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What Is Anxiety? And How Can I Help?

anxious girl An increasing number of phone calls and emails I receive are from parents expressing concern that their child is exhibiting anxiety. They are questioning if their child is okay, and if more professional help is needed. To help answer some of your questions, here are notes from a talk I recently gave a local elementary school on the topic of anxiety: Most peo,ple, of all ages occasionally have feelings of anxiety, or stress. A small amount of anxiety is normal and can even motivate us to stay alert, to be focused, and to be aware. Most anxious kids (and adults) are worried about what MIGHT happen — that something will go wrong, or feeling like danger is just around the corner. Anxiety is felt physically, emotionally, and in the way people view the world around them. Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions. And the most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Children with GAD might worry excessively, be very hard on themselves, strive for perfection, seek constant approval or reassurance, have trouble concentrating, experience sleeping problems, and be irritable. Children and teens may also have physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or muscle tension. It might cause them to miss school, be late to school, or to avoid social activities. It is common for children and teens to avoid talking about how they feel, because they're worried that others (especially their parents) might not understand. They may fear being judged or being considered weak. And the less they talk with someone who can help, the worse they feel. It is very difficult to know when our children are dealing with typical, normal stress, or when perhaps our child is dealing with an Anxiety Disorder. If you feel that your child’s level of anxiety is lasting a long time, is out of proportion to their real situation, and is affecting your child and family on a daily basis, then I would recommend consulting with your pediatrician. The goal is to manage anxiety, not to eliminate it. Don’t avoid situations just because they make your child anxious. We can’t remove what makes our child feel anxious, but we can teach them what to do when they feel anxious. Respect but don’t enforce, your child’s anxiety. “I understand that you are nervous about the doctor’s visit. But I will be with you and we will do this together.” Learn and teach deep breathing and relaxation techniques. Massage, sound machines, and counting to 10 can help in stressful moments, and when your child feels their anxiety building. Pay attention to how you respond to and handle your own stress. It’s not fair to put your personal adult stress on your children. Share your own stories of how you overcame your own anxieties. Be aware of what stress we are putting on our kids. Have reasonable expectations for your children, and remember what it’s like to be a kid. They can’t be perfect – because there’s no such thing as perfection. Respond with empathy – consider their view. They need to feel heard and understood before they can be ready to listen themselves. “It is hard to speak in front of your class; that can be scary. So let’s practice together so you can feel more confident tomorrow.” Ask open ended questions. “What do you think your test will be like?” is a more supportive question than “Are you worried about your test?”. And finally, be calm, be loving, be patient, and be a good listener. Your kids aren’t misbehaving when they are feeling very anxious; they are simply still learning to navigate their lives. And some kids need a little more help, or a little more time. Have any questions? Please feel free to email or call me.

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Time to Enjoy YOUR Holiday Traditions

holiday card (2) As we head into our final weeks of holiday preparation, I want you to identify your most favorite holiday traditions. Opening one present on Christmas Eve? Lighting the candles together on Hanukkah? Having a family dinner on Christmas Day? (Going to a movie on Christmas morning with my kids is my favorite tradition which we will again do this year.) We all have our favorite things from our childhood that we want to continue with our kids, and some we feel obligated to continue. But now you are the parent and you get to decide what your holiday traditions will be. The truth is that we can't do everything and we can't have everything that we want (or think we want). I see families being stressed and anxious and bothered by the holidays, and unable to fully enjoy this time of year. I would like to see you and your family enjoying the holiday season with anticipation, excitement, and joy; not with dread, exhaustion, and high expectations. Look at the difference between “need to” vs. “want to”. When you hear yourself saying “I need to do mail holiday cards”, stop and ask yourself if you need to or if you want to. If you truly need to, then either do it yourself or get others to help. But if you don’t NEED to, if you really WANT to, then do it with joy. Let’s teach our children that the holidays are a time to be together, to connect, to enjoy each other. If we demonstrate that the holidays are stressful and filled with pressure trying to fit everything in, that is the lesson they will take with them into their adulthood. Let’s teach our kids the true meaning of the holidays: peace and love and fun and excitement. So go ahead and write a letter to Santa, light the candles together, pull a tag from the Giving Tree, or go to a movie. Enjoy your five most favorite traditions. But do them all with joy and love, and let go of the rest. My family joins me in wishing you and yours a memorable, fun, and safe holiday season and a happy, healthy 2018.

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My Favorite Holiday

Thanksgiving Photo I love Thanksgiving. I call it the "F" holiday: fall, family, friends, food, football, and fun. I love that there are no gifts, only those of being together and connecting. I love cold mornings and cool days. I love the smell of roasting turkey. As a child, I loved getting together with my extended family. Now, my family and I love hosting friends at our home who are missing their families. Come on, it's a great holiday! Thanksgiving is a day when you don't have to worry about what your kids eat. Serve every dish family style, and let your kids choose what they want to eat. Maybe you have a kid who will not eat turkey, stuffing, OR mashed potatoes. (I know, weird, right?) So you can also serve macaroni and cheese, and not just to your child, but as another side dish for every guest to enjoy. And encourage your kids to put black olives on their fingertips and eat them one at a time. (I know, weird, right?) Encourage, but don't force, your child to eat. Let this be a relaxing meal, for you and for them. Thanksgiving is the holiday I use to begin teaching children about charity, about sharing with those less fortunate, about thinking of others before themselves. So this week, go grocery shopping with your kids. Let them fill the cart with canned goods and a turkey, and then drive directly to a homeless shelter or food bank. Have your children experience the joy of giving. What a valuable lesson to teach your kids. I hope you and your family have a very Happy Thanksgiving, and a fun long weekend. Perhaps I will see you at the San Francisco Zoo the Friday after. That is where my kids and I always go on the busiest shopping day of the year. We like walking in fresh air and being together more than fighting crowds and being consumers. Whatever you do, it's a chance to create some family memories, so just have fun together. Enjoy!

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The Importance of Empathy

Empathy Photo Every weekday, by 6:00am, I am at the YMCA to work out. And every morning, I am greeted with this “Empathy” sign. And I smile, every time. Empathy: what a great value, what a great skill. Empathy: the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes and see things the way they see things. Empathy: a trait that successful adults have and that we need to teach our children. Being empathetic means that we understand people’s views besides our own, helps us to be kinder to other people, and gives us the ability to be open-minded, friendly, and considerate. Empathy: a skill that will greatly increase the communication we have with our kids. When we can put ourselves in our children’s shoes, and try to see things the way they see things, it makes it a lot easier for us to connect with our kids and to have healthy conversations. (Plus, we need to remember that they are kids, and that they express themselves the only way they know how. Is it immature, and frustrating, and annoying sometimes? Sure – because they’re kids!) So how do we teach empathy? By being empathetic! By saying things like “I understand”, “that makes sense”, “I can see you are frustrated”, and “it's okay to feel that way”. We also can teach empathy by being polite to the homeless man on the street, by donating our gently used clothing to those less fortunate, and by having people of different races, nationalities, and ages in our friend circle. When we respond with empathy to our children, when we truly listen to our children, we are letting them know we understand; we are letting them know that it's okay to say what they said; we are letting them know that their feelings are valid and accepted. Our responding with empathy makes our children feel heard and understood. And when they have expressed their feelings and opinions, when they feel heard and understood, they are able to then listen to us and to move on from the topic they are feeling stuck on. When you display empathy to your children, to friends, and to strangers, you will naturally be teaching your children to be empathetic and kind. When you display empathy to your children, they will start to be empathic and kind to you and to others. And isn't that a goal of parenting?

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Getting Ready For School…Already!

Summers always go by so quickly, and this one is no exception. It is hard for me to believe that some schools are starting in just three weeks. Growing up in Chicago, we went back to school the Tuesday after Labor day…every single year. So school in mid-August seems wrong! But it is what it is, and so to get ready, here are a few ideas. It is not too early to begin planning for your children’s return to school. One idea is to transition your kids slowly from their summer schedule to their school hours and routines. For two weeks before school starts, have your kids go to bed and wake up at the times they will for school. For the same weeks, eat meals at the times they will on school days. Their little bodies take time to adjust to new a new schedule. QjUzMzQwM0RBRjFFQjlDMTBCNkU6YmUxZjNiNWM5YjVmZGViM2Q0YjZhNGQ1 Some children are nervous about being left alone at school and will have a difficult time saying good-bye. Remember that a short good-bye is better than a long one. When leaving your child at school on the first day, or when you say good-bye at the school bus stop, give your child a hug and a kiss and say “Have fun at school! You can tell me all about it when you get home”. And then just walk away with a wave and a smile. If you are confident and excited about saying good-bye, then your child will have the same positive feelings, and will have a great start to their school day. Some children are also nervous about meeting new people. Before school begins, practice with your children what it will be like to meet their new teacher and new classmates. Teach your children to listen carefully to their teacher so that they learn the classroom rules and the teacher’s expectations. Encourage your kids to introduce themselves to at least one child who was not in their classroom last year. Talk about how most children are nervous, and that it is a kind thing to reach out to a new student who might not know anyone. Children (and parents) want to feel confident and prepared when they start a new school year. Buy school supplies while the local stores are fully stocked. Take the kids with so they can try on a new backpack, and allow them to select their own school materials. Pack all the supplies into the backpack when you get home, and you both will be ready for the first day. If your child is going to walk or ride their bike to school, practice the route with your child at least twice before the first day of school. If biking, teach your child to walk their bikes through all intersections, to bike in a single file, and to always wear their helmet. Explain that they are not allowed to pass another biker, as this will force them into traffic. For the children who walk to school, see if you can find a walking buddy. It’s always safer and more fun to walk with someone else. And of course, if you drive children to school, always make sure every child is properly buckled every time! Mornings are often a hectic time, and we often feel stressed by trying to get out of the house on time. To make mornings easier, make lunches the night before, leaving only the refrigerated items to be packed in the morning. Have each child lay out their clothes, including shoes, the night before, and have them put their backpacks by the front door. Doing some preparation the night before can make a much smoother morning, and have everyone leaving the house happy and calm. To keep track of everyone’s schedules, post a family event calendar in a public place preferably near the telephone. Use magnets to attach the calendar to the refrigerator, or just hang it on the wall. Assign a different marker color to each family member, and write events in the corresponding color for each person. A bulletin board in the kitchen is also be very helpful to post school lunches, sports schedules, and notes that must go back to school. Take time every night to discuss the next day’s schedule and make sure all items are ready. Whether your children have had a good day or a bad day at school, they want to tell their parents about it when they get home. It is important that all children are able to talk about anything and everything with their parents. We encourage our kids to talk when we show them that we are good listeners. What we hear from our children is often more important than what we say to our children. To be a good listener, be willing to listen to all stories, do not interrupt while they are talking, and do not yell if they tell us something we don’t like. We need to listen to our children the same way we want them to listen to us. Listening to our children shows that we value them, and think what they have to say is important. Enjoy the rest of your summer, and good luck in the upcoming school year!

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The Value of Chores: What, When, and Why?

What? Here are some suggestions, though you know your child best. Remember sometimes kids are more capable than we give them credit for, so ask them which chores they think they can do. They just might surprise you. Ages 2-3: Hang wet towel on hook, put toys in bins, put trash in the garbage can, throw dirty clothes in hamper, wipe up spills, help put away groceries, dust the coffee table Ages 4-6: Help fold towels and socks, sort dark and light laundry, assist in meal planning, wash vegetables, help to empty dishwasher, feed the pets, clean room, use whisk broom and pan Ages 7-10: Use an alarm clock, prepare own snack, load and empty dishwasher, put away clean laundry, complete homework, read to younger siblings, cook simple foods, water plants Ages 10+: Manage an allowance, make bed, operate washer and dryer, mow the lawn, cook a meal, wash the car, babysit younger sibling, haul garbage and recycling cans to curb Teenagers: Every single thing you can do. (Legally.) When? Today. Now. Not many parents of grown kids tell me “I wish I had given my kids fewer chores when they were young”. Most wish they had given their children more chores and more responsibilities. So start today, no matter your child’s age. It’s never too late.Siblings Doing Dishes Why? Because a family is a team, and the team works better when everyone pitches in. Because assigning chores says that you believe in your children, you have confidence in them, and their help is needed and appreciated. Because completion of chores makes children feel capable, valued, and helpful. Because chores helps children learn time management, the value of hard work, and how to work as a team. Because successful adults know how to do laundry, make beds, empty dishwashers, mow lawns, care for pets and plants, work with others, and clean up their own mess. And it is our job to teach them how to do these things, and more, one small step at a time.

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Talking About Tough Subjects In Tough Times

Sad Boy My stomach hurts, my head hurts, and my heart hurts. It is difficult to find words to express what I am feeling this week, but I will try. I hope that my words encourage some of you to share your thoughts with me. Let's have a conversation. Last week, I was horrified by the light sentence doled out to a convicted rapist. The rape occurred at Stanford University, 10 miles from my home, and a place I drive past almost daily. My outrage at the sentence and the message that sent is palpable. But what made me the most upset was the letter written by the rapist’s father, defending his son and his son’s actions. Reading the father’s words helped me understand how this young man could grow up to be a rapist – one who thinks of no one but himself, who thinks he is better than others, who feels entitled to take whatever he wants, and who values personal power and control over anything else. This week, I am horrified and saddened by the Orlando massacre, where 49 innocent people lost their lives in another act of terror and hate. I am always upset when the face and name of the murderer is shown on television, though I understand why that must happen. And then I listened to the words of the criminal’s father, who expressed love for his son but also hatred for people who happen to be gay. His words helped me understand how this young man grew up with hatred for a certain group of people, and who felt that his life and his beliefs are more valuable than others. These stories help to validate what I teach parents every day: how WE act as parents, what WE say as parents, what WE role model as parents help develop our children into successful adults. I do not blame parents for the actions of their adult children. But I do believe that how we raise our children, how we treat others, how we talk about others who are “different” from us, all impact the type of person our child grows up to be. I encourage parents to always remember the goal of parenting: to raise a successful adult. An adult who is honest, kind, thoughtful, accepting, generous, open-minded, helpful, polite - to everybody, regardless of their color, religion, nationality, or sexual orientation. And in order to raise a successful adult, we need to be successful adults, and to role model and teach those traits every day. We need to teach our kids to speak up for themselves, and for others who might need help. We need to teach our girls to say “No” loudly and firmly when they need to. We need to teach our boys that “No” is a signal for them to stop – immediately- no matter when it is said. We need to teach our kids that sex is an act of caring, not an act of scoring and controlling. We need to teach our kids that all people are created equal, and that being kind is a virtue. We need to be good people in order to raise good people who in turn raise good people. This has been a terrible two weeks for us. We need to hold serious conversations with our children about issues that many of us are not able to fully grasp ourselves. We need to reassure our young kids that we are strong, and that we will do everything we can to keep them safe. We need to show our kids the heroes and the positive things that happen even in a terrible situation. We need to move forward and live our lives with confidence, and free of fear. We need to hug our kids tightly and appreciate all the small beautiful moments that make up our day. And we need to open our hearts, open our minds, and be kind to each other. Together, we will get through this.

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When Sad and Scary Things Happen

Unfortunately, we are dealing with another tragic terrorist attack in our world, this time in Paris. It is on the news, on-line, and being spoken about in public. Our children ARE hearing about this, and they do have questions. Here are some tips to help our kids: 1) Limit access to TV and news on-line. Remember that many restaurants have TV's. 2) Pay attention to how you are acting, and to what you are saying. Your kids are always watching you - so please show your strength and calm. 3) Be willing to talk with your kids, and answer all their questions. 4) Watch the language you use. Avoid big words (death, always, never). Use small words (hurt, sometimes, a few). 4) Share what Mr. Rogers advised: "In a scary time, look for the helpers. Because there are always helpers". Please let me know if you have any questions, or if you just want to talk. If you are having a tough time with this, it is difficult to take care of our children. So please be sure to take care of yourself. When we fly, we are told to put our own gas mask on first, and then help our children. And please share your coping ideas here - let's all work together to get through another tough time.

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A Potty Training Success Story!

A potty training success story shared with me by one of my coaching clients. Maybe this can help you and your family. Congrats to Mom, Dad, and Jackson! "When my son, Jackson, turned 2 we started introducing the potty. My husband and I talked about it daily and would mention, “one day you will pee in the potty like Mommy and Daddy.” At 3 he decided, before bath time, to pee in the toilet and we got super excited! He did it a few times but then went back to wetting his pants and refusing to pee in the toilet. Of course we then moved to bribery with candy and toys, which worked for a while, but then he decided that wearing his pull up was better than our bribes. My husband and I decided to take a break on trying to "force" the issue. By the time he turned 4, I was at my wits end. Asking him to use the potty turned into unbearable tantrums and frustrations. Finally, I talked with Susan and she gave an excellent idea! Both Jackson and I looked at the calendar (I have a giant one hanging on the wall), circled a date, and said “no more pull ups after this day.” Then each evening before bed, we would mark a red X the day counting down. Sure enough, since that day, we have had no accidents, fully potty trained (during the day AND night), peeing AND pooping in the toilet!! We couldn't have been any prouder! Or more shocked! It has been a full 2 weeks and has been great!! Thank you, Susan!"

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Elaine’s Living Legacy

Several years ago I became friends with a lively, funny, spunky elderly woman named Elaine. I began spending one afternoon a week with Elaine in her apartment, just to keep her company and help her with small tasks such as tending to her many plants which she loved. I would arrive to find her watching her “shows”, soap operas she had watched for years. We would discuss the character’s actions in great detail, even though I had no idea what was happening. I simply nodded my head in agreement with whatever Elaine said, and gasped out loud when she did. We also had lengthy political discussions. After being a Republican most of her life, she was a huge Obama fan and was proud to have voted for him. I always enjoyed my time with Elaine, and looked forward to our weekly visits. Elaine-Plant-1-168x300 About 2 years ago, Elaine moved with her wonderful daughter to their new home in Los Angeles. I was very sad to see Elaine leave, but was honored to accept one of the small plants from Elaine’s porch that she and I had watered and cared for together. I moved the plant to my back yard, and have named it Elaine’s Flower. Nothing too original, but accurate. Every time I go in the back yard, I see Elaine’s Flower and think of my friend with a smile. Elaine passed away shortly after her move, but her plant lives on in my home just as she lives on in my heart. So I have an idea for you. Take your child to your local nursery, buy a beautiful plant, and bring it home to your backyard or your window sill. Give it a name, water it when thirsty, feed it when hungry, and appreciate it together. Take a picture of your child and the plant the first day, and regularly after that. See how your plant and your child are blooming, and appreciate them both every day. Just one more way to build a connection with your child.

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