J Simens.com

Holy Hell: I want the ‘Holy” back in Christmas

What really happens when your child is tempted to engage in risky behavior?

We are all aware of the gateway drugs and their dangers but it seems as if there are other things almost as dangerous. Especially in the Holiday Season!

I am not a very “afraid” parent.  I let my kids roam the streets of foreign countries. They have experienced tear-gas at large events where police threw canisters for crowd control. They have eaten ‘street food’ from unknown sources.  But somethings I just can’t control or at times keep them away from harm.

I am worried about smartphones.

Did you know that our kids can get apps that say “Blow into your phone to smoke this cigarette!” You can have a beer, snort cocaine (they recommend using an old credit card or hotel key card to make it even more realistic), hit a bong, learn to grow marijuana, simulate Russian Roulette with this revolver. There are porn “wallpaper” options. I didn’t know all of this until I started to think about Christmas shopping! These things are out there.  They are not a concern to my country or the businesses in my country. Why?

But then we do so really weird stuff –

Ban Hand Holding

A bill passed in Tennessee earlier this year declared hand-holding a ‘gateway sexual activity,’ with teachers facing firing for even demonstrating the action.

Ban – Hugging

The ban on hugging isn’t a one-off rule at a select school, but a trend. Schools in Portland and Florida started instituting these rules in 2010, while administrations in New Jersey and New Zealand took it upon themselves in 2012. For all, the reasoning appears to be the same: Respecting personal space and “unsuitable interactions” between students must be banned.

Ban – Best Friends

No more BFFs for you, British kids! At a few U.K. schools, teachers are preventing children from making “best friends” in an attempt to save others’ feelings.

What about banning Christmas…

I said Christmas
Picture 17
Everything is so wrong with this picture!

Grinch, yikes? We’ve all heard of holiday trees instead of Christmas trees and those long December concerts (Not Christmas Concerts), but some schools have gone as far as banning any references to Santa and carols, among other Christmas-oriented terms.

I want my smartphone to help my life – not mess with young kids.  I want teens to hold hands and be in love. In fact, I want their teachers to also be in love and show it! Not only do I want my kids to have BFF’s, but I also want to keep and share my own BFF’s.  I want to keep Christmas as it has been for me – my whole life. I want to talk about Santa and sing Christmas carols.  I want to sing “Mary’s Boy Child” and “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing.”

What would you like more of “under your Christmas Tree”?

1) Smart Phone apps and lot of calls for connections

2) Holding hands with someone special for a connection

3) Holiday cheer that connects you with friends and family

Two of my favorite Christmas songs.  One from each end of the age span!

Notes:  Photo http://www.google.com/imgres?q=evil+santa+claus

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Plan a perfect holiday : The last day before christmas holiday begins

Santa hat on Globe

World Wide Holidays

Out of the vault –

She was angry and sad.

I asked her “why” on the last day of school before the Christmas holiday?  She said, “I am angry that the day will be over so soon and I am sad that I have to leave school.

This was not how I recalled my years in schools.  I was always the first to leave and the one sitting eagerly in my seat for the last bell to ring so I could blast off for fun on being “out of school.”

So I wonder . . . Did my teacher’s not instilling my love of learning and my need to be in school or is her time off so dull that she would rather be at school than at home.

So I decided to ask her “why” again.

“I really like my friends, and I love my teacher, why would I want to miss out on what they are doing?” she questions me back.

“Won’t you do anything fun over the holidays?”

“Yes, we are going to go horseback riding and ice skating.”

“Won’t that be more fun than being in school?”


She summed it up in one word. No. School was more fun than riding a horse. School was even more fun than skating. She is five and school is MORE fun than these two activities. My first thoughts were, Your teacher is fortunate to have you in her class.

Then I realized the truth. Her teacher must be a great teacher.

“You are a lucky little girl to love school so much.”, I said.

Again she stated it perfectly. “I love my whole school day.”

Being a part of her universe, I am going home tonight glad to be a counselor and thankful that she is part of my school. I hope all the teachers, parents, children and counselors have a great Christmas holiday. People travel all over the world for the holidays, but we also need to be ‘happy’ to acknowledge where we come from.

Safe Travels if you are heading out of school this season.

Are Izzat’s a dying breed?

MemoriesTo children who successfully navigate a lifetime of change, the world is a garden of exotic gifts, a house of treasure to explore and take in. Transferred from place to place, young and porous, global nomad children collect and absorb experiences. Their personalities become amalgams of those cultures they internalize and claim as their own. Perched for a while in a new environment, they experience each move as an occasion for growth, a chance to blossom in new ways.

From – Unrooted Childhoods -“ Memories of Growing Up Global

Out of the Vault

Not Wanting to be at the International School

It all started 16 months ago.  Izzat walked into my international school. He did not want to be here. He had moved to a strange country. He did not speak English, and he wanted to be safe at home with his Mommy.  He was five years old.  This was his first school experience, and he was 5,000 miles away from what he had called home.

Izzat’s parents were eager to fit into their new location, and they wanted their son to fit into school. Izzat was scared he didn’t want to be here.

We spent the first ten days of the school year joined at the hip.  Or I should say, as long as Izzat could hold my hand or my leg as we walked around the campus trying to do my counseling job. Many of the other students asked if he was my son.

I could get Izzat to go to recess because he liked to play with the balls.  I could get him to go to lunch because he was hungry. As far as going to class, he had not bought into the fact that school meant ‘learning.’ He didn’t understand that school meant doing what the teacher wanted and being with a whole bunch of other kids his age.

Finally, he decided to like the smaller English as a Second Language class, and I was able to have periods of time in my office without Izzat. His parents were wonderful, but they did not know how to help him. His teachers were excellent, but they could not get him to stop coming to my office whenever he got stressed or confused. They were wonderful, but he just was not comfortable in their environment. His peers wanted to support him and help him, but he often would run away from them and seek me out.

It was a very long time to get Izzat comfortable enough to stay with his peers. We gradually went from mastering the comfortable zone of one activity towards another one.  We were blessed that the Physical Education teacher asked Izzat to stay longer and help with the other classes where there were other five years old peers. This free time allowed me actually to see some of the other kids I was serving. Slowly the need to be by my side was replaced to be near the other adults in his school day. Gradually his ability to communicate in English became stronger.

When it was time for Izzat to start school his next September at our school, he acted like a real pro.  He only stopped by once in a while to chat.

But That First Week of December was a Sad Time for Me. 

Izzat ran across the playground, yelling in English for his friend to stop. Izzat said, “Wait for me!”

He grabbed my hand and squeezed it and then it quickly it became a full body hug. It was quick but intense.

He said, “Ms. Julia, I am moving to a new school.”

I replied, “I will miss you, when will you leave?”

Izzat proudly stated, “Before Christmas.”

Then he ran away to play with his friend as I turned to go into my office. He ran back.  “I will really miss you.”

He was a child that has mastered making friends, learning a new language, being a risk taker and being bold. At our school, he had many houses of treasure to explore and take in.  As he moved to his new school, I hope he took the lessons he had learned here. He had successfully navigated a lifetime of change in just 16 short months.

Christmas is always an interesting to time to reconnect with family and friends.  Sometimes, when I least expect it, I get a note from parents I have worked with or from their children. Today as I was searching for a unique Christmas decoration, I ran into the letter I got from Izzat when he was going to get ready for his last semester in High School. I remember his small hand tightly clutching mine, and I wonder how big and strong his hands are today.

Sometimes Christmas memories make me cry.

world heart

The Zen in the Expat Thanksgiving

Family and Food - Two of my favorite things!

Family and Food – Two of my favorite things!

Being an American who has lived in many different countries, I have always tried to explain the USA holiday of Thanksgiving. It is one of my favorite holidays because it incorporates two things I hold very dear to my heart – Family and Food.


I like that it is not a gift-giving holiday.


I like that it is not a religious holiday, people of all faiths can join in the celebration.

To me, it is a celebration of gratitude.

Gratitude is the best attitude. – Author Unknown.

I like the family traditions we have at Thanksgiving. I love that some things always stay the same. We still have turkey even if we have to pay too much for it.  My brother, Jeff who lives in Missouri is always amazed at how much you have to pay for a turkey in places like Indonesia, Nigeria, or American Samoa. Turkey’s are just not grown in many areas in the world and when you have to throw in freezing containers floating around the world or air shipments – the costs are just sky high. I have been known to put a whole frozen turkey in a suitcase just to get one in the country we are currently living in at that time! Not much room in the suitcase for other items but well worth it for the family tradition.

I’ve made pumpkin pies from scratch in places where you can’t get our favorite Libby’s pumpkin puree. It is several day processes for me when you have to start with a whole garden pumpkin. I love the convenience, consistent flavor and texture of canned pumpkin even if it is mostly “squash’!

Some canned “pumpkin” puree is made from one or more types of winter squash, like butternut, Hubbard, Boston Marrow, and Golden Delicious. These squash varieties can be less stringy and richer in sweetness and color than pumpkin. The USDA is pretty lenient with its distinction between pumpkin and squash.

Sometimes hard to find in July!Often in the summer on my annual home leave, I’d buy Libby’s brand of canned pumpkin and throw it into our suitcase, so I’d have my Thanksgiving pie!  Libby’s use a strain of Dickinson Pumpkins, with exceptionally creamy flesh that the company developed themselves. This variety of pumpkin resembles a butternut-squash, not the orange pumpkin we have for Halloween jack-o-lanterns.

Sometimes it is impossible to get Crisco in the countries we have lived in.  I like the crust of my pumpkin pie to be flaky.  I watched my Grandma Wright use Crisco (vegetable shortening), Flour, Salt, Water, Vinegar, and Egg to make perfect pies. This is the only way I know how to make a good pie. Ree, The Pioneer Woman, uses a similar recipe. So believe it or not, Crisco has also found its way into my luggage.  So far I have only had to try and explain why I am bringing these items into a country one time.  By the time I got to pie crust . . . The customs official was waving me through the line. I am not sure what I would have said or done if they had taken my Thanksgiving stash.

My favorite Zen Holiday Story about giving thanks

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food.

The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime.

But a few days later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.

“I’ve been thinking,” he said, “I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone.”

Giving thanks far away from family

Then: Bundle up it was always cold and drive across Logan County to Grandma’s house. Over the river and through the woods and all that sort of stuff.

Now: Glad, our child in is Hawaii enjoying life with Kylie.  Glad the other child will not be celebrating but working with a host of new friends in India. Happy that  Kevin and I will have made the perfect Thanksgiving Feast – even if it might just be pizza and a beer in front of the TV this year since we will be without family.

At one Thanksgiving, it would have been our child’s first ever USA Thanksgiving. While living in college and not near family, I searched and searched for a restaurant that would deliver a feast to her college apartment. Most nice places have a buffet for important events like Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years.  After hearing my ‘sad story’ about it being her first and only USA Thanksgiving in the USA and being alone– my wish was honored.  The Briarwood Inn supplied a feast for my child. It is hard to know how much a person might eat at a buffet and there was no way to determine that. My child reported that not only was it a feast there were tons of leftovers, and that is what makes Thanksgiving unique for a college kid.  Or all of us. Right.

Last year while in Honolulu we had the Royal Hawaiian (hotel) Thanksgiving to go! We made Thanksgiving hassle-free that year with their Thanksgiving To-Go package, featuring a Kiawe Smoked Turkey, Sourdough Stuffing, Cheesy Herb Mashed Potatoes, Pumpkin Pecan Pie, and more. The meal feeds up to 15 people.  Of course, we took it up to our son’s apartment so his friends could enjoy the feast! We asked them to bring their chairs and silverware. Thank goodness for paper plates!

Thanksgiving past and present 

I am grateful for all the Thanksgiving feasts I have had.  Starting with the ones at Grandma Wright’s Kansas farmhouse to this one in Incline Village, NV.  At first, all my memories of Thanksgiving were only about family members. Often we had a whole room full of tables and family sharing the feast. Then it moved to Thanksgiving with college friends and on to Thanksgiving with international teachers. Then a few years of Kevin and I were sharing the dinner with friends. Finally, my own family and an ongoing list of expats sharing the feast.

I wish I had taken pictures of the faces of people who shared my table at every Thanksgiving to have as a slideshow of memories. Besides a whole host of beautiful people and their smiling faces, it would show some interesting things. It would explain the massive tuna that the young teachers put on the BBQ in Samoa to go with the roast turkey.

It would show my Mom cooking gravy in a “fry baby” in Hawaii since my college apartment didn’t have a lot of kitchen items. All of our guests had to bring their plates and silverware since we only had a set of three odds and ends.

As always, our family will be missing our mother at the holidays, but we will remember fondly how she so effortlessly made a huge meal year after year for all of us and any friends we wanted to bring along.

Those past photos would have shown the beautiful name tags my kids made one year. It would show the straw turkey Jackie painted with her Grandma Simens. It would show friends from around the world. It would show my family. It would also show our quasi-families!

Expats create quasi-family for Thanksgiving

Enjoy your time with friends –  If you are an expat create a quasi-family and enjoy the holiday.



Zesho Susan O’Connell speaks about Thanksgiving, and she does it well.

“The greatest gift is to give. We can give gratitude; we can give sustenance to body and mind, we can give fearlessness. The wheel of giving and receiving keeps our hearts open and warm. And a warm and open heart is the source of courage – the courage to sit still in the midst of our constantly changing, challenging lives. Wisdom emerges from this stillness — and informs the style and content of our giving. Give with no expectation of return. Give wholeheartedly, and if you realize you are holding back, give yourself kindness and understanding. Give each out-breath to the benefit of the world.

Are Celebrations Like THANKSGIVING Good For Us?

What is your favorite Thanksgiving memory? Why are these memories important?

Postcard of memories past

I am often asked, “How can we identify risk factors for our children, so potential problems are minimized?”

My Top Three:

  1. Family is the key
  2. Knowing your ‘emotions’ is essential
  3. Family memories and family traditions build strong kids

Do emotions help make more ethical decisions?

I believe they do. If the child cannot understand their emotions or tune into the emotions of others in their family or with peers, this is a huge risk. If the child is unable to make ethical decisions, they are a risk to themselves and a danger to society.

If the child does not have a sense of “family” this is a huge risk. The impact of a strong family identity and the connectedness factor is often long lasting, giving messages to the child that they are loved and accepted and belong to a wider network of people who matter.

It is my perception that no child is immune from pressure in our current, fast-paced, stressed filled environment so families have to be aware that at any time in their life a child might need help and support. They need to cope better with everyday challenges and be able to bounce back from disappointments. The concept of resilience is straightforward if you think about kids needing to thrive emotionally, behaviorally, academically and interpersonally. Families need to use Thanksgiving as a time to connect.

Cross- cultural impact of this holiday

I often tell parents that their perspective on an event is not the same as their child’s.  Sometimes the smallest things can be misunderstood.  Every year, as a family, we try to do the traditional turkey and stuffing as we celebrate this event.  Imagine my confusion when one of my children wrote in a school journal!

“My favrit Thanksgivn dinr is turkey stufed with tacos”  or translated into adult-speak…

“My favorite Thanksgiving dinner is turkey stuffed with tacos.”

What I commonly called my “Thanksgiving stuffing” was full of great things. Besides the usual bread and chopped onions simmered in butter, it had celery, sage, and sausage.  Living in a Muslim country for most of their young lives, ground pork or sausage was not very often served in our home.  We did have our fair share of tacos with ground beef. It made complete sense to my child that we had tacos inside that big old bird!

I often decorate things to make the special event even more ‘unique.’  I have been known to put candy fall leaves on my sugar cubes. I have made little stocks of wheat out of vegetables and sunflower seeds. I have even written names on brussel sprouts just for the fun of it.  I wonder what my kids wrote about those traditions? Or if the teacher even believed that was what happened at our home on Thanksgiving.

I love to celebrate!

Happy Thanksgiving Jsimens

Instilling Family Values as You Move Around the World

Sometimes you read something that needs to be sent out to the large population.  This statement from Gulley needs to be heard.

“Some things are just silly. We require schools to teach family values. We demand that politicians legislate family values. We even expect Hollywood to promote family values. Everyone is supposed to instill family values, except for families.”


Let’s take it from the top. Schools are here to educate. Politicians are here to govern. Hollywood is here to make money. But families are here to nurture, to love, to support, and (dare I say it?) instills values.

So how do we pass on values? We practice them as parents. Simple. But hard. Consistency is the key.

If you want to teach peace, model forgiveness.

If you want to teach abstinence from drugs, empty your liquor cabinet.

If you want to teach integrity, keep your word.

If you want to teach thrift, practice simplicity.

If you want to teach sexual purity, don’t cheat on your spouse.

If you want to teach compassion, rein in your judgment.

If you want to teach mercy, be merciful.”

By Philip Gulley

As expats we often don’t have a stable ‘family porch’ but the fact is, the whole world is our front porch.

As we sit around the world with a multitude of other families, we can quickly pick and choose what family values we want to hold dear to our hearts and instill in our children.

What we must do as expats are to surround our children with adults that share our values and will help us give a voice to these values, so they make sense to the children.

Technology makes it easy for us to keep in touch with our extended family and this is very special to our global nomads. We need to give our children face to face time with other caring adults as we move around the world. Your job as a parent is to seek out these adults. They are often in roles of teachers, coaches, neighbors and your peers in your work environment. Invite them to spend time with you and your family.

jsimens We hear you
Thanks for listening.


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Expat Halloween and the Importance of the Pumpkin!

I  never met a pumpkin I didn’t like.

When I lived abroad and got ready to celebrate another international Halloween…I needed to get all my ducks (or pumpkins)  in a row. This was always hard when living in a new country or location and you are trying to celebrate American Halloween for the first time in that place.

When witches go riding, and black cats are seen, the moon laughs and whispers.  Tis near Halloween.

I realize it is now October 31st,  but for many expats, the planning of Halloween started long before October. Some people put things into their suitcases from this past summer holiday in plans for the upcoming Halloween. Others command the suitcase space of their traveling spouse to ensure that treats are in their new home country before this candy loaded holiday.

What I hadn’t realized is how this impacts places like Canada. This photo was taken on July 31st at a sale at Loblaws in Westboro, Ottawa. This means there were only 92 more shopping days left before Halloween.

Early shopping for Halloween













When many Expats move, they have this vision that they can build up their lives into some nicely sugar-coated layered experience. They want to blend their home culture into their new culture.

Making layer after layer build up into a wonderful, beautiful experience for the whole family. They are just like kids going trick and treating, they want all their old and favorite candies in their tick and treat bags along with some new and exotic candies.

They want to cling on to some of their background, their history, and their Halloween rituals.

Halloween pumpkins

Expectations are hard to meet!

Parents need to be careful and connect with what is unique about this holiday for your family. As an expat, you can easily get sidetracked and forget what is most important for your family. You get worried about your child’s interactions. You worry about the exposure your child has to something different from his or her home environment. You fear that your child will miss out!

I have talked to a lot of five-year-olds and their parents from around the world. Here are a few things I have been told about Halloween. Remember my sources are five-year-olds!

Austria – We leave bread and water out at night for the dead people.

Belgium – We light candles for dead people in our family.

 Canada  – The best part is the Jack O’Lanterns!

China – ‘Teng Chieh’ we put food and water by the photos of our dead family. We have lots of lanterns.

Czechoslovakia – We put one chair by the fire for each person in our family, even the dead people.

 England – Our pumpkins or ‘punkies’ are made out of large beets. We sing a ‘Punkie Night Song.’

 France – We also see pumpkins at McDonald’s near Halloween. We are all ‘scary’ not ‘fairy princesses.’ We get treats in the stores, not at your home.

 Germany – We have to be careful on Halloween, and we can’t use knives.

 Hong Kong – ‘Yue Lan’ (Festival of the Hungry Ghosts) It is about spirits!

 Ireland – it is just like in the USA. We do costumes and go trick-or-treating. We play ‘snap-apple,’ (an apple on a string and you try to bite it) and ‘knock-a dolly’ (where you ring the doorbell and run away).

 Indonesia – We don’t have Halloween, but we like candy.

 Japan – We don’t have this Halloween. We have ‘Obon Festival’ with our dead family members. We clean the house and the graves. It is in July.

 Korea – We have ‘Chusok.’ It is in August, we visit our dead family and take them rice or fruit.

 Spain – We have ‘El Dia de Los Muertos’ (days of the dead), but it is a happy celebration. We go to the grave and have a picnic. We have parades.

 Sweden – We have ‘alla Helgons Dag.’ We get to have a vacation day from school.

But this is our life, and as Expats, we try to fit into the host country, but most American’s want their children to get scared, overindulge in candy, wear costumes and even let the local children have this holiday.

Halloween Night Pumpkins


Family rituals are important

Children tend to love family rituals, even if they don’t admit it. Rituals provide a sense of security and can be soothing. A family ritual is anything your family does together deliberately. The routine of whatever you do is what counts. It can be anything. Just make sure you do it consistently.

Rituals are emotionally enriching. It is never too late to start a ritual.

Some children may resist being involved in such rituals. But if routines are presented in a non-controlling manner, and you manage your expectations, all family members will ‘get on board’ much more readily than you thought.

I have worked with many families that want to start building closer family time, and sometimes the rituals begin with just one person, but if that person feels it is essential and keeps trying sooner or later, the event can become a ritual.

Sometimes the ritual comes from having another culture in your life

We have often celebrated Halloween over the top! In Duri, Indonesia the expat engineers took over one of the houses on camp and made a truly ‘scary house’ for all of us to experience. I am not sure who had more fun the adults making the house or the kids going through it.

When you let a group of engineers take over the event, it can be way over the top!

I thought the eels in the stairwell with plexiglass that you walked over them was a great touch!  The pig’s head that moved in and out of the toilet scared me; I can’t imagine what it did to my seven-year-old.  The electrical engineers did a great job with the lights and sounds.  What took the engineers two full days to complete allowed all of us to be like kids again on that Halloween night.

Years later, I wonder if people are still calling that one home the haunted house?  I know the family that moved into it only a few weeks after Halloween. They had no idea what it took to get their empty house back to normal.

Some of my highlights of Halloween living overseas with our young children were carving our pumpkins –

One time our pumpkin was a green coconut!  We have used Cassava Root to be a pumpkin in Indonesia. We used a Taro root as our pumpkin in Nigeria. Now that was a scary ‘pumpkin.’

Root vegetable in the market









We have made sure that our unique global situations allowed us to still have Jack o’ Lanterns that are uniquely ours. It has become a family ritual.

Families who move together – grow together.

Halloween tradition



Cassava Roots – http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/44493000/jpg/_44493567_02nigeria_afp.jpg
fancy carved pumpkins http://www.flickr.com/photos/44124412397@N01/2962675525/in/photolist-5vNudv-5vSLhh-5vSLXQ-5vSMZW-5vSNXj-5vSPpA-5vSPyb-5wFHwT-5wL3vA-5wMPqa-5x3TWv-5x3XeV-5x3Y8x-5xuiTH-5xHcG2-5xWN7c-5y57h7-5BiPJf-5BJKm9-5Cexc1-5DtTqE-5Nddv4-5NhtLq-5QQikP-6aqioL-6bYozM-6xGtDz-6xGtKt-6xGtNH-6xGtR4-6xLCqG-6xLCtw-71Zedv-75mvd7-76CAMk-77KG2c-77ZLJp-7a7Fvr-7abvfs-7aBR4a-7aFDtE-7aFDY3-7b5g3T-7bz9Gn-7cpKLw-7fENbM-7gfK2W-7gKNAh-7hiRsB-7ipDvY-7mhGSH
peanut free: http://www.flickr.com/photos/93663762@N00/4872539224/in/photolist-8qz39Y-7E6yWk-dpRtDc-dqxymx-aBjdrE-8uXDLT-8uXDQa-fYyQ2W-8NNSeK-aALxBh-8Pz1Pm-dgdv7U-aAXkYY-88fysa-aAB3oK-at1upA-dq2SLW-dq2GUp-dq2SNY-dq2GNk-dq2GQT-dq2SRh-arcK1B-dpBaRe
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Do words matter?

Screen Shot 2013 05 02 at 7 47 08 AM
Word Choice is Important

I believe that they do.

“Mom, I am so ugly.”

How do you respond?  Please tell me you are not one of those parents that say, “No honey, you are not ugly.”

Kids love to announce that they are not good at something. They usually do it just after they try something new and challenging, and they say it with finality as if issuing a verdict. I’m not good at math! I’m not good at volleyball. They also like to throw out “I’m ugly” or “I’m fat”  or “I’m not macho”.

At that moment, your parental instinct is to fix the situation.

You say, “Oh yes you are!”

HINT –  This never works.

You have just put your kid in the position of actively defending his or her ineptitude. It is a lose-lose. As a parent ignore the instinct to fix things. We often use a word that works for the moment, but it is not the correct word or not the word that really marks how we really feel.  Yet, this is how our children learn how to express their emotions.

Since we are global nomads and often move, I would use that time to voice how I was feeling and allowed my children to express how the move was making them feel. It was always an interesting time since family members are seldom on the same emotional wavelength when it comes to moving.  Our timing was often off.

Model this for your children when you are in the moving process!  Imagine how much they would learn about emotions.

When you have a child that proudly voices they are dumb, ugly, or unable to do something. Simply add the word “yet”.

Add the “yet”  in a matter-of-fact tone – “I am not good at math”, becomes “You are not good at math yet.”

“I am not good at volleyball” becomes “You are not good at volleyball yet.”

The message is: Of course you are not good ” because you haven’t worked at it. But when you do, you will be good.

I’m sure some teens roll their eyes when they hear it. But I also think it has an effect because it tells a clear story about the value of effort and struggle, and that story is aligned with the way the brain grows.

Word cards are helpful even at home

When I worked in kindergarten classrooms, I would often make “word family cards”. I would show the kids how we can go from “Beautiful to Ugly” or voice our opinions about a peer’s artwork without hurting our friend’s feeling. We were still being honest with our feelings. If we didn’t really like something we would be comfortable with saying, “Your picture is fine.” Everyone knew this meant it was not beautiful and not ugly.  Kids were always happy to get honest feedback.

I was always proud to hear a five-year-old tell another child that this painting was magnificent!  Some of my students would love to hear that their horror picture was revolting!

beautiful to ugly

What I loved the most was seeing a child sorting out the cards to pick out the exact word he wanted to use. In the “Beautiful to Ugly” card set, I used a pack of old playing cards and glued a word on each card.  I then numbered them in order so the kids could understand how one word might be more in line if what they wanted to say or the next word choice might be better.  Some classes might only need a few cards to understand that word choice is important. Then add more cards later on in the school year.

Build up your child’s word choice

If your child is often stuck on one word.  “Gross”, “Bummer’, “Dork”  or  “Neat” were common during my growing up years. Heard “Oogly” lately? “Sick” or “Flop”?  JOMO seems like a great thing to me.

If you have a hard decision to make or your child is trying to make a decision – PLEASE check out the chart above. It is a helpful emotion and feelings words to give you a way to categorize how you are feeling about that decision. What a great gift to give to your child, time to help them work through how they are feeling. If they don’t want to do it with you…pick out a personal situation that you are going through or have gone through and just show them how you were feeling at that time. Show them this chart and then give them space.  They might appreciate you – even if they never tell you!


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Privacy – A need for all humans

As a child, adolescent and family therapist the issue of child safety and privacy is often a topic in my discussions with families. Everyone needs to have privacy, but it is a fine line between safety and
the guidance that will make a child and a parent feel comfortable.

I encourage families to use the Webster Dictionary definition of
privacy “the quality or state of being apart from company and
observation.” Privacy in this way means ‘down time’ and ‘alone
time.’ With eight and nine-year-olds,  it also means in a safe
environment such as their bedroom or alone in the family room.

Privacy does not mean having a playmate over and ‘Mom can’t come into the room.’ Play with peers is not an area that needs privacy at
this age; adult supervision can still be necessary.

Privacy does not mean being online.

Being connected should always be
in an area where the adult can observe, interact and supervise with
children the ages of eight and nine. I encourage all computers to be in a
public area of the house. Also, a bedroom computer can interfere with

Children do need the time to ‘not be accountable’ for the time or just
the space to sit, think and do nothing. Sometimes play is not really to play; it is just a calming activity that a child enjoys.  Parents asking “What did you make?”, “What legos did you build?” and “What books did you read?” can cause the child to be under-stress even in their downtime.

Kids need to play. Kids need to have free time.  Kids need to have downtime.


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