Managing Behavior with Calm Consistency

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Managing behavior in our children is about being mindful and clear about your systems. If you set yourselves up to negotiate and argue, you might find yourselves angry and exhausted. Stop the “let’s make a deal” parenting. Set up rules for all routine behavioral expectations and transitions, such as bed time, getting ready in the morning, homework, bath time, etc. If the system is not working, make adjustments but avoid frequent changes based on mood or manipulation. Inconsistency based on fatigue or fear of your child’s whining reinforces negative behavior.
Here are some tools to help you practice through the summer, until we meet again for a tune-up:

• Meet at least once a week with your parenting partner to establish the rules. It is fine to have mom’s way and dad’s way, as long as the partner stays out of it when not his or her turn. It is fine to have different rules for different children, i.e. “what’s fair is what we decide is best for each of you.”
• Bring your voice down, not up.
• Learn to ignore…leave the tension in their court so your child has to struggle to cooperate.
• Watch your language…”Don’t whine” means they’ll focus on whining. State the expectation, ”Speak in your Benjamin voice.” Resist beginning any statement with “don’t” or “if.”
• Be clear about what is a ‘choice’ and what is not a choice. For example, if you want your children to eat a variety of food, stop making it a choice. Simply make meals and voice the expectation that your child have a few bites.
• There is no need to tie cooperation to rewards, such as toys, dessert, t.v. etc. You run the risk of being trapped in the “If…then” battles. Simply be clear, state the expectations repeatedly (be a broken record) and tie behavior to outcome in a matter-of-fact, “la dee da” fashion. So, for example, “looks like you cannot manage to get in the shower as expected…can you take yourself there, or do we need to call it a night?” The connection between behavior and outcome must be stated without emotion.
• Rather than stating the outcome that involves loss of privilege, practice “moving it forward.” In this manner, for example, when a child is noncompliant, try to resist the ‘threats’ and simply comment on the positive outcome of cooperating, For example, “Four more bites and we can clean up and go outside to shoot some hoops.” Or when your son is sabotaging a game by refusing to lose, “You can say ‘whatever’ in your head and be a good sport…you’ll be back in the game next round.” So, focus on what is up ahead and give a vote of confidence.
• Keep it simple. Behavioral change does not stem from reasoning and laying out the logic. Actions speak to your authority. Stop talking so much.
• Hold up the mirror. Focus up ahead and give a vote of confidence. So, your child is refusing to get in the car to go home. You are a confident authority who is not afraid of a tantrum or public embarrassment. First you state the expectation, then “hold up the mirror” and ‘move it forward” with a “vote of confidence.”

1. Find time to think about the expectations (rules) you set forth. Children need a roadmap, consistency and clarity. Stop making exceptions.
2. Be a broken record. Review rules calmly and frequently.
3. State the expectation, rather than focusing on the inappropriate behavior, thereby reinforcing the power of the negative behavior.
4. Learn to ignore provocation or attempts to throw you off track.
5. Stop talking and reasoning. Breathe and pause more often.
6. Be less reactive. Take the drama out of parenting. Bring your voice down, not up.
7. State the rule. Offer empathy and move it forward.
8. Try not to set yourselves up for opposition. If you have a rule, set up the situation so support the rule.
9. Offer a vote of confidence.
10. Use language that is objective and not personal.

PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE

Remember that children know who is boss by how confident and steady you are. They know whom they can manipulate. Be respectful and reasonable. Revisit any power struggle and restate the behavioral expectation. If you do not behave in a respectful manner, apologize and ‘start over.’

Numb No More! Liberating the heart and spirit for emotional well-being

Thursday, March 31, 2016

How would a person learn to manage feelings after much practice in detachment and distraction? Why learn to feel? Doe that not get us into trouble? Is it not better to strengthen one’s self by NOT feeling?

Conditioning one’s self to avoid feelings is never a good thing. We become symptomatic and best and at worst, numb or walled off. Soon you will have little ability to tap your inner world and know what your heart is needing. So why do so many of us learn to cut off feelings?

Well…that is a big question loaded with cultural complexity. In our family of origin and in our communal circles, we learn a lot of messages about whether to and how to express emotions. What are some of your messages? “Don’t cry like a baby,” “Don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill,” “You are soft,” or today’s teens tell me if a boy is called “sweet,” it is an insult because he is vulnerable.

In the gender-typed socialization of females, the lesson may be that it is good to be self-demeaning and express feelings of doubt, fear or sadness because when you are less confident and secure, you are less threatening to your female peers and thus, more approachable and likeable.

Regardless of the myriad of messages any of us receives while growing up, we all live in a kind of happy-ever-after “Disney World” culture that may have us believing that “happy” is the end goal, leaving many human beings feeling disappointed if not depressed in everyday living.

There is a way to come into being, to connect with your heart and sustain healthy social presentation that is neither too vulnerable nor too stoic. We can manage our emotions and keep our boundaries in doing so. Where to start?

Start with finding quiet space to simple sit and breathe. Yes, breathe…slowly and deeply for a few minutes. Then resort to quiet natural breathing and listen inside for a few minutes. Whatever comes up, be it a thought [cognition] or a feeling, try to acknowledge it without judgement. For example, you may sit in the morning, or tap into your heart while taking a bath or shower. Perhaps you notice, “I am sad about…” or “the frustration from…is still here.” Just acknowledge sadness, fear or anger. You may also notice peace, joy or pride. No need to over think. When you find yourself in your head, move back to your heart and the rhythm of your breathing.

Why do this? We live in a culture that over exercises thinking and doing and dismisses feeling and being. Yet, by feeling, we may release stress through a few tears; we may strengthen ourselves by becoming clear and true to our needs and who we authentically are. This is a private sanctuary that belongs to you. You may turn inward and notice.

Think of feelings as colors that range in tone, such as lavender to dark purple. By tapping the feelings, you practice feeling the richness and by allowing the feelings to flow and move around or be released, you are not stock piling them up and dead bolting them until they bust out in a headache or other symptom. Practicing feeling feelings strengthens our ability to identify and manage affect. As we do so, we have less need to escape or run and hide from our hearts.

Some folks are running so much, they accidentally reinforce a distorted fear about feeling negative feelings, such as sadness or anger. This may result in a big batch of anxiety and depression. So, another benefit of tapping, expressing and releasing feelings is an overall sense of balance. When we are grounded in reality, we are less reactive. We can face the truth about our needs and adjust expectations and behavioral choices in accordance to the emotional needs.

Let’s take feeling guilt. You tap inward and recognize a feeling of guilt related to procrastination. Just acknowledge the feeling and sit with it. You may then be able to move toward a baby step on an action plan. Or say you are sad and have not given yourself sufficient time to grieve a loss. Notice the sad and let it take you where you need to go, whether it is a good cry, writing in a journal or looking at photos of a person you miss.

For folks who have walled off their emotional process and may be trapped in all-or-nothing feeling which means the faucet is either off or on, try rating feelings by number or intensity of color. This can be a way to not over dramatize or distort. So, for example, if what comes up is “I hate work and feel so miserable I want to quit,” see if you can work with it and reform it and do a reality check until you can reframe it to “While there are aspects of work I like and thrive in, there are two things I really need to change either by speaking up or adjusting my expectations…” You may be able to temper the feelings with a broader perspective. In addition, by addressing specific frustrations and asserting yourself or letting go of an unrealistic expectation, you will be better able to except the reality of work frustrations.

Conditioning one’s self to notice and manage feelings is not only doable, it is liberating for your heart and spirit. You can break free from numbness and feel more confident and present within.

5 Tips for Getting Your Sleep Back on Track

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

By Brooke Stipelman, PhD

While the average adult requires between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, a recent survey reported that nearly 30% of adults reported an average of six or less hours of nightly sleep. In additionto making you feel generally sluggish, chronic sleeplessness is associated with a number of negative effects including poor short term memory, lack of ability to focus, emotional volatility, poor decision making, lower sex drive and overeating. With our hectic work and family schedules, however, many of us find that sleep (along with other elements of self-care) is often sacrificed in the face of other competing priorities. In fact, many of us have been suffering from chronic sleeplessness for so long, that we don’t even know what it truly feels like to be well rested. Moreover, we often fail to recognize the relationship between chronic tiredness and our ability, or inability, to be the best parent, spouse, friend or employee that we can be. Below are some of my top tips to help you get a better night’s sleep.

1. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule (even on weekends…sorry)

Sticking to a consistent sleep-wake schedule helps set your body’s internal clock. Set a realistic bedtime that works with your lifestyle. You should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night, so sometimes it’s helpful to work backwards from your wake-up time. On weekends, try to resist the urge to stay up late and sleep in. A lot of people have the mentality that they can use the weekends to “catch up” on their sleep. While getting a little extra shut eye can be helpful if you have an occasional day or two with little sleep, for someone who is chronically sleep deprived there is no quick fix to erase your sleep debt. I normally tell people to try to stay within plus or minus one hour of their weeknight schedule to avoid disrupting their cycle. After awhile your body will sync with your schedule and you may not even need an alarm clock to wake up anymore. That said, I still have two pretty reliable alarm clocks myself – my kids who are five and two!

2. Get outside

One important healthy habit (particularly in the winter) that helps set your clock is getting some sunshine in the morning, ideally in the first couple hours upon waking, but really any time before noon. Sunlight in the morning helps to sync your biological clock with the earth’s day-night cycle. While real-deal sunshine is best, an artificial light box (get one with more than 10,000 lux) will suffice on rainy days or when it’s just not feasible to get outdoors. Some great ways to get your daily dose of sunlight include taking Fido for a brisk morning walk or going for a jog. Research has shown that 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous weekly exercise can also improve sleep quality by up to 65%.

3. Ditch the phone and iPad (at least before bedtime)

Electronic devices are so ubiquitous that they can sometimes feel like extensions of our body. A study by the National Sleep Foundation found that at least 95% of people use some type of electronic device (e.g. TV, computer, cell phone, tablet, etc.) within an hour of bedtime. In addition to these devices providing mental stimulation, they also emit blue light, the same type of light that comes from the sun. Blue light suppresses melatonin (a chemical in our brain that causes sleepiness) and signals to our brain that it’s time to be awake and active. Therefore, it’s best to power down at least one hour before bedtime. If the temptation to check your email one last time is too powerful, consider moving your charger to a different room. And what will you do with all this new-found time before bed, you ask….

4. Develop a relaxing bedtime routine

The purpose of developing a bedtime routine is two-fold. First, it provides you with an opportunity to take some time for yourself to unwind. Our days are chaotic and stressful, and our bodies need some time to decompress before we get into bed. If you try to go to sleep while still feeling amped up it’s going to take you a long time to fall asleep. Personally, I would rather spend that hour being awake and feeling productive than tossing and turning in my bed! The second reason for a routine is to establish a connection in your brain that this wind down time is associated with bedtime. So what constitutes a relaxing routine? The answer is quite simple – whatever you want. Read a book (a kindle is actually OK), take a warm bath, practice deep breathing or mindfulness exercises, listen to calm music, or talk to your spouse (avoid topics that may lead to an argument). Pick whatever works for you and seems sustainable in the long term.

5. Know when to seek professional help

If you are practicing proper sleep hygiene but still suffering from poor sleep it may be time to seek professional help. A medical doctor can help rule out any physical conditions that may be interrupting your sleep, such as respiratory problems (e.g. apnea), restless leg syndrome, thyroid disease and diabetes (among others). Difficulties with sleep can also be a sign of an underlying mental health concern such as depression or anxiety. A psychologist can help you better understand the underlying causes of your sleep problems and teach you skills to manage them.

Mindful Matters: Calming the anxiety in order to build resilience

Monday, November 2, 2015

Dear families,

Every week I have opportunity to offer compassion to parents, and lately I am thinking, in particular, about moms or dads who are overflowing with anxiety. It could be generalized anxiety, expressed in a hyper vigilance and reactivity about daily management of the home. This generalized anxiety, known as GAD [Generalized Anxiety Disorder], creates a nervous feeling in the home environment. Interestingly, often one parent gets polarized into shutdown or passivity in the face of expressed anxiety. Sometimes, both parents are reactive and anxious.

No amount of worrying, checklists or cleaning eliminates the anxiety for long. Worse, if stressors hit, even mild stressors that are manageable, a parent suffering anxiety may become overly reactive in response to normal life challenges.  This kind of emotionality, when expressed to an adolescent, can be especially destructive, resulting in explosive volatile episodes.

It may help to understand that there is a part of our brain, called the amygdala, that lights up when we have emotions such as fear.  Feeling fear also catapults us into our primitive “flight of fight” brain which is all about survival. So now, an unexpected mess or a teen telling mom her last minute plans and demand for a ride to the mall, trigger outstanding upset and subsequent yelling. When we are in our SOS, flight-or-fight brains, we cannot hit the pause button, stay calm and think through a solution. We cannot be respectable authority figures managing and problem-solving.

The sad negative cycle of reacting and escalating, leaves parent and child in an irrational power struggle. There is usually nothing that can be done at this point but to get through the mutual tantrum.  The worst outcome via the parenting would be for mom or dad to appease a child or teen, thereby giving in to a plea or demand, out of guilt, fatigue or a wish to avoid further upset.

So, what to do?  First off, I ask parents to look at the amount of stress and pressure in their lives. Is there a balance of restorative behaviors and activities to recover from those activities that are depleting. Are mom and dad taking care of themselves and is the life-work balance reasonable.

Second, are mom and dad thinking and communicating effectively about all parenting systems. This would be transitional times such as morning get-ready routine, homework after school and bedtime.  Are simple age-appropriate expectations laid out, clearly and calmly?  Offering notice, prompting, cueing and reminding are necessary the entire time we parent and children live with us!  Demands that are delivered with a negative tone, are not suitable to a child’s personality or are overwhelming, may result in noncompliance and opposition.

The most common factor underlying loss of control and competence in parents, beyond stress is the need for children to be “happy.”  “Happy” is not why we raise children. While it is nice to have happiness here and there and to be generally well taken care of, we largely raise children to become resilient in the face of life’s challenges. Every day we and our children are faced with frustrations to problem-solve. Avoid jumping in to control and problem-solve for your children! Leave space for the frustration and the problem solving. That is how we grow competence and self-esteem- through mastering our frustrations.

A final word, from my heart, about anxiety. Anxiety is not pleasant nor is it rational. Find any manner to bring your nervous system to a restorative peaceful place. Enjoy quiet. Do deep breathing and meditate. No amount of chocolate, wine or working out truly calms the nervous system. Physical exercise stabilizes our mood and releases tensions.

Learning to sit quietly and find the compassion inside, to center one’s self in peace, to let go, will help anyone who is managing anyone, stay steady on the road, note the potential danger without reacting and assist in staying the course, even when it involves limit setting and even when there is not an immediate solution. Our children will feed off our calm and grow confident in their ability to sustain focus, problem-solve and accept what is not ideal.

Mindful Matters: Strengthening from lessons to grow on

Monday, October 26, 2015

We live in a parenting culture that seems to pit parents up against a very high standard for perfection. Parents may feel as if their child will not be “happy” or “succeed” unless they, as parents, provide  the “perfect” education as well as the “perfect” home life. Parents search Pinterest, Facebook and social media to compare and evaluate their performance.  This psychology or seeking “right” answers for how to parent to prevent failure only promotes undue anxiety and fear that, in turn, promotes the unrealistic thinking.

May I dispel the myth that parents have such control as to influence an outcome of “happy ever after?”  Honestly, there are children who grow up in deprivation who make it to a fulfilled and meaningful life outcome. And, there are children who have every privilege and opportunity who have never known pain who feel empty, depressed and cannot benefit from an overwhelm of resources.

And, here is the important thing to meditate upon to practice the letting go that is so essential for helping our children grow resilience.  The universe a is in charge far more so than you as parent.  Further, strengthening of resilience comes out of imperfection and failure. We cannot and should not expect our loved ones to avoid challenging experiences. Pain and loss, disappointments and grief are part of life for all of us. We want our children to be strong in the face of whatever they must manage in order to mature. Think of delayed gratification and frustration tolerance as muscles that need developing. This strength will take them far and add to their courage, enabling them to take risks and engage in the world.

Parenting is about standing nearby to catch a child should he or she fall. It is about guiding them with a shining light and offering just enough support that enables them to practice on their own. And, parenting is about witnessing the disappointments and loss while holding and securing our children as they mature. The fact that family is there for them  is the blessing. While offering wisdom may be helpful, most wisdom is accepted upon the opening of error. That is when the lesson sinks in and can be owned and managed by our children, adding to their bank of lessons to grow on.

Accidentally Reinforcing Misbehavior

Monday, June 1, 2015

Parenting requires presence of mind as well as clarity and calm. I often suggest that parents “put on their zoot suit” prior to a parenting shift whereby they need to be on without distraction or ambivalence. Children misbehave when sensing a parent’s lack of presence. Excessive fatigue, stress and inconsistency will result in weak parenting fraught with sarcasm, impatience, threats and bribes. In the end, parental misbehavior promotes misbehavior in children and teens. And, to make matters more messy, misbehavior can be accidentally reinforced!

Here are a few reminders of common errors parents make. When you begin to manage yourself and your children with intention and mindfulness, you will be better able to avoid these common errors.

1. Failing to Shape the Positive

Parents can shape a positive or expected behavioral outcome simply by attending to a child who is behaving as directed. So, when your child is sitting quietly at the dinner table, that is the time to be present and engaging. It is not always necessary to exclaim “goodness” with adjectives about how “great” a child is, which could backfire for the child who feels that compliance is all about pleasing and being judged.

Always remember that cooperation is, in itself, naturally reinforcing until such natural mastery is now longer impactful due to external rewards. Believe me when I remind you that simply attending and engaging a child with your full presence, including an affectionate holding of the hand or a smile will suffice.

There will also be moments whereby a child is naturally feeling proud- and I am not referring to those, “hey! look at me” moments. There will be a devoted piano practice or a returned homework assignment that is worthy. When mom or dad are too preoccupied or distracted, the opportunity to attend to the moment [affirmation] is missed!

2. Losing Clarity and Appeasing a Child

It is easier than any parent would like to admit, to give into a child’s efforts to have you bend a rule. Perhaps the child is about to have a tantrum. Maybe your son has learned to crank up the charm or be the best little lawyer he can be, to argue his way out of the rule or limit you have set forth. And, don’t forget! Your rules and directives are built on precious values you are adhering to in order to raise a mature and responsible person. This requires delayed gratification as well as frustration tolerance. Those two emotional experiences, while ‘not fun,’ are necessary for emotional maturity such as impulse control, otherwise known as patience.

So, stand clear, calm and strong once you have set a limit and/or given a directive [an expectation for behavior]. When you have stated, “After lunch and a nap, we will go to the pool.” No turning it around under doubt or duress! Better not to speak than to undermine yourself. Every time you cave with something like, “okay…just this once but then I don’t want to hear it again,” you undermined trust and security for your authority. And, you just accidentally rewarded an obnoxious behavior, such as pushing the limits by arguing. And unintentionally, your child may learn your authority is not reliable. Insecure guidance means more misbehavior.

If you are not sure, at any point, about what decision works best for you and/or your child, then just wait, “mommy will tell you in a few minutes,” “it’s time to stop asking or the answer is ‘no’. I hear your you,” “whining does not change the rule…lunch and a nap will pass quickly, then we hit the pool.” Then change the subject. No more talking or arguing! Better yet, don’t talk! Just distract or redirect. It’s like changing the channel of the brain. Simply say, “right now we are headed to lunch.” This directs the brain where you intend to go, not where your child desires. You know best.

3. Less than 10 Words

This is just a reminder to stop talking so much. Children or teens, employees and, frankly, any adults for that matter, know that when the person in charge is still talking, reasoning, thinking out loud or otherwise ‘lecturing,’ there is hope for a loophole. No doubt, if you are talking to explain or rationalize, you are looking weak. You do not need to defend or rationalize your parenting. There may be a respectful explanation for a change of plans but that is a different matter and can still be brief.

Keep your managing and directing clear and save meaningful pillow talk or car chat for those precious shared moments and endeavors when a child is not intent on bending rules and can therefore be open to thinking and learning from reflection.

When you mean business- usually during transition times, such as getting ready for school, after school homework or chores time or bedtime- you need to be prepared in advance and clear, having already considered all factors that go into your decisions for what you expect. The rules are your expectations, by the way, and we all thrive on rules so we can thrive. Some amount of consistent rules or expectations is called structure, and structure sets us free to focus and dig in. It takes the anxiety out of too much choice and wiggle room out of the behavioral equation. There is security in consistent rules.

4. Watch Your Delivery

My last tip, for now, is about your delivery when you are giving a directive to a child. Keep it neutral. Do not personalize it. Take the emotions out and bring your voice down and matter-of-fact. “It’s time to clean up” in a solid, calm matter-of-fact voice with pure presence [meaning you are not 20 feet away hollering] is just right. No sarcasm and no voice going up as if you are asking for cooperation, “so, it’s time to clean up now, okay?” Why ask if it is okay thereby handing the child a choice for noncompliance? And, watch the tone. Any kind of irritation or anxious hurried tension in your tone is a match to light the fire for defiance. Hey, it’s kind of fun to have that kind of power and watch mom lose it. Or, why not push the ticket, especially if you have become accustomed to mom or dad losing it. Now you can control when it happens!

Parenting is a job, not to be taken for granted. Effective management that enhances cooperation and compliance is all about the process of parenting which involves calm confidence, which in turn requires we are clear and present.

Pure Present Parenting Knocks out Misbehavior

Monday, April 20, 2015

Did you ever notice a difference in how you and your child behave when you are present versus distracted? Think about your own ability to be present and focus on the job when your facilitator or boss is present versus not present.

Much of our misbehavior stems from our reluctance to be exactly in the moment, accountable for exactly what is in front of us.  When we manage our children while preoccupied, we are less inclined to make decisions that are sensible. We are more inclined to do what I call “knee jerk” or “mood based” parenting. That is, we will shoot from the hip, speak without thinking and often undermine our confidence.  And, children can sense this keenly. Knowing the person in charge is not all present and easy to react,  fosters insecurity. The probability that we, as parents, will act out our frustrations and so will our kids is greatly increased when we are not purely present.

How do we manage to be purely present when we manage our children?  First off, step back and take the time to assess all systems. By systems, I mean the routines for getting ready in the morning, after school and ready for bed. We know from studying behavioral compliance that the regularity of routines makes it easier to comply.  We are hard-wired in a fashion whereby we crave routines because with routine, the brain can manage behavioral circuits with minimal thinking.  Think about driving somewhere and taking the same route every time; you do not have to think and there is little stress.  When we are inconsistent, our children have to adjust and adapt rather than knowing what to expect. For the highly sensitive child, changes in routine are especially stressful.

Putting thought into our systems comes first and how we set up our morning or bedtime routine is based on a values assessment, so parenting requires contemplation first. For example, you may want to ask your kids to put all screens and cell phones in an outlet station by 10:00p.m., based on your knowing the downside of technological temptations late at night.  You may determine to make oatmeal in the crockpot prior to retiring because otherwise no one will bother to eat in the morning. And, so forth.  It is entirely beneficial to reevaluate your system in order to make it the most effective, and it is fine to tweak it to suit each child’s temperament and developmental capacity.  Just avoid changing too often and be sure to calmly prepare and announce the changes beforehand.  Note: you do not need to defend your decisions with long explanations and opening of negotiation!

In addition to being proactive in your thinking through the kind of routine that is optimal for your family, there is another key component to being purely present to knock out misbehavior. You have a job to do whenever you need to guide and manage your children. Think of it as being on a work shift, and by all means trade off shifts with your parenting partner or with a child care provider, to maximize your better parenting presence.

Prior to walking out of your bedroom door to start your morning or as you are driving home from work to start your shift on your second job as parent, upon arrival, “put on your zoot suit.” By this I mean, take an internal inventory in order to clear out your head and put various agenda “on a shelf” so you can attend to the parenting task at hand.  Being purely present reduces frustration and increases calm presence. It means you accept that you can be nowhere else, mentally or physically. By doing this, you will find that your children are better able to respond to directives.

Being purely present is not about hovering or being enmeshed to the point you are doing homework with your children or reading five bedtime stories rather than the allotted two stories. In fact, being present means you are clear, calm and confident and thereby better able to stick with the limits and boundaries that match your routine. You will also be more able to use natural incentives without reactivity that involves screaming and threatening.  You can be that matter-of-fact mom or dad that simply states the neutral expectation, without personalizing “two more bites and you are free to go,” “when you finish washing up, you will get jammies on and have time for stories.”  Be careful to state directives objectively, avoiding emotionality and making it about what you might take away.

Parenting is about practicing patience and presence with a calm confident demeanor. When a household has a habit of drama and reactivity, it will take some time to transform to a greater sense of calm confidence. In practicing this kind of powerful parenting, children feel greater security, in knowing that their parents are in charge and holding them in a manner that empowers compliance.  When we accept our job without underlying desires to escape, we can be purely present and knock out much of the misbehavior.

Mindfulness: Out of Fear and into Growth

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

In Scott Stossel’s book, My Age of Anxiety, we are reminded how fear and dread can undermine our sense of stability. The nature of anxiety can be debilitating, ranging from obsessive rumination to panic attacks that are paralyzing.  Once upon a time, we had hoped, in the practice of psychotherapy that a change in thought patterns and self-talk could tame the beast of anxiety. Now we know there is more to the complicated cause of anxiety symptoms, including genetic predisposition.

We hold feelings of anxiety in our bodies, expressed in shortness of breath, racing thoughts, sweating, flushed face as well as headaches and stomach aches. Our autonomic nervous system has a mind of it’s own when it comes to random bouts of nervous expression, often seeming disconnected to the reality of our situation.  Sometimes, bouts of anxiety are related to a triggering event, such as a presentation or a social event whereby we are in the spotlight.  Yet, anxiety symptoms may also present without any obvious trigger.

We know medication might help, but it might not and it comes with side effects. We know that deep slow breath work and meditation helps to calm the central nervous system. This intervention requires the discipline of daily practice. In our hurried Type-A culture, there are few individuals who will devote to meditation and breath work over self-destructive quick fixes involving substances, such as sugary foods, drugs and alcohol.

Those who are prone to symptoms of anxiety need not be disillusioned with a belief they will be cured. Rather, the goal is to manage the anxiety in any fashion works for you. For some folks, significant changes in their overly stressed and pressured lives does wonders. Others need to be mindful of their daily care rituals, such as securing sufficient sleep as well as exercise and a healthy diet.

 

In addition to self care and slowing down, there is another significant factor at play for managing your anxiety and it is referenced as “attachment” in our literature. You can simply remember the word “love” and focus on being present in order to attach to the moment as well as to others in your life. What does this mean?

Think about spending your day with an intention to attend to only the moment you are in- the task, the colors, the smells and the immediate demands. Take it in with a grateful and faithful attitude. That means you will suspend the “monkey mind” that will try to seduce you back into wasting energy with worry and thinking ahead or behind your present moment.

Further, let go of regret and shame; forgive others and yourself and walk forward with presence.  Believe that you are okay as you are and believe you are where you are because it is the only place you can be for now.  And, contrived as it may sound, you can only be you, so it is worth dropping the dialogue in your head that might involve comparisons and strivings that set you up for shame, blame and insecurity.

 

I know this sounds hokey pokey, but we all know what it is like to sit in the drivers seat and just “let it be.” We have confidence within the light and energy that is only ours and no one else’s business. Try to reach in and trust that guiding voice and BE in the moment with YOU.  You owe no apologies and no defense to anyone. Stay in calm comfort and accept your situation. Resign to the lessons of the present life and hold an open heart of curiosity as you manage each moment.

Any signal of anxiety or nerves might be greeting with acknowledgement and calm breathing as you pause and listen to the lesson or simply wait for the surge of energy to move through you. Just observe the nervous feeling with less judgment and go get a hug or take a time out to go into a peaceful place and pause.  Do this mindfulness, with faith and a sense of grateful perspective IN ADDITION to slowing down your life and taking a nurturing approach to self and other[s]. See if you can bring it all down to a place of open love and calm presence as you meet life’s challenges.

Maybe we can all shift our energy and move out of the age of fear and anxiety which elicits defensiveness into the age of faith and care which elicits growth, creativity and healing.

 

 

 

What makes for a Successful Playdate?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Recently, a mom in my office was expressing frustration that her daughter, age 6, was refusing all efforts to set up a play date in their home. She commented that when there is a play date, her daughter does not want to share her toys. Playdates can be a bit embarrassing when your child is either unwilling to share or when a child becomes bossy, directing the play with respect to what the guest may or may not do.

There is a simple solution. When you hear it, you’ll know that you knew this all along, but perhaps losing site of boundaries and structure is simply easy in the face of our hopes for a well earned break!

So here are some tips for creating a successful playdate for ages 4-10, approximately.  Children younger than 4 need a parent present entirely to navigate the playdate. Children older than 10 typically have the skills to do all of these tips on their own with your support.

  • Arrange the playdate at a time your child is well rested
  • Take the time to discuss toys that are for sharing with friends and those that are not. Put the former away, out of site or play in a designated area with designated toys and games for this particular playdate.
  • Keep the time relatively brief, such as 90 minutes to 2 hours, tops, even if the children are doing very well. In this manner, they hold onto the memory of getting along and having fun, with a desire to do it again and again.
  • Be present. You do not need to be on top of your child, but it helps children to feel secure just knowing you are readily available and nearby.
  • Think and talk, in advance, with your child, to designate the play activity choices and a structure for the flow of the playdate, such as free play, then a building or art activity, then a snack and more free play.
  • For the free play, offer three choices. Include your child in the process of choosing and try to eliminate screens.
  • Yes, I know, kids today love screens, such as television and video games and all other kinds of apps.  However, really put some thought into securing good old fashioned connection involving make believe, games, spatial relationships and/or art.
  • Perhaps you have the time to be present to make homemade play dough or to set up the sprinkler, etc.
  • Whatever you do, plan it in advance. This kind of planning, helps secure your child and the success of the shared social time, taking out uncertainty and the greater possibility of power dynamics involving the need for direction.

Having said  all of this, are these tips necessary for everyone? Maybe not, but keep an ear out to collect some data during your child’s playdate. It is unlikely they will tell you about what you might consider inappropriate comments that underlie the need to secure direction and control.

Lastly, we are not talking about micromanaging or being too controlling. Find that lovely middle ground with some choices in place and the flexibility to alter them as deemed desirable or necessary. The goal is a successful give and take experience, and many children thrive a little guidance. Within that guidance, there is plenty of room for free choice and expression of play.

Try Mindfulness for the Holidays

Monday, December 15, 2014

Here come the holidays- a time for light, love and perspective, often fraught with stress and misgivings. How do we hold onto compassion, care and forgiveness in our hearts?  What helps us bypass any regressions or transgressions. We all need a tool to shut out the noise and step over any garbage.  Try Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is about the awareness you bring to everyday living.  Rather than letting your mind control you, you can practice managing your mind for greater presence, focus and peace.   Mindfulness means to direct your attention to only one thing in the present moment.

When you practice mindfulness meditations, you will get remarkably better about being responsive rather than reactive in your daily living.  You will be able to assert yourself appropriately where needed but with greater pause and perspective.

Most important, mindfulness is the way to acceptance and wisdom over judgment and fear.  We are all at risk for feeling separate, distorting reality and misinterpreting situations in a manner that sabotages our positive intention.

Make it your intention to spend 20 minutes a day in a quiet place, just breathing slowly, through the nose and out the nose. Just let the breathing “breathe” you and cradle you, rock you and remind you of the calmness you crave.

As you adjust to getting yourself quiet, it will become easier. Think about how challenging it is to learn any new skill until it becomes second nature. Try to hang in there and trust  the health benefits, such as lowering your heart rate, building a better immune system and restoring the parasympathetic nervous system for healing.

Just breathe and let go. Breathe all the stress out and let restorative breath back in. Let go of the negative and hold onto all the positive blessings in your life. Focus on those who love you and with whom you feel acceptance, care and compassion.

Try Mindfulness.  Bring yourself back into the present when you notice your mind in bad habits of rumination, worry and regret. As you become a more compassionate, calm and caring person, your experience of daily living will change substantially. You will better attract to those who are also compassionate and caring. And, you may cultivate more JOY this holiday season.