A More Empathetic March

file1591340859301

Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. ..it makes the world a better place. – Daniel H. Pink
My husband and I, as many parents, want to raise children who are kind, open and accepting of other people. We also want our children to have a strong sense of themselves and the ability to be true to themselves and their values in the face of whatever life throws at them. Empathy, or the ability to understand and share another person is feeling, plays a strong part in raising children with these values.

According to psychiatrist Dr. David Sack in his post, From Mine to Ours, Nurturing Empathy in Children, Children with a strong sense of empathy are kinder and more resilient against peer pressure. They are the children more likely to attract friendships, to have more diverse groups of friends and to feel secure enough to stand alone rather than blindly follow the group.

There are many books, articles, and posts with information on how to raise more empathetic children, but one thing they all seem to have in common an emphasis on parenting that emphases connection and communication. In her article Teaching Empathy, Dr. Gwen Dewar references studies that suggest kids are more likely to develop a strong sense of empathy when their own emotional needs are met at home. Empathy is a cornerstone of positive, conscious, responsive, attached parenting (as many other areas of life). Showing children empathy for all of the challenges of trails the face as they move through life, helps them to be kinder to themselves and to others.

And although I know this on a theoretical and practical level, oftentimes in the moment I need it most, empathy evades me.

As a practicing social worker for years before I became a mom, I have had the privilege of working with, and getting to know, people from many diverse economic, social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. I prided myself on my ability to connect with even the most resistant client through our shared humanity. Yet as a parent, I find this empathy harder to express.

One reason for this may be the emotions involved in family interactions that are not involved in professional interactions. As Dr. Dewar explains (in the above referenced article), the expression of, or ability to express, empathy is only possible when one is able to regulate one’s own emotional responses. And it can be challenging to feel empathy when we feel threatened, stressed or emotionally triggered, which is often the case when overstressed parents are faced with overstressed children (see How to be Truly Empathetic for more).

What is Empathy?

In his article Six Habits of Highly Empathic People, Roman Krznaric, author of Empathy: Why it Matters, and How to Get It, defines empathy as the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide our actions. (For a more detailed explanation, watch this short video clip from a Ted Talk by Brené Brown).

When something happens that I understand, a physical pain, a fight over toys, a bid for my attention, I am more easily able to respond empathetically. But when my highly sensitive daughter is triggered into an intense display of emotion over a misplaced cup, a younger brother who does not do exactly as she says, or something not going according to her exact expectations multiple times a day, I find it harder to truly empathize.

I have practiced responses, “Wow. It looks like you’re having a really hard time right now!” or “You seem really angry right now,” but I don’t often FEEL empathy because, my initial reaction is more often one of annoyance, aggravation or anger.

But I want to change this.

And so in March, I will work to be more empathetic, and even if I only get as far as stopping, sitting down at her level and opening my arms for a hug, without uttering a word, this will be a great improvement over the present!

Week 1– Practice Listening, Reflecting and Taking the Opposing Perspective

How often as parents, have we heard ourselves saying, “She’s just tired,” or “He’s just hungry,” or some other statement that tells our children what they are feeling when their behavior is less-than-stellar? I know I am guilty of it and can hear my daughter in my head yelling, “I’m NOT TIRED!” And maybe she is, maybe she’s not, but it isn’t for me to tell, but to ask.

In his article I Don’t Feel Your Pain: Overcoming Roadblocks to Empathy, the author advises the practice of attentive listening and using empathetic responses,  such as, “I’m sorry that happened to you,” instead of assuming we know how someone feels or rushing in to make things better. In Time Magazine’s Article, 5 Ways to be More Empathetic, Krznaric advises, to step back for a moment in the midst of an argument and try to see what the other person is feeling and consider what they need. He suggests giving them a chance to express their feelings and needs, and then to reflect back what they’ve said. A phrase often used in positive parenting circles is, “What I hear you say is ___________, or what your body is telling me is ____________? Am I right?

This week, instead of assuming I know how my daughter is feeling, I will try to practice checking in with her, practicing active listening and reflecting her feelings back to her to see if she feels more heard.

Week 2 – Practice Restraint (of the Desire to Try to Make Things Better)

I remember reading years ago, that between men and women, women are more likely to listen and empathize, while men are more likely to feel the need to jump in and provide assistance, or to fix the situation. This has stuck with me because I have always been more like the men in this description when friends or family members came to me with problems or concerns. In my professional life, I could empathize; in my personal life, I feel the need to do something. Just empathizing never felt like enough.

Yet in a portion of Brené Brown’s Ted Talk on empathy, referenced above, she states, “Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection (through empathy).” Instead of trying to “fix” a situation, she suggests saying, “I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just so glad you told me.”

This week, I am going to practice restraining my desire to try to make things better in conversations with friends and family members and let empathy be enough.

Week 3 – Practice Restraint (of Judgement)

Whenever I’ve read the quote that begins, “Please Mom and Dad, my hands are small. I don’t mean to spill my milk…” and goes on to ask for understanding from parents from the perspective of a small child, I have always teared up, envisioning an innocent child punished for simply being small. But once my daughter was born and developed into the head-strong, spirited child that she is, my vision of this small, innocent child has vanished, replaced instead by the picture of a little person deliberately determined to reject any and all positive influence I try to have on her and to drive me mad in the process.

It is this image that often clouds my vision when looking at my daughter’s scowling face, leading me to see willful defiance rather than a child struggling. And it is this judgement that so often keeps me from empathizing with her plight.

In her Ted Talk, Brené Brown, includes the added element of “reserving judgement,” as a necessary ingredient to empathy. This week, I will try to use my mindfulness cue of a rising level of frustration, to notice any judgements in response to my daughter’s behavior and to replace them with a more loving, understanding, empathetic perspective before responding.

Week 4 – Practice Developing a New Perspective

My closest friend has a very clear memory of her childhood. She not only remembers people and events; she also remembers feelings. She can recall how it felt when her mother left her, for even short amounts of time. She can recall feelings of joy, sadness and fear. She remembers what it feels like to be a child. And because she can do this, she is more easily able to understand how her children are feeling and empathize authentically.

I do not have such memories. I remember bits and pieces. Stories that were told to me. Snippets of my younger years. But I have no memories (or access to memories) of what it feels like to be a child.

In her article 4 Unexpected (and Science Backed) Ways to Develop Empathy, the author suggests reading literary fiction to immerse yourself in the lives of fictional characters to develop empathy for others. While there may not be a lot of literary fiction written by children, this week, I will seek out stories, articles and quotes on childhood and incorporate them into my reading for the day to help me better understand and empathize with my own children.

Note on Empathy on a Larger Scale

I realize that so much of this post focuses on empathizing with children as parents, whereas some readers may not be parents or may want to practice empathy in different areas. For resources on developing empathy in other areas, Roman Krznaric’s Empathy: Why it Matters, and How to Get It, or any of the other links in this post.

What about you? Do you struggle to empathize with your children or others in stressful moments, or have you found ways to practice empathy that work for you? Either way, I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for Reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

Conscious Parenting Inspirations – February 2015

IMG_1425

He who knows patience knows peace.” – Chinese proverb

I began practicing patience this month as part of my More Mindful Year, and although I have struggled with it, I have also learned a few things along the way. In my moments of silence and space, when I would otherwise have been worrying about being late or making someone wait, repeatedly reminding my children or family that it was “time to go,” or thinking about something else I “should” be doing, I found that I was able to turn moments of impatience into moments of learning or joy. By pausing and consciously shifting my mindset to one of patience, rather than impatiently trying to rush the moments by, I was able to make space in my day to listen to myself, listen to my children and take little joyful breaks throughout the day.

Listen to Yourself

Bedtimes and early mornings are, I’ve realized, when I am at my least patient. As a parent of two under five, I have had few nights when I’ve actually gone to bed in the evening and woken up naturally in the morning, with a complete night’s rest in-between. Nor do I, as most parents of young children, have much time to myself. So when I am in “danger” of losing either of those precious commodities, I can be a bit impatient and rigid.

But this month, since I’ve been practicing mindfulness and patience, I had the experience of listening to my thoughts before I opened my mouth when my daughter fought sleep and roused me out of mine, and one day, what I heard was, “Be the mom.”

It was, at once, both revelational and embarrassing. I realized that so often at these times, I am putting my own needs, for sleep or time to myself, above the immediate needs of my daughter. And while my own needs are important and should be honored, a reminder to myself to “be the mom,” helped me to respond to her, patiently, in the moment, rather than focusing on my own irritation. I realized that, sometimes, I reverse our roles and expect her to meet my needs, rather than me “being the mom” and meeting hers. This reminder, which has now become a mantra, helps me to act with patience and love, much like my own mother did, hopefully building similar memories for my daughter of her mom. Without pausing to shift to a patient mindset, I might not have heard that reminder or made the change that followed. (It could also work as “Be the Dad!”)

Sometimes, if we just stop and listen, rather than rushing through a moment, we make space for our own inner wisdom to be heard.

Listen to Your Children

Another thing I’ve learned by practicing patience is that by waiting, you open up space for your children (or others) to talk and share their feelings.

I’ve started my daughter’s bedtime routine a little earlier in the past few days, to give her sufficient time to wind down before I run off to tend to her little brother’s bedtime needs (something that is often hard for her). During this time, I’ve started the practice of “checking-in” with her, asking how she’s feeling or if she has anything she wants to talk about. During one of these conversations, she asked why I spend so much time getting her little brother to bed, which led to a conversation about how she wishes she was still a little baby and how we could meet her needs for more “babying.” After this conversation, I was able to make some small changes in our daily interactions to help meet these needs, something I never would have thought to do if I had not made more space in our evening routine, rather than impatiently rushing through it each night.

If your children are older, in this post, How to Build a Great Relationship in 15 Minutes a Day, the author describes how consciously setting aside small amounts of time to regularly connect with, and listen to, older children can have a real positive impact.

Take Joyful Breaks

Another thing I learned, in practicing mindfulness and patience, is that when you do, life slows down. You find time in between things that you never knew was there. You begin to enjoy things you never took the time to enjoy before. And you give yourself the gift of little moments of joy every day that you might otherwise have rushed through or not have noticed at all.

As parents, we have a never-ending list of things to-do for our families, for our jobs, for our homes, for ourselves. But in the course of checking things off of this list, if you try to remember to practice each one mindfully (when you remember), focusing on the task at hand, rather than the thoughts in your head, you can create little moments of peace and joy that can keep you renewed throughout even the busiest of days.

Links and Resources

In her article 11 Things Parents of Empty Nesters Want Kids to Know, Shelley Emilling provides a list of small things to help parents savor their children’s childhoods (with more in the comments if you have a lot of time on your hands!) – Thank you Geneva!

In this great article 12 Tips to Transition to Peaceful Parenting from Aha! Parenting, Dr. Laura Markham provides a compact overview of Peaceful Parenting strategies and tips for dialogues to have with your children in different situations. A great first read if you are new to Peaceful or Conscious Parenting or a great refresher even if you currently parent in this way.

What about you? Have you had any conscious parenting insights this month or new or inspiring resources to share (to be included in next month’s Conscious Parenting Inspirations)? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for Reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook (Now only $5.99!)

Consciously Connecting (with your partner)

???????????????????????????????

“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” —African proverb

My husband and I just celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary. In his card, I printed out a message from an email he had sent to me ten years ago, detailing his own personal vision for the marriage and family he wanted to have. Today, while we are not a mirror image of his vision, we are pretty close, and it was a wonderful thing to recognize and celebrate.

Over our 10 year relationship, we have had many ups and downs, like most couples, but when it finally came down to hitting our stride and learning what we need to keep our relationship healthy, we found it is all about connection.

When we take the time to connect with each other, we take the time

to listen,

to talk,

to share,

to problem solve,

to commiserate,

to plan,

to remember,

to laugh,

and to enjoy each other’s company.

When we make time to connect on a daily basis, we both feel more loved, supported and understood. We feel like a team, facing life together.

But it takes a conscious effort, and it isn’t always easy.

Sometimes, I’ll pause during the day and realize that I miss him. The feeling comes with a sensation of not having seen him in a while, when in reality, I saw him only that morning and all evening the evening before, but we were both busy with personal projects and didn’t take the time to consciously connect. And, if days go by like this, I feel a distinct sense of unease – less loving, more guarded – until we’re back on track.

But it takes work. It takes time. It takes prioritizing our relationship, over other things we may need to do. Something that isn’t always easy for busy couples, long-distance couples, parents of newborn or small children or couples who don’t understand the importance of regular, daily, conscious connection.

In her article, Five Hours to a Better Relationship (part of a four part series on improving relationships), Christine Carter of the Greater Good Science Center talks about the importance of regular connection with your partner. In the article, she introduces John and Julie Gottman’s “magic five hours a week, ” in which they recommend connecting for:

  • two minutes every weekday morning to share your plan for the day,
  • twenty minutes each day when you arrive home,
  • five minutes throughout the day to express gratitude for one another,
  • (at least) five minutes of daily physical affection;
  • and two hours a week to get to know each other better.

Putting this advice into practice as often as we can, my husband and I make sure to greet each other, mindfully, each morning as we pass in the kitchen. We take time to say hello and goodbye with eye-contact and a kiss. We connect during the day via email or text when we can.

And each evening, we have tea.

Having tea together, each evening, has become the cornerstone of our relationship, a wonderful way for us to consciously connect each day; something we both enjoy and prioritize.

Our evening “tea,” (which doesn’t always involve tea, although it typically does for other health benefits), involves a set time when we turn off the television and our computers and sit down for a cup of tea. We use this time to check-in with each other, talk about our days and look ahead to the week ahead.

The most important thing about tea is that all electronic devices are turned off and we focus on creating a conscious connection. And of course, taking time to connect doesn’t have to involve tea or be in the evenings. It should be a time, place and environment that work best for your relationship; one you are able to commit to on a daily basis (as much as possible).

Ideas for Creating Conscious Connection

Checking-in with each other, telling stories about your day and sharing anything you have on your mind, is important for daily connection, but if you still have time afterwards, or find you need ideas to spark conversation to create a stronger connection, the following links offer some ideas.

  •  A recent New York Times Article lists the 36 Questions that lead to love discussed in Mandy Len Catron’s Modern Love Essay, “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This. While you have already be (or were once) in love with your partner, the questions might still spark some interesting conversation.

Resources for Building Conscious Connection

 If you aren’t feeling connected to your partner and feel that you need some intervention before beginning to build in daily time for connection, Love and Life Toolbox, offers some practical advice in 8 Ways to Spring Clean Your Marriage (or long-term relationship).

Additionally, on February 12 and 13, Relationship Coach Monika Hoyt is hosting a free virtual Authentic Relationship Telesummit with interviews with experts in the field of relationship psychology covering topics on the science behind lasting love, tips for an authentic relationship, healthy communication tools, tips for enhanced connecting and intimacy and more. You have to call in to listen, but Monika shares an event schedule, so you can plan to call in to the topics you are most interested in.

What about you? Do you have any habits, rituals or advice for maintain a conscious connection in your relationship? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for Reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

A More Conscious February – Practicing Patience

IMG_7303

 “Trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.” ― Molière

Patience, as they say, is a virtue. Patience allows you to be  more peaceful, more kind, more understanding, and more joyful. Patience allows you to slow down and enjoy the moment you are in. According to Essential Life Skills, cultivating patience reduces stress levels and makes you a happier, healthier person; results in better decision making; helps develop understanding, empathy and compassion; and helps you to understand and appreciate the process of growth.

Of course, there are times when patience is not warranted, such as in emergency situations, but often so much of what we perceive to be an emergency is really not so urgent in the larger picture. I’ve had moments when I’ve been rushing around trying to get everyone out of the house on a self-imposed time table, only to find myself angry when no one else was even remotely upset and there was really nothing to be angry about.

But I don’t want to do that any more.

Which is why this month, I am going to work on cultivating patience (For a beautiful story on another mother who made a similar decision read, Hands Free Mama’s post, The Day I Stopped Saying Hurry Up).

In her article, Cultivating Patience: A Practice That Becomes Its Own Reward, Ker Cleary, a practitioner of contemplative psychology, explains that the practice of patience involves a shift in our perspective. She explains that “Patience comes from having confidence – born of awareness, practice, and experience – that the storm will pass, and that if we ride it out, all will be well again.”

She notes that, with practice, patience comes more easily.

And so this month I will practice.

Week 1: Determining When You are Impatient and Why

In her post, 6 Pointers for Practicing Patience, Dani Dipirro of Positively Present, suggests noticing reoccurring situations that test your patience and then asking why you are impatient at those times. While we can’t always predict when we will become impatient, we may be able to notice that we have less patience in certain situations such as driving in traffic, juggling multiple responsibilities at work or during dinner time at home, or when we are running late.

Once we become aware of these situations, we can more consciously cultivate patience by taking deep breaths, repeating helpful mantras, practicing mindfulness, or any other technique that works for us. In the above referenced post, Dani also suggests asking yourself why you are impatient, so that you can address the reason or simply acknowledge it as a way to bring more mindfulness, and patience, to the situation. Before beginning the week, I can already think of a few regularly occurring situations that will be great opportunities to practice patience.

Week 2: Releasing Attachment to the Outcome

In her post, Four Steps for Cultivating Patience, spiritual teacher Barb Schmidt, advises readers to “release the expectation that everything will go as planned or that people will do what you expect them to do.” In order to cultivate patience, she also recommends that we “make an intention to begin letting go of your expectations and replacing them with preferences.”

As a part of small children (or perhaps a parent of children in general), I often find myself wanting my children to do something that I’ve asked them to do right when I ask them to do it. While I’ve started being more conscious of the need to acknowledge what they are involved in and ask if they can do whatever it is that needs to be done when they are finished with their current task, I still expect them to follow through.

But as I was researching the topic of patience, I remembered something that had resonated with me from a book on conscious parenting – when children are growing, it is not realistic to expect immediate compliance, but instead practice expressing your preference (for them to do something) and let go of your attachment to the outcome. If whatever it is really needs to be done, I can either do it myself or try to change tatics to help them want to comply, instead of becoming frustrated or impatient.

Week 3: Using Mantras for Patience

In the same post, 6 Pointers for Practicing Patience, Dani Dipirro also suggests using a “patience-provoking” mantra to remind you of the need to be patient in a stressful situation. One of my favorite mantras is “Enjoy This.” As I mentioned in a previous post on Developing Mindfulness Cues, my 4-year-old child moves at her own slow pace. I’ve begun using my rising frustration at times when our chosen speeds conflict to remember to be mindful, and “Enjoy This,” allows me to slow down and do just that. Another, “Radical acceptance,” reminds me not to try to force my will or judgement on a situation, but simply to accept what is and move forward.

Week 4: Practice Conscious Preparation

While preparing ahead of time isn’t necessarily a tactic to cultivate patience, I find that I am typically impatient when I am late for something and I am typically late when I haven’t prepared well or planned my schedule ahead of time. I hope that by getting into the habit of thinking ahead each evening to what needs to be done the following day, I can avoid situations where I have to rush, leading to impatience on the part of anything standing in my way.

What about you? Have you found practices that have helped you cultivate patience, or do you think could use a month to focus on cultivating more? Either way, I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for Reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

A More Conscious Facebook Page

Facebook

You are what you share.” ― C.W. Leadbeater

As someone who leans more towards slow-living, adding a facebook page to this blog was not something I had originally planned to do. However, after becoming more involved in researching, writing and living A More Conscious Life, I found so many wonderful books, articles, photos, quotes, communities and other resources available on-line and wanted to share them with readers. I thought that a facebook page would be a good place to share these resources, to further connect with readers and to connect with others working to live more consciously.

And so… A More Conscious Facebook Page was born.

While facebook can be a way to keep in touch with friends, it can also be a way to connect to people and organizations that inspire you. Through this page, I hope to use the power of facebook to do just that.

If you would like to receive Facebook posts with resources and inspiration on Conscious Living, Conscious Parenting, Mindfulness, Simplicity, etc., and to be notified of new blog posts if you aren’t already, please click Like on A More Conscious Facebook Page.

I look forward to the conversation!

Thanks for reading.

Sharon, Author The Conscious Parenting Notebook

Conscious Parenting Inspirations – January 2015

IMG_1691

All the world is my school and all humanity is my teacher.” ― George Whitman

During the first month of my quest for a More Conscious Year, I’ve been steeped in knowledge and inspiration from a variety of sources. Since there is so much to share, I’ll keep this introduction short, only to say that I have learned lesson from my own experiences, from the experiences of others and from great conscious parenting resources available on-line.

Lessons Learned On My Own

This month I have been working a lot on practicing mindfulness and through the practice, I found that I have been more responsive, understanding and present with my children, something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but had never really done consistently. The mindfulness practices have really helped me to be more conscious of my own feelings and to wait until I am calm to interact with my children. If you are familiar with mindfulness practices, or positive parenting practices, this probably isn’t news to you, but if not, it really works and it is wonderful to see the positive effects!

On one occasion, facing a situation in which I previously would have reacted in anger, I just sat with the feeling until it passed and when it did, I felt sad and helpless. The sadness and helplessness weren’t feelings I really want to feel when it comes to my children, but they were preferable to the anger, because I could simply accept that sometimes I don’t know what to do with my daughter’s behavior and that it brings up feelings of sadness that I can just acknowledge and let go. While, not really enjoyable, it was a much more positive experience than reacting in anger and suffering the consequences.

Lessons Learned from Others

This year, I have become a member of the Consciously Parenting Academy, a resource for parents run by Rebecca Thompson, Marriage and Family Therapist and Author of Consciously Parenting. As a member of the Academy, I am able to accesses monthly support calls with other members, whom Rebecca calls Tribe Members, and family and parenting e-course offered throughout the year. Tribe members also connect through a closed facebook group to offer support and ask for advice.

A thread on positive discipline recently struck me as being so powerful, that I wanted to share some of the responses as quotes here with you. While they are not in context, maybe one or more of them will resonate with something you are facing now or may face in the future (text out of quotes is paraphrased).

“Sometimes the moment we think we absolutely must do something is the precise moment where we need to stop ourselves. I struggle with this every day. I am often confused about what to do in that space between a behavior and my response to it. You are not alone.”

 When faced with difficult behaviors from your children “… it is okay to let (them) know that you need some time to process this but you will get back with (them). You can give yourself space to allow what has shown up to be felt fully so it can move to wisdom.”

As parents, we don’t always have to react to everything. When I was young…“…it was my thing and I didn’t need my parents knowing nor did I need their stress about it. I was investigating something on my own. That’s it. We are our own people after all.”

Lessons Learned On-Line

Carrie Contey, clinical psychologist and co-founder of the Slow Family Living Movement, recently offered a free on-line Webinar on Intentional Parenting. It included a lot of information on her year-long coaching program, Evolve, but in it, she also talked about her understanding of today’s parenting in a way that was really eye opening for me.

While none of the information was really new to me, the way she explained it, in such simple terms really resonated with me. In the video, still available to watch for free now, but only for a day or so (depending on when you read this), she talks about children’s behaviors in terms of brain states.

She explained that when children “misbehave,” they are simply reacting from a less developed area of their brain. And what they need from their parents at that time is not lectures or punishments, but connection to enable them to calm down enough to access areas of higher level thinking in which they can be more receptive to what we have to say.

She explained that we have three main brain centers: our brain stem (or reptilian/lizard brain), our limbic system (or emotional/mammalian brain) and our neocortex (or human/higher level thinking brain).

As Carrie explained it:

When our children are relaxed and happy, they are function from their neocortex. This part of the brain is driven to learn and in this state, what they most need from us is positive reinforcement and verbal communication.

When our children begin to whine or cling, or their behavior otherwise changes from their happy, learning state, they are operating from their limbic system, or emotional/mammalian brain. Their behavior is a way of telling us that they need something from us – food, rest, acknowledgment, connection – to regulate themselves and return to a state of calm. In this state, what they need most from us is connection, what Carrie termed, “eye-to-eye, skin-to-skin, heart-to-heart.” She suggested parents slow down, get down to the child’s level and reflect, “Wow, you’re having a really hard time right now,” and take the time to help them regain balance. She emphasizes that in this state, children are not receptive to language, so it is best to limit speech.

When our children reach a state where they are kicking, screaming, biting (fight) or running (flight), they are operating out of their brain stem, or lizard brain. She states that children typically only act this way when they are really stressed (which can be quite often, inserts the mother of an intense child….), and in this state, what children most need from us is help with regulation. They need us to calm ourselves first, as this behavior often brings up similar fight or flight reactions in us, and then to help them calm themselves. Again, language doesn’t compute when children are in this state, and threatening behavior only escalates their feelings of fear, so they need help to return to a calm, higher-level of brain function.

The take away message for me was, when children act in ways that are distressful, it is not intentional “misbehavior,” but rather their reactions to stress from a lower level of braining functioning; necessitating, not correction, but a calming presence to get back to a higher level of brain functioning where learning can take place.

In the video Carrie, gave an assignment of starting to view your children through this New Paradigm lens and asking, “What does my little one look like in each of these three states? What do I look like in these three states?” And then noticing what helps each of you to stay, or return, to a regulated state.

Conscious Parenting Resources

In this beautiful post, Joy or Just Wait, Katie Wetherbee, contributing author at Power of Moms, shares a story of a conversation with parents of a newborn and the messages they often receive from other parents.

A Fine Parent, another site I discovered recently, described as a Life-Skills Blog for Parents, encourages readers to sign a Positive Parenting Pledge and follows up with blog posts and articles on Positive Parenting topics.

What about you? Have you read or learned any thing new lately that has helped you become a more conscious parent? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Thank you for Reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

Developing Mindfulness Cues

IMG_1461

Mindfulness is a habit, it’s something the more one does, the more likely one is to be in that mode with less and less effort… it’s a skill that can be learned. It’s accessing something we already have. Mindfulness isn’t difficult. What’s difficult is to remember to be mindful.” ~ John Teasdale

For the second week in January, I practiced developing mindfulness cues. Mindfulness cues are reminders to return to the present moment. Cues can be external, as in a regular alarm set on a watch, stopping as you walk through doorways or when you phone rings; or they can be internal, like noticing a rising level of frustration or a craving for sweets.

The specific mindfulness cue isn’t important; what is important is that it will actually remind you to be mindful. If you simply like the idea of returning to the present each time your phone rings, but continue to mindlessly answer your phone when it rings, that may not be a mindfulness cue that works for you.

For my mindfulness cues, I chose things that often alert me to moments I want to be more mindful of:

Feeling the Urge to Rush My Four-Year-Old Along Throughout the Day

My daughter is four, and as four-year-olds are wont to do, she often dawdles. She always dawdles. She has never seen a flower she didn’t want to stop to smell (or pick), a new texture she didn’t want to touch or a wall she didn’t want to climb on. As a sensory-seeker, she also revels in sensory tasks like washing her hands, choosing the bathroom stall with the prettiest waste bin, and climbing any tree, latter, fence or other climbable things she passes.

For me, often in a hurry, her tarrying invokes a rising level of frustration at not being able to do what I need to do when I want or need to do it. But, honestly, there is really nothing in our lives right now, thankfully, that is that important that I need to rush her all the time.

The taxi driver can wait a few more minutes for her to wash her hands, the groceries can wait a few more minutes to be put away, dinner can wait a few more minutes to be eaten. Rushing my daughter doesn’t feel loving and I want to convey to her that I love her by being patient and understanding her need to experience life in her own, slow time.

That is why I chose this as a mindfulness cue. Because it happens often and it is something I want to be more mindful of. So when I felt the urge to hurry her along, I will try to stop, take a few deep breaths and feel gratitude for this opportunity to watch my daughter enjoying herself in the moment – something I am just now working so hard to do.

Watching My Two-Year-Old Play

While it can be tempting, as a parent, to rush off and do something “productive” during times when my children are entertaining themselves, I find it incredibly soothing to watch my youngest child at play. He is much more like me in temperament: calm, quiet, easily absorbed in self-directed activities, and being with him is calming and joyful. He won’t be two forever, narrating his play and singing songs in his sweet baby voice. Time with him is truly a gift and I want to be present for it.

Being Engaged in Conversation

I, perhaps like many others out there, have a bad habit of half-listening. I often find myself asking, “I’m sorry. What did you say?” if someone addresses me in the middle of a task.

One of my favorite quotes from Leo Tolstoy’s Three Questions: “The most important person is the one who is in front of you right now.” I love that sentiment, because it expresses the inherent value of the moment and the individual in it, regardless of who they are.

I want to convey that I value the people in my life by being a good listener, and so I want to use the moment I am engaged in conversation as a reminder to listen mindfully.

A Rising Level of Frustration

In their article Your Guide to Diffusing Anger, Mindful Magazine places noticing a rising level of frustration at the top of their list as one of the best ways to keep anger in check. As someone working on being more responsive, and less reactive and given to anger, this is an important mindfulness cue for me. When I notice myself becoming frustrated, I want to stop and breathe for as long as it takes me to reframe my thoughts and respond calmly.

The Urge Check Out (snacking, checking email or other “pressing” task)

When we are overwhelmed, bored or overstressed, it is common for people to want to escape from the present moment and avoid whatever thoughts, situations or stimuli behind those feelings. Some people escape through food, others through television or books, others through video games, social media and countless other avenues leading anywhere where they are.

My favorite escapes are email and sweets and it is to these that I usually, unconsciously, turn first when these feelings arise, unless I pay attention. Instead of escaping, I want to use these urges to “check out,” as mindful cues to focus on what I am trying to escape from and instead experience the feelings and causal stimuli consciously.

A Sense of Resistance

As someone who prefers to be self directed and doesn’t like to be told what do to, it is difficult spending so much of my time with an extremely bossy four-year-old and a newly independent two-year-old. All day, I hear, “Mommy, PICK ME UP,” “Mommy, COME HERE,” “No, RIGHT NOW!” It seems like I have been asking “Can you say that kindly, please” forever, but it hasn’t quite sunk in for either of them.

Also, like many parents with an endless list of things I could be doing, I often feel a sense of resistance to requests for yet another book/song/snuggle, when it is time for bed; to a request to be held while I am trying to prepare dinner; or to a request to play when I am rushing out the door. But as so much parenting advice reminds us, our children won’t be young forever and I want to use this feeling of resistance, when it arises, to be more mindful of what it is I am resisting and to move through the resistance if it would be more loving to say yes in those moments.

What about you? Do you have cues that you use to remind yourself to be more mindful? Or are you interested in starting to develop your own. If so, I’d love to hear about your experience!

Thanks for reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

A Practice of Mindful Eating

01129

“When walking,walk. When eating,eat.” – Zen Proverb

For the first month of my More Conscious Year, I have been focusing on becoming more present, or mindful, in my own life. I chose presence, or mindfulness, as my focus for the first month, because I believe that it is really the foundation for a more conscious life. If you aren’t aware of how you are feeling, what you are thinking or, sometimes, even what you are doing throughout your day, it is hard to make conscious choices because of the way our brains are wired for automatic processing.

When we aren’t aware of what we are feeling, it is easy for frustrations to build or for stress to adversely affect us, leading us to react strongly or negatively to situations, rather than to calmly choose our responses.

When we aren’t aware of what we are thinking, it is easy for our moods to be affected by our thoughts without our knowledge or understanding.

When we aren’t aware of what we are doing, it is easy to make mistakes, misplace things or waste time wouldn’t have had we been more focused.

Mindfulness practices works to avoid all of these by helping us be more aware of how we are feeling, what we are thinking and what we are doing throughout the day.

In order to practice presence, or mindfulness, I committed to developing a new practice each week, each week adding a new task to the previous week’s task, with the intention of continuing each new practice throughout the year to form new positive habits:

Week 1 - “Single” Tasking – Practicing Mindful Eating

For the first week of January, I worked on doing one thing mindfully each day. I had originally intended to try to do everything I did mindfully each day, but after reading this post, which suggest just choosing one thing to do mindfully, I scaled back my lofty aspirations and decided to just focus on eating, since it is something I am fortunate to do at least three times a day.

My practice of mindful eating consisted of taking three deep breathes after I sat down to a meal, before beginning to eat, putting my fork down between each bite and focusing my attention on the act of eating, while I was doing it. If I was talking or getting up to refill water glasses, I wasn’t eating. When I was eating, I just ate.

As simple as that sounds, the experience was incredible.

As I started to take more time to eat, just simply putting my fork down after each bite, I realized how often I just shovel in food, trying to get through the meal, before getting up to fill little cups, clean up spills or lecture about polite table manners.

It was so nice to slow down. It was like a mini break from the rush of the day. It also gave me more time to appreciate the food and to be grateful for the abundance we have in our lives.

Now after a little less than a month of mindful eating, I have noticed real changes in how I respond to the simple task of eating.

Whereas before, I could easily eat on the go, in the car or rushing out the door, I now notice almost a physical resistance to eating on the run, as if my body doesn’t want food it isn’t offered in a state of calm.

Before, I would often find myself at the end of a meal, after having spent time shopping for it and preparing it, not even haven taken the time to enjoy it; now I thoroughly enjoy each bite.

Before, I thought that I could enforce a state of calmness during mealtimes, but now, I find that I am able to create it within myself and am less agitated and more understanding of the countless ups and downs of meal times with small children.

I don’t always remember to eat mindfully. Sometimes I forget to breathe before taking that first bite. Sometimes I find myself getting up to get something mid-chew. Sometimes I’ll eat a snack in front of the computer when find myself needing to do both quickly. But when I don’t eat mindfully now, I notice it. And I return to my practice.

For me, and maybe a lot of you, new habits are easier to maintain when you see or feel a real benefit. For me, the practice of mindful eating feels good, and in just four weeks, it has become a positive habit that I am looking forward to continuing.

What about you? Do you find yourself rushing through meals or craving more peace and calm in your life? Is so, why not begin a practice of mindful eating today?

For more information on Mindful Eating, see The Center for Mindful Eating’s publication Food for Thought – What is Mindful Eating?

Thanks for reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook