How Awe Transforms Us – and How to Create More of It for Your Kids

Awe offers so many ways for our children to prosper in this challenging world. Seeking opportunities to experience awe is critical to their well-being.

This past summer’s Fourth of July fireworks were more spectacular than usual. My four-year-old daughter was seeing them for the first time in her life, and I was blown away by her reaction.

She was laughing, yelling out joyously at each new decoration in the sky, and even shaking in her chair. Witnessing her remarkable response allowed me to view that moment through her young eyes — to turn something ordinary into something extraordinary.   

We sometimes have special moments in life that are so profound we don’t even know how to describe them. Maybe you just spotted a rainbow, watched a video about our expansive universe, or witnessed the birth of your child. The emotion you feel is hard to grasp — an overwhelming mix of wonder, joy, and sometimes even fear.

These moments are so exhilarating that we get goosebumps on our arms, feel tingling up and down our spine, tears flood our eyes, and our jaw drops.

This is called awe. Awe is an emotion that has a powerful effect on our body and mind. It’s a feeling very hard to put into words. David Delgado, a visual strategist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and co-founder of the Museum of Awe who spoke at the Greater Good Science Center’s recent Art and Science of Awe conference, describes awe as an instant when you can’t quite grasp something. “It feels like magic, amazement, mystery, reverence. It’s the moment when we realize it’s a gift and privilege to be alive.”

A lily flower blooming

How we feel awe

Awe has been addressed throughout history by the amazing works of great writers and scientists like Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, and John Muir. However, researchers have only recently begun to study how awe impacts our well-being.

In a key 2003 paper, “Approaching Awe, A Moral, Spiritual And Aesthetic Emotion,” psychologists Dacher Keltner of University of California, Berkeley (now the director of the Greater Good Science Center) and Jonathan Haidt of New York University presented how awe works and the effects it has on us. They found that awe consists of two core qualities:

  1. Perceived vastness — something we think to be greater than ourselves in number, scope, or complexity,
  2. It challenges or alters our understanding of the world.

Awe allows us to transcend the ordinary, tests our concept of time and scale, gives us the sense of being small in a grand universe, and helps us to truly be in the moment.

Awe can be triggered by different things for different people. It can result from profound beauty; spending time in nature; feeling connected to others; remarkable human accomplishments; scientific discoveries; or great works of architecture, art, and music. According to award-winning cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg who created the Gratitude Revealed film series, “It doesn’t matter what pathway it takes, or what your belief system is, or what the story is. We just want to feel it. What is important is…to be moved.”

Beautiful northern lights aurora borealis over lake in finland

How awe transforms us

On average, we feel awe only about two-and-a-half times per week, Dacher Keltner explains. As our culture becomes more self-focused and over-worked, awe provides an amazing tool to instill a deeper sense of worldliness, kindness, and peace in our children. Recent research shows that awe can make us happier and healthier in a number of significant ways.

1 | Broadens social connection

Awe changes our perspective of the world. We feel smaller and as though we are in the presence of something greater than ourselves. A study at the University of California, Berkeley concluded that awe makes us lose our awareness of “self” and feel more connected to the world around us. This helps get rid of dangerous “us versus them” thinking. Additionally, when we witness a remarkable moment, we want to share it with other people, causing us to bond with family, friends, and even strangers.

2 | Stimulates curiosity

When we observe something awesome — like images of Earth from space, a fascinating science experiment, or a talented athlete — we want to learn more about how it’s all possible. Curiosity is so critical to children’s growth and success. Even though their constant questions may be trying at times, it is ultimately what we want them to do so they’re always craving new knowledge. What’s even more incredible is that people who are curious tend to get along better with others.

3 | Expands creativity

Awe inspires us to be more creative because we begin to view the world in a broader sense. This expansive thinking helps us consider new perspectives and see beyond our present situation. In a 2012 study from Tel Aviv University, one group of children was asked to look at a series of photos, starting with basic everyday objects and then shifting to vast or faraway things like the Milky Way galaxy. The other group was shown the same images but in the opposite order. The children who saw the objects from small to expansive performed significantly better on creativity tests.

4 | Leads to kindness and generosity

Paul Piff, assistant professor of psychology and social behavior at University of California, Irvine, has found that “awe boosts a person’s generosity, willingness to help others, willingness to behave in ethical ways, to take on needs of others, and de-prioritize their own needs. Awe connects us to things larger than ourselves and motivates us to care for others and the collective good.”

His experiments prove that when people experience a moment of awe, they tend to be more generous. He had participants first either look up into tall, beautiful trees or at a large building. They then came across a person who needed assistance. Those in the tree group were more apt to help to the person in need.

Space Shuttle Atlantis launches from the Kennedy Space Center

5 | Changes our perception of time

In our hectic 24/7 lifestyle, don’t you wish we had more time? Awe has been shown to give us the illusion that we do have more time and no longer need to rush. A 2012 Stanford University study published by Psychological Science found that participants who watched awe-inspiring videos featuring whales, waterfalls, and other nature scenes were more likely to report feeling like they had more time.

6 | Guides us to find our purpose in life

Positive psychology researchers have discovered that people who have a clear purpose in life experience less pain and anxiety and are less depressed. By being connected to something larger than ourselves through awe, we are more likely to be inspired and motivated to face new challenges and reach our goals. Research shows that children who grow up with a sense of purpose are typically happier, have a more successful career, and have stronger relationships later in life.

7 | Makes us grateful

Awe gives us a sense of hope and the ability to see the bigger picture. It teaches us that there might be something magical in everyday life that we can be grateful for. Louie Schwartzberg says that, “Awe inspires us to open our hearts and minds to engender gratitude.”

8 | Improves our immune system

Researchers at Berkeley have discovered that awe reduces the level of pro-inflammatory proteins (called cytokines) that cause our immune system to work harder. This is important because high levels of cytokines cause illness. “That awe, wonder, and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions…has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy,” suggested Dacher Keltner, co-author of the study.

9 | Reduces anxiety and depression

Feelings of awe boost our mood. Our nervous system reacts in the opposite way to awe than anxiety. Instead of the “fight or flight” response kicking in, awe keeps us still and relaxed, benefiting both our body and mind. Additionally, elevated cytokines have been linked to depression. As discussed earlier, awe reduces these cytokine proteins, therefore reducing depression.

Little girl in awe of a big fish at the aquarium

 

Ways to help our children experience awe

The world offers so many opportunities for us to feel awe, but how can we capture these moments for our children? The key is to seek out experiences that 1) involve a sense of vastness and 2) alter their perspective.

Fortunately, children are born with a sense of wonder and amazement. “They are naturally curious and interested, with a great imagination and a special ability to see beauty and good all around them,” explains Dr. Brenda Abbey, educational consultant and director of Childcare by Design in Australia.

However, children need direction from their parents who can share these moments with them. “We need to model, identify, respond to, preserve, nourish, enrich, and sustain these special moments in our lives.”

By visiting, recording, viewing, and listening, our children will be exposed to many potential awe-inspiring moments. To make the most out of these experiences, take the time to ask your children how these encounters make them feel. Reflection reinforces the positive energy and encourages curiosity.

Andy Tix, professor at Normandale Community College in Minnesota who writes about awe on his blog Reflections on Mystery and Awe, notes that “awe seems more likely to thrive in an environment of inquisitiveness and questioning.” So ask lots of questions and allow your children to do the same.

1 | Visit

In order for children to truly understand awe, they need to experience it. Andy Tix believes that travel provides endless opportunities for awe because we are exposed to stimuli that are out of our typical routine. He suggests families take “awecations,” instead of just vacations, to places that can inspire awe. If you can’t get away, look for local spots to explore. Remember to consider your child’s age, interest, and attention span when you choose where to take them.

We can find awe just about anywhere. Here are a few ideas for your next awe adventure:

Nature: zoos, mountains, forests, hiking trails, beaches, waterfalls, clear starry nights, sunsets, sunrises, botanical gardens, canyons, caves

Urban: historical monuments, skyscrapers, subway systems, large sports stadiums

Indoor: libraries; art, science, and history museums; cathedrals; concerts; musicals and other performances; planetariums; aquariums

2 | Record

Writing: Developing an awe narrative is an effective way for children to capture an awe-inspiring moment. Julie Mann, high school teacher in Queens, New York who also spoke at The Art and Science Of Awe conference, added journal writing to her curriculum as a way for students to reflect about awe for time, space, amazing events, and people who impact their lives.

Artwork: Ask your children to create their own masterpiece to reflect something that brought them awe. Tap into their talents using drawing, photography, painting, sculpture, or collage.

3 | View

Media: If you are unable to visit a place in person, the next best thing is to observe it using various media tools such as videos, photographs, slideshows, and even 3D or 4D movies at an IMAX theater. Images of nature’s beauty, such as sunrises, sunsets, weather events, and rainbows, tend to easily evoke feelings of awe. Check out these nature documentaries, Jason Silva’s Shots of Awe, and Louie Schwartzberg’s Gratitude Revealed.

Science experiments: Observing the incredible way science works can be quite powerful for a young child and pique their interest to learn more.

4 | Listen

Stories: Read awe-inspiring books, poetry, and short stories to your children, such as biographies about great heroes and descriptions of nature, scientific discoveries, great places, and historical events.

Music: Listen to touching music or play your own. From piano ballads of the great composers to rap songs about changing the world, your child will discover what moves them.

Awe offers so many ways for our children to prosper in this challenging world. Actively seeking opportunities to experience awe as a family is critical to their well-being, and has the power to improve society as a whole. 

Why Are We All So Terrified of Pajama Fires?

Why do pajamas come with a warning? It comes from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and how it got there is an interesting story.

It took me nine months to cave on my “no holiday clothes” policy for baby. I hated the idea of celebrating Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and the Fourth of July with a onesie or footie pajamas intended for a single use.

But then came Halloween. There were mummy sweats, socks with skeletons and bats, pumpkin-covered everything, and adorable ghost pajamas. I caved. When the Gap package arrived one week later, I rationalized keeping each festive item, even though I really only needed one.

But then, hanging off the left arm of the spooky ghost T-shirt, there was a bright yellow tag: “For child’s safety, garment should fit snugly. This garment is not flame resistant. Loose-fitting garment is more likely to catch fire.”

I had spent a good portion of the previous nine months worried about so many terrible ways my son could be killed or injured, but I’d never once thought “pajama fire.” So I did what I always did in that first confidence-sacking, terrifying year with a new baby. I called my mom.

My mother is a fire safety guru. My childhood was punctuated by multiple memorable fire drills. One day a construction paper fire appeared on the back of the couch, because, as mom said, sometimes fire is quiet. I’ve carried fire safety lessons into my adult homes, checking the smoke detectors every time we spring forward or fall back. When a pan of brussels sprouts in bacon fat kept tripping the alarm last week, I had my son practice getting to the door.

Even in my fire-conscious home, flame-retardant pajamas had never once come up. So I assumed my mom would reassure me that ill-fitting or flammable jammies were yet another of the ridiculous precautions taken by modern parents.

But after I hung up, I returned the pajamas. It turned out my mom did know about pajama fires, including images of ignited sleepwear burned into her memory.

I resolved to buy flame-resistant pajamas from then on. But a year or so later, on a trip to JoAnn’s for blanket material, I noticed a sign in the Snuggle Flannel aisle: “Warning: Not Intended for Children’s Sleepwear.” The aisle was floor-to-ceiling bolts of bears, blocks, flowers, gingerbread men, plaids…exactly the sort of fabric you’d use to make cute pajama pants.

So I decided to learn why exactly children’s pajamas are so dangerous. That label on the Gap pajamas? It comes from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and how it got there is an interesting story.

The story starts with another common Halloween dress-up item: cowboy chaps. Specifically, a Gene Autry costume that, as Barbara Young Welke writes in an inventive play published in the UC Irvine Law Review, was the cause of one hundred lawsuits between 1945 and 1953.

The cowboy suit and other similar incidents were the impetus for the 1953 passage of the Flammable Fabrics Act, which regulated, among other things, which fabrics could be used for clothing. No more rayon pile chaps for kids (or brushed rayon sweaters for women), as such items had become famous for creating what were widely reported at the time as “human torches.”

Almost 20 years later, Congress passed the 1972 Consumer Product Safety Act, which established the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). In 1975, the CPSC added additional requirements for children’s sleepwear. In the years that followed, both pediatric burn rates and burn severity declined. Abraham Bergman’s 1977 editorial in Pediatrics captures how enthusiastic pediatricians and burn care specialists were about the CPSC sleepwear regulations:

“I know it sounds ghoulish, but the staff of the burn unit in my hospital practically danced around the beds of the three children who were admitted in the past year with burns incurred when their pajamas ignited. The reason was that they were wearing garments that had been treated with a flame-retardant chemical. The burns, therefore, were trivial. The children were quickly treated and sent home. A few short years ago, before flame-resistant sleepwear was on the market, these same children would either have been dead or sentenced to a life of pain and disfigurement.”

Bergman’s enthusiasm for treated fabrics is reflected in medical literature of the late 1970s, which reported lower rates of burns overall, as well as decreased severity. The Shriners Burn Institute, for example, reported a decrease in overall burn rates. In one year, only one patient had to be hospitalized after sleepwear ignition. All other patients were discharged from the emergency room.

The results of the Shriners study seem like cause for celebration. Pediatric burn rates at their hospital went down, as did the percentage of burns caused by clothing ignition. The authors of the Shriners study, however, cautioned against too simple a conclusion, noting that changing fashions (a shift from nightgowns to two-piece sets, for example), might be decreasing flammability risk.

The rise of in-hospital burn centers at many large hospitals might be in part responsible for the lower admission rates. Additionally, the publicity given to Massachusetts’ adoption of federal requirements for children’s sleepwear might have meant that parents were more alert to potential dangers and dressed their children accordingly.

Another explanation for decreased burn rates could stem from a social behavior on the decline in the late 1970s. Public health campaigns linking smoking and cancer resulted in a lower rate of smoking among many populations. It’s possible, then, that the pediatric burn rate was in part affected by lack of smoking.

There were fewer lighters and matches for children to discover in the wee hours of the morning, which is why the flame-resistant emphasis was placed on sleepwear in the first place. The CPSC states in its 2000 introduction to the yellow tags, children are most likely to be burned by playing with fire “just before bedtime and just after rising in the morning.”

The cancer fears that led to a decline in smoking rates also led to a change to the CPSC’s children’s sleepwear policy. In the late 70s, doctors were also concerned about new possible cancers resulting from the flame retardants used to treat children’s sleepwear, which brings us to the current requirements that sleepwear be “either flame-resistant or snug-fitting.” Tight pajamas may not be as safe as flame-resistant ones, but loose clothing is more likely to catch fire than tight clothing.

The CPSC regulations are intended to “protect children from serious burn injuries if they come in contact with a small flame,” like a candle, match, or lighter. Now that many homes favor electric ranges to gas ones, LED candles, and even projector fireplaces, children might be at lower risk than ever of small flame burn injuries.

So should I have kept those cute ghost pajamas, even though the fabric wasn’t flame-resistant? Right now, our small cache of matches is in a cupboard that even I can’t reach without a stepstool (Mom’s fire safety lessons have stuck with me). So the risk of my toddler coming into contact with a small flame is minimal.

I should have kept the pajamas. And now that the weather is turning, I think I’ll even risk some flannel pajama pants.

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How a Returnship Can Help Re-Energize Your Career

A lot of people take extended breaks from the workforce- parents caring for children, adult kids caring for parents. Could returnships be a solution?

When I decided not to return to work after having my first child, a trusted colleague advised me to still “do something” while I was home. She suggested I work part-time, attend conferences, or volunteer – really, anything that would fill the unsightly gap in employment on my resume.

While she supported and respected my choice to be home, she warned that many of her friends who made the same decision struggled to re-enter the workforce. They had to take steps back in their careers and salary because employers found their break from the paid workforce unattractive. She wanted me to avoid this, advising that my skills and time are valuable, and I should be paid accordingly, even if I’ve chosen to exit the fast track for a while.

With this in mind, I took a big gulp and pressed pause on my career, and I don’t yet know how my personal story will go. I hope, when I’m ready, I’m able to press play right where I left off, but I know I may have to rewind to a more junior role to get my foot back in the door. I also know that my situation is not unique.

Paying the price for exiting the fast track

According to the Harvard Business Review’s widely circulated 2005 study “Off-Ramps and On-Ramps:  Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success,” over a third of “highly qualified women” reported voluntarily leaving their careers at some point, and the number increases to 43% among women with children. Almost all of the women surveyed (93%) intended to re-enter the workforce, but only 40% found full-time employment. Others worked part-time or became self-employed.

The authors concluded, “The implication is clear: Off-ramps are around every curve in the road, but once a woman has taken one, on-ramps are few and far between – and extremely costly.” Even with a relatively short break of one to two years, women lost, on average, 18% of their earning power. Unsurprisingly, the longer women stayed out, the larger the penalty. The authors updated the study in 2010 and did not find significant differences in their results.

So, my colleague’s advice to me was sound. As I enter my third year out of the workforce, I can’t help but take another big gulp, wondering just how much money I’m leaving on the table and just how hard it will be to get back to work when I’m ready.

Of course, having a choice of whether to work is a privilege that few American women have. Nonetheless, there’s a group of us who put our professional careers on hold, only to find that the years we invested in schooling and work don’t help very much when we want to get back in the game, and that’s pretty frustrating.

But, employers are feeling pain, too, in the form of talent shortages and the desire to balance gender representation in their workplaces, so they’re taking notice of the “roughly 2.6 million educated mothers of prime working age who are not in the labor force.”

On-ramping with a returnship

The Chicago Tribune reported in February 2016 that seven STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) companies are set to launch re-entrance programs this year for professionals who want to get back into the workforce after taking an extended career break (usually two or more years). These paid internships serve as an outreach opportunity to a pool of talent that, until recently, may have been overlooked because of their break from work.

IBM, GM, Booz Allen Hamilton, Intel, Johnson Controls, Cummins, and Caterpillar committed to pilot programs in cooperation with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and the consulting firm iRelaunch, which calls itself “the return-to-work experts.” The hope is that more companies in STEM will sign on to start programs of their own in the coming years.

The concept is not new. Goldman Sachs led the pack in 2008 with its Returnship program , and Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, and JPMorgan followed with similar programs. Several big law firms started their own, too, and some companies have expanded their programs globally. According to iRelaunch’s comprehensive list of re-entry programs, there are about 90 active programs across industries.

The details of the programs vary by company, but they generally offer paid internships that last anywhere from nine weeks to an entire year and rotate participants through various departments or roles. Participants receive support through mentorships and workshops, have opportunities to network with other professionals, and adapt their skills for a work environment that may have changed since they’ve been gone.

The programs are competitive and do not guarantee a job offer at the end. At Goldman, 1,000 applicants vied for 19 spots in 2013, and about half of all graduates of the program have received job offers.

The highest users of these internships are women who stepped out of the workforce to raise families, but it’s not exclusively for them. As adults have the burden to care for their aging parents or take leaves of absence for other personal reasons, these programs offer a way to re-adjust to life at work, as The New York Times highlighted in 2014.

Are they really necessary?

Since my background is in human resources, when I first learned about these programs I was intrigued, but as a stay-at-home mom who assumes she’ll have a career again one day, I was miffed. Had I really become so untouchable that I’d need a special program to get back to work? These internships validate the assumption that candidates with a gap in employment are less capable than candidates who’ve continuously worked, and I’m not convinced that’s fair.

In that Harvard Business Review study, women lost earning power after one or two years out of work. How much does one’s professional skill set really diminish over two years, and does it actually justify putting them in a more junior role than the one they left? Does it really take longer to bring them up to speed than any new employee on-boarding into a company?

I was chatting with a friend from my old job, and she filled me in on the latest news from our company. It was kind of like watching a soap opera that I hadn’t seen in a few years. Things had changed, but I could still follow the storyline pretty easily. Surely, I could jump back into my old role after three years of being away. So, then, how big of a disadvantage would I really have at a different company compared to any other new hire?

I channeled my grad school research days and scanned through hundreds of studies on JSTOR looking for data on this — the success and turnover rates of people re-entering the workforce after a career interruption compared to new employees with no such break. I couldn’t find any research on the topic. If you have facts on this, please share them because I really want to know whether the perception is justified that job candidates with a break in service are a high risk hiring decision.

I want more than anecdotes of a mom getting cold feet as she starts a new job. Because for every one of those, I know a woman who hit the ground running at the same speed as any other new employee. Sure, these ladies found the transition mentally taxing at first, but this didn’t diminish their contributions to their new employers. Everyone starting a new job has a learning curve and no one has an absolutely perfect skill set. We all have strengths and weaknesses, regardless of whether we’ve always worked or took a break.

If such research doesn’t exist, then I know what I’ll study for my PhD dissertation when I can’t get a job due to my apparently unbridgeable gap in employment. Because, I actually think I’ll be a better employee than when I left. Motherhood has made me an all-around more competent person. I’m a better advocate for others and a better leader, more mindful of when and how to steer the ship where it needs to go.

In fact, another friend of mine, who’s an attorney, said that early in her career, the lawyer interviewing her noticed she had been a preschool teacher in college. The lawyer told her that if she could successfully negotiate with two- and three-year-olds, then she would have no trouble arguing with opposing counsel. She got the job.

On top of the professional skill set that I’ve retained (and still use, just in different ways), I’m bringing an entire set of experiences that people who’ve always worked don’t have. I may have unique and beneficial insights to share with my new company, and it’s disheartening that it’s not always looked at this way.

I’m not alone in taking offense. Stacey Hawley’s article on WorkingMother.com called returnships a “bad idea” that “take advantage of women who feel less confident after being at home for a few years.” She argues that companies “PLAY on this PERCEIVED lack of expertise or skills. They promote the low self-confidence some people feel after being out of the workforce and use it to their advantage. Under the guise of helping people get up to speed and allowing employees to ‘see if it is the right fit,’ they get a no-risk trial and can fire you.”

Certainly things change over time. New technology, industry innovations, and workplace trends create a learning curve that steepens the longer one’s been gone, but lumping everyone with a gap of two or more years into one group, assuming they need extra help just to function in a workplace, and then funneling them into highly competitive programs that don’t guarantee employment lets companies off the hook of evaluating resumes of career re-launchers in an unbiased way.

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But maybe they’re helpful

As I worked myself up into a lather over these re-entry programs, I reached out to my former colleagues still in the trenches of human resources at a variety of well-known and respected companies. They calmed my righteous indignation because they’re not only skilled professionals but also young mothers who know what it feels like to actually make that transition back to work (something I have yet to do). 

They know firsthand how hard it is to transition their mindsets back to work after time off, even if it’s only a four-month maternity leave. “It’s still a very big mental shift to get your brain re-trained to be focused on the business, strategies, etc. To go from family being the number one, to family being one of a few different priorities, it’s a juggle,” Kelly Jones, an HR Business Partner at The Clorox Company explains. Re-entrance programs offer less of a commitment on both sides, which is good if the candidate decides she’s not quite ready to go back to work.

I also talked with Estrella Parker, Chief Human Resource Officer at Satellite Healthcare WellBound, for her take on these initiatives. Her company does not have a re-entrance program, but she sees value in them as an opportunity to rebuild the confidence of people coming back to work, not to take advantage of them.

She explains, “It’s all about transition. How do you support them to prepare for a competitive environment, so they can reintegrate into those [higher] level positions [that they left]?” Even more importantly, she says, these programs offer access to professional networks that may be hard for individuals to tap into on their own. The old adage of, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know” often still holds true for career progression.

Getting your foot back in the door

Whether you think a re-entrance program is right for you, or you want to find other ways to get back to work, think first about what you really want to do. “When you take a break, it changes you, and you might not want to get back into work where you left off,” Parker notes. You’ll be most successful if you find the right fit, even if it’s in a different company, industry, or profession than where you were before. IRelaunch offers numerous resources to get you prepped for returning to work.

Here are some other things to keep in mind:

Introducing the concept of re-entrance programs to desired employers may be tough.

Developing and running programs like these takes time and money, and employers aren’t likely to do it for a single job candidate. Your best bet is to convince them that you already have what it takes to be hired straight away. If you’re set on getting one of these schemes in place, work with current employees inside the company to develop a business case for it. You’ll need to understand where they have talent gaps, demonstrate how these programs can help close those gaps, offer suggestions for program design, and estimate the return on investment the company can expect.

That’s a lot of work, so maybe… 

Consider contracting assignments to ease back in.

Often, companies need extra help from experienced, highly-skilled professionals for specific projects or seasonal work and will contract with temporary agencies and consultants to fill this need. It’s a common re-entry point that provides flexibility and less commitment, but gets a foot in the door and can lead to full-time employment.

Networking is the key.

It really is all about getting that chance to prove you’ve still got it, and often that’s about who you know. Make it vocal to anyone who will listen that you’re ready to return to work. You may be surprised at your own connections.

Bottom line

I’m not convinced that everyone who takes a break from work requires a special set of hoops, like these internships, to prove that we’ve retained our business acumen, technical, and communication skills. I’m afraid that, with the creation of these programs, companies are never challenged to examine their bias against career re-launchers as already-legitimate job candidates. However, since I haven’t transitioned back to work, I don’t fully understand what it takes, and I have to trust my colleagues who have done it.

I do believe these programs were designed to be mutually beneficial to companies and career re-launchers alike, so I support them. Because, really, whenever a company invests time and money into people, it’s a good thing.

For Babies Born Prematurely, Family Leave Benefits Are Crucial

Having a baby in the NICU is stressful. Having two babies in the NICU is doubly stressful. Knowing you have a paycheck still coming in is one saving grace.

My twin daughters weren’t supposed to be born in December. They were due in February.

Their birth wasn’t a joyous occasion. I didn’t have a birth plan, a doula, or an orgasmic experience. My daughters’ birth was an emergency that wasn’t supposed to happen. The doctors sent me home from the hospital just three hours before we made our way back with blood dripping down my thighs.

As we drove to the hospital, I held the fetal heart rate monitor against my stomach and reassured myself that my unborn daughters would be okay. When my doctor told me it was time, my heart sank. It might have been time for them to come out of me, but it was way too early for them to be born.

My pregnancy was high-risk from the start. What began as a triplet pregnancy became twins after only nine weeks. The ultrasound tech was kind as she measured and re-measured Baby B, but there was no heart beat, and I knew my baby was dead before she even spoke the words. I was cramping and bleeding, barren yet gestating, and my doctor put me on bed rest. My employer winced, but approved my paid short-term disability leave without hesitation.

I had my first placental abruption the night before Thanksgiving. I was only about 28 weeks pregnant, and by then my doctor had upgraded me to light activity. That night, I baked two pies and did a load of laundry. As I moved the laundry from the washer to the dryer, I thought I peed myself. It wasn’t pee.

I spent Thanksgiving and Christmas in the hospital. I opened gifts in my hospital bed, hooked up to monitors. A few days later, I finally went home. I was nervous about going home, but my doctors told me the babies would be fine.

I made it home without incident. In fact, I begged my husband to stop and get me a sandwich on and I dug into it like a starving woman after weeks of hospital food. As I stood up to wash my hands, I felt a familiar gush. I didn’t wonder if I’d peed myself, I knew it was blood.

My daughters were born eight weeks early. Like most parents of preemies, the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) became our second home. My husband and I celebrated New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day there, listening to the angry hum of the ventilator. Sometimes I found myself wondering whether we would still be there by the time Valentine’s Day rolled around.

Valentine’s Day has always been my favorite holiday. I love how flagrantly cheesy it is, and when I was still pregnant with my daughters, I liked to imagine decking them out in matching pink outfits for the occasion. Those silly dreams faded quickly as I forced myself up and out of bed only a few hours after my C-section and the nurses wheeled me into the NICU.

I wasn’t allowed to hold one of my daughters right away, but the NICU nurse handed me the other one gently. She was hooked up to a machine to help her breathe, and it covered most of her face. As I held my miniature daughter, taking in her scent and staring into her inky eyes, maternity leave was the last thing on my mind.

I didn’t have to worry about maternity leave. My company offered generous family leave benefits. Between maternity leave and vacation time, I was able to stay home with full pay and job security for nearly five months. My husband worked at the same company and received four weeks of paid paternity leave as well. He chose to wait and save his paid time off for when our daughters came home from the hospital, so we soon fell into a routine – he dropped me off at the hospital in the morning on his way to work, and picked me up again on his way home.

Time stops in the NICU. As hours became days, and days became weeks, the world collapsed around me, and my reality was the length of the hallway between the parking lot and their hospital room. I basically lived in the NICU, and when I went home to sleep, I pumped my breast milk every two and a half hours around the clock. My motherhood was confined to those drops of breast milk and the few moments in the NICU when I was able to change a tiny diaper, or rock my daughters quietly.

When my daughters finally came home, just in time for Valentine’s Day, all of that changed in an instant. Gone were the wires and tubes, but also gone were the nurses with their calm demeanors and ready hands. My daughters slept fitfully and fought their feeds, and my life became a whirlwind of feeding, changing, and pumping. My husband and I split up the night shift so and each of us would try to get a couple of hours of sleep. I learned how to feed two babies and pump breast milk at the same time, and to function on two hours sleep.

Without that help from my husband, I don’t know how either of us would’ve survived. It was difficult for him to go to work every day when they were in the NICU, but having him available for our daughters’ first month at home saved my sanity. And not having to worry about money in an otherwise difficult time was a gift I’ve never forgotten.

It was the only thing that seemed to go well in a pregnancy, and birth, marked by nothing but complexity.

Know Your Rights: Pregnancy Discrimination Is Illegal

Pregnancy discrimination hurts women, families, children, and even businesses who then miss out on opportunities to hire hard-working employees.

The two blue lines appeared a few days before I finished my master’s degree. Over the next few weeks there was a flurry of graduation celebrations, sending out resumes and cover letters, telling friends and family the good news, and trying to keep the nausea at bay.

I was excited, if not a bit nervous, for all of the changes that were happening in my life. The timing was nearly perfect, I thought. I had just finished my thesis defense without having to run out of the room in search of a trash can to vomit in, and also had plenty of time to find a job and get situated there before the baby was due.

And as luck would have it, I soon found a job for which I was perfectly qualified. Having spent my last year of school training undergraduates how to interview subjects on their drug and alcohol use, I found a posting looking for applicants to interview study participants about none other than their drug and alcohol use. It was perfect. If anything I was overqualified, but the economy was just beginning to revive itself and I was happy to take what I could find.

I sailed through the first interview, and at the very end I decided to act on the advice the career center gave me: I disclosed my pregnancy. “Shouldn’t be a problem at all,” my interviewer assured me.

The second round, however, was much different than the first. This interviewer asked me what town I lived in, a question or two about my background, and then spent the rest of the time grilling me on my pregnancy. She wanted to know when I was due, if I could guarantee that I would be able to attend a conference a week before my due date, why I wanted to apply for the job if I was pregnant, and even noted that I wasn’t the type of person she typically hires for this work.

A week later, I got an email informing me that I did not get the job.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978

In 1978, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act which made it illegal to refuse to hire women who were or could become pregnant, as well as to deny job opportunities, deny promotions, fire, demote, or force women to stop working on the basis of pregnancy.

Nearly 40 years later, however, women are still being treated differently than other people with short term medical needs, solely because they are pregnant. Between 2010 and 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 22,241 reports of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. And this number only reflects cases that were filed – it doesn’t include women who didn’t file a complaint because they were afraid of retaliation, didn’t know their rights, or were simply too busy with a new baby on the way.

Pregnant women still face discrimination in the workforce

Being pregnant makes it harder for women to find work. Pregnant women are more likely to face interpersonal discrimination when applying for jobs, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Researchers from Rice University found that women who were visibly pregnant and seeking work were met with more hostility – furrowed brows, rude treatments, or conversations ending prematurely – than non-pregnant women.

Working mothers are, on average, paid less than their male counterparts. And that’s only if they can get a job in the first place. Mothers in general are less likely to be hired than childfree women, and even if they do get the position, they’re offered a lower salary.

African American women face even more discrimination, accounting for 28.6 percent of EEOC pregnancy complaints, while making up only 14.3 percent of the female labor force. Women in low wage fields make up the majority of complaints, and suffer more from the loss of wages than their higher income counterparts.

Looking for work while pregnant

After receiving my rejection letter, I worked up the courage to send an email to the human resources department of the organization that had declined to hire me. In record time, I received a phone call from a flustered-sounding representative.

“Oh, you absolutely were not turned down for the position because of your pregnancy,” she tried to assure me. “It was because you don’t live in the town where the job is.”

This answer certainly surprised me. When I pointed out to her that not only did I live in that town, but it had been the first question of the interview while the rest focused on my pregnancy, she grew even more flustered. She told me that I should reapply, as she could tell from my resume that not only was I qualified, but the job would in fact be perfect for a new mother.

Because the interviewer who refused to hire me would be my supervisor, I decided against reapplying.

My belly kept growing, and being unemployed was an additional weight for me to carry through my pregnancy. I briefly considered taking legal action, but at the time I wasn’t familiar with the EEOC, and my primary focus was on finding a job and preparing for my new baby.

Eventually, I applied for another job. During the interview I held my breath, sucked in my belly the best I could, and prayed that the flowy top I picked out would disguise my secret. When I received the job offer, I told my boss that I was expecting and we discussed a plan for my start date, maternity leave, and a schedule that accommodated both our needs.

Three months after I had the baby, I was excited to return to my career and grateful to be working in an environment that valued me and my family.

Pregnant women deserve the same treatment

In 2004, President-Elect Donald Trump called pregnancy an “inconvenience” for the employer, an attitude which few so boldly admit to but nevertheless has significant ramifications for women in the workplace.

Over two-thirds of women with children under the age of six are currently employed or looking for work outside of the home, meaning pregnancy discrimination affects a large portion of American workers simply trying to care for their children.

Pregnancy discrimination hurts women, families, children, and even businesses who then miss out on opportunities to hire hard-working employees. Above all, considering a woman’s pregnancy before her qualifications and skills is illegal, and for the sake of our families and workplaces, a form of discrimination we should have moved past a long time ago.

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Here’s How to Potty Train Your Baby

Instead of training toddlers out of a lifelong habit, the Chinese forego diapers from birth. It’s a hands on approach to potty training and it works.

Our son was barely two years old when we enrolled him in a daycare in China. We were two western parents raising a child abroad, and we liked to believe we were doing a pretty good job at it. We took pride in the belief that our boy was ahead of the curve.

But when he showed up with a diaper under his pants, the teachers reacted like we’d brought him in covered in bruises.

“No good,” the head of the daycare said with tsk and a disappointed shake of her head. “We will fix this.”

Our child had only been alive for twenty-four months, but the people here thought it was embarrassing that he wasn’t yet fully potty-trained. To us, it seemed ridiculous (and a little insulting) that this woman thought she could have him running around dry and diaperless within a week – but she did it.

About seven days later, we were done with diapers. It was incredible – but, by Chinese standards, we were actually behind the curve.

Chinese parents potty-train their children without ever putting a single diaper on their bottoms, and the results are astonishing:

– Children are potty-trained in their first 12 to 20 months

– They never have to clean a dirty diaper

– They never have to treat diaper rash

– They save all that money we waste on diapers

– They save all that space in landfills that we fill with them

– They never hear their children cry about being wrapped up in a soiled diaper

Chinese potty-training is different, but it actually works – and it’s worth every parent’s time to borrow a few of its ideas.

Here’s how it works:

Start at birth.

In Europe and America, people endlessly debate when a child is “potty-ready” – but almost everywhere else in the world, the answer’s simple: they start about a few days after the baby is born.

I’m not saying science is wrong – it’s a fact that children are not biologically capable of controlling their bladders. These Chinese newborns do not politely excuse themselves while they step into the powder room.

They are, however, practicing. And that’s the real goal: ingraining good potty-habits from the start.

In case you’re worried, there is absolutely no danger in starting young. Studies have shown that children potty-trained at birth have absolutely no negative side-effects on their behavior.

Waiting too long, though, is dangerous. Other studies show that children who start potty-training late are more prone to accidents and bed-wetting. When we let kids spend their first three years relieving themselves whenever and wherever they want to, it becomes a habit – and breaking that habit is a lot of the reason it’s so hard to get those kids potty-trained when we do start.

Watch for signals.

The goal, at the start, is to get your children into the habit of going to the toilet whenever they need it. At this point, they’re not really aware enough to know it themselves – so it’ll be your job to keep an eye on what your baby’s feeling.

Babies will usually give some indication that they need the toilet before they start using it. You might see your baby squirming, or start to make a struggling face. His or her breathing might change. If it’s a boy, he might start filling up.

Whatever the cue, as soon as you see it happening, your job will be to bring your baby over to the nearest bathroom as quickly as you can. It’s not easy, but it’s setting up a habit in your baby’s life. Your baby will be growing up used to the idea that he or she should react when it’s time to go — instead of just sitting there letting it happen.

Truth be told, you probably won’t always make it in time. Which brings us to one more tip – most Chinese homes don’t have carpet. If you’re going to give this a serious try, you’ll probably regret not pulling those out the first time you don’t make it.

Hold your baby over the toilet.

When they make it to the bathroom, Chinese parents will hold their children over the toilet while they do their business.

That is – when they make it to the bathroom. The truth is, babies have incredibly tiny bladders, and you’re probably not going to have time to get your child to the toilet each time. That’s why Chinese parents often have a practice potty or, when that’s not close enough by, even use basins around the house. Anything they can hold a child over to keep it from making a mess.

When it’s time to go, hold your baby over your potty. Have your child look at, reach for and grab the potty before starting to make the link between toilets and relieving yourself that much more clear.

Whistle.

From nearly the moment our child was born, he’s heard somebody whistle a high F# every time he’s gone pee. It’s something we did from his birth and that, early on, seemed just like a weird tradition our neighbors had goaded us into following – but when he got a bit older, the effects were incredible. Our boy might sit on the toilet complaining that he doesn’t have to go, but the second we whistle, it comes out of him like pressing a button on a machine.

We were taught to whistle – but other people use other sounds. Most people seem to shush or to hiss. It doesn’t really matter. You could probably sing “La Cucaracha” and it would still work.

The point here is to create a Pavlovian connection between a sound and going to the bathroom. You’re sort of programming your child to go to the bathroom on command – which is going to help a lot with the next step.

Put your baby on the potty regularly.

Realistically, you’re not going to be able to spend twenty-fours of each day staring at your child’s face, watching for the slightest sign of a potty emergency – nor should you. You want to get your child into the habit of heading to the bathroom before the situation gets desperate – and so you’ll want to bring sit him or her on the potty once every hour or so.

This is one thing that we didn’t do well at the start. We’d picked up a few of these tricks from people in our community, but, as Western parents, we didn’t worry too much if he relieved himself in his diaper every now and then.

It really does, though, make all the difference. The daycare we sent him to made this a ritual. The whole class would head to the bathroom once every hour, and even sing a song to commemorate the occasion. Once our son had the habit, his visits to the bathroom stopped being races against the clock, and then we started seeing real results.

hild sitting on potty using an Apple Ipad tablet.

Make it work for your lifestyle.

If you follow these first five steps, you can potty-train a child in under two years without any problems – and it will work. Or, at least, it’ll work so long as you’re willing to never leave your home again.

If I’ve been painting too rosy a picture here, it’s because I’ve been saving the hard truths for now. This isn’t an easy process. It’s time-consuming – newborns typically have to pee 20 times each day, so you’ll be spending a lot of your time dangling your child over a toilet.

This method works for Chinese people because their lifestyles are different from ours. Most Chinese parents live with a set of grandparents, and so they have a set of extra hands constantly on watch to reduce the load.

You probably won’t have that luxury – but you can still make it work. Some experiments have been done starting children at six months old and still had great results.

For our family, we did this clumsily – we worked some of these steps in at birth, and didn’t learn about others until later. Even with our patchwork parenting, we still got some major advantages by incorporating these ideas into our potty-training regiment, and still had our child mostly trained by his second birthday.

Go outside and have fun.

Of course, when you go outside, this all gets a lot trickier.

For Chinese parents, going outside is easy. Their children wear pants with holes cut in the crotch and let it all hang out. When a child has to pee, the parents just dangle them over the nearest trash can and let them do it – and it works, because in China the sight of a half-naked baby peeing into a trash can is as normal as normal can be.

Western society is a bit different. If you try that here, you’ll get more than a few stares, and might get a few concerned phone calls as well. Until we have a major societal change, most parents probably won’t be willing to take a pair of scissors to their kids’ pants before heading outdoors.

Still, there are ways to make it work. In our case, we simply let our boy wear diapers outside when he was young – then, once he was two, just sent him out with underwear and pants and sent him to the bathroom every chance we could.

You might go further. You might not go as far. Perhaps all of this still seem a bit too odd for you to try – and if so, you’re not alone. Even in China, this is starting to change. As the country gets wealthier, a growing number of people are turning to diapers, buying into the belief that whatever comes from the West is best.

But the truth is, there are some things other cultures do better than we do – and there’s a lot of evidence that potty-training is one of them.

Do whatever works for you – but working a few Chinese ideas into your potty-training regimen just might make the process a whole lot easier.

Calmer Parenting Through Mathematical Literacy

As new parents, you’re often in a state of worry or panic. But statistically, the chances of tragedy are actually quite low.

Picture this common nightly scene in households with young children: an exhausted parent shuffles kid through dinner, bathtime, storytime. After an hour or so of trying to get the child to sleep, the exhausted parent collapses on the couch in relief. But five minutes later, the exhausted parent scans a poor-quality video feed from the kid’s room to see if her belly is moving up and down.

New parents often spend a lot of time worrying that their kids are going to spontaneously die. And it’s easy to understand why. Parenting resources share terrifying details about the rare conditions that might lurk within a seemingly healthy baby. The 2014 CDC report on infant mortality, for example, opens with the disturbing figure of 23,000 infant deaths. Just reading it is enough to make you want to risk waking up your sleeping munchkins in order to check for breathing.

But what does that number really mean?

To figure that out, we have to travel through some scary, sad data. In 2013, there were 23,446 deaths per 3,932,181 births. Put another way, six out of every 1,000 babies will die within their first year. This figure is considerably higher than other wealthy countries.

But part of the reason the U.S. infant mortality rate is so much higher than other countries is that not all countries count pre-term births. In their investigation of infant mortality, Alice Chen, Emily Oster, and Heidi Williams eliminated infants born before 22 weeks gestation, a figure more in keeping with how other countries measure live births. That calculation brought the US deaths per 1,000 live births to 4.2.

Chen, Oster, and Williams also studied how the infant mortality rate varies across different populations within the US. Some areas of the country have rates much higher than the national average, and infant mortality appears linked with socioeconomic status. In other nations, infant mortality is more evenly spread across demographic groups. In the US, where you live and your level of education can dramatically affect the infant mortality rate.

The work of economists like Chen, Oster, and Williams to more accurately determine the infant mortality rate, and medical and public health professionals to lower that rate, is critical. But it’s possible for individual parents to place too much emphasis on these numbers. In focusing on our country’s relatively high infant mortality rate when compared to other wealthy nations, we forget the importance of the world “relative.” Whether the number is 4.2 or 6 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, the United States’ infant mortality rate is extremely high compared with other, similar nations. But the incidence of infant mortality itself is actually extremely low.

If you haven’t read much about probability and statistics since picking M&Ms out of a bag in elementary school, now’s the time. We tend to think of numbers as concrete expressions of reality, but as Edward MacNeal has argued in the wonderful primer Mathsemantics, the same number can often sound different when expressed in different ways.

For example, hearing a percentage expressed negatively versus positively impacts how people interpret risk, and therefore the choices that they make. In “Rhetorical Numbers,” Joanna Wolfe describes a friend concerned about a pregnancy book that gave her a one in fifty chance of having a particular pregnancy complication. That friend was reassured by her doctor, who told her that she had a 97% chance of a healthy child.

The second scenario is actually worse than the first – 97% versus 1-in-50 – but she perceived it to be better because it was expressed in abstract terms. When a number is expressed as “1-in-x,” we tend to view ourselves as the 1 because we can visualize it.

As Wolfe’s friend put it, “I know fifty people.” She could imagine herself being that one of fifty, even though the probability was quite low. It’s the same kind of logic, Wolfe notes, that encourages people to buy lottery tickets: a 1-in-20 chance of winning sounds much more likely to happen than a 5% chance of winning, even though those statements are identical.

The 6-in-1000 ratio used to describe infant mortality is a helpful way of comparing infant mortality in the US to infant mortality in other countries (and also from state to state, as Chen, Oster, and Williams have done). But that 6-in-1000 chance is also what makes young parents so preoccupied about infant deaths: we can picture ourselves as the parents of those 6-in-1000 kids.

A stronger grasp of statistics can help us separate risks into significant, small, and near-imaginary categories. It might help us stop needlessly checking to see if our kids are breathing at night, or racing through showers because we’re convinced they’re gravely wounded on the other side of the door.

Let’s look at that infant mortality rate a bit differently. Six in every 1,000 infants will die in their first year. When represented in this way, we we have a tendency to imagine our babies as part of the 6 instead of part of the 1,000. But what if we represented this number graphically? In the image below, the black dots in this chart represent babies who survive their first year. The red dots represent US infants who die before their first birthday.

Infant mortality graphic

Another way to think about this 6-in-1000 statistic is to consider that out or every 1000 infants, 994 of them will survive their first year – that’s 99.4%. When you can’t sleep in the middle of the night because you’re worrying about whether or not your child is breathing, think of this percentage – 99.4% – and perhaps you’ll rest a little bit easier. Or, if you’re past the first 28 days, think 99.8%, which is the post-neonatal survival rate.

My point here is not to be cavalier about infant mortality. Not at all. My point is to recognize that, despite our near-constant worry, the overwhelming majority of babies in this country survive their first year.

Of course it’s important for various health organizations to research ways to further reduce this number. Of course it’s important for parents to be vigilant about various dangers. But our collective panic about things that might kill the baby are almost certainly overblown, in part because so many of us not familiar with statistics and probability, so many of us have poor mathematical literacy. 

Numbers tell a story. And the way the numbers are presented, set the tone of the story. So this week, each time you feel the urge to check to see if the baby is still breathing, reach for a book about math instead.

Or – perhaps more realistically – every time you do check on the baby, read a few paragraphs of MacNeal’s Mathsemantics or John Allen Paulos’ Innumeracy to help put that fear in check with a mathematical perspective.

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7 Guided Meditations to Help Your Child Sleep

Settling down to sleep isn’t always easy for kids. These guided meditations are a great addition to the usual warm baths, lullabies, and storybooks.

There’s plenty of advice out there for parents who want to help settle their children down to sleep at night. If you’ve been looking for ideas you’re probably familiar with suggestions like a warm bath, a regular bedtime routine, and avoiding screen time just before bed.

But what if it you’ve tried everything, and none of it works for your child?

I used to teach meditation and relaxation sessions at a mental health center, and when I became a parent, I adapted some of the exercises I employed there to help my high-energy child relax at bedtime.

These exercises are best done after your child is in bed, with the lights out or just a gentle night light left on. Hopefully you’ll be tiptoeing out of the room before you finish!

When doing these exercises always speak in a gentle soothing voice, use rhythm and repetition, and slow down as you speak. As your child seems more relaxed pause between some words, and elongate sounds. 

The Jelly Sweet

The last time I did this one with my daughter she fell asleep almost instantly.

I begin with, “You are a jelly sweet. You are a purple jelly sweet lying on the floor. On the warm floor, in the sun. You feel soft and melty, lying on the warm floor, in the sun. You are lovely and warm and soft and squishy…”

Encourage your child to really imagine how it feels to be a jelly sweet and continue the description of how the sweet is becoming softer and meltier until it eventually melts into the floor, by which time your little one will hopefully have melted away to sleep.

Sleepy Cats

My daughter loves cats, so I came up with this one just for her, but of course it could easily be adapted to any other animal.

We begin by imagining a cat, maybe a kitten, maybe a big, old silver tabby, anything my daughter likes. I’ll describe the cat using gentle words like “soft” and “fluffy,” and give it a sleepy sounding name such as “Dreamy.”

I’ll talk slowly about how comfortable Dreamy feels, how she purrs and stretches as she snoozes on the end of the bed. Other imaginary cats may also climb onto the bed and snuggle up next to Dreamy.

Repeating words and phrases suggestive of sleep can be really effective at bedtime, it’s a technique used to great effect by Swedish psychologist Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin, in the bestselling The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep.

The Garden of Dreams

Professor Luc Beaudoin promotes a technique called the cognitive shuffle to help insomniacs which involves picturing a random sequence of objects for a few seconds each. The theory is that imagining a succession of nonsensical images can induce sleep.

For this visualization, it helps to have some image ideas prepared – it’s surprisingly tricky to come up with a random list on the spot.

Take your child for an imaginary stroll through a lovely garden filled with strange things. For example, “See the swirly-whirly tree, it’s branches are rainbows slowly twirling through the air. Tiny ironing boards hop about underneath, watch them jump, hear them rattle as they land.”

Focus on one item for a few seconds, then move on to another unrelated item. Imagine an Alice in Wonderland scenario where nothing makes sense but ensure it feels safe and lulling.

The Floaty Boat

Water is a common feature of guided relaxations as many people find water sounds intrinsically relaxing. According to Professor Orfeu Buxton at Live Science this is because slow, whooshing noises are ‘non-threats’ that work to calm people.

For this exercise begin by encouraging your child to imagine him or herself wrapped in a warm blanket in the bottom of a little boat. You might want to place the boat near to the banks of a small river to add a sense of safety, perhaps put yourself in the boat too.

You can begin, “We are snuggled under a fleecy blanket, in our little boat, under a starlit sky.” Bring different senses into play – the gentle bobbing sensation, a soft breeze, rustling leaves, the murmur of the water as it flows over rocks. Imitate watery sounds with words like “hush” and “shush” as you gently drift downstream – and your child gently drifts off to sleep.

The Colored Staircase

This visualization begins with the child imagining standing at the top of a long staircase, leading down to the land of sleep.

You can number the steps and count down backwards with each one – counting backwards is a standard hypnosis technique – but it’s not essential. Just let your child know that with each step they’ll feel little more relaxed, and a little more sleepy. Give the steps different colors, textures, and associations.

So, for example, a soft fluffy white step made of marshmallow may be followed by a shimmery silver step as light as air. Again use sleep-suggestive words, “Going gently down to the next step, it’s deep dark velvet, soft and smooth, making you feel even more sleepy.”

If you reach the bottom of the staircase and they’re still awake, you can walk them through the garden of dreams until they are even more deeply relaxed.

In the Clouds   

Ask your child to imagine they are as light as a feather and can be lifted by a gentle breeze.

“How would it feel to be carried gently along in the sky? Imagine you are a feather drifting higher and higher, drifting further and further away from the earth, drifting gently across the sky. And now you begin to float gently down, landing on a soft fluffy cloud, floating in the air. How does it feel to lie on a cloud in the warm sun? The earth below is far away, it’s noises have faded into the distance. You are safe and comfortable on your cloud. Relax and let the sun warm you…”

Under the Sea

A water-based exercise I use involves imagining being a little fish gently swimming to the bottom of the sea.

Along the way, the fish looks at beautiful corals and strange, slow moving (but unthreatening) sea creatures. At the bottom of the sea, it’s time to rest under a rock and watch the sea life as it passes by.

Again, think of your child’s interests, perhaps they’d prefer to be a whale, a jellyfish, or a sleepy octopus. What all of these creatures have in common, is that they they’ve had their adventures for the day and are settling down for the night.

Once your child is familiar with the exercises they can practice using them on their own. If they wake in the night you could tell them to imagine the floaty boat, or the sleepy cats, or whichever one of the exercises works best for them, to help themselves get back to sleep.

You can, of course, adapt these talks to work with your own child’s special interests. If you have a particularly high-energy child, try teaming a guided relaxation up with a gentle back rub – it can work miracles!

43 Easy Ways to Start Taking Better Care of Yourself Today

Caring for ourselves has to be realistic if we’re actually going to do it. Here are 43 simple suggestions to get you started.

Self care is critical to your overall well-being, and your well-being is important. Our lives are full of chronic stress. Stress leads to inflammation, and inflammation is at the root of many illnesses.

Self care is about sticking up for yourself. It’s about prioritizing your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. As parents, we priortize our children, our spouses, and our work over ourselves. And we struggle mightily – feeling selfish and guilty – when we don’t.

Here’s a critically important concept: taking care of ourselves IS taking care of our families, our relationships, our careers, our obligations. It’s an investment in our longevity – in our future ability to continue to be productive in the many roles we all play. If we don’t care for ourselves, we’ll eventually, and inevitably, be unable to care for others.

Because these kinds of lists can so easily make a person feel overwhelmed, the ideas on this list were chosen with these things in mind:

Is the idea actually helpful?

Are the ideas reasonably simple?

Are the ideas – or some version of the ideas –generally accessible?

With that in mind, here are 43 simple ways you can practice taking care of yourself today:

Ask for what you need.

Maybe it’s a raise. Maybe it’s time off. Maybe it’s that when you walk in the door, you need your family to say hello before bombarding you with questions and complaints.

Say no. 

No, you can’t sleep on my couch when you’re in town. No, I can’t take on that project right now. No, I’m not able to stay late. No, I don’t want any more freaking cheese ON MY DAMN PASTA. NO NO NO. Practice it: NO.

Say yes.

Yes, I would love some help with the groceries. Yes, I would love it if you took the kids to school. Yes, I want to meet up for a beer. Yes, I WANT MORE CAKE. Practice it: YES.

Plan a vacation.

A vacation can be whatever you need it to be, whatever you can afford it to be. If it’s a week on the beach, awesome. If it’s playing tourist in a neighboring town for a day, that’s great too.

Dance. 

Turn on some tunes and dance it out. Follow these simple instructions: Jump around. Jump around. Jump up. Jump up. And, get down.

Take 10 deep breaths.

This is an easy way to calm your mind that actually works and costs nothing. Try it. If you get to the third breath and you still hate me, well, keep going.

Eat a piece of fruit.

No, it’s not a miracle cure-all, but it’s a start. Fiber? Check. Vitamins? Check. Delicious? Check. Refreshing? Check.

Read a book.

Some of us are already voracious readers. And some perpetually start books that are never finished. It doesn’t matter. Either way, reading is both engaging and relaxing.

Take a power nap.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 20-30 minutes and cites all kinds of benefits.

Meditate.

This doesn’t have to involve sitting on a precipice overlooking the Grand Canyon surrounded by thousands of lit candles. This isn’t the freaking finale of The Bachelor, it’s actual real life. It’s not about how well you do it, it’s just about practicing the skill of quieting your mind. Check this list for some insight on meditation apps.

Run.

Any sort of exercise is great. Running requires little more than a pair of sneaks. It’s a quick way to get the endorphins flowing for immediate benefit, and the long term benefits are many.

Yoga.

Here’s the thing about yoga: it’s like pizza, it’s all good, it just depends on what you like. Pick a class and try it. Many studios have a weekly donation-only class as a more affordable option. Lots of science behind this one. Yoga is definitely good for you.

Therapy.

Knowing when it’s time to see a therapist is an important life skill. Yes. Our childhoods, our traumas, our losses, our conflicts have an impact on our daily lives. Yes they do. Therapy helps us see how, and shows us what we can do about it.

Schedule a massage.

Some massage therapists have sliding scales. Some massages are covered by insurance if prescribed by a doctor or a PT. The massage chair at the mall is less that $5 and you can just close your eyes and pretend no one can see you.

Take a break from the news.

Unless you’re reading my son’s 2nd grade classroom newspaper where the worst headline you’ll ever see is about that one time Sam hogged the chess board, the news is generally terrible and upsetting. It’s too much. Take a break.

Milk a spa day.

Find out how many treatments you have to purchase in order to sit in the hot tub or next to the pool all day. Sometimes purchasing a 30-min facial, or a pedicure, buys you a whole day of plush-robe-wearing, lemon-water-drinking, steamy-sauna-sitting restoration.

Clean your feed.

Our social media feeds are full of Debbie Downers — people who take to Facebook and whine about how life is so much harder for them than it’s ever been for anyone else in the world. Here’s an update: no, it’s not. Hit unfollow, unfriend, whatever. If a person doesn’t make you laugh or share useful info, they’re not helping you feel better. Buh bye.

Schedule a dawn date.

It’s hard to wake up extra early to hit the gym, right? But maybe you’d be more motivated if you were getting up to meet a friend for breakfast? Maybe you could get up a little earlier if it was to enjoy a cup of coffee in a quiet house before tiny monsters crawl out of bed and start making unreasonable demands.

Drink a glass of water.

Just get up right now and do it.

Write.

Keep a journal. Express yourself. Check out this site for 365 days of writing prompts.

Ask for help.

Can you do all the things yourself? No. You can’t. Ask for help.

Have coffee/tea with a friend.

Connect with a friend. You know what contributes to depression and anxiety? Isolation.

Go outside.

Literally just go outside. Why not go right now?

Floss your teeth.

Did you know there’s a strong link between poor dental health and heart disease? Read about it here. Or just floss your teeth.

Go to the movies. 

Sometimes you need an escape. Go see a movie.

Chew your food.

Focusing on actually chewing your food zooms you right back to the present moment.

Doodle or color. 

You know what topped Amazon’s 2015 bestseller list? Coloring books for adults. They’re fun, relaxing, and mindless. You know what else is cool? Recolor — a coloring app with free pictures, beautiful pallets, and special effects.

Laugh.

Laughing is good for your health. It relieves stress, stimulates your organs, and improves your immune system. Take it from the Mayo Clinic, they’re smart there.

Go see a live performance.

A concert, a play, whatever helps you feel some good vibes.

Do some karaoke.

You know what’s awesome about karaoke? It combines music, friends, and laughing. Because you’re terrible at it, but it doesn’t matter.

Snuggle with a pet.

Having pets improves your health. WebMD says so.

Schedule your annual physical.

Hate going to the doctor? Go anyway. Better to have regularly scheduled check-ups than be surprised by advanced melanoma. Harsh, yes. And true.

Acknowledge your feelings.

Say it out loud to yourself, say it to a pal. I feel sad. I feel angry. I feel irritated. Say it.

Swap childcare with a friend.

Agree to spend a little QT with some kids, get some free childcare in return. Win – win.

Let go.

You know that thing that’s been bugging you? That thing you can’t control and yet continue to obsess over? Visualize picking it up, putting it a box, and setting the box on fire. Never look back.

Be a good friend to yourself.

Do you have any friends that follow you around saying mean things to you? No. You don’t. Because that person would be an asshole. So, why do you do it to yourself? If that concept doesn’t resonate, try this: if you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself.

Buy yourself flowers.

Or a house plant, unless you tend to kill house plants in which case stick to flowers. The point is, no need to wait for someone else to do this for you.

Have dessert.

Life is about balance, not restriction. Enjoy yourself.

Try something new.

So many benefits! Check out this list of places to learn something new online.

Get enough sleep.

Sleep is really, really important. Hard to come by. Just keep trying. Goto bed 15 minutes earlier each night for four nights and you’ve gained an hour.

Get rid of the word should.

If you can think of one single time the word “should” was used for something other than relaying a guilt trip or conveying shame and disappointment, then you can keep using it. Otherwise, kick it to the curb.

Wake up and say something.

Instead of immediately reaching for your phone, take a minute and say something. Like: Man, this day is packed full, but I’m going to handle it by being decisive. Or: Today will be better than average. Be as realistically optimistic as you can be.

Make a decision.

Then make another. And another. Overthinking is holding you hostage. Pick something and do it.

Do you have any ideas or thoughts to add? Please share in the comments!

 

6 Ways American Policies Fail to Support Families

Taking time to do anything other than hold a full-time, paying job levies a heavy price for American women. And the proof is in our workplace policies.

When I first began staying at home with my kids, I noticed a change in the conversations I would have with new acquaintances. “I’m home taking care of the little ones right now,” I would answer when asked what I did.

“How nice. Must be so fun! Now what kind of law did you say you practiced?” my conversation companion would reply, turning away from me and back to my husband.

No longer do people engage me about my field of work, interests, or background. When I tell people I’m a stay-at-home mother, I’m met with pats on the back, and quickly brushed aside for not doing real, adult work.

The judgment I feel when people ask me if I work is anecdotal, and hopefully only in my imagination. But the reality is that we still don’t place much value on caregiving as a legitimate contribution to society, and our failure to do so hurts all women, both those at home and in the workplace.

The media has crafted the “mommy wars” narrative – pitting mothers who stay home against mothers who have a job outside the house. The reality is that women support their families, workplaces, and communities in a wide variety of ways – raising children, working part-time, volunteering, returning to work after time taking to care for children, homeschooling, telecommuting, running small businesses from home, etc. Society, however, values only one type of contribution – paid employment. Taking time to do anything other than hold a full-time, paying job levies a heavy price for American women.

The proof is in our workplace policies:

1 | High daycare costs.

Daycare costs have been rising over the last 20 years, and are now more than 7% of the average family’s income, according to the Pew Research Center. For families that have more than one child in care, or for low income families, daycare costs can be more than a working mother is able to earn.

Despite rising costs, the federal government actually invests less now in childcare assistance than it did in 2002, according to the Center for Law and Social Policy. And this issue goes beyond just helping moms – high quality preschools can help reduce the racial/ethnic and income achievement gap, according the National Institute for Early Education Research.

2 | Lack of unemployment insurance.

When a parent (usually the mother) leaves the workforce to take care of children – perhaps because they aren’t able to afford the rising daycare cost – they aren’t treated like other employees who are forced to leave.

Only 15 states allow women who leave the workforce due to compelling family circumstances to collect unemployment insurance, according to the National Employment Law Project

3 | No guaranteed paid maternity leave.

The United States is one of only two advanced economies that does not guarantee paid leave for its workers.

Besides the obvious benefit of letting parents and children bond without worrying about lost incomes, there are other compelling reasons paid leave is beneficial. According to the Center for American Progressit’s good for the child’s health, it helps employers keep their employees, and it improves lifetime earnings and retirement savings, especially for women.

4 | No guaranteed paid sick leave. 

Likewise, many working parents do not have access to paid sick leave, a solution that the American Medical Association says would help improve public health.

With guaranteed paid sick leave, parents would not be forced to work when they’re sick in order to save their sick days in case of a sick child. Nor would they be forced to risk employment in order to care for a sick kid.

5 | Wage gap.

The “Motherhood Penalty” is real. Mothers earn 5% less than per child than childless women.

They also have a harder time getting hired and being promoted, concluded researchers at Stanford University. This is part of the reason that women only earn 78 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to the U.S. Census.

6 | Underpaid caregivers.

When we do pay someone to take care of children, we don’t pay them very much. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that childcare workers earn nearly 25% less than workers in other similar occupations, and they’re less likely to receive benefits.

We can’t have it both ways – telling women to dedicate themselves to raising kids, and then punishing them whenever they take time to do so. No matter how we slice it, someone’s got to be the caregiver.

For some families, it makes the most sense for the primary caregiver to be one of the parents, and other families operate better when both parents are working and the parents subcontract the childcare. Gone are the days when the father is the breadwinner, and the mother is meant to care for her children and the home.

So while our families have evolved, the workplace, and the social systems that support it, have not. Despite the tremendous strides we’ve made, we continue to place little value on parenting.

Devaluing caregiving does more than create awkward cocktail conversations for stay-at-home mothers like myself. It creates real financial, physical, and emotional problems for parents who work, or wish to return to work, by penalizing them for caring for their children. 

While we may call motherhood “the most important job,” it’s obvious that we give it little actual weight, either socially or fiscally. And yet, the economic future of our country depends not just on the financial success of our businesses, but on the ability of mothers and fathers to do all of their jobs well.

Raising children is not a second class form of work, a workplace inconvenience, or simply a personal undertaking; it is an essential job with ramifications far beyond the home.

Editor’s note: To hear more about the practical and emotional challenges many stay-at-home parents face when returning to work, check out our podcast, “Where Was I…?