Helping Someone Who Drinks Too Much

alcohol abuseIt’s very common for families to deal with alcohol related problems. For example, research has indicated that 38% of Americans have a positive history for alcoholism. Moreover, the National Association of Children of Alcoholics report, “Seventy six million Americans, about 43% of the U.S. adult population, have been exposed to alcoholism in the family…(and) Almost one in five adult Americans (18%) lived with an alcoholic while growing up.” The costs to individuals and families can be devastating. The purpose of this entry is to respond to three common questions asked by those who have a family member struggling with problem drinking.

What makes it so hard for the person who is abusing alcohol to stop?

It is almost like the person you are thinking about is a character in the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in that he or she has an internal enemy. Stephen King said it well: “Monsters are real,, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes they win.” Alcoholism convinces its victim that neither relaxation nor fun are possible without it. Crazy sounding I know, but that’s the core message. Imagine you were being asked to give up all significant stress management and fun? This is what a victim of alcoholism often hears, and initially feels, in the request to stop drinking. It’s as if the alcoholism declares to the person, “sure, you can play bingo in your church hall without me, but you’re never going to Vegas again! Without me you are going to feel like a monk barely surviving in a cold, concrete, lonely and windy mansion, allowed to consume only water and rice cakes!” The addiction also views anyone or anything that challenges it as a threat.

As has been stated so well in the AA Big Book, people who are alcohol addiction monsterdependent have a response to alcohol that leaves craving more, together with a mental obsession for alcohol. If someone has an allergic response to nuts that person will usually avoid them, but that sort of allergy doesn’t include the obsession of the mind. When you add that mental component, very irrational choices seem rational to the suffering person. It is only when the alcohol victim has experienced enough misery (called “hitting bottom”) that s/he can recognize his or her powerless over this internal enemy

What are some things to avoid doing?

If you’ve been dealing with this for a while on your own, you may be enabling the drinking in ways that you are not aware of. These are some behaviors that can enable addiction:

• Protecting your loved one from experiencing the consequences of his or her drinking.

• Lying to others in order to protect the illusion that all is well.

• Walking on egg shells so as to not upset your loved one or encouraging others to do the same.

• Bargaining with your loved one as s/he lobbies for you to be okay with certain doses of drinking.

• Easing your loved one’s access to alcohol.

• Disagreeing with your loved one’s intermittent statements that s/he has a problem.

• Accepting blame from your loved one that you are responsible for his or her anger or dour moods

• Offering, or stepping forward to be responsible for, or to monitor, your loved one’s drinking.

How can I help my loved one who is suffering from disordered drinking?

There are really a variety of ways of thinking about this and approaching it. I’ll offer my favorite half dozen tips:

1. Recognize that you can’t get your loved one to stop drinking or convince him or her that the cessation of drinking is the only rational choice. You are as powerless over these outcomes as your loved one is over his or her drinking

2. Attend meetings of Al-Anon. This (generally) highly supportive and wise community can be very, very helpful.

3. Become familiar with the AA Big Book and use the allergy language when discussing drinking with your loved one. This language, IMHO, is not only clinically accurate but it discourages shame (i.e., shame is one of the internal enemy’s favorite weapons).

4. In a loving but firm and clear way, communicate with your loved one about how his or her drinking, and it’s associated problems, affects you. This can also be done through formal interventions; but, if you want to go this route, I would involve an experienced and trained addictions counselor

5. Work the 12 steps yourself. I love the book Breathing Under Water, by Richard Rohr. In this book Rohr argues that everyone experiences powerlessness in some way and that many kinds of psychiatric problems emerge when anyone tries to exert control when one is powerless (i.e., the antithesis of the Serenity Prayer). Rohr suggests that the 12 steps are the solution for this ubiquitous problem.

6. Educate yourself and others about alcohol dependence and it’s hope signconsequences. For example, other resources I like are the YouTube videos by Michael Mark (e.g., his review of the first three steps in AA) and the Joe and Charlie Tapes–AA Big Book Study.

Few things are tougher than this nut. But, the outcomes of those who recover well can be quite phenomenal and life giving. Good luck!


Pay Attention to Inattention

boy head on handAn important study was recently published in April, 2015 edition of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. This study followed 11,640 kids in England from age 7 to age 16; the researchers focused on adolescent correlates of attention symptoms in childhood. These are some of their primary findings

Four Tips for Summer Planning with Teens

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 10.52.29 AM(Before I begin, let me direct your attention to the graphic to the left, which regards a free webinar I’m offering this week on teen stress.)

This is a great time of year to begin collaborating with your teen about summer plans. Without this planning the odds are higher that your teen’s summer will be spent doing things that aren’t helpful (e.g., floating in a sea of electronic lethargy). In case you some work yet to do along these lines, I can offer four tips.

#1. As has been the case for other teen topics I’ve reviewed on this blog, it’s good to front load empathy, open-ended questions and validating comments in the discussion and to consider you and your teen as partners in this planning. One of my favorite strategies is to have these discussions in restaurants: it’s usually a pleasant context, everyone is less likely to lose it and it’s harder to run out on the discussion. (Entering the search term “teen communication” above will generate a list of related articles.)

#2. One of my favorite summer activities for older teens is to do an internship.gesturing There are multiple upsides: (1) college admissions officers favorably interpret this activity (e.g., as a sign of a person who takes initiative), (2) your teen can get some clarity about a possible career, (3) supervisors on the internship can become authors of letters of recommendation and (4) your teen can learn and advance a plethora of work-related skills. I’ve found that many professionals and organizations are remarkably generous in their willingness to sponsor teen interns; it just takes your teen generating the resolve to ask (and not mom or dad). (Take this next thought with a grain of salt, but it has been my personal experience that college admissions officers do not value traditional part-time jobs as highly as they do internships.)

#3. It’s also important to make a plan for when your teen will go to bed and rise. Without this, many unscheduled teens will morph into a vampire sleep schedule. Similarly, it’s advisable to figure out how your teen can get at least one hour a day of physical activity. Finally, it’s always a good general rule of thumb to know and approve of the following: where your teen is, what s/he is doing, who s/he is with and what responsible adult is doing the monitoring.

caution, teen ahead#4. Many teens also need to use part of the summer to advance an academic agenda. This might be studying for SATs or ACTs, doing assigned summer reading or remediating a learning disability or other academic lag. Many teens may need a contract to be consistent with this (e.g., so many hours of productive academic work earns access to the cellphone). For parents who are struggling with discipline, see Chapter Five of my parenting book or this blog entry.

Good luck!

Working on Your Marriage By Yourself

black couple arguingIn my practice I’ve commonly had the experience of having one person wonder what s/he could do to unilaterally promote wellness in a marriage or committed relationship. While relationship challenges are best addressed when both people are working on them, there are things that one person can do by himself or herself. Here are 13 tips that I’ve found to be helpful.

• Avoid looking to your partner to resolve psychological pain that you feel. Treating a relationship like medicine can lead to codependency. In a codependent relationship couples often tacitly agree that one of them would not feel pain if only the other of them would say or do the right things. So, when the power up person is inevitably in pain, both conclude that the power down person has failed.

• Learn your partner’s language of love. You may want words of love, but your partner uses behavior. You may want certain behaviors but your partner uses other behaviors. Recognizing that your partner expresses affection differently than you can put you in a position to feel less neglected and more grateful.

• Do the loving thing without an expectation for a response. So often we do a marriage in progressloving act with the expectation of receiving appreciation or reciprocation. When we don’t get what we want we can become hurt or angry. Better to do the loving thing because I know it’s good for me to live on a high road, regardless of how my partner responds. If my partner shows appreciation, or reciprocates, awesome. But, I shouldn’t require him or her to do certain things in order for me to be in pursuit of my own wellness.

• Avoid overdoing your expressions of affection. No matter the intention, if you are consistently lapping your partner in such behaviors you can create pressure, seem desperate and worsen a strained relationship.

• Avoid making mental lists of transgressions your partner has committed against you or all that you’ve done for your partner. Such lists can fuel resentment and subsequent eruptions of negative emotions.

yes i can• Try to discuss your relationship only with people who will be supportive of it. It’s all too easy to find people who will tell you how right you are and how terrible your partner is. It’s harder to find people who will wisely and kindly support you in your efforts to promote your relationship.

• Keep gratitude lists regarding your partner (e.g., what your partner has said or done each day or week that you appreciate).

• When you need to, try to communicate vulnerability instead of anger. We all need the wisdom of Solomon to know what to talk about and what to set aside. But, when you decide to take a concern to your partner talk about your wish to be closer, or to be more supportive, or whatever dream drives your pain. Also, try to avoid sounding like you are demanding that your partner do this or that. Just try to be open about your dream and vulnerability without coming on too strong.

• If your partner does something that is overtly abusive, calmly let him or her know that the behavior is not okay with you and that you are looking for a commitment that it won’t be repeated. If you need to, take steps to ensure this (e.g., involve others, pursue a separation).

• Develop and invest in ways promote your wellness outside of your relationship. Promote healthy friendships, physical activity, prayer, hobbies and so forth.

• Avoid committing acts of emotional or physical infidelity, be they online or faithful graphicface-to-face. All too easy to engage, such lapses can torch your relationship or make it very, very difficult to recover.

• Try to avoid resolving things with your partner when one or both of you are suffering from transient brain dysfunction (e.g., one or both of you is intoxicated, very angry, significantly depressed). Better to create a pause.

• If you’re stuck in a rut seek out the services of a professional relationship expert. For a referral, click here.

Parenting Through Proms

High school proms can represent, especially if your child is a senior, a right of passage. There is so much about this that can be joyful. But, there can be risks and challenges as well. So, this entry is designed to help you with the latter. I have three sections: (1) questions that I’d collaboratively answer with your teen until you are satisfied, (2) a list of issues that I would try to avoid controlling, barring unusual circumstances and (3) (hopefully humorous) responses to situations in which your teen tries to indict you for acting like a responsible parent.

Questions to resolve to your satisfaction

What sober and responsible person is driving?

Has the school established effective monitoring procedures? (This is more of a question for the relevant school administrator and needn’t directly involve your teen.)

What are the costs and who is paying for what? (A related issue, for some families, might be how a teen would be allowed to earn the money to cover the costs.)

Where is the after party and what responsible adult will be monitoring? (Keep in mind that monitoring can involve being in the same room, or next door, or in the parking lot. The goal is for the monitor to do no more than to ensure safety, sobriety and celibacy.)

Things to avoid trying to control

Yes, it’s good to be informed, but I would avoid trying to control what follows.

Who the date is. Of course you need to ensure that your teen is safe, sober and celibate for the night. Once those bases are covered, it’s a good idea for you to let your teen figure affairs of the heart out for himself or herself. It’s good to be a sounding board, if invited, but to keep negative opinions about a prospective date to oneself. This is good practice for when you’re an in-law, at least if you wish to be an effective in-law.

What the style of the outfit is, short of it looking like she could serve in a lineup of prostitutes. (Male analogies are less likely, but the same thing would apply if its relevant for your son.) Dads, when it comes to your daughter, it’s often best to let her mother (or some other responsible woman) handle this and to only make positive comments.

Who is attending the after party.

Other circumstances regarding the after party once you’ve secured the conditions described above.

Retorts to common prosecutorial invectives:

Obviously, these are not serious responses. But they are designed to make your teen exit your eye-line when howling at the moon.

Teen invective: “No body else I know has to have such stupid rules!”           Parental response: “But none of the other parents are as big of a control freak as me.”

Teen invective: “I’ll be going to college in a few months. You won’t be able to control things like this then!”                                                                         Parental response: (with a big smile) “Really?! I’ll be able to let someone else do it? What will that person be charging me?

Teen invective: “The other kids think you’re embarrassing.”                          Parental response: “That’s not because of my prom rules. That’s because they see me shopping at Victoria’s Secret so much.”

Teen invective: “I’ll just sneak out at the prom and you won’t know what I do.”            Parental response: “The school chaperone (know his or her name) has promised me that if s/he doesn’t see you for any given half hour s/he will text me about that. I will then text this baby picture of you (have visual ready) to your friend’s cell phones and upload it to your Facebook page with the caption “(your child’s name), cutest baby ever born in (name your city)! Love Mommy/Daddy”

Teen invective: Grandma (your mother) told me she didn’t have these kinds of rules for you!                                                                                                                Parental response: Grandma is getting senile.

Teen invective: You NEVER had these rules for (fill in name of older sib). Or, “You’ll NEVER make (name of younger sib) go through this!”                       Parental response: You know I love him/her more.

On a serious note, the wheel turns too fast sometimes. As your “baby” goes through this rite of passage, I hope you can enjoy it fully and take pictures/videos galore. It can be truly wonderful and bittersweet.

Six Tips for Parenting an Anxious Child

anxious childExtant research indicates that kids are sometimes born with a temperament that predisposes them to develop an anxiety disorder. This temperament, called “behavioral inhibition,” can be identified in toddlers. Such toddlers tend to have nervous responses to novelty or unexpected changes; they also tend to be more clingy and nervous than their peers when faced with separation from a primary caregiver. What follows are six tips for helping an anxious child.

1. Avoid avoidance. This is one of the most important guidelines. This means not avoiding those developmentally appropriate situations that make your child feel nervous. When our kids hurt we parents hurt worse. So, it’s a natural reaction to just let our child avoid any developmentally appropriate situations that make her feel nervous (e.g., being left with a babysitter, getting on a school bus, joining a rec soccer team). Avoiding such situations tends to promote them becoming even more threatening over time. Moreover, this sort of a coping strategy tends to spread: your child may end up wanting to use it for more and more situations. Barring other complicating factors (e.g., the presence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), avoiding avoidance usually comes with initial distress but eventual calm and mastery. (“Eventual” often ends up being just a few minutes.)

2. Promote your child’s comfort as you avoid avoidance. This can be coaching soccerdone in any number of ways. One of my favorites is to gradually expose your child to aspects of the feared situation in doses before the due date. For example, you might play soccer with him on the field where the first practice will be held or arrange for her to sit on the empty school bus before the first day of school. You would usually stay within these situations until your child seems calm, using some of the other tips in this article. This can also be done in smaller chunks prior to the due date.

3. Teach belly breathing and pasta muscles. Have your child pretend that his lungs are in his lower belly, instead of his chest cavity, while breathing deeply but comfortably, both in and out. Relatedly, ask your child to make her muscles as soft as a piece of cooked pasta. Click here for a free 15-minute audio training module I created that can promote this sort of muscle memory. These behaviors short-circuit the fight-flight response, which is the brain system that has become activated whenever someone feels anxious. (When in the anxious situation your child should not tense his muscles, as is done in the training module.)

tape over mouth4. Avoid reassurances, especially those that are excessive. Few things will trigger your child’s anxiety more quickly than your reassurance that a safe situation is safe, especially those reassurances that are issued with emotion or conviction. I tell the parents in my practice, “imagine I told you not to worry about the ceiling over us collapsing on top of our heads. You’d probably instantly start wondering what sort of a dangerous situation you might be in.” Kids often hear many parental reassurances as, “time to start freaking out!” Moreover, when you are separating from your kid (e.g., leaving the practice, leaving the school), leave as quickly as you can. Your presence, and especially if you are issuing reassurances, will often tend to promote the very anxiety you’re trying to mitigate.

5. Get control over your own anxiety if that’s a problem. This temperamental vulnerability, by definition, usually runs in families. If anxiety is interfering with the quality of your life, you would do your kid an awesome solid by seeking out cognitive behavioral therapy for yourself.

6. Get help if these efforts don’t work. Anxiety disorders in anyone, including kids, is usually very treatable and in a short period of time. The aforementioned cognitive-behavioral therapy can be delivered to kids and teens and has a ton of research supporting its efficacy. For a referral, click here.




Avoiding Corporal Punishment

frustrated girlLast week I reviewed research that indicated that corporal punishment is ill advised. This week I’d like to review some ways to avoid it.

Creating distance

There are two kinds of distance that could be created in situations where you might want to give your kid a crack. First, you might consider removing your child from the situation that is causing him or her to behave disruptively (e.g., a toy store, a conflict with a sibling). Creating this space can promote your child calming down so that you become less tempted to hit him or her. Second, if you feel like you’re loosing control, and might manifest undisciplined discipline, see if it’s possible to create some distance between yourself and your kid. Perhaps another adult can take over or you could move to the next room or a few feet away. When you have this distance try belly breathing, relaxing your muscles and clearing your mind (e.g., focus your attention on a narrow stimulus such as your breath).

Use Time Out

Time out is usually preferable to hitting. Time out is punitive, creates a place for your kid to calm down and it isn’t affiliated with the same negative side effects as hitting. Time out is best done in an uncomfortable chair like a dining room chair. Your child should sit in this chair for a minimum sentence of one minute for each year s/he has lived outside of the fretful studentwomb; it should be away from anything s/he can kick or grab, be within your eye line and away from any entertainment. You would keep cycling through periods of minimum sentences until your child is sitting quietly and either agrees to comply with your directive and/or expresses remorse for offenses committed. (There are other details pertaining to time out that can come up. For a fuller review of these issues please see this blog post and Chapter Five of my parenting book.)

Preventative Measures

There are many ways you can reduce the odds that you’ll have to deal with disruptive behavior in your child. I will review three of my favorites here:

1. Spend one hour a week each week doing special time. Readers of this blog know that this is my favorite preventative strategy for a host of issues that come up in child rearing. For a free download on how to do special time click here; click here for a resource for doing special time with teens.

2. Ensure that your child has weekly opportunities to manifest his or her strengths. When a kid doesn’t feel like s/he is doing well s/he is more likely to act out. Click here for a blog entry that elaborates on this theme.

positivity negative sign3. Set up a reward program to change any patterned negative behavior that you’d like to change in your child. That is, instead of using “this bad thing will happen to you when you do that bad thing” make it “this good thing will happen when you do this good thing.” A kid might earn her TV time by cleaning up her toys or he might earn access to his cell phone by completing his homework. Try to flip the negative behavior into it’s positive inverse, and then set up a reward for it. Please note that a reward can be a pleasure that your child is currently getting access to for free. Set these up in advance, make both the expectation and the reward specific and remain an empathic bystander as your child makes choices (e.g., I know how much you enjoy TV so I hope you’ll give yourself that gift by cleaning up your toys) instead of a hawkish warden (DO YOUR HOMEWORK!). Of course, I appreciate that there are times when we all need to insist that something gets done, and now.

In closing let me be Dr. obvious and note that a brief blog entry can’t address all of the questions that are probably percolating through your mind right now. (For example, shouldn’t kids learn to internalize their rewards? How long should I keep a reward program in place? Should I set up a reward program for his or her sibling also? What can I do to get my ex on the same page?) But, hopefully you can find answers to many of your questions by either continuing to search on this blog site or by reading the aforementioned parenting book. And, remember, problem solving- erasing mazeyou probably have a very good child psychologist not far from you whose available to help; for a referral click here. Good luck my fellow parent-lunatic!


New Research on Corporal Punishment

crying toddlerA large study on corporal punishment, that was published nine months ago, just crossed my desk. I thought I’d let readers of this blog know about it. There are twenty authors listed on this paper, the lead one of whom is Dr. Jennifer E. Lansford from Duke University. The entire paper can be found here.

The study investigated 1,196 children, and their mothers, from nine countries, across three points in time spanning three years (sorry dads, they didn’t look at fathers). The researchers were interested in considering how varying degrees of maternal warmth and corporal punishment might affect symptoms of anxiety and aggression in kids. Here are some key points from their review of the existing scientific literature:

• A large study in 24 developing countries found that 29% of parents believe that corporal punishment is necessary in order to parent well.

• “…77% of American men and 65% of American women” agreed with a statement that sometimes kids need “a good hard spanking.”

• In 1989 the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child determined that corporal punishment is “a human rights violation.”

• The only good outcome consistently found for corporal punishment is immediate compliance with parental commands. “All other negative outcomes during childhood and adulthood (low child moral internalization, child aggression, child delinquent and antisocial behavior, adult aggression and adult criminal and antisocial behavior)…(are) associated with corporal punishment.”

• The negative effects of corporal punishment seem to be smaller in countries physical abusewhere the authority of parents is stressed and corporal punishment is more common.

These are some key quotes regarding what they found in their study:

• “Consistent with much previous research on the negative effects of corporal punishment on children…out first hypothesis that corporal punishment would predict more subsequent child adjustment problems was generally supported…even after taking into account prior child adjustment.”

• “Our hypothesis that maternal warmth would predict a decrease in child anxiety and aggression over time was also generally supported…”

• The overall pattern was that children’s anxiety decreased over time most rapidly for children whose mothers were high in warmth and low in corporal punishment…”

• “Children whose mothers were high in both warmth and corporal punishment had increasing rather than decreasing anxiety over time.”

I would suggest two take home messages:

1. Avoid corstop2poral punishment as there are too many negative side effects associated with it. Moreover, there are many more effective strategies available that do not have such negative side effects. (e.g., see Chapter Five of my parenting book or search this blog site).

2. Trying to be warm as a way of mitigating the effects of consistent corporal punishment can actually have the effect of increasing a child’s anxiety; this most likely happens because achild is confused over and stressed by the mixed messages.

In next week’s blog entry I’ll review some immediate things a parent can do when tempted to give a kid a smack.

Teaching Electronic Etiquette to Kids and Teens

baby at computerOur kids’ use of technology is evolving at a dizzying pace. We all feel varying degrees of uncertainty about what it all means and how to effectively manage it. In this blog post I will list 10 teaching points to share with your kids and teens regarding texting and internet communications.

I’d like to share two important caveats before I get to the teaching points. First, we all do well to begin such conversations with our kid or teen by first asking for his or her perspective, providing empathy and agreement when that’s appropriate. Moreover, we also do well to use question and discussion methods before going into lecture mode. Second, the suggestions below are founded on the assumption that your monitoring protocol for your kid’s or teen’s use of technology is age-appropriate and on board; you can find monitoring guidelines throughout this blog site and my parenting book. Those caveats aside, here are the 10 suggestions:

1. Don’t post or type anything you wouldn’t want read on the school intercom. (This can be a tough sell for a kid who believes that a given friend is 100% trustworthy and will remain so forever.) This guideline goes double for posting on social networking sites. It can be especially useful to point out to teens that social networking posts are OFTEN perused by college admissions personnel, prospective coaches and prospective employers. Providing examples of people laptop big brotherbeing burned can help.

2. Try to avoid texting or posting when angry or hurt. We all experience transient brain dysfunction when feeling painful emotions (you probably won’t have to go too far back in time to provide examples of your own lapses). It’s best to introduce a pause when possible.

3. Avoid hiding behind anonymity to trash another person, no matter how much it may be deserved. You merely need to visit the comments section of online newspaper articles to find examples of this to illustrate to your progeny. Even young kids can often appreciate how this comes across.

4. Avoid responding in kind to insults or other kinds of hurtful communications. You can ask your kid things like: “what are some good ways to put out a fire?” “What are some ways to make a fire grow?” You can also ask your child or teen imagines how others might view such responses.

upset at laptop5. Teach your kids that certain kinds of communications are best done orally and/or in person. You’ve probably noticed that many kids eschew phone calls and prefer to text just about all communications with their peers. You can stress that your kid maintains more control over oral communications than written ones. Again, examples of people being burned can help make this point.

6. Teach your kids that sensitive communications can be easily misunderstood when written. Kids may not be aware of all the additional information that is shared through oral or in-person communications.

7. Be extremely cautious about sharing or posting pictures of others without first getting their permission. What one person thinks of as an innocent picture can be mortifying to another. This would also be a place to review the problems, legal and otherwise, with sexting and/or sharing nude pictures.

8. Try to avoid writing things about others that you wouldn’t want them to read. Again, examples of this going bad for a person can help.

9. Avoid observing or fueling other people’s social networking train wrecks. cyberbullying2There is something about the presence of an audience that fuels such unfortunate exchanges.

10. Encourage your child or teen to let you know if s/he experiences electronic bullying or becomes aware of another kid experiencing it. Victims of these behaviors can sometimes spiral downwards in tragic ways. If your kid(s) take you up on this, get some expert consultation regarding how to proceed (e.g., a good child psychologist). For a referral click here.

Good luck, my fellow parent!

Mindfulness Techniques for Kids and Teens

dad and daughter in a high mountainThere is a growing body of evidence that mindfulness–which is tuning into the moment in a non-judgmental way–is associated with an array of positive wellness outcomes. In this blog entry I will review some specific mindfulness strategies for we parents to use with our kids and teens.

The older your youth is the easier this will be to teach and the more time you will be able to spend doing the techniques. It also helps if you are engaged in your own mindfulness practice. The length of time invested in each of the following strategies can be adjusted based on factors such as those.

To teach the concept of mindfulness you might try to start with a stimulus that is interesting to your child: a flower, a captured insect, a colorful dress, a colorful rock, and so forth. Make sure everyone’s technology is off (not on silent or vibrate, but off). Ask your child to take two to five minutes with you and study the details of the thing, making sure to not judge and only to observe. As you’re doing this, suggest that you both pretend that your lungs are in your belly, instead of your chest, and breathe more deeply (but comfortably), both in and out. Suggest that if other thoughts come to mind, that your child just bring them back to the object without judging the fact that s/he was distracted for a moment (you can model this by recounting your own distractions later). Afterwards ask your child how this affected him or her, listening for evidence of feeling more calm or peaceful. You might also have your child or teen give a calmness rating, from 1-100, comparing how s/he felt before and after.burnout:balance sign

Here are some other examples of mindfulness techniques:

During agitating waits. When in a long retail line, a traffic jam or other time-slowing and bothersome situations, encourage your child to study the details of something around you: the sweater of the person in line in front of you, the cracks in the side of the road. “Study” doesn’t mean glance and move on. It means keep a focus on that area and notice a level of detail that most would normally not attend to. When finished, be sure to ask what this did for the agitation and the sense of time (usually reduces agitation and speeds up time).

During eating. In our run-and-gun culture we can get into the habit of devouring instead of savoring. Mindful eating, which has been associated with enhanced pleasure and reduced calorie intake, involves engages all of the senses in eating. This would include chewing slowly and savoring the details of each mouthful in a way that typically wouldn’t be noticed.

Tmom and daughter shadowo reduce self-criticism. Ask your child or teen to try balancing an egg for two minutes. When doing so s/he should pay attention to the details of the egg and the surface as well as not judge his or her performance; the latter is especially important in this exercise.

As a hobby. Photography is an example of a hobby that is mindfulness friendly. You can ask your child to join you in taking a few pictures of things that people might not normally notice. Agree to non-judgmentally study the thing for some moments before you take a picture of it.

As a way of joining with nature. Take a hike in nature, agreeing to stop a predesignated number of times to study a particular object.

To learn about each other. You can take turns studying the details of each others face, being careful to remain neutral in any commentary. (When it’s all over you can be positively judgmental if you’d like.)

The final two are examples of more advanced techniques:

To observe negative feelings. There is something about non-judgmentally naming and noticing negative emotion that promotes dealing effectively with them. In our culture we sometimes have a low threshold for experiencing the inevitable valleys of our lives and can rush in with self-medications of a wide array. If you practice a spirituality, you teach your child to turn over named negative feelings to his or her Higher Power. Teaching our kids to be mindful about painful feelings can be difficult to do (including for us as we are challenged God in all thingsto suppress our urge to immediately jump in with strategies and reassurances) but offers an invaluable life lesson.

To observe urges. You can ask your child to sit up straight in a dining room chair and not respond to, but non-judgmentally notice, any urges (e.g., to slouch down, shift weight, cross legs) for a few minutes. A similar exercise would be to put your child’s phone face down and to note urges to respond to its beck-and-call. Afterwards, you can debrief about the role of urges and that we have more power to create distance and control over them than we might sometimes imagine.

While I’ve given some sample exercises, just about any activity can be done more mindfully: listening to music, commuting to school, showing, brushing teeth, and so forth. Like any wellness habit, it becomes easier to do the more it is practiced.


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