Teaching Children the Courage to Go A Different Way

road_childrenSometimes it’s not about having the courage to try again.  Sometimes it’s about having the courage to try something different.

As my husband and I are working on “purging” our house of stacks of papers, old books, forgotten clothes, and random “what-nots,” I came across my diaries from middle school and high school.  There are some “deep” thoughts in there. Amazing what goes through the mind of a teenager.

Stuck in between the pages of my ninth grade diary was a page from one of my leadership camps was the famous “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” by Portia Nelson.

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place
but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V

I walk down another street.

Why do I bring this up?  When talking to children, sometimes we need to teach them the courage to go another way.  This may be “the road less traveled” or it may simply be a road less traveled…by them. Perhaps they need to try a new activity like martial arts, gymnastics, swim or dance– perhaps they need courage to move to a new town or enroll in a new school. Or maybe, they need the courage to make new friends when the current ones are just not the right fit anymore.

It’s hard. it’s scary.  It takes courage. But it may just be the best thing they ever did.

I was speaking to one brave and beautiful 15 year old yesterday who told me that she had to do “spring cleaning” on her so-called friends because they were not supportive of her– in fact, they made her feel awful about herself. They would tease her and make her feel self-conscious about her weight and her appearance.  Asking a teenager to switch groups of friends can be like cutting off part of yourself.  And at first, it looks like it’s a really important part of yourself, but as it turns out, it’s more like a growth you are better living without!

I lost touch with those “friends” and met all sorts of people. They were all about my size and we all wore the same size clothes and shoes. Soon we started having sleepovers randomly on weekends and going shopping. And they also had similar stories from when they were little that they were picked on for stupid things like being “ugly”. So we formed our own group of friends and we would go ice skating and meet all new friends. Eventually our group got so big that those other people started becoming jealous of us because we had real friends that loved us for who we were.”

There have been many times throughout my life that I’ve walked down the same street over and over.  Making the same mistakes and looking for different results.  It wasn’t until I decided to go a different way that well, something different happened.  Often, something better.

It’s important to help our children see that change can be wonderful.  It can open up a whole new– and better– world for us…if we just have the courage to walk down another street.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs


Kanye West and Serena Williams Show Courage Through Apologies?

US OPEN CLIJSTERS V WILLIAMS

I know the talk around the cyber-water cooler lately as swarmed around the Kanye West and Serena Williams debacles that occurred recently. They’ve been grilled, smashed and spoofed over the last few days but I’ve hung back. I wanted let the situations percolate for a few days because, as frustrated as I was that they occurred at all, I think they are the perfect teaching tool to help children and teens learn about courage and taking responsibility for their mistakes.

I hate when publicist’s send in luke-warm responses on behalf of their celebrity clients when they make big blunders. Something along the lines of “So and so regrets the incident took place and is apologetic for the hurt she caused to so and so and her family.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. But where’s your FACE? I want to SEE you say it! Nobody wants to get a measly note.  Show me, don’t tell me, ya know? To me, letting your publicist go out and do your dirty work for you is NOT taking responsibility.

And these two, Kanye West and Serena Williams could have gone that route—but they didn’t.  They owned up, got out there on national television, and told the world that the messed up. They apologized.  Good for them. It wasn’t perfect but at least it was something– so it’s a lesson.

west_swift

OK. I’ll admit it. I’m a softie. Please don’t let on that you know.  But when Kanye West came out on Jay Leno on opening night and told the world how sorry he was for interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the VMAs—and specifically, when Jay Leno asked how Kanye thought his mother would have felt about the choice he made- I shifted in my seat.  I know, we all wanted to see him roasted on a spit for embarrassing “nice girl” Taylor Swift but, well, I felt bad for the guy.  He looked as if he was about to cry.  And I thought—more kids need to see this.  More kids need to see that Kanye West in all his cool glory did something that made him extremely uncomfortable because it was the right thing to do. Yup folks, that’s courage. Because he didn’t have to do it. But he did.

Now I recognize that Kanye tried to put off taking full responsibility by blaming some of his poor behavior on the loss of his Mom and not taking any time off. But still, I was happy he at least got out there.  He needed to do it—to mop up his own mess —despite he was being booed and berated for his behavior.

And Serena, well, you never want to hear that many *beeps* covering up what comes out of your own mouth.

Yes, it was deplorable. And she had trouble taking responsibility at first. That’s a lot like…many people in our lives, isn’t it?

“I just really wanted to apologize sincerely, because I’m a very prideful person and I’m a very intense person and a very emotional person. I wanted to offer my sincere apologies to anyone that I may have offended.” – Serena Williams said at a post-match conference.

I know a “real” direct apology came a little late—36 hours after the on-court confrontation. It would have been better if it came immediately. This is an important aspect to teach to our kids too– be direct, do it as soon as possible, and be sincere. And it would have been better had she not made the mistake at all. But she did. And she owned up to it…finally.

Her amended statement:

“I want to sincerely apologize FIRST to the lineswoman, Kim Clijsters, the USTA and mostly tennis fans everywhere for my inappropriate outburst,” the statement said. “I’m a woman of great pride, faith and integrity, and I admit when I’m wrong. I need to make it clear to all young people that I handled myself inappropriately and it’s not the way to act — win or lose, good call or bad call in any sport, in any manner.” Serena Williams

So glad she said that last part.  Celebrities and sports icons have to acknowledge their power in shaping youth. They are allowed to be human but they also must show character.  If character is compromised, they must show character and deal with the issue with integrity and humility.

Everyone has lapses in their character– but it’s not all caught on camera for the world to dissect, rewatch, and analyze. Thank goodness. Could you imagine if the angry outbursts of your…Mom, Dad, or YOU were caught on tape? Oh my.  You might be issuing an apology through your publicist.

It’s hard not to wonder if the fuss was so major because Serena is a woman. We used to all stand by and wait to see how McEnroe was going to erupt this time.  It was going to happen. It was just a matter of time.  But erupting like a crazed volcanic mountain is not a very girly thing to do in our society.  So it was incredibly shocking.  Yes folks, girls get angry too.

Of course, that does not negate that it was wrong. Parents and teachers need to use these moments to teach their kids and teens about appropriate ways to let off steam when they are angry.What should she have done instead?  If you were her best friend, what would you have said to her after her outburst? By role playing and discussing the issue instead of simply pointing a judgmental finger, we all learn.

But again, the important part is that she owned up to it. Now, she must suffer the consequences that come when our actions are not thought through and our impulses lead us to betraying our character—respect, discipline, anger management, impulse control and other Powerful Words we must cover with children and teens.  This isn’t the first time this has happened with a celebrity– and it won’t be the last.

Ask your children and teens; “when was a time that you did something you regretted and wished you could erase or re-do? When did you need to apologize for losing your cool? What do you think it the difference between a tepid apology and one that is meaningful and sincere? Listen to what your children have to say. No doubt they will have some interesting responses and gain some perspective from talking about the incident. Apologizing is difficult– but all children and teens must learn how to do it.  They can’t have Mom and Dad do it for them– and they don’t have a publicist (most likely)– they must stand in front of the person– the teacher, the friend, the store manager, and show their face.  Speak up. Take responsibility and show some courage. Children and teens need exercise their character and learn to keep their powerful words in their character toolkit at all times- even when they get angry.

And of course, it doesn’t hurt to remind adults about using our powerful words too—clearly, as you can see, we sometimes need it.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Powerful Words Member School On Good Morning America

Andrew Lesmerisis of Communities that care and Powerful WordsBy: Dr. Robyn Silverman

Congratulations to Platinum Member Powerful Words Member School, Midcoast Martial Arts, for doing extraordinary work with young people in Camden, Maine. Featured on Good Morning America for helping Camden get their staggering suicide and drug numbers down, Midcoast is helping to do their part by teaching children that they are worthwhile, that they can achieve, and of course, that they can stay engaged with people who care like the teachers over at Midcoast Martial Arts.

Drug and alcohol abuse reached crisis levels in 2001, when Maine’s teen suicide rate was 50 percent higher than the national average.

Along with Powerful Words, Midcoast is part of a program called Communities That Care,  that surveys students starting in the fifth grade to determine their risk factors. The program helps to rally teachers, such as instructor Mr. Andrew Lesmerisis, owner and chief instructor at Midcoast, to take an active role in helping his students and the children of Camden, to thrive.

“We look to provide opportunities  for kids to learn skills (martial arts, character. leadership) and make sure to recognize their accomplishments (belts, POWerful Words Stripes, Patches, Cards, etc.) especially when they go out into the community.  This builds a level of trust for the kids/teens that there are caring adults that want to see them be successful.  This leads to the students becoming bonded to the school where we try to set clear standards of behavior (POWerful Words plays a huge role here!) which due to the bonding is more likely to take hold and lead them to be healthy and more active in the community in positive ways.” –Andrew Lesmerisis

The researchers at National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of National Institutes of Health (NIH) have followed  Camden along with 11 other towns who implememted the Communities that Care philosophy to get teachers, instructors, clergy, and other adults and mentors involved in their youth– and compared them to 12 communities that didn’t use this approach.

The results were dramatic: By the eighth grade, students in towns where the CTC was in place were more than 30 percent less like to take up alcohol and tobacco and 25 percent less likely to engage in delinquency than in those where it was not.

The program is really, simply, a philosophy.

The results of this trial confirm that tools do exist that give communities the power to reduce risk for multiple problem behaviors across a community. What makes Communities That Care unique is that it enables communities to identify their own special issues so they can hand pick the right prevention programs.  –Dr. Nora Volkow, NIDA Director

Because it’s a philosophy rather than a set canned course of action, it allows Mr. Lesmerisis and other adults in town to customize how they convery that philosophy.  We are so proud to be part of Mr. Lesmerisis’ and MidCoast Martial Arts’ approach to helping Camden’s young people.

For Mr. Lesmerisis, Powerful Words fit in with the CTC philosophy.

POWerful Words fits in perfectly.  It helps us send a clear message about healthy beliefs and standards.  Not only do we talk about it in class, it’s posted all over the school (banners, challenge sheets) but it also becomes a method for them to use the skills in a positive (pro-social) way.  For example, last month with Citizenship we are putting the Words into Action by doing and Kick/Grapple Thon to raise money for Five Town Communities That Care.  They get to take all those Citizenship skills and knowledge and put it into practice in a way that benefits the community.  We (Mid-Coast Martial Arts & Five Town CTC) make sure that the students get recognized with thank you cards and press releases, not to mention claps and cheers at the ceremony itself.

The BEST part of both CTC and POWerful Words to me as an instructor and school owner is that I don’t have to guess or feel or assume or hope that we are helping kids to be healthy, we KNOW it!

They really are helping their students! The amazing results were published in the Sept. 7 Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. They demonstrated that these types of community-based coalitions using customized evidence-based approaches can indeed help prevent the early initiation of substance abuse and delinquent behavior among young people.

*Binge Drinking by 10th grade students*(more than five drinks in a row in last two weeks):

2004 – 29%

2008 – 15%

*Marijuana Use* (Ever Used) by 8th grade students

2004 – 9%

2008 – 2%

*Cigarette Use* (Ever Used) by 8th grade students

2004 – 10%

2008 – 1%

*Drunk or High At School *8th grade

2004 – 11%

2008 – 5%

*Opportunities for Pro-Social Involvement in the Community* (Higher is Better)

2004 – 46%

2008 – 63%

*Recognition for Pro Social Involvement *(Higher is better)

2004 – 38%

2008 – 54%

We are so proud of the work you’ve done, MidCoast– not only for the town, but for our world.  Every child inspired and saved from drugs and suicide is another adult who thrives.  Congratulations on your amazing work.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs


Vile-y Wiley Miley: Oops…Did Miley Cyrus Do it Again?

MileyCyrus_teenchoice

Vile-y Wiley Miley: Oops…Did Miley Cyrus Do It Again?

Dr. Robyn Silverman

On the quest for wholesome role models for your tween? Ahem. Miley Cyrus might not be it. After what has been described as a “stripper dance”  at the Teen Choice Awards Monday night, parents and the press are all a-twitter.

I don’t know though. I’m wondering if we’re getting a little crazy over well, a blip in time. Yes, she was wearing shorts that were a bit snug and a bit short, and yes there was the pole, and a few dance moves that weren’t all that innocent looking (see minute 1:07 to 1:45) and “Disney-like” but, a stripper dance? We might be going a bit too far on that one. You tell me.

Mostly, that pole was used for balance—which, on a moving ice-cream cart, is necessary. I know– there were a few hip thrusts that in isolation wouldn’t really have been too much of a problem. After all, we dance by moving our hips most of the time. I think the one move that she did (at 1:07), which ironically got people cheering (figure that one out), was the main problem move—yes, very stripper like. It was yucky and then it was over.

The problem here isn’t really Miley Cyrus. It’s that we hate to connect teens—or preteens- to anything sexual. It’s uncomfortable! It makes us shift in our seats.  We don’t even want to think about it. But there she was, doing this in front of our preteens and teens—we thought we were going to get one thing, and we got a little too much of another. We need to admit it– we don’t like to see Miley doing anything suggestive because we fear that it will rub off on our children or say it’s OK for them to do such things.

We want to like Miley—after all, our children do–but she is making it more difficult for us to like her as a role model for our daughters. The mistake we make is insisting on relying blindly on these celebrities for wholesome family fun. Disney might be wholesome—but Miley Cyrus is NOT “Disney incarnate.” And this wasn’t Disney—it was Fox. At the end of the day, Miley Cyrus is a 16 year old girl, looking to expand her fan-base, and make it even bigger than she already has. It may not be right for our teens. We might not like it. But she is following the path she wants to follow.

Now, I’m not saying that I would run right out and have my daughter watch or emulate Miley Cyrus. No. What I’m saying is, that we can’t rely on Miley to fit the role model status we want her to fit. When we do that, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.  She’s just a celebrity—an entertainer–not necessarily a role model. You want role models, see Taylor Swift, the Jonas Brothers, or someone else who doesn’t flaunt too much of the sex-vibe (although Taylor did do that whole getting wet in the rain thing in her performance of “Should’ve Said No”  which didn’t look totally wholesome either).

What I do what to make clear is the same thing I said when we dealt with the Miley Mess a year and a half ago when she posed for Vanity Fair draped in a sheet and showing her bare back and shoulders to the camera—sort of Lolita-like. If we are going to bring our children to see Miley Cyrus, or watch her on TV with the millions of other fans, we must talk to our teens about what they are seeing. Parents matter.  There are ways to deal with this Miley Mess.

Doesn’t go along with your values? Say that. Think it’s inappropriate? Say why it makes you uncomfortable. Don’t want your daughter emulating what they see? Tell them the problems you foresee. As parents, we need to take responsibility for what our teens are watching and listen to how they are interpreting what they are seeing. We certainly don’t want to make a bigger deal out of it than it is—because it takes one move (at 1:07) and makes it into a whole performance of Titanic proportions.

Don’t like it? Don’t want it? Can’t stand it? Don’t watch it. But then be prepared for your daughter to see these isolated images of Miley Cyrus straddling a pole and making up her own mind about what she is seeing. I vote to talk about it instead—listen more than you talk—and concentrate on raising the most healthy daughter you can. If you are doing it right, it really doesn’t matter what Miley Cyrus is doing anyway.

Sexting: Think Your Teens are Innocently Texting a Friend?

internet_girls

Sex and Tech: The Surprising Results from a Survey of Teens and Young Adults

Dr. Robyn Silverman

Ugh. I love technology but sometimes…I hate it! We all know that teens like to be online—in fact, just about 90% of teens are! The question is…what are they DOING online? What are they doing on their phone? Some of course are using it for fun, research, or connection—but others might be taking it to another level—a disturbing one.

Do you know about it? Chuck Norris is talking about it. Our Shaping Youth friends are talking about it. And here’s my colleague, Rosalind Wiseman talking about it:

It’s sexting…and sending sexually explicit messages across the internet. bThink it’s not happening too often? Yikes. Here’s the real info:

Results from a survey commissioned by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com, found that just over 1/5 of girls (21%) and just under 1/5 of boys (18%) have sent or posted nude or semi-nude images of themselves. Around 40% of teens, both girls and boys, admit to sending sexually suggestive messages to others using technology. The trend increases to just under 2/3 when those teens become adults.

Who was surveyed? Participants were between the ages of 13 and 26 years of age. There were a total of 1280 respondents, 653 teens and 627 young adults, who answered the survey questions in the Fall of 2008.

How was it conducted? Online—of course!

Some disturbing findings:

  • Over 20% of girls and just under 40% of boys send these messages to people they WANT to hook up with or date.
  • About 15% of teens sent or posted pictures to someone they ONLY KNEW ONLINE

Don’t they know this is harmful?

  • While ¾ of teens say that sending sexually suggestive content using technology can hav e serious negative consequences, 39% of teens have sent such suggestive emails of text messages and 20% of teens have posted or sent nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves.
  • About 44% of both teens boys and teen girls say it’s common place to share sexually explicit messages with other people once they are received.  They get forwarded and reposted.
  • 36% of teen girls and 39% of teen boys say it’s common place for nude photos to be reposted or shared with others once they are received.

Why do it???

  • To flirt, as a sexy gift to someone, to be funny or make a joke, or because they received them from someone else.
  • 51% of teen girls say they feel pressured by a guy and that’s why they send these messages and photos.
  • Almost a quarter of teen girls and teen boys say they are pressured by friends.

What does this mean for parents and teachers?

  • Be aware– know what your teens are up to on the internet
  • Talk about it– the consequences and the benefits of different actions on the internet.
  • Discuss the rules– the internet is a tool that has power. What rules are set in place to protect your children?
  • Underscore character: It takes responsibility, respect and trust to use the internet. Make sure your children and teens are using their Powerful Words both on and offline.
  • Know who your child is communicating with: Who are your child’s friends on and offline? Don’t know? Find out.
  • Listen: Your children and teens want to talk but they don’t want to be judged.  Listen to their words but also listen to the messages they are saying behind the words.  They may be asking for help or advice.
  • Set your expectations: What are your family values?  What do you expect of your children and teens? Make sure your teens know what you and your family believe is OK on the internet and what isn’t OK. The internet should not be a free for all.
  • Get your teens involved with the 3 dimensional world! Make sure your teens are still doing the things they love with people in the area– drama, martial arts, sports, gymnastics. When teens are busy they are less likely to get into trouble and when they are doing things that make them feel good and worthwhile they are less likely to seek out alternative ways to get attention.
  • Use limitations: If you need to, limit internet access or internet time if your children and teens are abusing their time on the internet. The internet is a privilege that needs to be respected.

Want more information on sexting? Please see my colleague, Vanessa Van Petten’s blog posts on the topic:

To Sext or Not to Sext

Sexting 101 for Parents

Yes, your kid does it too

Happy interneting!

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Why Does My Child Keep Quitting?

Angry boyIs your child quitting everything they start? Need a Commitment Overhaul?

Here is a letter from a parent to Dr. Robyn Silverman asking about why her child keeps quitting his activities. What’s interfering with her child’s commitment level?

Dear Dr. Robyn,

I hate to admit it, but my child is a quitter.  Knowing the Powerful Word of the Month at our school this month is commitment, it seemed that now was the perfect time to ask what’s going on here.  I don’t want to raise a quitter.  Have any ideas on why a child quits everything they start?

–Jan K, Baltimore, MD

The question of commitment and quitting comes up every time our Powerful Words schools present Powerful Words like commitment, determination, attitude, or goal-setting.  As Powerful Parents, we want our children to show commitment and determination.  So what’s making them quit?

Children quit for all different reasons.  Some children feel bored while others feel overwhelmed.  Some children have unrealistic expectations that they are going to be performing the kind of martial arts, gymnastics, swimming, or other sport that they see “in the movies” or in the Olympics on the first day that they attend.  Other children see “today’s activity”  simply as another activity that they do—easily interchanged with football, basketball or dance lessons– so why stick with one thing?  Still other children feel invisible to the instructor, picked on, misunderstood or scared when they take class.

The first major reason for quitting is the instance of a curriculum-based clash. Simply put, when children feel overwhelmed or under-challenged, they will want to quit.  After all, when something is too difficult or too easy, it isn’t fun anymore! The over-challenged child may feel as though he cannot keep up, catch up, or otherwise progress at the pace that the other children in class are progressing.  The under-challenged child may feel uninterested, disinterested, or just plain bored.  You can determine this if your child would rather play with friends than go to class or fights you on practicing when they used to find it exciting to do so. Whatever it is, there is clearly a clash between the child’s learning level and the curriculum they’re learning at this time.  These children will surely start looking for other ways, whether it is in football, hockey, dance or marching band, to fill their time and hold their interest– sometimes, they just keep moving from activity to activity looking for something to hold their interest.  It’s important that we delve into this issue with our child because it’s easy enough to move our children to a different class, get them extra help, or have them take some extra classes to address this issue.

The second major reason for quitting is the case of the value-based clash. If you, as a parent, don’t value what the child is learning at their current activity,  the child will often sense it and want to quit.  For example, if you regard their current activity, like martial arts or gymnastics,  as “just another stop on the way between football and piano,” the child will too.  After all, a child will want to quit something if it has little or no perceived value to the parent.  Children tend to take their cues from their parents—so when Mom and Dad don’t care, neither will they.  As parents, we need to make sure to check our own attitude when determining why our children might be quitting.  If we can adjust our own behavior and attitude, our children will too.

The third major reason for quitting is the often elusive personal-based clash. When children or parents feel uncomfortable at an activity, uncomfortable around a coach or teacher, uncomfortable around another child or another parent who is there at the same time, or undervalued by staff, they will likely want to quit.  Perhaps there has been a misunderstanding or a miscommunication.  Boundaries may have been breached or buttons may have been pushed in some way.  Perhaps the most common personal clash is when the child perceives that the teacher or coach doesn’t “like him” or “care about him”.  It’s vital to find out if something happened between your child and another person in the class so that the issue can be addressed and any misunderstandings can be cleared up.

The fourth major reason for quitting is the instance of the situational-based clash. While the above reasons have a negative undertone causing a “falling away” or a “falling out,” situational clashes are due to an actual lack of money, resources, or ability to continue.  When families do not have the money to pay for lessons, the car to get their children to your class, or the person to bring the child to your school, they will likely need to quit.  There may have been a divorce or a death, a new job opportunity, and illness or a lay-off that caused this situation to arise. Schools and sports facilities are often very sorry to see these students leave, given that they would stay if they could.

Finally, the fifth major reason children might quit is…because they can! We want to make sure that children aren’t creating a pattern of quitting that is being supported by their parents.  Sometimes, we are just too overprotective or too easily swayed by our children’s attempts to get out of fulfilling their promises. While it is easier to have children quit something that making them stick it out til the end, children learn their patterns early.  If they see that they can quit without consequence, they will learn this as a fact and quit whatever feels uncomfortable, challenging, frustrating or boring to them as they develop and become teens and adults.  It may not seem like a big deal when they are 8 years old but it certainly becomes so when they become 18 or 28 years old! Set positive patterns now so that they learn commitment and the benefits of seeing goals and promises through to the end.

Make sure to ask questions rather than lecture.  Why do they want to quit?  Did anything happen in class? Are they bored? Overwhelmed? How do they feel about their friends in class? Their teachers? Is the curriculum too hard? Too easy?  And also, remember, to watch what you say and you do.  If you are quitting your activities, or someone else of influence in your home or family is doing so, children will learn volumes about the loop holes in commitment.  Take your cues from your child’s Powerful Words instructors this month and expand on what they are talking about in class with your children. Discuss it at the dinner table and in the car.  Tell stories about your own triumphs and how you stuck with something even when it was difficult. Talk about the importance of seeing the end and setting goals. And of course, set the precedent that your family always finishes what they start– everyone should have that “no quit, go-for-it attitude!” that helps each member to lead with commitment– and your children will surely learn to follow suit.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

Planning a Summer Family Vacation? Read This First!

family vacation

Family Vacation Tips

How to De-stress and Have Family Fun While Traveling with Children and Teens

Dr. Robyn Silverman

Family fun or family bummed? “I’m dreading our drive out to Orlando this year,” said Jane, mother of 14-year-old Katie Ann, 8-year-old Kayla and 5-year-old Kevin, at our monthly parenting coaching group.  “We haven’t even left yet and I can already hear the cacophony of ‘Are we there yet?’ ringing in my head. The last time we did this, Kayla threw her shoes out the window and Kevin told me I was the worst mommy ever because he was so bored. I don’t know why we do this to ourselves!”

Many families will be making the trek somewhere fun for summer vacation this year.  Perhaps it’ll just be you and the kids– perhaps you’ll be bringing the grandparents along as well. While the trip can be exciting, it can also be potentially stressful.  After all, you’re leaving the comforts of home and throwing your typical routine out the window.  That, coupled with the cramped quarters of the long car ride or the hustle and bustle of a chaotic airport can be a source of uneasiness. While you may not be able to forecast every need in advance or ensure everyone’s happy mood at all times, you can take steps to reduce the hassles.  However, you must be prepared:

(1) Pack for what may go awry: Nobody wants their children getting sunburned, bruised or sick while on vacation.  A little forethought and smart packing can go a long way.  What does your child need when he or she feels tired or sick? What does your daughter need if she gets her period? Ensuring that you have aloe for burns, Band-Aids® for cuts and a special pillow for someone who may get carsick is essential for everyone’s sanity and comfort.

(2) Brainstorm travel games before leaving: There are infinite travel games for planes or long car ride, but we can’t always think of them on the spot.  Brainstorm and research them before you leave.  Games like I Spy, Padiddle (spotting a car with one headlight) and Alphabet can eat up time and don’t require props.  Activities like crosswords, MadLibs™ and “Where’s Waldo” take more preparation and a trip to the bookstore before you leave.  Making sure you have what you need to entertain the troops is vital for a relaxing trip.

(3) Plan stops along the way: While you may just want to get to your destination as quickly as possible, planning scheduled stops during a long drive can reduce stress and provide excitement.  It doesn’t have to break the budget— just give everyone a break! Are you passing an old friend’s town? A national monument? A well-reviewed children’s restaurant? These are great places to get out, stretch your legs, and break up the trip. Some parents who don’t want to take too much time for lunch program a phone number for a kid-friendly deli into their phone and call from the road.  When they reach the restaurant, their food is waiting.  Now that’s fast food.

(4) Create a bonding experience: Many kids have trouble opening up to their parents during face-to-face talks.  In the car, sitting side by side, conversation comes more easily.  Communication games can get things started.  Games like “Share One Thing,” in which someone picks a topic and everyone shares a response to it, can lead to  wonderful stories.  For example, “share one thing that made you laugh this week” can kick things off.  You can also use Sentence Stems like “if I won the lottery I would…”.When conversation is a “side bar” rather than a main event, it feels easier and breezier for everyone.

(5) Get innovative but remember the classics: Classic toys and activities like cards and crayons can provide great entertainment on a long trip.  Try Legos® or dolls to dress up. Handheld games work wonders as well. You can also think outside the box.  Wrap small presents before leaving and let your children open one per hour.  Give your children dry erase markers (which wipe off easily) to decorate the windows.  If all else fails, a portable DVD player will go a long way. Just remember to provide earphones so you can get some peace and quiet during the movie!

(6) Bring snacks: Hungry family members make any trip unpleasant.  Be sure to bring orange segments, carrot sticks, granola bars, and raisins.  And yes, you should probably have some “fun snacks” as well such as a few of your children’s favorite cookies or miniature chocolate bars.  Juice boxes and small bottles of water are easy to pack and carry in small bags.  To keep the sugar factor down, bring a sippy cup or thermos and mix water and juice together to dilute the potency. 

(7) Think Clean and Comfortable: We want our children to be clean and comfortable, but things like food, juice, markers and crayons can lead to big messes. Bring an extra change of clothes for those who are bound to get dirty, and don’t forget wipes and tissues. Make sure your children wear comfortable shoes and take an extra pair in case the ones they are wearing are giving them blisters.   Ask everyone to bring an extra light jacket or sweater in case they get chilly in the car or on the plane. 

We all know what they say about “an ounce of prevention.”  When we ensure that our family is organized and prepared, we can focus on the best parts of the trip—having a great time, enjoying each other’s company and making wonderful memories!  Whether you’re going away or staying close to home, we hope your next family vacation is filled with family fun.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs