The Family Talking Stick

Screen Shot 2013-06-14 at 3.02.03 PMDid you ever have a talking stick when you were little? Sometimes teachers use them to teach children how to wait their turn before talking, but they are great tools for families too. A talking stick provides a simple and fun way to teach everyone in your family how to listen to other people when they are talking, as well as take turns. As with most activities I recommend, there is no one “right” way to do this…. Feel free to get creative.

  • To make a talking stick, I suggest using a plastic pole, like the ones used in plumbing from your local hardware store or perhaps the inside of a paper towel roll.
  • The next step is to gather basic art supplies. This might include permanent markers, glitter glue, foam stickers, or anything else that looks fun and creative. You might also want to add beans, rice or small pebbles in the inside of the stick to make some noise. You can cover the ends with cardboard and masking tape.
  • Sit down as a family and explain that you are going to make a family talking stick together. Invite them to decorate it, and as they do so, explain to them how it will be used.

The rules for the talking stick are simple enough that even very young children can understand them: whoever has the talking stick in their hands gets to talk. If you don’t have the talking stick, you need to wait to speak until you have it. This works well for dinnertime, car rides, or other circumstances where children may find themselves talking over each other (or fighting) a lot. The talking stick teaches them how to listen to others and wait their turn. I suggest having a time limit for how long someone can have the talking stick, and you might even keep a timer to moderate it. If you have other creative ways you’ve seen someone else use a talking stick, please feel free to share them!

Why Kids Interrupt and how to handle it

Anger-in-childrenIf you’re a parent, you know how frustrating it is when your child interrupts you. Whether you’re on an important phone call, trying to finish up some computer work, or having a face-to-face conversation with another adult, it often seems like you have an eager child competing for your attention. Why do they do this?

Kids interrupt when they have a need that only we can meet. Maybe they’re hungry or bored or bothered by a sibling. Whatever the reason, your children want you to know that they need your attention. In short, they’re focused on their needs—not yours.

But if you give it a bit of thought, you’ll realize that this demanding behavior doesn’t stem from malice or ill will. Your children are just trying to express themselves and feel that what they have to say matters.

Interruptions can also be a child’s unpolished way of entering a process or situation. When we tell them to be quiet or that we don’t have time, we send the message that their circumstance is not important.

Instead of responding harshly or dismissively, transform the interruption into a teachable moment. Instruct your child about how and when to interrupt; doing so is essential to ending the frustration. Start by giving examples of when it is actually appropriate to interrupt—like when someone is at the door, or, of course, if someone is hurt. Then decide on a gesture or signal (like raising their hand or pointer finger) that they can use to alert you to an important situation. Also decide on—and use—a signal that you’ll use to acknowledge them.

Even if their need to interrupt is actually urgent in nature and really does require your immediate attention, teach your children to remember their manners and to always say “Excuse me” if they are creating an interruption.

When children interrupt, you should always at least make eye contact with them. If their need isn’t pressing, calmly respond by saying, “Give me a minute.” And then make them wait as long as is needed for you to finish your original activity—it’s important that you don’t immediately respond to kids’ non-urgent interruptions, unless you want to reinforce this disruptive behavior.

By all means, give your children the same respect you demand from them. Acknowledge them and let them know that they matter. But also guide them toward patience and forbearance. Doing so will save you years of frustration—but perhaps more importantly, it’ll supply your kids with a critical social skill that will serve them well over the course of their lives.

Does My Child Need Therapy?

self-injury-therapyAs a parent, you’re only normal if you often wonder this: “Does my child need therapy?”

Your concern could be related to your child’s behavior—maybe you’ve noticed that your child is acting withdrawn. Or that he or she seems more aloof or prone to want to spend a lot of time alone. Perhaps he or she seems irritable, sad, or worried. Have you noticed changes in your child’s eating or sleeping habits? All of these behaviors are cause to consider whether counseling could help.

We all go through tough times, so not every situation requires professional intervention. The best advice you can follow is this: Trust your parental intuition. Still, there are circumstances when it’s clearer that you should indeed take your child to a psychologist. Here are the key ones:

If your child is obviously unhappy

If your child has experienced a traumatic event

If your child is acting out or being overly aggressive

If your child seems to be having difficulty handling everyday stress

If you see a significant drop in grades

If your child is complaining of stomachaches, headaches, or otherwise not feeling well, especially if doctor’s visits turn up nothing abnormal, or if these symptoms are interfering with your child’s day-to-day ability to function

If you suspect your child is using or using drugs or alcohol

If your relationship with your child has deteriorated

If you’ve tried other forms of intervention and nothing seems to work

If there is a true problem, chances are that it’s not isolated to your child. As a parent, you play a huge role in your child’s life. It’s understandable that at times, you’ll get stuck.

Even though you’ll mean well, you’ll make choices that are actually prolonging a problem—which means that you must be willing to look at yourself and become open to doing things differently.

By now, we’ve all heard Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Heed the genius’s words and, if you want something in your life to be different, including your child’s behavior or state of being, then you have to do things differently.

Therapy can help families cope with stress and a wide range of emotional and behavioral problems. You don’t have to be mentally ill to benefit from going to counseling—your therapist’s office is simply a place where you can consider what’s working in your life—and what isn’t—and get guidance to develop strategies for change.

We all need help sometimes. Counseling is there just for that.


button RelaxThese days, stress is epidemic. But it doesn’t have to be. Regardless of what you’re dealing with in life, you can learn to manage your stress levels. Here are a few tips to remember the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed:

Your mind believes what you tell it to, so examine your perspective. Are you choosing your thoughts and words carefully? Or are you just letting the waves of stress wash over you without exerting any control over your mental situation? Try shifting your focus to positive thoughts. When you hear yourself having thoughts such as, “I can’t do this,” actively try to think this instead: “It’s going to be a challenge, but I can overcome.”

Ask yourself this: “What am I really stressed about?” Are you worried about things that actually exist? Or merely potential situations? The author William Ralph Inge wrote, “Worry is interest paid on trouble before it comes due,” and that’s a true statement. You wouldn’t pay your financial interest before it’s due, so why do that with your emotional state? Instead, think through whether your concerns are within your control. If you determine that your stress is coming from things that you have no control over, work to let go of those negative thoughts. Surrender. Take a breath and visualize a successful outcome.

To release your hold on negativity and stress, think and act positively. Ever heard the phrase “Fake it ‘til you make it?” That works. If you act as though you’re a person free of stress and unnecessary concerns – if you smile, socialize, take relaxation breaks, and so on – you’re more likely to become that person you’re acting like.

Create an environment that encourages you to relax and let go of stress. Put on music that soothes you or makes you feel good; use essential oils such as lavender, bergamot, or chamomile to ease anxiety; place calming flowers (like orchids) where you can see them. You can also light candles and take a warm bath, or just go out and take a walk in nature. Engaging your senses will quickly rebalance your system.

Exercise has so many benefits. One is that it releases chemicals called endorphins into your bloodstream. These give you a feeling of happiness and overall well-being. Some forms of exercise, like running and swimming, have meditative effects that help alter your consciousness though breathing patterns. Others, like tennis, boxing, and weightlifting, help you channel your stress or anger through exertion. So pick which feels best for you and start moving.

Remember to breathe. Breathing helps you let things go. Slow, deep breathing helps activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us calm down. With each inhale, through your nose, allow your abdomen and ribcage to expand as your lungs fill with air. Exhale, though your mouth, allowing (but not forcing) the air to completely leave your lungs. Repeat. Practice this for a few minutes several times a day. Your body will adjust quickly and your stress will start to vanish.

Improve Your Child’s Social Skills

social_anxiety_s640x480If you knew you could do something to help your children succeed in every realm of life, you’d do it, right?

You can. Here’s what it is: Helping them develop social skills.

Being socially savvy is becoming more critical than ever. In part, that’s because our culture is in the process of descending into a techno-centric screen-to-screen lifestyle. While that has disturbing implications, it does hold a silver lining for those who put in the effort to hone and maintain excellent person-to-person skills. Those who can act like extroverts (even if they’re not) are likely to be happier and more successful.

So how can you help kids sharpen their social skills? Like any other skill, being social takes practice. So encourage your kids to interact with people at every possible opportunity: Have them order for themselves in restaurants, let them chat with others at the supermarket (with your supervision, of course), and RSVP yes when they get invitations to attend parties, sleepovers, and other social events.

It helps to practice social situations with kids at home: Supplying them with appropriate verbiage – getting them to understand what’s best to say (and what not to say) under different circumstances – will serve them well. You could even create and practice scripts together.

If you overhear your child saying something innocent but inappropriate (“Why did your dog die?”), try not to scold. Instead, when both of you have left the social situation, gently explain why what the child said was amiss (“I know you were just curious, sweetheart, but asking why someone died could make someone else feel sad.”), then supply alternatives for what could have been said instead. (“I was so sorry to hear about your dog. That must have been very difficult for you. Is there anything I can do to help?”)

Providing lots of positive reinforcement is key. When you’re proud of a social interaction you saw your child participate in, say so immediately — especially if you can tell that your child stepped out of his or her comfort zone for the sake of being outgoing. Praising their positive social efforts will only help them feel confident and socially strong.