Join us as we sit down with Behavior Analyst, Chris Messina, to discuss how co-parents can help their children handle uncertainty amidst and the ever-changing rules and expectations as the school year approaches. Chris and Steve will be discussing the following:
• Current mandates and state advisories, and how this impacts kids going back to school.
• How co-parents can work together to support their kids amidst uncertainty, and the importance of alignment when approaching difficult conversations.
• The power of controlling emotions, language, and outlooks.
• How to discuss serious matters with your child without creating alarm or fear.
• The silver linings, and how to leverage roadblocks as a teaching moment.
If you would like to speak with one of our family law attorneys, please call our office at (503) 227-0200 or visit our website at https://www.landerholmlaw.com/
For more information about Chris Messina and how she can be a resource for your family, you can view her website here: https://precisionparenting.com/
Disclaimer: Nothing in this communication is intended to provide legal advice nor does it constitute a client-attorney relationship, therefore you should not interpret the contents as such.
Welcome to Modern Family Matters, a podcast devoted to exploring family law topics that matter most to you. Covering a wide range of legal, personal, and family law matters, with expert analysis from skilled attorneys and professional guests, we hope that our podcast provides answers, clarity, and guidance towards a better tomorrow for you and your family. Here's your host, Steve Altishin.
Steve Altishin 0:31
Hi, everybody. I'm Steve Altishin, Director of Client Partnerships here at Pacific Cascade Family Law. And today, we have Certified Behavior Analyst, Chris Messina, here to talk about ways to help both you and your kids handle the uncertainty of the new school year. Morning, Chris, how you doing?
Chris Messina 0:50
Hi, great. How you doing, Steve?
Steve Altishin 0:52
I'm doing well. So I'm really glad we got you today, Chris, because there have been a few changes, and the school year is upcoming. And it's just a great time to talk about what's going on. The way I see it, this is sort of where we're at: we all know that Governor Kate Brown directed the Oregon Health Authority to require masks indoors for K through 12 schools, statewide. Governor Inslee in Washington has done the same. And there's already protocols in place. The Department of Education has been working through protocols and advisory protocols throughout the summer, regarding physical distancing, isolation, quarantine, screening, test protocols, vaccination requirements, which are in some colleges, recommendations for K through 12. There's a lot of working parts going on right now. And I guess my question to you to start is, how are parents supposed to help their children handle this uncertainty amid the current roles and what may be some changing roles as the school year goes on?
Chris Messina 2:02
Sure, I think that it's a guarantee that things will be in flux for quite some time. And, you know, as has been the case for the last 18ish months, there's a lot of wobbliness in our lives right now. And, you know, kids and parents are managing that in different ways. So, at the end of the day, you can't manage your child's emotions. You cannot manage any other human beings experience, right? So what can you manage? You can manage your own reaction to this ever changing uncertain environment. Right? So by working on how you react, you are going to be a model, constantly, for your child. Your child is, regardless of age, in some way, shape, or form, looking to you for how to react during what really are unprecedented times. Right? None of us have a playbook for any of this. Even those in charge, we're trying to create one. And we have discussed that everybody has their own opinion about said playbook that's being generated. So you know, how you maintain your own composure and manage these big reactions or emotions is going to go a long way in determining how your kids react to these experiences.
Steve Altishin 3:29
It seems to me that your kids react, at least from what I remember, not just to what you told them, but how you told them. Your voice, your reflections, reactions, and all that, they pick up. They're pretty smart, these kids.
Chris Messina 3:51
Yes, you and I have discussed in the past that you can fool a lot of people in this world, you can't fool kids. So right, of course, they're going to pick up on your nonverbal cues, but they're really going to be listening to the words that you use. And you know, I want to make sure that not for a second am I misunderstood for saying that you should not express to your kids your own frustrations, and your fears and whatnot, right? We want to be authentic in our experience with our kids. But I would strongly suggest pausing, and giving some real thought to the kind of language that you're going to use to discuss what might be frustrating you, or what might be concerning for you. Words are super powerful. We know that. So if you like to be transparent with your kids, then just be careful and conscientious about the language that you use, because it's going to be really tempting and really easy to react in the moment. Right? So for example, if we get news that maybe there was an outbreak in a school, right, it's going to be really difficult to slow it down and suppress our initial reaction, which might not be something we want our kids to hear.
Steve Altishin 5:09
That kind of sounds like what you're saying, and what I sort of remember, is someone can't stay calm, and there's a problem. And then you know, everything is about the problem, and that becomes sort of the conversation, and it kind of takes it to a different level.
Chris Messina 5:30
Well you get stuck, right? So you're mired in this emotional muck, and all we're doing is complaining. So I think we can all agree on one thing. COVID is a problem, this is a serious issue. Right? No matter what you believe, it's definitely impacting all of us in a really big way. So, you know, we can complain. And I think if you peruse social media, you'll see that lots of folks are really enjoying staying problem focused. And I'm not really sure that's a great model for our kids. In fact, we know it's not a great model for our kids. If we want to have these conversations about how to navigate these really difficult experiences, as much as possible, I encourage us to remain solution focused, right? So if we had a rough experience at school, and your kid comes home, and somebody did get sick, or somebody didn't want to wear a mask, or--I mean, zillions of things that are going to present-- there's always a time for airing our grievances and our issues. And so I say just make sure that you're careful to limit that. And then maybe shift gears when appropriate. And you may have to direct your kid, because kids love to complain about 'the things', to looking at, 'What are we going to do about it?' Okay. And I think as parents, we're going to probably feel really exhausted, really frustrated, that life isn't going back to normal, whatever that is, but we're still in this. So we may find that we want to just complain because we're bothered, we're tired, we're frustrated. So it's a chance to shift that lens. How much airtime am I giving to the complaint versus the solution?
Steve Altishin 7:15
That makes so much sense. But there's so much going on, and you just kind of went through some of the COVID stuff, up to the regular going to school stuff. There's a whole lot of information we could just dump on kids. I mean, how much information should we just be trying to put it in their head?
Chris Messina 7:41
Well, you know, you and I have talked about how important it is for us as parents to be informed. And there's a lot going through, you just touched the surface of what has been mandated by the state. And so, as parents, we're going to remain fairly confused. We don't need to confuse our kids further. So clearly, I would suggest that if you've got a five year old versus a 15 year old, you're going to use your discretion and maybe share a little bit more with our older kids. But, you know, I wouldn't overdo it, regardless of the age. I would give kids the essentials. What do they need to know about mask requirements? I know that we have some pretty stringent requirements potentially about hand washing and hygiene. I would say don't overdo it, kids are stressed enough. They're starting this year, hoping for nothing other than a return to being with my friends, feeling like we used to feel, and they're not going to get that right away.
Steve Altishin 8:44
It's funny you mentioned that, just this morning I was talking with a a parent of my age, who has kids of your age, and about how there are parents out there with a kid who's just starting first grade, and is so happy to go to school. And is not necessarily thinking about this stuff so much, but is just happy, ready to go to school. It's almost like, I feel, we can put the problems into their heads that they may not have.
Chris Messina 9:25
Right, right. Well, and what I love about that, so a first grader, presumably seven years old, is just still kind of excited about just getting outside. You know, taking my kids to like a soccer lesson is just so exciting. There's just this sort of flavor of, 'Oh, yeah, this is what it feels like to socialize and connect,' because at the end of the day, what we're all really missing is the connection. So you know what, maybe we can use your friend's seven year old child as an example to kind of tuck away. Let's try and look through the lens of a seven year old kid who is going to be excited, right? We can hold her I'm not sure if we get wiser, right? We're looking at more of the roadblocks in front of us, we need to do that. We need to be prepared. There are going to be things we bump up against, that are going to require that we kind of look for solutions. But as much as possible, highlighting for kids, and frankly, for ourselves, the good that's to come. Because the world is opening up enough for us to all participate in a different way, but certainly much more than we have been in recent time.
Steve Altishin 10:36
So, the seven year old comes home and is confused, or has a concern, or the teachers making me do this, or whatever. So what do you do? I mean, do you tell your kid, 'You tell the teacher this!' I mean...
Chris Messina 10:58
No! So, you know, in the same way that you and I have discussed in the past, the real danger of using a child or leaning into a child as the messenger in a divorce scenario, right? 'You tell your dad I said this!' We know that's a big no, no. Well, the same applies here. Your child is not to be the messenger, delivering any information to teachers, the school principal, or even a friend at school. That is not the child's job. If you're concerned about something, for example, Johnny's not washing his hands enough. And your kid comes home, and the kids are tattling about Johnny not washing his hands, or some kid's not wearing a mask, or doesn't want to wear a mask...these are times to hear your child's concerns. And then let the adults deal with that. Right? I think a lot of listening is going to go a really long way. Practice our listening skills, and we don't have to feel compelled to problem solve with our kid. Take it up with the adults.
Steve Altishin 12:01
Not just with, you know, obviously we're talking about this is parents who are still married and living together, but also parents who are not and co-parenting. There's two sources of information going to the kid at that point. What do you recommend in that case?
Chris Messina 12:25
We know alignment is everything when it comes to managing the complexities of parenting between two homes, right? So that co-parenting alignment, looking through the same lens to as great a degree as possible. However, COVID has gotten where there's a great divide in a lot of homes. So you've got one parent who believes the vaccine is important. And another parent who disagrees vehemently, and you've got a kid who is of age to get a vaccine. Listen, there are going to be constant curveballs thrown, and to whatever degree you are able, trying to reach alignment is going to be really critical. But it may not be possible. Right? And do we agree to disagree in this situation? We might have to. But if it's coming down to a health concern, that might be a time to reach out to your child's pediatrician. So maybe, again, recruiting expert opinion to kind of help with maybe breaking the tie, or, you know, also remembering that you can lean into your family law attorney. Right? If there's a question about like, are they allowed to forfeit days because they think my child might have been exposed? Is that allowed here? I mean, again, I don't think we have a playbook for this. But remembering that you've got resources, so whether they're medical professionals, teachers, family law attorneys, I would say, lean in if you're really stuck, because I think a lot of people are going to get stuck.
Steve Altishin 13:49
No, we're here for the law stuff. It sounds trite, but it's exactly true. So it sounds like staying calm is sort of a requirement, and not going ballistic yourself. Any tips on this, and how we can manage ourselves not to jump off the cliff?
Chris Messina 14:07
Right, I know. So, I mean, this is kind of the stuff of life, right? I mean, we all want to practice how we handle ourselves, and learn greater, strengthened skills about managing these complex experiences in life. So how do you stay calm and less reactive? I always start with getting informed about something, right? So a lot of reactivity comes from misinformation, no matter the issue. So, to the extent possible in this unusual scenario, be informed, understand what is being required as much as we can. And I think schools are doing a really nice job. I know, as a parent, I've been getting frequent emails with updates about new and revised expectations. So knowledge is power. Maybe not always, but a lot of the time. So I'd start there. And the next thing I would say is, in a myriad of ways, we've all been grieving throughout this process. Right? I mean, I think about my own children and the experiences lost. Every grade was a chance to miss out on something huge, whether it's fifth grade or high school graduation, right? Kids are losing out on so many experiences, and so are we as adults. So I think that grieving in whatever way possible is going to allow us to get to that core of what we're really feeling. Because underneath the anger, underneath the agitation, I think, is a real deep sense of loss and fear for a lot of people. So it's not going to look the same, it may not be linear, but I would encourage folks to let themselves go there, because I think we will have continued loss. And I think that we've lost a lot. I've been so busy as a parent, I'm not sure I've even had the time with kids home all day, to kind of go there. So I think that's important.
Steve Altishin 16:01
Does that work for the kids too? I'm assuming they have a sense of loss and kind of grief.
Chris Messina 16:10
Oh, absolutely. You know, what's interesting is kids are far more resilient than us old folks. I mean, it's incredible to see how kids have adapted. So they've gotten used to it. It doesn't mean they like it, but they've gotten used to, 'Hey, I did my eighth grade year on a computer instead of having all the fun experiences with my classmates.' So yeah, I think that they are grieving. I think they might need us to encourage them or prompt them to talk about it. So sharing that experience with your kids, again, everyone's going to move through it differently. I'm grieving something far different than my child is grieving, right? But it's loss, and loss is universal. So finding ways to kind of open up those conversations, I think, can strengthen relationships between parents and kids. It's the hard times that grow us typically, it's not the smooth sailing, fun times that provide the same sense of growth.
Steve Altishin 17:07
You see it all the time, it's in every store, 'Calm down and have a cup of tea, calm down and do this, calm down and do that'. Is just calming down the point?
Chris Messina 17:22
Okay well, two quotes popped to mind. The first is, you know, I think I saw it on a coffee mug, it said, 'Never in the history of calming down has anyone calmed down by being told to calm down.' And I don't know about you, but that is my number one trigger, or the opposite is gonna happen. But I actually shared a quote with you that I'd like to share right now. Because for me, this is like, I don't know, we need to have it printed on a wall somewhere, or painted, or I don't know, tattooed on your arm. 'Calm is not the point. Connected to self, during any and every experience, is the point. Can we learn how to be with ourselves when we're anxious? Scared, happy, angry, sad? That's the point. That's emotional awareness and self regulation'. I don't know who to give that quote a credit to, I modified it a little bit because I'm not sure where I found it. But I just love the idea that you don't have to be calm. How are you going to move through the wobble of life? This is incredibly wobbly, and it's this long duration. But we know we've been around long enough to know it's constant. There will be roadblocks and obstacles in our children's way, no matter what. So as much as it may sound corny, and some parents may roll their eyeballs and what am I about to say, I really think we would benefit from seeing it as an opportunity to teach our kids about resilience, and about grit.
Steve Altishin 18:47
That makes sense. And we talked about this yesterday, that every generation goes through something. And I was just talking about how the greatest generation, which sort of got that name--they didn't get that name just as an advertisement to sell a product--I mean, they went through incredibly hard times, and came out of it smarter, more resilient. So that makes complete sense. I don't want to say that we like what's happening, but there's always sort of a silver lining.
Chris Messina 19:34
Right? I know, I look at what we've been through and you think, 'Are we allowed to say silver lining out loud during this?' I think we should. There's this idea that is certainly an oversimplification, but hard times make you bitter, or they make you better. Again, I know that's an oversimplification, but I really think that as you move through the tough stuff of life, we can position ourselves into a place of disempowerment and bitterness. Like the, 'Why me? Why did this happen?' That's certainly one avenue to take. But I believe, as parents, we all want our kids to choose option B, which is, 'Okay, how am I going to navigate what is certainly a difficult and undesirable situation?' Imagine how many situations like this our children are going to confront in their lives. This is an opportunity, a very unique one, providing ample opportunity for us to model for our kids and help them move through. How are we going to, when this occurs again in life in a different flavor, how are we going to manage this? And what choices am I going to make? And what lens am I going to kind of screw on my eyeballs? Because I can always look at what's not working. But it sure helps to look at what is. So I think there are quite a few silver linings.
Steve Altishin 20:53
You used the word, I remember, 'moxie', which I haven't heard in a long time, but I liked it. It kind of does create that in people. There are different ways to solve different problems.
Chris Messina 21:11
Yeah. So with parents, we are modeling constantly, and it is exhausting. And there are days when I think, 'Can you just look away kids so I can make a bad choice?' But the truth is, modeling is the single best way to teach anybody a new skill. So you're going to be modeling constantly. So if you feel like, 'I don't know how to have these conversations, and I don't know what to say to my kids, and that all sounds like too much, and I don't really want to do it', then just be thinking about your own behavioral choices, right? Just be thinking, 'What kind of language am I going to use when I'm having a particularly tough day, or as we get ready for the school year?' We can sit here and talk about how agitated we are, that it's going to be so different, and you have to wear a mask, and kids are going to feel sick; we can certainly highlight that. Or, we can decide that we're going to focus on how exciting it is to be back with our friends, how we get to feel that connectivity all day long, rather than just brief moments throughout the week, like we have been in the past.
Steve Altishin 22:12
That sort of turns back to that thing you said earlier about being solution focused. Yeah. It's a million opportunities. Again, it's sort of trite, and you have take everything in context. But I mean, the pandemic is a pretty big context.
Chris Messina 22:33
It is a very big context. We have an endless stream of problem solving opportunities. It feels like every day, you're gonna have ample opportunity.
Steve Altishin 22:44
Yeah. We've sort of come to the end of what we were talking about. I know in a lot of our past discussions, you've talked about the difference between conflict and compassion. Does that kind of come up here?
Chris Messina 23:00
I think for times like this, we're going to feel that an overriding emotion is going to be frustration with the individuals making decisions, right? So I think that this is a time that we need to zoom out for a minute, or for many moments, and figure out, 'How am I going to lead with compassion?' For example, if I'm really irritated with a choice that a teacher made, or if I feel like the principal of my child's school is inconveniencing me with a decision that they've mandated. So, listen, you get to choose in life-- every opportunity is a chance to lead with compassion, no matter what you're doing. It is my belief that the only antidote to conflict is compassion. So we're gonna come up against conflict. Your kids are gonna bump up against conflict. I mean, heck, they may even have another student give them a hard time about a choice that they're making. Model with compassion. Reach out, access the individuals you need to to get clarification about maybe a troubling situation, but lead with compassion.
Steve Altishin 24:10
That's wise. I'd say wise beyond your years, but then I--
Chris Messina 24:16
But the truth is, isn't everything in life an opportunity to solve a problem?
Steve Altishin 24:21
Yeah, that's exactly right.
Chris Messina 24:23
I'm sure that family lawyers wouldn't be in such demand if we all did conflict really well, right? So at the end of the day, here we have what is a lousy situation, for a million reasons, right? It's full of loss. It's full of disappointment and heartache. Okay, so we're here. You can't undo it. There's nothing a single person can do right now to change the dynamic entirely. So we get to choose every moment of every day for ourselves. How am I going to navigate this time? Because your kids are watching and don't just don't forget that.
Steve Altishin 24:59
Yep. Well, thank you so much. Thank you so much for being here. This is really, really, I think, helpful. And, you know, you mentioned that attorneys, we do the law. But we're gonna have to spin that around. Therapists are here for this as well. I mean, this is the time that someone maybe can use a therapist to help them through these things.
Chris Messina 25:27
Yeah, you're right. I mean, this is a time when I think there are a waitlist for therapists around the globe. We're all struggling, and remembering-- I read something recently, a quote, something like, 'We're in different ships with the same storm'. I like that, right? We all are in the same storm. And I think remembering that therapists are human beings too, they're parents. We don't have all the answers, but we're here to kind of process together. Sometimes our expectations of those in charge, right--the school principal, the superintendent, the therapist--is that they have they've got it all figured out. Again, there is no precedent for this, at least in our times, right? We're figuring this out as we move through it. And so as a parent, you're obviously doing that. So are the people that are making the decisions around you, which is why I think remembering, we're all in the same store, no matter our role.
Steve Altishin 26:24
Again, thank you so much, Chris. Thank you for joining us again, and just helping us walk through this kind of stuff.
Chris Messina 26:30
Yeah. It's always my pleasure. And I just hope some of this guidance can help parents feel supported, because we all could use a little bit of support right now, I think.
Steve Altishin 26:39
Absolutely. That is the truth. So again, also thank everyone for joining. And if anyone has any questions on today's topic, please feel free to post it here. We can get you to Chris, or if you have some law issues, we can get you to us. That's what we're all here for. We're all here to try. And so until next time, everyone, stay safe. Stay happy, and have a great day.
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