Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Solstice Self-Care

With the holidays approaching, the worsening financial crisis, the short winter days,and wars both current and percolating, it's easy for anxiety-or even just a case of the blahs--to set in. Here's some ideas for coping during the shortest and darkest days of the year:

1. Be honest with yourself about how you're feeling. No one need "fake it til ya make it" if it feels disingenuous. It's okay to not feel great. It's okay to tell others you don't feel great. It isn't a character flaw. It's being human.

2. Ask yourself: how much room do you want to give anxiety or the "blahs"? Can you ask anxiety or the blahs to leave you alone during a holiday party or a family get-together? Can you excuse yourself for part of the time to just feel the anxiety or the blahs, and then return to the action having allowed anxiety it's due? Can you make a pact with a friend or family member to check in with you to see how you're doing, and perhaps, you can do the same in turn?

3. Make a plan to care for yourself with balanced meals and time to exercise. And think: simple. Gentle stretching or a brisk walk around the neighborhood followed by soup and salad can feel so refreshing on a long winter's evening.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Grateful for New Babies and People Who Help When Life Feels Harder than Necessary

So, I find myself at the confluence of some exciting events. Perhaps this experience rings true for you, too. First off, I've been witnessing a number of friends adding brand new babies to their lives. It's thrilling to see all the anticipation and support come to meet these new little people and the people who will care for them in the days, and weeks, and years to come. Welcome, welcome!

And second, now the holiday season is here where we Seattlites have already braved our first snow storm that snarled traffic for hours and brought commuter's to their wits' ends and even resulted in a few reports of fisticuffs.

Often, we don't realize that we've run out of coping muscle until we're face-to-face with our own unrecognizable selves. We do something or say something or think something that makes us wonder, "How did I get like this? This isn't me!"

Thankfully, help is available. Katherine Stone published on her Postpartum Progress blog a great list of resources for postpartum parents who need mental health care but may not be insured or may be underinsured.

Here in Seattle, the Seattle Crisis Directory publishes a great list of free or low-cost therapeutic groups and counselors who offer sliding-fee scale services.

Please take good care of yourselves, everyone, during this holiday season, no matter whether it's your first or your 100th!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Apologizing as Inoculation Against Bullying Behavior

The Committee for Children's mission is to end bullying and child abuse by giving kids and families the tools to communicate non-violently. I had never thought about the role of apologizing in combatting bullying, but this blog post really made sense to me. When we apologize without making excuses or getting defensive, we are demonstrating how to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions. Because feelings do matter.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Self-Care Challenge

Making time for self-care is difficult even under the best of circumstances, but throw a baby (or two or three) into the mix, and self-care is often the first thing to be thrown out with the proverbial bath water. With that in mind, Ann Dunnewold and Diane Sanford started this new blog to create a new and sustaining self-care regimen in just 21 days. In three weeks, parents can develop the habits of mind and body to care for themselves as well as they do their little ones.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

To Use or Not to Use Antipsychotic Drugs on Children

My friend Ruthie is getting her PhD in couples and family therapy, which is great because (A): she is super smart and hard-working, and (B): she shares her readings with me, so I don't have to go to the trouble of hunting down the latest research myself!

So, this recent article she shared piqued my interest because many families struggle with the question of whether to medicate a young child who has violent outbursts.

I've seen it both ways. Some kids are really helped by medication, but ONLY IF they are properly diagnosed and treated. Others are mis-diagnosed and over-medicated. By the time they reach 13 or 14 years-old, they realize they've been mistreated and are really, really angry and distrustful of the health system and the adults around them. And either way, it still leaves open the question of what the long-term effects are of antipsychotics on young children. We just don't have the long-term case studies to know with certainty what the outcome will be.

Kyle's family's story illustrates that when family's like his are given counseling and other social supports, children's behavior changes. And at least with counseling, we know there are no long-term biological effects. Long-term social-emotional effects, yes indeed, but physiological harm: no way!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Back to School Anxiety

Time once again to get out the backpacks, lunch boxes, pencils, and erasers. All over, students are getting ready to go back to the classroom. While some excitedly anticipate the first day of school, others look on that day with dread. Here are three strategies to help your nervous student (or yourself, all you adult learners out there!) face the first day:

1. Remember a time you faced a great anxiety-inducing task, and did it anyway.

A favorite personal example of mine was the time I jumped off the high-diving board. I was probably 8 or 9 years old, and I really wanted to jump off the high dive. I had climbed to the top of the stairs several times, each time getting a little farther down the board before turning back. After several attempts, I finally inched my way to the end of the board. It felt like my heart was beating in my stomach. The fear made me want to turn back, but I told myself: I've come this far, just jump. And I did. We can't feel brave without feeling fear first.

2. Find someone else to commisserate with.

Anxiety dislikes company. Talk to another friend or student about first-day jitters. Perhaps you'll find you're not alone. For some, hearing yourself say, "I feel anxious" actually takes away some of the anxiety's power.

3. Focus on a positive counterfactual.

I must give credit to Allison Gopnik's book, "The Philosophical Baby" for introducing me to the "counterfactual". The term "counterfactual" describes mental play where one imagines what could be or what might have been. Anxiety produces counterfactuals in which one experiences minor discomfort to horrible catastrophe. Consider other counterfactuals other than the ones anxiety would describe, such as: "This year I will make a new friend", or, "This year I will excel at math." Throughout the first day, focus on signs that your counterfactual is coming true.

Welcome back to school!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Northern Ireland Proves that Therapeutic Care--Not Incarceration--Keeps Juveniles from Re-offending

I was saying, "Hmm-hmm, yes, yes, amen!" while listening to this story from the BBC while driving home tonight. It--literally!--drove home that adolescents who commit crimes can lives free of criminal behavior. Incarceration and probation, however, do not have nearly the lasting effects of facing consequences as laid out by the victims in face-to-face meetings. There are no victim-less crimes, but too often, there are victim-absent judgments and sentencing. Talk about having to face the consequences!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Moral Life of Babies

I loved this article in The New York Times that suggests that we are hard-wired to be fair and cooperative, even in infancy. Those "random acts of kindness" perhaps aren't so random after all...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Because You are (or You Know) a Mom who Needs a Night Out

All right, ladies, bring on the sequins and taffeta: It's prom time! (Only this time it's for a cause better than overcoming awkwardness and proving your date's got nothing on your dance moves.)



(that includes 2 drinks)

"I started thinking about putting together the Seattle Mom Prom when I became a parent and realized how crucial having a solid support system is for mothers. I wanted to organize an event for women to honor and celebrate moms, and support a great organization like Postpartum Support International of Washington," said Myla Rugge, founder of the Seattle Mom Prom.

All proceeds from the Seattle Mom Prom will directly benefit Postpartum Support International (PSI) of Washington, a non-profit organization designed to support and educate women, families and professionals about Postpartum Mood Disorders (PPMD). For more information about PSI of WA, please contact 1-888-404-PPMD (7763) or visit www.ppmdsupport.com.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

No one Needs to Suffer Alone

Alexa Aguilar, a freelance reporter for the Chicago Tribune, wrote a recent piece urging women who are suffering symptoms of a postpartum mood disorder to get help.

Firstly, amen, Alexa, amen!

Secondly, I was caught off-guard by this sentence: "At the hospital, we were all handed information about the warning signs of postpartum depression and anxiety."

Now, I remember getting lots of information about baby care at the hospital, but nothing about ppmds, or was I just too groggy to remember? Or is Seattle just behind Chicago on this issue?

Regardless, yes, Alexa is right: help is out there! (In Washington state, check www.ppmdsupport.com for resources near you.)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Surviving PTSD After Traumatic Birth

Taffy Brodesser-Akner shared her story on Salon.com about how her traumatic birth experience brought on PTSD. Her story serves as a rallying cry for a woman's right to make informed decisions for herself about her care during childbirth. I loved what she had to say about surviving this unfortunate (and sadly, physician-induced) disorder:

"But what my diagnosis has given me is a sense of relief: relief from wondering what was wrong with me, relief from a pricey conveyor belt of specialists who dismissed me as a hormonal, overwhelmed woman. Relief that I don't have to be a person who can handle everything. Relief that other people have gone through this, and survived."

Thank you, Taffy, for speaking out!

Monday, February 15, 2010

We're Neither All Orchid nor All Dandelions, so says Dobbs

In an attempt to clarify the seemingly binary categories of "orchid" and "dandelion" temperments, David Dobbs in a conversation with David Shenk (also of The Atlantic) says, "(I)t would be a rare person that was all orchid, so to speak, or all dandelion."

I agree. While the orchid-dandelion metaphor is useful in expressing different levels of sensitivity among children and adults, it fails to capture the wide range of in-between where dandelion-ness makes way for orchid-ness, and vice versa.

I recommend reading Dobbs' and Shenk's lively conversation here.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Reproductive Gap

A while back I wrote about a column Lisa Belkin wrote for the New York Times about how caregivers of young children need to articulate to prospective employers on their resumes the skills they've attained while being stay-at-home parents and how they can bring those to bear successfully in the paid work world. Now, here comes an interesting article in The Chronicle of Higher Education where the author, Amy Kittlestrom, makes a persuasive argument for placing a "reproductive allowance" on one's vita, explaining what one might have achieved (a book, a research project, etc.) during time spent giving birth to and raising young children.

I'm curious how others who've returned to paid work have dealt with this "baby gap" issue on their resumes. Bring your comments!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

New Interactive Blog Explores the Connection Between Eating Problems and Relationships

I've just come across a new interactive blog from Beverly Price that provides a forum for discussing how eating problems and personal relationships are interconnected. Please share with the people you know who struggle with eating problems.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Anxiety Can Be Catching, Especially if the Equation is 1 Anxious Teacher + 1 Susceptible Female Student + Math = "Yikes, Fractions!"

This article about math anxiety in young girls lines up with my "genetics loads the gun; environment pulls the trigger" hypothesis about disorders such as anxiety. I would be interested in finding out if the corollary holds true that teachers with low levels of math anxiety produce math-confident female students.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Nature + Nurture = Healthy Relationships

I like what Bruce had to say on his blog about parenting orchids and dandelions:

The key to understanding orchids, dandelions and parents might be in conceptualizing the relationships between us all as the central point of focus, moving away from the notion of stand-alone gifted or troubled children toward an emphasis on trusting and nourishing vs. troubled and destructive relationships.

Amen, Bruce. We're all in this together.

MLK was Likely an Orchid

He did not accept the status quo. He was aware of the risks of speaking out for civil rights and against racism, and yet, he persisted. He had a charismatic personality that drew people in. And while public speaking isn't usually considered an art form, his vocal style was more of a cross between singing and speaking, arguably raising it to the level of art.

When orchids bloom, they bloom magnificently. And while Martin Luther King's life was cut short, his legacy proves long and profound.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Channeling Your Orchid's Yetser Hara

I am really not up on my Torah, but the concept of "yetser hara" as described in Wendy Mogel's "Blessing of a Skinned Knee" makes a lot of sense. The way I understand it, yetser hara is one's inclination toward rule-breaking and adventure. Its counterpart, yetser tov, is our inclination to hold these desires in check, to toe the line.

Using these concepts to better understand how parents must tailor their parenting style to a child's personality, it may be useful to think about how orchids may have a more generous dose of "yetser hara" than their dandelion peers. This inclination toward risk-taking, while useful in many settings, seems an obvious disadvantage when breaking a rule might lead to a lack of safety, such as in failing to look both ways to cross the street. With orchids, parents would be wise to choose which rule-following battles to fight. Perhaps a parent might be more lenient about their orchid daughter climbing to the top of the monkey bars unassisted, while sticking to their guns about having an adult present in the kitchen while operating the stove.

I was thinking about how yetser hara would also apply to discipline, namely, that old stand-by, the time out. Children with more yetser tov, might do fine to sit compliantly for three minutes in a time out chair, but orchids might need some help bringing their yetser hara in check. Perhaps parents might prefer to model how one brings oneself under control by sitting quietly for one minute next to their "timed out" youngster. A parent could practice yoga breathing techniques (see early posts for ideas), repeating a mantra, or simply sitting quietly in a meditative, seated position. Whatever one chooses to do to model controlling one's own yetser hara, it seems that getting into a battle of wills with an orchid over discipline is a losing propostion. And yet plenty of well-intentioned parenting books would have you believe otherwise.

I think that's the "art" part of parenting. While parenting books would have you believe there's one magic formula for parenting children, the reality is that our children's temperments run the gamut. Yes, they need to learn discipline, but they also need to challenge themselves to grow and become the unique adult they are meant to be. A skinned knee is indeed a blessing if it allows a child to test her limits safely.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Four Steps to Becoming Fully Bully-Proofed

It occurred to me after my last post why I felt so compelled to write about bullying after my recent string of posts about dandelions and orchids. While low self-esteem and poor school performance are serious consequences of bullying--ones in which dandelions and orchids face--it's self-harm and suicidal thoughts and behaviors that are likely to affect orchids who've been bullied. Bullying for an orchid, thus, is potentially a life and death issue. I think that's why I feel so strongly about it.

I had a fantastic experience co-creating an anti-bullying stance among Ms. Courtney Humphrey's class at Dearborn Park Elementary. I'll share their story as a way to illustrate the basic principles. I'm sure every group could adapt these steps to fit their group's dynamics. And so, here are the 4 steps any group can use to bully-proof their relationships:

1. Make explicit the group's anti-bullying stance
Ms. Humphrey's students were very astute in recognizing the negative effects of bullying in their class. Kids said bullying made them feel "sad" and "not like" being at school. No one said they wanted to bullying to continue.

2. Explore what a bully-proof zone would be like
Students said they thought they'd be "nicer", would "cooperate more" and "have more fun" if bullying were no longer a part of their classroom

3. Take time to recognize anti-bullying tactics displayed by others
During group circle time, students recognized each other's good deeds performed during the day. Students cited "helping" someone with their work, "not teasing" another's gaffe, and performing other acts of kindness as anti-bullying tactics.

4. Reward the group for reaching anti-bullying goals
This last one is optional, but who doesn't love a reward? Every student in the class was recognized by another for exhibiting anti-bullying behavior at some point during their classroom bully-proofing, and for this hard work, Ms. Humphrey took the class on a field trip to a nearby island.

I can't express enough how incredibly impressively Ms. Humphrey and her class worked to bully-proof their classroom. The change was dramatic! I saw fewer outbursts from students, more time devoted to academic work, and a marked increase in cooperation and civility between students. They were a joy to work with from the start and their anti-bullying efforts were truly inspiring!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bullies and Anti-Bullies

The other night I was watching "This Emotional Life" on PBS. I was particularly moved by the segment about bullying, in which the friends and family of a Florida boy named Jeffrey retold the story of how he was bullied relentlessly by a classmate. His mother reached out to the school for help, but the school staff was ineffective in addressing the culture of bullying. When Jeff could no longer handle the torment, he hung himself in his bedroom.

This got me thinking about children I've worked with and known who've been targets of bullies and have bullied themselves. Often, it's the same kids. The children I've known who bully often pre-emptively bully as a strategy (a maladaptive yet effective strategy) to avoid being bullied themselves. The kids I've known who've bullied/been bullied tended to be dandelions. They had low self-esteem, behavioral problems, but none were suicidal. When an orchid is bullied, are the effects of the bullying amplified? Is that the "environmental trigger" that could drive a kid to suicide?

While I was deeply saddened by Jeff's story, I was heartened to hear the outcome of Jeff's mother's saga to change the culture of bullying in schools. She was successful in pushing the Florida legislature to pass "Jeffrey's Law", which states that schools are responsible for providing safety from bullying while children are in school. Kudos to Jeff's family for taking a stand against bullying and ensuring that no family will have to go through what they did.

In my next post, I'll share an experience I had with an elementary class that took a stand against bullying and outline the steps any group can take to make their space an anti-bullying zone.