Sleep, beautiful sleep… and 16 tips to help you get more of it.

reading on a tablet in bed

Last night I slept for seven whole hours — that’s seven hours without waking up. It’s pretty darned close to miraculous.  Can you identify?  If you’re like me, most nights include one or more of the following:  a brain that won’t shut down, waking up for a bathroom run, or the constant chatter of concerns and to-do lists. Of course, I can’t do anything about them at 3:00am.  Add to that the nights when I just give up trying to fall asleep again, get out of bed, keep busy for a couple of hours, and then try again.  

The truth is that most of us are sleep deprived, and that includes our tween and teen children. Technology, light, food, stress, exercise and more… they all affect how long it takes to fall asleep and stay asleep. You know how lack of sleep affects your overall mood, functioning and effectiveness.  Your teenager, already in the throes of adolescent stress and drama, is impacted even more.  In addition, at the time when they most need more sleep, their internal clock has them staying awake later and going to school earlier – not a recipe for a cheery, enthusiastic child, learner or friend.

This week I’m reprinting from an article on Refinery 29, “16 Evening Habits that Make Everything Better”. Read on and try at least one.  All you have to lose is… nothing much, except for a dragging, cranky you.  Do you have any tips to share?  Leave them below.  We could all use a little extra sleep!

reading on a tablet in bed

Ready to become a morning person?  Since your circadian clock is largely set by exposure to light, body temperature, exercise and food, the following science-backed tips will help you log quality sleep… Your better morning awaits.

Turn off your gadgets at least two hours before bed.
Per the National Sleep Foundation’s “Sleep in America” poll, an overwhelming amount of Americans spend time on their electronics within an hour of bedtime, multiple times per week. Tsk tsk. Within two hours of bedtime, your SCN sends a signal to the pineal gland to begin producing melatonin, the hormone that helps control your sleep-wake cycle, Dr. Terman says. And, research published in Applied Ergonomics shows that just two hours of exposure to a bright tablet screen at night can suppress the body’s melatonin levels by about 22%.

Cut out blue light.
If you are going to have your computer open, try using the f.lux software, Dr. Terman advises. It tracks the cycle of the sun in your time zone and latitude, and then adjusts your gadget’s levels of blue light to match. Or, you could dim your device. A recent Mayo Clinic study found that dimming the brightness to about 50% keeps blue light low enough to not interfere with sleep.

Chow down as soon as you wake up.
Humans have evolved to switch their day-night cycles according to when they eat, suggests research from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Bonus: Eating breakfast fires up your metabolism, and the earlier you get it humming along, the better.

Make your late-night snack carb-rich.
Research published in the journal Cell Reports found that in mice, eating a carbohydrate-rich snack in the evening helped reset the body’s internal clock. Why carbs? Insulin affects the body’s sleep-regulating gene PER2, and since carbs boost insulin secretion, they also help regulate your cycles — so you’re drowsy when you should be. Try cereal with milk (this combo is high in carbs and tryptophan, which converts to serotonin and melatonin in the brain), or cherries (which contain both carbs and melatonin), Dr. Winter says.

Take a bath before bedtimeTake a bath before bed.
This trick is not just to relax. You want to try raising your core body temperature — so that it can plummet when you get out of the tub. The body’s temperature naturally falls come sleepytime, so by exaggerating that temperature change you may sleep more easily, Dr. Winter says. Try taking a hot (like, as hot as you can stand) bath for 15-plus minutes and then get into light PJs.

Exercise at the same time every day.
People who regularly exercise sleep better, but if you exercise at the same time every day, you get even more benefits, Dr. Winter says. Your circadian clock uses clues such as when you exercise to determine when you should go to bed and wake up. It thinks, Okay, we’re exercising now, and we go to bed X-number of hours after working out, so let’s get ready.

Keep your bed cold.
Air temperatures between 60 and 67 degrees are best for sleeping, and cooler body temperatures lead to deeper sleep, Dr. Winter says.  Feel like you’re sleeping in a hot box?  Consider investing in sheets and/or a mattress cover that are designed to keep you cool.

 

The dangers of texting: would you say that to her face?

I retweeted this message from Emily Roberts (therapist and author).  “Parents, ask your kids, ‘Would you say that to her face?’ When texting, pause before you post.”

There’s a big cyber-world out there, where what should be private becomes dangerously public.  Our children are especially at risk of damaging relationships and their own reputation.  A little empathy and awareness can go a long way in helping them maneuver through this world in a more healthy way.

“Would you say that to her face?”  What a great question.  It has become way too easy to type out a message and send it off into cyberspace.  Technology has given us the ability to send information faster and farther than ever before. As a tool for staying in touch with family and friends, it’s great.  As a way to speak your mind, it can be messy, irresponsible and even harmful.  Be careful when you press the ‘send’ button!

What would you say differently, or not at all, if the person was standing in front of you?  This question is for you, parents, as well as for your kids.

teens and texting

Think about it for a moment.  When you speak directly to someone, there are visual and auditory cues coming at you – a facial expression, tone of voice, body language, their immediate response.  This is a living, feeling person you are talking to, not just the faceless idea of someone.  Email, texting, voice mail… in some instances they have become an impersonal way of communicating, one that allows us to ignore our responsibility for what we put out there. It can be the quick and easy way out.  In the extreme, it is dangerous.  Depending on the circumstances, it can also be a form of bullying.

A strategy that comes up all the time is to “take five” before responding so that you say what you really mean.  This is a good strategy for the written word, too.  I have heard stories of people sending off an email to someone they are angry at.  They end up in an email battle, messages flying back and forth, and sometimes irreparable damage is done to the relationship.  (And let’s not forget the risks involved in “reply all”.  When did everything become everybody’s business anyway?)

The dangers for our teens are very real, whether they are on the sending or receiving side of these messages.  Teenagers have far less impulse control and are swayed more by their emotions and their need to fit in.  Encourage your children to ‘take five’ too.  Ask them if they would have the courage to speak their mind, face to face.  This is a real test of their character.  Remind them that once they say something, it takes on a life of its own and cannot be undone.

As always, consider what you are teaching your children.  If you are already aware and careful in how you communicate, bravo!  If you think there is room for change, do it now.  Take a look at what you say, how you express it, and how you send it out into the world.  And tell your kids about your new attitude.  Teach them well and show them how it’s done!

Good intentions… and the road to hell and back.

“If I only knew then what I know now.”  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that from parents (and how many times I said it myself).  We tend to put up with a lot until we just can’t stand it anymore, and find our family in a jam, or worse.  We have the best of intentions, but those intentions can lead us astray, away from what’s really in our family’s best interest.

You’ve heard the expression, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  There is a way back, and there’s also a way to avoid going there altogether.  Let’s get started.

One of the things I learned during my child’s trial-by-fire teen years was that love and good intentions weren’t enough.  They were actually part of the problem.  It took some work to come to terms with where I had gone wrong, and to accept that I was still a good person.  This quote sums it up:

“Intentions! You can have them. They can be pure and good.  In your mind you will execute them in a very precise manner with the purest of hearts.  Then something happens and shoots it all to hell.  Does that make a person any less good?  I don’t think it does.”  (From the novel, A Paris Apartment, by Michelle Gable.)

Family in crisis

Your family is doing all right, there are no crises looming.  You’re all chugging along. And then one day you wake up and ask yourself, “How did we get here?‘  Now there are some issues:  disrespect, slipping grades, defiant behaviors, drinking, breaking curfew, depression.

How did you get there?  There are many reasons you can find yourself on the bad road of good intentions, such as a desire for peace and quiet (also known as harmony over truth), over-giving to your children (especially when you want them to have what you didn’t have), or excessive pressure about grades.  It can also be difficult to accept that life isn’t quite fitting the image you had when you started your family.  That ideal image is tough to let go.  (I also want to be clear that you are not responsible for everything your children do.  They made choices along the way; however, they had some help from you in becoming who they are now.)

How do you find your way back and do right by your kids?

1)  Pay attention to that little voice or sensation in your body, the one that’s telling you something isn’t quite right.  Ignoring it can get you all in trouble.

2)  Accept that there is a situation or behavior that needs attention.  Not all problems turn into a crisis, but you must pay attention and be willing to look at it.

Take action3)  Share it with someone you trust – a spouse or partner, another family member or a professional who can guide you through it.  I know firsthand how difficult it is to put words to it; to admit that there’s something too big to handle yourself; that maybe you made mistakes; and the embarrassment that you and your kids are struggling when everyone else seems to have it together (which they don’t, because everybody has something they’re dealing with).

I also remember that when I finally found the courage to voice my deepest fears and regrets, they took on a life of their own and became real.  They were no longer my secret.  And once I put it out there, there was no turning back. I had to act… which leads us to #4.

4)  Take action, even imperfect action.  Nothing changes until you do.  If you wait until you’re standing at the edge of a cliff, your options are limited.  So do something, sooner rather than later.  Resist the perfection demon, the one that says you must have everything planned out perfectly, all the steps lined up and ready to go.   Many people get stuck here, and lose sight of the bigger picture of what needs to be accomplished.  You need a first step.  The rest will follow.

This is the way back.  Don’t wait for a little unpleasantness to turn into a big problem.  Be aware and proactive.  Share and take a step to break those unproductive habits and attitudes, so you can all be your best, unique, amazing selves.

Tip – For high self esteem, praise the effort, not the child.

high self esteem

I learned a lot about self-esteem from the program at Hyde School.  Part of it was the lesson that in order to grow positive self-esteem, it’s better to praise the effort instead of the child.

high self esteem

Do you know that praising your child can backfire?  You’re probably trying to boost his self esteem, and make him feel better about himself.  When you praise the child, however, you are filling him with your own hopes and desires about who you want him to be.  He may also feel incapable of living up to that high standard.  But the day will come when you can’t be by his side, assuring him that he is competent, strong and resilient.  Then what?  Who is he without all that?

Self-esteem is an inside job.  It comes from doing good things and from picking yourself up when things don’t go well.  You want to be praising the effort and the attitude behind the actions and naming what you see:

“You wanted to put off doing that assignment because writing is challenging, but you did it first and stuck with it.  That’s real determination.”

“I saw how angry you were when your sister took your toy, but you didn’t hit her or yell.  You asked for help and showed self-control.”

“You were uncomfortable with what your friends were doing.  It took courage to stand up, say it, and walk away.”

Praise the effort, not the child.  Watch your child blossom into the self-confident, independent person you know he can be.

Helper or enabler: which one are you?

HelicopterParent

“How do I know when I’m doing too much for my child? I don’t want to hover, but I also worry that there are things she can’t handle by herself.  When should I get involved?”  This concern is voiced by parents of kids who are in kindergarten through college.

The reality is that the way for kids to become competent and independent is precisely by tackling these things by themselves.  If they fall on their face, they get back up and figure out a better way.  For parents, it can be difficult to sit on your hands and watch it play out.

HelicopterParentHovering, enabling, helicoptering (is that even a word?).  They’re all related.  You’re smoothing the way, or taking over, so your child doesn’t have to experience pain or disappointment, or make mistakes. You’re smoothing the way so you don’t have to experience pain and disappointment.  How do you know when you’re enabling or helping?  How do you know when to step in or step aside?  Read on for two essential questions to walk you through it, as well as real-life situations and outcomes.

I usually define enabling as when you do for someone what he can do for himself. A helper is someone who is available to assist, when asked.  A rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “Whose problem is this?”  If it’s not a question of health or safety, the answer often is that it’s up to your teen to handle it.

Does it make a difference whether you think your child should be able to tackle it, or if he truly is capable of handling it?   Therewill be times you make the assumption that he can (based on age, intelligence and past performance), when, in fact, he may not be fully prepared to take it on. Other times you’re convinced there’s just no way. Either way, neither of you will ever know what he’s capable of until he’s nudged into taking action.  If you step in right away, there’s a good chance you’ll be the enabler.  I encourage you to step aside.

When you do, you demonstrate the courage to shift responsibility over to your teen or pre-teen.  The next question is for her.  “What can you do about that?”  With the right tone of voice, you are expressing confidence that she is capable.  Sometimes there is problem-solving to do.  Other times, it simply means taking the consequences for what she has, or hasn’t done.

DirtyClothes

What are some instances where this comes up, and what can your child do?

  • Questions about grades
    • She can speak to the teacher herself (and develop her own courage ‘muscles’).
  • Procrastinating with schoolwork
    • Do it, well or poorly, and (maybe) next time plan ahead.
  • Leaving lunch money at home
    • Find someone to borrow from, or go without lunch.  It will bother you more than it bothers her.
  • No clean clothes in the closet
    • Wear something that smells, is wrinkled, or has a stain.   Comments from friends will be much more effective than your nagging.  Nobody ever died from wearing dirty clothes (although you may ‘die’ from embarrassment… even though it’s not your fault.)
  • Leaving an assignment at home
    • Take the consequences of a zero for a missing homework, or a lower grade on a project.  (I know, it hurts to see him unnecessarily lose credit on something he completed. It if bothers him, too, next time he will remember.)
  • Needing a last-minute ride
    • Find someone else to drive, arrive late, or cancel plans.  (Kids are really quite resourceful when something is important to them. Watch how quickly she finds a ride!)

What if your child is stuck?  What you can do, after putting it back in his hands, is offer to be available should he want some help. Encourage your child to ask for help, as needed. Teach him to problem-solve, brainstorm, prioritize, and break tasks down into more manageable pieces.  Help her to anticipate problems, to look at past experiences for insights, to think things through so she’s responding, instead of reacting emotionally.

When you jump in to fix it, you’re reacting to your own discomfort… but make no mistake:  if you continue to hover, helicopter and enable, you’ll have more than discomfort later on.  What you do, or don’t do now determines how independent and successful your kids will be.

Reflection:

  1. Where am I on the helper/enabler scale?
  2. How does it show up in my child’s ability/inability to do for herself?
  3. What is one situation in which I feel able to take a step aside?

 

10 study skills to learn more, retain more, and get better grades.

multisensory learning

Most children have to learn how to study, and some need to learn how to learn.  If the material is difficult or boring, if they have trouble sitting still or are easily distracted, staying focused and retaining information is a challenge.  A recent program on NPR’s Science Friday offers some great study skills for getting the most out of study time without feeling tortured.  Brain research shows it’s possible to train your brain to learn more and be more creative.  Here are the highlights from the program, and they are skills that anyone can master.  In fact, your kids will probably be relieved and excited to try some of them.

Is there anyone who hasn’t experienced this?  You’re taking a test and all of a sudden your mind goes blank.  You studied, but have no idea how to answer the question.  Then you go to your next class and the answer pops into your head.  What’s going on?

We all have these times when we try so hard to remember something and we just can’t get to the information in our head.  The harder we try, the more frustrated we become. It seems that the brain has two neural states:  one for focus and one for resting.  When you’re focused, stuck and going around in circles, you can’t see other approaches to a problem.  The brain needs to shift into its resting state.  This allows it to tackle the problem again, refreshed and open to new insights.

 

Need some inspiration?  How about Albert Einstein, Salvador Dali and Thomas Edison? The solutions, masterpieces and inventions didn’t come without struggles and challenges. Their brains needed down-time, too.  The story is told that Edison would fall asleep holding a fistful of ball bearings.  When he was fully asleep, his fist unclenched, the ball bearings dropped and woke him up, and he had an answer, or at least a new way to think about the problem.

study skills for multisensory learning

So what are the best study skills for kids to refresh their brain and learn more effectively?

1)  It’s called the multi-sensory approach.  It works!   As a foreign language teacher, I know all about this one.  The more senses you use, the more you will retain. Period.  See it, say it a gazillion times, listen to it, touch it, move it, move around and through it, smell it. Make up a story about it.  Make every kind of connection you can to it, even if it only makes sense to you.

 
2)  Step away from the problem.  Don’t sit there, hour after hour, and still have no results. The same assumptions are running through your mind.  You may be stuck because they are incorrect assumptions, and you need a new perspective and new ideas.  Take a break with a refreshing drink, some movement, or even a short nap. Your brain is still working.  Something will shake loose while you’re on that break.

3)  Sleep on it.  Your brain makes new connections while you sleep.  ”It’s as if you go to sleep with one brain and wake up with an upgrade overnight.”
Six hours of sleep is really the minimum requirement for your brain to function well.  While you sleep, your brain cells shrink, and allow fluids to flow through and wash away toxins.  You have a fresh mind in the morning!  You don’t want to take a test with a “poisoned” brain, do you?

 

4)  Put ‘play’ back into learning.  Play is natural for us.  At least it is for very young children.  They experiment, get messy, try it one way, then another.  Remember Tinker Toys, Legos, and Lincoln Logs?  How about doodling, pretend play, Play Dough and clay?  Work it and rework it. Knock it down and start again. These kinds of activities will have your neural synapses firing like crazy.

5)  Bed, bath and bus.  All of these give you a break from brain fatigue, and put it into the resting states that allow you think more creatively… and come up with that darn solution!

 

6)  Leave your study area.  Trade your desk for the back yard, or the library for a football field.  A brief change of scenery (and some fresh air) may be just what you need.

 

7)  Get off your behind and move!   Stand up, walk, pace the room.  All kinds of movement and exercise are valuable.  Exercise allows neurons to grow and survive, and helps you learn and remember better.

 

                                              Need better study skills?

8)  Avoid cramming.  Does cramming work?  Yes, but only for the short-term. If your test is postponed, forget about it. You’ve shoved lots of information in, and when the test is over, it quietly disappears.  (After the final exam in my one and only calculus class, I promptly forgot everything I had studied… because I never really understood it to begin with.  All the last-minute studying did help me pass the exam, but I didn’t truly learn the material.)
 
9)  Tame procrastination.  Many of us are procrastinators.  Why?  Mostly because we’re avoiding something that is unpleasant in some way.  Take math, for example.  If math is difficult, you look at the math problem and the pain centers in your brain activate.  You avoid the ‘pain’ by avoiding math and paying attention to something else. What can you do about it?  You can trick your brain by setting a timer for 25 minutes.  Work for 25 minutes and be in the flow of the work.  Don’t focus on the aspect of it that causes the pain. Then take a break for 25 minutes.  Going back and forth this way minimizes the urge to avoid the task.
 
10)  Accept failure as part of learning. In English class, revisions are expected. Scientists revise hypotheses and testing methods.  The first try is rarely the finished product.  You have no idea how many rewrites and tweaks I do for every article.  The Founding Fathers didn’t do a draft of the Declaration of Independence and say, “Okay, we’re done here.”  Thomas Edison discovered 1,000 ways not  to make a light bulb.  Most efforts are not failures.  They are the normal process of going from point A to point B.

Managing your anger (when you’d rather pitch a fit).

Anger has the power to derail you and the people around you. Staying in anger keeps you estranged from your creativity and greatest potential.  Now who doesn’t want to be creative and self-actualized and have wonderful relationships?

Knowing how to effectively manage anger is part of Emotional Intelligence, a topic I’ve been discussing a lot this year.  (Watch a short video about EQ, or pick up a copy of the book, Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ, by Daniel Goleman, the father of EQ.)

Mastering these techniques can dramatically improve the quality of your life, and the lives of those you love.  It helps to understand where it all begins.  Imagine…

Someone cut you off on the highway.  You’ve come home to disorder and kids fighting.  It was a tough day at work.  All of them have the power to spark your anger.  It starts off with brain chemistry, but it doesn’t end there. You (and the people you love) don’t have to be a victim of your chemistry and emotions.

‘Fight or flight’ was originally a response to physical danger.  In our day, the danger is more likely to be an attack on your self-esteem or integrity, or maybe your frustration over increasingly stressful situations. Either way, this is still ‘fight or flight’ and your brain is telling you to ramp it up and do something!

Many times we are victims of our emotions, especially anger.  Do you act on it, and stay in that intense and volatile state?  Or do you learn how to soothe yourself?  Although you have little to no control over when you are carried away by your emotions, or what the emotion will be, you are the one who determines how long you’ll be held prisoner by it.  Yes, you have the power.

Let’s take the example of the driver who cuts you off.  There’s a reason it’s called road rage.  You feel the injustice of it, the inconsiderate, self-centered nature of the other driver.  Your brain releases chemicals, and  you want to fight back — pass him, box him in, punch him in the face.  This kind of anger can actually be energizing!  And then someone honks a horn behind you, and your anger grows, feeding on itself.  You’re stuck in a loop leading to rage.  What you focus on grows.  The longer you brood on what made you angry, the more reasons you come up with to justify your anger.

Let’s recap.  Danger can take the form of being misunderstood or insulted.  It can show up when you are frustrated at not making progress toward an important goal.  Your brain preps you to either put up a fight, or head for the hills.  What’s important to know is that the effect of these hormones can keep you in that emotional state for hours, on alert for more attacks.  Things that might not have bothered you before can cause an angry outburst.  And so the cycle continues.

This may sound extreme, but it makes the point.  So what can you do about it?  There are three basic methods of soothing the angry beast:

1)  Challenge the thoughts and beliefs that ignited your anger.  
It’s your first thoughts about what happened that nurture the first reaction of anger.  The more you think about it, you more you validate it and go along with it.  The sooner you intervene, the faster you break the cycle.

Go back to the driver who cut you off.  Did you make an assumption?  Maybe it wasn’t a case of someone joyriding without a care for anyone else on the road.  A friend shared that when she went into a difficult labor with her first child, her husband was driving 80mph in the left lane of the highway to get her to the hospital.  The other drivers had no idea of the urgency of the situation.  Do you see?  You don’t have all the information.

And even if the other driver was an inconsiderate, self-centered you-know-what, is that a reason for you to go off the deep end?  At the end of the day, how does that change your life?  Usually, not at all… unless it leaves you in a state where everything upsets you, and you take it out on your family and friends.  You can take the oomph out of your anger by trying to understand, or by lessening its importance.

 

2)  Cooling-down strategies.
We’re moving away from thought-based solutions to physiological solutions.  What can you physically do to settle down?

a)  Physically remove yourself from the situation.  When a conversation turns into an argument, you need to get away from the other person.  Take five – minutes or hours.  Get some distance, simmer down, and give him the chance to do the same.

b)  Do something, so you can distract yourself from negative thoughts.  This can be a long walk, a workout, deep breathing, muscle relaxation or time with a pet.  A friend of mine swears that you can’t feel sad and stressed when you’re gardening.  All kinds of stress-relief strategies can work here.  Distraction breaks the cycle of angry thoughts and allows your body and brain to move out of high alert.  CAUTION:  If you use this time to continue stoking the fire, you are setting yourself up for more of the same.

3)  Use self-awareness to keep from ‘going there’.
Catch your hostile thoughts as they appear.  Write them down.  You can defuse them this way, challenge them, and move on.  Remember, you have to be aware of a problem in order to do something about it.

Are you ready to take responsibility for your emotions?  Are you ready to leave behind the attitude of “He made me do it.  It wasn’t my fault”?  There’s no time like to today to begin.

There you have it.  And, as always, your children are watching everything you do.   You know that intense, difficult emotions and lack of self-control don’t go anywhere good.  Show them how you manage your own anger.  Not only will they learn this healthy way of handling it, your relationship with your kids will improve exponentially.

Problem or crisis… When should you start worrying?

Family in crisis

The first days of school can be exciting, or nerve-wracking.  Either way, everyone’s on their best behavior, planning for the best year ever.  You and your kids settle back into your routines.  Hopefully, all goes smoothly and a month or two later the kids are still on track.  But what if they’re not?  Or what if you’re starting to see little behavior changes?  Some parents mentally turn a small concern into a big problem and exacerbate the situation.

If this happens to you, I’m about to help you put a new spin on it so you can stay calm, your kids will remain calm and receptive, and the crisis can go back to being just a problem.  You can feel the fear and tame it. You can do this.

Family in crisis

Do you have a tendency to see problems as crises?  You’re in good company.  It’s called ‘catastrophizing’ and you’d be surprised at how many people do it.  I’m guilty of this from time to time, and have a tip to help you settle down and figure out how to ramp down the anxiety.

When something happens that gets your heart racing or quickens your breath (which can be frequent with your kids), STOP.  Take a slow, deep breath and think.  A crisis is something dangerous and potentially life-threatening. Is it a crisis or a problem to be solved?  Are you turning a molehill into a mountain by projecting way too far into the future?  Maybe it doesn’t merit that much drama and angst.  Stay in the moment and decide what must be done today.

Each of us has a different threshold for distressing things.  From missed homework to a major illness, they can all feel critical. It depends upon how different it is from what you consider ‘normal’.  If your child is a student who excels, missing assignments can feel like a crisis.  But is it?  It’s certainly a time to discuss it and explore what may have changed.  So you take the first step to find out what is going on in his life, and, if necessary, develop a plan of action or find resources to help him through it.  This lapse is a problem to be solved.

Problem or crisis?  You decide how much drama it deserves.

Back to school with ease and calm

The mornings are cooler and stores are advertising back-to-school supplies and clothes. Argh!  The first day of school is just around the corner.  The summer weather persists for another month or two, but the ‘lazy’ days of summer must come to an end. And so the cycle of summer-to-school begins again.

Are you ready for the kids to go back to school?  Are they ready?  If you’re like my family, we had mixed reviews about the end of summer and the inevitable return to school.  We loved the fresh air and sunshine, earning money at a summer job, and taking a family vacation. After a while, though, we all longed for a little more, or different, structure and predictability.

Most kids are looking forward to being with their friends from school.  Some relish the challenge of learning and achieving in the classroom.  (I hope you have one of those kids!) Others need the structure and goal-oriented nature of school and extra-curricular activities.

How do you make the transition back to school easier on all of you?

1.    Get excited about the shopping AND establish some guidelines.  Going from store to store to store is not only exhausting, it’s a recipe for overwhelm and indecision.  Make clear before you head out:
a.  what’s on your shopping list.
b.  what your budget is.
c.  how many stores you will go to.

Your time, money and patience are in limited supply.  That’s reality.  If your maximum number of stores is three, make sure your kids understand that by the time you get to the third store, a decision is expected, or the items are not purchased. It’s a great opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of what they need and want, to examine quality and quantity, and how to spend within their means (well, your means, if you’re paying for it).

If you shop online, these guidelines can apply.  I still encourage you to build in a little shopping expedition.  There’s a different energy to getting out of the house, and to using all your senses in the shopping experience.

In the end, the biggest piece of this is about setting expectations before you go.  You can avoid a lot of aggravation with a little bit of preparation.

2.    Buy something special for the first day.  Even high-schoolers will appreciate this.  Back in the days when we had far less, that new pair of shoes was a big deal.  Most of you can provide these things all year long, so finding something special may take some thought.  It doesn’t need to be big, like a smart phone or other expensive item.  It could be an accessory that wasn’t part of the original need-to-have list, a gift certificate, a manicure, or something  inspiring to hang in their locker.

Alarm clock3.    Ease back into routines.  Of course the first one that comes to mind is sleep and the dreaded alarm clock.  Take the remaining days or weeks to gradually change bedtimes and waking-up times.  What other routines can you begin to add back?

4.    Allow them to express any anxiety.  Will I make the grades?  Will I keep all my friends?  What about new teachers?  How do I fit in?  Even if they have a good track record in these areas, they are likely feeling stressed about it and should be encouraged to express it.  Above all, do not discount what they are feeling!  They’re entitled to their feelings, whether you agree with them or not.  This could be the time to talk (a conversation, not a lecture) about coping with stress.  Let them know that there’s normal stress and stress overload, and you’re going to check in with them if you see signs of them moving into overload.  They may protest, but they’ll also be relieved to know you have their back.

5.    Share your own stories about school.  It wasn’t always fun.  Your kids can appreciate the difficulties of school – both work and relationships – and be inspired by how you handled it.  Growing up is confusing, and you are proof that you can live through these baffling times.  Whether you liked learning or not, in hindsight you know it was (mostly) useful.  And to quote the late Robin Williams, “Nothing I learned was wasted.”

Do you have any special memories or tips about the back-to-school experience?   You can share them below.

Communication blunders: What you heard is not what I meant!

From a TV commercial –
Scene: Parents are in the kitchen. Daughter enters, hugs mom and screams,
“I just got into one of the best schools in the country!”

What the father heard:
“I just got into one of the most expensive schools in the country!”

This is a great example of how what you hear is not necessarily what was said, or intended. We see the world through our personal filter. The words that come into our ears can come out scrambled because of attitude, emotions, fatigue and stress levels. You’ve made it about you, even if, in that moment, it isn’t about you at all and it impacts all your communication.

Let’s go back to the commercial. The father, concerned about how to pay for this fantastic education, has already shifted into worry mode. The pressure is on, and he may not be able to express sincere joy for her accomplishment. If so, his daughter is going to be disappointed at his lack of excitement. This incredible moment is now heavy with anxiety on his part, and sadness or resentment on hers.

Conversely, remember that when you are sharing something and don’t get the response you are hoping for, it probably has little or nothing to do with you. Your listener is focused on how this impacts him or her.

So what’s a parent to do to improve communication and sharing?

1)  Put your listening ears on. Be attentive and engaged in really hearing what the other person is saying.
2)  Take yourself out of the picture. Easier said than done, but it is necessary at the time. People are trying to tell you something that is important to them. Do your best to put your reactions and needs on hold.
3)  Put the other person first. Let her have her moment. Be happy or comforting, or whatever is needed.

Now that you have refrained from reacting emotionally, it’s time for you to consider what this conversation means to you. Sit with it for while, if you need to.

1) Identify your concerns or fears. Be honest about them.
2) Share them more calmly with those who should know.
3) What is it you desire to accomplish or change?
4) What are the steps you need to take?
5) Who do you need to ask for help?

Whatever you are feeling is real; however, how you react and respond can make all the difference… for both of you. Be in the moment. Hear what is said. Hear what is meant.