“Conversations with your Kids” is a four part series in partnership with Responsibility.org, an organization which helps parents model positive behavior to promote good decision making in their kids later in life, particularly around the issues of peer pressure and underage drinking. Each post will explore the opportunity for honest conversation within a specific family (four families were selected from the comments posted here) and end with expert tips to help us all establish open communication skills with our children for hopefully years to come.
Lindsey lives in Westchester, New York with her 7 year-old daughter Lilia and her parents, who she moved back in with after splitting with Lilia’s father when Lilia was nine months old. Her ex is now remarried and over the years, Lilia has seen Lindsey go through a few break-ups.
Lindsey also has a tough relationship with her mother and since they live in her parents’ home, Lilia has witnessed “some truly ugly fights”. Lindsey says they talk a lot about family situations, love, cheating, friendships and bullying. Lilia often brings these topics up in the evenings before bed, when the day is winding down and the two have some quiet time to talk.
What are some topics you and Lilia have discussed?
Mostly relationships. Why her dad and I are not together, my relationship with him and his wife. My tumultuous relationship with my mother. What happened in another serious relationship where she had formed a close bond with that ex, who was cheating on me, and pretty much destroyed me for a while… and more recently, her relationships with some of her friends. We talk about bullying and if someone treats her in a way she doesn’t like. We also talk about things that should be done “in private” and I am as honest as I can possibly be with her about this stuff. Lilia has an amazing heart and she’s incredibly sensitive, but also really strong and intuitive.
What subjects are you most nervous about discussing in the future?
Drugs, alcohol and sex. The usual. When she asks, I’m not sure how much I should divulge about my past. It would be foolish to think she will never be faced with these choices or want to try things. I am not regretful of most things I’ve done, but I do want her to make smart decisions. I think smart decisions come from knowing the reality and not being sheltered from it.
How do you plan on handling those questions?
I want to make sure Lilia has enough self respect to make smart decisions first and foremost. I want to make sure she knows what her body is worth and how to handle boys when that time comes. And I want her to understand the substances she may be offered and what they can do to her. I feel like keeping her informed (not at 7, of course, but eventually) might help her steer clear of some of the more awful stuff that’s around. I want to be honest with her about everything because I think she will feel more comfortable coming to me, if she knows nothing is off limits.
What sort of peer pressures do you think lilia has already faced?
She told me a few months ago some older girls on the bus dared her to kiss the window, and she didn’t want to do it. I’m concerned she will give in to things just to get people to stop bothering her. I made sure to tell her she made the right choice by not doing something she didn’t feel comfortable doing. I also told her she never has to do anything just because she feels pressured by other kids.
Do you ever Have disagreements about any family rules or expectations?
We have major battles over homework. It’s a big deal to me because it’s something I was never good at, which was made worse because my parents didn’t stay on top of me about it. We’ve had some serious talks about how she needs to do better than I did when I was in school, because she can see I’m struggling with work and money. As a result, we live with my mother which mentally, is not the best thing for me. It’s cliche but the “don’t end up like me” and “don’t make the same mistakes I did” conversation is actually happening.
At the moment, what is lilia’s understanding of alcohol?
Lilia sees the adults in our house have the occasional drink at the end of the day to unwind (but never drunk) and she likes to smell my beer. But she also knows it’s a grown-up drink, as is wine and liquor. She hates carbonation so she doesn’t even drink soda, and getting her to drink anything (medicine especially) other than milk, juice, and water is next to impossible. So far, she’s never asked to try it.
What is your goal for how you communicate with lilia in the future?
I want her to feel like she can talk to me about absolutely anything, no matter how gross, awkward, silly, or whatever. I know we will run into the typical tween/teen vs. mom drama, but I think we have a close enough bond (a bond I lacked with my own mother growing up) that we will make it through all that.
After hearing Lindsey voice her fear that her daughter might make some of the same mistakes she did, Responsibility.org put together “4 Ways to Teach Kids Good Decision Making”. Even if you are not 100% behind your own past decisions, you can still teach your children how to make good decisions for themselves in the future.
1) Outcomes Matter
It’s important to explain why good decision making is important. Good decisions have positive effects, while bad decisions have negative effects. Those negative effects can come in the form of poor food choices turning into tummy aches, or bad friend choices turning into tough situations after school. These consequences should be explained as opportunities for them to succeed, and make the choice they know is right. There will always be a few roads they travel, but putting the road blocks into perspective is key.
2) Instilling Confidence
One of the most precious gifts you can give your child is instilling them with confidence in their own instincts. Make sure your kids know their choices are purposeful and abide by the moral standards you set for them, or that you want them to set for themselves. To address a situation where kid feels peer pressured, you should explain that some kids will always try to get you to do things you don’t want to do. If you know something is wrong, then just don’t do it. YOU know when it’s better to just walk away.
3) Start Small
Your child might not be asking tough questions yet, but teachable moments happen early and often. Is your child making a trivial decision at the grocery store? Picking out a show on Netflix? It actually helps to start with smaller decisions. Then the less intimidating choices can lead to conversations about tougher stuff. For instance, you can start with a menial task like picking out that night’s dinner. Talk about the benefits of choosing healthy options as opposed to candy and sweets, and how those choices can have lasting positive effects, like growing strong and rosy cheeks.
4) Establish an End Goal
Goal setting is important for your child’s development, both emotionally and physically. Try to have your kid imagine the big picture. What does he ultimately want? Then brainstorm a path for him to achieve this goal together, which is the basis of a solid decision. Always relate future goals back to timely, more manageable goals. For example, if you want to make the soccer team in the fall, you should probably start kicking the ball around outside NOW.
April is Alcohol Responsibility Month. To learn more about Responsibility.org and their #TalkEarly campaign which advocates open and early conversation around alcohol, click here.
What is a decision your child made that you were proud of?
This post was sponsored by Responsibility.org, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Photos by Raquel Langworthy.