I think happy thoughts

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Mindfulness activity

Here is a new activity you can try to practice your mindfulness skills. It’s fun to do by yourself or with others. Kids can even try this easy way of practicing mindfulness. The point of this activity is to practice your skills of being mindful (noticing and observing) without making judgements during the activity.

Mindfulness while eating – take a full minute to eat the raisin

1. You find a raisin (if you really dislike them pick another small item of food).

2. Take your time looking at it. Notice the texture, it’s color, the size, shape. Any physical details about the raisin.

3. Smell it without saying it’s a good or bad smell what does it smell like.

4. Place it in your mouth but do not chew it. How does it feel?

5. Slowly chew the raisin but be careful not to swallow it right away.

6. Did it change at all in flavor, texture, smell?

7. Slowly chew for the rest of the minute taking note of all your sensory input.

This exercise is very simple but can be hard. We are so used to eating without thinking. Spending a full minute on one raisin can be a great challenge and easy way to bring awareness into your eating habits as well as daily routine.

The next challenge is to try something new to do at a much slower pace than normal and find out what you discover.


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Toy Time-Out

Putting a toy in time out sounds silly but this is an alternative punishment for children (siblings or friends) who have trouble sharing. If you see continuous arguments over toys then you can explain to the children that if they are not able to come up with a way to get along or share the item then it will have to go to time out. Pick a spot where the toy will be put and a specified amount of time. If the children decide to share then great your job is done. If the children can’t stop fighting over the toy then you can gently explain that the toy is causing too much fighting and needs to be in time out for a while. Take the toy and quietly put it in the time out spot (preferably where the children can’t reach it). Then go about you business. Later take the toy out of time out, but if the children have moved on to a new game or are getting along you can simply add the toy back to the toy bin or other place it is usually kept. If the children want to play with it you can give a short reminder that if the toy causes too much trouble it will have to be put in time out again and the next time it will be for the rest of the day. This approach usually makes children figure out how to share the toy so that it won’t be taken again.

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Positive Parenting

How do you stay positive when your child’s behaviors are driving you crazy? This is a tough question. Every parent knows that they have had a point in their lives when they were pushed to yell, scream, or worse because they were so worn down and did not know what else to do.  The same cycle seems to happen over and over where your child’s emotions and your emotions get out of control. This is something that happens often but doesn’t have to.

If you take a step back and start to look at the cycle of what is triggering you and your child, you will be able to better regulate your own emotions. And you will be able to start teaching your child how to regulate his/her own emotions.  Positive parenting is about looking for ways to change the situation into a more positive one instead of continuing to punish bad behaviors. You have to start looking at the big picture and do a little detective work.

Figuring out what is triggering your child’s bad mood may not be obvious at first but look at the patterns. What time of day does it usually happen, what is your child usually doing, and who is around when it happens? These types of questions help you to get more information about the cycle of behaviors that are happening. Then you can come up with a plan to intervene earlier on before the behaviors are out of control and your child is having a tantrum and you are screaming.

It’s also important to factor in your own triggers so that you know when you are getting overwhelmed. You can get better at taking a break and then talking to your child in a more calm and rational manner. This helps the child understand what behavior you don’t like and takes away the emotional reaction to your mood.

The key to any new approach in parenting is to plan ahead, practice, and allow for mistakes. Be willing to stick with it even if you don’t see results right away. If you have been doing the same type of parenting for years then a new approach won’t change things overnight, but it will change things. Positive approaches are very effective and leave you feeling good about what you are teaching your child.

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Signage With Positive Messages – Can it bring about change?

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if everyone tried to be kind and positive towards others even for one day.  In some communities people feel scared or unsafe on a daily basis and it often seems there is no hope for change.  Well I was very excited when I stumbled across this article in the news. Signage With Positive Messages Go Up In Newark « CBS New York.

In Newark, NJ there is a history of crime and violence. It is a struggle  for most people living in a community where they don’t feel safe or happy.  The artist Killy Kilford came up the idea and has the help of students and the city.

“People have bad days and people have good days, but what this is about is about triggering moments of joy for people, to look up and be like, yeah that’s good and carry on,” Kilford said.

Seeing what this community is doing to bring about positive changes is very inspiring and will hopefully lead to other communities doing similar projects. As a counselor I talk about positive thinking all the time. This story highlights the unique way this community is trying to bring about change in the community with positive messages. The children involved in helping to make the slogans and signs even stated that they felt good just making the signs. I think this is a step in the right direction. Time will tell if it does bring about change for the community, but even if it makes a change in just one person’s life then they are worth the effort.


What is the best way to calm anxiety in children?

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Calming anxiety is not always easy but the first place to start is yourself. Children often pick up on the anxieties of the adults around them.  Children feel uneasy and anxious if the adults around them are anxious, upset, or angry. They often don’t understand what your anxieties are about and generalize it to themselves. This is especially true for very young children who often don’t see themselves as separate from their parents. Any feelings and emotions you display they start to take on as their own.

One way to start curbing this anxiety is to limit your child’s exposure to adult conversations and outside media like the news. Limiting their exposure can drastically cut back on the things that they worry about. It doesn’t happen over night but over time they become less involved in the adult world and start to worry less about those things that were drifting into their consciousness at too early an age.

For children who are by nature worriers, anxiety sneaks up quickly. Acknowledging their worries is important but don’t let them or yourself dwell on it. Address the worry and move on. Don’t let the child get stuck ruminating on the same topic over and over.  If you know that certain things usually cause anxiety for your child, you can also bring up ideas for how to deal with it ahead of time.  Then later that day when you encounter the situation, you can quickly remind your child of how to cope and move them along.

One last thing to keep in mind: always model for your child how you want them to behave. If you see a big bug and start to scream and yell about it, guess what your child will probably develop a fear of bugs. “Teach by example.”  By tackling your own fears you are helping yourself and your child!

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Why does happiness seem so difficult to obtain for some people and easier for others? The simple answer is that it’s a state of mind and if you think you are happy then you will be. The people who seem to be happy may just have more practice at focusing on the positive. Why then is is so hard for some people to think positively. Some people say that there are specific characteristics that positive thinkers have in varying degrees.

For the sake of narrowing down some personality characteristics and to make a more precise list, I chose one author’s list of 10.  Scott Ventrella The Power of Positive Thinking in Business: 10 traits for maximum results. The  10 characteristics of a positive thinker are listed by Ventrella as: optimism, enthusiasm, belief, integrity, courage, confidence, determination, patience, calmness, and focus.

The first step to becoming a more positive thinker and leading a more happy life would be to look at each of these traits and determine how strongly they are present in your own life. Finding where you have strength and areas you need to grow in are helpful in creating a plan for yourself.

Once you know the characteristics that you want to work on in your own life, set some goals for yourself on how to do that. Make sure that your goals are realistic. You are on your way to being much happier once you have a plan in place.

Don’t forget to recognize when you are happy. Many people breeze past this and don’t linger on their happy thoughts. We spend so much time thinking about the negative but very little time remembering all the things that did go well and the times we enjoyed. Spend some time each day just thinking about something that you enjoyed about your day or a happy memory.

The best part about wanting to become a more positive thinker is that this is an achievable goal! Just because you don’t feel like a positive thinker or a happy person does not mean that you can’t become one.  Believing in your own power for positive change is a great step in the direction of happiness.



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Parenting in Today’s World

Parenting is hard and there are a lot of things that parents must figure out about their own views on before being able to teach their children about them. Screen Time is a thing that can be very hard to figure out.

I recently read an article by Allison Slater Tate Parenting as a Gen Xer: We’re the first generation of parents in the age of iEverything. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/09/29/parenting-as-a-gen-xer-what-its-like-to-be-the-first-generation-of-parents-in-the-age-of-ieverything/?tid=sm_fb

The article discusses being a parent of children who are immersed in a digital age. As a parent that did not grow up with cell phones, texting, Facebook, and everything digital, it is a new territory trying to determine how to navigate all these gadgets with children. In the article Tate states “On the one hand, resistance is futile: this is my children’s brave new world, and they need to know and understand all the internet highways and byways to live in it. On the other hand, my children don’t have fully-developed frontal lobes yet.”

I would argue the first point Tate makes. Resistance is not futile and letting children spend countless hours in front of a screen is not your only option. At first it may seem that this is the only option because it is everywhere. However; after thinking about this and really deciding what I want for my family and myself, I have determined that there are other options. The other options are not as obvious at first because marketers for digital devices are extremely good. If you look past the marketing and the addictive quality of digital media, you can see that you really don’t need to have constant access to the virtual world.

When I think about the best moments of my day they are never times when I was online or watching television. Children do not have the capacity to make the best decisions and if given the freedom they will spend hours in front of a video game or television. As a parent you have to be the guide and the one who figures out how much is too much. Children who are “deprived” of a cell phone or television do not have a disadvantage over their peers. They are just as capable of learning how to use the gadget just as everyone who grew up without these things is able to use them now. I never had a cell phone, texting, ipad, etc. as a child and I can navigate them like a pro.

So what does restricting screen time at an early age do to the child? It allows them to use their brain. The children without these digital things and media in their lives have to figure out games to play and stories to read and things to do with their peers. They have to be active and get up and run around. A child who is bored is one who can become the most creative. Allowing your child time to figure out how to have fun instead of providing instant entertainment is giving a great gift to your child.

In addition to being more creative and able to find ways to enjoy the world around them (instead of a virtual one), children develop their social skills while interacting with others.   Being able to look at a person and understand how they are feeling is a skill and it needs to be developed. The adults now were not constantly texting and on Facebook so they were given the opportunity to develop real peer relationships. Now their job is managing that media and determining how much is acceptable in their own life. Children today are not given that same opportunity to be in a world without constant screen time unless their parents make it for them.

People are starting to ask what this does to children growing up in a world constantly surrounded by media. Studies are being done to look at this. One article that looks at children and screen time is Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen skills with nonverbal emotion cues. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563214003227

The title says it all. Children who are not allowed to have screen time for five days were better at nonverbal emotional cues. This means that allowing your child the freedom to go out and talk face to face with friends instead of being online, allows them to develop better social skills. So after looking at this I determined that being able to be connected with people and nature is much more important than knowing how to use the latest iphone. Once I knew my own beliefs on the subject, restricting screen time was a no brainer. Each time I get a request for more screen time I just think of the wonderful gift I am giving them and all the skills they are developing while they are not sitting in front of a screen.