Often I am asked by both friends and clients how to cultivate healthy sibling relationships. First of all, simply asking the questions signifies an acknowledgement of the importance of relational intelligence. It is difficult to give each child the same amount of attention at the same time. We cannot clone ourselves (yet..ha..ha)! We cannot “make” or “guilt” our children into loving each other and wanting to have a positive relationship. Similar to the family life-cycle, sibling relationships evolve through different stages as the children age. It is my opinion that simply “treating them the same” does NOT equate to children who enjoy, love and respect each other. It creates a sibling dynamic centering around the theme of competition as they strive to “get more” than the other from their parent(s). Siblings argue. Sibling bicker. Siblings disagree. Allowing them to “work it out” on their own helps them strengthen both their relationship and fosters their emotional intelligence. Parents can act as coaches as they remind them of the rules, enforce healthy boundaries and limits while modeling compassionate and respectful communication. It is also important to give them time alone with their parent(s) in order to provide them with the opportunity to build relationships and have fun on an individual level. It also imparts to them that they are special and unique. But not so special that they grow up feeling and believing they are entitled.
I also believe it is good practice to look back to our own history and story with our siblings. Remember back and review the time with our wiser adult minds. What worked? What could have used some improvement? (sidenote: you can go back and heal old wounds and disagreements with your siblings)
Now listen carefully. The greatest gift you can give your children is providing them with the opportunity to build positive relationships with themselves, their siblings, their friends, family and community. This is what will sustain them when times are tough and the days are not as bright.
Now go spend some time with your kids laughing and making memories.
Enjoy and cherish every minute!
Recently there have been several attempted abductions of children in our town and the surrounding communities. This of course has raised by anxiety level, caused me to hug my children even more than I already do and we are having the “Stranger Danger” talks again. I am deep in thought about how to have the “Stranger Danger” dialogue while retaining a loving heart. Being a therapist, a mandated reporter and a parent is an interesting position to be in. I am not a helicopter mom. I try to teach my children to be safe but to also enjoy exploring their world. I don’t want my children to loose their child-like wonder and their friendly nature. However, I do not want my outgoing, friendly and good-natured children to be in danger. It is scary that we live in a world where human trafficking occurs and where children are sex slaves. I already know that we live in a world where parents abuse their children. I have made child abuse reports in the past and treat survivors of trauma in my private practice. When choosing a nanny, I was extra cautious given what I know about the “dark” parts of the psyche. Balancing my fears, empowering myself and my children while staying connected to the beauty in the world is needed in times like this. Sitting and watching my eldest son play soccer and enjoy time with his “besties” brought warmth and joy to my heart. Having a talk with parents about the most recent attempted child abduction raised the hair on my arms, made me a bit nauseous and raised my heart rate. We talked about ways to protect our children while protecting their innocence. We bonded around just how scary it is to have these attempted abductions occur literally so close to home. None of us are shielded from a world where people shoot other people, people try to steal other people’s children, where people rob, cheat, lie and put each other in harms way. I also live in a world where connection to others, connection to our selves and the world we live in can bring health, healing, peace and love. Balancing these dichotomies is the key. The river that runs between them is sometimes murky. Closing my eyes, listening to my breath, opening my heart and clearing my mind. That is good medicine.
The Ha Ha Ha of it all. Laughter as medicine. It’s not a new concept by any means. My two boys reminded me that it was time to take my medicine. We were finishing dinner and my youngest got fussy. My older son decided to entertain him so we could finish. Before you know it both boys were giggling. It spread like wildfire. Soon we were all giggling. Everyone was looking into each others eyes. Everyone was getting their giggle on. Each of us had a huge smile on our face. All of a sudden I noticed how good I felt. Actually, I felt wonderful. Amazing. All stress had left my body. I quickly wanted to cease my self introspection and get back to the moment. My boys and my husband were looking at me with loving smiles. My eldest returned to being goofy and my other child followed suit. Within a second we were back to getting our giggle on. My family reminded me that laughter can heal. I must admit it was Friday night, I was tired, a bit annoyed that we forgot to thaw something for dinner and that my husband and I were not won over by the thought of heating up soup or having Mac n’ cheese with tofu dogs. We allowed ourselves to indulge in take out from our favorite local Indian restaurant and then rushed to eat it while it was still hot. Its silly that I let that get to me. Come on; I have two boys under the age of 5. When don’t I have to reheat? Watching my boys giggle and giggle and giggle reminded me what is truly important…..people. Let me say that again. WHAT TRULY MATTERS ARE THE PEOPLE WE LOVE. A GIGGLEFEST WITH MY FAMILY TRUMPS A PIPING HOT SAMOSA ANY DAY. OUR RELATIONSHIPS MAKE US WHOLE. LAUGHTER IS GOOD MEDICINE.
I was reading an article in the WSJ about self esteem and children which stated that raising children’s self esteem could actually do them harm. Praising a child could harm them? Telling them they are smart or a good artist could hinder their ability to be in healthy relationships with their peers? It could make them feel worse about themselves when they fail? I began to wonder if this was a balanced view. What about teaching me child to fall with style? What about teaching them to never give up even when facing adversity. What about helping them to manage their frustrations in a healthy manner? What if all of these dynamics were present? Could their high level of self esteem coupled with their belief that things don’t always go their way be an asset in both their personal and interpersonal world? What qualities are protective? Restorative? Could giving my child the sense that he is wonderful, talented, creative and unique contribute to a sense of entitlement as the article implied? How does gender come into play? How does self esteem become linked to beauty for girls and performance for boys? What can we do as parents, professionals and members of our community to raise healthy children who are not hung up on gender specific rules? How does our own upbringing effect this process? What healing do we still need to achieve around self esteem?
These are all of the questions and thoughts that came up for me. It is not my position that I have all of the answers. Nor do I believe that I asked all of the “right” questions. What I do know is that my journey must involve introspection, questioning, thinking outside of the box and being comfortable with possibility. It truly takes a village. Sometimes it even takes many different villages with diverse backgrounds and experiences to contribute to a dialogue that produces growth, change and awareness.
A safe therapeutic relationship could provide the opportunity to both heal our wounds and gain an understanding of how to raise emotionally healthy children. Finding a therapist who is strength based, believes in the power of positive attachment, and is relational in nature could provide the structure for an enlivening exploration. A support group. A group we find through social media. A book club. Healing can be achieved through many different avenues. Talking to different people with a variety of experiences can produce solutions we didn’t even imagine could be true. Digging deep within ourselves to examine our shadows may be painful at the beginning but the benefits are bountiful. I invite you to explore inward and outward with an open heart, an open mind and a playful spirit.
Love who you are. Love your children for the unique beings they are. Love your spouse/partner/boyfriend/girlfriend/lover with an open heart ready to risk. Love the journey you are about to embark on. Fall in love with possibility. Love. Laugh at yourself. Laugh often. Laugh loudly. Laugh with abandon. Laugh at our mistakes. Laugh. Seek happiness. Follow your passions and let happiness in. Create happiness. Harness Happiness. Happiness. Marriage is an adventure. Take time to cultivate the love and happiness within your marriage. Fight for marriage equality. Marriage. It takes a village to raise children. Let yourself act like a child at least once a week. Revel in the imagination of children. Our childhood dreams can be our adult reality. Children. Life is often complicated. Life has many twists and turns. Life is richer when we love, laugh, seek happiness, foster relationships and see children as role models. Life.
Seeking help and reaching out. It first takes an awareness that there is something to explore, expand, deepen, reduce, widen, eliminate, discover, uncover, re-remember or enliven prior to making the conscious decision to reach out and seek help, guidance, counsel, support or assistance. Imagine making the conscious decision to feel better, stop worrying and feel more at home in your own skin. What would it be like to look in the mirror and love what you see? How would it feel to expect happiness? How about creating happiness? Ending drama? What would it take to risk change? Changing the climate within your psyche is just as important as cleansing your body of toxins. Altering the way we view ourselves and authoring a story of contentment, happiness, purpose and joy can free us. If we have been wounded in a relationship the source of healing is within a safe and therapuetic relationship with a psychotherapist. Making the decision to take action and seek out assistance for our journey is the first step. Finding the right psychotherapist or co -pilot entails finding the right fit for your own unique needs, situation and listening to your gut to know that you have found him or her. The next step is making a promise to yourself to embark on your journey of health wholeness, happiness and growth. Change may entail a few tears. There may be roadblocks. The path may be bumpy at times. Its ok to stop, take a water break, have a snack and then continue your accent to a different state of being and becoming. I admire your courage!
Celebration can bring both positive and negative stress into our lives. For each of us this manifests in different ways. A recommended daily practice is to take time to check in with ourselves and determine what needs to be let go and what needs additional attention in order to move on and resume a state of happiness. Family gatherings. Social commitments. The pressure to find the “perfect” gift. Returning home or to the scene of the crime depending on your life story. Time off of work. Kids home from school. Vacations. Staycations. What is missing is celebrating what we do verses what we wish we had. What we have on is never more important than what we have around us. Our self love is more important than the items we covet. Our most wanted list should include qualities we want to adopt or foster. Looking in the inner mirror is more important than wearing our skinny jeans. Balancing my two boys on my arm is always cooler than sporting the newest Michael Kores bag…always!!!
Most of us like re-runs when we enjoyed the original movie or television show. The same is true for relationship re-runs. It maybe a failed relationship that we want to “give it another try” or it may be a reconcilliation gone awry. We must ask ourselves why? Why do we feel the need to go backwards in order to move forwards? Why do we feel the need to look up an ex after we end a relationship? Why do we question whether or not it was a good decision after we end a relationship because “it’s not healthy for us”? Why do we keep our skinny jeans?
Maybe the relationship that needs renovating is the one we have with ourselves. What would it be like to spend the time trimming our negativity from our thinking instead of trying to loose that same ten pounds? What if we flexed our mindfulness muscles and concentrated on the way we feed our own passions? How about taking a personal inventory to explore how we did not bring the best of ourselves to a past relationship? Then going a step further, we tried; honestly tried to be kind and compassionate to ourselves and the ones we love.
put down that iphone. Put down that ipad. Put down that tablet. Put down that kindle. Pick up a conversation. Get down on the floor and play with your kid(s). Take your dog(s) to the park and throw a ball or a frisbee.
Look up at the sky and take it all in.
Take a deep breath and let it all in.
Being in the moment. Being present. Being mindful. It’s great when you allow yourself the gift of attuning into your own rhythm and the present moment. I sometimes stumble upon this feeling of pure joy and say to myself “slow down, breathe deeply and take it all in”. It is hard to sustain it as I can get derailed by nagging thoughts of daily life. Just as I have to remember to live in the moment; I must remind myself to seek out joy. Acknowledging a loving look from my husband. Reveling in the warmth of an unsolicited “I love you” from my son. Going outside to gaze at the magestic full moon illuminating the night sky. Breathing in. Breathing out. Thankful for the feeling of contentment deep within my soul.