What to do when my kids are fighting?

Here’s 3 quick and effective strategies to use with sibling rivalry that I teach from Positive Discipline.

Fighting is an everyday occurrence in our house with 4 kids / teens! I’m amazed at how affected I am emotionally when my kids fight – it is often the time when I need to use all my mindfulness skills! And often when I am most stressed, tired or busy that it happens! (usually because my attention is elsewhere!).

These strategies have really helped me as a parent stay more mindful….and not get caught up in escalating the fight by coming in over the top of the kids! The strategies are not foolproof – but even if they only work 60% of the time they help to bring some more calm into our house which is great!

This video links in beautifully with my Dealing with BIG feelings video if you haven’t seen it yet? ….

 

The key thing I have learnt to do when my kids fight is to make sure everyone is safe and then negotiate with them what they will do to calm down (best agreed to before the fight happens!)….before we can even begin to talk about it!

What works at your house? What doesn’t work?

This is often a huge issue for the parents that come and see me for parent coaching or attend my workshops.

We discuss this issue a lot more in our online parenting class Resilient Families Thriving Kids – you can find out more and free trial some videos at www.mindfulparentingmindfulcoaching.com/onlineclasses or email me, Sara Phillips, Mum and Parent Coach on sara@mindfulparentingmindfulcoaching.com

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What do you & your child need?

Certainty = SafetyUncertainty=Excitement (1)
Recently I did something out of the ordinary – I went for a walk, in the sun, in the middle of a weekday…just because…..and it felt like a HOLIDAY! It felt glorious! I felt so grateful! Even though it was a walk I do often – it was at a different time of day ….
And it got me thinking how strong it is within us humans to need a balance of certainty & uncertainty! That we crave rhythm & routine (sameness) to feel safe – yet we also crave adventure & excitement (difference) – to experience FUN & to feel alive!
And our kids are the same! Too much out of rhythm & routine can make life difficult and lead to meltdowns – yet kids, even babies, love something new, a change, something exciting….even just a change from indoors to outdoors or one room to the next can make a huge difference!
And as parents we can get locked into our daily routine…and forget that we too also need excitement and adventure – even if it is just going for a walk in the middle of the day!
It is easy to get locked into certainty with our loved ones – to take them for granted and not even really see them!  We can forget that they are amazing people growing and changing constantly…. A little uncertainty can be great for relationships….. For example doing something as a family that is a little challenging, that releases adrenaline, can give us some good bonding moments and help us to appreciate each other.
Novelty is such a great way to enhance our awareness of the present moment and be more mindful– and when we are parenting our routine can feel boring or all the same…sometimes just driving home a different way, going to a new shop, finding some interesting flowers in your street, looking at your loved ones a new way can help to bring back some novelty and be mindful of what we have right here!
Alternatively when I feel really frazzled and like my head is spinning or the kids feel the same I know I need more routine in my life…more calm…
For many of the parents who I see for 1:1 parent coaching, either finding more routine (certainty) or finding more novelty / stimulation (uncertainty) will feature in the strategies we brainstorm.  We cover this in our online classes and workshops for parents www.mindfulparentingmindfulcoaching.com/onlineclasses 
So what are you going to do this week to find a little more certainty – if you need more routine…or to find a little more uncertainty if you need more adventure & FUN? 🙂 Sara

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How to find your inner calm & calm down your kids?

Being With Strong Emotion Pema Chodron's strategies

What do you do to stay calm or calm down?   I’d love to know what works for you…..

I had to use all the mindfulness skills available to me earlier this week to keep calm….and then when I erupted (oops!) – to recover quickly!  No-one can push our buttons like our kids can – and it is often when we are tired, stressed – or need to get to work on time….that we are pushed to our limits!   As Jane Nelson says in Positive Discipline we are aiming for a general direction NOT perfection…so no point beating ourselves up when we revert to old ways….and instead we need to keep practicing and keep noticing the times when we remember our new strategies…when we find a way to stay calm or calm down!

For me what worked this week was:

  • breathing,
  • focusing on my feet,
  • saying to myself this too will pass,
  • looking outside to the view…
  • then doing some LOUD breathing out…
  • then when I did erupt (unfortunately!) keeping it to ‘I’ statements –  limiting the  blame and shame….
  • and afterwards giving both kids huge hugs,
  • apologising for my reaction,
  • talking about what we can do the next morning to prevent the same scenario from happening again….
  • and for me to identify that I need more self-care / me-time so that I have more reserves for handling BIG issues as they come up!

I am passionate about the need for all parents to understand emotions – how they work? how our brains process them? how kids develop emotional intelligence? How we can use mindfulness to find our inner calm and to help our kids to calm down too?

Here is a video I made for our recent How To Talk So Kids Will Listen group on how to deal with Big Feelings.

I’m so excited to have a *NEW* short online course ‘Understanding Emotions’ – you can work through it at your own pace, when it is convenient for you – there are slides , videos & reflective questions to encourage deep learning!  I highly recommend it,  you can free trial some of the videos here  http://mindfulparentingmindfulcoachingonline.thinkific.com/courses/understandingemotions

I’d love your feedback!

Understanding emotions

 

Free Resource: If you would like FREE mindfulness prompts like the one above with strategies on how to deal with a STRONG feeling (yours or your kids) – please sign up at www.mindfulparentingmindfulcoaching.com or for recommended mindful parenting resources go to www.mindfulparentingmindfulcoaching.com/resources

 

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Mindful Memories

bonnie baby 2
We are often told that mindfulness is about not dwelling on or ruminating in the past and about being present. Yet at times it is healthy to remember the past or plan for the future – as my mindfulness teacher would say ‘just do it mindfully!’

Today is my daughter’s 14th birthday and it has just been fantastic to revisit photos and memories, it helps to bring an enormous attitude of gratitude. Mindfully revisiting memories can also be very healing and it can help to develop perspective.

If you have a relationship that you are finding difficult or awkward it can be good to go back to remembering when you first met or when the relationship was strong. So often we can get really caught up in where that person/relationship is at right now….forgetting that within the other person is a vulnerable self just like we have a vulnerable self too. Revisiting positive memories can help us to relate to that person from a positive, caring mindset rather than the tight, irritated or defensive mindset we can find ourselves in.

In MindUP, a program in US and UK that is introducing mindfulness to kids in schools, they teach optimism and how to actively cultivate wellbeing.  One way they do that is to create a ‘Happy’ wall – where photos, and pictures of happy memories are hung, so that whenever you are not feeling so good you can remember that there have been many great times in your past.

In Steve Biddulphs book on relationships he talks about each memory in your relationships being a souvenier…a building block on which it was built. How lovely to go back and revisit some of those souveniers mindfully – being very aware of the emotions they bring up and even the lessons and the new perspective with which we can view that person / relationship.

Often when we change our mindset towards a relationship – the relationship changes – have you ever noticed that? Just switching my anxious thoughts of someone and what they may or may not say, to sending them loving kindness can help to change the interaction…

A beautiful meditation to free up our judgement of another is from Tara Brach:

https://www.tarabrach.com/heart-meditation-letting-go-of-judgment/

I love how she talks about seeing that our defensiveness comes from our own vulnerability and by bringing kindness to the vulnerable parts of yourself you can then be open and give kindness to another….

Enjoy revisiting some happy memories mindfully 🙂 Sara

Mindful Listening

Mindful Listening Quote (2)
Take a minute to reflect on how it feels to be really listened to, and how it feels to be only partially or hardly listened to! Start noticing today when this happens….and then begin to notice when you really listen – and when you don’t… I thought I was a good listener until I did this exercise!
So how do we do Mindful Listening?…I believe we can use any strategy we have that can help us to come back into the present moment; I like to use these strategies from Russ Harris, ACT Mindfully (below).
 MINDFUL LISTENING instructions (2)
The trickiest bit with Mindful Listening though is to remember to gently come back to the present moment – how often do our minds stray to unrelated topics or planning or dreaming or if the discussion is emotional we can stray to forming our defence or analysing what is said instead of just listening… even with practice I can still go a whole day forgetting to mindfully listen!
I remember being shocked when I heard Billy Joel say in an interview that he might be playing to a crowd of 1000’s and they are singing along joyously and his mind will be thinking of the sandwich he’ll have off stage – so it’s normal for all of us for our brains to wander…it’s just that we know we get so much more out of life when we are back in the present moment…
So what will you use this week to help you to mindfully listen – at work, at home? Who do you find easy to listen to and why? Who do you find really hard to listen to and why? And when is the best time for you to listen and when is it hard?
Some strategies I have used is to massage my hands as I listen – it helps to keep part of my brain focussed in the present – perfect for work meetings or when feeling stressed or having an emotionally charged conversation!   Sometimes I need to let my kids / partner know ‘now isn’t a good time’ can I listen in 15 minutes, in 1 hour, tomorrow….
Ruby Max (Mindfulness for the Frazzled) focusses on an aspect of the person’s face very mindfully – I’m not sure if this could count as staring though?
In my Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course my mindfulness teacher ran an exercise where we had to listen for 4 minutes without saying a word to someone. This seemed intimidating for both the speaker and listener but we all found that some issues were completely resolved in that 4 minutes with someone’s complete attention yet no interruption, no questions! I have used this in highly charged conflict situations to say – you have your 4 minutes uninterrupted and then I’ll have my four minutes – and when you do that you are forced to hear out the other person’s point of view and really hear what they are trying to say rather than reacting in anger to their first sentence!
So give it a go.    What you have noticed about yourself as a listener and what will you aim to do this week…

It’s not perfect… it is as it is ….and within that are some really great moments!

moreton island

I was really lucky recently to be able to go camping on Moreton Island, QLD with my partner and four kids for 8 nights with just the basics (e.g. cold showers)…. and it really felt like a retreat from the world as we slept, snorkelled, kayaked, ate and slept some more!

But as the layers fell and we slowed down… and we focussed more on being and less on doing I noticed that even then….even when things were really peaceful and less stressful, my mind would STILL be classifying each moment as ‘like that’ or ‘don’t like that’ and I would be disappointed that this holiday wasn’t PERFECT!

It was almost as if by slowing down I became more aware of my mind’s ‘chatter’ and I was amazed that even when on a tropical island there was still potential to be unhappy… e.g. ‘it’s too hot’, ‘it’s raining’, ‘there’s mossies’, ‘I wish we had fresh fruit’ ‘the kids are fighting again’ etc. It didn’t seem to matter how relaxed we were I was still finding things I wanted to avoid or crave.    I would dwell on memories of  past holidays and wish that this one would have that same or even better moment of happiness, connectedness or relaxation…  I was spending a lot of my holiday in the past or the future and not in the present!

This got me thinking about the Buddhist principle that aversion & craving cause our suffering/distress.   As humans we tend to classify moments as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral and crave more of the pleasant and try to avoid the unpleasant.  Maybe this is human nature and it may even be an important survival strategy?    But if we are to be content with the present moment we need to observe our judgements and not get too caught up in them.   E.g. ‘I’m having the thought that it would be really nice to have air conditioning/ a more comfortable mattress /  a hot shower right now’ and let that thought drift by and remain in the present moment…

As I noticed these thoughts and became less caught up in them I was able to be more and more immersed in the present and less and less bothered by the  ‘unpleasant’ features of camping.   Each time I noticed them I would think ‘This isn’t perfect, it is as it is, and within that are some really great moments!’ and somehow this helped – in fact it is still helping me to adapt to life back in the real world!

I hope you all had a good start to the New Year with some time to reflect and be mindful 🙂

The Big Squeeze – between reality & our aspirations / expectations…

expectations 2

I’ve just read Pema Chodron’s book ‘Start Where You Are: How To Accept Yourself & Others’, a really comforting book to read!

Pema Chodron's book

One concept that I loved and applies to my life right now is the ‘Big Squeeze’ the idea that for all of us there is a conflict between our current reality and our aspirations & expectations.  On one hand we need to learn to accept where we are at right now, to live in the moment and be grateful for life as it is, on the other hand we still need to aspire to new and better ways of living our lives and often it is in a crisis that we most feel the Big Squeeze….we know where we need to go but our reality presents something different entirely!

To me this sums up my experience of parenting!!  From pregnancy there were hopes & aspirations re: birth, sleep, breastfeeding, and time and again reality was different!  Some things I needed to accept I could not change, (e.g my house would forever more be messy!) some things like my temper and explosive anger I had to aspire to change but I also had to cope with the roller coaster ride of reality; sometimes improving and sometimes regressing as I went along…

Then there were/are the aspirations and expectations for our own children…..that they would be well-behaved at their Granny’s house or at the shops, that they would eat all healthy food placed before them, that they would willingly keep the house tidy, that they would like school and like doing what I like doing…..all of these things present an opportunity for the Big Squeeze – my well-intentioned aspirations and the reality….and each time it is a difficult task to accept reality but also to choose what I will continue to aspire to, and what expectations were too high in the first place!!!

Then the next area of life that has the Big Squeeze is the area of work / life balance.  I’ve just started a new job and I had great aspirations to build and maintain a healthy, creative, mindful, loving life balance (FINALLY!)….and the reality was on top of the exhaustion of learning the ropes my whole family got sick and it is taking awhile to recover, everyone is in a grumpy mood, the reality couldn’t be further from my hopes…..I don’t want to give up hope for a work/life balance but I also need to accept where we are at right now, it just takes the pressure off and makes life a lot easier, one step at a time….  And if I never reach that glorious balance….then I need to find a way of relishing the chaos of family life as it happens, as it unfolds!

I could go on, another big squeeze is in our adult relationships, the reality is often far from how we would like them to be, with our parents, siblings, partner….. and somehow in those still moments when you can accept where the relationship is at right now, and still hold hope for where you would like the relationship to be there is a nice warm peaceful feeling…..it’s just hard to maintain in everyday life!!!

I’m sure I’ll think of many other Big Squeeze moments, can you think of one that you are experiencing in your life?

Pema Chodron quote 3

Social Approval…..can we be mindful of this need?

limbic system 2

As I have recently moved states, moved towns, changed jobs…I’ve been thinking a lot about something that Russ Harris (The Happiness Trap / Act Mindfully) talks about….

If you have studied mindfulness then you will probably be aware of the latest brain research that shows that our emotional brain (amygdala / limbic system) sends out alarm signals when we perceive a threat to our safety….and we immediately go into a healthy flight, fight or freeze response to stay safe.  Often however in our modern world that alarm can go into overdrive and be triggered by very small events (e.g. our child’s tantrums, can’t find our keys, being put on hold for 40 minutes etc) and we can be on high alert constantly, experiencing chronic stress, even though our safety is not threatened. Thankfully research now proves that the ancient art of mindfulness can help to calm down our alarm centre….by breathing immediately and over time.

What I found fascinating and have been thinking about a lot recently is Russ Harris’s comment that because we are essentially ‘herd’ animals we can also feel the same sense of alarm when it feels like our ability to belong to a group is threatened….that we biologically once had a need for social acceptance to survive and we still have this!

So this explains that a lot of the tension in my neck and shoulders and high adrenalin is not from a perceived threat to my safety but a fear about whether I will fit in or not, about what to say and how to say it, about whether I will be liked by enough people to feel accepted…..and comfortable in this new community.  Awareness of this hasn’t really helped to ease the tension, but it has helped to understand it and to know that when I’m feeling particularly nervous/worried I can breathe mindfully to calm down that alarm centre… and hopefully reduce the stress a bit?

This then gives me great insight into how it is for kids and teenagers, that it is a ‘survival drive’ to fit in at all costs….that is why they are so desperate to have the latest gadget, to be on social media….to them it feels like a need and they are so upset when us as parents don’t give them what they ‘need’.   I’m still not sure how to negotiate this one…..but if awareness is 50% of the journey then at least I’m on my way to knowing what to do!!!  Perhaps a starter point is to talk to our kids & teens as to what is really a need and what is a want in today’s world?

Conflicting desires for our children…and being mindful of them…

Following on from my last blog I’ve been thinking a lot about the conflicting desires we have for our children… I was particularly fascinated with a comment made on the ‘Life at 9’ series on ABC iview about the fact that we want our children to be persistent… But we also want our children to be flexible, too much of one and too little of the other is not healthy. Too true! As an adult I am still uncertain when to persist and when to let go or try another angle!

So what are some other conflicting desires for our children? Here’s some I can think of…
Independence vs keeping them safe & protected
Socialising and achieving in the outside world vs having quiet time at home/ with the family
Learning to deal with conflict, work as a team and negotiate vs peace and no fights at home, ever!
Protecting our kids from disappointment and the realities of life vs learning how to deal with strong emotions and growing resilience
Exposing our kids to many different activities, especially those we like! vs allowing them to follow their own passions / talents
Wanting our kids to be confident in all settings vs allowing them to be introverted / shy / nervous
Wanting kids to develop their own sense of self vs wanting them to do it our way/ follow our rules!!

Mmm I’m sure there are many others… No wonder this parenting game can feel like challenging tightrope walking!

Mindfulness & Children

My Favourite way of explaining the brain to children but also to parents! Thank you Dan Siegel!

Mostly I am so flat out with life and trying to be more mindful myself that I must admit I don’t do enough teaching of mindfulness to my 4 children….not as much as I would like to anyway!   Jon Kabat Zinn in his book ‘Parenting Mindfully’ believes it is enough for children to see their parent become more mindful – here’s hoping…

There have been a few easy strategies though that have really worked….and writing this blog renews my motivation to keep going!

1. The Mindful Minute: When we have just walked up to the top of a beautiful lookout as I am trying to appreciate the view often there will be a moan, whinge, tease  or complaint!   Asking everyone just for 1 minute of silence to see how many things they can hear or see or how many shades of green or blue can they see, gives me one minute to appreciate the view, at least two kids will get into it and find new things they weren’t aware of and whoever was in a bad mood gets a minute to calm down…..there’s always a shift in the atmosphere — we seem to all feel better for it afterwards, even if  there was rolling of eyes at the start!

2. Cultivating Gratitude: At the start of some meals just asking everyone to pause and talk about where the food came from, who cooked it, shopped for it, grew it, transported it OR to ask that everyone eats there first mouthful mindfully OR go around the table and say one thing you are grateful for….again there might be some reluctant participants but there is always a softening of the mood around the table, a re-connecting and the meal is more enjoyable!!

3. In times of pain or distress: helping children to focus on a different body part e.g. can you feel your toes, wiggle your toes, I’m going to squeeze your fingers….can be easier than asking them to breathe….I found this also eased my own distress and then I could begin to breathe deeper and model that for them.   There are also some beautiful visualisation meditations for children that I used for helping kids to go to sleep and if they are familiar with them then they can be perfect for using when your child is sick or in pain

4. Mindful Massage:  When my kids were young a friend recommended buying massage tools and encouraging your kids to ‘drive’ them over your back!  Another Mum used to lie on the floor and encourage her boys to drive their matchbox cars over her back!!   My kids still LOVE a massage and love giving one to….and BOTH can be very mindful – as the giver or the receiver…it’s a great way to reconnect without words!

5. Mindful Hug: Hugging until relaxed….hugging a loved one just a little bit longer & being really mindful about it- you can feel the tension drop away!

6. The BIG ONE- Dealing with BIG EMOTIONS!:  I have found this the hardest – but also the most essential.  For me the biggest thing to learn (&still learning as we enter the teen years) is how to sit with your child’s BIG emotions and not try to fix them or dismiss or minimise them but validate the emotions and importantly name them.   Then we needed to cultivate in our house the idea of ‘positive timeout’ (you can read more about it on http://www.positivediscipline.com ) where you are not ‘punished’ or sent away for feeling ANGER & FRUSTRATION but instead shown how to find ways to calm yourself down BEFORE communicating about the problem!   We still have a long way to go in our house with this one – when the anger & frustration is directed at me I find it VERY hard not to buy into it…..but I felt like we got somewhere when my eldest at 13 said ‘Mum I’ve learnt that the best thing to do when I’m feeling angry is to go for a bike ride, then I feel better’   It has really helped to talk to my children about how the emotional brain works (fight, flight or freeze response & the brain in the hand model – see the youtube clip above by Dan Siegel) and how we can calm it down but I haven’t done it for awhile so this is inspiring me to bring it up again as it is such an important part of life….if only I had learnt how to handle emotion when I was a child / teen rather than as a new Mum at 27!!!!

It is great writing this as it gives me heart that perhaps I have introduced more mindfulness into our house than I first thought and also it’s strengthened my commitment to persist!  My favourite books on the subject are Dan Siegel ‘ The Whole Brain Child’ http://www.drdansiegel.com/ and Goldie Hawn ’10 Mindful Minutes’.   The best program within schools that I can find is MINDUP  http://thehawnfoundation.org/mindup/ – Goldie Hawn is the passionate founder and they have just had a series of workshops in Australia.  How amazing would that be if in every school, in every class, kids were being taught 10 minutes of mindfulness!!!  The results they have got so far in the states seem amazing!!