Posted on Monday, March 16th, 2015
Google ‘fear of public speaking’ and you will be inundated with articles. Not one of them says run from the room screaming, so you’re out of luck there.
I’ve written more than a few articles, book chapters, and cheat sheets on ways to overcome what still appears to be the number one phobia in the US.
Dr. Paul L. Witt, assistant professor of communication studies at Texas Christian University, claims making a public presentation is “even scarier than rattlesnakes.”
If you have an engagement coming up and you are nervous about it (and you probably are because everybody is), there are ways to ease the anxiety. Preparing, practicing, exercising, breathing, medication and even donning a pair of lucky socks can help. But what if you are under a surprise attack? What if, as bad luck would have it, you are asked to make a presentation or speech or toast right now?
First, don’t panic. (Don’t you just hate when people say don’t panic? I know, I know. But, really, try not to panic.)
And next, try this:
Take A Deep Breath And Then Take A Few More
Give yourself the gift of oxygen and time, both in equal measure. Remember, you don’t have to jump up and start the song and dance routine right away.
• Breathe (again)
• Stand up (if necessary – if the situation allows for you to stay in your seat, then do so and be grateful)
• Politely thank the horrible, hateful person who has done this to you
• Take a sip of water
• Remind yourself that you know what you are talking about and (no offense) not everyone is going to hang on your every word anyway, so you are not going to die
Now it is time to actually speak, here is a plan:
• Introduce yourself, if necessary
• Do not apologize for yourself with something like I’m not great at public speakingor I am not prepared or I know these pants are too tight but I was running late and I like donuts, because you just set yourself up for criticism or sympathy and neither are great in this scenario
• Reiterate what’s been said so you can get the ball rolling: As Jim (aka Satan) mentioned, we are launching a new product line in May, 2017 and it promises to bring major change to the marketplace
Engage the Three Two One Strategy and Use “We”
Pick three positive points, two potential negatives and finish strong:
• Our research shows that 68% of our potential customers will benefit from this product, and that interest is high based on market analysis.
• The marketing team has created a far-reaching marketing and advertising campaign that will incorporate social media, television and print, thus capturing a wide audience
• We’ve looked closely and carefully at the cost analysis and it appears that this product could potentially bring in more than $2 million over the next 18 months
• Our team still has work to do around the production schedule, but our goal is to finalize those details by year-end
• We are still in talks with investors on how and when we can bring this full-circle
• The future looks bright for our company and our customers
Open The Floor For Questions But Be Careful What You Ask For
Questions are a great way to keep the conversation going without having to carry the weight solo. It’s important to open the floor for questions without stepping too far down the rabbit hole, so instead of saying:
• Any questions?
• I’m happy to try to answer any questions I can or
• Great question and we will be ready to talk more about in November
• This will project a confident image even if you don’t have the specific answer at the moment
Wrap It Up
State that your time is coming to an end and wrap up the meeting:
• We have time for two more questions
• Thank the audience and that troll Jim for getting you into this nightmare, then smile, hold you head high and mentally pat yourself on the back (not literally, you just made it through a spur-of-the moment speech, don’t embarrass yourself now!) because You. Did. It.
Bring on the rattlesnakes.
this post originally appeared on The Huffington Post
Posted on Monday, February 23rd, 2015
The human heart is a truly amazing mechanism; so hard working and tough under pressure, but oh so easily damaged.
We all have heartbreaks (I can’t even discuss my 7th grade boyfriend saga. A tragedy of epic proportions). Disappointments and suffering and grief and anguish are all part of life. Hooray for us!
We have all heard bad news and immediately gone to that big Rolodex in our head searching, desperately, for the right thing to say. Or we’ve skipped the search and blurted out something clichéd and trite before quickly excusing ourselves to privately negotiate our own foot into our mouth. Or — the worst crime of all — we’ve been faced with bad news and said absolutely nothing.
Neil Rosenthal writes a stellar column in The Denver Post appropriately titled “Relationships.” His January 29th piece highlights the importance of an empathetic response. As Rosenthal points out, a thoughtful response is certainly needed in times of tragedy, but even the day-to-day frustrations that affect us all would benefit from a kind and compassionate acknowledgement.
When dealing with a loss, phrases like: Time heals all wounds or It was his time to go are common. And sort of a cop out. Why? Because they don’t really mean anything to the person who is suffering. They are just words. Words that can leave the listener feeling worse than when they started. Because only words that “honor your feelings of loss and sorrow,” writes Rosenthal, truly honors the emotions around an issue that causes turmoil.
Rosenthal, referencing How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It
written by Pat Love (not kidding) and Steven Stosny, makes a case for how important it is to “step into the puddle” with others. Stepping into the puddle means offering our “heartfelt presence, caring concern and participation” when others need it most. And even when they don’t. By employing the puddle technique to everyday life, communication and connection are bound to improve.
So, how exactly does one ‘step into the puddle’ without getting drenched? By offering statements with a little more meat and a lot less fluff — like this:
When your spouse walks in after a long day of work, it’s temping to pull out the eye roll or the Ha! You think YOUR day was long, well let me just tell you about MY day… instead try saying:
I am so sorry about your day and I am so glad to have you home safe and sound.
When someone is dealing with a death, resist the He’s in a better place or Call me if you need anything and try This must be really difficult; I can’t imagine what it feels like to lose a sibling. Your brother was one of the funniest men I’ve ever met — I still laugh at the fun we had skiing in Vail. How are you handling everything?
Whatever the situation — death, job loss, hard day at work, tough day at home with children or even the tragedy of a 7th grade break-up, by acknowledging, truly, the heartache of others, we can make a big impact and — just maybe — lessen the blow.
This blog was originally posted on The Huffington Post.
Posted on Tuesday, February 17th, 2015
I, like many parents of middle-schoolers, sent my kids to camp. Each time, seeing them off left me with mixed emotions.
Euphoria was the big one (sorry, Sarah and Jared, but someday you will be parents, and someday you will feel this same level of pure bliss knowing you are about to enjoy seven uninterrupted days in a row, once a year). But also sadness. Guilt. And a little bit of envy.
Why envy? Well, an all-expenses-paid vacation that includes days in the gorgeous Colorado scenery and nights snuggled around a campfire is not a bad way to spend one’s time. Add in swimming, crafts, hiking, reading and melted marshmallows, and you’ve got one happy week.
So it was with great chagrin that I read a recent article in Experience Life Magazineabout a camp for adults. But this is sort of a rehab camp. Not for drugs or alcohol or gambling or weight loss, but for technology. Camp Grounded, located in Northern California, is all about detoxing from the digital world. And it sounds fabulous.
Article author Heidi Wachter, engagement specialist for Experience Life Magazine (a fancy term for the pubs social media guru who is probably pinged and dinged and technologically tethered at all times – like many of us), participated in Camp Grounded, which included, among other things, giving up any and all gadgets. Here’s the big news: she survived!
Upon arrival, campers are given nicknames, allowing everyone to “explore the world — and ourselves — with simpler identities.” Guests have access to old-school typewriters. And they are given notebooks to sketch, create poems or write notes to each other. They are also given a set of rules: no technology, no work discussions, no telling others in the group what you do for a living.
By stripping away the crutch of technology, the persona created by work or family or both, the pressure of timed tasks and the constant need to get things done, campers really have no other option than to connect on a personal level with others. And, harder, themselves.
A friend of mine who had the good fortune to travel to Africa experienced something similar to Camp Grounded. The absence of clocks in their (albeit luxurious) tents and the fact that cell phones, laptops and televisions simply did not work or exist on safari was not seen as a loss, but as a gift. The sound of animals and the light of the sun was the only alarm clock. Breakfast was served when? In the morning. Afternoons were reserved for rest, not ‘catching up on email’ and a song, sung by native Africans, signaled cocktail hour. (She really liked that song.)
Granted, we can’t all go on safari. Or even to Northern California. But we don’t have to, because detoxing from the digital world can be a DIY project. Earlier this month I blogged on this very topic. And then I read Wachter’s article and was (re) inspired. Some tips, courtesy of Experience Life Magazine:
- Make your bedroom or other spaces in your home TFZs (Tech-Free Zones).
- Create your own music instead of plugging into your iPod. Read a book instead of using your iPad or e-reader.
- Ride your bike or go for a run without your mileage-tracking device, or take a hike without your camera.
- Lose the laptop. Go to a coffee shop and meet a friend or strike up a conversation with a stranger.
- Call someone instead of texting. Or send a handwritten note.
- Have a tech-free dinner with friends.
- Start or end your day with a yoga class, meditation, or some other quiet, reflective experience.
After you read this blog, um, on your smartphone or laptop or e-reader, please share with me (via email, Facebook, hand-written note or smoke signals) on how you plan to incorporate these tips into your life. What are your thoughts on how to encourage children to disconnect? What are the benefits (besides better posture) and for tech-junkies of all ages.
This blog originally posted on The Huffington Post
Posted on Friday, January 9th, 2015
I had grand plans to stay on track over the holiday season, but people kept FORCING me to eat and drink and be merry. It’s rude to turn down a glass of champagne. And a cookie. And then another cookie. It is.
As I was trying to figure out my 2015 resolutions while sweating it out on the elliptical, I had an epiphany. I — anyone really — can lose five pounds immediately by doing one simple thing: putting down the devices.
By ridding ourselves of the laptop, and smartphone, and e-reader, and tablet, and ear buds, and Go Pro camera, and selfie stick and charger (and backup charger and solar charger) and whatever else may qualify we can experience instant weight loss. Like magic. Try it:
Hold all your devices and get on the scale.
Toss all your devices and get on the scale.
See? It works.
But we all know that when it comes to these hand-held handcuffs it’s really not about the physical weight, is it? It’s about how being constantly connected, in-touch, and interrupted can take a toll.
I talked to a handful of mothers who were in a quandary about gifting their children with smartphones or tablets. Why? Because they were afraid of losing their children to the ever-addictive world of electronics. One parent sighed, “I’m afraid I won’t see him after 9AM Christmas morning if I give him the iPhone 6 he’s been asking for since August.”
But electronic addiction doesn’t just affect the under-20 crowd. My friend’s father-in-law received a Fit Bit and was so enthralled by the constant feedback he actually fell off the curb while trying to amass his 10,000 steps. So much for a peaceful walk on a chilly morning. He’s currently chilling his swollen ankle with an ice pack.
By now we know that technology is not going away. And technology is not a bad thing. Just like cookies and champagne aren’t bad things (the exact opposite in my opinion, but I digress) especially if enjoyed responsibly. It’s just about a bit of moderation and employing some boundaries or, if that’s too strong a word for you, some flexible agreements.
Maybe 2015 COULD be about losing the weight of technology. Maybe it’s time to sit down as a family and determine when using devices is ok and when it is not. Not ok might be in the early morning hours before the first — or second or third — cup of coffee. Or at night in bed, considering that blue light is apparently Mr. Sandman’s archenemy. Perhaps dinner and the hour after school is tech-free, ensuring that you actually have a shot of seeing your child’s face instead of the top of his head. Together, create a framework for when it is ok — the hour before dinner or the 15 minutes before school as long as other tasks have been completed.
And how about workplace situations? Is it really necessary to place the smartphone on the conference room table? Probably not. The office is tech-heavy as it is so an hour without being attached to a device is like vacation! If you’re running the meeting, offer an empty basket at the entrance to the meeting with a note that simply states: Please silence phones and leave in this basket until the meeting adjourns. You will get some huffs and eye-rolls (after all, we are all a little childish when it comes to putting down a toy/gadget of any sort), but your colleagues might just thank you later for the free weight loss.
I recently came across this very same topic in a magazine article about graciously managing technology when entertaining guests. It was in a below-the-Mason-Dixon-Line publication I was leafing through while sitting in a lobby NOT on my phone (full disclosure: that’s because I had inadvertently left in the car — oh the horror!). But — and forgive me here for such an obnoxious blanket statement — many Southerners appreciate the finer points of entertaining, and the article made it clear that playing a video from YouTube while the Shrimp and Grits are being served is not considered a finer point.
So I am dedicating myself to some easy weight loss goals this year. I am limiting the times I am tethered to technology. After all, I wrote the book (for real) on The Fine Art of Small Talk. I am spending more time listening and less time scrolling because face-to-face time is more fulfilling than any face-to-screen time. If you look down too long, you’re likely to miss out on the good things – like friends and family and colleagues. And the curb. And cookies. And champagne. And maybe another cookie.
Are you attempting a tech diet? Tell me about it. And cheers to a happy, healthy 2015.
Posted on Friday, January 9th, 2015
Of all the crazy things I’ve been asked about regarding The Fine Art of Small Talk (“Dear Debra, I know my boyfriend is going to propose but I don’t want to marry him” — ohhhhh.), it’s the everyday situations that can cause the most jitters.
We are in the thick of the holiday season, which means lots of parties, dinners, gift exchanges, cocktail events, company soirees and neighborhood gatherings. Here’s a short and sweet cheat sheet to get you through some of the stickiest situations.
There are some hard and fast rules:
• Arrive with three topics to talk about; think of these as your safety net should you need them.
• Always be polite.
• Always be gracious.
• Always smile.
• Remember that you are likely harder on yourself than necessary.
• Remember that a lot of people get nervous, a lot of people are shy, a lot of people are uncomfortable — and those people are dealing with their own anxieties so they are not paying attention to yours.
• Alcohol or 22 cream puffs will not make the situation better. Ever.
• Steer away from foul language and sexual innuendos or starting any sentence with ‘I heard this joke that is SO funny. You are going to laugh SO hard. Now let me see if I remember it…’
• If you have that little voice that says ‘maybe I shouldn’t say this,’ listen to that voice. And listen good.
• It is not your responsibility to babysit other adults; but it is your responsibility to be a good guest or a good host by introducing yourself and participating in conversation.
• If someone, including you, thinks you’ve had too much to drink you probably have.
• You don’t have to answer every question — your weight, your income and your relationship can be off limits if you wish them to be.
If You’ve Met Someone Before But Have Forgotten Their Name — Again.
It’s so good to see you again. Forgive me; I’ve temporarily forgotten your name. Will you remind me?
If You’ve Met Someone 20 Times Before But Have Forgotten Their Name – Again.
Discreetly ask a friend to remind you and if that doesn’t work: It’s so good to see you again. Forgive me; I’ve temporarily forgotten your name. Will you be kind enough to remind me?
If You’ve Been Given A Gift That You Hate:
Thank you for thinking of me.
If You’ve Been Given A Gift But Didn’t Give One to the Giver:
Thank you for thinking of me.
If You Were Expecting A Year-End Bonus and Received a Jelly Of The Month Membership:
Thank you for thinking of me.
If You Are Hosting A Dinner And Guests Are More Than An Hour Late:
Make sure nobody is stranded on the highway and then encourage your guests to begin dining. It appears John and Jane are running a bit late; let’s begin and they will join us when they arrive.
When John and Jane Do Finally Arrive:
We’re so glad you’re here! Let me take your coat and get you settled; we started dinner; please sit down and allow me to get you a plate.
When You Are Serving Alcohol But You Know a Particular Guest Doesn’t Drink:
May I offer you something to drink?
When Someone At Your Event Has Had Too Much To Drink And Is Being Obnoxious:
Wow — it’s getting late! Thank you for joining us. Let me get your coat.
When Someone At Your Event Has Had Too Much To Drink And Drove To The Party:
Wow — it’s getting late! I hired Uber for tonight’s party; your driver is outside. Let me get your coat and walk you out.
When Someone At Your Party Has Food Allergies or Sensitivities That You Were Not Aware Of Prior To Arrival:
My apologies for not being aware; the salad and dessert are both (fill in the blank: gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free) but the main coarse is not. May I offer you something else, such as a piece of chicken?
When Someone At Your Party Has Food Allergies or Sensitivities And Brought Their Own Food:
Thank you! Let me plate this for you and then we can sit down!
When Someone At Your Party Shares Big News That Is Not Necessarily Good News (divorce, job loss, illness, the latest Kardashian episode): I’m so sorry to hear this news, John. How can we be of support?
When Someone At Your Party Shares Big News That Is Very Good News:
What wonderful news, John! May I offer a toast to celebrate (make a heartfelt toast.)?
When Someone At Your Party Is Intent On Talking About Things You Do Not Wish to Discuss (politics, religion, money, the Kardashians):
Gosh, I don’t think we have enough wine in the house to tackle this issue tonight! Speaking of wine, I was thinking back to the best gift I ever gave and it was the trip to Napa I surprised Steve with in 2008. What was a favorite gift you gave or received?
When You Are Stuck In A Conversation That You Want to End:
It was great catching up with you. Excuse me, I see Jane just walked in and I must say hello.
You’ve Insulted Someone By Mistake:
Forgive me! I did not mean to hurt you in any way (change the subject quickly).
You Are Tired and Want Everyone to Leave:
This was such a fun night (stand up, begin clearing dishes, do not open more wine.) – thank you all for being here.
Whatever situation you are in, remember that being kind and generous usually solves most problems. If that doesn’t work, remember it will all be over soon.
Follow Debra Fine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DebraFine
Posted on Wednesday, December 10th, 2014
I have been invited to many a party in my day. I used to think it was because of my good looks or great taste in wine or overall fantastic-ness. But, alas, as my husband so lovingly pointed out, it’s because I am conversational. A professional conversationalist at that. I realize that even though I barely know the party host, they want me there.
With me, there isn’t a lull in conversation. There isn’t that uncomfortable, awkward moment that feels like a year and a half when nobody is talking. Where people start checking their phones or shoving canapés down their throat. When you wish someone would choke just so there would be something to talk about.
You cannot imagine how many wedding gifts I have purchased over the years. And all because I can’t keep my mouth shut. I can’t handle the awkward lull. I am not tooting my own proverbial horn here, but I am the best wedding guest you’ll ever have: I keep the conversation flowing and I buy really nice gifts. It’s just a fact.
So, it’s rare that I find conversation icebreakers that I have not A. thought of or B. used or C. written about in a book.
But paging through Real Simple magazine’s November issue changed all that. One of the questions they recommend you ask at the Thanksgiving table was (drum roll please):
If you could eat only one food on this table for an entire year, which one would it be?
I know, great, right? Though the answers won’t be that interesting because clearly mashed potatoes is the only right answer here. Again, just the facts.
Last year, I wrote about what not to say at the Thanksgiving table. But the upcoming holidays encompass an entire season, so the pressure is on. Ever considered that holiday weight gain is not due to egg nog but rather hovering near the buffet to calm social anxiety? Keeping your mouth full of baked goods may seem easier than witty conversation. It’s not. Or maybe it is – for a minute. But then you’ve got that whole if I don’t unbutton my pants in three minutes I am going to die and that’s not very festive, is it?
Real Simple did a nice job of a few things you can say, so take a peek. Then relax, review and enjoy those potatoes.
Posted on Friday, October 24th, 2014
While I believe small talk is BIG, non-verbal communication is small-talk’s best friend. As the saying goes: “Actions speak louder than words.” And it’s a saying that rings true.
No matter how savvy a small-talker, or how confidant a conversationalist might be, without making a first impression the dialogue is probably doomed.
Here are Eight Great Ways To Make Good Conversation Without Saying A Word:
1. Master the Handshake:
The last blog I posted was on this very topic, and for good reason: the handshake is key to making a positive first impression. Read my tips and tricks for perfecting this universal greeting.
2. Perfect Your Posture:
Your mother was right; you (and me, and the world) need to stand up straight. By perfecting your posture you exude a level of confidence and poise that, pardon the pun, goes without saying. Elongate your neck, square your shoulders, raise your chin and look forward. Can’t remember all of that? Imagine a string tied to the top of your head, pulling you up. Or, as a colleague once told me: Pretend you are tucking your shoulders into your back pocket.
3. Uncross Your Arms:
Crossed arms is truly a habit, especially for those of us who are constantly cold or don’t know what to do with our hands. But even if your crossed arms are not meant to be a signal to others, they are: crossed arms make you appear cold, closed-off, or aggravated. Make a conscious effort to keep yourself open and engaged by lightly folding your hands in your lap, holding a pen (no clicking!) or hold them behind your back.
4. Get Rid of The Gum:
For real. Get rid of it, preferably before you enter a room. If you forget, swallow it (you won’t die — promise) or excuse yourself to dispose of it. Have you ever seen Margaret Thatcher chew gum? Have you seen Britney Spears chew gum? Enough said.
5. Make Eye Contact:
Look people in the eye when speaking to them or when they are speaking to you. If you are truly listening, this comes naturally. If you feel uncomfortable, focus on one eye — darting back and forth might make the other person feel wary while it might make you look like you are having a mini-stroke. Both of these are no good. When you do look away, look towards the left or the right instead of looking down. Looking down makes you look nervous and guilty. Looking up makes you look like you are conversing with dead people.
6. Minimize Your Movements:
People in power positions don’t make grand gestures with their hands (think back to the Margaret Thatcher/Britney Spears example here); instead they use small, subtle movements to convey their thoughts.
7. Mirror Your Mate:
If you witness a great conversation in action, you will undoubtedly notice that both parties seem to be mimicking each other, also known as mirroring. Each person is leaning in, nodding, smiling. Consider your conversation partner to be a dance partner, and follow his or her lead.
8. Silence the Sarcasm – And the Smartphone:
Yes, you can be sarcastic without uttering a word. Eye-rolls, huffing, fidgeting, and raised eyebrows scream to the other person that you don’t value their thoughts or words. If, in fact, you DON’T value the other persons thoughts or words, be kind enough to say that directly in a non-threatening way (“I understand what you are saying, Bob, but I disagree with the idea for this reason…”) instead of pouting like a petulant child. And ditch the smartphone. Unless your wife is in labor or you are waiting to find out if you were elected president of the United States, you can afford to put the phone away. Not under the table for secret texting, mind you, but away. In your pocket, your purse or your briefcase. You know, where you keep the gum.
No matter what, always wear a smile – it truly is the universal language.
Posted on Thursday, October 9th, 2014
I was two cups of coffee in to the Sunday Denver Post when I noticed this picture ofBob Beauprez fist-bumping his son. At first I didn’t realize it was his son; I was just momentarily mesmerized by the fist-bump. A fist-bump?
When I realized it was Beauprez’s son, I was a bit mollified (though I will admit I think a hug makes more sense, but it’s not my business and I mean that in all sincerity and without sarcasm because they are father and son and it’s their fist-bump, and at least they communicate and that’s always a good thing), but still pondering the fist-bump. When did this replace the handshake? And why?
A recent study in Germany touts the health benefits of the fist-bump. Yes, someone in Germany studied the benefits of the fist-bump versus the handshake versus the high five. The fist-bump won for least amount of germ transmittal. Researchers dipped a gloved hand into a vat of E-coli matter and then proceeded to shake, bump and high-five the participants. And you thought your job was bad.
I have asked a handful (pun intended) of adults why they fist-bump and most of the time the response is something along the lines of: Well, it seems to be the trend. AHA! This is not a good reason to forgo the time-honored handshake! By continuing to fist-bump you are only encouraging it. It’s like feeding a whiney toddler a lollipop or getting a tattoo in Vegas because the rest of the wedding party did. Just because everyone is doing it does not make it a ‘do!’
The handshake, at least in America, is still a ‘do.’ It’s still considered the most professional yet personal form of greeting. When should you shake?
• When introducing yourself to anyone (including your parole officer)
• At the beginning and end of a job interview
• When you meet the president of just about anything
• When greeting a colleague or client you haven’t seen in a significant amount of time
• When you’ve been introduced to someone by another friend or colleague
• When meeting your potential father-in-law (or parole officer)
• When acting as host or hostess to a business meeting or event
• When saying goodbye to a colleague, client, friend (or parole officer)
• When you need to indicate the end of an interaction or conversation and your impending exit
• Really any other time that seems obvious: when someone saves you from a careening bus,
when someone kills the mice infestation living under your stairs, when the guy in front of you tosses your 9 year-old the foul ball he just caught at the baseball game. You know when it feels right. Right? (In all of the above instances a hug is probably also warranted, especially in the mice instance.)
Wondering how to master the fine art of the handshake? It’s easy:
• Make eye contact
• State your name (if necessary) while extending your right hand: Hi, I’m Debra Fine
• Lean slightly in, grasp the other person’s hand firmly for a mere 2-3 seconds
That’s it. Really! So, don’t overthink it. And avoid the following:
• Dead Fish Hand: This limp, lifeless creature belongs in the grocery case, not in the handshake.
• Lady Fingers: The handshake involves the HAND, not just the fingers. Even Princess Kate does not daintily offer her royal fingers in that awkward way that makes it seem like you’re hiding a microphone in your palm. And she’s a princess.
• The “Make Mine a Double”: No need to cover the successful handshake with your other hand. Don’t ruin a good thing. The handshake is a singles match, not a doubles tourney. One and done.
• Be cognizant when greeting guests from other cultural backgrounds, as the rules may differ. If you are the guest, take your cues from the host to show your willingness to be flexible and respectful.
Handshakes are like parenting: Extend yourself. Be straightforward. Be firm. Smile even when you don’t feel like it. Practice what your preach.
On that note, teaching children the fine art of the handshake is a gift. After all, we teach our dogs to “shake” not “fist-bump” – shouldn’t we do the same for the little humans in our lives? Agree? Let’s shake on it.
Posted on Tuesday, September 30th, 2014
Bill O’Reilly photograph courtesy of NPR.org
Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, along with Bernie Goldberg, mentioned the latest Huffington Post blog on his show last week. Check it out here – and thank you to O’Reilly and Goldberg for addressing the topic of technology and kids; an issue so important I actually wrote a whole book about it.
Posted on Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014
Remember the 1987 PSA about kids and drugs? A father finds drug paraphernalia in his son’s closet and questions him about where he found the drugs, how he even knew about drugs. The boy starts in with the standard excuses and finally explodes, “I learned it from watching you, Dad!”
It was a groundbreaking commercial back in the day when stirrup pants were the rage, Bon Jovi was on the stereo and Dirty Dancing was in the theaters.
Here we are, a zillion years later, and things have changed. And stayed the same. Thankfully, stirrup pants are considered a “no,” but Bon Jovi gets better looking every year and lines from Dirty Dancing are still quoted regularly. (Right now you are saying to yourself “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” and you are so annoyed with yourself. Admit it.)
There is one thing about the drug PSA that hits home in today’s modern world. Actually, it’s a phenomenon that’s always been there: Children learn from their parents. Period. You can tell them what to do over and over and over again, but it’s really by watching that they learn. We’ve all witnessed toddlers “cooking” like mommy or mimicking their father’s voice or copycatting something on television.
Why, then, are we so surprised that the teens in the world are attached to their smartphones? Addicted to their devices? Aren’t we, too, “just checking Facebook,” “sending a quick text” or “making a call” when we are with our children? Aren’t we teaching them by example?
A recent article by Jane Scott, a pediatrician of 20 years, shines a light. When she entered her exam room, both a father and his 2-year-old son were scrolling through their smartphones (apparently this 2-year-old had his own device which… well… wow) and barely acknowledged the doctor. After her exam, Dr. Scott told the boy that the reason his ears hurt was due to a double whammy of an infection. The child immediately “picked up his phone and pushed a button. ‘Siri,’ he asked carefully, ‘What ear ‘fection?'”
Dr. Scott was shocked — and sad — that this little person had turned to an operating system disguised as a fictional person instead of his living, breathing father sitting next to him. Why? Dr. Scott has her own thoughts on the subject, though a study by Boston Medical Center seems to support her reasoning. According to this Boston study, 40 out of 55 caregivers at a fast food restaurant used their devices and their “primary engagement was with the device, rather than the child.” I think the word here is distracted.
Parenthood is not an easy job. And the few minutes parents of young children get to themselves is precious. I know, because I’ve been there. Anyone with small children has been there – that moment when you think if I don’t get 13 seconds to myself I am going to lose my mind. And parents need that. Everyone needs that. Really.
The bigger issue is how we interact with our children when we are, in fact, trying to interact with them. Are we constantly on our iPhone, checking work email or Facebook or whatever?
Technology is not going away; so it’s our job to use it wisely and, by doing so, teach our children how to use it wisely. There is a place for technology — it’s just not at the very tip top of the list. I hate sitting with my son, a smart, attractive, interesting young man who lives way too many miles away, whom I rarely see and happen to think the world of, tapping on his cell phone. I want to say, “Hey — over here! I am your mother. I am buying you dinner! I taught you to ride a bike. I think you are by far the most interesting person in the universe and nobody will ever love you the way I do.”
I don’t say that, of course, because he would be horrified and I would be on the first bus to the asylum (or perhaps he would text Uber for me?), but if I am feeling that way about his lack of attention, what would he be feeling about my lack of attention? And more importantly, what would he be feeling by my lack of attention if he were still three years old and thought I was still magical?
Along with our many, many other jobs as parents, we have to model a healthy relationship with technology. We want to have a real relationship with our children so they can forge real relationships with others. I don’t know about you, but I am hoping for grandchildren some day. If I don’t teach my children how to connect with the human race, I may miss my chance. Sitting around the Thanksgiving table with a bunch of little iPhones just doesn’t have the same je ne sais quoi, does it?
Here are a few tips on ways to form intimate relationships with people instead of dependent relationships on inanimate objects:
1. When you are with your children, be WITH them. Don’t just put down your smartphone, put it away. Once it is out of site, it’s less likely to distract you and shows your child that he is the priority.
2. Say out loud to your child, “I am going to do some work (schedule a dentist appointment, call a friend, etc.) in a bit on my cellphone, but right now I really want to spend some time with you. Tell me about your day.”
3. Create boundaries around technology and apply the rules to everyone, including you and the other members of the household. If you’ve agreed to a no phones at the table rule or devices off by 9 p.m., it should apply to everyone, not just your children. (Revisit the “I learned it from watching you, Dad” commercial when tempted.)
4. Teach your children the art of conversation by practicing with them.Ask open-ended questions of them and answer their questions to you thoughtfully and thoroughly. Skip the one-word answers or the distracted “uh huh” when you are with them.
5. When you do, in fact, call them on their phone, set the expectation that they should answer or call you back. Too often phone calls receive a text in return. Why? Text is easier, safer, and less taxing than a phone conversation. But if your child is taking the easy way out of making a connection with you, imagine how difficult it will be for them to make a conversation with a stranger.
6. Keep private information private. What might seem cute or funny or endearing to you (Your 8-year-old son dressed up in his sister’s dance costume! Your 3 year-old is finally potty trained! Your high schooler made the chess team!) is not for public consumption. Show your child you respect him by using discretion at all times.
Most parents are hoping to instill a strong sense of self-esteem in their children. We want them to be capable, responsible, happy, healthy members of society. Sitting with heads buried in laptops or eyes scanning phones tells them that we think very little of them. We devalue them. And someday they will be gone and we will wish for more time with them. And then we’ll be listening to that “Cats in the Cradle” song and just kicking ourselves! Save yourself the pain and be present now. When it counts.
This blog can also be found on The Huffington Post!