Good Co-Parenting is Timeless and Without Borders

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Recently, I came across information about a campaign launched by Sweden to increase tourism. Rather than spend millions of dollars on splashy marketing and advertising, the country is using its citizens as ambassadors to generate curiosity about the country. The Swedish Tourist Association set up a phone number that connects callers to random Swedes who download an app to accept these calls. I’m sure they’ve received their fair share of questions about the taste of Ikea’s meatballs compared to “real” Swedish meatballs and is there really a “midnight” sun. And since I’m not a big fan of Viking history, I wanted to use the opportunity to speak with a random Swede about divorce and separation.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only curious person because a recording advised me that the call volume was heavy. I hoped that my research project wouldn’t cost a fortune and I was sure that my inquiry would be a topic of conversation if the random Swedes exchanged stories about the craziest questions they were asked.

When my call was finally connected, I introduced myself to Richard who spoke great English. I told him that I lived in New York and worked for a non-profit organization that offered supportive services and education to divorcing and separating parents. I asked him if he could answer some questions about the Swedish process of divorce and separation. He said that my question was interesting (translate: he probably just wanted to answer true tourist type questions) but he is a truck driver in a copper mine.

He did share that he was divorced about twenty years ago. Bingo! He and his ex-wife were the parents of three small boys. He married a woman with two small boys shortly after his divorce so they became a blended family of five boys.

I asked if he and his wife reached an agreement about their parenting time. He said that they did with help from their lawyers, an agreement that he described as “good.” The litigator in me had to ask the next question, “What made the agreement “good” for him and his ex-wife?” She moved away and the boys lived with him during the week. He was grateful to raise his boys when they were young. She had parenting time with the boys on the weekends. The arrangements suited them both. His youngest is now twenty-three years old and all of the boys have their own apartments and live their lives. They have girlfriends and have developed very well. He is proud of his sons.

Richard’s divorce occurred two decades ago and took place in a different country. Yet, similarities are ever present today, right here. Whatever the cause of the breakdown of the marital relationship, Richard and his ex-wife maintained respect for the roles each of them played when it came to their sons. He told me “the boys are hers, too. I wasn’t going to take them from her. She is their mother.” He felt this was why they were functioning so well as adults.

I probably could have asked Richard a lot more questions, but he said he had to go back to work. I’m not likely to visit Stockholm any time soon, but how fortuitous to be connected with someone who acknowledged the importance of his ex-wife in their children’s lives. Good co-parenting is timeless and without borders. For those who struggle, I wish there was an app for that.

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Shari Bornstein is an attorney and mediator.

Reining In Strong Emotions

This post is part of our “Because Kids Don’t Come With Instructions” series edited by Ellen Taner. The series is in support of FamilyKind’s Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP) program.

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Question: My child is a fourth grader. There are days when she comes home angry, after school. My first thought is that something upsetting must have happened. She used to talk to me but now I feel shut out of her world. When she does talk she tells me I don’t understand. What could be happening and what should I do? How can I help her with how she’s feeling?

Response: You may feel you have lost importance or credibility in your daughter’s life. You are experiencing her behavior as a personal rejection. When children leave home and go to school, their world gets bigger and other influences compete for attention and gain significance…friends, teachers and coaches to name a few. If your daughter looks angry, sad or disappointed, for example, use the word that best expresses what you observe and ask her if she wants to talk about it. When your child begins to open up to you, listen to her and accept her feelings, even if you feel she is overreacting. Making a judgement might be your immediate reaction but your child will feel criticized or conclude that feelings will be misjudged. It is important to allow your child to express negative feelings or other feelings that might be difficult for you to hear. Listen to her and help her name her feelings, letting her know you can see that she is frustrated or  hurt, for example. Then you could ask her if she can tell you what happened. After listening you can reflect the reason behind the feeling. For example, you feel hurt because Susan did not ask you to play with her. That gives meaning to your child’s feelings. Making sense of a feeling, giving it meaning, is one way that helps to rein in strong feelings.

Parents are likely to have strong feelings, triggered by their child’s attitude or actions. Be aware of your knee jerk reactions. A common automatic reaction is, “you shouldn’t feel that way” or ”don’t complain.” Instead pause for a moment, take a deep breath, give yourself time to think about how you feel. You can communicate your pause, to your child, saying you need a little time to think about what you’re feeling before you respond. Tell her you would like to talk later, if that is okay. Your response models a way to deal with strong emotions by taking a step back and taking the time to think about how you feel before you respond. That thoughtful, caring and respectful response is a powerful one for your child. It is comforting to your child that you can rein in your feelings. It demonstrates a skill that your child  can begin to model when she feels angry or upset.

Making sense of feelings…helping your child to know that feelings are connected to something and thus have meaning is an important tool to understand and manage feelings. Secondly, developing an awareness of your triggers and knee jerk reactions, then pausing to think before reacting, is another way we rein in our emotions and model that behavior to our children. Reining in feelings help us communicate more effectively and respectfully with our children.

We are not born with skills that help us regulate our feelings. We learn them from others and improve over time with practice and self-awareness.

FamilyKind offers a parenting skills course for parents who want to become more mindful of their interaction with their children through learning and practicing skills in a safe, caring forum. The course is called Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP). You can learn more by going to the FamilyKind home page and click on For Families and then Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP).

Betty Gewirtz is a licensed clinical social worker and psychoanalyst in private practice in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and a parent educator in FamilyKind’s STEP program. Learn more.

How Do I Reduce My Child’s Screen Time?

This post is part of our “Because Kids Don’t Come With Instructions” series edited by Ellen Taner. The series is in support of FamilyKind’s Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP) program.

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It’s a question many parents are asking. As a mother of an 11-year old girl, I know this issue very well. There’s a constant frustration of trying to get her to do something other than jump from her phone to a tablet to the computer. My daughter could spend her whole day (especially cold winter days stuck inside) texting, going on group chats, face-timing her friends, or watching the latest videos on You Tube, not to mention, streaming shows on Netflix.

New studies have indicated that kids today risk the potential of losing the ability to read nonverbal cues and it is the direct cause of too much face to screen time vs. face-to-face interactions. (WebMD)

As a parent, it’s easy to feel guilty about the number of hours your kids spend on their electronics. After a while, the frustration turns into annoyance or even anger because they are utterly hypnotized with the screen even after the “one more minute” warning has been issued multiple times.

To address this issue, start by noticing your own screen habits because you are your child’s most influential role model. You can’t tell your child to get off their phones if you’re checking your emails, texting and streaming Netflix endlessly yourself. “Parents who have limited TV habits tend to raise kids who will have limited TV habits.”  (Paul Ballas – Green Tree School Clinic in PA)

You’re more likely to get your kids to be compliant if you come up with screen rules together as a family. The family can come up with a pact or contract that outlines the specific rules. Some suggestions are, no texting during meals, no TV during meals, no screen time until homework and chores are done. Also, the TV gets turned off at a certain time every night and importantly no computer or TVs in the bedroom. You can also add to the contract what rewards and limits will be set if the rules are not followed. Rewards can be as simple as alone time with a parent doing a special activity, or a sleep over with a friend.

A parent once suggested to me that doing this contract, as a group of families (families that both you and your child are friendly with) would make the whole process easier. Your kids will know that they are not alone and it could be helpful for all the parents to “check in” and learn from each other. Obviously, you will adapt it to what fits best for your family, but knowing you’re not alone in this undertaking, might be quite reassuring. Your kids will also want to “keep up” with their friends and have more of an incentive to want to do well.

It’s important for children and adolescents to learn to delay gratification by emphasizing the importance of completing their homework or chores first. It will help to reduce the impulse to be on the screen if your child knows that privileges and rewards will happen after the hard work is completed. Also, when your child is planning a get together with a friend, try coming up with some non-screen activities that they can do with their friends.

In the beginning it’s important to let your teen know you’re paying attention to the number of hours they’re on a screen. Gentle reminders work well, “Hey, I think you’ve been on your phone for a long time now and it’s getting close to the limit we set.” Pay attention to the contract and the rules that were set. You might have to investigate to see if there was non-compliance, particularly when there is no parent around. If needed, change passwords that require the parent to sign on to the device or give more time-consuming chores. You can have a family meeting to discuss additional rewards and also address the challenges.

On another note, kids were born into this world of technology, and not all time on a screen is wasteful. It may pay to ask your children what they can do on their devices that are productive, such as reading books, or watching more educational programming. You might even ask your child’s teachers for some suggestions if there’s a particular subject they enjoy. There are also many online activities for individuals or the entire family that involve movement such as fun dance cardio, exercise videos and even the WII sports games. Let’s not forget about just listening to music, by themselves, or with their friends.

It’s up to us as parents to remind our kids that there’s a world out there that is unplugged. Encourage your teen to socialize more by finding activities that engage them socially like clubs at school and volunteer activities. Keeping your child occupied and active will help to build their self-esteem and acquire new skills.

As parents, we must teach our children by example, limit your own screen time. Plan alternative activities both for the family and for the teen with and without friends, and be creative in ways to have fun together.

Jane Romeo is a Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP) educator. Learn more.

Positive Approaches to Anger Management

Anger. YOU’VE SEEN IT EXPRESSED IN CAPITAL LETTERS WITH LOTS OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!

Anger is a powerful emotion, known to evoke a red-faced reaction or two. It can blind rational thinking and cause us to respond in ways that, upon reflection, would benefit from a mythical reset button. Parents in conflict may exhibit anger as they address issues impacting themselves and their children related to their separation or divorce. And sure there’s a lot to be angry about because a lot is at stake: demise of the relationship, dashed financial security, and sharing children with that other person when the relationship may be rocky.

Recently, I picked up a book at a book fair fundraiser. It served a dual purpose: supporting the organization holding the fundraiser and offering insight because anger is everywhere: in relationships, jobs, and even parking lots. The book is called The Cow in the Parking Lot, A Zen Approach to Overcoming Anger and was written by Leonard Scheff and Susan Edmiston.

The example that the authors craftily use is from the title of the book. Succinctly, imagine that you are attempting to pull into a parking space in a busy lot. Another car pulls in ahead of you and the driver gets out of the car and walks away. Of course, you are likely to be EXTREMELY ANGRY!!! and fantasize about exerting some sort of revenge on this space-stealer.

Alternatively, imagine instead, that as you are attempting to pull into the same space, there is a cow sitting in that parking spot. Your reaction is likely to be very different. The result, however, is the same: you still need to find another spot for your vehicle. Sure, we may not like what happened, but we often can’t change what happened. The difference between the two scenarios is how you reacted to the same outcome. We own the choice on how we react. A more productive reaction involves creating helpful strategies that will solve a problem to avoid ANGER getting the best of us.

Creating those strategies takes practice and time. Most important for separating and divorcing parents is learning not to react with a need for vengeance, which perpetuates conflict. Taking small steps is the key to accomplishing any goal, whether it’s weight loss, running a marathon or working on not responding angrily to an irksome co-parent.

The authors quote an American Folk Saying: “Never wrestle with a hog. The hog gets dirty. You get dirty. But the hog enjoys it.”

Instead, imagine that you are the landlord over your emotions: evict your anger and allow positivity to live inside. You’ll provide a conflict free home for yourself and your children.

Shari Bornstein is an attorney and mediator. Learn more.

 

 

 

Transitioning to Middle School: Guidelines for Your Child’s Social Life

This post is part of our “Because Kids Don’t Come With Instructions” series edited by Ellen Taner. The series is in support of FamilyKind’s Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP) program launched during the fall of 2015.

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Question: My daughter will be starting middle school next year. How can I help her adjust to the big social changes without being too intrusive?

Response: The transition into middle school can be a difficult time. At times you and your child will be excited and sometimes, afraid of this big transition academically, socially, and physically. Children tend to rely more heavily on the opinions and attitudes of peers and begin to pull away from their parents. However, it doesn’t mean you will no longer have a significant influence over your child’s movement towards independence.

Meeting new kids from several different schools whose families are unfamiliar to you may feel unsettling for you and your child. However, it may also be a wonderful time to explore new interests. Encourage your child to join sports teams, clubs or other extracurricular activities. Explore their interests and passions and find activities that are a good fit for them, ones they will enjoy and stick with even during difficult challenges. However, ease any loneliness in the beginning months by encouraging your child to arrange dates with grade school or other familiar friends.

These middle school years are often referred to as the “drama years”. Your child is experiencing physical changes (possibly beginning puberty) which only adds to the unease and insecurity that a new social environment can provide. Mood swings become rampant, “popularity” and “coolness” become more paramount. Their body image and clothing start to take precedence over many other things. Kids like to be part of a group and being perceived as different can be a devastating feeling.

Friendships change, often weekly, with tears or fights. It’s tough to let them experience being at the receiving end of a social conflict without stepping in. You can, however, let your child know you are interested in what’s going on, that you want to hear about their day. If you are patient, are a good listener and don’t try to be too corrective, chances are they’ll be more apt to share their experiences with you. Invite your child into the conversation by asking what they think they can do, what is their opinion of why this is happening, and just listen. Too many questions or advice may make them want to back off from talking altogether. Some kids will naturally want to share, while others may not want to discuss these matters with you. It can be a delicate balance at this age.

Experiment with different times or activities that encourage conversation such as during meal preparation together, bedtime, taking a walk, driving, or other activity. If your child still needs to be encouraged to open up, schedule a weekly “sharing time” for the entire family to talk about a highlight, and a low point of the week. To make it fun, have a household object such as a pillow, or an old stuffed animal that is held by the speaker until they are done sharing. Keep the time to five minutes per person to start. Privately with your child, come back to anything you heard that you want to explore further. It’s always helpful to share your own problem solving strategies you used to handle your low point, as well as what you did when there was a highlight.

Be open to using resources that are available at school, in the community, or FamilyKind. Consider taking a parenting class with other families with adolescents to learn effective communication and family management skills that will help minimize the “drama” and increase the maturity you want for your child.

Middle school is a time of developmental and social change for your child. Be ready to accept the rollercoaster of emotions and social fluctuations with patience and understanding and with time you’ll be witness to their newfound growth and independence.

Jane Romeo is a Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP) educator. Learn more.

Handling the Holidays After Divorce

This post is part of our “Because Kids Don’t Come With Instructions” series edited by Ellen Taner. The series is in support of FamilyKind’s Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP) program launched during the fall of 2015.

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Question: I’m recently divorced. This will be our first holiday season as a family in two households. Any suggestions on how to navigate this transition and help my son and daughter adjust?

Response: Handling the holidays and the expectations that come with them can be challenging for most families, and for divorced families it can be even more stressful. Clear communication and realistic planning with your co-parent will go a long way in helping your children — and you both — enjoy the holidays. It is important to avoid putting your children in the middle such as having to choose between parents, carrying messages, or quizzing the children about the other parent. It is important that you not put down the other parent around your children. Remember, it’s a holiday celebration so celebrate what makes you and your children feel thankful.

One way of helping your children adapt to this change is to have a family meeting before the season begins and brainstorm new ways of celebrating and coming up with new traditions. Remember, there are no wrong ideas when brainstorming. After all the ideas have been exchanged, select one and discuss who will do what by when. Children are remarkably creative and enthusiastic if given the opportunity to be part of the process. Families can try creating a potluck meal with friends and neighbors instead of the traditional meals you used to prepare. You can have a “winter picnic”, or “pajama day.” Depending on the age of your children, they can be involved with the cooking, decorating, and other preparations. Helping your children establish new traditions is a way to mentally adjust to some of the changes that are happening in their lives.

It may be difficult for children to divide their time between two families. But, it can also be fun for children to experience two different celebrations. It can mean seeing more relatives, eating a variety of holiday foods, and maybe even receiving more gifts.

However, resist the urge to go overboard in the gift-giving department in an effort to outdo your co-parent. This sends the wrong message and ultimately can be confusing for your child. The best gift you can give your child is to give them permission to love both of you equally.

Being flexible is very important. Holiday dates are more important to adults than to children. Children are quite happy celebrating a “day late,” or having two Thanksgiving celebrations one day apart. If it is a “gift giving” holiday, what child would mind two days to open presents instead of one?

If you are comfortable with this, help your children make or purchase a gift for the other parent just as you would have if you were still married. You are modeling respectful behavior to your children and also representing the true meaning of the holidays, a time of giving and forgiving, and family togetherness, no matter what their family looks like.

Most children are honestly happy to be spending time with you and aren’t as focused on the details of the holidays. They just want to be spending time with their parents. Children will gladly accept new traditions and new ways to celebrate if it is done without conflict, a little fun, and a sense of family. Children really want to witness you happy and know that you are okay too. If you set the tone of the celebrations with warmth and smiles, your children will follow suit.

Remember, it is less about the changes in their lives and more about how you navigate the changes. The holidays are an ideal time to practice new traditions with warmth and grace.

Jane Romeo is a Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP) educator. Learn more

The Changing World of Family and Divorce: Two Predictions

Many attorneys, mediators, judges and soothsayers make predictions on the future of divorce. As a child of divorce, a mediator and matrimonial attorney, my perspective, while not unique, has been finely tuned by my life experiences and my clients. Here’s what I see:

Prediction: Family Structure Evolves Dramatically

I predict a changed future for families. In this future, there will be less marriage. Instead, there will be an emphasis on strong families, whatever the configuration. Two parents, kids, pets, homes, maybe even different states, will become the norm. But all will be sharing a life that looks dramatically different from the nuclear family of the past, and is equally, if not more, satisfying and successful.

Divorce is in a state of flux. This flux is attracting entrepreneurs who are developing businesses to meet the emerging demands of divorcing couples. CEO and founder of Wevorce, Satayan Mahajan said here that “Divorce as a field is ripe for disruption.” This trend is slated to continue and grow. People are desperate to uncover ways to live as families without the strife of divorce.

Prediction: Mediation Becomes a Major Familial Force

More people will be seeking mediation services to help them divorce. Mediation, with its emphasis on uncovering true interests and developing a collaborative viewpoint, is the best way to address the needs of our families in distress. As society develops a more mature understanding of family dynamics during divorce – namely that it’s the family that is separating during a divorce, we will need great mediators to help preserve families in creative and healthy ways.

Family is an all-important structure in a healthy society. It provides security, funnels resources and supports the growth of individuals, particularly children. I predict that mediation will be society’s greatest contribution to family. And, in the changed future where family is emphasized over the individual needs of the parents, mediation will be the way that families manage change.

The family model is evolving to fit the needs of a society in flux. As the apparatus of connecting a familial unit becomes more complicated, so does the apparatus of disconnecting families that are no longer healthy. Mediation, especially, is set to become a popular tool, utilizing modern techniques to meet the needs of any modern family.

Robyn Myler Mann is an attorney and mediator. Learn more

Thank You For Not Worrying About Me

This post is part of our “Because Kids Don’t Come With Instructions” series edited by Ellen Taner. The series is in support of FamilyKind’s Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP) program launched during the fall of 2015.

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Question: Since my marriage failed, I have an overpowering need for perfection and sometimes I think this may be unhealthy for my children. Isn’t it okay to want to be the best parent possible especially in light of the circumstances?

Response: I, too, am in love with the idea of perfection. I love the sound of the word; a perfect evening, perfect weather, but when it comes to parenting, striving to be a perfect parent or having a perfect child doesn’t work. Clearly no person, young or small can be perfect and marriage can’t be perfect either. Perfect doesn’t even exist.

Many moms and dads live in environments where children are compared and judged. They worry, should I have stayed married for my children’s sake. Or they may be concerned and wonder are my children popular, smart, athletic or beautiful?

At the Emmy awards a few years ago, Stephen Colbert thanked his mom for not worrying about him. Imagine what that meant to this comedic icon. His parents had enough confidence in him that they did not need to worry. Parenting whether in an intact family or one that isn’t, leads one to ask, “Does knowing that one’s parents worry about us impact us as a child in a negative way? Does it lower one’s confidence level because mom or dad has a concern?

Co-parenting with someone you are no longer married to adds a challenge that may be best addressed by adopting a system of communication with that person that eliminates placing the child in the middle. And even in the best of circumstances, worry, perfection and comparisons go hand in hand. Our idea of perfection is related to the standards we observe. We may worry when our children are not reaching those standards. Comparing your child with other children will ultimately cause you and your children stress. If you have concerns about developmental delays, seek a medical opinion. However, children have different talents, interests and strengths. Help your child identify theirs and support those things that are challenging and rewarding. Acknowledge that his or her strengths and interests may be completely different than others, even yours.

We all have hopes and dreams for our kids, but they may not be in line with their pursuits and ultimately, their happiness. If a parent’s expectations are too high, children may suffer emotional burdens or give up. If they are too low, they will not feel the thrill of accomplishment. It’s a balance that parents seek. Further, parents who feel proud of their child’s accomplishments need to be aware of the temptations to have too much personal stake in their child’s success. Comparing your child to others and linking your self-esteem to theirs will have negative consequences for both of you.

Won’t it be wonderful when one day your grown up child thanks you for not worrying about them and showing them that you had confidence in their abilities and judgment? That will be perfection.

Sharon Youngman is an educator and the founder of Good Parents, GREAT Kids, an organization striving to help families elevate their parenting skills in a proactive way. Learn more

Kermit and Miss Piggy Take a Mediation Approach

A couple of weeks ago I read the news that Miss Piggy and Kermit ended their long term relationship. Little information was provided about the cause of the break up. The two may have arrived at the decision to separate after “thoughtful consideration” with an appeal to “respect their privacy” as we often hear from other celebrity couples. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this news and what it means for the future of Sesame Street. I always envisioned that Kermit and Miss Piggy could weather any storm since, in my mind, they were a forever match. The reality smacks you in the face once again: you don’t really know what goes on behind closed doors. While I’m saddened by the breakup, I also marvel at the fact that they are still committed to working together. You’ve probably heard by now that Sesame Street and HBO have partnered to offer more episodes of the beloved show. I also understand that there may be a prime time series on ABC showcasing them, their friends and other celebrity guests. Since many relationships dissolve with acrimony flamed by an adversarial-War of the Roses-win/lose system, I found myself asking: “How could they possibly continue to work together professionally after ending their personal relationship?”

Not all endings of relationships take the same bitter path. In my imagination, the conversation went something like this:

Kermit: You know, Miss Piggy, it hasn’t always been easy being green. But I appreciate that you’ve stood by me all these years.

Miss Piggy: I know, Kermit. I know. It’s been hard. I haven’t always been at my best at times.

Kermit: I think we are saying the same thing.

Miss Piggy: We are. I’ll always care for you.

Kermit: I’ll always care for you, too. I just don’t want our break up to be nasty like some of our other celebrity friends. I got some information about mediation. Would you be willing to think about it? I want a result that’s fair for both of us.

Miss Piggy: I’ve heard about mediation. Yes, I want the same: fairness for both of us. No one needs to know our business except us. I want to be able to work with you in the future. We have some projects that we are still working on. I don’t want to derail them. It’s in our best interest to work together so that we continue to enjoy financial stability now and in the future.

Kermit: I’m so glad you feel the same way! Let’s make an appointment with a mediator to get started.

I applaud Miss Piggy and Kermit for their commitment to perpetuate a professional relationship despite the breakdown of their personal relationship. They recognize that doing so benefits both of them. I haven’t been privy to the way in which Miss Piggy and Kermit are wrapping up the legal details of their relationship. My fantasy includes visions of a mediated agreement created with the help of a FamilyKind mediator consultant. The couple could then focus on their “interests” instead of “positions”, which engender a win/lose scenario. Perhaps they engaged the services of a financial specialist to educate them on the nuances of the taxable consequences of their financial decisions, retirement account allocation, asset division and even spousal support. Or a FamilyKind divorce coach to support them through the emotional rollercoaster of ending a relationship. I don’t know if they signed a pre-nuptial agreement all those years ago, but maybe they are willing to ignore the terms of that document at this point in their lives. Wouldn’t it be great if they just want to make sure that they are both financially secure as they move forward with separating their personal lives.

Sadly, many couples are unable to shift their emotional relationship to a business-like one with the success that Miss Piggy and Kermit enjoy. When those couples are parents, the need to do so is even more important for the benefit of their children. Parents who share children are encouraged to redefine their relationship so that they consider themselves partners in the business of co-parenting. By thinking of the children as the most prized product a business can create, parents enjoy the rewards that come with making the product the best that it can be. When business partners do that, they prosper, just like parents do when they put aside their anger and focus on their children’s best interests.

It would be naive to think that going forward Miss Piggy and Kermit would never have creative differences. As with any business decision, disagreements arise. Maybe Miss Piggy and Kermit will disagree about which one of them will interview a certain celebrity guest on a particular show. The key is not to sabotage all of the good work that went into creating the “product”. When children are the “product”, separating parents who are are able to keep the focus on resolving differences with a business like approach will shield their children from conflict which is so damaging. These parents will enjoy the rewards of being part of a successfully run business because their children will be healthy just like Miss Piggy and Kermit enjoying the benefits of their continued work together.

So, bravo to Miss Piggy and Kermit. Even as adults, we continue to learn from them after all these years.

Shari Bornstein is an attorney and mediator. Learn more

How to Use Reflection to Improve Communication

If we want to engage family members, your child’s other parent, or others in collaborative problem solving that takes into consideration our own perspective, first it is important to acknowledge and communicate our understanding of their unique experience. Reflection is a communication skill that can help you convey that understanding. It begins by taking in another person’s feelings, values, experiences, beliefs, needs, by listening to the words and feelings in their message, and then stating in your own words, what that person is communicating to you for their verification.

When engaged in reflection effectively, you must:

  • Be attentive
  • Want to listen
  • Work to see the world through the other person’s eyes, since his/her emotions are as valid as yours
  • Temporarily put aside your own feelings and focus all your attention on the other person’s message

When engaged in reflection, you must not give in to the temptation to:

  • Criticize or be judgmental
  • Reassure or sympathize
  • Tell the person what to do
  • Tell the person how to feel
  • Try to solve another person’s problems for him/her
  • Try to convince the person to behave, think, or feel the way you think he/she should
  • Send a message related to yourself

When engaged in reflection, do:

  • Identify the feeling and/or content expressed both verbally and nonverbally by the sender
  • Reflect the sender’s depth or level of emotion

You can use various phrases to express your understanding of the sender’s message, such as:

  • Sounds like you…
  • It seems like…
  • I understand that you…
  • I hear that you…

Don’t be afraid to trust your “gut” feeling. If you’re wrong, most people will correct your misperception and will likely appreciate the opportunity to be accurately understood.

Beth Ornstein is an attorney, mediator, and social worker. Learn more