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Sarah Amy Glensor Best

Bedtime Stress Response

16th May 2016
Bedtimes with aroha

Ever stood at the door of your child’s room at bedtime, ready to leave, thinking you’re all done for the evening when suddenly they make a request, ask a question, sound unhappy?

The Intention

I’ve always made it a priority for the children to go to sleep knowing they’re loved and cared for rather than feeling alone or sad. It’s important to me that my children associate their beds and bedtime with happiness. I’ve spent most nights of this last 12 years of parenthood working with the children to create positive bedtime rituals such that both they and I feel connected and strong in our relationship whenever I leave them to their sleep.

These rituals have included cuddles, songs, stories, kissing arms, massaging feet, drawing on backs, back and forth word and gesture choreography that we’ve built up together over time. When it’s gotten out of hand with too much being asked of me I’ve limited the final words to “what’s the last thing you’d like to say?” which quickly extended to “three things” but did stop there.

The Reality

For the most part this has been great. We knew what to expect and mostly stuck within those boundaries – working together as a team to create a beautiful end to the day. However there have been times when requests for something more to eat or drink or a tricky question such as “How did all the houses get here?” or even more eye raising “Where did all the people come from?” have felt like an insurmountable problem; like an enormous, overwhelming obstacle rising up between me and my chance to go to bed myself! I still get this now at times, even though I figured the panic over how much sleep I am going to get tonight has long since passed as my children have grown up.

I felt this just last night. I was holding youngest’s hand as she drifted off to sleep – so relaxing, I love doing this – when middle child came in and announced she was still hungry and could she have something to eat. My mind went blank (I was very interested to note) as the learned stress response kicked in – auto pilot. I could have answered, relaxed and happy, “sure thing, there’s plenty of fruit, I’ll see you soon to say goodnight” but no, I went into panic mode. I garbled something about “not able to answer, don’t ask me” and then, after a few breathes I called out to her retreating back “yes, ok, go for it” – not quite calmly, but I did manage to spit out that more helpful response.

The Reflection

So what’s going on for me that a simple request can hamstring me so?

I understand the neurology of it. When we are triggered into stress response our brains shut down the “unnecessary” rational part of our brain, instead diverting energy to the fight, flight or freeze parts of the brain – our primitive survival mechanisms that served us so well for thousands of years when living out in the elements amongst many dangerous predators. Also, I get that this panic response was repeated many times when I was super tired for all those years and was seriously feeling in danger due to exhaustion making driving something of a concern. However it’s not helpful anymore (nor indeed was it ever possibly), it’s not serving me to get angry or go blank when my children ask me to stay a few moments more or to rub the other foot before leaving. I’m no longer at a point where the urge to run away from this parenting business is a regular occurrence. It’s also not helpful for me to blame the children for their “unreasonable requests”, which is often how it seems in the moment, until later when my rational brain sees it more how it actually is – a child has a need to be met.

Bedtime

Bedtime – meeting needs, minimising the stress response

The New Intention

Hmmm. So what’s needed here is for me to be mindful of my breath, keep my love for my children at the forefront of my thoughts and feelings, and stay strong in my trust that these days I will get enough sleep most nights. Connecting with the breath helps to calm my nervous system and soothe the stress response. I’ll need to work with the children to get clear on new boundaries and re-learn helpful responses; and practice these each evening until they are well embedded. When I notice the stress response I can take steps to calm it as soon as possible and clean up any messes I may have made with the children while in that state. And most of all, I will need to be kind to myself, ensuring forgiveness and love are paramount throughout this process.

Thanks girls for providing yet another opportunity for me to learn and grow!

Days Gone By…

Thinking back, I could have used this reflection to support myself, my girls and our precious rituals when the stress response was a regular occurrence. Awareness that it was happening, understanding that the processes underpinning the fight, flight or freeze response were my brain’s attempt to keep me safe (this is its major objective). Acknowledging that I had reason to feel concerned for how much sleep I was going to get, so boundaries were indeed important and that also “this too shall pass”. Recognising my response as my response rather than the children’s fault would have been very helpful. The mindfulness, the breath, the love and working together on boundaries and practice responses, and finally kindness and forgiveness for myself would all still have been relevant.

With any luck this will resonate with others out there and offer some ideas to make bedtimes the special, connecting and relationship nourishing opportunities that they can be.

Endnote

What bedtime ritual ideas can you create together? You know each other and your bedroom layouts and lifestyle best. Best not to do this when you’re a bit frazzled or in a hurry. Have a good cuddle and chat about it when you’re calm and enjoying each other.

Ask your friends, and your friends’ children, and wider whanau about what they do for bedtime rituals.

Else a couple of other ideas off the internet:

Bedtime Gorilla Help your Children Ease into a Peaceful Sleep

Bedtime music such as Indigo Dreams – soothing music (for you and for them)

Po marie x

 

When we trust in children

9th May 2016
Trust in children

A wee story about trust

Yesterday I returned from a weekend training session. My 7-year-old daughter was so excited to see me! She insisted on carrying my things into the house and up to my room for me. At first I gently objected saying “I’ll do it darling.” Luckily however she is a very strong person and instead of accepting my stepping on her toes, my lack of trust in her, she stated firmly and kindly “Mum, I can do it” and proceeded to take my drink bottles and purse, my pillows, ukulele and everything else that was in my hands.

She stumbled up the stairs. I followed, smiling. At the top she turned around, re-balanced herself under her load, and told me that I was to follow her and NOT go into the kitchen. “OK.” I agreed, even though I was keen to greet my partner and other children. I stood there while she unwrapped and de-cluttered herself. Then she was back. “Now, close your eyes and follow me. It’s ok I’ll keep you safe.”

Now, usually I close my eyes initially and then wait until she’s begun the journey before peeking, just a little, opening my eyes a tiny crack to check for any dangers to my person. This time however I chose to trust entirely to her direction and care of me. She smoothly led me along by the hand. My right arm brushed a wall as we turned a corner. The urge was very strong to open my eyes. I had to keep reassuring myself that I would be safe in her care for these steps to the kitchen.

On arrival I was greeted with the most delight I’ve seen on her face in a long time as she handed me a gift. As I unwrapped her carefully decorated present for me I realised that I too had given her a gift, one more valuable than any we can buy. My gift was to trust in her plan, trust in her care, trust that this little person in front of me is confident, competent and has much to contribute to this world – and I am not in control nor in charge of how that will unfold for her and by her. Wow.

What Children Need

10th October 2015

Children’s needs haven’t changed over the last several thousand years. Their basic surviving and thriving needs are still warmth and nourishment: being kept physically warm and nourished along with socially supported and extended. Without these, human children can die or at best struggle through life a shadow of what could have been their potential. But let’s look a bit deeper into this. Firstly, what is a need?

A need is something that we cannot do without, that is required to be met (most of the time) in order for us to live a reasonable life. When all of our needs are met most of the time, we have a high chance of reaching our full genetic potential. Our needs being met provides the ideal environment for us to be all that we can be.

All human beings have the potential to be confident, competent and contributing members of society – right from birth. Our one proviso is that we have certain needs which, luckily for our child selves, adult humans are intuitively programmed to meet. A baby’s facial and bodily proportions are such that we adults find them “cute”, inspiring us to care for these tiny beings. A baby’s cry calls us to act, to meet their need. Our whole brain and body make up allows us to mirror the production of love hormones our babies are also producing such that we wish to be near them, to hold them close, to gaze into their eyes and care for them. We are well designed to meet our children’s needs. So where are things going awry, with so many children’s needs not being adequately met?

Since human beings have such a large capacity for rational thought, we have the ability to ignore our instincts and instead to choose another course of action. Our biology may be calling to us to go to our young when they are crying but our logical brain areas can choose to block these messages and begin to justify why our baby will do well to be left alone. Just like with any brain functions, practice makes perfect, so the more we ignore these intuitions the better we get at ignoring them. After a while it can be difficult to access them at all.

Many of our children (and us also) have even been taught early on to ignore their instinctive understanding about themselves and others: “You’re alright” children are often told when they’re clearly not currently alright (though we adult-rationally know that they will be soon), and “You’re not full yet, eat some more.” I often notice my desire to encourage my children to override their own feelings and understandings and go along with what I believe is the case instead.

The other issue we have is confusion over what is a “need” and what is a “want”. I’m totally clear now that babies, children and adults all “need” to feel safe in order to live a full and happy life. For this to occur they must be kept physically and socially warm and nourished – this in turn supports their emotional and intellectual development. So a child who is calling for help and having no-one come is not being kept socially warm. A baby who is not being interacted with regularly and appropriately to build their pro-social skills is not being socially nourished. These are needs for us because we are an interdependent species, heavily reliant on others in our species to work together with so we can all survive and thrive together. Babies and children need at least one adult who is irrationally committed to their welfare, who is tuned into these physical and social needs and has the ability to meet them, most of the time.

A “want” is something that we can absolutely do without, even though we may not “want” to. Some wants may appear to enhance our experience of life but getting wants met will not make us better people, or reach a greater potential. As long as our needs are met, then our potential is covered. Toys are wants. Sweets are wants. Not having to deal with difficult situations for which we are responsible are wants. Pretty much all of the stuff we have in our houses are wants.

Contrary to popular belief a child doesn’t “want” attention. Being the interdependent species we are, if a child is calling for attention (in whatever way they’re currently trying to do this), their call is, in fact, a need. How we choose to respond to this request makes a huge difference to the child’s development, particularly their appreciation of themselves and understanding of how human beings interact with each other. If the need is met effectively then there will not be any drive to repeat the call. No-one chooses to stay locked in a need for a need. They will move on and call on us for their next need. Getting wants met however does seem to result in the desire for further wants. And underlying all of this desire for more, more, more, are a series of unmet needs. Hidden. Lost amongst the confusion between rational thought and instinctive drive. Underneath any repetitive, exhausting want is an unmet need. That goes for adults as much as it does for children. The key is to uncover that need and effectively resolve it.

Let’s review what children’s basic needs are:

  • Physical warmth – housing, clothing, protection from the elements
  • Nourishing food – real food
  • Social warmth – physical and emotional safety provided by at least one adult the child can rely on to be there and support them
  • Social nourishment – adult/s providing the necessary physical, emotional and intellectual environment such that the child can develop their understanding of themselves, others and the wider world and build on their ability to function effectively in this interdependent world

Once every child has these needs met most of the time – wow – what a world this will be!

 

Criticising Criticism

28th July 2015

Oh dear, I’ve had a bit of a conundrum to deal with lately. How do I point out to my girls the potential damage of their criticisms of each other without criticising them about it?

I already know from previous realisations that it doesn’t help the child if I yell at them to “be quiet!” or if I snatch an item off them that they’ve just snatched off another child. So how do I increase their awareness of the negative side effects that occur from criticising someone, without my attempt at enlightenment appearing to be a criticism itself – which it is, to be fair?

Now, I know that the best way for children (and indeed all human beings) to learn is to see the positive behaviour in action, to have it modelled for us. So I’ve been working away at modelling “not criticism” for my girls (most of the time). However the fly in the ointment here is that it is really, really, not obvious to someone that we are not criticising them. For example: a child is happily singing a song and the words are not correct. I choose to say “oh, I’m enjoying your singing” or just smile, saying nothing, or even just doing nothing at all – after all it’s not really about me is it, it’s about her joy in her song. Really, who cares if she’s singing the “wrong” words. Her big sister however feels the need to point out that little one has the words wrong. If I then jump in and say “oh, it doesn’t matter about the words, it’s the love of singing that matters” I’m then criticising the big sister for criticising her little sister. Doh!

Yesterday I was having lunch with a wonderful wise woman to whom I posed this potential dilemma. She suggested that perhaps I could utilise Shakespeare’s way of taking the air out from under the criticism moment by way of humour or clever irony. Perhaps I could work with the girls to create this – similar to our “tip top” (in sing-song voice) which means “please stop rocking on your chair, it’s not good for the chair and potentially not good for you either” J. I’m keen to give this a try. If nothing else it has the possibility of raising their awareness about criticism and having them consider other alternatives to just diving in and correcting someone because we think they’re doing something wrong, by our definition.

Well, I’ll be back to update this with how we go along this journey.

Continuing on…

Multi-Dimensional Greatness

6th June 2015

Sarah Viking 2

I have created the possibility of Multi-Dimensional Greatness!

I believe that each of us can best serve ourselves, others and the world by fully expressing our greatness for the world – check out Marianne Williamson’s quote below – but until recently I have had it that my greatness needed to look a certain way, and to not achieve that was my failure.

Earlier this year I had my first book published: “Changing the World is Child’s Play.” I launched a website and my education business. I started blogging and Facebook sharing. I was sailing out on unfamiliar seas, vulnerable, really putting myself out there, I had a vision of really changing the world through education about parenting, children and child’s play. I was heading towards my fixed view of my expression of greatness for the world when I received a few knocks. Some people didn’t share my vision, some weren’t interested in supporting my journey, I was even asked to tone it down. I reacted to these knocks as I had as a child when I’d disappointed my parents or my friends didn’t “get it”. I quietly decided I’d failed, that it was all too hard to be this greatness I was supposed to be. I limped on, licking my wounds, sharing my feelings of lost direction and confusion with some, pretending to others that all was ok, but all the while playing smaller and smaller. This state further manifested with physical ailments and the return of “the grey” (my emotional down). I attempted to maintain my integrity by meeting obligations I’d commited to and nervously taking on a little more, digging deep to generate the education sessions so it looked to the world like I was still playing for greatness but then sliding back into hiding the moment the spotlight was off me.

My energy and motivation, the sparkle in my eye, passion for my purpose, excitement in the journey, my true expressions of greatness have been missing.

I’ve been attending a Landmark seminar series considering my relationship with money and, like with the rest of my life, I’ve been playing small: hiding in the back, pretending to be in integrity but really just limping through like I have the rest of my life. Last session I finally admitted to my sharing neighbour and team that I’ve been a fraud, that I’ve not really wanted to be there, that I’m in this uncomfortable space of lacking direction and clarity and fearing grasping the seminar series (and my life) by the hands and playing full out. I realised that I am very stingy with using money for myself and that this reflects in my stinginess in how I care for myself also. This was when I realised that what has been missing for me in recent months is greatness.

I then created the possibility of Multi-Dimensional Greatness – including being great at caring for myself, which is what I feel will be the most beneficial to me right now to support my life to work and other greatness to shine. Eventually, as I practice this great care for myself, it will be established as just what I do. Also I’ve commited to being open to my greatness being expressed, and changing, day to day, moment to moment and taking many different forms.

My greatness is the most generous gift I can offer to the world. I commit now to seeing the wide and multi-dimensional realm which my greatness can encompass and playing full out in this realm for myself, others and the world.

 

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Marianne Williamson, from A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles, Harper Collins, 1992