My daughter thinks another girl is pretty: Part 3

This week’s series of posts (read Part 1 and Part 2) has been all about my five-year-old daughter and how she thinks another girl is pretty, and the many opportunities to help her (and myself) learn more about life that have come out of these feelings. 

Handling Rejection

As I mentioned in Part 2, my daughter decorated a card for this girl and attached a pretty plastic ring to it. When she was done with the card she told me she was “scared” to give the card to the girl. I saw this as an opportunity for me to teach her about rejection. 

I asked her what she was “scared” of. She said, “what if the girl doesn’t like it or is mean about it.” I gave her some things to think about, and put the situation into perspective: 

1.) If it is kind words, you have no need to be scared. The best you can do is be kind to others, and saying nice things — being uplifting— is a good thing.

2.) If someone says “no” to you but remains respectful, we need to respect their choice. Consent is not just for boys. It works across all relationships—whether it be romantically or just a friendship. Everyone has the right to say “no”.

3.) If someone says “no” to you and are disrespectful/mean, you don’t need to worry about what those people think. They aren’t worth your time if they aren’t going to consider your feelings. If they are not going to be nice to you, then you don’t want to be their friend anyway. You deserve to be respected and treated fairly and kindly. Walk away from those situations where you are not treated with respect. 

Rejection is hard. No one likes to feel rejected, but it is part of life. Children, just as adults, need to learn how to handle rejection in a healthy manner. They need to understand what is ok and what is not when it comes to how other people treat them, and how they treat others. As adults, it is our job to help them process these situations so they know (1) its ok to be sad, disappointed (2) it is not ok to be treated unkindly, or to treat others unkindly (3) it is ok to say “no”. 

Do you remember the first time you felt rejection, how old were you? How did it make you feel? How have you helped your child through a moment of rejection?

My daughter thinks another girl is pretty: Part 2

As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, my five-year-old daughter thinks another girl is pretty. She decided she wanted to give her a pretty plastic ring, so she made her a card and put the ring on it. 

During the process, my daughter said she was embarrassed and “scared.” She said a few of her female friends were making comments like “eww, that girl isn’t that pretty anyway” and “I am weird.” It doesn’t surprise me that female competition is beginning to start at her age. Child and adolescent psychologist Katie Hurley describes in her book No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident and Compassionate Girls the trend of toxic female competitiveness that is creeping down from high school, and starting as young as grade school. She offers many reasons for this, citing busy schedules, rise in stress and anxiety levels, and increased pressure for children to do well in sports and extracurriculars.

Girls uplifting other girls

I responded to my daughter’s concerns over giving this card to her friend, by telling her “we can show people we like them in many ways.” I told her, “girls can think another girl is pretty. And girls can uplift another girl.” Her twin sister also supported her, the best any five-year-old can. She also made the girl a card that said: “my sister thinks you are pretty and wants to give you a ring.” Afterwards, the twin quietly told me she doesn’t care if girls are not “suppose” to like girls, she loves her sister anyway. I told her, “we can like people in many ways. We are just going to send nice words to uplift another girl! Cool, right?!”

We, adults, have a lot to learn from young children about loving and not judging each other. We are conditioned to compete with our peers. We draw on our insecurities and instead of turning them into positives, we put other women down. We are not being uplifting because we are afraid of other women being more successful, prettier, “bigger” than us. We need to dig deep inside and find that inner strength to uplift each other. Us, women, we need each other. We need the support from others, the kindness, the acceptance. We should be helping each other to feel good about ourselves, instead of doing the exact opposite. 

How do you uplift the women around you?

More on Hurley: https://www.thestar.com/life/relationships/opinion/2018/02/08/why-girls-are-getting-meaner-younger.html

My daughter thinks another girl is pretty: Part 1

The other day my five-year-old daughter confided in me that she thinks another girl is pretty— and not just pretty but “so pretty she wants to put a ring on it” pretty. Now at the age of five, I know that developmentally she doesn’t necessarily have a true concept of romantic love and attraction. But, it got me thinking.

My daughter has never been a big fan of being “girlie.” She insists on wearing “non-girl” clothes and her favorite shirt is a tuxedo t-shirt. She is her own person, and as her mother, I have no desire to try to change those parts of her. She deserves to be uplifted and encouraged to be her true self. Whoever she grows up to be, I am prepared to love her no matter what. 

Parents love unconditionally

That doesn’t change the fact that I am still going to be a parent to her. She still has to “suffer” through my firm, authoritative parenting and embarrassing mom-jokes (she will think they are funny too, someday). But, selfish love is not part of it. She will be loved in the way she needs, not in the way I want. I am her mother. I did not bring her into this world to make it all about me. I will accept her exactly as she is. I will love her unconditionally, with my whole heart and make sure she knows it. 

That is the meat of parenting—unconditional love. It is that thing that helps us to forgive quickly when mistakes are made. We want our kids to grow to be good, respectable, kind, caring adults who are contributing members of society, but we also want them to be comfortable in their own skin. We want our kids to know that no matter how hard life gets (as I am sure there will be many a bump in the road), and whatever comes there way, they can always count on our love. We brought them into this world to nurture and encourage them, while also teaching them how to be good people. While we may not always agree with some of the choices they make, we will still love them always, forever, with no strings attached.

What do you think? How should parents love their children? 

The importance of emotion in decision-making

I frequently hear from women that they deny their emotions, they want to hide emotion to not be seen as “sensitive” or “emotional.” They tell me it hinders them at work, and it causes them to have an image of being “weak.” That stereotype is wrong. The pre-conceived idea that we shouldn’t be letting our emotions play a role is fundamentally not true, and research proves it. 

“Without emotion, people are unable to make good decisions”

Neuroscience professor Antonio Damasio has found in his research that without emotion people are unable to make good decisions. He studied patients with brain lesions whose ability to feel emotion was impaired but their reason was otherwise unaffected and found those people could not make good decisions. He found that the “extended” self-conception of humans emerges from emotions and feelings. 

In his research, Damasio determined there is an “action program” in the body that starts with an emotion. When we feel fear, for example, our body takes the feeling and uses it to develop a proper mental reaction that will ultimately lead to an action. Our emotions are what help to guide us in decision-making. They help us determine the next step. Emotion is so critical to us as humans and the way we function that we wouldn’t have music, art, religion, science, technology, economics, politics, justice, or moral philosophy without the existence of strong feelings. 

So next time you think about denying your feelings, think again. You are feeling the way you are for a reason and the mere presence of that emotion is important. It is essential to your daily life and function. It is helping to guide you to make good decisions. Emotion is not a sign of weakness. If anything it is a sign of strength. Your body is doing exactly what it is supposed to be doing. You are human. 

Read more on Damasio’s research here: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/528151/the-importance-of-feelings/

Your high expectation makes you unhappy

Before you go to a party, leave the house, or get out of the bed in the morning you probably have some kind of expectation about the experience. You have a predetermined notion in your brain of how things will play out, how the day will go, what you will do, how much fun you will have at the party, how much traffic there will be on the way to work, etc. Most of us have a general idea of how long it will take to get somewhere, or how things should go when we get there. 

The problem comes when things don’t go the way we expect. We become unhappy, stressed because things aren’t working out the way we had planned in our brain. Happiness is reality divided by expectation. We don’t really know how things will go but because we have a pre-formed expectation we tend to feel the unhappiness of disappointment when things go a different way. 

Reach-Target-Minimum

That is not to say we should lower expectations in order to be happier. If we always expect the worst that is not a very fun way to live either. So rather than thinking in one line, it is better to think in a range. What I am referring to is the RTM Formula — Reach-Target-Minimum. Reach is a high but realistic expectation, target is an area that is reasonable, and minimum is the least to meet. If you begin to think in these realistic terms then you will be able to move forward in life with more acceptance of the way things turn out — whether higher or lower than expected. 

I frequently say you have control of your happiness, because you really do. You have the ability to change the way you think about things before you go into them. You have the ability to come to terms with a new reality and open your mind to new possibilities. 

This word makes you more passive

As I have gained more roles in my life—mother, wife, daughter, and business owner—I have had to take more charge of my time. I have become more direct and less passive in the way I communicate. I am setting stronger, healthier boundaries. But, it took some time and some changes in the language I was using to really be successful with those boundaries. 

I used to say “Because of xyz, I am unable to..” The use of the word “unable” made myself seem small. It came off as I am not the one making decisions for my own life. Instead, I now say “xyz happens, therefore I will not…” Such as “I spend time with family on Friday nights, so I will not be attending your event” or “I have my money in somewhere, I will not loan it out now.” 

Forget the word “unable”

Forget the word “unable.” Remove it from your vocabulary. You are not small. You are the decision-maker in your life. You make your own rules. Don’t let other people think they can have control over your plans, your money, your life. You are the master of your world. Take charge in the language you use, so you don’t come off as passive.

I hear from clients all the time that they feel stretched too thin, they are afraid to disappoint people by standing up for themselves. This is why we tend to use the more passive language, but that can have a counterproductive effect. By not being direct in our language it can be perceived that the boundary we are setting is not really important. That it can easily be changed. Using direct language makes it more concrete. It is setting a rule and showing people you won’t budge, and you know what everything will be fine. You will feel more in control and more relaxed and people will grow to respect those boundaries you have set. 

You have everything, why do you feel empty?

It has been all over the news lately. People who have achieved the ultimate success in life and yet they are depressed and sad. They feel unfulfilled, alone. The truth is, as a counselor I hear similar stories all the time. 

The things that make us feel alive in life tend to be the things we can’t buy with our success. They are our experiences, our opportunities, and our conscience when we go to bed at night. When I hear from clients that they have reached a high point in their career, they have achieved everything they have set out to achieve but they can’t shake this feeling of emptiness, I tell them to reevaluate their day. 

Reevaluate your day

Are they exercising? Exercise can do wonders for the brain. It releases feel-good hormones that lift us up and make us feel alive and confident. They help us to relax easier, let off steam, and sleep better. It is always good to find time to fit in some kind of movement a few times a week. 

Are they sleeping? Sleep is huge. Successful people tend to let it go in order to attain more success. They work long hours trying to finish projects and put their mental health on the back burner. 

What are they doing with their free time? Are they having time with family, with friends? Do they even have free time? Spending time with the people we love and care about, having a good laugh, letting go of the days events, can be so refreshing for the brain and the heart. 

What are you doing that you feel good about? When we do things to help people, animals, or causes we care about it lights a fire in us as people. It can be calling a grandparent, sending a sick friend a note, or volunteering at a soup kitchen or hospital. These are the things that help us feel fulfilled in life. 

Life is not all about having the house, the car, or the perfect job. It is about love and compassion. It is about taking care of yourself so that you can take care of others. 

If you can’t shake that empty feeling, it could also mean something more. It could mean depression, anxiety, or mental illness, so it is best to seek help from a licensed counselor who can help you figure out what is best for you. 

It is ok to walk away

I have a client who recently moved to the East Coast. She lives in a very loud, busy, and overstimulating area. As with anyone moving to a new place, she was going through a period of adjustment and forming new friendships, trying to find her place. 

In reaction to her fear of being lonely, she surrounded herself with people, any people. During a mindless event with one of these groups of people—who she didn’t really jive with—she opened her eyes, looked around, excused herself and walked away. She had a revelation of sorts—she didn’t need these people to fill in her blanks, to make her feel less alone. She realized she was sacrificing herself having to pretend she was something she wasn’t. She was sacrificing her authenticity, and at what cost? 

You don’t need to sacrifice yourself

It is ok to walk away. It is the genuine connections in our lives, the people we feel comfortable being ourselves with that add to our happiness, our wellbeing as people. Sacrificing who you are just to be surrounded with people will only leave you feeling more alone. Don’t be afraid to walk away and find those people that lift you up, that expand your horizons, without sacrificing who you are. You don’t need to be dependent on other people for your happiness. You are in control of your own happiness. You need to dig deep inside and surround yourself with the things you love. Embrace your hobbies, take time to do the things that make you feel alive inside. 

Find the people that share your values and will appreciate you for you. If you are a person who appreciates art, take an art class; if you like to exercise, join a gym or running group; if you like computers or video games, join a club; if you like to read, join a book club; if you like music, go to concerts. In time, you will find the people that see you and love you for who you really are. Don’t sacrifice yourself because you are afraid of the future, or afraid of how it feels to be by yourself. Love yourself, and do what you love. The rest will follow. 

How To Trust In Yourself

Are you always second-guessing yourself? Maybe you shouldn’t have bought the purple shoes, maybe you should have called that guy back, maybe you should have majored in something else, took a different job, moved to a different place, the list goes on and on and on… 

Most people have made a pivotal decision in their life where they feel they have failed. The human brain tends to be more sensitive to the negatives and failures. That is why we ruminate on the bad and don’t trust ourselves. We keep a mental inventory of all the bad decisions we have made making it more difficult to trust we are making the right decisions going forward. 

Studies done by psychologist Dr. John Cacioppo prove the brain reacts stronger to negative stimuli than positive. Cacioppo showed people pictures that generally produce positive feelings, for example tasty food or a luxury car. Then he showed them pictures of things that usually stir up negative feelings, such as an injured person or animal, followed by pictures of items that produce neutral feelings, like a plate or hair dryer. As the pictures were shown he recorded electrical activity in the brain and found that the brain reacted stronger to the negative stimuli, showing that our attitudes are more heavily influenced by the negative. For more on this research see: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200306/our-brains-negative-bias .

We have all made positive decisions. We have made decisions that have left us feeling satisfied, try to focus on those. You can drive yourself crazy always wondering how things would have turned out if you took a different path, but what is the use in that. You need to start to trust in yourself, trust that you have done the best you can and made the right choice for you in the moment.

Here are some tips to get you started:

1.) Make a list — pros and cons lists are amazing things when it comes to big decisions. Making them can help you to realize that you are making the best possible choice you can. 

2.)Learn from mistakes— we are not perfect. You will make some wrong choices in life, and that is ok. In fact, I would be a little concerned if you never made a wrong choice. Learn from your mistakes and grow from them. Next time it will help you to make a better choice.

3.) Cut yourself some slack — as I said above, you are not perfect. No one is perfect. Don’t expect to be perfect. Ease up on yourself. If things don’t turn out the way you want, you will get through. Forgive, let go, and grow. Many famous legends did not get to be known as who they are today without first making some wrong turns. For example, Walt Disney was fired from one of his early jobs for being “unimaginative” and the first computer Steve Jobs designed was so poorly designed and unreliable that he was fired from Apple—the very company he co-founded. Thomas Edison once said “every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

4.) Start small — start by making small decisions. Maybe it is as simple as where you are going to take your family for dinner. Or what you are going to order from the menu. As things start to turn out well you will gain confidence and the big decisions will come easier. Work your way up.

5.) Focus on the now — let go of the things that did not go as planned. Think about the things going well in your life now and look directly at the decision at hand. Don’t think about the thousands of scenarios the future holds. 

Finally, trust yourself. You can achieve more than you ever know. You are stronger and wiser than you believe. 

What is the hurry? It is ok to let your kids be bored over the summer

Summer is here. The kids are out of school. The other parents are talking about the programs they have their kids signed up for, the reading lists they are going to follow, and all the ways they are going to add structure back into their kids lives. It might feel like the pressure is on as a parent, but what is the hurry? 

Your kids will only be kids for so long. Soon enough they will have pressure-filled summers with little or no break. They will feel the stress of trying to be successful in life. They will feel overworked, overstimulated, overbooked…eventually. We don’t have to make them feel this pressure as little kids. Instead, let them be little.

Let them be bored. 

Being bored for a kid is a time to let their imagination grow. It is a time to relax. It gives kids time to be kids. They can climb the tree in the backyard, or build a fort in the living room. They can stay up late to watch a movie (which to them will seem super fun, when to us it feels necessary). Boredom teaches our kids how to entertain themselves. If they always have structure, always have a place to be, then they won’t know what to do with that “off” time. 

It gives you time to have more family experiences. You can randomly decide to check out the farm down the street, or a playground further away because you will have the time to do these things. You can decide to spend the day having a water balloon war, or read a book in the backyard. You can go on a picnic. 

Remember the days when our parents could say “go outside and don’t come back until dinner.” We might not be able to do exactly that, but we can teach our kids to fend for themselves. To come up with their own ideas. Downtime can help children to learn who they are and what they really love to do. When they have the choice to do whatever they want for a day—what will they choose? 

It also takes the pressure off you. You don’t need to plan the whole day, or week or month. You can take a breather. School time is structured and full of activities and obligations, summer doesn’t have to be. Summer can be free time. Teach your kids to slow down, take a breath, and enjoy being a kid.