Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Using Humor: parenting should be fun!

In the book “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, Mc Murphy (played on screen by legendary actor Jack Nicholson) says “when you loose your sense of humor, you loose your footing” which is great wisdom when you consider in this movie, he lives in a psychiatric institution!
Humor is one of the best tools you have at hand for those days when your children are in a conspiracy to send you over the edge. Humor and laughter are indeed serious business: Did you know that they can also reduce stress, ease strained relationships, diffuse tension, and even bridge the gap between generations? Given all the benefits of giggling, chuckling, and being silly, why not inject some humor into your family's day-to-day life? A sense of humor will help you when your baby begins to cry for the fifth time tonight... When your 2 year-old has smeared her dirty diaper all over the bedroom wall.. when you have an argumentative five-year old. Or like me, while you're in the middle of a complex parking maneuver at the supermarket, reversing your 4x4 into a space that a shopping cart would find tight while your daughter is giving you the "third degree"!

Every kid has a funny bone. They love to laugh, play, and clown around. Experts say (whoever these experts are!) that humor is a very effective way to get kids to do the things they don’t want to do. When parents use silly songs and the element of surprise, kids will often comply with little fuss. “Humor allows parents to handle a tough circumstance in a different and more constructive manner,” says child physician, Dr. Rene Ramiro.
I believe that laughter can connect us with the present moment, with the here and now. The older I get the more I realize the importance of making laughter a priority and try to find something that makes me laugh at least once a day. When I have had a particularly bad day (no matter what, we've all been there!) where it seems like NOTHING could help, watching some I Love Lucy always does the trick for me.

It's so fun, I tell you. And I feel lighter and more centered and I can honestly say I even feel wiser and more compassionate when I laugh.

A final note: Humor will allow you on the most stressful of days to realize that you've been given your child as an amazing gift to enjoy and cherish.

Remember: Don't be a cynic. Parenting should be fun.

Cultivate Gratitude

There has been a lot of “buzz” in the last few years about the power of gratitude: books are written about it, seminars and classes talk about the importance of being grateful. We even have a day in the year when we are asked to think about what we are grateful for! Researchers are finding that gratitude is a key element of human well-being. They are finding that grateful people are optimistic and energetic and deal better with stress and illness. Gratitude, in short, can make you happier.

For those of you for whom research drives the point home more powerfully, check this out: Seligman, Steen, Park and Peterson (2005) carried out a randomized, placebo-controlled study. They followed participants up 6 months after they had begun carrying out a simple gratitude exercise and found they were happier and less depressed than a control group. In this study, though, participants initially wrote about what they were grateful for every day for a week. If it's possible for even the simplest negative thought to provoke a change in mood (and if you are a parent, you know how TRUE that is), then why not a positive grateful thought as well?

A word of caution here: When I ask you to consider the power of being grateful, I am not asking you to stick your head in the sand and pretend that nothing is happening that needs your attention. "To say we feel grateful is not to say that everything in our lives is necessarily great," Robert A. Emmons (Emmons, R.A., & McCullough, M.E. -2004. The psychology of gratitude). "It just means we are aware of our blessings”.

What does gratitude have to do with parenting, you ask? What I know is that when we focus on what we don’t have, we tend to perpetuate the very same thing we don’t want. The negative thoughts that arise when we are concentrated on the way things should be and are not, can rob us from the joy that our children bring us every day. These thoughts are the perennial “blackberry” bushes of our lives (for those of you on the Pacific Northwest, you get the picture, right?) It takes a lot of effort to eliminate them from our garden. Well, it’s the same thing with negative thoughts (and attitudes) about our children’s behaviors, demeanors and intentions. We need to eliminate our routine thinking and labeling of them before we can actually “plant” the seeds of the behaviors we want from them. 

One of the things that I started doing a couple of years ago and found incredibly powerful, was the nightly routine of a gratitude journal. It has evolved nicely into a deeper daily practice that reminds me of how full my life truly is. A good friend of mine gave me a beautiful journal that I decided to use and write 5 things for which I was grateful. It became a profound ritual that brought a sense of closure to every day. Some times, in our quests to be better, or more successful, or more organized, or better moms, parents, spouses, we get stuck in the energy of more, and forget the gifts of now.

I know what some of you may be thinking: this exercise seems so trivial it couldn’t possible be worth doing. I invite you to think about this: Many parents focus on what isn’t working, forgetting to appreciate what is. Today, take a few minutes to appreciate nature. Go for a walk and notice the beauty around you. Whether you focus on the clouds above, a distant mountain range, or the apple tree in your backyard, notice the details. The bottom line is that regardless of whether you record these items on a journal or not, I invite you t spend some time each day to focus on the little things in your life that make each day special. Be aware of what in your personal and family life you are grateful for. Focus on little things in your life that make each day special: A good friend. Your child's toothless grin. A homemade meal. A warm shower. Your child’s picture that looks nothing like the puppy she says it is

Remember: "Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." - William Arthur Ward

Thursday, August 20, 2009

How do children spell love? T-I-M-E

I know. This is such a timeless piece of advice, isn't it? Making sure we have some quality time can be difficult. We have so many activities to compete with and when parents have to work outside the home, it calls for some serious creativity. One thing that has helped me is to set more boundaries around my work, so that when I am home, I’m “really all there". I have to confess that there have been days when I am spending time with our daughter coloring, baking or even reading, and my mind is busy thinking and planning what I need to get accomplished as soon as I am “done” with her. That’s not what it is meant by quality time. Quality time really means giving your children your full attention, not all day long or even every day, but during the time you are WITH them. It means being present and having your attention on them, mind and heart.

I can already hear some of you saying: …But how? How do we find time when we have more than one child? How do we find time when we work outside the home? How do I find time when our partner doesn’t help with the housework? How do I find time when I am tired and exhausted? Well, that is one question that comes up time and time again with the parents I coach. I wish I had a magic answer that would fit all the possible reasons why finding time for your children can be a challenge. What I do know is that, once you find a way to incorporate quality time into routines and activities you already do, it becomes much easier and less of a to-do and more of a “ta-daah”! (can you hear the drum rolls?)

What I am suggesting is that you make those 15 minutes at the dinner table count. Maybe when you are ready to do laundry, you can ask your youngest to help you carry some clothes to the washer and you can talk to them about was their favorite thing from that day. Or maybe when you are driving your 10 year-old to a play date you can sing together in the car to a song you know she likes. Maybe you can play “I Spy” in the car on the way to the dentist. Maybe you can sit down and write a short note to grandma to send her your children’s latest art work. With very young children, days of the week can have cool names like Magic Monday, Terrific Tuesday, Wondrous Wednesday--and so on. Pick a Saturday during the year when children can make gifts for each other and celebrate what's special about their sister or brother. Celebrate a butterfly sighting or geese flying south, a fresh snowfall, a field goal, a lost object found, a new haircut, Picture Day at school. Our 3-year-old neighbor Hunter who lives on our cul-de-sac loves how fun it is turning on the vacuum cleaner for his mom, then pushing the button that magically "eats" the cord when he is done. Have a family Valentine's Dinner--lots of red candles, lacy doilies, little white lights wrapped around the room, and heart-shaped food. Even President's Day is an opportunity to come together as a family. You might talk about what makes a good leader, read stories about Washington and Lincoln, and say what each of you would do to make the world a better place if you were president. Think of what you loved doing as a kid and try to build on that.
These are all ways to incorporate “one-on-one” time without having to spend money or carve huge amounts of time for them.

For those of you ready to leap into designating more specific family time, turning off the TV or computer is another way that helps you create that special time. When I was growing up, my family parents were big fans of board games. We spent many a night playing Monopoly and Life, or trying to keep quiet while playing old fashioned Operation. These days, we have new games that my family enjoys and my daughter loves the popular ‘theme” games; Princess Monopoly or Sponge Bog Life. We also like crafting together – just being inventive with the stuff around our house and seeing what we create. I have learned that our daughter and I can always have some quality time doing some scrap booking together, something we both enjoy immensely. My daughter loves to help cook, so we let her drag her stepstool over and work alongside us. The bottom line is that you can make everyday life routines a family-focused activity. One of the things our daughter enjoys most is reading, so I try to spend at least a few minutes a day reading to her and we also make sure we have a family game night  every week. We play the computer games or pull out the UNO cards or get a board game.

Another great opportunity to have time together is to sit together at the table and eat dinner together. Dinnertime conversations (either at our table or at a restaurant) are always a great opportunity to connect, regardless of what’s being served. Get creative: Have an indoor picnic on the floor. Serve banana splits for dinner or pasta for breakfast. Choose a day and announce that you will be having dinner for breakfast and breakfast for dinner. Serve boxed macaroni and cheese or chicken nuggets and fries in the morning and make pancakes or eggs and toast for dinner. You might have dessert before you have dinner and serve the main course afterwards. Kids love this one.

Make time to have fun with your children. It will pay off in a 100 different ways and is worth every minute.

"Your children need your presence far more than your presents."   Jesse Jackson 

The Soulful Parent

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ready, Set, Go Back!

By Jenny Runkel

Whether your little one is headed to kindergarten, college, or somewhere in between, you are facing that time of year again…the time of much rejoicing for parents and much lamenting for children (and most of their teachers).
That’s right, it’s back to school time. Whether your summer is coming to a bittersweet end, or just a “Thank God it’s over” end, it’s time for you to prepare yourself and your family for the familiar grind of academia.

We’ve compiled a few tips and tricks that will help you stay ScreamFree through that process and hopefully beyond it:

1. Back up bedtime. NOW. 

If your family is anything like ours, we’ve been on the go with vacations, summer camps, and family visits. All of those are great, but they tend to be accompanied with late nights, less than structured days, and a lazy summer mentality.

It’s time to get the kids (and you) used to an earlier bedtime and an earlier morning. Word of warning: Don’t do this all at once. Move your kids toward bed – with a familiar routine – about 10 minutes earlier each night and get them up 10 minutes earlier each day, until that fateful day arrives. Their bodies and yours will be adjusted by then and you’ll be able to skip at least some of the back to school blues.

2. Encourage goal setting. 

Even your 1st grader can be taught about setting goals. This is a great activity to do together. Too often, we set goals for our kids without really letting them in on the process. If our job is to raise adults, we should be giving them more and more ownership over their lives each year. Ask them what they are interested in accomplishing this year. Help them think of possible goals and be sure not to dismiss the ones they come up with. Then talk openly together about what it might take to achieve those goals.

3. Get your house ready for the paper tornado. 

I thought that computers were supposed to save trees and eliminate the paper trail altogether, but my kids bring home more each year. If I don’t have a plan in place for what to do with math worksheets and watercolor octopi, I will be buried alive. First, go through last year’s stuff if you haven’t already. Be brutal and only keep things like standardized test scores and written assignments that really show their personality. Aim to reduce whatever you’ve kept to a small stack that you can put in one file folder.

For the incoming flux, get a small hanging file folder box or even an accordion folder that you keep near the place where kids keep their backpacks. Teach them how to sort their incoming mail just like you do your own. Immediately recycle the junk mail, mark down important dates and events on the family calendar (and toss the paper it came in on), and file the completed worksheets, etc…in a folder with their name on it. Go through it together at the end of each grading period and repeat step one.

4. Give them more responsibility. 

I stopped going through backpacks in about 2nd grade when I reached in and felt something squishy that I swear moved. After that, it was their job each afternoon to take out any papers I’m supposed to see, put their emptied lunch boxes by the sink, and hang their bookbags by the back door.

I know this causes great anxiety in some parents. But remember, we’re striving to create adults here – ones that will be doing this all for themselves in a few short years. Teach them how, let them do it, watch them learn (sometimes through failure).

5. Be careful what you say yes to now. 

You are about to be bludgeoned by requests for this activity and that one. You want your children to experience all that life has to offer, which in our society can mean cub scouts, gymnastics, math clubs, church groups, and playdates (and all of this before they even reach elementary school). Doing everything is just a recipe for resentment. Build in some downtime so that your kids can just be kids.

All of these tips are designed to help you keep your cool as your kids’ school schedule cranks up the heat. Your attitude and demeanor at home is every bit as important to their academic and social success as the school they attend and the teachers they have. So, savor the pool a few more times and then get busy getting ready so that you are all prepared for that first day of school.

Hal E. Runkel, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of the groundbreaking book ScreamFree Parenting: Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool, from Broadway Books and Waterbrook Press. Visit www.screamfree.com for more information.

The Truth About Self Care

On my last plane trip to New Jersey at the end of June, I was sitting next to a young mom and her precious 5 year-old little girl. As with every flight, instructions given to ensure our safety were posted on the little screen in front of us. The little girl was watching attentively as if this was a Disney movie,while I decided that this time I was really going to pay attention to the safety rules. WIthin a few minutes came the part where the flight attendants talk about what happens in case of a change in the “cabin pressure” . The airplane safety instructions tell you to put on your oxygen masks before placing a mask on your children. The little girl looked at me and then looked at her mom and with the innocence reserved for a child that age, asked her mom “do we have to remember all this”? I couldn’t help but laugh at this precocious little 5 year old and also think about what a great example of Exquisite Self-Care the safety instructions were. I am sure you can relate. We all experience many different “changes in pressure” throughout our days as parents. Finding a way that makes sense to take care of ourselves first, is a healthy practice that we can extend to our daily lives on the ground!

Psychologists now know that parents, who make time for themselves every day, are happier people and more patient parents, who raise happier children. But what exactly are we talking about? At one of our weekly meetings, I asked the group of moms I am coaching, what were the first things that came to their minds when they thought about self-indulgent activities. The list was interesting: massages, pedicures, bottles of fancy wine, bubble baths, trips to the spa, sleeping in late and maid services. These were all great ideas and I was delighted that they could come up with so many. When I asked them how often they actually get a chance to do any of those, their answer was a resounding: NEVER!

As a parent of a very active and engaged 7-year-old myself, I find that self-care tends to slip my mind every now and then if I am not careful. It has taken a long time for me to realize the importance of considering my needs as part of the well-being of my family. I was raised by an amazing woman who felt that the needs of her family ALWAYS came first. The price exacted by living life from this place of self-less martyrdom, was a huge compromise on her mental and physical health and an incredible sense of responsibility for my mother’s happiness.

It seems like an obvious statement to say that when a parent feels relaxed and less stressed, children feel calmer and tend to be more cooperative. Treat yourself to your own personal “down time,” whatever that might be for you. It will help you to better handle the most highly charged of situations with your children and you’ll become a great role model for them in the process.

For some, this “care and feeding of the soul” could be a walk in nature, while for others it will be enjoying a hobby. It could be dancing with your child to their favorite tunes (you get movement for your health in the process), scheduling that mammogram, calling a friend or drinking enough water.

As I continue to explore what self-care and Exquisite Self-Care is all about for me and the moms I work with, it has become clear that in order for many of us to actually “implement” some kind of a routine of taking care of ourselves, it would have to be embedded in what we already do. I got that idea from the way I have decided to add movement into my life: During the school year, I drive home, park my car and walk to get my daughter from school. I can’t give up half way there or even on the way back because we have to go home. During my day, I park my car somewhere and walk to the pharmacy, to the ice cream store or to the doctor’s office. By doing this, I ensure that I get a little bit of exercise through out the day, because I HAVE to get back to my car! The same applies to my daily routine when it comes to being good to myself. The question is no longer whether you have time to be good to yourself, because you already know what the answer is. But what if I asked you, what is it that you are doing already, that with a little creativity, you could turn into opportunities for self care?

Make it your parenting goal to do the things that help you get centered and assist you in being a happier, peaceful parent. What a wonderful thing to model to your children! Wouldn’t you love to set up the stage so that your children will learn the importance of taking care of themselves throughout their lives? Taking the time to nurture yourself is no longer a luxury: it is vital to being an effective parent. When you take the time to take care of yourself first, you then have the energy to assist your children and others. Remember: you can’t give from an empty cup!


Want to know more about self-care and how to be supported in your parenting? Pick up the phone and call Sandra at the Soulful Parent at (425) 345-4752 or e-mail me at thesoulfulparent@earthlink.net for your FREE initial consultation. You will know in a few minutes if parent coaching is right for you. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!