One would think that this past year has taught us all to slow down- and maybe that *was* the case at the beginning- when we were all somewhat paralyzed, waiting for expert answers, and guidance, as our day-to day routines abruptly came to a halt. But, what happened quickly thereafter, was that parents assumed more roles and responsibilities than even before- homeschooling & working from home (amongst 5,000 other daily tasks)- and many families felt just as busy- or busier than the pre-pandemic days.
The point is- we were busy before. We are busy now. Our culture is busy. Busyness is valued in our society, and there is emphasis and recognition in how much one can accomplish. Where is the value in slowing down? And what does slowing down actually mean? Is slowing down as a parent even possible?
Slowing down is one of the strategies mindfulness calls for. Of course, meditation and quiet space can feel restorative but we aren’t talking about this kind of zen. We are here to explore what is reasonable and attainable for families to take into their homes.
Start here: What is mindfulness? Simple answer: Paying attention on purpose.
Mindfulness cultivates qualities such as: kindness, calmness, patience, creativity, productivity and better health- it means living in, focusing on, and aiming for understanding in the present moment.
Slowing down means cancelling out the extra noise and focusing on what is most important.
Ways to slooooooww down:
To a child, LOVE is spelled T-I-M-E. At the end of the day, really, our children really just wanted to connect with us. Those 5 extra minutes of playtime, that one extra story, that meal eaten together- those are the moments- the good stuff- that keeps parents going on this long journey together. Those are the moments that matter- when everything else is stripped away and its just focused time spent together.
We often hear this phrase when discussing our toddlers and older children. But did you know that mindfulness is just as important during pregnancy and the postpartum period? And what is mindful parenting, exactly?
Mindful parenting is a focus on creating a present mindset. It is about bringing an awareness to your days that give a sense of purpose and intention. Being mindful helps us make logical and well thought-out decisions that are best for us and our families.
1. Set your intentions.
Just like the food we eat nourishes our growing babies, the thoughts we have and the emotions we feel nourish our baby as well. They are connected to our neurological systems. During pregnancy we should strive for our emotional and cognitive environment to be positive, loving, and connected.
Journaling is a great way to help set intentions for you and your baby. Spending 5 - 10 minutes during the day or even once per week can help you feel more connected. What do you want the bond to be like between you and your baby? What do you envision doing together?
Adequate rest is never easy to get - especially if you work and/or have other children at home that need your attention. The physical discomforts of pregnancy or the demands of a newborn, combined with a lack of sleep, can add to your irritability and make mindfulness feel nearly impossible.
Aim for 10 minutes of rest per every hour of being on your feet. Nap when possible. And try not to fall into the trap of staying up late to finish all the tasks you may not have gotten done during the day. Your nighttime sleep is valuable.
3. Time blocking.
Dividing your day into blocks of time will give you a general map of how your day will flow. You can mentally prepare for times of the day when your full attention will need to be on your child, as well as look for spots when you will have time for yourself. Remember to be flexible. Your day will never go *exactly* as planned, especially when children are in the mix.
4. Put down the tech.
We are all guilty of it. The baby needs fed again, and in that quiet moment it is easy to pick up the phone and scroll through social media, put together the grocery list, or shop on Amazon. Try to spend at least one of those quiet moments during the day focused on your baby and the bond you have. Staying mindful and present will strengthen that bond as well as create the sense of calm that new parents crave (and need).
5. Don’t do it alone.
During the current times, it feels difficult to find and ask for help, but it is more important than ever. Think of specific tasks that would alleviate a burden and allow you to stay mentally focused. Would having your groceries delivered alleviate stress? If your baby is struggling with sleep, hiring a sleep coach may make your daily lives feel more manageable and positive. Enlist your resources- be them family, friends, or professional services.
Practicing mindful parenting early on will set the stage for a present, well connected, and strong family. The benefits are long lasting and it’s never too early to start.
Have you ever sat down with your toddler to read books before bedtime and they bring out the exact.same.book.from.last.night (and the night before, and the night before that and...you get the idea)? Many parents think “Oooofff. Again?” Yep, again. There are some books I have read so many times that I could probably recite them backwards. The good news is- there are great scientific and developmental reasons why children want to hear the same stories over and over- and that can put our minds at ease knowing there is an actual reason for it, BUT- that fact doesn’t totally help us find enjoyment in reading that book again. How about when your child is OBSESSED with dolls, trains, dinosaurs, (whatever it is…) and you, well, just can't get "in to it"?! We know our kiddos want us to play with them, but sometimes it just.doesn't.feel.fun.
First of all, it is O.K. to not always have fun during playtime. We are not bad parents if we don’t want to play with dolls or dino's or are sick of the same book. Moreover, it is ALSO O.K. to say “no” to playing sometimes. Our culture has decided to make parents feel less-than when we can’t be the in-home chef, doctor, teacher, AND playmate- all at the same time. But, again, it is truly O.K. to say “no” when the kiddos ask you to play when the timing isn’t right.
When, however, you DO gear up for playtime or story time (or meal time, or park time or any time) HOW can parents find more enjoyment? One way it to practice mindfulness. Wait- what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is simply paying attention on purpose. It helps us focus on the here and now so we spend less time in the past (which often leads to depressive thinking. EX: “I wish I would have….”) and/or future (which often leads to anxious thinking: EX: “I really need to…”). Gifting our children our full presence is one of the more compassionate things we can do as a parent- it helps us understand, and accept what is happening- without trying to ignore or change it. Practicing mindfulness as a parent can lead to stronger bonds, calmer attitudes, better communication, more control over automatic reactions, lower stress, and more. Sold? Us too.
So where does mindfulness fit into playtime? Here are some concrete ways to reset, bring ourselves back, and ultimately find more enjoyment when we find ourselves distracted or, quite honestly, bored:
As always, if you are feeling stuck in a rut and are curious about personalized ideas for playtime with your little one, reach out for a FREE 15-minute consultation.
Ok, ok... BLISS mayyy be a *bit* of a stretch. Especially if you are within the majority of families that have a student (or two) participating in schooling through a screen at home (whilst juggling your own career, housework, the occasional 20-minute workout, and much, much more). This fall has brought a LOT of stress and isolation. Trying to help our children survive a pandemic is far from what we expected the 2020-2021 school year to look like. As mothers ourselves, we’ve also been *ahem* stuck at home with our children during this pandemic-ridden-school-year. We know personally how rough it can be on some days- some weeks...months...
AND as former Elementary School Educators, It is incredibly difficult to realize what many (not all) children are missing by being out of the school buildings- and it is SO.MUCH.MORE than academics. Parent’s, (with the very best intentions) have not gone through years of schooling to gain the knowledge about how human learning works, what brain development for children during the elementary school years looks like, or what intrinsic motivation is- simply put, not all parents are educators, even though, they are loving, capable, confident, amazing, parents. BUT. We do have years of schooling under our belt and more years after that of hands-on practice implementing research based strategies. The following is a short list that aims to help jump start the mid-year slump, in this school year of slumpiest slump. As always, reach out to us if you want to talk more about any of these things! We are happy to do a FREE 15 minute consultation call to see if we think we can help. And for $99/ hour, we are in your back pocket anytime you want an expert’s opinion. We’ve got you, parents.
1. Check off basic needs for baseline.
Every good teacher knows that in order for a child to be in a position of real learning- the kind where the student is curious, and not only absorbing information- but actually processing and applying it- they must have their basic needs met first. Back-to-school is a great time to hit the reset button for checking in on your child’s basic needs. Take a good look. Are they eating a healthy, balanced diet? Drinking enough water? Regular and adequate exercise (whole section about this below…)? Fresh air? Social time spent with peers? Quality 1/1 time with you or another meaningful adult in their life? Enough quiet time that they can truly slow down? Fresh air- are they outside enough? Are they sleeping enough? Run through a basic needs inventory and prioritize their needs that might be lacking. Getting back to baseline so they can be ready for learning is always step #1.
2. Use lots of positive reinforcement.
There are a lot of options for how to tell and show kiddos positive reinforcement- but the idea remains the same. Catch them displaying the behaviors you’d like to see more (staying focused on the ipad during zoom, completing assignments on time, etc.) and give specific praise. You can say “I am so impressed by your perseverance on this assignment- way to stick with it!” or “Awesome, kiddo- I see you reading for the whole independent reading time, even when your teacher isn’t watching!” (Saying only: “good job” isn’t specific and doesn’t help them understand what it is that they are doing that’s ‘good’). Another way to provide praise is through a visual- it can be craft pom’s in a jar, or stickers on a chart, or stars on a dry erase board- some students really need to see their hard work visually in order to create a new habit, break a gnarly one, or just to maintain momentum for awhile. If you choose to provide a reward when the sticker chart is completed, keep in mind that reward-based motivation, is external- it may help temporarily with the habit break/make (which can be really powerful and necessary) but it isn’t (typically) an advised long-term strategy, and focusing on character traits like perseverance will actually help them feel better about themselves, and benefit them more as they get older, and motivate them more intrinsically.
3. Get their engines moving.
Think about how much movement the students had at in-person school: they played on the playground before the bell rang (and/or walked to school), hopefully had at least 2 recess’, walked the hall from classroom to special’s class. Lots of children also would engage in some sort of physical elective in the afternoons outside of school hours. When one adds it up, that is at least 2 hours of physical movement per day. It is common in winter months for families to start to want to “hibernate” a little more, BUT if you can get your child moving throughout the day it quite literally wakes their brain up for learning. Science proves that exercise is the best way to improve memory and attention- two critical components of learning! So up and at ‘em! Brain breaks, yoga, biking, scootering- try all the options and keep it fresh for the kids. Bonus: exercise also can even out their moods, improve their sleep patterns, and build self confidence!
4. Empower them by providing choices.
Can your child choose what order to complete their assignments in? Can your child choose to Zoom in the mornings vs. the afternoons? Can they choose where to sit (or what to sit on) to do their schoolwork? Can they choose to wear sweats instead of pants? Can they choose to have breakfast during their first class? Can they choose what fidget toy to hold to use? It is basic human instinct to crave control. So with so many of the things outside of their control, they need this opportunity. Let them “fill their control tank” as often as possible, within reason. AND, if it is a time when there is not an option for choice, a true non-negotiable about health and safety, then hold your boundary. Deep down, children want to know what the boundary is- and nobody really knows what a boundary is until it is pushed. So, hold it- kindly and firmly. Feelings of disappointment, sadness, anger, are all normal emotions (pre-pandemic and now). Regardless of how your child “takes the bad news” that they can’t have control in particular circumstances, they will feel secure when they learn where that boundary is.
Lastly, let us wrap up with one final thought- a point that is important twofold for the children who have been thrown into a different type of school year than they expected. At the very heart of education (and parenting) is connection. A connection with a topic, the materials being used for study, the learning environment and people- educators and peers. In our expert opinion, more critical than any academics, is the maintenance of a connection and positive relationship between parents and child throughout the stress of this unnatural school year. The positive connection you hold will propel your child into a healthier and happier future and by far, outlast & outweigh any minor academic setbacks. If you are presented the choice between finishing the math assignment (but predict it will lead to a power struggle/tears/yelling) or to stop math early on occasion & finish it the following day (albeit, late) so that you and your child can take a walk outside together, enjoying one another’s company, in short: take the walk.
Scene: The day is Christmas. 5:00pm. Mom & Dad sit down at the table to enjoy a family meal together. Dinner has been prepared (Like... a real dinner, one that took a couple of hours to make), the table has been set (with real dishes tonight- not paper plates), the laptop has been logged into the extended family zoom-call. Cue toddler meltdown: “I don’t want to eat this!” “I want to playyyyy!” “I want to watch Daniel Tiger!” “I don’t want the blue cup!” “No! Not Grandma!” OOOF. Let’s wrap up this year and get your family stepping into the new year on the right foot. We have 3 ideas to help you hit the reset button. Read on, and stay strong! 2021 is coming in HOT and we are ready for it.
1. Create family rules.
Sit down and ask yourself- what are our family rules? Got a few in mind? Great! Now ask yourself- can my child tell me what our family rules are? Hmmm. Maybe?!
Family rules are incredibly important for learning appropriate, acceptable behaviors and differentiating those from the ones that, well, aren’t. Family rules get everyone on the same page- and when there is more clarity, there is less room for boundary pushing, power struggles, marital disputes. Yeehaw.
How to establish family rules: please note: if you don’t like the term “rule”, then feel free to call them “guidelines”, or “agreements”.
Not sure where to start? We often suggest these: 1) Be Safe 2) Be Kind 3) Be Clean.
Want more info on rules? We are always here to help. Schedule a FREE 15-min consultation call here.
2. Hold family meetings.
Try not to let the term “meeting” scare you away. The point of family meetings is to gather everyone at a regular time (usually 1x per week) to set intentions, or clean up something that may not be going well in the household. Starting family meetings with a toddler looks mostly like parents scheduling it in, and holding themselves accountable to sit down as a family for 5-10 minutes 1x per week, and complete an activity together. It could be reading a book about kindness, it could be drawing a picture for Grandma, it could be role-playing what gentle hands look like with Baby or at the playground, it could be revisiting the family rules and singing them out loud together. It shouldn’t feel heavy. Starting when you have a little kiddo, will help your family establish a rhythm so when they grow into a bigger kiddo, they know they have that time to count on.
How to start family meetings:
3. Commit to Golden Time.
Ready for the #1 tip that parenting experts continually emphasize? It is something that helps prevent meltdowns, creates deeper bonds, and fills your child’s heart with love. Golden Time. Perhaps you’ve heard it called something different but the idea remains- quality, regular 1/1 time with you. Sounds simple, but our Golden Time has a few specific details to keep in mind to maximize effectiveness.
Golden Time tips:
Remember, there is no such thing as the perfect parent. Whether you jump into all these ideas this week or dabble in only one for the next 6 months- it’s all good. And if you read this list and think “I can’t possibly…”, then stick these ideas in your Parenting Toolkit until you’re ready! There is no time-sensitive rush here. You can start any of these when your children are age 2, 5, or 10, anytime you think it’s time to try something fresh.
Here’s the thing, parents. Sleep is a basic human need. Waking up every 1.5-2 hours at night is not a sustainable rhythm for you, or your baby. Since we are here, at the start of a new year, let’s have a fresh start. Take inventory of the below baby sleep basics, and make adjustments where you can, in an effort to improve and lengthen sleep cycles. Then, as always- reach out for further 1/1 strategies and support.
1. Set up a SLEEP environment
When you bring Baby home from the hospital, it’s true- most of them will sleep anywhere, anytime. But, as the weeks & months go on, they start to become more aware of their environment. Making an abundantly clear sleep-environment is critical to signaling to the them when and where sleep *should* take place. If you are missing any of those components, before you try anything else, at least start by checking off those boxes.
Here are the basics for a cozy, quality, safe sleep environment:
2. Stick to a 3-hour schedule during the day
We know, we know. This means you might have to wake your baby. What about the old (not so old?!?!) phrase: “Never wake a sleeping baby...”? This might be true at night but let us share why it is so critical to wake them up and make sure they are eating every 3 hours during the day: it is normal for babies ages 0-4 months to only get one solid stretch (this can range but the aim would be for 4-5 hours straight) of sleep per 24 hours, and we want them to take that stretch at night. So what do we do with our sleepy daytime babes? Get fresh air in the room, tickle their toes, unswaddle them, change a diaper, expose them to natural light. In fact, the Journal of Sleep Research says: “For babies up to 3 months, the more natural light to which they’re exposed, the quieter and longer their nighttime sleep.” We know it’s tempting to let them sleep, but if your goal is to get a long stretch at night, we sometimes have to steer the ship in that direction.
3. Become a Sleepy Cue Detective
If babies could only tell us when they are tired, right? Well- they kind of do! Have you ever noticed red eyes or eyebrows on your little one? Guess what: that is one of the first cues that Baby is tired! In fact, there are 3 “sleepy zones” that parents can become Detectives for. When you watch the clock and your baby, you’ll be able to “catch” them in zones 1 or 2, and encourage them to go to sleep. If you reach zone 3, chances are, Baby is past the point of being tired- they are now overtired and their cortisol levels are heightened and it will not only take them longer to fall asleep, they will likely not stay asleep as long either. Here are some cues to be on the lookout for:
If you, or someone you know is struggling to get quality sleep, please schedule a FREE 15-minute consultation with us. We are here to support you- you don’t have to do it alone.