Bully Free School Zone

Last week we started a conversation about two of the challenges that kids going back to school face, and we started by looking at drugs. Today we’re going to talk about a topic that is definitely more talked about with relationship to kids and teens, but can affect adults as well: bullying. According to the dictionary a bully is “a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people. A man hired to do violence.” In some ways the second definition would make it easier if that was the majority of the way that bullying happened, but more often than not there’s no money involved, it’s someone who picks on others.

Let’s start by being completely honest. Almost all of us have at one point in time or another throughout our lives picked on someone else. Maybe we did it as part of a crowd, maybe we were there when others did it, and maybe it was done in jest, but most of us have experienced what it’s like to bully or pick on someone. When you’re bullying others or picking on them there’s definitely a rush that you experience, a feeling of power and domination, and it can be seductive. I get that, really I do. But there are so many better ways to experience a rush and be in power than to beat down on someone else.  If you’re someone who tends to bully or pick on other people I strongly encourage you to work on your interpersonal skills and channel that energy into more productive activities like skydiving or catching alligators.

The other feeling that most of us experience (because we’re not true bullies) is the feeling of guilt. That’s the feeling we need to keep at the forefront of our minds when we think about getting involved with a bully or bully someone ourselves. The other feeling we need to keep in mind when considering bullying is of course what the person being bullied feels, which again is something that most of us can understand. Maybe you’ve never been a true target that faced incessant, debilitating or viral bullying, but just about every one of us has been picked on at some point in time or another. It does not feel good to be the target of one or many individuals picking on you, how you look, what you say, how you say it, what you did, who your family is or where you live, or any other number of things that you may have been picked on regarding.

If you’re facing bullying or your kids are, or if you’re just wanting to prepare them for if and when it happens, start with talking about how bullying feels and why it’s wrong with them, and let them know that you’re there for them should they be bullied, as are their teachers and the other adults in their lives. Second, it’s important to instill self-confidence and teach them to value themselves for whomever they are, whatever they like, however they look and wherever they go. They don’t have to be the same as anyone else, they can and should be their own person with their own interests and appearance. Third, don’t let them dismiss it more than once from a person. Sometimes the best thing to do is ignore the person or people and they’ll stop. But if it happens again they (and you) have to learn to stand up for themselves and ask for help if they need it. Maybe the help isn’t someone charging in and demanding the person stop (maybe it is), maybe it’s just giving and/or teaching the person the resources they need to fight this particular bullying situation and individual or group.

With the number of bullying related suicides each year becoming more publicly known more schools and businesses are taking a stand against those who would be bullies or try to demean people. While we still have a long way to go, it’s good that we’re having discussions about it and taking steps to stop it before there are even more bullying-related suicides each year. So the question is, what are you going to do to stop bullying?

Drug Free School Zone

As we look ahead to the next few weeks many kids are going back to school, and some may already be there. Today I thought we’d talk just a bit about one of the two biggest challenges your kids may be facing as they return to school: drugs, and the other of course would be bullying. We all have some experience with or exposure to drugs and bullying, whether it’s what we’ve heard or seen on TV, something a family member or friend has dealt with or something we’ve personally struggled through. In too many cases there are people who die as a result of drugs or bullying. And yes, drugs and bullying can be something that adults struggle with too, it’s definitely not just an issue with kids. Another similarity is that we’re both often inclined to hide our issues and not talk about them or get the help we need. Sometimes we don’t get help because we don’t realize it’s that bad or tell ourselves we’re dealing with it, but other times we’re just scared of what others will say or that there might be attacks or punishments because of hiding it or being in the struggle in the first place. We’re going to talk about drugs today and address bullying in more detail next week.

Not all drugs are bad, when taken correctly drugs can help people of all ages live better, feel better, get better, and heal. There are also lots of natural alternatives like supplements that many people feel also help with dealing with certain health issues, and marijuana has proven to be helpful to some people as a medicinal aid as well. But the issue comes in when there is no medical reason for taking the drugs, supplements or even marijuana. The issue is when people use drugs to feel good or escape their issues or look cool or feel something. That feeling becomes addictive and quickly people get sucked into using more and more until they’ve got more health issues as a result of taking them, and many people each year die as a result of taking those drugs. What was a quick fix becomes a serious and deadly problem.

But the real issue, as presented especially by drugs but also in the bullying, is that we’re not able to enjoy life as it is, we’re not confident in who we are, we’re not willing to face the difficult stuff in life, and we feel the need to escape the reality of life. I get it: life can be very challenging and there are some seriously bad stuff being shared in the news. But the answer isn’t to hide or bury our heads in the sand, it’s to join the many people who are stepping up and standing up for a better world, for rights for everyone, for every voice/culture/group to be heard, and for everyone to be treated as a human being who is capable of making an incredible difference in this world.

So what can you do as a parent to help your kids avoid drugs or help them stop taking drugs? First, don’t do or abuse them yourself, set the example for them. Second, if you do have an issue get help for it, there are tons of resources around the US and in other countries that can help you beat your addiction. Third, talk with them about local resources that they or their friends could access if there’s an issue and what to do if someone overdoses and they’re with them. Fourth, help them find and encourage healthy and helpful activities that they can do that will bring them joy, help them feel good about themselves, help them be healthy and teach them responsibility.

Avoiding the issues of drugs and bullying can only hurt the next generation, it’s time we step up and be honest about this issue that is hurting so many families and killing so many people who could make a very positive difference in the world. I encourage you to talk with your kids and teens today.

Proactive Partner Listening

This month we’re talking about the topic of listening. Today I thought we’d start off talking about listening to your partner because that’s one of the biggest challenges in our lives, and unfortunately the one that we usually give the least amount of attention to, when it should be one of our highest priorities.

First of all, if you really want your partner to listen to you, you can’t be screaming or cursing at them. They will completely shut down and block you out. Being rude to them will do the same thing. In fact, doing all or any of these things may result in them doing the exact opposite of what you want just to spite you. Yelling and rudeness isn’t the way to start a conversation if you want someone to listen to you.

So assuming that you and they aren’t screaming/cursing/being rude and instead are having a relatively calm discussion, first you need to be open to hearing what they have to say. Second, you can’t be just planning out your response to them or thinking about all the things that you have to do. It may be helpful for each of you to be taking notes with pen and paper if it’s a serious and in-depth conversation. Taking notes will allow you to really hear what they’re saying and you’ll be able to go back after they’re done and talk about each of the things they said if necessary.

Listening also means asking questions, and no, I don’t mean the sarcastic or rude ones. I mean asking questions that will help you better understand where they’re coming from, what they’re feeling, what they’re experiencing and what results they would like. Asking questions also has to do with coming up with solutions that work for everyone, or at least the largest number of people possible.

I know it can be really hard to have discussions with your partner (or anyone) about really emotional topics, things that really bother you or serious issues. But if you both are open to having those discussions and are both open to listening and discussing and coming up with solutions that create the biggest wins for everyone involved, those discussions will go a lot easier.

The Blame Game

Do you know one of the most “popular” topics for couples, and families too? Blame. From saying that the dog ate the homework, to the kids spilled cereal (and milk) on the contract, to the relationship failing because your partner never took out the trash, we’re pretty quick to point fingers and try to get to the bottom of who is to blame.

First, let me say that it is important that responsibility is taken/given for things that happen or don’t happen. It’s important to be honest about what you’re seeing and what happens. However, it’s almost never the case that the blame rests solely on one person (or dog). It’s almost always the case that there are multiple factors, and multiple people to blame. Which means that as much as you can (and should) point fingers, you’ve really got to take stock of who else could be responsible in the matter as well, including yourself.

The key to the blame game (and its resolution), isn’t anything really revolutionary, it’s something that I’ve said repeatedly and is one of the biggest keys to a successful relationship: communication. Yes, pointing fingers will happen even in the best families and relationships, but the conversation needs to be more than you yelling at them for doing something or not doing something and vice versa. The conversation needs to discuss the issues you’ve got, why things weren’t done or were done, and what is going to happen or change moving forward to help avoid this in the future. These types of civil discussions don’t happen often enough in relationships and families, and as a result big divides are created between people.

Of course the blame and the conversations only go so far: without a willingness to change on all parties’ part and action taken as decided in the conversation, there’s not much point to having the conversation or even having the blame (and subsequent fight) in the first place. If the partner who is most to blame isn’t willing to do things differently in the future or doesn’t see their error, you’ve got a choice to leave, to make changes in your life, or you have to decide it’s not as big of a deal as you’re making it out to be. When it comes to family blame situations, you either have to take control as the parent, or get another party involved who can help straighten things out and be the leader your kids need.

There’s no shame in admitting that you need help, that you and your partner need help or that your family needs help. The only shame you should feel is if you choose to not get someone the help they need.

Free to Just Be

Today I want to encourage you to stop and just be. Stop signing your kids up for every program under the sun, stop trying to get so much done each day that you’re completely exhausted by the time you get home and have zero energy for your kids or partner, stop wandering aimlessly in your life, stop rushing period. You, your kids and your partner all need downtime more than they need another commitment, regardless of whether you or they are an introvert or extrovert.

I get that there are important things in your life that need to be done to live or things you’ve already committed to that need to be followed through on, but there comes a time when you really just have to put your foot down and say that you’ve had enough. Hopefully you’ll feel encouraged to do that before you work yourself into an early grave or isolate you from all the people you love, or burn yourself out so badly that you have to take significant time off to even function again.

I believe it’s important to fill your life with things you love and to make time for the responsibilities you need to see to as a significant other, parent, sibling, son/daughter, worker and community member. It’s good to be involved and do things and enjoy the life you have and people you love. But it’s also important to take time to relax, to reflect, to be thankful and to just be. We aren’t designed to go 24/7, we’re meant to sleep and meditate and eat to enjoy and listen.

There’s no reason to feel guilty for taking a day off (including a mental health day), or admitting that you’re struggling, or taking a break to refocus. If you’re able to take that break with your kids or partner, great. Sometimes those moments when you’re just being quiet together can be the best part of your day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Will you make time for down time this week?

Seeing Things Differently

Recently I read an interesting article about Dr. Sanjay Gupta meditating with the Dalai Lama. It was interesting for many reasons, but one of them, and the one I want to talk about today, was the fact that sometimes His Holiness struggles with meditation too. Just so we’re clear, meditating is something that His Holiness (and other Buddhists as well as countless others of various faiths and practices) does on a regular basis. The interesting part wasn’t just that he struggles, but how he often overcomes that struggle. Rather than using meditation as a time to be without thought, he uses it to focus on something specific and work through it or work on understanding it from a myriad of perspectives. So yes, you’re being quiet still during meditation, but it doesn’t have to be about being blank or empty.

I wanted to share about this with you today because so often in our families and relationships we approach something in one way (meditation is for being blank and empty) when there’s countless other ways that it could be approached. The challenge is not only being open to those other approaches and being able to see them, but also working on not just reacting in the way you always have or just going with your default actions/opinions/beliefs.

Part of the challenge in applying other perspectives to your life, or to your kids, is that there’s a lot of the world that isn’t open to other perspectives, for example in traditional learning environments, aka schools. Yes, you can send your kids to schools that offer other things or teach differently, but often they cost a lot of money, money that not all families have. So in this case you could do supplemental education on the weekends or afterschool, and during the summer. You may also have to work on getting your partner to see the validity of your point or why you want to do things differently. This isn’t always a bad thing because it does mean you have to think things out and really have good reasons for doing things differently.

My challenge to you this week is to start looking for other perspectives, approaches or opportunities with the things that challenge you most or you struggle with most. Take the time to see if there are alternatives or options, like His Holiness presented to Dr. Gupta about meditation, and don’t be afraid to ask for help or get someone else’s perspective.

First Families of the US

Today I’m thinking about the 4th of July, Independence Day here in the USA. Of course I’m thinking about the topic of freedom and all things red, white and blue, but what I want to talk about today is the men, women and children who were part of the creation and building of the country so many people call home. The people who first came over to the US were met with an almost blank slate, which was kind of the point of moving from Britain to the US. They wanted the chance to do things their way, to make the future for their children different than it was going to be if they stayed in Britain. I think in many ways the same is true for us today, I don’t want the children of our world today growing up and having children in a world that has so much violence and discrimination. I want them to live in a world that they can really prosper in and feel safe going out of their homes. But just like those early settlers, this will take some work.

One of the things that made a huge difference for those early families were the Native Americans that already inhabited the US. They knew the terrain, the plants, the animals and what worked best here, in a place that was different than the settlers were used to in Britain. Both parties had to learn to work together, and as you probably know from your history classes there were mixed results, with the settlers ending up with the better end of the deal for the most part. But the point is that as much as the settlers came to the US to do their own thing, they had to be willing to ask for help from those who already knew all about what they were starting.

One of the things that always amazes me about these early families is their courage. They didn’t know really what they were getting into, and I’m sure that each and every one of them experienced doubts at some point in time, but they persisted and didn’t give up. History also shares with us the failures of those early families, but they continued to endure and as a result we’re here today. One of the reasons they may have stuck around as well as succeeded is because they weren’t aiming for immediate perfection and achievement of their goals, they knew it would take some time to get close to what they wanted (colonies started in the 1500’s but the Declaration wasn’t signed until 1776).

What about your family? Have the challenges and experiences you’ve had as a family brought you together or pushed you apart? Yes, sometimes the separation is the best thing, but often we’re pushed apart because we’re too proud to admit we’re wrong, lazy to do the work to make the relationship healthy again or we’ve let our differences get in the way of our similarities.  I encourage you to take a good look at your family this week and decide if it’s time to mend the fences or take a more permanent step away.

A Great Dad

Today in the USA is Father’s Day. I can never understand what it means to be a father, but I’ve seen some not so great dads and some very great dads. So today I thought I’d share a few thoughts about what it takes to be a great dad.

Great dads begin with interest. Great dads are willing to listen to their kids, whether it’s sitting at the dinner table or on the phone as they drive home from their second job. They’re interested in knowing what is going on in their kids’ lives, and not just from a school grades or secondhand telling, but rather from the kids themselves. Whether the kids want to share about their make believe adventure they had that day, the video game level they’re on, or about the cute girl/boy at school, most kids have lots to say and are always looking for a willing ear to chatter to. You may not understand all of what they’re talking about, but that’s OK. What matters most is that you are showing them that you care about what’s going on in their life.

Great dads are willing to invest. Great dads make time to be part of their kids’ lives. Maybe that means standing in the back at a school play, staying until or arriving at halftime, doing homework, cooking together, or adventuring outdoors, but there are countless ways that dads can participate in their kid’s lives. Just about every kid I know would rather their dad show up for a little of their special performance or game, or do a little homework with them or read one book at night rather than not be there at all. Even that little effort can make a difference.

Great dads are honest teachers. I have met some really great dads, but I have yet to find a perfect one (since no one is perfect). Everyone messes up from time to time, and sometimes the disappointments aren’t because of something you had a lot of control over, no matter how hard you try. Kids can be wise beyond their years and are usually willing to forgive you if you have a good reason for them and don’t screw up in the same way more than a couple of times. Take time to explain to them what happened or why you’ve let them down (or why you are going to let them down). You don’t have to get into great details, but taking the time to explain things to them can make a big difference. Talking with them about how you navigate life’s challenges can be some of the most helpful lessons of their lives.

None of these things require dads to put lots of money on the table or be some superhero, but they do require dads to show up. The best thing you can do as a dad today (and everyday) is to be present for your kids.  What have you learned from the dads (and kids) in your life?

We Remember

Tomorrow in the USA we celebrate Memorial Day.  It’s an important day to remember and thank the men and women who have fought for our country, and their families as well.  As I think about Memorial Day of course there’s a feeling of sadness for all those people we’ve lost over the many years of battle, as well as the family members who never got to know those people.  War isn’t easy, and it shouldn’t be easy, otherwise we might have to deal with more of it which wouldn’t be good.

But with the topic of loss on my mind recently in addition to tomorrow’s talk of the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, it has me thinking once again about the loss that the world is experiencing when it comes to the past.  As much as I tend to think (and write) about the future and not about the past, or at least not about the past in the sense of dwelling on it, the past is important.  Every day more and more older folk slip further into Alzheimers and other memory-destroying diseases, every day seniors die, every day people who have great stories but have put off telling them die.  When you die or your memory is gone, your stories die, unless you’ve told them to someone or made some kind of record of them beforehand.

Memorial Day is all about remembering the men and women who have fought for our country, and I hope you take time tomorrow to honor those men and women.  But I can’t help adding in encouragement to also talk with your elderly relatives and friends, and even with the people your own age, and share your stories and hear theirs. Take time to share a story with your kids this weekend from the past about one of your relatives or friends and help them connect with someone they may never know. If you don’t think anyone wants to hear your stories right now you could start a blog and write all of them down for someday in the future, or you could hire someone to come and record you sharing the stories (which would be extra special for the future generations who will never meet you).  Not sure your stories are really worth telling?  I wish I could sit down with my grandparents and hear their stories, but they’ve all been lost to the sands of time in one way or another (3 dead, one with memory loss).  Their stories are special, their lives are special.  The future is built on those stories, and the relationships and events that they share about.  You and I are here because of things that happened many memories ago.

History, and the past, is more than just a random grouping of dates and facts (if that’s all it was, it would be pretty boring).  In reality history is made up of people who lived lives, enjoyed each other’s company, cried and laughed together, learned from their mistakes and had dreams, just like we do today.  Yes, sometimes remembering those we’ve lost can be painful, but the pain is a little less when we remember the good times and the stories they shared with us and memories we made together.   Who will you remember today?

The Next Generation

Early this week the world was met with the news of an explosion outside a pop singer’s concert in the UK.  Over 80 people were killed or injured, including young adults and children.  No one went to the concert asking to be killed, injured or scared.  They went to have a little fun with family and friends and hear some music.  It’s a tragedy any time someone is killed in such a violent manner, but especially when kids and young adults are killed. They are the future of our world, if we stop having babies or kill all of the young kids, there won’t be a future generation for anyone.

I don’t think violence is the answer, certainly not deadly violence if you’re part of the general population.  If you’ve got a need to be violent or let some steam out or shoot stuff, more peaceful methods like boxing or hunting can be practiced, or consider joining the military (all kinds of good men and women are always in need).  There are better ways to work out your anger or frustration at your life, others or the world in general than blowing things (and people) up.  There are also lots of needs in the world that you can redirect your energy into making a positive difference.

But more than being about the tragedy of another group of people getting killed or how the world is continuing to be bad instead of working on their good, this post is a reminder to live your life, to love your kids, be good to yourself, and enjoy each and every day.  One way would be to support one charity each month that works with that next generation, one that will help them get the education, health, or support they need to grow up to be a great generation.  Another would be to encourage the kids in your life, whether church members, extended family members, neighbors or even your own kids to be who they were born to be, to live their childhood, to enjoy life and to be a person who makes them proud to be themselves.  It’s never too early to start making a difference in the world, what kids are you most proud of?