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Thanksgiving in Trumpland

As anyone who has experienced them knows, negotiating holiday meals that involve combinations of families, generations and single adults can be exceedingly challenging. This may be even more true this year as so many of us are divided around our politics. Let me offer suggestions.

Try to avoid:

√ Idealistic expectations. Like Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, many of us can develop idealized expectations regarding how these days should go off. We so look forward to them, especially given how hard we work. We so invest in preparing. We so much love some of the people we’ll see. And, we so much miss spending time together. All of this can cause us to create expectations that mere mortals would have a difficult time realizing. When people then let us down (i.e., act like humans), it can cause us to feel hurt, angry or sad. Best to just expect the speed bumps and enjoy whatever blessings come along.

√ Conflict resolution. Once the day kicks into gear (and especially if the wine starts flowing), it’s easy to be tempted to try to let so-and-so know about his or her significant opportunities for growth. However, rarely do people welcome such unsolicited counsel, no matter how sagely conceived and expressed; in fact, they may then be tempted to return the favor, and then others may join in, creating the psychological equivalent of a food fight. Best to keep such thoughts between yourself and your guardian angel, at least during these get togethers.

√ Intoxication (i.e. transient brain dysfunction). Ok, this one is already pretty clear so I won’t go on and play the role of Dr. Obvious.

√ Pressing other people’s hot buttons, especially this year. Trump supporters may be tempted to do an end zone dance in the face of Trump detractors. Trump detractors may be tempted to question the decency and humanity of trump supporters. As both sides offer evidence and rhetorical constructions supporting their point of view, tension rises. Plus, even if a winner could be declared, what’s the prize? An empty bag, resentment and a compromised day. Best to let it go for now. If you’re concerned this could happen, here’s a draft email to work off of: I have a favor to ask regarding Thanksgiving Day. Would it be okay with you if we did not discuss politics? Some of us have some very strongly held views that are not in agreement with each other. I’d like to make the day not about discussing those differences, or trying to win debates, especially during this time of national division. Instead, I’d just like to focus on things that are uplifting. Please respond back to the group and let us all know if that’s okay with you and your family.

√ Displaying irritation or anger. How often does expressing such emotions turn out well oncheerful-family-copy turkey day? Sure, even a broken clock is right twice a day. But, we’re talking odds here. Best to belly breathe, change the topic, or use whatever you may to calm yourself down.

Try to embrace:

√ Opportunities to express gratitude. Gratitude focuses our mind on the good parts of our lives and has been found to offer many psychological benefits. Write a gratitude letter (click here for my blog entry on gratitude letters), pull someone aside and let him or her know what he or she means to you, express thanks for what you see before you or what is true about your shared lives, and so forth. (Two cautions: don’t offer such expressions with the expectation of a response, and don’t pressure anyone to offer such thoughts and feelings, especially teenagers.) Finally, you can also express gratitude to the hosts by offering to share in the day’s labor (those sporting a y chromosome may need to overcome a biological imperative to collapse in front of a TV once tryptophan crosses the blood-brain barrier).

√ Opportunities to let others strut their stuff. Many people derive validation from having loved ones recognize and value their accomplishments. Ask others for their favorite memories from the year or what they are most proud of. Then, let yourself come aglow with happiness for them. (To an ambivalent listener, this can seem like bragging. But, even when it’s bragging, what’s the harm? Just imagine someone crawling towards you, begging for a drink, and you have a bucket of water in your arms. Would you not do the kind thing?)
√ Adaptive thinking. I have two suggestions here. First, try to remember that crisis = pain + opportunity. Opportunity is pain’s Siamese twin. So, if things don’t go off as planned, or some unfortunate event happens, look for the opportunity imbued within. (The classic movie A Christmas Story manifests a great example of this in how the family responds to the fact that invading hounds have gulped down their holiday meal.) Second, try to remember that we’ll all blink three times and be looking back at our lives from the perspective of our death beds. Just think, when you’re at the end of your life, how much you’d give to come back and relive the day at hand. As death’s gift to the living is perspective, such thinking can help you to find your wisdom.

shutterstock_223597855√ Empathy. Those you are with may express sadness or share other failings or frustrations. Empathy and agreement are different things. Being empathic says that you care, even if you privately disagree.

√ Loving kindness. It’s amazing how operating in accord with these two simple words keeps one on a high road, promotes joy and expands meaning. If in doubt about what to do, it rarely fails to respond in accord with whatever insights this question offers, “what’s the loving and kind thing to do?”

May God, or your Higher Power, or the universe, bless you and yours during these challenging days for our nation.


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Helping Your Kid Get a Good Night’s Sleep

It’s back-to-school and many parents are working on sleep with their kids. In previous entries I reviewed evidence that most teens do not get sufficient sleep, shared authoritative guidelines for how much sleep kids should get and summarized the most common ways kids suffer when they do not get enough sleep. Here I offer guidelines for how you can promote a good night’s sleep in your kid.

• Try to encourage a consistent bedtime ritual that starts about an hour prior to the time you’d like your  to fall asleep. In this hour try to avoid activities that promote an active or a fretful mind. For younger children reading them a book as they lay in bed can be effective. A shower or bath in this hour can also be relaxing.

• Baring unusual circumstances, consider not allowing your kid to keep a cell phone in her bedroom.

•Try to avoid allowing your kid to watch TV as he falls asleep. However, if you do, make sure it is not on for long and that it is turned off shortly after he falls asleep.

• If your kid is waking up soar or stiff or if her mattress is showing signs of wear or tear, consider replacing it.

• If your kid reports being too cold or too hot when trying to fall sleep, adjust accordingly.

• Try to avoid laying with your child until she falls asleep. If her anxiety level seems to mandate such, see a qualified mental health professional for help.

• Dim night lights are fine to use if such makes your child more comfortable.

• Of course, try to ensure that your child’s environment is quiet. If you live in a busy area and outside noise is interfering, consider purchasing a noise cancelling machine.

• If your kid consistently fights you in getting to bed on time, consider making her earn access to a desired activity or object the next day by getting into bed on time (e.g., cell phone access the next day is earned by having gotten into bed on time with the lights out).  This is not punishment. (“I’m taking your cell phone away because you did not get to bed on time.”) This is reward. (“You earn your cell phone each day by having gotten to bed on time the night before.”) So, your kid either earns or doesn’t earn the desired activity or access while you remain an empathic bystander.

• If your kid reports that he cannot fall asleep because his mind is too busy, try one or more of the following strategies:

  1. At a soft volume, play an audio recording of a story with which your child is familiar. Try to avoid plots that are action packed.  Also, make sure to turn it off shortly after your kid falls asleep.
  2. Encourage your kid to imagine that it is the next day and he is in a boring class. In the class he is extremely tired, but he MUST stay awake. Encourage your kid to imagine what each of her senses experience as he does this mental exercise.
  3. Encourage your kid to imagine a repetitive pleasurable activity (e.g., fishing, cheerleading, pitching a ball game, dancing, etc.). Again, encourage her to engage all of her senses when imagining this activity.
  4. Play sounds from nature (e.g., the beach, a rainforest, etc.) or other soothing music (e.g., insomnia tracks available on iTunes). If your child has a device like an iPod, he may enjoy using one of the compatible pillows that are available.
  5. Some people report that the aroma of lavender can have a sedating effect. So, consider this as well.

Insomnia is like a fever as it is a symptom that has many possible causes (e.g., sleep apnea, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, etc.). If your child suffers from persistent insomnia consult with your child’s pediatrician regarding possible medical causes. If medical interventions do not resolve the problem, are contraindicated or will take a while to implement, consider seeking out the services of a qualified mental health professional.

Ten Tips For Getting the Most out of Family Vacations

Ever feel stressed by a family vacation? This can be very surprising when it happens as we think of vacations as the antidote for stress, not the cause of it. In order to increase the odds that you will get the intended results from your next family vacation, consider the following 10 thoughts:

  1. Savor the moment. Ask yourself, “where’s the beauty in this moment?” Is it in the expression on your child’s face? Is it in the colors of the landscape? Is it in the skill being brought to bear by someone serving you? It’s so easy to rush past beauty and precious moments and to not notice them. As you focus your attention only in the here-and-now, try to do only that and breathe gently into your lower stomach. Observe the peace and contentment that grows within you.
  2. Appreciate that some things just about always don’t go as planned and that such moments offer opportunities.  That is, crisis = pain + opportunity. I’ve never known of a vacation that went exactly as planned. When flights are delayed, or its rainy out, or you don’t get the seating you wanted or someone gets sick, acknowledge that pain as you would a guest in your home. But, then look for the opportunity that pain always brings with it, and try to capitalize on that. Doing so models wisdom for your children.
  3. Love matters more than everything else. We parent-lunatics (see the first post in this blog) want so much to give our children the best of everything, including the best vacations. This is a natural and normal impulse. However,  so often what our children most need from us is to be connected. So, try to grab those moments on your vacation that allow your relationship with your child to grow. (Such moments are often cheaper anyway!)
  4. Stress happens. Our bodies are stressed when we experience bountiful pain and bountiful joy; while the former is obvious the latter can surprise us. How many families are surprised when a wedding, a family reunion, a baptism, or, in this case, a family vacation brings with it grouchiness or arguments or other kinds of relationship ruptures and challenges? When these sorts of things happen in painful moments we usually understand what is going on. But, when they happen during a family vacation, especially when a lot of time and resources have been brought to bear to make it happen, it’s easy to become disgusted with  family members for what seems to be their selfishness and lack of appreciation. Instead, try to remember that such moments are usually inevitable and that they can be minimized if everyone both realizes that and also tries to get healthy doses of sleep, nutritious food and physical activity during the vacation.
  5. Contemplate goals. Ask yourself what realistic goals this vacation can accomplish. If I tell myself, either consciously or unconsciously, that I expect my pliers to be able to cut down a tree, I will suffer disappointment or worse. If I try to use a vacation to correct a major family problem, to engender a significant upgrade in the harmony in my family life or to cause family members to love and to appreciate me more, I may end up very disappointed and hurt. However, if I tell myself that the goals are to appreciate and enjoy whatever moments come our way and the presence of my family in my life, I may end up feeling fulfilled and peaceful.
  6. Avoid rushing. “Let’s go we must be there 30 minutes early!!” “C’mon we’ll miss the appetizers!!” “If we’re not there in 15 minutes they’ll start without us!!” When we’ve paid a lot of money, and invested a lot of time planning, it’s so easy to treat a vacation like it is a hill to be charged: bayonets attached, troops organized and people on the receiving end in trouble! And, participants, including the one(s) barking orders, often feel more like they are engaged in battle than a vacation. If a given activity is very important to be at on time, try to give yourself sufficient time so that no one has to rush. If rushing becomes necessary, take a poll among the family regarding which they would rather do: rush, be late, or do something else. This way if there is a decision to rush at least the soldiers will feel less like they are being pushed.
  7. Avoid creating future stress. It’s so easy to spend money I don’t have because I tell myself that doing so will give my kids things or experiences that will be meaningful to them. However, if I do this spending in a way that compromises my future wellness, then there may be less of me available to my children when we return home (e.g., I have to work more, or I’m more tense, or I have more need to unwind with alcohol to manage my financial worries) and ultimately the scales tip more towards my children being stressed than benefited.
  8. Experiment with the path less traveled. When on such paths it can sometimes be easier to connect with each other and to have unique experiences. Try safe activities that either the crowds don’t do (e.g., swimming in the ocean when it’s raining, going to a restaurant off the tourist circuit) or which are a departure from your usual behavior (e.g., get a temporary tattoo, dance like no one is watching, volunteer to do a karaoke number). Then, really try to savor these moments.
  9. Begin your vacation before you leave. Anticipation can be so much fun, especially if it is shared. The internet, bookstores and libraries abounds with resources. Engage willing family members in this anticipation.
  10. Continue your vacation after you return. Every true benefit that can be garnered when at a vacation site can be garnered at home: good food, good fun, good relationships, fun activities, etc. are all available to all of us with sufficient creativity and persistence. In other words, there is no kind of brain activity that Paris can create that Toledo can’t.

By the way, if you had access to a time machine, you could go back in time and see me making just about all of the mistakes suggested by this article: I can still see myself acting like a general at Walt Disney World, treating the Unofficial Guide like a master battle plan! So, if you fall prey to performance problems when on your vacation, you’re in a huge club (i.e.,  those of us who sometimes act like Clark Griswold when on a family vacation). So the 11th suggestion is to cut yourself some slack in these moments: you’re trying the best you can and no angel in heaven means better.

Related post: Five Tips for Keeping Long Car Trips From Becoming Hell on Earth

Tips For When A College Grad Returns Home

As it seems to take more years for young adults to accomplish independence from their parents, many return home after college for periods of time. This happens so often that a term has been coined for this group of young adults: “the boomerang generation.” Many parents feel confused about how to interact with their children in these situations. This post is designed to address common questions that arise for parents when their kids boomerang home.

Parent question: Is there a priority I should keep in mind?

Answer: Yes. The key question is: Does your adult child have a viable vocational plan that stands a reasonable chance of accomplishing effective independence?  If yes, count your blessings and try to keep the other issues in perspective. If no, that is the place to start. There are multiple methods that may be used to create such a plan. For instance, vocational counselors  offer questionnaires that can be useful in narrowing down career choices. Moreover, if your adult child graduated from college, his or her university likely has a career services center that can help. Former professors and mentors can also be invaluable resources.

Parent question: What if my adult child is completely clueless about what she or he wants to do for a vocation. Where is a good place to start?

Answer: Don’t worry if this is the case, as there are millions of adults in the same position, across the lifespan. A key first question is: What are your adult child’s top strengths? The premise is that all humans, barring significant brain dysfunction, have top strengths, or things that they can do in a superior fashion. Resources like the VIA Survey of Character Strengths (www.authentichappiness.com)  or Tom Rath’s book Strength Finder 2.0 can be of help in generating theories regarding your adult child’s top strengths. Once the top strengths have been identified the next question is : What vocation will allow my adult child to execute those top strengths in service to others? Those who effectively realize the answers to these two questions tend not only to have a viable vocation, but also tend to experience great meaning and purpose in their work lives. (The Strong Interest Inventory can be helpful in this reflection, though it’s easy to misinterpret or misunderstand the results without the help of a psychologist.)

Parent question: Okay, let’s say my adult child has a viable vocational plan that requires her or him to live with me for a while. Should I set some rules about chores?

Answer: Most families find it important to have a collaborative discussion about these practicalities, which, of course, is different from a parent unilaterally deciding what the chores should be. You might start things off by creating the circumstance to have an extended discussion (e.g., going out to a restaurant, going for a walk, etc.). Then you can begin by affirming your adult child for the things in her or his life that you appreciate and value. You might then segue into the topic of dividing up tasks as follows: “Of course, whenever adults live together they share the household labor. What do you think would be a fair way for us to divide things up?”

Parent question: Should I charge rent? And, if yes, how should I calculate it?

Answer: There is no answer that can apply equally well across families. However, the more your adult child is working at a viable vocational plan, and the more she or he is scraping by financially, the more I might let this go. On the other hand, the more your adult child doesn’t seem invested in accomplishing independence, or the more she or he has a decent income, the more I might consider charging rent. Of course, how much you charge, and whether you charge at all, will also depend on your own financial wellness.

Parent question: Should I set a curfew?

Answer: I would not initiate a discussion about this unless a problem has emerged or is emerging. However, if your adult child is coming home at an hour that interferes with your getting a good night’s sleep or if your adult child seems to be developing significant self-destructive habits, then I would suggest initiating a discussion using the same strategy that I reviewed above regarding chores.

Parent question: What if my adult child does things like leave a dirty dish in the family room or a dirty towel in the bathroom, should I ask her or him to clean it up?

Answer: These sorts of dynamics happen whenever adults live together, no matter what the relationships are. In this context, I would probably try to keep the key issue in mind. That is, if she or he is working a viable vocational plan, and assuming I don’t feel too taken advantage of by cleaning up after someone, I might keep this agitation to myself. However, if you decide it is worth mentioning, I would do so by asking your adult child how she or he would suggest that you handle these situations.

Parent question: Do you have any other guidelines for communicating?

Answer: Remember that for a lecture to change human behavior two conditions must be met. First, the person must not already possess the information. Second, the person must want to receive the information. Hence, when lectures are used to try to change someone’s behavior in a family it is like a carpenter trying to drive a nail into a piece of wood with a screwdriver. There is nothing inherently wrong with the tool, it is just not designed for that particular job. Methods that are much more effective for modifying behavior include expressing empathy, asking questions, affirming what you like and partnering in decision-making. Besides, your adult child would probably score very high on a multiple choice test on “what mom/dad thinks about things.”

Parent question: What should I do if my adult child and I are getting into regular and heated conflicts about these things?

Answer: I’d seek out a mental health professional competent in doing family therapy. It can be a remarkable and rewarding experience to have a well-trained and objective professional ease or completely resolve long standing family conflicts. For a referral in your community, click here.

Holiday Joy on the Cheap

How has it become that the holidays are associated with expenses that exceed our resources? While doses of that may be inevitable, I want to focus on an alternative perspective.

The first thing we all do well to remember is that money and material things have little to do with making people happy, at least once basic needs have been met (e.g., clothing, housing, medical care, food and transportation). For instance, people who win large lotteries usually return to their previous level of happiness six months to one year later. Moreover, material possessions often tax us, as they need to be maintained, insured or otherwise cared for. Moreover, most things that can be wrapped lose their fascination quickly,. What truly promotes happiness are things like loving relationships and engaging activities, neither of which requires a lot of money. So, in the spirit of the 12 Days of Christmas let me suggest a dozen such possibilities:

• Purchase a cheap, mini stuffed animal and mail it to your young child from Santa. Put a note in there stating that this is a magical being who will watch your child each day (even when not in the same room) and leave each night to report back to Santa on his or her behavior. Each night then reposition your magical snowman, reindeer, elf, etc. (This is a variation of the Elf on the Shelf concept. Certainly you can buy this product from Hallmark, but such isn’t required to create a magical experience.)

• Engage your child in a letter writing campaign with Santa (or any figure of your choosing). Send the first letter stating that Santa is willing to answer questions and write back-and-forth and that he enjoys receiving drawings. Include in your letter some holiday stickers and declare them magic stamps that call Santa to your box to retrieve your child’s letter. (The back story would be that Santa makes rounds prior to Christmas.) If you felt like it you could include a treat back with some of Santa’s letters.

• Purchase a cheap, mini stuffed animal and declare that it gets warm whenever Santa draws near. (You’d be amazed at how effective this can be.) (By the way, if you are a Santa family, check out www.noradsanta.org for offerings than can add significant doses of magic to your experience.)

• Bake holiday cookies once a week and deliver them to a soup kitchen or someone who could use a pick-me-up (e.g., maybe you would be allowed to partner with your local meals-on-wheels).

• Start an annual tradition of making holiday decorations and putting them on display (a trip to your local craft store can trigger creative ideas as can many online sites).

• Join a church choir for the season.

• Go sleigh riding. Sure, this can be done expensively, but it can also be done with cardboard and a snowy hill, or a wet, grassy hill.

• Start a family game night, with members of the family rotating being in charge (i.e., picking the game and assigning teams). Flavor the night with treats. Losers might do something nice (but easy) for the winners (e.g., make their bed the next morning, give them a 15 minute massage).

• Create one night a week when you watch old family movies. (It’s funny how many hours of these we have laying around but never watch.) This is all the better if you have movies from your childhood. You could partner this with a “campout” where you all make sleeping tents in your TV room.

• Have bubble gun wars. Bubble guns (you know, that shoot bubbles) are cheap. You could arm each family member with one, divide into teams and have the equivalent of paint ball wars. This could be done indoors or outdoors depending on your situation.

• Start geocaching. Geocaching involves finding hidden “treasures” in your area (usually trinkets of very little or no value) and replacing them with treasures of your own. See www.geocaching.com for an orientation.

• Play yard hockey. You could do this with brooms and a tennis ball or some other light ball. (You could also duct tape the end of the broom.) Set up goals, boundaries, time limits and any other rules you need. You could even buy a cheap trophy with the engraving “2012 Yard Hockey Champs” and award it to the team that has the best record by the end of the holiday season. (Imagine your child, in the future, planning to bring home his or her intended future spouse and asking that person “so, how good are you with a broom?”)

That’s 12 I came up with in a few minutes. With a little thought and effort you could probably double my list. Actually, here are three bonus items that my wife and eldest just suggested after I asked them to review this post.

• Follow a local sports team. Odds are that there is a local high school or college basketball team whose games you could start attending.

• Drive around looking for the best lighting display. You might bake some cookies for the winners and either present them your award or just leave them on their door step with a congratulatory note.

• Pick out new recipes to try as a family.

For those who celebrate The Festival of Lights, click here for a post with some great activities for kids.

Which do you think your child will recount, with joy, years from now? That present he or she opens in a few weeks or what it was like to see dad limping around with a taped up broom? Right. It’s the connection and the shared activities that matter. These can truly yield priceless returns on the cheap.

Helping Your Teen Overcome Anxiety About Dating

While many of us would just as soon not have our teen date, thank you very much, we know that overcoming fear and apprehension about such is an important developmental hurdle. This entry, my 75th to date, reviews seven tips for you to share with your teen and four tips for you.

Tips for you to share with your teen:

Tip #1: Normalize your teen’s anxiety. Many teens think that other people find this to be much easier than they do; moreover, the sexes are notorious for thinking that the other sex doesn’t freak out as much about this stuff. But you and I know that most people can relate to the sense of dread and anxiety that most experience when first starting to date (e.g., dialing six digits of your crush’s phone number and hanging up, about 25 or so times, because you couldn’t dial that fateful seventh number). Tell your stories, especially if they are funny, as in comedy = pain + time. (Click on the following link for an example of a funny story I tell about my own dating experiences in order to help nervous teens: Using Our Screw Ups To Help Our Kids)

Tip #2: Teach the art of the flirt. That is, give your teen some tips on how to engage in risk-free explorations of the other person’s interest. There are so many ways to do this, and I’m sure you have your own strategies. But, here are some:

√ Create a pretense to call the person (e.g., information about an upcoming test, confirmation of the location of an upcoming event) and see if the person seems happy to be talking on the phone. If your teen is open to it, offer a role play.

√ Friend the person on Facebook (or follow on Twitter, or engage on Tumblr, etc) and see how receptive he/she is to the chit-chat. A nice opening line can be a compliment.

√Ask the person if he or she would like to share some non-dating experience such as lunch at school or studying at the library. Or your teen could offer that he or she has no taste in clothes and could the other person–whom your teen offers has amazing taste–meet him or her at the mall and help his or her sorry self pick out a piece of clothing or two. The same strategy could be employed in picking out a piece of sports equipment.

Tip #3: Teach your kid that you can’t have fun without diving in. Said more like a psychologist: the only effective way to deal with developmentally appropriate fears is to confront them and that avoiding them only makes them stronger. I elaborate on this theme in this blog entry: My Child Gets Afraid A Lot. what Can I Do? And, make sure your teen understands that electronic asks (e.g., texts, Facebooking) are wimpy and often reflect poorly on the asker.

Tip #4: Teach your child that a “no” ain’t no thing. Actually, when I’m working with a teen or adult who is afraid of the ask, I’ll say something like “Bryon, I really hope that Morgan says ‘yes’ when you ask her out. But, for the sake of our work, it’d be better if she, and the next bunch of girls you ask out, would all say ‘no’ because this would increase the chance that you’d figure out that it ‘ain’t no thing’ to get rejected as there are a nearly limitless supply of girls lined up right behind those guys.”

Tip #5: Encourage your child to not try to be anyone other than who he or she is. I suggest to teens that getting someone to like them based on false information is a complete waste of everyone’s time and effort and will very rarely work out (even a broken clock is right twice a day, but the odds of success are very low).

Tip #6: Give your child some tips for the date itself. If your child gets a “yes” response, he or she can become even more freaked out. But, there are lots of ways to create a less stressful date. First, going in a group can cut down on stress. Next, going to an event or movie requires less interaction, and so can be less intimidating (a strategy I often employed when first dating female creatures). It can also be helpful for your teen to prepare a list of conversation starters (e.g., top five favorite movies, recording artists, vacations experienced, things to spend money on in the case of winning the Powerball, places to visit in the world).

Tip #7: Teach some tips for reassuring and impressing the other teen’s parent-lunatics. The stuff that impresses you, would probably impress them. And, if those parents are involved in any administrative aspects of the date, it’s good for someone from your camp to confirm that their camp is situated well for that role (see the blog entry I mentioned below on monitoring).

Four additional tips for you:

Tip #1: Make sure your teen’s sex education is up-to-date. For example, I really like the book Seductive Delusions: How Everyday People Catch STDs by family practitioner and friend Jill Grimes, M.D. This book does does a super job of educating teens about STDs. Actually, I wish every teen (and adult) would read Chapter One, on herpes (I made sure my teens did as soon as I read it).

Tip #2: Make sure your teen is sufficiently monitored. This blog entry elaborates on what that means: Recent Research: Teens Need Parents to Monitor Them.

Tip #3: Let your teen know that you’re interested in discussing any aspect of any of this but take “no” for an answer and don’t pry (after you’ve established that the monitoring is sufficient that is).

Tip #4: When your teen is interested in talking, try to drop what you’re doing to listen. Teens are like windows that are only intermittently open, and usually not on your schedule. So, when they are open, try to take advantage; those interactions will likely end up mattering more to you, when you are later reflecting back on the meaning of your life, than whatever it was you were doing when your teen approached you.

Tip #5: If your teen’s anxiety about all of this proves to be overwhelming, seek out a mental health professional who can offer him or her cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is usually the indicated psychotherapy for overcoming this problem. For a list of potential treatment providers, click here.

In closing let me offer that one major topic that I’m not taking on here, but will subsequently address, is how to handle situations in which your teen has a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered orientation or if he or she is unsure about all of that. Stay tuned.

By the way, I asked my 15 year old son Gannon to read this entry for edits. Besides asking, “why do we need to be monitored?!” and laughing again at the humiliation I experienced on my first date (referenced in the link above), he said, and this is as good as it gets: “I think it’s good.”

Good luck!

A Dozen Ideas for Dad-Daughter and Mom-Son Activities

Many of we parent-lunatics want to create special moments with our kids amidst the madness of our hectic lives. This entry offers ideas themed around potential dad-daughter activities and mom-son activities. (Please be sure to read the four caveats at the end.)

Dads: 12 Things You Can Do with Your Daughter

  1. Spend one hour a week doing nothing but paying attention to her and reflecting positive, specific and truthful messages.
  2. Let her paint your nails or apply makeup
  3. Take her for a trip to buy clothes or jewelry
  4. Brush her hair (at least 100 strokes)
  5. Go for a jog together
  6. Take her to a trip to the city to see some sights and a show
  7. Go for a long walk in nature, stopping along the way to study interesting flora and fauna
  8. Take her bowling
  9. Take her to get her nails done
  10. Sing karaoke
  11. Let her see you doing special things for her mom
  12. Model to her that real men are affectionate, attentive, gentle and prioritize family life

Moms: 12 Things You can Do with Your Sons

  1. Take him fishing
  2. Play catch
  3. Play an interactive video game with him
  4. Spend one hour a week doing nothing but paying attention to him and reflecting positive, specific and truthful messages.
  5. Find a pond where you can try to find frogs or other small creatures
  6. Take him to see his favorite sports team play
  7. Take a trip to the library and show him all the cool books that are there on topics he loves
  8. Teach him how to do resistance training
  9. Let him see you doing special things for his dad
  10. Take a trip to a museum of natural history and afterwards ask him to make a drawing memorializing the trip.
  11. Model to him that real women are not subservient to men, are faithful and value their minds at least as much as their bodies.
  12. As you prioritize your family life, make sure he sees that you have outside interests and goals.

Some caveats:

• The organization of these ideas by sex is to be taken lightly, at best (e.g., maybe your son has the interest in fashion or your daughter in the sports team). So, think of these as 24 potential ideas for any parent-child relationship.

• The appropriateness of some of these activities will vary as a function of age (e.g., resistance training).

• Don’t worry about the ideas involving money if they aren’t practical. Required elements are creativity and commitment, not cash.

• Some of these ideas won’t apply to how your family is structured (e.g., single parent households). But the spirit behind each idea, with a pinches of creativity and commitment, can be extrapolated to other ideas.

Do you have other ideas you’d be willing to share?

The 10 Most Common Mistakes Good Parents Make

What follows I find, in my professional and personal dealings, to be the most common mistakes we parents make. At the end of each of them I’ve listed the chapter in my parent book Working Parents, Thriving Families: 10 Strategies That Make a Difference (WPTF) that offers an expanded discussion and specific strategies for dealing with each problem as well links to related blog posts.

#1: Imagining that there will be more time for the family next week.

One of the most important exercises I ask parents to do in my practice is “special time.” This activity, which is different from quality time, takes one hour a week. So, so many parents believe that it will be easy to “make” this time (there is no “finding” the time, only making it) each week only to learn that it is extremely difficult to do so consistently, an insight that is instructive.

When parents describe a week when they did not complete special time they stress how unusually busy it was. While there certainly can be exceptionally busy weeks, most of the time the only thing that rotates is what is causing the extreme busyness, not the extreme busyness itself.

See Chapter One, Complete One Hour of Special Time Each Week With Your Child in WPTF for more.

Related blog posts:

The Value of Unplugging

Conversation Starters for You and Your Teenager

#2: Parenting from a cross.

The research makes it clear that our collective parental self-care is often quite poor and that this causes significant stress on not only on us, but also on our partners and our kids. My experience is that the number one reason we good parents fall into this trap is because we are consumed by work and family duties. An image comes to mind: the oxygen masks having dropped in an emergency situation on an airplane and a woozy parent, who is not wearing an oxygen mask, is consumed by securing a child’s mask

See Chapter Seven, Take Care of Yourself and Your Relationship With Your Significant Other, in WPTF for more.

Related blog posts:

Six Tips for When You Lose It With Your Kid

51 Truths (As I See Things Anyway)

Effective Romance Helps Effective Parenting

Lions and Tigers and Vows, Oh My! 10 Tips for Taking Your New Year’s Resolutions from Oz to Kansas

#3: Praising poor performance.

The pervasiveness of this leaves me feeling confident that you could go to any youth baseball game in your community this weekend and likely hear examples of parents praising their kids for striking out, or making errors or for other kinds of poor performance. We know that facilitating our kids’ self-esteem is important. But our compressed and crazy-busy lifestyles sometimes cause us to use techniques that are either not helpful or that facilitate negative outcomes (e.g., self-entitlement).

See Chapter Two, Discover, Promote and Celebrate Your Child’s Competenites, in WPTF for more.

Related blog post:

Five Questions for Effectively Parenting Kids in Sports

#4: Trying to undo a kid’s pain.

One of my favorite quotes is by Kahlil Gibran in his great, little book The Prophet: “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.” We good parents hurt worse when our kids hurt. So, we try to take it all away; if we are successful we limit our kids’ wisdom.

See Chapter Six, Promote Health Decision Making, Independence and Adaptive Thinking, in WPTF for more.

Related blog post:

•  Failure: An Important Part of  Psychologically Healthy Childhood.

#5: Missing the middle ground on discipline.

 It’s amazing how often the word “discipline” is equated with butt kicking. Actually, the root of the word is “to teach.” I would argue that the top outcome effective discipline promotes is our child’s capacity to do things well when he or she doesn’t feel like it. This is the psychological muscle group that best predicts success in our culture.

It is easy to wrap ineffective discipline strategies in truisms. The parent who is soul weary and disengages from discipline might say “you can’t make all their decisions for them. Kids have got to learn to make their own mistakes and to figure things out for themselves!” Likewise the harsh and unyielding parent (it takes less time to parent in this way than to discipline effectively), might say “kids have to learn respect and to do as they are told!”

To discipline well is one of the most challenging and time consuming aspects of effective parenting. As we are so, so tired and so, so overextended, it’s easy to miss the boat.

See Chapter Five, Practice Sound Discipline, in WPTF for more.

Related blog posts:

Six Reasons to Avoid Spanking

Seven Tips for When Your Child Refuses to do a Chore.

Top 11 Tips for Parenting Teens

#6: Enabling sleep deprivation.

There is an epidemic of sleep deprivation among our youth. The more researchers examine the consequences of this, the more we learn how impairing a lack of sleep can be across all the major domains of a child’s or teen’s life. Again, it is much, much easier to let this go than it is to ensure that our kids get enough sleep.

See Chapter Eight, Emphasize a Healthy Lifestyle, in WPTF for more.

Related blog posts:

Is Your Kid Getting Enough Sleep?

A Chronic Health Problems in Teens: A Lack of Sleep

Helping Your Child Get a Good Night’s Sleep

#7: Warring with other adults in a kid’s life.

My read of the scientific literature on divorce adjustment suggests that the two best predictors of child and teen adjustment to divorce are the number of changes that he or she endures (with fewer being better) and how well the parents get along. And, don’t even get me started on how important it is to a child’s education for parents and teachers to partner effectively. However, we parent-lunatics, often go to war with these other adults. The banners we fly as we march to battle usually articulate very important issues; however, we often don’t let ourselves be fully aware of the shrapnel our kids are taking.

See Chapter Nine, Establish Collaborative Relationships With Other Important Adults, in WPTF for more.

Related blog post:

11 Important Tips When You Meet With a Teacher

#8: Enabling excessive use of sedentary electronic pleasures.

Let’s face it, if our kids are plugged in they leave us the hell alone (and that’s good as we’ve got TONS to do) and they certainly seem to enjoy themselves. However, if a kid is doing this for more than two hours a day, it is very likely that she or he is missing out on important developmental outcomes (e.g., being physically active, developing skills for face-to-face interactions, learning academic material).

See Chapter Eight, Emphasize a Healthy Lifestyle, in WPTF for more.

Related blog posts:

Can Parents Trust Movie, Television and Gaming Ratings?

10 Tips for Parenting Your Progeny’s Online Life

10 Strategies if Your Child is Addicted to World of Warcraft

#9: Enabling a poptart-pizza-pasta diet and lifestyle.

Unfortunately, it’s cheaper and easier (e.g., more convenient, less hassles from progeny) to eat poorly than it is to eat well. I was at a restaurant recently with my eldest doing special time. As I was paying the check at the entry area an array of sumptuous bakery items was on display, to which I said “They look really good. But you might just as well inject a vile of glucose in your butt.” To which my eldest said “you say that all the time.” (My second eldest recently had a wittier retort: “but that wouldn’t taste as good.”) My saying this “all the time” to my kids is my way of howling at the moon as I find the marketing of unhealthy foods in our culture to be incessant.

Of course, it takes time and effort to ensure that our kids sweat and breath hard for an hour at least five days a week, even if the activity is fun (the guideline is actually for seven days a week, but I’m trying to be Dr. Flexible).

See Chapter Eight, Emphasize a Healthy Lifestyle, in WPTF for more.

Related blog post:

Kids’ Physical Activity: 7 Thinking Traps

#10: Excessive self-reproach, worry and lunacy.

At the end of the day we parents are shepherds, not sculptors. We often oversubscribe our kids’ outcomes to what we do and don’t do, to what we say and what we don’t say. While our efforts matter and make a big difference, so much of what happens in our kids’ lives is outside of our control (i.e., as they grow older the stakes rise and our control diminishes). Moreover, we are the best intentioned humans on the planet who work our butts off. And, every single one of us screws up on a pretty consistent basis. So, let’s cut ourselves some slack and have our self-talk be what we would have our kids’ self talk be, in the future, should they end up having kids…we can only hope that we can be there to see it, especially if we can simultaneously kick up our feet and enjoy a tasty beverage.

See the Introduction and Epilogue in WPTF for more.

Related blog post

We Parents are Lunatics

The Value of Unplugging

I have a confession to make. I don’t walk my talk all the time. In my defense, I own this often in my writing, public speaking and clinical work. But, it usually bothers me, as I guess it does any of us when we don’t parent in the manner that we intend to. Most of the time I avoid excessive self-reproach and try, instead, to learn what I can from my blunders. This blog entry articulates a fresh example.

I write this on page 199 of my parenting book Working Parents, Thriving Families:

Pick one day each month to have a sedentary technology holiday: During this twenty-four-hour period do not allow any electronic entertainment. Such days allow the other opportunities before you and your family to come more sharply into focus. Who knows, you may decide to try it on a weekly basis!

Ok, here’s the confession: I’ve never done it, until this past week.

The context was a family vacation to Bermuda. Before leaving I was having a discussion with my colleague and friend Karen Osborne. I forget how it came up, but I must have let on that I was considering taking my technology with me. Karen’s eyes got big and she said something like this: “If I were your wife there’s NO WAY you’d be allowed to take your laptop with you! That vacation is for you, your wife and your kids. Spending time with them, and not your email, is what it’s for! That stuff will be waiting for you when you get back. There’s no way that’d fly with me! No way!” I saw instantly that she was correct (plus the fact that she is a gentle person who normally doesn’t take a 2 x 4 to my head unless I really need it) and I knew I could never face her when I came back if I did otherwise. (In case you’re wondering why my wife didn’t serve in this role: she’s run out of 2 x 4s.)

So, I didn’t take my laptop and kept the other stuff off unless it was to plan or coordinate a vacation activity or to take a picture (like what you see below).Image

And, my family didn’t have or use their technology either.

I can’t easily describe for you what a remarkable experience it was to be unplugged. It allowed for much, much more of a sense of focused attention and peace. In a remarkable book called The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle argues the same that that many other wise people, across multiple disciplines and traditions, have argued: being in the moment (instead of the past or the future), is an essential element for experiencing meaning, joy and peace. While technology can facilitate being in the now (e.g., a meditation facilitator, music), most of the time it interferes. In my case, when I’m most plugged in, multi-tasked and caffeinated, I’m like a hyperactive hamster on crack. When I was unplugged, and focused on the beauty and wonder before my eyes, especially my family, I became filled with peace, joy and serenity. And, I was able to feel this way even though I had some heavy duty stresses to deal with at work upon my return (i.e., being in the moment allowed me to keep that stuff out of my consciousness 95% of the time).

So, now I’m going to do this more often. How much more, or how regularly,  I don’t know yet, as I’m still catching up from the backlog of being unplugged for five days (including writing this blog entry on a Saturday morning), lol.

Try it for a day, or half a day, or as long as you can. Turn everything off. Observe your mind then try to go to the past or the future. Watch it trying to do so as you might watch a two year old throwing a tantrum. Then, try not to give any power to your mind’s inclination to do that, and just observe the beauty around you, especially your family. If you can do it, I’d be very, very interested in having you write about your experience here.

Nine Questions to Consider if Your Adult Child Wants to Live With You

Our adult children (i.e., 18 or older) can feel paralyzed, overwhelmed or unprepared when it comes time to transition to the next phase of their lives, whether that is to attend college or graduate school or to hold down a full time job. For this reason, many petition to live at home, or to return home. This post is designed to address some key questions and issues for you to consider in these circumstances.

Parent question: Is there a priority I should keep in mind?

Answer: Yes. The key question is: Does your adult child have a viable vocational plan that stands a reasonable chance of accomplishing effective independence?  If yes, count your blessings and try to keep the other issues in perspective. If no, that is the place to start. There are multiple methods that may be used to create such a plan. For instance, vocational counselors  offer questionnaires that can be useful in narrowing down career choices (e.g., the Strong Interest Inventory). Moreover, if your adult child graduated from college, his or her university likely has a career services center that can help. Former teachers, guidance counselors, professors and mentors can also be invaluable resources.

Parent question: What if my adult child is completely clueless about what she or he wants to do for a vocation. Where is a good place to start?

Answer: Don’t worry if this is the case, as there are millions of adults in the same position, across the lifespan. A key first question is: What are your adult child’s top strengths? The premise is that all humans, barring significant brain dysfunction, have top strengths, or things that they can do in a superior fashion. Resources like the Signature Strengths Survey (www.authentichappiness.com)  or Tom Rath’s book Strength Finder 2.0 can be of help in generating theories regarding your adult child’s top strengths. Once the top strengths have been identified the next question is : What vocation will allow my adult child to execute those top strengths in service to others? Those who effectively realize the answers to these two questions tend not only to have a viable vocation, but also tend to experience great meaning and purpose in their work lives.

Parent question: Okay, let’s say my adult child has a viable vocational plan that requires her or him to live with me for a while. Should I set some rules about chores?

Answer: Most families find it important to have a collaborative discussion about these practicalities, which, of course, is different from a parent unilaterally deciding what the chores should be. You might start things off by creating the circumstance to have an extended discussion (e.g., going out to a restaurant, going for a walk, etc.). Then you can begin by affirming your adult child for the things in her or his life that you appreciate and value. You might then segue into the topic of dividing up tasks as follows: “Of course, whenever adults live together they share the household labor. What do you think would be a fair way for us to divide things up?”

Parent question: Should I charge rent? And, if yes, how should I calculate it?

Answer: There is no answer that can apply equally well across families. However, the more your adult child is working at a viable vocational plan, and the more she or he is scraping by financially, the more I might let this go. On the other hand, the more your adult child doesn’t seem invested in accomplishing independence, or the more she or he has a decent income, the more I might consider charging rent. Of course, how much you charge, and whether you charge at all, will also depend on your own financial health.

Parent question: Should I set a curfew?

Answer: I would not initiate a discussion about this unless a problem has emerged or is emerging. However, if your adult child is coming home at an hour that interferes with your getting a good night’s sleep or if your adult child seems to be developing self-destructive habits, then I would suggest initiating a discussion using the same strategy that I reviewed above regarding chores.

Parent question: What if my adult child does things like leave a dirty dish in the family room or a dirty towel in the bathroom, should I ask her or him to clean it up?

Answer: These sorts of dynamics happen whenever adults live together, no matter what the relationships are. In this context, I would probably try to keep the key issue in mind. That is, if she or he is working a viable vocational plan, and assuming I don’t feel too taken advantage of by cleaning up after someone, I might keep this agitation to myself. However, if you decide it is worth mentioning, I would do so by asking your adult child how she or he would suggest that you handle these situations.

Parent question: Do you have any other guidelines for communicating?

Answer: Remember that for a lecture to change human behavior two conditions must be met. First, the person must not already possess the information. Second, the person must want to receive the information. Hence, when lectures are used to try to change someone’s behavior in a family it is like a carpenter trying to drive a nail into a piece of wood with a screwdriver. There is nothing inherently wrong with the tool, it is just not designed for that particular job. Methods that are much more effective for modifying behavior include expressing empathy, asking questions (i.e., a method used by the best teachers), affirming what you like and partnering in decision-making.

Parent question: Is there anything I should avoid doing?

Answer: Yes, letting your adult child live with you without him or her having a viable vocational plan. I’ve seen many instances of adult children maintaining a vampire sleep schedule while filling their lives with some combination of electronic media, socializing and avoidance of responsibility. These sorts of “secondary gains” make it harder, not easier, for an adult child to experience the riches life has to offer.

Parent question: What should I do if my adult child and I are getting into regular and heated conflicts about these things?

Answer: I’d seek out a mental health professional competent in doing family therapy. It can be a remarkable and rewarding experience to have a well-trained and objective professional help to ease or completely resolve long standing family conflicts. For a referral in your community, click here.

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