Teaching the way of gratitude

mindfulness-gratitude-childrenHave you discovered how very powerful giving thanks is for uplifting your mood, day and life? Coaches and spiritual teachers these days suggest that we keep a gratitude journal or set aside time to be grateful every day as a way to shift our focus toward a more positive frequency.

It’s not just another thing to try so we can feel better — in my experience, it really works.

Making a shift toward gratitude

The study of neuroplasticity confirms that when we intentionally and repeatedly focus on “taking in the good” — as neuropsychologist Rick Hanson PhD, suggests — we cause changes in our neurons that shift us away from the innate bias toward always looking for threat.

In other words, when we develop a conscious gratitude practice, over time we can actually change our negative mind chatter into a more settled way of being that is open to the possibility that good things just might indeed come our way. I like to think of it as quality elevator music that accompanies us as we intentionally choose to experience life on higher floors.

If you are like me, noticing what I already have that is good enough does not come naturally. I was raised to be constantly prepared for whatever problems were inevitably on their way to my door. I was taught to be constantly doing, preparing, and preventing with a kind of “storing up food for the harsh winter” mentality. But even though the experiences of the Great Depression were passed down to me in my DNA, I am determined that this fear-based way of living will stop with me.

If we can instill the habit of giving thanks, we prepare our children for a life of pleasant contentment. 

Ever since my daughter was very small, we have made it a practice to express gratitude. In that kind of “Do as I say, not as I do” way, it’s easier for me to notice how she says things and to offer a course-correct toward a more positive view.

To my delight, out of the blue, she will sometimes spontaneously list all the things she loves about our house, our neighborhood, our view, the store that offers the stuff we need, the birds flying by, and on and on. It just bursts out of her! In those moments, I get to switch channels from brooding over my to-do list to instead witnessing her enthusiasm. It makes me give thanks that I must be doing something right after all.

A good way to create a readiness to be grateful is to establish the habit of giving thanks. Giving thanks together, in whatever way suits your family, makes everyone slow down and take a mindful moment.

A fitting place to do this is at mealtimes, because they happen at the same time each day and everyone is sitting down together. Even a sandwich on the hiking trail can serve as another opportunity to pause and recognize the gift of nourishment. Food comes from somewhere and it ends up on the table because of the effort of people — so that’s something to appreciate.

In our house, we like to make up songs. If they catch on, we keep them. Below is one of our gratitude prayers before we eat. It is a little song we sing at the table to bless and enliven the food we are about to eat. It also gives the less-than-favorite vegetables a little more status, I hope. Imagine it going with a pleasant sort of Irish music tune.

Thank You for My Food
Thank you for my food, thank you for my food,
Made by Mother Earth and warmed by Father Sun.
Thank you to the seed that grew in the soil,
And blessings to the farmers who made food from their toil.
Thank you for my carrots, thank you for my tacos, thank you for my…
Thank you for my food.

Sometimes my child will add a line to thank the cook, which I accept with a gracious bow.

Sharing gratitude on a nightly basis

Before my children go to sleep at night, I have 3 questions that I ask them:

  1. What did you learn today?
  2. What was your favorite part of the day?
  3. What are you grateful for?

These questions have become a ritual for us as we have been doing it for years. We continue to do so even as we navigate the middle school days for my youngest and now are moving into the high school years for my oldest. I know we all look forward to this time of connection as it opens up a conversation that goes beyond the simple responses to those questions.

I have been surprised to find that the topic about gratitude is often the one that is discussed the most. There is an appreciation for all of us when we take the time to offer our thanks for something that happened during the day. My girls’ answers may be about a material item they received or a favorite food that they were able to eat — especially if it is a dessert — and I have found that is a practice for me to listen to their responses without judgement.

hands-heart-grainsIt is a gift for each of us to pay attention to one another in a way that offers a willingness to receive whatever the other person has to offer. I am thankful for this opportunity to connect with my kids and for us to grow in our understanding that often it is the simple things in life that we are most grateful for.

Sometimes my girls give me the same answer for all 3 questions, and I am fine with this as I recognize that maybe being tired overcomes the desire to engage in conversation. I trust that they are offering what they can in the moment and that on a different day I may hear much more when they are ready to share. It is also possible that one event was the highlight of their day and the one thing that does answer all 3 of the questions. When I realize this, I am excited that they were able to engage in an activity that was filled with joy.

The time just before we fall asleep is one of my favorite moments of the day. I know that this can be a magical time when both girls are willing to open up with me and express what they are thinking or how they are feeling, which they might not do during any other time of the day. Every once and awhile, I have tried to get them to answer the questions over dinner only to be confronted with the comment that the day is not yet complete so I will just have to wait until later in the evening.

Over the years, I have grown to realize that this simple time with my kids is one of the best ways to engage in peaceful parenting as it reminds us what we are thankful for and encourages a dialogue that may not have taken place. I am amazed at all the events that they encounter in a day without me. I trust that they are navigating each experience with grace even when it is not so easy. I know that they will talk to me when needed.

As we move into a season where many families are expressing gratitude, I am reminded of how lovely it is for me and my kids to share our thanksgivings on a nightly basis. 

Mindfully balancing freedom and boundaries to nurture our children

inga bIf you asked me in my teens and early 20s what it was I desired most, I would probably have told you it’s this easygoing feeling of freedom, of lightheartedness, of non-restrictedness. Freedom to go wherever I want to, to move around freely, to do, say, think, and feel whatever I want to… I never liked being told what to do.

Rules? Boundaries? Structure? The less, the better — so I thought…

Fast-forward a little over a decade: I am a mom of an 8-year-old girl. I am a child psychologist. I am a mindfulness teacher. I am a Strala Yoga guide and so much more — and all of these parts of my life have taught me a lesson or two about freedom.

When I became a mom, I naturally wished for my daughter to experience this feeling of freedom herself — freedom of choice, freedom to develop her own sense of self, her own will, her own talents, her own style of doing things, from the smallest to the biggest thing, one of the first things I struggled beside the breastfeeding was the going back to work and feeling like I left him, But for that time I got him his favorite stuffed toy, which he still carries with him, it gives children security and comfort.

And so far, I believe things are going pretty well most of the time.

freedom-hippieHowever, of course, there were and will always be bumps in the road, and challenges — big and small. Alongside my growing daughter, I have learned how the need for and the experience of freedom changes over the course of a child’s development. I also grew to understand how healthy, mindful boundaries can be helpful — not merely limiting — in setting up this framework of a safe space, which in turn encourages and enables the growing child to experience, explore, and enjoy his or her freedom.

Here are 2 reflections on freedom and boundaries, and how to mindfully approach these in a way that conforms to your child’s and your own unique needs as they present themselves in this very moment:

1) Kids need healthy, age-appropriate boundaries in order to be able to experience a sense of freedom and develop their own sense of self, including their own will.

Ever stood in front of an open closet stuffed to the brim with kids’ clothes of all colors and styles, asking your toddler what she wants to wear today? Yup. I know. I have. It’s mayhem — stress for the mom and stress for the toddler. However, telling that same toddler that she will have to wear exactly xyz today might result in a big tantrum. Why? Because said toddler finds herself going through an important developmental phase where she is experiencing and developing a sense of self, including her own will.

What’s a mindful way to go that caters to your child’s wish for some freedom of choice, her developmental stage, and your wish for giving your child space and freedom while at the same time preserving your sanity?

This might look like laying out two weather-appropriate outfits for your toddler — without even giving her a glimpse of that fully equipped closet filled with those gazillion choices — and asking her which one she prefers to wear today. Consequence: A happy, proud toddler who got to make her own choice — and a happy mom, with a content toddler fully dressed within minutes.

2) What these boundaries look like will change from moment to moment and over time.

Your teenager will not be as content as said toddler if you lay out two outfits for school in the morning and ask her to choose one. The same applies for other choices and rules like how long my child is allowed to play outside in the evenings, when is a suitable bedtime, how far from home my child is allowed to go, when she can play with her peers, and so on.

As parents, we are constantly challenged to find and establish a framework of healthy boundaries and rules for our family. Ideally, this would involve allowing all members of our family to experience a sense of individual freedom and self-efficacy while also experiencing the equally important sense of belonging to our loved ones — especially our immediate family — and the comforting feeling of being held and contained within this safe structure.

Being mindful and ever curious about our children’s needs and their individual development, being well-informed about children’s developmental stages, and being aware of our own reactions to these needs will help us figure out how to navigate — moment by moment — as we move through this wonderful, exciting lifelong parenting journey.

Connecting through creativity and art

art2Doing art projects and other creative activities with my kids is something that’s very important to me. As a child, I always disliked Art Class because I knew I wasn’t very good at art, but starting when my oldest son was 2, I wanted to make art a part of his life. I wanted to let it be something he could enjoy, whether or not he was good at it.

Over the last few years, art has been a way for us to connect, have fun, and learn.

Allowing children opportunities to create their own art is a wonderful way to help instill creativity and confidence. It can also provide sensory experiences, fine motor activities, and chances to learn about different styles of art.

To first get started with art activities, I spent some time walking around a craft store and selecting items that either seemed like the basics (paint, markers, and glue) or like they’d be really fun (googly eyes and pompoms). While I was there, I also picked up some 5d diamond painting kits for myself to break my hiatus and resume my painting hobby. I also got project ideas from the many blogs dedicated to toddler and preschool art.

Our activities have been very different based on my children’s ages. When my son was 2 and we were just starting, we did a lot of finger painting, sensory activities with things like rice and oatmeal, and water play with cups, bowls, and spoons.  As a preschooler, he experimented with painting with strange objects like ribbons and flowers, and we explored some famous artists. I loved painting of few artists and also decided to hung it at my home for him, so after seeing painting he can get more interest into painting. I decided to get a Pet paint by visiting the custom painting online. Now that he’s 6, we’ve been getting art books from the library for him to select project ideas from, and he’ll help pick out art supplies that he wants to use.

We both try our best to remember that it’s about having fun, not about having a perfect finished product.

When my second and third children were born, I found ways to get them involved in art at an earlier age. I found baby-friendly activities, such as filling a container with colorful tissue paper or a variety of fabric scraps with different textures, and placing paint and a paper inside a sealed plastic bag for them to smoosh around and make their first paintings — completely mess-free.art3

For us, art has been one way to connect. After my second child was born, it was also a way to have some much-needed one-on-one time with my oldest son while his baby brother was napping. For other families, there may be different but equally fulfilling ways of achieving this, if art isn’t interesting to you or it’s not something you can make time for right now. It’s important to explore and find your own ways of connection.

Simplicity Parenting: Ch 6 and Epilogue

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We end our reading of “Simplicity Parenting” today and begin reading “Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading “Simplicity Parenting” with you and listening to Kim John Payne’s teleseminar. How did you enjoy reading this book?

We haven’t discussed Chapter 6 “Filtering Out the Adult World” or the Epilogue to end this series of blog posts. In Chapter 6, what I found most refreshing was reading how we need to talk less and listen more to our children. We feel that talking provides our children with emotional intelligence but really the more we talk, the less we are listening. I’ve noticed this with my own daughter. She loves when we walk the neighborhood and I just listen to her talking. I love it too because I learn so much about her life, her mind, and her emotions during this time period. He also talks about the different parenting strategies that fall into the category of helicopter parenting. He discusses each one and the effects on your child and your relationship. Lastly, of the points that resonated with me, he says, “Before you say something, ask yourself these three questions: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” I’m going to take that to heart and try to remember these questions as I speak not only to my daughter but to those around me.

The Epilogue was a great way to round up the book. He talks about the importance of simplification in discipline as well. That we offer our children too many choices now and how that overloads their system. He says to start with the simplification step that seems most doable first and then move onto the others. Simplification is a process but a rewarding one for your family. To end with, I love this passage of his on 215: “When you act to limit what you don’t want for your family, you clarify what you really do need, what is important to you. Your values clarify. Simplification is a path of self-definition for the family.”

There was of course more valuable information in these chapters that I encourage you to read. I look forward to reading “Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles” with you. Join us at anytime on GoodReads to start your own discussions of the books.

Simplicity Parenting: Ch 5 – Schedules

Chapter 5 was one of those chapters that has stuck with me from the first time I read it. It reminded me to keep balance with my daughter’s schedule so that she can be a “child” as she grows up through her various changes in development. He isn’t saying that our children need to not have any activities and only be “free” but he is saying to balance it out so that they can grow into whole beings. He talks about having Sabbath’s (distraction free zones/days/times), taking a season off from the sports, choosing one activity per child to focus on, and the rest of the time letting them explore their world, be bored, and reach their potential within. Some favorite passages are below:

  • “… there are costs to controlling their schedules, to “getting more out” of their childhood years. They are leading superphosphated lives, busy with activities from morning to night. Excess “enrichment” is not soaking in; it’s running off, polluting their well-being. Activity without downtime is ultimately — like a plant without roots — unsustainable.”
  • “Moments of Sabbath are “distraction-free zones.” Not many families can set aside a whole day of the week for quiet family time, but we can still carve out some moments. Doing so adds balance to busy days and establishes boundaries. As you refuse to answer the phone during dinner the message your kids get is “Right now, we’re together, sharing this meal.” Some families can go further, setting aside a half day for a hike every week, or establishing a “no-drive Sunday” of staying home, a symbolic gesture for the family and environment.”
  • “I have seen it. I’ve seen how loading up a child’s days with activities and events from morning to night can dig a developmental groove in their beings. It can establish a reliance, a favoring of external stimulation over emotional or inner activity. A child with a room full of toys has been set up to be dissatisfied. They’ve been programmed to imagine that pleasure depends on toys, and that the next one might be better than the rest. Likewise, a child who doesn’t experience leisure — or better yet, boredom — will always be looking for external stimulation activity, or entertainment.”

Come join us on GoodReads to discuss this and other blog posts.

Simplicity Parenting: Environment and Rhythm (Ch 3&4)

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Environment and rhythm are the foundations of simplification I feel after reading these two chapters. Without a simplified environment you cannot feel at peace or that “home sweet home” feeling in your heart and home. Without rhythm you cannot seem to ground yourself for the day. Our children feel this as well. There are numerous selections of toys and books in every store they go to now and with the holidays approaching, the stores and commercials are pushing our children’s desires to an even greater height. But with the holiday season arriving, think of the environment in which toys and books go into. Is the room/living room already full of both? If so, is it time to go through them so that you can keep the treasurers and donate/sell the rest? Every few months in my house when my daughter was younger we would go through her toys/books and donate those that she hadn’t played with during the year very much.  She had a say in this process and I believe that led to her feeling empowered to “let it go.” This allowed for her room/living room to become less cluttered and her imagination to take hold. I started this when she was about 4-years old and at age 9 she started initiating these cleanups herself because she felt “it was out of control”. This is what Kim John Payne is talking about with environment, the power of less opens up the door to more.

In chapter 3, with the environment, there are guidelines to help you go through that toy pile/books and understand what you are supposed to do with it. How your supposed to move it from a huge pile to that of a organized, less cluttered system in which you still get to hold onto the treasured toys. In reference to this, he wrote on page 68: “As you simplify, you allow children to pour their attention, and themselves, into what they are doing. When they’re not overwhelmed with so many toys, kids can more full engage with the ones that they have. And when the toy is simpler, children can bring more of themselves to that engagement. There is freedom with less: freedom to attend, engage, and absorb. Toys that don’t do things can become anything in play. When we don’t try to fill children’s minds and toy chests with prefabricated examples of “imagination,” they have more freedom to forge their own, to bring their own ideas into play.” Very well said! If we set their environment up with simplification that allows them the freedom to explore in their play, their social interactions, and the world around them.

Chapter 4 was on rhythm and I loved this chapter. I am by nature a rhythmic person so I understood the need that he mentions in his book for having a rhythm. What was interesting though, was his definition of rhythm because he’s not talking about schedules for the day. He’s talking about consistency, rituals, meal times, sleep, predictability, etc. As  he states on page 98: “By surrounding a young child with a sense of rhythm and ritual, you can help them order their physical, emotional, and intellectual view of the world. As little ones come to understand, with regularity, that “this is what we do,” they feel solid earth under their feet, a platform for growth. Such a stable foundation can facilitate their mapmaking: the connectedness that they are charting in their brains, in relation to other people, in in their emerging worldview.” For predictability, providing your child a preview of the next day the day before in a calm setting. Rhythms, a set point of rituals to the day such as times that you brush your teeth, have your family dinner, etc. The importance of family dinner being a grounding force even if it is only a couple times a week with your adolescent children.

There was so much more he wrote about that I just couldn’t possibly capture in a blog post for both chapters.If you’re reading along, how did you feel about chapters 3 & 4? Did you miss the teleseminar with Kim John Payne? If so, you can purchase the recording here.

API Reads – Simplicity Parenting: Chapter 2, Soul Fever

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Have you ever wondered why your child is not their normal, bright self even though they are not physically ill? Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting, has named this illness “soul fever”. He spends chapter 2 identifying what this means, how to spot it, and how you can treat it. I enjoyed his progression of moving through the “soul fever” to help your child back to their normal, bright self. The key is simplification of routines, connection, love, and parental presence. He says it best on page 39:

“This book is my best attempt to answer “What can we do about it?” It’s a question that so many of us ask ourselves. The truth is, what we do, instinctually, to care for our children when they’re sick could be boiled down to this: we simplify. This is exactly what we need to do when they are overwhelmed; stretched thin and stressed out by the effects of having too much stuff, too many choices, and jumping through their days too fast. It is also what we need to do when their fever is emotional rather than physical. Emotional growing pains, our soul fevers, are as natural and inevitable as the common cold, and can be “treated” in remarkably similar ways. Simplification gives children the ease they need to realign with their true selves, their real age, and with their own world rather than the stress and pressures of the adult world.”

Join the discussion on API’s online book club, GoodReads for free. Register today for the API Live teleseminar with Kim John Payne that is happening on October 19th at 9 PM EST / 6 PM PST. Purchase Simplicity Parenting at Amazon helping API earn a 4% commission off of your purchase.