Setting Family Goals for the New Year You Can Actually Keep

Do you set goals for yourself and your family each year only to abandon them after a short time? Don’t give up. You’ve got options. 

Here are two simple techniques for choosing and following through on those resolutions that will have the greatest impact on your family’s health and happiness. 

  1. Take advantage of a fresh start. You will be more likely to follow through with resolutions when you use a “temporal landmark” which is a personal or socially recognized fresh start. You can use a Monday, birthday, or any other personal temporal landmark, but New Year’s Day is one of the most powerful because so many people recognize it as an opportunity to start fresh. 
  • Use this special day to start a conversation with your family so that you can set goals and support each other. 
  • Instead of trying to shape your child’s resolution to something that fits your agenda, ask each child what they would like to change about themselves or make happen in the new year. 
  • Enjoy this opportunity to learn more about how they see themselves, what they value, and the nature of their dreams.
  1. Pick goals that emphasize effort and progress. Don’t miss this opportunity to model an important life skill for your child. When we set a goal that has a measurable outcome such as “go to the gym every day”, we set ourselves up for failure. When success is measured by effort and progress it helps build the habit of noticing and celebrating our successes and gives us permission to begin again. An effort and progress goal might be, “I will do my best to eat healthier and move my body more than last year” or “Work on having more conversations and less arguments this year with my family.”

A thought experiment for 2022If you believe that there is something to be learned from every experience, especially the challenging ones, you may be “pronoid”. Pronoia is a word for the opposite of paranoia. Pronoia is a state of mind that you can try as a way of changing the way you think about and experience difficulties. While a paranoid person believes that people/the universe are conspiring to harm them, a pronoid person believes that people/the universe are conspiring to give them the experiences they need to grow into the best version of themselves. It’s a fun thought experiment! Next time it seems like your child is doing everything they can to upset you, take a deep breath, smile, and thank them for going out of their way to teach you patience and perseverance.  

Good News About the Holidays

by Ruth Freeman, LCSW

  • Do you get stressed about the holidays? 
  • Are you the holiday wizard who tries to make it magical for all? 
  • Wish the whole thing was already over?!? 

We’ve got good news for you about the holidays. 

Families who celebrate special occasions are more likely to raise kids who have a strong sense of identity, are physically healthy, succeed in school and have close ties to their families. So don’t think that these family celebrations are irrelevant. The more meaningful older teenagers think their family rituals are, the more likely they are to have a strong sense of themselves and even be able to handle the stress of going to college in freshman year. These special occasions help give kids a solid foundation and a feeling of being safe and secure in the world. So make sure those Scrooges in your life get the message. Another bit of very good news is that families who share preparations for holidays are more likely to continue those traditions. That means ideally no one person is running the show or doing all the work. (I think I hear a lot of big sighs of relief out there.) 

So what makes the holidays meaningful? Don’t be confused – you, your family and friends are the most important part of your child’s holiday experiences. The people they love are what they want most, really. So manage expectations so you can be really “present” – relaxed, focusing fully on your time together with joy. Don’t expect your holiday to look like a TV show or a Hallmark movie. Those are make-believe. The time it takes you to make all those fabulous creations is time taken away from your family. How it feels during the holidays is much more important than how it looks. 

Plan ahead and make lists together:

  1. Think about what you want the season to be like and ask the kids about what makes the holidays enjoyable for them. Really listen, you might be surprised. Invite them to list all the activities they like. Talk about the activities that you like. Then as a family make a calendar of the activities that you can all agree on. Invite the kids to decorate the calendar and talk about them with enthusiasm as they are coming up. 
  2. Then invite the kids to make a list of what they really want as gifts. Ask about each gift – what do they think they’ll like about it. Be curious and interested. Once that list is complete, be done with it. 
  3. Invite the kids to think about what they want to give other people that can’t be bought. Think together about things that they can make or gift certificates for services they will provide to people like mowing lawns or making them a meal or just spending time together. In our family, a child might get to be the parent for the day or someone might offer to do someone else’s chores for a week.

Consider declaring a positive intention to handle holidays stress – take regular breaks, give up the holiday wizard role, notice perfectionism and expect intense emotions including grief. This is a time of year when we remember loved ones who are no longer with us or reflect on dreams that were lost or simply have to face some predictable family issues. Reach out for support and stay true to the plans that your family has created. Keep it simple, celebrate the little moments with your kids and remember to have fun!

Gratitude: More than Just a Thanksgiving Ritual

It’s that time of year and many of us will look forward to expressing gratitude around a table of loved ones. We know, however, that those who practice gratitude throughout the year reap enormous benefits including improved mood and mental health. Join our team of experts and bring your questions, your doubts and your friends to this lively conversation about a topic that may be much more important than you ever guessed. We promise you will come away with some practical ways to uplift family life and even feeling more enthusiastic about the holidays!

Join us Thursday, November 11th at 8pm for this Facebook Live event.

PRESENTERS:
Aaron Weintraub, MS
Amy Alamar Ed.D.
Michael Fauteux M.Ed.

Old Rules versus New Rules of Gender: Parent Do Overs

Old Rule vs New Rules of Gender: Parent Do-Overs

By: Colleen K. Vesely, Ph.D.

It was picture day at my 2.5-year-old daughter’s preschool. Like most mothers, I picked out what I thought was cute – a pink and purple flowered shirt. I sneaked pig tails into her hair. Yes, sneaked because I liked them and she didn’t. I had figured out that if I could distract her enough while doing her hair, with stories or jokes, she generally didn’t think about what I was doing with her hair. Pigtails and flowers were my choices, and to be honest I still love pigtails on kiddos—I think they are absolutely adorable! But these were things that I thought were cute. My daughter, Katja, did not.

I had my own terrible memories of my mother making me wear a navy blue and brown corduroy Snoopy outfit for kindergarten pictures when I was 4 years old. On that picture day with Katja, I did the same thing with my 2.5-year-old as I had experienced so many decades earlier. Katja did not want to wear a flowered shirt and she did not like the pigtails. A few weeks later when the photos arrived, my daughter’s face showed exactly how she felt about the pink, purple, and pigtails—not happy!

Now, almost 6 years later, every time I look at this photo I of course see the cuteness of my child—like eat-you-up-with-a-spoon adorable. But I also cringe because of my parenting in that moment. It seems I cared more about how she looked and that she followed the old rules of gender…rather than letting my sweet child authentically express who she is.

What really makes me cringe is that I knew better—I knew about the new rules of gender. I have a doctorate in family science and have studied human development as well as gender identity, development, and expression more than the average person. I teach about these ideas in my courses as a professor working with aspiring professionals. I am committed to parents, teachers, and caregivers affirming and supporting children’s gender identities and expression. But, like all of us, I am human and imperfect. I keep this photo hanging on our fridge, not only because Katja is eat-you-up-with-a-spoon adorable—even with her “Mona Lisa” expression in this photo, but also as a reminder of what happens to our children’s spirits if we don’t let them express their gender in the way they choose. The old rules of gender dictate how girls and boys ought to identify and express in very narrow feminine and masculine ways. The new rules of gender allow for thinking about gender in many ways and for expressions of gender to cut across femininity and masculinity in all kinds of important unique ways. Had Katja picked her own clothes that day she likely would have worn her brother’s swim shirt and swim shorts. And maybe even his sunglasses!

As I think back, from the time she could talk Katja’s gender expression or the way she shows gender to the outside world in terms of her appearance, the way she moves and uses her body, as well as the activities she enjoys were always quite gender fluid. Despite my mishap with Katja’s two-year-old class picture, I work to follow her lead regarding her expression of gender. Her brother’s bathing suit was the first thing I really recall Katja wanting to wear quite regularly. As we would receive hand-me-downs from older female cousins, Katja would never want any of the clothes with a lot of pink or frills in her drawer. In her sweet way, she would set these aside for a younger female neighbor who she knew loved pink and dresses. She continued to select clothing for herself that most would see as gender neutral or as “boy clothes.” When she was three, Katja had a male preschool teacher, Mr. Matt, who she thought was absolutely amazing. Katja would often emulate him by wearing a baseball cap backwards and donning her brother’s hand-me-downs, specifically his longer shorts. This is all gender expression. At the same time, Katja still called herself as a girl, which was an indication of her gender identity. Of course, when kids are this young their identity can often appear fluid as they are understanding society’s social constructions of gender—as a binary—no matter how flawed and harmful to many these binary constructions are.

Just before Katja turned five she asked to get her hair cut like her older brother’s hair. I said “yes” enthusiastically and out loud immediately—but, I also delayed the visit to the hairdresser for about a month, as I needed time to get my head around knowing short hair would mean no possibility of sneaking pigtails! Living the new rules of gender can sometimes be really challenging. We are hardwired in the old rules. We have such a desire to categorize humans based on ideas that already exist in our brains. Katja was so excited the day she got her hair cut, and her only regret was that the hairdresser didn’t cut it shorter. I missed her curls, but I wouldn’t trade the joy and confidence on her face as she strode out of the hairdresser for all of the pigtails in the world! As a side note, we just made a trip to the hairdresser yesterday and Katja chose to get the sides cut much shorter, keeping a mohawk on top.

This memory of picture day, the day I did not support Katja to live in her body as she chooses (an important rule in our house) and when I ignored the new rules of gender, is quite literally in my face every day (the preschool pic of Katja in pigtails on our fridge.) It reminds me that even when we know better, we don’t always do better…especially in the face of such strong social conditioning. But whenI glance at her first-grade school picture also on the fridge, I notice my smiling child sporting the most fabulous red mohawk, and I realize that in every parenting moment that we get wrong, there is always a chance to get it right. I live for these second chances—these “do-overs.”

Colleen K. Vesely

Colleen K. Vesely, Ph.D. is an associate professor of early childhood education and human development and family science in the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University. She considers motherhood to be the most humbling experience of her life as she raises three amazing humans, Luka (age 11), Katja (age 8), and Isak (age 4).

Parenting LGBTQ+ Youth: Let’s Talk Roundtable 6/22 8pm

If you are the parent of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LGBTQ) child, you probably have a lot of questions. Your support is key to your child’s well-being, but you may have to go through your own process to get there. Start with, “I’m here for you and love you,” even if you don’t understand and aren’t ok at the moment. Plan to get your own support so that you can process your deepest emotions and concerns, while helping your child to deal with their own. Join Peace At Home guest experts Barbara Esgalhado, PhD and Poshi Walker, MSW with founder Ruth Freeman, LCSW to gain some ideas about helping your child thrive, while exploring your own path to understanding and genuine acceptance.

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Rewatch the FB Live Event – Meltdowns, Tantrums: Kids Simply Struggling to Behave

Watch our Facebook Live event when we talked about meltdowns, tantrums, and kids simply struggling to behave.

JoAnn Robinson, PhD, Peace At Home early childhood expert, parent and grandmother and Ruth Freeman, LCSW and Peace At Home Founder had a informational discussion on Emotional Meltdowns and Behavior Struggles in Young Children.

Does My Child Need To Be In Therapy?

By Katherine Bergamo

Maybe you are thinking about taking your child to see a therapist. Or maybe you are just wondering about whether your child’s behavior is in the “normal” range. Maybe a teacher or childcare provider has expressed some concerns. In any case, you probably have questions, the main one being, “how can I help?”

Here are some important tips to help you get started:

How do I know if my child needs therapy?

Your child may not vocalize that they need, or are interested, in therapy.  If your child is displaying any of these signs, it may be time to talk to someone – ask yourself, Does my child…

  • Have trouble managing emotions or behaviors
  • Seem distressed or upset for more than a few weeks
  • Have problems in more than one setting – like both home and school or school and childcare
  • Display behavior is getting in the way of everyday activities
  • And finally, if your efforts to support your child are not helping, it may be time to ask for help.

Every child is unique and displays their emotions and behaviors differently.  Your child may display different signs than the ones listed above. You know your child best. If you feel they are struggling and in need of help, reach out and speak to a therapist.

How do I Choose a Therapist for My Child?

It’s important to choose a therapist that you, your family, and your child trust. Start by asking people you trust – medical professionals, teachers, or maybe even friends and family. Most professionals recommend a therapist that is licensed such as a social worker, psychologist, professional counselor, or a marriage and family therapist. A good place to begin is to find a therapist whose training matches your specific concerns.  These concerns could be family issues, anxiety, depression, behavior problems, divorce, or other major family transitions to name a few.  Don’t hesitate to ask the therapist about their experience in treating the specific concerns you have and ask about the approaches that they use. It helps to ask if the approach is “evidence-based,” which means research has shown these strategies to be effective with children who have these particular challenges.

Trust your instincts and listen to your child. Make sure you support your child to see the therapist for at least 4 weeks and then assess the person and the process together. As a parent, you want to be sure that your child is seeing a therapist who includes you in the process, invites you to be part of goal setting, and offers you specific guidance about ways you can support your child.

There are no wrong questions to ask the therapist, just as there are no wrong answers to give the therapist.  Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What is your experience treating this kind of problem?
  • Do you expect us (parents) to be involved in sessions with our child?
  • Will you meet with us separately?
  • Will you develop behavior plans to try at home?
  • Will you ask us to help our child practice new skills?
  • Help us understand how therapy works and how it might be helpful for our particular child.

Fitness Doesn’t Have To Be Formal

For many of us parents, he daily to-do list is so long that some things are bound to go undone. The things that end up getting scratched from the list are often what we so desperately need for ourselves, for our own well-being. Talking to parents, especially those with young children at home, I find that one of the first things to get ignored from that ever-present list is fitness. 

There is just no time for yourself when you are doing everything for everyone else, and there is certainly not time for an hour or two at the gym, right? The truth is that while a 5k run or bootcamp classes certainly have their merit and value, fitness doesn’t always have to be structured or formal. There are many ways to include activity into your day on those days when spare minutes feel about as impossible as finding those matching baby socks. 

There is plenty of pressure to have the perfect workout or spend an hour on your Peleton, but reality is a different story. Sometimes all we can muster are 5 minutes at a time in between house chores, distance learning, and outdoor play time. Those 5 minutes at a time can add up throughout the day. If you allow yourself the grace to let your fitness get a little bit messy, a little bit chaotic sometimes, we can lift that stress that builds up around working out and help ourselves make the most out of the limited time we have. Let’s figure out how to fit fitness into your life without it becoming a burden. Here are some easy suggestions we can follow to help fitness turn more into self-care and less into an added stressor. 

Make moving the priority, not working out. 

The most important thing to remember about physical movement is that it is an essential part of self-care, even during the busiest of times. Note that I used the term physical movement here instead of fitness, because sometimes just moving is enough. Focusing on “moving” instead of “working out” can decrease the stress of it all just by a mindset change.  It can be a walk with the kids, running around in the yard with them for 10 minutes, or just staying on your feet and moving when at the playground, instead of sitting on a bench. (Of course, sometimes as parents, we do need that time to just sit on the bench too!). The point is, when life gets so hectic that the structured workouts simply aren’t going to happen, just finding ways to move must be a conscious decision. 

Small bursts add up. 

When it comes to fitness, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. All of your physical activity doesn’t have to come at the same time in the day. Ideally get 30 minutes to yourself for some exercise, but we all know that that can’t happen every day. Intentionally taking 5 minutes, 5 times during the day adds up to 25 minutes of physical movement that you wouldn’t otherwise have had. And you truly can do a lot in 5 minutes. Try making yourself a plan at the beginning of each day. You can spend 5 minutes alternating between squats and lunges, another 5 minutes working on your core. 5 more doing some push ups and plank holds, and there you have 15 minutes of full body exercise. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing. And some days that’s all we can hope for. 

Give yourself grace. 

It is so easy to get caught up in the mindset that you have to have the best work out every time you exercise. But life often has other plans, especially for parents of young children. I often don’t even have time to change into workout clothes, let alone plan and execute a killer fitness session. But forgiving myself for that is a huge part of being successful with fitness in this crazy season of life. If you get one or two quality workouts per week and the rest have to be “on the fly”, that is enough. 

Physical movement is a stress reliever. Its a gift to your kids and a great way to take care of your mind and your body in one shot. The key is to find ways to keep it from being yet another stressor in your life. Let your toddler “lead” you in a workout, forget about the routines and just run like crazy around the backyard. Play leapfrog in the driveway or do sets of squats and lunges while your little one colors a picture. However you can fit it in, it’s the right way. Fitness doesn’t have to be formal to be physically and mentally beneficial. 

Help Young Children Play on their Own

By Cora Megan, M.A.  and JoAnn Robinson, PhD   

Many parents are asking, “How am I supposed to homeschool my child AND work from home? I am not a teacher!” This can feel overwhelming and impossible. You are not alone.

It is important to start small and plan no more than one or two activities for your child per day. Use items that you can easily find around the house- don’t reinvent the wheel. Here are some ways to set you and your child up for success:

  • Organize your space to promote independent play. Remove hazards, and offer a variety of “open-ended” materials that your child can use independently. Cardboard boxes keep children of all ages engaged for long periods of time because they can be used in so many different ways. Use couch cushions for climbing or to build a fort. Offer buckets, Tupperware containers, or reusable shopping bags for filling up/dumping or transporting objects. You may be surprised at how simple activities like this keep your child occupied while promoting critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • Give your child an assignment or a task to accomplish. For example, ask them to go into the backyard and collect 5 acorns, 3 pebbles, and 1 twig. For toddlers, keep the tasks very simple, such as filling up a bag with stuffed animals. Encourage them to check in with you when they are finished. Together you can count how many are in the bag. Praise them for completing the assignment with high 5’s. Not only does this promote your child’s independence, but it also brings them back to connect with you – an important motivating factor!
  • Set up a “workspace” for your child next to where you are working. Use materials such as legos, train sets, coloring/activity books, or even sorting socks. If you set it up as a “job” for your child, they will feel like their work is important, just like yours! To encourage this independence for longer chunks of time, use a timer. Try 10 minutes of independent “work” to start and adjust as needed.
  • Be sure to praise your child when they complete a task or are behaving the way you would like them to behave. You will get MORE of the behavior that you praise. For example, “You are being so helpful by matching those socks.” or “You worked so hard to collect all of those trucks!” Talking about each truck is great to promote language development, too.
  • Finally, make it a priority! Being in nature for a hike or playing outdoors reduces stress, and the exposure to sunlight and exercise helps to improve sleep therefore strengthening our immune systems.  Find 20 minutes every day, even during a light rain shower, to be outside with your children.  Stomp in the puddles together.  Sing a song while you walk.  Make some positive memories in the stressful time.

This is a challenging period for everyone, so be kind to yourself and to your child. The more practice your child gets being independent, the easier this will become.

Pacifier Weaning: Binkies Can be Tricky!

By Cora Megan, M.A. and JoAnn Robinson, PhD

Pacifiers are a great aid to self-soothing for infants and toddlers. It replaces using a thumb, the age-old ready-made tool, and is less damaging to developing teeth. Pediatric dentists recommend that by age three years children are weaned from using them.  

Getting rid of a pacifier is tricky business. So often we are tempted to trick our children or cut it off without acknowledging their feelings or involving them in the process. We always encourage parents to involve their children in the weaning process as much as possible. Don’t underestimate how aware your child is of their attachment to the pacifier! Here are a few methods that have worked for Peace At Home parents: 

  • Prior to weaning, acknowledge your child’s feelings. “You love your pacifier! It makes you feel safe and comfortable.” Give them a little warning (3 days is generally good.) “In 3 days it will be time to say goodbye to your pacifier. You may have feelings about it, and that’s OK. You can share your feelings with me.” 
  • Then we encourage you to give your child a choice in the matter. “Do you want to give your pacifier to X or do you want to do Y?” The outcome of each choice will be the same; in 3 days she will no longer use her pacifier. By consulting your child you are giving them a perceived sense of control which will set you both up for success. Accept any strong feelings with open arms but don’t let the emotions sway the outcome. You can do it! 

Acknowledging your child’s emotions and giving them the words to describe feelings is a way of building emotional intelligence and strengthening the parent-child connection at the same time. 

Remember: this process is no different than any other where your child is encouraged to share feelings. 

So what are some X and Y choices to consider?  Our parents shared these ideas in a recent conversation on our Private Facebook Page:  

  • Just before 3 when you’re about to be a big kid (e.g., move to a big kid bed), the binkie fairy will trade you all your binkies for a toy. 
  • “Mail” binkies to a baby that was just starting out because they needed them more.  
  • Curate a few options on a shopping website, and let your child choose any toy, using his pacifiers to buy it. Tell your child that once they are gone, they would not come back.  Put the pacifiers in a mailer (re-used if possible) and while they watch, put an address on the bag (perhaps your mother’s or a friend’s address), with a note inside – “Please throw these away, we’re using them to buy a toy.”  

Your child may ask about the binkies or cry a bit but with a few days’ persistence and reassurance that they are able to feel safe without it, your child will let them go.