Back to School?

Back to School: Yippee – Oh No
Simple Ways That Mindfulness Can Help,
by Maura FoxMauraFox2016

The air is changing and the days are getting shorter. We all know what that means. It’s time to go back to school. Maybe your child is going to pre-school, kindergarten, college or anywhere in between, and your emotions can shift all over the map. On one hand, you may be excited that you can get back to a routine–the big calendar showing where everyone is to be and when. On the other hand, it can be overwhelming and exhausting. The first few days are often filled with endless forms that need to be completed with the same information from the last 5 years, signing permissions for internet and photo releases and then the endless list of supplies, “No, it has to be a RED NOTEBOOK, the teacher said so.” How about the not so obvious emotions: fear, helplessness, loneliness, worry? We send our children off with the hope that they will be cared for and nurtured throughout their day.

I remember putting my daughter on the bus on the first day of 5th grade, the last year of elementary school. No big deal, I went to work. On the way the song Runaway Train, by Soul Asylum was playing and I started to cry. The only thing I heard was “runaway train never going back…” There she was, my little 5th grader, her last year in elementary school, next year its off to middle school then high school, college, marriage, children. We laugh about it now, but at the time I did not know about mindfulness and living in the present moment non-judgmentally. I had her all grown up and leaving me for good. Notice that– leaving “me.” It was all about me back then, but that’s a story for another time.

Jon-Kabat Zinn, Professor of Medicine and creator of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, defines mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment”. Mindfulness is a practice that allows us to let go of worry and release ourselves from judgment. It is an in-the-moment awareness and acceptance of thoughts and feelings.

Mindfulness is good for us. It allows us to be present in our parenting, choosing our response instead of having a knee-jerk reaction. We all want the same thing for our children, to be happy, healthy and successful in everything they do. As another school year begins here are some things you can try to create calmness in your life and help you connect to your children.

-Self-Compassion: Identify and acknowledge any feelings/emotions that arise without judgment.
-Recognize that things are temporary.
-Focus on your breath. Stop, take a breath, observe and then proceed. Taking this short pause, even for 10 seconds, is the best tool for calming the body and allowing us space to choose how we respond in any given situation.
-Breathing Buddy: Have your child use their favorite stuffed toy. Have your child lie down on their back and place the breathing buddy on their belly.  The breathing buddy will rise and fall with with each breath. You can count to three on the inhale and back down on the exhale to encourage slow breathing.
-Be present. The most important thing our children want from us is our attention. Put down the cell phone, turn off the TV, stop what you are doing, and just be with your child. Listen to what your child has to say with your undivided attention.

Above all, remember that we do the best we can each day with the knowledge that we have. The focus of mindfulness is to bring awareness to aspects of our daily lives so we can make decisions that minimize stress and create greater balance in our lives and the lives of our children. It takes courage, effort and patience but by developing a mindfulness practice we can continue to grow along with our children.

Maura Fox has been in the field of education for over 30 years. She has experience with students on the autism spectrum, emotional/behavioral, ADHD and executive function disorders as well as language/learning/ reading disabilities. As a Certified Mindfulness Educator, she has taught mindfulness to school students K-12, and educators, parents and adults wanting to learn a different way of being. See her November 17th One big roof workshop on our cAlendar.

Dr. Selma Nemer’s New Adventure: Guardians of the Treasure!

Dr. Selma Nemer & Gabrielle Nemer co-author a new adventure titled, Guardians of the Treasure…

Clinical psychologist and owner/director of One Roof, Dr. Selma Nemer, and her granddaughter Gabrielle, a middle school student, are thrilled to share with you an exciting fantasy-mystery tale, Guardians of the Treasure, available now from Amazon or locally at Northshire Books.

Guardians-Nemer2015As dark forces are trying to take over the world, best friends Chrystal and Stephine stumble upon a mystery in a small historic town, Saratoga Springs, N.Y. They inadvertently discover a treasure, woven into their ancestry, and must learn to unlock its secrets, to be used against these dark forces before it’s too late. 
 

Dr. Selma will sign copies locally on Dec. 3rd during the Victorian Streetwalk at Northshire Books on Broadway in Saratoga Springs beginning at 5pm; a perfect chance to have Dr. Selma inscribe a special message to a special young person on your holiday list! A group of local authors will be available during the festivities in the Children’s Room.

We hope you’ll join in courageously unraveling the secrets of the treasure!

Dr. Nemer is also author of The Beheaded Goddess: Daughters of Narcissistic Fathers, available from Amazon.

How can we keep kids calm & resilient?

By Rachel Alderman, LCSW.

Most of us have been there: a young child is laughing gleefully, having the time of their life, and then a moment later, is sobbing after the utterance of a simple word (homework, bedtime, or the dreaded, no). Yes, there may be some dramatics involved, however, this is greatly a function of brain maturity.

cryingMost of us come equipped with parts of the brain that are necessary for survival. Of particular note is a small part called the amygdala, which is in charge of sensing and reacting to threats of danger. In contrast, the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the part of the brain that acts to regulate mood, emotions and motivation does not fully develop until our early twenties. Throughout the day, the amygdala and PFC communicate with one another. The amygdala senses something is up (an unexpected noise, an unfriendly look, a difficult problem) and checks in with the PFC to inform it of a potential threat, and then lets the PFC decide how to interpret and react to this information.

There are some occasions in which the threat is interpreted by the amygdala as too great to waste time on logic and planning and the amygdala reacts on its own (fight, flight or freeze reaction). There are occasions when this survival reaction is highly important. However, in young brains, the communication between these two structures can be very tentative, and the ability for the brain to use logic and perspective under stress is minimal. Events that the adult brain sees as no big deal cause a reaction of monumental proportions in the younger crowd. Many parents attribute meltdowns to defiance, being uncooperative, tired or “out of sorts”. However, to children, the dreaded words listed above can conjure up fear of failure, fear of the dark, or feeling overwhelmed. These are interpreted as real threats and are experienced at a visceral level.

In practicing mindfulness, we focus on not letting our thoughts interfere with what we want to pay attention to. The process of recognizing thoughts without reacting to them and then returning our attention back to what we want to be experiencing, actually exercises our brain’s ability to be more aware of what sets us off and allows time to avoid immediately engaging in illogical reactions. As mindfulness is practiced, neurons are actually added to the communication pathway between the amygdala and the PFC, leading to observable changes in these structures.

With this physical growth, conscious effort in practice leads to lasting changes in the brain’s ability to react to worries or adversity without becoming overwhelmed and engaging in behavior that usually makes the situation more difficult for everyone. Mindfulness is not only a great way to teach children self-calming skills and increase feelings of joy and compassion, it also gives kids a real boost in emotional maturity that will have benefits of resiliency for years to come.

Rachel Alderman is an LCSW who will be joining the staff at One Roof on July 1st. Welcome Rachel!

 

What is Spiritual Courage?

Spiritual Courage, by Dr. Lisa Dungate & Jennifer Armstrong,
an excerpt from their blog Lion’s Whiskers

“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”— His Holiness the Dalai Lama

“Here is a test to find whether your purpose in life is finished: if you are alive, it isn’t.”— Richard Bach

Spiritual courage fortifies us as we ask questions about purpose and meaning. Of course many people find the foundations of this courage in an organized religion, but there are also other ways to develop spiritual courage. Spiritual courage means being available to the deepest questions about why we are here, what is my life for, do I have a purpose?  These are profound existential questions and can be quite frightening, which suggests why fundamentalism of all kinds can gain mastery over us; thus we yearn for definite answers to these questions and are attracted to ideologies that offer resolution to our uncertainty.  Spiritual courage means accepting that you are unlikely to find the answers, but asking them anyway. We all must call upon our spiritual courage when we consider our own mortality. Spiritual courage means opening ourselves up to our own vulnerability and the mysteries of life.Spiritual courage allows us to encounter people of different religious faiths and spiritual traditions without judgment. Remember the photos from the Egyptian revolution earlier this year, when Christians made a protective cordon around Muslims during prayer? That looks like spiritual courage to us.
This video from TED.com is Matthieu Ricard, sometimes called “The Happiest Man in the World.”  It is about 20 minutes long and we encourage you to take the time to view it!

Spiritual courage looks like:
  • attending religious festivals and listening to stories from faith traditions other than your own
  • talking with children openly and honestly about death
  • having friendships with people from faith traditions other than your own
  • for parents, making sure you have written a will, arranged legal guardianship for your children in the event of your death, as well as writing advance directives for medical emergencies
  • giving your children the option to pursue a religious practice or attend a youth group, even if you don’t attend or practice regularly
  • making time to pray, meditate, or do charitable work
  • holding a funeral for a pet
  • letting go of the need to control everything in life
  • reaching out in times of need and asking for help—discovering that there are, in fact, lots of resources in your community
  • building meaningful rituals into your daily life, such as quiet contemplation with a cup of tea, or a walk in the woods with your kids

LACK of spiritual courage looks like:

  • making judgments based on the religious identification of others
  • refusing to try attending a religious service even when your child invites you or expresses interest in religion
  • refusing to attend someone’s wedding, funeral or other rite of passage because of religious intolerance
  • unwilling to question your strongly-held beliefs
  • unwilling to plan for your own death
  • not respecting the wishes of a loved one who is faced with a life-threatening diagnosis
  • unwilling to accept that spirituality can exist outside the walls of a religious institution
  • unwilling to make a values inventory
  • not walking the talk
  • lack of respect for others, their beliefs, their culture, and the environment

Spiritual courage sounds like:

  • “May I go to your church/temple/mosque with you some time?”
  • “What do you believe?”
  • “That’s not a belief I’m familiar with.  Can you tell me more about that?”
  • “I have questions.”
  • “I want to make a difference with my life.”
  • “What happens to us after we die, Mommy?”
  • “Can I say grace tonight, Dad?”
  • “I’m grateful for ___________.”
  • “Before I die, I want to __________.”
  • “Let’s talk about who we’d like to raise our kids if we die whilst they are still young.”

LACK of spiritual courage sounds like:

  • “What difference does it make anyway?”
  • “They are evil.”
  • “Don’t think about such morbid things!”
  • “All religions breed fanatics!!”
  • “Religion in the opiate of the masses.”
  • “You really believe that stuff?”
  • “Sounds like some kind of a cult!”
  • “I can’t talk to you about that because you’re not a member of my church/mosque/synagogue.”
  • “I did it in the name of ___________”
  • “I give up.”

Grab Some Lion’s Whiskers!
Here are some tips for developing spiritual courage for you and your kids:

  • read stories from all world religions and encourage your children to ask questions and find similarities from one culture to another
  • read at least a bit of the Koran, the Bible, Talmudic teachings, Buddhist teachings, etc.
  • if you’ve never been to a Passover seder, ask a Jewish friend to include you next time; if you’ve never been to a baptism, ask a Christian friend to include you; by connecting respectfully with friends from faiths other than your own, you encourage them and yourself
  • ask the important questions before it’s too late!
  • surround yourself and your children with beauty
  • take a walk in nature; wake up early enough to catch a sunrise; on a night walk, stop and simply stare at the stars; take a deep breath in the open air
  • hang famous and not so famous artwork—especially your children’s, and not just on the fridge
  • play Classical as well as Top 40 music
  • stop and smell the flowers
  • try a yoga class—even see if there is one for kids in your community
  • investigate “alternative” spiritual practices such as meditation or sweat lodge with an open mind
  • work in the garden together, it’s a wonderful way to experience the circle of life