Category Archives: Parenting

Welcome to Heartbreak

As the summer dwindles down, it’s time for a new season to begin.  For many parents, this signifies a new transition in their lives, which has unexpected emotional baggage.

Many parents are now encountering for the first OR tenth time, the pain of letting their child go – be it college, boarding school or even the tentative first steps of nursery school or kindergarten.  Surprising that the pain of letting go doesn’t seem to diminish as your child grows.  It’s always a surprise.

All of these are yet more ‘firsts’ in the parenting journey – the surprising pain of letting your child go off into unchartered waters for the first time.  Some parents have described the pain akin to childbirth pain, ripping them up emotionally as their children depart.

The truth is, parenting is a series of “letting go” experiences, each with an equal tug of pain as childbirth.  Indeed, to be a parent is to learn to —

nurture and then let go,

nurture and then let go,

nurture and then let go,

—in a series of waves that continue on for a long long time down the road to growing up until they gradually recede.

Surprise! The pain of the moment is almost too much to bear.  Surprise! There is almost no one you can share it with.   You feel as if you want to announce to the world with tears, “Leo started ________________ today. “  fill in the blank: nursery, first grade, middle school, high school, first day at college.  You will likely receive a high five or congratulations from your peers, seeing it as a transition for you into liberation.  Oh but what about your aching heart?

For the majority of parents, these transitions can be both gut wrenching and invisible to the outside world as to just how painful this is.

How to cope?

First, know this:

Your paternal or maternal broken heart is utterly normal; this is yet another wave of child rearing.  Indeed, to be a parent is to have your heart broken over and over again – and it’s normal and healthy!  Sometimes, people reduce your despair as “empty nest” syndrome, a term that doesn’t even begin to cover what you’re going through!

Let’s look at your parent brain to understand the transition.  For many years, your parent brain has looked like this:

66665289_s.jpg

As your child grows, your parent brain must slowly fill with other matters, or else each transition leaves literally an empty space in your brain/ heart space.

Here are some tips:

FIRST MORNING:  make sure you plan a comfort filler for your morning.  Know that your heart space needs some comfort today. TAKE THE TIME TO LET YOURSELF BE SAD AND THEN CELEBRATE. Breathe deeply. Practice letting go. Just like Lamaze but this time the contractions are in your heart. Meditation is a strong medium to acknowledge this journey and gain more equanimity.

BEYOND:  know that  it’s temporary in  a way.  For most parents, as soon as they see that their child has cheerfully adjusted, a lot of the pain becomes soothed.

HERE ARE SOME TIPS TO SURVIVE AND THRIVE:

  1. Accept the timing:  it’s time to let your little one (or big one) fly.  Be sure to let them know you are confident that they can do it! or – share your worries with them, just not the actual morning of the separation.  Worries should be discussed well ahead of the actual event.  if you are unsure of how to raise these worries, seeking professional help of a supportive therapist, even for one session, can go a long way.
  2. Create social support:   Social support can be incredibly helpful during times of stress and loneliness, and self-care should be made a priority during difficult transitions. There are practical things you can do to prepare for or manage the transition of children leaving the home. For example, time and energy that you directed toward your child can now be spent on different areas of your life. This might be an opportune time to explore or return to hobbies, leisure activities, or career pursuits.

  1. Adjust to your new role! This also marks a time to adjust to your new role in your child’s life as well as changes in your identity as a parent. Your relationship with your child may become more peer-like, and while you may have to give your child more privacy, you can have more privacy for yourself as well.

  2. Plan ahead! It’s a good idea to prepare for this transition while your children are still completely dependent on you, or before they leave home (depending on the age of the upcoming separation).

  3. Develop yourself: friendships, hobbies, career, and educational opportunities. Make plans with the family while everyone is still under the same roof, such as family vacations, long talks, and taking time off from work to make special memories.

  4. Special memoriestime to make special memories as a parting gift! Be sure to stick something special in their pocket, be it a felt heart with a magic message, or an extra gift card, something that says “I love you”.

5.  Long term: This low mood should go away as the activities of your newfound hours increase.  If not, please, please get some professional help.  Your child wants you to be happy too!!

With a little planning and a little self care, you too will survive this part of the PARENTING JOURNEY process!

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Why aren’t the kids playing? 

  
Kids don’t play anymore. It’s no secret that playing has been replaced by longer hours of homework and passive screen time. Do we have to sacrifice the previous years of childhood in order to maintain a high level of academic success? 

Here is what we know now. And if we know it, why aren’t kids in the US playing more? 

Read on: http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2015/10/07/if-we-know-play-based-learning-works-why-dont-we-do-it/

MYTH BUSTING FOR MOMS

1. THERE IS NO VILLAGE:

You know what I’m talking about. The village where everyone gets together on Main street in the evening. Where you can leave your baby next door with Grandma while you pop over to get your hair done. Where your neighbor down the block, who just happens to be your dear friend since elementary school, knows to send over a fresh baked quiche for dinner when you’ve just come home with your newborn. What? You don’t live in that village? That’s because it’s not 1954. And that village has evolved into a major metropolis where neighbors don’t speak to one another, your relatives live across the country, and even if they lived near you, you aren’t on speaking terms anyway. Moms, in case you were wondering why you often feel so alone and unsupported, it’s because (sorry, Hillary) the village that has been promised to help you raise your child does not exist. Instead, let’s update the concept. I prefer: “it takes an army.” Parents are the commanders-in-chief and they just might need to hire foot soldiers and other staff to help support everything that goes into raising a child these days.  If it sounds terrible, it’s not. It’s reality. Because if you are one of these ‘do it yourselfers’, you will find yourself stuck with an avalanche of drudgery that won’t let you be the cool, loving mom that you’d like to be: school meetings, cleaning soccer uniforms, trips to doctors, chauffeuring kids to all types of therapies with names that sound like something out of a science fiction movie, and the never-ending need for entertainment – otherwise they will be watching TV or playing video games all day long, or worse, whining that they are bored. If you are overwhelmed by all of these challenges, you are not alone. But if you try to do it alone, not only will you not be able to take care of all of the details that kids today need, you won’t be able to maintain your own personal life, either as a working adult, or as just a human being with your own needs. Remember to still be you. Build your army. It may not sound as warmly fuzzy as a ‘village’ but it’s the truth. Include your circle of friends and family if you can, but if you have to hire them, go for it!

2. IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE CHILD:

When a baby is born, all the attention turns to the adorable cupid-like infant. And who can resist? Nature in the form of neurotransmitters and hormones, such as oxytocin, prolactin, vasopressin, wires us, both mothers and fathers, to fall in love and be obsessed with the child. This is completely normal and ensures survival of the species in evolutionary terms. Although the hormones do taper off, the habit has been set: it’s “all eyes on baby” and then ‘all eyes on toddler’ and then……. It’s a habit. What happens to parents who ignore their needs, feelings and desires after a while? They aren’t at their best! Good parents take care of their own needs as well as those of their children. Nurture your own interests, take good care of yourself, continue to build your community of friends and people who nourish you. Don’t get too over-involved with your own child, they need to know that they are not the only focal point of your life. See point #1.

3. MOMS ARE NOT LIKE OTHER PEOPLE:

You already know that you aren’t like other people, at least like the women who are single or haven’t had children. But did you know that it’s not only your body that has changed? Through research, we know that the brains of mothers change as well. You are more empathic, courageous and have stronger memories for what your children need than non-moms. You also have more energy. These changes will stay with you and will become gifts to use in other ways once the immediate challenges of raising your kids become less demanding. All of those years of sleepless nights, chronic anxiety and massive hormonal changes, transforms you into a super-human being. Stringy hair and puffy eyes notwithstanding. Hang in there; these changes will be long lasting and will come in handy down the road. You can truly move mountains when you need to!

4. GENES ARE NOT DESTINY: CHANGE EM IF YOU DON’T LIKE EM:

Freud once said: “Biology is destiny”. Today, we know that not only isn’t that true, but you can actually alter your own genetic patterns by your thoughts and behaviors. It’s called neuroplasticity and it’s powerful. We can always work on ourselves. While some things are hard wired into our brains, other things such as our tendency to be pessimistic or our loathing of exercise, is soft wired. We can change our brains. Anxious? Try mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR), a form of therapy that has been shown to be highly effective. Depressed? The world of positive psychology has developed numerous ways to actually change your natural mood setpoint. Practice gratitude as a beginning trial and see what happens.  Exercise, too, is a habit that can be built, just start with one step. It takes about 12 weeks for the exercise habit to get set. Go for it!

5. IT’S NOT ABOUT WHAT THE NEIGHBORS THINK

Much harm has been done to the psyches of moms by worrying about what others are thinking of you. Its as if moms imagine that other mothers keep imaginary scorecards analyzing your best and worst performance. The real scorecard is in your own brain. Keeping up with the Joneses is a very real phenomenon, we are wired to be competitive, it’s part of the survival gene. Their child is crawling before yours? It’s enough to send some new moms into a real panic! Everyone is better at Red Rover than your skinny little girl? Get a grip, and get her a set of boxing gloves! Or better yet, since she doesn’t likely care, get yourself a pair of pink boxing gloves and work it off! It doesn’t matter who does what first or better!! The road to success is paved from the inside out: for a child to feel happy, nurtured and secure comes from having a confident parent behind them, not a frazzled pushy mom whose kid needs to be the star of the show. Give it up, people! Look in your interior mirror, no not the one that shows your new gray hairs, but the inner mirror; ask yourself: what will make you today a more content and calm and confident mom? Close your eyes. Breath deeply and quietly for a few minutes. Put your hands on your heart and wish yourself well.   You know what it takes. Go for it. And have a happy and peaceful mothers day

The Day I Had To Tell My Son He Was Different

A common issue that many parents ask about is when  they should tell their children about their differences.  There is no single answer and each family may take a 7615524_s (1)different approach.  Particularly after having their child tested, parents want to know how to talk to their child about the results.  This article represents one parent’s version of how they handled this issue.

Reprinted from Kveller, October 14, 2014, written by Samantha Taylor:

When my very bright son’s grades started to plummet, we decided it was time to find out what was going on. In an attempt to help him, we subjected him to a sleep study, neurological exams, academic exams, and psychological testing. At the same time, Joey was struggling with skills for the standardized tests, so he was taking multiple practice exams and being pulled out of class to work with a reading specialist.

He was patient, and handled them all like a champ. Occasionally he’d ask about the testing. We’d give him a simple but truthful answer, and move the conversation along by talking about Minecraft.

After a few weeks, his questions started to change. Instead of asking what the tests were all about, he started to ask if there was something wrong with him, or if he was different than the other kids in his class. I noticed his self-esteem wasn’t doing so hot, and at homework time there were tears. He started to call himself stupid.

When my husband and I got the results of the testing, we were pretty surprised.His scores were off the charts high for memorization, spelling, and math. However, his scores for reading comprehension, specifically language processing, were extremely low. The team at school decided that he would benefit from 90 minutes per week of language therapy with a Speech and Language Pathologist.

On the way home in the car, it hit me. We need to tell him the results. His ego is deflated, and it shouldn’t be. He’s 9, and doesn’t need to know all of the specifics, but this kid has gifts. He needs to be reminded of that. He also needs to understand that he has a deficit, and he’s going to get help for it.

After consulting a mental health counselor (who had worked with us before) I was prepared to tell Joey all about the test results. My husband and I practiced the language we would use. This was a delicate situation; we wanted to handle it properly.

I wanted Joey to know that this conversation was special, so my parents came over to watch the other kids. My husband and I got in the car to take Joey to his favorite Italian ice place and have the talk. On the way there Joey asked if he was in trouble, what we were going to talk about, and why his brother and sister were staying at home. I didn’t want to have the conversation in the car. The way I had prepared was to talk to him face to face.

We got our desserts and sat down. The talk went something like this.

“Joey, the reason we are here is to explain all of the testing you’ve been going through. We want you to know that we got all the test results, and thought we’d share them with you. You have an amazing memory. Your math scores were at the 6th grade level. Your spelling scores were at the 9th grade level. You have an amazing brain. There’s one thing you need help with. When your brain reads something, sometimes it has a hard time understanding what you’ve read. That’s why you’ve been pulled out of class to work with the reading coach. Now you get to work with another teacher to help you get better at that skill. This is just like someone who needs glasses to help them see better. You are an amazing kid with an incredible brain, and we just wanted you to know that. Do you have any questions?”

“Nope,” he said, in between bites of cherry ice.

“Really? You don’t have anything to ask us?

“Nope, I’m good,” he said.

My husband gave me that “let it go” look. So I did. I let it go. The conversation quickly moved onto Minecraft.

That night as I was tucking Joey into bed, I just couldn’t help myself. I asked him again, “Did you have a chance to think about what we talked about this afternoon? Do you have any more questions?”

“No,” he said. “Thanks for telling me. Do I have to take anymore long tests?”

“No, Joey,” I said. “That’s all done.”

“Cool, goodnight Mom.”

Sometimes I forget that he’s on his way to becoming a young man. He’s turning 10 next month. We can no longer expect that he’s not going to be curious about anything out of the ordinary. From now on, I’ve learned to keep him in the loop from the beginning. The thought that he assumed he was dumber than the rest of his class because of the excessive testing breaks my heart.

There comes a time when you realize your kids aren’t babies anymore. I’m going to start talking to him like the little man that he is slowly becoming before my eyes. With parenting there’s always room for improvement, and there’s always room for Italian ice.

13 Ways To Beat Stress In 15 Minutes Or Less

This was published in Huffington Post (9/19/14).  As parents of atypical children need to monitor and manage their stress, these tips are good reminders.  Read on for stress busting recommendations.


By Yelena Shuster

Ever felt like you just can’t unwind after a demanding week? That’s because stress triggers your body’s fight or flight response: your adrenaline starts pumping, your heart beats faster, and your blood pressure rises, explains Ash Nadkarni, M.D., an associate psychiatrist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. “Long-term overexposure to stress hormones can cause increased risk of health problems such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, weight gain, and memory and concentration problems,” Dr. Nadkarni adds.

That’s not exactly a relaxing thought. So what should you do when calming classics like downward-facing dog and chamomile tea don’t work? Check out these alternative ways to de-stress recommended by experts and recent studies.

Wake up early.
waking up

It may feel counterintuitive to deprive yourself of sleep, but giving yourself an extra 15 to 20 minutes before you head out the door will leave you feeling more refreshed — and less frazzled. “Take time in the morning to center yourself,” says San Francisco-based psychologist Leslie Carr, Psy.D. “A lot of people shoot out into their days like a rocket ship and it never gets better from there.”

Consider that caffeine takes 20 minutes to be metabolized for you to feel its effect. During that time, think about your goals for the day or read something inspirational. You might find that your normally crazy day goes a little smoother.

Create a soothing space.
Research suggests that warm colors like red excite you and cooler, muted colors like blue, green, or grey relax you, says Molly Roberts, M.D., president of the American Holistic Medical Association — but surrounding yourself in any color you find soothing can help bring on calm. “The theory behind the use of color therapy is that colors enter the eyes, which then send messages along the nerve pathways to the area of the brain that regulates emotion,” Roberts says. “There are a lot of ways to surround yourself with colors that can ease stress throughout the day.” Her suggestions: at home, paint an accent wall; and at the office, drape a soothing-colored scarf over the back of your chair and change your computer screensaver.

Clean out your junk drawers.
When you’re feeling emotionally drained, chances are whipping out your Swiffer is the last thing you want to do. But the truth is, tidying up your home can also tidy up your mind. “Having a mindset of de-cluttering helps to manage stress,” says Lauren Napolitano, Psy.D., a psychologist at Bryn Mawr Hospital in Pennsylvania. “Purging unused items gives a sense of order to your physical environment, which helps you feel calmer about your stressors.” She suggests starting with a small project, like your kitchen junk drawer. “Tangible or visible organization leads to emotional organization,” Napolitano says. If you’re ready to take it up a notch, schedule monthly donation pickups with Goodwill to keep yourself in the de-cluttering habit.

Visualize your stressful thoughts.
mindfulness

Your coworker just threw you under the bus. Your husband forgot to walk the dog. When it’s that kind of day, try thought diffusion, “a sort of visual mindfulness meditation, a way to sweep out whatever is buzzing around unhelpfully in your head,” says Erin Olivo, Ph.D., an assistant professor of medical psychology at Columbia University and author of Wise Mind Living: Master Your Emotions, Transform Your Life.

Here’s how it works: Imagine your thoughts are like clouds in the sky, and let them drift by above you. “When you begin to observe your thoughts as mental objects that simply come and go, they become less unpleasant, less threatening and less emotionally powerful,” Olivo says.

Watch cat videos.
There’s a reason Buzzfeed links are popping up all over your newsfeed. There’s nothing that will relieve some tension like watching a baby masterfully dancing to Beyonce or a cat riding a Roomba in a shark costume.

“After a stressful day, looking at these funny things actually activates the part of the brain that delivers tranquility and a calm physiological response,” says Rose Hanna, a relationship counselor and professor of psychology and women’s studies at California State University Long Beach. “This decreases anxiety and helps tremendously with reducing stress.”

Sing your heart out.
The next time you’re feeling strung out, start belting it out. As sound reverberates through the body, your mind relaxes, whether singing in a chorus or meditatively chanting om, says Rita Eichenstein, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Towers in Los Angeles.

Singing has even been found to reduce levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body, and one case study revealed that singing prior to surgery reduced blood pressure (more research is needed). Not ready to unleash your inner Rihanna? Start by singing in the shower. “Singing tunes you love brings up positive memories and takes your mind off the stressors,” Eichenstein says.

Start a scrapbook.
organize

We’ll admit it: stickers and colored construction paper seem so kindergarten. But getting in touch with your crafty side has mental health benefits. Think of it as your adult playtime. “Scrapbooking helps you focus, which diverts you away from stressful and difficult emotions, and also helps you feel connected to the people you’re scrapbooking about,” says Nina Savelle-Rocklin, Psy.D., a Los Angeles-based psychotherapist. And no, Pinterest boards don’t count. “There’s something about the tactile element of scrapbooking — cutting, pasting, positioning — that is probably more relaxing that posting online,” Savelle-Rocklin adds.

Pick up a physical hobby.
If scrapbooking isn’t your thing, try to find another activity to occupy your time. “What stress does to someone’s mind is flood it with thoughts,” explains Nadkami. “All of these thoughts knock about your head and they make you feel overwhelmed.” Sound familiar? The best way to stop the stress spiral is by refocusing your mind on one thought: Gardening focuses you on the physical feeling of the soil that you can hold in your hands. Knitting concentrates your thoughts on the predictability of loops of yarn. “The important thing is that you channel your energy into one thing and this, in turn, relaxes your mind by eliminating all of the distracting stresses,” says Nadkarni.

Clench your muscles (then release).
This technique was developed in the 1930’s and has been recommended ever since. “The idea behind progressive muscle relaxation is to first create muscle tension, then relaxation, to provide physical relief. A relaxed body often leads to a relaxed mind,” says Savelle-Rocklin.

Start by getting into a comfortable position, like lying down in loose clothing. Tense and relax each muscle group for five seconds at a time, starting with your forehead, then moving down to your eyes, lips, hands, forearms, shoulders, back, stomach, hips, thighs, feet and, finally, your toes. If any muscle remains tense after the sequence, tighten and relax it three or four times. Massage, shmassage.

Take deep breaths.
guy relaxed

No matter if you’re checking out in the supermarket or waiting to pick up your kids from school, take one minute to breathe deeply through your nose into your abdomen, says Roswell, Georgia-based physical therapist Samuel A. Mielcarski. He advises resting your hands over your lower ribcage or abdomen to help cue deeper breathing. “Breathing fully and deeply into the abdomen brings about a sense of calm because more oxygen is getting delivered to the body’s cells, which helps the body to relax,” explains Olivo. “This type of breathing also helps to increase what is known as the ‘relaxation response,’ which is connected to the parasympathetic nervous system involved with calming the body.”

Write mental thank you notes.
Change the course of your stressful thoughts with a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, suggests marriage and family therapist Alisa Ruby Bash, who practices in Beverly Hills, California. “Before stress gets worse, it’s so important to learn to harness your thoughts,” she says. “For example, when you notice the tension in your body, picture a big red stop sign. Immediately switch your thinking to start mentally focusing on all the things you are grateful for. Look around you to include anything you find beautiful or pleasant in your present moment.” Store a gratitude list on your smartphone so you can reference it any time things get hectic.

Feel your pressure points.
You’re stuck in traffic and feeling like you’re going to explode. Time to try pressure point therapy, a form of acupuncture you can practice on your own. “Pressure to certain points on the body can help to release muscular tension and promote blood circulation,” says Mielcarski. It’s easiest to start with the Third Eye Point, the space between your eyebrows where the bridge of your nose meets your forehead. Place your middle and index finger on it and hold the position for one to two minutes using gentle to firm pressure.

Smell the roses.
roses

Research is mixed on scent therapy, but anyone who’s sniffed a bouquet of roses or breathed in the smell of the ocean knows that certain scents can be soothing. Brooklyn-based therapist and social worker La Shawn M. Paul recommends adding a few drops of your favorite scent to coconut oil after a relaxing bath so that the scent can linger longer. “It is believed that once inhaled, the scents alter the mood by stimulating various parts of the brain associated with emotion,” Paul says. Or try a scent that reminds you of nature, suggests Napolitano. “Smells like salt water or fresh rain are especially calming because they help you to think of life outside of your current stressor.”