I think happy thoughts


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Mindfulness and How it Works

Mindfulness is something that sounds easy at first but then takes a lot of practice once you truly understand what it is. It’s the purposeful observation and noticing of the environment without passing judgment. The reason this is so hard is because we as humans are trained to make judgments all the time. It is often helpful to us in making decisions. The problem is that sometimes our judgments can lead us to negative thinking instead of just taking in the information.

An example of this would be sitting in a chair. Your fist thought might be “this chair is uncomfortable.” That is a judgment and an example of mindfulness would be “this chair has a hard seat and a straight back.” Just noticing the qualities of the chair without determining if it’s good or bad. The same would go for taking a walk outside. “It’s a nasty day out” is a judgment and “It’s raining and the sky is a gray color” is using mindfulness. When you talk about the qualities of what you see you start to notice that making a judgment can lead your thinking to be either positive or negative.

By taking a step back and noticing the environment you allow yourself to be more present in it and take it in without it being good or bad. Allowing yourself this extra time to notice the environment helps you to gain control of your thoughts. It also helps to ground you. Sometimes thoughts take on a life of their own and seem to spiral out of control. In reality you do have the ability to control your thoughts. This is a great power and very helpful when you want more positivity in your life.

The challenge in gaining control over your thoughts is to catch yourself in the process of making a judgment and stop yourself. Then take a step back and think of how you could describe the situation in factual terms. Practicing this just a few minutes each day helps to provide more grounding in your life and a sense of control over the environment you live in.

The easiest way to practice is to start by the chair you are sitting in. Take a few minutes to describe everything about the chair and the room you are in. You will be surprised at how many judgments you try to make. Being able to notice this and practice moments without judgment (Mindfulness) puts you in a more powerful situation. The practice takes time but does become easier the more you do it. Working out your mind is the same as physical exercise the more you practice the better you become at it and the easier it is.

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Importance of Routine

Why is routine important to our lives and our children’s lives? Routine is what establishes a norm in our lives. For children this is especially important because they need to know what to expect. Children can’t learn and grow if they don’t feel safe in their environment. The first part of establishing this is a familiar routine. This could be reading to them at bedtime, sitting down to eat a meal, or just playing together at a certain time of day. If your child knows that there are rhythms and patterns of the day  s/he can count on s/he will be more willing to explore the outside world and grow as a person. A child who has no structure or routine will often feel insecure and be scared to explore or they might test boundaries to see what is acceptable behavior. Children often develop more extreme behaviors when they are allowed to “push the limits” because they don’t know what to expect. They don’t have a base for what is acceptable and what is off limits. Once established, rhythms help to keep themselves going. You and your child will start to look forward to that special time of the day.  The first part of setting up a daily rhythm is to set aside some time to think about what needs structure in your life and your child’s life. Then find ways to get rid of the distractions during that time of day and focus on a particular routine that you want to establish. Allow yourself enough time to complete the routine (Don’t start reading a book with only two minutes before lights out). Give your child and yourself time to adjust to the new rhythm. Soon you will have a daily rhythm that you and your child feel good about.

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Parent’s Time Out

You might say, “What how can this be? It’s already hard to get a time-out to work for my kids and now you want parents to take a time out!” Yes, that’s exactly what I am suggesting. How many times have you over reacted because your anger got in the way? Often parents punish while they are not thinking clearly because of their emotions.   One way to stop this from happening and set a good example for your child is to take a time-out. This is a break for you so you can calm down, gather your thoughts, and then come up with a reasonable solution. Stating to a child that you are going to take a break to calm down does not mean they get out of being punished. You can even state that you will deal with him/her when you get back. Then remove yourself from the situation. Go in your room, bathroom, somewhere calm. Take a few breaths and think about how you want to handle the situation.

Often our own beliefs get in the way of reacting rationally at first. For example your child might refuse to eat something at dinnertime and this angers you. Your beliefs about it might be that they are privileged to have something to eat and refusing to eat is spoiled behavior or that your child will not get the nutrients s/he needs to grow. Your beliefs are what influence your thoughts/expectations and then lead to your emotions (i.e. anger). Overreacting often intensifies the situation and causes more problems instead of achieving your original goal of having your child eat dinner. Instead, if you take a time-out it helps you to calmly come back to the table and deal with the situation. This also serves as a role model for your child who then sees that you were angry but you handled it well and were able to calm yourself down. Making a statement that you are now feeling calm and able to deal with their behavior lets them know that you are in control and also can be angry without overreacting. Sometimes you might even decide that the behavior does not need a punishment but just a new outlook.

In the future you can ask your child to use the same method of calming down before their behavior gets out of control. The key is before they are out of control. It doesn’t work if you wait too long. When you see your child start to get worked up, offer a quite space so s/he can color, relax, play quietly, etc. until they are noticeably calmer.   Then tell them you are glad they were able to calm down. Once everyone in the family is able to use this method it will lead to a much more positive outcome and help you get what you wanted out of the situation in the first place.

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