Category Archives: Relationships

You Don’t Have To Be Lonely Anymore

There’s nothing worse than being surrounded by friends, family, colleagues and strangers, but feeling lonely. All too often the holidays magnify our feelings of loneliness.

It is human nature to want to connect with others. We are social beings, and as such, want companionship. But oftentimes our fear of rejection stands as a barrier. Connecting with others isn’t just trivial, it is important for both our mental and physical health. Social isolation can impact negatively on our health.

Two barriers, shyness and unrealistic expectations, usually contribute to loneliness:

1. Shyness: Not all people want to resolve their shyness issues. Why? Because of the secondary gains, which include being able to avoid criticism, playing it safe, or not having to become emotionally invested in other people’s lives.

2. Unrealistic expectations: Too often we disengage from people when we discover them to possess human limitations. We need to expect and accept the human fallacies that exist in all people. The great thing is that if we accept others for who they are, they will in turn be accepting of our imperfections.

Intimacy with others takes time to develop. You’ll gain the feelings of closeness with others when you dig deeper into your relationships and cut through the superficial connections you have with them. You can do so by sharing thoughts, feelings, ideas, interests, concerns, beliefs – anything that is authentic to you.

By expressing genuine interest in others, and truly listening to them, you will establish an empathy with them. You will discover that the bonds of intimacy and caring will be greatly enhanced between you and them.

Self disclosure means moving out of your comfort zone and permitting yourself to be open and honest with others. To do so, you will have to drop your mask and be your true self. Being open with others will result in deeper and more meaningful relationships with others. You’ll find yourself developing tighter bonds with others; bonds that will help you combat feelings of loneliness and isolation both today and in the future.

So why not try taking a risk over the remainder of the holiday season with someone you already care about? Take the first step towards developing a deeper level of an authentic relationship. The rewards can last a lifetime.


Eileen Lenson

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.

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Eileen Lenson

7 Tips For Working with Difficult People

We all have to work with difficult people from time to time. While their behavior varies from being manipulative, dominating, attacking, undermining, controlling, dismissive, confronting, negative, unreliable, critical, or dependent – to name a few – the result is the same. These people cause stress in our lives and hamper our work performance.

It is easiest to understand why others are difficult by asking that same question of ourselves. What motivates us to be difficult to others? Usually it has to do with wanting to get our needs met, and find success in the past by using these undesirable traits.

Difficult people are everywhere. At work they can come in the shape of boss, colleague or customer. At home they can come in the shape of spouse, in-law, PTA president, or neighbor. But rather than allowing the difficult people to negatively impact on our lives, we can work at developing productive techniques for relating to such people.

Whether they decide to change is their decision. You have no control over them. What you do have control over is how you choose to react to them.

7 suggestions for reacting to difficult people:

1. Ignore the behavior. That’s right. Don’t provide them with an audience when they become difficult. By paying attention to the appropriate behavior and ignoring the bad, you will be reinforcing the conduct you want them to exhibit around you. In time, this may help to modify or even extinguish the negative behavior.

2. Use empathy. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and understand their point of view. By doing so, your body language will be different, indicating more acceptance, tolerance, and openness. You will be breaking the pattern of responding to their difficult behavior with your defensiveness and resistance.

3. Respond to them differently. If their anger has typically elicited an angry response from you, then try responding in a quiet, less emotional manner.

4. Find something positive. Listen for something, even a thread of something, in what they are talking about and give them positive feedback. This will help the difficult person feel more connected with you and more likely to be able to listen to you in response.

5. Establish boundaries. Draw that imaginary line in the sand to protect yourself from abuse, and do not allow the other person to impinge on you in an unhealthy way.

6. Scrutinize yourself. Identify why the other person’s behavior pushes your buttons. Is your reaction a learned behavior that could be substituted for another, more productive, behavior? Are you doing something to provoke the other person?

7. Don’t personalize it. Don’t assume that the other person’s difficult behavior is about you, unless you are told so. This attitude will help you detach emotionally from the other person’s actions and view it more objectively.

Eileen Lenson

Missing Someone at Your Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving holds memories of previous holiday traditions, elaborate meals, and being with people for whom we care deeply. This year will be different for many, because a loved one will not be sitting at the table. It could be that our loved one is serving in the military, a student attending college across the country, or a family member who recently died.

Rather than dreading the upcoming holiday, it is important to realize there are six things you can do to make this Thanksgiving easier, even pleasurable.

1. Write a letter. Find some time for yourself, the day prior to Thanksgiving, and write a never-to-be-mailed letter to the missing person. Putting your feelings and thoughts on paper releases the pent up emotions. You may find yourself sad and even tearful during the writing process, but having that private time to connect with your feelings will be cathartic, and in turn bring some comfort the following day.

2. New traditions. If the person’s absence leaves a hole so gaping it would be impossible to salvage a traditional holiday dinner, initiate new traditions. You need not feel obligated to repeat everything from previous years. Maybe this year you want to cook a ham instead of turkey. Or have a Thanksgiving bonfire dinner at the beach. The options are endless. The goal is the same: to come together with people you care about, and who care about you.

3. Expand the guest list. Recognize that you are not alone in feeling incomplete this year. Look around to determine if there are others you care about who have nowhere to go on Thanksgiving. It could be colleagues from work who have no local family, or military personnel who are temporarily stationed near your home. Not only is sharing with others a kind thing to do, but altruism helps lessen our sadness.

4. Acknowledge the absent person. Have one ‘go round’ at the dinner table, whereby each person shares a special memory or experience they are thankful they had with the absent person.

5. Incorporate the absent person into your festivities. Actively doing something is helpful. If you have lost your mother, use one of her recipes. If the absent person is geographically apart, schedule a time to Skype him, so everyone can chat. If your loved one is serving overseas, consider taking a holiday photo (silly or serious) and emailing it.

6. Don’t worry about being perfect – You may find yourself distracted, sad, or even withdrawn at times during your dinner. Give yourself permission to experience these feelings but guard yourself against entering a downward spiral of sadness. Focusing on the other guests, and talking about their interests and activities will protect you from becoming too isolated.

Eileen Lenson

When Our Parents Die

“I feel like an orphan.” “I feel alone.”

These comments are not from children. Rather, these are statements I often hear from adult clients who have had both parents die. Losing one parent is very hard. But the loss of the second parent can be profound. For when you lose the second parent, it symbolizes never being able to go back home again.

So why is it that mature, emotionally balanced, successful adults – many with their own spouses and children – feel this deep void?

The parent-child relationship is unique in that it is the only place where a child can receive unconditional positive regard. This acceptance, love, approval and support we receive from our parents are largely responsible for developing the foundation of self-liking we carry into adulthood.

Children outliving their parents is the natural order of life. Yet losing both parents signifies a not so natural turning point in the lives of adult children. Their view of themselves and their role in the extended family changes radically. The matriarch or patriarch roll is now passed on, resulting in a shift in the family structure, and traditions, such as family gatherings at the parents’ home, are gone.

Despite the seriousness of these losses, support from colleagues, community and friends can be limited. This is in part due to the fact that parental deaths are anticipated. If parents have been experiencing medical problems, or are very old, their deaths may even be predicted. Parents are living longer; well into their 80’s and 90’s, which means that their adult children are in late middle age by the time the second parent has died. Late middle age is a time during which the adult children become more conscious of their own mortality. Because of these issues, it is not uncommon for grieving adult children to exhibit difficulties with cognition, sleep, increased irritability, or develop somatic complaints following their parent’s deaths. Yet, if they mourn beyond the comfort period allotted by their religious and support groups, they may be viewed as emotionally weak or seeking secondary gains, and further emotional support is withheld.

Gender differences exist in incorporating parental loss. Women are comfortable getting together to obtain support during a period of loss; they reach out to others to sit and talk about their feelings, receiving much needed emotional support. Men, on the other hand, culturally do not share their feelings with others. As such, they tend to be at greater risk for being more emotionally isolated during grieving periods.

Grieving for our parents is necessary; not something we should fear. It gives us time to accept our losses, be able to think of them without overwhelming pain, and to reassess our own personal goals. Anticipatory grieving, the process of grieving a loved one such as an ailing parent while still alive, does not reduce the intensity of emotions felt when the parent finally dies. Instead, adult children must work through the permanent loss of their parents and move forward at a pace that is unique to their own needs.

Eileen Lenson

Listening: The #1 Quality in Bosses

You’ve got to love them, for without, you would fail. I’m talking about employees. Without the chef, the restaurant’s customers would go hungry. Without teachers, the students wouldn’t learn. Without the office secretary, calls would go unanswered and appointments unmade. Realizing this, we must ask ourselves if we are relating to our employees as being a vital component to our company’s success, or as public enemy number one.

Business owners and managers spend a considerable amount of effort attempting to motivate staff so as to increase their level of production, commitment and cooperation. Time and money is spent on in-services, training programs, expensive reward programs, and day long workshops; all in the hope that employees will receive the instruction that will successfully motivate them. Yet the goals set by these programs often fall short. When that happens, accusations and disciplinary actions may follow. This typically doesn’t help motivate the employees, either. Why? Training or rewards were externally imposed upon the workers. True success comes when the employee is invested in the program being offered.

Employee enrichment programs typically emphasize worker growth. Yet employees naturally possess the ability to be creative and passionate towards their work. What is required for these natural traits to be developed is for employers to become better listeners.

Listening is an underappreciated skill in communicating the company values with staff. Listening communicates respect, trust, and how we expect others to be treated. The manner in which we treat our employees is how they in turn treat their work, each other, and your customers.

Employees need to believe that an employer values them as individuals, and are committed to making their needs and interests a priority in the company. Listening affirms this, by conveying empathy and awareness of their issues. The employees in turn will learn to respect, trust and respond to the value system of the employer. Think of it like a tennis match. You serve ‘empathy’ to your opponent, and she hits ‘trust’ back to you. You return the volley with ‘concern’, and she serves back ‘commitment to your company values’. To remain credible with your staff, you must continue the ongoing process of listening. Failure to listen, or in this metaphor, failure to return the volley, will result in the breakdown of trust and respect.

Doubters should reflect back on their childhood. Do you remember a parent instructing you to follow his or her instructions, “Because I said so”? This closed, rather than open, form of communication did little to add to your respect and appreciation of this parent’s agenda. This is because your parent was trying to gain your cooperation by controlling you. It may have been successful for the short run, but you were not invested in the plan, and probably complied with less than spectacular effort and plenty of resentment. If that style of leadership didn’t work back then, you can be sure it won’t work now.

So go back to your employees and be a great employer by listening. Truly listen to them. Such commitment to your staff will be a key to their growth and the success of your business.

Eileen Lenson

OMG – I’m Marrying the Wrong Person!

It starts off as a nagging feeling in your gut. Over time, it grows into pervasive worry, poor sleep, and moodiness. Finally, it escalates and your emotions morph out of control into a full-fledged panic. All because you realize you are about to marry the wrong person!

Before you start packing and heading for the hills, spend a few minutes looking at what exactly is going on. Marriage is so much more than just setting up house with someone with whom you love being intimate. Going from single to married signifies an important identify shift. It means saying good-by to singlehood and all the flirtatious or impulsive adventures. This can bring feelings of sadness and loss into your anticipated transition into marriage.

Overcoming this hurdle and successfully resolving your fears of marriage can go one of two ways. It may be a growth experience, bringing you to a deeper level of intimacy and emotional fulfillment with your future spouse. Or, it could save you from making a terrible mistake. Either way, you owe it to yourself – and your future spouse – to be truthful about your feelings. Using denial to get through the short run of “I-dos” will not get you through the long run of life. Denial simply isn’t an ingredient for a winning marriage. Being authentic – truthful to yourself and others, regardless of what the truth is – will bring the happiness you seek and deserve.

7 Ways to Deal with Your Pre-Marital Cold Feet

1. Share your feelings with your partner. Your having second thoughts about getting married will be upsetting to your partner. But marriage is where trust should exist for intimate and even unacceptable feelings to be shared. Your partner may be experiencing some of the same feelings. By talking about the issues, the two of you may develop tools to work together as a team and resolve your uncertain feelings.

2. Share your feelings with your support system. Talk to happily married friends and family members, and find out how they dealt with pre-marital jitters. Ask if they have observed issues in your relationship that cause them to share your concerns.

3. Don’t physically isolate yourself. Isolation is a dark place that can result in a downward spiral. It is helpful to have some time apart from the three billion people who are talking nonstop wedding-wedding-wedding. Time to reflect on your feelings, and even journal your thoughts, is useful. However, the danger of pulling away from everyone is that you end up missing the opportunity to mix the knowledge and input from others. Feedback from others helps us make reality based decisions.

4. Don’t feel guilty about disappointing others. Lost deposits, related expenses and other’s expectations will be resolved with time. You need to live your life for yourself, not others. Would you expect your best friend to get married just because family and friends expected him or her to follow through on the plans? If not, then why would you accept less for yourself?

5. Look at the meaning of commitment and intimacy for you. If you have experienced previous abandonments, then perhaps the unresolved feelings from those traumas are burdening you at this time. Fear of entering a commitment that could result in a future loss could be so traumatic that you may be protecting yourself by not risking marriage.

6. Examine your future spouses’ ‘deal-killer’ flaws. Are you reacting to some worrisome qualities your future spouse exhibits that you have ignored up to now? Everyone has personal flaws. But some behavioral or character flaws will affect the sustainability of the marriage and even the quality of your own life. Some people prefer to focus on the partner’s positive qualities, while simultaneously ignoring very serious negative qualities, like addictions, infidelity, and physical abuse. Love and marriage alone will not make this problem go away. There are married people whose partner’s addictions have wrecked their personal credit and finances. There are many victims of marital abuse who would be alive today if they had chosen to become runaway brides instead of marrying an abusive fiancé.

7. Examine your coping skills for stress. Getting married is stressful. Are you delegating some of the marriage preparations to others? Are you taking care of yourself during this time period? Exercise, even walking, can help. Make sure you are eating and sleeping properly. Finally, setting limits by saying ‘no’ can be a stress reducer. You need to take care of your own needs before you can be there for others.

I welcome any comments readers have on dealing with big decisions such as marriage. It could be selecting a college, making a geographical move, etc.

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,, 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

How To Help People After An Earthquake

Today, while preparing for Hurricane Irene, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck the East Coast region of the United States. Unlike the hurricane, which weather forecasters provide minute by minute updates on predicted landfall, wind velocity, and even the amount of expected precipitation, the largest earthquake on the East Coast struck without warning. The nerves of millions of unprepared people were deeply shaken.

While property damage and bodily injury appears to have been relatively small, considering the size of the earthquake, people should be alert to others having a delayed sadness that impairs their ability to function as before. One such reaction is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, often characterized as having nightmares, flashbacks, avoidance of people or things that remind them of the earthquake, feeling numb emotionally, or agitated.

Oftentimes these reactions are experienced acutely, and within a few days, people gradually feel secure again and return back to their normal routines. But some people are not so resilient. Those who have suffered other losses, such as a loss of a home to foreclosure, a bankruptcy, loss of a loved one to death, or are recently relocated (such as a move for a job or college), may be more vulnerable. Others, due to cultural inhibitions, may find themselves unable to turn to others for help. Many people reported that they initially thought the earthquake was a terror attack. People in swaying high rises had flashbacks of 9/11 and reported momentary feelings of terror and powerlessness.

So, in the aftermath of this earthquake, reach out to those you know who may be physically, socially or emotionally isolated. Encourage them to talk and express their feelings. A little intervention from a caring friend, family member or neighbor can mean the difference between a good and bad response to this earthquake in those who we care about.

Kindly share your experiences of how you coped, and what helped. Or, if you have suggestions for helping others.

Eileen Lenson

Retirement: Too Important to Gamble On

Ask people the requirements for a successful retirement, and most will unfailingly say “money”!

But is money the only ingredient that will provide for a satisfactory retirement? Will money alone secure happiness? My experience is that retirement is only one fourth of the recipe for a successful retirement. The remaining components are emotional, social, and physical aspects of one’s life.

Workers are instructed to begin planning for their retirement from the first available opportunity. They invest in retirement plans, meet regularly with their financial planner, and monitor their investments, all in an attempt to keep on track for reaching the financial resources they believe they will need to make their retirement a success. Once that magic number is obtained, they retire.

People are living longer in retirement than ever before, thanks to improvement in nutrition and healthcare. Thus, it is all the more critical to plan for not just the few years that our grandparents experienced post retirement, but perhaps decades of retirement. The following tips will help you avoid gambling away the opportunity to guarantee a successful retirement:

Recognize the value that work has in your life. In retirement, roles change overnight. No longer are you faced with daily schedules that are directed by others. While this can be refreshing, the other side of the coin is that you risk having no daily schedule, unless directed by you. You worked hard to be respected and valued at work, and as such developed an identity tied to a hierarchy in the work place. Stepping into retirement means to be entering an undefined role.

Assess the impact retirement will have on your marriage. After years of being away from home typically 10 hours per day, the adjustment to a couple’s lifestyle is significant. You and your spouse will be coming together much like two newlyweds. Some wives have been heard to say, “I married him for breakfast and dinner, not for lunch.” Issues of privacy, household responsibilities, and role changes need to be openly discussed with your spouse prior to retirement.

Know that retirement is not an everlasting vacation. You’re retiring from your job, not your life. After a period of time, you will need to find a new sense of purpose in life. Trust me, despite our fantasies, basking in the Caribbean sun every day while sipping margaritas gets boring after a while. You need to find happiness in emotionally satisfying relationships, mental stimulation, and meaningful activities.

Identify activities that interest you but previously did not have the time to pursue. Unfortunately, people often make the mistake of getting involved in new activities only after they have retired. If possible, start getting involved with these activities while still employed. This will help prevent a void in your life when you retire. After all, it may take some trial and error to discover activities that are right for you.

Examine the rewards in developing a deeper spirituality. Along with all the benefits of retirement come the inevitable losses of meaningful relationships. Investing time in your place of worship can serve multiple purposes. A strong spiritual base can offer you the opportunity to make new friendships, find a supportive base during dark periods, and provide you with new avenues of learning and appreciation of life.

Success in retirement will not occur without your active planning. You cannot assume your retirement will be on the same path as others you know, as success will be dependent upon your own needs, lifestyle, and personality.

Transitioning from employee to retiree is a journey in experimentation. Actively planning on how you will spend your retirement – rather than gambling on hope and a wish – will bring emotional satisfaction and happiness. Planning will result in the creation of new opportunities, accomplishment of goals that previously couldn’t be pursued, connection with individuals and society as a whole, and discovery of a new sense of purpose.

Please share your own ideas, concerns and experiences with regard to your own retirement.

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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, 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

Divorced! 5 Easy Ways to Take Care of Yourself

Divorce is so difficult. There are so many things to consider, and people to deal with, that it is easy to forget taking care of yourself.

1. Accept the divorce. This involves letting go of your former spouse, not just legally but also emotionally. Some divorced people remain as connected in anger as they once were in love. Such emotional investment in your spouse will prevent you from being able to move forward in your life.

2. Avoid becoming too socially or emotionally isolated. This is the time to reach out to old friends. Let them know you value their friendship. Explore new relationships with colleagues at work or acquaintances at the health club.

3. Plan ahead. Anticipate that certain dates will be difficult. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, even your divorce date will likely bring on surge of emotions. Recognize these feelings in advance so you can prepare alternative activities.

4. Own responsibility. Painful process, yes. But you will grow from embarking on such an exercise. Even if you truly feel that your ex-spouse was a louse, then ask yourself why you selected that person to be your lifetime partner? Were you attempting to fulfill a need that should be otherwise met? Or are you a ‘bad picker’ because of some perceptions you have of yourself or others that would best be discovered by personal evaluation?

5. Avoid developing unhealthy coping skills, such as overeatting or drinking, smoking, promiscuity, or drugs. Such behaviors can exascerbate depressive tendancies and create new problems for you.

I invite you to share with our readers what has worked for you in taking care of yourself following a divorce.

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

4 Ways To Deal With Difficult People

Regrettably, there’s no escaping difficult people who are argumentative or negative. They are everywhere; at family gatherings, at our children’s soccer games, in the work place, and on the highways. We cannot control the behavior of other people – including the difficult ones. What we can control is how we choose to react to such people.

1. Don’t allow yourself to be baited. Sometimes other people are at an unhappy place in their lives, and want to bring others into the same negative place with them. (more…)

Eileen Lenson