Life Lessons from a Dribbling Mess!

Life Lessons from a Dribbling Mess!

Slightly harsh, but quite accurate in that the dribbling mess is in fact my 15 month old son. I stand by my description, quite literally as i am stood beside him with a snotty nose, spaghetti in his hair holding a spotlessly clean bib…go figure. Today, I kept him home from day care so we could hang out whilst his big brother was with friends, and his mum hard at work.

I like many others have studied long and hard to establish professions in the field of wellbeing, children, family, counselling and really striving to best understand humans and what makes them tick and blow. Turns out, that we perhaps knew all along, and can save ourselves years and tens of thousands of dollars in student fees by just reconnecting with the 15 month dribbling mess versions of ourselves.

Here is what I was shown and reminded of today:

  1. Be you and nothing and nobody else. You rock that epic wobble with your belly out and keep putting your hands in the air like you rightly don’t care!
  2. Get shit done that needs to be done. No lists, no procrastinating just get it done then crack on. Quite literally! Obviously nappies help, but those things that just need to be done without any deep and meaningful process simply get done and then you move on to the trickier stuff.
  3. Get Outdoors. Tears inside, big smiles outside. Fresh air, nature, space, exercise…
  4. Look and listen before you talk and do
  5. Importance of good connections. Keep your family and friends close and strangers at a distance, not daft advice at all. Perhaps as grownups we invest in relative strangers a tad more than close family and good friends.
  6. Listen to your body. Sleep, eat and play. I know it gets a tad greyer when you get older in more ways than one, but everything starts from strong foundations.
  7. Spontaneity. Be open to new experiences and challenges.
  8. Smile, for no other reason but you can and want to.
  9. Express yourself – Quit controlling the uncontrollable. When it tickles you pink then laugh out loud, if it makes you sad then shed a few tears.
  10. Give it a go first and then know when to ask for help.
  11. Be open to new learning / things.
  12. Move on. When it is done, then get over it and get living.
  13. Listen to those that care about you. Really take notice and act on advice from those you love, oh and a big massive dose of unconditional love, hugs and snotty kisses.
  14. Give without expectation of it being returned now or later. Altruism at its best.
  15. It’s okay to climb and push your limits – but to test our upper limits rather than reach a set goal. Yes, I know developmentally the body, including brain have been fast tracked. However, perhaps it’s their boundless commitment to exploring their own limits and not those placed upon them that has a big hand in such exponential growth. No sign of a glass ceiling with these guys.
  16. Play! Wow, do these guys give a master class in how to have fun. Doing fun things and actually having fun are two very different things.
  17. Mindfulness. Being absolutely in the moment. The bugs, dogs, people, food deserve every bit of your focus and attention. No one of the senses gets left out.
  18. If you fall, have a quick look at the closest loved one to you, and if they smile then take that as a vote of confidence in your resilience, and a nod to all your limbs being present and correct. Then carry on being epic.
  19. Listen to your gut and pick your team wisely. Ever noticed how the kids tend to make a confident b’line for some kids and not others. Be cautious of the negative and go climb trees with the positive.

So, tomorrow I intend to let my pasty belly hang out and stride down my hallway with my hands in the air like I just don’t care and then take it from there. Fingers crossed!

Games and our Kids: Silence isn’t always Golden.

Knowing what our kids are playing and taking a second to think of the implications, now and later.

Well, I don’t know where to start on this because I don’t know where it would finish or even if it could finish without writing a novel.

‘It’s awesome! If you finish the level quick enough then you can kill the baby when its still sleeping and upgrade your gun!” This came out of the mouth of a six-year-old child I was seeing as a counsellor. I had been called into a school to help improve the behaviour of some challenging wee ones. To give a bit of context, I’d barely sat down and asked how the week had gone so far. The game is called Duck Hunt (search duck hunt horror – if you see the red eyed dog, you have found a version) and he put an impressive amount of energy behind reenacting how to move and shoot with speed and accuracy. Now, my generation will remember that game as one where you shot ducks as they flew across the screen. Its not that one! I didn’t believe what he was telling me at first, so I looked into it and quickly found what he was playing. He was right! It starts quite harmlessly as a basic shoot’em up (birds) game, before it quickly enters a room with a family all sat in a lounge. Depending on which family member you shoot will dictate which gun you upgrade to. The graphics are damned realistic too. This is just a game that this six-year-old fills a bit of time with and far from the worst he plays. The exception, absolutely not!

I am a counsellor working with kids from 5 upwards as well as the grown-up work I do. I have been doing this for over a decade and therefore believe I have a pretty fair reflection on what is going on purely from experience rather than from afar in a research paper. I have seen a direct correlation with behaviour challenges to the games used. I intentionally didn’t say technology as that isn’t the case at all. Demands on parents are increasing and work patterns have changed massively. On my way back from a run or the gym at about 6.30am day cares are already receiving their first drop offs.

With this increased busyness and kids that by the very fact that they are kids are a bundle of fun, energy and thirst for time and entertainment. Digital devices are gold for keeping young ones still and quiet. They are however, far from safe. Any parent will tell you noise (within reason) is the norm, but silence – that will get me jumping up to see if the boys have drawn on the wall or hand fishing in the toilet. It is kind of like that with kids and games, just because they are out of your hair for 5 mins don’t start celebrating until you know for sure what they are up to.

Firstly, I am completely pro technology and certainly see its abundant benefits. Having access to information is invaluable, especially when in academic land and completing research.

This post is raising a flag on how technology is used by our kids. It’s a bit of common sense really, but I get how life can result in a few blind spots.

  1. First, have a think on what your values and beliefs are.
  2. Explore what they may look, and sound like for you and then your kids.
  3. Then take a look at the games that they have, regardless of age. You pick what is appropriate for your kids not the games company or censorship committees. Google the highest-ranking games in the world right now- well keep tracking back over the last 10 years- it’s the same result. Every one of the top games is a shoot ‘em up and the graphics are bloody realistic.  Grand Theft Auto is a cracking example. Pull over, once you have evaded police, and then kill as many people as possible to get some money. You get even more money depending on how creative you are in your murder. Not to mention the rewards for killing female characters.  Then ask, how does this look compared to my image of the values and beliefs I thought of earlier. What is it normalising and desensitising our children to? As an ex police officer, I have seen my fair share of the dark side, murder and violence. Maybe that’s why I might be a tad ‘sensitive’ and ‘overprotective’, or maybe not.
  4. Take a second. You are at a barbeque with some friends. You see your wee angel playing with a few other wee angels. You listen and look a bit closer. One of the other kids pretends to shoot your angel in the head with a gun whilst shouting ‘take that biatch!’. In the meantime, the other kids want in on the action and pretend to kick the crap out of your little angel because they too can get some points if they inflict a bit of damage too. They then turn on one of the other kids shouting, “now you can be the police” we are gonna f.&k you up! Would you smile and nod to one of your friends and smile before sharing a “kids aye” moment? I think not.
  5. Fortnite– the latest global phenomena game- is not unheard of by any means with many of my young and old clients.

Social media and the role in the lives of our young ones is a beast in itself that I’m sure I’ll talk about at some point. When it comes to computer games, it is really simple. How does the game look compared to your own family values and beliefs? We all make our own decisions, and these are my thoughts. They are however thoughts based on working with young ones for nearly 20 years and the last 10 specifically with child and adolescent mental health. I absolutely see a direct correlation between behaviours and the types of games and amount of time spent playing them.

As parents, but as adults and a society we really need to take as much responsibility of the safety and wellbeing of our children and future when they are sat in front of screens as we do when they are not. We can’t be too surprised or p’d off with the kids behaving in a way that is pretty out there. We need to step up first and then see what happens with behaviours and some very shaky wellbeing.

Taking Your Meds: Mindful Movement

Mindful Movement: Know Your Meds And Then Take It.

Coping through Grief: The beginning and the endish…

The most common reason for not hitting the trails is I’m too busy and haven’t got the time. In terms of our wellbeing, especially mine, I can’t afford not to, and when I’m tired and busy that’s exactly the right time to hit the trails and recharge.

Imagine a little white tablet (in fact dissolvable with a taste that adjusts to your own preference…I’m thinking Banoffee Pie), that has seemingly limitless evidence to support its ability to prevent and manage; heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, dementia, stress, depression and anxiety. This very same tablet boosts happiness, sleep, strength and flexibility, self-confidence, memory, energy levels, immunity, creativity and relaxation. Oh, you’ll also live longer and it’s free. Well, these are just some of the benefits that come with regular exercise.

I am not one for labels and it may or may not resonate with you when I say Trail Running is my medication. Not, running, the gym and certainly not cricket, but quite specifically trail running. For me the mix in my meds that ‘rocks my boat’, is a steady dose of about 12k, with a smidge of beach and a mass of bush trails and a healthy portion of hill.

Keeping it up, but knowing when to up the dose.

Three years ago, almost to the day my family suffered a big loss. The grief was to put it mildly, painful. The day after and in the midst of making arrangements, without much thought I put on my running gear and grabbed my cash card before I stepped out of the house and started to run. Not as a mad man, or one being chased by a rabid dog, just one foot in front of the other. My journey started from Whangaparaoa and finished in Mission Bay after a swim (more of a less dramatic wade) across Wade River and a quick ferry trip from Devonport.  Needless to say this was far from my usual route or distance. The physical pain was a welcome distraction, as was the opportunity to step out of my thoughts and feelings. I was not running away from my problems by any stretch, I was coping with it as best I could. I had taken my ‘meds’ and the best therapy I could have asked for right then and there.

The endish… well that came from an unexpected source and time! This breakthrough was on my now less than trusty mountain bike. A few weeks ago my seat snapped clean off the post whilst sitting back into an awesome descent. When the seat gave way my crotch embraced a fast moving and well treaded bike tyre. With no feeling of pain at all, I assumed I was in shock, that was the only explanation for the lack of pain that I would have expected from the equivalent of a belt sander on my crotch. Turns out it was more of a glancing blow and my imagination was being overly dramatic. The bike mechanic who only 2 weeks earlier who had repaired the seat was the sole target of my inner rage.

A couple of weeks ago I jumped on the bike for a quick training ride. A tad nervous after my recent experience I couldn’t help but question if it was possible to get impaled on my own seat post, if the seat was to make a break for it again. Then my imagination floated unhelpfully to how would someone treat such an injury.

Anyway, the first few pedals in the bike was making all sorts of weird and wonderful noises. I would love to say it was groaning under the strain of the immense power I was exerting on my humble stead. The bike wasn’t happy, kept jumping gears and making a damned annoying banging sound. For this I allocated blame firmly with another bike mechanic.

The final straw to my ride was when I was peddling up hill, sounding like a one man band, with all the banging and scraping noises. A gent who, in my minds eye, had no physical right to overtake me, was doing so, whilst checking his Strava and eating a muesli bar. The cheek of the man to then smile politely as he greeted me good morning. The blame for this rested firmly with my work, as it took my time and energy away from exercising, whilst also still holding an unhealthy anger directed toward the two bike mechanics.

Well, the seat post incident, I knew the seat angle was off when I picked it up. I also knew this put too much pressure on the pin and was a matter of time before it would snap. It would have taken less than 30 seconds to fix this problem. I didn’t, so mechanic number 1, I’m sorry, my fault.

The banging and scraping noise, I had been told by mechanic number two that the chain was slack and needed replacing. This can and did do all sorts of damage because I chose not to act and ‘it’ll be right’. Mechanic number two, apologies my fault.

As for the fella that overtook me, apologies, my bad again, less chocolate and more exercise, simple.

The relevance of this may or not be obvious, but it was like a sledge hammer at the end of the last ride. I had externalised my grief and therefore power rested outside of myself and I became a spectator in my own process. With all my knowledge, training and experience in the very field of trauma, grief and loss I couldn’t seem to apply it to my own experience. I was blaming anybody and everybody, whether it made sense or not. As soon as I took back control and responsibility for my own wellbeing it is a very empowering mindset indeed.

For many reading this you too will have your own highs and lows throughout your own lives. You too will also know what running or being active means and does for you. It feeds and nourishes us physically,  mentally and spiritually. Keep taking your meds, its way better than any pill, it can get you through and you will be okay.

Parenting: Being Here Rather Than There.

Our young ones grow up way too fast. It’s so important we grab a hold of every moment and be a truly present parent.

Present parenting, not presently parenting. If you do a bit of googling on this topic you’ll find two main threads. Either, some direction around Mindfulness, yourself and the benefits this may bring to your parenting. Alternatively, the bulk of content relates to situations like the one in the image below, there in body alone.busy-parentsThis post is about authentic presence. Mindfulness, meditation, being present, whatever term you want to use; the power of switching off from ‘there’ and really being ‘here’ in any relationship, but specifically with your young one, is truly incredible and an invaluable practice to incorporate into our lives.

What prompts this post? well I’m a counsellor specialising in working with children and adolescents, and work with a lot of families. It also helps that I’m quite passionate about what I do. However, what prompts this post is my reflection of the weekend just gone, and my greatest passion, my family and being the best dad I can be.

This weekend we did a lot of cool things, and every one of them together as a family. I also did a lot of DIY, chores and a spot of work. We did coffee, saw friends and then did the beach. We did a lot of very cool stuff. Interestingly, I have pictures on my phone capturing most of the weekend, except up to one key moment. I got back from an early morning mountain bike ride and every part of me wanted to just hang out with my boy. I wasn’t just still running on a high after the epic trails, or even a sugar high after the fine vanilla slice (or two) I had on the way home. I really wanted to just be with my boy. When he returned home and bowled through the front door, he gave me a big hug and said ‘I love you a big bit, wanna play?’ Now, this isn’t a glowing public show of the constant magic moments we have. The reason its so relevant is because usually he loves mum a ‘big bit’ and dad a ‘little bit’. I get it, his mum is pretty awesome. We then sat and played submarines, fishing and built a cushion house with an epic viewing platform. I was happy and so was my son. Loving me a ‘big bit’ was so profound, as I believe he had connected with his dad being genuinely present way beyond just my physical presence. How, I noticed how his hair swept across his face, I noticed the green specks of play doh in his hair. I noticed the chirpy bounce in his words, and boy did I notice how awesomely blue his eyes are. I wasn’t doing play time, I was being truly present with my son, and man it felt incredible. I was truly experiencing the moment, so it didn’t quite occur to me to find my phone and take a picture.

I recently left a good job in the city on a salary to be proud of. I would leave for the ferry before he woke up and would just make it home to kiss him goodnight. One evening I returned home just in time. I heard him then say to his mum, “is daddy going back to work now”. He thought I merely popped home for dinner before going back to work! Soon after, I left this job to spend more time with my family. But with increased time, I realised a lot of it wasn’t quite as I had hoped and expected. I was reminded this weekend to not mistake quantity of time with quality of time.

So, what is present parenting. For me it isn’t celebrating that you take your kids for an ice cream whilst you keep the work calls or social media updates ticking over. That can be doing parenting and a a whole heap of missed opportunities. Present parenting is when you don’t even know where your phone is. It’s when you realise that reversing your pretend boat into the sea, using your pretend tractor makes perfect sense. It’s when you stop, breath, notice and then capture how your young one sticks their tongue out when they are really concentrating. It’s when you watch them sleep once they have reached that deep sleep, where they look so insanely peaceful and beautiful. piratesIt’s those times when you are so lost in the now that you realise how found you really are. Playing pirates, fishing, shops and story time, completely free of charge and exactly what they want and need. Better still, as parents it is the most powerful lift we can have whenever we want… even cheaper and stronger than coffee.

What can we do?

  1. Look after yourself. Mindfulness is best incorporated into your everyday life, rather than a stand alone parenting strategy for your tool kit. I am a big fan of the app Headspace. Short, sweet and achievable, so a good chance that you’ll stick with it. headspaceOtherwise, find the space, time and for 10 mins find a Mindfulness exercise that works for you and keep doing it. Ensure that you eat properly, sleep enough, and exercise. You may need to be creative to fit some of these things into your daily schedule.
  2. Give more attention and less of everything else. Devote one hour a day to giving undistracted attention to your children. Not in activities driven by your agenda, but according to their terms. Undivided attention is the most powerful expression of love you can give.
  3. Practice mindful listening. Listen to your child as intently as if you were listening to a piece of music or the sounds of nature. Listen with a gentle attentiveness and respond as necessary. Listening to your child can be like a mindfulness meditation.
  4. Let your children teach you a thing or too. Our young ones are the absolute Yoda’s of being present. If you watch their imaginative play hard enough, you too will start kids-n-natureto look around questioning if they actually are building a boat with their talking dog. They can teach you how to see the magic in everything they come into contact with as if for the first time every time. The sea, the sky, a butterfly, long grass, paint. They are on to something, so watch and learn and give it a go for yourself.
  5. Observe your own behaviour as much as you observe your child’s behaviour. Acknowledge the salty bits and capture the sweet bits. When capturing the sweet bits take notice of how you feel and what it looked and sounded like, and better still what impact did this have on those around you.
  6. Pursue balance and healthy boundaries, when it comes to work and home. The emails will still be there in the morning.
  7. Give yourself a break. You don’t need to take things too seriously. If you made a mistake in your parenting, don’t beat yourself up– instead see if you can laugh or at least smile about it. You’re human after all, and so is your child.
  8. Turn off the noise. Check out the ‘Look Up’ YouTube video to keep you thinking. When it comes to your young ones don’t use artificial distractions. Escapism, excitement and exploring new things, begins with you.
  9. Live by routine.Take the needless guesswork out of meals and bedtimes. Let everyone relax into the predictable flow of a healthy and secure life.
  10. Promote the small stuff. Reclaim those missed opportunities. Brushing teeth, laying the table, putting the sun cream on, doing their hair. It’s awesome, do it together and notice the awesomeness of the small stuff, because they do.

For all those parents out there, you will know only too well, you blink and they are gone, so grab hold of every opportunity with both arms and feet, and savor every moment.

mindf

Otter, Lion, Golden Retriever or Beaver?

Personality types, your young one and you. What does it look and sound like, and how might this influence your parenting?

What personality type is your young one?

If you have read my post on ‘Passion Pushing or Sharing the Goodness’ then you already have a fair idea about what I’m like when it comes to sport and competition. I was recently part of a workshop talking about resilience in children, and it recalled the old matter I had about personality types, namely the Myers-Briggs personality model.

My son is a big unit for his age, the size that many folk presume equates to a child a couple of years older than he is. This then is sometimes followed by the comment that he’ll make a heck of an All Black. This is somewhat of a contradiction to reality. This has nothing to do with his physical attributes but elements of his personality that makes me prouder than if he were to be an All Black. We join other families on a Saturday morning at Rugby Tots. He is pretty sharp off the mark, outstanding at zig zagging and takes great delight in watching me race off after his ball once he’s kicked it the length of the room. The personality I am referring to is best illustrated in how he plays the games they guide us through. Cowboys and Indians to start with, this is a gauntlet style activity where the cowboys race through a channel whilst the Indians are kicking foam balls at the them. Last one standing wins. My boy waits until the others have past before he kicks the ball safely out of harms way. The best example is tag rugby. He won’t take the tags off the other boys. When I asked him why, he whispered into my ear that it is snatching. Every week this happens with the strongest example being the Saturday just gone. Two boys face off with about 10 yards between them. When the whistle goes they have to sprint to the ball and the first one that dives on it wins. After 3 attempts my son would stop short of the ball until the other boy had caught up and dived on the ball. The fourth time I had encouraged him to get the ball highlighting it was part of the game and okay. This time he raced down and secured the ball and proudly brought it back to me. The other boy was beside himself and being consoled by his mum and one of the coaches. My son then turned around, jogged to the other side of the room and handed the ball to the upset young man. Every part of me a proud dad. I would suggest my son is very much a Golden Retriever. I am only too aware having seen lots of interactions with other children, that as parents we need to be mindful of the implications of being a retriever and how this informs elements of our parenting.

That is the very point of these personality type examples. To encourage us as parents to simply observe, listen and explore our young ones as best we can. Developing an awareness of our childs needs through celebrating strengths and acknowledging areas that would benefit from monitoring and developing.

Have a look at these and just explore, even if you think it doesn’t fit your young one then have some fun defining your own animal, car, plant… whatever.

Otterotter

Imaginative, easily distracted, creative, dramatic, ideas, spontaneous, entertainers… these are often the children with ‘imaginary friends’ or who you see in the Spiderman outfit!  Putting them in ‘time out’ often not effective as they really don’t care that much. Reward them with fun and praise them for originality.

Beaverbeever

Practical, punctual, precise. A fan of rules, lists and step-by-step instructions. Likes structure and to get things right the first time. Children will often play ‘real’ games like shop, restaurant… and aim to draw pictures realistically rather than imaginatively.

lionLion

Direct and competitive, strong-willed, assertive. Likes to be treated as an equal, they don’t like authority. Yelling and putting them in ‘time out’ won’t work. You need to stay calm, involve them in decision-making and give them some responsibility.

Retrieverretriever

Caring, affectionate and empathetic. Likes to keep everyone happy (sometimes at the expense of themselves), likes to follow the rules and be ‘good’, needs praise and encouragement and to feel special. Can be loyal to a fault. Just the mention of being put in ‘time out’ will often result in good behaviour as they don’t like to be separated from the group or to be ‘bad’.

So, which one is your young one, better still which one might you be and how can this inform how you parent?

 

The Danger of a Label

The danger of a label: You deserve more than just an educated guess.

Whether its Dr. Google, Social Media, something else or a combination of them all, a growing challenge has emerged. The challenge is the eadocse in which curiosity can become fact. Quite often a label (diagnosis) is imposed by others who really have no place to deliver such judgement or diagnosis. I’m increasingly seeing young adults in particular, enter the room with impressive confidence, and having barely sat down, will state ‘ I have clinical depression and if I could crack on with the first of 6 CBT sessions that would be marvelous’. This has quite an impact coming from young ones as young as 11.

When this is delivered by a health professional a label can take on so much more traction. A recent example I know of was a young man who presented to a GP with a headache. They then conducted a HEADSS assessment (Home, Education, Activities, Drugs, Suicidality and Sex). They then conducted a GAD 7  diagnostic tool for anxiety. The result was then relayed to the teenager that they had Anxiety. The next day after a sleepless night he had 3 panic attacks, couldn’t cope with school and the family had already made an appointment with the mental health team for his anxiety. This young man had taken absolute ownership of the diagnosis, as had the family, due to it coming from a health professional. These symptoms and issues had seemingly appeared overnight causing a significant barrier in his life, both at school and home. The facts and reality were quite different. He did present with a headache. He had stayed up all of the previous night to start and complete an assignment that had been set some time ago and was now due. stressHe was simply tired and stressed, both normal and short-term responses.

 

What prompted me to put ‘pen to paper’ on this topic was a student that presented to me recently and for the first time. This young woman had been managing her bipolar for the last 5 years. This was confirmed on the young woman’s school medical records as well as known and being managed by her parents. The young woman who was sat in front of me was not like any client I have seen previously with diagnosed bipolar. After exploring the bipolar it was the specificity of the time line that quickly directed our conversation. The response was quite staggering. 5 years earlier she was sat in class doing her work as usual. She was then continuously distracted by a peer who continued to take her pencil, tap it on his desk over and over before throwing it on the ground. She would then pick it up and place it on her desk, where shortly after he would continue with his routine. The young woman had by this point had enough, and snapped at the young man to ‘stop it’. His response, ‘stop being so bipolar’. And that was it. It was later confirmed with her parents that they had never sought medical advice or challenged the young girls ownership of the label. There had been no symptoms or concerns of any nature before this point. She had carried this label which had continued to limit the incredible potential this young woman had. It didn’t take long before she made significant gains through an initial approach combining narrative therapy with a strong thread of strengths based exploration.
pencilNow, it is not the label that is the issue. Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar, ADHD and lots of other acronyms all exist, are very real and can all be addressed. It is being aware of who and where the label is coming from and whether they are equipped and able to deliver such a diagnosis. As a parent, be aware of a false diagnosis, and question and demand the right person with the right answers. It’s not to say they are wrong, you just deserve more than an educated guess.

Everybody’s experience is completely unique and one word doesn’t and won’t do justice to your own needs and reflections. The more authentic and original your discussion, the more productive and effective the time and therefore outcome.

Unpack the experience towards a way though, reclaiming power and control from the label back to the person, you. Just have a quick go at saying the below and take the time to reflect on how you feel for each, and then decide for yourself which platform you want to work from.

I am depressed or I feel depressed

I have Anxiety or I feel anxious.

words