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Be More Present and Connected This Holiday Season

Malena Ally, MSW, Staff Therapist

A lot of us tend to rush through the holiday season in a whirlwind of shopping, parties, food comas, and stress. But it is important to use this precious time to connect with family and friends, as well as to re-charge for the New Year.

Here are 3 simple ways you can be more present this holiday season:

  1. Practice mindfulness: This means that you slow down and become aware of what you are doing in the present moment. Stop rushing to get one thing done, so you can hurry to the next. For example, during dinner you can practice tasting each bite of your meal and looking at those around you. When you walk the dog, do not rush, but walk with an awareness of your steps and steady breathing. Hugging with mindfulness is my favorite: Take three slow, deep breaths when you hug your loved one and be aware that you are present and happy.
  2. Laugh: Our facial expressions trigger feelings within us, as well as within other people. A good belly laugh – even if it’s fake – can trigger a rush of endorphins that leave you feeling cheery for hours. When you wake up in the morning, try lying on your back with your hands placed on your belly and let out any kind of laugh you can think of – the more creative, the better! If you don’t have 5 minutes to lie down for a laugh, simply smile while you are driving to work. This is a fun exercise to try as a family and research endorses the health benefits of laughing.
  3. Meditation: Meditation can be as simple as sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing. My favorite way to meditate is to color mandalas – circular, symmetrical designs that are used in various cultures for spiritual and healing purposes. You can look online for mandala coloring pages or create your own. Focusing on coloring a mandala can help you to slow down and bring your attention to the present. I have found that pre-teens and teens especially like to use this technique.

All of these strategies can help to reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, soothe tension and pain, and improve your immune system, among other benefits. However, one of the most important rewards is the connection you will gain with your loved ones.

Mastering the Organization Mission

Christopher C. Jones, Licensed Educational Psychologist

You’ve prepared your child for back-to-school. You’ve secured the appropriate school supplies and attended Back-to-School Night at your child’s school. You have a better understanding of what’s expected for this new grade that has become your child’s world. Now it’s your child’s turn. As your child progresses through each new grade, responsibility and management of complex tasks increases. Here are some steps you can take at home to help your child manage and master the organizational skills needed.

  • Make time to discuss getting organized: Initiate dinner table conversation or call a family meeting so the whole family participates. Older siblings can share advise and empathy. All children and teens can share any concerns or additional items they might need.
  • What system is used at school? Teachers typically begin the year with organizational strategies and expectations. Are these strategies working for your child?
  • Enlist your child’s help. Your way not be his way. Brainstorm ideas together to help him discover a way that works for him. What has worked so far? What has not?
  • Come up with a plan. Consider a combination of strategies:
    • A clean start. Is your child’s workspace clean? Organize what is needed. Purge the rest.
    • Assignment Notebook. Some tool to write down what is due and when.
    • Paper-tamers. A way to keep track of loose papers
    • Gadgets. Depending on age and your child’s style, a notebook may be too low-tech. Perhaps an electronic organizer or other devise.
    • Break down big projects. Working in small chunks can help avoid overwhelm and complete the project on time.
  • Stay positive! Check in with your child to help him stay on track with patience and persistence.
  • Backpack Clean-Outs. Pick a day each week (i.e. Sunday). Don’t do it for your child, but be nearby to help with any problems/frustrations. Start the week fresh.
  • Family Calendar. Family activities, appointments, but also due dates of special projects.
  • Call for reinforcements. If you’ve tried everything and your child is still struggling, seek outside help. Your child may respond better to a different intervention.

 

Childhood Self-Control and Adult Success

Christopher C. Jones, Licensed Educational Psychologist

Recent research finds that children who demonstrate more self-control at an early age are more likely to be more successful and healthy than those with the least self-control. Self-control is vital to one’s ability to plan ahead, for getting along with others, for asking for help, and for waiting for long-term payoffs rather than impulsive short-term gains. These characteristics are important for success in all levels of education and into the workplace. Children learn to build self-control by:

  • Expressing Emotion– Learning to use words rather than actions to express their feelings.
  • Responding to Stress– Learning coping strategies to manage different stressful situations.
  • Understanding Body Signals – Our bodies use various sensations (fear, frustration, anger, anxiety) to warn us of potential “threats” (starting something new, hunger, disappointment, hurt).
  • Learning to Wait– This builds as children grow as they learn to put time between the meeting a need and taking time to think of appropriate solutions to that need.

 

Children who overreact to minor challenges, are disruptive, hypersensitive, and impulsive can be disruptive to a classroom and an entire family. How can you support your child’s development of self-control and responsibility? Some ideas include:

  • Model self-control in your words and actions. Children are sensitive to emotional tone. When you are angry, anxious, or overwhelmed walk away and calm down.
  • Keep a structured and predictable routine. Children with self-regulation challenges are internally unstructured. Routines help increase their sense of security and control.
  • Maintain a calm environment. When you sense your child is getting upset, lower the lights and volume (TV, voices), play some soft music, engage in quieter activities.
  • Avoid talking to your child when they very upset. Use firm, quiet actions.
  • Take a break. Helping your child manage these emotions can require a lot of attention and energy on your part. Stay healthy and take care of yourself so you can be the best support to your child.
  • Ask for help. These problems are common. The earlier you help your child learn effective strategies to manage emotion and gain control over their environment, the sooner they will begin to advance on their path to successful adulthood.

Managing Back-to-School Anxiety

Malena Ally, Masters in Social Work, Associate Social Worker
School will be starting soon and this can cause a lot of anxiety for some kids. Some worrying is to be expected, but if you feel that your child is really stressed there are a few things

First of all, remember that everyone sees things differently and something that may not seem like a big deal to you (i.e. the first day of school) can be very upsetting or even traumatic to your child. Let your child know that you are listening and you understand. You can do this by validating their feelings or repeating back what they said: “It sounds like you are nervous about going back to school. You are worried that you won’t have friends in your class.”

Reassure your child that their feelings are normal and you have faith in them. Doing this in a calm and confident voice will help relieve some stress. If there is a skill that they don’t have (i.e. standing up to a bully) then assure them that you will help them develop that skill. If they do have the skills, but just lack the confidence, then you can point out past successes. You could say, “A lot of children feel nervous going back to school, but I know that you are very kind and make friends easily. I’m not worried about you making friends. I will be excited to hear about your first day and who is in your class!”

You can also help your child to problem solve. For example, if they are worried that they won’t have any friends, you might ask, “How do you make friends? How did you become friends with ____ and _____ last school year?” You could also ask, “What are some things that you could do to be friendly to a new student and help them?”

Lastly, keep if fun and positive! Show your excitement with your children in your back-to-school preparations or start a tradition that your child can look forward to every year. A fun tradition could be big or small: A back-to-school party after the first week of school or their favorite breakfast on the first day. The end goal is that children learn to cope with anxieties and develop confidence in themselves, so they know they can handle any new situation or stressor that will inevitably come their way.