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Creative Problem Solving

A (Family) Team Sport

If anxiety lives at your house, chances are you’ve got your fair share of problems. Anxious kids often have a great deal of difficulty problem solving. When adrenaline kicks in and the heart rate is up, solving a problem can be nearly impossible. Of course, not all problems are huge, fanged monsters. Less urgent problems can be excellent opportunities for teaching your children creative problem solving skills they can put to use to manage and reduce anxiety.

When you model effective life strategies for your children to see, you are offering them healthy alternatives to fear and panic. They will learn to recognize helpful options for solving problems and facing challenges.

My mom used to have a “job jar.” It was her way of bringing in a fun approach to dividing up Saturday house cleaning chores. Was it effective? Well, yes, kinda. The chores were still the same old thing, but getting motivated to do them was a little easier when an element of play was introduced. Problem solving can be fun.

I propose a Problem Jar. When problems show up, a conflicts arise, or challenging choices have to be made, write them down and put them in the jar. At a set-aside time, tackle them as a family team with a creative problem solving system like this:

Problem Solving Steps for Anxiety Reduction

1. Draw a problem from the jar. Have the “owner” of the problem pose the problem to the team, presenting all the known data: the who, what, when, where, why. The team can ask questions for clarification. If the problem involves another team member, allow each person two to three minutes to state their perspective without interruption. This is the step that can take the most time, so try to stay focused. You might want to set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes.

2. Brainstorm possible solutions and write them ALL down.

Get creative. Don’t rule out anything – even flying cars, unicorns, or superheroes. It is not unusual to be inspired by a “silly” suggestion and come up with a winning idea because of it. An attitude of acceptance and non-judgement will encourage greater participation and ownership of the problem solving process. Consider setting your timer or wrap up this step when the team’s energy starts running out.

3. Evaluate the ideas on your list. Obviously, some will have to be ruled out. Unfortunately, unicorns are rare in these parts and robbing a bank will only create bigger problems. Some ideas will have to go. Be respectful as you eliminate ideas from the list. Instead of saying, “That would never work,” try something like, “That’s a creative idea. Do you think it’s realistic?”

4.  When you’ve got a few realistic, do-able ideas, pick one solution, make a plan (who, what, when, where, and how), and do it.

Follow up is always a good idea. If the solution hasn’t worked out, go back and revisit these steps.

Model enthusiasm and encouragement. As the saying goes, there is a gift in every problem. Working as a family team can be a very rewarding gift.

Article Author: Valerie Ostara is the world’s first Closet Monster Battle Coach and founder of Sound–Mind.ca, an educational and coaching organization dedicated to defeating the anxiety monsters that lurk in the closets and under the beds of our children’s minds. Through our effective and empowering strategies, children and parents learn the skills and self-management techniques guaranteed to bring peace of mind.

 

The Emotional Benefits of Breathing

Are You Breathing Properly For Better Health and Lower Anxiety?

Why is it important to control breathing? So many of us are shallow breathers. We breath into the top part of the lungs. When we get stressed, our breathing gets rapid and if we shallow breathe rapidly, we can get dizzy and confused. Dr. Andrew Weil, MD, a well-known pioneer in the field of integrative medicine has said “If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be to learn to breathe correctly”.  Brenda Stockdale, director of mind-body medicine at the RC Cancer Centers in Atlanta notes that “Rapid, shallow breathing sends a message to our adrenal glands that we’re in fight-or-flight mode, and they begin pumping out stress hormones like cortisol”.

If you or your child struggle with anxiety, consider these amazing benefits of deep, slow, controlled breathing:

Our brains need oxygen to think clearly and problem solve. Rapid, shallow breathing – or even holding the breath, which many do when they are panicked – adds to the problem and the panic. By inhaling and exhaling fully, you can help your body be more efficient at supplying oxygen to your brain.

Take your mind off anxious thoughts. When we learn to control our breathing and focus on controlling our breathing, we are taking the focus off the anxious thoughts and placing it on the breath. This is calming in itself.

Deep, slow breathing is relaxing and helps stop the flow of adrenaline. When the body is relaxed, it stops pumping out adrenaline. The sooner we can stop it pumping into our systems, the sooner we will return to a calm state.

The best way to teach your child to breathe for anxiety reduction is to model it for them. Demonstrate  it, out loud, while showing them the process. When you are feeling frustrated, worried, or upset (and when it is an appropriate situation to share with your child without giving them extra stuff to worry about), try something like this: I am so nervous about giving this presentation at work today. I am shaking and my stomach is upset. Ok, I need to calm down. (Take a big breath, close your eyes and inhale slowly….exhale…Do this at least twice.) That helps a lot. I’m going to do this when I get to work and again just before my presentation.

In this short, simple example, several important things have happened. You’ve stated the problem & how you feel, calmed yourself through deep breathing, and come up with a plan of action. Whenever you can, talk through what you are doing. Name your feeling(s) and demonstrate calming breathing. Show your child how you problem solve. This is something that is so beneficial, it is worth repeating often. Make it part of your parenting skill set.

Article Author: Valerie Ostara is the world’s first Closet Monster Battle Coach and founder of Sound–Mind.ca, an educational and coaching organization dedicated to defeating the anxiety monsters that lurk in the closets and under the beds of our children’s minds. Through our effective and empowering strategies, children and parents learn the skills and self-management techniques guaranteed to bring peace of mind.

Learning Effective Communication Skills with Your Children

Acceptance

Communication is the key to a healthy connection between you and your children. As parents we communicate with our children in many ways. Some of them are effective and some not effective at all. With the best of intentions we often jump in with statements or questions like, “What’s wrong? Please tell me what’s going on. Use your words, calm down…” – and so forth.

At the root of it all, kids just want to be understood. They want to feel safe, competent, and they their bad feelings to go away. Often, however, they just don’t know how to talk about it, how to express it, how to put it into words. They just know that it hurts. So there you are, unsure of what is happening, how they are feeling, or what they are experiencing. You want to help them, to make it better, to calm them and soothe them. But they don’t seem to be hearing you.

Maybe it seems that no matter what you say it is met with resistance or seems to make things worse. Maybe you’ve heard your child wail, ‘YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M GOING THROUGH.’ It’s a tough situation that probably leaves you feeling helpless, lost, frustrated, or anxious yourself.

I bring good news. There are ways that you can help your child express their anxious feelings. Encouraging your child to talk things out involves implementing some effective listening skills.

Communication is not just about you talking or you listening. It’s a shared experience, and at it’s core is acceptance. This is a key point when communicating with your child. Acceptance is not just about how you feel about your child. You may feel and believe that you have a deep acceptance of your child and their experience, but unless you can demonstrate that acceptance you will not be as helpful as you intend. Acceptance also involves your attitude and your behaviour.

How you talk and listen to your child can be constructive or destructive, effective in helping, supporting and encouraging them or ineffective and discouraging. So often, with the best of intentions, we attempt to rescue our children from their feelings or experience. Or we problem solve FOR them, diagnose them, dismiss them, give pat reassurances that minimize their concerns. As Dr. Thomas Gordon (Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and author of Parent Effectiveness Training) says, “when parents say something to a child, they often say something about the child.” Are you telling your child they are capable, creative problem solvers?

Of course our kids need our support and encouragement, but what if we lovingly stepped back for a moment and gave them a chance to take responsibility for their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours? What if we gave them time to think, to be creative, to try out their own solutions? That is how kids build confidence and self-esteem.

 

Article Author: Valerie Ostara is the world’s first Closet Monster Battle Coach and founder of Sound–Mind.ca, an educational and coaching organization dedicated to defeating the anxiety monsters that lurk in the closets and under the beds of our children’s minds. Through our effective and empowering strategies, children and parents learn the skills and self-management techniques guaranteed to bring peace of mind.

Dealing with Thoughts that Increase Anxiety

Does Thinking Make You More Anxious?

Ask your child to answer the question: What is a thought? It’s kind of hard to define. Your thoughts are the things you tell yourself in your mind. They are the words you use to talk to yourself silently – otherwise known as self-talk. Your self-talk is very important in helping to manage anxiety.

When you are anxious do you know what you are thinking? Do you know that your thoughts will either make your anxiety increase or decrease? Getting control over your anxious thinking is probably the trickiest or most challenging part of dealing with anxiety.

A huge percentage of our thoughts contain some sort of negative content, and it’s common to have negative thoughts.  However if you feel anxious a lot, your thoughts very likely make your anxiety increase. As wild as this might sound, people with anxiety can think themselves into hugely fearful states. Once you get going with anxious thinking, the easier it is to make up horrible stories of what might happen — and believe they are true. But they aren’t. They are just stories you are making up. The more you think about the bad things that MIGHT happen, the worse you feel and the more likely you are to panic.

But wait! There is good news. You can learn to ditch your unhelpful, scary thoughts and replace them with encouraging helpful thoughts. It will take some practice but it is well worth the effort. The following activities will show you a few ways you can start to change your thoughts. Try these with your children.

Journaling

Journaling is simply writing down your thoughts. You can write or print. You don’t have to write full sentences. Sometimes just a word or two is enough. No one will check for neatness or spelling. This is just for you.  You can also try using sticky notes and posting them where you can see them every day. Stick empowering messages on your mirror, the fridge, or the front door. Use positive statements like “You are loved’ or ‘You are strong’ or ‘Breathe and relax’. These will help to remind you to be gentle and kind to yourself.

Thank Your Mind

This is similar to journaling but is a good thing to do when you don’t have your journal handy or are in a situation where you can’t stop to write. When that anxious or negative thought creeps in you can say something like “Thank you mind for protecting and keeping me safe, but I have it covered and there is nothing you need to do right now”. This gives your mind permission to take a break.

Worry Dolls

Have you ever heard of Worry Dolls? They are tiny dolls, about 1/2 to 1 inch tall and made of colourful yarn and cloth over a wood or wire frame. They come from the country of Guatemala in Central America. Children in Guatemala are like kids everywhere – sometimes they cannot sleep because they are worried about things. When this happens, children are often given Worry Dolls. The child tells the little doll what is troubling them, puts the doll under their pillow and the doll will do the worrying so the child can sleep. What a great idea!

While negative thoughts are a normal part of daily life, they don’t have to leave you feeling anxious. Using these activities and tools can not only curb or lessen your anxiety, but also help with bad dreams and negative thoughts.

 

Article Author: Valerie Ostara is the world’s first Closet Monster Battle Coach and founder of Sound–Mind.ca, an educational and coaching organization dedicated to defeating the anxiety monsters that lurk in the closets and under the beds of our children’s minds. Through our effective and empowering strategies, children and parents learn the skills and self-management techniques guaranteed to bring peace of mind.

What is Anxiety and Why Is It Happening?

Why is Anxiety Picking on My Child?

If you’ve spent time researching information on anxiety you’ve probably noticed that there is a lot of information available. That’s because anxiety is the most common mental health issue in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Europe, Australia, andmany other countries in the world, according to the World Health Organization. It’s big and isn’t just a condition of stressed out adults.

Anxiety is the most common mental health issue among children.  According to the ADAA.org Anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.

Anxiety is a broad term for a number of conditions that cause worry, nervousness, apprehension and fear. Our behaviours and feelings are affected by anxiety and real physical symptoms can manifest. Maybe you’ve seen some in your child: headaches, stomach aches, dizziness, shaking, pounding heart, sweating, inability to sleep.

Anxiety comes in different levels of intensity, from mild anxiety, which is kind of a general unsettling feeling, to severe anxiety, which can seriously impact daily life and impair healthy functioning. All of us experience anxiety from time to time. Think about the last time you had to write an exam, meet a looming deadline, give a performance or speak in public, go for a job interview, or ask for a raise. It is perfectly normal to experience some anxiety in these cases. In fact, a little anxiety might even motivate us to prepare for important events.

But the main purpose of anxiety is to protect us from danger. Our anxiety alarm system lives in a small, almond shaped part of the brain (deep in the limbic brain) called the Amygdala. It handles the Fight-Flight-or Freeze response which is an ancient part of the brain that is necessary for keeping humans alive by alerting us to danger.

This part of the brain is lightning fast in reacting. It doesn’t do much in the way of thinking or analyzing situations, it just tells us to do something immediately to protect ourselves. Your amygdala is always on duty – watching out for possible danger and it hasn’t changed since the early days of humankind. The good news is, when there is real danger, the amygdala lets you know. The not-so-good news is, the amygdala sometimes makes the mistake of seeing danger when there is none. And that is what anxiety is all about. Seeing danger where there is none.

Anxiety is considered a problem when it interferes with a person’s ability to participate in the daily activities of life. And that is most likely why you are reading this. Your child is struggling with fear or worry that is keeping him or her from fully participating in life. Defined by Medical News Today, “Generally speaking, anxiety occurs when a reaction is out of proportion with what might be normally expected in a situation.”

The key to helping your child successfully manage anxiety is to develop your own skill set so you are able to become an effective coach for your child. Check out our blog posts featuring tools and techniques for helping your child manage anxiety, like Dealing with Thoughts that Increase Anxiety.

Article Author: Valerie Ostara is the world’s first Closet Monster Battle Coach and founder of Sound–Mind.ca, an educational and coaching organization dedicated to defeating the anxiety monsters that lurk in the closets and under the beds of our children’s minds. Through our effective and empowering strategies, children and parents learn the skills and self-management techniques guaranteed to bring peace of mind.

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