Make Your Kid Feel Special with Some One-on-One Time
Parent Tips, Parent-Child Communication

Make Your Kid Feel Special with Some One-on-One Time

In June, before my baby arrived, and her due date had passed, and I needed to walk my dog around town, my mom decided she would come visit me each day while my husband was at work to make sure that the baby and I were safe. She spent two weeks Monday through Friday driving three hours round trip to see me – until the baby was finally born. I had already finished preparing for my maternity leave, so I didn’t have much work to do. So Mom and I spent the days walking Lily, eating lunch together, going to the grocery store, and just sitting in the living room chatting. She even walked me to my yoga classes and met me outside the studio when it was finished so that I was never alone – just in case.

I’m an adult and I still appreciate alone time with my parents. This special one-on-one time with my mom still made me feel special, loved, and protected. If it’s so meaningful to a grown adult, imagine how it would make an actual child feel.

Parents want to make their kids feel special. But in the daily rush, finding the time to do that can be an impossible task.

And it probably is impossible to make each of your kids feel special every day because a lot of the time, parents are in survival mode. Getting everyone to their own activities, dinner on the table, ensuring homework is complete and that everyone gets to bed at some point seems like a pretty great way to show how much you care about your kids. But of course, kids need more.

One way to give them a bit more is to schedule some one-on-one time. Sure you can’t give it to them every day. That’s okay. It’s still special, memorable, and effective as long as you find time to do it sometime.

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I am one of five kids. So life was pretty hectic at my house. It’s hard to get attention when there are so many other kids vying for your parents’ attention. So that made my alone time with my parents that much more special. So what did my parents do?

My dad played catch with me while I practiced to make the lacrosse team. We also went running together in the park.

My mom took me to get frappuccinos when she picked me up from exams in middle and high school.

My dad took me to North Dakota, which was a super weird trip (the state was cool – the trip was weird). The Red River Valley was just mud and we went to a super strange art gallery and wound up interrupting a bingo event in the middle of the day as we tried to find lunch.

These are some of my strongest memories from growing up – that is how meaningful one-on-one time with your parents can be. And things like catch and getting frappuccinos only takes 30 minutes once in a while. That’s a pretty big bang for your parenting buck.

Also, spending one-on-one time with your little sweetheart helps increase your empathy for them. It gives you an opportunity to figure out what is going on with your little one – how are they feeling? What have they been up to recently? What have they been thinking about? Worrying about? What are they excited about?

Checking in with your kid about these things refreshes your relationship with them and helps parents to have a better understanding of why their children might be behaving certain ways. Maybe your child has been irritable lately. Spending some one-on-one time with them might reveal that they are fighting with their best friend. When you know the backstory, it’s so much easier to respond to a tantrum with understanding and empathy.

If your kid has been acting out recently, it could indicate that they need more of your attention. Often kids misbehave because they know it will get their parents’ attention. If you find times to predictably give your child attention before they act out, they will be less likely to misbehave in the future.

So finding ways to give your child some time for just the two of you boosts your child’s self-esteem and it can decrease misbehavior. Plus it just feels good to connect with your child.

What do you do with your kids one-on-one? We’d love to hear your ideas!

Tips on What to do When Kids Start Valuing Friends’ Opinions Over Their Parents’
Parent Tips, Parent-Child Communication

Tips on What to do When Kids Start Valuing Friends’ Opinions Over Their Parents’

Your kids will naturally start to prioritize their friends’ opinions over yours. It’s a natural way for them to start exhibiting their independence from you – to figure out who they are separate from you. This can be a difficult time for parents because since your baby was born, you have been the center of that baby’s world. And now your baby isn’t listening to you and potentially making really bad decisions.

There is some letting go that parents need to do. Kids are going to make a few bad decisions – we can’t keep them from doing it. It’s kind of a rite of passage. When kids make those poor decisions, it’s important for parents to support them and guide them to making better decisions in the future (and maybe some discipline is also needed). So, you can be helpful once your child has made a bad decision. That’s nice. You’re not completely irrelevant.

But even before your child has listened to that bad advice from their peers, you can still be relevant by utilizing positive, effective communication.

Tips on Establishing Effective Communication

  1. Start the conversation. Getting your kids just to talk to you in the first place can be hard. Start the conversation by asking more interesting questions than “How was your day?” (Motherly has a list of better questions to ask when your kid comes home from school). Another way to start an effective communication habit is to have your kids tell you “The Goods” every day.
  2. If your child tells you (or you notice) that they are struggling with something, share a similar experience you had as a child and how you dealt with the problem. Sharing your experiences with your child makes them feel like you are treating them as an adult. It also doesn’t feel the same as advice, which they may ignore because they don’t want to do things just because you tell them to. But if you just share your experience, they may think about it and actually learn from it instead of making the same mistake you did.
  3. Start young. The more you communicate with your children from a young age, the more that communication becomes a habit. Habits are hard to break, so even though your child will be valuing their peers’ opinions over yours, you will still have the opportunity to talk with them about what is going on in their lives. Staying in the conversation is essential.
  4. Give them their privacy. When you respect your kid’s privacy, you are communicating to them that you trust them, so they are less likely to hide stuff from you and more likely to come to you when they are facing a challenge.
  5. When they come to you with an issue they are facing, or if they have already made a mistake, your tone really matters. Try to use as nonjudgmental a tone of voice as possible. Your kid already knows that they are potentially about to make a mistake or that they are currently in a sticky situation. Coming to you takes guts. If they feel judged by you, they are more likely to avoid talking to you because it just makes them feel worse. But if they don’t perceive that judgment and they feel like you were helpful and supportive, they are more likely to keep coming to you for help (and maybe even straight-out advice one day). This keeps you relevant and in the conversation for next time.
  6. Avoid trying to solve their problems for them directly (unless they specifically ask). They are getting older and are figuring out how to make decisions on their own and they may recoil from your advice. You can still be helpful. Ask information-seeking questions to gently guide them to a good solution (The Happy Student #81: Shock Your Teens with Radical Calmness coming out tonight goes through how to do this effectively).
  7. Work on maintaining your relationship through your parenting style. When your child messes up and needs discipline, use it as an opportunity to teach them how to do better next time instead of focusing on the punishment. After you have finished talking through the incident and what to do next time, move on and do something to remind your child that your relationship is still wonderful even though your child’s behavior in this instance wasn’t. This helps them feel safe coming to you next time they are trying to make a decision.

Parents don’t just stop being influential entirely. Your kids still value your opinion of them, even if they act like they don’t. They are just trying to figure out who they are. The more you can help guide them, instead of tell them, the more they will let you be a part of their life.

It’s Not Actually Cool to Be Busy
Parent Tips, The Happy Student Podcast

Parent Conversation: It’s Not Actually Cool to Be Busy

We have become a busy culture. Being busy is a badge of honor. When people ask “How are you?” often the response is “Oh, I’m good, I’m just so busy.”

According to Eric Barker whose blog is called Barking Up the Wrong Tree, “When researchers survey people, they say they’re too busy – about everything. Too busy to make friends, date, sleep, have sex, to go on vacation… or to even have lunch.”

Our kids are also busy. They are going to school, doing homework, playing sports, taking acting classes, and who knows what else after school.

The big problem with being busy is that it isn’t healthy.

  • As Eric says, “In fact, neuroscientists have found it shrinks your brain…when a human feels pressed for time, rushed and caught up in the overwhelm”.
  • According to the Center for Brain Health, “Unhealthy habits can have dire consequences for long-term brain health, function, and cognitive performance. But the repercussions of brain burnout also extend past the detrimental effects to our personal health and quality of life…. In the workplace, failing to be a good steward of brain potential may foretell decreased productivity, more sick days, stunted advances in innovation, and shortened career spans. The personal toll leads to a premature decline in cognitive functioning, greater brain atrophy, and the missed opportunity for a life made infinitely more fulfilling and exciting by a vibrant, creative, and resourceful mind.”

We need to teach our kids how to take care of their brains so they can have this fulfilling, vibrant life. Our kids need time off to develop their creativity. When kids are bored, that is when they learn to entertain themselves, to be creative. Kids need the gift of unstructured, device-free free time to develop important skills like creativity. If they are too busy for that, then they miss out on developing creativity and problem solving skills.

What contributes to being busy:

  • Multitasking
    • As the Center for Brain Health explains “Multitasking is like asbestos to the brain. Our brain is not wired to do more than one task at a time. When you believe you are multitasking, your brain is actually switching quickly from one task to another. Multitasking causes brain fatigue and reduces productivity and accuracy. It also causes a build-up of the stress hormone cortisol. Long-term increases in cortisol lead to: worsened memory, increased brain cell death, decreased neuronal activity, weakened immune system, poorer cognitive functioning, and greater brain atrophy.”
      • Brain atrophy is the loss of neurons (those things that fire in your brain to make it work) and the loss of connections between neurons. This is what we mean when we say the brain shrinks.
    • The brain is always active.
      • As the Center for Brain Health explains, “Just like unrelenting and constant physical exercise causes overexertion and bodily injury, constant mental work is harmful to the brain. Not giving the brain the downtime it needs depletes its overall health, productivity and ability to innovate.”
    • Not having enough time for family and friends.
      • According to the Center for Brain Health, “Establishing important social ties is a key aspect to remaining mentally vibrant. Your mind hates status quo, so having relationships that build on your current interests or encourage you to discover new things are very beneficial to keeping your brain moving forward.”

How can you teach your child to stop this obsession with “busy”?

  1. Start with yourself because kids mimic their parent’s behavior.
    1. Avoid saying, “I’m so busy” when people ask you how you are doing.
  2. Give your brain some rest.
    1. As the Center for Brain Health says, “Your brain can reboot after a few minutes of rest. Quieting your mind helps improve decision-making, problem solving, and productivity.”
    2. Give your brain 5 minutes of rest 5 times a day.
      1. Rest means meditating, practicing yoga, going for a walk, and just enjoying the present moment, freeing your mind from other thoughts.
    3. Help find time for your kids to get these breaks too.
    4. Eric calls this “working like an athlete.” He says, “We were not designed to go 24/7. We were designed to spring, rest, sprint – just like an athlete. You sleep in cycles and your mind naturally works in cycles. Alternate hard work with breaks to be at your best.”
  3. Write down your To-Do list.
    1. Eric sums it up so perfectly: “Do a brain dump and write everything down that’s on your mind. Writing reduces worry and organizes your thoughts.” He then quotes Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time: “If your to-do list lives on paper, your brain doesn’t have to expend energy to keep remembering it.”
  4. Organize and prioritize your To Do List.
    1. Look at your child’s to-do list to help him figure out what needs to be done first. What needs to happen tonight because it is due the next day? And what is worth more for his grade? Those things should be done first. Then figure out what should come next and so on.
  5. Start focusing and stop multitasking.
    1. According to the Center for Brain Health, “Once interrupted, it takes an average of 20 minutes to return to the original task. A task that would normally take 25 minutes to complete without interruption takes more than two hours when multitasking or allowing disruptions.”
    2. The Center for Brain Health suggests, “Perform tasks sequentially for optimum brain performance, productivity, and accuracy. When working on a task of substance, give it your full attention. Turn off phone and email alerts and find a quiet place to complete the task at hand.”
  6. Make things automatic.
    1. The more things you can make habits, the less you have to think about and use your willpower to make yourself do them.
  7. Make and maintain friendships.
    1. Friends challenge your brain and keep it healthy.
  8. At the end of the day, review your accomplishments so that you make sure you know you are progressing and not just treading water.
  9. Preview what you will do tomorrow so that when you sleep your brain can think about those things without the pressure of needing to do them right then.
    1. Your brain will have subconsciously been thinking about those things, helping you do them more efficiently and even creatively when you start it the next morning.
  10. Eat well and get sleep.

You can learn more on The Happy Student Podcast #35!

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Have your child preview homework and then take a break
Elementary School, High School, Middle School, Parent Tips, School Advice

Have Your Child Preview Homework and Then Take a Break

Sometimes it can be intimidating to start homework if we know (or we think we know) that we don’t know how to do the homework and so we avoid that. But just previewing the homework, we don’t have to really worry that we don’t know how to do it. And then our brain does this amazing thing: while we are having a break doing other stuff, our brain is thinking about how to solve those problems. So by the time we start our homework, we actually have some ideas on how to approach that tough math question or what to write about for that essay.

So often helping kids with homework feels more like nagging them to just sit down and do their homework. That stinks. It’s really no fun for parents or kids. So how do you shift from being the homework nag to your kid’s homework coach? Fireborn’s got 6 tips for you on how to stop being a homework nag so that homework becomes, dare we say it, potentially a pleasant, collaborative, relationship-building opportunity instead of an all out fight!

How do you shift from being the homework nag to your kid’s homework coach?

  1. Preview the work with your kid and then take a break.
  • Do something fun on the break.
  • There is no pressure during this break.
  • While they are having a break doing other stuff, their brain is thinking about how to solve those problems.
  • Now, by the time they start homework, they actually have some ideas on how to approach the tough questions.
  1. Establish a study time habit.
  • Have a specific spot (that your child chooses) to do homework.
  • Have a routine to start the work.
    • Examples: eat a snack, put on classical music, or exercise.
  • Try to start at the same time every day.
  1. Ask your child to just do short bursts of homework.
  • It is less intimidating to do 10 minutes of work than to do all of the work for a subject.
  • “Sometimes just getting started is the hardest part and once your child has started, he can decide that he wants to keep reading.”
  1. Make sure your child gets breaks.
  • “Powering through is not actually a thing. And it’s really bad for your brain.”
  1. Help your child develop intrinsic motivation to do homework.
  • There are three parts to internal motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose
  • Autonomy- the want to be in charge.
    • To give them autonomy with homework, you can try letting them choose…
      • What time or place they do their homework.
      • The order in which they decide to do their homework.
      • What music they listen to.
    • Mastery- the want to do things that we are good at and that we want to get better at
      • To give them mastery with homework…
        • Make sure to celebrate the small wins.
        • Give your child as many opportunities to get better at stuff that they like, both with homework and extracurricular activities.
      • Purpose- the want to do things that matter
        • To help them with purpose for their homework…
          • Have your child set personal academic goals and plans for the year.
            • These goals should explain how and when the child will accomplish these goals. The more specific the goal and the plan, the better.
  1. Assume good will!
  • “Taking a breath and remembering your child wants to do right by you will help adjust your mindset so you can respond more effectively when your child is avoiding studying for that exam.”

By doing these things, instead of nagging your child, you’re actually teaching her strategies for how to study when you aren’t there to nag her.

You can learn more on The Happy Student Podcast Episode#55: How to Not Be a Homework Nag!

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Parent Conversation: Getting Gritty
Parent Tips, The Happy Student Podcast

Parent Conversation: Getting Gritty

Having trouble dieting? Building up the courage to meet new people? Actually getting down to business and studying hard for that upcoming test? Getting Gritty features Dr. Caren Baruch-Feldman, author of The Grit Guide for Teens. Dr. Baruch-Feldman teaches us what having grit means as well as how to grow our grit. Perfect for parents and teens.

Getting Gritty

Dr. Caren Baruch-Feldman recently wrote The Grit Guide for Teens. In the book, she teaches teens how to have more grit.

Grit, as defined by Dr. Angela Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania, is having passion and perseverance for long term goals.

  • Caren Baruch-Feldman adds the word “meaningful” to her definition.

Talent x Effort = Skill

Skill x Effort = Achievement (equation created by Dr. Angela Duckworth)

  • When we do things we actually get better at them.

“My job is to help them to learn how to surf, how to ride those waves, and how to feel more comfortable with the uncomfortable.” -Dr, Caren Baruch-Feldman

There is growth in the obstacles and challenges we face.

The Iceberg Effect is when you just see the top, you don’t see all of the hard work or obstacles.

  • For example, we often think that our parents had it all so easy because we just see the end result, we didn’t see the years of struggle before we were born or while we were growing up.
  • We see successful people, but not always the hard work behind that success. So when we hit a wall, we may say, “Oh, this just must not be meant for me,” rather than accepting it as part of the process.

Caren says that you may have a lot of grit in one area, like school work, but not a lot of grit in others, like dieting. The good news is, you can grow your grit. How?

  1. Picturing your future self.
  2. Reframing your thinking traps.
  3. Utilizing the power of yet.
  4. Adjusting your mindset.
  5. Employing self-control mechanisms, and
  6. Appropriately dealing with pitfalls. 

Picturing your future self

  • We have a tendency to think about things that are concrete. It can be hard to think about things that are abstract; it can especially be difficult for teens to think abstractly.
  • We often gravitate to things that are in the moment.
  • People mostly value an immediate reward rather than something later on.
  • By picturing your future self you are taking something abstract and making it more concrete.
  • If we can picture our future self, we can figure out the steps we need to take to become that future self.

Reframing your thinking traps

  • Personal, permanent, and pervasive (thinking traps from Dr. Martin Seligman).
  • We want to change those thought processes so that we don’t beat ourselves up so much that we give up.

Utilizing the power of yet

  • Carole Dweck from Stanford discusses how adding the word “yet” can affect the way we think about something.
  • The word yet allows you to be more motivated and optimistic to continue.
  • The power of yet reminds us that our entire lives are a learning process.

Adjusting your mindset

  • Carole Dweck found that kids who have a growth mindset believe that their minds can change and grow.
  • With a fixed mindset one cannot practice and work on their craft in order to be successful.
  • We need to realize what areas in which we have fixed mindsets and work on developing that growth mindset.

Employing self-control mechanisms

  • “Self-control is more about the short-term and grit is more really about the long-term. So, you need to have self-control in order to have grit.” – Dr. Baruch-Feldman
  • In order to have self-control, we need to develop habits and strategies so that we’re not constantly saying no to temptation. If I make it a habit to put my phone in the other room while I’m working, I don’t have to make a choice while I’m working to ignore a text message.

Appropriately dealing with pitfalls

  • There are two types of pitfalls: giving up after you fail once and over-reacting when we mess up.
  • “Fail is just your first attempt in learning.” -Dr. Caren Baruch-Feldman
  • So, when we fail, we want to realize that we have learned something and can keep learning.
  • If we bring awareness to the faulty types of thinking when we mess up, then we can start to change them if we make the choice to do that.

Sometimes it is okay to quit.

  • “My goal is for people to be reflective about their choices as opposed to just quitting because they’re taking it personally or that they’re seeing that some kind of setback means that the universe is saying to them that they shouldn’t be doing that.” -Dr. Caren Baruch-Feldman

We need to be stealthy and “nudgey” with teens.

  • Indirect interventions work better for teens.

You can learn more on The Happy Student Podcast #26!

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Risky Play
Parent Tips

The Case for Risky Play – Fireborn Fireside

Kid’s desire to engage in risky play is natural. It’s also natural for parents to be scared of that risky play – what if they get hurt? This fear of kids getting hurt has lead to a significant decrease in the number of opportunities for kids to engage in risky play. And while it is totally understandable that parents don’t want their kids to get physically hurt, this has actually resulted in harming our kids in other ways.

Risky play is actually really good for kids.

Remember that sense of accomplishment you felt as you crossed a river using some slippery rocks for your footing?

Or what about that energized, excited feeling you got being thrown off that merry-go-round type thing and getting back on it knowing that you were taking a big risk?

Or what about that sense of accomplishment when you overcame your fear of heights and crawled over the top of the monkey bars instead of using them as they were intended to be used? Or even jumping off from there!

We got to enjoy that as kids, but these opportunities are leaving. And research is finding that’s not a good thing. This risky play helps kids get more physical activity and improves their self-confidence and their risk-management ability. Taking these risks as kids helps kids assess risks in the future and boosts their confidence! These are pretty important skills for when they grow up.

Also, kids are really resilient. Broken bones mend, but finding other ways to build risk-management skills can be tough. There’s a movement growing to bring back risky play to playgrounds and I hope you’ll join it!

Preparing Anxious Kids for Summer Travel
Stress Management

Preparing Anxious Kids for Summer Travel

Traveling, even for super fun summer trips, can be really stressful and anxiety-inducing for kids. Doing some quick exercises with your anxious child ahead of time can make what would have turned into an anxiety attack, a much calmer, happier child, family, trip.

1. Talk about the trip and potential anxiety ahead of time. Brainstorm solutions together and come up with a plan of action.

What makes your child anxious? Can the two of you prepare for that? Are they scared of flying? Would a cuddle buddy or distractions help with that?

Have a conversation with your child about what causes their anxiety. This can be a difficult conversation, so I love the idea of using what Daniel Siegel, MD and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD, call “The Remote of Your Mind” in their book The Whole-Brain Child. To use this strategy, slowly have your child talk through what happens when you travel. “We pack our bags at home. We get in the car and drive to the airport. In the car to the airport, we sing songs…” When they start to get nervous, they can “fast forward” through the scary part and then finish the story, “Then we get to Disney World and we check into the hotel. We put our stuff away and go to the park to go on the rides!” Once they’ve reached the happy conclusion, “rewind” and help them talk through the scary part and what makes it so hard. This helps them realize that it’s not quite as scary as they thought.

Then, get your child involved in the planning and create a plan of action: When I get anxious, I will ___________________. Fill in that blank together with some ideas.

2. Practice a few breathing techniques ahead of time. A good place to start is some exercises from Sitting Still Like a Frog.

Breathing calms your brain and your anxiety down so you can think logically.

When you notice your child getting anxious at other times before you leave on your trip, ask them to take some deep breaths and think about where they feel that anxiety. Ask them to keep breathing deep breaths until that anxious feeling they feel has subsided.

3. Name feelings.

When we name our feelings, they lose some of their power. So practice naming feelings ahead of time, so that when that anxiety pops up during travel, you can “name it to tame it” as Daniel Siegel says.

4. Practice releasing emotions.

Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg suggests reducing anxiety by releasing emotions and “blanking it out”. Blanking it out means dancing it out, writing it out, singing it out, and so on. Talk with your child about how they want to “blank it out” and use it as part of your plan in #1.

5. Pack some cognitive distractions.

When we are anxious, we get caught up in negative thought cycles. Break those thought cycles with a cognitive distraction. When your brain is working on solving a problem or is using it’s language centers to read, it’s harder for it to use those parts of the brain to think about how anxious it is. Some good cognitive distractions include: reading, Sudoku, MadLibs, and trivia.

With a little preparation, we can work to really reduce that travel anxiety and make summer trips that much more fun!