Do you know a child or teen who argues a lot? Who seems irritable, moody and stressed? Who snaps at you when you ask questions, or who avoids you whenever possible (retreating to their rooms to plug-in online, instead)?
That’s what toxic stress looks like. As our kids try to keep up with the demands of modern life, their automatic “flight or fight” stress response system gets stuck in the on position.
One major contributor: In this relentlessly plugged-in, yet fragmented and angry world, what we’re often missing is heartfelt connections. We need to reconnect with what matters most in our lives — loving relationships.
Where do we begin?
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Pause regularly. Create space in your day for stillness. Whether it’s for 30 minutes or three minutes, you can just pause. Breathe. Notice what’s going on around you in that moment.
Practice gratitude. At the end of each day, reflect on three things you are grateful for, and to whom you are grateful. No matter how stressful the day, there are always blessings to be found. Start training your brain to notice and appreciate all the good around you that you might take for granted.
Watch your self-talk. Often we are our own worst enemies. Self-critical and self-loathing thoughts might play over and over again in our minds. When you are struggling the most, down on yourself, imagine what a dear friend would say to you. Imagine what you would say to a friend in similar need, to console and reassure them.
Practice loving-kindness meditations — for yourself and others. Reflect on these intentions: “May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be peaceful and live with ease.” For wonderful support and guided meditations that promote self-compassion, visit Kristen Neff’s website, www.self-compassion.org.
The more you practice self-care, the more you’ll be energized to be your best self, and the better you’ll be able to attend to the needs of your children.
Be present. Attend to your child with kindness and curiosity. Especially when they’re struggling — acting out or withdrawing — come alongside them, not at them. Talk with them, not to them.
Listen clearly. As Stephen Covey advised, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Golden advice. Too often we listen with the intent to reply or rebut, rather than with the intention to understand.
Speak kindly. Say what you mean, mean what you say and don’t say it meanly. Don’t coddle, beat around the bush, dismiss or command so much. Ask more than tell. When struggles arise, ask your child “What do you notice (happening here, now)?” and “What do you need (to take care of yourself or this situation)?”
Act compassionately. Ask yourself, “what would love do?” Remind yourself, and your children daily, that you are connected by love. They will make mistakes. You will make mistakes. And you will still be here, with them and for them, doing the best you can, guided by an enduring love. That, ultimately, is enough.
Peter Montminy is a clinical child psychologist and certified mindfulness teacher who provides public education and private consultations at AMindfulVillage.com. Learn more about Compassionate Care at his Straight Talk presentation on Tuesday at Mount Nittany Middle School.