The Opposite of Play isn’t Work, it’s Depression

Can you feel the enthusiasm?  New lunchboxes, new pencils, new classrooms and the back to school excitement is here.  But a look at the statistics for today’s kids tells us this optimism will turn to stress by October.  How do you keep the relaxed and joyful days of summer, even after the school year begins? The answer is so simple you won’t believe me.  So let’s take a look at the problem first.

Many kids today struggle with motivation, joy, self-acceptance, social and life skills. With suicide rates rising and occurring at younger ages, it’s not a problem we can continue to ignore. Anxiety and depression are higher than ever in teens and increasing in YOUNG children! Why?
1. Kids today think the world is a scary place and they have no control to change it.
2. Too much structure: school-work, organized sports and screen time are all about following OTHER people’s ideas.
3. Less and less time spent in nature.
We’ve got a serious problem in the health of today’s kids and teens, not to mention an inability to prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow, which require creativity & drive, not repetition. The success of the movie Race to Nowhere shows you parents know it, see it, and need help changing it. But the solution is simple.
It’s PLAY.

Self-directed, imaginative, social, outdoor PLAY.
The benefits of this kind of play are HUGE! But somehow, in our drive to make kids smart achievers, we forgot that the best way to be successful in life is to FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU LOVE TO DO then SPEND LOTS OF TIME DOING IT.  PLAY helps us discover who we are and what we enjoy. PLAY teaches us how to solve our own problems and exert power over our lives. When you PLAY you are in control of your environment, (something my corporate clients know is important).  PLAY teaches that life isn’t about success and failure but about participating for the sake of it. It gives us ACCESS to ourselves: our feelings, thoughts, preferences, abilities, etc. PLAY allows us to discover who we are and who we are meant to be. It gives us the feeling that life is good and all is well. Allowing your kids to initiate and pursue their own interests is as crucial to their well being as feeding healthy foods.

But if you are like me, it’s easier said than done.
My neighborhood is full of single-family homes with sidewalks, basketball hoops and nice families, but nobody’s outside! My kids are not the outgoing type so outdoor play only happens if it’s me initiating it, and I’m busy! TV, video games and ipads keep my kids quiet and out of my hair. And when I say no more, I have to listen to them whine & fight. The pressure to put my kids in organized sports comes at me from all angles.

When you ask parents what is their greatest hope for their child? It’s always the same….happiness. Every parent wants their child to be happy and PLAY is what creates that sense of well-being. Here are some practical tips to create an environment that encourages a LIFETIME OF JOY.
1. Back away from the children. By hovering and directing their play experiences (or hiring a teacher/coach to do it) they don’t learn to control their own world. Let them struggle, make mistakes, invent their own rules & figure it out.
2. Initiate a neighborhood playgroup or street party. Collect emails and schedule “play in the street” days if your neighborhood is as quiet as mine.
3. Teach your kids how to call up a friend and ask them to play. Practice it and praise their initiative.
4. Limit screen time! TV and video games distract a child from their emotions. Kids need to experience boredom, disappointment, frustration and failure and then find ways to soothe it and make it better. Think of it like serving vegetables, nobody likes it but it must be done. Limit and commit, no matter what their ages.
5. Go camping with other families or (my favorite invention ever) go to family camp. Free time outdoors encourages more imaginative play with more creative problem solving than free play indoors.
6. Invite other kids and families over and play “the old fashioned way.” No video games, cell phones or TV, and let the kids figure out how to invent their own fun.
7. Tell the teacher you aren’t going to do homework because it stresses out your child and takes away from valuable play time. (I did. It was hard, I was nervous the whole time.) Remember the schools are here to SERVE YOU, not the other way around. If enough parents do it, they’ll change their policy.
We are out of balance and it’s time to change. We need to enjoy living for life’s sake, not because it’s leading us towards someone elses external goal. What feels like PLAY to you? Do that more and set a good example.  It’s for the kids!

Is bickering good for kids?

 

Brothers Sam & Cameron

How’s your summer going? Warm weather, lazy days, and popsicles? Or is it more like, “It’s my turn!” “Give it back!” “Let me have it!” “STOP IT!” “MOOOOMMMM!”
With kids and parents spending more time together, sibling fights can be another hallmark of summer. The petty arguments over nothing important can drive parents bonkers. The quick solution these days is a pair of earphones and an electronic device. Unfortunately, this effective solution robs kids of the benefits of bickering.

Try putting the earphones on yourself and let your kids learn some great life lessons in some really annoying ways.

Teasing offers kids a way to probe the boundaries of a relationship and address power issues. They value the attention they get from their sibling, which creates motivation not to push too far. The ability to be silly, laugh, and not take ourselves too seriously is super helpful in all close relationships. We want our kids to be funny, but not mean, this is how they learn it.

Rough & Tumble play is a valuable part of growing up. Just like with puppies, wrestling established dominance, boundaries and gets out energy. It teaches kids to stand up for themselves and use body language and voice tone to communicate their wishes. Even if the wrestling ends in tears and time outs, it can still teach empathy, cultural norms, and how to apologize and make amends. In fact, research shows wrestling and time in nature are the best remedies for ADHD.

Did you know arguing and bickering is a form of play? Otherwise known as “verbal jousting”, siblings are having fun! They are also learning to be okay with conflict, get along with others and solve problems. Watch your kids next time they argue, could they leave the room but choose to stay? Could it be they are enjoying the fight, learning how to win and lose gracefully? Are they learning that life isn’t always fair but there is more than one way to get what you want?

The more your children upset each other, the more opportunity they have to learn how their actions affect others emotionally. They learn to regulate their emotions and develop self-control. Learning to play this way helps kids create healthy friendships and intimate relationships later in life.

Once you take the earphones off, there are a few things you can do to be sure they learn good lessons, not bad ones.
1. Don’t pigeon hole your kids. “Sheri is the nice one, Jack is the bully, Kyle is the drama king.” Kids pick up on those labels and live up to them. Praise them for what you WANT to see. If you want to see empathy, compliment them for it. “I saw that you wanted to keep fighting but you heard the frustration in her voice and hesitated, that was so nice to see.”
2. While wrestling is good, violence isn’t. If your child appears nervous, withdrawn or afraid, end the game and protect your kid.
3. Establish house rules and post them for the whole family. (In this home, there will not be name-calling or hitting. In this home we tell the truth and apologize. In this home we respect furniture, belongings, and each other.) Clear and firm, with predictable consequences.
4. Observe your children. If one wants to interact and the other doesn’t, support them both equally.

TV, cell phones and video games keep us from feeling our feelings which leads to disconnection and depression. Emotions can’t kill you but suppressing them can. Allow yourselves your full range of emotions so you can feel fully human and alive. And if you just can’t stand it, sing show tunes really loud. Barney songs work, too. How do you cope with bickering kids?

Is something bothering you?

Sometimes life sucks.  People are mean, Teachers make dumb mistakes, Bosses are blind, and our family pushes our buttons.  When you or your kids are feeling down in the dumps, it’s important to give yourself permission to feel it.  Take a break from blaming & complaining and LABEL THE FEELING:  mad, sad, embarrassed, frustrated, disappointed, scared.  Finding & labeling the AUTHENTIC EMOTION is powerful.  It honors you and your feelings.  Worry, stress, anxiety are not emotions, they are a mental distraction that only create more worry, stress and anxiety.

Naming an emotion contains it.  Suddenly, what used to feel overwhelming, now feels manageable.  You’ve felt disappointed before, you can handle it.  So you feel ashamed?  That’s ok, we all do from time to time.

This is a hard thing to give our kids.  We don’t like to see them sad, mad, scared or ashamed.  We want to kiss their boo-boo’s and make it better quickly so we don’t have to see our child suffer.  But when we first tell them to “look on the bright side” “don’t feel that way” or “it’s no big deal”, we unknowingly teach them that there is something wrong with them, that the way they feel is flawed.  We do the same thing to ourselves when we deny our own emotions.  “I should be happier”  “I need to just suck it up and get over it.”  “Why can’t I just……be different than I am?”

Naming and owning an emotion doesn’t take long.  In fact, Scientists have timed it.  If we fully allow ourselves to experience an emotion, it lasts about 90 seconds.  Kids are usually better than adults at staying with the feeling, crying, hitting, stomping, and then they’re over it.  Sometimes it’s all you need. But if you’re a Mom like me who can’t help but help, you can ask my most favorite question, “What do you know to be true about you?”

DD -“Ella was so mean to me at school today.  She said I was stupid and fat.”
Mom – “You feel mad.”
DD – “Yeah.  It makes me mad when she’s mean to me.  Why can’t she just be nice?”
Mom – SILENT SITTING (no talking, just let her have her emotion, let her stay frustrated for 90 seconds.)
Mom – “What do YOU know to be true about you?”

Somehow when we ask for TRUTH, it raises the bar:  “I know I’m overweight, but I’m also a good friend.” or “I say dumb things sometimes but I’m not a dumb person.” or “Whenever I’m with Ella I feel worse about myself.”
If your child’s response is “The truth is I’m a loser and nobody likes me”, start over at step one, naming the feeling, “You feel sad.”

Model it for your kids by trying it for yourself.

1-    Find something or someone that is bugging you.

2-    Name your authentic emotion:  (mad, sad, scared, ashamed, etc.)

3-    Bathe in it.  Picture yourself sinking into a bathtub of your emotion.  Let yourself soak in it for 90 seconds. Say to yourself, “I feel scared, and that’s ok.  I allow myself to feel my feelings.”  Notice how it feels in your body and where you feel it.”  BREATHE!  It is super important to keep your breathing slow and deliberate.  If you start to think, talk, blame, argue, bring your attention back into your body and your breath.

4-    After 90 seconds is passed and you are feeling calmer, ask yourself, “What do I know to be true about me?” and see what answers arise.

5-  Congratulate yourself on being authentic.  Celebrate your awesomeness.  (I know you want to avoid this step but your kids are your motivation.)  You want them to have a positive self image so show ’em how it’s done!

When your kids drive you crazy.

Sarah was exhausted. No matter how many activities she scheduled for her son, he always wanted more. She worried about overbooking him (and herself) but every time they had a day at home, he ended up climbing the walls and driving her crazy.

Julie was frustrated. At home, her daughter was exuberant and talkative, but out in public, she shut down. She scowled and clung when people tried to talk to her and refused to participate in activities. Julie couldn’t understand how her daughter could act so rude to people who are just being nice.

When parents feel calm and at peace, it brings out their best parenting skills. But when we argue with the reality of who our kids are, we drive ourselves crazy. “Why can’t he just come home, sit down, and get his homework DONE instead of dragging it on for hours.” “What’s so hard about making friends? Just go up and ask them if they want to play.” “Why can’t she be more like the other kids?”

When we argue with our child’s TEMPERAMENT, we lose. All kids were made with built in personality traits that we can certainly squelch but the effort will exhaust and frustrate us and cause our children to be unhappy, believing they are innately flawed. A better way is to understand how your kids are wired and parent, based on who they are. But how do we know what is temperament, something we cannot and should not try to change, vs. something they just haven’t learned yet and it’s up to us to teach them? This is the classic nurture vs. nature debate and the best resource I have found is the book Nurture by Nature by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger. This book uses the classic Myers-Briggs Personality Type assessment many people discover from human resource departments, but is geared towards raising children.

My clients want to respect the essence of their kids and support who they are, but they want to stay sane while doing it. Accepting your child’s personality, as it is, and parenting them accordingly, is so worth the effort. Here are a few questions to consider…..
Does your child like to play with toys or board games as they are intended “S” or will he create his own version, changing rules as he goes, for something totally different ”N”?

Does your child need time at home to fill up their energy tank “I” or does staying home drain them and make them antsy “E”?

Does your child refuse to accept responsibility when they cause pain or sadness in someone else? They may be a deep feeler “F” and the thought they caused someone harm might be too much for them to take. Or are they perplexed by the emotional reaction they caused, “T” and need an explanation as to why the child is crying.

When it comes to making decisions like childcare, school choice, summer camps, understanding your child’s personality type is SO helpful. Instead of comparing your kid to others, look at who they are as a unique individual and ask yourself, how can I help them to be their best?

Being a former reading specialist, it drove me crazy that my daughter didn’t like books or reading. Once I realized she was an INFJ and was more interested in her OWN ideas than someone else’s, I could help her learn to like reading. By changing the endings, letting her lead, and using the pictures to tell alternative stories, I helped her discover the joy of storytelling. I also need to make sure she has plenty of unstructured time after school where she can invent and be the boss.

My ESFJ is way harder on himself than I could ever be. So instead of reminding him to “be good” or suggesting he pay attention in school, I have learned to celebrate mistakes. “Oh well, no big deal” is a mantra I try to use a lot of in my home as well as, “guess what awesome mistake I made today?”  Unlike INTP’s, whose mission is to question authority, ESFJ’s cannot function with conflict so maintaining harmony at all times is of primary concern.

The Serenity Prayer from Alcoholics Anonymous is a perfect mantra for parents. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” You can gain wisdom by assessing your personality profile, online for free. It’s geared towards adults but if your kids are older you can use it for them. Also check out Nurture by Nature. It’s super fun (unless you are an ISTJ or INTJ, then it’s torture☺) but it works best if your child is age 4 or older to get a clear picture of their type.

My much-loved, dog-eared, duct-taped copy.

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” Joseph Campbell

Seven Steps to Making New Years Resolutions that Stick

I love the fresh start of the new year.  My kids and I are pulling out our vision boards and magazines and dreaming and about an even more ideal life.  Right now, my list of resolutions is so long it’s likely none of them will come true.  So while I choose which ones to focus on, I thought I’d share with you my 7 steps to creating successful change.  Teaching kids how to make dreams come true and accomplish goals is one of the greatest things we can teach.  And since the #1 way kids learn is by imitation, why not show them by creating your own, most fabulous and ideal life.

1.  Pick something you really, really, really, really want.  Make a long list of all the things you’d like to change, then ask yourself, what is it I REALLY YEARN for?  (Hint – it’s going to be a feeling.)

2. Imagine what it will feel like to have accomplished your goal.  Bathe in the emotions of it:  self-pride, accomplishment, freedom, joy.   Notice what it feels like in your body and breathe it in.  (BTW – This is how we are meant to feel all the time)

3. What in your life are you willing to give up in order to make room for your new dream to come true?  (Moms, especially, have a tendency to pile more stuff on to their plate without realizing there is a limit to how much time and energy they have.)  Mentally scan your weekly routine and choose the areas you’d like to replace with something new.

4. Imagine it happening perfectly.  Go walk the dog or take a bath and spend time imagining your new routine.  Create a scene in your mind like a movie with you as the star.  Imagine what sights you see, sounds you hear, smells, tastes, textures, and most importantly, what it feels like to be living in your ideal future.  Breathe into the difference of where you are today, and where you’d like to be.

5. Anticipate obstacles.  In this mental movie, imagine what obstacles arise (distractions, you get sick, people need you, etc.).  Imagine that you overcome these obstacles with grace and ease, without abandoning your goal or positive emotions associated with it.

6. Write it down.  Studies show that your chances of accomplishing a goal improve 33% if you write down what it is you want, create action steps and check in with a friend or coach to whom you feel accountable.

7. Celebrate your victories.  If you are like me, this is the hardest of all steps.  Brag to your spouse, your friends, your dog, and most importantly, your mirror.  Say out loud, “I did it!  I worked out today, yeah, ME!”  Look at your reflection and tell it how proud you are that you overcame resistance.   Tell your kids how amazing their Mom or Dad is and what a super star you are.  Model for them what it’s like to work hard to create positive change.  Model for them what it’s like to honor yourself.