Apologizing Can Be Your Best Tool
Difficult Topics, Parent-Child Communication

Apologizing Can Be Your Best Tool

Growing up, our parents are constantly telling us what we are doing wrong and what we should be doing instead. We learn what is right and wrong from them and the other adults in our lives – namely our teachers. So naturally, we expect them to consistently do the right thing.

Unfortunately, our parents and teachers are human. And so they mess up. They overreact (most likely because having children is highly stressful) when we stay out 5 minutes past our curfew or when we are fighting with a sibling and ground us for two weeks. We have all been the kid in a similar scenario.

The same thing happens with teachers, who, sick of all the noise in the classroom, end up reprimanding the kid who normally starts the shenanigans, but who, this time, actually didn’t. In high school, I was running late to school one day. A friend of mine from French class had spent the night (her parents were out of town – sleepovers on school nights was not the norm), so we went to school together. A typically early student, I was actually the one who made us late for school that day. Knowing that we were late and feeling uncomfortable, as soon as I parked the car, I started hightailing it to French class, which happened to be our first class of the day. But my friend was more relaxed and was walking slower.

Class had already started. I was stressed from being late, but did not want to leave her behind. When we arrived to class, I walked in maybe 5 seconds before she did. Our teacher said absolutely nothing to me, but as soon as my classmate walked in, she went on a rant for about 5 minutes about how disrespectful that was (and aimed the rant entirely at my friend).

This was clearly a mistake. One I believe we can all imagine making ourselves. So the real mistake was not later apologizing to that student.

Without an apology, what is the lesson learned? That my French teacher is unfair and hates my friend. That my friend is probably not going to do well in that class anyway, so why should she try?

With an apology, what is the lesson learned? That my French teacher is human and made a mistake. That she is sorry. That even adults make mistakes. That we all need to take responsibility for our actions. In this scenario, life remains “fair” and rational. Whereas in the other scenario, life is unfair and not rational because it does not make any sense to yell at my friend and not me.

So that is the problem: if adults do not apologize when they make a mistake, kids learn that the world is not rational and that it does not make sense, so why try to make sense of it? That’s stressful and can be demotivating in the classroom. So kids learn that sometimes it may be better to disengage. But disengagement is the opposite of the internal motivation we are trying to promote!

And yet, so often adults do not apologize, perhaps from a fear that they will lose their authority and power. However, that is not the case if you use authoritative parenting style. Authoritative parenting is the recommended parenting style (compared to authoritarian or permissive parenting), whereby parents have reasonable (yet still high) expectations for their children, set rational boundaries that they communicate to their children, and then support their children as they make mistakes (Ginsburg, 2015).

If you apologize to your child, kids often respect you more because you make sense – they can understand getting carried away and doing the wrong thing in the moment. Apologizing for doing that means you are rational, which means life is rational, which means kids know what to expect from you, so they can plan and work hard and life will reward them in a way they can anticipate and look forward to. (I cannot say enough good things about setting clear expectations and boundaries!) So if that is what you want for your child, think about apologizing next time you make a mistake. 


Belden, S & S. Flight. (2015). Establishing boundaries. Fireborn Institute: YouTube.com

Ginsburg, K. (2015). Building resilience: Preparing children and adolescents to THRIVE. Learning and the Brain Conference: Boston.

Hayes, C. (2015). The importance of teaching children empathy. Banyan Tree Counseling.

How Telling Your Kid to CALM DOWN Can Have Negative Effects!
Discipline, Parent-Child Communication

How Telling Your Kid to CALM DOWN Can Have Negative Effects!

We have talked about this – growing up I had a pretty serious temper. My dad called me the “Tiger Kat”. Mainly my temper reared its ugly head when plans changed. If I was planning on watching TV and my mom asked me to do the dishes, it flared. But it would also flare when I was planning on doing my homework and my mom asked if I wanted to be a little adventurous and see a movie that evening. I know that sounds crazy, but the stress of needing to finish my homework and not knowing when it would get done if I went to the movies, coupled with the desire to not miss out on the fun, were too much for my young, strong emotions to handle.

I have since learned to control my emotions and my stress – thank goodness. However, there is still one phrase that always ignites my temper: “Calm down.”

Usually when someone says “Calm down” it is with the best intentions and is sincere advice. However, the result is typically the exact opposite (Shellenbarger, 2016).

Why does this happen? Because when you tell someone to calm down, you are not acknowledging their feelings as valid. If I am stressed because I just got back from vacation and work has piled up, my house is a mess, I do not have time to work out or meditate, and I have to take my car in for service unexpectedly and the bill is enormous, it is not a good time to tell me to calm down!

The stress that I feel is real. What I need is empathy. After many discussions, my husband has learned to stop trying to solve my problem (starting with not saying “Calm down”), and to instead say, “Wow. That is a lot of stuff going on. That stinks. I’m sorry honey.” (And maybe he even has time to offer his help!)

And that is what your children need too.

Their stressors may not seem big to you given your years of experience and vantage point, but they still feel like big deals to your child. The stress they feel is real. So what they really need from you is not advice on how to move forward, but rather some comfort. They need to hear that what they are feeling is natural. Once they receive that validation, they will be much more open to suggestions from you on how they can move forward productively. Eventually, they will learn to calm down in these situations without being told to do so.


Shellenbarger, S. (2016). Why you should never tell someone to relax. The Wall Street Journal. 

Sexual Assault: How To Talk About It With Your Kids
Difficult Topics, Self-Advocacy

Sexual Assault: How To Talk About It With Your Kids

Last week the US was riveted by the testimony given by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh. The entire event and Dr. Ford’s telling of her story have left people feeling shaken and stressed.

Talking about sexual assault is hard. It’s something parents naturally want to protect their kids from. But kids, especially teens, are paying attention. And it’s something they may even be dealing with at school (from the reaction by sexual assault victims it’s clear that this is happening in high school at the very least).

This is big news and it’s something your kids, if they are old enough to be paying attention to the news, will talk about with their friends. So it’s important that you also talk to your kids about it to make sure you can help guide the conversation. You want to make sure your kid is hearing the right take away messages.

So do bring it up with your kids, even if it is hard. You can start by asking, “Has anyone at school been talking about the Kavanaugh hearings? What have they been saying? What do you think?” to get the ball rolling.

This could be a really stressful conversation. It’s easy to want to use euphemisms and to soften the language and to avoid talking explicitly about what happened – about how Dr. Ford claims Judge Kavanaugh was groping her on the bed and put his hand over her mouth so no one could hear her scream and how she thought he was going to accidentally kill her. It’s a terrifying scenario and we often soften our language or talk around what happened to make the conversation less scary.

But that actually does our kids a disservice. Talking about exactly what happened helps kids understand and process the situation. When parents use euphemisms or talk about “sexual assault” but don’t explain what that means, kids have a hard time understanding what sexual assault really is. That’s a problem because then what happens if your child is sexually assaulted or witnesses some potential sexual assault? They may not recognize it as assault and they may not know what to do.

Also, if you are not clear about what happened and you try to avoid talking about specific parts or you tell your kids to simply “Not worry about it,” they may learn that they can’t come to you to talk about serious issues. Your children need to know that you will be there to have a serious conversation with them, especially if something ever happens to them.

There’s another problem with glossing over tough conversations: it can increase kids’ anxiety about the situation. They do not understand exactly what happened and why that was wrong, but they realize that something scary happened. Yet they see that it is so bad that you are too scared to talk to them about it. That is terrifying. They need to be able to talk with you about exactly what happened so you can help them understand what happened and what their feelings are completely.

They may need to review what happened over and over again. That’s normal because it’s such a complicated, stressful situation, it’s hard for them to understand it (it’s hard for me to understand it!). Going over exactly what happened multiple times helps them encode the information and helps them start to “come to terms” with it. The real benefit is what comes next: it helps them get to a point where they can take action.

Talk with your teen about what they will do if they ever see potential sexual assault or if they ever feel like they are being sexually assaulted. What steps will they take? Create a plan of action. Or your teen may want to get political. Having something to do can help them feel more in control of these things that feel totally out of their control.

Another thing you may want to bring up with your teen is “What have they learned?” Ask them what they have taken away from the hearing? What lesson are they learning? What are their peers saying about it?

Make sure you know what you want your teen to takeaway from the conversation. Perhaps it is that as a society, we need to talk more openly about sexual assault so that victims feel empowered to say something when the assault takes place. Or maybe it is that kids need to speak out when they see something. If you see something, say something.

Most importantly: have the conversation with your teen so they feel comfortable talking to you about it. That is one of the best ways to protect them.

Empowering Your Child to Learn Self-Advocacy
Difficult Topics, Self-Advocacy

Empowering Your Child to Learn Self-Advocacy

Parents are their child’s first advocate. They are the ones who probe and ask questions to consider every option in order to make the very best choices. It can be a constant worry to wonder if your child is reaching their full potential, especially at school where they are gone all day.

In preschool and elementary school, the parent-teacher conference is a great forum to directly advocate for your child, by asking about everything from the updated recess schedule and the field trip fundraiser to meditation in the classroom and the new music teacher. When your child is struggling with a particular issue, encourage them to speak up for themselves, by coaching beforehand how to phrase their concern. But as they age into middle school and beyond, opportunities for such directed discussions may dwindle; the responsibility of bringing up concerns and making actionable changes should gradually shift to your child.

While it may be daunting to contemplate the transition to independence, there are steps you can take to ease this passage into adolescence.

  1. Build up your child’s sense of self-worth. It can be difficult to believe that you can make a change if you don’t believe you deserve it. Praise your child’s efforts, not only their successes. Connect hard work with worthiness by drawing attention to the focus, persistence, and enthusiasm it took to reach success. Say: “You really studied hard for that math test! I’m so proud you are devoted to learning long division, even though it was difficult.”
  2. Ask your child what they admire in their friends or peers who stick up for themselves. Explore how the friend may have felt placing their request. (Anxious, confident, angry, ready? These are all valid emotions that drive action.) Focus on how they were able to voice not only what they wanted but also how they wanted to achieve it.
  3. Encourage proactivity instead of reactivity. Proactive self-advocacy is more likely to be calm and thought out — and therefore more likely to be listened to and considered seriously. It places the control firmly in your child’s hands, which reactive self-advocacy robs them of. 
  4. Visualize short and long term goals. Keeping in mind what they are working toward, whether that’s a spot in the advanced choir, placement in honors algebra, or admission to their college of choice, is a great motivator for self-advocacy.
  5. Watch your own language. It’s easy to fall on common sayings like “big girls do [this]” and “I can’t believe you’re 13 years old and can’t do [this].” Assigning blame onto your child in this arbitrary way is unlikely to inspire personal change.
  6. Ask how you can provide support. Not every child will want their parent interfering with their school life, especially in middle and high school. Remind your child that you are available to reach out to teachers and administrators and always willing to problem-solve and talk a situation out. Say: “I know you are capable of getting through this, but if you want to brainstorm together, we can talk during dinner.”
  7. Teach the history of dissent and free speech. This can be as simple as sharing a story of when you stood up for yourself, but can also include larger conversations about social change and democratic processes.

Your child will need time to practice advocating for themselves, and it can be frustrating on all sides when they experience setbacks along the way. Creating an environment where they can practice communicating their decision-making will build long-term resilience, confidence, and peace of mind for parents.


Written by Liza Ruzicka, Liza is a third year student at Brown University, where she is concentrating in Education Studies and Cognitive Science. Liza has completed one summer at the Internship in Building Community at Columbia University and is in her second year working as a Women’s Peer Counselor at Brown University. As a future higher education professional, Liza is passionate about mentorship. She hopes to help parents and students apply academic research findings to the nuances of their life and education.

The Self-Compassion Paradox
Difficult Topics, Self-Advocacy, The Happy Student Podcast

Episode #66: The Self-Compassion Paradox

Self-criticism can be a powerful motivator. It can also really harm your mental health. Teens use self-criticism a lot to motivate themselves and they also seriously struggle with anxiety. Self-compassion is the answer! Teens often think that if you’re nice to yourself when you mess up, you’ll actually lower your standards and spend all day watching Netflix. Research shows that’s not actually the case. Self-compassion actually helps you be more productive and keeps you happy and reduces your anxiety!

The Self-Compassion Paradox




  • Too much self-criticism can make you depressed and anxious because you are so worried about messing up, you can’t actually get work done, you can’t be creative, and you can’t problem solve. Too much self-criticism and you hurt yourself and burn out.

Self-compassion is extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering.

  • It’s about being nice to yourself when you mess up, just like you would be nice to a friend when he/she messes up.

From New York Times article “The Promise of Self-Compassion for Stressed-Out Teens” by Rachel Simmons wrote…

  • “Self-criticism is their Red Bull” referring to when teens are mean to themselves when they messed up.
  • What’s great about self-compassion is that “it lets you own up to a tough moment without paying for it with your self-worth. This new logic teaches students that they don’t have to be perfect to be worthy.”

[bctt tweet=”“Self-criticism can help motivate us to work hard in the short-term, in the long run it can make us more depressed and anxious. And teens are already way too anxious.” – Katherine Firestone” username=”@SisuFireborn”]

Dr. Kristin Neff says “Self-compassion is not self-indulgence.”

  • Self-compassion is wanting to make ourselves happy in the long run. Self-compassion is simply being kind to ourselves when we face a setback. Self-compassion isn’t about getting rid of pain, it’s recognizing that this moment is painful and treating yourself kindly during that moment.
  • Just doing things that are pleasurable is not actually self-compassionate because it will compromise your long-term happiness.
  • Working towards a meaningful goal and that can involve a lot of hard work will make you happy.
    • Ex: “Wow. That was really tough. You tried really hard. This is painful. It’s going to be okay and you are going to try again.”

Self-compassion can actually enhance motivation and performance, while easing the pains of mental health issues.

So how can we help kids be more self-compassionate? What can you do?

  1. When you start to notice your child punishing herself or engaging in catastrophic thinking, like “I’ll never get into college”, talk to them about self-compassion. Ask them how they would talk to a friend if the same thing had happened to their friend.
  2. Treat yourself self-compassionately and do it out loud in front of your kids. Show your kids that it’s okay to feel your emotions, but that it doesn’t reflect on your self-worth or actual intelligence.
  3. Model what self-compassionate self-talk sounds like.
  4. When modeling self-compassion, emphasize that you must not be the only person to have made that mistake. Often kids think they are the only ones messing up, so it can help to remind them that everyone makes mistakes.
  5. Practice self-compassionate meditation. Dr. Neff recommends a Self-Compassion Break or Affectionate Breathing. You can find these and other guided meditations on her website self-compassion.org.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode. How do you teach your children to advocate for themselves?


Want to be the first to know when a new episode is released? Click here to subscribe to The Happy Student on iTunes!

Podcast reviews are important to iTunes and the more reviews we can receive, the more likely we will be able to get our podcast and important messages in front of more parents! I would greatly appreciate if you clicked here and left a review letting me know your thoughts on this episode!

tips on disciplining children
Difficult Topics, Discipline, Parent-Child Communication

Just a Little “Bop”- A Conversation On Disciplining Your Children

Don't Hit Your Kids

So recently a mom was telling me that when her son does something she doesn’t like, she just gives him “a little bop” on the hand. She doesn’t consider this spanking. And she believes that it has really helped him learn what he can and cannot do.

March at Fireborn was really dedicated to discipline and parenting, so just to quickly review the point of discipline: it’s to help kids learn how to self-discipline. Discipline teaches kids how they should behave in the future.

So if you “bop” your child every time he messes up, what does he learn? He does learn to stop doing things that you bop him for. He also learns that when someone does something you don’t like, you should “bop” them.

[bctt tweet=”Bopping like this encourages kids to do as their parents say, but it doesn’t teach them how to communicate with others nor does it teach them why what they are doing is wrong.” username=”@SisuFireborn”]

And that’s a problem because people do not get to go around bopping other people when they do things they don’t like.

Bopping like this encourages kids to do as their parents say, but it doesn’t teach them how to communicate with others nor does it teach them why what they are doing is wrong.

Kids mimic their parents’ behavior. So if you hit or bop your kid, they will hit and bop others. And friends don’t like to get bopped, so it could also hurt your child’s social circle.

So perhaps it is not technically spanking, but it has a very similar outcome: kids who are more likely to act aggressively with other kids. And I don’t think that’s what anyone wants for their kids.

Listen to the podcasts here…


standing up to bullies
Difficult Topics, Self-Advocacy, The Happy Student Podcast

Episode #65: Standing Up to Bullies

Bullying is a big problem kids have to deal with. One of the best ways to decrease bullying is to empower bystanders to do the right thing when they see bullying happen. But a lot of kids don’t know what the right thing to do in that moment is. Sometimes they want to help, but because they don’t know what to do, they look on helplessly. Kids need concrete strategies so that when they see bullying happening, they know what steps they need to take in order to do the right thing.

Standing up to bullies




Bystanders – the people witnessing the bullying, not the bully or the victim

  • Sometimes they look on helplessly, which actually reinforces the bully’s behavior because no one tells him to stop and the victim thinks everyone is on the bully’s side.

[bctt tweet=”“Kids need concrete strategies that they have thought about and planned on doing ahead of time and even practiced a few times perhaps with you so that when they see bullying happening, they know what steps they need to take in order to do the right thing.”” username=”@SisuFireborn”]

Michele Borba, author of so many books, most recently UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, has created a Bully “BUSTER” Bystander Strategy to help empower bystanders.

B: Befriend the Victim

  • Once one person befriends the victim, more people are likely to befriend the victim.
  • Call over some more of your friends to help.
  • Befriend the victim outside of the time when they are being bullied too.

U: Use a Distraction

  • As Borba says, “a bully wants an audience, so reduce it with a distraction.”
  • For example:
    • Ask: “What is everyone doing here?”
    • Interrupt: “I can’t find my phone. Has anyone seen it or can anyone help me look?”
    • State: “Hey guys! I think a teacher is coming!”

S – Speak Out and Stand Up!

  • Encourage your child by talking about how scary it is and how impressive and brave a person is who can do this.
  • Name what’s happening by saying, “That’s bullying!”
  • Label it saying “That’s mean!”
  • State your disapproval by saying, “This isn’t cool!”

T – Tell or Text for Help

  • Find potential adult allies at school that your child can go to for help who won’t tell others that it was your child who reported on the bullying. That way your child is safe from retaliation.

E – Exit Alone or With Others

  • “Let’s leave.” Or “Come on. I don’t want to be a part of this.”
  • Try to get others to leave too, but if they don’t, you should leave so that your presence does not bolster the bullying

R – Give a Reason and a Remedy

  • “This is mean!” (a reason) and then “Go get help!” (a remedy)


standing up to bullies



I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode. How do you teach your children to advocate for themselves and stand up to bullies?


Want to be the first to know when a new episode is released? Click here to subscribe to The Happy Student on iTunes!

Podcast reviews are important to iTunes and the more reviews we can receive, the more likely we will be able to get our podcast and important messages in front of more parents! I would greatly appreciate if you clicked here and left a review letting me know your thoughts on this episode!