I was interviewed on the Big Time Talker Podcast. You can listen here.
Now, more than ever, we need to take care of our minds. What are you paying attention to? What are you worrying about? When will this end?
If there's one mindful reminder that can help us through these uncertain times it's to be gentle. Be gentle with yourself, with the voices in your head telling you you're not doing enough, or your kids aren't doing enough. You don't need to learn a new language or learn to bake sourdough bread. These are not normal times and it's okay to feel out of sorts. So please, please, be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with the people around you.
And slow down. Our nervous systems are used to a very speedy pace. We crave lots of stimulation. Speediness and stimulation often help us distract ourselves from feeling some of the uncomfortable feelings that we'd rather hide. Uncertainty. Grief. Lonliness. Fear. These are all emotions that we'd rather not spend too much time with, but they are just as valid as any other emotion that we might experience. We know that when we numb ourselves to the unpleasant emotions we also tend to numb ourselves to the more pleasant emotions too. (Notice that I did not say negative and positive?)
Remember to be gentle with yourself and whatever it is that you are feeling right now.
Happy parenting doesnt have to be science fiction though, the pathway to entering a new realm of motherly and fatherly serenity will require you to shift your understanding of the time-space continuum!
BY JAMIE SIEBRASE | APRIL 26, 2016
For all its goodness, parenting can be a real shock to the system. “Many of us have been otherwise successful in the world, and have figured out strategies for work, and for our relationships. We have some control over our lives, and we like it that way,” says local educator and mindfulness innovator Andra Brill.
Then, you have kids. “Holy cow! Suddenly all of those strategies that allowed us to be successful in other sectors are no longer helpful,” Brill continues. Before you know it, many parents fall into familiar patterns of yelling at their kids and complaining about them. They feel disappointed — and discontent. “We beat ourselves up because the assumption is that if I’m feeling frustrated, I’m doing something wrong,” says Brill.
Early in her career, Brill trained schoolteachers through the University of Denver’s Boettcher Teacher Residency Program. In that capacity, she saw the frustration first-hand, in the new teachers she worked with. And then Brill experienced it herself when she became a parent. “I think feelings of frustration are magnified when you’re a new parent dealing with your own kids,” says Brill.
When the expert’s adult-oriented conflict resolution strategies didn’t work on her daughter, Brill invented a whole new arsenal — one stocked with tricks capable of altering a parent’s entire outlook. The result was her Better than Science Fiction Solution to Parenting.
When it comes to time, it’s no secret kids and parents experience it differently. “What you think will take five minutes will really take fifteen — or more,” Brill says, pointing to something she calls ‘take-up time.” The idea centers around giving your children more time to absorb whatever message you’re sending their way.
Let’s say it’s time to get ready to leave for ukulele practice. Parents are pretty good at schedules; they know how to be efficient when managing time. “If we need to be someplace at ten o”clock, we know exactly what time we need to walk out of the door,” says Brill. Five minutes before takeoff, you might ask your kid to put his shoes on, but you’re left dumbfounded when twenty minutes have passed, and you’re still at home. What went wrong?
The problem, Brill explains, has to do with your child’s perception of time. “It isn’t the same as ours,” she says. “As adults, we have internalized a concept of time; kids don’t have it yet.” Brill calls this lapse ‘the difference between earth time and clock time. Grownups,” she explains, “are tuned into clock time, whereas kids are on earth time.” Quite simply, they”re busy experiencing the world as it unfolds naturally.
Children—and even the occasional adult—who operate on earth time just need a little more warning. “Kids need to be well prepared for transitions,” Brill says. Give your child ample time to comply with time-related demands. “Leave way more time than you think is necessary,” advises Brill — at least twenty minutes when preparing for departures. You”ll be surprised by how far advanced notice gets you with your preschooler.
Another problem with time is that grown-ups tend to project present moments into the future. “This is one of those strategies that allowed us to be successful in the past, but it simply doesn’t work when applied to kids,” says Brill. Let’s say your daughter is whining about what to wear. “Don’t overreact and think she’s going to be a prima donna in twenty years,” Brill says. When you’re a 4-year-old, getting dressed can seem like a really big deal—and that doesn’t have any impact on how a child will react to the same situation once she has the outlook that comes with maturity. The same goes for picky eaters and boys who won’t wear underwear. As the adage goes, this too shall pass.
The second part of Brill’s parental continuum is ‘so obvious,” she says. “But,” she adds, “it happens often.” You’re in the kitchen, your child is across the house in her bedroom — and the two of you are screaming back and forth. “We”re not mad at each other, we”re just yelling because of our spatial differentiation,” explains Brill. Telling your kiddo to pick up her toys while simultaneously starting the crockpot, folding laundry and wrapping up the next great American novel — that sounds like multitasking, doesn’t it
The problem with this sort of efficiency is that loud talking can quickly trigger a stress response in both adults and children. Before you know it, you’re mad at your kiddo because she isn’t listening, and your loud talking has escalated to agitated yelling. The solution is simple: “Walk across the house, get down to your kid’s eye level and ask her — in an inside voice — for whatever it is you need,” Brill says. Making eye contact is an easy way to create a connection; the same goes for closing physical space.
Brill’s bonus strategy involves mindfulness: “One thing at a time,” she counsels.
“Stop kidding yourself. Think about what you’re modeling for your kids.” Forget multitasking! When it comes to running a family, pace allows parents to focus on what they”re doing. If you’re making dinner, and your child asks you to help find a doll, you shouldn’t feel bad about telling her to wait. “Then, when you’re done, you’re able to really focus on finding that doll, and that builds a better relationship,” Brill explains.
According to Brill, research shows that our brains don’t actually multitask. “We”re simply switching back and forth quickly between tasks — not doing them simultaneously,” she says. “From a purely biological point of view, you can’t really be making dinner and paying attention to your kid.” When a situation threatens to split your attention, be creative: Invite your children to help you cook, for example, or set them up with a game or stack of books.
Remember: happy kids raise happy parents. (Or is it the other way around?) “As parents, it’s our responsibility,” Brill says, ‘to set our kids up to be successful.”
Avoiding Your Parents’ MistakesSometimes it’s good to follow in Mom’s footsteps; occasionally, though, it’s better to blaze a new trail.
Timeouts: When science showed corporal punishment didn’t work very well, many parents instituted a little something called timeout. You”ve probably tried the technique, too. According to Brill, timeouts might work at first — but then they fizz out. “The basis of relationships with our children is connection and belonging,” Brill explains. Timeout, then, can be devastating for a young child. “You’re basically saying, ‘You don’t belong here,” ” Brill says. She thinks a better message for kids is, “I want to be in connection with you, but in a way that works for all of us.” That’s why Brill advocates for redirection over exile.
Telling as Teaching: Many parents try to tell kids what they need to know so kids won’t have to experience lessons the painful way. They remind—rather loudly, rather often—to walk instead of run, for example. Brill wants parents to go “way back to the pre-1950s parents, who let their kids make mistakes on their own.” It pays, Brill says, to let kids learn lessons the hard way. Of course, we”re talking about developmentally appropriate and safe risk-based learning. Parents shouldn’t let their children, say, run across a busy intersection; common sense is key to ascertaining which life lessons kids should be allowed to stumble through, and which must be avoided.
Ohmygerd! I've been dreaming about offering weekly Zoom coffee dates for a long time and am so excited to say that we're going to do it in March! I can't wait. If you or someone you know is interested, sign up HERE
Today in the shower I was thinking about the words we use to talk about being parents. People ask, “How many children do you have?” Have? I’m not sure have is the right word here. I have a car, I have a sewing machine. These are things that I can claim as my own. I might even say that I have a partner, because, well, we really do belong to each other. But kids? When you are raising fruit you talk about raising or growing. Not that our kids are fruit. Still you wouldn’t say I have strawberries or I have apples when you are really talking about raising crops.
Maybe creating is a better metaphor. Painters don’t have their paintings. They create them. Poets write. They don’t have their poems. Again, the metaphor is weak. I don’t think that I am creating my daughter. But more like a wealthy patron, creating the environment in which she can flourish and grow into herself. (Would a patron have a musician?)
My point is we don’t really have our children. If anything, they have us. Our job isn’t to own, to control, to live our lives through our children. Our job is to create a safe, nurturing environment in which our children can become themselves. Maybe the word I'm looking for is nourish. I nourish my children. My daughter has and nourishes me.
And, since it’s something I struggle with, parenting also means letting your kids experience the feeling of frustration and disappointment. It is all too easy to try to raise children who never have to feel the feelings that we, as adults, don’t want to feel. But just as I am still learning how to lean into the difficult moments in life, I know that this is one of the best gifts that I can offer to my daughter.
So, while I want create a safe place for her to get to know herself and the world. There is also the desire to help her connect with her own resiliency, to point out her own inner resources in the face of difficulty and unpleasantness. She is lucky to have been born into a relatively easy life. My hope for her is that she learns what she needs to in order to navigate both the beauty and the adversity with dignity and grace. And to do that, I will continue to practice with my own feelings of discomfort and the endless letting go – not having – that is my parenting journey.
PS All this reminds me of Thich Nhat Hanh's essay on the relationship between the leaf and the tree. We think of the tree as being the mother, when in fact the leaf nourishes the tree and then dies, leaving the tree to live for another season.
Part of being a mindful parent is paying attention to what we say to our children. Often I can hear the words rushing out of my mouth, only to be filled with remorse. This is almost guaranteed to happen when the words sound like, "If you do that one more time, you won't get to go to the park."
To be clear, I'm a huge fan of natural consequences. And so if what I am doing is calmly explaining the order of events, then I usually feel okay about how things are going.
However, there's the other kind of threat. The one that bursts out when I'm frustrated and want to control my kid. And this is where the mindfulness part comes in. Only I really know when I'm simply explaining the consequences, as in, "If you don't want to pick up your toys, I'll put them in the clean up bag and put them in the closet." Or trying to control my daughter, "If you don't take a rest you wont be able to go to the birthday party this afternoon." (I am cringing as I write this. It's all too familiar to me.)
The problem with using threats to control is that it usually backfires. As in: Wait, what did I just say? No birthday party? But I want my kid to go to the party this afternoon. I need the time to work on my presentation
Long ago I learned to not threaten anything I'm not willing to follow through on. Not only does it not work, I'd just end up looking stupid and feeling like a failure.
So, what to do instead? Especially when it's something that just HAS to get done. When my kid was little (and even now on a rare occasion) I would use the Magic 5. I would offer my daughter a choice, "You can put your shoes on yourself, or I can do it for you. I'm going to count to five and then I'm going to help you get your shoes on." And then I would slowly count, making sure to give her plenty of time to weigh her options. I have to confess, I rarely got past 3, but when I did get to 5 I would gently, without much explanation, move to help her get her shoes on.
If this is a new strategy for you, you may find that your kiddo will test you to see if you are really going to follow through or not. It may take a week or so of really following through to help your child understand that things are a little different.
And if you child is a bit older you might decide, in a moment of calm, to have a SHORT conversation about how things have been (empty threats, or not following through) and what you are going to do differently for 10 days. Think of it as a little experiment. See what happens. Let me know.
Check out my artcile on Hunter Yoga, No More Time Outs, on why you should stop using Time Out as a discipline strategy and what to do instead.
We are leaving for family camp in a few days. In the meantime, my sweet, independent 6 year old daughter seems to be going through some sort of regression. Her last three play dates have been fraught with discord. (Or, as her BFF said, "Emily's being bossy.")
She has suddenly stopped eating most of the foods she ate three weeks ago. The list of acceptable foods is getting shorter each day. At the same time she has become a tyrant over the family cat. And on the way to camp this morning she insisted on being a back seat driver telling me when to go and where to park.
As I talk with my husband about what's been going on, it becomes clear that there are several ways to make sense of these recent events.
1. Our daughter is becoming a bossy, controlling, pain in the ass. (I say this with lots of love. And more than a little frustration.)
2. This is a clear message from the universe that it's time to get rid of the cat, her friends and her taste buds. Is it possible to trade in your kid?
3. This is normal. What looks like controlling behavior is a message about her own anxiety and discomfort around change. This summer has been all about her growing autonomy. Now, as summer draws to a close first grade is looming. There's family camp and then I will go away for the longest I've ever been away from her. 10 whole days. She is spending long days at gymnastics camp, a totally new environment for her where she is working hard to figure out the norms.
So instead of worrying that my kid is turning into a brat, we make a plan. I tell her gently that I don't want to fight about food. I ask her what she wants in her lunch box. I explain that she needs to eat a piece of ham for breakfast, before she has fruit or a waffle. I remind her that everything works out. That I'm here to keep her safe. And I let her sit silently on my lap for a few minutes before leaving her at camp for the day. Without judgement. Imagining that she is trying to tell me that she wants to feel more connected to me.
Finally, I set an intention to sit with her and talk about the conveyer belt of worries (from Sitting Still Like a Frog) and to use our mindfulness practice to help her sit with whatever feelings are causing her need to impose her will on everyone around her, knowing that some of this is just developmental. And, most importantly, not letting this become the norm in how I think about her. Not letting this version of her become a role that she gets stuck in, but giving her space to figure out how she wants to respond.
I like the image of the angry frog because it's how I feel right now. I imagine that it's probably how Emily feels too. Please, send us your wishes that we figure out how to break the spell and turn the frogs back into their normal selves.
If you like this post, you can read more at Happy Mindful Families. Or join the conversation on the FB Mindful Parenting Solutions Group.
Last weekend we went camping with friends. Car camping. You know, where you see how much gear you can cram into the car and still have room to sit. Friday morning while I was working, my dear husband and daughter packed up the car and got us ready. When I finally got into the car Friday afternoon it was hot. I was cranky.
In my head I was already dreading the next few days. Sleeping on the ground. Schlepping food and kitchen gear to unpack it at a picnic table. No shower. Port-a-potty. Remind me why I thought this would be fun.
The traffic getting out of town is terrible. On the brighter side, my daughter falls asleep in the back seat for most of the ride. I can feel the tightness in my body. I am too stressed out for this to be fun.
Then we get there. The usual Rocky Mountain Campground. Evergreens and aspen trees. I set up the tent while friends build a fire and cook sausages. By the time the tent is up and gear is stowed, a beautiful salad appears. It is getting dark. We eat dinner holding our plates on our laps, sitting in our camping chairs. Afterwards, we roast marshmallows.
Exhausted, we all mumble good night and fall into our sleeping bags. I spend most of the night tossing and turning, trying to find a comfortable position.
Morning. My kid wakes up and bounds out of the tent to find her friends. They practice being free-range kids. I stumble out of the tent to do my usual morning routine. Yoga, with the early morning sun on my face. Sitting meditation, contemplating the beauty all around me.
And then I remember why I love to go camping. The simplicity. No cell phones or computers. I hear the kids laughing as they run by. Out in nature I can reconnect with who I am. I don't have to listen to the voice in my head that constantly reminds me that I'm not good enough. I can let go of the judgment that keeps me stressed and unhappy.
I'm sorry. I know that you and I are meant to spend more time together. I forget. I lose track of how important you are for my sanity. I'm so glad that we had a chance to reconnect this weekend. Let's make a date to do it again soon.
Dr. Andra Brill is an innovator in the growing field
of mindful parenting. She is the Founder and Senior Consultant
at www.HappyMindfulFamilies.com, offering simple strategies for raising
happy, well-balanced children. Using her unique blend of mindfulness
practices, psychology and neuroscience, Andra improves the well-being of modern families.