Ready, Set, Go! Tips for the Back to School Transition

by Christa Hines on August 15, 2018

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Healthy Ways to Enjoy Technology with Your Baby

by Christa Hines on April 19, 2018

Babies and toddlers are like little sponges. During this short window of development, your youngster is enthusiastically soaking up your expressions and delighting in the lilting, loving words springing from your lips. No screen could ever hope to compete with the face-to-face connection between you and your baby. But that doesn’t mean that screens have no place in your child’s development.

Here are a few healthy ways that you can use technology to your advantage as your baby begins to connect with the world around her. 

  • Scroll through photos of your child and other family members. Point everyone out with their name.
  • When looking at photos, point out noses, eyes, ears, etc.
  • Use Skype or FaceTime to interact with grandparents, cousins and other relatives or friends. This is a great way to build conversation skills and help your child form relationships with distant family members.
  • View educational videos together. Point out facial expressions, notice emotions and practice new words together.
  • Notice what interests your child as she enters toddlerhood and preschool. For example, if your child loves watching videos about puppies, pick up books at the library about dogs and puppies to read together.

 What are ways you use technology to spend time with your youngsters to help them develop social and language skills?

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Pay Attention to Connect

by Christa Hines on April 6, 2018

Building your social capital is one of the best investments you can make in your life. Multiple studies show that people who live in tight-knit communities are happier and healthier despite whatever challenges they may face.
Of course, it takes effort to build meaningful community in the digital age.
One way to deepen your ties with other people is to remember little things they tell you about their lives and follow up with them later. For example, say you meet a new member of your book club and she mentions that her daughter landed a spot in her high school musical. Next time you see her, ask how the production went and if her daughter enjoyed herself.
With your online friends, pay attention to what they share about their lives and follow up with them later either in a private message or in a face to face conversation. 
Not only are you showing that you care, you’re showing the other person that they matter and that’s when true connection happens. 

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Life Got You in a Funk? 15 Ideas to Nourish Your Spirit

by Christa Hines on February 28, 2018

Life Got You in a Funk? 15 Ideas to Nourish Your Spirit

This week I bought myself flowers at the grocery store, and I placed them in a white pitcher in the middle of our dining room table. For as little as $5, the bouquet of sweet cheerful, lavender-colored daisies immediately boosts my spirits every time I walk by.

The truth is I’ve struggled to find my way out of a funk that has held me in a tight grip for the past couple of months. Admittedly, winter is hard. It’s cold. It’s dark. Transitioning from the holidays to back-to-school doesn’t help, creating frustrating parenting challenges. And on top of that, I received disappointing news that sucked the wind out of my sails. Normally, I’m pretty resilient, but life continued to feel off center as we headed into February. And then…another school shooting.

I know I’m not alone. All I have to do is hop onto social media and I can see so many friends are frustrated, confused, anxious or hurting right now— for all kinds of reasons.

Here are some ways I’ve been nourishing my spirit over the past eight weeks.  I’m slowly starting to inch my way around the curve. Maybe one of these ideas will help you too.

Rest. The darkness and cold of winter left me feeling weary and run down. And like so many families, the flu, colds and various other ailments ran crazy eights through our household. I surrendered to the moment, letting go of items on my to-do list that could be done later when my energy returned. Take a cat nap, go to bed early, or simply rest with your eyes closed for a 15 minutes.

Tip: If worries are keeping you from sleeping, write them down in a worry journal. Before you put your journal away, write down three things that you are grateful for from the day. Spray lavender essential oil mixed with water around your bedroom. Then, lights out.

Collect the good stuff. In the midst of one particularly bad week in January, I received a brief note from an editor telling me how much she enjoyed my work. The note was totally out of the blue—and it fortified me when my confidence was low. Save the positive things people tell you and refer to them when you’re having a tough day. I also collect inspiring quotes, comforting recipes and uplifting essays.

Tip: Create a Pinterest board with items that inspire you.

Make lists. No, not to-do lists which can only serve to overwhelm a tired, tender spirit. Instead make lists that answer questions like: Wouldn’t it be amazing if…? What are my dreams? What do I need less of in order to get more of what I want in my life? What am I grateful for? Who am I grateful for? What did I notice today? Or simply list your favorite books, movies, people, music, etc. 

Tip: Set aside a special notebook just for your lists.

Disconnect. I’ve become more deliberate about how much time I spend on social media, which I noticed was sucking away time and energy from my priorities and contributing a fair amount of anxiety. That time has freed up more space for me to enjoy creative pursuits that re-energize me like journaling, collaging, drawing, and photography. 

Tip: When you are on social media, fill your feed with inspiring people and energizing groups.

Listen. I’ve been forcing myself to limit my news intake and switch to upbeat music. Meditation is another area I’m working on to quiet racing thoughts and tune into my intuition.

Tip: Check out the many mindfulness apps available like Calm, Headspace and Stop Panic and Anxiety

Get away. After talking to my dad recently, he reminded me that sometimes it helps to travel somewhere fun. I took his advice and asked a good friend of mine if she’d like to finally schedule that girls’ trip we’ve been talking about. Now, I get to look forward to a fun getaway to a destination I’ve never before explored! 

Tip: Schedule an overnight retreat somewhere to help you recharge.

Read. I have a stack of books and magazines that not only help inform my writing, but also inspire me and engage my imagination. What types of books gives you a healthy break from the day to day?

Tip: Follow your favorite authors online for quick hits of inspiration.

Relax. Some winter days I just can’t relax or warm up. On days like that, my go-to is a warm, soothing bath.

Tip: Schedule a massage, hot stone treatment, manicure or pedicure or forget scheduling and visit a walk-in spa.

Seek deeper conversation.  At the beginning of the year, I started scheduling at least one social outing per week, like lunch, coffee or a glass of wine with a friends. I need conversation—deeper than small talk—to feel a sense of connection with others. I need to hash out what’s on my mind and listen to what’s on other people’s minds to better process what is happening in life. I made it a priority to  attended my book club, which meets every six weeks, and also volunteered for a couple of activities through my kids’ school. Even a phone call from a good friend makes a difference.

Tip: Email or text a friend today and schedule a coffee or lunch. All you need is an hour.

Give. A simple pleasure is doing something for someone else just because you want to. Maybe it’s emailing a thoughtful note or posting a kind comment from someone who doesn’t expect it.

Tip: Mail a funny card to a friend or pay the tab for the customer behind you in the drive-thru.

Exercise. I started a regular weights work out again, and I continue to walk as much as weather permits outside. Fresh air, sunshine and nature can brighten an otherwise damp mood.

Tip: Part of healthy living is feeding your body well. Choose colorful berries, winter vegetables and comforting soups.

Play. Write, cook, collage, paint, or grab your camera. Play with your creativity. Forget perfection or you’ll hamper the process. When I’m involved in a creative project, I forget time and I feel an overall sense of well-being for having shown up and forgotten the world for a bit.

Tip: Play with your family too — have a game night, goof off and get outside together.

Declutter. Stuff often creates stuck energy in our lives. I’m in the process of decluttering and I can already feel energetic shifts happening.

Tip: Grab a bag and go around the house and pick up something from each room that you are ready to give away or discard.

Lighten up, Francis. I’m reading Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life again and was reminded of the scene in the movies Stripes when we’re introduced to Francis, a super intense recruit. (Here’s the clip.) At the end of the clip, the first sergeant says to him, “Lighten up, Francis.” Now, when I’m feeling down in the dumps or putting too much pressure on myself, I tell myself to “lighten up, Francis” and it makes me smile every time.

Tip: Post your own favorite mantra on your calendar or on your computer to remind yourself to not take life too seriously.

Laugh. With all of the noise, chatter, vitriolic opinions and chaos in the world right now, it’s easy to get mired in everything that isn’t going right. Sharing silly memes and videos on social media, spending time with friends who make you laugh and watching laugh out loud sitcoms helps.

Tip: Set your DVR to record reruns of your favorite sitcoms or funny movies and watch when you need a break.

** Note: Depression and anxiety are serious health conditions. Please consult your physician if you continue to struggle.**

Now it’s your turn? What are ways you nourish your spirit when you are in a funk?

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Digital Kids: Why Mindful Screen Use Matters

by Christa Hines on February 7, 2018

Digital Kids: Why Mindful Screen Use Matters

The statistics are alarming.

  • The rates of depression and anxiety are skyrocketing among our youth.
  • More kids report feelings of loneliness.
  • Teens who spend more than three hours a day on an electronic device are 35% more likely to have at least one suicide risk factor.
  • Girls, in particular, struggle with body image issues as they dedicate hours to trying to capture the “perfect” selfie in an endless pursuit of likes.
  • Teen suicide increased by 46 percent in 2015 compared to 2007.

Source: Jean Twenge, Ph.D., author of iGen

What is going on?

Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D., and author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood (a must read for parents), points to a correlation between the rise of smartphones and social media around 2011 and the decrease of in-person interactions among our youth since then.

As a species, humans are biologically programmed for in person social interaction. When we spend time with caring friends and family, our brains and bodies are flooded with reward chemicals and feel-good hormones. These chemicals keep us healthy and help us manage stress. Overall, we feel happier and more relaxed.

Social media can’t offer the same biological benefits that face-to-face interaction can, which begs the need for moderation. Our brains simply don’t respond to screen interactions in the same way we respond face-to-face. We may experience short bursts of the reward chemical dopamine while playing a video game or while attracting likes on social media, but instead of feeling satisfied, the dopamine bursts are like a drug, making us crave more.

That’s not to say that social media is all bad. Many kids who are active on social media also have a fulfilling, supportive social life offline. Social media is entertaining, and it offers kids fun ways to connect with friends and family who live far away. It enables them to interact with peers who share their interests. And they have an opportunity to express their individuality, creativity, humor and points of view.

But heavy screen users don’t develop the essential social skills that will help them develop resilience, the ability to carry on conversation, manage conflict and build self-confidence. Without these important skills, kids will struggle in multiple aspects of life, from interviewing to relationship building. And because they are unprepared, many of these activities will create anxiety and fear.

What do you do?

Banning screen time isn’t the answer. Rather, take a practical approach that keeps screens from taking over your family’s life.

Avoid giving screens to kids under the age of two. During this developmental window, babies and toddlers are gaining valuable speech and language skills that they learn from you and other caretakers.

Get kids involved. Research shows that kids who are involved in extracurricular activities (music, scouting, theater, sports, etc.), religious activities, or volunteer work are less likely to experience depression. If your teen is old enough to work, encourage a minimum wage job which will help them learn how to interact professionally and confidently with customers and an employer.

Model and establish firm boundaries. Create rules and boundaries around screens that your entire family follows (including you). For example, all electronics are turned off and plugged in to a central charging station by 9 p.m., or no electronics behind closed doors.

Make digital free time fun. If dinner time is screen free, play interactive games like trivia, Mad Libs, riddles or conversation games. Check out chat packs or make up your own like Would You Rather? or Two Truths and a False.

Teach kids mindfulness techniques. Get kids thinking mindfully about screen time. Talk to them about how too much screen time can affect heathy brain development and interfere with other activities. One great resource is the book Timmy’s Monster Diary: Screen Time Stress, by Dr. Raun Melmed, a developmental pediatrician. This children’s mindfulness chapter book shares tips for managing screen time in an entertaining way. (My 10-year-old read this book in only a few hours—and gave it a thumbs up). It also shares resources and tips for parents and creates a gateway for meaningful conversation between you and your child.

Teach social skills.  From the time your child begins to talk, you can help them work on social skills. Check out my book Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World for tips and strategies.

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Three Ways to Bring More Joy into Your New Year

by Christa Hines on January 4, 2018

Three Ways to Bring More Joy into Your New Year

The new year is just beginning and maybe you’re already wondering how you’re going to crush that lengthy list of resolutions you made. The hard truth is we can’t create lasting change in our lives if we aren’t having fun in the process or enjoying the fruits of our labors. Even wild animals take breaks from hunting and sleeping to play!

This week, I’m sharing links to three articles that I wrote that will help you kick off 2018 with optimism. Wishing you and your family a year full of blessings and happiness!

Celebrate

 

Many of us set intentions, goals and resolutions each year, but in our quest for redesigning or upgrading our lives we forget one crucial element —to celebrate each success along the way. Celebrating makes working toward our goals more fun. And if we’re having fun, we’re naturally going to create a life that we love.

In my article in the January issue of Vibrant Life Magazine, “Celebrate Everything: 3 Reasons to Add More Celebration to Your Life”, experts share why celebrating matters and how little celebratory rituals can infuse our lives with more joy.

 

 

 

Connect

 

Speaking of joy, do you ever wonder what the keys are to a happy family? While many of us work hard to provide for our families, it’s really the little moments of connection throughout the day that make all the difference to a family’s level of happiness and to a child’s resilience in a fast-paced world. In this month’s issue of KC Parent magazine, check out my article “Happy Family, Happy Life” and learn the eight simple secrets of happy families.

 

 

 

 

Look on the Bright Side

 

 

Negativity and stress are contagious, but so are emotions like positivity and joy. If you’re seeking bright ideas to help you bring home more happiness, even during tough times, check out my article “New Year, New Attitude: How to Tap More Joy in 2018”, which is in the January issue of Emerald Coast Parent magazine. Find out how simple tips like a happiness list, a gratitude practice and creativity can help. 

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Creative Connection Tip: Host a Craft Party

by Christa Hines on December 15, 2017

How about hosting a craft party for your next Moms’ Night Out? 

I’ve attended three craft parties since October. Two were at friends’ homes and another was at a local winery. Before you dismiss this idea out of hand simply because you don’t consider yourself crafty, I’ve found that women who claim to have the least creative ability, seem to have the most fun at these events. 🙂 

Craft parties offer a light-hearted opportunity to laugh at your own imperfections while exercising the creative side of your brain. You might just surprise yourself!

Since the materials are all provided for you, along with basic instructions for those who prefer guidance, you don’t have to overthink the process. You can follow the posted instructions or follow your creativity wherever it leads.

This type of event is also ideal for attracting friends who tend to avoid large gatherings, which can be too intense, intimidating or overwhelming to someone who prefers one-on-one or small group conversation. The focus becomes the craft and conversation can easily flow from there.

Here are a few ideas for craft parties:

Invite a local artist to facilitate the party. Artists will charge a nominal fee to cover their service and the materials. You can either have participants pay up front or pay when they are finished with their project. All you need to do is provide the space, beverages and some yummy snacks to nosh on. 

Choose a Pinterest project. Participants will either need to bring their own supplies or rsvp and pay a fee for the materials which the host gathers. The host provides food and drinks. Examples of Pinterest projects include bath salts, dream catchers, tile coasters, journals, signs and more. 

Host an ornament party. Purchase a variety of ceramic holiday shaped ornaments or glass ball ornaments that participants simply paint and decorate. Provide examples of completed projects, as well as, materials like paint brushes, paints, glitter, sequins, ribbons, glue and any other craft items you have laying around the house. Don’t forget the paper towels and water cups for paint brushes. Set up tables and chairs around the room. Cover the tables with craft paper or plastic to protect your furniture. And don’t forget to turn on some fun tunes!

Create space for a vision board event. Vision boards can be created on poster board, in sketch books or in journals. You simply cut words and photos from magazines and paste them into a collage. Let your intuition guide you as you work. Don’t second guess, just cut and paste and see where the project takes you. To plan such an event with friends, schedule an afternoon or evening at the beginning of the month or new year. Invite participants to bring their own art supplies, stacks of old magazines and poster board or sketch books. Have extra magazines and materials on hand like feathers, beads, glitter glue, paints to help inspire your guests. Either have your friends bring potluck items or provide food and drink.

Attend an event outside the home. Gather a few friends for a moms night out at a local Paint and Sip studio or look for other venues that host craft nights like hobby stores. We have a winery that hosts wine cork craft events throughout the year as part of their wine tastings, which is fun too. You pay a fee up-front which covers the wine tasting and the craft. They provide the venue, the materials and the wine. Anytime you don’t have to clean your house is a win for all!

Exercising your creativity is a practice in self-care. It can be meditative, playful and a wonderful antidote to stress. And when done with a circle of friends, the process can be especially fulfilling.

Have you ever hosted or attended a craft party? What did most enjoy about it?

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Dear readers,

Sometimes we all take life a little too seriously, especially around the holidays. I know I do! Between those long (mysteriously quiet) lines snaking through the post office, drivers teetering on road rage and shoppers losing their—well, you know—I decided I needed to add some levity to my season. Frankly, I was starting to get a little grouchy. In case you’re feeling the pressure too, here’s a poetic little parody I wrote to help ward off the Grinch. Happy holidays! 😉 

May the Grinch Not Steal Your Christmas

There they go. Those folks alight with their bright holiday glow.

Lightheartedly humming and singing, they had their Christmas decor up before Thanksgiving.

Why they’re impossibly merry, I snarl and sneer, feeling down right weary with their holiday cheer.

Why are they so happy and carefree? Is there something wrong with me?

Maybe my “shoes are too tight”. Maybe my “head isn’t screwed on just right”. 

Buried under a pile of messy ribbons and wrappings, I wonder and sigh at all of their neat holiday trappings.

Every year I try. Every year, I wonder why.

How much is enough? Why is this so tough?

But no one hears my whine above the din. I search for a sign that will help me win.

“There must be some way to quit this self-imposed hell!” I yell.

But how? Is it too late to start now?

I puzzle and puzzle and puzzle some more, until my befuzzled puzzler is quite sore.

I know! I’ll make a list of those nasty little “should-dos-but-don’t-really-want-tos”

Those are to blame for my holiday blues.

And if anyone dares to ask, they’ll be charged with the dreaded task!

A wicked grin lights up my face as I pull out a piece of paper without haste. I lick my lips with glee…tee-hee-hee!

I line up the offenders all in a row and choose which one will be the first to go.

Take that!

With a strike of my pen, a slender, but deadly axe of inky blue, I slash and murder that list of ne’er to-do.

Exhausted, I sit for a bit.

I feel something. What is it?

Why, that’s my sour grinchy frown turning upside down.

“All is not lost!” I shout.  Time to tackle the “have-tos” that lurk about.

The gifts for Jackie, Johnny and Sue. Those are the ones that I rue.

I search high and low, I hunt and I…whoa… what’s that I see? It’s Etsy!

A harvest of artists and crafters peddling glittering bling and vintage plasters.

With a click of my mouse, I’ll soon have a few chic gifts coming to the house.

Then there’s that holiday toast I agreed to host.  It’s the cooking and cleaning I dread the most.

I nervously drum my fingers. What do I do about these sorts of zingers?

With a tearful groan, I reach for a tissue, feeling all alone as I consider the issue.

“Wait…Get a clue, you! I’ll pick up prepared foods and hire a cleaning crew too!”

With a giggle, I clap my lap and jump to my feet. I’ll get to see my friends without missing a beat.

Christmas can bring cheer far and near. I just needed to know how, my dear.

To thine own self be true, make it a holiday that’s just right for you.

‘Tis the season for friends, family and spirit. I shall not fear it.

And that’s my silly tale of how the Grinch didn’t steal Christmas comes to an end, my friend.

See you around the bend of a glorious new year, complete with everyday miracles and more holiday cheer.

May you celebrate what matters most and remember the reason. Best wishes to you for a happy holiday season!

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Thanksgiving Day is only a week and a half away. While you may be busy planning the big meal, having a few fun activities up your sleeve once Thanksgiving dinner is over is great way to make the holiday extra special. In my article published in the November issue of Kansas City Parent magazine, families share a variety of fun ideas about how they like to spend the holiday after dinner is done. And these are all wonderful ways to grow closer as a family.

Click on the cover of KC Parent to go to my article “Dinner’s Done, Now What? 13 Ideas for Post-Thanksgiving Dinner Fun” article:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are your family’s traditions for after the big dinner? 

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Creative Connection Tip: Start a Cooking Club

by Christa Hines on October 25, 2017

Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

For those who love to talk about food as much as they love to cook and eat it, a cooking club can be a creative and enticing way to connect with other like-minded culinary fans or individuals who want to hone their food prep skills.

Here’s how to start a cooking club:

Theme. Choose a theme that can help your group focus on what to prepare for each meeting. As your group gets in the groove, you might switch up your theme each year. Side note…don’t make the theme too complicated, especially if you have novice cooks or you’ll risk chasing them off.

Ideas might include:

  • Ethnic cooking
  • Healthy cooking on a budget
  • Meals that can be prepped in 30 minutes or less
  • Vegetarian cooking
  • Recipes from celebrity TV chefs, cookbook authors, bloggers or cooking magazines
  • Pinterest recipes
  • Seasonal/local ingredient sourced dishes
  • Ingredient specific…Each month choose a specific ingredient that everyone includes in the dish they make

Group size. To build group cohesiveness, keep your cooking club to a manageable number, like, between six and 10 members. One reason people return to a group is they develop a sense of camaraderie as they get to know each other. Smaller numbers give members an opportunity to share stories, build trust and swap tips in a relaxed setting. It’s just harder to build that same sense of cohesiveness if numerous people come and go.

Plus, a smaller group is more likely to hold each other accountable for being there. When we know we’re expected somewhere and we’re looking forward to seeing the other members, we’re more inclined to make it work with our schedule.

Scheduling. Set up a Facebook group, GroupMe app, group text or an email chain to coordinate get-togethers. Choose a day of the week and time that generally works best for everyone. Decide how often your group will meet—usually once a month or every six weeks works best for many busy moms.

Making it work. Before each gathering, have your group members sign up for different categories like beverage, appetizer, soup/salad, main entree and dessert. Each friend brings their dish to the gathering along with recipe cards to hand out.

Everyone takes a turn explaining their dish, perhaps sharing what inspired them to make it, what changes they made to the original recipe, what the preparation was like and how they would score it. You might rank a meal based on the difficulty of gathering ingredients, issues during preparation, taste and kid-friendliness. Then everyone eats!

Use social media. Take photos during the gathering and post them to your group page. If you don’t want to hand out recipe cards, include links to each meal on your page. In between face-to-face meetings, share recipes and cooking ideas with each other.

Holiday tip. Host a Secret Santa exchange where everyone swaps an inexpensive cooking gadget that you each consider an indispensable part of your kitchen.   

Focus on fun! Don’t worry if your meal is a disaster. That’s real life and your friends will understand! Besides, they might have some tips for making it work better the next time. Focus on the conversation and the opportunity to spend time with others who share your interests.

Do you have a cooking club? How do you make it work?

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