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!

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”.

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.

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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What’s the deal?

What’s going on with kids and stress?  Today, children are reporting more anxiety, depression, and worry than ever before.   If you Google “stressed out kids” you will find advice to rearrange your child’s schedule, improve diet and increase exercise.  While this is valid, it’s not enough for me.  I like to understand the big picture and have tools I can use anytime, anywhere, especially when I see my own kids showing signs of stress.

My experience coaching stressed adults, leads me to agree with Psychology Today‘s description of two “Waking states of awareness, Conceptual and Embodied.”  When our brains are in a “conceptual” state, they are busy thinking, evaluating, judging, questioning and worrying.  When we shift to a body focused awareness, our thinking takes a vacation.  Sensing movements and emotions engages the brain so fully that one cannot be aware of their five senses and worry at the same time.   Have you ever noticed that you cannot think yourself out of worry?  But when you engage in a “sense drenching” experience like rock climbing, dancing to music, or cooking, the worrying takes a break without effort?

Our brains cannot be in Conceptual and Embodied states at the same time.  This is why child development experts cringe with the “academic” focus pre-schools and Kindergartens take today.  Since I entered education 17 years ago, I rarely see puppets, felt boards, or  similar tools that help children engage their senses.  Singing, music, storytelling (with props rather than pages), time in nature, art and free play have all but disappeared from primary classrooms.  During the same time, anxiety and stress in children is increasing year after year, surpassing the complaints of stressed out adults.

Our schools praise these “left brain” thinkers and work to re-focus our “right brained” spacey, doodling kids.  I was proud of my “left brain” son who was so bright, so “conceptual”, that he learned quickly, memorized facts, asked a zillion questions and was always aware of what was happening around him. My husband and I considered putting him in a Waldorf, Sufi, or Montessori School (whole brain focused) but it so went against his nature that we chose a traditional school where his natural abilities would be rewarded.  Seven years later, we question that decision, as we are now homeschooling him to due to a stress related illness called Adrenal Fatigue.

The remedy for all types of stress is to re-engage the “right brain” or “Embodied Self-Awareness”.  Martha Beck has some great exercises in her new book, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World.  (Join me for discussions about this book in an over-the-phone book club starting in March.) For now, just try this “sense-drenching” exercise:  Remember the last time you had a moment of bliss where you allowed yourself to be completely present.  What sights did you see?  Recreate the scene (write it down or tell your child about it).  What smells were present?  What tastes do you remember? Sounds?  Remember what textures you felt against your skin?  Immerse yourself in this sensory experience and you will shift your brain state to the part of your brain capable of joy, peace, calm, and relaxation.  Read My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor to see how blissful life can be when you lose function of your left hemisphere.

We are naturally programmed to use both halves of our brains.  Providing our children opportunities to lose track of time and immerse themselves in art, music, imagination, nature and storytelling is the best way to reduce stress.  Throw out the reading log and let your child snuggle in to you while you tell them a story.  Throw out the clocks and schedules and dedicate a day to mindlessly wandering in nature.   Throw out the TV & video screens (which increase the stress response and help disassociate us from our bodies) and celebrate boredom.  Exercise reduces stress because it releases cortisol and can shift us to an embodied brain state.   If the exercise is listening to directions, running to point A, throwing to point B, and moving your body like this to point C, it can aggravate kids’ attempts to shift by continually being brought back to their thinking brain.   Keep exercise playful and unstructured when possible.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I just have to say it:  GO PLAY.  YES, I’M TALKING TO YOU. Kids learn by imitation.  So get up from your computer and do something that feels like play to you.   Put on music and dance, sign up for that creative writing class you’ve been wanting to take, take your dog to the park, or play a round of golf…….it’s for the children!  What’s your favorite way to shift into your right brain, embodied self awareness?  Share it below.

Need more convincing?  Listen to the fabulous Christine Carter‘s persuasive argument that when adults have sex, it increases their children’s capacity for happiness!