Monthly Archives: May 2017

8 Reasons to Take Your Kids Camping This Summer

I like a nice hotel as much as the next gal. You know . . . jacuzzi, swimming pool, soft king-sized bed, fluffy pillows, crisp white sheets, and cushy slippers. What’s not to love? But every summer from the time our first child was 6 months old, we have taken our kids camping. We’ve been to dozens of beautiful places filled with natural wonders that you just can’t experience the same way unless you are sleeping right there in it. With the stars above, songs around the campfire, and sleeping with now 6 of us in one tent, it’s a tradition that I now treasure. Here are five reasons you might want to consider pitching your own tent this summer too:

  1. It fosters a break from technology. Technology is running rampant in our fast-paced, plugged-in, high-tech world and it is stealing the attention of our little ones. Don’t get me wrong–I like a good movie and I appreciate my iPhone with all it’s cool gizmos and gadgets. It’s how I listen to podcasts on my morning jog or audio books while I’m folding laundry. And it is a perfect tool for capturing photos and videos of our life. BUT recent research says that kids ages 8-18 are spending an average of SEVEN HOURS a day in front of screens. That’s a lot of time that kids aren’t having experiences in the real world–spending time with family, exploring, playing with friends, and problem solving. Which brings me to my next reason:
  2. Being in nature makes you better at problem solving. According to cognitive psychologist Dr. David Strayer at the University of Utah, being in nature (away from technology) for three days actually made people 50 percent better at solving problems! I read about this research in National Geographic and called Dr. Strayer to ask for more details. What is it about getting away that makes our brains function better? As he said, “The technology actually makes us pretty distracted. Our brains can only process so much.”
  3. Being in nature makes you healthier physically. I don’t know about you, but when we go camping, we are not sitting around our tent all day drawing in the dirt with sticks. Yes, we do that for some of the day, but mostly we are out and about. We have picked a place to explore for some reason or another (maybe because of its beauty or its history or its cool hiking challenges) and we spend our days exploring. The childhood obesity epidemic is real enough, and the problem is linked to inactivity. It is impossible to be stationary when you are hiking to see beautiful waterfalls in Yosemite or biking a path with dozens of geysers on either side of you in Yellowstone or swimming in the luke warm waters of Lake Powell (all things I highly recommend).
  4. Being in nature makes you healthier mentally. Think about it–how do you feel when you are sitting in a park, green and blue surrounding you? Or lying down in the grass, watching the clouds go by? Or walking a trail surrounded by the brilliant colors of flowers? Stress goes down, relaxation goes up. Researchers who study this have found that people who simply live near parks are less likely to have 15 diseases, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, and asthma. In one study, even being able to see trees through a window helped people perform better in school, recover faster in hospitals, and get along better with others! What surrounds you when you are camping? Usually–trees. Lots, and lots, of trees.
  5. You connect more as a family. Our kids LOVE playing with their friends. Our oldest son especially is asking almost constantly to have friends over to our house or to go hang out at his friends’ houses. I thought this phase wouldn’t happen until he was a teenager. He’s eleven! Still, friends are healthy and good, so I support it (within limits). BUT I love getting so much of his attention when we steal away together as a family. You know who else loves it? His sisters! They don’t get a lot of his time when we’re at home. But when we are hanging out together camping–with no screens or friends to be seen–our three older kids can’t seem to get enough of each other. (I mean, we go through the normal family spats too, but overall, they discover how much they like each other). Yay for family time!
  6. You get to see beautiful places. Truly–some of the most incredible places I have ever seen I experienced camping. Some of my favorites are Yosemite National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon. Over spring break we took our kids on a beach trip to San Diego and stayed at an amazing campground called Campland By the Bay, complete with hot tubs and swimming pools (seriously, if you like California, you should check it out). This summer we are taking our kids to explore the San Juan Islands and two other national parks in Washington. And for my husband’s 40th birthday, we are backpacking in Kauai. These are adventures of a lifetime, and they are doable!
  7. You get to work together as a family. I don’t know about you, but our regular life doesn’t consist of a whole lot of working all together as a family (especially when Dad works all day at an office). Sure, everyone has their individual chores–but it’s not like living on a farm where EVERYONE was involved in working hard toward the same end goal. Camping gives us that opportunity. There is a tent to set up and sleeping bags to unroll and mats to lay out and food to cook and dishes to clean and we are all right there doing the work together. It’s a very bonding experience.
  8. It’s cheap. Think you can’t afford to travel? Think again. Once you have your tent, sleeping bags, and maybe a little camping stove, you’re set. It only typically costs around $15-$20 for a campsite through the National Parks Service at www.recreation.gov.

So, yes, I like hotels. And I like the creature comforts of home. But camping has so many awesome benefits that it’s hard to find an excuse not to go. If you think you aren’t a camping sort of person, I dare you to try it. I bet you’ll be surprised.

 

Book Review: Unlocking Parental Intelligence

I like getting my hands on a good parenting book now and then because it helps me step outside my own perspective long enough to get some helpful nuggets of wisdom. I found that I read these kinds of books a lot more when I was overwhelmed with the prospect of becoming a parent and when I was trying to figure out for the first time what to do with a tiny newborn who never wanted to be out of my arms. Now my kids are in different phases–but I still find myself occasionally perplexed about their behavior and the best way for me to respond. Kids don’t come with instruction manuals for their unique make and model (though wouldn’t that be nice?). But we do have a few excellent resources to turn to for answers. One of them is the book Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior by psychoanalyst Laurie Hollman, Ph.D.

In her book, Dr. Hollman offers parents a five-step process for approaching their children’s undesirable behavior. She helps the reader see that rather than reacting to a temper tantrum, for example, it’s important to step out of the immediate scene and attempt to understand the bigger picture. She encourages parents who are faced with a situation of unwanted behavior to ask “What does it mean?” not “What do I do?”

Dr. Hollman’s five steps toward gaining “parental intelligence” are:

  1. Stepping back. Try not to react in the moment. This may prove difficult if, say, your two year old is wailing in the checkout line that he wants a pack of gum. The idea is that we shouldn’t yell and snatch it away. Rather, take a deep breath and look at your little one without becoming emotional. Why is he acting this way? This step allows us to get into a mindset of seeking understanding. But it does require “tolerating frustration–a skill we are also hoping to teach our children.”
  2. Self-reflecting. Dr. Hollman says we need to look at how our own past and emotions may be affecting how we respond to our children. If I can realize that I am feeling embarrassed that my son is throwing a tantrum, that might change what I do in response. Our own emotions, past experiences, and relationships with our own parents may be complicating what is happening with our children. By self-reflecting, we can adjust our approach as needed.
  3. Understanding Your Child’s Mind. “Understanding your child’s mind is central to knowing your child,” says Dr. Hollman. I need to ask myself “What is he going through right now? Is he tired? Is he sick? Did he have different expectations that might be causing the breakdown?” This is the stage where instead of asking “What do I do?” I should ask “Why is he upset?” That takes some patience, yes. But it is a wonderful road to understanding the deeper layers.
  4. Understanding Your Child’s Development. It’s important to understand that children go through different stages at different ages. Dr. Hollman says it’s important to ask two questions: What is expected at my child’s stage of development? and How far apart is my child’s chronological age from my child’s developmental age? So, this is where we can break out the books on child development and see what we should be expecting. Temper-tantruming 2-year-old? Yep, right on target. If my 9 year old is doing this, on the other hand, we may need to have a conversation about what happened earlier that day.
  5. Problem solving. Once we’ve stepped back and tried to understand the bigger picture about what is going on with ourselves and what our child is experiencing, we can begin to work toward a solution.

After introducing her five steps, Dr. Hollman discusses examples of 8 different parent/child dynamics and how the parents were able to work through difficult issues by seeking understanding and problem solving together. The approach is a refreshing reminder that as a family, we are an interactive system, constantly affecting and being affected by each other. As Dr. Hollman put it, “Parental Intelligence is a relationship-based approach to rearing children as opposed to solving problems by punishment. Parents don’t lose their say about their children’s behaviors, but rather they understand the reasons behind the behavior, its context, and workable approaches that help their children and themselves to change the behavior or their view of the behavior.”

I appreciated using this new approach as I’ve interacted with my own children in the past few weeks. When my son got upset about my insisting that he wear his helmet when riding his bike, I tried harder to step back and ask what he might be experiencing at this pre-teen age and all it’s peer pressure to be cool and live dangerously. (That doesn’t mean he gets to ride without a helmet. We still have to problem solve this one!) When my 7-year-old got upset about her big sister leaving her out during a playdate with friends, I tried harder to look at what her emotional experience must be and invited her to be my special shopping helper at the store. Or when my 9 year old cried about cello not being fun anymore, I tried hard not to lecture, but rather search with her about what might be causing the extra frustration (we discovered that her new teacher simply hasn’t realized how much Ellie loves learning new pieces even when she hasn’t mastered the technique of older pieces).

Overall, I think this is a wonderful parenting book with an important reminder that our children need us to seek understanding about who they are and what they need as they grow and experience all the newness of each stage. They need patience and love and trust and a guiding hand as they figure out how to be their best selves.

Here’s to Mother Eve

I was on a walk today at a park, pushing my son in his stroller and listening to a podcast that mentioned something about Eve. I don’t remember what was said specifically, but my thoughts started to wander as I thought more about Eve and the example she set for the rest of us mothers.

Eve had it pretty good, in the beginning. She was in a beautiful garden. She didn’t need to worry about cooking or folding laundry or shopping or making sure her children did their homework on time. She didn’t need to vacuum or clean toilets or break up sibling squabbles or pay the mortgage. She just had her husband and a lovely place to dwell. Paradise, you might say.

So what was the problem? We don’t know how long it took, but at some point Eve looked at the fruit she had been forbidden to eat, and she thought, “What if there is more to life than this?” She somehow came to the conclusion that it would actually be better to know good from evil, to feel sorrow so she could truly know joy. So she transgressed the law, meaning she crossed over the limits God had set. She did it because she knew that happiness was more than endless, frictionless sunny days.

I like frictionless, sunny days. But I like them especially after a storm. I feel so happy when my children are playing nicely together, because I have seen them fight. I love having a clean house, because I have seen it torn apart. I relish a delicious dinner, because I shopped and chopped and cooked and got it on the table for my family to enjoy. And I feel gratitude when I hug my healthy kids, because I have cared for them when they’ve been sick.

Here’s to Mother Eve who understood. She knew that there was more to life than a beautiful garden. She knew that hard times and work and children would bring frustration and sacrifice, but that they would also be the means to indescribable joy.

Here’s to the mothers out there, including the incredible women in my life. Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for your love and your work and your patience. Thank you for seeing the bigger picture and for helping us all grow. Thank you for everything you do to make the world (with all its thorns and thistles) a better place.

Raising resilient kids

I love the story of a pioneer woman who worked all day making jam, then left the jars out a little too long in the sun. She realized the jam had fermented and was no longer good to eat. She figured she could at least give the jam to her chickens, who devoured it happily. A few hours later she came back to find her chickens lying motionless all over the yard. “I killed my chickens!” she moaned. She sat for a minute and then figured she couldn’t just leave them like that. She did the only thing that made sense. She plucked out all the feathers so she could cook the chickens. After hours of plucking, the woman went to tend to something else and came back to find the chickens back on their feet, running around the yard again–naked. (Apparently the chickens had not actually died but had only passed out temporarily from the fermentation). Naked chickens would get too cold with winter coming on. So she did the only thing that made sense. She knitted a sweater for each and every one.

I can’t think of a better example of resilience. This woman didn’t let a setback (or two or three) get her down. She didn’t fester on what a failure she was or give up entirely because it was too hard–although it would have been easy and understandable to do either one. Those early settlers were made of some tough stuff, and I, for one, would love to gain more of whatever it was. What makes the difference between someone who responds to adversity with courage and optimism and someone who feels incapable of going on?

We live in an era where mental fatigue in the form of depression and anxiety is growing rapidly around the country, especially for young people. According to a 2016 American College Health Association survey, nearly 37 percent of college students reported feeling so depressed at some point during the previous year that they found it difficult to function. That’s a 40 percent increase from 2008. Kids are having a hard time facing the challenges of life. Some of these challenges come in the form of chemical imbalances that can only be addressed with counseling and medication. But some of these challenges are just life’s way of pushing us ahead in our journey. We can get passed them if we have developed a resilient soul.

“Resilience,” is a word that can be used to describe a material that bounces back quickly when it is stretched. Defined another way by renowned psychologist Adam Grant, “resilience is the strength and speed of our response to adversity.” As he explains in his and Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, “It isn’t about having a backbone. It’s about strengthening the muscles around our backbone.”

I’d love to help my children strengthen those muscles so that when they face obstacles in this crazy, complicated world, they’ll know what to do. In the next 10 years, my kids are going to be stretched by school, jobs, relationships, technology, social media, sickness, peers, temptations, and all sorts of other challenges. If I have a child that at some point faces a mental health challenge, then I will do my best to help them find the resources to get through it. But even the healthiest of children will need to know what to do when their best friend moves away, or they fail a test, or they lose a job, or they trip on stage, or they miss the game-winning goal, or they just flat-out mess up. Is there anything I can do to prepare my kids to walk away from these challenges successfully? Experts say yes. Here’s how:

  1. Let them fail. This sounds counterintuitive. I don’t want my kids to fail! At least, not big failures, or long-term failures. Yet small failures help us to grow. We all have to fail at some point. If our little ones can figure out how to work through some of the smaller challenges now and see that they can come out on top, then they will know what to do when bigger failures come down the road. As David Bush, Director of Utah State University’s Counseling and Psychological Services, put it in an interview with BYU Magazine: “If you do too much for the child, you actually cripple them and undermine their confidence and ability to be self-reliant.” We can’t always stop our kids from falling down when they are small or they won’t know that they can pick themselves up when they are grown. We want our kids to believe in their ability to succeed after they fail. I mean, where would we be without Thomas Edison’s failures? He just chose to look at things differently. “I have not failed 10,000 times,” he said. “I have just found 10,000 ways that it won’t work.” Let’s reframe the concept of failure.
  2. Let them feel. Have you ever been in the middle of a really painful experience and had someone say to you: “You’ll be fine.” Trying to push someone past their feeling doesn’t allow them to work out the emotion of the moment or let them know you are their to share the pain. Sheryl Sandburg, whose husband recently passed away unexpectedly, said in an interview on the podcast On Being that hearing people say “You’ll get through this” wasn’t helpful because it didn’t acknowledge her experience. She didn’t know whether she’d get through it so how could they? What did feel supportive and helpful was when people could say, “I don’t know if you’ll get through this, but you won’t go through it alone. I’m here with you.” That’s a helpful reminder to me that when one of my kids gets hurt I shouldn’t be too fast to tell them they’ll be fine. Sometimes all they need us to say is: “I know it hurts, but I’m here with you.” Then, when they are ready, they can move on.
  3. Teach them about grace. Matthew 5:48 says we should “Be ye therefore perfect” but we have to understand that perfection comes only with the saving grace of Jesus Christ. We do our best, and He fills in the gaps–every time, no matter how big the gaps. Apparently kids who understand this concept have an easier time with adversity. According to a recent survey of 574 BYU students, ancient scripture professor and psychologist Daniel K. Judd found that students who believed their salvation was primarily up to them had dramatically higher levels of anxiety and depression than the students who embraced the principle of grace (that Christ already has our salvation covered, as long as we try our best). It’s a reminder to me that I need to help my kids understand they can make as many mistakes as they need. Christ has already taken care of it.
  4. Praise the effort, not the outcome. As much as I want to jump up and down and clap when my son finally plays (almost) perfectly the piano piece he has been working on for weeks, I have to remind myself to praise his struggle along the way. Rather than saying “That piece sounds awesome” I try to say while he’s learning “Great job working out that tricky part. I love seeing you try that over and over again.” Then he learns that I am proud of him for working through something hard, not just performing it well. That’s something I learned from a conversation with a neighbor who has been involved in educating children for decades. As she said, “We have a hard time with the perfectionists who only receive praise when something is finished well. It makes them afraid to try new and hard things because they think they might not be able to succeed.” Let’s praise their effort instead.
  5. Teach mindfulness. Mindfulness is the exercise of being aware of what is happening with your own internal experience, free of judgment. According to the American Psychological Association, people who regularly practice mindfulness have lower levels of depression and anxiety, have more positive feelings, healthier relationships, and have an easier time focusing. Teaching kids to be still and listen to their own body can help them notice when they are feeling anxious about something in the future or keep them from ruminating on something in the past. When they can sense emotional turmoil coming on, they can take steps to acknowledge and then resolve it in a healthy way (say listening to music, going for a walk, or talking to a friend) rather than in a destructive way (such as extensive video gaming, pornography, or binge eating), which only leads to more stress.
  6. Teach and model healthy habits. We can’t feel well emotionally if we don’t feel well physically. After all, the brain (which processes all our thoughts, emotions, and reactions) is just an organ. Have you ever noticed that your kids fight more when they are hungry or tired? I have. Everything seems better after a snack and good rest. Talk with them regularly about how this works. Let them know–sleep, exercise, and healthy eating is a trifecta that can make us strong for our whole life. Oh, and guess what works better than telling them? Show them how it’s done!
  7. Make their voice important. As Adam Grant said in an interview with On Being, “They need to know they matter. They need to have a say.” If we are always telling our children what to do and what to think and how things should be done, then they won’t learn to trust their own voice. It’s as simple as asking them around the dinner table, “How do you feel about this idea?” Or when they have a problem, starting with “What do you think you should do?” The more practice they have trusting their abilities now when they are young, the more capable they will feel later in life.
  8. Encourage them, but don’t push. We want our kids to feel strong and capable. Being there to support and love and answer questions is great. Pushing them, shaming them, or causing guilt over things they didn’t do right will probably backfire. Kids need to know we believe in them. That’s not to say we can’t insist on follow-through. I love the way my tennis teacher once put it when I asked her how her son became such a great tennis player. “Did you ever push him?” I asked. “No,” she said. “I didn’t push. But as he moved ahead, if he ever wanted to quit or go backwards, I was always standing right there behind him.” I like that visual. I’m far from perfect but I hope to be the cheerleader my kids need in this life–letting them know I believe in their endless possibilities.

Yes, depression and anxiety are rising, possibly because life has never been quite so complicated. My kids are still young, and I have no idea what kind of physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual difficulties they will face. But I’m a big believer that I can help them have a few tools ready for the oncoming battle. I can teach them to make mistakes, take a deep breath, shake it off, and try again–when they are ready. After all, we all have mountains to climb. Sometimes we rise and sometimes we slip. My goal is to help myself and my kids keep moving ahead.  And every once in a while, we can look back, enjoy the view, and be darn proud of how far we’ve come.

What is my success story?

As a mom, it’s hard to know how to define success. I am in charge of four beautiful, smart, spirited little children, whose decisions I don’t control. I love these people and consider them my greatest treasures. But I’m not going to lie–there are some hard times, and I occasionally find myself asking: Am I succeeding?

On Thursday, my two year old, Sam, had a neighbor friend over to play. Literally (I kid you not) every toy this little neighbor touched was received with “That’s mine!” I spent an hour and a half trying to keep my son from making our neighbor cry.

On Friday, I had to ask my daughters three separate times to take space from each other because my 9 year old, Ellie, kept making my 7 year old, Addie, cry with her “mean look.”

On Saturday, we were running late to get to Addie’s soccer pictures so I pulled up at the red-painted curb, turned off the car and ran her over to her team. I got back four minutes later to move the car and found a police officer pulled up, writing me a lovely parking ticket. Apparently, someone had called earlier to complain about all the cars parking in the red area. I tried to plead my case. “Are you a mom?” I asked. She chomped her gum and handed me the white paper. “Consider this a learning opportunity,” she responded. Gee, thanks.

On Sunday night while Ellie was trying to teach her well-prepared family home evening lesson about “seeing the best,” my 11-year-old son Zach couldn’t keep from flailing his arms around to make Sam laugh, despite our repeated requests that he stop so Ellie could finish her lesson.  We ended up asking him to go upstairs. We finally wrapped up around 9:00–half an hour past everyone’s bedtimes–and past the time when Mom’s patient energy disappears.

I finally got everyone into their beds and found my husband asleep on our bed, breathing deeply after a full day of serving our neighborhood as a member of the bishopric and wrapping up preparations to leave town for work. That’s when I laid down, closed my eyes, and asked myself–“Am I doing this right?”

I have a quote on my fridge by Ralph Waldo Emerson about what it means to succeed. It ends with this line: “Whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition. To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, that is to have succeeded.”

I like that last phrase. One life. I got up off the bed after a few minutes and went into my children’s rooms to kiss them one by one as they slept. That is one of my favorite parts of the day. My last stop was at little Sam’s mattress on the floor (where he’s been sleeping since he started climbing out of his crib at 18 months). He lay there snuggling his favorite blue bear, sucking his thumb. Peace etched on his face.

It’s easy as mothers to see what we are not doing right, and to see what others are doing well. It’s easy for me to find my anxiety level rising just a bit when I get to church on Sunday and see another mom with daughters in matching dresses and lovely bouncing curls. Some days I have that going for me. Some days I don’t. Either way, I don’t think that’s how I want to define success.

For me, success isn’t about the size of my house, the make of my car, or the price tag on any of my family’s clothes. It isn’t about whether my kitchen is remodeled (it’s not) or how many Facebook likes I received for my last update. For me, success is that I made dinner last night when what I really wanted to do was keep reading my novel on the couch. Success is that when my daughter yelled this morning that she would NOT do her cello scale one more time without the blanket covering her fingers, I rolled with it and opened her music book. Success is snuggling up at night and reading two pages of our current chapter book, even though it was past bedtime. It’s going out to throw the football with Zach when he asks me to, and it’s taking Sam for a walk around the park to pet the dogs we see (his favorite thing), even when I have a long to-do list. Success is laying next to my tired husband at night and reflecting on our 17 years of doing this amazing adventure together.

I’m not afraid of failure. Those hiccups are how we all learn. And when I am in charge of four imperfect people who are learning a whole lot every day, I’m not going to set perfection in any area of life as my daily target. I just want to know that, because I was here, these favorite people of mine can say they breathed a bit easier. That, as Mr. Emerson would say, is to have succeeded. I’m going with it.