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Cool Resources for some New (Back to School) Year Stick-to-It-ness

I’m not a huge New Year’s goal setter. I prefer to set my goals when school starts. I started doing this in 2011. I remember writing out down my goals: meditate daily, exercise regularly, skydive, go paperless/clutter-free. While skydiving required some support (especially from my tandem instructor), it’s didn’t need the consistent support of the others. And, that is exactly what you need if you want to make your school year resolutions stick. Here’s a handful of tools that can help you and your tween-to-teen:

  • HabitChanger.com: Assorted 42-day programs for weight loss to stress management and more. Expert advice and tips are delievered to your inbox each day.
  • Stickk.com: Charges you cold, hard cash is you fail. You set the amount.
  • HabitForge.com: Solid science backs up the idea that the firs few weeks of forming any habit are the toughest. For 21 days, this site sends me a daily reminder and asks me to report how I did yesterday. When I falter, ti rolls the count back to zero again. By the time I’ve done something for 21 days, it’s a habit.      **I have had a lot of success with this one!
  • Remind.com: I love remind.com because it is a safe way to keep students on target with schoolwork and such by sending periodic text reminders.

All these tools work well in creating habits to build resiliency and accountability in your tween-to-teen.

Happy New (Back to School) Year!

julie

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Reacting vs Responding with Your Tween-to-Teen

Things don’t always go according to plan. It could be at work, school, home, or just life in general. Last week, very little went according to plan: dead battery, busted water heater, a work overload, a school deadline missed, and a little tween ‘tude. Each of these experiences had the potential to push me over the proverbial edge. I’m happy to say they didn’t … this time.

Several years ago, I learned a very worthwhile lesson about what can happen things don’t go according to plan. At the time, I was newly married and pregnant with my first child. The house we had purchased was in desperate need of paint. I carefully selected a painter that I felt gave us a decent price and quality work. After a week, I reviewed the work. Eh. It wasn’t so quality after all. I was certain, though, that the painter would come correct. He didn’t. Instead, I received the final bill, which was far more than the original estimate. This was not anywhere close to going how I had planned. And, I’d love to tell you that I was quite calm and reasonable when I spoke with the contractor. I was not. My reaction was far from it. In fact, I actually changed my locks the next day as I was afraid of retaliation from my reaction. Yes, it was that bad.This experience, however, taught me the valuable difference between reacting and responding.

What’s the difference? A reaction is a quick, not-so well-thought-out act of anger or aggression. A response offers more contemplation; it is non-threatening, even calm, and it allows for assertiveness without aggression. A reaction provokes and sets off more reactions; this can perpetuate a cycle of threats. A response starts a discussion, a courageous conversation – even a debate – that can lead to resolution instead of rage and resentment. Reaction is about power; response is about respect. Reacting and responding begin from the same starting point: an emotional trigger. In terms of parenting, this trigger often may come from something our child says or does. Perhaps your 6th grader ignores your efforts to make their school dance special, or your 4th grader screams, “I hate you.” Maybe you just found a joint in your 8th graders dresser drawer. There are countless situations that can trigger you. It is what happens next – your reaction or your response – though, that makes the difference. Easy peasy, right? Nope, not really. And, this is where I call my bluff. I don’t always choose to respond. Sometime I react (and it isn’t pretty.) We all do. Some situations that trigger a lot of fear, anger or inadequacy; and, you know what, you will react. However, there are a few tried and true strategies that can weight the odds of in more favor of responding than reacting.

tween-girl-and-mom-talking

When something doesn’t go according to plan, take a deep breath and count to ten or fifty or one thousand, if necessary.

Eat a piece of dark chocolate. I’m not joking. Dark chocolate can calm the nerves by reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The was a study in 2009 (forgot the name) that showed the markers of stress were reduced in high anxiety folks by eating 40 grams of dark chocolate a day. Admit to yourself that this is not going as planned and that is just fine. Don’t belittle yourself. Just say “ok, this is not what I want but I’ll figure it out.”

Step away. This is especially true if you are in a monkey-wrench of a situation with your child. Rather than react, tell your child, “I am really, really angry. I need some space from you. We WILL talk about this when I get back.” Then, go for a walk. Hit the gym. Write a letter and DON’T mail it. Scream curse words off your roof. Call someone. Eat more chocolate. Do whatever you need to do to give yourself the opportunity to calm down.

Consider what your child needs from you. I guarantee it is not feeling guilt or shame. What do you need? Perhaps more boundaries, appreciation, ground rules. Now, consider how you want this situation resolved? My guess that it usually isn’t with doors slamming and punishments being tossed around like a hackey sack.

Talk WITH – not AT – your child. Children – especially tweens and teens – shut down when they feel you are lecturing them. Give them permission to speak – not scream – whatever is on their mind. This shows them that even though you may be upset, you still value what they have to say. This also gives great buy-in on any consequences you may need to choose. (That’s coming up in another article!)

Check in with yourself and ask: “What’s going on with me right now?” Are you hungry, tired or just cranky. If so, grab a snack, take a nap or, I don’t know, do a happy dance. Gaining perspective of where you are right now can help you start to move in the direction you need. Still feeling uncertain? Seek out counsel from a friend, family member, or counselor for support.

We cannot control what happens in our lives. Whether it is with cars, careers, kids and more, things are not always going to go according to plan. We do, however, always have command over our choices. I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments section on how you remain calm when things don’t go according to plan and you have been triggered.

julie

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What Parents Need to Know About Adolescent Depression

“But, he seems so happy.”
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You are drawn in by the playful personality, the mischievous gleam in the eye, the witty and sometimes warped sense of humor humor and the smile …oh, that spirited smile.
These are the characteristics of a happy-go-lucky person, right? Not always. For many, this entertaining persona hides something darker and becomes the mask of depression.

Depression is more than just feeling down; it is a serious illness that doesn’t discriminate. Men and women, girls and boys, of every age, every educational level, and every social and economic background suffer from depression. Three-hundred-fifty (350) million people worldwide are caught in it’s grip. In that number, an estimated 20% of teens will experience depression before they reach adulthood. There is no area of life that does not suffer when depression is present. Family, school, parenting, friendships, jobs, finances – every aspect of daily living is compromised by this disease.

“So, what does that mean for my family? My kids?”

An estimated 1 in 30 tween-to-teens suffer from depression. It can be triggered by specific situations or traumas (i.e. bullying, breakups, divorce, death, transitions, family conflict, friendship troubles, etc), genetics, or a developmental milestones (i.e. being one of the only kids without a cell phone, boyfriend, etc). Or, your child just may have a lack of neurochemicals which help you feel happy. That’s the bad news. The good news is that a child suffering from depression has a very good chance of overcoming the disease. And, it all starts with you.

“You have my attention…as a parent, what can I do?”

You are the first line of defense when it comes to your child’s well-being. There are things you can do to support your child before and during a crisis.

Check in with your child: A tween-to-teen’s “job” right now is to separate from you and form their own identify. This can make communication challenging even on the best days. Don’t let that deter you. Make the effort to talk to your child. Ask them about his or her day, classes, friends … anything. If your child can’t talk to you about the little things, they will never come to you with the big stuff.

Know potential red flags. Depression in tween-to-teens can often go unrecognized because the symptoms can be confused with adolescent moodiness, changing hormones, and emotional flux. It’s difficult to know if this is a phase or something more serious. However, a possible signs to look for include:

  • personality changes and behaving outside of your child’s norm for more than two weeks.
  • overly happy – at times it may seem forced.
  • fatigue or loss of energy.
  • an increase frustration and anger.
  • being uncharacteristically “down” or irritable for several weeks.
  • lack of interest / withdrawing from friends and a reluctance to participate in activities, and hobbies that they once enjoyed.
  • changes in appetite (eating too much or not enough) and sleep (sleeping too much, not sleeping well, sleep avoidance).
  • obsessing over body image.
  • overwhelming feelings of worthlessness, guilt or a significant decrease in self-esteem.
  • stomaches, headaches or other body aches that can’t be explained and don’t respond to treatment.
  • difficulties concentrating or completing simple tasks.
  • declining grades.
  • self-destructive behaviors, such as cutting or burning.

Know where to turn for help. Many tweens and teens will cycle through symptoms routinely, and that doesn’t always mean they’re suffering from childhood depression. Rather, it’s when those symptoms last more than two weeks that it is time to enlist support. Do not hesitate to visit the family doctor, an adolescent counselor or psychologist for an evaluation. It can also be helpful to connect with those that have frequent contact with your child – teachers, coaches, school counselors, and other adults who have regular contact with your child. Depression in children, when left untreated, can lead to eating disorders, self-harm, relationship conflict, substance abuse, and even suicide.

Keep them healthy. Saying “be healthy” feels a bit cliche at times, I know. However, the cold and hard fact is that good physical health can contribute to positive mental health. Eat well, get rest, exercise.

Love them. Always. Your role as a parent is to be an advocate, support system and a supplier of love. When your child speaks, listen without judgement. Tell them, better yet, show them that you are always there no matter what. Repeat the message even when they say “I got it.” Tween-to-teens – especially those experiencing depression – need to know you will be there for them and that you love them fully, unconditionally and always.

* * *

Yesterday, actor Robin Williams took his life after battling depression for many years. My deepest condolences and go out to his family. And, to you, Mr. Williams, I extend heartfelt gratitude for the impact you have had in my life. I wish you peace and love.

julie

 

 

 

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Beyond Talking: How to Create Meaningful Connections With Kids in Just 5 Minutes [guest post]

guest post by Kevin Strauss of FamilyeJournal

Remember the days of writing letters? Once upon a time, people used to write letters of all types and send them all over the world and they might take months to reach their recipient. Letter writing is extremely powerful and people would share their deepest and most personal feelings. Once a person opens up in that way there is a greater chance they will receive a similar reply. And this is how incredibly intense feelings and the strongest bonds of connection are made… or they used to be.

Times have certainly changed. While the speed in which people can communicate has increased exponentially, the depth of sharing seems to have decreased exponentially. We share a lot more and a lot more often yet we’re missing out on the deeper and more meaningful connection.

The result is a society that is far less connected, emotionally, to each other. It may seem like no big deal but it is. You may even think, “Sure, I don’t talk to my kids (or parents) as much as I might like, but we’re doing ok.” and you probably are. But then again, we see the signs of a lack of connection all around us, every day.

People seek connection constantly. Connection provides the support that helps feed our emotional needs. Most recently, we turn to social media to receive a constant bombardment of updates from our network. It feels like we’re connecting when we read these posts but in reality, real connection requires an equal sharing between at least two people. Social media is largely unidirectional. We might share what we’re doing but not really how we feel about it or what it means to us. Nor are we learning how our confidant feels on the same subject.

Social media is just the newest way to try and overcome our loneliness. Alcohol and drugs have always been an escape for people. They also provide a false sense of connection with the buddies sharing in the unhealthy behavior. The recent tragedy at UC Santa Barbara is another reminder that someone who feels lonely and isolated may turn to violence as a means of compensation.

Did you know that strong connections can also lead to wonderfully positive behaviors? Studies show when kids feel connected to their family they earn better grades, stay in school and are more likely to graduate. This means we need to listen to our kids and we also need to share with our kids how we feel about various topics and events.

Having a deeper connection with our loved ones isn’t as difficult as you might think. Getting deep doesn’t mean sharing all of your personal secrets. Connection is a process that begins with opening the lines of communication. While talking may seem like the best way, perhaps because of its immediacy, writing can be so much more powerful. Like letter writing from days past.

Of course, the time and effort to write a letter, no matter how powerful, is just not very realistic in today’s instantly gratifying electronic age. But there are ways to have real conversations, without talking, and while living under the same roof or opposite sides of the world.

Email can be just as effective as old-fashioned letter writing. Plus, email can be delivered faster and easier than snail-mail. However, it still requires you to initiate a conversation and if both people aren’t fully engaged, the email thread ends at one.

If you’re interested in improving connection within your family or a group of friends, a website called http://www.FamilyeJournal.com (FEJ) can help. FamilyeJournal is a free relationship boosting website that offers a database of questions for you and yours to answer and share. It’s private to only those members your family leader has added and is available 24/7 around the world.

The days of letter writing are nearly extinct but the need for connection is basic to everyone no matter your age, gender or ethnicity. The rate of loneliness is steadily increasing even with social media. A simple Q&A website like FamilyeJournal can change all of that. Personal connection is the key to making everything better.

 

family-eJournalAbout the Author: Kevin Strauss, M.E. earned his Master of Engineering in Biomedical Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He has worked for nearly 20 years in the areas of orthopedic implant R&D, regulatory affairs consulting and NIH funded research. Kevin also has 13 years of experience working for positive behavior modification. His work has been published and presented at conferences, earned approximately 40 patents and won awards for innovation. His passion for psychology, human behavior and communication has led him to set his goal on improving personal connection.

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Five Love Languages Parents Need to Know

Blend500I often talk about finding your tween-to-teen’s “language,” which means figuring out what words, phrases – even the best times to chat – work for them to receive and give information. However, I also believe their is another language of tweens-and-teens: the language of love. I am a firm believer that the foundation of communication and connection is love. Gary Chapman agrees. According to Chapman, author of “The 5 Love Languages” series, there are five different ways people communicate their love and need to feel their love. Everyone is different because we may also have a mix of love languages. As parents, we must understand the type of love language our children speak and need to hear to ensure they are getting their needs met. The five different love languages are:

Quality Time

Quality time is about being present with your loved ones.  People who need quality time crave alone time with their loved one, want to catch up with them by having time alone where they can talk and bond. You may have the love language of quality time if you find yourself constantly desiring to be with someone when you are alone. You likely don’t feel satisfied or happy until you can be with the person or people you love.

Physical Touch

People who need physical touch feel love and demonstrate their love for others through a hug, a kiss, a cuddle, a pat on the back (sex, too, which is important to note during hormone-laden adolescence).  You may feel lonely or lost if you haven’t been physically near a loved one. You crave to be close to those you care about and demonstrate your love for them with hugs, massages and even sitting close to others.

Gifts

Gifts isn’t about the big, shiny package. The love language of gifts can be flowers, a note or card, maybe a mix-tape (umm, I’m definitely dating myself there) – just small gifts that share a token of love. People who with a love language of gifts feel validated when you pick something out for them or spend money on them. Your love language may be gifts if you think or wait anxiously for holidays or birthdays to see what your loved ones might get you. Gifts are usually a big test in relationships for people who speak the gift love language.

 Acts of Service

Whether it is cleaning, cooking, running errands, or driving, acts of service are seen as acts of love. By doing that act of service the other person feels love or is showing their love. People who need acts of service will sometimes ask their loved ones for favors or errands not because it is easier, but rather because they need the affirmation of the other person’s love. You need acts of service if you feel unwanted or unimportant if someone does not follow through on a promise or do something that you ask.

Words of Affirmation

Words of affirmation are verbal clues for others to express how much they love and care about someone. Words of affirmation can also be compliments and reassurances that confirm inner love in an outer way. People who need words of affirmation need to hear from the people they love frequently. Additionally, they need to hear what the other person is thinking out loud. That outward, verbal expression is how they feel loved. If you find yourself constantly needing to hear from your loved one to get reassurance or even fishing for compliments, words of affirmation is likely your love language.

This week, take the time to sit with your family and talk about each of your love languages. (Yes, you may need to have ice cream on hand to combat the tween-to-teen eye rolls.) Listen with your ears, eyes and heart to see if each person’s needs are being met. If so, yay! If not, talk about ways to speak each other’s language. Actually, the best thing you can do is simply ask what your child needs from you. And, then listen, really listen, to the answer.

And, now, I’m curious … what’s your love language? What’s the best way for others to “speak your language?” 

julie

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