Family Traditions Build Strong Families

Traditions are an important part of family culture.  The things we do together routinely, over and over, become our family’s traditions and define our family’s unique family culture.  Family traditions can be big (the Thanksgiving meal or family reunions) and traditions can be small (saying grace before dinner or sharing a hug when parting).  

Big or small, family traditions help define a family’s culture and help strengthen families in a number of important ways.  

What is a tradition?

What do we mean when we say ‘tradition’? Webster’s dictionary defines ‘tradition’ as “an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (such as a religious practice or a social custom).”  

Simply put, a tradition is something that is done the same way over time.  The holidays we celebrate and the way we celebrate them are often traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation.

Following traditions that have been passed down from previous generations contributes to a family’s unique family culture.

What is ‘family culture’?

Culture is the way a group of people collectively thinks, feels and acts. We often think of countries, or regions of a country, as having a culture that is unique and different from the country or region next door.  

But families also have a culture, whether they intentionally set out to create one or not.  The things you do as a family, the values you hold and demonstrate to your children by your actions, and the daily, weekly, or annual rituals of family members all form a family culture that is unique to your family.

Why are traditions important?

Those habits we form together in a family can provide each family member with connection, comfort, and the security of being part of a like-minded group.  Shared activities strengthen the connections between family members and provide a source of identity and feeling of belonging.  

Traditions, and family culture, are also a way to pass along the values you hold dear to your children.  

When we form family traditions, we create opportunities to build connections within our family.  The things we do together regularly as a family- daily, weekly, or even annually – give children a sense of belonging.  

Daily traditions are small things you do each day to reinforce your family values and connection.  A high-five as kids leave for the school bus. Or the commitment to sit and eat a meal together around the dinner table.  

Weekly traditions can also be small activities you do together as a group to build strong, supportive relationships. Family game night on the weekend. Attending religious services together each week.

Life Change traditions celebrate family milestones – the beginning and end of a school year, birthdays, graduations, and weddings. 

For more on the importance of family traditions – and how to create them – check out Creating a Positive Family Culture.  

 

In our family, we have a simple birthday tradition that involves hanging streamers from the chandelier over the dining room table.  The streamers are hung after the birthday person has gone to bed the night before their birthday. The next morning the whole family is part of birthday excitement, seeing the table festooned with birthday streamers. The streamers stay up all day, and sometimes beyond the day if I forget to take them down!

Another family tradition at our house is the advent wreath in the center of the dining room table right after Thanksgiving each year.  Each Sunday in Advent, we read from a script that we brought home from church in 1984. It’s looking pretty tattered at this point, but it’s a family tradition we all cherish.  

One of our more recently implemented family traditions was started by my 17-year-old, who a few years back began baking massive amounts of cookies throughout the month of December.  By Christmas, we have platters of cookies, in an assortment of epic proportions. 

This goes to show that family traditions, while enduring and often passed down generation to generation, can also be begun, or even stopped, at any time.  

Family traditions can also be implemented at any time.  And can begin spontaneously. Our streamer tradition started that way.  The first time I hung them, it wasn’t in a conscious effort to start a tradition. But when the next birthday rolled around, someone asked where the streamers were.  And a tradition was born.

What family traditions define your family’s culture?  

Family traditions work together with a family’s values and norms to form a family’s culture.  They provide family members with a healthy sense of belonging, security, and connection – contributing to everyone’s well-being and healthy emotional development.

 

 

 

Holiday Stressbusters: 10 Tips for Reducing Stress

As we wind up for the holidays and anticipate a break from the school routine, here are 10 Quick Stressbusters, scientifically proven to help your body fight the chemical overload caused by stress and anxiety.

1. Belly Breaths

Get into a comfortable, relaxed sitting or standing position.  Put one hand on your belly, just below your ribs. Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, allowing your belly to push your hand outward.  It sometimes helps to count slowly to 3 as you inhale. Exhale slowly. Repeat at least two more times. Belly breaths send messages to your brain to calm down and will reduce muscle tension throughout your body.  To learn more about belly breathing, see Breathing Exercises for stress management.

2. Take a walk

A brisk walk sends messages to your body to produce more endorphins, the chemical that makes us feel good and reduces feelings of anxiety and depression.  Stepping out of a stressful environment, even if only for a few minutes, also provides space for your mind and body to regroup.

3. Skip the nightcap

As a depressant, alcohol is sometimes viewed as a stress-reducer.  But when alcohol is added to the mix, the body releases higher amounts of cortisol, which is the hormone that triggers our ‘flight or fight’ response in stressful situations. This change to the balance of hormones changes the way the body perceives stress. Thus, alcohol prevents the body from returning to its original hormonal balance, which actually adds to feelings of stress and anxiety in the long run.

4. Drink water

Dehydration also increases cortisol levels in the body.  So when we don’t drink enough water, our body responds by releasing cortisol, increasing feelings of stress.  Says Gina Shaw, on WebMD, “Stress can cause dehydration, and dehydration can cause stress. It’s a vicious cycle. You can break it by building more water consumption into your day.”

5. Check your posture

Studies have shown that posture – how we sit and stand – affects not just our bones and muscles, but our emotions as well.  Sitting up straight, standing with shoulders back and relaxed, contributes to the body’s sense of well-being. A study on slumping, performed by the Department of Psychological Medicine, The University of Auckland, found that “Adopting an upright seated posture in the face of stress can maintain self-esteem, reduce negative mood, and increase positive mood compared to a slumped posture. Furthermore, sitting upright increases the rate of speech and reduces self-focus. Sitting upright may be a simple behavioral strategy to help build resilience to stress.”

6. Turn on some soothing music

Music has long been known to directly connect to our emotions, so choosing some calming classical music can help your body deal with stress hormones.  As a side benefit, listening to music can be done while you are busy with other things – like getting ready for work or preparing the evening family meal. Combining the soothing effect of calming music with an activity that can be typically stressful can help balance the impact of the stressor.

7. Take a cuddle break with a loved one

Hugging has some surprising physical benefits, with stress relief being just one of them.  Studies have found that people who received more hugs were less likely to catch a cold, saw their blood pressure decline, and felt better emotionally.  According to one study, “volunteers felt better than usual on days on which they had received at least one hug.”  So counter those negative feelings by wrapping your arms around someone you love (with their permission, of course!).

8. Try some yoga

Yoga combines physical and mental discipline – bringing together mind and body.  Combining poses and controlled breathing, yoga can help reduce stress and lower blood pressure.  While there are many different styles of yoga, the popular Hatha yoga provides a slower pace and easier movements. Relaxing into a series of yoga poses sends good vibes to your brain, increasing endorphins and lowering cortisol levels.

9. Write it down 

Journaling doesn’t release muscle tension from your body, like some of the other options for reducing the physical effects of stress and anxiety, but keeping a diary can help vent stressful emotions.  Spending quiet time alone, writing down your thoughts and describing your feelings can help process those emotions and provide relief. A journaling practice can take many forms – a daily gratitude journal, occasionally writing down feelings and strong emotions, or even a bullet list of goals, memories, or other things we want to remember.  And it’s a practice that can be restarted at any time if life gets in the way and derails regular journaling. 

10. Talk to someone

Telling a friend or willing listener about the stress you are feeling – talking through your feelings – can also help reduce the physical effects of stress and anxiety.  In a Forbes article on talking as therapy, Dr. Marian Margulies explained, “When I think of the process of engaging in talk therapy, I think of the analogy with writing.  The more you write, the more you know what you are trying to say – it clarifies your thinking. Similarly with talking and with talk therapy, one becomes more aware of what is making one feel anxious, sad, angry or frustrated. And then one is freer to decide how to manage these feelings or take action to alleviate them.” 

 

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

The Health Benefits of Gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving! It’s the perfect time to look at the health benefits of gratitude.  With the holidays Hearight around the corner, we look forward to celebrating with family and friends, far and near. But the holidays can often overwhelm, even as we anticipate them.

If we are already worrying about so many things in our daily lives – how well we are parenting, how well we are doing our job, whether we’ll make it to the end of the month on the money in the bank – our expectations for the holidays, and the expectations of others, can add another layer of stress. 

But Thanksgiving reminds us that a healthy dose of simple, mindful gratitude can help. November is a great time to pause and take a moment to be consciously grateful, and let that be an antidote to the stress in our lives.

Research has shown that there are health benefits of gratitude.  Over time gratitude leads to lower stress and depression and higher levels of social support.  Amy Morin, writing for Psychology Today, identifies seven scientifically-proven benefits of giving thanks.  Among them: improving physical health, sleeping better, growing social networks, and increasing mental strength.

Says another research study, “Grateful individuals are more likely to appreciate good in their lives, accept social support when needed, which boosts self-esteem, and engage in self-reassuring behaviors and less likely to be self-critical. All of these are associated with higher satisfaction with life.” (Kong, Ding, & Zhao, 2015; Petrocchi & Couyoumdjian, 2016).

Some people find that regularly using a Gratitude Journal helps them see all the things they have to be grateful for.  Others take time out of their day to be still, silent, and meditate on the good things in their life. Even a simple, conscious thought of gratefulness as we pack lunches before sending the kids off to school can contribute to stress reduction. 

The key is to be deliberate about identifying those things you are grateful for and consciously identifying them.

Says David Steindelt-Rast, in his Ted Talk on gratitude, “It is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.”  He goes on to encourage listeners in a life of gratefulness by building in opportunities to notice.  He describes his own experience with noticing. After spending time in Africa, without drinkable water, he returned to his home and would stop and be consciously grateful each time he turned on the tap and fresh water poured out. A simple thing, easily overlooked.  But having done without provided the impetus toward gratitude. 

Thanksgiving reminds us to be grateful.  But gratitude, recognized throughout the regular days of our lives, offers a way to reduce our stress levels all year long. 

Next time you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, think Gratitude.  Take some time to acknowledge the good things that crossed your path that day.  Keep a gratitude journal, send a thank you note, or share the things you are grateful for today with the ones you love. 

 

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

Screen Time: Strategies for Plugging into Healthy Technology

Is there such a thing as ‘good’ screen time?

Is there such a thing as ‘good’ screen time?

We’ve all heard it – too much screen time can cause insomnia, social disconnection, even impact cognitive development.  As parents, we agonize over how much is too much. Should I be confiscating their phones and iPads? Limiting use of the wifi and TV?  Shutting down the video game console?

Actually, researchers say there are upsides to the technology era we live in.

Says Dr. Katherine M. Keyes, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, “Video game playing is often a collaborative leisure time activity for school-aged children. These results indicate that children who frequently play video games may be socially cohesive with peers and integrated into the school community.  We caution against over interpretation, however, as setting limits on screen usage remains an important component of parental responsibility as an overall strategy for student success.” Dr. Keyes made her remarks following a study she conducted on the positive effects of video games on children.

Kara Loo, writing in the Huffington Post, notes seven different ways video games can help kids in school.  Among them, she cites development of critical thinking and reading skills. In her article she says, “Video games also hone spatial thinking, reasoning, memory, perception, and problem-solving — all which come in handy for a wide range of technical careers.”

So what is a parent to do?

The very best time to start thinking about screen time is early – before the age of 5.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under the age of 18 months not have any screen time.  For 18 – 24-month-olds, they advise only high-quality programming that you watch with your child. For two-to-five-year-olds (preschoolers), the AAP says you should limit screen time to an hour per day.  

As you decide what is appropriate for your family, you can begin to talk about the use of technology and set expectations.  Conversations started when your child is young helps establish a pattern of communication about technology early on, which can reduce the likelihood of challenges when they are teenagers.

It is also a good idea to take a look at your own relationship with technology.  Very young children absorb much of what they know by observing their environment.  What are your children seeing when they watch how you use technology? How much are you on your phone?  What are your children learning from observing you?  

I was in Seattle over the summer.  We were hurrying down the street, with three hungry children in tow, anxious to get them fed.  Walking along one block, I noticed another family working their way down the same street. Dad was out front, with their older daughter.  Mom followed with the younger child in a stroller. Dad was holding his daughter’s hand with one hand and his cell phone to his ear with the other.  

I watched them walk the entire length of the block, he

deep in conversation, she beside him.  She glanced up at him every so often, but he never noticed. His eyes looked keenly ahead as he focused on the conversation he was having on the phone.  

It was only a moment in time.  Perhaps he’d told her before the phone call started that he’d be busy while they walked.  Maybe she was only checking to see if he was still busy. But I was struck by what he was missing as he pressed forward, unaware of the non-verbal communication from the child at his side.  

It’s easy to get caught up in the demands of our ever-present technology.  A quick check of incoming messages becomes a half-hour of email responses. Spending that free five minutes on social media becomes twenty or more.  

There is a lot of good in the technology we all have access to.  But we are also increasingly aware of the need for establishing boundaries around the time we spend with it.  As Geraldine Walsh exclaimed in an article in the Irish Times, “We need to disconnect and reassure children we value them above our devices.”  

Want to learn more?

For more information on the healthy use of technology, join us at the Old Mill Center on October 15th, 6:30 pm,  for a free parent workshop, “Strategies for Plugging Into Healthy Technology.”  Designed to help parents of young children (0-5) get off on the right foot, the workshop will be led by Richard Halpern, an educator with over 25 years of experience helping parents navigate the growing up years.

Workshop attendees will learn the initial steps to take to assure balance and control around the issue of screen time.  Halpern will help parents learn how to identify a good app or video and will provide resources you can take home and use immediately.

The workshop is free and open to the public. Free childcare will be provided.  Call 541-917-4884 to sign up and register for childcare.  

 

Ultimately, as parents, it is our goal to frame the conversation with our children so that as they grow they are educated and empowered to make healthy choices.  “Plugging into Healthy Technology” will add tools to your parenting tool kit that will help your family have a healthy and empowered relationship with technology.

 

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

 

Language development in early childhood: get reading

Babies begin language development from birth.  As they are exposed to the language of their parents and environment, their brain works to make sense of what they are hearing.  During the first three years of life, a baby’s brain grows and develops faster than any other period of development.  

It is during these early years that children are most intensively focused on speech and language development. During these critical years, babies and young children are most able to absorb language.

Even before they learn to talk, babies are learning to associate sounds and their meaning thanks to repetition of words in their environment. 

Stages of language development

Early on, babies start to make sounds on their own.  Soon they begin to mimic the sounds they hear around them.   Most children say their first word between 9 and 18 months. By the time they are two, a toddler will be able to say between 50 and 150 words and will understand many more than that.  

Toddlers move from one-word speech to two words.  Ultimately developing the ability to put words together to form a primitive sentence, such as ‘Up Daddy.’

By the time they are 3, children are using language to ask for things, to comment on what they are observing, to talk about past experiences, and even to describe what they are imagining.

One of the very best things parents can do to support language development in their children is to talk to them –  and read to them – frequently. When I started raising a visually impaired son I discovered the benefits of narrating.  

For blind babies, talking about everything helps orient them to their environment, preparing them for mobility as well as language development.  Naming the objects that they touch and feel provides context as they learn about the world through their other senses.

Sighted babies also benefit from listening to their caregivers talk about the world around them.  Narrating provides exposure to the language, builds vocabulary, and contributes to brain development.

Narrating is simply saying what you are doing and making eye contact as you are speaking.  Invite engagement and attention during the interaction. Even a newborn can be introduced to language as they experience their first diaper and clothing changes.

The conversation during a diaper change might go something like this:

“Ok, it’s time for a clean diaper.  You will feel so much better when we get this wet diaper off.”

“Let’s get these snaps undone.  There, now we can take off your diaper.”

 “Oh, this wipe is cold!  I will be quick so we can get you wrapped up and cozy again.”

“Here comes the clean diaper.  I will need to lift you up to put it under you.”

“Ok, we are almost done.  Let’s put these snaps together again.  Are you warmer now?”

“There, we are all finished.  Doesn’t that feel better?”

Using language to describe the process and following a routine that repeats the same motions each time they are changed or dressed supports language development and their participation in the process.  

When caregivers narrate regularly, by the time a child is walking they will have heard the names for all the parts of the process a multitude of times.  Whether changing, dressing, preparing for a meal, or heading out the door, they will understand and be able to follow simple requests, such as “hold my keys, please”, even before they are able to speak.

Talking to your baby, making eye contact, naming the things you see and do together all establish the foundation of language development.  

Language development and Reading

Reading to your baby from the very beginning of life also introduces them to language, words, and the images that represent the things described by the words.  These important concepts support written language development in the school-aged child.

Experts recommend that you begin reading to your baby early and continue throughout their elementary years.  

A study done by the New York University School of Medicine shows that reading books with a child beginning in early infancy can boost vocabulary and reading skills four years later, before the start of elementary school.  

A great place to start is at the public library.  Most libraries offer Baby and Me reading time to help inspire reading with young children.  Children’s librarians can guide you to board books for infants and toddlers, and picture books for preschoolers.

 

Another great resource is the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.  The Dolly Parton Imagination Library Program provides free books to participants each month.  The United Way of Benton Co provides support for this program to local rural residents. If you live in Monroe, Philomath, Alsea, or Blodgett, you can sign up to receive free books here:  https://imaginationlibrary.com/usa/find-my-program/

Reading regularly to your baby, toddler and preschooler is the very best way to facilitate language development and early literacy.  A sound foundation in language supports early literacy and sets children on a path for success in their school years.

more information on speech and language development, check out the Communicative Language checklist here:

https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/speech-and-language

JOIN US November 6th for the next installment of our Protective Factors series: Knowledge of Parenting & Child Development.  Dr. Aoife Magee, Director of the Parenting Success Network and a family and teacher supporter for over 30 years, leads this dynamic workshop that will help parents and educators alike learn how to provide children with respectful communication, consistent expectations, and promote independence. Free to parents; $20 for educators (Set 2 credit available) Call 917-541-4884 for more information and to register.

 

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

6 Ways to lower back-to-school anxiety

Back to school stress can begin even before the school year starts.  What has become our summer routine will quickly be replaced with the demands of a new school year.  This impending change can increase anxiety levels in children and parents alike. 

Here are six quick tips for reducing the tension in your house as everyone gets used to the new ‘normal’ for this school year.

  1. Get into a routine

During big transitions like the first weeks of school in a new class, use predictable routines for the beginning and end of each day to help lower stress.  Routines are reassuring, for children and adults alike. Knowing what needs to be done, and doing that in the same order each day, adds a rhythm to each morning and evening.  We can do it without investing anxious thought and worry in the routine tasks of each day. Very young children gain confidence in themselves when they know they can predict what comes next.

  1. Make time for downtime

Especially during the first two weeks of school, give everyone time to just do nothing.  Consider saving the ‘back to school celebration dinner out’ for later in the month and let your overwhelmed students just veg out at home during these first few weeks of adjustment. 

  1. Stick to the Sleep schedule

Help children get enough sleep by setting appropriate bedtimes.  Begin the bedtime routine early enough that getting to bed isn’t rushed.  Children who are well-rested will have an easier time coping with the stressors of their day.

4.Limit screen time and encourage physical exercise  

Exercise helps prepare the body for better sleep.  Instead of starting a video, take a walk together as a family after dinner. Set a digital curfew each evening to help everyone move into a more restful and sleep-receptive state.  The earlier the better, but experts recommend we step away from our devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.  A great alternative to winding down in front of a screen is a good old fashioned printed book, read by the light of a table lamp.

  1. Lower your expectations

We all want to have everything ready for the big change of a new school year.  But consider putting off some of the preparation. Yes, you will need a new supply of long pants and long sleeve shirts, but can it wait until early October?  You want everyone to skip off to school gleefully each day, but some days they are more likely to shuffle – or stomp – out the door. Let it go. Give them a hug and a smile anyway, and maybe a little encouragement to go forth and make it a great day.

  1. Put a positive spin on it 

Help anxious children see the upside when they express their fear with comments like, “I don’t want to go back to school.”  Remind them that they will see friends they haven’t seen all summer. Ask them what they are looking forward to the most. Help them see that starting something new can also be exciting.  Just smiling – even if you don’t feel happy – releases endorphins that will make you feel better.  

This time of year often means heightened anxiety at home.  Look for ways to lower the stress of back-to-school at home, so your kids can take their best selves into their new classrooms.  Less anxiety means they will be more open and receptive to the learning their teacher has planned for them.  

Take a deep breath. In a few short weeks, we can look back and congratulate ourselves on settling into our new school year routine. 

 

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

Sleep, sleep debt, and mental health

a woman lays face down on a bed that is covered in a white sheetLack of sleep, also known as sleep debt, affects both our physical and mental health.  Studies show that sleep debt affects numerous parts of our body, including our brain. In our brain, lack of sleep actually causes brain activity to slow down.  

Sleep cycles at my house are dramatically different in the summer than during the school year.  With a house full of tweens and teens, removing the need to get up in the morning has invited my teens and tweens to stay up long past their typical bedtime.  

They stay up until midnight, then sleep in the next day.  Sometimes I find myself insisting they get up as the clock chimes noon.  Yesterday we dragged the 14-year-old out of bed at 10:30am for a family trip to the blueberry patch.  He was not pleased. He complained about feeling rushed out the door. He slumped into his seat in the car, intent on ignoring those around him. But the ride out helped improve his mood.  By the time we were all in the berry patch he had waded through the worst of his sleep deprivation. 

We all know what not getting enough sleep does to us the next day.  We are grouchy. Moving through the day feels like swimming against the current.  It’s hard to get things done. We are short with the kids, tend to eat even though we are not hungry, and have no motivation for exercise.

That is not a surprise to researchers who study what lack of sleep does to people. 

Describing one study, Yuval Nir, a sleep researcher at Tel Aviv University said, “We were fascinated to observe how sleep deprivation dampened brain cell activity. Unlike the usual rapid reaction, the neurons responded slowly, fired more weakly and their transmissions dragged on longer than usual.”  

You are not imagining things – when you are tired you really do think more slowly.

What’s more, not getting sufficient sleep for long periods of time also reduces mental and emotional resilience.  Lack of sleep can lead to negative thinking and emotional vulnerability and can make problems with anger, depression or anxiety worse.

A survey of sleep studies done by the Department of Research at the California Institute of Behavioral Neurosciences & Psychology notes, “Sleep is an essential part of our lives. The typical person needs seven to eight hours of sleep each night to maintain peak mental and physical health.”

They continue, “Less than seven to eight hours of sleep can be harmful to human health. Getting less than adequate sleep is known as sleep deprivation. When an individual has multiple consecutive days of sleep deprivation, they enter “sleep debt,” which is a cumulative effect of insufficient sleep for any period of time. The effect of sleep deprivation on mood has been well-documented. The changes in mood that have been linked to sleep deprivation include anxiety, depression, mood swings, etc.

Sleep deprivation appears to impact adults, adolescents, and children in similar ways. Sleep deprivation can exacerbate pre-existing mood disturbances, such as anger, depression, and anxiety, and can lead to confusion, fatigue, and lack of vigor. Even just one sleepless night correlates with these changes in function.”

How much sleep do you need?

It’s not always easy to get as much sleep as we should. Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night.  Recommended nightly sleep is 10 hours for teens and between 10 and 13 hours per night for children over the age of 3.  (Children under 3 need even more.) Missing even 15 minutes of sleep each night can accumulate over time and result in sleep debt which affects both mental and physical health.

So how do you take corrective action if you or your children are suffering the effects of too little sleep?  Sleep experts recommend:

  1. Rather than sleeping later, try going to bed earlier each night.  Going to bed at the same time each night, as well as following the same routine getting ready for sleep, can help with falling asleep.
  2. Optimize the sleeping environment by eliminating electronics (tv, ipads, phones, laptops) in the bedroom.
  3. Consider room darkening shades and motion-sensing nightlights to minimize the amount of ambient light in the room overnight.
  4. Lower the temperature of your sleeping environment. Body temperature drops as we sleep, so the optimal temperature for the bedroom is between 65 and 68 degrees overnight.
  5. While naps can help reduce the total amount of sleep debt, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.  Adults should limit naps to a 20-minute catnap or a 60-90 minute power nap. Any more can create problems getting to sleep later in the day.  

Want to know more about the physiological effects of sleep debt?  Check out this article from LiveScience.com.

 

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

Take a break – you’ll get more done!

Hold on, I’ll be right back….

I’m going to go take a quick break, ‘cause you know, it’s just plain good for you.  

close up of a woman in a yoga poseI love a ‘To Do’ list.  I will add things I have just finished to my list, just so I can cross them off. At home or at work, there’s not much better than the sense of accomplishment when things come off the ‘To Do’ list. I feel productive, happy to be getting things done and making progress. 

The problem is that when I am not working through a list of projects, I get anxious about ‘wasting time.’  When I take a break, I fret about all the things I could be finishing, if only I were working the list. It is a struggle to relax.  

But neuroscience tells us that breaks and rest are a big Something for our health and mental well-being – and for being more productive.  Says Alex Pang, author of Rest: Why you get more done when you work less, “We need to rethink the relationship between work and rest, acknowledge their intimate connection, and rediscover the role that rest can play in helping us be creative and productive.”

His book describes the research that has been done on the relationship between rest,  productivity, and creativity. Much of this research examines how our conscious and subconscious work together during periods of effort and of rest.

Different kinds of rest opens pathways in different parts of our brain.  Building these pathways between the subconscious and conscious thought strengthens our ability to solve problems and get things done. 

In his book, Pang identifies four key concepts of productive rest:

  1. Rest and Work are partners, not adversaries
  2. Rest includes active behaviors, like hobbies and exercise and is not simply passive activities
  3. Rest is a skill that can be learned and improved
  4. Deliberate rest stimulates and sustains creativity and problem solving

Pang also describes three primary types of rest: 

  • Passive rest – lying on the couch, watching television, waiting in line
  • Physical activity – walking, enjoying a hobby, participating in a sport
  • Mental rest – napping, sleeping, meditating, day-dreaming

Rest benefits everyone – people in high-pressure jobs, artists and writers who are paid to be creative, and parents, who, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are spending an average of 7 hours every workday taking care of children.  Anyone who “works” at anything can benefit from incorporating deliberate periods of rest into their day. Says Pang, “[Rest] allows them to recover the mental and physical energy that they expend in those intensive [work] periods, but is also allowing their creative minds, their creative subconscious, to take up these problems and work on them more effectively.”

Pang asserts, “If you recognize that work and rest are two sides of the same coin, that you can get more from rest by getting better at it and that by giving it a place in your life you’ll stand a better chance of living the life you want, you’ll be able to do your job, and your life’s work, better.”

So how do we get the benefits that rest offers in lives that are overwhelmed with activity, with technology that keeps us tethered to our jobs 24/7, in a culture that values busyness and sees inactivity as laziness?  

Awareness

The first step is awareness.  We can start by recognizing the benefits of rest and trusting the promise that periods of rest can help us be more productive during our working hours.  Awareness helps counter the cultural negativity around resting.

Routine

Pang recommends that we organize our day so we have time for rest.  Create a routine that incorporates periods of effort and work, and periods of rest.  These rest periods can be passive (laying on the couch, reading a book) or active (taking a brisk walk, participating in a team sport, taking a yoga class).

Practice

And finally, practice.  Make sure there are periods of rest each and every day.  Some creative people work with a timer on their desk, setting the timer so that for 10 minutes of every hour they are up from their desk, away from the work.  They find that upon their return to the task, they are more productive than they would be had they slogged through the next hour without that period of time for their subconscious mind to mull over the task at hand.

Organize your day so you have time for both scheduled hours for focused intensive work and hours for rest – time for yourself for walks, naps, or hobbies which give your creative mind time to work.  

For rest to be most effective, says Pang, “You have to take it.”  

Most people are able to work at a high level of productivity for about 90 minutes to two hours at a time, and in fact for a total of 4-5 hours a day.  Says Pang, “If you can get a high level of work for that period, that’s actually a really good [productive] day.” 

So, about the pressure to keep working at that ‘To Do’ list?  Oh! Wait, I just had a great idea while I was taking a break! I’m going to add “take a break” to the To-Do list.

 

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

The Link Between Food and Mental Health

Family eating healthy food at a tableThe choices we make when we eat affects more than just our weight, heart, and  physical health. The role of nutrition in mental health has been shown to be just as important.

Studies of diet and exercise for mental health have shown a significant link between food and mental health.  What we eat can affect our mood, how we feel, and how well we cope with stress in life. Says Dr. Eva Selhub,  “Think about it. Your brain is always “on.” It takes care of your thoughts and movements, your breathing and heartbeat, your senses — it works hard 24/7, even while you’re asleep. 

This means your brain requires a constant supply of fuel. That “fuel” comes from the foods you eat — and what’s in that fuel makes all the difference. 

Put simply, what you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain and, ultimately, your mood.”

For many years I worked in an office, surrounded by others, all of us in cubicles. I had a cup of coffee at home, then another when I got to work.  I worked productively throughout the morning, which I attributed to being a “morning person”. I was always productive and full of energy at the start of the day.

After lunch I resumed work, a little less energetically. By 3pm I’d hit an energy low. Problem solving became more difficult.  So I’d have a diet cola mid-afternoon. It gave me a boost for the last stretch of the workday.

I’d commute home, have dinner, and by 8pm I hit another low.  My brain was mush and I was exhausted. Every day was the same – clear headed and mentally energetic in the morning, brain fog by 3pm, caffeine-assist mid-afternoon, and crash by 8pm.

But then, during the height of popularity for detox ‘cleansing’, I did a 3 day juice ‘cleanse’ over a weekend.  I spent the weekend with a classic caffeine withdrawal (excruciating) headache. But by Monday morning I was on the other side and the headache was gone.  I hated the idea of having endured that headache for nothing. So I decided to stay off the caffeine.

The impact of that one small change in my diet was astonishing.  Without the caffeine, my energy level for the entire day remained steady.  My brain was fully functioning all the way to bedtime. I wasn’t crashing mid-afternoon, so didn’t need the soda to make it to the end of the work day.  I got to the other side of the dinner hour and still had mental and physical energy. It was amazing to enjoy the evening, instead of watching the clock as I held up my weary head at least as long as the kids were still up.

I was amazed at how the caffeine I’d been drinking – just two cups of coffee in the morning and a soda in the afternoon – had impacted my mental and physical health for the entire day.  I was happier and healthier without the caffeine.

What we eat really does affect how we feel and how well we cope.  Says licensed nurse Carolyn Denton, “The food we eat gives our bodies the “information” and materials they need to function properly. If we don’t get the right information, our metabolic processes suffer and our health declines.  If we get too much food, or food that gives our bodies the wrong instructions, we can become overweight, undernourished, and at risk for the development of diseases and conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease.

Functional Medicine practitioners examine the role of nutrition in chronic disease, they look at multiple systems, such as the digestive system, the immune system, and the detoxification system, because of the interconnections between those systems. For instance, because 80% of the immune system is contained in the gastrointestinal system, a person’s issues with immunity could be related to faulty digestion.”

Many studies have also looked at the impact of nutrition on young children.  A review of the research done in 2014 found that a poor diet is linked to poorer mental health in children and adolescents.   

They conclude that there is an important relationship between diet patterns or quality and mental health early in life.  The evidence also indicates that what we – and our children – eat may play an important part in preventing or managing mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), and dementia.

Says the UK Mental Health Foundation, “Just like the heart, stomach, and liver, the brain is an organ that requires different amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and water to remain healthy.” 

Included in this report is a chart of these essential nutrients, the impact they have on our mental health, and the foods that can increase their presence in our bodies.  (see sidebar)

Not surprisingly, good nutrition includes fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, meat, fish and dairy.  These foods, known to benefit our heart and liver, also benefit our minds, memory, and emotions.  

And while a healthy diet helps everyone’s mental health and brain function, for infants and children under the age of 3, whose bodies and brains are growing more rapidly than they ever will again, good nutrition also feeds their ability to learn, setting them up for a lifetime of benefit.

 

Family Fun: It’s Good for Everybody

Who doesn’t love to have fun? Summer is the perfect time to break out of the routine and have some family fun together. There are so many benefits — to both parents and children — when families have fun together. 

Families playing together build stronger bonds between parents and children, strengthen communication skills, and pave the way for better behavior in their growing children. The simple fact: families having fun together contributes to healthy child development.

Stronger bonds 

Prior to the 20th century, family bonding occurred primarily through shared work and household chores. With industrialization came a shift in family roles and family dynamics. Urban and suburban families today are not working together all day on the family farm, but finding time to have fun together can provide families opportunities to develop strong emotional connections and deeper family relationships. 

We play a lot of board games at our house. As the children get older, we’ve moved on to strategy games that can take hours to complete. Those hours spent together around the game table provide opportunities for conversation. Often the conversation has nothing to do with the game in front of us. Especially for teens, the game table provides a low-stress, device-free environment where they are more likely to share their thoughts and feelings, about particular issues or just life in general.

Better communication

Engaging in activities as a family group helps children learn to communicate with people who have different styles, opinions, and ways of doing things. Young children observe and then model the behavior of the adults around them. Playing together each individual contributes to the conversation in their own unique way. These varied styles of communication allow young children to observe differences and help them develop robust communication skills.

Better behavior

More family-time together creates stronger emotional bonds as well. Relationship skills help children develop well and have a long lasting effect. Research has shown that teens who spend more time with their parents are less likely to skip school or get into trouble with the law (see Wiley Online).

Better health — and less stress

Spending time together having fun helps both the adults in the family and their children reduce the impact of stress on their health and well-

being. Findings from a Canadian research study “underscore the importance of giving greater attention to the role of leisure as a means of coping with stress.”

 

Choosing energetic activities for family fun, like biking or soccer, will elevate heart rates and reduce cortisol levels. Cortisol is the body’s stress hormone, also known as it’s ‘alarm system.’ Turning off the alarm system with activities that get the body moving can help lower blood pressure. 

With so many good reasons. Let’s all take some time this summer to have some family fun together. It does not need to be elaborate or expensive. Here are some suggestions from 100 Ways to Have Fun with Your Kids for Free or Cheap:

  • Have a reading marathon.
  • Write stories together.
  • Play soccer.
  • Paint or draw together.
  • Create a fort in your living room out of blankets or cardboard boxes.
  • Go on a hike.
  • Have a sunset picnic at a park or beach.
  • Play board games.

You can read the full list here: 100 Ways to Have Fun with Your Kids for Free or Cheap

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori toddler teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own.  You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.