1) How to Get Through the Holidays When You Are Grieving
"How to Get Through the Holidays when You are Grieving" by Sharon M. Phillips, Psy.D.
It's that time of year again! Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah are holidays that most people look forward to. But for those who are grieving, the holidays can actually be a time of dread. The focus on happy times, family memories, and the many rituals and traditions shared during the holidays can exacerbate one's grief for the person who is no longer a part of the family. Grief can be for a loved one who has died, or it can be the result of a divorce or separation. In any case, how does one manage to survive during this difficult time when it seems like everyone else is happy?
An important thing to do if you are grieving this holiday season is to "make plans to plan." Look at those rituals and traditions that have meaning for you, and rather than assume that things need to be done the same as they always have, ask yourself 3 questions: 1) What do I need to do? 2) What do I want to do? 3) What can others do for me?
Give yourself permission to evaluate those traditions that you automatically do each year, and decide which of the above categories they fit into. Some of these traditions can be: gift giving, having a family dinner, sending greeting cards, decorating your home, baking and cooking, and attending parties. Look at each one and determine whether you do it out of habit, tradition, free choice, or obligation, and look at doing things differently this year when you are more acutely grieving. Another idea is to create new memories either privately or publicly. These may include sending flowers to a nursing home in memory of your loved one, deciding to go out to dinner or have your meal catered rather than cooking the holiday meal, drinking a toast in memory of the person, or giving a gift to another of something special that belonged to the person who is gone.
Most of all, be sure to allow yourself time to grieve even in the midst of celebrations all around you. Remember that all feelings are okay; it's how you express them that makes the difference. Know that you have choices available to you about how you want to spend the holidays, and don't feel pressured by others who believe you should be handling the holidays in a certain way. It may also help to remember that with each holiday that you "get through", you will have demonstrated to yourself that you are a survivor of handling tough times. As the saying goes, "Tough times don't last, but tough people do."
2) "Yuck! I Don't Like That!": Help for Moms of Picky Eaters
“Yuck! I don’t like that!” Help for Moms of Picky Eaters By Sharon M. Phillips, Psy.D.
What mom hasn’t heard their children utter those words? Whether your child has only gone through a “phase” where they refused to eat certain foods, or if you have a child you would define as a “picky eater” all the time, you are probably familiar with battles at mealtime. Here are some tips to help with the stress.
Remember that although some children do have sensory issues that contribute to them being picky eaters, many picky eaters are bred, not born. Sure, there are some biological causes to food aversions, but for the majority of kids, the causes tend to be more environmental in nature. Often we as moms serve the foods to our kids that we ourselves enjoy, and spare them the types that we detest. (Is it any wonder that my own oldest son has a “sweet tooth” like his Mommy?)
Be a good example for your children in the foods that you choose for yourself. (When my son was a toddler, I found him snacking on carrots right along with me in the car when that was the snack that I pulled out to enjoy.)
Understand that kids have control over what they choose to put in their mouths. Apart from being force-fed by their parents (which I do not advise!), kids have the final say over the type and amount of food they eat. Potty training and eating are two things in a child’s life that they can absolutely REFUSE to do if they so choose (and they know it, too). Eating disorders which can develop later in childhood or in adulthood grow out of the individual’s need to control the one thing they can control (i.e., food), when other aspects of his or her life appear to be out of control.
This said, take the battle out of mealtimes by not reacting emotionally when your children refuse to eat and using the following model:
Serve your children small portions of each food you prepare for the other members of your family.
Tell them that what is on their plate is their only food selection for this meal.
If they refuse to eat what you have served, tell that that is fine with you (and be sincere!) but let them know that there will be no other food given to them until the next snack or meal is served.
Keep to your word and do not get angry or upset! Remember that no child every wasted away from skipping a meal.
Enlist your children’s help in preparing the meals. This increases their interest in and ownership over the type of food served.
Read articles and/or books that offer helpful hints like interesting recipes and ways to sneak veggies into children’s diets. Or check out one of these other resources available at your local bookstore or at www.amazon.com:
“Coping with a Picky Eater: A Guide for the Perplexed Parent” by William Wilkoff (1998)
“D.W. the Picky Eater” by Marc Brown (1997).
Good luck and happy eating!
3) Keep Your Kids Safe from Abuse
“Keeping Your Kids Safe From Abuse” by Sharon M. Phillips, Psy.D.
First and foremost, make it a point to talk about appropriate and inappropriate forms of touch with your children from an early age (age 3). Explain to them that private parts are any parts of their body that are covered by their bathing suits, and that nobody should be allowed to touch these parts of their body without mom or dad knowing. Give them examples of times when such touching is appropriate (such as a doctor's exam). Experts suggest that your discussion needs to go beyond "good touch" and "bad touch" to also include "secret touch". Since our sexual organs are designed to feel pleasurable, stimulation of these parts can leave kids with feelings that are especially confusing, and "bad touch" does not do a good enough job of explaining these conflicting feelings. Teach your children that "good touch" includes hugs and kisses from people that we are comfortable exchanging these forms of affection with. Never insist that your children give another person a hug or kiss. Instead, always ask them, for example, "Do you want to give Uncle Bernard a kiss?" and respect their response if they refuse.
"Bad touch" are touches that hurt, such as a hit or a kick.
"Secret touch" are touches that are done in secret. Your discussion should also include the distinction between "good" and "bad" secrets. "Good secrets" are secrets that are held for a short period of time to surprise someone in a happy way (e.g. a surprise birthday party), while "bad" secrets are those secrets that make a person feel bad, sad, or confused inside (e.g. someone touches you in your private parts and wants you not to tell).
Since the majority of perpetrators of sexual abuse are individuals known to a child, stress to your child that they should always come to you if anyone makes them feel uncomfortable. Never minimize your child's discomfort, even if it appears trivial to you, such as a child not wanting to be left alone with a certain family member or caregiver. Follow your parental instincts if there is something going on that you are not comfortable with, even if you can't quite put your finger on it. It is much better to err on the side of caution in this case.
Lastly, be sure to get counseling for any of your own past issues of abuse. Abuse tends to have a generational effect, in that frequently parents of children who are abused have themselves been victims of abuse in the past. Having unresolved issues about our own past experiences of sexual abuse can lead us to ignore or minimize the "red flags" that indicate potential signs of sexual abuse in our children. As in other forms of safety, we can best teach our children to be safe when we practice safety ourselves. In the area of sexual abuse, safety includes talking to our children about different types of touch, empowering children to set limits about who they touch, encouraging open dialogue with our children, and seeking help to resolve our own past issues.
4) 10 Tips to Winning the Juggling Act: Balancing Work and Family
10 Tips to Winning the Juggling Act: Balancing Work and Family by Sharon M. Phillips, Psy.D.
Does your life sometimes feel like a three-ring circus? Even if you are not aware that you signed up for the job, if you have one or more children, you have been assigned the role of chief juggler. Among the many balls you might be trying to keep up in the air at the same time are: children’s needs, school responsibilities, marriage, career, church or synagogue duties, maintaining friendships, caring for aging parents, and household chores. Here are 10 tips to help you win the juggling act.
Make two lists: one of your priorities in life, in order; and one of the approximate amount of time each week that you spend on each activity. Now compare the lists. Begin to adjust your daily schedule so that your time spent on each activity more closely matches up with the order of your priorities.
Streamline household chores by giving your house a more “thorough” cleaning every 2-3 weeks, and spending a few minutes each day maintaining it through the use of time-saving products like Clorox wipes and Swiffer mops.
Devote a part of every day to recharging your batteries by doing something relaxing, such as taking a walk, meditating, playing soft music, or reading a magazine article.
Organize your weekly dinner menu by designating each night by a certain food, such as Mondays—Chicken Night, Tuesdays—Fish Night, Wednesdays—Casserole Night. (Don’t forget Take-Out Night!) Choose your recipes for the upcoming week and shop for all the week’s necessary ingredients the Sunday before.
Establish and then maintain healthy boundaries between your career and your home life. If you work from home or need to bring work home, schedule time for work and time for play.
Combat feelings of isolation by nurturing existing friendships or seeking out new moms to befriend. Make a point of meeting sometimes without kids in tow, by enlisting your spouse or another person to watch them while you go out for dinner or coffee.
Make your relationship with your spouse a priority and plan regular “date nights” together. Agree to talk about the children for the first half hour only, and then branch out into other topics of conversation.
Practice saying, “I’ll think about it and get back to you” before committing to new responsibilities that others ask of you. Give yourself time to determine if you really do have room in your schedule for yet one more obligation.
Eliminate unnecessary multi-tasking. Pull your car over when using your cell phone. Sit in a chair a talk with a friend on the phone without doing the dishes at the same time.
Take time to enjoy simply being with your children each day. Allow them to direct the activity or choose the game, and practice focusing on them—and nothing else—during that 15 or 20 minutes. Let go of any need to teach them anything more than that they are worthy of your undivided attention.
5) How to Speak "Love" to your Child
How to Speak “Love” to your Child By Sharon M. Phillips, Psy.D.
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from being a mom, it is that each of my children is unique. A universal challenge among all mothers is how to communicate love to our children in the ways that they will be best received. Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell have written an excellent book entitled, The Five Love Languages of Children. Their main points are based on Gary Chapman’s original book, The Five Love Languages.
The first basic principle of the book is that all children need unconditional love; that is, love that is based on loving children at all times, even when you may not like their behavior. However, all children also have a preference for how they best speak and understand being loved by others. Although all of these types of “love languages” are important to express to kids, every child has a preference for one or two of them, and values these love languages above the others. The five love languages are as follows:
Quality Time: This focuses more on the time spent together, and less on the specific activity that you do with your child.
Words of Affirmation: These can be saying, “I love you”, offering words of encouragement (“I know you can do it!”), or words of praise.
Gifts: The emphasis is more on the thought of the gift, rather than the amount of money spent on it or the size of the gift.
Acts of Service: Examples of this love language include helping your child fix his bike, cooking your child’s favorite meal, or taking your child to the doctor when she is sick.
Physical Touch: These are physical signs of affection like hugs, kisses, sitting on the couch holding your daughter and reading her a book, or roughhousing with your son.
The authors contend that after a child is five years old, his or her preference for one of the above love language will become clear. It is difficult to pinpoint a child’s love language when she is younger than age five. In addition, all of the love languages mentioned above are vitally important to a child’s well-being, and all of them should be used in communicating with your children. However, when you begin to speak most often in the love language that your child enjoys the most, you will be consciously filling his “love tank” and your child’s emotional needs will be met. In return, you will find that a child who feels loved unconditionally, and who receives love in their preferred love language, is easier to discipline and to train up to be a happy, well-adjusted adult. I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Five Love Languages of Children so that you can begin to communicate with your children in their preferred language of love. Try it and see!
6) Making Valentine's Day Every Day in Your Marriage
Making Valentine’s Day Every Day in Your Marriage By Sharon Phillips, Psy.D.
The challenge to each of us once Christmas is over is to keep the acts of kindness and generosity we expressed towards others this season, flowing all year long. Likewise, once Valentine’s Day has come and gone, we need to keep the romance in our marriages going the rest of the year. Here are three tips to help you and your spouse do just that!
Institute regular “date nights”. Not only is it nice, but it is necessary for you and your husband to get out alone, on at least a monthly basis. (I’ve heard of some couples doing this one a weekly basis—what a treat!) Leave the kids with a babysitter, or swap childcare with a neighbor or friend and then return the favor for their next date night. Go out to dinner, watch a movie, or see a play. The possibilities are endless! Imagine the joy you can experience when you can actually have an uninterrupted conversation, and maybe even hold hands with a grown-up!
Take time on a daily basis to talk with your spouse, for a minimum of 15 minutes. This does not include any topic related to your children! It must be centered on you, your husband, or the two of you. Talk about your work, your dreams, your disappointments, your desires. Share the best and the worst parts of your day. Re-connecting with one another each day helps prevent you as a couple from drifting slowly away from each other, which sadly occurs in many marriages that end in divorce.
Keep the romance alive by paying attention to the “little things”. Remember those things you both did when you were dating that you couldn’t wait to tell your girlfriends about? Dust off those memories and do them again! Call your husband at work, put on a sexy negligee after the kids are in bed, surprise him with a post-it love not on the steering wheel of his car, greet him at the door with a passionate kiss, whisper sweet-nothings in his hear. It’s the little things that can make a big difference!
Remember that although parenting may seem like it lasts forever, the bulk of it only lasts for a season. In contrast, after the kids are gone (and yes, they will actually leave someday!) you and your spouse will hopefully be together for many, many more years to come. Protect your investment—focus on your marriage. Happy Valentine’s Day!
7) Is It a "Problem" or a "Phase"?
“Is it a “Problem” or a “Phase”? How to Tell the Difference in your Child’s Behavior” By Sharon M. Phillips, Psy.D.
One of the most common questions I am asked by parents has to do with trying to figure out if their child’s behavior is normal and developmental in nature (i.e., a “phase”), or if it is a problem that warrants greater attention. Although there is no “one” answer that would fit every situation, here are several points to consider as you attempt to answer this question.
Talk to other moms with children of similar or older ages to see if this is a problem that other parents have encountered. This can be done through a moms’ club, such as MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) or through other resources, such as on-line support groups that join together moms with children of similar ages.
Gather more information about your concerns and what might be normal development from reputable books, such as Dr. Brazleton’s Touchpoints book.
Consider the duration of the problem; that is, how long it has been happening. Is this something new that has developed or is this something that your child has been exhibiting for quite some time? Behaviors that are part of a phase are often more episodic and occur for shorter moments in time, while problems tend to be more chronic and long-lasting in nature.
Consider the severity of the problem. Does the behavior that you are concerned about really get in the way of your child’s ability to be happy, to play with and interact well with others, or to perform activities of daily living such as sleeping, eating, or schoolwork? Behaviors that fall into one of these categories are likely to be problems, rather than just phases.
Look at your effectiveness in dealing with the behavior. Have you been able to come up with ways to manage the problem pretty well or are you “stumped” after trying all your solutions? As moms, we are usually pretty effective in addressing issues that are the result of phases, while full-blown problems often require professional attention.
Think about factors that might be contributing to the problem you are concerned about. There might be changes at home (new sibling, different caregiver, marital tension, family financial problems), national problems that are creating fear and anxiety in many people (terrorism, national disasters, food recalls), or changes in school (friendship cliques, change in teachers, change from level of education to another such as going from elementary to middle school). Remember that children are remarkably adept at picking up information about their family and the world around them, even when such information isn’t specifically directed towards them.
Hopefully, these points will help you determine if your child is indeed going through a phase or if it is a problem that needs to be addressed by a professional. If after going through all these ideas, you are still unsure of the nature of what is causing your child’s behavior, seek out the advice from someone trained and experienced in understanding children’s behavior, such as your child’s pediatrician, school counselor, or a licensed mental health professional.
8) Too Many Stressors + Too Few Resources = A Problem!
Too Many Stressors + Too Few Resources = A Problem! By Sharon Phillips, Psy.D.
Here is a simple equation that is worthy of remembering: whenever our stressors outweigh our resources, we will develop a symptom. Our minds and bodies are only capable of handling so much. That is why we go into shock when presented with a crisis. We just can’t handle the whole truth at one time. It is our mind’s way of protecting us when something is too terrible to conceive.
What are some examples of stressors? Stressors can be chronic or acute. Chronic stressors are ongoing—thing we deal with on a regular basis, sometimes so often that we may have a hard time conceptualizing them as stressors because we have to manage them so frequently. Chronic stressors can slowly erode our ability to cope. They can be as small as having a dirty, disorganizing bedroom to as big as parenting a toddler or a teenager.
On the other hand, acute stressors also have their challenges. Acute stressors are those things that are difficult to manage, but only for a temporary time. An example of an acute stressor can be having a family member in the hospital. Once this family member gets discharged and moves home for recuperation, this acute stressor can morph into a chronic stressor, as we try to figure out how to provide care for our loved on a daily basis. Stressors can be:
Housekeeping tasks: keeping up with the dirty laundry, shopping for and preparing meals, car repairs, decorating your home for the holidays
Relationships: the break-up of a romantic relationship, a friendship ending or friends growing apart, the death of a loved one, having new family members move in with you, blending families together after remarriage
Financial: filing for bankruptcy, losing one’s home, reducing your income
Work: starting a new job, losing a job, feeling that there is not enough time to do the work required by your job, spending long hours at the office
School: final exams, difficult coursework, commuting to classes, starting a new semester
Life events: an upcoming class reunion, celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas and all the planning these holidays involve
Other stressors: moving to a new home, moving to a new state, caring for an elderly parent of a sick child.
Resources are those tools we use to help us manage our stress. Some ideas of resources are:
Getting proper nutrition from eating healthy foods
Exercising regularly to release our natural endorphins
Going to individual counseling or therapy
Attending a grief support group
Accepting the offers of others to help (e.g. cooking meals for us, caring for our children)
Getting a massage, facial, manicure or pedicure
Having lunch with a friend
Reading a self-help book
Attending church or temple
As mentioned in the beginning, whenever our stressors outweigh our resources, we will develop a symptom. Our bodies have built-in alarm systems that alert us when the load is too much for us to bear. We are not designed to be supermen or superwomen. The symptom may be physical (e.g. insomnia, fatigue, low energy, a headache, an upset stomach, back pain) or emotional (e.g. persistent depressed mood, chronic worrying, irritability). The way to prevent developing a symptom is to decrease our stressors (if possible) and/or increase our resources. Decreasing our stressors may mean finding another job, ending an unhealthy relationship, or avoiding holiday gatherings that do not bring us joy. However, sometimes our stressors are fixed and we are unable to reduce them. We cannot bring our loved ones back after they have died. We cannot avoid having teenagers. A broken leg is a broken leg until it heals. In these cases, we need to choose instead to focus on increasing our resources. Become more intentional about spending quality time with those we love. Pursue those interests that bring us joy. Join a volunteer opportunity that focuses on giving back to someone else. Take a warm bath.
Assess your stress level regularly. Identify your current stressors. Identify your current resources. Look at whether or not you have any current symptoms. Then do the best you can to decrease your stressors if at all possible, and certainly increase your resources. And then see what happens to those symptoms!
9) The Importance of Girlfriends
“The Importance of Girlfriends” by Sharon M. Phillips, Psy.D.
One of the keys to balancing the demands placed on us as mothers, is to seek the friendship of other moms. But just what is it about our girlfriends that make these relationships so uniquely special?
Girlfriends speak your language. We are all on the same planet. Remember the classic book, “Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus”? Although it’s great to have relationships with our male partners, sharing things with someone who understands how you view the world is priceless (e.g. why we cry every month before “that time of the month”; how we like to talk just for the joy of communicating, and not necessarily to arrive at some solution to a particular problem.)
Girlfriends provide a history for us. Our relationships with women often pre-date meeting our husbands and our partners, and therefore our girlfriends can often remind us of who we were before we became a wife and a mother, and can help us define ourselves outside of those roles.
Girlfriends pitch in when the going gets rough. Ask any new mother what were some of the most valuable gifts they’ve received upon arrival of a new baby, and she will likely recall the home-cooked meals brought over or the offers for babysitting she received. We girls know what we need!
Girlfriends help us keep things in perspective. A little humor goes a long way, and having girlfriends with children who are different ages from our own remind us that the temper tantrums that we are experiencing with our toddlers now only morph into a related stage once our children become teenagers! They remind us to cherish the joys and challenges of each particular stage of parenting.
Girlfriends are sympathetic. They know what it’s like to say, “Let’s get together soon”, and really mean it, only to have 6 weeks go by without talking again due to the busyness and the fast pace of life. The best girlfriends are the ones you can pick up the phone and talk to after much time has gone by, only to just pick right back up where you left off without missing a beat!
Let’s face it—girlfriends are indispensable! If you have some, call them today or send them a little card to let them know just how much they mean to you! “Truly great friends are hard to find, difficult to leave, and impossible to forget.” (G. Randolf)