A new school year has begun.  Many families are feeling like a ton of bricks just fell on their shoulders: There is endless homework, lunch boxes to fill, soccer games, dance classes, school open house… on and on.

We expect so much from ourselves, thinking that we should be able to do it all, AND take a phone call from a relative in the middle of the morning “getting the kids ready for school” routine,  OR needing to be the room mother for all 3 of your children OR making sure your child has the “right” present for her/his classmate’s birthday party.

The list of issues that provoke guilt is endless!  

Here are a few tips that may help: allow yourself to take shortcuts, e.g. turn off phones/computers during those busy times: when getting the kids off to school, meal times and kids’ bedtimes   –car pool: don’t push yourself to be at every practice, game or lesson – your kids will not love you less    –set a budget for birthday presents and stick to it.

Most important, when you hear yourself starting sentences with “I should….” remind yourself of 3 specific “good mom” things you did very recently…keeping in mind that “good” can be as simple as I gave my daugher my undivided attention for 2 minutes (120 seconds).  And finally, imagine yourself tossing the guilt right out the door.

Stay tuned for more about what really matters: your kids and YOU!


Connie Bessette, MSW



This article was written by Sandy Rhee and Connie Bessette.

Sandy Rhee is a Professional Organizer specializing in working with students. She taught Middle School and High School for 12 years and has recently transitioned to her own business as an organizer.

My son is starting first grade and he is worried that his teacher will scream a lot or that he will get in trouble. How do I help him?

Will he give you examples of what he thinks might happen? The idea is to get him talking about it. He may just be uneasy and not be able to give you more information. Try doing a role play with him, acting out different voice levels that a teacher might use in the classroom. You can also talk with him about examples of classroom rules and their importance.

My 8 year old daughter seems really worried but won’t give me any details. What should I do?

Pay close attention to how she is behaving and what she is saying or not saying. For instance, if she seems irritable, or is fighting with siblings, bring that to her attention with a question such as, I wonder if you are getting nervous about starting school? Also listen closely to what she is talking about. Usually if we pay close attention our children give us clues…it is as if you have to be a private investigator. The objective is to get her to talk and let her know that her worries are normal.

My 10 year old son knows that he will not be in classes with any of his old friends; he is afraid he won’t have anyone to hang out with/ sit with at lunch; what can I tell him?

Put aside time to listen to his concerns, validating/affirming him—not trying to interpret or lessen his concerns. Ask him if he would like a few ideas on what to do. If he is interested offer these ideas:

Say hi to many kids…some will respond some will not—go back to the ones who respond and start a discussion (brainstorm with him). Also joining a club, group or extracurricular activity is a great way to make new friends.

If he says he does not want your help or ideas, let him know that you are available to listen anytime and that you believe in his ability to figure out tough issues; and if he is interested offer him an example of a time when he solved a problem on his own.

My daughter who is starting middle school is worried that she won’t be able to find her classrooms, remember her locker combination or may get lost. How can I help her?

These are very common worries for most children; so begin by normalizing this fear—letting your daughter know that many kids are worrying about these same issues. Empathize with her—don’t try to correct or reassure—listen and then affirm what you are hearing e.g. you’re worried about not finding your way. Correct any distortions you are hearing e.g., if your child is thinking that she will be in trouble (maybe get detention) for being late for her first days of classes, let her know that all students will be confused and teachers will be flexible. And, help her prepare, e.g. use a diagram of the school so she can anticipate her route; get a combination lock and practice at home.

My son was issued a Student Planner by his school. How can I teach him to use it effectively?

The key to using a planner is to use it for everything. There should be room to record both school and non-school activities. If the planner does not include everything, your son will have to remember to look in multiple places before he commits to any additional activity, which is much more difficult and not likely to happen. Teach him to record every school assignment on the day it is assigned. Then, long term assignments should also be written on the day they are due. Every practice, club meeting, and activity that requires his time should be recorded as well. This includes activities outside of school such as family time, club sports, religious activities, and the like.

We have been lenient about bed times over the summer break. I don’t want my daughter to be shocked when school starts up again. What should we do?

About a week before the first day of school, start to adjust bedtimes and wake times by a few minutes each day to allow for a transition. Prior to doing this, let your daughter know what you’ll be doing so it is not a surprise to her. By adjusting gradually, you will avoid the shock of an abrupt change.

Last year was a rough year for my son. He is transitioning to middle school this year and I want to make sure he has the best start possible. What can I do to prepare him?

Start by having a conversation with your son where you share your family’s values and expectations about education. Establish routines to have a calm start and end to each day to relieve some of the stress that can be controlled. Establish a homework routine as well. Let your son know that he will have a set number of minutes each night where he will be required to work on homework. If he doesn’t have enough homework to fill the time, the remaining time can be spent on learning activities you choose or reading. This helps to avoid the temptation to rush through assignments just to be finished faster and reinforces your family beliefs about the importance of education.

My daughter is starting middle school and will have six different teachers. We are worried about keeping everything straight and meeting multiple expectations. What is the best way to handle this?

Most teachers will hand out an outline of their expectations on the first day of school. Let your daughter know that she should bring these home with her. Sit down and go over each handout, discussing and answering questions as you go. Highlight key information such as homework policies, late work policies, what to bring to class every day, and general expectations. It is a good idea to review these in the proper order of her day, starting with her first period teacher and continuing. Let her make notes if she needs to. Make sure that you have the proper supplies for each class. It is advisable to wait to buy notebooks and binders until after the teachers explain what they expect as these tend to be fairly specific per class. Review the expectations each night for the first few and then periodically throughout the year.

My friend Ashley and I were having a conversation about teenagers and parenting when she explained a program for teenagers who are about to get their drivers license.

Ashley Snell is an insurance agent for State Farm. Before insuring new drivers, Ashley sits down with them and discusses a myriad of safety issues along with showing them a video—all part of the “Steer Clear Safe Drivers Discount Prograrm.” Ashley gets real with kids and is one more voice, besides the parents, that teens will hear before they embark on their journey as a driver of an automobile.

The discussion prompted a few of my own thoughts:

Simply by virtue of their developmental stage, teens question and challenge everything; i.e. rules and authority (among others). It is often said that teens think they know everything. While that statement is not entirely exaggerated the opposite is also true.
Teens are aware that they don’t know everything and are still very interested (although they will never let you see this side of them) in learning.

A couple of stories with a few good tips:
1. I knew a teenager who would “borrow” the family car without permission.

Tip: hold on to the car keys and please be vigilante, know where your teen is and what s/he is doing and don’t, please don’t assume, that because s/he is a “good kid” s/he will always make great choices.

2. I knew a teenager who got a speeding ticket in the first month of driving.

Tip: don’t hesitate to over supervise your teen’s driving in the first months—go out with your child and observe—perhaps you sit with a newspaper in the passenger or back seat with a goal of observing your child’s instincts and tendencies while behind the wheel. When you get home, turn your observations into “teachable moments” sharing just a few of your thoughts. Remember to keep your comments brief.

If you would like to learn more about Ashley’s program please feel free to contact her at ashley@sandydodd.com over at State Farm Insurance.

A workshop for parents of children of all ages:

Date: Wednesday, June 17th
Time: 6:30-8 p.m.
Place: Exit 6 Office Building, Suite 1532, Nashua NH
Cost: $25 per person

I am presenting this workshop for parents because I have been asked many questions about “the children.”

Children can be very literal and misunderstand quite easily. Dad losing his job and being home could seem like vacation, so a child may wonder why dad is grouchy and never wanting to play baseball…thinking to himself: “did I do something wrong?”

After one Mom lost her job and the dad’s wages were reduced the family had to sell their house. The five year old asked when the people would be coming to take their house away and where would they all sleep when the house was gone.

With all the talk in the house about the concerns about money the 16 year old assumed that college would be out of the question. Another teenager canceled her birthday party, thinking that her parents would be unable to afford this expense.

At this workshop we will be talking about how to prevent your children from jumping to conclusions. We will discuss giving them information up front so they understand if you are frustrated or having a bad day.

We will also talk about how to meet these challenges with your family: what to do when you when you cannot go on the family camping trip because you don’t have the money or when the trip to Disney gets cancelled. What and how to tell the children and how to manage their anger and frustration about all the changes.

We will be discussing how to get your children involved in the problem solving in a way that relieves your stress/guilt and frees your children from worry.

To register: Call 883-9333
Or email: connie.bessette@settingparentsfree.com
***limited space available***

Don’t be afraid to speak up and be heard.

A parent of a child in the hospital believed the doctors knew what was best and that the nurses acted in the best interest of her child. She didn’t ask a lot of questions, nor did she share her concerns in fear that the hospital staff may perceive her as annoying and questioning of their practice and care of her child.

The reality is that the professionals rely heavily on the information of parents. Mothers and Fathers know their children. Your actions as parents are guided by your intuition and your gut which can be invaluable to your doctors in their treatment planning.

Trust your judgement and believe in yourself as a parent. You are and will always be your child’s best advocate. If you are having trouble with this, talk to another parent who seems strong and secure in herself/himself and his/her parenting or contact a parent coach.

I have recently have had many opportunities to observe and be involved with moms of infants.

Many of us who are not “in the trenches” don’t really know what it feels like for the mom with her newborn because you are not her and because no two experiences are the same.

For those of you who are spending time with a mom of an infant, fight the urge to say or imply–I know or I’ve been there. Fight the urge to offer suggestions –unless clearly asked.
Moms of newborns can feel very alone. Your best gift to them is to listen, without judgment and without interruption.

A few closing tips for you moms of infants: Don’t do this alone—it is way too hard! If family and friends are not an option, check with your hospital or pediatrician’s office for mom/infant groups; or surf the net—others are in similar positions as you.

The Nashua Telegraph (our local newspaper) contacted me to ask for my thoughts about tips for partners, e.g. the do’s and don’ts for Valentines Day. My bottom line was about making your partner feel special.

As I was reading the article in yesterday’s paper I started thinking about parents on Valentines Day. Sometimes parents feel that taking time for them is selfish when actually it can be “hazardous to your relationship” to not take time away from your children.

I remember a discussion about 2 parents who were getting ready to go out for the evening. After the 6 and 10 year old knew who was babysitting and what their plan was for the evening they became interested in mom and dad’s preparation for their evening out.

The 6yr old asked his mother why she was “upside down” while blow drying her hair.

Mom explained, “Well, this is the way I make my hair look nice.” The 6 year old smiled. Mom smiled back; she was enjoying her moment with her son, but she was also excited about her “date.”

When your children see you taking time for yourself, the message to them is that you are important, special and deserving of attention and fun. You have to value yourself so others will value you.

One more reason to have a “valentine’s kind of day” frequently:
You need to take care of yourself and have grownup time without your children (even if very brief).

A teenager was telling her mom that all her friends were allowed to text whenever they wanted insisting that she had to live in the the house with all the ridiculous rules.
My head was spinning as I heard this story. There is texting and instant messaging and there is facebook and my space and dozens of other places teens can go to connect with their peers.
This mom got very creative…something we all lose sight of when in the day to day trenches of parenting. She told her daughter to come up with what she thought would be a reasonable amount of time to spend using her cell phone (texting or talking), adding that she would be open minded about the subject.
Days later I heard that the storm in the house had blown over and all was resolved.
Kids will be more apt to follow rules when they have some involvement in its creation.
Saying no and setting rules are good for parents and even better for kids.

My daughter and son-in-law gave birth to their third child—my first grandson. To help out I took the week off to be with my granddaughters (2 and 4 years old). I started out with plans of visiting relatives, doing craft/baking projects, reading books, maybe a children’s museum, building a snowman, etc. etc. There would be little to no television, healthy yet fun snacking; and most important they would have my undivided and top quality attention.

By day 2 I had prepared over a dozen snacks/meals, answered at least 50 questions, buckled and unbuckled seatbelts at least 30 times, listened to a rap version of Itsy Bitsy Spider about 15 times, and cleaned/participated in some type of “elimination” detail at least a dozen times.

Then there was story time at the library when the 4 year old decided it would be fun to join her sister in running through the maze of book shelves and laughing at my attempts to halt their fun.

These 2 little “sweeties” as I have come to call them definitely had my undivided attention…however the quality was in question.

I was losing my cool!

I thought of what I would say/do as a parent coach:
“notice your body”…mine was tense, my breathing shallow and I imagine there was very little oxygen getting to my brain;
“look at the big picuture…” I realized that I quite overwhelmed;
“who is really in charge?” the girls were running the show.

I got a grip; got down on one knee, took 2 little hands, said shhhhh, and with gentle firmness walked them back to story time. I salvaged the “library experience”!

We had Wendy’s take out for lunch and watched two rounds of “Little Bear” when we got home.

And, as the week went on I relaxed quite a bit and used fewer words when I needed to discipline. I was also able to let go of my initial idealistic plans and be guided by my granddaughter’s needs and my energy level.

I applaud all you moms and dads out there. Raising your children is indeed the toughest job you will ever do!

In all of my years working with families I have heard one message consistently from children. They don’t hear. Their window of interest is short and their window of attention may be shorter.

Parents often feel that more is better as if explaining for 5 minutes will make all the difference.

However the opposite is true. Explain as briefly as possible -perhaps 2 or 3 sentences (fewer, if the child is under 7). Try using 10 words or less as a reminder. And, 5 words or less as the 3rd reminder.

Did you know that:
Words carry the least of our message
tone of voice carrying much of our message and
Facial expression and body language carrying the greatest part of the message.

Examples of the final messages:
For a 2 or 3 year old: finger wagging, eyes stern, voice calm/stern
For a 7 year old: child’s name “Sarah, remember the rule” in a calm stern voice
For a 12+ year old: “Tom, we’ve already discussed this.” with calm voice and body language.