Tag Archives: Sleep Talk

Helping Your Kids Open Up

When’s the last time one of your children came to you for a real heart-to-heart chat? Has it been over a year since you’ve held your sides with giggles while doing something silly together? Do you feel like you are constantly battling video games, cell phones and the Internet in order to get a one-sentence response—let alone a conversation—with your kids? In this fast-paced, over-scheduled world, months can go by without real conversation and that’s too much for my liking. I’ve thought about the times when I’ve really connected with my kids to recall what triggered our closeness. And since no two kids are a like, I’ve reached out to experts as well for more ideas. Here are the top tactics that may help you bridge the communication gap and get your kids talking.

  • Get Active:
    Experts agree kids chat more with you while busy doing a physical activity together. I learned this when I was a camp counselor one summer break from college. Campers between the ages of six and 17 stayed the entire summer at this camp in the Pocono’s that catered to Manhattanites.  My job was to take each child out in a canoe, teach them the basic strokes, and later take small groups on trips. I was amazed at how the children, from the youngest to the oldest, would open up after 10 minutes or so of hard work in the canoe—especially the boys. The repetitive motions in the sun and fresh air, seemed to get even the shy kids babbling about friends, parents, school, pets, etc. I was overwhelmed with the sadness of some of the stories: a daughter raised by a slew of nannies; a son whose dad left when he was a baby; an eleven-year-old girl terrified her mom wouldn’t visit unless she landed the leading role of the camp play. …It goes on and on. I would listen and correct their J and C strokes. By the end of the summer, I was convinced that the best therapy in the world occurred while canoeing, hiking, running, or just walking with someone you trust. Even if you have a demanding work schedule, mini hikes on weekends or even walking into town for an ice cream, can inspire meaningful conversation or simple fun.
  • Family Dinner:
    Doing research for my article “How the Family Dinner Can Help Your Teen”, I discovered a survey conducted by Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse that found teenagers who eat with their families at least five times a week are more likely to get better grades in school and less likely to have substance abuse problems.Today, only about half of American teenagers say they have regular family dinners and the survey suggests that family time may be more important to children than many parents realize—even more important than a host of extra-curricular activities.Will Courtenay, Ph.D, psychotherapist in Oakland, Calif., father of two, and author of Dying to Be Men agrees family dinners work—but only if limits are imposed. “Family dinner is great—and research shows they’re beneficial for kids—but these benefits are lost if your daughter or son is texting at the table or engrossed in tunes streaming through their earbuds. It’s important for kids to learn that dinner time is a time to communicate with others at the table and to share stories of the day.” (I’d add that some parents are just as bad. Make sure the television is turned off before sitting down at the table!)
  • Family Game Night: (And, YES, this is possible for us single parents, too!)
    This may seem corny for some, especially teens, but give it a go anyway. Experts say it works if you incorporate your kids’ interests. So if your children hate scrabble or charades, don’t impose that on them.“It’s all about finding out what they like to do. What are their interests? And what is their temperament?,” points out Rona Renner, R.N., a parent educator, mom of four, and founder and host of Childhood Matters Radio Show. As an example, Renner says she purchased a ping pong table when one of her sons was 13-years-old and put it in the living room.“We just needed something to do together that we both enjoyed. When he turned 13 and entered junior high, it felt like overnight we just had nothing in common,” she reflects. The times playing ping pong were “precious” as it helped them reconnect and just have some fun.
  • Volunteer at School:
    I know this is a hard one for some. It may not be feasible to volunteer often at your children’s schools. But, if possible, find out all the different events and activities with parent involvement and sign up for one. Even if you’re only able to take off one day of work and spend one day being a chaperone on a school trip, you’ll get a chance to see your child’s friends and meet more parents. Dipping into your kids’ worlds at school opens up a host of things to talk about.
  • Sleep Talk Therapy:
    Can’t squeeze in quality time during the day? Try it at night! That’s right. Sleep talk therapy is becoming recognized by experts as a way to reinforce your love and encouragement to your children. Believe it or not, it works! A child hears differently in a sleep state and once you introduce yourself as his/her parent, your child rises into an alpha state of sleep where he can hear you, but doesn’t wake up. Please read my article “Connect With Your Children While They Sleep” to see how it works in detail.
  • Limiting “Kids’ Exit Strategies”:
    I call these the zone-out toys. For my oldest son it’s video games—but for others it can be online chat, Facebook, texting, Nintendo, TVs and computers in bedrooms or other solitary activities that keep kids away, silent and in their own worlds. Put limits on these and offer up fun activities to do together when possible and see what happens.
  • Family Pet:
    If you have the space and finances, a family pet, like a dog who needs to be walked every day, is a great way to bring unconditional love, silliness (and activity) into the family. Courtenay said one of his clients tried this strategy with great results: “A mom who was struggling with getting her adolescent son to open up, recently told me she decided to get a puppy—which she knew her son would like. The two have since been able to connect more deeply with each other, as they both care for their new addition to the family.”
  • Stay Present and Patient:
    It’s hard to connect to a parent who has his laptop on his knees at all times. So try to leave your work behind when you’re home and hanging out with your family. Experts say carving out family time—even if just for an hour in the evening—sends the message to kids that they are important. And if your teens (especially boys) barely notice, Courtenay says to have patience.
    “Patience is also important. A man I work with just today talked about how grateful he was to his mother for giving him time to “warm up.” Driving home from school, he’d be silent for what seemed like an endless amount of time—which she wouldn’t interrupt—and then finally, he’d be ready to open up to her.” The morale to that story is not to nag or push. Sometimes becoming a friend (even to your children) takes being a friend. Lighten up, listen and take the time to get to know one another.

Another article for inspiration: Stay Connected: Family Fun That Doesn’t Cost a Fortune.

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Connect With Your Children While They Sleep

Sleep Talk Therapy for Children Struggling With Divorce

One of the bitter ironies for most single parents is that we’d do anything for our kids, but find that we have very little quality time with them. Can you relate? Even when I’m not working on weekends, I find that I’m constantly playing the disciplinarian and not able to reconnect, reassure, or just have fun with them. Between my nine-year-old’s antics (that seem more like those of a teenager’s)—to my two-year-old’s temper tantrums, most weekends roll along with me nagging, discipling, and often yelling “No!” or “Stop doing that to your brother!” at my adorable boys. It’s exhausting. Sadly, when children are dealing with the stress of a divorce, experts say they often act out more than normal and take out their fears, anger, frustration and anxiety on the parent who is caring for them most. This is also a time when they need more reassurance, love and stability than ever. Striking a balance between providing much needed discipline and reassurance is tricky. It’s so tempting to overcompensate for their loss and let certain bad behaviors slide, which experts say is a mistake. (Check out this story of mine for discipline strategies.)

But if you’re spending most of your time together nagging about homework, racing to and from scheduled activities, prepping dinner and disciplining your children—when can you find time to reconnect and reassure your troubled children? Believe it or not, one expert says we can do it while they are asleep. Yup, you heard me right—after you say goodnight.

I met Lois Y. Haddad RN, the author of Sleep Talk, at a friend’s speaking engagement a few weeks ago. When she told me that she developed this program after working as a nurse with critically ill children at UCLA Medical Center, I was hooked. She realized that children often heard encouraging words whispered to them when they slept. She shared with me a story about a nine-year-old boy whose father set him on fire. More than 60 % of his body was covered with burns and he had lost the will to live. Lois, whose shift was from 3 p.m. – 11 p.m., would whisper to him after he fell asleep that she didn’t know “why this had happened to him, that he was a wonderful boy and that now was his chance to help other people through impossible situations.” The grafts began to take and the boy began to heal and he is currently a motivational speaker. Lois was so successful with children, that her husband, a general practitioner, often sent parents who were struggling with a host of issues with their kids—from back talk, to shyness, to lack of self esteem—to Lois.

When I was talking with her at this Orange County speaking engagement, I began thinking about all of the studies that I’ve read suggesting that some people in comas can actually hear what was said to and around them. (Read the story “I Was In a Coma But Could Hear Every Word” for inspiration!)

As she spoke to me I had a bit of an Aha moment, as Oprah would say. I instantly remembered a time in college when a dear friend had been crushed in a devastating car accident that instantly killed our other friend who was with her. I would visit Sarah in the south Georgia hospital the emergency crew drove her to, and see a version of her that was unbearable as she was completely immobilized and hooked up to tubes. She had suffered incredible brain and internal injuries, and while we weren’t sure she’d make it,  something told me to bring my photos along. Maybe it was Divine intervention? Before making the three hour drive to see her, I dug out my photography class notebook and found the gorgeous black and white photos I took of Sarah. In most of the shots she appears to be floating in air: her black curly hair is flying around her, her polka dot mini skirt creating a ballooned mushroom that her bent knees are tucked under, only her white tennis shoes emerging from. Her smile is infectious. Somehow, I captured the essence of her spirit in our photo shoot. Sarah, who was studying to be an art therapist for special needs children, was vivacious, silly, funny, a romantic nut and full of life. She wasn’t this immovable person attached to tubes in order to breathe and eat. I taped these pictures of her leaping in the air all around her bed. I wanted all the nurses in this small Georgian town where she happened to have a car accident en route back from Florida, to see who she was. I wanted them to talk to the girl in the photo. I wanted them to talk about the girl in the photo. I wanted them to address her as she was—because somehow, I just knew she could hear them. I hope I was right.

So, as I was speaking with Lois, Sarah’s smiling face flashed before my eyes and what the former RN was saying about connecting with children as they sleep made intuitive sense to me. Here’s the gist of Sleep Talk:

After your child is asleep, go back into the room and talk with him/her. If you’ve had a terrible day together with lots of disagreements, it’s great to talk with your child as he’s looking adorable asleep. Your tone of voice will automatically become quieter, softer, more loving. It’s hard to have a dismissive or aggressive tone as you look at your sleeping angel. And, what you have to say will have more power coming from a loving place.

“A child hears differently in a sleep state than a wake state … But you need to introduce yourself gently, such as ‘William, this is your mother,’ when you begin [Sleep Talk] so that you raise the child up to an alpha brain wave frequency and he’ll let you in, know you’re a safe voice,” she explains.

For single moms of children who are struggling with their conflicting emotions during a divorce, Sleep Talk can be a great way for both the mom and the child to reconnect, says Lois.

“Doing Sleep Talk helps you dump any emotional garbage of the day. Through reaffirming your love and pride for him, you allow him to truly hear you on the deepest level and you clear the slate for the next day’s activities,” she says.

Lois has created many scripts for parents to use in her book, including one for children of divorce, and each can be tweaked for your situation as I think single parents often know what they want to say to their kids. Depending on your child’s age, the divorce issues will vary. But for my soon-to-be 10-year-old, I know I need to reassure him that everything is going to be ok. He needs to know that he’s loved; that this divorce wasn’t his or his little brother’s fault; that I’m proud of him; and that I will always be there for him. For a little boy, he is worried about so many adult things for the future: about our financial security; about whether his dad will live permanently in London; about whether mommy will marry someone else some day and who that will be; about whether we’ll have to move from Los Angeles in order to save money, etc. I know what I want to whisper to him. And I’ve already started. Let me tell you, even if Sleep Talk doesn’t change some of my son’s behavior, it is changing me. When I look at his adorable face while he’s asleep, I remember that he’s just a boy. My resentments and my anger at him for back-talking just drift away. I’ll continue with my discipline during the day—I mean, I can’t let him watch TV and play video games all day or hit his little brother can I? And while I do tell him I love him during the day, it’s usually after a day of nagging and cajoling and I can tell he’s tuning me out. Now at night, I tell him softly: “Mommy loves you. She’s SO proud of you. This isn’t your fault. We’re going to be okay.”

And we are.