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!

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.