Self-Care and Better Parenting

Finding Your Passion

Happy New Year!  Happy New Decade!  What better time to do a little bit of self-reflection and check in on how we are doing with self-care?  Parents often feel guilty about pursuing interests that have nothing to do with raising their children. Honestly, when you have little ones it’s hard to find the time – or the energy – to enjoy time doing things that aren’t related to raising children.  

But hard as it is, time taken pursuing your interests – doing things just for yourself – makes parenting easier and helps you be the best parent you can be.

Parenting is hard work. It is a 24/7 job that demands mental and physical energy nonstop.  Never taking a break can lead to short tempers, exhaustion, and discord.

“When the daily stress of parenting becomes chronic it can turn into parental burnout, an intense exhaustion that leads parents to feel detached from their children and unsure of their parenting abilities, according to new research. This type of burnout can have serious consequences for both parent and child.” – Science Daily

Says researcher Moïra Mikolajczak, “In the current cultural context, there is a lot of pressure on parents. But being a perfect parent is impossible and attempting to be one can lead to exhaustion. Our research suggests that whatever allows parents to recharge their batteries, to avoid exhaustion, is good for children.”

“Being on and at the ready for your children at all times can cause burnout and make things that could be everyday treasures feel like everyday chores. That’s why it’s important that all parents start taking real, regular days off,” says Lindsey Roberts on finding time for yourself in an article written for the Washington Post.

“This could mean asking a spouse to take the day off from an office job and be with the kids, or asking a family member to cover you for a day. Maybe it involves hiring a sitter. One friend of mine and her husband take days off from work together to go golfing while their son is in school. Whatever you need to do, make it happen.”

So where do we start? 

First, maximize your health.  Are you fueling your body with a balanced diet of healthy vegetables and sufficient proteins? (Are your kids eating better than you do?)  Are you getting enough sleep? Are you exercising? (Is finding time to exercise one of your goals for me-time?)

Next, address check your emotional/relationship health.  Are there relationship issues that might be dragging you down?  Would seeing a counselor to help resolve these might be a good thing to put on your me-time list?

Finally, find your passion – and pursue it.  Have you been in the parenting trenches so long you have no idea what you might be interested in? 

Be curious, try lots of different things

What did you enjoy before children? As a teenager, I square danced.  It didn’t score me popularity points back in high school, but I loved it and the friends I made there.  When I saw square dancing class in the LBCC community class catalog, I decided I’d make some space for me-time and signed up. Once a week I escaped the parenting routine with dancing – which turned out to be both just like it was way back when and yet different.

You can also try something new and see how it feels.  Try it again and see how you respond. Does it continue to excite and energize you?  If so, you can make a longer-term commitment. If not, find a new new thing to try.

Another way to find your passion is to tag along with friends who enjoy activities you are curious about. 

Most importantly, schedule your me-time just like you schedule routine doctor’s appointments.  It’s a commitment to better mental health and can help you be a better parent.

Ready to devote some time to you? 

Check out LBCC’s Adult Ed catalog. What piques your interest?  Classes are often low cost and short-lived.  If you don’t love it, you can move on to something different. If you join an activity that you find you love, you’ll have tapped into a group of people who are also interested and can point you to clubs or groups that meet on an ongoing basis.

Need more ideas on finding your passion?  You’ll find some here:

5 Ways to Find a Personal Passion

7 steps to Finding What You are Passionate About

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.” 

 

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. 

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

 

Summer is a Great Time to Delegate

Do you have a teenager or two who find themselves at loose ends without the routine of the school day? Last summer, I found myself in just such a situation. The change in routine is a welcomed one, but for some children, the lack of structure can cause anxiety. 

I had two problems as summer break started last year. First, I really wanted to see my kids help more around the house. And secondly (and maybe more importantly), I wanted them to get away from the screens.

But then I had an idea that turned out to be the perfect solution for our family.  

I’ve never been good a sustaining the expectation that kids will do chores. They help, but in random and infrequent ways. But early last summer, I hit upon a sustainable and simplified version of a ‘chore chart’ which focused only on dinner. It invited the entire family to take responsibility for getting dinner onto — and off — the table each evening.

This simple chart gave everyone specific responsibilities every day.  And a routine for the lazy, unscheduled days of summer.

To create our family “dinner delegation” chart, I began by making a list of the four main elements of dinner prep and cleanup. I intentionally selected just four jobs since there are five of us in our household. This let me rotate everyone through the tasks every week and also gave one person ‘the night off’ each day.

Our four jobs were: Set the Table, Cook Dinner, Clear the Table, and Do the Dishes.  The number of jobs can be expanded or contracted to fit the number of people in the family.  For example, “Put Away Leftovers” could be added after “Clear the Table” if an additional job is needed. For us, one person did all the dishes, but “Load the Dishwasher” could be separate from the hand washed dishes in “Do the Dishes.” And there’s nothing saying people can’t be assigned more than one job each day. The chart can easily be modified to fit your particular family configuration. With our family of five, these four worked for us.

On our chart, the first column contains the jobs that need to be done. Then come the days of the week. I listed just Monday through Saturday, giving everyone Sunday ‘off’.  Some Sundays we ate out, on others dinner was ‘Do it Yourself’, but mostly I just did it all on Sunday, with help from whomever was inclined to assist.

After rows and columns were done, I added names, starting with job one on Monday and ending with job four on Saturday.  The resulting assignments looked something like this:

I posted this chart on a kitchen cabinet, where everyone could see what their assignment was each day. Assigned responsibility was a radical departure from the way we’ve always done it at our house – where I cooked dinner and hollered for someone to set the table when it was time to eat.  The change was awesome.

Because it was written down and posted, everyone knew what to expect. So there was no grumbling about doing the assigned job. The kids thoroughly enjoyed choosing the meal they would prepare and then fixing it for the family. (Full transparency: I helped with the cooking most nights at the beginning, as this was our youngest’s first real experience with using an oven and stove.)

One of my children is an overachiever. When it was her turn to set the table, it was often done mid-afternoon!

But things didn’t always go smoothly.  There were days when someone was not home for dinner. On these days, there would be much negotiating, with deals made to swap jobs or find coverage. This gave the kids an opportunity to practice their negotiation and compromise skills. Another benefit!

Does delagation sound like something that might work at your house? Here are some tips if you decide to embark on this adventure:

  1. You’ve got to be ok with giving up control of the menu planning. Choosing what to fix gives the kids practice at planning and follow-through, and builds confidence and enthusiasm. Cooking what someone else has chosen does not create the same excitement and is likely to be met with grumbling.
  2. You know your children best – give them support where they need it, help them learn and gain skills in the kitchen through effort and practice, then back off when they are able to do it independently. Delegating doesn’t completely eliminate the need to be in the kitchen during dinner preparation. I found I was able to work my way out of the kitchen as the summer progress, but at the beginning I needed to be available to support and coach.
  3. Grocery shopping is another opportunity to engage children in the mechanics of preparing for meals. We would assemble the week’s menus together on Saturday morning, so I could grocery shop for the week. Bringing them to the grocery store to participate in the gathering of ingredients is another job that could be partially delegated.

What do you think? Is there space for such a system in your family’s routine this summer? Last year, our new summer dinner strategy worked so well we are excited to implement it again this summer. In fact, I’m thinking it may become standard operating procedure throughout the year!

 

Get Out!

As the school year comes to an end, our thoughts turn to summer, vacation, and the great outdoors. We get excited to see the sun, shed the sweaters, and make plans for hiking, camping, boating, and exploring the Pacific Northwest. But, you know, being outdoors has benefits all year long. This summer, start a habit of being outside regularly, then stick with it throughout the year.

Studies have documented many benefits for children when they get outdoors. In Finland, where children spend 15 minutes outside after every 45 minutes of instruction, studies have shown that these frequent breaks can equal smarter kids. They return to the classroom more attentive and ready to resume their learning. Those 15 minutes outdoors refreshes their bodies and their brains.

Being outdoors in the natural sunlight helps align the body’s biological rhythms to natural cycles of light and dark — rhythms that help regulate sleep and manage stress levels and hormones. Sunlight stimulates the part of the brain that helps regulate our biological clock. And supplies us with vitamin D, which improves our brain’s ability to function efficiently.

Studies have linked time spent outdoors in nature to decreased ADHD in children and improved focus, concentration and productivity in adults. According to the National Institute of Health, being exposed to light at all times of the day and night modern contributes to late sleep schedules and may also disrupt sleep. Getting outside and reconnecting with natural rhythms of light and dark can help address this disconnect.

Simply put, spending time outdoors in nature and natural light improves wellness and just makes us feel better.  

Another mind/body connection to nature and being outdoors is found in environmental health research. Grounding, also known as ‘earthing’, “refers to the discovery of benefits — including better sleep and reduced pain — from walking barefoot outside or sitting, working, or sleeping indoors connected to conductive systems that transfer the Earth’s electrons from the ground into the body.” [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3265077/#]

In the article “Earthing: Health Implications of Reconnecting the Human Body to the Earth’s Surface Electrons”, the authors note, “emerging scientific research has revealed a surprisingly positive and overlooked environmental factor on health: direct physical contact with the vast supply of electrons on the surface of the Earth. Modern lifestyle separates humans from such contact. The research suggests that this disconnect may be a major contributor to physiological dysfunction and unwellness. Reconnection with the Earth’s electrons has been found to promote intriguing physiological changes and subjective reports of well-being.”

Whether a grassy lawn or the sandy beach, being barefoot and connecting your body to the earth has benefits.

So as you are planning your summer, make some time for being outdoors – preferably barefoot! Plan a picnic, shed the shoes, and enjoy a romp in the park after lunch.  Stretch yourself out in the grass and watch the clouds float by. Take off those shoes next time you are at the beach and soak up some healing electrons.

Here are a few of my favorite ‘get outside’ destinations in Benton County:

  1. Bald Hill bike & hike trail  – walk or bike for as long as the little legs will go and choose your level of difficulty.  Stick to a short paved stretch near the fairgrounds, or challenge yourselves to climb the unpaved, but well marked trails to the top of Bald Hill.
  1. Jackson Frazier wetland – a lovely boardwalk loop through protected wetlands.  The boardwalk is flat and the walk just two-thirds of a mile long, with opportunities to hear and see all sorts of wildlife.
  1. Fitton Green natural area – a bit of a drive out Oak Creek Drive, Fitton Green is a lovely grassy knoll with stunning views of the valley along its gently sloping loop trail.

Do you have a favorite nearby destination for getting out and back in touch with mother nature? Share it in the comments!

Want to learn more about the research being done on the body’s connection to nature?  See:

The Importance of Play

If you’ve ever visited a Montessori classroom, you may have noticed something odd about the language that is used. Children are invited to choose their ‘work’ from the shelf. They are invited to find work to do with their friend. Why do they talk like that? For parents familiar with play-based preschool programs, this emphasis on “work” seems inappropriate to a preschool setting.

As adults, we often think of “work” as that which we have to do. If it’s “work” by definition, it is not “fun.” Merriam Webster defines work as “an activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.” Play, on the other hand, is defined as “engaging in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.”

Dr. Maria Montessori, in her research of child development, famously stated, “Play is the work of the child.” Translation: when children play (engage in an activity for enjoyment) they are working (involved in mental or physical effort which achieves a purpose or result).

In other words, when they play, children are working on many things.  

Play helps them develop fine and gross motor skills, improve self-regulation, develop cognitive and intellectual abilities, learn social skills, and increase their ability to imagine and create.

There are so many benefits of play for the developing child. And yet, for a variety of reasons — full calendars, changes in family structure, and increased attention to enrichment activities and academics — children today have less time each day for recess at school and child-led play outside of school. The rise of electronic access to passive entertainment has also stolen time from healthy, active, creative play.

Free-play is different from an arranged play date, participation on a sports team, or adult-led group lessons in music, dance, or sports. While those things are all valuable, children also need unstructured time to engage with other children and their environment. Free-play invites them to imagine, create, negotiate, lead, and relinquish leadership.  

When children are offered time to play without structure imposed by an adult, it creates a space for the child and his/her peers to “be in charge.” There is no adult directing the activity, no adult making the decisions about what will be done next, no adult expectations imposed upon the child, and no assigned tasks. This invites the child to decide what will be done and how will it be done. The child has the freedom to imagine and then execute. To try, to fail, to succeed, to engage with other children in order to accomplish that which they have imagined.  

It encourages them to think and develop problem-solving skills. It gives them real-time feedback and consequences. They envision something that works and are rewarded with the satisfaction of a plan well executed. They attempt something that fails and are given the opportunity to build resilience, to develop evaluation and analysis skills, and then to try again.  

Children who have not had the opportunity to spend much time in unstructured, child-led play may need some practice before it feels natural and comfortable. If they are used to being told what to do and how to do it, calling upon their own creativity may not come easy for them. You are likely to hear, “I’m bored.”  But boredom is not a bad thing — being bored spurs our imagination and invites us to figure out what would give us satisfaction and joy, right here, right now.

At first, they may do nothing, but being still and doing nothing is not a bad thing. Laying in the grass doing nothing but watching the birds and the clouds float by is not a bad thing. Much has been written about the perils of day-dreaming, but research is now discovering the benefits of letting our minds wander. A recent study reported in the journal Learning and Individual Differences that a wandering mind improves creativity and metacognition (understanding of one’s own thoughts). Better understanding of yourself leads to improved self-regulation and enhanced well-being. (Daydreaming is good for adults, too!)

If your child’s day is full from beginning to end, try to find a way to carve out some “down time” when nothing is scheduled so they can just play, without adult direction or involvement. In so doing, they will have the opportunity to imagine, then plan, and then try.  

Where will their imagination and creativity take them? Lots of good places!

Want to learn more about the benefits of play for growing children, visit The Genius of Play.  
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Features of the perfect free-play environment:

Feature: Benefit
Unstructured: Invites children to use their creativity and imagination – to invent the activity all on their own.
Child-led: Lets the child take responsibility for the activity, encourages imagination and creativity, lets them do only what they want to do.
Open-ended: Builds skills in creating processes, procedures, and social interactions when there is no adult decreed task to complete.
Loose Parts: Contains bits and pieces of things that can be used in many different ways to support their play.

Helping Kids Cope

Disappointments and difficulties are a part of life. Economic circumstance, political upheaval, and family dynamics can create hardship and adverse life circumstances for children and their families. Sometimes children and families also experience truly traumatic events.

How do we – and our children – cope with both everyday difficulties and larger life trauma?  How can we help our children learn coping skills? Research examines resilience – the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties – in an effort to answer those questions.  

Over the last two decades numerous research studies have examined psychological resilience in children, looking to identify the special traits or skills that help children navigate difficult circumstances and overcome adversity.  Surprisingly, what they found is that it is not special traits or skills that help people who cope well with adversity. Instead, people who develop resilience call on the normal coping mechanisms available to us all.

What studies have found is that the key to helping kids learn how to cope turns out to be many of the same things that help kids grow up well: effective parenting, connections with competent and caring adults, self-regulation skills, a positive view of themselves, and the motivation to succeed.

Thus, everyone has the capacity for resilience.  Parents help support their children’s development – including developing their ability to cope – right from the beginning. Young children begin developing resilience as they learn from the responses of their caregivers.

Parents, with the support of other caring family members and community members, can help their children become more resilient through everyday interaction and role modeling. Parents who model resilience – demonstrating self-regulation in the face of disappointment or talking about how they “bounced back” from a setback – help children learn how to cope with disappointments in their own lives.  

Lizzy Francis offers a number of parenting strategies that support the development of resilience with these tips from Amy Morin, author of the book 10 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do:

“Supporting struggling children is important, but the best way parents can teach resilience is by modeling it. Acting cool-headed in the face of stress and acknowledging mistakes provides children with a rubric for failure. Failing, they learn, is not the end of the world. It’s just part of being alive.

Here are the specific suggestions that Morin gives parents looking to teach by doing….

  • Don’t Intervene All The Time
    “When your child is struggling — if, say, his blocks keep tipping over and he’s getting angry, don’t swoop in and do it for them,” says Morin. In other words, practice restraint. It’s easy to step in and help soothe your kid. But letting them struggle helps them learn that they can solve their own problems.
  • Own Up To Your Mistakes
    Parents, per Morin, should actively apologize to their children when they make mistakes, like if they snap at them, or are late to pick them up. “Pointing out what you did wrong — if you didn’t handle your anger very well, or said something that wasn’t very nice — explain what happened, without making an excuse. And then you explain how you will learn from the problem and fix it,” suggests Morin. This, she says, teaches kids that making a mistake is fine, as long as you apologize and learn from them.
  • Examine Their Feelings
    You want to acknowledge a child’s feelings and tell them that their feelings matter,” says Morin. “That makes a big difference in whether they perceive if their feelings are okay, that it’s okay to be scared and still do something anyway.” Letting your kid know that their feelings are legitimate — but that they don’t have to inform their behavior at all times, like, say, when a playground scuffle breaks out — is essential.
  • Audit Your Behavior
    Kids are always watching. Per Morin, it’s essential for parents to think about how they act in moments of daily stress and try to do better. “When you’re dealing with an annoying situation, like the long line at the grocery store, and you’re tired, and you’re hungry, how do you handle it? Are you complaining? Are you staring at your phone? Your kids are watching how you cope with your emotions,” says Morin.

In other words: by being a resilient adult, you teach your kids how to react to moments of stress.”

Parents can also help build resilience by taking care of themselves.  Self-care makes you better equipped to parent and better able to meet everyday challenges.

And good parenting has protective power for children in difficult circumstances.  As does strong, supportive connections with other adults – teachers, mentors, neighbors, and family friends.  For children and teens, relationships with other adults help foster a positive view of themselves and encourages motivation to succeed.

A resilient child has:

  • The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out.
  • A positive view of themself and confidence in their strengths and abilities.
  • Skills in communication and problem solving.
  • The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.

(https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience)

Luckily these are all skills that can be developed at any stage of life.  As parents, we can help our children learn these skills and behaviors. As community members, neighbors, scout leaders, and sports coaches, we can mentor and support the children in our community as they develop their own resilience.

For more tips on helping your children develop the ability to cope with adversity, join us at the 6th annual PSN Speaker event on Monday, May 20th.  Dr. Ann Masten will be presenting “Ordinary Magic”, a look at building resilience in children.

The event will be held at the Linn Benton Community College, Tripp Theatre, LBCC Albany Campus, 6500 Pacific Blvd. SW, Albany.  Doors open at 6:30. Free childcare is provided by reservation – call 541-917-4884 to reserve your spot.

Supporting Differences: When a Child Needs Extra Help

In our last post we looked at developmental milestones and resisted rushing to conclusions about development that doesn’t fit our picture of “normal.”  We also looked at developmental screening tools that help identify situations that might benefit from further assessment. Today, we look assessment and support for children with special needs.

Special needs are often categorized into 4 major types:

  1. Physical, such as muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, chronic asthma, epilepsy
  2. Developmental, like down syndrome, autism, dyslexia, processing disorders
  3. Behavioral/Emotional, such as ADD, bi-polar disorder, oppositional defiance disorder
  4. Sensory Impaired, such as blind, visually impaired, deaf, limited hearing

For young children not yet in Kindergarten, after screening a preschool teacher or doctor can refer a family to Early Intervention for further assessment.  But you don’t need to wait for a referral. Parents can also “self refer”. This means that you do not need a doctor or daycare provider to begin the assessment process.  You can simply call them up and request an appointment.

They will schedule a time for you and your child to visit their offices.  During the visit they will do an assessment and determine if your child would benefit from services.

If they determine that support services will benefit your child, Early Intervention will design an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP).  The IFSP outlines the scope of services EI will provide – what they will do and how often they will do it. The IFSP can include transportation to and from the service provider, if needed.  As your child gets older the IFSP will convert to an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) that can carry them through public school to high school graduation.

An IEP (Individualized Education Plan) is a legally binding document that outlines the special education services your child will receive.  The IEP classifies the disability, documents the accommodations needed, and outlines learning environment modifications that will be made by the school.

Each year an IEP meeting is held to assure that parents, teachers, and support specialists review the goals in the IEP, review how the student has progressed toward the goals, and update the goals and supports for the coming year.  Parents have a strong voice in helping craft an individualized plan that assures their child receives the equal education that the law provides.

What exactly is a child with special needs entitled to?  Federal law includes the following:

  1. IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)
    1. Students with disabilities must be prepared for further education, employment and independent living
    2. If a child’s strengths, endurance, or stamina cannot keep up with school activities, they qualify for “other health impaired” special education status
  1. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
    1. Prohibits schools from discriminating against children with disabilities
    2. Requires schools to provide accommodations for disabled students
    3. Students with impairments that substantially limit a major life activity can qualify as disabled (including learning and social deficits)
  2. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
    1. Schools must meet the needs of children with psychiatric problems
  3. No Child Left Behind
    1. Schools must uphold achievement standards for children with disabilities

(From:  https://pbwslaw.com/special_needs_children_rights/)

With the supports documented in the IFSP or IEP, the child with special needs is assured a learning environment that is optimized for success.

Parents of special needs children play an important role in the education process – as advocates, watchdog, and cheerleader.

If your child is newly diagnosed, getting involved in online forums and local support groups with other parents can help.  There you can learn what others have found helpful and get input into situations you are experiencing. Support from others can provide encouragement and information as you work with schools and doctors to support your child’s growth and development.

When a child needs extra help, it is important to work together with the school and support specialists, but it is also important to note that parents have a voice in the IEP process.  Your voice matters, so don’t hesitate to go to IEP meetings prepared to ask for what you want. You know your child best and are their best advocate.