Monday, August 24, 2015

In Praise of Bedtime, and A Little Structure From Parents

Fall is just around the corner, and I'm helping the families I see in family counseling set up some structure and a game plan for family life for the busy school year ahead. Summer is a time to loosen up the family structure and stay up later, do more outside, take time to vacation and rest up. In September, it's time for the family architects (the parents) to get back on track and communicate with the whole family about how they can help and work together collaboratively.

Too many families have too little structure, and end up being chaotic, messy, and angrier than necessary. If you have school-age children, here is a check-list of things to consider to avoid family chaos and crankiness:

1. Bedtimes- I don't like to see teens up until 2AM then trying to get up for school. Even though most teens stay up late during the summer, I encourage you to talk with your teen ASAP about beginning the shift to an earlier wind-down. Teens actually need more sleep than adults or some younger children. Turning off electronics an hour before bed helps brains cool down and prepare for sleep.

Younger children need bedtimes, too. They need a consistent bedtime routine (think bath time, stories/reading, tucking in/quiet, gentle talking with a parent, then lights out).

Parents also need some relaxing, adult time before bed, which is impossible if you all go to bed at midnight.

2. Get Everyone Sleeping in Their Own Rooms- With the exception of tiny babies, I much prefer we get parents sleeping in their bedroom and the children sleeping in their rooms. This helps everyone get a better night's sleep, helps us maintain appropriate parent/child boundaries, and helps children develop their ability to self comfort. Get started early on this project, because it's much more difficult to clean up this problem when the children are older. If you have an anxious child, go spend time in their room for a while, but don't sleep in their room, and don't have them sleep in yours. This is even more important for single parents. Don't make your child your companion. Adults need some grown up time after children are in bed. Set clear guidelines and enforce them with consistency.

3. Chores- The start of the fall season is a great natural time to set up a simple new chore system. If your kids missed that because they had a nanny when they were younger or you got used to handling everything, start today. Make a list of age appropriate chores, and have all children age 4 and up pick a few, possibly 2 or 3 things they promise to help with that month. Rotate tasks and choose again each month so nobody gets stuck with the trash cans, or some other unappealing task, all the time. Have the children help make a reminder list to post on the fridge which specifies who will do what and when. Have the kids help you set up consequences in advance for any family member who flakes on their chore. Being a family isn't just about receiving, but also about contributing. I recommend that even adult children who live at home while going to college, or after college, get some chores, too. Each person picking up after themselves, making their bed and straightening up the basics in their bedroom and bathroom should definitely be included in this.

4. Allowance- If you don't have a system set up, the fall is a great time to start one up. I like some small amount of money even for little ones as young as 5 or 6. It's a great teaching tool, where you can have them save some, give some to charity, and have some to spend. For older kids, it's a great way not to get nickeled and dimed at stores by the children. They need to plan, bring their own money, and learn to evaluate whether a purchase is really worth it. They can also learn to exercise the self-control to save for an important goal. Some parents link chores to allowance, while others prefer to keep the two as distinct.

5. Morning and Evening Routines- These are the two most high-conflict times for families. Talk with your partner, and then with the children about creating a smooth new morning routine, and ask them each to make a list for themselves of what they need to do.  I prefer everyone gets up a few minutes earlier to make that busy time less hectic. Try to get the children to agree to shower, prep their backpack, pack a lunch, and select school clothes the night before if at all possible. Many girls can really lose time in the morning selecting an outfit. Consider eliminating the third parent, the television set, at these busy times by keeping it off. Start as early as you can to have the children wake up to their own alarm rather than depending on you. It's cute when they are little, but aggravating if you lose the window of opportunity on this task and your high school senior is mad that you didn't keep trying to wake them up after multiple attempts.

6. Family Meetings- I recommend them as a great tool for communicating and working more effectively as a family. Often Sunday night at dinner works best. Parents plan the agenda. Limit it to 10 to 20 minutes, depending on children's attention spans. I always recommend meetings occur at a mealtime. Put a sheet of paper on the fridge so the children and teens can add agenda items. Have each family member, adults and kids, bring a specific compliment to share with every person there. Keep a journal of plans and decisions made so you can follow up next time you meet. If you pay allowance, this is a good time to distribute it.

7. Family Fun Nights- Too many families don't really enjoy each other that much. It's so important to play together regularly. Ask your children if they would like to create a fun family tradition; perhaps you could initiate a weekly board game and pizza night, or a hike or outdoor activity together on Sunday afternoons. Most children I ask about this are thrilled at the prospect of more family fun. Remember: no cell phones or electronics allowed.

8. Date Night- You are also creating a blueprint for your children about how marriage works. Healthy partnerships take a few hours out of the week to spend doing something enjoyable together, preferably out of the house. If you set up Saturday date nights, you plan one, then ask your partner to plan the next, and keep alternating. Nobody likes to be taken for granted, and I find both partners like to be courted. It's also fun to get to plan some activities you think would be fun to do with your partner. Two rules: 1) Do not discuss the children (it's too easy to hide there) and 2) Try to do something where you can chat some, so a movie is not ideal unless you add getting an iced tea after to discuss the film.

These eight suggestions can give your family just the structure you need to feel successful in your life as a couple and a family. Go for it! Daily life is so much more fun if we are all paddling the canoe in the same direction.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Easing Post-College Transition for Your Child and Yourself

Finishing college is a huge accomplishment. Next comes the post-college transition, which is often more difficult than expected. It can involve your grad moving back home while he looks for work or considers what’s next. After the “high” of graduation, the next chapter can feel like a letdown. He may not be happy to be home and probably misses living independently. Dealing with entrances and exits from the family system can be difficult. Here are some tips that can help your child launch, and assist if he or she decides to re-enter the nest.

Continue reading my article for OC Family here

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Necessary Losses: Getting Good at Getting Through Grief

Necessary losses are a part of our lives. Loss softens us, and causes us to reexamine our lives. Many changes come with the loss of someone you loved. It can take many months, or longer to adjust to life without that beloved person. One has to recreate your sense of self.

There is no one correct way to grieve. Recently, I've had patients reflect that in a grief group at a local hospital they were told to sit in a chair and do an hour of grieving each day, but that's not what I would generally recommend. I have found that grief is as individual as your thumb print or a snowflake. Many people report that grief comes in waves of 20-30 minutes, and can be triggered by many different things. You need to grieve your way, and have support for doing so.

Many feelings are normal as we grieve: sadness, anger, fear, relief, abandonment, shock, confusion, and emptiness.

What factors impact grief?
  • Your relationship with the person you lost
  • The suddenness or the expected nature of the loss
  • Your temperament
  • Your coping skills
  • Your support system
  • Your faith
  • Your loss history and having resolved past grief

The more deeply you were attached to the individual, the greater the loss. When I am working with someone who has lost a baby or a child, that is a huge life-changing kind of loss. A couple can be married for 50 plus years, and depending on the quality of the relationship it could be a much more or less difficult transition. Losing your last or only parent can propel you into being the oldest generation in your family. The end of a friendship or the loss of a cherished pet can be very painful, and unearth other feelings of unresolved loss from earlier in your life. Loss is cumulative.

Grieving is hard work. It can make you feel physically and emotionally drained. When you are grieving, it's important to do extreme self-care and nourish yourself as much as you can. There are tasks of mourning to be done, including feeling the pain of the loss and adapting to your life without that person in it to call or spend time with.

Each individual has a loss history. I usually try to take information about previous loss in the first few sessions in counseling individuals. Your history of loss includes all the moves, break-ups, family divorces, job loss, loss of friends as well as loss by death that you have experienced in your lifetime. Looking at how you have coped with past losses and what was helpful can be a good place to start approaching the current loss you may be experiencing.

What helps people who are grieving?
  • Support from friends and family
  • Rest
  • Eating healthfully
  • Getting back into life as you can
  • A place or person where you can process your grief
  • A growth-oriented mindset
Loss is a part of our lives and while very painful, also allows us to grow and to reflect on our own lives and mortality. Getting good at letting yourself fully grieve allows you to go forward being more open, more loving and with a deeper sense of reverence for the delicate nature of our time here. Understanding how your own loss history informs your life can help you become more fully human and more empathic to others.

Monday, August 3, 2015

When You're Not an Introvert or Extrovert: Meet the Ambivert

In Myers Briggs personality testing, individuals are typed along a continuum from introvert to extrovert. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (July 28, 2015) by Elizabeth Bernstein introduced a term for the two-thirds of people who are actually towards the middle, calling them ambiverts. There are also recent TEDx talks about how temperament type influences relationships at home and at work. Now we know there are three options on this personality parameter.

Extroverts get energized by being with people. They process their own thoughts as they speak aloud to other people. Extroverts are easy to get to know. They enjoy praise, recognition and awards.

In contrast, true introverts recharge by being by themselves. They can be good with people, but often need time afterwards alone to balance out all the extroversion. They think before they speak and may plan out what they are going to say. Introverts love solitude, which allows them time to internally process their thoughts and feelings.

Ambiverts are well-liked because they are good at both extroversion and introversion. It's like they are bilingual in both modes of being. They can use their intuition to know when to speak and when to listen. These ambivert individuals are moderate; they aren't overly reserved or overly expressive. They are socially flexible.

To help identify if you are an ambivert, consider how you might feel in certain situations. After a busy day at work, what would you want to do after work? Would you rather meet up with friends or go home and unwind by yourself? Ambiverts often split the difference by wanting a little of both. They may want to meet with friends for a bit, then head home for some down time. Ambiverts often choose the middle path, balancing and rebalancing time with people and time alone.

A study published in the Psychological Science journal in June 2013 found ambivert employees at a call center to have better social and emotional flexibility which made them more successful in their work in sales. Adam Grant, a professor of psychology at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania asserts that ambiverts have emotional awareness and flexibility that give them better skills in parenting, marriage and other close relationships.

Ambiverts need to be aware of burnout and boredom which are indicators you may have been stuck too long in the extrovert or introvert mode. It's helpful to be able to look reflectively at situations and know when to withdraw, open up, listen or speak.

Studies suggest that extreme introverts and extreme extroverts make up about one-third of the population, while the remaining two-thirds of us are ambiverts. Knowing your own type on the extroversion scale and being aware of the needs and differences of your partner, your children, your friends and co-workers is useful information to help you flex and understand.