Crisis Decision Making 101

It used to be that when I was upset, I either made a rash decision or said something I would later regret. I remember having to go back and clean up my messes or apologize for saying something out-of-line. Being impulsive in the heat of the moment never worked in my favor.

I may have learned it the hard way, but eventually I figured it out. The fact is, we don’t think as clearly when we’re in a highly emotional state (whether we are feeling angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, etc.). There’s too much distraction and we don’t think objectively. Today, if I’m upset and need to make a decision, I make a tentative one, but (where possible) wait until the following morning to confirm it. Generally, it proves to be a better decision because my thinking is clearer and more objective the next day. Often, with the perspective from time and reflection, I change my decision for the better.

Why do we tend to make poor choices when we’re under stress? It’s because of our physiology—that’s right, it’s how we’re wired. But we can learn to compensate.

Being in a stressful situation messes with our brain—and can impair our decision-making capabilities.  A new study shows that in a crisis (or even what feels like a crisis), the brain tends to focus on reward, and ignore the possible negative consequences of a decision. That’s why “feel good” decisions like eating what we shouldn’t, blowing off steam by losing our temper, giving in to peer pressure, or making a rash purchase we can’t afford are more likely to happen when we’re stressed-out.

Even worse, not only does stress make us focus on the ‘feel good” aspect of a risky decision or behavior, it impairs our ability to think about the negative consequences. (Frankly, I’d say that’s a pretty good recipe for potential stupidity, don’t you?)

When you’re in this situation, hold off until the following morning if you can, or at least defer it until you’ve settled down and can think clearly. Ask for more time if you need it. Learn to recognize and release your stress.  Here are 3 quick tips to help unwind and cool you down:

  1. Reach out to your support system. You don’t have to go through hard moments alone. Their wise counsel and perspectives can help immensely.
  2. The endorphin rush you get from exercise will up your mood and help chase away the blues.
  3. Practice conscious breathing and relaxation techniques. Meditate, pray, do yoga, or all of the above. Connect your mind, body, and spirit for a holistic de-stressing.

Also, think about the things that make for good decisions and force yourself to follow them. You’ll be glad you did!

Have you noticed that your decision-making improves when you’re not in an emotional state? Which young people in your life can benefit from this lesson when facing stressful situations?

Top Ten Parenting Tips to Promote College Readiness (Part One)

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“Don’t prepare the path for the child, prepare the child for the path.” 

~ Author Unknown

Or, as we say at LifeSmart, “Give them wings, not strings.”

Preparing our children for a successful launch into adulthood is one of our greatest parenting responsibilities. And a huge milestone! Unfortunately, as we shared in last week’s blog, many college students are struggling at this pivotal time of life. Our nation’s college completion rankings are plummeting, and we are witnessing a surge in mental health issues on campus.

Parents, we need to take the lead in turning this around. So, for the next two weeks, we’ll be sharing our best tips to help set your teens up for a successful college experience.

  1. Stop the helicoptering! Many collegian issues stem from parents’ efforts to manage their children’s happiness and success. A student’s inability to make decisions, cope with stress and adversity, and understand the world doesn’t revolve around them are predictable outcomes of helicoptering. When we step in to prevent failure, do their homework and applications, defend misbehavior in front of authorities, text them incessantly, and hover and control their lives and decisions, they will struggle on their own.

    As authors of Parenting for the Launch, we encourage parents to adopt an empowering approach that increasingly treats their teens as future adults. That means training them with strong internal guiding principles and giving them freedom, responsibility, and accountability to apply them. Yes, it may result in some short-term pain (e.g., a tough life lesson, failure/disappointment, unhappiness, anger), but it’s for the sake of long-term gain (e.g., resilience, grit, problem solving, coping, independence).     

  2. Foster healthy coping habits. Everyone has their stressors, but, during adolescence, they’re often exacerbated. By nurturing self awareness in our children, they’ll be able to: 1) identify the signs of their anxiety (irritability, restlessness, sleeplessness), 2) isolate the source (tight deadlines, relationship strains, exams), and 3) release their stress in a healthy manner. Together, these can help teens and young adults prevent and/or cope with the pressures of the day.

    Which stress relievers work best? It depends. For some, it’s an intensive cardio workout or blasting music. For others, it’s a bath, a good book, a walk along the beach, or prayer/meditation. Respect whatever works best for them, so long as it’s healthy.

  3. Build positive social adaptability. When it comes to social life, the transitions into and out of college are arguably the most demanding. Our support system of family and friends may seem light years away. In What I Wish I Knew at 18, we devote considerable space to social adaptation. We encourage students to explore affinity groups of others who share common interests and values. To make a list of BFF qualities and quietly evaluate new acquaintances accordingly. To stay patient and selective, knowing it’s all about quality and positivity. Parents, you can instill these valuable habits while they’re under your roof by helping them find opportunities to meet new people in new social settings.

  4. Cultivate strong time management and planning disciplines. With demanding courses, endless activities, newfound freedom, and higher stakes, many students struggle with disorganization, distractions, and last minute cramming—all anxiety boosters. During the high school years, parents need to stress that time is a precious asset to be used wisely. Encourage them to use planners, block their time, build in margin, and create daily to do lists organized by importance and urgency. This is particularly important for the procrastinator, who won’t find it as easy in college. Remember, fun is fine, but the work comes first!   

  5. Apply empowering, but realistic, academic expectations. It’s wise to expect some grade deflation in college as compared to high school. The transition is significant, the competition is greater, and students suffer tremendously when parents expect perfection. Today’s students (both high school and college) often face intense and unrealistic pressure from parents to achieve the highest GPAs. Granted, we should expect our students to do their best, but that doesn’t automatically translate to a 4.0. Oh, and one more thing: encourage your collegian to take a slightly lesser academic load in his/her first semester. It’ll make for a smoother transition.

 

Next week, our last five tips! We’d love to hear yours.

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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6 Tips for Maximizing Family Togetherness (and Avoiding Conflict)

One of the greatest things about the holiday season can also be the most challenging:

“Hooray! The whole family will be together!”
“Oh nooooo! The whole family will be together!”
Even the happiest of families has conflict, especially when large numbers of people are indoors for extended periods. Add to the mixture the complexity of holiday activities and expectations, kids coming home from college, relatives travelling from afar, and other friends and family popping in and out. It’s not hard to see why the holidays can be stressful on our relationships!

It helps to have a good strategy for dealing with the (inevitable) conflicts that will surface when extended family and friends gather. When tension or arguments arise, you’ll be able to keep your cool, extend grace, and navigate the holidays with a “peace on earth and goodwill toward men” mentality!

Here are six tips to help you manage (and preferably avoid!) conflict this holiday season:

Be sensitive to the need for private space. Having a full house during the holiday season means that people who typically do not live together are now under one roof. This can be particularly stressful for teens in the family, and for “introverts” who tend to feel drained rather than energized by crowds of people. Sometimes this is hard for the “extroverts” to relate to! Respecting these differing needs for personal space can help avoid resentment and conflict.
Ask yourself, “Does this issue need to be addressed now?” Keep your emotions in check; pause before you respond to a snide comment, an inconvenient request, an entitled attitude, a grievance, or even a simple difference of opinion. The less we react emotionally in the moment, the more we’re able to respond gracefully and tactfully at the right time with the right attitude. Circle back to discuss the problem when you are feeling less heated about it. You may find it doesn’t need to be discussed at all.
If it does need to be addressed now, respect yourself and your right to be heard. Sometimes we allow others to intimidate or dominate us out of fear or embarrassment. Although conflict is uncomfortable, sometimes we do need to speak up about an obvious problem that is causing distress for us or another person. In the process, we want to respect ourselves by speaking up about it, while being respectful to the other party.
Strive to be an agreeable disagreer. So often, conflict arises from misunderstandings that could have been prevented or at least controlled. Sometimes they’re based on different philosophical views or perspectives where there isn’t a right or wrong answer (Hello politics!). Always strive for mutual understanding, but agree to disagree if that’s the case. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. If needed, have a heartfelt conversation about it once things have calmed.
Choose reconciliation over grudges wherever possible. We’ve all been victims of a wrong, and injustice, or a mistake. It causes anger, shame, resentment, depression, and worse. When we harbor grudges or struggle to forgive, it can be like an all-consuming cancer, and generally the person who suffers for it is you. Strive for forgiveness, and reconciliation whenever possible—and don’t hesitate to seek support.
Remember “FLPP.” In our book Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World, we offer a strategy for dealing with conflict, restoring strained relationships, and rebuilding trust. It involves keeping your communication with that person FREQUENT, LOW-RISK, POSITIVE, and PERSONAL. What can you talk about that doesn’t provoke irritation or conflict, is encouraging and positive, and shows you care? Focus on these kinds of interactions to build a platform for deeper conversations at a later date.

May your holidays be peaceful and merry!

We’d love to hear your stories about how you avoid or negotiate conflict in your family over the holidays. Please share your thoughts and suggestions. We can all learn from one another!

Stress Busting Tips for Parents and Teens: Part Three

With graduation just a month or two away, stress is nearing an all-time high for soon-to-be graduates and their parents. That’s why we created a three-part series on ways to bust stress for parents and teens! This week is our third (and last) installment of our series, and it just so happens to be a guest post by teacher, mother, and advocate Tammy Walsh. (In case you missed the first two parts, here is the first and the second.)
Our guest author, Tammy Walsh, is a mother of two, a high school math teacher, and a contributor to The Five Moms Blog on Stopmedicineabuse.org. She has a passion for addressing the issue of substance abuse openly and honestly with both parents and teens. Through her work with The Five Moms, she hopes to reach more parents on a national level, educating and empower them with the tools to make positive changes in their communities. We invite you to join the conversation by following Stop Medicine Abuse on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks Tammy, for sharing your advice on relieving stress with our audience!

It’s always important to remember that even though certain aspects in our family lives are slowing down, our teens still have a lot going on. This can be a tense time of year, particularly for high school seniors who will have many important decisions to make in the next six to eight months. During this time period, it can be challenging for teens to effectively manage the stress that results from attempting to balance wrapping up high school and preparing for college with extracurricular activities and a social life, but we, as parents, must help them find the calm in the midst of what may seem like a storm. This transition is tough, but we can help make it as smooth as possible for our teen, and in turn, alleviate stress for the whole family.
Here are some tips for smooth transitioning:

Get plenty of rest. This is especially important for our teens as they need to be energized and able to perform at their peak – whether they are working on end of semester projects, studying for midterm exams or writing college applications. As parents, we also need restful sleep as it provides us with the energy to engage with our teens. Create a sleep ritual that will help you fall asleep on time and encourage your teen to do the same. Make your family go screen-less at least an hour before bed. This means no phone, no laptop, no TV. Instead, unwind with music or a book.

Unplug and decompress. Along the same lines as above, set time for the family to disconnect from phones and computers. We often get so caught up in our online lives that hours can pass before we even realize we haven’t had any physical activity or interaction. Emails, text messages and social app notifications can make us feel like we always have to be plugged-in, but at some point we may need a break from the constant phone-check. Encourage your family to meditate, reflect, have meaningful conversations or go outside and get some fresh air.

Don’t neglect hobbies. To avoid an abrupt transition for your teen, encourage him or her to keep up with his or her hobbies and favorite activities. There will be many changes for your teen in the future. However, through all the changes he or she may experience, setting aside time for hobbies can provide a sense of stability and a means of creative expression.

Maintain perspective. Celebrate milestones, but don’t exaggerate mistakes or failures. Blowing problems out of proportion can cloud the lesson that your teen may have otherwise learned from the situation. If your teen has broken a rule or received a bad grade, it’s important for both of you to take a step back and assess the situation rationally to reach the most beneficial solution. Also, it may help to think of the transition ahead as a new adventure of triumphs and challenges for the family to embark on together.
Give each other space. Sometimes, as hard as it can be for us parents to admit, our teens don’t need our constant advice, but rather space to process this new experience. The benefits of giving our teens this “alone time” extend to the entire family and will allow parents and siblings to handle the transition by themselves as well.

Changes, challenges and choices are standard stepping stones along the journey of life. During the teen years, it’s important that these moments are not marked by stress, tension or worry, but rather by confidence and a bit of curiosity. What other tips or tools have you used to guide your teen and family through a major transition, such as the transition from high school to college?