Written on October 3, 2013 at 12:00 pm , by Janet Taylor
This past weekend, I witnessed one of those sporting events that they make heart-swelling, tear-jerking inspirational movies about. Well, almost. My daughter competed in a basketball game with her college club team. What is so unusual about her team is that it’s self-coached. And even though they were up against a team that had three coaches (that’s right, three), my daughter’s team blew them away.
The game itself was fun. I love to see my daughter play. What really caught my attention, however, was the body language of both benches. My daughter’s team was loose, smiling, joking and very relaxed. They used their own system of substitutions and time-outs with ease.
The other bench looked completely unhappy. The girls had minimal interaction with one another. They stared straight ahead—not acknowledging their teammates and waiting to be summoned by their coaches. It was if they’d handed away their will and were waiting to get it back with a nod from a coach.
As we all know, the goal of a basketball game is pretty simple: Put the ball in the basket. Score more points then the other team. Win the game. But there are plenty of daily activities where the goal is simple yet the win is hard to achieve. How many of us have started a diet plan only to bail on it by dinner? Or begun an exercise program only to give it up after two workouts? My daughter’s self-coached and self-motivated team tapped into some secrets to success. Here’s what I think a few of them are.
1. Learn to Coach Yourself. Simply put, look at your past successes (and failures) to figure out what it takes for you to thrive. Know what you need to do and give it your all.
2. Offer Support. I observed an obvious willingness of players on my daughter’s team to sacrifice individually and encourage one another. Trust that the process of giving to and bolstering others will make you all winners.
3. Lean In. Be willing to step up to a challenge, take a chance, try or just try out (for a team).
4. Lean On. Surround yourself with like-minded indivuduals. The girls in my daughter’s group chose teammates who would be team players: unselfish, productive and willing to make others better. With that winning formula, you just can’t lose.
What lessons have you learned from watching your kids play sports? Post a comment and share them with me.
Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written on September 19, 2013 at 8:30 am , by Janet Taylor
Would you risk your life so your sibling could reach a goal? As much as I love my only sibling, my brother, the thought makes me pause. Not so for another pair of siblings I recently heard about. Celebrated tennis legend Arthur Ashe was able to break records and smash racial barriers because of the sacrifice that his younger brother, Johnnie, quietly made for him.
Johnnie was an active-duty marine in Vietnam at the same time Arthur was a lieutenant at West Point. And Johnnie’s active status kept Arthur from being drafted for a tour of duty. A law prohibited brothers from serving at the same time and could have sent Arthur—an extremely talented tennis star—into the belly of the beast had his brother returned home. So Johnnie made a decision to reenlist when his tour was up and spare Arthur the terror of war.
Johnnie told only his father. He made a silent sacrifice because “it was the right thing to do and what our family always did for each other.” Johnnie remembers how his whole family would chip in to assist their father (who had a third-grade education) labor at whatever odd jobs or duties he performed to provide for their family.
ESPN used their widely acclaimed 30 for 30 series to tell this dignified tale of brotherly love, admiration and courage. It offered a voice to two brothers who served our country (and tennis balls) while shaping attitudes, breaking barriers and advancing civil rights in the world.
This made me reflect on the examples set by my own parents for me and my brother. They pale in comparison, as they were not life-or-death situations. But they were sacrifices nonetheless. For example, as children, we didn’t go on elaborate summer vacations, and the money saved went toward sports or academic camps. Also, my parents’ sacrifices were not silent. We were reminded (especially when admonished) about how hard our parents worked for us and how high their expectations for us were as a result. Lessons taught, learned and appreciated.
As a parent of four lovely daughters, it’s hard for me to fathom one of them offering to give of herself for her siblings the way that Johnnie did. My hope is that they notice what’s needed and step in with support, guidance and the ability to help in other ways. Arthur and Johnnie’s story was a reminder that children are always watching their parents. Their tale of selfless, silent sacrifice began at home with their mom and dad and was thankfully passed down the line.
Written on September 5, 2013 at 3:29 pm , by Janet Taylor
I swung. I missed. And with the laughter of my brother and his friends echoing in my mind, I quit tennis. I couldn’t play the song perfectly so I stopped taking piano lessons. I just didn’t have time to practice, so I no longer use a 9-iron.
I am sure that we all have similar stories from our past. Tales of when the going got tough and the tough did not buckle down and get going. But not Diana Nyad.
“Never, ever give up,” she insists.
In case you missed it, Diana Nyad is the 64-year-old champion who realized a dream that she’d had in her heart since she was 8 years old. Her vision was to swim from Cuba to Florida. And you know what she did? After three decades of not swimming and four failed attempts, she became the first person to complete that 103-mile shore-to-shore trek without a shark cage!
“Find a way,” she encourages.
Her achievement symbolizes hope and determination in the face of a multiple challenges. She demonstrated the value of identifying a dream, structuring a plan and not letting any person (or jellyfish or shark or level of exhaustion) get in the way.
“Tell me what your dreams are,” she says.
As parents, how often do we squash our children’s dreams because our own parents stomped on ours? Or because our partners or friends laughed when we were bold enough to dream out loud? No more.
“Dare to dream,” she urges.
How did Diana do it? She paid attention to her desires and built a life on the backs of motivation, pride, fearlessness and a soul-stirring ability to fall down but get up again. In other words, she failed, regrouped and kept on going.
The lesson for us as parents is to help our children believe in their dreams. We need to support their efforts for both big and little aspirations. We must surround them with examples like Diana, who is a true inspiration and definite hero. Let us pick them up when they fall and offer suggestions for persevering—not exit strategies—when plans go awry.
I am so glad that Diana didn’t quit. Teach your children to dive in like her—and you’ll be proud when they go the distance.
Have you ever discouraged your child from pursuing a dream? Post a comment below and tell me what happened.
Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at email@example.com.
Written on August 22, 2013 at 8:44 am , by Janet Taylor
When was the last time you told your teen to just go to sleep? Better yet, what is the bedtime mandate you’ve given to your teenager? I can hear the chuckles already. I know. Communicating with your moody kid is difficult enough behind closed doors, under headphones and while competing with the glare of a screen. But rest is crucial for the teenage brain, and parents need to talk about sleep and enforce bedtime rules.
When I was a teen, going to sleep really wasn’t a problem. My bedroom was just where I slept, did homework and only sometimes talked on the telephone. Most of my life we had two main phones, one in the kitchen and the other in my parents’ bedroom. Telephone conversations were usually whispered by me or spoken in code. The point being that they were usually public and hence short. Now kids huddle under the covers texting, typing and corresponding all night. As parents, we have very little control over the digital communication that is keeping our teens awake—or do we?
As we ease into back-to-school mode, monitoring and enforcing lights-out takes on an incredible amount of importance. Sleep shortages or insufficient sleep in teens (which is less than 8 to 9 hours per night) account for mood changes like depression, increased fatigue, cognitive deficits, inattention, poor grades, substance use and car crashes.
As parents, we have the opportunity to discuss and plan a bedtime with our teens, take away their cell phones and educate them about the importance of getting enough rest. A sleep-deprived teen can be an unhappy and potentially unhealthy child. Will you take the time to decide right now that you’ll start the school year off right? Post a comment and let me know you’re committed. Need ideas for getting your teen to hit the sack? Try these smart solutions.
Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written on August 7, 2013 at 5:57 pm , by Janet Taylor
I recently traveled to meet my girlfriends for a weekend birthday celebration on a magnificent New England island. Free-flowing cocktails, jokes, hugs and loads of fun soon replaced the stresses of everyday life. I truly love my friends. However, while sitting on the sand observing the people around me, I noticed a pattern that was heartwarming. Families. Multigenerational families, actually, that were walking, standing in line and just lounging together.
My fascination grew with every conversation I overheard. Proud grandparents, for example, would pronounce how far away their progeny had traveled, literally dropping everything for F.T.: Family Time. Watching the joyous interaction of families catching up with each other, window-shopping and making memories together made me nostalgic for the few family reunions that I’ve been to. My own family is small and our meet-ups ended long ago.
I was reminded of the importance of bringing young and old family together. The learning, helping and love reflected becomes irreplaceable after losing a family member. I thought of my four daughters and made a commitment to getting all of us together soon. Sharing experiences and making memories with family—from all generations—does not have to occur on an island, though. Finding time for family is important and can be achieved with an invitation and simple desire to see one another.
Watching the slow but attentive pace of grandparents and the amusing antics of grandchildren was a reminder of the timeline of life. As I turned to my girlfriends to toast a birthday wish, I was thankful for the wisdom and presence of our elders who gave me hope and inspiration for the years to come.
What’s your favorite multigenerational get-together memory? Post a comment below and tell me.
Written on July 10, 2013 at 6:07 pm , by Janet Taylor
Words hurt. Just ask Rachel Jeantel or Marion Bartoli.
Who? Let me explain. Rachel Jeantel is the young black woman who was a key witness in the Travon Martin murder case. Her stature, weight and smooth dark-skin led many to dismiss her presence as a grieving friend and minimize her value.
Marion Bartoli is the 2013 Women’s Wimbledon champ. After winning Wimbledon handily, this French competitor was faced with the insensitive comments of BBC commentator John Inverdale. Noting that she wasn’t blond or tall, he publicly uttered, “Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little, ‘You’re never going to be a looker?’” His absurd remarks trivialized her drive and talent as if she chose competiveness as a consolation prize.
Sadly, the comments of people, parents, teachers, friends, family and strangers can leave a lasting sting. In some cases, wounds in self-esteem and self-identity are opened that are difficult to close.
Starting in adolescence, going through periods of certainty and uncertainty about just who we are and what we are is a natural part of self-development. The key is the ability to sort out and through the process without being weighed down by negativity and difficult circumstances like emotional or physical abuse.
As parents, we constantly have to teach our children to imagine a better future. Sit down with your kids and discuss situations that had an outcome that resulted in hurt feelings. Help them identify their feelings, understand the emotions and list actions to prevent future scenarios.
Who we are is more than words. Self-esteem and a healthy self-identity are a commitment to having goals, personal standards and life roles that matter. Like a butterfly, emerging from a cocoon weaved from life experiences, we fly, not fueled by stereotypes. We fly on courage, fearlessness and determination.
How do you help your children overcome negative comments? Post a comment below and tell me.
Written on June 27, 2013 at 2:27 pm , by Janet Taylor
Sorry. It’s a word that should not be that difficult to utter with meaning and sincerity. But, in fact, it can be quite difficult to say. Look at the firestorm of controversy surrounding media darling, celebrity chef and businesswoman Paula Deen.
Her blatant admission to using a racial slur in the past led to questions about her racial sensitivity and potential for intolerance of others. Speculation pooled and simmered to a slow boil. But the temperature could have swiftly cooled if Deen had simply done the right thing immediately. She should have appeared on national television and acknowledged her past position while clarifying her present one with a simple, “I am sorry. I apologize if I offended anyone.” Instead, there was a disappearing act—along with two hasty apologies via YouTube videos. And when she did return to the national television spotlight, her interview lacked remorse but was full of defense.
A simple, heartfelt sorry. Why is it so hard to immediately and publicly say: “I messed up.” “My bad.” “Let me apologize.” Aside from the obvious answer of avoiding consequences, it might be our need to be right even when wrong. Our insistence on going down in a blaze of denial rather than surrendering with a sorry flag is rooted in a basic inability to look at our own flaws . . . and those of our parents.
I remember as a child staring wide eyed at a police officer who asked me to verify my harried mother’s story about why we were speeding down an urban street. His eyes locked mine over my mother’s imploring look and he asked me three simple words. “Is that right?” I shook my head slowly, “No.” He looked satisfied as he wrote the ticket and my mother questioned my ratting her out. My answer was simple: “You always told me to tell the truth.”
Don’t the truth and sorry co-exist? What greater gift can we give our children than the ability to use their own feelings and truth to meaningfully say, “I am sorry.” We can teach our children to apologize simply by staying focused on the deed. We can teach our children to not insert the word ‘but’ in the apology, instead use the word ‘and.’ We can teach our children that apologizing may release guilt and point them on the path of good.
The ability to say ‘sorry’ implies that you care enough to acknowledge feelings outside of yourself and can diffuse potentially ugly and violent situations. All it requires is an awareness, courage and a desire to make things right. It can be easier than we think—and more necessary.
What do you think of how Paula Deen has handled this controversy? Post a comment below and tell me.
Written on June 13, 2013 at 8:00 am , by Janet Taylor
“Fine! If you don’t let me (fill in the blank), I will kill myself.”
Whoa. If your child dares to utter these words, they are sure to get your attention. And you know what? These words are meant to. Kids who threaten to hurt or kill themselves should be taken very seriously. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults. Third. And it shockingly ranks in the top twenty causes of death in kids aged 5 to 9.
Unfortunately, the recent onslaught of media coverage around Paris Jackson’s suspected suicide attempt has really missed the point. Instead of focusing on why this 15-year-old allegedly took up to twenty pills and cut her arm, we should be focusing on why she possibly believed this was her best option. What’s driving young people to decide that their only way to make a point in this world is to make their way out of this world?
As parents, we place such a high priority on protecting our children and teens from outside threats, that we may miss the threat teens present to themselves. The teen brain is not fully developed until most kids hit their early twenties. As a result, you may find that your teen makes decisions that are reactive, impulsive and, yes, dangerous.
Every action a teenager makes means something. If we listen and pay attention, they will make us aware of the underlying significance. So what should you do? Just that: Listen, act and take a threat or action of self-harm seriously. Do what someone in the Jackson household did. Recognize the real or imagined threat of self-harm as an emergency. Call 911 and let a mental health care professional make an assessment. Lose the stigma of being overly concerned about “’other people being in your business” and get your child and your family help. The life you save may be your teen’s.
Need help with your child? Try contacting:
- The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness
- The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Written on May 30, 2013 at 7:30 am , by Janet Taylor
Your child is a hero. Well, she or he has the potential to be. In fact, we all do. Think about it: A hero is often an ordinary person who performs an extraordinary feat. I’m not talking about flying through the air or leaping a building in a single bound. I mean simply caring enough to shout, stop, help or intervene when necessary. If you are raising your child to be a citizen of the world, someone who will tolerate and understand others, a person who respects herself, her peers and authority, then they could be on their way to hero status.
The recent tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, is a prime example of ordinary citizens who displayed heroic action. One young man, 7th grader Dylan Ellis, stands out. He saved his classmate from being sucked up by the tornado by holding her down with his own body weight. “I just thought of her as my family, what would I do if they started to go up?” he humbly explained to a reporter. “Didn’t think, just did it.” He went to school as a typical kid and survived the day a hero.
Another example is Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, the mom of two who faced down the horrific murderers of an innocent soldier in London. She got off the bus that she was riding on and talked to the assailants as a means of distracting them until the police arrived. “I thought I had better start talking to him before he starts attacking somebody else,” she told reporters. She was an ordinary citizen who put her own life on the line. She stepped off of her bus a citizen and got back on as a hero.
Your child’s heroic opportunities are in her ability to see herself through a social lens that preserves the goodness and safety of others. “Me” takes a backseat to “We.” Heroes don’t ask for permission. They move forward with a willingness to take responsibility for helping. As parents, applauding our children’s independent thinking may be challenging at times. But allow them to notice others and develop confidence in their own decision-making. You might not just tap into the hero in them, but in you, as well.
Written on May 16, 2013 at 2:29 pm , by Janet Taylor
There’s one location where the majority of my childhood memories take place. A specific space that encompasses most of the good times, heartfelt laughter, terse political debates and parental scoldings for broken curfews. It’s within the family room of my childhood home.
In that room, worn sofas and overstuffed chairs were shadowed by athletic trophies, posters and crooked school photos in cheap frames. Inside its wood-paneled walls, backpacks and briefcases rested on the floor as we checked in with each other after school, after work and after life-events. Even now when I return there, a step into our family room magically transports me back to my past.
These days fewer kids may be enjoying all the experiences I had. Now, according a recent Wall Street Journal article, parents are hiring architects and spending huge amounts of money to create spaces for their teens to ‘hang-out’ at home. They are building fantasy rooms like teen lounges, offices for homework, sleepover spaces and recording studios.The irony is that although the kids may stay home more, the clear delineation of kid versus adult space can create more separation within the home. Isn’t the point of having your kids around you to create the opportunity to build family communication by sharing and creating memories?
A recent study indicated that parents maybe missing the mark. We assume that kids want their freedom, when in fact most teenagers want to talk to and spend more time with mom and dad. Time spent with parents and in particular fathers has been shown to increase self-esteem and social confidence in teenagers.
Maybe the point is this: Instead of putting up walls, we should tear them down around our tweens and teens. We should focus on communicating, listening and sharing in the same space. And we should put effort into creating long-lasting memories that can’t be designed but only experienced together in one room.
What do you think of creating teen ‘hang-outs’ in your home? Post a comment below and tell me.
Written on May 2, 2013 at 11:30 am , by Janet Taylor
I will never forget letting go of my then-toddler daughter’s chubby hand to pick up a gorgeous Barbie doll at a toy store. With brown skin and cascading black hair, she looked radiant and regal in her cardboard home. But my daughter shook her head, excitedly and defiantly pointed at another doll. It happened to be white with blond hair.
“Oh no!” I thought—and said. Holding out my brown arm next to my original choice, I explained: “See, her skin is just like Mommy’s.”
She left the toy store with a board game. No doll. I left the store determined to only buy books and dolls that had faces, hair and skin color that reflected that of my four African-American daughters.
My thought process did not emerge from a negative worldview of other ethnic groups. It came from the realization that my daughters’ self-concept and sense of inner-beauty would be impacted by many factors—some under my control but many not.
That being said, I consciously avoided self-critical remarks about my own physical flaws and theirs. I was very fortunate because my four daughters were jocks who were certainly attuned to and influenced by popular culture but also had healthy body images of girls and women.
Flash forward to last week when I picked up a recent issue of People magazine. I saw it featured the “World’s Most Beautiful Woman” and I had the same sinking feeling that I did in that toy store years ago. It wasn’t anything personal against the choice, but once again reminded me of the importance of our daughters having a strong self-image and being aware of the significance of their own inner beauty. (Especially given the amount of criticism the cover subject received).
As the mother of young women now, I am just as conscious of zingers in the world that may damage their self-esteem as I was in their formative years. The necessity of balancing media, peer and family influences on their sense of self will always be present.
In an ideal world, beauty would not be measured by external characteristics but internal character. Until that happens, maybe the Most Beautiful Person in the World wouldn’t be an actual picture of a person but simply a mirrored pane that reflects the image of the viewer.