Friday, July 31, 2020

Talking to your kids about germs

Talking to your kids about germs Here is an important thing to consider. Most things can appear even scarier than they actually are if they are kept under a cloak of silence. Your kids all know that things are not normal these days. How could they not? Make sure that you are open and welcome to conversations and questions about the Covid virus, the quarantine and the uncertainty about school. Don’t push them if they would rather not talk about it, but at the very least, I would offer the opportunity. Here is the good news. You don’t have to have all of the answers. Looking for information as a team is a wonderful exercise. Sifting through facts and fiction is certainly a skill that our children need more than ever these days. It is important to strike the balance of knowledge, caution and empowerment. It is in nobody’s best interest to have your child crippled from anxiety and terrified of the invisible monster germs. Even in the best of times, over the years I seen dozens of kids tormenting their parents as they went through germaphobic stages (that is the actual term!) Lady Macbeth had nothing on these kids as they would scrub their hands raw every time they came into contact with anything suspect. Knowledge Here are some kid friendly talking points about the virus. The world is full of tiny things that we can’t see without a microscope. This might be just the time to read Horton hears a Hoo! There are also loads of great age appropriate books to read specifically about germs. Most of the tiny things, including many types of bacteria, are good and important. Some of the tiny things that we can’t see are called germs. These are not so good and are usually considered troublemakers. Germs need to get inside a body in order to grow and spread. If you can stop them from getting in, you win. Have your kids figure out the openings in their body where the germs can enter; mouth, nose, eyes...maybe even a cut. A germ that gets into a cut can cause an infection, but most viruses are getting in through the face. Once the germs get into the body, they might make the person a tiny bit sick or very sick. Sometimes the person with the germs inside doesn’t feel sick at all but is still able to spread the germs to someone else. Germs are sneaky! If a sick person or a spreader is not wearing a mask and they cough, sneeze, sing or yell near you, you can breathe in the germs through your nose or your mouth. That is one way for the germs to get inside. The longer you are near them, the bigger the chance of breathing in their germs. Luckily the germs don’t stay in the air for too long. Get out some bubbles and blow a few. Imagine that the bubbles are full of germs. Notice how they float for a while and then land and pop. Once the bubbles land, that surface now has the germs on it. If you touch it and then touch your face, that is another way that the virus has found a way in. Empowerment with a dose of caution This is a great time to remind ourselves about the ‘what is in our control and what is not’ exercise. It does feel a bit like we are in a long dark tunnel, but at some point the glimmer of light will become more apparent. The numbers will start to flatten and there will be treatments more widely available for when people do get sick. There are already vaccines in the works, which will prevent some cases. Things will improve. But in the meanwhile, as we slip our toes outside the confines of our quarantine it is important to do it thoughtfully. We can make good choices about where we go and who we will be with. We should stay at least 6 feet away from people who are not in our family. What is 6 feet? Get out a measuring tape and measure things. Maybe daddy is 6 feet? If we are having a socially distant visit with a friend, it is much safer outside than inside. We should wash our hands for 20 seconds in case we touched something with germs. Maybe think of a song that lasts 20 seconds that we can sing! We should take off our shoes before coming into the house. We can make sure that our home and refuge is as safe as can be. We should wear masks when we are outside. This will keep us from being spreaders, remind us not to touch our faces and let people know that we care about other people’s health. Wearing a mask says that we are choosing to be part of the solution. Finding the best answer when your child asks you why some people aren’t wearing a mask isn’t something I have figured out yet. You can try to make masks fun. Use a sharpie to decorate the basic surgical masks. You can draw a big smile, or a frown if the mood strikes. You can also find some very nice ones online Do some fun experiments. Glitter is a great example of how things easily spread. Put a little glitter on your hands and see all of the places it shows up. Full disclosure, glitter is like the herpes virus of the art world. If you do break it out, you are likely to be haunted by it for a while; no sending curses my way! Mix some cinnamon or nice smelling spice in some olive oil. Coat your hands with the substance. Now wash it off with just water, no soap. It becomes clear that the oil and scent are not going anywhere, you need a good scrub with soap to get your hands clean. If you find a fun activity or a great book, please let me know and I will share it and happily give you credit.

Friday, July 24, 2020

2020-2025 dietary guidelines/Highlights

https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-07/ScientificReport_of_the_2020DietaryGuidelinesAdvisoryCommittee_first-print.pdf Every Five years the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and the HHS (Health and Human Services) come out with updated dietary guidelines. Many times when these come out foods get tossed from the good guy list over to the bad guy list and vice versa. The 2020 was just released. I was pleased to see that for the first time they include guidelines for babies and toddlers. Pregnant women get a mention as well. The study is independent and heavily researched based. Unfortunately for the first time in 40 years the federal government had some impact on which questions and issues actually made it to the current study. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/08/30/how-trump-administration-limited-scope-usdas-dietary-guidelines/ There were some concerns about important topics that were not addressed, such as salt intake and the importance of organic and sustainable food. In general there are no shocking revelations in the report. It feels like a lot of common sense. I am happy to say that the new guidelines are pretty consistent with the approaches that I have followed for years when I teach parents about solid foods. The report is 835 pages. I have the link above for those of you who are inclined to read it. For the rest of you, here are some of the takeaways (you're welcome!) One of the biggest headlines that this report is generating is that for babies and toddlers under the age of two they are stating that ALL added sugar should be avoided. Wow! Is that even possible? Based on this report, it is certainly worth being much more conscious about it. Sugar is lurking in so many places. On a food label, added sugars can include "brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, and sucrose. I do wonder if any of the authors of this study actually have kids... Take a deep breath. We are simply referring to ADDED sugars. Natural sugar in foods is fine. Breast milk has sugar, but it is the perfect combination of fats, proteins, carbohydrates and vitamins for a baby's needs. Fruit and some veggies have plenty of natural sugar but are balanced by fiber and other nutritional benefits. Apiece of fruit put in one of those mesh bags is still considered fruit, even though it feels like they just are sucking the juice out of it. The report also reinforced the benefits of breastfeeding. The conclusion is that if you can make it at least 6 months, that is stellar and there is a long list of positive health impacts! But one of the things that stood out to me is that there are some findings that a baby who gets even some breast milk at all is getting some potential benefit. Any amount of breastfeeding is good. Given this information, I strongly recommend giving nursing a try. Get as much support as possible to make it a success. If you are one of the moms for whom it simply isn’t a good fit, then at least know that those efforts weren’t wasted if your baby got some of your milk early on. Fish should be an important part of the diet. Eating at least 8 to 12 ounces each week of a variety of seafood high in omega-3 and low in methlymercury may boost cognitive development and language and communication development in children. Pregnant women should be making fish a part of their diet as well. Sorry moms, it should to be cooked. The committee confirmed what I had been mentioning for years - that introducing peanuts and eggs, "in an age appropriate form," after 4 months of age may reduce the risk of food allergy to these foods. The evidence wasn't quite as strong for other allergens such as nuts and seafood, but there was also no harm in introducing these other potentially allergic foods on the early side. The only food on the no no list at this point for babies under a year is honey. (For eggs I would still start with the yolk and make sure they do well with that before introducing the white) When you do try the higher risk foods, do it in the morning when you are closely watching your child. Have Zyrtec or Benadryl on hand just in case. I also like putting a touch of the food topically on their cheek to make sure there is no local reaction ( that is not part of the report.) The guidelines do not recommend the strict low carb diets that come in and out of popularity. It found that those are actually associated with poorer health long term. The report suggests that about ¾ of the daily calories should come from healthy carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes. Vitamin D is important and they agree that all breastfed babies should continue to get 400 units/day. The study mentions the importance of iron and zinc for normal neurological development and immune function. Since these levels decline at around 6 months, make sure your kids are getting adequate levels from their solid foods intake. These minerals need to be a consideration in your food choices. And this isn’t in that study, but I found it interesting!! Fermented food rocks! https://www.donga.com/en/article/all/20200717/2122953/1/Kimchi-protects-against-COVID-19-a-study-says One last thing, sorry to all the men out there, but the study decreased the amount of alcohol that is considered healthy. The previous version suggested that men limit themselves to two drinks per day, defined as a 12-ounce bottle of beer, a five-ounce glass of wine, or a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor. For women, one drink per day has been advised. The new report lowers the recommendation for men to one drink per day and keeps the same recommendation for women. It also eliminates the suggestion that moderate drinking could actually have some health benefits including cognitive function. That always did feel a bit like wishful thinking, but who knows, in 5 years when they do this again, it might be back. Along with alcohol, the study makes the conclusion that processed meat should be avoided. That comes as a shock to no one. Has that ever been on the healthy food list?? To close, I know of no one who can follow any guidelines to the letter of the law. Be aware, read labels and do the best you can.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Nail clipping. It doesn't need to be a nightmare!

Nail Care/ It doesn't need to be a nightmare!
The world is full of enormous challenges right now; big ones! But for many new parents who are focusing on issues that are impacting their own personal, daily lives, they might confess that trimming baby’s nails ranks as one of their most prevalent first world problems.

I have honestly had parents actually offer me bribes to cut their infant's sharp little nails. Sorry folks. Guess what? I hate it just as much as anyone else. Nail clipping (as well as splinter removal) are among those things that I don’t excel at (understatement!)
 
I will tell you a secret. In my family the task of nail clipping belonged completely to my husband Sandy. Our kids referred to it as "snip snip." Daddy cut their nails when they were babies and if he accidentally cut them and drew blood at any point, I have blocked that out of my memory and in any case, they survived. He got to continue this job as they got older, clipping nails and applying polish on request to his daughters' fingers and toes, until they learned about spa pedicures with mom, and that put daddy out of business.

Babies have sharp nails that grow quickly. These are thinner than the nails of an adult, but that doesn’t make them any less able to cause damage. It is not uncommon for them to leave scratch marks on themselves if you don't keep those nails short. Some babies actually manage to scratch their eyes, leaving little red marks in the sclera. Those marks on the whites of the eye fade away without any intervention. If there is a worrisome scratch to the eye it would cause watering and obvious discomfort. To deal with the scratching issue, I know some parents who put little mittens on the hands, but really, as tempting as it is to keep those on, it is not a realistic long term solution. Some people actually used to nibble the nails down even while medical sources were giving a resounding yuck to this unhygienic practice. 
 
 Fortunately there are special tools for the job. 
 
Some clippers even come with a magnifying glass attached. The special kid scissors have rounded tips that can help avoid injury if your baby moves suddenly. Dr. Anne of Noe Valley Pediatrics used to recommend the Piyo brand for her twins. She says that she used them for at least six years without any nicks.

 
I recently became aware that there have been new products to come on the market since I last updated this post. In the startup where I am currently working, we have chat groups of moms who share their wisdom with each other. They talk about everything under the sun. Recently in one of the chats, one of the little cuties did a number on her face by scratching herself with her very sharp little nails. In another group one of the dads had caused some bleeding when he was trying to take on the nail trimming task. With all the conversations circulating about nails I learned about the new options linked below. 

 

They call this product an absolute game changer and worth the cost of the replacement files.
 
Please don't be tempted to use adult clippers or scissors. These are often quite a bit sharper and therefore not as safe. 

Regardless of which product you use, consider doing the nail trimming right after a bath when they tend to be softer. You might also tend to the baby’s nails when the infants are in a deep sleep cycle. You can identify this sleep stage because the baby is completely limp and relaxed, the hands are usually unclenched. If you choose this option consider keeping a little pair of nail clippers with you in your diaper bag as you go on outings. If your baby is asleep in the car seat, you can seize the moment. The wise Doctor Schwanke who I worked with for more than 30 years says that the most important thing to do with any nail clipping or filing is to push down on the finger pad to make sure you get a little space between the nail and the finger.

At some point as your child gets a bit older, it is reasonable to simply want and expect cooperation. You may have to work towards this goal.

When we got our puppy many years ago, we were advised to handle her all over so that she didn't have any areas that were "off limits". I would do that with your baby. Get in the habit of doing a gentle, relaxing little hand and foot massage that includes all the fingers and toes so that they get used to you handling the nails. Do a little rhyme or song as you do it. Think "my little piggy". Of course you are only clipping the nails some of the time, but they may stay more relaxed when it is actually nail clipping time if they are used to the fingers being manipulated. Who doesn't enjoy a little hand or foot rub!

If you do accidentally cut a finger or toe, (very unlikely with the new little battery operated file) just hold pressure for a few minutes. You can apply a dab of Neosporin if it seems like more than just a superficial little nick. Hopefully the little cut doesn't need more than a few minutes of pressure but if you need to apply pressure for a bit longer, you can put a band-aid on a finger or toe and then put a sock over the hand or foot so that your baby doesn't pull it off. Band- Aids can be choking hazards so you need to be wary.

Toe nails should be cut straight across, fingernails can be rounded a bit. If your child does develop an ingrown nail, try to soak it or apply a warm compress. A warm, moist black tea bag makes an excellent compress. Apply Neosporin a few times a day. Infections on fingers and toes can actually get pretty nasty, so if it doesn't look like it is improving have your doctor take a look. Any red streaks running down the finger or toe need same day medical attention.
 
For your older children it is lovely to have the grownup treat of a manicure or pedicure at a local salon. We will need to wait a bit until things normalize before considering this, but when we are free to get back to salons, do your due diligence and make sure that you use a place that sterilizes the equipment. Fungal infections acquired from a dirty salon can be a nightmare to get rid of. Be a label reader when it comes to the polish. Three very common ingredients that are found in many nail polishes are Toluene, Dibutyl Phthalate ( DBP) and Formaldehyde. These are actually carcinogenic. Formaldehyde Resin and Camphor are two other ingredients to avoid. It is worth checking online for a list of non toxic nail polish brands. With more awareness these days, safer nail polish is becoming more widely available. If you google kid safe polish brands you will find a robust assortment. Some are even safe for those nail nibblers.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Blink. My baby is turning 30!

My Baby is Turning 30
Lauren and I are a team. We take a daily nap with her holding tight to my hair while I hold her foot.

Blink 

she is going to be a big sister

Blink

It is July. It is hot. I have no clothes that will fit over my enormous belly. It turns out that when you let your almost 3 year old girl pick out your new maternity clothes, you spend the several weeks switching between several florid pink flowery dresses until delivery.

The days before she is born, the names have been chosen, but the baby’s gender is still unknown to us. Alana if it is a girl, Adam if a boy. My mother in law is doing the Sunday crossword puzzle and calls me over in amazement with the following two answers in the puzzle:

103 Across: It’s a girl. 34 Down: Alana
(actual puzzle appears below)

Alana is born weighing 9 pounds/8 ounces. She is so big that she looks like she can eat all of the other little babies in the nursery. My father in law had always been a bit cautious handling a small infant. Finally here was one that was solid enough that he wasn’t afraid to hold her. From the start he would repeat to us, “There is something special about this one” 

Lauren is thrilled with the baby.She is not quite willing to share her Nanya, but other than that she makes room for her sister in her heart and in our family She is the older sibling that every parent wishes for - gentle and loving. Almost immediately Alana is her best audience. No one gets the giggles and smiles that Lauren can elicit. Later on, she is the only person who can understand what Alana is trying to say and acts as a translator.

Blink 

I am sitting in the dark in the middle of the night nursing my baby Alana, I nuzzle her head and take a big sniff. Does anything smell as wonderful as a baby’s head? 
Sleep deprived, but these moments are magic.

Blink 

We are at a park and Alana is crawling at record speed across the grass. We can barely catch her. What is her target? A dog of course. Five times her size. The bigger the better. She makes a bee-line towards anything with fur. The adoration is mutual. I have not yet met an animal who doesn’t immediately fall in love with her.

Blink

Alana is growing and doing things at her own pace.The lesson that you can’t compare sibling milestones turns out to be a gift that I am able to share with other concerned parents over the course of my career.

Walking? Talking? Toilet training? Lauren broke the curve on the early side. Alana, on the other hand, was in no hurry to do anything. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Aunt Marjie forecast this tendency while checking out Alana’s astrological chart before she was even born. “She will take her time and then instantly master things when she is ready”. When she finally walked, her first steps involved her picking up a small chair and carrying it. Perhaps she was practicing when no one was around?
Her poking along on her own relaxed timeline ended up giving me subject matter for many blog posts. The lesson? They get there when they get there. Kids are all different. Relax!

Blink

Alana is three and we are cuddling in bed reading a library book. It is a silly story about a bunch of different animals. One of the characters was a naughty hyena who played malicious tricks on the other animals. These animals were getting fed up. One day they overhead the hyena plotting his next caper. He was planning to pretend to be in trouble, call for help and lure the other animals into a car-wash where he would trap them and get them all wet. They decided to turn the tables and the book ended as they got their revenge by making the trick backfire. The hyena ends up wet and sad. Most people reading this book would be left with a “well, he got what he deserved.” Not Alana. I look down and her and she is stricken. “The good animals turned bad, they shouldn’t have done that”

Blink 

Alana is in preschool. She starts her collection of lifelong friends. One day I am late picking her up and we create the “what would you do if..” problem solving game(https://nursejudynvp.blogspot.com/2014/11/problem-solving-skills.html) She excels at it. Her sister doesn’t like it at all.

Blink 

We are in a teacher conference with her first grade teacher. Dear Ms. Eisenhower is telling us about a group activity. There were multiple choice questions that needed to be answered following reading a story. Everyone else in the group thought the answer was A. They pushed and cajoled, but Alana stuck with the answer B and would not be swayed. She was the only one who was correct. The teacher watched with pride as this one little girl was impervious to peer pressure. 

Blink 

Alana is in high school at Lowell. She has kept all of her friends from preschool and grade school and is now gathering new ones who she will continue to hold dear. She is a peer helper. One day she is in the principal's office just chatting with Mr I. They lost track of time and she is now late for class. He gives her a note to give to the teacher.

“Please excuse Alana from being late, she was counseling me.”

She is going back and forth between several bonfires at the beach. She arrives at one right as the police come. They are not acting at their finest and are forcing the kids in attendance to do push ups down on the sand. She sees people terrified and in tears. Alana insists that the officers show her their badge numbers and she reports them.

Blink 

Alana has learned to make things work in her favor. We all watch it happen over and over. The family refers to it as Alana-Land. She wins raffles. Restaurants offer her free food. She gets upgraded on flights. The burrito man at Gordos knows her order and has it ready for her as soon as she enters. No need to stand in line. 

She presented an expired membership card to the museum.

“I am afraid your card is expired”

“It isn’t a problem. And I have 3 friends with me that I will be bringing in with me”

“Uh, okay...here are your tickets”

Blink Blink Blink

UC Santa Cruz, she ends up being one of the rare undergrad teaching assistants for the chair of the department. Another professor refuses to allow her into a section that would work with her schedule. He gets a scathing call from the department chair warning him to rethink his position. “Oh, it must have been a misunderstanding, Of course Alana can be in any section that works for her” and then asks Alana if she would be willing to be a TA for him as well.

After finishing her undergrad, she works at the SF suicide hotline. One night when walking to muni after a late night shift, I am keeping her company on the phone as she walks. What is that sound? A dixieland band accompanies her down Market Street and then tips their hats and she heads underground. When not volunteering at the hotline, during the day she does an internship at UCSF where she ends up co-authoring published research papers.

Now it is time for grad school. She gets in to all the schools she applies to. She and her dad do an epic road trip cross country where she earns her MSW from the University of Michigan. As Sandy likes to say, she graduated at the top of her class at the #1 graduate school of social work, making her the #1 graduate student in her field in the country. She then does a few years working at a community mental health clinic until she is fully licensed.

Blink

The family is on a trip in Wadi Rum in Jordan. Lauren and Sandy are clambering up cliffs and sliding down sand dunes. Where is Alana? Oh, there she is, in a tent. She is drinking tea. There is a cat on her lap. A young Bedouin fellow is giving her a henna tattoo

A cancelled flight from Detroit to Pittsburgh where she is flying to meet me. No worries. A group of new friends that she met at an airport bar rent a car and drive her door to door. AlanaLand!

Blink

She continues to collect lifelong friends. Now she is living back in San Francisco where she belongs.

Wise, kind, funny, compassionate, creative, passionate about right and wrong with a quiet backbone made of steel. Making the world a better place, one starfish at a time. I couldn’t be more proud of the adult she has become.
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For anyone interested, here is the speech that Sandy made about Alana on the occasion of her Bat Mitzvah when she was 13. She was already well on the road to becoming the awesome woman she is today!
 
My Darling Alana,

As an infant, you were, well, slow. You weren’t particularly quick to turn over, or quick to crawl, or quick to walk, or quick to talk. As mommy just said, one day my father, your papa, held you, looked into your eyes, and said, “This one – she’s going to be very special.” Rarely have such prophetic words been spoken.

To everyone sitting here today who knows you, you are indeed special. Whether it's as a granddaughter, niece, cousin, friend, student, sister, or daughter, you have established that specialness to all of us. But the fascinating thing is that no 2 of us understand that to mean the same thing. You of all people I have ever known have a rare ability to find that unique essence of each of us as individuals, and focus in on it, nurture it, respect it, and use it to form a relationship that is truly distinct from any you would have with anyone else. And intuitively, we all recognize that; you make us feel special as a result of it, and we are better off because of it.

You have amazing talents in many areas – writing, the arts, mathematics, and you’ve heard over and over that you can do anything you want to in life, because you have the talent, and the will. But for as long as you can remember, you’ve always heard me tell you that you would be the world’s greatest diplomat. Many years ago, your dear friend Yael went to a new school, and came home one day very upset. She told her mom that everyone was being mean to her, teasing her, ... hurting her feelings. Jodi told her that occasionally friends could turn on you and do that. And Yael’s response: “Not Alana. She doesn’t know how to be mean.” In 4th grade, your friend Zachary would never eat his lunch at school. Melanie, his mom had exhausted all her motherly tactics to get him to eat. So what did she do? She turned to you and asked you to make sure Zach ate his lunch. And so you sat with him every day, and we don’t know what you did or how you did it, but sure enough, he ate his lunch. A few years ago in school, you had a new teacher, and after a few weeks, she approached your teacher from the previous year and asked if everything was all right with Alana. "She seems kind of quiet, reserved, shy, keeps to herself, and doesn’t participate much in class." And she just wanted to know if there were any special considerations she needed to be aware of. Your previous teacher told us that she smiled, laughed, and replied by saying “In a few weeks, Alana will let you get to know her, and then you’ll wish you had a classful of Alana’s.”

But there isn’t a classful of Alana’s. There is only one. And while others are lucky enough to have a little bit of you in their lives, your mom and I are the luckiest of all, because Papa (You listening dad? Because you won’t hear me say this too often) was right – this is a special one. And we’re not the only ones who think so. I’ll close with one sentence from a letter you received just yesterday from your 4th grade teacher, who wrote “You’re so very special Alana, the world needs your kindness and your brilliance.” I am so very proud of you and I love you dearly.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Identifying and managing your emotions

Managing our feelings
“Anything that's human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

Fred Rogers


When my kids were younger and we went out to a restaurant, one of our favorite activities while waiting for the food to come out, was the ‘act out the emotion game’. The girls would hold a napkin over their face and we would take turns calling out a feeling. They would lift the napkin and show us their corresponding facial expression.
Mad, sad, scared, excited, curious, happy... the lifted napkin would unveil a dramatic interpretation of the chosen emotion. Nearby tables were probably looking on and wondering what on earth we were doing.

I confess that this game was for entertainment value. At the time, I am not sure that I recognized the potential for therapeutic value. In fact, naming and recognizing emotions is the first stop on our journey to what I will refer to as emotional intelligence. Teaching people to learn to acknowledge and get comfortable with what they are feeling is necessary before they can figure out how to go a step further and actually manage the emotion.

If your children are old enough and able, do a mindfulness activity with them. At what age they are actually able to do this of course varies for every child. 

Begin with some calming breaths. Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth. What do they hear? What do they smell? Be aware of their bodies! Is the environment warm or cold? Are they sitting on something soft or hard? Have them plant their feet firmly on the floor and open their palms. Then have them turn their mind inwards and see if they can identify any emotions that they might be feeling. If they can’t, that’s okay. If they are able to be self-aware and pinpoint a specific emotion, can they find the place in their body where that emotion has settled? Common places are the jaw, the stomach, the chest or the neck. How does it feel? Is it tight? Is it tingly? Sometimes just breathing and noticing can ease some of the sensations. 

Having some skills for dealing with and processing emotions will be an enormous asset for your kids when they move into their teenage years. At the bottom of this post I have made a list of items or activities that you can add to your ‘Toolbox’. If you have something you think belongs on there, please let me know!

Emotions often come with a sense of misplaced urgency. They are associated with a biological response. Interestingly the body’s reaction to anxiety and to excitement are almost indistinguishable. Taking a moment to think and breath before taking action is a lesson that we all need to remind ourselves of.

Is the urgency real? 

This is the same question I teach parents to consider in my safety class. Essentially, if your child falls, do you really need to call 911? In the rare situation that they have lost consciousness then the answer is yes. In the much more common and likely scenario, such as a skinned knee, you have time to take a moment and assess the situation carefully before taking an action.

When dealing with feelings it is exceedingly rare that the sense of urgency is grounded in reality. I am sure it feels like a huge deal, but most of the time, giving yourself several minutes to process before speaking or acting is best. Remember that your feelings don’t have an expiration date. You can problem solve and tackle the issue much more effectively after you are a bit calmer. Parents, if you want to practice the fact that it is okay to take a pause, learn to delay your reaction to the little chirp from your cell phone notifying you that you have a new message. Two minutes is not likely going to make a difference. Chances are good that the threats from the IRS or the news that you are the lucky winner of a cruise to the Bahamas, can wait.

Is the emotion factually accurate? 

Are you reacting to something from the past or the present? Someone who has been around dangerous gunfire is likely to seize up from the sound of some fireworks. Try to be aware of your triggers.

Is there a goal that you can identify?

My daughter Alana gave me a great example for this one. Years ago when her partner was working the late evening/night shift, she would often be woken up when he came home after midnight. This would make her feel angry and anxious that she wasn’t going to get enough sleep.

Her goal was sleep. Having the “you aren’t being quiet enough,” conversation at 1 am was not going to help. Her feelings would still be valid the next day. They found a time to have a constructive conversation where they could both come up with solutions.

Another great example is road rage. If someone cuts you off, or is tailgating, you might be tempted to react angrily. Yelling at the other car, or making rude gestures will not help you achieve the presumed goal of safely arriving at your destination. (Sandy, are you listening?) If the offending car is potentially dangerous, noting down the license plate and reporting them might satisfy your urge to take some sort of action.

Is this emotion pointing you to an action to take or lesson to be learned?

Some emotions can and should lead us to constructive actions such as reporting dangerous drivers. Other examples of this would be:

  • Guilt: On further assessment, if the feeling is valid, you can apologize to the person you possibly wronged.

  • Anger: do you need to stand up for your needs?

  • Anxiety: Try to evaluate if there is a true threat and take steps to make sure you are safe.

On the other hand, many of our emotions are not really grounded in the present situation or are just taking up space. If it is at all possible, try to identify those and just let them go.

How do we do that? Sometimes shifting the body or facial expressions can have a direct impact. If someone is feeling shameful they are often hunched over; sit up straight, tilt the face up.
If someone is feeling anger, try to loosen some of that tightness and shake it off. Simply talking about your feelings can be very helpful.

There was a study done with something as simple as putting a pencil (or chopstick) in the mouth. This forces the face into a smile. Here it is: Smiling Reduces Stress And Helps The Heart

The researchers say their findings suggest that smiling during brief periods of stress may help reduce the body’s stress response, regardless of whether the person actually feels happy or not.

Sometimes, alas, it is what it is and you simply have to do the best you can. Some emotions such as grief need to be allowed in and given the time that they need. There is also the wallop of jumbled emotions that MOST of us are feeling right now.

Lack of control, simply not knowing when life will return to normal, wondering when the kids go back to school or daycare, fear about the virus impacting you or a family member, to name a few.
Let’s add racial injustice, murder hornets, a giant dust cloud, and my pet peeve, people who refuse to wear masks. If you are feeling calm, you are a very small minority.

Do the mindfulness exercise above, see if you can find the place in your body where all this upheaval is sitting. See if you can loosen things a bit. Find someone in your quarantine bubble who can give you a solid hug. Or, go ahead and put a pencil in your mouth!

Some emotions such as anger come along with any specific urges. Is there a safe way to satisfy these?  The goal is to identify the emotion and collect some strategies for dealing with it. 

Here are some ideas for your 'DeStress toolbox
Obviously some of these are not appropriate for all ages.

Physical or concrete actions

  • Deep breathing

  • Talking about it

  • Writing about it

  • Hitting a pillow

  • Squeezing a stress ball

  • Getting a hug

  • Asking for a massage

  • Drawing a picture or coloring in a coloring book

  • Playing an instrument. If it is the piano, go ahead and bang a bit.

  • Listening to music with headphones

  • Dancing or exercise! Moving our bodies is a fantastic way to release pent-up stress and feel the benefits of endorphins

  • Wrapping yourself in a weighted blanket

  • Blowing bubbles

  • Chewing bubble gum


  • Taking a bath / shower. Consider adding epsom salts to a bath for the calming effect of magnesium. Adding a few drops of an essential oil can take it to whole new level (peppermint or lavender are both very relaxing). 

  • Sniffing some calming essential oils doesn’t have to wait for the bath

  • Petting an animal

 
  • Chinese pediatric herbal tinctures can be prescribed by a practitioner based on the specific symptoms a baby/child is experiencing. These tinctures help to restore balance, which in turn reduces stress, anxiety, insomnia, nightmares, digestive issues, etc. 
 
  •  Acupuncture is great for relieving stress and smoothing emotions! Acupressure (massaging/rubbing/pressing) on some of the same points can bring calm and help restore emotional balance. The point right between the eyebrows is especially good for moments of stress and anxiety, and can be used for all ages. Just apply light pressure for babies (slightly more than a touch).

  • It’s okay to distract yourself with bad TV!

Mental/spiritual actions

  • Letting time heal and ease

  • Meditation

  • Practicing gratitude

  • Forgiving others for not being perfect

  • Forgiving yourself for not being perfect

  • Reminding yourself of what is in your control and what is not.


Do you have have something that works for you that is missing from this list? Please share!

For toddlers or older children and adults who are nonverbal there are tools such as mood meters that my daughter Lauren uses in her classes. I will do a follow up post talking about mood and emotion management for people who are neurodiverse because emotional intelligence doesn't always require verbal skills or conversation, just a little creativity

This advice isn’t just for your kids. Many people reach adulthood without ever really having adequate tools for dealing with their own emotions. I suggest starting the suggestions above for yourself and get somewhat comfortable with them. Having emotionally intuitive parents to model and learn from is one of the better gifts you can bestow on your family.

Big shout outs and thanks for their input and wisdom to:

My daughters 

And My colleague and friend 
The Acupuncture Den