Here I am sharing some thoughts from my experiences in my clinical and forensic practice, as well as through my role as a mother of three children, a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a friend.
It is not unusual for teenagers and their parents to have periods of difficulty getting along, when they previously enjoyed positive relationships. While nothing may have been “wrong” with the parent or child, they were having trouble adjusting to the natural, normal, and healthy changes that children go through as they work toward the developmental task of independence during adolescence. As I often address this issue in my work with families, I am interested in what can be done to protect the parent-child relationship. In my research as well as in my forensic and clinical practice, three findings came up repeatedly: 1) The relationship that a teen has with a parent can serve as a protective factor and help them to make healthy decisions, particularly in risky situations, 2) parents sometimes need help in connecting with their children during these changes, 3) ongoing communication is extremely important to maintain a positive relationship. This article focuses on ways of fostering the two factors that help tweens and teens thrive: the parent-child relationship, and communication.
Make a point to connect every day (or almost every day)
Families are so busy these days. With sports, Scouts, employment, homework, PTA meetings, etc. it is difficult to find the time to spend together. A solution is to the make the most of what is already occurring in our lives.
- Make the most of family dinners. Studies have demonstrated a correlation between family dinners and mental and physical health in children, improved social skills, improved grades, and the avoidance of engaging in teen risky behavior, including substance use. Here are some suggestions for making the most of family dinners. http://188.8.131.52/~drpeggyd/ten-ideas-to-make-the-most-of-family-dinners/
- Get the most out of travel time. You could make a family rule that electronics and ear phones are not used for short car rides. These are the times when we can learn about our children’s days and their thoughts. Also, just being together, even in the absence of words, is an opportunity to connect. These are missed opportunities when our children are plugged in and tuned out on their devices. To get the conversation going, you could purchase a conversation starter to keep in the car, such as “Tabletopics Family: Questions to Start Great Conversations, which can be purchased on Amazon.
- Limit screen time and time on devices. Screen time, whether it is on a computer, smartphone, or tablet, can be addictive. For both parents and adults, this can not only take away from family time, but studies have also linked screen time with depression and anxiety. Resist the temptation to whip out the device during down time. We have small periods of down time during the day, and we have become so accustomed to being entertained and processing information that we feel the need to fill a void when nothing is happening. We need that down time to unwind, think, process emotions and thoughts, or just be. We need that down time to connect with our children or just BE together in the absence of distraction.
- Check-in with your child 5-10 minutes every day at bedtime. Bedtime is a great time to check-in with our children because it is a quiet time without distractions. This could be a time to talk about your child’s day, or just lay down next to your child and be together. At bedtime, children are tired, their defenses are down, and they are more emotionally vulnerable. This can be a time for poignant connecting on an emotional level.
Methods of bonding and strengthening the relationship
In order to keep relationships strong, we need to pay attention to them and spend time together. Here are some suggestions for connecting.
- Find a shared interest. Activities bring people together, and keep them together. There may be times when it feels awkward to just “hang out” with your teen, and finding a shared interest gives you something to do together. This could involve signing up for a class together, or engaging in an activity in the home or outside together. Having a shared interest or activity provides you and your child with an opportunity to connect for a lifetime. (Cook, bake, craft, bike, walk, ski, etc.).
- Make mother and child bracelets. Visit a local craft store and buy elastic and glass beads in a variety of colors. The mother and child each make a bracelet for each other. Each color bead on the bracelet represents a quality in the mother or daughter that is appreciated, a memory, or favorite activity. For example, purple could represent, “I love when we walk together”, pink could represent, “I love you”. Each color and related sentiment is then written down on a card and given to the other person along with the bracelet.
- Play board/card games. Pictionary, Taboo, and Apples to Apples are some great family games.
- Give to others. This could be volunteering together at a soup kitchen or food pantry, or working together to collect donations for a homeless shelter, domestic violence shelter, or children in foster care.
- Start or continue a family ritual. Read more about the importance of family rituals at: http://184.108.40.206/~drpeggyd/the-importance-of-family-rituals/
Use humor.Humor simply makes life more enjoyable, makes problems feel less daunting, and is another way to connect. So watch comedies together, purchase a joke book, or take out the old Mad Libs!
Show love. Find verbal and non-verbal ways of communicating your love to your child. Here are some suggestions. http://220.127.116.11/~drpeggyd/five-simple-things-to-do-today-and-every-day-to-show-love-for-your-children/
Communication.Ongoing communication is so important. When you keep the lines of communication open for the small stuff and really pay attention to your child, your child is more likely to come to you with the big stuff.
- Keep a Mother/Child Journal. This journal is for mother and child to write back and forth to each other. Sometimes it is easier to write something than to say it, and this could help get the conversation going. Some ideas include: sneak the notebook under your child’s pillow and write a little love note, leave the notebook out with a drawing for your child for when he/she wakes up, for mother and child to let the other know that they want to start a difficult conversation, to apologize and then start a conversation, to write down a worry, and/or write your hopes for your relationship.
- Ask interesting questions! Would you like to hear more than a one word answer from your child about his or her school day? To help get the conversation going, make your questions interesting, silly, and fun! Here are a few suggestions for when your child comes home from school. You could write these down on slips of paper and put them in a jar, and then take one or two out a day! http://18.104.22.168/~drpeggyd/30-questions-to-ask-your-child-at-the-end-of-the-school-day/
The importance of physical touch.
As your child becomes a tween/teen, there is less physical affection than the preschool years! Your daughter may not be eagerly holding your hand like she did when she was four years old. Your son may not want to cuddle like he enjoyed when he was younger. Your child is not sitting on your lap, and you no longer have a person attached to your hip! This is all part of normal development. However, as humans, we still have a need for physical affection with our loved ones. Physical affection provides a connection, and this can be particularly useful when the words are not there. There may be times when your teen/tween comes home from school, seems upset, and does not want to talk about it. There may be times when you want to express your love for your child, but the words do not come easily. These are times when physical affection can go a long way. Yet as children get older, they become less comfortable asking for the physical affection from parents that can be so comforting. And parents need the affection too! We all need physical affection in varying degrees, and sometimes it is hard for both children and adults to ask for it. Making and using a “Hug Jar” can make it fun. Here are some suggestions to write down on a piece of paper and put into a “hug jar”. Make a point to pull one out a day. http://22.214.171.124/~drpeggyd/the-hug-jar/
Here is a great article if you are interested in reading more about the power of physical touch http://www.heysigmund.com/the-remarkable-power-of-touch/
Make a point to talk about difficult topics.
Teens these days are faced with more issues and stressors than ever. In order to best help them, it is important to do regular “check-ins” to see how things are going, particularly about the use of social media. Studies show that the greatest protection against the potential harmful effects of social media is open communication with a parent (rather than parental controls or tracking systems). Talk about difficult topics on a regular basis. This makes the situation less uncomfortable when your child has an issue that they would like to discuss. So talk about friendships, bullying, social media, sex, substance use. These topics are difficult to bring up. Be brave! They are important!
Your child likely has an increased need for privacy and personal space. Allow that, while at the same time, being careful for withdrawal. It is important for children to know that they have private physical space and belongings. So if your daughter has her door closed, knock before entering. If she has a private journal, do not read it. At the same time, monitor the amount of time that your child spends alone in his/her bedroom, as withdrawing and isolation are not the same thing as allowing privacy, and if left unchecked, can be harmful.
Foster independence and choices.
Resist the temptation to comment on choice of clothes or music. Resist commenting on his/her appearance. As long as your child is not engaging in dangerous behavior, or if you do not have a concern about a related mental health concern, resist the temptation to comment as your child tries out new interests and styles.
Get adequate sleep
Teens need about nine or more hours of sleep in order to function at their optimal levels, and hardly any teens are receiving this much sleep. Adequate sleep is so important to function at school and in all of their interests. Lack of adequate sleep contributes to irritability, anxiety, and depression.
Protect your child from social media
- It is so important to protect our children from the potential harmful impact of social media. Social media use is related to anxiety/stress, pressure to be perfect, feeling left out, feeling not good enough, distraction from school work and responsibilities, and missing out on the “good stuff” in life. One study found that 92% of teenagers went on-line daily, and 25% reported being on-line almost constantly. Teens experience various kinds of “digital distress”, including impersonation, public shaming, mean and harassing personal attacks, breaking and entering, pressure to comply, smothering, and lurking (Pew Research Center Cyberbullying 2010: What the Research Tells Us, by Amanda Lambert).
- Develop a contract for the use of social media
- Check in daily with your child regarding social media use and the impact on him/her
- Stress the importance of in-person human interactions
Express gratitude and appreciation.
When I ran the MotherDaughter Connection, we began every session with an exercise in gratitude. Each mother and daughter thought about one aspect of their mother or daughter for which they are grateful, or an aspect of the mother/daughter relationship for which they grateful. Then they privately shared with each other. This is one way to help foster the mother-child bond.
- It is also important to express appreciation. Yes, your son is SUPPOSED to do her homework. Yes, your daughter is SUPPOSED to take out the trash. Yes, your children are SUPPOSED to put away their laundry. Being thanked and shown appreciation, even for the expected, can help strengthen a relationship.
- Appreciation and gratitude go a long way. Not only do they create a positive feeling in the moment, but they helps to nurture a relationship. They serve as a buffer in times of conflict by creating a sense of closeness and deeper connection. We behave our best and treat people nicely when we feel an emotional connection with them. Expressing gratitude for the person or the relationship can help foster that connection. Test it out today. What might you take for granted and not express thanks for? What small act can you express appreciation and thanks for today within your family? Take a moment to think about it, and then make a point to express it.
Help manage feelings.
- Sometimes your daughter’s emotions may be running so high, that the best thing to do in the moment is to let her take a break from the conversation. You may feel calm and able to communicate clearly, but she may not be able to do so. Trying to communicate with someone under those circumstances may do more damage than good. Give your daughter some cooling off time, while communicating to her that she is not off the hook. Make a plan to talk later. You can also be proactive and be mindful of the times when your daughter may be too exhausted to discuss a meaningful issue, and avoid bringing up difficult topics during those times.
- Sometimes the tween/teen behaviors and emotions can feel so out of control to your son that he says things he regrets, and behaves in ways that cause him to experience guilt and shame. When you may be feeling the most frustrated with his behavior is when he needs to feel your love the most. Hisown behavior may be causing him to dislike himself and feel unlovable, and he needs you to show him that he is loved.
- Set the example. Emotions feed off of emotions, and emotions are running high during the tween/teen years. This is completely normal! The trick is to stay calm. Guaranteed, if you react, your child will only meet that level, and then some! This is your opportunity to teach her to remain calm when trying to get her point across. Be mindful of your attitude and tone. Eventually, she will recognize the discrepancy between your calmness and her lack of calmness, and she will slowly begin to match your level.
- Here are some more suggestions for getting through times of high emotion and/or conflict. http://126.96.36.199/~drpeggyd/supporting-your-child-during-times-of-high-conflict/
Have your child use an alarm clock
- Your child’s independence is budding. Responsibility is increasing. It is developmentally appropriate for your child to set his or her own alarm clock to get up in the morning by the time he/she enters middle school.
- If your child has difficulty waking in the morning, or is not in the best of moods, the use of an alarm clock has the added benefit of your child not becoming angry with YOU for waking him or her. When that happens on a repeated daily basis, that can be damaging to the relationship.
Expect unpredictability and change!
During the teen and tween years, children are discovering themselves. They are discovering their interests, and testing things out on a daily basis. This is normal and healthy. If you expect it, you may be less surprised by it, and less likely to comment on it. Give your child the time and space to explore without verbal or non-verbal judgment.
The quickest way to destroy a relationship is to criticize. This is not to say that you cannot address your child’s grades if they are not up to ability, or address any other concerns. However, it can be done without using words that are perceived as critical. Remember that how you speak to your children becomes their inner voice, a favorite quote of mine from Peggy O’Mara. If you would like to read a great article on the subtleties of critical words, read this. http://www.handsfreemama.com/2015/11/03/bridging-the-gap-created-by-waves-of-criticism/
And after that, here are some suggestions for positive words of encouragement: http://188.8.131.52/~drpeggyd/encouraging-words-to-use-with-children/
Nip disrespectful behavior in the bud.
Nothing can be more damaging to a relationship than disrespectful behavior. Ever hear the saying, “We teach people how to treat us”? Well, it is true, and there will be times when you need to teach your son/daughter that disrespect will not be tolerated. Everyone has his or her own perception and definition of what constitutes disrespectful behavior. If it feels disrespectful to you, do not let it go. Stop the conversation, point out the behavior and how it made you feel, and firmly tell your son/daughter that disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated. This is so important, because once you allow it, it will very likely happen again, and over time, it can intensify.
Don’t take things personally.
Your child is developing new interests of his/her own, and this may include a new interest that does not have anything to do with you anymore! It may also interfere with a time when you are used to being together. It is normal and healthy for children to be focused on peer relationships and spending time with friends. Try not to take her interest in other things as rejection. Once we begin to take things personally, we feel hurt. In return, as parents, we may consciously or unconsciously pull back and create more space in the relationship than is healthy. A result is that we may be emotionally unavailable to our children when they need it the most. Remember that during times of difficulty and when she may seem to be rejecting you, she needs her mother more than ever, not less.
Develop your own interests.
As your child is developing his own interests separate from you, this can be a time for you to develop your own interests. Maybe take that photography or pottery class that you’ve been interested in. Get back in to a hobby or craft that has been neglected. Join a book club or walking group. If you live in the area and would like to join my weekly women’s walking group, please sign up through my website to learn of the day and location of our walks. http://184.108.40.206/~drpeggyd/services/community-services/
Share ideas with a trusted friend or professional.
- Regularly check in with a trusted friend who has children of similar ages. While not violating your child’s privacy, you can discuss general parenting issues and learn that you are not alone in the challenges of parenting a teen or tween. Make a point to spend time with a friend who leaves you feeling good and uplifted after spending time together, and not one who leaves you questioning yourself or feeling “less than”.
- Check in with a professional. Mental health professionals are available for time-limited parent consultation. You do not need to make a commitment to long-term psychotherapy or have a mental health problem in order to seek the support and guidance of a mental health professional. We all need support in parenting, and sometimes a neutral person who is not a family member or friend can be most helpful.
January 22, 7PM, Gratitude Workshop, Perfect Harmony Yoga, Califon, NJ 07830
January 31, 10AM, Gratitude Workshop, Perfect Harmony Yoga, Califon, NJ 07830
February 4, 7PM, Strengthening the Parent-Child Relationship, Washington Township Public Library, 37 East Springtown Road, Long Valley, NJ 07853
February 5, 7PM, Invited Author Talk with Memoir Writing Group, Chester, NJ 07930
February 26, 7PM, Finding Joy and Cultivating Happiness, for Garden State Social held at Racks Valley Boutique, Long Valley, NJ 07853
March 20, Book Launch, Peacock Proud Press, Facebook Live 12:00 EST
April 3, 9:45 Harnessing the Power of The Law of Attraction in Your Personal and Professional Lives, Chatham pod of Believe, Inspire, Grow, 460 Main Street, Chatham, NJ 07928
April 13, 2-5PM, Book Launch Party, The Bernardsville Library, Anderson Road, Bernardsville, NJ 07924
April 18, 7PM, Book Presentation and Book Signing, Washington Township Public Library, 37 East Springtown Road, Long Valley, NJ 07853
April 23, 7:00PM, Harnessing the Power of The Law of Attraction in Your Personal and Professional Lives, Perfect Harmony Yoga, Long Valley, NJ
April 24, 6:30PM, Harnessing the Power of The Law of Attraction in Your Personal and Professional Lives, Private Women’s Group, Morris Plains, NJ
April 25, 6:30PM, Harnessing the Power of The Law of Attraction in Your Personal and Professional Lives, Imaginations, an International Boutique, 44 Main Street, Chester, NJ 07930
April 30, 3:30PM, Teachable Moments in Business, Hunterdon Chamber Radio with Vicki Lynne Morgan
May 2, 6:30PM, Gratitude Workshop, Hackettstown Public Library, 110 Church Street, Hackettstown, NJ 07840
May 7, 3:30PM, SuperPower Mommas Interview, guest on Laura Greco’s The Art of Soulful Parenting podcast
May 7, 7:30PM, Celebrating Mother-Daughter Relationships, guest on Irene Weingber’s Grief and Rebirth podcast
May 9, 7PM, Author Talk and Book Signing, Chester Public Library, 250 West Main Street, Chester, NJ 07930
May 11, 1-2:30PM, Gratitude Workshop, Bee You Yoga and Wellness, 3 Middlebury Road, Randolph, NJ 07869
May 14, 6:30PM, Private Book Club Discussion, Livingston, NJ
May 18, 10-11AM, Gratitude Workshop, Women’s Wellness New Jersey, (Midwives of NJ Classroom), Rt. 46, Hackettstown, NJ 07840
May 21, 6:30PM, Private Book Club Discussion, Chatham, NJ 07928
May 24, 8:30AM, Strengthening the Parent-Child Relationship, Dutchess Day School, Millville, NY 12545
May 28, 7PM, Book Discussion, Washington Township Public Library, 37 East Springtown Road, Long Valley, NJ 07853
May 30, 7PM, Harnessing the Power of the Law of Attraction, Scooch A Mi Boutique, 17 N. Passaic Ave, Chatham, NJ 07928
June 6, 3-7 PM, Book Signing, The Market, East Mill Road, Long Valley, 07853
June 7, 11:30AM-2PM, Tour Taste Talk to benefit Diva For A Day, Featured Author, Basking Ridge, Far Hills, Warren, NJ
June 12, 6:30PM, Author Talk and Book Signing, Mendham Borough Public Library, 10 Hilltop Road, Mendham, NJ 07945
June 18, 9:30AM-2:00PM, Relax, Rejuvenate, Rejoice – A Mini-Retreat for Women, Long Valley, NJ 07853
July 8, 6-7PM, Suzane Northrup Blog Talk Radio
July 10, 10AM, Happy to Help, radio show of Nicole Smith
July 12, 12:00, Gratitude Workshop, The Lodge at Arrowhead, Arrowhead Lake, PA
July 12, 5-7PM, Gratitude Book and Bracelet Event, Journey’s Day Spa, 1930 Rt. 940, Pocono Pines, PA 18350
July 15, 7PM, Private Book Club, Warwick, NY
July 16, 9:30AM-3:30PM, Relax, Rejuvenate, Rejoice – A Day Retreat for Women, Long Valley, NJ 07853
July 19, 9:30AM-2:00PM, Mother-Daughter Retreat – A Special Day for Daughters Leaving for College and Their Mothers, Long Valley, NJ 07853
July 26, Relax, Rejuvenate, Rejoice – A Day Retreat for Women in the Pocono Mountains, Pocono Lake, PA
September 13, 10AM-12, Lady Boss Book Club, The Book House, Millburn, NJ
November 4, 7PM, Gratitude Workshop: Harnessing the Power of Gratitude to Heal and Grow, Livingston Public Library, 10 Robert H. Harp Drive, Livingston, NJ 07039
May 16, 10-11AM, Finding Joy and Cultivating Happiness, Women’s Wellness New Jersey, (Midwives of NJ Classroom), Rt. 46, Hackettstown, NJ 07840
I recently finished my second book, which is about finding joy and cultivating happiness in everyday living. My whole life, people have commented that I am a happy person, and I have often been asked what I do to be so happy. Then when I share my ideas with friends or therapy clients, the response has often been, “Well that’s easy for you. You’re a happy person!” But the truth is, I am just like everybody else, and I work at it. I suppose I am blessed to have learned some techniques in early childhood that helped me. Also, being a psychologist certainly helps, as I need to stay on top of research and best practices to be of service to my clients.
So I sat down and thought about what exactly it is that I do to be “happy”. But I want to caution the pursuit of “happiness”. Happiness is an elusive state. And how do we know when we have achieved it anyway? I prefer to think of it as finding joy, or living your most fulfilling life, even on the worst of days.
I came up with 35 different things that I do. Some are thoughts, some are behaviors, some are simple, and some are more involved. My editor may condense them so that there are fewer chapters, but for now, that’s where it’s at. Thirty-five things that I practice to live my best life. I then did some research on each of the 35 ideas, just to make sure it was not just me and anecdotal, and that I could back up my ideas with some research in psychology.
In this article, I want to talk about not caring what other people think as it relates to happiness in life. I love the quote, “What people think of you is not your business.” Deepak Chopra
Oooh, and this one, “Let them judge you. Let them misunderstand you. Let them gossip about you. Their opinions aren’t your problem. You stay kind, committed to love, and free in your authenticity. No matter what they do or say, don’t you dare doubt your worth or the beauty of your truth. Just keep on shining like you do.” Scott Stabile
My father was the perfect example of not caring what people think. And he was the kindest man I have ever known. He used to ski with a multi-colored clown wig. Why? It made him happy. He used to jog at my high school track while school was in session and punch the air like Rocky Balboa. Why? Because it made him happy. He did not care what anyone thought of him. This embarrassed me when I was younger. As I got older, I came to appreciate this as pure freedom. But I was not able to achieve this “not caring thing” until my late 40s. I suppose not caring what others think is a wonderful benefit of aging!
Not caring about what people think of you does not mean not caring about people! It simply means that you do not let others’ opinions affect your self-worth. And this goes for positive statements as well. Yes, it is nice to receive compliments and praise, but do not connect this to your self-worth. Because it changes. If you attach your self-worth to what others think, then once they change their positive opinion, your self-worth goes down. You need to be in control of your own self-worth, and part of that involves accepting and appreciating compliments and praise, but not tying it to your self-worth.
In my 17 years of private practice, I have interviewed 3,500 people who have experienced significant trauma through my contract with the State of NJ. I have had the privilege of hearing about their intimate thoughts and feelings. A common theme is that children and adults of all ages are pained by what they believe to be the negative opinions of others. This is so sad, and so unnecessary, yet so difficult to change. Difficult, but not impossible.
So let’s work on making it possible. A necessary step is to not take things personally. To grasp this, you need to understand that other people’s actions are not about you. It is all about them and their past hurts, disappointments, relationships. This is much easier said than done, and I highly recommend reading the chapter, “Don’t Take Things Personally” in “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz.
When someone who knows you well insults you and your feelings are hurt, let those hurt feeling be a trigger to remind yourself, “Do not take this personally, smart self. This is about her, not me. This is about the way she sees the world, not me. This is her problem, not mine.”
Remember that judgmental people are not happy with themselves. Think about it. People who are happy with themselves and content with their lives want to lift other people up. Not criticize, bring them down, or try to make them feel badly about themselves.
Sometimes caring what others think is tied to being a judgmental person. In other words, you may think that others are judging you because that is what you do to others. So in your quest to not care what others think, it would also be helpful to examine your tendency to judge others.
Be honest with yourself. Do you have a tendency to judge others? You will be a happier person if you gain awareness of this and stop. Your judgment serves no purpose. You are likely to have difficulty not caring what others think if you continue to judge others. You unwittingly hurt yourself. Thoughts have energy, and when you judge with negativity, you attract more negativity into your life. You will see more and more of what you do not like in others, and this will not feel good. Also, when you negatively judge others, it is often related to feeling threatened by how your perceive yourself. So instead, look inward. What is your inclination to judge someone revealing about yourself? When you can learn to accept and embrace yourself as you are and increase self-love, you will likely decrease your judgment toward others. And the more you are able to decrease your judgment of others, the more you are able to move toward not caring what others think of you.
Here is a quick summary of some helpful steps toward reaching your goal of not caring what others think:
- Set your intention of the day. Explicitly tell yourself that your goal of the day is to not care what others think. Sounds corny, but when we set our intentions of the day, it helps keep them front and center.
- Keep a visual reminder. Use an inspirational quote on your phone. Use a photo that represents not caring what others think. I keep a picture of my father skiing in his clown wig in my wallet as my daily reminder. While I feel that I have finally achieved this, it is always possible to regress. I need this reminder.
- Examine your tendency to judge others. You will have an easier time not caring what others think if you are able to minimize your judgement of others. But awareness needs to come first, so be honest with yourself and takes steps to minimize your judgment. You will benefit from doing so.
- Part of not caring what others think involves not taking things personally. Read “The Four Agreements” for some wisdom in this area. It’s a tough one! But necessary.
- Appreciate others’ kind words, but be mindful not to attach this to your self-worth.
- Love yourself. Know your self-worth. Be impervious to the opinions of others that do not serve to help you learn and grow.
Do what makes your soul happy without giving a thought to what anyone thinks of you!
In addition to keeping a photo of my father in the clown wig in my wallet, I wear my Do What Makes Your Soul Happy Bracelet as a wearable reminder! http://peggysmidnightcreations.com/product/do-what-makes-your-soul-happy-bracelet/
Here is a suggestion for a parent-child bonding activity. I realized as I was working in my home office yesterday that one of my most treasured items is a framed letter that my father wrote me in 1984 when I was a teenager. The letter is about love and independence, and allowing me the freedom to be the teenager I was becoming. I thought that these days with computers, our children do not receive many handwritten letters from us. I leave my children handwritten sticky notes around the house, but this is not the same as a love letter that they can keep and frame, and treasure forever as I have with the one my father gave me.
So I thought that this would be a nice activity to share with my children, and to incorporate into a session of The MotherDaughter Connection, a group that I used to facilitate for girls in grades 5-9 with their mothers.
Here are some questions that can help you brainstorm some poignant sentiments to include in your letter. You can also make this a family activity, with your child making one for you as well.
Questions for parent to consider in letter to child:
- How did you feel the day your child came in to your life? If you were pregnant with him/her, how did you feel during the pregnancy? If he/she was adopted, how did you feel during the adoption period and anticipation of him/her becoming part of your family?
- What makes your child unique? What are his/her special talents, personality characteristics?
- What are your hopes for your child’s future?
- What is a special day that you shared that you will always remember?
- What is a daily or weekly activity that means so much to you?
- What little “quirk” of your child do you love?
- How would you describe your love and care for your child?
Questions for child to consider in letter to parent:
- What makes your mother/father unique? What are his/her special talents, personality characteristics?
- What does he/she do for you that makes you feel loved? Special?
- What parenting responsibility does he/she do for you that you might forget to thank him/her for?
- What are your hopes for your future relationship with your father/mother?
- What is a special day that you shared that you will always remember?
- What is a daily or weekly activity that you do together means so much to you?
- What little “quirk” of your father/mother do you love?
- How would you describe your love for your father/mother?
I loved this activity because not only did we share a special bonding activity together, but I love the idea that my children will have something special from me in my handwriting that they can keep through high school, college, their first apartment, and when they become parents.
When setting goals for 2019, don’t forget about your emotional and mental health! Make your/your family members’ mental health a priority. Set some concrete goals where your whole family can benefit. Here are six simple ideas:
- Less technology and social media…. Studies demonstrate a correlation between depression and the amount of time that teens (and adults!) spend on social media. Keep personal devices out of bedrooms, off the dinner table, and avoid use in the morning before school/work. Here are some additional suggestions regarding limiting screen time. http://220.127.116.11/~drpeggyd/six-suggestions-for-limiting-screen-time/
- Be still. Sit in a comfy chair and just breathe for five or ten minutes. Clear your head of your thoughts, particularly negative thoughts and to-do lists. Bring your focus back to your breath. This may feel funny at first and take some practice, but stick with it. The benefits are less stress and anxiety, and less emotional reactivity. And when you’ve mastered just breathing and clearing your mind of your thoughts, practice visualizing what you would like for your day, what you would like for your life. Then envision yourself already having it. If you would like some guidance and convincing regarding this powerful exercise for every day living, read “Into the Magic Shop” by James Doty.
- Get outside, and better yet, with others! Research demonstrated that walks in nature with others were associated with decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety, and an overall enhanced sense of well-being. Here is a relevant study – http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/10/18/ease-stress-and-improve-mental-health-with-group-nature-walks/
- Express appreciation every day. This can be formally, through a Gratitude Journal, or simply by telling others that you appreciate them, and what you appreciate about them. One study found that a simple way to improve a relationship was to express appreciation for that person. Here is an article about expressing appreciation in a relationship http://18.104.22.168/~drpeggyd/one-simple-way-to-improve-a-relationship/. and another article about ways of practicing gratitude http://22.214.171.124/~drpeggyd/one-simple-thing/
- More family dinners. Studies demonstrate that children who have regular family dinners have improved mental health and overall well-being (they also have improved grades and make better decisions regarding risky behavior). Here are some additional suggestions regarding making the most of family dinners. http://126.96.36.199/~drpeggyd/ten-ideas-to-make-the-most-of-family-dinners/
- Don’t be afraid to seek professional support! A recent study found that one in five children has or has had a debilitating mental health disorder. But you/your child do not need to have a mental health “problem” to seek support and advice. Just like we take our children for annual physical check-ups, mental health check-ups and check-ins are helpful as well, and sometimes can make all the difference in the world in a child’s overall sense of well-being. http://188.8.131.52/~drpeggyd/some-guidance-regarding-when-to-seek-mental-health-services/
Here are some of my favorite quotes about the power of giving:
“The law of giving is very simple. If you want joy, give joy. If love is what you seek, offer love. If you crave material affluence, help others become prosperous.” Deepak Chopra
“This is what life is about. It’s a chance to help and give to others.” Al Mitchell
“True happiness comes from the effort of making others happy. Give and share your love every day.” Tinku Razoria
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa
One of the best ways to feel better is to give to others. The benefit is twofold. Someone is benefiting from your kindness, time, and/or generosity, and you are left feeling better. In addition, doing for others helps take the focus off of our own sorrows. I don’t see this as “charity”, but rather an understanding that we all have struggles, and to give when you can to help make someone else’s day a little brighter. Your day will be brighter too.
Psychologists are now saying that “resilience is the new happiness”. And guess what boosts resilience? Giving to others! Studies have found that people who give to others have the highest levels of resilience. The giving need not be fancy nor elaborate, time-consuming nor expensive. Some simple examples are participating in a meal delivery for someone going through a difficult time, offering to drive a child for a busy mother who is juggling schedules, or donating to the local food pantry. The possibilities are endless!
Here are some benefits of giving and why it is helpful for our mental health
- Giving serves as a distraction from our own problems
Giving to others is a distraction from our own worries and concerns. When we focus on the needs of other people and connect with them, we are for that time distracted from the difficulties of our own lives. This is not to say that we should ignore our own problems. In fact, that is definitely something to avoid. Many times when people are focused on giving to others, they do not pay sufficient attention to their own problems. So make sure that you always come back to dealing with your own problems after helping someone else.
Helping other people makes us realize that we are not alone. We are not alone in the struggles of life. Everyone has something different that they are dealing with, but everyone is dealing with something. Often when we are giving to others, we are giving to someone we perceive as being in a more difficult situation than ourselves. That is all about perception. But that perception may help you feel better about your own difficult situation.
2. Giving to others helps to build social connections
When we give to others, we are connecting with other human beings. As human beings, we are wired to be social. These social connections help to fulfill a basic human need and boost our mood. We can also form social connections by being with other people we are giving with, further fostering connections. All of these connections help to build our social support network, and this network in turn helps with resilience. And the more resilient we are, the happier lives we live. Life is filled with problems, and we are able to bounce back and feel better when we are resilient.
A study at National Institutes of Health by Jorge Moll in 2006 found that helping others activates the region in the brain that is responsible for pleasure, trust, and social connection, leading to what may be referred to as the “helper’s high”.
3. Helping others reduces stress
Helping others also benefits with stress reduction, which in turn boosts physical health. In their study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology, Rachel Piferi and Kathleen Lawler found that people who gave to others had lower blood pressure, which is associated with lower stress levels.
4. Helping others fosters gratitude
One of the wonderful benefits of giving to others is that it helps foster gratitude. It helps us to be more grateful for what we have and everything that is going well in our lives. People who regularly give to others have higher levels of perceived happiness. Happiness expert Barbara Frederickson has discovered this finding in her research.
There are many different ways of giving
- Give time
Organize a food or clothing collection. Be a Big Brother or Big Sister. Mentor a young professional. Visit a senior center or Veteran’s Hospital. Volunteer as a Scout Leader or through a Parent Teacher Association. Serve on a township committee of interest to you.
One study found that people who volunteered more than once monthly, but less than once weekly, had were 12% more likely to report happiness than people who had not volunteered.
2. Give Resources
This does not need to be materialistic. If you have an area of knowledge or expertise, this can be shared with others. Share your knowledge or talent. Run a workshop at a local library. If you are an attorney, offer your knowledge to a domestic violence shelter or other agency. If you are a mental health professional, offer a free workshop in your community. If you are a landscaper, mow the lawn of someone who is ill or grieving. Give blood during a blood drive.
3. Give love and attention.
Visit the elderly in nursing homes. Visit a children’s hospital and read to children or play games. Sing at a Veteran’s hospital.
4. Give money or goods
Donate to a Go Fund Me page to a person needing help. Donate to the Red Cross after natural disaster.
Elizabeth Dunn and Lara Aknin (2008) found that people who spent more money on others rather than themselves had higher levels of happiness.
So how can you put this into meaningful action?
- Think about what brings you joy? What are you good at? How can you give to others while sharing your joy, knowledge or talent?
- Remember that it does not need to be something big or take huge amounts of time. Sometimes these thoughts are what prevent people from taking the first step. So keep it simple. You can always build upon it.
- Remember that there are so many different ways to give. Which feels best for you? You may not have much money to spare, you can give your time. Or maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed with the demands of your daily life, but you have money, you can provide a financial donation.
- Be mindful of not using giving to others as a distraction from dealing with your own problems. You can take a break from them, but don’t neglect them.
- Your way of giving is unique to you. You can give of your time, resources, knowledge, talent, attention, love, money, or goods. Do not compare yourself to how others are giving. Do what feels good for you.
So many people are struggling with sad/depressed mood, feelings of hopeless, lack of motivation, feelings of unworthiness, and loneliness. In my private practice, I have had the privilege of helping people in a private, comfortable space. I wanted to share some suggestions from research and practice in psychology related to coping skills for depression. While these suggestions do not cure depression, research has demonstrated that they are effective in elevating mood.
Any time you need a mood boost, try one of these things:
- Spend a time in gratitude and think about one person, object, relationship, or experience for which you are grateful. Research demonstrates that practicing gratitude not only helps elevate mood in the moment by focusing on what is GOOD and what is going RIGHT, but when practiced regularly, it has long-term positive effects and decreases symptoms of depression and anxiety. One study found that after just 21 days, people who were diagnosed with clinical depression reported significant elevations in their mood when using a gratitude journal. But two things need to happen. First, what you write down needs to be specific. In other words, instead of writing, “I am grateful for my friend”, write, “I am grateful for my friend because she is a wonderful listener. Second, write something different every day. This helps you retrain your brain by scanning the environment to see the good. This is the purpose of my Gratitude Bracelet. When you purchase that bracelet, it comes with a free 21 day Gratitude Journal with writing prompts.
- Think about one of your favorite experiences, remembering it in as much detail as possible, drawing upon all of your senses. Did you know that the brain cannot distinguish the difference between living an event and remembering an event??? How cool is that? That is why this is so powerful. The same neurotransmitters fire in your brain, resulting in elevated mood.
- Think about one person you can reach out to today to say thank you, give a compliment, or say, “I am thinking about you.” Make a phone call, send a text, write and email, or mail a card or letter. This is important because we are social beings, and social connectedness helps to foster happiness and fulfillment in life.
- Exercise. This is probably the most effective way of elevating mood. There are countless studies demonstrating the proven mental health benefits of exercise. Find something you enjoy doing, and make the time in your day to do it. The simplest is walking. For an instant mood boost, go for a walk in nature, and better yet, with a friend. Studies demonstrate that walking in nature with others is associated with less perceived stress and improved overall emotional well-being. What do you like to do? Walk, run, bike, hike, stretch, swim, yoga, spinning, dance? Find a group – Facebook, Meet Up, etc. Put it on your calendar and keep it like it is an appointment.
- Do not compare yourself to others. Comparing yourself to others is the quickest way to zap your happiness. You may be so happy with your belongings, your achievements, your successes, and as soon as you compare yourself to someone you perceive as having/being/doing more, your joy is zapped. In an instant. Just like that. Gone. Remember the saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy”. It is SO true. Instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on yourself and your own goals. Remember that if you have a tendency to compare yourself to others, social media exacerbates this. Pay attention to how you feel after being on social media. Most people feel better when they limit their usage.
- Hope. When all else fails, hope. And there will be days when hope is all you have left. Hope for better days ahead, hope for less emotional or physical pain, hope after lost love. The healing power of hope cannot be underestimated. I love the saying, “When the world says, ‘Give up’, Hope whispers, ‘Try one more time.’”
I have designed a special bracelet for coping with depression. It comes in an organza pouch, with the first three of these suggestions listed on the inspirational/instructional enclosed card.
If you or anyone you know is in need of mental health support, here are some resources:
Please feel free to share with anyone you know who could use this information.
Mental health matters.