TalkLessListenmoreIf you follow me much, you know that I often offer tips to spark conversation. I do this because intentional conversation with our kids helps them practice their social skills (i.e., turn-taking, speaking, listening, etc.) in an entertaining way that also draws the family closer.

Conversation matters. We build, break and repair relationships through our actions and the things we say to each other. 

But there are moments when it’s more important to stop talking and questioning in order to allow for a meaningful exchange. Maybe that sounds counter-intuitive. Let me give you an example:

I’m an information-gatherer by nature. This isn’t a trait my kids are overly fond of, particularly right after they get home from school.

After all, how would you react if you walked through the door after a busy day only to be greeted by a bulldog interrogator who bombards you with questions like: “How are you? What’d you do today? Did you remember to turn in your library books? Did you remember your homework? What is your homework tonight? Did you get enough to eat for lunch? …Hey, where are you going?”

You could say I’m not voted most popular after school. 

My intentions are innocent. I’m curious about the ups and downs of their day. “Throw me a bone,” I think in frustration. “Don’t just grunt, shrug your shoulders or pass me off with an ‘I don’t know’ or a ‘nothing’ answer.” 

I’ve come to realize that my inquisitive behavior, in fact, pushes my kids away. It’s exhausting to be peppered with a stream of questions. No wonder my son ducks into the bathroom with a book the minute he gets home!

The truth is sometimes people don’t feel like talking because they’re tired, hungry, or just need a break from the intensity of the day. We don’t have to constantly fill the car with chit-chat nor do we have to come up with ways to create conversation around the dinner table if it doesn’t feel right. Silence is okay and shouldn’t cause discomfort. Often it’s nice to just sit with the people we care about and say nothing. Often nothing needs to be said.

And sometimes out of that companionable silence something magical happens. A quiet, simple connection. Kids start to talk about whatever is on their minds, nudging the door open for gentle questions from you.

In a couple of weeks my kids will start back to school. They’ll continue to grow, learn and change. As for me, I’m aiming to turn around my annoying communication pattern by putting aside demanding questions when my kids get home and instead say, “Welcome home! I’m so glad to see you.”

That’s it.

Will this be a challenge? It will be brutal. But, I’m focusing on the rewards. 

I know that I’ll get to ask my questions eventually. I predict that by allowing space for a deep, collective breath–and a snack–we’ll enjoy a more positive, less pressured evening. And just maybe, they’ll throw this mama bulldog a bone. 

How about you? What is one of your habits that you would like to change about how you talk to your kids?

If you know someone who would find this post helpful, please feel free to share it!

“Questions” image courtesy of Danillo Rizzuti at


52 Weeks of Family Conversation

by CMHines4 on June 30, 2015

52 Weeks of Family ConversationSign up to receive a free family conversation starter delivered to your inbox every Monday morning beginning July 6.

Although we may envision summer days as lazy and leisurely, for many of us summer means more time traveling in the car as we head off on family vacations or running kids to various activities and camps. At least that’s my reality this time of the year.

Naturally, when we are forced to sit in close quarters with the hot sun beaming in, tempers are likely to flair. Try switching gears with a light-hearted conversation prompt and invite some thoughtful introspection. You may exit the car feeling enlightened or at least feeling lighter. That’s what good conversation does.

I have created “52 Weeks of Family Conversation Starters” that begins Monday, July 6. When you sign up, you’ll receive a prompt delivered to your inbox every Monday morning. These postcard-style conversation starters feature a different theme each month. For example, July’s theme is “summer fun”. Some weeks I’ll include brief “just-for-fun” or “did you know” facts to go with the question or additional questions below the postcard.

Sign Up Now

Here’s how these e-cards can benefit your family:

  • Enhance small talk skills
  • Encourage your kids to think introspectively
  • Practice listening skills
  • Grow closer as a family
  • Enjoy entertaining, lively conversations

Want to join me in the pursuit of more entertaining family conversation to spark the imagination and grow closer as a family? Then sign up today and receive your first inspiration for conversation on Monday, July 6.


How to Evaluate Games and Apps for Kids

by CMHines4 on May 28, 2015

Raise your hand if you’re like me and have a youngster who loves to play video games. Although screen time is pretty limited in our household that hasn’t dimmed my son’s interest in gaming. Gaming has become increasingly social. Even if kids don’t play the games together, they talk to each other about the games they like.

Needless to say, my son is constantly asking me to download new apps. But he is starting to figure out that the “but all my friends play it” argument isn’t a strong sell for me. I’m a research kind of gal and I prefer to make my own decisions about what games are right for my kids. I’m betting you have a similar attitude.

In this video, I share a few ways I evaluate games to help me decide which ones I’ll agree to download.


Quick tips for evaluating games and apps:

Read the review on the app’s website.

Check out Common Sense, and for independent reviews.

Talk to other parents.

Download, play and review the game yourself.

Play the game with your child to monitor any red flags that can come up.

How do you decide which games are right for your kids? Share your favorite tips in the comments below.


How to Support Those Who Grieve

by CMHines4 on May 20, 2015

Dandelion:samarttiw:fdpIn my network and community, the past few months have been littered with a minefield of broken hearts among family, friends and acquaintances. I don’t mean the passing momentary “ugh, that was a bad day” sort of disappointments, but the kind of soul-crushing sadness that grips us when we lose someone we love to the ethers of forever. When life doesn’t work out the way we hoped and planned, and dreams are forced to adjust.

Maybe you know someone who is struggling to make peace with death too.

As the friends and loved ones of those who are in the midst of painful emotional suffering, we are often left wondering how we can help and worried about what to say.

Our compassion demands that we find ways to nourish them, love on them and gently guide them back out to drink in the fresh air and blink back the glaring sunlight of life. We want them to feel joyful and hopeful again.

But based on my own personal experience, healing from devastating loss and disappointment for what could have been doesn’t happen overnight. It can take months, years or…never. But that isn’t to say those who grieve won’t move forward. Life does get better eventually.

So what can we do to support those we love who are grieving?

  • Tell them you care.
  • Give hugs.
  • Offer support by caring for a child or running an errand for them.
  • Give them space. They may need to retreat at seemingly unexpected moments.
  • Drop off a meal.
  • Deliver ice cream or their favorite treat.
  • Check in regularly without expecting a response.
  • Send a text.
  • Direct message them on social media.
  • Mail a card.
  • Call. Leave an encouraging message.
  • Be patient.
  • Gift them a pedicure, manicure or massage.
  • Invite them out for a walk, a movie or to a small gathering of close friends.
  • Say less. Listen more.
  • Share stories/ask questions to help keep the memory of the one they loved alive.
  • Be aware that anniversaries and holidays can be exceptionally challenging–especially the first ones.

Will you always say the right thing? Maybe not. But showing you care matters more than standing in the shadows and saying or doing nothing at all. Life is about connection. And nothing teaches us that lesson more than death.

photo courtesy: samarttiw/


What Does Mom Want?

by CMHines4 on May 1, 2015

Find the perfect gift idea for mom this year.
2015-05-01 14.21.10

Mother’s Day is right around the corner. If you need a little help coming up with an idea beyond flowers and chocolate (which are always nice, too), here are a few ideas and products that moms I know say they love:

Cooking gadgets. Got a mom who loves to cook? Several moms listed Pampered Chef’s spatula scraper and garlic press among their favorites. Include a cookbook by her favorite chef and a box of oven liners to make oven clean-up a cinch.

Give her the gift of time. Treat mom to gift cards to a cooking or art class; the local gardening store; or a beloved coffee shop, boutique or book store. Nothing beats taking time on her own or with a friend to engage in a relaxing, stress-free activity.

Pamper her. With summer right around the corner, there is nothing more luxurious than making a spa date for her.

Haley’s Corker 5-in-1 Wine Tool. Give mom this clever gadget along with her favorite bottle of vino and she’ll be as happy as a lark.

Camping headlight. Whether she’s an avid outdoors-woman, a late-night reader, dumpster diver or simply needs a reason to freak out the kids, a camping headlight is a hands-free gift idea that will light up her life!

The gift of service. Hire an personal stylist, organization specialist or a cleaning crew to give mom a helping hand this Mother’s Day.

Band-aid Blister Blocker. One of my fashionista friends recommends this product. She says to rub it on your feet to prevent blisters when you show off those new sandals this summer. Pair this product with a gift card to your mom’s favorite shoe store.

Gmail calendar. Get mom set up with a gmail (short for Google mail) calendar and streamline the entire family’s life. One of my newsletter readers recommended this product. She says it has helped her kids learn to schedule things in advance, especially now that they carry their own smartphones. Instead of asking mom about what’s on the calendar, everyone in the family can check it themselves.

Italia Shopper. This is one of my personal go-to products. I almost always forget to bring my reusable grocery bags when I go to the store. But this stylish bag folds neatly up into my purse so it’s always there when I need it.

Norwex Enviro cloth and polishing cloth. A friend whose house looks like a page ripped from House Beautiful magazine recommends this product. (Of course if you give mom a cleaning product for Mother’s Day, you might also want to give her a coupon for a free day of cleaning too!)

A homemade card. No budget? No problem. Every mom loves to feel appreciated and a homemade card with a thoughtful message will be a keepsake she’ll hold onto forever. Moms are sentimental like that. We just can’t help it.

Happy Mother’s Day!


A Book Review of “Home for Dinner”

by CMHines4 on April 24, 2015

Screenshot 2015-04-24 09.40.31Multiple studies find that families who eat dinner together have children who are less likely to engage in drug abuse, experience teen pregnancy and/or drop-out of school. What makes dinner time so special?

“There is nothing inherently magical about dinner, but for most families it is simply the most reliable time of the day to connect with one another. It is this connection that provides a powerful seat belt on the potholed road of childhood and adolescence,”  writes Dr. Anne Fishel in her new book Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun and Conversation for a Happier Family and Healthier Kids.

Distraction-free dinnertime conversation with your children helps them gain richer, more expansive vocabularies–even more so than reading books. And the stories you share with your kids about your youth or other relatives can help them form stronger self-identities as members of something greater than themselves. Through family storytelling, they will be more likely to internalize the values and goals that the family holds dear.

In her book, Dr. Fishel, a clinical psychologist, family therapist, blogger and co-founder of the Family Dinner Project, shares numerous tips, games and recipes that will re-energize your dinner hour. 

Many of the games will appeal to the entire family, including the more withdrawn tween/teen set, like “how well do you know me?” in which each person writes down three answers to three different questions. The person in charge of the questions, collects the slips of paper and reads the answers aloud as everyone else tries to guess who said what.

I purchased this book on my Kindle, but I plan to go back and order the paperback version to make it easier for me to reference the many games and recipes that Fishel shares. Most of the recipes are simple and straightforward and can be done when you are in a hurry. Many are also kid-friendly like making pretzels together that your kids can form into animal or letter shapes or whatever strikes their fancy. Cooking with your kids not only helps them develop an important life skill and encourage the sampling of new foods, meal preparation is an excellent time to work side-by-side with your child and chat together.

Weaving in her own experiences with her two (now grown) sons, her love of cooking and her experience as a family therapist, Fishel’s book is a fun, easy read rich with valuable suggestions that any of us can integrate into meal time. And most importantly, these are proactive ways for us to take advantage of the fleeting time we have with our kids to refocus, reconnect and grow stronger and happier as a family. 


IsSocialMediaAddictionRealExperts debate on whether or not you can become addicted to social media. An over-reliance on anything can affect your mood and your relationships. Since adolescents are by nature glued or “addicted” to their social  network, it can be difficult for parents to know for sure if their tween/teen’s social media use is normal or not.

Problems arise when no boundaries are in place and your child is connected 24-7. An over-reliance on social media can drive insecurities, anxiety and affect mood.

Here are some signs that your child might need a break from his social network.

  • Texting and social media is getting in the way of quality sleep.
  • Chores and other responsibilities aren’t being completed.
  • Experiences excessive social drama, including bullying, exclusion and isolation.
  • Any time your teen is apart from his phone, he gets stressed about what he might be missing out on.
  • Has trouble being present in the moment.
  • Online connections become a distraction from focusing on homework.
  • Poor performance at school and a drop in grades.
  • Prefers online interactions to face-to-face get-togethers.
  • Shows signs of depression.

Take these steps to prevent social media from dominating your child’s life:

  • Role model healthy tech use yourself.
  • Reinforce boundaries like no-tech zones at home, in the car, at bedtime or around the dinner table. These boundaries help encourage face-to-face interaction and help your child concentrate on the present moment or tasks at hand.
  • Periodically have the family take a social media and/or technology vacation. Even a short weekend unplugged can help families reconnect, unwind and create space for other interests.
  • Treat social media as a privilege and take away access if it is interfering in your child’s life. Reintroduce it gradually and monitor carefully.
  • Know which social media platforms your child is using. Have access to her social media account passwords and periodically check in at random. 
  • Keep computers in a centralized location in your home and require all phones to be turned into a main charging station at night.
  • Don’t allow your child to lie about his age. Most popular social media platforms require that users are at least 13 years old in accordance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Your child won’t take you seriously about digital integrity if you don’t consistently insist on following the rules.
  • Encourage your child to get involved in extracurricular activities that nurture social skills.

Portions of this post is excerpted from my book Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World. To learn more, click here.

Do you think breaks from social media are important? Why or why not?


The Upside of Social Media Connected Kids

by CMHines4 on March 16, 2015

The Upside of Social Media  and Kids (3)We are often treated to salacious stories about the shadowy side of social media. And while it is true that bad things can happen (and they do, both online and offline), consider the many positive ways kids can use social media.

As a space for creativity. If your child has a passion for photography, artwork or writing, she might like to post her work on her own blog. Or she could invite a couple of friends and create a community blog. This is good practice for them to set up rules about the content they plan to post, ways to keep their material and themselves safe, and who they will invite to see their blog. They can make the blog public; private for just family and friends; or lock it down for their own use.

Tip: Even if your child’s blog is private, remove geographic identifying information from photos and profile information and have her use her first name or a pseudonym only.

To raise awareness. Some kids use social media to promote causes that are close to their hearts.

A group of Kansas City students, who are part of a non-profit organization for at-risk kids called Minddrive, restore old cars into futuristic looking electric cars. In 2013, using the power of Facebook and YouTube likes and hashtagging on Twitter and Instagram, the team programmed the car to recognize social media connections. Muscled by their social media fuel, they drove the car from KC to DC. The teens not only gained engineering and automotive skills, they learned valuable online and in-person communication skills as they interacted with people from all over the world who were interested in the project.

Tip: Complement tweets and posts with video interviews and short informational clips about the project to educate and share with your audience. This is a great way to practice public speaking skills in front of a camera.

To connect with friends who share common interests. Social media can be sort of like summer camp. Summer camp gives kids the opportunity to hang out with other kids outside of their immediate community who share common interests. They can just be themselves without the baggage of labels and the social barriers that crop up at school. Whenever you spend time with your tribe–people who understand your passion–you grow more self-confident and feel less alienated. 

Tip: Most popular social networking sites require that participants are 13 years or older. Have your teen hang out on the site before diving in to get a feel for the rules, how the moderator manages negativity and to ensure it is a good fit. Social networks for younger kids include and

For learning. With your oversight, YouTube is a fun way for elementary kids to conduct research for school projects or learn more about topics that interest them. Many teachers also use Twitter and Skype to connect their classrooms with experts in the field who their students can interview.

Tip: Set YouTube to safety mode if you are concerned about content your child might view. For more on YouTube safety, visit my recent post.

For your kids to benefit the most from social media, make sure they have firm boundaries in place, keep their interactions positive and aren’t confining their social life to online interactions only. Role model and create a digital citizenship contract with them to ensure that they understand your rules and expectations for online conduct. 

What do you see as the upside of social media?


Teaching Kids Eye Contact

by CMHines4 on March 4, 2015

An old-school communication skill every child needs to master.

HH&H_cover_860x600_strokeEye contact is a critical social skill and a sign of self-confidence. But as we all know, teaching kids to develop good eye contact isn’t always easy. Heck, even many adults struggle with eye contact. And in an era where it is easy to duck behind phones and tablets to avoid social interactions, eye contact is a skill that can easily slip under our radar.

Why eye contact matters. Eye contact helps us form friendships. In day-to-day interaction, it signals polite respect for the other person and shows that you are interested, engaged and listening.

Eye contact can also help keep us safe. People are less likely to see you as vulnerable if you seem attuned to your surroundings and not buried in your phone, lost in space or staring at the ground.

Here’s how to help your child develop stronger eye contact skills:

Ask for eye contact. Look at your child when he is speaking to you and ask that he do the same with you.

Role model. If a peer or adult addresses your child, give her a minute to respond. If she doesn’t, you might gently nudge your child and quietly say, “Mr. Johnson said hi. Can you say hi back?” If you are still met with downcast eyes, ignore your child’s behavior and role model a response. Even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment, your child is watching and listening to how you handle social interactions.Shy

Avoid labels. As tempting as it is, try not to make excuses for your child like, “Oh, he’s just shy.” This label has a way of reinforcing itself, making it harder to help your child develop stronger skills.

Role play when you get home. Pretend to be a peer or adult and practice ways your child can respond politely and appropriately.

Birds(1280x960)Get social. Take advantage of social situations to build skills. At family gatherings, encourage your child to sit with a relative and chat. Practice conversation ideas beforehand to give your child confidence. What are questions she’s always wanted to ask that person? 

Reinforce positive exchanges through praise. “I really liked how you looked at Billy when he said hello to you today.” or “Good job looking at Mr. Jackson and saying thank you when he congratulated you on that great hit in baseball today.”

Acknowledge social skills you admire in others. “Wow, I was really impressed with how Jenny speaks so clearly and looked at me when she spoke to me. What do you think of Jenny?”

Practice at restaurants. Before the server arrives, discuss what your child would like to order and then have him order it himself. Tell him to speak clearly and look up at the server while ordering. Even preschoolers can politely request a glass of milk or juice.


Are you a new parent? Parents who meet their baby’s gaze and speak to them are already nurturing eye contact and conversation skills. As children begin developing their conversation skills, look at them when they speak. Ask questions. By doing this, your child will grow more confident in her ability to express herself.


Developing eye contact won’t happen over night. Patiently practice over and over again and slowly your child will start to incorporate the skills you’ve been teaching.


Take Steps to Protect Your Child’s Online Identity

by CMHines4 on February 25, 2015

Safety is something that happens between (1)Since February is Data Privacy Month, this is an ideal opportunity to share some ways to protect your child’s online identity even if your kids aren’t online yet. Because they have a squeaky clean credit history, kids are attractive targets for identity thieves who can operate undetected for years. Here are some ways to protect your child’s identity:

  • Other than for tax purposes or your child’s school and medical records, few institutions actually need your child’s social security number. Push back on companies that ask for this sensitive information.
  • Avoid carrying your kids’ SSNs around with you or storing them in an insecure location.
  • Set up a Google Alert with your child’s name to help you monitor if she shows up anywhere online.
  • Be careful of how much personal information you provide to company websites. If the company’s customer service is hacked, a child’s birthday, age and place of birth are good starting points for thieves. (It is also a good idea to hide your birth year on sites like Facebook.)
  • Turn off geolocation tags when posting status updates and photos, especially when you post from home. This information can help thieves zero in on your home address. Many financial institutions use home addresses to confirm the identity of their customers.
  • While you may be proud of your child for getting her first driver’s license, avoid posting a photo of her license (or any other documents with sensitive personal information) online. Remind your excited teen of this rule too. 
  • Avoid posting your child’s birthdate, age and place of birth online or in a baby gift registry. Make generic online birth announcements and ask the company to remove your child’s gift registry after you are done with it.
  • Each year run a free report on your child through one of the three credit reporting agencies, including Experian, Equifax and Transunion. If a report shows up, there’s a strong chance that your child’s identity is being used fraudulently. 
  • Finally, before submitting personal information about you or your child to companies, ask them if they are using secure private clouds to protect your family’s information. According to SingleHop, which provides private cloud hosting to businesses around the world, secure private clouds protect stored information and make it harder for hackers to gain access, whether remote or physical.

Wondering how well you are protecting your privacy and safeguarding your personal data online? Try taking this Data Privacy Month Quiz from SingleHop. Let me know how you score! Thank you to SingleHop for providing this eye-opening survey!