How do you Feel?

face in a reflection

If I’ve learned anything about trauma, regulation and parenting it is that first you have to know yourself. That applies to your children and it applies to you. If you aren’t in the habit of self-reflection and asking yourself how you feel and what do you need, you are most likely a reactive person who is comfortable telling yourself that your reactions were justified because someone else “made you do it”.

 

While it is very true that we attune to people and tend to match the emotions we see in someone else we focus our attention on (see my previous post on Atunement), it is important to be able to have enough self-awareness to understand when you are having negative feelings and examine those feelings before you disconnect with that person- in this case your child.

 

If you are not in the habit of self-reflection, I would suggest you look up some mindfulness techniques. They don’t have to take a lot of time during your day. You can do something as simple as pausing every now and then during the day and labeling your feelings at that moment to yourself. “Right now, I’m feeling- happy, anxious, calm, angry…” Remember behavior is communication. It’s true for your child and it’s true for you. If you are being short with your children, label your feelings and that can help you identify why you might be behaving the way you are.

 

Now for you children, self- reflection and attunement might be hard concepts for them to grasp. But you can still teach your children how to know themselves. I’m big on family time, family meetings, family meals whatever ritual you establish that pulls your family together so you can talk and share. Our family gets together before bedtime every night to talk, read, pray and dole out goodnight hugs and kisses. This is the time where I sneak in some sort of mindfulness activity we do as a family. One exercise we tried recently was that we each had to say how we felt at that moment and put a label on our emotion. It may be difficult for your kids to put a word to how they are feeling as we typically don’t say much about our emotions beyond, “fine”, “good”, “tired”, or maybe even an eye roll when a parent asks how a child is feeling. It’s a good place to start building up self-awareness. Try it!

 

Another exercise you can do with your children that is fun is playing a sort of feelings charade game with them. Have each person take a turn choosing a part of their day to act out and they have to show in their face how they felt about that experience.  By focusing on non-verbal communication with no words. The rest of the family will be attuned to the person’s body language and facial expressions to try to figure out how they are feeling. This game has a two-fold benefit of helping the person who is acting out to again label their emotion to themselves and then tie that emotion to a facial expression, it links the left brain label/category and words factory to the right brain sensing and expressions to help them process how they felt about a part of their day. The rest of the family trying to guess the emotion, will be attuned to the person and their mirror neurons will be activated as they watch the expressions and register the feelings themselves in the right brain- then say the word- activating the left brain. Its’ a fun way to integrate thoughts, feelings and empathy by using both sides of the brain while building self-awareness skills.
And self-awareness brings knowledge

Holiday Help: Stay Attuned

child and Christmas tree

The holidays begin! All the fun of baking, decorating, traveling, traditions, family and friends is great but often overwhelming. We love the holiday season, but most of us are just as ready for things to slow down after the holidays and get back to normal. Our children are no different.

 

My holiday advice to you is to stay mindful of your own feelings, energy level and stressors and how it affects your behaviors and your interactions with others. Do what you need to do to regulate even in this busy season to meet your own needs. Your needs will be a variety of wanting love, solitude, fun and stability. Be conscious and ask yourself what you need to feel present and regulated right now and do it. You may not have the luxury of changing your schedule, but you can quickly refresh yourself by doing some deep breathing for a minute or two, give yourself some positive affirmations, drop your shoulders and relax your muscles.

 

When you are mindful of your own emotions, you can help your child with his regulation during the holidays. Kids have notorious big behaviors during the holidays, if you don’t believe me, just browse the internet for funny/not funny Santa pictures with unsmiling children.  Your own children have the same problems you do in shifting through different emotions and trying to stay present and regulated. Stay attuned to your child’s needs and ask the same questions that you asked yourself about what your child needs right now. See past the child’s behaviors and see what he needs from you to feel safe and regulated. Remember behavior is communication. It’s true for you, and it’s true for your child.

 

If your family is not your child’s first family and he came to you through adoption, foster care or a blended family, be particularly conscious that the holidays have different context for your child and may trigger memories that are unpleasant or sad. Be attuned to your child who may need more regulation and felt safety at this time. Meet your child’s needs with compassion and regulation. It is easier to do when you can see past the behavior and see that the root cause is fear, or simply being tired or hungry. They will be able to mirror your own regulation if you are in a calm place to begin with. If you are not regulated in your own body, it will be hard for your child to feel calm.

 

If you need some ideas of how to build in family connection times you can read my previous post about that here.

 

Enjoy the season with your family!

Remember your Love

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A lot of times, our parenting is filtered by negative stereotyped expectations of who our child is. Terrible twos, the awful potty training phase, all tweens are sassy, and the teen years are a nightmare. Just because you hear the stories, doesn’t mean you have to expect your child to fall in line with the negative expectations. Stay connected to your child. Listen without judgement and be there for them. Marvel at who they are at each stage of their development.

 

If you are having a hard time seeing the wonder of your child, try this little exercise to bring back that wonder and positive regard for your child that you may feel like you have lost.

 

Find a time when your child is in a common room of the house and is occupied in an activity. Go to another room of your house, where you can be alone. Sit quietly, take some deep breaths and push out any anxiety or stress you are feeling. Picture yourself putting your worries in a box to deal with later. Right now, focus on calm. When you are feeling relaxed and calm, purposely think of your child and what you love about him or her. Think of their traits, their passions, personality and physical features that you love. Stay focused on the positive aspects of your child. If your mind wanders to the negative about your child, picture yourself adding that to the box of worries and negative thoughts and refocus on the positive. It may help to tap your legs lightly with your fingers, right-left-right-left while you focus on your love for your child.

After you feel calm and warmed by the love for your child, go into the room your child is in and just sit there. Continue feeling the love for your child with calm, deep breaths. Get up when you are ready and go back to your normal activities. You may notice that your interactions are more positive with your child and it may seem like your child is behaving better, simply because you have positive regard for your child. Your child can feel that love and will respond to it! If this works for you do it as often as you need to during those difficult stages when you have a hard time remembering just how much you love this amazing kid.

 

References: Duffy, J, (2014). The Available Parent: Expert Advice for Raising Successful and Resilient Teens and Tweens. Viva Editions, Berkley, CA

Problem Solving with Connection

einstein quote

I love that quote by Albert Einstein. I have it written on a chalkboard in my kitchen to remind myself and my family to try to look at a problem a different way. In Choice Connections, it is important to understand the problem exists because we haven’t figured out a way to solve it yet, and we won’t be able to solve it unless we are able to step outside of our own viewpoint and look at the problem in a new way.

 

If we understand that we can only control ourselves, then the pressure is off to try to get our children to do what we want. When there is a conflict with your child, leave out the “You” and finger pointing. Stick with “I” statements and tell your child what you are willing to do to solve the problem and ask your child to do the same. William Glasser calls this approach to a problem as the solving circle. Each party steps into the imaginary boundaries of the solving circle and agrees to leave out the blaming and criticizing and only focus on what they themselves can do to help solve the situation. It also helps to understand that power struggles with our children are often about power or freedom and see what you can do to help your child feel respected and in control. If for example, the problem is getting chores done, you could tell you child, “I need these chores done, I am going to get started on dinner in an hour and I need it done before then.  I can see you are really into your game right now. I am willing to wait until you finish the game as long as you think it can be done by the time I need to start cooking. You child will feel respected and feel like he has some power and choice in the matter and will have to work in the parameters of the solving circle by offering what he can do to solve the problem as well. If both of you work together without blaming and criticizing, you can reach a favorable solution for all through respect and connection.

 

This also works for sibling fights. Instead of jumping in as a referee. Set up a solving circle for you children and help them reach a solution together where each of their needs are met. Do this with empathy for each sibling and show them you have confidence that they can solve their own problem. This can go something like this: “Oh I hear James wants the Jump rope and Tonya says she still wants to play with it. Hmmm that sounds tough. How are you two going to solve that? Help them come up with a solution that doesn’t involve blaming and tattling by guiding them to only say how they can be a part of the solution to get both of their needs met.

 

When you sense an argument brewing, pause, take a deep breath and set up the rules for problem solving together in a connected way. No blaming or criticizing, just offer what you can to help solve the problem to get both of your needs met and let your child help solve the problem.

 

References: Glasser, William (1998). Choice Theory. Harper Collins, New York, NY.

Roll with It

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It goes without saying that parenting isn’t always the image we have in our head. We plan an event or a trip. It’s going to be perfect, it’s going to be fun- and then we add children to the mix, and things often end up very different then we plan, amen? We learn very quickly as parents to adapt.

I recently read Peter Levine’s Healing Trauma that gives some great exercises one can do to alleviate symptoms of trauma in their life (I recommend the book if that is something you need to explore!). Several of my children have trauma in their pasts as part of their adoption story, so I was excited to try several of the recommended exercises as a family. As I posted earlier, for our family, it is easier to try new calming techniques and stress management as a family together so no one child feels singled out for their issues, it’s fun as a family and there are no excuses not to try, we are making the time right now to do it together. Anyway, one of the exercises I wanted to try was a bit of pet therapy. Pets are calming. The child can match their breathing pattern to the pet, feel the pet’s calmness, regulate through repetitive motions such as stroking the animal’s fur and let the calmness wash over them. I have 5 kids, 3 dogs and 2 guinea pigs, so I had a one to one ratio. I asked all the kids to get a pet and we talked about deep breathing and mindfulness and I asked them to just be with the pet and feel the pet’s calmness as I read a story. (I usually read a chapter book out loud to the whole family before bedtime.) Well, it seemed like it was going to be a beautiful idea, but it didn’t really go as I envisioned it. The dogs were so excited to have all the kids on the floor with them that they wouldn’t stay with the assigned kid and kept wandering from one child to another. One dog just wanted to play, and the kids did a lot of giggling instead of relaxed deep breathing. I think the kids holding the guinea pigs got the most out of it as they laid on their backs and set the guinea pigs on their bellies and felt the weight of the little pets as they did deep breathing and watched the guinea pigs rise up and down on their chests.

It kind of reminds me of the John Denver song- “We didn’t get much mindfulness but we had a lot of fun…” It didn’t go as I was hoping, but I rolled with it.

In learning new ways to connect with your children, you may find that things don’t go as you envisioned it. You plan to respond instead of react to your child’s needs, and somehow it just doesn’t happen that way. You want to try a connected family exercise together, and it may go something like our pet therapy night. Please don’t be hard on yourself. If things don’t go as planned, roll with it, keep your shoulders relaxed and stay calm- maybe have fun anyway. If you react to your child in a non-connected way by yelling, shaming or criticizing, just be real with yourself and your child and ask for a do over or apologize and try to better next time. You will not be perfect any more than your child will, and that’s ok. Just like any relationship, you will not get it right all the time, the important part is to make the relationship right as many times as you need to. That’s a big part of connected parenting.

 

And if things don’t go as planned, roll with it and figure out how you can still have a connected moment with your child.

 

*If you want some ideas of family connection times read the post 5 Ways to Build Resiliency as a Family.

 

References: Levine, P. (2008). Healing Trauma. Sounds True, Boulder, CO.