Combating Summer Boredom

Summer break is here!  Children are free from their regular schooling and they can find themselves filled with unrest at their lack of routines.  So how can parents help their children combat summer boredom?

Join a camp.  Help foster your child's interests in sports, crafts, music, or the arts.  Look for a camp that can help your child practice socialization, grow a skill, or practice a hobby they've shown interest in.

Go to the library.  Our local libraries are filled with quality programming for all ages, and can help your child engage in many different topics.  Have them keep their reading skills up, or help them get ahead - or take advantage of the many groups and organizations that meet regularly.  There is something appropriate for everyone!

Encourage play outside.  Kids thrive with fresh air and playful experiences.  Give them supplies to build a birdhouse, make a stepping stone, or plant a garden.  Let them run through the sprinkler or let them play with water balloons; any tactile experience they can have with the outdoors helps them connect to their emotions more and allows for better self-regulation. 

Practice making arts and crafts.  Any time a child can build or make something, they gain awareness about their skills and abilities - which can help foster good self-esteem.  Give kids the tools to create something independently, or buy a kit for them to follow directions.  It can help stave off boredom and foster crucial skills including patience, tolerance, pride, and problem-solving.

Make play dates.  Play dates are excellent ways for parents to take turns providing socialization opportunities for their children.  Kids learn from each other and help each other grow, so it's important for them to have time to be with other children over the summer.

Utilize community events.  As summer heats up, many businesses and organizations host indoor and outdoor events for the family.  Check local newspapers or flyers to see what's available for your child to engage in their community.

Summer is a valuable time for children and a great opportunity for them to grow and learn social and emotional regulation in a different environment than school.  Help your children to explore the world around them and avoid boredom at the same time!

Easy Ways to Show Love to Your Child

We all have an innate need to feel loved – it’s part of our hardwiring!  Research on neuroscience by Dr. Dan Siegel confirms that the desire for connection and affection is a biological survival trait, but it’s also our experiences and history of feeling loved and appreciated which lay the foundation for how we view ourselves and the world.  Our brains create shortcuts: automatic beliefs about ourselves based on our repeated experiences.  So how do we teach kids to have the automatic belief that they are lovable? 

Here are some suggestions:

Greet them with excitement.  It can be so easy for pick-up and drop-offs to become simply a task to complete.  With children coming and going so readily, it’s easy to forget to greet them with warmth.  However, actively choosing to greet your child with excitement can change the atmosphere of the whole encounter.  When it’s first thing in the morning, saying something positive like “I’m so happy to see you,” can help build a child up; the opposite would be to acknowledge them with criticism or disinterest like “You’re not even dressed, you can’t wear pajamas to school!” Greeting children with love and excitement can make a big difference to your child.

Eye contact.  It’s easy to get in the habit of listening without looking at the person talking, but eye contact can help you recognize what your child is thinking and feeling through activation of your mirror neurons.  It allows children to feel heard and understood in a more substantial way than when you’re absent-mindedly listening while doing other tasks.

Physical affection.  Often it can be hard for parents to show physical affection to their children, especially if they were never given affectionate touch when they were kids.  But safe human touch is very significant when it comes to healthy development, so even quickly and gently rubbing your child’s arm, shoulders, or back can express warmth and love.

Don’t withhold praise or affection.  The old saying is true: kids that need love ask for it in the most unloving ways.  It’s inevitable that kids will let you down as they explore their boundaries and practice decision-making.  But it’s important for parents to remember that after children have gotten in trouble, they should not withhold praise, attention, or affection.  Be careful to make sure that when you convey to your child that you don’t approve of their behavior, that you still love them regardless.  

Share a meal together.  Quality time, either one-on-one or with the rest of your family, can be so important to fostering loving relationships.  Talking about your day, asking about friendships, and engaging with each other can benefit the health of your relationship.

Practice focused attention.  With so many distractions in our busy world, it can be easy to get sucked into the television, tablet, or smartphone.  Practicing focused attention is when you make sure that those distractions aren’t around to steal the show.  Watching TV as a family can be nice, but be careful to have intentionally quiet and distraction-free quality time as well, where you engage thoughtfully and actively listen to each other.

Celebrate together Birthdays, holidays, graduations, and celebrations can come and go in a flash.  If you’ve missed a significant event, make sure that you to celebrate as soon as possible so that the child being celebrated feels remembered and loved.  You may miss the first celebration – but your attention during the second celebration is just as important.

Learn about their interests.  Kids have so many diverse and changing interests but it’s important that you understand what they are.  If you can engage with them articulately and in depth about topics they like, the message they receive is that they matter.  Doing a little research into their interests can mean the world to them.

Tell them.  It’s easy to think that kids “just know” that you love them, but hearing you actually say it is one of the most straightforward messages they could receive.  Tell them early and tell them often; kids can often feel they’ve lost your love after they’ve been corrected or disappointed you, so remind them gently that that isn’t the case.

These little ways of showing love to kids can add up to a lot of positive feelings about themselves.  If we consistently and repeatedly give our children experiences which assure them that they are loved, they have higher self-esteem, higher self-efficacy, and learn how to create safe and loving interpersonal relationships themselves in the future.  Practice filling them up with love, and soon they’ll have plenty to give out themselves!

Make Meaning Out of Mealtimes

Are you looking to build closeness in your family?  Do you want to improve communication with your children and spouse?  Eating together as a family can help!

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are often rushed times for families.  Parents and children grab their meals around a busy schedule of school, clubs, sports, and work - and they can miss a great opportunity to connect with each other.  Sitting down for a meal can strengthen family connections, increase quality communication and emotional support, and reinforce healthy eating habits.  The physical and emotional well-being of each individual can improve when we slow down to dine together. It's an endeavor well worth the extra effort!

So how can you squeeze in one more event? 

Schedule family dinners on your calendar like you would any other activity or commitment.  Intentionally setting aside time communicates to the whole family that this is something just as important as baseball or ballet practice.  That also means your family needs to limit the distractions, too: no TV, phone, tablets, or computers for the duration of the half-hour or hour-long meal. 

Plan the meal with your children.  What a great opportunity to teach preparedness and organization! Planning (eating out or staying in), direction following (food preparation), and intentional food selection can all be done together.  You’re teaching healthy eating habits and allowing children to practice good decision-making.  It also helps little ones build self-esteem as they contribute to the family.

Share about your day. Encourage conversation and talk about highlights, events in your day, or something you’re looking forward to with your family.  If you’re having difficulty getting the conversation going or you’re receiving a lot of one-word answers, try prompts like “something you’re grateful for” or “highs and lows (accomplishments and disappointments)" from your day. 

Keep the conversation going.  Asking specific questions can help; sometimes "How was your day?" can end a conversation before it begins.  For example, you could ask "What was your favorite subject today?" or "What art pieces did you like at the museum?"  Model being open to conversing pleasantly with your child, and ask follow-up questions to your children’s response so they feel listened to and understood.   Keep yourself from using this time to discuss problems you have with your children – keep the conversation relaxing and pleasurable instead.

Family mealtimes don’t have to be daily.  Consistency is key (weekly if possible!), but be flexible, too – you can change up the date, the time, and the place.  You can eat at home or out, pack a picnic, or go out for breakfast. 

It may seem foreign at first but keep it up and you’ll find the security and comfort it can provide will wear away any lingering resistance.  The real meaning behind family mealtime is to practice togetherness and supporting each other.  The more often you share that time, the more you’ll see the benefits. 

Teaching Empathy to Children

We teach children a lot about how to get along with others, but sometimes we forget to talk about the secret ingredient for healthy relationships – empathy!  Empathy is a complex idea to understand and practice as an adult, and putting it into simple words for younger children to comprehend can be even more difficult.

What even is empathy, anyway?

Empathy is our ability to recognize the feelings other people experience and to emotionally join them in that painful moment - not to fix it or dismiss it.  

Why is empathy important?

Empathy is important for both individuals and societies.  When we are aware of how others feel, it helps us to identify our own emotions.  As a society, understanding our feelings and the feelings of others builds connections and makes us more inclined to help others.  This is the reason humankind has managed to survive for so long.

Closer to home, in our relationships with our family members and friends, it is our sense of empathy that helps us to detect that something is wrong even though someone is saying everything is “fine.”  And, it is also what makes our relationships rewarding, so that when someone we love or care about succeeds or has exciting news – we can feel their excitement and happiness.  Just the same, sharing our happiness with others enhances our own joy!

So how to do we teach it to others?

A common method that adults use to build empathy in their children is remind them to "imagine being in their shoes."  But expanding on this idea can help a child really become curious about other people's internal world.  Asking your child follow-up questions helps them to explore their preconceived ideas about themselves or others.

For example, if your child remarks on a homeless person being "gross," instead of reacting in anger or simply telling them to "be nice," you could gently ask them to explore with you the idea about what it would be like for a person who didn't have a nice, warm home to go to.  You could encourage them to think about how hard it would be to go without a shower or a meal for a long time.  You could ask them what they would do to stay warm and dry during a rain or snow storm.  You can encourage your child to think more deeply by asking them questions and engaging them in a non-judgmental dialogue.  

Another example of how to be empathetic to someone you know personally is demonstrated in the video below.

Author Brene Brown put together an excellent video about empathy.  It's a cartoon, and it may be appropriate to watch with some children.  This can also be a way to engage your child in dialogue about being empathetic to others.  Watch it below and consider how you can best engage your child in meaningful dialogues - or simply just as a refresher for yourself about how to build more meaningful connections to others.

Are You Too Stressed?

Everyone experiences different levels of stress throughout their lives - but how much is too much?  

A little stress, like an upcoming deadline or a big test approaching, can be a powerful motivator, but too much stress can impact your health and wellness, diminishing your ability to focus on the tasks ahead.  Ask yourself the following questions and give yourself a point for each question you answer "yes."

  • Do you feel like no matter what you do, you can't get enough rest?
  • Do you feel yourself getting irritable or angry faster?
  • Do you find yourself having stomach aches or pains that you didn't used to have?
  • Do you have any pain or tension in your chest or muscles?
  • Do you feel restless, like you can't sit still?
  • Do you have frequent headaches or even migraines?
  • Do you feel yourself wanting to stay away from others or isolate yourself?
  • Do you feel like you have indigestion or nausea?
  • Do you find yourself either over- or under-eating?
  • Are you getting sick more often?
  • Have you been biting your nails?
  • Have you increased sweating during non-athletic times?
  • Are you turning to alcohol or drug use to ignore what you're feeling?
  • Do you feel like you can't get motivated?
  • Are you constantly exhausted?
  • Do you feel nervous or anxious more than you used to?
  • Do you feel an increase in sadness or depression?
  • Are you having more trouble focusing or keeping a thought in your head?

If you found yourself answering "yes" to four or more of the previous questions, you may be struggling with too much stress in your life.  Even if it sounds counter-productive to add things to your to-do list, try to focus on incorporating healthy activities to help relieve the stress, like exercising, talking to a friend, playing with your pet, or reading a few pages in a book.  Remembering to take care of yourself can make it easier for your brain to focus when it's time to bust out those stressful projects. Reach out to a professional to talk about what's causing your stress and see if there's anything you can do to decrease some of it.

All-Ages Guided Relaxation

Have you ever noticed how tense your shoulders can get when you're upset?  Do you ever catch yourself with fists clenched with anger or tightness in your chest?

Whenever we're experiencing heightened emotions (either because of stress, sadness, anger, or nervousness), we have a corresponding reaction in our bodies.  When we ignore that tension, what we're actually doing is telling our brain that there is danger ahead - that we need be prepared to fight or run away.  Your brain receives that message from your body and can't seem to think about much else.  You might notice that it's during those stressful times that you lash out on others.

We may not be able to instantly change or remove a stressor from our lives, but we can address our body's need to practice muscle relaxation.  Doing so, we can alleviate physical discomfort, restore our mental focus, and possibly even enjoy a momentary break from our otherwise stress-filled lives.

So how to do you give yourself a clearer head? Give yourself a more relaxed body.  Here's how:

  1. Sit comfortably but with your back straight and your feet on the floor.
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Take three slow, big, and deep breaths through your nose. Try to imagine that you're filling your lungs up to your shoulders. Slowly let the air out after each breath in.
  4. Pick a body part to start with.  We'll start with feet.  As much as you can, tighten all the muscles in your feet.  Clench them as much as you can for ten seconds.  Count it out - when you get to ten, slowly release those muscles and let your feet completely relax.  Try to imagine your muscles have almost become liquid in your body.
  5. Shift your focus up your body to ankles and calves and repeat step 4.  Tense all the muscles in your ankles and calves and after ten seconds, release.
  6. Repeat for your knees and thighs, bottom, stomach and abs, lower back, upper back, shoulders, upper arms, lower arms, wrists, hands and fingers - and finally your face.  You will probably feel incredibly silly tensing all the muscles in your face but rest assured, nothing will feel better than finally releasing it and letting your face settle back into a neutral position.

This exercise is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation.  It can buy you time to cool off and get a clearer head.  This exercise is beneficial all the time, but is actually most effective when you practice it when you're calm, too.  Practice it often and it'll become a great habit - that way, it'll be something you automatically think of when you're feeling overwhelmed.

Practice it laying down and you'll find it's a great way to fall asleep! Enjoy.