ADHD – Have We Created the Monster – Part Four

girl in schoolIn part three we explored the No child Left Behind Law instituted in 2002, its effect on the education process, and the added stress on teachers. In this segment, we’ll look at what may be causing your child to have ADHD symptoms, what you can do to help, and what your rights are when dealing with the school system.

In part two I talked about the fact that the diagnosis of ADHD was subjective and could be present in any normally active six-year-old; inattentiveness, the inability to sit for long periods of time, and impulsiveness. So what could we as parents be doing to contribute to this problem, and what can we do to correct it?

The human brain is an interesting topic. Without going into a dissertation on the cerebral cortex, I’ll attempt to give a brief overview. The brain is made up hundreds of neural networks that distribute messages to the rest of our body. When we’re born, these neural networks are essentially a blank slate. By patterns of behavior, we strengthen these networks, thus creating reactions to situations.pavlov

For example, in the 1800s, Ian Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, discovered the concept of brain conditioning by accident. Pavlov noticed that when his assistant entered the lab; the dog he fed would salivate, associating the assistant with being fed, even when it wasn’t time for a feeding. Pavlov went on further to train the dog to salivate when it heard a bell. He substituted the presence of his assistant with the bell, and proved that the dog would salivate when it heard the bell, even if it wasn’t fed.

When I was growing up, there was no such thing as the Internet, 24-hour TV, or video games (I may be dating myself). We had to create our own entertainment, usually by riding bikes in the neighborhood or a pickup game of basketball. And we never used the term “boredom,” because that meant we were given a chore of some sort to alleviate our boredom.

Fast forward to 1977 when we see the release of the Atari gaming system. While the graphics are no comparison to today’s PS4 or an Xbox One, in its day the Atari could entertain for hours. As gaming systems evolved, graphics got better and games became more stimulating, causing players to get lost for hours on end while attempting to save the world from whatever imaginative droid was trying to take over.

So if you take Pavlov’s theory of brain conditioning and associate it with the stimulation of video game graphics, there is a viable argument that video games can contribute to the symptoms of ADHD. If the brain is trained to function well in the highly stimulating environment of a fast-paced video game, it would make sense that it would struggle in the average classroom where a teacher could not compete with that high-stimulus environment.

brainSo, if we’ve taught a child’s brain to function in a high-stimulus environment such as in a video game, how can we teach that same child’s brain to slow down so it can function in the average classroom where a teacher is standing in front of the room reading from a textbook? It’s simple in theory; we must recondition the brain to function when it’s less stimulated.

As stated in part three, I had the pleasure of working in a North Carolina school system for years. In my blog on children with disabilities, I shared my experience with that school system and my youngest son. What I failed to share in that blog was a relationship I created in hopes of helping other children struggling to be successful in a traditional classroom.

In 1998, I had the pleasure of meeting Peter Freer, then an IT teacher in the Asheville, NC school system. Freer’s passion for teaching, and his innate desire to help students who were struggling, started his long journey in developing Play Attention. In a nutshell, Freer took technology used by NASA, created a low-stimulus environment, the opposite of video games, and proved that through consistent and repetitive practice, a student could learn to pay attention in that environment.

When I met Peter in 1998, the school system I worked in purchased the program for every school in the district. I was so intrigued by the concept that I offered to spearhead the program. During the first year, we graduated twenty students from the program (40 hours of training makes the skills stick), and did so every year after that while I was involved in the project.

To this day, Freer is involved with Play Attention and sells the program worldwide. He has even adapted the program to help athletes and adults who struggle with ADHD. If you have a child who’s struggling with ADHD, I encourage you to visit Freer’s website and learn more about Play Attention.


ADHD – Have We Created the Monster – Part Three

ADHDIn part one of this series we explored the history of ADHD. Part two gave some insight into standardized testing and ADHD’s impact on that process. In part three we’ll look at how ADHD and standardized testing has changed the teaching profession, and some of the pressure put on parents to label their children.

When my children were growing up, I had the pleasure of volunteering in the school system full time. I’ll say that I met many teachers who were extremely passionate about their job. These men and women gave a lot of themselves personally to educate our children. So many classroom teachers not only spend their own money, they spend countless hours doing lesson plans, attending continuing education classes, and spending hours correcting tests, all included in their less-than-stellar wages. I was amazed at the dedication to their profession and impressed with the passion many of them had about teaching children.

In 2002, President George Bush signed the No Child Left Behind bill. NCLB required schools to administer standardized tests in order to keep any federal funding they received. The bill gave states the autonomy to develop assessments in three areas of education. These tests are conducted annually, starting in the third grade. Since its inception, NCLB has forced schools to be more accountable for their results, causing undue stress on the average teacher’s ability to predict the outcome.

With the onset of standardized tests came insurmountable pressure to ensure students performed well. The teaching profession turned from one that molded the minds of the young to preparing students to pass a test. Most educators will admit that they no longer explore subjects that are not on these year-end tests, and that they have been forced to teach to the test.classroom

Along with the new standards for accountability, NCLB offered attractive incentives for schools that met or exceeded certain standards, setting their school apart. Schools quickly learned they could game the system by manipulating simple things like which students actually took the annual assessment.

For example, if a student had an IEP , Individualized Education Plan, it would allow the school to modify their education, including provisions for test taking. While these students were given and graded on the same levels as their peers, provisions like extended testing time or alternative settings gave this population a greater chance of success. It wasn’t long before schools realized this was a viable option for the population of students who didn’t score well on these tests. The caveat to obtaining an IEP was that the student had to be diagnosed with a disability. Enter stage right, ADHD.

If we look at the timeline, we see some interesting changes. The year 2001 was when President Bush introduced the idea of NCLB, but he didn’t actually sign the bill until 2002. Research shows that over the next decade, the diagnosis of ADHD increased by anywhere from 25-42 percent. In 2011, 11 percent (6.4 million children) of the population aged 4 to 17 were diagnosed with ADHD. Alarming statistics.

While classroom teachers are not able to diagnose ADHD, they certainly can influence parents to have it checked out. If you’ve ever sat in on a parent/teacher conference where you hear things like, “Your child is falling behind” or “Jimmy is very disruptive in class,” it can cause an extreme amount of anxiety as a parent. Taking this anxiety one-step further, a teacher may want to discuss holding back your child. As a parent, you think of the ramifications this may have when your child has to make a new set of friends, or even the stigma that goes along with being retained.

So, we’re at the mercy of the school system, educators, school psychologist, and a myriad of other professionals who certainly know more about this than the average parent.

In part four of this series, we’ll look at your rights as a parent and how you can be an advocate for your child’s education. We’ll also look into what may be causing your child’s attention issues and ways to help them survive the school day and be successful students.


ADHD – Have We Created the Monster – Part Two

monsterIn part one of this series, we explored the history of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and how we may have created the monster by asking children to sit in a classroom for upwards of six hours. We also tapped on the topic of standardized testing and how its introduction in 1965 may have added to the number of children being diagnosed. So, let’s explore this concept further.

In order for a school, public or private, to be eligible for federal funding under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), they needed to identify students who had a disability. Interestingly enough, that same year the the American Psychiatric Association (APA), created a diagnosis called “Hyperkinetic Reaction of Childhood.” Then in 1987, they changed the name to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder primarily as a result of research done by Virginia Douglas, a Canadian psychologist. Douglas’s research established that there were four characteristics common with the ADHD diagnosis: “Deficits in attention and effort, impulsivity, problems in regulating arousal levels, and a need for immediate reinforcement.”

If you research the symptoms of ADHD on Google today, you’re likely to find this diagnosis: inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. If you haven’t spent time with the typical six-year-old boy lately, I can tell you that ninety percent of them would fall into this category on any given day.

I have always proposed that the diagnosis for ADHD is subjective. There is no true litmus test like other disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis or Muscular Dystrophy. Instead, its diagnosis is based on how one answers a series of questions, usually by parents and teachers. It’s guaranteed that if I went to a doctor and answered the questions correctly that I could create a false diagnosis of ADHD for any child.

There is a lot of pressure on parents these days to fix problems with their children’s behaviors. This is not because teachers are not equipped to handle the rowdy, overactive six-year-olds. It’s because they are not given time to modify unwanted behaviors.

Standardized testing has completely changed how are children are taught. Gone are the days of spending time on phonics, handwriting, and rote memorization. At an early age we are asking children, who start out as concrete thinkers, to infer things about life around them when their brains have not developed at that level.

What I mean by this is if a child looks at a pictman fishing 2ure of a man fishing on a dock that is exactly what the child sees at age six. The child does not have the ability to think about the man feeding his family with the fish that he may catch, nor the ramifications if the man fails to catch a fish.

Standardized tests consistently require students to infer about what may happen in any given scenario, both on math and English tests. Furthermore, these tests are riddled with ways to trip up the test taker. With answers that are similar but slightly off, or “all of the above” answers, students need to be sharp and savvy to score well.

Then look at the amount of time we ask third graders (in most states) to sit reading scenarios and sifting through difficult multiple-choice answers. The average testing session lasts two to three hours. If your student is lucky enough to finish the test, they still are required to sit silently until the testing time is over. This goes on for at least two days towards the end of each school year.

testIn part three of this series, we’ll look into what standardized testing has done to the teaching, and for that matter, the learning process. We’ll also investigate why your child’s school may be pressuring you to have your child tested. I’ll also give you my opinion on the diagnosis, after working for years with students with ADHD.


ADHD – Have We Created the Monster? – Part One

george-f-still-269x300.gifAttention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, ADHD for short, first came onto the radar back in 1902 when Sir George Frederic Still, known as the father of British pediatrics, started talking about abnormal psychical conditions in children.

With the lifestyle that most children led from the 1900s into the 1950s, many symptoms of modern-day ADHD were exhausted by working all day or playing outside on rare occasions. The way we lived our lives allowed the symptoms of ADHD to go unnoticed. Also, children only spent a few hours actually sitting in a classroom, which may have been looked upon as a much needed rest period. Many children of that time left school by the age of 12, forced to work to help provide for the family.

It was not until the 1980s that the disorder was really talked about, when it began to have a completely different impact on society. Families slowly went from one- to two-income households. The introduction and love for video games meant a child’s day became more sedentary. Gone were the days of working all day in the fields, and in swept the days of six hours in a classroom.

For many years, ADHD was primarily diagnosed in boys. With their boisterous nature and inability to sit for hours in a classroom, physicians grabbed ahold of the concept of inattentiveness and hyperactivity being abnormal in school-aged boys. It was not until much later that doctors added the female version, suggesting that girls who were prone to daydreaming and had a hard time paying attention in class were being diagnosed with ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder. Since females tend to be less active than their male counterparts, the hyperactive piece was removed and substituted with daydreaming.girl in school

So now we have the history. We slowly moved young active children into an environment that would not allow them to expend their normal energy, and some might argue that we created a disorder to fit the description. After all, a six-year-old should be able to sit for hours on end listening to a teacher lecture, right?

To further add fuel to the ADHD fire, let’s talk about standardized testing. In 1965, standardized testing became more common. With the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), school systems received additional funding if their students fell short of the national academic scale. In short, if a school had a population of students, usually from lower income families in that day, they would receive additional federal funding to help tutor those students, in an effort to bring them closer to the national average. In order to determine which schools qualified, standardized testing was developed and implemented.

ADHDIn part two I’ll explore the further emphasis of standardized testing throughout its history, what impact it’s had on the education process, and investigate how it has contributed to over 11% (over 6 million) of the US population aged 4-11 being diagnosed with ADHD in 2011.

Set limits, not controls

temper tantrumWhen we consider the concept of setting limits, we must understand that those limits need to reasonable. There is a fine line between setting limits and controlling a child. For instance, we can agree that most active toddlers need a nap midday so they don’t have the 7 pm meltdown. While we understand this, your toddler may not. So the limit I always set is that there was afternoon rest time. This didn’t mean that my toddler had to sleep, but they did need to be on their bed with some of their favorite books for an hour or so. Nine times out of ten this led to the much-needed nap.

Setting limits for children gives them the structure needed to make their lives more secure. Security is extremely important for a child’s early development. In its earliest forms, a child’s security comes from wrapping him in a blanket to mimic the environment of the womb. This sense of snugness eases their insecurity of being in the big world.

If no limits are set, as your child grows they will continue to test the waters to see how deep they run. For example, if we give a child two cookies instead of access to the whole cookie jar, we are setting limits. It starts that simple.

So, how does one set limits instead of controls? The first step is to solicit input from your child. By giving them limited choices, your child will feel they are in control and will allow them to make better choices down the road when it gets harder to do so. For instance, if your child wants a snack, you can shift the scenario slightly by asking if they want one or two cookies, instead of just saying they can only have two.cookies

Now we all know that given the choices of one or two cookies, two will be the choice. Or given the choice of bedtime now or in fifteen minutes, the choice will be the latter. That said, formulate your options ahead of time, giving your maximum limit as the second choice. Two cookies, bedtime in fifteen minutes, etc. You get the idea.

There will be times when setting limits will not involve a choice. There will be rules established that set limits for safety, such as no running in the house, no hitting, no pulling the dog’s tale, etc. There will also be rules that are set for the good of the family, such as no eating in the living room, toys must be cleaned up at the end of the day, etc. These limits must be adhered to, hopefully by everyone. I will admit that after my kids went to bed, I occasionally had dessert in a “no eating zone.” But while they were around, I adhered to the same limits I set for them, leading by example.

That’s not to say you can’t be a little creative with the daily task of cleaning up toys. Often I would give my children a choice. “If you want to clean your toys up now I will help you. If you want to do it in five minutes, you’ll have to do it by yourself.” It was a 50/50 tossup. No matter what they chose, the toys were picked up before bedtime. Of course there was moaning and groaning most of the time, but I chose not to acknowledge that and left the room when I felt my blood pressure starting to rise.

Setting limits should be void of emotions as much as possible. After all, as parents we are teachers, and assuming that our children know the limits can be devastating for both parties. So limits should be set, keeping in mind what is age appropriate and reasonable. For example, both of my sons loved to play with building blocks. I, being the overachieving new parent, decided that I was going to coordinate a bin system for storage. When they were little my goal was to get the blocks into a bin, any bin. If I had added color-coding to the bins, it would have been way too much for them.

Messy toy roomI also had to teach them the concept of eating an elephant one bite at a time. After all, a toy room used by two creative toddlers can look like a natural disaster at the end of the day. So we would make clean-up a teaching game. I would say, “Put away everything that’s round.” Or, “Put away everything that’s blue.”

Often times as parents we think our lives will be turned upside down when we have children; that chaos ensues and our lives become filled with toys and a sink full of dirty dishes. Parents should not believe that because they decided to have children that their lives should become chaotic. Structure can be set within the family in a firm and friendly manner. Firmness and friendliness sometimes takes more explanation, and sometimes it requires us to keep quiet. Example: Joshua, you know the family rule about chewing gum. You may either chew your gum outside, or throw it away.

Also, failing to set limits opens the door for chaos. No family, however big or small, can function without some kind of order.


Parenting through Your Divorce/Break Up

I know I haven’t posted since August, but I came upon a great opportunity to advance my professional career and have been focused on that. So now I’ll rejoin the blogger world with some advice on parenting your child through divorce or a break up.

Le divorceI’ll begin by letting you know that there is no “right” time. I have friends that chose to divorce when their children were very young, just to be plagued with years of therapy to help them get through. I chose to stay married for over twenty years to keep the family unit intact. While I may have been somewhat successful in hiding my crappy marriage from my children, they now may carry the baggage from that into their relationships.

One of my earliest blogs introduced the idea that parenting doesn’t come with a handbook, no college degree is needed, and many of us had poor examples of parenting when we were growing up.

When it comes to divorce, most of us have even less resources to pull from. When I was growing up there was only one person in my high school graduating class whose parents were divorced, and we never spoke of it. So while we may have had information on parenting that let us determine what we didn’t want to do with our own children, we have no reference point on what to do to help our children through a divorce.

With 40-50 percent of all marriages ending in divorce these days, it’s important that we educate ourselves on what to do and what not to do. And whether you’re in a relationship where you’ve chosen not to get married, or you are married, the effect can be the same. When you’re disrupting a child’s daily family life, you’re disrupting their security.

Speaking from my own experience (and some of my own mistakes), here are some tips on parenting your child through your divorce.

  • The first thing to remember is that this is your divorce.  Just as much as your child didn’t ask to be brought into the world, they sure didn’t ask to be part of a divorce. Therefore, no matter how old your children are, involve them as little as possible. It’s important to make them secure with the changes. Let them know that they are not the reason for the divorce. Soften the blow. Keep things as normal as possible.
  • There is no such thing as an amicable divorce. If things were amicable, there wouldn’t be a divorce at all. Whether you’ve grown apart, made a mistake in the first place, or there is infidelity involved, divorcing someone is not a friendly interaction. That being said, with an innocent little one in the picture, it’s important that things remain calm so that the child’s security is not taken away. I can tell you that prior to going through my divorce, my ex and I had grandiose dreams of having an amicable divorce “for the sake of the children.” When I finally got the courage to file and he found out, it was as if the next world war had broken out, and he did all he could to discredit me.
  • Be the calm one in the storm. If you experience what I did during your divorce, you’ll need to find the Agruing Parentsreserve to be the calm in the storm for your child. My ex spent a lot of time and energy discrediting me with my children and our mutual friends. With lies about made-up infidelities, stolen money, and anything else he could foster up in his mind, it was hard not to want to retaliate. After all, it was my reputation he was messing with. While I’ll admit that there were times when I broke down in front of my children after them asking me about the latest fabrication he had fed them, for the most part I remained calm.
  • Don’t use your child as a pawn. It’s easy to do. Subtle things like using your child to relay messages, delivering support checks, talking about their time with the other parent. These are all things that can scar a child. Remember, it’s your divorce, not your child’s. So make sure you’re not communicating through your child. Even if it’s as simple as notifying your ex that you’ll be late for a pick up. In this day and age, there are many ways to communicate without using the child. Drilling your child when they return from a parental visit is the number one no-no. If they come home full of stories, be sure to take a passive approach to the conversation and not make it an inquisition.
  • Spell things out in a legal Judges gaveldocument. When I divorced, my lawyer suggested that I create a legal document that would be attached to my divorce decree, addressing issues that I thought might come up with regards to co-parenting my children. It included things like my support check must be delivered through the US Mail, my ex was not allowed to bring the children to a place that served alcohol after 9 pm when he had visitation with them, etc. If you know that your divorce will be challenging (and most of them are), be sure to protect yourself and your children.
  • Get help. I’ll admit that my teenage sons wanted nothing to do with therapy during my divorce. They were mad, and they wanted to stay that way. But I offered, and that was important. I also surrounded them with good male role models whenever possible. And I sought the support of friends when I needed it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s certainly an emotional time for you and your children.

Electronic Devices – How to Prevent Your Child from Addiction

child.smartphone-1373x1940With the invention of handheld devices, computers, the Internet, and 24-hour TV, it’s no surprise that childhood obesity is on the rise. Just as with adults, children tend to make poor food choices when watching TV. They also tend to snack more while watching their favorite show or playing their favorite video game.

In addition to the obesity issue, research reveals that playing high-stimuli video games and television watching can contribute to disabilities like ADHD. When the brain is constantly stimulated, it tends to have a difficult time thriving in a traditional (often not stimulating) classroom.

All this being said, how can parents counteract the attraction of technology to fill downtime for their children? Here are some tips that can help:

  1. Start good practices early. When my sons were young, I fought the pressure (mostly from them) to buy them their first video game console. Growing up in a subdivision community, we had a lot of neighbors; many of them had video games. My rule was that they couldn’t have their first game console until they were in double-digits age wise. Since I couldn’t control what others did, they played video games when they went to their friends’ homes. What I could control was the amount of time they spent there.
  2. Just Shut It Off. There is tons research showing that extensive TV watching at an early age has detrimental developmental issues, can create learning disabilities, and may cause anxiety issues. Since normal childhood development includes a lot of human interaction, the lack of this can cause delayed development including speech delays, fine motor skills issues, and social skill development.
  3. Buy a Ball. You know the kind you can ftoddle with ballind at your local retailer, a fairly big ball made of brightly colored vinyl. Total investment is under $10. This could literally be the answer to all of the detrimental issues caused by extensive electronics use. I remember spending hours tossing a bright-colored sphere for my toddlers. Not only were we checking the human interaction box, we were working on fine motor skills, and my little one was getting tons of exercise, since his catching skills were lacking at the beginning. And most of all, just having some old fashioned fun.
  4. Be A Good Example. Kids take in everything around them. So if you’re that parent that can’t disconnect from their electronic device, they likely follow in your footsteps. I often cringe when I see toddlers in the seat of a grocery cart with mom’s smartphone playing a game or watching a show while mom shops. Better option: get them involved in the process. Simple games like finding a certain color as you cruise through the aisles, or having them point to something and you telling them its name. Also, it’s important to teach them that chores like grocery shopping, while not exciting, are an important part of being part of a family.


Building a Spiritual Life for Your Child

grace-familyReligion is an extremely touchy subject—one that I usually steer clear of, but feel compelled to write about now.

When I married my now ex-husband, I did so at a young age, 21 to be exact. Before the ceremony, we had a couple of conversations about God that didn’t go so well. Since we were both raised Catholic, I was convinced that his current agnostic attitude stemmed from wanting concrete proof that God existed. I, on the other hand, was a true believer that God was always by my side, guiding me through the life he planned for me, even in marrying this man that I would one day divorce.

Since both of us had opted out of the Catholic religion, this difference of opinion didn’t affect our daily lives as a married couple. My faith still remained strong and we respected each other’s differences.

If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely that you are a parent, or soon to be one. Experiencing childbirth is nothing short of a miracle, and God’s spiritual hand is all over it. From conception to delivery, it is truly a sacred experience.

Fast-forward six years, and along comes our first child. My ex, still firm in his non-believing ways, conceded to having our son baptized. I still believe this was because his mother was such a strong Catholic and literally shamed him into it. He participated in the event, but I was convinced that it was just for show. The same ritual happened with the birth of our second son.

As the boys grew up, it became difficult for me to discuss God with them. Discussions around the dinner table about God left their father silent. When questioned, he told the boys that he didn’t believe in God. This left them puzzled and confused. Their otherwise normal curiosity was stifled whenever the subject of God came up. I felt I had to be a closet Christian and talk to my children about God only when their father wasn’t around.

When I look back, I realize that I should have been stronger in my conviction to teach my children to have a relationship with God and learn his words by reading the Bible. At the time, I knew that one day they would form their own opinion, and hoped they would allow God into their lives.

After my divorce in 2005, I was able to form a close and constant relationship with God. I was also able to openly share stories with the boys about evidence that God had a hand in everything we do. In some ways, I pushed the subject, probably in an effort to make up for lost time.

Today, my youngest son is a very spiritual man with a close relationship with God. He does God’s work and struggles like the rest of us. His faith helps him on his hardest days with a positive attitude and knowledge that God will see him through.

My oldest son is a Christian by nature but not by faith. By this, I mean that he is a good and kind man and lives life with integrity. He doesn’t have a close relationship with God, but prays when he needs to. He, like his father, struggles with the lack of concrete evidence that God exists, even though I can see God’s hand in his daily life.praying

The bottom line is this: spirituality is a very personal matter. Having a relationship with your God is your business—until you bring children into the world. That changes everything. It’s important that you don’t do what I did. Don’t let someone else dictate your spirituality. Better yet, for the sake of your children, look for alignment. Have those crucial discussions before you have kids, and decide what will work best for everyone. In the end, even if you’re not a spiritual person, you should at the very least expose your children to the concept so they are able to form their own opinions as they continue to grow.


Work/Life Balance – Part Two

imagesIn Work/Life Balance Part 1, I touched the notion of how we spend our time each week. After reading I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time by Laura Vanderkam, I realized that with better planning and time management, I am able to have more time for relaxation and socialization, and more time to do the things I love.

Here are some tips to help you better manage your time and create a better work/life balance:

  1. Plan your week. Many couples in Vanderkam’s Mosaic Project sat down each week for an administrative meeting to map out the week. They looked at who was doing pick-ups and drop-offs to various activities, overnight travel, and work and meeting schedules so that they had a game plan for the week. They also included time for themselves, whether it was coffee with a friend or drinks after work, it was mapped out so that they created their own work/life balance schedule.
  2. Don’t waste precious time. Many of us fail to admit the time we waste on mindless activities. The Internet and social media can waste away hours that feel like minutes. And if you do choose to spend your time catching up on the Internet, make sure you’re counting this as leisure time. Many work/life balance experts suggest you seriously limit time spent on social media.
  3. Unplug. If you have a family, it’s important that you cherish the time you have with them. If you don’t have a family, it’s important to spend quality time nurturing new relationships and friendships. So shut off your computer and turn off your cell phone for a couple of hours on the weekend. I guarantee the world will continue to turn, and you can answer calls and text message later when family time is over.
  4. Incorporate activities. As noted in Part One, many people with a good work/life balance incorporate different activities. Many dropped off kids at practice a couple of times a week and used that time to do errands—grocery shopping, picking up the dry cleaning, getting the car washed, etc. Other parents used practice time to catch up on email and/or phone calls.
  5. Use your commute. Because I have such a busy lifestyle, I have little time to read. I drive forty-five minutes to work each way and spend that time listening to audio books. Whether your choice is to go through an app like Audible or to purchase books on CD, this is a great way to catch up on some of the latest reads. I also use this time to catch up on phone calls, especially if stuck in traffic. A call to a friend or relative can certainly make a traffic jam more palatable.
  6. Stop feeling guilty. Many people feel guilty about taking time for themselves. The fact is that taking time to do things that we enjoy makes us a much easier person to be around. Instead of feeling guilty, allow yourself to indulge in a guilty pleasure. Have coffee with a friend, get a massage, go to the gym, or get your nails done. Whatever it is, do it and enjoy yourself.
  7. Make a date. Whether you’re dating or married (even with children) you should schedule periodic dates with your significant other. This time is precious (especially with children), and should be used to nurture your relationship. Make reservations at a grown-up restaurant, see a movie that doesn’t include minions or princesses, or go for a hike in the woods. Even with limited funds, family members are usually helpful to cover periodic babysitting responsibilities, and packing a picnic lunch can be an economical date. Use your imagination and mix it up.
  8. Give it 110%. If you’re that person who gets easily distrawater coolercted at work, you may want to consider what you can do to avoid distractions. Lots of time may be spent catching up on the weekend events on Mondays. With the best intentions of not spending extended time at the water cooler, some of us can waste away an hour or more catching up. Consider planning lunch with the folks you usually want to share with so you’re not burning time needed to get your job done. It’s perfectly OK to let people know that you’re knee deep in work and ask them to join you for lunch to catch up. Many of us are culprits of this pitfall and spend additional hours at work to meet deadlines.

Work/Life Balance – Is there such a thing? (Part One)

balanceWork/life balance is discussed at many staff meetings throughout corporate America. It’s also the topic of many employee surveys, which are given by big companies in an effort to get the pulse of their associates. Also, many women’s leadership forums that I have attended bring this topic up for discussion.

I believe it’s a misnomer that women have a more difficult time with work/life balance than men do. Most men I spoke with say that it’s equally as hard for them to balance home, work, and personal time as it is for their wives or partners.

What does true work/life balance look like? It’s different for all of us, but there are some common denominators that we all can agree on. Whether it’s 30 minutes to exercise, time with friends and family, or just an hour to curl up on the couch and watch a good movie, most of us feel as if we don’t have time for these activities. After a 50+ hour workweek, chores, driving kids to events, etc. what time is left for much else?

I recently listened to I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time by Laura Vanderkam. In her book, Vanderkam does a magnificent job of breaking down time into hours. With 168 hours each week, she examined multiple logs of how successful working woman spend their time. While the book was geared towards women, I firmly believe the results would have been the same if the project focused on men.

In her Mosaic Project, women logged how they spent each hour during a one- or two-week period of time. Without going into details, she clearly points out that every person had at least ten hours per week of “leisure” time. Most of the participants worked 50-55 hour workweeks, and got between 7-8 hours of sleep per night (56 hours per week). Many had active families and multiple children; some were single parents. Many participants did not work set schedules, working more hours on some days and less on others.

Vanderkam’s premise is that with only 111 hours tied up with work and sleep, what are we doing with the other 57 hours? Of course, that’s easy to answer with laundry, grocery shopping, and the like taking up a better part of those remaining hours.

As her participants began to document their hourly activities, they began to realize that they had more leisure time then they originally thought. They also began to become very creative when combining activities with chores. For instance, one subject gave up watching her child’s ball practice once a week to get the family grocery shopping done. Another participant used practice time to catch up on phone calls or emails. Yet another folded laundry while catching up on her favorite shows that she’d recorded.

In Part two we’ll examine some helpful tips to create a better work/life balance for you and your family.