Have you ever talked with a friend about a problem and had them offer you solutions? Did you find their suggestions helpful?
If you're anything like me, being offered solutions to my problems has typically not been helpful and often did nothing to eliminate my feelings of anxiety and worry. I just didn't talk about my worries...which didn't really help, either.
Often, what we need is someone to listen to us - empathetically, without judgement and with no attempt to offer solutions...at least not until we feel ready to ask for suggestions to solve the problem.
But, the hardest thing to do is just listen and be with the anxiety and struggles - the uncomfortable emotions - of the other and just empathize and validate their experience. So, naturally, we offer solutions. If only it were that easy.
And, of course, our kids need this too. When they're worried, anxious or feeling uncomfortable feelings about a particular situation, they need us to see them, hear them - empathize and validate them - and NOT offer solutions.
Not sure that's true? Try it and see if it helps!
We can all live in strategies. Every day can feel more like a puzzle to be solved. And it can be equal parts hopeful and exhausting.
There are so many things we could do and try to do and work to make happen. If only we knew more, had more time, had more money, had more....
But what if we stopped working so hard? Just for today?
What if, just for today, we could stop "doing" and try "being"? What if we could just "BE"?
And what if, just for today, we could give our children permission to just "BE"?
And what if, sometime today, we could just "BE WITH" them, wherever they are, whatever they're struggling with, whatever they're overjoyed with, whatever they're bored with. Just BE with them. And they could just BE with us. Just as they are. Just as we are. No attempt to solve the puzzle. No attempt to find a strategy.
What if, just for a little while, sometime today, you could just BE with and SEE your child...and let them enjoy being with and being seen by you?
You've heard the expression, "When you fail to plan, you plan to fail". This applies to our family lives too.
Try creating a plan to have fun together as a family doing things your child enjoys. Please note that this does not mean “spend money”.
Fun time together can be playing catch, walking the dog together, playing board games or card games, baking together, making up silly knock-knock jokes, origami, racing paper airplanes – anything they could enjoy…WITH YOU. Yes, time spent WITH YOU is the most important aspect of this idea.
Not sure what to do? Follow your child’s lead – let them offer suggestions for what they would like to do. You may be pleasantly surprised at how simple their requests can be.
And, just remember, "family time" is not something children “earn” as a reward or something that can be taken away as punishment. It is guaranteed “time in” WITH your children to build a trusting, respectful, loving relationship. If you want to create a positive, warm, connection with your child, setting aside guaranteed time to spend together (with positivity and warmth) is a must.
Now go have fun together!
What if you decided that “free time” was important? Equally, if not more important than structured extracurricular activities and, maybe, even more important than homework for your child's growth and development?
I first ran into this philosophy when I toured a Waldorf School in our community many years ago with my daughter. Not that she was planning to attend – she was already enrolled in an arts-based school program – but since we were in the neighbourhood and it was an “open house”, we went for the tour. Needless to say, she was very intrigued by a school whose rule was “no homework”! But I digress.
What if you considered for a moment that “free time” – time for imaginative play, napping, daydreaming, reading for pleasure, or even just being “bored” – might be important for kids? What could this look like in your family's life? What could this feel like for your children? For you?
Could you experiment with creating “free time” (with perhaps also “no electronics/screens”) for a few hours once a week; maybe even just one evening a week? What might you discover about your children? What might you learn about yourself?
If I asked your child what the rules are at home and what the consequences for breaking those rules might be, would they be able to tell me?
You're probably wondering why I would even ask? Over the years of working with children who struggle to manage their emotions and behaviours, I have learned, beyond a reasonable doubt that children who know the “rules” in their family know the “values” their family shares. When family rules are rooted in an understanding of the family's values, children are able to participate in processes of actively learning to manage their emotions and behaviours - not just because you "said so" or are upset with them, but because they understand the impact (to the best of their ability at their age and stage of development) of their behaviour on others within the family.
It's important for parents to take a few minutes (well, maybe more than just a few!) and establish your four most important values - and, yes, both parents need to agree in a two parent household - that you want to impart to your children. Once you have the most important values in mind, it's a lot easier to come up with rules - and why they are important enough to be rules - to share with the children at your next family meeting.
For example, if you value respect, then being respectful towards everyone can be the rule. This means that, even if angry, no one in your home hits, hurts or damages anyone or anything else - including people, pets, plants or property - because that violates the key value of respect. If you value truth, the rule is to be honest and not lie to one another.
Four key values to create four key rules with reasonable, agreed-upon consequences are all you need. Any more and no one will be able to really keep track or realistically follow up when the rules are broken. Beyond those four, there is lots of room to kids to be able to make mistakes and mis-steps and experience natural outcomes, instead of parents imposing "consequences".
Once parents have established agreement on four basic values and rules, share the rules with your children and invite them to create reasonable consequences for breaking those rules. Do this at your next family meeting. Ensure everyone gets to participate in the discussion, ask questions, and offer ideas. Post your rules (and their consequences) on the fridge so everyone knows what to expect.
If you try this, let me know how it goes!
My motto as an Occupational Therapist has been "It's not what you do, it's HOW you do it!" and for the most part that holds. However, in truth, it’s both – what you do AND how you do it.
We cannot do anything with our kids without imparting some emotional quality to the interaction. It may be neutral, which may not do any harm whatsoever; it could be harsh, which has the potential to be harmful; but, ideally, we engage in a positive way with a level of warmth AND authority - the ideal "how". This conveys they can trust us to be kind and knowledgeable. Gentle and strong. Loving and protective.
Whatever you're trying to accomplish in your parent-child interactions today, consider doing so with a level of warmth, positive regard, and authority, with the intention to impart the greatest sense of confidence in their ability to heal, grow and develop fully into the courageous, wise, compassionate adults they are capable of being.
Most of us did not grow up with them, but I think, in our busy modern world, a weekly (or alternate week) family meeting is a GREAT idea.
Ideally, they're scheduled on a regular (predictable) basis with the intention and design that this is an important time for the family to sit together and discuss important aspects of your lives. It is NOT rushed, hurried, or distracted. Cell phones and TV's and radios (remember them?!) are OFF! Kids may need fidgets to stay focused or to stand instead of sit, but, engaging and paying attention to the conversation is what counts.
You may be wondering what could be so important for a family to discuss? Try any of the following:
- establishing four key household rules and predictable, reasonable consequences for breaking them,
- problem solving issues that come up like struggles with morning routines, homework, after-school routines, bedtime, or whatever is most important in your home,
- assign chores,
- planning game nights, family vacations, and play dates with friends,
- planning a family budget or meal plan...
It can be about ANYTHING that anyone in the family feels is important and needs to discuss with others in the family. It's not just about the parents' agenda - children are welcome to include their problems, concerns, needs, or wishes on the list of topics to be discussed too!
It can be followed with some fun family time so no matter how stressful the meeting, the post-meeting is guaranteed time for connection with no negative repercussions. What happens at the meeting, stays at the meeting ;)
I know, I know! There is no such thing as a “play ethic”! But I think there should be.
Play, REAL play, is not frivolous.
Play, particularly unstructured, child-led, creative play, provides the opportunity to recharge and regenerate and learn and grow in ways that structured play (or even enjoyable work) does not. This means, no adult is telling them what to do, how to do it, where to do it or how to improve their skill in it. It doesn't matter if they choose yellow to colour the sky and pink for the grass. It doesn't matter if they learn nothing "useful" in the process. It matters that they are in charge of their imaginations, allowed to be and feel and do whatever they wish - within reasonable bounds of safety and pro-social behaviour which means....no risk-taking behaviours or purposefully hurting others.
There are a great number of books written about the value of play so I won’t pretend to be able to justify it all here – suffice it to say, play matters!
Make a deliberate effort to set aside the time and let your children play. And see if you can't book some time to play yourself!
Sometimes self-care tasks can feel as rushed and hurried as all the other tasks in the day. Tasks like bathing and washing one’s face can be pleasurable, rejuvenating experiences, or they can be as frustrating and stressful as everything else. So much depends on how hurried the experience feels.
Having enough time to do the task in a calm way (e.g. to enjoy the bath) can help us experience self-care as something that is pleasant and preferred rather than something to be avoided or resisted. Think “spa-like” instead of “get ‘er done” and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what it can look like.
When we consider what really rejuvenating self-care could look like for a child, that may be things like:
- having enough time to enjoy playing in the bubble bath;
- being able to go slow enough with dental care so it feels like "care" and not just another task to complete;
- enjoying the smell of the shampoo and the bubbles;
- enjoying the feel of the hair brush or how smooth your hair feels after it's brushed;
- taking time to play with the colours or textures of clothing;
Essentially, it's about going slower and more mindfully into things that seem mundane and routine - easily overlooked and under-appreciated.
Try creating rejuvenating self-care routines for yourself and your children so you can all be at your best – without having to head to the spa to recover from your daily life!
Incorporating health promoting strategies into your lifestyle such as: