All posts by Rosalind Wiseman

Rosalind’s Informal Bio

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Hopefully, you’ve gotten a good sense of my career from my formal biography but it can be hard to get an understanding of  how I came to do this work from a professional biography. To that end, I’ve described below some of the reasons I am working in this field.

I grew up in Washington D.C. with my younger brother and sister and went to my local public school, John Eaton, until 5th grade. When I was 11, we moved to Pittsburgh for my father’s work. Although I certainly had the occasional problem with my friends in Washington, being the new kid in 6th grade at an all girls school (where I had to wear a green and white striped uniform) proved to be very challenging. That’s where I truly had my first “mean girl” experiences. The next year my parents returned the family to Washington and I attended the Maret School until graduation. I went to Occidental College in Los Angeles, a small liberal arts school where I majored in political science. Oxy was a great environment for me. I met incredibly smart, down to earth people who taught me much more than what I learned in my classes.

After graduation I came back to Washington D.C. with my then-boyfriend/future husband because I couldn’t find a job in California. I had also just gotten my first degree black belt in Karate, and when I returned home I was asked if I would teach a group of high school girls self-defense. I thought, why not? I immediately loved the work. I loved seeing what teaching girls how to take care of their bodies did to their self-confidence.

But teaching girls brought up a lot of questions for me. Why were girls so quick to doubt their abilities and where did boys fit into these issues? Here comes the truly miraculous part: For some reason, there were schools who let me (a then-23 year old with almost no teaching experience) work with their students. For the next 8 years I worked in the DC-area in private schools, public schools, teen parent homes—anywhere teens were—and developed a curriculum called Owning Up™ that I now teach to educators all over the world. It’s truly amazing how it has turned out.

In 2012 I moved from Washington D.C. to Boulder, Colorado with my husband and two sons. My boys are now in 5th and 7th grade so I experience many of the same parenting challenges that I write about.  Though my work is hard and I can be overwhelmed by the difficulties people share with me, I am tremendously grateful that I have the privilege to do what I love and feel appreciated for my efforts.


Family Circle: Teaching Your Child To Deal With Anger

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Yell1Recently, I was sitting on my 12-year-old son, Elijah’s, bed. The lights were out and he was under the covers—as in he’d pulled the covers up over his face.

Me: Honey, it’s ok to say that you’re frustrated and upset.
Elijah: I’m fine, grabbing his pillow and putting it on top of his face.
Me: You can’t bottle up your feelings. It’s like you’re covering up a volcano. Sooner or later it’s going to explode and that feels even worse.
Elijah: Mom, please I just want to go to bed.
Me: Ok…just think about it. I love you.

This conversation occurred about two hours after Elijah had not listened to me or his dad and accidentally dropped a 60-pound bag of concrete on our lawn at the exact time our automatic sprinkler system came on. And remember wet concrete very quickly becomes hardened concrete. In his defense, as a somewhat recent transplant from Washington, D.C., none of us have ever lived in a house with:
1. a backyard and
2. a sprinkler system
So it was understandable that he didn’t think about it when he ignored our warning to not leave the bag on the grass. Except for the part about ignoring us.

This incident also occurred a few days after another very unfortunate event inside the house. Elijah wanted to show me that he could flip a can of spray paint in the air. When he caught it, the little nozzle came off and red paint started spraying everywhere: the walls, the floor, the sink, the faucet. The goods news is that Murphy’s Oil Soap took off all the paint—but not without me expressing my frustration and anger.

Teaching our children that it’s healthy to express these feelings is one of the most important responsibilities we have as parents. But it’s not easy because very few of us are taught how to deal with these messy emotions well. That’s the thing about families. They give us endless opportunities to practice expressing healthy ways to be angry and encouraging it in our children.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t sit down with Elijah in a calm, kind voice and tell him how “concerned” I was about the paint and how I really “hoped” he’d be more thoughtful next time. No, I fumed. I did my angry sigh—the thing both my boys know is the sign that I am making every effort not to completely lose it.

But back to the concrete: As Elijah went through the usual phases of denial and blame (on his brother and the neighbor’s dog), he tried to clean up the mess…by tracking even more of the concrete throughout our house. At this point, my husband was yelling, Elijah was sulking and I wanted to run away.

Thirty minutes later, with everyone in a terrible mood and hating each other, Elijah went into his room. And there I was still feeling angry. I mean, really. How many times do I have to tell my boys to listen to me when there’s a real possibility of them damaging someone or something?

Sitting on Elijah’s bed, I knew that if I said anything more, I’d just irritate him. But I also knew that he was really upset about how angry his dad was with him. Elijah had done something wrong, without a doubt, but at the same time he was really hurting. So what do you do in that moment?

I walked out of his room and asked my husband to go in there and tell Elijah he loved him. Of course he wasn’t feeling very loving at the moment, but that father-son connection is intense and sometimes the best thing about having a spouse is they can remind you of the larger picture. He does it for me all the time. James got up and walked into Elijah’s room. I don’t know what they said. But I do know the next morning, we all felt better.

Originally posted on Family Circle Momster


Daily Dot Mouth Art

Daily Dot: Does online hate silence us?

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The first time I received, “I hope you die, bitch,” my heart jumped. Was that really directed at me? Receiving hate mail is part of my profession. It doesn’t kill me. It doesn’t make me cry on my couch and moan about why people are so mean. But being threatened and demeaned online is now part of my life, and so I’m constantly thinking about if and how it impacts what I write and how to best respond. I also try to take a step back and think about how these attacks possibly influence us, both individually and collectively.

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Two siblings get into a fight in their home in Lincoln, NE.

7 Words You Shouldn’t Say To Your Kid

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Two siblings get into a fight in their home in Lincoln, NE.There aren’t many times when I feel like “Never do X” is the right thing to say to your child. But last week I came across one. I posted on my Facebook page: “Never tell your son or daughter: ‘They’re bothering/teasing/hitting you because they like you.’” I don’t approve of that explanation because it makes it seem as if the adult condones this as an acceptable way to show affection and attraction. And obviously it’s not.

But after that post, I realized I was guilty of doing something I’m always reminding teens not to do: criticizing without making suggestions on how to make it better. So I’m going to use some of the online responses I got from readers to frame the way I think about this very common problem.

One reader wrote about emotional intelligence:
What do we say?! I always struggle with this! I try to say something like, “Sometimes people don’t know how to talk to people and are feeling lonely.” I need words!

This mother is trying to teach her child empathy—a worthy goal. While that’s fine as part of what a parent should say, it shouldn’t be the only thing. It’s not assuring your own child that they have the right to not like how the other kid is treating them. Also, it’s also critical to stop yourself from making any assumptions about what’s going on and ask your child for details. Say something like:

“Thanks for telling me and I’m really sorry you’re dealing with this. Can you share a little more specifically what the child is doing so I can get a better idea of what’s going on?”

For younger kids you’ll probably want to add this:
“If the kid is doing something inappropriate or embarrassing and it’s hard to tell me, do the best you can. You won’t get in trouble for saying bad words right now because you’re telling me what’s happening to you.”

Another reader wrote about self-expression:
Some little girls were bothering my son (they are 5th graders) and they don’t seem to have the maturity or social skills that make them understand it’s not okay. He did complain though and it stopped. I just wish an adult could help to come up with alternative ways to show someone they like them.

This is an example of how hard it can be to “teach” these skills to kids. The teacher is much more likely to see these dynamics but will understandably feel uncomfortable telling the kids how to behave when they have a crush on someone. But the parent who may feel more comfortable talking to their child wouldn’t usually see this going on. It’d be easy to not realize they should talk to their child specifically about how you show someone you like them—unless it gets intense enough that someone complains to the school like the boy above. These issues usually come up the most between 3rd-5th grade.

As a parent, have a two-minute conversation with your child that goes something like this:

“Sometimes in your grade people get crushes on other people. When a person gets a crush they can be nervous around the person they like. But sometimes, and this can seem weird, they can show their feelings by bothering the person and even teasing or hitting them. Just because someone likes you doesn’t mean it’s OK for them to treat you like that. So if that ever happens to you or anyone else I want you to remember that. And you can tell me and we can figure out what’s the best thing to do.”

A final reader wrote about on-going problems:
My 12-year old beautiful daughter has had a problem for many years of boys teasing her or “bothering” her to get her attention. So, what do you recommend we say or do instead?

As kids get into middle school there really is a possibility of inappropriate sexual behavior and harassment but it will be seen as liking the person. Again, it’s absolutely critical to ask your child the details so you and your child can distinguish what kind of behavior is going on and then decide what is the best way to proceed. But if I were the mother of the twelve-year-old girl above, I’d say to her:

“I want to talk to you for three minutes about the way boys are treating you. How do you feel about what the boys are doing? If you don’t like it, can you tell them to stop and they do?”

If she is too embarrassed to tell you, tell her you understand why it’d be hard to tell you but you just want her to know that if she doesn’t like it she has the right to not like the attention and she has the right to tell them to stop and have that request respected.

If she does open up to you, suggest to her that she say one-on-one or by text or email to the boy (i.e. not in front of other kids) who is bothering her the most one short sentence that says exactly what she wants stopped. If she says she doesn’t want to be “mean” this is a great opportunity to teach her that communicating her personal boundaries—in a clear and civil manner—isn’t mean.


Originally posted in Family Circle Momster


Why I’m Sending My Sons To Cotillion

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bigstock-Photo-of-happy-boy-helping-his-46137559My husband and I have relentlessly taught our children to hold doors for people. We’ve told them they need to ask to be excused from the dinner table and they’re aware they should write “Thank You” notes for gifts. Trouble is, my boys haven’t exactly internalized those lessons. Over the years, I’ve seen that I needed reinforcements. Enter: Cotillion prep.

And yet I came to an awkward realization when a friend recently asked me why in the world I’d send my sons to cotillion. Aloud, I explained to her that the classes were simply basic manners and dance. In my head, I suddenly became aware that if I’d had a daughter instead of sons I’d never have thought to enroll her in anything close to cotillion.

If I’d had a daughter, I wouldn’t have wanted her learning the gender baggage that goes along with programs like this. As gleeful as I was to get my boys into suits and ties, I’d never have pressured a girl into a dress with white gloves. And I wasn’t alone. In my kids’ classes, many more parents of boys signed up their sons. There was even a last minute campaign to recruit girls.

Why were parents of boys so eager and parents of girls so reluctant? I think it’s because the drawbacks of sending a girl to cotillion are more obvious to all of us. Sending girls to a manners class where boys “choose” them to dance or they learn how to set a table sends the message that they’re expected to grow up to be perfect hostesses. It doesn’t matter that the boys are learning the same domestic skills alongside the girls. If we teach these things to girls, it feels like we’re betraying them.

I completely understand these concerns. But what’s amazing to me is that parents of boys (like me) so rarely think about how these gender expectations impact their sons. There are two reasons why. First, these gender rules don’t seem so bad for boys. A suit doesn’t seem as constraining as a party dress. Second, we’re desperate to civilize them. There’s an everyday reality that our boys can come across as loud, inconsiderate and sloppy. I’ll share what it’s like for me:

1. My sons move fast – and in doing so they can be blind to people around them. They literally have closed the door in the face of an elderly person. In spite of making them stand for fifteen minutes and open doors as a “teachable moment” (after doing this to that older woman), they still need more opportunities to slow down.

2. Last year, we moved to Boulder, Colorado from Washington D.C. Dressing up in Boulder means wearing darker jeans and a new flannel shirt. I’m sorry but my East Coast self just can’t handle that. Different situations demand different attire.

3. I strongly believe that personal style shows how a person wants to present himself to the world. That is entirely different than my son picking up the sweat pants he dropped on the floor last night and putting them back on because he can’t be bothered to open the clothes drawer. Honestly, I’d much rather have a kid who spiked his hair into a huge Mohawk and wore black skinny jeans than one who wears dirty sweatpants with holes in them – my boys’ go-to outfit.

4. Everyone needs practice dealing with horribly awkward social situations. And what’s more excruciatingly awkward than a school dance? By the time my boys walk into their first “Under the Sea”-themed 8th grade dance, they’ll feel a little more experienced and at ease with the whole thing.

But the question of gender baggage is important. I don’t want my children thinking that they should be polite to girls because they’re delicate or that boys fit into a “boy box” and girls fit into a “girl box.” Or that anyone who doesn’t fit or doesn’t want to fit into those boxes is somehow less worthy. So, while my husband and I talk to them about that in countless ways, this process has made me link these conversations and values to these classes. And yes, they’re rolling their eyes, and sighing as they say, “I know mom” but that’s totally fine.

The bottom line is I want them learning basic manners, giving up their seats and opening doors for anyone because they need to look out for and be considerate of other people. But there’s another thing. Last month, at my aunt’s birthday party, my older son asked my mom to dance. As I watched them, you can imagine how I felt. I may have to sign them up again next year.

Originally posted in Family Circle Momster