Are We Having Fun Yet?

Are We Having Fun Yet?

By: Dr. Jan Hittelman

Our priorities in life not only drive our day-to-day activities but also directly influence our life goals, thoughts, feelings, and interactions with others. For better or worse, our culture steers us towards achievement, prosperity, and material wealth. Who doesn’t want to live in a big house full of cool stuff? But sooner or later we come to realize that the old adage that money can’t buy happiness remains true. How would the quality of our lives change if we made experiencing joy and laughter a priority? The Mayo clinic reports that laughter not only feels good but also is good for your health. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen, stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles, increases the release of endorphins, and improves your immune system. Laughter also stimulates circulation and enhances muscle relaxation, which reduces the symptoms of stress. Also, in addition to reducing depression, laughter can improve our ability to cope with challenges in life and relate better to others. When people are asked what they would do if they had only six months to live, most opt for doing fun things, not making more money and buying a bigger house. That’s a clue that for most of us, our priorities are out of whack. And while we likely have more than six months, our time is more precious than we realize and we would all be well-served by making joy, laughter, and fun a bigger priority in our lives.

This dynamic impacts family life as well. How much of our family time is joyous? Do we over-prioritize the small stuff like getting to bed on time, brushing teeth, and room cleaning instead? These things are important, but more important than experiencing joy and happiness as a family? Assuming we all just have six months to live, let’s make this, our last Spring Break holiday special. Let’s make our family’s joy, laughter, and happiness the priority this year. And if we are really lucky, maybe we will get to do it again next year, let alone throughout the year. Interestingly enough, if we did so we are also likely to see our achievement and prosperity increase as well. So get out there and have a few laughs and take a moment to appreciate the wonder of life and the joy of family.

Why Recess May be the Most Important Part of the School Day

By: Dr. Jan Hittelman

There’s a big difference between skills and abilities. While we are born with certain natural abilities, skills are learned and require practice to develop. It is important to remember that our children are not born with good social skills, but learn these skills through modeling and practice. There are numerous research studies that highlight the importance of healthy social skill development and their impact on academic development, school success, as well as success later in life. Conversely, children with poor social skills are at increased risk of difficulties in interpersonal relationships, peer rejection, poor academic performance, signs of depression/aggression/anxiety, and are at higher risk of involvement in the criminal justice system as adults. Social skill deficits can also impact school safety and have been a factor in the recent rash of school shootings.

In addition to focusing on developing good academic skills, we must also prioritize our children’s development of healthy social behaviors. Important components of good social skills include: nonverbal communication skills, empathy, problem solving skills, and conflict resolution skills. Here are some strategies parents can use to promote healthy social skill development:

  • Importance of good role models: A lot of what your child knows regarding social interaction is learned at home, not just from parents but also from siblings. Making conscious efforts to discuss, practice, and reinforce prosocial skills can make a huge difference.
  • Provide opportunities for social interaction: Ensure that your child has plenty of unstructured time to play and interact with others, as well as involvement in structured afterschool activities, will provide them with the critical opportunities for practice.
  • Teach Problem Solving Skills: Help your child develop problem solving skills by following these simple steps: Identify the problem, brainstorm possible solutions, predict the probable outcome for each solution, and choose the one that has the highest probability of success; if it fails choose another solution.
  • If needed, consider enrolling your child in an effective social skills group: Find a licensed therapist in the community who offers structured social skills training for your child’s age group.

Perhaps we need to start thinking about the four “Rs” in education: Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic, and Relationships. I’ve never met an elementary student who didn’t feel that recess was too short or a secondary student who didn’t wish that they had less homework in order to socialize more with friends. Maybe they’re onto something.

Conquering Stress in Just Ten Minutes!

Conquering Stress in Just Ten Minutes!

By: Dr. Jan Hittelman

In 2007, the Foundation for Integrated Research in Mental Health reported that three out of five visits to doctors’ offices result from stress. Chronic stress makes us more susceptible to disease. Research has shown a link between stress and a wide variety of serious health problems including: hypertension, strokes, heart disease, diabetes, ulcers, neck or lower back pain, even cancer and possibly Alzheimer’s disease (Medical News Today 9/30/13). According to a survey by the Better Sleep Council, 65 percent of Americans lose sleep as a result of stress. The American Psychological Association noted that stress has been linked to all six of the leading causes of death in the United States—heart disease, cancer, lung and liver diseases, accidents, and suicide.

The good news is that we can easily manage stress by practicing simple techniques that take just moments to do. Here are some examples of what you can do in the next ten minutes to significantly reduce stress:

Visual Imagery: The mind is very powerful and if we focus on a very relaxing image, the body eventually experiences it as though we’re really there. To see for yourself, try this simple exercise:

  1. Identify a place where you’ve been that was very relaxing (e.g. a beach, the mountains). If needed, make one up.
  2. List everything that you might see, hear, smell and (tactilely) feel in this special place.
  3. Rate your current level of stress from “0” (not stressed at all) to “100” (very stressed).
  4. Find a peaceful place to sit, close your eyes, take a deep breath in and breathe out slowly.
  5. Try to imagine all the details that you listed in your mind’s eye, while periodically repeating the deep breathing.
  6. After about 10 minutes, slowly open your eyes and re-rate your current level of stress. Notice how much more relaxed you feel.

Deep Breathing: In our hurried world, we tend to breathe too shallow and too quickly. Try this simple breathing technique:

  1. Focus all attention on your breathing.
  2. Take a deep breath in through your nose, holding it for just second.
  3. Purse your lips and breathe out slowly through your mouth.
  4. As you exhale imagine all the worry and stress going out of your mouth and leaving your body.
  5. When your attention wanders, gently return your focus to your breathing.
  6. Repeat one more time.

You can combine these approaches for an increased relaxation response. By practicing these techniques daily and encouraging family members to do so as well, everyone will benefit both physically and emotionally.