How to Enjoy Playing with Your Children (Even When You Don’t)

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 “Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

One day last week, after hours without seeing my children, I came home with a strong desire to play – to spend hours of uninterrupted quality time with them, just playing. But my desire soon turned to frustration when:

  • I realized that I didn’t really know what to play with them;
  • when my suggestions fell flat; and
  • when my presence seemed to cause more bickering and less enjoyment between my children.

My elation upon seeing my children and finally having some time with them, fizzled into dejection and the afternoon ended flat.

Afterwards, I found myself wishing that I was more playful, more imaginative, more fun.

I thought back to how often I’d been distracted when playing pretend games with my son and his little plastic animals;

how many times I’d brushed off my daughter’s requests to play because there was something “more important” that I had to do;

how often I’d responded to seeing my children playing happily together by going off and doing something by myself rather than joining them in their games.

And I felt even worse.

It isn’t that I don’t like to play at all – I love to build with blocks, put together puzzles, play board games or throw a ball – its more that I don’t have a playful personality or a ready store of ideas of games to play, and I don’t know how to play with both of my children at once without there being some sort of mommy-tug-of-war over who gets more of my attention.

But I know that play is important for young children, as is quality time with their parents, so I thought I would dig a little deeper. I started researching play, the importance of play (and parents who don’t like to play ), and it turns out that:

  • I am not alone, many other parents feel similarly distracted, frustrated and – dare, I say it – bored, when playing with their children;
  • It is not as important WHAT you play, as HOW you play;
  • There are a lot of great play ideas online for parents, like me, who need a little help.

I AM NOT ALONE; OTHER PARENTS REPORT NOT ENJOYING PLAY WITH THEIR CHILDREN

It was a huge relief to learn that I am not alone in my feelings, and difficulties, with play, especially pretend play.

In her post I Hate Playing with My Children, blogger Scary Mommy talks about how she feels when her daughter asks her to play pretend games, often making excuses to get out of having to play.

In her article in Red Book Magazine, Mom Confessions, I Don’t Like Playing with My Kids, Jennifer Seinhauer describes a similar dislike of play, admitting to being distracted by impatience and the lure of more adult tasks.

In her post How to Play with Your Kids When You Don’t Like Playing, another mother admits her guilt, and lack of enjoyment when playing with her children, but also, even more importantly, provides practical alternatives for parents who still want to have that quality time with their children (see below).

And these are just the parents who admit it publicly, which isn’t easy to do!

Secondly, I learned that –

IT ISN’T WHAT YOU PLAY, IT IS HOW YOU PLAY, THAT MATTERS

Many parents know that play is important for children, but don’t know why or how to go about it. In Why Playing With Your Child is So Important on Parenting.com, the author explains that play is important, not only for children’s social and emotion development, but also for their relationship with their parents. According to the author, parents who play with their children when they are young, find that they are more able to maintain a close connection when them as they grow. The author states that regardless of what is being played, that the time parents spend with their children should be uninterrupted (as much as possible), relaxed and child-led (or an activity that you both enjoy). He also reminds parents that play doesn’t have to happen at a specific time, but can happen any time of the day, when you are out walking, or shopping or doing other things.

In her post on Aha! Parenting, Playing with Your Child: Games for Connection and Emotional Intelligence, Dr. Laura explains that play is a child’s “work,” and it is often how they discharge negative emotions that build up through the day, in addition to building stronger bonds with parents. She explains that games and active-play that allow children to laugh, helps them to release any pent-up emotions they may have and also releases oxytocin – the bonding hormone – and helps to repair or strengthen the connection between parent and child (In this post, Dr. Laura also provides a list of games parents can play with children when they are displaying specific behaviors, including rough housing, role-playing and play which allows children to take on a more powerful role).

In his Psychology Today article, Playing with Children, Should You? If so, How?, Dr. Peter Gray highlights some of the mistakes parents make in playing with their children, such as letting themselves be bossed around or, conversely, taking over and directing the play. While he argues that adults are not ideal playmates for children – stating that children are often better playmates because they WANT to be involved in the play – most importantly, he says that play isn’t really play, unless both parties are having fun.

And finally in the above mentioned post, How to Play with Your Kids When You Don’t Like Playing, the author states, “The main thing is to spend time with the children in a way that is intentional and present. Find things that you all like to do and do them together.”

THERE ARE A LOT OF GREAT PRACTICAL IDEAS ONLINE FOR GAMES AND ACTIVITIES 

A quick Google search for “Things to Play with Children” yields thousands of ideas from simple indoor and outdoor ideas, to multi-step, photo-tutorials of children’s craft ideas on Pintrest. I’ve included a few of my favorites below:

In this post, Encouraging Children to Play Imaginatively and Creatively, Psychologist, Counselor and Play Therapist, Kathy Eugester talks about the importance of creative play and provides encouragement and ideas for creative play with children.

Kelly of blog Be a Fun Mom, provides parents with a list of 100 School Holiday Activity Ideas (and a wealth of information and inspiration on life with children in other posts).

Learning4Kids provides ideas for creative play and learning, separated by play category and age – complete with photos, supplies and ideas.

In a series on play, the Rachel Cedar of You Plus 2 Parenting, started an online conversation about play with parents and parent-bloggers, which evolved into a series called 28 Days of Play, where parents share their experiences and ideas for playing with their children.

And for those days when you can barely muster enough energy to get out of bed, much less play, the blogger at The Ugly Volvo provides a humorous list of Games to Play With Your Child in Which You Barely Have to Move or Talk.

If you’ve ever been in a similar situation – wanting to play, but not sure how; or not wanting to play, but still wanting to have some quality time with your children – I hope some of the information here helps!

How about you? Have you ever found your self in a similar situation? Or do you have any thoughts or resources to share? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

 

Conscious Transitions – Moving with Children

 

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“She took a step and didn’t want to take any more, but she did.”
Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

Our family is about to go through some pretty big transitions. We’re moving from our home of two years in Myanmar (Burma) to a new home in Ecuador. We’re moving from a big city to a small town. We’re moving from a private home to a guest house. And we’re moving from an international private school to a home school. And in the middle of all that we’ll be visiting friends and relatives for two months, staying in seven different houses in four different states.

While just reading about all those transitions may raise the stress levels of some adults (including me!), imagine the stress on small children.

I realize that this nomadic life we’ve chosen does not provide the stability and security that many children have growing up and so I try to make a conscious effort to provide stability and security in other ways – practicing positive parenting, maintaining connections with relatives and long-time friends, fostering and nurturing connections with new friends in our new homes, creating family traditions, sharing family pictures and stories; and making, and sticking to, daily and weekly routines. But while all this helps to create a sense of continuity and security in the times when we are settled, during those in-between times of transition, it can be more difficult to meet our kids specific needs for that sense of security and familiarity…

…so I thought I would do a little research to help ease the transition for our children (and other families in similar situations).

In her article on Expat Focus – Smooth Moves for Expat Kids (Tips to Ease the Transition – Aisha Isabel Ashraf provides three key areas of focus to help children with international moves: Communication, Control and Company, so I’ll follow her example using Communication, Control and Conscious Parenting

COMMUNICATION

  • In her post Ease the Transition of Moving to a New Home Hand in Hand Parenting’s Julianne Idleman suggests that parents work to understand their own feelings about the move before the big day (or days) so they are prepared to help their children with their feelings.
  • Aisha Ashraf stresses the importance of being open to communication about the move with children, both before and after you are settled. She suggests playing a game that allows family members to share the things you like about your new home (and maybe also the things that you may miss about your old one).
  • In addition to communicating with yourself and your children, it is also important to maintain regular communication (if possible) with friends and family through letters, email, video calls, photographs, memory books and visits, to show children that just because they have moved to a new place, it doesn’t mean that they have to lose those special connections.

CONTROL

  • Moving and leaving behind friends and environments they feel comfortable in can leave children feeling like they have little control over their lives. Ashraf and authors of other articles on moving with children (Bright Horzon’s Article on Moving and RelocatingHelping Kids Cope with Moving), stress the importance of helping children feel a semblance of control over the move by allowing them to make age-appropriate decisions, such as what to pack, how to say goodbye to friends and how to decorate their new room. Other ideas include
    • reading children’s books about moving,
    • allowing children to document the move by taking pictures and making a picture book of the move;
    • making a list of people to say good-bye to and letting them plan a “going away” party;
    • letting them pack their own suitcase or toys;
    • letting them set up their rooms as soon as possible upon arrival;
    • drawing a map and/or taking pictures of their new home and neighborhood; and
    • resuming familiar routines in your new home.

CONSCIOUS PARENTING

  • In her post on Hand in Hand Parenting, Julianne Idleman recommends, when possible, to take your children to visit their new home before the move so that they will have something to look forward to and a place that feels a little more familiar when they arrive.
  • She also advises parents to give children extra special time during the move, especially time playing games in which they take a more powerful role to help them process their feelings of powerlessness, as well as being open to their questions;
  • Additionally, Idleman suggests helping children get to know their new home through play by going on adventure walks, playing hide-and-seek in their new house and making friends with neighbors and local pets.

Moving to a new location can be stressful for all members of the family, but if we work to do it a bit more consciously – including remembering that the initial chaos and un-familiarity of a new place often subside with time – it can help to ease the transition for everyone.

Thanks for reading! (And best of luck with your move!🙂

Sharon, Author The Conscious Parenting Notebook

 

 

Conscious Meditation: What actually happens when you meditate?

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The quieter you become, the more you can hear – Ram Dass

I have thought about starting a meditation practice for as long as I can remember. I have read countless articles about the benefits  – lowered reactivity, more patience, less stress, improved physical health – have been completely convinced that it is the ideal practice for my often harried mind and over stimulated nervous system. I have started and maintained a regular daily practice for about a week, multiple times. I even attended a 10-Day meditation retreat. But I never made it a regular, lasting habit.

Until this year.

This year, I decided would meditate every day, for at least 10 to 15 minutes a day.

And so far, I have.

And I love it.

But I still have questions.

  • What is the best way to practice meditation?
  • What about when I was actually sitting there focusing on my breath? What was supposed to happen then?
  • Would I see a difference in my life outside of those moments of meditation? Would I be more peaceful? Would I be more patient? Would it be easier to pause and respond in the moment instead of reacting mindlessly?

WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO PRACTICE?

 Just like there is no “best way” to breathe, there is no “best way” to practice meditation – there is only the best way for each individual – the method that feels right, that allows you to settle into your practice and that motivates you to keep coming back day after day.

Before I began, I downloaded numerous guided meditations. I downloaded meditations from Tara Brach, Deepak Chopra, Thich Nhat Hanh and found numerous podcasts dedicated to regular meditation, such as A Quiet Mind, Meditation Oasis and Quiet…

…but I can’t speak to their efficacy because after two months, I have yet to open one. As an introverted mother of two – often rambunctious – young children, I found pleasure in retreating into meditation as a way to decompress and rejuvenate myself, preferring the silence and simplicity of just following my breath, to trying to concentrate on a guided mediation, in these moments.

And as in earlier attempts, I initially experienced some of the “monkey mind” often referred to in writings on meditation, when your mind jumps from one thought to the next, but I soon found myself settling into each practice and enjoying the peace, stillness and time to myself that meditation allowed.

WHAT WILL I EXPERIENCE DURING MEDITION?

Because meditation is such a personal experience, no one will experience the exact same sensations as anyone else, but initially it is common to feel:

  • feelings of frustration;
  • an inability to concentrate;
  • an increased awareness of repetitive thoughts; and
  • the need to continually refocus on the breathe, mantra, etc.

But as you persevere with your practice, the feelings become more pleasant, such as those mentioend by Light Watkins, in his post 5 Signs You Went into Deep Meditation, including:

  • a feeling of deep relaxation,
  • shallow breathing,

And from my own experiences:

  • a feeling of floating,
  • a feeling of vibrating energy
  • a feeling of heaviness as your body sinks into your meditation surface; and
  • an overall feeling of peace and well being.

WILL I SEE NOTICABLE CHANGES FROM A REGULAR MEDITATION PRACTICE?

I have always wondered how, or if, my life would really change with a regular meditation practice. I knew, that if I practiced regularly, my brain would change in positive ways. I know that I’d have moments of peace, as well as moments of frustration, when I was meditating, but would I see a difference in my life outside of those moments of meditation.

According to WildMind Buddhist Meditation, some of the outward signs of a progressing meditation practice include:

  • a greater ability to concentrate;
  • becoming more aware of the outside world;
  • becoming more aware of your posture;
  • becoming more aware of your actions;
  • become aware of more interesting and vivid dreams;
  • experiencing feelings of calmness and a reluctance to end a period of meditation;
  • other people noticing that you are changing – becoming more relaxed, less reactive, and more friendly;
  • having interesting experiences in meditation – like a delightful sense of rhythm in your breathing;
  • noticing a gap between stimulus and response in your interactions, and realizing that you have a choice about how to respond; and
  • becoming more dissatisfied through more self-awareness – and finding things about yourself that you want to change.

And now, after over two months of daily (albeit short) practice – although I haven’t experienced any of the above signs of a progressing practice – I can feel a change when I sit down, legs crossed, eyes closed. While there is still that initial flurry of activity, my body seems to know that this is time to rest. My limbs grow heavy, my focus turns inward, and often when the bell rings to signal that my time is up, I don’t want to move, enjoying the bliss of this trance-like state I’ve fallen into.

I haven’t been any moments where I feel, as others have written, that I am outside myself, connected through a shared energy, to the rest of the earth and it’s population. I’m still in my house, listening to the birds chirp, the horns honk and the occasional rooster crow.

But right now, that is enough for me.

How about you? Have you recently started a regular meditation practice? Or are you a seasoned practitioner with insight to share? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

Back to the Well

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“It is not wrong to go back to that which you have forgotten.” — West African proverb

It has been quite a while since I’ve posted on A More Conscious Life.

Last June we left our “school year home” for our nomadic summer existence and with it, the predictable school year schedule – complete with early bedtimes and child-free nap-times. I had planned to cut down on the time I spent on the computer during our break, both because I knew I would have less uninterrupted time to myself and because I was beginning to feel that I was writing more about living consciously than actually living consciously. I loved researching, writing and learning as I wrote each post, but I wasn’t taking my practice off the page and really living what I wrote. Not to mention, that the very mindlessness I was trying to avoid was drawing me to my computer, my email, my blog, my research, and away from my life, again and again.

So I took a step back.

As we moved through June, I played, I visited, I watched, I ran, I stopped, I noticed, I lived each day without opening my computer. I went days without answering emails, I had evening long conversations with family and friends. I stopped rushing to check my email first thing in the morning, stopped spending hours lost in articles in the afternoons and stopped missing out on the pleasure of a quiet evening without obligation. It felt so freeing!

July passed in much the same way and although I felt guilty about not completing my monthly posts, I never quite worked up the motivation to get back to them. I was enjoying living unplugged, without analyzing it, and wanted to hold out just a little bit longer.

August came and with it our return home, the beginning of  a new school year and a resettling into a daily, weekly and monthly routine of schedules, obligations and the necessities of life to be attended to. I thought I would pick back up with the blog, but I didn’t.

That month we moved into a new house, in a new part of the city, where our internet connection was sporadic, if it appeared at all and when it did, we found ourselves, on our pay-as-you-surf plan, spending much more on internet than we had anticipated.

And so the blog was pushed back again.

When other obligations seemed to take up more of my time, I decided that maybe it was time to let it to for a while, physically and emotionally and come back to it at a time that was more practical, more convenient.

But as the months passed into fall, I realized that when I’m not writing about living consciously, I’m also not thinking about living consciously, which makes me less likely to actually live consciously.

And so, I decided to begin again. Maybe not as often, maybe not as regularly, but begin.

Because without the constant reminders, motivation, inspiration and community of others on this path, it is so easy to slip back into mindlessness, reactivity and regret.

And with them, it is much easier to remember that each moment is precious, each moment is a choice and each moment is another chance to pick yourself back up, dust yourself off and get back to your practice of mindful living.

I’m looking forward to being back.

Thanks for reading!

Sharon

Living More Intentionally

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You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do. – C.G.Jung

A good friend recently told us that she is proud of us for living out our dreams. After pausing to be grateful that we have such supportive friends, my next thought was, “Are we really living out our dreams?”

Last summer, my husband and I packed up our family and moved to Myanmar. Since then, we have been living abroad with our family, fulfilling a dream we have shared since we moved back to the US with our seven-month-old daughter in 2010. It was a difficult adjustment at first, but now we have built a routine, connections, happy memories and a sense of home, in a place that, just 10 months ago was “foreign” and unfamiliar.

But are we really living our dreams?

Living abroad was our dream, but not just living abroad. Living abroad and being involved in the community; giving back; connecting with local people; setting out on regular adventures; learning and growing from our experiences.

Yet living abroad – and living abroad with small children – we have learned over the past six months, are two different things.

Often when small children are involved, naptimes, bedtimes, familiar food, familiar places, and short attention spans take precedence over adventure and connecting with the community in real and meaningful ways. So we’ve fallen into a comfortable, somewhat lazy, kid-friendly routine and insulated ourselves a bit from the regular comfort-zone-stretching often involved in living abroad. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t go back and remember why we moved here in the first place; reassess our values and work to live more intentionally in the future.

And so, I have been inspired to live, or at least to try to begin to live, more intentionally in May, by minimizing distractions, creating an intentional morning routine, practicing mindful intentionality and creating an intentional life plan.

Week 1: Minimize Distractions

In modern society, there are a multitude of people and things bidding for our attention – family members, friends, work, cell phones, social media, radio, television, not to mention our own mental chatter. Living intentionally, doing what you intend to do when you intend to do it, can be difficult amid such a myriad of distractions. While a regular mindfulness practice can help us to resist these distractions, there are some proactive steps we can take to make it a little easier on ourselves to live more intentionally.

• If possible, refrain from checking email, social media or other electronic devices first thing in the morning. Allow yourself to wake up slow and prioritize yourself and the other people, if any, you see first thing in the morning.

• If possible, limit the times you check email, social media or other electronic devices to a few, specified times a day (in this post from Dr. Christine Carter of the Greater Good Science Center, she explains how multi-tasking – even when checking email – leads to a loss of productivity and less ability to focus; so when checking email, just check email).

• If you often find your evenings lost to television or computers, before turning on the television or computer in the evening, choose one intentional task or activity to complete before getting turning on or logging on.

Week 2: Create (and Follow) an Intentional Morning Routine

In his post, The Helpful Guide to Living an Intentional Life, becoming minimalist blogger reminds us that life is made up of choices. He says, “Every morning is a new day full of decisions and opportunity. You get to pick your attitude and your decisions. You don’t have to let the circumstances of your past negatively determine the pattern of your life in the future. You have a choice in the matter. You do not need to be stuck in the same pattern of living that you have been for years… realize that every morning is a new opportunity.”

In many religious, spiritual and cultural traditions, the dawn of a new day is significant. It is a new beginning, a chance to start again with a renewed spirit. The beginning of your day can be a sacred space in which you intentionally set the tone for your days or it can be a whirlwind of action and reaction. The importance of an intentional morning routine is not that it involves a specific agenda of practices, but rather that it is something that works for you, something that replenishes you and gives you what you need to start your day intentionally (check back for a follow-up post on Intentional Morning Routines).

Some examples of ideas for intentional mornings are:

Journaling;

Mindfully Drinking a Cup or Coffee or Tea;

Creating Time for “Your Bliss;” or simply

Setting an Intention for the day.

Week 3: Practice Mindfulness and Mindful Intentionality

Practicing an intentional morning routine is a wonderful way to start your day, but what happens when life gets in the way of your intention to be kind to yourself and others, or otherwise throws off your plans? That is when the practice of mindful intentionality can help.

In his post, An Intentional Life, Leo Babauta of Zen Habits describes this practice of intentionally: “Before you do the next action online or at work, pause a moment, close your eyes, and mentally say your intention. Why are you doing this? Is it out of compassion for others, or yourself? Is it to make someone happier? To improve the world? Out of gratitude for the work and kindness of others? And then, as you do the action, be mindful of your intention. This is a small step, but in those few moments, you will be living an Intentional Life.”

Week 4: Create an Intentional Life Plan

In her post, What Does It Mean to Live Intentionally, Mandi Ehman, blogger at Life Your Way explains that “Living intentionally means defining your values and making choices that reflect those values. …(and) being willing to evaluate those decisions as you go rather than just making a decision once and sticking to it no matter what.

Living intentionally and living consciously may seem to be one in the same, but for me, intentionality adds an even greater dimension of purpose to everything you do. Having, and regularly reviewing a “strategic” plan for your life can be a great way to make sure that the life you are living is in line with your values and, if it isn’t, allow you a space to plan incremental changes to move in that direction.

To create an intentional life plan:

Take an opportunity when you have a block of time to yourself (or with your partner) and make a list of the values you most hold dear. If this initial list doesn’t come easily, simply begin listing all of the people, places, activities that are important to you. Then from this list, glean more values to add to your list (e.g. if your favorite activities are hiking, swimming and camping with friends; you may place a strong value on communing with nature, physical exercise, a healthy lifestyle and close friendships).

Once you have your list of values, take time to consider each one, and whether or not the life you are living today is true to that value. If it is, take a moment to appreciate yourself for living this value intentionally; if it isn’t, brainstorm some ways that you can make small or incremental changes (toward a larger change) to live more inline with each value. Or, if your current life circumstances make it impossible, simply make a note to re-evaluate in the future. For example, both my husband and I value community service, but in our current life circumstances, it isn’t feasible for us to volunteer either as individuals or as a family, but it is something we want to prioritize when our children are older.

If you find, like us, that your current life situation isn’t as in line with your values (or life dreams) as you would like, write a detailed vision of your ideal future, and an action list of things you can begin to do, to move in that direction*. (*Note – An important piece of this future planning is to acknowledge the importance of including it in your Intentional Life Plan, but to continue to be mindful of, and grateful, for the life you are currently living, as continuously daydreaming about your Tiki Bar on the beach in paradise can seriously derail your attempts to live more conscoiusly in the present!)

For this month, my goal in trying to live more intentionally is to train myself, and my brain, to slow down and focus more on the things that matter, ultimately, as the author of 5 Ways to Live Intentionally Today writes, to live authentically and celebrate life.

For a fun guide to living more intentionally, check out Abundant Mama’s Project 52.

What about you? Do you have any tips or ideas on how to live more intentionally? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for Reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

Conscious Parenting Inspirations – April 2015

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“Let us keep reminding each other to breathe, to smile, to treat ourselves and one another with kindness.” – Denise Roy

I am one of two siblings; the youngest of a small, quiet family. As such, my childhood fantasies of my future family involved three children, their spouses and children, all filling up a festive, loving home, while the snow fell picturesquely outside our home (I also grew up in South Florida without snow…). I wanted a large family to fill our house with laughter, to provide friendship in times of plenty and support in times of want. I dreamt that my children would have strong, loving connections that they could rely on throughout their lives.

My dream family began when my daughter was born, and continued to grow when my son was born two-and-a-half-years-later.

But then fighting began.

I have read that things that trigger you come from unresolved issues in childhood, so somewhere in my psyche there must be some unresolved issues around sibling fighting. Or perhaps, it is simply that I, like many other parents, am easily frustrated by the broken peace and intentional irritants that are thrown back and forth between my children. Whatever it is, my dream of loving, supportive siblings is not my family’s current reality and I have decided that the change has to start with me.

If I want a peaceful, loving family, I need to build a peaceful, loving family culture. And so this month’s Conscious Parenting Inspiration touches on consciously addressing sibling issues, ways to begin choosing conscious responses, and ways to reconnect when we don’t act as loving as we’d like to.

Consciously Addressing Sibling Issues

Sibling issues – fighting, rivalry, general discord – have been featured a lot in my blog feeds and newsletters lately and what keeps coming up is the importance, not of just stopping the fighting, but of helping siblings work through conflict and creating an environment of peace.

My go-to advice for sibling issues is Dr. Laura of Aha! Parenting, who is awash with advice on sibling issues from her recent book Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings. In her post 21 Tips to Prevent Sibling Flighting, she provides information on valuable parenting tools from proactive steps like creating an intentional family culture; bringing awareness to how you talk to, and about, your children; and providing lots of one-on-one time (when possible); to tools to use after conflict has occurred, such as empathizing, modelling emotional intelligence and involving kids in conflict resolution. While Dr. Laura’s step-by-step conversations may not be practical for every family, or every situation, I’ve found that using the underlying wisdom – approaching the conflict without judgement, giving each child a chance to feel heard and involving them in resolving the conflict – in a more abbreviated form, has worked for us.

The bloggers over at A Fine Parent has put together a really helpful Sibling Rivalry infographic based on Dr. Layra’s new book and are currently offering a free printable download.

For more inspiration, Dr. Laura is currently on a virtual Happy Siblings Blog Tour in which she talks with, and shares the resources, of other great parenting professionals and bloggers.

Choosing a Conscious Response

Given the amount of advice available for parents on how to best address sibling issues, it seems safe to say that many parents of multiple children struggle with responding positively and effectively in such situations. In her post on the Empowering Parents blog, author and licensed mental health counselor Debbie Pincus describes why parents often feel powerlessness (which can lead to anger) when interacting with their children.

She explains that, when triggered, many parents believe that the only way to calm themselves is to “get their children to behave the way they want them to.” She goes on to explain that in thinking this way, parents put the power to calm themselves in the hands of their children. She says that when parents begin statements with the phrase, “I need you to…,” as in, “I need you to stop bothering your sister. I need you to speak kindly. I need you to be more respectful,” the implicit message is, “I need you to calm me, validate me, reassure me because I don’t know what to do.”

Debbie then talks about the following the feedback loop that often results from unconscious reactions:

Child/Children are “Acting Out” ——-> Parent Feels Overwhelmed and Powerless ——> Sense of Powerlessness Leads to Anxiety —–> Parent Attempts to Control Children in an Attempt to Regain Sense of Power and Calm ——-> Children Fight Back Against Attempts to Control Them (“Act Out”) ——> Parent Feels Overwhelmed and Powerless

Debbie explains that in these situations, both parent and children are reacting from a place of anxiety, rather than responding from a place of calm. And this loop often happens faster than it took you to read about it, leaving parents wondering how things got so bad so fast.

In her post, The 5 Main Tenets of Mindful Parenting, mindfulness educator Lisa Kring privdes describes how the use of the acronym, S.T.O.P, as a conscious reminder can help parents break this loop by changing a reaction to a response in tense moments:

S – STOP

Whenever you notice stress or imbalance, simply pause in awareness.

T – TAKE A BREATH

Bring your awareness to your breath.

O – OBSERVE

Internally – observe how the breath begins to calm your nerves. Externally – observe what is really happening, in the moment.

P – PROCEED

Having shifted to a more mindfully responsive mode, respond in a thoughtful way to the situation, even if it means explaining that you need a break to calm yourself and returning to address the situation at a later time.

In her post, On the Hard Days, Remember, the author provides beautifully describes her habit of intentionally focusing on positive memories from the past, using the mantra “Remember,” to bring more clarity and perspective to stressful situations.

In her post, 4 Mommy Mantras for Being a More Mindful Parent, Stephanie Morgan of Modern Parents, Messy Kids, explains that remembering the quote, “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory,” by Dr. Seuss, helps her to remember that how we act as parents will become our children’s memories, for better or for worse, as inspiration to choose more conscious responses.

Consciously Reconnecting

As we are all human, we will never respond to our children intentionally and lovingly 100% of the time. Many of us, myself included, might be happy if we are able to respond intentionally and lovingly even 50% of the time. But even when we find ourselves reacting, it is still possible to parent consciously, after the fact.

In her post, Five Ways to Reconnect with Your Child When You are Having a Bad Day, Dr. Laura of Aha! Parenting provides five strategies to reconnect by helping them feel safe, clarifying your opposing needs, physically reconnecting, playing and empathizing with their feelings.

In her post on Positive Parenting Connection, The Most Important Question to Ask After Yelling, Dr Andra Brill, founder of Mindful Happy Families, describes the importance of having a ritual to reconnect after you lose your temper with your children. She shares her family’s question, “What do you need?” which helps her to get to the root of the problems in order to avoid stressful situations in the future and helps family members feel heard and participate in the problem solving.

What about you? Have you found anything new that works for your family this month or come across any Conscious Parenting Resources to share? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for Reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

Conscious Mental Clarity (or How to Regain Your Positive Outlook When You Misplace It)

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If you truly want to change your life, you must first change your mind. – Unknown

I hit a rough patch last week. I was in what seemed like an endless loop of conflict with my children. I was overcome by anger, self-pity, guilt, shame and powerlessness over my parenting decisions, my past behaviors, even the choices that have led me to where I am today. I found myself turning more and more to distractions – sweets, television, internet – to avoid dealing with everything that was swirling around in my head. And on top of it all, I was disgusted with myself for not being true to my desire to live more consciously. I was a mess.

In my state, I turned to supportive online parenting communities for help (sometimes it is easier to reveal your messy insides to people who can’t actually see you), and while they were tremendously supportive, I realized that by addressing one issue at a time, I was missing the bigger picture. I was feeling bad for actions from my past, feeling guilt over their repercussions in the present, and not knowing how to atone for them in the future. I was trying to clean up small messes, not realizing that my whole house was a disaster.

Luckily, I finally opened up to my husband about what was going on and having all my messy insides seen and accepted, helped me to realize that things really weren’t as bad as I’d been making them out to be. And if my partner could still love me despite how awful I felt, then maybe I could, too. Talking things out didn’t make everything better in an instant, but it allowed me to crawl out from under the massive pile of garbage I’d been piling on myself for the past week and breathe a little fresh air. Feel some sunshine on my face. And come up with a plan to throw out the trash.

I’ve always loved new beginnings, fresh slates, opportunities to wipe away the old mistakes and start anew. Usually, my new beginnings coincided with some other external beginning – a new year, a new home, a new term at school, a new job, or even the start of a new week – but it occurred to me that I don’t need an external beginning to start fresh. All I need to to recognize the need for change.

I have a program on my laptop, a cleaner, that periodically reminds me that I need to clean my computer. When I run it, it erases all my browsing history, it empties my recycle bin, cleans out temporary files, goes deep into those files I don’t even know how to access to clean out bits and pieces of code or fragments of files that impede optimal functioning; it even performs something called a memory dump. I love running this program because it helps me feel like I am taking good care of my computer, helping it run at its highest capacity.

It was this image that gave me the idea for how to clear out my own mental junk. And when I started research it, it turns out that I am not the first to think of something like this.

If you ever find, or have ever found, yourself in a deep hole, under a black cloud or buried under a pile of your own mental negativity, try the following techniques to help get you back to a better place.

Open Yourself to a Fresh Perspective

For me, the first step was to feel heard and accepted. I’m sure I would have eventually come out of my negative state one way or another, but reaching out and allowing myself to be vulnerable (which wasn’t easy – I actually had to make a bulleted list on a napkin and pass it across the table for him to read – such is my aversion to vulnerability and outside inspection), gave me a different, more accepting and realistic, perspective on my situation than the one I’d been feeding myself for days.

I don’t have any clinical training, but just knowing how good it feels to share feelings of guilt and shame with my best friends and hear that they have felt the same way or done the same things, or accept and love me regardless, proves to me that there is healing power in this type of vulnerability and connection. The most important part of this is that the person from whom you are seeking support, acceptance or a new perspective, is someone who will provide genuine support and acceptance, be it a friend, family member or mental health professional.

Perform a Mental Cleanse

Of the sources I read on this topic, the most common suggestion was to somehow get as much as you can out of your head and on to paper. Outstanding things to do; feelings of guilt, shame, anger, sadness; old memories; current anxieties; sources of frustration; even positive feelings that may be buried somewhere under everything else. This can be done through stream of consciousness writing in a journal, a notepad, a computer; over one session or multiple days. The important thing to get it out of your head. As the author in Quick Brain Detox and Mental Reboot, states, the first time you do this, there may be a lot to process, but once this becomes a regular habit (assuming you want it make it one), successive detoxification yields a bit less over time.

For some, this stream of consciousness writing (or typing) may come easy, but others, like me, may need more structure. A long time ago a friend of mine shared a therapeutic technique that she liked to use when she felt stuck and using a somewhat modified version of her method, helped me to detox in a more structured way.

To clean your mental closet, figuratively gather a list of empty boxes labeled with the most important facets of your life, e.g. Physical Health, Mental Health, Spiritual/Emotional Health, Family, Friends, Romantic Relationship(s), Children, Home, Work, Pets, Recreation, Outstanding Tasks, etc. (everyone’s boxes will be unique) and give each box a line, half a page, or a whole page, depending on how much room you need. Then write down whatever thoughts some up for you as you consider each facet of your life, one box at a time. Once you have considered each box, check to make sure there isn’t anything you have missed (or put whatever doesn’t fit into a Misc. box).

Once you have all of your boxes from your detox, you can now take the time to sort through them, label them, and decide whether they are still serving you or whether you can take steps to get rid of them.

Other Resources for a Regular Mental Cleanse

In A New Kind of Cleanse, author Karolyn Gazella lists five inspiring action steps to take at the end of each day to “clear away space to make room for the positive.”

In the post, Reboot Your Life: 20 Mental Barriers You Should Let Go Of, the author lists 20 labels of things that, should you find them swirling in your brain, it would best serve you to dispose of.

In his post 7 Tips for Renewal, Dr. David Simon, Ayurvedic practitioner and author of Free to Love, Free to Heal, provides seven tips to help when you feel you need some rejuvenation, from physical suggestions regarding diet and exercise, to meditation and journaling.

In Spring Cleaning for Your Psyche (one of a series of posts on the topic), Dr. Laura of Aha! Parenting provides insight, advice and practical exercises for parents trapped in reactivity and negativity.

In Detox Your Mind in 5-Minutes: The Power of Quantum Cleansing, Dr. Alejandor Junger, provides instructions and a guided meditation for a quick five-minute mental cleanse.

In her post, Spring Cleaning for the Soul: Tidying Up Our Personal Closet, the author suggests creating a virtual vault for positive memories, because while a mental detox and rebook are important to clear out things that are holding you back, creating a store of positive memories (and their associated thoughts and feelings) can help keep the dark clouds at bay the next time they start gathering in your mind.

How about you? Have you ever felt stuck in negativity or reactivity? Have you found ways that help you break through and reclaim a more positive outlook? If so I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for Reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

Conscious Flexibility

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A tree that is unbending is easily broken. – Lao Tzu

I am not the most flexible person.

When I am in the middle of something, I like to finish what I’m doing before moving on to something else.

If I have plans and they go awry, it takes time for me to recommit to Plan B.

If I ask my children to do something, kindly and respectfully, like the authoritarian parents of previous generations, I expect them to do it and when they don’t, I tend to use power plays to “get my way.” (Read Encouraging Children to Listen for a better way.).

And I used to be even worse.

When my daughter, our first child, was young, I thought I could control things that were out of my control – her behavior, her sleep habits, her expressions of emotion. When her spirited personality clashed with my introverted one, and I had used up all of my reserves of patience and motherly affection, I would fall back into more authoritarian parenting tactics. Not every time. Not all the time. But enough. Enough for me to remember and hope she doesn’t.

These days, I am more aware of what falls under my sphere of control (partially from repeating, “You can’t make other people do things; the only person you can control is yourself” to my daughter for years). Through my journey to live a more conscious life, I have become more flexible in some areas. I have learned to accept things as they are and not force them to bend to my will. I have learned not to react so dramatically to things that would previously have caused me upset. I have learned to catch myself in knee-jerk reactions and pause to choose a more thoughtful response.

Sometimes.

But not always.

I still sometimes give in to frustration and disappointment when my carefully laid plans are threatened by an inconvenient melt-down. I still find myself trying to control situations outside my control. I still feel a distinct sense of unease when I feel powerless in my parenting.

But I realize that this need for control and lack of flexibility is a detriment. It is a detriment to my relationship with my children. It is a detriment to a growth-oriented mindset. It is a detriment to my desire to live a more conscious life.

But the worst part of it is that my four-year-old has turned into a mini-dictator who appears to feel actual, physical pain when asked to say something nicely, and who has heaps of pre-school control issues, and I’m just a little bit afraid that she might have gotten some of that from me.

And so, in April of my More Conscious Year, I am going to work on being more flexible, less rigid, in my everyday life.

Control vs. a Sense of Control

A sense of control, if not actual control, is a deep psychological need, not just for me, but for people in general. A sense of control allows people to feel safe and secure; it allows them to move forward in their lives with predictability.

Feeling out-of-control, or in a situation that is out-of-control, can lead to feelings of helplessness, powerlessness and fear. According to social scientists, this aversion to feelings of helplessness and powerlessness and desire for control is so strong, that people will make things up or find patterns where there are none, in order to regain a sense of control.

Our need for a sense of control can be traced back to our evolutionary roots when our survival depended on a sense of control over our environment. When we feel in control, we are at less risk of danger. When we feel in control, we feel safe. When we feel out-of-control, our mental and physical health can suffer.

And yet, a sense of control over our lives and the desire to control everything in our lives are very different things.

A sense of control over the things we can actually control – our own behavior, our reactions to others behavior, how, and with whom, we choose to spend our time and energy – is positive. But attempts to control other people and other things outside of our actual control, more often than not leads to unhappiness, rather than the security (and following happiness) we are hoping to attain by maintaining control (according to Psychology Today Article, Let Go, Be Happy).

Effects of Controlling Parenting

This need for control, or a sense of control, can also enter our parenting. According to the author of Five Things You Can and Can’t Control as a Parent, many parents attempt to control their children’s behaviors because of societal pressure or their own fear. Denny Hagel, founder of Awakened Parenting, explains that perceived lack of control is a common cause of parental frustration. Parents can become so focused on their child’s behavior that they are unable to see the larger picture and only feel the need to win the power struggle.

In her post, Let’s Stop Controlling and Start Listing to Children, Parent Coach Shelly Birger Phillips says that when parents force children to submit to their authority, they send the message that they are the more powerful ones and their children’s ideas, thoughts, and desires don’t matter. By controlling, parents teach children to submit to another’s will and not think for themselves. Authoritarian, or overly powerful, parenting robs children of their psychological autonomy, by telling children what to do, what to think and how they should feel. Kids parented in this manner may be relatively well-behaved, but they also tend to be less resourceful, have poorer social skills, and lower self esteem.

While I don’t consider myself a controlling parent in a lot of ways, I have realized that it is my fall-back parenting strategy when I am over-tired, stressed or overwhelmed, and all of the above is motivation enough to want to make a change.

Ways to Practice More Flexible (Respectful) Parenting

Week 1: Awareness of the Bigger Picture

Following the adage that our children are mirrors of ourselves, I want to use my daughters controlling behavior as a wake-up call to be more conscious of my own words and actions towards my children (and my spouse) when I am under stress. I want to bring awareness to these moments when I use power inappropriately, to see the bigger picture of the unintentional example I may be setting.

For any of you who may be practicing your own flexibility, bringing awareness to your use, or misuse of power, in all areas of your life is a good start to affecting change. Additionally, noting the areas of your life for which you actually have control and reflecting on them in these moments can help to shift your perspective. In her article, How to Let Go of Control Issues, the author suggests making a conscious list of the things in life that you have control over, and later when you find yourself trying to exert control over something, she suggests returning to the list (mentally) to hep bring your focus to what you can control.

Week 2: Be Proactive

Making self-care a priority is key to a sense of control over your life. When we are rested, exercised, relaxed, we are more likely to feel in control and to be in control of our responses.

Additionally, working on my relationship with my daughter to prevent power struggles, may help prevent the occasions where we find ourselves in a power struggle. In her article on power struggles, Denny Hagel advises parents to work to convey to their children that they are a resource for help, guidance and support from an early age, to foster a teamwork mentality, rather than a “you against them” mentality. She explains that parents can do this by reacting consciously and supportively when children make mistakes; she states, when children make mistakes, how you react will determine your child’s perception of you as supporter or opponent.

This week I am going to work on meeting my goals for self-care and work to consciously build a less adversarial relationship with my daughter.

Week 3: Choose a Conscious Response

In her article Let Go of Control: How to Learn the Art of Surrender, psychologist Amy Johnson notes that sometimes it can be as easy as noticing that you are in control mode and choosing to let go, consciously surrendering to the moment. She describes how when she finds herself in a situation where she is trying to impose her will, she imagines that she is in a canoe paddling upstream, against the current. She then pictures the boat turning around, dropping the oars, and floating downstream, or simply reminding herself to “let go of the oars,” to shift her perspective.

This week, I am going to try to use Amy’s technique, or simply ask myself “Where is the power?” when I find myself trying to exert control, to reminding myself that my job is to help my children feel powerful not powerless.

Week 4: Practicing Surrender

When dealing with more difficult situations, Amy Johnson, recommends asking yourself the following questions, “What am I afraid will happen if I let go of control?” “Could this really happen? And if it could, how bad could it actually be?” Parent Coach Shelly Birger Phillips recommends taking a step back and watching what happens when we stop trying to control things (situations, people, children) and see what happens; to get in the habit of following the lead of others and surrendering to the moment.

Following this combined advice, this week, I am going to try “surrendering to the moment,” facing my fears of “what could happen,” and seeing if I can’t let the reality of what unfolds help me to become a more flexible parent.

(For more on letting go of control for parents see Control Less, Trust More).

What about you? Do you have issues with power and control that you would like to work through? Do you notice yourself falling back into a certain, less, conscious way of parenting or being when you are over-tired or over-stressed? Do you have any techniques that have helped you make a more positive shift in these times? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

I’d love to hear if you find anything in this series helpful. I am writing a lot that I want to do personally, but I am hoping that some of the situations might resonate with readers and some of the links may be helpful. If you find the A More Conscious Year series helpful (or don’t think it is helpful at all), I’d love to hear from you. 

Thanks for reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook