Posts

10 Tips for Surviving Summer Break

You can thrive this summer when you all know what to expect.

The end of the school year is right around the corner. This time of year is filled with field trips, field days, school programs, and parties. Then, it all comes to a close, and another school year is behind us. Bring on the summer!

It’s time for camps, vacations, and activities. Kids love summer. On the other hand, parents may not always be the biggest fan. Schedules change, and routines shift. Summertime often involves a lot of calendar juggling and planning.

Summertime doesn’t have to stress you out, though.

Here are some tips for summer survival:

Put a calendar in your kitchen or living room that everyone can see and keep up with.

If your summer looks like ours, there are lots of camps and activities to keep track of. The best way to make sure you’re all on the same page is to post a highly visible calendar. Get creative with colors for each family member. Just remember to make it simple enough that it doesn’t get overwhelming.

Schedule a weekly family meeting.

Summer schedules can change from week to week. A great practice is to schedule a weekly family meeting to discuss what’s coming up. Sunday evening could be an ideal time. Include the whole family and get input from the kids.

Adjust your school year routines, but don’t throw them out.

Kids need structure. Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean you should throw all the routines out the window. If you’re like us, you still have a work schedule for the summer. Bedtimes may look different, and morning routines may shift, but structure brings security for your kids. We push bedtime back during the summer, and the kids usually wake up a little later. Just remember that you’ll have to adjust back to school year routines in a couple of months.

Schedule downtime for you as a family.

It’s tempting to stuff the calendar with camps and activities to keep the kids preoccupied. Make sure to schedule downtime and game nights for the family. Leave some time for the kids to be kids and entertain themselves.

Give your kids space.

Some kids need time to recharge (some parents, too). Set aside time for individual play or rest. 

Be flexible.

Schedules are great, but also be flexible and spontaneous. Life happens, and plans change. That’s ok. 

Make a chore list.

Kids are home more over the summer and have more free time. Make a list of all the chores around the house and assign everyone tasks. Get creative and post the list on the fridge or near the family calendar. You can even schedule out when chores need to be done. No matter your child’s age, there are age-appropriate chores for them.

Clarify expectations regarding technology.

Set ground rules in your house for screen use during the summer. We put timers on our kids’ tablets and gaming systems. There is a daily cutoff for technology. Also, consider requiring chores to be done before they can use the tech.

Schedule a date night with your significant other.

While working on that calendar, schedule a date night for you and your love. Intentionally make time for the two of you.

Ditch the pressure.

Don’t put pressure on yourself to make this the best summer ever. Your kids don’t need lots of activities and trips. They need you! It amazes me what my kids classify as the best days. It’s often just time spent together.

Make this summer a summer they’ll never forget – not because of trips or adventures, but because you enjoyed it as a family. Summers get more hectic as your kids get older. Take advantage of time with them when they’re young and make the most of it with these summer survival tips. Have a great summer!

Sources:

Arlinghaus KR, Johnston CA. The Importance of Creating Habits and Routine. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 2019;13(2):142-144. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1559827618818044

Malatras, J et al. First things first: Family activities and routines, time management and attention. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. 2016; 47: 23-29. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2016.09.006.

4 Ways Having a Routine Contributes to a Happy, Healthy Family

Developing a framework can allow your family to prioritize what you value.

Every time I stand in line at the grocery store, I look at the magazines near the register. I often pick up one that has a headline about being organized on its cover. As someone who is not naturally organized, I’ve worked hard to understand the importance of being organized and having routines or schedules. Learning to juggle my family’s many plans has helped me embrace the need for routines. I’ve even found routines help our family be less stressed. If there’s one thing I need less of, it’s stress. Can you relate?

Through trial and error, I realized that routines provide a structured framework for my family (even for someone not naturally organized). The habits and plans you create for your family should be based on what works best for you. As a result, your routines will look different from other families, and that’s perfectly normal. 

When building your routine, allow for flexibility and adaptability over time. For example, your work schedule or your kids’ activities may change, so things will look different for each family. And you’ll probably have to adapt over time.

Here are a few ways that having a routine contributes to a happy, healthy family. Routines…

1. Provide a flow for the day. 

Your children learn what’s coming next. They begin to look forward to activities such as helping with dinner, storytime, or quiet time.

2. Create space for intentional family time. 

You may have movie night or family game night. One night of the week becomes breakfast for dinner night. 

3. Foster brain development in your children. 

Children can recognize signals for what’s happening next. When the lights are turned low, your child sees that the bedtime routine is beginning. When you walk to the bookshelf, they recognize storytime is starting, and they go to your “reading chair.”

4. Promote social and emotional development in kids. 

Children learn how to clothe themselves, brush their teeth, and clean up after themselves once routines are established. (Hello, independence!)

If you’re ready to create (or redo) a routine that works for your family, consider these things: 

Times that naturally lend themselves to routines.

There are specific times in the day that make having a routine more manageable. Routines around bedtime, storytime, playtime, dinner, or the mornings are a great place to start. Make it as simple as possible, with only a few steps. 

Things you can remove from your routine.

In creating the routine that works best, take a look at what you may need to remove from your schedule. When you write down your activities in order of importance, it will help you decide what no longer fits your plan.

It’s a work in progress.

Your routine may be ever-changing because your children continue to change and grow. The routine you create may work for a while but be open to tweaking it when you need to.

Having a routine doesn’t mean you need to fill all the time slots or that you’ll be the most organized family on the block. The intent is to provide a framework that allows your family to be healthy and happy, and to prioritize what you value. You may love quality family time, reading, or play. If so, build those things into your routine. But remember that your plans don’t have to be written in stone and followed like the law; routines are meant to serve you — not the other way around. 

Other helpful blogs:

,

How to Protect Your Family’s Mental Health

These things can help when life seems to be out of control.

Nothing seems normal these days. Many people say, “I just keep pinching myself thinking I’ll wake up and this nightmare will be over.” Sometimes life can take a real toll on everyone – both physically and mentally. As you continue to navigate through these times, there are ways you can be intentional about protecting your family’s mental health.

For starters, it’s important to continually remind ourselves that when we’re going through something that’s very unusual, we remain in a heightened state of anxiety and stress that impacts our mental and physical health.

family's mental health

One thing that can help you regain your footing is to establish routines, rituals, and structure.

In times of high anxiety and stress, the consistency of routines and structure is soothing to everyone. 

Make your home a peaceful place—a refuge from all the craziness going on in the world.

Spend some time thinking about things you can do to create calm. Play calming music, light a lavender candle and let the sunlight in. Encourage your children to find a comfy spot where they can read or play with their toys.

Be self-aware.

Your children are like sponges. Whether you notice it or not, they’re watching your every move, your facial expressions and even listening to your conversations that don’t include them. They’re quick to pick up and take on your stress and anxiety. Have adult conversations out of the hearing range of your children. Be proactive in dealing with your emotions.

Be open and intentional about having conversations about things that are going on in your world.

Ask your children to tell you what they know or have heard. Use their information as a platform to affirm accurate information and correct inaccurate details. Assure them that your job is to make sure they are cared for and protected and you are doing that.

Exercise, getting enough rest and eating right are three essentials for protecting your family’s mental health.

This is like the trifecta right here! Walk as a family and insist that people get the rest they need. Involve everyone in creating fun, healthy meals.

Limit the amount of time you and your family members watch the news.

This one action can dramatically decrease the anxiety, stress, anger, fear and drama in your home. Mentally and emotionally, our brains and bodies aren’t meant to live in a constant state of stress, but that’s exactly what happens when we watch news nonstop.

Think of ways you can be helpful to others.

During difficult times, it’s easy to become focused on yourself and all that’s wrong with the world. A great way to combat this as a family is to look for ways to help others. Deliver food, do yard work, run errands, bake bread or cookies and share them with your neighbors. (Let your kids do a ring and run when they deliver. It can be your secret!)

Make play a priority.

Seriously. Play releases all the feel-good hormones that promote an overall sense of well-being. Heaven knows we could all use a triple dose of that right now. Ride bikes, go for a hike, play hide and seek, tag, kick the can, four square, hopscotch, double dutch jump rope or any other active game you can think of. Just get moving!

Remind yourself and your family members there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

This is hard and there are parts of dealing with life right now that are not fun, but together as a family, you can do hard things. When one person’s having a hard day, other family members can be encouraging and affirming to help them get through it. Having healthy relationships with each other is one of the best ways to protect your family’s mental health.

When parents model and lead using these strategies, children learn how to navigate through hard times in healthy ways. It shows you believe they have what it takes to keep going even when things get really challenging. This builds self-confidence and helps them learn how to think and be creative in the midst of change. 

A side note: if you feel like members of your family aren’t handling all that is going on well, don’t hesitate to seek help. Talk with their pediatrician and/or a counselor to seek guidance on other ways you can help them.

If you or someone you know is struggling and you need immediate assistance, you can find 24-hour help here:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Hotline: 800-662-HELP (4357)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)

Photo by Elly Fairytale from Pexels

Sometimes life just seems to be getting harder. For many, most days feel like slogging through thick fog and it’s really hard to see the road ahead. 

Perhaps you or someone you know is really struggling at the moment and you’re wondering if the sadness is due to a single life circumstance or if something bigger is going on like depression or some other mental health issue.

First, let me just say, you’re not alone! We’re living in a moment in time where everything—marriage, parenting, work, socializing with friends, even the most normal things—seem more difficult than they should be for many people.

Second, regardless of whether you or someone you care about is sad or dealing with something else, the good news is, help is available.

Sad? Depressed? How do you know the difference?

Glad you asked!

Feeling sad and down about things like job loss, finances, marital issues, a child giving you a run for your money, or a breakup is normal for a period of time. But, when you:

  • Can’t seem to shake those feelings and you begin to feel hopeless and desperate; 
  • It feels impossible to think clearly; 
  • Making a decision seems out of your reach;
  • Work is consistently challenging;
  • Things that used to bring you joy in life don’t anymore; 
  • Food doesn’t interest you or you are eating way more than normal; and 
  • You’re either not sleeping enough or you are sleeping all the time and still feel like you don’t get enough rest.

These are like blinking caution lights warning you something is not right. There are some things you might be able to do to help move you to a different place, though.

Here Are 5 Ways to Work Through Depression

1. Surround yourself with a supportive group of friends.

Not necessarily people who are experiencing the same thing you are, but people who seem to be mentally and emotionally healthy right now. Ask them to walk this road with you and help hold you accountable for changes you’re trying to make.

2. Create a new bedtime routine.

Lying in bed watching television or scrolling through social media doesn’t count as rest. Stop all screen time at least an hour before you plan to get some shut-eye. If silence makes it hard for you to sleep, download a white noise app or purchase a white noise machine. Maybe you could try a simple fan in your room. Don’t use your bed for anything other than sleeping… and well, those things that you typically do in bed (like sex). Otherwise, keep your bedroom as kind of a safe place where your body knows it’s time to relax and rest. 

3. Get moving.

Exercise has been shown to be one of the BEST ways to combat depression. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular exercise releases feel-good hormones that can make you feel better about yourself. It also can help you get out of the negative thought cycle that feeds depression. Exercising on the regular can give you more confidence, it’s something you can do with others and it is a super positive way to cope with and manage depression. Don’t forget, being outside, getting enough vitamin D, drinking plenty of water, and fueling your body with healthy foods are all powerful weapons for fighting depression. 

4. Pay attention to how much news and negative information you take in every day. 

Remember, the motto for the newsroom is, “If it leads, it bleeds.” Their whole goal is to be sensational to draw you in. The more you are drawn in, the more it will affect you. It’s a vicious cycle. Your brain doesn’t know it’s the fifth time you’ve seen information about the plane crash, murder, latest political blunder, or car wreck. All of this impacts you mentally and physically whether you realize it or not. Put a time limit on how much news you watch. The same applies to social media.

5. Eliminate as much stress as possible.

Think through all you have on your plate. Is there anything you can let go of for a while to reduce the stress in your life? If you can’t let go of certain activities, can you ask others to help you? 

In addition to doing all of these things, be bold and ask for professional help. Plenty of counselors are providing telecounseling and Zoom sessions right now. If you don’t know where to look for help, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline is 1-800-662-4357. 

If you’re worried about someone you care about, don’t be afraid to step up and say, “I see you. How can I help?” Guiding them through all the above is a great place to start if they’re open to your support. 

Photo by Inzmam Khan from Pexels

Was I the only one who was worried when COVID-19 forced me into endless hours at home to quarantine with my family? Was I the only one fearful about how this may affect my employment? Anxious about catching COVID-19? Uncertain about the potential damage to my bank account? Concerned about the impact on my children?

No. I’m not the only one. You know how I know? I went to the grocery store and I could feel the anxiety. I scrolled through social media, watched a little news, and talked to people. You could feel it. You could feel the tension and the uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus.

After a couple of weeks, some good advice from loved ones, some timely articles (some written by my co-workers), and prayer, I decided to not allow the outbreak to negatively affect my mental health. A good friend of mine’s words stuck in my mind, “Don’t waste this time.” 

As a leader of a family and within an organization, I needed to be my best self to lead those around me. COVID-19 highlighted my need to be “me” at my best. Being “me” at my best meant taking care of myself so that I could bring the best me into battle with those that are alongside me.

Instead of focusing on what’s been taken away because of the quarantine, I shifted to what needs to be in place for me to be my best. In other words, “self-care.”

Here are the ways the COVID-19 outbreak has improved my self-care. 

  1. Getting outside.  Walks with my wife. Bike riding. Sitting outside while working. Quarantining has helped me be intentional about simply getting outside to work, play, decompress, or chat it up with a neighbor. The experts say that getting some sunshine relieves stress, boosts the immune system, sharpens your focus, improves mood, reduces anxiety and increases creativity. You know what? I concur. I can feel the difference. Sometimes just 15 minutes does the trick.
  2. Exploring my emotions. During COVID-19, we are inundated with information about mental health. Instead of getting annoyed with the information overload, I’ve intentionally identified and explored emotions that I’ve experienced. I’ve done this by talking, prioritizing some quiet time, prayer and writing. Some of those emotions are directly related to the pandemic while some may be a side effect. To identify and explore those emotions with people I trust has been helpful to prevent my emotions from controlling me. My emotions taught me a lot about myself. I should really keep this up.
  3. Connecting with family and friends. Do you know what happens when you’re not always running from one activity to the next? You actually have meaningful, substantive conversations with people you like. Who knew? Simple check-ins with friends, hours-long conversations about life and being held accountable for taking care of myself have all become the norm. Relationships really are what matters most.
  4. Prayer and/or Meditation. Remembering how to be still and be quiet has been beneficial, too. Finding quiet spaces to simply slow down and pray more regularly has helped me be aware of what’s important. Numerous studies show that prayer and/or meditation helps us respond better to trauma and crisis. And just as importantly, it has kept me from that land of fear which can be paralyzing.

Bonus: Watching Documentaries.

I didn’t realize this was so helpful until recently. I have indulged in several documentaries including one by Ken Burns about New York and one he made about baseball. I’ve also checked out The Last Dance about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. It’s been a nice getaway from the mundane and a good chance to learn something new. 

These are all little things that have helped me stay in touch with myself. While working, my focus has been better. Thankfully it has helped me to have more patience with my kids (in other words, I haven’t blown up at them recently). Who knew that there would be positive side effects to being quarantined?

Image from Pexels.com

How is it that summer just started, yet the school supplies are already out in stores? In a few short weeks that will feel like they fly by, your baby will be headed to kindergarten. At this realization, in the midst of a little freak-out and hidden tears, parents will try to put on a brave face as they leave their little one in someone else’s care. But the key to this transition is to start the school routines now!

Preparing for that day is important not only for your child, but for you as well. A month may seem like a long way off, but when it comes to establishing new routines and rituals, it’s actually the right time to put things in motion.

Bedtime:

For example, if bedtime has been at 8:30 or later during the summer months, but a 7:30 bedtime will be in place during the school year, moving bedtime up in 15-minute intervals from now until the school year starts will help your child adjust and keep the drama about it still being light outside to a minimum. As a side note, blackout curtains might be a great investment.

Routines: 

Consider what morning and evening routines will be like, especially if this is your first child to head off to school. It can be unsettling for children when everything is changing, so it’s helpful to think about routines and rituals like a security blanket. Children find real comfort in predictability. If you put things into motion now, it will help your child feel more confident on that first day of school. For instance, practice getting up, getting dressed, brushing teeth, eating breakfast and figuring out the best order to accomplish those tasks and any others that must be done before leaving for school. Adapting your evening routine to how things will be during the school year will help as well. 

After school: 

Being at school and holding it together all day long is exhausting. Your child might come home from school and want to take a nap or they might have a meltdown, especially as they are adjusting to their new routine. Comfort them and help them put words to their emotions. In time they will adapt and adjust.

Independence: 

Remind yourself repeatedly to let your child do for themselves what they are capable of doing. Things like dressing themselves, putting on their shoes and velcroing or tying them, going to the bathroom, pulling their pants up and even buckling a belt are important to know how to do. If they are planning to buy their lunch at school, let them practice carrying a tray with their food and drink from somewhere in the kitchen to the table. That balancing act can be a little tricky. If they are taking their lunch, teach them how to pack it themselves. If they are riding the school bus, practice walking to and from the bus stop together.

Practice:

Make practicing these things fun by turning them into a relay race or a game. When you do that, you’ll be giving them a strong foundation to stand on as they head to school.

Organization:

Work with your child to find a location in your home where all things school-related live like backpacks, homework or notes that need to be signed. Helping them get in the habit of placing things in one location will make mornings easier for everyone.

Read:

Start reading with your child daily (if you aren’t already). Even if you aren’t a fantastic reader, just holding a book, pointing out pictures, colors, numbers and words, or teaching your child to turn the pages from right to left will help prepare them for kindergarten.

Other adults:

If you have told your child they don’t have to listen to anyone but you, now is the time to change that. When your child is at school they will need to be able to listen and follow instruction from their teacher and others. Additionally, if you have never left them in someone else’s care, try to arrange some time between now and the first day of school where they are in the care of other trusted adults. It is good for them to know that others can take care of their needs, and teachers will appreciate that you have helped them practice listening and following instructions from other adults.

Technology: 

This year will be different for your child, so consider a technology plan for your home when school starts. They will be expected to sit, listen and engage in activities, but screen time  is probably the last thing they need when they get home. Instead, playing outdoors in the fresh air can help them release stress and relax.

Emotions:

While you might be excited about your little one reaching this milestone, it would also be normal for you to feel some anxiety. Most of our children can read us like a book. If you are feeling uptight about the beginning of school and trying to hold that inside, your child will likely pick up on this and think you are not OK or that you do not want them to go to school. Acknowledging that and talking with other parents who are ahead of you on the journey could be extremely helpful to you and your child. 

Thinking about all that needs to happen before school starts may feel a bit overwhelming. The good news is, if you start now, you will already have your routine down by the time school starts. Both you and your child can head into the first day of school with confidence and great expectations for the school year.

Looking for more parenting resources? Click here!

Image from Unsplash.com

Wait, what? It’s already time for school to start? How did this happen when it seems like just yesterday kids were doing the happy dance as they got off the bus and headed home for summer break?

While most parents love the more relaxed schedule during the summer months, plenty of parents will be doing their own happy dance as their children head off to school and everybody settles into a routine. 

In an effort to kick off the school year with less stress and as little drama as possible, there are some things parents can do ahead of time to set the stage.

Straight out of the gates, decide what your family can handle when it comes to extracurricular activities.

Many child experts warn parents about the stress children experience when they are involved in too many activities, which ultimately leads to meltdowns while trying to finish homework and handle later bedtimes.

Know what you as a parent can handle. 

On top of children being stressed, parents really have to consider their own bandwidth when it comes to school, work and additional commitments. A stressed-out, tired parent who is always at the end of their rope typically leads to lots of drama. Can we agree that parental meltdowns just aren’t pretty? Knowing what you can handle sets the stage for what can actually be on the table at this time and what is just not an option.

Establish routines that provide consistency and structure at home.

It’s best for children and parents alike. Having a consistent bedtime, wake up time, morning and nighttime routine actually decreases stress for children (and adults) because they know what to expect. Just because the kids complain about things doesn’t mean it isn’t good for them.

Include prep for the next day into your evening routine. 

Things like choosing an outfit, packing lunches, getting backpacks ready with completed homework inside and signing papers before going to bed can make the morning better. Anything you can do the night before to make the morning less hectic is a serious plus! 

Let your children do what they are capable of doing for themselves.

If this is new for you, one way to get the ball rolling is to tell your children that the beginning of each school year is significant. They are capable of handling more responsibility as they get older, so give each child a short list of things they are responsible for making sure gets done as their contribution to the family. You may be tempted to jump in and do things yourself because it is faster or easier, but unless you want your child dependent on you later in life, it’s really good to develop the habit of delegating things you know they can handle. 

Establish a homework station.

Make sure to keep it an organized study space with all of the materials needed to do homework.

Think about technology.

Think about how you want your family to use it during the school year. You can find helpful information as you seek to make decisions about this at Families Managing Media.

Schedule a 15 to 30-minute opportunity once a week for everyone to come together and compare calendars.

A great time to pull everything together is during a family meeting on Sunday evening. Talk about what’s on deck in the coming week for everyone, see if anybody is responsible for taking food or materials to school, plan meal prep for the week, or discuss anything important for everybody to know. 

Most people don’t do well with surprises that throw them off their game. Making time for your family to connect and communicate is one of the most effective ways to decrease stress and drama. Here’s to a stress-free start to the school year for your family!

How to Navigate the Holidays as a Divorced Parent

These tips can make your celebrations brighter.

For so many, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of a beautiful season sprinkled with festive events and family gatherings. For divorced parents 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: 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 the holidays as a divorced parent, Daughtry’s suggestions can help you make this shared Christmas bright for your children.

  • Confirm that your children feel 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 become surprised how much joy you actually experience this holiday season.”