Archive for ‘parenting with confidence’

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.

Parenting with Confidence

Monday, August 20, 2012

Children are very intuitive. They become difficult to manage when they sense that their caretaker is not really present. Parenting with Calm Confidence is all about your nervous system!  We have a central nervous system, composed of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Our sympathetic nervous system [SNS] is all about “fight or flight”. It is activated whenever we are reactive and tense, facing stress and challenge.

Unfortunately, most parents are managing their children with their SNS cranked up high, putting parents and children at risk for way to much reactivity. Before you know it, managing your home and children becomes a daily drama of whining, screaming, begging and bargaining. Too much drama! And, children get quite attached and desensitized to the reactivity. Trust me, it is going to drain you more than them….

When you face your day as a parent or even your morning or evening shift, so to speak, how do you prepare yourself mentally and physically for the pure resolve of being present with your children. Breathe deeply for 5 or 10 minutes to a slow count of 5 or 6, in and out, through your nose, prior to getting up to face your day. Calm, slow, intentional breathing to activate your Parasympathetic Nervous System [PNS].  In this manner, you will be like a calm pilot or nurse who has to face challenges with nerves of steel.  Managing children with calm centered energy means “you rock” with centered power.

No distractions, no resentment expressed in body language or sarcasm. Just calm and pure presence as you manage your little ones. I promise that if you are genuinely present, like a nursery school teacher, with a voice and body that says, “I am here to be present.” In this manner, it is easier to manage little ones who know in a millisecond when their caretakers are preoccupied. Give it a try and come down slow, low and matter-of-fact with your commands and directives. No threats, just simple calm commands with long pauses in-between. Use your voice coming down slow and low with less than ten words.  You will be surprised how it is actually your powerful energy delivered straight to the heart and mind of your child, like an umbilical cord enlivened to direct and guide them that WORKS.  No candy, not applause, no bargaining necessary.