Holiday Gifts: From Pricy to Priceless

During this time of the year we are all thinking about gifts. So many times we associate gifts with material items. We search the catalogs, malls, and stores to find the perfect gift, only to feel drained and tired. Shopping for gifts may not be as attractive as we thought.

Actually, it may not be the material item that is most important, but what it means to us. We want to express a grateful heart and love. There are many ways of sharing our joy for the loved ones in our lives. For example, Gary Chapman has spoken of five languages of love, of which material gifts are only one. The other love languages are acts of service, physical touch, quality time, and words of affirmation. Watch your loved ones and see if you can
determine language that resonates most with them, then give a gift in that language.

You might want to consider the following:

Physical Touch – Pass out hugs and kisses. They are very easy to give. It lets children know you care about them and is one of the fastest ways to show it. Even cool teenagers appreciate a quick arm around the shoulder and a squeeze when their friends aren’t looking.

Acts of Service – How about cooking? Try baking some foods you remember as a child and tell the family stories that go with them. You might want to note your children’s favorite foods and have a meal around those items. Or, you might want to have a cooking party, when your children or friends gather together to bake and have fun. This is also a great time to give and help out in the community. Check your local organizations for those that need help.

Quality Time – Spend time with your loved ones doing an activity you all enjoy. It could be reading a special book, taking time to listen to their favorite story, or going through photo albums. Your undivided attention is something that often is not put on a list. Nonetheless it is one we all appreciate and enjoy.

Words of Affirmation: You might want to create a poem, or just write up a story of what you have noticed and appreciated over the last year. It helps all to better appreciate who we are.

Physical Gifts. Gifts do not need to be pricy to become priceless. Many small items are meaningful. For example, for very young children, one of the most popular toys are blocks. They are fascinating to children because they can be used to create so many other structures. As we become older a small physical representation of a deeper quality of love can be most meaningful.

Once we become aware of the many ways in which our loved ones can appreciate our gratitude and love, we have many more choices than just shopping. Now isn’t that attractive?

Warm Regards, Dr. Alice

Tips for Managing Family Differences

I recently visited my roots, my family of origin. We had a successful gathering. We enjoyed being with each other, and also had to make decisions regarding our larger family goals, such as managing the family farm. In almost every family, individual members often can have different views. While this can give rise to potential conflict, it can also lead to stronger and more effective teamwork. The challenge is to stay positive, working in individual perspectives, while also looking at the best interest of the whole. Here are three tips for managing differences so as to create success.

Focus on the Positive

Celebrate your strengths. We all have individual strengths and at the same time share deeper values and strengths with the people we love. Recognizing your character strengths, such honesty, love of learning, sense of humor, is important because it focuses on what you love to do that also serves the greater good. Family is a good place to discover and share them. When you can use your strengths to serve a cause greater than yourself, it is deeply gratifying. You can learn more about the power of the character strengths in my article, “The Hidden Power,”

Express your appreciation and gratitude. It builds positive energy, broadens your perspective, and facilitates your productivity and creativity. It will help you become more inclusive, considering the views of everyone, rather than fighting over one solution or another. Over time, the positive is more powerful than the negative. When you express your appreciation, it brings out the higher positive power of life.

Be Aware of the Ghosts

Every family has ghosts. These are old patterns from the past, not fully resolved, that threaten to destroy the family unity and joy. Suspect a ghost if you are picking up negative vibes, gossip, blaming, or a constricted view. Be curious, is this really true? Then work to take positive action. You cannot change another person, but you can change yourself. Facing challenges and choosing to transform them is deeply empowering. A major success in any family is to keep the ghosts away.

Ask yourself, what can I do to create a more positive solution? Often, negativity stems from false assumptions from the past. When you release them, it creates a much brighter future and helps you to communicate more effectively. Even better, the work of any one person in the family has a positive impact on the whole.

If you are having difficulty staying positive, check out Barbara Fredrickson’s positivity website, and take the online test. Fredrickson discovered that experiencing positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio with negative ones leads people to a tipping point towards flourishing and resilience. Successful businesses have a positivity/negativity ratio 2.9/1. Successful marriages have a positivity/negativity ratio of 5/1. If you find your ratio is negative, then look for ways to raise it. If you need help, call me.

Let Solutions Emerge

I have found in my family that decisions are much easier when we have short and long range goals. Some decisions need to be made immediately while others can wait. Think through your priorities and sort out your short-term goals from the long-term goals. Then create a holding space for the longer term goals. When you are positive, this holding space allows for the goodness of life and necessary time for new solutions to emerge. It keeps you minds open, allowing for creativity and resilience, rather than fighting over one or another position. You will be surprised at the success of your ability to work together.

Warmly, Dr. Alice

© 2015 Alice Vlietstra. All rights reserved.

Become Empowered: Accept and Define Yourself

One of the keys to success in your personal life, your family life, and in your business is to be able to accept and define yourself. This is called differentiation. It is your ability to define your own life goals apart from the influence of others. You see it when you stand up for what you believe when others are pressuring you. For example, if you are being pressured by the kids to buy products you are not comfortable, you can firmly and calmly give them an alternative and tell them, “no.”

When you are differentiated, you can remain calm in the midst of upsetting situations. You hold your own, being an “I” while still being connected to the “We.” The ability to stand in our own truth while interacting with others is the basis for effective leadership. When different views are shared, each individual can take leadership according to his or her unque strengths and the requirements of the situation. Effective solutions to problems then can emerge because power and leadership are shared.

One of the best ways for you to differentiate yourself is to identify your unique character strengths. When you clarify them and how you like to use them, you know your area of contribution and can better appreciate the contribution of others. The same strengths show up in all areas of your life, personal, family, and business. It makes it much easier to make meaningful decisions and have mor positivity and joy in your life.

Communication Differences of Men and Women

WHAT Did You Just Say? Communication Differences of Men and Women

“He should just KNOW what I want if he loves me,” she exclaims.

“I TRY to solve her problems, but she gets mad when she’s upset and I give her advice,” he declares.

And both of them think they are right. And both of them have a right to see it that way.

And both of them would be wise to learn to see it from another point of view.

Individuality notwithstanding, the stereotypes are somewhat borne out by research: men are generally problem solvers and women generally want intuitive, compassionate responses. To put it another way, when we approach our partner with a problem, we expect them to react the way our best (same sex) friends do. Or to put it another way: Men “fix” and women “feel.”

“And here’s what you SHOULD do, wife…”

Men most often communicate in order to solve a problem, and they feel a sense of responsibility and love when their partner is upset. What he doesn’t realize is that she is not generally asking for advice, unless she comes out and says so. Instead, she would like to be listened to and valued while she processes her problem verbally. It tends to go something like this:
She: “I got so mad at my boss today.”
He: “Well, you should just quit that job and look for another. Here’s the employment listings.”
When he jumps directly to his solution for her life, she feels belittled, as if he feels she is not capable of adult decisions. She really just wanted him to listen, not solve!
So let’s look at a better way:
She: “I got so mad at my boss today.”
He: “You seem really upset. Tell me more.”

“If you LOVED me you would just KNOW, husband…”

A mistake that women often make when communicating with the opposite sex is called “mind reading:” that is, expecting to just hint, sigh, glare, or otherwise get him to pick up on what she wants. This conversation might go:
She: (sarcastically) “That trash really smells, doesn’t it?”
He: “Sure does.”
Of course, she wanted him to take the trash out, not agree with her! She winds up frustrated and furious that he didn’t bow to the control, hint, guilt and manipulation barely hidden in that remark.

A better way would be:
She: “Would you please take the trash out sometime in the next hour?”
He: “Sure, it’s my turn anyway.”
Women are socialized to be tactful, accommodating, and indirect, but this does not serve them well in the real world. Instead, women (and indeed, men as well) should be DIRECT, BRIEF, and SPECIFIC when asking for what they need. This could save a lot of resentment; we all appreciate honest, courteous, and upfront communication.

So it goes like this: men, you get in a lot of trouble when you offer solutions instead of focused, eye-to-eye, undivided attention and a listening ear when she is sharing her problems with you.
And women, you shut down any hope of getting what you need when you hint, sigh, use sarcasm, or otherwise expect him to read your mind. Instead, be direct (“the trash”), specific (“within the next hour”) and courteous (“please”).

Communication is a skill that must be learned, but the basic principles listed here can go a long way toward each person getting what they want- a “win-win” for all parties.

Family Trouble – Dealing with Difficult People

“It just never works to be in contact with my mother,” said my client as she started our session, wiping away tears. “I don’t want to cut her out of my life completely, but I can’t keep going back to be sniped at again and again.”
This client and I had already strategized ways to talk to mother assertively, addressing the hurtful comments, to no avail. Her mother flatly refused to admit fault or change her behavior.
Our next step was to set strong boundaries of self- protection in specific ways. Here’s a list of ways to do just that. If you have a difficult person in YOUR family, ask yourself:
• Do I want to limit phone calls? Yes/no

• If yes, how many per week/month/year? _________per _________________________

• Do I want to limit time of day I answer the phone? Yes/no

• If so, what are my limits? __________________________________________________

• Do I want to limit the amount of time we talk? Yes/no

• If so, what’s the limit? _____________________________________________________

• Do I want to limit time we spend face to face? Yes/no

• If so, what’s that going to look like? __________________________________________

• Do I want to remove myself when they are inebriated or otherwise inappropriate?
• Yes/no

• Do I want to acknowledge birthdays and holidays? Yes/no

• If so, how? Card phone call visit with others present visit alone
• Other ways to protect myself: ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Let’s discuss your answers in our next session. Together we CAN find ways to protect YOU.

Keep the Romantic Spark Alive

What is the best way to kept to romantic spark alive? Stay positive. Happy couples maintain a ratio of five positive comments to every negative one. One way to focus on the positive is to purposefully honor the good events that happen to your mate and family members as well. When you react enthusiastically to their good fortune, it enhances and increases the pleasure everyone feels. Often, individuals, couples, and families come to me for help because they want my help in removing what they consider unfortunate and undesirable traits in their mates and family members. However, I have not found it helpful to focus on the negative, but rather to change the mindset.

It may surprise you to know that research finds changing your focus to the positive is more effective in promoting enjoyable relationships. It makes it much easier to problem-solve and resolve the issue. By focusing on the unique resources we each bring to the situation, cooperation becomes much more enjoyable. It changes our mindset from “Me versus you” to “we are all in this together.” When you do face stress, consider the following tips:

Tips for less stressful communication:
1. Use a calm voice
2. Be direct and respectful
3. Avoid sarcasm
4. Use “I need” rather than “you should”
5. Ask for clarification if you need to
6. Take deep breaths
7. Call a time out if needed
8. Don’t assume they “just know”
9. Don’t use “you never” or “you always”
10. Take your problems to a licensed therapist if you find yourselves in the same arguments over and over, if names are being called, or there is any hint of violence.
According to, an average wedding costs $26,542. The average cost of six premarital counseling sessions is $800.

Dr. Alice

Ways to Raise a Healthier, Happier Child

Parenting is one of the most important tasks we perform in this life. Most parents have no training or support to do it well. Guidance helps in this often frustrating and yet rewarding experience. Build a solid self-esteem and a capacity to withstand peer pressure for your children. It can lead to lifetime of rewards.

For children, routine is important.  They need a solid structure to best flourish and learn. Bedtimes, daily chores, unstructured play time, and nighttime rituals all help contribute to a sense of security, and free the child to focus their energy on schoolwork and play. Unstructured time to play is critical to a developing child’s mental health and emotional resiliency. Guard your child’s development from over scheduling!

Here are four ways to raise a happier, healthier child:

  1.  Schedule a consistent routine for bedtime.  A child needs about 10 hours of sleep nightly.
  2. Have home responsibilities for your child.  Around age 10-12, they should begin doing their own laundry and contributing to household chores.  This develops independence and confidence.
  3. Present a calm, businesslike attitude when dealing with discipline.  Losing your cool gives the child a power that rightly belongs to the adult.
  4. Focus on your child’s positive traits, especially when it is tough to do so.


Celebrate Family Joy

What is family Joy?  Joy is different than happiness.  Happiness often refers to a feeling of well-being, good cheer, merriment, pleasure, and satisfaction. Joy, especially inner joy, goes much deeper.  More than the sudden joy of a pleasurable turn of events, it can be an inner bubbling that accompanies all activities.

Joy arises from within rather than from an outer source.  Joy shows a capacity for patience and persistence of a positive attitude in the face of adversity.  We experience a deep joy, when we share our compassion for others.  It is a desire to benefit life itself rather than any one particular individual.   It is often helpful to honor the joy that we experience in the family. It takes time to grow and develop.

Children are a joy when we discover the special realities and share the wonder and freshness with they view the world.

A deeper joy may be experienced in the sharing of positive moments and the fulfillment of meeting the routine challenges of daily life.

At the deepest level, a powerful unity is realized in meeting family and community crises together.  It is not necessarily wining or conquering, but the intense reward that comes from discovering the strength and closeness within your family and with your friends.

When we experience all three sources of joy our lives become more deeply enriched and fulfilled. Take time to notice your joy and share it with others.



Become Empowered by Accepting Your Unique Self

In order to feel fulfilled, everyone needs to feel connected, whether as part of a team at work, in our family, or in the community.  It gives us great satisfaction to know how we fit.
While being part of a team or family can be source of much joy and fulfillment, it also can
be a source of stress.  One way to reduce this stress is to honor your unique strengths
in serving the larger group. This gives you the experience of fully being yourself while still
being connected.  Here are three tips for defining yourself.

Reflect on Who You Are

The process of defining yourself is called differentiation. It is your capacity to define your own life goals and values apart from other’s influence.  It gives you the ability to stand up for what you believe when others are pressuring you to go along with theirs.  Murray Bowen, developer of family systems theory, believed that differentiation was essential to your personal health and the success of every group.

When you are differentiated, you can remain relatively calm in the midst of upsetting situations by taking responsibility for your own emotional well being.  It allows you to be an “I” while remaining connected to the “We.”

Identify Your Character Strengths

One way to differentiate yourself is to identify your unique character strengths. Positive Psychology has completed a major classification of the character strengths and virtues endorsed by almost all major religions and cultural traditions.  They have identified 24 character strengths reflecting six basic virtues: Wisdom and knowledge, courage, love and kindness, justice, temperance, spirituality, and transcendence.

Using these character strengths is a major source of gratification in our lives. You can identify your unique character strengths by taking the VIA Signature strengths survey at

Clarify How You Would Like to Use Them

You will discover that you have three to five of these character strengths that you use more than others. Using these strengths brings out your enthusiasm, uplifting yourself and others. Reflecting on how you use them helps you to differentiate yourself.

Then define your values, preferences, and purpose in your groups. Do this for your family or origin, as well as for your current relationships at home and at work. This allows you to be unique while still connected to the larger whole.

When you are clear on who you are, others will know how to interact with you.  It will increase your effectiveness while reducing stress.  Now isn’t that attractive?

How do YOU Talk to Your Child?

How do YOU Talk to Your Child?

DO: Whatever you are feeling is okay.

DON’T: You shouldn’t feel that way!

DO: I believe in you, I know you can handle this!

DON’T:  Don’t be such a baby.

DO: I feel scared (angry, lonely) sometimes too.

DON’T: Just get over it and cheer up.

DO: You have really good ideas.

DON’T: Here’s what you should do.

Nothing is more powerful in a person’s life than the words from their parents. You, the parent, have the ability to instill self-confidence and health OR shame and doubt simply by the words you choose. Learn to discipline by simple consequences rather than  in anger, and speak encouragement to your child on a daily basis. Remember that they believe everything you say about them, so don’t label them. Love them instead.

We are handed our children at the hospital with little or no training in parenting! If your own parents were an unhealthy model, it’s especially hard to know how to break the cycle of poor parenting. Let me give you guidelines and help in this, the most important job you will ever have. Together we will develop solutions for discipline and love that enhance your child’s growth and not injure it.