Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Got Balance?

Looking for a healthier, happier, more satisfied life? 

Check out my Free “Life Balance” Workshop On-line

This 30-minute, five-part series on the Basics of Balancing Work and Family is an over-view of ideas and strategies to help you achieve a balance with your work, personal and family life.The workshop, offered by the University of Florida/Hillsborough County Extension Service, includes a handout to help you personalize the information and develop a satisfying life plan that fits you.

Visit us at:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Resolution for the New Year

If you make New Year’s Resolutions, you might want to think about making a resolution to eat breakfast if you don’t already do this every morning. Busy families especially need to add this to their list of healthy habits.

It can seem as if mornings just fly by when rushing to get ready for work and school. Eating breakfast can easily be forgotten or neglected on busy mornings. However, breakfast is a very important meal for you and your family.

Eating a morning meal has many health benefits. It is important to refuel your body after not eating for many hours during the night. Breakfast provides the glucose that is the primary energy source for the body and the brain. The American Dietetic Association states the breakfast skippers often feel tired, restless, or irritable in the morning. The brain’s functions are very sensitive to changing glucose levels. Research has also shown that missing this meal diminishes the mental performance of children, young adults, and the elderly.

Eating breakfast may also help in weight management because it reduces hunger and prevents eating binges. People who eat a daily breakfast are far less likely to become obese, compared to those who skip the first meal of the day, according to one study by the Harvard Medical School.

So, make a New Year’s Resolution and start off your day on the right foot. Make sure that breakfast is included in your family’s routine. Simple meals such as whole-grain cereals, fresh fruits, and eggs can be prepared easily and quickly. These kinds of foods also provide energy and many nutrients your family need to stay healthy.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Being with the In-laws at Holiday Time

Did somebody forget to tell you that when you married the person - you married the family? You don’t have to have seen the movie series “Meet the Parents” to know what challenges may lie ahead. The holiday season usually involves extended and in-law family members getting together and this can sometimes cause conflict.

Unfortunately for some, we can’t control the way our in-laws behave towards us, but we can control the way we react. Some family therapists offer the following tips. First, identify the issue. Are your in-laws unreasonable or are you being impatient?

Second, regulate your reactions. Take a deep breath when necessary and control your temper in heated situations.

Third, look for compromising solutions. Don’t be a victim, but be willing to sacrifice for the sake of maintaining peace. You don’t always have to be right and you don’t always have to have the last word.

Finally, act rather than react. Prepare yourself for possible conflict and decide ahead of time how you will react or respond. Remember to be control of your actions and words – even if the in-laws are not!

Renowned marriage researcher, Dr. John Gottman says that when dealing with conflict with the in-laws, it’s important to put your spouse first and not to tolerate any contempt toward your spouse from your parents. This simple act set a precedent that your marriage cannot be divided. Discuss issues with your spouse prior to visits with the in-laws to ensure that you will always be on the same page. Beware making critical comments, however, after all, these people you may be complaining about are deeply connected to the person you love.

If you and your spouse actively listen to each other and tend to your relationship (in preparation of dealing with conflict as a team,) you will be more likely to become stronger than to be broken down.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Take Care of Yourself During the Holidays

Although the winter holiday season should be a time of enjoyment, the events associated with the season are often the cause of stress.

When we’re feeling stressed we’re much more likely to neglect our needs, but that is when we need to take care of ourselves the most! Making sure that we eat healthy foods, get plenty of rest, exercise, and take time out for relaxing activities helps bolster us and renews our physical and emotional resources.

During the holidays it is tempting to eat too much (and the wrong kinds of foods), drink too much alcohol, skip the exercise, and stay up too late. Although a little indulgence is okay, forgetting to take care of ourselves day after day leaves us physically and emotionally drained, and unable to handle the stressors that will come our way.

If you are up late one night because of a party or gift-wrapping session, make sure that you go to bed early the next night. Try to increase your physical activity by going walking after meals, and taking stairs rather than elevators. Even walking in the mall can be a great source of exercise! If you enjoy trying all of the different goodies at a party, make sure to just try a little bit of each. Then focus on the healthier foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean meats.

You may also want to ask yourself if you are truly hungry, or simply eating because the food is there. Finally, try to take some time out for yourself, even if it’s only a few minutes while you’re lying in bed in the morning. Hot baths or showers are relaxing, reading can be a great escape, and some people find meditation helpful. Everyone is different, so you will need to figure out what sort of activity provides a good way for you to take a break and decompress.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dinner Table Conversation Starters

Holiday family gatherings are a great opportunity to take time to share, talk and eat together. Of course, the holidays aren't the only occasion to enjoy lively conversation, so keep the family meal time a tradition in your household. Make it a goal to eat together as a family at least four times a week. Here are ideas for conversation starters. Pick a topic, enjoy quality time together and take the time to learn from and appreciate each other.
Name one thing that you would like to do this weekend.
If your picture were in the paper today, what would the caption say?
If you could be any type of animal, what would it be and why?
What is your favorite family tradition?
What family tradition would you like for us to start?
Talk about two things that your friends’ families do differently from ours.
Name one thing you appreciate about the person sitting on your right.
What outside activity could we do together as a family today?
What is the most interesting news you heard this week?
If you could be president, what is the first thing you would do?
What would you like to do after you finish high school?
What was the nicest thing you did for someone this week?
Tell us about your favorite food without using the name.
If you could have a super-power, what would it be?
If our family could have any animal in the world as a pet, what would you like to have? Why?
If we had a time machine, when and where would you like to visit?
If you could participate in any event in the Olympics, which event would it be? Why?
Tell us about your favorite part of the day.
If you could invite someone to dinner who would it be? Why?
If we had no electricity, what would our day be like?
If we were to write a family goal for this week, what would it be? What could we accomplish?
How could we as a family help others in our community?
Tell us a funny joke or story.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday Safety at Grandma and Grandpa's House

If Grandma and Grandpa do not usually have young children in the home, it is likely that their home isn't childproofed. In addition to not having safety locks on cabinets, gates on stairs, or covers on electrical outlets, they may also have prescription medications that aren't in a child resistant container.

Things to be especially watchful for, and which you may want to be mindful of when visiting during the holidays, include:

• If there is a pool, does it have a fence? Can the child get to the area where the pool is located?

• Are there guns in the house? Are they stored unloaded or locked in a box with bullets locked separately?

• Are medications, poisons and household cleaners out of reach? What needs to be removed, locked up or put out of reach?

• If they have a pet, do you need to take special precautions to keep children safe?

• Are there gates on the stairs? Do you need to bring a portable gate?

• How can you remove small objects, such as nuts or candy dishes so young children cannot reach them?

• Can you remove breakable objects or put them out of reach of the children?

• Are there holiday decorations, such as lights, trees, plants, artificial snow or candles that could be potentially harmful to children? What can you do to make the environment safer for your child?

• Remember that holidays can be stressful for some children. Traveling, visiting family, a disruption of the regular routine, excessive noise and getting presents can increase your child’s stress levels. Try to maintain your child’s usually routines such as sleep and nap schedules and meal times. Remember to spend plenty of one-on-one time with your children so you both can enjoy the holidays. Take along indoor and outdoor games, activities and their favorite snacks for them.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Parents Give Teens Alcohol

The discussion about the drinking age comes up with some frequency in my classes for parents with adolescents and teens. It can be a challenge that many parents face. Yet, one recent study found that parents are in fact the source of alcohol for many teens today.

Using surveys of sixth, seventh and eighth graders from a middle school in urban Chicago, researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of Florida studied alcohol use and sources of alcohol among these young teens. It’s common to hear about kids with fake ID’s who have been able to purchase alcohol and get into clubs, or older siblings and neighbors who provide alcohol to younger children. However, according to this study, social sources including family and friends were the most likely source of alcohol for these underage drinkers. In addition, parents were the primary source of alcohol to the middle school students in this study.

By the time they were in 8th grade, these students had increased their access to other sources, and were “taking alcohol from home, and getting alcohol from other adults, individuals under 21, and commercial sources”.

The researchers concluded that their findings reinforce the importance of educating parents about the impacts of providing alcohol to their children and their children’s friends. They recommended that parents who consume alcohol should be vigilant about locking up or monitoring alcohol in their homes. They also suggest that parents who provide their children with alcohol for special occasions or religious events should consider the subsequent effects, including increased risk behaviors associated with early acceptance of alcohol.

So if you’re considering supplying (or already supply) alcohol to your underage teens and their friends, you might want to consider the consequences.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Year-round Education

Year-round schooling is a hot topic among school districts across the United States, although it’s not a new idea. The first year-round school in the US opened in Indiana in 1904. What is not considered the traditional school-year calendar was designed to allow children to help their parents on the farm.

In recent decades, overcrowding, high drop-out rates and low standardized test scores have brought about a return of year-round school calendars, increasing from 410 public schools in 1985 to 3,095 in 2000.

Advantages includes: improved achievement test scores, reduced drop-out rates and more high school graduates going on to college, fewer discipline problems, improved teacher and student attendance, reduction in teacher stress, and reduction in class size. Another advantage is that minority youth tend to take advantage of educational opportunities provided through school activities occurring over breaks.

Disadvantages include findings that multi-tracks do not divide students and teachers equally in terms of ability. Also, year-round school calendars result in increased administrator and clerical burn-out, scheduling conflicts, siblings placed on different attendance schedules, less teacher enhancement opportunities and increased costs of operation.

As the debate continues, proponents honestly state that year-round schools are hard work to institute and that calendars don’t teach kids. Teachers do!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Imperfect Holidays

I wish I would have started a tradition thirty years ago. I would call this tradition “Holiday Bloopers” or “Things That Went Wrong.” This tradition wouldn’t be to remind me of my failures and short-comings, but it would serve to give us all something to laugh at years later.

Some of the best times I share with my extended family include laughing at mishaps, funny situations or down-right embarrassing moments when things didn’t quite go as planned. Perhaps we have a twisted sense of humor, but I believe hearty laughter is essential to families.

I would take photographs of each blooper. One would be of the huge pile of delicious, buttery mashed potatoes splattered on the kitchen floor when my wrist gave out and they just kept sliding out of the bowl and plopping to the floor while I (and everyone else) watched.

Another photo would be the beautiful bottoms of a dozen crispy, blackened, burned rolls – and don’t pretend you haven’t done this. And when a gift gets the wrong recipient’s name on it, such as when Uncle Henry got the lacey, pink Victoria’s Secrets unmentionables.

I don’t know why, but I just think it would be funny to see photographs of these things.

With this tradition, we would delight in any “things gone wrong” moment instead of expecting everything to be perfect and getting disappointed when it’s not. In fact, we might even search out the “photograph of the season” to add to the pile. People aren’t perfect. Families aren’t perfect. Holidays don’t have to be perfect. They just have to bring us together.

I’m hoping my children and their families will gather (in the far, far future) to laugh about some of the stupid, clumsy or embarrassing things I have done.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Teens Expect to Cohabit Before Marriage

I am constantly reminded that, just as every person is unique, every family is quite unique as well. What seems to work for some families may not work for others, whether it’s how they form their relationships or how they parent their children. Even among my own friends and relatives, what one person considers “normal,” others may think of as unacceptable. Such is the case with cohabitation before (or instead of) marriage.

Following in the footsteps of the Boomers, who redefined marriage and family in so many ways, today’s young adults often consider cohabitation not only “normal,” but almost think of it as a prerequisite to marriage. My daughter has already announced to me that she would never think about marrying someone without having lived with them – “cause you just don’t know what they’re really like until you live with them.” I cannot disagree with her about that!

In a recent study published in The Journal of Marriage and the Family, researchers found that not all teens expect to cohabit before they tie the knot, yet most still expect to marry. In fact, three quarters of the teens studied report having definite or probably expectations to marry in the future, and one quarter of those have no intention to cohabit prior to marriage. Still, about half of the teens report they expect to live with their future spouse prior to marriage. However, these teens also did not see cohabitation as a replacement for marriage.

Researchers also found that adolescents’ expectations to cohabit are based in part on two very important influences; their interactions with the opposite sex (including sexual activity as teens) and how their parents communicate their own values.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Managing the Holidays with Young Children

Holiday time provides the "stuff" of childhood memories. Parents want their children to look back at holiday celebrations and remember them as a time of wonder, joy and fun. As parents, we create the values and excitement of the holiday season. Here are a few ideas to make this time special:

Don't expect that young children, especially toddlers, will fully understand the meaning of the holiday season. Remember that most children become very exhausted during holiday time. Be aware of your child's capacity to deal with the excitement and emotions and plan their schedule with these limitations in mind.

Keep to your child's routine as much as possible. Make sure that your child's mealtime schedule is not interrupted. Hungry children quickly become cranky children. For that matter, so do some adults! It's better to feed your child his or her meal than to wait until the special, large dinner. He or she can then play quietly, watch a movie, or nap while the adults have their meal.

Don't make major changes in your child's life during the holidays. This is not the time to wean him from the bottle, pacifier or crib. To avoid overwhelming your children by the crowded mall, shop by catalog, hire someone to shop for you, or hire a baby sitter to stay home with your young ones.

Many children are afraid of sitting on Santa's lap (can you blame them?) so don't force the situation for a magic Kodak moment. Most likely, you won't get the picture you want. You might consider standing next to Santa with your child.

Grandparents and other extended family members may not be used to having small children around, so plan separate activities with your children to give everyone a break. Try taking a walk with your children, reading a book out loud, or setting up a puzzle on a table in the corner for quiet time. Remember to keep your plans simple so the entire family enjoys the holidays.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Holiday Stress

We all have an image in our head about what the holidays should be like – sort of like a Norman Rockwell painting, right? These fantasies also include a picture-perfect family and wonderful images of celebrations from our childhood. We want to capture what it felt like to be that young child. Because of this, we often have unrealistic expectations of our time, energy, money – and our children’s behavior.

Our schedules are already hectic, yet the holiday season adds more demands. We scramble to make to-do lists, buy every gift, bake every dish, pull out every decoration, get everything done.

The holidays also mark the passage of time for us with a heightened loss or loneliness for some. We also examine our personal gains and losses this time of year and we are also reminded of life stages and life changes.

Many of us have families who are scattered through the states and world – and changed family situations that can make the holidays difficult. When we do come together, the holiday season can be a catalyst for unfinished emotional business and gatherings may not always be pleasant. Yet, we expect families to get along, just like on commercials that come out at this time of year.

We work hard to make the holidays perfect for everyone and ignore our need for rest and rejuvenation.

So this year, give yourself permission to take it easy, relax and enjoy your family. And if you happen to burn the dinner rolls, then just cut the bottoms off and forgive yourself! You are perfect just the way you are!

Watch for more Holiday Survival blogs and share your ideas.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Importance of Play

Adults who watch children at play think of it as having fun, goofing off or getting rid of extra energy. Yet play is actually how children learn and is essential to their healthy cognitive, social and physical development.

Play stimulates every aspect of a child’s development. Motor skills such as walking, kicking, or skipping are strengthened by sliding and running, by jumping rope, or playing ball. Children develop their fine motor skills and hand eye coordination with art work such as finger painting and coloring.

They build their thinking skills with games that require strategy and planning to reach a goal, making choices, or solving problems such as board games, puzzles, and models. Even making mud pies teaches children about measuring and mixing.

Playing with other children also helps youngsters develop social and interpersonal skills as they take turns, share their toys, and work as a team. Plus, they have the added benefit of the sheer joy of being with a friend. Play helps children develop confidence as they learn new things. What parent can forget a child’s look of pride as he or she finally masters a task?

Playing with your child can also build your relationship as you both enjoy each other’s company and have fun together. As adults, we often forget that we, too, still have permission to play. Play is what childhood is all about, so give children reasonable freedom to explore, provide interesting play things and play together often. So go ahead, get that Cootie game out, put your skates on, or play ball with your kids today.