Monday, December 13, 2010

Nurturing the Spirit of Giving

1. There is an old Indian proverb that says: "Everything that is not given is forever lost." When we help kids find ways to be of service to their friends, family, school, and the larger community, we help them see the value of dedicating a portion of their lives to a larger purpose. Let's show them that they can make a significant difference—in themselves and in the world. Acts of kindness and service always bless the giver as well as the receiver. And they are never lost.

2. On the home front, show kindness to your spouse and each family member. Insist that siblings treat each other with kindness too. You may want to talk together—when the time is just right—about the importance of kindness and what it looks like. It can be as simple as "Hi!," a smile, or "How are you feeling?" Discuss with your child/teen what it means to be kind. Look for ways to show kindness to another person who may be especially needy—a friend, a neighbor, or sick or elderly person—then take your child along as you carry them out. Talk to your kids about their classmates. Is there anyone who needs a kind thought or act? How about the child/teen who is "different"? How about the classmate who is mean? Even if one doesn't feel like being kind, there is value in doing it anyway—because the kind act itself can change the feeling that follows. Help your child/teen see that kindness can make all the difference in someone's life, yet it's so easy to do!

3. A legacy of giving and service can begin now. A giving mindset says: let me try to make the world more beautiful. It can be as simple as walking someone across a busy street, or helping a friend study for an exam—or as difficult as speaking one's mind and conscience on a controversial topic, or spearheading a campaign to offer a regular breakfast and shelter to the homeless in one's neighborhood.

4. Children/teens can give of their work, energy, time, and support. Many schools now have community service as part of their curriculum. These programs are important because they expose children and teens to the importance of giving to others within the community. Examples include: assisting in soup kitchens, reading to the blind, volunteering in hospitals, helping with physical rehabilitation needs, and tutoring younger kids with their homework. We can spread the spirit of giving through our own example. We can take kids out on community service field trips, and encourage community service programs in schools that don't have them.

5. I know of one remarkable service effort that was identified and defined by the tweens themselves. They called their group "Flowers on Friday." These thirteen-year-olds met frequently on Friday after school to bring flowers to people who were sick or needy. They purchased the flowers themselves at the local florist. One Friday, they visited the local hospital cancer wing and brought flowers to its patients. On another Friday, they gave their flowers to people on the street who looked as though they really needed something special in their lives right then. One woman they hand-picked for this reason said the last time she received a gift of flowers was over thirty years ago.

Bottom line: Parents can nurture an interest in giving and reaching out to others. Acts of service and kindness free us and our children from self-imposed me-focused lives by widening our circles of compassion. Encourage your children to practice acts of kindness and to reach out to serve others. The spirit of giving transforms both the receiver and the giver.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Teens and Internships

With many teens heading off to find internships this summer, some useful tips are discussed in the following article by Beth Harpaz, Associated Press writer.

NEW YORK (AP) _ Internships have become essential to building resumes and careers, and with today's parents doing more than ever for their kids, it's not unusual to find them giving advice, helping kids network and even paying for career coaching and internship placement.

¶ Not everyone thinks that's a good idea. Susan Smith Kuczmarski, who has three sons, the youngest in college, says she and her husband "have never used our Rolodex" to help their kids find jobs.

¶ "They shouldn't have the viewpoint that mom and dad are going to help them," said Kuczmarski, author of "The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent's Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go." "They should find the job on their own, just like the whole world does. It's fine to coach them about the interview, but they have to take the lead in the whole process."

Check out the other useful tips to help your teen secure an internship at:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Family Laughter and the Humor Tool

1. Laughing with your kids is essential. Use the everyday experiences to increase the laughter in your family. A sense of humor is key to survival. If nothing else comes to mind—just laugh.
I look at my fifteen-year-old son, John, as he kindly carries bags and bags of groceries and packages out of our car, and I say, “I love you more than a bunch of bananas!” We laugh. He’s still feeling the heavy load, so I add, “I love you more than two dozen oranges.” Laughter is a powerful emotion adjuster. It lightens, soothes, even dissolves difficult feelings. It feels so good once you start that it’s hard to stop. What’s really fun is to keep it going for extended periods of time. These “laugh-ins” can be just as emotionally powerful as hugs. Do them now, because when your children get into their teen years, they will think you’re crazy if you haven’t conditioned them to it.

2. A report came out that said: “Children, on average, laugh about 400 times a day. Adults only about 15 times. Scientists who study humor want to know why 385 laughs disappear.” To young children, most everything is humorous. They don’t discriminate. Our eight-year-old laughs at so much that it’s easier to note the things he doesn’t laugh at!

3. These same laugh researchers also noted the medical benefits of laughter. Giggles relieve stress, control pain, lower blood pressure, provide an aerobic workout for the diaphragm, improve the body’s ability to utilize oxygen, and maximize the flow of disease-fighting proteins and cells to the blood. For health reasons, it sounds like adults need giggles more than children. Laughter strengthens the insides, physically, and emotionally. Telling jokes and doing funny things should be encouraged by everyone. The insides need these emotional releases, and it appears that daily doses of giggles are best learned from children.

4. There are funny stories in all families. There is humor even in those child behaviors that drive you crazy! Let me share a one from our homefront. Our oldest son John walks through the house and jumps up to touch the top of every door opening. This behavior coincided with his interest in basketball. If you’ve seen the movie Jurassic Park, you will recall the scene where the enormous T-Rex dinosaur is not seen yet but can be heard—THUMP, THUMP, THUMP—and felt. The earth shakes. John is T-Rex easily a dozen times a day. If I can recall the picture in my mind of the movie scene and use humor, I’m better off than if I ask him to stop jumping, which I admit I say occasionally at the end of the day.

Bottom line: A sense of humor is essential—use it!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Low-Cost Ways to Celebrate the Holidays with Family

1. The family that plays together, stays together. For many time-crunched families, that variation on a familiar saying rings true. In fact, these days, as the hustle and bustle of holidays continues, carve out time to spend together doing activities that everyone enjoys.
2. Make spending time with each other a priority and strengthening family bonds a concentrated focus. If family togetherness is nurtured, there is a deep, fulfilling sense of belonging. The trick is to let differences within the family flourish. There must also be room for each child's unique and personal ideas and contributions.
3. Holding fun family nights could be just what you need to sit back, relax and enjoy each other’s company. Consider scheduling one night in which your family members play classic board games, such as Jenga, Monopoly or Scrabble. On other nights, introduce some of the newest games available. Or better yet, create your own family trivia game, which provides a great opportunity to get to know more about family members, including your ancestors.
4. Try this blank canvas project or family art night. Simply purchase a large blank canvas at a local art supply store and have each member of the family illustrate or paint on a portion of the canvas. Hang the work of art in a visible location, such as near the kitchen table. Do this every year. Be sure to date it.
5. Try some silly and fun stress-beating tips: Be mischievous. Whether in the country or at the city zoo, moo at the cows and try to get them to "talk" back. Some times cows stare for a very long time, especially if I moo again. Sometimes I get a moo back. This only encourages me further.
7. Hook up with nature -- creatively! Our family has an annual igloo or snowmaking contest. We've discovered that igloos make great and fun places to spend time in and "soak" up the outdoors. Sort of like tree forts in the summer months. Every entrant must receive a prize.
8. Finally, try these winter stress-beaters: Play a wild game of cards with poker chips (or pennies). Everyone has to wear gambling visors. Go to an indoor concert and take a picnic basket along. Don't forget your special blanket. Dance with each other. Sing loudly together. Watch the sun set together. Watch the night sky. The stars and planets are spectacular during the winter months.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Talking to Kids About the Economy

It is best to try to explain tough economics to kids. Regardless of their age, never frighten them. Try instead to allay their fears. Reduce the family stress by sharing the situation in as much detail that is age appropriate. For example, if a parent has lost his or her job, be honest and straightforward, but never convey panic, which weighs on children tremendously. Younger children need reassurance. Assure them it will get better. For example, if they want to buy a small pet, the time will come when this purchase is possible, but at this point, it is best to wait. It is certainly appropriate for all age groups to say that we're going to have a lean birthday or holiday season this year. Encourage creative gift giving that is from the heart rather than the wallet.
As to teens, share the details of your monthly take home pay, and how you/we are going to make changes in our family purchases. High schoolers can process this information and it will be good for them in the long run as they reach adulthood themselves. And with teens, even tweens, it is opportune to admit a mistake that you made (e.g. too much credit spending in the past, not enough savings, etc.) If debt is too high (i.e. over credit limits), get your teens help in cutting back on spending and expenses. Let them know just why you say "NO!" to any requests on their part for purchases. If teens have this detail, they will more likely understand, and begin to learn cash management strategies for their futures.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Teaching Teens Safe Driving Habits

Useful strategies for instilling safe driving habits in teens:

(1) The best way to teach teens how to drive is to show them how to really SEE the road. Driving is a visual skill. Since we drive every day, we aren't aware of our own visual skills and discipline. For example, as I drive down the familiar residential street where we live, I constantly look ahead to check traffic, take note of any cars pulling away from their side parking spots, watch for any pedestrians who might cut across my path from both sidewalks, and then check for pedestrians who could be on the crosswalk at the approaching stop sign. I frequently check my rear view mirror for activity behind me. And I always look for fast-moving rollerbladers, bicyclists, and pets that might suddenly cross my path. In sharp contrast, a teenager drives down a street, focused on holding the steering wheel straight, accelerating and braking smoothly, and appearing cool! Compared to an experienced driver, their visual discipline and skill are extremely underdeveloped.

(2) The task at hand then is to focus on the eyes in teaching your teen to drive. Say right out loud what you see as you drive and what you do to drive safely. At first, this narrative may feel strange, because you are talking about what you do automatically every time you sit behind the wheel. You may be surprised at how much seeing and doing actually occurs when you drive. For example, to turn left at a stop sign, say aloud: "Signal a left turn about one hundred feet before the intersection; start slowing down; stop completely in back of the limit line; look both directions for traffic; check for pedestrians who have the right of way; look ahead at the vehicle travel path; and, before entering the intersection, look again in both directions for moving vehicles; now slowly enter and turn onto the street."

(3) As you take time to describe each visual check, ask your teen to note the important role this plays in safe driving. The driver's eyes are active. This is a valuable lesson. Active eyes, coupled with lots of documenting and describing the driver's movements, lead to good teaching and good driving!

(4) Next, ask your teen to talk out loud as you drive, narrating what a good driver should be seeing and doing to drive safely. Listen as your teen describes your driving. Check for any omitted steps. Give feedback—especially positive, encouraging comments. When a teen can describe your good driving habits as you drive, you'll know that he is ready to get behind the wheel.

(5) Now have him narrate as he drives. Again, listen and check to see if he has missed anything. Give feedback on both seeing and driving. If you approach it this way, he's going to know how to drive, all the way through his body. (Personal note: I mentioned this to my fifteen-year-old son James: "Driving has to be in your body." He looked at me with puzzlement and said, "I don't get it. What do you mean?" I replied, "It's sort of like your Swing dancing. You have to know the steps so well that when you hear the music, the steps are second nature, and you don't even have to think about them.") Driving is the same way. The steps should become second nature so that you don't even have to think about them anymore.

End Result: As parents, our goal is to help young drivers achieve this body "knowingness" when it comes to driving—-to help counterbalance the wild, impulsive style typical of most teens. When the body knows deeply how to drive, a teen can drive safely—-and it can save lives.

So here's the key: Prepare your teen to drive so his "knowing" behind the wheel is deep in his body. The roads will be a lot safer, and you will rest with greater ease as well.

Friday, March 07, 2008

What Parents Need to Know About Teens Making Friends in New Situations

First, let's set things straight: Teens value friends before anything else, including parents! Peer relationships are everything. Friends are all-important. They replace the family, in some ways, as the place where daily relationships are played out, where meaningful interactions occur--the back-and-forth working through of ideas and events.

Second, parents need to have greater sensitivity to how much work it is for teens to join groups. Let's take a close-up look. As a newcomer, a teen must establish his or herself to get accepted. This is not easy. Entrance can be negotiated through friends, relatives (e.g., brothers, sisters, and even cousins), and someone you are dating, if they are accepted. After the dating period is over, however, the teen has to maintain the membership independently.

Third, if teens don't know someone in the group, they can gain acceptance by hanging around for a period of time, getting to know some of the members, and becoming involved with, and accepted by, the other teens. Although accepted, this does not mean the other teens will quickly include them in what is happening socially at all times. Most likely, the doors will remain closed for a while, and they will have to find out about social events on their own. Regular members, however, are naturally "in on," or told about, parties or social gatherings.

Fourth, I know of one group where the process of acceptance into the group involved some intricate bartering. To be accepted, there had to be a sense of give and take—the new person had to first do something for the regulars; then they would do something for him. At first, it was more important to be someone they could hit up for money, cigarettes, pop, or a favor. It was also important to be cooperative and get along and not judge the group. The new person had to accept the group before its members accepted him into it.

Fifth, when a new teen comes into a teen group, there are certain things that other teens will communicate to him about the group. Older members or leaders will make very clear to the newcomer just what is and is not appropriate behavior. These peer leaders will even reprimand other teens when they do something unacceptable. These leaders help maintain the group in this way.

Bottom line: Know that becoming a member of a teen group is very difficult and time consuming, and offer loving help and encouragement at every turn. And by the way, never try to join your teen's group yourself!