Mindful Parenting

Think Stop

Portrait of a young boy crossing guard standing on the road holding a stop signTonight was my daughter’s first school dance. It was a fabulous evening: She danced with friends, she watched the band, she ate pizza, and she decorated herself with glow sticks! She had wanted to stay right until the very end, which meant that we didn’t pull into our drive-way until after 8pm. Once home, I found myself rushing her through the steps of her bedtime routine. She was up past her bedtime and looked very tired! I noticed that the more she dawdled, the more my frustration mounted. Iwantedto finish cleaning the kitchen. I wanted to read in bed. I wanted to get to sleep early… and so went my inner dialog. Each statement to myself triggered the added thought that the longer my daughter took to get ready for bed, the longer it would take before I could have “alone time” – and that thought served only to exacerbate the frustration I was feeling.

And there is where I had to pause. My self-talk wasn’t matching my over-arching values when it comes to raising children. I don’t want to be the grouchy parent. I want to be present (physically and emotionally). My daughter was on an adrenaline high from dancing with her friends; she wanted to dance around her room and tell me about her evening!  I want my daughter to know that she can approach me about anything, no matter the time of day. That is one of my parenting goals. But, when I was feeling frustrated this evening, and rushing my daughter to bed, and getting short in my communication, was I really doing justice to that goal? Was my behaviour helping our relationship at all?

I don’t think so. I sat back on the edge of her bed, and took a pause. I took some deep breaths. I took in the beauty of her smile and her after-glow from dancing. So what if I was 30 minutes later to have some alone time. In the grand scheme of things in this world, what is an extra 30 minutes, really? And so, I had to just stop.

Just STOP is exactly the strategy that I would like to share with you. Sometimes we need to stop the thoughts that escalate our negative feelings and fuel our inappropriate reactions. Try visualizing an actual stop sign. This is a great technique because we are so conditioned to stop when we see a stop sign (or at least slow to a “rolling stop”…ha ha!). But the point is this: whenever we see a stop sign, we come to a stop and cautiously look around.

In your parenting and in your day-to-day life, when you notice signs that frustration or anger is mounting in you, follow those exact same rules. Stop and cautiously look around (inwardly): tune in to what you are saying to yourself. If your inner voice is negative, if you are making accusations, ascribing malicious intentions to your child, if you are self-downing, or engaging in self-limiting beliefs, try visualizing a stop sign. Visualize the octagon shape of it. The bright red colour. The retro-reflective lettering. And just STOP.

If you have trouble with visualization, you can still use this strategy – just modify it a little! Print out a picture of a stop sign. Then, keep it with you and look at it often or as needed.

Keep focusing on the stop sign, and the underlying meaning for you, until you are able to clear your mind and get centered. Our kids need us to get out of our heads and into the moment with them. Good luck!

Idea From:
The Affect Regulation Toolbox, by Carolyn Daitch (2007)

This article was originally posted on April 15, 2011, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Mindful Parenting

Becoming Accountable

Mia_cat_italy_2019Raising kids can bring out both the best and the worst in parents. After a challenging day, it might be easier to connect with all the things you’re doing wrong – I know I’ve had days like that! Perhaps it’s about having more energy, more patience, handling our temper, or not feeling quite so emotionally over-whelmed. Recognizing our limitations can often be easier than identifying how to create change, committing ourselves to a plan, and sticking with it.

One of the greatest ways to successfully change a behaviour is to document it. We can do this through journaling, or by writing out a plan for ourselves. Committing our thoughts to paper somehow makes them more concrete. No longer are they fleeting words floating through our mind – on paper words take on a stronger meaning. They become real. Through writing we give order to our thoughts, which assists us in seeing a plan more clearly.

So, to become accountable to yourself, every night write in your journal the ways in which you were successful in carrying out your desired behaviour change.

Example: Becoming Accountable with Anger

  1. Think about the ways that you would like to better handle your anger. Be realistic and use small steps.
  2. Every evening, document the ways in which you handled your anger well that day. Did you follow your plan? What helped you to stick with it?
  3. If you had a “blip” (an experience in which you did not handle your anger well) – write about how you will handle things differently tomorrow.

Example: Becoming Accountable with Self-Esteem

  1. Think about the ways in which you would like to raise self-esteem in your child(ren).
  2. Every evening, write about the interactions you had with your children where you made positive attempts at increasing their self-esteem
  3. If you had a “blip” – write about how you will handle things differently tomorrow so that you remain focused on interacting in ways that raise your child’s self-esteem.

Journaling in this way will make you accountable to yourself. It doesn’t feel very good to sit down to do this journaling exercise and have nothing to say – which is the success of the technique: You will want to implement the behaviour you planned so that you have something positive to write about in your journal!

This article was originally posted on November 16, 2010, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Mindful Parenting

Keeping Score

writing-pen11This summer, my 6 year old daughter told me that I was a ‘no parent’. When I asked her what she meant, she told me that I say “no” all the time. Could this have been true? I was quite sure that I was a balanced parent – with an equal share of “yes’s” and “no’s”! However, because my daughter was quite adamant that I was in fact a ‘no parent’, I decided to check it out for myself. To keep track and deepen my self-awareness, I used an index card, with the word ‘no’ on one side and ‘yes’ on the other. What the process did for me was increase my self-awareness. Was my ‘no’ response simply a knee-jerk reaction, or was there a good reason for me to say ‘no’ to my daughter’s request? By the end of the day, I realized that I was in fact a very balanced parent, and the score card opened up a great dialog between my daughter and I about expectations.

If you would like to increase self-awareness about a particular behaviour, try using the score card technique! It doesn’t have to just be used to increase awareness of  ‘yes/no’ responses. If you are learning to better handle your anger, keep score on when you handle anger well (staying calm), and when you lose your cool. You can then use the score card to better understand what is going on for you when you are able to stay calm in the face of frustration – and hopefully learn to build on these moments!

What helps you to stay present, to pause before responding? Type your ideas to the comments and let’s all learn from each other.

Good luck!

This article was originally posted on November 1, 2010, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Mindful Parenting

Developing Mindful Awareness

sunriseThe concept of mindfulness has become increasingly popular over the last few years, and involves the ability to notice what is going on for you at any given moment, without judgment. Mindfulness is a learned skill that one acquires through regular practice. For example, if you start to feel some of the physiological sensations of anxiety, stress, or anger, (such as rapid heart beat, shallow breathing, heat in face), it is important to stop what you are doing and ask yourself “what is going on for me right now?”. This will get you present and focusing on yourself in the moment. Answering this question will involve noticing what thoughts you are having that may be contributing to physiological sensations (of increasing frustration, anxiety, anger). It also helps to notice what is going on for you in your environment (the immediate situation).

Daniel Siegel (2007), a researcher and author on the topic of mindfulness, describes mindfulness in the following way:

“Mindfulness means paying attention, in the present moment, on purpose, without grasping onto judgments. Mindful awareness involves paying attention to whatever arises within the mind from moment to moment. Recent studies of mindful awareness reveal that it can result in improvements in a range of physiological, mental, and interpersonal domains of our lives. People who develop the capacity to pay attention in the present moment without grasping onto their inevitable judgments also develop a deeper sense of well-being.”

All too often to tend to ignore what our bodies are telling us and just get on with daily life. We create habits for ourselves of going through each day in a state of ‘mindlessness’. However, in order to maximize our potential (and our potential happiness) in daily living, andlive without fear and anxiety, we need to tune into ourselves with regular “check-ins”.

Try working through an example so that you are better equipped to apply this technique when needed. Think of a time recently when you noticed you were starting to feel anxious, fearful, angry, stressed, etc. What body sensations did you experience? What thoughts were going through your mind? For example, what were you telling yourself about the situation or about your ability to handle the situation?

When you notice that you are feeling discomfort, it is important to acknowledge it. Notice what is going on for you and then do something about it. Perhaps you need to do something to calm down. Or perhaps you have been triggered and need to take a few moments away from the situation to regroup. Perhaps you need to reframe negative self-talk. When you are calm, your problem-solving skills are enhanced. Remembering to take deep, slow, regular breaths is an important part of staying calm and in control.

If you tend to be triggered by certain behaviours in your children, practicing using mindfulness in your parenting. Remember, it is not the event that determines your reaction – it is your thought or interpretation of that event that determines your reaction. Without mindfulness, we risk reacting to situations without noticing our thoughts and physiological cues that cause us to react in the ways we do. Doing check-ins to increase mindfulness can enable you to take control of your actions and reactions at all different points in the cycle, and increase feelings of control, calmness, and competence.

Reference:

Siegel, D. (2007). The mindful brain: Reflection and attunement in the cultivation of well- being.  New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

This article was originally posted on November 1, 2010, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Mindful Parenting

Learning to Love Yourself

Blond woman lying in fieldMany parents have a very difficult time making themselves a priority. From the time your children are born, you have most likely learned to put your needs on hold to care for them. When they cry in the night, you give up your sleep to attend to them. As toddlers they need close attention, and again your routine changes to ensure their safety and contentment. If your children are involved in sports, then you learn to adapt your schedule to take them to their activities. In essence, your life revolves around your children and your desire to raise them to be healthy and well-adjusted.

However, if you are in the habit of caring for your children, your partner, pets, etc. at the complete expense of caring for yourself, you will come to identify yourself solely by this caregiving role. Doing so puts you at risk of losing sight of your own individuality. Making yourself a priority, treating yourself kindly, nurturing yourself as well as the others in your life, is crucial to maintaining balance. It can also sustain you during stressful times, buffer against feelings of anxiety, and aid in the development of self-love. Everyone has time to care for themselves throughout the day: we just tend to use that time for other things. And the truth is, it doesn’t have to take a great deal of time.

For example, your plan to care for yourself may involve choosing to speak kindly to yourself (to be less critical with your self-talk). This process could involve enhancing self-awareness, which would enable you to start catching yourself when self-talk becomes critical, and then replace it with something kinder. Such a process wouldn’t necessarily take time out of your day, just a shift in your thinking process! Read and work through the steps outlined below, and make a plan to build some self-care into your week.

Part 1: Identify

In your journal, or on a piece of paper if you do not use a journal, write the title “What does it mean to love myself?”. Then, divide the page into 2 columns, with “Behaviour” on one side, and “Thoughts/Beliefs” on the other side. Take a moment to think about what it means to truly care for yourself. Once you have an idea of what this looks like for you, put your ideas on the paper, in the appropriate columns. For example, on the behaviour side, you might include things like: eating right, allowing yourself enough sleep, calling friends, reaching out for help when necessary, relaxing regularly (perhaps with a bath, meditation, yoga, reading, etc.), exercising, going for walks, gardening, limiting stress in your life, having strong boundaries with difficult people in your life, and so forth. Examples of thoughts/beliefs are: using positive affirmations, saying kind things to yourself such as “I can do this”, “I can learn to do that” (rather than “I’m such an idiot”), “I can handle my anger”, “I’m currently struggling with this because I am new at it” (rather than “I can’t do this”), “I have the power to take charge of my life”.

Part 2: Plan

Now that you have identified the ways in which you can care for yourself, take steps to incorporate loving yourself into your daily life. Review your list, and select the items on it that you identify the most with – the ones that really stand out for you. With these you will create a plan to incorporate them into your life: write down all the details necessary to carry out your plan during the following week. For example, if you want to eat better, you could review a recipe book, make a menu plan for the following days, and a grocery list of necessary food items. Or, if you commit to going for walks, but it is wintertime and you don’t own a pair of winter books, make a plan to purchase winter boots. When you are creating your plan, think of anything that could get in the way of carrying out your plan, and then deal with it. Identifying the obstacles ahead of time is important and will enable you to better change your routine in your desired ways. Start small. Be realistic. Once your plan has been created – start living it!

Reference:
Yes You Can! 16 Steps for Discovery & Empowerment, by Charlotte Kasl (1995)

This article was originally posted on October 28, 2010, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Mindful Parenting

Let’s Get Philosophical

Screen Shot 2019-09-27 at 2.36.29 PMYou do not need to be religious to have a philosophy guiding your life. However, when times get tough, it sure is helpful if you have a belief system to hang on to – to sustain you through difficulties. My absolute favorite personal philosophy for life comes from the author Don Miguel Ruiz, in his book The Four Agreements. It is a short read and my emotional outlook has improved significantly since I adopted it. By following it, I find myself better able to  focus on the positive, to catch myself when negative self-talk tries to take hold, and am better able to behave in a way that is congruent with how I feel and with what I believe.

Don Miguel Ruiz proposes the following Four Agreements as a philosophy for living:

Be impeccable with your word:
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

Don’t take anything personally:
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

Don’t make assumptions:
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Always do your best:
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

As a parent I am continually reminding myself not to take things personally, and to be impeccable with my word. For me, this means that I don’t need to “own” my children’s issues: if my daughter is having a bad day, then she is having a bad day! It is not a reflection of anything I have done and I will not spend hours wondering what I could have done differently in order for her to have been in better spirits! I will certainly be available to her should she want to talk about it, and I will maintain an up-beat attitude around her.

All too often, parents do take the behaviours of their children personally. If a child is not listening, this can be interpreted as a sign of disrespect.  Once the thought pops into your head that your child is disrespecting you, negative thoughts automatically flood through and before you know it, you are probably thinking angry thoughts about your child or about yourself as a parent. These angry automatic thoughts often are not grounded in reality and can serve only to bring forth negative emotion. Remember, just as you have your own agenda (you may need your child to listen because you have made dinner and she needs to come to the table), your child also has her own agenda (she may be in the middle of an activity and wants a moment to finish it up). Keeping these agreements as the philosophy guiding your life can help you keep the situation in perspective – it can help you remain objective and calm by not reading more into a situation than is necessary.  Take some time to determine for yourself what the best guiding philosophy is for your life – then stick with it and see what happens!

Reference:
The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz (1997).
http://www.miguelruiz.com/

This article was originally posted on October 20, 2010, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Mindful Parenting · Trauma Therapy

Returning to the Present Moment in 5-4-3-2-1

The strategy I’d like to share with you here is helpful for shifting out of strong emotion. It is considered a “grounding strategy”. Being ‘grounded’ simply refers to the notion of being emotionally and mentally present in the here and now.

Known as 5-4-3-2-1, the underlying technique here originates from trauma therapy. It is used to help individuals be present in the moment: it can slow racing thoughts, stop flashbacks, minimize addictive cravings, ease ruminating, and lessen anxiety. And, it is incredibly easy to learn and apply. If you catch yourself and your child/teen arguing and the situation seems to only be escalating, excuse yourself for a few minutes (just say you need a few minutes to calm down), and use this technique to ground yourself so that you can return to the present situation. In your mind (or out loud if you are alone), focus on the following things in great detail:

  • 5 things you can see (such as different colours, or items in the room you are in)
  • 4 things you can touch (such as things you can physically feel with your hands, or feet, or the temperature),
  • 3 things you can hear (listen carefully!),
  • 2 things you can smell, and
  • 1 thing you can taste

This grounding strategy can help you to shift your focus away from internal, emotional experiencing, to external distraction (the trick is to get out of your head and into the present moment!). Focus on external details as you talk through the sequence. Notice your breathing will slow from when you first begin the strategy to the time you complete it. Allow the the full cycle (from 5 down to 1) to take a few minutes; take your time and truly allow yourself to be distracted from your inner chatter.

Try this strategy if you find that you are feeling over-whelmed, emotionally flooded, or even just very spacey and not able to focus. Once you complete the cycle, check in with your inner processing and try again to resolve the situation with your child/teen.

This article was originally posted on October 20, 2010, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Mindful Parenting

What Warms your Heart?

When I wake up in the morning, I often feel eager to start the day!  I want to have a coffee, get showered and dressed, get the kids off to school, and sink in to my office chair. Just in that order. However, my children often have their own agendas. They have not  been jaded by the fast pace of today’s society and don’t feel the need to rush everywhere all at once. Their mornings start slowly: they sit down to eat and play and giggle. They lay on the floor while deciding what shoes to wear. They are distracted by our pets, which they have to cuddle every time they see! And all of this typically happens while I stand at the door, coffee in hand and shoes on my feet, trying to herd them out the door. And in that moment of their playful abandon, indecisiveness, or love for animals – my mind is miles away.

Mindfulness is about being in the present moment, with an open heart and a curious mind. It is about focusing away from judgment to just being present. Imagine how different that morning interaction would be if we parents were to slow down, and be present with our kids in the moment.

When I feel rushed in the morning, I risk my thoughts becoming negative. I might fall into the trap of accusing my children of always being slow, of never being ready on time, of never respecting my need to get to work. And the result will only be a spiral of negative thoughts in my own mind. When our thoughts turn negative, it can turn in to angry behaviour (an angry tone, nagging, deep sighs, etc.) – the result of which will be our precious children going off to school discouraged. And inevitably, the result of children going to school feeling discouraged would serve only to exacerbate a parent’s own negative self-talk spiral with more feelings of shame and guilt.

Why not stop all of that before it starts?

As a parent, if you are focused on your own agenda, your own need to get things done, it can be very easy to become angry when a dawdling child slows you down! Before you resort to yelling and nagging, read on!

Take a moment to get present: notice your breath as you breath and out, and the sensation of your feet on the floor. Now, make a list of all the things you love about your child(ren) or teen(s). What are you proud of them for? What are their attributes that you admire? What things do they do that just make you smile? If you sit down to write your list and you can only think of a few, that is okay. Just leave the paper out where you can add to it. It is fine for the list to always be a work in progress. As new ideas come to you, add them to your list. You may want to take a few days to just start noticing things that you admire about your child/teen prior to sitting down and putting pen to paper.

What this list will do is put the things that you love and admire about your child/teen in the forefront of your mind. During moments of frustration, remind yourself of the items on your list. If you and your child/teen constantly argue, make the list together: explain the activity to him or her, share your list as you create it and have your child/teen create his or her own list about you! Understanding the purpose of the activity is very important, so check in with your child to ensure he or she grasps the concept.

This article was originally posted October 20, 2010, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge