Working Towards a Win-Win

When it comes to the relationship between parents and teenagers, there are few skills that can make things better, faster, than mastering the art of compromise.  Many of the families we work with are stuck in a never-ending battle of wills.  On one side are the parents who believe that they know what is best for their teen and on the other is the teenager who doesn’t necessarily agree.  This dynamic, which is present in all families with teenagers, is not a sign of trouble but rather a sign that the teenager is developing their own sense of self and individual identity.  However, unless families have the skills they need to effectively manage this battleground, this healthy dynamic can turn toxic.  If both sides insist on standing their ground, these small battles and minor skirmishes can morph into a full-scale war where no one wins, everyone is unhappy, and the parent-child relationship is left in tatters.

In order to understand why compromise is so important, it helps to take a step back and re-examine our role as parents.  Many parents feel like it is our job to control every aspect of our children’s lives and sometimes control, discipline, and a “do what I say” mentality is what is needed, even with teenagers.  Unfortunately, it can be easy for parents who are tired of their teen arguing with everything they say to dig in their heels and fortify this position.  The answer to every question, request, or argument becomes some version of “because I said so.” When parents choose this place to stand their ground, most teenagers will take up an opposite position, assuming that the only way to make their voice heard is to shout louder and rebel more.  When no one is willing to stand down, everyone loses.

However, if our job as parents is to teach our children what they need to know in order to successfully navigate the world on their own, we make room for flexibility as well as “do what I say” moments.  We make it possible to find a middle ground when it makes sense without relinquishing our right to exert control when it matters.  We create space to teach our teens how to compromise, how to negotiate, and how to stand their ground when the situation warrants it rather than feeling like the only way to win is for someone else to lose.

Working towards a win-win situation starts with a discussion where everyone feels heard and understood.  It is important that this discussion is centered on communicating each side’s position and doesn’t include judgment, criticism, or demands.  The key concept parents need to keep in mind is that sometimes it is better to lose a few battles in order to win the war.  If winning the war means producing a self-sufficient, self-confident young adult that willing contributes to society, it can be easier to let go of battles that aren’t likely to affect the overall outcome.  For example, your daughter’s desire to dye her hair purple may offend your parental sensibilities. But if allowing her to win this battle makes her feel heard, supports her search for her own identity, and allows you to stand firm on something that is more important without being seen as a dictator, it may be better for her in the long run if you back down.

Inspiring Empathy in Your Teens

If there is one thing we as a society could do to decrease the incidence of bullying, combat domestic violence, and ensure today’s children will become upstanding compassionate adults, it would be to teach and foster empathy in our children and in each other. 

Examples of what happens when empathy is absent are all around us.  You need only tune into the news to hear about another senseless act of violence or about one teen doing something terrible to another.  Parents, civil, leaders, and mental health practitioners alike are looking for answers to the near-epidemic level of bullying behavior that seems to touch every child’s life in one way or another.  Experts struggle to understand why even the most popular, likable, well-adjusted adolescents seem open to participating in behavior previously seen primarily in those who struggled to adhere to social norms.  Regardless of the other factors that cause and contribute to these challenges, at the root of each one is a lack of empathy.

What is Empathy?

When you feel empathy for another person, you understand the feelings they are having. By putting yourself in their place, by feeling what they are feeling, you are able to react and respond in ways that are comforting, helpful, and supportive.

For example, you are waiting in line at the grocery store with several other people.  The cashier is currently helping a young mother with two small children who are acting out and behaving badly.  The woman is struggling to finish her purchase while also keeping track of and trying to placate her two toddlers.  How you respond to this situation will vary greatly on the amount of empathy you feel for the woman.  If you can imagine what it is like to be her in that moment, to feel the things she is feeling, you are more likely to be patient, understanding, and possibly even offer to help.  However, if you cannot empathize with her, you are more likely to be judgmental, more likely to assume she isn’t a good mother since she cannot control her children, and perhaps even tap your foot or make a rude comment aimed at letting her know how much she is inconveniencing you.

The difference in these two reactions shows why empathy and lack of empathy in our teens can be so problematic.  If you know how to have empathy for others, you are less likely to participate in behaviors that hurt people because you understand how much that behavior hurts the other person and don’t want to subject them to that pain.

Teaching Empathy

While it is never too late to help someone learn to feel empathy towards others, it is a skill that is best learned in small steps from toddlers to teens and beyond.   Most people are born with the capacity to feel empathy, but it isn’t something that happens on its own; it must be taught, modeled, and reinforced throughout a child’s life.  If your child seems to be lacking in empathy for others, start by examining your own family dynamics.  Children, including teens, learn what they live.  If we want them to be caring, understanding, empathetic members of society, we must model that behavior in our own lives.

If you have any questions about how best to foster empathy in your teen, or if we can address any other concerns you may have, please give one of our counselors at Doorways a call. We would love to talk with you and answer any questions you may have.

 

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Lonely or Alone? Teens and Solitary Time – Part 1

Teenagers of various backgrounds in Oslo, Norw...

Do you know the warning signs to look for if your teen is lonely or depressed? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Parents face many challenges as they guide and usher their teenagers through the final years of adolescence on their way to becoming young adults.  One of the most common is knowing when their teen’s behavior is normal and a sign of healthy adaptation and when it is abnormal and requires attention.  It is normal for teenagers to spend time away from their families, often secluded in their rooms.  For many parents this change in behavior can feel like their child is pulling away, like there is some problem or tension within the family.  This can lead to concern about whether or not this alone time is healthy or if it is a sign that their child needs help.

Like most parenting challenges, there is no easy answer or fail-safe guideline that can be used to know the difference.  In part, it depends on your child.  Some people are more introverted than others, which means that some teens will seek more solitary time than their peers.  Other teens may find the demands of socializing and school draining and seek alone time as a way to re-energize and rejuvenate themselves.  A teenagers desire to spend time alone is not a cause for concern.  In fact, this kind of separation is an important part of their development.  But in order to provide for and protect their children, parents need to be able to tell between solitude that signifies healthy development and solitude that signifies danger ahead.

To help understand if your teenager is lonely or just spending time alone, here are the most common healthy reasons teens seek solitude.

Shyness

Even teenagers who were outgoing as children can experience periods of shyness as teenagers.  The teen years bring changes to almost every aspect of life and it is perfectly normal for teens to become fearful of things like saying the wrong thing, looking silly or strange, being rejected by others, or not fitting in with their peers.  These types of fears can result in periods of shyness when your teen withdraws and seeks the comfort and safety of solitude.   While feeling and acting shy is not cause for parental concern, parents can help their teen through these phases by offering encouragement and support.

Spending Time Alone

Sometimes, we all just need to spend some time by ourselves.  Being with other people requires a lot of energy no matter what age you are because you have to consider the other people’s needs, opinions, and feelings while moderating what you say and how you act.  This can be draining even if you aren’t a teenager trying to navigate a constantly shifting and completely unforgiving social network while also building the skills to do so.  Sometimes, your teenager just needs to not have to worry about anyone else for awhile so they can recharge their own batteries.  This is healthy behavior and no cause for concern.

Being an Introvert

As mentioned above, some people, including teenagers, are simply more introverted than others.  Introverted teens thrive when they get to spend enough time on their own.  They benefit from honoring this side of themselves and the best thing parents can do is be understanding and supportive of their need for this solitary space.  However, even introverted teens need social interaction.  Creating relationships, connecting with others, and establishing solid communication skills are as essential for introverts as they are for extroverts and teens that isolate themselves in order to avoid these situations may need encouragement in these areas.

Regardless of what may be leading your teen or adolescent to spend time alone, be aware of any signs of depression that may be causing this behavior. Be on the lookout for any of the following signs of depression. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to give one of our counselors at Doorways a call.

  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes
  • Loss of enjoyment in activities, socializing, and pastimes
  • Lack of energy
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Problems with concentration
  • Changes in eating habits that includes craving high sugar foods

 

8 Parenting Tips by Chase Kerrey

by: Chase Kerrey, MA LAC

 

1. Be Relational

By the time parents usually come in for counseling with concerns about their son or daughter the relationship is strained, with the parent oftentimes in a mindset that is attempting to “fix” the child and the child rebelling against this attempt at control. One of the best things parents can do, even during times of stress or strain, is look at their son or daughters behavior as a window into what it’s like to be them. In my experience the healthier families I work with all have something in common: at the end of the day, there is always an undercurrent of interest in relating to and empathizing with other family member’s experiences. In a phrase, they are listening with curiosity.

 

2. Be Mindful

Being mindful is the capacity to take a step back from an experience rather than simply reacting to it. In families the message intended is not always the message received, so the importance is for families to be able to communicate their thoughts and feelings in a way that limits misunderstanding. Children, adolescents, and teenagers are more prone to feelings of shame, worthlessness, incompetence, and failure as they develop physically, psychologically, and neurologically, which means emphasis needs to be placed on behavior when correction is warranted, rather than making generalized statements in the heat of the moment that could be interpreted as a reflection of their worth and value.

 

3. Be Purposeful

After seminars and in family sessions, parents oftentimes come up to me and ask what I believe to be the goal of parenting. The single greatest response that I’ve picked up and subsequently pass on to others is that a parent’s job is to train their child into becoming a functional adult. The profession of parenting in this regard is similar to that of a therapist or long lasting gum manufacturer; the goal is to work oneself out of a job. In every circumstance that you or your spouse come to on the parenting front, ask yourself, “am I preparing my son or daughter to be a contributing member of society, either physically, emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, or spiritually? And if not, what can I do in this situation to point them in that direction, even if it means exposing my child to the natural consequences of his/her behavior? The goal is for your child to graduate from your direct care ready for what the world has to offer and the newfound responsibilities that will undoubtedly come.

 

4. Be Teachable

As a father of a four year old boy and two year old girl, I seem to be reminded daily of the fact that I am a perfectly imperfect parent. Stated bluntly, I believe that we as human beings are destined to mess up, it just depends when and to what extent. With that in mind, the goal for parents is not to spare your child from seeing you make a mistake, but rather in allowing them to see you accept responsibility, pursue reconciliation when warranted, and pick yourself back up without blaming, shaming, or judging yourself or others in the process.

 

5. Be Moderate

This topic centers on the topic of control. Oftentimes we as parents or as individuals handle stress by swinging to one of two extremes: we attempt to control our environment and the people in it, or we do something in the moment that brings pleasure but fails to address the origins of the stress. Both are what therapists call avoidant behaviors, and both ironically cause increases of stress and/or anxiety over time. The goal here is balance or moderation, understanding that to be an adult means to deal with higher and higher levels of ambiguity and to release those things we cannot control, but also to make strides in making positive change in those things we do have some say in.

 

6. Be Balanced

To be a parent means learning to do more with less: less time, less money, more responsibility, more crises that demand our attention. But finding yourself burning the candle at both ends is not the solution, and in fact over time this “white knuckling it” approach will drill you into the ground physically and emotionally. Parents usually tell me in our introductory session, “but Chase, we don’t have time / can’t afford to have balance”, but the reality is that your family cannot afford to have you experience a complete physical or mental breakdown either. The single most important relationship within a family systems perspective is the parent/spousal relationship, and this is due I believe largely to the fact that parents set the emotional tone of the family by how well they are taking care of themselves and each other. Plan regular and predictable quiet times, reading hours, date nights, exercise groups or any other form of self care needed to keep yourself physically and emotionally afloat. It’s not being selfish; it’s being responsible to yourself and your family.

 

7. Be Content

Chances are incredibly good that not every child will grow to have an IQ comparable to Steven Hawking (over 200) or become the next Michael Jordan, but that does not mean that your child will live a life lacking significance or worth if he/she does not attain these goals. Each child has unique giftedness, abilities, and insight to make a mark in this life and in the lives of others. The goal is to identify these gifts and abilities in our kids and cultivate them when they arise, not attempt to manufacture skills and abilities where parents might want them to be. Talking to those who have worked with individuals experiencing end of life scenarios frequently report the most significant variable in those who’ve experienced fulfillment facing death verses despair is the quality of relationships one had and the vulnerability experienced in those relationships, rather than past achievements.

 

8. Be Aware

One of the most difficult things for a parent to do with a child or adolescent struggling psychologically is to pick up the phone and admit that there is a problem outside of their capacity to fix. Many parents do not seek outside advice or support when their child’s symptoms first arise, either due to not seeing the symptoms as significant as they actually are or simply not seeing the symptoms at all. If your child is displaying behavior outside what you would consider to be “normal”, you notice a sudden change or mood swings, your adolescent becomes increasingly isolative or angry, or you simply have that motherly or fatherly “gut” feeling that tells you something’s up, chances are good outside help is warranted.

Dealing with Divorce: How Parents Can Help Teens

No one likes to think about it and yet 50% of us will end up going through a divorce It is hard enough to deal with the loss of a marriage, but for parents, the loss is made even greater because our actions are directly impacting our children.  As a parent, going through one of the hardest times of our lives, it is our job to make sure it isn’t any harder on our teenagers than it has to be, and that they have the love, support, and guidance to get through the experience undamaged.  This can feel like a tall order, especially if the divorce has left you devastated.

There is good news however, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.  It is possible to deal with divorce in a constructive way and create a wonderful new life for you and your family.  Divorce, for children, shows up like an unwanted, unwelcome house guest.  It unpacks its bags and settles in, spreading uncertainty and anger.  Divorce brings uncertainty and anger into our lives.  The key to helping adolescents and teens navigate through this time is to actively manage the baggage this unwelcome guest brought with them.

The first bit of baggage to deal with is uncertainty.  Divorce can upend everything in your family’s lives.  Schedules change, childhood homes get sold, responsibilities increase, and time together often decreases.  Everything your family relied on for stability and comfort may be gone and it may be hard to find anything that feels solid enough to stand on.  This is an unwelcome feeling for anyone, but for teens who are already going through a significant time in their own lives, this guest can throw them completely off balance and leave them wondering which way is up.

While we cannot eliminate every uncertainty during this tumultuous time, there are some things you can do to give your teen some stable ground to stand on.

  • Help them understand that the divorce was not their fault.
  • In an age-appropriate way, talk to them about the reasons for the divorce together.  It is important to remember that blaming and/or shaming each other in front of your children only hurts them more.
  • Do not lie to them or withhold information.
  • Encourage them to ask questions and provide an age appropriate answer.

The other bit of baggage you need to manage is anger.  It isn’t unusual for teens to be angry about the divorce.  They may be angry at one parent, both parents, or simply the world.  If you can put yourself in their shoes, you will see that they have every right to be angry.  Everything in their lives is changing, they feel like their family will never be the same, and there is nothing they can do about it.  There are two important things parents can do to help teens who are angry.  The first is to let them know its ok.  The second is to help them find healthy ways to handle that anger.  Simply sweeping it under the rug or pretending that it isn’t there can make it worse.   Help your teenager by modeling healthy behavior, giving them time and space to deal with the divorce and their feelings at their own pace, and reaffirming that the divorce doesn’t change how you or the other parent feels about them.  If you have questions about how to navigate this journey effectively with your teen, Doorways can help. Give us a call today!

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Self Harm, No Longer Just a Teenage Problem

Self-harm

Self-harm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For most parents, the thought of their teenager intentionally harming themselves can seem inconceivable.   We work hard every day to protect them from the worst of the world and often only see the dangers that are hiding “out there.”  Unfortunately, these two things together can make it very hard to see that one of the dangers might not be out there, but hiding inside our child.

 

Self-harm amongst teens has been on the rise for years due in part to increased awareness and more frequent discussion of self-harm amongst adolescents.  Experts believe that bringing it out into the open may actually have encouraged more teens to try it resulting in more widespread adoption.  Until recently, however, this practice was relegated to the tween and teen years, with most self harm incidents beginning around age 14.  New research published in the journal Pediatrics indicates that children are turning to self-harm as a coping strategy at younger and younger ages.

 

The study used information garnered from interviewing 665 kids in three different grades, third, sixth and ninth.  The participants were from two different parts of the country and the objective of the study was to assess the prevalence of self-harm amongst adolescents.    Interviews were conducted in a laboratory setting and participants were asked to respond based on their entire life experience, not just their recent experiences.

 

One of the most important findings was also one of the most shocking.  Cutting and self-harm, previously thought to occur primarily in the early teen years, is actually starting in elementary school.  The research team found that children as young as 7 may be using self-inflicted injury as a way to manage psychological stress.   Amongst the third grade participants, 8% have injured themselves and more than 60% of those that have caused themselves injury admit to doing it more than once.

 

The study did find that the rate of self-harm is lower in 6th graders with only 4% reporting its use as a self management strategy but any perceived improvement disappears with the results of the 9th grade interviews where 13% admit to engaging in self harm.

 

This means that parents need to know the signs of self harm and start looking for them earlier.  Here are some things parents need to know in order to recognize self-harm when it is happening, prevent additional harm, and help their children when it is needed.

 

1.     Self-harm isn’t just cutting.

 

While cutting may get most of the press, adolescents who engage in self-harm to alleviate frustration, stress, depression, and anxiety may also hit themselves, burn themselves, or do other things that cause injury.

 

2.     Girls do it more, but boys do it too.

 

Although more girls engage in self-harm as a coping strategy, they are not the only ones.  Girls are more likely to cut or carve their skin while boys are more likely to hit themselves or use blunt trauma to cause injury.

 

3.     Self-harm can be used like a drug.

 

For those who can’t quite grasp the concept of using self-harm as a way to cope with emotional stress, it may be helpful to understand why adolescents and some adults engage in it.  Physical pain causes a release of endorphins, which are feel good chemicals in the brain.  This effect blunts all pain, including the emotional distress the person is feeling.  In some ways, it can be compared to using drugs like cocaine, which create the same type of escape.

 

If you are concerned that your child is intentionally injuring themselves, seek professional help.  While these activities are not indicators of suicidal thoughts or precursors to suicidal tendencies, they may point to significant underlying issues that must also be addressed to safeguard the health and wellbeing of your child.

How Old Should My Child Be to Stay Home Alone?

How old your child should be to stay home alone is a question many parents agonize over and one that doesn’t have a clear-cut, straight answer.  Here in Arizona, there is no law dictating the age at which a child is old enough to stay home alone, but that doesn’t mean parents can leave children of any age to fend for themselves.  A child’s readiness to stay home alone is dependent on many factors, most of which are very specific to that child.  This is why it is difficult to give a single clear-cut answer.  The only answer is – it depends on your child.

In order to determine if your child is ready to stay home alone, you need to think about how mature they are, how responsible they are, and how much you trust them to take care of things around the house.    The answers to these questions will help you decide.  Most experts agree, however, that children under 10 are not generally equipped to stay home alone and take care of themselves for long periods of time.

Gauging Readiness

One of the first things you should do is talk to your child and determine how they feel about staying home alone.  Most will be excited and feel they are completely ready for that kind of responsibility.  However, some kids won’t be comfortable with the idea.  For these kids, it is probably better to wait until they are older or become more comfortable.  It is also important to note that just because they say they are ready it doesn’t mean they are actually ready.  This is just a place to start.

Next, think about your child’s maturity level.  This is one of the places where maturity matters.  You may feel totally comfortable leaving your 13 year old home but worry about your 15 year old simply because the 13 year old is more mature.  You may also want to look at how responsible your child is in their everyday life.  Do they do their homework and chores?  Are they good at following directions?  Are they calm problem solvers or do they struggle when things go off course?  Answering these questions will give you important clues to determining if your child is ready or not.

Practice, Practice, Practice

If you and your child both feel they are ready to stay home alone, consider doing a trial run or two first.  This will give your child the sense of what it will be like to stay home alone and enable you both to see if there are things you need to do differently.  Taking a short trip that gets you out of the house for 30-60 minutes but that keeps you close to home is a great way to practice.  This also helps you, the parent, learn to let go a little and become confident that your child will be safe when they are home alone.

Be Prepared

There are some skills that all children who stay home by themselves should have before being alone for any length of time.

  • They should know when, how, and who to call for help if they need it including 911 and non-emergency local assistance.
  • They need to know their address by heart and major cross street names.
  • They need to know how to operate any home security systems in the house and what to do if it goes off.
  • They need to know how to lock and unlock doors and windows.
  • They need to know what to do if the smoke detector goes off, someone comes to the door, the phone rings, or the power goes out.
  • They need to know who they can go to in the neighborhood if they need help.

Remember that being able to stay home alone is a big milestone in a child’s life.  While there is no need to rush it, letting them take on this responsibility once they are ready helps build self-confidence and boosts their self-esteem.

 

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Why Are Tweens So Moody?

Teenagers are moody.  The ups and downs of teen hormones are so commonplace and expected that parents are more likely to be concerned if their teenager doesn’t experience the massive mood swings associated with transitioning from child to adult.  For some parents, however, this behavior comes a little early and is entirely unexpected.  Parents who prepared themselves to deal with the rebellious/belligerent/infatuated/best-day-of-my-life moments typical to teenagers often find themselves ill-equipped to handle the ball of emotions inhabiting their tween’s body.  Children in this age-group can seem just like the child they know and love one minute and a sullen stranger or angry alien the next.

What Makes Them Moody?

Tweens are moody for the same reason teenagers are moody; they are changing into a new person which brings a host of factors into play.  They are in the midst of building a whole new identity, trying to figure out who they are, what they like, and where they fit in.  They are establishing and stabilizing friendships, forming cliques, and creating new communities all the while the elementary school days when everyone was friends with everyone fades further into their past.  Peer pressure begins to play a real role in their lives and the need to fit in becomes one of the most important things in their lives.  Their bodies are starting to change which means hormones are wreaking havoc and often leaving them as bewildered as their parents at their ever shifting behavior.

In short, they have a lot going on!

Now, if there are any additional factors like dysfunction in the family, divorce, or instability at home, these extreme moods can feel like a rollercoaster ride that is all terror and no fun.

What Can Parents Do?

One of the most important things parents can do to help their tweens through this stage is to validate their emotions, take time to talk to them often about what is happening in their lives and what they are going through, and discussing how they are feeling.  As tweens struggle in this limbo between child and teenager, they are looking to assert their independence but still need support, direction and reassurance from their parents and the other adults in their lives.  While they need to start learning to make decisions for themselves, they need guidance and assistance to learn how to make the right decisions that are healthy and appropriate.  Setting appropriate boundaries and providing natural consequences for when those boundaries are pushed is also necessary.

Parents often struggle with communication when their tween seems to be trying on new and different personalities on for size on a daily basis.  However, this is one time that remaining connected and maintaining communication channels is vitally important.  Talk to your tween directly about the changes you are seeing and the behavior you are observing.  Check in regularly to see what challenges they are facing, changes they are going through, or feelings that are experiencing.  It is common for tweens to keep these issues to themselves which is why it is so important for parents to ask, discuss, and guide.

Do’s and Don’ts of Keeping a Close Relationship with Your Tween

  • Do – Use an authoritative parenting style. This means that parents need to have realistic expectations for their tween and be responsive to their needs.
  • Do – Model healthy emotional expression/emotional regulation skills and effective communication skills.
  • Do – Support your tween by assisting with difficult decisions and providing support for their struggles
  • Do – Spend quality time with your tween.  Make it a point to tell them how much they are loved and valued for who they are (not what they do or their appearance) as often as you can.
  • Don’t – Avoid setting appropriate boundaries and allowing for natural consequences.
  • Don’t – Put unrealistic expectations and pressure on them.
  • Don’t – Try to fix their problems.  Instead, assist them in solving their own problems.
  • Don’t – Hesitate to get support from a professional counselor if your tween is struggling to identify, express, or regulate their emotions.

How to Help Teens Develop Healthy Eating Habits

Fresh vegetables are important components of a...

Fresh vegetables are important components of a healthy diet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is no question that one of the most important things parents can teach their children in today’s world is how to eat a healthy diet.  The statistics on childhood obesity are startling now and only projected to continue going up in the coming years.  Obesity can be a contributing factor in several serious, life-long health conditions including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, asthma, and sleep apnea.  Additionally, teens who struggle to maintain a healthy weight often experience social consequences including social discrimination and bullying.  This can have a significant impact on self esteem, self worth, and performance in all areas of life.  When you consider the immediate consequences and long term risks associated with being overweight, it is easy to see why helping teens build good dietary habits is so important.

As a parent, you are perfectly positioned to have a real and lasting impact on this part of your teenager’s life.  Here are 6 ways you can help your teen develop and maintain healthy eating habits.

1.     Be a Good Role Model

Children learn what they live and this holds true for what, how, and why they eat.  If you have problems with your weight and/or have less than healthy eating habits, start by changing the example you are setting.  For some families, making this kind of change together can also be a great bonding experience.

2.     Get Back to Basics

Helping your child understand the mechanics of food as energy and the energy in/ energy out principle provides them with the right foundation to learn how to eat healthily now and throughout their life.

3.     Ditch the Word Diet

Regardless of how the word should be used, diets and being on a diet has a specific meaning and connotation in our culture and describes a temporary way to reduce weight by eliminating food.  However, dieting in this context is different from developing healthy eating habits.  Dieting implies something temporary; healthy habits last a lifetime.

4.     Make Healthy Food Accessible

One challenge for today’s teens is that healthy foods are often harder to come by than less healthy options.  They lead busy lives and need lots of grab and go options to keep their energy up and fuel their activities.  Rather than stocking the cupboards with pre-packaged processed snacks, create a snack shelf in the cupboard and the refrigerator filled with pre-portioned healthy snacks.

5.     Have Dinner Together

If dinner doesn’t work, make it breakfast, but take time everyday to have a healthy meal together.  This provides another opportunity to demonstrate healthy eating habits and provide your teens with examples of what makes up a healthy meal.

6.    Practice Portion Control

The bottom-line is that you can eat all the right foods and still not be as healthy as you could be if you are eating too much.  Most people underestimate how much they are eating everyday because they misjudge portion size.  Providing your children with great examples of standard size portions sets them up to be more in control of how much they eat as they grow into adulthood.

Children learn what they live, make sure that the lesson they are learning about food is how to eat a healthy diet.

 

Physical Fitness and Your Mental Health

May is National Physical Fitness Month (NPFM) which provides us with a great opportunity to talk about how physical activity, healthy eating habits, and mental health are connected.   The purpose of NPFM is to encourage all Americans to pursue a life filled with physical activity and proper nutrition in order to live healthy lives.

Physical fitness and daily activity are critical to maintaining overall health and the need to encourage activity is more true for teenagers today than at any point in the past.  Between processed foods, sugary soft drinks, increased use of technology, and a lifestyle that is generally more sedentary than that of generations past, it is no wonder that the obesity rate in teens (and everyone else) is on the rise.  The best way to fight this problem is to encourage our teens to adopt a lifestyle that is centered on physical fitness and healthy eating habits.

The benefits of physical activity don’t stop at improving our teenager’s physical health; it can also play a big part in managing mental health.   Unlike obesity, physical activity and healthy food aren’t a way to cure or combat some of the most prevalent mental health conditions our teens face, but being active can help alleviate and manage symptoms.   Treatment recommendations for depression, bipolar, anxiety disorders and ADHD all include physical activity as one of the key components of treatment.   When you consider the entire picture, it is easy to see that helping the teenagers in our lives increase their physical activity is a win, win, win.

Here are some great ways to get teenagers involved in more physical activity.

  1. Make physical activity a priority for your family.  Active parents provide great role models for active teenagers.
  2. Plan family time around active pursuits.  By making the time you spend as a family time you spend being active, you are building stronger bodies and stronger bonds.
  3. Look for physical activities that can be incorporated into your daily routine.  For example, if there are places you can walk to, walk instead of driving.
  4. Plan parties and family gatherings that include physical activity.  Setting up a volleyball net at the graduation party or holding a birthday party at a roller rink are great examples of how to make this work.
  5. Use local resources.  If you live somewhere that people love to go hiking, try hiking.  If you have access to lakes or rivers, try kayaking.
  6. Leverage everyone’s interests.  If you can find physical activities that are also interesting to your family members it will be easier to incorporate them into your overall routine.
  7. Keep it simple.  Physical activity doesn’t have to involve a ton of equipment or expensive fees.  It can be as simple as an after dinner walk, playing Frisbee in the park, or going for a bike ride.
  8. Pick weatherproof activities.  It is definitely easier to be physically active when the weather is right and it’s fun to be outside.  But once it gets too hot, too cold, or there is inclement weather, you can get knocked off your routine.  Find activities that your family can do together no matter the weather.

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