How to Recognize Depression in Children

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Children-and-Depression

Happy September! Heather here, from FamilyVolley.com. School bells are ringing for our family and we are getting used to the new routine of the school year. Although to be honest, I am missing the laid back, wear your swimsuit all day, never need socks, days of summer. I love not having to wash socks in the summer because everyone is always in flip flops or barefoot.  Today I want to talk to you about how to recognize depression in children.

 Last week I was at school waiting to pick up our kids, and talking to a friend of mine who was there for the same purpose. As we were talking about our children adjusting, she mentioned that her 9 year old daughter had recently been diagnosed with depression. She mentioned that in hindsight, the symptoms had been there for about two years, but because she didn’t know what to look for, she had missed them. She just assumed she had a really moody daughter. So today, I want to share with you the symptoms of depression, so we all know what to look for and can help our children if they need it.

It wasn’t until about 20-25 years ago that doctors acknowledged that kids could suffer from depression.

Diagnosing a child can be really tricky because the symptoms of depression mimic those of ADHD, and because childhood is filled with so many changing moods and growing stages, it is hard to know if it is growing pains, or depression.

It is very easy to mistake depressed behavior for normal developmental problems. Childhood is complicated and children are developing and changing their personalities all the time. Adolescents can causes changes that may be normal, but are difficult for parents to know how to deal with, and even professionals can have a hard time identifying when the line is crossed from normal development and depression.

So as parents, caregivers, teachers, and grandparents, what should we be looking for?

 What are the symptoms we should be looking for in our children?

1. Persistent sad or empty mood, or irritable moods. These could be self reported or seen by others.

2. Zero interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities most of the day, nearly every day, especially their favorite activities. These could be self reported or seen by others.

3. Major changes in appetite and/or body weight.

4. Trouble sleeping OR oversleeping

5. Physical slowing observed by others.

6. Agitation

7. Fatigue

8. Loss of energy.

9. Feeling worthless or guilty, when there is no need.

10. Difficulty thinking or concentrating

11. Indecisive

12. Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

 Nearly all research suggests that although the above symptoms will vary, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, when there is no need, MUST BE PRESENT.

So how can we know this is different than a bad day or growing pains?

  • Must last for an extended period of time.

  • Over 3 weeks. Day in and day out.

  • Gets in the way of life. Of school and play.

Now, if we think our child is depressed, what should we do?

First, understand that it is a disease.

When we acknowledge that it is a disease, we will stop blaming our child, stop blaming ourselves, and it will help us stop assuming they are doing it on purpose. Acknowledging that it is a disease will also keep us from telling them to “snap out of it.” We would never tell someone with cancer that it was “their fault” or to “snap out of it.”

 Second, Don’t overreact!

Overreacting is not going to help your child, you, or your family. Realize that over 80% of children who are diagnosed as depressed, are able to heal. But, even with the perfect therapist, if your child doesn’t have supportive, level headed parents, they can’t get better.

 Third, Be their advocate.

We have to believe our children when they tell us they are struggling, and be on their side. We need to speak up when they don’t have a voice or know what to say. Especially at the beginning of the healing process.

 Fourth, Get them help.

Seek out a professional who specializes in childhood depression and get help. Work together with the therapist to do what is best for your child.Although we all hope our children never have to deal with depression, it is real, and we should all know what to look for.

Do any of you have a child who is suffering, or has suffered from depression? What has been your experience?

Have a question, or just want to say hello? You can find me at FamilyVolley.com. On PinterestFacebook, and Twitter. Or send me an email. I love making new friends.

Tips to Avoid Overprotective Parenting

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As parents and grandparents, we all want our children to be safe. We worry about them and don’t want them to get hurt, deal with hurtful experiences, or even have to deal with stress and strain. But, if we are not careful, our quest to keep our children safe and stress free, overprotecting parenting will actually do more harm to them, than good.

How? Because being overprotective robs our children of the opportunity to develop all the skills they need to be a strong and successful adult. It has a negative effect on their self esteem, sends the message to children that they are unable to handle things themselves, and teaches them to doubt their own decisions because we are always telling them what to do and they are never given a chance to choose.

Being overprotective teaches our children to be fearful, creates children who turn into adults who are incapable of making decisions, standing on their own two feet, or handling rejection. The grow up without learning to evaluate, handle, and navigate life.

The risks we expose them to, because we have been overprotective are actually greater than what we are protecting them from. We leave them vulnerable, unable to handle the bigger challenges that life will throw at them.

So, how do we know if we are being overprotective?

When we start taking over things that our children should be managing on their own, We are being overprotective. Try to rarely or never do anything for your child that they can do for themselves. 

If they can put on their own shoes, let them. If they can feed themselves, allow them. BUT… in every situation, teach them first. Teach them to use the fork and spoon beforehand, opposed to having them use their hands and throw food on the floor. This will require us to be patient and put their best interest before our own.

How can we avoid being overprotective?


First, Keep the end goal in mind. 

As parents, our goal is to raise the next generation of responsible, capable, useful, happy people. It is our job to prepare them to function without us. We are to love them and protect them. To help them gain wisdom as they grow. And although we don’t ever want them to feel pain, disappointment, or frustration, they are going to. We have to accept that, and instead of trying to keep them from ever experiencing real life, we need to teach them HOW to handle real life.

As we parent and grandparent, we should be thinking, “are my decisions helping my child develop the skills necessary to thrive as an adult”?

Second, we need to assess our motives.

Stop for a minute and think about why we are being overprotective. Is it so we don’t have to do extra work?

Because our parents were overprotective?

Because we don’t want our children to face rejection like we felt when we were younger?

Because we are impatient?

Are we seeking power?

Because we don’t trust our child?

Because we are unfamiliar with the situation?

Because we don’t know enough about our child?

I know for me there are times when I become overprotective because I don’t want to do more work. For example, I overprotect and micromanage the kids when they are outside to keep them from getting dirty, so I don’t have to do more laundry. Or I don’t let our 3 year old climb into her carseat by herself because I am impatient. Or I don’t let our older kids get their own cereal, because I don’t want to clean up their mess or spill (that might occur because they are learning). These are all situations where I am overprotecting. I am doing things for them that they are capable of doing themselves. They are not safety issues, which are different.

 

Third, Respect PLAY!

Play is how children learn. It provides the ultimate school room for learning and development. Kids are meant to run and jump and climb and play. It is through play that kids develop. So let them play!

Let them try new things, build forts, get dirty and get in arguments with the neighbors about a game. Let them solve problems without you stepping in. And teach them before hand what to do if they are playing and there is a stranger, or a new situation.

It has actually been found that kids fall and get hurt LESS when they are left to play by themselves, than with parents who are constantly telling them to be careful and jumping in at the smallest sign of danger. 

Avoid over-scheduling kids, so they can have time to play. One, maybe two activities for each child is plenty. Be sure there is unstructured time each day and let them solve their own problems. Don’t tell them what to do, but instead encourage them to entertain themselves. You don’t need to provide a million toys and games. Let them explore the leaves and dirt and rocks and trees.

Kids who don’t play enough, are less creative, more likely to struggle with depression and mental disorders, less empathetic, more likely to struggle with an anxiety disorder, struggle to play with other kids, solve problems, make decisions, etc…

 

Fourth, Teach them the how and why.

For example, guns and swimming pools. Teach them gun safety and teach them how to swim and be safe by the pool. Because they are going to run into both situations in their life and you cannot always be there to tell them what to do. Teach them so they can handle the situations that they will surely encounter.

The key is to warn them (and teach them BEFORE the situations arise, instead of during). That way you are not overprotecting. For example, if you are going for a walk by the river, teach them before hand of the water dangers and how to be safe, but still explore. NOT when they are in the water and you are on the shore yelling at them to “get back here”, “don’t do that”, “too dangerous, come back here right now.”


What NOT to Do During A Temper Tantrum

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July already? Where is the summer going? Heather here, from FamilyVolley.com, and today I am sharing a few “what not to do’s” when it comes to temper tantrums. Because even though school might be out for the summer, our parenting gig never gets a summer break.

Temper tantrums are a normal part of childhood. For a complete step by step guide on how to prevent and deal with temper tantrums, check out these posts. Temper Tantrums Part 1 and Part 2.

In the heat of the tantrum, there are few things most parents try, that just don’t work. Here is a quick reference guide of 4 things you should NOT DO when the tantrum breaks out.

First, Don’t Ask Questions. Ugh, I find myself guilty of this one. In the middle of a tantrum I want to ask “why are you throwing a fit”, “what happened”, “talk to me and tell me what is wrong.” But, small children don’t have the mental development or language skills to express what they are feeling. So asking them questions in the heat of the fit, will most likely add frustration and prolong the tantrum.

Second, Loose the Empty Threats. Don’t threaten to take away the treat, or put them in their room, or take them to sit in the car, if you are not going to follow through. Just don’t do it. Empty threats actually teach kids to misbehave. Plus, not following through sets us up to loose our position of authority with our children. If we are going to threaten, we have to follow through. Quickly and without emotion. The key is to be consistent. If you can’t follow through with the threat, don’t threaten.

Third, Don’t Use Reason. In the middle of a temper tantrum is not the time to explain to your two year old that eating a 6th piece of licorice is not a great idea because of the red die in the candy. Or that the weather man says it is going to rain and she is going to need to wear the coat she is refusing to put on. There will be time for reasoning and explaining later on. During the tantrum, our children can’t access their rationalizing and reasoning skills. Tantrums are about emotion, not reason, so trying to use reason won’t help us.

Fourth, Don’t Yell. Our kids are looking for attention when they throw a tantrum. They want a reaction and it doesn’t matter if it comes from positive behavior, or negative behavior. Yelling gives them the attention they are looking for, so we can’t do it. Instead we need to take a deep breath, count to ten in our head, and remember that we are the adult, and then act like one. Solid research shows that parents who yell and get angry, have children who demonstrate the same behavior. So when we yell, we are actually teaching our children to yell and be angry too. Teaching them to do exactly what we say we don’t want them to do.

Tantrums are challenging. Instead of yelling and throwing out empty threats, give your child a hug, or stay close to them and assure them you are going to stay with them until “they are done”. Remember, Compassion is always more powerful than anger.

Have a question, or just want to say hello? You can find me at FamilyVolley.com. On PinterestFacebook, and Twitter. Or send me an email. I love making new friends.



Helping Children Prepare for End of School Year Testing

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Hello Idea Room readers, it’s Heather from Family Volley. With the end of the school year right around the corner, it’s time for end of the year testing. Here are a few tips for helping our kids handle test week.

1. Explain to our children why we take tests. Help them understand that tests are used to show how much we have learned. Encourage your child to do their best, but don’t put so much emphasis on them that they feel stressed. Help your child understand that they are not meant to trick or trouble your child. Only an opportunity to share what they know.

2. Practice the test format ahead of time. For example, your child might have to read a paragraph and answer questions. Using one of his text books, have him look at the questions at the end of the section first and then read the passage. That will help him know what to read for and how to find the answers. Maybe the test is going to be multiple choice. Put together a few fun multiple choice questions for your child to answer. Help them understand how you mark the correct answer and how to work through the process of elimination. This will take much stress out of test taking.

3. Limit activities the night before the tests. Most of our children’s teachers are really good about letting parents know ahead of time, when tests are going to be taken at school. But, if your child’s teachers are not sending that information home, ASK. Know when tests are going to be taken and limit the activities that your child participates in the day/night before. Avoid having guests over for dinner the night before, or even consider having your child skip their siblings sporting event if it means they are going to get home late.

4. Get a good night sleep. Although this is obvious, it is a good reminder. Sleep is one of the most important ways we can help prepare our children to take tests. And not just the night before. Sleep builds on itself, so be sure that they few days before those big tests, children are getting enough sleep and rest.

5. On test day, give them a good breakfast, full of energy. Try to include both protein and carbohydrates. So eggs, yogurt, milk and fruit, oatmeal and toast.

6. Ensure a stress free morning. The morning of a test is not the day you want to point out how slow your child is at getting ready for school, or fill the morning with stress and contention. We never want to send our kids to school that way, but on test day in-particular, steer clear of arguments and disagreements before kids head out the door. It will be hard for them to concentrate on their tests, when they are replaying arguments and trying to make sense of the disagreement you just had. It is also not the morning to have to rush. Be sure there is adequate time to get ready and get to school so no one has to rush and push.

Take a few minutes to think about ways you can make end of school year testing less stressful for your children. The extra preparation will help them get ready for the any test questions thrown their way.

Have a question, or just want to say hello? You can find me at FamilyVolley.com. On PinterestFacebook, and Twitter. Or send me an email. I love making new friends.



Parenting and Time Outs

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It goes by a million names. “Time out”, “Go to your room”, “stand in the corner”, “sit in the time out chair”… The list goes on and on. What ever phrase you use to send your child away when they are misbehaving is what we are talking about.

About 30+ years ago, in an attempt to get parents to step away from spanking, “time out” was introduced. The goal was to have children sit in time out, so that they weren’t getting parental interaction and so they could take time to work through what they were upset about. It is now a common parenting practice that when children disobey, start to cause problems, and refuse to listen, that we send them away to be alone, in a time out.

But, The next time you are ready to send your children to a time out, take a minute to think about a few things. Time outs aren’t nearly as helpful as we think they are. Nor do they strengthen our relationships with our kids or teach them long term skills that are helpful as adults. (Now, don’t misunderstand, there are obviously times when distance and space is necessary, but here are a few things to think about. A new perspective.)

First, when we send our kids to time out, we are sending a message that how they feel doesn’t matter. We are telling them we don’t care about how they feel, we want them to shut their feelings off and go away.

Second, sending kids to time out sends a message that you want your children to get away from you. (I know, sometimes we really do feel this way, but…) This message says “I don’t care about you, please leave.” Our children need to feel love and when we send them away, the last thing they feel is love.

Lastly, time outs don’t teach our children to deal with their problems. By sending them to be on their own, they don’t get any help learning how to manage their feelings and emotions. By acting out, it shows they already don’t know how to handle how they are feeling and the situation they are dealing with. Sending them to time out doesn’t help them learn to manage anything.

This might sound silly, but let me suggest an alternative to a “time out”. It is time for a “Time In.”

What is a “time in”? A “time in” is gathering your child into your arms and giving them a big hug, instead of sending them away. When their behavior is horrible, when they start throwing a fit, or they hit, or they won’t listen, instead of sending them to their rooms, go to them, get down on their level, and  gather them up in your lap and hold them. Just sit and hold them. As you wrap your arms around them, let them experience the feelings. Let them be angry or sad. And let them say what they want to say.

How are you going to hug a child that is causing so much trouble? Entertain a new perspective…Maybe they are throwing a fit, or talking back. But think of it this way. Instead of getting angry, think… my child must be really really upset to be acting out this way. They must be hurting in some way. Distraught in some way to be willing to throw the fit and talk back. So instead of sending them away, realize that they are in some sort of distress and are just asking, in fact yelling, for help. Simply changing our perspective will make us want to keep our children near instead of sending them away.

Imposing a “time in” will show your child how much you love them. It teaches them you want to be connected and care about how they are feeling. It also gives you an opportunity to teach them how to deal with their emotions and feelings.

Now, it might not work right away. You might try to hug or hold your child and they pull away, or fight or yell “don’t touch me”. That is okay. It will take time for your child to accept this new practice also. Don’t quit. Stay close to your child, and express “you are having a hard time right now aren’t you. That is okay, let me hold you and we can talk about it.”

Remember that as you are working through a “time in” with your child, they will have a hard time expressing themselves for fear it might get them in trouble. Be open to their true thoughts and allow them to be honest. The more they push you away, the more they need you to stay close. Just continue to stay as close as they will let you and ensure them that you won’t leave them alone, feeling this way.

SO… the next time you are ready to call for a time out, STOP, don’t send them away. Instead, wrap your arms around your child, hold them close and give him/her a minute to regroup, feel loved and understood, and start over. Let the love pour out over them and watch their behavior change. In fact, you will see much greater and more successful results by disciplining with “time in’s” than “time outs”.

When it comes to discipline, love will always prevail.

When was the last time your child was misbehaving and you gave them a big hug instead of getting mad at them?

Do you think it would be hard to use “time in’s” instead of “time out’s”?

Have a question or just want to say hello.



Parenting Mistakes We All Make and How to Avoid Them

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It is really easy to blame our children’s negative behavior on our children. And there are times when their behavior is not a result of something we have done. But… there are also lots, and lots and lots of times when their negative behavior is actually a response to our parenting through some common Parenting Mistakes. Yes, it’s hard to digest, but we actually bring out the misbehavior. We actually bring out the behavior we say we don’t like. Yikes, that is tough to consider. SO, in order to make family life that much better, and if you want to see major improvement in your children’s behavior, avoid these patenting mistakes.

Parenting-Mistakes

Stop the … Paranoid Parenting

Not doubt that there is a lot of negative and horrible things in the world. Many things that could harm and hurt our children. As parents we need to watch over and protect them, but being paranoid is not a good parenting approach. Obsessively controlling our children will not make the world more safe. Constantly worrying about dangers that “could” happen only makes our children afraid. In fact, the tighter the reins we put on our children, makes the more anxious and less confident. It can also make them feel so controlled that they rebel.

Do you hear yourself saying, “Don’t touch that!” “Don’t go over there!” Stay right next to me!” “Don’t do that!” “Don’t go too far!”, “Stay close!, Stop!?

If you are saying these things All. The. Time, it needs to stop. Today’s generation of kids is more paranoid than any other. As parents we need to relax, and let our children deal with life. It is important not to pass our fears on to our kids. Constantly reminding our children of all the dangers in the world is not a good way to parent.

I have been guilty of this. Sometimes more than others. I especially run into this when something horrible happens. A few years ago there was a deadly mall shooting about 40 miles from where we live. My poor kids. They couldn’t even let go of the shopping cart at the grocery store. In fact, if I recall, I made all three of them at the time, get IN the cart. Just so I had them all close. When I watch the local news too much, I become so paranoid I am sure my kids feel like they can’t even breath. Paranoid parenting undermines a child’s ability to make their own decisions with confidence. Not a good way to go about raising kids.

Stop the …. Best Friend Parenting

Kids need parents who set rules and boundaries and don’t muddy the line between parent/adult and friend.  Remember we are their parents, the time to be friends will come later in life when they are grown adults. We need to stop avoiding making the unpopular decisions because we want our kids to “like us.” And stop avoiding disciplining our kids because we don’t want them to resent us. If you want spoiled children, seek to be their “best friend.” If you want kids who are secure, resilient, compassionate and responsible, be a parent.

Set clear limits and boundaries, and be in control. Our children need moms and dads, not best buddies. They will find those at school.

Stop the … Do Everything for them Parenting

Do you solve every one of your child’s problems? Do you finish their homework for them and do their school projects? Are you always swooping in to rescue? Do you finish their sentences and micromanage their lives? Do you answer for them when people ask them questions?

This parenting practice teaches kids to be dependent their entire lives. They grow up to be unprepared to handle life’s difficulties. Kids raised with this parenting technique have trouble developing self-reliance, problem solving and decision making. They also tend to avoid responsibility.

The goal is to be involved, lead, and teach. But not intrude, take over, or do it for them. Then your child can develop independence and live on their own one day.

Stop the … Quick Fix Parenting

Remember last time when you were at Super Target and your child threw a temper tantrum. So instead of leaving the cart and removing your child from the situation, you bribed your child with an ICEE and bag of popcorn? Maybe even a new toy. It fixed the situation that day, but in the long run it will make things worse. We are all guilty of quick fix parenting. We find ourselves willing to do anything, as long as it works right now. We warn, we threaten, and we give in.

Being tired, stressed, and over scheduled can lead to quick fix parenting, as well as being in public. :)

These techniques teach kids to act right…for the wrong reasons. It might be a temporary solution, but never brings lasting change.

We will be most effective as parents, when we take a few minutes to help our children understand what is wrong and make things right.

Stop the … Substitute Parenting

It seems that in this day and age, everything but parents are teaching kids. We are letting someone else parent our children. Media and television. Kids are spending so much time in front of the television, computer, on their phones, and with video games, parents have taken a back seat.

When was the last time you saw a T.V. show you would trust to teach your child? Young children are especially at risk because they believe everything they see and hear.

All this technology means less real time with parents. Technology takes over and as parents we begin to lose power and influence with our children.

This type of parenting makes children vulnerable to outside pressures and teaches them to rely on someone else to guide them, instead of you. They are also more likely to adopt someone else’s values.

As parents, we are the most powerful influence for teaching our children values, attitudes, morales, and appropriate behavior. We need to find more ways to be in our children’s lives. The first place to start, limit technology.

I am guilty on all accounts of the above parenting practices. Some more often than others. But acknowledging I have a problem is the first step, right? Take an honest step back and evaluate when these practices take over your parenting life. And then make a commitment to change some things up. As we eliminate these practices from our families, we will see huge changes in our children’s behaviors and attitudes.

Raise your hand if you have bought ICEE’s and popcorn at Target?

So, which practices are you guilty of? 

Have a question or just want to say hello.



Tips for Communicating with Your Children

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We talk to our children on a daily basis. But communication is much more than conversations about schedules, if the chores are done, and sibling conflict. Successful communication involves honesty, feelings and understanding. It means we are having a series of talks. It means that we are starting conversations that continue over weeks, months, even years, to help our children prepare for what they might face, and what life has in store.

Although there are different styles of communication, and each of our children are different, one approach which is universally successful, is communicating by sharing stories about ourselves. By sharing positive stories that help teach our children and help them relate to us. 

When our daughter was 4, she asked me for the first of many stories. After a confusing play date with a friend she came home with lots of questions. As I was trying to help, she stopped and asked, “Mom, did you ever feel like this when you were my age”? I knew at that moment that she needed a story. A situation she could relate to. She needed to know that I understood because I had been there and experienced the same things. I shared with her a time when I had faced the same situation. It provided the understanding she needed. 

Growing up, my dad always told us stories about when he was growing up. He used stories to relate to us, teach us, and inspire us. I LOVED it. I think about his stories often and appreciate that he tells them to our children. They are being passed down through the generations and continue to bond us together through the ages, while teaching and solving problems at the same time. It seems that most, if not all the lessons and principles I was taught as a child, were taught through personal stories.

Now, my husband and I do the same with our children. Our children want to know about us. They want to hear our stories. They find strength in being able to relate to us and find similarities. It is comforting when they can realize that we were kids once too!

We have seen our family relationship strengthen as we have worked harder to weave stories into our conversations and communication. It is a good challenge for all of us.

It is easy as parents, to get preachy when we communicate. To get caught up in telling instead of listening. To try to make our “point” because there is so much more that needs to be done in our day. And to forget that these experiences are new to our children and they need us to be compassionate.  

Think back to your own personal experiences and relate to your children on a new level. 

Tips to having your own “conversations”.

  • Start early. Open the lines of communication when they are very young so they always know you can talk together about everything. Children will be prepared when situations arise and we won’t feel like we are always playing “catch up” with our conversations.
  • Remember, communication is more than just one talk. It is a series of dialogues, an ongoing conversation.
  • Share stories with your family. Focus on sharing positive experiences.
  • Sharing stories about challenges are also great, just be sure you focus on how you overcame the challenge.
  • There is room to talk about mistakes also. Focus on how you fixed the mistake, learned from it, and righted the wrong, more that the actual thing you did wrong.
  • There are some things we don’t need to tell our children. Think twice.

Research suggests that the more children know about their parents and grandparents, especially their successes and failures, the more they are able to overcome setbacks. Start communicating through stories in your home today.

Do you use stories to communicate with your children?

What is a favorite story your parents/grandparents told you when you were younger?
 
Have a question or just want to say hello.



A Valentine’s Day Story

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Our first Valentines Day together was magic. The one you wait for and dream of.

I had clues stashed all around the city. They were located at all the places where we had made significant memories together. First date, first kiss, you know.

My roommate helped me hide the clues. They were big red hearts taped up with red masking tape. They rhymed.

I had ordered his favorite cologne from Germany. A few other things were wrapped and waiting. He was to scour the city following the clues and end up back at my apartment. Dinner was waiting and so was I.

The wait was unbearable. When you are madly in love with someone every minute apart seems like a million years.

I left the door barely cracked open so he could walk right in. Like in the movies. The clues worked and I can still see him walking through the door. He had on my favorite shirt. It was a pink Polo dress shirt. At 6’4″and 220, you can wear pink.

He already knew. He had know for months. He already knew that we would spend forever together. Up to this point, I didn’t know yet.

I knew that I couldn’t breathe without him, but, on the surface we came from very different places.

On the inside we were the same. Our beliefs, our hopes and dreams, we were the same.

As he walked through the door that night, in that moment, I knew too.

He gave me a big hug and kiss. We ate. And then I gave him his cologne. He still has some left. I bought a big bottle and he uses it sparingly. We can’t ever get any more. When he wears it I am immediately taken back to that night.

Then, he gave me a ring. Not a wedding ring. It wasn’t time for that yet. He didn’t know that I “knew.”

It was a beautiful band for my right hand. Three small sapphire baguettes (his birth stone) separated by two small diamonds. It cost him everything he had. He had scrimped and saved. My graduate professor noticed it the next day at school. Or maybe he noticed the giant smile on my face that I couldn’t erase.

Every Valentines Day that memory comes back. The emotions are still tender and real.

We haven’t had a Valentines Day like it since. (They have all been better.)

No scavenger hunts, no dimmed rooms with waiting packages, no pink Polo shirts.

Now, there are five children. First there was one and we took him with us to Valentines Dinner.

Then there were two so we stayed home and I cooked my husbands favorite meal.

Then came three, four, and five.

We eat a special Valentines Dinner the kids will love and cut hearts out of construction paper. There are countdown chains and glue and tape as we make homemade Valentines to be delivered to classmates. There are sugar cookies with pink frosting and too many sprinkles. And a special reading of the Berenstain Bears “Funny Valentine.” followed by the story of “how mommy and daddy met.”

Everyone gets cards. My husband writes in mine. I wait all year to read what he has to say. He knows that. He is really good with cards.

We finish by 6:30 because bed is at 7:00. Teeth are brushed, stories read, more stories read, and our girls usually sleep with their Valentines next to their pillows.

Then my husband and I work to finish dishes, I do laundry and we hope to go to bed early.

On our way to bed we check on the kids again. We straighten them out and cover them back up. We talk about them while we brush our teeth. We talk about how we will get a sitter in a few days and go out just the two of us. The few days usually turns into a few weeks, but we go. It is always special.

Then as I lay in bed I remember THAT Valentines Day. The first one. I am grateful for it. But just as soon as I remember it, it is gone. New memories flood my mind. I KNOW that every Valentines Day since has been better. They have been different but so much better.

Now I really know Valentines Day. Now I really know love. It is our children’s laughter, the crooked red cut out hearts, the messy faces. It is standing by my husband doing the dishes. It is worrying and praying together about up coming decisions. It is being tired from nursing babies. It is trying to juggle schedules and wipe tears (and bottoms). It is the humility I feel when I realize I can do better. It is my husband running into my pregnant round belly and the laughter I just heard from our daughters crib upstairs.

Valentines Day is every day now.

It is every day I get to be a wife and a mother.

It is every day that I get to make our house a home.

It is everyday as I recognize how much love abounds when two people have committed to be together for eternity.

The gifts are different too. Not so much big, shiny or imported. Not just on Valentines Day.The gifts are the kind things we do for one another each and every day.

It is coming home and seeing that my husband has emptied the dishwasher. It is his hard work in supporting our family. It is his listening ear that he willingly shares, even when I tell him the same concern over and over. It is the toothpaste he puts on my toothbrush at night.

The memories are priceless. But that night in my apartment 11 years ago, I thought I had the Valentines Day of my dreams. Little did I know, the best was yet to come.

Now I know what it is like to have a true Valentine. Void of the commercialism, void of gimmicks. My true Valentine and I have a full house and a busy life. Filled with worries and stresses and joy and laughter.

Most of all, my Valentine and I have every day together, filled with love.

I still can’t breath without him. And every minute apart, seems like a million. 

Happy Valentines Day to you and your family.  Be sure you are creating your own Valentine’s Day Story.

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Teaching Children Gratitude

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Thanksgiving Heather Johnson

It is the season of Thanksgiving and we have gratitude on our minds. Unfortunately gratitude is not always on our children’s minds. Gratitude doesn’t come naturally to our kids. It is a learned trait, not necessarily something we are born with, and they need our help to develop the skill.  Today I will share some tips for teaching children gratitude.

Aside from all the fun activities, crafts, and service projects we do with our kids this time of year, here are five things we can do year round to help raise more grateful children.
Start saying “NO”.
Giving our children everything they ask for and want, is not going to help them be more grateful. (This is a good thing to remember with Christmas around the corner.)  Have you ever had your child beg you for a new toy? You finally give in, only to have them play with it for a few days and then start begging for something else?
The more we give our kids, the less they appreciate what they have. So cut back! Kids don’t need treats every time we go to the store, or a toy every time they see a commercial on TV advertising something new. Kids need our love and our time and opportunities to learn and grow, not more things. At first it might be hard to say “no.” We need to do it any way. Even if there are temper tantrums and tears. Over time this will help our children come to appreciate what they do have and realize that happiness is not built on getting more “stuff.”
Don’t compare.
Theodore Roosevelt said “Comparison is the thief of Joy”, and he was exactly right. Comparing ourselves to others teaches our kids that we are not grateful for what we have or who we are.
Stop talking about material things. 
It is easy for our conversations to be centered around material possessions.
“I wish we had that new car.”
“We really need a new couch before we have people over.”
“That new shirt will make you look really cute.”
As innocent as the statements sound, when our kids hear us talking about material things all the time, and how we need them, or how they define us or make us look a certain way, it sends them the wrong message. We have to be very careful with what we say.
Always say “Please” and “Thank you”
Raising grateful children is all about being a grateful parent. Do we use good manners? Do we say please and thank you? Do we write thank you notes when someone gives us a gift or serves us? Kids watch everything we do. If we are complaining about what we don’t have, and how we wish we had more, they will feel the same. If we don’t express gratitude, then neither will they.
Don’t spare them work
As much as we didn’t like chores and responsibilities when we were children, work is a necessary part of raising moral children. Instead of sparing them work, we need to give them opportunities to work. We need to stop teaching that work is bad and play is good. They are not opposites of one another. Work teaches us to appreciate what our bodies and minds are capable of. And teaches us to be grateful for what we do have as a result of the effort we put into getting it. Work teaches us to appreciate.
Grateful children are more polite and a lot more fun to be around. They get along with their playmates and have an easier time sharing with others. Grateful adults are empathetic, see other’s perspectives and solid research has found that adults who are grateful are happier all around. Gratitude is a valuable life skill, no matter our age.
This time of year, let’s remember that gratitude is not a seasonal skill. We teach it to our children each and every day of the year.
What toy have you gotten your child after they begged, that they never played with again? (For us, it was a telescope for our son. In two years I think he has only looked through it 3-4 times :(. But he wanted it sooooo bad.)
Is it hard for you to say “No” to your children? Why?
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Tips for Families and Technology

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The school year is underway and families are busier than ever. It is hard enough trying to balance all the activities and homework, but throw the constant temptation of technology into the works and finding time to be together as a family can seem almost impossible.

There are two major drains on our families lives these days, the first being the time we spend outside our home. Families are so busy in individual activities, that we are never home to be together.

The second drain that keeps our families from spending time together is technology inside our home. It is inevitable that our homes are filled with technology. It is that day and age. But just because we are all under the same roof, doesn’t mean we are together. Someone is on the computer, someone is watching tv, someone else is on their phone, the list goes on. Technology keeps us from having “Eye Contact” with our family members.

Given that technology isn’t going anywhere, and “iContact” is inevitable, what can we do to ensure that we still have “Eye Contact” with our families?

First we need to make better use of our time. For example, we all need to eat. Well I know I need to eat. :) And everyone in our family needs to eat also. So, make better use of the fact that we are all going to eat dinner, and do it together!

We most likely spend time driving family members to and from activities. Instead of spending that time watching DVD’s and having kids play on smart phones, turn off technology and make better use of the drive time by talking with one another, playing games and having conversations.

There are benefits that will come to our family, that we can’t receive any other way. Unless we put away the technology and make “Eye Contact” with one another.

Now, I know what you are thinking. “But Heather, there is still technology all around us. Can’t “Eye Contact” and “iContact” co-exist”? The answer is yes, but we need to find creative ways to bring the two together so the technology doesn’t hurt our family relationships.

Here are a few ideas.

1. Gather each family members playlist and play music in the background while your family sits down to eat a meal together or as you work together.

2. Establish rules about how much technology your children can consume each day. Then, while they are watching their favorite shows, make it a rule that they have to get up and run around the house, do push ups, jumping jacks, or sit ups, every time a commercial comes on.

3. Create an online scrapbook that everyone in your family can contribute pictures too. It is so easy to upload pictures these days, most of us do it from our phones. Once a month, sit down as a family and have each person explain the pictures they have loaded and talk about all the fun things you have all done over the last 30 days. This is a great way to chronicle your families life and keep pictures organized also.

4. Take your TV and movie watching one step farther. It is very common that during movies, when family members have questions (especially our children), instead of answering them, we “Shhhhhhhhhhsh” them. This immediately tells them the movie or show is more important than they are. So, establish “TV time outs” during the movie. Every 10 minutes, pause the movie and ask if there are any questions. Then talk together. That way all family members know that they are more important than the movie.

5. Use the technology on everyone’s smart phones, computers and iPads to schedule a family activity in everyone’s calendar. Set up reminders so no one forgets. Then when everyone gets together, have them drop their tech into the “tech basket” where it will stay until the family activity is over. Have fun enjoying the activity you planned together, tech free.

6. When your kids ask questions like “what does an Ostrich eat” and you just don’t know the exact answer, whip out your smart phone and teach your child how to look things up. When you have found your answer, sit down together and draw a picture of the Ostrich eating.

7. When you have an upcoming family vacation or trip (or even a family activity), give each person in the family an assignment to research. Someone could be in charge of researching places to stay, while another person can research places to eat, or the best route to take if you are driving. Come together as a family to report your findings. Talk about all the options, and plan the trip together. Making sure to not let the tech takeover once you are on vacation.

8. Technology is a great way to stay connected to family, extended family, and friends. Establish a time when you come together as a family to skype or google hangout with loved ones. Before you start, sit down together and talk about all the fun things you want to share and any questions you want to ask while you chat. When the call is over, turn off the computer and talk about all the fun things you learned from the conversation. Take it a step farther and write a letter or put together a care package for that person. It will make their day.

9. Use online resources to research your ancestors. Make connections with family members and do genealogy. If time and money permit, plan a trip to visit some family sites and family members. If you can’t physically visit, no problem, use your new found knowledge to create a family tree to hang on your wall. Or gather pictures of ancestors and create a collage in frames as a reminder of where your family came from.

Technology has the power to take over our families lives. Draining us of the most important relationships we have, the ones we develop with our families. Nothing is as powerful as “Eye Contact”, but when we carefully and creatively combine “Eye Contact” with “iContact”, the two can co-exist to enhance our family relationships.

How do you use technology to strengthen your family?

How do you make sure technology doesn’t take over your family time?

 

 

Have a question, or just want to say hello? You can find me at FamilyVolley.com. On PinterestFacebook, and Twitter. Or send me an email. I love making new friends. 

 

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