Holiday Traditions to Start with Your Kids and Teens

We’ve arrived the holiday season and the hustle and bustle abounds. There’s a holiday activity to attend at every turn—tree lightings, festivals, family parties, cookie exchanges, Christmas pageants, church services, and much, much more. For a family with kids—especially ones in early teen to older teen age range—it can be hard to find activities that “fit” their current interests.

It’s not too uncommon for teenagers sense the independence in their future and pull away slightly from parents and family (we wrote a bit more about this phenomenon here). In fact, I recently had a conversation with a friend who was trying to enjoy holiday traditions with her teen son, but she described him as disinterested and sullen. This mom was frustrated and nearly at her wit’s end—she said these things were so much easier when he was younger.

As a parent with two adult children, I’ve been through this stage myself. I can understand the pull between wanting to enjoy the holiday season with your kids, and also wanting to respect their changing interests. In order to help, all of us at LifeSmart have put together a list of ideas for things to do with the teens or young adults in your life during the month of December. Without further ado’, here it is:

  • Go to an outdoor ice skating rink. These are becoming increasingly popular and are popping up in shopping centers or city centers all over.
  • Watch a Christmas movie, their choice. Don’t try and push “White Christmas” or “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Let your teen pick the flick . . . and the snacks.
  • If you celebrate Hanukkah, let your teen pick the theme of each night. As they get older, they may not be as interested in the little gifts. Choosing a theme allows your family to branch out and participate in activities that engage even the older kids.
  • Donate to a charity or complete a service project of their choice. Is there a kid at their school who may need help with Christmas gifts or food this year? A cause your teen is passionate about? Make your holiday giving about something that’s important to them.
  • Have them invite their friends over to do some holiday baking. Teens are often more likely to enjoy a family activity if one or two of their friends get to join as well.
  • Let your teen lead the Hanukkah rituals and activities—and allow them to invite their friends to participate as well.
  • If you’re up for helping to host, let your teen host a Christmas party. Planning it can be their job. It can be a great chance for them to learn administrative and organizational skills! And, if the Christmas party idea isn’t a hit, perhaps a get together to watch the NCAA football conference championship games.
  • Paint Christmas ornaments at a local pottery painting studio.
  • Go skiing, snowboarding, or sledding as a family.
  • Check out an area play or concert, including local high school performances
  • Ring the Salvation Army bells as a family or as a group with their friends.

Creating new winter holiday traditions as your children grow and change their interests can be hard to navigate as a parent. The important part is communicating that you care, and are willing to adjust your own expectations in order to spend time with them. It’s a great opportunity to let them take the lead on ideas and event planning. And, most of all, to share in their world a little bit more.

May this season bring you love, joy, friendship, and endless fun with family.

Happy holidays from LifeSmart!

Casting Your Vision for 2017

So, how was your 2016? Despite the holiday frenzy, I hope you took some time to reflect on the year, highlighting your blessings and, yes, considering what might have gone better. What brought you the greatest joy? What were your personal growth successes? Whose lives did you impact the most? What lessons did you learn from your greatest challenges? Does your future look differently?

Soon, the bowl games will be over and it’ll be time to cast your vision for the new year (including completing our goals from 2016!). With a renewed spirit and fresh thinking, some exciting opportunities may be in store.

Here are some tips to help you craft your vision for 2017:

Personal Growth:

Regardless of our age, we can always take steps to improve our personal (and professional) brand. Perhaps you’ve received some constructive criticism. Or, you wish you possessed a quality you admire in others. This list of positive attributes might stimulate ideas. Here are some additional questions to consider:

  • How would you most like to improve your mind, body, and spirit?
  • Which growth goals, if achieved, would have the greatest impact on your life and on others?
  • What new experiences and learning would allow for growth, enjoyment, or potential impact on the community?
  • How might you manage your time more effectively and reduce distractions?
  • Do you have a solid understanding of your assets, interests, and passions?

Relationships:

Positivity is a powerful force in life, especially in our relationships. It’s why we should begin each year by identifying the relationships we’d like to improve and how we might begin the process. (Yes, it generally pays for us to initiate the steps rather than wait for the other party… as difficult as this may be.)

Here are some other questions worth considering:

  • How is technology affecting your relationships with family and friends? Consider making your family time tech free. Technology IS having a serious effect on relationships and communication, so be on guard.
  • For parents: who could become a potential role model and mentor to your children? They’ll help foster new, valuable relationships and help your children build their network. Also, how can you build stronger relationship capital with each of your children?
  • Are politics getting in the way of your friendships? If so, it’s repair time!

Community:

Our greatest sense of joy, purpose, and fulfillment often comes from serving others. If giving back to your community is an area you’d like to strengthen, these questions might help channel your desire into a plan:

  • If you didn’t have to work for a paycheck, how would you contribute to society?
  • If you could solve any problem or pursue any cause, what would you choose?
  • Which people or needs tug most at your heart?
  • Which organizations or programs are aligned with your passions and could benefit from your talents?

Always remember, someone out there needs exactly what you have to offer!

Career:

No matter where you are in your career, there are always opportunities to “up your game.” These ideas might take yours to a new level:

  • For students, take a skills and interests inventory to identify potential matches. Then, as your candidate list narrows, talk with people in those jobs to gain from their wisdom. It’ll either confirm your interest or steer you away. By investing in your career exploration and understanding your talents, passions, and interests, you’ll be in great shape to find a good fit.
  • For experienced employees: 1) is there a new skill/training that will position you to advance? 2) how can you improve your existing job performance? 3) is there someone you would like to be mentored by or whom you can mentor? and 4) what ways can you contribute to your employer’s success that may, or may not, fit within your job description?

Finances:

Finally, we all should be reviewing our financial goals annually as a course of habit. What ways might you learn to save and invest more, spend more wisely, give more to charitable causes, and improve your financial literacy? Are you on a pathway to achieving your financial goals? What tweaks do you need to make?

Best wishes on your vision casting and for a fantastic 2017!

 

 

5 Benefits of Gratefulness That Will Surprise You

Thanksgiving is here! It’s one of my favorite holidays, not just because I enjoy the delicious turkey, stuffing (seriously, mine is the best!), pumpkin pie, and spending time with loved ones, but because of something deeper. Thanksgiving gives me the chance to slow down and do a self-check—an opportunity to look in my heart and ask myself, Am I grateful?  Do I practice an “others first” way of life? Would others, especially my kids, even notice?

Most of us would like to think of ourselves as grateful people…but how often are we, really? It’s easy to let the business of life and the pressing desire for MORE STUFF get in the way.

Gratitude is the simple attitude (and act) of showing appreciation and thankfulness. It doesn’t take a lot of our time or effort to be thankful, but it holds incredible benefits for both the one expressing it and the person (or people) receiving it. In fact, there are many benefits of a grateful heart. Some of them may surprise you!

  1. Just 15 minutes a day of focusing on the things you are grateful for will boost your body’s antibodies and contribute to a strengthened immune system. This means that a more thankful, appreciative heart and mind will make for a healthier body!
  2. Thankful people are more focused mentally, and therefore measurably less vulnerable to clinical depression. To reap this benefit, consider keeping a daily thankfulness journal and jot down the things you are appreciative of that day.
  3. Gratitude induces a physiological state of mind called “resonance,” often associated with healthier blood pressure and heart rate. In fact, recent studies have shown that people who participate in “gratitude practices” go to the doctor less often. Now, that’s a win!
  4. Thankfulness can help you relax both physically and mentally. Focus on what you are grateful for to help minimize the stressors in your life!
  5. Gratitude benefits your relationships. For example, being grateful creates more positive interactions with your spouse, partner, children, friends, and colleagues. When positive interactions (compliments, expressions of gratitude, encouragement, etc.) greatly outweigh the negative ones (sarcasm, disagreements, criticism), a relationship becomes stronger and more fulfilling. And, memo to all of you in supervisory roles: appreciation and recognition are the most powerful motivators of a workforce! Money isn’t even close.

Thankful people make the people around them happier, too, and ultimately attract more friends and opportunities as a result. This Thanksgiving season, let’s commit to taking on some “gratitude practices.” Watch how it positively affects you and others!

Happy Thanksgiving!

3 R’s for the New Year: Reflections, Resolutions, and (No) Regrets

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Looking back on 2015, do you have any regrets? Are there things you did and wish you hadn’t—or things you didn’t do and wish you had? Any relationships that are strained? Opportunities missed?

We all have regrets from time to time. However, you can minimize big ones (or avoid them altogether) if you periodically ask yourself the regret question and then actually do something about it. The new year is a great time to start, but reflecting on our regrets and resolutions is a great practice to adopt all year long.

For many people (myself included), personal reflection time is the area we sacrifice when our lives get busier. Unfortunately, when this happens, we can get out of balance, grow impatient, and often burn out. We’re not at our best. That’s why it’s so important—at New Year’s and all the year through—to take time to unwind and reflect. Frankly, it’s the only way we can go deep with ourselves—to explore how we’re doing and consider where we’d like to go. Find a place that inspires you and quiets your soul, and let your mind ponder some new growth possibilities. (If you are a person of faith, it’s a great opportunity to include prayer for discernment and wisdom.) You’ll be surprised by your renewed spirit and by the new ideas and insights that can surface during quiet times like this.

I also find there is wisdom to be gained from older people who are in a naturally more reflective stage of life. When I’ve asked some of them about their life regrets, I’ve heard things like:

  1. I didn’t spend enough time with my loved ones.
  2. I didn’t tell my family and friends that I loved them often enough.
  3. I was too stubborn or proud to admit my mistakes and apologize.
  4. I chose bitterness over reconciliation.
  5. I allowed my life to be consumed by work.
  6. I was too hesitant to take risks, try new things, and believe in myself.
  7. I wasted too much time.
  8. I didn’t appreciate the little things in life.
  9. I valued things over relationships.
  10. I worried too much.

Do any of these apply to you? Be honest! Although regrets run the gamut, did you notice that most involve relationships and priorities? This is why it’s so important that our life be balanced and our priorities right. When we see something is out of order, let’s resolve to make a mid-course correction.

After some time for reflection, ask yourself what resolutions you’d like to make for the upcoming year, especially those that might minimize regrets next New Year’s Eve. The Oxford English Dictionary describes resolutions as “(decisions) to do or to refrain from doing a specified thing from that time onwards, or to attempt to achieve a particular goal, usually during the coming year.” What have you been doing that you’d like to stop doing? What have you not been doing that you want to begin? Are there new growth opportunities or experiences on your bucket list? Then don’t stop there. Turn your resolutions into goals and your goals into executable actions. That’s living with intentionality!

This discipline of regrets, reflection, and resolution is a good one for all ages. Consider sharing it with the young people in your life. It will help you—and them—make needed changes and “relationship repairs” along the way. Wouldn’t it be great, though, to reach the end of 2016—and even to the end of life—and be able to say, “NO (or few) REGRETS?”

Image credit: Brianna Showalter
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Out with the Old, In with the New!

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A fresh year always inspires fresh dreams. Most of us think, “What are the things I could improve in my life, if I had a fresh start?” For some reason, “January 1st” symbolizes new possibilities and a chance for a “do-over.”

In what area of your life would you like a fresh start? In your parenting or other relationships? Your performance at school or on the job? How about being more financially savvy or more organized? Or, maybe yours is like mine: to take control of busyness and reserve more time to reflect. All of these are admirable aspirations—but how can we make them a reality?

Most successful people accomplish their aspirations by staring with dreams and then establishing goals and plans to help make them come true. And, they know that the most effective goals are both specific and measurable (as opposed to vague and difficult to evaluate). As you start to identify your aspirations for 2016 and beyond, it’s important to develop short-, intermediate-, and long-range goals to help get you there.

Even if you’re not naturally a goal-setter, it’s not difficult to become one.  Start by imagining what you want your life to look like. What are the large-scale goals you hope to achieve? These are your long-term or lifetime goals.  It’s important to set these first because they will shape your overall perspective and help frame your smaller and shorter-term goals. Think about such areas as:

  • Education and learning
  • Career
  • Marriage and family
  • Finances
  • Community service
  • Relationships
  • Spiritual life
  • Physical goals (sports, etc.)
  • Talents and skills
  • Travel
  • Experiences
  • Retirement

Once you’ve established your long-term goals, you can set some medium-term goals (e.g., three to five years) that will help you achieve your long-term goals.  From there, you can set one-year, six-month, and one-month goals, all of which will ultimately contribute to the larger picture. Periodically check on your long-term goals to make sure they remain high on your list. Also, monitor your progress on your medium-range goals to make sure you’re on track.

(Parents, you may want to make some parenting goals … check out our book, Parenting for the Launch, for some ideas to help you set goals and create a family mission statement.)

Finally, start making daily to-do lists, prioritized by importance and urgency. If you do, you’ll be contributing on a daily basis toward the things that will make your lifetime goals and dreams possible. Here are some guidelines as you do:

  • Phrase your goals in the positive, not the negative
  • Make them realistic goals—ones that are possible and achievable
  • Make them measurable and specific, such as “visit five continents” as opposed to “travel around the world”

What are your aspirations for 2016? Beyond that? This can be fun and lively discussion with family and friends over the holiday season. Make a plan to check back with each other next New Year’s and see who has gained the most ground in accomplishing their goals.

Your Greatest Gift

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”

Mother Teresa

 

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?  How about the greatest one you’ve ever given? Can you come up with your top three?  Is there a common denominator?

 

More often than not, when I ask people these questions, they generally answer with memories of gifts that:

  • were not expected
  • were ones they (or the other person) really needed but wouldn’t have suggested
  • showed that one person was thinking about the other, and understood them
  • were not necessarily things, but often experiences
  • were sacrificial on the part of the giver

 

That’s how I would describe my favorite gift ever given.

 

I grew up in a modest income family, but with parents who splurged on us every Christmas. Whether gifts or homemade candies and cookies, Dad and Mom did everything to bring joy to our household at Christmas. Sacrificially. Wonderfully.

 

But, that Christmas of 1972, we were struggling.

 

Life for my parents had changed dramatically a few months earlier. I left for my freshman year of college and my older sister got married and moved to Taiwan with her husband. Mom and Dad, who had poured everything into their kids, were adjusting to an empty nest.

 

When I returned home for Thanksgiving break, I could tell it hadn’t been easy for them. Our usually spirited household was quieter than normal and our conversations were often nostalgic. Someone would be missing this Christmas.

 

That’s when I realized it was my turn to be the sacrificial giver, with a gift they would never ask for or expect—but one that would mean everything to my parents.

 

On that Christmas night, Mom and Dad would open my letter saying this year it was  about them. That in 20 minutes, they would receive a prearranged and prepaid long distance call from their precious daughter. At six dollars a minute and as your typical broke college student, all I could afford was 10 minutes.

 

I will never forget those 30 minutes and the sea of emotion that filled our living room. Hands down, it was my best gift ever, and possibly theirs.

 

This season, we focus on what I consider to be history’s greatest gift—

a son given to us sacrificially by our heavenly father… an unexpected gift that means everything to this world… from a Giver who knew exactly what we needed.

 

Is this the year for your greatest gift? What will it be—and who will receive it?

 

Merry Christmas to you and yours,

 

Dennis Trittin and the LifeSmart Team