How to answer when you don’t know

Our children look up to us as if we are experts in all things. We know so much that they are just learning. We are all grown up and they are still growing. Most of the time, we have the answers to their questions.

But there are times when we don’t. Hard things happen in the world and we struggle with our own feelings and understanding of the situation. We may feel like we are falling down on the job when our kids ask a question we can’t answer. But rest assured, you don’t have to have all the answers.

It’s ok to say, “I don’t know.” Or “Let’s see if we can find out together.”

Says Lindsay Braman, in a recent Instagram post, “Big questions from young kids are hard. The balance between dismissing or overwhelming with too-grown-up answers is hard to navigate. Here’s a north star to follow: most kids aren’t looking for facts and forecasting, they are looking for safety. We can soothe kids AND help build resilience to future adversity when our responses to these questions highlight strength, identity, and relationships [and help them] know that they are in a family that will keep them safe and support them even through really hard things.”

Here are a few tips for helping kids feel safe and supported when you don’t know how to answer their questions.

Give Yourself Time to Think

Sometimes, a child’s big questions catch us off guard. Maybe we are enjoying the flowers along the path during a walk, when suddenly the child feels safe enough to ask a big question. Give yourself time to attune to the subject by using an active listening technique. Rephrase the question and confirm your understanding of what was asked.

It’s possible that what you heard is not what they are really curious about. Taking the time to say, “It sounds like you…” and waiting for their answer buys you some time and lets them clarify exactly what they are curious about. 

Use the 4 Ws

Ask them one or more of the ‘who, what, where ,when and why’ questions. What made you think of that? Where did you hear about this? Who were you talking with about this? When did this come up? (Or How long have you been thinking about this?) Why are you wondering right now? Their answers to these questions will give you insight into what is prompting their concern, and help you respond in a way that addresses the underlying concerns even if you don’t have an answer to the question they asked.

Know that it’s OK to not know

If you don’t have an answer, be honest. It’s ok to say, “I don’t know.” Often, our body language and tone of voice are more important than the words we say. Even without an answer, we can be reassuring. 

Have they asked a factual question? If it’s something you can learn together, let them know you can find the answer together.  If it’s a question that involves family values or relationships and you don’t have an immediate answer, reassure them that the topic is something you will revisit when you’ve had some time to think about it.  (And be sure to revisit it, so they know their concerns have been heard and valued.)

Despite our kids’ impression that we know everything, we are all imperfect human beings doing the best we can from one day to the next. When we don’t have the answers to their questions, honesty and reassurance that we will keep them safe and supported will go a long way to addressing their concerns.

Power Hour Workshop: Building Healthy, Secure Attachment

Between birth and age 5, children develop rapidly across a range of areas: physical, cognitive, communication (language), social and emotional. Social and emotional development influences a child’s self-confidence, empathy, and the ability to develop meaningful and lasting friendships.

One of the best predictors for how happy and successful a child is in adulthood, according to Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, is the degree to which they had at least one adult consistently showing up for them throughout their childhood.

Siegel and Bryson argue that ‘showing up’ doesn’t require a lot of money, time, or energy, but is really about the quality of presence. In their book, The Power of Showing Up, they outline the four building blocks of healthy development and secure attachment: that children feel safe, seen, soothed, and secure. 

They offer the following tips:

  • Safe: We can’t always insulate a child from injury or avoid doing something that leads to hurt feelings. But when we give a child a sense of safe harbor, she will be able to take the needed risks for growth and change.
  • Seen: Truly seeing a child means we pay attention to his emotions—both positive and negative—and strive to attune to what’s happening in his mind beneath his behavior.
  • Soothed: Soothing isn’t about providing a life of ease; it’s about teaching your child how to cope when life gets hard, and showing him that you’ll be there with him along the way. A soothed child knows that he’ll never have to suffer alone.
  • Secure: When a child knows she can count on you, time and again, to show up—when you reliably provide safety, focus on seeing her, and soothe her in times of need, she will trust in a feeling of secure attachment. And thrive!

On Wednesday, March 23rd, Heather Siewell, from Hearts With A Mission, will look at how to ‘show up’ for the children in your life. Join us for this one-hour online workshop where we’ll learn how to respond and react in ways that help kids feel safe, seen, soothed, and secure.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Healthy Heart – body and emotions

February is American Heart Health Month, designed to bring awareness to the importance of heart health and encourage healthy habits to reduce the risk of heart disease.

What better time to raise awareness of heart health than the month we celebrate love with Valentines, hearts, and flowers.

Healthy Eating for a Happy Heart

One way to help keep our hearts healthy is with healthy eating habits.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has designed a heart-healthy eating plan called DASH: Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The secret to this eating plan, says Charlotte Pratt, Ph.D., M.S., R.D., a nutrition expert at NHLBI,  is “eating nutrient-dense foods and meals that are lower in sodium and saturated fat, rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and legumes.”

DASH includes recipes that are easy to make and family-friendly. Some of the recipes feature healthy versions of comfort foods, such as oven-baked french fries, chicken chile stew, and sweet potato custard. They include traditional African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Vietnamese, Latino, and Filipino dishes. 

You can find these recipes, along with tips about safe cooking, what to stock in your kitchen, and food shopping at healthyeating.nhlbi.nih.gov.

“The DASH eating plan is scientifically proven to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels,” said Pratt. And NHLBI research shows that increasing your physical activity and watching your calories while following DASH guidelines will not only make your heart happier, it can also help you lose weight. 

DASH requires no special foods, and it helps you set daily and weekly nutritional goals using these simple guides:

  • Eat vegetables, fruits, and whole grains,
  • Include fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils,
  • Limit foods that are high in saturated fat, such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy foods, and tropical oils such as coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils; and
  • Limit sugar-sweetened drinks and desserts.

Combining these healthy eating habits with other self-care activities can help us handle stress and take care of the heart. 

Top of the list: move more throughout the day, get 7 to 8 hours of sleep, and try relaxation exercises such as meditation or yoga. If you smoke, try quitting, and develop a strong social support system to help keep you motivated. Learn more about DASH at www.nhlbi.nih.gov.

Managing Emotions for a Healthier Heart

Heart health is also impacted by stress. With chronic stress, your blood pressure, heart, lungs, and gut can all take a hit. 

The NHLBI also has tips for responding to stress that can help your heart be happier. Try these techniques on your own or find a teacher or class to help you get started. 

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get the hang of it quickly. And if one approach doesn’t work for you, try something new. There are lots of options for destressing. 

Meditation. One of the most studied approaches for managing stress, meditation involves developing your ability to stay focused on the present, instead of worrying about the past or future. Find a quiet location with as few distractions as possible. Get comfortable by either sitting, lying, or walking. Focus your attention on a specific word or set of words, an object, or your breathing. And let distractions, including thoughts, come and go without judgment. 

Progressive muscle relaxation. To feel the effect, first tense your muscles for a few seconds, then relax them. Start by tensing and relaxing your toes, then your calves, and on up to your face. Do one muscle group at a time.

Deep breathing. Take in a slow, deep breath, let your stomach or chest expand, and then exhale slowly. Repeat a few times. Many people don’t breathe deeply, but it is relaxing and something you can do anytime, anywhere.

Guided imagery. This involves a series of steps that include relaxing and visualizing the details of a calm, peaceful setting, such as a garden. 

Getting your mind and body to a place of calm doesn’t always mean being still, however. Other healthy ways to manage stress include taking a yoga or tai chi class, talking to a professional counselor, joining a stress management program or an art class, or meeting up with friends for a brisk walk. Being in nature can be very soothing for some people.

Combining de-stressors like these with other healthy habits can go a long way toward strengthening your heart. Find exercises you actually love and do them regularly. Get enough good, quality sleep. And develop a strong social support system. Then rethink some of the familiar ways you may be coping with stress, such as drinking alcohol frequently or overeating.

Taking care of our heart health is a lifelong journey. To learn more about heart health from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, visit www.nhlbi.nih.gov.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Who needs parenting classes?

When you are pregnant, childbirth classes are the norm. Expectant parents attend childbirth classes to learn what to expect during labor and delivery. 

Regardless of the choices you’ll make about where to deliver or medications to use during delivery, attending childbirth classes is one of those things most everyone does to prepare for birthing a baby.

Immediately after the birth, whether recovering in a hospital, a birthing center, or at home, follow-up visits by nurses or doulas will include discussions of lactation, bathing a newborn, and typical sleep patterns during the early days and weeks.

Many new parents buy a book or two from the myriad books that have been written to help new parents care for their newborns over the coming months. But sometimes, there is a stigma around parenting classes. While childbirth classes are the norm for most pregnant women, once home, attending parenting classes is sometimes seen as something done only by people who struggle with parenting.

Everybody can benefit

But the reality is, parenting classes are designed to support all parents, not just those who feel like they are struggling.

Parenting classes provide a community for parents, both new and seasoned, to come together with others who are in the same stages of parenting. In parenting classes, parents have the opportunity to hear how others are handling situations that are familiar, to learn new approaches when something isn’t working for their family, and reassure them that what they are going through might not be that unusual.

NPEN, the National Parenting Education Network, explains the benefit of parenting education thus:

Parenting education empowers parents’ confidence and competence.

At the Parenting Success network, we believe that parenting classes are for every parent.

The Parenting Success Network is a coalition of organizations in Benton, Lincoln, and Linn Counties that have come together to support and encourage parents with children from birth to 18 years of age. A primary component of this support is offering the opportunity for parents to join together in workshops and classes. 

Parenting Success Network

Classes vary in focus. Some are specific to parenting for different ages, like Live & Learn with your Wobbler, for parents of children 9-18 months, or Living with Your Middle Schooler for parents of young teens. 

Others focus on specific parenting topics, like co-parenting and parenting a child on the autism spectrum. 

No matter where you feel you are on the parenting success spectrum, joining with other parents for community and support will strengthen your parenting.

Parenting classes are for everyone. Because all parents can benefit from the support and community found in workshops and classes led by trained parenting education professionals. 

Take a look at the programs being offered and sign up for some parenting support today.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Outdoors Fun in Winter

If we never went outside when the weather was rainy, or cold, or windy, those of us in the wet Pacific Northwest, would be locked up inside most of the year. 

Winter is a time of renewal in Oregon. Rains bring needed water to fill the rivers and lakes, soaking the forests and nourishing the grasses across the valley. Cold air sweeps down from Canada, and warmer winds float up from the south, making our weather alternately cold and wet, then mild and a little less wet.

But that variability doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the great outdoors. Even during our cold and wet winters there is fun to be had in the Willamette Valley.

Take a Hike

As in all our other seasons, hiking is a great option during the winter. Should we luck into a little bit of snow that sticks to the ground and builds, hikers have the fun of finding animal tracks left in the snow. If it’s just wet, experience the way the trees create a canopy like an open umbrella and make a game of dashing from one dry spot to the next.

Look for birds

Many of our native bird species overwinter in the Willamette Valley. Spend some time seeing how many you can identify. Just this week I watched a tiny hummingbird perched at the top of my cherry tree and a regal Cooper’s hawk make a meal out of a recently killed raccoon on the side of the road.

Bundle Up

Make any outdoor adventure more fun with the proper clothing. Lined, waterproof boots keep your feet dry in all weather. Pair them with a pair of wool socks for extra warmth. A pair of rain pants over trousers will add a second layer of insulation to any pair of legs. Not just for the kids, rain pants keep adults warm and dry too. Keep that body heat in with a well-fitting warm hat, an insulated rain or snow coat, and pair of gloves or mittens. Bundled up with the right gear you’ll be warm for even the wettest adventure.

Find a Festival

Festivals don’t stop when summer winds down. Throughout the year there are festivals celebrating many Oregonian favorites. Hazelnuts, Wine, Music, Dancing, Bird Watching. So many choices, even in winter. Visit the Willamette Valley Visitors website for ideas, locations, and dates.

Get Moving

Simply taking a walk in the neighborhood gives bodies the chance to get moving, with all the benefits of exercise and movement. Shake off the doldrums and get the blood flowing. Let your little ones hunt for treasures – that perfect pebble or shapely stick, while you enjoy our great, wet, outdoors this winter.

Don’t let the rain put the brakes on your family’s outdoor adventures. Dress for the weather, and continue to get out there and enjoy this beautiful area we call home.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

How to Help Siblings Build Great Relationships for Life

As a parent, nothing hurts you more than seeing your child hurt. Whether it’s your tween moping because she didn’t get a part in the school play or your toddler sobbing over the last piece of cake, you feel your child’s pain as if it’s your own. 

And when it’s another child who’s hurting your child…that can strain your compassion to the limit. Your neighbor’s cute toddler at the playground will transform in your mind into an evil demon the minute she hits your child in a fight over the swing. 

But when the child who’s hurting your child is also your child? You’ll never feel so torn.

Siblings can be each other’s best friends and worst enemies – often on the same day. As a parent, seeing your children fight can be overwhelming. You want to simultaneously yell at them and hug them both forever. 

But as difficult as it is, sibling conflict is also an opportunity. Siblings know each other better than anyone else, and sibling relationships are the key place where children can build conflict resolution skills like compassion, negotiation, and compromise. Here’s how you can help them build those skills – even when you’re seeing red. 

Appreciate each child’s individuality 

A desire for parental attention is often at the heart of sibling rivalry, so giving each child your undivided attention is key to minimizing conflict between your kids. Try to schedule 1:1 time with each child, even if it’s only a few minutes a day. Let them take the lead and tell you about their interests and stories. Listening to and encouraging what they have to say will promote a healthy sense of self, which can help them learn to set boundaries and manage conflict with their siblings. 

Listening to each child talk about what they care about will also help you know how you can encourage activities they’re interested in. Valuing and recognizing the interests and personality traits that make them unique will help each child feel appreciated for who they are, without comparisons to siblings. This can help you, as Mayo Clinic recommends, “respect each child’s unique needs” and parent them equally, but not identically. 

Model healthy conflict 

Parents who have partners often think it’s best to go somewhere private to solve disagreements between adults, so children don’t have to listen to arguments. But the reality is that conflict with your partner is unavoidable, and since it can happen at any time, trying to keep it private often means that children see the beginning but not the resolution. It’s probably better for kids to watch you work things out, as long as you can do that in a healthy way. One study found that teens who observed “cooperative marital conflict” had better emotional coping skills. Another study found that children whose parents demonstrated “constructive marital conflict” had more prosocial behaviors. Good conflict means being able to compromise, avoid aggression even when you’re mad, and ultimately resolve the situation – even if you never come to an agreement. 

Arguments with your partner aren’t the only opportunity to model healthy conflict resolution – disagreements between you and your kids are inevitable, too, and you can use them as opportunities. Practice staying calm even when you’re frustrated, and model what you want them to do when they fight with each other. Demonstrate “I” statements, firmly but kindly step away if you need to cool down, and be open to negotiating with them. After all, if you want them to compromise with their siblings, you might need to be willing to compromise, too! 

Let kids work it out when you can

It can be tempting to break things up quickly when your kids are fighting. But waiting to see if they can work it out will let them build conflict resolution skills. If they’re not yelling or punching each other, let conflict go for a little to see if they can solve it on their own. 

You can set them up for success by creating routines that help prevent arguments before they happen. For example, teach toddlers to take turns with toys (it’s easier than sharing, which young kids don’t understand). When your kids start to argue, pay attention to their tone and body language – that will give you a clue whether the conflict is escalating or moving toward resolution.

If you do need to step in, be a coach, not a director. Offer suggestions and tools, but let your kids take the lead, especially when working out a compromise. If the ideas come from them, they’ll be more satisfied with the outcome – and they’ll have more skills for the next disagreement. 

Conflict is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to ruin relationships. Rather than preventing sibling rivalry, work on teaching your kids skills that will enable them to build better relationships not just with each other, but with friends, teachers, and even you.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Giving Teens Responsibility

In our last post we looked at the benefits of including our young children in the household chores and talked about how children are happier and develop greater self-esteem when they make a meaningful contribution to the family. This week, we look at what happens when kids enter their teen years. It’s an opportunity to meet their need for independence with expanded responsibilities beyond their contributions to household chores.

As our children become teenagers a big part of their attention shifts to their relationships with their friends and figuring out their place in the wider world. 

But they are still a big part of the family and continue to need parental guidance and support. Their bodies have changed and they may have reached their full adult size, but their brains aren’t finished developing.  They still need us, even while insisting they don’t.

This combination of an adult-sized body, the importance of relationships outside the family, and all of the time and attention needed to figure out what their adult life will look like can make for challenging times.

One way to ease the strain is to support their growing need for independence by expanding their responsibilities. They can still be expected to contribute to household chores, but we can help them grow toward adulthood by giving them some added adult responsibilities and more opportunities to make their own decisions. 

Growing toward Adulthood

Expanded responsibilities can mean that young teens take on more of the meal planning and grocery shopping. A few summers back, when we had three tweens/teens at home, we implemented a dinner rotation for meal prep. Each person in the family was assigned one night a week where they were responsible for preparing dinner for the family. Each Saturday we would get together to plan the meals for the week. Each teen decided what they wanted to cook. The ingredients they needed for their meal got added to the grocery list. I did the shopping since none of them were driving yet, but if you have a teen who is driving, they can take on this responsibility too.

Post A Chore List

Another way to support this time of transition in your teen’s life is to take a step back from reminding them about their chore responsibilities. When you’ve reached agreement about what they will be responsible for, post the list of who is doing what where it will be seen often. The front of the refrigerator is always a great location for capturing a teen’s attention. 

You can also offer a monetary incentive for taking care of their assigned chores in a timely fashion or offer to pay for help that is above and beyond their assigned contributions. For example, making their bed and keeping their room clean might be a part of contributing as a family member, while doing yard work or watching younger siblings are responsibilities that you will pay them for.

Amy Morin, at verywellfamily.com, suggests you let your expectations be known, clear, and reasonable. Assign chores ahead of time, be flexible about when they get done and establish clear consequences so they know what will happen if they don’t do their chores. Now is the time to step back a little and let them take responsibility for time management and meeting expectations without reminders.

Help Them Set Up A Budget

If you reward them with money or they have an allowance, help them set up a budget. Have them write down what they want and need regularly so they can keep up with it. Older teens who have part-time jobs after school can assume more responsibility for paying for their own things, such as their phone bill or social activities. 

Show them how to track their money and keep a ledger. Some banks even offer budgeting tools in their online apps. 

If you haven’t helped them open a bank account yet, now is the time to do it. Helping them establish good money management skills while they are still at home will set them on the path to success as independent adults. 

Expanding Responsibilities for Older Kids

Here are just a few ways you can support your tweens and teens growing desire for independence:

10-13 Years: Pre-teens can help with everything smaller kids can help with in addition to sweeping and mopping the floors, helping out with yard work, cleaning out the car, and helping to make meals.

13-16 Years:  Young teenagers can take responsibility for all their personal hygiene and laundry, can help with or make meals, and create meal plans and grocery lists. They can be responsible for yard work on their own and can watch younger siblings.

16-18 Years: Our older teenagers who have a job can be responsible for their own money and budget. While their chores at home might not change much, they are now in a position to begin paying for some of their own things – the cell phone, clothes, and the costs associated with activities they do with their friends. 

With love and guidance, helping our teens take on more responsibilities as they reach high school graduation prepares them for a lifetime as independent and responsible adults. 

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Giving Kids Responsibility

Research shows that having kids share in the responsibility of household chores can increase self-esteem, build their ability to delay gratification, and equip them to deal with frustration.  By helping out around the house, children learn valuable life skills, gain confidence, and build self-reliance, which can lead to greater success at school, work, and in relationships.

Says one blogger on children and chores, “Knowing that they contribute and are productive members of the family gives children an important sense of self-worth and belonging. Also, self-mastery (being able to do things for themselves) builds stronger self-esteem and leads to a more capable young person.”

They may grumble when asked to do chores, but research tells us that children actually feel happier when they make a meaningful contribution to the family.

Make it Easy for Kids to Help

The earlier you include kids in household chores, the less resistance you will get and the easier it is to keep them helping willingly. By creating a consistent routine that includes everyone pitching in, children are more likely to contribute without complaint.

Routines keep things predictable. Kids and grown-ups find comfort in knowing what to expect. Creating routines that include chores also reduces the likelihood of pushback when they are reminded of the things they are expected to help with.

Another way to make it easier for kids to help is by decluttering. Too much on a shelf, or stuffed into a drawer or a closet, can be overwhelming. When everything has its own place on the shelf, or in the drawer, and there is ample space between things, picking up and putting away is less stressful and easier to do. 

For the very youngest helpers, some preparation on our part will help them be successful even as they are still learning.  For example, even a toddler can be responsible for feeding the cat if we prepare a small container that holds the cat’s next meal in advance. Placing the pre-measured food on a low shelf means the toddler can feed the cat by taking the container to the cat’s dish and pouring the food into the dish.  

Two-year-old tantrums are often the result of frustration at not being allowed to do something they feel completely capable of accomplishing. 

True, we are all busy and sometimes it is hard to find the patience for waiting while they practice new skills. It is so much easier, and faster, to just do it ourselves.  We have years of experience putting on shoes and we know we will be out the door so much more quickly if we simply scoop up the child and the shoes and put their shoes on their feet for them. 

Waiting for our toddler, who is just learning to coordinate the movement of their hands with the movement of their feet will take more time. 

But planning ahead to allow more time – and having the patience to let them try – will result in a happier toddler as they experience the satisfaction of accomplishment while building their self-care skills with each new effort.

Children as young as 18 months can help pull clean clothes out of the dryer and into a laundry basket. With a little direction, toddlers can help put linens on a closet shelf, socks into their sock drawer, and dish towels into a kitchen drawer.

As children are learning to perform their chores, doing them together allows them to learn from you. Working as a team over time, the child can watch you perform a new chore, then begin to help with that task, and eventually will have had sufficient practice to take responsibility to do it independently. 

What can they help with? 

Here are just a few of the things that kids can be responsible for:

2-3 Years: Our youngest children can help us with our regular household chores. As we straighten a room, they can take a piece of trash to the wastebasket, use a dust cloth to help dust tabletops, take dirty clothes to the laundry hamper, help pull clean clothes out of the dryer, and learn to fold washcloths.

4-5 Years: Our older preschoolers can help with all of the above and they can take responsibility for setting and clearing the table, making their bed, matching and folding socks, wiping up spills, using a hand-held vacuum, preparing a simple snack, and helping with meal prep.

6-7 Years: All of the above, as well as emptying the dishwasher, putting groceries away, sweeping and vacuuming floors, dusting, folding towels, watering plants, and raking leaves.

8-10 Years: Empty the trash, wash dishes, pack lunches, hang and fold clean clothes, weed the garden.

With a little planning, a lot of patience, and loads of encouragement we can help our kids on their road to independence with some well-timed responsibilities throughout their childhood.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Strengthening Adult Relationships

Our primary relationships – with our partners, our children, and our immediate family bring us joy and enhance our life. Social connections are part of being human and our relationships with other adults offer important support. 

Social distancing during the pandemic has been hard on us all. It runs counter to our natural inclination and desire to spend time with others enjoying each other’s company and building relationships                                                           

That is because humans are social beings. We enjoy our adult relationships. Not only that, according to HarvardHealth, our social connections also contribute to our long-term health – in ways every bit as powerful as adequate sleep, a good diet, and not smoking. Dozens of studies have shown that people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends, and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer.

But it’s not always easy to find time for adult relationships. Our children and their needs keep us busy from the time our feet hit the floor in the morning until we stumble, exhausted, and back into bed at night. 

But as challenging as finding the time for our friends can be, making time for our adult relationships can help us refuel and provide much-needed emotional support.

Here are a few ways to strengthen the adult relationships in your life:

Relationships with significant others/spouses

Spending time together is the number one way to build relationships. It’s easy to let our relationship with our partner take a back seat to all the logistics of family life, but being intentional about carving out time without the children, can go a long way to strengthening our relationships. The Gottman Institute recommends six specific steps you can take to strengthen your romantic relationship.

Relationships with siblings

Our siblings are the people who know us best and have been there as we’ve become adults. Says Janessa McQuivey, “In many families, sibling relationships make an abrupt shift when individuals enter young adulthood and leave the home. Some adult siblings find themselves spread across multiple states. Distance can be further complicated with differing life stages – college, work, marriage, and children. Many find they don’t spend as much time connecting with their siblings as they would like.”

She offers this tip for deepening sibling relationships later in life. “Little steps and deliberate moments of kindness can help siblings feel loved, have a greater desire to stay in touch, and lead to deeper, more satisfying relationships in years to come.” 

Relationships with childhood friends

Are there people you knew when you were younger that you’ve lost touch with? Take a little time to reach out. You may find you still have a lot in common.  Technology can facilitate friendship across long distances. When the pandemic started eliminating outside activities and keeping us at home, many people found time to initiate regular Zoom ‘happy hour’ gatherings with friends far and wide, virtually.

Making new friends

Parenting can be isolating. When we focus all of our attention on our children and their schedules we may be missing opportunities to cultivate new friendships with other adults. Where can we find new friends? Here are just a few possibilities:

  • Be open to getting to know the other adults in the lives of your children’s friends and your children’s school. 
  • Be active with groups that engage in activities you enjoy (running club, biking club, the gym). 
  • Consider volunteering with an organization doing work you believe in. 
  • Participate in small group activities at church. 
  • Take a class through the local community ed organization. 
  • Join a PSN parenting class, where many participants form friendships that last for years after the formal class has ended.

The Parenting Success Network offers opportunities for parents with children of all ages to gather with others who are at similar stages of their parenting journey. Classes are offered continuously, with every class posted on the events calendar of the website.  Join us for a class today. You might just meet your new best friend as you strengthen both your parenting skills and your adult relationships. 

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Helping children understand and handle their emotions

Supporting children as they learn about emotions and develop the skills to manage strong feelings is part of helping them grow.

In a recent article assessing the impact of this year of remote education, social-emotional learning was cited as likely to be the area where children show the biggest deficit. They noted that what children will most need to learn or re-learn when they return to school buildings is how to be in a classroom filled with other children.

Social-emotional learning focuses on what we learn while being part of a social group. For children, it includes things like learning to let someone else go first, apologize when you hurt someone’s feelings, offer help when someone is struggling, and manage all the emotions that come with not having everything go exactly as you hoped. 

Emotions are a big deal.

Kidshealth.org offers these basic facts about emotions:

  • Emotions come and go. Most of us feel many different emotions throughout the day. Some last just a few seconds. Others might linger to become a mood.
  • Emotions can be mild, intense, or anywhere in between. The intensity of an emotion can depend on the situation and on the person.
  • There are no good or bad emotions, but there are good and bad ways of expressing (or acting on) emotions. Learning how to express emotions in acceptable ways is a separate skill — managing emotions — that is built on a foundation of being able to understand emotions.

Recognizing and managing emotions 

We all recognize when an event affects how we feel. Depending on our temperament and other things affecting us at the moment, our emotional reactions can vary wildly. Something that caused little emotional reaction last week can send us over the edge today. 

Scientists used to think there were just 6 basic emotions, but a study published in 2017 suggests there is evidence for 27 distinct varieties of reported emotional experience.

Why is it so hard to handle big emotions?

A big emotion sends many different chemicals coursing through our bodies. These chemicals trigger a physical reaction within us. This physical reaction can make us uncomfortable physically. It then triggers thoughts and reactions in our brain. The part of the brain responsible for triggering emotions, the amygdala, is the most primitive part of the brain. It is responsible for keeping us safe by triggering our ‘flight or fight’ response to perceived danger. It takes no conscious thought to start the cascade of feelings when the amygdala is triggered.

Because it happens outside of our consciousness, we are often already fully engulfed in emotion when the conscious part of our brain – our prefrontal cortex – takes note. Despite our best intentions, without self-regulation, our emotions can lead us to say or do things we might later regret.

How do we help children who are still learning to self-regulate feel big emotions?

Says Karen Young, “Self-regulation is NOT about ‘not feeling’. Locking feelings away can cause as much trouble as any outburst. There is nothing wrong with having big feelings. All feelings are valid and it’s okay for kids to feel whatever they feel. What’s important is how those feelings are managed. The key is to nurture children towards being able to acknowledge and express what they’re feeling, without causing breakage to themselves, their friendships, or other people.”

Helping children identify their feelings and express what they are feeling is the first step. The brain is still developing in young children. Our prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed until adulthood. Every big feeling is an opportunity to further develop self-regulation skills.

We can acknowledge the big feelings our children are having and help them name what they are feeling. If we take the time to let them work their way through it, without taking over, we give them the space they need to work on self-regulation and learn how to self-soothe.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.