Tuesday, November 29, 2011

5 Ways to Increase Success at Holiday Dinners

Q. We have many family dinners to attend over the next several weeks as Christmas approaches. I dread them every year because it feels like something always goes wrong. What are your suggestions for creating success at these family dinners?

A. What a great question! First off, let me tell you that you are not alone. Many people find the holidays to be very stressful due to family conflict or circumstances. Sometimes this is the only time of year that you and your loved ones are all in the same room. That can be a whole lot of personality in on place.

Below, I have listed five things you can do to increase success at family dinners. Hopefully by spending some time planning for your family time and preparing your heart, you can create success this holiday season!

1. Keep Conversations Positive and Include Everyone
  • Don't bring up subjects you know will create divisiveness or topics that are not pleasant. If you know that you or one of your family members disagrees on a certain topic, this is not the time to debate out who is right and who is wrong.
  • Instead stick to topics that are broad that everyone can contribute too. You might even ask direct questions of those who don't participate as much.
  • Click here for some great conversation starter ideas.
2. Eliminate Distractions - Unplug
  • Don't have the television on in the background or any other electronic distractions. Focus your conversations on each other and what is going on in your lives.
  • Also, encourage others to have their cell phones put away. People seem to divide their attention between family and their smartphones and texting. This takes away from the family atmosphere we are trying to create.
3. Provide an Activity for Young Children
  • One of the more distracting things that can happen at family dinner is children who are bored. Children do not enjoy sitting around just talking. Most of them need a tactile activity.
  • You could simply cover the kids' table in butcher paper and provide crayons, or you could go so far as to have coloring sheets out for when they finish their meal.
  • Encourage each child to participate. Maybe even some of the adults would want to get in on the fun
  • Click here for some coloring sheet activities.
4. Set Realistic Expectations
  • This can be one of the more crucial items on our list. Know ahead of time who is coming to dinner and set your personal expectations of the people in line with reality.
  • Don't set yourself up hoping that the one relative that is always cranky or negative will be different this year. Remind yourself that is their issue, and they do not have to steal your joy about the season.
  • If all else fails with your expectations, find something else positive about the dinner to focus on. Do not allow yourself to ruminate over what is going wrong when there are possibly many things that are going right.
5. Pray, Pray, Pray
  • Before you even step foot in that house for family dinner, bathe your time in prayer. There are several things you can pray for, but most importantly, pray for your own attitude and heart.
  • You can also spend time praying that God will allow you to show HIS glory no matter what is going on around you.
  • "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones" Proverbs 17:22 - Come ready to share a joyful heart and the overflow and abundance of this will surely impact your family.
I hope you find these 5 Ways to Increase Success at Holiday Dinners helpful. You can also check out these articles from previous years on how to deal with other stressful holiday situations.

How to Handle the Holiday Blues
Dealing with Grief at the Holidays

*This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor.

If you have a question you would like to ask, EMAIL US: askanne@abchome.org or leave a comment. We would love to answer one of your questions.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Value of Gratitude as a Part of Mental Health

Q. With Thanksgiving coming this week, I was wondering if there is any benefit to gratitude as a part of mental health? 

A. Today's question will be answered by Renay Caroll, counselor in Cullman and Oneonta. Renay has been on our staff since 1997 and has a great deal of counseling experience in a wide variety of areas.  

"It seems gratitude often comes during or after a time of leanness or loss in our lives.  Survivors of the April 27 tornado disaster report gratitude their lives were spared even in the devastation of having lost their homes and property.  Those with illness report gratitude over receiving a good report from testing.  The Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving were grateful for having survived disease and Indian attacks to eat the crops they worked so hard to produce. Many of us will express our gratitude to our soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for our freedom in past and current wars.  In my own life, my deepest sense of gratitude has been experienced at the birth of my two children and the homecoming of my soldier husband from Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

Gratitude is a mental attitude and kind feeling which teaches us to give and receive affection, help and support.  It teaches us interdependence and reminds us of our connectedness to others; that we need other people and they need us. We give and receive gratitude with others through words of affirmation, gifts and behaviors which express appreciation. By expressing and receiving gratitude, we are acknowledging that we need each other and that we are not an island unto ourselves. 

When we evaluate the value or benefit of gratitude for healthy mental health functioning, we view it on a physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual level. 

Dr. Robert Emmons, UC Davis University of California through his Emmons Lab, notes of gratitude that  “grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.  The disposition toward gratitude appears to enhance pleasant feeling states more than it diminishes unpleasant emotions.  Grateful people do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life.”  (“Measuring the Grateful Disposition,” The Gratitude Questionnaire(GQ-6) Document,  August 10, 2011).
Expressing gratitude can physically, emotionally and mentally benefit us by reducing our stress levels in the body, helping with anxiety management, and controlling of thoughts and emotions.  By focusing on positive thoughts, feelings of gratitude can emerge.  World Book Dictionary defines gratitude as a "kindly feeling because of a favor received; desire to do a favor in return." (World Book Dictionary, Vol 1 A-K,Chicago:  World Book Inc., 1994, p.930).  In Philippians 4:6 in the Holy Bible we are encouraged not to be anxious but rather to pray with thanksgiving or gratitude. 
Healthy social functioning requires a sense of gratitude in our relationship with others. With the unemployment rate hovering at 9%, many people are expressing gratitude to employers for their jobs.  As a country, all of us owe a debt of gratitude to our military soldiers, police and fire fighters for all they have done and continue to do to protect us and the freedoms we enjoy.  The 10th Anniversary 9/11 Memorial Remembrance was a fitting expression of our country's grief and gratitude.  We are grateful for our Founding Fathers and the sacrifices they made to allow this great country to be birthed into existence.
Children need to be taught thankfulness and gratitude in relation to their parents' provision for them.  Otherwise, children grow up with the expectation of privileges given and the belief that society owes them a living.  Through the provision of parents and the teaching of a work ethic, children learn to appreciate their parents' hard work to provide for their needs.  Likewise, they grow to become contributing members of society seeking to 'make the world a better place' for themselves, their families and others.
What marriage relationship would not be vastly improved by more frequent use of the words 'thank you'.  These "words of affirmation" as Gary Chapman refers to in his book The Five LoveLanguages speak a language of love all their own.  Expressing genuine gratitude in the daily interaction of the intimate relationship of marriage can make the difference in a nurturing marriage relationship or one that is declining. Finding creative ways of expressing gratitude in the uniqueness of your marriage relationship allows for individual growth as well as oneness in marriage.
Expressing gratitude to friends and family members can often be done best on those days special to the individual and/or couple.  Who does not appreciate cards and facebook messages on birthdays and special days during the year expressing gratitude for that relationship.  
Gratitude is a quality or characteristic of good character and many religions would promote gratitude as a healthy perspective for approaching life.  In the Christian tradition, the spiritual benefit for expressing gratitude in our relationship to God is found in the Holy Bible in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 where we are encouraged to have joy or "rejoice," to pray constantly giving thanks for everything understanding that to do so is “God's will in Christ Jesus for you."  In the book of Luke, the story of the 1 leper who returned to give God thanks when 9 others were also healed reminds us that most of us neglect to express our gratitude to God.  In Psalm 106:1 we are encouraged to thank God for His goodness and enduring mercy.  Psalm 69:30-31 states that God is pleased when man "magnifies Him with thanksgiving."  From a simple prayer of blessing at meal time to an extended daily prayer time, God desires our acknowledgement that "every good and perfect gift is from above. . ."James 1:17.  The spiritual benefits of gratitude allow us to function in a healthy relationship with God.  Jesus Himself gave thanks to the Father leaving us an example to follow.
Gratitude on its deepest levels is expressed in an awareness that God is the Giver and Sustainer of life.  In times of plenty and in times of loss, gratitude to God is an acknowledgement that the gift of life itself is a gift which comes from God.  On all levels of functioning - physically, emotionally, mentally, socially and spiritually - may we practice gratitude so that we may experience its full value in our lives. 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6"

*This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor.

If you have a question you would like to ask, EMAIL US: askanne@abchome.org or leave a comment. We would love to answer one of your questions.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How To Help Children When Mom or Dad Are Deployed

Q. I have two children that I will be the primary caretaker of during my husband’s deployment in the military.  What should I do to help prepare them for when he leaves and while he is gone?
A. Tommy Smith, counselor in Andalusia, Frisco City and Brewton, will be answering your question today.  Tommy was deployed in Saudi Arabia and Iraq with the Army Reserve in 1989-90 for Desert Storm.  He is a retired Army Chaplain.  Tommy has been with Pathways for almost 10 years.  You can email Tommy at tsmith@abchome.org

"I remember when I was deployed, my commander on the very first day said to me, 'Chaplain I want you to start today thinking about the day our unit comes home.' He was saying, he wanted me to begin at the outset to prepare myself and our fellow soldiers for a good homecoming. A good beginning will set the stage for a good ending. This is also very true for children who are about to see dad or mom leave on a deployment.

Children’s reactions to separation from a parent because of military service will vary with their personalities and ages. Children are often fearful and confused about what is happening. They sense the fear of a parent. The stay at home parent worries about how she will manage responsibilities and how the deployment will affect the children. You want to prepare your children  for success not failure during this time of uncertainty for them, for you and your husband!

Here are some tips designed to help parents and children. Talk to your child about what is going to happen. Families stay connected by showing love, and by building trust and cooperation within the family. Talk about the many ways you will be able to keep in touch with each other.  This involves both parents. Of course there are now many ways to "stay in touch" with Dad once he is deployed. But before the actual separation takes place, it is important that both parents be involved in communicating to the child what is happening and seek to do some predicting for the child, so that the child will have proper expectations.

We do not fear the past, only the future, so you want to eliminate as much of the unknown for your child as possible by encouraging your child to talk about his or her feelings and fears. Keep your routines and home life as normal as possible, this helps the child feel secure. Assure your child that you are confident in this new adventure. Seeing mom and dad confident that everything is alright will help the child with the assurance he needs.

Make sure you are completely honest with your child about what is taking place, explaining in age appropriate ways. That means you need to know as much as possible yourself about what is happening. Meeting other military families that are experiencing separation is also helpful. Having someone who understands and encourages you while you are alone is a blessing, don't do this alone. We all need a support group. Both of you could go together and seek the prayerful support of your local pastor and church fellowship.  

I have listed some great resources below that you can connect to. You need to take seriously all of the help being offered from your husband's military unit, the briefings for family, etc. Prior to the deployment date the unit is busy preparing to leave and time together may be difficult to schedule. Even though this will be a very busy time, the two of you need to spend time together building up the closeness and the understanding that prepares you for the separation.

So, what is it that the child needs most from dad and mom at this time? 
  • Assurance that although apart for awhile the family will remain  strong and will be together again as soon as this deployment is over.   Remember that the children tend to do as well as the parents do in handling emotional struggles. If you are doing well emotionally, the children will feel safe and loved. 
  • Keeping things in order and having routine and structure will help greatly. 
  • Parents often are not aware of how much things like the lack of sleep affect children. Children who do not get proper sleep are more anxious, have more difficulty paying attention and can become more irritable or aggressive. 
  • Also respect the fact that you must also take care of yourself since you are the primary caregiver. 
  • Remember that when children have proper boundaries and structure, and their lives are somewhat predictable, children feel safe and loved! 
  • The greatest need of the child is to know that he is loved unconditionally by mom and dad. This love is communicated not only through words but through spending time with the child and especially affectionate touch. When your child is lacking these things or when he or she is feeling disconnected, he will likely withdraw or act-out. 
  • If the child has difficulty adjusting to the changes, her grades may fall off or he may start acting out in ways you haven't seen. If you see your child needing help don't wait, get help.

It is always good to share with the child's teacher that dad is deploying. Many teachers are doing a great job helping at school by helping the whole class understand the sacrifice of men and women who are serving our armed forces. When teachers have given this type of great support, the child seems to do better adjusting to the absent parent serving in the military.

Don't forget prayer! Regular prayer together helps each member of the family, especially when they are able to talk with God about concerns and fears. Seek the peace that only the Lord Himself can provide. Make this a spiritual journey with confidence that your Heavenly Father loves and cares for each one of his children."

Other Resources: 
Video for Teenagers

*This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor.

If you have a question you would like to ask, EMAIL US: askanne@abchome.org or leave a comment. We would love to answer one of your questions.