Change Your Beliefs; Change Your Experience

The beliefs we each hold can sustain us, move us forward, and hold us. They can also sabotage our desires and drive our lives in a direction we either don’t want to go or, more likely, are too afraid to change. But the good news is we can tackle those beliefs and change them—or at least change the way we experience them.

For instance, I have always (or since high school anyway) believed that I was not very smart. That belief limited my thinking about what was possible for me in my life. Then I realized my belief got planted after a high school history teacher told me I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I didn’t even know what that meant at the time, but I did know it was a derogatory remark about my intelligence. I have never forgotten that moment. Who knows where she was coming from? Maybe she was having a bad day, maybe she really didn’t think I had a good perspective on history. Who cares!! What matters is that I let that moment in time influence how I saw myself—until I realized the silliness of it.

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June ’20 Q&A – Taking the High Road

Q. Many years ago, I wrote an email asking for advice about an incident that had happened to my son. You wrote a response that was not only full of honesty and wisdom but that assuaged my feelings of incompetence as a parent. Today, that young boy is now a man and is doing fairly well. Our relationship, although challenging at times, is a healthy and loving one. My question today is about this time of racial disparity and pain in our country. As a person who believes in the importance of doing inner work so that we can be better people to others, I would like your opinion on how to respond, handle racist and disparaging remarks when I am surrounded by people who have very different thoughts than my own. It is unfortunate but true that not everyone in the country will speak up for racial injustice for fear of confrontation and or broken relationships. I have always taught my children to open their eyes and see the injustice, to be kind and fair and considerate of others. I fear for them as well. I want them to stand up for themselves and the healthy beliefs they were taught. I know that in order for change there has to be suffering but I am not sure how to come out of it with integrity. Your response will be gladly appreciated.

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Privilege, Fairness, and the Coronavirus:

A guide for conversations with kids about the virus, the protests, and race.

There’s a lot of material online about how to talk to kids about the state of the world right now. But you also want them to think for themselves. Kids are so used to being told what to do, what to think, what to feel, they don’t get much opportunity to grow opinions about the world. They need to have their own opinions to expand and develop. This needs to be cultivated. The current state of the world lends itself to cultivation. The following is my guide to help you engage your children in thinking rather than simply telling them what you want them to think.

Rule of thumb when teaching children: Start from what they know.

Fairness

Kids are great judges of fairness. Under age 6ish, cognitive development means it’s pretty hard for them to think about what is fair for another if it means they lose out. But if they’re not involved in the problem, they know what’s fair and what’s not. You will find out what they know by asking questions. Remember, fair doesn’t mean liking it. And feeling fair is subjective; being fair is objective.

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May ’20 Q&A – Hitting a Wall?

Q. I’m utterly overwhelmed. I’m resentful of those who have support from a partner and grandparents and guilty for feeling resentful. Frustrated that there’s no end in sight. Exhausted, emotionally and physically. Sad. I miss my family and friends. Lonely. 3 kids 1, 4 and 8 entirely on my own. Working 60 hours a week. Trying to be grateful I’m employed but there is no balance possible when you have 3 kids in tow. I don’t bathe or sleep without them and if I try they scream or immediately ‘need’ me for something which is their anxiety showing up. It’s endless. How do I stay sane?

A. One Mom I know describes her covid situation as “drowning in humans”. This sounds like yours as well. I cannot presume to solve your problems, but I hope we can reduce your angst.

First, go right ahead and feel resentful. Who wouldn’t in your shoes? Let go of that guilt. You have every right. Lonely and physically exhausted, sure. No way around that. But let’s try to unload the emotional exhaustion somewhat.

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The Lessons of Stress

Ever notice that when things are going really well and you feel balanced, you are patient, flexible, empathic, and fun-loving with your children? And when you feel generally crummy, stressed, tired and hungry, your focus turns in on yourself and you get quite controlling? It’s natural when something triggers you and you feel out of control of something (a world-wide pandemic perhaps), you grab something in your reach that you think you can control. Your children are easily grabbable.

So if this happens to you under stress, what do you think might be going on with your child when you react to his behavior thinking, He’s trying to control me?

He’s not trying to control you. He’s stressed. And it doesn’t take much to stress out a young child. The younger they are, the less control of their lives and the fewer coping mechanisms they have to manage that stress. Whenever a naturally egocentric child is not getting what he wants, he experiences stress. So he grabs for control wherever he can—grabbing things, grabbing attention, grabbing you or a sibling.

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Apr. ’20 Q&A – Trying to Homeschool and Police at the Same Time?

Q. I’m trying to find the balance of working from home, homeschooling my 8 yo, and watching my 15 yo to make sure he gets his work done and doesn’t spend all his time on YouTube and video games. The hardest part is seeing the effects of this shut-down on my teen who has lost all his social interactions. I feel like I suddenly have to change from parent to homeschooler and police officer. I don’t have the right tools. What do I do?

A. Those jobs descriptions are enough to drive anyone mad who hasn’t chosen them. And you’re right, you don’t have the tools for being a homeschooler and a police officer. This new world is enough to make us all feel ill-equipped. But family has not changed—only how it is conducted. It requires adjusting but not learning new skills.

First of all, you are not a homeschooler. You are a facilitator of your child’s online learning. When you fear your child is going to be far behind when he returns to school, then you must become a homeschooler. But ask any homeschooler and you will likely find that aside from curriculum, much of their children’s learning comes from exploring and discovering their environment. That’s why they homeschool.

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There’s a Crack in Everything

These are dark times even though it’s getting lighter outside. None of us ever imagined—even a month ago—that we would be sheltered in our homes, fearing the coronavirus, learning daily the frightening number of new cases and deaths, unable to get together with friends and family, wearing masks when food supplies must be refilled, and disinfecting mail and groceries.

Who knew we would either be lucky enough to be home with children scrambling to figure out how to homeschool and keep them occupied or unlucky enough to be an “essential worker” unable to be home with children out of school for who knows how long? Or to be alone. Or to be sick.

The unknown is frightening. When will Covid-19 be a thing of the past? Will it? When will we feel safe to send our kids back to school? Will we have a job, a business, a salary when this is over? Will town businesses, restaurants, and theaters reopen? What will life be like?

My favorite Leonard Cohen song is Anthem. I get a chill every time I hear, “There’s a crack, a crack in everything. That’s where the light gets in.” What an image for this time. There are cracks in this darkness and the light can come in when we see those cracks. But we have to look for them.

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Mar’ 20 Q&A – Stuck At Home With Meltdowns

Q.  Stuck at home with three kids is bad enough but one of them is going to drive me insane. My older and my younger are doing their work and managing okay, but my 8 yr. old refuses to do his school work, along with everything else, and has regular meltdowns. He’s always been tough and resistant to what I want him to do, but now he just won’t do anything I say and is starting to use profanity toward me and my husband. I yell, send him to his room, but mostly just give up. What else can I do?

A. I’m sure you are the voice of so many parents all over the world today cooped up at home with the whole family. You are scared and anxious, not to mention frustrated with kids underfoot all day long. So are your kids.

I am going to assume that your 8 yr. old is what I call an Integrity child. That means his individual make-up (not your doing) is extremely sensitive. He was born with a core sense of justice, rightness. He will not be told what to do and will not take no for an answer. This does not mean he is not caring and cooperative. It does mean that when you tell him what to do, he feels controlled because he is more sensitive to that than your others. And given the present circumstances, his sensitivity is on hyper-alert so he is stressed most of the time. One cannot be at their best when stressed. No one knows that more than you.

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Homebound with Kids: Crisis or Opportunity?

I am more scared about spending all day every day with my 4 kids and their different emotions and stages than I am about getting a virus.  Mom on facebook.

We are floundering in uncharted territory. Never could we imagine the scenario we are all living with this coronavirus. Now more than ever is the time to BREATHE, give everyone a break, and connect with those precious children of yours.

Yet at the same time, you and the people around you may be flipping in and out of panic or at least worry, fear, and overwhelm. You’re all cooped up in one place together and will drive each other crazy!

This is the greatest unknown we have ever faced. Humans need a sense of certainty and security. This pandemic has taken every shred of that out from under us. I offer here a few suggestions and realize every home situation is different.

Managing yourself in this predicament:

  • Many of you and your children have an inherent stamina to weather the storm, to acknowledge there is nothing to be done but wait it out. But others who have an enormous sensitivity to their own and other people’s tension and anxiety, just feel everything more intensely. For those, the need for order and stability is even greater. As well as the need for self-care.
  • Check in on your need to control. The more you need it, the more you become victim to fear and panic. When you feel it coming up, that’s the time for breathing deeply at the very least and maybe walking outside.
  • Check your catastrophizing. If you fear you will never work again, recognize that as a fear, not a fact. Then turn it into a fact. This is hard right now being out of work. I get afraid easily. Then your fear becomes self-compassion.
  • Find a mantra when that feeling of anxiety or panic arises. Something like, I can do this, We have each other, One day at a time, Keep on keeping on.
  • Actually schedule a time each day or at least every other to connect with a partner or trusted friend to explode your worry. Seriously. Do not try to bottle it up for the sake of your kids. You will be far calmer with your kids if you let out your anger, fear, or panic with someone who promises not to tell you to just calm down.
  • This can be a time to do things you never have time to do. Take a learning program or online yoga class, clean out that closet, wash windows. Plan something that can involve all of you. Or take on a project just for yourself you can do after the kids are in bed.
  • Practice connection. Watch for what each of your children needs, how they are different. Pay attention to and connect with the underlying emotions provoking behavior instead of yelling at or threatening the behavior.
  • If your kids are focused on screens, learn from them. Ask what about this game fascinates, challenges your child. Ask them to teach you how to play.
  • Have fun.

If you and your spouse are both working from home:

  • There will be distractions galore. Plan with your partner on-call working hours when you, not your partner can be distracted. Say from 9:00-11:00, if kids need someone, you are the go-to, not your partner.
  • Wear a certain color when you are not to be disturbed unless the house is on fire.
  • Designate certain hours when each of you are with the kids so the other can work—and when you are together as a family. Make it clear.

Talking to your kids about coronavirus:

  • The most important thing to keep in mind is egocentrism consumes your children’s brains until at least age seven, and then it only starts to wane. Your young children are concerned about one thing—what does this mean for me? Don’t expect kindness and consideration for others. But do model it.
  • It’s important to be able to answer your children’s questions honestly. That doesn’t mean every last detail. It just means don’t lie. It’s a tricky balance to communicate the seriousness of this pandemic to understand why they have to stay home, forgo playdates and sleep-overs, not take the car to visit friends, and wash their hands 20 times a day without instilling unnecessary fear.
  • Talk about how germs spread and scatter. Tell them that some germs give us a cold and some germs make us very sick. That’s why we have to be very careful about keeping our bodies healthy so they can fight off the bad germs.
  • For all kids, it is safe to emphasize that children either do not get the virus or have it so mildly it feels like a cold. Let them know, that you also would probably get it mildly. The reason it is so critical to stay home away from people is because it is so very contagious, spreadable. And that old people and those who are already very sick can actually die of it.
  • And yes, let them know this is critical for their grandparents. But they will be fine as long as they don’t get the germs.
  • With kids old enough to understand, talk about what you are all doing to help contain the spread of the virus even if you aren’t in danger yourselves. Discuss why it’s wrong to get together with other people on the chance you might pick up some germs and pass them on injuring people you may not even know. It’s a great time to talk about doing the right thing.
  • Plan ahead for how each child wants to handle meltdowns. Discuss the reality of being together all the time. What works best for each? Some may want alone time in their rooms. Some may want to stick to you more than ever. How will you all respect each other’s needs including yours?

Talking to your kids about schoolwork:

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What If I Mess Up?

Am I screwing up my child? Have I failed? I’m so afraid it’s too late. Ever have these fears? Well, you’re in good company. Parents, mothers mostly, worry far too much about failing as a parent. It can be a debilitating fear that obstructs making connection with a child.

I’d like to convince you that your failures can be your child’s best teachers—if you’re willing to own up to them and learn.

Hey, we’re all human. We all lose it, we all make mistakes, sometimes huge ones. That doesn’t mean we can’t recover and move on better than ever. Your children need to see you falling down and getting back up again so they can do that too. And when you mess up with your child, recovery means connection and repair. Repair teaches humanity, humility, responsibility, and strength.

The Do-Over is one of the most powerful repair tools a parent has. And the beauty of it is that you get to choose when to use it. No need to worry about doing your best at those times when you feel at your worst. It’s those moments when both you and your child are frustrated, tired, and no longer able to cope when everything goes south. That’s when you react in those ways you hate and hear your mother or father coming out of your mouth with words you swore you would never say. That’s when you think your child is trying to get power over you—because you feel like you have lost all yours.

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