Happy Holiday Season & Kids

​​The holiday season is a special time of year, but it can also be very stressful. The visitors, travel and disruption of normal routines that come with these festive times can be tough to handle for some little ones. And for their parents, too.

Here are a few ways you can create a more calm and comfortable holiday season for you and your family: It’s common for kids to be uneasy when meeting new people, even family members. They might be nervous to play with cousins they haven’t seen in a while or meeting Tia Maria for the first time, (especially if she’s a cheek-pincher.)

To make these encounters a little easier, show your child photos of who they are going to meet beforehand. And don’t worry if your child is still shy and uneasy when they meet in person. Let them build their self-confidence at their own pace. Adding new places to all those new faces can be doubly troubling for your little one. Whether you’re going across town or cross country, try introducing them to your hosts and their home before the rest of the guests show up. Arriving even 15 minutes early can help ease your child into the new environment and avoid jangled nerves.

Young kids do best with consistent routines, and it can be hard when their usual day-to-day schedule is disrupted. Do your best to keep regular nap and sleep times when traveling, knowing that your child may need some extra time and attention to get settled. Having visitors in your home can be confusing too, so prepare for these changes before the rush. Is your child going to sleep in a different room or bed when visitors come? Let them try it out a couple of days before to get used to the idea.

Your child may have a hard time competing for your attention among the gathered family and friends, so look for chances to get them involved in holiday activities. Making decorations or letting them help with simple cooking projects are great ways to share the spirit of the season.​

Nicoletta​ Kennedy is communications coordinator at First Things First. You can reach her atnkennedy@firstthingsfirst.org​.

MOM: Focus on Strengths

Benjamin Franklin said, “Hide not your talents. They for use were made.  What’s a sundial in the shade?”

I have been doing quite a bit of research on leveraging employee’s strengths instead of constantly asking them to improve their weaknesses.  When I was getting my MBA, I met a CEO that spoke with us about his unique philosophy of only focusing on his employee’s strengths.  For instance, his Chief Financial Officer (CFO) was great at the numbers but hated making presentations in front of an audience.  Instead of demoting him, the CEO hired a professional speaker to present the quarterly earnings to investors.  This speaker was so good, that he eventually became the spokesperson the entire investor call, not only the financials.  This approach was so wildly different, that it peaked my interest and, today, I shape a lot of my management style around this philosophy.

Gallup is at the forefront of research in this area, called Strengths Psychology, and Tom Rath published an insightful book called Strengths Finder 2.0.  Below is a Gallup poll highlighting the point that using strengths counteracts negative emotional experiences:

Gallup Poll
Source: http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal

According to StrengthFinder 2.0, I have the following major strengths:

1) Connectedness – Everything happens for a reason and we are all connected

2) Individualization – Intrigued by the unique qualities of each person

3) Positivity – Generous with praise, quick to smile, always on the lookout for the positive in each situation

I do find that I am happiest and performing at my peak at when I am using these strengths within my job.

So if it works well in business, why couldn’t it work in motherhood?

I find that a lot of my time early on was spent dealing with “Mom guilt”.  This is an extra special kind of guilt (especially when mixed with postpartum hormones) because you suddenly feel like your short comings are literally ruining your child’s life.

I found myself being tormented by the things I couldn’t do well.  For instance, I have never been a good cook and the thought of making baby food from scratch was terrifying.  My child is usually the last one to be picked up from school.  I am ALWAYS tired and feel like when he wants to play I can’t muster the strength half the time.  Sometimes I forget the names of his friends and their moms which is really embarrassing.  You are probably thinking, oh God, call social services……well, at least that’s what I thought.

When my son was around 2 years old I started to really focus on what I enjoyed and did well as a mom.  This really made the difference in my emotional well-being and I think it made the whole family happier.

If there were a StrengthFinder survey for moms, I am pretty confident this would be my ranking:

1) Hot Chocolate Connoisseur  – consisting of a top-secret Swiss Miss formula (ok, the secret is mini marshmallows) with whipped cream, chocolate syrup and sprinkles of the drinkers choosing.  Can you see the chocolate portrait of my son?  It got melty, but I promise, it looked awesome seconds before the photo-op!

2) Pancake Artist – over the years, my pancakes have gotten more creative and I am to the point where I can take requests.

3) Coolest Halloween Costume Duo in the History of the World – Halloween is my time to shine as a mom.  Since my son was a baby, every year I dressed as his sidekick.  As he has gotten older it is even more fun because he gets to pick the costume and I have to match him.  It has become our “special thing” that we do together.

Overall I have found that beating myself up is not fun and makes my life miserable which reflects on my entire family’s well being.  Trying to become good at what I’ve never been good at will add even more stress to my life.

So I have decided to just be the mom that I am.  By focusing on the things that I do well, and like, I found that I have fun, which is felt by my son, thus he has fun and we build incredible memories together.

On any given Saturday you can find us at the kitchen counter with a cup of hot coco and ninja turtle pancakes, and on very special Saturdays, you may even find Batman and Robin.

Why Every Working Mom Needs to Take a Time Out

I eat stress for breakfast.
I’m one of those working moms who is always asked how I do it all. I’m not proud of it. It’s really just a testament to my ability to smack a smile on my face regardless of how insane I’m feeling at the moment. I think most working moms ( and let’s be honest this includes women who stay at home and their full-time job is being their families’ CEO ) are frighteningly good at acting like we have it all under control even when we feel like we are drowning.

Last week was one of those weeks. I felt overwhelmed at work , my oldest son was completely bombing seventh grade , I was a nervous wreck because I have a major test in eight weeks that I feel woefully underprepared for, oh yeah, and just for fun I broke out in a stress rash. Good times. But I was determined to just push through it. I could feel the stress in every muscle in my body. I was snapping at everyone. I just couldn’t bear to have one more thing put on my plate.
Then my friend insisted that she was going to stop by. The thought of taking even fifteen minutes out from studying sent me into a tailspin of frustration and anger. Didn’t anyone get how overwhelmed I was feeling? Couldn’t people manage without me for just one day?

My friend walked through the door and gave me those girlfriend-WTF-is going-on-with-you- eyes. I tried to fake it better. And by “it” I mean acting like I wasn’t ready to break down into a sobbing heap on the floor. She sat me down and said she could see how awful I was feeling and then asked if I would do some yoga with her to see if that would help . I’m that girl who doesn’t meditate because relaxing makes me too uptight. Or I fall asleep on the floor for two hours. True story. But this simple recognition of my stress and an offer to try to help nearly had me in tears.

After twenty minutes of cobra pose, downward dog and happy baby I actually felt the stress leaving my body and my mind calming down. And I realized that my pathological urge to “just push forward” was actually making everything worse not better. And that by taking one step back I would be able to take a whole bunch of steps forward because now my brain felt focused and clear instead of stressed and overwhelmed.
Lesson learned: sometimes mommy needs a time out. But be forewarned, the only one who can put this mommy in a time out is me. Telling me I look like I need a break could earn you tears of gratitude but depending on my mental state it could still result in me wanting to punch you in the throat.