What Are You Modeling for Your Kids?

What Are You Modeling for Your Kids?

By Joel Christie

How do your kids see you? As someone who handles problems with confidence and figures things out? Someone who is patient with others even when you are frustrated? Someone who is in control of him or herself? From the time kids come into the world, they are absorbing how to do life from us, their parents. They're absorbing what anger, and problem-solving, and anxiety, and sadness, and happiness, and confidence look like. Little if any of this is done consciously, especially at first. It’s experiential. It’s feeling mom or dad’s gentle arms of comfort, or hearing them yell, or seeing their loving smiles. It’s the feeling of having your attention verses not having your attention. It happens when they see how dad reacts if someone treats him rudely, or when they ask mom yet another question at the end of a stressful day and she still manages a gentle response. It’s little pieces at a time that are building an encompassing experience for the child that will deeply impact how they eventually interact with and understand the world around them.

Often I hear parents tell me things like, “He makes me crazy!” or, “She won’t listen to me!” or, “There’s nothing I can do when they throw a fit like that in the store.” It offers insight into how these people see themselves as parents: Does this woman believe she’s equipped to handle this difficult situation? Does this man feel strong here? Capable? It’s unlikely, given the vast power they ascribe to their child while portraying themselves essentially as victims at the emperor’s mercy. This is not to say the shrill cry of your three-year-old will not effect you, regardless of how grounded and healthy your self image might be—indeed, it will physiologically effect you, spiking your blood pressure and giving you an immediate jolt of stress to deal with. But for those who recognize such moments for what they are—invaluable opportunities—these parents can learn to navigate these rough emotional waters and to exemplify the characteristics they most hope to increasingly see within their children: self control, confidence, kindness, respectfulness, gentleness, and even empowerment.

The thing is, regardless of whether the parent is cognitively aware of it or not, the child is going through an imprinting process here. He or she is experiencing how YOU experience stress in these moments. When your son is throwing a fit in the store, and you come roaring back at him, shouting for him to shut up, he might actually shut up for the time being, halted by fear or shock. But he will also vividly experience you displaying what happens when you feel upset or stressed or annoyed: you shout and yell. Or you ignore your child. Or you respond calmly bur firmly. Or you throw up your hands and look for the wine aisle. Or a thousand other ways, all of which will be experienced both by you and by your child.

It should not surprise us when our children exhibit behaviors and characteristics similar to our own. It should also not surprise us if our children can eventually beat us at our own game. For example, we may discover that next time we have to shout louder to achieve the same results, or worse that we end up escalating things beyond shouting, demonstrating our own inability to remain in control. But the inverse may also happen where we demonstrate that when our son or daughter loses control, that they still see in us a picture of someone who is calm but firm, safe, and able to handle the child’s tantrum without succumbing to one of our own. Our kids are absorbing from us all the time. So be intentional. “You were feeling some big emotions back there in the store, but we don’t yell at people and throw things. That’s not okay.” Yelling and shouting may achieve short term results, but the long term cost will likely be exorbitant.

I don’t want to offer a false portrait of reality here: this isn’t implying that if you can only

manage to act perfectly all the time and never lose your cool then you will have kids who are also perfect angels. You’re allowed to feel frustrated, annoyed, sad, and all the rest of it, just as your kids are. But this discussion doesn’t need to be about perfection: it’s about being more aware and making a commitment towards your own character growth to enable you to model the kinds of behaviors you want to see in your children. And also in yourself.

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Six Things That Can Help With Difficult Discussions

Six Things That Can Help With Difficult Discussions

by: Joel Christie

Admit it: sometimes you want to change other peoples minds. Sure, we love our slogans like "to each their own," but take a quick glance at Facebook or any number of talk shows and you'll notice people busy at work trying to change one another's minds. Hey, it's okay. We're kind of wired this way. Unfortunately, I think the way we go about it is often much more derisive than we intend.

Take any topic people disagree and also care about. That certainly includes politics, social issues, religious issues, etc., but you can find plenty of fodder in the supposedly mundane as well. Ever see a Facebook post like: "The new Jurassic Park was epic!!!" followed by someone quickly slinging a ninja star into the mix: "That movie was so dumb it made me wish the dinosaurs were real so that one of them would kill me and put me out of my misery. How could anyone like something so stupid? And P.S., it's called Jurassic World now, not Jurassic Park." And then a small internet war erupts.

What's happening here? It's more than just the need to have an opinion validated. It's the need for the other person to change their view so that it better fits with my own. Maybe this person feels uncomfortable with diverging views, thinks he or she know better than the other, or believes he or she is just trying to help. Or, perhaps this person just wants to conquer whomever he or she happens to disagree with because it feels good to be "right." But wouldn't it be cool if we were all a little better at talking to each other, and as a culture began to gain confidence that we could disagree and still like each other? Sure, some people are great at this, but I suspect many feel their choices are limited to locking horns or avoiding a heated discussion completely. But here are a few things I think can help people engage in disagreement with much greater potential for a fruitful outcome:

1.) Learn to be okay with disagreement. We say things like, "Everyone is entitled to their opinion," but in reality, divergent opinions tend to make us uncomfortable, producing anger, anxiety, frustration, confusion, and fear, which we often want to get rid of as quickly as possible. We think "Why don't they just admit that I'm right?? Then there wouldn't be a problem!" Yet most of us would acknowledge that firing insults or "logic" missiles at someone rarely changes their mind. More likely they fire back or disengage. So why do we do this?

2.) Become more aware of your own emotions. As we pause to mindfully notice our emotions, we become increasingly capable of deciding how we truly want to respond, rather than simply reacting out of our lower/reptile brain. The reptile brain handles the important job of protecting us from threats, but can also cut us off from empathy and a desire to connect with the other person. As you can imagine, this is even more problematic if both people are operating out of the reptile brain, confirming back and forth to each other, "You're a threat!" and "Yes I am and so are you!" However, by noticing what is happening within us, we can increase our ability to keep our upper brain regions involved as well, particularly as we make this a mental practice we strive to do over and over.

3.) Develop genuine curiosity for the other person's perspective. This doesn't mean you have to end up agreeing with him/her, but few things shut communication down faster than when it is obvious we don't care what the other person has to say. How do we demonstrate curiosity? Ask genuine questions, not "land mine" questions meant to reveal the other person's ignorance or stupidity. And then listen.

4.) Focus on your own experience rather than trying to prove all the reasons the other person is wrong/ignorant/stupid/etc. "I really thought Jurassic World was fun. It made me laugh several times, and had a bunch of cool looking dinosaurs eating people." In couples counseling, we often tell people to use more "I" statements, and I think a similar principle certainly applies here. Consider the difference between "I am feeling upset about this," vs. "You are really pissing me off."

5.) Admit that you're not necessarily open-minded on every topic. A good way to gage whether I am open-minded on a particular issue is to ask, "What might begin to alter my beliefs/ perceptions about this issue?" If the answer is, "Basically nothing," then this probably isn't one of the issues you feel particularly open-minded about. And that can be okay of course! But it may make a discussion with someone who holds a differing view quite frustrating. And if neither person is open to changing their views on the issue at this time, it's worth asking "What am I hoping will happen as a result of this exchange?"

6.) Revisit the question of, "Why is this issue important to me? What would it mean if my views began to change?" That doesn't mean you have to change, it means you are creating an opportunity to better understand yourself and your own beliefs. Include in these questions, "What don't I understand very well about this part of my beliefs?" And then feel free to explore, even conversing with people you may completely disagree with. Who knows, maybe you'll both discover something new and valuable.

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The Quips of Violet Crawley

Joel Mag live

Joe No Mag liveBy: Joel Christie & Joseph Noecker

On the highly successful Downton Abbey, Maggie Smith plays the indomitable Violet Crawley, the Countess of Grantham. Known for her often scathing wit and old fashioned sensibilities, Violet, aka "Granny," is an immensely enjoyable character who exudes self-confidence, communicating her opinions and values with unashamed candor. Here are a few quotes from Violet, used as a backdrop to explore some concepts of mental health as she banters with Isobel Crawley, who she has reluctantly accepted as her confidant.

Violet: "Hope is a tease designed to prevent us accepting reality."
Isobel: "You only say that to sound clever."
Violet: "I know. You should try it."
Joel Christie's mental health insight: I love Violet's non-defensive posture here. Isobel calls her out for saying something she believes to be empty and needlessly gloomy. Rather than growing defensive or trying to explain why Isobel is mistaken, Violet takes ownership of what she said, enjoying her own ability to display wit if she so chooses, a great example of self-acceptance.
Joseph Noecker's mental health insight: Violet takes the opportunity to embrace ownership of her insecurities, thereby simultaneously reducing the power of their nature. It takes courage to self-expose a characteristic of which we are not so proud. However, as well Violet may be self-revealing an unwillingness to grow beyond this state by appearing to take some pride in her statement. Ego has a sneaky way to block our "authentic" growth.

Isobel: "How you hate to be wrong."
Violet: "I wouldn't know. I'm not familiar with the sensation."
Joseph Noecker's mental health insight: While Isobel states an obvious observation of the ego in all of us, Violet takes the statement further that indicates either an absence of separation between her ego and higher self – or a potential celebration of her conscious choice to live in the world of the limited view of the ego. Living in the land of ego can be quite satisfying in the moment but it never sustains. The hunger for "more" or the "best" or "smartest" rages on for a lifetime while living in this state. Of course, Violet also may slyly be making fun of herself. I find her quotes so enticing because of the inherent mystery of the meaning or perhaps dual meanings behind her quips.
Joel Christie's mental health insight: In refusing to ever allow Isobel to gain the upper hand, Violet is being a bit disingenuous here. We all know what it feels like to be wrong from time to time, unless of course we are dangerously disconnected from reality, which Countess Grantham certainly isn't. So why the front? I think in this case, Violet is simply reinforcing an old pattern that has existed between herself and Isobel for as long as they have known each other. Violet, the grand Countess, has a lot of her self-worth tied up in her important title, and a countess can't be shown to be wrong, can she? Her self-worth is threatened by the notion that she has made a mistake, which is unfortunate since mistakes are a common, normal, and even healthy part of life, providing us with the opportunity to grow.

Violet: "Why the lamentation? You don't have to see him if you don't want."
Isobel: "You make it sound so easy."
Violet: "There's nothing simpler than avoiding people you don't like. Avoiding one's friends—that's the real test."
Joseph Noecker's mental health insight: Violet seems to be demonstrating a self-honest gesture in owning her feelings regarding others here while taking honest ownership of the stance that even friends can be excluded at times. We are exposed to her ability to access what she feels and her courage to express even when outside opinion may not support her views. Though I sense a potential disparity in her ability to access authentic feeling and actions as she distinguishes between strangers and friends. Violet is such a wonderful representation of our own inner struggles between authentic, honest interaction, empathy and feelings for others, and perceived societal expectations regarding relationships.
Joel Christie's mental health insight: Violet seems to be more comfortable setting boundaries than Isobel, apparently feeling little obligation or social pressure to spend time with people she doesn't like. She acknowledges that it is more difficult with friends, however, which raises an important mental health issue, since creating boundaries with the people we do like can be just as important or more so. Should I head to Vegas with all my buddies if I have a gambling addiction? Probably not. Being comfortable setting boundaries is a vital part of establishing and maintaining healthy relationships, something that Violet seems to understand quite well.

Violet: "Principles are like prayers. Noble of course. But awkward at a party."
Joseph Noecker's mental health insight: Violet speaks some straight talk here. She displays in one brief comment that many things about life have virtue but to the Ego and persona, remaining true to their value in all situations is at the very least, difficult and awkward. There is an underlying message conveyed here that "what others think" trumps all in most cases. This reflects an underlying insecurity dependent upon external validation for one to feel good about self.
Joel Christie's mental health insight: In mentioning the party/ social setting, Violet seems to reveal that the opinions of others are powerful forces in determining what she should or should not do in a given situation (which is certainly true for many of us). Yet there is a conflict here as well, since Violent seems to feel one's principles are indeed important, it's just that they become subservient if they might cause awkwardness. It's possible in the long run this dynamic could damage self-esteem, since avoiding social discomfort becomes more important than adhering to my own principles. In other words, it could leave me doubting I have the strength to stick up for what I believe in.

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