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Mindfulness Matters

*Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine

Practising mindfulness meditation is something I have done to cope with everyday stress for the past four years. Relationship troubles, work pressures and oppressive inner dialogue can all contribute to adult stress. However, stress isn’t reserved for adults.

The science of child development shows that excessive stress could lead to lifelong issues with learning, behavior and overall health. Though most children deal well with stress, others find coping more difficult. Finding healthy ways to manage stress can help children maneuver through challenging times.

Roy Hintsa, a Toronto area mindfulness-based stress reduction facilitator, says mindfulness allows children to manage stress by creating a pause between the stimulus and the reaction. This gives them the opportunity to choose to respond thoughtfully rather than react impulsively. “Mindfulness promotes well-being,” he says. “Children become happier and kinder. They get in touch with their emotions and learn to regulate them.”

The simplest tool we have for mindfulness is observing our breath. Roy says not to change your breathing pattern. First, focus on feeling the cool air when you inhale and the warm air when you exhale. Then count your breaths in pairs: Inhale, exhale, one. Inhale, exhale, two, and so on for five counts. If your mind wanders, note what you were thinking about and return to counting your breaths.

Mindfulness in schools
Much of Roy’s experience with teaching mindfulness to children is in a school setting. Children are confronted with stress from many areas. Most often that stress comes from worrying about academic performance. “Even from an early age,” says Roy. “This can cause many youngsters to feel stressed out.”

Not only can students experience anxiety related to academic pressures, they can also come to school with a host of stressors stemming from problems in the home, social conflict and physical or mental vulnerabilities. “There is also the pressure of being accepted,” says Roy. “Mindfulness helps children to be kinder to themselves and this extends to others.”

Mindfulness can also help improve children’s attention, focus and memory, Roy says. These are all important factors for learning.

Roy recommends children take three mindful breaths to help relieve anxiety before doing homework, tests and participating in competitions. The goal is to teach children to focus in simple ways. “It’s really about focusing,” he says.

One exercise Roy does with students begins with sitting in a chair. Kids are asked to concentrate on their breathing while their classmates walk around and try to distract them. “The child’s job is to really try to stay concentrated in spite of all this noise that’s going on around them.”

Get the whole family involved
Roy says parents must be mindful themselves in order to create a mindful family.

“Children will come to mindfulness at their own time and pace,” he says. “If parents are mindful, and I don’t mean modeling mindfulness, but are embodying mindfulness, they may come to it earlier.”

The key is to be fully present when interacting with your family, says Roy. Here are some ways he says you can do that:

  • Just before leaving for school in the morning, before opening the front door, stand together and take three mindful breaths.
  • You can also take three mindful breaths before eating and try to begin the meal mindfully.
  • Go for a walk with your child and pay attention to what you both notice around you, what you see, hear, smell and touch.
  • Before bed, share something that you are grateful for that day — something that made you happy. Have your child do the same. Then continue with some mindful breathing!

Mindfulness exercises for younger siblings

Children can be introduced to the principles of mindfulness from a young age, says Roy. Children from all ages can benefit from different styles of training. Younger children tend to respond more to physical activities rather than practising meditation. Here are some exercises Roy recommends for preschool children:

Mindful Listening: Tell your child you are going to ring a bell or a tone bar. Ask them to listen carefully to the sound of the bell and raise their hands when they can no longer hear it.

Breath Awareness: Have your child lie down on a mat on the floor, or on their bed, and place their favourite stuffed animal on their belly. Have them rock the stuffed animal to sleep with the movement of their belly as they breathe in and out. This is how they can begin to pay attention to their breathing.

Mindful Eating: This is a time when playing with your food is OK. Give your child a piece of fruit and ask them to pretend they are from another planet and have never seen this piece of fruit before. Ask them to describe their experience using all five senses. What does it look like? Smell like? Feel like? Taste like? Does it make a sound when you bite it?

Study: Social Skills, Not Good Grades, Linked with Lifelong Happiness

*Link to original post  here (Yahoo Shine)

Don’t fret if your kids didn’t make the honour roll – their future well-being doesn’t depend on it.

According to the Journal of Happiness Studiesacademic achievement has less impact on adult well-being than we might think. The study followed just more than 800 children over a 32-year period, exploring the role of academic achievement and social development on future adult well-being. For the purpose of this study, well-being is defined as a combination of a sense of coherence, positive coping strategies, social engagement and self-perceived strengths.

The results showed a strong link between social connectedness and overall adult happiness. The findings suggest that parents should focus their attention on helping their children develop social skills. Parent can do this by encouraging their children to participate in social activities such as youth groups and sporting clubs.

But isn’t it important that our children do well in school? Apparently, academic achievement has little effect on adult well-being, according to the authors of the study, associate professor Craig Olsson from Deakin University and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia, and his colleagues.

I admittedly was never overly stressed about my kids getting straight A’s. Of course I expected them to do their best, but I also encouraged them to forge strong bonds with classmates. As a shy kid myself, I had a hard time making friends. I did have a few, but I never really “fit in” so I didn’t want my children to go through that same painful experience.

When we held our little bundles of joy in our arms for the first time we made a multitude of wishes on their behalf:  We wished for their health and future success, but most of all we wished for their happiness. We promised to do our part to help them succeed in life. We would attend all their ball games and sit through all their school performances; we’d read to them, limit their screen time and help them with their homework.

I started out with good intentions when my girls were wee ones. They were signed up for every activity imaginable (with great aspirations of becoming Olympic gymnasts and figure skaters). They went to singing lessons and piano lessons; the list goes on. But life got in the way, as it sometimes does, and sacrifices needed to be made to preserve my sanity family harmony. And most of all, they missed their friends.

So we spent less time driving to practices, and a little more time just hanging out together. They did remain in organized activities, but not as many, and not so much that it took time away from their friends. They’d have them over to “study” but most times they’d just be chatting, as they often did during class –as evidenced by their average marks– and that was OK with me. As long as they were happy (and not failing), I was happy for them.

For now, my 11-year-old’s organized activities are limited to soccer and karate, and she has no ambitions to be a star goalie, or ninja, quite yet. I hazard a guess that it’s okay at this age to not have her life mapped out. And my 17-year-old, who has double aspirations of being a starving special effects artist and musician, spends equal time talking to friends and honing her craft (AKA jamming with friends and creating videos to share on YouTube).

While my kids aren’t the highest performing students in their class, (not for their lack of ability) they do have a healthy set of social skills. And this may be more important to their future happiness than being scholars.

10 Things Every Mom Says

*Link to original post here

There are some things every mom says.

Put on a hat or you’ll catch a cold

OR

Your face will freeze that way

How many times have you rolled your eyes when you heard some of the things your mom said to you as a child?

And admit it, you catch yourself saying the same things to your child today. I know I do. It’s almost automatic. Every time I do it I hear my mother’s voice and cringe. Especially when I fall back on everyone’s favourite, “You’ll understand when you have kids one day.” My only retort was, “Well I’m not having any kids!”

Lies. I now have two. And I’m sure they are doubly annoyed by my broken record of momisms.
Well now kids are taking to Twitter to commiserate with their peers about the annoying things their moms seem to have on repeat.

We’ve rounded up the 10 most common tweets using the hashtag: #thingseverymomsays. Some things never change.

1. Me: Mom I’m bored. Mom: Go clean your room. – @missshadyxx

2. As long as you live under my roof, you’ll live by my rules. – @its_austinnn

3. I brought you into this world & I can take you out. – @mixdgrlproblems

4. When you have kids, you’ll realize what I’m talking about. – @RealBryanGarcia

5. Don’t talk to me like that, I’m not one of your little friends. – @ItsRyanParker

6. I’ll Give You Something to Cry About. – @CarltonnBanks

7. Because I said so. – @iKeepItTooReal

8. If all your friends jumped off a bridge would you? – @CarltonnBanks

9. You eat what I cook or don’t eat at all. – @TonyTRoberts

10. If you go out there and break your leg don’t come running to me. @rmurray92

Target Backlash: Moms Speak Out Against Tween Fashion

*Link to original post here or  here

I have a bone to pick with children’s clothing manufacturers. Walk past the window displays of any children’s clothier and you may catch a glimpse of mini-mannequins, sporting über short dresses, and super low-cut tops. And if it wasn’t for their size, you might expect these fashions to have come straight from the runway.

Last week a disgruntled mother posted a comment on Target Australia’s Facebook page. Ana Laura Amini expressed her disappointment with the store’s clothing offerings for girls between the ages of seven and 14, stating that because their designs lacked modesty, she would no longer be shopping at their stores. Her post received more than 70,000 “likes” and nearly 4,000 responses – many expressing shared sentiments.

Target has since responded, explaining their product design selection process, and assuring Facebookers that they are indeed reading customer feedback. However, this does not directly solve the dilemma many parents have when shopping for age-appropriate clothing: Where can average parents (meaning us non-celeb mommies) get affordable, quality, modest clothing?

Target isn’t the only store to offer questionable kid’s garment designs. And it’s a source of frustration for many parents who seek to dress their children in more modest fashions. As a mother of a tween and teen, it’s become more than just a frustration. I spend far too much time going from shop-to-shop, sorting through racks, for clothes that don’t make my 11-year-old look like her 17-year-old sister.

I have always allowed my children to embrace their uniqueness, and this includes their style. I didn’t bat an eye when my eldest went from wearing nothing but camouflage in Grade 6 to wanting blue hair in Grade 8 (much to the dismay of her principal). And it doesn’t faze me one bit that my youngest refuses to wear dresses, or the colour pink. But whether their style goes against the gender-grain, or is more flamboyant than the norm, they both have one thing in common – their desire for modesty. My girls like to stay covered up. And so the struggle continues.

So who’s to blame? It’s not the manufacturer’s responsibility to guide public taste. They make their money from the demands of their consumers. And since many parents these days want little replicas of themselves, the selection of kids clothing we are left with is just a shrunken down version of adult clothing.

So tell retailers what you want to see in their stores. Nay, demand it! Write letters, sign petitions, employ social media as Ana did. But you mustn’t stop there. What we need the most is to accept that our children are children and not living dolls. Teach them it’s OK to love themselves as they are. Let’s build strong children who don’t bend to the pressure of media images.

We get it. There will always be moms who think it’s cute to have a miniature clone of themselves. And there will always be kids who want to grow up too quickly. But we must be responsible and draw the line and encourage our own children’s age-appropriate modesty. The change starts at home.

Easy Meal Prep for the Time-Starved Mom

*Link to original post here

I come from a long line of women who take great pride in spending hours each day making meals for their families. They ask for nothing in return but satisfied smiles. No dish was simple. Many required hours of marinating and slow cooking. Dinner was always three or four courses. And there was not a morsel leftover at the end of the meal.

As a single, working mom, that is no longer realistic for me. When I get home at the end of the work day the last thing I want to do is spend an hour, or longer, in the kitchen playing Julia Child. Yet it’s important that my children’s nutrition not suffer because of my lack of energy and organization. I had to find a simple solution that made sense for us. So for the last few years I have been attending a bi-weekly meal prep session at SupperWorks where I spend an hour making 12 entrees.  It’s such an easy process. I go on their website, make my selections from the monthly menu and book my session. When I arrive I am greeted by friendly staff who take my purse and hand me a glass of wine.

The first thing I do is wash up and put on a crisp, white apron. Then I move from station to station, following the printed directions they have laid out for me.  All the vegetables are pre-chopped, and all the meat is portioned out. All I need to do is to measure out a few seasonings, toss everything in a freezer bag, stick on a label with cooking instructions and place it in the holding fridge. The best part is that I don’t have to clean anything up.

While you are given two hours to put together your meals, sometimes I am finished in less than an hour. All that is left to do is put everything in my cooler and transfer the contents to my freezer at home. For the really time-starved, they have a pickup option which means you don’t lift a finger!

I love how everything from the shopping, prep work to clean up is all done for me. In addition to convenience they offer gluten-free and vegetarian dishes for those with food restrictions.  And on Saturdays they allow you to bring your little ones in to give a helping hand! Dinnertime is now stress-free and nutritious. We no longer have chicken Tuesdays in our home. We get to enjoy recipes from all over the world. Sometimes it’s Greek stew, other times it’s Spanish fish bake. Tonight it’s crock pot chicken curry. What are you having for dinner tonight?

Why Working Late in Your Pregnancy May be as Harmful as Smoking

*Link to original post here

We’re often told that healthy women with low risk pregnancies are able to work up until delivery.

But should they, really?

A new study from the University of Essex shows that working past the eight month mark may be as harmful to our babies as smoking since they grow more slowly in the womb.

The research tells us that women who continued working until the end of the third trimester were more likely to have lower birth weight babies. We know from previous studies that babies with lower birth weights are more prone to developmental delays and poor health. In addition, they are less likely to be scholastically successful, which could mean lower wages and higher mortality.

The study does point out that pregnant women over the age of 24 were at more risk. And those with less education are at most risk since they are more likely to have physically demanding jobs.

Samples were taken from three major surveys, over the last few decades, dating as far back as the 70s and as recently as 2005, among populations both in the UK and US.

One of the outcomes of the study was the recommendation that women who feel the need, should take a break from work before birth, rather than just after.

These new recommendations are a far cry from what pregnant women have been told in recent years. Women have been encouraged to stay active throughout their pregnancy to prevent gaining excess weight, which can contribute to gestational diabetes. Even light jogging is considered a safe way to keep fit and possibly make labour easier.

Sure, maybe with six support bras cradling your swollen, tender breasts. There’s nothing like carrying around the extra weight of baby, placenta, amniotic fluid and the increased blood mass to motivate you through your last mile. *eye roll*

I remember how cumbersome I felt at six months pregnant with my second child. Every joint ached, and it took all I had in me just to waddle to the kitchen to address baby’s chicken craving. I couldn’t imagine having to sit at an office desk for eight hours or playing Frogger through downtown traffic to make it to an industry event on time, let alone go jogging.

This new information finally offers some rest for the weary. It’s bad enough that women are expected to do it all, but to do it all while nine months pregnant? And we place these expectations on ourselves. We compete with each other the most.

Ladies, it’s OK to put your feet up and modify your daily routine. Yes, women have bore children for millennia, but it doesn’t make the feat any less miraculous, and dare I say, brave.

So take your last month, or three, off work and start nesting. And don’t allow the big belly mamas-to-be doing the downward dog in the park to make you feel inadequate. Better them than you.

 

How to Potty Train in Three Days

Link to original article here (iVillage) or here (Yahoo! Shine)

It’s Potty Time!

No mom has ever avoided the dreaded potty training experience. Messes, being sequestered in the home, naked bums walking around the house – these are some of the things moms go through during the potty training process.

No wonder so many moms want to get it out of the way and be done with it. Enter the quick-training guide. While Dr. Sears advises against rushing a child who is not ready, some say it can indeed be accomplished in three scant days.

If this is something you wish to explore, read ahead for information to consider.

Things to Consider Before you Begin

Development: When will your child be ready?

The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends a child-oriented approach to toilet training. Most children develop bowel and bladder control somewhere between 24 and 48 months, but the muscles surrounding the opening of the bladder and bowel begin to mature around 18 months. This is generally the optimal time to begin introducing the potty.

But physical development isn’t the only factor. A child must also be psychologically ready. Click ahead for a list  to help you determine if your child is psychologically ready to begin training.

Is Your Child Ready?

– Able to walk to the potty chair (or adapted toilet seat)

– Stable while sitting on the potty (or adapted toilet seat)

– Able to remain dry for several hours

– Receptive language skills allow the child to follow simple (one- and two-step) commands

– Expressive language skills permit the child to communicate the need to use the potty (or adapted toilet seat) with words or reproducible gestures

– Desire to please, based on positive relationship with caregivers

– Desire for independence, and control of bladder and bowel function

Time: Are YOU ready?

Once development has been addressed it’s time to decide whether you or your caregiver has the time to devote to training.

The process can take anywhere from three to six months, but don’t let this information discourage you. Understanding your child’s physical capabilities can help you avoid a battle with a child who is just not ready.

Ready, Set…

Now that readiness has been established, we turn to the quick-training gurus to help you shorten the course.

Mommy blogger, Crystal, at Growing a Jeweled Rose, shares her success story “…in hopes of encouraging and empowering you to make potty training a smooth and positive transition.”

Crystal used Julie Fellom’s Diaper Free Toddlers program as described on babycenter.com.

Preparing For Your “Naked Weekend”

– Talk to your child about the potty in the days leading up to the “naked weekend” to help prepare them for the process. Reading potty training books geared toward little ones will help your tyke understand what they are about to embark upon.

– Bring your child to help pick out his or her potty to build excitement. Also let them select their big kid undies. Colourful ones with their favourite cartoon character will make them excited to shed the diaper.

– Set up a reward system. Crystal says it is particularly helpful in this program. Pick out the prizes on the same day as the potty and undies.

– Clear your calendar. You need to set aside three days (the weekend tends to be the most convenient) when you don’t leave the house.

– The most important piece of advice is that your child should be completely naked from the waist down for the entire three days.

…Go!

Now it’s time to begin the actual training. E-how recommends using positive reinforcement and praise for a job well done. Saying things like “you are such a big girl/boy,” when your child stays dry will encourage him, who wants nothing more than to please you.

Get Him Involved

Involve your child in tossing out unused diapers (much like we throw out junk food when we decide to eat healthfully). Once there are no more diapers, explain to your child that it’s time to begin using the potty.

Show her where to go pee and poo and tell her to let you know when she feels the urge to tinkle. They key message to get across is that she needs to try her best to stay dry.

Positive Reinforcement

Stay close by and monitor his expressions and remind him of the potty’s existence and purpose. If there is an accident, don’t scold or say negative things like “you are a bad boy,” instead indicate that his underwear is wet and take him to the potty to finish emptying himself.

When he finally uses the potty, make a big deal out of it. Do a little dance or sing a little song and be otherwise very excited. Now is the time to reward him with one of the prizes you picked out together. It’s not a bribe, just a treat.

Repeat this process for three days and by the end your child will have gotten the hang of using the potty. That’s not to say there won’t be accidents, particularly at night, but he will be well on his way.

Some Final Words of Advice

– Encourage fluid intake during the process and keep drinks nearby

– Stop liquids two to three hours before bedtime

– Be consistent; don’t go back to diapers

– Don’t force your child to use the potty

– Don’t let her sit on the potty if she isn’t using it

– Remember some children need to train longer