Wednesday, September 26, 2018

How Mindfulness Can Help You Respond — Not React — When Your Kids Drive You Nuts

Our kids push our buttons.

Sometimes they do it on purpose. Sometimes, it's just their behavior, or their attitude. Sometimes it's outright defiance or a big screw-up. But the one unifying factor for most parents is that, when our buttons get pushed, we react. We shoot from the hip, so to speak, or more likely from the lip. We yell, we scold, we make snap decisions that we may later regret. When we're done, nothing is solved, and nothing feels better—and unless we make a conscious decision to find a way to approach these situations differently, we'll enter that same cycle again the next time our child gets us all fired up.

Our brains are the problem here, and conveniently enough, they're also the solution. On a neurological level, what's happening is simple—too simple. When our kids push our buttons, we feel stressed or afraid. We may fear for their safety or worry that their behavior reveals our faults as a parent, and when that happens, the magnitude of the actual threat doesn't really matter. Our brain is going into reactive mode regardless. In his book Hardwiring Happiness, neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D., describes the shift: "[A]drenaline and cortisol course through the blood and fear, frustration and heartache color the mind."

It's a reaction better suited to outrunning a cheetah than to dealing with a child who just spent $268 on in-app purchases, and it's not helpful. Even worse, our stress response cues our child's stress response as well. Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and co-author of No Drama Discipline, notes that children can't learn effectively—or at all—when what they're feeling is threatened by our anger, especially if it feels unpredictable.

The alternative to that lose-lose situation requires that we take some time to consider in advance who we want to be when things with our children go south, and that we find ways to practice finding that person in tough situations. We want to respond, not react, and that means convincing our brain that our child's bad behavior is not a threat, so we don't need that adrenaline-charged reaction.

Creating a mindfulness practice, whether it's organized, regular meditation or just stepping back and taking time to appreciate the good things in our lives, can help. When our brain becomes accustomed to letting some of the churning thoughts and emotions pass by without reacting, it's easier to find that same space in a pinch. We can also plan to practice "responding, not reacting" in other less fraught, but still frustrating, situations at work and out in the world, where it's sometimes easier to feel the buildup before we're ready to explode.

But sometimes—especially when trouble comes out of nowhere—we can find ourselves in reactive mode before we have time to think. When that happens, it's not too late to save the situation, especially if we've already given some thought to how we're going to handle the flood of emotions. Here's how Dr. Hanson suggests we pull ourselves out of "the red zone" before we pull everyone else in after us:

1. Bite your tongue. You're not going to say anything helpful at this point, so say nothing at all.

2. Label your feelings to yourself. Admit it—you want to scream. Just let yourself feel it.

3. Exhale. "It activates the parasympathetic nervous system," Dr. Hanson says. "Lift your gaze to the horizon, which engages the circuits in your brain to take a panoramic view."

4. Remind yourself that you and your child are safe. Your brain is moving to threat and alarm and needs to be backed down and reassured that the consequences of this situation aren't deadly.

5. Buy some time. Your child can wait until you're ready to talk about this (in fact, waiting can magnify the gravity of their actions). Very few things can't wait 30 seconds, or even five minutes, for us to think about what we really want to do—and that might even be nothing.

6. Forgive yourself. If you do boil over, don't beat yourself up about it. Apologize if your actions or words merit it, or just let this one go. Don't worry. When it comes to responding to the things our children do that make us angry, you're almost guaranteed to get another chance.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

6 Proven Ways to Calm an Overactive Mind

1. “Piko-piko” Breathing
“Piko-piko” Breathing is a form of deep belly breathing that can calm the release of stress chemicals in your body and also help oxygenate your cells. According to teacher of Huna Philosophy, Serge Kahili King, Ph.D, “it is a Hawaiian breathing technique that simultaneously relaxes and energizes the body.”

Based on the Hawaiian word “piko” meaning “navel” or “center,” this technique includes centering your attention on one location as you inhale, such as the crown of the head, and then centering your attention on a different location as you exhale, such as the navel.

This art of systematically moving your attention from point-to-point automatically results in deeper breathing, increased circulation, and tension relief.

2. Meditation
Meditation is the act of resting your mind and consciously controlling your thoughts while shifting your focus to the present moment. Meditation has many proven benefits to both the mind and body, one of them being reduction of rumination.

According to Psychology Today, rumination is the “tendency to repeatedly think about the causes, situations, or consequences of our negative emotional experiences.”

Taking time to meditate in the morning, or even throughout the day, can help relieve stress, improve focus, and result in less upsetting emotional reactivity in the brain.

3. Nature Walk
The next time your monkey mind is “buzzing” with endless jabbering thoughts, try taking a quiet stroll through your favorite park or woodland path. It’s no secret spending time in the calm serenity that is the great outdoors usually provides our minds with a mirroring peaceful essence, and now we have research to support it.

Gregory Bratman, of Stanford University, helped prove this theory in a 2015 study which found that people who partook in a 50-minute walk in a natural wooded setting experienced less anxiety and less negative self-thoughts.

4. Write Down Your Thoughts
When you find your mind repeatedly cycling through thought after thought, physically take a moment to write down the ideas pulsing through your busy mind.

Write down every event, appointment, project, experience, worry, conversation, etc. that you’re stuck on. Once complete, set your list aside and revisit it when you’re ready to address each thought, one at a time, with complete mental clarity.

After conducting studies on how writing heals and strengthens the mind, Psychologist James Pennebaker, Phd., states: “By writing, you put some structure and organization to those anxious feelings . . . It helps you to get past them.”

5. Consider Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavior Therapy is a medically proven method for reversing negative thinking and overall improving your life.

First, CBT teaches you to recognize the recurring negative thought processes that cause your monkey mind to be so overactive (e.g. dwelling on the past, worrying about the future, feeling guilty, etc.).

It then encourages you to turn your ongoing inner dialogue into positive and constructive thinking, with the basic idea that what you think determines the quality of your life (i.e. better thoughts = better life).

6. Use Positive Affirmations
When you find yourself feeling stressed from a monkey mind stuck in overdrive, taking the time to recite positive affirmations can help relieve tension, leaving you better equipped to solve problems and be more creative with your thoughts.

Thanks to research led by David Creswell of Carnegie Mellon University, we now have evidence that self-affirmation, or the process of identifying and focusing on one’s most important values, can actually reduce the risk of damaging stress from problem-solving performance.

When you’re feeling anxious from an overactive mind, try reciting these 5 Powerful Affirmations to Deal With Life’s Challenges

Step Aside Monkey Mind – A Calm, Quiet Mind Is Here to Stay
Our busy, modern society seemingly glorifies having an overactive mind. When we’re constantly on the go, we have a million things to check off the to-do list, and trying be one step ahead of yourself can create a certain motivation and feeling of “put-togetherness.”

While this can be beneficial at times, it’s extremely important to take a step back and examine the quality of the recurring thoughts you tend to brood over. Oftentimes, you’ll find many of these thoughts are actually causing you to experience feelings of stress, worry, sadness, jealousy, and more.

Pick these negative thoughts out of the bunch – lovingly call yourself out on them! Use the techniques above to try and rid of your mind of any of the taxing thoughts you experience regularly, and with time, your mind will become more at ease.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The gift of Happinness

When I think about what I want for my children as they grow up, I think of the kind of people I’d like them to become: Adults who are kind, thoughtful and grateful, who laugh often and find passion in life. I hope they surround themselves with whatever brings them joy, that they find a career they love and that they forge meaningful relationships with people who cherish them as much as I do. Above all, I want them to be happy.

As parents, it is our job to guide our children in so many areas. We toilet train them, we teach them self-care and manners, we teach them how to read, what to do in an emergency, how to cross the street safely. We might teach them how to play a musical instrument or a sport we loved growing up. But can we teach them how to be happy?

Mike Ferry, a long-time middle school teacher, father of four and author of Teaching Happiness and Innovation, maintains that we can. Contrary to what many believe, success does not always bring happiness; but research has shown that the reverse is true — happier people are more likely to be successful at school, work, and in their personal lives. Ferry defines happiness as “an optimistic, communal, and disciplined perspective on life.”

The happier we are, the more successful we become. And thanks to the plasticity of our brains, Ferry explains that happiness and innovation can be taught, nurtured and practiced. He goes on to say what Shawn Anchor of The Happiness Advantage has expressed: that when we are in a positive mindset, “our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient and productive at work.”

It turns out we can teach our children how to be happy by encouraging certain habits.

The first is gratitude. Teaching children to be grateful in a world of overabundance can seem like a daunting task. It is easy to get sucked into the consumer mentality of society; children are constantly inundated with the idea that more is better and that they need the next new gadget or toy and then on to the next.

But the importance of saying “no” to children in order to instill a grateful attitude cannot be overstated. Help them focus on being grateful for what they already have rather than on what they want next. Another way to teach this is to get into the habit of observing a “moment of gratitude” every day. This may be upon waking up, or as the family gathers around the dinner table. Take a moment to reflect, then go around the table taking turns sharing one thing for which you are grateful. For older children, encourage them to keep a gratitude journal. Practicing gratitude daily can rewire our brains to recognize appreciation rather than to dwell on disappointments. In turn, we will become happier.

Kindness is another skill we can teach our children to help them find greater happiness. Ferry highlights research that has shown a link between the “feel-good” brain chemical dopamine and kindness. Acting with kindness increases the flow of dopamine within the do-gooder’s brain, making him feel happy.

We can encourage kindness in children first and foremost by modeling it within our homes. Be kind, especially during disagreements, and praise even small acts of kindness. Teach tolerance, highlight opportunities to give back to your community and volunteer as a family if possible.

Happy homes can also inspire creative minds. Our brains, and those of our children, are most receptive to new information when we are relatively stress-free, happy and engaged, according to Ferry. That means happiness is crucial for learning and critical thinking. We can inspire creativity by embracing humor, curiosity and open-mindedness at home.

Encouraging creative ideas from children can come in the form of including them in family decisions (such as planning vacations or designing bedrooms). You can also play games that involve open-ended questions to inspire them to think critically. Allowing children plenty of time for unstructured play helps, too. Ferry’s book contains a wonderfully detailed list of suggestions and examples.

We should also celebrate the unconventional people in our lives by talking about how some of the most unconventional people in the world have had great impact (think Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Nelson Mandela and Thomas Edison).

Happiness is not something that falls out of the sky and into our children’s laps. It is a wonderfully complex state of mind that can be strengthened with practice. And I’m willing to bet that we all want our children to experience happiness and joy in life.

Lauren Knight blogs at Crumb Bums.



Sunday, September 16, 2018

Kids are stressed

Use This Practice to Bring Them Peace

Adulting is hard, but so is kid-ing. In fact, kids are more stressed than ever. Meditation can give them perspective on their thoughts and feelings the same way it does for us. Try this practice from yoga teacher and author Susan Verde with your child.

According to a 2010 American Psychological Association’s (APA) Stress in America Survey, almost a third of children studied reported that in the last month had experienced a physical health symptom often associated with stress, such as head and stomachaches or trouble falling or staying asleep. What’s more, parents often don’t realize that their own stress impacts their kids. While 69 percent of parents surveyed by APA said their stress had only a “slight or no” impact on their kids, just 14 percent of youth say their parents’ stress doesn’t bother them. 

What Is Stressing Kids Out? 
Transitions, such as switching schools or relocating residences, and over-packed schedules are common stressors, says Susan Verde, a yoga and mindfulness teacher and best-selling children’s author whose new book, I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness is out this month.

What Can Help Kids Handle Stress?
For those who care to embrace it, the practice of mindfulness, and attending to the present moment in a non-judgmental way can be of help, Verde says. “Once you cultivate mindfulness within yourself, you are able to find your own inner calm and inner peace. Once you do that, you can share it outward.”
Along with their kids, parents would serve themselves well by developing such internal awareness, too, she points out. “You can’t really care for others until you can care for yourself. And you can’t be kind, peaceful, and lovely to others, if you’re not finding that within yourself.”

To implement more mindful habits into your own life, begin to pause more—to stop, notice, and check in with yourself and the world around you, Verde says. “When I say, ‘do mindfulness,’ I mean check in with you. If you’re feeling an emotion, pause, and notice where you’re feeling it in your body. Don’t judge your feelings, just recognize and acknowledge them and let them pass,” she says. “Find your breath. Breathing more deeply in through your nose and out, calms the nervous system. This can make you feel empowered…like life is manageable.”

How to Introduce Mindfulness to Kids

To introduce the concept to kids, lead by example. “When having a conversation with your child, “Put down your phone and listen to what they’re saying. Look them in the eye and let them know they’re being heard,” Verde says.
And, release expectations, Verde says. “You don’t have to sit in meditation for 20 minutes to cultivate mindfulness. It’s not about that. It’s about disconnecting from mind chatter and emotion.”
It’s about changing your relationship to thoughts and emotions. Often, “we feel emotions are what we are at any given moment. For example, instead of saying ‘I am sad today,’ take a moment. You may feel sadness, your shoulders may be rounded, but sadness is not what you are—it’s just what you are feeling and it will pass. Everything is temporary. The more you practice attending to your own experience and the kinder you are about it toward yourself, then it becomes who you are—a part of you.”

And the payoff extends beyond lowered stress levels. “With more self-empathy, research is showing a greater ability for kids to attend to school work, test scores go up and anxiety and bullying goes down. There’s a greater collective compassion that begins to happen,” Verde says.
Guided meditation is a great way to help your child cultivate mindfulness. “It’s a way to pay attention to your breath. As you focus on this one aspect of your being, the breath is there to give space, to calm physiologically. It’s one of the best tools kids have at any given time,” Verde says.

To prepare, find a place that makes you feel comfortable and good—it doesn’t have to be near an altar or anything elaborate out of your norm. “If you want to make it more special, or create a dedicated practice space, pick things that are meaningful to you like a nice cushion—kids love this too,” Verde says. Then read the following practice from Verde’s new book I Am Peace aloud to your child.

A Guided Meditation to Bring Kids Peace
Either lie down or find a comfortable seat. If sitting in a chair, make sure your feet are touching the ground. Close your eyes and gently place your hands on your belly. Notice your breathing at this very moment. Is it fast or slow? Can you feel it filling your belly as you breathe in?
Lift a hand and place it in front of your mouth. When you breathe out, what does the air feel like on your hand? Is it warm? Cool? Just notice. There is no right or wrong answer.
With both hands back on your belly, start breathing in through your nose if you weren’t already. This will help slow down your breathing and filter the air going into your body.

Imagine your belly is like the ocean. With each inhale, the waves rise, and with each exhale, they fall. Feel your belly rising and falling as you breathe.