Is Your Child Stressed?

I don’t know about you but when I’m stressed, it is OBVIOUS to everyone around me!  But what about our kids?  Children don’t always have the vocabulary or self-awareness to be able to articulate their emotions in a way that we can hear them.   In fact, their emotions are so strong that just labeling them with a word (“you feel sad, angry, over-stimulated, overwhelmed”, etc.) makes the feeling seem more manageable and immediately helps them calm down.  American kids are more stressed out than every before, how can we know if our kid is one of them?

Misbehavior – When you are seeing recurring patterns of misbehavior, try to figure out your child’s motivation for acting out:  power, revenge, attention, excitement.   If there isn’t one, it might be stress.  See if you can find an underlying cause:  overbooked schedule, stressful environment, lack of predictability or just misalignment with the child’s authentic self (too much coping required).

Forgetfulness – “I forgot my Math book and I have a test tomorrow!” can be a normal problem but if it’s happening regularly, the child may be either stressed or self-sabotaging.

Illness – Some kids have magic bodies that won’t let them detour too far off track.  Notice if your child easily gets headaches, stomachaches, excema, colds, flus, etc.  I know whenever I’ve had a job that wasn’t good for me, I was constantly dealing with one illness after another.

Checking Out – Some kids do a marvelous job at taking care of themselves when stressed.  If you notice your child daydreaming, mentally zoning out or shifting into a trance-like state, congratulate yourself on having such a self-reliant child, but note that they are probably stressed.

Clouded decision making – I remember seeing a Dad telling his 4 year old he could have any toy in the whole store and this kid proceeded to have a total melt down at Toys R Us.  Sometimes what we think is fun, can be too overwhelming for kids and you’ll know they are stressed if they are having a hard time making simple decisions like what to wear, they want for dinner, or who to play with.

Arguing & Whining – We all take our stress out on those who are closest to us (ask my poor husband!).  Kids are no different.  When they get in the car after school and immediately start bickering, you know they are purging all the negativity they picked up during the day.  Whining can usually be cured with loving attention or a nap.

Overeating, Under-eating, Difficulty Sleeping – Kids and parents alike.

Do you have a sensitive child?  Sensitive children can be like the canary in the mine, alerting us to problems we all may experience if we don’t pay attention and switch gears.  Luckily, there are MANY things you can do to reduce stress in kids, in fact too many for one blog post.  Until next time, try working on just one: your own.  We are all built to mirror the emotions of people around us unless we intentionally focus on holding a higher state.  It can be really hard to feel good when your child doesn’t but it’s one of the most helpful things you can do for her/him.  Your kids will automatically pick up on your worry, spoken and unspoken stress.  Instead, find out what makes you feel good:  exercise, sleep, yoga, healthy foods, life coaching, meditation, hiking, card games, gardening and do it.  The quickest, most effective way to reduce stress is to switch your thinking.  Say these words to yourself (if you can believe them) and to your children.  “There is nothing I (you) have to do right now”   “All is well”  “It’s ok to rest”  “Everything is unfolding exactly the way it’s supposed to”.

If you have another restful thought or mantra you love, please share it!

2012 is gonna be easy!

I love a New Year.  A fresh start.  A clean slate.  Everyone working to improve their bodies, their finances, their relationships, their careers.  Hope, optimism, belief, determination- a life coach’s dream time.

But where does it go come February?

Here’s my list of the biggest killers of New Years Resolutions.

1-    Perfectionism:  I don’t mean my house is immaculate kind of perfectionism.  I mean the black & white thinking.  “I’m either on my diet or off”  “I’m either saving money or spending it”  “I’m either a good parent or a bad one”.  If you give yourself a label “I’m lazy”, “I’m an idiot”, “I’m impatient”, “I’m a loser”, “I’m fat” then you are playing a game of perfectionism you will not win. A better way to stick to your resolutions is to see yourself in a constant state of flux.  “I am moving closer to my goal right now or away from it.”  “I am becoming more fit or less”  “I am learning to be kinder to myself or I am forgetting to be kinder to myself.”  The truth is, life is not static, and pretending things are set in stone, will suck the motivation right out of you.

2-    “It’s too hard”:  I catch myself saying this all the time.  “Keeping the house clean is hard”,  “Being a solo-prenuer is hard”, “Dealing with health problems is hard”. Hello, pity party!  Do you want some whine with that?  If I look back in human history, or right now in cultures all over the globe, my life is pretty damn easy!  It is a ridiculously untrue thought that my life is hard and when I believe it, it doesn’t serve me.  If you are like me and you hear yourself complaining about things being hard, try changing it to, “this is easy!”  Eating healthy is easy.  Exercising is easy.  Making money is easy.  Raising twins is easy.  Balancing work/family life…easy!  The more you think it & say it, the more you will find evidence to prove it’s true.  Isn’t it just as true that change is easy?

3-    “I deserve a reward”:  Most people use this as a way to cheat on their resolution.  (Often in combination with ‘I worked hard, therefore, I deserve it’).  We think this is self care, but really it isn’t.  It’s usually said defiantly, as though we are rebelling against our own desires to feel better.  What we are really saying is “I deserve to be overweight & unhealthy”,  “I deserve to be broke” or “I deserve to be unhappy”.  Try using the same sentence in support of your resolution “I deserve to work out & feel healthy”, “I deserve to have a tidy home”, or “I deserve to spend less & have more money in the bank”.  I believe you ARE deserving, and that you deserve to be proud of yourself and your accomplishments.

4-    Be open to more & better:  Take a look back at 2011 and write down what worked for you and what didn’t.  Even if you didn’t complete your resolutions, spend time thinking about how your life has changed for the better.  What improvements were planned and which weren’t?  Even if you had some real difficulties, think about positive things that came from it.  Now imagine yourself one year from now.  Even if you don’t accomplish your resolutions, what by-products might you enjoy as a result of the attempt?  Might I make a new friend, even if I quit the gym?  Might I make some new connections, even if I didn’t get that job?  Might I learn something about myself that I couldn’t have learned any other way?  There is always opportunity for growth and increased joy in our lives, and we don’t always know where it will come from.

So take some good guesses, make those resolutions, be kind to yourself whether you stick with them or not.  2012 might just have some wonderful plans in store for you.  If working with a life coach is on your list of ways to improve your life, email me today to take advantage of my special New Years offer of 5 sessions for the cost of 4.

Your parents have all the answers.

Your parents are judging you.  And there is nothing like spending time with your family over the holidays to remind you that you have not yet achieved perfection.  Whether it is said out loud or completely unspoken, we know what our parents want and expect from us.  “What do you mean you aren’t going to church?”  “How can you even think about leaving your job in this economy?”  “How did you pay for this new car?” “What happened to that weight management plan you were on?” “Don’t you think my grandchild should be wearing a jacket, eating healthier, playing fewer video games, respecting others?”  “Shouldn’t you just ……”

The problem isn’t that parents judge, the problem is that when they do, what we are hearing is “I’m not good enough”.

No matter how old we get, we still want our parents to be proud of us.  We want our Moms and Dads and in-laws to believe we walk on water.  Because if they believe we are awesome, amazing beings of perfection, maybe we can believe it, too.

But when the holidays roll around and we are reminded that we’ve gained weight, grown wrinkles, have unflattering hairdo’s, mismanaged our money, careers, marriages, and children, it’s pretty hard to believe we have achieved perfection.

But we have.  Because life isn’t about doing everything right.  It’s about making mistakes.  It’s about using those mistakes to move closer to being your most authentic self.  It’s about realizing you were perfect all along.

My children, right now, are specimens of perfection.  Gorgeous little angels.  But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.  In fact, I can tell you exactly what they should wear, eat, and play.  I know who they should play with, how they should study, how to treat their friends, other adults, and each other.  I know which shoes go with which outfit, how to shave 10 seconds off a mile time, and how to point your toes in a cartwheel.  I am an expert on what my children can do to achieve “perfection”, and yet they already are.

So how do we untangle these ideas?  How can we be both perfect and flawed at the same time?

1-    Accept the fact that your parents will judge you, but recognize that it’s your parent’s way of wanting the best for you.  When they see you happy and enjoying your life, it will help them let go of their little instruction book of how to achieve happiness.  Unless……..

2-    Your Mom or Dad is the kind of parent who isn’t happy unless everyone around them is suffering.  In this case, living well will only annoy them. Realize their inability to accept you and your choices, is about them and their need to be needed and need to be right.  Choose happiness for your own benefit and thank your parents for catalyzing your personal growth.

3-    Imagine how you would react if your parent told you:  “I really think you should become a puppet master.  I saw this great show about it and it sounds like such an amazing career choice and would be so perfect for you.” Can you notice how little energy you have around it? Notice how it doesn’t bug you AT ALL that they think this?  Now imagine they are telling you:  “You really aren’t making wise choices with your money.”  Or, “I really think you are screwing up your kids by treating them this way.”  Why does this piss you off more than the other?  When parents tap into a fear that is already there, we get angry and defensive.  Defensiveness is your clue that something is misaligned.  Set the intention to feel good about yourself by this time next year.  Hire a coach, create a vision board, fight through the resistance and get it done.  There is no substitute for the ease and satisfaction that comes from living aligned with your best self.

4-    Perhaps you believe you aren’t good enough because you haven’t yet decided for yourself what it means to live a successful life.  Define it for yourself.  How will I know when I’m happy?  What does success look like to me?  Who determines whether I’m perfect or imperfect?  If your answer to these questions is, “I will be happy and successful as soon as everyone else tells me I am”, it’s time to do some soul searching.  I consider myself successful if I am using the gifts God gave me to make the world a better place.  Spend some time thinking about how you determine successful living, and let your parents do the same for themselves.

I am hoping some of you more enlightened parents will help me tear up the little instruction book I’ve been writing for my own children.  I’ll give a few tips but I’m gonna need advice from those of you who are relaxed in the areas I am not.

My first suggestion is to repeat these phrases often, out loud and to yourself.  “I have no idea what is right for my kids.”  “I could be totally wrong here.”  “I love you and trust that you kids will make the right decision for you.”  “I’m sure you will figure it out.”  “When left on their own, my kids make good decisions.”  “I have no way of knowing where their journey is leading them.”

When you think and talk this way, your brain will look for evidence to prove that it is true and your kids will rise to this expectation.

Second, look around at other parents who are relaxed and letting their kids make their own choices.  I watched my nieces prance around in tank tops and shorts in while I was in agony trying to force my daughter to wear ‘weather appropriate’ clothing.  My sister was relaxed, her daughters were happy, perhaps I can let this one go?  I know parents who could care less about their kid’s grades and test scores.  They don’t make their grades mean they are a success or a failure, in fact one Mom told me “The A students will work for the B/C students.”  If you find yourself stressing you and your kids out, trying to achieve perfect report cards, maybe this is an area to relax around and let your kids experience life their way?

Just noticing that these little instruction books for perfect living exist, is a big first step. When I chose to major in family life education and accepted a job with Planned Parenthood, I ignored a pretty big chapter in my parent’s book. What chapter in your parent’s book have you decided not to abide by? I’d love to know what page in your book is your child not reading?  I’ve got a whole chapter on social graces I’m still hoping my kids will read some day.  Thirty years from now you might hear me say “Honey, did you hear Mrs. So & So ask you how work is going?  What do you say?  Look her in the eyes when you answer.” HELP PLEASE!

What I learned from a smelly, underwater, pothead.

In one week, I had four clients tell me that their work environments are going through rapid changes:  finance, government, health care, and pharmaceutical sales. If there is an industry that isn’t experiencing these kind of changes, I don’t know what it is.  Real estate, education, retail, computer engineering:  between outsourcing, budget cuts, and automation, it’s easy to assume the jobs you or your spouse hold today will not be around, or be dramatically different, by the time your kids are in the job market. When the world seems to be changing fast there are a few ways we tend to cope with these changes.

A common reaction is to panic.  When we see changes happening around us, we look for familiar structures to cling to:  “If I have an 8 month emergency savings, then I’ll be safe”.  “If I just work harder, I’ll be safe”.  We look for rules and systems to believe will make us feel secure.  This leads to generalized anxiety, stress, sleep disturbances, and health problems.  Worrying about an uncertain future and placing your security in rules that are constantly changing, can turn “making a living” into “making a dying”.

Another common reaction to change is denial.  (Imagine high pitched voice here) “Everything is great and peachy, nothing will affect me, I’ll just keep drinking, spending, overeating, blaming and whatever else it takes NOT to notice that I feel scared.”  This helps people by giving them something else to focus on “I need to lose weight, spend less, get my kids grades’ up”. This method distracts from, but doesn’t resolve the core issue.  Believing scary thoughts like, “I have no choice but to stay in this job I hate” causes you to feel fear.  Ignoring this fear by focusing on other problems, just leads to a lifetime of feeling crappy.

When panic and denial fail to solve the problem, there is one method left.  I learned this personally from a smelly, pot-smoking, scuba diving instructor who was the last person I expected to gain such wisdom.  (The stench of his body odor was so profound that they are embedded together in my memory). In order to get certified, I had to remove my face mask and snorkel, 30 ft. underwater, and put them back on.  To say I was scared was an understatement.  I reassured myself that I new “the rules”, I had memorized the procedure and was prepared.  But as soon as it was off, I started to PANIC.  I frantically swam toward the surface as fast as I could, crazy, flailing around in a terrible state.  My dive instructor firmly grabbed arm, held me down, and tapped the side of my head.  Somehow, that tap on the side of my head, ignited another part of brain:  my instincts.  I calmed down immediately, cleared my face mask and snorkel, and was fine without ever thinking about it.  It was weird, like “how did I just do that?” All it took was someone else to grab my arm and tap my head.  We are all built with these innate instincts to help us through times of fear, the problem is we don’t have access to them when we are in panic or denial.

My work as a life coach is similar.  I hold my clients down by making them relax and stay calm on the phone. Then, I tap into their instincts by asking them to question the thoughts they have been thinking. “Is it true that security comes from your job?” “How do you know the changes that are happening are bad ones?”

Once we let go of the old ideas that are no longer working for us….

”Government work is stable”      “No one quits in this economy”      “It’s ok to suffer if you are close to retirement”,

then, we can allow in some quiet wisdom we didn’t even know was there.

“I’m more capable than I thought.”    “Now’s the time for change, everyone else is scared.”   “I only have to please myself.”   “The possibilities for my future are endless.”

Think about times in your life when you have been genuinely scared.  (Being robbed at gunpoint, seeing a bear in the woods, crashing a car).  How did your instincts step up to help you?  Maybe in our cushy lives, we don’t encounter enough real fear and we forget that we have this built in, instinctual system to help us out.  Look at the difference between fake fear (stress, anxiety) and real fear, and tell me about times when you felt your instincts kick in.

-Instincts are quiet and easy to ignore.  Anxiety is loud and takes over your ability to think about anything else.

-Instincts offer a clear, actionable step to take.  Anxiety suggests pacing, eating, general yuck…oh, I just hate anxiety!

-Instincts can be a thought that pops into your head but usually just one (not 1,000) and it’s often funny and always clear and calming.

-Instincts can be a physical sensation in the body (hairs go up on back of neck, goose bumps, nausea, etc.) but again, easy to ignore.  Anxiety is a runaway train that you can’t get off until your brain thinks it is safe.

If I can find wisdom from a smelly, underwater, pot head, I am confident you can find your quiet wisdom, too.

Why do you do this?

I am holding the phone in my hand, sweating and pacing around my bedroom.  I’m 21 and I’m working up the nerve to call my parents.  I am going under general anesthesia in 14 hours for minor, elective surgery, and I figured they should know.   I am terrified to tell them because the surgery is something in my private area, you know, the down there region that we don’t talk about in my family.  I had been suffering with vulvar pain for a while and my OBGYN suggested this surgery might help.  If I tell my parents about Vulvodynia and the problems I’ve been having, they might draw the conclusion that I am sexually active.   And we don’t talk about that in my family.

So I make the call and it goes fine.  And I have the surgery and it goes fine (although it’s not how I cured Vulvodynia but that’s a story for another day).  What was not fine with me was how ridiculously nervous I got to tell my Mom and Dad.  I was willing to go under the knife and not even tell them?  What was I afraid of?  Ruining my good girl image?  Making them uncomfortable? My parents are kind and loving and they went outside their comfort zone to give us “the talk” and tell us what we needed to know.  Unfortunately, what came through more clearly to me, was their discomfort with the subject.   I learned that my parents weren’t the people to go to, to talk to about sexuality.

At 21, I decided this wasn’t okay and I created a mission: To help open up the lines of communication between parents and children on sexuality and other difficult topics.  It can be hard to teach age appropriate sex education that is factual, relevant and relaxed, if you’ve never seen it done.  (I knew for sure I would not be imitating my 6th or 8th grade teachers!)

What I didn’t expect was how much this field of family life education would change in 20 years.  The quantity of sexual images and content on TV has skyrocketed.  The information today’s 9-12 year olds have, blows me away.  (I’ve had 10 year old girls asking about penile dysfunction (pharmaceutical commercials are big educators) and for a few years, everyone knew about the “man who had the baby”. One savvy, 12 year old blew me away with her correct spelling of “pseudohermaphrodite.”)  These kids have lots of information but they need help with filtering all the messages in a way that works for them.  Kids need to hear their parents talk authentically about their values.  Kids are hungry for information on intimacy, relationships, listening to their instincts, and solving problems with peers.  This new ability for kids to mass distribute private information over the Internet, requires a whole new set of values and etiquette and parents don’t even know where to begin.

I do not teach sex ed to parents and kids because it’s easy for me (although I do find it ridiculously fun).  I do it because I feel called to.  I relate to parents who want to do the right thing but get embarrassed, put it off, giggle or tease rather than educate.   I also relate to the kids:  embarrassed, curious, and grateful that someone explains it in a way that makes it entertaining and relevant.

You never know what mistakes you make as a parent, will turn out to be your child’s greatest passion.  We do our best, we ask for help when we get stuck, but perhaps the rest of our shortcomings are meant to be.   Whether your kids have to deal with divorce, debt, bullies, or disabilities, you never know how they will turn that challenge into their way of helping the world.

Thank you to all who help me fulfill my dream of bringing parents and kids together in meaningful and authentic ways.  If you are interested in attending my free, parent night tonight (Monday, Oct. 24th at 7pm) or would like more information about my parent/child sex education workshop, let me know.  I am here for you.