Some days, I feel like Sandra Bullock’s character from the Bird Box blindly navigating down the river of parenting. I mean, minus the creeper dude who attacks her on her journey and the deadly invisible whatever-that-is trying to off everyone, of course. But otherwise, totally sorta the same, right? There are moments you’re traveling down a calm and peaceful segment of the river and other moments when you're trying to do whatever it takes to save yourself from crashing up on the rocky rapids! That river can be unpredictable at times...and relentless, which is why it’s important to have proper form while navigating through this River of Parenting.
Proper parenting form? Let’s pull it back a little - when you think about any physical activity like walking, running, swimming or throwing, it’s important to consider your mechanics while going through the motions. Maintaining proper parenting form is just as important. Take a look at the chart below to understand why both forms are so important.
Knowing your parenting form is about having mindfulness and clarity. It’s about being deliberate and having control over your actions and reactions in order to handle difficult moments in a meaningful way. With proper parenting form, you have control over tough situations to build character and connection rather than chaos and hurt feelings. As you paddle down turbulent sections of your own river, here are some strategies to help keep you focused on your parenting form:
Continue to Pt. 2 of my blog to learn how I put these strategies into action in my own life!
I have a child who struggles with anxiety and a heightened sensory system, and we recently had a messy boat ride down the river of parenting. It was a looooong, drawn out ride that required me to dig deep, but was all worth it in the end. We made it through the rapids, and while there were a few moments of taking on water, we managed to keep the boat upright and afloat. Here’s the breakdown of our experience and the mindfulness that helped me stay focused on my parenting form along the way...
I haven’t always practiced proper parenting form - I may be a parent coach, but that doesn’t make me a perfect parent! I’ve had (and, still have!) my share of messy moments in parenting. We are human and there are always moving parts in any relationship, so no situation is ever the same or predictable - the same as any river. The best we can do is know the tools and strategies we have accessible and be mindful of our parenting form.
Has Parenting Brought You to Your Boiling Point?
Picture it — you’re cooking pasta when the pot starts to boil over. It’s quick to become a real mess if you don’t do something about it. So, how do you react? Do you stir the contents to slow the boil or put the lid on to cover the boil? Maybe you’ll do the ol’ wooden stick across the pot to keep the bubbles down (did you know that one??!!) You can try any of those, but you’ll quickly learn that they are just temporary fixes — that starchy water is sure to bubble up in no time and your pasta is going to become a mushy mess. But what if you made a change in the flame, what would happen then? Just by turning that flame down a notch, you would notice the water settling down which keeps the bubbles at bay and allows the pasta to cook gently.
This is something to keep in mind as parents. Not that we’re a pot of heated water about to boil over — although sometimes it feels that way! But more so, to make a difference in our parenting, we need to make changes in our own actions. Would you ever expect to toss some pasta and water together in a pot and have it cook perfectly without doing anything to it? Of course not! Your bowtie pasta doesn’t just know how to prepare itself! You, as the chef, would take the necessary steps to transform that crunchy dehydrated pasta to its wonderful ‘al dente’ potential by creating an ideal situation for the best outcome. The same goes for parenting. We shouldn’t expect our children to just know how to meet our expectations, sometimes we as parents have to initiate a change within ourselves to get things cooking.
When I was getting irritated by my daughter’s nitpicky and witty replies to pretty much anything that came out of my mouth, it took me a little while to see the big picture. I kept reprimanding her for her curtness which just made the situation even more tense — each episode of this brought the pot closer to boiling over. I decided to really take a look at what was going on. How could I make a change that would impact this situation for the better? One small change I decided to put into action was just listening more. I became more selective with which comments I would respond to. Turns out, I was adding my input and opinions to areas my daughter wasn’t even looking for advice, she was just trying to share or vent. The very act of me being more selective with my commenting, adding my two cents, or even stating, “I have some thoughts on this, would you like to hear them?” made a big difference in our relationship. Within a few days of making this small adjustment, the snarkiness was practically gone and my daughter was becoming even more conversational with me!
When there is an aspect of your family life that is a little messy or difficult, stirring or covering it up is not going to make the real change you’re looking for. You need to make an adjustment to break the cycle. Making an actual change to the heat is going to make the difference in the overall outcome. The change begins with YOU. It doesn’t have to be a big change - even the smallest adjustment can make a shift happen. I mean, if you think about that boiling pot again, if you made a big adjustment to the flame, the pasta wouldn’t even cook! The small changes are the ones that make a big difference by allowing you to slowly adjust to help make an outcome stick!
I know, I know. Change is not easy nor is it comfortable. But, if the year 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that even though change is hard, change is doable. And, we often find good on the other side of change. Small changes are intentional, small changes are manageable and small changes incite larger changes and put positive outcomes into motion.
So, let’s do this — what’s boiling over or about to boil over in your life? Do you feel like you’re a broken record with your kids? Does your bedtime routine need some revamping? Does your day feel like it’s in hyperdrive and you need to find a way to slow the pace? Whatever it may be, take a step back and look at the situation from a different angle. What’s one thing you can do to make a small change in the routine? How can you turn the heat down a few notches and allow your situation to simmer down?
I feel like people are generally in one of two self care camps — they either practice it or feel like there’s no way they could fit it into their current schedule. Which camp are you in?
I was totally in the ‘no way’ camp for a long time. I take that back...I was in a third camp titled, ‘no time for it in my schedule until I’m about to break.’ Anyone else in this camp? This one is tricky because since you indulge in an activity every now and then, you FEEL like you’re indulging in self care and giving yourself time — which you are, but that’s generally not the self care that will sustain you through your everyday tasks.
Self care is meant to help you feel energized during your every day stress. Ideally, it should be practiced daily — Hold up, Rebecca! Who the heck has time to do that?!?!? — You do! We all do, but first you have to consider it a priority! It’s ok!! Make it a priority!!
Self care doesn’t have to take a ton of time and doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Self care is simply doing something you enjoy that brings you some energy and clarity. Now, of course, self care may look differently throughout the stages of your life — a parent of a newborn will probably not have the same level of self care as a parent of a teen.
Are you asking what your self care should look like? It could be something as simple as getting a cup of coffee from the drive thru while your baby is napping in the backseat. Perhaps it’s bundling your child up to get some time outside for a brisk walk. It could also simply be taking an activity off your calendar to free up some time. It’s those little moments you savor and appreciate that bring you joy.
I took this photo on my birthday hike - I like to call it the "Treat Yo'Selfie." The self care piece (aside from the actual hike) was to go without my kids so it was complaint free!
What small thing can you do for yourself today?
Feel free to download this image and print it out for a fun family activity! What are you looking forward to in the upcoming year?
Welcome to Overstimulation Station!
Each December, I want my kids to experience all the magic the holiday season has to offer. And every year we hop on the figurative ‘Polar Express’ to experience a few weeks filled with magic. It’s always a great ride at the beginning; it’s exciting and filled with anticipation. But as the trip goes on and we experience one fun stop after another, without fail, we find our train stuck at Overstimulation Station!
It’s a safe assumption that most of us struggle with an overwhelmed system now and then. I know that even as an adult, I tend to struggle with the excitement and keeping up with the season. When I think about the hustle and bustle, the social gatherings, and all the typical December pressures, my eyeball begins to twitch.
Overstimulation can happen any time of year, but why does it seem children meltdown more than ever in December? The time of year when everything is JUST for them? Why can’t they just enjoy the ride? Well, simply stated, their little bodies just aren’t developed to handle all the stimuli we as adults ‘can’ handle — especially highly sensitive children.
Let’s put on our Sensory Glasses to see how all this holiday joy takes our kids on an unwelcome trip to Overstimulation Station. Tickets, Please! During this season, kids experience new foods, new smells, new decorations, changes in routine, shopping, noisy & crowded areas. ANTICIPATION! Santa anxiety — meet with Santa, talk to Santa, take a picture with Santa, Have you been good? Will Santa come to visit me?? Why doesn’t Santa come to visit us? Holiday parties, holiday hustle, holiday music, holiday lights. Winter clothes, scratchy dressy clothes, collars, TIGHTS, hats, puffy coats. LOTS of sugar, social pressures (take a picture with Aunt so-and-so, hug Uncle so-and-so to say thank you), late nights, extended time in the car traveling, ‘pass the baby’ game so everyone gets to hold the baby...did I miss anything? I’m sure I missed something! Children thrive on routine and all things expected. December is far from that.
So, what’s going on here? Kids chug along on this train ride just fine until the track suddenly switches rails and you detour to Overstimulation Station. Let’s drop some science here — The amygdala (uh-mig-duh-luh) is a small part of your brain with the purpose to quickly process and express emotions. It is located in your lower ‘reptile brain’, the part that manages reflexes like fight or flight. You can imagine the amygdala like a switch on the train tracks. If your brain processes stimuli comfortably, your train continues chugging along the track, no problem! However, if the stimuli are misinterpreted or an influx of info comes too rapidly, the reaction triggers the amygdala which quickly switches the tracks sending your brain into survival mode — insert major meltdown here. The brain is now doing whatever it can to protect itself from the unsettling stimuli. This is when you find yourself at Overstimulation Station.
Once the amygdala switches the tracks, there is no quick detour out of Overstimulation Station. When our children are in this state, their brains are unable to rationalize what is happening. They typically do not have the words to express their fear or discomfort, and they do not possess the emotional regulation necessary to calm themselves down easily. One solution is to connect with your child to have them feel safe and help ease them back to a calmer state.
Here are some things to consider as you’re chugging along:
We want to do all the things, have all the fun and make all the memories during the holiday season, and it’s hard to slow down the train once it starts revving up. Sometimes it feels like your train visits this station way too often around the holidays AND even during the rest of the year. In my family, once we started seeing some patterns and identifying triggers, we made some important decisions while planning events. The choices weren’t always easy, but we trusted our guts to put our child’s needs first which always made such an impact on the quality of our time together. We were finally able to enjoy holidays and events with much less stress involved.
Eventually, you and your child will learn how to relax that switch. As you identify the triggers, you will be able to adjust your surroundings and help your child learn some coping strategies. Sure, you will still experience unexpected detours once in a while, but for the most part, you and your child will just enjoy the ride.
Project: Embracing Winter!
I am an ‘All Things Summer’ kinda gal. I love the beach, endless sunshine, and all sorts of summer shenanigans. For me, there’s nothing a pair of flip flops and a salt-rimmed margarita can’t solve.
So, when those summer mornings start to get chilly and the sun starts setting earlier, I start to mourn the end of my favorite season. My heart is always very heavy on August 32nd. I have a hard time enjoying autumn’s beauty because all I see is an impending Polar Vortex looming around the corner. WINTER IS COMING!!! I’m fairly confident this will be the winter Jon Snow was warning us about!
A dear friend of mine, one with ‘All Things Winter’ as part of her genetic makeup, sent me a podcast discussing the hygee lifestyle. If you haven’t heard of this, hygge is a Danish word that doesn’t have an exact translation into the English language but is more of a feeling of coziness and togetherness. It’s probably better described as a feeling of gratitude, appreciation, and enjoyment of the moments. And here’s where I experienced my AH-HA moment! As a parent coach, it is my job to guide my clients to have a more positive outlook. I help families on a journey to transformational change one small step at a time. Are you seeing the irony here?? My focus has been all wrong and I have been sabotaging myself—okay, winter doesn’t have to be my favorite season, but by all means, I can certainly embrace it and find the good it has to offer. It’s time to take on my personal “Project: Embracing Winter!”
The thing about change is, well, it’s just hard. We’ve all experienced breaking old habits and creating new ones, and it’s downright tough! In order for the change to happen, there has to be a level of awareness, an intentional goal, and motivation to get the ball rolling. And, while we want the change to happen instantly, it’s important to understand that change is more likely to stick with practice, consistency, and a positive outlook. I decided it’s time to take my own advice and learn to change my perspective on winter.
When I envision how I’d like the next few months to look, all I see is hygge. Allowing myself to slow down and savor the moments—especially the cozy ones! Rather than sulk on the numerous dreary winter days New Jersey seems to offer, I’d like to celebrate the bright, crisp days we do encounter. I’d like to look forward to feeling comfortable while spending time outside in the cold. Ideally, I’d like my family to try new activities outside together…without feeling miserable…and with minimal complaining! In a nutshell, I want to feel like I’m living it up through winter rather than just getting through it.
After some soul searching, Pinterest surfing, and lots of getting myself mentally psyched, I’m ready to take on “Project: Embracing Winter.”
1. Reframe is the name of the game! If I’m constantly expecting the worst, the worst is what I will find. Reframing negative thoughts will help me shift my perspective to focus on the good, what’s currently working and the small moments I’m appreciating. BOOM! Automatic gratification!
2. Inventory the outwear. Time to assess all our winter pieces and order whatever we’re lacking (like super warm socks!) so we can tolerate some extended time in the cold. I’m tossing the idea of dressing to look fashionable, not sure if I ever achieved that anyway! I’m confident we’ll all enjoy the elements more if we are dressed appropriately. There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing, am I right?
3. ‘Creating cozy’ inside and outside my home. According to Pinterest, you can reinvent any space by adding some blankets (I’m thinking of the heated sort!), pillows, candles, and strands of lights! And, by the way, I’m fairly confident nobody will be in my house for the next few months, so I’m in no rush to take down pretty Christmas lights!
4. Let’s make a date! My kids always make a summer bucket list, so why not a winter bucket list? We can put an activity on the calendar each week that will include something everyone enjoys (that’s my ‘reduce the complaining’ plan!!). An ideal outing for us could be bundling up, enjoying an easy hike, and sharing some hot cocoa with marshmallows upon our destination.
5. Let’s get cooking! Finding new recipes that are hearty and comforting that can be enjoyed outside may be a big win this season. Maybe even getting the whole family involved with making dinners like fondue or sushi could be a lot of fun. For outside entertaining, how great would it be to make a s’mores charcuterie board and a hot cocoa station for outside guests!? Yes, please!!
6. Enjoy old favorites in a new way. There are so many activities we enjoy during the summer that could be new winter fun with a twist. I plan to check out some outdoor locations we normally visit during the warmer months like the beach, boardwalk, maybe even an arboretum. With evenings happening earlier in the winter, occasional sunset walks before dinner could be enjoyable. If it’s mild enough, an outdoor movie night would be a great way to spend an evening with family or friends.
When challenged to make a change, you can resist it and fight every step of the way, or you can embrace the change and make the most of it. While I may not have control over this situation, I do have control over my attitude, perception, and actions (says my inner control freak). It’s certainly not easy to keep your focus on finding the good, but I’m flipping my perspective and taking small steps to make the most of this winter! And, if those tips don’t make me a convert, at least they will help occupy my time as I countdown the days to the first day of summer.
Thanksgiving Gratitude Activities
No doubt, this year’s Coronacoaster has taken us for a loop! What better time than Thanksgiving to prove 2020 cannot beat us! We can still come together, albeit virtually, and be thankful for the good in our lives. The people, the moments, the experiences, the actions...so much out there to recognize.
Take a look at the links below for some gratitude activities and games you can incorporate into your Turkey Day celebration. There’s something here for everyone - in person gatherings, virtual gatherings, activities for small children and some for the tweens & teens at your table. I'm really looking forward to the Smartphone Scavenger Hunt and a virtual game of Scattegories with extended family!
The photos below are active links that will direct you to free printables and more info on each activity. Leave a comment and tell me which activities you enjoyed together!!
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!!
Retrain Your Brain - 7 Quick Tips to Shift your Perspective