Tag Archive for emotional health

Teach Your Children the Wisdom of Queen Elsa

A recent study led by University of Miami psychologists pointed to an important skill to teach our children. The study looked at the way we process and manage negative incidents in our lives. Although it did not deal with families and their children directly, it still revealed a skill crucial for healthy families and their children to develop.

In this study, participants completed a questionnaire about their well-being. Then they reported daily stressful events, positive emotions, and negative emotions for a week via nightly phone calls.  Finally, they underwent an fMRI while viewing 60 positive images and 60 negative images interspersed with 60 neutral images. Putting all this data together, the researchers found that the sooner participants let negative images (incidents) go, the more positive emotions and the fewer negative emotions they experienced in their daily lives. Thus, the wisdom of Queen Elsa in Frozen…”Let It Go.”

Unfortunately, letting go of negative emotions and events does not seem to come naturally to many of our children (or to adults for that matter). So how can we practice letting it go and teach our children to do the same? Here are 3 ideas.

  1. Catch the emotion and analyze it. Are there thoughts that make the emotions stronger or more intense? What thoughts perpetuate it and keep it going? Are you thinking that the situation arousing this emotion effects a specific part of your day or that it is “ruining the whole day” or everything about the day? Do you think of it as a temporary setback or permanent disruption? Do you think of areas in which you can influence the next steps or is it all the fault and responsibility of others, the surrounding circumstances, or fate? How you think about the incident or situation which aroused the emotion will impact how you feel. Analyze the thoughts under the emotion and change them when necessary.
  2. Observe the emotion…then let it go.  Recognize the emotion. Label the emotion. Observe how it feels in the body—its shape and color even. Consider if it changes or moves around in your body. Observe how the emotion differs from a thought. Observe how you know the emotion is a part of you, only a part of you but not all of you. You are more than the emotion. Then, take a deep breath and visualize the emotion floating away like a snowflake on the breeze… or rolling away like a snowball down a hill. Let it go! (For more ideas on observing & letting go read Your Child’s Toolbox for Self-Soothing.)
  3. Melt your body and the emotion with it. Breath…inhaling for a count of 3, exhaling for a count of 6, then sit quietly for a second or two to notice the quietness in your body before repeating the process. Continue breathing as you imagine yourself in a place that makes you feel calm and happy. Perhaps you will visualize a beach, a mountain vista, a bike ride, or sitting at the pool with friends. You can also do a body relaxation exercise. Imagine your body melting into a state of relaxation. Feel the muscles relax.

By learning to let go of negative emotions and teaching our children to do the same, we give our families a precious gift. We give them the ability to enjoy more positive moments in their life. Don’t you want your children to have that gift?

4 Great “BUT’s” of Parenting

We love to see our children happy BUT we don’t want to spoil them to keep them happy. We want to provide a nice home and plenty of healthy opportunities for our children to grow BUT we don’t want to feel guilty about spending too much time away from our children earning the money to make those opportunities a possibility. We want, dare I say need, adult time with friends BUT we don’t want our children to feel unloved or abandoned.

Yes, parenting is a bit of a balancing act BUT the 4 “BUTS” below can help you find the proper balance.

  1. Children benefit from the opportunity to express their emotions, including anger; BUT they can remain polite and kind as they do. I met one mother who allowed her 6-year-old son to smack her repeatedly when he was angry. She felt he needed to express his anger.  In reality, children benefit from learning to manage their anger and other emotions, not express it through violence. Part of learning to manage our emotions is learning to utilize the energy of an emotion to meet the need that contributes to that emotion…and doing so in a positive manner.
  2. There is an appropriate time for a parent to apologize; BUT simply because your child is disappointed is not one of those times. Sure, a parent needs to apologize if they lose their cool for no good reason or accidentally say something that hurts their child’s feelings. BUT there is no need to apologize because your child is simply disappointed for not getting everything they want when they want it. In fact, it’s healthy to learn that sometimes we can’t have everything we want because it’s too expensive, too time consuming, or we already have more than we need.
  3. No parent likes to see their child engage in tantrum behavior; BUT “giving in” to their tantrum behavior only increases the chances that they’ll tantrum again. “Giving in” to tantrum behavior empowers your child. It teaches them that tantrum behavior works, it gets them just what they want when they want it. If it works, it’s powerful. And who doesn’t repeat what works? Rather than “giving in” to their tantrum behavior, ignore it. If they tantrum in public, calmly escort your child to a more private place and wait for them to stop.  Once they calm down, talk about what may have led to the tantrum. They may have a genuine concern to address. If so, address it. And talk about healthier ways to communicate their needs and their emotions.
  4. Children have a right to be disappointed with a limit or rule; BUT you don’t have to argue to justify the rule. It is alright for children to get disappointed. It’s a part of life. And it’s alright for children to want to know the reason behind a limit or rule.  Simply state the rule and the intent of the rule, then refuse to argue about it. Make sure the rule is appropriate and actually accomplishes what you intend, then stick with it. If there is wiggle room, you might discuss it (not argue about it) with your children. Let them give the reasons they believe the rule might be changed. Then tell them you will think about it and get back to them. Perhaps you’ll change it and explain why you. Perhaps you will not change it and you’ll simply explain why you chose not to change it. No arguing. Just stating it once. (Read Help, My Child ALWAYS Argues With Me for ideas on what to do instead of arguing.)

These four great “buts” of parenting can help bring balance and clarity to your parenting goals.

Teen Empathy or Delinquency…And YOU

Parents want their teens to engage in acts of empathy, not acts of delinquency. Right? Of course. A study using data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian children analyzed the data gathered on 3,865 children (ages 12-years-old to 17-years-old) over a period of 4 years to explain a great way to teach children empathy. This study found that children who perceived their parents as giving empathic support were less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors like drawing graffiti, destroying property, and using threats or force to take money from another person. Material support and mere presence did not have as great an impact on reducing these delinquent behaviors as did empathic support. It seemed that empathic support from parents modeled empathy for the teens, nurturing the development of empathy in their lives.

What does this mean for us as parents? It means that we need to practice empathy if we want our teens to practice empathy. As you develop, nurture, and practice empathy in your life, your children are more likely to as well. They will develop the ability to acknowledge and understand the feelings of others and act accordingly as they witness you doing the same. In other words, nurture empathy in your life and you nurture empathy in your children’s lives. So, how can you nurture and model empathy in your life?

  • Avoid jumping to conclusions or making snap judgments.  In general, things are not as simple as they appear. Rather than making assumptions, consider what factors may contribute to other people’s behaviors and actions. Think about what their deeper intent might be. Things are generally not as simple as they appear.
  • Learn from other people, especially those different than you. Listen to people who come from different backgrounds and even have different beliefs than you. You don’t have to agree. Simply listen and seek to understand. Learn how they “came to their conclusions.” Learn to communicate your ideas and beliefs in a manner that invites dialogue rather than sounding judgmental.
  • Look for commonalities with other people, even those who are different than you. I believe you will find most people come together when we consider our common vulnerability to suffering, our common desire for connection and love, and our pursuit of security and belonging. Consider how you might connect with people in these (and other) common aspects of our humanity.
  • Learn from stories and films. As you read a story or watch a movie, “get inside” the character’s mind. Seek to understand their motives and their actions based on what you learn of them through the story.
  • Broaden your range of experiences. Meet people from different cultures and economic levels. Develop relationships and learn from each other.
  • Perform random acts of kindness. No explanation needed. Show kindness every chance you get.
  • Practice each of the tips above toward your family members in a responsive, warm, and nurturing way. Rather than jumping to conclusions when something happens, think and listen. Take time to learn from your spouse, your parents, and even your children. Look for commonalities with each of your family members, especially when you hit upon topics and themes of disagreement. Show kindness to your family every day.
  • Build an emotional vocabulary. The broader a person’s vocabulary for speaking about emotions, the more aware they can become of their own emotions and the better able they are to empathize with another’s emotion.

As you practice these tips toward your family and in view of your family, your children will more likely grow in empathy…not delinquency.

For Your Family’s Sake, Go To Bed

Every mother knows that ta lack of sleep tonight leads to an irritable child tomorrow. Now, a study that monitored 2,000 adults over an 8-day period reveals that a lack of sleep impacts adults as much as it does children. This study also provides a little more specific look at that impact. Let me share 3 things this study revealed.

  1. Adults who got more sleep reported higher levels of positive emotions and lower levels of negative emotions than those who got less sleep.
  2. Stressful events did NOT lessen positive emotions the day after a good night’s sleep like they did after a poor night’s rest.
  3. A good night’s sleep contributed to an “even greater boost in the positive emotions experienced the next day.” In other words, positive emotions were even better after a good night’s sleep.

These findings reveal how sleep impacts each of us. However, these results also show how sleep impacts our families. First, a lack of sleep contributes to irritability, which can harm family relationships over time. Second, positive emotions build stronger family relationships. A lack of sleep robs us of positive emotions. Getting enough sleep, on the other hand, prepares us to experience and enjoy positive emotions…and positive emotions cultivate greater intimacy.
So for the sake of your family, get to bed. Develop a good sleep habit.

Here are some hints to help you get a better night’s sleep.

  • Keep a regular bedtime and “wake up time.” Go to bed at a similar tune every night and set your alarm to get up at the same time every morning. This will contribute to a good night’s rest.
  • Limit light and noise in the room where you sleep. We sleep best in quiet, dark spaces. Make your room conducive to sleep.
  • Turn off screens 90 minutes before bed. Screens stimulate us and cause us to “forget the time.” We may decide to “check one thing” on our phone only to realize later that we “should have been asleep two hours ago.” Plus, the screen’s “blue light” interferes with our sleep. In fact, you might consider purchasing glasses with a “blue light filter” if your work demands you use a computer often. (Here is the enemy of teen sleep that may be the enemy of your sleep.)
  • If you are unable to fall asleep after about 30 minutes, get up and go into another room. Engage in some activity that will not arouse or stimulate you. Return to your bed when you are ready to fall asleep.
  • Take a warm bath or shower 90 minutes before bedtime. Studies suggest that a warm bath or shower helps people fall asleep quicker, sleep longer, and sleep more efficiently.
  • If worries about tomorrow keep you awake, write out a to-do list. Research suggests that the more specific the list, the faster people fall asleep.
  • Relax your body. Go through a progressive muscle relaxation routine. You can also focus on your breathing and relax.
  • Spend some time in nature every day. People sleep better after enjoying nature.
  • Exercise is also associated with better sleeping and sleep habits. Take time to exercise on a regular basis. It will help you sleep.
  • Eat a healthy diet.

What Every Mother Already Knew

I love looking at research, especially research about families and mental health. But sometimes the results seem so obvious.  For instance, a study published in 2020 confirmed something every mother already knows. The study had two parts: a lab study of 147 participants and community daily-diary study involving 202 participants. Both parts of this study revealed what mothers already knew—lack of sleep amplifies anger. More specifically, decreasing a person’s amount of sleep by 2 to 4 hours a night for two nights decreased their ability to adapt to frustrating conditions and increased the likelihood they would react with anger. And who doesn’t have to adapt to frustrations on daily basis? So, lack of sleep puts us all at risk, parent and child alike. In other words, less sleep increases anger. What mother didn’t already know that?

But these results do raise a few other important questions. First, how much sleep does a person need?  Sleep experts recommended that:

  • Those 6-13 years old need 9-11 hours of sleep per night.
  • Those 14-12 years old need 8-10 hours of sleep per night.
  • Those 16-25 years old need 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
  • Those over 25-years-old need 7-9 hours of sleep per night as well.

Second, what can a parent do to help themselves and their child get enough sleep? Here are 4 tips to that can help you create good sleep environment for you and your family. Remember, by building a good pattern of sleep, you are proactively reducing anger in your family.

  • Establish a consistent bedtime and bedtime routine. Start the bedtime routine 30-60 minutes before bedtime. A bedtime routine might include personal hygiene activities. It might also include setting out clothes for the morning. A bedtime definitely needs to include quiet time to connect with one another, a parent with a child, a spouse with their partner. You can do this through reading a book together, talking about the day, sharing things for which you are grateful, or offering support around any struggles of the day. Overall, a good bedtime routine offers one of the best times to connect with your child and spouse. So get your child on the sleepy train with a good bedtime routine.
  • Make sure the bedroom is dark, quiet, and comfortable. That may mean no TV in the bedroom (link) and no social media in the bedroom after bedtime. It will involve a comfortable temperature. For children, it may include stuffed animals or blankets that promote a sense of safety. Work to create a comfortable environment in the bedroom, an environment that is safe and promotes rest. 
  • Do not use electronic devices for an hour before bed. Electronic devices tend to interfere with sleep, either through the blue light they emit or through the outright stimulation of peer drama, gaming, or exciting shows. So, turn off devices once you start the bedtime routine. Put on some enjoyable music instead.
  • Do not eat large meals too close to bedtime and avoid caffeinated drinks close to bedtime. Both tend to interfere with quality sleep.

Do everything you can to promote quality sleep for your child and yourself. Doing so will help increase everyone’s ability to manage frustration and anger. It also has many other physical and mental health benefits (see also . And, it contributes to an overall happier, healthier family.

Laughter, the Pandemic, & Your Family

First, the bad news. A study from Flinders University published in January, 2021, found that 2% of their 1,040 participants tested positive for COVID and 5% reported have a close family member or friend who tested positive for COVID. More bad news, 13.2% reported symptoms of PTSD related to COVID. That’s over I in 10 people experiencing symptoms of PTSD in response to COVID and the stress it has created in our homes and communities.

I know we have all taken precautions to remain healthy and keep our families as safe as possible during this pandemic. We have done our best to avoid “catching” COVID or letting our family members “catch it.”  We also need to do everything in our power to help our families avoid experiencing symptoms PTSD in response to COVID. How can we do that? Here are 4 ways I believe will help.

  • Laugh and encourage your family to laugh. A study published in 2020 from the University of Basel (read a review here) revealed that the more often a person laughed, the fewer symptoms of stress they experienced in response to actual stressors in their lives. So tell a joke. Watch a comedy. Remember funny family stories. Joke around. Laugh. It may be just what your family needs.
  • Manage news media and social media…do not consume it. Think of the news media as food. Do not overconsume. Do not binge. Consume only what you need to maintain a healthy life. If you begin to feel uncomfortable, like you’re getting too much, turn it off. It’s ok—actually, it’s good—to turn it off and walk away. Watching too much news media or binging on social media can increase stress. Turn on a comedy and laugh instead. (Didn’t we say that before?)
  • Talk with your children and your spouse. Numerous studies show that secure relationships buffer the impact of stress and promote health. Give your family the healing benefit of your time, your listening ear, and your relational support through these troubling times. It may help your whole family escape the risk of PTSD.
  • Participate in your faith community. Make an intentional effort to grow in your faith. Personal growth and participation in a faith community contributes to a better ability to manage stress. Involvement in personal faith and a faith community contributes to better mental health in general. Take the time to nurture your faith as a family. Participate in a local faith community, even if it is on-line right now.

Four simple practices that can help your family not become one of the 13% suffering symptoms of PTSD in response to COVID. Practices that can help your family navigate the pandemic and manage the stress in a healthy way. In fact, these four practices can help you manage stress and grow even when we are in “better times,” when the pandemic is passed. Practice them now. They’ll benefit your family forever.

Six Weeks to Change Your Child

You can change your children’s lives and your family environment in just six weeks. Yes…six weeks! A study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology showed how this change occurred in an urban school setting and I think it can work in families as well.

In this study, 152 students in an urban school participated in lessons and activities about the science of gratitude (click here for some ideas). They also shared gratitude with their classmates and teachers through an app provide in the study. Another group of 82 students were only given the app with no lessons on the science of gratitude. A third group of 175 students did not receive the gratitude lessons or the app.  

After six weeks, the students who participated in the lessons and used the app gave thanks “more often, more intensely, and to more people” than the other groups. They also:

  • reported a stronger sense of gratitude,
  • reported an increase in positive emotions,
  • reported a decrease in anxiety and other negative emotions,
  • reported greater satisfaction with their friendships, and
  • reported greater satisfaction with their overall lives.

Six weeks was all it took to improve these students social and emotional well-being! I believe we can have the same results in our families if we commit to a simple six-week program of gratitude.

First, teach our children about the science of gratitude. Read about the impact of gratitude and share what you learn with your children while you sit down to a meal or drive to soccer practice. In other words, teach your children about the science of gratitude during the everyday activities of life. Here are 5 lessons in gratitude from science and the 13 most gratitude activities and exercises to help you get started.

Second, model gratitude. Children always learn from our actions. Let them see you express gratitude to your spouse, other relatives, friends, and coworkers. Let your children experience you expressing gratitude to them.

Third, set a goal to express gratitude to at least one family member every day. You could do this through text or face to face. Or, you might put an envelope for each family member in a common area of the house. Encourage each family member to write a note of encouragement or gratitude for at least one family member each day and secretly put it in their envelope.

Fourth, gather every evening (at supper or before bed) to review the day and identify things for which you are grateful. Write you words and statements of gratitude on a piece of paper. If you shape the paper as leaves, you can tape them onto a wall to make a gratitude tree. If you make the papers two inches by eight inches you can tape them into loops and put the loops together to make a gratitude chain. Or you can simply write them on a piece of paper as a journal. Whatever you choose, record your family gratitude and display it for your family to see.

Keep it up for six weeks. A month and a half, that’s all. Then pay attention to any changes you notice in your family and children. You may find yourself so pleased you want to keep it all going for another six weeks. After all, gratitude will help your family thrive.

Religion & Your Child’s Mental Health

Perhaps a good New Year’s resolution for your family would include religion. Why? Because raising kids with religion or spirituality may protect their mental health. I’m sure that sounds controversial and naïve to some, but a study published in 2018 suggests it to be true. This study looked at the data of 5,000 people who participated in a long-term study. It looked specifically at children’s religious involvement from pre-teen years into their twenties. Those who attended religious services at least one time a week with their families when they were children and teens were about 18% more likely to report being happier, 30% more likely to do volunteer work, and 33% less likely to use drugs in their 20’s. In addition, those who prayed or meditated every day reported more life satisfaction, exhibited a better ability to process emotions, and were more forgiving than those who never prayed.

Another study, published in 2019, reviewed 32 studies and found that religious training and involvement was associated with less anxiety in general. Religious training and involvement were associated with less anxiety in relation to various diseases and across different cultures and countries as well.

These are just two studies that suggest a positive impact of religious involvement on mental health. Why does religious involvement have this impact? Perhaps the recognition of “something bigger than ourselves” helps reduce stress and anxiety as does the social support inherent in most religious communities. In addition, there is the impact of a Benevolent Higher Power generously caring and providing for us. With all this in mind, could your family enjoy a potential decrease in anxiety? Then a good New Year’s resolution for your family might include involvement in a religious community. Happy New Year.  

Relieving Christmas Stress

Ever feel overwhelmed and stressed during the Christmas season? I do. The constant rush and hurry leaves me overwhelmed. The shopping crowds and traffic increase my frustration and stress. Even though I love my family, I experience more relational strain as routines get disrupted and modified. But a recent study has identified a way to reduce my stress and anxiety…and I’m going to implement it this year. Maybe you will find it helpful too.

Researchers from the University of Connecticut and Masaryk University (Czech Republic) identified a simple way to reduce stress in studies they completed in a laboratory AND in real-life situations. What did they find that helped reduce stress even in the face of potential natural disaster? Rituals. That’s right. Rituals reduced stress and anxiety. Specifically, these studies found that religious rituals led to a “greater reduction in both psychological and physiological stress” than did simply “sitting and relaxing.”  Although this research utilized religious ritual, the authors generalized the results to rituals in general (this generalization may be a topic for further research by the way). 

How do rituals help reduce anxiety and stress? For one thing, they are repetitive and predictable. They provide structure, regularity, and predictability. This gives us a sense of control which helps to reduce stress. They also tie us into “something bigger than ourselves” which, in turn, brings a greater sense of peace and reduces anxiety. (For more on the benefits of tradition & ritual read Traditions…Let’s Celebrate.)

So, if you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and full of anxiety during this Christmas season, focus on the Christmas rituals that bring structure and predictability into the season. Here are some great Christmas rituals to get you started.

  • Decorate a Christmas tree together. Decorating the Christmas tree is one of the rituals I like best. (Don’t tell my family though cuz it’s the family night I secretly love.)
  • Enjoy family dinner. Of course, you can enjoy a special dinner on Christmas and Christmas Eve but why limit it to those two days. Enjoy a simple family meal together every day during the holiday season.
  • Set up a nativity scene. Talk about one character in the nativity scene every day— shepherds, angels, wise men, Mary, Joseph, the Baby Jesus. You might even enjoy finding a nativity scene from various ethnic backgrounds and have more than one in your home. (You can find some at Nativity Sets | Nativity Scenes from Around the World: Magellan Traders)
  • Hide the Christmas Pickle. Or, if you’re not into pickles, hide the Christmas Nail.
  • Move the Elf on the Shelf. Or, if you would rather, move the wise men from your nativity scene. Begin by putting the wise men in a spot far from the nativity scene and move them to a new place closer to the nativity every day. Let your family enjoy the daily search to see where they are on their journey.
  • Use an Advent Calendar. You can either buy one or make one as a family (Here are 16 Best DIY Advent Calendar Ideas of 2020 – How to Make an Advent Calendar (housebeautiful.com) ). Just have some fun with it as you learn
  • Watch Christmas shows with your family. Pick out the favorites you want to watch every year. You could watch them on TV or a live show. Or you might act them out as a family.
  • Attend a Christmas Eve Service at a local church.

What rituals do you enjoy over the Christmas holiday season?

Family Happiness -Tips From Norway

Winter approaches quickly as the days get shorter and the nights longer. Many people suffer from more sadness and even depression as we move through winter. (Click here for more information on SAD.) We may find an even greater struggle this year as the number of COVID cases increase our levels of anxiety and force many to stay inside even more than usual. In the midst of this dark winter, a light of hope appears. An article in the Good News Network suggests this light of hope may come to us by way of the “Norwegians’ unique cultural mindset.” Norway experiences as little as 30 hours of sunlight in December. Their winter nights are long; their days are short. However, they have small numbers of people who suffer from SAD. Perhaps their “unique cultural mindset” protects them…and perhaps we can adopt their “unique cultural mindset” to help us survive our winter days and the current pandemic. What does this mindset involve? Good question.

People like those in Norway choose to view the dark days of the sun-deprived winters as an opportunity. Yes, an opportunity. Their use their internal and external dialogues to speak of the opportunities that winter presents. Rather than saying “Winter is boring,” they focus on “the many things to enjoy about winter,” the “coziness of winter months,” and the “activities only available in winter.” You may think this simple “positive thinking” is a waste of time. But how we frame our outlook on the current situation and the future has an impact on our overall mental health. Martin Seligman calls this healthy framing “learned optimism.” Studies suggest that this “optimistic frame” not only leads to improved mental health but improved physical health and higher motivation as well. So, rather than look at the ways winter “brings you down,” begin to explore the possibilities winter brings. It brings the possibility of learning a new craft, of snuggling on the couch, of learning to ski or play hockey. Winter brings the possibility of games and get-togethers as well as the opportunity to witness a different beauty outside…which brings me to another “hint from Norway.”

The Norway people apparently enjoy “friluftsliv,” or “free air life.” Friluftsliv involves enjoying outdoor, physical activities at your own pace. It can include activities as simple as taking a family walk to fishing to skiing, whatever activity you and your family might enjoy in the “great outdoors.”  

So, rather than let your family get bogged down by the cold, short days, and long nights of winter, do like they do in Norway. Reframe your inner dialogue and your conversation to talk about the opportunities of winter. Then get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. It might just give your family a little more “hygge” (Oh wait, wrong country. That’s Danish and another way to help avoid the winter blues. Learn more in Make a Little Christmas Hygge anytime of the year.) Enjoy!

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