Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

How to Decipher the Emotions Behind Your Child’s Behaviors

My four-year-old daughter: You CAN’T comb my hair!
Me: It’s late—we have to leave for school in five minutes. I need to comb your hair.
My daughter: I’ll never let you comb my hair! I want wild hair!

Some version of this battle occurred daily over a very long three weeks, during which I tried five different types of brushing implements—from wide-toothed combs to wet brushes—three different kinds of spray-on conditioners, myriad forms of distraction (songs, books, TV), and, of course, the promise of lots of rewards. Yet nothing worked, for this kiddo did not want to have her hair combed. It was no use.

Quite often, we parent in what could be considered non-ideal circumstances—when we’re physiologically and emotionally running on empty and tending to many other demands. Understandably, this can result in us becoming frustrated and upset when our children refuse to heed our advice or when they continually engage in what we perceive as harmful habits.

When it comes to many parenting challenges with typically developing kids, simple strategies can go a long way. However, every so often, a particularly irksome parenting challenge crops up—the kind that just won’t back down in response to our go-to positive reinforcement, clear limit-setting, or distraction.

Clearly, some situations require us to dig deeper. Research suggests that parental mentalizing—the capacity to seek to understand our own and our child’s behaviors from the perspective of underlying mental states, such as thoughts, feelings, and needs—can help us get to the heart of the trickiest parenting issues.

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How Mindful Readers Chill Out

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What unusual things do you do to relax?  “Organizing my home and purging items I don’t need helps me when things feel chaotic. Also, sometimes just getting on the floor and letting my dogs shower me with attention is amazing!”“I get up before 6am, light a candle, read the newspaper online, and have coffee: a peaceful hour to myself. Then I walk or work out or do yoga.”“Catching crabs with my nephew. I watch him mindfully as he explores, and his innocent curiosity brings me quiet joy.”“Facebook helps me relax. I’ve realized it’s because I have few “friends” there—the ones I have are people who mean something special to me.”“My Lunchtime Walks. I take the same route each day, headphones in, walking to the beat of my carefully selected soundtrack.”“I sort random things into categories that have no real purpose, other than aesthetics—things like state quarters; books I haven’t read yet; items picked up while traveling; pictures, downloads, and screenshots on my phone.”“Dancing. It’s something I wasn’t allowed to do when I was growing up, and now I find that I enjoy it very much!” What does your ideal self-care practice look like?

Nearly all respondents say taking time daily…

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Four Ways to Foster Gratitude in Children

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If you have young children, you probably spend a lot of time reminding them to say “please” and “thank you.” But the importance of gratitude goes beyond good manners—research shows children who practice gratitude are happier and more optimistic, and more likely to build strong relationships.

This video from Greater Good Science Center offers a simple practice to help foster gratitude in children: 

Grateful kids and teens are less likely to experience depression or jealousy, and more likely to do well in school, according to research from the American Psychological Association. Researchers have identified four parts of gratitude that help children practice gratefulness using the “notice-think-feel-do” questions:

Notice: This helps children see the amount of thought that goes into a gift. For example, if they’re given a sports jersey you could say, “Notice how it’s your favorite player’s name?” or “Notice how it’s in your favorite color?”Think: Help children understand why they received the gift by asking, “Why do you think you received this gift?” Maybe it’s for a birthday, or holiday—or maybe just because someone loves them.Feel: Give children the space to process their emotions by asking, “How does this gift make you feel?” Common answers could be happy, excited, or loved. Do: Remind children to express thanks by asking, “Is there a way you want to show how you feel?” It could be by making a card, giving the gift-giver a hug, or simply remembering to say thank you. 

Kids may not always be able to answer all of these questions, but practicing them will reinforce the habit of expressing gratitude and appreciation over time. 

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What Your Teen is Really Saying When They’re Angry

When the teenager in your life is angry at you, it may seem like the last thing they want to do is talk. But the truth is, your teen is sending you messages with their behavior—especially their most off-putting, anger-laden actions. The key is whether you are willing to respond to the real message behind their anger.

In addition to the general desire for your engaged attention, below is a list of what teens are generally very interested in. When these factors are (from the teen’s perspective) being “denied” them, particularly by you, anger can follow.

For most teens, anger wells up when they feel they’re not getting:

Respect: Your teen will flare up during interactions with you because they are assuming you think they don’t deserve this. They believe themselves to be more capable than you (in their perception) will ever admit.Space: They want you to give them the physical and emotional room to try things out, explore, and basically have a go at life without your rules, reminders, and your identity. They want their own.Validation: You know this better than anyone—teens experience things intensely. Their emotions are strong and often in flux. With all this intensity, and (believe it or not) because your perspective has a great deal of impact on them, they are looking for you to validate them. Or to use a less therapy-thick term, they want to know you understand and accept their feelings as real.Provisions & Peers: And you’ve encountered this as well—they want stuff from you. They want access to fun and distraction, and so they want your money. But why? Primarily, so they can spend time with their peers. They want the acceptance and belongingness that only their peers can provide, and trips to the mall and to the ATM are the keys—and they want your car keys as well!

I’m sure none of these are a great surprise to you. Perhaps you remember the importance of each of these when you were your child’s age. Regardless, it’s not the mere knowledge of these that will make the difference. It’s your ability to communicate the reality of these meaningful factors to your teen that will largely determine what happens when their anger surfaces. It will do much to connect you to your child, and will also be a fuel for helping your teen improve their behavior and capacity for managing the demands of their daily life.

You can still set limits on their disrespect or lashing out, but you can also try acknowledging that you understand that something real (for them) is driving how they feel.

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Nine Ways Mindfulness Reduces Stress

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You’ve probably heard that mindfulness helps reduce stress. But how does it actually help you do that?

Mounting scientific evidence from hundreds of universities—including dedicated centers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in the United States and the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom—strongly suggests that mindfulness gently builds an inner strength, so that future stressors have less impact on our happiness and physical well-being.

Here are all the ways mindfulness can help you manage stress:

Nine Ways Mindfulness Helps with Stress

You become more aware of your thoughts. You can then step back from them and not take them so literally. That way, your stress response is not initiated in the first place.You don’t immediately react to a situation. Instead, you have a moment to pause and then use your “wise mind” to come up with the best solution. Mindfulness helps you do this through the mindful exercises.Mindfulness switches on your “being” mode of mind, which is associated with relaxation. Your “doing” mode of mind is associated with action and the stress response.You are more aware and sensitive to the needs of your body. You may notice pains earlier and can then take appropriate action.You are more aware of the emotions of others. As your emotional intelligence rises, you are less likely to get into conflict.Your level of care and compassion for yourself and others rises. This compassionate mind soothes you and inhibits your stress response.Mindfulness practice reduces activity in the part of your brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is central to switching on your stress response, so effectively, your background level of stress is reduced.You are better able to focus. So you complete your work more efficiently, you have a greater sense of well-being, and this reduces the stress response. You are more likely to get into “the zone” or “flow,” as it’s termed in psychology by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.You can switch your attitude to the stress. Rather than just seeing the negative consequences of feeling stressed, mindfulness offers you the space to think differently about the stress itself. Observing how the increased pressure helps energize you has a positive effect on your body and mind.

Try It Yourself: A Meditation for Navigating Stress

Bring to mind a current challenge in your life that is the cause of some stress. A situation that you’re willing to work with at the moment. Not your biggest challenge but not so small that it causes no stress at all. A 3 on a scale of 1–10 is a good guide.Bring the situation vividly to mind. Imagine being in the situation and all the difficulties associated with it.Notice whether you can feel the stress in your body. Physical tension, faster heart rate, a little bit of sweating, butterflies in your stomach, tightness in the back or shoulders or jaw, perhaps. Look out for your stress signals.Tune in to your emotions. Notice how you feel. Label that emotion if you can, and be aware of where you feel the emotion, exactly, in your body. Just try to spot it as best you can. The more precisely you can locate the emotion and the more you notice about the sensation, the better. With time and experience, you’ll keep getting better at this.Bring mindful attitudes to the emotion. These include curiosity, friendliness, and acceptance.Try placing your hand on the location of the sensation—a friendly hand representing kindness. Do it the way you would place your hand on the injured knee of a child, with care and affection.Feel the sensation together with your breathing. This can promote a present-moment awareness and mindful attitudes to your experience.When you’re ready, bring this meditation to a close.
This article was adapted from Shamash Alidina’s book The Mindful Way Through Stress
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