Was it full of lots of warm family time, sharing family jokes, looking at old family photos and making new memories?
What, no? That wasn’t what happened?
Let me guess.
Did you decide to skip the cooking and go out to a very noisy restaurant where you plopped iPads in front of your kids to keep them happy between courses?
Or — maybe you slaved over the stove all day and — while everyone watched the football game – you plopped your kids in front of iPads so you could cook and serve?
Or — just maybe your family did manage that iconic game of outside family football – and then— all return to check your iPhones in the bathroom?
No judgment here, just an awareness of how the world is changing. Despite the increased sense of virtual connectivity that we all enjoy from our use of internet, smart phones, iPads, etc (trust me, I couldn’t live without it either) we are increasingly feeling isolated and empty. And physically restless.
In a brilliant piece written by Diane Ackerman, one of my favorite authors, she discusses how the digital world is seriously having an impact on evolving brains as well as our relationships to one another.
In case you don’t have time for article reading ( Article here )the gist of it all is:
To stay emotionally connected, make sure your child isn’t learning about their world through only pixelated images. Sensory impoverishment accompanies the digital world which changes the way we relate to each other, our world and our internal sense of belonging.
Here’s how to re-connect:
GO outside on adventures with your kids.
FEEL the sand, the rocks, the wind.
MAKE time for actual interconnectedness – strong hugs, hand holding, wrestling and stroking those soft little heads.
SNIFF the scent of those babes and let them breathe you in too.
LAY in the grass or the snow and look at the sky together.
Now that the gifts are unpacked and family celebrations are winding down, is it possible to include an often overlooked dimension to this winter season?
This might be the right time to introduce to your child an extra awareness of the world around us and to cultivate your own version of spirituality. Recent research has found that children who are more spiritual are happier – and healthier. This doesn’t necessarily mean typical religious practices but the research included qualities such as a child’s sense of personal meaning and their sense of basic values as kindness towards others, altruism, meaningful relationships and volunteering. All of these things, the research found, were associated with a spiritual life and ‘enhanced well being.’
It is often said that children are more open to spirituality than adults who have become hurried, cynical or just too busy to consider adding a spiritual dimension to the day. But children also need to be exposed to the possibility of expanding their consciousness outward, not just downward into the face of an ipad tablet, but outward to notice the gifts of nature and the wonder of living a life that transcends the material world.
When we elevate our children’s sense of wonder, we also open the possibility of having a child who just might be more contented, less hyperactive and more open to other types of thinking that is not found automatically from living in the grind of the daily routine or found on TV.
Children who are atypical are often more vulnerable to the commercial influence of the shopping ‘gotta have it’ culture. And parents of atypical kids are more stressed, and more invested in trying to make their children happy so they also may buy into the culture of ‘more’ while forgetting that there is another side to life.
Yet, just as spirituality is good for kids, it is also good for you, the parent. Even the most secular and least religiously affiliated parent can consider the possibility of connecting children to forces outside their own sense of self. When we experience living as connected to the world as a whole, rather than the “me-me-me dimension” , lives become enriched. Consider, for example, how you might feel after a morning volunteering at a homeless shelter rather than another trip to the local mall?
Providing perspective on life is important, especially for atypical children who are struggling in their own way and are confronted with a great deal of inner stress. In this season of wonder and change for the new year, consider the possibility of adding an extra dimension to your life as well as that of your children.
5 tips to cultivating spirituality in yourself and in your children.
Gratitude – give thanks before you eat, not just for the food but for everything that allowed the meal to get to the table. The farmer, the store, the truck that brought the food and the blessing of being in a country that has food in abundance. Get in the habit of pointing out your blessings, from the big things to the little things we all take for granted. Children will learn what they see, and gratitude will help a child be more sensitive and appreciative.
Practice wonder – a mindful contemplation. Experiment with having a moment of silence and pay attention to how you are feeling. Do this with your children. Report to each other how it felt to be silent and what you were thinking and feeling. You can do this before before bedtime, including breathing and stillness as a practice.
Helping others – practicing kindness and giving are experiences that children can learn to model. Volunteer as a family or just perform random acts of kindness, such as helping an older person open the door or take their groceries to the car for them. It can open conversations for children that would not occur otherwise.
Connect with nature – consider spending your evening with a contemplative walk outside and appreciating the stars. Experience along with your child a walk in the forest or a picnic at the beach. Take the time to look at the shore, the waves and the sky and point out details that might get overlooked. Consider the snowflakes as being unique and draw parallels to your unique child. By having these conversations, you are exercising your child’s ‘spiritual muscle’ and are building more calm and resilient children as well enriching your self.
Provide a spiritual role model – If you don’t feel like you can be a positive spiritual role model, try to find one for your child. This will help your child connect outward and learn from others a more purposeful and positive outlook.
For more information on building spirituality in children, visit these websites:
Last post, I defined “umbrella parents” as parents who have to do what it takes to get their child’s needs served, even if it means looking like a ‘smother mother’ to other parents. I have always advocated parents being fully in the ring with their kids—and urge them to do whatever it takes to get their child’s needs met at school, camp, sports teams and elsewhere.
In that post, I also talked about executive function development and how it is often delayed in atypical children. This makes it essential for good parents to pave the way for their kids. Teachers, coaches, counselors and well-meaning parents of other children can be unintentionally cruel unless they are instructed otherwise. Your child clearly needs strong parental support as he or she is growing up.
But when does protecting your child become a habit rather than a necessity?
Or, as the exhausted mother of a teen put it, “Just exactly until when do we have to keep doing all of this?”
What Are Habituated Parents?
Umbrella parenting takes a lot of energy, planning and anticipating daily twists and turns of life. But eventually, it’s time to let go…. slowly. Sometimes this doesn’t happen fully until young adulthood, but it’s never too early to try to release the reins and see what happens, if only for a moment. Otherwise, parents risk becoming habituated to their children’s dependency and forget that the goal of umbrella parenting is to ultimately let go.
Here is an example of what I mean by a habituated parent:
Herbert is 11 years old. He’s so anxious about coming to me for testing that he is lying on the floor of the waiting room at his mother’s feet. She apologizes for him but does not make him sit up. He is, you see, anxious.
Herbert sullenly shuffles into my office and slumps into the chair. Mom checks that he has his backpack and enough snacks, and then tells him she loves him twice before leaving.
Who is the anxious one here?
Herbert slumps passively through his days while Mom takes care of all his needs. He is not developing the skills he needs to navigate the world independently or advocate for himself. Mom is too afraid for him to teach him what he needs to know. She has forgotten to retract the umbrella once in a while to help him learn to fend for himself.
Retracting the Umbrella
Instead of worrying yourself ragged like Herbert’s mom, try stepping back now and then, just a little.
You may start to notice that your child is capable of much more than you thought he could do. This change may come in stages, or progress at a more rapid pace. Take your cue from how things go in school. I find that many parents have no idea how independent or resourceful their child can be at school (or how polite and interactive), because he regresses as soon as he gets home.
Your child may be aware that she has a problem but is unable to act on the coping strategies she is learning right away. Once she matures that extra little bit, things suddenly click.
You may be surprised at how much your child can manage on his own, when you start to retract that umbrella bit by bit. If you have been a vigilant umbrella parent for a while and are wondering if it’s time to step back, take that baby step to see how it goes. Remember: even a small step can be a major accomplishment for your child. Give it a try and be sure to share with us and with other “positively atypical” parents and friends about your experience.