Parenting Teens & Tweens

Video: These Moms Learn What Their Kids Really Think About Them

Written on January 13, 2014 at 4:15 pm , by

As a parent, you constantly have doubts and concerns about how to raise your kids no matter how many parenting books you may read. But when these worrying moms listened to what their kids really thought about them, it was priceless.




Are You Prepared to Talk to Your Teen About Sex?

Written on January 13, 2014 at 1:33 pm , by

By Leslie Kantor, Vice President of Education at Planned Parenthood

A recent Dear Abby submission came from a woman whose teenage daughter confided in her that she was sexually active, and asked her mother if she would buy her condoms. The mother purchased condoms and then learned that her daughter was supplying them to her girlfriends who couldn’t talk with their own mothers about sex. While it’s great that this teenager has such a great relationship with her mother that she feels comfortable bringing up tough topics, this situation illustrates that more teens need help doing the same.

It’s okay to be nervous about talking with your teens about sex, but it turns out that parents are less anxious about talking about these topics than teens are. A survey released last year from Planned Parenthood and Family Circle, with assistance from the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at New York University, found that only 18% of teens reported they were very comfortable talking with their parents about sex.

We know that teens need guidance and direction, and often name their parents as the biggest influence in their decisions about sex. Teens who report having good conversations with their parents about sex are more likely to delay sexual activity, have fewer partners and use condoms and other contraceptives when they do have sex.

Teens may worry about their parents’ reactions, but the truth is that most parents welcome the chance to talk about these issues.
 As parents, we want our kids to feel comfortable confiding in us and coming to us for advice. We can try to make these conversations as natural as asking them about school, and encourage teens to open up whenever a topic comes up related to sexuality. For instance, when teens ask what we think about something “a friend” may be doing, that’s often their way of trying to assess what our values are and whether we are going to overreact or be extremely judgmental. Be careful not to get upset if they bring up sex and dating, because we want to keep the lines of communication open. But do take the opportunity to share your values and expectations related to when sex should and shouldn’t happen, how to deal with pressure to have sex, and the importance of caring, respectful relationships and using condoms and birth control when sex does take place.

The Dear Abby piece brings up another issue: Teens probably will share any information you give them with their friends. So it’s a good idea for parents to think about some of the issues that may arise in advance—this way, you’re prepared for whatever your kids may bring up over the years.

Here are some things to consider if you are the parent of a teenager:

· What will you say if you realize your teen is looking at pornography online?
· What message will you give to your child about masturbation?
· What dating rules do you plan to have?
· What will you tell teens about sharing personal information online and the risks of activities such as sexting?
· What would you say if your teen is interested in a member of the same sex?
· How will you help your teen stay safe and healthy once s/he becomes sexually active?
· Will you buy your teen condoms, or take your daughter to get birth control?

To help ease some of the discomfort that young people may have, Planned Parenthood designed “Awkward or Not?,” a quiz teens can take on their cell phone or computer that allows them to explore their feelings about communicating with their parents and offers encouragement and tips to start talking. There’s also a funny video they can watch, “How to Talk with Your Parents About Sex,” with some do’s and don’ts about bringing up sexuality topics with their parents.

Planned Parenthood also offers resources for parents to help start and improve these conversations, including information, videos and tips for talking to children of all ages on Planned Parenthood’s Tools for Parents page and the Let’s Talk Month page, including “Parenting Tips,” a series of interactive videos on talking to your teens about sex and relationships; a fact sheet and information on parent-child communication and a tip sheet on talking to your kids; and information on setting boundarieshelping teens delay sexparenting LGBTQ kids and more.

With more tools than ever before to help initiate these important conversations, there’s never been a better time to talk with our teens.

Follow Leslie on Twitter @LeslieKantor.

How to Tell Someone You’re Angry

Written on January 9, 2014 at 10:15 am , by

Has anyone ever offended you? Said something so ignorant or obnoxious that you just wanted to scream at them? Or maybe you didn’t even want to scream. Maybe you just wanted to bring it to their attention. But it seemed like there were only two ways to react—be really confrontational so they’d take you seriously or stay silent because nothing you can do will change another person.

Telling someone when they’ve offended you is challenging. It brings up a lot of fears of confrontation, questions about whether you’ll be taken seriously, and old patterns of how you think we should express our anger or frustration.

Recently, I had an experience with this—but I wasn’t the person who was offended. I was the offender. I’m in the business of giving advice and I can have strong opinions that I take public positions on all the time. Sometimes people get very angry with me. But this time was different. Here’s the email I received describing what I’d done.

Hello Rosalind

I’m enjoying your book Queen Bees right now; finding it relevant as both a mom and a Wellness Program Coordinator and facilitator who sees a great deal of adult bullying in the workplace. This isn’t why I’m writing though.

I agree with you that language is both important and powerful. In your book you repeatedly use the term “bottom of the totem pole” to describe low rank. I want to offer another option for saying, more accurately, what you mean: lowest rung on a ladder, low rank, low social standing. These are all options that are not culturally offensive.

I am Coast Salish from the Saanich and Snuneymuxw Nations on Vancouver Island in British Columbia Canada. This is to say I’m an Indigenous person.

Totem poles are the original history books of North West Coast Peoples. They do not illustrate rank or social standing. Each figure on a pole is a depiction or narration of a time, place, event or other piece of history to be kept track of. The base of the pole, the foundational figure, is never a representative of low status.

I wanted to offer this feed back in hopes you would be open to broadening your use of language when you’re working with families and youth. Your information is so important and valuable, it’s a shame to lose the good teachings by using offensive and dated language.

I hope this email finds you well.


Jada-Gabrielle Pape

Jada-Gabrielle’s email was effective for several reasons. She immediately told me why she was writing and connected with me about a shared belief in the power of words. She didn’t dance around what she was trying to say—even though telling someone they’ve said something ignorantly racist is often very difficult and I assume caused her pain.

But what was also good: What she didn’t do. Jada didn’t insult me or make judgments about my character, intelligence or integrity. As a facilitator, imagine what an invaluable resource and wellness coordinator she is in her community.

So I want to apologize to Jada-Gabrielle and all the people I offended by using the totem pole as a way to describe low social status. I’ve really learned from Jada-Gabrielle and will do everything I can to change that language in Queen Bees and Wannabes as fast as possible. I want to thank her for allowing me to share her letter and for the thoughtful way she enabled me to right a wrong.

Have you ever had someone tell you that you offended them? How did it go over? Post a comment below and let me know.


Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to Do you have a parenting question? Email

Sugar Shock: Here’s Where Your Kids Are Getting The Sweet Stuff

Written on January 7, 2014 at 12:00 pm , by

Last month, our guest blogger Melissa Halas-Liang, RD, founder of the wellness group SuperKids Nutrition, shared five ways to keep your child healthy for life! This month, she reveals the surprising place your kids are overdoing it when it comes to sugar and smart ways to get them to stop.

When you’re not catching someone’s hand in the proverbial cookie jar, rely on numbers. Numbers don’t lie. And research shows that teens consumed on average 442 calories (boys) or 314 calories (girls) a day from added sugar alone. A majority of those calories (59%) come from food, but beverages aren’t too far behind at 41%.

Now here’s the real surprise. Guess what parents? Teens consumed most of that added sugar, not when out and about with friends, but while at home! That’s right: reaching into your fridge, opening up your cabinet and pulling out your drawers at home.

We all rely upon a balanced, nutritious diet to remain in good health. However, teens must go above and beyond to obtain the nutrients their bodies require during this age of intensive growth and maturation. Sadly, the reality is that the food and snack choices teens are making fall short of the nutrients needed to build healthy, strong bodies. Support your kids and make the healthiest food choices the easiest choices.

Here are 8 easy ways for teens to cut down on the sweet stuff:

1. Choose cereals with less than 6 grams of sugar per serving. If your kids prefer the sweeter cereals with honey, no problem. Tell them to mix it with equal part of plain cereal.

2. Buy sugar-free crackers. Briefly explain how sugar makes starchy foods addictive, so you overeat them and then return to the store to buy more. But, fear not, because you can outsmart the marketers! Here’s a helpful guide to buying crackers.

3. Read the ingredient list. Find options for foods like pretzels, breads and chips without added sugar.

4. Cut back on the sugar-laden condiments. Serve low-sodium or homemade salsa or tomato sauce instead of ketchup.

5. Choose naturally lower-sugar yogurts. Some Greek yogurts offer less added sugar and pack in additional protein! Just be sure to choose true Greek yogurts—not those have added fillers. Also encourage them to sweeten yogurt with fresh fruits like baked apples or warmed frozen cherries or with dried fruit and nuts.

6. Keep fresh fruit out where your kids can see it. Teens will choose the easy option! If the fruit is washed, ready to eat, and within reach, they’ll grab it!

7. Buy 6-ounce juice glasses. They’re smaller and encourage ideal portion sizes. When drinking juice yourself, lead by example and dilute the juice with water.

8. Make it easy. Teens aren’t eating enough fruits. In fact, 28.5% of high school students ate fruit less than once per day and 33.2% ate vegetables less than once per day. So, choose fruits with minimal prep required washed and ready to eat in the fridge like grapes, Clementines or apples. Keep bananas out on the kitchen table. Decrease the barriers getting in the way between teens and their fruit!


One more thing: When you talk to your teen about cutting back on sugar, focus on healthy eating and physical activity, not on “dieting.” If you focus too much on weight loss, you increase the risk of developing a distorted body image or an eating disorder, particularly for teenage girls. In fact, roughly 70%-80% of teen girls perceive themselves to be too fat. You want to encourage your teen to eat right to prevent further weight gain and teach life long habits. But most importantly, you want your teen to feel his or her best inside and out. If you do think weight loss must be addressed, check out our tips here and be sure to seek your healthcare provider’s advice before you put your teen on a calorie-restricted meal plan.

How do you keep the amount of sugar your kids have to a minimum? Post a comment below and tell us!


Melissa Halas-Liang, a mom, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, is founder of, which provides nutrition and health content, curriculum and workshops to parents and educators nationwide. She is author of the Super Crew books Super Baby Abigail’s Lunch Time Adventure and Havoc at the Hillside Market.



Taking One for the Team

Written on January 6, 2014 at 4:24 pm , by

Written by Catherine Holecko, family fitness expert at

I’m seven hours into an eight-hour bus ride that started at 4 a.m. I’m wedged into a seat that has half the legroom of coach class on a discount airline. My overstuffed purse is on my lap, and the bag containing breakfast, lunch and snacks for myself and my kid is squeezed into the few inches between my feet and my knees, because the overhead compartment is about six inches high.

Adam Sandler is bellowing from the bus’s DVD players while 26 tween girls giggle and shriek in the seats behind me. Tomorrow I’ll be confined to an ice rink for the entire day and some of the night. And let’s not forget how much this weekend of skating team travel is costing—all for three minutes of actual competition time.

If you’re questioning my sanity right now, I understand. At times like these, I question it too! Being a member of a travel team means a lot of sacrifices, for athletes and their families. Even setting aside the costs, which are significant, there’s the time commitment. Skating practices eat up a good portion of our Saturdays and a few evenings a week. We schedule our holiday plans around team obligations. Trips like this one usually require my daughter to miss a day of school, while I take time off from work and have to skip some of my younger child’s events and activities. Pulling off these trips requires a huge amount of volunteer effort from parents—they’re the ones who put in hours of advance planning, making intricate schedules and figuring out how to house, feed and transport more than 100 skaters, coaches and parent chaperones over the course of one long (really long) weekend.

So I get how unreasonable this all sounds, and yes, I do sometimes ponder why we do it. But then I sit in the stands with the other parents who have become good friends (how could they not, after all this togetherness?) and watch my daughter skate with her team. I watch the three other teams her coach oversees. When they succeed—when they skate a clean program, with straight lines, big smiles and no one falling on the ice—I can’t help but tear up. When they falter, I tear up too, because I know how hard they’ve worked and how badly they want to do well. When they medal, I burst with pride. When they don’t, my heart breaks for them. And I can’t help it: I look forward to the next trip so I can watch them all over again.

Catherine Holecko is the family fitness expert at She lives in Wisconsin with her daughter, son and husband.

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Who Could You Forgive Today?

Written on December 27, 2013 at 9:00 am , by















Years ago, I found myself carefully counting my dog-eared dollars and placing them into a clearly disinterested clerk’s hands to pay for one package of hot dogs and buns. As I glanced at the towels in the backseat of my old Chevy, I excitedly thought how much fun this afternoon would be. First, we’d go swimming at my neighborhood pool. Then we’d grill lunch. Great plan, one problem: The two young brothers I’d arranged to take out of the city and into the country for the day never showed up at our agreed-upon pickup place. Calls from a nearby telephone booth went unanswered. I waited for an hour and a half, then dejectedly drove home.

I was so disappointed.

As I racked my brain to understand what happened, my sadness turned to anger. How dare they blow me off? Their disappearing act turned personal. All I could think of was confronting them.

Then something happened: I forgave them. A conscious mind-set of forgiveness slipped in and took over. Actually, it started with forgiving myself. Instead of blaming them and myself, I let it go.

While forgiveness is a powerful individual act, it can also lead a community to a deeper level of awareness. The recent death of Nelson Mandela and the dialogue that followed about his decision to leave behind the pain of 27 years of suffering in prison began with one word: forgiveness. “I had given [them] enough…I couldn’t give them my mind and my heart,” he said. Mandela used his personal convictions to lead a divided nation to truth and reconciliation.

Teaching our children to forgive may be one of the best lessons we can give them. Instead of fostering destructive competitive practices, think about the power of forgiveness. As an alternative to time-outs and harsh disciplinary words or actions, perhaps we should teach our children about expressing empathy—feeling what others are feeling. Maybe we can educate them on the art of offering an apology and accepting one with a sincere “I forgive you.”

We often hold on to old pain and negativity like an invisible shield to protect us from future hurts. What we don’t understand is that our power doesn’t emerge from the past. It comes from the ability to be fully present and say, “It really is okay. I forgive you.”

Is there someone—even yourself—you could forgive today? Post a comment below and tell me who it is.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, is a mother of four, a psychiatrist in New York City and director of guest support for The Jeremy Kyle Show. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at

A Little Procrastination Goes a Long Way

Written on December 26, 2013 at 10:30 am , by

Written by JM Randolph, the accidental stepmom

The Forbidden City

A respected student organization invited my middle stepdaughter on a summer trip to China. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but China is on the other side of the planet. It’s 7,400 miles away, or, as I like to think of it, 1/32 of the distance to the moon.

Since the cost of the trip was greater than our annual New Jersey property taxes, she needed to do some serious fundraising. This was a great opportunity to teach her that the biggest factor in achieving a goal is your own belief it will happen. Secretly, though, in my own head, it was still a maybe. As long as that was the case, I didn’t have to think about her actually being in China. We still had nine months.

She talked the owner of our local coffee shop into hiring her at just 15. She did odd jobs for relatives and sold candy bars. Before long, she’d raised a significant amount of money. She even made sure we got her passport application in on time, a miracle in itself.

The organization sent out an email for prepaid international cell phones. It sounded like a good idea but we didn’t need to think about that yet. Every time I thought about China, I had visions of her falling off the Great Wall or getting attacked by a rogue panda.

Because the group met on Saturdays, when my husband and I work, our babysitter went with her to the meetings. The students did presentations and had to take quizzes online. The cell phone option was discussed, but we still had time.

Our babysitter took notes and knew exactly what to expect in China. Our kid, however, apparently spent most of that time texting her friends. Despite her impressive ambition for fundraising, she turned out to have an equally impressive ability to procrastinate. I can’t imagine where she got that.

Two days before departure, we got home from work at midnight to find her hovering over the babysitter’s laptop trying to pump her for answers to the quizzes she still had to complete. There was an empty suitcase in the living room with a laundry basket of wadded-up clothes nearby. She had lost the checklist, as well as the first three days of the itinerary.

Meanwhile, my husband and I had missed the deadline for the cell phone. Also for the reloadable Visa card. I went to the bank at the last possible minute to exchange her pocket money for yuan.

Just like that, she was off to China for 17 days.

During the twenty-two hours it took their flight to land 7,400 miles away in Beijing, I deeply regretted not getting the phone, not being at the meetings, not forcing her to be more prepared, not being more prepared myself.

When she called on a leader’s phone to tell us she forgot to get a calling card, she said she’d walked the Great Wall. “It was amazing! You can’t even imagine it from the pictures.”

She said most kids didn’t have cell phones. The ones who did were constantly answering texts from their parents; everyone else was just…being in China. Doing exactly what they should be doing: reveling in a completely different culture, without their parents, on a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

A little procrastination goes a long way. Sometimes, all the way to China.


JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand, and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at





Holiday Traditions in Blended Families

Written on December 18, 2013 at 10:00 am , by

Written by JM Randolph, the Accidental Stepmom

There are two kinds of traditions: intentional and accidental. I believe that every family should have both. Accidental ones take care of themselves; you really don’t have to worry about them. Anybody who performs just one tipsy, alternate rendition of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas discovers soon enough that they’ve signed up for life.

However, intentional traditions in a blended family can be a minefield. When you start your own family from scratch, you get to set the traditions from the beginning. When you step into someone else’s family, your ideas may or may not fly. Everyone arrives with their own set of beliefs and agenda about how to properly celebrate a holiday. (Have you seen Marney’s Thanksgiving Letter?)  Kids, especially teens, tend to keep these rules secret…right up to the point when someone unknowingly breaks one of them.

I grew up with rich holiday traditions, particularly for Christmas. All through December we made cookies, went to church, sang carols, opened Advent calendars and were visited by the elves. Yes, long before the Elf on the Shelf, the elves hung out at my house. They brought little gifts when they caught us being good. When we were acting out, my mother would say, “The elves are watching!” and look around the room. For the longest time, I thought the elves were a pair of German beer steins.

I introduced the elves to my stepkids just after the first Thanksgiving we had together as a family. They accepted them without question. Other attempts to share my traditions have had different results.

Getting them interested in baking Christmas cookies has been like trying to spark an interest in cleaning grout. It is significant to note that four-fifths of these kids also don’t like peanut butter or pie; you can never entirely let your guard down around kids like that. They much prefer store-bought sweets laden with chemicals. When I bake, I end up with a pile of amazing cookies that, once again, only my husband and I will eat, creating the need for what I call January Pants.

When I was a child, we opened one gift on Christmas Eve just before bed: the “toe” of the stocking, i.e., the biggest of the little presents. Never in a hundred years would I have dreamed that a kid would resist this concept, but I had two who did. That whole not liking peanut butter and pie thing should have tipped me off. Of course, this first year, I had five identical gifts chosen. I improvised on the spot for three different gifts, so as to keep the peace and not reveal that particular surprise early for the two who were opting out.

Sometimes you make traditions by taking them away first. My husband made Yorkshire pudding for Christmas dinner every year but none of the kids would touch it. After three years, he gave up. The next year, the kids all asked, “Where’s the Yorkshire pudding?” One year of it being gone made it everyone’s favorite dish.

My favorite traditions are happy accidents. One Christmas Eve when we couldn’t agree on church, we drove around the neighborhood looking at all the decorations. Suddenly we saw, very clearly, a family obliviously eating dinner in their dining room while a Santa was trying with some difficulty to get in their sliding glass back door. Now we have a Christmas Eve tradition of trying to catch Santa breaking into someone’s house.

If you can let go of needing holidays to play out in a specific way, you’ll open yourself up to a lot of light and laughter.


JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at


The Aggravation of the Common Application

Written on December 12, 2013 at 10:30 am , by


If you thought getting into college was hard, try applying. This fall, many of the high school seniors who gave me editorial assistance on my recently published book, Masterminds and Wingmen, took me up on a promise I’d made: work hard and I’ll write you a college recommendation. Little did I know I was about to join the thousands of people tearing their hair out as they tried to work with the “Common App,” the general application form that high school students increasingly must use to apply to college.

I began filling out a recommendation for Ethan Anderson, a high school senior in Colorado, in mid-October. As of yesterday, it has taken me 12 hours, 15 attempts and 10 emails to the “help center” to successfully submit it.

At first glance, this may not seem like such a huge deal. Sure, it adds even more stress to the students around the country who are filling out these applications, but eventually those kids will get those applications in, right? But it is a big deal and here’s why.

Basically, it’s another example of adult hypocrisy. We demand that students apply to college by correctly filling out forms and submitting them by a certain deadline. In sum, we expect them to be responsible and hold themselves accountable. In contrast, representatives from The Common Application, the organization that administers this process, have been extremely slow to admit they even had problems, let alone that the problems came from their side. Only after extensive reporting from national media outlets and complaints from educational advocacy organizations did they begin to respond. Even then, their emphasis was on the idea that the program was working overall and they did not issue a direct apology. Meanwhile, several colleges and universities have extended their deadlines to accommodate the problem.

But worse, one of the central missions of the organization, the reason the Common App was created in the first place, was to make it easier for students to apply to college, especially those students with fewer educational and/or financial resources or those who may not have educators who can act as advocates for them as they navigate this process—which is difficult under the best of circumstances.

Take the example of getting someone to write you a recommendation. Even if the student knows someone they can ask for a recommendation, it can be hard to get up the nerve to ask them to write it.  Then if the recommender, who is usually incredibly busy, runs into problems as I did, they may give up. When the student finds out that the recommendation isn’t there, she has to go back to the person and figure out what happened. Many students won’t press the issue. Maybe the recommender tries a few more times, runs into more problems and just can’t spend any more time on it.  The result is that the recommendation isn’t included in the application. In my case, Ethan wanted me to write a recommendation for him because he had helped me design a book cover and he was applying to a university that specializes in graphic design. Without my recommendation, his application wouldn’t have included the fact that he was a principal design contributor to a best-selling book.

But I made a promise to him, so I started researching what was going wrong and whether it was possible to reach the people behind the problem. Because the Common Application’s website states that it won’t answer applicants’ questions by phone, I tweeted and Facebook messaged the staff. I didn’t get a response. In mid-November, I looked up their office address and called but the number was disconnected. Two weeks later I searched for an office number again, found another number and left a message. That was the first time I identified myself and stated I was going to write about my experience.

That’s when I got a response. And while that response was professional and apologetic and the timing could have been coincidental, it’s a little hard to believe. I spoke to Scott Anderson, the senior director for policy at The Common Application, and shared my frustrations and concerns. I asked him about what his responsibility was to all students but in particular to students who don’t have advocates and resources. What happens to the kids who can’t prove they did what they were supposed to but the Common App dumped their information? What if they don’t have a college counselor who can directly contact their counterpart at the university if the Common App fails them? What if these students are working a job after school so they don’t have all the time in the world to figure out how to get someone from Common App to get back to them?

Mr. Anderson responded that students who experience these problems should send another complaint through the website. When I reminded him that I had repeatedly done so with no success, he repeated that the student should try again or talk to a college counselor. After our conversation, he followed up with this email:

I’d like to return to your thoughtful final question about what students should do in the unlikely event that they have trouble reaching us through the Help Center. While I do not think it is inappropriate to suggest that they try again, I agree that such a response is insufficient if it ends there. As a next step, I would advise a student to seek the assistance of a school counselor or other school official who can advocate on his or her behalf. And while we do not rely on social media as a primary means of support, we do read private messages on Facebook and respond accordingly.

Again, the reality is that many students don’t have a school official who can advocate on their behalf. Some don’t even have college counselors. My posts on Common App’s social networking sites were not answered. So, I have a different idea. Mr. Anderson and his staff should stop putting the burden on the students’ shoulders. They should issue a clear apology that doesn’t also include how great the program is working for other students. They should post on their Facebook page and every social networking platform they use that their phone lines are open, give out their individual work emails and state that they’re ready to do whatever is necessary to get a student’s application successfully submitted.

Our children should be rewarded for their hard work and judged on their merits. We don’t need to make it harder for them to get the opportunities they deserve. And they certainly don’t need yet another example of adults holding them to standards that we ourselves can’t or won’t follow.

Has your child had problems using the Common Application? Post a comment and tell me about it here.

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to Do you have a parenting question? Email



Re-gifting from the Heart

Written on December 11, 2013 at 12:00 pm , by

Written by Rachel Macy Stafford

From a very young age, my older daughter, Natalie, has been a gift giver. Like most children’s, her offerings consisted of items that adults wouldn’t ordinarily classify as gifts. Broken seashells, traumatized frogs, dying weeds and misshapen rocks were often presented in small, dirt-laden hands beneath a wide smile. In the past two years Natalie’s gift-giving practices have moved up a notch. Gifts are no longer found in nature; they are found in our home.

Yes, it’s re-gifting at its best—wrapping barely used items and presenting them with great love.

Although highly practical and earth-friendly, this gift-giving practice brought to mind words like “tacky” and “cheap.” But for some reason, I had enough sense to stand aside and let my child give as her heart dictated.

Last Christmas Eve, Natalie spent hours wrapping barely used bottles of lotion, tiny hotel shampoos and gently used books. She then declared she wanted to distribute the colorful packages to homeless people in the downtown area. Her very first recipient was a frail, elderly woman with sad eyes who clutched her life’s possessions in a ripped trash bag. It wasn’t until I watched this woman’s face completely transform at the mere sight of my pint-size gift-bearer that I got over myself.

Shortly thereafter, Natalie thought it would be nice to create a care package for a family in India with whom we’d connected through Operation Christmas Child. On top of the new pajamas, packaged toothbrushes and pristine white socks, she placed two hairbrushes that she and her little sister had used for almost a month. Natalie was adamant that the brushes must be included. It wasn’t until we received a thank-you note with this picture that I vowed I would never cringe at her gift-giving practices again.

In fact, when the mood strikes and a present is needed, I thoroughly enjoy watching Natalie search the bottom of her messy closet for the ideal gift. I am now quite certain there is something miraculous in the way my daughter gives—in the way all children give.

Children remind us on a daily basis that our most precious gift is when we stop in the midst of our busy lives and give a piece of ourselves—our undivided attention, a lingering embrace, a word of encouragement, snuggles in bed, one-on-one time or a helping hand. This season, consider giving like children do. Rather than spending hours at the mall shopping for the “perfect” gift, remember that what your loved ones want most this year is you.

If I had to give a name to such heartfelt gift giving, I would call it “hands-free”—letting go in order to give the gift that really matters. And you can’t put a price on it.

Just ask a child.


Join Rachel on her journey to let go of distraction, perfection and societal pressure to grasp what really matters by visiting or “The Hands Free Revolution” on Facebook. Rachel’s book, Hands Free Mama, is currently available for pre-order and hits shelves on January 7.


Happiness vs. Lasting Joy

Written on December 6, 2013 at 12:30 pm , by

Written by Glennon Doyle Melton 

All I want for Christmas is for my kids to be happy, but too often I forget that the kind of happiness I can buy them at the mall doesn’t last. That kind is superficial and fleeting, and we shouldn’t teach our kids to rely on it. Because if our kids learn that joy comes from things they can write on a list, things they don’t already have, any sort of things, they will become the kind of adults who believe that joy is elusive—outside of themselves, something that only materially blessed people have—which we know is simply not true. Joy is within the grasp of each and every one of us. Joy is looking around at what we already have and counting it all as miraculous. The only lasting joy is gratitude.

This year, I’m going to spend some energy teaching my kids about lasting joy. A good holiday season is not about making lists of stuff we wish we had. It’s about making lists of what we already have and love. We just started a Holiday Gratitude Journal with our kids. Every night we sit together and write down three things each of us is grateful for. That’s my kind of list! I share more about how our family learned to make room for gratitude in the December issue of Family Circle.

Glennon Doyle Melton is the author of the New York Times best-selling memoir Carry On, Warrior, and founder of the online community


The “Knockout Game”: 2 Ways to End Horrifying Childish Assaults

Written on December 5, 2013 at 10:00 am , by


By now you’ve probably heard about the “knockout game,” in which a young person targets an unsuspecting victim and punches them as hard as possible. However, out of respect for the victims worldwide—one of whom died—you won’t see any images of those assaults here. And in an attempt to deter copycats, you won’t be able to click through to any links to videos of those attacks here either.

I’m of the opinion that repeated viewing of these antics can minimize the horror because we watch them and then turn off the TV or move on to the next news story. What’s missed are the aftereffects: the perpetual trauma experienced while innocently walking down a street with the purpose of getting home or to work or school after having been blindsided by a vicious blow to the head. It’s unfathomable.

Anyone who excuses such horrifying behavior as a childish prank is grossly mistaken. There is a huge difference between pranks that embarrass and surprise folks and the knockout game—meant to intentionally cause bodily harm for the sake of a laugh or screen shot.

Violence is not a game. The recent sickening posts involving ruthless, immature hooligans who target innocent men, women and children for assault and videotaping are criminal acts and should be dealt with accordingly. Media outlets should stop the distributing videos of the attacks. I am certain the victims are further traumatized by the repeated airing.

There’s work for parents to do as well. Unsupervised teens who hang out in groups are more likely to be involved in questionable activity. If their destructiveness is born out of boredom, let’s increase volunteer opportunities in environments that promote self-esteem and compassion for others. Parents should also be held to a higher standard for the untoward behavior of their children. Something has to change.

What do you think? Post a comment below and let me know.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, is a mother of four, a psychiatrist in New York City and director of guest support for The Jeremy Kyle Show. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

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