Thursday, August 28, 2008

Awareness * Connection Now Listed on AllTop, Shooting for 9Rules

I am was very pleased to find out that Awareness * Connection is now listed over in the parenting section by the good folks at AllTop. Just below my "Other Destinations" links you can find their badge to drop by and visit. It is an ingenious alphabetical listing that includes the feeds for the five posts for any blog listed. So it is wonderful place to catch up on the topic of your choice. I often head over to find out what is going on in the world of GTD at AllTop. One handy feature I really enjoy about he design of their site is that bar that you see going across toward the bottom in the pic above always stays where it is no matter how you scroll, so you are always one easy click away from the main alphabetical listing. Give it a spin sometime. And where did the ingenuity come from? Well one of the three owners is Guy Kawasaki who was one of the original players over at Apple involved with launching the original Mac. He has a very hot book out called The Art of the Start about getting new businesses and projects off the ground. As a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, and given key posts at Apple he's got some expertise to share. 

Next I'm hoping Awareness * Connection will be listed on another ingenious blog network called 9Rules. Their small green banner is over on the side along with the AllTop one. What I'm shooting for though is their official badge, which is identical to their logo over on their home page at 9Rules. It is awarded by invitation following one of their three 24 hour submission windows annually. These guys know how to build blogging buzz. Sept 3rd is the big day where I find out if Awareness * Connection has made the cut this round. Since they are content, as opposed to web design, focused in selecting network members, I'm feeling hopeful.

Save the Words for the Happy Times, Part I: Creating a Pause

By Nature We Tend to Talk Most When It Helps Least

When do we pour on the words with the most intensity as parents? With the most energy and flourish? Often it is when things are going the worst. When we're irritable. When we're frustrated. When the kids are acting up. That's when the words flow with no effort. Often our words take the form of lectures. We've touched before on how lectures are chock full of You're Not Capable Messages. Also you've likely noticed the way that our kids' eyes start to glaze over when we've moved into lecturing mode. Or they get snippy or comply, but so slowly they reel us into getting more upset. Part of the reason for this is explained by the Attention Principle: Any behavior we react to with energy, attention or emotion, we will see more of. The flood of words inevitably leads to the interaction spiraling downhill from there.

Creating a Pause
So what can we do instead? Lets look first at when we're in the moment, and in Part II we'll look at how to circle back when we're much more likely to be effective. In the moment though, take some slow deep breaths. There's no replacement for doing that as a parent. It serves much like having a biological dimmer switch that takes the edge off our frustration, and our sense that something must be done "right this second", which is almost never actually the case. In fact if there were only one skill that I could help my clients with, it would be simply learning how to create a pause before acting or talking when things are going poorly.

Second, take care of the issue at hand with brevity. Often enforceable statements can serve well in keeping our talk brief. The combination of things not going well, and lots of words from us rarely equals our kids doing better. So keep the words as brief and to the point as you can. This keeps us from inadvertently making things worse.

Third, avoid making decisions in the heat of the moment that could be made later. If our child has done something that warrants a consequence of some sort, and we're feeling really irritated or angry, it is far better for everyone concerned to say something like, "We're going to need to do something about this. I need to take a break right now though. I'll get back to you." It is when we make decisions in the heat of the moment that we often come up with consequences that are overblown. And doling out an excessive consequence only to reduce it, especially if it happens often, reduces your credibility. Letting your child know that something is going to happen, but that you need to give it some thought first often makes whatever the consequence turns out to be more effective. More on that in another post.

Emotional Flooding
Keep in mind that when we're frustrated or angry we lose 10 to 15 IQ points. Sometimes we're even aware in the moment that what we're doing isn't helping, but we just keep going. When we know though in the moment that we're going to circle back and do something later when it is more effective, that in itself can make it a lot easier to put the brakes on. Things don't feel so overwhelmingly urgent.

Allowing some time to pass gives the brain a chance to cool off a bit. Most of us have had the experience, often in a couples interaction, of trying to approach the problem too soon after the initial argument, thinking we're cooled off enough to come back to it. But then WHAM we pop right back down into angry mode. We come by this honestly. The brain often takes hours to cool off, to get out of it's chemical funk, rather than minutes. Giving the situation some time and distance will greatly increase the odds that we're going to be able to be effective with our kids.

In Part II we'll look at some of the options when we circle back to address the problem that help kids shift into problems solving mode. These options help kids to be able to view their behavior more objectively and gives them a much better chance to take responsibility for their behaviors.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

My GTD Article Selected by Whakate as Best Blog Post of July for GTDtimes

Hey good news for a relatively new blogger, your truly. My article "Ancient Cheating and a Modern Twist" that I wrote in July for the personal productivity site GTDtimes was selected for Best Blog Picks for July by the international life design blog , Whakate (A word from New Zealand, of Maori origin, meaning “to squeeze out” or “get the essence out of” something). Life design I think is a wise choice to get away from the cheesier asssociations with "self-improvement". The article is about two powerful benefits of writing things down on cognitive function, writin' stuff down makes you even smarter.

So here is their listing for Best (Blog Post) Picks for July '08. I am a ways down the page in the personal productivity section under GTDtimes, right above Merlin Mann's 43Folders article on email. Take that Merlin. I enjoy that fact even though I somehow doubt the Merlin is feeling threatened just yet. So my thanks to the folks at Whakate.

Photo courtesy of Timothy K. Hamilton over at Flickr

Sunday, August 24, 2008

One Year Ago on Awareness * Connection: Helping Your Child with Back to School Anxiety

After today, only one day of summer left for my daughter. Hard to believe it's already slipped by. New beginnings are always a bit of a challenge for her, as they were for me. I've done much better as an adult with work that fluctuates according to the seasons than I did with an on/off schedule like school was. So for me seeing what going back to school is like for Hannah isn't all that big a jump empathy wise. Any of us with two kids, or who've closely observed kids, understands what the research has to say. Children are very different from one another from day one on at least nine different measures of how they react to stimuli and how they regulate their emotions (before learning or parenting has a chance to affect the measures). When our kids have temperament profiles that are quite a bit different from ours, it can take a bit more work to see things from their perspective.

Having someone "get" who we are and what we are experiencing is one of the most important things to us in life. If we are surrounded by people who "get" us, our lives tend to be much happier. We also need at least one supportive relationship in our history in order for us to be relatively psychologically healthy.

It can be a good exercise to think back to a time when we went through something emotionally difficult as a child where our parents or caregivers weren't able to give us the empathy that would have been helpful. Can you remember what that was like? Experiencing a difficult emotion and feeling like you were on your own with it? What could the adult in your life have done or said that might have been helpful? All of us had those experiences where the adult was unable to be as helpful as we could have used. Fortunately, children don't need perfect parenting to do well in life. It is about what the pediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnecott called good enough parenting. Our children don't need a completely supportive environment to turn out okay, just enough of one.

On the practical side, what we can do if our child expresses some reservation about school is 1) Listen, 2) Clarify and 3) Run by them your understanding of their experience. Then repeat steps one and two until they feel like you've more or less got it. The easy mistake for us to make is to respond to our children's reservations or distress by giving advice right off the bat. "You don't need to worry. After the first couple days you'll be used to your new teacher." Even if the advice is good advice, if our kids don't sense that we understand how they're feeling, the advice can feel dismissive.

If you've ever had a friend do this to you, you know that's usually not what we hunger for when we're having a hard time with something in life. If you do run through those three steps with your child though, when you do have any practical suggestions for how they might cope, they will be much more able to hear the suggestions and maybe even use a couple of them. What it boils down to often is our being able to be with them in their distress for a moment. See Our Most Important Job post a couple of posts back about this being one of our central challenges as parents.

Remember we don't always need to get this right, but it is worth shooting for an increase in how often we can meet our kids emotionally this way. It is one way to keep the connection open with them that at times can their lifeline.

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One Year Ago on Awareness * Connection: First Day of School Ritual

Today's the day. New sneakers, more carefully done hair than usual, new supplies...though we can't seem to locate the new lunchbox.

We have a tradition of taking a picture in the front yard every first day of school. A friend of ours takes one in the exact same spot every year, just like her parents did when she was a girl. It is really neat looking through the photo album from when the mother was a girl. Since she's always standing next to the same front gate you can see the changes in height and in her face from year to year from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Family rituals like that are a nice way to mark certain times as special, and to mark time as we move through life. Like our unique ways of celebrating birthdays and holidays, they can be a nice source of connection and meaning. Anything regular like a family ritual also is helpful for those kids who tend to feel a bit more anxiety when starting school. The familiarity of the ritual can be grounding for them.

I like the practice, which I don't recall happening as a kid, of starting the first week midweek, so the transition is a bit less traumatic. Three days and you're through your first week. Good luck to everyone with the the first day. Here's to a new year with new opportunities.