Saturday, July 8, 2017

Still Faced

Engagement. It seems to be the answer to all the problems I am facing in my office clinically this month.  Engagement.  What exactly does that mean? According to my computers Smart Lookup it is “The action of engaging or being engaged”. So what does engaged mean? Engaged- “to occupy, attract, or involve. To participate or become involved in”. So the answer to all the problems I am seeing in my office this month is simply: Engage. Ok sounds too simple to be paying my hourly fee to hear simply “You just need to engage more”.  I think for the cost I need to elaborate.

Here is some background info for those of you that are still with me.  Colorado has the highest teen suicide rate in the country.  To those of us that live here that comes as a shock because we simply live in the most beautiful place in the country.  People are healthier here because the altitude requires less body weight to function well, there are open spaces and trails everywhere you look, and so many people are out enjoying themselves there is the peer pressure to get outside yourself.  And being outside is supposed to make people happier. But we have a huge teen suicide problem and I am definitely seeing an increase clinically.  Also I am currently dealing with more sexual assaults, and girls that have been taken advantage of sexually because of being pressured or not listened to.  I am seeing more kids that are having anger issues at an earlier age, and anxious children at an earlier age. And I am not alone, my friends in the field are seeing the same issues. So when I see an increase of specific populations in my office I start to research.  And my favorite source is the clients themselves.  I start asking questions and learning from the kids. Then I look around our culture and see if I am noticing cultural trends.  Finally, I look at what the research gurus are saying. With all this info at hand I have come to a conclusion, which if you have followed me for any length of time, you may see a repetition of theme here….. We are disconnected and it is killing us!

Let me give you the experience that sent me into my recent blog rant.  I was at a local park with my daughter and her kids.  We are playing at the swings, pushing higher and higher, and laughing loudly.  A girl about 5 years old approaches the nearby swing and stands next to it, waiting for her mom to catch up.  Mom arrives a few seconds later but is busy talking on her cell phone and does not engage with the child to play for about five minutes.  When Mom does hang up and play it lasts maybe three minutes until the phone occupies her again.  She removes her daughter to talk on the phone and goes to sit on a nearby bench.  The little girl follows and just hangs out by the bench.  Mom hangs up and then starts to text.  The little girl starts to throw a temper tantrum and fights with mom.  Mom tries to discipline her and the child runs off.  Mom follows trying to engage the girl but she just turns her back and ignores her mom.  Now as I am watching this, not too obviously, it starts to feel familiar.  Three days before I was at a training for Royal Family Kids Camp and they showed the “Still Face Experiment.”  If you have ever taken a child development or a psychology class you probably saw the Still Face Experiment. In the research, they take a mom and a young child into a room and allow them to play naturally- you see mom and baby imitating each other, giggling, just having a good time with each other.  And then they have the mom go still or flat faced, expressionless, unresponsive to the child.  What the child does first is they try to engage with the mom, when that is unsuccessful they become reactive or louder, when that is unsuccessful they become distressed and then withdrawn. And I realized that was what I was seeing here at the park. Have you ever watched a person on their phone, texting or using as an electronic device? They become still/flat faced, emotionless.  Our children are seeing this and it is effecting their brains.  The still face experiment is research on attachment disorders.  Research on how our children neurologically respond to unresponsive or unengaged adults.  Engagement changes the brain in positive ways. Disengagement changes the brain in negative, life affecting ways.

So let me apply this to my original rant. At a basic cultural or societal level we have become more interested in our devices and less engaged with each other. (Yep I said it less-engaged) Through this shift we are becoming less respectful to others desires and more concerned with meeting our own needs; we have become unhappier with our lives and dissatisfied with ourselves and others; we have begun to expect gratification instantly; and we have started to purposely isolated ourselves from the physically present environment. (Actually kinda sounds like the traits of an average teenager) So now I am going to watch and see if we are actually creating more attachment disorders in our children. 

If you want to be the solution instead of the problem start to engage. Put away the phone and pay attention to the moment. Make electronic free zones, time periods, and activities. Get creative and live in the moment. Lay on the grass and watch the clouds.  Look for an actual four-leaf clover and talk about leprechauns. Take a day on the beach in your front room with swim suits, beach towels, and blue sheets.  Have a tea party.  Finger paint with pudding. Have a whip cream fight. Throw water balloons or run through the hose.  PLAY IN THE MUD! There are a million ideas and the whole family will benefit from it.  But as one wise teen client stated to me, get into your kids’ lives no matter how much they complain about it, and have some fun no matter how much they resist.  (I guess they actually want their parents attention!) Simply put : Engage.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

What's That You Say?

The human body.  What a magnificent creation! Whether it be the Adonis on the sports field or the uncontrolled flailing of a newborn baby.  A source of both pain and pleasure.  Have you really paid attention to your body lately – not in the “do I look fat in this dress?” sense, but in the interior physical experience sense? With all my work with trauma clients I have become keenly aware of the power of paying attention to our body.  I will not try to impress with you with all my reading, research, and wonderful rearing- but instead try to narrow it down to the brass tacks, the important stuff that is easy to remember. 
We are created in a way that our entire body works together and even communicates what information the subconscious brain is receiving.  It all works through the central nervous system and is very efficient in communicating to the brain information necessary mostly for survival.  Things like- boy am I hungry; ouch that hurts; something is not safe here; or I really love this – just to list a few.  And since our body does not think in words like our brain it uses physical sensations to convey the message. But as we age we have a tendency to become less reliant on our bodies and more reliant on our brains.  This is all well and good except through only going cognitive we are missing out on a lot of important information.  Information that only our body can convey.  So we are going to start very basic, a format that you can easily teach your children. 
When your body has an experience it records it in the muscles, it physically remembers it- then the brain interprets it. And experience influences the way the brain interprets the experience.  However the body does not put a meaning on the experience, it leaves it in the lower or reptilian brain.  The bottom of the brain is our automatic responses, things like breathing, digestion, heart rate, you know the normal stuff we do without thinking.  The top of the brain does the thinking, planning, and interpreting.  But there is one more important thing the bottom of the brain does- the fight, flight, and freeze responses.  These responses are necessary for effective escape or survival in dangerous situations.  Unfortunately, our brain is so good at these responses it often overgeneralizes and applies the response to anything that may seem threatening. For example: my baby brother takes my favorite truck and I fight! I imagine a scary monster under my bed so I freeze (and maybe scream to mom when I get my nerve up.) I am told no so I run away.  All understandable I suppose but not necessarily effective in solving the problem at hand.  But that’s the way our reptilian brain works, it responds without thought- you know automatically.  The part most adults are unaware of is that the body is designed to give us a physical warning before it responds- it may be a brief flicker of feeling but it is there if we become aware and listen for it.  So, we need to become aware of our bodies so we can hear the tender voice when it speaks.
To listen to the body we first have to become quiet- really quiet, and notice our body. The best way to start such an unusual process is to sit quietly and notice your body: the position on the chair; our feet on the floor; the temperature in the room.  Then move to noticing the inside of your body: maybe tension in the shoulders; the rate of your heart; the warmth of your appendages. If you can do that, you are way ahead of the general population.  The next step is noticing what your body is doing in times of changing emotions.  For example: Getting bad news about a loved one or a personal goal- you may feel it in your heart.  Anyone that has ever received negative information has felt it in their heart, your heart actually feels broken! Another example might be if you are looking forward to an activity you might notice it in your stomach, possibly similar to butterflies in the stomach.  Or consider, if you have ever been in a dark place and you suddenly feel your skin crawl, it actually feels creepy- that is a form of fear.  All these physical feelings are our upper brain trying to give us messages of things to pay attention to.  And if we listen the situation may turn out differently than if we are completely unaware.
Now let’s apply this to our children.  Children are naturally physical beings, they experience everything physically (this is why they cannot look at the pretty things, they must touch them.) The difficulty for children is the interpretation of the physical sense- they often lack the words to convey the experience, but they are very in tune to the physical feeling. When working with kids I explain their brain similarly to the form above, and we practice noticing our bodies.  Then we talk about how different things feel inside and I use an example of anger- this is the strongest sensation in the body typically thus easiest to identify. Some kids have more difficulty than others with this process, and I have not yet come up with a conclusion why, but I do know that everyone can learn to listen to their bodies if they just try.  If you are going to try this with your child I suggest trying it at bedtime, when they are stalling going to bed and want to do anything possible to stay awake and engaged.  From my experience bed time (and potty training) are the absolute best time to engage with your kids, they are much more receptive and participatory when stuck in one place with no escape. The other times I would practice this is by modeling the behavior in daily conversation, for example: “When you gave me a hug today my tummy got all fuzzy and happy inside.” This example includes the necessary pieces for a young child- cause or trigger event, physical description of how it feels, and labeling of the feeling for future communication.  Or you can ask how their experiences feel when they are engaged in the activity. 
The goal of teaching this to our children is to help them apply it at times when they are responding in fight/flight/freeze, typically those misbehaving moments.  If they can notice the physical warning that they are about to lose it they will eventually be able to choose not to lose it and respond more appropriately.  But more importantly, mindfulness, or the awareness of our physical experience, is the foundation of healthy whole personhood.  Individuals that practice body awareness will be more prepared for negative and positive experiences in their daily lives.  And hopefully if traumatized they will be better prepared  to heal quickly.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Just Tell Them No

Just tell them no.  Seems easy enough, two little letters, one short word, so much meaning.  But it isn’t really easy.  Many young girls today find themselves in what seemed innocent situations that end badly. Many young boys today find themselves in what seemed innocent situations that they couldn’t seem to stop.  And we as parents see report after report about teens that get raped or assaulted because of drugs, alcohol, or the inability to listen and stop. In my office I deal with the aftermath of these situations and I find myself angry because of what culture, media, and people are promoting to undeveloped brains as their CHOICE. And then we look at them incredulously and ask the simple questions: “Why didn’t you say no?” Or “Why didn’t you stop?” News alert- every one of those girls said no at least once or we could not consider it rape or assault (unless of course they are drunk or drugged). And every one of those perpetrators ignored the no.  So then I started to want someone to blame, because this is becoming epidemic, and our babies are getting hurt.  But who to blame? The perpetrator? Most definitely, but remember they often are undeveloped brains who thrive off of instant gratification.  Should I blame the media- writers, producers, sponsors, etc?  Maybe, but they are faceless money rich entities.  Should I blame the schools? Nope.  Should I blame us parents? Wellllllll……. I know as a parent that I cannot take credit for my kids good decisions or their bad decisions- I can only create an environment for their success.  But then I have to really ask, “What role can a parent play in this current chaos?” This is what I have come up with (how was that for an introductory paragraph, wow!?).

 When my children were young we started a standard in our interactions with each other- we listened to the word no.  For example, my kids loved to be tickled so there was a lot of tickling in our house. And as tickling goes there would be over stimulation and my children would say “NO” or “STOP”.  At this point I would automatically stop, and end the game. They would then say “Ok now tickle me.” And I would tell them, “You told me no/stop so I listened and stopped.  If you need a break say wait, then we will start again.  I need to listen when you say no/stop, because that is a serious word and it needs to respected.”  This became the rule for any time a person said no or stop and the reason behind this was simple. I wanted my children to know that they needed to listen when people said no or stop.  And I wanted them to know it was a serious word and not use it flippantly. More specifically I wanted my boy to know when a girl said no or stop he did, no matter how much fun or energy was invested in the particular activity. 

 The other thought I came up with has to do with dogs- well at least my dogs made me think about it.  When you have dogs and they know they are going to be fed they seem to be able to tell time, and they start to get excited a little early.  They may refuse to leave your side, go outside, or take a nap.  They diligently anticipate you going to the food container and putting dog food in their bowl.  When you finally get up to go to the dog bowl they are completely excited, jumping and falling all over just to get to their spot for food.  Now I have been told by dog trainers that you need to teach your dog self-control and you do this by delaying their gratification.  You make them sit quietly while you put the food down and they do not get to eat until you tell them. So delaying gratification teaches your dog self-control.  Now let us apply this lesson to parenting….when a child is insisting, whining, and begging it is often hard to not give into immediately just to give our ears a rest.  And research is showing with the video game and media world we have created our kids have not fully learned to delay gratification, instead they want it NOW! “My way now” is no longer just found in our terrible two’s.  Do we as parents need to teach our kids delayed gratification and self-control more effectively?

 My last thought is based on conversations with teenage girls.  They are perplexed by their own giving in to the pressure of a sexually aroused boy.  Pressuring or badgering does work in many cases.  So this one is twofold.  We as parents need to teach that no means no, and you won’t get your way if you badger me.  Often in my office I work with families on this very topic and it goes something like this:
Parent: “Little Johnny has an absolute meltdown when they don’t get their way or we tell them no.” 
Me: “Johnny is this true?”
Johnny: “Maybe”.
Me: “When your parents tell you no, how often do they give in when you whine, beg, or bother them?”
Johnny: “Ummmmm, well, there was this, actually …… never.”
Me:  “So why do you keep it up if it has never worked?”
Johnny: “I’m optimistic?”
Now sometimes as parents we do give in, but most of us don’t, and they keep it up anyway because every human brain is addicted to dopamine (the happy chemical in your brain) and the desire for that overrules logic regularly.  But if we help our kids learn to not badger, or beg- and to respect the word no/stop- they will be in the habit and less likely to violate another person. 

  I know as a parent that we cannot do it all perfectly, and even if we did these little people still have free will and may choose poorly.  But frankly we have to do something, and instill the abilities to be healthy individuals making choices that don’t harm.  And to do this we have to instill respect and develop character.  Nothing else seems to be working in this area. Colleges are giving training on what consensual sex looks like to incoming freshmen.  People are you-tubing advice and opinions. Media has reported over and over the negative outcomes.  But unfortunately it is not decreasing the incidences of victimization. When you want to change a culture you start with the kids, and you teach them what you want them to do young.  Let’s turn this trend around, one family at a time, infecting the culture and society like a virus.  It starts with us at home. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Cellular Parenting II

      A few years back I had two young girls in my office talking about how afraid they were to ride with their dad in the car.  The reason? Not because of driving impaired, or issues with road rage.  Nope, simply because he was texting while driving, and not doing both well.  Now I had a dilemma on hand.  I am a mandatory reporter- that means by law I have to report to authorities any act of abuse or neglect.  And the fun piece is I don’t have to decide if the behavior is abusive, I just have to report it and let the authorities decide. Remember, I have two kids reporting they are being put in harm’s way by what could be considered neglectful or abusive parenting because serious harm could occur.  So I call Human Services and ask a question: “Am I required to report driving hazards of a parent as a mandatory reporter?” The response, “Ummm, I don’t know, that’s a good question.” So they ask around but no one knows, and they refer me to the local police department.  Same question, pretty much the same response, accept the officer said “as a law officer I cannot ticket a driver for dangerous driving unless I directly observe it.” So even if the parent is making the risky choice of texting while their vehicle is moving, and the children in the car are scared because they feel it is affecting the driver in a dangerous manner- it at this point is not considered child abuse or neglect.  My response: we better figure this out before someone innocent dies!
            As you see I correlate this with my last blog, because both are entitled Cellular Parenting- both a problem with priorities.  Really, what is the most important part of having children? We need to decide that on an individual basis, weighing in on the long term outcomes of those choices.  Making our phones more important than our kids = possible attachment disorders.  Making our phones more important than our safety = possible death.  Or on a smaller scale- displaying behaviors that our kids will later imitate and maybe not manage as well as an adult…oops, possible death again.  What is your goal as a parent?  It’s sort of like a business plan- decide it and live by it.  If it is to raise healthy adults that are independent by 18, then live that way.  Pretty simple, but true. Someone is always watching and may end up becoming just like you, so be careful, or at least mindful, of your choices.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Cellular Parenting

            I  was recently reading from The Body Keeps Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk- yes light reading before bedtime for counselors- and was on his chapter about attachment patterns and trauma.  And I had a thought, not just a small thought but one that moved with monumental speed to a full out fear….one of those fears that spurs a professional to re-evaluate their theory, therapy, and teaching approaches.  But before I jump in and scare a third of my parents we must establish a base line of knowledge.
            Attachment theory was developed decades ago by many theorists including John Bowlby.  John Bowlby studied the effect of early relationship and the effects it had on later development and relationships.  These theories have been researched and tested until they have been considered actual fact and influence developing theory and treatment approaches.  Attachment is defined by Webster as: a bond of affection or loyalty; fond regard. Attachment is developed between two living entities through contact, both physical and emotional.  Attachment can be human to human, human to animal, and animal to animal.  It is developed through interactions between the participants based on physical and emotional interactions of the two parties.  Within the present understanding of attachment, we know that a healthy adult experienced healthy attachment through infant/parent interactions.  These individuals had a primary caregiver that: responded to their emotional and physical needs in a positive manner; that mirrored or copied their facial expressions; that were able to read their body language and respond accordingly; and provided their basic needs in a timely manner.  These individuals developed a sense of trust in the environment, others, and themselves based on the reliability of their primary caregiver.
            Historically many things have gotten in the way of healthy attachment: wars; natural disasters; cyclical abuse; drug or alcohol abuse; or absence of the caregiver due to work or illness. In these situations parents become unresponsive to what their children are doing or needing.  They may seem vacant, distant, or distracted to others but to the child they feel unavailable and attachment is disrupted.  If the relationship between a parent and a child is disrupted and healthy attachment does not happen what is considered an attachment disorder develops.  These include: avoidant attachment; anxious or ambivalent attachment; and disorganized attachment. (I could report chapters of information about these topics but won’t here, you can look them up easily on line.) We now see that the incidents of child abuse, self-abuse, drug abuse, depression, anxiety and certain personality disorders are prevalent in unattached individuals.  This is not to say that one necessarily caused the other but it is proven there is a high correlation between the two.  So my point? Healthy attachment is the top need of any child and it influences their future success and health like no other ingredient. And knowing that attachment is so paramount in the development of healthy individuals it would make sense that we should educate and promote healthy attachment to the best of our ability.
            Since education is so important, I decided last night as I read about trauma, that I personally needed to point out a simple but disturbing observation.  Unresponsive parenting causes attachment problems. Pretty simple, clear, and a fine summary of tons of research done over decades.  Unresponsive parenting means the parent is distracted from the most important thing at hand, a one on one in tuned relationship with their own child.  How many unresponsive parents do we observe in an average day in the public arena? At the park, the mall, play spaces, school, restaurants, etc.  I would say probably close to 50% from my own personal observations.  Now I admit I have a tendency to really notice the behavior, or maybe even look for the behaviors, so I cannot say 50% from a researched base, but rather my own biased opinion.  And why are those parents unresponsive, inattentive? Not because of war, natural disaster, or drug/alcohol addictions, but because of electronics. Yep the big money maker of America- cellular devices. Thus my frightening observation last night while reading about trauma treatment: Am I going to see more attachment disorders clinically because of cell phone usage by parents? OMG#*!~++++ I know that there are many blogs, youtubes, articles, lectures, etc. about the effects of electronic usage on all individuals, so it is a pretty well covered topic- not that it seems to make any difference to the individuals we are trying to educate.  But to truly consider we may be creating attachment disorders in our children because we: can’t unplug; we can’t look into our newborn infants eyes while they nurse; we can’t read a bed time story start to end; we can’t have a conversation at dinner; we can’t watch our toddler learn to throw a ball; we can’t watch our kid do a bike trick; we can’t….because we are on our phones doing whatever. And then we are going to pay a professional to solve a problem that really did not have to happen in the first place. I hope someone researches this and comes up with statistics, numbers, and outcomes that surprise and shock us.  But if they did do you think we would really know, keeping in mind that electronics have a major economic impact on our country and other countries as a whole? Good research is often ignored due to economics.
            That leaves us to make the difference, and ignore the pressure to conform, to unplug when they are awake. I hope one by one, we can encourage each other, new parents and old, to take seriously the responsibility of being a good parent.  To realize it is only a few short years that we have to live selflessly and save the electronics for when no one is watching.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Keep Going?

September 26, 2016
Ok it has been two years since I blogged- think there is a problem here? most definitely.  I am ADD and lost interest and as all ADD people know when you lose interest you do nothing. And I lost interest and have done nothing with my blog.  Much has happened since then: I joined a new private practice and left the one I had been in for 15 years; my husband changed jobs; and most importantly I became a grandmother (a very young and vibrant grandmother, but still a grandma.)  And today before I was going to close up my blogspot shop- so to speak, I read my last blog and began to think.  It was written well, but more importantly it was relevant.  I find if I say the same thing at work more than once a week, I need to get the info out there for free.  And unfortunately I am regularly saying what I wrote in my last blog.  But as any good ADD blogger knows we need to know it is making a difference because simply getting this on the internet is a questionnaire in my head trying to convince me there is no reason to do it and move on to something with a more obvious payoff like my laundry or grocery shopping.  So maybe for now I will try to start blogging monthly again, it may take some encouragement but at least at this point it is an idea - which is where it all began in the first place.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I Wish I Had......

Today was my day off and I had a choice to make - I could go to IKEA and shop for lamps with my adult daughter or I could finish a training on trauma and write a blog.  Hmmmm, I am sure you think I stayed home and wrote a blog since you are reading today’s writings but actually I went to IKEA.  Why, you may ask, with so many important things to complete and so little time to complete it?  Because I always have something that needs to get done.  I did when my kids were little and now that they are adults I still have things that need to be done.  The only difference is my kids are no longer little.  
About eight years ago I had to make a choice.  I had things to do for my sons High School and I had a lecture to attend that night with a friend. School got out and my son came to find me working with the other mothers on our so important school project.  From the look on his face I knew it was a really bad day for him.  So I asked and he replied in High School boy form “It sucked.” Right there on the spot I asked him to dinner and a movie just the two of us. He knew I had prior plans but he said yes and went to get his back pack. I called and canceled with my friend and explained to the shocked mother’s around me, “You only get one chance with your teenager, and I am not missing mine.”
I look around me today and I see a society connected to their work, to their electronics, to their stuff. Where we put our time and energy is where we put our values.  I look back on my children’s childhoods and remember a lot of laughter, pain, fighting, giggling, playing, learning, loving, and so much more.  I remember their first step, their first word, their first day of school, their first play, their first bike ride, their first swim, their first date, their first heart break, their first time driving (I found out how many details of driving I just do naturally- which need to be explained to your 15 year old BEFORE they try it). I remember the important and the unimportant days of their lives because I was there with them to experience it. And I still have a regret that the years did not last longer, they were over too quickly.  
We as humans are created to connect with each other.  To meet mind to mind; to connect heart to heart; to feel valued by others. We do this by being together focusing on each other.  It is such a simple task that makes such an important impact on our children.  The meeting of the minds actually improves neurological function and health.  As a newborn it creates attachment, as a teenager it creates cortex connections. As a human it teaches what relationship is meant to be and how to manage them as an adult.  Our kids learn so much from us and through us.  The health of the culture relies on the health of the parents and adults connecting to our kids. There really is a reason to try and connect with each other. But as a parent it is important to remember the present moment counts in so many ways and there are no “do overs” when it comes to raising our kids.   
To connect with your kids every day begin by listening to them.  I am amazed at the wisdom that comes out of our kids.  The message is often lost due to the delivery but if we really listen to them we will begin to learn. When you listen to them look them in the eye and respond to what is being said.  Strive to understand their perspective, their emotions, their worlds. Next acknowledge them, give them encouragement, direction, or affirmation.  This leads to a sense of self in a child, a feeling that they have a place in the world and can impact it in ways both big and small.  Spend time enjoying them.  Here we have no mission, no list of goals, no agenda.  It is here that we just have fun playing, reading, telling stories, talking about the past, "hanging out".  There is no expectation or measurement of success and failure. To connect every day we need to turn off the electronics, to look each other in the eye- it may be as simple as sharing dinner together, not in the car but at an actual table.  Finally reach out and touch your kids. Unfortunately the majority of kids today are only touched by their parents with a purpose such as assisting in dressing, picking up and moving, or getting in and out of the car. In reality kids never get too big to snuggle with, to hug, to kiss, to tickle - the packaging changes not the needs. And if your teenager is not getting enough touch from you they may find it in other ways with their peers.   
So try today to live by a new motto - one that involves connecting with our kids.

Friday, May 30, 2014

How to Talk to Your Kids

com·mu·ni·ca·tion 1. the act or process of communicating; fact of being communicated.
2. the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs. 3. something imparted, interchanged, or transmitted. 4. a document or message imparting news, views, information, etc. 5. passage, or an opportunity or means of passage, between places.

Communication- it is truly an art form.  Some people come by it naturally, some need to be taught, and some never truly achieve it.  Communication comes in many different styles, formats, environments, and serves many purposes.  Typically it takes some attention between the individuals involved to accomplish it successfully- taking into account culture, intelligence, age, and attention span.  Of these the most important may be age. But this is not a blog about child developmental stages, rather the art of communication with children and teenagers.  I could really complicate the matter and give you lots of data and theories or I could simplify the art of communication into the one step children have taught me over and over.  So being simplistic at heart, and a lover of getting to the point- I will not impress you with all my book knowledge but cut to the chase.  To children young and old the most important ingredient of communication is caring.  Yep- CARING.  So simple, yet so complex.  How many times do I catch myself wanting to teach them what they need to know to solve their problems instead of hearing what they really want from me.  Many!  I am a professional problem solver, but that is not what our kids need most in communicating with us as adults and parents. They need to know we care. 

car·ing. verb (used without object), 1. to be concerned or solicitous; have thought or regard. 2. to be concerned or have a special preference (usually used in negative constructions): I don't care if I do.3. to make provision or look out (usually followed by for  ): Will you care for the children while I am away? 4. to have an inclination, liking, fondness, or affection (usually followed by for): Would you care for dessert? I don't care for him very much.
verb (used with object), cared, car·ing. 1. to feel concern about: He doesn't care what others say. 2. to wish; desire; like: Would you care to dance?
Caring within communication involves words, responses, and most importantly body language.  Our ability to care is displayed directly to children through the position of our bodies and the contact of our eyes.  This is followed by the use of linguistics involving tone, quality, and reflecting what was being communicated.  Notice I did not say “what was being said”, because children communicate more with their body than with their words.  So an accurate response to a child involves responding to the intent or motive of the communication not the communication alone. For a child our care of them is necessary before true communication begins because they need to feel we are invested before they try to communicate with us.  They must feel valued before they will trust us enough to give us their hearts.  As an adult we must remember that trying to understand is more important than trying to be understood. We may not get the point of the communication immediately, we may have to weed through their choices of words or their capacity with words depending on age.  But making the effort to understand their words is a form of caring.  With toddlers this can often times be frustrating due to their limited verbal production, but giving up sends a message to your child that you don’t care, and that they don’t matter.  With teenagers we can understand their words but often get stuck on their presentation.  For teens it is not how they say it that needs to be our focus but what they are saying, and any underlying assumptions that they present.  It is often difficult to get around these obstacles but attempting may be the most important part of the communication.  Many times in my office I say “I am not sure I completely am getting my head around what you are trying to say” and then I ask a clarification question or give them an opportunity to expound on their own.  Many children and teens have told me how much they feel valued by my statement because they sense I am actually trying- and trying says I care.  Now I would love to brag that I always get the message accurately- but I don’t.  But accuracy may not be the most part of the conversation, it may be feeling of connection that is developed in the effort to clearly understand.  Feeling felt by another person builds the brain, and is an important part of brain integration. So not only are you developing a caring relationship with your child but you are also helping their brain grow and develop.  (If you are interested in more information on brain integration take a look at Dr. Brian Siegel’s work beginning with “The Whole Brain Child”, or “Parenting From The Inside Out,” and for the teen age years “Brainstorm”.) 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Wha'cha gonna do?

What do you do well? What do you love to do? What do you love to do that you do well? The last question leads one to their passions.  Passions are important to each of us.  It gives us a sense of purpose, a goal that we can achieve and feel good about.  Many of our children discover their passions when they are little, but most forget them before they start college.  Unfortunately this can lead to unfulfilling careers.  I have a theory (well I actually have many theories but one applies here) that you either love your job or you make good money.  The lucky ones make good money in a job they love- which is actually an excellent goal.  But many of our kids enter college with the goal of making good money.  They achieve their bachelor’s degree and hit the work field with big plans of financial success. Many of them do very well.  But others end up making good money and being miserable. 
Let me tell you a tale of two adults: My husband had the admirable goal of making good money- this goal I benefited from tremendously because it allowed me to pursue my Master’s degree AND be a stay home mom for my kids.  Unfortunately my husband was pretty miserable.  He was good at his job and he was very productive- climbed that corporate ladder very well- but he disliked his job.  He had great hobbies, things he did at home and for the community, but that did not make him love his job. Then there was me, I was lucky because my mother helped me see that my passion was something I was good at when I was in high school.  I thought at that time that I really wanted to make good money, so I considered becoming a lawyer based on money and the fact I was good at arguing.  But very gently my mother pointed out that I was fantastic with kids, and they seemed to be attracted to me like a magnet.  “Yeah but I can’t make money working with kids, and who respects teachers?  Everybody thinks they’re too dumb to do anything else,” was my adolescent response.  Mom’s reply was simple “Teachers are respected by the people they matter the most to- kids. And money does not buy happiness.” My mother is a very wise woman! So I followed my talent and my passion and have always loved my job.  
The point? We need to help our kids find their passions and nurture those into careers. Currently there is a big debate on what our government calls Core Curriculum.  It is their attempt to educate our kids better.  The debate is whether it actually will work.  Historically schools were developed by how they could most easily fit into the culture, not necessarily how children actually learn.  Very little learning is achieved by sitting in a chair and watching a teacher show you how to learn.  Actual learning occurs when we combine auditory, visual, and tactile experiences around something we are interested in.  What interests the child is dependent on how they were created, their talents and their internal interests. Some kids love to dig in the dirt building dams and rivers (my engineer son in law), others love to get lost in a book or tell a story (my daughter), but very few love sitting in a chair staring at a dry erase board.  (Teachers have a huge challenge in keeping so many little minds interested in an environment few enjoy, and unfortunately Core Curriculum does not address this adequately.) Ask any kid what their favorite part of school is and they will tell you RECESS.  The time when they get to go outside and play what they want, not what they are being forced to do.  And watching what they play and how they play can lead us to their passions and future fulfilling careers. 
So what is a parent to do?  Get to know your child.  Play with them as preschoolers and see what they seem to really enjoy.  All children will play a variety of games and participate in many activities, it’s the ones they repetitively play and stick with for extended periods of time that we need to notice.  Teach them about their world while they play at what they love.  Reading and math are easily found in everyday activities, science and history are all around us if we just look. Find books and stories about the things they love, research them on the internet.  Take a vacation and learn even more about those things.  Learning is everywhere, we just have to become aware of it.  And as your child ages, allow them the opportunity to participate in what they love- not necessarily what you love.  We as parents want our children to succeed and be the best, but often it is the best at what we want not what they want.  Tune in to your child and study them as a creation, then tell them what you have learned.  They need our guidance, and different pair of eyes to see the things they may miss about themselves.      

Friday, March 14, 2014

Greet Me Like The Dog

 I am a dog person.  I believe everyone should have a dog.  I love puppy pictures and videos. I love loyal dog stories.  I love dogs.  In my lifetime I have been owner of nine different dogs.  I currently own two large doodle mixes that bring me unending joy. There is so much about dogs to love: their loyalty; their kisses; their playfulness; their curiosity; their simplicity; their joy; and most importantly their greetings.  
If you have never had a dog let me describe to you their greeting.  My current dogs are under two years of age, known as adolescent dogs.  (Frankly there is very little similarity between a human adolescent and a dog adolescent, and NOTHING similar in the way they greet you.  Human adolescents typically ooze contempt when a parental unit returns to the home because they always come with a request of some sort.  But not so with the dog.) Because of their age they still have puppish enthusiasm.  They jump, they wag, they attempt to pull on you, they bark, they run around your feet- they are the ultimate reflection of pure joy.  (We even have one that we call the Fountain of Joy because he pees all over as he wags whenever you return home. It’s a bit messy so we plan our reunions outside or in the mud room.) There is no question about it, they think you are the best person in the world and they are extremely happy that you have returned once again. 
So when my children were little, and I was a stay at home mom, I had a goal: To greet my husband when he came home from work with the same enthusiasm that the dogs had.  We would hear the garage door open and I would gather the pack (dogs, kids, and me) near the door. As soon it opened we would yell DADDDDDYYYYY! And hug and kiss and wag and pee like we were extremely happy that he had returned once again.  It may have been a silly ritual but it sent an important message: We really love you and are glad you are with us.  
I have to admit, I still kinda want to be greeted like that when I come home from a late night of work- to know that I was missed, and patiently waited for.  I love when my dogs greet me, but I love it even more when my family greets me with the same enthusiasm.  So I have only one request at the end of a work day: Please greet me like the dog.