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 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!

There is nothing you have to do right now.

Somehow we Moms have bought into the idea that because we have the opportunity to “do it all”, we should not only “do everything” but do everything well and at the same time!   There is an expectation, perpetuated by the media, but also by ourselves, to contribute to the family finances, keep a tidy home, cook healthy meals, volunteer, keep children clean and healthy, stay fit and active, dress fashionably, look good, have good friendships, healthy family relationships, satisfying sex lives, and raise respectful, bright, athletic, talented children who also do everything well.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to speak at the Mothers of Multiples Conference and we looked back in history and noticed that never before have so many expectations been put on mothers.  I think it’s no coincidence that rates of anxiety and depression have gone up in women and in children in our country at the same time our “Supermom syndrome” has escalated.  Well Supermom is getting tired and it’s time to change the expectations we put on ourselves and other Moms.

Moms love to talk about how busy they are.  “I’ve got to do this.”  “I’ve got to that” but the common denominator all my clients are looking for is PEACE.  Not happiness, not excitement, but peace.  An escape from the mental churning, multi-tasking, ruminating and busy-ness that seems to dominate our days.  Moms today often feel disconnected from their lives because they are disconnected from themselves.

do nothingThe solution?  Do NOTHING.

I know what you’re thinking, “I’ve got stuff to do”  “People need me” or “I hardly get anything done as it is, and now you want me to do nothing?”

Doing nothing gives you access to yourself.  It tunes you back in to WHO YOU ARE , WHAT YOU WANT and WHY YOU ARE HERE.  It’s so easy to lose oneself in motherhood but you cannot find peace around you, if you cannot create it inside you.

The tricky part is GIVING YOURSELF PERMISSION to do nothing and not allowing your brain to start “should-ing” all over your quiet time.  “I really should be doing something else right now.”  “This is a waste of time.”  “This shouldn’t be so hard.” These thoughts can make our quiet time stressful.

To keep your brain occupied, while your body is still, try this, my most favorite mantra, “There is nothing I have to do right now.” This is one of my favorite thoughts because it is always true.  There truly never is something that you HAVE to DO right now.  (I hear my 13-year-old son, in my head, arguing this with me, but it’s true!  You don’t even have to breathe right now.)  When I think “There is nothing I have to do right now” my body immediately relaxes and shifts out of my head and into the present moment.  When I can focus on my own body in the present moment, peace is accessible.  I am accessible.  My senses come alive.  I am awake and fully alive in this moment and that is where joy and contentment become available.

My family and I have started honoring a Sabbath.  Five hours on Sundays with no technology, no distractions, no “shoulds” and no “have-to’s”.  Just the opportunity to become alive in the present moment and do whatever we feel like doing.   It’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever made them do.  (You can imagine, as a life coach, I make them do all sorts of goofy things.)

I’d love for you to join me, on my DO NOTHING movement, and let me know how it goes.  Start with 15 minutes a week, or 5 minutes a day, if that’s all you can spare.   Schedule it on the calendar “from 9-9:15pm I will sit and do nothing.  No reading, no TV, no talking, just being fully available to listen to myself.  Try it now, for 30 seconds, “there is nothing I have to do right now” and breathe in the truth of it.

Join me, this Mother’s day, in supporting other Moms to celebrate NOTHING!  Let’s encourage each other to take pride in the accomplishment of BEING instead of DOING.  It may take courage, but it’s the only way to hear that still, small voice inside.  The quiet voice that tells you “there’s more here for you” and at the same time says “in this moment, all is well”.

Supermom is getting tired

I work with a lot of supermoms. They would never call themselves super, though, they are more likely to call themselves failures. They are measuring their success by how much they accomplish in a day. But we are living in a time where the expectations on what Mom “should” accomplish in a day are very high. We feel the pressure not only to raise our children but to keep a clean home, a happy husband, stay fit, cook healthy meals, bring home income, maintain friendships, and to do all these things WELL. Not only do them WELL but also, because we live in a time of many choices, we feel pressure to ENJOY all the choices we make.

This is a great privilege and I do not want to go back to the old days of fewer choices. But I see a lot of Supermoms getting tired and wondering when they get to rest. They miss having a performance review, a raise, and acknowledgement of their hard work. The old ways of striving for success aren’t working for them anymore. These Moms used to make a list of things to do, cross them off, and feel satisfied. Now that they’re Moms, the list is endless, there is never enough time in the day, and they never get to sit down, relax, and feel content. When Moms are exhausted from working too hard, they take it out on those around them, take it out on themselves, or both. Being in this frustrated, annoyed, blaming state only makes them more tired, less productive, and fuels this belief that there is more work to do.

It’s time to change the way we think of success and time. When you are 80 and you look back on your life, what will you have wished you spent more time on? What activities are important because they give you energy to fuel you throughout the day? I know that I won’t care my house was messy 50 years from now but if I need a clean house in order to energize me through the day, then it becomes a priority.

Because time is intangible if feels infinite. But if we look at in a more finite way, that there are 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week, it helps us prioritize. Take a look at how many hours in a day you are spending and decide if that sounds balanced to you?
3 hours blessing my home and my family (feels better than cleaning)
2 hours shopping & preparing meals for my family
3 hours supporting my relationships (phone calls, planning get-togethers, family dinners, date nights, facebook)
2 hours taking care of my body (exercise, looking nice)
2 hours responding to my kids needs, giving them love and attention.
1.5 hours just for myself (reading, watching TV, etc.)
3 hours creating wealth (paying bills, earning income, investing, taxes)

Your life is your own, to do with it whatever you want. Making choices based on YOUR values and priorities is key to happiness. I know that if I don’t get to sit and dine, at least one meal of the day, I am bitter and unproductive. That becomes my priority as well an hour of relaxation time before bed. That leaves 15 hours. When I’m 80 and I look back at this time of my life, I hope I will have enjoyed the time I spent with my kids. That means about 4-6 hours a day. Too much time with them, I get cranky. Not enough time, I feel I’m missing something. Everyone is different, this is what is true for me, right now, at the ages they are.

It’s time for Supermoms to switch their perspective from doing EVERYTHING well, to doing what is important to them to achieve joy and look back on life with satisfaction. Learning to leave things un-done is a challenge to many over-achievers but it is a must for today’s Moms. What ball can you drop today that will help you feel lighter, more productive and more satisfied? What expectation have you already let go of that you are happy you did?

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