In advertising, the term “white space” is used to describe an area of white around an image or words. A good amount of white space draws the reader to the image or business name more than an advertisement that is cluttered with images or words. In E-mail, white space is used to describe a nearly empty inbox (oh to dream!). In parenting, try to have more white space by pausing before talking so that what you say to your child really has impact, more “oomph” and may get more attention. It could also be cleaning up a bit of clutter around a toy your child hasn’t used for a while, making that “old” toy stand out more. Less really is more.
There never is enough time and yet there is always enough time! That said, my time management has been slipping for a while and it is obvious. I apologize for the absence to the dedicated readers and those just stopping by. I’m back on track and ready to keep moving!
Now for the timely part…if you are in the giving spirit and have children or know of anyone who has children, the gift giving guide here is one of the best I’ve seen. Another idea is to give time. By giving coupons for dates with kids, you’re in essence giving them dedicated time with you. Naturally spending this time with them without having it be wrapped up as a gift is wonderful too and one of the best parenting moves anyone can make. But, sometimes an actual gift makes it more intentional and more likely to happen. Happy gift giving!
Barbara Fredrickson, a well-known researcher in the field of positive psychology (and a professional hero of mine), discovered that positive emotions actually affect they way we solve problems. As is written in the Encyclopedia of Positive Psychology, edited by Shane Lopez, “positive emotions broaden the scope of the individual’s focus of attention, allowing for more creative problem-solving and an increased range of behavioral response options and they also build physical, intellectual, and social resources that are available to the individual for dealing with life’s challenges” (p. 505). This is important to parenting for many reasons – I will just get into two. First, it means that when we can stay positive ourselves, we can parent better. From a place of positive emotions, we can decide on a more effective parenting strategy such as validating our child’s feelings, redirecting troublesome behavior, choosing humor over yelling, or staying consistent with the behavior plan instead of further confusing our children. Second, we model for our children the effectiveness, beyond just feeling good, of being positive and seeing strengths in situations. This does not negate the importance of embracing all emotions (positive AND negative) but it certainly helps support the act of looking for the silver lining!
I saw this on a bathroom mirror in a middle school recently:
You are strong.
You are brave.
You are you.
If I weren’t a psychologist, I might be a professional photographer. Images captured in the form of photography have always been alluring to me, stirring my soul when it is a breathtaking photo of a moment that has since past. I have noticed a trend that involves people seeing a photograph and wanting to re-create the image with their own loved ones. For example, upon seeing a stunning photo of the look of awe upon the face of a child touching snow for the first time, they may remark that they want to have a photograph taken just like that one with their own child. Most will likely see the inherent flaw in this assumption that such a moment can be recreated. The reason why that photo may be stunning is because someone was tuned in to the moment that was unfolding before him or her at that time. Certainly, some staging can happen but beauty and awe are unfolding all the time around us, especially with children. Why not capture those beautiful and awesome moments? And you don’t even need a camera to really capture them. Tuning in to all that your awareness tells you to tune into can freeze that moment in time way more than Canon or Nikon.
In a previous post I noted how important it is to help kids express their feelings, in whatever way is most comfortable or easiest for them. One of the most important pieces of this is to validate that what they are feeling is OK. As parents, we so often want to make it better, put it aside, change the feeling but it is (our) judgment call as to whether or not what they’re feeling should be set aside. Try starting with, “it’s OK to feel ____________.” Even when that feeling is sad, jealous or worried. Of course deep down we don’t want our children to feel worried but why not? It is likely driven by a fear that if they are worried, something else may happen – they’ll cope with the worry in some way that is harmful, they’ll be so worried they won’t try new things or they’ll start to believe that because feeling sad is OK, they will begin to feel it all the time. Then who’s worried? Or, if your daughter is sad, will she stumble into a spiral of deeper sadness and not recover? And then what? Certainly children and adolescents experience big emotions that do lead to difficult circumstances for parents and families and I am not intending to minimize such situations. Often big help is needed and relieving. However, when those “big” situations do not reveal themselves, just start with “it’s OK to feel sad.” Try it on yourself too — often our fears are unfounded and instead a weight is lifted.
Often when we read about how to be happier, how to raise our kids to be happier, it becomes a burden. It can have the tendency to become something that easily brings judgment and comparison. However, it doesn’t have to be. So, try this. Quickly jot down 5 things that make you feel happy. Then, jot down 2 things that have happened today that have made you feel happy. That’s it. As Thich Nhat Hanh said, “There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.”
My wonderful father says this frequently as a way of holding a door open for someone or some creature. Often when our family dog (a sweet golden retriever) would nudge her muzzle into his hand to coax a drop of food to the floor, he would say in an inquisitive tone, “who do we have here?” with a chuckle, as entertained by the dog as the dog was entertained by the food. It is such a friendly way of asking ourselves, who do we have here? While getting to know yourself is sometimes considered a selfish, deep, that-takes-too-much-touchy-feely-stuff, endeavor, it can really help in the work and joy of parenting. And it doesn’t take much, just an inquisitive mind, and a friendly question.
So often as parents, we say, “no.” We have to say “no” for safety reasons, teaching-good-manners reasons, friendship reasons and maybe medical reasons. It can be hard hearing “no” so often. It can help to experience what this feels like with a little exercise.
Sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Say aloud “NO!” about 5 times, sometimes sternly, sometimes in a neutral tone. Then, take note of what your body feels like, what emotions come up and what thoughts come up. Now, stay in that comfortable chair, close your eyes again and take another deep breath. Say aloud, “YES!” about 5 times, sometimes loudly, sometimes quietly and sometimes in a neutral tone. What did you notice? Which felt better? What thoughts and emotions came up with each?
In the next week or two, choose when to say “yes” and a little more carefully, when to say “no.” Also (and this is more fun), pick some times to say “yes” to things you never say “yes” to, like eating chocolate for breakfast, or eating in the living room or wearing a quirky outfit to the grocery store. Experiment with it — what happens when you allow your children to do these quirky “yes” things? Think about what happens to you, as the parent and what happens to your child. Have fun!