Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Organizing Next Year's Holidays

As wonderful as holidays are, they can be a trying time for families. While you are cleaning up and taking down and packing away all your decorations, put some thought into next year's holiday season. Ask yourself how you could make it more organized and more enjoyable. Here are some question to ask yourself:
  • Do I need to keep everything I am packing up and storing for another year? Can I eliminate 1/4 to 1/3 of this?
  • Do I really enjoy each of the items I keep?
  • Could another family member use and enjoy these things? If so, would this be a good time of year to give them away?
  • Is there a better way to store them, such as getting new tissue paper and storage containers so the things I do decide to keep don't get broken. January is the time of year when storage containers are usually on sale. Think about getting color-coded containers and be sure to label each container with contents.
  • Is there a family tradition that we continue every year, yet don't seem to enjoy? Traditions are important; they reinforce meanings in life, bind us together and provide continuity of the past.
  •  Could be eliminate an old tradition that our family has out-grown and substitue a new one that we would enjoy more? If a tradition doesn’t work for your family, establish your own traditions that better fit your family.
  • What could I do so the family is more involved in cleaning up and packing away all this stuff? For example, how about a pizza party while the tree is taken down.
  • Do we need a "Post-Holiday-Blues-Buster?" Anticipate and plan for that post-holiday slump with, for example, a post-holiday family ritual or activity. For example, I like to hide one very small present for each of the kids under the tree skirt that isn't found until we're taking down the tree. I pretend I am surprised when we find them each year, too.
  • What else could I do now that would make 2013 holiday season more enjoyable for me?


Monday, December 24, 2012

Holiday Talk

Family conversation starters for Holiday dinner
·         Name one thing you would like to do this weekend
·         If your picture were in the paper today, what would the caption say?
·         Name one thing you appreciate about the person sitting on your right.
·         What was the nicest thing you did for someone this week?
·         Tell us about your favorite food without using the name.
·         If you could participate in any Olympic event, which would it be?
·         If we were to write a family goal for this week, what would it be?
·         What is your favorite family tradition?
·         What family tradition would you like for us to start?
·         What would you like to do after you finish high school?
·         What outside activity could we do together as a family today?
·         How could we as a family help others in our community?
·         If you could invite someone to dinner who would it be? Why?
·         If we have a time machine, when and where would you like to visit?
·         Talk about two things that your friends’ families do different from ours.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

What if the Next School Shooting is at My School?

Even though the news is filled with reports of school shootings and other violence, statistically, school is the safest place for children to be.

Even if your child doesn’t bring the subject up, it’s important to talk to your child about school violence and listen to his or her thoughts and concerns on the issues. Teens are aware of social issues so talk with them about bigger issues, like gun control and what they can do to help keep their school safe.

·         It is okay to express fear at what has happened and compassion for the students and families involved in these horrors.
·         Explain that there is a difference between “being different” from other students and having sever problems that lead to extreme violence.
·         Make sure your child understands how important it is to let you or another adult know if he or she hears another child threatening violence.
·         Talk about what it might feel like to be an outcast at school and find out if your teen is having trouble fitting in.
·         Talk with your kids about constructive solving problem; help them to find appropriate solutions to problems without using violence.
Source:  A survival guide for parents of teenagers: What if the next school shooting is at my school? University of Minnesota Extension

For more information:
National School Safety Center:
National Crime Prevention Council:

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Talking to Children about Tragedies and Disasters

School shootings, natural disasters, loss of life . . . even for adults, these tragic events are difficult to understand. Children, too, may find these incidents especially troubling. Adults can help young people make sense of disasters and deal with their feelings by following a few guidelines.

For example, don't assume that children don't know what is going on. Children learn of tragic events and disasters through TV, the Internet, and their friends at school. So, be available and ready to talk. Help children open up by listening to what they think and feel. Answer their questions, but don't give them frightening details.

Let them feel anger and sadness. When we are trying to protect our children, we may not want to hear all their feelings. Hang in there. Listen and be supportive.

Share your feelings. Sometimes children may feel alone in their struggles. Let them know that you are upset by the events and tell them how you deal with your feelings. This can help children learn coping skills.

If you think your child would benefit by talking to a school psychologist, arrange for this to take place. They are trained to help families.

Reassure children and help them feel safe. Children often imagine that the same thing could happen to them. If they really are not in the line of danger, let them know that they are not at risk. Tell them that you love them, no matter what happens in the world.

Encourage children to find ways to help others, and join in. Taking action, such as raising money for a charity, can reduce stress, helps those affected by tragedy or disaster, and instills hope for the future.

Source: Family Album Radio

Monday, December 17, 2012

Managing the Stress of Tragedies: Guidelines for Families

Tragedies, such as school shootings are unsettling and stressful for children and their families. Stress makes it hard to concentrate and go about daily routines. Long-term stress can hurt a family's health. How can we recognize signs of stress overload in children, and how families can manage stress and become resilient?

Unfortunately, the world has tragic events. Children of all ages may overhear adult conversations or see acts of aggression, hostility, and death on the news. These events are unsettling and stressful for children and their parents. Stress makes it hard to concentrate and go about daily routines. Stress that lasts a long time can hurt an individual's and family's health. On the other hand, children and their families can learn to be resilient in times of stress.

Signs of Stress Overload for Adults
·         Tired all the time
·         Can't concentrate
·         Have trouble sleeping (too much or too little)
·         Use alcohol or drugs more
·         Trouble getting along with friends and family
·         Have tension headaches, stomach aches, or lower back pains
·         Feel depressed, anxious, or helpless
·         Recurrent thoughts
·         Mood changes (Irritability)
·         Decline in performance at work

Signs of Stress for Children and Teens
·         Express feeling afraid or scared
·         Very emotional
·         Grades drop suddenly; school problems
·         Extra clingy or needy
·         Go back to behaviors they've outgrown (bed wetting, thumb sucking)
·         Withdraw from others
·         Nightmares or difficulty sleeping
·         New behavior problems
·         Change in appetite

Signs of Stress in Families
·         More disagreements that aren't solved
·         Family members pull apart from each other
·         Family members become too close and clingy
·         Blaming one or two family members for problems
·         More problems with children, like unruly behavior or poor school performance
·         Strain between spouses/partners

What Families Can Do to Manage Stress and Become Resilient
·         Listen to children. Don't push aside their fears. Answer their questions and let them share their feelings. Tell them that you will do everything you can to help them stay safe.
·         Talk with others. Don't withdraw. Tell family members and friends about your feelings. Encourage your children to talk about their feelings.
·         Follow daily family routines and work together. Children thrive on predictable patterns of waking, eating, working, and sleeping. All children like to feel that they are important to their family. Work together to get things done.
·         Limit exposure to TV programs about tragedies. Adults may want to be glued to the television to get the latest updates, but this can be harmful for children. If you do watch, limit the amount of time and make sure to discuss with children what they saw.
·         Spend time together. Make your home a fun, welcoming and emotionally safe place. Do things together as a family, such as puzzles, games and outdoor activities.
·         Reassure children and help them feel safe.  
·         Take time to relax. Cut down on stressful activities. (It is especially important that children not be exposed to explicit news coverage.) Schedule times to do whatever you find relaxing.
·         Get physical. Regular exercise reduces stress. Walk, bike, garden, work out with your children.
·         Avoid alcohol and cigarettes. These cloud your judgment and lower your energy.
·         Think positively. Try to be optimistic about the future. Remember that your family and the country have survived hard times before. Seek spiritual support in whatever ways help you.
·         Feeling in control is helpful in a stressful situation. You may want to talk about establishing simple family emergency plans.
·         If you notice a change in your child’s behavior, take the time to talk and listen to your child. Some children will pay little or no attention to tragic events, while others will dwell on it. Remember, you are the expert on your child.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Childproofing your Home

As adults we often don’t see the dangers that lurk in our homes for babies and toddlers. As new parents one of the first tasks we take on is “baby-proofing” our home, often beginning with locks on the cupboards, plugs in the electric sockets and moving breakable items out of harm’s way.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 2 ½ million children are injured or killed by hazards in the home each years. However, armed with information, a little time, and relatively small budget, a few simple child safety devices can help parents and care providers prevent most accidents.

For example, most parents begin with the safety latches for kitchen and bathroom cabinets to protect curious toddlers form access to medicines, household clearness and sharp objects. Doorknob covers and locks, safety gates and window guards will also keep toddlers away from dangerous places.

Smoke detectors throughout the home are essential safety devices to protect the family from fire deaths and injuries. Carbon monoxide detectors outside bedrooms can also prevent unintentional poisoning. Also consider cutting window blind cords and replacing them with safety tassels and inner cord stops to help prevent children from strangling in blind cord loops.

It’s a good idea for parents of young children to crawl around on the floor to gain a child’s prospective when child-proofing their home.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Resilience in Stepfamilies

As we watch the trends in marriage and divorce in the U.S., we know that for some time now the divorce rate has hovered right around 50 percent. For many families, divorce is followed by remarriage.

In an effort to identify the strengths and weaknesses in remarried families and how they might best succeed, research recently published in the American Journal of Family Therapy studied 38 remarried families with children to determine what made some more resilient than others.

The study found that there were several important resilience factors in these remarried families. What mattered most was that stepfamilies had a love and respectful bond, communicated in caring and loving ways, could manage stressful situations, and spent more time together.

These successful families also have “a strong marriage relationship” as well as strong social supports from friends and family. “Spirituality and religion” also helped a family’s resilience by giving them a feeling that there was “meaning and purpose beyond crisis situations.”

These researchers conclude that remarriages are more successful when families see themselves as “challenged by adversity” rather than what some view as damaged because their previous marriages had failed. They suggest that pre-marital and family enrichment programs can help build the skills that will help these families overcome adversity and increase their chance of success.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Effect of Hospitalization on Older Couples

Very often the tale is told of an elderly couple for whom the loss of one spouse is more than the other can bear—and the other partner dies relatively soon thereafter. Referred to as the bereavement effect, this phenomenon has been well studied and documented. Likewise, research has explored the weighty effect that a spouse’s illness has on the caregiving partner, also called caregiver burden. Studies have shown that declines in physical and mental health of a spouse are often linked to a decrease in their partner’s health.

While we might romanticize that these couples suffer or die from a “broken heart,” new research reported in The New England Journal of Medicine has revealed a number of factors that may have serious consequences for spouses who are widowed or caregiving. For example, researchers have discovered the type of illness can have a significant impact.

Additionally, spousal illness or death may deprive a partner of emotional, economic, social, and other practical support. Lack of support and related stress can also adversely affect a surviving or caregiving spouse’s immune system, placing them at higher risk. Finally, the widowed spouse may begin to exhibit harmful behaviors such as drinking, poor eating habits, or high-risk activities after the illness or loss of a loved one.

Better understanding the potential problems elderly couples face when one spouse becomes ill or hospitalized can help families, healthcare providers, and policy makers better prepare to help them.

Donna Davis, senior producer, Family Album Radio, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Prevent Holiday Exhaustion, Disappointment and Burnout

To control your stress during the holidays, it’s important to have a balance of socializing with others and being by yourself. Give yourself time to reflect on the past year and time to think about what you want for the coming year. Set one or two goals for next year. This doesn’t mean a lengthy New Year’s Resolution list, but a few things you want to accomplish.

Keep a positive attitude. Find something you enjoy in each activity and event. Limit time with negative people as much as you can.

It’s important that you take care of yourself throughout the year and especially important during the holidays. This means watching what you eat and drink, getting enough rest and exercising. Take care of your own needs and pace yourself.

If you are getting together with relatives or returning to your parent’s home, anticipate what might happen and be prepared with a non-defensive response. Be realistic about your family and don’t use holiday celebrations to settle old conflicts. Plan on taking a quiet walk when people get to be too much.

Remember to engage in fun activities that aren’t costly so that you can focus on the true meaning and essence of the holidays. As a family, plan an event which involves helping the less fortunate.
Spend time individually with each child so they get the attention they need during the busy holiday season.

Practicing stress management exercises will help control your stress, too. For a free on-line stress management workshop ,go to:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

How Family Environment Influences Teens

Many parents, after years of hearing how horrible raising a teenager can be, are surprised when they find that living with teenagers is not just a pleasant experience, but a fulfilling and wonderful adventure. Teenagers can be very enjoyable to be around!

According to a recent study conducted by Child Trends and the National Adolescent Health Information Center, there are plenty of parents who enjoy their teens. In a national sample of mothers and fathers, more than 75% of parents reported having very close relationships with their adolescent children. Their teens seem to agree as a majority of teens (68%) reported being able to talk to their mothers about things that really bother them. The teens that were studied found it more difficult to talk to their fathers, yet about 50% said they were able to do so.

According to the research, family structure also makes a difference. Teens with two biological parents living at home were among the largest group reporting very close relationships with their parents at 82%. The numbers drop, but still remain healthy with 78% reporting very close relationships with their single mothers and 72% are close to one biological parent and one stepparent.

Other family factors influence their adolescent well-being including parental health behaviors. For example, foreign-born teens are more likely to eat family meals together, parents who don’t smoke are less likely to have teens that smoke, and parents who exercise are more likely to have active teens as well.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Baby Boomer Family Life

The first of the baby boomers are getting a lot of press lately as they turn 60. Researchers have been exploring how this large generation impacts not only our political and cultural climate, but our families as well.

First, boomers have paved the way to more diverse family lives. They have "delayed marriage to a degree never recorded in the United States" and, as young adults, were more likely than any other generation to leave home and set up their own households before marriage. They are also more likely to "live together" outside of marriage. So many boomer couples have done this that we tend to forget how rare and frowned-upon this once was.

Second, boomers have looked for marriage based on a strong emotional bond and room for each person to develop as an individual. These demands on married life can make it unstable. Boomers' high rates of divorce and common remarriage have reinforced a family pattern of "serial monogamy."

Third, boomers have transformed family roles and relationships: "Boomer women have redefined the role of mother to 'working mother' by combining motherhood with work outside the home". Fathers have also become more involved in family life, spending more time with their children and in sharing the housework.

Because these arrangements and roles are new, boomers have had to develop their own ways of doing things and, some suggest, "have often been confused by their own lives". But boomers really are paving the way for new ways of family life in the larger U.S. society.

Suzanna Smith, associate professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Television and Babies' Sleep

There are a number of video and television programs that have been made for children under the age of three. At times it may be fun to watch your baby or toddler bounce or dance along with the characters on the screen. Many busy caregivers also use these shows to give themselves a little time for a needed break or to prepare a meal or tidy up. However, watching television may not be best for your baby or toddler's sleep.

New research has found that children under the age of three who watch television are at risk of having an irregular sleep schedule. This means that the child's naptimes and bedtime vary daily, and this can lead to other problems. Irregular sleep schedules can result in your baby or toddler not getting enough sleep and to sleep problems that can affect your child's mood, behavior, learning and health.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of two should not watch any television, and children over the age of two should be limited to two hours of television a day.

A great alternative to turning on the television for your baby or toddler is to provide them with a safe place, such as a playpen with age-appropriate toys, or to put on some music and sing and dance with them. Watching you is just as fun to your child as watching a character on television, and it is a good way to play or spend time with your child. Plus, the exercise and laughter can be a stress reliever for you too

Suzanna Smith, associate professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Adult Children of High-Conflict Marriages

Most of us have probably heard someone declare that they had remained in their marriage "for the sake of the kids." Research suggests, however, that this logic may not hold up. In the long run, children whose parents are in high-conflict marriages may not be any better off than children whose parents divorce.

While divorce has been shown to create significant negative outcomes for many children over the course of their lives, new research shows that conflict in marriage can have lasting effects into adulthood as well.

Researchers from Penn State University compared adult children of low-conflict and high-conflict intact marriages and adult children of divorce. They found that adult children of high-conflict marriages had poorer relations with parents, experienced lower self-esteem, and reported less happiness or satisfaction in key life areas than those adult children from low-conflict marriage or divorce.

Even as adults, the children from high-conflict marriages felt caught between their parents—forced to choose sides in a hostile environment. Both sons and daughters of high-conflict marriages had weaker ties with their parents as a result of their parents' conflict.

Surprisingly, adult children of divorce felt less "caught in the middle" than those who had chronically conflicted parents who did not divorce. The researchers conclude that "unlike children of divorce, children with parents in conflicted marriages (who do not divorce) may be unable to escape from their parents' marital problems – even into adulthood".

Donna Davis, senior producer, Family Album Radio, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Grandmother Hypothesis

Whether making family trips across country or simply traveling down the street to grandma’s house, many of us know how important grandmothers can be in their adult children’s and grandchildren’s lives.

Although in the modern Western world, grandmothers may sometimes seem to play a less central role in family life than in traditional societies, historically grandmothers have taken care of grandchildren, gathered food, and taken care of housework while their adult children were busy working in the fields or market place. In some countries today, grandmothers continue to provide these important functions.

In fact, researchers studying human evolutionary behavior proposed the “grandmother hypothesis”, suggesting that after menopause, older women continue to benefit families by supporting their children and helping their grandchildren survive.

While some scientists question this hypothesis, researchers in The Republic of the Gambia found that “between the first and second years, the presence of a maternal grandmother” significantly reduced child mortality. Another study of Canadian and Finish villagers showed that adult children had more children and raised more to adulthood when they had a living grandmother present.

In Ethiopia, where grandmothers “relieved their daughters of heavy domestic tasks” they had a positive effect on child survival.

And while worldwide we continue to discuss how to care for the growing number of older adults, the grandmother hypothesis reminds us that the flow of help is often from older to young generations..

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How Do you Teach a Toddler Good Manners?

With Thanksgiving and Christmas, just around the corner, how do you get your two to four year olds to say “please and thank you”? It’s never too early to teach them good manners. Try the following steps:

1.    Begin with two or three nice words such as "please" "thank you" and "excuse me" and then introduce more as your child begins to grasp their understanding.
2.    Be persistent and consistent. It may take time, but young ones are smart and will get it. Teaching manners early in life will help your children once they leave the house.
3.    Lead by example. Teaching good manners begins with you. You must “walk the talk and talk the talk” yourself. If you do it first, your children will mirror your actions, so you want it to be a good reflection!
4.    Give positive feedback when they use the right words or when they show you how to wait in a line patiently or help a friend put away toys. Let them know how polite and thoughtful their actions are to others.
5.    Have fun with it. Teaching manners is the first step in getting your child to think beyond himself. The first time you see the benefits could be when you’re out of the house, around others, or visiting Grandma and Grandpa.