Monthly Archives: December 2011

Holidays with your tween/teen: a different kind of magic


Happy holidays!

Happy holidays!

They don’t believe in Santa anymore. They don’t fill Christmas wish lists with requests for ponies or pogo sticks or Easy Bake Ovens. They don’t wake us up at the crack of dawn to open the pillowcase of presents on their beds, or rush downstairs to see if Santa ate the cookies they’d left for him. They don’t cram their mouths full of chocolate Chanukah gelt or spend hours playing dreidel games on the kitchen floor while I fry up the latkes.

But they also don’t fight over who gets to build which gingerbread house, or whose turn it is to light the Chanukah candles. They see me cleaning up the spilled candy and offer to help. They ask if, instead of a big bag of Christmas presents, we can use some of the money to send them to summer camp. They grate the potatoes alongside me, and can help flip the latkes without me worrying about the house burning down. They set the table for our annual holiday dinner party, and wipe down the guest bathroom.

They can spend whole days out skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing without temper tantrums and naptimes. We can watch movies without animated characters. They help carry in the wood for the fireplace and walk the dog.

Our holidays are different now that our three girls are no longer small children. Since we celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas (my husband and I have different backgrounds), December has always been particularly hectic and exciting. We have an eight-year-old who still (sort of) believes in Santa Claus, so we still get to tiptoe up to their beds tonight and drop off the bag of gifts, but the edge of magic has worn off for our 12-year-old twins.

It’s a different kind of magic now. One that has less to do with flying reindeer and is more about concentrated family time at a cottage by a snow-covered lake, where their cellphones don’t work and we aren’t competing with friends for their attention. The work of cooking and cleaning is divided between more hands, so we are less exhausted. There is definitely still bickering and sibling rivalry, but it’s less likely to end in tears and time-outs.

We’ve become aware that the kind of family Christmases we have with our children is changing. And we’ve begun to conceive of a time when one or two or even all three may be off travelling or spending time with a boyfriend’s family during the holidays instead of us (gulp). It makes these few days all the more precious and wonderful. That’s a special kind of magic.

I wish this kind of family magic to all of you this holiday season. Whether you celebrate Chanukah or Christmas or just winter, savour some of that special time with your kids. Because it doesn’t last forever.

Lottery tickets not stocking stuffers for kids

UK National Lottery Scratch - Christmas MillionaireScratch cards and lottery tickets might look like great stocking stuffer’s for children, with their colourful images of Santa, elves, reindeer or brightly wrapped gifts, but a number of North American and European lottery corporations are asking parents and caregivers to remember they are not appropriate for children.

Once again, McGill University’s International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors has partnered with the National Council on Problem Gambling to spread this important message. And at least 26 different lotteries in North America have joined in.

While this message might seem a bit like a double standard, given the extremely enticing imagery the lottery companies choose to use on their cards, the message itself is a really important one. Giving a lottery card or scratch ticket to a kid gives them the message that gambling is OK. It normalizes the whole thing. And in an industry where poker has come to pass for a sport (think the World Series of Poker on ESPN), this is no small thing.

Research shows that the gambling at a young age is actually a risk factor for problem gambling later on in adulthood. Pathological gamblers report their first experiences at ages of 9 or 10. And ironically, one of the worst things that can happen to a potential problem gambler is an early win — they simply become convinced they are truly luckier than everyone else.

Consider all of this in light of research saying that the majority of kids have received lottery or scratch cards as gifts. It’s a more socially acceptable version of Grandma handing them their first pack of smokes, or inviting them over for a beer. And since the immediacy of scratch cards and their notorious “near-win” design tends to hook kids (and adults) so quickly, they have been referred to as the “gateway drug” of gambling.

This year, resist the urge. Throw in another chocolate bar or a pack of stickers instead.

How to help your teen get through end of semester exams

Teen studyingThe last week before holidays is exam period for many kids in high school, middle school, CEGEP and junior college. And since your teen is probably already worn out by all the end of semester assignments, holidays concerts, parties and family commitments, there’s a good chance they are heading into their exam rooms a bit frazzled and stressed out.

All the residual stress and anxiety can put them at an academic disadvantage when the exam booklets are handed out, potentially lowering their test scores. It also means your teens may be more likely to get into arguments with family members, experience random emotional blowouts or isolate themselves in their rooms, earphones on, doors shut.

But sometimes, when all their physical cues shout “Stay away!” they are actually calling out for thoughtful and considerate input. Here are some things you can do to help them (and everyone else) survive the exam week crunch.

Get tough on sleep. Now, more than ever, they need to unplug their devices (computers, iPads, phones) and get them out of their rooms at bedtime. All-night study sessions are almost always a waste of time and energy. This is not the time for group sleepover study sessions with friends or late nights cramming at the library. Help them establish a sleep routine that guarantees they show up for their exams well-rested.

Limit other commitments. Try to control the amount of non-studying related events around this time of year. The office holiday party that includes families, the neighbourhood carolling, Great Aunt Selma’s tree-trimming, Bubby’s annual latka fry-up — whatever the things that get your family out the door in mid-December– can all add up to a lot of time away from the books. And while your teen will benefit from breaks and a change of scenery, all of this forced socializing can be painful to your average 14 or 16-year-old. In terms of relaxing and recharging, they’d be better off taking the dog for a run, reading a novel or practicing guitar. Try and find a reasonable balance for them.

Feed their bodies, feed their brains. On the mornings before exams, I always get up 10 minutes early to cook my daughters a hot breakfast. They have almost no appetite at 7 a.m. (and who can blame them?), but I know from personal experience what it’s like to write a two-hour exam with nothing in your system. So I make eggs and hash browns, oatmeal pancakes or fruit and yogurt smoothies so that they have a bit of protein and carbs before they head out the door.

I try to extend this philosophy to their study sessions as well. My work requires me to do a lot of writing and research, and I know all too well how snacking can function as a procrastination tool or distraction. Instead of fattening and salty processed convenience foods, I try to have a ready supply of cut up fruit and veggies, cheese sticks, popcorn or homemade mini muffins around.

Offer the kind of support they need. This will almost certainly not sound like a lecture on study skills. It will not be a series of frustrated comments about their messy rooms, disorganized backpacks or crumpled, incomplete course notes. You’re kind of too late for this now, and it’s not going to help matters or lessen anxiety levels. Pick your battles.

This is the time to hang out quietly. A quick jam session on Guitar Hero. A cuddle before bedtime. Twenty minutes hanging out together in front of the TV. A quick run out together to get hot chocolate. Listen when they talk. If they ask for help getting organized, then step in. If they don’t, well, they will quickly learn on their own what they need. During exam period, you will be a far more helpful and calming force if you can help keep their stress down and offer a sympathetic ear.