Helping kids with empathy

News of the shooting in Newtown, CT. is vibrating through my body.  I can feel the weight of it: the suffering, fear, shock, desperation, anger, and grief.   It shows up in me as real, physical pain:  stomach ache, headache, tension in my neck, jaw, abdomen, crushing chest, and a feeling like boiling blood I know well as anxiety.  I live on the opposite side of the country and yet I am connected to those parents, teachers and kids at Sandy Hook Elementary in a very real way.  When I was a kid, and heard tragic news like this, I didn’t know how to handle my emotions.

Whether the scary stuff on TV was real or imaginary, as a kid, it felt the same.  I was afraid, but I didn’t know what to do with my fear.  It seemed the right thing to do was to “feel bad” for others.  My big, empathic heart couldn’t handle the guilt, grief and fear.  This wasn’t my pain or my problem, but somehow I thought that if I suffered, I could alleviate the suffering of others.  If I joined them in grief, if I carried the burden with them, I could lessen it.  I was wrong.  All this got me was decades of chronic pain, anxiety and a fear of bad things happening. I tried writing notes and donating money, but it never felt like enough.

Tragedy’s, like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School, are opportunities to teach our children healthy ways to deal with their emotions.  It can be hard to notice if your child is reacting in these ways but asking them what they feel, and what they do with that feeling, is a good place to start.  Many kids (and adults) will cope by….

  1. Worrying, pulling-back from life, living small and fearfully, breathing shallowly, just in case a threat shows up.  Constantly staying in fight or flight, when there is no immediate danger, is horrible for your emotional and physical well-being and does nothing for those suffering. You can read more about my results of living this way. This adds more fearful energy to the world, which causes us to do things like horde weapons of mass destruction and maintain the right to bear arms against our neighbors and classmates.
  2. Get Mad – We can be angry at the shooter, the NRA, video games, the president, the lack of care for mentally ill, anyone.  For many people, anger is more comfortable than fear so they stay here, hoping it will lead them to productive action.   This is the “fight” response, in action.  It feels good to use it and get the energy out, but adding more of this angry/fearful/fighting energy to the world is just going to result in more violence.
  3. Get Tough- Many times, big hearted kids (and adults) will grow tough exteriors to mask the really deep feelings and negative thoughts they think about themselves.  They ignore, act cool, like they don’t care, deny their own dark side, and try to act perfectly, sometimes even self-righteous. (The emotion will be looking for a way out so don’t be surprised if they explode at a dead cat in the road or missed soccer goal).
  4. Guilt/Sadness – Somehow we get the idea that if we suffer along, it helps alleviate the burdens of others.  When I feel sad and guilty, that just adds more suffering and depression to the world.  Instead, feel the grief and guilt in your body and transform it into love.  Hug your kids, appreciate your life, but do it from a place of love, not fear.   (You’ll know the difference because love feels expansive, fear feels graspy and scarce).

In order to send love to Newtown, Connecticut, you have to feel it in yourself first.  The first step for all of us is to acknowledge and label their emotion.  When a big, scary, yucky feeling gets named, it diffuses it and makes it easier to manage.  Ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” or “What am I trying NOT to feel?”  Is it anger? sadness? guilt? fear?  Then acknowledge that no one is perfect, nor were we meant to be.  We all have the potential for darkness, given the right brain chemistry and environmental circumstances.  Look for something you have done or said you feel bad about and forgive that part of you.  (Notice where you feel the guilt in your body and what color it is, then breathe into it and relax around it until you can transform it into a color that feels like love, seems weird but it works).  Once you can forgive yourself for your shortcomings, you can fill it with love.  From this place, you can then send gratitude and love out to the world, the victims, the troubled soul of the shooter, everyone.  Pet your dog, sing Christmas Carols, cook something delicious, make a list of things you love about yourself and your kids.  Do whatever you can to shift to the state of gratitude and peace.  The world doesn’t need more suffering.  The world is hungry for love.  Take this opportunity to role model for your kids how much power they have to feel and send LOVE.

Be A Quitter

Be a quitter

For generations parents have been telling their kids “Don’t be a quitter”.  Quitting gets a bad rap but for today’s busy families, it’s one of the best things you can do.

Gabrielle Douglas, Olympic Gold Medal Champion and all-around awesome cutie pie, had to quit lots of things in order to be successful at gymnastics.  Her decision to quit her school, her hometown, even living with her family, led her to victory.  She was smart enough to notice that trying to make other girls like her, was keeping her from excelling at her sport.  She had to quit her old gym in order to grow into the athlete she was meant to be.  It wasn’t easy but it felt right.

Every time we quit something, we make room for more of who we are meant to be.  This can create a temporary void until we fill it with things that feel more authentically us.  (Ask anyone who has been through divorce or an empty nest about this void, it’s scary!)  But it is a necessary step to lead us closer to our best life.

Ben was a super star soccer player.  He lived and breathed his passion for soccer and it showed.  His family’s life and future plans revolved around Ben’s competitive, traveling soccer team.  When Ben turned 12, he was ready to try something new.  Nine years of intense year-round soccer left little time for him to try new things and he was ready to explore a new identity.  He thought about joining the band or trying out for drama, maybe even a girlfriend?

Ben’s parents had a hard time with this but after a year of seeing their son unhappy, they said goodbye to soccer and hello to band. Gabrielle Douglas’ Mom had a hard time letting her quit her life to pursue her passion but eventually succumbed to Gaby’s relentless persuasion.

Michelle’s daughter wanted to quit basketball her sophmore year but her parents said no.  They encouraged her to stick with the team through high school.  She excelled and got that full basketball scholarship her parents were expecting.  After the first semester at University, burned out, she quit her sport, lost her scholarship, and moved home to attend the local community college.  Thirteen years of playing basketball was enough and she knew it. It was time to explore who she was without it.

Quitting things is about growing into a new identity that is more closely aligned with who we are meant to be.  How do we know when to let our kids quit and when to encourage them to stick it out?

Short answer:  we can’t know.  We have no idea who they are meant to be in this lifetime.  But they will tell us if we learn to listen and watch for these signs:

Time – Do they change their mind from one week to the next or are they consistent with their feelings after a month or two.

Body – When you tell them it’s time to go to _______, does their body collapse?  Do they literally drag their feet out the door?

Voice – My daughter complains and collapses when it’s time to bathe but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let her quit!  The voice used for whining is a different tone than the mature, often quiet whisper of TRUTH.  Listen and see if you can hear the difference.

Tears – When we are preparing to move to our next stage of life by quitting the old and moving to an unknown future, “Truth Tears” show up.   This can be confusing to parents who think “if quitting makes you sad, why quit?”  There is a different quality to these tears that accompany an out loud acknowledgement of “I know I’m meant for more than this and I’m ready to see what it is, but change is scary.”

Quitters try new things.  Quitters are open to new ideas and new experiences without fear.  Quitters know who they are and who they aren’t and they are FUN to be around.  Life is a game of “You’re Getting Warmer”.  Look back on your life and tell me what’s the best thing you’ve ever quit?

Take inspiration from the teens at my summer camp:

“I’m going to quit trying to make everybody like me”

“I going to quit being so hard on myself”

“I’m going to quit a friend who drags me down.”

“I’m going to TRY to quit caring about what other people think.”

Parents Feel Peer Pressure, Too

“Don’t forget about the showcase on Friday, it starts at 10am.” I hear every morning as I drop my daughter off at a week long cheerleading camp.  Summer is here and I am pining for “me time” like a love-struck teenager longs to be back at summer camp with her first love.  My 8 yr. old loves cheer camp but the 2.5 hours per day is hardly enough time to do the things I want to do.  I want to write, plan and teach classes without my daughter.  I want to exercise and run the errands she hates but summer is here and things have changed.I really don’t want to go to “the showcase” this Friday.

I’ve watched her do cheers all week, about 6 hours a day.  I feel confident that I won’t  be deprived by not seeing her perform with the other camp cheerleaders.  I have great friends that will send me videos if I want.  I didn’t go last year, and the world did not crumble.  My husband misses this stuff and doesn’t blink an eye.  I really don’t want to give up that extra hour on Friday, when I get so few as it is.

Yet here I sit, on the bleachers, watching “the showcase”.  And apparently, I’m not the only one.

Sometimes we succumb to peer pressure, just like our kids will.  We decide to do things that we may not really want to do.  Breast feeding, work meetings, kid birthday parties, family gatherings or class reunions.  Peer pressure is just as real for adults as it is for kids so as I waited for “the showcase” to begin, I decided to take my own advice.

In my “You Can Talk to Me” class for 9-12 year olds and their parents and my “Getting What You Want” summer camp for girls 12-15, we talk about how to stand up to peer pressure.  Before you take action, you first want to link to your values.  In this case, I value my quiet time, especially during the summer months, but I have decided to go anyway and I don’t want to feel resentful.  I value connecting with other parents.  I value arranging play dates for my daughter with the other Moms (more quiet time!).  I value using life’s everyday challenges to help other parents, live more purposeful lives, ie. write a blog about it.

Anytime you are doing something that’s not your favorite activity but the societal, peer, or family pressure may be too much for you, link to YOUR values!  Maybe you dread spending your meager time off at your spouse’s family reunion?  If so, find a way to link it to one of YOUR values:  spending time in nature, finding a new recipe to try out, talking about a book you loved, mentally plan a trip you’d like to take, sketch something, etc.  Before you’ll know it you’ll be having a good time, on your terms, because you decided to.

Bev felt pressured to put her boys into classes like the other Moms: soccer, music, foreign language, gymnastics. She longed to socialize with these other Moms but her boys just wanted to stay home and play in the dirt. She could either force her boys to cope with classes they hated to make friends and feel a part of the crowd, or listen to her boys and her instincts and let them stay home. She decided to linked to her values, hired a sitter to stay home with her boys, and took classes of her own.  Bev got out of the house to socialize by taking art and exercises classes, something she always wanted to do.

Living deliberately, on purpose, gives you so much power. Notice when you feel peer pressure (and talk about it out loud if your kids are old enough).  Listen to and respect your inner voice, make the choice you want in a way that reflects your values, & then make the most of it.  Acknowledging peer pressure and modeling how to make your own choices is an awesome skill to teach to your kids.

I’m not the only one

I believed the propaganda

I confess.

I believed it.

The soft focus, the clean & pretty Mom, the happy baby, the dream that my life would soon be filled with love, peace & contentment.  And it was.

And it wasn’t.

I loved being a Mom and I LOVED my baby.  But suddenly, that was all I knew.

I wanted to do everything right.  I valued my new role and took my responsibility seriously.  But my baby wasn’t cooperating with my vision.  He was fussy, sensitive, cried a lot and slept a little.  I felt lost and confused.  I had no way of validating that I was doing a good job.

And I couldn’t stand the not knowing.

So I read.  Parenting book after parenting book.  Searching for validation.  I wanted someone to show me, prove to me, I was doing things right.  I wanted to know that I had taken this precious little human and not screwed him up.  I hated when people talked about “maternal instincts”.  What the &*%$# is that?   I had none.  I wanted a report card.  A job description with a checklist so I could make sure I was doing things well.  But I didn’t have one, so I decided to worry.  It seemed like worrying was something a good parent would do.  It felt conscientious, diligent, and productive.

From the outside I looked confident, but I was working hard:  reading, worrying, researching, studying for a final exam that never came.

On the inside, I had lost the ability to relax, or even take a deep breath, this is what I now call, “The Land of Crazy”.  Perhaps, your “crazy” is different than mine?  Maybe the loss of spontaneity or predictability drove you crazy?  Maybe your crazy came from arguing with reality?  “This should be easier”, “My child shouldn’t act this way” “My husband should help more”.  Maybe you never felt crazy, just full of peace and joy all day, in which case stop reading this! For me, the realization that there is no report card or professional review to tell me whether I am meeting or exceeding expectations was a terrifying concept.  I had spent my life following rules and using other people’s expectations to determine whether I had value and success. The most important job I will ever have and no one is here to tell me if I’m doing it right?  What the hell kind of craziness is that?

The best kind.  The kind we can learn from and use to bring us closer to the truth.  The truth that only WE get to decide if we are good, successful parents.  That every temper tantrum,  every power struggle can be an opportunity to grow closer to our authentic self.  I learned little by little, a yoga class here, a supportive friend there, teaching parenting classes (might as well put that research to good use), taking time by myself, learning to trust other caregivers.  I learned that WE have the power to decide what kind of day we are going to have, and how much joy we choose to take from our experiences.  I learned the long, hard way, but I am thrilled to have a short cut to share with you!

The things that mean the most to us (jobs, relationships, money, parenting) are usually the things that challenge our beliefs and make us feel a little lost and confused for a while.  Now I see that this is as our opportunity to create new beliefs that are truer and more aligned with our best, most authentic selves.  Instead of thinking “I have to do this right” or “My child should obey me” or other frustrating thoughts, I deliberately think thoughts that allow me to feel successful and parent from a place of peace and confidence.  “I choose how I behave” or “I decide if I’ve been successful today” are more empowering thoughts that we can actually control.  Some people sit on a mountaintop and meditate for hours, ME?, I use my daughter’s refusal to wear pants as my own path towards spiritual enlightenment.

I believe parenting struggles are a perfect opportunity for personal growth.  This passion we have to raise great kids, and our motivation to stay sane while raising them, is all the fuel you need to learn the tools to live your best life.

JOIN ME on an 8-week, life coaching program to learn to use your parenting challenges to create your most idea life.

The Parenting Club

Parenting can be an exciting time, but it can also be a time for anxiety and confusion as we adjust to new roles.  With support, information, and coaching, this can be the best time in our lives. Join me in this 8-week life coaching program and learn the tools you need to worry less and enjoy more.  You will develop confidence, clarity, and increase satisfaction in your everyday life.

  1. The Cycle of Change – Most people go through 5-6 major transitions in their lives and becoming a parent is certainly one of them.  We will learn about the predictable path of change and how to use it transform us into our best selves and live the life we were meant to live.
  2. Drowning, Choking, and SIDS, OH MY! – Along with becoming parents comes worry.  This class is about learning the difference between instincts and anxiety and how protect our children while not letting worry take over our lives.
  3. The Everybody – “Everybody says I should breastfeed”, “Everybody says I should stay home/go back to work”.  This week we will discuss who “everybody” is and how to listen to what’s right for you.  We’ll talk about the difference between your essential self and your social self and how to filter these messages in a positive way.
  4. “Why do I do all the work?” – Discussion of gender roles, distribution of labor, and tackling those household chores that just have to be done.  We’ll take a look at our families of origin to see how our expectations have formed and learn practical tools to make everyday life better for all.
  5. The Quest for Balance – What does it mean to live a balanced life and is it even attainable?  We’ll talk about transitioning back to work, settling into staying home, childcare and how to make life more fun with less guilt.
  6. Maintaining Healthy Relationships – Whether it’s complaints about husbands, in-laws, or girlfriends.  This is the time to work it all out and create the helpful, supportive tribe you desire.
  7. Developing Your E.Q. – Your child-rearing years will go much smoother if you increase your emotional intelligence to help you both navigate through the wild world of feelings.
  8. “When Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” – Why is it so hard to put ourselves first?  Understanding the challenge of self-reverence as we develop tools to celebrate our victories and take pride in our accomplishments.

Use parenting as your path towards personal fulfillment and creating your best life!  This 8-week journey is a great way to learn life coaching skills for you to use in your career, your money, your family and your life.

Sara says: “When I started this program I felt like I won the lottery!  These skills are just what I needed to take my life to the next level.  I felt pretty good before but I didn’t realize how much better I could be.  I feel in charge of my own happiness and ready for what lies ahead.

Tanya says: “Cheaper than therapy and lasts longer.  Practical tools that apply to all areas of life.  I loved feeling supported and understood.”

Anna says: “Oh my gosh! Feeling normal and sane, not to mentioned empowered, is invaluable! I would have paid 10x as much!”

Schedule a free discovery call to see if this program is right for you.

This 8-week coaching program is held over-the-phone, from the privacy of your own home, car, or wherever Mom’s can find some peace!  The calls are held once a week for 8 weeks with optional homework done over email, in between calls.

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Are you a “bad mommy”?

As I walk through my house I see my daughter’s forgotten lunch box, my son’s forgotten jacket, a sink full of dishes and an overflowing hamper.  What I hear in my head is, “I’m a bad Mom”.  My child is cold = bad mommy.  My child is hungry= bad mommy.  I’m a lousy housekeeper = bad Mommy.  When my child eats too much sugar & watches too much TV, I think “bad mommy”.   And I know I’m not alone.  I’ve taught enough classes and coached enough clients to hear this theme repeating throughout this generation of Moms.  When did this happen?  I’m pretty sure my Mom’s generation didn’t judge themselves the same way, (ok, maybe a dirty house meant you were a bad wife) but there wasn’t the same emphasis on being a good Mom.  I love the advancements we have made towards understanding what is good for kids and how children deserve our respect, time, and devoted attention.  The problem is, believing you are “a bad Mom” does not help you parent any better.  When parents are stressed, we usually lean towards being overly permissive, or overly authoritative.  Stress does nothing to motivate us and instead creates inconsistent, negative parenting that we are not proud of.

Somehow, our culture got a mixed up idea that “good parents don’t let their children suffer”.  This is leading to a generation of kids who are afraid to take chances, move out of Mom’s house and have a sense of entitlement. Perfect parenting is stressful and teaches kids that being perfect is the goal of life.  It’s time for the parenting culture we are living in to change from one of “perfection” to one of “growth”.

Most parents deny being a “helicopter parent” but when I ask who would drive their child’s lunch to school after they forgot it at home, most say they would.  I’ve done it three times myself, BUT I’M STOPPING TODAY!  Instead I’m going to think about what lessons I am robbing my children of by coming to their rescue every time?

What can you learn from a forgotten lunch box?

I can skip a meal, feel hunger, and it’s fine.  I can survive a mishap.  People forget things and that’s ok.  Mistakes happen.  People share what they have.  The Universe provides.  People like to help others. People are generous. Carrots taste better when you are really hungry.

What can you learn from a forgotten jacket?

Compassion, strength, how to keep your body warm in other ways, resourcefulness (the lost and found is a gold mine!), friends and strangers care about you, suffering is temporary and nothing to be afraid of, you are stronger than you thought.

What can you learn from a messy house?

Some work always gets done, there are higher priorities, it’s ok to let other’s help you, your mess does not define you, perfection is not important, not everyone has the same strengths, if I don’t like it, I can change it.  Kids might decide to take matters into their own hands, in which case they learn to create change and use their dissatisfaction to improve their life.

Switching your perspective from doing everything perfectly, to learning and growing from every opportunity sets a great example for our kids.  They learn to be human, make mistakes, grow, take risks, struggle, survive, experiment, and pick themselves back up again.  When I was in school, I was terrified of making a mistake so I opted out.  I answered questions with “I don’t know”, I never raised my hand, never tried hard, and kept quiet. It wasn’t until I went to college and heard others talk about their school experiences that I realized how much I missed out on.  Life is meant to be lived, fully and with freedom to be yourself.  Avoiding problems is avoiding life.  As parents, we can’t be open to learning and improving when we are berating ourselves about how bad we are.  It’s time to embrace our mistakes as learning opportunities and every day, ask “Was I better today than yesterday?”  and “Where can I praise my child’s effort instead of his/her result?” Perfection will never be achieved but growth, is doable.

I love to hear what you think equals “bad mommy”.  Crying kids?  Injured kids?  Disappointed kids?   When you are stressed, do you err on the side of overly authoritative or overly permissive? Jump over to my facebook page and let me know.