How Gratitude Can Change Your Life

adult-backlit-beach-320007Have you ever noticed how people experiencing the same thing can react so differently? Why is it that some who face a loss or disappointment maintain a surprisingly upbeat spirit, while others wallow in self-pity or anger? Some seemingly shrug it off while others are consumed by it. Some battle through it, sustained by their resilience, hope, and faith, while others suffer from feelings of entitlement or victimhood. Same situations; polar opposite reactions.

For most of us, it’s more natural to struggle when adversity strikes—at least initially. After all, we may feel hurt, disappointed, lonely, scared, or angry. That’s why people who are able to stay positive, even under life’s most difficult trials, really stand out.

Do these people have a special ingredient? I believe they do, and that ingredient is gratefulness. Regardless of their circumstances, grateful people find a way to call on their blessings and appreciate what they have. They choose to see the glass as half full. They are sustained by hope. They view adversity as a challenge and an opportunity for growth. And, despite living in a materialistic world, they don’t allow economic circumstances to dictate their happiness. (In my experience, this is the most common takeaway from students who go on mission trips.)

Those of us who are surrounded by parents, family members, teachers, mentors, and coaches who model this character trait are much more likely to be grateful than those who are not. Gratitude has a way of “rubbing off” on others because it is such an inspirational and admirable virtue. As you self reflect on your “gratitude quotient,” consider the following proven benefits:

  1. Gratitude improves your physical health. Studies have shown that grateful people have fewer aches and pains (yes, you read that right), and are more likely to take care of their physical health. They tend to practice healthy habits such as exercising and getting regular check-ups, which can contribute to increased longevity and life quality.
  2. Grateful people have better sleep. Here’s a tip: spend a few minutes jotting down what you’re thankful before bed every night, and you will likely have a longer and more restful sleep.
  3. Gratitude helps create better relationships. Of course, saying “thank you” is a practice of good manners, but a 2014 study in Emotion shows that it can also win you new friends! Saying “thank you” to an acquaintance makes them more likely to seek out further engagement. So, whether you’re thanking the local barista for your latte or a distant relative for graduation gift, acknowledging their efforts can open the door to new and better relationships.
  4. Gratitude can help improve your self-esteem. For years, research has shown that gratitude can help reduce stress. However, a 2014 study published in Journal of Applied Sport Psychology has shown that practicing thankfulness can actually play a major role in overcoming trauma and cultivating resilience. Recognizing all you’re grateful for—even in the hardest of times—can be life changing.
  5. Gratitude can reduce aggression (and increase empathy). Did you know that grateful people are more likely to act in a pro-social manner, even when the people around them are acting negatively? Grateful people are less resentful and retaliatory and demonstrate greater empathy and understanding (than those who do not engage in gratitude practices).

Of course, this looks different for everyone (some people write in a gratitude journal, some people silently acknowledge all that they are grateful for, others decide to pay it forward), but the point is that being thankful can completely transform your life. Here are some additional ideas to build your “gratitude quotient:”

  1. Actively seek out and surround yourself with grateful people. Ask them to share how they maintain a positive attitude while facing adversity and disappointment. Some of their strategies may work for you.
  2. Volunteer to help those less fortunate. This is especially beneficial to counter an entitlement mentality.
  3. Maintain your sense of hope in all circumstances. Consider when you overcame challenges and draw on them when new situations arise.

Developing gratitude is an especially beneficial life practice for teens and young adults, as they are constantly inundated with messages telling them they need to be better, look different, buy certain things, and generally just “keep up” with the people around them (not to mention the peer pressure they feel on a daily basis!). Gratitude is a powerful antidote to entitlement.

So, whether you’re a teen, college student, parent, or educator, know that we can all use some of these positive side effects in our lives! This holiday season, we encourage you to begin the daily habit of practicing gratitude. Meditate silently on your blessings, jot down a bullet-pointed list every night, or talk about what you’re thankful for around the dinner table. However you do it, pay close attention to how it transforms your inner world and the world around you for the better.

Let’s make Thanksgiving Day every day.

(For more way gratitude can change your life, check out this article published in Psychology Today.)

 

 

Parenting “To-Do’s” for Parents of High School Seniors: June

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In the blink of an eye June has already arrived, which means we are in for four weeks of graduation ceremonies and parties, Father’s Day celebrations, last minute college paperwork, dorm room shopping, and much more. Not surprisingly, June can be a bittersweet month for both parents and teens. It’s exciting and rewarding to be closing the high school chapter, but also daunting to know this is your teen’s last summer before leaving home (and for teens, this is often when they face the brutal reality that their friends will soon be scattering).  It’s why June is a great month to discuss your teen’s upcoming social transition, as it can be the most challenging aspect of “the launch.”

One pitfall young people can encounter during this huge social transition—saying goodbye to old friends and making new ones—is compromising their values in an effort to quickly “fit in” and have a sense of belonging. It’s a very strong pull, as is the temptation to rush the process. To reduce these risks, here are some suggestions for parents to share with their grad about the upcoming social transition:

  • Have them identify the values, qualities, and common interests of their current best friends. In other words, why are they their BFF’s? This list can be an invisible filter to apply in their new environment with the new people they meet.
  • Encourage them to be patient. Friendship and love take time (and the right timing). Remember, it took a while to make and choose their current friends. Having impatience when it comes to social matters can be the biggest source of mistakes and regrets. It takes time to build trust, and it’s worth it.
  • Avoid destructive, toxic, and negative people like the plague.
  • Get involved with organizations and activities where they can be surrounded with like-minded people. Don’t be a hermit.
  • When it comes to dating, take a 3D approach. This means, be deliberate, discriminating, and discerning. If things start to get serious, consider how he or she stacks up on the compatibility meter. How do your values and long term goals align? Remember, forever is a very long time.
  • Stay invested in current friends, but recognize that with this huge life transition, some may fade away, and that’s completely normal.
  • Periodic feelings of loneliness are common, despite being surrounded by thousands of other students. Talk to your teen about taking advantage of their current support system, but also encourage them to take some initiative in forming new relationships.

Lastly, I want to discuss one of the best graduation gifts any parent could ever give. Here at LifeSmart (and in my family), we call it a Blessing Packet. Here’s how it works:

  • Consider the most prominent people in your child’s life. Who has encouraged them, taught them important lessons, or influenced them in a positive way? (Think long-term friends, relatives, coaches, mentors, teachers, etc.) Ask if they would write a personal letter to the proud graduate, including words of affirmation, encouragement, fond memories, perspectives of their uniqueness, inspirational quotes, and well wishes for the future.
  • Have them send you their letters in a private envelope. Once all letters are received, put them in a gift wrapped box and deliver it to your grad at the appropriate time (probably after graduation). Even in a world where material things seem to be of utmost importance, this is a gift that will mean the world to them.
  • Parents, make sure you also write one, too. This is the perfect opportunity to express your feelings (many of which you may have been stuffing or holding on to) and share with your son or daughter what a blessing they are in your life. Speaking from personal experience as one who has written two for his children, it may be one of the most emotional, yet rewarding things you’ve ever done.

Although this month can be full of unknowns, it also can be a really special month of bonding between parents and their teens. Make sure you never take your time with them for granted and try to make the most of their last summer at home (and really, their last summer as a kid).

Happy summer!

Can Good Business Principles Make Us Better Parents?

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I know what you’re probably thinking. “Has Dennis gone off his rocker? Business and parenting? Are you kidding me?”

But, stay with me on this. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

As most of you know, I had incredible business experience for some 30 years before founding LifeSmart. Throughout most of it, I worked for a hugely successful company, Russell Investments, that was awarded “Best Place to Work” any number of times. And, I spent 27 years evaluating organizations and leaders—researching and observing the best and brightest. I learned their best practices and applied them to the best of my ability when managing my employees.

During this period, I also became a father of two kids who are as different as day and night—that would be Michael and Lauren. After some time, I realized that what I learned in the business arena could be applied to my parenting… and, what I learned in my parenting could be applied to my management!

So, here goes—six successful business strategies to help you become a better parent!

  1. Adopt a goal orientation: We all achieve more when we set goals. Whether it’s a five-year strategic plan or a daily to-do list, our goals give us focus, direction, and a target to hit. They help keep us motivated, too. And, so it goes with parenting. What if we were to set goals for our parenting? For our families? And, to encourage our children to be consistent goal setters? No doubt about it, we’ll accomplish more. You can find a sample Parenting Mission Statement here which helps us develop family goals: Parenting Mission Statement. So, be as strategic as you can and don’t let the day-to-day busyness keep you from achieving your longer-term goals.

  2. Utilize effective motivational techniques: Whether we’re in the management or parenting realms, we notice that some people are self motivated while others need a little nudge. Researchers have discovered that among the top motivators of a workforce are being: 1) appreciated and recognized, 2) invited into and involved in decisions, and 3) understood by their “boss.” And, so it goes with parenting a teenager, doesn’t it? We regularly hear complaints from teens that their parents: 1) seem to stress their performance rather than the person they are, 2) make all the decisions or minimize their input, and 3) don’t listen to or try to understand them and their world. The parallels are striking, aren’t they?

  3. Empower rather than micromanage: Most of us loathe having controlling supervisors who hover, nag, interfere, and manipulate. We feel disrespected, devalued, disempowered, and distrusted, and rightfully so. And, so it goes with the helicopter parent who employs these same micromanagement tendencies with their teens. Isn’t it interesting that we detest it when it happens to us at work, yet we can fall into this same trap when we parent? But, when we adopt an empowering parenting style, our teens will develop greater self confidence and decision-making skills.

  4. Promote high standards and strong character: As managers, we certainly want our employees to perform. And yet, the most successful leaders stress the importance of upholding high standards of excellence, including strong character and ethical behavior. Qualities like integrity, dependability, initiative, team-mindedness, positivity, self control, work ethic, and resilience are telltale signs of excellent employees. So, when it comes to parenting, let’s remember to honor the great character traits and behaviors in our children, not just their outcomes. It will serve them well in all aspects of life.

  5. Engage in effective collaboration: In today’s more relational workplace, teamwork is highly valued. Being able to work effectively with others with different skills, styles, and backgrounds in a harmonious way produces happier workers and better outcomes. The same is true of families who value one another, work together on family projects and chores, and invest in their relationships. While the teen years can bring extra relationship challenges when children express greater independence (and sometimes appear to devalue their parents’ input), it nonetheless is helpful to reinforce the “family as team” whenever possible. One team, one dream, does pay off.

  6. Commit to continuous improvement: As the world has become more competitive, companies are managing their personnel more intensively. Nowadays, we have to deliver excellent performance just to keep our jobs. So, it’s not surprising that employees who are committed to continuously improve their skills through training, etc. are best positioned to succeed. And, so it goes with our children. By building a growth mindset and a love of learning and self improvement in our children, parents can prepare them for the demands of the real world and help them fulfill their dreams. So, encourage your children to seize those opportunities to sharpen their body, mind, and spirit. It’s huge.

So, taking a page from the business management playbook can actually help in our parenting and pay dividends, too. Give it a try and let us know how it goes.

To better parenting.

 

Happy Mother’s Day from LifeSmart to You!

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Moms of teens, tweens, and little ones; this week’s message is for you! We hope you enjoyed your Mother’s Day with your family and loved ones, and we’d like to continue the celebration by officially honoring you for all of your hard work, dedication, selflessness, energy, and time. Today, we recognize the countless hours you spent helping your child prepare for spelling tests, the time spent helping complete college apps and FAFSA forms, the endless trips you’ve taken shuttling to school, games, events, and study sessions, the thousands of lunches you’ve made, the untold hours healing bruises, illnesses, and wounded spirits, and the million other ways you’ve invested in your children, the next generation. Thank you!

How we raise our kids today will impact them and the world around them for the rest of their lives. After all, we are not only raising children; we’re raising future adults. Putting in your due diligence by modeling and teaching important values such as integrity, resilience, honesty, good work ethic, and kindness, will help your kids thrive in adulthood. It will help them create stronger, healthier relationships, be successful in their careers, and generally have a higher happiness quotient. Why? All because of the foundation you’re laying for them now.

At LifeSmart, we are committed to equipping the next generation to thrive, just like you, moms (and dads)! That’s why it’s so important that parents, educators, and mentors are equipped with tools to help the children they’re guiding successfully launch with confidence. Our goal is to help them hone in on crucial leadership and life skills so young people can excel in independent life, college, career, and beyond.

Parents play an indispensable role in preparing the next generation.  What they do is not easy; in fact, it’s probably one of the hardest jobs in the world. Moms, today we’re looking at you. And we’re here to help support you.

Doesn’t it feel like navigating the world of parenting, especially teens, is tricky? Teens can be completely unpredictable! Some days they burst in the door from school, dying to talk to you, but the next moment they’re moody and aloof! Some days it feels like they won’t stop asking you for things, but then the next moment they completely shut you out. And, sometimes it’s difficult to know when or how to communicate with them, especially when you’re adjusting to your new role as “chief encourager.”Dropping off your recent high school graduate at the freshman dormitory is the beginning of a new chapter for both of you. And for moms especially, it’s fraught with mixed feelings.

Today, as we wrap up a week focused on our appreciation for moms, all of us at LifeSmart want to acknowledge all the different ways that parenting can pull your heart in a million different directions. With that, moms, here are three encouraging tidbits as you begin your new year:

  • When times are difficult or you feel stretched, it’s okay to focus on you. Self-care is one of the most important steps in being a good parent, spouse, and friend. As the dynamic of your life changes while your children become more independent, you may have more time to do the things that YOU want to do. Consider igniting an old passion, picking up a new hobby, and remembering all the things that make you, YOU outside of your role as mom.
  • In the season of “launch time,” find a community of parents who are in the same stage of life. How are they coping? What are they doing to ensure a successful launch for themselves, too? How are they planning for their next chapter? Surrounding yourself with other people who are also parenting older teens will help you feel understood, encouraged, and inspired. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO THIS ALONE.
  • Remember, while moving from driver’s seat to passenger’s seat can be hard, you’re gaining a relationship with your new adult, not losing a child! Even though allowing your teen to begin making their own life choices can be a scary thought, they will always have you as an ally. You will forever be their biggest cheerleader and friend. No matter what, you will always be one of the most important voices in their life.

 

Happy Mother’s Day from all of us at LifeSmart. Where would we be without you?

The Changing Relationship Dynamic Between Parents and Teens

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Over the coming weeks and months, many things will change for parents of graduating high school seniors. They’ll see their children less, miss out on beloved traditions or quality time, or feel like they have lost their sense of purpose. (Can any empty nesters relate?) However, for many parents of teens, their biggest struggle is loss of influence—imagined or real.

During the season of raising teens and young adults, our children are increasingly listening to voices other than their parents. They hear opinions, advice, constructive criticism, and more, from their friends, social media, teachers/professors, acquaintances, celebrities in the media, etc. Although they’re not necessarily cutting ties or rejecting what you say as their parent, it can feel that way. In fact, many times what may be perceived as a rejection is more a re-negotiation of the former parent-child relationship.

In my work at LifeSmart, I enjoy talking with parents of teens and young adults. More than anything, parents are lamenting that their kids are not listening to them as before or are rejecting their advice or opinions. Whether it happened gradually or suddenly, it can be a rude awakening for parents who were never prepared for this! To a person, they long for the days when their kids were more docile, their homes were more peaceful, and everyone seemed to be on the same page.

And, then we remember we were there, too. But, now in our role as parent, we wonder what to do.

Instead of perceiving this season as rejection, I encourage parents to see it as their teen saying, “Hey, I’m almost a grown-up, give me some more credit!” or “Let me figure this one out on my own.” Or, “I’m gaining some new perspectives that we can chat about sometime.” Whether we’re talking about curfews or communication, dating or homework, or politics or religion, we need to avoid burning our bridges. And, we need to accept that they’re growing into their own person. Just like you did.

If you are a parent of a teen, please, continue reading! This is your golden opportunity. If you recognize and react to this new reality with trust (and they handle it well), you can build an even greater, and more sustainable, platform for parental influence and relationship in your teen’s life. It’s your chance to create a new, mutually trusting and mature relationship that can be a source of great benefit and joy to you both in the future.

But, you need to take the lead.

Here are a few ways you can help develop this new relationship dynamic:

  • Adopt a communication strategy that is more “share with” than “talk to.” Be a safe place for them to share their views.
  • Include your teen in decisions you would otherwise make without their feedback.
  • Ask them to help you plan events, outings, family get-togethers, parties, etc. Take their opinions and suggestions into consideration.
  • If your teen is asking for more freedom (for example, a later curfew), consider giving it, but with added responsibility (e.g., an additional chore).
  • Ask your teen out to coffee or to the place they open up most.
  • Share with your teen about current topics or articles that are relevant today or will be after they leave home.

Be encouraged. Statistics support the idea that, despite appearances to the contrary, parents are still the number one influencers in a young person’s life. The majority of teenagers report that they have values and general beliefs similar to their parents and consider their parents as being highly significant in their lives (despite what their own parents may perceive at the time!).

When all is said and done, here is something we can guarantee: your children will make some not-so-great choices throughout their adolescent years, but they will also make some wonderful ones. They will stumble and make great strides. Sometimes, they’ll want you to pick them up, dust them off, and set them straight again. Other times, they’ll prefer you keep your distance and let them handle it on their own.

If you have the benefit of other positive, encouraging, and healthy voices in your child’s life (coaches, mentors, relatives, teachers), you’ll be able to approach the launch with a greater sense of peace. He or she will be more prepared for the real world, where we all have to sort the good voices from the bad. Hopefully, with the benefit of the right modeling, they’ll surround themselves with the good.

It’s all part of the journey to adulthood. Just remember, no matter how tough the going gets, your child does value what you think, even if they may not always show it. And, trust me, if your relationship is solid, one day you’ll realize that more of your words sunk in than you ever imagined. Just as it was meant to be.

Unintended Consequences of Parenting Styles

The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility

and the wings of independence.

~Denis Waitley

Parents: I think all of us can agree that we want to see our children happy, admirable, and successful.  But, how we help them achieve this is all over the map, isn’t it? When I grew up, authoritarian parenting was the norm. Those were the days of “Because I said so,” and non-negotiable chores. Teens were expected to leave home after graduation, whether that meant to college, a job, or the military. The ball was in their court to sink or swim. Tough love ruled the day.

Times have changed, in part because of the pitfalls associated with this approach to parenting. However, as it usually happens, the pendulum swings to the opposite extreme. We overcorrect and new issues surface. Like now.

Despite our best intentions, sometimes our parenting methods can get in the way of achieving our objectives. Although our children bear the primary responsibility for how their lives turn out, parenting influences are significant. With this in mind, and understanding that there are no perfect parents, we’d like to share some inadvertent consequences we see in three of today’s most common parenting styles.

 

Helicopter Parenting

In our efforts to be an involved parent and protect our kids from failure, we can micromanage and control them if we’re not careful.  Figuratively speaking, we can’t let go of the handlebar. We hover, orchestrate, remind, nag, interfere, and even do their homework and chores. Although we don’t like to be treated that way by our own supervisors, we often display these tendencies with our children. The bottom line is this: we stunt their social-emotional growth and skill development and rob them of the joy of doing things themselves.

Here are telltale signs of children and young adults who have been helicoptered: low self confidence, co-dependence, poor life skills, difficulty with problem solving, lacking resilience/coping, weak conflict resolution, and a poor work ethic and motivation. College administrators and employers are regularly observing these.

 

Performance Parenting

Although we all want our children to succeed, some parents take this to such an extreme that they appear to value performance more than the person. They view their children’s outcomes as a direct reflection of their parenting and can apply intense and unfair pressure to perform to unreasonable standards. Common parent behaviors are harsh responses to report cards, competitive comparisons to siblings or friends, forcing their careers onto their children, complaining to teachers and coaches when grades/play time are disappointing, and defending poor child behavior in teacher/administrator meetings.

It is especially painful to visit with students on the receiving end of this parenting style. Telltale signs in children are lacking self worth/value, anxiety, depression, intense fear of failure, untruthfulness, resentment, isolation, cheating, coping challenges, blaming tendencies, and sibling rivalry. Additionally, significant relationship strains are common when the child doesn’t perceive the parent as a safe person with whom to share fears, dreams, and life. Not surprisingly, resentment and distance are frequent outcomes, especially in the adult years.

 

“Buddy” (or Permissive) Parenting

Parents also have an intense desire to raise happy children and provide a harmonious home environment. Often, the teen years are challenging on both fronts as pressure builds and children express their independence. These years are exhausting! In response, many parents are pursuing a child-centric approach to life and inadvertently raising children who think the world revolves around them. At the extreme, these parents treat their children as friends, abdicating any sense of authority. Common examples of this are enabling, failing to enforce discipline/consequences, doing their children’s basic chores, allowing excessive time allowances for technology, etc., living vicariously through their children, passivity in the face of disrespect, and endlessly giving in to their children’s desires.

Telltale signs in children affected by this parenting style are entitlement, disrespect for authority figures and rules, arrogance, lacking motivation and work ethic, manipulation tendencies, and addiction to pleasure sources. They believe the world owes them a happy life and often struggle in the competitive adult world.

Do any of these sound familiar in your parenting or your children? Most of us can “plead guilty” to at least a few. So, with the dawn of a new year, why not take a pulse check to your parenting? Are any midcourse corrections in order?

Here’s to making 2018 your best parenting year ever!

 

 

The Best Gift I’ve Ever Given. . .

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received? How about the best gift you’ve ever given? Can you come up with your top three? What’s the common denominator between them all? What makes the gifts so special?

More often than not, when I ask people these questions, they usually respond with gifts that:

  • were not expected
  • were ones they (or the other person) really needed
  • showed how much one person knew or understood the other
  • were not necessarily things, but experiences
  • were sacrificial on the part of the giver

That’s how I would describe the favorite gift I have ever given. And today, I’d like to tell you about it. Grab a nice cold glass of egg nog and enjoy . . .

It would be my first Christmas away from home. Four months earlier, I trekked from Wisconsin to my new home in Seattle to seek my MBA degree. Having left all of my family and friends behind, I knew Christmas of 1979 would be tough.

After experiencing (and not enjoying) my first solo Thanksgiving, I decided to see if my meager bank account could support a surprise trip home. Although a flight to Green Bay was out of my price range, I could pull this off if I flew to Chicago and had someone drive me the remaining four hours north. Bless his heart, my friend Bruce offered to be my chauffeur to and from O’Hare.

Once my top secret trip was scheduled, I made a point of sounding extra lonesome on my weekly calls home. (Yes, a little nasty but in the end they wouldn’t mind!) My parents were having mixed emotions about this Christmas, too.

After our long, snowy ride, we arrived at my brother Rick’s house late on the 23rd and reviewed our plans. Rick had acquired a large empty cardboard box, big enough to fit yours truly. It would be addressed to my parents from the North Pole, and the grand unveiling would be set for 9:00 a.m. Christmas eve on their upstairs apartment doorstep.

As Rick drove me to my parents’ place, the suspense became almost unbearable. When we arrived just outside their door, I placed the box over my head and crouched down, sitting on top of the bottom flaps to hold it in place. After giving the “all clear” signal to Rick, he rang the doorbell and rushed down the stairs out of sight.

Let’s pause so you can fully imagine this. You are an unexpected Christmas gift on your parents’ doorstep and are about to shock the living daylights out of them! My heart was about to explode.

My mom, in her mid-Sixties, answered the door and shouted, “Oh my, Lil, what’s this?” (Lil was a similarly aged neighbor visiting.) Her presence only added to the raucous. Next was “My, this is heaaavvvvyy! What could be in here?” Lil added, “I don’t know, but let’s try lifting it.” Listening in on their speculation, I almost lost it!

Well, to make a long story short, these ladies tried their best to lift it (while I, inside, was desperately holding down the flaps!). When one of my boots stuck out, I knew it was time. I counted to three and in one move jumped out of the box and cried, “Merry Christmas!” Just try to imagine their shock. It was truly priceless. And, within five minutes, it was all around the entire complex.

A Christmas present no one would ever forget.

This season, we focus on what I personally consider to be history’s greatest gift—a savior, named Jesus. He was and is an unexpected gift that came to mean everything to this world, and He came from a Giver who knew exactly what we needed.

Over the next week as you spend time with those you love, think about the reasons behind your gifting. Is this the year for your greatest gift?

Merry Christmas from the LifeSmart family.

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!

Keeping the Peace During the Holidays: Part Two

In last week’s post, I shared four things to help avoid communication breakdowns, especially during the holiday season when we’re surrounded by so many family and friends. One consideration for promoting peace and harmony (and not just for the holidays!) is the form of delivery our communication takes, especially when dealing with a highly charged topic.

Writing letters, emails, or texts is certainly easier than speaking about sensitive subjects in person, especially if you’re the type to avoid confrontation. The distance provided by written forms can theoretically offer a protective shield. However, if the receiver doesn’t accurately perceive your intended tone, it can be an unmitigated disaster. Interestingly, this is becoming a big issue with the younger generation that prefers to communicate via technology than face to face.  BIG problem.

Whenever you’re dealing with sensitive, controversial, or emotionally charged subjects or feelings, it’s generally much better to talk it out rather than write it out. Here’s why …

A friend of mine once sensed a growing distance with a family member and was feeling improperly judged. Rather than talk about it personally, my friend decided to write a letter. After reading the carefully crafted draft, I implored my friend not to send it, for fear it would be misconstrued. Unfortunately, my advice was ignored, and in the aftermath, their relationship was severely damaged. My friend made the mistake of assuming the receiver would insert the intended tone when reading the letter. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way. Their relationship has never been the same.

This is a classic example of what can happen when you use written communication in a situation where face to face (or at least over the phone, if that’s not possible) would be better. When speaking, you’re in control of your tone of voice and body language, and there’s less chance of misinterpretation. At least if happens, you’re there to correct the situation through give and take. In contrast, written correspondence leaves far too much to chance and takes much longer to rectify if your words are misunderstood. It’s a risk to avoid if you can.

Another problem with written communication—especially in this digital age—is that you have no guarantee it will stay with the intended recipient. When you send a text or email, you have no control over where it goes. With the ability screenshot everything, who knows where it could end up! (It also means we should think twice before hitting “send” on basically everything.)

I can’t stress enough why it’s so important to try and have our sensitive conversations in person. It may be easier to jet off an email or post a rant on Facebook, but in the long term, that’s probably not going to be your best bet.

If you have a strained relationship with a friend or family that you are looking to reconcile before the holidays, I urge you to reach out to that person and ask them out to coffee (or some other comfortable setting). Although the thought of confrontation may be uncomfortable, the outcome will likely be much better than if you sent a text.

May your holidays be filed with good conversation, reconnection, reconciliation, peace, and unity for you and your families.

How do you handle the communication of sensitive or emotional topics? Have you ever written out your feelings in a letter, email, or social media posting and later regretted it? Or, been on the receiving end of someone else’s?

 

Happy Holidays from the LifeSmart team!

Keeping the Peace During the Holidays

Now that Thanksgiving and the holiday season are upon us, there are a few things we can be certain of: good food (and too much of it!), sweet treats, festive activities, shopping until we drop, and time with extended family.

Unfortunately,, for some of us, time with extended family can be strained. And when tensions are high, people are much more likely to take offense. This week, I’d like to talk about HOW you communicate with others and how you can avoid conflict as you interact with family, friends, and others over the next month.

Miscommunication and spats happen to all of us, probably more often than we’d care to admit. There are, however, some simple things you can do to minimize them, especially by remembering how others receive our messages:.

 

  1. Word choice – This factor is huge, especially when we discuss sensitive topics or relationships (here’s a hint: No talking politics over turkey dinner!). In these situations, our emotions can interfere with our thinking, and we often use more provocative language that we later regret. In the “heat of battle,” we can be so focused on proving our point that we forget to show tact, empathy, and understanding to the other party. The end result is that things spiral out of control, and frustration and anger take over..

 

  1. Delivery – Sometimes it’s our manner of delivery that gets in the way, even if our word choice is fine. Examples include speaking with a harsh or condescending tone of voice or displaying arrogant facial expressions or body language (e.g.,, eye rolling). No matter what words we use, if the “packaging” is incongruent, our message will lack credibility and rub people the wrong way. No one is convincing when they show disrespect to their audience.

 

  1. Form – Ever wanted to jet off a nasty email when you’re upset or irritated? Don’t be so quick on the draw. The advantage of verbal communication is that the audience hears you speak, allowing your tone to help convey your ideas. In contrast, written communications (e.g., emailing, texting, social media comments and messages) have a major disadvantage because the audience imposes their own interpretation of your tone. Aunt Sue’s perception may be light years away from what you intended. If so, you have a big problem on your hands.

 

  1. Filter – Depending on whether your audience likes or distrusts you, whether they’re in a good or bad mood, or focused or distracted by other thoughts, your message may not get through in the way you intended..Unfortunately, you can’t control their filter.

 

There are two other irritating tendencies that are becoming more common and sabotaging our times together. One is when people use every opportunity to politicize, even during get-togethers that are supposed to be festive and harmonious. The second is when people emphatically express opinions as though they are facts. This is a predictable consequence of the media bias we are seeing. Please be mindful of these tendencies and respectfully suggest a change of subject if you’re on the receiving end.

This holiday season, I hope you never find yourself having to say “I didn’t mean it like that!” to an uncle, aunt, parent, sibling, or cousin. By remembering these influences before you speak, you’ll do your part in spreading peace and harmony to others.

Do you pay close attention to how you communicate and how your words are being received? What are some ways you’ve learned to be a more effective communicator?

 Happy Holidays from all of us at LifeSmart!