6 games to instill mindfulness and gratitude in our children (and ourselves)

kite-1666816_1280Since I became a mom 10 years ago, I have been committed to helping my daughter see the good in things as a first reflex.

My own upbringing did not allow for this way of being in the world and, instead, instilled the typical apprehension and worry that seems to be passed down to children in Western societies.

That is not how I want my child to move through life. so I’ve made it a priority to ensure that my daughter’s natural inclination toward happiness be nurtured and even protected when necessary.

Feeling gratitude magnifies what is good, beneficial, and enjoyable.

So together we practice noticing good things — things to be glad about — with games we play, I like to play asking questions, for example the first game is “Best of the Day” ok I like to ask what you think about the best of the day, pros and cons, here’s another list of 21 questions ideas:

1) “Best of the Day” Game

At bedtime, while she’s all tucked in, we go through our ritual of closing the day behind us and using the Technomono best cheap airsoft sniper rifle to play with. I ask her to tell me what the best thing of that day was. She thinks a moment, then reveals what she enjoyed most. It can be “big” and significant or one of the more sublime, little moments that came along like a sweet little bird to sing into her awareness.

At times, in reply to my question about the best part of her day, she will burst out with, “Everything!” I tell her that is sort of cheating — that I want to know what was particularly great, big or small, among all the “everything” that she experienced. Create your own crossword is always good to be played with the entire family.

My thinking is that, by pulling out and naming particularly wonderful moments or events, she will refine her appreciation of things as they happen. But some evenings she insists that everything really was good.

By nature, we are wired to notice negative things as a throwback to primitive survival mechanisms. My daughter who reports having had a smoothly happy time teaches me that it is possible to have an unruffled experience of general good feeling during a day. Who am I to argue with that?

I make it a practice to not ask her “why” she is happy. Do we need a reason to feel good? Do we really want the set point to be below contentment only to rise if something comes along to break the sad spell?

2) “Favorite Things” Game

We have variations of our “Best Thing of the Day” game that we pull out to make productive use of otherwise empty times. When she’s bored, or we happen to be sitting together somewhere, like a bus station or in line at the bank, one of us will remember that we can play the “Favorite Things” game. We take turns doing a lightening round list of things we are grateful for.

Sometimes we just do the obvious things: blue sky, mangoes, our best friends, our kitty, that the chickens laid eggs today, that the fruit is getting riper, ice cream, birthday is coming up, and so on. But the real fun is when we go for the less obvious things. That gives the game the potential to go on and on:

I am glad I got a window seat on the bus.

I am grateful for that beautiful arrangement of silk flowers over there.

I am grateful there’s a good light above us so we can see each other.

I am grateful that I had exact change for buying peanuts.

I am grateful that toddler did not fall down.

I am grateful that my keys were exactly where they were supposed to be. 

I am glad that I easily found matching socks today.

The variations to this game are endless.

3) “Who Are you Grateful For?” Game

We can do, “Who are you grateful for?”:

The men who collect the trash every week.

The friendly cashier at the store

The people fixing the road

People who pick the vegetables we eat

People who sort the mail

That of course makes us see and appreciate the many people whose labor makes our lives easier.

4) “That’s a Relief” Game

We can do, “That’s a relief”:

I’m relieved that you caught the glass when it slipped off the table.

I’m relieved that you woke up anyway when the alarm did not go off.

I’m relieved that the lights came back after the storm.

I’m relieved we found your shoe when we were almost going to be late.

With this game, the general feeling that it’s a friendly world settles on us.

5 & 6) Other Variations of This Game

Here are some other versions of this game to help you come up with your own:

  • Being grateful for the one who invented…electricity, cheesecake, water heaters, Toyotas that never die, steel wool pads for burned stuff on the pan, washing machines…
  • What (or who) has helped you recently that you want to give thanks for? DIY videos on YouTube, my teacher, our neighbor, the man who gave us directions, the guy who fixed the tire, a person I did not know who lent me a hand.

The Result

How do you feel now that you have come along with us in this practice?

Doing these games builds intimacy between us as we toss the gratitude ball back and forth. The subtle magic of the practice never fails to boosts the mood and, most importantly, sets us up to notice and find joy in the simple things of life. What could be more essential to a successful life than that?

My Gift to You

Now it is my turn to give my thanks to you for allowing me to share my ideas with you. I’d love to give you one of my stories to share with your children: Mommy’s Story Box is a bedtime story with a gratitude thread woven into it.

I wish you the wisdom and grace to take in all the beauty your parenting journey brings.

We have to be seeking growth to be able to experience it

Parenting with the brain in mind

Through this webinar from PBS’s This Emotional Life — featuring Daniel J. Siegel, MD, of the Mindsight Institute, moderated by Kathryn Power, M.Ed, of SAMSHA — we learn how the quality of parent-child attachment impacts your child’s:

  • Brain development
  • Ability to form healthy relationships
  • Resiliency throughout life.

We also learn how the incredible importance that we, as parents, must work to become more aware of our own attachment with our parents in order to become more connected with our own children. It is our self-understanding that allows us to be more sensitive and connected to our children.

Check out more videos on API’s YouTube channel

Behind closed doors

behind-closed-doors

Your parenting choices can change your child’s DNA

By Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson, cofounders of Attachment Parenting International (API) and coauthors of the book Attached at the Heart

generation-of-loving-parents…We see more clearly now how our parents tried to do better for us than their parents but, like many, fell victim to the parenting advice of the day whether from religious leaders, psychologists, or medical professionals.

We have no idea about the specific experiences of our parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents, but what we can be sure of is they passed on to us what was done to them.

New research in epigenetics and neuroscience is giving us an incredible window into our past and a new awareness of how we can change our future.

In a sense, we all have a new “superpower.” Epigeneticists have found that our cells carry a type of memory of the experiences of our ancestors — not only that, but 95% of our genes aren’t yet coded at birth, dependent on nurturing and the environment to determine their fate. Even as teens and adults, they are turned on or off in large part by our own choices in life.

Our brains contain cellular memories of ancestral experiences. Your brain is an aggregate of as far back as 6 generations! The exciting aspect to all this is that you can change the trajectory of your family tree, if you want to, by becoming more conscious and intentional in your life and in your parenting.

Big or small changes can make huge differences. …

mastheadAs we look forward to the new year, API offers you the opportunity of reading this article in its entirety in this month’s issue of Parent Compass, “Break the Cycle,” covering such topics as:

  • Empathy research at the core of violent behavior
  • What happens to our brains when we “lose it”
  • Mindfulness and nurturing “superpowers”
  • Epigenetics and that how we parent today will change our family tree’s legacy, for better or worse
  • Where Attachment Parenting fits into this puzzle of nature and nurture.

Enjoy and Happy New Year in your parenting!

Parent Compass is a bimonthly enewsletter carrying an exclusive message from API’s cofounders, among the benefits of becoming an API Member or an AP Advocate. Join today to receive Parent Compass in your inbox beginning February 2017!

Nurturing parenting is an essential basic need of all children

“There is a sensible way of treating children. … Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit in your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say good night. Shake hands with them in the morning. Give them a pat on the head if they have made an extraordinarily good job of a difficult task. Try it out. … You will be utterly ashamed of the mawkish, sentimental way you have been handling it. … When I hear a mother say ‘Bless its little heart’ when it falls down, or stubs its toe, or suffers some other ill, I usually have to walk a block or two to let off steam. Can’t the mother train herself when something happens to the child to look at its hurt without saying anything…?” ~ Psychological Care of Infant & Child by James B. Watson, Norton Press, 1928

Reading this excerpt of a wildly popular parenting book from 1928, as you breastfeed your baby or cosleep with your toddler or cuddle with your preschooler or hug your preteen or put your arm around your teen’s shoulders, how do you feel it was like for your great-grandmother to be admonished for instinctively loving her child, only to be told that her instinct is exactly what would damage that child?

Parenting has come along way since 1928. john bowlby with richard bowlbyBy the time our grandparents were caring for their babies in the 1950s, psychoanalyst John Bowlby was making great strides in scientific circles with research demonstrating the enormous impact that nurturing — and lack of nurturing — had on child development. This important body of research has since greatly influenced parenting advice.

Eventually Bowlby’s work would be integrated into the ever-expanding domains of research, including breastfeeding science, that has sent a shock wave of nurturing-oriented parenting around the world.

In 1994, as our parents were caring for us at home, La Leche League Leaders and schoolteachers Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson cofounded Attachment Parenting International as a way to educate and support parents in raising children with abundant warmth and nurturing. The tide was still changing then, but today, we are free to nurture our children without a feeling of shame. We can kiss and hug them. We can let them sit on our laps.

best-gift-yourselfThe child-rearing “experts” just a few generations ago would be appalled at how today’s parent educators encourage affection, nurturing touch, and comforting of our children. Research has since established how incredibly beneficial — in fact, absolutely critical — to child development that we are nurturing toward our babies and children.

But the impacts of the hands-off approach to parenting that our great-grandmothers experienced has had far-reaching effects. Remnants survive still today. They’re there whenever someone asks us if our baby is sleeping through the night yet, or suggests we try “cry it out” to teach our baby to self-soothe, or warns us that holding our baby too much will spoil her, or insists that babies be weaned by their first birthday, or maintains that children be spanked, or advises any parenting approach that promotes so-called early independence and obedience over normal, healthy child development and sensitively met needs.

We hear it from our family members, our schools, our pediatricians, our politicians, parenting books that continue to be published influenced by this old-fashioned thinking despite the mountains of research to the contrary — ideas of how children should be raised, based on personal opinion rather than research-backed fact, subtle revelation of how our society is still scared of giving “too much” nurturing to our children. It’s a pervasive situation that still needs to be addressed.

janetThe fact is, nurturing isn’t damaging. Babies and children need nurturing like they need food or shelter — nurturing is an essential basic need — and they are biologically designed to expect and receive nurturing.

Nurturing parenting is actually easier in the long term than the hands-off approach first touted to our great-grandmothers and continued to be promoted in widespread advice, not only because responsive parents are not constantly fighting their own instincts and therefore undermining their confidence, but also because responsive parenting prevents future parenting lornaissues, like behavior problems, that arise from not meeting our babies’ and children’s biological needs. A child who grows up learning that his biological needs for nurturing will go unmet or be misunderstood is a child who will increasingly develop ways of communication and interaction that are less healthy in future relationships.

Nurturing parenting is an early investment whose payoff continues well beyond the short term. When a child’s biological need for nurturing is consistently met, positive discipline naturally emerges. The trust that children develop 865056_grand_mother_and_childas a result of having their emotional needs met sets a foundation of parent-child interaction that doesn’t have to rely on threats, shame, punishment, rewards, or other forms of coercion for behavior control.

Research and children unanimously agree that warm and nurturing parenting is not only optimal, but required for healthy development. The child’s brain develops in response to the care received, so children with less optimal caregiving are more likely to experience challenges not only in their childhoods but across their lifetimes.

Reams of research tell us the obvious: that high levels of family stress can contribute to profound effects on a child’s ability to learn, remember, emotionally self-regulate, and succeed in adulthood.

Many parents carry with them the unaddressed traumas of childhood with limited nurturing or harshness, passed down through the generations since their great-grandparents’ time. This trauma legacy may show up in subtle, or obvious, over-reactions or under-reactions to normal, healthy child behaviors. We silently pass the legacy to our children and their children when we fail to observe the effect on our families and instead find confirmation and justification in the surviving remnants of 1928 child-rearing advice still popular today.

Research is continually finding new ways to illustrate the impact of abundant nurturing on our children. Brain scans show physical differences between the shape and connectivity of different areas of the brain involved in socio-emotional and cognitive functioning. Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) studies outline shockingly common, everyday interactions and events that are processed, but remain unrecognized, as traumas that can increase risk of not only mental but physical illness. Tests on heart function and hormone levels reflect how the body reacts to emotionally stressful events that were previously assumed limited to our thoughts.

Increasingly, we are learning that our emotional psychology has as physical roots as our bodily health — and how much our experiences as babies and young children, especially, form a foundation that can either be stable and secure, or predispose us to a susceptibility of lifelong difficulties.

Attachment Parenting International works to bring a wide body of authoritative, decades-worth of scientific evidence, as well as emerging research, to support parents and influence professionals and society. The common theme of this research clearly points to the critical importance of nurturing our children and describes behaviors that can provide this type of caregiving.

The research calls for parents to examine their assumptions, expectations, and thoughts regarding child-rearing and to then make changes to how they view themselves, children, and parenting to better reflect their goals, values, and healing. Many parents choose not to do this — to instead parent on autopilot, which is easier than parenting with intention — but our unexamined, default modes of parenting are how family legacies of pain pass silently from one generation to the next.

support1Our children are worth the effort to do the best we can. They’re our future, and we want them to be ready and excited for that future, free of emotional traumas borne of parenting ideas of nearly a century ago. Your donation helps Attachment Parenting International support parents. Every dollar counts.

Attached Family: Parenting without shame

shame-cover-v2Attachment Parenting International (API) is pleased to announce the release of the latest issue of Attached Family: “Parenting Without Shame.”

In this issue of Attached Family, API examines shame versus guilt and how shame contributes to emotional trauma. API looks at the intersection of parenting and shame, keeping in mind that shame is a normal emotional response to certain social situations, but like anger or disappointment, when unresolved, shame can lead to lifelong difficulties.

Inside this issue, you’ll find mind-bending, inspiring, and empowering features to stretch your parenting wings:

  • “What is Shame?” by API Executive Editor Rita Brhel — defines shame, how it differs from guilt, when it crosses the line to become toxic shame, and what parents need to know
  • “Core Beliefs Color Your Parenting,” also by Rita Brhel — explains how shame-based core beliefs affect our everyday decisions, including our parenting behaviors
  • “What Makes Emotional Trauma? Fear, Disconnect and Shame,” an interview with Daniela Sieff, PhD — explores the ingredients to developing a shame-based view of oneself and what is all involved in healing, which certainly underlines the importance of prevention through parenting
  • “Parenting as a Protest Against Hate” by Lauren Gottschalk-Scher, motherhood fashion designer — looks at how parenting can be activism
  • “What is Normal, Healthy Infant Sleep?” by API KnowledgeBase Coordinator Art Yuen — discusses what biologically normal sleep in infants, and adults, looks like and the effects that artificial light and work productivity expectations have
  • “6 Tips to Lessen Separation Anxiety,” also by Art Yuen — looks at goodbye routines and other ideas for children and their parents when separation is necessary, such as for working parents
  • “Self-Validation Before Self-Control” by Denise Durkin, MA, child mental health consultant — explains how development of a positive self-worth must be in place first before trying to teach a child self-control
  • “Engagement vs Redirection to Create Emotional Safety,” also by Denise Durkin — describes the differences between these two discipline techniques and why engagement may be the better choice
  • “11 Ways to Parent Outside the Box” by Brooke Campbell, MA, creative therapist — gives ideas on how to incorporate more attunement in parenting
  • “How to Heal Attachment with Your Teen” by Shoshana Hayman, Neufeld Institute Faculty — outlines how the teenage years can reveal attachment weaknesses and how to restore a close attachment when necessary.

Shame can be a difficult topic for parents. This issue of Attached Family helps you be able to explore this topic safely. API hopes you take away the idea that parents don’t need to fear shame as a normal emotion, but rather that when shame enters our children’s lives, that Attachment Parenting is exactly how to address it in a healthy way.

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