Parenting Tips For the Road Trip

Upon completing a fairly unplanned 2 1/2 week road trip with my 2 elementary school age kids, I am a mom and therapist with some sound advice about traveling with kids. Don’t do it!

Only kidding! This road trip had ups and downs and all the emotions in between. I would highly recommend traveling with your kids, and I wanted to pass along some lessons learned.

1. Be a mind reader and have within your reach all the “needs” your kids are going to have. Snacks, travel blanket, snacks, water, pillow, snacks, Kleenex’s, books, audiobooks, coloring supplies, movies, games, paper towels, snacks, charger, car sick medicine, and did I mention snacks?

2. Keep in tune with their need for food. If it’s been a few hours or you can see their tank running low then certainly make the effort to fuel. With my one child I can see a distinct mood change when she gets some chow from grumpy kid to funny, playful kid. Parents eat too. A hangry Mom or Dad is no fun either.

3. Pace yourselves. I know you may have plans, a schedule, ideas, and want to do it all, but a kid who is pushed to the max is no bueno. If you’ve been rafting all day and then want to stop at the brewery for a relaxing pint and meal you may be setting yourself up for disaster. Because what you actually may get is a melted down child and an angry parent combination. There couldn’t be a worse way to end your awesome day.

4. Limit the electronics. I hear so many parents talk about how their kids energy takes a turn for the worse when posted up in front of tv, phone, or video game systems. If you find your child cannot handle even having the device without a swirl of whining when they take a break, don’t bring it along.

5. Make room for the emotions and practice self care. I had a great time with my family, however, there were moments when I wanted to release their rafts into the wilderness while I floated in the peace of the river or allow them to go live with the lovely lady at the pottery painting studio. At times I felt burnt, sad, anxious, and overwhelmed. My whole family also felt this way at times. They weren’t going to be perfect and neither was I. So I needed to make room for all the feelings and also take care of myself by taking some time to read, exercise, and pray.

6. Practice mindfulness. Yes it is the buzzword of the times and that is because their is something to it. Pulling yourself into the exact moment of what was happening was helpful to me in so many ways. Feeling the mountain air make contact with my belly through a deep breath was medicine for many of the moods I encountered.

The advice could go on, however, as I tell all parents I work with, you know your kid best. You know their wants and needs and limits. There will be a time when they can do it all and when that time comes, it’ll be awesome. Until then….

Easing Child and Teen Anxiety Around Shootings

There is an anxiety about being safe in school given the climate of our nation.  I offer you a few ideas on what to do and say to kids who are feeling anxious about shootings.

  1. Listen with love by looking at them, holding them, resting their head on your shoulder.  “I know you know about the school shootings that have happened, would you like to talk about it?”  Then be quiet.  Maybe ask some probing questions if it feels like want to talk but don’t have a lot to say.  “What do you know has happened?  How are you feeling about it? Say more about feeling worried.”  Or if they aren’t wanting to talk, let them know they can talk with you whenever they need to.

  2. Let them ask questions.  If you do not know the answer or not sure how to answer the question, then let them know it is a great question and you will think about it and get back to them.  Make sure you get back to them. “Do you have any questions for me?  That is a great question; let me do some thinking about how to answer and get back to you.”

  3. Do not overshare.  What a 7 year old should know is much different than what your 14 year old should know.  Children do not need adult doses of information.

  4. Limit tv and online exposure both for yourself and your child.  If your child has access to their own phone/computer, educate them on what binging on the media can do in terms of their mental health and encourage them to limit their exposure.  “Watching media about the school shootings can feel important.  We are curious about all the details and maybe even think watching things over and over will keep us safe.  I want you to know while it can feel good to be in the know about what is happening in the world, it can also make us feel overwhelmed, anxious, and cause problems for us like being afraid to go to school or having difficulty sleeping.  I encourage you to get back to enjoying the things you like to do and if you have any questions about what is happening, know you can ask me. If I don’t know the answer, I will find out, and get back to you.”

  5. Remind them of the unlikelihood of this happening and their teachers being there to help keep them safe.  “It’s scary to know kids have been killed in schools. I want you to remember, you teachers and staff are there to help keep you safe.  If you are feeling unsafe, know you can talk to them. If a drill or event ever happens, follow your teacher’s directions and hide. It will be alright.”

  6. Validate and normalize their feelings.  “This is a sad time. You are worried. You are afraid to go to school.  It’s normal to feel afraid after scary things happen. It is normal to feel sad.”

  7. If you let your kid stay home for a day, be there with them, and get them prepared to head to school within the next day or so.  Keeping kids home only fuels anxiety more. It may look like it is soothing them but in the long run, avoiding what causes anxiety only increases anxiety more.  It’s like the monster in the closet. If we never check the closet and face our fears, the monster gets bigger and stronger. If we open the closet door, we see the only things that exists is our clothes.  “I am so glad we got to spend today together relaxing. Are you feeling ready to go back to school tomorrow? What will happen if you keep missing school? Who do you think missed you today? I know you are afraid to go to school tomorrow; I believe you will be safe and you need to return tomorrow.  If anything bad were to happen, I would get to the school right away. You can trust I would.”

  8. Communicate with the school counselor/trusted staff if your child is struggling with anxiety/going to school.  Let your child have a contact person to connect with until the wave of anxiety passes. You can develop a plan with the staff on how your child can have contact with them.  “You have a great relationship with Mrs. Dator. Do you think we could let her know you are feeling worried and get permission for her to check in with you this week?”

  9. Make room for their feelings and experiences AND get back to life.  Model healthy ways of living and coping and encourage your child to get back to enjoying their life.

  10. If your child is unable to get back to life and cannot move through the anxiety and/or is experiencing depression for more than 2 weeks, get them professional help from a license mental health professional.

  11. Shootings are a trauma experienced by all those touched no matter how distant from the victims.  Remember grief and loss take time to heal. We can grieve the loss of people we don’t know, and we can grieve the loss of our safety.  Parents have a huge responsibility to help their children feel safe in an unsteady time. Do not promise anything you cannot offer but do give them hope.  “Bad things do happen in the world. I believe you will be safe, and I love you.”

  12. Offer a transitional object.  Children and teens can benefit from having something tangible to have to remind them of you and your love.  “I wanted you to have this bracelet to where each day. I am going to wear one too. That way, if you are ever feeling worried, sad, scared, or just missing me, hold the bracelet and know I am thinking of you too.”

  13. Empower your child to tell.  Teach your child that when it comes to the safety of themselves and others, they need to tell a responsible adult.  “If you ever hear anyone in your school talking about wanting to hurt or kill themselves or others, you need to tell a responsible adult right away.  I know you might think it is a false alarm or you might not want to get someone in trouble, however, if it isn’t a false alarm, how would you feel if something did really happen?  It isn’t up for you to decide how serious someone is; that’s too much responsibility for a kid. I highly encourage you to tell me and know I can help do the right thing to keep kids safe.”

 

Thanksgiving

Holidays mean something different for me as each year passes.  In the wake of the recent fires, I am filled with a whole host of thanks for all those who have and continue to put in the effort to support people who have lost and are impacted.  I am also saddened and hopeful for those of you who have been directly impacted, and I am holding you close in my heart.

The fires have not only kicked up gratitude but also trauma, as it continues to be a theme I am seeing around me.  With the holidays just around the corner, many people having lost their homes, sexual harassment in the media, the state of our country and world, and our own pasts, people are feeling deeply everywhere.

Holidays and being with family can bring forth a of mix feelings.  Being without family can do the same.  There is so much to feel.

It is important to remember this time of holidays and feelings is a season.  While they may feel extremely big and overwhelming, I encourage you to remember this is a moment in time.  Feelings change just as the trees do.  Nature holds such a powerful metaphor for our lives.

Just as the natural world cares for itself, we must care for ourselves too.  As the mushrooms pop up around us acting as a purifier for the air, we can care for ourselves by breathing deeply and paying attention to our inner world.  Asking ourselves if our choices are helpful or unhelpful.  Giving oneself permission to leave after dessert or go for walk.  Declining the party or forgoing the alcohol.  It is vital for us to practice self care.  What would our world look like if nature didn’t care for itself?  Please remember being thankful doesn’t mean we allow other people’s wants, needs, and expectations to compromise our own.

I am wishing you all a caring and reflective Thanksgiving.

Moving Forward in the Aftermath of Disaster

In the aftermath of the Northern California fires, nervous systems have been revved up and are now crashing down.  The fear and unknown has led many adults and children to live in a hypervigilant state.  Now that the fires are contained and threats to homes and lives are at bay, it is time get back to living.  This may be hard to do given the state of the community if you are in a fire struck area, lost your home or loved one, if you have been volunteering, and/or living in a constant state of fear.

While many people are resilient and will bounce back easily into their own lives, some people will not for a variety of reasons.  Whether impacted directly or indirectly, a natural disaster can have a traumatic impact on lives.  It is important to care for yourself, and as parents, it is vitally important to care for yourself so you can better care for your own children.  So what does caring for yourself mean?  This means getting back into your own routine, getting a lot of sleep and rest, nourishing your body with healthy foods, exercising, and engaging in other activities that bring you relaxation and pleasure.

It may take some individuals days, weeks, months, or even longer to recover from this experience.  I would encourage you to notice your own feelings and move with gentleness if not feeling quite as resilient as some of those around you.  Each day is a new day with new feelings and thoughts emerging.  Moving through a traumatic experience can take time so please be patient with yourself and those around you.

New trauma can trigger old trauma and sometimes cause a regression.  This can be a regression in behaviors or memories and can take many forms including an increase in separation anxiety, reverting to younger behaviors, and thinking about past traumatic events when one thought they had moved past them.  Again, please be patient with yourself as you move through your own process, care for yourself in healthy ways, and get some further support from loved ones or professionals.

Some people who did not experience the fires directly or whose home and family came out ok may feel guilt for having not lost their home or loved ones even though they are thankful they did not.  This is known as survivor’s guilt and is a common feeling for people to experience.  I encourage you to not disregard and down play your own feelings.  Last week evoked a lot of emotions.  We are all different and will process this experience differently.  There is no right or wrong way to move through these feelings.  

If you are feeling stuck, having difficulty sleeping, overeating or under eating, feeling lethargic, do not have any interest in things you used to, having nightmares, and/or you don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel, I highly encourage you to talk with a professional for further support if it is feeling overwhelming and you feel unable to move through it one your own.  Talking with a professional can have many benefits including giving you the space to explore and process your experience, gaining support, having space to not feel like you are overwhelming people around you by talking about your feelings, and helping you find your way back to wellness.  

Like adults, most children will remain resilient and bounce back easily while others can be deeply impacted by the disaster whether it has touched them directly or not.  Younger children do not have the sense of time and when seeing images or hearing people talk around them, they may be unable to differentiate if the disaster was from last week or from this very moment; this can be frightening.  If you are noticing any changes to their behaviors, including regressive behaviors, they are letting you know they need more attention right now.  It is extremely important to continue to check in with your child about their feelings as they head back to school and hear about the events from their peers.  If you are feeling overwhelmed as a parent, please reach out for support.

I am wishing everyone good health and loving kindness for oneself and each other as our communities recover.

Here are some local community resources for professional help:

Hospice of Sonoma County

Petaluma People’s Services

Social Advocates for Youth

Petaluma Health Center

Seeds of Awareness

Psychology Today has a list of therapists in private practice

2 Things to Definitely Do This Summer FOR Your Kids and Teens

While watering our garden the other night, my nearly 7 year old said to me, “Mom, will you be home with us this summer all the time?”

Totally wishing I could pull from the money tree blossoming in our backyard and say yes, I said, “No little one, I have to work.  But I will be around more, and we can go to the pool and do fun things together.”

Point blank she said, “Well if you can’t be around all the time, can you please be off your phone when you’re with me?”  

Really tuning in I said, “I will do my best.  I have to do some things for work on my phone sometimes, but I will really try.  I hear you and thank you for telling me what you want.”

Then squeezy hug.  I love this kid.

I bet you can guess 1 of the 2 things to do this summer FOR your kids and teens.

#1 Get off your phone mom and dad.

Now that I have really got your attention (unless you just got a text on your phone you are now looking at…remember #1 people), let’s move onto #2.

Keeping up with other families and relatives is not always in your children’s best interest.  Some families are constantly on the move and some barely leave the house.  Neither of these ways of being are right or wrong.  They’re just different.

What is important though is while you are doing nothing or doing something, pay attention to if it is working for your family.  Doing back to back to back outings might be too much for your kids.  They may need some R&R.  Or maybe they are so bored and fighting all the time because they haven’t been stimulated enough.

Many parents can get swooped up in the FOMO (fear of missing out) and push their kids to the brink.  So when little Johnny is having a meltdown because he is super fatigued from sun and fun, you may want to rethink what Johnny really needs.  

Sometimes our children’s needs might not coincide with what we want.  That fact can be a bummer to miss out hanging with another family you really enjoy or not getting to stay home all day when that is what you had in mind.  This life is full of compromise.

Please remember this:

#2 Tune into your kid and do what they are needing more of and less of this summer.

Wishing you all a wonderful summer!

Who I Used To Be

Before I had children, I was an outdoorsy girl. Relentless trips to the mountains. Biking, hiking, snowshoeing, climbing, swimming, camping, yoga by river. Whatever it was, I loved the mountain air.

Times have changed and so has my ability to do the things I once loved to do. No taking off for Tahoe on a whim after a days work. Not without a boat load of luggage and some serious planning.

There was a time I struggled with not being able to do what I wanted to do anymore. But somewhere, in some time, it shifted. While I still long for the spontaneity and the freedom, it now comes in a different package.

Spontaneity creeps out when deciding to go to the coast for an hour or taking my sweet dog Noelle out on our local trails. Or when I go to bed on a Saturday night at 8PM after loading my belly full of just what I wanted.  I am spontaneous with little surprises that bring lots of joy to myself and my family, like a breakfast out or family movie night in.

And freedom.  I have the freedom to be as silly as I want to be.  I have the freedom to read, write, discover, and learn all the things I was too busy to learn because I was constantly on the move.  I have the freedom to be the kid I buried long ago in the attempt to be older, cooler, and more accepted.

So I’ll take it.  While it may not elicit the excitement I imagined others felt when looking at my adventurous life, its what i have now, today, in this moment.  And while it took me awhile to really fully embrace it, I have arrived.

AFFIRMATION

I embrace the life I live today.

Enduring the Holidays

The Holidays. Turkey. Stuffing. Cranberries. Pumpkin Pie. Chaos. Tears. Anger. Old Resentment. Yummy.

Sound familiar?

I always wished the Holidays were like the movies or at least ended like the movies. A big warm house with everyone coming to an agreement. Singing, dancing, hugging. This usually only happens after a few bottles of wine and the old hurt comes back the next morning with a nasty hangover. Not so yummy.

It is so important to really care for ourselves during the Holidays. Often times people have limits and boundaries to what they are willing to endure over the year and then get slapped in the face by a turkey leg (literally or figuratively) when things haven’t changed and old wounds come to the surface.

How do we care for ourselves in the midst of the emotional chaos? Here are a few ideas.

1. When it’s time to go, it’s time to go. Stay for a time but cut out early. Don’t wait for the drama to erupt. You can read about it on your cousin’s Facebook page in a few hours.

2. Drop the expectations. Expectations lead to disappointment. Disappointment leads to a whole host of other bad feelings.

3. Set limits to the conversations you don’t want to be a part of. If your mother starts digging up the dirt, take a potty break. Rejoin with another conversation or check out the game upon exit.

4. Take a walk. Get some fresh air and hoof it. Not only will your body appreciate it, so will your mind.

Happy Holidays!!!

AFFIRMATION
I get to decide how much or little I am willing to take.

The Importance of Play Dates

Play dates can be lovely when hanging with a parent you really like and the children are getting along. It’s easy. Maybe even fun.

Play dates can feel difficult when hanging out with a parent you don’t really know and are unsure of how your children will gel when outside of their usual setting.

Parents can feel pressure about their child’s behavior reflecting on them and wanting to impress their fellow play date mate. “He doesn’t usually act this way,” a parent might say.

Parents can end fun time early due to a hit, kick, or tension ensuing between children. Out of embarrassment, parents head for the car dragging their child along kicking and screaming. “Its not fair,” you can hear throughout the entire park.

Mortified. Incompetent. Judged. Some parents do not embark on play dates for the fear of what may happen, how they will feel, and how others may view them.

If you have read my previous posts, you may guess what I am going to suggest….do it anyway. Kids need play dates . They need to learn how to be with other children outside of the home and learn how to work through intense feelings and manage conflict.

They need opportunities to practice these skills and  play dates provide the perfect forum. Children need hours of playtime to allow the comfort level and situations to arise. Children need time to see conflict can be meditated without being hauled off to the car and shamed by a parent. This can lead to a host of other problems, including the beginning stages of poor self-esteem and anxiety around their own social abilities.

It can be hard to put yourself out there. You yourself may feel socially awkward and have your own discomfort in meeting new people. You may have been at the end of judgements from other parents. Whatever it is, I would encourage you to try and put the feelings aside and make time for your child to play.

The park is a great place for parents to meet up and get their child some social interaction. The down side is a parent may not be on the same page as you regarding teaching your child about the ups and downs of socializing. One push and you might have someone giving you the stink eye and leaving abruptly.

There are a few great ways to get the ideal play date going. Talking with play date parents about what you are trying to teach your child can be a part of the conversation. Their child may be doing some of the exact same things as yours. Many behaviors children engage in are developmentally normal and yet many parents want to bury their head in the playground sand when their child barrels over another child. While it can be embarrassing, there is a clear opportunity to teach your child about empathy and expressing his needs and feelings with words instead of actions.

A second idea is to meet with a parent you already seem to have some connection with, like a parent you talk with at pick up or drop off. If you already have a little chemistry, this can alleviate some of the social angst you may be feeling.

Lastly, don’t be the judge of others. As we all know, kids have bad days. This fact should not have a direct link to judgements we make about their parents. Also, parents learn to parent from their own experiences.  Unfortunately, some of them may not have been good ones. Have empathy. Model what healthy parenting looks like and be open to the challenges other’s face.

AFFIRMATION
I parent from a non-judgemental place and believe others do as well.

The Evolution of a Teenager

The evolution of the teenager.  I adore watching this unfold.  Many think teens are scary.  Boys, girls, it doesn’t matter.  Teens can frighten people with their looks and energy.

Why I love teens is because at the heart of who they are, they are just trying to figure it all out.  With their parents they may act self-righteous, entitled, and inferior.  With other adults, teens can sometimes let down their parental guard and be real about what is on their minds.

College, grades, and friends are often at the heart of what is weighing in.  Sex, drugs, alcohol, and being cool are also at the forefront for many teens.

I love to ask teens the tough questions.  Give them a place to talk about the stuff parents are afraid to tackle.  Many teens express a reserve in talking with their own parents.  Some are afraid of the response they will get.  Some are embarassed for themselves and for their parents.

Talking with both teen boys and teen girls as a parent is a slippery slope.  Teens can make parents feel like they hate them, don’t want to talk with them, and are annoyed by the very quiet breath they take.  It is hard to have a meaningful conversation when your teen is in this place.

I would always encourage a parent to keep the door open.  To continue to try and talk with their teen even if their teen isn’t taking the bait.  Not hound the child, but finding small windows of opportunity to engage and then seeing what happens.  Just listening is a good move.  I cannot tell you how many teenagers complain their parents don’t listen.

If your teen is refusing to talk with you, it may be worthwhile to get them connected with a responsible adult they will talk to.  A neighbor, family member, or therapist may be a good way to know your child is sharing and getting some good feedback regarding their thoughts and behaviors.

This can be difficult for parents to allow another adult to play a role in their teen’s life they wanted to play.  Parents can feel jealous and left out when another adult is getting more from their teen in 15 minutes then they got all week.  If parents can put the emotions aside and see how their teenager can benefit from a healthy adult interaction, they may feel less threatened and more relieved.

If we all can take a moment to recollect what it was like to be teenager, most of us will remember keeping our parents at a distance, at least some of the time. Why we remember this distance is because it is developmentally normal for teens to begin to separate from their parents.  This process is called individuation and we all have gone through it.  Because of this process we no longer live with our parents.

So breathe a sigh of relief what you’re facing is normal as far as teens pushing parents away emotionally.  But if you are concerned you have the means to help support your teen by finding a trusted adult who can give them the parental guidance they may not be able to hear from you.  And let out a second breathe of relief knowing they can turn out OK.

AFFIRMATION
I allow the process of life to unfold for my teen.

I Am Not Doing My Homework!

The freedom to let children make their own choice in regards to homework is a tough one for parents. At what age to start and how much responsibility to let children take are questions many parents struggle with.

When do we let children and teens not do their homework and suffer the repercussions.  When do we not pencil in the answer for our child because its just easier?  When do we let go and allow children to relish in the rewards and become upset at the consequences?  How about now?

“Now?” you ask.  But, my child needs me to hound at them to get their homework done or else they don’t get a good education.  But my child is going to refuse to write in the answer if I don’t do it for her.  And what if she gets a detention?  Won’t that reflect on me as a parent?

Parents are chalked full of reasons why something is never a good time.  While they may seem valid, they don’t always have a lot of clout.   Being a parent is a full time job, which includes the role of “life teacher.”

One way we help kids is to teach them about responsibility.  Parents can teach responsibility with the natural consequences and rewards of the world.  When you parent from this angle, you begin to take the power struggle out of the parenting.  It isn’t your fault your child missed recess for not doing their homework.  A child has no one to hold accountable but themselves.

I am not saying you should abandon your child all together.  Help them to have a homework time.  Set aside time when you or another capable person is available to help as needed.  Keep in mind to help your child and not “do” for them.  Children don’t learn this way.

Work on slowly exposing them to taking more responsibility for their work.  If last year you sat by their side and helped them with every problem, move towards stepping away for a few minutes and then coming back to check and provide support.  Small steps to change are the way to go for many children.

Empower your child in their ability to be successful.  Reflect on past successes and times you saw how good they felt when they mastered a concept and got the natural reward of earning recess or raising their GPA.

If you are unsure of your child’s level of readiness for responsibility, check with their teacher.  The teacher sees your child 5 days a week and should have a good idea as to where they should be performing academically and how much responsibility they can take.

Lastly, with whatever parenting strategy you implement, be clear and consistent.  If you say you will be back in 5 minutes to check on them, be back in 5.  When you come back in 2 minutes because they are flipping out you are not being clear and consistent.  Children will learn they can get you attention and even get the answer if they flip out.  Not exactly the message you want to send.

Affirmation
I am solid in the ways I choose to support my child.