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The Case For Pomegranates: Embracing Different Cultures

by Anja Anđelković

Have you ever discovered you’ve been doing something wrong your whole life? For instance, you’d been picking the seeds out of a pomegranate one by one and swearing you’d never buy a pomegranate again, only to find yourself back in the grocery store getting another one because they’re just too tasty. And then one day you come across a YouTube video explaining how to peel a pomegranate and get the seeds out without the hassle and the usual red splatters everywhere. Who came up with such an ingenious idea? Well, most likely it was someone who grew up in a country where eating pomegranates is commonplace and who couldn’t imagine anyone peeling them any other way until they saw us making a mess. To put it simply, the person behind your “life-changing” video grew up in a different culture.

Now, imagine a world without such helpful videos, or far worse, a world where you would never come in contact with people from different cultures. Not only would you not know how to deseed a pomegranate properly (such a necessary skill!), but you’d miss out on all the wonders of diversity: you would know nothing about different peoples and their customs and much of the wealth of humanity’s artistic and literary endeavor would be denied you. And you and all your friends, confined to the same small cultural group, would live unaware of the enriching possibilities of the wider world.  Luckily, times have changed. The global world of today is a hodgepodge of people from many diverse cultures moving from country to country, interacting on many levels, and living side by side in the same places.

Living in such a world is a rewarding experience we should all cherish, but unfortunately, there are some people who aren’t prepared to embrace cultural differences and who discriminate against anyone whose traditions are unfamiliar to them. It would be simple to just dismiss such people as an uninformed minority, but the truth is that we all need to live in harmony, respecting each other and our differences. And in order to do so, we need to know a lot more about each other and also ourselves. Without a doubt, the key to living in this modern multicultural society is learning – learning as much as we can about the world we live in and its people throughout our lives… And the path to making life in a diverse society more harmonious for everyone starts with the individual, most effectively a child, ready to absorb a wealth of knowledge that will shape a new generation.

Learning About Other Cultures

When we just say “learn about cultures” it might sound a bit boring and make you think about the time you spent reading about different types of ancient Greek columns or different countries around the world, but the truth is that learning about other peoples and their way of life can be extremely fun and engaging.

Clearly, the most immersive way to becoming familiar with a different culture is to learn to speak another language, which entails far more than simply becoming proficient in its vocabulary and grammar. Most importantly, it necessitates learning about the society where the language is spoken. So if you want your child to become more informed and understanding of other cultures, encourage them to take some language classes or maybe learn a foreign language together with them.

  • Another fun and extremely rewarding way of embracing differences is through travel and experiencing an unfamiliar culture first hand. Of course, this isn’t so easy to achieve but if you get an opportunity, travel somewhere outside your own experience and immerse yourself in the culture with your child. If circumstances don’t allow this, traveling from your living room has never been as easy as it is now: watch shows about different people and parts of the world previously unknown to you, or watch movies originating in different countries. Ease into it by starting with movies in English but featuring characters from different backgrounds..,
  • Pick a book with a character from a different culture. Read it with your child. Discuss how the characters are similar and different from the people who live in your community.
  • Going to festivals and the celebrations of people who don’t observe the same holidays as you do with your child is another great way to get to know different cultures and ways of life and broaden your horizons. Try to find out about other groups who live in your community and make a point of learning about the artistic or scientific achievements their society has accomplished.
  • And most importantly, encourage your child to interact with as many “different” people as they can and try to explain how the unfamiliar isn’t anything to be scared of and especially not something you should make fun of, but how differences are what makes our society interesting and how important it is to accept and respect everybody. Tell them how much easier your life would have been if only you’d known an Iranian who could have shown you how to deseed a pomegranate properly.

The Johannesburg Declaration (2002) says that “our rich diversity … is our collective strength”.  When you read about all the benefits that embracing our diverse world can bring and when you think about everything our society has already achieved and the limitless potential it has, especially if we can overcome prejudice and discrimination, this powerful statement doesn’t only resonate with hope, it can also serve as a call to action to truly celebrate our diversity.

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USING MOVIES TO HELP ENHANCE YOUR TEEN’S EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT

by Milena Ćuk,

Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training

Old civilizations had myths and stories to learn about the mysteries of life; we have movies.

Movies are an important part of youth culture and as such are recommended to parents, teachers, and counselors as valuable tools in addressing the emotional and social needs of teens. Moreover, videos and movies have proven particularly effective in working with gifted children and adolescents.

If you’d like to use movies as a bridge to talking about important life and developmental issues your teen is facing, you’ll find in this article how the strategy works, how you can guide the process, what questions you can ask, etc.  We’ll also show you how you can use the Harry Potter stories to address the emotion of fear.

Called video-therapy or cinematherapy by some authors, this strategy is similar to the more widely recognized approach known as bibliotherapy and actually, relies on its rationale and process. While reading a book or watching a movie, we initially experience identification, where we recognize similarities between ourselves and the characters in the story (in this case, a movie). Then comes catharsis, where we are touched by specific happenings in the movie and we react emotionally. Insight dawns when we realize that we’ve reacted emotionally because of a particular issue from our own life that we connected with the character or situation in the movie.

Frequently, we’re not aware of why we are so moved, and that is where talking about it later can help us gain insight and integrate this new understanding into our life experience. Reflection on the movie and conversation about it afterward can also help us explore our needs, desires, fears, inner conflicts, patterns, values, aspirations, etc. Moreover, it can help us learn new coping mechanisms which we can then apply in solving our current life challenges.

This is especially important for teens since apart from any inspiration or life lessons they might glean, certain movies can help reassure them they aren’t isolated and alone with their needs and problems.

There are two ways you can use movies to boost teens’ social and emotional development. You can ask about a movie that had a significant impact on them and you can choose a movie to watch together – one you consider to be particularly beneficial for their development.

ASKING ABOUT A MOVIE

This approach is helpful in gaining a better understanding of teens’ inner world – their self-image, current dilemmas, and general aspirations in life. Here are some examples of questions for opening a dialogue:

What is it about this movie that inspired you so much? What did you learn from the movie? These may be basic questions but the experience of listening to your teen’s responses and opinions can be enjoyable as well as instructive. That’s how I found out from my teen niece (15), a valuable assistant in writing these articles, why she’s so inspired by the movies Whiplash (2014) and Cyberbully (2011). She aspires to achieve excellence in what she is good at – the movie cautioned that this drive may sometimes come at a cost. Her second choice showed her how our activity on social networks can affect the lives of others, the pitfalls of trying to satisfy our emotional needs through the virtual world, and the importance of true friends and family support. Besides, I found out about some applications popular these days among teens that I haven’t heard of before, so I think I’m now fairly well up to speed!

In one of our previous articles, we offered practical suggestions to help parents tackle important life issues with their teens in informal, constructive ways (4 Ideas to Get Closer to Your Teen). Remember, don’t push and let the discussion take its natural course. However, if you notice that you’ve captured your teen’s attention, that he/she is thinking and is willing to continue and go deeper into the conversation, here are some aspects that you can explore:

Favorite character

Who is your favorite character? Why? Describe his/her personality and abilities. Do you find any similarities between this character and yourself? And differences? Does he/she have some traits or abilities that you would like to have, too? In which specific situations would you need these abilities? With these questions, you are opening a space to discuss your teen’s needs, troubles or aspirations and possibilities for development.

People/behaviors they don’t like

Are there some characters that you disliked? What was it about them that you didn’t like? Are there people in your circle who have similar characteristics? How do you feel when you interact with them?

Situations that provoke emotions

Was there some situation in the movie that provoked strong emotions? What was it about this situation that made you sad/angry/enlightened…? Strong emotions are always in play when we reflect on something truly important and valuable to us. If you’ve been able to get your teen to talk about it, your efforts have been successful. Use this experience wisely.

Follow-up activities

If your teen is open to role-playing, you can even use theater and improvisation techniques as follow-up activities. For instance, your teen needs more confidence in the classroom. Let him be a director and set up a scene that mirrors the real situation he wants to change. He can give roles to you, to other members of the family; even puppies, dolls, pillows, etc. Then, encourage him to imagine that he is like this chosen character, to take some of his abilities and to act, empowered, in the chosen scene. You can make variations together and have fun. Ask him how this acting made him feel and how he can apply it in a real situation. This tactic, especially when used with superheroes, has been extremely effective in the workshops for personal development that I run.

Of course, these are just examples of questions and follow-up activities for guiding a process of learning from a movie. You will use the ones appropriate for the given situation and your teen’s sensibility and readiness to participate.

CHOOSING A MOVIE: HARRY POTTER

The other way to use movies as a means of addressing the emotional needs of teens is for you yourself to select a movie which addresses particular themes or issues you consider significant for your teen’s development. Then, after watching the movie together, you can talk about it with each other, channeling the conversation to the themes most beneficial to your teen’s development.

Let’s take the example of the Harry Potter movies, as most of us are familiar with the story. With all due respect to those who value its original written form, the motion picture adaptations can serve this purpose effectively. There are plenty of themes important to teens elaborated in the story of Harry Potter: friendship, life challenges, loss, failure, danger (even encounters with evil), the school environment, relationship with authorities, competition, fighting for a greater cause, etc.

A particularly useful feature of the story lies in its exploration of the emotion of fear and more importantly, how one can handle it. This is always a timely topic, especially during adolescence with all its manifestations, such as low self-esteem, insecurity or anxiety.

Harry Potter embodies all the characteristics of the hero, one of which is his ability to plumb the deeper and darker chambers of his being and squarely confront his fear. How to find strength in difficult times when we are vulnerable is an important lesson in preparation for adulthood.

You can discuss with teens how Harry Potter and other characters reacted when faced with serious obstacles or dangerous, even evil creatures. When faced with danger, is their usual reaction more similar to Harry’s, Hermione’s, Ron’s, another character’s behavior, or some combination? Ask them to recall how fictional characters managed to handle dangerous creatures. What helped?

Of course, you should always try to connect insights from the movie to the life of your teen and how he/she can incorporate those lessons into his/her life. What is particularly useful is that the Harry Potter story offers concrete strategies for handling fear. Yes, I’m referring to the Patronus and Riddikulus charms. As the story goes, these charms can protect you from dark creatures such as Dementors and Boggarts, who are nothing more than personifications of our fears.

It is well known that a strong positive emotion, such as love, is an antidote to fear. Also, the presence of a trusted, loving person can calm the fear response. Seeking help from the spiritual realm, whatever our belief system, is invaluable, too. In a way, all these elements are contained in the Patronus charm, which works by evoking the happiest memory from one’s life and concentrating on it. Done correctly, this will create a positive force in the form of a sacred animal (totem), a spirit guardian, which will protect us from the scary Dementors. You can practice Expecto Patronum! with your teen so that each of you, using your imagination, can find a source of strength and support to help you fight the dark creatures of your life.

Similarly, the Riddikulus spell is also a beautiful metaphor for a technique that is sometimes employed in a therapeutic session – the gift of humor. Humor is a powerful tool in fighting fear. When we are anxious and tense, there’s nothing better than a good laugh to immediately ease our distress. It’s good to be able to bring out the clown in ourselves to help us see a stressful situation from a funny, absurd angle. Practice Riddikulus with your kids when appropriate or let them teach you if you forget how to do it.

The real “magic” is the strength the characters muster from the inside. This can apply to parenting as well.  We are here to boost your real “ magic” of parenting. If you need any kind of advice related to the emotional development of your teen children, you’ve come to the right place!

Sources:

  1. Greenwood, D. & Long, C. R. (2015). When Movies Matter: Emerging Adults Recall Memorable Movies. Journal of Adolescent Research, Vol. 30(5) 625–650
  2. Milne, H. J. & Reis, S. M. (2000). Using Video Therapy To Address the Social and Emotional Needs of Gifted Children. Gifted Child Today, Vol. 23, Issue 1, pp. 24 – 29
  3. Hébert, T. P. & Speirs Neumeister, K. L. (2001). Guided Viewing of Film: A Strategy for Counseling Gifted Teenagers. The Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, Vol. XII, No. 4, pp. 224–235.

If you need any kind of advice related to the emotional development of your teen children, you’ve come to the right place!

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PROCRASTINATION AND TEENS – HOW CAN WE HELP?

by Milena Ćuk,

Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training

“Much of the stress that people feel doesn’t come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they started.”

David Allen

Have you ever spent hours staring at a blank page trying to write a meaningful paper or e-mail, etc.?  Have you ever postponed a boring or unpleasant task until the last minute when you couldn’t put it off any longer? Have you ever caught yourself doing all sorts of unimportant activities such as washing dishes or rearranging the furniture instead of getting started on a pressing obligation? What was your favorite time zapper when you were a student yourself?

Let’s face it – we’ve all procrastinated. If you want to help your teen avoid becoming a chronic procrastinator, we suggest you start by admitting that you’ve dealt with this issue as well. We hope that gaining a better understanding of the underlying causes of procrastination and following some of the tips we suggest, will enable you to help your teen overcome the habit.

So, what is procrastination?

Authors Olpin & Hesson (2013) define procrastination as the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished. While delaying tasks from time to time is nothing to worry about, it becomes a problem when transformed into a habit and starts to affect important aspects of our lives – academic, professional and personal. Or,  as Alyce P. Cornyn-Selby put it: “Procrastination is, hands down, our favorite form of self-sabotage.” Fortunately, each habit is learned so it can be unlearned as well.

In order to understand a teen’s mind and world better, I asked my 15-year-old niece about her experience with procrastination as it related to schoolwork. This is what she told me:

I used to have a lot of problems with this pro, pro… Now it’s much better, but back when I was routinely putting my school obligations off, it was always when I was up against more complex tasks; when I knew the work would be more difficult and that I’d need more time to complete it. Why was I acting like this? Because I didn’t want to face it. I didn’t want the burden. It was easier to leave it to the last minute. I could force myself to study only when it was urgent and when I knew that I couldn’t postpone it any longer. Deadlines, actually, are a great help in this! And while I was waiting till that very last moment, I was usually hanging out, watching movies, a TV series on the Internet, or just lying down and doing nothing.

According to psychologist Linda Sapadin, author of the book How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age: 6 Change Programs for 6 Personality Styles, my niece fits the Crisis Makers style of procrastinators. Crisis Makers, addicted to the rush of high emotion, wait until pressure mounts to take action. Other styles are: Perfectionists (afraid of making mistakes, they waste tons of time unnecessarily focusing on details); Dreamers (lack initiative and fail to translate their big ideas into action); Worriers (afraid of change, they’re focused on worst-case scenario); Defiers (may be openly rebellious or passive-aggressive, defy authority or avoid making agreements and often don’t do what they promised); Pleasers (have problems setting priorities and saying “No”, so they make the job harder than it needs to be).

It is very important to first identify the root of the procrastination since this is the key element in pursuing the ongoing battle against it. For instance, if you realize that your teen’s perfectionism is the reason he’s putting off his school obligations, you should focus on helping him overcome his fear of making mistakes, as well as talking to him about time management and related coping skills.  Reassure him it’s okay to make mistakes; teach him that perfection is an illusion, the enemy of the good; advise him just to keep moving, not to get bogged down in details and lose focus on his main objective.

We should acknowledge that chronic procrastination is not a simple matter of time management or self-discipline but a complex psychological and/or neurocognitive issue (Burka and Yuen, 2008). These authors suggest that procrastination is a strategy people use to manage other issues, for instance: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of feeling controlled, or fear of facing reality.

Also, in this high-tech, digitalized age we live in, the accessibility of gadgets and the virtual worlds we tend to inhabit (this applies especially to teens) are not helping us win the procrastination battle. On the contrary.

You can read about the advantages and disadvantages of technology in one of our previous articles: Education and Technology: A Match Made in Heaven or Hell?

So, what to do if you recognize that your teen has a problem with procrastination?

I asked my niece what has helped her. She said:

When I was younger, my parents would keep reminding me to study but it didn’t work. I would pretend to study in order to please them but in actual fact, it was waste of time and I’d end up cramming anyway. Now that I’m in high school, I realize that everything depends on me. My subjects are more complex and since I want good grades, I’d exhaust myself staying up at night with mountains of schoolwork. And I was tired during the day, both in class and during training (volleyball). I realized that procrastination makes me tired and leads nowhere. I now try to organize myself better and study more consistently. And it’s funny – it is not as hard as I used to think. I think that’s because I made the decision on my own, nobody forced me to. It wouldn’t have worked if anybody else tried to force me or to organize my time for me. I had to do it for myself.

We can learn a lot from our kids, don’t you agree? However, it is also useful to get empowered through reliable sources. There are comprehensive and detailed programs developed in order to overcome the habit of procrastination. For your information, you can check the references at the end of the article.

In a nutshell, these are our suggestions:

  • Talk openly and without criticism about the issue of putting obligations off. Show empathy. Through talk and through time it is more likely that a teen will gain insight about how procrastination is affecting him and whether and what he wants to change.
  • Remember your own experience with procrastination and how it made you feel. Share that with your teen. What tasks nowadays do you hate to do and tend to put off? You can talk about it as a common problem and search for solutions together.
  • Share what worked for you when you struggled with procrastination. It doesn’t mean it will work for your teen, but it’s a good start. Praise his efforts to beat the habit.
  • You should figure out what is at the root of his/her procrastination. Underlying reasons need to be addressed, such as any kind of fear, resistance, perfectionism, etc. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from a coach or therapist if you estimate that it is needed.
  • Help him/her learn how to study and how to plan his/her time.
  • Help him recognize his favorite time zappers – how he usually deflects when he procrastinates (social networks, TV, video games, surfing the Internet, oversleeping, panicking, etc.) and make a deal that he try to overcome these impulses during study time. That is where time management skills are important.
  • Encourage him to ask for help if he doesn’t understand the subject matter or doesn’t know how to do his homework.

One of the first authors of self-help books, Robert Collier, has suggested:

“If you procrastinate when faced with a big difficult problem… break the problem into parts, and handle one part at a time.”

This strategy is well-known and is recommended in all manuals for overcoming procrastination: to break a bigger task into smaller, measurable actions with a realistic deadline for each of these smaller actions.

The other one well-known tip for more demanding tasks is to hit the most difficult (or the most unpleasant) part first, if at all possible. As the pioneer in the personal development field, Dale Carnegie observed: “Do the hard jobs first. The easy jobs will take care of themselves.”

Help your teen recognize what motivates him and what gives him energy. Teach him to use these as rewards for maintaining self-discipline and progress in the adoption of a new habit. It is easier to go through unpleasant tasks if we know that we will be rewarded afterward.

Teach your teen to deal with details at the end. For instance, if he is writing a paper, teach him to write the main parts first, to keep moving and to leave dealing with details last.

While these are general tips to deal with procrastination, keep in mind that each person is unique and tailor your approach to what works best for your teen.

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References and useful links:

  1. Procrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About It Now, by Burka, J. B. & Yuen, L. M. (2008)
  2. Stress Management for Life: A Research-Based Experiential Approach, by Olpin, M. & Hesson, M. (2013)
  3. Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age, by Dr. Linda Sapadin http://beatprocrastinationcoach.com/
  4. Procrastination and Science, including quotes related to procrastination https://procrastinus.com/
  5. Award winning video by John Kelly about examination of procrastination https://vimeo.com/9553205
  6. TED Talks: Tim Urban – Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator https://www.ted.com/talks/tim_urban_inside_the_mind_of_a_master_procrastinator#t-831583

4 IDEAS TO HELP YOU GET CLOSER TO YOUR TEEN

by Milena Ćuk,
Life coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training

This article is about finding acceptable common ground between teens and their parents and offers practical suggestions to help parents tackle important life issues with their teens in informal, constructive ways.

If you have a teenager at home, you’re witnessing a unique process your child is going through – the transition from childhood to adulthood, which manifests itself psychologically, emotionally, physically, and behaviorally. Nowadays you may find it difficult to get close to your son or daughter. Activities you used to enjoy together no longer interest them. And when your teenager seems distant, you aren’t sure why. Are they in love? Worried about schoolwork? Fighting with a friend? Could it be something even more serious? Or perhaps they’re simply off in their own world.

Problems adolescents are facing may seem trivial to us but insurmountable to them. And that is why talking things over with a caring, supportive adult may help alleviate their stress. Also, they may get stuck in very serious problems because they were ashamed to ask for help in the first place before the situation got out of hand. That’s why it is important to create an atmosphere of trust in your family, to have an understanding with your children from their earliest childhood that they will come first to you for help if they are confronted with a situation they cannot handle, or if they experience any form of intimidation such as bullying, etc.  True, we should acknowledge that some teens need space to work through their private issues alone and are reluctant to share their thoughts when we might want them to. Be patient, and reassure them you are always there for them. They will open up when they are ready.

If you are reading this article we’re sure you’re doing your best as a parent. So rather than simply addressing strategies here to help teens solve their problems we will focus on that moment when you sense that your teen has become withdrawn, when you find it more difficult to get close, to talk, be more included in their lives and to understand better what is going on in their inner world.

Each of the suggested ideas is just an example. First, ask your teen if he/she is willing to participate, to modify or to suggest something else.

1. Let’s talk about role models!

Role model, idol or hero – definitions don’t matter here. The idea is to talk about people who inspire us, whom we admire and are drawn to emulate. So, to open up a dialogue with your teen we suggest you talk about people who inspired you when you were growing up, the traits and abilities you admired in them and why you sought to follow their example.  This could be a family member, a fictional character, a celebrity – anyone at all. Now, invite them to name someone who inspires them. In opening up about how you thought when you were their age, you open space for connection and further sharing with your teenager. This could be done anywhere – at the dinner table, in the car, or waiting in line somewhere.

If you want this activity to be meaningful, you have to show genuine interest! Listen carefully. Don’t judge your teen’s choices even if you don’t like them. Talk about it! You can learn a lot about their needs and aspirations through this conversation, and perhaps find out more about the social media pressure kids are exposed to nowadays, the pressure to be popular, pretty, successful, rich, and so on. You can use this opportunity to talk about different ways to fulfill the need to be accepted and loved; how to restore positive self-esteem, or about the value of things money can’t buy.

2. Volunteering together in the community

Being involved in working for the same cause brings people closer. Talk with your teen about causes they care about and suggest you do something about it together. You could join a local organization or initiative that works with kids, homeless people, animal shelters, the environment, etc.

Even better – why not come up with a project of your own? Maybe there is a poor family in your neighborhood you can help with food or clothing; a local lake you could help clear of plastic bottles; or a local community center that needs painting and renovation.

Just look around – there are so many worthy projects you can take part in with your teen and the sense of accomplishment which follows is priceless.

Then again, encourage teens if they want to organize a volunteer effort with their peers. Offer your support – a place to meet, food, transportation, t-shirts, etc. This shows them you want to support their individual efforts, too.

It’s best to let teens take the lead in this while you act as an assistant. While you’re working alongside them, you’ll have the chance to talk about all sorts of things including private issues that are on their minds.

Besides strengthening bonds with your teen, community engagement has multiple benefits for young people. It nurtures their ethical and social values, expands connections with other people, enhances their self-confidence and fosters a proactive approach to life.

3. Movie Night

Old civilizations had myths and stories to learn about the mysteries of life; we have movies. Although children and teens are spending too much time parked in front of the screen and certainly should be encouraged to go outside and take part in other activities, the benefits of high-tech can and should be used for educational and yes, for family bonding purposes.

So why not organize a movie night with your teen every now and then? Sit down with them and agree on a movie or movies you could watch. Perhaps you could include your teen’s best friend every now and again. A friend nearby is comforting.

Encourage discussion about the movie when it’s over. Why it was chosen, what you learned from it, who your favorite character was, etc. Don’t push – let the discussion take its natural course.

Let’s use our love of stories and the abundance of available movies to our advantage to connect us with our teenage children. And of course, provide food you all like. Food brings us together, too!

4. Sharing your passions

Were you a passionate collector of tapes, of rock magazines? Maybe you kept a notebook with inspiring quotes, drawings, and your own thoughts. Or you had a special box of memorabilia; movie tickets, photos, postcards. Maybe you had a special hobby. If you’ve kept treasures like these over the years, now is the time to dust them off and show them to your teen, if you haven’t already done so. This can be a precious, intimate moment. A collection you created with passion carries the essence of your spirit. It is a reminder of who you really are, and when you share it with your teen it invites them to share a passion of theirs or to discover a new one.

There’s a story behind each passion. Stories connect people, so use them. You could broaden this activity to include grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. This could make for a great extended family bonding experience.

Help teens nurture and develop their passion. They may want to build bird houses or shoot a movie. Great! Engagement in activities that fulfill them benefits their mental health and could be crucial for their career. And you will be there as their supporters. Remember to keep these collections and passing passions to share with your teenagers after they have reached adulthood. We all love to revisit those times gone by and we appreciate our parents saving these memories for us.

Have you found these ideas useful? Share your thoughts and experiences!

If you need any advice on the parent-teen connection, you’ve come to the right place!

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A FAMILY BOOK CLUB: 5 BOOKS TO READ WITH YOUR TEEN

by Anja Andjelkovic

Reading to children at an early age has copious benefits, such as: develop the brain, prepare for school, improve language skills and social interactions, and more. In fact, the scope of these benefits is so vast, that some parents start reading to their children as early as when they are still in the belly, or even just the size of a poppy seed.

What if you didn’t read to your child when he/she was little or, you did but they have lost interest in reading now? As with almost anything in life, it is never too late to start again! Although, teens may view reading as “uncool” or irrelevant, never underestimate the power of a good story.

So, how can you encourage your teen to read more? You could try suggesting some of the novels listed below and then discuss them together. A great option would be to read the novels out loud so the entire family can become a little book club. It might seem counterintuitive to read out loud to older children (especially teens) but it is a fun activity that comes with several benefits. Reading aloud can help your child improve their pronunciation as they will actually hear the words they would typically read silently. It is also a great common activity that becomes a bonding experience between parents and children. Naturally, there might be some resistance at first, but try it a few times. After the initial awkwardness has passed, you might just discover what a rewarding experience it can be. If you decide you’d rather read on your own and then discuss the books together, that’s great too, as long as the reading leads to an open discussion.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

To Kill A Mockingbird

 

Classics are classics for a reason and this is one of them. To Kill a Mockingbird is a necessary read for everyone, as it deals with issues that are as current now as they were in 1960 when the novel was first published. The story is told from the perspective of a six-year-old girl, Scout, who lives with her father, a lawyer, and her older brother. Scout’s father, Atticus, is appointed to defend a black man accused of having raped a white woman. As you can expect, the novel goes on to discuss controversial topics of race, rape, inequality and prejudice.

After reading the book with your teen, it would be interesting to discuss a current event that is affecting the world, such as racial inequality, gender roles, or class divide. Discussing important topics such as these is a great way to get your teen interested in news, current events, and politics. This is an opportunity to learn more about your child on an intellectual level and engage in meaningful discussion. Tying these topics into the story by reviewing how the characters dealt with them can allow you to deliver a few life lessons (without the eye roll). Make sure that all parties have a chance to talk and listen.  This is an excellent opportunity for your teen to explore how he/she feels.

Note: The novel contains some violence and one of the main characters is being tried for rape. It also contains inappropriate language and deals with sensitive topics.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky

Perks of Being Wallflower

Choosing the right book may be one of the biggest challenges you face when encouraging your teen to read. The key is to find something relatable, whether it be in the age of the characters or the story within. The Perks of Being a Wallflower involves teenage characters with typically average teenage problems; making it a great book to start your family book club.

The story follows a shy, struggling, fifteen-year-old boy named Charlie. As he is coping with the suicide of his best friend alongside his own mental health issues, he finds himself among a new group of friends.  While Charlie’s situation is very specific and sometimes pretty dark, the things he experiences are things most teenagers will endure at some point. Being able to talk about these experiences while sharing your own may encourage your child to open up. With a book that encompasses love, friendship, heartbreak, and self-esteem issues, you’re bound to be able to throw in a life lesson or two somewhere.

It is important to note that it is best to be understanding and patient with your child if they do not want to open up or are struggling to discuss something. Reading together is supposed to be a fun, expressive, bonding activity for everyone involved. There is a lot that can be learned from this book, but it is best to keep an open mind and really dive into the message and its characters to get the most out of it.

Note: The novel contains violence and it deals with sensitive topics such as suicide and child abuse. It also involves sexual content, the characters drink, smoke and do drugs, and there is a use of inappropriate language.

Coraline, Neil Gaiman

Coraline

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is a somewhat dark, twisted story relative to that of Alice in Wonderland. Although Coraline is also considered a children’s book, adults love it because they can revisit their own childhood memories and gain different perspectives on them. Since this book is extraordinarily unique, there is a large opportunity for length discussions.

The main character of this story is a girl who is not quite a teen yet named Coraline. Her family moves to a home that has left her feeling neglected, yet adventurous. As she beings to explore she finds herself in a parallel universe where everything seems very much the same, but her parents have buttons for eyes. Her parents are the perfect, caring and permissive parents she wants them to be, but it is slowly revealed that “The Other Mother” is not as nice as she seems.

This story attracts readers of all ages because it touches on things we’ve all experienced as children. We’ve all been dissatisfied with our parents and their rules, or even felt like we didn’t matter that much; especially in our teen years. This would have led to us creating our own “dream world” of some sort. This is something that can be discussed with your teen: what their dream world would be like, how would the characters in it act, why he/she is choosing that as their dream world. You can also share your dream world with your teen and try to remember what you wished for when you were younger; you will surely find some similarities to Coraline and to your child as well. While talking about these worlds, focus on the relationship between parents and their children and discuss it with your child. You might learn what bugs your teen about the relationship with you and try to explore it and you will surely have an interesting discussion from which everyone can learn something.

Note: The book contains some violence.

The Diary of A Young Girl, Anne Frank

Diary of Anne Frank

Written by a young Jewish girl in the throes of World War II; this book clearly demonstrates the horrors of war and the consequences of conflict. It is also important because it shows the war through an eye of a child who writes about things any child would write about: the relationship with her parents and sister, friends and a boy named Peter.

Reading Anne Frank’s diary calls for a lesson about the war and the Jewish persecution, The discussion of this book can actually start with you and your teen reading up on this horrible period of human history. While learning about the war, you will surely find plenty of topics to talk about.: “What brings a man to hurt another human being?”, “Why have people agreed to this?”, “Where was all this hatred coming from?” are a few topical questions that are bound to lead to lengthy debates. You will read in Anne’s diary that despite everything, she still believed that people are really good at heart. This can easily lead to a lesson on judgment and respect for others.

The topics that this book brings up are all serious topics that should be discussed when your child is ready. This story is essential to the history of the world and gives a great deal of insight into the life of a Jewish child during that time.  his book is here to remind us of what happened and, that teaching the future generations about the horrors of it may prevent history from repeating itself.

Note: As it deals with the topics of war, the book contains violence, sexual content, smoking, and drinking.

1984, George Orwell

1984

Orwell’s 1984 is a pivotal book, and essential to read during a time like this when surveillance and technology are at their most evasive. There is a lot to learn from this book that also evokes a lot of emotion. When reading at the right age, this book is bound to spark a lengthy debate.

1984 is set in a dystopian world of surveillance led by “Big Brother”: where there is constant war, manipulation, and dictation by the political system. In this world, independent thinking is a crime, and so is pretty much anything that doesn’t abide by the rules of the dictatorship. This book is popular amongst teens due to their strong feelings on surveillance, government, and human rights.

The main points of discussion about this novel concentrate around critical thinking and what can happen when there is a severe lack of it. This is a good way to encourage your child to voice his/her opinion and not to be afraid to disagree with everyone else. Another way to deepen the discussion is to talk about free will and the importance of it in a modern society. Also, compare Orwell’s dystopia to our society and see what your teen thinks about where we stand. Adults will enjoy this book because it is one of those good ones that changes together with you and the more experiences you gain in life.

Note: The book contains sexual content, violence, and scenes of smoking and drinking alcohol.

Happy reading! Enjoy!

 

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TO PLAY OR TO LEARN? 5 BENEFITS OF IMAGINATIVE PLAY.

For their children to succeed, parents usually think that they should steer their minds away from playing and get them focused on academics. Pretend play, also called an imaginative play, has been proven to develop skills employers are looking for, and it also is the foundation of abstract thought. Thus, the question today is not whether you should encourage your child to study more or let him/her play. The question is how to encourage your child to engage in imaginative play as much as possible. This article aims to show ways to do so and will also list some of the benefits of this type of game and explain why it is so important for your child’s development.

What is an imaginative play?

This type of play, also called pretend play, make-believe play or symbolic play, entails acting out different stories. During this process of acting, children play with emotions and ideas forcing them to decide between many possible scenarios [3]. For example, when you see your child enjoying an elegant tea party with his or her teddy bears or become a part of a superhero/superheroine group with friends, you are witnessing the imaginative play.

Children develop the ability to pretend very early in their childhood, around 18 months [1]. At this age, the imaginative play associates with the infant’s ability to recognize relationships between objects and the actions related to them. For example, the child first recognizes that a cup is connected to drinking. Next, they use sounds or gestures to indicate drinking. Finally, the child will start to combine this knowledge and begin using an object similar to a cup to feed his/her tea party teddy bears [6]. This pattern gets more complex with age, peaking when children are pretending for longer periods of time when the parents start taking notice of it, or when the child vocalizes that they are pretending [5].

How is this beneficial for my child?

Many parents worry that imaginative play is a waste of time, or that their child may go too far and lose sight of reality [5]. While these fears are understandable, it is imperative to note that this is a healthy and even beneficial part of a child’s life.

  • Imaginative play encourages the cognitive development of a child. Research has shown improvements in their executive functions (higher functions that allow people to act more goal-oriented and adaptive). These children also have a better working memory which means they can manipulate information as they process it. Also, they are better at shifting their attention from one task to the other [8], helping to promote logical reasoning. Each developed scenario has its logic that they must continue to recall, involving lots of reasoning and attention to detail [5].
  • Imaginative play encourages the development of emotional abilities and emotional regulatory skills as well [5]. While engaging in this sort of game, children have to act out emotions, which in turn helps them express their emotions later. Highly emotional games such as “playing doctor” may help them cope with similar situations later in life [4].
  • Children might be pre-exercising for skills they will find useful later in life. For example, playing “house” entails a lot of recollection of things they see their parent(s) doing every day. Acting these scenarios out may help them succeed in a parenting role later in life [7].
  • Imaginative play encourages the development of generic knowledge. Accomplished through the authenticity of their imagined world/scenario, generic knowledge is useful in following verbal instructions [7].
  • Social skills are also being nurtured through imaginative play as this type of game usually involves the presence or imagining of others. Children learn how to initiate and sustain the social relationship. They also start to acknowledge that they are not the only ones in the story, thus losing their egocentricity and considering other people while creating or modifying the story [5].

Speaking of things that are beneficial, here’s an e-book with 5 ways you can help your child improve their executive function!

Nobel Coaching – Executive Function

How do I encourage this behavior?

With a bit of patience, time and imagination, this should be easy and fun!

As a parent, you can get involved in your child’s game by imitating. If you notice that he or she is pretending to be something or someone, your first step should be to get involved in the dialogue according to the scenario. By asking questions about the character or story you inadvertently extend their playing by forcing them to expand upon their imaginary world and to come up with alternate scenarios.

Exposing your child to new experiences gives them more material to pull from when playing. These new experiences and a few props can lead to extended play time and some unique stories.

While encouraging your child to pretend, it is important always to make them feel that they are in control of the story. Let them know that you are only there as a part of the story and they can decide how it ends.

Finally, playing and learning are synonymous to each other. Imaginative play encourages cognitive development, emotional regulatory skills, generic knowledge, and social skills. Being involved in your child’s imagination is stimulating and educational for them, and fun for you!

References:

  1. Bosco, F. M., Friedman, O., & Leslie, A. M. (2006). Recognition of pretend and real actions in play by 1- and 2-year-olds: Early success and why they fail. Cognitive Development, 21(1), 3–10. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogdev.2005.09.006
  2. How To Encourage Pretend Play Just Pretending : How to Encourage Pretend Play and to Support Young Children in the Land of Make Believe. (2016), (July).
  3. Kaufman, S. B. P. D. (2012). The Need for Pretend Play in Child Development. Retrieved December 26, 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beautiful-minds/201203/the-need-pretend-play-in-child-development
  4. Lillard, A. S., Lerner, M. D., Hopkins, E. J., Dore, R. A., & Smith, E. D. (2013). The impact of pretend play on children’s development: A review of the evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 139(1), 1–34. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0029321
  5. Narvaez, D. (2014). Is Pretend Play Good for Kids ? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/moral-landscapes/201404/is-pretend-play-good-kids
  6. Orr, E., & Geva, R. (2015). Symbolic play and language development. Infant Behavior and Development, 38, 147–161. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.infbeh.2015.01.002
  7. Sutherland, S. L., & Friedman, O. (2013). Just pretending can be really learning: Children use pretend play as a source for acquiring generic knowledge. Developmental Psychology, 49(9), 1660–8. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0030788
  8. Thibodeau, R. B., Gilpin, A. T., Brown, M. M., & Meyer, B. A. (2016). The effects of fantastical pretend-play on the development of executive functions: An intervention study. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 145, 120–138. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2016.01.001

If you need any kind of advice related to improving learning skills of your children through different means, you’ve come to the right place!

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CREATIVE IDEAS FOR HOW TO SPEND HOLIDAYS WITH YOUR FAMILY: PART 2

by Milena Ćuk, Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-Training

LET’S SING AND PERFORM!

No celebration is complete without music!

When you’re together, you can sing Christmas songs – or any other songs that you like! When everyone is present, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, it’s always interesting to spot the intergenerational differences in the songs that are selected. If you’re feeling especially bold, you can also organize a karaoke party.

Don’t forget to record the moment, by making videos or taking photos. You’ll capture funny moments and laugh together for days! Teenagers will love recording video on mobile phones. However, these days, children are exposed to gadgets from such an early age that even younger children are skillful enough with cameras that they too could help with recording your event.

Another activity that you can add to singing is this: Each of you can choose a favorite song and prepare choreography. Then, you can make the decoration for the stage, adjust the lights and start your own family show! You perform one by one, cheering and laughing. This is especially good if you’re recording video of each performance.

In the end, you’ll all be dancing in your own home party! Put on your dancing shoes and turn on a disco ball, if you have one – if not, improvise!

Christmas dance

via Youtube

PICTURING YOUR FUTURE, AND YOUR PRESENT

As the last month of the year, December is an ideal time to wrap up the current year, and make some plans for the next one. Use the time around the holidays to reflect on your current situation in life, and consider your values, and desired long-term life goals.

By practicing these activities with children or showing them examples with your own behavior, we can include them in these traditions, and, at the same time, help them prepare to make plans and decisions for themselves as grown-ups.

People often make a list of New Year’s resolutions. However, here, we’ll give you some ideas of how you can present your resolutions using images. Although these suggested activities are suitable for adults and older children, you can adjust them so that they will work with younger children as well. Also, you can still do these in January, if you don’t manage to get to them in December.

  1. Holding the past and future, in your hands

Future hands

via Cynthia Emerlye

In this activity adapted from art therapy first trace the shapes of both hands on a piece of letter-sized paper. Fill the shape of your left hand with the main accomplishments, experiences or feelings that have marked this past year. It’s best to express these things in drawings and colors, but you can use words as well. When you have completed the current year, shift your focus to the shape of your right hand. Fill the empty shape with your strongest desires and goals that you will work on during the coming year.

When you are done, share your work with others. Older teenagers can be sensitive regarding their privacy issues; so, they may be reluctant to participate in this activity with you. However, you can still encourage them to do the activity alone or with their friends. Also, when it comes to sharing, everybody can choose whether and how much to share. Sometimes, we forget important and good things that we have done and this activity can show us how good it is to be reminded.

  1. Vision Board

Vision board

via Milena Ćuk

The power of the imagination has found its place in the therapeutic process as well in the strategies we employ in making our dreams come true. Instead of making a list of goals for the next year, sit for a while, relax, and get in touch with yourself.

Ask yourself what it looks like for you to feel fulfilled and happy. Imagine. Where are you? What are you doing? Who is with you? What are the most important aspects of your life you want to present through this collage – and imagine scenes as if they are already happening in the way you want. If you are making a poster for the next year, put all these scenes together with next year in mind.

A poster showing your resolutions expressed through pictures can take many forms, sizes, and shapes. Gather some magazines, brochures and other printed sources. Start looking for the pictures that represent the closest to what you have in mind. When you cut out the pictures, attach them with glue to the blank paper or poster. You can also use Pinterest or other sources on the Internet to find even more images for this activity.

Vision board

via Milena Ćuk

Sometimes, you don’t have a clear vision of what you want. If this is the case, search for the pictures that are most attractive to you. In either case, avoid ambiguous representations or negative symbols. For instance, if you want to achieve success in school, find an education-related picture that motivates you.

Make a nice, relaxing atmosphere where everybody will have the opportunity to work individually and to interact with others. After the activity is completed, you can all share and discuss what you have created. The same rule applies here – everybody can choose what and how much to share.

Did you like the ideas that we have prepared for you? Share pictures if you tried some of these! Also, inspire us with the creative activities that you enjoyed with your family! You can also check out the first part of our creative holiday ideas here!

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CREATIVE IDEAS FOR HOW TO SPEND HOLIDAYS WITH YOUR FAMILY: PART 1

by Milena Ćuk, Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-Training

So, once again, we’ve made it to the holiday season! Happy Holidays!

There are so many reasons to embrace and cherish the holidays, but, first and foremost, the holidays are a perfect time for families to spend quality time together. Many of you probably have your own family rituals such as decorating the Christmas tree and your home, making gifts and holiday cards together, dining together, making a snowman, creating resolutions for the new year, and maybe even starting a small snowball fight. Whatever the tradition, the holidays are a time for togetherness.

In this article, we will share some ideas related to creative joint activities that you can do at home that you can add to your family traditions. There’s no need to point out how activities performed as a family are paramount in strengthening the bonds within families and for nurturing healthy relationships.

In creating our list, we considered the spirit and meaning of Christmas and the New Year and aimed to offer something creative, to cover (and combine) different forms of expression and to find activities in which all family members can participate. And we considered fun too, of course. 🙂

Some activities that we suggest here are suitable for toddlers and younger children; others are very good for teenagers. You, as parents, can easily participate in all of them. We recommend that you and your family review the activities and select the ones most appealing to you so that nobody feels forced to participate. We created this list to inspire you. We hope that, in reviewing it, you’ll come up with even more ideas.

ACTIVITIES FOR AROUND THE CHRISTMAS TREE

The Christmas tree in your home is a great motivator to use when planning activities with your preschooler or toddler. Using your Christmas tree, you can employ simple techniques to develop your child’s imagination and motor skills.

  1. Christmas tree craft and matching game

For this activity, you’ll need paper (card stock or cardboard), scissors, glitter glue, and supplies for coloring and decorating: permanent markers, washi tape, watercolor paints, tempera, oil pastels, etc.

This activity is especially good for families with small children where each of you can create several trees with different designs. An added benefit, the trees you make for this matching game can also be used to decorate your home, or even to use on Christmas-themed hats! We’re sure there are more uses for these trees; let us know if you come up with some!

To make the trees, start by drawing a simple triangle on a piece of card stock or cardboard. Make sure to let your children do this – the shape doesn’t have to be perfect! Let them experiment with colors and materials you have prepared so that they create their own designs. Glitter glue, tempera, and the other materials are best applied by hand. Don’t worry about dirty hands – children love sensory activities – not to mention a little bit of mess!

easy-christmas-tree-craft-for-preschool-11

via Nurture Store

For the matching game – simply cut several trees in half and lay all the pieces out, in a jumbled arrangement. Ask a child to find each of the matching pairs. This is a good activity for toddlers to look carefully and spot similarities and differences.

christmas-tree-matching-game-1

via Nurture Store

  1. Christmas tree balancing activity

christmas-activities-balance-pin-1

via The Inspired Treehouse

This activity is good for developing balance, motor skills, coordination, and the core strength of your kids. Even more importantly, it is easy to set up!

You will need green painter’s tape, paper or yarn-wrapped ornaments (you can make them easily during preparation activities), and a paper star.

First, create a large Christmas tree on the floor in an open space, using the painter’s tape. Place the ornaments in a pile at the bottom of the tree and create the rules for the game. It’s more fun if you are part of the game and if there is more than one child participating since it is a good opportunity to practice teamwork.

It’s easiest if you have the kids take turns squatting or bending to pick up an ornament and then walking along the trunk and branches of the tree (being sure to keep their balance!) until they find the spot they want to decorate.

You can always add or change instructions depending on your kids’ ages and to keep them focused.

  1. Easy Ripped Paper Tree Craft

tree-pin-1

via TOTS Family

For this activity, you only need construction paper and glue sticks. It’s ideal for toddlers and younger kids since you don’t need scissors and they’ll love the paper tearing! And, they’ll get to practice their fine motor skills. Of course, older children and parents can have fun as well with this creative activity!

A FAMILY PICTURE, WITH SOME HUMOR

Nowadays, making family photos is easier than ever. However, you can make it even more fun by adding some acting and hand-made details to the process. Also, don’t discount the old-school value of depicting your family through drawings since this nurtures our imaginations and subjective perceptions of each other.

  1. No ordinary Christmas photo shoot!

a15b617d210bc34f809beefe6910d743

via Pinterest

Forget about posing! Why not make funny facial expressions with hand-made Christmas symbols instead?

For this very important family photo shoot, you’ll have to make some preparations. Prior to the shoot, organize a workshop to create the props that you will use. You’ll need cardboard, scissors, markers, tape or glue, glitter, and sticks. You can always add other material for even more decoration ideas – be creative!

With the children, make some Christmas symbols from the cardboard such as reindeer horns, Santa’s hat, Rudolph’s nose, Santa’s beard, a snowflake, etc. After you have created your decoration, attach a stick to each item. You can also create some colorful and shiny Christmas glasses to wear too!

christmas photo

via Pinterest

Now, you’re ready and the photo shoot can begin! During the shoot, you can change props and even change who takes the photos. Also, you can add improvisation and acting games for making even more funny poses and facial expressions such as: Santa needs to go to the bathroom! Or, happy snowflake! And, with the glasses, you can coolly pose as Johnny Depp (or any other celebrity/character everybody is familiar with).

As your imagination unfurls, so too will other ideas for even more creative photos.

Don’t forget to tell us how your photo shoot went, and send us some photos, of course!

  1. How well do we know each other?

christmas photo shoot

via Mashable

In this family workshop, you’ll need paper and pens for each member of the family. Of course, you’ll probably want to add markers and some crayons too, for added color.

First, everyone should draw the family as they see it. Make sure to leave space in the upper part of the paper so that you can draw a speech bubble above each member of your family. Once you have everyone drawn, add the words ‘I’m dreaming of…’ at the top of the paper. Then, fill the bubbles with the rest of the words – but before you do, you’ll have to put yourself in the shoes of your loved ones.

This is a good psychological exercise to be done with teenagers and even with your partner. It’ll be interesting when you compare your answers. In this fast-paced life, sometimes we lose sight of the needs of our growing children or even the changing needs of our partners, and we consequently disconnect.

For younger children who haven’t yet learned to write, you can have them draw symbols within the speech bubbles instead of words.

Or, for a new twist, consider these themes:

My biggest fear is…

My passion is…

What I need the most in this moment is…

Whatever you decide for your theme, don’t forget to share what each of you has added, and to discuss it. You might just discover important insights and share some experiences that help you understand your family even better!

Check out the second part of our holiday ideas here!

 

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10 PRINCIPLES TO HELP PARENTS DELIVER EFFECTIVE FEEDBACK

by Milena Cuk
Life and Assertiveness Coach
Integrative Art Psychotherapist-in-training

As parents, we have a duty to prepare our children to live independently in a world where they will interact with many different types of people. To prepare them for adulthood, we must recognize the importance of providing them feedback, both positive and negative (corrective). Positive feedback, such as giving compliments, expressing affection, and acknowledging your children’s efforts and successful performances, is important in building their confidence, in helping them learn new skills and in maintaining a close and open relationship with them. Giving constructive, negative feedback is important too, in learning new skills, in learning to respect boundaries and the needs of other people. Feedback is essential for self-improvement and for the personal growth of your children.

If you have a teenager at home, you may feel frustrated or worried when faced with certain changes in his/her behavior. The transition from childhood to adulthood is a sensitive and tempestuous period of life marked with questions of self-identity, first heartbreaks, a strong need for peer approval, exploring sexuality, etc. It is a period of discovering new aspects of reality. Sometimes, these aspects include alcohol, drugs, and rebellion against authority. These can all lead to a decreasing interest in education, and, in the worst-case scenario, risky behavior or trouble with authority figures. Parents fear adolescence. As parents, you are aware that your teen must go through the process of discovering the world of adults, but you do not want him to get lost. And often, you do not know what to tell him and how to approach his questions, in order to give him enough freedom, but, at the same time, to protect him from harm.

Luckily, there are guiding principles for providing feedback that motivates. In this article, we have gathered our experience from our coaching practice to explain these essential principles and to give parents some examples of how to use them. In our practice, we encounter common dilemmas that we hear from parents and stories of difficulties that many teens face. We have found that these principles are universal and can be applied regardless of the age of your children.

Principle 1
Be realistic

From the start, you should constantly consider the demands you make of your children, and make sure that they are realistic. Sometimes, even the best-intentioned parents are too demanding, asking that their children keep tidy rooms, the best test scores in their schools, the best results on their sports teams, and that they always do what their parents ask. Don’t forget that perfection is the enemy of good. Also, teenage rebellion against social norms and authority is normal, and a phase of their development. You should not ignore the boundaries they push, but HOW you react is important. On the other hand, some parents are overprotective or overindulgent, which causes their children, when they grow up, to have difficulties coping with life’s challenges.

The demands our children face are constantly changing, with their ages, their temperaments, their capacities, and with the changes society experiences as time progresses. Our children today face different challenges, with peers, social trends, in their schools and communities, more than we did. We should try our hardest to acknowledge this.

Principle 2
Show positive attention

In our coaching practice, we see so often that parents are too busy in their lives to spend enough quality time with their children. At the same time, they still demand that their child “become somebody and something one day.” In their frustration, they focus their communication with their children solely on criticizing their “bad” behavior. Sometimes, parents’ fears about their children’s bad behavior are self-fulfilling. The child, receiving ever-increasing amounts of criticism, reacts with even more “inappropriate” behavior in a quest to seek attention from the parents (“look at me!”) even if all he will get is negative attention, in the form of criticism and punishment. Sometimes, they see negative attention as better than no attention at all.

Children need to be loved and accepted by their parents. It is important to show them a “daily dose” of smiles, warm eye contact, and physical contact, such as touches and hugs. Children need their parents to listen to them and take an interest in their lives. Children need compliments and praise too. In our busy lives, feelings of love and affection between family members often go unspoken. “I love you”, “I am so happy to have you as my daughter/son”, “I like you the way you are”, “I believe in you!” – are strong messages that build the foundation of your child’s stability, self-confidence, and trust. These messages need to be heard over and over.

Principle 3
Praise honestly

When you praise your children, focus on the positive, and be honest. Remember the old saying that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” You can always find something good and beautiful in another person, whether this relates to that person’s appearance, a certain behavior they exhibit or an accomplishment they achieved.
Be specific when offering praise.

Consider these examples: “Oh, I really like the colors you picked for your outfit. They’re so creative!”; “Good job preparing a dinner without even being asked!”; “Good point” – for the opinion they’ve just expressed. “I really liked how you cleaned your room!”; “I really liked the way you helped your younger brother; I am proud of you.”
Offer praise not only for a good performance but also the effort your child has invested. Encourage the journey, not just the destination. “You worked really hard on that paper.”; “You’re doing great, just keep moving!”; “You are almost there!”; “You will make it!”

Even though it’s important to be specific when praising behavior, don’t forget to praise your child’s personality and their positive traits. This praise will strengthen your child’s self-confidence and encourage a healthy self-image. For example: “You are a wonderful person!”; “You are so smart!”; “You are beautiful!”; “You are very capable!”; “You are so kind!”

Principle 4
Offer compliments, but make sure they’re genuine and sincere

Compliments need to come from your heart. They have to be genuine and offered sincerely. If not, they lose their power.

Unrealistic compliments can harm your children. They can lead to unattainable goals and distort their self-image. It’s best to avoid messages like: “You are the smartest boy ever!”; or “You are the most beautiful girl in the world!”

Principle 5
When providing negative feedback, never criticize a child’s personality

Messages like these never help. They are always harmful: “You jerk”; “You are crazy”; “You are bad”; “You are so clumsy”; “You are a liar!”, etc. Negative feedback should be designed so that it promotes change and improvement. If you label your child as a bad person, he may begin to think that this is a permanent condition. Offering feedback like this does not help your child learn what he needs to change in order to better himself.

Principle 6
Negative feedback: Focus on the behavior

Constructive feedback should always serve as a call for changing some concrete behavior.

“It bothers me when you are late.”
“Your music is too loud. Please, turn down the volume.”
“Please, go back to the dinner table and push your chair in.”

We should point out what concrete behavior bothers us, and make it clear how it is unacceptable.
Avoid unrealistic comments like: “You are always late”; “You never do your homework on time”; “You never do what I ask of you”, etc.

Principle 7
Deliver praise publicly; deliver constructive feedback privately

When giving corrective feedback to children, regardless of age, you should catch them alone. Most people feel humiliated when they are criticized in front of others. Negative feedback should not make somebody feel guilty or ashamed. Instead, this feedback should help your child become aware of his own behavior, correct it and learn.

Principle 8
Don’t take it personally

Parents sometimes feel offended or upset, when one of their ground rules is broken, or if inappropriate behavior is repeated, or can cause harm. This happens even more frequently with teens when they exhibit their rebellious or risky behavior. Parents sometimes see teens’ behavior as reckless and disrespectful, and something that needs to be punished. And this is sometimes true. However, this behavior can occur for several reasons, such as strong inner conflicts and pain, insecurity or peer pressure.

In these cases, it is important to keep communication open in order to understand what is going on in your teen’s head and heart. Always remember to stay calm and consistent in your discussions with your child.

Principle 9
Different forms of corrective feedback

What is the best way to provide corrective feedback? This depends on many factors. Delivering corrective feedback is a skill that you can practice. The most important thing to remember is that you follow the principles stated above. Here are examples of corrective feedback offered correctly:

“We know that you don’t like bringing the garbage out and would rather do something else, but we’ve made a deal, and we need you to take it outside.”
“I feel angry and frustrated when the bathroom is not cleaned after you bathe, even after you promised to do it. We have a rule that everybody cleans up after them and I would like it to be respected. I always try to do what I promise and I would appreciate if you do the same. What do you think?”
“Gosh, you were really good during the game. You were so focused, fast, and catching the ball really well. It seemed, though, at the end that you were out of breath. Maybe you should focus more on practicing breathing and endurance? What do you think?”
“When you don’t come home when you said would and you don’t call us, I get worried that you’re in trouble. Please, don’t let it happen again, OK?”
“You know how proud daddy and I are of you. You are a smart girl who’s always done so well in school; so, we find these lower grades surprising. Is there something going on that’s bothering you, and keeping you from studying? What’s going on, honey?”
“You know that this behavior is unacceptable (for instance, your son took money from your wallet without asking). Since you were little, we’ve taught you about honesty. What happened this time?” In general, it is good to keep the conversation open to hearing your child’s side of the story and to understand why your child broke the rule. For instance: “What made you do this?”; “Do you have some thoughts to share with us?”; “Help us understand.”

As parents, it is easier to evaluate your rules or determine appropriate consequences when you understand the entire situation.

Principle 10
Balance negative feedback with positive feedback

Do you give more positive feedback or negative feedback? Delivering more positive feedback is recommended by the experts. Positive feedback is more powerful, and it helps build healthy relationships.

In the end, don’t forget to praise yourself – for everything you do for your children. You also deserve praise for your efforts in working on your parenting skills. That’s why you’re here, right?

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HELPING KIDS SUCCEED – MINUS THE STRESS

Parents usually resort to more study time, tutoring and advanced classes when they want to help their children achieve their academic goals. This achievement-centered approach might be helpful, but studies have shown that kids with more self-control achieve more academically. Therefore, it makes sense to help kids develop and practice skills related to self-control rather than make them take that one extra class, which is often stressful. Practicing these skills is not only useful for academic success – having a higher level of self-control also means being able to better tolerate stress and control your emotions. More self-control leads to increased empathy and social competence. And, all of this results in better concentration abilities.

The Marshmallow Experiment” have shown that skills related to self-control are better predictors of academic success than IQ scores. In this experiment, children knew that a two marshmallow reward could be had if they did not eat the first marshmallow right away. It’s important to note that the children were not punished for eating the first marshmallow right away, nor were they praised for waiting. When practicing self-control, it is critical to remember this because bettering this skill is about controlling one’s impulses to achieve a goal, and not about pleasing others and avoiding punishment. It is also important to start the practice at the child’s current level and focus on his/her own progress rather than comparing their progress to others. Doing this could lead to feelings of inferiority, leaving the child hesitant to keep trying.

One of a child’s earliest experiences with self-control occurs during imaginative play, and parents should make sure that their children have enough time for it. During imaginative play, kids set their own rules and are motivated to follow them when the game is fun. For example, they have to control their behavior and inhibit their impulses when they want to achieve their goal of becoming an astronaut or a teacher. Another way of improving self-control skills would be through fun activities with parents. These activities should involve some structure, such as taking turns; so, board games could be especially useful. During the game, it is important to let the kid monitor him/herself and if that proves too hard for them, find an alternative appropriate for their current level of self-control.

Imaginative play and board games as means to improving skills related to self-control prove that achieving success doesn’t have to be stressful or boring for the child. It can be fun, and the more they do it, the more self-control they will develop. These ways to develop self-control also show that playing is not the opposite of learning; rather, playing IS learning.

– via Psychology Today