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HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships

Distraction-free driving and your teen

As a parent, make sure your teen drives safely and distraction-free this summer.

More teen driving accidents happen during the summer because school is out and teens are driving more—and some are driving while distracted. If the summer sun’s shining and your teen’s asking for the car keys, hand them over cautiously. And do this only after demonstrating safe driving and discussing the danger of driving while distracted.

During the summer months, it’s estimated that 10 people will die each day as a result of accidents involving teen drivers. Distracted driving often leads to crashes. This is especially true for teens distracted by their cell phones, passengers, and other things inside their cars. Anything that takes the driver’s eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, or even mind away from driving is a distraction: Texting and using a cell phone often involves all three.

Distractions impair teens’ driving performance (regardless of their attention spans), reduce safe driving practices, and disrupt traffic flow. If your teen’s friends text and drive—and don’t see a problem with it—your teen is likely to think it’s acceptable and normal.

Discussing the dangers of distracted driving with your teen is an important first step towards prevention. And demonstrating safe, distraction-free driving yourself is key. Teens tend to think their parents are distracted while driving, sometimes more than parents realize.

As a parent, make sure to wear your seat belt, put away your phone, and concentrate on the road. Set driving rules for your teen too (for example, silencing his or her cell phone and putting it away when driving). Review the rules often, and enforce consequences when they’re broken. And ask your teen to sign the pledge, promising to be a safe, distraction-free driver.

Your family’s Independence Day story

Resilient families create shared meanings and stories. This 4th of July, consider what story you tell your kids about our country’s birthday.

Creating shared meanings about events, especially adversities, is a trait of strong, resilient families. So what’s the story you tell your kids about Independence Day? What meaning do you attribute to this holiday? And how might this meaning link to your own personal philosophies about life?

Do you tell your kids a story of overcoming oppression? Fighting for freedom? Is it a story about justice? Or perhaps one about taking risks? Is it about uniting behind a common goal? Or maybe it’s about creating something new? Perhaps it’s a story about everyone being able to pursue his or her own happiness?

Families develop and share common understandings about events that grow from their strong beliefs. Especially in times of stress, shared family beliefs and the meaning families attribute to their struggle can impact how well a family copes. The stories told within families create a family culture and cohesion. It also becomes part of how families assess challenges.

As a parent, you can strongly impact your children’s beliefs and nurture joint understandings. Faced with a new situation, your kids look to you to help them make sense of what they don’t understand. They’re likely to mimic your physical reactions too.

You can create meaning through your own life experiences as well as the explanations you attribute to events and circumstances. The meaning you pass on to your kids comes from your own personal philosophy, morals, and impressions of the world, yourself, friends, and family. 

This 4th of July, think about how you frame the story of Independence Day and what that tells your kids about their country and perhaps about their own family.

Criticism: It’s not all bad

Filed under: Criticism, Mind
Criticism sometimes can be hard to hear, but there are ways to listen and learn from it.

Is it true that it’s easy to dish it out, but not take it? Being on the receiving end of criticism can be tough on anyone—whether you’re at work, on missions, in the classroom, or at home. And for some, it can even provoke anger.

If you think that avoiding or denying criticism, making excuses, or fighting back is the best way to handle things, try to remember when those tactics made the situation worse. When criticism stings, try this instead: Listen to what’s being said, thoughtfully ask for details, and remember that your critic has a right to his or her opinion.

Find a way to use the criticism as a learning opportunity too. Any feedback is useful, even if the lesson simply is that others might see you differently than how you want to be perceived. If you need time to think about what’s being said or time to calm down, try saying “Let me think about what you’re saying” to get some breathing space. And work out a plan to develop your talents and improve your performance.

What makes an effective apology?

You messed up and now you’re trying to “make it right.” Learn how to apologize.

Owning up to your mistakes is important to all relationships, especially close ones. Mistakes often violate trust. But you can apologize and restore that trust, helping others feel secure.

Admitting fault helps you too. Those who actively seek forgiveness tend to be more agreeable and open to forgiving others. And make sure to maintain eye contact when you start the conversation. This lets the other person know you’re fully engaged. The tone of your voice is important too. Be sincere.

Successful apologies contain 6 elements. Be ready to right the wrong and rebuild trust in your relationship. Read more...

Considering divorce?

Contemplating divorce can be stressful and confusing. We offer answers to some questions that might be on your mind.

Deciding to end your marriage isn’t easy. Yet divorce is a reality for many couples. There are many issues to consider because it can have a lasting effect on your family, home, health, and job—but especially your well-being.

  • Which couples divorce? There’s no “typical couple” destined to divorce. However, those who frequently argue and rarely spend positive time together are more likely to divorce. The same couples also risk violence and instability in their relationships. Frequent disagreements over money also are linked to higher divorce rates. Still, couples with fewer challenges divorce too.
  • Can therapy help? Counseling offers a neutral place to talk through your thoughts and feelings. Therapists offer an unbiased view with the intent of finding what’s best for the couple. Counselors also encourage them to consider the impact of their actions and help them explore different ways to think and behave. But counseling is only useful when you’re motivated and committed to work towards change. Don’t wait until things become too desperate before seeking help from a therapist or religious leader.
  • What else is there to consider? If you have children, you’re likely to be concerned about what might change for them and how you’ll help them cope. Give some thought to how you’ll maintain your financial security too. And start now to strengthen your social support—your relationships with friends and family—to help you through the process.
  • Why stay? You might choose to remain in the relationship if your spouse is making efforts to change. Still, it’s important to work together to create your optimal relationship. Some aren’t sure if their marriage will last. But they also want to see signs that reaffirm their love, which sometimes helps them decide to stay.

If your relationship is on rocky ground, consider reframing your thoughts about your spouse. And visit HPRC’s Conflict and Communication FAQs section.

Saluting fathers on Father’s Day

Learn how dads help their children become stronger, healthier, and more resilient.

This Father’s Day, HPRC salutes the many fathers who serve their country, families, and children. Dads play an essential role in families because they teach their kids about being healthy, smart, and kind. And it makes a difference.

So how do fathers teach their kids to become good people? Some dads help their children tune in to their own emotions as well as what others are thinking and feeling. Empathic kids are able to tolerate some degree of anger and guilt. And they use these emotions to look out for themselves and others.

School-age children with involved fathers are more likely to earn better grades and enjoy school. Dads can get more involved by helping their kids with homework and attending school events. Ask your kids about what they’re learning and help foster that curiosity.

Try to volunteer when your schedule allows it too. Coach your child’s sports team or serve as a scout leader. Pick whatever activity he or she enjoys—and your athlete or “mathlete” will shine.

Dads also can help put the fun in family fitness. Organize a bike ride, challenging hike, or fun day at the pool. Fathers with healthy-exercise habits help motivate their kids to be physically fit and active.

Remember to teach your children how to fuel their bodies. Set a good example for your kids to follow. Choose healthy snacks and drinks often because your kids are likely to eat and drink “what Dad’s having.” And ask them to help create your favorite salsa, pancakes, and chili in the kitchen. Make sure to involve the entire family during cleanup too.

Fathers near and far: Thanks for all you do! 

“Bromances” and stress

What does the behavior of rats suggest about how “bromances” might help men under stress?

Close relationships provide social support that can help relieve stress. One type we don’t know much about is “bromances”—close friendships between two men—but how these help or hurt stress levels isn’t clear.

It’s hard to do scientific research on this topic with humans because it would involve intentionally stressing people out to see how they respond. Who would volunteer for that?! So instead, scientists who study human social behavior use rats, which have social behavior very similar to that of humans. To learn more about the impact of bromances on stress, they observed male rat “friendships” under stressful situations. Here’s what they found.

Under mildly stressful situations, male rats became more social and cooperative with other male rats, compared to when they weren’t stressed. The rats’ oxytocin levels increased. They touched and snuggled other male rats more. Under severely stressful situations though, the male rats’ behavior changed. They were no longer cooperative and became withdrawn, isolated, and aggressive.

Of course, people aren’t rats, and one research study is never a good foundation for reliable conclusions, often raising more questions than it answers. However, it can give us “food for thought.” One idea from this study is that bromances seem beneficial, depending on stress level. Your friendships with other guys might help keep mild stress at bay. So spending time with your fellow men just might help you feel calmer.

Yet in severely stressful situations, bromances didn’t serve the same purpose. The rats became disconnected and hostile. Could the same be true for male humans? We can’t say for sure, but men exposed to severely stressful situations that result in PTSD sometimes have similar reactions.

Looking for ways to beef up your own stress-management skills? Check out HPRC’s Stress Management Strategies section. Concerned about your friend’s or spouse’s reaction to stress? Our Post-Deployment section has some resources to help.  

The “I” in team

What strengthens teams? What breaks them down? Find out how your mood and drive to dominate impacts your team’s stability and performance.

Your team wins when you have a good attitude, manage your emotions, and care about your teammates. But your team can break down, especially when members let their talents or controlling ways interfere with reaching team goals.

What individual traits make a team stronger? Managing your emotions can make you a better teammate, unite your group, and help your team thrive. People who deal with their emotions well are often good “team players” because they tend to listen openly to other points of view. And they’re less likely to feel threatened when wrong.

With emotions in check, you’re more likely to be cooperative and open to resolving conflict, instead of avoiding it. Just one team member with a negative outlook can affect the whole team, while those with a “can do” attitude can improve atmosphere and team performance.

What individual traits break down a team? Teammates rely on each other for the team’s overall success, but those with too much talent can break down a team. Teams don’t function well when talent—from one or a select few—dominates the group.

That’s why cohesiveness is essential to solid teamwork. If individuals try to dominate, unity breaks down and can cause arguments over authority. Teams become weaker when members are more concerned with advancing themselves and undermining their teammates, interfering with reaching the common goal.

How do your traits impact your unit? How do they affect your family? Check out HPRC’s Mental Resilience and Family Resilience sections and learn how to become a more effective team member—at work and home. 

Moving in together? Talk finances.

It’s an exciting time when you’re ready to combine households with your significant other. Should you combine finances too? Learn how to start the “money talk.”

Moving in with your significant other is a big step in your relationship—and that often means combining finances. Take some time to explore your comfort level in the relationship and decide what’s best for you.

Sometimes couples have a hard time talking about money, especially if you approach finances differently. What if you’re thrifty, but your partner lives paycheck to paycheck? Or your significant other made some smart investments over the years, while school or job changes kept you from doing the same? Here are some tips to start the “money talk.Read on...

Your military child’s mental health

This Mental Health Month, think about your kids’ emotional wellness and how you can best nurture their mental health.

Military kids are resilient in the face of unique challenges, but also might need extra emotional support along the way. They can experience struggles other children don’t face, such as their parents’ deployment. We don’t know the entire impact a parent’s deployment has on children, but some younger children seem to struggle more post-deployment. And kids mental health problems tend to increase when a parent returns injured.

Some parents or caregivers might see signs of anxiety in 3–5-year-olds with a parent on long-term deployment. These symptoms could include kids expressing lots of worries and repeatedly asking for reassurance. Some might also complain of physical symptoms, such as a headache or stomachache. Yet it’s also possible that some don’t experience any physical or emotional distress during their parent’s deployment. Overall, military kids tend to be resilient when a parent is deployed.

Still, military kids, like all kids, sometimes experience mental health concerns, including thoughts of suicide, anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and cognitive and mood disorders. The percentage of military kids diagnosed with one or more concerns has increased over the past several years. This mirrors what’s happening in civilian families, possibly because pediatricians are getting better at diagnosing and/or referring children for mental health care. 

If you suspect your child needs help, supports and resources are available. Consider using Military OneSource’s confidential video non-medical counseling services for active duty families, including kids and teens. Your children also can connect with other military kids at Military Kids Connect. This site offers help for kids coping with a parent’s deployment too.

In the meantime, visit HPRC’s Family Resilience section for tips on managing family stress and improving family relationships, which are important for kids’ strong mental health.

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