Category: Relationships

Kids Need to Feel Safe

Now, more than ever, our children are confronted almost daily with news of bomb threats or a possible school shooting. While we want to protect our children, it may feel like we are helpless sometimes. It is incredibly difficult to try and calm the nerves of our kids, but here are some ideas to help you out. There really isn’t a right or wrong approach – trust you know your child best. The best we can do is build resiliency through human connection, love, and compassion.

  • First of all, Be PRESENT. Turn off your phone, your computer, and the TV. Be close to your children; get on the floor with them. Give plenty of hugs and kisses. Your flight instinct is going to want to takeover and forget all about discipline and routines – This helps us if we are being chased by a tiger. However, it does not help us when we need to pick up our kids from school unexpectedly. So, Parents: Breathe. Breathe and ground yourself before the kiddos get in the car. If you can’t relax, they can’t either.
  • Be Open to your children’s needs — Ask your child, “What do you need?” While trying to maintain a sense of normalcy in the home, Routines and discipline should be followed but be flexible enough to listen and respect each child’s needs.
  • Talk. Consider developmental ages when you do this. Children are going to see and hear more than we may like. Wouldn’t you rather be the one to first discuss these issues instead of your child’s seat partner? This is another good opportunity to teach children ways to express feelings.
  • Get creative: Draw. Create, write, Act. There is scientific evidence to support that doing something creative is an excellent way to express difficult stuff and quite healing at the same time. Bring out those puppets for the little ones and have them narrate a story.
  • Build Character and Model Resiliency: Talk about values and intentions. How do you want to live your life and what kind of person do you want to be? Our children can be strong in the face of adversity. We aren’t the first to deal with bomb threats – many of our parents faced air raid drills daily. Resilience is being able to adapt, be flexible and stable. Let’s show our kids we can lean into this uncertainty, find their source of strength, and trust that life will go on.
  • Love yourself. This may sound unrelated to a bomb threat, but this is akin to “give yourself oxygen first, then your child.” If you have a pure heart, your children will too.
  • Take action. Often when we are faced with a scary event, our bodies get ‘stuck’ in freeze mode. Taking action can be similar to a survival response, so if there is something age-appropriate that feels right to you and your child, then doing something like an act of kindness or writing a letter may be just the right thing.
  • TRUST. Trust that you have done your best, you have loved your best and there is only so much you can do. Give your child the benefit of accepting that we do not have control over everything and that doesn’t mean life won’t be grand while we manage unsettling situations. Life continues. We are okay.

Perhaps the only thing we do know to be certain is our love for our children. When my two kids come home today, I’m going to hug them tightly and let them ask questions. If I don’t know the answers, that’s okay. The best thing we can do is provide a safe place for them to be curious and find their own answers to whom they want to be and how they want to make their way in the world. We can’t force this, but we can provide the space for their own self discovery and the reminder that they can each make a difference.

Please….Go to Bed Angry

I don’t know if it was Carol and Mike on the Brady Bunch who gave us the “don’t go to bed angry” mantra in their ideal (aka impossible) blended family TV show, or the infamous Dr. Sears in the 70s, but I certainly prided myself on this behavior for years.  In fact, I would be relentless about not letting a fight go unresolved, believing I was an amazing communicator. Unfortunately, more times than not, it failed. Why? Because I would force a conversation well past its prime, pushing my partner who was flooded with emotion into a state of withdrawal or anger, just making everything worse. I wish I had known differently and saved a few hours of wreckage. So, let me tell you what I learned: It’s okay to go to bed angry.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I have gained insight into how couples engage and moderate their own internal emotions – and if you are in any kind of relationship, you have probably noticed that not everyone reacts just like you. You may even believe your partner is crazy in the moment, (and I’m sure the feeling is mutual} which is why I need to give you both a break:

It can be a good idea sometimes to go to bed angry. 

Why?  Because most couples don’t know how to engage in a way that is productive. The source of most fighting is typically both feeling blamed, criticized, not heard or validated.  And when this happens, our brain interprets these feelings in the most primal way – in terms of survival. You’ve heard of fight or flight mode? When we feel attacked, whether by a real bear in the woods or just your boyfriend, similar bells ring in your brain to signify the need to protect yourself. The result is defensiveness in the form of blaming, bringing up past resentments, shouting, mean comments, crying and sometimes the silent treatment.

“Sleeping on it” can shift our brain out of that primal fight or flight mode so we can hear the other person’s point of view, and listen to their needs.  Tired and stressed after a long day makes it our bandwidth to regulate our emotions much smaller.

If you find the conversation is escalating take a pause, a break, a “time-out” as you would give to a 4-year-old in a tantrum.  Regrouping can do a world of good to reset the conversation and approach it from a less charged standpoint.

Take note: To do this successfully -- and this is key -- there must be an agreement that you will set aside a time at a later point to continue the discussion so that no one feels dismissed or overwhelmed.  You must commit to this agreement.

Do you find your relationship repeats the same negative cycle in arguments? Same thing, different day? Why? Because what triggers us in conflict is rather universal -- A feeling of being misunderstood, not heard, not validated, or perhaps dismissed, rejected and flat out left – like as in your partner just walked out of the room. These are common feelings that show up in the dance of a partnership. Tell me if you can relate to this.

Now, I am going to go one step further and recommend that you try and not leave the house angry in the mornings also. Sound too ambitious, especially if you aren’t the lucky kind that forgets what you were fighting about in the first place?  I’m not expecting this miracle, but I am reminding you that the morning is an important time to set the tone so that the rest of your day isn’t overshadowed with resentment or anger.  No one feels good knowing there is an unresolved conversation looming while trying to focus on work or family.

Emotional connection is what we really crave in relationships.  And this ‘connection’ is what helps to regulate our bodies…keeping us calm, feeling safe and contained. When couples leave the house ‘disconnected,’ they find themselves anxious, irritable and unhappy most of the day.  If rehashing the difficult conversation is not timely or possible, then after agreeing on your time to talk again, say or do something that shows your continued commitment to the relationship.  “I love you,” (even if you don’t feel loving in the moment) goes a long way. A kiss goodbye and a verbal acknowledgement that “we will work this out together,” goes a long way to provide some comfort during the waiting period.  Sometimes it is difficult to contain the fact that both can exist – Love and commitment can still exist in times of disappointment or anger with a loved one.

If you are someone that likes to avoid conflict or shut down during an argument, you will love me for this post and forward it to your mate quicker than a tweet on election day. But, remember your commitment is to reconnect in the very near future. If you have a hard time going to bed and shutting off your thoughts, bring out those relaxation techniques, quiet your mind and remember you will be heard. For both of you, take this time to tune into what you are really needing from your partner.

Tip: It really isn’t about the socks on the floor.

 

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