Newtown Bee By Larissa Lytwyn
Norm Bossio assured parents that worrying about their children was normal. “That’s what you’re supposed to do!” he said. – Bee Photo, Lytwyn
More than 200 people attended the Newtown Parent Connection’s fall forum kickoff on September 28 at Newtown Middle School.The evening featured internationally known speaker Norm Bossio, a former public schools educator, principal, and superintendent, who told parents, “How to Remain Calm on the Titanic: Secrets of Successful Parenting.”
Before introducing Mr Bossio, Parent Connection Co-president Donna DeLuca thanked the large number of people who had decided to come out, “especially in this awful, rainy night!”She gave the audience a brief history of Parent Connection, founded by Dorrie Carolan in 1983. Ms Carolan’s young son, Brian, died of drug-related causes a few years ago. Ms DeLuca mentioned her own son’s battle with substance abuse. He is currently in recovery.
Though interest in the group ebbed throughout the 1990s, a young Newtown man’s drug-related death in July 2003 inspired Ms Carolan to launch the nonprofit group anew.While Parent Connection’s membership and visibility has grown enormously since its 2003 rebirth, Ms DeLuca said that there have since been “six drug-related deaths” among Newtown youth since that summer.While Parent Connection works with families struggling with substance abuse, she made clear that the antidrug effort is also a preventative one. “You may not have a child or family member struggling with this issue,” she said, “but you are still welcome. You can still learn how to stay smart in keeping your children substance abuse-free. You can still benefit from these forums.”
She introduced Mr Bossio as a well-known independent management consultant whose educational administrative background included a position as an adjunct professor of management at Stonehill College, a private Catholic university in Stonehill, Mass.Within minutes of striding to the front of the auditorium, Mr Bossio had his audience, comprised of young to middle-aged parents and grandparents, collapsing with laughter. He immediately drew parallels between children and adults.”You know how the kid gets near the end of the school year?” he boomed. “Checking off the days on a calendar sometimes? It’s just like you do with your vacation days – admit it.”
Moreover, Mr Bossio continued, both adults and children tend to be “cliquey” with colleagues or peers.”Kids are just like us!” he declared. “They’ll listen to nothing you say, but imitate everything you do.” Murmurs of agreement emanated from the audience.He talked about parents’ tendency to worry.”The opposite of love is indifference,” Mr Bossio said. To an extent, he suggested, being worried is the sign of a good parent.At the same time, he warned, excessive worrying carries considerable burdens, from physical calamities to anxiety attacks. Stressed-out behavior, he said, translates to stressed-out kids. “Did you know that second graders are having panic attacks now?” he said.
During the evening’s lighter moments, Mr Bossio told parents to remember, “whom they were laughing at” – themselves. The key to alleviating stress, he advised, was to reign in perfectionistic tendencies and engage a sense of humor.”You can’t take yourself too seriously,” he said. “If you do, your kids will start to take themselves too seriously.”He also warned parents of the consequences of encouraging perfectionistic behavior in their children.”Never compare one child to another, or to yourselves,” he said. “When your daughter is 14, you’ll be wondering why she’s anorexic because she doesn’t have the perfect body.”
He discussed how people tend to associate with others of similar temperaments. Miserable people, for example, tend to be around miserable peers.”Your attitude has a huge impact on the people around you,” he said. “The way you behave will have a modeling effect on the way your children behave.”While people can change their behavior, he said the change had to be self-motivated to work effectively. “You can’t make someone change,” he said. “The person has to want to change.”
As he did several times during the evening, Mr Bossio enlisted the assistance of an audience member. He asked a woman in the first row how she would feel if a $500 bonus was applied to her salary. She said she would feel great about the change. “There is a common perception that people dislike change,” Mr Bossio observed. “However, people only dislike change if the change affects them negatively. If it affects them positively, they’ll fully support it.”The key to someone changing, he concluded, is their realization that changing yields more positive than negative effects.
Throughout the night, Mr Bossio frequently reflected on the joy his family brought him.”Parenting never stops, not even after your child grows to be an adult,” he said. “It’s a jigsaw puzzle you’ll never finish.”He talked about the difficult lessons he learned during his own parenting experiences raising five children, three boys and two girls, in the Midwest. He described the difficulty of being left-brained and having a Type-A personality. Many of the “tips” he shared were derived from his own struggles with perfectionism. He emphasized the importance of parents loving and listening to their children.”There was such irony during the nights I had to be at a school concert for the school I was working in,” he said, “while my own son cried because I missed his solo clarinet performance.”Mr Bossio also admitted missing his son’s Little League games.
He poked fun at his perfectionistic tendencies while recalling the birth of his first grandchild, Colin.The child, due on July 2, did not arrive until July 14, 1999. Mr Bossio had been refusing engagements until early July, hoping to witness Colin’s birth. When a request to do a pro-bono engagement at the Danbury Correctional Facility came in mid-July, he cracked, accepting the invitation. Despite arriving at the jail from his Massachusetts home over three hours away, Mr Bossio left in a fantastic mood.”The payment I received was from speaking to the inmates after the presentation,” he said. “They thanked me for making them laugh for the first time in six months, or simply making them smile.”As he got into his car, his cell phone rang. Colin had arrived – six pounds, eight ounces!”As we all know, life doesn’t always go as planned, especially if you are a parent,” he laughed. Life’s frustration can be offset, however, by using a sense of humor as a key coping skill.At the same time, he encouraged parents to be there for their kids at every opportunity, no matter how inconvenient.”So you’re tired, you’ve had a long day,” he said with a shrug. “It’s your kids! Life goes so fast – you have to make the most of every opportunity.”
Mr Bossio clearly reveled in the joy his grandchildren gave him, even taking out pictures of them in front of the audience.Last Halloween, he was offered an $8,000 speaking engagement at a high-profile corporation. “It was an amazing opportunity,” said Mr Bossio. “$8,000 for a one-hour speech!”He turned the offer down, however, when he found out the engagement was on October 31.”I was already going to be Spider-Man that night,” he said, grinning. “This year, it’s going to be Batman!”The “payment” for such a decision, he said, came from a moment several weeks following last year’s Halloween.”Colin began collecting coins, to make wishes on,” Mr Bossio explained. “I asked him what his number one wish was, and he said, ‘For you to stay with us forever, Grandpa.’ That’s all the ‘payment’ I will ever need, and the only payment you’ll ever need, too.”
In closing, Mr Bossio encouraged his audience to seize the moment, “live with someone you adore” and even smile when you’re not happy, because such a movement will inevitably lift mood.”Now,” he said, smiling, “I’ve just talked for two hours and did not tell you a single thing you didn’t already know!” His words, he said, were intended as a reassurance, a comfort, a remembrance of all the good advice one had ever received. Lastly, he told his audience that in college he had received a C- in public speaking.”
Be patient with your children,” he advised. “And love them with all your heart.”The moment he stopped speaking, the audience clamored to its feet in a standing ovation.Pat Winn, a mother of grade-school-aged children, said that Mr Bossio’s talk had lifted her spirits.”The homework issue has been a bit of a problem at my house lately,” she confessed. “Mr Bossio’s presentation was a great positive reinforcement. It also reminded me that I have to remember to listen, truly listen, and always, always love.”
Used with permission Copyright © 1999-2004 Bee Publishing Company