Jennifer Gibson, PsyD LLC


RECONNECTING WITH YOUR PARTNER AFTER CHILDBIRTH


Congratulations of your new addition(s) to the family! Although many of your friends and family told you that children “change your life,” you really don’t know exactly what this means until it happens. Parenting is not easy, and neither are committed relationships. The change from pre-kids to post-kids can be difficult, especially on your relationship. Before kids, you and your partner likely spent plenty of time together talking, going out, exploring new places, and enjoying your sex lives. After kids, you may find yourself talking only about baby routines and activities, staying in, and finding sex an afterthought.


Here are some helpful ideas to strengthen your relationship post-kids:


1.) Schedule time to talk about non-baby issues. This may take some practice, as you will find yourself going back to baby-related topics, naturally. Listen to one another and reflect on each other’s experience to build connection again. Focus on the reasons why you fell in love, and find ways to stay close, like talking on the phone throughout the day, holding hands, or sitting close to one another.


2.) Schedule a date. Ask a friend or relative to watch your baby(ies) for a few hours so you can go to dinner or the movies, just like old times. Steer conversation away from your baby(ies). This does not need to be at night, this can be an afternoon. If you have older kids, take a day off while your other child is in school and have someone watch the baby(ies); this can be a fun stay-cation for the two of you. Or, you don’t have to actually go out, but create an experience at home. If you choose to stay at home, be sure to remove laptops, phones, and baby-related chores from view!


3.) Reignite your sex life. One of the best ways to reignite your sex life is to plan time for having sex, just like you might have done before kids, even though you may not have been aware of it. Prior to going out, you would do things to make yourself attractive to your partner. Get in that mind set again. There are many specialized stores who carry post-baby lingerie, some online.


4.) Take some time for yourself. Time alone for both you and your partner helps you each feel more energy to parent and work on your relationship. Check in with each other at the beginning of each week and figure out when each of you will take some time alone. You’ll return to each other rejuvenated and ready to parent and reconnect as partners.


5.) Be a friend to one another. It is important to remember that you like and love your partner. Even if you are tired or frustrated, responding to your partner as a friend will help your relationship. It is important to remember too, that you are each on a unique parenting journey individually as well as together so be curious and supportive about one another’s experience and try to be understanding.


Jennifer Gibson, PsyD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, DrJen@DrJenChicago.com


Published January 2015, Neighborhood Parents Network (NPN) Newsletter

Published February 2015, Centered Therapy Chicago (CTC) Website


BEHAVIOR MANAGEMENT 101


Finding ways to effectively manage our children’s behavior in the midst of all our other obligations as parents these days can be very challenging. Although many of our lives are ever-changing with the building of a family, managing careers and/or managing a household of multiple family members in addition to navigating the city as a family, the basic principles of behavioral learning and behavior change remain the same.


The following principles, when followed consistently, are quite effective in managing children’s behavior. And, there are many creative ways that these principles can be used.


1. Predict problem situations and prepare for them. Giving your child information about an upcoming situation can help a child begin to prepare themselves for it. This includes stating the rules for given situations beforehand. You can offer additional support by setting up a reward system ahead of time. For example, knowing that it will be particularly difficult for your child to sit quietly while you are waiting for an appointment could be addressed by first reviewing the rules for the situation and then offering a small reward for following the rules after they have successfully done this. Being your child’s cheerleader or coach for behaving is one of the greatest ways you can support your child, as you are his/her greatest and most influential teacher as his/her parent.


2. Give praise and rewards for positive behavior whenever you see it. This not only encourages children to continue doing positive behavior, but also gives them feedback about their behavior and helps them learn expected behavior. Finding opportunities to praise your child’s behavior, even for small gestures, can have a very positive impact on their behavior and wellbeing. Ignore insignificant behaviors and pick your battles. Although it can be difficult, ignoring annoying behaviors can be effective as the child does not receive the attention they may be trying to draw to themselves. They will quickly learn to do alternate behaviors of which they have learned they receive attention from you. Along the same lines, choosing to not engage in a battle over something less significant, such as choosing to wear a different pair of shoes (if appropriate) can decrease the intensity and attention from the situation. Save your energy for bigger, significant battles and keep your relationship with your child as positive as you can.


3. Choices and limits. Choices create greater self-control and less dependence on others, and help the child develop a sense of confidence and mastery. Choices are given once a parent has decided first what the choices are. This ensures that the choice chosen by the child is an appropriate one and already approved by you (unbeknownst to the child). Limits also contribute to a child’s sense of security, as they learn the parameters of situations, greater predictability, and how to navigate their environment to meet their needs.


4. Whatever happens after a child does a behavior, teaches a child to do the behavior again or not. This goes for rewards or consequences. Here is an example. Your child throws their shoes across the floor after they remove them each time they come inside the house. You tell them, “Put your shoes here (and pick up their shoes and place them where they belong).” What happened after the child threw the shoes in this instance was the child received attention (talking) and the behavior was done for him/her (you put the shoes away). In this instance the child is being taught or reinforced to continue to throw his/her shoes across the floor when he/she comes into the house because he/she receives attention and you will take care of it for him/her. Let’s say the next time you come home and your child throws his/her shoes across the room, you say, “Put your shoes where they belong (we’ll assume your child’s been told where they belong) and you can choose your snack.” In this instance, the child should only be able to choose their snack if they placed their shoes where they belong. Now the child is rewarded or reinforced for learning and doing this behavior, increasing the likelihood he/she will do it again. If he/she chooses not to put their shoes where they belong, they are losing something important to them (getting to choose their snack) by not doing the behavior and therefore, learning to do the behavior next time.


5. A final note on consequences. Consequences are not meant to punish, but to teach a child whether a behavior is appropriate or not. When giving a consequence, keep it clear, simple, follow through on it, and deliver it matter-of-fact. Too much talking or explaining and too much emotion are not as effective. As a psychologist when working with families, I typically encourage parents to think of a hierarchy in terms of consequences. Basically, there are chances (or less harsh consequences) to correct less offensive behavior and immediate consequences for more severe behaviors. A counting intervention, such as 1, 2, 3, time out is one example, where 1, 2 are chances to correct behavior and 3 is a time out. More severe behaviors would go right to 3, time out. At first, you may feel that 2 chances for correcting behavior are not acceptable. After time (a few weeks of consistently addressing behavior), you should see your child make better choices and not need more than one chance to alter his/her behavior.


6. Be consistent. Consistency is a key element in creating behavior change. Once a clear plan for which behaviors are rewarded and how and which behaviors receive a consequence and what consequence is developed, follow the plan every time. This should occur across all caregivers of the child. Children will test you and they may give you a real hard push before they stop testing you. You can expect a couple of weeks of consistently addressing your child’s behavior before you start to see real change in your child’s behavior. Be realistic. Ideally, combining effective behavioral principles with your parenting style and family values will lead to the greatest success and will foster positive feelings in you as a parent and subsequently, in your child.


7. Special time. It has been shown that spending about an hour of one-on-one time directed by your child each week can contribute to a more positive relationship between you and your child. This small commitment once a week can make a huge difference, especially when you are having particular challenges with your child’s behavior or your child seems to be having greater difficulty.


8. Last but not least-take care of yourself. Just as your child needs a certain amount of sleep each night to reenergize for the next day, you need a certain amount of time for yourself so that you can re-parentize! You will be a better parent as a result of being refreshed and ready to take on the challenges of parenting for another day. This will help you be more effective as a parent and will lead to greater fulfillment and happiness in you as a parent, which in turn will positively impact your child.


These concepts and ideas have been proven to be effective over time when used appropriately. If you feel that you have tried these approaches for several weeks and you are not getting the results you want or expected, it may be helpful to talk with a professional for additional support. Sometimes it can be tricky tailoring an approach for your particular child or your child may present with different or unique needs. A professional is more specialized in handling these issues and can assist you in fine-tuning behavioral approaches that can best meet your child’s needs.


I hope this information leads you on a more positive and successful parenting journey!


Jennifer Gibson, PsyD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, DrJen@DrJenChicago.com


Long Version, Short Version Published September 2014, Neighborhood Parent Network (NPN) Website

Short Version Published October 2014, Centered Therapy Chicago (CTC) Website

SELF-CARE DURING THE HOLIDAYS


Although the holidays are a time for celebration and connection with the ones we love, they can also be a time of increased stress.  It is important to be mindful of our stress levels and the potential for adding to existing stress, so that we can make sure to truly enjoy connecting with our loved ones and celebrate the holidays.  Our loved ones will enjoy us more too, if we are enjoying ourselves.  Here are a few suggestions for managing stress during the holidays.

1. Keep to your routines as much as possible
As much as you can maintain your sleep, regular diet, and exercise, the better you will feel during and after the holidays.  Don’t forget about any other stress-reducing strategies you use regularly, as they can come in handy.

2. It’s okay to say “no.” 
You may be invited to several gatherings between your children’s connections and your own.  Be mindful of the commitments you have made and the ones you are planning to make, and to say “no” to anything unneccesary.  You may feel bad saying “no,” but you will feel worse if you over-commit, depriving yourself of energy or enthusiasm for more cherished activities.

3. Stay within your budget
With the holidays can come increased expenses.  Be mindful of your budget and prioritize the things you want to purchase, and let go of the things you are tempted to spend money on that are not necessarily important.  You will feel much better after the holidays if you have left yourself in a good place financially when they are over.

4. Strained relationships
The holidays are known for bringing people together, which can be difficult when you are experiencing strained relationships with those you might see.  Take some time to yourself prior to these encounters, rehearse how you might handle these situations, and ground yourself in who you are.  Remember that you are never obligated to stay anywhere that you do not feel comfortable.

5. Loss
As much as we are excited to see the loved ones in our lives during the holidays, we can also be aware of the loved ones that are no longer with us.  If this happens to you, recognize when you are having feelings, accept them and allow yourself to experience them, and take care of yourself.  Go for a walk, call a close friend, or take a break from what you are doing and relax for a moment.  If you are aware of situations or circumstances that might elicit these feelings, prepare for them and have compassion for yourself.  There is a strong focus on family during the holidays, and although this may be difficult, it is an opportunity to work on feelings that may have been put aside for one reason or another.

Jennifer Gibson, PsyD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, DrJen@DrJenChicago.com


Published December 2014, Joy To Wellness Newsletter

Published December 2014, Neighborhood Parents Network (NPN) Website

Published December 2014, Centered Therapy Chicago (CTC) Website

SUMMER TRAVEL TIPS FOR FAMILIES


As school ends and summer begins, many families start planning their travel.  Part of travel planning involves preparing for potential problem situations beforehand.  Because kids tend to misbehave when they need attention or direction, focusing efforts in these areas is important.  Here are some tips for making road trips or flights with kids more bearable, and subsequently, more enjoyable.

1. New toys or activities are key.  Your local dollar store is a great resource for low-cost novel items. 
Weeks before your trip, keep mail-order toy catalogs.  Kids can look at these for extended periods, several times.


2. Map out your trip and track it with your kids.  Doing this can keep time and travel distance in perspective.  Reviewing this periodically becomes another activity for your kids. 


3. Classic games like “I spy” can be fun on the plane and in the car


4. Purchase disposable cameras if your kids do not have a camera.  Kids can enjoy taking pictures all along their trip. 


5. Don’t sweat the screen time.  If your kids enjoy using their portable devices, it’s okay to do this more on a trip as something special.  Since this is not something you do all the time, don’t feel guilty.


6. Pack a suitcase of familiar toys for your destination.  This can help your kids feel comfortable in a new place and they will be happy to play with their favorite toys.


7. Pack some Inflatable balls.  Inflatable balls can be fun for outside activity while vacationing and they take up little space.


8. Use your surroundings for pretend play.  There are likely extra sheets available for tents and fort-making.  Playing “store” with pads of paper and pens along with your children’s belongings can be fun.


9. Portable food and drinks are a must.  Packaged cheese, snacks, fruit, juice boxes, and wrapped treats (as behavioral incentives) are a few possibilities.  Small plastic cups can be helpful for holding snacks if you buy in bulk.  Cups with lids can be helpful too, especially if your kids do not typically finish their juice boxes.  This can make for easier drink accessibility and eliminate unnecessary juggling and messes.


10. Small storage bags help you keep neat and organized.  There are bound to be moments when your kids do not finish their snack or their toys need containment.  Storage bags can also be used for garbage when needed. 


11. Even if you are past the diaper stage, diaper wipes are essential.  These are great for cleaning kids and surfaces.


12. A small first aid kit of fever-reducing pain medication, allergy medication, and skin ointment with band aids can be extremely helpful when you need it and requires little space.


13. A portable toilet seat can be helpful if you unexpectedly need a restroom and there is not one available.  Most portable toilet seats are small enough to fit into a bag.  Although it may be a new adventure for your kids to go to the bathroom outside, the familiarity of a toilet seat may help them more easily adapt to doing this if needed. 


Jennifer Gibson, PsyD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, DrJen@DrJenChicago.com

Published April 2015, Gene and Rosemary Schulter Foundation Newsletter
Submitted for publication, April 2015, Neighborhood Parents Network (NPN) Website