Parenting: Being Here Rather Than There.

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?

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

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

Technology & Counselling (Virtual Reality)

This is a short intro into what I am up to in counsellor land. I have often felt that professionals in the field of mental health in NZ are a private pedigree and less than confident or willing to share ideas. I say ideas not best practice because its okay to have ideas, give them a go and embrace if they work and file away if not. Not to mention what works for one person may not work for another. I hope to share my experience and feedback of incorporating technology into my practice in the hope it raises questions, which can only be a good thing.

Firstly why? why not just do what I do and sit back on the masses of evidence that tells folk it works and makes a difference (counselling that is). Also, technology costs money and I want to reduce overheads for maximum profit margin. As the head of a large counselling department we can barely buy refill let alone a VR headset. I will certainly in future posts on this topic return to addressing and discussing challenges such as these.

Why? I want to access and engage with clients that wouldn’t ordinarily access counselling. I want to make it more interesting and challenging for my client and yes for me too. I want to fill my tool box with as many strategies and resources as possible that can support me in my work and my clients in their process. Technology is here and now and I would like my work as a counsellor to keep up with the needs, expectations and opportunities that come with innovation. Most importantly I want to continue to ask questions of myself and how I work so I continue to evolve, whether this means technology is a welcome addition, or whether it is an unhelpful gimmick. I want to make that decision from the coal face rather than being directed by those that may have their own agenda or insecurities about such change or ideas.

663275 Google Expeditions_03

To begin with I’d like to introduce:

Virtual Reality (Samsung VR Gear $199 NZD)

good vr

This device works with a Samsung S6 upwards and I use it with my S7. You upload the Oculus app via the app store and once done you connect your phone behind the front protective fascia and adjust so its nice and tight to your head. It takes only a few minutes to get used to it and how you select something from the menu, focus, volume and the ‘go back’ button. Pretty straight forward.

samsung vr

Context: I have used these in two roles. In my private practice with adults around social anxiety, anger and stress. Also in my role as a school counsellor (Age group 11-18 years). You will certainly see students requesting appointments that you may not have previously seen.

How do I use it?

Mindfulness. There are a couple of free apps that are ‘OK’, but the graphics aren’t as good as they could or should be. What you can do is take your pulse pre and post session to monitor its effectiveness using the phone as a senser. I have found it works and my clients, adults, adolescents and children love it.

Apps: Both would get a 7/10, however the future scenes for Guided Meditation VR would take it to an 8/10 and make it the better of the two.

guided med vr                                exvreience

 

Anxiety. There are again a few apps for public speaking, fear of flying etc. Really not many right now but they are coming through quite quickly. The main distinction is previously VR has meant a programmed virtual reality, so quite grainy computer generated simulation. The cameras now however mean the content is using real images and footage and in HD. This is far better. Again, I have used it for students with a fear of public speaking at my school. I simply recorded our hall with no spectators, 10 spectators, 20 and then 35. Time was limited and students so I plan to sepnd a bit of time on this concept building towards a full assembly. This is great for both students and staff. I turn the sound down and through desensitization we gradually build the scene up with the student reading their presentation. Again we look at anchors in the room and capture the sensations of a successful delivery.

heights

Sports Counselling. Visualisation can be anchored in real-time and specific to the individual and their sport and needs. For example in Rugby, a kicker would be recorded completing a successful kick. This recording is then utilised to replay and rehearse the conditions and enable you both to explore anchors whether on the field, physically or verbally. This principle is used in most golf shops nowadays to improve your swing without having to wade through rivers or apologise to the next green to retrieve your ball.

How do I intend to use it?

Behaviour Modification. I hope to simply record scenarios that cover the gambit of student challenges. Conflict resolution and bullying for example. Recording scenarios that we can use to explore the A B C’s of behaviours and also the opportunity to apply what we discuss in a safe but realistic environment -role play.

I hope to utilise a specific camera to increase the quality and availability of footage and content that is specific to my client base, community and presenting issues, so NZ rather than courtesy of The States. The fly 360 (below) seems like the best ‘normal folk’ or no commercial grade device retailing at about $950 NZD. However there are others in your local store such as the Samsung Gear 360 ($650 NZD). However, if you want to keep it even more low-budget then use your 360 option on most of the newer phones.

fly360

It’s very new and specific reviews of apps and uses will grow in time through future blogs. Early signs are extremely positive, my clients love it and it can really fit in nicely as part of a wider session making a great additional resource to work with clients.

For more info etc. check out:

http://www.vrs.org.uk/virtual-reality-healthcare/therapies.html

Virtual Reality Therapy: Treating The Global Mental Health Crisis

http://www.apa.org/research/action/speaking-of-psychology/virtual-reality.aspx

http://www.wsj.com/articles/virtual-reality-as-a-therapy-tool-1443260202

(These articles offer further reading, they are not necessarily my thoughts and opinions)

 

 

Monkey: Return to Sender

When someone told me I could not only read a whole book in an afternoon, but that it would be a professional life changer, I had to see for myself. So, I read it, ‘The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey’ by Ken Blanchard. Awesome, on a number of levels that I’m sure will prove versatile in meeting the needs and expectation of most readers. For me, the principles continue to inform both my personal and professional lives, heck even my parenting.

Now, it wouldn’t take a genius to suggest that referring to your employees or colleagues as monkey’s may well not be the best move you can make. That is not at all the context or positioning of the book. The monkey refers to ‘the next move’, not a personal dig at all. The message is a proudly positive one of empowerment for both you and those around you all.

monkey off back

It is my, your, our task to deal to our own monkeys and not owning the stress, anxiety or pressures of someone elses’.

I was reminded only this morning of a simple example of this in my own parenting. Like many families our morning routine is filled with action, organised chaos and excitement at the prospect we could all leave the house on time with a skip in our step and nothing going amiss. Quite a while ago now we celebrated the proud landmark of our toddler getting himself dressed. With immense pride we would walk him to day care, the shops, well just about anywhere to share this occasion with everyone and anyone. I am aware that from the untrained (slightly judgmental) eye, this may in fact look more like shoddy (even careless) parenting, as his T-shirt would be back to front, shorts inside out and shoes facing outwards. Regardless, he dressed himself and that is awesome, high fives all round. The point; my son’s monkey (next move) was getting himself dressed. This was one less monkey for us which dramatically reduced the number of times we forgot our keys or lunch. So developmental benchmark achieved for our son and some breathing space for his mum and dad.

One morning we found ourselves dressing our son, it had developed over a couple of weeks, but due to our own monkeys, our patience had reduced, therefore it was just quicker for us to get him dressed. When I realised this and set his clothes out, expecting him to simply continue to complete a task he was more than capable of achieving, he didn’t, instead tears and the prone position became the default. And in the blink of an eye I realised that monkey had been masterfully returned to his parents. We had inadvertently not just added a money to our own back unnecessarily, but dis-empowered our young fella from feeling able and competent at dressing himself. To then get frustrated with him for not dressing himself with efficiency and the right way out and colour matched would be completely unfair.

The most powerful step towards changing this momentum was and is to stop, take the stunned monkey off your own shoulders before acknowledging and naming it. In this case, if it’s not your monkey, make sure the right person has it, if it’s yours, then act on it and don’t try to fob it off to some kind-hearted rescuer, or inpatient parent, boss or colleague.

If you take on other people’s monkeys you are disempowering them in the long-term. Reinforcing a dependence on you, which is a bit of a slap in the face to the other persons own resilience and capabilities.If you hand your own monkey onto others then be prepared for short-term gain , long term loss.

The challenge and yet rewarding part can be reorganising the monkeys, so own those that are yours and support others to own their own, the earlier the better. This has always got to be developmentally appropriate and within the competency of those involved in the first place, so getting my young one to day care is my monkey not his for example.

What does this look like for a manager?crazy office monkey

A team meeting where you leave with all the actions needed whilst your team are left twiddling their thumbs until you have actioned their ‘next step’. A lot of work and stress, and it’s not even your own. If each team member leaves with their own monkey then you celebrate their strengths and competence, and therefore their confidence to grow and make energetic strides forward. Everyone is a winner when done appropriately and well. As a manager your time can then be spent on innovation and growth, which is a big deal no matter where you work, whether at a school or as a company CEO.

 

Passion Pushing or Sharing the Goodness

Lighting the fire and watching it grow or lighting the fire and pumping it as hard as you can to make it grow big and now, until you smother the spark completely.

Now, this post is close to my heart and one that has entertained me quite a bit in only the last couple of weeks. I am quite competitive and have always competed in a number of sports from bottom to top levels. Wanting to share this goodness with my own boy we entered and took part in the X-Race in Devonport- amazing experience and a heck of an event.

race pic

My intentions were well and truly sharing the goodness, the realty perhaps stepped out of that ‘best intentions’ once or twice. I realised I may have been going at a tangent really only at the end of the event. I should have however really picked up on my passion pushing from when we pulled into the car park. First of all I became anxious, as other families and parents were already there and warming up, not to mention all in matching shirts. So, locking the doors as my mother in law was only half out the car I had managed to get my son out of his car seat, and 200 yards away to secure our position in the queue for our shirts. I was then quite upset that the rest of my family hadn’t also acknowledged the urgency of the situation and significance of the event and continued to WALK! We secured our shirts and began warming up. We were 2 hours from the start, my son is 3 and it was a fun family event.

I was not alone however, when I looked around to size other families up my judging glares were met by other overly passion pushing parents sizing us up. The ridiculousness of the whole situation did not pass me by, but i then joined the masses of other parents who were making their children ‘walk the course’ looking for any short cuts. The fact that the race was 5 mins long and was completed along with your parent didn’t seem to matter, the fact that i was actually talking tactics with my 3 year old who continued to play with his new yo yo should have been a red flag, but it wasn’t. When my boy got on all fours beside me instead of jumping on my back for the horsey station of the race should have been a whimsical magic moment, rather than the astonishment that he would do such a thing and cost us valuable seconds!!! Perhaps it should have been the moment when I realised I was running, holding his hand and his feet weren’t actually touching the ground. Maybe even when i made him sprint finish to secure another position.

Recently we had the WeetBix Tryathlon for the thousands of young children to embrace an active lifestyle. What I got to see were the masses of families in the weeks leading up to the event doing exactly what I had done, and they were racing around with a map in hand and some very unimpressed looking  children. What hit home was two clear groups of people. I am going to describe them as passion pushers and those that were sharing the goodness, one type has a better chance of engaging the child than the other.

The simplest way to describe both the challenge and the solution is through what I saw and now do. The passion and spark is introduced by the parent (or AN Other), it is then supported from behind and not dragged from the front. The biggest smile and therefore evidence of strongest connection to whatever they are doing is on those that are racing off in the front with their parents or loved one desperately trying to keep up. The sure fire way to put our young one’s off something that could be so good for them is when we a dragging them kicking and screaming from the front. You certainly don’t see so many smiles from these young ones.

So, perhaps we introduce, then feed off their energy and there pace rather than settin
g the pace ourselves. Like with any race or activity if the pace is to much too soon we crash. We all need to be mindful of interpreting ‘supportive’ and ‘encouraging’ to meet our own needs and expectations over the needs and wants of our young one’s.

MTB