How to Help Your Anxious Kid Avoid Avoidance Behaviors

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Avoid avoidance? I know, sounds like I missed something there, but stay with me. In the past few weeks, my inbox has been overflowing with questions about helping anxious kids who have a tendency to avoid all possible anxiety triggers. Should parents push kids to “face their fears”? Should they encourage the avoidance because the anxiety seems to “disappear” as long as the child avoids the triggers? What’s a parent to do?

Parenting an anxious child is hard work. Just when you think you have the problem solved (nine night lights to clear up the fear of the dark later), a new trigger emerges. That’s because anxiety isn’t just about the triggers. Irrational fears and intrusive thoughts have a way of snowballing, and kids confront a lot of new information on a daily basis. For a non-anxious child, new information is fun and exciting. For an anxious child, however, new information can lead to new fears.

Add the new fears to the old fears (you can install all the night lights you want, until kids learn to cope with anxiety those Band Aids can come off at any moment!) and you have a big mess of fears.

Avoidance is a common strategy used by anxious kids. Honestly, it’s easy for parents to fall into the trap (been there). When kids avoid their triggers, they tend to appear calm and happy again. The problem is that it won’t last.

What are avoidance behaviors?

Avoidance behaviors are things kids (and by kids I do mean all ages – even the tweens and teens!) do or don’t do to reduce their feelings of anxiety. There are different levels of avoidance. For example, true avoidance behaviors occur when a child goes to great lengths to completely stay away from a trigger. If a child is afraid of reading in front of his classmates, for example, he might either try to stay home “sick” when he has to give a book report or invent reasons to leave the classroom during book report time (I need to see the nurse).

Partial avoidance, sometimes referred to as safety behaviors, are things kids do to try to hide their anxiety. Ever notice a kid who always seems to drop his pencil and disappear from sight the moment the teacher starts calling on kids for answers? That’s avoidance. Safety behaviors help kids feel in control in the moment or help limit exposure to the trigger. Other examples include avoiding eye contact when talking to people, leaving the room frequently, daydreaming to check out and even drinking and drugs in older kids.

While avoidance behaviors might give kids some immediate symptom relief, they don’t help them learn to cope with their triggers. In fact, the fears actually have a tendency to snowball when kids engage in avoidance behaviors.

Take, for example, a child who refuses to go to school due to separation anxiety. It feels good and safe to stay home, so the child engages in negative behaviors to avoid going to school. Over time, as the days add up, the child starts to internalize the message that she can’t go to school. School is scary, overwhelming and just too hard. The more she stays home, the more she believes that she’s can’t possibly cope at school.

Avoidance can actually increase the risk of engaging in negative safety behaviors down the line. Drugs and alcohol are used to dull the feelings of anxiety, particularly for those facing social anxiety.

How can you teach kids to avoid avoidance?

Like all things anxiety related, avoiding avoidance requires time, practice and patience. There will be good days and not-so-good days along the way. Try not to view setbacks as failures when your kids are learning to cope with anxiety. Setbacks are simply a call to review what is and isn’t working so that your child can continue to practice adaptive coping strategies.

***If anxiety impacts your child’s ability to go to school or participate in normal daily activities, call your family doctor for a referral to a mental health professional specializing in children and adolescents. 

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With that in mind, try these five steps to help your child learn to avoid avoidance:

Unpack the triggers.

More often than not, what begins as an intentional avoidance becomes a habit over time. The kid who hides every time a dog is near no longer has to think about avoiding the dog. she just does it. It’s how she copes.

It can take time to help kids unpack their anxiety triggers and identify their avoidance behaviors. When your child is calm, talk about what it means to feel anxious (your heart races, your brain warns you to avoid something, your palms sweat, etc) and what kids of things might cause those feelings. Share your observations of your child. Ask your child if she ever tries to avoid things that make her feel scared or worried.

I always recommend having the child make a “trigger tracker” list. This helps the child gain some control over the feelings of anxiety.

Challenge exaggerations.

Anxiety is fueled by irrational thinking. What might begin as a small worry (did I leave the stove on?) can quickly snowball when intrusive thoughts take over (my house is burning down!) Experiencing a complete lack of control over the trigger can increase those intrusive thoughts. This sends kids into fight or flight mode, and flight is often the easiest option.

Teach your child to challenge exaggerations by using self-talk. Help your child make a list of the intrusive thoughts that tend to snowball, then practice making logical statements instead. When kids learn to pick apart their worries and ground themselves in logical thinking, the intrusive thoughts shrink.

Start small.

It can be tempting to tell a kid to just get back in there and face his fears, but that kind of statement feels paralyzing to a child struggling with anxiety. Anxious kids often feel overwhelmed on a good day – they can’t just “shake it off”.  What they can do is start small and go from there.

If dogs are a huge source of anxiety, for example, start by reading books about dogs. Next, find a pet grooming place that will let your child watch a dog being groomed from behind the glass. After that, find a friend with a very calm and kid friendly dog and pay that dog a visit. You get the drill.

If social anxiety is the problem, start by attending a gathering for 15 minutes then work up to 25 and 35 and so on until larger gatherings no longer feel overwhelming.

Focus on manageable tasks.

One of the most difficult challenges for anxious kids is that once their anxiety is triggered, everything feels huge and overwhelming. Teach your child to break things down into manageable parts. If test anxiety is a problem, help your child learn to study in specific blocks of time with plenty of relaxation breaks and break down the test material to one focus area per study block. When he actually takes the test, have him use a plain piece of paper to block out the section he’s not working on in the moment.

Learning to break things down helps kids feel in control of their triggers.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

All kids are different and no one strategy works for all kids (except deep breathing to calm the feeling of panic – that always works when done correctly), but there are tons of ways to practice confronting triggers.

Mirror, mirror: Have your child role play anxiety producing situations while facing a mirror. The more kids practice confronting their triggers, the more mastery they gain. Join your child to help him work though difficult situations.

Put on a social play: Writing, directing and starring in a play about your own worries can be quite empowering! Encourage the whole family to get in on the action, as directed by the anxious child. Play truly does help children gain mastery over the fears, and this is a great way to get started.

Sing a silly song: As silly as it sounds, rewriting the lyrics to a favorite tune to reflect how you can face your fears really does help. I do this to show my kids that we all have worries and sources of stress, but casting them in a new light can make us feel better.

The Happy Kid Handbook is full of great strategies to help children and families learn to cope with stress and anxiety. Grab your copy today!

Image credit: Pexels

3 Wishes for 2016

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I’ve never been big on resolutions. It wasn’t a thing we did in our family. We didn’t sit around the table on December 31st talking about our plans for the coming year. We didn’t write out our plans and check in every month to see if we were still on track to meet those resolutions. We just didn’t do that.

We were taught to set goals. We were encouraged to figure out a step-by-step process to meet our goals. We were cheered on and we always knew that our parents would listen and help and be there for us as we reached for our own personal goals. But those goals could be set at any time. Ringing in a New Year didn’t mean an opportunity for personal development, it meant celebrating what we achieved the previous year and looking forward to another year of health and happiness.

As I got older I saw friends fall into the trap of resolutions centered around weight loss, healthy eating and increased exercise. I admired their focus in those first few months of each year; though I stuck with my usual plan of running because it feels good and everything in moderation. I didn’t want the added pressure of meeting a goal meant to improve my overall lifestyle – what works for some doesn’t work for all.

As we crawl into 2016, I certainly do have a few personal goals on my mind. Write on my own blog more often. Finish the new book proposal. Continue to book speaking engagements to spread the Happy Kid message. The truth is, those goals have been on my mind for quite some time now. It’s not about 2016. I can’t possibly predict what will happen this year, but I can keep those goals in mind as I work my way through this year.

What I do have for 2016 is big wishes. It’s no big secret that I’m a dreamer. To know me personally is to know that a blank stare out the window isn’t a sign of unhappiness or stress but a sign of ideas rolling through my mind.

Yet sometimes I feel burdened by those thoughts and dreams. I’m a sensitive soul, and I tend to spend too much time thinking about ways change the world for the better. Some of those ideas are too big for one person to tackle. Some will always be a work in progress. And some, well, some might not come to fruition.

But I find that big ideas are always worth considering. If we can take steps to make the world a better place, we should. Even if those steps feel small in size. Even if it feels like some steps are taken alone.

With that in mind, please consider these three wishes for 2016. Together we can make a difference.

Focus on positive parenting.

I recently wrote an article about time-outs – specifically, why I’m not a fan. I believe in solving problems together, and giving children the opportunity to vent and work through emotions with someone who will listen, no matter how tired or frustrated that someone might be.

Some of the comments left in response to that article left me feeling sad, for both kids and parents. I whip mine. I pinch mine. I spank mine. I just yell and they stop. All I have to do is threaten them. The negative parenting strategies seemed to go on and on.

The article included specific strategies to decrease parental frustration and help parents help their kids through upsetting situations, and yet many of the responses focused on the so-called benefits of physical punishment and intimidation.

Children learn through trial and error. They have big feelings and they don’t always know what to do with those feelings. They don’t always get it right. But that’s what being a kid is all about – learning and growing and finding new ways to handle everyday issues.

I can’t help but consider what a child might say if given the chance to talk under such circumstances…

Please don’t hit me. Please don’t yell at me. Please don’t scare me. I’m little and I’m learning and I need your love and support along the way.

There are many wonderful therapists and educators out there trying to help spread positive parenting techniques. Pick up your copy of The Happy Kid Handbook – it is full of practical and easy-to-implement strategies, I promise. Then follow these wonderful resources:

Talk about mental illness

Let this be the year that people feel comfortable opening up about mental health. Let this be the year that the word suicide stops scaring people into silence. Let this be the year that words like “anxiety” and “depression” hold their true meaning, and that people can use them at the dinner table as they would any other word to describe any other illness.

I watch as parents try to minimize the meaning of anxiety and depression when it comes to their kids. She’s just not herself right now. She’ll be good as new soon! I watch as people go silent when mental health becomes a topic in the room.

People are suffering in this world – and all too often they suffer in silence. It’s time to break the silence on mental illness. It’s time to learn how to listen without going silent. It’s time to learn to ask one simple question: How can I help?

It’s okay that you don’t know what to say. It’s okay that the thought of suicide scares you or that you don’t really understand the meaning of depression. But it’s not okay to judge, walk away from a friend in need or minimize the struggles of others. It’s not okay to turn the other cheek.

Let this be the year that we all learn to speak clearly and listen with open hearts.

Slow down and play

We live in a high stress world where the race to the finish is causing our children pain and heartache. They are doing too much highly structured stuff and not enough good for their souls stuff. It’s time to stop building the resume. It’s time to slow down, take back childhood and truly get back to the business of play.

In just a few weeks, parents everywhere will begin stressing about summer plans. How many camps will keep my kids busy? What enrichment programs will help them get ahead? How much do I need to bribe them to read? I’ve heard it all before, and I will hear it all again.

But before you step back on the fast track to busy, consider this: Kids today are play deprived. Kids today are under stress and experiencing higher rates of anxiety and depression. Kids today are sleep deprived. Consider the whole child before you mark up those summer months. Consider getting back to basics and giving your child the chance to do what kids are meant to do: Play and act like kids.

On that note, I’m off to play. Wishing you the very best in the coming year. Happy 2016!

 

 

Drop Everything and Play!

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The stuffed animals went to school today. They went to stuffed animal school, anyway. The bad news is that my kids are home sick (tis the season). The good news is that they’re home sick together so they can play in between coughs and sneezes.

They spent the better part of the morning setting up the school. They started with the physical space. After much thoughtful consideration, they settled on the hallway space between their bedrooms as the ideal place to build a school. They gathered school supplies, determined a schedule (including extra time for snacks, recess and lunch – you can draw your own conclusions on that one), made important decisions about who would teach what and raided the toy kitchen for food items to keep in the cafeteria. They even discussed the ideal teaching style and agreed on a strict NO HOMEWORK policy.

After what amounted to at least two hours of set up, they took a much needed break for lunch and rest. We read together, watched a show together and played a board game. Then they got back to business. By the afternoon, they began the playing part of the play.

This kind of “high level play”, play that contains sustained play themes and involves multiple roles and symbolic use of props, requires time. Today my kids had the time because they were home sick, but most days they find the time because we refuse to over schedule in this house. Childhood is short – we choose to play.

As both a psychotherapist and a mother, I have seen firsthand the clear benefits of making time for unstructured play.

The best news is that you don’t need a bunch of props and fancy toys to encourage this kind of play. In fact, most kids prefer to create their own props. In doing so, the prop becomes exactly what they want it to be and they can manipulate it to meet their needs. This is why cardboard boxes are such a huge hit for kids. They like to take control and create their own fun.

In fact, Eastern Connecticut State University’s Child Development Center just named the wooden cash register by Hape Toys the 2015 Toys that Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture Imagination selection. After studying preschoolers at play in their classrooms with a selection of toys for one year, they found that the kids were drawn to the wooden cash register over toys with more bells and whistles.

It makes sense. With the wooden cash register, kids can manipulate it as needed. It can be used for a store or to check out books for a library. The possibilities are endless when the children use the toy on their own terms.

What’s the big deal about high level play?

We know that play is the language of children and that kids learn, communicate and grow through play. But we have a tendency to push structured activities the moment kids enter elementary school.

When I speak to groups of parents I hear the same question over and over again: What is so different? Why are kids more stressed today than they were twenty years ago. While there are multiple reasons for increased levels of stress and anxiety in children and each child has their own triggers and circumstances, I can tell you this: Kids today are play deprived.

Kids are doing a lot of things from preschool on, but what they aren’t doing enough of is the very thing that will help them thrive. We simply aren’t making enough time for play in this busy, go go go world.

Benefits of high level play:

  • Stress relief – kids work through their emotions by playing.
  • Emotional regulation – kids learn to identify and regulate their emotions through play.
  • Exploration of passions – they figure out what makes them tick.
  • Increased social skills.
  • Improved communication skills.
  • Increased creativity and creative thinking.
  • Improved problem solving skills.
  • They connect with friends, siblings and caregivers on a deeper level.
  • Try on new roles and make sense of the world around them.
  • Cope with and overcome fears and worries.

I could go on and on and on…the benefits of play are many. Stand back and watch your kids play for an hour and you’ll see your own benefits – unique to your own child. That’s the wonderful thing about play. When kids tap into high level imaginative play, they work through their own unique needs at the moment.

When is my child too old for unstructured play?

Never! I see eleven-year-old kids working through difficult emotions and stressful situations through play. I see teens let go of their insecurities simply by getting down on the floor and playing! I’ve seen adults learn to let go of their own stress by engaging in unstructured play with their kids. Truly, the power of play knows no age restrictions.

I know that it’s tempting to try every sport and enroll in every enrichment program that comes your way, but the truth is that kids don’t need constant adult direction. They time to figure things out on their own. If we don’t give them the opportunity to work through various situations independently and in a way that makes sense to them, how can we expect them to act as problem solvers out in the world? How can we expect them to gain independence?

Drop everything and play this holiday season. Your kids need it. The truth is…you probably do, too.

For more information on the healing power of play and how to encourage a playful environment, pick up your copy of The Happy Kid Handbook today.

The Happy Kid Handbook in Stores Now!

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Yesterday was an exciting day! Thanks to so many of you, The Happy Kid Handbook made it to #1 for parenting on Amazon! I am humbled by and grateful for your support. This is just the beginning. In the coming weeks I will hit the road to talk about the book and share my passion for taking back childhood and empowering our kids to live happy lives.

There were some great articles about the book yesterday. While I did my best to share them on social media as much as possible, I decided to share them here just in case you missed something that might be helpful to you and your family.

Yahoo interviewed me a few weeks ago and shared 8 Ways to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World. That was a super fun interview and I love the article.

Club Mid for Scary Mommy shared an exclusive excerpt of the book. Check out How Do We Teach Our Kids About Forgiveness? for some tips straight from the book!

My friends at mom.me shared another exclusive excerpt from the book – this one on raising kids who speak up. Read 5 Ways to Raise a Kid Who Speaks Up for more on teaching assertiveness skills.

Also on mom.me, my dear friend Sherri wrote The Secret to Raising a Happy Kid – warning, always bring tissues when reading Sherri.

By now you know I’m a huge believer in the power of play. My friend Marilyin at Roots of Action shared this article on the importance of play: The Benefits of Play are “Oh, So Big!”

Passion is always a hot topic. Should a kid have just one or is more really better? I enjoyed writing this article for Psychology Today: How to Support and Nurture Your Child’s Passions.

And you don’t want to miss 5 Steps to a Happier Home on EverydayFamily.com.

Thank you so very much! If you didn’t get your copy, please check it out!

If you did, and you want to stop by Amazon and leave a review…I will owe you a giant hug and a latte!

I’ll have some bookstore and speaking dates for you soon…stay tuned!

Get out and play!

3 Phrases That Will Strengthen Your Bond With Your Child Today

 

It’s easy to talk about and practice unconditional love when we are rested, happy and healthy but when times get tough – the act of unconditional can fade away. And that’s just it. We all talk about it often. Of course we feel huge love for our children. But do we show it? Do we make sure to communicate it?

Unconditional love isn’t just a feeling in our hearts, after all, it’s an action we take to communicate that feeling.

I was overwhelmed with exhaustion. A cold morphed into croup – the kind of croup that triggers the asthma and results in a desperate call for help in the dark of night. There were treatments and visits to the doctor and more treatments. There was little sleep. We were both overwhelmed and bone tired. Worry kept me awake, standing guard over her little lungs while she finally slept. It seemed as though it might never end this time. Nothing worked. Until it did. Finally, the light emerged.

But getting back to the daily grind was no easy task. That kind of illness, that inability to take a single breath – that leaves little ones scared and clingy. That triggers worries and sadness and difficulty sleeping. Although I was running on empty and wanted to rush through the process of reentering the world, I knew I couldn’t. I had to find the strength and patience to continue to practice that unconditional love. I had to help her through the next steps – to wash the fears away.

It wasn’t easy. I used a few strategies from the book. We did rainbow breathing together and practiced bossing back that pesky worry brain. When she was ready, we both tentatively let go. Our eyes met through the window of the classroom, both sets lined with tears. I watched and waited. She opened her book. Slowly, I walked away, placing my trust in unconditional love.

Kids need to know that we are always there for them. They need to hear the words and feel our arms wrapped around them. When we build them up with love, they are better able to spread their wings and fly.

There are countless things we can say and do to communicate unconditional love. Try these:

“I trust you.”

We spend a fair amount of time guiding our kids, as we should. We teach them to play well with others. We show them how to mediate conflict. We give them strategies to cope with the hard stuff. But at some point, we have to trust them. We have to believe that they can take it from here.

Communicate that to your child. Trust that your child can make good decisions, stand up for what’s right and walk away from what isn’t. Build your child up by trusting in her ability to thrive while she’s away from you.

“I believe in you.”

Many kids are pleasers by nature. They run to us with every little accomplishment because they want us to cheer for their success. They want us to know that they can do it! The hard part is empowering your kids to believe in themselves. We want them to carve their own paths – to find happiness by reaching their own goals. Not by pleasing us.

“I believe in you” is a frequently used phrase around here. I use it when they struggle to make decisions, when they walk into their classrooms each morning, when they step onto the field or dance floor or when they question their own abilities.

“I believe in you” puts your faith in them and empowers them to reach their own goals on their own timeline to make their own dreams come true. Powerful stuff.

“I will always be here for you.”

Growing up is hard work and sometimes letting go feels like jumping into the great unknown without a parachute. Kids need the parachute.

You know you’ll always be there to love them through their successes and failures, but kids need to hear their parents communicate this to them.

“I will always be here for you.” Say it often. Set it on repeat. Make it happen.

There will be ups and downs along this journey. There will be long days and longer nights and heartbreaking moments that bring you tears, but there will also be laughter, happiness and moments of pride that can’t be put into words. Be there for all of them, both in words and in spirit.

 

For more strategies to empower your kids to live happy lives and teach your kids how to cope with the hard stuff, preorder your copy of The Happy Kid Handbook today!

 

 

Feelings Faces Magnets With The Happy Kid Handbook!

 

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Big News!!!

We are just one month away from the release of my first book, The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World (Tarcher Books, Penguin Random House)!

I’ve been a writer since I can remember and this book is a dream come true. I put my heart and soul into this book and it is my greatest hope that it will bring some comfort to some of you along this parenting journey.

A gift for you…

Emotional regulation plays a big role in helping kids learn how to cope with the hard stuff that life has to offer. The truth is that we all experience ups and downs along the way and, despite all best efforts, we can’t protect our children from obstacles in their paths. We can, however, give them the tools they need to work through those obstacles on their own.

This is a theme in Happy Kid: Empowering our kids to work through obstacles independently so that they can live happy lives!

A first great step is helping your child build a feelings vocabulary. When kids can accurately identify their feelings, they can learn how to cope with them. Sounds simple, right? I can’t tell you how many kids sit on my couch and struggle to answer the following question: “How do you feel today?”

I love feelings faces charts because they help kids draw the connections between facial expressions and emotions. They also open the door to communication about feelings. I put a feelings faces poster on my family room wall when my daughter was 18 months old, and we still use it to this day!

You see those adorable magnets in the picture above? I worked with a talented artist, my dear friend Stacie Ottoson, to create those just for you! The first 50 people to preorder The Happy Kid Handbook will receive a custom designed Happy Kid feelings faces magnetic chart (size 4×6) as a token of my deep appreciation of your support of the book.

How do you get one?

It’s easy. Follow these steps:

  1. Preorder The Happy Kid Handbook through one of the links below or at your favorite local bookstore (support your local independent bookstores – please!)
  2. Take a screenshot or picture of your receipt – block out or blur that credit card info, though.
  3. Email your receipt to me at katiehurleylcsw(at)gmail(dot)com or send me a private message on Facebook.
  4. Include your full name and mailing address (United States only for now!)

Preorder The Happy Kid Handbook here:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Books-A-Million

IndieBound

If you already preordered the book because you’re simply amazing – you still get the magnet. Just let me know where to find you!

I’m ready to send out 50 feelings faces magnets – let’s get to it!

I can’t thank you enough for your support. Many of you loyal readers have been there from the beginning – you helped me get here. For that, I am full of gratitude.

Stay tuned for upcoming bookstore and speaking events…

It’s time to start spreading the happy with #TheHappyKidHandbook!

Don’t Wait for November to Teach Gratitude

Teach gratitude every day

Earlier today my kids spotted a dime on the floor at the exact same time. This almost never happens. My daughter is dreamy like me and tends to have her head in the clouds. She doesn’t always see what’s right in front of her because she’s busy thinking – dreaming big dreams. My son, like his dad, is a details kind of guy. He likes numbers, facts and lively conversations about numbers and facts. And history – oh how they love history. He’s the champion coin finder in the family because even when he gets lost in thought, he has an incredible ability to remain partially grounded in the here and now. He always sees the coins.

I walked down the stairs to find them deep in conversation about how to handle the coin situation. Numbers guy thought trading it in for two nickels made the most sense. But the dreamer wasn’t so sure. She liked the feel of the dime as she rolled it between her fingers, and that sent her spinning into her thought clouds.

I kept a safe distance, eager to see how the story might end. It wasn’t long before they crafted the perfect solution.

I should back up a bit. In late August, they came running to me with huge smiles and sparkling eyes. “We have a great idea!” they shouted. “We want to match a family with kids exactly our ages this time because we know so many things they will like!” At holiday time, our church organizes a family-to-family giving program.  You can sponsor a family (or two or three…) to help with a Thanksgiving dinner and some gifts under the tree. My kids had so much fun choosing gifts last year that they haven’t stopped thinking about it. Truly, the whole experience was heartwarming on many levels.

This year, my kids seem to want to take the lead. They talk about saving money of their own to contribute. They’ve created gift lists and edited them over and over again. The experience of helping another family left them so full of gratitude that they just can’t wait to do it again.

“Do we have our family YET?” they ask, every few days (and then some).

I sat quietly, watching them whisper. They were hatching a plan, that much I knew. We’ll donate it. Can we donate it? Can we donate one coin? I heard bits and pieces as I waited for them to come to a final decision. This coin, as it turns out, started a movement in our little family. The excitement mounted as they discussed the possibility of putting all loose change and found coins into a a jar to save for a family in need this holiday season. No longer would they depend on me to buy the gifts – they were making a difference. Moments later a jar appeared and the loose change left behind this morning was thrown right into it. They were on their way to spreading kindness, one small coin at a time.

Don’t wait for November!

Come November we will be flooded with information about raising grateful kids and projects to get the gratitude going. People will slow down just a little and remember to give thanks and the world will feel just a little bit more friendly. Kindness will take center stage as we roll into the winter holiday season.

But what if lessons in gratitude were taught all year long? What if acts of kindness, big and small, were simply part of the backdrop? What if we didn’t wait?

We all know that helping others is a great way to help kids slow down and think about gratitude. But sometimes kids feel powerless. It’s hard to know where to begin, how to spread kindness, when you don’t have much control over your own life. Kids can make a difference. Through small acts of kindness, kids can spread gratitude and happiness to others – they can be change makers.

Try a few of these kid friendly acts of kindness:

  • Collect coins to donate to someone or a charity in need.
  • Save the proceeds of a lemonade stand to donate.
  • Help weed a garden or rake leaves for an elderly neighbor.
  • Bake something for a neighbor or relative who is ill.
  • Make cards to cheer up kids in a local children’s hospital.

When kids realize that they have the ability to make a difference on their own, they become change makers. They tap into empathy a little bit more and stop to think about the wellbeing of others.

Don’t wait until November to start teaching gratitude this year. Engage in deliberate acts of kindness, big and small, as much as possible and talk about how spreading kindness makes the world a happier, and more grateful, place to live.

If you choose to join my kids and coin it forward to someone in need (or if you have another great family community service project going), please stop by the Facebook page and tell us all about it!

Support, Don’t Hover, to Raise Independent Kids

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Sometimes it feels like parenting is a no-win situation these days. If you stick too close, you’re a helicopter. If you hang too far back, you’re not engaged. If you let your kids ride their bikes alone, you might even be reported for neglect. Okay, maybe that last one is a little bit extreme, but you get the point.

Parents are constantly under a microscope today. Parents read articles and books on parenting to gather information and perhaps solve a few parenting mysteries (we all have them from time to time). That’s a good thing. The flip side is that input is everywhere…even when you’re not looking for it. That’s not such a good thing. That can damage the self-esteem of the parent. That can cause parents to question their instincts. That can cause arguments and frustration.

New research, for instance, shows that “helicopter parenting” is detrimental to kids no matter how loving the parents are. This particular study shows that children raised by controlling parents are actually less engaged in the classroom. While the researchers thought they might find that love and support neutralized the controlling behavior, they didn’t.

The quick takeaway, of course, is that helicopter parenting is no good. But what does that actually mean?

For purposes of the study, the researchers defined “helicopter parenting” as engaging in over-involved habits such as solving problems for kids or making decisions for them.

The term “helicopter parent” first appeared in a book in 1969, referring to a parent of a teen who hovers too close. It gained steam in the 2000’s as college deans reported such behaviors as parents looking to get grades changed and calling to wake college kids for classes. I’m not sure my parents even knew when my classes were when I was in college – I can’t imagine a daily wake-up call.

Somewhere along the line, “helicopter parenting” trickled down to parents with younger children. Today, if you stay too close, according to the judgment of another, you’re a helicopter. I get tons of questions from confused parents – they want to do their best to love and support their kids, but they don’t want to hang too close and cause problems by “hovering”. Sigh.

Young children need parental support. They need help and guidance along the way. Do they need you to solve every problem? Of course not! Do they sometimes need help brainstorming problem solving strategies? Absolutely.

The best advice I can give on this one is to strike the term “helicopter parenting” from your vocabulary. It’s overused and often misused, and that’s a problem.

Beyond that, try this:

Trust your instincts.

You know your family better than anyone else. Some kids need close supervision at the park, while others need room to spread their wings and fly. I know, for instance, that my daughter can climb super high and never fall but if my son follows her I need to trail him – he often catches up to her only to realize that he doesn’t love heights. I also know that my kids have potentially fatal food allergies, so all parties require close supervision.

Trust your parental instincts. You know what your kids need and how to fulfill those needs. If you worry about what others think, you might not make the best choices for your family. Stay focused on your own family and tune out the white noise.

Talk about feelings.

Kids need to be able to experience and cope with frustration, anger, sadness, and every other feeling that comes up throughout the day. Too often parents jump in to solve a problem so that kids don’t have to experience big emotions.

Emotions are good and all feelings matter. Talk about the feelings that occur when something is hard or just out of reach. Let your child cry and express her emotions as she sees fit. Then label those feelings, talk about what caused them, and discuss ways to feel calm.

Problem solve together.

Solving every problem for your child leads to learned helplessness. Solving problems with your child provides guidance and support while empowering your child to become a problem solver.

Brainstorm together. Ask leading questions, but don’t provide the answers. We all have moments when we need sometime to listen and provide support, right? Kids feel the same way. Sometimes they need someone to sit close and listen while they try to find a solution.

Listen.

Listen for the sake of listening, not for the sake of crafting the perfect response. Too often we get caught up in partial listening – we listen to respond. The best listeners, however, need time to respond. They need time process what was said and respond when they have something thoughtful to add to the conversation. The best listeners…listen.

Listen to what your kids say. Let the feelings and emotions hang in the air for a moment. Sit with them. Experience them. Take the time to empathize before you problem solve. When your children learn that they won’t break every time they experience big emotions, they will be better equipped to cope with the hard stuff along the way.

Make time for play.

Kids learn a lot from free play. They learn to solve problems. They learn to resolve conflict. They learn to cope with emotions. Play is the business of childhood – make time for it.

For more on the importance of free play, check out these articles:

Parents, Are Your Kids Getting Enough Free Play Time?

5 Ways Even Working Parents Can Factor in More Free Play

Why Free Play Is Important During the Summer

Parenting with Presence with Susan Stiffelman

parentingpresence

I read a lot of parenting books.  When parents come to me for help, I need to know what they’re reading and why it speaks to them.  When they come to me with the latest and greatest parenting “theory”, I need to understand why that particular style appeals to them.  I stay on top of the current research, I read until my eyes fall out, and I help parents apply that coveted information to their daily lives.

The truth is that parenting is challenging at times, and while books are full of useful information – learning to apply that information to the bumps in the road can also be a challenge.  If you really want to practice mindful parenting but find that it’s hard to do so when your children arguing about that one toy (again), you’re not alone.  Sometimes what we read at night doesn’t always work the next morning.

This time is different.  From the moment I opened Susan Stiffelman’s book, Parenting with Presence, I felt a sense of calm.  The chapter on throwing away the snapshot is worthy of a book of its own.  I think we all do this, to some degree.  We create a snapshot of what we want our families, our lives, our careers, and even our friendships to look like.  When those snapshots conflict with reality, we feel disappointed, angry, and sometimes depressed as a result.  We have to learn to start where we are – parent the kids that we have – instead of desperately trying to live up to the snapshots we created.

With a focus on self-love, acceptance, and compassion, Stiffelman guides us through the hard stuff – making peace with our own feelings and emotions while understanding why our children might feel hurt or upset at times.  Stiffelman provides practical strategies for parents and, more importantly, she also provides hope.  Parenting with Presence will shift your thinking and calm your soul.

Please enjoy Stiffelman’s 5 tips for parenting with presence below, and get your copy of her book here!

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Five Tips for Parenting With Presence

 

I had meditated from the time I was sixteen, so as I approached motherhood, I was certain I would be spared those dramatic, stressful moments I saw frazzled parents having with their children. Yelling or shouting? I would be too centered to succumb to that level of frustration. Trying to rush my child to get where we were going? I was confident about my ability to slow down and live in the moment.

 

Ha!

 

In theory, parenting with presence sounds easy enough. Putting it into practice in real time with real children is another thing altogether. No one can push our buttons the way our kids can — ignoring repeated requests to come to dinner after we’ve made something healthy and tasty, or refusing to stay in their beds when we’ve run out of steam and desperately want to go to sleep. Sometimes we lose our cool, and our way.

 

Parenting shows us just how human we are. Humbling, yes, but if we relax into the experience rather than resist the difficult moments, it can be one of the greatest opportunities we will ever have to learn how to love more deeply, live more fully in the moment and become more open-hearted versions of ourselves. A blessing of untold magnitude, but one with a never-ending invitation to stretch and grow.

 

Here are a few of the things I have learned about parenting with presence:

 

Be good enough. Our children don’t need us to be saintly or enlightened. We just need to be good enough. Don’t allow mean, critical voices in your head to tell you that you’re not adequately conscious or evolved. That voice — the one telling you that if you were more “spiritual,” you wouldn’t yell at your kids– is not your friend. It is only with a heart that is at ease with our imperfections that we can truly embrace the opportunities for spiritual growth that come with being a parent. When you lose your way, touch your heart with a “There, there” as you would comfort a child, and begin anew.

 

When your buttons get pushed, look beneath the surface. None of us like being ignored or dealing with tantrums. But when we feel especially triggered by our child’s unpleasant behavior, unfinished business from our own childhood may be rearing its ugly head. If your child’s anger makes your blood boil, it may be rekindling memories of a parent’s explosive temper. If you feel painfully disrespected when your kids pretend they don’t hear you, it may be activating the hurt of being ignored as a child. Our children can be invaluable beacons of light, illuminating our emotional dark corners to catalyze deep healing and open us to extraordinary dimensions of love and acceptance.

 

Commit to moments of full engagement. Most of us juggle the demands of our lives by giving partial attention to each activity without being fully present for any of them. We listen halfheartedly to our child’s story about Show and Tell while our wandering mind thinks over the emails we need to send. We rush our kids through brushing their teeth, counting the moments until we can fall wearily into bed. When our kids sense our divided attention, they often generate chaos and drama to bring all of us into the room, even if their behavior results in threats or punishments. Focus on the one thing you’re doing, whether it’s serving a snack or changing a diaper. Investing even a few moments of fully-engaged time with your kids can bring greater joy to your parenting life.

 

Challenge fear. Many parents are driven by anxiety. What will happen if she doesn’t finish her homework? What if he refuses to eat dinner…again? When we are ruled by fear, we tend to come across to our children as desperate and needy, effectively putting them in charge of our happiness. Make friends with the worst case scenario so it has less of a hold over you.

 

Unplug. These days it is nearly impossible to visit a park and not find parents checking their devices while the kids play, or strolling their baby while chatting on their cell phone. Rarely do you see families in a restaurant without at least one person—often a child— on some kind of digital device. We all know that the digital revolution has brought amazing things to our lives, but our children need regular doses of our presence. Yes, it’s great that you can reach out for the support of your cyber-tribe when you’re feeling isolated with little kids. But the next time your cell phone beeps, try staying a little longer in the 3D world.

 

My now twenty-four year old son walks into the house as I’m finishing up this article. I feel the tug of my writing, but the pull on my heart is stronger and I stand up to share a hug and a few moments of “How’ve ya been?” as we catch up after not seeing each other for a few days.

 

I have enjoyed many soul-nurturing experiences in my life but to this day, seeing my son still splits open my heart like nothing else can. Through the many rough patches and the countless days when I fell miles short of being as conscious as I had hoped to be, this love remains. Pure, perfect and miraculous.

 

# # #

 

Susan Stiffelman, MFT is the bestselling author of Parenting with Presence and Parenting without Power Struggles. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a credentialed teacher, and the Huffington Post’s weekly “Parent Coach” advice columnist. She lives in Malibu, California where she is an aspiring banjo player, a determined tap-dancer, and an optimistic gardener. Visit her online at http://www.ParentingwithPresence.com.

 

Based on the book Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids ©2015 by Susan Stiffelman. Printed with permission of New World Library. www.newworldlibrary.com

 

Your Must-Have Resource for Navigating Social Media With Tweens

Image via Amazon

Image via Amazon

When I think back to middle school, I can’t help but remember the notes passed in study hall or in between classes.  Do you like Katie?  Circle one: YES or NO.  Remember those?  They weren’t always about boys, of course.  Sometimes they were about friends.  Do you think Katie is nice?  Circle one:  YES NO I DON’T KNOW. This social hierarchy thing?  That’s been around forever.  We act like it’s a new development, but this has been happening for years.

What IS a new development is taking the notes (nice ones and not-so-nice ones) and attaching them to something like an Instagram – in the secret code of tweendom (you know, letters that you have to decode – which really means just ask a tween to tell you what in the world “#lmirl” means.)

While many tweens use social media to connect with others, some do make mistakes.  And some intentionally bully others online. That embarrassing note passed in study hall years ago is much worse today because now it’s posted online for others to see.  With a simple screenshot, that note can continue to be posted over and over again.  That note that you tore up on your worst day in middle school has the potential to stick around forever in the life of a tween today.  Let that sink in for a minute.

Helping tweens and teens navigate the bumpy road of social media is tricky.  On the one hand, you can’t just bury your head in the sand and hope that your kid never makes a bad choice.  Kids make mistakes – it happens.  Even though they think they know everything…they do need support and guidance.  On the other hand, they need independence.  They need to have friendships on their own terms.  They don’t need you hovering and “liking” their every move.

What’s a parent to do?

Allow me to introduce you to Galit Breen!  In her new book, “Kindness Wins“, Breen covers all things social media and guides parents through the process – a road she recently began traveling with her own girls.  Breen knows how to weave a story, and her personal anecdotes will capture your heart and help you feel understood.  Not all parents talk openly about the struggles of raising adolescents, and that can feel isolating.  Breen breaks it down and shares her stories in this empowering parenting guide with a simple message:  Kindness always wins.

Also?  Breen is no stranger to online bullying.  She knows firsthand the pain of a hurtful comment or two.  Instead of allowing online bullying to tear apart her soul, however, she turned it around and did something about it.  How’s that for inspiring?

Synopsis

If kindness wins, accountability rules. The need for this mantra is never clearer than when scrolling through posts and comments left online.

Approximately four out of ten kids (42 percent) have experienced cyberbullying. When we were young, our bullies weren’t usually strangers. They were the kids who passed mean notes about us in class, the ones who didn’t let us sit at their table during lunch, and the ones who tripped us in the hallway or embarrassed us in gym class. Cyberbullying isn’t all that different from the playground bullying of our youth and nightmares. But with social media, our bullies have nonstop access to us–and our kids. In fact, we’re often “friends” with our bullies online.

When freelance writer Galit Breen’s kids hinted that they’d like to post, tweet, and share photos on Instagram, Breen took a look at social media as a mom and as a teacher and quickly realized that there’s a ridiculous amount of kindness terrain to teach and explain to kids―and some adults―before letting them loose online. So she took to her pen and wrote a how-to book for parents who are tackling this issue with their kids.

Kindness Wins covers ten habits to directly teach kids as they’re learning how to be kind online. Each section is written in Breen’s trademark parent-to-parent-over-coffee style and concludes with resources for further reading, discussion starters, and bulleted takeaways. She concludes the book with two contracts―one to share with peers and one to share with kids. Just like we needed to teach our children how to walk, swim, and throw a ball, we need to teach them how to maneuver kindly online. This book will help you do just that.

Bio

Galit Breen was a classroom and reading teacher for ten years. She has a master’s degree in education and a bachelor’s degree in human development. In 2009, she launched a career as a freelance writer entrenched in social media. Since then, her work has been featured in various online magazines including Brain, Child, The Huffington Post, TIME, and xoJane. Breen lives in Minnesota with her husband, three children, and a ridiculously spoiled miniature golden doodle. You can learn more about Galit by visiting TheseLittleWaves.com.

FAQs

1. Why did you write this book?
I had a post go viral this fall about coments I received about my weight on an article I wrote about marriage. Not too long after that, my daughter and her friends began using social media platforms like Instagram. When I looked through some of the kids’ profiles, I realized there’s a lot of kindness terrain to cover. After my experience with unkind comments and fat shaming, I knew I wanted to do something about cyberbullying. This book is my “something.” This is a guide for parents, teachers, youth groups, etc. to use for teaching our kids how to be kind online. I think this can and should be taught. I used my work in social media to inform what needs to be taught and I used my background in teaching (I have an MA in education and I was a classroom and reading teacher for 10 years) to guide the how-to portion of the book.

2. What’s the book’s format?

The book can be read in one gulp or in sections. Each chapter in Kindness Wins covers one habit to directly teach kids about how to be kind online. Each section is written in a simple, parent-to-parent over coffee style and concludes with one resource for further reading, two discussion starters (one to have with peers and one to have with kids), and three bulleted takeaways. At the end of the book there are two Kindness Wins contracts–one for peers and one for kids.

3. What do your kids think about the book?

My kids are my biggest cheerleaders. My tween girls were two of my early readers and they gave me so very much feedback and things to (re)consider. They questioned and redirected my thinking. It was wonderful. Everything that’s right and relevant about the advice I give in this book might just be due to them! And my young son heartily approves of my cover colors. Thank goodness for that. :)

4. Who is this book for? Can kids read it?

Kids can definitely read it; you have my own tweens’ seal of approval for that. I wrote this book for parents in the trenches of raising tweens and teens, older kids who are teetering on knowing more than we do about maneuvering online. Parenting is hard. When our kids were little, we figured out that sharing our experiences, challenges, goals, and wins with each other was a huge relief and help. Now that our kids are a little bit older, we need just as much help but our support system is dwindling because parenting them feels more private, more their story to tell then ours. But there’s so much to be said about joining forces with our parenting peers and helping each other out. So this book is meant to be read and discussed by parents, friends, teachers, coaches, youth group and club leaders. It’s also meant to be read by–and discussed with–kids. Parents and kids, mother daughter book clubs, scouts, teams, classrooms. Reading this book is a step toward online kindness winning. But the conversations your reading will springboard are the leaps. Kids can, and should, read it.

5. What’s your favorite part of the book?

My favorite parts of the book are where my girls gave me feedback and took my social media examples from good to great. I also found quotes from authors and celebrities to begin each with. I love these so very much because it feels justright to have people from so many walks of life–kids to parents to celebrities–touting the same kindness wins message. At the end of the book I also include our favorite peanut butter cookie recipe–so you can make the cookies to have while you engage in the tricky conversations the book encourages you to. This specific recipe connects to the book, I swear, you’ll have to find out how inside, though! And it makes me feel like a good Minnesotan to not show up to the conversation empty handed!

Buy the book here!

Find Galit Breen here.

This book is a great resource for parents – but it also belongs in the hands of teachers and school administrators.  If we want to raise kind kids, we all need to be on the same page.

 

Disclaimer:  I am ridiculously proud to call Galit a friend (a really, really good one) and she did send me the book to read before it went to press, but that doesn’t change my opinion of this book in AT ALL.  Raising adolescents is complicated, and this book helps parents navigate these tricky but very necessary conversations.  It also brings us all together for a common goal:  Kindness.  Who in this world can argue with that?  Are you still here?  Go out and get a copy of “Kindness Wins”!