Stress-Free Parenting Part 5: Connecting With Your Kids

I’ve been blogging the past month about stress-free parenting. This week, I’d like to focus on ways you can actively engage with your children when you don’t let stress get in your way.

We are all busy parents and also have many  other responsibilities and stresses, which we tend to believe prevent us from spending quality time with our precious children.

I think it’s important to look at the time you are spending with your kids. When you’re together, what do you do with them? What are you saying?

My girls are currently 6,9, and 12. I find that before school every morning, I’m mostly giving directions: “Get dressed, brush your teeth, put your pjs away, eat your breakfast, we’re going to be late, etc.” Then, when they get home, it’s, “How was your day? Are you hungry? Pick up your room, please.” At that point, I start cleaning up, making dinner, and then eventually catch up on emails when I can escape to my office.

In 2010, a study showed that the average mother spent 13.7 hours a week with her children (less than two hours a day). Part of the problem is parents often feel guilty about how much time they are spending with their kids, so they stress about its significance or let their guilt affect the way they parent. However, research has gone on to show that it’s not the amount of time you spend with your children that matters — it’s the quality of that time.

Reading that most parents spend so little time with their children made me sad. Our kids are so special — each and every one of them. I know that despite being busy and stressed with life, we can find more than just 10 minutes a day to actually enjoy our kids and appreciate the beauty of childhood.

One of the most profound quotes regarding childhood and our role as parents is, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” — Frederick Douglass

Creating strong, lasting relationships with our children has such a strong and long-lasting impact. You can’t go back and do parenthood over again with your children. Mental health prevention starts when your children are young. So many problems with young adults today stem from childhood experiences and habits. The more you know your children and work on your relationship now, the easier it will be as they get older.

The other morning, my 6-year-old came to me while I was working, saying, “Mommy mommy… Look at the new dance move I learned.” She was so excited to share her dance with me and while I make a big effort to play with her and listen to her I was in the middle of working on something important that was time sensitive. 

“I will be with you in few minutes,” I responded to her. I went back to finish what I was doing and a few seconds later I glanced toward her sweet little face — that a minute earlier was smiley and excited — and what I saw was her disappointed and sad face. 

I couldn’t resist and gave her a big hug and apologized. Yes, I know about delayed gratification and the importance of teaching children to learn how to be patient and wait, but it seems that many of us do that to our children way too often.

So I got up from my computer, sat on the floor, and asked her to show me her dance. Two minutes later I asked if she wanted me to find the song she was playing called “Sugar.” I blasted the song and for five minutes we danced and acted as silly as we could.

I hugged my daughter and told her how much I loved her. She gave me a big kiss. Then I told her that I had to finish working on something important, and she went back to her room to play.

I felt so happy and more motivated than before to do whatever I was doing. I connected with my 6-year-old and all she needed from me was a few moments of my time to know that she was loved and that I was attentive to her. She felt validated and important and I got the chance to spend a few minutes doing something fun and rewarding for me. 

What is my point? Yes, we are all busy people and there are things we have to get done as adults with many responsibilities. But if we pause to enjoy these small precious moments with our little ones, even if it means that we are doing something ridiculous or listening to something that we don’t care for, we’re sending such a strong message to our kids.

Try to spend whatever time you have and can with your children and make it quality time. You will discover a whole new world… 

When you are actively engaged with your child, the experience is so much more rewarding for both you and your child than if you are simply present with them physically. Make an effort to just be there and listen. Don’t judge or discourage your child… Practice being positive and just be. 

It’s a lot to think about when you are trying to always make everyone happy (including yourself). So here are a few guiding principles I like to think about:

  1. Practice mindfulness (whether you are at work or spending time with your kids, you should be mindful of that time)
  2. Don’t judge yourself
  3. Carve out time each week for special quality time with each one of your kids.

Stress-Free Parenting Part 4: Taking Control Of Bedtime

For many of you, this might make a lot of sense. For others, like my client Joana, bedtime is the most stressful time of the day for her and her family.

When I walked into Joana’s apt, she welcomed me with a big hug and said, “I hope that you can help me with putting my kids to sleep… last night I was screaming so loud both my kids and my next door neighbors must have thought I lost my mind…”

Joana has a daughter who is 6 and an older son who is 10. After talking to Johanna for 15 minutes, it was obvious that the stress she experienced at bedtime wasn’t just about her kids.

I knew that while she wasn’t looking for therapy, she needed some guidance and coaching not just with putting her kids to sleep.

I was honest with Johana and told her that since she asked for help with putting her kids to sleep, I would start with helping her in that area, but I also suggested we work on helping her deal with other stresses. 

As a first step I told Joana she needed to understand the following:

  1. She is 100% responsible for her emotions.
  2. She has the ability to control her thoughts. 

She, as many of my clients, looked at me like I was an alien, which I expected. But when I told her with confidence that thousands of my clients thought the same and changed their mind, she was open to the idea that maybe there is hope for her.

The following are the four tips that I gave her regarding reducing stress at bedtime. Since Joana was a pessimist by nature, I suggested  she recite to herself (and to me) that it is possible to have a less stressful bedtime routine.

When she first did it, she felt ridiculous and convinced me that it could never happen — but after reciting it three or four times she started laughing and I could see she was changing her mind. She also asked me if I was willing to come one night to observe her while she’s putting her kids to sleep and I agreed. I gave her the following as homework to practice before our following meeting and she promised to document her progress.

  1. Create a bedtime routine that kids will follow every night.
  2. No electronics after 7pm
  3. No sugar after 6:30 (for more about foods to avoid before bedtime, click here)
  4. Play slow music or sounds to create a relaxing environment. Some parents prefer books on tape, which is also a good alternative.

Joana worked on these four steps consistently and started making progress. Once she realized there were concrete things she could do about relieving stress surrounding bedtime, she stopped fearing it so much.

Stress Free Parenting Part 3 – How To Cope With The Big and Small Things

Rona was a client I worked with for two years. She has twin girls, who she tried to conceive for four years. As you can imagine, the whole process of trying to get pregnant will create an enormous level of stress for anyone, but for Rona who is the also the Chief Medical Advisor for a big medical practice, it was a particularly great stress.

She sought help only after her husband left her for another woman, when her twin girls were 6 months old. When Rona called me, her twins were 3 years old, and one of them had been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). People with ASD tend to have communication deficit, such as responding inappropriately in conversations, misreading nonverbal interactions, or having difficulty building friendships appropriate to their age. People with ADS can get highly dependent on routines, extremely sensitive to changes in their environment, or intensely focused on odd items. As you can imagine, Rona’s life became a lot more stressful after she found this out.

For those of you unfamiliar, or for those of you who are dealing with a very similar situation, I’ll give you a brief overview of some of the behaviors your child with ADS will exhibit.

In order to be considered ASD, there are two main areas where people must show persistent deficits:

  1. Social communication and social interaction
  2. Restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior

To put this in perspective, the CDC said in 2014, 1 in 68 American children fall on the Autism spectrum – which is a huge increase from previous years. Autism is way more prevalent in boys than girls. While no one really knows why, increased diagnosis and various environmental factors are believed to be part of the uptick.

So Rona asked me to help her come up with some simple strategies to alleviate the overwhelming feelings of stress she was dealing with, and upon further review, I found that these strategies aren’t all that specific to just Rona. Most parents can use these strategies to help them deal with their specific problems and stressful moments.

Here are four strategies that I encourage you to try this week:

  1. Find support from other parents with similar situations. Whether your child is diagnosed with Autism, or you are having trouble conceiving, or you are simply having difficulty finding a compatible nanny or getting your child into a particular school, support is extremely important as one can share information, get advice, and offer an ear of understanding when it comes to personal and professional situations. Knowing you aren’t alone in a situation is proven to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
  2. Remember to stop and look after yourself. As parents of children with or without special needs, we often forget to find time for ourselves. Finding 10-20 minutes a day to relax, read a book or paint your nails – something that is completely for yourself – will give you a new energy to be the parent you need to be for your children.
  3. Accept that as a parent you will experience stress, and when you experience stressful situations, remind yourself that it is normal to feel this way. Maybe you can even become creative and call feeling stressed something else? How about, “I am feeling excited!” I tried this a few times, and it would always make me laugh when I labeled my stress in some other way. Instead of defining yourself as the “always stressed out” parent, try to come up with a different way of perceiving yourself, even if it is silly and only serves to make you smile.
  4. Be realistic with the demands you put on yourself. I remember when I went back to work, I thought that I had more time than I actually had; I had very high expectations of myself. I found myself disappointed over and over again. When I changed my expectations and committed myself to complete at least one task a day, I found that I was completing more tasks than expected. Don’t make to do lists a mile long and chastise yourself for not finishing everything. Instead learn to prioritize. What is really important? If you are getting your children fed and to school and they are healthy, does it really matter that you didn’t get to organizing your closet like you had wanted to?

I’ve worked with clients who have dealt with everything from incredibly unique diagnoses to everyday parenting worries, but the common thread is parents of every walk of life feel stressed out from time to time. Reaching out to find specific support and coming up with strategies that you can employ regularly will give you confidence and the ability to work through taxing situations.

Stress Part 2: Start Your Week Stress-Free With This Simple Plan

Last week, I wrote about a few general tools you can use to prevent stress in your daily life. As part of this four-part series, today I’m going to talk specifically about starting off your Monday on the right foot to set the tone for the rest of the week.

For me, Mondays are my most stressful days. When I start to think about why, my head spins. My list is long: I have three kids in two different schools, a husband who has a demanding job, I work as the director of an eating disorder program and am constantly networking in my field, I have a daughter with braces who constantly has appointments, I’m sharing a nanny and it requires a lot of coordination with the other family, I have to buy groceries, I have to organize and clean the apartment, my family lives in Israel so I am constantly making an effort to keep in touch with them as it is ver important to me, and the list goes on and on and on…

Thinking about your own list like this will no doubt make your head spin as well. For you, it might be another day that really seems to be the pinnacle of your stressful week, but I imagine the beginning of the week is stressful for a lot of people. I’ve been thinking about ways I can de-stress at the beginning of the week so I stop dreading Mondays so much and here is the plan I’ve come up with and it seems to be working.

  1. Every Monday I wake up 15 minutes earlier than usual. This means not just setting the alarm earlier but actually getting out of bed a full 15 minutes before I do the rest of the week. Think of it like extra time for your most packed day of the week.
  2. Every Sunday, I plan ahead. I set a reminder for myself every Sunday at 8pm to sit down and plan out my week ahead. I write down all my daughters’ activities, the school functions I need to attend, and the playdates I need to coordinate so it’s all listed out.
  3. I set a reminder to take time on Monday to meditate on what I’m grateful for. If you literally set yourself a reminder to think about gratitude and focus on being present and enjoying every single moment as if it were your last, you’ll approach your to-do list with a totally different perspective. I tell myself I’m healthy, my kids are healthy, my loved ones are healthy and they care about me and my well-being, I love my job and every day I’m doing the best I can. This simple frame of mind helps de-stress me instantly.
  4. I commit to exercising for a minimum of 40 minutes a week. If you think about it, 40 minutes over five days isn’t such a big challenge, but sticking to it keeps me sane. It’s so important to exercise your body and your mind for a few minutes each day.

If you wake up on Mondays feeling overwhelmed, try some of these tactics and see how you feel! Leave me a comment and let me know how you start your week off on the right foot!