how to make the most of your research time in medical school

Research experience is pretty much a requirement for the competitive specialties. My research experience and letters of recommendation were the strongest aspects of my residency application, and my letters were only strong because of my research. Research created an avenue for a longitudinal relationship with faculty members that allowed them to see me grow as a medical student, to become familiar with my vision for dermatology, to truly get an idea of my knowledge, and to characterize my work ethic.

Related: How to match a competitive specialty, part one

I’ve listed a few tips below to make the most of the time you have in medical school. This post is geared towards making the most of an already decided project. I will do a separate post on deciding when to start research and who to work with. 

If you’ve done successful research previously, I would love if you added your tips to the comment section! 


How to make the most of your research time during medical school

The goal is to do more than expected, better than expected with grace and a smile 🙂

Do your research (see what I did there??)

The worst thing that can happen is to sit down to type up your manuscript only to find that someone has done your project better than you or someone has done the exact same project and made suggestions that you didn’t implement. Doing a thorough literature review will allow you to design the best study and save you a lot of headache down the line. Take organized notes during your preliminary lit review so that you can refer back to them and save time when you write your final manuscript.

Start early

Ideally, your IRB proposal should be submitted and accepted before your dedicated research period begins. If not, you’ll waste weeks of your limited time waiting for approval to come in. Also, prepare any documents you’ll need for your research. In the best case scenario, you start data collection within the first few days of your dedicated research time.

don’t put all your eggs in one basket, but don’t take on too much

I was advised that I should have approximately three projects going on at the same time. Research has a natural pace, and unfortunately, often that pace is stalled. However, it’s important to know what your primary project is. If you sign on to do side projects with different mentors, make sure those mentors understand what your main project is. Don’t just go signing on to anything you can get your name on though. It’s important to exceed expectations and that’s not possible if you overextend yourself. I believe firmly that it’s better to do too little and impress one person than to do too much and underwhelm multiple faculty members. Of course, the goal is to do more than expected, better than expected with grace and a smile :).

collaborate with your fellow medical students

One of my best friends and I did our research period at the same time. We worked so well together that our shared mentor actually started to schedule overlap time between our weekly meetings. She would meet with her for 45 minutes then I would join for our shared 30 minute meeting and then we would meet separately for 45 minutes. Collaboration allowed us both to collect more data than we could have done individually. For instance, she agreed to add one extra question to her clinical survey for me to analyze in a separate project. That meant for each patient consented, we gathered data for two studies! It also meant that we got our names on twice as many publications.

Related: Career profile – Brittany – ENT resident 

be organized

With multiple studies with multiple faculty members at multiple time points, it’s going to be really important to stay very organized. So many study documents! So many amendments! Clerical error can ruin a research project and make your PI subject to investigation by the IRB. Keep it together! You’re in the big leagues now. Once, I heard my mentor say to another medical student “Didn’t we discuss doing this at the last minute?” Don’t be that person. 

troubleshoot by yourself, but ask for help when needed 

Different mentors have different styles. One of my mentors designed weekly check in meetings to stay up to date on our shared studies. Another one of my mentors was very hands off and really wanted me to give me room to fly and create. However, when I hit a road block that I could not overcome, he was immediately there to help trouble shoot. Also, don’t be afraid to walk your mentor through a problem that you solved. It gives them an accurate portrayal of how much work you’re putting into the project, and it also serves as a reference point in the future to prevent the next student headache. 

if you happen to mess up, admit it immediately

Research is not just fun and games. It changes the way we practice medicine. Hopefully everything goes smoothly in your research period, but if you happen to make a mistake, admit it immediately. It’s your job to put the purity of your project before your personal reputation. 

There you go! My research period during medical school was one of the most fun experiences of my life and actually inspired me to start my blog. When I returned to clinicals, I missed the feeling of creating a product that affected people’s lives. 

Alright – those of you who have done successful research, please share your tips!

Thanks for reading!


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Don’t Underestimate What It Really Takes To Succeed

It is always an interesting exercise to look back over the past 6 years and analyze how my psychology has changed from employee to entrepreneur. There were so many things I “thought” I understood when I first became a business owner. But, like many aspiring entrepreneurs, what you read in books and what you see from a distance when you observe people who actually own businesses… never truly prepares you for what it is really like.

Now… I’m in a position to be a mentor and coach to people who are in the same boat I was in 5 or 6 years ago.

As I have more conversations with people looking for advice to get their businesses up and running, naturally I see some very common themes emerging from these conversations.

Among the biggest — understanding what it really takes to become a successful entrepreneur.

(By the way, when I use the word “successful”,  I am talking about someone who can build a business that has sustainable growth and can pay the business owner(s) a healthy salary to live and thrive on.)

Estimation Of Effort – Phase 1

In general I have noticed that aspiring entrepreneurs adopt one of 2 mindsets:

  1. They incorrectly underestimate the amount of effort required to build a successful business
  2. They incorrectly overestimate the amount of effort required to build a successful business

People in group 2 generally talk themselves out of actually “going for it” before they can ever develop enough self belief to attempt starting a business

So for this discussion I want to focus on folks in Group 1…

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably had an experience similar to this.

  • You come up with a great business idea that fits well with your skill set and interests.
  • You know exactly how you want to build and grow the business.
  • You may even have some partners involved and they too buy into the exciting new vision.
  • Before you know it, you start making 3,6,9 and even 12 month sales projections. You are convinced that this thing can write hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of dollars of new business once the market sees what you’ve come up with
  • Your enthusiasm and excitement are through the roof and it feels like nothing can stop you from making this plan a reality

This is usually about the time where the actual work begins. Where you take your visions, plans and ideas and begin working it into an actual business entity that sells.

Soon after this point, the first roadblock occurs. Usually something completely unanticipated. This immediately knocks the enthusiasm level (of you or your team if you have one) in about half. Right away, the big bold sales projections you had drawn up on the whiteboard begin to look more like a dream than a reality.

To make things worse, roadblocks #2,3 and 4 are often right around the corner. Within a matter of days or weeks, what was originally an exciting, motivating, invigorating vision of the future is now looking like a HUGE chore with very little hope of success.

(Note: This happens on all scales from starting a blog to launching a big company.)

This is where 90% of the dreamers are weeded out (I actually have no idea what the percentage is. I’m just guessing but I think 90% is a safe assumption based on my observations and experience).

For the small number that decide to stick with it, THIS is the point where the entrepreneur is actually created. There is a distinct shift in the mindset of the person who proceeds at this point. A committed decision that says “I will find a way no matter what.

“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.”
— George Bernard Shaw

Estimation Of Effort – Phase 2

With enough creativity and persistence, the entrepreneur who sticks with it long enough eventually finds some success. The kind of success that can be replicated and built upon and this is typically where things start turning around and looking more optimistic again.

This new entrepreneur is probably feeling quite proud of himself for sticking with it and making some money despite the fact that things were looking pretty doom and gloom not so long ago.

But it is only the beginning…

A new phase begins where the reality of the situation kicks in and the entrepreneur realizes that the hard work, determination and persistence that was required to make it through phase 1 is actually a way of life for the most successful business owners.

Adopting the entrepreneurial spirit isn’t a one-time event but rather a change in personality. Instead of becoming discouraged by challenge, the true entrepreneur thrives.

Setting Your Expectations Correctly…

If you are in the early phases of your entrepreneurial journey, here are some important distinctions to keep in mind…

1. No matter how good/powerful your idea is, it is going to take a huge amount of effort and overcoming challenge to get your business idea off the ground.

2. Remember that any successful entrepreneur you look at also went through similar struggles despite how easy it may look from the outside. I guarantee you they overcame huge adversity and challenge to get where they are. This should help you respect and admire those entrepreneurs even more (so that you can learn from them with an open mind).

3. Creatively overcoming challenge and thriving in the face of adversity is what makes an entrepreneur. Instead of being discouraged by the challenges that come your way, look at them as your opportunity to practice getting better. Each battle you win (regardless of size) adds more fuel to your success bank.

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Ask Dr Justin – Has my daughter got anxiety?

Dear Dr Justin,

My 10-year-old (nearly 11) daughter gets very anxious. Yesterday she dropped something and said: “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I’m really sorry.” She would have continued if I hadn’t stopped her. She was upset I didn’t buy the right type of ham and said it had ruined her day. Then she can switch and be her normal, happy self.  Is she getting hormonal? Is it anxiety? Could she be bipolar?

For years there have been warnings that depression will soon be – or is – the leading contributor to global disability. We have watched as more and more young people have been diagnosed at earlier and earlier ages. But in recent times the World Health Organisationhas highlighted that anxiety is fast catching up, and is particularly common in our youth – especially girls. Parents are becoming increasingly anxious about their children’s anxiety.


Children with anxiety worry persistently, excessively, and unrealistically about things most other kids their age don’t worry about. To be diagnosed with anxiety requires 6 months of this type of worry, where your child struggles to control the worry. They might be restless, fatigued, irritable, struggle to concentrate, feel tense, or not be sleeping well. The worry needs to impact unhelpfully in various areas of their life, and not be explained by medical issues, drugs, or other psychological challenges.

I don’t have nearly enough information from you to identify whether your daughter could be labelled with anxiety (or bipolar). Labels can help in some instances, but at this stage, I’d suggest that a label is not in your daughter’s best interest. So now that we know what anxiety is, let’s be open to other possible explanations for her behaviour.

Physical Factors

Girls experience puberty earlier than boys (on average), usually around age 9-11. Strong emotions (including mood swings, tears, and excitement/elation) are a normal response to the tremendous hormonal and physical changes that are occurring. Children can be scared of puberty. Some mourn as they recognise they’re not a little kid anymore.

In addition to puberty, evidence shows that poor sleep can contribute to the challenges you’re describing. As screens invade our children’s lives – particularly at night – evidence shows they’re sleeping fewer hours than ever before, and also getting lower quality sleep.Setting appropriate limits around screens and getting screens out of rooms, especially at night time, may be helpful.

School Factors

Research suggests that school is increasingly stressful for many of our children. Worries about grades, keeping up, and staying on top of homework can leave children feeling overwhelmed. They might hold it together at school, but then lose the plot when they get home – often over the tiniest things.

Relationships can also trigger big emotions and challenging behaviour. Bullying, isolation, or the cattiness characterising so many girls’ relationships might also be creating the behaviour you’re seeing.

Family Factors

From time to time our children get worried about what’s happening at home. If there is parental conflict or separation, a new sibling, someone being affected by a serious illness, each of these can trigger the behaviour you’re seeing.

Any of these factors, or a combination of these and other factors, might explain the challenging behaviour you’re experiencing without needing to look at anxiety as a potential cause. There might be something medically wrong. Your daughter’s unique personality might be a little perfectionistic or overly conscientious. Or there may be nothing wrong at all, and she’s just been feeling a little ordinary lately.

What do you do?

You can’t control your daughter’s reactions, but you can help her to work through them. I’d suggest that you take a validating, empathic approach to her outbursts and struggles. This will be helpful whether she has anxiety or not.

When she becomes deeply apologetic, play “guess that emotion” by saying, “You’re worried you’ll be in trouble because you dropped the plate.” Name what she feels. Then instead of correcting her (or getting her in trouble for being clumsy), hug her. Tell her you love her. Ask if she needs a hand. Be supportive.

When she is upset that you bought the wrong ham, do the same. “You’re frustrated that I bought the wrong ham. That’s so annoying. You want honey ham and I bought the smoked stuff. That’s so frustrating isn’t it.”

You’re not saying it’s ok. You’re just letting her know you get it. The reality is that you probably get emotional when you drop something. Or perhaps you feel frustrated when you are hoping for one kind of chocolate and your hubby buys you a different one.

See the emotion as a chance to understand, not reprimand. Get curious, not cranky. Connect, label the emotion, and be there for her. (And if she needs space or is non-responsive, back away and leave her for a while before trying again.)

Validation and empathy can help when life gets overwhelming for young kids (and even for us big kids). Our children want to do the right thing, and they want things to be right. Our understanding and compassionate responses to their challenges and mini-meltdowns go a long way to helping them regulate their emotions and respond well to the challenges they experience.

If things continue to deteriorate and you see evidence of anxiety, seek professional help.



The post Ask Dr Justin – Has my daughter got anxiety? appeared first on Dr Justin Coulson’s Happy Families.

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150 Conversation Starters for Couples That Will Make You Feel Closer Than Ever

Inside: Here are the 150 best conversation starters for couples according to experts who study happy relationships. Bonus: These questions for couples are actually fun.

Every evening, my husband makes dinner while I bounce the baby on my hip and field the older kids’ requests – the 10-year-old needs me to sign a field trip form, the kindergartener wants to know how to spell “donuts,” and the toddler asks for a pre-dinner snack, doesn’t like my answer, and throws an epic tantrum.

In between all that, my husband and I do our best to keep a grown-up conversation going.

He’ll be telling me about something frustrating that happened during his day, but with all the interruptions, I end up saying, “What was that?” approximately 57 times just to understand one story.

Or I’ll be explaining how in the school pickup line, one car looked broken down – then when I drove past it, I looked over and saw the dad in the driver’s seat catching up on some apparently much-needed sleep. But I never get to the punch line because two of the kids decide to have a screaming contest.

So most of the time, we just give up on grown-up conversation until it’s time to sit down to dinner.

It's hard to have a couple conversation when your kids are around

But You Know How That Goes…

At dinner, we bring out some special conversation starters so we can reconnect with the kids.

This little set of family conversation starters is our number one favorite trick for getting our whole family talking, thinking, and laughing together.

And all that is awesome, except for one thing.

When dinner is over, my husband and I still haven’t been able to reconnect as a couple and have a grown-up conversation without the kids interrupting.

Then the Parental Marathon Starts

From the moment we all get up from the dinner table and until the kids are in bed, my husband and I are chasing down clean jammies, engaging in power struggles over brushing teeth, nagging the kids to stop splashing water outside the tub, and on and on.

We can’t catch a breath. And that grown-up conversation we first started a couple hours ago? Still a no-go.

But by the time we tuck the kids into bed – and then tuck them in again and again – we collapse on the couch and can’t even remember the conversations we’ve been trying to have all evening.

It’s like after the whole homework-dinner-bedtime routine, our brains don’t work.

The kids used up every last coherent brain cell, and all that’s left of us is two empty shells who are capable of binging Brooklyn Nine Nine on Netflix and not much else.

Daily couples conversation is important, but it needs to be easy

But Here’s the Big Problem

My husband and I have both been through divorce. We know the consequences of not making time to reconnect as a couple – and we’re fierce in our resolve to keep our relationship strong.

And engaging in daily conversation – real uninterrupted grown-up conversation – is one of the best ways to keep your connection healthy and strong.

That’s because research shows that knowing your partner’s thoughts, life history, and feelings not only deepens your bond but also protects your relationship when stressful events or conflicts come into play. In fact, the number one determining factor in whether couples feel satisfied with their marriage is the quality of the couple’s friendship.

For example, in one study of couples after the birth of their first baby:

  • 67 percent of couples experienced a decline in marital satisfaction, while
  • The other 33 percent didn’t experience this decline.

But here’s the kicker: half of the couples in the second group experienced an improvement in their marriage – even while coping with the stress of having a newborn to take care of.

The difference? The couples who thrived went into the experience with a deep understanding of each other’s thoughts and feelings.

And that’s not something you can get done one day and check off your list for the rest of your lives. You’re both constantly growing and changing, so you need to stay updated on your partner’s world on a regular basis.

Because the research shows that couples who have engaging conversations every day are better able to handle the stress of parenting life and stay connected.

Related: How to Reconnect With Your Spouse Like Magic…Right Now Printable

The problem? Most conversation topics for couples are boring and cheesy

So…How Can Two Busy Parents Make That Happen?

I knew we couldn’t keep letting our conversations fizzle out. We needed a way to reconnect quickly at the end of the day even when we were both exhausted.

So I went searching for the best conversation starters for couples on Amazon. I ordered two different sets, and when the first one arrived we busted it open that night and asked the first question.

But the first question was about as engaging as watching baby bottles drip-dry. So we skipped to the next question, and the next, and the next.

The questions were either boring, something you might ask in a job interview, or so cheesy I couldn’t bring myself to even read them out loud.

Then the next set from Amazon arrived, and those questions for couples were on par with the first set. I mean, “Describe your pediatrician when you were growing up”? Um, no.

Where were the conversation starters for real couples that would actually bring us closer together and help us reconnect after the daily stress of parenting life?

Which Questions for Couples Actually Work?

Those couple conversation starter duds made me realize I didn’t want just one random person’s idea of what makes for “fun” questions for couples. I wanted a set of conversation starters made up of questions designed specifically to help you reconnect as a couple.

So I set out on a quest to find out which conversation topics for couples will make you feel closer, according to the latest research on happy relationships that stand the test of time.

As I researched, I started keeping a list of questions for couples. Questions proven to strengthen your relationship and bring you closer together, even during busy or stressful times.

And after a few months of research, I had collected the 150 best conversation starters for couples. Not according to me, some random mom. But according to the experts who study successful and happy relationships.

Download these questions for couples to reconnect quickly

150 Conversation Starters for Couples That Will Make Your Relationship Stronger Than Ever

You can download your set of the best conversation starters for couples right here.

My husband and I have been using these questions for couples throughout the last year, since our youngest was born. Anytime we sense a disconnect, we’ll grab a question and ask it. Instant connection, every time.

The questions force us to slow down, look each other in the eye, and really listen to each other.

Sure, sometimes we have to kick the kids outside or sneak away to the bedroom for a few minutes just to have a chance of being able to hear each other’s answers.

But that’s a small price to pay for keeping our marriage healthy and strong.

What Makes These Conversation Topics for Couples Different?

These questions for couples are inspired by the latest research on how you can make your relationship last. And not just “last” but how you can make your relationship thrive.

Specifically: What can bring you and your partner closer together? What will make your marriage a happy one? And how can you keep the flame burning – or spark it again if it’s gone out?

For example, here are a few tidbits from my research that informed which questions for couples made the final cut:

  • Happy couples celebrate the happy moments, no matter how small, even when they’re going through hardships. That’s why you’ll find several questions in this set that will help you reflect on the positive and celebrate that together.
  • Happy couples regularly try new things together. And so these questions for couples help you identify opportunities for making that happen, whether that means something big like taking ballroom dancing together or something small like trying a new taco food truck you’ve driven by a hundred times.
  • Happy couples are intimately familiar with each other’s worlds, including childhood memories, major life events, and secret hopes and dreams. Because of that, these couple conversation starters include questions to help you discover your partner’s history and what’s most important to them.

These couple conversation starters give you a practical way to put all the best expert advice on happy marriages to work in your daily life – without having to read a teetering stack of books on relationships. (I did that for you!)

Related: 7 Simple Things That Will Keep the Spark Alive When You’re a Tired Parent

These conversation starters for couples actually *work* to get a fun conversation going

How to Use Your Conversation Starters for Couples

To save you some time, these conversation starters are designed so you can print them on pre-perforated business card templates and just pop each one out (see below). But regular ol’ paper and scissors work just fine too.

  1. Download your cards here. After you order, you’ll get a special link to download your cards.
  2. Print. I designed them to print on the Avery 8869 business card template. Or you can just print them on regular paper or card stock, then cut the cards out or fold and tear to get a charmingly casual look.
  3. Pop the cards into an empty bowl or spare mason jar, put it somewhere visible like your nightstand, and you’re DONE. Or to take it one step further, you can hole-punch them in one corner and put the whole set on a book ring like this. That makes the cards super portable so you can throw them in your purse or your car for a long car ride.

8 Easy Ways to Use These Cards to Reconnect Immediately

In the last year, I asked several friends and extended family to help me beta test these conversation starters for couples and report back.

As it turned out, all those love experts really did know what they were talking about because these questions helped our beta test couples feel more connected and in tune with each other in just a few minutes a day.

But what surprised me is how many different ways people came up with to use these conversation starters for couples! Here are a few situations where you can use them for an emergency dose of couple connection:

  1. Make pillow talk. Keep the cards on your nightstand or on your pillow, then ask a new question every night before bedtime. You can take turns asking the same question, or you can each ask a different question.
  2. Send a text. Surprise your partner by texting them a question in the middle of the day. One caveat: If you know your partner will be in meetings or unavailable all day, best to skip this approach so you don’t feel like they’re ignoring you!
  3. Go old school. Get a nice blank journal like this one that comes in tons of colors and several different paper styles like ruled, dotted, squared, or blank. Then pick one question a day and write the question and your answer down. After you write your answer, leave the journal on the pillow of your spouse to let them know it’s their turn. They can respond to your answer if they’d like, or just write their answer to the question.
  4. Set a date. On your next date night, throw the cards in your purse. (Secure them with a binder clip or a rubber band first!) Then when you have a lull in the conversation, break out a question to make sure you don’t end up talking about how your kids are overdue for a checkup and that you need to pick up milk on the way home.
  5. Kick the kids out. Once a week, set up a kids’ table outside on your patio or throw a picnic blanket in the yard, then kick them out for dinner so you and your partner can enjoy a quiet(er) dinner inside and ask each other a couple questions from this set.
  6. Pair with a game. After the kids are in bed, bust out a fun 2-person board game like Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne. Then when it’s not your turn, ask your partner a question. Because you’re not staring at each other while you trade questions and the person answering is also trying to take their turn, the answers tend to be straight from the heart without any overthinking.
  7. Go for a ride. If you and your spouse share a commute, bring the cards along and ask a couple questions to pass the time. If you don’t commute together, bring them along on your next road trip or during weekend errands.
  8. Fill a jar. Drop the cards into a mason jar or a bowl, and put it on display in the middle of your kitchen or living room. When you walk by and see the jar, grab a card and ask the question. This one works great for when you’re waiting for the Chromecast or Apple TV to fire up!
These are the best conversation starters for couples for a happy marriage

Sneak Peek! Here’s a Sample of the Best Conversation Starters for Couples

Here’s a sample of these 150 conversation starters for couples that will bring you closer together and help you reconnect – even when you’re exhausted by the daily grind of parenting life.

Get the full set of questions for couples here.

  1. What’s your happiest memory of our time together?
  2. If you could have a do-over for anything that happened today, would you? And how would you do it over?
  3. What’s one time you felt proud of me? Why?
  4. What’s something I do that makes you feel completely loved?
  5. When you’re feeling stressed, what helps you relax?
  6. What’s your favorite way for us to greet each other at the end of the day?
  7. If we could take a day off from all obligations to spend the day together, what’s one thing you’d like to do?
  8. When is the last time I did something that surprised you?
  9. What’s your favorite thing to do together on a weekend morning?
  10. What’s one new activity you’d like to try together?
  11. What’s one thing that would make our next date night exciting?
  12. When you picture our life in five years, what do you see?
  13. What’s your favorite memory of us being intimate? (Yes, the cards include a few saucy questions for couples because that’s an essential part of keeping the flame alive!)
  14. If we could jump in the car right now and take a road trip, where would you want to go?
  15. What are you looking forward to?
  16. What’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you?
  17. What’s the last thing that made you laugh?
  18. What’s your favorite childhood memory?
  19. What was your favorite family tradition growing up?
  20. When was the last time I made you feel good about yourself?


Full disclosure: I might have gone a little overboard on my research, but I took it seriously because I’ve learned firsthand that you can’t take your marriage for granted and just expect it to survive the stresses of parenting and modern life.

Here are a few of the books I read to ferret out these powerful questions for couples:

Those are the main books I reviewed, plus I scoured a ton of articles, blog posts, and research papers, too.

Download now: The Best Conversation Starters for Couples

Your Turn

Do you have any favorite conversation starters for couples? Share in a comment below!

Author information


I’m a mom of four, a recovering perfectionist, and the author of Happy You, Happy Family. Parenting is hard enough without all the guilt we heap on top of ourselves. So let’s stop trying to be perfect parents and just be real ones. Sound good? Join my mailing list and as a bonus, you’ll get 25+ incredibly helpful cheat sheets that will ease your parenting struggles.

The post 150 Conversation Starters for Couples That Will Make You Feel Closer Than Ever appeared first on Happy You, Happy Family.

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How to find the joy in school holidays

School holidays are fast approaching. For the kids, there have been 10 or so weeks of sport, music, schoolwork, sitting still and navigating friendships. For the parents, it’s been 10 weeks of school lunches, finding missing shoes, packing swim gear and signing excursion forms. Our kids are tired from a long term of school, and we’re tired from balancing it all.

School holidays are a chance for families to shake off the end of term blahs and find a bit of joy in their lives.

Here are some ways to do that and make the most of the holidays.

Limit Screen Time

When kids are tired letting them veg out in front of the TV seems like it would be a great mental break. It is true that sometimes the human brain needs a break. When we’ve been focused on a specific task for a long stretch of time, mental rest is crucial to allow the brain to process information it’s taken in.

But neuroscientists know that watching television does not allow the brain to properly rest. While some parts are turned off (analysis and reasoning) other parts are highly stimulated (visual cortex). This prevents the brain from really resting. And other devices cause similar problems in our kids’ brains.

In reality, the trick to mental relaxation isn’t turning off the brain, but changing its focus. And school holidays are a perfect time to do that! Creative activities that don’t cost the earth, and some time to just be bored, are both great ways for our kids’ brains (and ours!) to have a break. Sure, let the kids enjoy some downtime staring at a screen – guilt free. But make sure it’s balanced with other activities.

Get creative with activities

Holidays are a perfect time to do all those things you haven’t had a chance to do during the school term, like checking out that new playground or skate park going out for a game of soccer or a bike ride along the river, or hiking to that hard-to-get-to beach or mountaintop or waterfall.

It is easy to be sucked into spending a ton of money on activities during the holidays. Being proactive, getting creative with activities and doing a bit of planning can help prevent this.

Libraries, museums, art galleries, local councils and even local shopping centres, often offer kid-friendly activities, which are usually free. Community gardens are another great option – especially if you don’t have a garden at home. Explore your local area for other ideas.

The holidays are also a chance to let the kids do all those things around the house there usually isn’t time for. They can stay in their PJs all day (so can you!), make cookies, do crafts or have a picnic out on the lawn. And yes, there will be a mess, but we can deal with that! Kids aren’t meant to be tidy all the time.

Our family holiday rule is that we aim for one family activity each day. More than that feels like overkill. Less often produces whining and complaining. And besides, having fun together is a great way to decompress and find some joy.

Boredom isn’t bad

Being bored is ok! It gives our kids a chance to be creative, to explore, and to learn to deal with what life serves up. It’s not our job as parents to be monitoring every minute of their school holidays and making sure they’ve always got something to do.

Younger kids need more time and attention of course, but as they get older give them space. When they complain that they are bored, give them a chance to find something they want to do on their own. You might have to put up with a little bit of whining, but what a joy it will be (theirs and yours!) when they find something that sparks their interest on their own volition.

Anxiety and stress

Now and then I sometimes find parents and children who find school holidays stressful rather than relaxing. Kids can have anxiety from the change in routine, from being away from their friends or from worrying about next term. This can be especially significant if they are going to be making a change (year level or schools, for example).

Parents often find having to juggle work commitments and additional childcare requirements stressful. There are sometimes additional costs, and of course, more time entertaining regardless of how creative you are.

But there are ways to combat these stresses and worries.

For kids, make sure you maintain healthy routines. Keep them on a reasonable bedtime schedule and eating healthy foods. If they are having worries, talk about those and come up with an action plan. For example, if they’re starting a new school, go for a walk-through of the school grounds. If they’re missing their friends, arrange a play date.

For us parents, try not to overload yourself with pressures at home (and at work). Get out the family calendar and make a plan together. Schedule in some quiet times, and some time for yourself as well.

Life is busy, and we only have so many holidays with our kids. We can really maximise them when we look for the joy life has to offer! In a few years they may not want to stay in their PJs all day with you.

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The post How to find the joy in school holidays appeared first on Dr Justin Coulson’s Happy Families.

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Imagine if you will

Take a minute to think about your favorite food. Imagine how it tastes; how it makes you feel. Maybe it’s macaroni and cheese like your grandma made or homemade bread fresh from the oven, dripping with butter.  How about a baked potato smothered in cheesy goodness? Pizza? Pasta? Cheesecake? Brussel sprouts? It’s comfort food, right?
Now imagine that you are told that eating your favorite food will most likely contribute to poor health and that you shouldn’t eat it. Dang! Here’s the harder part: if you eat said food, you still get the same great tastes and comfort and you don’t feel bad at all! In fact, despite what you’re told, the food doesn’t make you feel sick. There is no immediate consequences to eating your favorite things which makes it that much harder to give it up. It’s like having your security blanket ripped from your hands.
This is what it’s like to live with type 2 diabetes, specifically if you don’t use mealtime insulin.
Here’s another thing that makes this difficult: you are constantly bombarded with the idea that you can eat whatever you want, in moderation. Well-meaning friends and even HCP can tell you that it’s “ok” to indulge from time to time. A little bit won’t hurt! Really? Maybe it will hurt. Go back to thinking about your mac and cheese or pizza or cheesecake; your comfort food. Can you see yourself being ok with just a bite now and then? Well, if you’re like me you can’t. Just a bite of pizza? Get real. And even worse, think about doing without your security blanket for the rest of your life!
People who live with type 2 diabetes often don’t receive adequate education to understand how to make changes and why it’s important. We are often told, ad naseum, about all the complications in our future if we don’t toe the line and yet we aren’t really prepared to make the changes we need to make. I mean, I ate pizza and my foot didn’t fall off! What gives?
My point: (I do have one). Living with type 2 diabetes is hard. Most people aren’t taught how to use their glucose meter to determine how foods affect their BG.  In fact, many are discouraged from checking their BG very often (limited test strips and lack of funds). They are told that they need to moderate and then are chastised if their A1c goes up. “What did you do wrong?” Huh? Society adores food and we are faced with celebrations where we’re supposed to moderate while everyone else does whatever they damn well please. We are stigmatized on social media for being fat and lazy and told that “all we have to do” is XYZ and we’ll be fine! Come on, what’s wrong with you? Eat this way. Walk this way. Just freakin DO IT! It’s not that hard!
Yes, it is.
With all the talk about how to eat in a more healthy way or what diet is best or how we ought to be exercising, no one ever stops to say, “Hey, I bet it’s hard. I’m sorry.” Instead we’re told to suck it up and get with the program.
Think about your favorite comfort food for a minute. Now think about how much you’d miss it if it disappeared from your life.
Hey, I bet it’s hard. I’m sorry.
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Dietary Tips to Improve Your Exam Performance

Although it may not occur as an obvious tip for improving your performance during the exam session, having a healthy diet is crucial. When you are studying, good nutrition often seems to be neglected by students. They are dealing with high levels of stress which makes them fail to understand how important eating healthy it actually is. As they do not want to waste precious time on preparing healthy foods, students often rely on unhealthy foods such as fast-food and snacks.

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Avoid excessive amounts of sugar and caffeine

While studying until late hours, students tend to rely on caffeine and sugar for extra energy.  However, instead of only keeping the energy levels up, an excessive amount of sugar, caffeine and energy drinks affect the performance of the brain to focus on the studying material. Energy drinks and excessive amounts of sugar also can be harmful to your long-term health. That is why it is better to avoid them as much as possible. Instead, you should make sure that you get proper night sleep to help your body and mind to recover and function properly.

Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids

You have probably heard about the health benefits of Omega-3 fats. They play a crucial heart-protective role. However, they also have numerous benefits for your memory and concentration. Studies show that omega-3 fats increase brain volume. Consuming these fats while studying for your exams, your brain’s performance will be significantly increased. Foods such as oily fish, tuna, seeds like chia and sunflower seeds can supplement your diet with omega-3 fats.

Drink plenty of water

It is easy to notice that when your body is not hydrated and you are feeling thirsty, you are irritable and cannot concentrate at all. Drinking plenty of water while studying will help your body stay fresh and healthy.  Moreover, drinks such as coconut water, buttermilk, and some special types of tea will not only ensure the recommended fluid intake but will also provide you with nutrients that trigger a sense of calm.

Eat balanced meals

Large meals are never a good idea, especially when you are studying. Eating large meals can slow you down both mentally and physically. Frequent, yet smaller meals will keep your body and mind well-balanced. They will provide you with a steady supply of energy which will help your brain concentrate on assimilating information.

Manage stress with healthy snacks

When studying difficult subjects and you feel like your brain cannot assimilate any information, the stress levels start rising. When learning about what is dr. cheong’s definition of psychiatry? for your exam, you should also learn how to trick your brain to manage stress. Studies show that when we are eating, our brains perceive it as a sense of security and calmness. That is why when you are stressed and eat a snack you instantly feel more relaxed. So, when the stress levels start rising as you are studying, trick your brain to relax with healthy snacks such as fruits or vegetables.

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My Internet Filter Failed My Kids

Parenting with or without Parental Controls

Dear Dr Justin,

A few weeks ago we found our ten-year-old son looking at an explicit website on his iPad. He says he found it accidentally when he was looking for games and we believe him. We definitely don’t want him looking at those kinds of sites, accidentally or not, so we’ve set up parental controls. But not sure it’s the best way to help our son learn the right thing to do.

This is really a dilemma of modern parenthood. As parents we need to guide our children’s online experiences, allowing them to experience technology while fiercely guarding their wellbeing. We also need to ensure they are developing the skills to make good choices in – both in the offline and the online world.

We want to let them explore, but we need to protect them. How do we do both?

Parental controls

It is worth having internet filters in place. These may help prevent your child from accidentally stumbling onto explicit content. A new study shows that one in five youths are seeing unwanted sexual material online! In reality, it’s probably far higher… because often kids don’t like to admit this stuff. So, anything that we can do to prevent this is a step in the right direction.

But filters really won’t cut it, and here’s why. University of Oxford researchers have found that filters are – at best – ineffective. Having filters in place prevented a chance encounter with online sexual material in only 0.5% of the cases studied. 99.5% of the time, filters made no difference at all.

Think of it like this – you can fence a pool, but you can’t fence the ocean. In the same way, a filter only goes so far to protect our children. Even if filters did work – and they clearly aren’t as safe as we’d like – our kids use other people’s devices all the time. Only around 50% of parents have set up filters for their kids. So even if you do, half of your child’s friends don’t.

And filters are not effective against new technologies. Each time a new way of sharing content is developed, the filter becomes obsolete. And kids can get around filters. If they are motivated, they will.

Have the Conversation

Only about 40% of parents regularly talk to their children and teens about internet safety. Yet, this is the most important tool we have to keep our kids safe. When you know that your child has come across explicit content (or even if you don’t know, but worry that he might have), have the conversation.

Say, ‘Hey, I know you came across that website. At your age a lot of kids are having the same thing happen to them. How did that make you feel? What questions do you have?’

Make sure you keep the conversation age appropriate, but for older kids and teens be as forthright as possible. We aren’t doing them any favours by pretending these things aren’t happening.

And it can be more helpful to have conversation before they see anything. This is called pre-arming. Unfortunately studies show parents usually talk to their kids about serious things like Internet porn (or even sex) after they find out their kids have been involved.

The Three E’s

It will also help to remember the three E’s of Effective Discipline – explain, explore and empower. We can use the three E’s to guide our kids as they navigate a scary online world.


First, explain to your child what you expect. Explain the kinds of choices you want them to make when it comes to internet use. Explain the risks of making the wrong choices. Then give them a chance to join in the discussion. Ask them, why? Why is avoiding pornography important? Why is it important to tell someone when you come across inappropriate stuff online?

The more clearly you explain, and the more input you receive, the more chance that you will get understanding and cooperation from your kids.


Next, you want to explore the issue with your child. You say, ‘Now you know what I expect, but how do you feel about this?’ If they’re giving you opposition, find out why. If they are worried about getting in trouble, explore that with them. It’s all about empathy and perspective.


Finally, we need to empower our kids. This is where we say, ‘OK, I get where you’re coming from, and you know what I expect. Where do we go from here?’ Help them think of options for combating the problem. For example, you could discuss how they can always come to you no matter what if anything online makes them uncomfortable. Engage in a conversation about what the appropriate next steps might be.

In today’s modern online word, our kids WILL be exposed to content that we wish they weren’t. And unfortunately we can’t totally rely on technology to do our parenting for us. But by using our most powerful parenting tools – communication and presence – we can teach them how to make good choices, both online and in the real world.

PS – The government can do more to limit exposure by making explicit content something that people choose to ‘opt-in’ to. This would mean that the content would not be so readily available to our kids. And while the Australian government has been considering this type of framework, so far only the United Kingdom has adopted a process by which internet providers can block pornography. While some argue that this is censorship or limiting freedom of the internet, the online world is not just frequented by adults. Our kids are there too – and we need to protect them. (I can’t find the source, but I do recall reading somewhere that less than 30% of people opt-in to the explicit content… which suggests most people don’t want it… and kids will be safer.)

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5 Benefits of Breastfeeding for Mom and Baby

If you’re expecting to have a baby soon or are planning to conceive, you’ve probably heard that breastfeeding has many benefits. The option to breastfeed is a personal decision to feed your baby in the way that is best for your family. I was lucky to be able to breastfeed all 3 of my children. Today I’m sharing a handful of the benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby to help you make the important decision on what to feed your newborn baby. If you decide breastfeeding is right for you, you’ll want to ready my post on getting started with breastfeeding for new moms.

5 Benefits of Breastfeeding for Mom and Baby

5 Benefits of Breastfeeding for Mom and Baby

Breast Milk is The Perfect Blend of Nutrients

Since breastfeeding is a natural occurrence that allows you to feed baby what your body produces, there’s no comparison for the level of nutrients breast milk provides your baby. Sure, you can try to get as close as possible by using a high quality formula, but the mother’s milk provides baby with the perfect blend of nutrients for baby that automatically adjusts for your baby’s needs.

Mom May Return to Pre-Pregnancy Weight Faster

Moms who are able to breastfeed their baby usually end up returning to their pre-pregnancy weight faster than those who don’t breastfeed. This is due to the fact that your uterus contracts during breastfeeding. This helps it get back to normal size after pregnancy much quicker than if you weren’t breastfeeding. In addition, your body uses energy to create breast milk. It’s burning calories without exercising.

Breastfed Babies May Have Fewer Illnesses

It’s been proven time and time again that breastfed babies have fewer illnesses. Breastfeeding your baby will put him or her at a lower risk for upper respiratory infections, ear infections, asthma and other illnesses that can be quite dangerous for a little baby. This is due to the fact that your own antibodies are passed down through breast milk to your baby to help boost their immune system.

Breastfeeding Builds a Close Bond

Breastfeeding babies get more skin to skin contact. It’s been proven time and time again that the more skin to skin contact a baby gets at the start of life, the more secure they tend to be as they get older. Breastfeeding allows mom and baby to build a deeper bond as they share this moment of nursing together.

Breastfeeding Saves Money

Lastly, one of the biggest benefits of breastfeeding is that it saves you money. Formula can be quite expensive. When you opt to breastfeed your baby, you’re able to spend less money on feeding baby as you don’t have to purchase food for at least the first 4-6 months. Instead of spending part of your grocery budget on formula, you can save that money!

These are just a few of the benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby. Not only does it help build your baby’s immune system and allow mom to get back to pre-pregnancy weight sooner, but breastfeeding the perfect way to bond with baby during that first year of life.

5 Benefits of Breastfeeding for Mom and Baby

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What is the Best Way to Say ‘No!’ To Your Kids?

Hi Dr Justin 

I hate saying no to my kids. I keep softening up, getting talked around, giving in. I’m getting walked all over. How do I set limits and still feel like I’m being a good mum? 


This is important so I’m saying it clearly at the start: 

You can’t be a good mum if you don’t set limits! 

But as you’ve realised, one of the most difficult parts of parenting is saying no. Unfortunately sometimes we have to. Sometimes plans change, or something might not be safe. At times someone else’s needs may matter more, or what our child wants they can’t have. 

And while they might not thank you for it, setting limits is one of the best things you can do for your child. Saying ‘no’ teaches our kids important lessons about life, independence, empathy and getting along. 

Research shows that the best parenting style is one that combines setting limits with warmth. These parents are nurturing and responsive, but set firm limits for their children. They listen to their child’s point of view, but they don’t always accept it. And it works! Their children tend to be friendly, self-reliant, cooperative, curious and goal-oriented. 

So how can we say no, but still let our kids know that we empathise with them? How can we be firm and warm? 

Give them their wish in fantasy 

It’s important to remember that our kids have big feelings… and that’s ok! We might need to limit behaviour, but big feelings are allowed. And while our kids don’t always need us to say yes, they do need to feel heard. All humans are more willing to cooperate once their feelings have been acknowledged. Our kids are no different. 

So when your child wants something that you can’t (or won’t) say yes to, you can still show him that you emphathise. Give him his wish in fantasy. 

Here is an example. Imagine you’re in the supermarket with your child. You’re at the checkout and it’s been a long tiring day. You just want to get out of there and get home. Suddenly your child pipes up, ‘I want a lolly!’ You inwardly groan. It’s just before dinner and you need to say no! You can feel a tantrum brewing. The last thing you need is a public meltdown! 

But it doesn’t have to end in a meltdown. Here’s what you do. 

First, connect with your child. Touch him on the arm, get down to his level and make eye contact. 90% of good parenting is connection. 

Then, give him what he wants in fantasy. Say, ‘I wish you could have a lolly! What kind would you get?’ Hopefully your child will start to calm down straight away, and think about the answer. ‘Freddo Frog’, he might say. ‘Oh that’s a great choice. I would pick lolly, or maybe freckles.’ 

Depending on how big your child’s feelings are, you might need to extend the fantasy. You might say, ‘What if our car was made of lollies, we’d never have to go to the supermarket again!’ Your child might say, ‘The wheels could be cookies!’ 

When you give your child what he wants in fantasy, it shows him that you understand his feelings and you care. Once he hears this, it is much easier for him to transition from overwhelmed by his big feelings, to dealing with a situation that (from his perspective) is less than ideal. 

When you engage your child in fantasy you are speaking to him in his favourite language – play. This reinforces your connection. It also shows your child that even if the world sometimes feels unfair, it is basically safe. This is because he has felt heard and understood. 

But does it work? 

You might be wondering if this really works. I recently received an email from Alex, a guy who sat sceptically in one of my workshops as I described this very principle. 

In the email he says, ‘I had just taken my daughter to swimming lessons when I got a text from my wife asking me to grab a few things from the supermarket. No problem’, he thought. But as he got to the checkout, his daughter, Edie, wanted a lolly. Alex said no, and immediately the tears appeared. 

He says in his email, ‘Hang on, haven’t I heard this scenario before?’ 

So he put the principle into practice. He says, ‘I crouch down and with soft eyes tell Edie that I like lollies too.’ He says to her, ‘What sort of lolly,’ to which she replied, ‘red one’. ‘Oh I like red lollies too’, he says. ‘I like green ones as well. Do you like green ones?’ 

This goes on as they pay for the groceries, and when they leave Edie is calm and happily eating a banana. Alex says, ‘I was already feeling pretty smug about this but then turn round to see the other parent and an old guy behind me in the queue giving me a round of applause.’ 

We might not always get a round of applause but putting this principle into practice will help us through the tough ‘nos’ with our children. They may still want what they can’t have, but we’ll be able to playfully get them through it. And in the process, teach them. 

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The post What is the Best Way to Say ‘No!’ To Your Kids? appeared first on Dr Justin Coulson’s Happy Families.

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