I Asked Navy SEALs and Green Berets For Advice On Surviving Sleep Deprivation – This is What They Said

I’d read about how SEAL recruits had to endure the most physically challenging conditions imaginable – including sleep deprivation. Maybe they could help.

I couldn’t stop worrying about the sleep deprivation. It’s what I what I feared most about becoming a first-time dad. Of course I was worried about the normal things – Am I really cut out to take care of another human being? What if my child goes on tour with the Juggalos? Or becomes an accountant? – but I was always able to talk myself out of the those worries.
The sleep thing was different. After years of chronic insomnia (both the sleep-onset and the sleep maintenance variety), I’d finally settled in to a semi-normal sleep routine. I wasn’t ready to go back to the zombie state that resulted from long stretches of only getting a few hours of sleep a night.
But what if I didn’t have to? What if I could forgo the doctor-recommended sleep time and still avoid the side effects of sleep deprivation that had plagued me in the past? I convinced myself this was possible – with the right guidance. And this line of thinking led me directly to the most elite units of the United States military: The Navy SEALs and the Green Berets. I’d read about how SEAL training forced recruits to endure the most physically challenging conditions imaginable – including extreme sleep deprivation.
With these thoughts in mind, I reached out in earnest to both the Navy SEALs and the Green Berets for tips on how I could deal with the sleep deprivation that accompanied a new baby. Here’s the email I sent:

NAME REMOVED, 

I know this is going to sound unusual, but I was actually writing to see if there were any tips the [U.S. Navy/Army] – specifically the [Navy SEAL/Green Beret] division of the [U.S. Navy/Army] – could offer to help me deal with sleep deprivation. I’m having a baby any day now, and I’m actually pretty worried about how the lack of sleep is going to impact me. I know this sound ridiculous, but I’m very serious about my question. People tell me you just have to sleep when the baby sleeps, but that’s not really an option for me.

I have sleep issues where I need a very specific set of conditions to fall asleep. So I’m thinking the sleep deprivation thing could be extra terrible in the first few weeks – and I really want to be as helpful, productive and present as possible during the baby’s first few weeks with us. I figured it was at least worth a shot to see if one of our military’s most elite units was able (I don’t know how much training is classified) to offer me some tips on how to help my body adjust to the lack of sleep I’ll no doubt be experiencing soon. Anything at all would be greatly appreciated.

Please let me know if you have any additional questions or would like additional details from me.

Sincerely,

Jared Bilski

I can’t believe I got any response. The email clearly sounds like it’s coming from a lunatic. What type of person asks the military for secret and potentially classified tactics to help them parent more effectively. I’m not sure what kind of response I was looking for. Maybe, I was hoping for specifics like:

Dear Jared,

Keep a basin of ice water and a hammer in a strategic location at all times. When fatigue starts to set in, submerge your head under the ice water for 30-45 seconds. Then, as soon as you exit the basin, immediately drop the hammer on your bare foot. The pain and adrenaline rush should mask the effects of the sleep deprivation for 48-72 hours after which you should repeat the process or sleep.

I actually heard back from both the Green Berets and the Navy SEALs, and their responses weren’t what I was expecting. Due to scary language about the SEALs’ email being an official Department of Defense communication, I won’t reprint the entire transcript of the message on this parenting website.
Essentially, the anonymous SEAL recruiter told me there wasn’t really a magic workaround for sleep deprivation and that the condition could be harmful even over the course of a short period of time. He said the SEALs overcome the condition because “they are in a life-threatening environment where adrenaline makes up for it [the loss of sleep]. Don’t do that to yourself.”
He also urged me to split up the parenting duties, catch up on sleep whenever possible, and urged me to get family help if possible. Then he wished me luck with the new child.
The Green Berets’ respondent offered me the following advice:

I’m sorry, but we only answer recruiting questions. However, as a mother of four children, I can advise you to get someone to help with the baby as much as possible in the first few weeks until you can adjust. Congratulations and I hope things go well for you!

Respectfully,

NAME REMOVED

Looking back on the Army recruiter’s message, I can’t believe a woman who had not one, not two, but four children, had the discipline to not call me a whiny little bitch because of my fear.
But what struck me the most about the responses from both elite military units was the common message: Get help whenever possible and take advantage of any available family.
Their emails made it clear they thought parenting was far from an easy job. And somehow that made me feel better. After all, if a Navy SEAL, someone who survived drown proof testing and Hell Week (7,000 calories a day are consumed and people still lose weight!), thinks taking care of a baby is hard, then I shouldn’t be too hard on myself for getting a little overwhelmed with the prospect of becoming a parent.

The Far Reaching Effects of Positive Emotions

We now know that feeling good is good for us, but how can we help our kids feel good? Here are a few suggestions based on positive psychology research.

Positive psychology now offers proof that positive experiences don’t just make us feel good in the present, they also transform lives. People who feel good also live longer. In one study, researchers analyzed the handwritten autobiographies of 180 nuns. The nuns were aged between 75 and 95 but had written the autobiographies while in their 20s. The researchers analyzed the emotional content and recorded how often the nuns wrote about instances of happiness, interest, love, and hope. The findings revealed that the most positive nuns lived up to 10 years longer than the most negative ones.
Evidence suggests that positive emotions increase focus and attention, make it easier to process information, help develop resilience and optimism, improve cognitive abilities, foster creativity, and broaden the scope of thinking. According to the positive psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson, positive emotions build an individual’s physical, intellectual, psychological, and social resources which can be drawn on later during difficult moments. In other words, positive emotions act as a buffer during difficult times.
We now know that feeling good is good for us, but how can we help our kids feel good? Here are a few suggestions based on positive psychology research.

1 | Cultivate joy today and everyday

Joy has often been associated with playfulness. In his book “The Emotions,” Nico Henri Frijda speaks of “free activation” as the action most associated with joy. For him, joy is associated with a child’s readiness to seek things to play and to enjoy. According to Barbara Fredrickson, play encompasses physical, social, intellectual, and artistic play. It involves a wide variety of activities such as the possibility to explore and discover, invent, or just simply fool around.
Many benefits have been associated with play. Solid research suggests that play has an impact on social, intellectual, and psychological outcomes. It promotes skills acquisition and the development of physical and cognitive skills. The skills developed provide kids with durable resources that they can use in hard times.

What you can do

  • Provide kids with opportunities for play everyday.
  • Provide opportunities for kids to engage in unstructured but stimulating play. There is evidence that kids who engage in less structured play develop better problem-solving skills and also have more creative freedom.
  • Allow your kids to have “stand-and-stare time.” Kids also benefit by simply observing the world around them.

2 | Don’t force your kid to take those piano lessons

Kids build positive emotions when they engage in activities that interest them. Where there is interest, there is also curiosity, persistence, and excitement.

What you can do

  • Do not focus on what you think is “right” for your kid, focus on what he or she likes. Observing the things your kid is attentive to or those to which he seems attracted to can help you identify his strengths.
  • Work around your kids’ strengths. If your kid is competitive but doesn’t like doing math for instance, proposing math exercises with an added competitive element (for example timing how long he takes to finish a multiplication table) can help build interest.
  • When it comes to effective ways to motivate kids, some methods work better than others. Remember that kids are motivated by activities that offer challenges that take into account what they are already able to do.

3 | Start a gratitude routine

Helpful compassionate acts don’t just benefit other people, they also benefit us. We feel better when we help others. Gratitude makes people nicer to be around. There are science-backed benefits of practicing gratitude with kids. Much of the available research suggests that gratitude leads to physical and psychological well-being.
One study found that people who kept a gratitude journal in which they listed up to five small or big things for which they were grateful over the week were more attentive, determined, energetic, enthusiastic, excited, interested, joyful, and strong.

What you can do

  • Teaching your kid to practice gratitude does more than help him fill his “bucket of positive emotions.” It can also help your family bond. When family members show their appreciation for each other, they are more likely to become what science refers to as “strong families.”
  • Staring a simple routine such as a “thankful day” where each family member expresses the things for which they are grateful can help kids develop a grateful disposition.

4 | Teach your kid to handle difficult emotions

Emotions have an impact on even the youngest kids and influence their social, psychological and intellectual development. When we teach kids about emotions using age-appropriate strategies, we help them understand that they have the resources to manage those emotions.

What you can do

  • Emotions are everywhere. Make use of every day opportunities to talk to kids about emotions.
  • Remember that it is easier to help your kid before he or she goes into meltdown. There is evidence that if chosen and used appropriately, essential oils can be a natural and effective way to calm kids’ anxiety and hyperactivity.
  • Knowing about emotions is good but insufficient. Provide your kid with an effective framework to help her deal with strong emotions by herself.

Positive psychology researchers agree that a kid is more likely to develop positive emotions when he is raised in a warm and responsive family in which he feels loved and appreciated.

This is the Biggest Indicator of a Kid's Happiness, According to Recent Survey

Most parents know that sleep is important for children’s wellbeing. But how important is sleep to your child’s happiness?

Most parents know that sleep is important for children’s wellbeing. Adults, and parents in particular, generally value sleep and know too well the way it affects our own emotional well-being when we don’t get enough sleep. But how important is sleep to your child’s happiness?
The 2017 BTN Happiness Survey conducted by the University of Melbourne and Behind the News TV program involved 47,000 Australian children. It found that sleep was the biggest indicator of happiness. The online study found that getting enough sleep made children twice as likely to report feeling happy lots of the time.
“These results provide compelling evidence that sleep is a key indicator of child wellbeing,” said Associate Professor Lisa Gibbs, the Chair of The University of Melbourne Children’s Lives Initiative, in an interview with ABC News. Before you start getting anxious about whether your child gets the prescribed amount of sleep for their age, it’s important to remember that children who sleep well tend to feel safe and secure. In the survey results, children who did not feel safe were four times more likely to have atypical sleep patterns, meaning they slept too much or too little for the age group.
Sleep is negatively affected by adverse events such as being exposed to domestic violence. While the survey shows the importance of improving your child’s sleep habits for their emotional wellbeing, it also continues the highlight the role of feeling safe and secure on general wellbeing. Helping children with anxiety, stress, and trauma is important.
The survey also found a range of things help children feel happy including family, friends, music, and sport. Younger children were significantly more likely to report that family, reading, and artwork were sources of happiness. Cooking and being in nature were also linked to feeling happy for girls. Boys were significantly more likely to report sport and computer games helped them feel happy. Pets were also identified by many children in all age groups and gender as a source of happiness.

What can you do to improve your child’s sleep?

These are the tips I recommend in my clinical psychology practice that are based on the psychology of sleep and children’s developmental needs:

1 | Provide a safe and secure relationship with your child

Children who feel safe and secure generally have a good emotional bond with their parents. Find ways in each day to connect with your child. Spend time doing things with them and really noticing them. Repair ruptures that happen between you and your child as quickly as possible. Many a child has worried at night that their parent blames them for everything or doesn’t like them anymore.

2 | Have a regular bedtime routine that supports good sleep habits

Set bedtimes that are consistent with the amount of sleep your child needs help. Developing routines that prime children for bedtime helps too. For example children might know that every night after dinner they brush their teeth, play a game, and then have a story read with their parent prior to being tucked in to bed. These routines provide a sense of predictability which encourages a sense of safety and reduces children’s anxiety about bedtime.

3 | Ensure your child exercises daily

Moving your body is a helpful tool in encouraging sleep. It helps use up physical energy, but is also positively associated with the brain chemistry people need to manage stress and anxiety and sleep well. Most schools have some daily exercise program but children may need more than what is provided.

4 | Reduce exposure to technology in the two hours before bed

In this every increasing technological world it is not uncommon that children spend significant amounts of time looking at screens. The portability of these devices means they often find their way into bedrooms. Screens emit blue light which can prevent production of melatonin. Melatonin production is necessary for falling asleep at the right time. By preventing access in the two hours before bed your child is more likely to go to sleep at the right time.

5 | Remove electronic devices such as iPads from your child’s room at night

Many electronic devices emit noises and have notifications that can occur at all times through the night and can wake your child up. Electronic devices are very tempting for children and many a sleepless child has been found on a device at night. When your child is exposed to blue light from these devices, it signals its daytime to your child’s brain and is not conducive with going back to sleep.

6 | Ensure anxiety and past trauma is treated

If your child is not sleeping due to anxiety or past trauma, seek treatment. Make contact with your doctor or community agency to work out what your child needs. Professional and specialized mental health help is best.

7 | Prevent exposure to ongoing trauma such as domestic violence

Do everything you can to stop your child being exposed to trauma. If you suspect your child is being hurt, do not ignore your intuition and seek help from a medical practitioner or community agency for further advice. The factors involved are often complicated, especially in the case of domestic violence – it is likely you will need multiagency support to help you. Your child’s wellbeing is worth it.
Raising a happy child comes down to a combination of factors. Good sleep is just one of them.

The 6 Biggest Lies I Believed Before Having Kids

Just about all of us had a few wrong ideas about raising kids before we became parents ourselves.

Just about all of us had a few wrong ideas about raising kids before we became parents ourselves. Some of these ideas might have been based on our own wacky ideas of how we would do things differently than everyone else. Other ideas we take for granted as new parents, only to realize later how laughable the idea was. Below are six of the biggest lies I believed before having kids.

1 | Put your baby down drowsy but awake

This little gem is hilarious. You know what happened when I put an awake baby down in a crib or bed? They stared at me like, okay cool, I can chill here for a second. Then what are we gonna do, mom? Take a walk? Oh, let’s take a stroll around the block in the carrier! Then we can go watch a movie on the couch! I could use a little milk top off too. Thanks.
I don’t personally know any of these mythical babies who fell asleep when put down while “drowsy.” What is a drowsy baby anyway? Babies have two modes: “Awake” and “I need to go to sleep, now! Milk, please!”

2 | The evenings are when you’ll reconnect with your partner

This worked for a little while, when we had one kid who went to bed earlier than we did. That phase didn’t last long. Now we have two kids, including one who likes to nap late and then go to bed late (with us). Often we all go to sleep together as a family, which is great. No bedtime battles. Some nights the stars align and both kids fall asleep early. By that point we are usually too brain dead to have a good conversation.
Our best times to reconnect are usually when we’ve all had a good day of adventure, filled our own cups, spent time with the kids, and then come home and turn on a movie. Then we can talk while we are feeling relaxed and the kids are engrossed in the screen.
Another option, of course, is a trusted babysitter. Making time to talk about something besides the kids on a regular basis is important, but once I stopped expecting that re-connection time to happen in the evenings, I was a lot less stressed.

3 | You’ll breastfeed for about a year

Through a combination of overzealous preparation and luck, I had no trouble breastfeeding. I thought that I’d breastfeed exclusively for six months, then add some solid food which my baby would adorably gobble down while slowly reducing the number of breastfeeding sessions down to a couple times a day by a year old. Certainly by two years.
My kids arrived with other plans. At six months they had no interest in solid food. When presented with some avocado, they were like, “does this go in my hair?” It wasn’t until after age one that they started eating more than trace amounts of solid food.
I also know some great moms who made it to two months, three months, or six months of breastfeeding. Exactly one year of breastfeeding – while somehow deemed the most socially acceptable duration – is not that common.

4 | You have to ____. Otherwise they’ll never _____.

When my oldest daughter was born, I initially embraced holding her for naps as much as possible. She was a newborn and needed it, right? It was the fourth trimester!
Then she turned four months and I had a minor freak out. Was she supposed to be napping in her crib? What if she never learns to sleep independently? As it turns out, there was no reason to worry. Little humans have an amazing drive to learn and become independent. They just do it on their own timetable. No one goes to college in diapers, with a pacifier, or still wanting to sleep with their parents. They all grow out of it without any intervention at all. No need to sweat it.

5 | It gets easier as they get older

This one is only half a lie. My kids are only five and two-and-a-half, but things are easier in many ways than when they were two-and-a-half and zero. Those days with a toddler and newborn were hard. In many ways life is easier now. We get more uninterrupted sleep at night and no one screams through an entire car ride (most of the time). At the same time, having two children with opinions and plans is in some ways harder than having one child plus a baby who can happily tag along on just about any outing.
Little kids generally also come with little problems. Almost all of them can be solved by a nap, a hug, or some more quality time together. As they grow older, their worlds grow bigger and we can’t always fix their problems with a hug or by snuggling up together. Seeing them wrestle with difficult life experiences makes toddler tantrums look easy.

6 | Your life will never be the same again

Technically, this is true. Your life is forever changed after having kids. However, this is usually said in a foreboding way, implying that your life will be worse than it was before kids. The truth is, your life won’t be the same again because it will be better.
This article was originally published here.

How to Snap out of Snapping at Your Kids

Sometimes parenting is just completely and utterly overwhelming. Here are some tools that will help you snap out of snapping at your kids.

This past week I’ve been struggling a lot. Struggling with balance, with taking care of my body (like forgetting to eat because I’ve got too many other things that I want to do), with taking my emotional temperature frequently, or with being distracted and detached from my kids. Oh yeah, and I’ve been snapping at my kids.

The biggest cause of snapping at my kids is distraction. I’m working on something important to me and fail to recognize something important to them. This leads to a constant flow of, “Mama. Mama. Mama. Mama! Mama!” Screaming and tears and me feeling like, “What!?” Momzilla comes out instead of that playful, gentle person that I strive to be.

Tonight, as we were reading stories before bed, we were cozy and peaceful. They had chosen a glow-in-the-dark “Dora the Explorer” Christmas book. The littlest wanted the lights off to look at the glowing pages, so we did that for a bit. Then the older one wanted to read the pages and turn the lights off in between each page so we could see the glowing. Read and see. Read and see. Read and see. When I had to flick the light on at the read times so that the oldest could see, the littlest would scream and cry and try and pull the lamp off the table while the other is yelling at me to keep reading. Then the little one falls on the whole book, crying, and I regretfully say, “Just stop it!” Then I drop my head into my hands. Both kids cry.

Oldest says, “I’ll give you a hug, Mom. It’s okay for baby to cry because it will make her feel better.”

I mumble, “I know. I’m just having a hard time.”

He holds me (like the parent he is not but like the incredibly empathetic little boy that he is) and I try to calm down. I handled it poorly. I was grouchy. I was tired. I snapped right when I should be sending them off to dreamland feeling secure and loved.

Sometimes parenting is just completely and utterly overwhelming. It feels like there is no space between the rope being nice and loose and the rope snapping. It feels like there is no warning, just happy and calm to angry and hurtful.

The good news is that there is a moment in there. I would have seen it if I took my emotional temperature. If I labeled my feeling instead of just letting my reaction run wild. I could have stopped for a moment instead of pushing on with, “I am going to read this story because it is bed time and everyone is supposed to be happy and calm and loving,” even though that wasn’t what was happening. I should’ve said to myself, “I am feeling frustrated right now. My expectations are being disappointed.”

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” -Viktor E. Frankl

Expectations can be brutal. I can envision us all laying in our giant bed wearing matching jammies with freshly-washed hair and smiling, dimpled faces, doling out cuddles, “I love you’s,” and “You’re the best story teller in the world, Mom.” Sometimes we can achieve that, but most of the time we can’t. Sometimes they have dreads forming in the hair because it hasn’t been washed in three weeks; they scream and run away when it is teeth-brushing time; one sat on the other one’s hair and made him cry; or they decided they wanted to switch pajamas even though they’re totally different sizes. And why did I get a stupid glow-in-the-dark book in the first place?

This list could go on and on. Unmet expectations. Reaction. Frustrated moment. Reaction. Reaction. Reaction.

It’s difficult to shift away and learn tools to stop living from one reaction to the next without any say in what your mouth is spouting. Our kids deserve patience, love, and kindness. We deserve to give ourselves patience, love, kindness, and tools. Here are some tools that will help you snap out of snapping at your kids.

Meditation

I can’t endorse meditation enough. It isn’t some mystical woo experience for hippies (at least, it’s not only this), it’s for CEOs, parents, tattoo artists, motorcycle club members, teachers, presidents, and so on. It’s for everyone. Meditation is simple in its most basic form. You focus on your breath or mantra or object. You breathe. You’re still. If you notice you have drifted off on a thinking tangent, you gently pull yourself back to your breath (or whatever your focus is). You do this over and over.

A great app that offers guided meditation is Headspace. Even just 10 minutes a day of this can create changes, and it gets easier and easier to become fully present without having to fight against thoughts constantly. Meditation changes your brain. Studies have proven how awesome meditation is for everyone. By meditating, you’re setting yourself up for a calmer life. You will still get irritable and have those reactions start to bubble up, but with meditation practice, you’ll be able to recognize that you’re getting worked up and have the capacity to make a choice in how you will respond.

Expectations

These are killer. If you expect your three-year-old to be able to play independently for 30 minutes while you get work done, then you most likely will experience disappointed expectations. You’re setting yourself up for frustration.

If you expect your partner to come home from work, clean the house, switch the laundry over to the dryer, all without you telling this person that you want this done, you most likely will experience disappointed expectations.

Starting off each day, each moment even, with realistic expectations will save you a huge amount of frustration. Even clearly communicating unrealistic expectations isn’t going to help anything. Expect the unexpected. Go with the flow. The best part about meditation is that it allows you to become more flexible.

Communication

Communicate with yourself. It’s essential to constantly assess your emotional temperature. How am I feeling right now? Am I happy, patient, sad, or frustrated? Label the feeling. This will help to accept it and allow it to dissipate rather than go on a rampage.

You’re driving down the road and get cut off, you can say out loud (or in your head), “That makes me really frustrated. I wish people were more respectful,” rather than tailing them while flashing your lights or fingers at them.

Communication with those around you is also important. Instead of communicating unrealistic expectations (“I know you are only 12 months old, but I expect you to sit there quietly for the next 30 minutes”), communicate how you are feeling in a non-judgmental way.

Practice

You can’t expect to know how to do something perfectly that you’ve never done before (unless, of course, you have unrealistic expectations of yourself). Allow yourself room to grow and practice. We all fall off the wagon at times, we all mess up, and we all have an opportunity to make it right again. There’s always a time to own up to our mistakes to the person that we’ve wronged, even our children.

You can say to your child, “I was having a really hard time earlier. I felt really overwhelmed and I yelled at you guys. You didn’t deserve to be treated that way. I’m sorry. I’m working on it, and will try to do better.”

Saying to yourself that you will try to do better next time and then doing nothing but hoping for a better reaction the next time is also an unrealistic expectation. You can’t change and grow if you don’t put in the work. A seed in its packet will just remain a seed in its packet. A seed laid down on concrete will also, most likely, remain just a seed on concrete. You can’t expect it to grow and blossom if you don’t provide it with some tools and care.

There aren’t many get-rich-quick schemes when it comes to growth. You have to put in the work, be open to change, offer yourself a lot of patience, love, and forgiveness, and keep on trying. Meditation is probably the closest you will come to seeing quick results. Meditation reduces anxiety and boosts happiness, along with many other positive changes.

It’s also beneficial to acknowledge your triggers: hitting, whining, crying, messes, etc. Once you recognize your triggers you can become more aware during the instances in which you might become reactive. Acknowledging this before it happens puts you one step ahead of that reaction and will allow you to stop and “detach” yourself from that reaction, so to speak, like pulling Velcro apart. That reaction isn’t you, it isn’t who you want to be. That trigger isn’t an emergency (although that fight-or-flight response makes it feel like it is), it’s just a behavior. Separate yourself from all of it and find your center, your calm space.

A lot of times our triggers are the result of our own unmet needs we experienced in our childhoods. Were you yelled at for crying? Were you punished for hitting? Did your parents flip their lid when you made a mess even if you were just playing? Finding the source of the trigger helps you realize why you react the way you do, usually it’s a fight-or-flight response that was developed in your own childhood.

There you have it: meditate, assess expectations, communicate with yourself and others, take your emotional temperature frequently, and practice. You can do it. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be you: authentic, open, empathetic, and kind.

This post was originally published here.

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Life Isn’t Perfect: Lessons From My Nine-Year-Old While Painting a Wall

Why does it matter if my thighs are dimpled, if our holiday pics show that it rained everyday or yes, if the paint on our walls are not perfectly even?

“Not that way, the strokes need to go up and down. It’ll look messy like that.” I push my daughter’s paintbrush out of the way with mine and show her how to do it properly. I haven’t painted a room in years and I’m certainly no expert but I know how hard it is to ensure you get an even coat.
My savvy little nine-year-old is having none of it. She ignores my pleas and carries on dipping her brush into the sea-blue paint she picked out herself, appropriately named “Endless Summer” for this long holiday that seems to have stretched on forever.
“No mummy, it’s my room and I want to be proud of doing my best,” she tells me. “I don’t care if it isn’t perfect. I just want it to be my work”.
I stand back and realize she is right. It is her room after all, what does it matter if the wall doesn’t look perfect?
We’ve just returned to our home in the UK after two years living in South Africa. While we were away we rented our house out to tenants, strangers who occupied our space and now feel like ghosts or shadows. We never met them but we still feel their presence in the child’s scribbles on the wall. It’s time to erase them completely and reclaim our property.
So we are painting my daughter’s room. For too long she hasn’t really had a room of her own. We have been in rented accommodation, she has slept in spaces designed and decorated by other people. Now we are settling down and she’s decided she wants to stamp her personality on her surroundings as quickly as possible. Two days ago we went to the paint store and she chose the color, rejecting anything too light or too purple or too not-exactly-what-she-wanted. She’s been planning this for a while.
We pick up our brushes – she the smaller one, me the grown-up sized one – and dip them in the pots. I watch her progress. I try not to interfere. I can see it won’t look flawless when it dries but I reflect on what she said.
All around us we are sold perfection as the standard we all need to reach. In magazines, on television, on Facebook pages, Instagram – everywhere you look we are all trying to reach something unobtainable. Whether it’s the “perfect” beach-ready body, the beautiful family on their incredible holiday, or the exquisitely decorated room in an interiors magazine, we are continuously bombarded with images of what our lives should look like. What we are being told we should be aspiring to. What the marketers want us to think is normal so that we keep spending money to reach.
But why does it matter if my thighs are dimpled with cellulite, if our holiday pics show that it rained six days out of seven or yes, if the paint on our walls are not perfectly even? We could have paid someone else to do this work for us, like an interior decorator with the skills to make the house look ready for a magazine shoot. We could have, but we decided to do it ourselves.
Part of that, as I realized, is letting go of that need for perfection and realizing that there is more to life than smoothly painted walls. Like having a little girl who is proud of the fact that she has painted her own room.
I am writing this still with paint on my hands and half a wall yet to paint. I now have to go and set up the ladder so I can reach the higher parts – the part of the job that I’m dreading as I know I will end up with paint drippings all down my clothes and probably on the floor as well.
Yet in the end does it matter? Perhaps some drops of paint on my clothes will serve as a good reminder to me, just as the uneven paint will remind my daughter through the years ahead as she sleeps in her green-blue room, that there is a lot more to life than perfection. The fact that she did it herself and was proud of her handiwork is a lot more important to her and to me than beautiful walls.

The French Method That Completely Shifted My Parenting

Life got a bit simpler after I adapted a popular French method into my parenting.

My kids are two and four, such a dangerous age for siblings. It’s the age where Legos become weapons, stealing becomes second nature, and screams are louder than a volcanic eruption. I’m starting to wonder if my kids will ever get along?
I am constantly jumping into the heat of things:
“Stop bothering your sister…. Stop making your brother cry…. Stop stealing his toys!”
It’s truly and unforgivingly exhausting. Doing this constant referee thing only makes me irritable and adds to the heat of the moment. Instead of having two melting toddlers, we now have a cranky mom in the mix.
Life got a bit simpler after I adapted a popular French method into my parenting. I’m pretty sure every single mom in the world has used this method, but the French were the first to give it a name and make it doctor recommended.
Pamela Druckerman, author of “French Children Don’t Throw Food”, first introduced me to the Le Pause. Druckerman is an American woman living Paris and raising a family. She shares multiple differences between French and American parents, but it was the Le Pause that got my mommy brain thinking.
Le Pause is generally recommended to new mothers who are having trouble getting their babies to sleep through the night. After all, French babies sleep through the night by two months of age, so there must be something significant to this method.
Don’t be fooled, it’s very simple.
“When a French baby cries in the night, the parents go in, pause, and observe for a few minutes,” Druckerman explains. “They know that babies’ sleep patterns include movements, noises, and two-hour sleep cycles, in between which the baby might cry. Left alone it might ‘self-soothe’ and go back to sleep.”
When I read this book, my children were already toddlers and sleeping through the night. But this method could be applied to all ages for everything from sleep to meltdowns and arguments. What if I stop refereeing my toddlers and pause? Maybe they will learn how to self-soothe and problem solve.
And it works!
When my children start arguing, I simply just watch and wait. I have learned that, within three minutes, they are able to work it out themselves. Either they negotiate like the sly little munchkins they are, or one just gives up and walks away. On only a few occasions it turns nasty, and I have to step in.
Parents have a tendency to heighten otherwise minor infractions with children. When I engage the minute my kids start arguing, I contribute to a major rise in emotions – including mine. This is how situations can get out of control. By “pausing,” I give them the tools to handle their emotions appropriately and independently.
This even works with non-life threatening accidents. If they scrape their knee, take a fall, or run into the wall, I pause. I let them figure out how to get out of the situation. Very rarely do they run to me for help. I have been impressed with my kids’ ability to pop right up, dust the dirt off, and move on.
Le Pause does not make you a lazy parent. It makes you a wise parent of children who learn to be resilient, to stand up for themselves in the schoolyard, and to self soothe in a mature way. Essentially, you gift your kids with self-help tools and lessen the stress of each day.
Here’s how it works in a nutshell:
When your kids have a non-threatening meltdown for any insignificant reason, just stop. Watch from a safe distance and wait. I’ve waited up to five minutes before inserting myself into the situation, and the only times I do is if they start hurting themselves or others. But for the most part, five minutes does the trick.
So take a break, take a few deep breaths, and let your kids work out their issues. Because everyone needs space to grow and learn.

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There's No Normal When it Comes to Kids' Reactions to Death

Like so much of parenting, the “Telling Your Kid Her Pet Chickens Got Killed” chapter did not go as expected. But according to experts that’s not uncommon.

“Are you taking the sick chicken to the vet today?” my daughter asked me.
She’d been awake less than five minutes and she was already talking about the one thing I didn’t want to discuss – our chickens. We’d raised them since they were chicks. For two long, smelly months, we kept them under a heat lamp in a dog crate in our basement. Once they were big enough, we relocated them to a coop in our backyard where they’d lived not even two weeks when we woke one morning to find nothing but their bloody entrails. (By “we” I mean my husband.)
Our kids, ages three and five, loved observing and feeding the chickens as they grew from itty bitty babies into full-size birds. Our five-year-old was thrilled that in exchange for helping care for the chickens, she’d have the opportunity to sell eggs to friends and neighbors. She couldn’t wait to replenish her “money-wallet.”
Although I had no idea exactly how to break the news of the chickens’ demise to our kids, I knew I had to tell the truth. I just wished I’d had my coffee before I did. I looked at my eldest from across the kitchen table as the early morning sun cast a glow across her face. I braced myself for a tantrum, tears, or both, took a deep breath, and said, “The chickens died overnight.”
“How?” she asked.
“The coop was left unlocked and we think a raccoon got in and ate them,” my husband said.
“But I was the last one to look at them yesterday,” she said. “I left it unlocked.”
“No!” we exclaimed.
“It wasn’t your fault at all,” I assured her.
“The grown-ups should have made sure it was locked before we went to bed. That’s not your responsibility,” my husband said.
We exhaled and waited for her to explode, as she is wont to do when things don’t go as planned. Instead, our eldest looked in the direction of her little sister’s room, and with a sing-song voice, she cried out, “Oh, sissy! I have news for you!” She stretched the word “news” into two syllables.
I looked at my husband with raised eyebrows. Our younger daughter toddled into the living room, rumpled from sleep.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Our chickens died!” her big sister exclaimed, with a sly, knowing smile on her lips.
I shot my husband a “Holy shit is our kid a psychopath?” look.
He shot me one right back that said, “Hell if I know, but that was really weird.”
Like so much of parenting, the “Telling Your Kid Her Pet Chickens Got Killed” chapter did not go as we’d expected. According to Jill Ceder, psychotherapist and parent coach, there is wide range of preschoolers’ reactions to death that fall within the normal range. Common ones include:

  • expressing anxiety or fearfulness
  • being clingier than usual
  • experiencing difficulty sleeping
  • displaying regressed behaviors (e.g., bed-wetting and thumb-sucking)
  • showing changes in their appetite
  • looking for the person or pet who has died

Meanwhile, they may demonstrate little reaction of any kind. Ceder says this, too, is perfectly normal.
It is important to note that preschoolers are typically unable to understand the finality of death. Says Ceder, “magical thinking is present at this age so it is common for preschoolers to think someone will come alive again or that they have the power to make someone die with their thoughts.” According to the NYU’s Child Study Center, at three to five years old, with no concept of death’s permanence, children at this age perceive death as living under different circumstances, so even though they may have seen the burial, they may still worry about that person getting hungry, for example.
If your child experiences a loss it is important to support them by being open and honest. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, when talking to preschoolers about death, adults should avoid euphemisms like, “he’s passed away,” or, “she’s gone to sleep.” As concrete thinkers, children will take these words literally, and consequently may become afraid of sleeping. Instead, they should be told something along the lines of, “She has died, which means we will not be able to see her again,” along with the reassurance that memories last forever.
We can also support children dealing with death or loss by understanding that they are not necessarily able to put their feelings into words. Experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics remind parents that play can be the language of childhood. So, don’t be surprised if your child expresses her thoughts and fears while playing and be open to listening and trying to understand the messages she’s trying to communicate via play.
If and when your child does express curiosity and asks questions, Ceder reminds parents to be honest when answering their questions. Additionally, parents shouldn’t be surprised if their preschooler asks the same questions repeatedly and wants the details repeated many times, as this is how they process information. When answering questions, less is more; kids don’t need long, complicated answers. The National Institutes of Health recommends only answering the question that was asked and doing it with age-appropriate language.
It’s also important to validate kids’ feelings. For example, saying something like, “Don’t be sad Sparky died, he’s in heaven now,” is not helpful. Rather, allow your child to be sad and offer empathy. You could say something like, “I know you miss him and it’s hard right now.”
Even if, like mine, your child learns about the death of her pets and is neither sad nor curious, but instead appears strangely gleeful – this is not necessarily cause for concern.
Ceder reassures parents that “most reactions would be normal, [as] everyone experiences death and grief differently. Death is a confusing, complex and interesting topic for kids (and adults).”
As for whether my child is a psychopath, Ceder says her reaction to the tragic news of our chickens’ murder wouldn’t be any indication.

“Many times adults place a judgment on a child’s behavior, but the child is just ‘reporting the news.’ At first, it sounds as if your daughter was worried that she would be blamed. She may have genuinely felt bad/worried or she may have been scared she would get in trouble – both normal reactions. But when you reassured her that it was not her fault, she switched over to “news reporting mode.” It appears to me that she thought this was an exciting event to share with her sister. Her response was normal and healthy in the same way that children between 3-5 years old say ‘I am taller, you are shorter.’ ‘I am older, you are younger.’ As adults, many times we want to jump in and say – that isn’t the right thing to say…assuming the other child may be offended or feel less than. But many times, the child is just stating an observation. Your daughter was stating what just happened. Her reactions fall into the normal category because she does not understand the finality of death and because she does not attach sad feelings to death like we do as we get older.”

Guiding a child through death and loss is never fun. It helps to know, though, that just as there are so many different normal, healthy ways to be a kid, so are there a wide variety of healthy, normal ways for kids to process the experience.

How Our Words Shape Our Kids' View of Themselves

The labels used to describe us can lead us to believe that certain behavior is a fundamental part of our nature.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me” is a phrase that initially appeared in 1872 to teach kids that name-calling was harmless. It was one of the greatest lies ever told to kids. Words hurt. And the words we repeatedly hear can become self-fulfilling prophecies.
People tend to act in line with what they believe is expected of them. We tend to be clumsier when around people who think of us as clumsy. We have more to say around people who think we’re interesting. “Mean” kids are likely to continue acting mean when they’re persistently described as mean.
In other words, the labels used to describe us can lead us to believe that certain behavior is a fundamental part of our nature.
Overhearing someone say something not so nice about us affects us and has an impact on our relationship. Think about it. When is the last time you overheard someone say something nasty about you. How did it make you feel? People’s negative perceptions may not break our bones, but they sure hurt.
The same is true for kids. What we say to kids matters more than we think. It shapes their personality and shapes the relationships we develop with them, well beyond the childhood years.
Research suggests that labels can alter behavior. In one study, Rosenthal and Jacobson were able to show that kids whose teachers expected enhanced performance performed better than other kids. Approximately 20 percent of the students in an elementary school were chosen at random and presented to teachers as “intellectual bloomers.” All students were given the same IQ test at the beginning and then at the end of the study. The researchers found that the students who had been presented as “intellectual bloomers” had significantly higher scores during the second phase of the IQ test.
Although the results were met with much criticism and have remained inconclusive and difficult to replicate, the researchers suggested that when students were presented as “intellectual,” teachers were more likely to pay closer attention to them in times of difficulty. In other words, the label influenced how the kids were perceived.
Rosenthal and Jacobson’s studies inspired what is now commonly referred to as the Pygmalion or Rosenthal effect. This phenomenon suggests that positive expectations have the power to affect reality and create self-fulfilling prophecies. The opposite phenomenon – the Golem effect – suggests that low expectations lead to poorer performance.
What these studies reveal is that there’s always a better word to describe your kid’s behavior. There are always two sides to every story. An argumentative kid can also be a good negotiator. A shy kid can be an observant kid. A stubborn kid can be a kid who knows what he wants.
It’s always nicer to hear positive things about us than negative ones. When we focus on our children’s positive traits, we communicate what we think about them – disorganized or creative, too loud or confident, shy or mindful.
Our words also set the stage for how others see our kids. When we repeatedly define a child as “really shy,” others are likely to share this view and consider this as a negative trait. Yet when you choose a different word to define the same character – say “peaceful” – others are more likely to view the same character trait as positive.
Positive labels help build up our kids, but they do not mean we should excuse misbehavior. Sometimes we must call things “as they are.” Describing an aggressive kid as a leader or a sloppy one as an artist only masks the problems that require our attention.
In other words, changing labels doesn’t mean letting your kid get away with careless or disrespectful behavior. It means avoiding negative terms while making a conscious attempt to correct misbehavior, for instance, by using positive reinforcement the right way.
Replacing negative labels with positive ones ultimately changes how we view our kids, their behavior, and how we react to it. Next time you’re about to describe your child as “nosy,” switch that to “inquisitive” and see how it changes everything.
What negative labels do you use? With which positive labels can you replace them?

Why Building Self-Esteem Can Help Reduce Our Kids' Anxiety

We hear about self-esteem so much during the teenage years, but building a healthy self-esteem begins much earlier in a child’s life.

Do you know how your children feel about themselves? Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a shocking moment in a family to realize that a child is struggling, that they are unhappy with themselves and their life.
The way we feel about ourselves falls under the umbrella of self-esteem. We hear about self-esteem so much during the teenage years, but building a healthy self-esteem begins much earlier in a child’s life.
Children who have a healthy self-esteem feel valued, accepted, confident, and proud. They think positive things about themselves and are prepared to face everyday stresses and challenges.
On the other hand, children suffering from low self-esteem tend to criticize themselves, are hard on themselves, feel insecure and not as good as others. They focus on their failures instead of their successes, lack confidence, and doubt their abilities. They worry about people judging them and not accepting them for who they are.
 
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Unfortunately, this negative outlook can lead to them being treated poorly by others and prevent them from taking on new challenges. They give up easily and struggle to bounce back from their failures and mistakes.
According to Dr. Marilyn Sorenson of the Self Esteem Institute, low self-esteem is “a thinking disorder in which people view themselves as inadequate, unacceptable, unworthy, unlovable, and/or incompetent.”
Sadly, this type of thinking can impact every aspect of daily life. It is the result of having a distorted view that affects people’s assumptions and beliefs about themselves and others. This outlook can ultimately result in being overly critical, having difficulty making decisions, and developing fears, such as who to trust and how to cope with new situations.

How self-esteem and anxiety are linked

The worries that accompany prolonged low self-esteem can lead to anxiety. Children with low self-esteem will question whether they are worthy, adequate, and able to be loved because there is a discrepancy between what they wish they were like and how they view themselves. They are very self-critical, never giving themselves credit for any accomplishments.
Children with low self-esteem are also always striving to be different or better, and feel disappointed when they don’t meet their own self-imposed expectations. This perspective – especially as it builds over time – can cause them to be fearful, on guard, and always expecting the worst to happen.
Generally, people with low self-esteem have the following fears:

  • Will they do something that shows they are not good enough?
  • Will others notice what they have done and recognize their inadequacy?
  • Will they fail, lose what they have, or be abandoned?
  • Will they experience humiliation, depression, devastation, or despair?

The relationship between self-esteem and anxiety ends up being an endless cycle: Low self-esteem triggers anxiety, and being anxious causes one’s confidence to diminish as fear takes over.
According to Julia Friederike Sowislo of the Department of Psychology at the University of Basel in Switzerland, who analyzed 18 studies regarding anxiety, low self-esteem is equally effective at raising the risk of anxiety as anxiety is at decreasing self-esteem. She concluded that low self-esteem makes people vulnerable to obsessing over negative thoughts, which can result in anxiety and depression.
Essentially, people with anxiety disorder do not have enough confidence in themselves to confront their problems. They feel and act helpless, only causing more anxiety for the next time they face a similar situation. Of course, this is all just a distorted view driven by their low self-esteem.
A typical example of how this works was pointed out by Dr. Marilyn Sorenson of the Self Esteem Institute. People with low self-confidence tend to worry about looking like a fool in front of others. This may cause them to become so nervous in social situations that they develop social anxiety and/or panic attacks. They may then avoid certain activities and shy away from relationships, which can impact the quality of their lives.

How to raise children with healthy self-esteem

Our children do not become confident because we praise them constantly and reward them for every little move they make. Instead, children need to lose and fail in order to build resiliency so they can keep on learning and growing.
According to experts, self-esteem results from experiences in which children feel accepted, capable, and effective. Here are some ways that you can help your child build their self-esteem based on three criteria:

Accepted

  • Love your children unconditionally. Let them know that you love them no matter how much they fail or how many bad decisions they make. Let them know that perfection is not the goal. Learning, growing, trying new things, and experiencing all that life has to offer is more important than whether they win or lose, pass or fail.
  • Show them you understand them. When kids feel understood by a parent, they are likely to accept themselves, too. Keep the line of communication open, and be a supportive listener.
  • Make them feel special. Help your children discover their interests, talents, and strengths. Teach them that it is okay to feel proud for their own accomplishments (as long as they don’t think they are better than everyone else, of course).
  • Avoid harsh criticism. Be careful how you speak to your children. The words and tone you use can really impact their self-worth.

Capable

  • Praise strategically. Praising our kids too much can backfire. Try praising their effort or attitude as opposed to qualities they can’t change, like their athletic ability. Also, avoid focusing on results (such as getting an A) and more on the hard work they put into something.
  • Let them do things themselves. Step back and allow your children to try new activities without holding their hand. Give them the space to take risks and make mistakes so they can learn how to solve problems on their own. They will feel so proud when they accomplish tasks by themselves.
  • Support them from a distance. When teaching them how to do new things, let them know that you are available to help them if they need it. Then let them do what they can, even if they make mistakes. Keep challenging them to reach new levels.
  • Expand their horizons. Give them plenty of opportunities to try new activities, see new places, and meet different people. The more their comfort zone expands, the better they will handle worrisome situations in the future. If they are scared, encourage but don’t push too hard.

Effective

  • Set realistic, attainable goals. By setting goals, we help encourage our children to take on new challenges. When they reach them, they can feel happy and proud of their accomplishments. Be sure to set SMART goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. Being flexible is also important throughout this process.
  • Let them make their own choices. Give your kids the chance to make some age-appropriate choices, such as picking out their own clothes, what snack to eat, or which toy to take on vacation. Allowing our kids to make their own decisions will help them feel powerful and confident. They will also learn how to consider the consequences of their decisions and to take responsibility for their actions. A really good trick is to give them three options to choose from, which still gives them a sense of empowerment.
  • Give them responsibilities. In building self-esteem, kids need opportunities to demonstrate their competence and value. Give them some simple chores to do around the house – no reward necessary because their reward will be how proud they feel.