First of all, your child’s progress or relapse has a direct relationship to your energy and emotional stability. If your […]
“The Child Experience” TIPS FOR STEADY PROGRESS CALMING YOURSELF & YOUR CHILD By Dr. Roxanne Daleo The following are relaxation […]
In today’s increasingly complex, and sometimes harried world, our children are more vulnerable to symptoms of stress. Feelings of anger, worry, nervousness, depression and loneliness can escalate for children who are unaware of how to manage stressful events. Both positive and negative life events can cause stress in the mind/body system. Children’s inability to know how to manage these types of emotions may be displayed in behaviors such as angry outbursts, impulsivity, aggressiveness, defiance and withdrawal. Disconnection from emotions may also be exhibited in physical symptoms such as headaches, changes in eating and sleeping patterns and lowered immune responses. This can be distressing for children at all ages and for the parents and teachers working with these children. Scientific findings in mind/body studies assure us
the body’s wisdom has a built-in mechanism for regaining clam and balance if we learn skills to elicit the relaxation response. But it seems the most common reaction to stress is to ignore the warning signs, missing the opportunity to restore well-being using natural methods. More importantly, parents must find within their own apparatus the spontaneous ability to parent with power.
Often, I am approached by parents of middle school students whose kids are expected to keep up with the accelerated pace of academic and social life. This pressure includes the preparation for standardized testing and excessive use, almost an addictive quality of connecting with peers through mobile devices. Ask your child to put away his phone and you would have thought you’d asked him to cut off a limb! The intense objection is so alarming, most parents are at loss for their authority in the moment and give up.
If parents themselves haven’t already rushed to get their kids on prescription drugs -thinking this will help; many more kids are smoking marijuana to decompress or buying medication from their peers to ease the chronic anxiety they feel.
What is happening to our kids? In this age of technology there is more dysfunction than function. Our culture is promoting numbing out.
I believe what is missing is the tolerance for discomfort, for “not knowing”. What do I mean by tolerance? I mean we are human beings having a human experience and part of that is having a range of emotions from happy to disappointment from frustration to anger from sadness to pain. All of our feelings there to be felt, appreciated and most importantly grow from. Often discomfort informs us of a need for change, readjustment and adaptability.
Do you notice your family atmosphere is more chaotic than calm, more frantic than fun?
What is missing is the ability to establish a feeling of inner strength, security, confidence and feeling good about yourself —no matter what is happening in life.
I believe what is essential is for parents to reclaim your power to parent, not by using a particular strategy but by recognizing the absolute potency of attachment, specifically “bonding” with your child. When you know how to strengthen the bond you have with your child, you draw him closer. You do this when you act as his compass point. And one of the easiest way to
develop this skill and bonding experience is to make time to be with him. To be present.
Discover together the pleasure of hiking the unmarked trail.
Turn off the cell phone and turn on your physicality with your child. Get outdoors-shoulder to shoulder, stay close, give of yourself, tell him your story as you walk in nature, breathe, feel the freedom, the expansiveness, the life force energy all around you! Allow the “not knowing” of where the trail will take you to become the way of being in the moment…moment by moment…allow the “not knowing” to connect you and keep you safe…allow the “not knowing” to let your child lean on you as a guide…
Here’s the secret sauce: Give your child something of you that he cannot get from his peers, devices, or drugs. Tellyour story, it is the most powerful thing that distinguishes you from everyone else!
Perhaps, you could take a picnic lunch, sit under a tree or by a waterway and tell your story.
A story of a time in your life when you felt anxious, scared, afraid and what you did to help yourself. Maybe it was that you took vigorous bike rides to cope or ran as fast as you could to blow off steam, wrote in a journal, painted, sculpted, took out hammer and nails and build something. Whatever it was, it is the most powerful form of connection you can use to restore the attachment relationship.
What is the quality of a parent “being present”? Presence has the quality of staying with; feeling with. When you can feel with your child, the feelings of discomfort as well as that of pleasure, you model “being present” to all emotions. You are actually holding a space inside your heart, not rushing to take away the pain, but instead, being able to give witness, support and reassurance in an energetic way of being with the pain, first and foremost. Rather than rushing to take action which pushes the pain away or denies it.
We always rush to take the pain from our child or avoid it in the first place.
We can only foster emotional intelligence by flexing the muscles of maturity to withstand unwanted emotions; to feel and accept them thereby developing inner strength. Discomfort allows us to stretch ourselves to make room for discomfort without pushing our feelings away or avoiding them altogether. Life is both pain and pleasure. It’s normal.
Be your child’s compass point, then point the compass itself true north and hand it to your child to navigate the way ahead. While he does, share your story of taking one step at a time in the direction of your dreams.
Tell about the importance of having inner vision, even though your trail is unmarked and there are no sign posts on the path.
Tell of the passion in your heart for your vision in such a way as to transmit the feelings of that vision successfully accomplished and seeing it done!
I know this communication is powerful; it ignites our imagination while listening to the story-teller. I know because my Dad could bring his young life to life every time he told me the story of how he fell in love with Mom. He was sixteen, she was fourteen years old, their dates were at he corner store for an ice cream or a stroll through a park. But always, they would share vision. Dad would do this by taking Mom by the hand and hiking up a mile high stairway in Edgewater, New Jersey overlooking the Hudson River and New York skyline. He’d sit next to Mom holding hands they would dream a dream of a better, more glorious life for themselves.—going to college, getting a degree to become a Certified Public Accountant, designing and building their own home, having children and a happy family. Against the odds and hard knocks; it all came true.
The third key to stress-hardiness is response-ability. Instead of react, the stress-hardy person responds. It is not what happens to you, it is how you respond to it that effects you.
Did you know that when you perceive a threat whether physical or emotional, your body can produce chemical signals that trigger your stress response? When your body is in stress mode
without relief (which is like a car in overdrive) you wear your body out, developing symptoms such as headaches; upset stomach aches; muscle tightness in neck and shoulders; and problems with indigestion and sleep. Visualization and guided imagery are powerful techniques because the brain makes no distinction between real or imaged information. The pictures or movies of our mind are driving our physiology. Guided imagery is not a tool of self-deception; it is a tool of self-direction!
This is why it’s important to use your response-ability and save yourself from unnecessary stress symptoms. When you do, you are able to stay calm rather than feeling anxious, irritable, angry or sad.
You choose how to respond in a moment’s notice with the vigilance of a race car driver. When you react, you are not choosing deliberately. Response-ability requires seeing where your attention is in the moment and holding focused awareness. As a driver, you can see through your windshield the car crashing right in front of you. But in order to avoid crashing yourself, you just keep calm and clear. When you do, you are able to drive around the crash site.
Let’s practice using these resources and activities:
Create an obstacle course in your backyard for your child to complete.
Go biking with your child and pay attention for ways to take a detour and take them.
Play pick-up sticks.
Build routines designed to foster response-ability. Model for your child ways you respond with awareness. For example, when you and your child have a broken connection by a misunderstanding or an argument, instead of impulsively reacting with anger or negative emotions, demonstrate a heart-felt way to rebuild the bridge of communication by beginning a conversation like this: “I am determined to see things differently; let’s look at this again.”
When you begin determined to see things differently, you are asking yourself to think differently about any situation that upsets you. You realize that even if the situation is not your doing, your way of interpreting it, is completely in your control. Here’s another way you can cultivate insight, say to yourself: “I am never upset for the reason I think.” “I give people and events the meaning they have for me and I can choose differently, now, in this moment.”
Use creative resource teaching tales:
Joseph Had A Little Overcoat By Simms Taback The story of Joseph whose ingenuity and perseverance gives him the ability see the value of something held dear as it changes over time.
The Rough-Faced Girl By Rafe Martin The story of a young girl who maintains her sense of dignity and self-worth in spite of hardship and cruelty.
The Empty Pot By Demi The story of a boy’s truth, in the guise of an embarrassing failure is turned triumphant in this satisfying tale of honesty rewarded.
The second key to stress-hardiness is the ability to live in the present moment; not living in the past or the future. Those who live in the past have a tendency to say things like “if only”
I hadn’t done this or that, I wouldn’t have this problem. Other times, you might find yourself worried about the future which sounds like “what if” all these things happen to me, then what?
Oh no! I’ll really be in trouble.
The following are ways you can cultivate present moment awareness:
- Model for your child a mindset of being present FULLY. Put away the cell phone and look into each others eyes when you speak. Play a game of sixth sensory knowing with your child. Remind them that our ancestors had to develop a keen sense of perception to the world around them for survival. In our modern age, we don’t have saber tooth tigers who threaten our safety, but we do need our kids to have “situational awareness”. What I mean, is that, more often than not, our children are walking around with there heads in their mobile devices. Kids have become less and less concerned about their immediate surroundings. Most of the time they may be safe but we are not teaching them the art of discernment which develops their keen sense of potential threats that exist. As a rule, routinely, ask your child to shut off her/his phone and pay attention. With your eyes and ears wide open- watch and breathe for just a moment. Ask them what they perceive?
- Next, ask your child to close her eyes and see if she can “feel” or perceive someone entering her personal space. Ask her to tell you how close or far you are standing from them. Keep practicing until your child’s accuracy increases.
- When your child is apprehensive about upcoming events, try this. Remind your child that in the present moment,nothing bad has happened yet. In this moment, all is well. Mentally, stop the “railroad train of never-ending worry thoughts” by choosing to stay in the present. Awful-izing the worst possible outcome is not using emotional intelligence. Staying present to exactly what is happening is wise. Staying present and open to all of our emotions is a practice of mindfulness, self care and patience. Instead of joining your child in their worry thought, you be calmand send that calm energy out. Your child feels your emotions. To help yourself in the cultivation of calmness, use this phrase with your child: “You have a special way of landing on your feet, even when you worry about things that could go wrong! So stay focused on this moment. In this moment, all is well.” You keep directing your child’s focus by saying: “Remember,(___say your child’s name), you have what it takes to do what it takes to get the job done! But for now, you are here with me and you are safe.” Say to your child: “Take a deep breathe…be still…feel your inner self be still…breathe…feel the peace within you in this magic moment of now. It is always available, even though you may go throughout your day out of touch with your peace, you can come back to it right now…breathe…rest…turn your attention away from the day and bring your attention inward to your breathing…breathe…be still in this magic moment of now.”
- Use the bell of awareness for practice. Today, most mobile devices have bell tones you can set whenever you like. Set the bell tone to ring every hour. When the bell rings, let it be a reminder to be here, now. Then, breathe, let go of worry, say: “all is well in this moment; I am safe; I am calm.”
5. Once again, teaching tales come to the rescue! Martin Waddell’s Can’t You Sleep Little Bear and Let’s Go Home Little Bear are favorites for young children.
Stay tuned, next we will look at the third key to stress-hardiness: Response-Ability.
Does your child resist changes in daily routine or have difficulty transitioning from one activity to another without having a meltdown? Although this problem may be common, many children adjust swiftly without emotional distress. But what makes the difference? Why are some kids able to shift gears easily while others can not?
In my clinical training with Harvard cardiologist, Herbert Benson,MD at the Mind/Body Program of stress reduction and relaxation, we discovered the major keys to stress-hardiness.
Let’s look at the first key to stress-hardiness: flexible vs. rigid thinking. Don’t we want our kids to
adapt to life challenges and unexpected changes? Of course we do, because no one gets through life without challenges and changes! Those kids who can go with the flow are not only socially better adjusted but they are healthier. Studies show stronger immune responses in those individuals who are stress-hardy.
Here are a few helpful ways you can foster flexible vs. rigid thinking for your child:
1. Welcome the unexpected
Whenever possible, bring your child’s attention to the unexpected happenings in the natural world around them. If you skip over this simple exercise, you miss the opportunity to develop your child’s welcoming attitude for unexpected events. The element of surprise can be used as a psychological lever to promote flexibility.
2. Play the game of “could be good, could be bad”
Make a habit of intentionally playing “the game of could be good, could be bad”.
Jon J. Muth’s Zen Shorts gives you a repertoire of tales to open minds. The Farmer’s Luck illustrates how a situation that initially was thought to be unfavorable, turns out to be most favorable. Reading “Teaching Tales” designed with a morale is a powerful method to show your child though storytelling the unexpected possibilities of life.
3.Ask questions that inspire adaptability
When on vacation, demonstrate the variety of ways you could carry water from the ocean-such as, cup your hands; use a pail or a shoe; something left by the tide like a seashell, and much much more if you practice flexible thinking and engage your child’s imagination. Just ask questions that motivate and guide their ability to explore and adapt.
4. Rearrange the furniture of the mind
Help your child rearrange the furniture in her room. Change it up. Realize our external world effects our internal world. Clear the clutter. Give outgrown toys to those who have none. When you invite your child to be part of the process, the child’s sense of control builds flexibility.
5.Teach your child the art of improvisation!
When I was young, my mother often challenged our creativity by starting a project with everyday objects. She’d use the brown paper cups from an empty candy box and demonstrate how just two tares and flipping the cup over, made a chair for our doll house- the table was simple, turn over the paper cup and there you have a little table to match the chair! “Now, you make one and what else can you make?” she prompted. As we sat at the kitchen table with the candy box of tiny brown paper cups in front of us.
6. Twirl your child in the air while moving into another room to facilitate transitioning to a new activity.
When you spin in a circle the brain unhooks itself from whatever it was attending. This simple tactic of
being playful with your child, sets the tone for excitement and learning. Have fun!
Photo Courtesy of Bettyna Donelson
For more information about ways to cultivate stress-hardiness in your child
Stay tuned, next we will look at the second key to stress-hardiness: living in the present moment.
I love the woods!
Did you know that in Japan, there is a term which literally means to bathe mind and body in green space? In Japanese, shinrin means forest, and yoku refers to a “bathing”, showering, taking in- with all of our senses, the forest atmosphere!
I am lucky to live not far away from Walden Pond, I walk or swim there almost everyday. I take myself offline during the day and give myself a chance reset. I go forest breathing for the intention of re-invention- to re-invent the experience of the forest with all of my being. And to re-invent myself, too. Because I realize by slowing down, I’m not doing less, I’m doing more.
I am breathing in the air of the transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, Louis May Alcott and more. These places are immersed in the tradition of conscious living and communing with the land. I am reminded that when I breathe, all I need to do is become aware of the preciousness of life and tap into the molecules of genius in the air around me. This is my way to greet the day!
Our aptitude for stillness is all but lost, however, when we deliberately take ourselves to bathe in nature…”it is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon (our) hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that wonderfully changes and renews (our) weary spirit”- Robert Louis Stevenson —so true, right?
We are energy beings. We send out energy according to our feelings, thoughts and moods inside of us. And we take in energy from the environment that surrounds us.
For many, our jobs are killing us. So the days of being unconscious with our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are over. It’s time to re-invent ourselves and eliminate destructive, self-critical patterns.
In 1990, Dr. Yoshifumi Miyazaki of Chiba University conducted a small study in the beautiful forests of Yakushima to test shinrin-yoku. Home of Japan’s most pristine forests, Yakushima contains 1,000 year old cedar trees. Miyazaki showed that 40 minutes of walking in the cedar forest improved mood and feelings of vigor. Further, his findings reported lower levels of stress hormone cortisol in subjects who took a forest walk compared to the control group of subjects who took indoor walks. Miyazaki’s study was the first evidence-based proof that the walk in the forest is not the same as other environmental settings.
It is important to note that a reduction in stress hormones is almost certainly a boost for the immune system. Natural chemicals secreted by evergreen trees, collectively known as phytoncide, have also been associated with the cure for tuberculosis. Since the 1800’s, research physicians in Japan, Bavaria, Germany and the Adirondacks of New York State have studied the beneficial effects of breathing forest air.
There’s something else I want to share with you, it is especially in Springtime that pine trees secrete a healing balm into the air that is magnified! A testament to shinrin-yoku and the preventive benefit of the ancient forest. Therefore, aside from the mental aspects, the physiological benefits of ancient forests stand tall as reason enough to preserve what is left of these beauty-filled, quiet places.
Perhaps, it is my 25 years of experience working with chronic and terminally ill children that has kept me in the service of health promotion and disease prevention for children. I remember the excitement for a bone marrow transplant child patient confined, alone, to a laminar air flow room, coming “alive again” when I’d bring my hikes in the mountains using music and color photos projected on the walls of that tiny room. Much of my training in mind/body techniques evolved from my work at Boston Children’s Hospital and led me to be taken on as research assistant to co-founders of the Mind/Body Clinic, and NY Times Bestselling authors, Harvard cardiologist, Dr. Herbert Benson, The Relaxation Response and Dr. Joan Borysenko, Minding the Body, Mending the Mind.
My doctoral studies in cross-cultural healing taught me that indigenous healing practices place much importance on investigating the underlying thought patterns and emotional disturbances that are the cause beneath the surface symptoms of our illnesses. The many patients who came to the Mind/Body Clinic also began to appreciate this perspective using meditation practice. But another way to get there which requires only a novel bit of awareness, is through solitude in nature.
Now, more than ever, our world needs to prosper. We must learn to enjoy our life and model this for our children. Don’t we want to help our children awaken the power of inner energy?
Start with space— no distractions! When we have space outside, we automatically and naturally clear space inside. Both worlds inspire us, stretch us, inform us. From each reveals the interconnectedness of all living things. Now, consciously add the breath and the forest-air.
Good things come from such a peaceful place as the forest. Let’s start right now. We’ll follow our breathing and “take in” the forest air by turning our attention away from the day and bringing our attention inward. The pathway to the quiet mind is the breath. In the breath is a clearing space.
Whether we know it or not, the forest has its influence on us. The trees are asking us to be present. Nature is trying to capture our attention but most of the time we are too oblivious, we miss the subtle invitation. Even so, part of us does connect! We can leave a green space feeling better than before we got there and never know why.
The invitation from the forest is to commune with its energy. For when we let the forest energy become our energy we receive its power, its strength, its healing. This is a one-way communication. But it really becomes “magic” when we communicate back to the trees; then the connection becomes two-way!
Real magic is impossible unless we are aware. Ask the tree huggers why they hug the tree and say “I love you!” When you are hugging that tree you are connected not only to that tree but to all life in the forest.True magic is expansiveness! When you love, your heart opens, your awareness becomes more and more. You have the revelation that this tree feels me and I feel the life force of these ancient trees. The tree “allows you to be there”. The tree does not judge or criticize you.
In my private practice, I go to the forest with children who have anxieties of all sorts and I encourage them to sit against the tree and ask the tree- “how do you stand there for eons?”
“I’m having trouble focusing and being still?” In this manner, we are asking permission for healing. We are having two-way conversation. It’s like a radio, we have to “tune in” to the station. When we slow down, we get information.
Believe it or not, many of the children that I work with have this knowingness. By using the forest setting, I am cultivating expansive awareness. The tree “knows how to just be”— without self-judgement. This is the magic, you allow the blocks in your body/mind/spirit to be cleared.
Let’s meet all life experiences with the attitude of expecting mind-expanding, heart-opening re-inventions.
Side Bar-Insert Mini-Meditation:
Forest-air breathing is inspirational! Why? Because to be inspired means to be breathed or to take in breath. In this process, we take in, inhale that which surrounds us. It is natural and automatic.
The breath has three parts: there is a filling, receiving and the exhalation, a letting go, emptying.
But the third aspect of the breath is subtle and sometimes missed or misunderstood. It is the segment of gently holding the breath. The holding of the breath is the most important part. It is the magic now, the choice point between in and out; conscious and unconscious. It is the strategic middle ground between the inhalation and exhalation, the center point of infinity.
This choice point is our moment of awareness. We have a choice, to stress ourselves with our thinking mind or to tap into our inner resources, relax, renew, refresh. We tap infinite possibilities This is the point of rebirth in each breath. You are in the magic now of birthing anew in each breath.
Become aware of this moment and this one too;
it is the forest-air of new life breathing you.
Holding, ever so gently, the breath is holding, reverently, life.
Take three deep breaths- slowly, easily and say to yourself:
As I breath in, I take in the beauty all around me.
As I breath out, I express the beauty within me.
As I hold my breath, I honor the fullness of all that is.
I am the beauty of new life.
I am the peace of the forest-air.
“I help stressed, anxious children calm down and reduce their anxiety with natural methods so they can improve their focus and concentration, do better in school and just be happier overall.”
Side Bar: Inspired by her study of cross-cultural healing practices, Dr. Daleo believes it is possible to weave the ways of ancient people into the fabric of modern life in an effort to help the young claim this wisdom as an essential part of who they are. The most relevant and timeless aspect of ancient practices is the sincere understanding of the interconnectedness of all living things. It is a knowing that everything that is in us is in the atmosphere we breath- the receptacle from which we draw our life energies that nourish and sustain us.
Dr. Roxie’s website: wwwdrroxannedaleo.com
Stress Reduction/ Relaxation CDs and Books
Mobile App Guided Imagery Relaxation
‘Using Your Energy Wisely” vimeo
I started cross-country skiing when I moved to New Hampshire. I was taking a new job. It was my first chance to do play therapy for children at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. After a stressful day’s work, cross-country skiing was a place I could to to recharge myself.
…I heard only the delicate sound of each downy flake as it hit the evergreens on either side of me on that trail through the quiet woods of deep snow…that day, my mind was sharp and focused…my body, steady with physical determination to stay balanced with each glide and to make each push-off count to send me farther and farther along that narrow trail…I remember the feeling of being totally part of all…connected to the natural world around me…and in touch with something sacred and divine…it was powerful yet peaceful…I thought to myself, as I ski, I am living into the feelings New England’s poet Robert Frost expresses.
Try reading Robert Frost “Stopping by a Snowy Evening” illustrated by Susan Jeffers to your child and see if it evokes happiness. Your child can start the good feelings flowing with anything they love—a song, photograph or wonderful experience.
Even today, when I am cross-country skiing or just thinking about it, the experience can reactivate my mind in the time and space of the initial, impressionable experience. I can feel it in my body and relive it in my imagination.
My studies in social psychology and psycho-neuroimmunology introduced me to Harvard Professor Dr. Ellen Langer whose research revealed evidence of the body’s ability to return to a state of health and happiness from an earlier period of life. These reports described the powerful influence of memory to effect improved physiological changes, such as increases in counts of killer cells in the blood that combat disease as well as reduced blood pressure and cortisol levels overall improved perception of vigor. Our cells have memory, it’s proven.
We, ourselves, can bring forth our own state of pleasure and more importantly, resourcefulness when we need more confidence, more courage, more commitment. Here’s how:
STEP 1. RECALL a time in your life when you were in a state of resourcefulness. It could be cross-country skiing or playing a sport and making a goal or completing successfully a musical performance and hearing the audience rousing applaud. You decide—when did you feel great?
STEP 2. RE-LIVE it using all of your senses. Hear it (sound of snow falling gently); feel it (cool air through my nose and lungs); see it (beauty all around me); touch it (wet snow on my face).
STEP 3. RESOLVE yourself to never giving up on yourself. You have within you all the power you need to do what you set out to do. Reactivate your resourceful state—your cellular memory will help you know it is still there within you. It feels like—YES!
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Benefits of Learning Relaxation Skills:
- Fosters kindness and caring in ourselves and others
- Gives the body a chance to recharge naturally from the daily everyday hassles
- Gives your mind the moment to readjust to a more positive attitude
- Learning relaxation skills is easy and makes you feel good about yourself