15Mar/13

Do You Love New Ideas and Inspiration?

.

If so…you need to know about TED.

about_ted

TED is a nonprofit organisation devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out, in 1984, as a conference bringing together people from three worlds:  Technology, Entertainment, Design.  Since then its scope has become ever broader, and covers almost any topic imaginable.

The goal of the foundation is to foster the spread of great ideas. It aims to provide a platform for the world’s smartest thinkers, greatest visionaries and most-inspiring teachers, so that millions of people can gain a better understanding of the biggest issues faced by the world, and a desire to help create a better future. Core to this goal is a belief that there is no greater force for changing the world than a powerful idea.

The two annual TED conferences, on the North American West Coast and in Edinburgh, Scotland, bring together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes or less).  These talks are then shared online at the TED website and watched by millions.

I love watching TED Talks, often when I’m doing housework or cooking dinner.  Some of them are funny, some make me think ‘Wow!’, others are thought provoking, and some really have changed my life.

Every Friday I will select a TED talk that I think will inspire, motivate and educate us all, and post it here.  I hope you enjoy them and share them with your friends if you do.

All the best,

Thea

http:www.ted.com/talks

14Mar/13

I’m in Charge!

Do you ever say this to your children?

I'm in charge

Most of us grew up being told  ‘Because I said so!’  either in words, or in the tone and meaning behind the command.  I knew my parents – especially my Dad – were in charge.  Yes, I had arguments with him in my teens, where I tried to explain my point of view but in the end, what he said was adhered to most of the time by my brothers and I.

Over the last year or so, I’ve resorted to telling my children (sometimes in a loud voice, otherwise known as shouting)  explicitly that ‘I’m in charge.’   I tell them that they can talk about decisions and rules they don’t like with me at another appropriate time, but when I tell them to do something, they have to do it – because I’m in charge. It’s my job to look after them, and I know best, so do as I say. Now!

A few short years ago, I would have been shocked that I would ever use this approach.  I was all for explaining the situation, discussing their fears, opinions and emotions, taking their imput into family rules and decisions.  I still am.  But at the right time.  I’ve come to realise that at some moments (sibling arguments, doing chores, stressful, busy or dangerous situations, for example) talking and explaining are not appropriate.  Clear instructions and discipline is.

I don’t enjoy it. It feels wrong.  It upsets them, and it upsets me.  It makes me feel like a heartless dictator.  But just because something is hard and uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.  So often the doing the ‘right’ thing is also the harder option.  Kids need boundaries and strong parents, and I believe within a loving, supportive and emotionally intelligent family, blind obedience is appropriate at some times. (Well I believe it mostly – part of me still questions that if I was a better parent would I need to do this?)

So anyway, I’m writing about this because I used this phrase this morning.  I’m tired and jetlagged and I probably went from zero to 60 too quickly, and I probably shouted to loudly and rudely, so there is a sour taste in my mouth.  I don’t feel good about it. I need to remember to be calmer next time.  But overall, I think it is something that my kids need to understand, and be reminded of occassionally.

What do you think?  Please comment below.

04Feb/13

Do You React like a Child?

I have realised that a lot of the discord in our house is made worse by my own reactions to it.

I can give up my food, lose my sleep, give my children my gloves and socks on a cold winter’s walk, let them choose games, films, where to sit, what to eat………all in a mature adult way. That’s what mums do.  We put our children first, trying to ease their discomfort, not minding if we don’t get to choose the cake first, or sit in the front of the car. Sometimes I do mind, but I can sacrifice these kind of things with equanimity.

What I can’t cope with are their expressions of negative emotion: the arguing, complaining, the anger and frustration. It makes me feel so uncomfortable and out of control that I react to them as a child would. Immediately.  Without pausing and thinking. Without empathising with them. Only thinking of myself, my emotions, and how I can get control of  the situation, and smooth things over again.

John Gottman, in his wonderful book, ‘Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child’ explains that how we react to our children’s emotions reflects how we respond to our own.  Sadly, I have had to admit that this is true in my case.  In some areas I am not emotionally intelligent in the slightest.  I hate being angry or upset and have spent my entire life resisting it, trying to eradicate it, believing myself and my life to be seriously flawed in those instances.  I realise now, that as a perfectionist, I needed to control it. Anger and sadness have no place in a perfect life, so they were obviously Very Bad Indeed.

Now, while I am trying to raise a happy family rather than a perfect one, I understand the value of negative emotions and the choices we have in responding to them.  I know of many better ways of acting and talking to myself and my children in these situations to validate the feelings, accept the situation, set limits on behaviour and come up with solutions if need be.  Unfortunately my emotional side is not with the programme yet.  It seems to be many years behind, and I worry whether it will ever catch up.  Knowing something intellectually and rationally is one thing.  Knowing it emotionally in the heat of the moment is another thing altogether.

What further confounds the problem is that I wear my heart on my sleeve. It is easy to tell what I’m feeling, without me having to spell it out.  I’ve always thought of it as a sign of being honest and just a part of being me.  Now it seems a lot like a lack of self control – call it stiff upper lip if you like.  When the emotional going gets tough I just can’t keep it together.  It all comes out – like a five year old – directed at the people closest to me.   It’s like I am stamping my feet and shouting ‘its’ not fair!’  Knowing intellectually what I need to change doesn’t help me react in the moment, and even makes it feel worse because I am aware that I could be behaving differently, but can’t. It can be very frustrating, especially when I behave in a way that I’m telling my children not to.

But another important thing I’ve learnt in the past 2 years is that in order to change this and improve my emotional reactions, I need first to accept that it’s ok not to be perfect at the moment. This means being mindful and kind to myself when it happens.   I also know that to change a habit I need to focus on the new habit and have a plan of action.

So, I have compiled a list of  ‘alternative parenting responses’ for myself and my husband to use in the heat of the moment when we  start to get frustrated about the kids being upset or misbehaving.  We have practiced noticing what triggers our annoyance, and then started using the new responses. It will take some hard work before it feels natural or becomes a habit, but we’ve seen some small green shoots of success already which spurs us on.

It seems I may be able to grow up after all.

16Jan/13

A Day in the Life of an Emotional Mum

reward chart

Zach still responds to reward charts…thankfully!

I’m feeling low. Tired and battle weary. And it is only 9.30am. Zach was up at 4.45 this morning and refused to go back to bed. I didn’t have the strength to fight him so since Chris was getting up anyway (I know – it’s crazy) I said he could sleep on Chris’ side IF he didn’t fidget. If he fidgets he goes back to his own bed. It’s been a long time since he has come into our bed during the night and so I was expecting some wriggling and chatting ending with me battling to take him to bed. I felt that I was just postponing the inevitable.

Surprisingly however, he stayed as still as a person can do. I think he moved twice until he got up at 7.19. He always tells me the exact time he wakes up. If I was taking the positive from the situation I could focus on how his self control has improved. When he got up the second thing he said to me when he came downstairs was ‘Mum, I tried my best and stayed very still.’ I praised him enthusiatically and said I was really impressed. This is progress, but I know it is only one side of his personality at the moment.

At breakfast – when he was showing signs of resuming his fight against the world – I told him that it was time for things to change. I said that he knows now that we love him, and that we still love him when he is naughty, or when we are telling him off, or when he hates us. He knows we love him whatever. [We’ve been telling him this for 6 weeks or so now so a lot of it has gone in. See previous post for more on this.] Now it’s time to stop fighting us. He has to do as he is told. I’ve done a chart for him to get ticks whenever he does as he’s told, when he accepts me saying ‘no’, and whenever he realises he’ s fighting us or pushing us away and stops doing it. It’s a big ask but the prize is going swimming with Daddy and/or using Dad’s telescope – if we can find it in the garage. I also told him that I would be making another chart for black marks. Whenever he doesn’t do as he’s told, or fights us, he will get a black mark. These will add up to him losing privileges like his ipod, TV, going to bed, pudding, treats doing activities with Chris at the weekend. I will decide what these are when I am calm (hopefully!!).  Part of me knows this will work for a while and then he will slip back into not caring, and hating us all. But the more optimistic part of me knows that I have to keep going. I have to keep the faith, even though it’s so hard to fight every day with someone you love.  I try not to fight but I have to provide the boundaries and he keeps choosing to fight them. This week I feel emotionally exhausted. I have no idea whether I am doing the right thing.

In the car on the way to school Jas chose the gratitude topic, and she said ‘Think of 4 things we love about Zach.’ Very intuitive of her, I thought. Even Harvey joined in the spirit of the exercise despite being very annoyed with Zach and his behaviour at the moment. I was very proud of both of them.

Harvey:  OK, let me see…mmmm…I love Zach because he’s really great to play with.

Zach: [a big smile on his face.]  I was hoping you would say that!

I think it helped. As I said goodbye to Zach at school I told him he had earned 2 ticks that morning for getting dressed when I asked him and for getting into the car nicely. He seemed proud so I said: ‘ Does your heart feel better when you are not fighting us?’ He said yes.

Now, back home, I am noticing that I need to be kind to myself today.  I need to build up my energy and resilience so I can cope with round 2 at pick up time.   It makes me sad that I find it all so emotional, and that it knocks me off-centre so much.  I’m sure that a lot of families experience similar problems everyday, and just get on with it without so much angst and emotional upheaval.  But I have to accept that this is who I am. This is how my brain has learnt to deal with emotions.  The positive is that I am gradually learning to be less emotionally involved and more calm in the difficult moments. So today I’m not going to beat myself up for allowing it all to wear me down.   I’m going to keep going, take things slowly and be kind to myself.

I feel low, tired and battle weary, but that’s ok. If I’m kind to myself, that’s ok.

14Jan/13

How Could I Forget the Most Important Happiness Habit?

The trouble with being a perfectionist is that can make you very insular and inward looking.  Perfectionists are usually concerned with how well they are performing in their lives and how they look to others.  Sometimes we get so obsessed with ourselves and how to be perfect that we forget the basic priorities in our lives.

Over the last few months I’ve forgotten to make time for my friends.   It’s a basic happiness habit that I am well aware of.  People who spend time with friends and family, nurturing and enjoying their most important relationships are happy. However,  I seem to have withdrawn myself from my friends recently…not intentionally as such… but in an attempt to focus on my family, I’ve neglected my connections to my most important friends.

Last week however I got back on track.

On Monday I spent the day with a good friend taking the kids out for inset day. It was raining but we still had a picnic in the park, complete with fresh air and mud, wet bottoms and flasks of tea.

On Tuesday my husband worked from home and we popped out for a quick lunch together to plan the year ahead.

On Wednesday I spoke to an inspiring group of business women who I have become friends with over the last year, and who, when I announced I would be writing a book this year, gave me the most amazing support and advice.

On Thursday I spoke to my best friend in Australia for the first time in about 3 months. We are planning a trip to see them next month.

On Friday I went out to the local pub with a group of girlfriends that I love, but don’t see enough (my fault!), where the laughter, banter and support nourished my soul.

And finally on Saturday, I spoke to some other friends who have just moved to Perth, and caught up with all their news.  We are planning to see them next month too.

For the rest of the weekend I had a spring in my step, joy in my heart, and a seemingly never-ending supply of patience.  In other words, I was happy.

It was an important lesson that has reminded me to make time to nurture my friendships this year.

11Jan/13

My 2013 Family Project

This year I am running a Family Project.*  I will be researching and creating ways to teach, model and coach my children about core values (kindness, respect, gratitude etc.) and life skills (setting meaningful goals, dealing with their emotions, taking responsibility etc.).  I am hoping that this will contribute to a more harmonious family life as well as setting my children up with the habits that will help them have a happy and successful life.

I know some of you may be thinking ‘Isn’t that what parents do anyway?’ And you’d be right. Most of us do.  Everyday we model and teach the values that are most important to us.  But I’ve found that in our busy lifestyle, I am not teaching my children about the most obvious things because I expect them to ‘know’ it already. Or sadly – and I’m sure I’m not alone in this – we say one thing and do another and our children get mixed messages.  How many times have you shouted at your children “Stop shouting! Show some respect!”  Another example: I was talking to my youngest son before Christmas about friendships and forgiveness. And I realised that this was the first time I’d ever mentioned it to him. He thought that when a friend was mean to him, that was the end of their friendship. He didn’t realise forgiveness was an option, and he took any friendship disputes very personally. Obviously we model forgiveness at home, and I say sorry a lot to my children (after one of my tantrums, or grumpy moods) but we’d never discussed the concept openly.

I also think that in my case, I am so busy looking after 3 children and establishing my own business, that teaching and focussing on the children gets over looked. It doesn’t seem urgent. We’ve got dinner to make, rooms to tidy, homework to do, clubs to go to, arguments to settle, emotions to deal with.  We can talk about forgiveness, or patience, or setting goals tomorrow, or when they are a bit older. But my eldest goes to secondary school in September – I’m running out of time to teach him everything I want to teach him to help him survive the harsh, cruel world of high school. ( I know, it will be great for him, but I’m also a bit scared.)  I’ve wanted to do this kind of parenting ever since I became a mum, but I’ve never made enough time for it. I’ve done bits and pieces here and there (family meetings, workbooks for the kids, my early attempt at a family project*) but I was never consistent enough.  This year, I am being brave and saying no to other things that have seemed more important.  I am saying no to some exciting plans for my business (they can wait til 2014) , I am saying no to taking the easy life (putting the telly on, not exercising, going to bed too late, putting it off til tomorrow), I am saying no to alcohol (in Jan only!) and saying no to my perfectionist need to be in control (as much as I can…). I am also saying no to acting like a child myself. It’s time I grew up and learned to control my own emotions and reactions like I’m expecting my children to.    These are very big no’s for me and I am sure to slip up time and time again. But this year I will keep focussed and keep going for the sake of my family.

The most important thing about parenting for me (after keeping them safe and well-fed) is to equip my children with knowledge, skills, practice and habits that will enable them to accept and deal with their and other people’s emotions in a mature way.  It is a hugely important idea to me.  It’s time I stopped thinking about it and just did it.

*Those of you with good memories will know that I started my family project in the summer of 2011, but it fizzled out so I’m resurrecting it again, and focussing on it for the whole of 2013.

FireworksFamilies

08Jan/13

Just One New Year’s Resolution

I have a history of making long lists of New Year’s Resolutions which have varying degrees of success and duration but which mainly get repeated year after year (because I never keep to them).  This year I am just making one new New Year’s Resolution:  To meditate.

I am not even going to make it completely SMART.  It won’t be specific, or measurable.  It will be action-based, and realistic, but not time-based.* My resolution is to meditate regularly by having an intention to meditate everyday.  If I plan to do it everyday, but accept that this won’t always happen, I will probably end up doing it 3 or 4 times a week.   So far – it’s the 8th Jan – I have meditated for 20 minutes every morning, so let’s hope I can keep it up.

There are many scientifically proven benefits of mindfulness and meditation, but as my teacher, Ed Halliwell, says in this Guardian article , it can also be an incredibly powerful spiritual path that cannot be measured by science alone. For me personally, mindfulness and meditation has changed my life.  Instead of being ruled and battered by the powerful ups and downs of my emotions, I am now learning to interact with these same emotions in a more mature, calm and mindful way.  Not only do I feel happier, but my children are happier and I am much more productive and efficient at home and work.   Ed runs 8 week beginner courses in Sussex for those of you who may be interested.

Another good place to start, if you are interested in mindfulness and/or meditation, is headspace where you can try out their Take10 ten day beginners course for free. I also recommend downloading their app because it has some amazing short simple videos explaining the concept of mindfulness and how it can help you.

I wish you luck with your New Year’s resolutions, and I’d love to hear if any of you are planning on including mindfulness or meditation amongst them.

All the best,

Thea

*If I were SMARTer, I would choose 3 times a week, for 20 minutes at 9am,  because this is realistic. But sadly in reality, choosing which days I meditate allows me to sidestep my commitments and in the end I would probably only do it once or twice a week, and eventually lapse. I have learnt that building daily habits is more effective for me than weekly scheduling. I need to know that everyday I have to meditate, otherwise I talk myself out of it.

17Dec/12

The Best Parenting Tool Ever?

I imagine many of you, like me, are continuously searching for the holy grail of parenting, that one fail-safe technique that will solve the majority of your parenting troubles in one hit.  Even though rationally I realise this is unlikely, even impossible, a not-so-small part of me still hopes to stumble across a priceless gem of insight in a book, article or blog that will create such a massive ‘a-ha’ moment that it instantly changes my life.

Alas, this has never happened.  But I’ve had many near misses.  And the main reason that they are near-misses, rather than hitting the jackpot, is that they all involve me changing my behaviour, rather than focussing on my children changing theirs.  I know, how annoying is that?!  When you’ve got 40 years of habit and experience of thinking the way you think, and 10 years or so hard practice of mainstream (generally inefficient and counter-productive) parenting tools in the bag, you don’t really feel like changing the script, do you?  We’ve all invested so much in doing it the way we do it for so long that we don’t much feel like jumping ship now.  Not to mention the fact that it’s a very hard, long and frustrating journey changing our own ingrained behavioural habits.  And besides people might think we’ve gone soft on our kids. God forbid.

But the trouble is these near misses are the real deal, the treasure that we have been searching for. It is simply because we find it so hard to change our own behaviour that we discover our treasure is locked behind very thick iron bars.  Tantalisingly we can see the prize but can’t get to it. The only way to unlock it is to go on the long and arduous hero’s journey of personal change.

I’m sorry folks, but that’s the way it is.

The best parenting tool is changing how we think and act in order to change the way your children think and act.  This is a long term, investment-heavy journey which takes a lot of focus, practice and commitment.  But the prize is there; can’t you see it, glimmering in the twilight, waiting for us?

10Dec/12

Love Me When I Least Deserve It

Recently I have been talking with my kids about the need to show each other more love, not less, when one of us is tired, or grumpy or ‘misbehaving’.  I know this is counter-intuitive because our main instinct is to punish or cold-shoulder someone who is being rude or mean.  But, as we say in our family, when someone is behaving badly, there is a large chance that this is because ‘their heart is feeling bad’.

When our ‘hearts are feeling good’ – i.e. we are happy with ourselves, proud of our actions, feeling loved and a have a powerful sense of belonging and purpose – we find it easy to be kind, loving, happy and competent.  So therefore, even though we might not think that someone ‘deserves’ to be loved when they are acting badly, this is really when they need our love the most.  They need their heart to be repaired, or recharged, or just soothed, so they can recover their equilibrium and be themselves again.

While this all makes perfect sense to me, it is something that I find really difficult to practice.  I am, I have realised, somewhat grudgingly, someone who finds it hard to hide their emotions. I wear my heart on my sleeve, as they say, especially within the safe confines of my family. Therefore, my family knows exactly what mood I am in, at any particular time of the day, and often the reason behind it.  This is better than hiding everything, but I would prefer to reach the middle ground of being able to control some of my negative emotions when it would help those around me if I did.

This personality trait of mine makes it quite difficult for me to control my irritation, anger, frustration and resentment at other family members’ rudeness, anger and tantrums. (I know this is a double standard, but I’m working on it!)  Nearly 11 years of parenting has shown me that shaming, punishment and anger in response to a child’s ‘misbehaviour’ is ineffective not just in the long-term but the short-term too.  It just doesn’t work, not to mention the harm that it can cause. So I have to use this experience and evidence to remind myself to go the other way.  Sometimes (when my heart is feeling good) I can offer real love at those moments when my children need it, even though they often don’t accept it.  At other times (when I’m low on energy and resilience, AKA ‘my heart is feeling bad’) I have to force myself to offer words of forgiveness and love through gritted teeth.  I have been known to cuddle an angry child who is trying to calm down while simultaneously making angry faces that they can’t see just because I can’t control my own anger. I know! It’s really immature of me, but at least I’m going in the right direction.

So when I was Christmas shopping last week in Horsham and saw this (above), I had to buy it as an early present for my family.  It is now up in our kitchen to remind us all that this is what we are aiming for. We won’t ever be able to do this all the time, but by having it as one of the guiding principles of our family life, I am hoping we will learn to tolerate and help each other when we need it the most.

04Dec/12

What We Love About You

As I mentioned in my last post, my youngest son frequently thinks that the rest of the family hate him.  Somehow he has come to believe that whenever someone is mean to him, tells him off or even disagrees with him, then that must mean they hate him. And not just hate him in that moment, but pretty much forever.

To combat this I talked to my eldest children (aged 8 and 1o) about showing more love to Zach, especially when he is being grumpy and mean, and to spend the next 4 to 6 weeks trying to change this belief of his.  My daughter suggested we make a poster for him telling him how much we love him and making him feel more part of the family.  So we did, and below is our creation. It has lots of photos of Zach with us and some of his friends, and a letter from each of us telling him what we love about him.

It was a lovely moment when Harvey and Jasmine presented Zach with his poster, going through all the letters and photos and explaining what we had done.  The look of pride and amazement on his face was wonderful to see.  It really touched him.

The next morning he came into my bed at about 6.40 asking to go downstairs. When I asked him why, he said he wanted to go and look at his poster.  So I got up with him and we spent a good ten minutes looking at the poster, reading the letters and choosing our favourite photos.  It was clear how much this meant to him, and how much better it made him feel.  Later that day we put it in a picture frame and put it on his bedroom wall.  He is very happy with it, and maybe one step closer to believing we love him all the time, no matter what, with no conditions attached.