Archive of ‘Family Time’ category

Navigating Religious (and Political) Differences in your Family

I’m not talking about the stereotypical crazy uncle at your Thanksgiving dinner. I’m talking about your sister or father or son whose beliefs are a real impediment to your family functioning. Maybe you don’t have a relationship with them any more. Or maybe you do, and that’s what hurts.

If you’ve listened to or read the news in the last decade, you’ve come across someone discussing how polarized America is these days. Today, with unprecedented access to infinite opinions and knowledge, these polarizations have begun to infiltrate our normally monolithic institutions, like our schools, churches, towns, and yes, families. 

I come from a Jewish family, and my parents have been proud Democrats since I can remember. In the last 20 years, 3 of my family members have gone steadily to the “right,” either religiously or politically. And the other 3 members of my family have drastically moved “left,” BOTH religiously and politically.  So you can see, I have some personal experience with familial polarization, not to mention that as a therapist I work with many individuals and families with similar family dynamics. 

I’d like to offer some ways I’ve learned to navigate this incredibly difficult situation. 

#1: Talk to them about it.

I put this at number 1 not necessarily because you should start with this, but because it’s the most important and, also, the hardest to do. HOW do you talk to them without it blowing up in your face and ruining your already fragile relationship? Read on. 

#2: Set aside your ego for a short period of time

This means even though you “know” you’re right and they’re horribly misguided, for the duration of one conversation, assume they’re right, or at least that they’re not stupid or evil. This doesn’t have to mean you’re “wrong.” I’m just asking you to pause that part of your brain so that your family member can express their opinions without you attacking them or defending yourself. And when I say “a short period of time,” I mean enough time for them to feel like you might be interested in what they have to say. Once they feel comfortable that they’ve been heard (see #3 below), then you can ask them for a chance to talk about your beliefs. You might want to wait for a separate opportunity to discuss your opinions, rather than immediately after they’ve shared theirs for 2 reasons: they might be emotionally unavailable to listen to you after sharing their beliefs with you; and you might be feeling defensive about your beliefs and end up sharing a little more aggressively than you hoped.

#3: Listen to them

Don’t spend all your energy waiting for them to stop talking so that you can interject counter arguments. In fact, I challenge you to not use one counter argument. Here are some guidelines for listening to people (this is literally my job, so hopefully you can trust that I might have something useful to say about listening to people):

  • Ask them if it’s okay if you ask them a question before asking your question. They may still have more to say before wanting to change the direction of the conversation.
  • Be curious (or at least pretend to be curious). Ex: “Oh that’s interesting… does that mean you also believe _____?” “Where did you learn that?” “When did you first start believing _____?” “Does it bother you when I talk about my beliefs?”
  • Ask for clarification. This can REALLY help avoid any misunderstandings. Ex. “You just said that ______, right?” And let them correct you if you’ve misheard them.
  • Don’t interrupt them. Wait until there’s an obvious end to the point their making. (This one sounds easier than it really is.)

#4: Protect yourself

Don’t let them attack you or your beliefs (Ex: “Liberals are too sensitive.” “Trump supporters are Nazis.” “Secular people are immoral.” “Religious people are nuts.” “You’re in a cult, and you’re being brainwashed.” etc.). Stand up for your beliefs. Let them know that judgements like that are not going to help your relationship. Save those judgments for AFTER your conversation, when you’re home and talking to a supportive friend or significant other. Also, don’t forget to check in with your own emotions. It will likely be incredibly difficult to hear some of the things your family member is saying. Take a break, be it a few minutes or a few days. Ask your family member to slow down. You’re taking a very difficult step in your relationship with your family member. Recognize that it’s not supposed to be easy. If it was easy, you wouldn’t be reading any of this.

#5: Be prepared to have more than one conversation

Depending on many factors, including the depth of your relationship and the length of time you have held opposing views, you may not come to any deep understanding after your first confrontation. The goal of speaking to each other is not to convince one another of your beliefs. It’s to be able to have a relationship where you can respect each other. This requires more than one conversation. 

#6: Have them read this article too!

Being on the same page with your family member will drastically improve the odds that both of you come out feeling more connected with each other. It also will make it less awkward when you try to ask a curious question and fumble through it, because they’ll understand what you’re trying to do.

You can do this!


4 Mindfulness Practices for Your Family

Mindfulness may be a term you have never heard or hear all the time. Regardless of how familiar it may be, it is often hard to define. When I introduce mindfulness into therapeutic work, I use Jon Kabat-Zinn’s simple definition: Paying attention, on purpose, without judgement. This perspective allows for full appreciation and engagement with the present. 

Imagine the benefits of being just a bit more present-focused and mindful in our lives, work, school, and especially in relationships with ourselves and others. I have included a few mindfulness practices and resources at the conclusion for families with people of any age to foster awareness, acceptance, and connection.  Breathwork

1 – Breathwork

Imagine paying attention, on purpose, without judgement to your breath. By being mindful of our breath, we can begin to realize the power that it has. The breath is the most effective way for us to affect our nervous system. Each inhale engages the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) and each exhale engages the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). Bringing awareness to our breath can have a direct effect on our entire nervous system in an effort to bring it into balance when feeling dysregulated. We often encourage children or adults to “take a deep breath” in overwhelming situations without being mindful of what that looks and feels like. It takes practice and practicing as a family can further solidify its effectiveness. 

Belly breathing – Place your hands or a stuffed animal on the belly while lying down. Practice breathing into your hands or making the stuffed animal move up and down. In this way you are taking a true deep breath by expanding the lungs completely so that the diaphragm pushes the belly to move. 

Ratio breath – Ratio breath acknowledges the different parts of our nervous system that an inhale and exhale engage. By working to extend the exhale to be longer than the inhale, we engage our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). Begin by breathing in for 4 seconds and breathing out for 6 seconds. Adjust this ratio as needed to practice extending the exhale.

2 – Yoga/Mindful Movement 

Imagine paying attention, on purpose, and without judgement to your body and what it may be trying to tell you. Research shows the tremendous benefits yoga has on the mind, body, and connection between the two (The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk). Whether yoga is familiar or new to your family, it is accessible to everyone. I have included free resources to reference at the conclusion, but also feel free to define what yoga or mindful movement looks like for your family. My favorite option is to let the child(ren) lead the class and choose what postures feel most comfortable, challenging, and relaxing.

3 – Guided Imagery/Meditation

Imagine paying attention, on purpose, and without judgement to our thoughts and feelings. Guided imagery and meditation are grounding practices that encourage mindfulness, stillness, and relaxation. This can become a part of your morning or night routine by listening to or creating moments of stillness as a family. 

Guided imagery can be used in combination with a total body scan or progressive muscle relaxation by imagining a warm light traveling throughout the body, recognizing, and releasing any physical tension along the way. Another accessible option for all ages is a counting meditation. Start by simply counting your breath and each time a thought or feeling comes up, pause to notice and then start over counting from 1. See if you can count 10 or 20 breaths uninterrupted. Finally, the following is a short grounding meditation focusing on the 5 senses to bring our awareness to the present moment. 

Identify 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste or say aloud 1 positive self-statement. 

4 – Nature Walks 

Nature is therapeutic as it is. Taking a walk outside and paying attention, on purpose, without judgement to what nature has to offer can benefit all the parts of ourselves and our ability to connect with others. While enjoying a nature walk with your family, I encourage mindful curiosity which could look something like the following: 

  • Having a conversation about what parts of nature stand out on the walk for each person and why. 
  • Creating a family sculpture with natural objects found in your yard, a walk through the neighborhood, or a local park. 

Online Resources

written by Emily Koenig, LMFT-Associate, Supervised by Kirby Schroeder, LPC-S, LMFT-S

Meet Emily!


5 Signs Your Child May Be Addicted to Technology

Should I be concerned about my child’s screen time?

This is a question I hear frequently. The COVID pandemic caused a significant increase in the amount of time our children spend online each day, and many parents have concerns about their child’s technology use.  In today’s world, it would be nearly impossible to avoid screens entirely (and most people would not want to!), but when is it too much?  At what point should we start to worry about the effects of those hours our kids spend online?

There is No Escaping Technology

Between television, YouTube videos, games like Minecraft and Roblox, virtual communication platforms like Discord, and social media apps like Instagram and TikTok, kids are completely saturated with virtual media.  Even when parents are able to help kids abstain from certain types of technology, the enmeshment of tech into schools, paired with social pressures, makes limiting tech an extremely challenging task.

You Are Not Wrong to Be Afraid

Research on the effects of technology use on the developing brain is not lacking.  There are numerous studies that have returned potentially problematic, even downright concerning results.  A 2019 study that looked at brain scans of preschoolers found that children who used screens longer than the recommended (1 hour per day) had lower levels of development in their white matter – a key area in the development of language, literacy, and cognitive skills.

View that study here.

Additionally, the CDC found that the suicide rate for kids ages 10-14 doubled from 2007-2014 which happened to be the same time that social media use skyrocketed.

But how can parents know how much screen time is appropriate and when to be concerned?

5 Warning Signs that Your Child May be Addicted to Technology

  1. School work is suffering. This one can be tricky to recognize due to the overwhelming challenges the pandemic brought to school aged kids during the most recent academic year.  Take notice if your child’s change in academic performance directly coincides with increased tech use.
  2. Loss of interest in other activities.  If your child once loved playing soccer or creating art, but has lost interest and replaced that passion with a desire for screen time, some intervention may be necessary.
  3. Uncharacteristic aggression when interrupted from screen time. If you notice your child snapping, yelling, or showing uncharacteristic signs of anger when they are interrupted or asked to conclude their tech use, pay attention.
  4. Choosing to spend time online over spending time with friends or family. If your child is turning down social invitations in favor of spending more time online, there may be cause for concern.
  5. Neglecting basic needs or personal hygiene.  If you notice your child failing to care for their own basic needs (getting less sleep, skipping meals), or abandoning personal hygiene such as showering and brushing their teeth due to a preoccupation with screen time, it might be time to take action.

I think my child may be addicted to technology- what do I do now?

The good news is that technology addiction is treatable!  Children’s brains are malleable and interrupting troublesome habits now can help your child to strengthen new neural connections.  Early intervention can set a foundation that will help children learns skills to balance technology use in the future.

There are many strategies to treat mild to severe technology addiction in children and teens.  The first step would be to have a trained therapist assess your child for technology addiction. The National Institute for Digital Health and Wellness has a list of local providers trained to help your child manage technology issues.  There you can also find helpful articles on technology use and its effects on the developing brain.

If you are concerned, or unsure if your child may be struggling to balance their relationship with screens, ask a professional!  These times are difficult to navigate, and you are not alone.  There is plenty of support out there to help you and your child learn skills to manage technology use.

Want to learn more?

“Glow Kids” by Nicholas Kardaras is a great place to start to learn about the effects of technology on kids today.

“Reset Your Child’s Brain” by Victoria L. Dunkley MD has some wonderful guidance on at home interventions for tech addiction


1 2 3 13