Distractions. The temptation for the kids to want to play instead of eat dinner, and for me to watch the news instead of prepare dinner, is one example of how distractions affect us at my house.
Stress. Getting yourself and the kids ready in the morning is no easy task and often very stressful. You do “what you have to do” just to get out the door on time.
Change. There’s no getting around the fact that changes in your family/life happen and adjustments have to be made. New babies are born, job schedules change, kids start new extra curricular activities… all requiring a modification to your routine.
Lack of Energy. I don’t know any parent who feels they get enough sleep and with all the activities of life today, disregarding a routine is very tempting, especially when you kids are resistant (bath, bed, etc.).
I talk a lot about my life as a mom on this blog. Usually I am sharing joyful moments, techniques, and other positive themes on parenthood. I’ll be completely honest though. While a moment doesn’t go by that I don’t love my kids more than life and want to give everything to them… the truth is that I don’t always love “parenthood.”It’s a HARD JOB, often filled with stress and always requires sacrifice. I work hard as a mom. I give my whole heart to them and desire to give them a happy, structured, opportunistic childhood. I want to raise them with good character and values. This kind of parenting requires a lot of effort and I am thankful to have a wonderful husband and father to my children to share in these responsibilities. Still, all you mothers and father know what I am talking about when I say that being a parent isn’t easy.
Negative Self-Talk = Negative Mood
In the middle of the most stressful times, like getting the kids dinner and bath by yourself, when one of them has an ear infection and the other is testing boundaries like there is no tomorrow, all on an empty stomach and back ache from an injury during your work out… Yes this is me! 🙂 You have to draw strength to continue without biting everyone’s head off! 🙂 I noticed my self-talk was very negative during these moments. I was really making those stressful times even more miserable for myself and spiraling into a state of stress, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness. I want to look back and know I enjoyed my kids when they were little, not the experience I was having.
A Letter From My “Negative Self” to My “Positive Self”
When things are calm (aka when kids are in bed or entertaining one another) my mind set and perceptions about parenthood are totally different. I decided to write a letter from my calm, joyful self to my stressed, negative self.
I’m going to share this personal letter with you here.
I know you are stressed right now and feel like giving up. Raising kids is hard, especially when both of them are so young. Please remember: You are strong; You are a good mommy; Your kids are amazing; And this won’t last forever! Time will go by so quickly… it already has and you want to relish in the precious moments you have with your babies. Give yourself a break if needed! If your kids are in bed 30 minutes later… they will get an extra long nap tomorrow. If water splashes out of the tub, just put a towel down. If the kids are crying and clingy, it’s because they miss you… give them love and nurture them tonight! Take it moment by moment and remember to breath. Your babies are precious and your family is beautiful. There is no reason to stress like you are. Take care dear kimmy and focus on that warm bath and glass of wine you have planned for later tonight!
Your Turn: Writing a Letter to Yourself
Practicing positive self talk and positive affirmations is not a new concept. However, I found it very helpful to write this. The act of writing itself is therapeutic, such as journal writing. You also have something to reference during your times of stress. We all see things differently when we are in a good mood versus a bad mood. Reminding yourself of your “good mood perceptions” can encourage you to push through and give you positive affirmations that may be hard to come up with during times of stress.
You don’t have to be a parent to use this tool. Whether you are battling an illness, training for a competition, attempting to loose weight, or studying for an exam or overall degree, this can be a useful tool to apply in your life. When you feel strong, confident, and joyful, this is the time to sit down and write down reminders to yourself about how you feel now and the reasons to push through whatever adversity you are facing.
Applying This Tool In Therapy
I find that client’s often describe their moments of distress in therapy as being really bad at the time, but when they talk to me they say things like “I know this is normal…” or “At the time it felt so hard…” Writing a letter to can be an excellent homework assignment. Have the client write a letter to themselves when they are feeling more positive and strong and use it as I have described here.
We did it! We finally won the bedtime battle with my two year old.
There are millions of parents out there who struggle with getting a child to go to bed, stay in bed, sleep through the night, sleep in their own room… and the list goes on. When you finally find the secret for your own child, it feels like you conquered the world. I want to share what we did to have success in our home. I’ll also preface this by saying these tools won’t work for everyone. You’ve heard it before, but I’ll say it again… every child is different!
Last month, I received this email from a reader, Sarah:
I have followed your blog for some time and I love all the great tips and advice you give out.
I am currently finishing my last semester of grad school and in May. I will have a master’s in school counseling. Before this, I taught Emotional Disabled special ed middle school boys and have years of experience with kids from various races. So I feel that I am pretty vetted when it comes to “knowing” what makes children tick…expect when it comes to my 3 year old. I know that they go through phases and he is starting to test my husband and me, but HOLY MOLY!! When it comes to disciplining him, you would think I have never met a child before. I have excellent classroom management, but I can’t seem to “manage” him.
Bedtime is one of our biggest issues lately. We let him watch a half hour of Scooby Doo after he has put on pajama’s, brushed his teeth and gone to the bathroom (assisted of course). When it comes time to go upstairs, you would think we are sending him into a gas chamber. His new thing is that he is scared. We have a nightlight in the hallway, one in his room, we play soft music and keep his door open. He looks for any reason to keep us in the room and screams bloody murder when we leave. We have even offered the choice of letting him sleep on our floor. Again, the screaming and tantrum. He isn’t going to bed late, 8:30, so it isn’t that he is overly tired. I just don’t want nighttime to become a stressful event.
He has also developed the art of back talk. We don’t let it go uncorrected, reminding him how he is supposed to talk to us. I would like to know where my sweet baby went. Please offer some advice.
This email sounded just like me last month. In fact, I read it to my husband just to give us a sense that normalcy and we were able to laugh a little at the sheer similarity of our circumstances. Misery really does love company sometimes, right? Well, since this email, we have been bedtime battle FREE for at least three weeks so I thought it was time to share my experience here.
What We Were Up Against
Let me put it this way. Every day, I would literally dread the two-hour long bedtime routine and battle to get my toddler resting peacefully in his bed.
He screamed bloody murder when we tried to leave his room.
He tried to manipulate sleeping in my bed (sometimes we let him).
Toddler took forever to fall asleep so we waited in his room until he did so we could sneak out (if he was the slightest bit awake he knew we were leaving).
My husband and I both stayed with him through the entire routine (“We are in this together” mentality)
Everyone is exhausted at the end of the day so patience was running thin.
He now has to wait his turn for attention since his little sister has arrived.
How We Turned Things Around
I received my regular post one day from one of my favorite parenting blogs, Sleeping Should Be Easy, talking about bedtime battles. I found some good reminders about what I should be doing to help my son go to bed with less of a fight and talked myself into getting serious.
Routine. Routine. Routine. Establishing a routine for kids is so very important and I had let ours slip quite a bit. Like I said, we are tired at the end of the day and we have a new little one in the picture as well. However, giving up on a routine was not the answer. He was going to school at varied times, eating at varied times, missing baths every now and then… you name it. If I could cut a corner, I probably would. Now, we stick pretty close to a routine. Our evening routine looks something like this: Dinner, Bath, Books, 10 minutes snuggle with lights off.
Divide and Conquer. My husband and I were sharing the evening routine, but going overboard. We both helped bath the kids, read the books, etc. This led to no one ever having a break or being able to take care of other necessities around the house. Today, only one person handles the bath and bed time and the other just gives a good night kiss.
Communicate the Sequence of Events. Even though my son is only two right now, he understands a lot. We tell him what part of the routine is next. I even give him time warning, such as “5 minutes left of bath time, then we read books.”
Call in the other parent in the end. This has actually worked miracle wonderfully for our son. At the end of our “snuggle” time, I tell him I am going to get daddy to tell him good night. He understands this well an doesn’t object to me leaving because he wants to see his daddy. We then wait about 5 minutes before sending in the next parent. By then, he is pretty well tired and falls asleep soon after.
Like I said, these techniques won’t work for everyone, but maybe they will give you some ideas. If you have some toddler bedtime words of wisdom to share, please do!
My son turns 2 years old today. It has gone by so fast and and I haven’t been a mom for all that long, but I know I have definitely changed. Thinking about all the joys and challenges over the last two years, I can’t help but also think about how motherhood has changed me professionally and made me into a better therapist.
1. I am more empathetic to parents. In counseling, we like to believe that we can empathize with just about everyone. After all, pain is pain, joy is joy, etc… no matter what the circumstance. I still think this is true to an extent. But now, when a parent sits across from me and says they are devastated because they don’t know why their child feels so sad, or they want to know where their little angel has gone, I think of my own children. How will I feel if my happy little guy is one day an adolescent who rages in my living room, or if my sweet girl one day talks about hating herself because she is not accepted at school. The pain for me is so unbearable. I channel this empathy towards my clients to help them see better days ahead.
2.I give limited “homework” assignments to parents now. Pre-motherhood, I had all kinds of homework for parents, such as charting 5 different aspects of a behavior during the week (when, where, why, your response, their response…sigh), completing daily exercises with their children, taking personal time out for an hour a day… can you imagine? I am much more cognizant of the daily demands of parenthood. Now, I still recommend personal time for parents, but aim for one hour a week, and my homework assignments are given with more realistic requirements. I get much more follow through now!
3. I am more confident. This increased confidence is not completely due to being a mother, but also due to just having more experience under my belt. However, I do feel that since I am a mom, I can connect better with parents and kids. I also feel more secure in setting personal boundaries for my time and commitments. As a professional who aims to teach healthy boundaries to my clients, being able to set them for my own life is important.
4. My priorities have changed. Now that my family life is set, I can begin working towards long term professional goals that sink with the demands of my family. For example, I hope to establish a successful private practice over the next several years that will allow me to schedule appointments during the time my kids are in school.
5. I have more life experience. No matter what field you work, life experience always give you a leg up. The more I live and the more life phases I enter and travel through, the more I can relate and offer help to others!
Last week, I posted an Introduction to Filial Therapy. Don’t let the name deter you from reading further. This is simply a tool that play therapists use to create and strengthen the relationship between parents and children.
Today, I am going to share the first few steps in getting started in this special play time with your child! We will talk about who will be included, where the play time should be held, a time to schedule, what to tell your child, and what play materials you will need. I am so excited about this blog series because I know so many parents and children can benefit from devoting this time together!!
Who: This play time is recommended for ONE parent and ONE child together at a time. It doesn’t matter if it’s mom or dad. I recommend these sessions for children between the ages of 3 years and 7 years of age.
When: Decide upon a specific play session time. I recommend starting with 20-30 minutes, once a week. Choose a time when you will have little to no interruptions and you can focus your attention solely on the child. You also want to consider a time when your child will be fed and rested to avoid any irritability or fussiness.
Where: Choose a room that has little distrations for you and your child. You will be putting the toys on the floor so consider somewhere with decent floor space. If all the rooms in your house are regularly used, just make sure the space is clean (to minimize the distration of thinking about the mess).
What To Tell The Child: Tell your child that you want to spend more quality time with them and you have chosen the special time, place, and toys to play together. Make the focus on your desire to spend time with them, rather than wanting anything from the child.
Play Materials: Below is a list of toys and play materials to collect, but first I have a few pointers/guidelines.
Store your toys in a special box or bag, away from the child’s other toys.
Do not allow the child to bring in any toys or take any toys from this box of designated toys.
You can find many of these toys at dollar stores and garage sales. Don’t fret about spending a lot of money!
If you cannot find every toy on this list, do NOT let it keep you from getting started. If you have a good amout of the toys, or find good substitute, then you are good to go!
And finally, below is a list of toys to get started.
Glue (I prefer stick glue)
1-2 small cars
2 cell phones (I use an old cell I no longer use)
Kitchen set (couple dishes and toy food)
Baby doll accessories (such as a bottle, diaper, clothes)
Set of animals (such as a lion, elephant, monkey, shark, dog, pig, etc)
2 soft animals
Deck of cards
Noise maker (such as a maraca or toy drum)
I gathered a small sample of toys from my play room to give you an example of the types of toys you will be gathering. Happy hunting!
One of the most important things we can do as parents is to connect with our child. There are many ways to accomplish this, including regular communication, spending time together, and teaching them new things. Entering their world of play is also an effective way to connect with your child. As a play therapist, one of the tools I use to help the child and their family is something we call filial theray. I am basically teaching parents some basic tools and skills I use in play therapy to carry over into the home.
The purpose of filial therapy is to create, maintain, or improve the bond between parent and child. If you have not had the opportunity to enter into your child’s (or any child’s) world of play, you are in for a treat! I am going to talk about getting down on their level, reflecting what you see and hear, and interacting in a totally new way with your child. In addition, this one-on-one time with your child may also help to improve attention-seeking behaviors and separation anxiety by giving them positive attention they need and desire.
This is different from “play therapy“ because there is no interpretation, no evaluation, and no thinking hat required. You are simply being asked to offer your child a special time to play with special toys and a special person (you!).
The play time gives the parent(s) a different focus by taking them out of the critical role of teaching and correcting.
It places the parent(s) in a situation where they can be more objective with their child. They learn something new about their child and develop more realistic expectations.
It lessons or removes the stigma of failure (mistakes can be redeemed). The focus is on the future: what they can do rather than past behaviors/problems.
It changes parents’ expectations of themselves.
The child begins to see their parents differently- as allies on their side.
It is a self-correcting means of learning within a moving process.
Benefits to Parents
The time with the child is scheduled and uninterrupted.
It is an oasis pull-aside time-relaxing- no entertaining.
There is less pressure to teach, to do right, to be on the spot.
Parental self-confidence is increased.
They feel more in control.
They are more accepting of themselves and their children.
They have less guilt.
What We Will Be Learning (Upcoming Posts)
Who, When, and Where: Getting ready
Tools of The Trade: Toys recommended just for this special play time
Play Therapy Skills: basic skills to use during play time with your kids
Special Scenarios: Setting Limits and FAQs
If you are a parent of a child 8 years and under, this is a great activity for you to engage in with your child or children! If you are a therapist who works with children and families, filial therapy can be an excellent therapeutic tool to use in conjunction with your regular therapy interventions. I can’t wait to get started!!
John Gottman, PhD, who is basically the king of marriage therapy in my opinion, gets couples to play a game to enhance a couple’s Love Maps. The general concept is that each person in a relationship has a “love map” in which they store information about their partner. The relationships that last have partners with “full” love maps. In other words, they know a lot about their partner’s dreams, fears, goals, hopes, quirks, likes, dislikes, and so on.
This concept of the love map has me thinking lately… I wonder if this can apply to families as well? Are happy families also in tune with one another on a deep emotional level as well? By pulling from the idea of Gottman’s love map for couples, I have come up with questions for families. This game can be played with children from preschool on up, but questions may be modified. If you don’t like these, or think of more great questions, go ahead and change it up a bit. And if you have good questions, please share with the rest of us! 🙂
Step 1: As a family, decide upon 10 numbers between 1 and 40.
Step 2: One family member at a time takes a number and the corresponding question from the list below and asks another family member to answer. The person asking may choose who they want to ask this question. If other members want to voluntarily share their answer, they may do so only after the first person chosen has answered.
Final Tip: There is not much to this game other than answering some questions, so I recommend doing it over pizza, during a winter camp fire, before starting a movie, or just before bed time.
If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
When do you get angry?
What are your three favorite past times?
What is your ideal vacation and who would you bring?
If you received a $5000 gift, how would you spend it?
If you could be the top player in any sport, what would it be?
Describe one of you happiest memories with your family.
What do you like most about yourself?
What do you like most about your family?
What is your favorite season of the year?
What do you desire most for your birthday this year?
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Where do you see yourself in 15 years?
What book or magazine are you currently reading?
What is your favorite board game?
What is your favorite card game?
What talents are you most proud of?
Share a time when your feelings were hurt.
Tell about a time when you felt proud of yourself.
Tell about a time when you felt supported by one, or more, person in your family.
Tell about a time when you stood up for someone or something.
What do you feel challenged by lately?
Where is your favorite room in the house?
Where do you feel safest?
Say three words to describe how you are feeling right now.
If you could be invisible, where would you go?
If you could have a super power, what would it be?
What are your three favorite foods?
What do you like most about yourself?
If you discovered a burried treasure, what would you hope to be inside?
If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?
If everything in your life changed except for one thing, what would be the one thing that stayed the same?
If you could have lunch with a famous person, who would it be?
What is the greatest change that has ever taken place in your life?
If you have followed this blog long enough, you know that being a mom and a child therapist are two important roles in my life, and I love to write about my journey in these roles. I cannot imagine what kind of mom I would be without my psychology background because I find myself applying these skills in parenting.
I have found myself using play therapy skills with my son lately. Namely, tracking his play, reflecting his feelings, and allowing him to master new skills.
1. Tracking Play
Watch your child during some of their play and track their activities, facial expressions, and intentions. I recommend giving this your undevided attention for at least 10 minutes. This can be done anywhere and with any kind of play. When you track their play, describe (out loud so they can hear) what you see.
This activity is good for several reasons:
The child is receiving undevided, quality attention.
The child is learning words for their actions and feelings.
You, the parent, will learn more about how your child plays, and maybe why they are performing those activities.
Example: As my toddler played in the tub the other night, he was filling various toys and dumping the water out into a basket on the side of the tub. As I verbally tracked his play, I sounded something like this: “I see you’re filling the fish toy this time. Oh, you laughed when that one filled up! You are going back to the red toy, and now back to the fish toy. It seems you are comparing these two…”
What I learned: As I tracked my son’s play, I noticed he became even more engaged and enjoyed the attention. I also learned that he was not just pouring water out or sinking his toys under water. He was experimenting!He wanted to see which toys held more water and how the weight felt different. He was learning how much water can go into each toy and then what happened when he poured the water out. He was also comparing the toys. It was a special experience for me to enter his world in this way. I do it all the time in play therapy… why not with my own kids!
2. Following Their Lead
When I say “follow the child’s lead” I mean not to lead the play. Allow the child to decide what to play and how to play with a toy. They may decide that the kitchen set you bought for them is now going to be used as a lab, or that you will be the child and they will be the parent. Allow the child to be creative. Now, I still show my toddler how to play with certain toys or name toys for him, but sometimes I allow him to choose how he will play.
Why is this important?
Letting them lead encourages creativity and experimentation in play.
It gives them a feeling of having control. Our kids are not in control of much in their little lives. Why not let them have some control in their play?
Creative minds are successful minds.
3. Reflecting Feeling
This is a simple, but powerful tool to use with your kids. First of all, notice how your child is feeling- happy sad, frustrated, jealous, angry- and tell them what you notice. Say “I see you are feeling angry,” or “You seem to be jealous that your brother got a sticker and you didn’t.”
Reflecting feelings is good for many reasons:
Reflecting helps your child learn words for their feelings, even the complicated ones like jealousy and frustration.
Reflecting shows your child you are paying attention to them.
Reflecting models the first part of active listening, an important tool in communication.
4. Allowing Mastery of Skills
In play therapy, I typically wait for a child to ask me for help when they are trying to master a skill or have difficulty with a task. Once they ask, I then offer to help, not do it for them.
It’s so easy to insist on doing everything for our kids, especially when we are in a hurry. Right now, my toddler is learning how to put on socks and shoes. This means that he wants to practice every morning, no matter how late I am running. If I want him to learn these skills and build his self-esteem, I will need to make time to allow him to practice.
Why is this so important?
It sends a message that you are confident in their abilities and supportive of their learning new skills.
It helps build self-esteem.
Giving them time to ask for help teaches them to let you know when they need you, rather than assuming you will always be able to read their mind. (Trust me, you will never be able to read their mind when they are a teenager).
I just love being a part of a child’s world, especially when that child is my own!
I always love the perspective Kate Oliver brings to a topic in parenting. Being “curious” is a great way to remind us to ask questions before responding to a situation or person. We often assume we know why a person feels angry, or why they responded they way they did… but we can easily be lacking important information. Simply asking questions, being curious, can change our initial assumptions and ensure we respond more appropriately. This idea can also be applied to our relationships with our significant others, co-workers, and parents. Thank you Kate!
3. Trying to decide whether to put your child in preschool? SSBE has a good post on this topic- Preschool: yes or no.She lists the many issues to consider, such as the financial costs, readiness of the child, and benefits of preschool, as well as some additional resources to check out on the subject. Being a mother of young children, I will be bookmarking this one!
4. About.Com has a good article on preparing yourself and your toddler for surgery- Toddler Surgery. I have not had to go through this yet, but I even cried when my first born got his first vaccination shot!
I loved this article on Huff Post. Here are a few of the tips, but check out the full article for the full effect!
Wake with the sun – There is no purer light than what we see when we open our eyes first thing in the morning. Resisting the morning’s first waking moment instantly adds stress to your day. Avoiding the sun, you commence a chase that lasts all day long: running short of time, balance, peace and productivity.
Sit – Mindfulness without meditation is just a word. The search for mindful living is always grounded in a meditation practice. Seated meditation is the easiest and fastest way to clear your mind of anxious, fearful and stressful thoughts. Meditation puts your overactive brain on a diet, so you have more attention to bring to the real life that appears before you. You will be far more productive in the ensuing hours if you begin the day by spending five minutes actively engaged in doing nothing at all.
Make your bed – The state of your bed is the state of your head. Enfold your day in dignity. The five minutes you spend making your bed slows you down from your frantic, morning scrambling and creates a calm retreat to welcome you home at night. Plus, making your bed means you’ve already achieved an even more challenging feat: getting out of it.
Empty the hampers – Do the laundry without resentment or commentary and have an intimate encounter with the very fabric of life. Doing laundry is a supreme act of personal responsibility. It requires maturity, attention and discipline, and it engenders happiness. Don’t believe me? See how you feel every time you reach the bottom of an empty hamper.
Wash your bowl – Rinse away self-importance and clean up your own kitchen mess. If you leave it undone, it will get sticky. An empty sink can be the single most gratifying sight of a long and tiring day.
Rake the leaves – Take yourself outside to rake, weed or sweep. You’ll never finish for good, but you’ll learn the point of pointlessness. The repetitive motion is meditative; the fresh air is enlivening. Lose yourself in doing what needs to be done, without a thought of permanent outcome or gain. You’ll immediately alter your worldview.
Eat when hungry – Align your inexhaustible desires with the one true appetite. Coming clean about our food addictions and aversions is powerful and lasting medicine. Eating is so central to family life and culture that we can pass on our habits for generations to come. Mindless overeating feeds our sickness; mindful eating feeds the body’s intuitive, intelligent wisdom and nourishes life well past tonight’s empty plates.
Let the darkness come – Set a curfew on the Internet and TV and discover the natural balance between daylight and darkness, work and rest. Your taste for the quiet will naturally increase. When you end your day in accord with the earth’s perfect rhythm, you grant the whole world a moment of pure peace.