Tag holidays

When Santa Lives Paycheck-to-Paycheck

Many parents are concerned about how to provide a wonderful holiday experience for their family when money is very tight.  This entry is designed to provide strategies to provide magic on a budget. (Much of this material is discussed from a Christmas perspective, but is easily adapted to other traditions.)

• Kids need and value time with you much, much more than presents. Give decorated coupons for fun activities and trips together (e.g., good for one trip for an ice cream cone, good for one bike ride/walk around a local lake, good for two hours of board game playing, good for one fishing trip).

• Remember: crisis = pain + opportunity. Yes, it hurts to not have the money to spend on presents to a degree that you are used to. Give that pain its due. But, when you’re done, wonder what opportunities await you and your family because of this pain.

• The magic of the holiday season can be created, expanded and enhanced with very little expenditure of money. For instance:

√ Get a cheap stuffed elf, reindeer or snowman and declare that it is a magical creature that travels to the North Pole each night with a report on how your child behaved that day, only to then return in the morning for a new day of scouting (there is a commercial product that does this titled Elf on the Shelf). Kids love looking for the new location each morning.

√ Encourage your child to write letters to Santa as often as he or she likes, asking questions throughout (e.g., what is Mrs. Claus’ favorite desert? What do you do when the reindeer get into arguments?) Tell them Santa wants to get to know her or him as a person so the letters should not just be about requests for presents. Then, put the letter(s) in your outgoing mail receptacle, or tape them on your door (make sure to use Santa’s address and a “magic stamp,” which can be a sticker of your choosing that you make magical by dipping it three times in reindeer food, which can be oatmeal in a pouch); later swap out the letter with a return letter from Santa.

√ Buy another cheap stuffed creature and leave it for your child, with a letter from Santa, declaring that it is a magical being that gets warmer whenever Santa is in the vicinity. Practices such as this can cause bigger pupil dilation than presents.

√ Arrange for your family to give service to others. Many churches, soup kitchens, and charitable agencies could find something helpful for your family to do. These kinds of experiences can create warmth and magic.

√ Check out the website www.noradsanta.org, especially on Christmas Eve (they offer regular video updates of Santa’s travel around the globe).

√ Establish as many joyful rituals as you can: sing holiday songs at home, bake cookies from scratch, create photo montages, join a group that travels from house-to-house singing carols, make holiday decorations, offer to help your local town or church decorate, and so forth.

When it comes to actually buying presents, consider the following:

• You can get more bang for your buck at discount and dollar stores. The visual image of lots of wrapped presents, each of which can be very modest in cost, can help to create that response I know many of we parents want from our kids when they first look under the tree.

• Use websites that compare the pricing of a wide assortment of retailers (e.g., www.pronto.com, www.pricegrabber.com). Also, be sure to do an internet search for coupons for the retailer you have chosen.

• Lots of families chase the hottest, current generation of electronics. This means that the reseller market (e.g., as found in this newspaper, on ebay, and on Craigslist) is often jammed with opportunities to purchase the previous generation(s) at slashed prices.

• Look for sellers who offer refurbished items, or ask retailers if they have floor models or open box items they are willing to sell at discounted prices.

• You might be surprised at the quality of merchandise that can be found at garage sales and auctions.

When all is said and done try to avoid sacrificing your wellness on the altar of commercialism. Your child benefits much more from you being well than from some gizmo that will lose its charm after a short period of time. Moreover, no research exists, as far as I know, that correlates child happiness and wellness with the amount of money spent on a kid’s presents. But, plenty of research associates child wellness and happiness with the quality of the parent-child relationship, the presence of enjoyable rituals in the family’s life and the wellness of the parent(s). As the poet e.e. Cummings noted, the world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful. Money is not required to enjoy this wonder and magic, even during the holidays.

What Do You Want to Focus on This Holiday Season?

black family, white background We look forward to them for so long, that it’s easy to end up feeling pushed around by the day-to-day stresses and to be left with a sense of disappointment at the end. One of the ways to combat this is to decide on three things you’d like to focus on during the holidays. Then, in the midst of the (usually) joyful craziness you can anchor yourself in what matters most to you. Here’s a dozen sample ideas of things you might decide to focus on:

  • Spending one-on-one time with each of your kids.
  • Praying each day.
  • Expressing gratitude to a certain person (e.g., search the for term “gratitude letter” above).
  • Being sober.
  • Lightening the load of your spouse/partner.
  • Forgiving someone for an old injury (this needn’t be done collaboratively, though it can be).
  • Practicing the Serenity Prayer when surprising and un-welcomed events happen.
  • Responding with kindness when another adult acts in an uncomplimentary fashion (e.g., bragging, acting stingy).
  • Being of service to vulnerable people (e.g., someone who tends to be marginalized in groups, the poor, someone with a disability)
  • Promoting magical experiences (e.g., you can find multiple ideas for Santa rituals to do with kids on this blog site).
  • Organizing family experiences that promote bonding (e.g., baking, caroling, playing board games).
  • Focusing on your health (e.g., getting 8 hours of sleep, completing one hour of physically exerting activity and eating whole foods).

To keep your focus, it’s a good idea to put your three priorities in places yochristmas snowman sign for blogu’ll see them (e.g., on your computer’s or cell phone’s desk top, on a sticky note you place on your bathroom mirror) or by setting alarms in your cellphone.

There are three traps to avoid:

  • There is usually no good purpose to beating yourself up if you have a day when you fall down on one or more of your priorities. You do well when you judge yourself for your intention and effort and avoid conscious or unconscious expectations for perfection, something that we parent-lunatics fall prey to all the time.
  • When doing something nice for someone else it’s a good idea to not expect a certain response. Sure, it’s nice when someone is grateful, reciprocates or otherwise shows a positive reaction to your outreach. But, when that response becomes an expectation–be it conscious or unconscious–the outcome of your act of kindness can too often be increased tension and bitterness.christmas squirrel with note

• Expecting that others will join you on the high road. Holiday stresses can regress just about anyone, especially when large groups of family come together. It’s lovely when others follow your lead but expecting that can too often end up leaving you feeling empty and frustrated.

I want to close by thanking my wife, Lia, for suggesting this week’s topic and by expressing my hope that your holidays will be packed with meaning, joy and rejuvenation!

Four Holiday Stress Busters for Parents

Of course, the holidays are quite stressful, even as they offer us joy. There is less light. The weather is colder. Your life’s circumstances may not be in concert with a “joy to the world” message (e.g., you’ve suffered a recent loss, your child is ill). You may be faced with having to interact more with people with whom you have less than a peaceful relationship. There is a lot of hustling and bustling and, of course, financial pressures often mount. So, I’d like to review four stress busters. I’m not going to cover obvious ones such as maintaining a good diet, getting enough sleep (8-9 hours/night) or getting enough physical activity. Instead I’d like to cover a few that may be less in the front of your mind. I’ll first review a common trap and then suggest a potential antidote.

Trap #1: To overspend

Antidote: Focus on relationships

Discussion: At some point in time it got embedded in our collective parental psyches that acquiring a lot of expensive stuff for our kids is the way to give them a magical holiday experience. And, if we don’t, we guilt ourselves with the notion that we may be depriving our kids. However, research indicates that shared positive experiences with us is much, much more important to our kids’ happiness. For many years I’ve been asking people, up and down the age spectrum, for their best and worse memories. I can’t remember the last time someone told me that a best memory was the acquisition of some expensive thing. But, I’ve had countless people recount a family ritual or interpersonal moment as a best memory. For some ideas on ways to promote holiday magic, mystery and meaning for your kids, on pocket change, click here.

Trap #2: Act like you don’t have limitations

Antidote: Kind declines

Discussion: We know that our possessions all have their limitations and we are not surprised when our things break if we ignore those limitations. Many of us are also aware of our kids’ limits and likewise try to not exceed them. However, we often act like we are the only humans on the planet who don’t have limits. We work, serve, transport, host, donate, wrap, bake, cheat sleep and pin-ball around creation like frenetic hamsters on crack. On a related note, it is interesting to me that when I suggest to parents that one way to become more fulfilled and happy is to love more effectively many will respond with things like “how can I be expected to give more?!” Or,” My veins are empty doc so I have no more to give!” However, this may be more of a western, industrialized bias as many other traditions realize that loving and cherishing oneself goes hand-in-hand with loving others. Sometimes one of the most loving things we can do for those around us is to realize our limitations and graciously decline invitations and pleas for us to exceed those limits. You’ll find resources for self-care and self-compassion on this blog site.

Trap #3: Letting one’s mind or body be tense for extended periods of time

Antidote: Daily calming

Discussion: I don’t know how much the Dali Lama would be willing to participate in the crazy busy lifestyle many of us lead during the holidays. But, if he did, even he’d likely experience a tense body and mind. When our minds and/or bodies remain in a tense state for extended periods of time we become more susceptible to an assortment of physical and psychological symptoms (e.g., headaches, irritability, stomach pain, sadness, worsening of illnesses, anxiety). One way to combat this is to create a daily practice of calming ourselves and focusing just on the moment before us in a non-judgmental way. Some sample ways of doing this include starting a meditation practice (e.g., click here), using biofeedback strategies (e.g., for a device you can purchase click here), doing a pleasing and relaxing activity that limits our focus (e.g., knitting, going for a walk in nature) or just trying to sit still and quiet for a few minutes (e.g., click here). Even 10 minutes a day portends to offer dividends over time.

Trap #4: Maintaining unrealistic expectations

Antidote: Acceptance

Discussion: Despite years of experience that would suggest the value in throttling down our expectations, many of us go into the holidays expecting to engineer heaven on earth for ourselves and others. As the old saying goes “people make plans and God chuckles.” I think its fine to make plans, and even ambitious ones (as long as the previous traps are avoided). However, we do well to accept whatever comes along knowing that obstacles, surprises and changes are woven into the fabric of our lives. (To read more about how this antidote applies to holiday meals with family, click here.)

Here’s wishing for a meaningful holiday season for you and those you love. And, if you have other ideas for holiday stress busters I’m very interested to learn about them.

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 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 during this political climate. Trump supporters may be tempted to share popular slogans. 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 you and yours be blessed during these challenging days for our nation.


Making the Most out of New Years Resolutions

excited man pointing, long hair, tieMany of us will soon make New Year’s Resolutions. This entry is designed to increase your odds of success. I’ll review four planning steps and ten strategies for promoting effective outcomes.

The first step in the planning phase is to visualize what you like about yourself. I’m skeptical that your self-improvement project can survive and thrive if you do not know and enjoy your strengths, not only at the start, but consistently throughout. I like a prayer that British psychologist Robert Holden recommends in one of his books: “Oh God, help me to believe the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is.  Amen.”

The second step is to picture yourself as the most fulfilled version of you. What is different about that person? What changes, that are under your control today, would help to get you there? (If any of us drove a car as reliable as willpower, we’d soon scrap it. Yet, many of us continue to rely upon will power as if it could be consistently counted upon.)

Third, list the obstacles you’ll experience in taking this voyage. This is a step worthy of your most honest and thorough consideration (many of these obstacles are authored by the person in the mirror).

challengeFourth, what steps can you take to reduce the obstacles and lessen your reliance on will power?

A problem that many of us run into is called “present bias.” The person who we are when we make a resolution–present me–is steely eyed and filled with gritty resolve. However, present me may also be inclined to be harsh (“okay, you really need to stop being so weak!”), excessively ambitious (“I’m going to never yell again!”) or inclined to invest in ways that aren’t always helpful (e.g., purchasing expensive equipment the like of which has never been used before). The problem is that present me is not the same person who will be doing the heavy lifting; that person is future me. If present me doesn’t adequately understand future me’s strengths and vulnerabilities, then present me is destined for disappointment.

Each of us are like snowflakes, completely unique. Thus, a strategy that helps another person make substantive changes could be a horrible idea for you. Use your world’s leading expert knowledge of yourself to develop a plan that is supportive of future you. Use her strengths. Establish support for his vulnerabilities. Some of the following ten tips may help:

1. Set daily goals. Avoid goals like “I’m going to lose 30 pounds.” Instead, try “today I’m going to eat a balanced diet and get 45 minutes of physical activity.” (Goals like this are very nice if you mess up as tomorrow is a new day!)

2. Keep a daily log of those behaviors that are most important to your goal(s). persistenceMany self-destructive behaviors occur when we disassociate from ourselves (i.e., only partially notice what we’re doing). Writing stuff down combats disassociation and increases the odds that you will remain self-aware and in the moment.

3. Join with others. Two things characterize those who are successful in setting aside entrenched and self-limiting patterns: they work on themselves and they surround themselves with people who are striving towards the same goal(s). Relying on others could involve partnering with friends, starting counseling, or attending support group meetings. (To find a therapist near you click here.)

3a. Ask your partners for help. Many people are willing to help your future self reach your present self’s goals. All you need do is share your vulnerabilities and ask for ideas and/or assistance. For example, I know one pair of friends who committed to playing a rotating aerobic game before work each day (e.g., basketball, racquetball, etc.). They rotated the role of cheerleader for those days when one or both of them was tempted to cancel.

ideas4. Establish rewards for yourself. For instance, so many days of doing as you vow earns you a treat. Also, give yourself hefty mental pats on the back for success along the way.

5. Take lapses as opportunities to learn more about your vulnerabilities and how present you can do a better job of supporting future you. Avoid being cruel and harsh with yourself as this risks putting your goals further out of reach (i.e., don’t tolerate bullying!). I’ll sometimes ask clients, who are parents, to react to themselves as they would react to their child if their child showed a similar lapse (sometimes this involves projecting forward in time and imagining their child at their age, having fallen prey to the same vulnerability).

6. Use music if that motivates you.

7. Focus your mind on the positive behaviors you want to do rather than the negative behaviors you want to avoid. It’s better to focus on what healthy breakfast you want to eat rather than trying to use white-knuckle willpower to resist the unhealthy version. A great book I recently discovered that does this well is The Happiness Diet, by Graham and Ramsey

8. Have present you write encouraging and positive messages for future you that you put in your electronic calendar.

9. Make a plan to remove as much temptation as possible from the eye line of spiritual manfuture you (remember: will power is unreliable).

10. If you are a spiritual person, lean on that part of your life as much as you can.

Good luck! And, remember, high road life is less about outcomes and more about being in the right fights 😉

Parenting a Depressed Teen During the Holidays

depressedThe holiday season can be harder than other times of the year for people who are depressed. When someone is struggling with depression he feels estranged from himself and the world. Then, when that world temporarily gets even more unlike him (i.e., emphasizing cheer), his sense of estrangement can worsen. For this and other reasons, parenting a teen who is depressed during the holiday season can especially challenging.

Before I offer some tips, let me offer a very important proviso. Imagine you had a kid with significant dental pain and you wondered, “what meals should I prepare that best accommodate her condition?” That seems like a useful question, but only if your daughter is receiving, or is about to receive, professional dental care. Without the dental care, cooking interventions would probably be like re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It is the same thing with depression in a teenager. The tips below are best considered and rendered within a context of a kid already getting good mental health care (e.g., an evidence based talking therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapy).

That said, here are seven tips to consider:

• Collaborate with your teen, and ideally your teen’s treatment provider, regarding a holiday plan (e.g., which activities to do and which to set aside). Your teen’s depression would have him bail out on most, if not all, activities and that is usually a mistake. Likewise, you may be tempted to insist on 100% participation, and that can be a mistake as well. A skilled therapist’s expert assistance can increase the odds that you’ll find the adaptive middle ground.

• Do what you do for your teen without the expectation that such will cheer her african woman's half faceup. We parent-lunatics hurt when our kid hurts, and often worse. So, it’s very natural to try to cheer up a depressed teen. However, if the primary intention is to bring about a better mood it’s easy to become frustrated and worsen the stress on our teen. Better to make the effort without the expectation of an outcome.

• Accept your teen’s moods as they come. These moods can be like the weather. Sure, you’ve laid out a nice picnic and here comes a rainstorm, and that stinks. You can rage at the weather (and that can take many, many forms) or pitch a tent, realizing that the weather is outside your control, and enjoy what is possible to enjoy.

• Resist trying to reassure your teen out of a negative thought. While such encouragement can often help someone who is not depressed, to a depressed person reassurances can sound like, “you don’t have anything to feel sad about, so stop it,” which can then cause the depressed person to become even more adamant about his negative thinking. This is another instance where your teen’s therapist can be very helpful in coaching you how to respond (e.g., “I think that’s your depression convincing you of a painful lie. I believe the reality isn’t nearly as painful as your depression’s lie); the technique of thought testing can also be very helpful here (e.g., see my parenting book or search using that term above).

• Don’t allow extended family to hassle your teen regarding his depression. Loved ones can say some pretty hurtful things in their desire to be helpful. Your teen’s therapist can help you to figure out your methods for doing this in a way that respects your teen’s privacy and independence.

teen diinterested face• Regularly let your teen know, without overdoing it, that you love her, that she is not alone and you understand that it’s terrible to be feeling what she is feeling, especially during the holidays.

• If your teen is or could be suicidal, get him in front of an expert ASAP and don’t leave him alone until you do. Consider this to be a life-or-death emergency as you certainly don’t want your baby to be one of the two million U.S. teens who attempt suicide each year.

Geez. Tough stuff huh? But, hopefully there’s a helpful tip or two here for you. Regardless, I hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday season!


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.

Six Parenting Tips for Avoiding Holiday Freak Outs

xmas themeMost of us are about to go all in on the holidays. This edition articulates six of my favorite tried-and-true strategies for managing holiday stress (yeah, yeah, a lot of the stress is joyful, but that doesn’t keep us from wanting to go postal on people from time-to-time, lest we are planful about our stress management).

#1. Create a plan for your kid’s academics, socializing and health habits. The holidays are like a cheerful, large-and-in-charge, bully coming to our door and demanding that we bounce around the universe like hyperactive gerbils on crack. If we, and our kids, are 100% compliant with this cheerful bully’s dictates, diverse mom and childwe’ll likely end up feeling exhausted, overweight and very backed up with our responsibilities (e.g. academics). Better to proactively agree on a plan for sleep, physical activity, diet and the completion of academic tasks. Then, socializing and other holiday activities can build around that.

#2. Create an hour a week of one-on-one time with each of your progeny. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I’m a broken record with this tip. But, it’s like I’m coaching you how to prepare your kid for a jousting tournament, so I always include the instruction: “make sure he puts on his armor.” Special time is that armor. Click here for a download on how to do it and/or see Chapter One in my parenting book for a more thorough review of the rationale and strategy.

#3. Keep realistic perspectives. I’d like to name a new parenting syndrome: CGS, or “Clark Griswold Syndrome.” To appreciate the nature of this syndrome watch any of the family vacation movies staring Chevy Chase. Parents suffering from CGS go into the holidays busting their tails in order to engineer nirvana. Then, when people inevitably act like people (instead of charming and appreciative angels), or the almost guaranteed surprises happen (i.e., as in the saying “people make plans and God chuckles”), parents suffering from CGS often get pretty upset and have their holiday moments ruined. Better to leave CGS to amusing movie characters.

burnout:balance sign#4. Try to keep the overdoing to a manageable amount. I used to counsel “avoid overdoing,” but that isn’t realistic. We all overdo, blogging psychologists included. But, the more we can try to cap spending and overextending ourselves, the better. I love the line in one of the Dirty Harry movies: “A man has got to know his limitations.” (I just wish I could snarl and say it like Clint Eastwood in the mirror each morning.)

#5. Enhance mindfulness. Here’s a cognitive trick. When you’re in a holiday moment with your family imagine that you’ve died. However, you’ve asked God, before transporting you to the next place, if you could be allowed, for a mere few hours, to enjoy your family one last time in this place. God then responds by smiling warmly and transporting you to this moment. Savor deeply. Appreciate calmly. And stay in the moment, noticing the grandeur around you, including the misfires, but especially the loving ambiance (not perfect but loving).

#6. Give yourself credit. I was working on my laptop at a Starbucks this week christmas snowman sign for blogwhen I heard a man lament to the barista: “Look at my jacket! See this small hole here?! I haven’t bought a new jacket or a suit for myself in years, but my daughter has three new pairs of Ugg boats in her closet!” A few moments later he continued: “EVERY year we say we’re going to keep our spending to X on our kids!! But EVERY year we go way over that!! Why do we do that?!” I smiled to myself as most of us have these kinds of thoughts. But, here’s my point: we all deserve a standing ovation for our selfless efforts. Sure, we drop the ball a lot. We say and do a lot of dumb things. We also parent reactively, instead of with intention, more than we like. But, those elements are as much a part of effective parenting as dust mites are a part of a clean and well kept home. Not every home with dust mites is clean and well kept, but every clean and well kept home has dust mites. So too it is with parenting. Therefore, my fellow parent-lunatic, spend some time giving yourself kudos. …oh, and throw a few kudos out there to other parent-lunatics from time-to-time as we all could use a little air under our wings during the holidays 😉

Six Tips for Having a Thankful Thanksgiving

Ever feel like you didn’t get as much out of Thanksgiving as you wanted? Here are six tips to try to have a truly festive, uplifting and rejuvenating turkey day this year.

• Be mindful. The mindfulness movement blends the best of eastern traditions with western science. In short, it involves paying closer attention to the here and now. It’s remarkable how much doing so can promote peaceful feelings. For example, try eating your first few bites of each type of food slowly. Savor the nuances of the tastes. Try also smelling the food and enjoying its aroma. The same goes for beverages.

• Be calm. Try to create some moments when you breathe deeply into your stomach instead of your chest. At the same time try relax your muscles, settle into the furniture and take in what’s around you. Notice the details: the beauty of someone’s hair, the love you feel for someone, a wonderful smile.

• Be thankful. There are so many ways to do this. Write and deliver a gratitude letter. (This can also be done as a family exercise.) Encourage everyone to say something they are thankful for before digging in at mealtime. Let your Higher Power know about that which you are thankful. Try to linger in the glow of such thoughts.

• Be patient. Thanksgiving often produces stress on those responsible for aspects of the day, on relationships that are not peaceful, and on those who may be hurting going into the day. If irritations flare, try to not react in kind. Instead, try to appreciate the human condition explaining the irritation and be soft and gentle, even if it means turning the other cheek. (By the way the psychological wisdom behind the concept of turning the other cheek recently occurred to me. When one doesn’t turn the other cheek, the resulting activity consumes one’s life.)

• Be affirming. Proportionate and specific praise for things you believe can create uplifting moments for both you and the person you are affirming (i.e., instead of keeping such thoughts to yourself). I know when I’m the recipient of such, I try to create ways to remember the moment so that I can unpack it when I’m soul weary.

• Be kind. So often these days don’t go off as planned. Try to be a person who lets everyone know that that’s okay (including yourself) and even to be expected. Problems are like dust mites, they are woven into our existence. (I like the saying: “People make plans and God chuckles.”)  However, if I clench my fists at the heavens and protest why a problem is happening I now must suffer two kinds of pain: the pain imbued within the problem and the pain of my reaction to the problem. It’s remarkable how often kindness works, both towards oneself and towards others.

Should I Let My Teen Daughter Wear a Sexy Halloween Outfit?

The title of this entry is a common question this time of year. I will first offer three guiding questions and then address the issue specifically.

Whenever a minor you’re in charge of wants to do something that you’re inclined to disallow, I would ask yourself three questions. This thing that your child or teen wants to do:

Is it physically harmful?

Is it psychologically harmful?

Does it unduly tax your resources (e.g., time and money)?

If the answer to all three questions is “no” it is often advisable to allow your child or teen to do that thing, even if it drives you crazy. So often we parents say to our kids “learn to think.” But, what we really mean is “figure out what I think and parrot that back.” Following these guidelines promotes the development of effective decision making skills and discourages dishonesty and excessive dependency.

Let me now turn my attention to the title question. In this instance we’re probably not talking about a risk of physical harm or unduly taxing parental resources, at least most of the time. It’s most likely that we are talking about potential psychological harm. Regarding the latter, a primary question to consider is as follows: Does my daughter generally want to present herself in a sexually alluring manner?  Of course, there are always exceptions to any general principle, but often girls who typically wish to present themselves in a sexually provocative manner are suffering from significant insecurity about their value in other areas. It’s sort of like (and not necessarily on a conscious level) this: “people won’t find my personality or my skills appealing, so I need to draw them in with my sexuality.” If this is true of a girl she will often attract those inclined to value her primarily for this attribute, and likewise be less appealing to those peers who are operating at a higher level.

But what about a girl who wants to wear a provocative Halloween outfit who doesn’t generally lead with her sexuality, and who will be well monitored during the festivities? For such a girl there may not be much risk of psychological harm in dressing this way on one night. That said, and at the risk of sounding like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth, it’s been my experience that girls who are secure within themselves often don’t wish to dress in this way to begin with.

Let me try to read your mind regarding two additional questions:

How do I decide if an outfit is sexually provocative?

This brings to mind what Justice Potter Stewart said after he admitted that he could not offer a good definition of pornography: “…but, I know it when I see it.” That said, if you’re a dad you may have a stronger inclination to over-react to even adaptive manifestations of your teen daughter’s femininity (I know my tolerance starts being challenged once one of my daughters’ outfits travels above the knee). So, if you’re a dad it may be a good idea to defer to the determination of a woman with good judgment and a healthy self-esteem (hopefully mom).

What should I do if my daughter is someone who wants to lead with her sexuality?

I would consult with a qualified mental health professional to figure out if her self-esteem is fragile or in need of repair. If it is, there are a number of interventions that can be tried to strengthen her sense of efficacy and value. To find someone by you click here. In closing let me also note that I offer numerous specific and time-efficient strategies for promoting self-esteem, effective decision making and adaptive monitoring in my parenting book Working Parents, Thriving Families: 10 Strategies That Make a Difference. For now I hope you can have fun with your progeny this Hallowee. Afterall, they will all be living away from us soon enough.


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