Photo Contest And Family Photo Shoot Giveaway!

I don’t know about you, but I find it next to impossible to get a photo of our whole family together, let alone one with both my kids where no one is making a face or picking their nose. My kids are 4 1/2 so they tend to get fussy, lose focus and generally make getting more than one or two pictures really difficult. So, this year I decided to be a little smarter about it and hire a professional. After asking around, a few friends recommended Jan Birch Photography. I was so thrilled with the way my children responded to Jan, and so pleased with the resulting photos, that I felt I had to recommend her to friends. But then, Jan also offered to do a wonderful giveaway for my readers valued at $1000 so although I rarely write posts that are just for LA locals, I knew I had to post here for all of you who live in the greater Los Angeles area!

sarah picJan spent 10 years in the film industry before becoming a family photographer. She’ll shoot pretty much anywhere: your home, a park, the beach, and knows how to make the best of all of them. Because Jan is a mother herself, and used to do children’s theater, she truly knows how to bring out the best in your kids. Mine were laughing themselves silly and still talk about how much fun they had with her.

I’m sure you’re thinking “yeah, yeah…what about the contest and the $1000 giveaway?” OK. Jan is offering a 1 1/2 hour photo shoot (sorry, no weddings or events), plus the disk with all retouched digital images from the shoot. Additionally, she creates a customized slideshow of her favorite images from the shoot set to music with your own URL to share with friends and family. This package normally sells for $1000.

So, here’s how you can win!

  • j picWe want to see a photo of your child that you feel completely captures his or her personality.
  • Go to Jan’s website: JanBirch.com to check out her style.
  • Click on “call me” and then her email address to send her your photo entry (one per family please). Just put “The Twin Coach Giveaway” in the subject line. All photos must be submitted by November 5th at midnight PST.
  • I will post Jan’s top 3 picks on my Facebook page on November 7th for you to help choose the winning photo!
  • The winner will be announced November 9th at noon on my Facebook page.

More Ways To Get In On The Action

If you happen to write a family oriented blog based in Los Angeles, Jan has offered to extend this giveaway to include you. If you post this giveaway on your blog and/or Facebook fan page and leave a comment here with the link, she’ll offer you 50% off her sitting fee (normally $325) when you book a session with her.

So, what do you think? Would you like to get some great photos for your albums or holiday cards? Send in your photos to enter the contest and leave a comment below to let me know you did!

Brain Science That Will Blow Your Mind

the whole-brain childLast weekend I was thrilled to attend a lecture given by Dr. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. discussing their new book The Whole-Brain Child. I attended two previous lectures given by Dan and Tina a few months ago and wrote about them in the posts Compassionate, Resilient Children Begin In The Mind and A Little Brain Science Can Help Us Raise Children Who Thrive. The work that is presented in this book is one of the most exciting things I’ve come across since becoming a parent.

In part, my excitement stems from seeing that science is finally proving what those of us interested in the metaphysical have intuited for so many years: that the integration of mind, body and spirit is imperative for optimal health. But beyond that, I am excited by the prospect of a book that helps families not by simply giving parents band-aid solutions, but by offering revolutionary insight into why our children behave the way they do, why what we’re doing may not be working and giving us simple, effective strategies for what to do next!

Integration Is Health

The lecture I attended was a chance to listen to Drs Siegel and Bryson explain the concepts behind their book. Dr. Siegel began by describing integration as “separate things working together as a functional whole”. Without integration, he said, there is chaos, rigidity and disturbances in well-being. But when there is integration, we see things are flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized and stable. This way of being, Dr. Siegel said, is a good definition of mental health and a great goal for our children. As he continued to speak on the subject we learned that certain relational experiences (such as abuse and neglect) can damage integrative fibers in the brain, but integrative communication actually stimulates the growth of these same brain fibers. This book, they propose, offers 12 strategies that will help us move from chaos, anxiety and rigidity to a state of integration.

I’m going to pass on some of what I learned about the first 4 strategies:

  • Connect and Redirect: Surfing Emotional Waves
  • Name It to Tame It: Telling Stories to Calm Big Emotions
  • Engage, Don’t Enrage: Appealing to the Upstairs Brain
  • Use It or Lose It: Exercising the Upstairs Brain

Left Brain Emotional Desert Vs. Right Brain Emotional Tsunami

Dr. Bryson continued with an explanation of what goes on in each hemisphere of our brain. She refers to the left brain as being an emotional desert because it specializes in non-emotional things:

  • Logical
  • Literal
  • Linear
  • Linguistics

The right side can be an emotional tsunami because it specializes in:

  • Non-verbal communication
  • Whole picture context
  • Autobiographical memory
  • Senses emotions
  • Random
  • Senses body information

Remembering that during your child’s first 3 – 5 years of life, his behavior is dominated by right brain functions can help you understand why he often seems to act in completely illogical ways! We cannot expect our child to be able to communicate logically with us when their right brain is flooded. But they can communicate in a non-verbal way. We just need to pay attention to their:

  • Eye contact
  • Facial expression
  • Tone of voice
  • Posture
  • Gestures
  • Timing
  • Intensity of response

Connect Before Your Redirect

tantrumWhen we can be aware that our child is acting from their right brain (having a massive meltdown) she likely is unable to connect to her left brain. Thus, you cannot help her by being logical (left brain) about what she perceives to be the end of the world. Instead, you must first meet her where she is at. By doing this you help integrate her left and right hemispheres.

This applies even when it’s a “little t” tantrum as opposed to a “big T” tantrum (as Dr. Bryson refers to them). If you have a child who has left his bedroom after lights out to complain to you about something that seems to you totally nonsensical, you may simply want to tell him “it’s late, you’re tired, go back to sleep and we’ll talk about this tomorrow”. By doing this, you can miss the opportunity to move your child back to integration. Instead, connect first with your right brain and use non-verbal comfort:

  • Touch
  • Tone of voice
  • Facial expression
  • Empathy
  • Pausing until you become aware of your child’s state shifting

Then redirect with your left brain:

  • Offer solutions and problem solving
  • Use words
  • Planning
  • Logical explanations
  • Set boundaries

The problem we parents have is that we often get defensive, we interpret things literally and we miss the context of what our children are saying (that is, the meaning between the lines). This can be a missed opportunity to develop secure attachments with your children, a missed opportunity to help them feel “felt”.

Studies Show…

When you don’t manage to respond well to your child, make sure you talk about what happened later when you’re both calm. Use reflective dialogue to relate back to them what happened. “You were so angry before and mommy just couldn’t understand what you needed. When you threw your toy at me I got very frustrated and lost my patience. I am so sorry.” Studies show this type of work allows children to understand more fully how their own feelings affect them, it gives them more developed memory and a rich inner life so they have a deeper understanding of others. And perhaps most important to understand is that it helps integrate their left and right hemispheres.

Talking to your children about the mind and what happens in moments of crisis turn those moments into learning experiences. Many of us do this because we look at it as practice for our children in how to handle setbacks, but what we may not be realizing is that doing this actu

ally builds neuronal fibers in the brain. We are literally helping our child make “connections”. The more these skills are learned before adolescence, the easier the teen years will be. In fact, Dr. Siegel believes this work is so important that he suggested (only half jokingly) that we forget the old idea of the 3 R’s and instead focus on Reflection, honoring Relationships and Resilience.

How to Handle Things When Your Child Is Acting Out

reflective listening

Did you know that one’s prefrontal cortex does not fully develop until age 25? This is the part of the brain that aids in decision making, empathy, impulse control, personal insight, rational problem solving and more. It’s no wonder we have so many difficulties with our children involving these issues!

What we need to begin to recognize is that there are so many reasons our children act out. Some are more obvious than others:

  • Low blood sugar (triggers stress hormones)
  • The need for stimulation (children actually experience this as discomfort)
  • Communicating a need
  • Picking up on our own stress/frustration
  • Growth spurt
  • Tired/sick
  • Experimenting/testing
  • Expressing/releasing big feelings
  • Brain development
  • Downstairs hijack (their lower, reptilian brain takes over their more rational brain)

Big tantrums and meltdowns are actually a call for us to hear that what our child is actually saying in that moment is “I need skill building in this area!”

In these moments of difficulty, ask yourself which part of your child’s brain you want to appeal to. The most important question to aks yourself is “what is the lesson I want taught here? What is the most compassionate, empathetic way I can do it?” If you simply command and demand things, you are likely going to engage your child’s downstairs (or reptilian) brain and end up in a power struggle. Instead, you could give your child an opportunity to develop their upstairs brain:

  • Offer choices or negotiate
  • Empathize, give insight, ask questions
  • Give your child practice doing things the right way
  • Don’t remove life’s obstacle (allowing them to fail helps them develop resiliency)
  • Provide secure relationships

There is obviously so much more in The Whole-Brain Child and after the lecture I said to the friends who had gone with me that I could have sat there all day and listened to Dan and Tina speak. Each chapter takes you a little deeper into understanding how the mind works. One of the things I loved most that we learned was that the more you use the methods outlined in this book, the more your brain (and your child’s brain) changes and adapts until this integrated way of being simply becomes who you are!

The beauty of a book like this is that it helps parents not only enhance the lives of our own children, but because our children then have such a rich awareness of themselves and their emotions, they in turn impact the lives of those around them in an ever-expanding wave of integration. “There’s nothing more important you can do as a parent than to be intentional about the way you’re shaping your child’s mind,” the authors write toward the end of the book. “What you do matters profoundly.”

Pledge To Build Your Daughter’s Self-Esteem

You probably have heard of Dove’s Campaign For Real Beauty. Based on the findings of a global study, Dove launched its wildly successful advertising campaign in 2004 that “started a global conversation about the need for a wider definition of beauty after the study proved the hypothesis that the definition of beauty had become limiting and unattainable.”

In 2011, Dove released the findings of its largest global study to date on women’s relationship with beauty—The Real Truth About Beauty: Revisited. The study revealed that only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful, and that anxiety about looks begins at an early age. In a study of over 1,200 10-to-17-year-olds, a majority of girls, 72%, said they felt tremendous pressure to be beautiful. The study also found that only 11% of girls around the world feel comfortable using the word beautiful to describe their looks, showing that there is a universal increase in beauty pressure and a decrease in girls’ confidence as they grow older. Though Dove’s efforts have moved the needle in a positive direction, there is more to be done.

Dove 2And that’s why I’m writing today. Dove is planning a Self-Esteem Weekend this coming weekend October 21st – 23rd. I know you all spend plenty of time with the girls in your life teaching them that it’s who they are and not what they look like that’s important. I know you probably spend lots of time encouraging your girls to be strong, powerful, independent and brave. I’m sure you even remind your daughters, nieces and cousins that girls can be scientists, fight fires and even climb mountains. But what I’m asking you to do is to take a look at the Dove Pledge Map and commit an hour to focusing on a self-esteem building activity with a girl in your life during the weekend of October 21st-23rd. Parents lead by example, and pledging to spend an hour with a specific focus is an easy way to help foster positive self-image and confidence in the next generation of women.

Need some ideas? Here are some cool ones from their website:

  • Have your girls take a photo of themselves in a thinking pose, print out the photo. Also have them cut out a piece of white paper like a thought bubble! Using markers, cut-outs from magazines, or printed letters with colorful fun fonts, spell out the word, ‘’B-E-A-U-T-Y’’ vertically down the thought bubble. Have the girls create an acronym for the word, “Beauty.’’ They can use a sentence or a word such as, B is for Believing in Yourself and E is for Excellent Attitude. Glue the thought bubble and photo on a piece of larger, colorful paper and it becomes a poster/reminder of what is beautiful to each girl.
  • Mutually Complement one another. Share five things you like about one another and five things you each like about yourself. Focus on physicality, personality and character trait.
  • Send a girl in your life out with confident reminders by making a Boost Book: Decorate a notebook or sketchpad together and keep a log of inspiring quotations, compliments and positive comments other people have made about the girl in your life. Tuck in a few favorite photos or mementos that remind her of moments when she felt confident and beautiful or just had a great time.
  • Create an Inspiration Board together by collecting articles, magazine tear-outs and news clippings that represent issues surrounding self-esteem. Create a collage of positive messages and images, and keep it in a visible place as both an inspiration board and a reminder of how individuality makes everyone beautiful
  • There are tons of great activities and ideas for ways to spend this weekend (and any special time) with your daughters on this toolkit and resource page. I know the tags say they are for girls ages 8 and up, but really, I believe you can do many of the activities with your little ones. I think it’s never too early to let our girls know how awesome they are…just as they are.

Dove 1And speaking of awesome, here a few terrific websites whose content can help us all raise strong, confident girls who believe in themselves no matter what:

Pigtail Pals by the very kickass Melissa Wardy who is dedicated to “changing the way we think about girls”.

Parenting Pink great articles on raising strong girls
7Wonderlicious (and their blog, Empowering Girls)
You’d Be So Pretty If great body image advice for mothers
Commercial Free Childhood Reclaiming Childhood From Corporate Marketers is their slogan
Parent Girls a blog by Nancy Gruver, creator of New Moon Girls

I’d love to hear about who inspires your self-confidence. Tell us what you do with the girls in your life to help them know how special they are. And tell us if you plan to take the pledge this weekend and how you’ll spend that hour!

It’s Easy To Be Thankful For The Good Things

“You simply will not be the same person two months from now after consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that exists in your life. And you will have set in motion an ancient spiritual law: the more you have and are grateful for, the more will be given you.” — Sarah Ban Breathnach

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” — Thornton Wilder

I had a particularly tough day with my children yesterday. It started out well, but ended up with me being really frustrated, angry and feeling completely and totally taken for granted. I sat down to write a post which quickly became a long list of everything I do in a single day that no one gives me thanks for. Thankfully I didn’t publish it because upon re-reading it I realized it was simply a long litany of complaints.

And then I felt guilty. How can I complain about my life? Of course there are days that are really hard and I feel pushed to the limit. There are days when I feel massive disappointment. There are days when I don’t know how I am going to get through the next 10 minutes let alone the next few hours. There are days when I am mean and grumpy and selfish and self-sabotaging. But in between those moments there are spaces (and sometimes long stretches) when I have clarity. That clarity usually takes the form of noticing wonderful parts of my life. So yes, I am able to get out of my way and be thankful for all that is good in my life. But what about the things that aren’t so good? I wondered to myself: can I be thankful for those things as well?

Were I able to be thankful for everything I experience, even those things one might automatically label as “bad”, how much happier would I be? I came across this poem today. It shook me out of my bah humbug mood.

Be Thankful

Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire,
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don’t know something
For it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations
Because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge
Because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes
They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you’re tired and weary
Because it means you’ve made a difference.

It is easy to be thankful for the good things.
A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are
also thankful for the setbacks.

GRATITUDE can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles
and they can become your blessings.

~ Author Unknown

When I’m in that grumpy state, I tend to get caught up in feeling that my children are not being thankful for all I do or all they have. I often wonder how I can best model gratitude for them. This poem was a real wake up call for me. Of course I don’t want things to be difficult, but we all know that it is through overcoming difficulty that we have our biggest emotional and spiritual growth. I have never learned as much about myself and what I was made of than surviving the end of my first marriage. I look back at that dismal time as the greatest blessing I was ever given.

So what is the difference, for example, in seeing my children whining and fighting as a nuisance or as something to be thankful for? The answer is simply: my thoughts. Well, simple, but not so simple. I think I truly believe that their fighting is something that needs to stop. And because I can’t make it stop, I am unhappy. While I was stewing on this, I recalled something I was interested in a number of years ago called The Work.

“I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment. That joy is in everyone, always.” — Byron Katie

Like a brick hitting my head, I realized what believing my own thoughts was creating and I saw how I was judging my children. As I began to fill out Katie’s worksheets in my mind, I started to see how I behave exactly as I think my children do: I don’t listen, I am disrespectful, I am only concerned with what I want and not what they want. There is so much more work for me to do on this matter, but now instead of being angry about my children’s behavior I am sitting here thankful for the struggles we have. Without it, I wouldn’t have such a rich opportunity to improve my parenting, my character, my connection with my children and my understanding of myself. This is going to get interesting.

Does Disney Really Understand Children?

Last year I was very excited to take my children to see Disney’s movie “Tangled”. My son and daughter were almost 4 and it was to be their first time seeing a movie in the movie theater. Five minutes into it, my son was running for the door. Yes, it’s true, at the time they didn’t watch much television, but now that they’re a bit older, they do watch a small variety of shows. However, nothing they watch would prepare me for my stupid decision to take them to see the re-release of Disney’s “The Lion King” this weekend.

The original movie came out in 1994, which I tell you to help you understand why I had no recollection of how dark and disturbing this movie is. Yeah, yeah, Circle of Life and Hakuna Matata not withstanding, this movie is about a conniving uncle who successfully plots to kill a child’s father, makes the child think it’s his fault and then takes over the father’s kingdom. My 4 1/2-year olds are not ready for Shakespeare.

This isn’t a review of “The Lion King” (which for some assine reason was re-released in 3-D), but rather a repeated reminder that there is so much so-called entertainment that is not appropriate for the children it is marketed to. Technically, a G rating means “all ages”. There were kids younger than mine in the theater yesterday; there was also a lot of hysterical crying and parents carrying their kids out as Simba frantically ran from a charging herd of wildebeests.

mother gothelWhen “Tangled” was out, my friends and I discussed the problem of trying to explain to children the issue of characters who are not wholly “good” and not wholly “bad”. Children tend to see the world in those black and white ways. The notion that someone could be your mother (as Mother Gothel was pretending to be to Rapunzel) and be saying nice words but also be mean and conniving toward her daughter is beyond a 4-year old’s comprehension. And should I have to explain that this is the way some adults behave?

In “The Lion King”, Simba’s uncle, Scar, is all sneering sarcasm (totally lost on children and completely confusing) and ominous snarls. Children can pick up on the tone and the look of a scene, they know something bad is happening, but they are completely baffled by it. If a child can’t understand the feelings they are having, how can we expect them to process them? It is not surprising to me that children act out behavior they witness in movies. I know this movie is 17 years old, but it saddens me to realize that parents (me included) still go in droves to films without having a real understanding of what their children are about to see.

I’m not quite sure why I ignored my own advice to check out some parent reviews before seeing this movie. I, once again, got caught up in my own excitement about sharing something special with my children without fully researching it. But why should I have to do that every time I want to watch a movie with them? The MPAA defines a G rating thusly:

“A G-rated motion picture contains nothing in theme, language, nudity, sex, violence or other matters that, in the view of the Rating Board, would offend parents whose younger children view the motion picture. The G rating is not a “certificate of approval,” nor does it signify a “children’s” motion picture. Some snippets of language may go beyond polite conversation but they are common everyday expressions. No stronger words are present in G-rated motion pictures. Depictions of violence are minimal. No nudity, sex scenes or drug use are present in the motion picture.”

common_sense_media_logo_517x250I can’t be the only one who is surprised by the notion that this movie would be considered not to have themes that “would offend parents whose younger children view the motion picture” and that the “depictions of violence are minimal”. Am I crazy? I’m sure the term “offends” is intended to encompass cursing or sexuality, but personally I am offended that my children were scared out of their minds!

If you look at the parent reviews on Common Sense Media you may be struck by the fact that every adult who reviewed it said that it’s way too scary and/or inappropriate for children. Why is that information not made more obvious to the movie-going public who shelled out almost 12 million dollars in the last few days to see this movie?

“Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase
Hakuna Matata! Ain’t no passing craze
It means no worries for the rest of your days”

I don’t know about you, but my children had a few worries after seeing “The Lion King”. And I know it’s not just this particular film but many of the ones marketed toward children. What are your thoughts about movies for children these days? Are they better today than they used to be? Are your children affected by the violence, bullying, and negative behavior? Leave a comment below, I’d love to know your thoughts!