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Dianna laughs that these intros are written like someone else is doing it. It’s me. Trying to pique your interest in my blog. I have lots of boys and a husband of lots of years, and lots of boxers. I’ve been on the battlefield, in the boardroom, and served blissful years as a PTO President (glad I’d been on the battlefield). I love good food, good friends and good laughs.

Pour a cup of coffee, or perhaps it is a glass of wine, and share a moment with me. For extroverted folks like me, connecting is life. Even if it is connecting on the web. Webs are about connections. Let’s do this!

Coffee with a Slice of Life

I Will Grow Flowers

When I was a little girl, my mother had a garden on the side of the house. It was filled with flowers of all types and she was so proud of the way it looked when the flowers were in full bloom. I have many memories of that garden, but probably the most distinct one is how many times my sister and I had to pull the weeds that surrounded the flowers.

We hated it.

We would fuss and moan every time momma would come and tell us we needed to go out to garden.

“Mom, they’re weeds-they’ll just grow back!” we fussed.

“If you don’t pick the weeds, the flowers can’t grow,” mom would say.

“Yes, they will, momma, they’ll grow, they will!” we promised.

“They’ll still come up,” she’d said, “but they won’t be as beautiful as they will be if you get rid of the weeds.”

I’ve come to understand life is about picking the weeds in our garden. Every one of us has the potential to grow beautiful, unique and healthy flowers. If we’re not careful the weeds in our garden will choke the flowers and hide them. We have to work hard and be strong enough to pick the weeds and take them out of our garden so they don’t impact the potential of what we have to offer.

I understand no matter what we do, weeds grow. Sometimes they blow in from someone else’s garden—someone who hasn’t been as diligent in picking their weeds, or maybe they don’t have the ability, or hasn't learned the skill of picking weeds. Some weeds were always there and we didn’t do the work to get rid of them when we first recognized them.

Now imagine the beauty when others look into your garden and offer to help you tend to the growth of your flowers. That happened for us this summer. Two beautiful girls, Priyah and Sareena, chose Girl Smarts as the focus for their summer efforts to support something they believed in. Using patience and creativity, the charitable organization they created, “The Shine Organization”, raised $1,000 to support a program at a local elementary school. Twenty-five girls at Spotswood Elementary were able to attend the program free of charge thanks to The Shine Organization, Priyah and Sareena specifically.

TheShineFoundation

SpotswoodGirls

Both of these young women attended Girl Smarts at their elementary school about eight years ago and really understood the value of the program. They decided to help tend to the garden of girls we support.

That’s what Girl Smarts is all about. Giving our girls the skills to pick the weeds. Giving them the knowledge that the weeds will come, but they have the strength to get rid of them before they impact the blossoming flowers of their lives. Girl Smarts teaches the girls that weeds don’t belong in our garden and we don’t need to hold on to them. Thanks to these girls, #allthegirls will learn the skills to keep growing and blossoming into the women they are meant to be.

I will learn to tend to my garden. I will learn to be a part of my community’s garden and together we will grow flowers.

That’s what we all need to believe as our mission in life. Together we can and do make a difference and the end result will be beautiful.

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Letting Grow

If you have children who have left for college I’d like to offer this bit of contrary “advice”. I am a mom with three young men who are either in college or recent graduates and one in high school who will soon be leaving. When your kids get to college trust your gut on how to handle the long distance relationship.

I thought I’d been criticized as a parent for about every decision I’d made. Breastfeeding, not breastfeeding, working or staying home, following schedules, picking preschools and on and on. I thought when the boys were older that would stop.

Uh, no.

Now I keep seeing parents of young adults at the college level struggling with whether or not they should reach out and stay connected to their student adults. It seems a lot of current wisdom revolves around not texting or interacting with your newly “deployed” adult.

I just don't get it. Why do we accept that life can only be learned through angst and discomfort vice coaching and support. I'm not saying it's okay to force yourself on your college student or be the dreaded “helicopter, lawnmowing, snowplowing” parent that is now the touchstone of evil parenting. Indeed one son told us to back off a bit and WE DID. However, if your son or daughter is struggling and lonely for some particular reason, perhaps he/she hasn't made friends yet, or his/her friends leave on the weekends, why not let them come home or go visit them? If they are routinely independent and strong or if you know they struggle with anxiety, why in the world would you avoid offering them support? Yes, call, text, Facetime, reach out and support them. The experts??? I suspect they're out writing their next book, not parenting your children.

Detaching from them doesn't "build character". Good parenting builds character, and if someone is only starting that process when their young adult leaves for college it is a tad late. Is it always right to think we have to be tough to teach our kids strength?

"It's good for them. It'll toughen them up." If you’re over 25 you know life will toughen them up. I'm about as tough a person as you'll find and my parents were there for me routinely. They didn’t tell me how to do things unless I asked but they were wiser than me and I was smart enough to know it. They were more experienced than me, and they were a great source of support. We’ve lost some of that generational knowledge sharing when we became a migrant society. When I was 19 I moved away from home, but I never stopped calling my parents or asking for their thoughts, support and guidance.

Teach your children to be resilient and thoughtful, to persevere, and show kindness, to stand up for themselves and show grit. They will know the standard because you will show the standard. Teach them to be who they are in the face of adversity by modeling that behavior. Not by holding off texting them or calling.

My dad died when I was a senior in college. I wish I’d gone home every single weekend, but I didn’t. I wish that last Friday phone call when he asked if I wanted to meet him for coffee I had dropped everything to sit with him and just be with him. I should have cut the stupid class, or ditched the date I had, and met him. He would die that same weekend.

My reassurance to any parent reading this is if your child needs/wants/is asking for you, go bring them home for a bit or take a visit if you can. By all means Facetime them or text them and if they ask for your support, use your best judgment. Is this a time to help them “grow away” or do they need you?

They are your kids. You know them best.

Trust. Your. Heart.

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Cultivating Empathy

One of the things that propelled me to start Girl Smarts were the stories of girls being bullied in school. I was angry. Angry that bullying was occurring, angry that the children doing the bullying weren’t being held accountable and angry that our children were being bullied and didn’t have the skills to stand up for themselves. When we worked to create workshops to support children who are being bullied, the first thing we focused on was the concept of empathy.

I am sad to say, I don’t believe we can stop bullying. It is born of so many human flaws, generational reinforcements of negative behaviors and a lack of self-awareness. I do not believe we will ever stop the behaviors from developing in some children. I do believe, however, we can shift our children’s mindsets so they have an understanding of how broken their aggressors are and how the aggressors’ behaviors have nothing to do with them as the targets. In the next few posts I plan to talk about what we can do to help our children stand up for themselves and what we can do to ensure we don’t raise kids who are jerks.

Empathy is the ability to experience and share someone else’s feelings. It is a deep sense of understanding and sharing someone else’s emotional reality. When my boys were young I found myself as concerned about their development of an emotional quotient as the development of their intellectual quotient. Our personalities are formed between the ages of 0 to 6. It comes from a variety of inputs, according to experts like Freud, Skinner and Bandura, and the management of those inputs is something my husband and I considered of critical importance with our children. One of my favorite mantras in parenting was:

“What you say to your children becomes their inner voice.”

Purposefully working on messages and actions focused on empathy has served our family well. But it wasn’t easy. It took deliberate planning, deliberate conversations and purposeful actions and dedication.

Here are some specific things you can do support the growth of empathy in your children.

1. Make a difference.

Turn days off into days on. If you have a three day weekend or extended break consider helping your children organize something to support others. Every summer my boys would organize a charitable drive in our neighborhood. We had pet shelter drives, food drives, toy drives for charity. The boys created the flyers, asked local businesses to support with free copies of the flyers, went to grocery stores to have plastic grocery bags donated and we went around together to distribute the flyers.

They even formed a team name “Brothers for Others” to brand their efforts.

The trip to the donation site was a trip filled with satisfaction, compassion and understanding of the good fortune we shared as a family and the needs of others. It also laid the groundwork for their charitable efforts as young men when I was no longer the instigator of the effort.

2. Volunteer to serve meals at local shelters.

This will take some effort by you to ensure that where you are volunteering is safe and controlled. I wouldn’t advocate a walk-in appearance at a local venue since you want to ensure that your children have an opportunity to actually work and be a part of an organized event. By reaching out ahead of time to local support groups you can find a way to have a healthy experience. In our case we served Thanksgiving breakfast at a local shelter in town. There was an associated church in support and while we weren’t a part of the church we were allowed to participate as manpower for the event.

It was particularly rewarding to support Thanksgiving morning events with our children that led to Thanksgiving prayers at our own dinner. It meant we had to do a lot of prep for our own holiday meal sometimes days before, but the payoff was doing something for others in need and actually realizing our blessings of the day.

3. It is one thing to let your children watch television or YouTube videos, it is another to watch it with them and have conversations about the emotions of the characters.

My goodness, watching children’s shows was a tedious task and consumed many moments of my parenting life! But I did it with a purpose. We’d talk about the characters and their emotions. We’d discuss how the characters’ actions influenced others both positively and negatively. With small incremental steps of connection with emotions children learn and practice empathy. It is a skill and a strength that not everyone has but one that everyone should work to impart in our children.

So how does this help with bullying? Everyone is dealing with something. Helping your children understand how important their actions toward others are can help them stay mindful of their words and behaviors toward others. Also, and I believe this to be true, it can help you emphasize that someone’s negative behaviors toward your child has nothing to do with them. It has everything to do with the person DOING the bullying and that child’s need to lash out at someone else. It is one step, probably the first step of keeping your child strong when harmful dynamics are in play. Hurt people hurt people, and while that isn’t a get out of jail free card for the bully, it is a mindset shift for our children.

In the next blog I’ll list some very specific activities you can do with boys and girls to help them understand the impact of their own words on others. In subsequent blogs I will give you the language for them to respond and the actions you can do to support them if you need to raise the issue to their school.

Let me know if you have any specific questions I can answer. If I have the ability to I will.

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Strong Conversations

I had a strong conversation with my son recently. It was one of those life lesson talks that I hope helps him grow.

I’m very purposeful with my serious discussions. Usually I ask the son involved to come to the front porch and sit with me. It has become our grown up “time out room”. I save those front porch talks for the important stuff. I’m not sure if they like those talks or not but they always result in growth for both of us.

To set the stage, my 17 year old and I had to do something unpleasant. We got wet, and muddy and had to go up and down flights of stairs numerous times carrying, big, bulky, wet, equipment. We had to walk through spider webs and poke around trying to find drainage openings all in muggy weather that was followed quickly by pouring rain (and a tornado watch). It was not pleasant. My son overreacted in a teen boy sort of hormonal way and rather than blow up, I very purposely became very calm.

It was a bit creepy, actually, how calm I became. It was the equivalent of me whispering to them when they were young children and I was very angry with them. Whispering always got their attention.

After our effort and showers I asked my son to join me on the front porch.

The conversation went something like:

“Son, I’m disappointed in how this whole thing went. I know it was tough but you need to understand, we don’t quit. We don’t say “that’s too hard” or “get someone else to do it.” We are a family that works to influence outcomes. We work together to make it better even when it is hard. I was disappointed in your response to what we were doing and I want you to consider what I’m saying. I have to be able to count on you and sometimes that won’t be comfortable but when you show undue frustration or undue anger because things are hard, it makes me consider my ability to count on you. Do you understand?”

“Yup.”

That’s all I got—yup. But I know my message was loud and clear. He went upstairs to his room and then he came back downstairs to help with dinner.

I want my boys to grow into strong men. I don’t underestimate my role in that process. Sometimes “suck it up” means more coming from your momma. Especially when she is working beside you soaking wet, sweating, muddy with spider webs hanging off of her arms.

We’re all in this together and sometimes you just have to suck it up. I think the “suck it up” mentality is one we don’t teach enough. Today I’d equate it with the concept of grit. Life is hard but it is harder if you don’t learn how to navigate challenges and just deal with the angst of living.

This is a year of “embracing the suck” for me. I’ll be okay, but sometimes the days pass more labored than others. Sometimes I have to pull myself outside and remind myself that I have to just put my head down and work hard. Lift my head up and look forward and set the example I want my children to follow. Maybe someone out there needed to hear this.

I hope it will help you lift your head and move forward—always forward.

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#buildingthebrave

A girl’s self-esteem peaks when she’s nine years old. That’s crazy isn’t it?

Girl Smarts focuses on giving girls ways to combat the drop in self-esteem with real skills and tips to navigate life as tweens and teens. The social skills we teach help children feel more confident and reinforce what many of you teach as a matter of course in your parenting.

If you’d consider our input, here are the top five things we teach the children to help them make a great first impression:

1. How to shake hands.

No really, we teach them the steps. We show them where their “perlicue” is and teach them that a woman’s handshake is noted in introductions as an indicator of their personality and strength. Usually about 50 percent of the girls we work with have never been taught how to do a proper handshake. Think about it. How often do we tell little Johnny to come over and shake Uncle Bill’s hand and suggest to Ellie that she give him a hug? Of course it isn’t ill intended but teaching our daughters how to do a firm and proper handshake is a great step toward helping them make a great first impression.

perlicue

2. How to make eye contact.

Body language is important. It is the focus of our very first workshop “Face to Face”. In “Face to Face” we give the girls a trick on how to make eye contact because looking someone in the eyes creates a connection with them. We get it that so many of our children find direct eye contact overwhelming. Sometimes a child avoiding adult eye contact is a cultural decision. Of course that is any family’s choice. But if you want your child to look people in the eyes and they simply cannot, fussing at them increases their anxiety. In our program we use a small, round, yellow dot. We place it in the space between the eyes and just above the nose. We practice talking to one another looking at that space. It is a trick and it is meant to let the girls conquer their anxious feelings about making direct eye contact. More than any other skill we give the girls, this one comes up time and again as one they remember even ten years later. One of our greatest compliments came from a parent when she wrote and said, “My daughter has never looked us in the eyes and after Girl Smarts she is doing it all the time.” We tell the girls this is an interim step and when they feel better and stronger they can make the move to direct eye contact. Coupling a good hand shake with direct eye contact is a winner first impression.

yellow dot

3. How to say no.

Raising children is hard. We all get that. We have to set boundaries and sometimes have them do exactly what we say. When one of my children would wander astray because they wouldn’t listen to some specific guidance, they’d often start their explanation with the words:

“But I thought...”

Our go to response was:

“Don’t think, it hurts the team.”

Sometimes they just need to use the play in the playbook and do exactly what they are told.

But we have to teach our children that it is okay to sometimes tell adults, and of course their friends, no. As parents we teach them to say “thank you” and “please” so why not give them a way to turn down something firmly and help them embrace their ability to make choices. One of the earliest phrases we taught our boys was, “No thank you, but thank you for offering.” Trust me, they used it A LOT. When our children feel like it is okay to say no respectfully then they gain the strength to say “No” when it becomes critical that they make a tough choice.

By middle school, I also suggest you give them ways to say “no” to other things like alcohol or drugs. There are significant challenges ahead. They will have to know how to navigate those challenges without us.

4. How to order their own food at restaurants.

I have a friend whose son didn’t like hamburger meat. Early on she taught him to order a “plain cheeseburger without the burger”. It sometimes had to be repeated a couple of times but he would get what he wanted to eat. By 4th and 5th grade if your child has a special desire for a certain way they want things ordered, practice ordering with them before you head out to eat. Pull up a restaurant’s menu and help them work through ordering as if you were the waiter. The next step is returning food if it isn’t what they ordered. We can teach them to be polite but firm in getting what they want. Of course this may involve a bit of extra coaching at the restaurant when they discover the order is amiss, but by giving them this simple skill you are helping them find their voice. All of these things take practice and that practice builds confidence.

club sandwich

And finally – and this is a big one for back to school time:

5. How to introduce themselves and you.

Start the year right by having your children introduce themselves first to the teacher and then have them introduce you. Practice how you want that to go:

“Hi, Mr. Rowland. My name is Katie Barnes. I’d like to introduce you to my mother Ellie Barnes.”

You can even set them up with some questions they might like to ask their teachers to start the new year.

“Are there books I can get a head start on?”
“What is the best way for me to be successful in your class?”
“How do I communicate with you after school if I have questions about an assignment?”

Finally give them a wrap up sentence or two.

“Mom, did you want to ask anything?"
"Thank you Mr. Rowland, I’m really looking forward to the new year.”

Does it seem scripted to you? Trust me, by the second teacher they’ll be comfortable enough to make their own script. If you come up with this type of back and forth and practice it before open house you’re sending all sorts of great messages to your children. You’re showing trust and giving them ownership of the event. You’re letting them own their space as a student and as your child. And you are letting them take the lead in their education. As we conclude the first workshop of our program I often bring in my 6’6” son to practice introductions with the girls. He is big and intimidating and every single time the girls are up to the task.

Giving our children new skills IS empowerment. And empowerment makes a difference in how they grow up.

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The Table at St. George’s

The Table at St. George’s is a market-style food pantry serving the extended local community. Visitors are invited to select their own items from a variety of fresh food, including locally grown produce. The Table’s mission is to encourage healthy eating, build relationships with those in need, and blur the lines between those serving and those being served.

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