First Mondays

By The Institute for Child Development and Family Relations, Cal State San Bernardino

How to Keep Your Couple Relationship Strong During The Transition to Parenthood

For most people, having a baby is an exciting and life-changing event. So, what predicts a smooth transition? The couple’s adjustment to parenthood is dependent on multiple factors including the individual parents, the couple, and the temperament of their new infant. Parents can generally be as prepared as possible and still feel overwhelmed with the experiences of parenthood in the first few months. This is partly because contemporary parents are not adequately prepared for their new role, and the expectations for the parental role continue to rise in a society that places little priority on families. searchNew parents are expected to embrace their new role. Yet we do not acknowledge the sleeplessness and pure exhaustion that become the couple’s reality for the first several months of parenthood. It is for this reason that couples find themselves turning to each other for most of their support. This can be difficult for some partners who are less prepared for the adjustment. However, every couple is different and there is no single formula for an optimal transition to parenthood. Researchers do know that some couples maintain a high level of relationship satisfaction across the transition to parenthood. In this article, I highlight some patterns that are beneficial for couples as they shift into one of life’s most rewarding yet challenging stages.

 

It’s no surprise that initially, the transition to parenthood impacts the life of a woman more than a man. From the moment a woman is pregnant, her body is transforming and working to support the new cells growing within her. Her body is changing both on a hormonal and physical level. But sex differences are not solely tied to biology; they also result from gendered expectations for men and women. As a professor at California State University, Long Beach, I ask my students to participate in an activity that helps illustrate this point. I ask them to close their eyes and imagine a male in his late 20s to early 30s pushing a stroller while walking solo. I then ask them to share the first thoughts that images-1came to their minds and without fail they always say things like “he is a great dad,” “he is such an involved father,” “he must be giving his wife a break” and most recently “his partner must be at work.” Moments later, I ask them to do the same exercise with a female in mind and their responses are not very surprising. They often state that they really don’t think much about it; in fact they wouldn’t even notice such a thing because it’s so expected and “normal.” My students’ observations highlight societal expectations for men and women’s with respect to parenthood. Although more men are involved in the rearing and nurturing of their infants and toddlers compared previous generations, women still do the bulk of the work. For example, how common is it for baby changing tables to be located in men’s public restrooms?

I want new parents to know that although they may strive for egalitarian relationships during the transition to parenthood, equal divisions of labor do not often result. I also want them to be aware that perceptions of shared labor impact women’s relationsimageship satisfaction more than men’s. In other words, if a woman feels that her partner is not doing his equal share of house-work, she is less satisfied than a man who believes his wife is not doing her fair share. Among new parents, researchers find that when a mother’s relationship satisfaction begins to decline, the father’s will often decline shortly thereafter. Thus the old phase, “Happy wife, happy life” is perhaps more true than some would like to believe. At the same time, I want to be clear that there are many new fathers who take an active role in caring for and raising their infants. Thus, both new mothers and fathers should be praised for what they do. The best type of validation however, comes from the partners themselves. Here, I list a few important ways partners can support each other and help maintain their relationship across their transition to parenthood.

Communication is the key to any healthy relationship but it becomes paramount for new parents who often find themselves exhausted and irritable. Not only does the mere lack of sleep impact new parents, but also the unknowns that come with a new baby can be stress provoking. As a result, many couples become impatient with their partners, and spend more time arguing instead of communicating. Three factors that are important when commutating with your partner include:

1) Pause before you speak your mind. Parents often experience a roller coaster of emotions during the first year of parenthood. There are days where they report being happier than they ever imagined, but there are also days in which they question important things such as their choice of a life partner. These bad days are normal and they pass but words will be remembered so choose them carefully. Before speaking negative words make sure you pause and consider the effect your words can have on your partner.

imgres-22) Be aware of the affect or emotions behind your words. For example, if your partner asks you to do something like empty the diaper bin or heat up a bottle, don’t sigh or roll your eyes as you say “okay” or “fine.” You are going to follow through on their request but when you add the negative affect, the actions become less valuable. At the same time, adding positive emotions can make a world of difference. At times, it may seem like you are doing a lot more than your partner, and you probably are; if you need assistance, use a warm tone and be careful not to ridicule the manner in which your partner provides assistance.

3) Make sure to have regular check-ins with your partner that go beyond just asking them to help. Remember to ask how your partner’s day has gone or if there is anything they would like to discuss. New parents become so consumed with their daily tasks, they often forget to talk to one another the way they used to. Regular check-ins will help partners stay in tune with each other’s needs and provide validation. Being aware of your partner is an important part of maintaining a strong relationship during the transition to parenthood. When you notice that your partner is stressed, offer assistance. It is important to remember that parenting is new for the both of you and it will take some adjusting so be patient and importantly, be there for one another.

Being a new parent is exhausting (notice a pattern here?!) and people sometimes forget that the couple relationship is the foundation of a family. The happiest partners during the transition to parenthood are those who support and demonstrate affection towards each other. This is particularly true for women with affectionate male partnerimgress. If you do not already know your love language or the love language of your partner, I suggest you learn (See: The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman). Parents are always told to create a routine for their children but caring for their relationship should be incorporated in this routine.

Although I have provided several recommendations, the most important is to ensure the couple makes time for one another. You can’t accomplish any of my recommendations without doing so. If you forget all else, just remember to set time aside for your partner, even if it is only 10 minutes talking in bed at the start or end of your day. As partners become parents, their greatest asset is each other.

About the Authorroudiroy

 Roudi Roy, Ph.D., CFLE –  is an Assistant Professor at California State University, Long Beach.  Her academic area of study is Child Development and Family Studies.  She has many research interests including: transitioning to parenthood, family life education, relationship satisfaction, and societal and cultural influences on parental roles.

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Helping our Military Families: Post-Deployment Concerns and Reintegration

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In recognition of Veterans’ Day, this post is dedicated to military members and their families who face unique challenges. Imagine that you have received the good news that your family member is coming home from military deployment. Understandably, you couldn’t be more excited. It is a common feeling of jubilation that approximately 12,000 service members experience when they return to their families every year (Goldberg, 2014). It is an occasion to rejoice; however, post-deployment life isn’t without its difficulties. Often spouses and children face issues reconnecting to their deployed family member and integrating them back into their routines. Family members sometimes report feeling as if there is a stranger in their home. Addressing some of these common concerns before the deployed family member leaves and prior to his/her arrival back home can ease the anxieties associated with deployment (Military Families, 2011).imgres

The key for successful reintegration of a returning family member starts with planning for their extended absence (Chandra et al., 2011). Even though it is difficult to be separated from a loved one, proper preparation ensures that those left behind have the tools and the
skills to deal effectively with the challenges of separation. While a family member is deployed, the spouse often faces emotional, financial, mental, and other challenges related to long-term absences and difficulties adapting to the responsibilities of the deployed partner. The strain of taking on the partners’ responsibilities is often overwhelming for non-deployed family members until they are able to compensate for the difference.

Couples should plan for long and short-term issues in order to ease the difficulties; even having a test period before the deployment can be instructional. Resources that can assist the non-deployed spouse are often located at family readiness centers, which serve as clearing houses that provide telephone and in-person assessments to help determine needs and the right resources. Project FOCUS, Strong Families Strong Forces, ADAPT, images-4Passport to Success (PTS), and other programs assist family members through different stages: pre-deployment, deployment, and reintegration (Chandra et al., 2011). Upon being reunited, couples should discuss the status of important issues like bills, routines, and new household rules. It is important for both parties to communicate expectations of what responsibilities will shift back to the returning member and what duties will remain with the spouse. Jason Green, a married Coast Guard Reservist with two children commented on his experiences returning home from multiple deployments. In addition to communicating about family responsibilities, he points out the importance for couples to reconnect emotionally stating, “communication is also important to rekindle the romantic relationship.”

Some of the common concerns regarding children are dependent on their stage of development (Creech, Hadley, & Borsari, 2014). Children under the age of five often have difficulty remembering the deployed family member and, therefore, must be reintroduced. At this age, it is also common when a parent leaves or returns for children to exhibit behavior problems and act out more than usual. Between the ages of 6 and 12, anxiety issues are common, as the child fears for their parent’s safety (Military Families, images-22011). Girls tend to externalize their heightened level of anxiety when a family member leaves. The anxiety level is then subsequently reduced and internalized when the deployed family member returns home. Children commonly experience weakened social bonds, including issues with making and keeping friends. This is mitigated somewhat by the presence of other children who are in similar situations or have had similar experiences. Children between the ages of 11 and 18 typically have issues relating to school performance, social interactions, and they both internalize and externalize their symptoms. Oftentimes an older child will adopt some of the same traits as the parent who is not on deployment, even stepping into a parental role and managing the household. The mental health of adolescents is often directly related to the mental health of the remaining parent. If a parent demonstrates strong mental fortitude, it will reflect on the children and lead to better coping mechanisms (Creech et al., 2014).

Overall, the military family’s preparation and a willingness to adapt are the best processes for reintegration. For those experiencing challenges transitioning there is always time to improve the family dynamic. Checking with local family readiness centers in order to understand what resources are available is an important first step. Remember this is an occasion to rejoice, so be sure to make this process a smooth one, and that everyone is collectively working towards.

If you are in need of resources related to post-deployment reintegration, please reach out to any of the following sources.

Resources

Strong Families Strong Forces: http://www.bu.edu/sfsf/or call 617-358-5742

Veteran’s Center at California State University, San Bernardino: Veterans.csusb.edu Or call 909-537-5195

About the Author

William C. Lewis is employed as a Student Assistant with the Veterans Success Center at CSUSB, currently in his final year with the Criminal Justice program. As an Air Force ROTC cadet William is looking forward to a rewarding career with the U.S. Military and becoming a member of the national defense system as an officer

References

Chandra, A., Lara-Cinisomo, S., Jaycox, L., Tamielian, T., Han, B., Bruns, R., & Ruder, T. (2011) Views

from the homefront: The experiences of youth and spouses from military families. Center for Military Health Policy Research. Retrieved from http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/ technical_reports/2011/RAND_TR913.pdf

Creech, S., Hadley, W., & Borsari, B. (2014, December). The impact of military deployment and reintegration on children and parenting: A systematic review. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 45(6), 452-464. doi  10.1037/a0035055

Goldberg, M. (2014, December). Updated death and injury rates of U.S. military personnel during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan (CBO Working Paper 2014-08). Retrieved from https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/113th-congress-2013-2014/workingpaper/49837-    Casualties_WorkingPaper-2014-08_1.pdf

How deployment stress affects children and families: Research findings. (n.d.). PTSD: National Center for PTSD. Retrieved from http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treatment/family/pro_deployment_stress_children.asp

Military families: Coming home. (2011, March). American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 89. Retrieved from http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF–   Guide/Coming-Home-Adjustments-For-Military-Families-089.aspx

Sogomonyan, F., & Cooper, J. (2010, May). Trauma faced by children of military families. National Center for Children in Poverty. Retrieved from http://www.nccp.org/publications/pub_938.html

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Disagreement Over Becoming Parents

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The pathway to parenthood is different for everyone. Some people know early on that they want to become parents, others deliberate before deciding, and still others are ambivalent or even upset to learn that a baby is on the way. The purpose of this article is to outline factors that arise in the decision to become parents and provide research-based information about this important issue.

Ideally, partners have discussed their views on parenthood before committing to their relationship. Disagreement about whether to become parents has caused many breakups, some of which could have been avoided with prior discussion. For this reason, parenting views and values are thoroughly addressed in premarital counseling. However, advance discussion does not necessarily protect from disagreement down the line. People change their minds.

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Drs. Carolyn and Philip Cowan, married parents and researchers, have extensively studied the transition to parenthood. They identified 4 pathways, each with varying levels of agreement about parenthood and differing levels of relationship satisfaction.

  • The planners discuss parenthood in advance and arrive at a firm decision about whether or not to have a child. This group tends to have the highest relationship satisfaction, even during the transition to parenthood. About 50% of people fall into this group.
  • The acceptance of fate couples are surprised to learn that they are expecting and with time, they calmly or enthusiastically accept it. Approximately 14% of people fall into this category. Initially, their relationship satisfaction could be adversely affected, but overall they fare as well as the planners.
  • The ambivalent couples tend to experience both positive and negative feelings about becoming parents. These mixed feelings could occur before and/or after conception. About 26% of couples fall into the ambivalent category and these partners tend to experience low satisfaction overall.
  • Yes-no couples also experience mixed emotions about becoming parents. In general, one person is enthusiastic while the other is apathetic. In heterosexual unions, it is usually (but not always) women who are interested in parenthood and men who are unenthusiastic. These partnerships are characterized by a general indecisiveness and ineffectiveness at everyday problem solving. Approximately 10% of couples fall into this category and as with the ambivalent couples, they experience low relationship satisfaction. These partners are at additional risk of breakup; many partners separate before the child turns 5 years old.

kelly-4Disagreeing about parenthood is big because it means that partners have different values and priorities. Therapy helps couple members identify and understand the underlying reasons for their feelings. Some people are fearful of becoming parents because they worry about repeating dysfunctional patterns from their families of origin. One important point is that those who can remember what it felt like to grow up in an abusive household are less likely to repeat the maladaptive behaviors. The connection to those feelings is key.

Some partners fear the loss of freedom that accompanies parenthood. Certainly many things are easier before children come along such as going out for dates, having time and energy for intimacy, traveling, and visiting with friends. But the presence of children does not mean that these activities stop. They might change, but partners who are invested in maintaining their connection can (and should) actively work to prioritize the relationship. Even couples that do not have children need to work on keeping their connection strong over time; so avoiding parenthood for this reason alone is not ideal.

Ultimately, happiness is predicted by having a choice in the outcome. Whether people become parents or not, they will feel more satisfied with their relationship and life if they make decisions that are thoughtful, deliberate, and aligned with their values.

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About the Author

 

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Dr. Kelly Campbell is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Human Development at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB). Her research interests focus on romantic relationships, friendships, health, and racism. Her research has been featured on NBC television, CBS radio, NPR, and in publications such as the Wall Street Journal and The Huffington Post.

 

kellylogo Dr. Campbell hosts an interactive, call-in radio show called “Let’s Talk Relationships” If you have a question about this article or any relationship question, consider calling in or submitting your question online through the show’s Facebook page: @JustRelationships. The show airs from 3-4pm on Fridays in the middle of each month including Oct. 14, Nov. 18, and Dec. 16. It can be accessed through the Coyote Radio app, iTunes Radio, or by visiting http://radio.csusb.edu/ and selecting “Listen Now!” Archived episodes can be accessed on Sound Cloud.

 

 

 

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Summer’s coming!!!Managing difficult behavior: Tips for parents and caregivers

Managing behavior problems can be challenging at all times but as summer approaches and schedules change behavioral issues often arise.  We, at the Institute for Child Development and Family Relations, would like to share some ideas for dealing with difficulty behavior from Dr. Stacy Forcino. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and adjunct instructor in the Psychology Department at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB) as well running the Disruptive Behaviors Clinic of the campus’ community counseling center.

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Managing behavior problems, such as noncompliance, defiance, arguing, whining, fighting, and rule-breaking, is challenging. It requires patience, persistence, and a healthy dose of positive attitude. The following tips are intended to assist parents (or other caregivers) in helping children overcome behavior problems. My approach focuses on teaching children to behave appropriately and adaptively. Fortunately, psychological science has much to offer with this process. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits all approach. Use your judgment regarding what will work best for your child and your family. If your child continues to struggle, consider obtaining more individualized consultation from a child psychologist.

Ready,

The parents I work with have often been dealing with their child’s difficult behavior for a long time. Understandably, they are fed up; but in the midst of this frustration, it can be easy to forget that children with behavior problems are really struggling. Of course a day full of arguing, whining, complaining, and fighting is tough on a parent. But it’s also tough on a child. It’s no fun being in trouble all the time. We also know that behavior problems put children at risk for rejection from peers, academic problems, and even anxiety and depression. Disruptive behavior is always worth addressing, and the sooner the better.

Set,

Helping a child overcome his or her behavioral difficulties takes patience and resolve from caregivers. So plan ahead to make sure you have the psychological resources to be your best you during the process. Seek support of friends and family and, importantly, make it a priority to get the sleep you need. A well-rested caregiver is better able to act with thoughtful intention rather than emotionally-driven impulse. This may well prove critical to your success.

Make sure your child is well rested, as well. Typically, preschoolers need 11-13 hours of sleep per day, including naps, and school-aged children need 9-11 hours of sleep per day. Sleep problems, including too little sleep, sleeping at the wrong times (e.g., too late bedtimes), or too-varied sleep schedule, can cause behavior problems, even serious ones. It’s worth ruling out. A consistent early bedtime will do no harm and may do a lot of good for your child’s ability to control his or her emotions and behavior.

Go!

Encourage appropriate, adaptive behavior.th7X2208X4

This is where real progress can be made. A warm, positive relationship with your child coupled with proactive positive teaching strategies will go farther than discipline ever will. Consider trying the following.

 

  • Model appropriate, adaptive behavior. Children pay close attention to their parents and often copy them. Use that to your advantage! Make sure your child sees you doing the things you ask of him: talking nicely to others, taking care of your belongings, picking up after yourself, controlling your temper, sharing, taking turns, apologizing when you’ve made a mistake, reading, and eating healthy foods.
  • State your expectations clearly. Posting household rules or having regular family meetings to discuss expectations can help.
  • Remind your child when there are different expectations for different settings. For example, before you walk into the grocery stores, say “Remember, in the grocery store you are to stay by Mom, ask before touching, and use your inside voice.”
  • State instructions in a polite and direct manner. Avoid sarcasm and criticism. “Please put your plate in the sink,” is better than “Maybe you could clean up after yourself for once.”
  • Give specific “Put these books back in the bookshelf,” is better than “Clean this stuff up.”
  • When giving instructions, give a (very brief!) reason. “We’re going outside where it’s cold, so please put on your coat.” However, don’t get caught in an argument about whether your reason is valid (“It’s not cold out! … Yes it is!”). State the reason once and move on.
  • If your child struggles to complete a task, break it into smaller pieces and monitor progress closely. For example, many children struggle with “Clean your room.” Instead, you might start with, “Put all the dirty clothes in the hamper.” Monitor progress and reward success (see below) before moving to the next step.
  • Give your child attention frequently. With almost no exceptions, children have a need for regular social interaction. If they go too long without attention, they will seek it out! Any parent who has tried to write an email or talk on the phone with their toddler in the room knows this is true. Unfortunately, sometimes children get in the habit of seeking our attention in inappropriate ways. To avoid this, get to them before they get to you. Sprinkle your attention on your child many times throughout the day, any time that he or she is behaving appropriately. Increase the frequency at times that attention-seeking misbehavior is likely to happen.
  • When your child seeks your attention in an appropriate way, such as saying, “Mom” in a nice voice or showing you something, respond with attention! Make appropriate attention-seeking work for your child.
  • Frequently reward appropriate, adaptive behavior, however mundane it is, with attention. Give your attention different looks. You can make descriptive statements (“You’re putting your shoes on to go outside”, “You’re picking out a book to read”, “You’ve got your favorite teddy bear”). You can praise, if the behavior is particularly positive (“It’s so nice when you share”, “What good helping, thank you!”). You can use nonverbal displays of approval: pats, smiles, squeezes, hugs, high-fives. These bits of attention are small and deliberately placed following any appropriate, adaptive behavior. Even children with serious behavior problems engage in appropriate, adaptive behavior sometimes. Make it your mission to catch those behaviors and reward them immediately with attention.

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Discourage inappropriate, maladaptive behavior.

Discipline is difficult to implement well and will only be effective if used infrequently and in combination with the tips above.

  • Be consistent with rules across caregivers. If roughhousing is not allowed with mom, don’t allow it with dad either.
  • Withhold all attention for minor attention-seeking misbehavior like whining, complaining, and arguing. That means no talking until your child stops that inappropriate behavior and resumes appropriate behavior.
  • The best negative consequences are immediate, meaning they happen right after or soon after the misbehavior, enforceable, meaning you can actually follow through, and short-lived, meaning they don’t last very long. The latter point is worth further comment. Consequences lose effectiveness if they are too long-lasting. Life has to move on quickly so we can get back to rewarding appropriate, adaptive behavior (see above) and so that the child doesn’t give up (“What’s the point, I’m grounded forever anyway!”). A consequence for a toddler (e.g., timeout) can be very short- a couple of minutes. A consequence for a grade-schooler (e.g., loss of some privilege) may be a bit longer, but almost never would need to exceed a day’s length.
  • Decide on appropriate negative consequences for common misbehaviors ahead of time. This helps to avoid giving an unreasonable or unenforceable consequence in a moment of anger (“You are not getting any birthday presents this year!”).
  • When a misbehavior occurs, calmly and briefly state the consequence and the reason the consequence was given. “Since you hit your brother, you are going to have to sit in timeout.” Do not engage in any other conversation, simply follow through with the consequence.
  • Avoid the punishment spiral (“You are grounded for a day… a week… a month… a year!”). This usually occurs when a child responds to a negative consequence with an escalation of misbehavior. For example, you take your daughter’s phone and she screams, “I hate you!” Don’t take the bait! Simply follow through with the original consequence.
  • You do not need to be upset when disciplining in order for it to be effective. In fact, discipline is more effective if it is administered in a calm, business-like manner. “I’m sorry, but since you grabbed the remote from me, the TV is off for the next 15 minutes.” Turn off the TV and ignore any arguing, whining, or complaining. Don’t reward that kind of behavior with your attention. Just follow through with the stated consequence.
  • Do not judge the effectiveness of a consequence by the level of upset your child displays. Just like you do not need to be upset when delivering a consequence in order for it to be effective, your child does not need to be upset for a consequence to work. The one and only way you know whether a consequence is working is whether it results in a decrease in the misbehavior over time.

 

Forcino HeadshotAbout the Author

Dr. Stacy Forcino is a licensed clinical psychologist and adjunct instructor in the Psychology Department at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB). She runs the Disruptive Behavior Clinic in CSUSB’s Community Counseling Center, where she and her students treat young children with behavior problems. She also maintains a private practice in Apple Valley, CA where she sees children and adolescents with a variety of difficulties. You can learn more about Dr. Forcino at www.doctorstacy.org.

 

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Home is Where the Grandchildren Are

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My mother, Barbara, and me shortly before her 90th birthday

My mother, Barbara was an awesome grandmother. She had a profound devotion to her five grandchildren and they in turn adored her. By the time great-grandchildren began arriving, geographical distance and Barbara’s failing health prevented her from having an active role in their lives. When they did visit her, she doted on them and a day never passed that she failed to wonder out loud about their well-being.

My first grandchild, Sawyer Joe Dolan, was born on September 1, 2015, four days before the anniversary of Barbara’s death. Naturally it was a very bittersweet occasion for the whole family. The fact that Sawyer’s parents (his mother Denee´ and my son Corey) deliberately chose to have a baby to bring new life and joy into two families who had experienced more than enough losses during the previous few years made the event far more jubilant than melancholy. When I first held little Sawyer I could fully understand the true meaning behind the look that was always on my mother’s face when she held her own grandchildren; oh how she would have loved rocking her “baby’s grandbaby”!

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Sawyer meeting Baby Cakes, a cherished stuffed dog that sat on my mother’s bed for years

The moment I learned that I was going to be a grandmother, I knew having a long-distance relationship was not going to suffice, and I put the wheels in motion for a major life transition. In a few months I will be closing the chapter on my life here in Southern California and moving to Northern California so I can be a frequent player in Sawyer’s life and more effectively nurture the type of bond with him that my mother had with my two sons.

Thinking about this move has led me to recognize that I am following a family tradition. Shortly after I was born in 1960 my maternal grandparents relocated to Southern California from Texas to be with their children and grandchildren. My paternal grandparents made the move from New York for the same reason. While I may not be making as big of a move in terms of miles, I am taking other significant risks. The most daunting is that my comfortable and dependable income will be shrinking by about 50% and won’t be so dependable for a few years. It has also crossed my mind that Corey and Denee´ might not stay in the area.

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Barbara and Mary, Christmas 1969

These potential drawbacks as well as others were succinctly described by Davis (2014) in a Huffington Post article where she also listed the most common pros for families when grandparents consider a relocation. For now, I’ll focus on those pros and do my best to be a real-life case to support the Australian research Juniper Briggs relayed that suggests being responsible for the care of a grandchild once a week can offer serious cognitive benefits; who could refuse that?!

Sawyer will grow up hearing lots of stories from his father as well as his Uncle Adam about the woman they knew as Grandma Walter. I’m sure when he’s a teen, he’ll roll his eyes and mutter, “I know she would have loved me, I’ve heard that a million times!” That too is part of the family experience. When he does, I’ll simply smile, and imagine Sawyer hearing the same annoyed response from his own children someday.

References

Briggs, J. (2015). Time spent with grandchildren results in big brain benefits for Gramma. Wellness Warrior. Retrieved from http://www.wellnesswarrior.org/time_spent_with_grandchildren_results_in_big_brain_benefits_for_gramma

Burn, K., Henderson, V., Ames, D., Dennerstein, L., & Szoeke, C. (2014). Role of grand parenting in postmenopausalwomen’s cognitive health: Results from the Women’s Healthy Aging Project.Menopause, 21(10), 1069 – 1074. doi: 10.1097/GME.0000000000000236

Davis. D. (2014, March 12). Should you move to live near your grandchildren? Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/donne-davis/living-near-grandchildren_b_4537834.html

About the Author

Mary A. Dolan has a Ph. D. in Applied Developmental Psychology. She (has – if this runs before July) taught for the Psychology Department at CSUSB for over 20 years and the University of Redlands for over 10 years.  She is looking forward to a continued teaching career at Chico State University and spending one day a week caring for Sawyer.

 

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“Goldie” The Goldfish Teaches Children About Life Losses

A goldfish won at a fair is often a child’s first experience with having a pet. They athre excited and promise to take good care of their pet. However, in the excitement no one remembers that goldfish lives are rather short and so the day comes when “Goldie” is found swimming on top of the water. Adults who may find the goldfish first have a natural inclination to protect the child from the hurt and pain that comes with losing someone you love. They may rush out to a pet store and attempt to replace Goldie with another fish before the child notices.

While this is natural and understandable it may not be the best course of action. By shielding a child from a natural process we deny the child the opportunity to experience and feel the loss, which will support them in coping with other, and more major, life losses in their lives.

So what should we do? It is best to share the experience with the child, honestly answering their questions and allowing them to express their feelings. An open discussion about death helps children understand that all living creatures die: animals, plants, and humans, too. Allowing them to express their feelings helps them to stay connected to their emotions and teaches them that appropriate expressions of sadness, anger, and thH8ZZCF5Hacceptance are normal and healthy.

Exploring ways to celebrate “Goldie’s” life helps children appreciate that life is special and has purpose. Help the child decide how to memorialize their pet, respecting actions that are comfortable for the child. A small funeral, a special burial location, a short prayer, reading or memory sharing are all helpful activities that provides the child with a loving and supportive environment in which to grieve for their pet. Allowing the child the opportunity to decide if and when they are ready for another pet respects their healing process. thI618GLZ1

The child may need to process this experience for days or weeks afterwards through questions and discussions. Be patient and honest in the discussions allowing the child to draw their own conclusions from the experience. In time, the discussion will stop but the experience will stay with the child forever. I am quite sure that everyone reading this article can reflect on a similar experience, child readingwhether positive or not.

Reading stories of other children’s losses helps the child understand that they are not the only one with this experience. There is comfort in knowing that others understand.

 

About the Author

The Institute for Child Development and Family Relations would like to thank Victoria Stephan for allowing us to reprint her blog. Victoria is the Director of the Stephan Center. The Stephan Center is a service organization dedicated to those journeying through life losses. It provides education and resources to professionals and laypersons as support and understanding is given to those seeking peace and acceptance in their lives.

You can learn more about the Stephan center on their website at http://www.thestephancenter.org/

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Poverty Simulation

 

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Waking up early one morning you discover that your child has a high fever. You are a single parent and the sole provider for your household. You have no sick days at your entry-level job, nor benefits, and your healthcare is provided to you by a clinic where it takes hours to be seen by a doctor. The co-payment alone for the doctor’s visit will eat up much of your food budget for the week. What do you do? What choice will you make? Food for your family…consistent employment …medicine for your child… which of these necessities would you go without? Millions of low-income people struggle daily with situations just like these. For families living in poverty, making the “right” decision in these situations is difficult if not impossible.

If these were the challenges you faced, how well would you do?  On Friday, February 19th  students, faculty, staff, and community members gathered at the Santos Manual Student Union Events Center on the campus of California State University, San Bernardino to find out for themselves. More than 80 participants  experienced a Poverty Simulation Hosted by The Institute for Child Development and Family Relations (ICDFR) and supported by volunteers from the Work-Family-Life (WFL) project and the Psychology Club.

Dr. Mark Agars, Director of the ICDFR and the WFL project, served as the facilitator for the event. “Our goal is to raise awareness, both on campus and in the community, regarding the reality of living in poverty. We hope that participants come away from the experience with a greater understanding of what life is like for individuals living, and often working, in state of need.” pov1

This event is very relevant to many who live and/or work in the San Bernardino area. One in five residents live in poverty with the rates for children reaching to one in four. The jobless rate for the area has improved since the recession, but the positions added are mostly low paying and don’t lift workers out of poverty.

It is far too easy to say that people living in poverty just need to “lift themselves up by their bootstraps.” This Poverty Simulator teaches us just how difficult that is and how easily our efforts can be undermined by misfortune.

The role-playing exercise, created by the Missouri Association for Community Action, was “designed to help participants begin to understand what it might be like to live in a typical low-income family trying to survive from month to month.” During the simulation, family groups sit in the middle of the room and community resources ring the area. Families rely on the resources in order to survive the month. Some of the services include: a bank, social services, medical care, school, employer, police, supermarket, and a pawn shop. Just like life, there are also surprise events that may occur such as plumbing issues, receiving an inheritance, or sudden illness.

As the simulation progressed, the stress in the room rose higher. Participants rushed from service agencies to government offices trying desperately to get the assistance they needed to maintain their families. As the week came to an end, you could hear exclamations of frustration as household members ran out of time to get basic necessities such as food and transportation passes due to the demands of employment, school, and attempts to keep a house running.

Some comments from participants illustrate the feelings in the room:

“When the volunteer blew her first whistle, week 1 started; once again, after a long period of time, I became poor again; once again I felt like a struggling and helpless person. This time I knew I was just pretending for couple of hours; it was not even a nightmare. I was just playing a role of a person who lives in a shelter house, his problematic life, his daily challenges, and the disgusting situations he has to face every day. This poverty simulation event was an eye opening and sensational experience for me. It brought a great deal of respect in my heart for the under privileged people of our community.”(Adil, CSUSB Student)

“This is the second time I have participated and what strikes me is how fragile your situation is when you are in poverty. Mere chance can make the difference between surviving or falling into complete despair.” (David, Community Participant)

“When I first participated in the Poverty Simulation, I went in not knowing what to expect and left with a tiny exposure as to what living in poverty entailed. As a participant my first time around and volunteering the second, I definitely noticed a difference in both experiences. When I volunteered I found myself looking at those participating, hoping they got as much out of it as I did. I definitely felt the struggles and hardships that tried to pov4keep me from rising above poverty.” (Karen, Student CSUSB)

The simulation is designed to sensitize those who frequently deal with low-income families including policymakers and community leaders. It is important for us to understand the hardships of our neighbors, co-workers, and employees. The ICDFR and WFL would like to expand this and reach current and future employers and managers. With almost half of all jobs created in the Inland Empire belonging to the low-wage category, business leaders need to understand the difficulties faced by their workforce and perhaps address some of their needs.

For more information about the Poverty Simulation or to partner with the ICDFR to host a Poverty Simulation for your organization, please contact Kim McDonald (kmcdonald@csusb.edu, 909-537-3679).

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Why a Rich Language Environment Matters For Infants and Toddlers

In April of last year we posted a blog regarding the importance of talking to your baby (see Talk to Me). In our latest post, Dr. Laura Kamptner reviews a new book on the important topic.  In her book, Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain, Dana Suskind  explains why the most important thing you can do for your child’s future success in life is to talk to him or her, and she reveals the recent science behind this truth, and outlines precisely how parents can best put it into practice. talkp1 Review of 30 Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain by Dr. Laura Kamptner

Twenty years ago, Hart and Risley’s (1995) groundbreaking study found dramatic socio-economic differences in the language environments experienced by young children, with children from poverty backgrounds hearing far fewer words spoken to them by parents compared to their middle class counterparts. This difference was found to have a proffound impact on children’s school readiness and academic success–children who heard the most words prior to starting school were more likely to do the best academically.

Talk4In very accessible language, Dr. Suskind’s new book outlines the neuroscience behind Hart and Risley’s findings and sends an urgent message about the importance of providing a rich language environment for infant and toddlers.  By age 3 the brain has completed 85% of its physical growth, and these early years constitute a critical window during which the foundations for thinking, learning, later academic performance, and social-emotional competencies are being formed. Research findings relate positive “parent talk” to larger vocabularies, higher I.Q.s, school readiness, better academic performance, better self-regulation and executive functioning, and better math skills in children. The importance of early book sharing is also emphasized, consistent with what Trelease (2013) discusses in his wonderful book, The Read-Aloud Handbook.  In addition, Suskind provides many helpful suggestions on how to talk with young children (i.e., tune in, talk more, take turns) and describes her team’s research-based intervention project that assists parents in creating a richer language Talk5environment for their children.

While Suskind considers a rich language environment the most important factor for brain and other areas of development, I would put it in second place– after the establishment of a secure attachment between caregivers and their very young children. Decades of research studies have demonstrated that caregivers who are warm, sensitively-attuned, and responsive to their very young children create the solid foundation for optimal brain, cognitive, language, social, and emotional development. Suskind’s terrific strategies for increasing “parent talk” are the “icing” on the cake.

 

References:

Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. Baltimore: Brookes.

Suskind, D. (2015), 30 Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain. New York: Dutton. 

 

About the Author Laura Kamptner

Dr. Laura Kamptner is a Professor of Human Development in the Psychology Department at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB). She teaches courses on child and human development, parenting, and the history of childhood. She is also involved with the Institute for Child Development and Family Relations at CSUSB, with the Parenting Center and Science of Parenting Projects.

 

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Accepting our Differences at Holiday’s Table

Due to Holiday campus closure, we are posting January’s “First Mondays” blog early.  Please enjoy and look for our next post on Monday February 1st.

 

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About the Author:

Patty Dobbs Gross created North Star Foundation as a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to place high quality assistance dogs with children who face social and emotional challenges at an affordable price. Patty earned her BA from the University of Massachusetts in Psychology and her MA from the University of Connecticut in Educational Psychology; she is also the author of THE GOLDEN BRIDGE: A Guide to Assistance Dogs Placements for Children Challenged by Autism or Other Developmental Disabilities (Purdue University Press, 2006). Patty has been married for thirty three years to a very patient man, and is the mother of four children who are all an integral part of North Star’s work. Over a quarter century ago her son Danny, now 28, received an assistance dog named Madison from Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) to work with his challenge of autism. Dan recently graduated from USC’s prestigious School of Cinematic Arts with an MFA in filmmaking and has created North Star’s extensive video library. He is now working with as an editorial assistant in Connecticut and doing freelance work in LA & NYC.

Accepting our Differences at Holiday’s Table 

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Accepting a child with a developmental difference into your heart can be an easy thing to do, as most children with special needs are quite lovable, but tensions can arise when your child is invited to someone else’s expanded dining room table over the holidays. This is a good time of year to begin preparations to give ourselves the gift of peace through gentle educating of extended family and friends, who are usually trying their level best with your child, who is likely trying his or her best as well to navigate the sometimes choppy and roiling social waters of the holiday season.

Creating proper environments in advance is a good place to start. Appropriate is a word that should come to mind when thinking of classroom environments for children with developmental differences, but at family gatherings we don’t tend to think about this ongoing need; to me, this is analogous to taking a holiday break from giving your child the insulin that his diabetic condition requires. Developmental differences don’t take holiday breaks, and all environments your child enters should first be considered as to their appropriate nature by way of sensory integration as well as social concerns.

The comfort levels of others is also important to consider on holidays, and this is what makes them so tricky. A deft preventive touch here may be in order, and if Grandma likes routine as much as your child, this doesn’t have to be a problem as much as an opportunity to work on the fine art of compromise. They might come to appreciate their shared love of routine and order, and this meta-type thinking is excellent for helping your child take other perspectives at a holiday celebration. You may be selling your child short by way of appreciating their ability to change with patient and nonjudgmental reasoning, or your Mom’s, and giving them this chance to learn and to grow with this experience would be a true gift.dreamstime_6881014

And so sometimes Grandma should get her way and other times your child; this just seems fair, but if Grandpa is convinced that more discipline is the obvious answer to the difficulties of the day, someone really ought to set him straight, preferably before the turkey comes out of the oven. Remind him gently that we cannot fix our loved one’s problems by force, or even by forceful words, and this goes double once removed. Make him gently aware that it’s usually a mistake to even try, especially in front of others who may have had a glass or two of liquid courage in their belly and a spontaneous desire to share how they really feel; this is what happened to us around the time of Dan’s diagnosis at my in-law’s home, who thought I was parenting him wrong. I wasn’t strict enough to their view, and I didn’t physically correct a child they saw as willful when young; they were right about the willful but wrong about my mothering, and we once had a terrible Christmas Day fight about this, with my mother-in-law’s words, “You’re going to be getting calls from the principal!” ringing in my ears rather than the more traditional sleigh bells. (It wasn’t ever true about the principal calling me part, but I ended up calling him plenty one cold winter when we disagreed on who was telling the truth, the three fourth grade boys accused of picking on him, or the word of a kindergartener who spoke in echolalic verse about the experience.)

You may need to remember, even if you don’t want to, that misunderstandings between loved ones can arise based on vantage point more than anything else, and time is often needed to bridge the divide. The next season we tried the holiday gathering thing once again, quite gingerly, with an extra year of early intervention under our belt, but it would take two solid decades of this careful work to unfold before Danny ended up the most frequent (and well behaved) visitor my in-laws had in their later years, and certainly the most prolific writer to them. We lost my mother-in-law several years ago to cancer, so I am grateful I had no desire to hold grudges during those early years, more because I didn’t have the energy than any kind of enlightenment on my part.

The holidays belong to us all, and we all want to put our own stamp on the day, and so Aunt Sally and Uncle Bill might have some trouble with your child’s behavior if they see it in the wrong context. Autism and related developmental differences cannot be fully understood outside of a social context, so these moments can be sharp sticking points to a day that might run more smoothly with increased awareness passed all around as confidently as the stuffing. For instance, a communal moment of silence or short prayer before the meal may be considered a graceful gesture to some, an important religious event to others, or simply a time to practice being very quiet for a few moments for the small fry. Impulse control comes to play here, and although you know it is the lack of it we see on display if the prayer is rudely interrupted, others may see your child’s behavior in a harsher light that may cause sharp words aimed toward your child and whispers in the kitchen about you.

Holiday gatherings at your grandparent’s dining room table in the 50s were a decidedly different event than the gathering at your sister’s condo in 2015, but behavior codes are still in effect, and if your child has trouble decoding them there will likely be trouble escaping snap judgments for rules innocently broken. Some rules are very hard for a child with a difference to follow; I remember a holiday season when the only places we could travel were to homes where Danny could take over their screens and electronics. This, as you may imagine, put great stress on the holidays by way of push coming to shove energy, with factions of the family in the “hand slapping” camp and others in the “let’s just have more stuffing and skate across the frozen surface” crowd. You want to avoid people taking easy sides on this, or even taking any side at all save the one of understanding for all concerned.

We stopped visiting any but the most tolerant of homes when Danny was small, but it took a while until he could be comfortable participating in a holiday celebration without the help of a working VCR, and in the meantime we worked on him to understand the concepts of ownership and etiquette enough to be able to leave other people’s electronics alone. Progress here was measured in inches, as there was really so little to fight and so much to learn, accept and explain to others as time passed.

And if your child creates a real mess when everyone is together, whether a social, emotional or physical one, I know it will be you who cleans it up, apologizes, and ultimately pays for it, but I also know it’s a small price to pay for the lessons everyone is learning along the way.

For although your own spiritual growth usually goes unmeasured after a tough day negotiating peacefully for your child’s rightful place at your family’s table as well as society’s larger banquet, trust me when I tell you that you are developing extraordinary gifts that will reveal themselves as the years pass by virtue of raising a child with a difference. You are becoming not just tolerant of your own child’s differences, but tolerant also of your extended family’s challenges for the learning curves they have yet to negotiate, and learning to forgive them for the ways they may stumble up. This way of thinking is the opposite of being mindblind, a condition that we tend to associate with autism, but one I think we all need to consciously avoid whether we are on the spectrum or not.

Developing mindsight in children is a way to move them forward in a self-reflective and nonjudgmental kind of way, to best develop social and emotional skills as well as resilience; it can also do us and our own relationships more than a bit of good to develop increased awareness of others’ perspectives, so we should let everyone have a front row understanding of the patient and loving negotiations and quiet compromises as they unfold to offer peace to the holiday gathering, for to communicate this even to the cousins is to share a measure of the spiritual growth the adults will also take home with the day, along with some wrapped up leftovers and some pictures on your phone.

It is good to learn early and often that most of us need love most when we’re at our most unlovable. Knowing how it feels to walk in another’s shoes is a good thing, especially when walking the path of a child with a developmental difference, you are not just keeping them good company on their sometimes lonely journey, but also moving toward a magnificent view.

It was at this point in my writing this blog when I heard on the news about the horrific shooting in San Bernardino at a holiday party, and so like Newtown’s sad December, this season ends up being about unimaginable loss. I have no words to express my sorrow to the people of San Bernardino, who welcomed Dan and I so warmly into both your university as well as your hearts when we gave our first presentation together in your auditorium decade ago as well as just last month. I will leave you with my hope that the unconditional love that you foster this troubled holiday season, along with your family’s conscious compromises and growing tolerance for each other, will end up making a difference in the world. Our striving for a deeper understanding of each other should begin with the children at all our tables, for they will be the ones to lead us to a more peaceful future.

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Less “Stuff” Can Lead to Happier Holiday Moments

 

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The Holidays are often filled with stressful moments.  From buying gifts to dealing with strained family relations to schedules that are over full, it can be challenging to manage the needs of the family with the demands of the season.

Many parents find themselves wondering if the commercialism surrounding the Holidays is detracting from the magic of the season. Indeed, researchers Elizabeth Dunn (University of California, Berkeley) and Michael Norton (Harvard Business School) suggest that this may be the case. In their book, Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending the authors note that we can help our children and ourselves to be happier by purchasing less “stuff.” Their research shows that material purchases are not as satisfying as vacations, events, or time spent together. In effect, experiences make us happier than  things.

Based on the evidence presented by Dunn and Norton, parents may want to consider a change in their Holiday shopping plans. In that spirit, below we present several experiences that make excellent alternatives to traditional gifts.

GIVE THE GIFT OF EXPERIENCES:

Most children do not need more “stuff.” Experiences, on the other hand, offer the opportunity to stimulate the mind and strengthen family bonds.

Experiences that are sure to wow!

  • Season Passes (museums, amusement parks, zoos…)
  • Tickets to a theater performance, sporting event, or concert
  • A family vacation
  • Horseback riding or other sports lessons
  • A special dinner out

Budget friendly experiences:

  • Catch a matinee at the movies
  • Buy a yearly membership to a favorite organization
  • Magazine subscriptions work well for children and adults
  • Buy camping or fishing gear that can be used repeatedly throughout the year
  • Buy tools and building supplies that can be used overtime to build a variety of items
  • Buy a cake decorating book and decorating supplies. This is a gift that can “give back” on numerous special occasions

Free experiences

  • Go on a bike ride
  • Take a long walk on which children collect treasures (e.g., pretty stones or leaves)
  • Visit an observatory or museum (these usually have at least one free day per month)
  • Visit the library (libraries often have free activities)
  • Take the children on a family-history drive past the hospital where they were born, the restaurant where mom and dad had their first date, etc.
  • Bake together
  • Play a board game or work together to create a new game
  • Organize a treasure hunt
  • Go caroling
  • Make decorating the tree an “event”

Experiences that go beyond the Holiday:

Some experiences can be enjoyed over and over. Following are a few methods for giving happiness throughout the year.

  • Make it a Treat – Limit access to favorite things in order to help children appreciate them. For instance, children usually have more toys than they actually play with. Rotate the toys to which your child has access so that the toys feel “new” when they make a reappearance.
  • Buy Time – Give your children the gift of your time by regularly engaging in one of the free experiences mentioned earlier in the blog. A vague notion that “We’ll get around to it” is typically insufficient to make it happen. Schedule these activities ahead of time and do not allow yourself to fill the time slot with any other activity. A weekly or biweekly game night, may seem challenging at first, but will soon become a happily anticipated habit.
  • Pay Now, Consume Later – These are gift ideas that can be enjoyed throughout the year, or even longer!
    • Buy a yearly membership to a favorite organization
    • Magazine subscriptions work well for children and adults
    • Buy camping or fishing gear that can be used repeatedly throughout the year
    • Buy tools and building supplies that can be used overtime to build a variety of items
    • Buy a cake decorating book and decorating supplies. This is a gift that can “give back” on numerous special occasions

Investing in Others: Teach children the value of giving

  • Spending money on others makes us happier than spending on ourselves.  Have children be involved in picking and purchasing gifts for family members and friends
  • Find volunteer opportunities in which the whole family can be involved
  • Have children make a video that you can share with family members over the holiday
  • Cook a dish together. This can be children’s contribution to the Holiday meal.
  • Buy books to give as gifts and have children make bookmarks to go with the gifts
  • Give photos as gifts. Allow children to dress, pose, and select settings for their photos. Then have them match photos to specific family members. For example ask children, which photo would grandma/grandpa like and which photo should be for your teacher?

Teaching Gratitude:

One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the ability to feel gratitude.  Studies indicate that grateful people tend to be happy people (Compton & Hoffman, 2013).

  • You can help young children learn to express their gratitude by sharing with them how much you appreciate spending time with them or by listing things you are grateful for and encourage them to share as well.
  • Teach children to express gratitude by saying “thank you” and naming something specific about the gift they like (e.g., “I like this toy because it is my favorite color”
  • Teach children to express gratitude by sending premade or handmade thank you cards

 

With a little thought, there are lots of ways to give the gift of time special moments, and memories that last a lifetime and are far more valuable than one more “thing.”

 

Enjoy Your Holidays 

 

 

 

References:

 

Dunn, Elizabeth and Norton, Michael (2013). Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending. Simon & Schuster

Compton, W. C. and Hoffman, E (2013). Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness and Flourishing, 2nd Edition.

 

 

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