Tag Archives: family game night

Helping Your Kids Open Up

When’s the last time one of your children came to you for a real heart-to-heart chat? Has it been over a year since you’ve held your sides with giggles while doing something silly together? Do you feel like you are constantly battling video games, cell phones and the Internet in order to get a one-sentence response—let alone a conversation—with your kids? In this fast-paced, over-scheduled world, months can go by without real conversation and that’s too much for my liking. I’ve thought about the times when I’ve really connected with my kids to recall what triggered our closeness. And since no two kids are a like, I’ve reached out to experts as well for more ideas. Here are the top tactics that may help you bridge the communication gap and get your kids talking.

  • Get Active:
    Experts agree kids chat more with you while busy doing a physical activity together. I learned this when I was a camp counselor one summer break from college. Campers between the ages of six and 17 stayed the entire summer at this camp in the Pocono’s that catered to Manhattanites.  My job was to take each child out in a canoe, teach them the basic strokes, and later take small groups on trips. I was amazed at how the children, from the youngest to the oldest, would open up after 10 minutes or so of hard work in the canoe—especially the boys. The repetitive motions in the sun and fresh air, seemed to get even the shy kids babbling about friends, parents, school, pets, etc. I was overwhelmed with the sadness of some of the stories: a daughter raised by a slew of nannies; a son whose dad left when he was a baby; an eleven-year-old girl terrified her mom wouldn’t visit unless she landed the leading role of the camp play. …It goes on and on. I would listen and correct their J and C strokes. By the end of the summer, I was convinced that the best therapy in the world occurred while canoeing, hiking, running, or just walking with someone you trust. Even if you have a demanding work schedule, mini hikes on weekends or even walking into town for an ice cream, can inspire meaningful conversation or simple fun.
  • Family Dinner:
    Doing research for my article “How the Family Dinner Can Help Your Teen”, I discovered a survey conducted by Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse that found teenagers who eat with their families at least five times a week are more likely to get better grades in school and less likely to have substance abuse problems.Today, only about half of American teenagers say they have regular family dinners and the survey suggests that family time may be more important to children than many parents realize—even more important than a host of extra-curricular activities.Will Courtenay, Ph.D, psychotherapist in Oakland, Calif., father of two, and author of Dying to Be Men agrees family dinners work—but only if limits are imposed. “Family dinner is great—and research shows they’re beneficial for kids—but these benefits are lost if your daughter or son is texting at the table or engrossed in tunes streaming through their earbuds. It’s important for kids to learn that dinner time is a time to communicate with others at the table and to share stories of the day.” (I’d add that some parents are just as bad. Make sure the television is turned off before sitting down at the table!)
  • Family Game Night: (And, YES, this is possible for us single parents, too!)
    This may seem corny for some, especially teens, but give it a go anyway. Experts say it works if you incorporate your kids’ interests. So if your children hate scrabble or charades, don’t impose that on them.“It’s all about finding out what they like to do. What are their interests? And what is their temperament?,” points out Rona Renner, R.N., a parent educator, mom of four, and founder and host of Childhood Matters Radio Show. As an example, Renner says she purchased a ping pong table when one of her sons was 13-years-old and put it in the living room.“We just needed something to do together that we both enjoyed. When he turned 13 and entered junior high, it felt like overnight we just had nothing in common,” she reflects. The times playing ping pong were “precious” as it helped them reconnect and just have some fun.
  • Volunteer at School:
    I know this is a hard one for some. It may not be feasible to volunteer often at your children’s schools. But, if possible, find out all the different events and activities with parent involvement and sign up for one. Even if you’re only able to take off one day of work and spend one day being a chaperone on a school trip, you’ll get a chance to see your child’s friends and meet more parents. Dipping into your kids’ worlds at school opens up a host of things to talk about.
  • Sleep Talk Therapy:
    Can’t squeeze in quality time during the day? Try it at night! That’s right. Sleep talk therapy is becoming recognized by experts as a way to reinforce your love and encouragement to your children. Believe it or not, it works! A child hears differently in a sleep state and once you introduce yourself as his/her parent, your child rises into an alpha state of sleep where he can hear you, but doesn’t wake up. Please read my article “Connect With Your Children While They Sleep” to see how it works in detail.
  • Limiting “Kids’ Exit Strategies”:
    I call these the zone-out toys. For my oldest son it’s video games—but for others it can be online chat, Facebook, texting, Nintendo, TVs and computers in bedrooms or other solitary activities that keep kids away, silent and in their own worlds. Put limits on these and offer up fun activities to do together when possible and see what happens.
  • Family Pet:
    If you have the space and finances, a family pet, like a dog who needs to be walked every day, is a great way to bring unconditional love, silliness (and activity) into the family. Courtenay said one of his clients tried this strategy with great results: “A mom who was struggling with getting her adolescent son to open up, recently told me she decided to get a puppy—which she knew her son would like. The two have since been able to connect more deeply with each other, as they both care for their new addition to the family.”
  • Stay Present and Patient:
    It’s hard to connect to a parent who has his laptop on his knees at all times. So try to leave your work behind when you’re home and hanging out with your family. Experts say carving out family time—even if just for an hour in the evening—sends the message to kids that they are important. And if your teens (especially boys) barely notice, Courtenay says to have patience.
    “Patience is also important. A man I work with just today talked about how grateful he was to his mother for giving him time to “warm up.” Driving home from school, he’d be silent for what seemed like an endless amount of time—which she wouldn’t interrupt—and then finally, he’d be ready to open up to her.” The morale to that story is not to nag or push. Sometimes becoming a friend (even to your children) takes being a friend. Lighten up, listen and take the time to get to know one another.

Another article for inspiration: Stay Connected: Family Fun That Doesn’t Cost a Fortune.

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Adjusting My Attitude

 It’s about Survival. Keeping a positive outlook is important for us all, but especially for us single moms. And who knew that there are now 9.9 million of us in America? Robert Bernstein of the U.S. Census Bureau gave me this figure for 2010 and said single moms had risen at a staggering pace since 1973 when there were only 3 million of us. There are now more single mothers than the entire population of New York City. Wow. At least we have each other for support, right? And, more thankfully, at least some of us have gotten out of bad marriages in search of a better life. Experts agree that divorce was less socially acceptable in the 70s, so perhaps a few million women from the 1970s wished they were single moms!

But seriously, even if this single mom gig is by your choice, it’s still a hard job. If you don’t have family nearby to help and your ex isn’t, or is rarely around, to assist with the childrearing, it’s especially critical to not let your thoughts sink into self pity or doubt. Trust me. I have been battling with my conflicting thoughts every week for two years now. Sunday, or family day, can be especially lonely for us, but I tell myself that this is our time—my opportunity to create a better life for myself and my boys and just get on with it. Otherwise, I’ll likely sink into a funk that my children will get exposed to. I really don’t have the time or the luxury to crawl under the covers and not come out right now. And this might be a good thing. Raising two children alone is exhausting, wonderful and challenging—especially when the two-year-old temper tantrums heat up to mach speed—but this is my choice. When it comes right down to it, I could have taken my ex back, but after multiple betrayals, I decided that I wanted a better life for myself. I’m grateful for this opportunity and if that means that I have to endure some lonely days to get there, than so be it.

All things in due time. I choose to focus on the fact that I get to live with two adorable boys (even when they’re naughty!) and it’s my chance to do something amazing: to help raise two wonderful men. (Nevermind that last night I gave myself a timeout from my two-year-old!) So, with that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of tips and some positive spins on some negative thoughts—you know the ones that can become your reality if you let them. I’ve been thinking a  lot about this lately. It all boils down to attitude and I’m working on adjusting mine every day. Thank God we get a new day, a new beginning, to try to get this stuff right. It’s sure not easy though. Here are some positive spins and tips that I’m currently incorporating into my life, that I hope will inspire you too:

Think of your divorce as a springboard for positive change.
A friend said to me the other day (after I called venting …), “He abandoned you guys. That’s the reality.” Well, that’s not entirely true, and even if it was, I don’t need to focus on it. Instead of thinking of myself as a victim, I have to think of myself as a champion for change. This is our opportunity to live a better life. I thank God every day that I have this chance to build a better life and a better self for my children.

Your family is complete if you are.
Another well-meaning friend came over for dinner one night. I made a roast chicken, roasted vegetables and a salad. As we sat at the table with my two boys she seemed really sad. Later after the kiddos were asleep (which was a miracle!), she admitted to me, “I feel so sad for your boys. The family just doesn’t seem complete” (meaning without their father.) I know she meant well, but I told her that it has almost always been just me and the boys or just me and William, my oldest, as my ex hardly ever made it home before dinner time. I still think it’s important to have dinner and sit around a table and chat. She apologized profusely, but I still had her thought in my head.  To clear it out, I remind myself that we are complete. I take an even more concerted effort to plan dinner. As we sit around the table and chat, giggle or make fun of the two-year-old who wears more food than he eats, I say a silent thanks for my complete family as I watch them eat healthy food. (See my Cooking section for more inspiration.)

Be thankful.
Every night for the past 8 years I have made William, my oldest, say a list of what he is thankful for. Because he’s nine, he says the nine things he’s thankful for. Jamesy says the two that he’s “tinkful” for. It’s a great way to remind us to focus on what’s good and what’s working in our lives. Since I’m a bit in denial of my increasing age … cough … just know that I now have a long list to come up with each evening of what I’m thankful for—and what a great way to end the evening!

Become a planner.

I’m trying hard on this one as it’s not my strong suit. Every weekend seems to spring upon me and I end up a bit lonely as I shuffle to find things for me and the boys to do. (Most of our married friends are enjoying family time and there are few playdates to be had for my little ones on the weekend, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t stay busy!) If I don’t plan something ahead of time, I end up a bit blue with bored kids on my hands. Now, I plan day-trips and museum outings and am reaching out to other single moms who may want to get together for dinner, brunch etc, in order to stay busy and survive the weekend!

Continue with or make family rituals. 

Who says I have to have a husband to have family night with the kids? I love long dinners and board games. There, I said it. I am definitely not very hip. I love playing games of monopoly, charades, trivial pursuit, checkers, scrabble, etc. My oldest does too. Since I’ve been separated, I barely manage to do these things as the then baby, now two-year-old, usually grabs game pieces or makes it a bit tricky. I’ve decided to re-institute family game night slowly this time. It may be hard at first, but we’re going to try to do games the youngest can master too: big puzzles, for instance. We’ll see. It may end up as family movie night until Jamesy is at least four. But we’ll get there!

Stop talking about the divorce.

This is difficult, but I’ve learned the hard way over the past two years that it’s better not to talk about the impending divorce with anyone other than your therapist, trusted friend or sister who remains positive, or your support group. I find that when I do respond to well-intentioned questions from neighbors or friends, that I end up feeling badly when I might have been feeling great before I started talking with them. It’s weird isn’t it? Maybe it’s just that I start to see their pity. Or maybe they may say things like “He’s such a jerk!” or “How the Hell do you do it? If I were you I’d have slit my wrists by now. Your two-year-old is such a handful!” These are just two comments I’ve received from well-meaning friends over the past few months. Ok, they aren’t helping. So what I can do in response to a well-meaning question is just smile and say, “I’m really doing well. Do you mind if we talk about something else right now?” It’s a better way to go. Even on my bad days when I’m actually not doing well. Fake it till you make it, isn’t such a bad way to go sometimes!

Limit Drinking.

I’ve never really drank much. But I find that when I do have a glass of vino with friends on the rare occasions that I go out now, I start to feel worse, rather than better.   And, I still have to get up at 6:30 a.m. every morning. Enough said.

Work out!

Think of this time in your life as parenting boot camp. I take out all of my frustrations with the impending divorce and parenting solo on the strand. I’m lucky enough to live near the beach, so I run, walk or bike every day during the week. It’s the best way to clear my head and get the endorphins soaring!

Did any of these tips help you? What ideas do you have? Please chime in!