Monday, October 17, 2016

How I address current events with my kids

From Saturday's Briefing:

I wish we lived in a world in which we didn’t have to read about or hear about or worry about the really tough stuff -- like cancer, violent crime, drug and alcohol addiction, acts of hate, lying and cheating, sexual assault.

Yet we do.

We live in a beautiful, broken world. We are lovely, flawed people.

I’m never more aware of our frailty and vulnerability as I am when addressing current events with my children.

Long gone are the days of sheltering them from news. Instead, I’m constantly equipping them with what I hope are valuable antidotes and coping skills for a challenging present and future.

What’s working so far: an emphasis on our faith, with weekly worship services, daily prayer and conversations and questions about God; constant gathering of facts and opinions to understand issues from multiple viewpoints; and organic conversations that bubble up based on our interests and a whole bunch of events outside of our control.

As I gather advice and opinions, I share what’s relevant. For example, a recent New York Times article by Maia Szalavitz describes four traits that make young people susceptible to addiction: sensation-seeking, impulsiveness, anxiety sensitivity and hopelessness.

The article offered a relevant opportunity to talk (again) about illegal substances and taking care of our bodies.

Cooper and Katie already know that there’s a history of addiction in my family, and they know that’s why I’ve chosen not to drink alcohol. Because they have no modeling at home for moderation, we talk about what responsible drinking looks like.

It’s an ongoing conversation, with increasing importance given their ages and freedoms and widening circles of friends.

So, over the weekend I told them about the article on addiction, and we discussed risk factors and consequences of drug and alcohol abuse.

The same day, we had another crucial conversation -- this one about sexual assault.

(Never did I anticipate that a presidential election would take us down such a path, but here we are, and there’s no going back, so now we’ve got to address it.)

I wanted each of them -- one a boy, one a girl -- to hear the same words.

You are the best advocate for yourself.

Your body belongs to you. You are responsible for the food you eat and the exercise you do (or don’t do). You regulate how much water you drink and how many hours you sleep.

You get to control who touches you and who doesn’t. If you don’t want to be hugged, say so (politely, of course). If someone is too close, find a kind way to move away.

No one is allowed to touch any part of you, especially a part that would be covered by a swimsuit, without your permission.

You owe every single human the same respect you want for your own body.

The only body that belongs to you is yours. You are not allowed to force anyone to eat or drink something they don’t want. You are not allowed to force yourself on anyone else. Keep your hands to yourself unless otherwise given permission.

Do you understand? Do you have any questions? Do you promise to tell me or another trusted adult any time you are unsure?

These kinds of conversations are never easy, though they become less awkward the more often we have them. I’d rather have slightly uncomfortable discussions than live with regret of unspoken words.

It’s a tough job, preparing our imperfect children for an imperfect world. Perhaps, though, this generation will grow up to curb dishonesty and violence and to salve the wounds we’re creating today.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Our kids need to face adversity to truly grow

My son has many passions. Running. Hiking and camping. Cycling. Marching.
Every single one of those activities is on hold.
Cooper is in the middle of healing from a stress fracture at the base of his fibula, directly above his left ankle. The pain began at a cross country meet and totally debilitated him during practice a few days later.
So he's wearing a walking boot to give his ankle time to rest, and he's not suiting up with his team, enjoying the outdoors with his troop, riding his bike to school or marching at halftime.
This is when my theories on a growth mind-set are totally tested.
Children need to learn how to handle disappointment, frustration and heartache. They need to develop perspective and healthy coping skills.
I embrace the idea that grit is an essential trait for success.
The trouble with grit, though, is that you've got to go through adversity to practice.
It's a challenge I face daily as a mom and a teacher.
I want my children, the two who live in my home and the 41 who learn in my classroom, to develop passionate perseverance. I want them prepared to tackle big problems. I want them to face challenges with cheerful spirits and happy hearts.
I just don't want them to actually face the pain -- the physical aches, the emotional trials, the mental strain -- that accompanies those challenges.
It's an irrational wish, of course. We all face challenges. We all suffer. We all make mistakes. We can't shelter our children from every stumble -- and we create potential damage when we try.
When a child struggles with a particular reading skill, for example, she deserves to know. We name the skill, indicate where she is now, set a goal for where she needs to go and work toward that goal, one step at a time. It's powerful to watch a child persevere toward a goal and incredibly rewarding to celebrate with her once she's achieved it.
If a child continually leaves homework at home, and you continually deliver it for him instead of allowing the natural consequence of a late grade, he will never learn to bring the homework himself.
It's the same with grief. When a child faces a loss, -- death of a loved one, divorce, broken relationship -- she needs to acknowledge the pain and rely on trusted adults to foster appropriate coping skills. Allowing or forcing the child -- or worse, forcing the child -- to ignore the grief fails to make room for valuable healing and tools for the next, inevitable loss.
The most recent X-ray of Cooper's ankle reveals a cloud of protective cells over the fracture, indicating that the body is working toward healing. He won't be down forever -- just a small blip in a big timeline.
Cooper has handled his injury with grace. He never complains about the clunky boot. He continues to attend band practice and games, albeit with a smaller role. We talk frequently about the long-term goal -- to be completely healed so that he can enjoy an active lifestyle his whole life -- to help him get through the short-term disappointment of missing his favorite fall activities.
He's building inner strength now, and he'll have time to rebuild strength in his leg later. He's got miles to run, mountains to climb, trails to bike and music to play. I suspect he'll tackle them all with gratitude and a renewed zest when time allows.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Before long, your novice kid may be a little musician

From today's Briefing:

I’ve just said goodbye to Cooper and Katie, who are studying at home while I take care of grocery shopping before the week begins.
I’m half a mile from home, stopped at a traffic light, when the phone rings. It’s Cooper, the child who rarely calls. He’s more of a texting sort.
My heart, conditioned over 15 years of parenting, feels heavy as I answer. Something terrible must have happened for him to call so soon after my departure.
There’s dramatic wailing as I say hello. The news is worse than I imagined.
“What’s wrong?” I demand.
“It’s awful!”
“The noise! Can you make her practice outside?”
My heart rate slows. I start to breathe normally.
“Cooper, your sister does not have to practice playing her oboe reed outside. We endured weeks of squeaky clarinet playing when you were in sixth grade. We all have to start somewhere. Be nice.”
This is no emergency. This is the beginning of sixth-grade band.
Beginner band requires patience from all: students, who long to play entire songs yet still struggle to properly assemble their instruments; band directors, who inherit children with varying abilities and musical backgrounds; and family members, who listen to the squeaks and squeals without grimacing or complaining. (Well, not too much.)
It’s also an experience worth savoring.
I admit to fleeing the house a few times when Cooper began clarinet. I couldn’t wait until he started playing recognizable tunes, with notes neither too sharp nor too flat.
Then, all of the sudden, it seemed, he was playing mostly discernable melodies. In no time, we were attending the first concert of the year, at which a whole gaggle of sixth-graders managed to keep a beat, hit the right notes at the right time and remain silent the rest of the time.
As with so many other rites of passage, I’m trying to hold on a little longer the second time around. I know how fast these baby musicians become more experienced, how quickly the squeaks settle down. I want to enjoy the fleeting early days.
I want to remember Katie’s eagerness to practice the proper way to sit and to care for her reeds. I want to remember the unadulterated glee with which she exclaimed, “In band today, we actually got to play the oboe! I played an actual note! It was clear!”
I want to remember the day I was still at work and received via text message an audio file of Katie playing the first four measures of “Hot Cross Buns.” I could hear her posture and pride in every note.
Are they the most beautiful notes I’ve ever heard? Not exactly. They have a slightly disarming gooselike quality — a sound that soon enough will be replaced with a little more grace and a little less squawk.
There’s a whole lot of enthusiasm behind those notes, though, certain to fuel her willingness to practice at least 20 minutes a day. And in no time, she’ll be sitting on the cafeteria stage with dozens of other musicians, contributing to a bigger sound and bigger purpose.
Those band kids will receive applause from adoring fans — those family members who stayed in the room for cacophonic practices, who grinned even when it was tough, who wanted to escape, and even those who grumbled once or twice.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Monday, August 22, 2016

Lessons for the middle school mom

From Saturday's Briefing:

My baby begins middle school in two days, and so far I haven’t cried once. Not at the pep rally. Not at schedule pick-up and orientation. Not during the hour she practiced opening her locker and walking from room to room.
This is growth worth celebrating, people.
We’ve got Katie’s big brother to thank for my calm demeanor. He trained me to be a middle-school mom. What did he teach me? Oh, the list is long and includes:
Patience: Sixth grade often means a new musical instrument. A new musical instrument often means your home will be filled with out-of-tune, squeaky notes that don’t yet resemble a single song you’ve ever hummed. If the noise is just too irritating, try taking a walk or vacuuming on the other side of the house.
Above all else, be patient. You’ll eventually attend the winter concert, perched on the edge of your seat, scanning the crowd of musicians for your hard-working child. Your composure will be rewarded with a song or two that actually sound familiar, and you’ll marvel at the talents of middle school music directors, who wield superhuman powers of patience.
Grace: When Cooper started sixth grade, I thought a successful transition to middle school would take about six weeks. The first grading period came and went, and we were still in transition mode, with trials related to how to remember to bring home the correct materials each day, how to remember when assignments are due, how to meet so many teachers’ varying expectations. 
That’s when I adjusted my expectations and defined all of sixth grade as his transition time. That one shift in thinking reminded me of the importance of grace.
Value of making mistakes: Cooper left his clarinet at home one morning. After he’d walked off the bus and into school, he realized his mistake. I received his text as I was parking at my office, about 10 miles from campus. 
I left the minivan running and considered driving home to pick up the instrument and deliver it to school. I reasoned that my boss would understand, and I wanted to help my son avoid disappointment. 
It was a short-lived thought. I know better than to rescue unless necessary. I know better than to try to shield a child from disappointment. I know it’s my job to help that child cope with disappointment. 
So I turned off the ignition and texted him a quick reply, something like, “So sorry you forgot!” 
He was embarrassed during class. He received a 70 for a participation grade that day. He has never once forgotten his instrument since.
Power of taking risks: Middle school offers opportunities to try out new interests — maybe robotics or tennis or graphic design. There’s less pressure on students to excel at everything, with an emphasis instead on learning new skills.
Cooper showed up for cross country practice one day, kept coming back and improved a little each meet. He competed in the science fair one year and Future City the next. The stakes were low, but the rewards — working with a team, practicing the scientific method — were high. He starts his sophomore year in high school Monday, a member of the marching band and cross country team and a second-year engineering student.
I don’t know what kinds of mistakes Katie will make or what kinds of risks she’ll take. I don’t know how often I’ll need to rely on patience and grace. That element of the unknown is what makes the whole adventure slightly terrifying but mostly exciting. 
The new school year is worth celebrating. And if you see me crying Monday morning, I expect they’ll be tears of joy for my baby, the girl whose hand I love to hold and whose hand I know I must gradually let go. 
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Sunday, August 21, 2016

From Katie's 2nd-grade journal (rediscovered today)

Translated: I had a problem about my Dad. He had a tumor. When he went to the hospital, the doctors tried to take it out. They could not. So he got special care. One day my cousins and my aunt were at my house and my Dad died. 

Though the topic is tragic, I am so thankful for this record of what Katie remembers about Steve, three years after his death. Her abbreviated version reveals what mattered most to her at he time: her dad, the people who cared for him and the love that surrounded him and all of us when he died. 

This is always a rough season for me. August 2009 was when Steve felt the very worst. He was in pain, he had lost all mobility, his independence was gone.

But he was loved beyond measure. And he was approaching peace about his waning days. 

The rest of Katie's second-grade journal offers joyful memories -- parasailing in Florida, seeing The Lion King on Broadway, riding a train on the Sharkarosa field trip, reading at the library. Steve didn't get to experience these moments with his KT, but it's the life he wanted for her and for Coop and for me. 

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Real-world family bonding, thanks to Pokemon Go

From Saturday's Briefing:

We’re running out of summertime.
It happens every year, of course, but it’s jarring just the same. As soon as you get in the groove of swimming pool visits and late-night popsicles, it’s time to buy 24 pre-sharpened pencils and wide-rule, loose-leaf notebook paper.
In between school supply missions and doctor’s visits, the kids and I are enjoying last-minute morsels of freedom.
For me, that means some guilty pleasure binge- watching, a couple more novels (historical fiction has been my go-to genre this season), dinners with friends and a little bit of quiet time, away from everything, including my people.
That hasn’t been difficult to arrange, because my people are currently a little obsessed with catching those Pokemon critters with their smartphones. (The idea of an augmented reality app on a tiny handheld computer/ phone device seems totally normal now, but I can’t help but pause in awe and a tiny bit of bewilderment of the world we live in.)
Some are a little more engrossed in Pokemon Go than others. Cooper is a Level 17 (though possibly higher by publication time), and Katie is halfway through Level 10. I sit unabashedly at a pathetic Level 3, as I would rather spend my free time with the activities mentioned above.
Brother and sister are four years apart, but age doesn’t matter in Pokemon. They talk at length about hatching eggs and evolving Eevees, about their highest combat power Pokemon and which gyms to attack.
When Katie catches a flying creature (they can be difficult), Cooper compliments her. He also offers brotherly advice, which I partly understand, such as:
“I don’t know why you waste all of your star dust on a Raticate when you could be saving it for a better Pokemon later on.”
They even choose to be on the same team: Mystic, more commonly known as the blue team. 
I’m enjoying the sibling harmony, so much so that sometimes I’ll even change my route to accommodate the young hunters. The long way home from church offers more Pokestops (the places you can get Pokeballs, which allow you to capture the animated guys) and more options for catching. 
Cooper is willing — eager, even — to run errands with me, because you never know what’s out there. And while he’s in the front seat next to me, we have bonus conversations. 
We’ve gone on extra walks around the neighborhood. We’ve discovered new neighborhoods. We’ve discussed density patterns and how they affect the availability of Pokemon to catch.
Even with my fondness for the month-old game, I have my limits. When we were on vacation last week, I placed some Pokemon moratoriums, delivered in my best mom voice:
“It’s not every day we drive along the Pacific Coast, so put your phone away.” 
“We don’t have trees this tall anywhere in Texas. Look out the window instead of at your phone.”
“How many more Pokeballs do you actually need?” 
As summer fades, I expect Pokemon will, too, at least at our house. We’re about to be engulfed in homework and band practice. Mornings will be rushed. School nights will be too hectic for games of any kind.
In no time, real reality will push augmented reality aside. Gone, too, will be afternoons at the pool and Gilmore Girls marathons and chocolate- dipped soft-serve cones because it’s a Tuesday. 
We’re holding on as long as we can. 
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Saturday, July 16, 2016

No pity necessary for my mom role at water park

From today's Briefing:

I’ve become the kind of mom I used to pity.
Back in the mid-1980s, my best friend’s mom would drive us to the water park in the height of summer. We’d kick off our sandals, toss aside our towels and run to the nearest set of concrete stairs.
We never worried about our stuff because Mrs. Tarun was there, in the shade, keeping guard.
I remember that I thanked her for taking us out, and I remember silently wondering why she wasn’t irritated about sitting down while we were off sliding and splashing.
I felt sorry for her — though clearly not sorry enough to offer to sit in her place.
The appeal of the giant water slide has since dissipated. I’ve been a mom longer than I was a teenager. And now I understand Mrs. Tarun and all of the stalwart moms like her.
I love being the mom in charge of the gear.
I like lounging on a comfy chair, reading a novel, guarding snacks, prescription glasses, water bottles, towels and sunscreen. I enjoy being the checkpoint, watching for my children and their friends to stop by, listening to their adventures, offering apple slices and Oreos, reminding them to reapply sunscreen, sending them out again.
Once a summer, we brave our nearby water park. We arrive early to find a spot in the shade. I listen to big plans, remind everyone to follow the rules and be kind, and then read and rest while the young people rush toward slides and wave pools and lazy rivers.
It’s one of the only days all year in which I laze, guilt-free, for hours at a time.
I also catch glimpses of other families and watch children have fun in spite of the all the rules we place on them.
The lifeguard at the wave pool whistles about once every 90 seconds, followed by a stern “Walk!” What he really means, of course, is “Don’t run,” but we’ve all been trained to redirect in the positive. Kids understand the scolding nonetheless.
Parents all around me ignore those redirection directions and simply holler, “Stop!”
Children roll their eyes as moms and dads offer advice.
“Mom, I’m listening,” says one exasperated preteen as he tries to walk away from the shaded sidelines and into the wave pool fray.
“You say that,” mom replies, “but then you don’t!”
I watch a soaking wet child return to his family’s home base. He has good intentions of reapplying sunscreen, and there’s not even an adult nearby to direct him — or to remind him that his skin should be dry first.
He sprays on half a canister.
He looks down at his legs, now streaked with white sunscreen that drips toward his ankles.
He pauses. He picks up a nearby towel and rubs it off. All of it, water and sunscreen. Then he bounces back toward the water, not a drop of sunscreen remaining.
A nearby mom admonishes her enthusiastic child: “Don’t get too tired out there! You have soccer tonight.”
Two boys — brothers, maybe, or best friends — share a tube of powdered, colored sugar. One holds the 3-foot plastic tube above his mouth and drinks in the sandy sugar. He passes the tube to his buddy, who follows suit. Then they’re off to conquer a slide.
My own children return, dripping wet, with tales from three laps on the lazy river. They’re hungry and thirsty. Their freckled pink noses signal the need for more sunblock. They tell me how much fun they’re having, then they’re off again, leaving me for my own kind of fun.
For real. No pity required.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Parents owe it to children to tell the truth about Dallas shooting

From today's Briefing:

How do we tell children about tragedy? We tell the truth.
How much truth do we tell? That's the more important question, and the answer varies for every family.
I'm selective in discussing current events in this house. My daughter worries more than most. She considers the whole world her neighborhood. She tears up at vague descriptions of violence. She prays every single time she hears emergency sirens.
I can't shelter her from Dallas.
She knows some of the truth. That people gathered downtown to protest brutality across the nation, that they were peaceful, that they seek justice. She knows that police officers surrounded the protest, that they were offering protection, that they were serving the city and its people -- all the people.
She knows that someone purposefully shot at those officers and that some of them are injured and that some of them have died.
She instinctively knows that families have been irreparably damaged because five of those officers won't ever again go home, won't ever again hug their babies or their mommas.
She knows some of the truth, but she doesn't understand.
I don't either.
I don't understand the anger that pushes one soul to injure or kill another.
I don't understand violence as a means to express frustration.
I don't understand the vitriolic discord that separates neighbors and fractures relationships and pits us against one another.
I was born in Dallas 44 years ago. I grew up wondering how my city could be the same place in which President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I couldn't reconcile the sense of security I felt with the chaos and despair that I imagined reigning in 1963.
I grew up to realize that one event doesn't define a place -- unless you let it. One violent act doesn't erase countless, everyday acts of kindness. I learned that the hatred that boils up in humans is never, ever greater than the love that runs between us.
Sometimes, though, we let cowardly acts of evil cloud our judgment. We forget that love conquers hate and light always, always dispels darkness.
We can't ignore what we don't understand.
We can't live foolishly, believing that we are always safe in the streets of Dallas. Or in the stands at the Ballpark or in line at Six Flags. We're not 100 percent safe in our suburban shopping malls or in chapels, temples and mosques, or in libraries and classrooms. We are at the mercy of other humans.
Yet we can't live in fear. We can't sequester ourselves or live in self-erected bubbles. We can't let hateful actions divide us more. Our hope lies in our ability to unite despite differences, to uncover joy in all circumstances, to reject violence and embrace peace.
My family will continue to meander the galleries of the Dallas Museum of Art. We will lie on the soft, green grass at the Nasher, soaking in the sun and admiring the genius of Richard Serra and Alexander Calder.
We will wander through Klyde Warren Park, stop to play a game of Connect Four, buy a popsicle or Korean taco.
One day, though probably not too soon because I don't know how our hearts will bear it, we'll walk the same sidewalks that fallen officers walked in their final moments.
We owe our children the truth. It's up to each parent to decide how much and when.
We owe one another -- no matter the age -- gentle kindness and hands to hold. We get to decide that love will prevail, that our reactions will blanket Dallas and its people and our families, all of our families in compassionate comfort.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Kindness is free -- don't be afraid to share it

From today's Briefing:

The young man behind the front desk grimaces as we approach.

“Good morning,” my traveling companion initiates, despite all signs that this hotel employee currently harbors little hospitality. “Rough day already?”

He imperceptibly nods.

Julie smiles with sympathy and cautiously presses on, questioning some charges on the room bill. He mumbles an apology, calculates the correct total and hands over a new copy — all without making eye contact.

“Thank you,” she says, not a hint of irony or insincerity in her voice.

We walk away and whisper hopes that this fellow turns his attitude around before the onslaught of guests checking out. We fear that his bad day is about to get much worse.

Though I wasn’t surprised that my friend of 14 years was courteous when others might be haughty, I was touched by her gentle handling in the face of faulty customer service.

Kindness is free, like all the virtues, yet sometimes we hoard it as if we fear we’ll run out. Of course, kindness, like all the virtues multiples when lavished freely.

We witness it all the time. A teenager holds the door open for a line of people, and they nod, smile, say thank you, continuing the day with appreciation for good manners. A child at the park falls down, and three moms rush to the scene to comfort and help.

A madman murders 49 innocent people, and thousands of people line up for hours to donate blood to help the victims still alive. People serve food and water to responders and members of the media. Generous folks from around the country and world donate millions of dollars to support victims and their families. We embrace our children and whisper in their ears, “I love you. I’m glad you are safe. Be kind to others.”

In the face of adversity, it’s unadulterated kindness that soothes the soul.

Yet there are moments when we forget to be kind. We are irritated by perceived slights. We interpret benign comments with malicious intent. We insist that our opinion is the only right way, that our need to be heard trumps everyone else’s need to be understood or even loved.

It’s the end of our girlfriends’ getaway to Santa Fe. The four of us moms, exhausted in a good way from hiking and window-shopping and eating, are on a plane headed to Dallas.

One of the flight attendants begins the usual spiel about exit rows and tray tables, electronic devices and oxygen masks. What’s unusual is her halting, nervous speech. At times she stops altogether, and we can barely hear another attendant prompting with the correct words.

She finishes the script with a tinge of relief in her voice. There’s a pause. Then another voice fills the cabin, informing us that on this flight is a training attendant, who is learning procedures, including how to deliver the pre-flight announcement. We just heard her first attempt.

The entire cabins breaks out into applause, affirming the trainee’s efforts. She walks down the aisle waving and bowing, her nervousness dissipating with every step.

A whole plane full of weary travelers lavished kindness on a stranger. It cost us nothing. And maybe she banked some of those accolades in her heart, to cash in on a future rough day.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Celebrate more than just straight A's

From today's Briefing:

The morning of Katie’s fifth-grade celebration, she stood on stage beneath a congratulations banner, threw her arms in the air and beamed.
Hours later, as I studied a photo of my exuberant 10-year-old, I realized that she had reached a goal that’s gone unspoken but should have been a top priority.
She finished the year — all of elementary school, actually — with a cheerful spirit, strong self-confidence and emotional stability. What more could I ask for?
This is the time of year when families celebrate perfect attendance and straight A’s, the Dean’s List and outstanding (fill in the blank) student. Those are all worth celebration, for sure, but there’s no certificate (nor does there need to be) for what really counts: peace with yourself for who you are and what you stand for.
It’s taken me years to fully understand.
When Cooper started the third grade, his daddy was very ill and under care of hospice. I met with his teacher to talk about our expectations for the school year. I didn’t care about his grades, I told her. For this year, the goal was for Cooper to finish with strong emotional health. Academics were secondary.
Steve died two weeks after the school year began. Cooper missed one day of school before returning to class. Over the next nine months, he visited with the school counselor regularly and received grief therapy from our hospice agency.
The year was tough, no doubt. There were many angst-ridden days and tearful nights. But he ended third grade as a well-adjusted, mostly joyful 8-year-old.
After we endured that first grief-heavy year, my school-year goals returned to normal. Try your best. Work hard. Learn every day, and show what you’ve learned as completely as you can.
I didn’t exactly define success as hitting the All-A Honor Roll every grading period, but I encouraged my children to work toward an A average in every class.
My school-related questions have mostly been academic all these years: Have you studied enough? How was the test? What grades did you get back today?
I regret that I haven’t asked as often: Are you enjoying this class? What are your goals? How are you defining success?
I also regret that I haven’t started every school year with the same goal, with or without crisis: to finish with strong emotional health.
The good news is they’ve managed.
Cooper is not at the top of his class, though he works harder than any child I know. He takes challenging courses for the content (not the extra GPA points) and revels in learning. He’s not defeated by a few B averages. He enjoys school, extracurricular activities and his peers.
Katie constantly volunteers to help others. She embraces new experiences and welcomes newcomers to her routines. She pays little attention to what’s popular and instead holds fast to her beliefs and values.
Will they fulfill their potential? Where will they go to college? What kind of careers will they pursue?
Those questions are secondary to the biggest questions: Will they seek joy in all circumstances? Will they stand firm in their beliefs? Will they finish each journey with raised arms and radiant smiles?
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at