Friday, January 4, 2013

Coping With National Tragedies

When tragedy hits our country, it hits all of us. Most of us experience a dizzying array of emotions from shock, sadness, disbelief, grieving, compassion, and even relief that the tragedy did not happen to us. The shooting at a small elementary school in Connecticut earlier this month shocked us all. How did this happen? Our children should be safe. How did that young man reach a point where he felt he had to kill his mother as well as innocent people and children? These are questions that have been asked since we heard about the shooting. These are the same questions that were asked when there was a massive shooting at the movie theater  at Columbine, at college campuses. Not only do we ask how these mass murders can happen, how can we prevent them, but how can we protect ourselves and especially our children? As the media uncovers more of the background story of this tragic event, and we hear and read stories daily, some will experience media induced post-traumatic stress. Everyone related to that school, students, siblings, friends, family, teachers, staff, neighbors, will develop some form of post-traumatic stress to accompany their grieving. It is very normal to experience stress in response to a traumatic event. However, if we buy in to the fear and begin to obsess about the event, keep our children from going to school, never go in to a movie theater  or back away from any public situation that involves large groups of people, then we reinforce the fear and make it part of us. In a way, that gives the shooter more power over us. To stay empowered, we must remember that we are no more vulnerable than we were before, we are just more aware of our vulnerabilities. These mass shootings are the exception rather than the rule, so they stand out. Think about all the millions of children that go off to school daily and are safe. Think about all the millions of people that go to the movie theater daily and are safe. If you have ever been in a car accident, you might recall feeling very jumpy when next you started to drive. Every shadow felt like a car crashing into you. It is not that you are more vulnerable to a car accident; it is that you are now much more aware that it can happen. If you give in to the fear and stop driving, it will be very hard to ever get comfortably behind the wheel of a car again. If you stop going to the movies, it will be hard to go back again. If you don’t send your children to school, you are telling them the world is too dangerous for them to go out. Yes, we need to be aware and take whatever precautions are available, but then we just have to go out and live our lives. 
In the county in which I live, there were rumors that kids were going to go to school with guns and there were going to be shootings. I sent my children to school with the message that we can’t cave in to rumors and stop living. As I dropped them off in the morning, I noticed that most of the parking lot was empty. At the end of the day, my children told me that most of their classes were virtually empty. What were we telling our children that day? We were telling them to believe wild rumors, give in to them, hand our power over to people that are not even rationale, and be afraid to live our lives. That is not the message we want to give our children or ourselves. We need to be stronger than that so we don’t live in the shadow of tragedy and fear.

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Family Rules for Consistent Parenting

 Children respond to structure and consistency. Any loop hole, such as not following through on a consequence, and your plan falls apart. If there are too many rules, especially if you have more than one child of varying ages, it becomes too hard to keep track. Behavior charts are great if you keep them simple and you are willing to be dedicated to them. However, many families find it too difficult to follow through with charts for more than one child. Grounding is also an option that many parents choose. However, there are two potential problems with this approach. First, when you ground a child, it means you have also grounded yourself in order to enforce the grounding. Since you did not do anything wrong, I don’t see why you should be grounded. I recommend a very modified version of grounding in which your child is grounded until they work off whatever consequences you have given them. Secondly, children often forget exactly why they are grounded, losing its effectiveness, and parents forget to enforce the length of the grounding or feel sad for their child, and lift the grounding. This also negates the consequence. For the family that wants some basic rules for parenting that does not involve too many steps or behaviors to keep track of, there is one basic principle and three general rules.
    Principle One: Tell your child exactly what you expect, when you expect the chore or work to be done, and how you expect the chore or work to be done. There is no guess work and no wiggle room to avoid the expected task. Remember, however, that we are working with children and it is unlikely you will get an immediate response. Let’s face it, whatever it is that you want your child to do is most likely not on the top of their priority list, competing with their favorite game, TV show, or playing outside with friends. It is perfectly normal and all right to have to remind your child of their chores or tasks. Therefore, incorporate one warning. Let your child know that this is their one and only warning. This means you do not give your child 5 or 6 warnings until you are worn down and start yelling. If you are yelling at your child, you most likely waited too long to intervene. Now your child just sees you as mean and you have to enforce your rule/expectation and deal with your inner guilt or anger. If you stay with one warning and then calmly give the consequence, you can avoid the anger/guilt cycle.
            Family Rules:
1. Show respect for parents and other adults. This means no arguing, even when you think you are right.
2. Do what you are told when you are told, with respect.
3. What you are asking for, when you argue, the answer is automatically no.
            Before you start a new program of rules and consequences, you will need to sit down with your child/children and explain the new program. Make sure they understand what is expected and what will happen if expectations are not followed. It is often helpful to have your child explain the system back to you and correct any misunderstandings. It is also important that you and your spouse or other caregiver collaborate on a list of chores and consequences you agree will reinforce your new expectations. Consequences should be immediate, concrete, and short. If you make the consequences long term, two problems may occur. First, your child may forget why they are being punished and just see you as mean. Second, as the parent, you are more likely to cave, diminishing the impact of your intervention.
            If you would like more detail about how to set up the rules and consequences in a user friendly way for your family, visit our bookstore and purchase our Interactive Worksheet: FAMILY RULES FOR CONSISTENT PARENTING. Happy parenting.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year Resolutions

Happy New Year to everyone. With all the festivities over, the gifts given and received, family and friends visited, parties attended, it is time to get back to our normal routine. Or is it? So many people make a lengthy list of New Year’s resolutions and others, so discouraged from past resolutions that never went anywhere, have given up on making new resolutions. The end of the year is a good time to look back and see what your year has been about. How did you cope with whatever was not in your control? What was under your control that you actually changed or decided to keep in your life? Let’s start with the resolution list. If it is not a realistic list, you will be setting yourself up for failure. For example, if you state that you will never eat another carb, how likely is that really? If you want to change your life style, make small incremental goals that are more likely to lead to success. Many of us have either known someone or have ourselves purchased a gym membership with good intent. After a week of frenzied exercising, we are so sore that we are turned off and never go back, stating we don’t like it or we don’t have time. However, if you want to exercise more, maybe go for a 20 minute walk two to three times a week and gradually increase your speed and distance. As this gets easier, maybe increase your time or the number of times you walk. If you really want to join a gym, go slow. Have a trainer set up a program for you, possibly starting only 30 minutes twice a week and working your way up to a 60-minute session. If you do not like to exercise by yourself, check out a class. If you are self-conscious, go with someone and/or line up in the back so you don’t feel so exposed. Remember, the key is to set yourself up for success. If changing your eating is your goal, maybe consult with a nutritionist and learn how to eat healthy, allowing yourself to eat healthy carbs with some treats thrown in. If you feel deprived, your likelihood of success will go down. Maybe you want to read more. Again, telling yourself that you will read an hour a day may be very unrealistic. Look at your schedule and life style and set aside some time two to three days a week where you have some quiet time to read. Whatever the content of your desired change, take small, doable steps that you can gradually increase and set yourself up for success. Remember, success builds on success.

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