Posted in emotion regulation, empathy, parenting

Ouch, I Feel It Too

This summer, we focus our attention on emotional awareness. In the weeks ahead, we will dissect individual emotions, explore their purpose, the way they manifest themselves in us and our children, helpful tools to handle each emotion, and ways to guide our children through their intricate characteristics.  As I began to write out my thoughts about a common emotion experienced and mishandled by yours truly almost daily, I was confronted with a more foundational component to exploring these emotions that arise in response to our daily experiences and thoughts regarding our worth, our relationships, our desires, our dreams, and our purpose.  Empathy.  Without having the foundational value of caring how others are feeling, we can have the most keen emotional awareness, but not enjoy its benefits.  We simply cannot expect to benefit from knowing our emotions, how to handle them, and what might cause them if we don’t have the ability to care about the emotional experience of others.  The recent pandemic has reminded us that we were designed for connection.  Our lives are intertwined in such a way that our emotions impact the emotions of others, and vice versa.  Empathy is a key for understanding and navigating the interconnections of our emotional lives. 
Empathy, the skill of caring what another person is feeling, is a challenge for everyone, including parents.  It is easier to empathize for the mom who is dealing with a sick child or a friend who is caring for her sick parents, but when it comes to the mundane, every day emotions that our children are feeling, empathy becomes a much more difficult skill to implement.  In all the demands of the day, addressing the ever-pesky anxiety, hurt feelings, or picky eaters can sometimes be overwhelming.  We can be inclined to see our children’s emotions as barriers to the things we need to accomplish throughout our day.  It can be tough to remember the intense sadness of losing something dear to us when the ratty, stuffed penguin goes missing.  It can be challenging to care about the fear experienced over a bee buzzing when the fear that we experience as a parent has desensitized us to the fears of a child.  Our child’s playground conflict may seem trivial when we have been yelled at by a boss or colleague.  The emotions of others may be hard for us to understand, but failing to empathize leaves our loved ones feeling unloved, unheard, unvalued, and sends the message “You are not allowed to feel.”  Relationships of any nature, whether spousal, social, professional, or parental, cannot thrive if we fail to practice empathy. 
As we explore each emotion this summer, even if you are not prone to feeling that emotion, I challenge you to ask, “What must it feel like to experience those thoughts and emotions?  How would I want to respond if that were happening to me? How would I need someone to come along side me if I were experiencing that?”  I challenge you to really put yourself in the shoes of those that are in your life: those that you love dearly, those that irritate you to high-heaven, those that can hurt your heart a little easier.  When you begin to understand how that might feel, take the time to tell them “ouch, I feel that too.”

Feeling with you,

Tiffany Raley, M.A.

Posted in boundaries, coparenting, coronavirus, counseling, emotion regulation, home, isolation, motherhood, parenting, relationships, screen time, summer, therapy, values

A Sea of Screens

We have all witnessed the impact of too much screen time on our own mood and on our children.  We have heard about the importance of limiting our screen time, but often times we haven’t seen the specifics of what screen time limitations should look like or the detrimental effects of too much screen time.  In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a time that we have all been required to be on our screens more than normal (and may have streamed an extra show or seven for ourselves or our children) the need for a screen detox is inevitable. It may be helpful to explore together just what our screen hygiene looks like and how we can change it to increase digital wellness.  

Averaging 7.5 hours of screen time per day, 8 to 18 year olds often suffer many difficulties due to steep overuse of screens.  The developmental impact appears to be most determined not by what screens are doing to alter brain development, but rather by what we are missing when we spend our time engulfed in the sea of media.  Sequestered in our homes, we neglect the rich benefits of outdoor green space which calms our nervous system and strengthens our attention span.  The constant hue of blue light short-circuits our circadian rhythm as we shield ourselves from the sun.  Exercise and its many benefits are traded for the slothful rhythm of autoplay, creating fertile ground for anxiety, insomnia, depression, and hyperactivity.  Emotional regulation, conflict resolution, and our ability to understand cause and effect are all stunted when we and our children don’t enjoy the fruits of imaginative, free play and movement.  Empathy, connection, and love are hampered when we substitute media for real embrace and eye to eye connection.

In the midst of a global pandemic, a temporary increase in screen time is to be expected.  For many of us, it’s the only way we have made it through the day with any semblance of sanity!  But however alluring the call to the sea of screens, we must return to the shore of digital wellness.  Unfortunately, we can often feel lost at sea, with no way to find our way back.  So what can we do?  Here are some helpful guidelines to get us started, as well as some additional resources to promote digital wellness in our homes:

  1. Limit screen time for adults and children in the home.
  2. Curate our use of media, opting only for those things we enjoy and avoiding pointless browsing/binge watching. 
  3. Assign times and spaces that screens are and are not allowed (ex: no screens at dinnertime and after 9:00pm or no screens or phones in bedrooms).
  4. Use software to protect children from inappropriate material. 
  5. Model healthy screen usage for your children.
  6. Decrease screen time slowly as you work toward healthier limitations
  7. Consider a 24 hour “screen sabbath” once per week, when screens are off-limits. 

Detoxing from our screen dependence will not be fun.  But it is necessary if we are to enjoy and fully embrace the life, real life, that’s right in front of us.

Tiffany Raley, M.A.

References:

Children and Media Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics. (2018, May 1). Retrieved May 17, 2020, from https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/news-features-and-safety-tips/Pages/Children-and-Media-Tips.aspx

Infographics – Screen Time vs. Lean Time. (2018, January 29). Retrieved May 17, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpao/multimedia/infographics/getmoving.html