Categories
Relationships Gardening

The Acts of Giving and Receiving; Volunteering in Your Community

Have you ever had that warm fuzzy feeling when you help an elderly person carry their shopping, or return a wallet dropped by a parent struggling to cope with screaming children? Similarly, a simple smile from a stranger when your eyes meet whilst walking down the street can leave both parties with a spring in their step. These moments in time can boost your mood for the rest of the day.

Simple acts of kindness make us feel positive. We feel good, and those that receive the acts of kindness do too. Trials have shown that the majority of people who receive ‘pay it forward’ acts of kindness are likely to pass on acts of kindness to others. Spread the love, I say! I recall a day, cycling in torrential rain shortly after moving to Japan. A white van suddenly pulled over and an old man thrust an umbrella out of his passenger window at me before driving off. After the initial confusion/alarm, I realized he was donating his umbrella to protect me from the rain. The memory of this selfless gesture has stayed with me to this day.

To pass on some of that love, I later volunteered in the same town giving classes in British cuisine. I must admit, I loved feeling like Mary Berry (our version of Julia Childs) on a cookery show, but the looks on the ladies’ faces and the cries of “Oishii!” (delicious) on tasting their homemade British dishes was the most heart-warming part of it all. I am doubtless there are several families in central Japan that now make Scottish shortbread and fruit scones for school fêtes and festivals! It was a great way to be able to give to the local community and feel like part of it in return.

Studies demonstrate that showing care and compassion for others can reduce depression and build a kinder and more humane society in general. Modern culture may encourage us to look after ‘number one’, however, evidence suggests that prosocial behavior (doing acts of kindness for others) results in greater positive psychological benefits than caring solely for oneself; positive emotions are boosted and negative emotions reduced. This behavior was evident in my village during the pandemic; neighbors would call across the road to each other to see if families were well or if any shopping needed to be done. Although as a society we all suffered, each person tried to help and offer support where they could. People were showing care. The elderly were protected, and the more mobile neighbors volunteered their time and effort to see to it.

Studies performed on the relationships between kindness and happiness, and gratitude and happiness, have also shown that if people feel happy, they are more likely to recognize those traits in others and more likely to demonstrate acts of kindness. Happiness and gratefulness are also increased by counting one’s own acts of kindness. Remember that fuzzy feeling when you helped the elderly person up the stairs with their groceries?

As the majority of people are aware, life can be extremely difficult at times; for the past two years it has been unbearable for many. Since the lockdown, rules have thankfully allowed for more social interaction and the chance to get outside. As there are so many positive benefits to interacting with the natural world, I decided to give back to nature in my village and get some of those positive feelings in return. We have an area of land owned by the Parish Council which is being converted into a public space full of trees; a place to exercise, to see wild flora and fauna, to walk the dog and just breathe. It has been a lifesaver for many during these hard times. For those living alone, walking in this area was the only chance they had of seeing another human being, one lady said it literally saved her life as she was close to taking her own. My first day of volunteering there gave me a real buzz. Run by a group of retired people (I reduced the average age by quite a few years when I joined the group!), tree-planting, pruning and path maintenance were organized with military precision. Now a regular volunteer, I am proud to say I have planted dozens of trees which, with a bit of luck, will be there long after I am gone. I also greatly value the friendships I have forged in my local community with people I would not have otherwise met.

There are many organizations out there, urban and rural. A few minutes of online research can reward you with years of community work and potential friendships. Volunteering has also been associated with increased physical activity, better health and a reduction in the symptoms of depression. It gives you a new purpose in life. It helps you to develop relationships.

Although we may be tempted to opt for ‘retail therapy’, or going for a nice meal to make ourselves feel good; spending time on others, contributing to community activities and helping to make a difference may be the answer we are all looking for.

 

Anderson, N. D., Damianakis, T., Kröger, E., Wagner, L. M., Dawson, D. R., Binns, M. A., Bernstein, S., Caspi, E., Cook, S. L., & The BRAVO Team. (2014). The benefits associated with volunteering among seniors: A critical review and recommendations for future research. Psychological Bulletin, 140(6), pp:1505–1533. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0037610
Joonmo Son. J and Wilson, J (2012) Volunteer Work and Hedonic, Eudemonic, and Social Well-Being. Sociological Forum 27 (3) pp:658-681 https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1573-7861.2012.01340.x
Nelson, S. K., Layous, K., Cole, S. W., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2016). Do unto others or treat yourself? The effects of prosocial and self-focused behavior on psychological flourishing. Emotion, 16(6), pp:850–861 https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000178
Otake. K, Shimai.S, Tanaka-Matsumi. J, Otsui. K and Fredrickson. B (2006) Happy People Become Happier Through Kindness: A Counting Kindnesses Intervention. Journal of Happiness Studies 7 pp:361–375. DOI 10.1007/s10902-005-3650-z
Pressman. S, Kraft. T and Cross. M (2015) It’s good to do good and receive good: The impact of a ‘pay it forward’ style kindness intervention on giver and receiver well-being. The Journal of Positive Psychology. 10(4), pp:293-302 https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2014.965269

Categories
Mind & Body Parenting

Steps to Free Our Kids From Screen Dependency

“I don’t know how to explain it, but something is wrong with my son,” one mother told me, fighting back tears. “He’s a good student, he does his chores, he used to be so sensitive and caring. But I feel like I’m losing him. His video games are the center of his universe now and he’s losing connection with us.”

She explained that her son was depressed and seemed to be disappearing into another world. Her child was becoming unrecognizable to her.

This lonely parent was sharing what many parents wish they could share, but don’t due to the current cultural norms around kids and screens. Many parents are afraid to talk about it. We, as a society, have accepted the idea that screens are harmless, and part of every child’s day-to-day life. And the industries responsible for producing and marketing the technology have not been transparent with the known risks.

So how do you help your child? How do you rescue him or her from this screen-driven culture? How do you get your child to come eat dinner, join in family celebrations, and reclaim the happiness of everyday real-life pleasures?

It is not as hard as you may think, but early action is the key.

Get Educated

A basic understanding of child development provides direction for healthy screen use. For example, when parents understand that the executive function area of the brain is not fully connected until the mid-twenties, they understand why children and teens are driven largely by unregulated emotions and rewards.

When parents know that young people crave peer and group approval just about as much as food, they think twice about allowing negative exposure to social media. When they understand that the dopamine released during video gaming and social media use mimics the effects of a drug, they will be motivated to take action.

 

Warning Signs of Screen Dependency

  • On entertainment screens every day and for longer periods of time
  • Lies to parents about how much time they are spending on screens
  • Sacrifices social and physical activities for more screen time
  • Leisure screen time interferes with homework and school success
  • Experiences bad moods when not allowed on screens
  • Chooses screen time over spending time with family

 

Get Community

When the weight of your entire society is tilted in one direction, the first step after education is to find support.

One of the greatest human needs is to bond with others and earn the approval of our peers; it is a survival mechanism and a core aspect of the interdependent nature of human beings. This is true for parents as they look to other parents for advice and support, and it is true for children as they seek to fit into peer culture and develop their identity.

The human drive to belong to a community is so strong that people may follow group norms even if they are being hurt by them.

Finding a new community that understands screen struggles and offers you support is essential to creating healthy screen habits for your kids. Most parents can’t make screen changes alone. The bigger your struggle, the more important it is to seek out like-minded families. Without this support, the odds are that you and your kids will slip back into old habits.

Once you are confident with the facts and find a new community to bond with—or even just a few friends to support you—you will be ready to remove the screens that are harming your children.

Be a Coach, Not a Friend

Adjusting your parenting style is the next important key to successfully raising kids in a screen culture. Decades of research point to one style of parenting that offers the most success: firm but loving parenting. This means that parents are not their child’s best friend; instead, they are their best coach. Strong parents are not afraid to go against the norm when needed and put up guardrails and boundaries so their kids will thrive.

Children crave this type of parenting. When parents love their children enough to say “no” to negative forms of screen use, they will win against the pull of today’s screen-obsessed culture.

This coaching perspective allows you to love your “team” with confidence, and to do the right thing even if the team doesn’t like it. You can trust your instincts that have come with years of experience.

Are you experiencing a losing season right now? Then it is time for a new game plan. Go back to the fundamentals and do the hard work—even if the team complains.

When we change our perspective and begin to parent like a good coach, we put ourselves on course to win the screen battle. This one simple step to rethinking your parenting style will get you halfway to your goal of reclaiming your kids. You are no longer the mean parent; you are a smart, winning coach.

Redefine Fun

Your child uses screens because screens are fun. Your job is to replace those activities that bring about negative consequences with something truly fun: real life. This art of replacement is paramount in overcoming most addictions.

Parents must plan ahead to fill the time that was previously spent on screen-based activities. Practical replacements like board games, books, art supplies, and puzzles are a necessity. One mom reported that during this replacement period, she had never played so many Monopoly games in her life. Another mom learned how to play chess. Don’t worry about having to play board games every day with your kids forever; this phase is temporary. Eventually, your child will not need you to fill downtime.

In order for replacement activities to work, your child’s environment will also need to change. Video game controllers on the table are too hard for your child to resist. Willpower has a short shelf life; few can withstand the same temptation more than a few times. Many addicts do well detoxing at a treatment center only to fall right back into their addiction when they come home to the same physical cues in their environment. For families, this may mean that you need to rearrange your home to be more family-centered instead of screen-centered.

Right now is not the time to worry about over-scheduling your child. Sign them up for lessons: music, art, sports, dance, etc. But realize that you don’t have to break the bank. Do what you can to keep them busy, creative, and physically active. How about a family bike ride after dinner, daily runs, or workouts with Mom or Dad? Your goal is to structure new interests by getting involved, especially at first.

Reconnect to Family

The final phase of screen detox is centered around your effort to get your child reattached to your family. This is easier to do with younger kids, but can be more challenging with teens. Chances are that if you have a dependent gamer or social media addict in your home, you have a child who has emotionally distanced themself from the family unit. Your child—at every age—needs to feel close to the family.

Don’t stress about what some friends might say. Ignore what mainstream culture says about kids being “left behind” without screens. Your goal is to unconditionally love and support your child through this lifestyle change. You know in your heart that your kids will be far ahead without the stress and anxiety of negative screen time. Spend time with them. Sit and read a book with them. Go camping, even if it is only in the backyard. Get off your own screen when you are with your child. You have everything you need to save your child.

One of the best parenting tips I can leave you with is this: Trust your intuition. Our world is full of stories of a parent’s intuition saving their child. A police detective working in the sex trafficking division once told me, “We listen to the moms. When they tell you that they have a ‘feeling’ about something, I can’t logically explain it, but they are always right.”

Screen detoxing is the best decision you can make for your family. It is difficult at first to think of a life that doesn’t revolve around smartphones and video games. But stepping away from these distractions leads to freedom and a revelation that these devices, not your child, are the problem.

Forty years ago, very few people suspected that cigarettes caused cancer. People smoked in hospitals, churches, and airplanes. Today, no one questions the facts that cigarettes are detrimental to the health of smokers and those around them. One day in the very near future, people will think the same thing about screens for children. As a parent, you need to start now to protect your kids from years of damage.

Think of your screen detox as the happiest decision you will ever make—a proactive decision to help your child that will benefit them the rest of their life. You are creating new habits that will not only enrich your child’s development, but also enrich your relationship. You are opening doors you never dreamed you could open, helping them reclaim potential they never knew they had, and creating fun memories that almost never were.

Melanie Hempe, BSN, is the founder of ScreenStrong, an organization that empowers parents to help their children gain the benefits of screen media without the toxic consequences of overuse that threaten healthy mental and physical development. The ScreenStrong Solution promotes a strong parenting style that proactively replaces harmful screen use with healthy activities, life skills development, and family connection. 

 

 

Categories
Family Relationships

Recapture the Magic with Simple Holiday Gatherings

Christmas is my favorite time of the year. Do you remember being a child during the holiday season? It was magical. People were kinder, a palpable joy danced on the air throughout the town, and anything seemed possible—if you believed. As we age, that magic seems to fade. But why should magic be reserved only for children?

A few years ago, I decided to bring the magic back into my life. In order to regain the Christmas spirit, I knew I needed to remove as much holiday stress as possible. For me, the biggest stressor was preparing traditional holiday meals.

There was a time when women would gather in the kitchen to cook. They would come together to share the work while bonding over lively discussions. For many of us, that tradition has changed. For example, I cook alone in my kitchen for the holidays.

While I love cooking for my family and am filled with nostalgia while preparing traditional holiday foods, I also recognize a trade-off: I can either spend hours alone in the kitchen preparing a meal that will be consumed in less than an hour, or I can spend that time creating hours of memories with my family.

However, I felt obligated to spend those hours in the kitchen making traditional holiday foods—just like my mother did and her mother did before her. I was afraid that deviating from that expectation would disappoint my family. And I felt selfish for thinking of my own needs instead of theirs.

So, I sat down with my family and shared my feelings—and proposed a happy medium.

Stress-Free, Simple Holiday Gatherings

Between planning the meal, procuring the ingredients, and cooking in the kitchen for hours, my holidays were centered around food. But once the meal was served, I was usually too tired to enjoy the food with my family, let alone clean up the kitchen. I decided that I didn’t want my holiday memories filled with images of me cooking alone in the kitchen while my family was in the next room laughing and playing board games without me. I didn’t want to continue missing out on the magic simply because I was too busy and too tired.

So, I decided to change our family holiday tradition by making food a side dish instead of a centerpiece. Much to my surprise, my family loved the idea. Together, we created stress-free, simple holiday gatherings. Here are some ways in which my family has recaptured the magic of the season:

We value relationships above food: Food is no longer the center of our holidays. Instead, we focus on relationships. For example, for Thanksgiving, I cook a simple, traditional meal of fish paired with wild rice and a vegetable. The entire meal takes roughly 45 minutes to prepare. Since I’m not exhausted from spending hours in the kitchen, I’m able to spend quality time with my family playing cards, telling jokes, or reading holiday stories together.

I let go of expectations: My mother was a legendary hostess. She cooked everything from scratch. Every recipe was unique—from orange zest in her cranberry sauce to award-winning dinner rolls that took half a day to create. Needless to say, she set the bar high. How could I live up to her example? After years of trying, I decided I didn’t want to. As I reflected on my childhood holiday meals, I remembered the food tasting fabulous. However, I also remembered my mother being too tired to play with me. I watched in awe as she rushed around the kitchen creating masterpieces, but all I really wanted was her attention. So, I gave myself permission to break free from the expectation of following in my mother’s footsteps, which allowed me to forge my own path—a simpler, less stressful path that fosters play.

We give ourselves permission to go rogue: Not only are traditional holiday meals time-intensive, there is added stress in making sure that each dish is timed perfectly so they can be served simultaneously. By being willing to change our family traditions, we have created several solutions to turn the stress of cooking into the joy of cooking. Those include potlucks and grazing gatherings.

Potlucks: Sharing the cooking dramatically decreases the amount of time you spend in the kitchen. I usually provide the meat and ask guests to bring a side dish or dessert. Instead of dictating what each person brings, my guests choose for themselves. As the host, if you are concerned about redundancy or missing categories of foods, such as vegetable dishes, you can send a group email or use an online option where guests can indicate what they are bringing. The key is to let go of control. Prepare your one dish and give your guests the space to express their creativity and food preferences.

Grazing Gatherings: Sometimes we forgo sit-down meals for buffet-style grazing with no set meal time. People eat when desired and sit where they please. This eliminates the stress of pushing tables together and ensuring that there are enough chairs for everyone to sit down and eat at the same time. It also eliminates the need to ensure that every dish is ready to serve simultaneously. For example, you can serve cold dishes or finger foods. My aunt serves finger foods during her annual Christmas Eve party; the foods are frozen, so she simply reheats them—no preparation involved. Roughly every hour, she places a new finger food on the buffet table.

Grazing gatherings also eliminate the stress of having to time a meal based on the arrival of the guests. What if someone is late? It doesn’t matter with grazing gatherings. For example, if you add the potluck aspect, whenever the guests arrive, they simply place their dish on the buffet table. With grazing gatherings, you can eliminate the stress of timing the meal and reduce your time in the kitchen.

We host simple gatherings for our children and their friends: We host kid’s holiday parties without food. Instead, we focus on games, crafts, and spending time together. Parents are welcome to bring food for their own children, but our guests love the parties and have never complained that no food is served.

Once we changed our approach to the holidays, the magic of the Christmas season returned. Now, my holiday memories are filled with images of my children smiling as we play board games together, the sound of their laughter as I chase them around the house playing tag, the warmth of my husband’s arms wrapped around me as we sit on the couch and enjoy the stillness, and the joy in my heart that comes from allowing myself to slow down and live in the moment.

If you give yourself the freedom to reshape your holiday traditions, simplified gatherings could be the key to recreating the magical Christmas season you knew and loved as a child.

Dr. Sina McCullough is the creator of the online program, “GO WILD: How I Reverse Chronic & Autoimmune Disease,” and author ofHands Off My Food,” and “Beyond Labels.”  She earned a PhD in nutrition from UC Davis.  She is a master herbalist, Gluten Free Society certified practitioner, and homeschool mom of three.

Categories
Relationships

Gift Ideas for Children

While your kids may be hoping to get gifts of digital distraction—games, devices, or gift cards for in-game purchases—you can give them something meaningful without the digital downsides. Here are a few ideas excerpted from ScreenStrong’s Non-Tech Gift Guide: 12 Ways to Rethink Gift Giving, Reclaim Your Kids & Reconnect Your Family.

The Gift of Art

Art lets kids color outside the lines, experiment with new ideas, and see that problems have more than one solution. It helps their imagination flourish and allows them to leave their unique and colorful mark on the world.

This gift requires a quiet space and some solitude to truly work its magic.

Gift Ideas

  • Art lessons
  • Sketch books
  • Colored pencils
  • Modeling clay
  • Pottery classes

The Gift of Music

Music is soothing for the soul and essential for brain development, as music triggers areas of the brain few other activities can reach, including areas related to reading, math, and emotional development. Many studies indicate that music education at an early age strengthens brain pathways for verbal and visual skills.

Gift Ideas

  • An instrument (guitar, violin, etc.)
  • Music lessons
  • Tickets to an orchestra performance

The Gift of Hobbies

Children should have several hobbies (not including sports or video games) that they enjoy as much as technology to move toward a balanced, brain-healthy childhood. Hobbies are educational, teach goal-setting, and help your child learn to innovate and solve problems.

This gift requires some spare time, space, and parents who are ready to support them by example, either with the same hobby or a different one.

Gift Ideas

  • Cooking lessons
  • A vintage film camera
  • A guide to plant identification
  • Legos
  • A sewing machine and lessons
  • Tools

The Gift of Strategy and Critical Thinking

If you saw the article on chess in this magazine, you will be aware of the many benefits of playing games like chess, including important thinking and strategy skills. Even better, games played face-to-face provide much-needed social connection.

Gift Ideas

  • Go
  • Amaze
  • Stratego
  • Settlers of Catan
  • Risk
  • Blokus

This is a small sampling of gift ideas from ScreenStrong, an organization dedicated to providing real solutions to prevent and reverse childhood screen addictions. You can find the complete gift guide on ScreenStrong.com under Resources/Free Downloads. 

 

Categories
Family Parenting Relationships

Beyond Gift Getting

As the holidays approach, the issue of gift giving looms large. Marketers will do everything they can to get your child longing for their newest toy or game. And while those gifts may delight your child, there are ways to deepen the meaning of the holiday and broaden it beyond the narrow focus of gifts. Here are some tips to do just that.

Use ‘Want’ and ‘Need’ Accurately

Words are always powerful, and during this season, two of the more important words are “want” and “need.” Make sure you use them correctly; teach your children the difference and correct them often when they misuse them. Do they “need” a new phone or “want” one? Do you “need” another cookbook or “want” one? Show them, through your conversations and decisions, that you’re more committed to meeting their needs than to giving them everything they want.

Prepare Children to Give, Not Get

Let’s talk more with our children about what they’re going to give others than about what they want to get. Ask them to think about what their siblings, other relatives, and some friends might need and want.

Ask them to spend a few days observing people. Suggest that they ask themselves questions about each person as they watch: What do they love that is old now? What could they do better or more often if they had something else? After they’ve observed, ask your children what they think would be great gifts to purchase. Make a big deal out of putting others first. Make the shopping trip and wrapping the gifts a part of the fun.

Give Away What You Have

We all have things we’ve outgrown and things we won’t use again. To increase other-centeredness and decrease self-centeredness, everyone in the family can choose used-but-nice things to give away in the weeks before Christmas.

You can choose clothes, toys, games, DVDs, books, kitchen supplies, tools, office supplies, decorations, and more. This is a sure way for everyone to come face-to-face with the reality that they already have a lot, and yet they’re going to get more in a matter of weeks. The family can clean everything and decide together where to donate it all. School administrators often know families in need. Your church might, too. And there are local ministries and non-profits who can accept and distribute used things. Celebrate giving!

Three Gifts

In Luke 2:11 of the Bible, we learn that the Wise Men brought three gifts to the Baby Jesus. Based on this, many parents choose to buy three gifts for their children. You could buy them something to read, something to play with, and something to wear. Or something to learn from, something to play with, and something to wear. Another option could be something to enjoy alone, something to enjoy with others, and something to wear.

Talk with them in advance so they have realistic expectations for Christmas morning. Of course, they’ll most likely get gifts from siblings, grandparents, and others, so this isn’t all they’ll get. It’s just that parents can model personal, intentional, limited giving. Giving fewer gifts can decrease entitlement and increase gratitude.

Buy Their Own Gift

As my brother, cousins, and I got older, it was harder for our grandparents to choose Christmas gifts for us. One year, our grandparents had a fabulous idea. They gave each of us money on Thanksgiving so we could buy ourselves a Christmas gift. We chose what we wanted, wrapped it, put it under the Christmas tree, and opened it in front of everyone.

We were the only ones who knew what it was. It seems so backward, but it was fun. It helped us understand the value of the money and was less stressful for our grandparents.

I remember my cousins often buying expensive athletic shoes. I purchased pieces to my first nativity set, which began my collection, and finished it after several years. I now own 143 nativities from around the world and display them all year-round in my home and office.

Dr. Kathy Koch (“cook”) is the founder of Celebrate Kids and Ignite the Family, a faculty member at Summit Ministries, and the author of five books including “8 Great Smarts” and “Start with the Heart.” Dr. Koch earned a Ph.D. in reading and educational psychology from Purdue University.

 

Categories
Relationships

How to Write the Ultimate Holiday Greeting

Each year, we purchase and sign an untold number of greeting cards. We may spend an hour perusing the aisle, reading card after card, in search of one that expresses just the right sentiment, with just the right image and tone. And while we may triumph in finding a card that captures our intent just right, it never quite connects to the recipient as meaningfully as our own words, in our own handwriting, would have.

There is a power lost amid the text-message culture of smartphones and social media. It’s the power of the human face, smiling instead of sending a smiley emoji; the power of the human voice, sharing warm words instead of typing them; and the power of words written in our own hand instead of a computer’s impersonal, if attractive, typography.

A written greeting offers the opportunity to write something deeply felt and honestly held. Human beings have a profound ability to see one another, to empathize and understand one another—most especially those we have had years to watch and know.

This precious personal history is the raw fuel for that rare opportunity a greeting card offers: the chance to handwrite something that truly represents what that person means to us. There are few things more meaningful that human beings can do for one another than to make clear that they honor and appreciate the other person’s presence in this world. When we share our unique view of another person’s singular presence, we offer our fellow beings more than recognition: We offer them a reminder of their lasting legacy of goodness in this world.

In a time when we are constantly being told we are not enough, when social media drives comparison-culture, and everywhere marketers beckon with products that promise to complete us, there is something essential and potent in sharing our honest regards. With that in mind, here are one human being’s thoughts on how to let someone else know that they are known, and needed, this holiday season.

First of all, there is no requirement for a perfect card. The card becomes what you put into it. This is where some thought comes in.

Thought.

How often does one human being truly take the time to reflect on others, to consider someone’s presence in this world and their impact on our lives? The ultimate goal of whatever you write in that card is to show that you have taken this effort. You want to capture something essential, uplifting, and personal.

Take a moment to clear your mind of any other thoughts, and imagine your recipients clearly in your mind. There is no need to glorify or idealize them. You are not trying to flatter them or ingratiate yourself. You are trying to see them: see their qualities, their struggles, their pains, and their triumphs.

Each person is an incredible tale, and all but a few of us are all-but-ignored by the world we inhabit. But not your recipients. Not today. You know them. You know what they have done, what their strengths are, what they value.

We all have enough negative self-talk and delusional justifications, so there’s no need to attempt to draw out advice or offer excuses. This isn’t an effort at appeasing or elevating others. But you do want to look for their light, that unique hue they cast that illuminates a part of our reality like no other can.

For example, maybe you have an aunt who is pristine in her decor and appearance. What may seem superficial to some, you know to be a dignity of being, an attention to beauty that she brings with her everywhere she lives and breathes. There are too few people, and too few opportunities, to capture something like that on paper, and make it known to them that they are known.

So pause, think on them, and ask yourself what lesson their presence and history can deliver to this world. Ask yourself what they have shown you about yourself, when you measure your conduct against their best qualities. And then share with them whatever you have seen.

It can be as short as a sentence or as long as a paragraph. Reinforce what you consider to be some of their best attributes. Give them that encouragement we each need to strive toward our ultimate self, not through hollow platitudes, but through affirming to them their best qualities.

Remind them of something they do that others may no longer notice. Share with them a memory that affirms your perception of their most noble self. Offer them a reason to strengthen that best part of themselves by holding it up for them to see. And know, deep down, that you have the power to nourish another person’s soul.

Categories
Relationships

Restoring Human Kindness to Boxing Day

“Boxing Day” originated in the United Kingdom, and it began with the noblest of intentions. Though there are varied ideas as to what the first Boxing Day looked like, we know it had something to do with benevolence being “boxed,” and given as an outreach to the poor, every year on the day after Christmas.

As in so many other areas of modern life, consumerism has managed to overwhelm the original purpose of Boxing Day, and it is hard to imagine how something with such philanthropic beginnings could have evolved into an event that is now polar opposite to the spirit of giving. Today’s Boxing Day is similar in nature to Black Friday: the day after Thanksgiving, known for door crasher deals and extreme spending. The stark contrast between what Boxing Day was created to be, and what it is today, is blatant testimony to the harms that excess has brought into our modern way of life.

Our humanitarian decline is certainly not due to great strides in eliminating poverty. According to  The National Alliance to End Homelessness, as of January 2020, there were 580,466 people experiencing homelessness in the United States alone. Statistics on the  Action Against Hunger website show that a staggering 811 million people are going hungry, and world hunger is increasing. The number of undernourished people grew by as many as 161 million from 2019 to 2020. Has there ever been a time when the comfort of human kindness was more longed for and needed?

Despite our cultural differences, one thing common to humanity is our need to give and receive love. What if we laid aside our differences to restore Boxing Day to its original roots, and perpetuate its intended vision this Christmas season? Perhaps goodwill and thoughtful deeds could begin to bridge the chasm of our widely divided world. Imagine it being that simple. If enough of us do it, it will be.

Here are some ways we can revive the charitable tradition that Boxing Day founders had in mind.

Recycle

Let’s face it. We all receive gifts each Christmas that we wouldn’t buy for ourselves. Instead of returning them to the retailer on December 26, why not re-box them, and pass along our brand-new, unneeded gifts to someone who does need them? Instead of redeeming restaurant gift cards, why not pass them on, and bless someone who seldom sees the inside of a restaurant? Instead of throwing away your Christmas dinner leftovers, why not make a plate and take it to a lonely neighbor? Your blessing will be greater than theirs, guaranteed.

Care Boxes

Buy items that are most needed by the homeless: deodorant, soap, bottled water, nonperishable, individually wrapped food items, socks, gloves, hats, blankets, coats, pillows, toothbrushes, and toothpaste are a few suggestions. Add something fun, such as a deck of cards, a book, a small board game, a radio, or a CD player with an uplifting CD. Be sure to include extra batteries. Box the items, wrap them beautifully, and deliver them to a homeless shelter, mission, or directly to a person in need. Imagine the smile on someone’s face as they see the thought and care you put into meeting their needs and making their day!

Give What Can’t Be Boxed

Not all charitable acts are tangible. In fact, some of the most meaningful ways you can show compassion and generosity have nothing to do with things at all. Choosing to pour yourself into the lives of others is one of the most selfless things you can do to revive the intent of Boxing Day.

Offer to do a dreaded chore for your spouse. Compliment your child. Speak uplifting words to those you love most—and least. Volunteer. Find a charity, soup kitchen or ministry in need of help, and spend the day serving others. Help lift the load of a friend by offering to run errands, do laundry, clean the house, or cook a meal. Spend an hour or two with a shut-in. Listen, and let them tell you the stories they yearn to share.

Visit your parents, grandparents, or other loved ones—on the phone, or better yet, in person. Don’t rush. During your time together, do something they like to do. Even if it isn’t your favorite pastime, make the day all about them.

Tutor a struggling student. Give an employee unexpected, albeit much deserved, time off. Buy a police officer or soldier a meal. Mentor someone who wants to learn. Teach goodness by example. Pay for the groceries of the person in front of you in line. Go the extra mile. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Instead of waiting for a commendation about your work, tell your boss how much you appreciate the job. Instead of arguing with friends or acquaintances, who hold opposing political views, surprise them with a random act of kindness. Smile.

Keep it Going

What if we not only reframed December 26, but sought to live our lives as if every day were Boxing Day? I have a feeling we would soon find that we are not alone in our desire to change the world, and that even those we see as our enemies, might begin to soften under the weight of our resolve.

Cheryl Smith blogs at Biblical Minimalism.com. Her family sold their home, released 90 percent of their physical possessions, got out of debt, and now share their story and their Christian faith on their blog. She is the author of the books, “Biblical Minimalism” and “Homespun Devotions: Volume One.” 

 

Categories
Mind & Body Relationships

An Emotional Toolkit for Family Gatherings

Over the next few months, many of us will attend in-person family gatherings, maybe for the first time in close to two years.

While being with family in real life can be nourishing and joyful, it can also make us feel anxious and stressed. As it turns out, for many people, the emotional and physical distance enabled by computer screens created a welcome shift in family dynamics that actually eased certain stressors, and often made family connections feel a bit safer and more manageable. The fact is, being in the physical presence of family is quite different than seeing little video boxes on a screen (that we can easily mute and disconnect).

So, how can you show up for this unique moment, and use the lessons you’ve learned and suffering you’ve experienced during the pandemic to return to in-person family gatherings with a renewed sense of gratitude and appreciation? How do you return with love and patience, and use all that you’ve been through these last 22 months to reunite with family with an attitude of acceptance and love—particularly with those whom you’ve struggled with or been hurt by in the past? Ultimately, how can you be with family in a new way that reflects your post-pandemic evolution?

What follows is a plan for the post-pandemic return to the family dinner table.

Compassion and Curiosity

To start with, you can set the intention to approach your family with an attitude of compassion and kindness, fueled by the awareness that everyone has suffered during this time, and also changed. That said, you can enter with an attitude of curiosity and kindness, and stay open to discover who and how everyone is at that moment, after all we’ve collectively been through.

Hardware and Oranges

Furthermore, you can make use of something a friend once told me. She said, “You don’t go to the hardware store to buy oranges.” Over the years, I’ve found this reminder to be profoundly useful in my life, and a wisdom nugget to always bring with me when attending family gatherings.

What so often happens to us—particularly when we interact with family—is that we keep trying to get something from someone who is not capable of giving it to us. I myself had a relative who, for almost as long as she was alive, I tried to make interested in me. I tried unsuccessfully to get her to ask me a personal question, or show signs of remembering anything I’d ever told her about myself. For two decades, I suffered with resentment and disbelief and fought against the reality of who she was.

Surrender to Reality

In the same way that you had to accept that Covid was here, even though you didn’t want it to be, and that it wasn’t up to you when and if it goes away, you can use this moment to accept that it’s not up to you who your family members are or how they behave. You can choose to enter with an acceptance of who the people in your family actually are—in reality, not fantasy. In the same way that you had to surrender to the pandemic, you can surrender to the reality of your family, whether you want this reality or not.

Just as you wouldn’t go to the hardware store for oranges, or keep trying to plant orange trees in the appliances aisle and suffering because they won’t grow there, you can also stop going to the people in your family for what they’re incapable of offering or being for you. So stop torturing yourself by trying to make them what they’re not, and grieving and hating the fact that they’re not that person.

Don’t Bite the Hook

Finally, you can enter your family gatherings over the coming months with the clear directive to not “bite the hook.” When it comes to family, it usually takes just seconds for us to return to the age of 12, or 5, or perhaps whichever age feels most painful. No matter how much time has passed, it doesn’t take long for us, no matter how old we are, to feel like that same little person at our childhood dinner table. We quickly revert to an old experience of ourselves, old beliefs, old wounds, and old narratives about other people and ourselves.

This is not a failing on our part, but often an actual neurological response to emotional pain held in the deeper part of the brain, which actually takes over from the front of the brain (where you know you’re a grown-up with different emotional resources). But in truth, 22 months apart can quickly become irrelevant if you are triggered even before hanging up your coat. Your mantra, which you should have ready for the upcoming family gatherings, should be “Don’t bite the hook.”

In other words, when you feel triggered (which might happen even though you’re happy to be there), you can make a commitment to not chase that trigger, and not feed it with the habitual narrative about what always or never happens, and all the other toxic narratives. You nod, acknowledge the trigger inside yourself, and remind yourself that you don’t go to the hardware store for oranges, and that this is the reality of this person or relationship. With intention and kindness, you consciously say to yourself (however many times you have to say it), don’t bite the hook.

A Post-Pandemic Return to the Family Dinner Table

  1. Come with compassion and gratitude, remembering and assuming that everyone has suffered (and maybe changed) over this difficult time.
  2. Remind yourself that you don’t go to the hardware store to buy oranges. Trying to get something from someone that they simply cannot offer causes you to suffer.
  3. Surrender to the reality of who your family members are, rather than holding them to a fantasy of who you wish they were or want them to be.
  4. Arrive with the internal mantra Don’t bite the hook. Don’t chase your triggers and triggering narratives down the rabbit hole to a hellscape of your own creation.

It’s exciting and joyful to be returning to in-person family gatherings. The prospect of actually getting to hug and be near those we love again is rich with profundity and meaning. It may also feel a little bit daunting to actually be in the room with family, and to give up the buffer and safety of the screen. Don’t fault yourself for possibly feeling a bit of trepidation. It’s normal; it’s a big deal to reenter these relationships in the flesh. Relish the gratitude and love you feel, enter with awareness, and make plans to take good care of yourself.

Nancy Colier is a psychotherapist, interfaith minister, public speaker, and author of “Can’t Stop Thinking” (2021), “The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World,” and “Inviting a Monkey to Tea.” For more information, visit NancyColier.com

 

Categories
Mental Health Mind & Body Relationships

Set Yourself Free This Holiday Season 

While Christmas is a joyful time of the year, many of us dread the family gatherings. If your family is anything like mine, deep wounds and suppressed emotions surface during family festivities. Every year, tension inevitably invites itself to the party.

Whether it’s divisive comments about politics or religion, unsolicited advice, or a family member harping on how we raise our children, most of us have at least one relative who knows how to get under our skin. By the end of the gathering, we can feel defensive, inadequate and, quite frankly, picked on. Over the years, we may begin to anticipate these negative interactions, which can lead to dread instead of joy.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to heal these family divides and set yourself free from the holiday dread? That may sound like a Christmas miracle, but that’s exactly what I did.

A few years ago, dread turned into excitement, and the holiday gatherings became a blessing. What prompted the change? Did my uncle stop making inflammatory political comments over dinner? Nope. Did my in-laws stop hounding me about my children not learning to be “part of a team” because they don’t play league sports? Nope. Did my stepmother stop making comments about how I’m a “disgrace” to women because I choose to homeschool my children? Nope. Nobody intentionally changed—except me.

We all know you can’t control people, and you can’t change them either. However, most of us want people to act a certain way. For instance, we believe a parent is “supposed” to be protective, and a friend is “supposed” to be supportive. When they don’t live up to our expectations, we feel disappointed.

For years, I wanted my family members to act a certain way. In fact, I expected them to act a certain way. However, carrying those misplaced expectations routinely led to disappointment because I was expecting them to be something they were not capable of being.

It’s like wanting someone to be an ocean that can hold a quintillion gallons of water, but they are just a jug that can hold only a few quarts. I was expecting my relatives to hold the whole ocean. And, when they failed to meet my expectation, I directed my disappointment toward them. However, it was my misplaced expectation that created the tension in the first place.

Once I realized misplaced expectations were at the core of my emotional distress, I changed my perception. Instead of becoming frustrated and questioning, “Why won’t they accept me for who I am?” I began asking myself, “Why am I not accepting them for who they are?”

Consequently, I decided to forgive each family member. I forgave them for not being the way I wanted them to be. Admittedly, forgiveness is often met with resistance. I struggled with it for years because when you feel you’ve been wronged, you often view forgiveness as thinking that the person’s actions are acceptable. However, that’s not what forgiveness means.

Forgiveness is a gift to yourself. When you forgive, you are saying to yourself that you are no longer willing to carry the burden; you are no longer willing to spend your energy harboring negative emotions from your past; you are no longer willing to allow the past to define your present moment. When you forgive, you set yourself free.

In my pursuit of forgiveness, I’ve encountered many instances where I felt I could not forgive a family member because the trauma and subsequent emotional distress was too great. However, once I realized I had an expectation for how I wanted them to be and they did not live up to my expectation, the door to forgiveness opened.

Likewise, I was able to forgive myself for placing those expectations on my family. By expecting them to behave a certain way, I created a situation where I set them up for failure. Once I realized I was trying to control them, I took responsibility for my part. I forgave myself for not being the way I wanted me to be.

Once I walked through the door to forgiveness, something magical happened. I released the misplaced expectations, and for the first time, I saw each of my relatives for who they truly are, instead of seeing them as what they talked about. I saw beyond the political views and the criticisms. I saw beyond the cheap shots and the bullying. I finally saw the common ground that exists among all of us—a wounded child.

The truth is, we all have a wounded child inside of us, one who is scared and longing for love and acceptance. So, when your dad criticizes you for your choice in boyfriends or your mom badgers you for the millionth time about finally settling down and getting married so she can have grandchildren, their comments are actually not about you. Their comments stem from their own fear and insecurity because they have probably never truly felt loved and accepted—just as you probably don’t feel completely loved and accepted by them.

Once I identified with the wounded child instead of the superficial comments that I had allowed to define my relatives, I no longer viewed them as judging me and trying to control my life. Instead, I saw them as scared children looking for love, just like me. I realized that I was expecting them to give me something they are not capable of giving because they are not oceans; they are mere jugs.

In that moment of truth, I was able to love and accept them for who they are instead of trying to change them into what I wanted them to be. In doing so, I set myself free, and I set my family free from my judgment.

Even though I had not confronted anyone, and the forgiveness occurred in my own mind, the ripple effect was profound. During the next family gathering, the energy of the room shifted from tension to peace. Why? Because I had changed.

For instance, when my father-in-law passed judgment about my dietary choices, instead of reacting in a defensive manner, I paused and imagined his wounded child. He was 6 years old, scared, alone and just wanting someone to love him. In my mind, I reached out my arms and embraced his inner child. I held him tight and told him that he is safe and loved and that I would never leave him.

Picturing his inner child allowed me to identify our common ground, and instantly, I forgave him for not being the way I wanted him to be. That simple act of forgiveness shifted my energy from fear to love. Consequently, my response to his judgment was no longer about me defending my choices. I was no longer attached to the outcome of the conversation because I was no longer trying to convince him that my choices in life were right. Being right no longer mattered. I stopped trying to change him based on my misplaced expectations of who I wanted him to be. I no longer needed his approval. Instead, I focused on simply loving his wounded child.

Once I created that single positive interaction, a domino effect ensued. Every subsequent interaction for the day shifted from fear to love, from tension to peace, and from dread to joy. It was a Christmas miracle.

You can create your own Christmas miracle, too. As you prepare for your family gathering this holiday season, give yourself the gift of forgiveness. Free yourself from the burden of carrying negative emotions. Free yourself from the stress that comes with holding a grudge. Picture each relative as a wounded child and forgive them for not being the way you wanted them to be. Then forgive yourself for saddling your loved ones with misplaced expectations. It may be the gift that finally sets you free this holiday season.

Dr. Sina McCullough is the creator of GO WILD: How I Reverse Chronic & Autoimmune Disease and author of “Hands Off My Food!: How Government and Industry Have Corrupted Our Food and Easy Ways to Fight Back” and “Beyond Labels: A Doctor and a Farmer Conquer Food Confusion One Bite at a Time.” She holds a doctorate in nutrition from the University of California–Davis. She’s a master herbalist, Gluten Free Society-certified practitioner, and homeschool mom of three.

Categories
Mind & Body Mindset Relationships

A Healthy Relationship With Your Emotions

She was someone who ruminated and worried all the time. Her mind was constantly busy chewing on and planning for one problem or another. She desperately wanted relief from her thoughts and the cacophony of her mind.

And so we went to work. Through the practice of mindfulness, Lina learned to witness her thoughts; she discovered a separate place inside herself from which to watch her mind, and hear what her thoughts were telling her. She became the listener to her thoughts rather than the thinker, and in the process she unlocked a deep and much-needed sense of peace.

However, when we attempted to bring this same sort of mindful detachment to her emotions, it was a much harder and more painful process. While most of us can get the hang of witnessing our thoughts, and can understand the purpose of it, it’s far more challenging and even threatening for us to detach from and take a witness seat to our emotions. It turns out that we’re even more attached to and identified with our emotions than we are to our thoughts, and we’re pretty darned attached to our thoughts.

To take a step back for a moment, while I’m using the terms emotions and feelings interchangeably, technically, they’re different phenomena. An emotion is a chemical response that happens in the body, a physical process that includes brain activity and hormonal changes that we’re not conscious of. A feeling, on the other hand, is something we’re aware of, a state of mind that generally comes in response to an emotion or thought.

But for the purposes of this article and limited space, I will use both terms to refer to what we generally call a feeling. That is, an internal experience that’s mental, physical, and also conscious. Emotions and feelings, as I’m using the two terms here, are those sensations we experience as deeper than thought, taking place in the whole body, and associated with the heart rather than just the head.

Interestingly, we’re open to the idea that who we are is not our thoughts, but we are incredibly resistant to the idea that who we are is not our emotions. So too, we can accept that our thoughts might not always be true, believable, important, or even ours to decide. But, when it comes to our emotions, we are firmly convinced that our emotions are true and of great importance. We can let a thought float through our mind, without engaging it or paying it much mind, but that same willingness doesn’t apply when it comes to our feelings. Feelings are what define us (or so we’ve been taught) and therefore must be given our full attention and reverence.

When we feel sadness, we say we are sad. When we feel happiness, we say we are happy. We are our emotions. So too, we imagine that our emotions hold some fundamental truth about our experience, that they contain important clues to our deepest nature. We view our emotions as the keys to the castle that is us.

Our emotions, as we’ve learned to relate to them, are manifestations of our life experience. They hold our suffering and also our joy; emotions are our heart’s way of carrying and expressing our life. To detach from our emotions would be to lose some primal part of ourselves, to relinquish everything we’ve endured, suffered, and enjoyed. To relate to our emotions with a sense of separation would, ultimately, be to abandon who we are.

Simultaneously, we imagine that our feelings are what cause us to suffer. In fact, it’s not the feelings themselves that make us suffer, but rather the way we relate to them. We don’t experience suffering so much as we suffer our experience. We attach and identify with our feelings, which costs us our emotional freedom and our happiness. We immediately construct a narrative to explain why the feeling is there, to make sense of it and fit it into a larger self-story, thereby adding layers of made-up meaning, complexity, and usually suffering to it. When a feeling arises, we give it permission to consume us and control our state of being. We think it’s that important.

In truth, our emotions are not as important, solid, or revelatory as we imagine them to be. In fact, they are more like weather patterns that move through our consciousness, constantly changing, coming and going without our permission. Some are strong and dark, others are light and breezy; we can feel excited, sorrowful, frustrated, anxious, and joyful, all in the matter of an hour or, for some of us, a minute. Often they happen without any identifiable cause and are simply remnants of old memories and conditioning. At times, the intensity of a feeling will match the situation; at other times, it won’t. Sometimes feelings are in alignment with what’s true and sometimes not. But what’s certain is that feelings are not facts.

The point is, we don’t choose our emotions and we don’t have to relate to them with such respect and fear. We don’t have to surrender to them simply because they appear. Our emotions don’t hold the keys to our happiness or well-being. And furthermore, we don’t have to investigate, understand, dive into, and essentially get inside every feeling that shows up. Having a feeling doesn’t mean we have to get busy feeling it.

Like thoughts, feelings will pass—if we let them. If, that is, we don’t assign them the highest importance and meaning, latch onto them and go for the ride they’re offering, and don’t build them into narratives about us and our life. Essentially, they will pass if we don’t relate to them as who we fundamentally are.

To free yourself from the tyranny of your emotions, start by first just becoming aware of your emotions—actually paying attention to the feelings moving through your inner world. We can’t change anything until we’re aware of it. Sitting at your desk, taking a shower, driving, or doing anything, really, get in the habit of turning your inner lens on your own internal landscape. Throughout the day, pause and ask yourself, “At this moment, what feelings are present inside me?” Note to yourself, “Oh, I see the weather of sadness is here, or hmmm, there are winds of irritation passing through.” Pay attention to where and how they are showing up in your body. What’s important is that you do this without getting involved in the storylines attached to the feelings, the who and what they’re about, and why they’re here. Just notice the feelings on their own, name them if it helps, again, without diving into or identifying with them. Notice too, how quickly they can move through you, change, and disappear—when you maintain your witness seat.

Keep in mind that you didn’t build this reverence for your emotions overnight and you’re not going to undo it overnight. Keep practicing awareness, watching your feelings come and go; keep practicing noticing without engaging, building the you that’s not defined by your emotions. As you practice, your life will change, and so will you.

Nancy Colier is a psychotherapist, interfaith minister, public speaker, and author of “Can’t Stop Thinking” (2021) “The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World.” and “Inviting a Monkey to Tea.” For more information, visit NancyColier.com

Categories
Family Featured Mind & Body Parenting Relationships

How to Discover What Your Children Are Feeling and Why It Matters

Have you ever behaved in a way not typical for you?

If you cared enough to ask yourself why, did you find that a feeling had hijacked your heart?

For instance, for me, it’s a critical spirit.

This is the opposite of who I want to be, so when I realize I’ve been critical, I’ve learned to look inside. It’s much easier to blame others. (She made me do it!) But taking personal responsibility matters. Unwanted feelings like jealousy, disappointment, pride, or insecurity influence my choices. When I work on my heart, the behavior stops.

Imagine our children understanding this at a young age! When they behave in surprising ways, they can learn to look inside and think about their feelings to change outward behavior. We can help them. They don’t need to get mad at themselves or lash out at others.

Why Are Emotions Difficult for Children and How Can We Help?

Challenging times. In the past 18 months, because of health concerns, the quarantine, and loss of what children could depend on (school, church, athletics, time with friends and family, and more), many children of all ages are reporting that they’re depressed, anxious, or stressed.

Concerned parents are asking their children, “Are you depressed?”

But it may be unreasonable to expect children to know. They don’t know what depression feels like. They may not know what “too much stress” or anxiety feels like. What if asking the question increases their stress? And many tell me they’re afraid to answer “yes” because they don’t know how we’ll respond.

Rather, let’s describe what we notice that causes us to ask about depression and stress. For instance, “Jake, normally you’re very patient when playing games with Dave. We’ve noticed you’re not lately. What’s up?” And “Beth, I miss our talks while you hang out in the kitchen and help me fix dinner. You’re choosing to isolate. What’s up?” You could add something like, “Because our feelings change our behavior, we’re just wondering how you’re doing.” And “How can I help?”

Children may not immediately answer, but you’ve described something real that can’t be denied. They may come to you within a day or two to talk about their experiences and feelings. If they don’t, approach them and let them know they’re too important to you for you to not ask again about how they’re doing.

Vocabulary

Boys’ emotional vocabulary is not as robust as girls’, so it’s harder for them to answer questions about their feelings. This is a reason “Okay” is a frequent answer to “How are you doing?” and “How are you feeling?” Girls can answer in the same way, but they have an emotional thesaurus in their mind. If they trust us and want to take the time, they can usually answer the questions. They may be frustrated, upset, angry, confused, jealous, and disappointed. Boys are safe saying they’re “angry.” But there are almost always other feelings, too. Anger is caused by something.

We can teach boys emotional vocabulary and how to assign accurate vocabulary to their feelings. We can use accurate words to describe our feelings and explain why we’re frustrated, but not angry. Or why we’re jealous and how we didn’t let it result in anger.

When asking boys (especially) how they’re feeling, we can give them choices based on what we think might be going on. For instance, “Do you think you’re mostly frustrated or confused?” “Are you more content or joyful?” We can invite them to explain their choice and we can provide helpful feedback.

Technology. Technology causes children to believe they can be happy all the time. Tech is new, all around them, easy, quick, and they get to choose much of what they do with it. As a result, they have a hard time with “hard” emotions. They may tend to stuff grief, fear, and disappointment rather than process them.

We can model that those hard emotions are a fact of life. We can explain how we handle loss, grief, sadness, and the like. When children bravely share that they’re feeling something challenging, we can listen longer, help them find the words they need, and thank them for trusting us with their hearts.

Also, when they share that they’re having a hard day, they’re angry, or mad at themselves, let’s not flippantly announce things like, “Tomorrow is another day.” Or “I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as you think it was.” This “toxic positivity” can shut children down. They’ll feel invisible and unimportant. It makes it less likely they’ll be honest in the future. If they learn to deny their hard emotions, these become bigger and more controlling, increasing stress and anxiety.

Vulnerability Isn’t Easy

For reasons already mentioned, being transparent, authentic, and vulnerable don’t come naturally to young people. If you want kids to go deep and share details, talk with them without their siblings present. As an example, the dinner table is a place for light conversations, devotions, and sharing quick highlights and low points of everybody’s day. Don’t expect deep conversations about personal things unless the topic is relevant to everyone.

To make vulnerability more likely, try talking in the dark at bedtime.

Children tell me frequently that it’s easier for them to be open when they can’t see the fear or disappointment on our faces. Also, going for a car ride or a walk is wise. Again, extended eye contact isn’t possible.

Boys will open up more when they’re busy doing something. So when you go for a walk, let them kick a rock. Girls may be able to handle talking while you sit with them. Boys need to be doing something—building with blocks, shooting hoops, doing a jigsaw puzzle, weeding the garden with you, or playing a favorite game.

Perhaps you’ve been frustrated that children tell you about how they’re feeling or what’s going on, but don’t elaborate. You start asking questions, which causes them to get mad that you always must know more, are never satisfied, and make every conversation into an interrogation.

Instead of asking questions that force them to share details they may not be ready to share, when they pause, listen. Be quiet. They may continue. If not, try saying “and?” with an inviting tone that suggests you want to know more. You can say “Keep talking” or “Tell me more.” If they complain or even if they don’t, it can bless them to hear, “I want to understand you.”

One Final Suggestion

We want children to feel their feelings and to process them. We want them to understand their feelings and their feelings’ effects. Sometimes being distracted helps the processing. Children won’t feel as overwhelmed. They may make progress without trying.

Spending time outside might be the perfect idea. Try it. Send your kids outside when they’re frustrated, stressed, and tending toward depression. Their dark bedroom full of technology won’t help them. Being outside, sometimes with you, will.

My friend Ginny Yurich says it this way: Nature provides many different types of safeguards to help kids as they navigate depression or anxiety. Exposure to full-spectrum sunlight, for example, causes the body to release serotonin—that “feel good” chemical. Kids often go from sad to glad when we change from an indoor environment to an outdoor environment.

Being outside will lower cortisol levels, the chemical associated with feelings of stress. Rumination decreases after time outside, which can be notably impactful for the worrying child. Even the simple act of observing nature evokes feelings of calmness.

What About You?

Like with so many other things, how emotionally healthy you are will influence the children in your life. Would rereading this with yourself in mind be beneficial? Only you know.

Dr. Kathy Koch (“cook”) is the founder of Celebrate Kids and Ignite the Family, a faculty member at Summit Ministries, and the author of five books including “8 Great Smarts” and “Start with the Heart.” Dr. Koch earned a Ph.D. in reading and educational psychology from Purdue University.

Categories
Family Mind & Body Parenting Relationships

The Father You Really Are (But Don’t Know It)

Several years ago, I wrote a book called, “Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need.” We titled the book “Hero” because we wanted to show fathers who they really are in the eyes of their children.

But fathers didn’t see it that way. They saw the title and put the book down thinking, “This isn’t for me because I’m no hero.” This was very telling because it showed how poorly fathers regard themselves in our country. It not only made me sad, but it also infuriated me because it wasn’t true. No child—in my 30 years of practice and interviewing thousands of kids—has ever told me that they didn’t need their dads. They always said the opposite—they ached for more from their dads.

Why do dads feel they don’t matter? They have very legitimate reasons. First, try to find a Father’s Day card that says something nice about dads. They are depicted as sloppy, beer-drinking guys plopped in La-Z-Boy chairs hogging the channel changer. Or they are told that they are not needed. We women often say, “Thanks but no thanks; we can parent very well on our own.” The message to fathers everywhere is that women and kids don’t really need them.

I have been guilty of communicating this to my husband. We raised three daughters and a son. When my husband would talk to the girls, halfway through the conversation I would insert something “very important.” My tone of voice conveyed that he didn’t really know what he was talking about when it came to our girls and furthermore, I knew how to talk to them far better than he.

What a horrible thing to do not only to my husband but also to my daughters. Many times, they needed his understanding, his words, his perspective more than they needed mine. Most mothers do this—we put husbands (or ex-husbands) down because we don’t think they really get our kids.

Then we have ads, movies, social media, comics, musicians, etc., constantly putting men down. Find a movie where the husband looks like a hero. You won’t. No wonder dads saw my title and put the book down. Let me take a moment and tell you fathers what your kids really think about you.

You are the most important man in their lives. Period. If you have a decent, not perfect, but loving relationship with your kids, they are home free. They will be stable, confident, and successful adults.

You are their first male love. This sounds weird when it comes to sons seeing their dads as a male love, but he is. You are the one who shows your son what it feels like to be loved by a man. You are the one who shows him how to love as a man. Daughters learn what it feels like to be loved and respected by a man. They learn what to expect from boys and men in the future. If that man or boy doesn’t treat her as well as her father, out he goes. With a father’s love, boys fly. Without it, they can drown. Look at the inner cities where boys ache to find identity and turn to gangs. Why? Because they need fathers. Can you imagine how drastically inner cities would change if fathers were present in these troubled areas? I am convinced that drug use would plummet, and gangs would move elsewhere. This is the power that dads have, and you and I both know it.

You need to know dads that you are your child’s hero. You know this because this is exactly what you wanted from your dad. Every child starts life seeing his or her father as the strongest (“my dad can beat up your dad”), smartest and wisest man alive. Of course, you aren’t, but your kids don’t care. Through their eyes, he is. You are their hero.

If a father leaves the home, so goes the hero. He has left his kids feeling that they don’t need to be loved, they don’t need to be protected, and that they aren’t worth sticking around for. This is the deepest pain a human heart can feel. The problem is, dads really don’t know this because no one has told them.

This Father’s Day let’s tell the fathers and husbands in our lives that they are needed and that they count. They change our kids’ lives. Let’s stop focusing on how we mothers feel about our kids’ dads and be strong enough to face the fact that we and our kids need them. When a show comes on making fathers look dopey, change the channel. Make a statement. And fathers, when you even begin to embrace the idea that you are no one’s hero, kick the thought from your mind. And don’t you dare believe that you don’t matter because to your kids, you are the most important man in their lives, their one and only hero.

Dr. Meg Meeker has been a practicing pediatrician for 31 years. She’s the author of seven bestselling books, host of the national podcast “Parenting Great Kids,” and a mother, grandmother, and wife of 39 years. Learn more at MeekerParenting.com.