How to help when your child feels down

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Waffles looks sad, too.

As a parent, have you ever tried to help your child feel better when they’re feeling down — only to find you’re making them more upset or angry?

I have. I seem to do it quite frequently these days with my daughter. She’ll be upset over something, and I try to say something to make her feel better. Our conversations tend to get heated and I get berated for not understanding or for saying the wrong things.

I ran into an article today that is meant for younger kids, but I think I can use some of the advice. It’s from the Harvard Health Blog and called 4 parenting tips to break the negativity loop by Negativity loop accurately describes how I feel when I try to reassure or comfort my daughter and we go down a dark hole. Sperling offers advice on how to use validation so your kids know you’re listening to them.

Here’s an excerpt:

Start by validating emotions

Parents have a lot of wisdom to share with their children, and their advice often is filled with a lot of logic. Unfortunately, that logic tends to backfire when shared with someone experiencing an unhappy emotion, and can make the emotion even stronger. Both children and adults need to feel heard before their ears can open up and hear what else you have to say, so try to validate first before you try to help children appreciate positive aspects of a situation.

Validation allows us all to feel heard. You are not agreeing or disagreeing with the emotion; you’re showing that you see it. For example, if your daughter comes home sulking after scoring two goals in soccer and missing the final one, you might have the urge to say, “Why are you so sad? You scored two goals and looked like you were having so much fun while playing!” Your intention is kind, yet does not match your daughter’s experience. Instead, try reflecting how she is feeling by saying, “You’re disappointed that you didn’t make that final shot.” This acknowledges that your daughter is disappointed without agreeing or disagreeing with her.

Another tip she offers is to practice gratitude. She has several ideas depending on how old your kids are. Click to read more here.

She suggests having your child write three things they are thankful for and she states it will help improve their mood. I read a book called “Flourish” by Martin Seligman who is the Director of the Positive Psychology Center at U Penn. In that book, he described an exercise called the “Three Blessings,” where you write three things in your day that were positive and then write an explanation of why they happened. He found through his studies that the Three Blessings exercise is as effective as meds. I get started with it in the evenings and stick with for a week or two and then I forget about it. I’m going to make an effort to get back to that practice.

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Olive in a negative mood.

How do you stop the negativity loop with your kids?

Day 170: Will there be an end to this?

Me in my COVID-19 walking attire.

What a strange year this is thanks to the global pandemic known as COVID-19. It’s been 170 days since we were told to stay home and shelter in place. During that time, my husband has converted our master bedroom into his office. I’ve moved into my son’s empty room to work. My daughter was working in the guest room, until she got furloughed. Then she got called back for a few weeks. And then laid off. Then she decided it was time to leave the nest and go back to the Bay Area to look for work and be with her brother.

Remember the early days of the Coronavirus? Runs on toilet paper. Limits on meats. I was a daily fixture in the grocery store, probably because it was the only place I could go to. I often bought my one or two allotted packages of protein such as chicken, hamburger, steaks, pork chops — you name it. I wasn’t sure what the future would bring and I was afraid we wouldn’t have meat.

Now I’m dealing with my freezer that literally throws packages of chops at me whenever I open the door.

Time to defrost and cook. Today is a good day to turn on the oven. We’re only going to reach a high of 96 degrees which is a welcome change after three days in a row topping out at 120 degrees. When it’s hot here in the desert, we rely on microwave meals. Otherwise the kitchen heats up the house.

Sunrise at our park. When it’s 120 degrees I have to rise before dawn to get my walk in.

Anyone have suggestions for pork chops? I’m open to new recipes and ideas!

 

The Intruder is Back!

I looked back to last September to see what I was up to in my life. It’s been such a strange year, hasn’t it? Well, last September I was dealing with a homeless man who thinks he lives at our house. It’s been a year and he hasn’t gone away!

While we were on our working vacation at the beach in August, I had a friend’s daughter taking care of Olive the cat and staying at our house. One of her first times over here, our big wooden gates were shut and after opening them, she found a pile of blankets behind our trash cans! UGH! I looked through my video feed and found him at midnight, opening and closing our gates, peering through our bedroom window and jumping over our wall into the backyard. I don’t blame our house sitter at all, but she was no longer comfortable staying here! She made daily stops, but didn’t want to spend the night.

We called our neighbors who promised to keep an eye out for us, plus the police, who said they’d patrol our house carefully while we were out of town. They promised to arrest him if they found him trespassing. We returned and I haven’t seen him again. But, I did notice he stole our lock to the gate!

Here’s what I wrote about our intruder September 2019:

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Sunset from the back yard.

Last week I wrote about how I was minding my own business at home waiting for eye surgery and discovered on our Google Nest security feed that we had an intruder trespassing on our property nightly. We started locking the big wooden gates that open onto the street. We also have a garage door and an archway gate that are locked. On the camera feed, I saw the stranger rattling our gates, peering in through our bedroom windows, climbing over the wall into the backyard — and taking an object to smash the lock on our archway gate. I was terrified. Then I went for my morning walk on Thursday like any normal day:

I went for my morning walk today as usual. I almost skipped it because I didn’t want to leave our house with the big wooden gates open (they lock from the inside.) During my walk, I constantly checked the Nest app on my iPhone for activity. When I was a block from home, I looked at the app and the guy was there! He had returned!

I couldn’t stop shaking and when I got home, the gate was closed! I yelled and said I was calling the cops so get out! I checked my app again. The intruder had left three minutes before I arrived home. I called the cops and waited, not stepping foot on our property, but feeling safer in the middle of the street. The policeman came right away and said he’d look for the guy, he was probably close-by. He also suggested we get a lock for the outside of our big wooden gates or hire a security firm. I’m thinking Rottie. We had one before and this never happened.

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A present to myself from our beach vacation. The wind chimes are soothing and help me relax

Friday morning the nightmare continued. I woke up at 5 a.m. to my husband yelling from outside the house to call the cops! I grabbed my glasses, my phone and my hands shook as I tried to dial 911. My husband kept the guy at bay on our steps while we waited for the police to arrive. The 911 operator kept me on the phone and asked me to narrate what was going on.

A few minutes later which felt like an eternity, a half dozen police arrived. They said, “Marco! What are you doing here?” to our intruder.

Marco answered, “I live here. I bought this house.”

“No you don’t. You said that about the house down the street,” a policeman answered.

They handcuffed the intruder and drove him away. Both my husband and I were shaking with fear, anger and tried to lower our adrenaline levels to have a normal day. It didn’t happen. We both struggled.

I find myself waking up in the night, looking at my Nest app, listening for any little noise. I’m hoping each day it gets a little better. This person turns out to be well-known, a Palm Springs native and harmless. Of course, we had no idea of that with his erratic behavior and his trespassing from Saturday night through Friday morning. It brings our homeless problem right in my yard, not some abstract issue I read about in the newspaper.

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Olive is more relaxed now that the intruder has been arrested.

Have you had an intruder at your home? What happened and did you get over your fear?

 

I almost felt “normal” again

Waffles with my daughter

We got away for two weeks and life felt like it did before the pandemic. It gave me hope that yes, we will return to life before COVID-19 at some point in time. These past six months (or 165 days) of sheltering in place will come to an end.

With my husband required to work remotely, and my writing that can be done wherever, we returned to a tiny beach bungalow for the third summer in a row. We had planned this vacation way before the pandemic, but with the onset of working remotely, we extended our stay and had more time to escape the desert heat and relish in a change of scenery.

There’s something about the ocean that is spiritual and calming. I didn’t realize how much anxiety had been building inside me until I got to the Pacific, walked along the shoreline with waves lapping at my ankles. I could breathe. My back straightened up. I no longer felt trapped and scared.

A beach walk near Santa Barbara

The most freeing feeling was diving under a wave. I’ve always worn hard contact lenses — well since 7th grade anyway. I could never freely dive into a pool or ocean without goggles and worrying about losing contacts, which I’ve done more than once. Last fall I had cataract surgery and no longer wear contacts. It took me a couple dips into the ocean to realize that I could swim and dive under waves without fear.

Our kids joined us for a few days, along with my son’s girlfriend and one of her sisters. We shared meals outside, beach walks, and excursions into the city of Santa Barbara. That felt normal like prior summer trips. We’ve been visiting good friends in the area since before the kids were born. We caught up with other couples and had fun laughing and talking over meals, always outside and socially distanced. But what a nice change from all those months of no social activity.

Santa Barbara Harbor

Yes, I’m back in my house, it’s 109 degrees outside. But, I still have a little bit of that feeling of hope that things will get better. And life is good.

What experiences have you had that give you hope that the pandemic life will end?

Does IQ Determine a Child’s Success?

kat underHow our children handle adversity is more important to their success than their intelligence. I heard this during a webinar for youth sports parents, but it also applies to every day life. David Benzel, sports parenting expert, from Growing Champions for Life, discussed this and gave other gems of advice in “Overcoming Adversity in Sports and Life.” 

Benzel said, “Opportunities for personal growth usually come disguised as setbacks, disappointments and problems.” An interesting statistic he shared was that only 25 percent of success can be predicted by IQ, while 75% is because of the level of optimism, social support and the ability to see adversity as an opportunity and not a threat. So the answer to my headline question is a resounding “NO.” Our IQ isn’t as valuable as our AQ (Adversity Quotient.)

He gave examples of adversity in sports that included an injury, time off from practice due to COVID-19, not connecting with a coach, losing to an inferior opponent or being in a slump. Think of what so many kids are going through today with schools not opening, sports being cancelled. They are facing adversity like never before in their young lives.

According to Benzel, there are three types of reactions to adversity that he described as the Prisoner, the Settler and the Pioneer. The goal is to get to a pioneer mindset. That’s because the other two aren’t great. The prisoner gives up, is controlled by circumstances and feels fear and anger. The settler settles. That mindset seeks to be comfortable and feels they are doing as well as possible considering the circumstances.

The pioneer learns continuously, challenges assumptions and adjusts their strategies to succeed. They believe that they can accomplish anything if they bring light to the situation. Bringing in light makes the darkness go away. 

Here’re four tips Benzel gave to have a pioneer outlook to adversity:

  1. Listen to your adversity response. Is it fight, flight or freeze? Do your internal thoughts help you with the situation? 
  2. How can I bring light to this?
  3. Take charge of what you can control.
  4. Create a state of wonder to create a solution. Ask the question, “I wonder how I can…” Suddenly the pity party ends and your brain goes to work to find a solution.

One of the more helpful things I learned from the webinar is that optimism can be learned. So, if we’re feeling down or defeated, or our kids are, remember to ask the “I wonder how I can” question.

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When you are faced with adversity how do you see your mindset? Do you see yourself as a pioneer in spirit?

My super busy, crazy August

Two years ago my August was crazy with stress. My husband was dealing with health insurance, doctors and trying to get tests done. A good friend practically died. My daughter was leaving college to move to a new state and career. Move forward two years and things are still stressful but mainly because of all the changes to what we consider “normal.” Looking back to my August two years ago reminds me that this year, although different, is not that bad.

Here’s what I wrote two years ago:

 

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Waffles at the beach

Thank goodness I’m almost through with a momentous August. Usually, my Augusts are quiet and peaceful with countless hours reading books by the ocean or a mountain lake. But not this year. It’s been by far the craziest couple of weeks I’ve lived through.

Here’s a replay of the past few weeks:

• My husband’s pre-op nightmare battery of tests where they kept ordering test after test so he can have his shoulder surgery tomorrow. This is an entire story in itself that includes a cancer scare that I may write (complain) about on another day.

• Our dear friend passed out at the gym, having a blood clot lodge in her carotid artery causing a stroke—the morning we were driving four hours to see her.
 She spent a few days in ICU and after a few days was released and went on beach walks with me.

• My son’s girlfriend’s car accident on the day they were coming down to see us at the beach. The next few days helping them find a car because unfortunately the car was totaled. Eventually, they made it on vacation with us—in their new car.

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The VRBO we had for one week in paradise.

• Finally, a one week’s beach vacation. Gone in a snap.

• Driving up the mountain to move the RV back to the desert with a friend to help us drive it down the twisty, windy roads. It wouldn’t start by the way. The batteries died. I asked to borrow jumper cables and then a truck because our car has a “weird-ass” battery that can’t be used to jump a car.

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Big Bear Lake at the RV Park and Marina.

• Next, we drove to AZ to my daughter’s new house. My husband flew from Phoenix to Salt Lake City so he and my daughter could drive a U-Haul for 10 hours with her worldly possessions through flash floods and monsoon winds. I spent two days cleaning the dusty, dirty house until I was exhausted. But, I did have lil’ Waffles by my side the entire time.

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They arrived in the U-Haul after a 10-hour drive.

• We hired movers to unload the U-Haul because of my husband’s upcoming shoulder surgery, plus my daughter’s distance-swimmer shoulder. We were told about a website where you can hire two guys for two hours for moving, which I did. Guess what? The movers didn’t show up!
 I’m currently trying to get a refund.

• We spent Sunday putting together Ikea furniture and unpacking boxes before making the trek back home.

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My kids body surfing during one relaxing moment at the beach.

What could we squeeze in next? Shoulder surgery tomorrow and I get to be nurse and caretaker. Then I’ll return to AZ and help my daughter get settled—and bring the things I forgot to pack on our last trip–like her work wardrobe! Whew! No wonder I’ve been stressed lately.

What is your August like? Did it seem crazier than usual, too?

How are pets affected by the pandemic?

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Olive the cat.

How are our furry friends handling the stress of the pandemic? Do they like having us around all the time? Well, according to a dog training expert I heard on the radio, if man’s best friend’s behavior has changed, then they may be stressed out. (I’m sorry I can’t remember the name of the dog trainer, but he had some really good advice.)

If we are stressed out, our dogs may become stressed, too. Barking more than usual, destroying things or being super clingy are signs of stress. The trainer said the best thing to do is not yell at your dog when they are barking or rifling through the trash, but instead say, “Come!” Next, work with them for a few minutes so they get focused. Run through a few sits and stays. Our dogs live to please us and they are dying to work for us. Spending a few minutes throughout the day with short training sessions can change their destructive behavior and make them feel better.IMG_6035

In an article called Preventing pandemic-related pet anxiety now and later by Kristi King on WTOP.com, a Maryland radio station, a veterinarian offers advice for our pandemic-stressed pets. Here’s an excerpt:

A veterinarian has advice for helping pets get through the pandemic when everyone is home and when their owners return to work.

With all the family at home during the pandemic, pack animals such as dogs could not be happier to have everyone in the same roof. Some cats, on the other hand, not so much.

“I think it’s very smart to think proactively,” senior veterinarian at Chewy, Dr. Katy Nelson said.

If you’re a dog owner, Nelson recommends making adjustments now to help dogs that might experience separation anxiety when you’re not constantly around.

Start by resuming former routines you might have dropped, such as waking up, getting dressed and leaving the house.

“Whether it’s just for 30 minutes or an hour, where you go pick up a coffee through the drive-thru and you sit in your car for a while. It gives your pets a little bit of time without you,” she said.

If you can, Nelson said to try to make your departure time as similar to your usual workday routine. Some dogs might need to revisit the habit of having to spend time in their crates.

Signs of separation anxiety can include dogs destroying things or overly grooming themselves.

“Really good exercise can help a lot with these pets. A tired pet is a good pet,” Nelson said.

The article also talks about cats and typically they aren’t as happy as the puppers to have us around all the time. That’s because cats like to be left alone and they like privacy. They probably believe we are invading their space. Cats definitely differ from dogs — they aren’t living to please us.

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Waffles the pug.

How are your pets doing during the pandemic? How have their schedules and routines changed?