six and you have tinier babies in the house, but six is tiny.  Six shows us the beginning glimmer of the polarity that lies in all of us and our ability to make choices that are good and bad and impact others in a real way.  Six is not only bigger than five was, but entirely different.

Six year olds are usually stubborn, and have a hard time in making up his or her mind, but once that is done it is difficult to get the child to change his mind.  A six year old usually adores his his mother, but at the same time, when things go wrong it is usually Mother’s fault and the Six year-old will take out everything on their Mother.  The child is the center of their own universe; the Mother is not the center of the child’s universe.

And yes, six year olds may not get along with siblings, especially younger siblings.  They usually want to win and be in charge and have everything.  They also love to have friends, but are frequently mean to their friends.  A six year old sometimes doesn’t seem to get along with anybody for too long a stretch!

So, as a parent, how do we handle this age?  

My answer is with love and connection and the understanding that despite all the surface antagonism toward others, six can be a very insecure age and an age of separation that makes children feel a little insecure and unsure.  They are trying to navigate things on their own terms, and often fail, and don’t need to be criticized constantly.

Six year olds need a strong rhythm at home that helps carry things (set bedtimes, meal times, set times to be outside and play), a strong period of time every day to free play and get their physical energy out and be in nature, and an understanding that six is not an age that deals well with overstimulation so to try to keep things calm.

They need a watchful eye when playing with friends of the same age or younger, because they may not be nice.  They need calm rules and for you to be the gentle and loving authority to show them how to treat people nicely both within the family and without.

One of the best tricks I have used as a mother of three children now all through the six year old stage were learning calm, stock phrases for that age, which helped me keep calm in the throes of emotion, because the more matter-of-fact you can be, the better things will go: 

I am here to help you.

I bet if you eat something/sleep/drink something, you will feel better.

Do you want me to tell you a story and snuggle?

This is just the rule in our family.

Let’s try that again.

Let me give you a minute unless you want my help.

Do you want to (accomplish this) with choice A or choice B?

If you are interested in learning more about the six-year-old, I recommend this back post on The Angry Aggressive Six Year Old. It has almost 70 comments with varying situations, so I bet you can find some thoughts on the situation you are experiencing, or feel free to set up a consult with me the week of April 22-27 through admin@theparentingpassageway.com

Many blessings and lots of love,
Carrie

the hardest part about parenting teens – and how to fix it

I talk to parents of teens all the time, from all different walks of life.  Some teens are going along with school and activities; some are struggling with self-esteem issues due to learning disabilities; some are dealing with more serious issues like alcoholism, toxic dating situations, self-harm, and more.  Parents tell me over and over that there is very little support for dealing with parenting of teens, mainly because each teen is a complete individual, and there is a need for privacy so not everything can be shared the way parents shared things their toddlers or even early elementary children were going through.

The hardest part of parenting teens is knowing what to do!  Any general instruction seems to apply less and less and what happens in conversation really can be a reaction to a situation that already has taken place, and it’s hard to know how much to hold a boundary or push for more responsibility.  Our oldest will be turning 18 this summer, and we also have a fourteen year old in the house, so I totally understand these feelings!

The number one way you can fix the hardest part of parenting teens, besides spending time WITH THE TEEN IN FRONT OF YOU, is to understand teen development.  Every teen is an individual, but there are archtypal patterns to teenaged development that can help us figure out how to parent more effectively!

Early Adolescence- ages 13 to the big watershed changes surrounding ages 15/16

  • there is often an obvious placing of space by the teen between himself or herself and the family.  This is an age when many families complain their teens are in their rooms and not coming out.  This is a safety measure for a gradually new emerging human being who feels the need to protect him or herself as they gain their own perspectives on life.
  • this is often an age of confrontation against authority and boundaries, but behind that is often a measure of uncertainty.  Using communication skills can be helpful.  If you are unsure how to react, try reading the book “How to Listen so Teens Will Talk and How To Talk So Teens Will Listen.”
  • it is often an age of emotional extremes.  Ninth graders are certainly very much more like middle schoolers than eleventh graders.
  • It is a time of measuring oneself against others, which is why social media can be so harmful for many teens.  Please use boundaries and know what your children are doing online!
  • It is a time of using safety and boundaries (self imposed or parent imposed) versus delving into a more open world.  

How do you parent this stage?

  • Respectful communication
  • Spending time with your teen; they are going to open up working side by side, in the car, or before they go to sleep. Spend time with them!
  • Play ho-hum with the emotional extremes. Be steady.
  • Don’t let the world just open up with no boundaries.  They are too young and need your support, encouragement, boundaries, safety net.
  • Let them fail and take the consequences of things.  You can only help to a certain point regarding things that have to be done. Do not do it for them!  This will impair the later stages of development unfolding.

Middle Adolescence – ages 15 or 16 to 18

  • This is a time of increased personal responsibility and realizing that not everything is someone else’s fault.
  • They are experimenting with finding emotional intimacy in friends, maybe with a significant other, but hopefully finding a way that their own personality and beliefs remains intact in the relationships.
  • They don’t want to be identified with their childhood for right now!
  • They have enthusiasm for a new challenge and want to experience that within themselves or out in nature or in academics
  • They can feel inadequate or inferior and may hide their innermost feelings
  • Sensitive teens might regress and turn to escapism

How do you parent this age?

  • Understand their vulnerability; help them deal with their innermost feelings if they are sensitive but also let them take actions and fail – do not do everything for them in an attempt to shield them
  • Artistic work,whatever that entails, is really important for this age – so theater, drawing, painting, woodworking, building things, modeling or sculpting, handwork, book binding – are all really important forms for inner self-expression
  • Help them get the wider context and the enthusiasm for a challenge in a safer way, especially for those 15-17 year olds.
  • Be there, be present.  They need you to not do things for them, but to help them, guide them, empower them!  Some older teens need more set parameters than others.  Be careful with your own boundaries as to what you will carry.

Late Adolescence – ages 18 to 21

  • They are grappling with the big questions:  Who Am I?  What Do I Want?  What Am I Capable Of?  
  • Then they have to follow up these questions with their own actions – the actions come from their own abilities, so if they have had everything done for them in early and middle adolescence, late adolescence isn’t going to look pretty.
  • They still find it hard to accept criticism.  This can still be an age of idealism.
  • They may start to explore and recognize that their personal development also intersects with a cause or community and get involved.
  • They may find their own place, their own work, a significant other or group of friends and community

How Do You Parent This Age?

  • Support them as they try out different healthy  paths.
  • Help them develop a love for responsibility – if you did the work in early and middle adolescence, this will come naturally!
  • Help them identify the abilities they carry that will help them move into action
  • Encourage them

Those of you with teens, what are the most successful and least successful things you have done in parenting or seen other parents do during these years? I would love to hear from you.

Blessings and love,
Carrie

 

 

 

teens who don’t want to drive

Some teens are excited and ready to drive in the United States, but the latest thing that many parents are lamenting is that their teen doesn’t want to drive or even attempt to get their license.  This phenomenon has even hit mainstream news sources, like in this article by National Geographic.  It is definitely a national trend that I don’t think has an end in sight.  We are seeing a true shift that I think will last generations and may even extend as car technology changes.

I have read many of the articles on this subject, observed many of my teen’s friends, and have come up with some ideas of why this trend may be…

  1.  Teens are working less. You might wonder what this has to do with driving, but hear me out.   If the emphasis is placed on academic success rather than school being something one does in addition to other things, then the teen may not have the time or motivation to get a job due to so much homework and extra classes.  If they don’t have a job, they may not have money to pay for gas or insurance, let alone to save up for a car.  The teens I know who are driving the most  have a job!
  2. Teens have more friends on-line and are dating less than previous generations.  There is less reason to go out of the house.  Teens are no longer going to the mall and hanging out – they can hang out and shop in their rooms.  They may not be running out of the house to go pick up their girlfriend.   The digital age has changed the landscape of adolescence forever.
  3. Many teens have anxiety ( I have read estimates that span anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of the teen population, depending upon what criteria is used), and the feeling that you could die or you could kill someone while driving a car makes driving a less than  tantalizing proporition to many teens.
  4. There are alternatives – rides with friends, Uber, public transportation, walking, and yes….parents often started  driving their children to activities at earlier ages, and are continuing, so why give that up?

Here are a few of my suggestions in dealing with reluctant teens –

I think the philosophy is always that the parents will do things for their children until the child can take it over for themselves.  In general, this age might be determined just by readiness cues and  seeing how responsibile the child  is in doing what needs to be done under supervision and then independently.  In the case of driving, the ability to drive is dictated by state laws, by learning new skills under supervision,by testing,  and yes, I think by having incentive.  So if your teen is reluctant to drive, perhaps have a conversation about expectations and what is holding your teen back.  Are your expectations clear to yourself and to them?

If you want your teen to learn to drive, and they are already feeling overwhelmed with schoolwork and activities, you may need to clear some space so they have the time to learn to drive.  It isn’t like cramming for an academic test.  It requires time, space, practice.

They may not want to learn to drive with you.  Or they may not want to learn with all their siblings in the car.  Some will learn better with Driver’s Education, some will learn better with a trusted relative or neighbor.

Figure out the expectation for how to pay for gas, insurance, a car.  These things can really hold teens back. If they have no car to drive or no way to pay for gas or insurance because they don’t have a job, what is the incentive for obtaining a license to drive?

Address anxiety. Sometimes having a timeline, a driving instructor, etc can help an anxious teen break things down into steps that seem doable.  The idea of testing may also provoke anxiety.   And as much as I hate to say it, I know people who never were comfortable driving and nearly always lived in areas where there was good public transportation available.  It may be hard to think this way if you live in an area where good public transportation doesn’t exist, but that may be where your teen ends up as an adult.

Lower your expectations.  Most of the new drivers I know are driving surface streets to school and back (probably a 5 miles radius) or to a job that is also within a five mile radius.  Not every new driver is ready to drive all over the city.  Think about where your teen would be okay driving when they do get their licenses.  This is particularly important for homeschooling families, who many times do have classes or activities that are far away.  If you goal is for that teen to drive to those far away things, your teen may or may not be comfortable with that as a new driver.

Would love to hear your thoughts,
Carrie

Skills for High School (and life!)

We have one teen getting ready to go look at colleges and apply in the fall, and one child who will be entering high school in the fall.  These are such  interesting and often challenging ages to parent. I don’t think I ever doubted my homeschooling skills as much as I did when my oldest was in eighth and ninth grade.  I think this is because we as parents can see what skills will be needed for success in  the upper grades of high school and what will be needed in college, and we wonder what we will do if things don’t come together  (or as homeschooling parents we wonder if we are doing enough).

This leads me to a question:  what do you think eighth and ninth graders really need to be able to do in order to navigate high school (and life) successfully? I woud love to hear your thoughts!  Here are a few of my ideas for the important skills teens need for high school and beyond:

Communication Skills – this includes written communication, public speaking,  recognizing nonverbal cues in other people, presentation skills, and being able to collaborate on a team.  I think this is where things such as vocabulary and fluency in writing and speaking  counts, and so do things such as knowing how to introduce oneself and others.

**Ways to develop this:  4H and Toastmasters, work and volunteer experience, being on a team in any area- sports or otherwise, communicating effectively at home and pointing out cues and emotions,  increasing vocabulary in the later middle school years.  If you are the homeschooling teacher – assigning papers, research papers, and oral presentations.

Organizational Skills – this includes physical space planning (ie, the teen can find what they are looking for), mental organization, planning and scheduling, time management, prioritizing

**Ways to develop this – using a calendar or planner, using checklists, working with deadlines  for your homeschool, developing accountability outside the home to mentors, other teachers, volunteer work or a part-time job

Leadership and Teamwork – this, to me, involves initiative, making decisions, contributing, responsibility, respect of others and listening to others, humility, problem solving

**Ways to develop this – volunteer and work opportunities, allow decision making for teens and don’t bail them out of the consequences, let your teen figure out the possibilities – don’t do it all for them

Work Ethic -this includes dependability, determination, accountability, professionalism

**Ways to Develop This – assignments with deadlines in homeschooling, don’t skip the hard or boring all the time, work and volunteer experiences, the development of healthy habits at home which requires a regularity in doing things

Emotional Intelligence – self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, social skills

**Ways to Develop This- talking to teens about their feelings and helping them use “I” statements and how to be active listeners, basic anger management and conflict management skills,mindfulness techniques,  nurture motivation when your teen is interested in a subject or has a passion and teach them  how to set goals around their passions, provide and model optimism and encouragement

I would love to hear your ideas!  What do you think is important?

Blessings,

Carrie

PS. If you are looking for more on this subject, you might enjoy this back post on Life Skills for Seventh and Eighth Graders and some of the resources I recommend!

The Authentic Heartbeat of Parenting

I was thinking this morning about running and metronomes; that rhythmic quality of running on the pavement or around the track is like a metronome set to a certain tempo; steady and going at the same pace, reassuring in its steadiness and how we can speed up or slow down to match the metronome. Unceaseless and rhythmical and the source of strength and rest.

This, to me, is so much like parenting.  We need find that authentic heartbeat, that authentic pace, and be able to hold it steady when the times of development and changing and growing in our children is not so steady.

When older children and teens are ready to spiral out of control, we are there with our authentic selves, and holding that authentic pace so if they are trying to speed so far ahead or so far behind, we can reach down and gently whisper, “Stay with me for a little while.”

When do we lose our pace?

When we become overwhelmed by our own baggage and our own triggers and our own emotions and our own lack of self-care.   I admit it has happened to me so much over the course of parenting!  I used to feel ashamed.  Why is this triggering me?  Why am I so frustrated with this particular piece?   But I don’t feel ashamed of it anymore; the longer I parent I can separate myself out of it all, the longer I just hold that it will all work out, the more I know my children have their own journey and their own work to complete that is not my work.

And then it came to me…

I am the metronome, but what am I set to?

Inner work and the work of grace.

I am married, so hopefully I am set in time with my spouse.

Can I keep the pace myself and not forge ahead with a clash of emotions?  Can I keep it less about me and more about just the gentle pace of growing up, the pace of our values as a family, and less about the tiny situation at hand?  The big picture is calling and the tiny details of today’s scrabble must not get in the way.

Parenting older children is tricky business. No one can really tell you how to do it as every family is unique and every child develops at a different time and pace, even if following along in a general way the developmental and archtypal patterns we have come to recognize that are common to children everywhere.

Development matters.  We are having an amazing discussion over on The Parenting Passageway Facebook page about parenting the 9-12 year old, and so much of it has to do with when the developmental changes (and on what scale) these changes hit.

The  reality is that all children eventually grow up, so changes will come, even if not at the standard times. And every family is different, so it may look different.  All we can do is be the steady pace, the gentle guide, the wonderful whisper of ease for those children who are finding no ease in the moment.

Stay strong,

Carrie