Category Archives: evolutionary parenting

You Have the Sleep Problem

Sleep is the foundation of your wellness. Without the appropriate amount of solid sleep, you are not healthy. Appropriate meaning at least 7.5 hours. Any less, you’re kidding yourself.

“Sleep is for the weak”

When I was younger, I used to say and to some extent believe that “Sleep is for p***ies.” I prided myself on being able to function pretty well on 3-5 hours of sleep a night. I still went to work and school. I had a physical labor job as a farm worker and a mental labor job as a proofreader for a newspaper. I was getting As at college. Who needed sleep?

I was also, of course, a raging alcoholic who drank 10 cups of coffee a day and suffered from severe anxiety and moderate depression, sometimes unable to leave the house and always unable to stomach myself.

But what I was doing was working. And if there was a problem, sleep wasn’t it.

I always thought one day I would read something about psychology in one of my books and something in my head would click and I would be better.

Now I recognize that mental health has much more to do with physical health than I was ever willing to admit.

The Wrong Question

Parents of young children, and particularly infants, are always focused on the question: How do I get my kid to sleep? There’s an entire industry around getting babies to sleep at the right times or more often or in the right place.

From the No Cry Sleep Solution to the Extinction Method, parents are certain that if they can get their babies to sleep on a certain schedule, then their health will return. Their instincts are pointing them in the right direction but not at the right person.

Don’t worry about how to get your children to sleep. Worry about how to get enough sleep yourself, and the rest will follow.

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Schedule It

Eight hours in bed does not mean eight hours of sleep and you know it.

When you want to make sure you accomplish something, you need to make time in your schedule. For sleep, you need to be realistic about how much you actually get in an hour. This waxes and wanes with different developmental stages, but you have a rough idea what that means.

If you have a child under 18 months old, you should be blocking off at least 10 hours to get 8 hours of sleep. This number can go up to 12 if there is a sleep regression, teething, night terrors, or if you’re dealing with two or three children.

The cost of not sleeping cannot be overstated. You’re more likely to get cancer. You’re more likely to get Alzheimer’s. To scream at your children, to lose your sex drive, to suffer from depression. You’re more likely to get into a car accident and to forget what you went into the fridge for. You’ll look older, you’ll gain weight.

You might think you’re losing time by dedicating 12 hours a day to sleeping, but you’re wrong. You’re gaining time. Each hour is much more effective.

Especially important is to get into bed early. Because of circadian rhythms, each hour you spend in bed before midnight is worth two after midnight.

If you aren’t sleeping, it is because you don’t prioritize it. You are capable of figuring out how much time you need to feel well-rested and be at your best. If you decide to prioritize other things over your sleep–watching TV, late night conversations–that is your choice, not your child’s fault.

Side Effects

If you are sleeping, so will your kid. While babies will still wake up, they’ll be put to sleep quickly. They won’t be woken up by you stumbling around the house.

Older children won’t be so intrigued by what is going on in the living room that they pretend to sleep but sneak up to the door to see what’s happening.

As the lights will be off since everyone is sleeping, the whole house will have improvements in their circadian rhythms.

Your sleep is your children’s sleep. You are giving them information about what to do at night and you are teaching them how to value sleep.

Making it Easier

Whether room sharing or bed sharing, co-sleeping is the biological norm for humans. Our babies expect to be with and near us at all time. Though it may be convenient, we are not only parents during the daytime. We are parents at night, too.

Baby and mama net more hours of solid rest when they co-sleep. While this sleep is lighter, cosleeping families report enjoying better sleep for the whole family.

The Takeaway

I highly suggest safe co-sleeping, but whatever you choose to do, realize that your baby or child doesn’t have a sleep problem. You do.

 

Too Much on Your Plate

My boyfriend wanted a finger foods dinner so baby could enjoy everything with us. We had sundried tomato/rosemary ham and cheese roll ups with avocado, cucumber tomato salad, stuffed mushrooms and zucchini, and apple slices with peanut butter. Plus lobster tail because it was on sale. Tasty.

We gave Zander (9 months old today) a bit of everything. He was having a wonderful time, then he started losing it all of the sudden. What was going on?

I took everything off his table and wiped it down. He calmed down. From there, I placed one thing on his table at a time and he enjoyed everything.

This was another ringing endorsement of simplicity for little ones. Of course, one could argue he is used to simplicity so he responds better to it, but I think he is a calm, content baby at least in part because there is never anything crazy going on around him.

There is a good deal of research indicating that clutter and busyness lead to stress. If research found otherwise, we would all be suspect of it. Intuitively, we get that too much outside feels like too much inside.

Simplicity for our children is not where the trend should end, though. All of us need to simplify, and not just for our children’s sake. Simpler environments, simpler schedules, and simpler relationships help our core remain steady.

For children, this means limiting their options, not taking choice away. We have four books for Zander. I give him two to choose from each day. I want to give him choices and responsibility where ever I can. To truly do that, I have to respect where he is developmentally.

How to HEAL (With a Challenge)

Hardwiring Happiness


Hardwiring Happiness is a book about taking your everyday experiences and using them to build inner strengths. When you have certain characteristics like self-compassion and curiosity, you can call upon them during times of frustration and difficulty–but more importantly, they serve you well in everyday moments. Learning to appreciate the small things your partner does, pulling back on an argument with your child, and taking courageous steps towards accomplishing your goals all become easier when you have a wealth of inner resources.

How it Works

If you have a passing familiarity with pop neuroscience, you know the phrase “neurons that fire together wire together.” Your brain is an association machine and when we make associations, we learn. In his book, Dr. Rick Hanson calls upon you to use the brain’s knack for association to resource yourself–to H.E.A.L. the parts of yourself that are wounded and thrive in your daily life.

Metta meditation asks you to cultivate compassion. You do this by focusing on your heart, repeating the same phrase, and being aware of what compassion feels like in the body. The sustained attention to the emotion helps it grow and fill you up.

Hardwiring Happiness is asking you to apply the same general practice to your other inner strengths.

(In the Alert Authentic Mindful Group on Facebook, we are doing a 21-day challenge inspired by Dr. Rick Hanson’s book. Hardwiring Happiness. Please join us!)

Why You Should Do It

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Dr. Hanson spends the first part of the book going over some of the science and answering the question Why we want to learn the skills he is going to teach us in the second half of the book.

Our brains have a negativity bias. This is in our evolutionary past *not* noticing a pretty flower is okay; *not* noticing a tiger means death. Hardwiring Happiness is not about ignoring tigers. There are and always will be negative things in our lives that we need to pay attention to–and actually, some experiences that feel bad are good for us in the long run.

That does not mean that we should ignore the positive or leave it to our brains to notice it. We want to help our minds pay attention to the lightness and the dark–to quit giving undue attention and power to the negative.

The Human Default

Our world is vastly different today than in our evolutionary past. For our ancestors, serious stress was related to serious stress. Tigers, fear of banishment, and snakes. Sadly, our brains cannot tell the difference between these very real threats to our lives and too much traffic on the highway. We have so many stressors today, including but not limited to the intense and frequent technology stress that we get from renewing our Facebook page. Stress reactions used to be occasional but they are now frequent. Our bodies are now in a constant state of reactivity which is not good for our health, mental or physical.

Responsiveness, as opposed to reactivity, used to be our norm. There weren’t lions around every corner. In social situations, we were less knee-jerk and more of the present and open.

This book will help give you the tools to return to that state or responsiveness by paying attention to the positive around us and turning mental states into neural traits by helping strengthen the bonds between neurons that focus on the beneficial in your daily life.

The Method

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Follow this simple acronym: HEAL

H: Have an experience

E: Enrich

A: Absorb

L: Link

Have an experience: This is the easy part. This month, some experiences will just crop up during the course of your day; some you might have to create for yourself.

Enrich: Think of moments when you naturally feel complete. People often have them on vacation or during the holidays–they look around at their family members and their surroundings and are overwhelmed with gratitude.

You can create this kind of feeling by taking time out of your day to enrich positive experiences. While it may not envelop you in the way it does when it comes naturally, you can make it a much bigger part of your life.

Absorb: This step will often happen at the same time as enrich. As you are making the experience bigger and more embodied, visualize it sinking into you. Maybe you like the idea of gold dust sinking into your center; or maybe you want to picture electricity pulsing in your brain and creating your experience. Whatever it is, try to make the beneficial feeling more apart of you.

Link: One of the reasons that our memories of the past are so bad is because each time we recall them, we can modify them. We can use this little quirk of our brain to heal parts of us that are hard to handle.

When you “link,” you hold the positive experience in the forefront of your mind and call up a negative experience–holding it on the sidelines. Over time, this will gradually make those parts sting less.

HEALing is not about denying the negative in our lives, just paying the beneficial its due. 

(Please join us! We are already on day 4 of our challenge!)

If you have the time, listen to Dr. Rick Hanson go over some of the concepts on his podcast.

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Attention Isn’t a Reward

Connection

I don’t even know if I have the capacity for normal emotions or not because I haven’t cried for a long time. You just stifle them for so long that maybe you lose them, partially at least.”

That is a punch to the gut for anyone who feels like they have to hide their emotions or “true self.” Science continues to affirm that concealing your emotions is destructive. Dismissing our feelings makes us less able to maintain our sense of well-being. Our inner, ignored swamps create a distance between us and those we love.

Time does not heal all wounds; connection does. When someone you care for struggles with their feelings, you reach out a helping hand. Sometimes pain comes in the form of destructive behavior—as a society, we recognize this. We acknowledge that addiction indicates alienation and that the most aggressive among us are hurting.
So why do we admonish people for giving their children attention when they are having a hard time?

What are Rewards?

You shouldn’t reward behavior like that.”

If you pay attention to him, he will just keep doing it.”

Paying attention to someone isn’t a reward. Loving someone isn’t a reward. Love is an automatic reaction. We should not pretend to turn it on and off as a means to manipulate.

Are you a good person or bad person for feeling sad?

Are you an upright citizen or dreg for feeling anxious?

Does your regret make you admirable or awful?

These are of course ridiculous questions.

Rewards are something that you get for doing something good. Punishments are for doing something bad. Emotions are not on a moral spectrum.
Labeling feelings as negative or positive is destructive. Learning to accept a wide range of emotions contributes to our ability to self-regulate, an important life skill which you are teaching your child how to do (or not to do) now. When your child makes bids for your attention, that is an opportunity for you to coach them through their feelings.

Attention

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It is easy for us to forget in today’s society what attention actually is. It is even easier to forget as adults because we feel and believe that we “take care of ourselves.”

Attention is our lifeline. Without the attention of others—in our evolutionary past and today—we either die or simply survive. In harsh environments, ostracism is used as an extreme punishment because we are social mammals; being ignored by your community is a threat of death and not an idle one.

Our attention and love are not rewards for our children. Once we recognize belonging as a fundamental human need, we can let go of the fear that we are rationing it incorrectly. You wouldn’t take away air, water, or food from your child as a punishment for their bad behavior. You shouldn’t take away your love.

Wanting attention is a legitimate need. If you find yourself thinking that the desire for attention is something that needs to be fixed in yourself, reflect on this belief, where you got it, and how to fix it. As trendy as pathologizing basic human desires and behaviors is, your family will benefit if you resist the urge.

Overwhelm

In the name of authenticity, we should admit that we want to show our love for our children when they break down. Breaking down can be palatable—the shuddering of shoulders, the “blue zone” that Dr. Siegel talks about where our children clam up and avoid eye contact. Or it can be the dreaded “red zone—the tantrum, yelling, crying, screaming that everyone seems to think they will be able to avoid because they will parent right.

Both of these are normal human reactions to being overwhelmed. Children feel overcome with emotion more often and more easily and have outbursts to match.

What should you do when your child is having a tantrum? You don’t need to tell them that their behavior is great. You certainly don’t need to actually reward the behavior with ice cream and toys. You don’t need to help them quickly get over the emotion. Stop harmful and destructive behavior (physically, if you need to), and just be with them. You don’t want to be alone in your tough emotions. Neither do they.

All behavior is communication. Sometimes that behavior is communicating, “I need your help to stop. I feel out of control.”

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The Quote

The quote at the top was made by a really famous guy. Jeffrey Dahmer.
I’m not saying that your child is going to cannibalize people if you ignore their emotions. They could grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted adults. They may learn how to regulate their emotions.
You are your child’s emotional coach. What are you teaching them?

Please share this post if you enjoyed it! Comment below: How do you handle your children’s tough emotions?

Babywearing

Babywearing is extremely important in my life. It was a crucial part of my parenting philosophy going in. I put a heavy emphasis on independent play, but babies are young. They need you. They don’t like to have time alone.

Babywearing is what has allowed me to do what I want to do with my child in tow.

Stranger Danger

It has been amazing to watch Zander reach developmental milestones. The first time he grabbed something, the first time he propped himself up on his arms, the first time he smiled.

He has recently hit another milestone: a bit of stranger danger. He knows who he knows and who he doesn’t. He knows he is separate from me. He understands that he can be left alone—he does not care for it.

Carrying has become more important than ever. Only a few weeks ago, I could see him across the room from me, and he would be happy to maybe see me. Maybe hear my voice.

He no longer accepts these crumbs. He wants all of the mommy, all of the time.

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Frustration

While this can be overwhelming for people, I believe that a lot of the discomfort of it comes from trying to accomplish tasks while leaving your baby alone. When I have tried to approach things this way, I can feel myself getting frustrated.

Not at my child, but at the situation.

There is something that I want to do, or need to do, that I cannot get done.

I firmly believe that my son is the number one thing I need take care of.

But, can I breathe?

“Attachment” Parenting

All of this frustration completely evaporates away when I wear him. This frees my hands to accomplish almost anything.

I want to make this clear: I don’t believe babywearing his how you create a secure attachment. The science doesn’t support it. You don’t need to practice the 7 B’s of Dr. Sears Attachment Parenting–birth bonding, breastfeeding, babywearing, bed sharing, beware baby trainers, read baby’s cues, set boundaries—to create a secure attachment in your baby.

I practice all of those 7 B’s. Only one of them is necessary: Responding sensitively and consistently to baby’s cues.

This is the only thing that can create a secure attachment.

If you breastfeed but never lock eyes and smile at her;

if you bed share but ignore her cry,

then your child will have difficulty creating a secure attachment.

If you bottle feed but engage your child,

look when she is pointing,

and mirror her emotions,

you are in a better place to create a secure attachment than a breastfeeding mother who is not present.

Why Babywearing?

I put forward babywearing as a practical way to get your child’s needs met. That’s our job as parents. There physical needs, emotional needs, and social needs.

After that, they should absorb our world. Their lives revolve around ours, not the other way around.

Children follow adults, not the other way around.

To this end, I wear my baby. I have walks to take, cooking to do, books to write, and floors to clean.

If I left Zander by himself on the bed, he would complain.

Understandably.

I would need to then drop what I was doing, and respond to him.

This takes you out of the state of flow. It makes the day feel broken up and more difficult.

Safety

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There are babywearing precautions that you should take. You should be trying to do exercises that strengthen your back and correct your alignment.

There are a few simple exercises for this. Do wall angles, pelvic tilts, and ragdoll pose regularly. Do TA contractions muscles before and after putting on baby.

Check here for more tips.

Even if you do not decide to baby wear, these basic exercises will still be helpful for your postpartum body. Breastfeeding mothers, in particular, will benefit. None of them are serious workouts. I’ve also attached the beginning of the series on alignment that you can look at.

For more on posture alignment, watch this video series.

I use the Ergo 360 and a Hip Baby woven wrap.

 and Tell me how you feel about babywearing!

What carrier or wrap do you use? Do you have any tips about babywearing or fitness for mothers?

What is one exercise for alignment you can dedicate yourself to doing once a week?

 

Cry It Out

It is not possible to spoil your baby. Anything that your baby wants, your baby needs. If that is food, if that is sleep, or if that is just your attention.

Attention is not inconsequential to a human’s life. Because we are social creatures, others attention a is fundamental to our survival.
We are used to saying that babies only have one means of communication: Crying. That is not quite the truth. Read anything about breastfeeding, and it will tell you to look for other signals before they start to cry. Rooting, chewing on their fingers, behaving restlessly. The quicker you are to respond to these small signals, the easier it will be for baby to remain in a state of emotional regulation.

Mild Deprivation
We know that extreme deprivation of parental care causes huge problems for an infant. Famous studies were done in Romanian orphanages where they found out that children who were not touched or paid attention to had higher rates of criminality and drug use. They were in worse health and more likely to suffer from mood disorders.
The literature is less definitive on sleep training and other practices that involve the intentional decision to allow your baby to cry without responding.
What the literature is very clear on, though, is that responding to your child’s cues is never going to be the wrong thing to do. Especially not for an infant.

The point of argument is whether or not cry-it-out, as it is know, is negative or neutral; not whether or not responding is a bad thing. There are some physicians who will tell you that without sleep training, your child will fall into sleep dysregulation–some go even as far as to call co-sleeping or nursing to sleep a “sleeping disorder.”

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Sleep Associations
We all use what are called “sleep association” to get us to bed. Very few of us just conk out where ever and whenever. If you look for tips on the best way to get a good night’s sleep, you will again and again come across two suggestions: (1) Make your bedroom only for sleep; and (2) create a routine. Because our brains are association machines, you will automatically be put into a state of ease if you use these tools.
Anyone who is calling using your mother as a sleep association a disorder is drawing an arbitrary and unhelpful line.
While evolutionary psychology is often just-so, I think it is useful to note that babies would have slept with and been nursed by their mother’s for most of human history. While we should be wary of people using naturalistic arguments to push their view, using our past is not a bad default to move from.

Cortisol
What made the children in Romanian orphanages ill equipped to handle life?
It has to do with their cortisol levels. Cortisol is a chemical that is released in response to stress. Too much of it is linked with bad health outcomes.
Since we know at least one of the mechanisms that leads to poor life-outcomes, we can ask specific questions. Does cry-it-out release enough cortisol to produce negative, long lasting effects?

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Hyporesponsitivity
One of the most fascinating things about babies and young children is that they actually don’t produce much cortisol, even when they are crying a lot. This is called the period of hyporesponsitity, and you can read more about it here.
Hyporesponsivity essentially means that while you see your baby or toddler getting red in the face, crying, or having a tantrum, their brains aren’t reacting as if they’re in a stressful situation. It is hard to illicit a boost in cortisol, even if we can see that our children are having a very difficult time.
We don’t know why the brain does this in those early years of rapid neurological development, but we know it does. We also know that brains bathed in cortisol early in life set up their organism for failure, so it makes sense that it has some way to protect itself.
There is one easy way to get a baby or toddler’s brain to start producing cortisol, though: Remove their caregiver.
Our small ones use us as a buffer against stress. We mediate their emotions because they can’t.

Distress vs. Eustress
But isn’t stress good for us?
We will encounter stress throughout our lives. Some of that stress will make us more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, and some of it will make us better, stronger people. We can distinguish between these two kinds of stress. One is distress, which is negative; and the other is eustress, which is positive.
Eustress is short-term stress where we believe that we can cope with the demands on us. It is motivating. Taking on new job or hobby are examples of good stress. Distress can be long-term or short-term and it makes us feel like we do not have the tools we need to be successful. Unemployment and a death in the family are example of bad stress.
Are babies experiencing eustress or distress during CIO? Is it chronic stress or does it get interpreted as acute stress?

Inoculation
There is a phenomenon called stress inoculation. If you are exposed to a small amount of stress, you will slowly grow the ability to deal with more and more stress in your life. That is, you’ll subjectively perceive instances as eustress that you may otherwise have perceived as distress, if you have encountered similar struggles before. You will grow your window of tolerance for difficulty.
Studies have shown that baby monkey’s who experience short periods of separation from their mother’s in early life tend to be less anxious later in life.

Answers
This information my awareness of the need to focus on integration. My children and I need to be linked but distinct parts. Sometimes that calls for closeness and comfort, and sometimes that calls for standing apart.

As much as I’d like for the answer to fall definitively on my side–that what my gut tells me is right, is right–humans aren’t that simple. We might never have the answers we need to rest comfortable in our judgementalness of other’s choices.

SAVERS and CHARMS

Each morning for several months now, I perform my SAVERS.

This is an acronym created by Hal Elrod that spells out things you need to do in your routine each morning to be at your best—to have your Best Day Ever. I have spoken about Hal Elrod on this blog before. I really enjoy his energy, and find his podcasts interesting. He has guests on to discuss family and business life.

I am a strong believer that a lot of work that applies to business and leadership also applies to the family.

SAVERS Stands For:

S- Silence: Sitting in prayer or meditation

A – Affirmations: Stating your goals and knowing you can accomplish them

V- Visualization: Visualizing the path to success

E- Exercise: This one is pretty self-explanatory

R – Reading: Take a glance at some kind of self-help or self-development book or article

S- Scribing: A word used for writing, because SAVERW didn’t look as good. This usually means journaling.

I think the way that visualizations and affirmations are done in this routine are far better than any I have heard of before. Visualization should not just be the end goal, but the process of getting there. Affirmations should not be passive–”Money flow to me”–and they should not lie–”I am rich.” Instead, they should be goals, with details on how to reach them, and the confidence that you can.

My TMM

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For instance, one of my morning affirmations is:

“I am worthy and capable of creating the life that I want. I have all the tools that I need to be an excellent mother. I will respond sensitively to my son’s cues. I will raise him to have balance, resistance, insight, and compassion. I will do this by helping him to identify his emotions in his body, helping him see them in others. I will be an emotional coach. I will create a secure attachment. I will be the calm in his storm.”

I have others for being an excellent partner, making friends, being a blogger, being fit, creating a warm home environment, etc.

On an ideal day, I do 20 minutes of yoga each day, followed by visualizations and affirmations. Then I do 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation. I do a bit of gratitude journaling, and then write my daily goals and evaluate the previous day’s successes and shortcomings. a few minutes of gratitude journaling. I usually read a parenting, self-development, or entrepreneurship book.

Some days are less perfect. I wake up tired and feeling lousy. I put my son on my chest and do 5 minutes of loving-kindness meditation so I can forgive myself. I get up and stretch. I close my eyes while I picture my future, and say my most important affirmation—the one about being a mother. I read one page of a book, write down 3 things I’m grateful for, and get started with my day.

Some days are completely wonky and it takes me all day to finish my mourning routine.

Difficulties and Energy

It is hard for me to overstate how much better my life feels since I began doing this. I love having made a habit of it, and I have more energy each day. I started while I was 38 weeks pregnant because my energy levels were quickly declining, and I was so pleased with the results that.

Since then, I started my blog, have lost all of my pregnancy weight and more (four-month postpartum), made friends with new people—which I had avoided doing for the year previous in my new location—and began freelance writing.

I have remained calm and energized through all of the struggles of new parenting. My son is on his four-month sleep regression, so I haven’t slept for more than two hours straight for over three weeks. But I feel fine.

Right after I finished doing the laundry, he pooped on the bed when I was changing him. I could breathe.

He wants mom and mom alone, all of the time right now. I can appreciate this short season of his life—even if it is sometimes a bit exhausting!

This is everything I wanted out of parenting, and I give partial credit to The Miracle Morning.

CHARMS

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TMM has many spin-offs to help different people in different areas of their lives, whether it is writers, entrepreneurs, or millionaires. Lindsay McCarthy created The Miracle Morning For Parents and Families

In it, she details a miracle morning routine more suited to children. Her daughter was three and her son was seven when they started the routines. Some people say that they have started with their two-year-olds.

Instead of the SAVERS, though, children perform CHARMS.

CHARMS stands for:

C – Creativity: Let your children engage each morning in some kind of creative activity. Whether that is drawing, painting, or playing instruments.

H – Health: This includes exercise, with an emphasis on diet. I think this HIIT workout for children is a great way to teach them exercise. Exercise and diet both contribute to our well being and ability to regulate emotions.

A – Affirmations: A child doesn’t have to be as specific in their goals. Help them think of ways that they like to be. “I am going to be helpful today by cleaning toys up with my sister,” or “I am going to be brave today by trying a new thing.”

R – Reading: Reading as a family is an amazing experience and one that is highly correlated with academic success. Try to carve out some time to read as a family. Older children may enjoy reading by themselves.

M – Meditation: This combines visualizations and silence. Some children might enjoy sitting and meditation. But many will not. Consider telling your children a calming story while they keep their eyes closed and picture it. Listen to the Peace Out podcast if you aren’t much of a storyteller yourself.

S – Service: Be of service to others. This could be doing chores (which Lindsay calls Family Contributions) or any other way your children or you can come up with that involves meeting the needs and desires of others.

You need to make this fun for your children, not a chore. Playfulness keeps children interested. It is also their primary way of learning, especially under seven-years-old. It can’t be something that mom and dad force on their kids.

The SAVERS and CHARMS will set you and your children up for The Best Day Ever so that you can have The Best Lives Ever.