Sometimes we all just need someone to hear us. Learn how at our parent workshop Active Listening: What? Why? How" 12/7 (Montclair) and 12/15 (West Orange). Pre-registration required. Click here for more info. Email sjohnson@copecenter.net Want some tips on surviving the stress associated with the holiday season? Click here to check out our pocket reference.

Raising a Resilient Child

As a parent you know that a healthy diet, exercise, and a good night sleep are important for your child to grow and thrive. These are all about keeping the body healthy as well as nurturing social and emotional well-being. For a child to truly thrive, their mental health and intellectual development are two – but not the only other – aspects of development to pay attention to as a parent. And you can apply these same concepts to your own well-being. You’ve probably heard the term “resilience.” Resilience is, very simply, the ability to quickly recover from adversity.

How does resiliency fit into your parenting goals? You can think about it as teaching your child to be a “half-full” kind of person and fighting the negativity of seeing the bad stuff in life as what defines you. Being able to adapt well in the face of challenges: turning around your day when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed; using “not doing well on a test” as a challenge to figure out how to do better next time and learn from less than satisfying results; not being devastated after losing the big game; how to mourn falling out with your best friend or breaking up with a girl or boy friend and not being defined by the ended relationship; as well as more serious adversity, trauma, or tragedy.

What is the key to thriving in the face of the bad stuff? It is a kind of balance, of having the “muscle memory” of thought patterns and behaviors that replenish physical, mental and emotional reserves to bounce back.

Like so much of parenting, cultivating resiliency in your child means that your behavior and responses set the example that your child will mirror. Being resilient means developing your own emotional bank account. To do this includes:

  • Be aware of your own thoughts and feelings
  • Form and maintain strong relationships
  • Cultivate optimism; fight pessimism
  • Learn from experience and be explicit in modeling this for your family
  • Practice self-care, including making physical exercise part of your routine as well as some mindfulness exercises
  • Lighten up; don’t take yourself too seriously, be able to laugh and be silly sometimes

Another piece of this puzzle is having a “growth mindset,” an outlook that encourages you to see challenges as an opportunity and not a barrier.

Through decades of research, Dr. Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist, found that people’s beliefs about their intelligence differ. Some people believe that their intelligence and abilities are unchangeable. In other words, you have a certain amount of intelligence, and you can’t do much to change it. This is called a “fixed mindset.” Think about the phrase, “I’m not a math person.” This statement indicates a fixed mindset about math, because it attributes math ability to an unchangeable quality. Others have different ideas about their intelligence and abilities. Some people believe that it is possible to grow your intelligence through effort. This is called a “growth mindset.” Think about the phrase, “Math was really confusing at first, but I’ve studied hard all year and I understand it a lot better now.” This indicates a growth mindset, because it shows a willingness to dig in deep.

(Fixed vs. Growth: Understand the two basic mindsets that shape our lives https://www.mindsetworks.com/parents/understanding-mindset)

There are tools to help you consciously shift your language toward a “growth mindset.” A useful one is this simple chart about changing how you, and in turn your family, thinks about problem solving:

From: Greater Good Website/Magazine: Science Based Insights for a Meaningful Life. Click here for more resources.

The next step is how you encourage and praise your child. You want to praise a child for her hard work rather than for being smart, emphasizing the effort and not the innate ability. Think about great musicians; every child prodigy who turned into a brilliant soloist got there through working hard, sports superstars train every day. It isn’t enough to innately be good at something, you need to work hard at it. For most of us mere mortals, the ability to persevere and keep working on solving a problem or mastering a skill is an essential part of accomplishing anything. The ability to do that is like a muscle, it needs to be cultivated and exercised.

As a parent, you need to “walk the walk” through how you approach challenges, and you need to “talk the talk.” Just as you need to shift how you think about problem solving, shift how you talk about it. Offering sympathy may at first seem like the best approach when your child is struggling, but instead try encouraging a child to chip away at a challenge saying something like “Maybe it’s time to try a new strategy.” Of course, as a parent you need to know when a child has reached his limit and redirect him toward something that builds his confidence. And there are challenges that can’t be overcome, from something as trivial as a child being tone-deaf to something serious like a learning disability. As a parent, it is important to be attuned to this and a part of a parent’s role is to balance a “growth mindset” with your knowledge of who your child is.

Resources and Further Reading

How resilient are you? Take this test: https://testyourself.psychtests.com/testid/2121

A listing of resources to build resiliency https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Building-Resilience/Pages/Building-Resilience-Resources.aspx

Ken Ginsburg, MD, FAAP, in a 7 minute YouTube video introduces the 7 C’s Model of Resilience – competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping and control. It is a plan for helping children develop the skills to make them happier and more resilient. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTmi4kHor_s

The Road to Resiliency https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience

Carol Dweck’s TedTalk on growth mindset and kids and challenges https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve?language=en

This is a great set of short lessons on the role of the parent in Growth Mindset. Includes short videos, surveys, and activities. Includes a Spanish version.

https://www.mindsetkit.org/growth-mindset-parents

How does this fit into school; an interview with Carol Dweck: How Can Teachers Develop Students’ Motivation — and Success? https://www.educationworld.com/a_issues/chat/chat010.shtml

Looking for a deeper dive into your own resiliency and well-being, this article has links to a variety of resources. https://blog.fracturedatlas.org/a-journey-in-cultivating-resilience-465fb11c441b

Want to read more, the book Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by Steven M. Southwick, M.D. and Dennis S. Charney, M.D. provides a range of strategies for developing resilience.

For Teens

Creating Your Personal Stress Management Plan

http://www.fosteringresilience.com/stress_management_plan.php

When to Ask for Help http://www.fosteringresilience.com/teens_help.php

Ryan Leak: Chasing Failure (YouTube video) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwj3fI66Dug

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Parenting Positively

Parenting is hard, and good parenting is even harder.  Good parenting is parenting the child you have at this moment, proactively exercising some basic parenting skills, while being positive and supportive.  Kids need structure and limits. This may seem daunting, but these will become easier and smoother to establish if you think them through ahead of time and base them on your family values–what is most important to you. These limits may change as your family and circumstances change; but as long as they are rooted in the values most important to you, they will remain consistent.  It also really helps if you keep your ultimate objective in mind:  a well-adjusted, independent, and resilient adult. Maintaining a sense of humor (especially about yourself) and not micro-managing your child’s life are also part of the recipe for good parenting.

Your child’s current social and emotional stage determines how they feels, thinks and interacts with others. So not only is each child unique, but each child changes almost daily as they pass through the various developmental stages on their way to adulthood.  This means that you, the parent, also have to change almost daily, adjusting your approach based on where your child is today, and don’t forget that social and emotional development don’t always synch up with intellectual (or physical!) development. And if that isn’t enough of a challenge, how you communicate within your family is also critical.   

We believe that there are four foundational skills that will help you become the best parent you can be. These are: active listening, giving effective instructions or commands, pick your spot and firm and giving meaningful consequences.

Scroll down to the end of the article to see 4 Key Parenting Skills. More detailed information can be found in the Ages and Stages under Topics for Parents on our main menu.

Throughout this article there are links to more in-depth information. In addition, on the spenj.org website the menu Topics for Parents provides a deeper dive. Our Resources for Parents emphasizes organizations local to Essex County, NJ, but there are many other links to websites and organizations that help support good parenting.

Here’s a quick take on a child’s social, emotional and intellectual development:

Early Childhood is a time when children have become mobile and are actively exploring their environment. Children at this stage experience rapid physical and intellectual development. “Emotional regulation” can be challenging as a child learns to modulate their emotional expression, discover their independent nature, and learn that they can say “No.” Over time, with help, the child also learns how to accept being told “No”.

Throughout the elementary school years is when children reach an understanding of the physical dimensions of the world and develop an accurate perception of events; they are capable of rational, logical thinking and are able to understand right and wrong, but they will say and do things to avoid punishment.

In the middle school years, children identify much more with their peers, while distancing themselves from their parents and families. They are hyper-aware of their appearance and are very self-conscious about it as social acceptance depends on conformity to the norms of their peer group. While they are beginning to be able to think abstractly and logically and are able to consider the consequences of thoughts and actions without experiencing them, they are not yet able to apply these mental processes to themselves.

During the high school years and young adulthood, each teen forms their own identity.  They examine the values, beliefs and behaviors of others, organizing those perceptions into a coherent world view for themselves, sometimes at odds with that of their families.

They are capable of systematic problem solving, able to consider multiple solutions and plan a course of action for themselves. However, reasoning skills are the last part of brain development (often not completed until the mid to late 20s) to occur. This means that they may behave in reactive, impulsive or novel ways, since their brain’s decision-making structure is still under construction. This means that they often cannot explain or understand their own actions. This development doesn’t magically end at age 18.  Social, emotional and brain development continues well into the 20s.

Life lessons often come in unexpected places. While you don’t want to obsess about all of your patenting choices, how you interact with your child, how you behave out in the world, the choices you make about books, television and other media as well as your expectations for your child, yourself and other people all contribute to the person your child will develop into.

Don’t feel burdened by this. Think creatively. Teachable moments happen all the time. Remember that you are always on stage for them. Stopping to let another driver turn, interacting politely with the cashier in the grocery story, volunteering at a soup kitchen, being conscientious about recycling… are these actions are observed and absorbed.  Speak to your child as you want them to talk to others. Please and thank you matter. Don’t be afraid to admit that you have made a mistake and apologize.

There are teachable moments in the everyday.  Use yourself as an example, both good and in the needs-improvement category.  Find stories, books and electronic media that model for your children ways that you want them to be in the world, that show children of different genders challenging gender roles, that show diverse faces and bodies, that show families of all different make-ups.

Beginning in elementary school, help them develop sense of right and wrong, both through conversation and action. Talk about respecting others, and what to do when others are not kind or respectful to them. Talk to your kids about being a global citizen and what this means.

As your maturing child engages with the outside world, talk about the news and issues that you are hearing about or that family members are involved with. Listen to what your teen is saying. Use open ended questions to try to get them to open up. You can even choose family movie night selections that might start a conversation. Be honest about what you believe and why and why you want them to do (or not do) something.

All along the way, find ways to act on your beliefs, with or without your child.

Remember that you are always on stage for them. Swearing at another driver, using your cell phone in the car, volunteering at a soup kitchen, getting involved in politics, being conscientious about recycling are all absorbed. Talk to your kids about being a global citizen and what this means.  Don’t be afraid to use yourself as an example whether of what’s happening in your day to day life now or of when you were growing up.

Sometimes it may seem that your teen rejects all of your “good advice”, but give it time. It may take 3, 5 or 10 years, but there is a good chance that they will do you proud.

4 Key Parenting Skills

Active Listening

It’s easy to miss out on the important things when you are busy getting your family’s dinner on the table, helping with homework or making sure your child has what they need for their extra-curricular activity. At times, children are telling us things and we just go through the motions of hearing, but we’re not really listening. When this occurs, we can miss little cues that tell us how they are doing and how they are feeling. 

Giving Effective Instructions or Commands

Effective instructions or commands are specific and direct. They are given face-to-face, and after giving them, the parent remains in charge. Ineffective commands are broad, vague, yelled from another room, and cede control to the child. Rather than asking your child to tidy up the kitchen, tell them to put their dishes in the dishwasher. It is important to make sure that you have your child’s attention when you give the command. Ineffective commands are phrased as a question: “Do you want to take out the garbage?”  What do you do when your child says no?  You are then stuck, having ceded power to your child.

Pick Your Spot

It is important to know your limits (what you will and will not accept) and stick to them. Typically, your child will push those limits in predictable ways in routine situations. Ahead of time – before you get into one of those situations – know what your limit is going to be.

Giving Meaningful Consequences

When giving consequences it’s important to be fair, firm and consistent.  Try to give the consequence in a friendly manner; you are enforcing consequences for a behavior or action.  Ideally, we want to reinforce desired behaviors in order to prevent undesired ones.  You want to support the child being good much more than you want to punish an undesired behavior.  If you see your child playing nicely with a younger sibling, praise them for doing so and reinforce the good behavior.  Don’t wait for them to lash out when their younger sibling disrupts their play and then give a consequence such as a time out. 

Communicate clear rules and expectations so your child know what to expect in advance. In all cases, you want to name the behavior to help make things clear, both in the moment and later, when you’re talking about what happened. It’s also helpful to have a menu of reasonable consequences ready in advance so that you’re not scrambling at the last moment to come up with something and then possibly overreacting. Also remember to keep your expectations and consequences age-appropriate.

Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself

It is all too easy, when juggling the demands you face as a parent, to put taking care of yourself at the bottom of your to-do list.  We think that’s bad!  To be a positive and effective parent you must make sure to take care of yourself (and your relationships) too.  Effective self-care requires that you know yourself, your own limits and needs. Before you can help someone else, you have to take care of yourself; this is not selfish. Just like on an airplane – you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can help those around you.  You have to make the time for self-care, not find the time. Plan ahead and create the time slot in your busy schedule, so that you know that you have time to take care of yourself and your partner. This is an example of integrating your priorities into your daily life.

By taking care of yourself, you become better equipped to care for your family. Keeping all of the parenting balls in the air at once isn’t always easy and practicing self-care makes that juggling more do-able. And by making self-care and mindful practices part of your own coping tool-kit, they become part of your family’s routine.

Know too that there are resources to support your parenting. On the spenj.org website are in-depth discussions of these and other topics of interest to parents, a resource guide linking to organizations and information available online, and information about the parenting workshops we run that help parents put these skills into practice.

Sometimes reading something new or getting insight into children’s developmental stages is will help you “up your parenting game.” Our goal is to provide you with the understanding and tools you need to parent your children so that they grow to be independent and resilient adults.

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Cultivating Emotional Regulation in Children

Developing Your Child’s Muscle for Emotional Regulation

An outsider looking at your family would likely see your behaviors, reactions, mannerisms and yes, jokes, echoed in your child. This isn’t deliberate, children naturally learn from their environment, and they observe you all the time, taking in how you deal with a frustrating phone call, respond to their needs, and relate to your spouse. Those unconscious lessons are sometimes the most powerful ones. While you shouldn’t get performance-anxiety thinking about what kind of role model you are for your child, you should consider what you want them to see. Getting it right for your child is a powerful motivation to get a better handle on managing your own emotions.

There is important work to be done throughout childhood to give your child the tools needed for developing emotional resiliency. One way to think of this is that you are making sure they get the daily vitamin that allows them to develop a healthy relationship with their feelings. Just like the vaccines your child receives to protect them against disease, your work to help them develop the ability to regulate their emotions provides them with the inner strength and coping mechanisms to weather the challenges that your child will inevitably face throughout their life.

This emotional self-regulation begins in infancy as a child learns to sooth himself, for example, being able to fall back to sleep when awoken in the middle of the night. Learning how to share and take turns or developing the ability to concentrate on a given task or activity are also steps along this path. Even at this young age, parents play an important role.

  • Pay attention. Name and label feelings to help your child understand what they are feeling
  • Remain calm when your child gets upset.
  • Support and comfort your child when they are frustrated, tired or angry
  • Simplify tasks into manageable steps and help your child understand how each “bite” connects to the others. Acknowledge accomplishment and mastery both of the steps and the larger goal
  • Comfort using words, gestures and touch as cues like “You sound angry,” “You look sad,” or stroking a sobbing child’s back to comfort and calm them.
  • Show empathy, responding to what a child says or is trying to communicate

Most important is to be a good role model for your child. How do you handle stress? What happens when you get angry? Click here to read Emotional Regulation: A User’s Guide to learn more about managing your own emotions including suggestions for techniques you can use to do so.

Set your child you for success. Don’t push him beyond age appropriate experiences, activities or challenges. Emotional regulation develops over time, in synch with overall growth (click here for a checklist for kids and teens) Remember too that even if he is physically or intellectually precocious, their emotional development is likely not.

By the time your child begins school, her ability to reason will be developing. When she gets angry, you can help her rate her anger and talk through it, so she begins to understand what she is feeling, both emotionally and physically—you can print a chart to post on the refrigerator door for everyone in the family to refer to.

Start to link relaxation techniques, like deep breathing or visualizations you are already practicing, to managing feelings. Try this one: you go from being a robot with all your muscles clenched tight to releasing them to be a limp rag doll. This is an effective way to release tension without having to use a lot of words to explain what is happening. Try it together before watching an episode of a television show or playing a video game with your child, or after coming home from the playground. Make an observation about how doing it makes you feel; you’re planting a seed for your child to understand how he can use his body to help control how he feels.

As a child becomes more verbal and able to name the emotions he is feeling, you can practice coping “self-talk,” teaching them how to coach themselves through a stressful moment. This is something you can model. When a driver cuts you off on the way home from school, narrate what you are doing not to lose your cool. You could say: “That driver makes me crazy, but I’m not going to blast the horn. I’m taking a deep breath and relaxing my shoulders so that I can pay better attention to the road.” Another is to choose a silly word to use (like “marshmallow” or “fizzywhizzy”) when you want to swear at another driver. Adding humor into the equation of letting off steam is another great lesson.

Throughout childhood, talking about feelings is an important step in learning how to manage emotions. Name the emotion, whether it is negative like anger, sadness, stress, or positive like joy, excitement, anticipation. Accept the reaction; let your child know that whatever she is feeling is o.k. and is hard to control. What she can change is her actions, how she responds to the emotion. Find a way to help her to release it by expressing or acting in response to it, as long as she doesn’t hurt herself or someone else, whether it is by writing about them, talking to someone she trusts, giving herself permission to cry or laugh, taking time to relax, working out or channeling her feeling into an intense activity. These are all valuable steps to managing strongly felt emotions. Lastly, help your child figure out what she needs to take care of herself, what sooths her; it may be getting a hug, listening to a favorite playlist, taking a walk or nap, or getting support from a trusted friend. Just as it is important to name emotions, it is important to acknowledge and name what provides comfort. Naming is one way of knowing in both cases.

As your child approaches the teen years, as a parent, you need to step up your game. Adolescents react impulsively and instinctively. Their gut-level interpretation of emotions is controlled by the amygdala. It controls the fight or flight response, the basis of so many poor decisions made by teenagers. Remember that the part of the brain that reasons, plans, considers consequences and counteracts impulses, the pre-frontal cortex, isn’t fully developed until the mid-20s. Throughout the teen years, the pre-frontal cortex gradually reins in the amygdala. As a parent, you can short circuit the gut impulsive reactions your teen is feeling.

As the parent, you’re the coach. By calming your teen, slowing her down to think through feelings, actions and consequences, you are helping her make better decisions, and a boost to her developing pre-frontal cortex. You can say: “I want to understand what you are saying – I know it is important. Can you speak to me calmly?” You can then help her consider more rationally what she is feeling and what she wants to do. This can be challenging because you need to juggle your own judgment with your teen’s and you don’t want to take over and draw conclusions and make decisions for her. Another way to think about your role as a parent, is to think about your guidance as providing options which she can explore and choose among. For example, if she sees an upsetting post on social media and she wants to immediately respond by posting something to get back at someone, you can lay out several alternatives that you know are safe and she won’t regret once she’s cooled down. While you have limited the choices, you haven’t taken away your teen’s ability to make a choice – while being a good parent, you’re also an empowering your teen to choose for herself.

Throughout the teen years, all parents and their offspring ride an emotional roller coaster as the push and pull of dependence and self-reliance, a teen’s emerging independent identity, brain development that allows for good judgement to blossom over time, are mixed together in a potent stew. To achieve the result every parent wants for their child, a successful launch into adulthood, instilling the skills of emotional regulation is a cornerstone of good and effective positive parenting. Read Taking Action to Cultivate Your Child’s (and Your Own) Ability to Successfully Regulate Emotions for ideas and suggestions for cultivating emotional resiliency in your family as well as links to additional articles and resources, including helpful YouTube videos to share with your family.

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Emotional Regulation – A User’s Guide

Read the comments made about almost any online article about politics today and you’ll see unrestrained, unfiltered, emotional reactions. Imagine that you respond to everything that triggers a strong emotion in that way. That is a scary thought, also exhausting and unhealthy. Here we’re not talking about politics, but coping with the challenges and stress of the daily routine, family life and simply how you feel about yourself.

It is hard work to effectively manage and respond to strong emotion, but gaining self-mastery on this front will contribute to better physical and mental health, stronger relationships and family life lived on a more even keel. A big piece of this work involves what is commonly called “mindfulness,” which is a catch-all for a range of strategies, practices and practical steps you can use to build up your emotional immune system, your resiliency, so that you have more inner resources to call upon when facing some emotional challenge.

First, you need to understand the interplay between thoughts (including reactions to any given situation), feelings, and behaviors. We all have a reflexive response to something upsetting, like a driver cutting you off on the highway. Your thought:  that person is such an idiot.  You’re feeling: anger–you’re pissed off.  Your behavior: your body may respond, you may grip the steering wheel more tightly, you blurt out some curses or lay on the horn. Not good right? Best case scenario is that the moment passes without any consequences, but it is possible that your moment of road rage escalates into something ugly or more serious where someone gets hurt.

Second, you want to break that cycle. The goal of emotional regulation is not to deny the feeling, the anger at the other driver, but to respond in a way that breaks the connection between the angry thoughts and your behavior. You know how you react in that situation, it’s happened a thousand times before. Instead of laying on the horn, you want to regulate your emotional reaction by a conscious effort. When you feel your grip tightening on the steering wheel, you want to be able to recognize and acknowledge your anger and let go of it. You might: take a few deep breaths, relax your arm and shoulder muscles, or focus on the traffic around you by checking your rear-view mirrors.

It may not be easy to take that second step, but there is a set of strategies that you can learn, commonly called “emotional regulation,” based on a reset of your response to difficult situations. To accomplish this, the first step is to reduce your vulnerabilities, physical as well as emotional. Yeah, taking care of yourself is key.

It goes without saying that when you are well rested, healthy, and feeling positive about yourself and your life you handle stress better. The question to answer, and act on, is: “What can I do to improve my “baseline” well-being?” Using these questions as a framework, here are some suggestions for helping yourself:

  • When I get angry, what do I do? It can be hard to harness anger and keep it from getting out of control.  First, you have to recognize the feeling that is building in you as anger.  Then you have to make the conscious decision not to give in to the anger, but to let go of it.  Move beyond your anger and don’t dwell on what made you angry.  There are techniques and strategies that you can learn that will enable you to accomplish this important step.  The key is that these strategies aren’t about how you handle anger when you are feeling it, but about giving yourself new habits that will kick-in automatically.  This will take a lot of practice.  You have to do the work, and figure out what works for you.  And then you have to practice, so that when you are in a situation where you can feel your anger building, you will be able to better manage your emotions.
  • Am I taking care of myself, getting enough sleep and exercise, is my diet healthy? It’s no secret that healthy habits inoculate you against life’s inevitable hard knocks.
  • Self-care; am I able to carve out time for myself when I need it? More basically, do I recognize when I need to take a time-out? It’s important to build some time to decompress into your routine—it can be a simple as sitting at Starbucks to drink your morning coffee rather than jumping back into the car as soon as the barista hands you your cup. Why do you think the adult coloring books are so popular? Why not try it out?
  • Are you a glass half-empty or half-full kind of person? Ask yourself: “What can I do to change my thinking?” Your outlook really does affect your outcome. Shift your perspective: practice gratitude, adopt a positive posture (stand up straight, smile, look for the ray of sunshine), hang out with optimists and activists; believe in yourself, form a mental picture of success while setting clear achievable goals. Practice kindness; helping someone else does contribute to feeling better about yourself and it does good in the work.
  • Are mindfulness techniques in my tool box? Mindfulness is a mental state where you step back from what you are feeling and thinking and focus on the direct and immediate experience of what your senses tell you. This attention on what you are doing, the space through which you move and the environment around you, allows you to observe your thoughts and feelings without self-judgement. This kind of thinking is like doing a set of crunches for your mind. Just as having a stronger core is essential to having a strong body, a mindful practice has a positive impact on well-being, physical and mental health.

Can you imagine a world where reading the comments to an online article or following a twitter thread leads you to say “Wow, what an interesting perspective, now I see the issue in a different way.” rather than screaming at the screen or adding your own angry or sarcastic diatribe? The life most of us live today isn’t very forgiving, and with its rapid pace and stresses, it is essential that to learn how to regulate and manage your emotions so that you still feel them but that they do not determine your actions. You should do this not only to live a healthier life yourself, but also be a role model for your family.

In TAKING ACTION, we have further suggestions for strategies for controlling anger, mindfulness practices and other ways to build up your emotional resiliency—for both yourself and for your family. In FURTHER READING there are links to learn more about the ideas, concepts and practices discussed in this article. 

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Successfully Launching an Independent Young Adult

The trajectory of the teenage years is a process of moving toward independence. Teens grow increasingly independent, disconnected from their parents, and become their own persons. This “launching” is never completely smooth; in fact, conflict is a necessary part of the separation process. This isn’t easy. It’s hard to let go and watch your child embark on their own life and it is challenging for teens to begin to be independent, to make decisions and act for themselves, and not to rely on parents for everything. However, there is much that you can do as a parent to facilitate your teen’s take-off and help them launch successfully. By acknowledging the milestones, you are recognizing that the time is coming. At the same time, you’re helping them to check off the skills necessary for living a successful adult life.

This process is normal, natural and necessary. Fight it and you’ll lose. The solution is to work with it as well as you can — by understanding what’s yours to control and what isn’t.

Doing your own laundry, making decisions about healthy eating, figuring how to get stuff done are all steps along the way. Fighting boredom, sorting out conflict with peers, tolerating discomfort, finding solutions to problems are all skills that are essential to coping with life as an adult. So much in our culture makes it hard for children to develop these skills – helicopter parenting, the explosion in technology, so much structured play and activity and simply the amount of time parents spends on “parenting” are all contributing factors.

A caterpillar struggles to break from its cocoon – teenager sympathizes. However, if you were to cut it free prematurely, it would not survive. It needs to develop the strength it takes to break out of the cocoon in order to survive in the natural world. Similarly, children need to develop the skills, overcome struggles, and see others’ trust in them in order to develop their abilities to succeed. Home should be nurturing and protective but also offer reasonable obstacles to allow children to struggle and gain strength.

Teens should earn what they want with the demonstration of their abilities. For example, your daughter wants a new guitar. She needs to show a willingness to practice and to do some work to earn the instrument. Challenges should strengthen the child’s abilities to follow her dreams. Initiative must come from the child. The cocoon of home must challenge a child’s weaknesses and emphasize her abilities. The goal is to have young people pursue their interests yet experience reasonable consequences.

Sometimes parents vacillate between holding tight reins on behavior and using coercive methods to limit autonomy, and stepping back and allowing complete freedom and excessive leniency. You want to establish a reasonable degree of authority – teens still need a sense that there are boundaries and limits in their lives – and at the same time allow them the space to develop their independence.

As a parent, you need to be able to recognize and allow normal adolescent behavior, while identifying and addressing those behaviors that are linked to severe dysfunction or negative consequences. You don’t want to foster dependence by keeping your teen from their natural movement toward autonomy. Excessive caretaking leaves your teen unprepared to negotiate the world on their own.

At the other extreme, forcing autonomy, prematurely thrusting the adolescent toward separation and greater self-sufficiency before they are ready, is a recipe for failure that can undermine your teen’s self-confidence and willingness to take the necessary risks towards independence. This premature “push” toward independence, may be a result of frustration, giving up, feeling exasperated or burned out.

When you’re trying to break out of the habit of solving your teen’s problems, you need to find the balance between clinging or stifling caretaking and pushing your teen away too soon. This should be an on-going conversation with your teen. The goal is find a balance between your child learning how to negotiate their environment with you modifying the environment for him. Problem solve with him to find ways for him to ensure that take ownership for himself that takes you out of the equation. This ranges from helping him figure out how to get to school with all of his homework and lunch to turning in a major school project on time. At the start of this journey, your teen will be working on getting the simple stuff right and over time, building to more complex and significant accomplishments. (Check out the Taking Action section of our website for practical suggestions.)

There are going to be bumps along this path. As hard as it may be, realize that experimenting with drugs, alcohol & sexuality; changing goals or self-image; frequent break-ups of romantic relationships, interpersonal conflicts – especially with parents; moodiness does not mean that your teen has a mental health issue. However, if such behavior results in self-harm, hospitalization, school avoidance, or other life-threatening or severe quality–of-life impairing consequences, there may be a more serious issue and you should consult a health care professional.

Be aware of offering guidance before your teen asks for it. If there is an issue or problem to discuss, think about the language you use. Ask open-ended questions where your teen comes up with alternatives and possible solutions. Help your teen think through the steps to take or the possible consequences. Your role is to provide advice and direction but your teen should come up with the solution. Afterwards revisit the decision. Ask: How did it go? Would you do it differently next time? What problems did you have? What help do you need? You are teaching them how to learn from their experiences and to avoid making the same mistake multiple times as well as identifying what works well for them.

Just as it is difficult to be in the passenger seat when your teen is first driving and you find yourself pressing an imaginary brake pedal, letting your teen problem solve independently can be a challenge. In the end though, it is satisfying to see your teen begin to successfully navigate life’s challenges.

 

TAKING ACTION

While going to college is, for many teens, the big transition to independence, it isn’t the only one. When adolescents turns 18, they legally become adults. Before your child reaches that milestone, use this checklist of life skills to help them become confidently independent and to have a positive sense of competency in coping with routine life challenges.

  1. Make a meal and clean up afterwards
  2. Wake themselves up on time
  3. Do laundry from sorting to folding and putting it away
  4. Pump gas, even better, know what to do if they’re in a car accident
  5. Pitch in, best: without being asked; second best: only have to be asked once!
  6. Advocate for themselves — coach them the first time
  7. Pack their own bags
  8. Order and pay at a restaurant
  9. Talk to strangers, including: asking directions, clerks and cashiers in stores, at the bank
  10. Go grocery shopping
  11. Plan an outing
  12. Take public transportation including buying the tickets and navigating the system
  13. Online finance skills: how to use online services and understanding keeping personal data secure
  14. Make a medical appointment, pick up prescription at the pharmacy, call health insurance company with question or to find a doctor
  15. Know what to do if they’re in a car accident

Even if your child is still in elementary school, check out “12 Basic Life Skills Every Kid Should Know by High School” . This is a helpful list for figuring out what to expect from your growing child. Think about how you can help your child master these life skills. (http://www.parenting.com/child/child-development/12-basic-life-skills-every-kid-should-know-high-school).

Teens Taking Responsibility for Themselves

Give your college-bound teen the link to CDC’s webpage (College Health and Safety: https://www.cdc.gov/family/college/), which addresses these and other issues:

There are all kinds of tests in college–beyond those you take for a grade.

  • Social and sexual pressures.
  • The temptation of readily available alcohol, drugs, and unhealthy food.
  • The challenge of getting enough sleep.
  • Stress from trying to balance classes, friends, homework, jobs, athletics, and leadership positions.

One way you can do this is to have them add it to the contacts list in their phone.

They’re leaving home in a few weeks…Worried that you’ve forgotten something? This checklist is a useful reminder:

  • Make a plan – what do they do if they get sick?
  • Make a contract – if you’re paying, what are your requirements? Have your teen sign consent for you to get grade reports
  • Nuts and bolts – do they know how to do laundry?
  • What supports did they have in High School that will disappear?
  • Do they need to register with the Office of Students with Disabilities?
  • Create a budget together; identify who is responsible for which expenses
  • How will they choose classes? Plan their schedule?
  • What should they do if they feel homesick?

 

FURTHER READING

Watch the Julie Lythcott Haims’ TEDTalk How to Raise Kids Without Over Parenting and check out her book How to Raise An Adult
Grown and Flown: Parenting Never Ends is a website for parenting teens and young adults from high school through the college years.
It’s not too early to start practicing:

The Six Things You Shouldn’t Say to Your Adult Child

The following articles are geared to parents getting ready to send their child off to college.

How to have the pre-college conversation before you’re in the car driving them there.
Launching Conversations: Tips for Parents of College-Bound Kids

Letting go: Tips for Parents of New College Students

Launching your College Student

Feeling melancholy about your child going off to college?
Struggling to Let Go of My College-Student Daughter

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Make New Year’s Resolutions a Family Project

Are you already thinking ahead to the new year? Are you mentally writing your list of resolutions? Here are some suggestions for making those resolutions stick and using them as a teachable moment for your family.

Step 1. Set the right goal. Set specific goals for yourself, ones where progress can be measured, that you know you can reach, and that you define a finish line for yourself. Your resolutions should be relevant to your life now and their achievement will positively impact your life. Ideally, they should serve as way to reset ingrained bad habits. Include making time to accomplish your goal as part of the resolution. Make one of your resolutions something that everyone in the family can participate in.

Step 2. Find community to support your goal. Having a partner or joining a group is one way to get support. Another is to enlist your family. Make your goal your family’s goal. If your resolution is to exercise at least 3 times a week, set a time for the family to get out and move every weekend. Maybe it’s walking in the park Sunday afternoons for half an hour or going to the pool at the Y together for family swim. Whatever it is, make it part of your weekly schedule. Motivate yourself and share that motivation with your family. Make a chart and post it on the fridge; have your kids put the stickers on the chart to mark your accomplishments. Plan for rewards, and include the family in them; they’ll be invested in your success.

Step 3. Plan B and Consequences. You will stumble. Those 2 steps backwards are teachable moments – for yourself and for your family. If your resolution is to skip desserts and sweets during the week and you indulge in a donut one morning, have a plan to walk for an extra half-hour the next day or to pass on desserts the following weekend. Don’t beat yourself up—it’s important to have self-compassion, take responsibility and hold yourself accountable. It’s what you’re trying to teach your kids, right? There’s no better lesson. Not only will you feel good about your own resolutions, you will be modelling setting and accomplishing goals for your family.

For more suggestions about New Year’s resolutions, check out these articles:

How to Make (and Keep) a New Year’s Resolution

5 things to do now for New Year’s resolution success

 

 

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Active Listening Skills Enrich Your Parental Communication

Active Listening Skills Enrich Your Parental Communications

It’s easy for the important things to go out of focus when you are getting your family’s dinner on the table, helping with homework and making sure your child has what they need for their extra-curricular activity. At times, children are telling us things and we just go through the motions of hearing, but we’re not really listening. When this happens, we can miss little cues that tell us how they are doing and how they are feeling.

Listening and hearing your child is crucial to their development. When your child is sharing a part of their day with you, it’s important to show that you are listening; knowing that they are being heard provides a sense of security and reinforces good self-esteem. Start by looking at how you listen; as you become a better listener yourself, you will be able to help your child learn these skills.

Active listening skills aren’t complex; you need to focus your attention on the speaker, suspend all judgement, and listen for the emotion as well as the words. When the speaker has completed a thought try to verbally restate/summarize what you just heard, avoiding adding your own interpretation. Next, check-in to make sure you’ve understood what the person is saying to you, ask: “What I think I heard you say was…is that right/did I understand you?”

The key is that you are not trying to come to an agreement, but you are just listening and acknowledging that you are hearing what they are saying (not what you want to hear).

Think about a conversation where you felt the person you were speaking with really listened to what you were saying. It’s likely that person used some of these techniques that made you feel heard and understood (although you may not have been aware that they were doing so, as some of these techniques are about the work the listener is doing internally)

  • Make eye contact (but remember, that for teens, it may be better to be driving somewhere, cooking together or be engaged in another task that makes your child not feel like the search light is shining directly on them.)
  • Be attentive
  • Suspend judgement: be open-minded
  • Listen to what the person is saying and picture it
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Ask questions to help better understand the situation
  • Empathize with the person
  • Give positive feedback

When you make a conscious effort to use these techniques with our family, your child will begin to mimic these behaviors (especially if you prompt them to use these techniques).

Listening well does not mean you always agree with what your child is saying. Children do look for affirmation from their parents; whether or not you agree with what your child says or how they handled a situation, take a step back and listen in order to try to understand where your child is coming from before jumping in with your opinion, ideas or judgment.

Take a minute to think about what it felt like to be child’s age– what was a big deal to you then is not so important today. As an adult and as a parent you can provide perspective that can help a child think about and understand their own experience. By suspending your judgement and listening actively you can help your child truly understand what they are saying and feeling and to work through complex emotions and difficult situations.

Your child learns about how to communicate in every conversation they have. Using these techniques at home translates into other settings; being able to hear what other people are saying is a valuable social skill. While important in daily life, these skills can be crucial when facing challenging situations, and provides a framework for working out conflict.

*                      *                      *                      *                      *                      *

Try using these tips to help you get the best out of a conversation with your family and will build bridges to better communication:

  1. Set up some one on one time with each on one your children, whether they are helping you make dinner, set the table etc.
  2. Focus on them, ask them how their day was, ask open ended questions, make sure they know you are interested on what they have to say.
  3. Try not to interrupt if they are telling you a story about some behavior you don’t really agree with, try to ask questions that are not judgmental, for example; “why do you think you reacted that way?” “how did you feel after you had that reaction?” help them sort through the emotions and come up with their own conclusions.
  4. Put yourself in their position, try to listen and not over analyze what they are saying, remember they are talking to you, they want to trust you with their stories and feelings.
  5. Maybe you can share an experience where something similar has happened to you, and you can offer some comfort.
  6. Restate parts of the story, so your child knows you are listening and this also helps you better understand the context of the story.
  7. Repeat with each child, sometimes having these conversations as a group may have some family members feel left out and not heard.

Over time, using these techniques will help develop your family’s listening “muscle.” According to Stephen Walton from The Positive Parenting Centre website: “It’s critical to model your capacity to listen and understand.  In turn, your child will instinctively develop active listening techniques of their own.  They will become less argumentative and defensive, become more democratic and develop emotional maturity.”  Be the best listener you can be to help promote good communication and understanding within your family.   Active listening is not only about paying attention, it is about engaging in dialogue and one important pay-off is deeper and richer family relationships. The skills used in active listening aren’t hard or complex. It can feel a bit artificial if you’re using these techniques for the first time, but with time, you’ll be using them without thinking.

Further Reading

A List of 9 Books to Help Teach and Reinforce Active Listening http://www.parents.com/fun/entertainment/books/best-books-to-teach-listening/

How to Practice Active Listening https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-active-listening-3024343

Comic relief: Everybody Loves Raymond https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4VOubVB4CTU

How to use Active Listening with Children  http://hybridparenting.org/how-to-use-active-listening-with-children/

You Know What I Mean? Giving Directions (for parents of toddlers and preschoolers) https://www.cdc.gov/parents/essentials/videos/index.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fparents%2Fessentials%2Fvideos%2Fvideo_direct_vid.html

Listening is a Skill http://centerforparentingeducation.org/library-of-articles/healthy-communication/the-skill-of-listening/

Ten Steps to Help with Active Listening https://www.forbes.com/sites/womensmedia/2012/11/09/10-steps-to-effective-listening/#1717be7d3891

Active Listening Skills Enrich your Parental Communication http://www.the-positive-parenting-centre.com/active_listening_skills.html

Become a Better Listener https://psychcentral.com/lib/become-a-better-listener-active-listening/

‘When I Was Your Age’ And Other Pitfalls Of Talking To Teens About Stress http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/04/16/523592625/-when-i-was-your-age-and-other-conversational-pitfalls-of-talking-to-teens

Taking Action: Family games and activities that help sharpen listening skills:

Series of Sound

Using everyday items, you can incorporate hidden sounds into a family game. Challenge family members to listen for, draw, and repeat a series of common sounds. It’s amazing how much everyone tunes out the sounds around them.

Preparation

  • Collect everyday objects such as a stapler, book, paper, kitchen tools or toys and place in a plastic bin or cardboard box.
  • Be sure to have a variety of items on hand to make noise with. Take turns making organizing a set number of these. For example, a series might include banging a book on the desk, bouncing a small ball, stomping your foot, clapping your hands, stapling papers, whistling, clicking keyboard keys, or shaking a bag of Lego blocks.

Instructions

  1. After dinner, have everyone at the table listen for sounds made only by the designated “sound engineer.”
  2. Every time a new sound is made, everyone should draw a picture of the item that made the sound.
  3. After all the sounds are made, share everyone’s lists, pass around the items drawn and recreate the series of sounds in order. Celebrate everyone’s listening success and laugh about the sounds no one got.

The Last Word

Multi-tasking is an essential element of effective listening. Similar to a common improvisation activity, this game challenges students to listen to classmates while also preparing a relevant statement in their head. Small or large groups can easily play ‘The Last Word.’

  1. Choose a topic such as in the jungle, prehistoric life, an episode of a TV show, or a new pop song.
  2. Select an order by handing out numbers or base your order on the seating arrangements.
  3. The first player must walk to the front of the room and say one sentence that relates to the chosen topic.
  4. The next player must immediately walk to the front of the room and say one sentence that starts with the last word said by the player immediately before them.
  5. Play continues until all students have had a turn. If a student is unable to come up with an appropriate sentence within ten seconds, he is out of the game.
  6. Game play continues in this fashion until there is only one person left and he is the winner.

Story Builder

Instead of playing 20 Questions on your next car trip. start a story where one person starts a story with a single sentence. Each person adds a new sentence, but only after repeating all of the previous sentences.

If you have a preschooler, check out this list of activities that enhance the development of listening skills: https://kidsactivitiesblog.com/52641/listening-skills/

Try using these tips to help you get the best out of a conversation with your family and will build bridges to better communication:

  1. Set up some one on one time with each on one your children, whether they are helping you make dinner, set the table etc.
  2. Focus on them, ask them how their day was, ask open ended questions, make sure they know you are interested on what they have to say.
  3. Try not to interrupt if they are telling you a story about some behavior you don’t really agree with, try to ask questions that are not judgmental, for example; “why do you think you reacted that way?” “how did you feel after you had that reaction?” help them sort through the emotions and come up with their own conclusions.
  4. Put yourself in their position, try to listen and not over analyze what they are saying, remember they are talking to you, they want to trust you with their stories and feelings.
  5. Maybe you can share an experience where something similar has happened to you, and you can offer some comfort.
  6. Restate parts of the story, so your child knows you are listening and this also helps you better understand the context of the story.
  7. Repeat with each child, sometimes having these conversations as a group may have some family members feel left out and not heard.

Over time, using these techniques will help develop your family’s listening “muscle.” According to Stephen Walton from The Positive Parenting Centre website: “It’s critical to model your capacity to listen and understand.  In turn, your child will instinctively develop active listening techniques of their own.  They will become less argumentative and defensive, become more democratic and develop emotional maturity.” Be the best listener you can be to help promote good communication and understanding among your family.  Active listening is not only about paying attention, it is about engaging in dialogue and one important pay-off is deeper and richer family relationships.

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Helping Your Family Cope: Responding to Terrifying Events

When another mass shooting takes place, as a parent it is can be challenging to manage your own reaction while figuring out how what to say to your child. The National Childhood Traumatic Stress Network suggests that parents should start the conversation about what has happened, as not saying anything makes events seem more threatening. (Click here for their brief guide.)

Find out what your child already knows, and listen carefully for misinformation, misconceptions and underlying fears and concerns. Take the time to provide correction information and encourage your child to ask questions. Answer those questions directly, no matter how difficult the question. You might be asked whether something similar could happen here. While it’s important to answer honestly, your child may be looking for reassurance that your family will be safe. Find the right moment to talk about your own family’s plan for keeping safe in a crisis.

Limit media exposure, especially for very young children. Be aware that the constant barrage of news updates repeating the same information, especially when audio or video recordings of the attack are played, can be very disturbing to a child. Limit your own exposure to the coverage so that you can focus on what your child needs.

Don’t be surprised if your child’s behavior changes, even if you have a teen. Even if your teen isn’t talking, they may be thinking about what has happened. Keep the conversation going, be patient with your family (and yourself) and provide an extra dose of comfort and understanding. Reach out for help if you are worried that a family member doesn’t “bounce back” in a reasonable time. Sometimes traumatic events act as a kind of emotional trigger.

Be a positive role mode, express empathy for victims, and use this as an opportunity to share ideas for coming with difficult situations like this tragedy. Find the good in the story — how first responders acted, how people helped and protected each other or the people who lined up to give blood. While there may not be a concrete way to help in the way we sent relief supplies and contributions to Porto Rico and Mexico after the hurricane and earthquake — thoughts and prayers for the victims is an affirmation of care and concern that is important to express and share with your family.

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Summer Countdown to College Blast-Off

The summer before starting college is a time of transition for recent high school graduates, but before long the summer will have flown by and you’ll be packing the car to move your college freshman into the dorm.

To help ensure a successful launch, you should begin laying the groundwork now. Unlike in high school, summer work isn’t about reading 3 or 4 books, it’s about life skills and some serious conversations.

Start with the basics but don’t stop there.

  1. Laundry: make your teen do their own, from stripping their bed and throwing in the towels to sorting their clothes. Don’t take it for granted that they know how often they need to change the sheets, or how much laundry can go into the machine at once and how much detergent to use. It may seem obvious, but remind them not to leave wet clothes in the washer (mentioning laundry room etiquette isn’t a bad idea either and can be a helpful segue to a conversation about adjusting to living in a communal setting).
  2. Housekeeping: if your teen isn’t already helping around the house with housekeeping, a few practical lessons like sweeping the dust balls from under the bed, sewing buttons back onto shirts, advice about making sure that food left in the fridge isn’t a science experiment and keeping a box of baking soda in the fridge to absorb odors. Don’t just talk, enlist them in housekeeping at home now if they don’t help out already.
  3. Transportation: while your teen may know how to get into New York City and navigate the subway, they may not know ways of getting home from campus. Review the options and their costs. Hint: if coming home for Thanksgiving requires flying or taking the train, buy the tickets now. Make a hotel reservation for Parents Weekend now too — if you decide not to go, you’ll have plenty of time to cancel. Don’t freak out, but some parents make reservations for graduation now too!

If your child will have a car on campus, open the hood and review basic maintenance like checking the oil and other fluids, knowing where to go for service, and how to get help – walk them through calling AAA or the insurance company.

  1. Budgeting is a big issue. While the college’s meal plan may, in theory, cover most meals, your child will have other expenses. You’ll have to do some homework, but come up with a realistic amount for your child to manage and how much you will contribute. Talk about how to handle academic related expenses like books and materials, meals and entertainment, travel and unexpected expenses.

If your child doesn’t already have a checking account, open one now (assuming that they’ll be able to access their bank easily from campus). They’ll need to know how to write a check, send a payment electronically, know what ATM and other fees they’ll pay in various circumstances, and how to bank online securely. If you’re giving them a credit card, make the parameters for using the card are clear.

Include cell phone and data plans in this conversation, how much data they can use and how to manage their usage – reminding them to limit social media apps to Wi-Fi is one easy to rein in data consumption.

Health care: don’t leave doctors’ appointment and health forms for the last moment. If your child will be on your family’s health insurance at college, be sure the waiver form is sent in so you don’t get billed for the college’s plan. Be sure that your student goes to school with their own insurance card and know how the plan works (For example: is there a deductible? If they don’t feel well, where should they go for care; what to do in an emergency.) Ask them to sign a HIPAA release form at the doctor’s office so that you can interact with the doctor on their behalf.

Make sure they know how to get help if they’re in distress. Starting college can be an emotionally volatile experience and your child needs to know that you back them 100%. Many 18-year-olds go to college feel that if they stumble, they have failed; they need to know that they will stumble and that reaching out for support is a sign of success. For mental health, this support ranges from the RA in their dorm to the college’s counseling service, with hotlines and other services in between.

Academic support services at college aren’t just for students with special needs. Most colleges have resources to help with writing papers and working out math problem sets as well as faculty advisors who help map out your child’s academic progress. Review all the available resources together, consider making a cheat sheet for yourself so that you can make helpful suggestions when that tearful call comes. Know the college’s policy and procedure for communicating with parents, but if you are truly worried about your child, you should not hesitate to contact the college.

Your college student needs to know that it is ok to be a squeaky wheel. Not addressing a concern, whether emotional, physical, academic or social is not a sign of maturity. Using available resources is.

  1. Consider making a contract with your student about their obligations. You and your child need to agree on academic expectations (GPA, number of credits that have to be earned in a semester). Consider asking your child to sign a release allowing you to see their grades and transcripts. When you have this conversation, remember that some students do struggle to adjust to college and it takes them some time to get find their academic footing; make sure your expectations are mindful of this; the last thing you want is for your child to be worried about what you are going to say if they are doing their best and they are struggling. You should have the same conversation for illicit substances. Talk through the consequences for drinking and drug use (including casual marijuana).
  2. Social and sexual pressures. There have been plenty of headlines about sexual assault on college campuses. Make sure you sit down and talk with your child about these issues and how connected they are to drinking. You may feel that you sound like a broken record, but the message that alcohol abuse has serious consequences is essential. Make sure your child knows how to take care of themselves and to look out for their friends. Talk through scenarios of what to do when handed a drink at a party or if a friend has had too much to drink. It’s not a bad idea to describe the symptoms and consequences of alcohol poisoning as it is not uncommon to find a fellow student passed out in the hall of the dorm. Don’t skip this conversation if your teen has never been interested in engaging in these behaviors in high school. Even if they will be living in the substance-free dorm they need this information.
  3. Encourage participation in an extra-curricular activity. It’s a way to meet people somewhere other than at parties; having a non-academic interest is a kind of safety valve that builds a social network and can help keep academic pressure in perspective. Exercise – even if it is playing Quidditch – and some kind of mindfulness practice are other important tools for scaffolding success at college.
  4. Make a plan for communicating with your child when they are at college. Plan to communicate reactively – don’t start your day by texting “just to say hi.” Let your child establish the rhythm for communicating with you, but set up a regular time once a week to check in. Once they’re at school, resist the temptation to call just to hear their voice. Before you wave good bye at the dorm in September, work out how you will communicate that you need a response from them and what are your agreed expectations. Care packages are always welcome, be they a batch of chocolate chip cookies, a gift card or a framed photo of a favorite photo of you together when they were little. Letting go isn’t easy, but an easy way to avoid being a helicopter parent by being reactive in communicating with your child, especially at the beginning of the Fall semester. However, you know your child best and if you sense that there are warning signs that something is seriously not right, trust your instincts.

This list could go on, issues like time management, finding a mentor and many others, but at some point, your child is going to turn off. Don’t make this a marathon session. Don’t start with a long conversation, begin with the building blocks of independence like sending them to the doctor’s appointment alone (if they are over 18), or having them make a budget for what they want in their dorm room and letting them loose to fill up a cart on the Bath, Bed and Beyond website. Make your own list of what issues you want to cover before the car gets loaded up at the end of the summer. Put what is most important to you and your family at the top and start your first conversation, maybe when you’re helping them sort their own laundry.

Lastly, savor this last summer with them home, in a flash it will be over and like the milestones of their first words, riding a 2-wheeled bike, and graduating from high school, this time will be a memory. Enjoy it and use it to ensure that your college student has a full tool-box for college success.

Taking Action

Give your college bound teen the link to CDC’s webpage (College Health and Safety: https://www.cdc.gov/family/college/), which addresses these and other issues:

There are all kinds of tests in college–beyond those you take for a grade.

  • Social and sexual pressures.
  • The temptation of readily available alcohol, drugs, and unhealthy food.
  • The challenge of getting enough sleep.
  • Stress from trying to balance classes, friends, homework, jobs, athletics, and leadership positions.

One way you can do this is to have them add it to the contacts list in their phone.

Worried that you’ve forgotten something? This checklist is a useful reminder:

  • Make a plan – what do they do if they get sick?
  • Make a contract – if you’re paying, what are your requirements? Have your teen sign consent for you to get grade reports
  • Nuts and bolts – do they know how to do laundry?
  • What supports did they have in High School that will disappear?
  • Do they need to register with the Office of Students with Disabilities?
  • Create a budget together; identify who is responsible for which expenses
  • How will they choose classes? Plan their schedule?
  • What should they do if they feel homesick?

Make time for family fun:

Cook together their favorite recipes, especially the easy ones that they can reproduce in their dorm’s kitchen to wow their roommates. Make index card copies of the recipes and an online version that you can send to them later in the year.

Sit down together to make a photobook online and order 2 copies, one for you at home and one to send with them to college.

Make plans to check something off of your child’s bucket list before they leave for school. If the whole family can participate, even better.

Further Reading

Additional suggestions for how to have the pre-college conversation before you’re in the car driving them there.

Launching Conversations: Tips for Parents of College Bound Kids

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/maureen-price-tillman/launching-conversations-t_b_694622.html

Letting go: Tips for Parents of New College Students

http://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/letting-go-new-college-students/

Launching your College Student

www.northshorecenterllc.com/userfiles/229143/file/Launchingyourcollegestudent.pdf

Feeling melancholy about your child going off to college?

Struggling to Let Go of My College-Student Daughter

https://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/01/struggling-to-let-go-of-my-college-student-daughter/

It’s not too early to start practicing:

The Six Things You Shouldn’t Say to Your Adult Child

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/28/adult-children-parenting_n_1916536.html

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Mindful Parenting: Getting Your Emotions Under Control

Mindful Parenting Handout (pdf) English | Español

We live saturated with information, plugged into devices using applications that daily, hourly and minute-by-minute repeat and reinforce messages that convey information, anxiety and concern. As parents we not only have to figure out what age-appropriate access we want for our children, but also how to manage our own responses to this never-ending barrage.

This has nothing to do with any particular party or point of view. Being plugged in fans the flames of anxiety and outrage. The gulf between people holding opposing opinions often feels insurmountable. Change always produces anxiety and everyone can agree that things really did change with this election.

We’re familiar with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Once someone has suffers a significant trauma, the emotional impact of each subsequent upheaval or disaster is amplified. For many people in metropolitan New York, whether or not you were personally affected, 9/11 was a significant traumatic event.  The toll from Super-Storm Sandy, the Great Recession, the 2016 election, and more personal events, like the death of a loved one, don’t entirely disappear. Loss of resiliency makes it harder to bounce back. Being aware of this helps to counteract the emotional rollercoaster caused by the latest upsetting event or news story.

What is a parent to do? We have to engage this issue on three fronts:

  1.    Manage your own reactions; be aware of the face you present to your child and how you talk with your family about issues and concerns. This isn’t only about what is age-appropriate information, but how to talk to your child about fears and anxiety.
  2.    Control the 24-hour news cycle. How much information is too much information? You want your child to be involved in civic life, but does that mean they should have an open window to the full range of what you’re thinking and feeling? Your answers to these questions are highly personal; whatever you decide, you should be aware of the effect on your child’s sense of well-being and security—regardless of the risks and dangers you feel.
  3.    Learn how to disagree and how to have a dialogue with someone with a different viewpoint. Living where polarization and not compromise is the norm in politics is one thing, but think about how the behavior seen on the nightly news would translate onto the playground. Children need to see dialogue and compromise modeled.

The first step is to become aware yourself, about how you are reacting – whether it is to something you read on your Facebook feed or your response to an “idiot” driver in front of you when you’re rushing to get your child to school on time.

Here are some suggestions for taking that first step:

This may sound simple, but it is powerful. Just unplug. Park everyone’s smart phone or tablet when you walk in the door at the end of the day. After checking in after dinner, resist the urge to read the umpteenth update.

Identify the positive and name it. This doesn’t mean that the causes of your stress are to be ignored. Try to find something good in your day. The positive feelings you generate will empower you to face the scary stuff.

Practice some mindfulness techniques when your blood begins to boil. Step away from what you’re reading, think about the present moment; really pay attention to your child, focus on what they are doing and try to identify and think about what all of your senses are telling you. Think about making that moment an indelible memory.

Come up with your own “curse” to use when you feel a blast of frustration while driving. That made up expletive allows you to vent but also introduces humor into the moment, a valuable tool to diffusing anger.

Focus on keeping your interactions human. Really look at the grocery store cashier, smile and ask how their day is going when they start to ring up your purchases. Let that car trying to pull out of a parking spot on a busy road go, rather than racing around it.

Express gratitude; this includes to your spouse and children for simply making you smile. Say it and mean it.

Show empathy and act on it.

We’ve all be through a lot lately. Bringing your own emotional thermostat under control is a first step to managing stress and anxiety. Not only are you reducing your own levels of anxiety, you are laying a strong foundation being able to help your child learn to regulate their emotions.

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