Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Family Anxiety and the Economy

Current research points to the important fact that finances are a huge source of family stress. Dr. Malcom Smith, Family Life Specialist with the University of New Hampshire Extension Service says, “If the stress resulting from financial worries and struggles isn’t carefully handled, it can result in serious emotional turmoil in the family. This is a good time to have a good sit-down family meeting about the economy.”

If you have children, they have probably picked up on cues from you, the media, friends or other family members that there’s a lot of worry about the economy. Real fears about mortgages, bank failures, retirement-savings depletion, company layoffs and closings, raises and benefits being over-turned have us all worrying. Children are sensitive to their parents’ worries.

Here are some tips for talking to your family about the tough economy:

• Open up lines of communication. This is not the time to just hold a “stiff upper lip” and keep everything bottled up inside. The more information you share with your children, the better they will be able to be resilient to economic stress.

• Be straight but age-appropriate. Children are very sensitive to offhand comments, like “there goes our savings” or “I don’t know how we’re going to make it.” Instead, have a realistic discussion with each member of the family that’s geared towards their particular age and situation. What a young child needs to know is that you have a plan, that they are going to be cared for and that although things are different, they are going to be OK. Let teenagers know how they can help.

• Be sensitive to signs of distress. When family members aren’t sleeping or eating properly, when your children are having nightmares or look worried, it may be time for some old-fashioned family time. Turn off the TV and share some time doing inexpensive, fun things.

• Be deliberate, make a plan, and share it with everyone. Careful planning is the best way to beat tough economic times. Try to be proactive about what might lie ahead for you. Share the plan with your family and look for opportunities for them to contribute to the plan.

• This is a great time to instill good financial values in your children. Talk to them about saving, about how to pitch in. Teach them about how finances work, so they will feel both included and in control.

• Be optimistic for your family’s sake. Don’t create more stress on your family. Once you have a plan, spread the hope. The lesson of the Great Depression is that we did recover because of the resilience and ingenuity of the American family.

• Get help if you need it. Monitor your own stress levels. Marital problems, depression and emotional turmoil are often side effects of economic stress. If your employer has an employee assistance program, this may be a good time to use it.

One thing historical research tells us is that hard times pass. However, your personal recovery program will depend at least in part on the strength and resilience of your most important asset, your family!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Staying Connected when Away from your Children

No matter the length of time, nor the reason for parents becoming separated from their children and families, there are ways to stay connected. It is very important to children to have regular communication. Regular means communication they can expect and look forward to. It could be weekly, daily, or every other day. The point is to keep the lines open. Doing so will make the separation and transition periods go much more smoothly.

Use of online technology – emails, blogs, webcams and chat rooms are ways to communicate with all ages including partners, children and adult parents. With children, think about writing a story, asking about school or friends so they will write back in response to your questions, sending photo attachments, or sending websites to visit that are appropriate for children then talking about them in the next communication.

Paper communication – letter writing is not a dead art. A hand-written and mailed letter is very special. Enclosing a photograph, a journal of thoughts, a made-up story, or a personally made card are ways to communicate in writing. In addition, children can save these and share them with their friends or at school.

Videos, DVDs and audio files are great ways to stay in touch. Having a parent record their voice reading a series of children’s books for bedtime is a wonderful way to keep your voice in the child’s world.

Books can also help children begin to address their complex emotions. When reading, the point is not simply to read through the book but use the book as a tool for discussion. Once children begin to question or open-up, pause the reading and talk, affirm their safety and comfort them.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The End of the Day

Walking in the door with your children at the end of the day can be a stressful time. Think about all the jobs you and your children have to do before bed . . . fix dinner, eat dinner, clean up after dinner, open the mail, do homework, feed the dog, run a load of laundry, put the trash by the road, get lunches ready for the next day, fold the laundry, look over school papers, etc.

Two of the most stressful times with children are the end of the day when you get home and when you are getting ready in the morning. These are times when things can spin out of control.

Often parents turn to TV or a DVD to entertain their children just to buy them some peace and quiet. Although this is ok occasionally, when it is over-used, we find that by the time our children are school-age, they have become nearly addicted to electronic screens.

Here’s an idea: Invest 5 minutes to save 10 minutes. Try to spend at least 5 minutes with your children right after you get home. Your child has actually missed you and needs to reconnect.

Instead of hitting the ground running, build “together time” into your evening. Get down on the floor and play a game with them, relax with your feet up and practice deep breathing exercises together, sit at the table together and play of game of 3 questions each.

Once your child has reconnected with you, they can feel more self-assured and can be on their own while you change clothes or start dinner. Remember to include them in household tasks – because they are an important part of the family and have a valuable role to play in the way the household functions. Give them each a fun job in the kitchen every evening so they can stay close to you while chores get done. You will find that 5 minutes can lead to much more than 10 minutes saved!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New Evidence in Adolescent Risk Taking

If you’ve ever been around a teenager, you’ve likely heard the line, “What were you thinking?” The thought process of teenagers has not only been a mystery to most of the parents and adults who live and work with teens, but has been the center of numerous studies trying to unravel the logic, or perceived lack thereof, of the teenage brain.

Conventional wisdom and years of research have pointed to the sense of invincibility teens seem to enjoy, or the lack of ability to reason due to incomplete brain development, as causes for high risk teen behaviors. However, according to a recent report from researchers at Cornell and Temple Universities, on many occasions teens may actually be more rational in their judgments than adults.

They explain that while adults don’t take the time to calculate the risks of certain behaviors because they are already intuitively aware of them and wouldn’t even consider taking such risks, teens do take the time to weigh the risks and benefits. Some teens seek the thrill of frisk taking and will choose the risk because they believe the short-term benefits out-weigh the long-term consequences - even when they completely understand those consequences. Other teens may not intend to take the risks, but do so on impulse or under the influence of emotion.

The researchers point out that intervention messages that warn teens or risks may actually backfire among the teens who are drawn to risk because such messages become appealing. Instead they recommend interventions that help youth develop more mature, intuitive reactions that help them to avoid taking risks altogether!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

From what do children learn most?

From where or what do children learn most? Would you say from television, adult role models or from other children they play with?

Although children do pick up information from other children and from television, adult role models are actually the strongest influence. Children really do watch adults for all sorts of things. This can be good news if the adults model appropriate behavior. However, if there are no positive role models available or the role models are watching excessive TV, then television will be the next most powerful influence. That’s a bit disturbing, yes?

Studies are finding that “screen time” (including television, video games, computers, etc) may contribute to Attention Deficit Disorder. As parents, we should think twice before investing in video games and disallow games with violence and profanity. Preview games before allowing children to use them. The mother parent of several young children recently told me that her kids spent a lot of time playing video games and that one day she actually took some time to watch one game. The violence of it made her decide to remove that game from their home selection. I suggested she also limit her children’s time on the games she does approve.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggest limiting all media use to no more than two hours per day, and none at all for children under the age of two. Parents should watching television with children instead of creating a cheap baby-sitting of the TV. Remove television sets and computers from children’s bedroom and monitor all media exposure, including movies.

As a parent, you can re-evaluate your practices. Don’t let screen time get out of control. Media addiction is a real and growing phenomena!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dealing with Deployment of Family Member

Dealing with family separation as a parent deploys is tough on the family. The first stage in a separation occurs when the family receives notice of the pending departure. Emotions may range from feelings of loss to denial, such as asking “Do you really have to go?”

The person leaving will begin to get their affairs in order for their departure. Everyone affected over the pending separation feels stress. Children may sense the stress and act out, have tantrums or regress to more child-like or infant-like behaviors, such as sucking a bottle or pacifier or toileting accidents. As a family, how do you prepare emotionally? Here are some ideas:

• Have a family meeting to talk about the up-coming separation. Parents should be consistent with each other so children understand that normal expectations still apply.

• Discuss how the family will continue to communicate and be in tough with one another during the separation time.

When the individual actually leaves, there will be mixed emotions ranging from anger to relief that the anticipation is over. Family members may feel a sense of being overwhelmed, numb, sad or alone. It is important to:

• Continue weekend or bedtime routines. Continue family traditions on holidays, birthdays, etc.

• Use visuals like a calendar or a timeline to help children understand when communication will occur or when reunification will happen. However, be careful about making promises that you have no control over.

• Develop a support system of friends, family and others who are experiencing the same transitions.

• Ask for help when you need it. Your family, friends and neighbors will probably be very happy to lend a helping hand when the family needs it.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Holiday Gifts when Parents are Divorced

How can mothers and fathers who parent apart approach holiday giving?

The University of Minnesota Extension suggests that, when possible, both parents should communicate with each other about their child's wants and needs. Wants are those things she says she can't live without, but you know aren't necessary, such as a new video game. Needs on the other hand, are things that are necessary to have - a new jacket, underwear, clothes that fit and a host of other items that chip away at the family budget.

Once the wants and needs are determined, the parents can decide who will purchase which items from both lists. Balancing wants and needs is also much easier on each parent's budget - and children will benefit from having some of the items they have on their wish list and others they will use every day. Sometimes a child's needs are different at each household. In this case, the child may want to make a list for each parent of what they wish for and the parents may decide individually what to give.

Parents who parent apart can and do encounter pitfalls. Trying to be the parent who spends the most money on your children's gifts can turn giving into a contest where each parent tries to out-do the other with lavish and not very useful gifts. This is no gift for your child - giving your child too much, too soon, that doesn't meet their real needs, is a set up for overindulgence. You won’t win this war!

Criticizing the other parent's gift challenges your child's sense of loyalty to the other parent. When a child can't enjoy a gift because of your hostility, you are undermining your child's relationship with both of you. Be supportive, even if you don't share their excitement.

Sometimes gifts are specific to a particular household, and should stay there. However this isn't always the case. Remember, the gift is your child’s and they should be able to enjoy it at both homes. This is particularly true when the gift helps comfort your child.

It’s not always easy communicating with your child’s other parent, but it’s certainly worth the effort!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Holiday gifts for kids don't require big spending

Purdue University Extension offers parents alternatives to over-spending on their children this year with four ways to give inexpensive gifts

• purchase less expensive toys

• shop for used items

• make your own toys

• give certificates to do something.

When shopping for inexpensive or used toys, you still have to watch out for safety and quality. It's not a bargain if it breaks right away. Look for the classic toys - blocks, sturdy dolls or sturdy stuffed animals. The best toys don't do a lot by themselves. They stimulate a child's creativity and imagination. Make sure the toy was originally safe and still is. Such items, which can often be found in stores that sell used toys or used children's clothing, should not have chipped paint or broken edges.

Homemade toys have several benefits. The great thing about homemade toys is they are inexpensive and flexible. Sometimes you can make them with the child, and you can often remake them into another type of toy. An example of a homemade gift is a puzzle that can be made by taking a piece of paperboard, like the back of a cereal box, and cutting it into several pieces.

Another idea is to create a play prop box. You take a box and fill it with items that are all related to a kind of role playing. You could have a hair salon prop box with hair rollers, combs, brushes and a hair dryer that doesn't work. Or you could make a store prop box with empty food containers, play money, bags and baskets. Often they are things you could find around the house anyway, but gathering them in one place stimulates play.

Certificates for activities can be anything from a ticket to do the child's chores around the house for a day, a date with mom or dad, tickets to play games, or a music night. Kids can turn in a ticket at bedtime or use the ticket to say up all night - they have to give a day's notice to make sure parents don't have anything else they need to do instead.

You can still have a special time at the holidays during hard economic times. You can talk with kids about financial problems, but don't overwhelm them with the concern. Holidays are all about hope, and it can be a time for the whole family to look toward a better future.