By: Cristina Trette
I was teaching a Joy of Parenting course to a vibrant and well-educated group of parents. When I asked the group to introduce themselves, I requested that they briefly share individual parenting strengths and struggles. One by one, names and parenting struggles were offered with great ease. Yet, almost every parent had difficulty with recalling their strengths. I shared their sentiments and we had a good laugh about this! However, this common phenomena is worthy of exploration.
Enter in the negativity bias.
The negativity bias is a psychological term that describes the tendency for individuals to focus on negative events and situations in life, while simultaneously, being unaware of or less focused on neutral or positive events. Our bias towards the negative happens automatically. This is because our brains are hardwired for survival.
Our ancestors had to be able to fight or flee from threatening situations. Therefore, they also had to be on high alert for any situation or person that could potentially do harm. Back in the day, our biggest agenda was to stay alive by avoiding or warding off possible threats. This is why the one negative event of the day tends to stay with us but we ignore the hundred positive or neutral events. For our ancestors, the hundred positive or neutral situations were useless for survival! Yet we had to be on the lookout for the one tiger that may attack and kill us.
It appears that some individuals have a stronger negativity bias than others. Those who lean towards depression and anxiety, for example, tend to have a heightened negativity bias. Parents that tend to become very overwhelmed with parenting may fall into this category as well. At times, our brains misinterpret our own children as being threats to survival!
The great news is that there are well-researched strategies that we can utilize to overcome our negativity bias. This makes it more likely that we will be able to relish in happiness and bring more joy and satisfaction to relationships within our family unit. Read on for some tips.
1. Three good things
Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, offers a quick and easy exercise that can train your brain to focus on the good. In your journal, at bedtime, make a list of three good things that went well during your day. If you want to improve the experience of parenting, make a list of what went well between you and your child. If you want more joy within your marriage, make a list recording the positive aspects of your relationship with your husband. Being the overachiever that I am, I like to spend a few minutes every night writing down every great thing I can think of, no matter how big or small. Another way to do this exercise, is to ask your children at to tell you three things that went well during the day as a common practice. This exercise has evidence supporting its effectiveness in lowering depression.
2. Relish in the good
In addition to recalling uplifting events at the end of the day, take some time to relish in your positive experiences as they happen throughout the day. Perhaps your children worked through an intense conflict, peacefully, and without your guidance. I encourage you to soak up the goodness of these kinds of moments by becoming mindful of the joy you are feeling as they happen. Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist, suggests that if we spend at least 30 second relishing in the good experience, that this has a powerful impact on your brain. Since many positive experiences are under-recorded by our brains, you actually have to put forth effort in raising your awareness of the good. Neurons that fire together, wire together so the more practice you put towards appreciating the good, the more automatic this process will become overtime.
3. Increase positive interactions
John Gottman, a research psychologist and relationship expert, has discovered that when couples have a 5 to 1 ratio, of positive interactions to negative interactions, they are more likely to stay together and avoid divorce. This finding implies that if we can increase the positive interactions between parent and children we will have more satisfying family lives and parenting experiences. The truth is, in relationships between family members, negative interactions will happen. Yet, our relationships are more likely to satisfying and long lasting if we focus more on increasing our positive interactions rather than decreasing our negative interactions. This should come as good news, and possibly even relief! Let’s say you yell at your children or your spouse. Yes, this is a negative interaction. However, the relationship itself will be buffered against these kinds of injuries if there is a high amount of positive interaction to balance things out. So, it will be worthwhile to start creating a multitude of positive acts of kindness, generosity, love, and affection.
4. Caring Days
Caring Days is a technique developed by therapist Richard Stuart that is clinically demonstrated to strengthen relationships. The following exercise has been adapted to be beneficial in raising warmth within families whom have children ages 6 and older. To do this exercise, sit down with your family at a time when everyone is balanced and content. Give everyone a piece of paper. On the paper write down behaviors, actions, activities, or events that you would like to see occur within the family. It will be important to request that the items are reasonable and attainable. The emphasis should be on experiences and actions that increase joy within the family. Some examples are getting a hug every morning, weekly game night, going out for ice cream, or getting a backrub. Make sure that everyone has around five items on their list. Then place the list in an area that everyone can see. Over the next month, do what you can to start fulfilling items on the list. Every time you do something on someone’s list you can think of it as a “caring day”.
5. Practice mindfulness
I asked a well-respected marriage and family therapist, whose long-standing practice is dedicated to working with children with behavior disorders, to recommend some parenting tips to me. He told me that if parents want to transform the parent-child relationship, the one action they can take that offers the greatest hope for lasting change is that the parents start a mindfulness and/or meditation practice and teach the concepts to their children. This therapist has hefty anecdotal evidence illustrating that families can shift from conflict and chaos just by bringing mindfulness and meditation practices to all family members. Research supports the many benefits of mindfulness which includes lowered stress response, increased emotional regulation, and enhanced feelings of well-being. As parents, we could all use a big dose of these!
To learn more about the research behind positive psychology go to https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/.
To learn more about the work of relationship expert and research psychologist John Gottman, go to www.gottman.com
To learn more about Rick Hanson and his work on confronting the negativity bias, go to his website, www.rickhanson.net.
I read a great article the other day that briefly discusses the value of meditation, to read it go to https://www.rickhanson.net/meditation/.
Do you have any suggestions for how to raise the level of well-being in your family and parenting? Have you been able to override your negativity bias? I would love to hear about it. Please leave comments in the box below.
By: Cristina Trette
Some parenting moments can be intense. When we are become emotionally dysregulated, our logical brain shuts down making it almost impossible to connect with or discipline our children. We tend to become harsh and punitive at times like this. So, as a means to prevent hostility, I recommend that parents take a break by walking out of the room or stepping outside. Sometime a parent needs 30 seconds in another room to regain composure. Other times a parent may need twenty minutes or more to get back to a space of responsiveness. Breaks are not to be used a punishment. Rather they are wonderful tool for keeping all family members level-headed.
My daughter was in a difficult mood last night. I wanted to offer support but I was wiped out too. Everything I said or did seemed to make her more upset. Once I became angry I knew it was time to get some space from the dynamic.
I told my daughter that I was going to take a break and walked towards my room. Not only did she follow me, but she became loud and disruptive. I tried to reason with her in my bedroom and calmly explained why I needed some space. I walked outside. Again, she followed. Before going back inside, I tried to convince her to stay outside and jump on the trampoline with her brother. This led her to escalate even more.
She would not let me take a break!
I felt so frustrated. Yet, this experience helped me to see that there is a lot to a making a "parent break" work. As much as we would love to say hear our children respond with "ok mom, enjoy your break, I will be right here when you get back", this is unlikely to happen unless you set yourselves up for success before you go. Read on to learn more!
1. Teach the value and importance of breaks
During a time that you and your child are balanced and centered, explain to him that on occasion you feel upset or angry, and that during these times, it is helpful to walk outside or relax in your room. Explain that while you are away you are feeling your feelings, focusing on your breath, and relaxing. Tell your child that that he can take breaks too. It is important that you request that he let you take your break, when you need one, and explain that you are a better mother, more fun, happier, etc. when you take some time for yourself.
2. We all need space
If the only time you take a break is during conflict, or when your child is acting out, she may begin to associate breaks with punishment. Really, we all need breaks on occasion in order to remain present, loving, and engaged. If you are an introvert, you may find that you need alone time more often than others. Yet, extroverts value solitude too. So, start taking breaks even when everything is going good. Move into a place where everyone in the family begins to honor, respect, and value an individuals need for space.
2. During conflict, break before you reach your breaking point
Don't wait until you have smoke coming out of your ears! Think of it as a prevention. If you notice your body becoming tight and your heart rate increasing, these are signals that you are under significant stress. Take care of yourself, and your child, by announcing that you will be taking a break.
3. Connect with your child before you go
Pay attention to your tone. You will want to exude kindness as well as respect for self and child. Get down on his level, look in his eyes, and maybe offer a hug or spend a minute snuggling. Then explain that you are going to your room for a little bit and that you will be back. It may help to set a timer that stays near your child so that he or she can come get you when the timer goes off.
4. Reassure him that you will resume your discussion later
We all get into arguments with our kids. If you and your child are very angry during a discussion you are unlikely to resolve anything until you have moved through your anger. So, if you need to take a break due to tension surrounding an important topic, assure your child that you will be able to discuss later when everyone is calm. Do not walk away without making an agreement about this!
5. Don't just walk away
If you leave your child without explaining what is happening for you, this can trigger an intense fear of abandonment. Be authentic and honest while explaining to your child where you are going, what you will do there, and when you will be back. I know we are only talking about a short period of time but this is very important!
6. Consider taking a break with your child
Sometimes our kids don't want to let us go. They are only young for a short period of time. Sometimes the best way to get a break is to use the tension as an opportunity to connect and relax with your child. So, remember that you always have the option of saying, "I do not like what is happening between us right now. Let's go hang out on the couch and snuggle or watch a movie together". Breaks may look different with older children but may include taking a walk, cooking, or doing some sort of activity together.
7. With babies and toddlers sometimes you just have to go
My kids are all school aged and older now so it is easier for me to seperate from them. But when my kids were younger, sometimes just walking into another room would set off tears. So if this is the situation you are in, sometimes you just have to lovingly and confidently tell your little one that you are leaving and will be back. Give a hug and kiss, leave him in the loving arms of a trusted adult, and go. This is tough to do, I know. But when we communicate our need to break with simplicity, strength, and swiftness, it is much easier on our little ones than dragging out painful goodbyes. This phase will pass, I promise.
Have you ever found it difficult to get space when you feel as if you really need it? What strategies have you utilized to take a break with grace? Let me know about it in the comments box below!
By: Cristina Trette
After having a baby, 67 percent of couples see their marital satisfaction plummet, according to research by John Gottman, PhD. The arrival of the first baby can throw parents into a total life change overnight. Many individuals, used to life with flexibility and autonomy, have a difficult time adjusting to the demands of a newborn, despite the fact that they love their new child. Some moms, who had been very successful in careers, find themselves overwhelmed with the daily tasks of newborn care which includes nursing or bottle feeding round the clock, middle of the night diaper changes, and periods of holding baby while he or she cries that can last hours.
There was a time when new mothers were showered with support from grandmothers, aunts, and sisters after a baby arrived. But today, many modern moms are caring for newborns at home in isolation. Unfortunately, the isolation is contributing to a host of problems, including marital distress. Learning how to care for a newborn, without any support, can feel a marathon that just won’t end.
Although the birth of a baby is exciting and joyful, a new baby can create significant stress. Many couples who would describe themselves as having a happy and loving relationship before the birth of the first child, may find themselves fighting after baby arrives. It is common for couples to experience conflict around finances, careers, division of household duties, sex, in-laws and extended family, and how each partner spends free time.
This news is discouraging. Yet, it leads to a very important question. Is there anything that couples can do to ensure that their relationship will remain strong and connected even after the birth of their first child? Mindfulness-Based Relationship Enhancement (MBRE) may be one answer. In a study done at The University of North Carolina (Carsen et all, 2004), it was found that couples who committed to an 8 session MBRE program found significantly positive benefits. Some of the results included increased: relationship satisfaction, relatedness, closeness, and acceptance of one another. It appears that mindfulness practices being actively applied once the baby arrives, or even before, can prevent a marital satisfaction from plummeting once the baby comes.
New parents may not have time to participate in a lot of extra activtiesoutside the home when they have a newborn. Therefore it may be difficult to commit to mindfulness-based course together. Yet, many of these practices are simple to add to a daily routine. If the couple can set aside even 15 - 30 minutes a day for mindfulness practice together, perhaps while baby sleeps, they will reap the benefits of having a more connected relationship while becoming more responsive parents. Below is a short list of mindfulness practices to help you get started:
Do you practice mindfulness with your partner or spouse? If you do, please tell me about the practice and how it has impacted your relationship in the comment box below!
Sometimes everything is as good as it gets. The kids are getting along beautifully, they are cooperative, and home life is blissful. Then we go through periods where the kids are fighting, family life is chaotic, and parenting well feels impossible.
My friend and colleague, Wendy Snyder, summed this up perfectly in a Facebook post towards the end of her Spring Break with her kids. Wendy wrote, "Ebb and flow of spring break. Insanity to complete bliss... multiple times...all in a days work..."
Wendy is a fantastic mother to two as well as a Redirecting Children's Behavior Instructor and founder of Fresh Start Parenting. Let's face it, family life is hard for ALL of us at times. It can feel like a roller coaster. One minute its all smiles and laughter and the next minute tears and rage.
When things go haywire, many parents tend to think that the kids need more discipline, consequences, firmness and control. Sometimes this is true! Yet more discipline, when everything is already going haywire, will simply add more fuel to the fire.
Instead of coming down hard, consider focusing on family foundations. Keep reading to learn about how to restore harmony in your home without ramping up your discipline.
Focus on secure attachment
Attachment Theory, developed by John Bowly and Mary Ainsworth, proposes that children are wired to develop emotional bonds with their caregivers for both survival and optimal development. Creating a secure attachment is not something that only happens during the infant and baby years. In fact, current research suggests that parents can focus on setting the stage for secure attachment at any point during their child's childhood. Securely attached children exhibit fewer behavior problems, greater emotional regulation, and lowered stress response throughout their life. When kids feel connected, loved, and nurtured, they behave better.
Focus on responsiveness
The way to create secure attachment aside from a lot of affection and warmth, is to be responsive to your child. This is going to look differently depending on the age. This means PAUSE when you feel angry or triggered. Things between ourselves and our children rarely become better when we take action while upset! Do whatever you need to bring space to the situation so that you can respond from a sense of kindness, respect, and empathy.
Where can you reduce stress?
Children are often over-scheduled and pressured to excel in academics, athletics, and extracurricular. Low to moderate levels of stress are healthy. Yet high levels of stress carry serious health implications. If you are noticing a lot of acting out behavior at home, it will be helpful to take an inventory of your families overall stress levels. Stress shows up in youngsters in all sorts of ways - tantrums, defiance, troubles in school, conflict in friendships, and difficulties with sleep. There are many ways to lower stress from deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation, exercise, seeking support from a coach or therapist, aromatherapy, massage, and various visualization techniques. If you believe that stress is unusually high in your home, commit to lowering your own stress as well as that of your children.
Consider the anchor analogy
In a balanced home the parents are like anchors of the boat. The child is like the boat. The boat will move all about, even thrash around if a storm comes, but the anchor ultimately keeps the boat safe and prevents the boat from getting lost at sea. Be the anchor - holding, rooted in the sand, solid, ensuring safety and guidance while also allowing freedom and the child to go through his own journey and experiences.
Routines are so important. This is true even with our preteens and adolescents. With behavior repetition, our brains develop neural pathways that predict future behavior. This is how habits form! Which can be fantastic (like brushing teeth, daily meditation, reading before bed). Sit down and write up what a perfect day in family life might look like. Focus on details around waking up, meals, getting ready, school, work, after school activity, homework, going to sleep. Then take action steps to instill what you think will work best for your family, allowing for changes and adjustments as needed. Use our brains tendency to form habits to your advantage by creating solid routines that will help shape the rhythm of your day towards more peace and less chaos.
What have you done to create more harmony in your home that was not discipline focused? I would love to hear about it in the comments box below!
By: Cristina Trette
Our thoughts are immensely powerful. I watched a video that describes work being done at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. Johnny Matheny has a prosthetic arm and is able to control it through his thoughts. Think about this for a minute. Instead of moving his arm, he simply commands his arm to move with his thoughts. To watch the video, click here. This is just one example of how our thoughts can shape reality. For parents, this is good news. Your thoughts can influence the way you parent and how your children behave. If this is interesting to you, keep reading.
1. Stressful situations trigger negative thoughts
If you are like most parents, you will go through rough times with your kids. Kids have tantrums, become defiance, or fight with siblings. Let's suppose you are in the store and your five year old has a tantrum when you tell him that you will not buy him a treat at the check out line. After you pay he refuses to follow you out of the store. He proceeds to lay down on the floor and scream. In this situation the parent may think thoughts such as:
I cannot let him get away with this, he is a spoiled brat, how dare he do this, he is manipulating me, this behavior is intolerable, he has gone too far this time.
All parents think thoughts like this from time to time. Considering the child is having a tantrum in a public setting, which is stressful and embarrassing, it is normal to have thoughts like this. Yet, staying with these kind of negative thoughts will not bring you closer to your child nor will it enable you to elicit cooperation. So take some time to ponder what kind of automatic thoughts come up for you in the heat of the moment.
2. Thoughts lead to feelings
Thoughts such as he is manipulating me and I cannot let him get away with this are likely to create a feeling of anger. It is very difficult to do anything well when feeling angry. Our bodies are designed to move into fight, flight, or freeze when angry. Therefore, It will be important to recognize your feelings and feel them. Acknowledge your anger, breath, take care of yourself, and allow the feelings to move through you. There is nothing wrong with feeling anger. The tricky thing is that we tend to act out harshly when we are angry. So the key is to learn how to manage yourself and your anger.
3. Feelings lead to our actions
Lets suppose you end up taking action while you are feeling angry. When angry, you are likely to parent in a way that is forceful or punitive. When you are content, you are likely to parent in a way that is respectful, kind, and honoring of your child's dignity. Therefore, an important part of effective parenting will be to not take action with your child until you are back into a balanced state. Of course, there will be times that you cannot do this due to safety reasons or just because we are all human and react impulsively from time to time. For now, just notice how your actions are affected by your feelings.
4. To shift this, begin by catching your thoughts
Now that you have taken some time to notice the thoughts that trigger a downward negative cycle, be mindful to catch yourself the next time you get stuck in negative thinking. Sometimes you will catch it and sometimes you won't. Be patient with yourself!
5. Next, check your thoughts
After catching negative thoughts, spend a few moments to check them. Is your child really a spoiled brat? Or is she just having a really tough time right now. Gather up some evidence on both sides. Maybe 9 times out of 10 when he asks you for a treat, he accepts your "no" with grace. Most kids are well behaved kids. My assumption is that if you take the time to check your thoughts, you will conclude that your child is actually a pretty great kid most of the time but has bad days and moments like we all do.
6. Lastly, change your thoughts
Once you become well versed at noticing and choosing thoughts, you can pause and change your thoughts. To do this, you simply replace the negative thought with a thought that feels better.
He is manipulating me and I cannot let him get away with this is replaced with thoughts such as:
My child is really struggling right now. My child would act better if he could. She does not have the skills, brain development, or maturity to cope with her disappointment in this moment. I am the adult here, I do not like this, but I can handle it. I need to teach her how to handle her feelings in a way that is socially appropriate. I will take a moment to care for myself before interacting with her. Then I will take care of her and help her through this. So on and so forth.
Keep choosing thoughts that feel better to you. This will enable you to approach your child with love, acceptance, and grace while being an authority and guide.
By: Cristina Trette
Sometimes children act out in maddening ways - tantrums, explosive fighting with siblings, or an outright refusal to comply with requests. When these kinds of behaviors happen in homes with frequency, they tend to be met with strictness, tight control, or even force. It makes sense that parents would want to "lay down the law" on these types of behaviors! It is not pleasant to be around children when they are in this mode and many parents have been taught to eliminate these kinds of behaviors through punishment.
I punish from time to time. It is a reaction built in and passed down through generations. Yet, punishment-based parenting advice is out-dated. In fact, research suggests that punishment can make problem behavior even worse.
What we know today, and research supports this, is that children tend to act out when the level of stress they are experiencing exceeds their ability to cope. Unless mom and dad learn to look past behavior and consider the root causes of why their child is acting out, they are likely to overlook the possibility that their child is experiencing internal struggle and strife. For example, if a kid's tantrum is caused by mom and dads fighting, punishment will not stop the tantrums from happening.
Most young children do not have the brain capacity or sophistication to articulate what is happening in their inner world. Therefore, when having a really hard day or when going through challenging life events such as changing schools, moving, or divorce, most kids will act out their feelings which can show up as angry outbursts or defiance.
For example, lets look into the world of Matt, age 9. Matt's parents are successful, well-educated, and hardworking adults that are loving and attentive. Matt lives in a family friendly community and attends a top-notch public school. Yet, his parents fight a lot after he goes to sleep. And, last night, when his parents thought he was sleeping, they were so angry with each other that they started yelling. The next morning he went to school as usual but his worries about his parents stayed with him, brewing below the surface.
On the way home from school, Matt was upbeat and did not mention a word to his mother about any of his troubles. On some level Matt knows that his parents difficulties are troubling him, but he does not know how to articulate this. When the mother-son pair arrived at home, Matt eats a wholesome snack and gets started on his homework. Suddenly, Matt becomes whiny. Whines quickly lead to screaming, a rude outburst, and refusal to do his homework. Matt yells at his mom, says he hates her, and goes to his room.
Mom is feeling angry and baffled. What-just-happened?
Her son had just become an angry and defiant little monster! Mom could raise her voice, lay down the law, and demand that Matt begin his homework RIGHT NOW. She could sternly remind Matt that he will not be allowed to play outside or enjoy screen time until all of homework is finished.
Perhaps mom starts here, but hopefully she does not stay here.
There is another approach is more likely to elicit cooperation while also keeping the relationship intact. Mom could look at Matt's outburst as a signal that something is going on inside of him that he is having difficulty with understanding, feeling, and expressing. Matt's mom would see that he is having a hard time coping - with an issue in his life - and she would seek to discover the root cause of his behavior. Mom will still set and hold limits, and maintain high expectations, but she will also allow space for Matt to feel and move through his feelings and make sense of what is going on. Until children learn how to feel feelings without acting them out, it can be messy. Part of the job of the parent is to help children move through this process.
Punishing poor behavior assumes that children act out on purpose and that they are choosing to be difficult. Although this may happen from time to time, my strong assumption is that most of the time children do not choose to act poorly. Instead, poor behavior is a sign, a symptom, a signal that the child is experiencing difficulty with some aspect of his life which could include the parents relationship, friendships, performance in school and sports, or the relationship with the parent. Looking at our children through this lens enables parents to get to the root cause of acting out behavior which is more likely to create long lasting positive changes in the way your child behaves and acts while also increasing closeness within the parent-child relationship.
With this realization, Matt's mom will slow down, move in for physical affection (assuming Johnny responds well to touch), tap into genuine compassion and empathy, and become curious. With this approach she is likely to get more tears and an earful about the situations and events that are troubling Matt. And once Matt has gotten his troubles of his chest, feels heard, and re-connects to his mother, it is likely he will regain composure and be ready to tackle homework.
This approach takes patience, time, and a willingness on the part of the parent to be open to exploring the child's inner world. Yet, it teaches children valuable skills such as emotional regulation and responsiveness, gives them the ability to go to adults for help and guidance, models conflict resolution and assertiveness, and creates a strong internal model of healthy relationships.
By: Cristina Trette
Visualization is a well researched therapeutic technique that has been shown to increase performance and lower stress response. This can entail visualizing oneself in a challenging or stressful situation as a way to practice. During the visualization the individual sees himself moving through the challenging or stressful situation successfully and having a positive outcome.
If one takes the time to do mental rehearsal, lets say every night over the course of a few weeks, she will train the brain to respond to stressful stimuli more effectively. Mental rehearsal can be used to prepare one self for a variety of situations include public speaking, job interviews, athletic pursuits (my son uses visualization to prepare himself for challenging and difficult skateboarding moves). Really, the list goes on and on.
What does this have to do with parenting?
Well, parenting can be stressful. Tantrums, homework battles, defiance, and power struggles can lead to challenging moments between adult and child. Some moments are so challenging that a true stress response can take place within the body. Signs that an individual is under stress include rapid and shallow breathing, tension and tightness in the body, difficulty swallowing, and increased thirst. Have you ever noticed these sensations in your body when your child has a tantrum or when you are rushing to get out the door in the morning and your child becomes defiant?
Wouldn't it be nice if you could train yourself to respond to the stressful stimuli differently so that no matter what your child does you remain emotionally regulated allowing you to engage in effective parenting?! To get specific tips on how to practice mental rehearsal so that you can become a more responsive parent read on.
1. Select one specific challenge that you are currently encountering with your child. If you can, choose a challenge that happens frequently.
2. Next, spend a little bit of time thinking about how you react to the challenge? Do you experience stress and overwhelm? Do you yell, threaten, or punish? Or do you become permissive?
3. Now, visualize the best version of yourself engaging with your child in this specific challenging situation. What does your best mothering look like, even your kid is being difficult? See every detail. Relish in the how good it feels to parent in such a positive and responsive manner. Make sure to take long, deep breaths while visualizing.
4. Repeat step 3 over and over as much as you are able to. A great time for visualization is when you lay in bed at night after your child have gone to sleep. You only need to practice for a few minutes at a time.
5. When the real life challenge presents itself, notice how much more responsive you are. This practice works because the brain has responded to the visualization as if it happened in real life. New neural pathways were formed in the brain creating new patterns in behavior. So by the time the real life situation presents itself, you will be seasoned at sailing through the challenge with grace and ease.
I would love to hear how this practice works for you. If you try it out, let me know your experience in the comments box below!
By: Cristina Trette
My days felt like marathons as I spent all of them doing the same energy sucking routine: wake up and make breakfast, change diapers, get my 5 year old to school, park with my toddler and baby, cook lunch, put babies down for nap, laundry, dishes, school pick up, park, soccer practice, play dates, dinner, bath, reading, put kids to bed. I was a stay at home mom and my kids were ages 1, 3, and 5. I did not want life to pass by and have them see me so unhappy. So I got my sh@t together and made some changes. I wanted to experience joy again. I realized it would not happen without effort and that I was going to have to generate it. Here is what I did to turn things around.
1. I sought out opportunities for peace and quiet
We are raising children in a world that is increasingly fast paced. Many parents today are stuck in a constant state of overwhelm. If you meditate or have a mindfulness practice, you already know the value in stillness. To get back to joy, I recommitted to the practices of mindfulness and meditation. Other times I soaked in the bath with a glass of wine when everyone else was sleeping. Most importantly I began to make breaks apart of my day and taught my kids to let me break when I needed it. When my kids played at the park, instead of hovering behind them, I sat on a bench and focused on breathing and allowed myself to relax. I made it a point to observe the beauty all around me and soaked up serenity in the small moments. Find what works for you to quiet your self and make it a priority.
2. I stopped complaining
As a species, we are consumed with the negative. Our brains are primed to pay attention to anything threatening while tuning out the good stuff. When we were cavewomen, even if most of our day was blissful, we had to be on the alert for the one tiger that may attack us. To read another article I wrote on this subject, click here. But here is the thing, the more we talk and think about the negative, the worse we feel. I had to work hard at ending the habit of complaining. It started with a challenge I was given to not complain for one week. This was inanely hard to do at first! But after the week was up, my mood has improved so dramatically that it became much easier to stay the course.
3. I practiced small acts of kindness
Every day I did one small kind act and still maintain this practice today. Sometimes this means texting a deserved compliment to a friend. Other times I place a nice letter on my son’s pillow thanking him for a way he has contributed recently. Once I picked flowers from the garden and put in a vase in my daughters room. If you can, extend gestures beyond the walls of family. Pay the parking fee for the man behind you in the garage. Offer to buy your friend a cup of coffee. Bring in a dozen bagels for the teacher’s lounge at your kid’s school. Kindness is contagious and can quickly turn a sour mood into a happy one.
4. I started a positive journal
Many people keep a journal as a space where they can express their negative emotions. This is valuable as it gets the thoughts out of your body-mind and onto paper, making it less likely that you will store it inside. I suggest that you also purchase a separate positive journal. Keep the positive journal as a space for writing down thoughts, dreams, goals, and actions that make you feel good. Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, refers to these journals as Blessings Journal. You can learn more about research and practices of positive psychology at www.authentichappiness.com.
5. I made it a point to talk about what went well with my kids
One positive psychology tool is the “What-Went-Well” exercise. This practice involves taking the time to reflect on the positive aspects of our experiences. Seligman suggests that the practice of writing in a journal every night about three experiences that went well and why, has been correlates with decreasing depression. Examples can be simple such as my daughter got in her bed tonight gracefully and went right to sleep or my husband surprised us all with our favorite treat when he came home from work.
6. I became habitually grateful
There are many ways to focus on gratitude. Some tape a gratitude list to their bathroom mirror. Others find that silently extending appreciation works best for them. In my family we like to start family dinners with everyone taking a turn to say what they are grateful for and why. My partner and I like to take gratitude walks. As we walk we take turns saying out loud what we appreciate. I love doing this.
7. I became more comfortable with my mistakes
No one is perfect. Acknowledge and accept that mistakes are a part of the human experience. If you make a mistake, instead of beating yourself up, ask yourself what you learned from the experience. Teach your children to look for the beautiful purpose in mistakes too. Encourage your child to see mistakes or perceived failures as learning opportunities. There is a fantastic children's book called Beautiful Oops that helps kids see that everything mistake is an opportunity to create something beautiful.
8. I caught myself when I wanted to blame others for my feelings
Your child is not in charge of your happiness. If you blame your frustration and anger on the behavior of your child (or anyone) you will never find the joy that you are seeking. Allow your happiness and fulfillment in life to come from inside of you. Everyone is at choice in how they feel in any given moment. Once you start acknowledging that you create your response to every situation and event, you will begin to feel more freedom and contentment from within. If you are stuck in a rut, hate your job, want to go back to work, want to exercise commit to making one big change taht you know will bring you more joy. Everyone is at choice in how they feel in any given moment. Once you start acknowledging that you create your response to every situation and event, you will begin to feel more freedom and contentment from within.
9. I built my tribe
It takes a village to raise a child. The research on this is solid, individuals with a strong support system in place are happier and healthier than those who isolate. If you are raising kids in isolation, make an effort to reach out. I had some lonely years where most of my days were spent with my three kids. I made it a point to connect with other moms and pushed myself past my comfort zone in order to do this. Join a parenting group, plan a moms night out, sign up for a workshop or volunteer at your kid’s school. Getting involved in your community provides a convenient source for making friends and being a part of something meaningful. Sign up for the local 5k or volunteer at your local animal shelter. The list of ways to contribute to your community are endless. Bring your kids with you!
Do you tips to offer? I would love to hear what they are in the comments box below!
By: Cristina Trette
No parent wants to blow up on their kids. Yet, it can happen. Being a conscious parent takes a considerable amount of self-discipline in developing awareness. Despite hectic and busy lives there are ways to enhance your state of well-being and become more responsive. It will take time and it will not happen overnight. But I promise, with some slight changes, you can experience less reactivity and more peace. Read on!
1. Your food affects your mood.
I was a teenager during the fat-free craze so there was a time in my life when I lived on candy, pretzels, and diet coke and thought I was healthy because there was no fat in my diet. Thankfully my knowledge of nutrition has changed and today I focus on eating organic whole foods as much as possible. Instead of avoiding or eliminating the foods you know you should not eat, such as processed foods and sugary sweets, it helps to focus on filling up with foods that you know are good for you. Eat a wide range of organic veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, beans, and organic meats, while still allowing yourself to eat occasional treat if you want it. Highly restrictive diets set individuals up for a deprivation mentality making it more likely they will feel edgy and snap at their kids. Diets with high sugar and white flour do not give your brain the nutrition it needs and could make it more likely that you blow up on your kids.
One of the easiest ways to elevate your mood and become more relaxed overall is to exercise every single day. This can be as simple as putting on shoes and walking for 20 minutes. If you have to choose between doing 20 minutes of doing laundry and 20 minutes of walking - please - choose the walking! We have a fantastic Y near my house that offers free on-site child care, a great workout facility, and exercise class schedule. Check to see if something like this exists in your neighborhood. There are plenty of fun ways to bring exercise into your life too. Ride bikes with your kids or go to dance classes. Research solidly backs up many benefits of exercise: people who exercise moderately have lower rates of stress-response, depression. Lower overall stress response means it will be easier for you to keep your cool with your kids when things get hectic.
3. Ask your inner-critic to take it down a notch.
You inner critic can fuel thoughts and feelings making it more likely that you will become very angry and highly reactive. Is your inner-critic loud? I am a recovering self-critic. I used to be very critical of myself when my kids fought. For example, if one kid pushed another, I would quickly jump to thoughts that I was a terrible parent. Or, if I yelled, I would beat myself up, get stuck in a negative mood, making it more likely I would yell again! What a cycle! It took some inner work to unravel all of this, but these days I am much kind to myself when my kids start acting out or when I make a mistake. A fantastic book to read is to help you ease up with yourself is, "The Mindful Path to Self Compassion" by Christopher Germer.
4. Connect with your body
Do you grip the steering wheel when driving in traffic? Do your shoulders tighten when you are rushing to get out of the house ? Do you clench your jaw when your toddler has a tantrum? This kind of tension builds up in your body and can keep you in a state of stress. If you do not do anything to release the tension, you will eventually explode. Become aware of the areas in your body where you hold tension and actively release these areas through your breath or self massage. Or, make it a habit to relax your body at night before going to sleep. One great exercise is the progressive relaxation exercise. Starting with your toes, tighten your toes and then release. Next, tighten your whole foot and release. Continue moving all the way up through your body until you finish with your face and head. While moving through the body parts, allow your breath to flow through and relax each body part. This is a great exercise to teach your children before they go to sleep too. Not only will you be providing them with a stress-reducing skill but connecting with your children at bedtime can strengthen your relationship.
5. Examine your beliefs
What thoughts and beliefs kick-in when things get intense between you and your child? For many parents, the belief that they have to control their child and "be the boss" makes it more likely that the parent and child will engage in power-struggles. You will know if a limiting belief is affecting your relationship with your child if you tend to think thoughts such as: she is manipulating me, she is spoiled, I can’t let him get away with this, or I need to show him who is boss. The beliefs mentioned above fuel autocratic parenting that relies on fear-based discipline to control children. Conscious parents work hard to think thoughts that honor their role as leaders and loving authority figures rather than dictators demanding obedience. The next time you catch yourself thinking destructive thoughts that make it more likely you will punish, or in some other way tear down your child, remember to pause. Spend some time choosing better feeling thoughts and do not proceed with you child until you are moving from a place of respect. To learn more about how to change your thoughts, click here.
One of the most damaging myths that has circulated in parenting and early childhood education settings is the assumption that you have to take discipline action immediately in order for a child to learn a lesson. This concept may work well when we are training rats in a lab. But humans are complex and so many factors go into shaping behavior. The truth is, we do not tend to learn when in a state of fight-or-flight. To put this into perspective think about how you learn best. We can all recount experiences when true learning took place after having had time to think, reflect, and process. It is OK to save the discussion until you have both calmed down. Sometimes the very best form of discipline is to tell your child that you will discuss the poor behavior or disruptive incident later. In the case of handling a child that is in the midst of a tantrum or emotional overwhelm or there is never anything wrong with gently bringing your child into a private place or waiting until the storm has passed to address something.
7. The heart-connector
Susie Walton, the creator of Joy of Parenting, taught me an effective parenting tool called the heart-connector that I use on a daily basis when interacting with my children and loved ones. The next time you find yourself getting really upset with you kids, place your hand over your heart and breathe deeply. First acknowledge your own feelings. Are you angry? Are you sad? Your feelings are valid. It is important that you feel. Continue to keep your hand on your heart while you breathe and honor your feelings. It may help to name your feeling out-loud. Once feeling centered, and connected to your heart, take action with your child.
8. I-am statements
One of the most powerful tools I have learned from Pam Dunn, founder of Your Infinite Life Training and Coaching Company, is the use of I-am statements. In your journal, write down qualities and strengths that you already possess, as well as, qualities and strengths that you would like to cultivate. Here is an example of an I-am statement that could benefit my parenting: I am responsive, confident, thoughtful, and loving. Repeating this phrase in my mind before I engage in a challenging situation with my child makes it more likely that I will remain centered. It also makes it more likely that the outcome will be in my best interest and the best interest of my child too. Yesterday one child of mine was being disruptive at lunch. It took him ages to come sit and eat. Once he got to the table he would not sit still, refused to eat his salad, and dumped half the jar of cheese on his food. I was very hungry myself so I had a hard time handling the situation. Yet, I managed to say responsive and address the behaviors in a kind and firm way. I was able to do this because my inner self talk went like this: "I am loving, respectful, and firm". I said this in my head numerous times, while placing my hand over my heart, which enabled me to take action while staying connected.
9. Start meditating
It takes self-discipline to commit to a meditation practice. In my early twenties I meditated most days of the week. At some point I abandoned the practice because I thought that I did not have enough time. Recently started meditating again and it has had a profound effect on my parenting. I feel much more responsive overall. Start by finding a quiet place in your house that is free from distractions. Set your phone timer to let you know when 20 minutes ends. Sit up straight, crossed legged, resting your hands gently on your lap with palms up. Begin by focusing on your breathe. Allow yourself to breathe in the way that is most comfortable for you. Then, it helps to recite a mantra, or a phrase, over and over again. There are also many Sanskrit phrases you can use that will instantly bring about more peace. The phrase I have repeated since I was a child is "om sai ram". Or you can repeat, "I am love". When meditating, your mind will wander and various thoughts will come, this is normal. If you start to notice thoughts, gently bring yourself back to your breath or mantra. Having a daily silent meditation practice is the most effective way to become a more responsive parent overall.
10. Connect with nature
Nature is soothing. My personal opinion is that we all have a need for nature. Connecting with nature can be as simple as basking in the sun for a few minutes on the balcony, gardening, or watering the flowers. My love of nature mostly consists of being in the ocean and running on the beach. But I also find joy in listening to the birds sing and in being outdoors with my kids. The ways to connect with nature are endless. Find peace in hiking, swimming in a lake, or having a picnic at a grassy field. There has been evidence suggesting that the increase in ADHD symptoms is associated with more and more children lacking time in nature. Let your kids climb trees, get muddy, and roll around in the dirt as much as you possibly can!
Many children respond positively to being touched. A hand on the shoulder, a quick neck rub, or even picking your child up and holding him with love and strength are all wonderful ways to sooth your child and yourself. I used to be a massage therapist and had years of experience working with a variety of clients with a wide range of issues. Through this work I learned important and simple truths: touch is healing and humans have a lifelong need to touch others, to be touched, to hold others, and be held. If you are finding yourself moving into a place where you are about to lose with your child, try reach out and connecting through physical affection instead. Physical touch allows co-regulation to unfold.
Have you been able to transition from being highly reaction to responsive? What suggestions do you have to help you remain conscious and connected to your