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Nominated by for "Relationship Blog of the Year" 2012 & 2013. The Gottman Relationship Blog provides practical tools and skills to strengthen relationships, all based on 40+ years of research performed by Dr. John Gottman.

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    Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we would like to share an article with you by Michelle Healy of USA Today. The article describes a newly revised policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics for a family media use plan, which is timely considering our recent discussion (catch up here and here if you missed it) of parenting in the Digital Age.

    Dr. Victor Strasburger, a co-author of the statement, expresses worry that parents aren’t aware of their children’s media use, and have no idea how to manage it:

    They [kids] are "spending more time with media than they are in school. They are spending more time with media than in any activity other than sleeping. You could make the argument that media have taken over the primary role of teaching kids from schools and parents in many cases.”

    It is not our intention to prescribe a specific plan or encourage you to institute a particular regime for media use with your kids. Our goal is not to bestow upon you a set of rules or a system for monitoring your kids. We are sharing this article with you today because the information in it compels us to consider the impact of our current approach to media use at home, and maybe even reconsider it! 

    Doctors' Rx: 
    Make a plan to manage kids' media use
    By Michelle Healy, USA Today

    In an age when exposure to TV, smartphones, computers, tablets, and all forms of social media play a dominant role in the lives of American kids and teens, many families have very few rules in place to manage their children's media use. But for their well-being, that should change, the nation's largest group of children's physicians advises.

    In a newly revised policy statement released today, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents make a media use plan for their families that takes into account not only the quantity, but the quality and location of media used, and includes mealtime and bedtime curfews for media devices. It also encourages keeping all screen media (TVs, computers, tablets, etc.) out of kids' bedrooms.

    The group reiterates its recommendation to limit the amount of total entertainment screen time to less than two hours a day and to discourage all screen media exposure for children under age 2.

    A new, nationally representative survey from the nonprofit advocacy group Common Sense Media, also out today, shows 72% of kids ages 8 and under have used a mobile device for some type of media activity such as playing games, watching videos or using apps, up from 38% just two years ago. And 17% of these young children use a mobile device on a daily basis.

    "We are worried that a lot of parents are clueless about their kids' media use and how to manage it appropriately," says Victor Strasburger, a professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico and co-author of the AAP policy statement, released at the group's national conference in Orlando, Fla.

    They are "spending more time with media than they are in school. They are spending more time with media than in any activity other than sleeping. You could make the argument that media have taken over the primary role of teaching kids from schools and parents in many cases," says Strasburger.

    Parents, together with pediatricians, schools, research organizations, the entertainment and advertising industries and government, need to work together to do more to address this issue, he says. He adds that the federal government has not written a comprehensive report on children and the media since 1982, before the widespread use of the Internet and cellphones.

    According to findings cited in the policy statement:

    • The average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day with a variety of media; older children and teens spend more than 11 hours a day.
    • The presence of a television set in a child's bedroom increases TV viewing even more, and 71% of children and teens report having a TV in their bedroom; 50% have a console video game player in their room.
    • Nearly all children and teens (84%) are on-line; about 75% of 12- to 17-year-olds have a cellphone, up from 45% in 2004; 88% use text messaging.

    Last updated five years ago, the policy statement considered a wealth of new research. It says the pediatrics group "continues to be concerned by evidence about the potential harmful effects of media messages and images."

    Excessive media use has been associated with obesity, lack of sleep, school problems, aggression and other behavior issues, the statement says.

    But it adds that "important positive and pro-social effects of media should also be recognized." It specifies that media can help children of all ages learn important academic material, and can also help "teach empathy, racial and ethnic tolerance, and a whole range of interpersonal skills."

    "Media can be good or bad," says Strasburger. "There's some extraordinarily good media out there. It's a matter of finding the right stuff for the right aged child or teen and limiting access to inappropriate media."

    But parents need to recognize that their children are "facing a tsunami of media," he says.

    The onslaught of new digital devices to deliver that media makes the challenge of monitoring your children's "media diet" harder than ever, says Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media. Not only is there more of it, but "because these devices are mobile, screen time moves with them from room to room. It's not as easy to monitor use."

    Among other recommendations in the revised policy statement:

    For Parents:
    • Model effective media use to help children learn to be selective and healthy in what they consume. Take an active role in children's media education by co-viewing TV, movies and videos with them and discuss important family values.
    • Monitor what media your children are using and accessing, including any websites they are visiting and social media sites they may be using

    For pediatricians:
    • At every well-child visit, ask how much time the child is spending with media and if there is a TV or Internet-connected device in the child's bedroom.
    • Take a more detailed media history with children or teens at risk for obesity, aggression, tobacco or substance use, or school problems.


    What do you think about making a plan to manage your kids' media use? Do you have one? We would love to hear about it! Join the discussion on our Facebook page

    Have a great weekend, 
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    In case you are just joining us on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we have been discussing the importance of empathizing with your youngster for the last couple of weeks. In particular, we have been applying Dr. John Gottman's steps of Emotion Coaching (read about Step 1 here and Step 2 here) within the context of parenting in the Digital Age. Today we move on to Step 3: Listen with empathy and validate your child's feelings.  

    Just as the common saying goes “you hear me, but you’re not listening,” seeing your child’s emotional reactions is not the same as perceiving them. To young kids, the complexity of their emotions may feel impenetrably confusing. Asking them to explain why or how they feel something is often an exercise in futility. They have natural difficulty understanding how they feel, because they lack experience in comprehending or articulating what they are going through. As you may have noticed, attempting to talk with a kid and pinpoint their feelings may feel like a wild goose chase through the deepest, darkest woods.

    Luckily, Dr. Gottman’s research has illuminated a way out of this goose-ridden quandary. To truly connect with your child when in a psychologically difficult moment, it is important to read between the lines. Rather than asking a child how they feel, observe them—their facial expressions, body language, gestures, and the tone of their voice. If your toddler is crying, she probably doesn’t know why. Asking her won’t help. But age is not the whole story here. Asking your twelve-year-old son, as he bounces his knee erratically in the waiting room at the dentist’s, if he feels nervous will likely elicit a negative response (perhaps a hearty rendition of “Duh, Mom!” accompanied by an eye roll). Instead of deploying the methods of the Spanish Inquisition or asking questions to which you already know the answers, Dr. Gottman suggests a combination of attentiveness, offerings of simple observations, and validation of your child's emotions in difficult moments. We will illustrate this method with the example below:

    Frieda’s daughter, Agatha, ten, ambushes her as soon as she walks in the door from a long day at the office. All rage and tears, Agatha follows behind her mother as she walks to the living room, angrily recounting her “awful” piano lesson a few hours earlier. As Frieda gathers from the tirade, punctuated by intermittent stomps and declarations of quitting immediately, she discovers that her daughter’s instructor made some negative comments about Agatha’s practicing. Or lack thereof. Feeling irritated by her daughter’s constant complaining about the lessons she had begged for forever, Frieda remembers the third step of Emotion Coaching and takes a deep breath. “You seem frustrated with your piano teacher right now,” Frieda says, “Is that true?” “Yeah! And she made me feel so guilty,” her daughter answers. Seeing her daughter's reddened cheeks and teary eyes, her mother sits down beside her on the bed. She strokes Agatha's hair and talks to her seriously: “I hate it when people make me feel that way. It really stinks. What do you think would make you feel less frustrated with piano?” A few thoughtful moments later, Agatha excitedly asks to play a duet with Frieda for her next recital. As Frieda agrees, her daughter grins. Seeing her Mom as an ally gives Agatha the confidence to work through this temporary impediment, and to continue in pursuit of her love of creating music. Harmony is restored.

    Frieda’s approach worked because she paid attention to her daughter’s intense emotional state: angry, frustrated, guilty, upset. Instead of letting herself be overcome with total exasperation at her daughter, Frieda turned a potentially difficult moment around completely. Instead of asking Agatha if she felt riled up (obviously, Mom!), she offered a simple observation of Agatha’s feelings and validated what her daughter was experiencing by sharing a time when she felt the same way in her own childhood. Instead of using the short-term “fix” of quelling her daughter’s anger with an ice cream cone after dinner or a promise of a trip to the movies, by applying Emotion Coaching to this potentially volatile situation, Frieda made positive strides - both in her own relationship with her daughter and in her daughter’s relationship with her piano lessons. Empowered and re-invigorated, both mother and daughter felt more confident in their shared bond. 

    Try treating your child’s feelings with empathetic listening and validation and see the difference Dr. Gottman’s research can make in your life! On Wednesday, look forward to our application of the third rule of Emotion Coaching to parenting in the Digital Age. In the meantime, be sure to check out Emotion Coaching: The Heart of Parenting, our new video program for parents. 

    All for Now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    In theory, it seems obvious that human kindness is just as necessary online as offline. For some reason, when interacting with others on the web, this becomes easy to forget. Though we often engage in online and offline interactions simultaneously, we can lose perspective and experience these activities as existing in two separate dimensions - one of which doesn't really matter as much. 

    Kids in particular often have difficulty discerning what’s real and what’s not. Readily believing in magical creatures in the stories they read, they are happy to live in a land between fantasy and reality – their eagerness to trust and lack of ability to distinguish fact from fiction makes them vulnerable to the thought that online communications somehow belong to another world. That somehow they don’t work in the same way as face-to-face interactions and are governed by their own online rules. In this regard, our role as parents is to make it clear that online communications are very real – that they impact real people with real emotions and can cause real suffering.

    For this reason, it’s important that we talk to our kids about their experiences in cyberspace – what their online friendships are like, what kinds of things they like to do on the web, and how they use social media. In working to maintain this connection with our kids and an awareness of this (often huge!) part of their lives, we put ourselves in a good position to spot potential problems as early as possible. If you get the feeling that something is wrong – see that your child appears to be upset or stressed out when communicating online, or notice that they are withdrawn and seem out of sorts – engage proactively! Ask questions. Although they may not be eager to volunteer information about such problems, we know that the internet can be a scary and confusing place for kids. As Emotion Coaches, we can help.

    If you see that your kid is experiencing problems in this area, don’t hesitate to share your own experience of challenges in the online world. Remember Step 3 of Emotion Coaching, which we discussed on Monday. Can you think of any examples of stressful situations or miscommunications you’ve experienced online? Is there anything you connect with in their experience? Is there a story you might tell them about something that happened to you – a moment in which you felt similarly – that might open a door and make it easier for your child to share the problems that they are experiencing?

    Our current blog series has covered an array of difficulties that adults face in their Digital Age relationships. Not everyone is good at clearly communicating their thoughts and feelings – especially online – and navigating the complexities of such social interactions is even harder for kids. Think of all the challenges they face! As parents, we can be there to listen with empathy and validate their feelings. In giving them our attention and understanding, we can show them love and support, and help them to see that they are not alone.

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    As we mentioned on Wednesday, the Digital Age can be a scary and confusing place for kids. However, all hope is not lost - our research has shown that adults can help kids struggling with moments of emotional intensity. Youngsters are new to the experience of emotion, and their lack of comprehension of their feelings may lead to the misconception that their emotions are unnatural. This is where Dr. Gottman's fourth step of Emotion Coaching comes in: Help your kids learn to label their emotions with words. 

    According to Dr. Gottman, “providing words [to describe the problem] can help children transform an amorphous, scary, uncomfortable feeling into something definable, something that has boundaries and is a normal part of life… [something that] everybody has and everybody can handle.” Remarkably, research studies have shown that expressing empathy while giving kids the tools to label their emotions with words not only helps to heighten their confidence in dealing with everyday problems, but is also effective in soothing their nervous system and allowing them to recover faster from stressful events! Here, we will guide you through an example of how this strategy works:

    Don’s nine-year-old, Garnett, comes home one day in a funk. Dropping his skateboard with a crash in the middle of the hallway, getting mud all over the floor, he throws himself into his room and turns up the music. After tiptoeing around his son throughout dinnertime as per his wife’s advice, Don loses patience with the boy’s monosyllabic moodiness and accosts him on his way out the door. “Where are you going, kid?” “To Mickey’s,” Garnett offers sullenly. “Is anything wrong?” After a few minutes of meandering aimlessly in circles, Garnett finally relents. “I failed my math test today.” What should Don do with this admission? His initial disappointment and frustration are replaced with confidence as he remembers the fourth step of Emotion Coaching. He has a way to turn the situation around.

    Though it is obvious that adults continue to struggle with relation to their emotions (wanting to understand them, not wanting to understand them, wanting them to not exist, pretending they don’t exist, trying to frantically wave their arms so that they would stop existing), it would be nonsensical to think that children and adults are on the same page. Don can say with relative self-awareness that his son’s confession of failing a math test in school makes him feel frustrated and upset. If he looks deeper, he may notice that he also feels kind of guilty and irresponsible. He may notice a twinge of anxiety about his parenting skills. Did he tutor Garnett enough over the summer when he was struggling with Geometry? Why didn’t Garnett come to him sooner? Is Garnett afraid to come to him with problems in general? Garnett’s silence, on the other hand, communicates a very different message: the boy has no idea how to deal with the situation, and he may not understand why.

    To help his son, Don’s job as an Emotion Coach is to find out how his son is feeling. The process is NOT about what Don thinks Garnett OUGHT to be feeling about the problem he is faced with, but about working together to determine the true emotions in the situation. Here is how the conversation might go:

    Don: “It sounds like you feel upset about the math test.”
    Garnett: “Yeah... I feel like I could have done better. I should have studied more. Jimmy got an A. He told everyone.”
    Don: “I know how that goes. I used to HATE it when I had messed up on something and other kids shouted out their good grades. It made me so jealous.”
    Garnett: “It’s sooo annoying! It felt really bad... I guess I was jealous.”
    Don: “That’s totally normal! We all go through it sooner or later. Is this all about Jimmy, though?”
    Garnett: “No... I feel like I should have studied more.”
    Don: “So you feel kinda guilty?”
    Garnett: “Yeah...”
    Don: “Would it help if we went through some Geometry problems together this weekend?”
    Garnett: “Could we? Thanks... that would be so great.”

    Knowing that his Dad has been through the same experience, and that it made him feel the same way, allows Garnett to realize that his experience is normal. That he isn’t a creature from outer space. The words Don offers to his son in describing the emotions Garnett is feeling makes these feelings easier to handle, and makes the boy see that this episode is just a part of the normal human experience. That it isn’t the end of the world. It also helps him to trust his Dad more - to see him as an ally. Together they can practice some math problems and work through the situation as a team.

    Note: In the context of the Digital Age, we may imagine this differently - we may replace Garnett's friend Mickey with a cell phone, a laptop, or any other form of eternally accessible electronic escape. Garnett may not even need to leave the house to functionally disappear.

    The fourth step of Emotion Coaching is one in which you, as a parent, have the opportunity to help your child through difficult moments in a manner that is both incredibly easy for you, and astoundingly useful for them. If you practice it often, it can increase not only your child’s ability to cope with problems, but bring the two of you closer together! In the Digital Age, the fourth step of Emotion Coaching can encourage your kids to come to you for support and connection instead of vanishing into the screen of their phone or their computer when things feel overwhelming.

    Next week, look forward to Step 5, the last step of Emotion Coaching, and a short discussion of its applications in the Digital Age. We hope that with all of the tools we have provided to help you become a better Emotion Coach, you and your children can build confidence both in yourselves and as a team! After all, isn't that what family is for?

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    The fifth and final step of Emotion Coaching according to Dr. John Gottman is to set limits while helping your child to problem solve. This should come naturally to any parent, as humans are drawn into the advice-giving stage of problem solving conversations. The conclusions that we have drawn in our own research mirror the findings of popular child psychologist and bestselling author Dr. Haim Ginott, whose communication system involves the following principles:

    • Never deny or ignore a child’s feelings. 
    • Only behavior is treated as unacceptable, not the child. 
    • Depersonalize negative interactions by mentioning only the problem. Ex: "I see a messy room." 
    • Attach rules to things. Ex: "Little sisters are not for hitting." 
    • Dependence breeds hostility. Let children do for themselves what they can. 
    • Children need to learn to choose, but within the safety of limits. Ex: "Would you like to wear this blue shirt or this red one?" 

    In today's posting on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we will describe the five key steps of problem solving discovered by Dr. Gottman in his own research on Emotion Coaching, as well as explore their underlying principles and the effects of their application to your child's development:

    1. Set Limits: In the likely event that your journey into the thorny lands of problem solving is made especially prickly by your child’s misbehavior, it is important to understand the key element of setting limits. The key element of limit setting in this case, contrary to much popular parenting literature, is to avoid harsh criticism of your child’s actions - and to instead focus on the emotions underlying their behavior. Here, we take Ginott’s advice in making it clear to a child that, although their behavior might not always be acceptable, their feelings and wishes are. While discipline is necessary in raising your little one, Dr. Gottman makes a further note in his discussion of disciplinary methods:

    Note: While a 1990 survey of college students exposed that 93% were spanked as children, the consequences of spanking have been scientifically proven to be troubling. According to Dr. Gottman, past research studies have shown that “spanking teaches, by example, that aggression is an appropriate way to get what you want… [and that it] can have a long term impact as well, and that spanked children, “as teenagers… are more likely to hit their parents… as adults more likely to be violent and tolerate violence in their relationships,” and that “interestingly, studies of parents who have been trained in other methods of child discipline show that once they find effective alternatives, they drop the spanking.” Apparently, more reasonable methods will suffice. As an added bonus, your children might be grateful.

    2. Identify Goals: If you dive from Setting Limits into Identifying Goals and find yourself floundering about in a whirlpool of confusion, chances are that you moved too fast! Clambering back up onto the safety of the first step will allow you to avoid the misfortune of drowning. Make sure that you are hearing your child, understanding their feelings, empathizing and labeling them, and generally applying the four steps of Emotion Coaching before embarking on this step with greater confidence. When your child is ready, you can begin to identify goals by clarifying and understanding their ideas in solving the problem at hand.

    3. Think of Possible Solutions: Without taking too great of an authoritative role in the problem solving process (and thereby inundating your child with your own ideas for possible solutions) make suggestions to your child at a rate which they can process. It is important to treat a 5 year old differently than a 15 year old when making problem solving suggestions. As a child grows up and matures, the number of solutions you can offer to come to problem resolution will increase. Few children under ten are equipped for abstract thinking, and can only deal with a few ideas at a time, while older children are able to engage in brainstorming and have the ability to understand the theoretical implications of similar experiences they (or you!) have encountered in previous problem solving attempts.

    4. Evaluate Proposed Solutions Based on Your Family’s Values: This step is relatively self-explanatory. Asking questions about the ramifications of possible solutions according to your family’s moral or ethical system will help to instill your family's values in your child. If a kid wants to deal with Johnny’s ill-advised teasing at school by asking all the other kids to ignore Johnny at recess the next day, you might want to ask the following questions: “Would that be fair?” “Would it work long-term?” “How would Johnny feel about that?” “Is there anything else you can think of?” Hopefully, a less absurdly ineffective plan can be devised. Luckily, talking through problem solving in the context of your family’s values is a classic example of two birds/one stone: if you try to encourage your child to practice an abstract ethical system in a theoretical context, you are figuratively throwing a very heavy stone into an endless void. Young kids have little experience with hypotheticals and abstract concepts, but inspiring your little ones to see these values at play in a situation they are currently dealing with is an incredibly effective method of teaching your child about ethics and simultaneously solving the problem at hand!

    5. Help Your Child Choose A Solution: The final step in Dr. Gottman’s problem solving system is the one with the greatest potential to empower kids dealing with difficult situations. While enhancing their abilities and confidence in thinking for themselves, you should feel free to give advice and offer up anecdotes from your own experience in dealing with similar problems. Talk about what worked, what didn’t work, and why. Once you have agreed upon a mutually satisfactory solution, you can brainstorm a plan for its implementation. Remember that we all learn from our mistakes! This is not the last time your kid will face a difficult situation, but if you help them work through the problems they experience while they are young, they will be better equipped to deal with more intense predicaments later in life.

    On Wednesday, we will discuss ways in which you can use Step V of Emotion Coaching in working through tough moments in the Digital Age. We encourage you to practice putting Dr. Gottman's five key steps of Emotion Coaching together. See the difference this research-based system can make in your own family. If you want to find out more about raising emotionally intelligent kids and teaching them skills they can carry with them from toddler years into adulthood, see Dr. Gottman's clinically recommended book, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.

    Until Wednesday,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    You may have heard the old adage, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” In today’s cyberworld, children are being exposed to messages that teach them apathy, not empathy. Today’s media and culture can confuse kids, leading them to believe that it’s okay to behave in ways that demonstrate a lack of basic care and respect for other people. To routinely turn away from and against bids for attention and intimacy (only too easy online!) and to be complicit in a culture that devalues the effortful act of turning towards. To see bestowing their full attention upon another human being as a significant favor. Their actions have a great deal of potential to hurt others - particularly other kids.

    If left unexamined, constant exposure to online culture may impede the development of social skills. And the inevitable transference of online social habits (frequent participation in quick, short exchanges that substitute efficiency for complexity and depth) can cultivate tactlessness and thoughtlessness - a perfect set up for a life of unhealthy, disconnected relationships with others, universally defined by a lack of ability to relate.  

    We can see indifference around us every day. In the Digital Age, it has become normal to behave in ways that previously wouldn’t “fly.” Think back to the last time you were forced to watch your conversation partner “multitask” – their eyes flitting back and forth between your face and the screen of their phone, the nonstop interruptions raising the hair on the back of your neck. Think about how you felt. Now think about how you might have felt if you were six.

    As adults in this situation, we may take offense, but (although we may understand the reason for our distress) be hard pressed to think of the right thing to say or do. There's no script – and our mounting frustration detracts from our ability to communicate about the intricate structures of cause and effect underlying our emotional response. But the bottom line is, for the most part, we have the ability to identify our emotions and quickly put a finger on the source of our displeasure. A six year old, a ten year old, even a sixteen year old, may not.

    Having been raised in the culture of the Digital Age, older kids may understand – that is, they may not be surprised by their conversation partner’s behavior, having learned from previous experiences to expect nothing less – but their feelings may not have “learned.” Kids may not have learned to recognize what, in particular, is causing them to feel upset. And they may not yet have learned the skills necessary to process rudeness differently, according to our new social conventions (if you know where we can learn these skills, please contact us immediately)!

    It’s far too easy for young ones to get lost in the social ambiguity of the Digital Age - and to stop thinking of inconsiderate behaviors they see online as rude or unacceptable. They may begin to doubt the validity of their expectations, experiences, and feelings. They may begin to question their understanding of what it means to be present with each other. And, like us, they may begin to judge themselves.  

    So if we want to talk about Emotion Coaching, focusing on Step 5 (healthy problem solving in upsetting situations), our conversation must take into account the challenges intrinsic to the high-tech world our kids are growing up in. We need to think of ways in which endless exposure to social media and communication technology in the Digital Age may get in the way of the lessons we try to teach so that we may tailor them accordingly.

    Throughout next week, look forward to a discussion of ways in which you can help your kids to engage with, process, and adaptively react to their emotions when put in these confusing situations. To help them see that their hurt feelings are not their fault - that they should expect no less respect and consideration from their conversation partners online than they expect face to face. To guide them with self awareness, empathy, and love, drawing from your own experience and values... and from the 5 Steps of Emotion Coaching!

    Have a great weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

    PS: Don't miss special holiday discounts from The Gottman Store! All card decks are only $10 until Sunday. Check out the Gottman Gift Guide for more information.  

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    Virtual communication seduces us, offering a myriad of momentary pleasures as the immediacy of response provides instant gratification. A dopamine rush. Our opportunity for contact in the online world begins to be seen as a triumph over the constraints of face-to-face interaction. Mainstream culture increasingly questions the cost of spending more time, more thought, and more emotional energy on flesh-and-blood intimacy: "It’s just not worth it!"

    This is a fallacy. An illusion of convenience, efficiency, and fluidity.

    Online, one often feels pressed for time, obligated by social codes that equate a lack of instant response with rudeness. These codes ironically invite the unpleasant consequences of speaking before you think, as minor mistakes and unfortunate word choice create friction and hurt feelings. Children who grow up in this social context are well positioned for social confusion. If they didn't feel so pressed for time, they might take a moment to think about the messages they are sending and receiving. Without so much pressure to respond immediately, kids might take a short break from a difficult conversation to get support from those they trust, including their parents.

    Our knowledge of reality comes from the world that surrounds us, and parents can provide their children with perspective to counter problematic perceptions of healthy social conduct gathered from online interaction.

    If you think it may help your kid to enjoy healthier social interactions, have a conversation with them! Flying interminably through online and offline worlds with unparalleled ease, we may feel that the Digital Age has given us the gift of fluidity. In reality, the sense of time pressure created by this "efficient", "convenient" online system provides fluidity only in sustained carelessness. The continuous state of distraction created by the system may deprive kids of the ability to be fully present with each other, affecting their power to build and sustain close friendships: to give one another attention, gain confidence in their bond, achieve mutual understanding, experience commiseration, feel a deep sense of connection. Along with the benefits of virtual communication come real challenges to personal relationships – a persistent sense of urgency can cause serious damage. Talk to your kids about these challenges in whatever words feel right. Invite them to share their experiences and listen to what they have to say. Empathize with them. Use the 5 Steps of Emotion Coaching!

    Encourage your children to take breaks from social media, to find ways to overcome the challenges presented by the Net both online and offline. Support prosocial behaviors and encourage them to use online communication to initiate offline interactions. 

    Encourage them to sometimes think of the internet as we thought of the telephone, as a tool to have a conversation arranging a face-to-face meeting. To gather in person, spend time outside playing games, enjoy sporting activities, create or build something together, study, connect, and get to know the real human being beneath his or her online persona.

    But we'd like to make something clear: we are not declaring war on technology. We recognize the many benefits of Digital Age methods of communication, particularly for staying connected. It is easier than ever for our children to carry on conversations with their friends, even if they are miles apart. They are able to share their experiences with each other through photos and videos on their smart phones. Kids can send each other articles, news stories, and buzzfeed lists that they find funny or interesting. They can support each other in school by sharing resources they find online. They can send text messages and tweets to each other, letting their friends know they are thinking of them and showing that they care (in 140 characters or less!). Digital Age communication presents a medium for a different form of intimacy, not necessarily non-intimacy.

    As parents, we must help our kids to find the balance between the offline and online.
     Even if we follow the 5 steps of emotion coaching with our children, we will not always be present to recognize expressions of emotion and help to label them with words. Thus, we must empower our children to manage difficult Digital Age problems independently. Later this week, we will share some strategies for doing just that.

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Regardless of age, the entanglement of virtual communication and social media is transforming our experience of reality. Though we are predisposed to empathize with one other in the flesh, the digital experience can feel less compassionate. Online, we disappear. If we feel lacking or inadequate, or desire an outlet for frustration, we can use complete anonymity to our advantage.

    Dr. Julie Gottman has this to say: “People sometimes use technology as a mask – so that they don’t have to be looked at and don’t have to make eye contact with anyone else. They don’t have to feel the other person’s tension or convey their own. They don’t have to suppress it or deal with it in any way. So there is an addictive quality here, because this technology allows you to hide. It’s like alcohol – people who are feeling inhibited and afraid of real conversation might drink to disinhibit themselves. To be more honest, feel more connected. It becomes more and more stressful to have real face-to-face interaction.”

    Online, without nonverbal cues – without the ability to look into someone’s eyes, observe their body language, hear the fluctuations in their tone of voice – we cannot intuit intention or vicariously experience their feelings. A sense of right and wrong, responsibility for one’s actions, can easily vanish. And even if intimate connection is desired, deep emotional attunement becomes effectively impossible. In its stead, we are granted the opportunity to reconstruct ourselves.

    We can edit idealized online personas, projecting confidence and omitting reference to perceived human flaws. We can spend months developing a satisfying digital self – a pleasing specimen without imperfections or limitations, and naturally, without necessity to experience negative feelings. There is little room in the midst of all of this perfection for genuine intimacy or authentic connection. In the wise words of Jeremy Rifkin, “There is no empathy in utopia, because there is no suffering.” (See video below!)

    This transformation of reality is, in the long run, unhelpful –particularly for kids, both online and offline, as it may deprive them of deep relationships with their peers in critical stages of development. After all, trying to connect with a friend over a subject you care about is risky in an environment characterized by disconnections and abrupt interruption. The continuous sense of distraction and urgency in the digital world can spill over into non-virtual reality, and leave kids feeling isolated – their attempts to turn toward repeatedly thwarted by a culture of commotion and disruption.

    In turning away, even unintentionally, a conversation partner broadcasts disrespect and disinterest. If you’ve given this person complete attention while they were speaking and they see your response as an opportunity to, for example, respond to the texts loudly accumulating in their phone, you may feel hurt and embarrassed. You might interpret their lack of focus as an indication that what you have to say isn’t interesting enough – you may even feel that you aren’t worth listening to. Disappointment, resentment, and self-doubt can build up pretty quickly.

    As parents, here’s what we can do:

    We can explain to our kids that online interactions are like in-person interactions, but you don't get to see the person. So when you’re talking to your friends on the Net, it’s kind of like talking to them with your eyes closed – just because you can’t see their face doesn’t mean that they aren’t real – and that they don’t have feelings. It’s like at school, when the teacher says, “Everyone close your eyes, now whoever did x raise your hand.” People will do things online that they wouldn’t do face-to-face, because they would be embarrassed or afraid of the consequences. Anonymity and the sense that what they are doing isn’t real allow them to act in ways that are hurtful.

    Bottom line: Online or offline, your children should treat others the way that they would like to be treated. Talk to your youngsters about their experiences, asking questions like these:

    1. How do you feel when your friends don’t respond to your text messages?
    2. How do you use technology to communicate with your friends?
    3. Do you prefer to talk on the phone or text?
    4. What do you think is the best way to communicate with me?
    5. Do you ever feel vulnerable when using social media?

    In our next post, we will share some ways in which you can set an example for your kids both online and offline. Being a great role model (and Emotion Coach) means getting in touch with yourself and making decisions that line up with your values, modeling good communication skills and positive choices  – strengthening your relationships with your kids and building their confidence in the Digital Age.

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    In his bookThe Shallows, author Nicholas Carr warns of the dangers of modern day "cybernetic blurring of mind and machine," which "may allow us to carry out certain cognitive tasks far more efficiently," but also "poses a threat to our integrity as human beings." In expanding on these thoughts, he quotes the late Marshall McLuhan, philosopher of communication theory:

    Alienation… is an inevitable by-product of the use of technology. Whenever we use a tool to exert greater control over the outside world, we change our relationship with that world. Control can be wielded only from a psychological distance... [and] an honest appraisal of any technology, or of progress in general, requires a sensitivity to what’s lost as well as what’s gained. We shouldn’t allow the glories of technology to blind our inner watchdog to the possibility that we’ve numbed an essential part of our self.

    Cybernetic blurring?  Inner watchdog? What are Carr and McLuhan talking about? 

    It’s a good question. We’d venture that they are hitting upon a phenomenon that is becoming distressingly familiar to cultural anthropologists and social scientists alike: the unconscious trade-off we make every day in our virtual interaction between connection and communication, understanding and utility, empathy and efficiency. Our kids are likely to follow suit.

    In the Digital Age, we have become used to these trade-offs. We have begun to do strange things, things that now seem more and more normal, acting in ways that we may not be entirely comfortable with. We are unintentionally teaching our kids by example.

    Throughout her writing and lectures, virtual communication researcher Sherry Turkle shares unsettling stories of “connecting” in the Digital Age – chilling anecdotes from her own life and from the lives of others that illustrate the dangers of taking the norms of today’s high-tech society for granted – snapshots of moments that expose the alienation created by blind acceptance of these norms.

    She writes about a lawyer working in California, far from his family in New York, who finds out about his sister’s engagement through a mass email to her friends and family. She shares his anger and hurt, surprise and disappointment that his sister didn’t call, that she didn’t find a private moment to tell him in person. Turkle writes about a young woman who struggles to defend herself in continuing to spend her weekly Skype dates with Grandma multi-tasking, surreptitiously catching up on her email. Turkle describes her guilt and self-justification. She shares the accounts of countless others who have been shocked, wounded, and confused by careless use of social media, who exemplify the emotional strife incurred by often un-malicious miscalculations in a world of disconnection – of increasingly warped and devolving social expectations that encourage behavior directly destructive to our most cherished relationships!

    “Today,” she says, “Our machine dream is to be never alone but always in control. This can’t happen when one is face-to-face with a person.”

    Turkle’s decades of research on social dynamics can be summarized briefly in the uncomfortable paradox: 

    “Networked, we are together, but so lessened are our expectations of each other that we can feel utterly alone.”

    Sound familiar? It does to us. When it comes to parenting, lowered expectations and increased distances are toxic. What can we do? As parents, have power. With great power comes great responsibility! We can think about our own behavior and become more self aware, especially around our kids. 

    We can remember that they look to us for guidance. We can control our use of media. We can put down our cell phones and computers and stop checking text messages in emotionally charged situations – and in the everyday time we set aside to spend with our children. 

    We can show our kids that we enjoy activities other than staying on the computer and responding to emails – by spending time with them and doing something fun: reading, playing outside, working on hobbies, painting a picture. As they grow, our kids need our patience and attention, not only when emotions run high. Positive intentions don’t cut it. 

    In the introduction to his celebrated book Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child, Dr. John Gottman underscores the importance of this:

    Most parents… want to treat their kids fairly, with patience and respect. They know the world presents children with many challenges, and they want to be there for their kids, lending insight and support. They want to teach their kids to handle problems effectively and to form strong, healthy relationships. But there’s a big difference between wanting to do right by your kids and actually having the wherewithal to carry it off.

    Have a great weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

    PS: Don't miss special holiday discounts from The Gottman Store! Select paperback books are only $10 until Sunday. Check out the Gottman Gift Guide for more information.

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    With Thanksgiving nearly upon us, we break from our regularly scheduled programming on The Gottman Relationship Blog to share an article from The Huffington Post featuring our 5:1 ratio for happy partnerships. We have added additional Gottman commentary and useful links (in italics) for your reading pleasure. 

    In True Holiday Spirit Turn Adversaries Into Allies
    by Kare Anderson

    You can be the wreath that encircles others with genuine warmth. 

    1. Vividly Praise Them in the Presence of Those Who Matter to Them
    Taylor Swift graciously accepted her CMA Pinnacle award on television by thanking country music friends George Strait, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Keith Urban and Brad Paisley by name. She turned and looked at them, then specifically, self-deprecatingly said what she had learned from each of star. For example she said, "Brad Paisley, who I toured with for nine months... I sat on a speaker by the side of the stage and watched him every single night and he was funny, and I'll never be that funny."

    TGI Tip: This step is about showing those you care about affection and appreciation. See our blog on Turning Towards as it can be applied to family interactions and used liberally! When you feel stretched thin, spread thickly and experience the return of good cheer.

    2. Adopt the Attitude That You Want Others Around You to Have 

    "A two-year-old falls down unexpectedly. He isn't hurt but instinctively knows he wasn't supposed to fall," writes Bob Burg in his idea-packed new book Adversaries Into Allies. "He looks at Mom and Dad for an interpretation of what happened. If they laugh as though it's funny, he'll probably laugh. If they panic and act upset, he will most likely begin to cry. In either case, Mom and Dad unintentionally set the frame that led to the outcome," suggests Burg.

    We make that framing choice, consciously or not, many times everyday in our interactions with others. For example, the owners of the above business positively framed their request using unifying humor in the language on their outdoor sign. More people report feeling down than up during the Christmas holidays. Each time you meet someone in person or online, consider that you may be the only angel in that person's life right now. Set the situation for them to feel cared for, in that moment.

    Holiday Hint: In every interaction this holiday, remember that healthy, happy marriages, according to John Gottman, usually have a "magic" 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions -- so why not attempt to exceed that standard in all your relationships? Practice affirming their positive side and letting negative comments or behaviors slide. Be their soft shoulder. A warm smile tends to beget a smile in return.

    TGI Tip: Check out our blog on the 5:1 ratio of positivity to negativity. Remember to express gratitude when others are generous – and to give and receive genuinely (4G!). Be a wreath. 

    3. Brash Friendliness Pushes Us Back Yet Warm Geniality Pulls Us In 

    A warm smile tends to beget a smile in return. Yet an effusive, over-the-top laugh and wide grin, for example, may cause an introvert or someone who has just gone through a trying time to back into their shell. So bring out the friendly, expressive part of you that's close to the energy level of the person you are with. Then you are more likely to close the gap of connection rather than widen it.

    TGI Tip: The next time you are widening someone’s smile, try to notice what you’re doing. Chances are, you are connecting with them by becoming emotionally attuned to their current-feelings-frequency. Stay authentic. Remember that authenticity can’t be achieved without real presence. Remember that real presence can't be achieved without some degree of sanity. Remember that to maintain some degree of sanity, you have to take care not only of others but of yourself. 

    4. Be The Gift They Are Happy to Receive 

    Some people just don't act right, like you. That's probably the biggest cause for friction. Turn that around this holiday with Burg's key insight. While it's extremely difficult to change what others believe you can often avoid conflict, or turn around a fractious situation and sometimes even sway others if you are willing to "work within their belief system."

    Burg cites The Sages of Talmud: "Say little, do much, and greet everyone with a pleasant countenance" then advises that, "instead of talking a good game, actually play a good game."

    TGI Tip: If have gotten this far, chances are that celebrating family is important to you. It’s probably important to those who join you in celebrating as well. As most of us have uncomfortably learned, celebrating family can mean very different things to different people. But at the core, most of us feel that family is about belonging. When we get together for the holidays, we want to feel fulfilled, honored, and connected. We mostly want to feel comfortable and warm, re-experience familiar traditions, and create positive memories. Explore ways to create shared meaning through rituals that include everyone and their shared histories. As Dr. Gottman wisely observes, "Behind every complaint there is a deep personal longing."

    Most of all, remember to take care of yourself! Remember to accept the help of others when they offer it. The holidays are about giving AND receiving. Ask for support. Take a walk. Love yourself. Read this.

    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    In the spirit of Thanksgiving, with family time approaching and the necessity of social grace close at hand, we’d like to give you something that you may appreciate. Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we offer you a Holiday Cheat Sheet - a list of minor bids that will keep you warm and happy and help you to avoid holiday stress.

    Regardless of our intentions, the holidays always seem to be a “trip.” Whether the trip is physical or psychological – whether we’re traveling to see friends and family away from home or filling our own home with friends and family – we have to make adjustments. 

    Uncomfortable as they may be, we usually make adjustments because we care about each other. In an ideal world, everyone would be able to agree about everything and the holidays would be easy as pie. For some reason, in reality, everyone doesn’t agree about everything, and there seems to be no shortage of surprises.

    As most of us have discovered, the truth is: 

    Despite a family’s shared desire to get together and love each other without complication through a series of delicious food experiences, something usually comes up. As the situation unfolds, they think, how did we end up here?

    How, indeed. When placed in unfamiliar contexts, surrounded by people we don’t usually see, and put under internal or external pressure to behave in unfamiliar ways, we feel stressed out. 
    As tension spreads, we are on guard, our senses are heightened, and we begin to feel that no one is listening to us.

    To allay your concerns about bid-identification, we arm you with the following tool from Dr. Gottman's most recent book, What Makes Love Last?. It is a list of minor bids and sliding door moments based on Dr. Gottman’s statistical analyses of couples observed in his famous Love Lab, ranked by average ease of recognition and fulfillment. 

    Prick up your ears and be on the look-out for these – you may be amazed by other people’s reactions to your quick recognition and empathetic response!

    List Of Minor Bids

    1. Pay attention to what I say. “How do I look?” “Did you see that squirrel?!”

    2. Respond to my simple requests. “Could you take Pooh for a walk?” “While you’re up, can you grab the salsa?”

    3. Help or work with me.“Let’s help Grandma outside."

    4. Show interest or active excitement in my accomplishments.“Do you like my drawing?” “How were the cookies?”

    5. Answer my questions or requests for information. “Phoebe’s on the phone, can you give her our address?"

    6. Chat with me. “Let me tell you what happened when he came back…"

    7. Share the events of your day with me. “What’ve you been up to?”

    8. Respond to my joke.“Did you hear the one about…?”

    9. Help me de-stress. “I’ve been cooking all day, I’m so tired.”

    10. Help me problem solve.“Greta wants to go on a walk but my foot hurts.”

    11. Be affectionate.“Come cuddle with me while I read.”

    12. Play with me.“Let’s get the chess board!”

    13. Join me in an adventure.“Do you want to explore the woods tomorrow?”

    14. Join me in learning something.“Let’s go to that ice-skating class!” *

    * Note: A response to the last bid does NOT have to be: “That sounds great! Can’t wait to skate!” if you actually can wait potentially forever. A positive response to the bid simply shows that you “get it” and can sound like this: “You want to learn ice-skating? Cool! Where did that come from?”

    Listening can take many forms. Let’s not forget to be aware of what is happening around us. Let's be observant and attentive if we notice someone’s needs not being met - including our own. 
    And let's remember to give thanks and be grateful for the love we have!

    In the words of Maya Angelou, "When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed." 

    Happy Thanksgiving,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Happy belated Thanksgiving to all of our readers that celebrated over the weekend. We hope you had a good one! If you're enjoying family time and seeing friends, we hope that you’re feeling fulfilled and loved. In the event that you're experiencing/have experienced/expect to experience some of that customary holiday stress, we’ve got you covered.

    We hope that you were able to take advantage of Dr. John Gottman’s List of Minor Bids from Wednesday’s Holiday Cheat Sheet – if you missed it, take a very worthwhile peek here! Today, we move smoothly along into a discussion of sliding door moments in the holiday season. So, what exactly is a "sliding door moment?"

    Sliding Door Moments are seemingly inconsequential everyday moments filled with words we haphazardly throw back and forth at each other, accompanied by the little evanescent pains, frustrations, joys, and laughter, flying through our minds and our hearts, that make or break the most important relationships in our lives.

    In the general fluster of the holiday season, sliding door moments are easy to miss. A great deal of research demonstrates that paying attention to a million things at once is impossible. When we try to multitask, we lose our ability to concentrate adequately on any one thing. We lose sight of what is important and opportunities for intimacy glide away.

    When we busy ourselves trying to make the holidays perfect for everyone and end up ignoring or snapping at anyone foolish enough to interrupt our labors, we let sliding door moments slide right by! Our clipped responses do more than nip conversations in the bud. When we are “snippy” and stressed out, we try to keep interactions trim in effort to stay sane as we take care of business – what we succeed in doing instead is cutting those we care about, lopping their attempts at connection right off.

    And then we wonder, metaphorical pruning shears dangling casually from our fingertips, why Grandma didn’t just say she wanted to go on a walk, why Uncle Max couldn’t have just told us he was on an all bread diet, why Jamie didn’t explain that she didn’t like the Nutcracker. Everyone is frustrated.

    Now we all start snipping and snapping at each other. Bids for connection, attention, and affection are increasingly disregarded. We stop turning towards!

    When turning towards becomes a rare occurrence, Negative Sentiment Override kicks in - read more here! This is illustrated in endless variations on the theme of family dysfunction in holiday movies. 
    Why is all of this happening?

    To begin with, many people feel awkward openly sharing their desires. The holidays, a stressful time for many, often exacerbate this anxiety. In the setting of a family reunion, people might feel uncomfortable voicing their deepest wishes, afraid that they will be judged, criticized, or dismissed – even though traditions, rituals, and ways of doing things over the holidays can be very important to many.

    As the prospect of rejection is unappealing, family members may say something very, very quietly, or not say anything at all. They may say something without words. You may find this exasperating. They are not trying to be unhelpful. But the sliding door moment slides right by, and they remain silent, needs unmet.

    What can you do to avoid this painful mess?

    You can put down your pruning shears 
     and set a positive example. Whether you want to build and strengthen individual relationships or encourage healthy, warm group dynamics, your best bet is to be attentive and supportive – even towards those who have trouble vocalizing their needs. To create an environment welcoming of bids, you have to build trust, demonstrating to others that their bids will be recognized and responded to.*

    Turning towards others and giving people individual attention can go a long way to making everyone feel more comfortable. A comfortable, warm environment can be made safe enough to welcome bids 
     and create great potential for connection!

    Be on the look-out for sliding door moments and take advantage of them whenever possible. Remember to turn towards and connect with those you love!

    All for now,

    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

    * This can be very difficult, as you can see from the examples above. Be easy on yourself. When Dr. Gottman talks about sliding door moments in dynamics between couples, he emphasizes the way that healthy couples build awareness of each other’s style of making bids for emotional connection. In the context of a family get-together, dynamics are different – for example, you may be seeing relatives you haven’t connected with for a long time, whose bidding styles you aren’t exactly attuned to! Awareness is key. 

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    Today, in honor of the beginning of the holiday season, we bring you Dr. John Gottman's 5 tips for filling your holiday season with romance. If they seem familiar, it is because we shared the same tips last year around this time (and we hope you followed our advice accordingly)! In the spirit of creating tradition (Tip #5) at The Gottman Relationship Blog, we've decided to start our own by posting this list each year as a reminder. We continue without further ado.

    If the thought of the upcoming holiday season brings you emotions other than pure, unadulterated joy, we understand. With meals to prepare, gifts to purchase, decorations to put up, and in-laws to entertain, it can be a very stressful time. Don’t let your navigation of the holiday season cause you to inadvertently put your relationship on the back burner! To ensure that your relationship thrives, and that you and your partner enjoy your holidays to the fullest, follow Dr. John Gottman’s 5 tips for filling your holiday season with romance:

    1. Give Love
    On a budget? Instead of overspending on gifts, show your partner your love with a thoughtful, personal gesture. One idea we love: think of 10 qualities you love and cherish about your partner, write them on little bits of paper, and put them in a jar with a ribbon around it. Our favorite part: you can update this jar by adding positive qualities about your partner long after the holidays have passed.

    2. Nurture Appreciation
    Nurture appreciation during the holidays by noticing all of the things that your partner does and expressing your thanks for them. Our research shows that successful couples maintain a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. Simple expressions of appreciation like, "I really enjoyed the conversation over dinner,""you really look incredible tonight," and, "thanks for making the bed!" will go a long way. Making deposits into this emotional bank account will come in handy during times of stress and conflict.

    3. Stay Emotionally Connected
    Make sure to check in with your partner before going to bed by asking questions like, "How are you? How is the world treating you?" Really listen to their concerns, stresses, and frustrations. Don’t give advice, just express empathy. According to Dr. Gottman, it is critical that you show genuine interest, communicate your understanding, take your partner’s side, express a “we against others attitude,” express affection, and validate their emotions.

    4. Make Memories
    Cuddle up with your partner, grab a cup of hot cocoa, and watch your favorite holiday movie. Take a walk down a tree-lined street and kiss under the lights. Make breakfast in bed. Build a fire. Hold each other. Dream. Reminisce. Make sweet memories – they are the ultimate gift you can give to each other.

    5. Create Traditions
    How did your partner celebrate the holidays growing up? Do they have traditions? What are their best and worst memories? What is the ideal meaning of the holiday season in your partner's mind? Have a conversation about how you can honor that meaning this year. Share your own family traditions and create special ones of your own together - for this year, and the many years to come.

    Wishing you love this holiday season,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we bring you an aptly timed Weekend Homework Assignment. If you read our post on Wednesday, Dr. Gottman’s Five Tips for Filling Your Holiday Season with Romance, you may remember the last step: Creating Traditions.

    This step involves having a conversation with your partner about your respective histories around holiday rituals, including sharing memories (best and worst), describing family traditions (favorite and least favorite), and expressing your respective feelings about the real meaning of the holidays in order to come up with special ones of your own this year.

    We hope you get a chance to have a conversation of this nature this weekend (or as soon as possible) – connecting with your partner in this way may save both of you a great deal of stress in the coming month. All families are unique, and the holidays can look different for everyone. Considering the vast variety of ways in which you may choose to come together with others in this holiday season, we share with you an exercise from Dr. Gottman’s highly acclaimed book, The Relationship Cure.

    Make some time this weekend to get together with your partner and review the list of rituals below. Take a moment to select the ones you each want to talk about – we suggest that you mostly focus on any that are currently relevant and of concern. Whether you are stressed out about handling finances, making travel plans, arranging time off from work, having guests over, or having enough time to spend with your partner over the holidays, take this opportunity to address these concerns together!

    Types of Rituals:
    • Waking up, waking one another up
    • Breakfast
    • Lunch
    • Dinner
    • Snacks
    • Leaving one another
    • Reuniting
    • Handling finances
    • Hosting others in your home
    • Special days (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.)
    • Taking care of one another when sick
    • Renewing your spirit
    • Taking vacations or getaways
    • Traveling
    • Recreation, games, and play
    • Dates or romantic evenings
    • Attending sports events
    • Participating in sports events
    • Watching television
    • Attending movies
    • Attending concerts, plays, and other cultural events
    • Religious festivals and holidays
    • Regular religious services
    • Rituals of transition (funerals, weddings, bar mitzvahs, etc.)
    • Attending another’s performance or sports event
    • Doing hobbies
    • Creating art
    • Running errands
    • Doing household chores
    • Participating in community events or politics
    • Doing charity work
    • Doing schoolwork
    • Soothing other people’s feelings
    • Apologizing or repairing feelings after an argument
    • Arriving at your job
    • Doing your job
    • Leaving your job

    Questions to Ask and Answer:

    1.  What was this activity like in your family or with your friends when you were growing up?
    2.  Do you have rituals surrounding it?
    3.  What were those rituals like?
    4.  What did you enjoy about them? What did you dislike about them? What would have made them better?
    5.  What is this activity like in your life today?
    6.  Do you have rituals surrounding it?
    7.  What are those rituals like? 
    8.  How satisfied are you with them?
    9.  What does this ritual mean or symbolize for you?
    10. Does this ritual help you feel more connected or less connected to the important people in your life?
    11.  Does this ritual foster positive or negative feelings towards others?
    12.  What could be done to make this ritual a more positive experience for you? For others?

    The goal of this activity is to reconnect – both with yourself and with your partner – and to share comfort and support. Take turns asking and answering questions, using this as an opportunity to learn about each other, uncover hidden dreams, discover shared meaning, and create new rituals celebrating your dreams and values this holiday season.

    Have a great weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    The day after Thanksgiving, an online publication from Middletown, Delaware ran an article titled “Emotional Wellness: an attitude of gratitude has many benefits at home and at work.” In the spirit of the holiday, Dawn Schatz, LCSW, DVS wrote about the importance of expressing appreciation and respect in all kinds of relationships, citing our 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions needed for a happy marriage. 

    Throughout the month of December, The Gottman Relationship Blog will abound with tips for the holiday season. It seems fitting to begin our discussion with a look at Schatz’s article, as the perspective and practice of gratitude is essential to strengthening our relationships with those we love. The article is reproduced for you below. See the original article here.

    Emotional Wellness: 
    An attitude of gratitude has many benefits at home and at work
    By Dawn Schatz, LCSW, DVS

    "I want…", "I wish…", "I'll be happy when…" 

    Sound bites from a toddler? No, just statements we say or hear on a regular basis. It's common for many of us to focus on what is lacking or scarce, versus awareness and appreciation of what actually exists. Gratitude is paying attention to what we have, rather than what we don't. During this month of Thanksgiving, there is always an emphasis on gratitude. In fact, if you use Facebook, your news feed has undoubtedly been filled this month with "30 Days of Thanksgiving" updates and you may be adding your own. This is great but what about the other 11 months of the year?

    Establishing a regular practice of gratitude doesn't need to end with the upcoming holidays. In fact, people who develop a practice or habit of acknowledging gratitude experience very real benefits such as higher levels of joy and optimism, increased compassion, increased connectedness with others, and even stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure.

    A common way to begin a regular practice of gratitude is to start a gratitude journal of some sort – notebook, e-tablet, phone, computer, voice memo, any form. Take time each day to acknowledge and record anything you are grateful for. There are no limitations to what you can be grateful for: a sunny day, a loving relationship, family, health, hearing your favorite song, a smooth ride to work, dependable friends, food on the table. Take care to write in the affirmative, e.g. "I'm grateful for…" rather than "I'm grateful that I'm not…" Feel free to be repetitive but challenge yourself to add at least one new item each time.

    Share your gratitude: make a habit of genuinely thanking someone on a regular basis. You can even take it a step further and pen an old-fashioned (and probably unexpected) thank you note.

    Gratitude is not only important for our individual well-being but for our relationships as well. Drs. John and Julie Gottman, renowned couples therapists, have been researching marriages for several decades and have consistently found that marriages with a high ratio of positive to negative interactions (5:1 or more) have the highest rates of intact, satisfying marriages. Teaching couples how to demonstrate appreciation and respect is one component of their model of couples therapy, having found that appreciation is an antidote to contempt created by hurtful or negative experiences.

    Other relationships also see the benefits of practicing gratitude. Take work, for example. Most of us work because we need a paycheck, however, there are often other motivations including fulfilling a sense of purpose and accomplishment. In the workplace, many employees report that feeling appreciated by their employer and/or co-workers promotes their sense of self-worth, greater emotional investment in their work and fosters a more trusting environment.

    In our relationships with our children, we can demonstrate and model gratitude in our interactions with them as well as with others. We can teach them "thank you" by expressing appreciation towards them and by expressing appreciation for others. Emergency vehicle racing down the street? Share with your children, "I'm thankful for the men and women willing to risk their lives to save others in need" and/or "I'm thankful that we have these people to help us stay safe."

    Practicing gratitude is beneficial, requires little time or effort and is free. I challenge everyone to make it a priority long after the Thanksgiving turkey is gone. Thank YOU for reading!


    How does your family express gratitude? What kinds of things do you do to show each other appreciation and respect? What can you do to practice gratitude in the coming month? We’d love to hear your thoughts! Join the discussion on our Facebook page

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we’d like to talk about bank accounts. 

    Nearly every book, article, or blog written about holiday stress invariably turns to the subject of money. Holiday spending can feel hollow and burdensome, but ultimately unavoidable, so we end up spending hours every year picking through often-meaningless trinkets, dealing with the stress of budget limitations, standing in line with increasingly insistent headaches, and hemorrhaging money at the register. This is our obligation.

    Businesses using the holiday season to boost sales barrage us with messages that stand in stark contrast to the values they purportedly defend; The corporations driving modern consumer culture want us to believe that - in our most intimate relationships - money creates meaning and cash communicates care. Spending dollars proves our love to those we hold dear.

    But we know that money is not the currency of love. Can’t buy me love! In today’s blog, we suggest some alternatives:

    Instead of focusing on making financial withdrawals this year, let’s work on making deposits into our emotional bank accounts, showing friends and family how much we care by giving them our time, personal attention, and affection.
    Instead of shopping to show our love, let's spend our few precious hours of free time connecting with our loved ones.

    Think about it – what are some of the best gifts you’ve ever received? Chances are, they didn’t cost obscene amounts of money. They likely weren’t even store-bought. Instead of overspending on presents this year, consider giving your loved ones something more personal: A meaningful experience. A great day. A beautiful memory.

    Here are some examples to think about:

    • Your daughter, Emma, loves jewelry. Instead of springing for that shiny necklace or bracelet, consider a beading kit that you can use to create pretty things together. Say, friendship bracelets. Celebrate your bond!
    • Your little boy, Peter, loves trains. Instead of buying your budding engineer that expensive model train set, consider one that’s well within your budget and make time to set it up and play with him! Ask each other questions: Where did the trains come from? Where are they going? Who are they carrying? Make up stories about the passengers. Celebrate imagination!
    • Your husband, Joe, loves camping. Instead of wildly overspending on that beautiful tent you’ve been eyeing in the latest edition of his outdoorsy catalog, suggest a weekend get-away. Just the two of you under the stars. Celebrate romance and adventure!
    • Your sister, Amy, the perennial activist, is becoming increasingly concerned about violence in her part of town. Instead of buying her a book or scarf this year, look up a community class on self-defense. Suggest taking it together. Celebrate learning and self-care!

    Look forward to this Friday’s Weekend Homework Assignment, in which we will attempt to inspire you by sharing some fun and inexpensive ways to connect with your family and friends over the holidays!

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    As we discussed on Wednesday, the holidays do not need to be a time of anxiety and suffering. While a "perfect" holiday may be unobtainable, we at The Gottman Relationship Blog are determined to provide you with some innovative tips for making the holidays less a source of stress and more a source of connection with those you love.

    In this spirit, today we share all kinds of affordable, family friendly activities to get you thinking. (We feel that many of these are actually more fun than unaffordable family friendly activities.) 

    If you’d rather not see The Nutcracker or A Christmas Carol again this year, this list is your friend. Below are some examples of ways to connect with those you love over the holidays.

    Ways to connect:

    • Attending free concerts
    • Attending sing along shows
    • Going to fairs and festivals
    • Participating in or watching community parades
    • Doing arts and crafts
    • Decorating things – the house, presents, each other
    • Going to workshops
    • Checking out holiday story-time at local library
    • Having your own holiday story-time
    • Playing games at home
    • Going to an ice skating rink
    • Making gingerbread houses
    • Looking at the holiday lights and decorations in the neighborhood 
    • Visiting extended family
    • Getting together with family friends
    • Taking a road trip to the mountains
    • Marveling at the beauty of nature
    • Making favorite holiday foods
    • Watching favorite holiday movies

    Don’t be afraid to do your own thing and make up your own rituals. One of our readers, for example, shared with us their holiday tradition of getting together and baking cookies for family friends and extended relatives. Rather than buying everyone commercial gifts, they are able to use this fun activity as family time – and simultaneously show the recipients of their homemade cookies how much they care! A gift with a personal touch is always appreciated. Another reader shared that their family follows the modern Jewish custom of going out for Chinese food and a movie on Christmas day. Regardless of religious persuasion, families all over the world can enjoy partaking in the holiday spirit - celebrating love, friendship, and togetherness.

    In short, we recommend that you make the holidays your own this year. Color outside the lines! Celebrate whatever makes you and your family feel good. Don’t feel obligated to stress out. Take this time off as an opportunity to get together, make music, play games, and enjoy each other’s company!

    Have a great weekend,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    In our last blog posting on Friday, we shared a list of fun, inexpensive ways to connect with your family and friends over the holidays and discussed the importance of creating your own rituals of connection. Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we’d like to give you a little more food for thought!

    We begin with the obvious: engineering a holiday celebration that will make everybody in your family happy can be exhausting.

    In an atmosphere filled with stress, in fierce pursuit of some unattainable vision of perfection, it’s all too easy to lose all sense of meaning – to feel like you are trying very, very hard but still ending up going through the motions. This year, we recommend that you try this:

    Think of the holidays as a chance to celebrate whatever makes your family unique. Think about your shared philosophies, values, sense of humor – and what kinds of rituals might further your identity as a family!

    In his celebrated book The Relationship Cure, Dr. Gottman shares this advice:

    Create holiday rituals that express your family’s own unique likes and dislikes. This adds to children’s sense that participation in the celebration strengthens their ties to the clan. (“Our family thinks having a dead tree in our house at Christmas is a dumb idea. We buy a live one in a pot, decorate it, and then plant it later on.” “Our family loves animals. We always go to the zoo at Passover time and see the new babies.”) Some families create rituals around their own idiosyncratic holidays – an annual drive to the country in the fall to view the autumn color, for example, or a trip to the ocean at summer solstice.

    So take a look at your own family traditions this year. Dr. Gottman suggests that you “weed out those that make you feel harried, worried, or put upon… and cling instead to those rituals that leave family members feeling peaceful, emotionally satisfied, and closer to loved ones.” He also recommends that you check out the following books to improve your emotional experience of the holidays:
    1. The Intentional Family by William J. Doherty, Ph.D.
    2. Unplug The Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli
    What are some of your family's special holiday rituals? What kinds of unique traditions have you experienced? What are some of your favorites? Least favorites? We'd love to hear about them! Share and join in the discussion on our Facebook Page.

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we take a break from our regularly scheduled programming to share an article of interest – an opinion piece from The New York Times. The writer is none other than our favorite MIT professor, Sherry Turkle. Remember her from our recent series on relationships in the Digital Age? See more here.

    In her most recent article, Turkle continues to deconstruct the psychological and social implications of virtual comunication, this time focusing on the effect of the “selfie” revolution on our relationships with ourselves and with others. It is noteworthy that "selfie" was recently named the 2013 Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries. You can read the full announcement here

    Turkle wonders if we can be distracted from our relationship with technology long enough to truly turn towards each other. She explains that, although we constantly put those around us on pause to catch up on the stream of notifications inundating us from cyberspace, "We don’t experience interruptions as disruptions anymore. But they make it hard to settle into serious conversations with ourselves and with other people because emotionally, we keep ourselves available to be taken away from everything."

    Turkle comes up against a lot of criticism, dismissed by some as a proliferator of extreme, apocalyptic prophecies with a personal vendetta against (and limited understanding of) virtual communication. But Turkle isn’t set on globally condemning modern technology. Like most, she celebrates the power of technology to connect people across time and space. But she questions our ability to make and maintain deep, meaningful, and emotionally fulfilling connections in the presence of our devices. She suggests that the endless distraction that they create poses a threat to our very ability to simply and fully enjoy each other's company. 

    The truth is that the completely optimistic outlook with which Turkle began her research decades ago – the belief that technology would give us tools to grow closer to ourselves and to each other – evolved with the evolution of these tools. 

    The stories that Turkle has collected and now shares with her readers provide answers to questions that few feel comfortable asking in public. Many people connect with her message, relieved to discover that they are not alone in experiencing stress as a result of the tech revolution. That others share their frustration with and anxiety about virtual communication. That they are in good company when struggling with the disconnecting effects of connectivity in the Digital Age. 

    The article we share today ends with a poignant call to action:

    A 14-year-old girl tells me how she gets her device-smitten father to engage with her during dinner: “Dad, stop Googling. I don’t care about the right answer. I want to talk to you.” A 14-year-old boy reflects: “Don’t people know that sometimes you can just look out the window of a car and see the world go by and it is wonderful. You can think. People don’t know that.” The selfie, like all technology, causes us to reflect on our human values. This is a good thing because it challenges us to figure out what they really are.

    Think about your own use of technology. D
    o you notice yourself or your loved ones falling into patterns that prevent you from fully connecting? Do you find yourself disconnected in intimate situations  in bed with your partner, on a lunch date with a friend, at the dinner table with your family? As the holidays approach (and even after they depart!) we encourage you, à la Turkle, to take advantage of opportunities to be fully present and turn towards bids for emotional connection. To set aside your cell phones, pagers, and laptops and deeply connect with the ones you love.

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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    In his celebrated bestseller The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, Dr. Gottman talks about the importance of tradition in building and maintaining a dynamic family culture: creating a set of customs (“like Sunday dinner out”), rituals (“like a champagne toast after the birth of each baby”), and myths (“the stories [family members can] tell themselves… that explain what it means to be a part of their group”).

    In developing these traditions and their own micro-culture, families can create shared meaning. By this we mean experiencing a rooted sense of connection through remembering the past while maintaining the flexibility essential to growing together in the future - understanding, appreciating, and encouraging each other in the pursuit of personal and shared dreams.

    But how can we gain this understanding and appreciation?

    Dr. Gottman encourages asking open-ended, directive questions when talking about each other’s dreams. In The Relationship Cure, he names one of his favorites: 

    “What’s the story behind that?”

    Dreams, as Dr. Gottman explains, tend to come with a narrative. A narrative that the dreamer is often more than happy to share if asked nicely by a curious listener! Show interest and you may be rewarded with a great story – and a stronger connection to the storyteller.

    In short, our timing of this post was intentional.

    From Hannukah tales to "A Christmas Carol," the holidays have always been a time for storytelling. Across generations, characters such as Scrooge, the Grinch, Tiny Tim, and Cindy Lou Who have made quite an impression. These characters appeal to our emotions and to our humanity. But beyond eliciting laughter or tears, these characters and the stories that they inhabit also try to define "right" and "wrong" according to their authors' philosophies and cultural backgrounds.

    Family stories often work in the same way, but can have a far more powerful effect! When members of older generations tell their personal stories, they give youngsters a gift: knowledge of their own family’s history and value system (and access to all of those brilliant inside jokes). The family stories that seem to originate in folklore, entirely circumventing the historical, may give newer generations a different kind of knowledge – an understanding of the way their teller sees themselves and their family in relation to the world.

    When we share family stories, we are often able to come to a deeper mutual understanding through emotional connection. We learn about the storyteller and about ourselves. We are tied together.

    Whether we are the storyteller or the listener, we often feel that we are being recognized, given attention and affection, accorded respect and appreciation for our role in the family, our identity, and our connection to the clan.

    Make time for storytelling over the holidays and give each other the best gift possible, 
    the gift of connection to family – reinforced sense of identity, heritage, and shared meaning.

    All for now,
    Ellie Lisitsa
    TGI Staff

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