Affect Regulation · Mindful Parenting · Uncategorized

The Coronavirus and Me: The New Book by Ana Gomez

Screen Shot 2020-03-26 at 3.42.54 PM

Ana Gomez is a child therapist and an EMDR practitioner extraordinaire. With all the changes and stress we have all been trying to come to terms with, Ana wrote a book that can help us explain the virus to children.

Ana is offering pdf version of the book for free, because she is an amazing human! If you need help explaining what is going on in the world right now to the children in your life, please use this free resource. Ana invites you to share it with anyone you might know that would benefit for it.

Thank you Ana!

Click this link to access the pdf: AnaGomez_OysterandtheButterflyMar312020

Click this link to access the Spanish Version: AnaGomez_OysterandtheButterfly_Spanish

Click this link for a narrated Version on YouTube

Mindfulness

Mindfulness in the Face of Uncertainty

Rarely do we truly have control. But, the illusion that we do sustains us in our daily life. It gives us a sense of the world around us as a predictable place. Right now as our world is battles with the COVID19 virus, we don’t have that sense of predictability. And that can leave many folks worried, fearful, and desperate. I’d like to offer a few simple ideas for you to consider bringing into your daily life. In the face of uncertainty, these mindfulness-based tools can assist you in returning to the present moment.

Please know that these ideas are not ‘one size fits all’. Please take what works for you, adapt it, or grow it to make it more suitable to your daily life.

Stay-Well-during-COVID19-3

Start your day with a Reflection: Take a quiet moment before the action of your day amps up. Listen to meditation on your smart phone, or just draw your attention inward and ask yourself what you need to stay well this day. Then, set your intention for the day. Setting an intention can just foster an area of focus for the day. For example, it could be “Today I will be present and kind”. It creates an anchor for you to return to throughout the day. Writing down the intention and placing it somewhere you will see it throughout your day can help ensure your bring your attention back to it as needed.

Get out of Bed and Get Dressed: If you are isolated or in quarantine at this time, and your daily life has been interrupted (you are no longer going to work, to school, etc.), please still get up and get dressed. Maintain your morning hygiene routine, or start the one you’ve always wanted and never had time for.  Your mental health with benefit from the day being bookended with getting up and getting dressed in the morning, and washing up and putting on pyjamas at the end of the day.

Daily Goal Setting: Regardless of your living situation, set 3 small, achievable goals for each day. These goals can range from “I will get out of bed at 8am and take a shower this morning”, to “I will sit on the floor and play a game with my child today”. Set 3 small goals every morning, and take a moment to reflect on them each evening. Achieving the small daily goals will build self-esteem and integrity with yourself, because you accomplished that which you intended to accomplish.

Go Outside: If you are socially distancing or in quarantine, take a few moments to go outside. You don’t have to be in a public place to be outside. Take a short walk or even just sit outside. The change of scenery will help bolster your mood.

Connect with Love: if you are living with children or have a spouse, make sure to connect with them with love each day. These are uncertain times for them as well, and they are likely also feeling fearful and/or worried. Try speaking their love language at least twice a day. If you aren’t familiar with the concept of love languages, check out: https://www.5lovelanguages.com/quizzes/

Don’t Stop Connecting: If you live alone, please maintain your social connections. Call, text, or e-mail with at least one person a day. Do not go this alone.

Take care, and please stay safe.

Mindful Parenting

The Whole-Brain Child, by Daniel Siegel & Tina Bryson

canoe3I have so much praise for The Whole-Brain Child, written by Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson. The book explains brain growth and brain functioning in children, and ways parents can interact during difficult moments based on understanding neurobiology. There is minimal psychological jargon, and even includes strategies for parents to teach their children about their growing brains!

Something that stood out for me near the beginning of the book, was Siegel’s explanation of mental wellness and unwellness. Please note:  my overview pales in comparison to the explanation provided by Siegel – this book is worth the read!

In order to explain these concepts, Siegel uses the analogy of paddling down a river in a canoe. Imagine, just paddling down the river in a canoe. As you stay in the center of the river, the waters are calm. However, toward each river bank, the waters become choppy.  To one side of the river, the river bank represents chaos. To the other, rigidity. Floating down the center of the river represents mental wellness. Yet, in everyone’s life, there are times when our canoe floats towards the river banks. If your canoe were to float to close to chaos, you would feel out of control, confused, and in constant chaos and turmoil. If you float too close to rigidity, you would begin to impose control on everything and everyone around you. On the bank of rigidity, people become unwilling to adapt, unwilling to compromise, and unwilling to negotiate. Our thinking can be flexible and adaptable, and our emotions accurate for the situation when we are in center of the river. Siegel goes on to describe the analogy in much more detail, explaining how all mental illnesses can fit into either the bank of chaos or the bank or rigidity.

Imagine how you could use the canoe analogy in your life. For example, after a hard day of work, likely feeling emotionally drained and stressed out – start noticing which shore your canoe is veering toward. Do you tend to float more toward chaos, or rigidity? When under stress, if you veer more toward chaos, you might experience a sense of losing control, or helplessness. You might experience yourself cycling through many strong emotions, such as anger, sadness, and anxiety. You may even catch yourself yelling, whining, or on the brink of tears. When under stress, if your canoe floats more toward rigidity, you might experiencing yourself as the task master, acting in a demanding manner and trying to control everything and everyone around you. When they don’t comply, the resulting behaviour might be anger, or anxiety.

Using the image of the canoe, noticing that your canoe is getting off track and visualize steering yourself back to centre. Be gentle with yourself and use positive words to self, such as  “I choose to keep my canoe in the center”. And when it starts to go sideways (as things often do!), take a break: try taking a moment to breathe, and to visualize your canoe moving back to center. It’s a powerful image – and I am grateful once again to Daniel Siegel for his powerful contributions to brain-based parenting.

Reference:
The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture your Child’s Developing Mind. By Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson.

This article was originally posted on September 7, 2013, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Mindful Parenting

Swapping out Trigger Thoughts for Coping Thoughts

polar bear and cubThis morning I was running late for work. Last night, rather than tidying and preparing lunches for school, I was tired. I decided to put my feet up: I watched tv, and I chatted with my husband. Shirking the evening household responsibilities felt great! But as a result, this morning I was running late. My morning agenda read: get ready, get kids ready, get lunches ready, drive kids to school, drive self to work. However, my six year old daughter had a different agenda. Despite the many times I informed her that I was running late and that we needed to get out the door, she dawdled.

The reality is, I was frustrated with myself for not being prepared for the morning – and sadly I found myself directing this frustration at my daughter. As I saw myself nagging ineffectively, I noticed my inner dialog also changing: “Why can’t she just help me with this? She is so disrespectful…”. Funny thing about such negative, labeling comments – they seem to always intensify angry feelings.

Researchers McKay and Fanning (1996), call these ‘trigger thoughts’ because the thoughts tend to trigger in us negative emotions. When parents are stressed, thinking thoughts that serve to magnifylabel, and assume intent distort the situation – these thoughts make the situation seem worse than it is, and make your child’s behaviour seem deliberate and bad.

Trigger thoughts lead parents to forget the real reasons behind their child’s behaviour (such as developmental level, reinforcement history, needs, temperament, and so forth). And, as the trigger thoughts spiral us into anger, we are left feeling helpless. Once we cool down and the situation is over, we are still left with an unresolved issue and have now lost an opportunity to problem solve with our child(ren).

Trigger thoughts also have a negative impact on our kids. When our anger prevents us from seeing a situation clearly and acknowledging  underlying causes of behaviour, we send negative messages to our children. These messages can lead kids to see themselves as bad, to grow less cooperative with us, and to become alienated from us and angry. The impact of chronic anger on our children sure is worth our attention in changing our patterns when under stress!

McKay and Fanning, in their 1996 research study, found that parents with low levels of anger tended to use more positive coping statements (in place of trigger thoughts). The seven coping thoughts that seemed most effective were as follows:

  1. It’s just a stage. Kids have to go through these stages
  2. This is natural for his/her age
  3. Don’t take it seriously/personally. Keep a sense of humour
  4. This is just natural (age-appropriate) impulsiveness
  5. He/She isn’t really trying to do this to me. It’s just how he/she is coping right now
  6. He/She can’t help (crying, being angry, interrupting, needing attention, etc.)
  7. Just get through it. You can cope. You don’t have to get angry

These are such fantastic coping statements and parents so often forget to use them. If you need assistance in remembering to use the positive coping statements, you could post them on your wall, or use the sticky dot technique! If these coping strategies don’t fit for your situation, spend some time creating your own. The more the coping statements are unique to your life, the more likely you are to remember to think them in the pace of trigger thoughts.

Most importantly, start becoming aware of how you feel anger in your body. Then, when you feel that sensation, check in with what is going on for you at that moment. What are you saying to yourself about the situation? Are you labeling your child in a detrimental way? Is that problem suddenly feeling magnified? Are you assuming some unruly motive to your child? If so, you are most likely using a triggering thought. Swap it out with a coping statement– and believe the coping statement.

Our children really aren’t out to get us! They are just navigating their way through some significant developmental milestones and often feeling helpless, powerless, frustrated, anger, etc. at the process!

Reference:
McKay, M., & Fanning, P. (1996). When anger hurts your kids: A parent’s guide. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

This article was originally posted on January 24, 2011, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Mindful Parenting

Oh… How Easily we Become Distracted!

messy-roomA friend and I were chatting over coffee recently – a mix of giggles and moans as we gushed on the amusements and perplexities of life with kids. My friend had been expressing frustration about trying to get her children to clean their bedrooms. She shared with me that she would ask them to tidy their rooms, even provide specific directions as to what needed to be tidied, and yet return later only to find them playing in their rooms with no amount of tidying completed! My friend expressed exasperation and admitted to being unsure of how to proceed. As I had sat listening to my friend describe her dilemma, a sudden rush of self-awareness swept over me. I too have experienced frustration when my children were requested to tidy their rooms and instead found themselves distracted in the process. I too have found myself curiously wondering how on earth I can motivate them. I too have berated myself for cutting to the chase and cleaning their rooms myself. Despite these acknowledgements, the realization I had was more powerful: it had to do with the way I carry out my own chores and obligations.

All too often when it is time to prepare dinner, I wander into the kitchen and see dirty dishes in the sink. Well, I can not start dinner with dirty dishes hanging around – so I wash them. As I am washing them, I realize that the dish towel is dirty. I walk to the laundry room with it so that I will remember to put it in with the next load. As I am there, I realize that my cat is laying in the window, bathing in the sun. I take a moment just to stare at him – so peaceful, so comfortable. Then, I walk over to him and pet his soft fur. As I am petting him, I realize that I should probably feed him. So, I go get the can of food, and scoop some into his dish. Then I think I should feed the dog, too. I grab the dog’s bag of food, and feed her. My dog happily lops over to me, and I sit on the step to scratch her behind the ears. I smile as I contemplate how loving my pets are. Then suddenly I remember that I was going to prepare dinner! I quickly walk to the kitchen and start taking items from the fridge. As I am doing so, I see a few leftovers that have remained a little too long in the fridge. Of course they must be thrown out. I start pulling them out of the fridge, and  dump some of the leftovers into the compost bucket. Ahhh… it is almost full. I should take it out. I am about to put my shoes on, when I remember that I am actually in the middle of making dinner… !

So I have to ask: how often are we guilty of the very same behaviours we are scolding our children for?

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
– Carl Jung

What I needed in my moment of distraction wasn’t someone yelling at me. I needed to gently remind myself to get back on track. I even smiled at myself, giggling at how easily I was getting everything else accomplished aside from the task at hand! That too is how I need to approach my children. Not with frustration, not with exasperation – but with gentle encouragement.

Depending on the developmental level of our children, they are likely struggling with their own impulsivity.  I read once that our ability to control our impulses isn’t fully developed until age 24 (sorry, I don’t have a reference for this, it is simply something I read once that stuck with me). And, because our impulses are related to root drives, we tend to experience heighten impulsivity when we feel hungry, tired, hurt, and anxious. If that is the case, shouldn’t we be even gentler on ourselves and our children?

Additional ways to encourage and motivate children with their chores:

  • Acknowledge how tough the task can be. Normalize it instead of sending a message of shame: “I know, it is super hard to stay focused with all these neat things in your room…”
  • Use encouragement to assist your child in getting started: “How about I come back to check in a few minutes, I bet you can get this one thing done before I return!”
  • Notice what was done instead of what wasn’t done: “Wow, you’re half through putting your books back on the shelf – and with all these cool toys around tempting to distract you! How did you manage to stay on-track?!”
  • Sometimes, we also need to ask what is beneath all this? Is there something more going on, (such as feeling tired, hungry, and so forth)?

This article was originally posted on March 11 2013, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Mindful Parenting

The Dinner Flowers

img_5506-2I love dinner time with my family. It is such a great opportunity to hear about everyone’s day, to joke with each other – to basically connect with each other after being apart all day. However, loving the opportunity to connect doesn’t  necessarily mean that dinner time is always easy! More often than not, my children want to showme what their day was like: they want to act out what each person did, or demonstrate dance moves. They are constantly popping up and down from the table to get things or to do things – which can be incredibly disruptive!

So, we decided to try out an innovative idea that Jo Frost taught, on the tv show Super Nanny. It is so simply: write down the rules for meal time on paper flowers, place the flowers on the table at meal time, review with everyone as necessary.

It was fun writing down the rules with my children. I loved hearing their interpretation of our meal time rules! For example, my 8 year old came up with“don’t show people what’s in your mouth by talking when you are chewing”. And my future scientist 3 year old came up with “don’t mix your food into your drink”! It took a few revisions, but eventually we came up with about 6 meal time rules, phrased in positive terms (For example, rather than “don’t show people the food in your mouth by talking when you are chewing”, we came up with “Finish chewing, then talk”).

The trick to this strategy? You must catch your kids following the rules! Remind them of the rules at each meal time, verbally acknowledge they are doing it (some praise), and give them the appropriate flower. My children love the pretty flowers we made –they are proud of their hard work. So, at meal times now, they point out their good behaviour and ask for a flower. They even notice each other’s good behaviour and point out that someone needs a flower if I have missed it!

I wonder if the key to success for this strategy was that my children partially own it – there is some empowerment here because they were a part of outlining the rules and creating the flowers. Thank you Super Nanny!

This article was originally posted on January 5 2013, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Mindful Parenting

You are Worthy of Your Time

beach_italy_2019Think it sounds selfish to nurture yourself? There are tons of great reasons why we should spend at least a small percentage of our time taking care of ourselves. Taking time out to care for yourself will actually sustain you in light of the busy schedules we keep and the fast-paced world we live in. And the best part? What we do to nurture ourselves doesn’t need to take a long time.

If it’s been a long time since you have considered doing something nurturing for yourself, check out this list of potential ideas. Some items on the list might sound great to you, and others might not. Think of the list as a way to get you started on considering  what might be nourishing for you. Nurturing yourself is about identifying what your needs are – and taking small steps towards meeting them. What activity might you do that will bring you a sense of calm, or a sense of joy?

What will nurture you? 

  • Take a walk (or any form of exercise)
  • Work or sit in your garden
  • Try yoga (or an exercise class)
  • Play with your pet (if you have one)
  • Draw, paint, scrapbook, etc. – anything artistic
  • Start reading a novel (or listen to an audio book)
  • Take a moment to say some positive affirmations to yourself
  • Cozy up on the couch with a favourite television show or movie
  • Write in your journal: notice what has been going on for you lately, or explore what your own strengths are
  • Take the time to learn about you – try counselling
  • Walk in nature, take some pictures while there
  • Ever thought of trying out an infra-red sauna?  There are tons of health benefits linked with these and if you like warm temperatures, you might find it to be very relaxing! You don’t even have to buy one: many naturopath Physicians have them available in their clinics
  • Enjoy a relaxing bath (or a soothing shower)
  • Write to a friend (yes, many people still enjoy receiving snail mail letters!)
  • Are you religious? Attend a service at your church
  • Try knitting or crocheting (there might even be a knitting circle in your community)
  • Do some tasty baking or cooking
  • Learn something new (check out the classes offered at your recreation centre or community arts centre, or try an online course)
  • Work on a hobby
  • Start a puzzle
  • Try a meditation
  • Want to try a relaxation cd or guided imagery? The cool thing about guided imagery is that it has been proven effective even if you fall asleep while doing it! If you are interested in learning more, do a Google search for “free guided imagery”.  Here are some additional suggestions if you are interested:
    – Apps: Calm or Headspace
    – CD or iTunes download: Jon Kabat-Zinn (mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation); Paul McKenna (visualization and self-hypnosis for optimizing personal potential); Tara Brach (mindfulness meditation). *just to mention a few – there are far too many amazing people in our world who offer meditation or relaxation to mention all of them here!
  • Sometimes are self-nurturing moments involve others: Talk with a good friend or loving family member; Play a fun or silly game with your children; Try hiking together (or plan a fun outing together)

Chances are, if you are reading a blog about mindful parenting, you likely spend a great deal of time caring for others. How about taking a moment each week to treat yourself as kindly as you treat others? After all, you are worth your time!

This article was originally posted on October 3, 2010, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Mindful Parenting

Excessive Control is Problematic

IMG_2950A degree of control in our lives can create a sense of security. We also require it in healthy dosages in order to be the autonomous healthy people we strive to be. A degree of control in our parenting is necessary when creating structure, routine, and boundaries in our home and with our children. However, control can also wreck havoc on our interpersonal relationships if it becomes excessive. Before going in to detail, I would like to share a story…

In October 2003, while I was residing in Mississauga Ontario, a beautiful 9 year old girl named Cecilia Zhang was abducted from her home during the night – out of her own bedroom window while she and her family slept. I did not know her, and I did not know her family… but I was forever changed by her. At the time, I was pregnant with my first child. Cecilia’s story was covered on all the news channels, and her picture was plastered in every store window in my community. It is a disturbing story that chills me and brings tears to my eyes even now, 9 years later. As my own precious child was growing inside me, completely safe and protected, I desperately longed for Cecilia to be found and returned home. To her parents heartbreaking dismay, she was not.  As I watched Cecilia’s investigation unfold, the remaining beliefs I held about the world as a safe place began to crumble.

I have worked hard to keep my fears in-check since that moment, so as not to pass them on to my children. But the fears are always there, just beneath the surface. I keep the windows locked at night. I use a home alarm system. I try to get to know parents prior to my children having play-dates. I research daycare providers prior to employing them… But every now and then, when I have had a stressful day at work or some sort of crisis is underfoot, my need for control kicks in to overdrive. I catch myself wanting to tell my kids (and my husband!) what to do. I even start planning it in the car on the way home! And then I realize what I am doing, and I realize that my day has affected me adversely… and I take a deep breath to release it….

I believe that many parents want to have the illusion of control. That illusion helps us feel safe and enables us to believe we possess the capacity to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. Trauma researchers Follette and Pistorello (2007) state that when our lives feel out of control, we strive to exert control over our thoughts, feelings, and environment (including the people in our environment!). That control we feel we must exert in order to escape feelings of uncertainty and fear sever only to become the problem!

Too much control is detrimental to our relationships – especially to our children. As parents, we need to successfully navigate the delicate balance between keeping our kids safe and street smart while not passing our own issues on to them.

Are there times when you have noticed a sudden excessive need for control or order within or around you? Have you ever caught yourself attempting to control those around you with threats or coercion? Have you ever caught yourself attempting to control what those around you are doing, even when it has no impact on you? If so, it might be time to check in on how you are doing.

Keeping our kids safe is one of the most important jobs of being a parent. Honouring what is going on for ourselves as parents, is an important step in that process. How can you nurture your need for security, for stability, for a degree of control and so forth, without alienating your children and loved ones?

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Recognize your triggers (what thoughts, emotions, or situations bring up strong feelings or kick on a need for excessive control?)
  2. Become aware of your own internal distress(what is your body’s distress signal? For example, holding your breath or taking shallow breaths, clenching muscles or your jaw, pacing or becoming rigid, and so forth)
  3. When you catch your self calling out directions and demanding compliance, take a moment to tune inwards and notice what is going on for you  (Notice what you are thinking, what you are feeling emotionally, and what changes you notice within your body)
  4. Withhold the judgment  (towards yourself, and those around you)
  5. Reassure yourself that you are a normal human being responding to a tough situation – and that you can get through it

(Please also feel free to leave your own suggestions as comments to this post!)

References:
Finding Life Beyond Trauma: Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to Heal from Post-traumatic Stress and Trauma-Related Problems, by Victoria M. Follette and Jacqueline Pistorello (2007)

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

Mindful Parenting

Dump the Distress

IMG-8488Let’s be honest: parenting just might be one of the hardest job you will ever have. It will also be the most rewarding, the most wonderful, the most awe-inspiring make-you-want-to-be-the-best-possible-you-ever job. Here is a strategy to help you through those moments when the worry and concern threaten to overtake the positive. This strategy can help enhance your self-awareness, personal growth, and provide an element of control over to shift emotion and build self-worth.

Here it is: Take all those thoughts swimming around in your head, and put them down on paper. Write them, type them, scribble them, paint them, blur them, or doodle them. The important step in the process is simply getting your thoughts out on paper. You might be doubting your parenting skills; you might be questioning your actions and reactions; you might be confused by your child’s behaviours; you might even be comparing yourself to others and feeling as though you don’t measure up. These thoughts can be over-whelming. When you put them down on paper, they suddenly seem concrete – tangible. You can make sense of them because they are words on paper and not thoughts triggering emotions and stirring up memories. You might find that you can think more clearly. You can even start problem-solving your way through them. “Writing about an experience can help you distance yourself from the feelings of inadequacy that get in the way of enjoying the just-as-real joys of parenting.”

“Writing about important personal experiences in an emotional way… brings about improvements in mental and physical health” – J.W. Pennebaker & J. D. Seagal

Not sure how to write in a journal? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Write about any situation that comes to your mind
  2. Or, try listening inwardly: ask yourself “what am I feeling right now?”
  3. Be honest with whatever you are feeling
  4. If you are venting, destroy the page when you have finished. This not only will ensure your privacy, but is also symbolic of purging the uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings
  5. Give yourself permission to write the worst journal entry ever – this will inherently give you permission to write the best journal entry ever. It will also free you of fear of failure, which might be preventing you from getting started! (Idea from Natalie Goldberg – see reference below)
  6. Try not to spend too much time thinking about what you want to write prior to writing – let your intuition and impulses guide your writing. The process of free writing or stream writing is believed to enable us to bypass our inner critic and tap in to our own wisdom, knowledge, and creativity
  7. Try ending on a positive note – What is your hope for tomorrow? What might you do differently tomorrow?
  8. Be consistent and try writing (or “dumping”) in your journal daily

Worth Checking Out:

The on-line store Knock Knock sells a very clever journal for parents titled “I’m a Parent?”. The journal itself starts out with an informative overview of parental guilt and the benefits of journaling. Then, every journal page starts with the caption “Why I’m a less-than-perfect parent today:” and ends with the affirmative statement “You’re doing better than you think”. Check it out at:
http://www.knockknockstuff.com/catalog/categories/books-other-words/journals/im-parent-guided-journal/

Resources:

Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg (2005)
Yoga for your Brain, by Sandy Steen Bartholomew (2011)
Forming a Story: the Health Benefits of Narrative, by J.W. Pennebaker & J. D. Seagal (1999) Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, USA.

This article was originally posted on September 26, 2012, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge

Mindful Parenting

Notice the Intention, then Address the Behaviour

“Judgments prevent us from seeing the good that lies beyond appearances.” — Wayne Dyer

Holding DaisiesChildren have beautiful intentions. As adults, it can be very easy to lose sight of these intentions. We can get caught up in our day at work, in our household chores, in bills that need to be paid, in family issues, and in our own (sometimes unresolved) experiences. When we are “stuck in our heads” we lose sight of the present moment. For example, we interpret our children as being messy when they are actually being creative, or as getting in our way when they are trying to be helpful.

A very poignant example of this very notion was shared with me recently while working with a 66 year old woman (I will refer to her as Jen in order to protect her privacy). Jen described to me a story of when she was young – just 6 years old. She told me that her mother had the most beautiful flowers growing in the garden. Jen would love to sit among the flowers, most of which were taller than she was when she sat. As she sat by the flowers, she would imagine herself living in a field all of flowers. The image was calming and safe for her, and she would spend hours sitting among the flowers. One summer day, Jen’s mother had been cleaning the house and Jen had wanted to help. She saw her mother working hard and noticed how beautiful the house was becoming.  Jen described offering to help her mother, but that her mother had been too busy to attend her. Still full of admiration for her mother and wanting to help, Jen went out into the garden, and selected a few of her favorite flowers – thinking of how lovely they would look on the kitchen table. Jen pulled the flowers and brought them into the house. She found a vase and began filling it with water. At that moment, Jen’s mother entered the room: her mother noticed only the plucked flowers, root and all, and a clump of dirt muddying her freshly washed floor. Jen was in trouble and the flowers were thrown in the trash. Jen’s beautiful intention to help her mother went unnoticed. What an impact this mother’s actions had on her young daughter – so much so in fact, that at age 66 Jen recalls every detail of the experience and it still brings tears to her eyes.

Our children have beautiful intentions. Depending on their age, they might not know fully how to help. For example, Jen did not know she needed to cut the flowers and leave the root in the ground – her intention was solely to help.

Consider the intentions behind your children’s action – and attend to the intention. Then teach the appropriate behaviour. Grasp hold of the teachable moment and use it to bolster your child’s self-esteem.

Use the comments to share any of your examples of when you been successful at noticing the intention in your children’s behaviour.

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them”
–Mother Teresa

This article was originally posted on July 31 2012, to Happy Parents = Happy Kids (focusedonparenting.wordpress.com) by Susan Guttridge