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Archive for February, 2010

10 tips for a successful family vacation

Friday, February 26th, 2010 by:

For many families there will be a school break of some sort in the next few weeks and, whether you are staying home or going away, here are some tips to help make sure you have a great time:

1. Set loving limits
Behaviour doesn’t take a vacation–it comes with you. Start as soon as you get in the car/to the airport/in the taxi by being fair and kind, but firm right from the get go. This will help your kids know what kind of behaviour you expect for the rest of the trip. It can be counterintuitive because we want to make sure that everyone is having fun, but setting limits early means everyone will be much happier for the rest of the trip.

2. Before you leave – take the whole family to a restaurant with the intention of leaving if need be
If you will be eating at a lot of restaurants on your vacation, then try this little trick. Before your trip, go to a restaurant and let them know that if there is any misbehaving, you will leave. Expect to go home with your meals in a box and be ready for it, then if they misbehave–leave. This will show your kids that you are prepared to do this at restaurants or other activities on vacation as well.

3. Front Load – let them know how you expect them to behave and how you will help them
Start talking to your kids a couple of days before the trip about what kind of behaviour you expect. Decide on what consequences there will be if they misbehave so they know ahead of time and can make good choices. Let them know you will help them with reminders to make those good choices.

4. Talk about the kind of behaviour you expect between siblings
Explain that negative behaviour between siblings gets in the way of everyone’s fun; good behaviour (such as compliments or encouragement) will help make everyone happy. Catch them being kind or thoughtful to one another.

5. Set your own realistic expectations
We think that because we’re going on vacation, all of the things that drive us crazy here at home will go on vacation too. This is usually not the case, and we need to make sure our own expectations are realistic so that we aren’t disappointed.

6. Make sure there is quality family time and alone time each day
As parents, we also want to get in some “me” time during the vacation. Make sure you do some “together activities” that let you and the kids connect – really get in there and play with the kids – then you can tell them that mommy and daddy need time to be adults and they will respect that.

7. Create a trip agenda
Kids like to have some structure. Creating an agenda lets them know what is going to happen each day and helps them to set expectations. It doesn’t have to be detailed or rigid, just give them a sense of what to expect each day, building in lots of time for transitions like getting ready and organized.

8. Stick to bedtimes
Keeping, within reason, the same routine you have at home will ensure they are well-rested each day. It doesn’t have to be the same time as at home, just make sure it’s as consistent as possible. Tiredness is one of the leading causes of difficult behaviour.

9. Make sure to schedule in some downtime
No matter what age we are, we all need a bit of down time each day when we are on vacation. Take some time each afternoon to relax – and have some quite moments away from distractions, programs and groups of people. This will keep kids from getting overwhelmed and over-stimulated and keep everyone in good spirits.

10. Be playful, loving and silly
A vacation is a great time to bond, cuddle and spend lots of quality time together. Make sure to laugh, be silly and really enjoy the moment–sometimes we can get so caught up in organizing everyone that we lose the joy in it all.

Jennifer Kolari is a child and parent therapist, and found of Connected Parenting. For more information you can contact jennifer at or visit

Are you stressing out your child?

Thursday, February 18th, 2010 by:

Over the last 15 to 20 years, we have moved from this a parent-centered culture to a child-centered culture. We are better at understanding our children, better at empathizing and better at supporting and helping children when they are in need. Children are more protected and enjoy more emotional and physical safety than ever before and as a culture we care more about their feelings and their dignity.

There is a downside, though, and things may have swung a little too far. Many well-meaning parents work too hard to smooth the road for their children. Removing obstacles and bumps may make it easier for us to bear our children’s pain and emotional discomfort, but our children don’t seem to be better off for it. According to clinical psychologists Joseph Allen and Claudia Worrell Allen, “We’re seeing high rates of anxiety and depression. The average college student right now is as anxious as the average psychiatric patient was 50 years ago.”

As a child and family therapist, I see far more anxiety amongst the children I work with than I did years ago. I also see children having more difficulties with emotional regulation, anger and impulse control. If you smooth every bump and remove every obstacle in their way, children will not develop the emotional circuitry to manage bumps when they happen. They will fall apart and overreact because they do not have a repertoire of experiences that they can review and say, “Oh yeah, I handled that and I was ok so I can get through this.” If we do not trust them to learn for themselves, make mistakes and experience difficulties, they can’t build that important repertoire. The irony is that the more we try to make life easier for them, the more upset and anxious they seem to become.

It is hard to watch your child cry when you have to say “no” to something, or set a limit. But if you think it’s tough with a two- or four-year-old, think about how it will look when they are 14 or 16 years old. The truth is it will never be easier than it is right now to change and correct behaviors.

Staying neutral, being loving and predictable while setting fair and reasonable limits is the greatest gift you can give your child. It will help them become capable, resilient and secure. Adolescence is around the corner. It may seem like you have a lifetime with your children but they really do grow up quickly. Support them. Guide them. And, love them well. Be empathic and fair, but don’t be afraid to set limits. Let them experience some disappointment and give them messages of competence that help them see that they can, and will, get over it and be okay. Help them to be accountable for their mistakes and behaviors. They will be better prepared for life and a whole lot happier.

Jennifer Kolari is a child and parent therapist, and found of Connected Parenting. For more information you can contact jennifer at or visit

Autism and Vaccinations

Thursday, February 18th, 2010 by:

Earlier this month The Lancet retracted a 12-year-old article linking autism to MMR vaccines. The landmark study turned tens of thousands of parents against a vaccine designed to protect our children against measles, mumps and rubella.

The study was based on just 12 children.

The autism and vaccination study found that eight of the 12 autistic children studied first saw symptoms after receiving the MMR vaccination. Recent research confirmed that the group was specially selected to have an extremely high number of children who had symptoms occur around the time of the MMR vaccination. It also found that research was funded by lawyers acting for parents who were involved in lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers.

Experts say the retraction by The Lancet is long overdue and the autism and vaccinations piece never should have been published. But this brings up the question: Are we too eager to trust information simply because it was published in a medical journal?

The link between the MMR vaccination and autism debate garnered so much media attention that no parent could have known the findings were based on a lawsuit-biased study with just 12 children.

“Why The Lancet published it is completely beyond me,” state Dr. Suzanne Lewis, a pediatrician and clinical professor of medical genetics at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Dr. Lewis also stated that tens of millions of dollars have been spent on additional studies attempting to validate the original autism and immunization shots findings–none have succeeded.

The truth is autism has a genetic cause and undetermined environmental triggers. The pressure to come up with a reason for the drastic rise in autism has set off a completely unfounded fear over autism and vaccinations.

Guilt-free Valentine’s Day Chocolate

Thursday, February 11th, 2010 by:

Forget flowers, and high hopes for romantic surprises. All of us know the best part of Valentine’s Day is the chocolate.

This year you can do good by your chocolate cravings. Just log onto Chocolate Boob Tax and make a donation to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation in the name of chocolate.

Each dollar you spend goes directly to funding life-saving research.

Taking time for yourself

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010 by:

There are so many articles and blogs out there about how important it is for mothers to take care of themselves. Most of us read and nod in an agreement with a vague promise that we have to do that, but then we never quite get to it, or if we do it doesn’t last long. That advice is out there for a reason and a very important one. Why do you think on an airplane they tell parents to put on the mask first? Being exhausted and only doing everything for others is not healthy for you–and it’s not what’s best for your kids.

Being a great parent means taking care of yourself and modeling that self care for your family. Many of my blogs so far have been about what we can do for our kids. And following this advice means being strong and ready to take on the challenge. As Moms we are used to those challenges, doing everything for others, multitasking, being on the move, driving to dance classes, making lunches, breaking up arguments, helping with homework and on and on. Many mothers feel guilty when they do things for themselves and, as a result, get depleted.

Finding time to rest, eat well, and spend time doing things we like may sound like things you don’t have energy for, but they are critical to good parenting. We can’t be the parent we want to be if we are at our wits end most of the time. Here are some practical tips to help you take care of yourself. Remember: giving to yourself is a gift to your family.

1. Go on a virtual vacation
Close the door and sit at the computer, choose some great music for the background, go to the place where you keep your pictures on the computer and hit slide show mode. You can run pictures of vacations you’ve been on and get swept away. Or look at photos of a happy family gathering and see those smiling faces. This is what you do it all for.

2. Get together with friends
Choose a night once or twice a month to get together with good friends and stick to it. And don’t spend all night talking about the kids!

3. Walk
Go for a walk alone in nature if possible.

4. Express your creativity
A few hours doing something creative apart from your family can do a lot to recharge your batteries.

5. Take a bath with candles, music or a great book
I know this sounds corny and cliché, but it really is soothing and comforting. Bring a book or listen to a great book on your iPod to take yourself away and relax. Choose a bath night and tell your whole family you are sticking to it and to respect that time.

6. Get a Mother’s Helper
See if there’s a younger teen or tween in your neighborhood who can help you once a week. If they’re too young to babysit, they can help by playing with younger kids so you can get other things done, or rest. Little ones are fascinated by bigger kids and the tween or young teen will love the responsibility.

7. Delegate
It won’t always be done just the way you like it, but it is important to spread responsibilities around. It’s good for the kids and it’s good for you. Get your kids to help out.

8. Laugh
Take time to laugh and be silly. Rent a great DVD of a standup comedian, watch a funny movie and laugh–it’s so healing and so fun.

Jennifer Kolari is a child and parent therapist, and found of Connected Parenting. For more information you can contact jennifer at or visit