When we think of the "environment", we often consider physical qualities of a space. Most often the way a space looks (tidy or cluttered; bright or soft; crowded or spacious) and sounds (loud or quiet) come to mind first. But what about the other senses?
What smells are experienced in that space? Are there tastes?
And what about touch? Are the objects that are part of the environment rough or smooth? Hot or cold? Soft or hard?
Information from all our senses can change the way we feel, making us either more comfortable or uncomfortable. The more comfortable we are , the more calm we are, the more likely a bedtime routine will help us fall asleep.
What are the sensory qualities of your child's bedtime routine? What could be changed to make it more calming?
A key part of creating a bedtime routine that is likely to help a child (or adult!) fall asleep is looking at the environment in which the bedtime routines are taking place.
Just like having enough time to engage in self-care tasks in a caring way helps to get the mind, body and spirit ready for sleep, completing these spaces in quiet calming spaces is equally important.
Imagine trying to have a "relaxation massage" while watching the Indy 500 races. Not likely a good fit. The environment needs to be calm in order to be able to do engage in activities calmly and to feel calm.
What environmental factors could be changed in your children's bedtime routine to help them get to a calmer state before "lights off"?
People often talk about "bedtime routines" like it's just a matter of getting all the things done in a specific order so that nothing gets forgotten. But, bedtime routines are about much more than just "getting self-care done".
My motto has long been, it's not what you do, it's how you do it that really counts.
With bedtime, that means actually getting the body, mind and spirit ready to sleep. Physically slowing down. Mentally turning off. Spiritually experiencing peace of mind so sleep is possible.
Routines can be important part of this winding down process if they are given enough time so the pace can be restful and the self-care tasks can feel like caring for oneself.
One of the challenges of shifting from summer to fall schedules is getting back into those school day routines, especially waking up early to start the day!
So to get you going in the right direction for earlier mornings, start at bedtime!
Beginning tomorrow, let your kids know that their bedtime routines will need to start 10 to 15 minutes earlier each night. A 10 or 15 minute earlier start will allow kids to adjust to the expectation of needing to go to bed earlier and will help move them in the right direction and to be rested even when they have to wake up early.
With start-of-school still being two weeks away, it allows some wiggle room to have a couple of late nights in between and not have it be as drastic a change the weekend before school starts!
It's that time of year again. I recall many childhood summers where, about mid-August, that anxious anticipation kicked in as I worried about heading back to school. More recently, I recall my daughter's trepidation as summer drew to a close.
Like mother like daughter?
But, having worked with many other school-aged children and families, I know that this is not a unique experience. For my part, despite knowing this feeling myself as a child, I still struggled for many years as a parent to be truly open to my daughter's expressions of anxiety and dismay as September loomed. I recall trying to convince and reassure her that all would be well; that she was worrying for nothing; that she just needed to look at the bright side - and then working to generate a list of all the great things the start of a new school year brings...including seeing friends, Halloween, and Christmas!
I suspect we've all been there at least once.
But, what would happen if we just acknowledged to our children that, yes, it is hard to have summer come to an end; it is anxiety provoking to consider all the unknowns of a new school year; it is going to be a dramatic change in workload; AND you'll be there to help them face the challenges? What could our children experience then?
What is it about parenting that makes it seem so hard?
There is definitely both physical and emotional labour involved. But, if it was only the effort, it wouldn't seem too hard.
I think it's the anxiety that we come to parenting with. That sense that it all depends on us as parents to "get it right" or else.
But, what is the "or else"?
What if we make mistakes? If we admit it and apologize, we teach kids to have humility and integrity.
What if we drop a ball and things don't go according to play? They learn that life isn't always going to go "according to plan" and they learn to cope and problem solve.
What if we learn to bring a sense of serenity into our parenting instead of berating ourselves for our deficiencies or trying to control every aspect of our child's upbringing so they can be "successful"? Then maybe they learn what an adult who has a sense of "peace of mind" looks like.
Maybe we don't have to work so "hard"...
Responding to "subtext" is essentially about reading between the lines. Listening for the "real intention or meaning" the words are trying to convey. It's like when your spouse or friend says, "My day was okay," with a sigh. Chances are they did NOT have a good day.
But, it's not always easy. I get that.
And kids are generally not good at stating what they want or need clearly and leave lots of room for "reading between the lines"....with some exceptions like, "I want a [insert your child's favourite electronic game here]."
So, what's the best way to learn to practice listening for subtext?
Try something where there's no "risk" to get it wrong, like your favourite TV show. Listen to the lines and listen for subtext in the conversations. Since it's not the words that convey "subtext" (the words are the "text", after all!), pay attention to what gives you the clues you need. Think about tone, volume, or pitch of voice. Vocal inflections and rate of speech. Body language including posture, gestures and facial expressions. And remember, it's the subtext that tells the "emotional story" that's underlying the words.
Then try to apply what you learn to "reading between the lines" with your child.
When you think about using words to co-regulate your child, what words come to mind? (If you read yesterday's post, you'll remember that was the final question I left you with.)
If you're anything like me, you'll probably respond with, "it depends!"
On what your child is saying or doing at the time you need to say something.
But, I would also ask you to consider that, no matter what they say, if you find a way to "agree with them" (to get on the same page with them) and then communicate that agreement to them, you're pretty much. most of the way to helping them regulate their feelings - even the hard ones.
And still, after reading those two posts, you might also say, "There are some statements that are impossible to agree with! Like, if my child says, "I'm stupid!", how could I possibly agree with that and be a good parent?!"
But, I'm betting that if you said something like, 'You're not stupid! I can't believe you'd say such a thing about yourself!" (a completely normal response, I may add!), your child has probably responded with something along the lines of, "You just don't understand!" right before they stormed off.
So, if you can't agree with (or argue with) the content (the text) of what your child has said, what can you say? What can you possibly agree with?
Try finding agreement with the SUBtext. When a child says something self-deprecating, the underlying message is, "I feel really crappy about myself right now.". "Crappy" may mean embarrassed, ashamed, guilty, frustrated, or any number of other emotions. So, in this case, you CAN say, "You sure feel crappy (or other more appropriate emotion) right now. That's a really tough place to be." This response offers statements that are true, speak to the underlying message of a self-deprecating comment, AND communicate understanding for your child's present moment experience - they feel crappy!
What might you hear back if you spoke to the subtext of their words rather than the text?
Yesterday we talked about meeting children's needs as a way to help them be able to trust you - to know they can depend and rely on you - as a way to help them learn to regulate their own emotions. Essentially, through the actions of caring for them when they express a need (as infants, by crying), they learn what meets those needs - that hunger is addressed through eating; that fatigue is addressed through sleep, etc.
Over time, they learned to use language and communicate those needs verbally. And that's often when the troubles begin.
When we expect our children to "use their words", we are assuming that they know what words to use to understand the ever more complex feelings and ever more complex needs they are experiencing. Often, they do not have the words to express those feelings or needs, let alone understand them in the first place. This is where you come in - to learn to "co-regulate" them using YOUR words.
What words might you use to "co-regulate" your child?
Yesterday's discussion about "self-regulation" left off with the understanding that "co-regulation" is how children learn to "self-regulate" their attention, emotions, moods or behaviours, often in combination!
So how is a parent supposed to "co-regulate" their child?
Remember when they were babies and you heard them cry? You interpreted - goodness only knows how - what those cries meant. Or you took the time to figure it out. Were they hungry? Tired? In need of a diaper change? Under the weather? And, depending on what you determined they needed, you figured out what they needed you to do. You fed them. Helped them sleep by rocking or cuddling them. Changed a diaper. Got them to a doctor. You regulated them - their emotions, mood and behaviour - by meeting their needs.
When you met their needs, they stopped crying and were likely eating, sleeping, cooing contentedly, or starting to feel better. They started to know that they could depend and rely on you to take care of them - to recognize when they were in distress and step in to help.
So how could you apply what you knew then to helping them now that they're older and able to talk to you?