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Articles for Parents

Check out these articles that cover a variety of parenting topics. From newborns to teens, we're here to give you guidance when you need it.

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    Dating as a Single Parent

    Morris lost the love of her life in 1991 when her husband, Steve, died of cancer.

    “It was a very difficult time,” says Morris. “I was grieving the loss of my husband in addition to taking care of three toddlers who didn’t really understand what happened to their daddy. One minute we were a happy family - and the next minute I found myself without my helpmate and a single parent - something I never dreamed I would be.”

    According to experts, many parents never plan to raise their children alone, but due to life circumstances they are doing just that. While they would like to find someone to fall in love with who would accept the “total package,” the thought of entering the dating scene again seems awkward and difficult to manage with children.

    “Although I was lonely, I felt like my first priority had to be my children,” Morris says. 

    “For the first year after my husband’s death, I tried to focus on what my children needed. Plus, I needed time to grieve and heal. I relied on family and close friends for support and encouragement. It wasn’t until almost a year had passed that I even considered the idea of another man in my life. I prayed that God would send me someone who would be interested in me and my boys, which was no small request!”

    Friends set Morris up on several blind dates, none of which were good matches. Shortly after that, Morris packed up her family and moved from Atlanta back to Chattanooga.

    “Right before we moved, I asked my oldest son, who was 5 at the time, what he wanted me to look for in a new daddy,” Morris shares. “Many of the things he wanted were on my list as well. The last two items on his list were that the man not have any other wife, and no children. I thought that was interesting coming from a 5-year-old.

    “During the time I was dating there were some pretty awkward moments that I can laugh about now. For example, my two other boys were so young, it was hard for them to understand anything more than I was looking for a new daddy. As we were moving into our new home, a neighborhood high school guy came by to welcome us. One of the boys greeted him at the door by asking, ‘Are you going to be my new daddy?’”

    Morris only went out with five men before she met the man who would become her husband and a father to her three boys. She decided early in the dating process that while she would protect her boys, she would allow her dates to meet them and vice versa. She also put together a list of questions to ask if she felt like the relationship was getting serious.

    “I was cautious about who I would go out with because I knew there would be many who could not handle the fact that marrying me meant becoming an instant father,” Morris says.

    If you're a single parent, experts encourage you not to rush into dating and to be thoughtful about how you handle the dating process. Here are a few things to consider:

    • Are you ready to date? Don’t let others pressure you into dating before you are ready. Make sure you have dealt with your grief and other issues that can potentially taint a dating relationship. Sometimes you need professional help to sort through your emotions.

    • Have you given thought to what you are looking for in a date? Dating can be complicated for a single parent. Just finding the time to date, not to mention childcare, can be a real challenge. Make sure the person is worth your time and energy.

    • Will you allow your date to meet your children or will you meet at a different place? Keep in mind that it may be hard on children forming attachments to people, only to have them leave.

    “I think being a single parent is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do,” Morris says. “It is a pretty vulnerable place to be. You really need good, solid friends who can be a support while you are going through this awkward dating thing. Solid relationships are key. When we have to go through very difficult times, it helps to have one person we can share the hard things with. Sometimes that is what can help us get through the best.”

    Morris met her current husband, Jay, in January of 1994. Their first date was in February. By June, Morris knew she had found her man. They married in October and a year and a half later, Jay Morris adopted the three boys.

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    Co-Parenting: Smoother Transitions

    When Catherine* and her husband separated, their children were 3, 7 and 9.

    The couple's separation and divorce was amicable. They were friendly, worked well together, and took turns if one of them needed child care. Catherine often thought that if they could have gotten along that well when married, they would have never divorced.

    After about nine months, however, the relationship became ugly. The parents couldn't be in the same room without arguing or fighting horribly.

    “I will never forget the time my youngest was clinging to me and crying, saying he didn’t want to go,” Catherine says. “I had to peel him from my body, hand him to his daddy, turn around and go in the house and throw up. Sometime later he said, ‘I don’t want to go, but if I cry it doesn’t matter.’ I told him that was right. It nearly ripped my heart out.”

    People often think that if they are reasonable the ex will be reasonable, but that's not always the case. Smooth transitions and difficult ex-spouses don’t tend to go together. The challenge for co-parents is to set aside personal issues and focus on the parental issues at hand. The goal is to make transition times as smooth as possible. In some instances you just have to be decent.

    “I frequently remind people that some of what happens during a transition is up to you and some is not,” says Ron Deal, author of The Smart Stepfamily and the web book, Parenting After Divorce at successfulstepfamilies.com. “An old African proverb says, ‘When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.’ Biological parents who fight and refuse to cooperate are trampling on their most prized possessions - their children.”

    Here are Deal's suggestions for diminishing conflict in the midst of transitions:

    • Write down your goal for the parental task at hand on a 3x5 card. Whether it is making a phone call to determine drop-off arrangements or talking in person about an issue at school, script out what you want to say. This will help you stick to the topic and hopefully achieve your goal.
    • Keep the conversation civil and nonreactive. Maybe you are calling about visitation arrangements and the other parent brings up something else. Instead of changing topics, perhaps you could respond with, "I know that is a problem -what time should I pick him up?"
    • Avoid putting your child in a position to choose between one home or the other.
    • Schedule a monthly “business” meeting to discuss co-parenting matters.
    • Be reliable. Don’t disappoint your children with broken promises.
    • Make your custody structure work for your children even if you don’t like the details of the arrangement.

    “It is common for couples to move in and out of higher levels of cooperation,” Deal says. “Things are usually worse right after the divorce. Your goal is to create a strong boundary between old marital issues and the current parental relationship.”

    *Name was changed.

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    Tips for the First Trip Home From College

    “I remember going home for Christmas my freshman year,” says Akeyla Madison. “I had been on my own for five months and felt good about how I was doing. When I arrived home, I was surprised to found out I would be sharing a room with my sister who is six years younger than me because my room had been turned into a storage room. I’m pretty sure my mom didn’t think that would be a big deal.

    “My mom also wanted to know where I was, who I was with and what I was doing. I felt smothered and honestly couldn’t wait to get back to college and my freedom.”

    While parents and family members are excited to see their freshman come home for the holidays, the transition can be complicated for everybody, especially if expectations are not clear on the front end.

    “I didn’t know ahead of time I would be sharing a room with my little sister,” Madison remembers. “Because there was such an age difference, it made me uncomfortable. My mom didn’t want me staying out late because she was afraid I would wake up my sister when I came home. We survived each other, but it wasn’t pretty.”

    Her sophomore year, Madison decided to try something different. She called her grandmother who lived close by and asked to stay with her over the winter break. 

    “That worked out a lot better on so many levels,” Madison says. “My mom and I got along better. There was no tension between my sister and me, and I think we all enjoyed the holidays more.”

    Madison is now preparing to graduate. When asked how she would advise parents and college students preparing for their first long break together, she shared the following:

    Communication is critical. Everybody needs to talk about expectations for being together before the break begins. Talk about the family plans and ask your young adult about their plans for the holidays. If you expect them to be at certain events, be clear about that. Discuss expectations for helping out around the house, their friends coming over to visit, food in the refrigerator, coming and going, meals, etc. These things can create unnecessary drama due to unspoken expectations on both sides.

    Flexibility is a good thing. Being away at school has allowed your young adult to use many of the skills you taught them at home, but coming back home is an adjustment for everybody. If the parents and college student are willing to adjust, things will probably go a lot better. It’s important to remember that the family has created their own new normal without the college student and the student has probably grown in their independence - which is the ultimate goal, right? Just because they return home does not mean things will or even should revert back to the way they were before they left. Some students choose to earn extra spending money for the next semester. This can throw a monkey wrench into holiday plans as well. 

    Mutual respect goes a long way. When learning to dance a new dance, it’s easy for everyone involved to get frustrated or say and do things they will ultimately regret. Respecting each other while trying to work things out goes a long way. For the college student, it means realizing you aren’t company. Expecting people to wait on you hand and foot and make adjustments based on everything you want to do isn’t realistic or respectful. For everybody, you still have to respect what you don’t understand.  

    “Looking back, I realize I felt more like an adult, but my mom saw me as just 18 and had the life experience to know all that could potentially go wrong,” Madison recalls. “That created tension between the two of us. At this point I think I have a better understanding of why my mom was concerned and I can clearly see that she wanted the best for me. I think if we had actually done the things listed above, the transition would have been smoother for both of us.

    “Believe it or not, most of the time we really are paying attention to the things you say and are teaching us. We may do some stupid things along the way, but for the most part we want you to see that we are capable.” 

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    How to Navigate the Holidays as a Divorced Parent

    For so many, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of a beautiful season sprinkled with festive events and family gatherings. For parents who are divorced and sharing their children over the holidays with their other parent however, this can be the beginning of a very complicated time.

    “I grew up as a child of divorce, was a single mother for eight years and am now remarried,” says author and marriage and family therapist, Tammy Daughtry. “I know firsthand how difficult and chaotic the holidays can be for children going between two homes, not to mention the emotional turmoil that can come from expectations of creating the ‘perfect Christmas.’”

    Joey, now 41, recalls his saddest moments of Christmas were seeing his mom cry when he left to visit his dad. 

    “Like many children of divorce, Joey hated to see his mom fall apart when he left for the holidays with his dad,” Daughtry says. “Thinking that it was his job to make her happy, he felt sad and like it was his fault. He felt guilty about having fun with his father. At 9, he described feeling like he needed to call his mom every day while he was away to make sure she was alright. As an adult looking back, he wishes someone had been there to tell his mom to pull herself together and not place that kind of pressure on him. Joey said the mental image of his mom sitting at home crying, alone and sad caused enough guilt to last more than my lifetime.”

    Daughtry not only has personal experience with this issue, but she also works with stepfamilies to help them navigate situations such as these. If you are in the midst of co-parenting, Daughtry’s suggestions can help you make this shared Christmas bright for your children.

    • Confirm that your children are loved and secure in both homes.

    • Allow your child to share the joy they feel at their other home. Affirm their joy with a healthy response.

    • Create a photo collage of your child with their other parent and give it to them as a gift this year. Encourage your child to hang it in their room at your house.

    • Purchase a large corkboard and encourage your child to put special tokens and mementoes of their other parent and their family on the board - grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins - as a way to celebrate both sides of the family.

    Additionally, Daughtry has some ideas for making your own Christmas celebration brighter, especially if you’ll be celebrating Christmas without the children:

    • Invite a friend to be there as your children leave or to ride along as you drop them off so you won’t be completely alone initially.

    • Be kind to yourself by acknowledging the pain you may feel, but plan ahead to care for yourself. You might even create your own extra-fun experience instead of becoming an emotional trainwreck.

    • Don’t sulk at home alone. Make plans to be with family or friends.

    • Get together with a single parent who is also celebrating without the children this year.

    • Volunteer somewhere and give to others in need.

    “We often don’t know what we are capable of handling until we have to do it,” says Daughtry. “Be intentional about taking care of yourself which will help you be strong for your children. Give yourself permission to re-frame and redefine your expectations as a parent. You might be surprised how much joy you actually experience this holiday season.”




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    Easy Ways to Help Your Child Develop Fine Motor Skills

    As a parent, you might be in too much of a hurry if:

    • You talk on the phone when your child tells you about their day;

    • Your kids eat most meals in the car;

    • You dress your child when she can dress herself – buttoning, zipping, finding her coat, etc;

    • Your child constantly hears, "Are you ready?" or "Hurry up!";

    • Your child never completes a project at play time;

    • You don’t have time to read to your child or let him/her read to you; and

    • You don’t have enough time to talk with and listen to him/her.

    Why does this matter? All of these activities help your child develop fine motor skills critical for reading and writing.

    “In order for a child to develop holistically, fine motor skills are very important,” says Lu Lewis, early childhood educator. “When you slow down and allow your child to do the activities listed above, you allow him to learn eye-hand coordination. His hands and eyes learn to work together. For example, when you give a child something to cut out, their eyes see what you want them to cut and their hands cut what their eyes see.”

    Even simple things like a baby grasping for an object is a fine motor skill.

    When a parent always gives the rattle to the baby, it robs them of an opportunity to learn this skill.

    “A mom once asked me if it was bad if she didn’t play with her child all the time,” Lewis says. “In today’s society, I think many people believe they are not being good parents if they are not always entertaining their child. The truth is your child needs to play for a period of time with an object in order to complete a play cycle and concentrate to the point that it is etched into their long-term memory. Many educators see children in their classroom who are always dependent on an adult to complete a project for them because they have never completed a project by themselves.”

    Believe it or not, helping your child develop fine motor skills is not complicated.

    Just including your child in your day can help develop these skills. Folding laundry, talking with your child as you cook, letting him walk with you to the mailbox and allowing him to open the mailbox and grab the mail, asking him to get a pan or utensil for you, and allowing him to play in the tub with toys are all activities that help to naturally develop these necessary skills.

    “Most parents I work with really want their child to do well,” Lewis says. “Sometimes parents do things they believe are helping their child when they are actually hindering their development. The number one thing I would tell parents is to slow down, relax and let your child truly experience life.”

    In addition to including your child in your daily activities, Lewis encourages parents to:

    • Walk with your child down the street and count bricks or pick dandelions.

    • Encourage them to sit at the kitchen table while you fix dinner and string beads or sort blocks by color instead of watching television or playing on the computer.

    • Incorporate time for your child to play every day.

    “Learning is a human endeavor,” Lewis says. “It takes place from one human to another and it requires your most precious commodity, time.”

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    The Truth About Cyberbullying

    True or False?

    • Cyberbullying victims are at increased risk for traditional bullying victimization, substance use and school problems.

    • Victims of cyberbullying suffer from anger, frustration and sadness.

    • Most victims of cyberbullying tell an adult about their experience.

    • Victims report that they are primarily cyberbullied by strangers.

    If you answered “true” for the first two statements and “false” for the last two, you are correct.

    News stories abound about young people and bullying. One of the most widely-known incidents is about Megan Meier, a then 13-year-old from Missouri. She became online friends with a person she thought was a new boy in town. The “friend” was actually a group of young people and adults who plotted to humiliate Megan because of a broken friendship with another girl. When Megan discovered the truth, she became distraught and later committed suicide.

    Cyberbullying is defined as using the computer or other electronic devices to intimidate, threaten or humiliate another. It most commonly takes place on the Internet among students from a given school or neighborhood.

    Researchers and co-directors of the Cyberbullying Research Center, Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja, collected data from more than 15,000 youth regarding their personal cyberbullying experiences. They found that:

    • Five percent of the youth they interviewed claimed to be scared for their own safety.

    • On average, 25 percent of youth have been a victim of cyberbullying.

    • Among this percentage, mean or hurtful comments, and spreading rumors were the most common forms of cyberbullying.

    • More than half of study participants feel that cyberbullying is as bad as, or worse than bullying in real life.

    • 41 percent of victims do not tell anyone in their off-screen lives about their abuse, but 38 percent told an online friend.

    • 16 percent admitted to bullying another individual online.

    • Most of the bullying offenders said they consider bullying to be fun or instructive; such as a way to strengthen their victims.

    Your child uses cell phones, emails, instant messaging, websites, blogs, text messages and other methods to communicate electronically. All of them present a potential cyberbullying risk to your child.

    What Do Parents Need to Know?

    The impact of cyberbullying can be devastating. Cyber victimization can cause poor grades, emotional spirals, poor self-esteem, repeated school absences, depression and in some cases, suicide. These outcomes are similar to those of real-life bullying, except with cyberbullying there is often no escape.

    Young people used to be able to avoid the “bully” once school was out. Today's technology now makes it almost impossible to escape. Since few parents closely monitor their child’s digital use, it is far easier for bullies to get away with bullying online than in person. And as the quiz pointed out, kids rarely tell their parents about the bullying.

    What Can Parents Do?

    • Establish that all rules for interacting appropriately with people in real life apply online.

    • Explain what cyberbullying is and why it is unacceptable to bully or to allow bullying to continue.

    • Talk with your teen about the nature of REAL friendships.

    • Encourage your child to talk with you any time they believe they or someone they know is dealing with a bully.

    • Model appropriate technology use.

    • Write a technology contract that includes any form of technology used in your home.

    Cyberbullying can be a serious threat to the well-being of your child, but the best plan of attack is to be proactive. Being ignorant about technology in this day and age won’t cut it, so you'll want to educate yourself as well as your children. As the saying goes, information is power.

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    Technology and Your Family

    Years ago, people actually had to get up to answer the phone, the computer occasionally used to write papers, and the television only had three channels.

    Now, people answer the phone everywhere, including the dinner table and the bathroom. While people write papers on computers, they often spend more time on Facebook or the Internet than actually accomplishing something.

    And only three channels? Those days are over. On-screen viewing options are virtually limitless.

    So how does all this technology impact families?

    • A 2010 American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers survey showed that 1 in 5 American divorces involve Facebook. And, 81 percent of divorce lawyers have reported a spike in cases that use social media for evidence.

    • One pastor even asked his congregants to quit using Facebook. Why? It's because he saw so many couples experiencing marital problems because of connections to old flames through social media.

    • Research conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU) showed that nearly a quarter of teens have communicated with a boyfriend or girlfriend hourly between midnight and 5 a.m. via cell phone or texting. One in 6 communicated 10 or more times an hour through the night.

    • Many experts claim that texting contributes to sleep deprivation because most kids sleep with their phone within reach. It's hard for them to resist checking the notifications.

    • According to a 2010 Pew Internet study, fully 72% of all teens – or 88% of teen cell phone users — text. Among all teens, their frequent texting has now overtaken the frequency of every other common form of interaction with their friends, including face-to-face interactions. For example, teens use texting to enhance friendships, handle a conflict, begin and end romantic relationships and even to mediate difficult conversations.

    • The average person watches four hours of television daily, which equals six months of eight-hour days.

    From family dinners and vacations to date nights and even Christmas morning, families are being slammed from every direction with technology, all in the name of staying connected. But, is staying connected with the outside world as important as staying connected with the people closest to you?

    Perhaps one of the best things we can do is truly connect with each other. Families who are engaged with each other actually do better in every area of life.

    Consider these questions:

    • Can you establish “no technology” time zones? For example, no cell phones or television at the dinner table – parents included. Maybe teens can leave phones in the kitchen at night and computers in public spaces. Perhaps time limits for social media could be helpful?

    • Would you rather your child participate in family game night or play a game on Xbox alone instead?

    • Is a family meal more constructive than family members eating on their own in front of a screen?

    • When your child applies for a job, will he be able to verbally communicate?

    Technology is a lot like money. Families can either learn how to control how much technology invades their world or they can let it control them. Which would you prefer?

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    Holiday Traditions

    When you think about celebrating the holidays, what comes to mind? Baking gingerbread men with your children? Taking the entire family to cut down the family tree the day after Thanksgiving? Or maybe, it’s the extended family progressive dinner that takes place every Christmas Eve.

    “Traditions are often what make the holidays meaningful,” says Dr. Susan Hickman, clinical psychologist. “They are like the support beams for a building, communicating to children that in all the rush and seemingly randomness of our lives, there are still some things we hold sacred which remain relatively unchanged over the years.”

    These annual celebrations create memories and bring generations together. They give families a structure around which to organize time and events since people are much more likely to take family photos and “rehearse” what transpired as they look back on the photographs and videos.

    In an informal survey, we asked about meaningful traditions. Here are a few of the responses.

    Many years ago, Betty Bergin began collecting antique crystal candlesticks - one for each of her four children. As children have started their own families, the Bergins have loved finding the crystal treasure that best represents each new addition to the family. Every Christmas Day, the candlesticks fill the center of their Christmas table. When their oldest son found his life mate, he announced it by giving them a crystal candlestick.

    “What a precious memory that is to me, that at 31, he saw value in our tradition,” says Bergin.

    "My favorite holiday tradition as a child was getting to open one present on Christmas Eve,” says Anne Hooser. “It was the same gift every year - a brand new nightgown. I remember when I was in my late twenties and had not been home for Christmas in many years, my mother sent me a present to be 'opened Christmas Eve.' It was a brand new nightgown! When I opened it up I just felt loved."

    For more than 50 years, Lorena Garza Gonzalez’s family has re-enacted the journey of Joseph and Mary in the traditional Mexican “Posada.” Now their children and friends of all ethnic backgrounds and ages help and share to celebrate the birth of Christ. Singing and praying is concluded with tamales, menudo, frijoles borachos, and many sweet-pleasers.

    “Traditions are so important in family,” says Gonzalez. “This is one I hope my children will continue for years to come.”

    Special celebrations give families the time and place to discuss what is important to them.

    “We often hear people talk about wanting to avoid getting into any discussions that might create conflict at these types of gatherings,” Hickman says. “Some of the best family discussions I can recall occurred during our holiday traditional celebrations. Sometimes there was conflict, but conflict isn’t always bad. Just because people disagree doesn’t mean it has to escalate into a fight or that you don’t love each other. In fact, when children see family members handle conflict appropriately, it is a great lesson for them.”

    Consider ways you can incorporate holiday traditions, whether old or new, into your celebrations. It just might keep you focused on the things that really matter. For every family the traditions are different, but they all allow for a greater sense of shared identity and meaning. There is something very comforting about being able to think ahead and anticipate participating in a longstanding family tradition.

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    How to Prepare for College Break and the Holidays

    Many families will experience a new normal when college students arrive home for their first extended break. The thought of sleeping in their own beds, eating good food and resting for about a month sounds amazing. But parents and college students alike will wonder about a few things, like:

    • Should I spend time with family or catch up with old friends?

    • What rules do we play by now?

    • And, are curfew and other details really necessary?

    While parents and students both look forward to this time, “It’s complicated” could definitely describe how things will go without conversations ahead of time. If you want to lay the foundation for a great visit, don't wait until the last minute to prepare. Here are some helpful suggestions for both parents and students.

    For Parents:

    • Re-think the rules. It is hard to be treated like an adult at school and like a kid at home.

    • Be interested in their new friends and their happenings at school.

    • Remember that it is an adjustment for everybody, not just you.

    • Recognize that college students feel a lot of pressure when they come home. They want to spend time with their family and their friends.

    • Be creative. Instead of complaining about the time they spend visiting friends, throw a party and invite everybody to your house. That way you can catch up on the latest, too!

    • Anticipate that your student will need some rest. They have just completed exams. Try to be understanding if they are a little grouchy the first couple of days.

    • Warn younger siblings that things will probably be different and be aware of their feelings, as they too are dealing with change.

    For Students:

    • Even though you have had your freedom, be respectful to your parents. If they ask you where you are going and when you will be back, tell them because it is the right thing to do. If you want to be treated like an adult, act like one.

    • Ask your parents if they are open to rethinking some of the house rules. If they are, offer constructive suggestions and don’t push the edge of the envelope.

    • Remember, your parents have been away from you. Be open to spending time with them. Answer their questions about school and your new friends.

    • Make the most of your visit with your parents. Don’t take them for granted. You never know what tomorrow will bring.

    • Many parents will still have to get up early and go to work. Consider how your actions could impact their ability to get good rest and do their job.

    • Try to balance your time at home and with your friends. (Sleeping in your own bed doesn’t count as time spent with your family).

    Be encouraged. Although it can happen, heading home during the holidays doesn’t have to cause tension. A few conversations, along with some compromise on both sides, could set the stage for some great memories this holiday season.

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    What Kids Really Want for Christmas

    Even before Halloween is over, store aisles are packed with Christmas everything. Mail catalogs arrive and television commercials promote things we supposedly can’t and shouldn’t live without.

    Ikea is one of the stores getting into the Christmas spirit with a commercial called The Other Letter.

    Ikea had children write a Christmas wish letter to The Three Kings and a second letter to their parents. The letters to The Three Kings were filled with items the children wanted, but the letters to parents were quite different. The children didn’t ask for things at all. Instead, they said things like:

    • I want you to spend more time with me…that we do more experiments at home.

    • I’d like it if you paid a little more attention to us.

    • I’d like it if you would have dinner with us more often.

    • Read us a story.

    • I’d like us to be together for a whole day.

    • I want to play. I want you to play cowboys with me.

    The majority of the parents were not surprised by what their children said they wanted for Christmas. But most of them read the second letter through tears. One said she couldn’t read anymore.

    Parents thoughtfully acknowledged their children’s wishes by saying: 

    • To spend all the time we have with them is the most we can give to our children.
    • You want to give them the best you can and the best is yourself.
    • The feeling of trying to substitute that vacuum with a toy.

    While the children’s letters were thought-provoking, the biggest surprise came when the children were asked, “If you could only send one of these letters, which one would you choose to send?” Each child chose the letter to their parents.

    Before your blood pressure goes sky-high about how to give your children everything they “want” for Christmas, consider their true wishes. Perhaps the most valuable gift you could give your children is your time.

    As you prepare for the holidays ahead, consider these ideas:

    • Make gift certificates for special outings with family members.

    • Buy a game to play together like Clue, UNO, Skip-Bo or Catch Phrase.

    • Learn a new family hobby together.

    • Make a video scrapbook by asking family members questions like, “What’s your favorite family memory, family vacation or family tradition, and why?” Tell your children how things were different when you were little. Open and watch it on Christmas Day.

    • Schedule a family progressive dinner in your own home where each family member is responsible for a course. Have the courses in different rooms, decorated by each preparer.

    • Create a family photo album. Include old photographs alongside more-recent pictures. People rarely make family photo albums anymore.

    • Write a letter to family members. Tell them why they are special and what they mean to you. Put the envelopes on the tree for Christmas morning.

    Families who spend time together make memories and feel a sense of belonging you can't buy in a store. Funny things happen when you laugh, start traditions and really get to know each other as family members.

    People long and crave for intimacy in their own families. Store-bought gifts will never fill the void of precious time, so give it freely. It will last for a lifetime—no batteries or assembly required.

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    What You Need to Know About Sexual Assault

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    9 Ways To Help Your Kids Transition During the Holidays

    Scott (not his real name) will get his fill of turkey this Christmas at three different homes with different sets of parents and relatives. He's not happy about moving from place to place, but he really doesn’t have a say.

    “It is not unusual for children of divorced parents to celebrate holidays multiple times,” says Rev. Dick Dunn, retired minister of singles and stepfamilies and author of New Faces in the Frame and Willing to Try Again: Steps Toward Blending a Family. “Often, parents are so caught up in their own feelings of grief and loss or wanting things their way during the holiday season, they forget how hard it is on the children.”

    For example, one child said she wanted to go visit her non-residential parent, but when she is with that parent, she misses the other parent. Going back and forth is better than nothing, but it is very hard on children. It's helpful if parents recognize this.

    “Every time they go back and forth, they relive the divorce,” Dunn says. “A lot of the acting out that occurs in preparation for a transition, especially around the holidays, is a reaction to the gut pain, hurt and anger children feel. The best thing parents can do is help their child make the transition from one house to the other as smooth as possible.”

    To help children have the best holiday celebration possible, Dunn offers these suggestions to parents:

    • Acknowledge that transitions are difficult. Talk about holiday plans ahead of time and get your child's input. Sometimes acknowledging the reality of the situation can make things better for your child.

    • Strategize with your child. Ask them what would make the transition easier. They may not know at the moment, but asking them can make them feel good. When they suggest something, try it evaluate how it worked together.

    • Keep commitments. Your children are depending on you to do what you say you will do.

    • Don't play games with your child's emotions. Children learn relationship skills from watching their parents and they often question their parents' love and care when things do not go as planned. Do not put them in the middle or use them to hurt the other parent.

    • Be prepared. If plans change often, get your child ready for that. Then make a back-up plan and understand their disappointment.

    • See acting out behavior for what it is. Ask your child, “What would make going easier?” or “How can we make your return go smoother?”

    • Stay in the parent role. It's normal to want to be your child's best friend, especially when you only have him/her for a day or two. But once you cross this line, it is very difficult to go back to the parent role. Your child is depending on you to be their parent.

    • Remember, you can celebrate the holiday when you want. Celebrate according to what works best for you and your child.

    • Consider how making or changing plans will affect your child beforehand.

    “The key to pleasant holiday memories for children who are moving back and forth between homes rests in the hands of the parents,” Dunn says. “Regardless of the situation, focus on solutions and staying whole in the midst of craziness. Parents have the responsibility and privilege of setting the mood for the holidays. Being considerate of your children as they adjust to this situation will help them create pleasant memories. Including them in the planning process will encourage communication that makes the holidays easier for everyone.”

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