Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Creating Christmas Calm

The Christmas season is a wonderful time of year for families, but it can also be pretty stressful and chaotic.  I’d like to share a simple idea to help you and your loved ones gain some peace and perspective on what to focus in the days ahead.

When my sons were in Boy Scouts, their troop had a practice to evaluate and improve how their campouts would run. They would gather and hold a “Stop, Start, Continue” discussion.  Here are the questions they’d discuss:

Continue – What did you like?  What do you want to keep doing?
Stop – What didn’t work so well?  What should we stop doing?
Start – What are some ideas to improve the way this runs and how much fun we have?

This approach can be applied throughout the year, but can be especially helpful during the busy holidays. Want to ensure you have a calm Christmas?

The simplest way to create calm is to:
STOP...multi tasking

Multi tasking IS NOT the way to create calm. Studies continue to show that multi-tasking drains energy and causes more stress than doing one or two simple things at a time.

Perhaps you are trying to put dinner on the table and read with your 1st grader...this is less than enjoyable for all. Set a timer and tell the little one you will read together...with nothing else going on for 20 minutes. Then you will focus on making dinner for 20 minutes. This is also known as setting boundaries. Help everyone in your family be calm by respecting boundaries and stopping the multi-tasking myth.

STOP the multi-tasking.  All of these things are not equally urgent - do what is important and let things go until later—or ask for some help. 
START with the end in mind:  What do you want “Bake Christmas cookies” to really look and feel like? Are you going for “Martha Stewart cookies” or would three-dozen cookies the same shape with three different colors of sugar sprinkled on the top be okay?  If you need a showstopper, have you allotted enough time and other resources to complete the task? 
CONTINUE to lavish love, create memories, and remember to BREATHE!

You may even consider creating a quiet night: Create one by turning off the electronics and reading a story together, like the story of Jesus’s birth or the classic story ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’.

Using soft jingle bells taps into the season and allows little ones (and big ones) to learn how to control sounds. For tweens and teens: ask them to commit to a silent night. No electronics - focus on playing a game, doing a puzzle, reading silently in a room together. If your home can accommodate it, create a fire in the fireplace and encourage all to sit and listen to the snap crackle and pop.

Thinking through your holiday celebrations using the “Stop, Start, Continue” approach, what changes might you want to make in your family’s lives?  What might your family members suggest?

Christmas and other holiday celebrations don’t have to be chaotic and overwhelming. Follow the “Stop, Start, Continue” approach this holiday season and help your family Christmas to be calm.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Do This to Foster Gratitude In Your Children

Americans often bemoan how today’s children seem to have trouble thinking of others and appreciating their many blessings.  The upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons are a wonderful time to reflect on what we are thankful for, as well as help our children adopt an attitude of gratitude. Numerous studies have shown that feelings of gratitude help adults and children to be happier and healthier. Here are some ideas for fostering gratitude in ourselves and our loved ones:

Model Gratitude in Word and in Action- As I’ve often mentioned, parents are their kids’ first and most important role models. Our kids are watching what we say and do and learning from it.  If we want our children to have an attitude of gratitude, we need to strive for an attitude of gratitude, and show them what that looks like. This can be as simple as regularly sharing with your kids what you are thankful for, acknowledging a thoughtful act your child performed, or making a point to sincerely thank and show gratitude to others when you are out in the world.

Have a Family Mealtime or Bedtime Gratitude Ritual- Take advantage of nightly routines to foster an attitude of gratitude in your family. Before or after eating dinner together, go around the table and have each family member share something they are thankful for in their lives. Or, invite each family member to share something they are thankful for before everyone goes to bed.  Blessings before family meals, or nightly prayers are also good times to tie in gratitude rituals.

Encourage Your Children to Start a Gratitude Journal- Encourage your child to write in a journal five things they are grateful for on at least a weekly basis. You might invite them at dinner to share some of the things they wrote in their gratitude journal with the family. If you have younger children who aren’t quite ready to write yet, encourage them instead to draw a picture of one or two things for which they are thankful.

Volunteer or Give to Others as a Family- You might make it a holiday tradition to volunteer as a family at a soup kitchen or local food bank, or work together to build care packages for those serving overseas. Another idea would be to have your children donate toys they don’t play with anymore and clothes they don’t wear or can no longer fit in. Afterwards, discuss as a family what the experience meant to everyone.  

The Power of Thank You Notes- Foster an attitude of gratitude in your kids by encouraging them to show their appreciation to others.  Talk with your kids about the people they are thankful for in their lives, and encourage them to write and deliver a few thank you notes to those people, whether it’s their siblings, teachers, bus driver, after school counselor, etc.  Along with their thank you note, they could even bake and give them cookies or other treats.

Help Your Child See the Thought Behind the Gift- When your child receives a gift of any kind, make it a point to remind them of the thoughtfulness that went into the gift, and encourage them to acknowledge the effort on the part of the gift giver. 

Christmas List Reversed- Encourage your child to brainstorm and make a list of the gifts they want to give others. These gifts aren’t necessarily intended to have a price tag, as they should mostly be handmade items or thoughtful acts.

Find the Positive in a Bad Situation- Another way to help children develop an attitude of gratitude is to model positivity in difficult situations. For example, if it rains during a family outing and your child complains, remind them that at least you are all able to spend time together as a family.

Earning Money for Gifts- Give your child opportunities to earn a bit of extra money in the weeks ahead.  They can use the money to buy some of the things they want. This will help them appreciate what they have more.

Start a Family Blessings Jar- An easy way for all of us to focus on what we are thankful for is to create a Blessings Jar. Set out a clear jar with scraps of paper and a pen beside it, and write “Blessings” on the jar. Encourage all members of your family to write down things they are thankful for, fold the paper, and put it in the jar. Together as a family, periodically empty the jar and read aloud the blessings in the jar and talk about them.

Fostering an attitude of gratitude in your children is a gift that can help them think of others and feel happier and healthier.  Now is a great time to have a family meeting to share these ideas and brainstorm others. As a family, you might choose a couple to focus on, especially during the rest of this year.  

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Identifying Stress in Your Life

Stress, and especially chronic stress, is a silent killer. Scientists are increasingly finding that chronic stress is linked to a variety of health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease, and can even accelerate aging. Because of the serious health outcomes that can occur from unmanaged chronic stress, it is important to get it under control sooner rather than later. Here are some of the signs and symptoms you can look for to identify stress in your life, and in the lives of those your loved ones.

Depression- Depression is complex, but it is often a symptom of unresolved, unrelieved stress. Excessive stress can make you feel unaccomplished - there's just too much to do - and that can result in feelings of worthlessness. Also, since stress can affect sleep, your mind and body can become exhausted. Without adequate rest, the brain cannot function optimally.

Difficulty concentrating- "Brain fog" can result from stress. You may find it difficult to stick to a task without your mind wandering. Again, this can be interpreted as your brain trying to get the rest it needs by "escaping."

Insomnia- This is perhaps one of the more torturous stress symptoms. Insomnia is very difficult to deal with and adds to the cycle of stress. If you can't sleep, it can begin a cascade of cyclic symptoms that result from lack of sleep, and then exacerbate the lack of sleep.

Feeling overwhelmed- Stress can make everything seem bigger. When you are stressed, it seems like there is just too much to do and you'll never get it done. Then you may feel inadequate because you didn't accomplish everything that needed to be done during the day.

Withdrawal- Do you find yourself too worn out to go out? If someone asks you to a party or event, do you just think of it as one more thing you'll have to deal with? That may mean you're stressed.

Chronic stress plays a role in causing or exacerbating many health conditions. Here are a few stress-related health issues:

Headaches- Headaches caused by stress are said to be tension-type headaches, or TTH. Medical professionals say that TTHs result from circulatory fluctuations and muscle tension.

Heart irregularities- Stress affects the heart - it's supposed to, so that your chances of survival are increased in a stressful situation. But when the stress is continual, your heart can really get "tired out." Heart disease is being linked to stress. The heart and overall circulatory system may be affected by stress to the point of exacerbating or even causing disease or dysfunction.

Weight gain or loss- Your appetite may fluctuate significantly if you are stressed, resulting in weight gain or loss that you weren't expecting. Depression and insomnia can contribute to weight gain, too, and some experts theorize that fat, especially on the belly, can actually be a sign of stress.

Other Signs of Stress- Digestive disorders can be a sign of stress. These can range from abdominal pain to chronic diarrhea. Hair loss may also result from chronic stress. Experts say that chronic stress exhausts the immune system, leaving you open to infection and sickness. Chronic back, neck and joint pain that is difficult to identify may result from chronic stress.

Just reading about stress can cause stress, right?  So what can we do to reduce our stress levels and better deal with all we choose to do?  I’ve created a powerful tip sheet “Stress-Busters for Mom and Dad.”  Email “Stress Busters” to and I’ll send it right out to you.  Start busting down your stress today!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Who to Call When You Have Childcare Concerns

As a working parent, each detail needs to run smoothly. Childcare is one of the most important parts that must work properly, as it involves the small people dearest to you. What should you do if you find yourself in a situation where you must use childcare, but you have problems with your provider? Here are some ideas on where to turn when childcare goes wrong:

        Assess the Problem- What kind of trouble are you having with your childcare provider? Depending on the severity of your complaint, you will want to pursue different avenues with your concerns.  If your concern is with small details and you have a good relationship with your provider, then you may be able to speak with them directly. If it is something that is not easily confronted face to face and requires accountability on the part of the childcare provider, you may need to contact whoever is in charge of regulating day homes or daycares in your area. If the issue is of a criminal nature, you will need to contact the police.

Figure Out Who Is Directly in Charge- This will depend on what type of childcare you are using. If your child is in a public daycare, it should be fairly straightforward as to whom to contact about childcare issues. There should be someone in charge of each daycare who you can speak to about employees. If it is the manager you have an issue with, then take it to whoever is in charge of the group of daycares, if this applies.  If you are using a day home in someone’s private residence, it will be a different matter. Depending on where you live, there might even be different kinds of day homes. In some areas, there are both registered and unregistered day homes. Registered day homes will have a governing authority in charge of them who can receive complaints about individual day homes. Your day home might also be part of an agency you went through originally, in which case you can report the matter directly to them.  Private day homes are a trickier situation, as it is often a lone individual who both owns and works at the day home. If the matter is serious, report it to the police. If the matter is an interpersonal conflict, or a disagreement on how to run the home, you should approach the person you are having trouble with. If this approach does not work, you may be forced to find a new childcare location for your child.

      Word of Mouth- One of the most powerful marketing tools in today’s world is word of mouth, which includes the internet. If you are dealing with a deceptive or troublesome childcare provider and no one is able to solve the problem, use word of mouth to warn others not to get involved. There may be local online parenting groups where you can voice your complaints that will get the word out to others as a warning.

Childcare is a very important facet of life that can have a huge impact on the health and well being of your family. If you are having trouble with your provider, try to resolve the issue immediately in order to gain peace of mind. Know where to go with your concerns so that things can get back on track and you can continue your productive life of work and family.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Finding Childcare Especially When Your Schedule Varies

As a working parent, one of your greatest needs is likely finding reliable childcare. Your childcare situation can make or break your working experience, give you peace when things are working well and turmoil when they aren’t. What happens when you do not have a job with reliable hours? How can you find good childcare despite your work situation? Choosing the right childcare option for your family can be an overwhelming process. Here are some tips to make this process easier:

·         Check Several Daycares- Did your conversation with a potential daycare get shut down immediately when you mentioned your crazy work schedule? Keep looking around. Some daycares are beginning to offer a little more flexibility than they once did. When researching daycare centers in your area, keep in mind that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a child to staff ratio of 3:1 for overall infant care. For children ages 3-5, the AAP recommends a child to staff ratio of 8:1.

·         Drop-In Childcare-This is an option that is becoming more available. Drop-in childcare centers give you flexibility in your work schedule, as they are often open beyond regular daycare hours. They don’t always require much notice, so they can be a good option when you don’t know your hours too far in advance.

·         Private Childcare- Private childcare, or day homes, can be much more flexible than daycares. Because it is run out of someone’s home, there is more leeway when it comes to the rules and hours. Speak to the day home owner and negotiate options for hours and payment.

·         Friends and Family- Talk to your parents, other family members and friends and see if they might be willing to help watch your children. This option will give you the peace of mind that your children are in a home with people who already love them.  It will also make the transition easier for your children. For example, if you work a night shift and your children go to stay at their grandma’s house, they will feel like they are simply having a sleepover. This eases the potential stress for both you and your children.

·         Combination- In your situation, a combination of childcare options may be the answer that is right for you. Maybe you can use a drop-in childcare center during the daytime and evening, and rely on friends and family to care for your children at night.

·         Keep Your Ears Open- If you work in a place where fellow employees are dealing with uncertain hours, you may be able to get tips from co-workers. Ask them how they are dealing with their childcare situations. See if there are any local options for childcare that works around varying schedules. Find out about private day homes that others might be using. A day home provider might be more willing to consider odd hours if there is more than one family utilizing those hours.

Working around a varied work schedule is not easy when you are a parent, but it is not impossible. There are many things to consider, and you will want to look around and explore your options. While your work schedule requires you to find a childcare option that provides flexibility and doesn’t break the bank, the most important points to consider are if your child will be safe, happy and well cared for at this childcare setting. Do your part to research the options available to you, and you will find the right fit.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

5 Simple Stress-Busting Tips for Working Parents by Working Parents

Being a working parent is a special responsibility that is shared by millions of individuals around the globe. It can be highly stressful, but is made easier by the fact that many working parents are willing to share from their experiences. If you are a parent who is new to the world of holding down a full-time job while parenting, you will be able to glean some wise advice and great tips from all the others who have gone before you.

Set a Specific Time for Each Activity- We all know the feeling of making a list of all we need to do in the day, and then finding ourselves at the end of the day having accomplished almost nothing. If you want to complete your tasks with a minimal amount of wasted time, a great way is to set a specific amount of time for each task on your list.
Make a list of everything you need to do each day. For example, as your day progresses, set the timer for 30 minutes of homework help with each child, 20 minutes of kitchen clean-up after supper, 10 minutes of reading before bedtime, and 45 minutes of work that found itself coming home from the office with you. Be strict with each task as any of them can easily overtake your entire day or evening if left unregulated.

Use a Central Calendar- You will begin to grow confused if you try to keep work and parenting matters on separate calendars. Because all of your life activities cannot help but overlap at some point, stop confusion in its tracks by keeping one main calendar for everything. This can be either a scheduling app on your smartphone or a hard copy calendar if you prefer that, but stick to one and keep things simple.

Ask Your Boss for Job Flexibility- Nowadays, there are many parents working and this has led to more options for those who do. Working parents often have the flexibility to work from home, at least part time. There are other options such as job sharing and working flexible hours. The key is in asking, because if you never approach your boss about the situation, he or she will never know what you were hoping for.

Accept the Help of Others- Parenting is a balancing act regardless of whether you work outside the home or not. As working parents, however, you face challenges that deem it necessary to involve your personal community in the upbringing of your children. Be willing to put aside your pride and accept offers for things such as rides and childcare for your kids. This can free up your time and resources so that it is not as tough to balance all your responsibilities.

Have a Childcare Backup Plan- Although you may be organized and reliable, you cannot always expect perfection from others. There may be times when your childcare provider is unable to keep your child on a particular day, for whatever reason. Be ready for these circumstances by having at least one backup plan, and preferably more than one in place for any unexpected changes.

Being a successful working parent means being prepared to face the many curve-balls that life is sure to throw your way. Be prepared for any unexpected situation and you will be one step ahead of the game. Take into account these tips from working parents, and your children and job will be well looked after.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Simple Ideas to Organize Your Student And DeStress Your Evenings! Part 2

“Mom! Dad!  Help me!  I’ve got a test tomorrow and I don’t know what to do!  I can’t find my review notes and I don’t  know how to get started!”

“Hmmmm, You've been home for 3 hours and you haven’t been studying.  This is a familiar pattern.  Let's see what we can do for this test and then discuss what we can do differently next time.”
Sound familiar? One of the best gifts to help our kids develop is that of homework and study habits that help them do their best in school.  In this second of a two-part series, let’s look at a few more ideas for doing just that:
Design a Few Simple Rules and Expectations – Watch the flow of a typical evening to identify “bumpy” areas that could benefit from a rule. When a few rules are in place and consistently enforced, you and your child will find the evenings less stressful. Examples of good rules might be “Your homework isn’t finished until it is loaded in the backpack" and “Homework gets done before the electronics go on”.
Organize backpacks, homework and clothes the night before –To prevent weekday morning chaos, which can result in a child forgetting his or her homework or lunch, have your student pull together what she or he needs for the school day the night before.  You might help your young child design a school day checklist and then use the checklist to make sure they have what they need the night before. Encourage your child to lay out the outfit they want to wear the next day before going to bed, as well. This will save both of you a lot of time in the morning.
Designate an area for each student’s school items - A cubby or area with a basket could hold books, graded papers, a backpack and any other school-related items. Everything can go back in the cubby at the end of the homework period. Now your student knows right where to look to find his or her school things the next morning!
Designate a Homework and Study Area –This area should preferably be at a table, be well-lit, and away from possible distractions. Having a designated spot for completing homework and studying will keep your child on task and will help ensure that school materials stay together.
Declutter –It’s a good idea to help your child file loose papers in their proper locations once a week.  You might have them go through their rooms and homework areas and recycle papers they don’t need anymore. For older students, encourage them to declutter their laptops or desktop computers by deleting documents or downloads that they don’t need to keep.
These tips can help in smoothing the flow of weekday evenings. As your student matures into the Tween and Teen years, encourage and expect him or her to do this independently. Good task management skills are vital to any busy person and will help your child not only in the growing up years but throughout his or her adult life.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Simple Ideas to Organize Your Student And DeStress Your Evenings! Part 1

“Mom – I can’t find my homework and the bus is coming!”  “Dad- The project is due tomorrow and I’m not nearly done!”   Sound familiar? When my youngest was in fourth grade, he had an issue with losing paperwork and missing due dates on assignments. While he was and is a bright young man, he found this frustrating and it impacted his school performance and self-esteem.
Helping your child develop good organizational skills can maximize his or her success in school and better equip your student for middle school, high school, college and beyond.  Here are a few tips that can help your student better track and complete assignments, study for tests and accomplish projects at school and home:

Form Good Habits - Once everyone has relaxed after school, help your student get the ball rolling by reviewing the day and helping create a plan for what needs to be done.
  • Check the Planner and Communications Folder – Sit down with your young student and discuss what school work needs doing for the evening. His or her planner and any communications folders contain assignments and important notes and letters from the teachers. If he or she is not using the planner regularly, encourage its use and discuss how it can help in future years when the assignments will be more frequent and challenging. 
  • Plan the Evening Together – If age-appropriate, work together to set daily and weekly goals for getting the work done, taking into account any family plans. This gives your student a sense of “ownership” for the plan, knowledge of what will happen each evening and a sense of pride when the work is done.
  • Schedule Study Time on Weekends- Sunday nights can sometimes be a stressful time for students and their parents, as kids come to the realization that something is due on Monday, or they weren’t able to study as much as they needed. You can help lessen this stress and arguments by sitting down with your child on Thursday or Friday, ask them what studying or assignments need to be completed before Monday and Tuesday and pencil in time over the weekend for them to study and do homework.
Ask Good Questions – When planning, studying or working on homework, ask your student great questions that will help him or her think of a solution to an issue and to encourage independent thinking. If, for example, your student tends to misplace completed assignments, you might ask, “What one or two places can you think of to safely keep this assignment?” In this case, your student might suggest a folder, binder or backpack.

Break down big assignments into smaller pieces – Try asking, “How could you break down this assignment or project into smaller, achievable steps?”  Teach your son or daughter to identify small steps to achieve larger projects or to study for an exam and plan to complete a step or two a day. Not only does this prevent the stress that procrastination so often creates, but also increases the quality of the work your child turns in and helps her or him to be well prepared for tests and exams.  
Helping your children develop good organizational and task management skills is critical in ensuring success in school and in their future careers. As your children get older, they will need less help planning, organizing and achieving their studies.   In next week’s blog post, we will look at a few more ideas for helping your student develop better study habits.