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Want To Avoid Stress This Thanksgiving? Orange County Expert Has Answers

Dr. Stephanie O'Leary recommends realistic expectations when it comes to family and holiday gatherings. Photo Credit: Contributed
O'Leary said it was inspiring when parents shared with her how the strategies in the book helped to improve their relationships with their children, removing conflict and unnecessary drama. Photo Credit: Contributed

ORANGE COUNTY, N.Y. -- How many times have you witnessed or participated in a power struggle over food at the Thanksgiving table or any special family gathering?

The answer, most likely, is a resounding "more than once."

Stress is high for parents with either packing and travel or cooking and cleaning. But it’s also high for children who are suddenly thrown out of their routine.

According to Stephanie O’Leary, Psy.D of Westchester Psychological Services, recognizing that the holidays may not be completely positive is the foundation of avoiding conflict and disappointment. Creating realistic expectations, instead, allows you to plan ahead, shift your perspective, and manage your own feelings and reactions to your child's experiences.

The Orange County resident and author of Parenting in the Real World (published in 2016) urges parents not to get upset if their child won’t greet Aunt Edna with open arms.

“If you pause to think ahead and recognize that your child is sensitive and may take time to warm up to family members, you'll be better able to navigate the scenario without becoming emotional or overreacting,” said Dr. O’Leary.

Likewise, a family gathering may not be the time to force little Johnny to eat all his, say, carrots, which you know he hates.

“It’s not realistic,” said Dr. O’Leary. “Acknowledging that will allow you to handle Thanksgiving dinner without unnecessary power-struggles between you and your child.”

And when it comes to getting teenagers to disengage from that new appendage they’ve grown? She advises setting limits on screen time.

“Making a group effort to unplug over the holidays is a great strategy,” said Dr. O’Leary.

“If you're traveling, create a fun playlist or get an audio book that the family can enjoy together.”

In practice since 2008 (and in Mount Kisco since 2009), Dr. O’Leary, the mother of two, called the response to Parenting in the Real World overwhelmingly positive. .

She's in fact, working on two new book ideas: one for expectant parents and the other focusing on helping parents tap into their instincts and build confidence with regard to parenting choices and expectations.

The busy mom finds time to write – including a parenting blog – by carefully planning ahead. She admitted to dictating many sections of her book while commuting to and from her office.

Mommy guilt does not stop her.

“We absolutely spend too much time beating ourselves up as parents,” said Dr. O’Leary, “which leads to guilt and negativity.

“The fact is, parents are not perfect. And that’s OK!”

For more information visit or Westchester Pschological Services at 91 Smith Avenue in Mount. Kisco.

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