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HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships
Parents are one of the most important factors in their children’s fitness. You can set the example. Children of active parents are more than twice as likely to be active than those with inactive parents. You also can help your children be active by driving them—or better yet, walking or biking with them—to and from activities, being active with them at home, cheering or supervising their play/activity, and getting the right equipment for their activities. It’s important to expose kids to different activities. Once they find something they like, they’ll stick with it. Above all, make it fun!
Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can be a challenge, especially when trying to juggle the demands of active-duty service, deployments, family, and life in general. Knowing that the next weigh-in is looming can be stressful and can sometimes lead to eating behaviors that spin out of control to become a life-threatening eating disorder. But even if you don’t have a classic eating disorder, you might have what is called “disordered eating.”
“Disordered eating” refers to eating foods or having eating patterns that can lead to serious nutritional consequences such as deficiencies in key nutrients and electrolytes. It can compromise a person’s strength and/or stamina and lead to more frequent illness or injury. This could happen to a Warfighter, spouse, child, or other family member.
Examples of disordered eating include emotional eating, binge eating, night eating, highly restrictive dietary patterns, and avoiding foods considered “bad.” Some individuals use over-the counter products such as weight-loss supplements or laxatives; others participate in excessive exercise as a means to control weight. What starts out as a way to lose a few pounds or tone up could become a serious problem.
If you’re wondering if you practice disordered eating, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you eat in secret?
- Are you terrified of gaining weight?
- Are you always counting calories/carbs/fat grams or some other component of food?
- Do you think your identity and self-worth depend upon your weight and body shape?
- Do you exercise a lot (maybe too much) to maintain your weight or appearance?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you might have disordered eating. It’s important to get help before your problem becomes more serious than you can handle. Nutritional and emotional counseling from professionals—registered dietitians, counselors, and therapists—can help. Support from friends and family is important too. See the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for more information on disordered eating.
Roughly one in five teens is bullied at some point. It often involves hitting, pushing, or teasing, but gossip (both verbal and text) and being excluded are also forms of bullying.
The reasons for teen aggression are complex, but some school and home factors raise the chance of a teen being aggressive: rejection by peers, situations where aggression is socially acceptable, marital conflict and violence at home, feeling rejected by a parent, physical punishment by a parent, and/or parents who let their teens get away with any kind of behavior.
Since teens are still learning how to manage their emotions, aggressive behavior is a clue that they need more skills in this arena. Aggressive teens also are more likely to have problems at school that can follow them to adulthood, so it’s important to find solutions early. And of course, the victims of bullying suffer too.
Parents, schools, and communities can help stop aggressive behavior. Parents can reduce their teens’ exposure to aggression at home by controlling their own anger and outside the home by knowing where their teens are, who they’re with, and setting clear expectations for how to act when parents aren’t around. Teachers can learn to recognize aggression, communicate that it is unacceptable, and seek help/intervene. Schools can monitor areas where aggression is most likely to occur, such as playgrounds, restrooms, and hallways.
Stopbullying.gov (a website developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) offers lots of ideas for how to respond to bullying: Respond quickly and immediately to bullying behavior, find out what happened, and support the kids involved (both the bullies and those being bullied). In essence, don’t be a bystander. To learn more, visit this interactive page. The bottom line is that bullying is not acceptable, but it won’t stop unless you do something about it.
Relationships are important to total fitness—especially intimate relationships. Think back to the beginning of your relationship—was it filled with lots of passion and intensity? Does it still have those aspects?
There’s been a lot written about the different types of romantic love, and how they change over time. One theory describes two main types of love: passionate and companionate. Passionate love involves an intense feeling of longing for one another. Companionate love happens when you feel affection, tenderness, intimacy, and commitment to your partner. Couples with companionate love often also feel a deep mutual friendship, an ease of companionship and a sharing of common interests. Companionate love does not have to include being attracted to each other or sexual desire.
It’s generally thought that couples begin in passionate love and later morph into companionate love. However, research suggests that romantic love that has intensity, interest, and passion can grow and flourish in relationships over the long run. As with diet and physical fitness, moderation is key. Focus (but don’t fixate) on your partner and foster affection, intimacy (both physical and emotional), and a deep bond. It is possible to be with your partner for a long time—and still experience passion and emotional intimacy with him or her! So set the bar high and strive for it. It is not a myth!
Drinking a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time—“binge drinking”—can lead to alcohol poisoning. It’s very serious and can even be deadly. Binge drinking involves more than four drinks for women and more than five for men over a relatively short period. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that an average of six people die from alcohol poisoning every day, with the majority being men between 35 and 64 years of age. Life-threatening signs of alcohol poisoning include seizures, not being able to wake up, fewer than eight breaths per minute, 10 seconds or more between breaths, and low body temperature. If you’re with someone who shows any of these signs, seek help immediately. That Guy, an alcohol education campaign from the Department of Defense, recommends that if you’re ever worried about someone’s alcohol intake, never let them “sleep it off.” To learn more, visit this web page from CDC on “Alcohol Poisoning Deaths.” Not sure how much is too much? Read HPRC’s article, “Had enough to drink?”
As your children head to college, it’s hard to know how much to let go and still support them as they tackle new challenges. It’s a major milestone for both kids and parents, and the milestone is especially relevant for Department of Defense parents (80% of whose children go to college, compared to 66% of graduating high school students in the U.S. with non-DoD parents).
During this transition, “helicopter parents” (so-called because they hover) frequently text or call, continue to make decisions for their children, and directly intervene when problems arise between their kids and other people. It makes sense to let go and give your children “space” as they transition into adulthood. After all, how else is your emerging adult supposed to learn self-reliance and financial independence? But protective parenting instincts can overcome what might otherwise make sense.
Helicopter parenting can essentially be an overdose of previously good instincts. To your kids, it can feel as though you’re trying to control how they act or feel. Even though you have good intentions, your behavior may feel intrusive to them, and it might not be obvious that “solving” your kids’ interpersonal, school, or work crises actually causes problems. In fact, helicopter parenting usually leads kids to feel less engaged with college, more anxious and depressed, and less pro-active.
Here are some tips for less-direct ways to help that also keep you grounded instead of “flying away” as a helicopter parent:
- Resist the urge to make decisions for your kid. Instead, ask open-ended questions to get him or her thinking.
- Ask your kid to set his/her own boundaries for how much he or she wants you to intrude (such as how often to text or call), and accept them!
- Encourage your kid to have direct conversations with other important people such as professors.
- Give tips on how to do things such as grocery shopping (rather than just doing it yourself).
- Avoid tracking grades; encourage your kid to set his or her own goals and sub-goals.
If you are a helicopter parent, you don’t have to change radically overnight. But make sure you talk to your kids about the changes you’re planning, and then gradually make them happen. Give your kids more power and autonomy, such that you become a trusted advisor rather than a dictator. The milestone of college isn’t a time for parents to withdraw completely, but it is a time to trust that some of what you taught your children actually sunk in.
You can think of parenting styles as having two key elements: control and compassion. At one end of the spectrum, you can demand a lot of your child to get him or her on the right track. At the other end, you can let him or her do whatever he or she pleases. Similarly, you can show interest, respect, and caring warmth toward your child, or at the other end of the continuum, show disinterest.
There are four parenting styles that combine these elements:
- Drill Sergeants: These parents are very pushy and not very warm.
- Warm Leaders: These parents are fairly demanding but also warm.
- Teddy Bears: These parents are not demanding and are very warm.
- Ghosts: These parents are uninvolved—neither demanding nor warm.
Why does it matter what parenting style you use? Your style not only affects how your kids are bonded with you, but your parenting style is also linked to your child’s outcome. For example, Warm Leader parents are more likely to have well-adjusted kids who have fewer behavior problems and are less likely to get in trouble.
Parenting styles commonly change over the course of a child’s life; a change can happen because of divorce, life events, or any number of other reasons. So what happens when parents change their parenting approach?
When Drill Sergeants become Warm Leaders, parent-child bonds can improve. When Teddy Bears and Ghosts become Warm Leaders, the bond typically improves and so does behavior. But when Teddy Bears become Drill Sergeants or Ghosts, kids tend to engage in delinquent behavior. In other words, either clamping down hard or dropping out of a kid’s life after being warm but undemanding won’t help your kids become happy and well adjusted.
If you are a Warm Leader parent already, you may need to give your teen more space as he or she matures (which is developmentally appropriate), but overall, keep at it! If you’re not, consider moving towards becoming a “Warm Leader.” To do so, focus on being rational, warm, and consistent in your interactions with your teen.
What do you value? It’s an important question to ask yourself—often.
When you figure out what matters most to you, it can help guide what you do, even when you’re at your lowest. Values help you make big things happen—and little things along the way too.
In identifying what you value, consider aspects of your life now or how you’d like it to be in terms of family, independence, adventure, stability, compassion, financial security, integrity, health, outdoors, and so on. Sometimes a key word or group of words says it all. Sometimes the essence is best expressed in a statement such as, “I am a healthy family man.”
Warfighters know the importance of values. Values are embedded in military life and center on excellence. The Warrior Ethos, for instance, helps Airmen reach and maintain an optimal state of readiness and survive the rigors of operational demands and life in the military.
When you know what you value, and you act in line with that, you experience a sense of clarity. When there’s a disconnect between what really matters to you and your behavior, however, you can either ignore it (through distractions such as drinking, drugs, video games, and reckless behaviors) or you can give yourself a gut-check and take action.
Try asking yourself these questions:
- What do I value most?
- Do I view each day as a chance to better myself and learn from my successes and failures?
- Do I pursue excellence (not perfection) but act with compassion towards myself and others?
- Do I maintain balance and perspective between work and the rest of my life?
- Do I respect other people in my day-to-day life?
- Are my actions in line with my values?
There is no one right set of values, and there is no one right set of answers to these questions. Whether you call it a “New Year’s resolution,” or use a different name, launch 2015 by giving yourself honest answers to these questions and staying on target with what really matters to you.
The smallest acts of kindness and caring can have powerful results for kids of all ages. With everyone so busy juggling multiple responsibilities—especially military families—it can sometimes feel as if there’s never enough time to have meaningful connections with children. But kids still need those moments. A meaningful connection can be a hug, a smile, a loving word, a compliment, or just giving them your undivided attention for a few minutes to listen to a story they are telling, to sing a song, or dance together. Feeling loved in these small moments stays with a child his or her entire life. This New Year, set an intention to make a meaningful connection with any child(ren) in your life regularly. And remember: Adults also benefit from heartfelt connections. Hug your loved ones today.
The holidays are often a flurry of festivities, a time when we interact with more people than usual while at the same time feeling more stressed than usual. When you feel stress, often one of the first outward signs is how you communicate with others. Watch for an edgy tone to your voice and notice if you stop using a lot of eye contact with people who are talking to you. You may even start forgetting what someone just said. These are common signs of stress. This holiday season, go back to the basics: When someone is talking to you, use eye contact; when someone asks you to do something, repeat it back (it’ll help you remember); and think about your tone of voice and body posture (think open and non-defensive). But if you do slip up from time to time, own up to it, ask for forgiveness, have a good laugh, and focus on moving forward and looking at the bright side.