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March 2015

What's the Big Deal about Practicing Gratitude?
Food decoration for German Thanksgiving *
Saying 'thank you' is a habit most of us already have 1. Just open the door for a stranger and you will almost always receive a polite and sincere 'thank you' in return. It is so much a part of being human that many cultures even have an entire day dedicated to the practice of Thanksgiving 2.

So if these practices are already so engrained, why would we need to practice?

First, we such lead busy lives 3 we sometimes forget to look at what we already have or have already achieved. Also, because it is such an automatic response, we sometimes forget to pause long enough to get the benefits gratitude and appreciation have to offer. But recent research has shown that taking the time to truly appreciate the good in the world 4 can do more than just make us temporarily happier. Leading researchers 5 are finding that practicing gratitude can do so much more than increase our happiness. 6 It can even impact our own tendency to be generous - which means more people will be saying ‘thank you’ back. What a great way to increase your own wellness while also increasing the wellness of others!

Wow! This is amazing *
Already having the habit of saying 'thank you' means you are half way there. But what does it take to turn this habit into one that can lead to the physical and mental health benefits we all want?

Research also tells us that making positive change doesn't always come easy. It takes desire and intention. And most importantly – Practice 7. Fortunately, our brains are designed for learning - so the more time and attention we give to developing this new habit the easier it gets. Keep in mind that it is important to pick an activity you love - like journaling 8, photography 9, art 10, or just pausing 11. Then give it a try. Just a small daily dose will help you to refocus on the good 12 When you find what you enjoy growing your gratitude lens is easy and appreciation becomes your new way of seeing life. You might even get so excited you want to contribute to making the whole world a better place 13 – one ‘thank you’ at a time.

January 2015

How to change your child’s behavior? Let your child do it.
All parents know what it is like to watch their children misbehave, while feeling powerless to change it. Sometimes children do things we wish they wouldn't, like coloring on that freshly painted living room wall or playing their music at max volume. Sometimes they don’t do things we wish they would, like brushing teeth or cleaning their room. It is a normal part of the parent-child experience, but it can be incredibly frustrating. With a shift in perspective and the use of a 3-step limit setting process, parents can avoid a lot of aggravation for themselves and help their children gain valuable skills for self-control and responsibility over time.

Helping children change their own behavior
The best place to start is to consider this: as much as you would like to at times, you cannot control your children’s behavior, but you can help them develop their own abilities for self-control. Once you give up the role of controller, you free yourself up to be your children’s helper. Each time a behavior issue arises, you can approach it as an opportunity to help them develop the ability to come up against a limit and find a more acceptable way to get their needs met.

ACT for your child
In their book, Child Parent Relationship Therapy, Garry Landreth and Sue Bratton introduce a 3-step process for parents and caregivers to set limits when a behavior needs to change. This approach offers parents a way to stay connected with their children when limits are being challenged, calmly but firmly state an important limit, and help their children find creative solutions.

Acknowledge the feeling
It is tempting to go right to the problem when a child is misbehaving. But every act is simply an attempt to meet a need, and if we can connect with our child’s need, we can begin from a place of understanding rather than anger. We may not agree, but we can understand. So, how can we get in touch with the need behind the deed? Pay close attention to your child. Try to understand what your child feels or wants in the moment. Then let them know that you get it. “You are really mad right now.” Or, “You have fun painting.”

Communicate the limit
Next, calmly but firmly state the limit, the behavior that you want to change, in a way that focuses on the behavior, not the child. For instance, “The wall is not for painting.” Or, “It’s time to go to school now.” By focusing on the behavior, it is always possible to value and accept your child without supporting the behavior. And a child can experience limits without feeling put down or criticized.

Target an alternative
Finally, offer one or two other options your child could choose instead. Each alternative should be something that is acceptable to you and satisfying for your child. By targeting alternatives, you are helping your child find solutions to the problem - more acceptable ways to find satisfaction. “You can paint on paper here at the table or on the floor.”

Limit setting can be an opportunity for children to develop crucial skills for decision making and self control that will serve them well throughout life. As parents and caregivers, we can be our children’s helpers in that process.

October 2014

Turn Your Next Fight Into an Opportunity to Reconnect
Romantic relationships can be an incredible source of love and support. But when conflict arises and harsh words are exchanged, both partners often walk away feeling hurt, angry, and alone. Over time, a series of these encounters can leave a couple feeling disconnected.

With the right approach, you can learn together how to minimize the damage and use your conflict as an opportunity to reconnect instead of disconnect. John Gottman has researched countless couples in conflict. In his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, he suggests that what matters most is not what you argue about, but how you engage one another in the midst of an argument. The following strategies can help you turn your next fight into an opportunity to improve your relationship.

Bring down the threat level. When you perceive a threat, your body and mind shift into a crisis response mode to keep you safe. You will likely try to get away (Flight), try even harder to argue your point (Fight), or shut down and clam up (Freeze). It is your built-in way of avoiding threats. Unfortunately, the very system designed to protect you can also work against you in an argument. When you are both in “threat response mode,” there is no upside to continuing the fight. Listen to your body, and give it what it needs - a break from the immediate threat. Let your partner know that you’re in “threat response mode” and need a little time to come down. Then, set a time within the next 24 hours to come back together and talk about the issue when you’re feeling less defensive.

Soften your approach. How you start an argument is key. It sets the tone. It’s the difference between “What the @#$% is the matter with you? Are you stupid!? Clean up your @%!# mess! Do I have to tell you a thousand times?” and “Honey, I know that project is important to you, but I wish you would take out the trash like you said you would.” A softer approach keeps the threat level low and makes it a lot easier to talk about difficult topics without hurting your relationship.

Learn to repair. Well connected couples learn over time how to repair their connection when it gets damaged. Highly charged arguments eat away at your relationship bond over time. But if you take the time to repair after damage is done, then your relationship can become even stronger. You can even begin repairing in the midst of an argument! Just turn your attention to your relationship. Are you missing that loving feeling? Then find a unique way to invite a caring connection in the moment. Each couple develops their own unique ways. Maybe it’s a gentle touch, a little smile, an inside joke, or even an apology, or sharing something you appreciate about your partner. Also, look for your partner’s attempts at reconnecting and join in! It takes two to repair.

Change your shoes. During an argument, you’re focused squarely on your partner’s mistakes and how hard or hurtful it is for you to endure them. After all, they do some pretty unbelievable things sometimes! Even so, connecting requires understanding. Reconnecting after conflict becomes a much easier task when you take the time and effort to learn what it is like from your partner’s perspective. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes and develop an understanding of their world. Ask open-ended questions to learn more about this person that shares life with you. “What is most important to you right now?,” “What are you most worried or concerned about?” “What hopes and dreams do you have?” The potential questions are endless and there is always more you can learn. The more clearly you walk in your partner’s shoes and see the world through their eyes, the easier you will find it to strengthen your connection.

Conflict is a natural part of any developing relationship. With a few key strategies, you can turn even your arguments into opportunities to strengthen your bond as a couple.

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