Saturday, March 29, 2014

Challenging Teen, Redux

challenging child, difficult child, parenting teens
Do you have a strong willed teen giving you fits? Looking for that magical thing that will make everything all better?

I don't have the answers, but today I think I'm doing pretty well with mine...  Figuring out the best way to parent this challenging child in the best way possible has been a full time job for me, trying to help her to grow up to live a healthier and happier life, a life without so much contention and drama.  It's not easy and both of us struggle with it...but it’s worth the struggle because it matters to us.

I'm actually grateful that my daughter is strong-willed.  I was a mousy teen.  Wishy-washy is how I thought of myself.  So while I was pregnant with Elizabeth, I frequently heard myself saying that I wanted a strong-willed child, a child just like my sister, I would say. 

Well...I got one!  So, to me the term "strong-willed" is not a pejorative.  It is a challenge!

Of course, there are no magic bullets in the parenting game because we are all human and complex, but I have figured out a few things in how to parent this child who is quite strong-willed and who struggles with her own constellation of distorted thinking types that are a part of her inner voice.

The parenting style of the last generation, my parents’ generation, would not bring this child up to be healthy or happy.  That authoritative parenting that I grew up with would likely create a tyrannical bully or an insecure mouse of my child. I didn't want my self-doubting daughter to become a person that couldn’t look herself in the eye. My goal in being her parents was to avoid the negative stereotypes and knee jerk reactive responses to her behavior that were so prevalent in my childhood.

I’m quite sure that my parents did the best that they knew how to be and that their parenting style was one the intended to create strong adults. The problem with their style was that it didn’t take into account the variations in children’s temperaments and didn’t encourage parental growth as well as child’s maturity. Because, remember, we as parents are always growing and learning. As our children cycle through their own lives we parents must also educate ourselves to be the best parent to the child that our child has become as they grow.

While traveling this journey with my daughter I have learned a few lessons in what will not work. For example, a token economy-type arrangement does not work with the strong-willed child.  John:  He's thrilled to "earn" good points, special treats, rewards of all kinds.  Elizabeth could not care less!  She laughs at the idea that I might think I can buy her co operation in this way.  OH NO! Not this kid.

I read the Love and Logic stuff one time. I felt my hackles rising as they talked about how to deal with your child...seemed alot like becoming adversaries to your child. I thought it was a problem waiting to happen, or a thing that would teach your child to find newer and more secretive ways to appear cooperative while growing every more distant from you.

Hidden not-so-deep down, many challenging children are struggling with feeling lovable, feeling strange, feeling so many different negatives...  Figuring this out what may seem obvious to you was a light bulb moment for me.

I have also learned that my teen doesn't like to argue with me, although it certainly seems so at times.  Conflict with me leads her to feel misunderstood and devalued.  She far prefers to feel capable, respected, and loved.  I am pretty sure that being heard and being understood are the major goals of her life right now.  If she could accomplish these things without the drama, I'm sure she would do it.
Another piece of the puzzle was figuring out that my own struggle didn’t have to be in silence. When we talked, I always shared my efforts with my daughter, letting her know that at each point I was trying to do what seemed respectful, full of guidance, full of listening ears, dependable, and honest. She never has to guess if I am on her side. 

Another lesson I have learned is that those teen years don't necessarily have to be about teens growing away as they grow up.  You can continue to experience delight and joy with your teen as long as your relationship with your teen stays strong (or gets repaired.)  Members of our own extended family tend to view our close relationship as enmeshed or unhealthy in some way. I think that it is a shame that people can’t attempt to understand, but, instead, judge from the outside. Although our culture tends to disrespect a close parent/teen bond, each family has it in their power to create a family of their own definition.\ 

Allow your teens to direct their own lives, learning, healthy activities, and passions just as much while they are teens as you did when they were little ones.  Celebrate with them.  Be sensitive to their feelings.  Acknowledge their struggles.  Enter into difficult but honest conversations.  Learn new ways of dealing with their growing and questioning minds.  Support their journey.  Recognize that behavior often stems from cognitive distortions or thinking patterns that bring on anger, confusion, drama, angst. Taking this active role, making it a point to understand rather than just feel exasperated means that you exhibit a willingness to grow and evolve as a parent.  It can be messy, but worth it.

Elizabeth ALWAYS appreciates knowing that I am truly trying, that I am genuinely on her side, that while I might not agree with her point of view I respect it and I seek to support her. This is the key to being a great parent to her...they are actually the key to being a good human being as well.

As I have grown as a parent I have worked hard to figure out the best ways to parent my daughter.  I have these few hard-won truths that underlie my philosophical approach to being the best parent I can be for her.  I have a few truths that I have had as a starting point when feeling like I am in a muddle, which happens often these days.  

The Truths

· Say "Yes" - Unless a thing is unhealthy, unsafe, or unethical, I want to be able to tell my children "yes" as much as possible.  Why?  Because I want my kids to know that they can make choices and to live with those choices.  In general, I still stand behind this.  But I have regretted it on occasion. 

· Expect your child to treat others kindly - Under no circumstances is it okay to victimize another person or to make them subservient. Remind her of this when necessary. 

· Avoid punishment and grounding - In almost every case, this type of parenting merely sets up a negative feedback loop.  The teen feels misunderstood and sits and stews in those feelings.  Talking a crisis through is a better way of encouraging a teen to work through the overwhelming emotions.  Almost no teen ever went into a grounding without also slamming a door.  At least mine never has!  And the point of this struggle to become a better parent is to teach rather than punish.

· Be honest - As long as my children are honest with me about mistakes, I always give some leeway in consequences.  And my honestly with them lets them know I trust and respect them. Also be honest when you are struggling with figuring out how to respond to a situation.  This means that I also encourage my child’s honesty and I allow her to use any word or expression to help her to express feelings that feel unmanageable and huge to her. I often have to hear curse words. But I don't care. That is a small price to pay for having her know that I am truly listening.

· Always model mature behavior - Regardless of how pissed off I am, I seldom go off on my daughter.  I have raised my voice, but I know that she uses my increased volume as a sign to increase her own.  If I need a time out, I take one.  Because the fact is, once the volume goes up the listening goes down.

· Involving Elizabeth in decisions about her life does not take away my authority, but it shows her that I respect her opinions and needs and that I think she has a great deal to offer. This encourages her own self confidence and maturity. 

· View "Defiance" as a problem with the relationship in that moment - rather than as an issue with someone's personality.  At this point think about how to improve the relationship. Just stop, take a breath, and remind yourself that winning a battle with your teen always sets you up to lose what’s most important: the relationship. Not surprisingly, my daughter is always aware of this transition in an interaction and she transitions as well. Remember, the teen is the one who needs to learn maturity and their tool kit is inadequate for many situations. 

· Recognize she is feeling out of control - At the moments of her worst outbursts and behavior, I know she is feeling either out of control, painted into a corner, or in a "down" position.  At any one moment, she is doing the best she can so I have to be aware of these meta messages and make changes accordingly. 

· Our relationship matters - I have this advantage, there is no doubt that our relationship means a great deal to both of us.  Some parents may not have this advantage. Lizzie is tough, it is true.  But I know that no matter how hard she makes things, at some point she will always come to me, apologize, and be able to talk and think again.

· Remember that the teen, during those awful explosions, feels completely out of control and does not have the tools to handle the huge emotions that they are experiencing. Compassion is a nice response to that out of control feeling. 

· Reinforce the desired behavior - Without fail, expecting a child to learn from negative consequences will not produce the desired behavior.  We all know this. And breaking these patterns takes time and mindful effort.

· And reconnect. Once things calm down, talk about the event in a distant clinical way. For example try using words like these:  When this happened what were you thinking?  I meant to say this and I think the emotion was so high that neither of us were communicating clearly at this point. Let’s figure out a way to communicate clearly before our difficult moments get so high that we feel we have lost control. It matters because you matter.  Hug. Write a supporting note. Leave some supportive sign.

In Summary...

There is no magic bullet.
It's exhausting.
It makes us doubt ourselves.
As the parent, we find ourselves wondering what we have done wrong.
It is a process.
But kindness, compassion, and love are the keys to all of life and especially to the relationships that we have with our children.
So it's worth the effort.

It takes time and consistency, which can be in short supply when we are on our last nerve. But once you can get the ball rolling and once you can enlist your child to be on the same page, I know that the small victories will make it all worthwhile.

This post has been approved
by Elizabeth
This is a revised and updated version of an old post.
All photos are of Elizabeth's bedroom door.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Co-Op Ideas

theist and apologists Atheist parenting homeschool secular parenting

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Many Australian friends are working on developing homeschool co ops for their families and are using their own initiative to create and structure their own co ops. Here in the USA a homeschooler can often find homeschool support/educational/or co-op groups. These groups are a great way to share your skills and to learn more from other families around you. A Co-Op means, Co-operative…sharing your passions and learning about the passions about others…for free or cheap! For example, our family is heavily into the hobby of astronomy. We have often offered observing nights to our homeschooling friends, while they offer their skills to US!

Dance Competition
As a family new to this form of sharing-the-love, you might be experiencing anxiety trying to think of something to offer your group. I know the fearful questions in your mind:  Do I have a skill? What am I qualified to teach? What can I do?

LOL…listen, I've been there.  
Fear not, for you have plenty to offer.
As you experience the homeschool lifestyle you will find it easier to think of things that interest you and that you wish to offer to your group. For now, here are a few ideas you might like to borrow, keeping in mind that your children might have ideas of their own because your kids probably have some great ideas about what types of activities they would love to share with their new friends.  

Road Trip, Baby!
Homeschoolers are all about field trips so I'm sure your family has had their share of trips to the museums, parks, zoos, nature areas, theaters, libraries, and cultural events.  Field trips have the added bonus of being a one-time activity, though I generally offer a list of field trips and activities to our co op. Although I have created this list mostly from my brainstorming, I have also included wonderful ideas that I have seen or heard of through my own or other homeschool groups. Have you thought about some of these places: 

Field Trips
  • trash pick up along the highway
  • Use the schedule of your town's public transportation and go tour your city
  • creek or pond exploration using Peterson's field guides
  • Geocaching
  • Answer phones for public television or other fund drive
  • attend hobby clubs offered in your city: rock clubs, robotics, astronomy, ham radio, rocketry, Toastmasters
  • Attend civic meetings and political rallies
  • Go to the airport
  • Road Trip 
    Please do not take pics
    in the senate chambers.
  • Visit a nursing home and/or day care center to sing or entertain
  • explore your library system, visit each branch in your town
  • mini golf, create your own!
  • tv/radio stations, newspaper
  • control tower at a small airport..very cool!
  • follow a creek and discuss how is oxbows, erodes, changes
  • tour the local university or college
  • tour a local quarry, utility company, city hall, water treatment, lock and dam
My experience with unique field trips is that my children have become familiar with how our town functions, they follow local news, and they have a real sense of belonging. We have formed real attachments to the places that we have visited and we notice activities involving these places. Also I have found that many of these places are more than delighted to have interested visitors.



Art work can be expensive, frugal, or free. Use the resources available to you within your homeschool co op to find others who are interested in exploring the arts and combine your talents and resources. A clever method of offering good co op classes is working with another family within the co op in order to offer the best of both of your resources! So double up with a friend and make the activity even easier to accomplish!

Our homemade game
Shoot for the Moon!
Homeschoolers tend to excel is in the arts. If you offer a messy activity at your home, other parents will truly thank you! I don't think it is possible for me to list every possible art activity here, but here are a few that I have either seen or offered or considered. This list is only limited by my imagination and memory at this moment.
  • Guitar singing in the round
  • clothing design
  • Tie dying
  • batik
  • Woodworking
  • Create a Game
  • Embroidering
  • Study of abstract art or artists
  • Artist a Week study
  • Docent-led tour of local galleries
  • Journal making
  • Mendi, henna
  • Gourd decorating
  • cake decorating
  • beading
  • film noir
  • international film study
  • make a video
  • paint a room
  • weave
  • clean up lot or yard of someone in need
  • Learn a Bollywood dance number
  • play dress up
  • dancing lessons with a big dance at the end, invite family
  • photography
  • beginning instrument lessons
  • explore poetry types
  • sewing/knitting/crochet
  • knots
  • One family we know has the kids paint their car!
  • finger painting
  • anime' class
  • anything with glitter or glue
  • study a film genre' or two
  • friendship bracelets
  • victory garden, from design to dinner
  • create a co op newsletter
  • create a co op logo
  • Make greeting cards
  • sing campfire songs
  • telescopes
  • write a one act play and perform it
  • make soap
  • healthy cooking
  • create art out of discarded junk
  • make paper
  • nature crafts
Outside Activities
As long as the weather cooperates, taking the kids outdoors is one of the best benefits of homeschooling. Knowing that we are in the sun and fresh air is a great way to remember "this is why we homeschool!" Playing in parks is a great activity, but there are more creative and fun ways to use outdoor fun as a co op activity. Here are some fun, easy, and cheap or free ways to take your lessons out-of-doors:
  • Create an obstacle course
  • archery
  • cooking over an open fire
  • cooking underground 
  • map making
  • geocaching
  • hayride
  • yard games
  • fort building
  • fairy houses
  • clean a favorite lot
  • scavenger hunt nature items without removing them
  • One wonderful mom that I know stages a full-on olympics!
  • bike riding and nature hikes
  • photographing architecture
  • photographing the letters of the alphabet
  • rocketry
  • gardening
  • team sports
  • jump rope games and rhymes
  • kite flying
  • tulip bulb planting
  • water play day 
Obvious classes to offer are weekly or recurring scholastic skill building classes that build on certain skills. Of course these courses require more organization and planning but they are very productive and fun. Scout among the other parents and families in your co op to see what kinds of things they can offer the group.
  • Current event, news review
  • Math tutoring
  • Poetry writing
  • Reading Group
  • First Aid
  • Toastmasters or public speaking
  • Sexuality
  • Fashion Design/costume design
  • Architecture
  • Philosophy
  • Critical Thinking
  • Bookkeeping, Personal Finance
  • Role playing Games 
  • Writing Group
  • Constitution and government
  • Drivers Ed
  • I taught an excellent English 1 class
  • Babysitting Skills
  • Science Experiments
  • Ethics
  • Pet Care
  • Poetry
  • The Human Body
  • Choir
  • One Acts
  • Learn the Presidents
  • Electrical Circuits and magnets
  • Biology, Chemistry, Physics 
  • Typing, blogging
  • Price comparison shopping
  • budgeting
  • Sign Language or other language
  • Historical Fiction
  • Pretend store using real money
  • Exploration of history
  • Measuring
  • Math games
  • Third World Countries
  • Write and produce a newscast
  • Research a new country each week
  • Using your PC
  • How Does it Work?  AKA:  DESTRUCTION
  • Learn about marketing and propaganda
  • Show and share
  • Create your own service project
  • Pokemon/Yugioh/other game
  • Volunteer in the community
  • Food pantry or soup kitchen
  • Yoga or meditation
  • exercise class
  • Careers, visit work places and learn about what they do 
Include the Family
The homeschool lifestyle is so unique and inclusive. We can actual include our extended families and friends in our activities! Groups of families and friends working together or playing together is another excellent thing that makes homeschooling such a rich experience. Talk to your relatives and see what skills or hobbies that they might like to share with your co op. One lovely woman that I know brings her mother to a gardening course on a regular basis and she helps us to appreciate the insects and other animals that share the garden space with us.  Grandparents love sharing their knowledge and passion with their beloved grandchildren and their friends. Keep is simple and fun. Other family-pleasing ideas include:
  • Golf
  • Yoga
  • Role playing games
  • Game Night
  • Movie Night
  • Grandma and Me Tea
  • Bingo
  • Making Stone Soup
  • Storytelling 
  • Formal dinner party
  • Camping trips
  • Caroling
  • Raise funds for the community, donate to a community project
  • Yard Sale
  • Take Sale
  • Careers
  • Learn history from real time stories
  • Living History Museum
  • Carwashing
  • Break baking
  • Manicures 
My husband's visage and handle
As the wife of an IT guy, I would be remiss if I didn't include some ideas about using technology and the computer. There is no doubt that the internet is an amazing tool that our children are lucky enough to have at their fingertips. Some websites have entire courses available; why not share them with the group? Here are a few ideas for using technology to offer a co op class:
  • Create a co op webpage
  • Learn to use MS Publisher or Paint or Photoshop or ...
  • Create a membership list or helpful links for your co op
  • Contact other HS groups and create a pen pal network
  • News Reviews by reading news from the point of view of other nations
  • Letter Writing
  • General WWW usage and safety
  • Kids teach adults
  • Use the computer to send letters to political figures about topics that are important to you
  • create petitions
  • Create Personal Books
  • Resume writing
  • Bookkeeping programs
  • Play computer games together (duh)
  • Design a menu
  • Design a brochure or handout for the co op
  • Create a calendar
  • Make greeting cards 

Costume  Design
The key is to keep is simple, make it fun, and follow your own bliss! Include your children in the brainstorming and planning phase! My children have come up with some wildly successful co op class ideas, from a Power Ranger Party to swimming at the local pool to scavenger hunts across town. Children enjoying getting messy and creating things and most parents would be THRILLED to have these fun events happen at someone else’s house! Volunteer activities promote wonderful growth in our children and are much more fun when done in groups. Check out idea books at the library for even more ideas. If possible, get your hands on Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Girl Scout, or other Scout handbooks for more great ideas, skits, and projects. 

Most parents sincerely appreciate academic classes that are difficult to teach. If you can offer something like that each semester you will be everyone's best friend.

 Can YOU think of any ideas to share?