The Importance of Playing With Children

Play is children’s love language.  It’s an opportunity for us to get to know them deeply and really sink into their world. Whether your child is 1, 11, or 17… playing with them is a huge part of helping their developmental processes and building their capacity for emotional regulation. Children are innately led to learn everything they need to learn through play. 

Think about it—even as adults we tend toward play. We exercise, hang out friends (or at least we did pre-covid), do yoga, go out into nature, etc in order to blow off steam and self-regulate. That’s OUR way of playing as adults. It is play! And if you’re not engaging in “adult play” that makes you happy—think about why and how can you change this. Because I can guarantee you it affects your metal health and happiness. Even for adults, play is a crucial part of our mental health and psychological well-being. It grounds us, it gives us a release, and it feels great! 

With our children it obviously looks different. But the core is that kids need to play. And playing with us is so important to their emotional well-being. Children are looking for a sense of proximity—a feeling of closeness to us. When we play with our kids it tells them that we want to be connected and we love being a part of their world. And it communicates this in their love language, so they can fully grasp our intention. 

Research has shown that play has a whole range of benefits. It helps young children build empathy, try on different ways of being. It helps develop their executive function and emotional regulation. It fosters creativity, gives them practice for social skills. And it can help to shed light on what they’re processing and working on emotionally, so that you can be a part of their integration and healing. 

Play can look different at different developmental stages. With babies it can be sitting with them and making musical instruments out of anything, as they get older you may be doing imaginary play, puzzles, rough housing, games like hide-and-seek. It can be reading together, doing arts and crafts and board games, ball sports. And maybe as teens you’re listening to music together, doing a crossword, going shopping, throwing the ball around. The key is that we are present during this time and that we give that clear message of caring and genuine enjoyment of who they are. 

If you’re finding that your child’s play is derailed—it’s hard for you to participate in, it’s aggressive, there are elements that you’re not sure what to do with, you’re welcome to reach out to me and I can help you troubleshoot this through a parenting session. As a play therapist of 11 years my specialty is children’s play. And I can help you identify what might be going on and how you can be a supportive and healing part of the process.

I want to encourage you to set aside 20 minutes at least twice a week (hopefully more) to really play with your child. Put the devices aside and make a commitment to have fun with this. Sink into their world and watch the magic that can unfold when we really allow ourselves to connect with our kids. 

And join us in our FREE Facebook parenting community! 
https://www.facebook.com/groups/thevillagesamampej

Good Communication to Last a Lifetime

What we all want is to have loving, connected relationships with our children. We want our children to love talking to us about their lives. We wantthem to open up to us, to feel safe with us and for them to know they can come to us for anything. We want them to grow into adults who love our company, want to be around us and see us as their greatest confidantes. So how do we cultivate this from the start? Here I’m going to share with you the top strategies for communicating with children and, most importantly, helping them feel at ease in communicating with you.

  1. Stay curious and open
    Ask open-ended questions that foster sharing and connection. Here are some useful phrases to support the openness, “Tell me more about it,” “What was that like for you?” “How did you feel about that?” and, my personal favorite— “I wonder…” Questions of curiosity help us learn more about our children and they help our children to know that we are genuinely interested and care about what they’re sharing.

  2. Listen more than you talk
    It’s tempting to give advice, offer solutions and share our opinions with our children. But more often than not, it’s not what is helpful in inspiring them to lean on us for communication. It’s important that we slow down and set an intention to listen, rather than talk.
    Leave the distractions aside and be present with your child at these times. Pay attention. Make eye contact. Show delight in their delights, show genuine caring and empathy for the struggles. Reflect back to them the feelings they are expressing, “Wow, it sounds like that was really hard for you,” or “Yay, you’re so excited about that!”
    And ask permission before offering advice and solutions. When you get their buy-in, you know they actually want your help and it will penetrate far more than the unsolicited advice and opinions that can often lead to the dreaded eye roll and a break in the connection with you.

  3. Get to know your child’s communication style, rhythms and nuances.
    The more we are present with our children, the more we notice and can attune to the nuances of their connection and communication with us. Be sure and tune in when you hear their cue that they’re about to open up. Your child may say, “Mommy, guess what…” or they get real quiet for a few minutes but have a certain look on their face that you know all too well. Maybe they come sit next to you or come stand and watch you. Every child is different, but when we pay attention, we’ll be able to get to know our children’s nuances for communication. And we can take that as our cue to put everything else aside, listen and connect.

  4. No lectures
    Believe it or not, it’s completely futile!When we are tempted to lecture our children, it’s a cue that we are triggered and we’re trying to gain a sense of control. Far better to deal with our trigger than to create a disconnect with our child through a lecture. Lectures do not inspire children to listen and do what you want them to do. They merely make children feel disempowered and wrong, and we miss the mark on what our child was trying to communicate to us, either through their behavior or their language. 

  5. Share with them your experiences from childhood that relate to theirs
    Children love knowing that we can relate to them. It makes them feel heard and seen. It helps them know that they’re not alone and that someone really gets it. They love hearing our stories, both fun and challenging, of things we’ve been through. And they will remember these well into their own adulthood. Think of the stories your parents shared with you when you were a child— you undoubtedly imagined your mom or dad as a little one having the experiences that they told you about—and you remember those stories to this day. When we offer stories that let our children know that we’ve gone through similar experiences, it means the world to them and gives them permission to ask us for advice on how to handle things. 

The most important thing in fostering a lifetime of healthy, open communication with children is that we take a genuine interest and deep care in who they are and how they’re feeling. When we come at children with our own agendas, they shrink and retract from staying open with us. When we come from a place of understanding and openness, our kids feel loved, cherished and seen. When 

Setting Limits with Love

Imagine you are super excited, you have a ton of energy and you’re running around the house being your cute, goofy, wild little self. And then someone tells you, “STOP”. How do you feel? You probably feel shut down, at a loss, sad, ashamed… 

When we set limits with a hard “no”, especially when this comes with parental anger or negativity, children start to perceive themselves as “bad” and go to that place of shame and self-hate, when this is a repeated pattern. 

Setting limits is a necessary part of parenting. These little people are learning how to be in the world and often they don’t know how to pump or fully apply the brakes when something isn’t a good choice. Setting limits is a way that our children learn to make better choices. Children learn self-regulation through appropriate limit-setting. They can learn to set their own boundaries and to redirect their behavior. Now this doesn’t mean to start setting limits all over the place. Set limits when it’s necessary and allow the flow and creativity when you can. 

So how to we set appropriate limits? 

When our kids misbehave, it’s actually an opportunity for us to learn more about them, understand what they’re expressing about their emotional world, and to help them foster a deeper, more connected relationship with themselves—if we can support them in handling it well. 

For example—the child who hits his brother or peers when he’s angry is telling you that he needs help learning how to manage his anger in safe, healthy ways. The child who sneaks a cookie when she’s already been told no — another impulse control issue— is telling you that she needs some support in waiting our her body’s impulses. This information is important for you to know because it gives you direction on what you can be working on with your child in constructive ways. 

So how do we set limits when children are misbehaving? It has to start with connection. Disciplining children isn’t about punishments or consequences for them to “learn”. Those things don’t teach—they suppress and quite honestly they usually make children more frustrated, which comes out later in other ways. It misses the mark on what is being expressed by the child and doesn’t give them that full opportunity to be understood, met and redirected in safe and healthy ways.

Discipline actually comes from the word “disciple” which is rooted in learning. We’re helping our children learn that it’s safe to be them, their urges are normal AND that we’ll help them learn other ways to express what their wanting/needing/learning. We need to connect with their emotions and really become detectives for what the child is trying to communicate with their misbehavior. And then we address is from the place of connection. 

So, little billy who hits his brother… it could be something like, “Woah! I can see that you’re frustrated and I get that! Brothers are not for hitting. Let’s take some time apart and I will come in and talk to each of you about this.” 

I also love the phrase, “Show me another way.” When our children act out their emotions in those ways that can seem like “bad behavior” we can say, “Sweetie, I get it. You’re feeling a lot right now! It’s ok to feel upset—and I’m not going to let you break that—show me another way!” 

When you need to set a limit with your child, really check in with yourself first… do you need a moment to regroup, release your own triggered emotions and get to a place or regulation? Then consider—how can I connect first, and then redirect the behavior? How can i use this as an opportunity to understand my child better? How can this help us grow as a family? 

If you need help with limit setting and want to talk more, I’ll be soon offering some amazing courses on this and I offer one-on-one parent consultations to support you with your family’s needs. 

What to do instead of saying “Calm Down”

It’s time to stop telling our kids, “Calm Down”!    (or any version of calm down)

“But I thought that was the goal when my child is losing it—to get her to calm down,” says the disgruntled parent who is dealing with meltdown number 53 of the week—and it’s only Tuesday.

Here’s what I say: Our goal is to help children feel whole—grounded and connected to themselves in an authentic way. When a child is having a blow up, they are in an authentic expression of their emotional experience. And this emotional cycle needs the space and the time to release and express itself. In other words, children need to process their emotions to completion and we are there to provide the space, time and support to allow them to do this. 

Asking or telling children to “calm down” in these moments is not only virtually impossible, but actually teaches them to suppress and override their emotions without integration. This was likely our own childhood experience if we are someone (like most) who become triggered by our kids’ big emotional expressions. We were not taught that it is ok to truly have, feel and release our emotions. So our unconscious mind actually projects this unresolved part of ourselves onto our children.

In that moment of meltdown, blow up and big emotions, your child feels scared, overwhelmed and helpless. They are not freaking out in order to intentionally disrupt the family or manipulate a situation. They are overwhelmed by their emotions and don’t have another way of expressing those feelings. So they get their point across in the most effective way they know how, with a nervous system response that looks like a tiger in fight mode. 

The way to bring them back to a feeling of safety is to connect with them. And the only way we can authentically do this is if we are working on our own deep-seated triggers. Here’s the thing—our children are our greatest teachers. They are literally here to reflect back to us the parts of us that haven’t been healed and are still hurting. So when we see that our children are losing it, as much as we want to “calm down” (aka control) their behaviors, what we need to do is connect with ourselves. Take a breath, feel the sensations in your body, notice what emotions have come up for you. Are you angry, scared, helpless, overwhelmed, sad…? THIS is the part of you that needs your own love and support right now.

Now let’s come back to our little one—the one having a colossal meltdown and tearing apart his room, making threats, destroying things he’s worked hard on. He too is scared. He too is overwhelmed. He too needs love, support and acceptance. But he is little with an undeveloped frontal cortex, and he isn’t equipped to give it to himself at this point. So the honor goes to you. And here is what I suggest. Allow him to have his feelings. Let him know it is safe to feel what he is feeling. You can ask, “Would you like me to hold you while you have your feelings? I am in this with you. It’s safe to feel this. You’re not alone…” Then allow the feelings to move through while you become the container for his experience. Hold space, hold him close, let him know he is safe and he can let it out as he needs to. That you are here and you love him no matter what. 

And finally, when things have settled and you take a moment, come back to yourself. Journal. Move your body. Breathe. Do what you need to do to release your energy. But then become a detective for your own emotions by using the gift your child gave you. THIS is what needs to be healed in you. And the more you heal it, the less you will see it reflected back to you by your littles. Life becomes more harmonious, joyful and fun.

If you are in need of support for going deeper into your own journey with this, please reach out to your therapist or to me. I am here for you and I’d be honored to help you navigate your own healing through this amazing journey of parenting. 

Mindfulness and Regulation

angry-child-boyMuscles clench in your belly, your chest tightens. A shortness of breath and a sense of panic. The blood seems to have rushed to your core and you don’t have much awareness of your feet or of your surroundings. Your mouth is dry and your thoughts are racing. This is a glimpse into what can happen when the nervous system dys-regulates. When your unconscious mind has picked up a signal that you are unsafe and your body needs to activate for protection. When something happening now stirs up an implicit memory from a past time when you felt similarly—even though the situation is completely different and you’re all grown up now. The response is fast, unexpected, intense. It often happens before you have any control over its whirlwind effect on you.

This is what can happen in the body when we become dysregulated. When our children become dysregulated the same thing happens for them, as well. A child, however, does not typically have the tools and skills to express this rush of intensity, so s/he will often act out or shut down in order to discharge or suppress this energy. So how do children (and adults) learn to respond more effectively when they are triggered?

Mindfulness is key. It requires the recognition of our internal experience in order to shift our internal experience. When we are aware of what is happening for us internally, then we have more freedom to make a different choice in our response.

Helping our children develop a sense of authentic self-awareness allows them, in the moment of overwhelm, to stay connected to themselves, thus having more of their rational brain online and thus eliciting more choice and control over how they respond. We teach mindfulness and self-awareness predominantly by modeling these capacities and cultivating them in ourselves. Checking in with ourselves regularly throughout the day—particularly with the body, which is where emotional regulation and dys-regulation begin to be activated. Throughout the day, notice what is happening in your body. What is the temperature? What sensations do you experience? What parts of you are tight and clenched? What parts of you are relaxed? Are you numb? Overgripping? No judgment, simply notice and breathe. Unknown

When we bring our attention to the body the impulse to judge or create a story about our experience dissipates. The less we do this, the less our mind remains an active participant in the process. The mind fights for our survival, but it often sabotages our ability to regulate by getting caught up in the need to solve the problem or make sense of the situation. There are times when this is necessary. But most of the time, when we are dys-regulated, it hinders our capacity to move forward.

IMG_1160Stay with the body and teach your children to be in the body. Over time, patterns that we have been stuck in will begin to soften and release. Tensions will fall away. Emotions will move through paving the way for more spaciousness and more calm. Be playful and fun in the ways you teach children to have this awareness of the body.

The Greatness of Gratitude

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”
==Meister Eckhart

It is said that gratitude is the highest level of human emotion. To feel and express gratitude can shift us from a perspective of lack to one of abundance and fulfillment. Robert Emmons, one of the world’s leading gratitude researchers has determined that a gratitude practice leads to an array of benefits including higher immune functioning, better sleep, lower blood pressure and less pain, more positive emotions, more compassion, more helpfulness, more joy and pleasure, just to name a few. In children, gratitude improves the quality of their social relationships, their ability to self-regulate and their overall levels of health and well-being.

Gratitude is a skill that we can teach and a tremendous gift that we can offer to our children. Moving toward greater expressions of gratitude in our lives doesn’t mean that we bypass the emotions that arise in response to our challenges, stress or traumas. We allow these emotions to move through and, in the case of our children, we offer our presence to hold space for what they are feeling. And we can teach and model for them to widen the lens and see that even difficult emotions can serve us.

Over time, children can learn to be grateful even for the adversities in their lives. In fact, true healing takes place when we are able to move from a place of feeling overwhelm and difficulty to feeling grateful for the way the situation has led to our growth. John DeMartini’s unique approach to personal growth involves (among many other facets) creating extensive lists of the benefits we gain from our adversities and challenges. For example, if your parents divorced when you were five and this was quite troubling for you, you can make a list of 100 ways this actually benefited you. Perhaps it helped you be more compassionate to others’ loss, or you had to learn to be very conscious and self-regulated in response to change and transition. Again, this is not a bypass. When there is grief, we must grieve and move through the five stages. Eventually, however, these practices can lead us toward a paradigm shift that takes us out of victimhood and into tremendous growth and healing. As Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness says, “When we think of failure as something to be thankful for because it is a necessary step in learning, we get better at overcoming challenges.”

So how do we teach gratitude to children in this culture of affluence and constant sensory stimulation? You’ll need to make a conscious effort to incorporate gratitude into your day-to-day practices. Here are a few ideas:

  • Create a gratitude board- Find a fun chalkboard or white board (or better yet paint part of a wall with chalkboard paint). You and your family members can write on it the things you are grateful for. And everything is ok. They may be grateful for their video games and you wish they were grateful for the food on their plate. Let it go. We are teaching gratitude, not imposing our agenda for what they should be grateful for.
  • Dinnertime Gratitude– Go around the table at dinner and each take turns naming something you are grateful for or something you appreciate about someone else in the family.
  • Snuggly Bedtime Thanks– Ask your kids as you tuck them in at night, what’s one thing they’re really thankful for.
  • Thank you notes– Write thank you notes to friends, family members, teachers, neighbors. In her book Raising Happiness Christine Carter talks about a research-based method called the “gratitude visit”. Your kids write a thank you note and then pay an in-person visit to the recipient and read their thank you note aloud to him/her. Children feel so great about expressing their appreciation and having it be received.

Get creative and have fun. Over time you and your children will develop this skill more fully and you will notice the difference that gratitude and appreciation will make in your kids’ lives.

 

Authenticity

young-girl-fairy-princessChildren are brilliant. They are wise, honest and authentically themselves at each and every moment. When I say to my niece, “Do you like my new scarf?”, she doesn’t bat an eye before she sweetly, lovingly, candidly says, “No, I don’t.” It’s a precious gift we come into this world with–this ability to inhabit our fullness: our entire range of emotion, our preferences, our personality and, on a deeper level our radiance and our essential nature.

Tragically, as we move through the world our authentic self receives messages from the world around us to shrink, hold back, be polite, conform, be less of ourselves.  To me this is the greatest tragedy of human kind and that which leads to the myriad of darkness and pain on our planet. It breaks my heart when I really sink into it. But, as Mary Oliver says, “I tell you this to break your heart,by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world.” Like you, my heartbreaks lead to my greatest openings and this one guides me on my path and strengthens my intention for this upcoming year: To trust deeply in my authentic self, allowing her to radiate and shine in all her brightness. In turn, I create space for the children I work with and heal to radiate and shine in their brightness and authenticity.

870436Child-Flying-a-Kite-at-SunsetAs Lance Secretan says, “Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart and feet–thinking, saying, feeling and doing the same thing consistently. This builds trust and followers love leaders they can trust.” Trust is the foundation for relationship. And children are those followers who not only love but need leaders they can trust. They need us to provide context and ground for their experiences. When we are inauthentic, a child feels it and becomes very confused. When met with a caregiver who offers an inauthentic response, the child becomes extremely dys-regulated. She will unconsciously either up the ante or shut down emotionally. It may be a process that happens bit by bit, but it happens.

So what does authenticity look like?

Imagine this, you just walked by a neighbor who is aggressively yelling at his family and even you yourself are terrified. When you tell your child, “It’s ok, everything is fine,” your child will doubt her own experience and internalize a sense of mistrust in herself and her environment. She will form a mis-association between a deep sense of confusion, fear and things being fine. When inauthenticity takes place repeatedly, children learn that their feelings are not trustworthy, because mommy or daddy isn’t ok with feelings. She will stay in a subtle state of stress and this dys-regulation makes it difficult to relate, learn, focus, set boundaries and express. She will not know that it is safe to feel because no one every taught her that. Authenticity is the cornerstone of children’s emotional development and we need to do our own work so that we can offer this to them.

A child who is met with authenticity understands that humans have feelings and this is ok, it’s actually preferable. She trusts in her environment because she has experienced alignment of energy, words, body language and behavior from her caretakers–it has been consistent and it makes sense to her. As such, she knows how to express herself in a way that honors the truth of who she is and the boundaries she has. She can stand up for herself and have deep compassion for others. She feels safe allowing her radiance and her light beam through her by way of words, deeds, relationships and more.images1

When we were the child in the former scenario, it isn’t always easy to be authentic as an adult. But it is essential if we want to raise our children in this conscious, loving, Truthful way. So we do our own work. We set out on a journey to reclaim the parts of ourselves that were not allowed to show up. We allow our children to see us doing this and we even let them know that this is our path.

And I leave you with this–a quote from Marianne Williamson, a woman truly embodied in her authenticity. Oh and, she’s running for Congress on a very unique platform. Check her out… http://www.marianneforcongress.com

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

 

From Power Struggles to Connection

sad_womanShe sits in my office on the verge of tears, the feelings of desperation and helplessness emanating through the quakes in her voice. She says things like, “Is there something wrong with him?” “I feel like this is all my fault,” “He’s running our house–we all walk on eggshells around him.” She has tried everything she can think of. She is scared for him, she is scared of him. And she doesn’t know what to do to turn the nasty undertone in their household around.

This is not the story of one specific mother that I have worked with. It’s many of the mothers and fathers that have come to my office and asked me for help. While there are sometimes some deep-rooted challenges the child may be facing that need to be addressed, in any situation we can work on turning around the negative dynamic that is pervading the household and leading the parent to feel out of control and inadequate.

Digging Up The Roots colorful_tree_with_roots_poster-r4ca6540c56d044fab5403616c6e8ce34_2zn1_8byvr_512
When we look at a child’s negative behavior and all we see is negativity, we often label it as angry, mean or nasty. But when we excavate further and dig up the roots of this behavior we may discover something that elicits a lot more compassion and empathy. At the root of an angry and frustrated child’s behavior is overwhelm, fear, hurt, sadness, and all-around stress. This is what changes the way lens through which we view it. When I see my child as scared and hurting (rather than angry or nasty) my capacity for compassion is far greater. Ask yourself, what is going on in his world that may be causing him this much hurt? It may be a change in the family, in your work schedule, a situation at school, a recent loss in the family. It’s not always clear what the source of the behavior is but if we can determine the change that may be making him feel this way we can work with it, give him tools to cope with it and give or get him support around it.

What is the benefit?
The next crucial piece that I work with parents around is this: What is the benefit of her behavior? What is she getting out of it? How is it helping her accomplish what she is trying to achieve, even if it feels maladaptive? When we understand the need beneath the symptom, we can address the need and typically the symptom lessens or goes away entirely. It is in a child’s DNA to say “no!”, particularly to parents who are their safety net. When a child learns to say no at home she is getting excellent practice for the real world: for asserting herself, having a voice, having power. When we hear the child’s no (which doesn’t mean we give in to it), we are reinforcing that we want them to be in their power. “I hear how hard that is for you!” “I don’t blame you for not wanting to stop,” “I get it! You don’t want to do it right now.” Each of these validating statements sends the message to the child that it’s ok for him/her to have a voice. It doesn’t always mean they’re going to get their way. That’s where the next piece comes in.

Parents in Charge
Children need boundaries. They feel safe within them. Children want to know that their parents are confident and in charge. Using Daniel Siegel’s terms, it’s that balance point in between chaos and rigidity in which a child feels safe. When the parent can come to the child with a spirit of genuine authority, the child can rest confidently knowing that mom or dad is in charge and he/she can go on being the kid. He no longer needs to be the one in control of the situation. And when the parent shows up confident, empathic and understanding of what is driving the child’s behavior, once again he doesn’t need to resort to those same tactics to be heard and seen, to get connection and to have a voice. She knows that dad is listening without her having to “turn up the energetic volume”.

The Connection Foundation
For all of this to work and make sense for a child, we need to start with a foundation of connection. Children of all ages are longing for connection with their parents, even when their behavior seems to demonstrate the opposite. This may mean ten minutes of listening to music together. It may mean that you sit on the floor and play legos, take a drive to a special place and go for a picnic or plan a movie night together. What is your child passionate about? Get curious about this and authentically take an interest in it, even if it doesn’t directly correspond to your passions. Show your child that you want to connect with him by listening to him and appreciating him. Never dismiss your child’s opinions and beliefs. Saying, “Thanks for sharing that with me. I will consider it,” or (if it’s not up for consideration) “I appreciate your opinion, honey, but that doesn’t work for us today.”ist2_2890658_mother_and_child_holding_hands

What do you need to feel more confident and grounded as a parent? What will help you trust your intuition and believe in your capacity to show up in your fullest? What if your child’s behavior was exactly what needed to be happening in order to make something critical happen in your life and that of your family?

Power struggles are challenging for all parents, but when we reframe the way we see our child and his/her behavior, we can create shifts in the family dynamic that may have gone awry. We can regain an authentic sense of control of our vessel and foster an environment that allows everyone to be heard and seen the way they need to.

How to keep from getting flooded

 Helping our children (and ourselves) navigate the emotional impact of the Boulder floods

The floods that took place in Boulder and throughout Colorado last week changed the lives of so many in our community, perhaps forever. While the immediate danger seems to be over and we are on our way to picking up the pieces and rebuilding, I want to take some time to acknowledge what we have experienced and the emotional impact it may be having on us.

It is clear that our amazing community is flocking together in a powerful way in the aftermath of these historic floods. This is the connection and gratitude that a powerful event such as this can bring to light—we are all in this together. It sometimes takes an event such as this to guide us into acting congruently with that truth. Simultaneously, however, I am seeing a lot of trauma responses that indicate a heightened level of fear pervading our community. Some of us have been in “go-mode” throughout all of this, working around the clock to help others (or ourselves) clean up basements, clear out mud and debris, organize clothing drives, find housing etc.  We have willingly sacrificed health, time, energy and more in order to remedy the situation and/or help others. Others of us have totally checked out and are going through the motions of our day-to-day existence while numbing out to the reality of the devastation that has happened around us.

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However you choose to respond to it, the heightened level of fear and anxiety that is in our collective field is having an impact on you. I see it in the children I work with—parents bringing them in saying, “I don’t think she’s too perturbed by it.”—when in session the child demonstrates deep and intense feelings of fear and overwhelm directly related to the flood. I see it in myself and my friends—giving and helping until we become run down, overwhelmed or depleted, no longer being able to serve anyone effectively.  In order to move through this experience without losing ourselves, it’s so important that we acknowledge the emotions and energy that are around us. And for children, it is all the more important that we talk to them about the floods since it has impacted them directly and significantly.

Here are some tips and strategies for communicating with children about what’s happened. And some important strategies for all-around self-care in the aftermath of a traumatic event:

*Stay in your body. Feel your feet on the ground. Breathe fresh air.

*Self care is not selfish. We don’t have to be martyrs and it can’t all get done at once. Take time out to be kind and gentle to yourself.

And specifically when talking to children…

*Let them know the truth of what has happened in an age-appropriate manner.

*Talk to children about the feelings that you’ve had throughout all of this and where you feel them in your body. Let them express their feelings to you.

*Listen.

*Let your child know that he/she can ask you questions about any of it and you’ll do your best to answer. Remember that it’s ok to say, “I don’t know.” Never tell a child, “It will never happen again.” Rather, you can say, “Things like this happen very rarely and our community works hard to prepare so that people, houses and schools are safe.”

*Stay focused on feelings of safety and togetherness. Amidst the anxiety it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that we are ok, even if we have endured a lot. Talk to children about how glad you are that your family is safe, that you can go to the store and get the things you need, etc.

*Help your children stay in their bodies. Massage them, have them dig in dirt or sand, take walks, swing, play, dance and sing.

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*Limit exposure to media. Turn off the news when they are home. Children do not need to be exposed to constant images of destruction. By turning off news when children are home you can better ensure that the information they receive comes from trusted adults, especially yourself.

*Use art and play to allow children to express what they are feeling. Pay attention to the feelings that arise as the child is playing, drawing, etc. rather than the actual content. Play is a phenomenal way for a child to process a stressful or traumatic experience.

*Take time away from your clean-up efforts to spend time and connect with your children. In the wake of a natural disaster, they need that one-on-one time now more than ever.

*Children are concrete thinkers so concrete facts and information can help them understand a situation. Use resources to help them understand the natural phenomena that caused the flooding. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a great website for kids on weather: http://www.crh.noaa.gov/gid/?n=weatherforkids.

If you feel like you need more help or support for communicating with your children about the flood, please feel free and call me. I am happy to help you create a narrative to share with your child about this experience or offer any other support you may be needing in this intense time.

Remember, children learn best by observing the adults around them. Practicing good self-care, staying grounded and being open to the emotions that arise are some of the best ways you can help your child move through this experience with greater ease.

 

Camp Connect: What A Week!

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From August 5 through the 16th my colleague Mia Bertram and I brought two groups of kids together, each with us for a week, to be a part of a pretty special summer camp. Camp Connect is a program that helps children learn to cultivate relationships, regulate their emotions, express their feelings, ask for what they need all in a spirit of compassion and staying connected to oneself. We use art, music, yoga, play, theater, story-telling, games and more to give children a rich experience and a variety of modalities through which they can express themselves. With two highly trained and experienced play therapists as the facilitators and music therapists, art therapists and yoga teachers as our guests, the kids got a pretty unique level of support. And the changes that we got to witness over the week were amazing.

We observed children going from feeling overwhelmed and dys-regulated in the group setting, to making friends and connecting in meaningful ways. We witnessed kids self-advocating, standing up for themselves and asking for what they needed. Children who struggle to focus and regulate in group settings were doing yoga and learning the inherent value of listening to and staying in their bodies. And the brilliance of these groups of children in working together and coming up with invaluable strategies for expressing emotions (especially the big, hot yucky feelings), staying safe, respecting personal space and more… It was so much fun to watch and learn from these little ones.

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exploring what musical sounds we can make with paper

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breathing and listening in downward facing dog

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sitting in our personal space bubbles while Mia reads a story about personal space