5 tips for mindfully coping with chronic illness — for your child and you

The practice of mindfulness can be tremendously helpful under all kinds of life circumstances. Today, I want to chat about how mindfulness can help your child — and your whole family! — deal with chronic illness.

inga bAfter years of guiding, counseling and working with hundreds of families, blending more traditional psychotherapy approaches with mindfulness and yoga, and creating 2 mindfulness-based coping group programs — MAPLE MINDS for toddlers and parents, kids and teens as well as MindBodyFeel for adults to helping people cope with stress, illness, pain and whatever else life throws our way — I’ve got a few takeaways to share with you that might help lighten your load and help you feel a little more happy, confident, relaxed and at ease…no matter what is currently going on in your life.

free images com - jin neohLet’s start right here and right now by…

1) …Mindfully acknowledging, identifying, accepting and welcoming all emotions that arise — our child’s emotions as well as our own! — be they pleasant or unpleasant. Of course, as parents, we want our children to be well and happy. The last thing we want is seeing them feel pain, severe anxiety, nervousness, tension, anger or despair. So all too often, while providing comfort for our little ones, we might “automatically” find ourselves quick with suggesting distractions, pushing those uncomfortable feelings away as fast and as far as possible, and rushing to move on to something more pleasant and enjoyable.

However, the practice of mindfully acknowledging, identifying, accepting and welcoming all emotions that arise will help your child understand that all emotions are valuable, welcome and have their place in our lives. It can be a huge relief to feel that it’s OK and “normal” to be upset/angry/anxious every once in a while. We all do. It’s totally fine. And from here we can learn how to cope with it.

2) …Mindfully connecting to ourselves, our breath, our body, our bodily sensations, our emotions and our thoughts – and reconnecting to ourselves if we got lost somewhere. Let us be positive role models for mindfully strengthening our intuition as a source of our own inner health and wellness guide. If we re-learn how to look within, connect and listen to our intuition, we will have an easier time making smaller and larger decisions and figuring out what is good for us in any given moment of our life. This is great news in general, of course, and especially helpful when you have to navigate your way through tough medical questions and decisions.

It can be as easy as one big belly breath, as I wrote about here.

3) …Mindfully exploring our body and experiencing it as whole and complete — just the way it is in this very moment, whatever this might look like. Especially when we grow up while over and over getting the message that something is “wrong” or “does not work quite right” in one or more parts of our body, we risk developing a negative or otherwise dysfunctional body image and self concept. From here, it is a slippery slope downward, possibly drowning us in all sorts of self-doubt, negative messages about ourselves and our bodies, and general pessimism.

While we might not be able to shield our child from all of this, there are things we can do to mindfully and gently support a more supportive self-concept and body image. It is tremendously helpful, especially for these kids, to enjoy moments — as in age-adapted mindful meditation, in visualization practice, or in yoga and mindful movement guided by our breath — where they experience their body as whole and good and complete just as it is…as opposed to a fractioned collection of body parts that are more or less “functional.”

4) …Mindfully experiencing and expressing gratitude, even in the midst of what might sometimes look like a complete disaster. Yes, you might experience moments of despair, of complete helplessness and hopelessness. And some of these thoughts might creep up in your mind, triggered by all your understandable anxiety, tension, sorrow, worry and pain: “Why my child?” “Why does her life look like this, while all her friends lead a normal life?” “How did we deserve this?”

It is important to again mindfully acknowledge all your thoughts, emotions and sensations that arise and to give yourself honest permission to feel and explore these. But sometimes we risk letting ourselves get too carried away by these, thus possibly paving a path for depression and other conditions which might not be so helpful, adaptive and desirable.

So what to do? Try installing a regular gratitude practice with your child or, better yet, with your whole family. Make it a daily habit to briefly reflect on what made you feel happy, grateful or plain good today. I call this “Smiley Practice” when leading MAPLE MINDS groups for the younger kids. We roll around a smiley ball while sitting in a circle, and each of us shares something that made us smile today. This can be something very small like a smile someone gave us, a flower or some beautiful leaves we saw outside, or the fact that the sun is shining today.

I make it a point that this practice is not about pretending that we are happy when we are not — which would totally counteract point #1 above. It is about re-sensitizing ourselves for all the beauty, happiness and love that surrounds us in each and every moment — a skill that many of us tend to lose when faced with arduous conditions like chronic illness or pain. We can re-train our brain! And while this might not cure our child’s disease it can have quite a deep effect on our mood, coping capacity and general outlook on life.

5) …Last but not least, trying to put your mindfulness practices in effect when connecting with your family, with like-minded peers and, very important, your team of healthcare specialists. This way you will be able to intuitively find and create a support network for your child and your family which will help you feel more connected, embedded and understood.

Even if dealing with your child’s chronic illness might oftentimes feel like a dark, desperate, painful and very lonely journey, there is always support out there just waiting for you to be uncovered! A mindful approach can help you here. You are not alone!


**Lotus flower photo source: FreeImages.com/Jin Neoh

How else does Attachment Parenting look like in your home?

Editor’s note: Attachment Parenting International (API) advocates for a parenting approach rooted solidly in research, and continuing research further validates and builds upon API’s foundation.

Debbie Vinall of Upland, CA - hi rezIn June, you were asked to help tell your story through a survey created by Southern Methodist University (SMU) researchers in collaboration with API. We are thrilled to report that more than 1,200 parents participated in this first-ever survey on what Attachment Parenting (AP) actually looks like in the home! THANK YOU! This essential data will help expand our objective understanding of Attachment Parenting. Parents from 49 states and 37 countries responded, and we can’t wait to share preliminary data in early 2016.

Have more to say? Many of you told us that the multiple choice was too limiting, so we’ve created a short, open-ended set of questions designed to hear everything you want to tell us about the first survey and your AP experience. As always, responses are anonymous.

Thanks again for helping us tell the AP story!

Artimesia Yuen, API Leader
Editor, Journal of Attachment Parenting
API KnowledgeBase Coordinator

What does your family’s attachment look like?

Editor’s note: Attachment Parenting International (API) advocates for a parenting approach rooted solidly in research, and continuing research further validates and builds upon API’s foundation.

Stephanie BrownPlease complete a brief, anonymous survey (access using your API Forum login) regarding your experiences with family members and relationships. It is hoped that the information gathered will help move the psychological research and therapeutic community forward regarding the complex needs of today’s families.

The survey should take no more than 10 minutes of your time, and will contribute to a more detailed understanding of what helps — and hinders — familial relationships. Should you desire, the principal researcher will be happy to share the findings with you.

In addition, if you know of any other individuals who could offer input through participation, please feel free to share. Email me with any questions.

Thank you for your time, consideration and help with providing a more current and detailed understanding of family needs today.

Jenn Lewis, MS
PhD student at Northcentral University in Arizona, USA

What does Attachment Parenting look like in your home?

Editor’s note: Attachment Parenting International (API) advocates for a parenting approach rooted solidly in research, and continuing research further validates and builds upon API’s foundation.

Patricia MackieHelp us tell your story! Describe what Attachment Parenting (AP) looks like in your home through this landmark, definitional survey designed to provide ground-breaking insights about AP families.

Created by researchers at Southern Methodist University in collaboration with API, the survey is voluntary, confidential, anonymous and takes about 40 minutes to complete.

Thank you for helping us tell the AP story!

Artimesia Yuen, API Leader
Editor, Journal of Attachment Parenting
API KnowledgeBase Coordinator

15 years

alissa tschetter siedschlawFifteen years — a lot can happen in that length of time. Marriages, divorces, births, deaths, adoptions, new jobs and big adventures can paint their way through a life like mine when so many days have gone by.

It truly seems like it was just the other day that a small group of dear friends and I decided to start a local group affiliated with Attachment Parenting International (API) in Des Moines, Iowa, USA — only the second one in the Midwest.

We were all in need of building our intentional village.

Having been a leader of a breastfeeding support group prior, I now found myself facing a new challenge of not only re-lactating to nurse a micro-preemie, but an adopted, drug- and alcohol-affected baby with a plethora of special needs. I finally needed to call in favors for support for myself. But those supports didn’t exist in my community at the time.

My parenting was evolving, and I longed for a group where I could speak more openly and find honest and straightforward, yet gentle and kind friends, while offering the same to others. I wanted us to be the kind of people you trust around your children, because you know we believe in nurturing and validating each other and we want the best for all of our kids collectively, not only individually.

I had been doing Attachment Parenting (AP) for many years before I knew there was a word, but once I realized that we could begin offering support, information and encouragement to others, I was excited to get going. From very early on, we had a few very regular families and we bonded into such a natural support that it wasn’t unusual to see us with one dad pushing someone else’s child on a swing while a mom wore two babies at once, hers and her dear friend’s. We viewed Attachment Parenting not only as our choice in a parenting style but in our broader approach as to how we faced the world.

Later, when some coleaders moved away, my current co-leader of somewhere close to a decade, Laurie Belin, stepped forward and agreed to assist, support, advocate, nurture and encourage so many here in Des Moines — along with me. Other organizations were envious that I had such a phenomenal coleader, but as I moved into a place of single parenting my five children, with many special needs, while trying to provide financially for them, she took on so much more of the responsibility so that our group could not only survive, but thrive and I could just show up and help lead meetings.

Many families have passed through our doors through the years, and many more find support through our private online support group that Laurie moderates with grace and knowledge like few could. We have had a diverse group, and I have been privileged to witness some beautiful parenting and some thought-provoking conversations, and to be a part in some parents’ growth. I have heard myself quoted and am honored to have a positive impact on our AP community.

I have been blessed to lead API of Central Iowa for 15 years. My children are now nearly 23, 19, 15, 12 and 7. My Attachment Parenting journey is far from over, as I believe we carry API’s Eight Principles of Parenting throughout life. I am tremendously thankful for all I have learned, how I myself have grown and for all Laura, other coleaders and I have been allowed to share with families throughout these 15 years.

Thank you, API. I have received so much more than I ever gave.

Was Attachment Parenting worth it?

intimate-808012-mFor the last few days, my son has been hunched over an application for a summer program at NASA. I’ve been helping him, shoulder to shoulder, when he needs it, and I find myself staring at him when he’s not looking. It’s his junior year, and he’ll soon be filling out college applications.

How did we get here?

My son was “that” kid. The one who shrieked in anguish when another child got the green cup. The one who hid under the table screaming with his hands over his ears when party-goers sang “Happy Birthday.” The one who completely disrobed when a drop of water touched his clothes. The one who yanked the dump truck out of the hands of an unfamiliar toddler at the park sandbox.

He was also the one who had hour-long meltdowns several times a day…every day…for months, sometimes until he’d lose his voice. He was the one who would wake with night terrors about being abandoned in the woods, even though I was sleeping next to him. He could have been the poster child for “The Spirited Child.”

He had a difficult childhood. It started when we was born 14 weeks premature — a micro-preemie who should have had all sorts of health issues, a 2-pounder who couldn’t even be stroked or held until he was a week old. But he was a fighter, and he never even had to be on oxygen. The NICU staff called him the Miracle Baby. (They also called me the Dairy Queen, but that’s another story!)

So how did we get here?

All I can think of is the hours upon hours of holding, rocking, singing, carrying, cosleeping and loving that my husband and I did — thousands of hours. I gave him Kangaroo Care for 4 hours at a time in the NICU, until they made me put him back in his warmer. I carried him in a baby backpack as soon as he could hold his head up while I did housework and made dinner. My husband and I cuddled him through his screams and walked him long into the night.

So here we are.

…looking at the beginning of the end: The beginning of his adulthood, as a strong, confident, self-assured man. And the end of the difficulties of a childhood with a rough start, a complicated middle and a promising finish.

Were all those hours of holding, cuddling and crying together worth it? You bet. I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.

Will I be sad to see him go off to NASA (if he gets in) and then to college? Sure. But that’s what we work toward, right?

I stare at the back of his head, with his ginger hair, and he speaks to me in his dad’s voice. “Mom, do you think this is good enough?” Oh yeah, I do. And then some, kid. And then some.

Our story of adoption and Attachment Parenting

sarah kuc“I love you.”

Three little words that I whisper into their small ears throughout the day. I look into their eyes and say, “You are special and strong.”

A few years ago, my husband and I met our first son in a crowded, busy hospital lobby. He was just 3 days old. His dark eyes peaked out from under his hospital cap and mesmerized us. It was a long ride home, but once we were there, we held him close and rarely let him go.

After a few years, we were ready to grow our family again and were overjoyed to meet our second son, 2 days old, several states away.

It is difficult to imagine our lives without these boys or the connections we have with their birth mothers and first families.

Families formed through adoption sometimes face challenges in understanding, communicating and connecting with one another. Prenatal stressors, trauma of separation and hardships endured in first families can affect our children and how they respond to us and the world around them.

My husband and I realized fairly soon after adopting our first son that we needed to parent differently than a lot of friends and acquaintances around us. For example, nighttime cry-it-out methods, unfamiliar babysitters for parents’ night out and even the use of timeout for perceived misbehavior were not going to work for us.

We were navigating the adoption realm and still trying to figure out what was right for us as parents and for our children. As I read and studied about parenting approaches, I learned about Attachment Parenting and discovered that this model seemed to support our parenting goals by encouraging connection with our children while communicating love, safety and respect.

Forming a strong attachment with our sons became our goal, and before long, we were busy savoring skin-to-skin moments among other elements of Attachment Parenting.

When our first son was about 6 months old, we found our cosleeping groove and ability to connect throughout the night. We have been bedsharing ever since and now have both of our sons with us overnight. Cosleeping helps foster a bond between my sons and I that wasn’t necessarily formed in the womb but can be made strong now as it allows us to relax, sense and trust one another.

As our boys get older, we are constantly learning and looking for resources that will foster our parenting skills and allow us to maintain connection while trying to understand how our children are feeling.

So now when my 3 year old cries, throws himself on the ground and refuses to comply with whatever I have just asked of him, I have tools beyond threatening words or actions that will let him know that he is safe, his feelings are valid and heard, and I am going to work with him to find resolution.

Along the way we have had to make lifestyle changes that affect our personal social lives. Not everyone understands why we parent this way, and that is okay. We parent in the best way we can for our boys.

For us, that means striving for a connected family. Attachment Parenting International‘s Eight Principles of Parenting support us in raising confident children…purposefully connected and loved within our family.

The Clown is Sometimes Serious

bubliny-1207473-mThe clown, the astronaut, the chatterbox, the complainer, the “slob” and many more stereotypes all appear in our families and in our classrooms.

These are the characters that can disturb, annoy, frustrate and anger us, because they interrupt and spoil our agendas. We are convinced that this is how they always are. They make us worry. We wonder if they were born this way and if they are destined to stay this way.

But sometimes “the clown” is serious, and sometimes he is sad. Sometimes the “astronaut” is attentive and focused. Sometimes the “chatterbox” is pensive and quiet. Sometimes the “complainer” is appreciative. Sometimes the “slob” is orderly.

But their stereotyped behavior seems so dominant and convincing, that we can’t see anything else. In fact, we’re not even looking for anything else.

When we think of a child in a certain way, we lock him right into the way we perceive him. Without intending to do so, we imprison children into patterns of behaving. Sometimes when others stigmatize a child, we continue enforcing the pattern, even though we don’t mean to.

Johanne Wolfgang Von Goete, a German philosopher in the late 1700s and early 1800s, is quoted as saying, “If you relate to a person as if he is already capable of what he can be, he will be what he is capable of being.”

What children really want and need from us is to be understood and known. Instead of identifying the child with his behavior, we want to convey an attitude of:

  1. belief in the child, knowing that as he grows up, the character traits we long to see in him will come to fruition;
  2. trust in the child’s good intentions and his desire to be “good” before you try to influence;
  3. desire to truly understand who he is and what he needs from us.

Reb Nachman of Breslav, a Jewish leader also in the late 1700s and early 1800s, taught that every person should be favorably judged, and if we do so, we elevate that person to a level of favorable judgment. We may apply this to adults but forget to do so with children. Are our hearts soft enough to see our children in a favorable light?

A change in the child’s behavior will result from a change in our own perception of the child. When we realize we are seeing only one aspect of the child and that there is so much more that we are not yet seeing, we can begin to appreciate this child for who he really is. Instead of trying to cut out a behavior that might irritate us, we can help bring out other intentions and qualities that we do not as easily see in the child. It’s not “this or that,” but that “this and this” co-exist together.

I remember a story of a boy who was labeled “careless and irresponsible.” He “broke everything he touched.” Fortunately, even though his teacher was “warned” about his behavior, she did not see him as careless and irresponsible. She knew he had the potential to take responsibility. She gave him small jobs — and then bigger jobs — that would help this potential grow.

When a child feels confident within the relationship with his parent or teacher, he can rest in this relationship. This rest frees him to take responsibility, venture forth into new experiences and feel confident. The parent or teacher conveys:

“I am here for you. I care about you. I believe in you. Your very presence is a source of delight. I am your answer, and you can always count on me. When things don’t go the way you would like, I am here to offer you comfort. I do not want to shape you but to accompany you on your journey of discovering your many abilities.”

This is the nourishment that a relationship of secure attachment provides.

We all have the capacity to be a clown, to be forgetful, to be irresponsible, to complain sometimes, and we all have the capacity to be the opposite of all these things sometimes. We are all human. Surely if we can see this in ourselves, we can accept this in our children and students, and develop the necessary patience to support their development and wait for the qualities of maturity to develop in their right season.