The Best Gift to Give Your Kids

mom and daughter playing PAIDWhen you were little and the teacher asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, you surely didn’t answer “overwhelmed,” or “frustrated,” or “miserable!”  But these are the words that come up in my parenting classes when parents talk about their daily lives.

Of course, there are happy connecting moments as well, but the day-to-day grind of parenting can create a negative mood in the family that becomes habitual. If you have started to dread, more than you enjoy, your interactions with your children, then I invite you to consider this idea:  you have more choice between feeling miserable or feeling happy than you think…and it starts with your brain.

Emerging research shows that the brain is not as hard-wired as previously thought. We can learn to be happier. In fact, one of the most popular classes at Harvard University (taught by Dr. Ben-Shahar, author of Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment) is a Positive Psychology course in which students learn to train their brains to cultivate more happiness.  The underlying premise of positive psychology is that you can learn to be happier just as you can learn to solve math problems or to be proficient at a sport.

Your happiness is one of the best gifts you can give your children.
When parents are asked, “What do you want for your children?” one of the most common replies is, “I want my child to be happy.”  Well, where do you think they learn to be happy?  From watching you!  That’s why in her book Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, Christine Carter’s Step #1 is…Get Happy Yourself.  She even cites studies that indicate how happy you are dramatically affects how happy and successful your kids are.

It’s worth the effort to raise your happiness quotient because it will impact your entire family.  If you’d like to train your brain for happiness, consider these ideas:

Decide that you want to be happier. When you make that decision, you start to notice choices for happiness that you may have missed before. Those choices may be small, such as lying down for 10 minutes when you’re tired rather than powering through a task, but you start to create an awareness and habit of seeking happiness that grows.

Acknowledge your feelings. When you feel overwhelmed or distressed, don’t make it worse by beating yourself up for being upset.  When you invite those feelings into your awareness and give them respect and attention, they usually begin to shift on their own, and you start to feel better.

Fake it till you make it.
 Ask yourself, how would a happy person act?  How would they walk? What would they say in this instance?  What would their face look like?  And then act, walk, talk and look like that.  Your mind takes cues from your body.  It’s hard to be upset when you’re walking with a spring in your step, whistling, with a smile on your face!  When you “act like a happy person” you’re laying down new neural connections that make it easier to tap into genuine happiness.

Celebrate success. Whether it’s the achievement of getting out the door on time this morning or a weekend when your children got along, take in the accomplishment, and give yourself and your children a pat on the back.

Seek meaning.
Happiness comes from doing something that gives us pleasure and meaning. If you’re short on pleasure and meaning in your life, find something to fill those needs. It could be a hobby, volunteering, taking a course, or allowing time to read a book or cook something tasty.

Express gratitude. Notice and be grateful for everything that makes your day better, from your child’s quick hug to your morning latte.  (I admit I get carried away with gratitude.  I’ve been known to express gratitude to my washer, dryer, dishwasher and other kitchen appliances.  But I am so grateful for the ease these items bring to my life!)

As you practice happiness and make it a habit, you’ll find yourself in a lovely upward spiral that will support you through challenging times. As Dr. Ben-Shahar writes in his book, “Happiness is not an end state, but rather something you work towards your whole life.  Thus, you can be happier each day.  Happiness is a journey, not a destination.”

Summer Family Vacations — what to do with all that togetherness!

vacation PAIDSummer vacations with the family can be the best of times or the worst of times. Confining airplanes or exhausting hours together in the car, boring hotel rooms or funky cabins on muddy lakes and six straight days of rain – family vacations can make you wish you had chosen a “staycation” instead!

On the other hand, exploring new places together, sharing leisurely time and goofing-off for days at a stretch, meeting new people or reuniting with loving relatives – family vacations can be the best thing since summers were invented.

If you’d like to have more of the best of times and less of the worst, here’s 5 tips to increase your odds:

  1. First of all, watch out for great expectations. Your own and the kids’. Enjoy the surprise of the vacation as it unfolds. This doesn’t mean don’t make plans. By all means, do make plans. And include everyone in the planning. Maps, brochures, photographs, share them all beforehand so that everyone knows what’s possible. Make check-lists, too, with responsibilities for everyone. And then hold those plans lightly so that unexpected adventures and spontaneous fun can be part of the mix too.
  1. Allow plenty of time, don’t jam-pack days or crowd too much into the trip. If you’re traveling with young children or toddlers, take short jumps instead of long leaps. If you’re driving, stop often, get out and stretch, move around. Consider picnics instead of restaurant meals.
  1. Keep it simple. Don’t schedule so many activities that there’s no time for just hanging out. Build in rest-time, too. Tempers have a tendency to flare when everyone’s packed together day and night for long stretches of time. Create alone time, for you and the children. Everyone needs recharging. Remember, both boredom and over-stimulation can result in acting out–so strive for balance.
  1. Keep a log or scrapbook to record your family vacations and take it along with you on each trip.  You can spend a few minutes at the end of each day recapping that day’s adventures and toss in any momentos, like ticket stubs, photos, tic-tac-toe games and pressed flowers.  Believe me, the few minutes you take to record your impressions while they are fresh will gift you with cherished (and detailed) memories when your kids are grown.
  2. Be sure and allow a day or two for re-entry before you go back to work and the children return to their summer routine. Coming home can be as stressful as leaving. Plan some space for a relaxing re-entry and make homecoming part of the vacation, too.
Author’s content used under license, © Claire Communications

Keeping the Focus on Relationship

This post was orginally published on August 5, 2011

Next week my kids go off to school and as always, the bittersweet nostalgia sets in.  I so enjoy the summer months and spending more time with my kids.  I so look forward to school starting again so I can regain some focus on work, some peace and quiet, and some “normalcy” to our days and schedules.

This year my older son goes to high school and I am humbled by my relative lack of influence on his choices.  Gone are the days when I could share my values with him while he sat intently listening, asking questions, and formulating his own ideas and opinions—which pretty much mimicked my own.  Now I worry that our values seem so far apart.  Our priorities so different.  Our attempts at resolving conflicts messy and requiring lots of effort and self-empathy.

At 14, he is just entering those murky waters of the teen years.  Already we’ve wrestled with some big issues that could easily shake even a sturdy foundation.  I’m often gripped by fear when I observe behavior I label “risky,” “dangerous,” “self-destructive.”  I constantly walk a fine line between honoring his needs for autonomy, expression, and freedom and my needs for trust, safety and his wellbeing.  I seem to constantly be in the mode of relationship repair.  Conscious parenting is not for the faint-hearted.

And still there is comfort in knowing that we can repair the relationship when the connection breaks.  We do know a way back and have found it many times.  I’ve worked with families where the chasm in their connection is so wide that it can seem quite hopeless to build a bridge across.  And yet I know that certain conscious parenting processes, like Parenting From Your Heart and Connection Parenting, can support families in establishing, repairing, and maintaining trust and connection.  Even in those difficult teen years.

Compared to other processes, conscious parenting may take more time and effort.  It’s often easier to use power-over, especially when the kids are young, to get the behavior and “cooperation” we want.  But just try “counting to three” with a teenager or forcing a teenager to sit in “timeout.”  I think you’ll find those behavior modification techniques are short-lived and buy you a little extra time at best. At worst, they tend to be disconnecting and alienating, the antithesis of relationship-building.

The work of conscious parenting, of building a relationship with your child based on mutual respect and trust, is harder and takes more time.  You often don’t see results right away.  It may take weeks or months or even years to build the trust.  Why would you want to put that much time and effort into it?  Because keeping the focus on relationship rather than behavior allows the process to grow as you and your child grow (not just in age, but also in consciousness and skills).  Behavior modification techniques come and go according to the latest trend or parenting guru.  A connecting relationship between you and your child transcends all ages, developmental stages, trends and “experts.”   Keeping the door open to communication and connection serves the relationship when your child is a toddler and carries over into when your child grows into an adult.  A solid relationship built of mutual respect and trust provides a strong sturdy foundation that lasts a lifetime!  I mean, way past the teen years.  Isn’t that worth the extra effort?

What is Parenting Coaching?

Parenting coaching, first and foremost, is a relationship.   The coach/client relationship enhances your ability to learn, make changes, and achieve desired goals. The coaching process leads you through a systematic framework that helps you to clarify your objectives, explore new options, make decisions and become accountable to act on your choices.

Often, coaching begins with choosing what areas you want to focus on in your family.  Are you experiencing challenges with “temper tantrums,”  sibling squabbling, defiant teenagers?  Are you wanting more connection and fun with your kids, more ease in your daily interactions, or more respect?  Focusing on your areas of concern, you use the coaching framework to set goals, create action items, and make commitments to change.  Together with your coach, you brainstorm strategies, analyze what worked and what didn’t, celebrate successes and receive encouragement and support to move forward toward your goals.

Your parenting coach holds your vision for your family and keeps you connected to it, even when the going gets tough.  Often your coach, as an outsider looking in, can provide an honest assessment and will challenge you to bring out the best in you.  With your parenting coach at your side, you will have the support you need to reach your parenting potential and create the family life you desire.

New Parenting ebook coming out

Yippeee!  I just finished writing my chapter for the forthcoming ebook anthologized by Academy for Coaching Parents International.  It took way longer than I had expected and I hope this writing thing gets easier and quicker as I do more and more of it.   I’d like to share an excerpt with you and would love to hear your thoughts.  What is the foundation for your relationship with your child(ren)?

Nurturing Connecting Through Setting Your Intentions excerpt:

               When it comes to building a strong connection, there are no shortcuts. Connection is the foundation of your relationship.   It requires awareness, intention, practice, and commitment—and all of this rests with you.  Connection doesn’t require your child to behave a certain way and it doesn’t require you to be a perfect parent.  It does, however, require you to be aware of how you habitually react to your child’s behavior and to have an understanding of how to effectively respond.

                When  you’re experiencing turbulence in your relationship or you’re feeling disconnected, notice what’s going on inside of you:

  • Are you trying to understand what is going on for your child? 
  • Are you offering compassion? 
  • Is your motive to correct, coerce, or punish? 

                Understanding and compassion lead to connection. Correction, coercion and punishment can lead to disconnection and discord.  Through coercive tactics you may be able to temporarily modify behavior, but in the long run, coercion erodes the parent-child bond and teaches your child to behave a certain way out of fear, guilt or shame.  Understanding and compassion, on the other hand, nurtures the parent-child bond and your child’s natural willingness to cooperate and contribute.

                So how do you nurture connection with your child during tense moments?  The most important thing you can do is to pause and  focus on your intention before you speak or react.

                When you pause, take the opportunity to remember how it feels when you are in close relationship with those you love.  For example, consider the kind of connection you feel when a friend really listens to you, not just gives you a nod of the head, but listens deeply, asking questions to be sure she understands what you’re saying.  It’s that warm feeling you get when your partner genuinely wants your input in a decision that will affect you both.  It’s the  tenderness you feel when you’ve made a regrettable mistake and instead of saying, “I told you so,” your friend empathizes with how embarrassed you feel.

                When real connection occurs,  deep needs are being met. Whether it is the need to be heard, the need to be considered or the need for empathy and understanding, connection meets needs.  And acting and speaking with the intention of meeting  needs is how you nurture connection and nourish relationship.  When you focus on your intention to connect, you are seeing the big picture of your relationship. 

                Connection doesn’t happen overnight and isn’t even always present from the moment of birth. Connection builds over time as trust is established and openness is embraced.  Once the foundation of your relationship has been laid and you’ve established a quality connection with your child, the ups and downs of daily living become more manageable and less stressful.  When this happens, teaching and modeling the behavior you desire is better received by your child.  

Watch for the ebook coming soon to my blogsite!