Parenting Through the Storm Blog

Parenting information and support for parents who have a child who is struggling. The official blog for Parenting Through the Storm: How to Handle the Highs, the Lows, and Everything in Between by Ann Douglas (HarperCollins Canada, January 2015 + Guilford Press, September 2016), a guide to parenting a child with a mental health, neurodevelopmental, or behavioural challenge.

How to Get in a March Break Frame of Mind -- and Fast....

March Break certainly gets its fair share of hype. It’s a time of year when we are supposed to relax, unwind, and spend quality time with our kids: you know, the stuff of which perfect childhood memories are made….

Of course, the reality can fall far short of that rather utopian parenting ideal. Routines get turned on their head because the kids are out of school. And, at the same time, expenses can soar out of control, whether you head out of town or stay at home. 

I know what it's like to be a parent who is dreading rather than anticipating this annual shake-up to the family routine because I've lived it many times.

Maybe you can relate....

It could be that you’re the parent of a child who doesn’t cope well with changes to his/her routine, which means that you’ll be dealing with a stressed out rather than a happy kid if you try to sign that kid up for March Break camp or any other sort of organized activity.

It could be that you're a parent who is already feeling maxed out by the day-to-day demands of parenting. Or maybe you’re a parent on an already tight budget who is feeling stressed by the added expense of March Break camps, activities, and/or childcare -- which means that March Break spells “stress” and “expense” for you.

Or it could be that you’re a parent who runs a home-based business and you’re trying to figure out how to juggle the needs of your kids and your clients — both of which are pretty much guaranteed to need you at exactly the same time (think “Murphy’s Law of March Break Parenting"). Or maybe you're working outside the home at a busy job that doesn't make allowances for the rollercoaster ride in family life that is March Break.

This, of course, begs the question: how do you get through it? How do you cope with the stresses of March Break and make this a fun week for your kids? Here are my suggestions, based on what I've learned from my own March Break parenting experiences.

Accept the fact that you’re the one who will set the tone for the week.

Even if you're feeling mega-stressed by the fact that your responsibilities as a grownup don't get time off during March Break (and, in fact, they may even ramp up), you don't have to pass that stress along to your kids. So pause and be mindful of your big-picture parenting goals.

Clear the deck of non-essentials.

It's okay to put some worries and tasks on the back burner, for now -- and to say "no" to non-essential commitments and obligations. Sure, it would be great if you could whip through all the tasks on your spring cleaning to do list this week -- but do you really want to ramp up your stress levels at what may already be a fairly stressful time? What you might want to do instead is to come up with creative ways to free up the time, mental space, and energy required to make the most of this time with your kids. 

Ditch the guilt.

You don’t have to be a perfect or all-sacrificing parent to help your kids have an enjoyable break. And what works for you during March Break may be radically different from what works for other parents, due to differences in time, budget, and circumstances. To each their own! So resist the temptation to get caught up in a frenzy of social media comparison -- obsessing over Instagram pics of other parents taking their kids to exotic locations or doing Pinterest-worthy DIY projects or just plain oozing parental competence and caring on Facebook 24/7. Instead, focus on what will make this week a positive experience for you and your kids -- and then figure out a way to make that happen. (Hint: Look for ways to join forces with other families. They're grappling with the very same time- and budget-crunch issues, too.) 


Ann Douglas is a mom of four and the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting, including, most recently, Parenting Through the Storm. 

How to Avoid Being Psychologically Destroyed by Your Newsfeed

emotional-storms

This past week has been brutal, in terms of what has been coming across my newsfeed. And 2016 wasn't exactly a picnic either. So lately I've been thinking a lot about the mental health impact of a steady avalanche of Really Bad News. Many of us (myself included) deal with mental health challenges on a daily basis and being fed a steady diet of devastating world events only serves to make that harder. So I've decided to share a few strategies I'm using to avoid being completely crushed by my newsfeed right now. (I'm writing this post as much for myself as for anyone else. But I'm also hoping that this post will be helpful to some other sensitive soul who is having an extra tough time right now.)

Here's my best advice....

Recognize that there's a difference between being immersed and being informed

Sure, you want to be aware of what's happening in the world, but that doesn't mean that you have to be plugged into your Twitter or Facebook feed 24/7. Give yourself permission to take breaks. And aim for a balanced media diet. Don't just focus on the really bad news. Gravitate toward the good, too.

Stick to your usual routines as much as possible

We humans are creatures of habit and we find comfort in the familiar. And make sure that you're giving your body what it needs to function at its best: healthy food, regular physical activity, time for fun, and adequate sleep. (I don't know about you, but I find that sleep is the glue that holds everything else together. I've learned to recognize it for what it is: a necessity, not a luxury.) 

Look for opportunities to take action

It doesn't have to be something huge. Frankly, it will feel a whole lot less overwhelming if it's not. But by carrying through on sort of positive action, however small (writing a letter, making a donation, attending a face-to-face get-together in your town), you'll be engaging the rational-logical part of your brain. And that will help to put the brakes on what can otherwise quickly escalate into paralyzing feelings of anxiety and sadness. Feeling powerless fuels anxiety; taking action brings it down. 

Allow yourself to feel all the feelings

Allow painful emotions to flow through you as opposed to avoiding them (which suppresses positive as well as negative emotions, leaving you feeling emotionally "flat") or dwelling on them (which ties up cognitive resources, leaving you less equipped to solve problems or connect with other people). Remind yourself that feelings come and feelings go -- and you are not your feelings. 

Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.
— Noam Chomsky

Maintain your sense of optimism

Focus on what you can control as opposed to fixating on what you can't. You'll find it easier to make this mental mindshift if you make a conscious effort to boost your level of positive emotion by doing things you enjoy and spending time with people you love. Positive emotions leave the door open to possibility while negative emotions slam the door shut. You want to keep the door open right now.

Reach out -- don't crumble inward

Connect with other caring citizens who share your concern about what's happening in our country and our world. Talk to other people you know who may be going through an especially difficult time right now -- especially members of vulnerable or marginalized communities. Let them know that you will be there to support them and that you care. Smile at strangers. (Assume their good intentions unless proven otherwise.) Look for opportunities to build bridges, not walls. Finally, reach out for other types of support if you feel like you're really struggling. Self-care isn't selfish; it's self-preservation. You need to take extra good care of yourself right now.

Talk to your children

Address their fears and spark their compassion. Do everything in your power to nurture their caring and to encourage them to dream of a better world. Then support those brave dreamers. They offer the best path forward for our deeply troubled world.

Reading Guide: Parenting Through the Storm

A few months ago, I was approached by a school that was interested in choosing Parenting Through the Storm as a selection for their school's parenting book club.

Needless to say, I loved the idea; and the school's email got me thinking about what I could do to support their efforts. In addition to offering to visit their school (either virtually or in person, depending on logistics!), I also offered to create a reading guide for Parenting Through the Storm.

The result is the reading guide that I have just uploaded to the website.

If you take a moment to download a copy, you'll see that it is a hefty guide (11 pages!) containing

  • a series of discussion questions tied into the major issues touched upon in the book (both overview questions that apply to the book as a whole and questions that relate to specific chapters)
  • spinoff social-emotional learning activities for parents to try at home
  • a series of illustrations and quotes that highlight some of the key points I hope every reader will take away from the book and the resulting book club discussion.

Note: It doesn't matter whether you're reading the Canadian edition of the book or the US and International edition of the book. Either way, this reading guide is for you. 

And if you do decide to choose Parenting Through the Storm as a selection for your parenting book club or other reading group, please drop me a line to let me know. I'd love to hear how things go and I'd welcome your suggestions on how to improve the guide.

Cabin Fever Survival Guide: How to Reduce Stress, Boost Your Mood, and Get Out of Your Grumpiness Rut

How to reduce stress, boost your mood, and ward off cabin fever.

Forget April. January is the cruelest month when you’re a parent. The holidays are but a distant memory, the kids are getting restless, and spring feels impossibly far away. So how do you get inspired to make the effort to connect with your kids when you’re experiencing an almost magnetic pull toward the closest couch?

Get outdoors as much as possible

Feeling trapped between the same four walls can leave you feeling like you’re stuck in the worst kind of rut. And it means you’re missing out on the psychological boost that comes from being active outdoors. So bundle up and find ways to squeeze in bits of active outdoor fun.  Plan a block party with your neighbours. (Who says block parties can only happen on a warm summer night?) Toss a Frisbee around in the snow. Bundle up for an hour or two of skating or sledding. Or make pictures in the snow (either by stamping out pictures with your boots or by squirting the snow with a spray bottle containing cold water and a few drops of food colouring). 

Not sure that you'll be able to sell your screen-obsessed kid on the joys of spending time outdoors? Head outdoors with them. Not only do kids like to see parents walking the talk of getting off the couch: they relish the opportunity to have our undivided attention, something that tends to happen whenever we head outside to play. (I mean it’s pretty hard to multitask—to plug away at balancing your checkbook, for example—when you’re busy building a snowman with your kid!)

Change locations

Weather too grim to make any kind of outdoor activity tolerable, let alone fun? Simply focus on changing (indoor) locations instead. Join forces with some other families on your block (hey, they're dealing with the very same challenges, too!) by organizing a board games night or planning some other sort of fun activity like a progressive dinner (where you have soup/salad at one family's house, the main course at another family's house, and coffee/dessert at a third family's house).

Of course, if you have a large number of very young children (and the thought of getting them in and out of their snowsuits that many times would leave you feeling exhausted before you ever left home!) or if you a child who would find it hard to cope with this kind of shake-up of your family's usual routine, you might find it works best to simply stay put and focus on having fun on your own home turf. (That link will take you to an idea-packed blog post by Jenna Morton of Pickle Planet Moncton, the parent I interviewed for this related radio story.)

Commit to hitting the reset button if you're stuck in a grumpiness rut

Feeling like you're just treading water while you await the arrival of spring? You'll find it easier to power through if you remind yourself that this time of year is really hard for them, just as it’s really hard for you. Then resolve to find some ways to get through the next few weeks together.

Start out by accepting the fact that you have a huge role to play in setting the tone for the next few weeks. If you’re in a perpetual funk, your kids will pick up on your mood—and their anxiety about why you’re being grumpy or moody will make them act up even more. So resolve to hit the reset button and to reach out for support from other people (your best friend, your next door neighbor, your family doctor) if you feel like you’re stuck in a grumpiness rut. 

Finally, clear the deck of all the non-essential items on your to do list so that you can make more room for fun, rest, and relaxation. Fun doesn’t just happen. You have to make it happen and that starts by recognizing it for what it is (a necessity, not a frill) and understanding that you have the power to make fun happen for yourself and your kids.

Here’s to making the most of that power. 

Related:

Helping Children to Thrive Despite Early Struggles

Relationships serve as the active ingredient in our development, writes Sara Langworthy, author of Bridging the Relationship Gap.

Relationships serve as the active ingredient in our development, writes Sara Langworthy, author of Bridging the Relationship Gap.

“The beauty of being human is that we constantly evolve and change. We have experiences every day that can alter the course of our lives to help us rebuild what was broken and rediscover what was lost. We, as humans, are never irreparably broken because our brains and bodies are built to change and adapt. And young children are often able to change more easily than the rest of us, when makes the earliest years of life the most full of hope. The key to that hope is in relationships.”
- Sara E. Langworthy, Bridging the Relationship Gap: Connecting with Children Facing Adversity

Not every child has an easy start in life. Bad things can and do happen—and often despite the best intentions of those who care about that child.

The good news is that a warm relationship with a caring adult can make a world of difference for a child who has faced early struggles.

That’s a message that comes through loud and clear in Sara E. Langworthy’s practical and hope-filled book Bridging the Relationship Gap: Connecting with Children Facing Adversity (St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press, 2015): a guide to fostering recovery and resilience in children who have experienced trauma or other adverse childhood experiences

Langworthy has a gift for choosing the perfect analogy to bring complicated and abstract concept to life. Consider, for example, the way she explains the transformative power of relationships on the life of a child. Just as baking powder is “the active ingredient in cake batter that is necessary for your cake to rise properly…relationships serve as that active ingredient in our development,” she writes. 

While this book is intended for early childhood educators and others who work with young children, many of the messages will resonate powerfully with parents as well, thanks to the tone of acceptance and compassion for parents and for children that permeates every page of this book. “Begin with the assumption that every family is doing the best they can given the context in which they live,” Langworthy tells her readers. Likewise, treat children who are struggling as “resilient, active creators of their own lives” rather than “passive, needy receivers of assistance.”

Langworthy has written a practical and compassionate guide that is deeply rooted in messages of hope and possibility: “Despite living in a world fraught with the pain and suffering of trauma and loss, we must cling to the hope of the possibility of change,” she tells us. The book then spells out the recipe for change -- one that is powered by the ultimate "active ingredient": relationships.

Q & A with Sara Langworthy

I recently had the opportunity to connect with Sara Langworthy by video conference. I found her to be every bit as warm, caring, and genuine in conversation as she is in her book. Our conversation inspired me to want to explore a couple of the issues raised in her book in greater depth, so I followed up with her by e-mail, asking her if she’d mind answering a couple of additional questions for me. What follows are my questions and her answers.

Your book really emphasizes the potential for early childhood educators and others working with young children to transform children’s lives through the power of relationship. What do you want these professionals to know about their impact and importance? 

I think this question raises such an important point about the hard work of early care providers: They are often forgotten. Because children are so young when they are in early childhood settings, they often don't remember their teachers in the same way that they'll go on to remember their teachers later in life. It's also tough because early care providers don't often get to see how their kiddos turn out when they grow older. Providers don't get to know if the children they cared for went off to college, got an awesome job, or had families of their own. They don't get to see the effect they had on those children blossom over time. 

But we know from the research on early relationships that those connections are some of the most formative and important for later health, achievement and wellness. The multitude of hours care providers spend working hard to connect with and teach young children - even and especially those children who are hard to work with - are hugely important for setting kids up for success later on. Even though children may not remember you, your care, attention, and teaching have long-lasting effects on who they grow to be. 

You also talk about the importance of self-care. What advice would you offer to professionals who are tempted to put self-care on the back burner?

Self-care can be so hard! I'm no expert in effective self-care myself, but one thing I hear over and over again is that it's impossible to care well for others if you are not caring for yourself first. But even if you agree with that sentiment, it can be really hard to operationalize self-care in your own life. It can feel selfish or indulgent to take that time to care for your own needs, be they physical, emotional, intellectual, or social when there are so many others in need your care and attention. But truly, you are only able to be your professional best when you give yourself the time and attention you need to be your personal best.

One important point about self-care: it looks different for everyone. The self-care activities might be different (time with friends, getting a massage, taking a night off, watching a movie, going for a run, seeing a therapist, etc.). But also the amount of time you spend on self-care to feel at your best might be different from other people. That's okay! I tend to think that I actually need more self-care time than a lot of people to remain balanced. I have a hard time not feeling guilty about that, but I'm learning that taking that time for myself makes me more effective in my work AND in my play. 

You're also never going to get it right all the time. That's okay too! Give yourself permission to fall down and mess up sometimes. Despite feeling like I was pretty good at maintaining balance and taking care of myself, I learned in a really big way recently that I needed some recalibration of my own. I wrote about it over on my blog on Medium, but essentially it took falling into a pit to realize that everything was not okay. I'm still working my way out of that pit, but I'm learning so much about myself and what I need in terms of self-care because of that experience. Know that just because you mess up (and you will mess up), it doesn't mean you're a permanent failure, or that you're not worthy of the care you need to feel better in your own life. Take that time in the ways you need. That is MORE than just okay. It's essential. 

 

Reviewed by Ann Douglas, author, Parenting Through the Storm.