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By Deena Bodine, LCSW – May 14, 2019

Life can place many demands on us: work obligations, financial pressures, health issues…the list goes on. These life stressors can make it difficult to be at our best as parents, especially when we feel overwhelmed, frustrated, discouraged, or defeated.

During this time, we may even begin second-guessing our parenting decisions. But like so many other parenting moments, we have an opportunity to turn our stress into a teachable moment for our children. 

We know that kids learn from watching us even more than they learn from listening to us. This reinforces the idea that in order to be the best teacher for our children, we must learn to better regulate our own emotions and set a better example for our children.  

One important step in teaching emotional regulation is acknowledging our own emotions.  Acknowledgment teaches our children that not only do adults also experience big emotions, but we can respond to these emotions in a healthy manner.

Acknowledgment of emotions can be as simple as identifying the feeling. For example, “I am feeling overwhelmed because I can’t find my keys and I need to leave for a meeting.” When we label the feeling, we not only teach our children that adults experience frustration, but they are also primed to watch for our response to the situation.

Our children watch and learn from us, and if we respond to anger or frustration by losing our cool, we lose the teachable moment and send the wrong message on how to manage our anger effectively.  Instead, take a moment, take a breath, and then focus on finding those keys calmly. 

As we work to manage our emotions it is important to recognize the core of our emotions and the beliefs that drive them. Have you ever wondered why certain people get very worked up about something that seems very insignificant to you?  It is due to the beliefs they have attached to the event that is stressing them.

Perhaps we attach certain meanings to a name we were teased about as a child, and when we hear that name as an adult it releases a flood of emotions and memories that linger years later. Trying to gain insight behind our emotions is no easy task, but understanding those beliefs can be a game changer.  

The final step in emotion regulation is remaining in control of your response. This can be done through deep breaths, closing your eyes to remain calm, and taking a few seconds or minutes to pause. This can help change our perspective or at least prevent us from acting on an emotional impulse. Saying or doing something we will regret certainly sends the wrong message to our children in those teachable moments.  

While it is a challenge to be at our parenting best when we are struggling to manage our own emotions, the reward of healthy emotion regulation can be great.  We are in the best position to teach our children how to handle life stressors every single day.  We owe it to our children and ourselves to be the best versions of ourselves we can be.

By Deena Bodine, LCSW, Courier & Press, January 17, 2017 –

As a Youth First Social Worker, I’m fortunate each year to facilitate the Reconnecting Youth program with a small group of high school students.  This year, the group selected some “pay it forward” activities to complete.

One of the activities involved writing encouraging messages on post-it notes that were then placed anonymously on student lockers.  One of the students penned, “Think smarter, not harder” as her words of encouragement.  Her message got me thinking.

Our kids are often faced with high expectations at school, fewer opportunities to unwind through recess and the arts and a busy extracurricular and social calendar.  The same can be said about our adult calendars.

This non-stop agenda doesn’t allow for much downtime.  Downtime allows our brains the opportunity to refresh, recharge and make sense of what we have recently learned or experienced.

Downtime can be characterized in three forms:

Good, quality sleep.  There is a great deal of information about the importance of sleep.  I have witnessed the effects of inadequate or interrupted sleep firsthand in myself and my children.  I’m guilty of sacrificing sleep for the sake of more urgent tasks. It’s important to remember the important role of sleep and its impact on our health and brain function.

Idleness or time spent awake doing nothing.  Examples of this include lying awake at night before falling asleep or meditation.  Meditation allows us to refresh our ability to concentrate and to attend to tasks more efficiently.

Time spent on mundane tasks.  Mundane tasks are also essential for learning.  These tasks, such as feeding a pet, putting toys away or cleaning a room give learners a much needed break from sustained brain activity.

Even closing your eyes, taking one deep breath, and exhaling can help refresh the brain and takes practically no time.  Carving out some time at the end of the day or the end of the week to engage in meditation or mindfulness is good practice.

Other great opportunities for downtime include vacations and holiday breaks.  Unintentionally, our family created a great deal of down time over winter break.  Illness hampered our travel plans, and we had two weeks free of athletic practices and games.

I now recognize just how re-energizing “doing nothing” was for our spirits.  I think I’ll make more time for just that.

In the wise words of a high schooler, we need to “think smarter, not harder” and allow our brains more downtime.  Fitting downtime into busy schedules is easier said than done, but it is well worth the effort.

Work life balance

By Deena Bodine, LCSW, Courier & Press, April 12, 2016 –

I recently read a headline that challenged the notion of work/life balance. I didn’t make it very far into the article because, frankly, it isn’t something I want to believe.

Many of us wear multiple hats as parents, significant others, sons or daughters, colleagues, employees, etc. There must be a way to find balance within these roles.

This concept of homeostasis, a relatively stable equilibrium, has proved even more important as my husband and I welcomed our fourth child. Her arrival has allowed me to give some thought to giving my best at home and work while keeping sacrifices minimal.

Let go of perfection. The pressure we put on ourselves to meet expectations that don’t fall in line with reality can be unbearable. Unrealistic expectations can weigh on our relationships with our significant others and children. Prioritize what is most important to you and strive for that while keeping expectations in check. And don’t forget to cut yourself some slack.

Embrace your village. If you have family or a dependable baby sitter available to help with your children, having caregivers that truly care for your child can put your mind at ease when at work or taking time for yourself. Ask for and accept offers of help.

Plan ahead. It seems simple enough, but taking a few minutes the evening before can save a lot of frustration and rush in the morning. Prepare lunches, lay out clothes and pack up school or diaper bags. Place items near the door alongside keys for a quick departure. Use Sunday evening to prepare for the week, discussing the school lunch menu, extracurricular activities and logistics, and planning meals for the week.

Implement a family calendar. We have recently developed a family calendar to compliment what is in my personal planner. Our calendar includes after school activities, weekend events and the school lunch menu. Yours can be catered to the needs of your family. My kids have enjoyed the ownership of having their activities included. We can direct them to the calendar when they have questions about what will be served for lunch at school or who will pick them up.

Develop family rituals. Make family time rich in quality in the event there is limited quantity. This doesn’t have to be intensive. For example, encourage each family member to share one thing they are thankful for each day. Write these items on a slip of paper and collect in a jar or write them in a notebook to review together later. Take turns allowing each family member to plan an activity. Limit television or checking your phone so that you can focus on interactions with one another. Ultimately, it is less about what you do as long as you do it together.

Carve out time for yourself. Whether you spend time recharging with a book before bed or prefer to get up a few minutes early to enjoy the quiet with a cup of coffee, setting time aside for self-care helps us to be more effective in all our roles. It isn’t selfish or a luxury.