How to Inspire Your Kids to Spread Happiness

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Today is the International Day of Happiness!  While it might seem a bit much to dedicate a day to celebrating happiness, I think a day like this is exactly what we need in this world.  Research shows us that connecting to others increases overall happiness, so it makes good sense that theme of today is making more connections.

Sure, you probably feel connected 24/7 thanks to your super smart phone, but how deep do those connections go?  How often do you carve out time to actually engage with others in a meaningful way?  We are a generation of quick wit and instant gratification, and we need to learn to slow down and consider the messages we send our children.

In this busy, go-go-go time of parenting, we need to learn to step back and find time to strengthen our existing relationships and establish new ones.

Just yesterday and elderly woman stopped me on my way into Rite Aid.  I was in a hurry, but the smile on her face told me that she needed to have a conversation.  Sure enough, she wanted to talk about polarized sunglasses.  It was a new concept to her and she wanted to know if I had any thoughts about them.  For fifteen minutes we stood in the entryway of the store, chatting about the glare, eye strain and saving money with coupons.  Then she patted me on the back and walked into the sunshine with her new polarized glasses.

Did that small connection make her day?  I don’t know, but it sure made mine!  I told my kids about it over dinner.  We talked about grandparents and getting older and loneliness…and then they talked about little things that might make other people happy.

Adults tend to be over-thinkers.  We know too much about the great big world, and that causes us to think big.  We think in grand gestures, and that can stop us from actually taking the time to connect with others.  When spreading happiness feels like another thing on the list, it’s easy to push it down. If we look to our children, however, we find that spreading happiness and establishing connections is actually quite simple.  The key is to think smaller.

My daughter always reminds me that smaller is happier by way of picking wildflowers for me along our walks.  She puts them in glasses with water and places them on the kitchen table for all to enjoy.  And we really do enjoy them. My son shows his small acts of kindness with his words.  He whispers kind words and leaves me sweet love notes almost every day.  And it works.  His child-sized expressions of love bring me great happiness – and that melts the stress away.

So how can we inspire our kids to spread kindness and happiness?

Point out acts of kindness:

This brings us back to thinking small, especially when it comes to very young children.  You know that bird nest your child created out of twigs and leaves?  That’s kindness in action.  You know that flower your child just had to pick for Grandma?  That’s kindness in action.

Talk about the acts of kindness that you see each day.  Discuss how those acts might make other people feel.  Connect the dots so that your children learn that they have the ability to help others feel happy.

Praise thoughtful behavior:

Kids do kind things because they want to show others that they care.  It’s how they express their love and gratitude.  While you probably thank them for those little pictures drawn on tiny scraps of paper, you might not be as inclined to label that action as “thoughtful”.  You should.

You want to know eight words that will build your child up and inspire further acts of kindness?  Here goes:  “I love that you are a thoughtful person.”  Go ahead, try it.  Your child will smile, that much I know.

Teach positive thinking:

Life can be frustrating, even for little kids.  Negative thinking can get in the way of kind behavior and overall happiness.  When kids have an “I can’t” approach to the hard stuff, they have a hard time seeing a positive end result.

Teach them to reframe their thoughts.  Stop a negative thought cycle with these steps:

  • I can see that your frustrated.  This feels really hard.
  • Take three deep breaths with me to take a break for a minute.
  • Let’s think of some positive words we can use while we work on this problem.
  • I’ll stay with you, and you can let me know if you need any help.

Model kindness:

Take the time to make connections and engage in small acts of kindness in the presence of your children.  Bring in the neighbor’s trash cans, help someone carry groceries, hold the door wide open (even if you have to slow down and wait)…

Kids learn a lot by watching us.  Do we all have great days every day?  No.  But we can model kindness, talk about our mistakes, and teach our kids to spread happiness…all we have to do is slow down and stay connected.

Have a happy day!

Want Happy Kids? Teach Forgiveness.

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Forgiveness.

Chances are you’ve talked to your kids about forgiveness at some point. You’ve probably asked one child to forgive the other child for an unkind gesture or unfair treatment of some kind. You’ve probably talked about moving on, letting go, and getting over it. But have you actually taught your kids how to practice forgiveness?

Forgiveness is an essential life skill. It doesn’t get the attention it deserves, if you ask me. There are plenty of adults in this world who don’t practice the art of forgiveness in their lives. They might say they do. They might rely on clichés and phrases that speak to forgiveness, but do they actually take the time to forgive? Do they actually work through the feelings that serve as roadblocks to forgiveness and get to the other side?

Have you ever found yourself on the receiving end of a heated discussion when suddenly past issues enter the conversation? What begins as something seemingly minor can morph into an emotionally exhausting conversation filled with repressed anger and resentment that creeps out when tension spikes. These are the moments that speak to lack of forgiveness skills. These are the moments that cause hurt and sometimes irreparable damage to otherwise close relationships.

I’ve mediated these conversations in my office, and I’ve seen them in my own life at times. When people are unable to practice forgiveness, they carry with them feelings of anger, hurt, and resentment so strong that they struggle to maintain perspective. They have difficulty truly relating to and building close relationships with others when they struggle to forgive.

The benefits of learning to forgive are many. According the Mayo Clinic, forgiving people enjoy healthier relationships, less stress and anxiety, higher self-esteem, better immune functioning, and fewer symptoms of depression (to name a few). People who struggle to forgive, however, are more likely to become depressed or anxious, bring bitterness and anger to new relationships, and struggle to enjoy the present (among other things).

When it comes to raising happy kids, we need to consider the importance of teaching kids how to practice forgiveness. It isn’t just about a simple apology followed by acceptance. Forgiveness takes time and work.

Happiness is not the complete absence of stress; happiness is being able to work through stress, obstacles, and negative emotions and come out with a feeling of inner peace and a positive outlook. That’s a powerful lesson for little kids, and one that will help them for years to come.

So how do we teach kids to practice forgiveness? The obvious answer, of course, is that we practice forgiveness in our own lives. That is important. We need to use the words, talk about our feelings, and share our stories of forgiveness. When our children apologize to us, we need to forgive them out loud. When we’ve made a mistake, we need to own it and apologize and talk about forgiveness within the family. But it doesn’t stop there. Kids need to learn how to get from “I’m sorry” to “I forgive you” without glossing over the hard part in the middle.

Unpack feelings:

Kids are often put in the position of forgiving others without much discussion about what happened. Repressed feelings are a significant roadblock to true forgiveness. When we stuff our feelings, we give those feelings time to grow in size before they finally explode. They will explode at some point. They always do.

Kids need to understand that it’s perfectly normal to experience feelings of anger, frustration, disappointment, jealousy, and sadness when someone hurts our feelings. They need to express those feelings in a healthy manner. They need a trusted adult who can listen (not fix) and empathize. Kids need to work through their feelings before they can forgive.

Recognize their role:

I always tell my clients, particularly the ones with endless stories about being wronged, that even if you’re pretty sure that something is 99% the fault of someone else, there’s always that 1% out there waiting to be claimed. I have this same conversation with my kids, as well. Yes, your brother got frustrated and stormed off because you didn’t agree on a game to play, but what did your voice sound like when you shot down all of his ideas? Could his feelings have been hurt by criticism and voice tone?

When people argue or do things that hurt those close to them, big feelings are at play. Chances are, things are said and done on both ends. We all need to learn how to take responsibility for our roles in relationship issues if we want to be able to forgive and move forward.

Let go of anger:

This can be a hard one for kids (and adults). Anger is a powerful emotion, and it does snowball fairly quickly. One minute you’re fuming over a sarcastic comment that left you feeling hurt and the next you’re thinking about every moment ever that resulted in that same feeling. I see this a lot with young children in my office. One hurt opens the door to past hurts, and it’s very difficult to move forward when overwhelmed by a lifetime of hurt feelings.

Kids need to learn how to let go of angry feelings. A simple exercise in replacing negative thoughts with positive ones (rewriting the script as we refer to it in my office) teaches kids to verbalize their angry thoughts and replace them with positive adaptive statements.

You can’t force others to forgive:

There are those who choose to be forgiving, and there are those who choose to live with anger and resentment. A hard but necessary lesson for kids is that we can’t force others to forgive us and enjoy a positive relationship just because that’s the choice we want to make.

Forgiveness is a skill and it’s also a journey. It doesn’t happen overnight, and sometimes the choices of others will leave us feeling sad and disappointed. Opening the door to forgiveness, even if another one closes in your face, gives kids an opportunity to live a happier, healthier life full of deep and meaningful relationships. That’s a choice worth making, even if someone else makes a different choice.

Practical Help from Dr. G – The Book!

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By now you know that I’m a fan of simplicity. I know I probably drive some of you nuts with my constant plea for parents to dial things down. Let the children play, I whisper (maybe whisper-yell?) over and over again. Try to avoid overscheduling. Drop a few activities. Focus on sleep, healthy eating, and…PLAY.

But I know that parenting is challenging at times. Each age brings new challenges, which can be frustrating for parents. Just when you think you have it all figured out, something new happens. Sometimes that something new is a thing of beauty, but sometimes that something new makes you want to rip every last hair out of your head at 10pm. This is parenting – pure elation followed by other less happy words.

We all need help at some point along this parenting journey. Sometimes that help comes in the form of a grandparent with good advice and a willingness to give us a few hours to regroup, but sometimes that help comes in the form of a book that really truly has something to offer.

Simple solutions are the name of the game here at Practical Parenting, and my friend Deborah Gilboa (or Dr. G, as you might know her) is here to help.

In her new book, “Get the Behavior You Want…Without Being the Parent You Hate!”, Dr. G tackles all kinds of parenting conundrums – from “manners that matter” to relationship (gulp) management. Seriously, she thought of everything.

 

Why you need this book:

 

I know I don’t recommend a ton of books here. It’s easy to get lost in the words but come out wondering how to put those words into action – that can be defeating for parents.

This book is different. This book offers concrete advice and easy to implement strategies.  You can flip through and read about your most pressing issues now, and return to the rest later.

Dr. G can help you in the moment – and you won’t feel overwhelmed by the content.  That’s the kind of parenting book that actually helps.

 

What I love about this book:

 

Ages and stages: Dr. G presents the information in easy to understand language and breaks down strategies by age. The book grows with your child – got a toddler on your hands? Start with the toddler advice in each section and revisit for different ages as your child grows.

 

The three R’s: With a heavy focus on respect, responsibility, and resilience, Dr. G cuts to the core of many issues parents face. We all want to raise respectful kids with a strong sense of community, right? We all want them to become resilient and responsible as they grow. Dr. G gets it – she has kids of her own and she isn’t afraid to share her stories. Her advice is solid, and will help you help your child.

 

Ask Dr. G: Dr. G includes many questions from parents who read her work and write to her for advice. It helps when advice feels relatable. When we see that others face very similar struggles, it normalizes some of those frustrating parenting moments. We’re all in this together, and Dr. G is here to help along the way.

 

Go ahead and buy your copy of the book here.

 

While you’re at it, you might want to check out her helpful tips on YouTube and her website for more great topics!

 

 

 

Disclosure: I received a free copy of the book for this review.

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How to Fix Toddler Sleep Problems

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Tis the season…for tons of questions about formally amazing sleepers who now have sleep issues.  My inbox is overflowing with tired, and ever so slightly frustrated, parents who just want to get some sleep.  And every message (no exaggeration) begins with some version of this:  “My 36 month old used to be the best sleeper.  We never sleep trained.  He just always slept.  Now he fights sleep and wakes up every night and we need help!!!!”

The good news is that you’re not alone.  Ok, maybe that’s not “good” news, but hopefully it’s comforting news.  The other good news is that you can help your toddler (or preschooler or older child) get more sleep.

The bad bad news is that sleep disturbance does require a ton of patience.  Be prepared for some trial and error, and get your partner in on it so that you can give each other breaks while you help your child return to peaceful sleep.

The first step is to change your own thought patterns.

For some reason, many parents have been conditioned to believe that a sleeping child is a sign of great parenting (it’s not) and that kids can be trained like dogs and seals to do exactly what we want them to do without repercussions (they can’t).

Stop worrying about the outside world and what you read in a book at some point and focus on your unique situation, instead.  Books and information are helpful, but you have to treat your child as an individual if you want to help your child thrive.

Given that every child has different needs and different roadblocks to sleep, you have to choose what will work for your child.  Some of these strategies might help, but others might not.  That’s okay.  Keep calm and keep trying.  Before you know it, you will all be sleeping well again.

Find the source:

Young children have ups and downs when it comes to sleep, and that’s perfectly normal.  Most kids wake up at some point during the night as part of the normal sleep cycle.  While some kids drift right back to sleep, others struggle to return to sleep on their own.  Those kids need help learning to self-soothe.

Common causes of sleep disturbance:

  • Fears:  As kids begin to understand the world around them, they also begin to experience fears.  These often arise at night (when everything is quiet).  Be on the lookout for fear of the dark, shadows, monsters, ghosts, and being left alone.  Nighttime separation anxiety is very common among toddlers and preschoolers.
  • Insufficient exercise
  • Thirst
  • Hunger
  • Exhaustion:  Believe it or not, lack of sleep can lead to lack of sleep.  It’s a nasty little cycle.
  • Illness

Tweak the routine:

You know that perfect bedtime routine you created for your child?  That might not actually be working for your child.  It might be time to make a few small changes.

Review your routine to look for trouble spots.  Are you often hurried and stressed at night?  Kids (even the little ones) pick up on parental stress and will have difficulty falling and staying asleep when under stress.  Does story time become play time?  Consider a basket of “nighttime only” books that helps kids prepare for bed.  Are you starting the routine too early or too late?  Aim for a 7-7:30pm bedtime – start the routine early enough to allow time to feel relaxed during the process.

Guided relaxation:

I can’t say enough good things about using guided relaxation to help kids sleep.  In five minutes, you can help your little one relax their bodies and their brains.  It works.  Try it.

The first step is to practice deep breathing.  Teach your child to breathe the colors of the rainbow while in a relaxed position in bed.  Breathe in the color red for three, hold for three, and breathe out for three.  Repeat with all colors.

The second step is to have your child snuggle up with you and close her eyes while you take her on a relaxing journey in her imagination.  You know your child best, so where you go along the journey should appeal to your child (my daughter likes fairy villages).  Spend 3-5 minutes telling the story in a quiet and even voice tone.

Loveys for big kids:

Nighttime separation anxiety can be a significant roadblock to sleep for little ones.  It’s lonely and overwhelming in a dark, quiet room.  Especially after a busy day!  A little bit of empathy and a few transitional objects can go a long way toward helping your child feel connected and calm.

My daughter still sleeps with an old sweatshirt of mine – we tried that strategy when my husband was on a very long tour when she was three and it worked well for her.  Something of yours will help your child feel less lonely.

Pictures taped to the headboard can also be a big help.

And never underestimate the power of a homemade dream catcher and extra night lights!

Continuous music:

A dark and quiet room is a recipe for scary thoughts in the imagination.  Even small sounds seem huge when you’re left alone in the dark!

Continuous (calming) music can help kids drift off to sleep and get back to sleep when they wake during the night. We love Bedtime with the Beatles around here, but you make the call for your child.  Note:  Classical music isn’t always relaxing…choose carefully.

Anticipate requests:

Kids really do get thirsty at night.  And sometimes one last hug just feels good.  Chances are you already know what your child will ask for, so why not plan ahead?  Fill a water bottle and keep it by the bed.  Factor in extra time for chit chat, extra hugs and kisses, and one last song.

Find the patterns and problem solve in advance to avoid late night frustration.

Choose relaxing shows:

I know, I know…as an expert, I really should caution you to avoid any TV before bed.  As a mom, I know that TV actually can be relaxing.  As long as you choose the right shows.

We rely on our old favorites for calming things down around here:  Curious George, Clifford, and Clifford Puppy Days keep things mellow in our house.  We avoid more stimulating shows like Paw Patrol (great show but action packed) and Wild Kratts at night (those are daytime winners).

As always, follow up TV time with books and other relaxing strategies (like a leg massage) to help your child wind down.

All kids are different.  My son goes to bed without much fanfare after our little routine, but my daughter prefers that I hang around.  So I do.  These things feel huge in the moment, but they are time limited.  Before you know it, you’ll find yourself longing for the little one who wanted extra snuggles at night.  Try to keep that in mind as you work your way through these difficult parenting moments.

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Smartphone Breaks for Moms

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Do you ever wonder if your need to stay connected impedes your ability to live in the moment and enjoy the life you’re actually living?

I read so many articles about creating the so-called perfect work-life balance, but it always feels like more of the same.  Slow down.  Step back.  Enjoy the small moments.

I believe in those things, I really do.  And I have always attempted to live life in the slow lane.  “Do more of what makes you happy”, says my new favorite mug that I use only for tea – relaxing.  Reading a book with a mug of tea by my side during a quiet moment makes me happy.

But I do work.  And I am a mom.  And I do have a husband.  And friends and family.  I like to volunteer at school and help the PTA.  I love coaching my daughter’s soccer team.  Eight 7 and 8 year olds full of energy and girl power?  That rocks.  But you can see where my balance is sometimes off.

Ignoring my phone, while arguably not the best strategy around, helps.  When my kids are with me, it’s nowhere near me.  When my people are safe and in my arms, I don’t need to constant distraction.  It helps to have it out of sight.  The stuff in those emails and messages and status updates?  Almost all of that can wait.  And so it does.

I haven’t found the perfect balance and I’m still working on saying no to helping absolutely everyone…but getting my Smartphone out of my hair for a few hours a day really has helped.

It’s funny.  When I got my very first iPhone years ago, I felt like a world of possibilities was at my fingertips.  Now I feel like a world of distractions awaits every time I pick it up.  It’s amazing what time and age teaches us…

Anyway, head over to mom.me and check out “5 Reasons to Shove the Smartphone to the Back of the Junk Drawer”.  Then get out there and enjoy some version of nature (I miss the horseshoe crabs – is it summer yet?)  You deserve it.

p.s. Give your most important people their own ring and text tones – let the rest wait.  It works, I promise.

How to Stop a Temper Tantrum

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When you have toddlers and preschoolers, people everywhere look longingly at your kids and beg you to enjoy every single second of it.  It goes so fast, they tell you.  Over and over again.  And it does.  One minute you have these helpless little beings attached to you at all times and the next you watch the kindergarten door close with tears streaming down your face because you finally had to let your baby find his own way in this world…something like that, anyway.

You know what doesn’t go fast?  Temper tantrums.

They all have them.  I don’t care how “mellow” or “easy going” a toddler or preschooler is.  I don’t care how much of an “old soul” you have on your hands.  Temper tantrums are part of child development.  They all have them.  Some more than others and some louder and longer than others…but they have them.

And they seem to last an eternity.

Here’s the good news:  Temper tantrums are time limited.  Yes, kids of all ages experience big emotions and big kids will cry and yell when upset, but the irrational tantrums of the early years do fade away as kids grow and learn to regulate their emotions.

Here’s the other good news:  YOU can help your little ones learn to regulate their emotions.  You don’t have to wait for a “phase to pass” or for them to “grow out of it”.  You can be proactive.  And probably save some of your sanity in the process.

Before the tantrum begins….

Play detective:

All kids have their breaking points.  If mine are hungry or tired, look out.  Emotions are high.

A few common triggers:

  • Hunger
  • Exhaustion
  • Thirst
  • Stress
  • Loud environments
  • Crowds
  • Illness
  • Sensory overload
  • Overstimulation
  • Frustration
  • Fear

Life is busy and sometimes we forget to look at the clock and think about things like hunger, thirst and/or fatigue, but all three of these things can cause a tantrum in a hot second.  We have to pay attention to the unique needs of each of our kids and plan accordingly.  To drag a child out for a late night is a setup for the child, especially a child who is used to an earlier bedtime.

Look for clues.  After a meltdown, take a moment to jot down time, place, circumstances, what was happening just prior to the meltdown and any other important information.  A pattern will emerge, and that will help you figure out where you can make changes to your habits and routines.  I once worked with a child that couldn’t stand bright lights – a fresh coat of paint (in a soothing color) in the bedroom and lamps with lowlights changed everything.

Watch your stress level:

If you are stressed, your child will pick up on it.

Take the time to take care of you so that you can remain calm when your child needs you.  Easier said than done, right?  It’s true.  It’s hard to find “me time” and cope with our own emotions when we are always helping our kids, but we need to hit the pause on being everything all of the time and dial back the busy schedules so that we have time to breathe.

Here’s what helps me:  We all have 45 minutes of quiet time every day.  No exceptions.  I try to pack lunches at night or before breakfast as much as possible to avoid the morning rush.  Shoes and socks are kept in individual bins by the front door to avoid searching for them on the way out the door.  No more than two after school activities per child (my son only likes one per week, anyway – he knows his limits) at a time.  When all else fails, pajama parties in the middle of the afternoon with tea and books galore.  It works for us.

Teach feelings identification:

Get or make a feelings faces chart and use it daily.  Use it to talk about your happy feelings (“I feel so happy because I ate a delicious apple and I love apples!”), use it to describe your worries (“I’m feeling worried because I can’t find my wallet and I think I lost it”) and use it to describe your frustration (“I feel angry because I can’t get this phone to work”).

Point to the feeling.  State the feeling.  Describe the feeling.  Identify one solution.  Have your child do the same.

Prepare:

Once you’ve established your child’s triggers, you can troubleshoot.  If your child tires easily (like my son), avoid late night gatherings or saving all of your errands for one day.  Break things up and prioritize sleep.  If hunger is an issue, don’t ever leave the house without a healthy protein packed snack and water.

Prep your kids for big outings by describing what’s happening.  If your child goes into sensory overload at parties, for example, describe what’s happening at the party before you get there.  Keep big parties short and stay near your child.

During the tantrum….

So you did everything exactly right and were totally prepared with snacks and a well-slept toddler and he still had a huge meltdown?  Welcome to parenthood!  Kids are predictably unpredictable.  Try to keep that in mind while you do your best to keep calm through the low moments.  We’ve all been there and we all feel your pain.  Don’t spend a single second worrying about what other people think of your screaming, flailing toddler.  Chances are they are thinking, “Wow, that brings me back!”

Breathe:

The middle of the tantrum is not the time to start talking, lecturing, or asking questions.  Your child can’t hear you.  He’s too busy yelling out those very big feelings.  Kids need to learn how to calm down in the moment.

Deep breathing (in for four, hold for three, out for four) is the best way to calm the physical and emotional response that children experience during tantrums.  The trick is to stay calm (so maybe do it with them) and walk them through the process.  I always cue my kids to blow up imaginary balloons or breathe the colors of the rainbow.

Empathize:

Keep your voice calm and empathize with your child.  Your child is upset, overwhelmed, scared or any other number of emotions.  Attempting to correct the behavior in the moment won’t work; your child needs you to love him anyway until he calms down.  Then you can deal with the issue at hand.

Repeat calming phrases such as, “I know this is frustrating; I understand” or, “I’m here to help you.  Mommy can help.”  Try to use a gentle hug or back rub to provide calming touch.

Relaxation break:

Time outs leave kids feeling alone with their big emotions.  That can be scary and overwhelming and tends to exacerbate the problem.  Consider creating a relaxation corner somewhere in the house where you and your child can calm down together.

My kids each have a cozy chair with a favorite quilt near their books in their bedrooms.  We like to snuggle up and hug it out then follow that up with some reading.  We save the talking for later.

Stress balls, cozy blankets, soft pillowcases, and soothing music can all help cue relaxation.  Establish a calming place where you can take a relaxation break together and help your child calm down.

Out in public when the tantrum erupts?  Leave the situation and find a quiet place to sit and work through it together.

Over time, your kids will learn to regulate their own emotions and tantrums will decrease.  The more you help them now, the better prepared they will be in the future.

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Can’t Science Have a Little Sparkle?

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I took a new writing gig over at mom.me, which makes my heart happy.  I’ve been a fan of the site since it launched, but I can’t say enough about the positive energy behind the scenes.  It’s a great group of people putting together great content for moms.  I’m super excited to bring you guys over there (if you haven’t already found it) because I know you will love it, too.

Of course, the more I freelance other places, the more Practical Parenting seems to fade away.  And that’s not a good thing.  This is my place…I can’t let it fade away without a fight.  The truth is that I have seven million (give or take) ideas swirling through my head at all times but with the kids, the book and the writing career…I’ve been a little absent lately.  And I just really, really enjoy my time with my littles…so work is done during my work hours only (currently 10:30pm).

So here’s the deal:  Starting next week, I promise to get in at least one article a week here just for us – like the good old days of late night writing simply for the love of writing.  Send your questions.  Send your topics.  Send your thoughts.  I will cover them here just for you.

But for today, I’m over at my new gig talking about girls, science and a little bit of sparkle.  You don’t want to miss it, do you?  head on over to my new home away from home and check out, “In Defense of Sparkly Science” on mom.me.

See you there!

How to Help a Suicide Survivor

In case you missed it, please stop by the Huffington Post and read “There’s Nothing Selfish About Suicide”

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It didn’t take long for the negative backlash to set in when word spread that Robin Williams took his life.  Across all channels of social media, people started throwing around words like “selfish” and “weak”.  His daughter shut down her social media accounts as a result.  Because what people always seem to forget when it comes to celebrity news is that for every celebrity that comes under attack, there are family members directly affected by the attack.  In this low-empathy society fueled by technology and instant gratification in 140 characters or less, people forget to think about the other people.  The people wrapped in grief, that is.

For every person who commits suicide, there is an average of six survivors directly affected by the loss.  That’s six people, on average (sometimes many more), left to pick up the pieces, process their grief, and somehow find a way to move on.

It’s no easy task.

Loss is difficult no matter when it comes or how it happens.  Cancer, heart attacks, car accidents, strokes…loss can strike any family at any time without much warning.  The difference, of course, is that people can talk about things like cancer and heart disease.  They can ask questions, find concrete ways to help (like driving a friend to a medical appointment), and understand the disease.

Sadly, mental health is still very much a taboo topic in our society, and suicide isn’t a word that rolls of the tongue.  In fact, many people go to great lengths to avoid using it at all.  I recently heard a friend describe suicide as, “the thing he did” in reference to her loss.  Survivors of suicide shouldn’t have to blur their words or sweep their grief under the carpet just because we, as a society, don’t know how to talk about mental health.  No, that’s not right.  It’s up to the rest of us to learn how to talk and listen without judgment or criticism.  It’s up to us to learn how to be comfortable with the topic.

Survivors of suicide tend to feel very isolated in their grief.  They might not reach out for help because they fear the response of others when they finally begin to talk about the suicide.  You can help.  You can be the lifeline that helps a friend through a tragic loss.  And all you have to do is be present.

Keep showing up:

When the dust settles and the casseroles have all been eaten…that’s when the sheer loneliness sets in.  The “what ifs” plague suicide survivors because you can’t help but replay every little sign that you missed along the way.

Keep showing up.  After the extended family disappears, after the burial, after the invitations for dinner dwindle…that’s when your friend needs you.  Your friend doesn’t need a fancy dinner or room full of people.  Your friend just needs you to listen, talk, and hold her hand.  Your friend needs your strength until she can find her own.

Use the words:

You can’t sugarcoat suicide, and avoidance of the word only adds a sense of shame.  There is no shame in mental illness.  At all.  Talk openly about depression, anxiety, suicide, and all other areas of mental health.  Ask questions for clarification.  Listen with an open heart and an open mind.  Don’t be afraid of the details.  Discussing the details will help your friend move on from the guilt and shame that suicide survivors often experience.

Be the driver:

You know what’s hard?  Therapy.  Hollywood paints a semi-entertaining picture of therapy, but therapy is hard work.  It’s emotionally taxing, at best, and healing takes time.  People need support beyond the couch.

You would drive your friend to a chemo appointment in a hot second, right?  So why not do the same for a friend going to a therapy appointment?  It’s difficult to get back in the car and drive home after an emotional therapy session, even with a debriefing.  Often to drive your friend to appointments.  Make time for coffee or a walk outside after.  Your friend will feel less alone and better able to work through her emotions as a result.

Send notes:

The hand written note has become a thing of the past, it seems, but it can really help a friend working through grief.  Suicide survivors often feel alone in their survival, and a personal note in the mail can help them feel connected to the outside world.  Human connection is a powerful force.  Be the force that helps your friend stay afloat.

Ask:

Not sure how to help your friend?  Ask and ask again.  Your friend might not want to burden you, but the more you ask and the more you offer – the sooner your friend will realize that you intend to stick around.  Ask what you can do, when you can come by, and what errands you can run.  Don’t take no for an answer.

I was genuinely moved and surprised by the incredible response to “There’s Nothing Selfish About Suicide”.  As I work my way through the email that continues to pour in I am struck by how many survivors feel so completely alone.  Many admit to making up stories about their loss to avoid the shame and silence associated with suicide and mental illness.  We need to do better than that.  We need to help each other out, one conversation at a time.  And that begins with all of you.  Talk.  Be comfortable.  Be supportive.  It just might change a life for the better.

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Get Your Style On with Back-to-School Clothes at Target! ($300 Giveaway)

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My daughter loves clothes.  LOVES clothes.  She changes her outfits several times a day and she spends time creating each look.  There are no accidents when it comes to her style…everything, down to the very last accessory, is carefully considered.  She definitely has an eye for fashion.  She’s not a fan of preplanned outfits or matchy-matchy colors and prints.  No, this little fashionista mixes, matches, and jumbles things together and always comes out looking great.

She’s that kid.  Effortless style with a little bit of sparkle.

She’s an inspiration, really.  Her love of style inspires me to shake things up and try new looks, and that’s a good thing.  Because who said moms have to follow a script?

The only downside is the laundry.  Oh…the laundry.  It’s worth it, though, because when a kid walks confidently into each day?  Well, you just can’t put a price on that.

I thought that perhaps my son wouldn’t be so fashion forward and focused on outfits.  Maybe he would just wear one outfit a day and cut down on the laundry?  I thought wrong.  For a long time, my little man preferred truck shirts and cargo pants – no big deal.  But he’s five now and, I’m not sure if you know this, five is kind of a big deal.  These days he wants to dress like some combination of his rocker daddy and John Mayer (his rocker friend.)  But little boys aren’t always kind to their clothes…the holes in the knees!  So the challenge is to find little rocker Daddy/John Mayer on a budget.  Good luck to me….

Enter my good friends at Target.

Have you checked out their back-to-styles for the littles yet?  It’s as if they read my mind.  Shaun White for Target is pretty much my favorite line for little rocker boy right now.  Built kid-tough but looks that go from school to drum kit is exactly what we needed to fill the void.

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He fell in love with this plaid shirt in a hot second because it reminds him of a shirt his dad often wears in the studio, and the new skinny canvas pants at Target got him out of baggy cargo pants for the first time ever.

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But…we still need a few construction shirts here and there because five is still very much little…and that’s just fine with me. (And OMG – the super soft zip hoodies are amazing this year!)

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As for my little fashionista?  Let’s just say that I couldn’t get her out of there and she put together some really great looks in under an hour – a new record for her.  This polka dot jacket is positively adorable…now if Los Angeles will just cooperate and give us some fall weather to go with it!

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Pants can be hard to fit for my long and lean girl, and I can always count on Target to great options for leggings and jeggings and other slim fit pants that look great without breaking the bank.

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Don’t you wish you could own this outfit?  I do!  But enough about us…it’s time for you to get your back-to-school style on! And Practical Parenting and Target are here to help you get started!

We have a $300 Target Gift Card for one lucky winner! (United States only)

Leave me a comment below (HERE on the blog, not on Facebook – that doesn’t count) telling me about your favorite kid fashion moments.  I want to hear about all of the funny outfits your child puts together!  You have until August 15, 2014 at 5pm EST to enter!

This contest is open to US readers only.

***Please make sure that I have your email address…you can’t win if I can’t find you!  Now go ahead and enter, and get over to Target to start planning your shopping spree!

 

Disclosure:  Target provided me with a gift card to try some of their new fall arrivals for kids.  All opinions within this post are mine…or those of my children.  Little rocker boy thanks you, Target, he is one happy customer!

 

 

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Shop at Target for Back to School and Help Students in Need

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Like many of you, I’m feeling sad because my baby is heading off to school this year.  It’s kindergarten, and it’s a short day, but still…my baby is going to school.  That’s all I can say about that without falling apart because, holy moly, what will I do without my little buddy by my side?

Anyway, two kids in school means twice as many school supplies and school supplies can be expensive.  School supplies can also be hard to find.  Last year the first grade team had us running around in search of the biggest pencil box I’ve ever seen, and it took three trips to three stores to cross everything off the list!  This year…I’m planning ahead.

As much as I get sticker shock when it comes to getting my little ones ready for a new school year, I do know that I can cover the costs.  For many students in America, the money for school supplies just isn’t there.  There are kids in this country who show up for the first day of school without lunches in their hands or pencils in their pockets.  And their kind-hearted teachers make up the difference. Did you know that 99.5% of classroom teachers buy essential classroom materials out of their own pockets and spend, on average, $485 (that’s per teacher, per year)?

That is just plain unacceptable.  Kids should have access to the supplies they need and teachers shouldn’t have to purchase those supplies for their students.

The good news is that Target is dedicated to helping students in need.  Inspired by Yoobi, a Target exclusive brand with a “One for You, One for Me” mission, Target will donate one school supply to a student in need for every purchase of select Up&Up school supplies in stores through August 2nd.  With a goal of giving up to $25 million and potentially impacting nearly two million children living in poverty, Target makes it easy for the rest of us to help make a difference.  Target knows that customers want to help others.  “We know that giving is important to Target’s guests,” says Laysha Ward, president, Community Relations for Target, “This program gives them an opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of others and set kids up for success through the simple act of buying school supplies.”

Ward is right.  Many families do seek ways to help others, but sometimes life gets in the way.  Imagine taking your child shopping for school supplies and talking about the fact that each supply purchased puts a school supply in the hands of a child in need.  That’s a powerful conversation, and those are the conversations that we need to have with our kids early and often.  If we want to raise kind and caring children, we have to teach them to look out for others and to find ways to help.

Target has a longstanding community partnership with the Kids in Need Foundation. Target will distribute the school supplies to students in need through the Kids in Need Foundation beginning in August.

And can I just tell you?  As a nerdy mom who loves things like pencils, permanent markers (I might have even purchased some of those just for me), sticky notes, and three ring binders…the Up&Up brand is amazing.  I’m not just saying that, I promise.  Any of my close friends will tell you that the school supply aisle is my version of the kid in the candy store.  I just can’t get enough.  And the colors, designs, and prices this season will put a smile on your face (twice, in my case). Wondering what the hot items are this year?  Not to worry, Target has you covered: Top trends this year include:

  • Attachable matching accessories to backpacks and lunch boxes
  • Colorful supplies, including notebooks and book covers
  • Stylish locker accessories like disco balls and metallic mirrors
  • Chevron, plaid, camouflage and peace sign patterns

Must-have products include:

  • Houndstooth, Peace, Camo and Dinosaur Backpacks, $14.99 each
  • Frog and Panda Lunch Boxes, $13.99 each
  • Monster, Robot, Owl and Fox Water Bottles, $11.99 – $12.99 each
  • up&up School Supplies, $0.31 – $7.29
  • Yoobi School Supplies, $0.99 – $9.99
  • Slap Bracelet Rulers, $1.99 each
  • Magnetic Locker Chandelier, $9.99
  • Shag Locker Rug, $5.99
  • Texas Instruments 30XIIS Scientific Calculators, $12.99 each
  • Cherokee Varsity Jacket, $19.99
  • Cherokee Moto Jacket, $19.99

Have I convinced you to get out there and help others by shopping Up&Up for Target yet?  No?  Well, you’re in luck.  I saved one last incentive for last… Target really wants to help those 2 million students and need, and that starts with getting you in the store to stock up on school supplies.  To make that happen, Target will send one lucky winner (US only) a $300 Target Gift Card to shop for school supplies between now and August 2nd!  Yes, that’s right, $300.  That’s a lot of school supplies for your little one, and a lot of school supplies for other little ones all over this country.

I have one favor to ask of you before I tell you how to enter:  SHARE THIS POST.  The more this post is shared, the more kids we help.  Yes, it’s fun to win a gift card and will certainly help off-set your back-to-school costs, but I teamed up with Target on this one because I can’t stand the thought of kids showing up to school empty handed.  Every child deserves a great start, and we, Practical family, have the power to help other children simply by making our purchases at Target this year.  So please, spread the word – let’s work together to make a difference. How to win the $300 Target Gift Card:

  1. Open to US readers only
  2. Leave me a comment sharing the age of your child and your “must have” school supplies this year. Also, head over to Target.com and tell me your favorite Up&Up and/or Yoobi school supplies.
  3. MAKE SURE that I have your email address.  You can’t win if I can’t reach you.
  4. Have fun shopping!!! (Just be sure to make those purchases by 8/2)
  5. This contest closes on July 26th at 8pm EST.

If you happen to shop with your RedCard, please remember that Target will donate 1% of your purchase to the K-12 school of your choice through the Take Charge of Education program.  To date, Target has donated over $387 million to K-12 schools!

Ok, friends, that’s all for now.  Read it.  Share it.  And shop at your local Target store….right now!

About Target Minneapolis-based Target Corporation (NYSE: TGT) serves guests at 1,916 stores – 1,789 in the United States and 127 in Canada – and at Target.com. Since 1946, Target has given 5 percent of its profit through community grants and programs; today, that giving equals more than $4 million a week. For more information about Target’s commitment to corporate responsibility, visit target.com/corporateresponsibility.

 

Disclaimer:  Target asked me to help promote their school supply program and provided a Target Gift Card to purchase Up&Up and Yoobi school supplies for reference.  I have a longstanding relationship with Target and enjoy partnering with them to help with community programs and giving back.  All opinions contained within this post (I do love those sticky notes!) are my own.