Tag: Appreciation

Redirecting A Rough Start

The start to my day was hard. My seven-year old son did not want to get up for school. After 10 minutes of coaxing he finally moved out of bed. Next, I tried to wake up my five-year old son. He was grumpy. Soon he was crying that he did NOT want to go to school. Fifteen minutes later he finally began to prepare for the day. Usually both boys are excited for school, but not today. At this point all signs pointed to the reality that they were going to miss the bus.

Sleep during the previous night was shortened due to a noisy thunderstorm. In retrospect, I probably could have alleviated some of the sleep deprivation by letting them sleep in a bit longer then drive them to school instead of take the bus. This may have brought a more peaceful morning for all of us. Regardless, both boys finally made it to the breakfast table with ten minutes to eat before the bus arrived.

At the breakfast table Andrew started crying again because the cereal wasn’t what he wanted. By now my patience was running thin. It was clear our emotional capacity was greatly diminished!

I was beginning worry about keeping my plans that were in place once the boys left for school. Feeling the pressure short-circuit my relational brain, I became focused on results. I tried encouraging, i.e. pushing, Andrew by saying, “Hurry up and eat so you won’t miss the bus!” My plan spectacularly backfired and led to more tears. I realized using fear to motivate my son was a bad idea, but the pressure was mounting fast. I threw my hands up in frustration, and gave up on the whole idea of making the bus.

Three meltdowns and forty-five minutes later, both boys were dressed, fed and climbing into the car for school. By God’s grace I managed to synchronize with my sons in their upset and help them return to joy from their distress. However, I was sure feeling the strain! As we drove to school I noticed I was now feeling grumpy, and my relational circuits were off.

At this point the boys were happily chatting. I turned to them and said, “Boys, our morning started out rough” and, before I could even suggest sharing appreciation on the way to school, Andrew cut me off with, “I’m going first!” Matthew quickly followed with, “I have ten things to share today!” These responses brought a partial smile to my face as I realized they both knew what was needed before I could finish my sentence.

The boys proceeded to take turns sharing four things (including people) they appreciated. I had to remind my sons that I also wanted a turn. They let me share my three but I barely finished because they were so eager to keep talking about what they appreciated. By now it was clear our relational circuits were brightly shining.

After I shared, the boys took turns expressing appreciation during the rest of the drive to school. I noticed I felt lighter. My mood started to shift, and I was laughing with them over the things that made them smile. We arrived at school and each of us went our way with smiles and energy.

Not only is it important for me as a parent to help my children successfully navigate rough mornings, it is also crucial for me to keep my own head above water. This means finding things that restore me when I feel depleted. You will notice I talk a lot about appreciation in my blogs. The reason for this is because “packaged joy” as my husband calls it, is so crucial to helping me return to relational mode when the stress of parenting threatens to knock me off track.

With the busyness and stress of the holidays, I encourage you to take a few minutes to focus on what you appreciate today. Notice the difference in your mood after just a few minutes of reflecting on the good stuff.

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Tom the Turkey

Chris and I have started what I hope will be a new family tradition for Thanksgiving. While appreciation and gratitude are important skills to emphasize, it seems especially appropriate during this season of Thanksgiving. I don’t know about you, but I find it is all too easy to get caught up in wish lists, Christmas shopping, baking, and cleaning for family gatherings – only to miss the opportunity to focus on the good I experience on a daily basis.

I now have a little basket with the image of a turkey sitting on the piano in our living room, along with a notepad and pencil. The reason for this basket is to remind my family members to write what they are thankful for each day. Each person can also write an appreciation memory, then fold the paper and place it in the basket. The plan is for us all to take turns reading the notes in the basket on Thanksgiving Day, then reflect on the many things we have appreciated over the last month.

I admit that my sons find it amusing to have a turkey sitting in our living room, and they frequently laugh about Tom the Turkey who is “gobbling up” their notes. Since we started this activity, I have noticed a big difference in my day when I pause, often in the middle of my busyness, and reflect on my day then write down my appreciation thoughts. I can feel my face warm up with a smile, as my body begins to relax and my breathing is deeper and calmer. Taking a short moment to think about and reflect on what I feel grateful for has been a turning point in my day.

At one point I checked the notes to see if my sons were understanding the directions, and I was deeply touched to see what my sons wrote on various sheets of paper. Reading my 5-year old’s note that said, “I love Mommy” touched my heart. I wasn’t sure if they knew what they were doing, but thankfully they did and are now doing much better than I thought.

What are you thankful for today? I hope you will consider how you can be intentional about building routines of gratitude and appreciation into your season of thankfulness. For more fun exercises, you can read 30 Days of Joy for Busy Married Couples here to practice the appreciation exercise that changed my life and my marriage

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The Tendency Towards Intensity

There are times even the best parenting advice and guidance does not work. As parents, we need to learn how to stay ourselves with our children even when things go wrong and it seems our best strategies are not working. Thankfully, love covers a multitude of sins.

My seven-year-old Matthew has a tendency towards intensity. Ever since he was born, Matthew is intensely joyful and, when upset, intensely upset. We have worked with him over the years to improve his ability to quiet as well as return to joy from upsetting emotions. These have been crucial tools for his relational tool belt. You see, some children need more practice with one skill and less of another skill. In Matthew’s case, he needs more help quieting and recovering.

Most of the time, my son can quiet and return to joy when things go wrong, but there are times he does not. I have noticed his reactions are intensified when he feels tired, hungry or sick. His emotional capacity is much lower under these conditions which leads to a bigger meltdown.

We recently had a seismic meltdown in the car driving home from a trip. Matthew was tired from disrupted sleep and was obviously feeling crispy. He missed some school for this trip, so his teacher sent along make-up work. We completed most of it, but that morning he opted to save the last page of his math homework for the car so he could play a little extra at the hotel.

One of the luxuries the boys enjoy when we travel is watching movies in the car on a portable DVD player. My husband and I do not allow much screen time at home, so this is a big deal while on long drives. When my son climbed into the car, I reminded him he needed to finish his last page of homework before he could watch a movie. Earlier in the day he agreed to our plan, however now he no longer liked this plan. His brother could watch a movie, but Matthew was not allowed to just yet. Upon this reminder, he declared he was NOT going to do his homework. Instead, he wanted to watch a movie. I acknowledged that he really wanted to watch a movie, and hopefully he could soon. However, it was time to finish his homework.

The explosion erupted. Matthew’s upset increased with crying, yelling and coughing fits. I tried validating his feelings along with some comfort, but it was clear his emotional brain was disrupted. He was feeling some big anger because he was not getting his way. Despite my best attempts to synchronize, validate and comfort, he headed straight for a full-blown MELTDOWN.

This particular outburst was beyond anything I have seen from him before. I watched the clock, and he screamed and cried for a full 50 minutes. WOW, talk about intense! I felt myself struggling to stay connected with him. I wanted to escape this intensity as my relational brain fought to stay connected. (Catch a 30-second glimpse here if you want a taste of this lengthy outburst.)

As parents, it is crucial we keep our emotional and relational oxygen masks on before we can fully help our children. This means we stay calm, grounded and relational during high levels of distress. I feel thankful my husband and I practice these skills because I needed every ounce of training to stay securely connected to my son in this episode.

Matthew was in the middle of a major tantrum and was beyond the point of interaction, so this gave me some time to work on grounding myself. I took some deep breaths and started to think of things I appreciate. I asked God to be with me, and give me His peace. While I did not hear any specific thoughts in response, I did feel an increase in peace.

As Matthew’s tantrum wound down, I was in a more grounded place and ready to help him recover. We took some deep breaths together and, after he calmed, we worked together to finish his homework.

At the end of the day, children need to learn how to manage their emotions while staying relationally connected. In Matthew’s case, he was distressed because he couldn’t have what he wanted. We want him to learn the world will not give him what he wants and things will go wrong, but he must learn how to recover when life throws curve balls. In order to help our children learn this, we need to hone our own skills so we have them available to help us stay consistent, loving and attuned when things get difficult.

Today, notice how your body is feeling. Are you tense? Take some time to practice quieting yourself. Breathe deeply and work to calm your thoughts. Take a few moments to think of some things that make you smile. Notice how your body feels after you have taken some time for quiet and appreciation. This useful sequence will recharge your emotional battery pack.

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Change the Course of Your Morning

It was a rough morning. My crew overslept. We woke up grumpy. From the moment our feet touched the floor we were running late. This is not how I planned to start my day. Can you relate?

While my youngest son, Andrew, has warmed up to kindergarten and he frequently reports moments of fun, there have been tears along the way. After a long, hard day at school he sometimes cries, and tells me he does not want to return to school the next morning. When morning arrives, a bit of sleep rejuvenates him so that his emotional battery is recharged for the new day and he’s ready to go.

Well, we did not get there this morning. My son woke up crying. He said, “I don’t want to go to school” and from that point on, it was a fight to get out the door. He was low energy. His was incredibly droopy and whiny. Moving as slowly as humanly possible, he then let it be known that he wanted to stay home. I responded by trying to make it a fun morning. I reminded him of the things he could look forward to about his day. In the end, my good intentions failed. He simply wanted to stay home.

When we finally made it out the door and climbed into the car, the boys began snapping at each other. I started barking at them to stop. It was clear our relational circuits were OFF, and nowhere to be found. Once I recognized this, I announced that we needed to take a few moments of quiet to turn on our relational circuits. After some quiet and calm, I shared that it was time for a bit of appreciation.

Normally my sons enjoy expressing appreciation. When we practice this exercise, all of us end up wearing big smiles. However, when we are relationally sinking and we need appreciation to stay afloat, it is these moments that the boys do not feel like practicing the exercise. I must get a little creative and this morning required serious creativity.

At this stage of life my boys believe that going first on just about any activity is the most important thing in the whole world. They do not like going last. On this particular morning, I decided to use this information to my advantage. I announced we were going to share appreciation, however, this time it was my turn to go first. Andrew jumped in and responded that I should go last because he wanted to go first. Next, Matthew quipped that he was not going to participate. Everyone was making their stance known.

I then pretended to argue with Andrew over who should go first. Using a silly tone that usually makes them smile, I pretended to argue with Andrew, pleading that I should go first. After some shared smiles with Andrew, I decided to let him start. When Andrew finished sharing his appreciation, I announced that I was glad Matthew wasn’t participating because it meant I could share next. As you can imagine, this provoked a response from Matthew. He said, “No, you have to go last! I am sharing now!” then he launched into his own appreciation. When my turn finally arrived, the tone in the car was lighter. We were all laughing and giggling. I dropped them off at school with a full bucket of joy instead of an empty bucket where they would feel depleted.

Isn’t it amazing how different our interactions go when our relational circuits are on versus off? I find much-needed quiet along with a fresh dose of appreciation are just what my family needs to turn the tide of a bad day into a better day when things are quickly heading south.

The fun thing about our relational brain is that you don’t have to wait for attitudes to be negative, or moods to turn sour before taking advantage of the benefits of appreciation and quiet. In fact, things will go much more smoothly for you when your relational circuits are off IF you are accustomed to practicing these skills in the calm and joyful times as well.

Try an exercise today and share with someone 3 things that make you smile. For a long-lasting benefit on your brain, reflect on how it feels to experience these special moments and soak in the feelings for several minutes before and after you share. Watch what happens when you use these skills!

If you are married, I recommend 30 Days of Joy for Busy Married couples for lots of additional exercises that you can practice with your partner!

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Immanuel’s Strong Suitcase

My seven-year-old son struggles in the fall. The rest of the year Matthew’s busy ADD brain can be a challenge, but we have skills and strategies in place to stabilize his behavior and help him focus. We have observed profound changes when we practice relational brain skills such as quieting and appreciation, utilize neurofeedback to optimize his brain, add exercise into his routine and monitor his diet. The math is simple: as long as we remain proactive, he stays grounded and the results are glorious.

However, when August and September arrive, things spiral out of control. My son’s hyperactivity increases. His ability to listen and follow directions fly out the window. The frequency of his emotional meltdowns increase. Suddenly, EVERYTHING becomes harder.

Since Matthew’s seasonal allergies also kick in this time of year, I am confident the two are connected. However, I have not figured out a way to turn my hunch into a practical solution. In the meantime, my husband and I continue to explore strategies to help him when things get tough.

The other day Matthew landed in trouble for not following through on something I asked him to do. As a consequence, he lost an expected privilege. There are times my husband and I allow our sons to earn back lost privileges, so when this happened, I decided to try something new. I reminded him it was important to know what Jesus thinks about our behavior. I then mentioned how fun it would be for Matthew to talk with Jesus about his behavior, and listen to Jesus’ response. I said, “If you do this, and share with me what you feel Jesus says, then you can earn back your privilege.”

Matthew responded to this plan with excitement, because, after all, he simply needed to do something he already does, which is interact with Jesus. [1] I then sat next to him and asked him to tell me something he appreciates. Next, I suggested he ask what Jesus wants him to know about his behavior. I reminded Matthew to “turn on his listening ears” to notice what Jesus might say.

At first, Matthew’s mind wandered a good bit. He struggled to focus. Not surprised, I then suggested Matthew ask Jesus to help him focus, and check if Jesus wanted Matthew to know anything about focusing. A moment later Matthew’s face broke into a wide smile. Seeing this response, I asked, “Did you have a thought or a picture from Jesus?” Matthew told me a picture came to his mind. He saw an image of Jesus with a large suitcase, and he saw Jesus packing up the “extra thoughts” in Matthew’s head that were distracting him so that Matthew could better focus. When I heard this my face lit up. Matthew and I then rejoiced together that Jesus wanted to help him with these distracting, busy thoughts that were flying around.

Next, we returned to the first question and Jesus showed Matthew that He was sad when Matthew had trouble listening. Matthew went on to report that he felt like Jesus said He was glad to be with Matthew and wanted to give him a big hug, even when his listening ears aren’t working. Hearing this reminded me that I need to work on giving Matthew more grace in these moments, rather than respond with frustration.

After our interaction, Matthew’s focus and attention improved for the rest of the evening and our peace  levels increased. We have since been able to return to the “Immanuel moment” when Matthew struggles to focus. We ask Jesus to, “bring the suitcase and pack up the extra thoughts” so that Matthew can better focus without being distracted by fluttering thoughts.

A busy mind can be hard for an adult to quiet, much less a child. I feel encouraged that Jesus wants to help us and our children in our struggles. Thankfully, He is able to do something about the things we feel powerless over. I bet you have a few things in your life that you are struggling with today. I would encourage you to start with some appreciation, then talk with Jesus about what is on your mind. Like Matthew, be sure you, “turn on your listening ears” to see what He might want to share with you!

[1] We call this an Immanuel Interaction. Learn more with The Immanuel Approach by Dr. Karl Lehman, Joyful Journey by Kang, Loppnows and Wilder and Share Immanuel by Coursey and Wilder.)

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Raising Resilient Children

I want to have a heart to heart with you about raising resilient children. These are children who bounce back and recover when things go wrong. Children who respond to the curve balls of life and relationships with flexibility and fortitude. Children who can quiet and calm themselves on the good and bad days. I think it’s safe to say that every loving parent wants to raise a resilient child, but the million-dollar question is, “How, exactly, do we do this?”

Should we hurry our kiddos through their tears? Do we tell them to “get over it” and “put on a strong face” so that nothing hurts them? Do we toughen them up by minimizing their feelings? I hate to say it, but the best way to ensure we do not raise a resilient child is to let our fears dictate our parenting style. I’m not going to lie. This is a tough one.

Last week we looked at how we can help ourselves navigate hardship well. Now the question is, “How do we help our children learn this difficult, but valuable skill?” How do we teach young, formative brains to be resilient?

It may shock you to know that those who are the most resilient are the most comfortable with their feelings. These are children who have learned from mom, dad, grandparents, teachers and coaches how to feel big feelings and stay relationally connected as they learn to calm down. Oftentimes we have to face our own fears of our child looking weak in order to help them become strong. Think about that. We have to accept our child looking weak so they can be strong. In order to do this we have to be comfortable with our own weaknesses. Are you still with me? We have to learn that, in spite of our own failures and follies, God is still God. God can work with our mess ups and grow good things from the garden of our weaknesses.

It takes a ton of practice to learn how to manage what we feel. Even in my adult body, with so much more capacity than my sons, I still have days when my big feelings get the best of me. Ouch! I hate it when this happens. So, how exactly can we help our children learn this valuable skill when they have significantly less emotional capacity and maturity than we do?

As adults, it is our job to stay relationally connected to others while we feel our big feelings. Whether we like it or not, our children learn to endure hardship by our example, not our words. Depending on their age and level of maturity, our children need us to first attune and synchronize with them so they learn to navigate and calm the stormy sea of feelings and fears. In this way, children learn to stay relationally connected in the midst of their distress.

The daily practice of skills during the “easy” times provide us with the tools we need during the tough times. As we discussed in previous weeks, Remaining Relational, Acting Like Ourselves and Returning to Joy are vital to practice so we have these skills available when we need them. The relational brain skills of joy, quieting, appreciation, four-plus stories and joy bonds with our children all increase emotional capacity to endure hardship with style and grace. Some of these may be skills we are painfully aware that we are missing. Here is the good news. We can proactively learn these skills and we can find others in our family and community who have these skills to be resources. Just think about the people you know. Who lights up to see you and your children? Who recovers well when things go wrong? Who stays flexible during the hard times?

Chris and I recognize the reality that our boys need more than we can give them. Because of this realization, we work extra hard to surround them with people who bring out the best in them. In this way, my sons experience a diversity of skills. For example, my babysitters don’t know it, but when I first met them, I was actually interviewing them to see if they would be a source of joy, play, quieting and other skills for my sons. You see, play is not something that comes naturally to me. This is something I have to work very hard on day in and day out. It has been extremely rewarding to watch my boys play with their babysitters, knowing that, in spite of my deficits, they are still getting a lot of opportunities to play.

In order to train our children in the skills needed to endure hardship, we must first practice them. Please do not expect something from your children that you are not willing to do yourself. Every one of us can strengthen our own skills and prayerfully find and surround our children with safe people who are strong where we are weak. You are worth the effort. Your children are worth the effort. Let’s start by asking God to meet us right where we are and find the resources and opportunities to grow. Read RARE Leadership and learn more about these essentials for your most treasured relationships.

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