New Year’s Resolutions

Yes, it’s that time again: the beginning of another year when about half of all Americans decide to embark on making New Year’s resolutions. With the best of intentions we create lofty goals geared toward helping us to become better in some way, shape, or form because our bottom line is that we do not want a repeat of last year. Essentially, we want to realize positive change in our lives, and we believe our proverbial New Year’s resolutions are the catalysts to get us to where we want to be.

Although the number of individuals making New Year’s resolutions is declining, they are still a popular part of our traditions as observed by the media and research organizations which continue to pour resources into providing us with statistics around the very topic. For instance, consider the following “Top American Resolutions” listed in order from most reported to the least:

Most Reported New Year’s Resolutions

21%  Weight loss

14%  Improve finances

14%  Exercise

10%  Get a new job

7%    Healthier eating

5%    Manage stress better

5%    Stop/reduce smoking

5%    Improve a relationship

3%    Stop procrastinating

3%    Set time aside for self

3%    Start a new activity/hobby

2%    Improve my work habits

2%    Stop/reduce drinking alcohol

1%    Assertion/learn to say no

As you can probably agree, these resolutions are all worth striving for because they are intended to help us improve ourselves in some way.  Yet, statistically, only about 8% of people who make resolutions are actually successful in achieving their resolutions. To add insult to injury Time found that many of our most popular resolutions are also the very ones which are broken the most:

Most Commonly Broken New Year’s Resolutions

  1. Lose Weight and Get Fit
  2. Quit Smoking
  3. Learn Something New
  4. Eat Healthier and Diet
  5. Get Out of Debt and Save Money
  6. Spend More Time with Family
  7. Travel to New Places
  8. Be Less Stressed
  9. Volunteer
  10. Drink Less

At this point you may be asking yourselves, “Is this a no-win situation?” Statistically speaking, it seems like we are setting ourselves up for failure. The truth of the matter is that it is just as easy to make a resolution as it is to break it—neither require any real work on the part of the participant. However, realistically speaking, while the resolutions noted above are indeed good and noble pursuits, they are actually difficult to accomplish because they are all major lifestyle changes that involve self-reflection, a reprioritization of priorities, a deep level of commitment, learning, planning and time. Also many of these changes will impact the lives of those closest to us which is another important factor that must be included as a part of the process.

So, what is the solution to our New Year’s resolutions? According to Amazon.com, you could possibly find an answer to that question among the 23,283 books written on the topic, although that seems like quite a lengthy pursuit for one to undertake. An alternative suggestion involves you choosing just one lifestyle change that is most important to you and then begin working toward it, slowly but consistently, keeping in mind that you are not so much focused on achieving a goal that can be accomplished by the end of the year; rather, success rests upon integrating a lifestyle change over time until it becomes a vital part of who you are and a part of your life that you no longer wish to compromise. While this may seem daunting, big changes typically start small, have many steps, and take time, patience, and diligence. Yet it is my wish that by approaching New Year’s resolutions in this way you will be able to realize positive change in a manner that will be both self-fulfilling and sustaining over your lifetime.

Sources:

“New Year’s Resolution Statistics” http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/

“New Year’s Resolutions by the Numbers” http://www.details.com/story/new-years-resolutions-by-the-numbers

“Top 10 Commonly Broken New Year’s Resolutions” http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/completelist/0,29569,2040218,00.html

Amazon.com: 23,283 results for Books: “new year’s resolutions”

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_22?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=new+year%27s+resolutions&sprefix=new+year%27s+resolutions%2Caps%2C168

“No Problems, Only Situations”

The Key to a Jamaican Thanksgiving in 2015

This year we were blessed to be able to travel to the beautiful island of Jamaica. I distinctly remember getting on the shuttle from the airport and hearing a thick Jamaican voice on the intercom welcoming us to Jamaica and reminding us that “in Jamaica there are no problems, only situations.” I will be honest—the idea of no problems sounded great in theory, but mostly I just thought this was what tourists liked to hear. After all, Jamaica was known for its catchy sayings like, “don’t worry, be happy,” and this was no different. I was surprised, however, that throughout our time in Jamaica this was not just a cheesy slogan to entertain visitors but instead a legitimate way of life. Here we were in a completely impoverished country where many people were struggling to earn their very next meal and yet they were incredibly lax. So what was it? What about Jamaican culture was different than anywhere else?

Over the next few days, I discovered exactly what it was. Gratitude. As much as I saw a laid back attitude in the people of Jamaica, I also saw extreme gratitude. We were encouraged not to give tips for service, however, we did anyway because that was just the right thing to do. I sensed genuine thankfulness for this simple act from every single person there. It was not just the tips either– when my husband told a waiter one day that he was doing an excellent job, he looked as if he had just won the lottery and thanked my husband profusely for the “encouragement.” As the season of Thanksgiving approaches, I reflect back on the sincerity of the people of Jamaica. This attitude towards gratitude is a way of life that leads to inner peace – it is unmistakable. How then can we whom are blessed, at least financially, beyond that of the Jamaicans learn to practice this gratitude in our own lives? It appears to me that the key is to practice thankfulness often. Below are some things that might help you get going on your Jamaican Thanksgiving in 2015. Maybe you can take some of them into the New Year as well. You can always top it off with some delicious rum cake… yeah mon!

  • Start a countdown journal today until Thanksgiving day where each member of your family adds something they are thankful for daily. Wait until Thanksgiving and read it aloud before you eat.
  • Send a thank you card or email to somebody you should have thanked long ago.
  • Donate your time this year to an organization that feeds the homeless on Thanksgiving – take the kids. This lesson is priceless to them.
  • When you are stuck in traffic instead of going over your to-do list in your head try listing all of the things you are thankful for.
  • When somebody compliments you – look them in the eyes and genuinely thank them.
  • Meditate, spend some quiet time, or pray intentionally for the purpose of thanking, not to ask of anything or anybody but just to give thanks for the things and the people in your life.

Spooktacular Tips for Parents this Halloween

When you think back on the Halloween adventures of your childhood, what memories come to mind? Were you the kid who always had the best costume? The one who was in intense competition to get the most candy? Maybe you were the teen who had to stay home so someone could man the passing out of candy at home while your little brothers and sisters (who still needed parental supervision) got to go out trick-or-treating. For some families, Halloween can be a time of healthy controlled chaos with block parties, bobbing for apples, and zombie-shaped brownie fun all before heading out to trick-or-treat with friends. However, some younger children may not be too keen on running around the neighborhood with flashlights and stumbling upon a scary costume or decoration. Halloween night has the potential to be a chocolate-induced nightmare and not many children handle that amount of sugar very well. The combination of candy, competition, and a lean toward being easily spooked can create one heck of a bad night. As a parent, you know your child’s temperament- BUT, here are a few things to be aware of in order to make this night as fun and safe as it can be:

  • Monitor your kid’s candy intake! Because you aren’t a hawk and because children can be super sneaky, you’re obviously not going to be able to keep your child away from ALL sugar, all night long. You can, however, make sure they eat a good dinner before they go out trick-or-treating- this way, they’ll be less likely to inhale their candy faster than they are getting it.
  • Set a rule stating “Do not eat your candy until you get back home and check out the goods”. This will not only give you the chance to go through your child’s candy to inspect for allergies, suspicious candies, or unwrapped junk, but will also give you at least some control over what they eat that night (plus, you get to have a few handfuls yourselves before all that’s left is Smarties and Bottle Caps). Let your kids know ahead of time that this candy needs to last them MONTHS. Put the candy in the freezer and allow them to pick out a couple of pieces per day or pack a piece in their sack lunches every once in a while and make it last as long as you can!
  • Anxiety is easiest to manage when situations are predictable. Whether your child is scared of the big kids dressed as ax murders, nervous about going up to random houses to ask for candy, or walking around in the dark, prepping your kids may be necessary.
  • Consider only visiting friend’s houses for trick-or-treating or heading out to get some candy before the sun sets. If your neighborhood is notorious for scary decorations, crazy teenagers going overboard with gore make-up, or big haunted house parties, it may be beneficial to keep your child at home once the sun goes down to help you pass out candy.

Because children are extremely impressionable, keep an eye on what they may encounter. No parent wants their child waking up in the middle of every night for the next 4 months having a nightmare about something he or she saw while out trick-or-treating. Halloween should be a time of dress-up fun, staying up past bed time, and spending time with family and friends- SO, remember to prep your kiddos, make rules clear and reasonable, be aware of what they’re doing/seeing, and most of all, have fun!

Happy Halloween!

Heroes Reborn

If anyone out there loved the television series Heroes… it’s back! Now called ‘Heroes Reborn,’ it’s a show about ordinary people discovering their special abilities and learning to maneuver the world with those abilities.

One of my favorite ‘heroes’ from the original series is Hayden Panettiere, who had the power to spontaneously regenerate. She could fall off a building, get hit by a car, jump in a fire but wouldn’t get hurt. Other characters had some very cool abilities as well – the ability to fly, to read people’s minds, or travel through time.

But Hayden Panettiere is a real life hero (of mine anyway) because she has demonstrated the special ability of vulnerability, transparency, and truth telling as she recently disclosed that she is dealing with post-partum depression.

It absolutely takes a special ability to tell millions of people (in a world where perfection is not optional), that you are not only not perfect but struggling and battling with a mental health issue. Other heroes? – Catherine Zeta-Jones (Bipolar Depression), Brooke Shields (Post-Partum Depression), and Halle Berry (Depression and suicide attempt).

You may disagree with me, but I do consider them heroes in this aspect. Our culture and our pride forces us to hide, feel guilt or shame, believe that we are alone in our struggles, and keep our mouths shut.

We may not be able to fly or travel through time, but we are able to tell the truth. So I encourage you to use that special ability. Be different. Be vulnerable. Be open. Be a hero and tell the truth about what is really going on in your life. You may be surprised to find out how desperately the world is in need of a hero.

Blue Vs. Pink

I recently attended the Love & Respect conference by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, who has his doctorate in Child and Family Ecology. His book, Love & Respect, introduces the idea that in a marriage, women are motivated by love and men are motivated by respect. This idea, he explained during the conference, is based on the biblical command in Ephesians 5:33 that says “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband (ESV).” Dr. Eggerichs explains that by disobeying this command we activate the Crazy Cycle in our marriage: “without love she reacts without respect and without respect he reacts without love”. He elaborated that although we all need love and respect in our relationships, the primary need for men is respect and for women is love. He presented differences in perspectives using colors: men see the relationship through blue lenses and women through pink lenses…”neither is wrong, just different” he says.

It’s a simple enough idea, and assuming you agree with it and you and your partner are on the same page, the question arises, how do we practically apply it? Shouldn’t he start loving me more and then I’ll respond with respect? After reading some reviews on the book, I realized that a few men and women were offended by his simplistic explanation of what makes marriage work. Their interpretation of his idea became, “I’m supposed to respect my husband even though he doesn’t deserve it so then I can get the love I’m yearning for?” or “I’m supposed to love my wife even though she doesn’t deserve it to get the respect I’m yearning for?” Dr. Eggerichs was very strategic during the conference addressing the possible skeptics in the audience, wondering how this could be applied to their marriage. He explained that it takes one mature person to step up and break the crazy cycle. Mature people understand that they are in control of their reactions and responses to others. They can choose to be kind, loving and respectful. I could already imagine the skeptics challenging that statement with, “but he or she makes me be unloving or disrespectful!” According to Dr. Eggerichs, that would be a response coming from an immature person. To be honest, I understand the skeptics. It’s nice to read an idea on paper about how fulfilling our roles in marriage will create this Energizing Cycle described by Dr. Eggerichs as “His Love motivates Her Respect,” but reality is much more complex. Individuals who lack boundaries or present with maladaptive ways of relating to others (in a dysfunctional or abusive marriage, for example) may need to address other primary issues before venturing into this love and respect journey. It’s important to be wise and to know when enough is enough. Clearly, Dr. Eggerichs is not encouraging a woman being abused to respect her husband in the midst of it and to merely be a doormat for more abuse. His strategies should be applied once the abusive or maladaptive behaviors has been dealt with.

For those couples who are ready to apply his methods, the obstacles that keep this type of intervention from working could be a past hurt that hasn’t been healed, trust that has been broken, a heart that is too tired to try again or even hope for change. It takes faith to decide to expose oneself and show love and respect to the other person without knowing what will result. It also requires a forgiving heart to give someone something they haven’t earned or deserve. Throughout the conference I felt like a pendulum, agreeing on one end and disagreeing on another. It was as if the worldview and the Godly view were at war within me.  Wanting to believe that God’s plan for marriage is a perfect one but knowing that even in this perfect plan there are challenges. Is it all worth it? I truly believe that God has placed our spouses in our lives to re-create or redeem us into the versions of ourselves that God intended…in other words, to become more like Christ.

It’s very difficult to address all marriages because they are all different and complex. We can’t assign the same formula to every marriage and expect the same result. There are couples that are ready to start trying something new to better their marriages, and there are those who have already given up hope. Are you struggling but still wanting to work things out, or are you so wounded that you have no energy to even consider things could get better? Although reading books on marriage can be extremely helpful, it can be even more beneficial to have a counselor look into your relationship and facilitate a healthy dialogue to help begin the healing process in both of you. Once healing comes, you both will be strengthened and encouraged to show one another the forgiveness, love and respect that marriage was designed to display.

Emotional Fitness

“Let go of your stress and smile!” shouted the aerobics instructor over the loud music as she cheerfully encouraged the class to follow her lead. My first couple of negative thoughts were, “Are you kidding me? I’m lucky I made it here, and I’m not in a good mood because I’m really behind on several things that I had to set aside just to make it to class!” I won’t go into detail about my other negative thoughts but suffice it to say that I was tired, irritated, and stretched beyond capacity. As I mustered through the workout I wondered, “How did I let this happen?” I’m usually very good at time management but somehow I slipped this time around, and I was not in a good place.

Have you ever been there too?  You know, where your thoughts are racing a million miles a minute, time is running out, and it seems there’s absolutely nothing you can do to catch up???

As I looked around the room, I wondered if others were experiencing the same thing. There were a few individuals who looked intense—those who were at the front of the class—but others seemed to actually be enjoying themselves in the moment. I’m usually part of that latter group but not today. What happened?

Thinking back over the week, I began to realize where I detoured: I watched a little extra TV a few days, I volunteered to help a friend at the last minute, and one night I stayed up late surfing the Web. While none of these things are detrimental in and of themselves, when added together they inevitably worked against me. Although I had fun doing each of them at the time, in the end I paid for it—dearly. As I said before, I wasn’t in a good place.

Yet right on time my compassion reflex kicked it and as I sent myself positive messages (“You made a good choice to focus on your health,” and “You are getting back on track”), I felt my mind and body slowly begin to let go of the anxiety and tension, and I was able to focus on the workout with thoughts of getting healthy and feeling better. Once I realized I didn’t feel so stressed, I began enjoying myself and wouldn’t you know it—I actually smiled. I guess the aerobics instructor wasn’t too far off after all.

≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈

Reflecting back later that day, I recalled two important life skills: boundaries and mindfulness.

While exercising relieves stress and keeps us physically fit, practicing boundaries and mindfulness results in improved emotional fitness. When we establish healthy boundaries, we inevitably protect ourselves, which enables us to be responsible stewards over such things as our time. In turn, having healthy boundaries frees us up to practice mindfulness—having the capacity to be present in the moment and to connect with our senses and the environment around us. Good self-care not only includes taking care of our physical bodies but also requires active management of our emotional health. When we make both priorities, we ultimately safeguard our well-being which results in a manageable and balanced life. Are we always going to be perfect in practicing good self-care? No, my account above shows anyone can make a mistake from time to time, but the key is to recognize when you begin to take a detour and then take intentional steps to re-route yourself back to the skills that will help you to restore your emotional fitness.

Five Ways to Help Your Child through Divorce

Divorce is hard. Divorce is hard on you. Divorce is hard on your spouse. Divorce is hard on your children. There are many factors that contribute to the difficulties during the divorce process, including very intense emotions. It can be especially difficult to think of effective ways to help your child through this process while in the middle of your own grief and pain. While divorce is unique and complicated by different personalities, legalities, and mixed emotions here are some practical tips to keep in mind while communication with your children.

  1. Be Realistic: Sometimes in an effort to avoid their own pain a parent might hyper-focus on their children’s pain. Although paying attention to your child’s hurting and finding help when needed is appropriate, the expectation that you can somehow remove all pain from your child is not realistic. Grief is part of the process. Instead of trying to “fix” your child’s feelings allow them to express them in safe ways. If your child is angry then let them be angry as long as their anger is not being expressed in ways that are harmful to themselves or others.
  2. Communicate Change Timely and Effectively: Change can happen very quickly in a divorce and sometimes these changes are not communicated effectively to children. If schedules are changing discuss what those changes will be like and ask for suggestions from your children. Make sure you communicate ahead of time so that they have a week or two to process the changes prior to a major move. Always take responsibility for the final decisions but take into account how these changes might affect their daily lives as well. Your therapist can help you create age appropriate schedules and charts to help your child wrap their minds around new routines.
  3. Be Reassuring: Depending on the age of your child their ability to process very complicated emotions is limited. When children have complicated emotions they do not always understand how to express them and may act out angrily or ask disconnected questions such as, “Will I get a new Mommy and Daddy now?” It can be very easy to simply say NO or brush off the question because you don’t know what to say. I encourage you to ask them more questions and keep the conversation going to find out more details about what kinds of emotions are going on inside. Reassure them that regardless of what is happening now in their lives you will always be their Mom and Dad. They may continue to ask these types or questions, keep reassuring them.
  4. Control Your Emotions: This might seem like an impossible task to ask of you when every day might be full of emotion for you, however, children are experts at soaking up the emotions around them (NOT experts at processing those feelings, though) and can read you better than you think. Children will begin to internalize their own emotions for fear of burdening you with theirs. I am not encouraging you in any way to not express your own emotions – it is absolutely VITAL for you to do so preferably with a counseling professional. I do encourage you to wait until your children are away or asleep to have a breakdown.
  5. Take Care of Your Family: If there is ever a transitions in which you should seek professional help for you and your children it is in the midst of a divorce. The effects of a divorce can be lifelong and life changing for all involved. Additionally, attempting to take care of others while in such a raw place emotionally can prove to be futile. Get help. Reach out to a doctor, therapist, pastor, or group to give you professional emotional support through this difficult time. 

We at Heritage Behavioral Health Consultants are here to help you and your family through this emotional time. Please reach out when you need help through a divorce or during any other time of change.

Know The Lyrics

I was listening to the radio when the song ‘Every Breath You Take’ by The Police came on.  Of course I sang along with the radio because it’s such a catchy song.  As I was singing, I actually began to pay attention to the words and freaked out a little. Just in case you don’t remember, here are the words:

“Every breath you take; every move you make; every bond you break, every step you take I’ll be watching you.”

A little stalker-ish right? So I researched the lyrics to check my hypothesis and I indeed was right. Sting did not mean for this song to be a love song frequently played at weddings. He actually wrote this song after separating from his wife and it is about a possessive lover! Yikes!

Of course it is meant to be sinister. Who would perceive it otherwise? Well I did, along with many others judging from how many times this is played on love song stations and in weddings. Just goes to show how we sometimes fail to distinguish healthy from unhealthy. The words are the same, the tune in the same, but our perception is based on observation, awareness and insight.

If it’s hard for us to recognize healthy versus unhealthy song lyrics, then it’s probably extremely difficult to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationships, especially when those relationships are family relationships or friendships.

So what makes a healthy relationship? Lots of things including good communication, mutual respect, trust, and honesty.  You are in a healthy relationship if that relationship brings about more joy and happiness than tension and sadness.  If that statement doesn’t ring true in one of your relationships then it is unhealthy.

Signs of an unhealthy relationship:

  • You often put yourself on the back burner for someone else.  You neglect your dreams, passions or even just basic self-care for the sake of another.
  • You feel forced to be or act differently.
  • Your relationship causes you to have low self-esteem.
  • You are not free to express your true thoughts and feelings without fear of repercussions; you find yourself walking on eggshells.
  • You build walls of defensiveness to protect yourself.
  • You are discouraged from growing other relationships with friends or family.
  • You do not trust the person you are in relationship with.
  • You experience abuse – verbal, physical, mental or emotional abuse.

Seek help for your relationship when:

  • You know you need help but you are embarrassed or fearful to ask for help.
  • You are unhappy in the relationship and you are having difficulty getting out.
  • You realize you are staying in the relationship because of fear of being alone or because of guilt.
  • You consistently find yourself in unhealthy relationships.

The key to a healthy relationship is to stop singing along with the music just because you are familiar with the words. Pay close attention to the words; assess your relationships often. Stop and listen, listen to your gut. Are you happy? Are you safe? Are you free? If the answer is no, then seek help and change your tune.

Counseling 101: Supporting your ADD/ADHD child.

Picture this: you’re driving your child to his third day of school. The day started off like most other days—you struggled to wake little Johnny, he stumbled aimlessly around his room for what seems like hours before you finally went in there to make sure he didn’t need help finding the kitchen. Miraculously, he made it to the breakfast table where he stood next to his chair and picked all the marshmallows out of his bowl of Lucky Charms. It was only when you were waiting in the carpool line that you realized he had two different shoes on. Oh well, you think to yourself. He was fine last time this happened! This sound familiar to anyone? I think it’s safe to say that 99% of parents have been in this situation with their child. However, when this type of inattentive or hyperactive behavior begins to interfere with a child’s academic, social, and family life, a larger problem may be to blame.

It seems as though every “difficult” kid is being diagnosed with ADD or ADHD these days. According to Healthline Network, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) says that 5% of American children have ADHD while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts that number at 11%. That’s an increase of 42% in only eight years. Crazy, right? So what the heck is going on? There are LOTS of theories about the prevalence of ADD/ADHD being on the rise in the U.S. including additives in our foods, air pollution, genetics, and my personal favorite, bad parenting (sarcasm…). I work with children who have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD every day and their parents are some of the most attentive, nurturing, encouraging, and consistent parents that I’ve ever come across. Parenting has little to do with it if we’re talking about true Attention Deficit Disorder. It may, however, have something to do with it if a child doesn’t listen to mom because she never follows through on behavioral consequences. Now, I’ll step off my soapbox and throw some facts about ADD/ADHD at you…

  • ADHD has a male to female incidence ratio of 6:1.
  • Secondary problems of language learning, visual-motor skills, handwriting, and self-control often coexist with ADHD.
  • Symptoms of ADHD typically first appear between the ages of 3 and 5.
  • Boys and girls display very different ADHD symptoms. Boys’ symptoms often include acting out, hyperactivity such as running and hitting, lack of focus, and physical aggression. Girls’ symptoms often appear more internal: being withdrawn, low self-esteem, anxiousness, intellectual impairment and difficulty in the classroom, tendency toward daydreaming, and verbal aggression such as teasing or taunting.
  • In early childhood, kiddos with ADHD often display a difficult temperament and sensitivity to typical stimuli. They also may have had a confused wake/sleep cycle.

Whatever your child’s specific situation may be, if you are concerned about him or her displaying symptoms/behaviors associated with ADHD, get it checked out! Many health care providers are able to diagnose ADHD, but use good judgement. We utilize standardized rating scales and computerized assessments, reports from teachers and other caregivers, a thorough developmental history, and a diagnostic interview with both the parents and the child in order to determine if a child has ADHD. Make sure that whomever evaluates your child obtains all the necessary information needed to make (or not) a diagnosis. In the mean-time, here are the 10 Golden Rules for Parents of Kids with ADD according to Dr. Russell Barkley:

  1. Make the rules specific and clear—post them in writing.
  2. Use rewards that are powerful and meaningful to the child.
  3. Give feedback often… let them know how they’re doing!
  4. Help them anticipate and plan for what’s coming up.
  5. Expect that they will have good days and bad days.
  6. Use positives and praise more than negatives… or punishments.
  7. Keep in mind that we are dealing with a biological problem… NOT a character defect!
  8. “Act—don’t yak!” don’t talk too much, respond with behavior.
  9. Maintain a sense of humor… be patient!
  10. Forgive your child AND yourself… you are all in this together, and trying your best.

The hurried child: Are you willing to swim upstream?

As August moves forward, school settles into a familiar rhythm and the pace of family life quickens. School. Practices. Foreign languages. Clubs. Tutors. Private lessons. Games. Church activities. Homework. And the list goes on…and on…and, well, you get the picture. Our homes ring with the words, “Hurry up, we’ll be late” and we rush our kids from one activity to the next. We zip through the drive-thru and throw processed food at our kids as they attempt to finish homework in the backseat. We sacrifice their nutrition and our own sanity to the rush of one more practice or game or commitment. As parents, we have a choice to make: do we follow along with our hurried culture and sign our children up for yet one more activity (who said peer pressure vanished with high school?!) or, do we swim upstream?

Many modern day American parents have fallen victim to this underlying system of beliefs: My children deserve to be happy and successful. It is my job to make them happy and successful. If I give my child more “opportunities” (also known as classes, lessons, tutors, etc.) to obtain experience and knowledge they will be more likely to grow up to be happy and successful and I will have done my job. If we (and I definitely include myself here!) as adults recall the most happy, carefree days of our own childhood it is likely that those memories do not involve structured, organized “opportunities”, but rather (gasp!) unstructured free play with friends and/or siblings. Our children today are stressed-out, over-scheduled, and under-played.

Research is overwhelmingly in support of slowing down the pace of our children’s daily lives and of giving them back the chance to get bored, to find something to do on their own and to relish in pretend play. I could name book after book written by prestigious authors who support this notion, but, at the end of the day it comes down to this: Are we, as parents, willing to swim upstream? It is hard work. It can be exhausting. It is not fun or easy to hold to a different set of beliefs from our culture (pesky peer pressure again!). Are we willing to stand our ground and say “no” to countless “opportunities” that present themselves to us time and time again? Are we willing to listen to our kids bickering and fighting as they attempt to plow through their own boredom to find something to do? It is far easier to sit in the bleachers checking your own email as your child runs up and down the basketball court than to stick it out at home on a Saturday morning as your child struggles to find a new mode of entertainment. Remember, we have created this culture of hurriedness for our children and they will have to “detox” and adjust as we slow the pace.

Okay, you are still with me so I will assume you might be willing to swim upstream. How do we do this in a practical way?

  • Just say NO! Limit your children to one or maybe two activities at a time, depending on their age. If it is soccer season and your child really wants to be on the team, go for it! But let that be the activity for that season. I will warn you, and I speak from experience here, this is hard. There will be times when you think you are depriving your child of the chance to be the next Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan or Julie Andrews before he or she turns 10. You worry that you are not helping your child find his or her “thing.” Hang in there. It gets easier.
  • Unplug on a regular basis. Have technology-free time as a  family: play a board game together, go for a walk, collect items and make a collage or sculpture, take turns asking each other “what if” questions (What if you could jump into a book…which book would you jump into and why?), bake something yummy and share it with a neighbor.
  • Make family dinners a priority. The research here is so strong! Families who eat a meal together on a regular basis have kids who perform better in school and hold up under peer pressure when it comes to big stuff like drugs, alcohol, and sex.
  • Fight the urge to plan every moment. Allow for chunks of time in your child’s day that are not filled with activities and events.
  • Resist the urge to buy every latest and greatest toy or electronic gadget. Provide your child with toys that encourage open-ended play: blocks, blank paper and crayons/paints/markers, play-doh or clay, dress up clothes, boxes of varying sizes that can become anything, etc.
  • Pay attention to your child. Ask your child which activity he or she would most like to engage in right now. Watch for signs of your child being overwhelmed or stressed-out (fatigue, anxiety, irritability, poor sleep habits) and be prepared to scale