Seasonal Affect Disorder and Post-Holiday Blues

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Seasonal Affect Disorder and Post-Holiday Blues

When winter is in full force, even the best of us can get a little down. Realize it or not, weather affects your mood. And for many, the winter blues is beyond one’s self-control.

Brain chemistry is actually altered by cold weather and shorter days. Melatonin and serotonin are hormones that play a part in controlling moods, energy levels, and sleep. Melatonin helps your sleep and serotonin is connected with happiness and wakefulness. Exposure to sunlight causes levels of these hormones to fluctuate.  In the colder months, the brain produces more melatonin making sleep seem more desirable and less serotonin which can make you mildly depressed. For some, cold weather depression is too much to handle and can result in Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD), a seasonal debilitating depression.

[Audio] Listen to Dr. Russell Hyken discuss why some people are depressed in the month of January

For those suffering from SAD, snow can bring about a whole other kind of feelings, such as guilt, loneliness, and feelings of being overwhelmed. The thought of leaving the house, playing with the kids, and putting on their snow clothes is too much too handle. A snow day doesn’t inspire one if they are already feeling down.

Additionally, school snow days can actually cause ‘more’ stress and worry to someone who’s already experiencing a low mood. When the texts messages start inviting the family out to play, build snowmen and have a big social affair, many feel even more depressed. Similar  to other ‘bright occasions’, such as Christmas, New Year’s and birthdays, a snow day can force one to see how lousy they feel in comparison to the cheeriness of  others around them.

And to further complicate one’s mood during this time of year, many also have the post-holiday blues. The gifts have been unwrapped, the songs have been sung, and the cookies have been baked and eaten. It is time to pack up the holiday mementos and move on. Unfortunately, many experience feelings of guilt from overindulgence, feel bad due to unmet expectations, and miss the activity and social aspects of the holiday.

This is not, however, as depressing as it sounds, there’s a lot you can do to both prevent the blues from coming on and to get yourself back to feeling normal.

1.     Exercise and Eating
As if we needed another reason to stay healthy.  Exercise is great for relieving the stresses of life. Plus, the effects of a good workout can last for several hours after you hit the showers. And what you eat has a great impact on your mood. Foods that are devoid of nutrients (refined sugars, fatty foods, etc.) will zap your energy levels.

2.     Act on or make some Resolutions/Goals
This is a great time of year to set some new healthy goals. There is strong link between healthy behaviors and elevated moods. Those who continually engaged in healthy behaviors (like exercising, not smoking, eating better, regulating sleep, etc.) are less sad and depressed than those whose behaviors are less than healthy.

3.     Get Social Support
Don’t underestimate the power of friends, family, mentors, co-workers, and neighbors. Who can you turn to when you’re down and need a pick-me-up? Keep a mental list of these special people and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Something as simple as a phone call, a chat over coffee, or a nice email can brighten your mood.

4.     Get Some Sun
Sunlight provides us with Vitamin D, which improves your mood. Try to spend some time outdoors keep your shades up during the day, and sit next to widows

Even if you don’t typical have mood concerns.  Winter weather often brings on some mild depression, lack of motivation, and low energy. Don’t despair; rather, recognize your emotions and do something about it.

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Kids & Resolutions

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As seen in Ladue News, December 26

The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions dates back to the ancient Romans and the mythical god, Janus. He was a two-faced man who represented the opportunity to reflect on the past and forgive one’s enemies while, at the same time, look toward the future and create goals for the New Year. Janus was so important to this ancient culture that they named the month of January after him.

The epic story of Janus is an important history lesson. It teaches us that for thousands of years many have made New Year’s resolutions; and that for thousands of years, many also have failed at keeping them—a practice that still occurs today. Recent studies indicate that 50 percent of Americans make resolutions and, by the end of the first month, most fail. With this in mind, is it fair to ask our children to do something that most adults can’t accomplish?

Teaching kids about resolutions is an excellent way to educate about personal responsibility and self-improvement. Early on, children develop habits that they perpetuate through the rest of their lives. Encouraging kids to reflect on the past and create positive goals for the future is a worthy endeavor, and the New Year is the perfect time to introduce our children to this idea.

How a parent assists a child in creating yearly goals depends on age. For pre-school aged children, parents need to be directive and focus on typical life expectations such as brush your teeth and clean your room. During the elementary years, kids are able to comprehend the value of resolutions. Work with your child to choose specific and concrete objectives such as being healthier by eating one fruit or vegetable a day. For teenagers, goals can be more abstract and should emphasize personal responsibility such as learning better skills for conflict resolution and resisting drugs and alcohol.

No matter a child’s age, parents should start with a conversation. In fact, creating a tradition around yearly goal-setting is a prosperous way to engage the entire family in this process. Over a special dinner or dessert, talk not only about future ideas but also reflect upon the past year’s successes and failures. The atmosphere should be light, supportive and fun.

With the kids excited about future possibilities, the next step is to provide your child with guidance. Resolutions should be personal and something your son or daughter wants to achieve. Goals made out of obligation to please a parent or friend often result in failure. A child should start recycling because he or she wants to make the world a greener place and not to impress someone else.

Parents also should encourage their children to make resolutions that are manageable. Making all As in schools, for example, is much less realistic than focusing on improving a specific skill such as becoming a better writer. Further support your goal-maker by helping him break big tasks into small, tangible measures such as seeing an English teacher for extra assistance before the next big paper is due.

Most fail at keeping resolutions because they lack the proper support. Minor missteps are to be expected and children may need additional guidance to fulfill expectations. Parents should engage in regular family discussion where progress is acknowledged and pitfalls are discussed. It also can be helpful to post goals on the family fridge; this creates a sense of internal obligation and makes it difficult to forget one’s aspirations.

Lastly, parents should not only make their own resolutions but also should share these with their family. No matter what age, kids will value the goal-setting process more if mom and dad demonstrate a commitment to self-improvement. Additionally, have your son or daughter assist you with keeping resolutions, sending the message that it is okay to ask for help. Our children are always watching us, and modeling expectations is a powerful motivator.

Resolutions are different than dreams. Everyone should have dreams and I say dream big, but dreams are not goals. Goals are specific, measurable, attainable and realistic. And while resolutions are timely, it takes time to successfully implement these life-changing behaviors. Rome wasn’t built in a day so be patient and celebrate even minor milestones as your children strive for success.

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Learning Disabilities: Trust Your Instincts

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St. Louis truly is a unique educational marketplace. There are more private schools in St. Louis than most any other city in the United States. Because many of these institutions have small classes and a unique educational niche, students who learn differently thrive in our city. In fact, many of these children and teenagers enroll in honors-level curriculums, take advanced placement classes, or attend the city’s best preparatory schools.

One can have a superior IQ yet still have cognitive challenges. In fact, being learning disabled (LD) does not directly correlate with having a lack of intelligence or low motivation. However, LD students do manage information differently because they have a neurologically based processing challenge that interferes with the ability to master specific concepts when taught in a traditional manner.

Learning differences can take on multiple forms. Some students have difficulties getting content into the brain. These children struggle with information integration such as the ability to organize, sequence, retrieve or infer meaning. Other students have difficulty getting information out of the brain. These children struggle with fine motor skills (handwriting), organizing thoughts on paper, or finding the right words to express ideas.

Knowledge acquisition is unique for each child and difficulties can surface at any age. There are, however, some specific signs that may indicate your child learns differently. During the pre-school years, look for language complications such as acquisition difficulties or word-pronunciation problems. And some young students may have struggles with coordination and finger use, finding simplistic tasking unusually frustrating. If any area of development feels delayed, check with a teacher to determine if an early intervention is needed.

As children enter the elementary years, subject-area concerns often become more prominent. LD students may be able to master many skills but have difficulty grasping certain concepts. Frequent reading errors, constant misspellings, or atypical troubles with basic math computations can be markers of a learning issue. Additionally, some may experience social struggles and communication problems, which also impact knowledge acquisition.

Further confusing the identification of LD students is that these problems can go unnoticed during the elementary years because these intelligent kids often develop self-compensating strategies for their learning deficits. Additionally, grade school teachers are particularly talented at supporting individuals of all abilities. Maturing students, however, face new challenges as they juggle the demands of a busier scholastic schedule, attempt more demanding academic tasks and negotiate increased independence. Grades may decline and unknown learning issues can surface during the high school years.

It can, however, be difficult to sort out typical teen distraction from true learning issues. Some older students struggle with classroom attention, avoid homework, and fail literature tests because they have no desire to read Jane Austin. Others, unfortunately, put forth appropriate or even excessive effort, but still experience low grades. Review homework and look for unusual sequencing, overly sloppy work or excessively long completion times. Also, check on your child’s emotional state. School anxiety or a confidence crisis often can be the result of an unknown learning issue.

Trust your parental instincts and pursue assistance if you think there is a problem. Start by talking to your child’s teachers. Next, consult with your pediatrician and rule out any medical concerns. Finally, and perhaps most important, work with a qualified educational specialist who will review academic records, interview the family and consult with the school. These professionals also can administer a comprehensive set of intelligence tests and academic assessments to develop a detailed learning profile and determine if a problem exists.

It can be upsetting for a parent to consider the possibility that their child may learn differently. It is, however, important for families to own the problem, understand how their child thinks and learns, and seek the services they need. Don’t adapt a wait-and-see approach; attack the problem. With intervention, advocacy and support, LD students succeed in school, college and life.

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Why Losing Can Be Good for Kids

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Participation trophies are almost a given in today’s youth sports as children are constantly being assured that they are winners. Interestingly, trophies were once a rare thing. In the 1960s, however, awards began being mass-produced and marketed to teachers, coaches, and sporting-goods stores. Trophy and award sales are now an estimated $3 billion-a-year industry and many organized sport leagues spend more than 12 percent of their budget on these trinkets.

Awards are a good thing and a powerful motivator. Kids respond positively to praise, and they enjoy hearing that they’re talented, smart, and so on. Being the best and getting the recognition from parents and peers creates a huge since of pride. Winning is good and striving to be the best is even better.

Nonstop recognition, however, does not inspire children to succeed, and it can even cause some to underachieve. If all a child must to do is show up to get a trophy, some will do just that. They will not try to improve or learn problem-solving skills to become better.

Then, once a child does experience that first major failure, it can be crushing to their self-esteem. After all, they have been told they have special talents—given a trophy. That first difficulty or loss can cause a child to feel demoralized.  Some will choose to work harder, but others may give up.

Furthermore, by the age 4 or 5, children aren’t fooled by trophies. Those who outperform know it and so do their team mates. Kids are surprisingly accurate in identifying who excels and who struggles.

Additionally, young kids know when they, themselves, are talented. If they are given an award for something they don’t do well, it clashes with their sense of ability and can be confusing. As kids get older, most start to view those “special” awards as something that just goes on the shelf.

Being competitive is part of our culture; it’s in our blood.  Kids are always going to compete for something–win the game, get the best grade, who lost the most teeth. A parent’s, coach’s, and teacher’s job is to help kids see that progress over time is more important than a particular win or loss. Kids need to understand that setbacks are temporary and losing is a brief interruption between victories.


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Are you a Procrastinator?

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What is Procrastination?

Procrastination is the practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference of more urgent tasks or doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable things.

Why Do People Procrastinate?

People procrastinate for different reasons, but, for the most part, there are three basic types of procrastinators.

  • Thrill Seekers – Those who wait until the last minute so they can get that euphoric rush that goes with completing the job right before the deadline.
  • Avoiders – Those who avoid tasks due to fear of failure or due to a fear of success. In either case, these individuals would rather have others believe they lack effort than lack ability.
  • Decisional Procrastinators – Those who choose to avoid making decisions so they can be absolved of the responsibility or the outcome of an event.

What are the costs of being a procrastinator?

  • For yourself, procrastination causes stress and anxiety. This physiological response can compromise the immune system and make one more susceptible to colds, the flu, and gastrointestinal problems.
  • For the spouse of a procrastinator, resentment often builds because it shifts many of life’s responsibilities onto to them.
  • For the child of a procrastinator, a procrastinating parent models bad work habits and may create a procrastinating child.

Tips to Avoid Procrastination.

  • Make a good to do list– Focus on items you typically avoid and then set a deadline to do those evasive tasks.
  • Break down big tasks into little ones – Devote short chunks of time to a big project. Once you make some progress, the momentum builds and most will want to keep moving forward.
  • Choose appropriate surroundings -Make sure your work environment works for you and not against you.  Placing yourself in situations where you don’t get much done such as “studying” in bed or working at a café can actually be a method of avoiding work.
  • Stop checking your email, Facebook, Youtube, etc. – Digital distractions are the arch enemy of the procrastinator. It is too easy to get sucked in to the electronic vortex and waste hours of valuable time.

Procrastination is one of the most sure-fire methods to avoid success in life. Procrastinators sabotage themselves by placing obstacles in their own path and also choosing paths that hurt their performance. Procrastinators can, however, change their behavior but doing so consumes a lot of psychic energy. Commit to change and find a therapist or life coach if you can’t do it on your own.

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Set a Positive Tone for the School Year

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Just a few short weeks ago, students were filled with anticipation about the start of school. Some were excited to see their friends and share summer stories, and others were dreading their loss of freedom and prematurely missing those lazy August mornings. Now, however, vacation memories have faded and school structure is everyone’s reality. Summer is firmly in the rearview mirror, and it is time to look forward.

Many consider New Year’s Day as the opportune time to create resolutions, but I would propose that the new school year is an even better time to make positive changes. And it all starts with setting proper goals. Ask your children what they might want to improve. Goals should be about personal fulfillment rather than a parental obligation because internal desire builds intrinsic motivation, a key quality for any successful student.

Creating a proper goal, however, can be difficult, as many tend to overreach or construct vague objectives. Parents should assist their student by discussing how realistic and measureable their plan is. For example, if your child says he is going to make all As, that might be unreasonable if he doesn’t typically earn As. Instead, redirect your student to focus on an attainable strategy, such as conferencing compositions with his English teacher to become a better writer.

Another way to ensure that your child experiences success is to assist him with balancing academics, extra-curriculars and free time. Many kids want to do it all, which creates stress as one struggles with meeting classroom demands and after-school requirements. Others prefer to be disengaged, often resulting in an unmotivated and lethargic student. Parents should establish realistic grade expectations and encourage their child to participate in at least one activity. Upfront conversations about how to manage homework, school activities and free time will set the tone for a realistic schedule and a positive school year.

Students also often struggle to understand the school day starts when the alarm clock rings, and ends when their head hits the pillow. Efficient mornings that allow time for a healthy breakfast and on-time school arrival creates a ready-to-learn brain, and conscious thoughts about after-school studying allow students to maximize their potential. Some prefer to complete homework before relaxing, while others want an after-school break. Commit to the process that works best and build evenings around that schedule. Consistency will ensure life responsibilities are successfully met.

To further support students during their return to routine, parents should also renew their school commitment. If you don’t already, volunteer for a couple of events and attend all teacher conferences. These connections will provide valuable insight into how your child’s classroom operates and facilitate a trusting home/school relationship. Teachers are quick to call involved parents not only about minor issues but also about personal triumphs.

Lastly, use this transitional time to revisit family routines. Start the year off with a commitment to have couple of family dinners every week. Also pledge to spend quality alone time with each child on a weekly basis. A short stop at Starbucks on the way to school can be a powerful relationship-building time that your kids will value (even if they don’t tell you).

When life gets hectic, individuals tend to get caught up in their own worlds. It is a parent’s job to provide structure so a child can experience both academic and personal success. Families that set a positive tone in September also are building a strong foundation for responsible decision-making. Good grades always are a goal but developing quality character and a positive attitude will bring even greater rewards. Make this fall a new beginning and create long-lasting resolutions.

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A Guide to "Bad" Playdates

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With the kids back in school and meeting new friends, play dates are right around the corner. To keep the play dates running smoothly, be sure to lay out your expectations with the other parent, clean up your child’s “special” toys and teach good etiquette beforehand.


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Family Arguments: Too Hot for Kids to Handle?

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Many children don’t listen to their parents, especially when asked to engage in some tedious task like emptying the trash or cleaning their rooms. When Mom and Dad argue; however, most kids will stop what they are doing and—for better or worse—seriously listen to their parents’ impassioned conversation. While family conflict is inevitable, many wonder if it is ever acceptable to argue in front of the kids.

In the past, family experts often directed parents away from having outward disagreements in favor of private, behind-closed-door debates. Unfortunately, these well-intentioned individuals perpetuated the parenting myth that children should never see Mom and Dad passionately disagree. However, recent research indicates that these professionals may have been wrong, and that overhearing ‘heated negotiations’ actually is a healthy situation for children to experience.

Now, I am not actively advocating that parents engage in battle, but many modern psychological theories do consider that dismissing or delaying disagreements can be potentially detrimental to a child’s emotional development. In fact, as long as parents fight fairly, it is good for kids to see their mother and father having the occasional dispute.

Of course, it is never proper to participate in over-the-top, name-calling, knock-down, drag-out fights. But kids should understand that two people who spend a significant amount of time together will experience conflict, and it is how one handles a disagreement that differentiates acceptable arguing from harmful hollering.

The first rule of the ‘healthy’ family fight is that parents should be aware of what they are arguing about and where they arguing. While many children are mature beyond their years, certain topics should be avoided. Conflicts regarding intimacy, money, addiction or how to raise the kids should only occur in private. Moreover, these disputes should focus on a particular situation rather than a negative character trait. What parents fight about is as important as how they fight.

When arguments do emerge, it is essential that parents model appropriate communication strategies. Keep voices low as yelling escalates the situation, demonstrate listening by engaging in proper turn-taking exchanges, and respond with clarifying statements that convey understanding. If the discussion escalates into an angry, rambling rant, it is time to retreat to neutral corners and resolve the conflict at another time.

It also can be tempting to ask your child to provide an opinion regarding the debate. Don’t! This creates internal turmoil, as your child is forced to choose a side. All kids want to see is a proper resolution, and children should never have to divide loyalties.

Most important, end arguments properly. Keep discussions short and resolve the situation. Sometimes, this will mean agreeing to disagree. Later, talk to your children. Younger kids, in particular, often need reassurance that Mom and Dad are truly happy parents and that the conflict is over.

Children who see their parents engage in appropriate communication, which includes arguing, learn how to form healthy relationships, relieve stress and solve problems. In fact, children react to peers in the same manner that their parents react to each other. Through modeling proper behavior, parents are able to teach their kids how to ‘let off steam’ and successfully work out disagreements.

If, however, your household is terribly turbulent, don’t settle for an angry relationship and an uncomfortable atmosphere. Children of parents who engage in high-frequency fighting often experience depression, anxiety and long-lasting emotional scars. It is better to seek assistance from an outside professional than to expose your kids to an unhealthy marriage.

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Time to Unplug

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I own a lot of things with screens—maybe too many. In addition to my work computer and laptop, I also have a TV at my office, in the bedroom, and in the bathroom as I need to watch the news while brushing my teeth. And, I own an iPhone, as well as multiple iPads. In fact, as I look around the house, it is safe to say that my old iPads never really die, they just get recycled into expensive room clocks and personal gaming devices.
Owning multiple devices is the new norm. My kids, like their friends, have several hand-held accessories, a variety of gaming consoles, a DVR to watch their favorite TV shows and a couple of old laptops. My wife, the most streamlined of us, still owns a smart phone, iPad and laptop. Despite these easily available distractions, the family does a good job managing tech use. We have many outside interests, including sports, performing arts and reading (on a Kindle, of course), but it would be difficult to survive without easy access to our devices.
The influence technology has on our brains, relationships, sleeping patterns and moods is a prevalent topic in mental health research. While there is no definitive answer that tells us exactly how technology impacts our children, professionals know that overuse negatively affects attention, sleep and development. Furthermore, doctors are seeing electronically addicted teens who are suffering from screen withdrawal and are forgoing other fun activities in favor of staying connected.
These same problems also impact adults who have the additional stress of business connectivity issues. With fierce competition in the workplace, many fear their success opportunities will be compromised if they don’t respond during all hours of the day and night. This work theory, however, may actually make one less useful as the brain needs time to recharge in order to operate at maximum efficiency. Additionally, multitasking tech demands with face-to-face interactions leads one to become more impulsive and more likely to take risks. In some ways, technology hurts as much as it helps.
Most adults and children would benefit from learning how to better manage their tech use, and summertime is the perfect time to start a digital diet. Consider planning a vacation with firm tech boundaries that limit electronic use. Don’t, however, make the detox decision without consulting the family and realize that going cold turkey is probably unrealistic. Accept that you will need to make some compromises, especially if teenagers are part of your crew. With a little advance planning, however, it should be easy to get everyone to agree to unplug, especially if you plan something fun or adventurous.
Once home or if you are not traveling, summer is still an excellent time to rethink your digital attitude. How you approach your children about computer use depends on their age. Younger kids are easy to distract, so influence their tech time by offering something different to do. Most kids younger than 8 are happy to engage in a creative endeavor if a parent or sibling will participate. Creating other interests and free time expectations is the best way to manage future overuse.
If your kids are older, parents still can influence without arguing, but some ground rules need to be established. No technology or TV during mealtimes, specific unplugged hours, and power off curfews are responsible requests. Additionally, I encourage families to reinforce that media use is a privilege and not a right–kids should earn their access. Once chores are completed, homework is finished and the piano is practiced, screen time is a great way to decompress. If family expectations are reasonable, kids not only will accept new rules, but may actually appreciate parentally imposed household structure.
OK, we all know that when we plug in, we also tune out. Your new media plan, however, does not require you to sledgehammer the computer; rather, it means embracing organization and time management. Your kids may accuse you of being out of touch with technological times, but they will do so while looking you in the eye and not while they texting their friends.

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Summer Boredom

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The start of summer is a time of unlimited possibilities for most kids. But as the excitement of being free from academic structure morphs into the dull days of summer, kids often become bored and many parents become frustrated. Arguments escalate as parents tell their children to just ‘do something!’ The problem is that today’s youth don’t really understand how to enjoy their free time.