For Sibling Battles, Be a Sportscaster, Not a Referee

FOR SIBLING BATTLES, BE A SPORTSCASTER, NOT A REFEREE

Heather Turgeon

Narrate what’s happening. Repeat back what your kids say to you. Try to be neutral.

Parents in my psychotherapy practice often ask how to make sibling conflict stop.

Understandably, they want the bickering, teasing, aggression and cries of “no fair” to end. But one of the best ways to dial up sibling love is not to squash conflicts, but to learn how to use them. Research supports this, and I’ve seen it in action.

For the most part, sibling conflict is normal and to be expected: Home is a safe testing ground for social dynamics. Siblings often want to play together, but it takes skill and patience when they’re different ages.

Be a Sportscaster

It’s our job to let kids know we see and hear them, but we’re not necessarily going to solve siblings’ conflicts for them (or else they never get the practice). When squabbles start, imagine you’re a sportscaster and describe what you see in front of you, without judgment and without taking sides. This simple practice lets your kids know you acknowledge and respect their struggles, but you’re not immediately jumping in with a solution.

Example: You hear shouting and walk in to find your kids looking upset with each other.

Instead of: Hey settle down in here! Jack, what did you do this time?

Say: I’m hearing really loud voices in here. Alex, you’re looking mad with your hands on your hips. Jack, you’re laughing. There’s a pack of Pokémon cards on the floor.

Narrate what’s happening. Repeat back what your kids say to you. Try to be neutral.

Ah, got it. You’re telling me he always takes the best cards. You feel like he’s the boss all the time. I see. Jack, you wanted to play the game you usually play and Alex wanted to change it up. Alex, you got frustrated and threw the cards. Am I missing anything?

When you repeat back their grievances, it helps kids start to hear each other and work on their own solutions.

Let Siblings Be Mad at Each Other

It’s a knee-jerk reaction for many parents to insist siblings be nice to each other, and try to smooth over tricky or unpleasant feelings. But siblings can feel love, anger, frustration and connection to each other all within the same day. If they get the message that we accept only their sunny feelings, they will either put more oomph into the darker ones so we hear them, or repress and hide them from us. Neither of these is a good outcome. Accept the negative feelings without judgment. The warm, loving ones will naturally resurface.

Example: He always ruins everything! I hate him!

Instead of: Hey, watch it. You need to calm down and apologize to your brother.

Say: Wow, you are super angry at him. What was it that made you this mad?

Example: I don’t want this new baby. I wish she were never born.

Instead of: Oh, you don’t mean that. You’re going to love her, you’ll see.

Say: I get it. Things feel so different now. It used to be just the three of us and it seems like everything changed. I feel it too sometimes!

Know When to Intervene

If you feel as if your kids’ relationship is bordering on emotional or physical abuse, it’s important to intervene quickly and be ready to separate them if necessary. But for the brothers and sisters who are merely annoyed, pause and listen. When voices start to rise and conflict is escalating, those are signs you may need to step in. Start with something like,

Do you guys need help figuring this out?

Can you give me some information about what’s happening here?

Kids are capable problem solvers, even the youngest ones. Assume they have good ideas and you’re there for support.

Use the Iceberg Analogy

Kids’ words and behaviors are only the tip of the iceberg. They’re the easiest to see and the part we fixate on. Usually, there’s something more telling under the surface. One sibling pushes the other not just to be mean, but because he’s angry, he’s testing boundaries, he’s been pushed at school, he’s tired, he’s overstimulated, he’s trying to get attention. As we teach and uphold family rules, it’s also our job as parents to look deeper.

Approaching the situation with curiosity will help you get to the root of the issue, and it also brings the family closer and makes the lessons stick.

Set Limits

The above are a few of the tools my co-author, Julie Wright, and I teach clients to help them tune in and understand what kids are feeling. But you need more for true conflict resolution. We call this strategy the A-L-P model, for the steps of attuning, limit setting and problem solving. Attuning means you lead with understanding, limit setting states the rules and realities, and problem solving is for coming up with alternatives and solutions:

Ouch, that looked like it hurt. Let me check and make sure you’re O.K. You were really mad and you slammed the door on his arm? Tell me what was going on. O.K., got it. You were angry and you wanted space from him. (Attune to both kids).

We absolutely cannot slam doors, because it’s dangerous. Remember that’s a family rule. (Limit Set).

Let’s get your brother some ice. Pause. What could you say, in clear, strong words, when you need space? Let’s write those down, because it’s really hard to remember when you’re mad. (Problem Solve).

This system helped a mom in our practice to feel empathy for her “problem child” — her middle son, who seemed to find every opportunity to provoke and aggravate his little sister. He was downright mean to her in a way that made the mom furious. She sometimes felt as if she didn’t like him.

We had her sketch an iceberg and fill in the possible sources of her son’s behaviors. As she did this exercise, she started to cry. She had written notes like, “Resentment toward little sister for being the baby of the family, attention from adults always on her, jealousy for her easygoing nature, overwhelmed at school, anger at recent family changes.” She worked on seeing him through this lens of curiosity and it made her less reactive and able to acknowledge his struggles.

Eventually, he started opening up and telling her more about how he was feeling. When she reminded him of family rules, rather than sending him to his room, she asked him what he could do instead of provoking his sister, and he actually started coming up with his own ideas.

As time went on, she still heard them fighting, but she also heard them working things out, chatting and laughing. The ratio of enjoyment to conflict was going up. Her empathy for her son was spreading through the family.

In a Warning Against Spanking, Some Pediatricians See an Attack on Black Families

IN A WARNING AGAINST SPANKING, SOME PEDIATRICIANS SEE AN ATTACK ON BLACK FAMILIES

Stacey Patton

Decades of research show that corporal punishment harms children and communities. Yet a vocal subgroup of doctors argues that an anti-spanking policy vilifies African-Americans.

In November, the American Academy of Pediatrics fortified its 20-year-old stance against spanking with a strongly worded new policy statement. Armed with decades of new research, the authors of the policy noted that spanking children does not improve their behavior and appears to be associated with negative outcomes, including increased aggression and mental health problems.

While the medical consensus is clear, and over 70 percent of American pediatricians agree that hitting children is damaging, many black pediatricians hold more positive attitudes about spanking. Moreover, a vocal subgroup is pushing back against the pediatrics academy’s new policy. By failing to draw a clear distinction between spanking and child abuse, these doctors say, the policy contributes to the demonization of black communities, where (as in many other communities, including Southerners and born-again Christians) corporal punishment is a cultural norm. And, they argue, pediatricians who discuss the harms of spanking during routine medical exams, as the policy recommends, risk alienating black parents.

Dr. Scott Krugman, a white pediatrician based at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, said he witnessed the pushback in his professional circles.

“There are doctors who feel that the A.A.P.’s policy is heavy-handed and judgmental of black families. They also take issue with calling a simple spanking abuse,” Dr. Krugman said. “All pediatricians have serious questions about how to talk about the cultural context of physical punishment along with the science.”

Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, a black pediatrician based in Chicago, chairs the academy’s Provisional Section on Minority Health, Equity and Inclusion, which has more than 600 members from diverse backgrounds. Shortly after the academy released its policy, which was first drafted before the minority group was formed in 2017, she heard from some members who questioned “which voices were included in the discussion.”

“There were a lot of raw emotions and the feeling of being marginalized. There was also healthy debate about corporal punishment,” Dr. Heard-Garris said.

According to Dr. Krugman, many pediatricians worry that initiating exam-room conversations about spanking could raise black parents’ fears that their children’s doctors will collude with law enforcement and child protective services to have their children removed from their care. While black children do face a higher risk of being removed from their homes, there’s debate over whether there is racial bias in abuse reporting and whether child abuse is more common in black homes. Additionally, state and federal data show that most child abuse reports are screened outwithout any protective action. The pediatrics academy’s policy update does not change state laws that give parents the right to physically punish their children.

Understanding the pushback from some black pediatricians requires uncomfortable conversations about the cultural attachment many black families have to corporal punishment as a core pillar of responsible parenting in a racist society.

“We’re talking about some doctors who grew up with this tradition. So this policy is challenging how they grew up, who they are, what their mother and grandmother did,” said Dr. Heard-Garris, who is the mother of a 6-year-old boy she does not spank. “The backlash is not necessarily a lack of understanding of the science, but mostly an emotionally-charged response to personal experience.”

Dr. Keisha Bell, chief of pediatric critical care at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, echoed Dr. Heard-Garris. “Many of us grew up in situations where spanking was part of our culture. None of us feels that we have trauma because of it. There’s a difference between spanking and abusing a child. I’m not sure if the studies do a good job of delineating that,” she said.

Dr. Michelle Collins-Ogle, an H.I.V. specialist who cares for adolescents and young adults, was disheartened by the way the academy’s policy “painted this broad brush over ways that people discipline their children,” she said. “It’s like anything you do as a corrective measure to get your kid to listen, then you’re a bad parent.”

Lack of diversity was also a problem, Dr. Collins-Ogle said. “The faces behind the policy and out front talking about it were all white. But they’re not raising black children and they don’t understand the nuances of raising a black child.”

Dr. Heard-Garris noted that, while the pediatric academy’s policy doesn’t explicitly target one group — and data show that the majority of parents across race and ethnicity hit their children — corporal punishment is a more public aspect of black culture, partly as a result of historical trauma. “If you look at the A.A.P.’s policy without understanding slavery, colonization, discrimination and police violence against black people, then doctors won’t understand why physical discipline in our communities is so pervasive,” she said.

Communities of color often mistrust the medical profession, which has a long and documented history of criminalizing and openly sexualizing black children in professional journals. Racist studies on black children have been used to rationalize public fears of and violence against black people. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, pediatrics journals showcased the voices of white male pediatricians offering “proof” that black children were strong, insensate and hypersexual.

During slavery and Jim Crow, black families did not have the luxury of exploring a variety of childrearing strategies. As historian Leon Litwack noted in his famous book, “Trouble in Mind,” for black youths and their parents living under Jim Crow, the daily reminders of “place” and inequality were nearly everywhere. Just as they had been during slavery, black parents were powerless to protect their children from whippings and other assaults. Litwack explained that enslaved parents “were sometimes compelled to inflict the punishment themselves in the presence of whites to teach the disobedient child a lesson – and to avert even harsher punishment if meted out by the overseer or owner. The same mode of punishment, often for the same reasons, persisted into freedom.” Today, black parents and professionals still fear trigger-happy cops and a criminal justice system waiting with open jaws to ensnare black bodies.

“I ascribe to the historical necessity of having a child who will follow your direction, and that cannot be overstated,” Dr. Bell said. “When my son was a toddler, my husband and I made sure we let him know that we needed his compliance the first time.”

Dr. Collins-Ogle shares the same fear. “I tell my son that I don’t want to be the mother of the son that got shot because you said something wrong, you looked at the police the wrong way, you talked back to the teacher,” she said.

But corporal punishment won’t stall these forms of racialized social control, which began in the immediate afterlife of slavery. While black parents’ fears for their children’s lives are legitimate, they do not excuse preparatory violence in the home.

Between 2013 and 2017, 25 black children were killed by police officers, according to databases that track such killings; during that same period, 1,558 black children were killed as a result of maltreatment by their parents, according to reports published by the Children’s Bureau. Black children are still about twice as likely to be abused or killed than white children. The pervasive celebration of “whuppings” as a sacrosanct parenting tradition helps to fuel these outcomes. Whether spanking itself constitutes maltreatment is a matter of debate, but research suggests that spanking is a risk factor for abuse and fatalities.

In March, I spoke to pediatricians who attended the pediatrics academy’s trauma-informed training session in San Antonio, Tex., and in August I gave a presentation on race and spanking at the American Psychological Association conference in Chicago. I told both audiences that hitting children is not native to pre-colonial West African or indigenous cultures. As I described in my book, there’s no evidence of any form of ritualized physical punishment of children in precolonial West African societies prior to the Atlantic slave trade; African-Americans learned corporal punishment from white slave masters. I bluntly told them that one of the most powerful things pediatricians and psychologists can say to black parents is that whupping their children is one of the whitest things they can do. Physical punishment is not necessary in impoverished or dangerous neighborhoods; in fact, it is counterproductive because it teaches young people to solve conflicts with aggression and violence.

In light of the concerns raised by pediatricians of color, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics told me that there are plans to continue conversations on the spanking policy through collaborative, educational programming at its annual meeting in 2020. In July, the academy released its first policy statement on racism and its impact on child health.

“Kids of color in this country are not treated the same,” Dr. Heard-Garris said. “They experience exponentially more criticism, discrimination and violence. So we have to parent differently.” “I will do the opposite of society.” Dr. Heard-Garris continued. “I won’t parent my son with violence, but with more love. I will tell him how amazing, kind and smart he is. Not only because it is true, but because as soon as he leaves my door the world will tell him otherwise.”

One Insanely Popular Way to Waste a Life (And How to Avoid It)

ONE INSANELY POPULAR WAY TO WASTE A LIFE (AND HOW TO AVOID IT)

Angel Chernoff

Let’s cut to the chase…

What we truly need to do is often what we most feel like avoiding. This is a harsh reality.

But… If we don’t go after what we want, we will never get it. If we don’t ask the right questions, we will always get the wrong answers. If we don’t take a step forward, we are always going to be standing in the same exact place.

Life is a journey comprised of small steps. The key is to take these steps, every single day.

We know this already, right?

Yet how often are we stuck in a cycle of worry, fear, and other forms of over-thinking? How often are we aimlessly distracted? And how often do we procrastinate?

After consistently working on my mindfulness and time management habits, I’ve become reasonably proficient at getting things done with minimal distraction and procrastination.

Today, for example, I wrote a 1,200-word blog post, coached one of our Getting Back to Happy Course students, proof-read and cleaned up a chapter in a new workbook Marc and I are co-writing for our course students, responded to comments and emails from dozens of students and readers, worked on business planning and strategizing for two active side-projects, spent a quality evening with my family, and of course now I’m writing this which I’ll queue up for tomorrow morning.

It might seem like a lot, but it happens one step at a time, with presence and focus.

With that said, however, I’ll be the first to admit that Marc and I still struggle with some detrimental habits that sneak up on us sometimes and get in the way of our effectiveness (because we’re human). And there is one particular habit we struggle with that’s super common among our friends, family, acquaintances, and students alike – this is something we all do that ends up wasting our lives, one precious moment at a time. The word “waste” may sound overly dramatic, but it’s really not. After spending the past decade coaching hundreds of people, and working through my own personal issues, there’s little doubt that this is one of the most popular ways we all collectively waste our lives:

We waste our lives with a lack of self-discipline.

Self-discipline is a skill. It is the ability to focus and overcome distractions. It involves acting according to what you know is right instead of how you feel in the moment (perhaps tired or lazy). It typically requires sacrificing immediate pleasure and excitement for what matters most in life.

A lack of self-discipline for most of us is often the result of a lack of focus. In other words, we tell ourselves we are going to work on something, but then we don’t. When this happens to me, first and foremost, I forgive myself for messing up, and then I strive to be mindful about what’s really going on. Am I procrastinating for some reason? Am I distracted? Instead of telling myself that I’m “bad” or “undisciplined,” I try to productively uncover a more specific, solvable problem, and then address it.

But…

What do you do if your life is in complete disarray, you have hardly any self-discipline or consistent routines, can’t stick to anything, procrastinate constantly, and feel completely out of control?

How do you get started with building a healthy ritual of self-discipline when you have so many changes to make?

You start small. Very small.

If you don’t know where to start, I always suggest that you start by simply washing your dishes. Yes, I mean literally washing your dishes. It’s just one small step forward: When you eat your oatmeal, wash your bowl and spoon. When you finish drinking your morning coffee, rinse the coffee pot and your mug. Don’t leave any dirty dishes in the sink or on the counter for later. Wash them immediately.

Form this ritual one dish at a time, one day at a time. Once you do this consistently for a couple weeks, you can start making sure the sink has been wiped clean too. Then the counter. Then put your clothes where they belong when you take them off. Then start doing a few sit-ups every morning. Eat a few vegetables for dinner. And so forth.

Do one of these at a time, and you’ll start to build a healthy ritual of self-discipline, and finally know yourself to be capable of doing what must be done… and finishing what you start.

Although, again, for right now, just wash your dishes. Mindfully, with a smile. 

And of course, if you’re struggling with any of this, know that you are not alone. Many of us are right there with you, working hard to feel better, think more clearly, and get our lives back on track. This is precisely why Marc and I built “Getting Back to Happy.” The course is filled with time-tested steps on how to do just that. And I’m thrilled to let you know that the full Getting Back to Happy course is now OPEN again to early access members.

But we’re closing the doors TODAY, August 29, to early access members and sometimes we need a little nudge to invest in ourselves.

This is not some ebook that you read and forget about. It’s a revolutionary, self-paced online course and community with 60 HD video lessons, and hundreds of time-tested strategies and techniques that will teach you scientifically proven methods for Conquering Pain, Eliminating Insecurity, Beating Procrastination, Healing Toxic Relationships, Taming Life’s Complications, and Building Consistent Growth into Your Life and Career — the exact proven strategies and techniques Marc and I have used in our coaching practice to help tens of thousands of people over the past decade.

It took 17 iterations, and thousands of dollars, to get it right.

These techniques work no matter where you stand in your current situation or what you’re up against going forward. Even if you have limited experience with self-improvement and personal development tactics. And even if you don’t know what you really want for yourself…yet.

The Unspeakable Cost of Parenthood

THE UNSPEAKABLE COST OF PARENTHOOD

Katherine Zoepf

One morning in May 2016 — having unexpectedly become a single parent several months earlier, and sick of lying awake nights trying to mentally balance my household budget — I did something that, at the time, felt drastic and slightly shameful. After taking my 5-year-old to school and my 2-year-old to day care, I returned to our fourth-floor walk-up, tidied the place quickly and took what I hoped were some appealing photos: of our kitchen table with its pottery bowl of fruit and cheap, knockoff Eames chairs; of our overstuffed bookshelves; and even of our tiny bathroom, with the map-of-the-world shower curtain my daughter loved to inspect at bath time. Then I went online and opened an Airbnb account. “Private room in family home,” I wrote, posting my own bedroom on the service. (My kids preferred having me squashed into one of their bunk beds anyway, I reckoned, and we needed the money.) Within a couple of hours, I had my first booking request: from Mathilda, an opera singer from Indiana who’d be coming to New York for auditions the following week.

For about 15 months, the extra income this Airbnb arrangement generated was a lifeline for me and my children, a way to stave off financial catastrophe during a tricky transition in our lives. And, for the most part, it was also a lovely experience. Almost without exception, the women who stayed with us were considerate and kind. My kids grew so fond of a couple of them — Laura, a Danish graduate student who stayed with us during her two-month internship; and Sara, an Italian pediatrician who had a six-month research fellowship at Mount Sinai — that they became honorary “aunts,” a status they retain to this day. Yet, until now, I’ve avoided speaking of the year-and-change I spent “taking in lodgers,” as my mother calls it.

I’ve been thinking about my Airbnb side hustle again in recent weeks because, here at NYT Parenting, we’ve been talking a lot about the intersection of money and family life. Type “finances” and “parenting” (or any number of related combinations) into a search bar, and the first page of results will include a half-dozen upbeat articles advising you on how to put your financial house in order before you even consider reproducing. According to the dominant public narrative, this is what responsible prospective parents do: They pay off all their student loans; they purchase “forever” homes; they’re already thinking decades ahead, making the sort of safe investments that will allow them to comfortably cover their children’s college tuition.

But, according to the data, this is not how most Americans with young children are actually living. When NYT Parenting partnered with YouGov to create an online survey of parents in the United States, it found that the costs of preschool and day care represented a “very significant” or a “somewhat significant” financial strain for nearly 60 percent of us. A 2018 online survey of 1,000 parents in the United States conducted by Credit Karma, a personal finance company, found that 67 percent of respondents had gone into debt in order to buy their children necessary items such as food, clothes and shoes. Revealingly, some 69 percent of those surveyed by Credit Karma said that they kept their child-related debt a secret, and avoided discussing it with other parents.

If most American parents are struggling financially, why do so many of us feel alone in these struggles? Everyone knows that raising children is wildly expensive, so just what is it about money difficulties that feels so unspeakable, when you’re a parent? In an effort to answer these questions, I reached out to Sa’iyda Shabazz, a Los Angeles-based fellow at the Center for Community Change, a community organizing nonprofit, who has written eloquently about her own financial troubles as a single mom.

Shabazz believes that some of the sense of stigma parents experience comes from our fear of burdening our kids. “You don’t want to fail them,” Shabazz told me. “I don’t ever want my son to see me crying, wondering if I can keep the lights on this month.”

But much of it, Shabazz argues, is the result of our cultural attachment to the idea that if we graduate from college and work hard, we will inevitably succeed. “There are so many of us that are one paycheck away, one accident away, one wrong move away from really being in trouble,” Shabazz said. “But we’re afraid to admit it. People don’t want to confront the fact that it’s not the individual’s fault, it’s the system’s failings.”

According to Emma Johnson, who has built a career offering financial and professional advice to single moms via her website, “Wealthy Single Mommy,”parents’ shame around financial struggles is often bound up with a sense of ambivalence about mothers who work, and exacerbated by a culture that fetishizes intensive parental involvement. “It’s still a status symbol in many communities to be a stay-at-home mother,” Johnson told me. Some of the single moms of young children she works with, Johnson said, feel guilty about their difficulties providing for their kids and about working outside the home.

“There’s a lot of stigma,” for working single parents, in particular, said Shabazz, who freelanced from home when her son, now 5, was a preschooler, because she couldn’t afford child care. “But there’s also a lot of people saying, ‘I don’t know how you do it.’ And I’ll think, ‘Do you really want to know how I do it?’ Netflix is the babysitter, and I keep him steadily stocked with snacks.”

4 Reasons You Need to Keep Doing Hard Things to Be Happy, Healthy and Successful

4 REASONS YOU NEED TO KEEP DOING HARD THINGS TO BE HAPPY, HEALTHY AND SUCCESSFUL

Marc Chernoff

You need to do hard things to be happy, healthy and successful. Because the hard things ultimately build you up and change your life.

If you already feel like you’re at the end your rope today with little slack left to hold on to, realize your mind is lying to you. It has imprisoned you by reciting self-defeating stories in your head—stories about your mistakes and what you should have done differently. And you’ve begun to believe that you’re really stuck.

But you’re NOT.

You are alive in an immense world with infinite destinations. Take a moment to remind yourself of this fact. Go outside. Look up at the sky and the clouds or the stars. THIS is the world in which you really live. Breathe it in. Then look at your current situation again.

Remember that adversity—doing and dealing with the hard things in life—is the first path to truth. Your defeats often serve as well as your victories to shake your spirit and light your way. You just have to hold on tight, embrace the daily pain, and burn it as fuel for your journey.

Easier said than done, of course. Which is why you need to continually remind yourself…

1. Every day you are growing stronger from your struggles.

Life can be a struggle. It will break you sometimes. Nobody can protect you from that. And hiding alone in a cave somewhere won’t either, for prolonged solitude will also break you with an endless thirst for connection. You must dare to love. You must dare to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth.

You are here to sacrifice your time and risk your heart. You are here to be bruised by life. And when it happens that you are hurt, or betrayed, or rejected, let yourself sit quietly with your eyes closed and remember all the good times you had, and all the sweetness you tasted, and everything you learned. Tell yourself how amazing it was to live, and then open your eyes and live some more.

To never struggle would be to never have been blessed with life. It is within the depths of darkness that you discover within you an inextinguishable light, and it is this light that illuminates the way forward. 

2. The hardest days shine a light on what’s truly important, and what isn’t.

Adversity is like walking in to a turbulent windstorm. As you fight to push through it, you not only gain strength, but it tears away from you all but the essential parts of you that cannot be torn. Once you come out of the storm you see yourself as you really are in raw form, still holding the passions and ideas that move you, and little else.

Ultimately, there is only what you want and what happens. When you don’t get what you want, there is only grabbing on and holding tight to the passions and ideas that move you. These are the lusts that matter—the love that defines you. It is this kind of love that drives you forward and even when the going gets tough. It is this kind of love that should never be overlooked.

3. Stress can be a healthy guidepost for making positive changes.

Sometimes when the going gets really tough, the world seems like it’s spinning too fast and you feel completely out of control. It seems like you’re losing your mind and going crazy, but you’re not. You need to pause and take a deep breath.

Just about every emotional issue imaginable, from fear to anxiety to the onset of depression, is triggered by a mounting build-up of stress. Stress impedes your ability to think straight and see the world as it is—a world that is not spinning too fast or burning to the ground.

Being extremely stressed-out and feeling overwhelmed is not a sign that you are psychotic or “going crazy.” It’s just that stressful experiences make it harder to think clearly and can make you think you’re more out of control than you actually are. The craziness you feel is stress. It’s not time to give up, it’s time to regroup and hold tight to your sanity. The more you relax, the saner you will feel.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I working too much with not enough downtime?
  • Am I getting enough sleep?
  • Am I eating healthy balanced meals?
  • Am I spending enough time with those I care about?
  • Am I involved in relationships that cause me excessive stress?
  • Am I drinking too much alcohol or relying on other (non-prescribed) drugs?
  • Am I constantly worried about some other time and place?

If you are experiencing any of the above issues, you know what you need to address to reduce your stress. The vast majority of us never go crazy; the vast majority of us simply fear, at some point, that we may go crazy based on stress factors we allow to reside in our present life situations.

So let your stress guide you—make sure you fill your time with meaningful activity, get enough sleep, eat well and manage your stress so it doesn’t mange you. 

4. You have something special to offer the world.

You are only destined to become one person—the person you decide to be. Do not let your own negativity walk all over you with it’s dirty feet.

You feel a unique gift burning inside you that you want to offer to the world, to help move it in the right direction. It may be covered up by days and weeks of waiting, doubting and defeat, but it’s present and as bright as ever. If you look deeply enough, you’ll find it. There is a capable person inside you that wants to soar, to create, to build, to love, to inspire, to do far more than just exist.

Your everyday chores and difficult tasks can be a prison or a pathway. It all depends on you. No matter how far down you think you’ve traveled, there is always a road leading to higher ground. There are always great possibilities in front of you, because you are always able to take a small step forward.

Stay true to yourself. Hold on to your values and passions. Never be ashamed of doing what feels right. Decide what you think is right and gradually step in that direction.

Now is the time…

There’s no shame in feeling overwhelmed. You are not a robot; and even if you were, you’d still need to stop for maintenance once in a while. There is no shame in admitting to yourself that you feel tired, doubtful, and low today. This is a natural part of being human. The simple fact that you are aware of this means you are able to turn things around, one day at a time, starting now.

So tell me:

What helps you push forward when times get hard?

Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

The 9 Secrets of Happy, Healthy, and Emotionally Committed Relationship

THE 9 SECRETS OF HAPPY, HEALTHY, AND EMOTIONALLY COMMITTED RELATIONSHIP

Kyle Benson

This weekend, I attempted to bake gluten-free muffins.

It got me thinking… if lasting love had specific ingredients, what would need to be mixed together?

What would make it delicious year after year?

  1. 100% Emotionally Invested: Caryl Rusbult is a social psychologist who studied commitment in marriages over a 30-year period. This is not a “one foot in, one foot out” type of investment. This is an all-in investment, and it is required by both partners.
  2. Responsiveness: Dr. Gottman’s research highlights that successful couples turn towards each other’s bids for connection 86% of the time. Couples who separate only do so 33% of the time. In order to last, tune into what your partner is saying or doing. Additional research highlighted that it wasn’t how often a couple fought, but how little affection and emotional responsiveness they offered one another that caused a relationship to deteriorate. Responsiveness is the cornerstone of trust and connection
  3. Cherish Each Other: Partners who are 100% emotionally invested and responsive have positive views of each other. Whether they are together or separate, they think of their lover’s positive attributes and express what they admire to one another.
  4. Put the Relationship First: This means putting your partner’s needs on par with your own. This doesn’t mean neglecting your needs in favor of your partners. Doing this requires a willingness to kindly express your needs to your partner in a way they can understand because you know those needs are core to your own happiness.
  5. Nurture Love and Respect: Happy couples nurture gratitude for the partner they have. They honor each other and display respect, even during conflict.
  6. Best Friends Forever: If the above ingredients are available, it’s easy to see why committed lovers feel that there is no better partner in the world than the one that they have. A strong friendship makes it easy to weather relationship storms. Couples who have cultivated a deeply connected friendship are affectionate and even laugh together during conflict.
  7. Seek to Gain a Greater Understanding during Conflict: Before happy couples come to an agreement on how to resolve their issues, they first focus on understanding each partner’s perspective. They focus on reconnecting emotionally before trying to resolve their issues.
  8. Interdependent: Each partner is connected and dependent on the other for closeness and comfort, but independent enough to pursue self-interest and share their perspectives openly, gently, and honestly. Even if the issue causes tension or a conflict in the relationship.
  9. Calm, Stable, and Safe: A secure romantic relationship is as smooth as a calm body of water. An insecure relationship feels as unstable as a roller coaster.

By the way, to answer your most important question: No, my muffins were not good. I burnt them. 🙁

I guess following directions is pretty important in making something delicious!

I’m taking off my “Kiss The Baker” apron, and I’m going to eat my burnt muffins…

1 Hard Thing You Need to Start Doing for Yourself Today

1 HARD THING YOU NEED TO START DOING FOR YOURSELF TODAY

Angel Chernoff

In 1911, two explorers, Amundsen and Scott, embarked on a race against each other to become the first known human being to set foot upon the southernmost point of Earth. It was the age of Antarctic exploration, as the South Pole represented one of the last uncharted areas in the world. Amundsen wished to plant the Norwegian flag there on behalf of his country, while Scott hoped to stake his claim for England.

The journey there and back from their base camps was about fourteen hundred miles, which is roughly equivalent to a round-trip hike from New York City to Chicago. Both men would be traveling the same distance on foot through extremely cold and harsh weather conditions. And both men were equally equipped with experience, supplies, and a supporting team of fellow explorers.

As it turned out, Amundsen and Scott took entirely different approaches to the very same challenges. Scott directed his team to hike as far as possible on the good weather days and then rest on bad weather days to conserve energy. Conversely, Amundsen directed his team to follow a strict regimen of consistent daily progress by hiking exactly twenty miles every day, regardless of weather conditions. Even on the warmest, clear-sky days, when Amundsen’s team was capable of hiking much farther, he was absolutely adamant that they travel no more than twenty miles to conserve their energy for the following day’s hike.

Which team succeeded in the end?

Amundsen’s team, the one that took consistent daily action.

Why?

Because what we do every day defines us.

Today’s progress is always compounded by yesterday’s effort, no matter how small.

And it all comes down to the power of self-discipline. Think about the most common problems we deal with in our modern lives, from lack of presence to lack of exercise to unhealthy diets to procrastination, and so forth. In most cases, problems like these are caused not by a physically present limitation, but by a limitation of the mind—specifically, a lack of self-discipline.

We put the hard things off until tomorrow for a variety of reasons until we’ve lost our momentum. We grow accustomed to the belief that things should be easier than they are, and that waiting another day or two makes the most sense. Then one day we wake up and we’re emotionally incapable of doing the hard things that need to be done.

Let this be your wake-up call!

Your mind and body both need to be exercised to gain strength. They need to be challenged, and they need to be worked consistently, to grow and develop over time. If you haven’t pushed yourself in lots of little ways over time—if you always avoid doing the hard things—of course you’ll crumble on the inevitable days that are harder than you expected.

And if we had to guess, we’d say Scott’s team suffered in exactly this way. They tried to make things easier on themselves; the fantasy of “easier” became their mantra, their subconscious goal. But this fantasy was never going to be a reality during a fourteen-hundred-mile footrace in the South Pole.

Scott’s team lost the race, not only on the ground, but in their minds first.

Don’t follow in their footsteps!

Are you willing to spend a little time every day like most people won’t, so you can spend the better part of your life like most people can’t?

The 6 Things That Predict Divorce

THE 6 THINGS THAT PREDICT DIVORCE

John Gottman

The first step toward improving or enhancing your marriage is to understand what happens when relationships fail. This has been well documented by extensive research into couples that were not able to save their marriages. Learning about their failures can prevent your relationship from making the same mistakes — or rescue it if it already has.

In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, I list the six things that predict divorce. This ability to predict divorce is based in part on my analysis of the 130 newlywed couples who were observed at the “Love Lab” apartment at the University of Washington.

During our research study, my team and I asked these couples to spend fifteen minutes in the lab trying to resolve an ongoing disagreement they were having while we videotaped them. As they spoke, sensors attached to their bodies gauged their stress levels based on various measurements of their circulatory system. Here is what I discovered.

1. Harsh Startup

The most obvious indicator that a conflict discussion (and marriage) is not going to go well is the way it begins. When a discussion leads off with criticism and/or sarcasm (a form of contempt), it has begun with a “harsh startup.” My research shows that if your discussion begins with a harsh startup, it will inevitably end on a negative note. Statistics tell the story: 96% of the time, you can predict the outcome of a conversation based on the first three minutes of the interaction.

2. The Four Horsemen

Certain kinds of negativity, if allowed to run rampant, are so lethal to a relationship that we call them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Usually these four horsemen clip-clop into the heart of a marriage in the following order: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Read more about The Four Horsemen and their antidotes here.

3. Flooding

Flooding means that your partner’s negativity – whether in the guise of criticism or contempt or even defensiveness – is so overwhelming, and so sudden, that it leaves you shell-shocked. A marriage’s meltdown can be predicted, then, by habitual harsh startup and frequent flooding brought on by the relentless presence of the four horsemen during disagreements. Although each of these factors alone can predict a divorce, they usually coexist in an unhappy marriage. Read more about flooding here.

4. Body Language

When my team monitored couples for bodily changes during a conflict discussion, we could see just how physically distressing flooding was. One of the most apparent of these physical reactions is that the heart speeds up – pounding away at more than 100 beats per minute – even as high as 165. Hormonal changes occur, too, including the secretion of adrenaline. Blood pressure also mounts. The physical sensations of feeling flooded make it virtually impossible to have a productive, problem-solving discussion.

5. Failed Repair Attempts

It takes time for the four horsemen and flooding that comes in their wake to overrun a marriage. And yet, divorce can so often be predicted by listening to a single conversation. How can this be?

The answer is that by analyzing any disagreement a couple has, you get a good sense of the pattern they tend to follow. A crucial part of that pattern is whether their repair attempts succeed or fail.

Repair attempts are efforts the couple makes to deescalate the tension during a discussion. The failure of these attempts is an accurate marker for an unhappy future. Read more about repair attempts here.

6. Bad Memories

When I interview couples, I always ask them about the history of their relationship. In a happy marriage, couples tend to look back on their early days fondly. They remember how positive they felt early on, how excited they were when they met, and how much admiration they had for each other. When they talk about the tough times they’ve had, they glorify the struggles they’ve been through, drawing strength from the adversity they weathered together. Conduct your own Oral History Interview here.

A simple thing you can do to insure a healthy marriage…

A SIMPLE THING YOU CAN DO TO INSURE A HEALTHY MARRIAGE…

Os Hillman

Check out this amazing statistic:
“While 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce, and 78 percent of second marriages end in divorce, less than 1 percent of couples who pray together daily end their marriages.

My wife and I have been married 3 ½ years. I am thankful that my wife has a passion for God and has a powerful prayer life every day in her life. She starts her day at 5AM. We meet together at 7 to read a devotional book together and then Proverbs and a few other things I pick out. Then we pray together and we always pray the Jabez prayer and the Lord’s Prayer.

Taking that time together shuts out the devil from our relationship and allows us to focus on what is important.

The devotional book we read was written by my good friends, David and Teresa Ferguson. The book is called Never Alone: devotions for couples. It is one of the best books for couples I have ever read.

Each day they cover 52 topics to cover an entire year. Topics like acceptance, admonition, appreciation, sex, forgiveness, trust, faith, honor and so on. It’s amazing how often God speaks to us about issues we struggle with in our marriage. It seems that David and Teresa struggled with the same issues. I often hear that same comment about my TGIF devotional.

So, if you are married, I encourage you to get this book. When you order it, you will also get a free download of an interview I did with David and Teresa. Click here to learn more.

Becoming a Digital Grandparent

BECOMING A DIGITAL GRANDPARENT

Paula Span

When it comes to warnings about limiting kids’ screen time, grandparents are, well, grandfathered in.

Emerging from a theater on a recent Sunday, I turned on my phone and found a flurry of texts from my daughter. My 2-year-old granddaughter had just smashed her thumb in a closing restaurant door.

Wincing, I read on:

They were headed for an urgent care clinic.

They were waiting for X-rays.

The thumb was broken and needed a splint.

My granddaughter, who lives in Brooklyn, FaceTimes with her other grandparents out West almost every Sunday, a way to help bridge the distance. I live only about an hour away and serve as her day care provider every Thursday, so I haven’t felt the same need to video chat.

But this was probably the most dramatic event of her young life. My daughter, filling me in by phone afterward, said that Bartola (a family nickname and a nod to the beloved former Mets pitcher Bartolo Colón) wanted to show me her splint. So: FaceTime.

She appeared on my phone, holding up her small hand with an enormous, bandaged thumb that resembled the Facebook “like” symbol.

Bartola: I broke my thumb!

Bubbe (it’s Yiddish for grandma): Ouch, ouch, ouch. That must have hurt.

Bartola: I cried, but then I calmed down.

Bubbe: You were very brave.

She explained that at the doctor’s office, she’d gotten not one but two lollipops. Did that help? Affirmative.

With that conversation, I joined the 38 percent of American grandparents, according to a new AARP survey, who sometimes or often use video chat to communicate with their grandkids. Many more told the researchers they like the idea, even if they haven’t adopted it yet. Forty-five percent of us sometimes or often stay in touch by text; a third use email and 27 percent use Facebook. We are becoming digital grandparents.

And we appear to love it. My own highly unscientific poll found enormous enthusiasm for staying in touch with far-flung grandchildren through digital platforms.

How can Vivian Carasso, who lives in Sarasota, Fla., see and hear her 11-year-old granddaughter in Portugal play the “Star Wars” theme on the piano, and applaud the performer in real time? She relies on FaceTime.

How can Nancy Masson, in upstate New York, virtually attend a heavy metal concert with her teenage grandson in Massachusetts? She follows his Instagram account. “I didn’t want to embarrass him or make him feel self-conscious,” she said, so she asked if he objected. Nope! “He said, ‘That’s fine; you keep right on doing it.’”

When Rosie Cantu travels from San Antonio to visit her 18-month-old granddaughter in Iowa, “the baby comes to me without any hesitation,” she said. “I believe it’s because of all the contact we have through FaceTime,” which allows them to coo at each other almost nightly.

Even non-distant families stay in closer contact with technology. Nancy Kolodny’s 10-year-old grandson lives near her in Norwalk, Conn., but he recently received a wearable device called a GizmoWatch as a birthday gift. Parents can program it to allow kids too young for cellphones to call or text a few preapproved contacts.

Now that he can reach her directly, without a parent as intermediary, “it opens up conversations that I’m not sure would happen otherwise,” Ms. Kolodny reported. “Last week, he texted me: ‘Can you come over? I miss seeing you.’”

I did hear from one naysayer, who thought her toddler granddaughter already spent too much time with electronic devices, thank you. This grandma lived nearby, so she could maintain a close relationship without them.

But despite the many warnings about the effects of “screen time” on young children, the experts I consulted turned out to be partisans of real-time digital communication for grandparents.

“I’m bullish on video chatting,” said Dr. Dimitri Christakis, who directs the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “It can enhance bonding and recognition.”

Dr. Christakis helped develop the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations that parents limit children’s exposure to screens, because of research associating TV-watching with later attention problemsand other health and behavioral issues.

But the academy guidelines, he noted, exempt video chat, which is inherently interactive and doesn’t involve the same sped-up pace, overstimulation or passivity as, say, watching cartoons. “I don’t think it should be considered screen time at all,” he said. “It’s something different.”

Though babies under a year old probably won’t engage much via Skype or FaceTime, Dr. Christakis said, he agreed that video chat had worked well for my conversation with Bartola. “It was enriched by her being able to see your facial expressions and your being able to see her splint,” he said. “Facial expressions are incredibly important” — it’s why we use emojis.

Even parents with strict no-screen policies make an exception for video chat, said the developmental psychologist Elisabeth McClure, who led one of the few studies to date, surveying 183 parents of infants and toddlers in the Washington, D.C., area. Eighty-five percent of participants used it, and more than a third used it weekly — primarily, they said, to stay connected to grandparents.

Dr. McClure is living in Denmark now and regularly uses FaceTime herself (starting in her hospital room after delivery) to keep her two young children in touch with family in the States. “It’s not for entertainment or education; it’s about building relationships,” she said.

No longer a special event requiring an appointment, video chat has become a way kids can share everyday events with faraway families. They may want to show grandpa a block tower or a drawing, a tooth that fell out or what the tooth fairy brought.

Dr. McClure and her research team have watched families find imaginative ways to use the technology, dancing and singing together, reciting the piggies rhyme while a parent squeezes the child’s toes, playing hide-and-seek while a parent follows the child around with the phone. “Families are figuring out how to act as the arms and legs of the grandparents,” Dr. McClure said. “It’s just magical.”

I wondered about privacy concerns as children grew older. Would they resist contact with grandparents, feeling spied on via Instagram or coerced into video chatting? But Dr. McClure felt those were the same boundary issues teenagers have always learned to negotiate. “It’s part of growing up,” she said.

And Dr. Christakis noted that children who have grown up with digital communications may have a very different take on privacy. “They don’t have the same expectations or place the same value on it,” he said. Besides, “it’s actually good advice: Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want Grandma to see.”

Of course, digital contact has its limits; some experiences lie beyond the reach of phones and tablets. Lucky Bubbe: I got to see Bartola’s splint in person. I smooch her bumps and bruises and catch her as she hurtles down the playground slide. We share French toast for lunch.

Ms. Carasso, who has grandchildren in Australia as well as Portugal, feels grateful for video chat. “It makes it bearable to be so far apart,” she said.

“But I can’t reach out and give a hug or kisses, and I miss that terribly.”

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