Thursday, March 13, 2014

When Your Child Hurts -

When Your Child Hurts

There is so much pressure on our children today to perform well in sports that many children and their parents overlook the importance of responding appropriately to pain. Often children are so eager to not let down the team or to please a coach that they don't even tell their parents when they are hurting. In addition, our sports culture encourages athletes to grin and bear it, to be tough, to play through the pain, and so on.

And parents often reinforce this culture. But many kids who focus on one sport too early end up distorting their structural development by ignoring signs that they are overdoing it. And even those who cross train or do several sports may have such a busy schedule that they don't stop to tend to a sore muscle or pulled tendon.

Often youngsters and young adults undergo surgery unnecessarily because their bodies would heal well on their own with some time and attention.

Our bodies have an amazing mechanism for alerting us that it is time to rest and heal. It is called "pain." Pain is what we notice when a part of our bodies is under stress, injured, or in need of time to repair. Even internal organs which we normally are not aware of, like stomach, kidneys, or sciatic nerve, can send pain messages to our brain to tell us something is wrong. It is a sad state of affairs now that doctors often treat pain without taking the time to find out exactly why the patient is hurting or without taking the trouble to explain to the patient how to support the body's own awesome healing powers with lots of rest, good nutrition, healthy water, fresh air, and positive thoughts.

But we parents can make the effort to discover what our children are experiencing. Sure we might hope our child will go to college on an athletic scholarship, but is it worth it to start her or him too early and wind up with serious challenges in a decade or two with sore shoulders, back injuries, concussion symptoms, or hormonal problems? Do take the time to research when it is really safe for a growing child to take up a demanding sport. And if your child is eager to get going, choose a program which is not too demanding and find a team and coach who puts the health and well-being of the children above competition and machismo.

Bookworms and nerds can experience pain too. Many children now are experiencing problems with their thumbs from texting, or other repetitive stresses in hands, arms, shoulders or back from video games or poor ergonomics at their study and play space. Listen for complaints and try to make changes or suggest a different position, more space, or more breaks. Make sure pure water is available at all times and see that meals with good quality protein, vegetables, and quality fats are regular. Minimize the high carb low nutrition snacks. For younger children whose environment you still control, you can just not have these temptations in the house.

Children who are feeling bad because of a cold or flu are often in pain too, but we are eager to get them back to school or daycare and use medications to suppress overt symptoms. Yet it has been known for a long time that rest and clear liquids are the answer for such infections, and that the use of pain medications and other drugs to suppress symptoms actually prolongs the infection and leaves the patient more likely to get sick again. By the way, the old adage "Feed a cold, starve a fever," has been severely misused. It is not two separate pieces of advice. It is instead a warning: "If you feed a cold, you will have to starve a fever." When your child has an infection, let her or him rest and eat lightly, so that she or he doesn't have to eat a lot to keep going. Instead, by resting and letting digestion rest, the body's enzymes can go to work with the immune system to rub out the infection which is causing the problem and the pain.

No matter what the source of a child's pain, make sure they get enough rest. It is in the deep sleep that most of healing happens, along with most immunological repair and muscle regrowth, as well as developmental growth. Many parents find that their children are staying up late texting or playing video games. If a young child gets sort of addicted to these things, make sure screens are removed from the bedroom. With older children, have them research online what poor sleep can do to affect their grades, their moods, and their health.

Parents should acknowledge and respond appropriately to their own experiences of pain too. If nothing else, you will be setting a good example. But also to be the best parent you can be, you too must be comfortable, rested, nourished, and not in pain.

You would think with all the prescription drug adds in the media today that pain is just a daily thing we all must suppress or ignore. Especially with job security on the wane and wage income low, adults are eager not to miss workdays. But this is at our peril. If we listen to our bodies and pay attention when our brains tell us something is wrong, we can address the problem and in the vast majority of cases return to a pain-free and happy condition and be more productive and high in morale as well.

We are meant to enjoy life and we are given the tools to recognize when something needs to change to bring back the joy. If you or your child is in pain, do your research to find out what is causing it and what you can do to help your body correct the source. Don't over-medicate or try to ignore the problem. I often say that if you ignore or cover up pain, your body will eventually force you to go flat on your back by increasing the pain or bringing on some other problem. Better to stop and think at the first sign of imbalance in your health than to go on ignoring your body's wise advice.    
Randy Rolfe's Take Home Tips: Never ignore a child's complaint. Even if you know it is just boredom or angst, repeat back what you hear with compassion and understanding. That way you will build rapport and open the door to hearing more about what is really on your child's mind. Pain does not just go away unless true healing is taking place. As parents, we must help our children find the solutions they need and deserve.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What Is "Mindful Parenting"?

What is mindful parenting?
A recent parenting book has added to what has been called the mindful parenting movement. Mindful Parenting, by Kristen Race, a brain researcher, has stimulated articles in the New York Times and Slate and perhaps others. It has much good information about what we are learning in neuroscience about the different effects of modern stress on the one hand and traditional practice of mindfulness on the other. It applies to modern parenting some of the concepts of mindfulness, including being present in the moment and taking time to think and respond instead of react. And it also applies some of the more recent developmental theories to raising kids.

Like the human potential movement of the 60s and 70s, it can be taken to place quite a burden on the new parent, creating high expectations and heavy duties. At the same time, it can also be taken to emphasize the importance of parenting and the powerful influence parents have on their children.

Rather than create another set of benchmarks, we need to appreciate, in each family and as a whole society, the crucial role of parents and encourage each parent to organize their lives so that they do not have to deny or make light of their key responsibility to this new developing human child.

I love the idea of being mindful, that is, keeping in mind exactly what you are there for at any given moment and responding appropriately for the conditions.

But I think that parenting is actually a function of the heart, not the mind. It is as much a right brain activity as a left. We can analyze and study developmental stages and what music to play to the baby in the womb or during their studies, but we must also spend a good deal of time listening to our parental hearts.

I think that is really what true mindfulness is in the traditional Asian philosophies we have borrowed from. It is about quieting the mind and our cascading thoughts about work, relatives, the economy, or our diet. It's about controlling our over-reactive egos and instead listening to the truths in our hearts.

In The Seven Secrets of Successful Parents, I have identified seven thoughts which should dwell in the mind of a parent whenever they think of their child. And I urge a parent to think of the child often, and especially before and after an encounter, because every encounter comes out better if you start in the right place. That is, with positive expectations, a mind at peace, and a confidence that everything will be okay.

These thoughts start in the mind of the parent and need to be there before an encounter, because in the heat of the moment, voices in the brain can get in the way of authentic words or action from the heart.

Modern brain science is exciting, but it should not get in the way of the natural intelligence a parent can access in direct response to her or his love for the child.

I think the greatest challenge today is for parents to actually spend enough time, that is quantity time, with their children to actually exercise that parental love muscle, so that the right words and actions tend to come at the right moments, from the heart, not the mind.

Today's lifestyles, of the parents and of the children, the prevailing economic pressures and the psychologist apologists, conspire to convince us quantity time isn't important. But it is. It allows parents to build their innate love and compassion for the child, and to set the example the child needs for the easiest most effective learning about life. And it is this love and compassion, born of the parent-child relationship, which has been responsible for our species' success since way before we had any scientific investigation of the brain.
Randy Rolfe Take Home Tips: To get the responses you want from your parenting, you do best to do your thinking before and after an encounter with your child and focus on responding from love when you are in the moment. Thinking before and after allows you to set aside fears, urgency, guilt, worry, mistrust, and other emotions so that you can speak, listen, and act authentically from your heart, with confidence in the relationship you have created with your child and with certainty that working together you will get the results you both want.