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

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

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

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

5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique for Shifting out of Overwhelming Emotion

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

Helping your Child with Nightmares (and Setting the Stage for Sweet Dreams)

bearinbedFor any parent who has awoken in the night to their child’s frightened cries, the experience can leave you feeling powerless and bewildered. Although hugs of comfort are given in the moment, often these parents seek further information – what can they do next time and how can they help their child. For that reason, I wanted to put some information out for parents whose children experience nightmares.  Please read on, and try out any ideas below that might fit for your situation and for your child.

Scary dreams can be very common in children and adolescents. And while these nightmares can be a part of normal development, they can also be a result of stressful or traumatic experiences, family conflict, and parental anxiety. Understanding the reasons for such dreams does not make it any easier when it comes to comforting your child after a nightmare. The detailed information below can help you respond to your child during their moment of fear after a nightmare and also help you to set up a bedtime routine that encourages and supports sweet dreams.

Supporting your Child after a Nightmare:

Listening and being supportive of your child after a nightmare is important: it helps reduce their fear and also enhances the secure attachment relationship you have with your child. Try not to force your child to talk about their dream, and do not be dismissive of their dream or their fear. Provide reassurance of their safety. Depending on your child, it can be helpful to get out of bed and have a glass of water. The process of moving into a different room to have the water (moving the body), can serve to dissipate the fear and assist the child in changing their focus of attention.

Once your child has settled somewhat, you could employ her imagination to create a relaxing scene, or images of protection to facilitate relaxation, settling, and to help her fall back to sleep. If you notice that she isn’t easily letting go of the dream, you could help her imagine a different ending to it.

For some children with very vivid nightmares, drawing out what they remember (or scribbling it) and then destroying the paper can create a sense of containment, completion, and empowerment. If you choose to use this method with your child:

  • don’t have your child create the picture in the bed where they had the dream and are expected to go back to sleep in
  • don’t ask questions about what was drawn or written; instead, check in with your child (i.e. “Are you okay? Are you ready to destroy it?”)
  • do make a production of destroying it; ask your child how she wants it destroyed (i.e. into many little pieces, crumpled up and tossed into the trash can, taken out of the house immediately and put in the trash can outside, and so forth)
  • do ensure movement is involved; have your child get up out of their chair to destroy the paper
  • do make containment more conscious; after the image is destroyed, ask “if parts of that bad dream pop in to your mind again tonight, how can you remind yourself that you destroyed it? Remember how you took power over that image and destroyed it. You are safe and it has no power over you now”.

Setting the Stage to Encourage Sweet Dreams:

Nightmares can be a result of traumatic experiences. Reminders of the event can trigger a nightmare, and so can working through the traumatic experience in therapy (even though containment and precautions are used to minimize distress post-session). The following list of suggestions can be used to increases the likelihood of sweet dreams.

  • Help your child learn how to use her imagination: imagine together what a safe place would look like, what her most protective creature would like (and what it does to be protective of her, where it is in her room at night while she is sleeping – does it keep watch over her, and so forth). while doing bedtime, talk about what would be fun to dream about. Offer up your own starting points to get her imagination flowing (i.e. “Tonight when I go to sleep, it sure would be fun to dream about flying up with the birds and butterflies – I’d check out all the cool places they get to go when they fly out of our sight. What do you think would be fun to dream of?”
  • Talk about issues hours before bedtime: Check in with your child during the day, not just before bed. Talk with them about their worries, fears, and so forth. Doing so will give your child lots of time to practice using positive coping thoughts or to have the experience of feeling safe before bedtime
  • Night Lights: some children benefit from having a small night light on in their bedrooms. Fun new night lights project stars on to the walls, which can add a playful comforting feeling at bedtime. Alternatively, you could give your child a small flashlight, which she maintains control over should she want it on or off at any point
  • Open Doors: leaving your child’s bedroom door open can help her to feel as though she is still connected to her parents (her source of safety), leaving no doubt in her mind that help, if needed, will be easily obtained
  • Guided Relaxation: try reading a relaxation script for your child at bedtime. It can serve to put your child into a calm and peaceful frame of mind prior to dozing off
  • Security Objects: it might be helpful for your child to take their favorite stuffy to bed, or other security object. Security objects tend to help children feel relaxed and comforted
  • Television and screen time: try to avoid screen time just before bed. If your child is going to be watching tv just before bed, avoid scary shows that could add to her fears and make settling difficult

In therapy, your child is learning all kinds of helpful coping skills that facilitate awareness, acceptance of experiences, affect regulation, and healing. If you are aware of these some of these skills, use them with your child to aid in settling after a bad dream. Normalize the experience of the nightmare for her, so that she doesn’t feel ashamed or as though something is wrong with her.

Good luck, and sweet dreams!