My friends Christy Monson (text) and Lori Nawyn (illustrations) have a new picture book out. Written for children when bad things happen, I found this book to be quite charming.
We lived in Brooklyn during the 9-11 attack, and as we tried to talk to our young children about that, this book would have come in handy.
The text is simple and understandable. It is clear and hopeful, but avoids making promises that no one can realistically make. At the same time, it doesn't dwell on gloom either. I think they did a good job walking that balance. The illustrations were also lovely--charming and child-friendly without being silly or cliche.
Christy, who is a certified Marriage and Family Therapist explained her impetus for writing the book: "It took me about a week to write the first draft of this manuscript. I felt so sad for those who had experienced loss in the school shooting at Sandy Hook. Shortly after that a gunman shot up the Clackamas Towne Center in Oregon. Our daughter, son-in-law, and two granddaughters live about three miles from the center. The parents monitored the events carefully, but turned off all media to protect the kids from knowing about it. However, the next day at school the children were all talking about it, so you can't protect children from knowing about tragedies like this.
As I thought about these two catastrophes, I felt something needed to be written to help parents and children look at disasters like these, be able to share their feelings, and find hope in the world around them."
To celebrate the release of the book, Christy is having a $25 Amazon Gift Card giveaway. You can join below.
You can purchase Love, Hugs, and Hope through either Amazon or Barnes and Noble at the links below.
Barnes and Noble
Middle School Mondays: When Your Child Lies, Cheats, or Steals and Otherwise Does Something That Conflicts With Your Values
First of all, please note that I said when your child does something wrong. Not if. When. The chances are very remote that they never will do something wrong.
Over the years I can't count the number of times I've had a conversation something like this:
"Mr./Mrs. X, your child did such-and-such a thing."
"What? But how could he do that? We've taught him/her better than that!" The thing is, the parent is completely truthful. They have taught them better.
The sort of incidents I describe here are usually moderate infractions. They are a little more serious than very minor things, but not terribly major either. For example, someone taking something small from another person, destroying some small object, or showing disrespect.
For example, I once had some students who were rehearsing in another teacher's room. They saw some candy in the room and took it. When I told their mom, she was appalled. "I've taught them not to steal!" She was angry with them, and a more than a little embarrassed.
This actually happens quite a bit. Kids see something laying around and since it doesn't apparently belong to anyone, they take it.
Or, they ruin something, some property belonging to someone else. This is almost always thoughtless, rather than malicious. Parents respond to this like the issues of minor stealing. "I can't believe he would do that! We respect other people's property in our house..."
The list can go on and on. Kids do things all the time that adults consider to be stealing or cheating or destruction of property and on and on. The parents are baffled because they feel they have taught their children to be honest, to respect property, to not cheat, and so on.
The children, however, are often baffled as well.
Here's the thing to remember. Adults are able to generalize and apply to specific situations more than kids. We hear "don't steal" and know that means you don't take anything that doesn't belong to you. Kids hear that and agree with it--but it doesn't necessarily translate down to the micro level of taking some candy from an empty desk. The same kids who would never consider robbing a bank or taking an iPod from someone simply don't connect the dots to less dramatic
The basic principle to remember is that, as far as the kids can see, they haven't done anything all that wrong. The adult sees that they've stolen. They see that they were hungry and a jar of candy was sitting there. And, being a bit egocentric, they sort of just assume it was there for their use. Or, even more likely, they simply didn't think about anything at all.
My suggestion in cases like this is to not overreact. The child needs to be taught. You can help them connect the dots. They will inevitably say something like, "But I didn't know that was Mrs. Z's candy!" To which you reply, "Yes, but you know it's not yours, right? It doesn't matter who it belongs to you when you know it's not yours. That's stealing. I know you didn't think it was, but that's the definition of stealing." And so on. The child made a mistake, but did not mean to go against your teaching. There was just a connection that didn't happen.
Try not to react out of embarrassment. I have done this as a parent, and I have seen other parents do it. In cases such as these, it's easy to overreact. You are upset at the child, and you are also embarrassed. There can be a temptation to show everyone that you are appalled by really coming down hard on the kid. This is the time to remember that it's really not about you.
There should be discipline of some kind, but it should be a chance to learn, not to be punished or humiliated. Paying for the stolen or damaged item and a sincere apology can go a long way.
I don't like controversy or conflict. I'm an introvert who prefers solitude, and I'd prefer to mind my own business and let other people go their own way.
However, a series of events happened last week that led to my name being in an article that was just picked up by the AP wire service.
In light of that, I want to tell this story from my perspective.
On Tuesday, my publisher offered me a contract on the third and final book in the Middle School Magic series. I was elated. I've wanted to write a series ever since I was a little boy devouring series by L. Frank Baum, Lloyd Alexander, C. S. Lewis, and others.
On Wednesday, I became aware that a dispute between my publisher and another author had blown up, drawing attention from local media, as well as from blogs by and for writers. From there it got covered by major outlets such as Jezebel, MSN.com, the Huffington Post, and the International Business Tribune.
The dispute involved the allegation of some really ugly things said and done by the owner of the publishing company (you can read about them here). What I read carved a terrible pit in my stomach and really upset me.
I was extremely disappointed in what reportedly happened. It was just wrong on so many levels. First of all, a person, another human being was treated badly. And that's just wrong. Period. It made me so sad.
I was also frustrated at being put in a position where I needed t0 disassociate myself from harmful remarks. However, I definitely felt the need to respond since my books carry both my name and the publisher's. We are connected and what they do reflects on me. I feel confident that if an author did something that garnered significant negative publicity, a publisher would wish to clarify that they did not condone that behavior.
Moreover, there were elements of this dispute that I felt put an unfair and negative tint on my faith. Many of these stories identified the publisher as a "Mormon publisher," rather than a publisher who happened to be a Mormon. As a Mormon, this bothered me.
Consequently, I claim the right to publicly define my perspective on this issue.
My church takes stances that are not always popular with everyone. But one thing the Church has repeatedly taught is the need for civility and respect, especially when we disagree. This has been emphasized over and over, especially in recent years. Civility and respect were sadly lacking in what the owner allegedly did.
And so, I felt compelled to explain that I did not agree with what had happened--as an author, as a Mormon, and as a human being.
I talked with some other Mormon authors. Politically and religiously, some of us are very liberal, some are very conservative, and every gradation in-between. However, we agreed that what happened was wrong enough that we needed to express our disapproval. We drafted a letter and published it on a website. The letter refers to this specific case but is also a statement of what we believe should happen in a perfect world. In an interesting twist, while drafting the letter, we heard from Mormon authors who published in the national market and were told that they had to remove any references from their bios that betrayed their religious beliefs. I think this is wrong, and it's equally wrong when you substitute any demographic group.
I believe books, like people, ought to be evaluated based on what's inside. However, I acknowledge that publishers have to appeal to markets, and there are times when tough choices have to be made. Still, I think that there's a right way and a wrong way to do that. The right way would involve candor and respect from the start. It does not involve last-minute changes, threats, and name-calling.
I think the letter speaks for itself and you can read it here.
I let my publisher know I disagreed with how this had been handled, but that I still wanted to publish with them. I feel loyal to them since they've taken a chance on my books, but I also thought it important that they knew where I stood. The response was very positive and we agreed to move forward.
Let me say something about my publisher. First of all, they gave me a start and I appreciate that. The staff I've worked with have been wonderful. My editor and current and former publicists are all fine people. This situation put the acquisitions editor in a particularly difficult position and my heart goes out to her. I have always found her to be professional, courteous, and straightforward (I also think it's important to note that employees have an obligation to follow the direction and policy of their employer).
Based on these factors, I decided the right thing to do was publicly express my disapproval, and then move forward with the contract. That way I could take a stand I thought was important and also fulfill my contractual obligations.
Then, the press picked up on our letter. A Salt Lake City newspaper carried the story on Friday. I had not planned on saying anything about this beyond having my name on the letter and didn't plan on blogging about it. But on Saturday, it hit the AP wire services and is all over the country. My name is listed in many of these stories.
This is not what I bargained for on Tuesday afternoon when I got a contract. But I did what I thought was right and important and I stand by everything I've said or done this week.
I believe that my publisher made a mistake, and I believe I was right to speak out and disassociate myself from that mistake. I believe I have the human duty to do that morally, and the professional right to protect my name.
But I also believe that we are all flawed humans who need grace, understanding, and forgiveness. We need these things not when we are at our best, but when we are at our worst. I have said and done things in the past I regretted, and the only thing I can say about the future with any certainty is that I will do so again. Knowing I have needed forbearance and forgiveness before reminds me that I ought to show it to others.
So, it is in that spirit that I plan on moving forward with my contract on Book 3 and going back to a (relatively) drama-free life.
I'm closing the comments on this post because, while I wanted to explain my perspective, I really don't wish to discuss it any more.
My friend Rebecca has a new book out! I think the cover is really cool. I will be reviewing it later, but here's some preliminary information.
SYNOPSIS: Against the odds, Sarah Augustina Dawson survived the wrath of Guillermo. But not without a price. Forced to leave her beloved Montana behind, she and Josh are on the run. Within the warmth of the South, she's determined to find peace and conquer her past, even if only in her mind. But Guillermo can't let go. He's still orchestrating, hunting, and devising ways to exact his own kind of justice. When the law swings in his favor, he's ready to end the feud that started the moment Josh walked into Sadie's life.
PAPERBACK or EBOOK available here:
BIO: Rebecca Lund Belliston is the the author of the bestselling LDS novel, SADIE, its sequel, AUGUSTINA. Besides writing fiction, she loves to compose music, teach, and read. She lives in Michigan with her husband and five children. Follow her online at www.rebeccabelliston.com
Middle School Monday: "Why Do These Things Always Happen to Me?" Understanding Your Adolescent's Tendency to Pretty Much Destroy the World.
Welcome back to school! Here at Mockingbird Cottage, the air is getting less humid, the nights are cooler, and we get just a hint of a whiff of smoke in the air (the farmers near us are drying tobacco in their barns by smoking it for several weeks). It's all very picturesque and lovely. Of course, with all that autumnal picturesqueness comes a few other things. Mostly much earlier alarm clocks as we head back to school.
As I look on Facebook, most of my friends are either back in school--or going soon. So, I thought it might be good to start (cue the big radio announcer voice) Middle School Mondays again! (Confetti, applause, cowbells, etc.)
Today's post comes from a reader comment. As she started reading Penumbras, she said, "Conner just doesn't have the best luck, does he?" She's referring to the fact that when he's around, all kinds of mishaps occur. Conner is a little confused by all of this stuff--wondering why these things just happen. He didn't mean to set a bullie's gym shorts on fire or blow up a school bus or destroy the bathrooms. This stuff just happens as he lives his life and tries to get away from the bad guys.
While there is some definite tongue-in-cheek in the books, they are based on a true pattern I've observed over the years. Adolescents are often surrounded by a maelstrom of destruction. They ruin shoes, they lose clothes. They misplace homework, they crack the screen of the laptop. Their grades burst into flames and end up in tiny ashy heaps. Their friendships might do the same, and it's not uncommon for a minor encounter with a parent to turn into a full-fledged fight.
Suddenly, that kid is looking at the charred remains of his or her life thinking, "I didn't mean to do that" and, something I have heard dozens, perhaps hundreds of times over the years: "Why do these things always happen to me?"
Nearly every adolescent I know is convinced that he or she simply has the worst luck in the world. Bad grades just happen. Property is mysteriously damaged when they use it. Valuable items vanish. Teachers and parents have it in for them. Unseen forces, as malevolent as they are omnipotent, seem to search for ways to make their lives miserable.
It's easy for adults to see these kind of things and roll our eyes. Bad grades "just happened"-- because the kid didn't do his homework, or because she insists on texting while studying for tests. A teacher "hates them"--meaning they were disciplined for talking in class. Expensive shoes "disappear" because no apparent effort is ever made to pick them up. And so on.
Here is what we need to remember. They don't see it. They just don't. I'm not a neuroscientist so I can't tell you exactly what parts of their brains are not firing on all cylinders, but as someone who is around kids all day, every day, I can tell you that their brains definitely do not fire on all cylinders. They don't discern cause-and-effect like we do. It's like they are color blind and you are not. You are staring at something glaringly, obviously red and they just don't see it.
They definitely can't anticipate cause-and-effect, and they even struggle to see it in retrospect. With coaching, I've found you can get to the point where they will sometimes acknowledge leaving a laptop out in the rain wasn't a good idea. However at that point, they'll jump in with, "But, it's your fault for not reminding me!" or something similar. They will usually remain convinced that their part of the whole mess was one teeny-tiny factor, regrettable, but unavoidable, and completely insignificant in light of many other things. "How was I supposed to know it was going to rain? It's not like I tried to leave it out all night. Sheesh, I didn't call up and order a rainstorm!"
So, what do you do about it?
First realize this is a something almost every kid pases through. Your child is very normal.
That being said, I believe you still have to talk to them, specifically discussing how their small choices ended up causing a big thing to happen. They won't often get it, but if you do this enough over the years, you'll help create a habit for them. When their brains do start firing on all cylinders again, they have both the habit and the capacity to use it. If you neglect to build the habit, simply having the mental capacity will not make a difference. It will be like a car with no gas (lots of metaphors, similes, and images today).
I also believe that they really need non-punitive, natural consequences--if they break it, they buy it. Or as close to it as they can. That will also help them when the brain starts working again.
Mostly, you grit your teeth and love them. And you realize that they are usually very, very frustrated. They feel keenly the fact that everything they touch seems to turn to ash and mud. Nothing goes well. They ruin everything they touch. They feel that. And they hate it--absolutely hate it! It makes them feel bad. It really does. But they just don't see the connection between lack of judgement and negative consequences. They need so much love and understanding.
Every child will vary with this, both in terms of how severe it is, and when it starts and how long it lasts. In my experience, this tendency begins around 5th grade or so. It's mild at first. But it grows pretty steadily. It seems to hit rock bottom in about 7th grade and then things start to slowly improve.
Another generalization: most often, I think boys tend to have external chaos. At least that's where it's most visible. Rooms, grades, angry outbursts. Part of this is their growing size. They are larger than they used to be. Their actions suddenly have a lot more velocity and strength behind them. So instead of just thumping the wall, they put a hole in it ("Stupid wall! This house is a piece of junk! Who built this thing anyway?").
Girls may seem to hold things together a little better, at least outside the home, but their chaos seems to me to be more internal. They tend not to be so destructive of property, but may be slashing and burning through fields of friends. They may also lose all manner of clothing items. This seems exacerbated by the fact that at their most thoughtless mental stages, they want to have the most accessories they've ever had before. Where boys seem to get angrier, I feel that girls will often feel that they are being unfairly persecuted. Here's one other thought, again, a generalization. Most times, boys existing habits simply seem to get louder, and bigger, and more destructive (and much, much smellier). In my experience, many (but not all) girls seem to actually change in terms of their personality.
These are generalizations, though, and your boy may burst into tears about his friend situation just as quickly as your girl throws her lunch box through your antique stained-glass window. Previously organized, neat, and motivated students of both sexes may suddenly be imitating the worst cliches of lazy, messy teenagers you've ever seen.
Both boys and girls may demonstrate a stunning lack of common sense or the ability to think through even the most simple steps. "Why didn't you put the ice cream away?" You ask, upon arriving to a floor covered with a quart of sticky, ex-ice cream. "You didn't tell me to!" Your teen replies with an icy contempt that withers your soul, as if you are the world's biggest fool and knave.
My observation is that they start to grow out of this by being a little more mindful of physical or external things. They leave things out less frequently and are more responsible with their belongings. And they also seem to manage their peer relations better. Their room may still be a disaster and they may not seem to be maturing much in their relationships with you, but outside of home, things seem better. Maturity at home does come, I promise! But in my experience, that is a lagging indicator. I think that has to do with the fact that they prioritize social situations and peers outside of home--so their best efforts start there but eventually spill over into domestic life.
But, things will improve. I promise.
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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