Tag rituals

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.

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.


Combating Insomnia

insomnia femaleThere are numerous causes of insomnia in youth. Stress, anxiety disorders and mood disorders can each cause this problem. However, if the problem is addressed early, or if it is mild, self-help remedies may be helpful.

A good starting point is to review the amount of sleep that kids need. Sleep is even more important to youth than it is to adults. Just one hour of deprived sleep a night can have negative impacts on cognitive, emotional and behavioral functioning the next day. Moreover, sustained problems with sleep have been shown to contribute to numerous psychological and medical problems, including obesity. These are commonly promulgated guidelines:

1-3 years old:            12-14 hours

3-5 years old:            11-13 hours

5-12 years old:          10-11 hours

Teens:                       8.5-9.25 hours

(As you look at these numbers it wouldn’t be uncommon for you, especially if you’re the parent of a teen during the school year, to think “Geez, my kid doesn’t get that much sleep.”)

What follows are behavioral, cognitive and environmental tips for combating insomnia.

Behavioral Strategies

• Try to encourage a consistent bedtime ritual that starts about an hour prior to bedtime. In this hour try to avoid activities that promote an active or a fretful reading to kid, asianmind. For younger children reading them a book can be effective. A shower or bath in this hour can also be relaxing.

• Baring unusual circumstances, consider not allowing your child to keep a cell phone in her bedroom. Likewise, try to avoid allowing your child to watch TV as s/he falls asleep. However, if you do, make sure it is not on for long and that it is turned off shortly after s/he falls asleep.

• Dim night lights are fine to use if such makes your child more comfortable, but I would try to avoid treating anxiety by laying with your child as s/he falls asleep (enter the word “anxiety” in the search bar above to find alternative approaches).

• If your child consistently fights you in getting to bed on time, consider making him or 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.e., “I’m taking your cell phone away because you did not get to bed on time.”) This is reward. (i.e, “You earn your cell phone each day by having gotten to bed on time the night before.”) So, your child either earns or doesn’t earn the desired activity or access while you remain an empathic bystander.

physician and a familiy• Try to avoid caffeinated beverages and food (you might be surprised at how common caffeine is) and limit your child’s intake of sugar. (The World Health Organization’s 2014 draft guidelines recommend that no more than 5% of the daily calorie intake occur from sugar, which can be challenging given how prolific the substance is. For example, there can be a teaspoon of it in a tablespoon of ketchup.) Moreover, Ask your child’s pediatrician if natural supplements such as Omega-3 fish oil and melatonin SR might be helpful.

Cognitive Strategies

These strategies are useful when your child can’t fall asleep because his or her mind is too busy. These strategies involve redirecting his or her mind to content that promote sleep instead of interfering with it.

• 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 of shortly after your child falls asleep.

• Play sounds from nature (e.g., the beach, a rainforest) or other soothing green forest roadmusic (e.g., tracks from Michael Bruce’s Insomnia Treatment that is available on iTunes). If your child has a device like an iPod, he may enjoy using one of the compatible pillows that are available.

• Encourage your child to imagine that it is the next day and s/he is in a boring class. In the class s/he is extremely tired, but s/he MUST stay awake. Encourage your child to imagine what each of her senses experience as s/he does this mental exercise.

• Encourage your child to imagine a repetitive pleasurable activity (e.g., fishing, cheerleading, pitching a ball game, dancing, etc.). Again, encourage him or her to engage all of his or her senses when imagining this activity.

Environmental Strategies

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

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

white_noise_machine• 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.

• Some people report that the aroma of lavender can have a sedating effect. So, consider this as well.

If these strategies don’t work, and assuming physical causes have been ruled out, seriously consider seeking out the services of a qualified child mental health professional. For a referral, click here.


Five Questions for Effectively Parenting Kids in Sports

This past weekend I watched an episode of ESPN’s Outside the lines regarding the suicide of 25-year-old LPGA golfer Erica Blasberg. Certainly this episode resonated with me as a psychologist, as I often deal with these kinds of issues in my practice. But, this piece touched me more as a dad of three kids who play sports (one heavily so). So, I thought I’d devote a blog entry for sharing five questions for a parent to consider when his or her child plays a sport.

1.     As a parent do I insist upon outcomes, effort or both?

I would argue that it is effort that we should encourage and allow the outcomes to fall where they may. The capacity to give effort when one doesn’t feel like it is a very important psychological muscle for promoting success. Thus, common messages relayed in sports along these lines generalize well to other areas in life (e.g., practice well when no one is watching, try your hardest even if your opponent is dominating you and try to improve no matter where you stand relative to other kids). Alternatively, emphasizing the win, the hit, the points, or other outcomes, especially without regard to other important considerations, can promote unwise philosophies, practices and outcomes.

2.     Does my child enjoy the sport?

Sure, there are rainy Mondays and valleys of weariness that all of us experience in the areas of our lives that typically produce joy. But, for at least a considerable portion of the time, is my kid having fun playing the sport? If not, there may be more downside than upside in continuing and/or my kid’s involvement in the sport may be more about my satisfaction than his or hers.

3.     Does the sporting experience support or interfere with adaptive character development?

This question may be especially important for athletically gifted kids. One father I know recently started to lightheartedly ride his athletically talented son for holding back during a rec basketball game (his son was a top player on two very competitive basketball teams but the rec team was made up of boys who played the sport only one day a week); his son explained that he could have scored more points, but not without cutting down on how much he passed the ball to open teammates, something that he thought would have been wrong to do. This is an illustration of how sports can engender and highlight character development.

Alternatively, it is possible for a sport to become a venue for consistent eruptions of anger, verbal or physical bullying, despair and cheating; in such instances, and left unchecked, the sporting life may be doing more harm than good. Relatedly, and as a parent, what is my emotional reaction to each of the following scenarios? Scenario #1: my child turns in a dominant athletic performance that leads to a win for the team, but he or she intentionally shames another child along the way. Scenario #2: my child tries hard but turns in a subpar athletic performance, which then facilitates a team loss, but along the way he or she lifts the spirits of a child who was feeling down. Understanding my emotional response to these scenarios (you know, the one we have when we’re being honest with ourselves and no one is looking) can tell me a lot about what I’m communicating to my child about priorities (either directly or indirectly) and also let me know whether an adjustment is in order.

4.     When academics and sports compete against each other, which wins?

Granted, those of us who value both academics and sports do what we can to keep them from coming into conflict. But, inevitably, when they do, what happens? Can there be any doubt that efforts spent towards becoming a good student stand to leave many more doors open in adulthood than efforts spent towards becoming a good athlete? Moreover, and for those who are playing at a level in high school where this concern is relevant, recruiters are more-and-more disinterested in students with a compromised academic record (i.e., they don’t want to deal the hassles that result when a student they recruit cannot perform academically).

5.     Does my kid realize that my bond with him or her cannot be threatened by how he or she does in sports?

As I review in chapter two of my book, self-esteem appears to be comprised of at least two core elements: of a sense of worthiness (i.e., I have inherent value and am loved) and a sense of competence (i.e., there are important things that I’m good at). Our kids benefit when they know they have a loving bond with us that can’t be severed when they stink at things, make poor choices or otherwise experience negative outcomes. Having this bond is more important than just about anything else we can provide for our child as they grow up.  So, one could argue that just as most sports require donning protective physical equipment, we do well as parents to require that our child dons protective psychological equipment, in this case a sense that his or her connection with us can’t be threatened by a score.

A Happiness Ritual: Practice Acts of Kindness

Want a new ritual for 2011? Consider developing a kindness practice.  Those who develop such a practice have been found to experience multiple benefits:

√ Perceiving others in a more positive and empathic light.

√Experiencing fewer negative thoughts.

√ Viewing oneself more favorably.

√ Establishing deeper social connections.

√ Experiencing a “helper’s high.”

One way to start a kindness practice to establish one day a week as your kindness day. This can be done as a family or individually. Here are some ideas to get you started:

• Leave extra money in the coffee line to pay for the person behind you.

• Shovel a neighbor’s driveway.

• Volunteer at a local soup kitchen.

• Hand write a thank you note.

• Send an e-card to lift someone’s spirits (e.g., www.123greetings.com).

• Give a cleaning person at your job or school a thank you gift for his or her service.

• Let someone ahead of you in the line at the grocery store.

• Befriend and visit someone who lives in a nursing home.

• Befriend and support a child who is struggling financially (e.g., www.childrensinternational.com).

• Adopt a soldier as a pen pal (i.e., www.adoptaussoldier.org).

• Cut coupons and leave them on top of the related product at the grocery store.

• Put extra change in a vending machine that you use.

• Put a full load of coins in the meter before you leave your parking spot.

While there are just a few ideas listed here, there are many Internet resources available to support a kindness practice (e.g., www.helpothers.org, www.randomactsofkindness.org and www.daretobeanangel.com), as well as books (e.g.,  The How of Happiness by  Sonja Lyubomirsky and The Power of Kindness by Piero Ferrucci).  Finally, please see my previous blog entry on how to make and keep New Years Resolutions.

Good luck to you as you develop a kindness practice. Also, if you think of some creative ideas for practicing kindness please consider posting them here.

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