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6 Cures for Family Morning Madness

Family Eating BreakfastMornings with kids may be the most tiring part of the day, but parents often make it worse by getting caught in a cycle of nagging and yelling. Without meaning to, they train kids to expect to hear multiple times what they need to do to get ready.

“If you’re yelling at your kids, and things aren’t changing, then they’re not the slow learners here,” says Ann Pleshette Murphy, author of The 7 Stages of Motherhood: Loving Your Life without Losing Your Mind.

A certain amount of morning craziness is inevitable, but you can control it with a little detective work and planning. “Step outside the circus ring and figure out which of the acrobats is tripping you up,” says Murphy. Then, with your family’s help, ritualize the process of preparation. Here’s how:

Morning Madness Cure No. 1:

Start the day before, not the night before. The moment your kids get home from school (or as soon as you get home from work), begin organizing for the next morning, suggests certified professional organizer Kristi Meyer. Pull homework and lunch boxes out of their backpacks immediately. While you make dinner, have the kids pick out their snacks for the next day’s lunch. Make the rest of their lunch then and clean up just once.

Morning Madness Cure No. 2:

Set the stage. After the dinner dishes are cleared, ask your kids to set the table for breakfast. Before bed, have (or help) them lay out their clothes for the next day. Put their coats, boots and backpacks (with completed homework) in their designated spot (yes, you should have one) so they won’t have to hunt them down in the morning.

Morning Madness Cure No. 3:

Tuck them in on time. Set an early bedtime so they get enough sleep to wake up focused and energized.

Morning Madness Cure No. 4:

Beat the crowds. Get up at least 15 minutes before your kids do so you have a few minutes alone — with your coffee — to prepare for the day. You’ll be better able to cope when the mad dash begins.

Morning Madness Cure No. 5:

Give them enough time. Set the alarm for your kids at a time that allows them to complete their morning routine comfortably. Build in some cushion for them to chill out or cuddle with you too. A lot of morning dawdling or crankiness is really a cry for connection, says Murphy.

Morning Madness Cure No. 6:

Limit the breakfast options. Create a weekly menu or a small list of choices, such as yogurt and granola, healthy cereal with fruit, or hard-boiled eggs and toast. You can even prepare smoothie ingredients ahead and store them in the refrigerator overnight. Keep it simple. Few decisions make for peaceful mornings.

Adding controls can greatly reduce morning madness and nagging. Be patient, though: New routines require explanation and practice. Think ahead and get your children involved. Then prepare to have a great day!

Family Fitness: Stretches Everyone Will Love

Happy healthy family making gym exercisesDuring the winter, it can be difficult to get yourself, not to mention your family, to do any exercise. Now toss a PANDEMIC with social distancing and quarantines into the mix!!! My suggestion: Get everyone going with a gentle stretch session. Stretching will not only help relieve stress, but also energize your entire body. It’s also a great way to get kids moving in a focused manner.

Below are a few great stretches for you and your family to enjoy. All you need is comfortable clothing, a carpeted floor (or a yoga/exercise mat on hardwood), lighting that’s easy on the eyes and down- to mid-tempo music. On a last note, if you are going to help one another stretch, heed the advice of Dr. Timothy McCall in Yoga As Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing: Adjustments should be gentle, like the “laying on of hands” from biblical folklore. Never push too hard or tug too firmly. Remember: You are attempting to reduce, not aggravate, stress!

Cat/Cow Sequence: Moving Your Spine

Nothing feels as good as getting your spine moving, which is why many yoga classes begin with a simple cat/cow sequence. It loosens the muscles around your spine and gets blood flowing into your shoulders and intestines, which helps digestion.

  • Begin on your hands and knees with your hands placed directly underneath your shoulders, and your knees placed directly below your hips.
  • With your inhale, allow your midsection to relax while you draw your shoulders together on your back and gently gaze up. Try not to arch your neck too much; instead let your shoulder blades guide your gaze upward slightly. Let your tailbone lift and feel your sit bones widen.
  • Begin to draw your belly button in and up as you exhale, tucking your chin into your chest and rounding your upper back, like you are pushing the floor away. Try not to cramp up around your neck; there should be a stretch, but you don’t want your collarbones to feel as if they are being pinched together. As your navel pulls up and in, your tailbone will lengthen, giving you a nice release in your lower back. Repeat for 10-15 breaths.

Cobra: Energize While Calming

After you finish your cat/cow stretches, lie flat on your stomach for Bhujangasana, or Cobra. If you’ve ever read Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, you might recall that “the Swede’s” father had no affiliation with yoga but did Cobra every day to alleviate stress. It’s also a wonderful pose to do if you’re feeing sluggish and tired, as it offers you a burst of energy.

  • Place your hands next to your chest, with your thumbs just behind the level of your armpits. Allow your forehead or chin to rest on the ground.
  • Keeping your hands on the ground, begin to draw your shoulder blades onto your back, like you were trying to squeeze your elbows together. Press the top of your feet firmly into the ground; this is important, as you don’t want to clench your butt and tighten your lower back.
  • As you draw your elbows in, begin to gently straighten your arms. (They most likely won’t straighten fully; don’t force it.) Let the action of your shoulders begin to lift your chest and, lastly, your head. It’s important to keep your pelvis (around where you’d wear a belt) on the ground. Cobra pose is an energizing movement that really works your shoulders and upper back. When lifting your pelvis, you are relying on arm strength (and probably crunching your low back). After a few breaths, easily lower your head back to the ground. Repeat five to eight times.

Child’s Pose: Finding Strength in Relaxation

Perhaps the most relaxing pose is Child’s Pose. It stretches your lower back and hip flexors, as well as your ankles.

  • After your Cobra sequence, place your hands underneath your shoulders and gently press your seat to your heels, allowing your upper body to rest on your thighs. Don’t worry if it does not reach, especially if your hips are tight; again, don’t force any of these movements. If this position bothers your knees, roll a towel or blanket up and place it behind the backs of your knees, as this will take pressure off the joints.
  • Either rest your arms straight out in front of you or next to your hips, with your head on the ground (or a block or pillow, if this position bothers your upper back or neck).
  • Take 10 deep breaths into your lower back. With every exhale, see if you can allow your hips to rest downward a little more.

Twisting out the Rest

Twisting will not only calm your nervous system, but also stimulate digestion, which can also be very helpful around this time of year!

  • Slowly lift yourself out of Child’s Pose to sit on your heels. If this bothers your knees, you can sit cross-legged. If sitting on the ground doesn’t feel good, you can sit in a chair.
  • Place your left hand outside of your right thigh and easily twist your upper body to the right. Try not to twist your hips; allow the twist to begin in your abdominal region, using your shoulders drawing together once again to accentuate the movement.
  • Feel like you’re growing taller with each inhale, and as you exhale, draw your navel into your lower back and shoulders together a little more to enhance the twist. You can rest your right hand on the ground behind you, though you don’t want to feel like you’re leaning back at all.
  • Take 8-10 long breaths here. Slowly return to center, take a breath and try the other side.

Dear Santa…Please Keep My Family Safe

Every year children all across the country and the world make lists to Santa. Wishes for new bikes and dolls and don’t forget the very latest toy. Childhood wishes and childhood dreams. Every year though children are poisoned by holiday plants; are electrocuted by holiday decorations. Parents die in drunk-driving collisions.

Dear Santa letter2As a paramedic my partner and I responded one Christmas morning to an unknown medical. When we arrived we walked past a Christmas tree completely surrounded by presents as well as two young children eagerly awaiting both parents arrival so the day’s festivities could begin. The husband met us and led us to the master bedroom. Mom was dead- had died several hours earlier. The holidays are hard times for many people even people with love, and family and friends. Some people make choices during the holiday they might not make during other times of the year. There was nothing we could do and not a more helpless feeling we could feel.

What’s amazing to me is that this call was over 20 years ago. I had no other involvement that what I stated yet I still remember it- every Christmas season. The children would be grown by now. I bet that they too still remember. I bet they still feel different about Christmas than do many of their friends.

I bet if those kids could go back in time their wishes would simply be to have Mom with them for many more years to come. So please place safety at the very top of your Santa list. As adults we need to assure the health and safety of our kids and we can’t afford a break over the holiday season.

The lyrics of one of my favorite holiday songs perhaps say it best.

My Grown Up Christmas List

….”As children we believed
The grandest sight to see
Was something shiny
Wrapped beneath the tree

But heaven only knows
That packages and bows
Can never heal
A hurting human soul

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end

Oh, This is my grown up Christmas list”

Mindful Meditation for Families – Calm the Chaos

One path toward shifting your thoughts, particularly your judgmental or negative thoughts is through sustained non-judgmental attention or meditation. Meditation is the experience of sustaining one’s focus on a thought, word, sensation or sound in order to calm the mind. Mindful meditation is the act of calming your mind and body through non-judgmental sustained attention.

If you are prone to rumination, negative thinking or catastrophizing, mindful meditation is a skill you may wish to explore. If you find that you are overwhelmed with work, life, people, finances, holidays or parenting cultivating a sense of peace and calm, developing more neutral thoughts, and appreciating what you have in the moment will likely help decrease your experience of stress. Health benefits abound for families.

Let’s say you are ready to feel better, to think more positively and to feel less distressed. Begin by simply adding ten minutes of mindful meditation to your day. You can do it in the morning right when you wake up, in the evening before you go to sleep or anytime you feel fidgety, anxious, overwhelmed, sad, angry or depressed. Meditation can take place anywhere, in the mall, in the swimming pool, or in your car. You need not “go somewhere” to meditate. Meditate where ever you are.

Start with your “Beginner’s Mind” allowing yourself to relax into the experience as though you have never been in this moment before.

  1. Sit in an upright position with your ribs aligned over your hips and your shoulders aligned over your ribs. (I prefer to lie down, you can as well, if you wish)
  2. Close your eyes to reduce distraction and breath.
  3. 1-2-3 in, 1-2-3 out, in through your nose out through your nose or mouth.
  4. Bring your focus into your breath, feel your breath moving in and out, see your breath, color your breath, feel your breath oxygenate your blood and feed the cells of your body.
  5. When your mind wanders in a relaxed manner, bring your focus back to your breath.
  6. Feel your body relax, experience your minds reflections.

For children who are restless, consider having them lay with a warm blanket or a heating pad. Often the warmth and containment in space help them relax. Music from Stressfreekids.com is also a great help. In fact, I use their stories and sounds in my office regularly.

After about fifteen minutes you may slowly open your eyes and note how you feel calm, refreshed and ready for what life has in store for you. Over time you may choose to extend your mindful moments. You may choose to meditate up to 45 minutes a day. You may choose to meditate or pay mindful attention when you grocery shop, pump gas, or talk with your neighbor. Feel the intimacy in your relationships grow as you give your conversational experiences with friends, your undivided mindful attention.

You may bring mindfulness into your parenting by increasing your undistracted, sustained attention with your children. Through mindfulness, you will naturally experience being more “present” with your children. You may lose your keys less often and even yell less, as your mindful experiences allow you to live more peacefully and non-judgmentally in the moment.

Peaceful moments to you.

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For books and resources you may choose to visit The UCLA Semel Institute and The UCSD Center for Mindfulness.

How to Get Your Kids to “Hear” You

Getting our kids to listenIt’s a basic premise for successful parenting: You tell your kids what you want them to do, and they do it. But how often do you resort to yelling or pestering to get that result?

The problem may be you, not your kids, according to parenting expert Dr. Michele Borba, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries and 22 other books. “We blame the kids for not listening; we tune in to them instead of ourselves,” says Borba. “You have to ask yourself, ‘What could I be doing?’ It’s not just what you say; it’s what you do.”

Getting kids to listen takes a time commitment on your part, both in terms of changing your behavior and getting your message across. These 9 steps will help you gain your children’s respect and compliance.

  1. Don’t ask; tell.
    Your kids shouldn’t be doing you a favor; they should be respecting what you say. So don’t turn your statements into questions. “Make sure your comment has a period after it,” says Borba. Watch out for that throwaway ending: “OK?”
  2. Lower your voice.
    It will catch their attention. “ They’re not used to you talking quietly; they’re used to you using the opposite tone,” says Borba.
  3. Be brief and clear.
    Keep it to 10 seconds. If you spend more time than that, they’ll tune you out.
  4. Make sure they’ve heard you.
    Have your kids parrot back what you’ve just said. You’ll know for sure they understand, and it will reinforce the message that you mean business. (Note: This step requires an additional 10-second time commitment on your part.)
  5. Look them in the eye.
    “Get eyeball-to-eyeball instead of talking across the room,” advises Borba. Squat or bend over to make direct contact if need be.
  6. Be realistic.
    If your child is engrossed in something — a game, a book, a TV show — don’t expect him to drop it instantly and swing around to listen to you. (Would you be able, or willing, to do the same if you were in the middle of something?)
  7. Stand your ground.
    Literally. If you don’t get timely compliance, go to your kids and plant your feet in front of them. You don’t have to say anything more. They’ll get the message and know you mean business. “Your expectation is that they stop what they’re doing and listen,” says Borba. “And you’re going to stand there until they do it.”
  8. Take action.
    If they still don’t budge, walk over and turn off the TV or take away the book. “You’re now retraining your kids: “You don’t listen, you don’t watch. This is how we behave,” says Borba.
  9. Model respectful behavior.
    Say “please” the first time you call for their attention or tell them what you want them to do. Say “thanks” when they do it. Think of what you’re showing your kids and ask yourself if you would want them to copy it.

It may take awhile for your kids to change their behavior, especially if they’ve been tuning you out for a long time. But it may also take you awhile to change yours. The good news is, according to Borba: It’s never too late to get your kids to listen to you and follow through. In the process, you just may teach them a thing or two about asking for, and expecting to be treated respectfully by others – and that would make this an invaluable lesson for both of you.

Mom is Sick. How to Avoid Kids & Dog Taking Charge

Professional dog trainers talk a lot about being the ‘pack leader’ and setting solid rules, boundaries and guidelines for our animals as well as our kids. We discuss the importance of being consistent so that our kids and animals know what to expect and what is expected of them. But what happens when we are not at our best due to illness or injury? What sort of dangers or difficulties may we encounter during these times? Especially when we are the primary rule makers and enforcers?

The number one ‘reaction’ I have repeatedly encountered with both children and animals is Insecurity. The ‘unknown’ can be scary for all of us and can make us worried, fearful, apprehensive, and a host of other feelings we might go through. And as parents, it’s instinctual to want to shield your children from these unpleasant feelings. We try to smile and act like everything is okay, and for a little while, it may work. But no one can hide these feelings forever. You suddenly find yourself short tempered, frustrated, weepy, etc. And often, it is over silly insignificant little things. So, you started out trying to ‘protect’ your kids, and now you are snapping at them and everyone is walking on eggshells.

Now let’s look at the family dog: You can ‘paste’ that smile on your face and tell them that everything is okay, but they can see right through the facade. Or more accurately, they can see, hear, smell and feel right through it. Words have little to no value to dogs. If you said to your dog, “Rex, I’ll let you out in a few minutes, then we’ll go to the park and practice “SIT” and “STAY”, what they heard was…“REX, blah blah OUT blah blah PARK blah blah SIT blah STAY.

Why? Because they don’t understand words like we do (except for the ones they have heard repeatedly.) They communicate through scent, body language, voice inflections, and gestures. A good example is the sentence “What did you do?” If you smile and say it in a happy excited voice, the tail will wag furiously, and they will circle you for pats and love. However, those same four words said with your arms across your chest, a scowl on your face, and in an angry tone will have them running to hide! When your entire demeanor shifts involuntarily, they feel it!! They know when something is wrong.

So, how can this inconsistency affect your household?

I can best answer this question by sharing with you a recent experience I encountered:

I got my dog Reilley at 3.5 months old. He had a few negative behaviors even as a puppy, such as resource guarding his toys and food around other dogs (see my article Recognizing a dog’s body language before your child gets bitten’ to understand what resource guarding is.) I had to work hard to help him overcome this. I run a dog boarding and training business… it simply would NOT do if MY dog had issues that could potentially put a client’s dogs at risk! So we worked on socializing Reilley with kids and with other dogs.

All was going well and according to my plan, until I needed surgery on my leg. And although I did my best to act like the surgery was no big deal, I was scared and nervous. I saw a few subtle changes in my dog’s behavior, but nothing that overly concerned me. When I came home from surgery, I was lying in bed recuperating and I enjoyed having Reilley lying on the bed next to me keeping me company and cuddling with me. My mom had come to town to help and Reilley’s care was taken over by her and my husband. Everything seemed relaxed and my recovery was going well.

It did not take me long to realize that something big had changed for my dog. This dog who had been social and outgoing with every dog and person who arrived here was suddenly standing back, guarded, and growling at dogs and people! I had seen dogs react negatively to change before, but it had always seemed to affect their behaviors (actions)… a previously housebroken dog starts having accidents, or they are not listening to commands they know very well…. But this was a huge change in his personality, and I did not understand it. So I asked for help. I described what I was seeing to my dog trainer friends through the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP) and sought their guidance. Although their advice made total sense to me after the fact, I must admit I was a bit surprised at first with what they all had to say.

  • Prior to my surgery I was the primary rule maker as well as the rule enforcer. Not that Reilley grew up in a prison, but there were a number of rules we had set that we lived by every day, and they worked for us (e.g. I poured his food and he sat and waited for permission to eat). My husband on the other hand, was a “dump the food in the bowl and walk away” kind of guy. And Reilley, like a lot of kids who hate rules but in reality, NEED them, didn’t do well when the rules actually went away. My inability to enforce the rules he was used to living by had left my dog feeling insecure and unsure
  • Because I was the ‘pack leader’ in my house, I was the person in charge of welcoming guests into our home – I maintained order. With others caring for me, I was no longer the “leader” enforcing calm and overseeing who had permission to be there. I was no longer the protector. In the absence of my leadership, he became confused and began to question our roles…I was the sick and injured member of the ‘pack’, maybe it was HIS job to protect me and not the other way around.
  • Finally, because dogs can be so child-like in their actions and reactions, seeing his leader so scared and vulnerable made him very nervous and insecure. (Not so dissimilar to a child realizing for the first time that a parent is fallible or does not always have the answers.)

You may be thinking, ‘what’s the big deal, your dog growled at some other dogs.’ But consider this… what if there were children that he was growling at? An insecure or fearful dog can be an unpredictable one.

So what if you, as the primary care-giver suddenly became ill or injured?

How do you help your family (including the family dog) acclimate to this time of crisis? How do you help them through it when you are in pain or feeling miserable and are temporarily unable to be the ‘enforcer’?

The two most important answers I can give you are preparation and communication.

I. Preparation: Obviously this applies more so when you have to go for surgery or something similar that you know about in advance. But even though injuries and illness are often unexpected events, there is still some planning you can do ahead of time, so you are ready if the need should arise.

  • Spend time talking with your significant other, or, if you are a single parent, chose one or two family members or friends you trust with the health and well being of your kids and pets.
  • Make a full list of schedules and routines that include……
    • what time the kids get up, head out for school or the bus, get home from school, and when homework is typically done,
    • what time and day each child has an extracurricular activity, what time they eat supper, approved and not-approved snacks, and what time they need to be in bed. You can also include how much screen time they can have, and approved ‘viewing’ items.
    • Make sure you include things in your list like how you personally reward your child for a job well done or correct or discipline your child for not doing what they are supposed to. (e.g. do they earn stickers on a wall chart or cookies with milk?)
  • While it is a child’s job to push boundaries and try to get away with stuff, even though they think they want these ‘perks’, in the end, it can be quite unsettling for them to suddenly get their way because it varies from the normal routine which can again make them insecure and fearful.
  • Remember to update this list frequently, as schedules and routines may change or vary.

Now, as for the dog:

  • Do not assume just because the family pet is like another child to you, that everyone else will feel the same way. Make sure the person who agreed to stay and help with the kids is also okay with taking care of the dog.
  • Create a similar list for the dogs that you did for the kids, with the dog’s regular routine.
  • Include in the list behaviors that you approve of and do not approve of so that they can follow through (ie: allowed on furniture, allowed to jump up on people when greeting people, etc)
  • Do some research on local boarding facilities just in case it is too much for the person caring for the children to care for the dog as well. This way it is a comfortable choice and not a last-minute decision that keeps you up worried.

II. Communication is vital for all parties involved… whether it is being honest with your kids about what is going on (within reason and age appropriate of course) or talking very openly with the person you have entrusted your kids care to. This reduces so much stress for everyone involved…. Including you! The last thing you want if you become sick or injured is to worry about your household becoming an unruly chaotic place. This can cause the kids to act out, and this is especially important if you happen to have a special needs child whose life is all about the schedules and routines they have come to depend on. And since the family dog tends to feed off the emotions of the family, why risk him being on edge and nervous or fearful…. Which can lead to behavior changes ranging from accidents in the house, to all out aggression.

So I will wrap this up with one last piece of advice: If you are on the other end of this, meaning you did not see this list prior to this scenario happening, and you find yourself now dealing with a chaotic household, heed the advice of Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music when she says, “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start”…

Don’t be afraid to go back to basics with both the kids and the dog.

For the dog, it might be going back to some crate training and basic commands to remind them you are in charge; for the kids, same thing. 😛 Just kidding…for the kids, it may be being very strict about routines. Whatever you did when they were young to have your house chaos-free and running smooth, repeat until you are back there again. It will not be a lengthy process to back-track a bit, but it may be very useful to help get everyone back on track. The ‘basics’ bring with it a familiarity that everyone may need for now.

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