Motivated for Summer Weather

Top 3 Reasons to Keep You Motivated for Summer Weather

by Sarah Rudek, MA, LPC

So, you are finally ready to start to get your summer body ready. “I’m going to the gym and eating healthy!” The question that everyone thinks about is How Do I Stay Motivated?  Research has shown that there is a correlation between a healthy lifestyle and mental health.  Below are the top 3 reasons to stick with your health goals for summer.

1.     Stress Reduction-Stress is part of our daily life. There are both positive and negative components to stress. Positive stress keeps us motivated to work towards a good outcome. Negative stress causes us distress and leads to a bad outcome. When we are working towards a healthy goal, we want to increase positive stress and stay motivated. Yes, we may think that an hour of exercise each day could cause us negative stress, but in reality, it is good stress. Exercises such as running, swimming, and cycling can push us into the positive stress category and therefore reducing negative stress.

2.     Gaining Mindfulness– Mindfulness is a coping skill that several professionals will use as a technique to reduce anxious symptoms. There are three states of the mind: the reasonable mind, wise mind, and emotional mind. Mindfulness will help lead us into our wise mind, also known as the balanced mind. In order to achieve mindfulness, you need to be fully focused on the present moment without trying to process it. Exercises such as yoga, pilates, or cycling will give you the opportunity to be fully present in this state of mind.

3.     Achieving Holism within your Body– Our bodies are interconnected.  How we sleep, eat, and exercise can significantly affect our mental health. Sleep allows our minds to process what has happened that day and recharge for the following day. Eating healthy gives our bodies positive energy to move forward and conquer various tasks throughout the day. Exercise provides our bodies with mindfulness, stress reduction, positive energy, and overall positive health.  Connecting these three areas of our body is important to provide ourselves with a successful outcome.


Remember, you can do it!

The motivation will allow you to get through all the negative thinking. Continue to challenge your negative self-talk and keep in mind the reason you started.


Divorce: Kids and the Holidays

Divorced Families Experience More Stress During the Holidays

The holidays are a time of celebration and time with family. Unfortunately, this often creates extra challenges and stress.  For most families, the holiday chaos can be tricky to navigate and stress levels can skyrocket.  For children of divorce, splitting holiday plans can be even more challenging. divorce, holidays To ensure that the holiday season is a success for you and your kids, here are a few tips to guide the process.

Divorce and the holidays: Communicate ahead of time.  For those parenting out of two households, it is important to discuss holiday plans and arrangements.  Going through important dates ahead of time can alleviate common divorce arguments and misunderstandings about who gets the kids when.  Equally important is discussing other significant dates and events that come with the holiday season. Some examples are school concerts and holiday performances.  Planning to have both parents involved in these special events can bring added joy  to your child during this time.

Speaking of your kids, remember to include them in the discussion about holiday plans and schedules.  Keeping your children in the loop helps them to feel included. This can give them a sense of control amid all the family changes taking place.  This also reassures them that their needs and feelings are being considered during the process.

Divorce and the holidays: Make new traditions. 

While it may be hard initially to adjust to spending the holidays in two different households, beginning new traditions with each parent can be memorable and fun!  Consider new things to do as a family, adding new traditions that our special and unique to each home.  Maybe kids bake cookies and dance to music with one parent and have a silly gift exchange with the other.  This will become the new meaning of the holiday over the years, and your child will anticipate and look forward to all the new traditions.

Focus on the kids

Remember to focus on the time you have with your child.  This can be a difficult transition for any family, but especially for kids who have holiday split-time that comes with a divorced family.  Kids are very aware of, and often feel guilty, about leaving one of their parents to spend time with the other.  Be mindful of this and let your child know that you will be okay without them. Tell them that you want to enjoy all the time you spend with them.  Carve out as much quality time as possible, so everyone can enjoy the holiday season together.


Being Grateful: 7 Ways to Help Your Children

Fear of Missing Out Makes it Difficult to Be Grateful for What they Have

Raising children in today’s world is no easy task. It often seems as though our society demands instant gratification. We often focus on what we don’t have, rather being grateful for what we DO have.


This constant focus on having “the next best thing” can lead us into a vicious cycle of needing “more, more, more.” We must be mindful of the messages we are sending to our children. We can work to ensure that kids can be content with what they have, display gratitude, and demonstrate appreciation.

Here are seven ideas to consider in order to help your child be grateful for what they have:

1. Take your children to volunteer their time and give back to the community.

Taking your children out of their bubble and teaching them that there are people less fortunate than themselves can be a good life lesson. Donating time at a local soup kitchen or food pantry will allow them to recognize there are many families who struggle to provide the most basic necessities. This will be an opportunity to gain powerful perspective-taking skills. They can learn to realize that the latest video game or newest iPhone isn’t as important as they may think. Understanding that there are others in need can help kids be grateful for what they have.

2. Donate clothes and toys to those in need.

Donating a material possession may also have a profound effect on instilling gratitude in children. Parting ways with an outfit they no longer wear or a toy they no longer play with can teach the gift of giving and empathy for others. Even though it may not be the latest toy or the newest trend, knowing the item will bring joy to another child will kids see that you don’t necessarily need the latest and greatest in order to be happy.

3. Create the opportunity for your children to earn their rewards.

While you may be able to provide your children with all of their wishes, there is significant value in making them work to earn these items. Children can set goals for themselves, put in hard work and dedication, and feel a sense of accomplishment when they are able to redeem their efforts for a new toy or belonging. Your child will have more appreciation for the item and a new perspective on working towards a goal.

4. Avoid comparing their belongings to what their peers have.

There will always be someone who has more, regardless of your situation. We can help children realize that comparing themselves to their friends or classmates will typically end in disappointment. You can remind them that every family is unique and instead of looking to what they don’t have, focus on the things they do have. Explain that just because their friend or neighbor has more doesn’t necessarily mean they are any happier.

5. Expose children to experineces, not material items

In an era where most of our time is consumed by screens and electronics, we can help kids find joy in activities that don’t require a power cord. Taking a family walk to the neighborhood ice cream store, playing with the family dog in the backyard, or shooting hoops with friends can be more valuable and memorable. Reading books such as The Giving Tree or Have You Filled a Bucket Today? helps kids learn the value of helping others. We often forgot to stop and slow down in our fast-paced lives. You can remind your children they can have fun and be thankful for the quiet moments with family and friends.

6. Take an honest look in the mirror. Teach gratitude by what we do, not what we say.

We all know the saying, “monkey see, monkey do”, but in parenting, simply preaching these ideas to our children will not be sufficient. Instead, we must actively model these behaviors for them. Show your children that life is more than having nice cars, dining at fancy restaurants, and having the newest electronics. Teach them the value of spending quality time with family and friends. Educate them on the importance of laughter. Modeling empathy helps children develop gratitude.

7. Create Healthy Limits

We often want to shower our children with the things we didn’t have growing up. However, this often  creates unhealthy boundaries and limits, resulting in children who have difficulty accepting “no” when we can’t give them what they want.

As parents, we need to be mindful of the choices we make and be aware of the values we’re modeling. When we can avoid the trap of getting sucked into the need for instant gratification and the “more, more, more” mentality of society, we and our children can learn gratitude.


Taking Santa Pictures? Help Your Scared Child with 4 Simple Steps

Santa Pictures are Often More Fun for Parents than a Scared Child

Many parents can’t wait to Santa pictures with their small children in his lap during the month of December. However, if your scared child doesn’t share in your excitement, this seemingly fun event can be very stressful.nsfs-santa-shutterstock_78908107 Parents often think, “ I cannot wait to get that adorable Santa picture!” Well, it doesn’t always play out so nicely. Instead, our little ones act out their fears of Santa and a scared child often may hide behind us, kicking, screaming, and crying. Not exactly the nice Santa picture we all had in mind. This is especially difficult for children with sensory processing disorder. So what are we to do about this?

A Few Easy Steps to Make Santa Pictures More Enjoyable for You and Your Scared Child

  1. Plan ahead and help your scared child understand what this trip may look like. Describe what Santa will look like, what mall or shopping center you will go to, how he or he will do with Santa once you make it. You can use pictures to help paint a visual picture of the visit.
  2. Create a “what to expect” schedule of the visit and share it with your child. This will help your child anticipate what the visit will entail.
  3. Offer a small reward for behaving well during the trip. Encourage your child to be patient and well-mannered by offering an incentive for positive behavior. This does not have to cost a lot of money. Get creative and offer another form of encouragement.
  4. Use a social story like the one below to prepare children for the trip. I encourage parents to put one sentence on each page and make into a booklet using half-sheets of paper. Get creative with illustrations to help the scared child see how the event will look.

Mommy and Daddy are Taking Me for a Santa Picture, A Social Story Adaptation

Soon, I will go visit Santa Claus.

Sometimes, Santa is at the mall or a store.

Santa gets lots of visitors each day, so I might need to wait in line.

I will try to be patient and wait nicely while the other kids have a turn to take a picture.

When it’s my turn to visit Santa, I can sit on his lap or stand next to him.

Santa might ask what I want for Christmas. I can tell him about the special toy, game, or book.

I will also get to take a picture with Santa. It’s important to look at the camera and smile.

After we take the picture, I can tell Santa, “Thank you!” and the next boy or girl can have a turn with Santa.

I am learning about visiting with Santa and it’s ok to feel scared or upset. I can always ask for help.



Back to School: 5 Tips for Anticipation without Anxiety

Have your kids been more argumentative lately? Are they snapping at you for (seemingly) no reason? You are not alone. Kids are also anticipating going back to school, but with more school anxiety than school elation. NSFS shutterstock school bus_152326859

“Woe is me, all summer I was happy and free. Save my soul, the board of education took away my parole.”* These aren’t just the cheesy lyrics from a late ’70s musical, but the very real feeling of dread for millions of students.

While parents might be cheering about the end of summer, school anxiety is very real and very serious. Whether your kids are entering school for the first time, returning veterans, or graduating to a new building, there are steps you can take to help lessen the fear, anxiety, and worry that lurks in the minds of your kids and teens.

  1. Talk to your kids about school.

    What to they think about school? Do they have reasonable expectations? Have they heard rumors about what may happen? Sometimes all it takes is an adult to dispel the “what ifs” that kids get in their heads and be reassured that most likely they will not be shoved in a locker, or given a “swirly” (flushed down the toilet).

  2. Let your kids know about your experiences at school.

    This will normalize the experience for them. Tell the good, the funny, the shocking. The purpose is to put them at ease.

  3. Prepare, prepare, prepare!

    Make sure they are ready and confident for the first day. Ensure they have all the needed supplies (plus some extras for when the run out) before they walk into the building. Does everything fit in their backpack? Do their shoes fit? Take a tour of a new school or take a peak into the classroom (if allowed). You can ensure that your child feels comfortable knowing where the office is, how to find the bathrooms, etc. Check out the gym and the playground. This is especially helpful for preschoolers who may have some separation anxiety.

    Middle school tip:

    Is your kid changing for gym for the first time? Tell them what to expect and practice at your community gym or pool change room. Using a locker for the first time? Make sure your teen knows how to use a combo lock.

  4. Check in after the first day.

    Be prepared to head back to the store as soon as possible! It never fails- you probably have either forgotten something or the teacher has added something that they will need for the next day. Ugh! We feel your pain. Talk about what may not have gone as well as they would have liked and do some problem solving to see how your kid can do better the next day.

  5. Ask for help!

    Your school is there to educate your child and if there is a problem, the staff members need to know as quickly as possible. Most public schools have social workers who can help with problems with social struggles and separation/school anxiety. Seeking help early can prevent problems from escalating later.

Remember, your child’s early school encounters can influence their entire education experience. These simple steps will help get your kids back to school with success!

*song lyrics from “Back to School, Again” (Grease, 1978).

Have some more great tips? Please let me know! Comment below.


Summer Fun in the City

As the summer quickly winds down, the kids are getting restless and want to get some last-minute fun in before the school year begins. What to do? Plan a day (or a few days) in the city!

Chicago has many free or cheap activities for the whole family. There are a wide variety of festivals, street fairs, music venues, parks, museums, and activities, if you know how to find them.

Great websites to search are:, staycation, fun in Chicago, No time in your busy schedule to plan a staycation? Here is a short list of two days of fun!

Day 1: A Day in Lincoln Park
Expert Tip: Go on Thursday when the Peggy Notebart Nature Museum is free and see the butterflies.

Take a walk on the wild side at Lincoln Park Zoo (always free). One of the oldest zoos in the country, this small zoo has over 1400 animals. My favorite is the Big Cat House. Parking can be pricey if you can’t find street parking, so public transport may be the way to go. The CTA buses #151, #156, #22, and #36 all go right by the Zoo. The CTA Brown and Purple train stop on Armitage is only a quick mile west of the zoo. For lunch grab a bite at the zoo’s cafe or head to RJ Grunts (2056 N Lincoln Park) for some kid friendly fare. After lunch stroll on into the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (free on Thursdays) and check out their awesome butterfly house. The Museum is a fun and educational way to spend a couple of hours. If you want to continue the nature fest stop by the Lincoln Park Conservatory for a relaxing walk through the greenhouses. Are you hot yet? Cool off with a visit to the Chicago History Museum (kids under 12 are free). Not the same old boring museum you went to as a kid, this place has been seriously updated. Their Sensing Chicago exhibit if great for kids. Dinner time! Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co (2121 N Clark) has some seriously good pie, but save room for dessert! The Butcher and Burger Custard Cart is right near the Armitage Brown Line and they have the best ice cream in Lincoln Park. Then head home! You and the kids will be exhausted!

Day 2: Downtown (go on Wednesday or Saturday for the fireworks)
-The quintessential Chicago tour! Great for tourists and Chicagoans alike!

Start out in Millennium Park. If you drive, park in the North Parking Lot and be prepared to pay-it’s not cheap. Public transportation is the way to go!

You can avoid the traffic by taking the CTA trains instead of buses. The Red and Blue Subway stops are Washington or Monroe then head East. The Orange, Green, Pink, Brown, and Purple elevated trains stop at Madison/Wabash or Randolph/Wabash. Start your day with a classic picture at the Bean! Everyone does it, so be repared to help out other tourists with their cameras. Then grab an iced tea and go straight to the Maggie Daley Park. It. Is. Awesome. Your kids will have a blast playing on all the equipment there! Go ahead and spend the $15 for the bouldering certificate, it comes with unlimited bouldering time and is a great way to introduce your kids to rock climbing. After they have worked up a sweat head over to the Crown Fountain to cool off. Let your kids play in the spitting fountain until it’s time for lunch, eat in the park at one of the cafes or hit up the food trucks (usually only in the park when there is an event). Stick around the park for any of the fantastic activities the city sponsors. My personal favorites are the Grant Park Music Festival and the Family Fun Festival (visit for details). Then wander over to Navy Pier to enjoy the festivities! They have great kid friendly activities all around the Pier. Grab some dinner- and some ice cream. Then, settle in for the fireworks! Your family will have a blast and your kids will remember this day for a long time!


5 Tips For Helping Your Child Face A Fear of Bugs

Summer is here! That means picnics, pools, and play-time for you and your little ones. It’s a time of freedom to spend your days under the sun, however, the bugs think so too. While summer time is one of the most enjoyable seasons for kids and teens, a fear of bugs can make a summer of fun into a summer of none. Here are five tips to help your kids and teens conquer their fears of critters who inhabit the summer season: NSFS Bugs shutterstock_94451596

1) Talk to your child about bugs. Get on your child’s level and understand what worries them about bugs. This demonstrates that you care and that their concerns are important to you. It also demonstrates a desire to learn more about them; fears and all. Your communication is key. If you maintain a positive, and calm demeanor while discussing bugs, it sends the message that bugs are not so bad. By getting to know your child’s fears more specifically, you can strike up a conversation about bugs, and educate them as to why certain facets of their fear may not be so scary at all. Talk about the life of bugs, what different kinds of bugs there are, and what functions bugs hold such as, finding food, building homes, and taking care of their babies just like people do!

2) Start small and be patient. Take baby steps when addressing your child’s fear. We all know fears do not disappear overnight, so go slow and remember that even small progress is still progress. Instead of getting frustrated by your child’s fear, develop a comforting, reassuring, and supportive attitude. Be your child’s cheerleader and celebrate the small victories along the way. This will not only help to extinguish their fear, it will encourage them and build their self-esteem- they will feel empowered to know that they are capable of facing their fears.

3) Read books or do an activity all about bugs. Take a trip to your local library or visit your favorite book store (or eBook for those of you who are technologically savvy). Find the most child-friendly, educational books that will intrigue their imagination about bugs. There are books on just about every bug out there, so begin by selecting books with “less scary” bugs in it, like butterflies and ladybugs, working up to books with spiders and bees in them. You can also engage your child in drawing pictures of bugs while discussing the differences among bugs at the same time. Some conversation starters might be, “Butterflies have big, beautiful wings to fly high,” or “Bees love flowers and use the pollen to make us yummy honey.” Show them that bugs are not scary and teach them how they contribute to the world. Find quiet time each day to sit down with your child and learn about the interesting life of bugs. This also provides you and your child with some extra quality time together. Bonus!

4) Make it a game! Games and play are what kids know best, so why not use the opportunity to learn about bugs and make it fun at the same time? Go outside and see how many bugs you both can identify. Search for bugs in your garden, or in the yard, and do not forget to count the bugs that fly around in the sky. Replace feelings of worry and fear, with curiosity, fun, and excitement.

5) Lead by example. Make sure to watch your own reactions to bugs. While this may not be your most favorite tip of the bunch, your reactions matter. Your child looks to you on how to respond to potentially scary situations. You are their model and if you scream, swat, and squash every bug you encounter, chances are they will learn to do the same and associate bugs and fear. Choose to be your child’s champion of bugs, not their ally in worrying about bugs. Tackling bug fears can be educational and fun all at once. Consider ways to introduce your child to bugs in ways that are non-threatening and enjoyable for them. Be a part of the process and reassure them that bugs are living, breathing creatures just like us, and help them cherish and love nature for all that it is.

Get outside and enjoy the great outdoors!


Spring Break: An Opportunity for Bonding with your Teen

If you are home on spring break with your teen, you have probably experienced her lack of interest in doing anything over break- asserting that she “just wants to chill.”

If your teen has no plans to go on a trip for break and YOUR idea of spring break isn’t watching him focused on some variation of a screen (video games, social media, texting, tv, taking selfies, etc.) while on the couch eating snacks, then why not make the time off from school an opportunity for your family to chill out together? (more…)


Help Your Child Cope with Change

Change is a part of life – some love it and some hate it. Either way, most adults have learned to cope in ways that make change and transitions seem manageable. However, for children this is often a difficult area, as they may not yet have developed the skills to “go with the flow” or envision the future.NSFS shutterstock change picture

Transitions and changes can present differently for every family, and every child. Therefore, it is important to consider that the issue usually has more to do with the child’s perception of the transition or change rather than the event itself. A few examples of these changes might include the following: your family may be moving homes, a new school year is beginning, your child is starting a new after-school activity, a new sibling is arriving, or perhaps he or she is beginning the college search. For kids, these types of events may be anxiety-producing, startling, encouraging, or perhaps unimportant.

Regardless of the significance or timing, most changes can be managed well when kids feel prepared and confident about what is to come. Consider the following to help your child become more adaptable and resilient:

Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.

When changes or transitions are unexpected or sudden, even the most flexible child can feel unsettled. Having open and honest conversations with your child is the best way to combat any sort of worry or apprehension. Often, when children know the answers to “what,” “where,” “why,” “when” and “how,” they will feel more prepared and relaxed for what is to come. Consider utilizing a calendar, schedule or countdown, as this will be helpful for your child to refer to as change approaches. These tools will make the abstract notion of time more concrete and visual for your child.

“Acting out” behaviors and rigid thinking may be a sign of anxiety. Children and adolescents sometimes do not have emotional regulation skills and have trouble with communicating their feelings. In some cases, kids are unaware of their anxiety or worry. When children lack emotional awareness and expression skills, these feelings are typically displayed in outbursts and other unpleasant ways. They can become easily frustrated, irritable, stubborn, or inflexible as a mean to control the changing situation. Be patient with your child and encourage him or her to express those worries and emotions in more appropriate ways.

Keep it short and sweet.

Refrain from blurring the parent/child boundary. It is typically important to provide enough details to answer the major questions (“what,” “where,” “why,” “when” and “how”), but it is not wise to give children so much information that they begin to know “grown up stuff.” Sometimes, when children acquire too many details it becomes overwhelming, causing them more worry or stress. Try to keep conversations age-appropriate and concise. Don’t forget about praise and encouragement. It is important to reward and praise your child for the smallest of efforts he or she is making to adapt to change. When your child feels supported, he or she will gain the confidence to repeat the behaviors and better adapt to the change.

And lastly, take a moment to reflect.

How can this transition or change benefit the child and/or family? What can your child learn from this experience? How will this challenge, or help him/her in the future? If your child can be resilient in this moment, what else can he or she accomplish?

Life is about learning new experiences and change is part of life.


Give the Gift of Love to Your Family

Just because Valentine’s Day and the holidays are over, doesn’t mean you can’t show your love and appreciation for your family.NSFS Family Love shutterstock_132790049

I don’t remember what my mom gave me for my birthday when I was 8, or even the name of the book my dad gave me for Christmas last year. But I do have vivid memories of baking oatmeal cranberry cookies with my mom when I was 9 and proudly passing them out to my entire 4th grade. The picture of my dad and me at my 7th grade Daddy-Daughter  Dance is still proudly displayed on my bureau. Egg foo young still elicits strong memories of my sophomore year break up (on Valentine’s Day, nonetheless) and the congratulatory  feast and movie binge my mom arranged at the last minute (she never liked him). Bright colored packages all tied up with string have come and gone, but dancing to “My Girl” with my father and picturing my mother chortling with glee while doing a spritely soft shoe every time I eat greasy Chinese food are firmly and lovingly etched in my mind.

Give the gift of love and appreciation by challenging your family to give memories “just because”. Here are some of my favorite memory builders:

  • Create cards for each other writing why you love each other.
  • Make a special meal together- everyone can help!
  • Take turns making breakfast in bed for each other.
  • Plan a special activity with each child in your family dedicating at least one hour only to that child.
  • Turn on some music and dance like crazy!
  • Plan a movie night and popcorn binge.
  • Play “tag” or “hide and seek” with your child.
  • Organize a family game night-nothing says “I love you” more than sinking Mom’s battleship.
  • Have your kids teach you how to play a video game (watch out, you may love it as much as they do)!
  • Make a special treat together as a family and give them to your friends and family.
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