This past week, I shared my new book with one of my single mothers. She chose to have me work with her from the beginning of A to Z, starting with AFFIRMATION. I asked her to give her definition of affirmation and then presented the various tools written to help caregivers demonstrate this quality. As I went through the tools, she noted the ones she was already doing and described seeing her use of these tools to engage her son and to help build her his confidence related to how he felt about himself and what he was capable of. She also identified not realizing what else she could say or do to affirm her son and his development.
This mother reflected further and spoke about “The Power of Words” being an integral part of being a parent that can be taken for granted. I acknowledged the significance of what she had said. As stated by Robin Sharma, “Words can inspire. And words can destroy. Choose yours well.” I have often challenged clients to consider if their words and/or actions are building bridges with others or tearing them down. For every interaction we as caregivers decide consciously or unconsciously how we are going to respond to the children in our lives.
The following are additional ideas in how to be present and proactive in being more affirming:
1) Come up with playful nicknames that use an adjective that begins with your child’s name such as “Awesome Aaron,” “Brave Bonnie,” “Curious Charles,” “Daring Debra.”
2) Create a family dictionary by identifying whose name would be after what word—Refer to image for A to C. (This is from an actual family exercise.)
3) Write child’s name vertically on paper and then come up with adjectives to match your child’s interest, abilities, and/or qualities such as KRIS—kind, realist, introvert, sensitive.
4) Create a family motto and/or mission statement to represent what you stand for as a family. “We stand for _____________!”
5) Model using your manners with “pleases,” “thank yous,” and “I appreciate when you ____________.”
Children respond better when they feel they are being treated with respect and compassion. They need caring adults to teach them how to speak and to respond in a respectful and supportive manner. These communication skills learned in the home carry over to other settings. How do you want to hear others describe your child and his/her words and actions? You play a foundational role in who your child becomes and how he carries himself out into the world.
I challenge you to talk to your children the way you like to be talked to.
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This past week, I had a mom who expressed concern about friends using their cell phones during her daughter’s birthday party. She observed the friends not knowing how to interact with each other and choosing to be on their phones. When the peers weren’t able to access the local internet, some chose to play games on their phones rather than to interact with each other.
I join this mom in worrying about the quality of social interaction we are teaching and/or exposing our children to. Yes, cell phones and tablets are part of our daily lives; however, we adults help teach our children when is an appropriate time to use our devices, for what purposes and for how long. We adults may also be guilty of using our devices out of habit to check work emails or social media.
As a host, you decide if the party is going to be device-free or to have limited use of technology. Make sure your child knows this ahead of time. Use a collection box either when kids enter your home or at a certain time during the party or politely ask the guests to put their devices away for a certain period of time. They need to know that this is not the end of the world. (NOTE: please avoid a power struggle)
If your children are wanting to use their devices in a social setting such as a birthday party or family gathering, introduce them to other ways of using them to promote positive interaction as follows:
1) playing Heads Up a game found on-line (i.e. the person holds her phone at his forehead so he can’t see it, others give hints and the person guesses what or who he is),
2) sharing favorite songs and talking about what the songs mean to her or to others.
3) researching places or activities of interest in your community and doing them with caregiver permission (i.e. exploring local parks with nature trails, getting takeout from a restaurant to try new foods, making a new recipe, doing a fun science experiment ),
4) listening to music and coming up with corresponding dance moves or do your own version of The Voice, America’s Got Talent or So You Think You Can Dance,
5) taking pictures using playful props and posting with captions and possibly printing them out at a local photo kiosk to take as a gift to remember the experience.
Our children need us as adults to instruct them how to interact with each other in the moment in various settings. We establish the standards for what our children are exposed to in general. Having an unlimited diet of access to one’s phone, tablet, computer or video games is not healthy for anyone. Most children lack the ability to limit their use of technology on their own; they need to be taught. If we aren’t more proactive in teaching our children what is okay or not okay in the use of technology, we risk sending them out into the world ill-prepared for various social interactions. Creating boundaries and clear consistent expectations are essential to your child’s development on so many levels. This guidance will also help enrich the quality of your interactions as a family.
I challenge you to create technology-free times for everyone in your family on a regular basis. Try dinner time or certain car rides. Please share what happens. You may be surprised what you learn about your child and yourself!
WHAT AM I DOING?—PART II
Part of the reason I created this book was to help you as Mental Health professionals to have a more hands-on resource to use with caregivers and their families. The book provides detailed directive and interactive tasks to do in session or as homework. We as professionals sometimes have a tendency to be too wordy or heady for our clients. It is advantageous to take a step back to see things from our client’s point of view and to reach them where they are.
As MH clinicians, we benefit from sharing resources to build our professional toolboxes as well as our sense of community as professionals. Engaging in creative and/or playful activities helps us to get out of our heads and to relate with our hearts. We also need reminders that we are on this journey together. Sometimes we need outside persons to help up gain perspective on how we treat each other and how we function within our own family.
Our clients profit from being told what they are doing well—highlighting their strengths such as their resiliency, perseverance and courage. You might observe an interaction or hear of a quality that is positive; unless you point it out, your client might not see it or realize its value. Our job is to build on these strengths to facilitate the rebuilding of their family’s foundation.
Once you have a workable rapport, our job is then to gently stretch our caregivers’ perspectives and styles of parenting, coping and interaction with their children. It is helpful to remind caregivers that we have all come from dysfunctional families made up of flawed, imperfect yet wondrous and complex human beings who have similar needs for shelter, food, clothing, love, acceptance, belonging, opportunity, control, fun, etc. We are made to grow and evolve personally and relationally.
Hopefully my book will help you focus and guide your families to healthier connections in the present and for generations to come. You make an invaluable difference in people’s lives. Thank you for your commitment to serving others. You are truly a magical change maker!
WHAT AM I DOING?—PART I
I am welcoming caregivers with children of all ages and mental health professionals to check out my new book—ABCs for Rediscovering Family Connections: An Interactive Workbook for Caregivers as a valuable resource to step back and reflect on the dynamics of family interactions from a new perspective. I invite you the reader to join an ongoing conversation related to healing and/or enriching the quality of family relationships; particularly the attachment between children and their caregivers.
I am an optimistic person who believes in the endless possibilities caregivers have to reinvent or create who they want to be as caregivers despite the busyness of life. I felt led to create this book due to concerns about parents seeming to be distracted by the overwhelming responsibilities of being and adult. This in turn has led many caregivers to lose touch with the simple things they can do to raise healthier children. I am referring to children who feel good about who they are, are able to express their thoughts and feelings in a heartfelt constructive manner and are open to interact with others in their communities and the world at large.
My book is intended to help caregivers to reflect on how they parent in the moment and its long term consequences—the good and the bad. The process of caregivers slowing down and being present is paramount to a child’s development on multiple levels. There will always be dishes to wash, laundry to be cleaned and put away, floors to be vacuumed and mopped, yards to be mowed, bills to be paid, etc. These can be the mundane facets of life, or they could be opportunities to teach life skills, build self-confidence and fashion healthier relationships.
My book will provide prescriptive tasks that will help you the caregiver in trying other ways to respond to your child’s actions, in ways to guide or teach your child about life, in ways to acknowledge your humanness, in ways to modify your home environment physically and emotionally, etc. I often wonder if caregivers realize how much power they possess in their children’s lives related to what they say or do daily or in the long-term as well as what they don’t say or do. Taking this into account, I believe it is never too late to break negative interactional cycles and to create more positive ones.
WHO AM I?
I am a daughter, a sister, a spouse, a client, a therapist, an artist, an author & illustrator, a nature lover, a spiritual being, a student of life and more.
As a daughter & sister, I experienced the challenges of being part of a large & blended family with a mixture of healthy and dysfunctional interactions.
As a spouse, I experienced the ups & downs of being in a committed relationship and sharing home & life responsibilities.
As a client, I spent hours working through my personal and relational issues to help me take better care of myself as well as to assist me to better relate to others.
As a therapist, I heard numerous stories of biological, relational and/or environmental hardships for which I helped clients make sense of their issues and facilitated their healing processes.
As an artist, I struggled to accept my abilities and to give myself permission to create yet powered through these to be able to experiment with various mediums and to make art “for art’s sake!”
As a writer & illustrator, I felt led to create this first book to give back to others–to help caregivers and mental health professionals learn from my invaluable work experiences and to take a risk sharing my creations with the world at large.
As a nature lover, I am daily in awe of this amazing & complex world we are blessed to live in with its diverse landscapes and creatures.
As a spiritual being, I believe in a higher power who is our creator and sustainer throughout our lives and beyond.
As a student of life, I am continually open to learning new things about myself, others, the world and more even when things may be hard to grasp mentally or emotionally.