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Tips to Erase Negative Self-Talk in Children

10 Jun

Children carry inside their heads numerous beliefs about themselves and their abilities, some of which are self defeating, unhelpful and ugly.

‘I don’t think I can ever do math’; ‘I’ll never get selected to the team’ ; ‘I’m so dumb’- Are some of the things they say aloud .On hearing these statements parents swoop in to convince the child that these negative remarks are untrue but, its an almost impossible task to get the child to see his parents perspective.

Over time these unhelpful beliefs get large, like a greedy giant monster sticking its head out at every given opportunity. This monster doesn’t sit still; It grows quickly on a steady diet of unsupportive words or unjust criticism and each time our children think of trying out something new or challenging, this monster is right there throwing its weight around, creating dread and visions of scary outcomes.

For eg — Just before the day of the elocution competition, this monster is back in action convincing your child that its no use taking part —’ You are bound to forget the lines, the audience will definitely laugh’… It even gets fear to step in and set up butterflies in the childs stomach or prompts the child to scamper away to the nurse for a sick note.

Another time: Before the Math exam this monster is once again up to its no good ways, convincing your child that he is a complete loser and Math is just not his cup of tea. This time he gets fear to throw in a panic attack which only convinces your child that he can never do math.

The presence of this monster make children feel worthless and sets them on a spiral of negative self talk which over time gets automatic and permeates into every area of their lives.

So how do we teach our kids to shrink this monster? To be able to face the day to day challenges of life with an open mind.

Few tips coming to my mind would be- Teach your child to

· Accept the feeling coming through the negative talk and name it.

Instead of ‘I’m no good at Math’ , teach your child to say aloud or to himself — ‘I feel nervous about…. or I feel frustrated that I …. and the issue at hand. This way he will know that feelings are transient and they don’t define him

If required, play back what they are saying like — Are you saying that you are feeling worried about the math exam? Then without offering solutions help your child to generate options like — Maybe I could learn a few topics thoroughly or I’ll master the easy problems.

Recognizing that being nervous or worried or frustrated is natural, help children learn not to give in to the barrage of negative thoughts that cloud their thinking.

· Use Humor. Give this monster a name and ask it to stop hassling you. After all, this isn’t how you would talk to someone you love and surely you need to treat yourself with love. So let’s say we call this critical monster George. Now every time you feel that buzz of negative talk in your head- notice that George is trying to dial in. Remember you have the choice. You can choose to let George jeopardize your moving ahead or politely ask George to step aside. Initially may be you need to yell at George, after all he is quite used to succeeding in running you down. Each time you succeed to push George out of the way, he will begin to shrink and your self confidence will begin to grow.

· Talk about your monster and its chatter with caring adults. Look for support from people who care about you and will help you navigate through your negative self talk.

· Wear your armour on days that your monster wont keep shut. Remind yourself of things you have done well in the past Strengthen yourself with visions and reminders of things that went well thus challenging your inner bully.

· Value the process. Focus on the little steps done well rather than just the end result. Phrases like ‘That took a lot of hard work’, helps in learning to value the process.

· Familiarize your child with various calming and coping skills. Affirmations like ‘I am feeling uncomfortable. Many others also feel uncomfortable in these situations. I can handle this issue’, spoken aloud helps calm the child and quietens his negative self talk.

· Parents, check how you talk to your children, and about your children. What are the messages you consistently implant in their heads? Watch how do you handle your own negative self talk. As parents we are their role models and our kids are watching us and many a time imitating what they see.

Some amount of negative self talk many of us indulge in but when its seen on a regular basis, then its time for concern.

It may be due to the presence of a low self esteem, anxiety, learning disability or even depression.

The good news is that children can learn to weaken this internal dialogue. With consistent effort and patience, children will be able to recognise and chase away this monster, thus erasing negative self-talk.

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On Parenting Adult Children

28 May

Being a parent is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful, albeit challenging experiences I have ever had.

Completely unprepared was I to understand the enormity of this challenge but I jumped in joyfully and whole heartedly.

Peeling away layers of the old me, I learnt what patience, love and sacrifice really meant. Joy and laughter intermingled with worry and stress can best describe the years that followed. Raising them, Teaching them- what to do, what not to do, Setting limits, Being responsible for their physical and emotional health and Being there for guidance filled our home with lots of love, and lots of commotion.

Just as I felt I had hit the sweet spot of parental involvement, I needed to stretch my self to relearn the role of parenting my adult children.

I needed to practice the art of Letting Go.

Years of Hands On Parenting makes this such a difficult task.

Although I do believe in the wisdom behind the need to restructure my relationship with the kids, yet, on a day to day basis I see myself struggling with –

  • Letting go of worrying about their well being – Have they eaten health?       Slept enough? Are their jobs too stressful? Are their friends helpful and a good influence on them?
  • Letting go of giving them unsolicited advice, warning them of perceived stumbling blocks or influencing their decisions based on my experiences
  • Letting go of the urge to jump in and try to fix their problems

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that parenting adult kids requires a different skill set from what I’ve been practicing all these years.

As I watch my kids interact with me I realize that my role has shifted to a relationship based on lesser dependency and more mutual respect.

My hands – on days are done, and now I need to allow them to face the world with confidence and determination without feeling smothered by my trying to manage their life.

Many readers would have walked this road before, and have valuable insights to share.

These are the thoughts that come to my mind when I think of how each of us can maintain a connected and trusting relationship with our adult children

  • Advice should be dispensed only when asked for. Expect at least part of it to be ignored and remember not to consider it an insult or a reflection of your advice.
  • Restraint is a virtue that’s much required now especially when it comes to giving your views on their relationships or career choices. Does that mean you ignore the wisdom of your years and not give your opinion? Not exactly …. But you need to know, how and when to say things respectfully and tactfully and yes don’t forget to couch it diplomatically.
  • For most times, opinions are best kept to yourself. Trust their capacity to choose well and survive the not very wise choices.

The exception to this would be if you saw something that could potentially harm them, to which they seemed to be blind, then, at the risk of being interfering you should speak up.

  • Listen to them and Give them emotional support which will help them boost their self confidence;
  • Allow their problem solving muscles to develop and trust in their capacity to make wise decisions
  • Bear witness to their ability to take responsibility of their lives.
  • Assure them that there will always be oodles of love and support when they choose to reach out.

For our adult children we are their anchor, their sounding board and a safe haven.

Another dilemma I face while I think of letting go are the questions that pop up in my head like – is it too early to let go? Are they ready to navigate through the ebb and flow of life?

Guess I’ll know that only if I allow them to find their true potential without my mama bear instincts getting the better of me.

The large empty space that gets created in my days after I have given up my need to keep tabs on them, I would need to fill with things that will bring joy and purpose to my life. Not easy, but I’ll figure that with time.

For now, I will take a cue from the words of Kahlil Gibran……

You are the bows from which your children

As living arrows are sent forth

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite

And he bends you with his might

That his arrows might go swift and far

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness

For even as he loves the arrow that flies

So he loves also the bow that’s stable.

 

Why it is important to talk about Mental Health

7 May

My best friend is a diabetic. Offer her a pastry and she is quick to tell you about her condition where sweets are a No – No.

Not just her, but all of us are comfortable and even very forthright when it comes to discussing our physical ailments.

The listener too is empathetic and compassionate when told about a broken hand, a gall bladder surgery or any other physical ailment that warrants attention, treatment and adequate care.

Talking of Mental Health is another matter altogether.

Firstly, very few people want to talk about it. They are embarrassed about what is happening and how their peers or loved ones will react to it.

Guilt is another emotion they go through; some feel they have let down their near and dear ones. I once met a middle aged man who was grappling with depression and couldn’t tell his family about it, as he thought, that he who was supposed to be their protector would be betraying their trust by talking of his distress.

In many societies having a mental health issue is seen as a kind of personal weakness.  Phrases like …’Just get over it’; ‘Look on the bright side’, Strategies to work on willpower and other well meaning nuggets of advice are freely dispensed to the person who dares to share his/her dilemma with someone.

Then there is the fear of being discriminated or even losing one’s job if they exhibit the nerve to discuss their anguish.

At times symptoms of the illness may terrify some, and even talking about them can be difficult.

No wonder Mental Health issues are kept under wraps – like it is some secret society that spreads its power on the weak, who crumble under its hold.

We are accepting of a fracture in any part of our body except our brain.

There is discomfort, shame and stigma attached to any discussion on matters pertaining to mental health. As a result, many people do not reach out for help even when they are suffering for the fear of being mocked or not understood.

Its time we take charge of our well-being.

Mental illness is a problem that can affect anyone.

At some stage in our lifetime, it is possible that we may experience depression related to the loss of a loved one or the anxiety associated with the diagnosis of a terminal illness or eating disorders or more severe ones like schizophrenia etc.  It could happen to someone we care about. Leaving the problem untreated only makes the issue get worse.

Talking about your issue is the best thing you can do for yourself. Once you accept that you need help, its like a burden off your shoulders and you are more receptive to seeking and using the right kind of help.

The fear and stigma that surrounds mental illnesses is surmountable only if each and every one can talk about mental health issues like depression or suicide with the same openness as they would discuss a physical issue like diabetes, Hypertension or Cancer

These conversations on mental health issues can happen at any place- homes, workplace, schools, places of worship, cafes.  Through these conversations we will be able to –

  • sensitize the community about the need to treat these issues with sensitivity and empathy
  • Inform people that those with psychological issues are not incompetent or weak or dangerous. They have an issue, which with the right kind of treatment, will be manageable. The issue is not their identity.
  • Apprise the men that Mental health issues can affect anyone at any age, of any sex or race. Men need not see it as a sign of weakness.
  • Show those suffering concern and willingness to help. Just as you don’t blame someone for having hypertension or ask a diabetic why he needs to take his insulin, similarly you don’t blame those who suffer from mental illness for their lack of will or optimism; Instead direct them to avenues where help is available.
  • Validate the struggles of the suffering and encourage them to talk about their strife without the weight of judgment.
  • Challenge and educate people who are misinformed or talk negatively about mental health conditions.
  • Increase awareness about Organizations and hotlines that provide support and treatment for various mental health disorders.

Everyone deserves to live their life to the fullest.

When we openly talk of mental health issues, support those going through them and ensure they get the treatment and the empathy they deserve; Only then can we pull down those invisible walls behind which countless people feel isolated, lonely and suffer silently.

 

 

 

Why helping with Household Chores is good for kids

30 Apr

Its dinner time and you are rushing back and forth laying the table, heating up the food, cutting the fruits, getting the bottles of water…. And then you look around and see that you are the only one busy; The kids are lazing around – watching television, reading a book completely unawares that you could do with some help. As you look at them you realize that as soon as dinner is done they will move to various corners of the house still quite oblivious of your need for a helping hand.

They look at you blankly wondering why you’ve stopped in your tracks and thats when you realise that somewhere you’ve missed out on teaching them an important life skill –  It takes every member of the home to pitch in to make household tasks less of a burden for one.

So, when is the right time to engage your bundles of joy in the day to day jobs around the house?

Toddlers as young as 3 can help in putting their toys away, throw trash in the garbage can.

At 4 and 5 years, children love helping around the house. They can match and fold socks, lay the table with unbreakable dishes and if you have plants, water them.

At 6 and 7 years encourage them to fold towels, butter the bread and put together a simple sandwich. Don’t get caught up in perfection instead praise them and allow them to take pride in their work.

At 8, 9 and 10 years, along with simple food preparations, they can also clean counter tops, put soiled clothes in the washer, replace hand towels in the bathrooms etc. Show them how things are done and step aside while they do it.

Ages 10 – 12, children now can do pretty much everything except maybe handle fire.  Allow them to choose what they’d like to do and compliment them on a job well done.

Ages 13 on – From here on doing chores isn’t what children would voluntarily jump to do. So maintain the fact that helping around the house is non negotiable. Be clear and consistent with your expectations. Posting a list on jobs around the home and who is doing what, helps in making them feel that their role is part of a larger cause.

Teens can run errands, help with the homework of their younger siblings, even put together a menu after careful consideration of the likes and dislikes of the family.

Supervise their efforts and offer to help if they need help, but do not micromanage. As the demands on their time increase from school or other activities its easy to allow their responsibilities to slide. Instead talk about how they will manage their time and which chores will still be their responsibility. Motivate them to stay on track.

Why are doing chores around the house important?

It makes children feel capable and productive which goes a long way in building a positive self concept.

It teaches them responsibility and organization skills which increase their self confidence.

They feel like a valuable contributor in the family and this instills in them a sense of belonging which helps in thinking of every member of the family as having a role to play in the smooth running of the home. Something like the family being a team.

Keeping a home clean or putting together a simple meal comes easy to them making them great room mates and self sufficient young men and women.

Of course the bigger goal here is connecting with your children while working together.

Consistency is the key when chores are assigned to children. Cleaning up, folding laundry etc aren’t very interesting activities, and so its only natural that children will resent them and not be cooperative from time to time. Patience, being assertive and modelling shared responsibility is the key to making our kids get back on track.

Its okay to delay or take away privileges if the job is not done. If necessary, hold family meetings to revise the allocation of chores. This ensures that every member of the family feels heard and this gives each one a chance to practice their problem solving skills.

If you are convinced of the importance of children doing chores, then that’s what you will communicate to your children through your interaction with them.

Although they may not be convinced with your explanations, teaching them age appropriate ways to contribute to the family will make them feel and do better in the long run.

 

 

Girl time – The Benefits of Female Friendships

23 Apr

I snuggled into bed feeling happy, fulfilled and inspired. There’s a kind of restorative magic that unfolds in our hearts and mind after an evening out with our girlfriends

They are not just our chosen family but also a necessity for our soul…. something like ‘an apple a day’ kind of recommendation.

Girlfriend get-togethers is the ‘balm’ we women need to get through the various phases in our life.

Why are girlfriends so vital for a woman’s wellbeing?

  • They tell us the truth [Not too much of it though] Just enough to get us thinking.
  • There aren’t any taboo topics while talking to them. We can talk just about anything – if things are good, they are excited for us; if not they encourage and support us in whatever we are going through.
  • Even if we don’t say anything, they can read our mind, and never fail to show us compassion.
  • They walk with us through everything – death, divorce, illness; Being each others cheer leader, offering a helping hand and reminding us of the ‘glass half full ‘.
  • They infuse in us – energy and optimism
  • They give us courage and confidence when the going gets rough and many a time are the catalyst for bringing about a change in our lives.
  • They understand when we need to vent or talk of our fluctuating hormones. In my friends eyes I am always capable of achieving my dreams – A perspective that not just inspiring but also infectious.
  • They seem to have an answer for all our confusions, whatever they may be – the right outfit for the party or where to get the best airfare deals or the best kind of investment options. Even if they didn’t know the answers they’d figure out someone who does and direct us to them, but no issue that any one of us have will go unattended.
  • They are caring and step in to offer a helping hand during troubled times.

No doubt, during certain phases in our lives, when we are desperately trying to balance the demands placed on our time, spending time with our friends take a back seat.

In the swirling confusion of activities, we neglect them, but soon learn that it is in this circle of girlfriends – women who are woven together into a fabric that encompasses acceptance and affection, that we find our real self.

As we spend hours in cafes sipping coffee and laughing spiritedly there is warmth, encouragement, empathy, intimacy and humor at the table. Each one of us is a gift to the other and collectively we are more than the sum of our parts.

Having friends is a lot about being a good friend; Making that choice to invest our time, energy, attention or love in our friends instantaneously makes us feel brighter and bouncier.

Through the years my girlfriends have been my secret keepers, collaborators, the ones who have lovingly nudged me to make incremental changes in my life.

While I’ve waded through the amazing as well as the trying experiences of life, it is  this sisterhood that reinforces what the Head of Psychiatry at the Stanford University said –

One of the best things a man could do for his health is to be married to a woman, whereas for a woman, one of the best things she could do for her health is to nurture her relationship with her girlfriends.

 

Fun Ideas to get your kids excited this Summer

11 Apr

With summer vacations around the corner, children are all excited and waiting in anticipation to enjoy a month without geometry or geography on their minds.

My friend Reema isn’t quite sure whether she is looking forward to the 45 long sunny days simply because she needs to figure out how she is going to keep her three young fellas occupied.

Without the proximity of extended family or traditional social support, parents are expected to be more involved with their kids which can be very exhausting

Left to themselves kids would probably sleep in late, watch TV, go out to play (if friends are in town) or loll around on the sofa whining that there is nothing to do.

No doubt the first three are perfectly fine things to be doing, but holidays can be much more satisfying if, along with enjoyment, children also get opportunities to try out new things.

‘It can be a trying task to to think of things to do everyday,’ she says ‘and there are times I’m so tempted to give in to their wishes and allow them to be on their digital devices or watch Netflix.’

Instead of giving in to these ‘digital Nannies’ which can completely take over her childs time and attention she came up with this list of activities to keep her kids busy during the vacation.

  • Her boys are full of energy and love the beach. So she has blocked off a few days to spend on the beach building sand castles, collecting shells or simply running barefoot on the sand.
  • Another activity she is excited about is going trekking as a family. Pushing together for a common goal that’s both fun and exciting can be a rewarding experience
  • City tours on foot or bicycle along with photography is also on the list.
  • Sailing on the calm waters that surround the city was something they’ve never done and would like to try.
  • The kids have made a list of activities like doodling, painting, pottery, and drama workshops that they would like to be a part of.
  • Visiting Science museums and innovation hubs to stimulate their curious minds.
  • A fortnight long vacation with their grandparents is something the kids are looking forward to. With a well drawn family tree, the kids now know of all their cousins and uncles and aunts and are enthusiastic about meeting them.
  • Collecting Board games and sports equipment like rackets and balls for the ‘lets play’ days.
  • Her younger son is an avid reader, so joining a book club or starting one seems like an exciting activity to try out.
  • Volunteering at an NGO that is working towards a cause they care about.
  • Letting them be bored on some days; so that they learn to work through boredom.

Although most of these are planned activities, she has also left some blank spaces for the impulse driven ‘Lets do this” moments.

Vacations no doubt spell ‘Free time’ but kids do better if there is some amount of structure and routine in their lives. It helps them feel secure and know what to expect.

  • Maintain a schedule for meal time and bed time for most days. It can be tempting to allow kids to sleep late or eat whenever they please – especially coz you don’t want to get into any arguments with them; but, sticking with a bit of routine helps kids to be comfortable, feel good and hence chirpy
  • Get the kids ready for the events that are planned. Snuggle into bed with them and talk to them about what to expect the following day so they look forward to it, ask questions incase they have any anxiety about the place or people they are to meet.
  • Spend time in the evenings talking about the day that was – what they enjoyed, what part of their day was the best, what they are looking forward to, the next day.
  • Coach them on expected behavior, in the airplane, in the hotel dining areas, while the tour guide is speaking. Set behavior expectations but also tell them why you set them so that kids learn to regulate their behavior.

Children have worked hard through the school year and deserve some down time to relax, recharge and refresh themselves.

Make the most of this time to connect and create memories while learning and having fun

 

 

Why Cant my child make Friends

29 Mar

‘I am at a loss.’ She said. ‘My son has no friends.’

Its heart breaking for parents to know that their child has no friends or is never invited to any parties or spends every recess hour being by himself.

Why do some kids struggle socially while others glide effortlessly through the early social dynamics?

Its always been assumed that children naturally learn to make friends and no special learning is required in this area.

This may have been true in an era when families were large and kids learnt to ‘join in’ and engage in whatever game was being played.

Today with the shrinking size of families many children do not have this skill as their primary playmates are their parents, who indulge them and play games at the childs terms.

Such a child does not understand social cues and cannot weave himself through the social maze and hence stands on the outside longing to join in but not knowing how to.

Computer games also allow children to choose what to play and when to play which cause kids to miss out on learning valuable socialization skills like negotiating, reading facial cues, conflict resolution etc

Sometimes children are very shy or bossy – traits which alienate them from others.

With the ability to empathize not completely formed, children can be cruel and reject or exclude others which make the sensitive kids retreat into their shell.

A child who was accepted and liked earlier because the friendship was fostered by parents or based on proximity of the neighborhood may suddenly finds these ties loosening up as she/he moves on to higher grades. Here children make friends with whom they get along. Old friends sometimes get left out and this can be doubly hurtful.

Although some kids may maintain a stoic look, over time this alienation will begin to take its toll on them. They either clown around to get accepted, engage in various kinds of attention seeking behavior or day by day feel sad and disconnected.

What should parents do? Leave them alone to learn how to make friends or step in to assist them?

I believe that Parents need to take the lead when they know that their child is struggling to make friends.

  • Firstly, use Empathy. This is difficult for them. Listen and acknowledge their feelings.
  • Assess your own child – Find out what could be the reason for his/her inability to socialize. You can even check with others who regularly interact with them – like their teachers or classmates; sometimes their perspective will give you insights into the problem.
  • Be a role model- let them watch you interact with others. Being a friend is a skill that has to be learnt and some kids need to watch or have it explained to them.
  • Have a play date – Ask your child to invite someone he/she would like to play with. If you are inviting both the parent and the child, weave an activity around the meeting which will allow you to demonstrate sharing and cooperation with the child and the adult. If there is no adult accompanying the child, be at a reasonable distance from the kids such that you allow co-operative play without your interference but if the play session isn’t going smoothly you can gently intervene.
  • Read stories on friendship to your child – or tell her your own- About friends, the fun times they have, the way they handle disagreements etc
  • Pursue sports and activities where your child meets and interacts with kids his/her age
  • Help them develop basic social skills – give them pointers on – how to start a conversation with someone sitting beside them; To listen and ask questions. Allow them to practice it with family so they feel confident.
  • Assist them to build their self-confidence – Make them aware of their strengths. Encourage them to get into activities that best suit their interests and skill.
  • Explain to them that friends change – Interests change and friendships change and let them know that that’s ok! Its normal to miss the old friends but motivate them to be open to new friendships.
  • Take the help of the school. Teachers can be very creative in organizing semi structured activities which help the child have positive group experiences or get to know class mates who are more accepting.

Assisting a child to understand and cultivate friendships is as important as teaching him to read and write.

Sometimes learning and attention issues can also lead to social challenges.

Whatever be the issue, parents need to keep things in perspective and not overreact but instead provide as many opportunities as possible for children where they can learn and practice social skills.