Tag Archives: kids

Practicing Gratitude

This also will run in the Jones County News:

I recently heard that people who really experience joy in their lives “practice gratitude.” I was curious about the phrase “practice gratitude,” since I’m used to thinking of gratitude as something we just feel from time to time rather than something we practice like a musical instrument or a sport. Maybe you’re like me; maybe you’ve noticed that if you just kind of operate on “autopilot” all the time, gratitude is pretty far down the list of feelings you notice on a day-to-day basis. But like so many good things in life, if you want more joy, you have to do some work at it. So here is one little trick that won’t require a lot of effort or money that can make a big difference in your happiness. A gratitude “practice” that is actually clinically proven to increase your satisfaction with life. And it will only take you 10 minutes a day. I’ll tell you how first, and then why.

The “What Went Well” (also known as “The Three Blessings”) exercise:
Every night before you go to bed, write down three things that went well and why they went well. They can be big things like “I finally found a job” or small things like “the kids put their dishes away after supper.” Anything that went well. Next to each event, you write why it happened: for the new job you might write, “because I never gave up looking for a job” or “because by brother-in-law knew the HR woman at the company.” For the dinner plates, you might write, “because they do what they are asked,” or “because I have sweet kids.” The only rule is you have to write it down. This is so you can look back over it in a few weeks or years and remember the positive events in your life. I keep one of those black and white composition notebooks on the table right beside my bed. There’s a pen in it so it’s ready when I get into bed for the night. Some nights, there are more than three experiences I want to write down, so I take extra time to write more. Other nights, it’s a real struggle to find three. But it’s important to keep thinking until you can find three things that went well, even if it’s as simple as “I had food to eat for dinner,” or “I kept breathing all day long.”
Why does “what went well” work to make us happier? Because most of us tend to think more about the aspects of life we wish were different or to dwell on the painful aspects of life. WWW trains us to pay attention to the positive. We know that the more we pay attention to what is good, the better we feel. Paying attention to the positive also makes us more likely to notice and enjoy positive events as they happen. And we know that savoring these moments, really paying attention to them as they happen, makes them seem to last longer. I also think WWW helps us to get into the habit of noticing the parts of life that are going well. Over time, trends emerge that can give us clues about what we really treasure about our lives. For example, I’ve noticed that my children make an appearance on my WWW list nearly every night.
WWW is from a book by Martin Seligman, Fourish. Seligman is a former president of the American Psychological Association, professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and a no-nonsense scientist. He actually tested the WWW exercise: 471 people tried it for one week, and six months later were happier, less depressed, and less anxious than people who didn’t do WWW.
So, there you go: WWW is clinically proven to increase happiness in 10 minutes a day.

How Boredom Fosters Creativity: The Follow Up

Here’s the anticipated (by me) spot on 13WMAZ. Thanks very much to my new partner, Alicia Gregory LMFT of Reflections Psychotherapy for setting me up. 

Your Child: Boredom Fosters Creativity

Of course, I over-prepared. This will surprise nobody who knows me well. And although Frank Malloy was great and easy to talk with, I left with more I could have said. Here’s the long version:

You say ‘A little boredom is good for your child,’ What do you mean?

A lot of us are tempted to over-schedule the summer with camps, sports, activities, and trips. The result is we wind up busier in June and July than we are during school and summer becomes more stressful that the school year. Besides the sheer stress of it, I think there are problems with this busy-ness for two reasons:

First, boredom is the place where a lot of creativity begins. Most of us adults can remember the crazy games we used to play or the adventures we used to have as children. If we fill up our kids’ lives with scheduled activities, we take away the chance for them to be creative and find something to do.
Second, downtime with the family is such an overlooked blessing. Especially if you have teens or pre-teens, you have probably noticed that it’s not usually during your scheduled “quality time” activities that they open up to you. It’s at the most unexpected in-between times. So much of staying connected with your teen is being lucky enough to be around when they feel like talking. For that, you need some down time.
Is there such a thing as too much boredom?
Yes. Especially unsupervised down time. We used to think siblings got into arguments and fights because they were competing for parents’ attention, but we know now that they do it because they are too bored. And there are some kids who are more likely to get into mischief or trouble when they have too much unstructured time with their friends. It is important to know how much freedom your child can handle because it’s different for every kid. But I’d say if you’re seeing too much mischief or fighting, you might need to consider finding time to be with them or planning more adult-supervised activities. 
My family is already too busy. What can we do?
You’ve got do decide what you can give up.
The first thing to look at is screen time. The average kid over age 8 spends 6.5 hours a day consuming some kind of digital media, while the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends less than 2. Even adults could spend less time looking at screens. Those things are stressors.
The second principle I tend to recommend is to ask yourself questions about the big picture. What is the most important thing you spend your time on? What are you and your kids spending time on that are less valuable to you? What message do you want to send your kids about using time and are your choices sending that message?
I thought Frank asked a great question that I didn’t think quickly enough on my feet to answer thoroughly: The kids will come to us and say “we’re bored!” What should we do then? 
We should expect them to. Especially if they (and we) are used to being super busy all the time. The adjustment can be tough. So much of parenting is knowing what you can ignore so that your kids learn to cope with life without your help. We can ignore “I’m bored!” from most kids over about 5. Maybe have a stock phrase like, “Wow. What can you think of to do about that?” When we ask for their ideas, we empower them and show confidence in their creativity. Under 5, they may need us to help narrow the options or even to take a few minutes to play with them. I know a really good mom who has a kind of backup plan in her head for long afternoons. Her preschoolers love the sandbox and the water table, so she keeps them put away and saves them for times when everyone gets a little too bored. Then she sets them up in the shade, pours herself a lemonade, and sits down to watch them play.
Boredom is uncomfortable. It is supposed to be. When we get bored, our brains fire up and start looking for ways to get occupied. Sometimes it is amazing what our kids come up with if we just allow them the space to find something to do.

Resilient Kids Presentation

Resilient Kids Presentation.

For years psychology focused on helping suffering people to suffer less. And got pretty good at it. We can now cure or see significant improvement in many of the most common mental illnesses. What took longer for us to understand was how some people seem to be able to flourish in spite of terribly difficult circumstances. (for a really interesting perspective on this history, I recommend Martin Seligman’s TED talk) How is it that those people can go through experiences that would lay the rest of us low with equanimity? They feel sad, or afraid, or angry, or unsure, of course. But they go on. What is different about them?

“Resilience.” It turns out there are identifiable traits, habits, and relationship qualities that contribute to the ability to flourish in spite of difficulty or tragedy. Here’s a link to a presentation I gave with Tina Wootan at Stratford Academy to the Stratford Interested Parents meeting November 2012 about fostering resilience in your children.

(also: prezi=so cool)

Hey, I’m going on TV!



Hey, I’m going on TV!

I’ll be on 13WMAZ’s “Your Child” feature next Tuesday, 28 May. We’ll be talking about why a little boredom is good for your child.

(NB: the link is to the WMAZ front page. Yesterday, I clicked on the link and the first thing I saw was an article about the Warner Robins mayoral race. I’m not running for mayor of WR.)