Three’s A Crowd…But It Doesn’t Have To Be

Being a parent can be overwhelming and exhausting.  Being a parent of THREE seems to multiply that exhaustion and overwhelmed feeling beyond just 33% more.  It is exponential.  The driving, the consoling, the snacks, the lunches, the baths, the tears, the re-directing…it can feel endless.  Not to mention the three completely different little personalities that are all vying for the attention of the adult(s) they outnumber.  There is also the guilt.  How lucky some are to have three children (or more) children to cuddle, love, and watch grow.

So, then why do we long for the pre-kid days of laying by the pool reading a book for hours?  Or why do we begrudge the three year old for wanting another glass of water?  Or why do we sometimes (often times) wonder what we were thinking when we thought three kids would be that much more fun? Because we’re human. Because it’s ok to not always love parenting. That’s not always easy for parents to say or admit, but it’s true. We may not always love parenting, but it doesn’t stop us from loving our child.

Parenting isn’t easy and parenting more than two can feel like a special challenge. Here are a few simple strategies this mom of 3 has learned along the way which have helped bring a sense of ease and balance to the world of feeling “out manned” as a parent.

Find your tribe and hold them tight.

Navigating three children in isolation can not only feel hard, it can be impossible at times.  Don’t be afraid to ask yourself, “What is it that I need right now?” and then reach out for it.  Your need might be help with carpool for your oldest, a playdate for your middle who just wants to talk and talk and talk, or a walk with a friend who can push the double stroller while you give your back a break.  Relying on family, friends, or people in your community will not only lift some of the burden off your plate, it will also give you a connection outside of your family’s bubble.  Connecting with others helps us to feel calmer and supported in our feelings and is crucial to our well-being.

Practice Gratitude

We often spend so much time taking inventory of what is not working in our family and often forget to take stock in what is going well.  Did you know that simply expressing gratitude can raise our happiness levels?  Each day, try to find several small things to be grateful for and take a moment to either express gratitude verbally, in your mind or even in a daily journal.  Maybe it is the sound of your children getting along for 5 minutes, your favorite song on the radio in the pick up line, or the bright pink sunset.  When you take the time to acknowledge something and express gratitude for it, studies show that you will feel greater joy!

 Offer Yourself Compassion

You are doing the best you can with the tools you have.  It’s okay to feed the kids cereal for dinner.  It is okay for the baby to nap in the carseat.  It is okay for the kids to watch a show so you can get something done (or just sit and drink a cup of coffee.)  You may lose your temper.  You may forget someone’s birthday.  You may miss a friend’s dinner party.  It is all okay.  Try talking to yourself kindly and offer the same support to yourself as you would to a good friend.  A little positive self-talk and giving yourself a break will go a long way to lowering your stress levels and increasing a sense of calm.

Breathe

As cliche as it may sound, taking a few slow, deep breaths lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, in turn lowering your level of stress.  Set an alarm on your phone reminding you to take a few breaths throughout the day or focus on your breath while at a red light, before falling asleep, or even in the bathroom.  Practicing this tool in times of calm will help you remember to breathe when your toddler is screaming, dinner is about to burn, the baby needs to be fed, and the second grader is whining for help with his homework.  The payoff of taking that pause so that you are better able to choose your response will allow you to move forward with better intention.

Self-Care

You can’t pour from an empty cup.  Taking care of yourself is not a luxury, but a necessity for gaining balance in your family.  There are many ways to practice self-care. It’s all about finding what speaks to and works best for you. For example, take a walk in nature and notice the sounds you hear and what you see.  (Bring your kids if you can’t get away without them.  You all can benefit from some time in the great outdoors.) Mindfully drink a cup of your favorite coffee, noticing the aroma, flavor and temperature.  Go to a workout or yoga class.  Get a mani/pedi.  Take a nap.  Take a bath.  Read. Whatever it is that brings you a sense of fulfillment and calm. Schedule it into your week and put yourself back on your to-do list!

Upcoming San Diego Event: Mindful Mama’s Night Out – July 27th

How to Have a Mindful Summer (Spoiler: You Won’t Be Sitting Meditating All Day)

Summer is fast approaching.  Parents are busy booking camps, signing up for tutors, arranging carpools to the millions of activities their little ones will be participating in, buying organic crudite, and pinning dozens of activities on Pinterest to keep the kids stimulated and engaged.  When did summer become this?  When did we move away from long days at the pool without swim lessons, hours on the baseball field without drills and practice, long, lazy pajama mornings, bike riding miles and miles without leaving the neighborhood, making mud without having to do anything but play in it, and taking the time to cook on the grill every night…and late because you don’t want to miss a minute of the sun being up.  We have become so consumed with planning for the future activities, worrying about academic achievement of the new school year, and spinning on the wheel of being consumed by need to fill every minute with something “meaningful”, we are anywhere but the present.  I read somewhere recently that we only have 18 summers with our kids. Eighteen summers that fly by in a flash of sunscreen and bathing suits and being mindful of that time is an amazing way to get the most out of each of those summers.

This summer, we propose a mindful summer.  And this won’t mean we will be sitting on meditation cushions all summer. Not even close.  It won’t be about being mindful every minute, or even everyday.  It won’t be a panacea and won’t make our summer perfect.  It won’t be about being calm all day or without frustration or stress.  So, what does a mindful summer look like then?

Gratitude For What Is Around Us

When days are whirling by, it is easy to get get caught up in the stressors of life and forget to remember all the people, events, and things in our life to be grateful for.  During a mindful summer, we are going to be purposeful about having gratitude.  At meal times, we are going to discuss what we can be thankful for from the day.  We are going to text, call, or write to people in our lives who we are grateful for and tell them why we are thankful for them.  We are going to keep a family gratitude journal, and each night add to it from the events of the day.  We will also be mindful throughout the day to stop and acknowledge when something arises that brings about a feeling of gratitude including sunsets, a yummy treat, a hug, time with a friend, the sun shining, our favorite song on the radio…the possibilities for gratitude are endless!

Practice Compassion 

Without the strain of school schedules and homework, summer is a great time to practice compassion, both towards ourselves and others.  We are going to take the time each day to shine compassion on ourselves, including the wish for happiness and health, as well as sending these thoughts to both people who bring us joy as well as people we find difficult. These daily thoughts remind us that we all deserve compassion and happiness.  As we practice giving ourselves kindness and compassion, it becomes easier to show ourselves and others loving kindness.

However, we will do more than just send compassionate thoughts.  We will make an effort to have compassionate actions by spending time sorting food at the food bank, supporting friends who are sick or hurt, bringing flowers to neighbors, and taking

sandwiches to food insecure people in our community.  By choosing compassion, we build the feeling for others and for ourselves.

Stop and Smell the Roses

When we fill our summer days with activities, scheduling back to back camps, playdates, lessons, and practices, we leave no room for living in the moment.  When we are rushed and over scheduled, we are always looking towards the next activity, the next place to be, or the next day’s schedule and leave no room for enjoying the moment.  In a mindful summer, we will purposely not overly schedule our days.  We are going to get up early and hike a mountain to watch the sunrise.  We are going to get on our bikes with some water and snacks and ride and ride and ride until we are exhausted.  We are going to get to the beach in the morning and not leave until we have swam in the waves at sunset.  We are going to stay in our pajamas all day, read books, watch movies, and eat ice cream.  We are going to go to a museum and wander around for hours.  Most importantly, we are going to be aware of what each day brings with all our senses.

Notice What is Showing Up

Each day, we face a multitude of thoughts and feelings within ourselves and from our family members.  Often times, we react to the emotions of the people around us and this can quickly escalate.  This is especially challenging when confronted with difficult emotions.  During a mindful summer, we will practice noticing what emotions are showing up, because they are already there! Author and clinical professor, Dr. Dan Siegel, teaches us to “name it to tame it.” In other words, we won’t try to change the feelings or brush them aside to move on.  We will name the feeling that has arisen (“I am anxious”) and practice sitting with the feeling for several breaths.  We will model this for our children as well as support them in naming their own emotions.  Each time we practice noticing what is arising, including anxiety, sadness, frustration, enthusiasm and anger, we take the power from the emotion to dictate our reaction.  We are then able to respond to the feeling in our own thoughtful way.  By practicing noticing our emotions in the summer, we will be better equipped come fall, when the added pressures of the school day and homework are added. In this way, naming the emotions to tame them will become easier and more automatic and make dealing with difficult emotions easier during stressful times.

Set Daily Intentions 

Summer mornings are inherently less crazy.  Even when there is somewhere to be, mornings in the summer tend to be slower paced leaving a little room for setting intentions.  Over breakfast, either at the counter or the table or in the backyard, we are going to take a moment set our intention for the day.  Maybe it will be to perform an act of kindness.  Maybe it will be to show gratitude toward someone or something.  Maybe it will be to eat mindfully at each meal.  Whatever it is, we will take a few moments each morning acknowledge the intention as we face the new day.

Take Breaks

Finally, during a mindful summer we will take mindful breaks.  This will look different at different times.  It may be sitting quietly on the floor focusing on our breath.  It may be laying in the grass and while concentrating on each part of our body, noticing any sensations.  It may be taking five deep breaths in the car before sending the kiddos off to their activities.  It may be taking a mindful walk, noticing all the sounds, smells, sights, and thoughts that arise.

The mindful breaks can take place when they seem necessary, such as when difficult emotions are running ramped or when we need to calm down to transition.  But, they can also happen just because.  Taking these mindful breaks gives us the chance to practice being in the present – noticing emotions and sensations, compassion, gratitude, and responding rather than reacting to whatever is showing up.  These are all tools that my children will be able to take with them into the next school year.

We are well aware that not everyone has the time in the summer to have a mindful summer that looks just like this.  Families have work, children have obligations, and life still needs to continue.  Taking a few moments each day to plant the seeds of mindfulness, however it looks for each family, will make the summer more enjoyable and the seeds will continue to grow moving into the next school year.  With only 18 summers with our children, being mindful will help us get the most out of each one of them.

 

 

 

 

Mindfulness and ADHD: Living in the Fun House

Raising a child with ADHD can be like living in a fun house…you never know what is around the corner.  There are thrills, there are laughs, there are screams. Things are not as they appear and it is scary, wonderful, and exasperating all within 5 minutes.  Without strategies for juggling all the changes and challenges, parenting a child with ADHD can feel overwhelming to say the least.  For me, finding mindfulness for myself and my children gave us the tools to weather the challenging times with more compassion, patience and resiliency, while also allowing us the awareness to be able to enjoy the great times.  I mean, my kid is hilarious and amazingly empathetic and I need to be in the right frame of mind to be able to really connect with and enjoy her.

Currently, there are numerous studies being done showing improvements for those with ADHD in many areas, when they are trained in mindfulness.  A study out of UCLA found a marked decrease in hyperactivity and increase in executive functioning.  A study by Lydia Zylowska (UCLA) showed 78% of participants noticed a reduction of overall ADHD symptoms when they regularly used mindfulness practices, even practice sessions as short as five minutes.  Nirbhay N. Singh, a professor of psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University and Director of the Commonwealth Institute for Child and Family Studies, Richmond, Va., and his colleagues performed a study where both mothers of children with ADHD and their children were given training in mindfulness.  They found that compliance increased as did positive interactions and happiness in both mothers and their children.  Many more studies show the same thing – a mindfulness practice supports children with ADHD and their families in more productive and positive experiences and interactions.

When we first started a mindful practice as a family, we had one very specific goal and that was to be able to make a transition (any transition) without screaming and crying (by her or us)! From this one simple goal, our practice grew and changed to meet the very evolving needs of our growing child.  We have tackled bedtime, mornings, meal time, classroom work, homework, and sibling interactions to name a few.  One thing that has remained constant is  a mindful practice as the anchor that we come back to over and over again.

Practicing mindfulness has many benefits for a child with ADHD and is a practice that the child can use through his or her life as different challenges present themselves.

Emotional Regulation

It is an exciting time to be a brain researcher!  Studies have shown that the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain, shrinks and is less active in someone who has a regular mindful practice.  Children with ADHD often have great difficulty regulating their emotions and have emotional changes that are fast and furious.  Mindfulness gives them the ability to have more awareness and better control over their feelings and responses.  As a parent, mindfulness gives us the ability to recognize our own emotional triggers (such as half the contents of the refrigerator on the counter after she “made” breakfast), so we are able to take the time to respond to what we are feeling in a productive manner, rather than a knee-jerk, often fly-off-the-handle, reaction.

Attention and Focus

Trying to keep the attention or focus of a child with ADHD is about as easy as herding cats. Practicing mindfulness supports a child with ADHD in bringing focus back to the present and “being in charge” of the attention. Mindfulness teaches us how to pay attention.  Over time, the child is able to notice when attention has wandered and can bring it back.  A child with ADHD has many thoughts and feelings that can change rapidly.  With mindfulness, we are able to focus our attention more on these ideas and emotions, and are thus better able to help our child navigate through everything going on in his or her mind and body.

Executive Functioning

FMRI studies have shown that a regular mindfulness practice increases the grey matter in the prefrontal cortex.  In fact, a recent study out of Harvard University showed an increase in grey matter after only 8 weeks of participation in a mindfulness program.  The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain responsible for executive functioning, which includes planning, critical thinking, problem solving and impulse control.  All of these tend to be very difficult for children with ADHD. When children have a mindful practice, they are able to take a pause and respond to a situation rather than react.  When they can choose a response, they have better control over their actions and have the mental time to plan and problem solve rather than react impulsively.

Self-Esteem and Confidence

Children with ADHD often struggle with self-confidence.  They are often given negative feedback at school, in sports, and at home about things that are simply very hard for them to control.  These negative loops can cause children to have low self-esteem and feel different than their siblings or peers.  According to CHAAD, the National Resource on ADHD, 10-30 percent of children with ADHD also have a serious mood disorder, such as depression or anxiety.  Dr. Amy Saltzman, a holistic physician and mindfulness coach, conducted a study with 4th through 6th graders.  After 8 weeks of mindfulness, the students reported a marked decrease in anxiety.  Mindfulness researcher Kristen Neff has found that mindful self-compassion helps to decrease depression, lessen self-judgement and improve emotional well-being. Children are able to learn that thoughts are just thoughts and have no real power. They are able to acknowledge their emotions and feelings without over-identifying with them. Doing this supports children in being able to address the feelings of depression, anxiety or sadness and move on.  Mindfulness also supports us as parents in cultivating self-compassion.  It is not always easy.  We are not perfect and will lose our patience, say something we didn’t mean, or react to our child in a way we wish we hadn’t.  Practicing loving-kindness in these moments helps us treat ourselves with compassion and reconnect with our child in a more positive manner.

Mindfulness is not a silver bullet for ADHD.  It will not alleviate all the challenges.  What mindfulness will do is give you and your child tools and experiences that help emphasize the positives and more skillfully address the challenges.  It will make the fun house of ADHD a little less unpredictable and a lot more enjoyable!

 

 

5 Ways to Mindfully Manage Power Struggles

Picture the scene: Your child comes home from school, dumps his backpack on the ground and starts rummaging through it looking for the new Pokémon eraser his friend had given him in a trade. Books, papers, pencils go flying around as he looks for his beloved item. When he’s unable to find it, tempers go flying.

Child: “MOM, where is my eraser????!!!! Did you take it? I can’t find it anywhere! I NEED it!”

You (feeling a bit surprised and maybe a little annoyed that he’s so upset over such a little thing): “I’m sure it’s here somewhere. Now come pick up this mess!”

Child: “No! I have to find it! You don’t understand!!!” (As he storms off in a fit.)

Sound familiar?

powerstruggleboyThis is an example of a common scene I play out when I teach my workshop on power struggles. I ask the parents how they would typically respond to such behavior. After a “Oh, yes, I know that behavior well” chuckle from the group, they invariably say they would follow their child upstairs and insist they clean up the mess they made; that the behavior is “irresponsible” and/or “unacceptable.”

Upon further discussion, we get to the crux of the issue. Namely, these well-meaning, well-intentioned parents worry (and fear), among other things, that if they don’t “nip (the behavior) in the bud,” it will only get worse.

When I ask parents what they really want from their kids, the vast majority says, “I just want my kids to LISTEN!”

Can you relate?

As a parent of two very strong-willed kids, I understand, first hand, what it feels like to be constantly negotiating and simply wishing my kids would just listen the first time I make a request!  This constant frustration over what my kids weren’t doing and how triggered I was becoming, led me to Positive Discipline as well as to the study and practice of mindfulness and mindful parenting.

According to Carla Naumburg, Ph.D., author of Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness with your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family, mindful parenting is about “making a choice to focus our attention on the present moment, with kindness and curiosity, so we can make a thoughtful choice about how to proceed rather than react out of frustration or confusion.”

Happy smiling kids doing yoga relaxation at home with their mother - focus on the little girl

In studying mindfulness, I came to understand how often we are either worrying about the future or ruminating over the past. When thinking about the past or the future, we are anywhere but in the present moment! That worry, fear, anger, disappointment and stress over past and/or future greatly impacts our thoughts, decisions and behaviors. When under stress, we lose the ability to think clearly and rationally; to see our child’s behavior as a cry for help versus manipulation. On top of that, we have our own histories of how we were raised or treated as children, which greatly influences our reactions as well! Oh my!

Becoming aware of this process (without judgment) is key – with awareness, comes choice and opportunity. Namely, the ability to choose an appropriate response and the opportunity to model the very behavior we want to instill in our kids as they grow. Almost 95% of what kids learn is through modeled behavior. Those little eyes are always watching and pay much more attention to what we do versus what we say. So, as they say, let’s “be it to teach it.”

Taking all of this into account leads us to the million-dollar question…”So what do I DO the next time I’m faced with a power struggle??”

With the above in mind, here are 5 ways to more mindfully approach and manage power struggles:

1.) Stop, drop and roll – When you feel annoyance or anger arise, STOP what you are doing, even if you are mid-sentence. With compassion, recognize that you are lost in thoughts and emotions that are not constructive and that the only thing you have control over is yourself and your reactions. Take 3 deep, calming breaths.

Next, DROP into your body and the present moment – notice sensations in your body (tightness, shortness of breath, tension); notice and name the emotions you are feeling (“anger,” “annoyance,” “frustration”) and any self-talk (“What’s the matter with him?” “I’m sick and tired of this behavior!” “She’ll grow up to be a spoiled brat!”); continue breathing.

Lastly, using this intentional, compassionate awareness, ROLL out a more calm and connected response. Understand that what you’re feeling may also be what your child is experiencing. Reframe your self-talk (“He’s having a hard time and needs my help.” “I can handle this.” “She’s acting like a child because she is a child.”)

2.) Acknowledge and validate feelings, while limiting inappropriate behavior (a.k.a. “Connect before you Correct/Redirect”) – Our kids are not out to get us, they are simply still learning appropriate ways in which to get their needs met and need our calm presence to guide them. What they are feeling is not good or bad, right or wrong. It just is! Without judgment, acknowledge what your child is feeling, limiting any inappropriate behaviors. For example, in the case of hitting, “I can see you’re having a really hard time right now. I love you and it’s never ok to hit me. Hitting hurts. It’s ok to feel angry, it’s never ok to hit. I’m here to help. What words can you use to tell me what you need?” Recognize your child may need time to calm down before he can problem-solve.

3.) Acknowledge and validate needswhile offering limited choices – So often, power struggles happen when there’s a mismatch in parent-child agendas – we want one thing, our child wants another. We want them to take a bath; they want “5 more minutes” of playtime. And so, the “struggle” develops when we put our agenda ahead of theirs. Instead, realize that our child’s agenda is just as important to them as ours is to us.  Drop the desire to “win.” Focus on staying connected to your child and understanding the need beneath their behavior. Adding a limited choice offers a sense of power during a time they may feel powerless. For example, “I can see you are having SO much fun building your Legos. You would probably build your Legos all night if you could, huh? I see how much fun you’re having AND it’s bath time. Would you like to bring some Legos up to the bath with us or keep them here for when we’re done. It’s up to you, you decide.”

4.) Search for “win/win” solutions – When in the midst of a power struggle, take a step back. Check in (with yourself and your child). How might you be “showing up” in that moment? Is your tone of voice and body language inviting cooperation or resistance? Next, recognize that your child is most likely feeling powerless in the moment. Look for ways to join together to come up with a solution that can meet both of your needs. For example, “Seems we have a problem here. I would like help setting the table for dinner and you really want to keep playing your game. Mmm, I’m wondering how we can make this work for both of us? What are your ideas?”

Keep in mind that involving children in this process meets their hardwired need to feel a sense of belonging (connection) and significance (that they matter/have something meaningful to contribute), while also modeling respectful communication. Searching for solutions with your child is also one of the best ways to build problem-solving, decision-making and critical thinking skills.

5.) Take care of YOU – Self-care is imperative to cultivating open, connected and loving relationships (with yourself as well as others) and is a crucial component when it comes to mindful parenting. Despite knowing this, many parents continue to put themselves at the very bottom of their “to do” list. They say, “yes” to everyone but themselves. The airline analogy is an important one, “Secure your own mask before that of your child.” The reality is, we can’t pour from an empty cup. Be mindful of how you’re feeling and what your own needs are. Make sure you are doing something kind, compassionate and nourishing for yourself as often as possible, no matter how little it may seem.

There is no doubt that parenting is hard work and there is simply no such thing as a perfect parent. Be kind to yourself. You are learning right alongside your child. Just know that you’re not alone – we’re all on this incredible journey together!

Surfing a Growth Mindset With Mindfulness

Author and mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zin states, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.”  Being so close to the beach, we love a good reference to the ocean, but we love the sentiment so much more.  Life is full of waves. Happy waves, unsuspected waves, frustrating waves, confusing waves, sad waves, funny waves…the list goes on and on.  When we are faced with these waves, we have the opportunity to choose how we will respond, or surf, them.

A long, long time ago, when we were cave dwellers fighting every day for food and survival, the amygdala in the brain became very important.  The amygdala is the emotional center of the brain, the one that screams “fight, flight or freeze” when we are faced with a stressor.  The stress hormone released from the amygdala takes over the rest of our brain.  In fact, the people with a really active amygdala were the ones who survived, moved out of the caves, and went on to build generations of offspring.  The problem now is that stress is everywhere and it is usually not life threatening, yet our amygdala still has that same strong response.

As a society we are faced with more pressures and expectations than ever before and so are our kids.  They are expected to get the best grades, be on the “A” soccer team, get the lead in the dance performance, be the top reader, have good friends, excel in math, be starting pitcher in baseball, play the violin, be in honors band…the list goes on and on.  Their amygdalas can hardly keep up!  We also talk about wanting kids to have “grit” and embrace a growth mindset.  Well, this seems extremely challenging when their brains are in a constant reactive state.  Every minute is choreographed for them and leaves no space to respond to their emotions or understand how to grow or learn.

Author and psychologist Carol Dweck states, “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”  A stressed brain can’t learn.  A stressed brain can’t be resilient.  A stressed brain can’t work hard.  A stressed brain can only fight, flight, or freeze.  This is what creates the fixed mindset.  A calmer brain, however, can learn and can be resilient through responding thoughtfully  to stressors and emotions rather than reacting.

A keystone of a regular mindfulness practice is taking the time to pause, and in that pause, having the ability to choose the response.  FMRI studies have shown that a mindfulness-based practice actually decreases the activity in the amygdala, effectively allowing the rest of the brain to better do its job.  Mindfulness fosters a growth mindset in many ways:

  • Mindfulness allows for a pause, and in that pause the person can choose how to respond to a situation rather than reacting emotionally.
  • Mindfulness allows for the person to know that thoughts are just thoughts and have no power.
  • Mindfulness allows for a better understanding of one’s emotions or feelings without assigning one’s value to those emotions.
  • Mindfulness develops self-compassion which allows for facing thoughts or emotions with non-judgment and loving-kindness.
  • Mindfulness supports the ability to cope in a productive way with difficult or challenging emotions without becoming overwhelmed or shutting down.
  • Mindfulness allows for time to observe thoughts and feelings without getting stuck.  This empowers people to bounce back.

Mindfulness is an organic and productive way to foster a growth mindset while also empowering our children to approach situations and feelings without judgement and with loving-kindness.  With these skills, life can throw some big waves at them, even knock them off their boards, but they can get back on over and over and keep surfing.

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