Chrismas and Stress seem to have become synonymous.
Life is frantic. Stress levels scream ever higher with alarming pressure.
Why the madness!
But there’s a swing back to a calmer way of being.
Medical Science and especially Neuroscience are recognising the power of the ancient art of why mindfulness matters to create calmer happier lives.
The sixth blog of this CHRISTMAS series by Val Mullally:
M is for Mindfulness
Imagine doing one thing differently that would open the door to being the person you would love to be.
The hinge that opens that door is mindfulness.
Mindfulness swings open the doorway to enjoying the moment, to greater understanding, to being tuned in to what is there before you. it opens our minds to what’s needed. Another word we could use to describe that mindfulness is awareness.
Choosing Mindfulness in Your Everyday Living
Paying attention in a particular way:
In the present moment, and non-judgementally. Kabat-Zinn
Perhaps you’re thinking,
“But I don’t have time to stop and meditate.”
The good news is we can choose mindfulness in the everyday moments of our lives – it’s about choosing to be conscious, even in the run-of-the-mill events at a busy time like Christmas.
Small hinges swing big doors.
We can swing open the habit of mindfulness in the regular moments – whether we are peeling the potatoes, changing a nappy, opening a present, or whatever – just becoming more conscious of what we are doing in the moment.
Mindfulness as a Way of Being
… our life is the path, and we no longer rely merely on the forms of practice. Thich Nhat Hanh
When we are mindful we become more conscious of what we are doing, what we are feeling, who and what is around us and with us. We notice our intentions. We become more conscious of the thoughts that wind us up and how we can let them go and choose a more helpful response.
Instead of a “knee ‘jerk” reaction that is triggered by feelings of anger, fear or envy, we can respond with compassionate curiosity, that helps to create the quality of relationship we desire.
Why Mindfulness Matters for Parents
Whether the house feels like world war three broke out or a home where you’re all glad to live can depend on whether we, as parents, choose to react or to respond. And our reactivity or calm response will depend on our mindfulness.
As parents become more aware and emotionally healthy, their children reap the rewards and move toward health as well. That means that integrating and cultivating your own brain is one of the most loving and generous gifts you can give your children. Daniel J. Siegel
The Mindfulness Path
Choose to respond rather than react.
Take a few breaths to calm yourself. Focus on choosing connection.
Ask yourself, “What’s really needed here?”
This is the way we can keep our selves well: with regular exercising of our attunement to ourselves through mindfulness practices. Daniel J. Siegel
In the next blog discover how to clear the mental clutter that adds to our stress and causes us to react, rather than respond in a way that builds healthy relationship.
So it’s over to you:
What small doable step will you take today to become more mindful in your everyday living?
How can we offer Charity without undermining a person’s dignity?
Here are two words that can make a huge difference:
C is for Compassionate Curiosity
“All I want is a room somewhere…”
I hum along to the familiar tune on the radio.
And suddenly I notice the words in a way I never have before.
“Far away from the cold night air.”
Eliza Doolittle is homeless!
I’ve never thought about it. I’ve known this song as long as I can remember but I’ve never seen the situation through Eliza’s eyes.
I watched the film “My Fair Lady” years ago.
And what I most remember are her amusing mismatched interactions with ‘Enry ‘Iggins.
I’ve never stopped and seen her as a person who has suffered.
A person who has had to face the dangers and the freezing conditions of sleeping rough. Nowhere to call home. Nowhere to be safe.
What is it like to have so little that your life’s wish is to have just one room where you can be out of the cold?
To wish you had just one chair!
What Can We Learn From Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle?
Yes, we want to make a difference.
We want to ease the other person’s suffering. But how do we offer charity without undermining a person’s dignity?
The secret to offering help without damaging a person’s self-respect can be found in two words: compassionate curiosity.
We need a curiosity that goes beyond a scientist’s passion for discovery. We need a curiosity that is infused with compassion – a genuine desire to understand and respond to the other person’s unique situation and experience.
It’s much more than dropping a few coins into the bowl, or writing a cheque.
We need to see the other person. We need compassionate curiosity for the vulnerable people in our own communities, and also the people we see through the television screen, who may be on the other side of the globe.
We need to see the humanness of the other. We can fall into the trap of Henry Higgins mindset that we must clean them up, and make them look and act like we do.
Let’s stop. Let’s stop and recognise their need for human dignity, as well as their need for food, shelter and safety.
When we want to offer charity let’s recognise we’re in danger of seeing the other who is in need as our ‘project’ – like Henry Higgins did. He demeaned Eliza by not seeing her as a person in her own right.
Yet ultimately it was Henry himself who was probably most impacted.
It was Eliza that made him confront his own shortcomings, and the shortcomings of the system of which he was a part.
If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. (attributed to Aboriginal activist Lilla Watson)
Isn’t it time that we see the other with compassionate curiosity – to seek to envisage life through the other person’s eyes.
And, like Henry Higgins, we often are oblivious to the systems that keep people trapped in poverty.
Power systems that replicate fear and war.
Isn’t it time we address the real issue of systems of power that seek to hoard humanity’s privileges for a limited few.
Starting From Home
I believe that the solutions start in the home and in our school systems.
It starts with viewing ourselves with compassionate curiosity rather than with critical judgement.
If I want to be a kind, connected and compassionate person it begins with being kind, connected compassionate to myself.
I’ll only be able to give to others what I give to myself.
“Charity begins at home.”
Charity in our communities will grow from having a compassionate curiosity for those closes to us; we need a compassionate curiosity for those in our care.
What is life like when we see it through their eyes?
Eliza, like so millions of others, was a victim of her circumstances.
She didn’t choose poverty.
We overlook the huge disempowering impact of the systems of society.
CAN we make a difference?
If we want to change the systems of power it starts with changing those systems in the very first environments our children experience – our homes and our schools.
So often, with the best intentions, we have a Higgins’ mentality towards those in our care. We expect them to “behave” as we think they should, rather than seeking to understand and support them in ways that are meaningful to them.
I perceive the systems of power in the world will only be transformed when we model compassionate curiosity and mutual co-operation in the very earliest interactions in life, rather than impose our agenda.
It’s an old adage, but we often overlook the potential within it:
Isn’t our culture still immersed in a Victorian “Henry Higgins” mentality that we have to “fix” the other person, whether it’s our own child’s behaviour that we don’t like, the child in the classroom, people who’ve taken different life choices to our own or people’s situations that threaten our own level of comfort.
Higgins wasn’t able to make a difference, no matter how good his intentions were, as long as he saw the other person as a project.
He had to come face-to-face with Eliza’s humanness – and that transformed him.
My awareness challenge today is to notice when we slip into a Henry Higgins’ mindset.
So over to you, is there any way in which these thoughts on compassionate curiosity have challenged you?
Imagine – significantly lowering the stress level in your home, and racheting up the Happiness factor.
When things aren’t going smoothly that can seem like an impossible dream. Here’s my own story of how my vision of parenting fell apart and what happened next.
It took a near melt-down in my relationship with my then-teenage son for me to realize that being a ‘good parent’ wasn’t working. I was a qualified, experienced teacher. I thought I knew how to handle kids but my relationship with my then-teenage son was as scratchy as wire-wool on sunburnt skin. I kept trying to make him ‘be good’ but the more I insisted, the more he resisted.
I thought my parenting job was to change him, but he was a ‘stubborn child’.
But crisis forced me to think differently and do differently.
His challenging behaviour was clearly telling me my parenting style wasn’t working.
I began to realise – slowly! – that the only person I could change was myself!
But I felt overwhelmed.
How could I be anything other than what I was?
How could I do the work of being the parent my child needed to be (instead of the parent who tried to control)?
It seemed an impossible task.
Let me tell you my ‘AHA’ moment.
At that time (this is quite a few years ago!) they had discovered the wreck of the Titanic. I was listening to a radio interview where they said that if the Titanic had changed her course, just two or three degrees when she first hit chilly waters, she would have sailed safely into harbour.
Two or three degrees!
That would have felt like nothing on such a huge ship – but it would have made all the difference.
The lights went on for me.
I was doing a pretty good job as a parent. I just needed to make that 2 or 3 degree shift that would sail us back to warm waters.
It took me time. It took all of us patience. It wasn’t always easy. But we got there.
I didn’t know the term ‘Mindful Parent’ then, but I was taking the first steps on that journey.
The good news is that, to be the parent you’d love to be, it doesn’t take a 180 degree turn-around.
It’s the small shifts in the everyday interactions that are key.
And I’d love to share with you the key insights and practical tools I’ve discovered. The 2 or 3 degrees that can make all the difference in your relationships.
Why not grab a mug of coffee and take twelve minutes to watch this little video.
My family experienced a lot of frustration and heartache while I slowly realised that trying to get my kid to behave wasn’t working. I’d love to save you the tears and the frustration that it cost me – not to mention any yelling, grumbling or nagging!
My AHA moment was many years ago. I’ve got a great relationship with my son, who now has children of his own – and I’ve made it my life’s work to discover what’s needed to create happier homes. My crisis became my opportunity.
It took me years to figure out what it TAKES to create a happy family.
That’s why I developed the ‘BEHAVE’ Online Parenting Course to give you the key insights and the practical tools I’ve discovered to create a more enjoyable and fulfilling family life, without having to endure the long and often painful journey I experienced. If I’d learnt these core principles when my kids were young, family life would have been so much easier, and happier, for us all.
I’m not saying you’ll have a ‘perfect’ family – life isn’t perfect, but it’s meant to be fun.
I’d love to hear YOUR questions and comments: what’s the parenting challenge you’re facing?
Our Koemba ‘Deepen Connection and Communication with Your Child’ course in Cork, facilitated by Parenting Expert and author Val Mullally has had their introductory evening. There’s still time to join the course, but HURRY! Last entered accepted only till this Thursday (14 April). Your doorway to Mindful Parenting.
Click the live link to discover more about thisParenting Progamme that could help you have a happier, calmer family within weeks.
We are delighted to anounce that Val Mullally will be Keynote Speaker for Cuidiu Cork AGM, onMon 8 Feb talking about her own experiences as a mother and a teacher, and her journey towards Mindful Parenting.
Every parent can find a treasure trove of Parenting incidents in this film that can challenge you to think about how to be the mindful parent you’d love to be – or the ‘parent -from-hell’ you never want to be, especially if you’re facing a transition. Parenting is always more challenging at a time of relocation – whether you’re moving house, moving country, or facing a change like your child starting a new school.
When family stresses overwhelm us, even the ‘dream child’ can become a serious parenting headache, as we see with Disney Pixar’s character Riley. If you haven’t seen the film, even watching the ‘Inside Out’ trailer gives a taste of what can lie in store for the unsuspecting parent when regular family life is thrown off balance.
Perhaps you’ve already experienced a moment when your precious, well-behaved child suddenly becomes the disdainful pre-teen – who answers you back, rolls her eyes or storms out the room.
‘What happened to my sweet co-operative child?’ you ask yourself. ‘How do I get my child to behave?’ The thing is, you can’t. You can’t make any child behave. But, even when you are under stress, you can figure out how to respond in a way that’s more likely to create co-operation. Here’s how:
Eight Tips to Turn Your Family Upset into an Opportunity for Connection
1. Don’t let your Anger have the driving seat.
Like Riley’s home, a little incident can easily escalate. Riley’s dad let his Anger take command, and within seconds, the incident down-spiralled into out-of-control conflict. Riley’s Dad didn’t have to let Anger dictate – it was his choice.
2. Keep control of your emotions.
The thing is, either you are in charge of your emotions or your emotions are in charge of you. Riley needed her dad to remain the parent, to stay in a calm place, especially when her emotions were getting out of control. Your children need you to remain the adult.
3. Mind the gap!
There’s a momentary ‘pause’ in every incident where you can let your emotions take control, or where you can focus on your breathing, and centre yourself, so that you can figure out what’s needed.
4. Ask yourself, “What really matters here?”
The outcome of a parent letting Anger take command can be disastrous. Riley’s family crisis could have ended up being a parent’s worse nightmare. For every action there is a reaction. I’m not saying that Riley’s eye-rolling behaviour was acceptable – but it’s when, where and how a parent deals with reactive behaviour that makes the difference.
5. HALT – what’s going on for your child!
Stop – for just a second and ask yourself ‘Is she Hungry/ Angry / Anxious / Lonely / iLL or Tired?’ Responding to your child’s ‘HALT’ needs will often defuse a potential crisis.
Take a moment to think about the situation from Riley’s perspective, she was ‘Hungry’ for her old home and probably also hungry for her parents’ attention (they were both worried and stressed about the house move, the furniture not arriving and the new job).In fact, if you think about all that’s been going on for Riley, you will probably also figure she was Angry, Anxious, Lonely and Tired. This child needs support!
6. Ask yourself, “What might my child’s behaviour be telling me?”
Using HALT as a guide, when you listen to your child’s behaviour, you’ll figure out what’s needed. When you are in a situation like Riley’s parents, you might not be able to provide an easy or immediate solution, but with the ‘HALT’ signpost to guide you, you will be able to see your child’s perspective. You’ll be able figure out together what is possible, when you work together as a team.
7. HALT – what’s going on for you!
Remember you are not “super-mum” or “super-dad”. You won’t always respond in an ideal way. There are times when Anger (or Fear, Disgust or Sadness) might grab control. Go for a walk. Regain your calm. HALT – and ask yourself, ˜Am I Hungry/ Angry / Anxious / Lonely / iLL or Tired? Riley’s dad had been so busy trying to sort out the stresses the family were facing he hadn’t taken time to recharge his own batteries. If he’d taken time to relax with Riley (or with himself!) he’d have been in a better place to respond helpfully to her.
You can’t be the parent you’d love to be if you’re not minding your own needs too.
8. Build in time for fun as a family.
When we are under stress taking time for fun is the first thing to go out the window. But fun, ˜feel good” experiences release endorphins into your system, which counteract the stress chemicals, which reduces your likelihood of reacting unhelpfully. Fun as a family matters most when you think you can least afford it, because it will be easier to deal effectively with the upsets when you and your family are more relaxed.
And a final thought:
At the start of this incident in “Inside Out”, Riley’s mum is trying to be kind and understanding – but they still have a family meltdown. The secret is – it’s all about timing. The more your child moves towards her teen years, the more will be her need for autonomy, for doing things HER way. She’ll tell you what she wants you to know in her way and in her time. If you try to force the connection, rather than let it unfold naturally when she’s ready to talk, you could be heading for meltdown. If she resists connection, give her space, remain approachable, create opportunities for fun and relax together. Build the sense of connection so she’ll want to want to share with you whats going on for her. For the three key strategies every parent needs to gain insights into how to deal with discipline issues in the home, particularly if you are coping with moving house, moving country or facing some other family transition like your child starting school, see “BEHAVE: What To Do When Your Child Won’t”.
If you have serious concerns about your child’s behaviour, it’s important to seek professional help.
What insights did your family gain from “Inside Out”? Please share in the comments box below.
What do you do if your child seems to be showing ADHD type behaviours?
How do you cope with the outbursts and the excessive energy?
I felt distress as I watched the Prime Time RTE programme dealing with this heartbreaking subject and saw the despair that some parents are experiencing. I imagine these parents WISH that they could receive an immediate response from those who could make a difference, instead of horrifically long delays before they receive any support.
Any person with an ounce of compassion would be wondering how these parents cope with the unrelenting energy of their child and the torment of ‘How do we get through today (or even the next ten minutes)?’ I admire the courage of these parents who allowed the television crew to capture some of the frustration and anguish, that I imagine many experience daily.
I’m writing this blog not only to express my concern and appreciation for these parents, but also to encourage parents that things can get smoother. I’m not saying ‘perfect’, I’m not saying there won’t be bumps and sharp turns on the journey but there is hope. The good news is that, as parents, we CAN DO SOMETHING to create calmer homes and more happiness, while we are waiting for the services to respond. We can discover how to support children to behave more cooperatively. I know from my own experience, that parenting isn’t easy. And I imagine that it’s particularly challenging if you have a child who is wound up like a clockwork toy and who seems to push against every boundary.
As I watched the RTE PrimeTime television documentary, I spotted some simple, subtle ways in which parents can create more harmony and connection.
So here’s TEN PRACTICAL TIPS, based on interactions observed within the film footage of the Prime Time programme, to support you in taking little steps creating smoother relationships and more cooperative behaviour.
1. What I observed when the child is acting out.
Parent: ‘This is not you.’ But this IS part of who the child is, right now, at this moment. His behaviour does not need to define him. He’s so much MORE than only this behaviour. But when we deny that this is ‘him’, we are, in a sense denying part of who he is.
A response you could find more helpful:
‘You’re angry right now.’ Help him to NAME and CLAIM his strong emotions. As he can CLAIM his feelings, over time he’ll learn also to TAME them – to be in control of his emotions, instead of his emotions being in control of him.
2. What I observed when the child is in tears:
Parent: ‘You don’t have to cry anymore.’
A response you could find more helpful:
Focus on being present to your child, show sympathy and give support. Let the tears flow naturally. Apparently the tears we cry when we are emotionally upset are chemically different to the tears we cry when we peel an onion. The ‘upset’ tears contain stress hormones. So ‘Have a good cry’, ‘Cry it all out’ make sense. The tears will be healing when the child senses our gentle, loving support alongside him, when we’re relaxed with his tears and not trying to stop them.
3. What I observed when the child is distressed, as she remembers the awful thought she had, which were a side effect to the medication she’d been given: Parent: ‘Those thoughts are gone.’ But they’re not gone. She’s still upset about them!
A response you could find more helpful:
Acknowledge the experience. Give her a safe space to talk about them. Then reassure her that the upsetting thoughts were brought on by the medication. In life, it is not so much the bad things that happen to us that are the concern, but rather that we have not yet woven them into the fabric of our lives. Like embroidery that was knotted and tangled at the back, the child needs support to gently untangle these threads and to weave them into her ‘narrative’, her story of her life. Daniel Siegel’s book ‘Parenting From the Inside Out’is a great resource to understand this more fully. Making sense of our own unique life story is rather like a beautiful Persian carpet – provided it is well woven, the dark patches are an integral part of the beauty of the design. In a similar way the ‘dark patches’ of our lives, when worked through so that we understand this part of who we are, have the potential to become part of the richness and beauty of our personality.
4. What I observed when the child is energetically bouncing on the seat, as the parent is trying to interact with someone else: Parent: ‘Can you stop it please.’
A response you could find more helpful:
Anticipate moments like these and have activities to attract his attention and keep him busy. With younger children, playdough is ideal and tends to have a soothing effect on the child. Crayons and paper are great to have on hand. With older children construction toys like Lego and K’nex can keep their attention. Also keep in mind that still periods probably won’t be long. When you hold an awareness that your child is probably doing the best he can right now, it’ll be easier to adapt to his needs, even if that means inviting the visitor to walk and talk, so that your child can work off some energy.
Also, rather than giving a negative comment say what you do want. Instead of ‘stop it’ give the child a choice, directing his attention to something positive he can do. ‘You can choose to sit next to me and listen or you can choose to play with these toys.’ When the child is given a choice he’s far more likely to cooperate.
5. What I observed: television constantly on.
A response you could find more helpful:
Create a family culture where the television is off, unless you’re actually sitting and watching something together, and even then be thoughtful about what programmes you chose. All children needs calm space, and particularly those with very high energy levels. Exposure to energetic or aggressive action is likely to evoke more of the same. (However, be aware that sudden changes in his routine, like suddenly stopping television viewing, are likely to trigger a strong emotional reaction. You need to discuss and plan other enjoyable activities to replace the television viewing, probably making this a gradual adjustment).
6. What I observed was the parent talking about the child’s issues to others in front of him. Children tend to live up to their parent’s expectations. Whilst it makes sense that you really need a space to talk about the challenges you’re facing, if he hears from you that he’s ‘out of control’ /’a challenge’/ ‘wrecking your head’ the message he receives is that this is what you expect from him, and he’s likely to live up to your expectations.
A response you could find more helpful:
You are facing such a huge responsibility it makes sense that you need a safe space to let off steam – but please find it away from the ears of any children. Also notice that talking with some people will increase your sense of frustration and powerlessness, whereas others will encourage you and help you to be the clear-headed, compassionate parent you want to be. Find the safe, encouraging friends and professionals who will genuinely support you.
7. What I observed when the child acted aggressively:
Parent: ‘Upstairs! Don’t kick me.’
A response you could find more helpful:
There’s a fine line between giving him ‘time with himself’ to calm down and reflect on what’s needed and ‘time out’ as a punishment, which isolates him from you. When a child experiences being emotionally abandoned by the parent, he’s likely to protest. All conflict is a protest at the disconnection. This statement might seem strange when he’s acting out when you’re still physically present, but your child senses when you are angry or have emotionally disconnected from him, and he reacts. At other times, your child may have disconnected from himself; then he’s unable to take control of himself. Ironically, these times, when it’s hardest to stay emotionally engaged with him in a supportive way, are the times he most needs connection with you. He needs you to help him regain control of himself.
Also when we give negative commands the child doesn’t hear the ‘don’t’ – he tends to only hear the command, e.g. ‘kick me’. Rather say what you DO want, such as, ‘Peter, calm down.’ (in a calm, connecting voice). (Using his name at the start of your sentence also helps him to reconnect and to focus on what you are saying).
8. What I observed when the parent is discussing the child’s experience of a situation:
Parent: ‘You love your teachers.’ Child: ‘NO!’
A response you could find more helpful:
Create a listening space for him to share his perspective. Hear how it is for her. The child needs to be able to make sense of her experience. If she is being rejected by other children or reprimanded at school it’s likely that she’s feeling frustrated and she needs to be able to process those feelings. She needs home to be a safe space to share how she’s experiencing what’s happening in her world. That doesn’t mean we encourage her take a ‘Poor Me’ attitude, but once she feels heard and connected she’ll be in a better place to reflect on what she could have done differently, that could have been more helpful.
9. What I observed was the child cavorting in spiderman clothes.
Over many years in preschool education I saw time and time again that when children are dressed in ‘invincible’ outfits, ‘invincible’ behaviours erupted. Part of our school policy became ‘No spiderman, batman, etc outfits.’
Think too about the choice of toys. You may notice that when he is playing with certain toys it sparks OTT behaviour. Some toys are far more likely to evoke aggressive or hyper-active behaviours. Discover the alternatives that lead to calmer ways of playing.
10. What I observed was the parents’ pain when it is inferred by others that the child is ‘a brat’ or ‘bold’.
A response you could find helpful:
Whether a child is challenged with ADHD or not, labels like ‘bold’ or ‘brat’ are never helpful. Any child is likely to feel attacked when negative labels are used. In our minds, we need to separate out the behaviour from the child him (or her) self. It ‘s more helpful to say ‘I don’t like it when you … and I would prefer it if you …’
Likewise we need to beware of labelling ourselves. Self-criticism, like ‘Bad parent’, is only going to make us feel bad. The stress level with dealing with a child with challenging behaviour is already high enough, without the added pressure of self-punishment and self-criticism. It’s easier to be reflective about what’s working if you think in terms of:
‘What am I doing that’s helpful in this situation?’
By noticing what we do that creates more cooperative behaviour, we discover how to create more of the same. Particularly, we can start noticing the ‘good times’ and discover how to create more of this in our lives.
A final note:
The one small step that can make a huge difference is to recognise that we can’t change our children (as much as we might like to, particularly on some days!) but we can change the way we react or respond to them. The secret is to develop our own mindfulness in our parenting, so that we become more aware of what’s working and what’s not.
While you’re waiting for the help you deserve, the help your child needs, I encourage you – don’t just wait. Use the time to develop your own awareness about WHAT WORKS to create connection, communication and cooperation between family members.
If this article has been helpful for you, make sure you are signed up for the Koemba newsletter. You’ll be just in time to hear about our January special: exciting new material about what to do when children’s difficult behaviour challenges you.