Category Archives: Kids manners

Teaching empathy to kids is no easy task

If you asked me to name the qualities I most want to instill in my children, empathy would be in the top three.

In my youth, like most kids,  I cared mostly about myself and how everything affected me. But as I got older and saw more of the world, I began to understand how lucky I was to grow up safe, loved, and wanting for very little. When I had three healthy children who opened my heart, I learned new depths of gratitude.

When looking for a place to live, Wilson and I chose a town where our kids would meet all kinds of people with different backgrounds and experiences. We donate to charity and volunteer for several organizations, sometimes with the kids. At holiday time, we give gifts to a family who can’t afford them.

I watch the news with my boys (ages 13, 10, and 7)  most nights and try to talk to them about other places in the world where kids don’t have access to food, clean water, and an education. They wonder how those kids live without an Xbox.

I hope it’s sinking in, but you just never know.

empathy graphic

I’d like my children to occasionally do things out of the goodness of their hearts, not because they feel forced. I’d like them to think about the feelings of others when making decisions.

Their empathy will increase as they mature and their brains are less wired to self-absorption.  But sometimes it feels like a personal failure when my boys are mean to another kid,  ignore cruelty by others, or act unsympathetic towards a stranger.

This week, 7-year-old Eli accompanied me to Trader Joe’s. He LOVES to use those mini shopping carts and help me check out. As I was bagging my groceries, an elderly woman stood behind Eli, watching him furiously unloading our cart onto the checkout counter.  Smiling ear to ear, she started chatting with him and marveling at his eagerness to help. We exchanged some cute banter about how fortunate I am to have my own professional, handsome checkout boy.

As I was paying, the woman moved to another aisle to check out. I whispered to Eli that he should go help her unload her cart. At first he looked confused, wondering why he would help a stranger. I explained to him that she was older and needed assistance, and would get a kick out of his gesture. He shrugged his shoulders and went over to help her.

I was busy checking out and loading my bags, but when I looked over to walk out, Eli had put all her groceries on the counter and the woman was beaming. As we exited the store I got a warm feeling inside. Eli grinned as he strutted to the car.  I told him how pleased I was that he helped the woman:

Didn’t it feel good to be nice and help someone? She’ll probably go back home and tell all her friends about the adorable little boy who unloaded her groceries. I’m so proud of you for helping!” I cried.

He kept smiling as he pulled a crisp dollar bill from his pocket.  “She gave me this!!!” he shouted with glee.

My heart sank.

That little stinker was giddy because his selfless deed was rewarded with cash!

kids money empathy on

Was the empathy message lost in the excitement of spending plans for his new fortune?

I hope not.

I’d like to think Eli would have been just as happy leaving the store, knowing he helped someone, even if his pocket was empty.

eli with dollar2

But I’m not so sure.

Smells like teen spirit

My oldest son, Jacob, recently turned 13.  Since he’s my first, I’m always excited to see what each stage of development will bring. By the time my middle son gets to a new phase, I have some experience and can prepare for parenting challenges.

My 7-year-old is not allowed to grow up at all, as far as I’m concerned.  Every time he hits a new phase, I mourn the last one. I still tuck him in every night when he’s asleep, stroke the velvet skin on his cheeks, and breathe in his sweet smell.

There’s no sweet smell coming  from Jacob’s room. The pungent odor of sweat and feet that lingers in there keeps my visits short. He likes it that way, because then I can’t nag him about the mess.

There are other teen behaviors emerging. He eats more and sleeps later.  He spends more time in his room, on his phone and iPad. All developmentally appropriate signs of maturing that I can accept.

What I can’t stand is  “whatever, Mom.”

Typical teen behavior

Jacob has slipped into the inevitable yet loathsome phase of believing that every member of his family is a dunce. He barely listens to our conversations, unless they’re about him– because we are clearly not worth his time.  When he does grab a detail he deems worthy of his attention, if he doesn’t approve, he snarls his lip, squints his eyes, and cocks his head.

He stares incredulously with contempt and I can only think he’s wondering how he could be related to people so moronic.

When we tell him to do something– anything, really– from flipping a light switch to completing a term paper– he sighs loudly and shrugs so deeply I’m surprised he hasn’t injured his shoulders.  We’re such a burden, I don’t know how he tolerates us.

When we don’t agree on a given subject– say, my objection to his 20-minute showers or staying up late on school nights– his teen-ism comes out in ugly force.  He argues, gesticulates, exaggerates, and then rolls his eyes and grumbles “whatever, whatever, whatever!

It makes me want to take my widest, heaviest All-Clad frying pan right to that sweet, boyish face.

I know this is the classic pubescent role. I know it’s just a phase. I know it’s not about me. Sometimes I remember all that and laugh it off. But if I’m short on sleep and/or patience, that whatever can send me right over the edge.

I still see glimpses of my little boy… and of the amazing  young man I know he will become. When we can pry him away from his friends for more than a few hours and he settles into our family dynamic, he turns human again. It’s almost like the teenishness melts and we can see the soft center inside. It’s comforting to know he’s still in there.

Many of you who have teenagers or raised them already are thinking I should buckle up, it’s going to be a while.  And before I know it, he’ll be out of the house and I’ll be wishing he was home, even if only to talk back. I know that.

One of the many great things about Jacob is that he’s a busybody and a talker. So far, despite his teen inclination to withdraw, he still winds up telling me stuff.  The less interested I act, the more likely he is to spill, which often leads to a carefully choreographed dance around each other until the truth comes out. I hope we never get to the point where he completely shuts me out, so I’m working overtime to stay calm and aloof whenever possible.

It’s also nice that he still needs me for rides, clothes, and spending money. Every once in a while when he’s sweet-talking me into one of his grand plans, I make him squirm before I comply. Sometimes I even shrug my shoulders dramatically and say ….“whatever.” 

‘Tis the season of disappointment

I look forward to the holidays…the good will, parties, food, shopping….and family togetherness. As I’ve said in previous posts, I love buying gifts, so although Hannukah started early this year (December 8th) I was ready with an arsenal of presents for the kids.

We’ve had some bad experiences in the past where my boys (ages 7, 9, and 12)  were less than delighted with the content or quantity of gifts. After all the worrying whether I bought enough gifts or too many, after all the planning, shopping and wrapping, I had a cranky reaction to my children’s lack of gratitude.

Hannukah 2012 kids disappointed with gifts

Searching for a solution, I found an article that suggested theme nights for Hannukah. For the last few years, each night had a theme: games, books, clothes, sports, movies… two charity nights, and one family night where we celebrate with friends and relatives.

The plan has worked fairly well because the kids know exactly what they’re getting each night, so there aren’t groans when they open the less sexy presents, like books and sweaters.

On the two charity nights we take the money we would have spent on presents and do something philanthropic. One year we bought $100 worth of groceries to donate to a food pantry. This year we volunteered through a local church to buy presents for a family who can’t afford them.

Last night was good deed night so we headed to Target with another family to buy gifts for a single mom and her three kids. As I stared wide-mouthed and overwhelmed by all the different types of dolls in the toy aisle (remember I’m the mom of 3 boys,) my kids ran around the store like lunatics with their friends.

I understand how difficult it is for a kid to be in the toy department purchasing gifts for someone else. I reminded them of why we were there and all the stuff they had already received and more that was waiting for them at home. I told them how lucky we are to have so many privileges.

But they still wanted a new basketball.

Despite all the forethought and managed expectations, my kids can frustrate me. As soon as we light the candles and say our prayer, they make a dash for the booty bench in our hallway. They circle the gifts like vultures, deciding which prey to attack first.

They tear into the beautifully wrapped boxes with little regard for decorations or cards. While most of the gifts go over well, there is always someone who crinkles his nose, and another who keeps asking for more.

The present aftermath

“That’s it?!” one says, standing in a pile of shredded wrapping paper.

“How many did he get?”asks another, nodding at his brother, who’s hovering over something good.

“What theme is tomorrow? Do you think we’ll get an Xbox game tomorrow?” they cry hopefully.

And just like that, everything they opened becomes old news, and my holiday spirit is crushed.

Hannukah 2012 disppointed kids

I know once they get older, it will get easier. They will become more grateful with maturity. They will appreciate the cost of things over the amount of boxes they get to open.

In fairness, each year has improved. 12-year-old Jacob has wised up and tonight actually opened his loot, shouted with joy, and offered hugs and thanks. Tonight, of course, they got sports balls and  Xbox games.

We’ll see how clothing night goes tomorrow.

They might not be as humbled as I am to buy gifts for a struggling family, but if we continue to do things for others, it will become part of our holiday traditions, and hopefully part of their consciousness.

I know intellectually that their behavior is normal and age appropriate, but I can’t help wishing they could be more appreciative and as interested in giving as receiving.

Maybe it’s more realistic to eagerly await the day when their disappointment doesn’t become mine. They’re kids, and the beauty of them is they haven’t yet learned to hide their truths. If I can accept their honest reaction to all presents without taking it personally, that will be a gift to myself.

Three must-see parenthood video spoofs

I’m sure your inboxes and Facebook pages are as clogged as mine with viral messages, cartoons, photos, and videos that often don’t live up to the hype. I have a visceral reaction to delete as soon as I read the words “You gotta see this!” atop any message.

Most of the time,  I don’t gotta. Quite often, it’s a colossal waste of my time.

So I realize I’m going out on a limb when I suggest the following three viral videos for you to watch. But really, I wouldn’t risk my rep for relevance if I didn’t find these three at the top of musical parenting parodies.

They are each hilarious, and at times even sweet. But all capture the absurdity, frustration, and sacrifice of raising children. They’re funny because they ring so true.

parent teacher conference video from rated p the musical

My wildly talented friend Sandy wrote a musical last year called “Rated P for Parenthood” that made it to off-Broadway. It was filled with great songs about parenting but one of the highlights was a rap called “Parent Teacher Conference” which I’ve watched a dozen times and still giggle.

This week, I received a link to a video called The Parent Rap, and each time I watch it, I catch another line or visual that cracks me up.

And then there’s the classic gem known as  “The Mom Song” which details a day in the life of a mom who only wants the best for her children, and won’t stand for mediocrity.

These videos make me envious and wishing I had the creativity and tenacity to write and produce something that clever and amusing.

If you get a moment in your busy day, click on the links above and let me know what you think. Let the musical mom mockery begin!

Top 7 Kid’s Texting Translations


Jacob’s texting needs translation

I often find myself lost in text translation.

My oldest son, Jacob, is a mature, confident, and savvy 12 year old.  Too smart for his own good, he can be infuriatingly manipulative. As a sixth grader, he walks to and from middle school through our suburban downtown, so we gave him a cell phone to promote safety and communication.

Jacob, however, believes the only purpose of the cell phone is to text his friends. When I communicate with him, I almost always call, so I can hear his voice and take care of our business efficiently. Like many pre-teens, he prefers to text me in phrases I often don’t understand, which makes me feel old. While a phone call would allow for context, he will come up with 62 reasons why texting 4 abbreviated words is the best way to ask me if he can avoid homework and go to the park after school.

I don’t enjoy our texting relationship because it somehow allows him to forgo manners and respect for sassy slang.  When I was forced to text him recently about why he hadn’t answered his phone or texted me for 30 minutes after school, his typed response was ”Chillax dude. lol… be home in a few.”

Now is that any way to talk to your mother?!

Text-speak for the kids is quite literally another language, one of which I have only remedial knowledge. I asked Jacob to translate some of the more amusing phrases he uses to speak to his friends:

1.  WTF and/or OMFG—I think you can guess the meaning here.            (According to Jacob, since only the “F” initial is being used, it isn’t technically swearing.)

2.  NMJC—Not much just chillin’.                                                                       (The natural answer to “what r u doing?”)

3.  JW – Just wondering                                                                                        (A likely response to the stock question, “why did u ask if I like her/him?”)

4.  TTYL—Talk To You Later                                                                                (Should really be “text you later”—good old-fashioned conversation is lost on these kids.)

5. BRA— Friend                                                                                                        (As in brother, bro, brey….not lady’s lingerie.)

6. IKR—I know, right?                                                                                           (A common response to “My mom’s so annoying…”)

7.  PITR – Parent in the Room                                                                           (The horror!!)

Did I clear some things up for you? Please share any texting tales you have about your preteens and teens… and more texting translations are always welcome!

Kids’ Manners: This Battle Not Worth Picking

It’s important to me that my children practice good manners, but it’s always a struggle. I was walking my friend, Sara, to the door the other day after a play date when she told her kids,” Say goodbye to Mrs. Lefferts…” Miraculously, they did.  Sara’s three polite children are 4, 6 and 8 years old. Mine are heathens.

I started thinking of how nice it was to see kids showing respect for adults, even if they were prodded. I thought– for a brief moment –that if my kids’ manners are a priority, maybe I should be telling them to use “Mr. and Mrs.” with all adults until they are asked to use a first name. But then I came to my senses and realized my animals are 12, 8 and 6 and the horse is out of the barn on that one.

It would be odd to give my kids that etiquette lesson at this point and now require them to start using titles with my friends. It’s probably not worth the rebellion and eye rolling that would ensue.

When I was growing up, we always called everyone Mr. and Mrs., even when they gave permission to be informal. But that was also when children should be seen and not heard all the time.  I distinctly remember my mother trotting my brother and me out in our “fancy” pajamas to go around and greet all their tipsy friends at their cocktail parties. We flashed a practiced grin and said a quick hello to Mr. and Mrs. SoandSo before disappearing back into the bedroom to our TV dinners and “Love Boat” episodes.

I have few friends whose children are as polite as Sara’s. Is it because we are progressive thinkers, or just too lazy to fight that fight? I’d like to think we’re more evolved parents now who don’t need such formalities. Actually, I rather like my friends’ kids calling me Brooke– it makes us feel like one big family.

So I’ll leave the notion of being Mrs. Lefferts aside, and focus on basic kid manners, like getting them to say please and thank you, and chewing with their mouths closed.