Raising Resilient Kids

in the rain 2

How can we help our children & teenagers to be more resilient, to ride out the bad times as well as enjoy the good times with confidence and competence?  And how can we, as parents, give our kids the tools and strategies to grow into capable, independent, resilient (& mindful) young adults?

These are important questions in light of the facts from BeyondBlue (http://www.youthbeyondblue.com/footer/stats-and-facts)that one in 16 young Australians is currently experiencing depression and one in six young Australians is currently experiencing an anxiety condition.

I have had these questions at the forefront of my mind this week as I get ready to facilitate some Positive Discipline Workshops.   Each time it has been raining after school and I consider whether to pick my children up from school or not, when my daughter forgot to put her school uniform in the wash or when my kids wake up late for school and beg for a lift instead of catching the bus or when it just hasn’t been possible to get them to their favourite sport / activity!  Sometimes I help them out because, well I’m their Mum and I like nurturing them a bit!, but when I don’t / can’t I keep reminding myself (& them if appropriate!) that I’m helping them to become more resilient (hopefully)!!

Positive Discipline (www.positivediscipline.com) is a fun, interactive parenting workshop and it focuses on teaching parents 4 key strategies to help them to raise resilient kids.  These are:

  1. Help our children learn how to deal with BIG feelings but don’t protect or rescue our children from feeling them!  Disappointment, rejection, anger and frustration are all a part of life and it is vital we learn how to cope with them.  As parents we can empathise with our children, name our child’s feelings and take the time to teach our kids how to self-soothe & self regulate using mindfulness strategies (appropriate for their age level).   Sometimes as parents we need to learn some mindfulness strategies on how to self-soothe & self regulate our own emotions too to role model to our children how to deal with the things life can throw at us!
  2. Be both kind & firm with our children, keep firm boundaries that help our children to feel secure and comfortable while still providing love and acceptance.   Our children will constantly test these boundaries and become angry or upset when they don’t get their own way but this just provides another learning opportunity to teach children how deal with BIG emotions, a vital skill to learn!  In my experience this takes a huge amount of mindfulness to see your child be frustrated & angry with you but to stand firm in a calm & kind way (I’m still working on this one!)
  3. Teach our children how to create a plan B and how to move from plan A to plan B with flexibility (again mindfulness skills are so helpful in this!). This gives children the strength to not give up, to keep problem solving, keep persisting and get there in the end!   The more we can role model doing this, in a mindful way, the more likely our children are to learn how to do it too!   I am now trying to talk to my kids about when my plan A doesn’t work out and what I do (e.g. take a deep breath, step back and look at my options etc) to move as calmly as I can to plan B, or C, or Z as often the case may be!)
  4. Encourage and teach our children to be capable & self-reliant and have a strong belief in themselves as capable & competent human beings!  This can involve encouraging kids to do their own problem solving, make their own choices/decisions (within your limits), contribute to the running of the household and have input into family meetings / family decisions, depending on their age level.   This one takes a huge amount of mindfulness as it is so often easier to jump in and rescue or do it ourselves. We often have to let go of our standards, let go of how others might judge us and mindfully encourage or teach our child to do things for themselves.   This means reconsidering

‘Never do for a child what a child can do for himself’ (a guiding principle of Positive Dsicipline) – a good reminder for us as parents that children feel a great sense of internal mastery when they are able to take on a challenge and successfully complete it using their own skills and problem solving!  This can be more powerful than receiving praise from parents and instead we need to hold the space for our kids to have a go at doing things, show them we have faith they can work it out and to encourage them  for their effort and not for the outcome!

More Information about workshops etc is available at Facebook: Mindful Parenting: Support & Education or http://www.,mindfulparentingmindfulcoaching.com

Aimlessness…the art of doing nothing, of just being

humpback whale 2

I was so fortunate recently to have a day travelling by ferry to Moreton Island, QLD with a good friend and the day held NO schedule or agenda.  Slowly I began to unwind with the ferry ride, the snorkelling, the fish for lunch, the walk along the beach and then as I floated in the tropical calm water I realised I’d finally reached that state of just ‘being’, no thoughts of the past or of what was yet to happen in the future, just a state of peace and pleasure with the present moment….and I couldn’t remember the last time I had allowed myself a day of just ‘being’!  As I returned home to school age kids and scheduled chaos I felt very disheartened to be entering the world of doing and not being….

Luckily I had Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh by my bed and he dedicates 2 pages to the art of Aimlessness. He writes: ‘In the west we are very goal oriented.  We know where we want to go and we are very directed in getting there.  This may be useful but often we forget to enjoy ourselves along the route…..The idea is that you do not put something in front of you and run after it, because everything is already here, in yourself.’   ‘We must stop from time to time in order to see clearly.’ 

And it dawned on me that I didn’t need a whole day of just ‘being’, I could incorporate it into my day….maybe meditation in the early morning for 10 minutes, riding my bike the scenic way to work or best of all, remembering to stop on the way home and sit on a rock for 5 minutes….allow myself to just be, to pause between work & home and acknowledge and appreciate the good bits about life in general….by just stopping for a moment!

The first day I tried this, just 2 days after my island trip, I sat on the rock by the sea, with no expectations, no striving, just being….and a whale breached out of the water in front of me, then another, and another…..and I watched in awe as those whales breached 21 times, playfully being in the water……it really felt like the universe was saying, ‘about time you stopped and now here is what you have been missing out on!.’   Quickly though I get caught up in the world of doing….so writing this blog is to help me get back on track…and prepare for a weekend of watching the clouds go by!clouds go by

The Big Squeeze – between reality & our aspirations / expectations…

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I’ve just read Pema Chodron’s book ‘Start Where You Are: How To Accept Yourself & Others’, a really comforting book to read!

Pema Chodron's book

One concept that I loved and applies to my life right now is the ‘Big Squeeze’ the idea that for all of us there is a conflict between our current reality and our aspirations & expectations.  On one hand we need to learn to accept where we are at right now, to live in the moment and be grateful for life as it is, on the other hand we still need to aspire to new and better ways of living our lives and often it is in a crisis that we most feel the Big Squeeze….we know where we need to go but our reality presents something different entirely!

To me this sums up my experience of parenting!!  From pregnancy there were hopes & aspirations re: birth, sleep, breastfeeding, and time and again reality was different!  Some things I needed to accept I could not change, (e.g my house would forever more be messy!) some things like my temper and explosive anger I had to aspire to change but I also had to cope with the roller coaster ride of reality; sometimes improving and sometimes regressing as I went along…

Then there were/are the aspirations and expectations for our own children…..that they would be well-behaved at their Granny’s house or at the shops, that they would eat all healthy food placed before them, that they would willingly keep the house tidy, that they would like school and like doing what I like doing…..all of these things present an opportunity for the Big Squeeze – my well-intentioned aspirations and the reality….and each time it is a difficult task to accept reality but also to choose what I will continue to aspire to, and what expectations were too high in the first place!!!

Then the next area of life that has the Big Squeeze is the area of work / life balance.  I’ve just started a new job and I had great aspirations to build and maintain a healthy, creative, mindful, loving life balance (FINALLY!)….and the reality was on top of the exhaustion of learning the ropes my whole family got sick and it is taking awhile to recover, everyone is in a grumpy mood, the reality couldn’t be further from my hopes…..I don’t want to give up hope for a work/life balance but I also need to accept where we are at right now, it just takes the pressure off and makes life a lot easier, one step at a time….  And if I never reach that glorious balance….then I need to find a way of relishing the chaos of family life as it happens, as it unfolds!

I could go on, another big squeeze is in our adult relationships, the reality is often far from how we would like them to be, with our parents, siblings, partner….. and somehow in those still moments when you can accept where the relationship is at right now, and still hold hope for where you would like the relationship to be there is a nice warm peaceful feeling…..it’s just hard to maintain in everyday life!!!

I’m sure I’ll think of many other Big Squeeze moments, can you think of one that you are experiencing in your life?

Pema Chodron quote 3

Social Approval…..can we be mindful of this need?

limbic system 2

As I have recently moved states, moved towns, changed jobs…I’ve been thinking a lot about something that Russ Harris (The Happiness Trap / Act Mindfully) talks about….

If you have studied mindfulness then you will probably be aware of the latest brain research that shows that our emotional brain (amygdala / limbic system) sends out alarm signals when we perceive a threat to our safety….and we immediately go into a healthy flight, fight or freeze response to stay safe.  Often however in our modern world that alarm can go into overdrive and be triggered by very small events (e.g. our child’s tantrums, can’t find our keys, being put on hold for 40 minutes etc) and we can be on high alert constantly, experiencing chronic stress, even though our safety is not threatened. Thankfully research now proves that the ancient art of mindfulness can help to calm down our alarm centre….by breathing immediately and over time.

What I found fascinating and have been thinking about a lot recently is Russ Harris’s comment that because we are essentially ‘herd’ animals we can also feel the same sense of alarm when it feels like our ability to belong to a group is threatened….that we biologically once had a need for social acceptance to survive and we still have this!

So this explains that a lot of the tension in my neck and shoulders and high adrenalin is not from a perceived threat to my safety but a fear about whether I will fit in or not, about what to say and how to say it, about whether I will be liked by enough people to feel accepted…..and comfortable in this new community.  Awareness of this hasn’t really helped to ease the tension, but it has helped to understand it and to know that when I’m feeling particularly nervous/worried I can breathe mindfully to calm down that alarm centre… and hopefully reduce the stress a bit?

This then gives me great insight into how it is for kids and teenagers, that it is a ‘survival drive’ to fit in at all costs….that is why they are so desperate to have the latest gadget, to be on social media….to them it feels like a need and they are so upset when us as parents don’t give them what they ‘need’.   I’m still not sure how to negotiate this one…..but if awareness is 50% of the journey then at least I’m on my way to knowing what to do!!!  Perhaps a starter point is to talk to our kids & teens as to what is really a need and what is a want in today’s world?