Mindful Parenting: Simple and Powerful Solutions for Raising Creative, Engaged, Happy Kids in Today’s Hectic World

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9781250020314: Mindful Parenting: Simple and Powerful Solutions for Raising Creative, Engaged, Happy Kids in Today’s Hectic World
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A mindful approach to parenting that helps children (and their parents) feel happier, healthier, calmer, and less stressed in our frenetic era

Rooted in the science of the brain, and integrating cognitive neuroscience and child development, Mindful Parenting is a unique program that speaks directly to today's busy families who make up what Dr. Race calls "Generation Stress." Research has shown that mindfulness practices stimulate the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Regular stimulation of this part of the brain helps us feel happier, healthier, calmer, less anxious, less stressed, and makes it easier for us to concentrate and think clearly―the very behavior we are hoping our children will display.

Dr. Race provides:
An explanation of the way the brain works and why parents and kids today are more stressed, anxious, and angry than ever before
Practical solutions to the problem: Things parents can do to change brain patterns and create a more relaxed and happier home
"Brain Coolers": Quick tips that can be used in the moment to help families relax, recharge, and create happiness (such as "The Three Breath Hug")


Mindful Parenting understands the realities of raising a family in our fast paced and often-frenetic world and provides hundreds of easy-to-implement solutions, both for parents and their children, to help them manage stress, create peace, and live happier lives.

"This book is a must-read for all parents of our generation.” --Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx

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About the Author:

KRISTEN RACE, Ph.D. is an expert in child, family and school psychology and the founder of Mindful Life. Dr. Race speaks regularly at national conferences and for many community groups. Her print articles have appeared in Kiwi magazine, Denver Life, and Colorado Business Magazine among others, and she has appeared on the CBS Morning Show and Everyday Colorado as a parenting expert. She currently resides in Steamboat Springs, Colorado with her family.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

ONE
Generation Stress
 
 
Last summer I was preparing to make the three-hour drive back to our home in Steamboat Springs after taking the kids camping for four days with several other families. As I was packing up the car, I realized how relaxing our time in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area had been. The kids had played for hours on end in the outdoors, building forts, catching snakes and frogs, fishing, playing freeze tag, and making s’mores by the fire. There were plenty of adults around to watch the kids, so the parents were able to take turns slipping away for a hike or mountain bike ride. There’d been no fights over whose turn it was to pick the TV show, and with no cell phone service, I’d been able to disengage completely from work and other distractions. It had been easy just to be present with my family and friends.
My mood changed nearly immediately on the drive home: A small worry began to form in the pit of my stomach. First, I remembered some house repairs that had to get done; then my thoughts shifted to worrying about how we were going to juggle child care during the upcoming work week, which led to what activities I needed to sign the kids up for in the fall and how we were going to be able to afford them. In the background were the bigger stressors, such as would we ever be able to refinance our home, would our business make enough money to support us, and was my commitment to work making me a lousy mom?
As the feeling in the pit of my stomach grew, so did my level of impatience with the kids. “Stop talking to each other!” I remember screaming from the driver’s seat after my previous attempts to quell their bickering had failed. “I mean it! Silence for the rest of the ride!” What had happened to the super-chill mom they had just spent four days with?
Our modern lives are drastically different from how they were a generation ago. And as our attention becomes more and more fragmented as we juggle all the roles we are cast in, and play with all the modern devices that distract us, our brains are placed in a near-constant state of stress. From an evolutionary perspective, the human brain was not designed to negotiate the stresses of today’s world. It is much more at ease on a four-day camping trip with no cell phone service.
Life Is Different
It’s not that adults didn’t work a lot when I was growing up. They did. My dad worked hard every weekday at his job as an attorney. He’d leave the house at 7:00 A.M. sharp and return around 6:00 in the evening. When he got home, my mom would have dinner ready for us, even though she had coached my soccer practice and driven my sisters and me all over town that day. But for my dad, that was it. He’d pour a cocktail, listen to us talk about our day, and eventually make his way to the TV, where he hoped to catch a rerun of a John Wayne movie. Or he’d pick up a book and sit and read. The next day, he’d get up, retrieve the morning newspaper from the front stoop, read it (crazy, right?), then drive in to work while listening to the radio. When he walked past the receptionist, she’d hand him a slip of paper with a few messages on it, and he’d start his workday.
Today, that same attorney drives to and from work talking to clients on the phone, wakes up and reads the news on his tablet while hearing the ping of the e-mails that came in overnight, and by the time he gets to his office, is inundated with the e-mails that came in while he was in transit, from clients wondering why they have not gotten a response yet.
My mom’s world would have been dramatically different today. The Saturday soccer game and one midweek practice have been replaced with a soccer club that is now a soccer business. This means she would have driven me to three practices during the week, a game an hour away on Saturday, and a tournament every other weekend. She would be inundated with e-mail reminders from teachers and school administrators, and on the way to school pickup, she would have five calls from me wondering why she was two minutes late.
The demands, the stimulation, the constant buzz—all have created, quite sadly, Generation Stress.
The reality is, I am Generation Stress. (If you read the introduction, you’ve probably gathered this already.) The irony is that I spend my working life researching stress and the brain, and creating solutions to help families become more resilient to the stressors in their lives. I have personally struggled with every topic presented in the pages that follow, which may have you thinking, why would I want to take advice from her ? Certainly experience with my own stress has influenced my work, but my solutions are derived from brain science and grounded in my belief that small changes can make a big difference. I try to be intentional about practicing what I preach, and many of the solutions outlined in the chapters that follow come from trial and error in my search for ways to reduce stress and alleviate bad behaviors in my own family and in the lives of the many families I have worked with over the years.
IS IT THE KIDS OR THE PARENTS?
According to the 2010 American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America Findings” report, Generation X (those of us born between 1966 and 1979) is the most stressed-out generation yet, with the effects of prolonged recession-related difficulties topping the list of things stressing us out. Add to this the modern influences of being plugged in to some device 24/7; our ridiculously demanding schedules; an ever-increasing pressure to perform, look perfect, and be perfect; and you basically have a recipe for anxiety, depression, or a total emotional breakdown.
These stressors are not impacting only us, however, and that’s where our kids come in. Stress is highly contagious, so it makes sense that a generation of stressed-out parents is raising a generation of stressed-out kids. Human brains are equipped with special hardware that allows us to tap into the emotions we witness around us. This hardware comes in the form of so-called mirror neurons, which reflect the emotions we see expressed around us. Mirror neurons are the reason infants smile in response to our smiling at them. That’s a lovely example, but these neurons also light up in response to other kinds of expressed emotion, not just glee.
When we see an expression on someone’s face, not only do we recognize what that person is feeling, but also the area inside our brain responsible for that same emotion lights up. So if Mom is worried about something, even if she doesn’t talk about it, the worry neurons inside her toddler’s brain are firing as well. And if Mom is stressed, baby feels stressed, too. The good news is that positive as well as negative emotions are “catching” in this manner. So when we cultivate positive thinking and emotions in ourselves, everyone around us benefits, including our children. As more and more of us experience unprecedented levels of stress, and when the stress-associated emotions are the ones that catch and reflect back most frequently, stress makes an unprecedented impact on our mental, emotional, and physical health, and takes a significant toll on our kids.
The Down and Dirty (AKA the research)
According to research, Americans today live with moderate to high levels of stress, and struggle in their efforts to manage that stress. One in five American adults believes himself to be in poor health, and those adults who rate their health as poor report higher levels of stress. In addition to the negative affects on their physical health, stress affects the emotional and physical well-being of their families: “While the majority of parents don’t think their children are strongly affected by stress, children report otherwise. Nearly three-quarters of parents say their stress has only a slight or no impact on their children, yet 91 percent of children report they know their parent is stressed because they observe a multitude of behaviors, such as yelling, arguing, and complaining.” It should come as no surprise that children are more likely to report having a great deal of stress themselves when they have parents who live in a constant state of stress.
While so many Americans report being stressed, Generation Xers are not only the most stressed but also the most likely to report physical symptoms of stress and to rely on unhealthy behaviors to manage their stress. More than half of Gen Xers (56 percent) report feeling irritable and angry as a result of stress, and nearly half report having headaches and feeling fatigued as a result of stress. We are also the most likely to report unhealthy behaviors—such as lying awake at night, overeating, eating unhealthy foods, skipping meals, and drinking alcohol—because of stress. While six out of ten Gen Xers report that getting enough sleep is extremely important, fewer than one in five reports doing a very good job getting enough sleep.
If you are a Gen Xer and a married woman, the news is even worse for you. Women report higher levels of stress than men, and married women report higher levels of stress than single women. In 2005 the Lucille Packard Foundation for Children’s Health commissioned a series of studies that found that only 50 percent of parents rate their children’s overall emotional health as excellent. Two-thirds report being extremely concerned about the well-being of their children, and 67 percent worry that their teens are too stressed. Parents have reason to be concerned. Moms are intuitive, after all. Studies show we’re not worried for nothing.
Our Kids Are Paying the Price
In the course of my work, I encounter lots of kids on the edge. It didn’t surprise me when I read that California college counselors have started referring to some incoming freshman as either “crispies” (kids pushed so hard they’re already burned out at eighteen) or “teacups” (too fragile to exist in the world on their own). The signs show up early: levels of depression and anxiety among elementary school students are at an all-time high and continuing to rise. Nearly a third of high school students report feeling sad or hopeless. One in five school-age kids (ages eight through eighteen) has a diagnosable mental disorder—20 percent of our children! This kind of stress is incredibly dangerous, to the point where our kids’ very lives are being threatened. Each year, one in five teens thinks about suicide, one in six teens makes plans for suicide, and more than one in twelve teens attempt suicide. According to one high school resource officer, the new street drug of choice among adolescents is Xanax, an antianxiety medication. This is a huge indication of how these kids are feeling. Where kids used to look for drugs to pump them up—things like speed and Ritalin—they are now looking for drugs to calm them down.
When it comes to managing stress, the APA poll indicates that children turn to sedentary behaviors when they are stressed or worried. They increasingly turn to playing video games or watching TV to relax. Unfortunately, not only do these activities actually increase stress in the brain (more on this in chapter 3), but kids who learn early in life to rely on sedentary behaviors to manage stress face serious health implications. All this for a generation of kids already experiencing rampant levels of obesity.
The Helicopter Parent Has Landed
Not only do we have a generation of stressed-out parents trying to raise kids, but how we parent our children has changed dramatically over the last generation. I used to work as an educational consultant for the Early Childhood Council in my town. One of my responsibilities was to teach social and emotional learning skills in each of the early childhood education centers. Through this work I learned a lot about each center, and I am now often called upon when parents are trying to decide where to send their child to preschool. Over and over again I hear the same thing: “I just want to make sure she is challenged,” or “He already knows all his letters, so I need a place that is more academic.” Since when did preschools become college-prep programs?
There was a time when the purpose of preschool was to prepare kids for kindergarten, not to allow them to skip kindergarten altogether. We want kids to enter kindergarten ready to learn. This means having strategies for getting along with others, knowing how to share and take turns, having the foundation for problem-solving skills, and being able to recognize when people feel happy or sad. Entering kindergarten ready to learn does not mean being able to read and write. In fact, for most kids, reading is completely developmentally inappropriate before the age of five or six. Even though we want the best for them, this early push toward academic greatness causes a great deal of stress for kids who still just want to build block towers or put on a cape.
To complicate things, we push our children to grow up more quickly in many areas while protecting them from making developmentally appropriate mistakes in others. We’ve gone baby-proofing crazy, making it impossible to lift a toilet seat cover without a special code and buying fifteen-foot padded fences to enclose our living rooms. We don’t let our kids play with sticks or climb trees. We even put them on leashes called Kinderkords, which boast “three full feet of freedom for both you and your child.” Yet it doesn’t stop there. We hover over teachers, and even text them (or, worse, our kids’ college professors) to let them know that Johnny forgot his homework but that we’ll be running it by later. We want the best for our kids, and we want to protect them at every turn, but all this hovering and rescuing—known as helicopter parenting—has our kids thinking that making a mistake is to be avoided at all costs. We are raising perfectionists—and, by the way, that is not a compliment. These are kids who, at the first sign of difficulty, give up rather than try harder, for fear things won’t turn out just right. Our little perfectionists are developing eating disorders, turning to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate, and are more likely than any generation before them to attempt or commit suicide. In our eagerness to keep them safe, we may actually be doing them harm.
On the one hand we are pushing our kids to excel, to learn earlier and faster than the rest, eager to carve out a place for them in this frenzied world. Yet on the other hand, we aren’t allowing them to develop the skills most correlated with success: intellectual curiosity (not rote learning), creative problem-solving (which requires problems to solve), and a belief that if they keep working at something, eventually they will succeed, or at least improve. Cognitively and emotionally our children face more adversity than ever—in the form of constant stress, overscheduling, pressure to succeed, and too much screen time. All these wreak havoc on a growing brain, while denying kids the ability to form the natural cognitive defenses to buoy them in stressful times.
The Myth of “But I Turned out Okay”
We have all heard it before: “Well, when I was young I did such-and-such, and I turned out okay.” At times this statement is perfectly appropriate (and comforting), but often parents do not realize the extent to which life is inherently different for kids growing up today. Life is simply not the same now as it was thirty years ago.
HOW DRASTICALLY TIMES HAVE CHANGED
It’s not like we didn’t watch television when we were kids.
Sure, maybe you watched The Love Boat on Friday nights or cartoons on Saturday. And if you missed the show, you missed it. There was no on-demand or TiVo. In 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization that analyzes hea...

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