Do you know the right way to respond when your children come to you with questions like:
“Mom, how are babies made?”
“Are you going to die someday?”
You know, the questions that blindside you and leave you breathless and speechless. In these moments, many unprepared parents fumble their words and might give a short and dismissive answer. Like an annoying fly, the reaction might be to shoo the question away.
Children bring their parents questions every day, and depending upon how their questions are treated will determine if they feel safe to continue sharing their questions.
To help parents who may struggle with finding the perfect words, consider that it’s less about what you say, and more about how you help your child feel. By giving your child your undivided attention, stopping what you are doing to look him/her in the eye and truly listen, your child will feel safe and that his/her ideas are okay to share.
In the article “How To Explain God To Your Kid, According to Experts” by Caroline Shannon-Karasik, I contribute to the conversation around that big question:
"Sometimes when children come to parents with big questions, like 'what is God?' parents feel a pressure to answer the questions," she says. "But sometimes, answers aren’t exactly what children need to their questions. Children may just want to think and share." Malone says parents may respond with more open-ended questions such as, "I’d love to hear more about what you’re thinking” or “thank you for sharing your thoughts with me."
"These types of responses help to keep the conversation lines open, so that they continue to come to you with the big questions," Malone says.
Take the pressure off having the perfectly scripted answer to any of these questions, and instead seize them as moments to strengthen the bond between you and your child.
Need more ideas or support in navigating big questions? Contact me: 732-977-0375
5 things to do now to reduce your anxiety, for people who don't have the time to manage their anxiety
Sometimes strategies to manage anxiety can just feel like another thing you have to find time to do, in an already busy and exhausting day. And for individuals who already feel overwhelmed and that there isn't the time to meditate or do yoga or many other healthy and helpful wellness habits, here are some practical strategies anyone can implement today, and everyone can benefit from making a daily practice. By doing so, they should actually free up some time for you, where you hopefully can relax with you anxiety in check!
Use a paper calendar
The more information kept in your working memory – the part of your brain that is actively tending to information – the greater your state of alertness and energy required. For someone who is managing anxiety, the sympathetic nervous system is already in a state of hyperarousal, and needs help experiencing calm and quiet.
By writing down all events and obligations, it frees up the mental space that was being used to remember it, thus making your brain not work as hard. This helps to minimize the mental exhaustion common with anxiety.
Also, use the calendar to schedule and plan positive events. What wellness activities do you want to make sure your doing every week? When you look at the month, what do you have to look forward to? Anticipating a positive event can be a mood boost as well as a reminder and opportunity to savor it after it has passed. Seeing it on the calendar gives these experiences greater impact than just the event itself.
Here is one of my favorites and what I will be using in 2018:
Created by Danielle LaPorte, bestselling author and member of Oprah’s Super Soul 100, The Desire Map Planner is for women who want to put their soul on the agenda. What I will do to feel the way I want to feel...is the daily declaration you make with this planner. And with fresh daily Soul Prompts like, “What do you want to revolutionize?” “How do you want to feel in your body?” and sections for Gratitude notes and a weekly Stop Doing List ― this planner is where inner attunement meets outer attainment.
Make it automatic
What parts of your day or week can you implement a routine? Every time you have to make a decision, it requires brain energy. And again, this energy is a state of alertness, which has a similar neurological pathway to anxiety. (Which is why so many people with anxiety report having a hard time making even simple decisions sometimes).
When life looks predictable and consistent, this also feels calming, which is the opposite of anxiety. A morning routine, a monthly meal plan, or a consistent self-care regimen can all help. Just like when you leave the dentist they suggest scheduling your next cleaning, when life activities are scheduled, they are more likely to happen and energy is not wasted wondering or worrying when they will occur.
Thoughts naturally come and go, flow through your awareness and are replaced by the next one. When you focus on a thought, you can hold on to it for longer. This ability is helpful when you are trying to complete a task. But nearly everyone has had the experience of thinking, “what was I just going to do?” or “what were we talking about?” Because as things naturally happen in the world around you, your focus shifts and your thoughts move.
Use this to your advantage when you are stuck with anxious thoughts. Let them flow and move, let the next thought come. Moving your body might help if you are really stuck. A change of scenery or location gives a natural opportunity for your thoughts to move on to something else.
Write it down
A common strategy to mange anxious thoughts is to try to shoo them away, just like an annoying fly. This form of distraction might work temporarily, but the thoughts tend to return. Generally, these concerns are important and need attention: instead of being dismissed, they need to be examined. By writing them down, you are respecting them and their importance. Also, the process of writing forces you to focus the thought and make it specific, as opposed to anxious thoughts, which are often non-specific and quite nebulous. Once they are written down, you can choose when to give it attention; you may even choose to designate a time to return to it. By doing so, you start to put boundaries around worries, so they don’t rule your day. Instead of holding them in your head, allow the paper to hold your worries for a while.
While any paper will do, I encourage you to pick an organized and dedicated place to record these thoughts, so you can come back to them when you need to and because you are respecting them. Here are some of my favorites:
The simplicity of a composition notebook:
The blue water color of this book serves as a reminder to let thoughts flow, just like water.
Talk about your worrisome thoughts
Anxious thoughts tend to sound the same in your head again and again and again. People often get stuck in anxious thinking, making no progress or transformation in the thoughts. But when you share your anxious thoughts with someone, they naturally will change and evolve. Just the experience of sharing creates change, by moving from isolation to connectedness. And a different perspective from the person you share them with will provide input that helps those thoughts take a different shape, so the next time they emerge, they will sound different than before.
Of course, it is important to be purposeful in who you share these thoughts with. Identify who can be most supportive in the way you need. There are effective ways to tame the anxiety (and also ways that can promote the anxiety). As a Licensed Professional Counselor, I am available to work through these thoughts with you and gain strategies to manage and change them. A "walk and talk session" allows you to get some fresh air and fitness while also improving your mental health. Or a distance session might be right for you, via phone or online platform. Please contact me if I can be of help:
If you found this useful, please share with someone else who might also find it useful. We all benefit when we help each other have more calm in our lives!
Nearly everyone has what psychologists term “flash bulb memories.” These are the extraordinary, stand-out memories from your childhood (or any other stage of life). They can be memorable for being positive or negative, but either way, they become fixtures because of being exceptional. These memories tend to be rich in detail and emotion.
But most of childhood is not exceptional, it is routine and consistent and predictable, and thankfully so. Whether it’s a bedtime ritual of reading books, or vacationing at the same lake every summer, experiences that are repeated will build strong memories. Where the details of memory may fail is in differentiating one similar experience from another. So if your family makes a commitment to have family dinners on a regular basis, your children will likely remember this as a foundation of their childhood, but have a hard time recalling specifics from one dinner or the other.
Flash bulb memories are different because they tend to be once in a lifetime events. Many of these events are shared as a collective culture. Depending on where in the country you live, the Solar Eclipse of 2017 will be one of these flashbulb memories, where you will always remember where you were and what you were doing. For children old enough to take part in the anticipation and conversation leading up to it, the viewing of the eclipse itself, and the science lessons to explain what they were seeing, it is likely they will forever remember this event. Sometimes, influential events like this shape a child’s fascination in science or even career interests.
Whether you viewed the eclipse or not, as you return to the normalcy of your day-to-day, where the sun shines and everyone goes about their routine, remember that it is the ordinary that builds a childhood. It is the steady repetition that creates their world. It’s the hugs to say “hello” or the laughter over family games. It’s the patience as a child learns how to tie his shoes that becomes the same patience you show when he learns how to drive. Children remember most of all how they felt, because many of the other details get blurred. But feeling safe and loved, that will be more memorable and influential than any eclipse.
Books are a wonderful way to help children create their own stories. As characters in the books we read experience their own adventures, we can borrow strategies they use and implement them to have our real life stories have the ending we desire!
Adding these books to your home library will give an opportunity for children to talk about their thoughts about school and have great conversations about the year ahead and the experiences they want to have!
The Kissing Hand
Chester Raccoon does not want to go to school. But Chester’s mom uses several strategies all parents might find helpful for children. Mrs. Raccoon reminds him “Sometimes we all have to do things we do not want to do.” She gives him encouragement, confidence, mental scripts, and a kissing hand. This story is sure to be a favorite and introduce a tradition to your home and family.
How to Get Your Teacher Ready
In this playful book, the students give their teacher all sorts of helpful advice and suggestions. Reading this book can be a fun way for your children to create their own lists of tips for the classroom this year!
Second Grade Holdout
Did your child have such a great year last year that they don’t want to move on to the next grade? Your family might find “The Second Grade Holdout” to be just the relatable story you need. Tyler is upset that his best friend won’t be in his class this year. What will he do? “Find out in this laugh-out-loud-funny story of a boy who must find a way to face not just growing up but moving up.”
Fall is For School
A sister and brother have very different perspectives on school starting. While she is eager and optimistic, he laments: “School is really not my thing. You go on alone. I’ll be fine all by myself, sitting here at home.” Eventually, the brother comes around!
First Day Jitters
“’I’m not going,’ said Sarah and pulled the covers over her head.” Sarah does not want to start her new school. A surprise plot twist includes the fact that Sarah is the teacher! The joke provides a good laugh that may help children realize they are not alone in their worries about school.
As I write this week’s article on Successful School transitions, I have the lyrics to The Byrds “Turn! Turn! Turn!” in my head:
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together
As our households shift from the season of summer to the season of school, our habits and routines begin to shift. As you think about what those are for your family, here are some to consider:
Summer bedtimes have a tendency to creep a little bit later or be all over the map. Between staying light later and fun filled summer days, a structured bedtime may go by the wayside for some families. If summer bedtime in your home looks more like you’re observing Pacific Standard time when you actually live in Eastern Standard time, you need to gradually get bedtime back on track.
Identify what time lights out needs to be for the school year versus when it’s taking place now. Aim to move bedtime closer and closer to your goal by 15 minutes each night. Too big of a jump will just lead to an awake child being restless in bed and not likely successful in falling asleep.
And add all the elements of what the bedtime routine will look like for the school year. If it includes family time reading books, or songs and cuddles, or whatever special and unique things help slow down and signal bedtime, establish them now. Particularly if the sequence of events looks different than it did the previous school year, introducing it now will help the transition. Maybe older children will have some independent reading time before the lights go out. Maybe the addition of a baby sibling leads to a different order of things. Think about what works for your family and begin enjoying it.
And this applies for wake up, too! Start the mornings and all of the morning routine so bodies and brains are accustomed to operating at that hour of the day!
The weeks before school begin is also the time to add other elements of routine so that they are exactly that – routine – when the school year begins. Anything that is new takes some adjustment. Let’s have returning to school be the one adjustment we put all our energy into when the time comes.
Will your children be packing their own lunches (maybe with your assistance?). Start this a week or so in advance, particularly if this is a new responsibility for them. Same thing goes for getting back packs and other school items organized (the night before so as to minimize morning chaos!). Now is also the time to get any and all school supplies so you’re not frantically looking for the one right folder at every local store the night before school starts!
But don’t introduce too much…
Was the goal to have your child tie his own shoes for school this fall? But it hasn’t happened yet? It might be unrealistic and too much pressure to perform brand new behaviors at the start of the school year. In this example, stick with the Velcro shoes for school and use weekends and time at home to practice shoe tying. He can start wearing those to school when he’s ready and confident, not when the school calendar dictates.
The same idea goes for potty training or any other new behavior. The bigger the milestone and the smaller the child, the better to have it fully mastered and go at your family’s own pace, and not let the school calendar dictate it.
Establishing these habits now will allow you to work out any glitches and have everyone be pros by the time school starts, making it smoother for everyone! Let’s purposefully turn our behaviors and habits to support the next season for our families and children.
Questions, worries and uncertainties often accompany starting new things. If your child expresses some concerns about the start of school, consider these approaches to help:
Play the curious detective: “Hmmm, can you tell me more about that?”
When children pose things to their parents that look like problems, the tendency of mom and dad may be to try to fix it or make it go away. However, sometimes what they need is just for grown ups to listen. If you child poses a “what if?” regarding school in the fall, try saying “thanks for telling me about that. What else are you thinking about?”
By encouraging children to expand on their own thoughts and broaden the window into their world, parents can gain better understanding of their unique experiences. And, this sets a wonderful foundation for parent-child communication, as children learn that they can share any of their thoughts and they will be welcomed and heard. This will be a great foundation for relating in their teen years!
Serve as a mirror of super powers
By the time we are adults, new experiences can still trigger worries, but past successes help adults deal with those insecurities and tackle new ventures despite uncertainty.
By helping your children gather their past successes, you help them see themselves as competent for this next chapter. Give them the words to see the super powers they possess and use in their every day lives:
- What new experiences have your children had? Did they go to a music class or a sports clinic? Did they meet a new friend in your neighborhood or park?
- When has your child been nervous? Was she scared to dunk her head underwater the first time or go off the diving board this summer? Was he worried going to camp or doing a sleepover at grandma’s house?
- Where has your child experienced mastery? Did he learn to ride a bike or how to dress himself?
Use these weeks leading up to school to purposefully seek and notice competencies, they will see themselves as super heroes of their own lives by the time school starts. Need some ideas? Try these little ideas available in every day life:
Need more ideas or support! You can contact me:
When I walk into a store in summer and see “Back to School” displays, I shudder. I want to be in the now, enjoy the season, and not be reminded of what’s on the horizon.
However, like any harvest we hope to reap in the future, we first have to plant the seeds and nurture them. As the calendar turns to August, we are in the season of nurturing the seeds of successful school transitions this fall. The things you do now will pay rewards to your children in the weeks and months ahead.
Whether it’s your child’s first 1st day of school or they are returning to school, consider the following approaches in these summer weeks:
Right size the emotion
Starting school can be a big deal. Like, a really big deal. And to most parents, it’s considered a huge milestone. Even with positive emotions, too much can be overwhelming for little children. So, right size the feelings to your child’s scale. You do this with your tone of voice, your word choice, and the frequency with which you talk about school.
Breaking in new shoes
New shoes are often uncomfortable. They need to be worn and broken in until the start to feel like they are right. Starting school can feel the same way, just due to the newness of it. There is a lot you can do to make school feel more familiar and comfortable in advance, like a well-worn pair of shoes.
- Is there a playground at the school you can play on before school starts?
- Can you organize a play date with some of your child’s classmates?
Fulfill that summer bucket list NOW
There is a tendency in the last week of summer to notice it slipping away, and to cram all the fun things you wanted to do into that last week. The potential problem with this is it can make saying good-bye to summer and the transition to school that much harder for some children. (I will remind you of this as the last week of August approaches, to make the last days at home mundane). So schedule the fun day trips and events now, so you can focus on transition and getting into fall routines as summer closes.
Read our series each week throughout August for more ideas and information to help everyone have a great start to the school year!
Or contact me if you’d like more information and support specific to your family and your child’s needs:
When you walk through the store in July and see “Back to School” displays, how do you react? Is it with horror, thinking, “it’s still summer!” Or is it with excitement, eager to return to fall school routines? The stores certainly remind us that school is on the horizon and it’s not too early to prepare.
But beyond backpacks and notebooks, thermoses and new clothes, what do our children need to be ready for school this fall? As parents, there is a lot we can do (beyond the shopping) to help our children adjust successfully to their school experience this year.
So, join me through the month of August for helpful information on preparing for school this fall. Every Tuesday, starting August 1, look for information related to:
Let’s enjoy the last weeks of summer, and while doing so, we can be cognizant of the little things we can do to help our little ones transition (back) to school be as smooth and successful as we hope!
Vacation with young children can often feel simply like a change in location, without much of the rest and relaxation we hope vacation provides. Let’s face it: all of the work of parenting is still required. More than once I’ve heard a mom lament, “I need a vacation to recoup after my family vacation!” Here are a few strategies to try to get the R&R all parents deserve during their family travels.
Bring the rules of home with you (well, at least some of them)…
Enjoying family time and activities often leads to abandoning some of the usual expectations and schedules. However, young children who are accustomed to the dependability of their daily routines may become irritable travel companions when the consistency disappears. To keep the peace and your own sanity, notice how flexible your children are and what they can tolerate and where you can (and cannot) bend and break the rules on vacation. It will also make re-entry from vacation a bit smoother for everyone.
Carve out time for the parents
If multiple families are traveling together or extended family (like grandparents) is joining you on the trip, you might be able to have a day-date, a dinner out, or enjoy a special activity just for you. Otherwise, if the parents are the only adults on the trip, carving out individual personal time during the trip will give each parent an opportunity to spend some time how you choose, and hopefully recharge your battery. This is another reason why a consistent kid bedtime is helpful, as it can create some evening time for parents.
Keep your itinerary and your expectations aligned with your travel goers. Depending upon your children’s interests, patience, and other attributes, set yourself up for success, not stress. A long walking tour might be doable if you have a stroller and lots of snacks. A museum might be possible if you focus on the exhibits you most want to see and forgo the rest. Anything might be feasible if you’re willing to pull the plug when needed!
The comforts of home, away from home
Young children need a lot of stuff; packing and traveling with young children can seem to require a U-Haul and a Sherpa. To minimize the stress of managing all the items your family needs, be creative and certainly be prepared. Some reparations can be ordered online and shipped to meet you at your destination. Other items might be worth renting or purchasing second hand from a local consignment shop. Depending on where you are traveling, expanding your children’s culinary pallet with new cuisine (as well as testing their GI system) may be a hit or miss; it might be helpful to tuck some favorite foods in your purse for when the menu doesn’t meet her selective taste buds. Beyond that, if your child falls asleep with the same book or blankie every night, make sure that item makes the trip!
Prioritize continued self-care
What are you doing on a regular basis for your wellbeing? Any of the habits or activities you maintain in your daily life to promote your mental health need to be prioritized on vacation. Don’t just hope there will be the time magically in the day or that someone else will suggest it for you: build the practices that promote and protect your mood into your itinerary. Maintain the thought processes and behaviors that you know contribute to your wellness. You and your family will benefit, and your vacation will be better as a result.
If you need more ideas or ones that are specific to you, please reach out to me!
Macaroni necklaces, handprint art, brunch and the day with family are classic associations with Mother’s Day. But these associations don’t belong to everyone.
For some women, Mother’s Day is a poignant reminder of loss…
Here are some self-care tips if Mother’s Day is a challenging day for you:
Notice how your body feels as well as your mood in the days surrounding Mother’s Day. Some women may notice headaches, stomachaches, or other messages of distress from your body. Irritability, detachment, or feeling lethargic might be other indicators that you are struggling.
Give yourself permission to spend the day how and where you want
If you anticipate Mother’s Day itself will be a difficult day for you, be purposeful about how, where, and with whom you want to spend the day. Though be careful to not isolate, as that potentially can exacerbate grief or sadness.
Communicate to loved ones
Give them a window into how you are feeling and how they can support you. Depending on your specific situation, people who care about you might not know what this day means for you.
Avoid social media
It will be overflowing with images of Mother’s Day celebrations (but please also remember, those are just snapshots of a single moment in time! Many of those photographs do not tell the whole story as to what is happening inside those families). Instead, consider what be enriching for you: music, art, reading, or other!
If I can help you with additional strategies or ongoing support, contact me here: 732-977-0375
I'm a mom of four children, a wife, and a Licensed Professional Counselor. My parenting life helps me be a better counselor, and my professional experience helps me be a better mom. Both allow me to be creative, to learn and grow, to make mistakes, and to rarely sleep. I love the beach and gardening, reading if I can stay awake, running (which these days is after my kids and not much else), and using humor through it all!
DISCLAIMER: This site is designed for educational purposes only and is not engaged in rendering medical advice, legal advice, or professional services. If you feel that you have a medical problem, you should seek the advice of your physician or health care practitioner.