What do you tell your children when faced with life style changes?

What to say to your child when you are facing life-style changes:

  1. Listen attentively. Their real concerns may not be what you think.  move7Children are most concerned with aspects of change that affect them directly, like changing schools or after-school activities or friends. They may care very little who’s fault the change was or how upset the adults are unless they are pulled into taking sides.
  2. Domove8n’t try to talk them out of their feelings right away. It makes children feel you can’t handle seeing them upset and they will  try to “protect” you by not sharing with you how they really feel in the future. Validate and paraphrase back what they say to you. Go easy on the evidence about why they should feel differently or want something you can’t give them.
  3. Speak move3often about your own gratitude, even if you are also worried about financial changes. It’s okay to hold more than one feeling at a time. Children can benefit from having adults model that ambivalent feelings (feeling opposite emotions) are okay and do not need to be minimized or invalidated.
  4. Find ways to help children learn to give to others (volunteer, give to the homeless, help another child at school, etc.). Volunteering is one of the best ways to help children build good self-esteem,
  5. Tell stories of difficult times you have overcome in your life. Children love to hear move5stories about parents and grandparents’ childhoods, as long as they are not given as examples to shame or humiliate them (i.e., “I walked two miles to school in the snow and you shouldn’t complain about…”). Share your stories of courage and family ties.
  6. This is the time to convey your spiritual values. Let your child know how you view the bigger picture. Do you believe you are guided? Provided for? Not alone? There are lessons and empowerment to be had?change
  7. State often and out loud the upside of the changes (i.e., We’ll have more time together. We’ll have a park nearby. We’ll get to see your cousins more often. etc.)
  8. If children see you upset, let them know it is okay to feel scared, sad, angry, etc. AND let tmove4hem know that you can “handle” it.
  9. Try hard not to compare (how things were, what others have, what you could be doing, how their siblings or cousins are doing things better, etc.).
  10. Be honest if something they want is not currently in the budget. Don’t shame them for having desires and wishes. And don’t make them responsible if you have to say “no”. Teach them you are strong enough to respect that they have age appropriate hopes and dreams and your saying “no” or “not now” is not their fault. Help them set up a long-term plan to get what they want.
  11. Celebrate. Demonstrate joy. Have special acknowledgments for their accomplishments (They get to choose what’s for dessert. They get to eat on a special plate. Decorate their chair with their clothes and a cut out drawing of their face. Have a picnic outside in their honor.)
  12. Keep some of their activmove2ities the same. With most changes there are a few things that can remain the same.
  13. Help them keep a journal of their feelings and the changes they are facing. Be their scribe and write down their ideas at the end of the day. Help them cut out pictures from magazines and create a collage journal. Let them draw pictures of their feelings and daily events.
  14. Take care of your own feelings. Don’t make children responsible to be your sounding board, or blame them for making you feel stressed. Don’t vent to them about whoever you believe to be at “fault”. Let children be children. Making child en an adult’s emotional peers robs them of the innocence and protection of childhood. Vent to adult friends or in support groups or to a therapist.
  15. Forgive yourself. In every decision, you have done the best you could see to do at the time. Looking backwards we may see many other alternatives, but at the moment of decisions you did the best you could see to do at the time. move6


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Building Resiliency in a Child of Divorce (6)

It’s normal for your child to want their parents to get back together.

One of the hardest things for a parent to hear is a child begging for their parents to safe kidreconcile. Some children do this subtly such as drawing pictures of the family back together, or maneuvering both parents to linger during exchanges, or sit together at sporting events. Other children are much more active in perusing their wish such as trying to hold both parents’ hands at once or pitching arguments about why the family should reunite.

The first thing to remember is that this is a very normal wish for children of divorce. It’s convenient to have the two adults they love the most under one roof. They don’t want to see the parents they love sad, angry or lonely. Children are dependent on the adults in their lives. They want to feel safe and having both parents readily available means feeling safe.

Children look through the eyes of innocence and they can only see events as they relate to themselves. There is nothing wrong with this. Kids are immature. That’s the definition of childhood. Your child wishing you were back together with their other parent is a statement made from their perspective.

Be kind in responding to these wishes. Make sure you indicate that they are completely normal and that all children with divorced parents wish that their parents could somehow get back together. Don’t give reasons for the divorce that put the other parent down. Don’t explain the divorce in ways that shame the child’s wishes or indicate you expect your child to put your welfare ahead of their wants.

Be accepting and kind. Let your child know whenever they have wants or wishes they can come to you and discuss them. This does not mean you accommodate their wishes and wants. It means that you help them build self-esteem by having words for their internal state and can identify how they feel and what they want.change

If your child feels emotionally safe sharing impossible dreams with you and knows you will accept them and not make them responsible for your hurt or shocked feelings, then you up the odds of your child sharing other difficult topics in the future. If you scold your child for wanting something that caused you so much pain they will learn to keep their wishes and hopes to themselves. Open communication is the most safety you can create for your child.

In accepting that most children want their parents back together again you are not telling your child that this is going to happen. You can compassionately say, “That’s a very normal thing to wish for, but parents don’t get back together after divorce. But whenever you are sad or wishing that could happen, I’m always here to talk to.”

Making it safe for your child to talk about things that are unlikely to happen is an important part of building resiliency. Having a wish list of things they want to accomplish, setting high standards for themselves, aiming for high goals are all outcropping s of children who believe it is okay to dream and reach for the stars. If only very reasonable wishes are entertained and discussed with respect, a child learns to be mediocre and never push beyond what is likely in life.

Handle your own feelings of discomfort when your child asks for something you can’t accommodate. Learn to cope with feelings of helplessness. Many of the painful challenges of childhood are unavoidable. It’s what a parent and the child do next that matter. TalkingFather homeworkwith care and concern, praising courage and being curious about feelings builds self-confidence and resiliency.

Don’t get defensive and try to make children only wish for things you can give them. Let them see you be strong and accept things that you cannot change and stand by your commitments of the things you feel strongly about. You do not have to bend every time someone is unhappy with your decision and you don’t have to explain yourself. Show your child what resiliency looks like.

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Building Resiliency in a Child of Divorce (5)

Let Your Child Know However They Respond is Okay.

Every child is an individual. No matter how well you know your child they may still surprise you during times of challenge and change. Children who are hyper-responsible, self-motivated and natural caregivers may become more of these, or they may regress and require more nurturing and attention. Children who have always been a bit high-need and sibrivalryrequired more help with homework and chores may try to help out more, or more likely, they will seem less responsible, more distracted and need extra prompting and time to complete tasks (even seemingly simple ones like getting into the car to leave for school).

Children’s reactions to hearing about your divorce may also change day to day or week to week. The more you can be fully present and engage with your child where they are each day, the more connected they will feel.

Some children will want to talk a lot about how they feel, ask questions about what’s going to happen and reveal what they want and hope will happen in the future. Other kids will be reluctant to chat about the changes in the family. They may try to avoid the topic or change the conversation to something more mundane and safe. Both of these reactions may be normal

It is important to say positive things about how you and others react to the changes you are facing. If you express judgement about the acceptance or anger of relatives, you may be telling your child how to act. If you say complimentary things about how you are handling your divorce you are giving your child permission to express their feelings.

If you don’t feel like talking, say that and give a time when you will be available to discuss what your child wants to talk about. If you are experiencing intense emotions, let your child know you are attending a divorce support group or individual therapy. If you are spending time with supportive friends or carving out extra time just to be alone to rejuvenate compliment yourself out loud around your kids.

When I see children for therapy in my office I let them lead the conversation with topics Teen introvertthey wish to chat about. Sometimes it’s friend issues at school, or with a coach, or with homework. Children often talk about their feelings in indirect ways. If you only listen to see if the facts they are telling you are true, or are judging to see if what they are talking about is what you think is their most pressing issue, you may miss the most important things they are trying to tell you.

Spend time with your child doing activities like tanking walks, riding bikes or cooking together and leave quiet spaces in the exchanges for them to bring up topics. Let your child set the pace. Let them talk as much or as little as they are comfortable. Let them stop whenever they indicate they want to change the topic or wish to be quiet. The less you pressure your child the more comfortable they will be discussing difficult topics in the future. They don’t need to have everything sorted out immediately. The meaning of the divorce and a child’s feeings about it will change over time. All the many implications and potential changes in the family will dawn on children over a period of time. Be patient, a child is processing a lot of information with an immature perspective. Be patient and let their concerns come out as they are comfortable.

Temperament plays a large part in how people process changes and loss. If your child is more extroverted they many want to talk a lot, even redundantly about many aspects of the divorce. If your child is more introverted, he/she may only ask a couple questions and Kindergarten2appear to be satisfied with this amount of information. Try not to impose your own temperament preferences on your child. If your child is more comfortable with texting or other brief forms of writing, use them to communicate. Even if you are less comfortable with digital communication try to keep an open mind. You will have more opportunity to understand what your child’s real concerns are and more chances to show you are listening if you exchange information in a form they use with their friends.

Provide art materials for processing emotions like magazines for collages, altered books, or sculptures. Be curious but not prodding. Sometimes children don’t have the right words to express what’s going on with them. Let their art say what they may not be able to articulate.

Don’t scold or harass your child if they aren’t discussing the topics you think they should be sharing. Don’t ask them about routines or discipline at the other household. Anything that might sound like interrogation will shut down their sharing with you and you will be viewed as pressuring them to give up dirt on their other parent to be used against the other parent. Most children will shut down if pushed to “tell” on a parent.

Handle your own stress. Build in extra time between activities so you are not rushed to get to scheduled appointments and school.  At the end of the days when your child is with you, eat meals together without the television, computer of cell phones. Take turns going move7around the table saying what good things happened that day and what you each were proud of. If your child is hesitant, give them an opportunity and let them know they can change their mind if the wish.

Don’t compare how much or how little your child is talking about their feelings or reactions to the divorce with how you imagine they should be talking or how your friend’s child is talking to them. Your child is unique. Their response will be their own. Don’t put expectations on them. Don’t give them the message that they’re disappointed with how they show their feelings. Let them be children and don’t pressure them into being more mature than they feel comfortable being.

If you are afraid that your child is too emotional and distracted from homework and peer relationships or is too closed-up and may be depressed, have them evaluated by a professional. Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t assume any one particular exchange is the last one you’ll have on a particular topic. You’ll have many chances over the years to revisit unresolved concerns your child may have.

Remember, setting the tone that you are available and you care, are more important than having perfect answers for every question and resolving every uncomfortable feeling. You are encouraging resiliency, not a perfect childhood.

Dr. Lois Nightingale

Psychologist Psy 9507

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Building Resiliency in a Child of Divorce (4)

Listen Quietly

We don’t listen very well in our culture. We watch people talk over each other on talk shows, movies, TV episodes even our news casters don’t wait for the other one to take a breath before jumping in with a new idea. We have very few examples of real listening in

TV stationour adult lives.

To make the issues even more complicated, most adults who work with our children have assigned a strange meaning to the word “Listen.” If you sit in on your child’s classroom, scout meeting, or sport’s practice, you’ll hear the adult in charge say “listen” when they mean “obey.”

Active listening is a special type of listening that increases the connection between the speaker and listener. Active listening includes getting down to eye level with your child and paraphrasing back what they just said. Rephrasing what you heard doesn’t include trying to fix or change the child’s perspective or emotional state. Active listening is only focused on conveying that you really understand what they are saying, and you get how they are feeling at that moment.

Leading with curiosity, without trying to educate or teach, can go a long way toward helping a child really feel heard and cared for.

It can be hard to hear your child express emotional pain or watch them struggle with anger or sadness. If you jump in right away and try to make them feel better (ie. change how they

USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Portrait of boy (4-5) sticking fingers in his ears

are feeling) even if you mean well and want to show them that you love them, you may be sensing messages like:

“I don’t think you can handle your feelings.”

“I don’t think you can figure this out.”

“I see you as a victim and in need of rescuing.”

“I can’t handle watching you in pain or experiencing such strong emotions.”

”Don’t show me that you feel bad.”

“Don’t’ have uncomfortable feelings when you’re with me.”

“Expressing strong feelings during times of transition is a weakness.”

“Just act like things don’t bother you.”

“”You’re responsible for my comfort.”

“Calm down so I don’t feel anxious, guilty or embarrassed.”


Waiting a little bit, while really paying attention, is more likely to be felt as comforting to a child. Not interrupting or giving quick-fix answers conveys that you see your child as strong and resilient. You believe that they have the ability to self-reflect and self-soothe. You trust that they’ll find the words to share what’s going on inside of themselves. Pausing for a few minutes before you attempt to reassure them is a powerful statement.

Make sure when you are listening that you are fully present. Close your phone or tablet, turn off the TV, shut your book. Children rarely share their feelings at convenient times. Kid and phoneParents may need to take a break from some other activity when the opportunity to hear children shows up.

Not all children need to talk a lot. Some children share their feelings by talking about events and stories. If a parent isn’t paying attention they may miss what a child is really trying to say.

One in four children are introverted (some families have more or less). Introverts do not have the same need as extroverts to process everything out loud. An introverted child may feel shammed or belittles if held to an extrovert’s standards. If your child is on the introverted side, go for walks, spend unhurried time in nature. Don’t interrupt. An introvert will often interpret an interruption as disinterest in what they are talking about. Many times an introvert will communicate better in writing or texting than verbally face to face. There is nothing wrong with this. If fact, teaching an introverted child that how they communicate is acceptable can build self-confidence and give them skills for the rest of their life.

Children who are Highly Sensitive, or make their best decisions on their emotions may experience deep feelings during family changes. Even if these traits are significantly different than your own, do your best to not criticize them. Educate yourself so you can use a vocabulary to help children express these strong feelings in words. The better vocabulary for emotions a Highly Sensitive Child or a Feeling child has, the more tools they will have to cope with their feelings.

It is okay to reassure your child and help them focus on the positive. It isn’t okay to use the Teen introvertother parent or other household as contrast. Don’t compare households. Focus on what you and your child can do in your own home to help them learn ways to handle feelings.

“Why are you feeling that way,” is not a good question. It is likely to sound like “Explain yourself. Prove you have a right to feel that way.”

Better questions are, “What happened before that?” “What ideas do you have to help yourself feel better?”

Don’t ask questions than insinuate your child can change other people. “Why don’t you just tell them how you feel?” “Are you going to stick up for yourself?” “Just tell them you’re Mom hushingnot going to go.” None of us can change other people. The divorce itself is proof of that. The only people we can change is ourselves. When a parent listens (or reads messages in the case of an introverted child) and indicates they really understand a child will often find answers on their own.

Don’t be in a hurry to fix how your child feels. Build in a little space between the time a child shows how they feel and your reassurance and problem solving. Show that you care, and that you believe they are resilient and smart.

Dr. Lois V. Nightingale, Psychologist PSY9503


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9 Ways to Teach Children Tolerance in a Fearful World

Brilliant Star Magazine, Parents and Teachers section.



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Building Resiliency in a Child of Divorce (3)

Let Children Know the Divorce is not Their Fault

 It may seem obvious to the adults involved, but a divorce is never a child’s fault. Children have little control over their lives. They depend on their parents and care takers for everything. They don’t have much choice about their daily lives.  This fact makes children very sensitive to anything that may disappoint or upset the adults who care for them. When a parent is upset, often the first thing a child thinks is, “What did I do?” or “What teendid I forget to do?”

Because this process is natural in children, it is very important that parents remind children that adults are always responsible for their own feelings (don’t say things like “You made me mad,” or “You’ll make me happy if you…”). If you notice your child trying to take responsibility for your emotions (“What can I do to make you not sad?” “What can I do to make you happy?” etc.) make sure you state clearly and directly “I am sad, but I’m handling it,” or “Thank you for caring about me, but my feelings will change, and I’ll be okay in a little bit.” Don’t say things that indicate your child is responsible for your decisions or behaviors (“I wouldn’t have done that if you’d only….” “See what you made me do? etc.) Children take what you say literally.

When problems show up in families children often blame themselves. Kids would prefer to feel guilty rather than to feel helpless. Tell children that the divorce is not their fault. As a parent you can say this directly, but also take other opportunities to remind children that divorce is always an adult issue. For instance if your child tells you the parents of a kid at school are getting divorced, recap to your child that the divorce is not their friend’s fault. If you’re watching a TV show with your child and the topic of divorce is portrayed, again use the story to point out that divorce is never a child’s fault.

As children get older their theories of why the divorce might be their fault change. A five year-old might believe their parents are splitting up because they were mean to a sibling. A ten year-old might think their parents got divorced because of the stress caused by him/her not doing homework. A teen might believe they caused their parents to fight and decide the marriage wasn’t worth the trouble, because of their acting out or defiant counselingbehavior. Because this list goes on and on as kids mature, it is good for parents to periodically bring up the topic that children can never cause a divorce. All families have stress. All families face unexpected issues.  All families have to find ways of problem solving. All families do the best they can. And in all families affected by divorce, the decision to divorce is never a child’s responsibility or fault.

If your child tends to take responsibility for things beyond his/her control, help them find other ways to feel a sense of power. Volunteering, tutoring, coaching and helping others can show a child that they have an impact is other areas of life. Feeling like they make a difference builds self-esteem. Children have no impact on major adult decisions. Adults are responsible for their decisions and their own emotions. But children can have an impact in many other areas of their lives such as sports, grades, hobbies, music, etc. Help your child find ways to feel like they matter and have a beneficial impact in the lives of others.

Use words that indicate you are taking responsibility for your own emotions.

Don’t use words or phrases that portray yourself as a victim. When children believe a parent is victimized they want to protect the parent, rather than feeling protected by the anxiety4parent. This robs a child of the innocence and safety of childhood. A child that “grows up too fast” faces many difficult challenges. Children need the safety and simplicity of childhood for healthy neurological and social development. Children need to play, pretend, create and not develop anxiety by anticipating danger.

Give children the freedom to live in the moment and obtain developmental skills that are age-appropriate. Anxiety and worrying about being responsible for a parent’s emotions rushes a child through essential developmental tasks, with poor results. Children who have focused on making a parent feel better, or who feel guilty for the breakup of the family become codependent adults and gravitate to partners they believe they can save or fix. Codependency is a significant cause of depression and anxiety in adults. Give your child the gift of a playful childhood. Let them know adults are always responsible for their own feelings, decisions and behaviors.

Give yourself credit out loud for the things you do to feel better. Grieving is a long process, being respectful of grief includes embracing your sadness and using coping skills to work through it and come out the other side stronger than you were before.

Compliment yourself for actions you take to make the world a better place. Model for your anxiety3children how to take personal responsibility for and your choices, your emotions, and how to express these feelings to others. Show your child that you are responsible for your own happiness. If you use victim statements, don’t be surprised if your child picks them up. (Kids mimic adults, but in immature and unpolished ways.)

Say the things about your life that you want your child to say about their life. Live in gratitude and awe. When the waves of grief hit, know you have tools to ride out the waves. When unexpected sadness climbs out of some hidden pocket, know that you have skills to address it and not make others responsible for it. Children learn resiliency by watching the Self-improvement2adults they admire be resilient. Resiliency is not about being stoic and unaffected. Resiliency is acknowledging vulnerable feelings while demonstrating how to be personally responsible for them.

Dr. Lois V. Nightingale, Psychologist 9503


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Building Resiliency in a Child of Divorce (2)

Tell the Truth

Parents set precedents during a time of crisis. If you lie or deny the truth to your childrenparenting2 during a divorce, you may be indirectly instructing them to hide their later adolescent mishaps from you. If lying to make oneself look good is the unspoken rule in your household, children will follow suit when they experience things that are hard to talk about. Being open and honest, but revealing only what a child can handle is a difficult task.

Telling the truth to kids does not mean sharing with them everything you would tell your friends or your parents. Children not only need to trust that you won’t lie to them but they need to trust that you will remain the adult and protect them from issues that aren’t age-appropriate. Many adult concerns and topics place undue stress on children and distract them from the concerns they should be focused on like homework and healthy peer relationships.

“No, we’re never going to get divorced,” “Mom’s just away on business, she’ll be back,” “Dad’s visiting his family for a little while, there’s nothing to worry about,” are lies that will lead to a child’s mistrust.

“I’m not sure what we’re going to do, we’re taking a time out right now,” “We’re having a hard time living together so I’m moving out.” “I know it’s confusing. We’re a bit confused too, but wherever you are there will always be someone to love you and take care of you,” “I care about your questions and I’ll answer them the best I can,” are all honest answers, yet said in ways that are suitable for a child to hear.

Children may ask many questions. Most of the questions children ask about divorce don’t mean the same thing they would mean if an adult asked them. For instance, “Does the new house have a yard?” when asked by an adult might be an inquiry as to the affluence of the neighborhood, or a comparison to the home you’re leaving. A child asking the same move3question, may be really asking about being able to take their dog to the new residence. An adult asking, “Who wanted the divorce?” might be trying to figure out whose side to take. A child asking the same question may be revealing terror that one parent will abandon them.

It’s a good idea to respond to children’s questions with a bit of curiosity before giving an answer. Don’t assume they’re asking what you think they are asking at first. I’ve seen far too many parents respond with defensiveness and frustration to children’s questions, when a child was only asking for the reassurance that they were loved and safe.

The details of your adult relationship issues shouldn’t be shared with your children. Issues about sex and money are certainly none of a child’s business. Concerns about addictions may be shared at an age appropriate level. There are many 12 step programs such as Alateen, Prealateen and Alatot, where children can learn about the disease of addiction and how it can affect a family.

If you share the dirty details about what pulled your marriage apart with your children, you’re making them your emotional peers and robbing them of their childhood. It’s normal to want to vent about the person who betrayed your trust and shattered your dreams of growing old together, but share your anger and devastation with other adults, a support group or a therapist, never with your children.

Appropriate (and truthful) answers to “Why are you and mom (dad) getting divorced?” include: “We’ve decided we fight too much when we’re together,” “We can’t figure out how to get along living in one house,” “It has nothing to do with anything you or your siblings did or didn’t do, these are adult problems,” “We see the specific reasons that we’re getting divorced differently, but we both will always love you and take care of you,” “It’s very complicated, but I always want to know how you’re feeling and what your concerns are.move4 I’m always going to love you.”

It may be tempting to defend yourself to a child who quotes the other parent’s accusations, but do your best to resist the temptation. If you explain how the other parent isn’t telling the truth about you, then you’re putting your child in the middle and making them choose who’s telling them the truth. Defending yourself may seem “fair’ and “justified,” but anytime a child is put in a position to have to make one parent wrong, they lose out on self-esteem and feeling proud of who they are.

A child knows they have two parents and that they are part of these two people. These two important people will never be replaced in a child’s life. Kids draw their own identities from these two key authority figures. If one parent is “bad” or “broken” a child learns he/she is half “bad or “broken.”

Tell your child things that are true, but never things that put down the other half of their identity. Tell your child honest statements, but make sure they are age-appropriate and are vague enough for children to be able to ask about what they are really concerned about. move2Remember, the ending of a marriage is very complex. The issues have probably been building for years. You yourself may not even be aware of all the underlying causes of the break up until many years later, and with much reflection. Stay focused on reassuring your child, not on getting them to take your side against their other parent.

Dr. Lois V Nightingale, Psychologist PSY9503


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Talking to Your Kids about Politics

As the election nears, children may be exposed to the escalating political climate. Many Debate-stage-parents have asked me what to say to their children about the current intense political scene.

Putting politics into terms children can understand goes a long way toward helping them understand the democratic process and take a healthy interest in what’s happening. A simple example can convey a lot.


Every year when my cousin (also a Dr. Nightingale) and I were kids, we went to summer camp together. We were born two months apart and were even delivered in the same hospital. We grew up close and competitive.

At Pine Springs Ranch, each cabin of campers got to choose what merit badge they wanted to earn for the week. The badge was earned by the whole cabin participating in a daily activity and concluded with each of us getting an embroidered patch. Which patch we worked for was decided democratically, we all voted on it.

My cousin was an avid equestrian and loved riding. I loved swimming and the freedom of the water. At the beginning of each week, inside our beige-pink cabin “Chippewa,” we’d gather the girls around the wooden bunks.

“It’s going to be really hot this week,” I’d say. “I’m so glad we can go swimming.”

“The horse stables are closer than the pool,” My cousin would chime in.

The wide eyed, homesick girls watched us up on our two top bunks. We’d called dibs on them by unrolling our green sleeping bags out before any of the other girls arrived. We both sat crossed legged in matching culottes and pretend to search through the stashes of candy we’d each brought. Daddy Longleg spiders tiptoed up the walls. A lizard tail from some lucky reptile would be wedged between the slats on the wood floor.

“We’ll have to groom and brush horses,” I’d groan. “so we won’t get to ride much, bor-ing.”kids-riding

“At least we wouldn’t have to hike to the other end of camp before we had any fun,” she’d retort. “And there’s something to do while you’re waiting your turn.”

I’d unwrap a Root Beer Barrel and she’d open an Abba-Zaba bar. And then we’d call for a vote. One of us usually called for a re-vote after the candy was distributed.

Some weeks we went swimming and some weeks we rode horses and did barrel racing. Summer camp was always fun, and even if one of us didn’t get our first choice at the merit badge activity, there were many other adventurous things to do each day.


We are so fortunate to live in a country where we get to not only vote but we have freedom of speech and the press to discuss and share our different ideas. This is a precious privilege that much of the world doesn’t get to enjoy. Share a story with your child about competition, values, wishes and a fair vote that may or may not lead to what each individual wanted.

Talk to your children about the history of democracy  and how a democracy is different Decloration kidfrom a monarchy, oligarchy, or theocracy, how communism differs from socialism, and what the constitution says about protecting our freedom. Help your child feel proud to live in a democracy, not to be afraid of their future and differing perspectives.

It is great to care about who the leaders of your country are. It’s patriotic to participate in campaigns and fund raising. Just be aware that when parents have strong opinions, what kids hear and how they interpret what they hear, may not be what parents expect. The most important ways children learn are by watching what’s modeled by those around them. Sometimes parents aren’t demonstrating exactly what they think they are.

When a child sees expressions of anger in the adults around them, they interpret these actions to mean there’s something to be afraid of. Anger and rage are always secondary emotions to fear. We exhibit anger when we don’t feel safe. Anger is protective. We only need protection when there is danger. A parent can help a child understand this by asking Parentingabout times at school, or at sporting events with friends, when another child looked angry when they were really afraid. (Such as yelling and stomping off the field when they were afraid of being embarrassed, being benched or losing their position.)

When discussing ideals and values with your child try to explain what you are going toward rather than what you want to avoid. Children will be less afraid of statements like, “I want us to take care of our soldiers, they fight so bravely for our county,” rather than a fear-based statement like, “I want us to be able to fight off enemies that might attack us.”

Children see adults as strong and calm when the grown-ups talk about perusing positive dreams. Adults who rail against danger look scary and anxious. For instance, “I don’t want any women-hating politicians blocking women’s right to health care,” sounds scary. “I will parenting2always vote for women to have complete heath care for all their needs,” sounds strong. Talk about your beliefs by saying what you do want, not by talking about what you are afraid of and don’t want.

When a child asks you if something a candidate or announcer says is true, it is a great opportunity to teach them how to check out things for themselves and not just accept repeated statements as necessarily true. (Learning to question things for themselves, may one day keep your teenager safe from the whims of an impulsive peer.) Objective research sites such as Snopes, Pulitzer Prize winning Politifact, FactCheck, FactChecker, Truth Or Fiction are easy to search, and besides confirming or disproving statements, you can find the sources of facts or hoaxes as well.  Teach your child to be curious and to be willing to do the work of investigation, rather than just accepting what he/she is told.

Take advantage of your children’s curiosity and teach them skills that will serve them for Decloration of Ithe rest of their lives. Demonstrate courage, integrity, gratitude and tolerance for differences. We are blessed to be Americans.

Dr. Lois V. Nightingale, Psychologist PSY9503


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Building Resiliency in a Child of Divorce (1)


It’s no secret that in human history, no one’s ever had a perfect childhood. Of course, some are better than others, but no one ever had a childhood without mishap or disappointment. Some families defined themselves as victims by these unexpected detours, others labeled themselves as tough and strong because these unfortunate events were the fire that tempered their resiliency.

Families since the beginning of recorded time have faced financial upset and scarcity. Families have faced pressures from extended family and society. Families have faced limitations from physical or mental health issues. Families have faced unfair and unexpected losses, betrayals and addictions.

Married parents haven’t always lived together either. Over the centuries military action, staggered immigration, jobs that required extended time away from home (royal family windstarcaptainobligations, for a few) even political incarcerations have kept children from having constant access to both parents. These separating situations may have not been ideal, but children in these situations often became more independent and gained a greater sense of purpose than their peers.

Most children today, whether from divorced or intact families, don’t face the real threats of the past. Children don’t have high infant mortality rates, don’t have to drop out of school to work to help provide for the family, and don’t have to learn a new language and the customs of a new country to survive. Most of our kids have clean water, hot water for bathing and cleaning, climate control, and more choices in food and entertainment than any previous generation. They can have their questions answered in seconds, they have more access to information, academic help, and career options than their ancestors.

Unfortunately, kids living in one household or two are also suffering from more anxiety, truant 6depression, feelings of alienation and purposelessness than ever before. But there are many things a parent, especially a single parent, can do to protect children from these trends. Resiliency is the strength and flexibility to get through difficult times and come out on the other side even stronger.

Forty years ago researchers out of Stanford and Cornell Universities conducted much-repeated studies with preschoolers. They found that one fifteen-minute test with a marshmallow could predict behavior decades later when the kids were adults.

Here’s how it went. A researcher placed a large marshmallow in front of the child and then told them they could eat it whenever they liked, but if they waited fifteen minutes to eat it, they could have a second one too.

The kids that waited and demonstrated delayed gratification to earn the second treat, used

Kiki Honey Mei Lett three and three quarters eye's up a Marshmallow at her home in Tottenham london photo vicki couchman

many creative strategies to cope with their frustration. Some covered the marshmallow with a tented book, others went somewhere in the room where they couldn’t see the temptation. Some kids gave themselves pep talks and some sang songs to distract themselves.

Waiting for a high fructose corn syrup treat may seem silly and simple, but the results were anything but silly and simple. The children who were able to wait and earn the second marshmallow had higher SAT scores, lower incidences of addiction and obesity, better reactions to life-stress, better social skills and generally better scores in a range of other measures of dealing with life. The kids that found coping skills for their frustration, and found the ability to delay having what they wanted, did better in many areas of adult life. These studies have been repeated many times in numerous countries, and the results continue to support and expand on the original findings.

There are many potential obstacles in childhood; illnesses, accidents, disabilities, sibling rivalry, inappropriate relatives, bullying, peer issues after a move, and all types of fears and disappointments. But I find parents have a unique terror of permanently damaging their children with the trauma of divorce. Somehow divorce seems more volitional or avoidable. In 30 plus years practicing as a therapist, I have never seen the path of divorce be “the easy way out.” Whoever said that, never experienced divorce themselves, nor watched a loved one break up a household. Divorce is a complicated and messy event. Everyone feels the pain, some hide it better than others. But just like any other tragedy a child may face, learning coping skills to live in a divorced family can build self-confidence and resiliency.

I encourage divorced parents to handle the fall-out from a divorce the same way they would any other devastating event that might disrupt their vision of a perfect childhood. Teach your child what they can count on during challenging times. Model how to trust depressiononeself when the future is unsure. Demonstrate how to take personal responsibility for your own uncomfortable feelings. Exhibit the ways you self-nurture by exercising, eating healthy, having good sleep habits, spending time with positive friends, developing hobbies and expressing gratitude for your life. Take your children with you when you volunteer and give back to your community. Let them watch you make plans and follow through, no matter what the other parent is doing. Talk to them about how you expand your own knowledge by reading and attending enlightening events. Talk about your feelings, but never make them anyone else’s responsibility but your own. Share the ways you are responsible for your own feelings by creative outlets, participating in a sport, journaling, seeking therapy or joining a divorce recovery group. Let your children see resiliency in action. They will do as you do, not as you say.

In the following blog posts I will outline ways parents can minimize the possibility of traumatizing children and optimize the opportunities of building resiliency and a sense of self-confidence and developing a sense of purpose in their adult lives.

Dr. Lois V Nightingale, PhD Psychologist Psy 9503



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Eat Healthier a Little Bite at a Time

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I have found over the past thirty years of treating clients that diet strongly affects mood and emotional health.

Even when clients are motivated to improve their diets, many of them are so accustomed to fast food, stuck in bad habits, or just very busy with little time to shop, wash, cut, dice and cook that they feel overwhelmed and never venture out to new ways of eating. Many of them have never been given the chance to acquire a taste for a wide variety of produce and attractive delicious food picked from nature.

I encourage anyone who wants eat healthier to find fun efficient ways to add better choice2016-01-28 19.48.30s into their daily lives.

A few easy tips:

Start by adding more water into your diet. Staying hydrated helps curb hunger and can increase metabolism. Add fruit (strawberries, pineapple slices, mint or watermelon chunks) to a pitcher of filtered or sparkling water to flavor it.

Add in more of whatever fruits and vegetables you already eat. If you like apples or grapes keep them washed and out on your kitchen counter where you can grab them. If you like tomatoes, avocados or onions on your sandwiches, add in more. Make healthy swaps for less healthy food.

Smoothies are also a yummy way to begin eating more fresh produce. There are many easy recipes available. Experiment, be creative and write down combinations of frozen fruit, chopped vegetables and protein powders you like. There are many YouTube videos to spark your ideas. Many smoothies can be made to taste like ice cream or your favorite frozen dessert. They are a great way to get kids to eat more produce or eat a quick breakfast before school.

Plant vegetables in gardening pots. Vegetables are more delicious when you grow them yourself. Plant basil and tomatoes for Caprese salads or pasta sauce. Plant radishes and carrots for a quick crop to pick.        IMG_4450

Watch videos for ideas of quick sweet and healthy snacks. Easy recipes are available at One Green Planet as well.

Try out new restaurants that specialize in beautiful and whole food dishes. You will get great ideas by enjoying what the expert chefs prepare just fir you. Make a date with someone you want to grow healthy with. Native Foods, Seasons Fifty-two, True Food Kitchen, Veggie Grill, Rutabegorz, Green 2 Go, 

Here’s to a healthier you!

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When is Your Senior Loved One Unsafe to Drive?

Driving is one activity that we associate with freedom and autonomy. While most people attained their drivers licenses as adolescents, many aging adults think of driving as a right rather than a privilege. The task of convincing an aging parent or grandparent to retire their license to freedom when they are no longer safe on the road, often falls to their adult children and grandchildren. Rarely is this an easy conversation. But if it becomes necessary, one that can be managed with dignity and respect. 2016-01-22 07.56.50

What to ask yourself:

The first step before beginning the conversation with your elderly loved one is to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How comfortable am I driving with them?
  2. Does my loved one exhibit delayed responses to unexpected situations?
  3. Does my loved one incorrectly signal while driving?
  4. Do I find ways to avoid being a passenger when they drive?
  5. Are there new scrapes or dents on their car, garage or mailbox?
  6. Are they using a “copilot” when they drive?
  7. Am I avoiding the conversation about not driving anymore because I don’t want to upset them?
  8. Am I worried about how they will get to the grocery store and to appointments?

What to ask your loved one:

Sometimes bringing up specific problems may lead to the unsafe driver voluntarily retiring their drivers license.

  1. Are you feeling less confident when you are driving?
  2. Are you having difficulty turning your neck to see clearly when you back up?
  3. Are you riding the brake as you drive down the street?
  4. Do you feel like you are more distracted while driving?
  5. Are you noticing that you aren’t parked straight in parking spaces?
  6. Are you hitting curbs or having difficult navigating turns??
  7. Are you having near misses?
  8. Have you got any tickets or warnings?
  9. Have you ever mixed up the gas and break pedals?
  10. Have you ever stopped for no reason on the road?

If these questions bring up serious concerns there are contracts and checklists available to help make this transition easier.

Bring in as many family members as possible to help. Discuss the risk of having an accident when medically impaired (insurance companies may obtain medical records if there is an accident, and may not be required to pay for damages if a doctor told them not to drive).                                                                                 2016-01-22 07.57.59

Then decide on a plan of action. (Getting a “prescription” from a healthcare provider to “retire the drivers license” for physical limitations rather than cognitive ones may be useful.) Other possibilities are hiding the keys, exchanging keys for ones that don’t work in the car, filing keys down, taking out the batteries of electronic keys, not fixing a car that doesn’t work, disabling the car, or pursuing revoking their license through the DMV.

Develop a plan to get your loved one to their regular activities and appointments. Where do they drive to regularly? What community transportation is available? Post transportation schedules and availability where your loved one can see it.

Therapy may be beneficial for the senior and/or family members when these difficult decisions must be dealt with.



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