5 Simple Steps to Surviving Winter Break

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I loved winter break as a kid, a student, and as an adult.  I love the opportunity to take some time to reset, renew, and rejuvenate before the new year begins.

This time of year offers a great opportunity to reconnect with family and friends (something I think we all need more of this year).  It also offers the ability to slow down; remembering this time of year is not about us.

Winter break is also notorious for creating conflict with children, turn off our brains, getting out of routine, and all-around can be a formula for disaster (something no one wants more of this year).

We have learned for our winter refreshment some simple steps that decrease conflict and increase the quality time (all while keeping our brains fresh and working for the coming semesters).

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  1. Set a routine: It is really easy to let our kids run amok during school breaks.  After all, it is vacation time, right?  Ture, but when you plan a vacation to Disney World or on a cruise, you have an itinerary.  Why would you not have a similar concept for your stay-cations? We have found that even the littlest routine is in place, behavior and attitude are much better all around.  Our vacation routine consists of ensuring all chores are completed, some reading is done, some time outside playing, and perhaps a craft is done before turning to any computer or television screen.  For some more tips on screen time, check out my blog Is Screen Time Your Friend or Enemy?
Photo by Any Lane on Pexels.com

2. Join a Reading Program: Words have power. Books have power. For those who follow me closely, it should come as no surprise I incorporate reading into our lives – even on vacation.  A great way to incentive this (and keep our brains working), is to join a reading program.  This is a great way to keep kids (and adults) reading year-round, but especially during school breaks.  Many local libraries have winter break challenges.  We particularly like Beanstack.  This site allows you to find local reading challenges near you (or create your own).  Many challenges have tangible rewards.

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3. Plan at least 1 outing a week: Many are averse to this for money’s sake and others are adverse to this for COVID-19 sake.  I understand both of these.  However, neither should prevent you from getting outside and enjoying the beautiful world around you.  For those concerned about money, many zoos and museums offer great deals for the year for family memberships.  For those worried about COVID-19, a hiking trail is a great way to be outside, seeing nature and enjoying the beauty around you.  Either way, getting outside your home once a week during the break prevents Cabin Fever from setting in and taking over.

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4. Give a Project: This should be something they can do in the allotted time.  Projects offer a way to feel productive and successful at the end of the break.  More importantly, if you help your child with the project, it can be a great time for bonding and making memories.  Some projects to consider for winter breaks: rearranging the room and painting it (let them choose the color and help); painting a scene or picture onto a canvas, building a new bookshelf (or re-purposing furniture).  For those with younger children, some projects might be arts and crafts, sorting through toys they no longer want, writing a comic book, or a story with illustrations. If your child plays an instrument, this is a great time to give a new song to practice and then a recital at the end of the two weeks to celebrate.

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5. Schedule Active Family Time: I love family time.  My family tries to set apart an hour a day to just be with family – no screens, no phones, no distractions.  But, that can be difficult (especially with my and my husband’s jobs).  How do we manage?  We set a specific time and put our phones on silent or away (we do have to keep them out sometimes due to the nature of work). Then, we let our son pick the activity. Often he picks games (we like games a lot in my family).  Sometimes he picks art or going for a walk or bike ride.  Then we do that.  It is our time to invest in each other.  Some of our favorite family games are Shut the Box, Speak Out, Apples to Apples, Quiddler, Phase 10, Uno, Pictureak, Boggle, Scrabble, Concept, Clue, and Sorry.

We are hoping this winter break is full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.  May these simple tips be as useful to you as they have been for us. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good break! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from our family to yours.

The Power of Words: Or How to Create a More Positive and Productive Environment

“My kid has too much autonomy. I just had to calm her down from a screaming fit,” my manager told me as we have a one on one monthly meeting via Skype for Business.  “I am so tired.  A day feels like a month and a month feels like a day.  I can’t even keep track anymore.”

“I can’t wait to get back to normal when my kid can get out of my hair for once,” a friend expresses over a virtual cup of coffee.

“Can you believe the curriculum they are teaching?  Who comes up with these questions?” A post repeated on social media.

“I can’t wait for my spouse to go back to work so I can get back to routine with my child.  My spouse just gives in to any whim.  I am going backward,” said spouses across the world who are not used to 24 hours 7 days a week contact.

 Sound familiar?  Maybe you have said one of these? Thought one of these?  Posted one of these? 

If you have, you are not alone.  What do all these things have in common?  They are all complaints

MRI scans of the brain and complaining
Images of the Brain Complaining
CREDIT: How Complaining Rewires Your Brain

What Complaining Does to the Brain

According to Travis Bradberry, Co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and President at TalentSmart,  a typical person complains once per minute in a typical conversation!  This is very unhealthy because our brains are creatures of lazy habits.  When we repeat our pattern, our brain takes less work to repeat than learn. 

Think of teaching your kid to tie a shoe.  When we first begin the process there is push back, frustration, a lot of concentration.  But once it is learned, and repeated (usually multiple times a day), it becomes second nature, and the child no longer thinks about the process. 

The same is true with our words.

Images of D. Emoto's research on the power of words on water crystals.
The pictures show the observations of Dr. Emoto. The nice words of affirmation create beautiful geometric shapes while the negative words create damaging shapes.

Words Have Power

On Solomon Island giant beautiful trees sometimes need to be cut.  When this is a particularly challenging task, the locals perform a special curse. They join together and yell insults and other derogatory words at the tree, and according to local legend, the negative energy transfers to the tree which then falls within a couple days.

In his book, The Hidden Messages of Water, Dr. Masuro Emoto, reports on his studies on the effects of words on water crystals through high-speed photography and found water crystals formed beautiful geometric shapes when words of love and gratitude were spoken near the water, but destructive shapes when evil words were spoken.

If this is what happens to plants and crystals, how much more does words affect the human mind and health?

According to Stephen Parton, complaining actually KILLS YOU.

Try the Complaint Zapper

How to Move from Complaining to a Gratitude Attitude

Solomon, credited as the wisest man ever to live, said “the soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit,” (Proverbs 15:4) and “the tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit,” (Proverbs 18:21).  Did you know there are over 126 passages in the Bible discussing the tongue? 

It appears, in this matter, faith and science agree.  Stop complaining!

But how do we do this?

There is a lot of research on behavior showing numerous ways to modify behavior from eating too much to not sitting down while doing school work. The same theories and practices apply to our minds. Here are three simple ideas on how to move from complaining to a gratitude attitude.

From the mouths of babes: How to use positive words

1.      Replace your focus: How many times have you watched a movie or show and fixated on the message, the scenes, the story long after it ended?  Read a book you just couldn’t put down?  Where you focus is where your brain will go.

When I was learning to drive, my mother told me, “Where your eyes look is where the car will go.”  I have learned this principle applies to my mind as well. 

If I focus on negative, my tongue is negative.  If I focus on what is wrong with the world, my tongue reflects that. But, when I focus on whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable– anything excellent or praiseworthy—my entire world changes from all things against me to peaceful, strong and enduring.

2.      Replace your behavior: It is easy to say think about good things and entirely different to actually do it. One way I have replaced my tendency to complain is (as trite as it sounds) is to count my blessings. 

In our family discussions of the day, for every bad thing we say, we must say three positive things for the day.  If I had a bad day at work, I am now forced to think of blessings (that car that let me in before the light changed, my son getting his school work done early, lunch at the table with my hubby).  Suddenly, what seemed like the worst day has transformed into a really good day.   

3.      Practice. A great way to do this is by keeping a journal.  There are a lot of calendars and planners that actually have recording your blessings as part of planning for the day; our favorite one this daily planner.

I enjoy doing this as part of my daily meditation when I work out.  Using that last little bit at the end of a work out (when endorphins are naturally high) to focus on good, re-sets my brain. 

4.      Accountability:  We are only as strong as the team we have around us.  The American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) did a study on accountability and found that you have a 65% chance of completing a goal if you commit to someone. And if you have a specific accountability appointment with a person you’ve committed, you will increase your chance of success by up to 95%.

Share your desire to change focus with your spouse, friends, and family.  Then ask them to hold you accountable to this. 

May family around the Liberty Bell in Disney World.
What I am most grateful for: my family who can spending time together.

It is easy, especially in quarantine, to focus on the negative.  It is easy to want to vent this to your spouse, friends, the world.  But, I caution too much of this will physically and emotionally destroy. 

I encourage you to make shifting your focus from negative to positive a priority. Ask for an accountability partner in this.  And remember, this is a daily discipline.  This will not become second nature until you make it a discipline.  Like all disciplines, it grows with you and molds to where you are and what you do.

Let me know how this works for you.  What is working for you?  What strategies have you used?  What did not work?  I love hearing from you. 

TGIF FUN Friday and How It Changed Our Homeschool World

girl-playing-with-bubbles
girl-playing-with-bubbles

For those new to homeschooling, it can be very intimidating.  Do we know enough?  Can we have the patience?  How do I balance everything?

You have come to the right place.

The last elementary school our son went to in Maryland implemented a FUN Friday routine.  (Thank you, Tara, for all you do!) 

When we decided to home school and work from home, we chose to implement this same thing. Using this incentive routine has been so beneficial in helping our son take responsibility for his own learning – and chores – throughout the week.  For more on how to use incentives, check out this blog Let’s Make a Deal). Here is how it works:

happy-coffee
happy-coffee

1)      Monday Start: On Monday have a checklist created of the school tasks assigned for the week.  If you missed how to do this, check out last week’s blog Finding Balance: Telework and Homeschooling. Upfront, the student knows what is expected.  This helps them plan their own week (a key executive function).  It also reminds them their education is their own.  You cannot be there all the time.

2)      Four Day Week:  No one wants to work more than they need.  We spend two to three hours a day at school.  With great focus, this is all we need for the entire week.  The most we have ever needed was to spend four hours in one day. Whatever is not completed Thursday will roll over to Friday.

3)      On Friday:  Just because it is Friday does not mean our responsibilities cease.  In the “real world,” we would still have family obligations (sometimes work depending on the schedule), and regular household tasks.  The same is true for our son.  The following must be completed PRIOR to FUN Friday commencing:

a.       Chores complete: Who wants to play in a messy house?  No one.  All chores must be completed.

b.       Thirty minutes outside:  Sun is essential for healthy bodies.  Imaginative play is essential for healthy minds.  Time playing outside is a requirement.  Thirty minutes is our minimum.

c.       Read a book:  If you have younger kids, a single kid’s book is fine.  If you have older kids, depending on the book, at least one (sometimes two) chapters must be read. 

d.       Be Creative: Imaginative is play is important to development.  Art and play are vital to many engineering skills, communication skills, and sometimes give insight into emotional health for a parent. Our son must be creative.  Sometimes that is writing a comic book, building Lego, painting, or playing in clay. The options are limitless!

4k-wallpaper-adorable-blur-boy
4k-wallpaper-adorable-blur-boy

4)      FUN Friday is here: This part of the day consists of whatever the child wants (within reason).  Our son does not get a lot of screen time (see how we use it in this blog Is Screen Time Your Friend or Enemy).  He usually asks for a movie.  But sometimes, we use this time to go to a zoo, the aquarium, or another outing.  During #socialdistancing, we do games, movies with popcorn, build forts, and so much more.  The day is limited only by imagination. 

We discovered this small change to education, has increased focus during school, allowed us to start teaching a new language, build on social skills, and increased our family connection in a positive way. 

Now that homeschool is becoming a norm, I encourage you to try FUN Friday in your home.  See how it goes for a while.  Remember, you earn income, paid vacations, flex work hours for your hard work and focus at work.  Let’s extend that to our children who need incentives just as much.

Finding Balance: Telework and Home School

photo-of-women-using-laptops-
photo-of-women-using-laptops

In most American schools, and the average day at school is six hours.  Add in travel time, lunch, extracurriculars and this can easily become a ten-hour a day event.  This is a great balance for working parents.  Children are educated while parents bring home the bacon.

But this is no longer a reality.

With more people teleworking from home, and schools across the nation closed for the year, many are asking “How do I work full-time and teach my child?” 

As a two-income working house, and I work 40-60-hour weeks, I understand first hand the struggle of education and income.  We are a tenured homeschool family who has been schooling well before #Coronavirus or #COVID-19 were household words.  So, is it possible to do both?    

YES.  It is a combination of art and science, but completely doable.  Here is what has worked for us over the past year. 

1.       Meditation:  We are a praying house.  But not everyone is.  We have found when we start our day with prayer, mediation, and/or work out (I love Yogashred), our moods are elevated, our focus is keener and our bodies are in alignment.  The extra benefit is our health is taken care of prior to the health of our company.  Companies are only as good as the health of their talent.

grayscale-photography-of-man-sitting-on-grass-field
grayscale-photography-of-man-sitting-on-grass-field

2.       Start Work Early:  My work day starts well before most people are out of bed.  This allows me a solid 3 hours to get uninterrupted and focused work completed.  The earlier the start the more productive I am. 

3.       Have a set work time: Set hours of work where the school cannot interfere.  This might mean breaking your workday into 2 two-hour segments, or 4 two-hour segments.  The trick is to ensure when you focus on work, your attention is on work.  When you focus on school, your attention is at school. Closing your “office door” or taping a “Do Not Distrub” sign up can be visuals for your family to stay away while at work.

writings-in-a-planner: Today is the Perfect Day to be Happy
writings-in-a-planner: Today is the Perfect Day to be Happy

4.       Plan a Routine: We all know routine is healthy for our mentality.  That is true for children as well.  We give our son a weekly assignment list.  This includes all worksheets, lessons, quizzes, tests he will need to complete to stay on track.  This allows the kiddo to know what to expect and begin to take some independence and responsibility for their own education.

5.       Work First.  Play Later: When we present the weekly school task, we operate by a Fun Friday mentality (check out next week’s blog for more details).  If all school is completed prior to Friday, you get Friday off.  This is also beneficial for parents who work because that means Fridays your attention is not torn between work and school during “school hours.”  We operate under no games, screen time, etc. until schoolwork is complete.

woman-in-grey-sleeveless-top-with-girl-on-her-lap-playing
woman-in-grey-sleeveless-top-with-girl-on-her-lap-playing

6.       Turn on music:  There is tons of research on how music is both good for the soul and productivity.  We use classical music or whale sounds quietly in our home while we work.  This is an aural clue work is to be done. We leave the Anamainics and Lego Music for playtime.

Homeschooling is intimidating (we actually debated it for four years prior to taking the leap).  Homeschooling while working is even scarier.  This week, remember, this doesn’t have to be perfect.  And it won’t be perfect. There will be adjustments.  There will be times of frustration. There will be times of feeling like a failure.

Find what works for you and go for it.  Be encouraged.  You are not in this alone. 

COVID-19 and the Real World or How to Survive Social Distancing

Corona Virsu COVID-19 microscope hazmat

In case you have been living under a rock, COVID-19 is a real thing. More deaths than the average flu.  Towns are shut down.  Travel shut down. School shut down.   In just a few short weeks, the world has discovered the #introvertadvantage.

Fear is rampant.  Families separated.  Hospitals are overrun.  Is there any other story in the media today?

Kids are home, out of routine, lonely and increasingly scared.  Being a parent has taken on a new back-breaking load – how to keep your kids calm in the middle of this crazy storm.

Here are some tips on how to help your kids find peace and clarity in this colossal hurricane of COVID-19.

What our first home school schedule looked like

Keep a routine. Humans, by nature, thrive on routine.  From getting up and ready to going to bed at night, we operate through a routine.  Take out the most central part of a child’s day and you are set up for chaos.  School is not just a place to learn about math, science, and literature.  It is a place of friendship building, community development, and space.  Space from parents and siblings (in some cases).  So throughout this time, set a routine where school is apart of the day.  Include some breaks from each other.  Include some video telecalls to their friends and family.  And remember, this too shall pass.

My kiddo doing his part sending some love to the Senior Citizens

Find ways to help.  The community is only as strong as its weakest link.  There are many ways to help from home.  Remember, nonprofits and churches still operate their community funds.  They still need income to ensure the homeless have food, the low income can pay the electric bill (which just went up because people are home more), and safe places for an escape from the dangerous.  If you already give, keep giving.  If you don’t, I encourage you to start.  Want to be more hands-on, Neighbors Helping Neighbors is providing training on how to help neighbors safely.  Help the truck drivers with a meal (you are still getting deliveries, but their rest stops are closed).  Even the smallest act of kindness goes a long way.

The little one’s Sanctuary.

Have a sanctuary.  Refuge and safety are more important today than ever.  When people are crammed together, they have shorter tempers and we humans tend to get a bit crazy.  A small space you can call your own, escape to in the chaos of the house, that is simply yours is valuable when there is not a pandemic.  It is even more valuable now.  Ensure some sanctuary and calming time is a part of your schedule.  Outside on the back porch or inside a closet of the house…whatever works for you.

Emerald Coast Sunset

Get outside. Cabin Fever WILL set in and it is a REAL thing.  In 1918, the Influenza pandemic swept through the world much like COVID-19.  There were two ways to treat patients.  Inside and outside.  What a Boston, MA hospital discovered was a combination of fresh air, sunlight, scrupulous standards of hygiene, substantially reduced deaths among some patients and infections among medical staff.  So go outside.  Enjoy the sunshine.  Remember that the sky is blue and the sun is bright and the breeze feels so good on your skin. 

Being creative with #paintbynumber…I haven’t broken my need for lines and regulations yet. 🙂

Be creative and productive.  It is easy to think you are stuck within the cell that is now your home.  But you are in a world equipped with so much to be entertained in – without turning on your TV.  Plan an instrument?  Play it.  Have some paper laying around?  Write.  Legos?  Build.  Paint.  Color. Draw.  Or, for those social media addicts, get online and recite poetry, sing, dance, get goofy!  We all need a little happier.  Depression and loneliness are real things.  These get even worse in isolation.  So, enjoy being a goof for people to laugh at or sing a song for people to love.  It might be the one thing that saves a life.  If you are feeling suicidal or depressed, there is help.  Call the National Suicide line 1-800-273-8255 for help. 

The family that sweats together stays healthy together. Workout run (in safety gear). Quarter miles sprints!

Work Out. Chill Out.  Stress is high and endorphins are low.  Be sure you are fueling your body and your mind as we walk through this new “normal.”   30 minutes of cardio a day is great.  This can be easily accomplished by a walk outside (no neighbors necessary), a run on a treadmill if you have one, or numerous free workouts on YouTube and Amazon Prime.  Just search your favorite activity and you will be bombarded with choices from yoga to kickboxing and dance.  For those of you on Wii – don’t forget about Wii Fit.  There are so many options.  Have fun with it.  For a special challenge, join the 30 Day #5fitchallenge with #SOFLFit5 (Special Olympics Florida).  IT is a great way to hold yourself and your special kiddo accountable to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Use this time to be productive. Whether that means working on those summer abs, catching up on that reading list, finishing those household projects, or whatever, remember, your kids will follow your lead. So, whatever you do, remember this too shall pass.  We are more than conquerors.  We are the light.  Be the light.  Be love.  Choose joy.