Tag Archive for emotional health

Go Ahead…Take a Nap

Last weekend we changed our clocks, “springing forward” into daylight savings time. In the process, we lost an hour sleep. That, on top of the fact that most of us do not sleep the recommended 7-9 hours a day, makes today the perfect day for a nap…and National Napping Day. Actually, every day is a good day for a nap. According to the Sleep Foundation naps not only reduce sleepiness, they also improve learning, aid in memory retention, and help us regulate emotions.  Napping also strengthens our immune, reduce cardiovascular disease risk, boost work performance, reduces stress, and decrease risk of cognitive dysfunction.  (see Benefits of Napping | Sleep.org ). In addition, napping as a family can help your family “get in sync” and in rhythm with one another. And, according to the “Nap Bishop,” if you’re looking for a way to resist the overworking mentality of our society that leads to burnout and contributes to oppression, napping is the resistance in which you need to engage. So, call the family together, grab your pillows, and resolve to take care of yourself. Take a nap.

Teach Your Child the Dance of Effective Venting

Venting can be a beneficial way to manage feelings…sometimes. After all, not all venting is the same. In fact, some venting will simply escalate your negative emotion. For instance, physically releasing anger or other dark emotions will escalate that emotion. So will acting the negative emotion out verbally. And escalating the emotion without moving toward a resolution can actually destroy your family. In fact, studies suggest that anxiety and grief increase when all we do is release the emotion verbally or over social media. In other words, not all venting is helpful. For venting to be beneficial, we need to do the “two-step.”

  1. The first step involves finding a trusted person who will listen and validate our experience. However, if this is all we have, venting will produce the negative results noted above.
  2. We also need the second step. We need the listener to help us clarify the situation, provide a new or objective perspective, and offer sound advice. This will require that we do more than simply vent, we must listen and accept input as well.

How can we teach our children this delicate dance of effective venting?

  • First, model effective venting. That will require you doing the next steps in your own life as well as teaching them to your child.
  • Teach your child multiple ways to deal with emotions. The more tools we have, the better prepared we are to deal with whatever emotion arises. Teach your child a variety of tools for managing emotions. For instance, you might encourage them to write about their thoughts and feelings, journaling to gain clarity. Teach them to breathe through difficult emotions. They may also utilize other creative ways to express their emotion, such as drawing the emotion, writing a song about the emotion, or thinking of a metaphor for their emotion. Teach your child how to think about the situation in ways that will allow for greater emotional control. For instance, encourage them to consider the evidence, keep a mole hill a mole hill, or considering what they might tell a friend in a similar situation. Having multiple ways of managing emotions can also help make your child’s emotions your friend.
  • Help your child learn a broad emotional vocabulary. Taking time to label an emotion puts space between the emotion and our response. It gives us time to think about the situation and emotion so we can act thoughtfully. We become more objective in our reasoning rather than emotional. Overall, that means we have more power in managing our emotion.
  • Teach your children to choose wisely when considering who they want to vent to. It is not wise to vent to “just anyone.” Teach your child that the person to whom you vent needs to listen well AND have the ability to offer positive insights that broaden your perspective, insights that help you move toward a positive resolution.
  • Teach your child to prompt the listener to offer their perspective. Teach them to recognize when they are simply rehashing an emotional situation so they can stop and ask the person listening for their perspective, a way to think differently about the situation, or a positive way to respond. Teach them to take the initiative in seeking their input and then humbling themselves to listen.

These four tips can help your child learn the dance of effective venting. Of course, you need to practice these steps so you can model the dance yourself. Before long, you’ll all practice the dance well and enjoy the music.

I Heard the Bells?

It has been a rough couple of years for all. Person loss, deaths, pandemic confusion, political turmoil, continued racial and ethnic strife. I wonder if we are catching a glimpse of how Henry Wadsworth Longfellow must have felt in 1863. He had lost his wife two years earlier (1861) when her dress accidentally caught fire. Mr. Longfellow tried to save her and severely burned his hands, arms, and face in the process. Sadly, he could not save her, and she died the next day. Mr. Longfellow was burnt so badly he could not attend her funeral.

The Civil War also began in 1861. In 1863, his oldest son joined the Union army even though his father disapproved. Mr. Longfellow discovered his son had left for the army when he found the note his son had written before leaving. On December 1, 1863, Mr. Longfellow received a telegram saying his son had been severely wounded in battle on November 27. He rushed to Washington D.C. where a surgeon told him that “the wound was very serious and paralysis might ensue.” (He did recover without paralysis.)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had experienced unexpected loss of life when his wife passed. His son lay severely wounded in fighting for a cause the family believed. And still, peace seemed a distant shadow. the Civil War with all its racial strife and political turmoil raged. Amidst this chaos, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow heard church bells ringing and began to write…

“I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old, familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

“And thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along

The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

“Till ringing, singing on its way,

The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime,

A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

“Then from each black, accursed mouth

The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound

The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

“It was as if an earthquake rent

The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn

The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

“And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Maybe we need to take a moment this Christmas—a moment of respite in the midst of personal loss, unexpected death, pandemic confusion, overall political turmoil, and continued racial and ethnic strife—to recall and meditate upon Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s lament and the Christmas hope it recalls…of “Peace on earth, good-will to men.” 

Want a Happy Family? Quit Trying to Find Happiness

We all want our families to experience happiness. Well, I know I want my family to experience happiness. I assume you do too. But happiness is elusive. In fact, it often seems that the more we focus on finding happiness the less happiness we find. The quest for happiness becomes self-defeating and leaves us disappointed. So, what can we do? We don’t want to live in sorrow. How can we promote happiness in our families? Paradoxically, the way to find happiness is to quit trying to find happiness. Happiness is a byproduct of other actions. So quit trying to find happiness and focus elsewhere…focus on places research has found that bring us happiness when we aren’t even trying. Let me share five places to look.

  • A study published in 2020 suggests that people who focus on positive ways to respond when things don’t go their way tend to feel happier over time. They allow themselves to feel bad at times, which allows them to experience a full range of emotions and learn how to respond to a full range of emotions. In other words, they learn how to manage positive emotions and negative emotions. If you want your family to experience more happiness, learn to respond in a positive, healthy manner when things don’t go your way and how to savor the emotion when things go well.
  • Another study noted that prioritizing behaviors and habits that lead to future well-being increases long-term happiness. Activities like exercise, working toward and achieving long-term goals, and learning, indirectly nurtured a sense of future happiness. Focus on developing good habits and routines around those activities that nurture future happiness.
  • A collection of studies suggested that engaging in activities to make someone else happy led to a greater sense of happiness than pursuing personal happiness did. In other words, happy families focus on making the other guy happy, whether the other guy is a family member or a person outside the family. Serve others. Do something nice for the other guy. It leads to a happy family.
  • This study involved over 15,000 people who reported their sense of happiness and their location multiple times a day. Results indicate that beautiful, “picturesque” areas produce feelings of happiness. People are happier in more scenic environments, and that includes man-made as well as natural scenic environments. A scenic mountain overlook or a tree-lined river walk in a downtown area will both elicit happiness. Make it a family tradition to visit and enjoy scenic spaces and enjoy the byproduct of happiness. (As an added bonus, you can experience the benefits of awe as well.)
  • Another study “checked in” with almost 2,800 people via their cellphones multiple times a day and found that people who have more “daily spiritual experiences” were happier. Spiritual experiences, those experiences that tap into transcendent feelings or feelings of connection to something greater than ourselves, reduced stress and promoted “human flourishing.”

There you have it. If you want your family to experience greater happiness, quit trying to be happy. Instead, focus on each of the tips above…and enjoy your happy family.

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.

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