Children's fears often emerge at inopportune times - like when they (and you) want to go to sleep. First, this is very normal. This site provides several useful suggestions for helping young children cope with their fears. For some children who are old enough and are able to articulate their fears, talking about them, even before bedtime can help. Children may resist ("I don't want to talk about it!") but encouraging them that when they say their fears out loud, the process actually helps get the scary parts out in the open! Once they are able to share what they are scared of, help them talk through a different ending. Frightened a ghost is going to crawl out from under the bed? Ask your child what the ghost looks like, what its name is, where he lives, does he like cheese pizza? Maybe ask him to sit and stay a while. Often as parents we fear that feeding a fear will make it bigger. More often, however, just by acknowledging its presence and getting curious about it, we actually make it smaller. Creating new endings to scary stories with love, validation and reassurance can make those ghosts disappear.
Ahhhh, junk drawers. I love junk drawers. They speak volumes about people and are a treasured, and ubiquitous place of storage in houses. This weekend find a junk drawer, ideally your child's but it could be one in the kitchen or your desk. See if you feel differently about the junk that the drawer holds after paying attention to it for a while.
Children feel many emotions, just like adults. But for some children, talking about their emotions is a bit like nailing jello to the wall. They don't have the language or the experience of feeling the emotion thousands of times to know that it even is a feeling as opposed to something that has taken over them. Try to reach back to when you were a child (try younger than 8ish) and remember when something went wrong, a friend hurt your feelings or an embarrassing moment happened in school. The feeling likely took up residence throughout your body, tears were shed, sobs were heard and your body may have literally collapsed to the floor. It may have felt like the world as you knew it had dramatically shifted. Hopefully, you had an adult nearby to comfort you, talk you through the distress and recount what had (actually) happened. Slowly, you may have started to feel better and get back into the groove of the next activity. As we get older, we learn through experience and being taught, that emotions come and go. They become more or less abstract and for the most part (with exceptions certainly such as grief, major depression, significant anxiety) do not disrupt our world as we know it.
One of the best ways to teach children about the emotions they are feeling is to validate them. This means, bring awareness to what they are feeling - label it! As parents, we often want to "make it better" or have children "not get so upset." But, like it or not, they do get so upset and it isn't better. Try starting with, "You are feeling _______ and it's OK to feel ________." Even when that feeling is sad, jealous, worried or embarrassed. We also must acknowledge what is hard in us about having our children experience those feelings. Why don't we want our children to feel embarrassed? Why are we worried when our children are worried? It is likely driven by a fear that if they are worried, something else may happen - they'll cope with the worry in some way that is harmful, they'll be so worried they won't try new things or they will start to believe that because feeling sad is OK, they will feel it all the time. Then, who is sad? Certainly children and adolescents experience big emotions that do lead to difficult circumstances for parents and families and it is important to pay attention to those, minimizing impairment and distress. Often big help is needed and relieving. But in the meantime, reflect on your own experience and help your child reflect on theirs.
This is sort of a no-brainer but don't forget to take a look around you this weekend at the leaves before they start to change into brilliant colors. Watch them fall to the ground or just swish in the wind.
I heartily laughed after seeing this video. There are so many topics these moms raised about how many pressures there are on mothers in particular these days to "get the job done." The list is endless! One topic that was recurrent was that of yelling. This notion has spread like wildfire that "bad mothers" yell. Now, my close friends and family members would not put me in the category of "yeller" but by golly, there are some days when I have full-on yelled at my children. I regret it every time and wish I hadn't done it but at the end of the day, yelling or not, I am human. In my conversations with dear friends, we came to the conclusion that such promotions of not being a yeller only bolstered the guilt felt by nearly every mother each time they started to get angry and their voice notched up on the decibel chart. Getting angry is a very normal human reaction. I applaud parents who strive to not yell (and of course it is never OK to verbally abuse children, yelling or not). I even use some tips to channel the anger in a more adaptable way! But, I also believe in showing my children my humanness and repairing any icky feelings afterwards, also showing the power of kindness and compassion through a sincere apology. Yelling can be scary to children, no doubt about it. But, what is scarier is when those children grow up and feel the urge to yell at their own child (when stress builds as it inevitably does when raising children) and believe something is very wrong with them. When really, they are human too.
When our babies are born, we often stare for long periods of time at their hands. Perhaps we remark on their long fingernails, the delicate fingers or the way their hand wraps around a parent's finger. As children get older, we don't have as many opportunities to just sit and gaze at their hands (and I get that this may not be at the top of your list of things to do with your child, too). This weekend, even if your child is asleep, take 30 seconds to look at his or her hands as you did when they were brand new, or brand new to you. Just try it. You may be surprised at what blooms.
Typically weekends are times when life slows down a (tiny?) bit and space opens up where being present can feel, dare I say, easier? Perhaps this is completely false, especially for families whose children are actively involved in sports. If so, find a time during the week that is calmer to try this exercise.
"Wash the dishes to wash the dishes," Thich Nhat Hanh writes. Most of the time we wash the dishes in order to have clean plates on which to eat and a clean mug from which we will drink our coffee or tea. But there is another way of engaging in this task and that is to simply wash dishes to wash dishes. The outcome is remarkably the same but the experience is remarkably different.
The other day I observed children in a preschool class listening with rapt attention to a teacher who was telling a story of a young man from Scotland. The young man and his uncles were competing over who could play the bagpipes the best. As the story goes, the three uncles could not muster enough breath to make the thunderous sound. However, when their young nephew takes his turn, he plays strong and loud. The reason, everyone agreed, was because all during his early life, he had to call so loudly to the sheep and the cows to come home that he had built his lungs to be mighty strong and breathing in deeply was a skill he had honed.
This story reminded me that practice is what is important for helping young children become adolescents who become adults who first breathe before choosing a "wiser" choice over another "less wise" choice. The telling of the story reminded me that it is through practice that we become accustomed to the beautiful option of breathing. Deliberate teaching, intentional teaching and repeated teaching in many forms with many people and with many examples is what it takes. We cannot expect children to simply absorb the manner of deep breathing through osmosis over one time, two times or even a dozen times. It is a daily practice. I am reminding myself of this as much as you, the reader.
In advertising, the term "white space" is used to describe an area of white around an image or words. A good amount of white space draws the reader to the image or business name more than an advertisement that is cluttered with images or words. In E-mail, white space is used to describe a nearly empty inbox. In parenting, having more white space by pausing before you talk makes what you are saying have more "oomph" and may get more attention. It could also be cleaning up a bit of clutter around a toy your child hasn't used in a while making that "old" toy stand out more. Less really is more.
"In the age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention." ~ Pico Iyer
Exploring media with children more:
Get your children talking about smart phone, tablet and internet use! Involving them in the conversation about benefits and drawbacks can help them adopt a healthy approach to technology usage.
- What do we use smartphones and tablets for in our family?
- When is enough is enough?! When do we know we have been on our device for too long? This question helps adults and children recognize when they are noticing the unwanted effects of media: disconnection with family and friends, eye strain, "zoning out," being away from fresh air for a few hours or noticing emotional distress as an effect of media.
- Are there alternative ways we can solve this problem? In other words, go a week where Google is consulted after other sources (e.g., people, the library) are tried first.
- How frequently do we need to do "media fasts?" For some families it may be one weekend out of a month, for others, it may be two.
- Bring awareness to your usage by asking yourself a simple question of "do I need to check this now?"
Some additional related links:
- PBS Kids "When to introduce your child to a smartphone or tablet"
- American Psychological Association (APA) article "Smartphone = not-so-smart parenting?"
- American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) brief article on media and children
- NPR report of AAP's changing guidelines
- Common Sense Media - one of the best resources available. They also have an app that makes it easy to search TV shows, movies and other media to help parents determine if the show is right for their children and their family.
The downsides of using our smart phones, especially around children are real and are not to be dismissed. This photography experiment struck a chord with me and now I can't really be using my phone without picturing the image of what it looks like from an outsider's perspective and what my children are seeing. It is a slippery slope and soon I can sense the feelings the person with me may be feeling -- unimportant, left out, and ignored. It usually is enough to turn it off and redirect my attention. What often happens next though, is that nothing gets said. I may offer a quick apology or ask a question, "what did you say?" (while trying to shed feelings of guilt!) but the possible feelings of "you were ignoring me" are not really validated. I especially recognize this with my children but the feelings seem to permeate the air even with adults.
There are certainly times when we need an escape, or to connect with someone via text. But, expressions of planning, seeking partnership and explanation of why we are using our phones can begin to bridge the gulf of absence felt by those closest to us. For example, a statement of "I am going to look up on a map where the restaurant is so we can meet our friends for lunch" prior to opening Google Maps would help orient our companion to why we are pausing the conversation. Following, ask for our companion's opinion or thoughts about the map. "Look! I think I found it! Isn't it cool how I can see it on the screen like this AND I can even see a photograph of the restaurant?" For children, involving them in the work of using the directions can engender feelings of importance and contributing to the endeavor. In addition, acknowledging during times when we have been "in another world" using our phones is also an important step to bridging the gap. "I'm sorry, honey, I wanted to check to see if Aunt Laura returned my message," or "now I can give you my full attention." Or, owning the fact that you got distracted and now your child has your full attention. And then do it. Habit change is really hard, but it is worth every ounce of effort.
I recommend a lot of books to parents. I read a lot of books as a parent. However, I think one of the best pieces of advice I have been given and now give regularly is, every now and then, put the book down. Read your baby instead of how to get her to sleep through the night. Watch your toddler instead of googling a 2 year-old's expected motor milestones. This can be counterintuitive because when we're new at something, we want to figure it out (most of us). However, there is a time for figuring out and there is a time for just riding it out. Often, the less "figuring out" you do, the better. Just be in it and keep moving forward.
The video below is an important reminder how important the work of parenting is. While we don't want anything to be "wrong" with our children, it is sometimes harder to realize that it is us (parents) who needs to change. Once that is realized and the support is available and accessible, you can change. It doesn't take much. But, I think it is important to always remember that what you are doing in this job of parenting really does matter. Another lighter article that addresses how to incorporate social and emotional learning at home can be found here.
I've moved from Wordpress! This blog used to be centered around parenting. While I will continue to post ideas and resources related to parenting, I will also incorporate other news and topics that connect readers to local (the "Triangle" of North Carolina) resources, research on mindfulness and the practice of it, good books to read to your children and good books to read to yourself, among other topics. There is much planting, watering and weeding ahead but it's nice to have a familiar place to land.