A Parents’ Holiday Survival Guide

Reduce stress and increase joy this year!

The song says it’s the most wonderful time of the year. And, in a lot of ways, it is wonderful. Something about the season seems to bring out the best in many folks. However, too much of a good thing can lead to serious meltdowns for children and parents alike.

As you prepare to enjoy a wonderful season with your family ahead of time, here is your “parents’ holiday survival guide.”

  • When it comes to your children, keep your expectations realistic. During the holidays, everything they are used to in the way of bedtime, the food they eat, who they spend time with and more gets thrown to the wind. While it is tons of fun, children can only take so much before they move into overload – and we all know that never ends well. Everyone will be happier if you can keep some semblance of routine and structure.
  • Talk with your children about your plans for each day. Just like adults, it’s helpful if kids know what to expect. Keep it simple. Share the highlights.
  • Keep your cool. When your child has a meltdown, it can be a challenge for you not to have one, too. Yelling and getting angry will only make matters worse, so stop and take a deep breath. Then, if possible, take your child to a quiet place where they can regain control.
  • If you can, try to spread out the celebrations instead of doing everything in a 48-hour period. While it’s hard to say no to the grandparents, putting boundaries in place can make the celebrations more enjoyable for everyone, even if you celebrate on a different day. A note to grandparents: Your adult children often find it difficult to tell you no without feeling guilty. Asking your grown children what works best for them could really help them as they plan to celebrate.

Survival guide for co-parenting during the holidays:

  • Talk about the fact that transitions are difficult. Sometimes just saying, “I don’t have a choice and you don’t have a choice; now how are we going to make the best of this situation?” can make things better for your child.
  • Make a plan. Discuss how to make the transition easier. Then use your time together to make it a special celebration.
  • Be prepared. Help them understand the possibility of a last-minute change in plans. Ask them what they would like to do instead and acknowledge the pain they may feel.
  • Stay in the parent role. While it might be tempting to be your child’s buddy, that is not what they need from you. It is very difficult to go back to being the parent once you have crossed that line. Before you make or change plans, think about how it will affect your child.
  • Children will follow your lead. If you have a bad attitude about the holidays, your children will probably follow suit. Set a positive mood for a holiday to remember.

Planning for bumps in the road beforehand can reduce holiday stress in your family and increase the chances for a joyful holiday. Wherever you find yourself, choose now to make the best of the days ahead.

Other blogs:

How to Navigate the Holidays as a Divorced Parent

5 Tips to Help Your Marriage Survive the Holidays

Fun Ways for Families to Connect During the Holidays

Looking for more? Watch this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

Why Anger Isn’t Good or Bad

What you do with it can either build up or destroy relationships.

Have you ever come home from work with an expectation that blew up right in your face?

Your “quiet evening at home” turns chaotic when one of your children says they have a science project due tomorrow and your other child suddenly needs cupcakes for the class party. So much for a calm evening after an exhausting day.

You head to the grocery store for supplies and your spouse begins to oversee the science project. When you return, you realize you should have also picked up some lice-killing shampoo.

You have no idea what time you actually fell into bed, but the alarm blares far too soon. You get up with an edge and start barking out orders to everyone. “Comb your hair! Get the dog out before she has an accident. Where are the lunches you were supposed to pack last night?” At this point, it doesn’t seem like anybody is going to have a good day.

On the way to work, as you yell at the drivers around you, you realize you are angry. The question is, “Why?”

Researchers tell us anger is a secondary emotion, the tip of the iceberg so to speak. It’s the primary emotion – things like hurt, unmet expectations, frustration, disrespect, lack of trust, dishonesty, loneliness, jealousy, rejection, betrayal, disappointment, helplessness and exhaustion – that drives the anger.

In many instances, people don’t stop long enough to figure out what is fueling their anger. While anger itself is not good or bad, how you handle it impacts not only you, but also those around you – your family, co-workers and friends.

Studies show that the emotional part of our brain processes information in two milliseconds. In contrast, the rational part of the brain processes information in 500 milliseconds – 250 times longer. Simply put, it is much easier to react than to slow down and respond.

Researchers studying couples in conflict asked them to hit the pause button before arguing so a videographer could film the argument in real-time. In many instances, the couple had calmed down and moved on before the videographer even arrived.

If you struggle with anger, here are four steps that can help you get a good handle on it.

  • First, determine what is driving your feelings. For the parent who expected a quiet evening at home – unmet expectations, disappointment and exhaustion could be driving the anger, in addition to not knowing or forgetting about the cupcakes and the science project.

  • Next, acknowledge the feelings in a beneficial way. Instead of stuffing them inside or spewing them all over everybody, consider how you will share your feelings. Statements such as, “I feel frustrated when you wait until the last minute to ask for my help with the science project,” are more likely to elicit a conversation than if you lose it.

  • Then, determine a course of action. You may decide to help your child this time. Later on, you can calmly share that you may or may not be able to help the next time they wait until the last minute.

  • Finally, make a plan for the future. Use this as an opportunity to talk about appropriate ways to deal with anger.

So many adults say they never saw their parents actually deal with their anger. They saw the anger, but never learned what to do with it. Teaching your kids that anger isn’t bad or good – it’s what you do with it that can build up or destroy relationships – could be one of the greatest gifts you give them.

But don’t stop there. Model for them what it looks like to be good and angry.

Choosing a Summer Camp for Your Kids

Get those summer plans in motion with the perfect camp for your child.

Just hearing the words, “summer camp” can make people smile. Why? Because it’s hard to forget a summer filled with new friendships and learning new things. This is true whether it involves sports, cooking over an open fire, identifying wildlife, stringing a bow or shooting an arrow. And since school will be out soon, choosing a summer camp now can help you set those summer plans in motion.

The good news is, there are plenty of camp options for everything from the zoo, coding and nature, to scouting, sports and cooking experiences. And, many local organizations offer both day and residential summer camps. There’s something for every kid out there.

The camp experience can be good for kids in many ways. It may help them:

  • mature socially, emotionally, intellectually, morally and physically;

  • discover and explore their talents, interests and values;

  • build self-confidence and increase independence as they learn how to navigate relationships away from their parents; and,

  • try new things and develop leadership skills.

So, how do you choose a camp that fits your child’s personality and needs?

The American Camp Association (ACA) website has suggestions for you as you make decisions. Here are a few for you to think about.

  • What is the camp’s philosophy? Does it complement your parenting style? Is the camp competitive or cooperative?

  • What is the camp director’s background? At a minimum, a camp director should have a bachelor’s degree and camp administration experience.

  • What is the ratio of counselors to campers? Depending on the age and ability of the campers, the medium range is one staff member for every seven to eight campers.

  • How old are the counselors? ACA standards recommend that 80 percent or more of the program staff be 18 or older. Additionally, at least 20 percent of the program/administrative staff must have a bachelor’s degree.

  • How does the camp handle poor behavior and discipline? Positive reinforcement, assertive role-modeling and a sense of fair play are generally regarded as key components of camp leadership.

Another good idea is to research references and camp policies, such as visitation, dealing with homesickness or other adjustment issues.

If your child is camping for the first time, you’ll want to make sure they are ready. Just because you think they are old enough doesn’t mean they are emotionally prepared.

Remember to include your child in the camp decision-making process. If you choose an overnight camp, be sure they can spend the night away from home and can handle being away from you. (By the way, sleepovers at Grandma’s don’t count!) Discuss what to do if they get homesick.

Also, prepare them to meet people who are different from them. Let them know they will encounter bugs and other creepy-crawly things if camp is outdoors.

Each year, more than 14 million children go to camp. Parents say it greatly impacts their child’s ability to get along with others, willingness to learn something new and how they feel about themselves.

Summer camp can be a home away from home. And, when the camp is right for your child, it can provide great fun, lasting memories and personal discovery.

Spring Break Safety Tips

Talk about staying safe and put a plan in place.

If you have teens or college-age young adults, you’ve probably had (or soon will have) ongoing conversations about how they’ll spend their break.

As kids try to get permission (and money!) for the trip, you’ll hear phrases like: 

“I’m almost an adult. This is a rite of passage.” Or, “It’s what college students do. We go to the beach and hang out.”

The pressure is on for sure. But before you give in…

Here’s what research shows about spring break safety issues:

  • The average male reported drinking 18 drinks per day, compared to 10 drinks for the average female.
  • Of 783 young people surveyed, more than 50 percent of men and 40 percent of women said they drank until they became sick or passed out at least once.
  • The U.S. State Department’s “Spring Break in Cancun” says that alcohol is involved in most arrests, accidents, violent crimes and deaths suffered by American tourists there.

This is a major issue on some Florida beaches, so places like Gulf Shores and Orange Beach police departments have taken precautionary measures to avoid problems. These cities have already posted open letters on Facebook to spring breakers.

“We have said it before, but just so we are clear… if your top priorities when visiting the beach are being drunk and disorderly; breaking what you consider to be small rules like underage drinking, littering and leaving glass on the beach, urinating in public, using drugs, or engaging in violent or indecent behavior, Gulf Shores is definitely not the place for you.”

Risk-taking peaks during adolescence.

Instead of weighing risks based on logic and wisdom, teens are usually more concerned about how their choices will impact their peer relationships. They see being unaccepted relationally as a threat.

While a teen might usually make good choices, science shows that adding friends to the mix changes things. It makes them more likely to take risks for the reward of acceptance instead of considering the cost. The presence of other spring breakers can make it seem like the rewards of risk outweigh any consequences.

If your goal is for your spring breaker to be safe, consider these things:

  • Even if they don’t like the idea, you may decide to go along if you feel they aren’t ready to fly solo. You don’t have to constantly hover, but checking in regularly with an adult can decrease the potential for poor decision-making.
  • Help unsupervised teens and young adults prepare well. Discuss their plans and where they are staying. Establish clear expectations about everything from social media and location check-in to communicating with you by phone at designated times.
  • Address the dangers of underage drinking, meeting up with strangers and the potential consequences (legal and otherwise) for poor choices. They also need to know how to protect themselves from sexual assault, date rape, drugs and the like.

READ:

Ultimately, the goal is to keep people safe over spring break. We all know that one irresponsible decision or crazy social post can change someone’s life. (Check out How to Talk to Your Teen About Drinking.)

Most of us would probably agree: It’s better to leave no stone unturned than to wish we had said something. Don’t be afraid to be “that parent.” You know, the one who encourages new experiences, knowing that a strong foundation can help them make the most of their opportunities.

5 Tips for Raising Good Kids

Harvard psychologists say these things really matter.

Any parent headed home with their first child is probably a bit nervous about this whole parenthood thing. You really want to raise good kids, but unfortunately, each unique baby doesn’t come with its own manual.

Whether you shop local or go to Amazon for parenting help, hundreds of books offer different perspectives on the best way to raise good children. In spite of the many approaches, however, a group of Harvard psychologists found that it really boils down to some very basic strategies.

1. Spend time with your children. 

It’s often tempting to be in the same room with your child as they play with toys or a computer while you check email or social media. That isn’t what the researchers are talking about. Engage them in play, look into their eyes and read a book with them. Learn about their friends, find out what they think about school and that sort of thing. By doing this, you’re teaching them how to show care for another person and that they are a priority to you.

2. Model the behavior you want to see. 

It’s easy to have one set of expectations for children and another set for adults. In some cases this makes sense, but when it comes to teaching your children, they are like sponges. They take in all you do. Everything from how you care for yourself and let others talk to you, to how you deal with a difficult personal situation or how you handle anger teaches them right from wrong and what it means to be an upstanding citizen. When you model the behavior you want to see, it is a powerful thing.

3. Show your child how to care for others and set high ethical expectations. 

Children believe the world revolves around them. When you involve them in caring for others, especially people who are different from you, they learn they will not always be the center of attention and that all people matter. They also see what it looks like to share with others without being selfish.

Even the little moments can teach your child about being an honest and ethical person. When the cashier gives you too much change and you return the money instead of keeping it, they see. Or when your child sneaks something in their pocket after you said they couldn’t have it and you make them return it and apologize – that’s a teaching moment.

 4. Teach your child to be appreciative and grateful. 

Parents usually start with please, thank you and you’re welcome. Giving your child age appropriate chores and thanking them for doing their part also teaches them about appreciation and gratitude. Teaching them how to write thank you notes and to think about others’ feelings and needs is also useful. [Check out our Gratitude Challenge!]

5. Teach them how to see beyond themselves. 

Find ways to show them a world beyond their family and close friends. Help them appreciate differences in ethnicity. Talk with them about other places in the world, rituals, customs, living conditions, etc. By doing this you are expanding their world.

The children in the Harvard study thought their own happiness and self-esteem was really important to their parents. Instead of being overly concerned that kids are always happy, you can emphasize how to be kind to others in their world, whether it’s the bus driver, the Walmart greeter or the referee at the sports event. Focusing on these things will help you raise children who are caring, kind, courageous and responsible.

4 Ways to Keep Your Kids Safe

Make sure your child knows what is ok and what isn't.

People across America paid close attention to news about missing teen Elizabeth Thomas and her alleged kidnapper, Tad Cummins. After a nationwide manhunt, authorities continued to uncover evidence of an inappropriate romantic relationship between the girl and her 50-year-old teacher. Experts now believe Cummins had been grooming the student for a while.

This is a parent’s worst nightmare. And unfortunately, headlines like these have become far too frequent.

Every day, hundreds of thousands of parents entrust their children to teachers, coaches and youth ministers.

The vast majority of these people truly have the heart to help children. There are some bad apples in the mix, however, which can complicate things.

No parent wants to believe this could happen to their child. Your greatest desire is to keep your kids safe. But, how do you help your child guard against something like this without scaring them?

According to Kidpower International, an organization dedicated to providing empowering and effective child protection, positive communication and personal safety skills for all ages and abilities, these four strategies can help prevent these types of situations and help to keep your kids safe.

Put safety first.

 

The safety and self-esteem of a child are more important than anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience or offense. If you suspect there is a safety problem involving children of any age, take personal responsibility and address it. Speak up persistently and widely until someone effectively takes action. Young people in abusive situations need help and protection.

 

Keep your kids safe by making sure you know what others are doing with them.

Some predators actually create opportunities to be alone with children by doing wonderful things with and for them. They may even seem like really nice people with excellent reputations. But don’t just trust people because they are part of a reputable organization or because they are family. Part of keeping your kids safe is trusting your intuition. If something feels uncomfortable, speak up. When in doubt, check it out.

LISTEN to your children and teach them not to keep unsafe secrets.

 

Most abusers build strong relationships with children before anything sexual takes place. Encourage your child to talk to you often by asking supportive questions, being a good listener and not lecturing. Pay attention to what they say. Be very clear that secrets about problems, touch, favors, gifts someone gives them, photos or videos, privileges, time alone with anyone and games are NOT safe. It’s crucial for them to tell you and other trusted adults instead of keeping secrets, even if it will upset or embarrass someone they care about. (Here’s how to be an emotionally safe parent.)

 

Make sure you tell your children, “Even if you made a mistake or did something wrong, I will love you and help you. Please tell me about anyone whose behavior makes you uncomfortable, even if we really like this person, so we can figure out what to do to keep everyone safe.”

 

Prepare young people to take charge of their safety by practicing skills.

One quick action can stop most abuse – pushing someone’s hand away, ordering them to stop, leaving as soon as possible, resisting emotional coercion and telling. If children understand these safety rules and have had the chance to practice them in an age-appropriate way, they are more likely to use them if necessary.

An Instagram post from Elizabeth Thomas said, “Every Beauty needs her Beast to protect her from everything but him,” credited to poet N.R. Hart.

Don’t just assume your child knows the signs of an inappropriate relationship. And, don’t assume that they would for sure tell you about something that happened. Be proactive and teach them. Empowering them in such a way can help alleviate any fear they encounter.

Parents of young children often discuss among themselves whether they are doing all the right things to help their kids become healthy, happy adults.

How many activities should they be involved in? How much sleep do they really need? Is it bad to fix something different for each child for dinner? Am I a bad parent if I don’t (you fill in the blank)?

While these are all valid questions, every person has two basic needs – the need to know who you are and where you belong in the family.

The parent should help each member of the family be who they are as individuals and understand how to connect and fit in with the rest of the family. This is a great case for not treating every child exactly the same. Personalities, temperaments and needs are different for each family member.

So, how do you know if you’re in charge or if your child is running the show?

You may need to reevaluate what’s taking place if any of the following scenarios apply in your home:

  • You think it is OK for your child to tell you what to do;
  • Your child’s behavior intimidates you;
  • You change your response because your child throws a tantrum, pouts or withdraws;
  • Fear of your child’s response changes the way you handle something;
  • You allow emotions – such as guilt and fear that your child won’t love you or won’t be happy with you – to dictate your decisions instead of answering the question, “What is in the best interest of my child?”

It’s not healthy for kids to rule the roost if you want to help them grow up and become independent. Even when they push the edge of the envelope, they’re still counting on you to lead.

Research consistently shows that healthy families have similar patterns – adults lead the family, each person is able to be close and separate from other family members, and the family expects and adapts to change as needed.

According to the authors of Survival Skills for Healthy Families, each person in the family needs to know three things:

  • How to speak up and say what they need. The ability to say what you want helps others to know what you’re thinking and feeling. As an added bonus, it opens the door for understanding.
  • How to listen – As a listener, you can choose to seek connection, be respectful and look for understanding. Or, you can react, fight and argue instead.
  • How to cooperate – Teach your children how to find a balance between their needs and the needs of other members of the family.

Children in your home need to know they can count on their parents to be in charge. But, they also need to know they belong and how to use their voice. Mastering these skills earlier in life can be a real gift to your entire family – and for future generations.

The Effects of Childhood Trauma

A child's home life plays a huge part.

Of the 76 million children living in the United States, a staggering 60 percent (46 million) of them will experience the effects of childhood trauma: violence, abuse, crime and psychological trauma before they turn 18. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Believe it or not, home life plays a huge part in these statistics.

Specifically, children from single-parent homes seem to be at higher risk for adverse childhood experiences than those who live with both parents.

The National Survey of Children’s Health asked parents of 95,677 children under 18 if their kids had ever seen or heard “any parents, guardians or any other adults in the home slap, hit, kick, punch or beat each other up.” Nineteen of every 1,000 children living with their two married biological parents experienced that type of behavior. Sadly, the exposure rate was seven times higher (144 children per 1,000) in homes with a divorced or separated mother. These comparisons are adjusted for differences across age, sex, race, family income, poverty status and parent’s education level.

In an Institute for Family Studies article, Nicholas Zill, a psychologist and child and family well-being researcher with more than 40 years of experience, writes:

“Experiencing family violence is stressful for children, undercuts their respect and admiration for parents who engage in abusive behavior, and is associated with increased rates of emotional and behavioral problems at home and in school. For children of never-married mothers who witnessed family violence, 58 percent had conduct or academic problems. Among children of divorced or separated mothers, nearly half of those exposed to family violence, 48 percent, had had conduct or academic problems at school.”

So, how do adverse childhood experiences affect children long-term? Do they set the stage for greater difficulty later in life? Are children resilient?

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studied more than 17,000 adults to find out. It examined the links between traumatic childhood experiences (abuse, neglect and family dysfunction including divorce, incarceration, substance abuse and mental health issues) and current adult health and well-being.

According to that study, exposure to adverse childhood experiences hinders the ability to form stable and healthy adult relationships. Plus, those experiences increase the risk for:

  • Experiencing substance abuse;
  • Depression;
  • Cardiovascular disease;
  • Diabetes;
  • Cancer; and
  • Premature death.

In contrast, healthy relationships at home, school and in the community can nurture a child’s physical and emotional growth. Children need these types of relationships from birth forward in order to thrive and grow into productive adults.

What can you do?

  • Create a safe and stable home for your kids.
  • Actively engage in your child’s life.
  • Learn skills to help you manage and resolve conflict.
  • Take parenting classes for various ages and stages.
  • Make sure your neighborhood is a safe place.

Safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments are among the most powerful and protective forces in a child’s life. So in order to promote healthy child development, we must be diligent in creating those safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments. As a community, we all share responsibility for the well-being of our children.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***