Category Archives: Parenting Skills

Combating Holiday Depression: 6 Tips

You’re listening to the radio and the sounds of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” pours out to you. You’re in the shopping mall and you walk by kids lining up to sit on Santa’s lap. You visit a friend, whose kitchen smells of cinnamon and sugar.

And yet, as these sights, sounds and smells remind you of the holiday traditions of years ago, you may find yourself fighting off the chronic emotional pain known as ‘holiday blues’.

Holidays often result in our getting in more in touch with our sadness and anger than at other times of the year, causing the darker, ‘blue’ mood during or prior to the holidays. This is due to a multitude of reasons.

1. Santa myth. Many of us, as adults, still carry an unconscious fantasy known as the ‘Santa Myth’. We continue to expect the day that was perfect for us in our childhood, when we still believed in Santa. As adults, we feel sad and disappointed when we do not experience the ‘perfect’ day and receive the ultimate gift, or when our holiday falls short of those depicted in Hollywood musicals.

2. Acting out unresolved conflicts. Any unresolved upset feelings with family can negatively influence our happiness over the holidays. Grudges are carried over, leading to resentments and misinterpretations.

3. Grieving a loss. Anyone who has experienced a loss, either recently or in the past, may feel especially sad leading up to, during and following the holidays. The more recent the loss, the more incomplete one’s grieving and the stronger one’s attachment to the loved one, the greater one’s sadness will be. Such losses can include a new move, divorce, loss of job, or a death in the family.

4. Unrealistic expectations of family. How quickly we forget that dad is very dogmatic and opinionated. Or that when Aunt Sue drinks too much, which is often, she isn’t funny but is rather nasty. Or that her children are completely undisciplined, bully the cousins and damage your home.

5. Parents not accepting growth and change. Parents may subconsciously strive for the holidays of years ago, and have difficulty accepting their children’s maturity and autonomy. Siblings come back into the fold and pick up unresolved conflicts, marring the family harmony.

6. Guilt at not doing enough. This can be in the form of not spending as much as you might have wished on a gift this year, or not cooking enough special food.

The key to successfully combating holiday depression is to put everything in perspective. Recognize that conflict can be healthy if the issues are brought out in the open, because they can then be addressed and dealt with. Strive to pace yourself and schedule in time for personal relaxation, exercise and sleep. If you are experiencing a loss, give yourself permission to step aside from some of the festivities if you wish, while surrounding yourself with a strong support system.

Don’t strive to have a Hallmark holiday. Instead, have a real one, with real people, real feelings, and the real desire to be together despite everyone’s imperfections.

Photo from http://www.clipartoday.com/clipart/holiday/christmas/christmas_166709.html

Eileen Lenson

Military Deployment: 9 Techniques for Supporting Children

(Article first published as Military Deployment: Nine Ways to Support Your Children on Technorati.)

Not since World War II have so many children been faced with the challenge of having a parent deployed for military service. These are tough times for families.

In my practice I have found that it is helpful for parents to have a roadmap of sorts to follow during this period of uncertainty. After all, it is the parents that are the drivers of the family unit, and need to know how to prepare for the curves, bumps and obstacles in the road. My suggestion is to make a copy of whatever tips that work for you. Put this list in a place where you can read it each day. Add other suggestions to this list that you find from other sources, until you are satisfied that the needs of your family are being addressed.

1. Anticipate regression. Children may behave younger than they actually are. A child that is fully potty trained may start having accidents. Formerly independent children may become clingy, develop an imaginary friend, or have difficulty with bedtime. This behavior is common. Support them during this period of transition. Provide comfort and assure them that you are there for them. When they feel emotionally stronger they will resume their former level of functioning.

2. Keep their lives predictable. Keep up routines, schedules and expectations. Do not let guilt that your child has an absent parent prevent you from having structure and rules. Structure will provide reassurance and stability for your children. Children thrive on boundaries. Don’t let them convince you otherwise!

3. Anger masks sadness. Sad children often look angry. The child that strikes out at a friend or kicks the sibling may really be acting out his feelings of grief. While such behavior should never be accepted, the parent can help the child by helping them learn healthier ways to express their true feelings. Young children may not even be aware of what their feelings are, and will benefit from having it explained to them. Children may also experience somatic complaints that are rooted in feelings of anxiety, fear and sadness.

4. Inform teachers and coaches. Your children may behave differently in other environments. They may act out, have shorter attention spans, withdraw, etc. Notify other significant adults that a parent had a military deployment. They will then be prepared to be a positive support to your children.

5. Help children manage feelings of powerlessness by doing something directly related to the absent parent. My suggestions include working on a project for the parent’s homecoming, writing cards, drawing pictures to send, making videos to share via YouTube, etc.

6. Read your children a book related to deployment. A publication issued by the U.S. Army Family and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Command Child and Youth Services, http://old.armymwr.com/cys-mages/Deployment%20A%20Compendium%20of%20Resources.pdf, has a long list of resources including books, websites and other tools that can help children. Some of the resources help the adults to help children.

7. Talk about the deployed parent. Include this parent in daily chatter. Talking about the parent will not make your children sadder. Rather, it will let your children know that they are permitted to share their feelings and thoughts rather than to stuff them inside. Stuffed, unresolved feelings are likely to be acted out in an unhealthy manner. Young children may feel that they are responsible for a parent’s departure; that they are being punished for having been bad. Talking with your children will help you learn if they have any misconceptions requiring clarification.

8. Communicate honestly. Children have one absent parent, so they are very dependent on and need to trust the remaining at home parent. Adjust shared information so that it is acceptable to both the age of your children as well as their emotional maturity.

9. Look for opportunities to laugh with each other. Shared laughter is healthy, fun, bonding, and helps provide balance in our perspective on day to day activities. It is one more tool to use in keeping the family ties close.

Eileen Lenson

Parents: Support Your Children’s Independence

It used to be, way back in our grandparent’s time, that children spent time working in the family business. In our parent’s time, modern technology freed children from having to work, and parents were able to spend more time simply loving their children. Today’s families are enjoying a higher standard of living. With the increased freedom parents experience because of housekeepers, telecommuting, gardeners, tutors and other resources, our children today are not just loved – they are cherished!

So is cherishing children a bad thing? Yes, if it means that we are inhibiting the development of their independence!

In my practice I see situations where parents refuse to allow their children to fail. All loving parents desperately want their children to have exposure to the best in life. However, by refusing to allow their children to fail, some parents are not permitting children to be children. What some parents do not recognize is that stumbling and making mistakes are vital tasks of childhood.

The following issues are ones all parents should consider:

1. Children need to be able to make mistakes; it is how they learn consequences for their decisions. Childhood is like an 18-year-long laboratory experiment. Few experiments are successful at the first attempt. Failures teach children valuable lessons. They can then incorporate these lessons next time a similar situation is encountered, and then have a better chance of success. Earned lessons will last a lifetime. For example, a child learns that being a poor sport, or even a bully, in a team sport will result in his teammates and coach being angry. This child will undoubtedly be displeased with the consequence – rejection from peers and not being selected to play at future games. Similarly, the child who squanders his allowance impulsively on frivolities will suffer the consequence of his decision when he has no money to join his friends at the theater.

Unfortunately, parents all too often rescue their children from making mistakes. In the above sporting event example, many cherishing parents will call the coach, make excuses, or threaten with a lawsuit. Likewise, some rescuing parents will inhibit their child’s ability to learn the lessons of living within one’s financial means by offering more money.

2. Avoid living vicariously through your children. It is perfectly acceptable for your children to not be perfect. All children can not be on the same academic, social, and physical competitive level with all other children in all situations. We want the best for our children, and selection of a well positioned career can help secure future happiness. So it is understandable that parents are tempted to exert control over their children due to the fierce competition to get into highly desired universities. But at what cost? Hara Estroff Marano, in A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting, found that because so many children fail to learn necessasry coping skills for independence in childhood, that many are not prepared for college and are breaking down.

3. Especially since 9/11, with national terrorism concerns and financial crises, parents want to do what they can to help their children achieve happiness in this insecure period of time. Other parents just can’t accept that their children should experience unhappiness, regardless how deserved or momentary. Unfortunately, the end result is the same in all the above experiences – the child’s emotional development is thwarted.

To rescue our children from frustration or unhappiness is to convey the message that we don’t believe they have the capacity to do things on their own. I am confident that our children will not always select the best option, but any selection (so long as it is not life threatening) offers life lessons that will aid them in future selections. Our role, as parents, is to help our children understand the implications so that they can learn what components of their decision making was good, and what they would like to do differently next time.

4. Sometimes it isn’t the over ambitious parent rescuing the child. At times, parents are manipulated by the child. Parents can mistakenly get hooked into rescuing children when their lack of involvement is interpreted as a lack of caring. Single parents, parents of children who have suffered a loss, and working parents with guilt are easy targets. Mark Gregston, in his article, The Over-involved Parent, observes that while neither over or under-involvement is desired, at least the child learns to rely on himself with the under-involved parent.

By expecting the child to independently complete tasks on his own, he learns responsible behavior. Learning to have the confidence to write papers in grade school will give your child the confidence to write papers in college – without having to first email them to you for corrections or rewriting. To rescue your child by encouraging dependence on you is to sabotage personal growth.

Let your children be children. Cherish their mistakes and have confidence that they will learn through the struggles. Trust that they have the skills to reflect within themselves to find the best answers. The mistakes the kids make, followed by the lessons they learn, can provide lifetime skills.

I am a parent. I know first hand how wonderful it feels to be needed by a child. But to create dependencies on us is unfair to them. It is our job to help our kids feel independent, to know how to learn in new situations, and be responsible. We can help them accomplish these goals by not lying or making excuses, but instead raise them to feel empowered. Providing support, love and guidance – rather than suffocation in the form of cherishing – helps our children grow up to be emotionally stable adults, ready and capable of tackling the challenges of life.

I welcome you to share your comments about what has worked – or not worked – to support emotional independence in children?

Eileen Lenson

Teaching Our Children About Love

Children establish their first feeling of belonging from their family unit. The family relationships, which provide the experiences of loving and being loved, establish roots for our children. The warmth, love and security found in the early formation of these close relationships help build our children’s sense of security for life. The children grow up feeling secure in the belief that others will be there for them, not only for companionship and enjoyment, but also when difficult times occur. These feelings of belonging give children the personal strength to take the necessary risks, trusting that the world is a safe place. Much like the long expansive roots providing stability for a tall tree, this sense of belonging will stretch over the course of childhood to include the neighborhood, school, extended family, religious and ethnic group, providing emotional stability.

To truly belong, children must feel needed and depended upon in their family. As is documented in the November 2, 2007 Grand Rounds at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons http://www.hyper-parenting.com/talkcolumbiaground.htm, the Industrial Revolution has changed the way we parent our children.

Previously, parents needed children to contribute to the household in order for the family unit to survive. Children had to help stock shelves, feed the cattle, care for other family members. In the modern day family, the parents are needed – to drive carpool to school, scout, ballet, and soccer, to make daily meals, and plan the family vacations. The children are passive recipients of all these services rather than being a part of the process of making these things happen.

In today’s society children are separated both emotionally and physically from the parents. Children learn to love their parents, but they do not have the benefit of working alongside them. It is the process of working together that successfully instills values and learning. As parents work miles from the home and come home distracted and exhausted, children all too often receive academic support for their studies from tutors rather than from sitting elbow to elbow with parents at the kitchen table. Children spend their spare time at home on Face Book, texting, and watching television rather than spending time alongside the parents repairing broken items, building things for the home, or taking care of the garden, animals or home. From this separation from parents, children are not learning about true intimacy, for intimacy requires true give and take – not just take.

Without the early experiences of intimacy, our children grow up unable to sustain close and lasting relationships because they fail to learn the give and take of close relationships. This loss of intimacy can result not only from being chronic passive recipients in life, but may be exacerbated by a parental separation or divorce, too many moves, or the loss of close ones. Children are then unprepared for the challenges of marriage and may not be prepared to invest in a truly intimate relationship.

Comfort, luxury and indulgence can all too often rob our children of the ability to learn how to develop emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy is a key to personal happiness and success. With this knowledge in mind, we can provide the balance to our children of benefiting from growing up in a post-industrial era in which the daily workload from chores is lessened with the awareness that personal wealth and means will never substitute for good old fashioned parent-child interaction.

Article first published as Teaching Our Children About Love on Technorati.

Eileen Lenson

3 Tips to Help Your Children Survive Your Divorce

You’re finally divorced. Anticipate that your children are going to be scared – of the unknown, as well as their feelings. If the parents handle the divorce well, the children will emerge emotionally healthy.

Suggestions to consider:

1. Give your children the green light to talk about their feelings. If they pick up on feelings of anger from you towards your ex-spouse, they will feel uncomfortable or disloyal telling you how they miss their other parent.

2. Reassure your children that they will continue to live with you, even when they are bad. Otherwise, they may fear you will divorce them, too.

3. Help your children remain children. After a divorce children sometimes are uncertain what is expected of them. They may try to take care of a parent by cooking, becoming a peer, or substituting for the absent parent. While it is acceptable for children to assume more responsibilities, they should not become surrogate spouses.

These clear boundaries will help your children have a sense of control over their fear of the unknown. I invite you to please share what concerns or solutions you have found following your own divorce.

Eileen Lenson

Stop the Fighting…..Bring on the Family Contract!!

From time to time, parents come to me because they are frustrated with their children’s behavior.

For one mother it was the dreaded trip to the grocery store with her 4 year old son. If she didn’t cave in to his requests to buy a toy or candy, he would start crying loudly, creating a disturbance and embarrassing her. She tried yelling, pleading and spanking. It didn’t work.

For another set of parents, it was the frustration of having a 12 year old son who refused to clean his room, turn in homework assignments, or help with family chores. They lectured, threatened, and argued. It didn’t work.

As parents, we are responsible for preparing our children for the big world. Employers, neighbors and friends will never love our children as much as we do. They will not be tolerant of our grown up kids if they are exhibiting the same irresponsible behavior, lack of consideration for others, or poor impulse control that they are doing every day in our homes.

Parents are always wondering how to make rules stick. Since whips, chains and abuse are out of the question, I make a Family Contract. It takes a few hours to set up, and only 15 minutes a day to enforce. The Family Contracts works by setting up clear rules for behavior, it lists privileges, and clearly spells out what the child must do to earn the privileges. It is an effective tool that can make family life a more harmonious existence.

When constructing a Family Contract, you need to take into consideration your child’s age, skills, limitations, and interests. There are specific components of the contract; rules, point assignment, daily review, award disbursement.

1. Rules
Each contract will contain a list of rules with which the child is expected to comply. These are nonnegotiable expectations that the parent has determined to be important to the functioning of the family. Rules may include, but are not confined to, chores, behavior related to school, selection of friends, curfews, exercise, pet care, and personal hygiene. Each rule is written very specifically, ensuring that both the parent and child are very clear as to what the behavior is to look like.

2. Point System
Each rule is assigned a point, ranging from 1-5. When a rule is completed, the child is awarded the corresponding number of points. These points can later be exchanged for rewards. The number of points a rule is assigned varies based on the level of importance the parent places on it. For example, taking out the trash weekly may earn 1 point, whereas not hitting other children on the schoolyard, (a more serious behavior) could be worth 5 points. Also consider the difficulty of each behavior, when assigning points. Feeding the family dog daily is not as difficult a behavior as not yelling at parents.

Points are added up, preferably at the same time each day. Family Contracts often fail due to lack of parental compliance. If parents don’t take the contract seriously and enforce it daily, then the child will understand that the parent isn’t committed to it, and won’t make the desired changes.

Remember that no one is perfect, so we should not expect our children to be, either. When reviewing the chart with your child, give positive feedback for the points earned, as this reflects successful changes in behavior. When points cannot be earned, do not criticize, but give encouragement. Remind them that tomorrow is a new and fresh day, and they can again try to earn points for that behavior.

3. Privileges
This is what motivates your child to work with the contract. Consider it akin to the paycheck after a 40 hour work week. Develop a list of attainable rewards. Avoid having them be solely monetary. They can include a later curfew, a sleepover, more telephone time, an outing with a parent, or selection of toppings for the family pizza. All rewards are not equal, so points will be assigned according to the value of the reward. The child should be able to use earned points in any given weeks for a reward, or to save up some points for a larger reward.

4. Signing
This is a contract. Each parent and child for whom the rules are being established, are to sign the contract. This formality helps to increase the child’s investment in the contract.

5. Posting
Post the contract in the kitchen in a highly visible place. If tucked in a drawer, it will get overlooked on busy days. Keep it highly visible, such as under a magnet on the refrigerator, enables parents and the child to reflect on changes made, and on awards to be reached.

Are you ready to put the fun back in parenting? The Family Contract may be the tool you’ve been waiting for.

Eileen Lenson

A Big Problem: Over-Indulgence in Parenting

What’s wrong with over-indulgence?
We hear so much about the fact that parents are over-indulging their kids; giving them too much of what they want, or before they’re mature enough for it, that impede the children from realizing their full potential. Over-indulged children become adults that have difficulty fitting into society. They expect immediate gratification, have difficulty owning responsibility for themselves, have an inflated self-esteem, and have difficulty relating to others. Many of the parents I coach want to know how they can avoid this trap and best raise their children to be healthy adults.

Why over-indulgence happens:
Blame it on the times. Times have changed. Years ago, families primarily lived on farms. They worked hard. Roles were clear and the kids had a clear sense of what was expected of them. The extended family helped reinforce the family values.

Today, most families live in cities or suburbs. Children don’t have hard work to do at home. Some don’t even have basic chores. The children have constant exposed to the media, which perpetuates the message that they must to have all their superficial needs met. Parents, meanwhile, experience stress because the extended family is usually separated by hundreds of miles, and they have no support. Children grow up not understanding the difference between a want and a need. And unfortunately, sometimes nor do the parents.

Turning off the over-indulgence faucet:
Parents can interrupt the over-indulgence cycle at any given moment. They simply need to evaluate the following:
1. The amount of material things are given to their kids
2. The amount of activities they have them in
3. The establishment and enforcement of rules and chores in the home
4. Whether they are doing things for their children that they should be achieving on their own

Parenting skills can be improved by ensuring that children aren’t just kept busy, but rather that their emotional needs are met as well. Working parents sometimes feel guilty about being away from the home for long periods of time and try to make up for the lost time with material goods. The children benefit more from parental involvement. Tending to children’s emotional needs, even on the limited time available each day, is quality time well spent.

It is a competitive world out there, and even parents of elementary school aged children are anxious about their children getting accepted into college. As a result, they sometimes are tempted to overdo the help at home; be it a project or an essay. Remembering that children are more than a GPA, they will do best in life if they learn self-reliance. Discovering their own independence might also mean that they have to struggle with an academic issue until they learn for themselves how to master it. Do not try to rescue children from painful learning experiences such as homework. Parents cannot follow their children into college. Letting them learn the school lessons at home while growing up will prepare them for success at a later stage of life.

Parents sometimes live vicariously through their children. Missed opportunities in their childhood can cause them to try to make up for them through their children. The result can be compromising to the integrity, safety, or growing independence of children.

What Our Kids Really Need:
1. Children will grow up well if they learn that “no” means “no”.
2. They need to be given discipline, and it is acceptable – even expected – that they will be unhappy about it.
3. Children need to learn that it is safe to share their feelings. They will learn from observing parents doing so comfortably in their presence.
4. Children need to be able to make mistakes. I truly believe that is why they live with us for their first 18 or so years. They can fail at things but the parents will be there to help them process what went wrong, making it a growth experience.

If we look back at the parenting we received, and honestly examine the positives and negatives, then we can incorporate these experiences into the parenting that we provide to our children.

Eileen Lenson

8 Ways to Prepare for the Empty Nest

The time comes, usually when one’s children reach 18 years of age, when parents are faced with the reality of the children moving out of the home. Some parents look forward to that day. After all, the teenage years are often filled with arguments, raging hormones, power struggles and family disharmony. For these parents, the idea of peace in the home is a welcome respite. However, other parents are not ready to face the reality of the children they have nurtured, loved and cared so deeply for over the previous 18 years to be moving out of the family home.

Lovingly let them go explore. Recognize that they are at a stage in their lives in which they can now truly begin to explore who they are. To do so means to establish some distance from the parents. Yes, distancing from the very same parents who tended to every playground injury, drove carpool to school, soccer games and art class, planned birthday party after birthday party, and worried about drugs, driving and dating. (more…)

Eileen Lenson