10 Ways to slow down and tell your children, “I Love You”

It is crazy how quickly the lazy days of summer can turn into the mad rush of summer camps, play dates, and activities. Since children spell love T-I-M-E, here is a list of things you can do to slow down and say, “I love you.”

  1. Pull out an old photo album and tell the kids funny stories about when they were little.
  2. Have a water balloon fight.
  3. Play a board game.
  4. When you are having a conversation, put down your phone and really listen.
  5. Lay in the grass and find animals in the clouds.
  6. Turn on some music and have a dance party.
  7. Turn off the screens (tv, phone, computer, tablets, etc.) for a set amount of time.
  8. Run through the water sprinklers.
  9. Have a make-your-own mini-pizza night. Everyone will be in the kitchen together while making their own dinner.
  10. Laugh with your kids.

These ideas might be simple, but these are the type of things that your children will remember when they grow up. In fact, this blog entry is rather simple and short because I was too busy laughing and spending quality time with my children. And that’s a good thing.

10 Stress Busters for Finals Week

Finals are just around the corner! But there’s no need panic. In fact, when studying for finals, panicking is totally counterproductive. So if you feel your blood pressure start to rise, try some of these strategies to stay calm under pressure.

1. Breathe!!! – When you hold your breath, you increase the neurotransmitter adrenaline. Adrenaline is great for regulating your metabolism, making roller coasters exciting, and helping you run quickly if you are ever chased by a tiger. But, adrenaline is the enemy when you are anxious, it can induce panic!  Try breathing in for 7 seconds, holding your breath for four seconds, breathe out for eight seconds.  Then repeat four more times.

2. Start studying early – The earlier one starts studying, the better. There is nothing worse than cramming the night before the test and realizing that you are out of time and you can’t find your study guide. Insufficient study time is one of the biggest underlying problems for students who suffer from test anxiety. When you start studying early and hit a roadblock, you will have time to ask for clarification or tutoring.

3. Find a furry animal – Playing or snuggling with a dog or cat has been so effective in reducing stress that many universities around the world have started having a “puppy room” during finals week.  It’s a room full of puppies!  How can that not be relaxing???

4. Go for a walk or a run – Whether you are a marathon runner or a strolling through the park kind of a person, get outside and go.  It’s great to step away from the books intermittently and moving around will increase the blood flow to your brain.

5. Drink plenty of water – Many people overload on caffeine during finals week.  Caffeine has been linked to increased anxiety and panic attacks.  Drink plenty of water!

6. Make time for your passions – Take a 15-30 minute break to do something you are passionate about.   Taking time for music, dancing, friends, and sports can rejuvenate your soul.

7. Get plenty of sleep – People think that it is wise to pull all-nighters when studying for finals.  It’s real simple: you don’t sleep, you can’t think.

8. Take a social media break – Anxiety is contagious.  If you are reading all about your friend’s anxiety about finals, you will start to feel it too.

9. Study with friends – Choose a (not completely anxious) friend and study together.  You can divide the work, quiz one another, and help each other when the work is confusing or difficult.  Also, one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to someone else.

10. Get your parents to chill out! (Tell your parents to read this part.) “Are you studying?” “Why aren’t you studying?” “Do you care that finals are just around the corner?” “You don’t have time for that, start studying!” CHILL OUT PARENTS!!! Anxiety is contagious! Students are hearing about finals from every teacher, all of their friends, their friends’ parents, and all of your neighbors, etc. Your child is fully aware that finals are approaching and EVERYONE is anxious about them! In a calm manner, ask your child what you can do to help them. Offer to bring them healthy snacks, quiz them, take a walk with them, and help them get organized. Finally, find something absolutely ridicules to laugh about. Laughter is a wonderfully fun stress reducer!

The “Yes, please” marriage

Back in college I overheard a friend say, “Can you pass me that?” to her new boyfriend. His response changed my life for the better. He told my friend that his parents had a wonderfully loving and respectful relationship until the day his father died. His mother and father always said “please” and “thank you,” even for the little things. His parents knew that their efforts were not taken for granted – they knew that they were a team working together – and this was the foundation for solving disagreements in a loving marriage. My friend’s boyfriend then said that he would always say please and thank you to the woman he chose to date and ultimately marry. Then, he asked my friend if she was willing to do the same for him? She said yes.

I was raised to say please, thank you, and all the other polite southern niceties. But this was a whole different way of thinking about it! I was completely taken aback by the concept of moving “please” and “thank you” from a polite custom to a demonstration of true appreciation. I thought about how we are so good at being polite with our acquaintances and co-workers, but often forget about the people we choose to have in our lives – our close friends and family, significant others, or spouses. At that moment, I decided that I would incorporate this into all of my relationships. I decided that I would be mindful of expressing my appreciation each and every day to the most important people in my life.

I added this into my life and got wonderfully positive results – demonstrating appreciation is contagious! People love to hear that you appreciate their efforts and often respond by passing it on to others. Years later, I began dating my husband, and I know that my marriage is considerably stronger because I overheard this conversation.

Note to the friends I overheard: Thank you for affecting my life and marriage in such a positive way. I appreciate you and your friendship. I hope y’all have a wonderful 16th wedding anniversary!

Healthy Marriage = Happy Kids

I have heard some very well-intentioned parents say that they want their primary focus to be on their children for the 18-ish years that their children will live in their home. Though I can identify with parents wanting to do their absolute best to love their children well, I disagree with this strategy. Instead, I believe that a primary focus on creating a healthy marriage is the cornerstone to helping our kids feel as happy and loved as possible.

When children grow up in a home with adults who model a healthy relationship based on love and respect, the children learn that there is safety and security within their family. The safety and security comes from knowing that their home base is built on a solid foundation. When Mom and Dad truly enjoy seeing one another and have frequent positive interactions, the children feel the love in the relationship. When children experience this love, commitment, companionship, and mutuality between their primary care-givers, it frees them from worry and allows them to concentrate on being children; playing, running, laughing, and learning.

It is important to keep in mind that a healthy marriage will include arguments and disagreements. Unless one marries their clone, marriages are made up of two very different people. Therefore, part of navigating a marriage includes being able to communicate about and resolve differences. In a healthy marriage these arguments are maneuvered in a way that honors each person involved. There is not always a “winner” or a “loser” in the disagreement. Sometimes a healthy couple can resolve a disagreement by agreeing to disagree, rather than finding a compromise or acquiescing. No matter what the resolution, the most important aspect is that each person feels heard, respected, and validated so that the fight doesn’t lead to injury or resentment within the couple. When your children witness a positive resolution to an argument, they are learning conflict resolution skills that will last a lifetime.

Tips for resolving marital conflict:

  • Learn to register specific complaints and requests (when X happened, I felt Y, I would prefer Z).
  • Conscious communication – Speaking the unarguable truth & listening generously.
  • Claim responsibility – “What can I learn from this?” and “What can I do about it?”
  • Validate your partner – Let your partner know what makes sense to you about what they are saying; let them know you understand what they are feeling, do your best to see through their eyes.
  • Re-write your inner script – Replace thoughts of righteous indignation or innocent victimization with thoughts of appreciation and responsibility that are soothing and validating.
  • Shift to appreciation – Strive for 5 times as much positive feeling and interaction as negative.
  • Practice getting undefended – Allow your partner’s utterances to be what they really are (just thoughts and puffs of air) and let go of the stories that you are making up.
  • Focus on your marital friendship.
  • Continue to work on your relationship, ALWAYS!

(Information based on Gottman, John, 1999 The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work)

The best way to focus on expanding your children’s sense of safety and security is through focusing on the health of your marriage. Remember, we learn best though modeling; so do your best to be a healthy role model to your children. Cultivating a healthy marriage is a gift to our children that lasts significantly longer than the 18-ish years that they live in our homes!

Do Real Men Get Depression?

Absolutely! Real men get depressed! A lot of us think of the depressed person as the tearful woman, lying in bed with swollen eyes, finishing off her second box of Kleenex. This may be the case for some, but this is NOT what I have seen from most men.

When depressed, both men and women may feel blue, feel extremely tired, have difficulty sleeping, and find it difficult to get pleasure from activities that they once enjoyed. But, there are many other behaviors in men that could be signs of depression – even if they aren’t usually seen as such.

Depressed men often:

  • Show escapist behaviors: spend a lot of time at work or on sports
  • Drink excessively
  • Abuse drugs
  • Feel and/or show irritability or inappropriate anger
  • Use risky behaviors such as driving recklessly and participating in dangerous sports
  • Have physical pain or symptoms, such as backaches and frequent headaches

Differences between male and female depression

Women tend to:

Men tend to:

Blame themselves Blame others
Feel sad, apathetic, and worthless Feel angry, irritable, and ego inflated
Feel anxious and scared Feel suspicious and guarded
Feel slowed down or nervous Feel restless and agitated
Have trouble setting boundaries Need to feel in control at all costs
Find it easy to talk about self-doubt and despair Find it “weak” to admit self-doubt or despair
Use food, friends, and “love” to self-medicate Use alcohol, TV, sports and sex to self- medicate

(Adapted from: Male Menopause by Jed Diamond)

While there is no evidence that women experience higher rates of depression, men account for one in ten diagnosed cases of depression (Mental Health America, 2007). Many say that this is because men don’t like to ask for help, but I think this is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s rather difficult to recognize that you have depression if sadness is not your primary symptom. It’s very common for other symptoms like headaches, fatigue, irritability and feeling isolated to be more prevalent than sadness.

So, to all the REAL men who related to these symptoms of depression, I double-dog-dare you to do something about your depression! Call a therapist and/or talk to your doctor. You don’t have to continue to feel this way.

The Family That Plays Together

For as long as I can remember I have loved rainy days. I grew up in a family that was always on the go and usually outside. So when all of the practices and activities were rained out, we went home to a giant bowl of popcorn to play Clue, Battleship, Connect Four, Uno, Life, and Monopoly. We sat in the den for hours with the television off talking, laughing, bonding, and playing a board game.

Board games can be a wonderful tool in promoting family unity. It’s amazing that when kids and teens get into the relaxed atmosphere surrounding the board game, they are able to open up and share so many aspects of their lives. As a family sits around a table and laughs together, the underlying message is, “I like you and I enjoy spending my time with you.” To me, this is the definition of quality time.

Board games may just look like fun and family bonding, but here are a few additional areas where board games can be educational.

Concentration and attention to details– Taking turns, following the flow of the game, and adhering to rules are skills that can carry-over into the classroom.

Strategic thinking– Many games require planning several moves ahead. This encourages a higher level of thinking and increases problem solving skills.

Creativity– Many games require drawing, acting and/or making up stories. These actions can have a positive impact on creative writing and abstract thought.

Good sportsmanship– Being able to win respectfully and lose gracefully is a skill that will stay with kids throughout adulthood.

Vocabulary and Spelling– Games like Balderdash and TriBond expand vocabulary. And, I am pretty sure that I learned how to spell the word “queue” while playing Scrabble.

This summer when it’s your turn throw the dice, know that what you are building is open communication, life long memories, and family unity. The family that plays together, stays together.

Is There a GT Kid in the House?

Does your child incessantly ask questions?  Is your child compelled to take the simplest of tasks and create a new design or way of doing it?  Does your child have an intense internal drive to learn things?  Does your child seem to know how to do things before they were taught?  If so, you may have a gifted and talented (GT) kid in the house.

A mom recently told me a story about her almost four-year-old son.  They were in the car talking about the concept of backwards.  He said, “Mommy, did you know my name spelled backwards is W-E-R-D-N-A?”  She explained how impressed she was with his knowledge.  I responded to this story by wishing her “good luck!”  When she looked at me puzzled, I explained that raising a GT kid can be an extremely demanding task.

Gifted and talented children make up only 3-5 percent of the general population.  The National Association of Gifted Children defines gifted as a person who “shows, or has the potential for showing, an exceptional level of performance” in one or more of the following areas: general intellectual ability; specific academic aptitude; creative thinking; leadership ability; and visual and performing arts.  This definition encompasses a wide range of abilities, intelligence is thought of most often.  A child with an IQ above 130 is considered GT.

Often, people are confused at the difference between a high achieving child and a gifted child.  In most children’s development, the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional areas all progress at the same rate.  In a high achieving child, all of these areas are advanced.  Simply put, the high achiever is good at everything.  Often with a GT child, what we see is they are incredibly advanced in one or two areas, but the other areas lag behind their peers.  Here are a few more differences:

High Achievers Verses Gifted Learners
Knows the answers Asks the questions
Enjoys a straightforward, sequential  plan Thrives on complexity
Works hard Plays around, yet tests well
“What do I need to do to get an A?” “What is the purpose of the assignment?”
Enjoys peers Prefers older students or adults

There is a widespread myth that GT children do not have behavioral problems.  In reality there are four areas that get GT kids into trouble.

  1. Intensity – They often get “tunnel vision” and forget what they should be doing.
  2. Sensitivity – They often empathize too much with peers, get their feelings hurt, and take criticism very personally.
  3.  Multi-potentiality – Where they can pay attention to several things at one time, they can also have trouble making decisions.
  4. Extra Energy – They often require less sleep than their peers.  This extra energy causes them to prefer fast paced activities and they tend to interrupt others in an attempt to speed up the conversation.

In conclusion, if you come home to find that your kid has disassembled the toaster oven and he/she has reconfigured the parts to create a whole new toaster oven, there are two wise parenting responses.  First, verify that the fire extinguishers are in working order and readily available.  Second, contact your child’s school to have them tested for the GT program.