Sunday, August 31, 2014

Some Tips on How to Protect Your Child from Sexual Abuse

This article is intended to give you some ideas about how to protect your children from sexual abuse. 

catnapping via Compfight cc

As survivors, we are perhaps even more acutely aware of the need to protect our children from sexual abuse (CSA). However, our personal knowledge of the horrors of child sexual abuse does not necessarily mean that we are any better equipped to teach our children about child safety or to identify the warning signs of sexual abuse in children. In fact, many of us are so worried about “history repeating itself” that our anxiety gets in the way, and we either avoid the subject altogether and keep our fingers crossed – or we become very overprotective and try to wrap our children in so much cotton wool that they are not given the skills to protect themselves. 

Why do you need to know about this? This couldn't happen to your child, right??

“It's not denial. I'm just selective about the reality I accept.”

Unfortunately, ANY child is at risk of sexual abuse. Hoping... denying.... pretending.... that this can't happen to your child is not lowering your child's risk of being sexually abused, and it does not prepare them to get help quickly and effectively if the worst does happen.

The reality of CSA is a terrifying concept - but its something that every parent needs to face because knowledge is power. 

The Facts:

The stark reality of the statistics is that approximately 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18 and it can affect any child regardless of age, gender, family income, culture, race, religion, physical appearance, sexuality, intellect, disability etc.

Most sexual abuse (85%) is perpetrated someone within the child's social sphere - for example, a relative, a family friend, a teacher, youth worker, religious leader, neighbour. Despite the stereotypical image of the abuser propagated by the media, abusers usually do not look like monsters and it is relatively rare for them to be strangers.

The majority of children never report the abuse, and often this is because they are afraid of their parents’ reactions, because they fear getting in trouble, or because they don't know how to tell. The child who keeps the abuse secret is more likely to experience severe physical and emotional consequences, both in childhood and later in life.

Children from a young as three years old can be taught skills that lower their vulnerability of sexual abuse and which also increase their ability to tell if something does happen. You, as the parent, play the most vital role in educating your child about their safety and about what's right and wrong. Similarly, you have a big role to play in identifying risk factors and signs in order to aid prevention and detection of abuse.

What is child sexual abuse (CSA)? 
"Sexual abuse is when a child or young person is pressurised, forced or tricked into taking part in any kind of sexual activity with an adult or young person" (NSPCC)
  • CSA can involve many activities including:
  • Fondling / touching / kissing of genitals or other area's of the body.
  • Penetration with penis, digit, or object.
  • Exposing genitals or sexual material to a child.
  • Talking to a child inappropriately, graphically, and explicitly about sex.
  • Asking a child to touch their own genitals or another persons.
  • Non-forced sex with an underage child.

Myths about CSA
“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie - deliberate, contrived and dishonest - but the myth - persistent, persuasive and unrealistic” (JFK) 
There are so many myths around child sexual abuse that it’s difficult to know where to start. On the whole, many of us believe these myths....because it’s comforting! If we believe that we can identify a paedophile from across the street then we can keep our children away from them. If we believe that CSA only happens within "problem families" then we can be secure in that knowledge that our children are safe because we're "a normal family".

It’s important to identify the myths so that you can reject them as unhelpful and look to the more useful and viable information that really can make a difference. ALL of these statements are incorrect and should be rejected:
  • Myth: Only pretty little girls are sexually abused.
  • Myth: All molesters look like dirty old men. You can just tell.
  • Myth: Mostly child abusers are strangers.
  • Myth: Only men really rape children.
  • Myth: My child would tell me if anything like this happened to them.
  • Myth: This could never happen to my child.
  • Myth: Sexual abusers are monsters and just look evil.
  • Myth: Teaching about CSA scares children, so its best to keep quiet.
  • Myth: If my child had been abused, I would just know.
  • Myth: Only homosexual men hurt little boys.
  • Myth: It can't happen in my family.
  • Myth: Sexual abuse is a family matter and should be dealt with as such.

Teach your children the proper names for parts of the body:

Even as adults, many of us get embarrassed about naming areas of our body - and more often that not, we may refer to our genitals as out "private parts" or "down there" or "the lady area"! I'm sure we all have our own pet names for these areas - I, for example, was taught to call my vagina my "Merry Christmas", and my brother was taught to call his penis his "didler"!

But what's wrong with teaching children the proper names for their body parts? By teaching a child the proper names for their body parts, they will be in a position to name what's happening to them should someone touch them in an abusive way. By using the proper terms, everybody will be in a position to know exactly what they are referring to, and minimizing the chance of misinterpretation. For example, its far less confusing if a child is able to say "He touched my vagina with his penis" than it is if she said, "He touched my Merry Christmas with his didler"!.

By not referring to the sexual organs at all, or by referring to them as their "private parts", this can have implications for what a child thinks is okay and not okay to talk about. Teaching them in an open way from a very young age about correct biological labels will help children to feel that its not taboo or embarrassing to talk about their sexual organs if there is a need to - and obviously in an abusive situation, this can be the difference between telling and not telling about abuse.

Resources for learning about the body: 
Amazing You!: Getting Smart About Your Private Parts by Gail Saltz 
My Body Is Private by Linda Girard
"What's Happening to My Body" Book for Girls, by Lynda Madaras
"What's Happening to My Body" Book for Boys, by Lynda Madaras 

Safe Touch / Unsafe Touch 

The number one fundamental rule is to teach children that there body belongs to them! They had a right to decide what they do with their body, and who touches their body, and how someone touches their body. They need to be afforded the same rights as we are.

Teach your child to respect their body's by teaching them to respect other people's body's. Children need to be told not to do something to anyone else that that person doesn't want. For example, if they are jumping up and down on you, you can say "I don't want you to jump up and down on me. Please stop." Similarly if they are tickling a sibling, that sibling should be able to say "Stop it" - and ensure your child respects this. Modeling and absolute rules make this easier for children to understand.

Respect their wishes - and let them know that no one, not even you, has the right to touch them without their say so. Ask your child before touching them i.e. "Would you like me to help you with you shoes?". Don't just assume its okay. Ask them for a goodnight kiss - don't demand one! Don't make them kiss any relative they don't want to - and teach them to say politely "I don't feel like kissing right now".
  • Talk to them about "What is GOOD touch?".
Good touch is touch that feels safe - or touch that makes us feel warm and make us smile. Its touch that makes us feel cared for. Try to explain to children that some good touch actually hurts i.e. cleaning a cut - but that its good because its making them better.
  • Talk to them about "What is BAD touch?"
Bad touch is touch which hurts their body of feelings. For example, if someone kicks you or pushes you.
  • Talk to them about "What is UNWANTED touch?"
Unwanted touch may be touch which would usually be good touch, but something which you do not want right now. For example, being swung in the air may usually be fun, but after a big meal, they might not want it.
  • Talk to them about "What is SEXUAL ABUSE touch?"
Calling it sexual abuse touch makes it clear that this is a totally different type of touch - and it does not confuse the issue by using incorrect terminology. Sexual abuse touch is touch that makes the child feel scared, anxious or uncertain on any part of their body that would normally be covered if they wore a swimming costume - or touching someone else on any part of the body that would normally be covered if they wore a swimming costume. Explain to them that this touch may feel "nice" or exciting, but that it may also feel strange. If they are asked not to tell anyone about this touch then that is sexual abuse touch. Make it clear that sexual abuse touch can also happen if they are touched with their clothes on - i.e. if someone rubs them over their pants.

When you touch your child, ask them to tell you what type of touch it is. Ask questions like "Right now, would it be okay if an adult touched you on the hand?" and "Right now, would it be okay if an adult touched you on your tummy?". Try to encourage them to explain their answers.
Safe Touch Resources: 

God Made Me: The Safe Touch Coloring Book by Beth Robinson
The Right Touch: A Read-Aloud Story to Help Prevent Child Sexual Abuse by Sandy Kleven

Saying "NO!"

From an early age, children are taught allegiance to adults and to "Do as you're told!", and certainly very young children can find it difficult to differentiate between rules they have to follow, and rules they don't have to follow.

Teach your child that they have the right to say NO! As the majority of child abuse is based on coersion rather than force, teaching your child to say NO! strongly and forcefully really can make a big difference in many situations. Children will need practice how to say "NO!" in this way, and so its a good idea to practice this with them. You can make a game of doesn't have to be frightening for them.....but it could help to give them the confidence to say "NO!" if someone tries to abuse them.

Obviously there are times that children are not permitted to say "no" and this is where the difficulty and confusion can occur. Make it clear to children that they have the right to say "no" to anyone who wants to touch their vagina, penis, breasts, buttocks - or anywhere that is normally covered if you put a swimming costume on. Make it clear that they have the right to say "NO!" loudly even if this is an adult and that they will not get into trouble. Tell children to trust their feelings and if something doesn't feel okay - then say "NO!".

There may be times when someone may need to touch their body - i.e. a doctor during an examination - but make it clear that this is only okay if you are with them and if you say it is okay directly to them. You can explain that this is safe touch because it is to do with health.

You could play the "OK NO! game" with them where you come up with some scenario's and ask them if it is okay to say "NO!" in these situations. Ask them to explain their answers. For example:

Is it okay to say NO if your mum asks you tidy your room?
Is it okay to say NO if your dad asks you to brush your teeth?
Is it okay to say NO if your uncle asks you to sit on his lap and you don’t want to?
Is it okay to say NO if your teacher touches your penis?
Is it okay to say NO if an adult pats you on the head?
Is it okay to say NO if an adult tickles your vagina, even if it feels nice?
Is it okay to say NO if an adult asks you to do something you feel is wrong?
Is it okay to say NO if an adult asks you to keep a secret from your parents?
Is it okay to say NO if an adult tells you to put your seatbelt on?
Is it okay to say NO if your sister asks you to touch her vagina?
Is it okay to say NO if your teacher asks you to pull down your pants to smack you if you've been bad.

Making this into a game and checking it out with them regularly can help - and they can practice saying "NO!" at the same time. For older children, you may want to change this into the "WHAT IF...?" game - whereby you can make the scenario's more complex which reflect the situations they may be confronted with.

Teach your children about "bad" secrets
“No one keeps a secret so well as a child” (Victor Hugo)

The majority of abusers teach their victims to keep what's happening to them a secret. From young children, we teach our children not to tell maintain trusts that are afforded to not air our dirty laundry in public. It's no wonder that children find it confusing!

Teach your child that any secret which makes them feel uneasy is a bad secret and its okay to break it. Any secret that makes them feel bad or sad or frightened is a bad secret and its okay to break it. Tell your child that any secret that they can't tell you is a bad secret and its okay to break it. Be consistent! Children do not have to keep any promise that makes them feel bad inside.

Teach your child the difference between a secret and a surprise: A surprise is something you will be allowed to tell at a later stage; a secret is something you're asked to never tell.

Bad Secrets Resources: 
'The trouble with secrets' Karen Johnsen 
Secrets that Hurt: Sexual Abuse Activity Book, by Jim Boulden and Joan Boulden. 
No More Secrets for Me, by Oralee Wachter and Jane Aaron. (2002). Little Brown & Company. 

Watch out for warning signs in adults 

Children display signs that all is not well, but there are signs which are displayed from the abusers themselves. Try to remember that abusers typically do not look how you would expect an abuser to look. Contrary to popular media stereotypes, they do not look like monsters, or the type of face that stares out of you from a mugshot. Abusers are good at gaining trust....that's how they operate.....and therefore they can seem to be the nicest people...the most helpful...the most thoughtful....the most loving. Of course, don't go around suspecting someone may be an abuser because they are nice and good! But the point is not to rule them out if you have suspicions because they display characteristics that you don't feel are the typical monster-like features of a paedophile. 
  • Watch for adults who:
Refuse children privacy or invade their privacy.
Insist on physical affection even when the child looks uncomfortable.
Insist on “special time” alone from other adults and children.
Spend a lot of time with children instead of adults.
Buy children expensive gifts for no apparent reason.
Appear to put a lot of effort into getting close to children.
Have had previous allegations against them before.
Make you feel uneasy.....even if you can't put your finger on why.
Your child or other children seem afraid of.
Your child or other children do not want to be alone with.
  • Question people who are trusted to look after your children and monitor.
Ask any organizations about criminal background checks and professional recommendations / references.
Ask about training of staff / policies if suspected abuse.
If a child seems uncomfortable, or resistant to being with a particular adult, ask them why. Be persistent.
If an adult is taking a child on an outing, make sure to get specifics of it. Ensure they know that you are the type of parent that asks questions!
Always make a point of asking your child about their day. Use open questions, and be persistent if they seem reluctant to give answers.
Think about whether activities would be preferable in a group. Ask why something it one-to-one.

“Molesters Do Not Wear an Ugly Mask. They Wear A Shield of Trust.” 
- Patty Rase Hopson

Stranger - Danger

Although the vast majority of risks to your child do not come from strangers, it is vital that you teach your children about stranger danger. Some remarkably simple techniques can help your child to keep themselves safe!

Help your child to identify a stranger. When you are out and about - ask your child "Are they a stranger?". Make it clear that just because you may know the persons face, they could still be a stranger (i.e. lady who works in the shop!).
Tell your child never to talk to strangers unless they are with an adult they trust and never to go anywhere with a stranger. Identify trusted adults.
If a stranger approaches them and asks them to go somewhere with them - teach your child to MAKE A FUSS. Tell them to make a noise, runaway to somewhere where there are a lot of people, scream etc.
Tell someone as soon as possible!

Teach your child their own address and phone number. Make sure they have another number of another trusted adult written down somewhere that they can keep with them.
If you go somewhere where you may become separated from your child, have a "meet place" i.e. by the fountain.
By them a travelcard (if old enough) and a phonecard for emergencies.
Make sure they know how to dial the emergency services and what to say.
Have a "safe" word if you are unable to pick your child up. Make sure your child knows not to go with the adult if the safe word isn't know.
Teach your child the buddy system - i.e. walk in pairs or groups.

Resources for Stranger Danger: 

Stranger Danger coloring page to download
Safest with a buddy coloring page download.

Stranger Danger by P. Pancella.
Stranger Danger: The Reluctantly Written but Absolutely Necessary Book for Todays Boys And Girls!By Patricia Stirnkorb
Stranger Danger: How to Keep Your Child SafeBy Carol Soret Cope
Safe at Home with Pooh (Disney's My Very First Winnie the Pooh)By Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld

Internet Activity

Its a very scary statistic, but 1 in 5 children have been sexually solicited on the internet, and 1 in 2 have been exposed to sexually explicit material on the internet. Children of today are generally very computer literate, often more so that we are, and although the internet can be a valuable resource, it can also be a dangerous hunting ground for paedophiles to make contact with children and teens.

Use a filter to block inappropriate material. Cookies can be disabled. For info on how to block certain content, please contact your ISP or see here.
Keep the computer in a shared family area and be around to monitor use.
Bookmark approved sites for young children and tell them to stick to these areas.
Spend time teaching your child how to use the internet.
Make a contract with your child about their internet use. For a standard contract see here.
Limit the amount of time that your child is permitted to spend online.
Block your child from being able to enter private unmoderated chat rooms. NEVER agree to meet anyone from a chat room.
Monitor your credit card and phone bills for unfamiliar account charges.
Report any obscene or threatening messages to your ISP.
Tell children NEVER to give out any personal information online, name, address, age, phone number, email, IM address, school, location, or photographs.
If your child has a new online "friend," insist on being "introduced" online to that friend.
If your child becomes secretive about online use, question why.

Wired Kids
Wired Safety
The Police Notebook.
How to block content


Let me get one thing clear. No matter what a wonderful parent you are, and no matter how well you have prepared your child for the risk of abuse - and equipped them in terms of child safety - sometimes child sexual abuse will happen anyway. You cannot be with your children ALL OF THE TIME. Its impossible. All you can do is lessen the risks - and, if the worst shouldhappen, be in a position where you are able to identify the abuse as quickly as possible. Its a widely accepted belief among mental health experts that, on average, the longer the abuse continues, the worse the potential consequences for the physical and mental well-being of the victim. Similarly, the way that you react and deal with your childs' abuse, can have an enormous impact upon their recovery.

Recognizing the signs of CSA
Please remember that children will only show some of these signs. Also these signs do not have to mean that your child has been abused. These are indications of possible abuse, but they are not fact. Its important to be aware, without jumping to invalid and unsubstantiated conclusions. A child who is being sexually abused may show the following:
  • Behaviour changes:
- Being excessively clinging or uncharacteristically crying when you try to leave them.
- Having difficulty sleeping; not wanting to go so bed; having nightmares or night-terrors; fear of the dark.
- Returning to previously immature behaviors i.e. sucking thumb, bed-wetting, needing teddy, soiling etc.
- Problems at school i.e. discipline issues, poor attention, change in working performance etc.
- Fear of a specific person or place. Isolating themselves.
- Being "too perfect" and too well behaved; quiet; desperate to please; over-achieving.
- Radical mood swings.
- Being evasive when asked questions, or having memory loss.
  • Health Issues:
- A change in eating habits i.e. eating too much / too little; purging; becoming a fussy eater.
- Incontinence.
- Self-destructive behavior i.e. head-banging, self harm, alcohol use, drugs, genital mutilation.
- Genital discomfort, bleeding, irritation, redness, thrush, itching, discharge, odour.
- Persistent urinary tract infections.
- General ill-health complaints i.e. chronic headache, stomach cramps, sore throat etc.
- Depression / anxiety / suicidal ideation.
  • Inappropriate sexual development / behavior:
- Excessive genital touching or masturbating in public.
- Non-age appropriate language i.e sexually graphic.
- Being sexually precocious and sexually suggestive.
- Hides secondary sexual characteristics i.e. covers up, wears baggy clothes, straps breasts.
- Attempts to be unattractive i.e. stops wearing make-up, stops washing, puts on weight.
- Fear of undressing or refusal to undress in gym class
- Initiate inappropriate sexual contact with other children.

What should I do if I suspect?

As hard as it may be, try to stay calm. Children look to their parents to know what to do, and if they see you freaking out, this is likely to increase their fear and uncertainty also.

IF you suspect - no matter how vague your suspicion - GET HELP! Don't try to deal with this all by yourself because dealing with this in secrecy only exacerbates feelings of shame in your child. Of course, treat it with the sensitivity it deserves, but involve the experts right from the start.
The first step, even before you talk to your child, is to report your suspicions to your local child protection team - and let them investigate it. Of course your instinct may be to try to talk to your child yourself and get an admission from them - but in doing this you run the risk of eliciting a unsubstantiated disclosure which could make prosecution impossible. Furthermore, many children may be especially fearful of making the initial disclosure to a parent for fear of upsetting you, or making you angry, or disappointing you, and so they may be more likely to disclose to a professional. Your job at this time is to be the loving parent....letting them know that you still love them, that they are special, that you're not angry etc.
  • Listen to your child and to what they say they need:
At this time, trust your child to know how they want you to help. The tendency of most parents is to want to make it all "fix" what's been done to them - and unfortunately, this is not something that can be fixed. Children can learn to come to terms with the hurt they've experienced, but they have to do so at their own pace. Let them talk to you as much or as little as they want to. Don't try to steam-roller them into disclosing all of the gory details to you unless they want to - and be sensitive to the fact that some children may prefer to talk to another trusted relative or a mental health professional. This is not a rejection of you. Make it clear that you are there to listen whenever or however they need.
  • Reassure your child:
Your child may have a lot of fears about what would happen if anyone found out about the abuse. Their abuser may have told them that no one would believe them, or that they would get in trouble, or that mummy wouldn't love them anymore. Make it cleat from the beginning that you believe them. Make it clear that no matter what happened, this was not their fault. Reassure them that they have done the right thing in telling, and that you are very proud of them for being so brave. Let them know that you love them and always will.
  • Do not confront the perpetrator:
No matter how much you may want to, do not confront the perpetrator. Leave this for the professionals. Your energy, at this time, has to go into making your child feel safe and loved - and expending energy on the perp is going to limit your ability to do that. The child may have very mixed feelings about their abuser, especially if the abuser is a family member, and so seeing you get mad at them may make the child feel guilty and retract what's happened. Confronting the abuser could also be dangerous for you because desperate people will do desperate things. And lastly, you could inadvertently warn them about any evidence against them.
The abuse of a child is one of the worst things that a parent can ever have to deal with. Its important that you get help for yourself because without it you are unlikely to be able to support your child in the way they need. There are support organizations for parents of abused children, and also your social services should be able to put you in contact with people who can help.



We Tell Kids, “Go To Sleep!” We Need To Tell Them Why.

We tell children why it’s important to eat their vegetables. We tell them why they need to get outside and run around. But how often do we parents tell children why it’s important to sleep? “Time for bed!” is usually the end of it, or maybe “You’ll be tired tomorrow.” No wonder children regard sleep as vaguely punitive, an enforced period of dull isolation in a darkened room. But of course sleep is so much more, and maybe we ought to try telling children that.
Sleep, scientists have discovered, not only restores and renews the body, but it also performs maintenance on the mind. It refines the memories formed during the previous day and makes preparations for the learning that will begin the next morning. Irrelevant memories are discarded and important memories are preserved, moved to the brain’s long-term storage to make room for new memories. (One sleep specialist, Matthew Walker of the University of California, Berkeley, has compared the function of sleep with emptying an email inbox so that it can receive new messages.) Researchers have also found that newly learned information and skills are reinforced by a good night’s sleep — meaning that children are becoming better at their soccer footwork, their piano playing, or their times tables just by lying asleep in bed.
There is evidence that educating children about the importance of sleep leads them to sleep more. Two studies conducted with seventh graders, for example, found that after participating in a “sleep smart” program, they went to bed earlier and slept longer on weeknights. The latest proof of the value of sleep education comes from a newly released study of preschoolers. Led by Ronald Chervin, the director of the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center, the study examined the effects of a program called Sweet Dreamzzz on 152 4-year-olds enrolled in Head Start programs in Lansing and Detroit.
The strength of the Sweet Dreamzzz initiative is that it creates a triangle of support for sleep, involving children, their teachers and their parents. Mothers and fathers enrolled in the program were offered a 45-minute education session, addressing topics such as the importance of sleep, how to establish a bedtime routine and how much sleep preschoolers need each night: 11 to 13 hours. (Lack of knowledge about children’s sleep is common among parents, Dr. Chervin and his co-authors note; as many as 75 percent incorrectly estimate how much sleep children require.) Teachers, too, were provided with an instructional session.
The preschoolers received two weeks of daily education sessions, as well as supporting activities at home. The children were each given a teddy bear, which they practiced “putting to bed”; they read the bedtime classic “Goodnight Moon” in class, and were given a copy of the book to take home; and they went over the notion that 8 p.m. was the right time to go to bed. All this information-sharing produced concrete results: A month after the conclusion of the Sweet Dreamzzz program, the children in the study were getting 30 minutes of additional sleep each night, according to sleep diaries kept by their parents. Other research has shown that an additional half-hour of sleep can make a big difference, reducing daytime sleepiness, emotional ups and downs and restless and impulsive behavior.
The increase in the duration of the Michigan children’s sleep occurred even though (to researchers’ surprise) the parents involved in the study didn’t demonstrate a greater knowledge of sleep facts a month later. Perhaps one 45-minute session wasn’t enough to make the information stick, Dr. Chervin and his co-authors speculated.
Or perhaps it was simply most effective to talk directly and often to the children themselves. Although the researchers didn’t formally assess change in the children’s knowledge about sleep, teachers reported that the preschoolers did learn from the sessions: After the intervention, the children correctly volunteered that 8 p.m. was the right time to go to sleep, not 9 p.m.; that an apple was a better presleep snack than a candy bar; and that reading before bedtime was a better idea than watching TV. Most striking, the teachers told Dr. Chervin, parents came into school with reports of a new development: When the children saw the clock strike 8 p.m., they would now announce: “It’s time for bed!” 

3 Simple Things That Will Make you 10% happier

Dear Parents,

This post further supports the reasoning behind the introduction of mindfulness each day at school. We have already witnessed and heard about many positive outcomes and we are only in week 3 of the school year. In this blog post from Barking up the Wrong Tree there are numerous links that you can follow that will further illustrate how a few minutes of mindfulness each day will help this generation of ISHCMC students be better skilled and equipped (EMPOWERED) to face their lives as adults in the work place.

Perhaps it is time for you to try for yourselves,


Ever been really stressed? So stressed you nearly freak out?
This happened to Dan Harris… in front of 5 million people.
On June 7th, 2004, Dan was a news correspondent on ABC and he had a panic attack on air while reading the news:

He knew he had to do something. His career was in jeopardy.
By coincidence, he was soon assigned to cover stories about religion. This set Dan on a multi-year quest talking to people of faith — and total quacks.
But it ended up introducing him to something that helped him get his head straight and, as he likes to say, made him 10% happier.
What was it? Meditation.
Feeling skeptical yet? Thinking of hippies, beads and chanting? Actually, that’s how Dan felt too.
But it turns out his discovery wasn’t the least bit mystic — in fact it was quite scientific.
I gave Dan a call and we talked about meditation and the book he wrote about his journey: 10% Happier.
And here’s how the neuroscience behind a 2500 year old ritual can help all of us become 10% happier.

You Don’t Have To Be A Hippie And Live In A Yurt

Dan’s now the co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America.
What’s the first thing this Emmy-award winning journalist has to say about meditation? It has a huge PR problem.
Meditation suffers from a towering PR problem, largely because its most prominent proponents talk as if they have a perpetual pan flute accompaniment. If you can get past the cultural baggage, though, what you’ll find is that meditation is simply exercise for your brain. It’s a proven technique for preventing the voice in your head from leading you around by the nose… There’s even science to back this up.
So what is science learning about meditation? A lot. Here’s Dan:

There are actually tons and tons of studies on meditation. But you can find one-off studies that show almost anything, right?
So what happened when the Journal of American Medicinerecently looked at more then 18,000 citations on the subject?
Meditation demonstrated clear results in helping people with anxiety, depression and pain.
Other studies are showing it can help with decision-makingcompassion — and it might even reduce your cravings for chocolate.
And Dan’s not the only one who’s realized this:
  1. The SuperBowl winning Seattle Seahawks meditate.
  2. Google has someone in charge of teaching meditation.
  3. 12 minutes a day of meditation makes US Marines more resilient in war zones.
Looking at the research a while back, I said meditation is one of the ten things people should do every day to improve their lives.
(For more on the science of meditation, click here.)
I know some of you are saying, “Great. But what does it do, really?
Meditation and mindfulness are two things we hear about constantly but few of us can really define what they are and what they do. That’s about to change.

No Robes And Chanting Necessary

We all have that voice in our head. Our internal narrator. And he’s usually a jerk.
A nonstop running commentary of wants and needs, second-guessing, regretting the past and worrying about the future.
Dan explains:
The voice comes braying in as soon as we open our eyes in the morning, and then heckles us all day long with an air horn. It’s a fever swamp of urges, desires, and judgments. It’s fixated on the past and the future, to the detriment of the here and now. It’s what has us reaching into the fridge when we’re not hungry, losing our temper when we know it’s not really in our best interest, and pruning our inboxes when we’re ostensibly engaged in conversation with other human beings.
Harvard professor and author of Stumbling on Happiness, Dan Gilbert, has shown that this sort of mind-wandering makes us miserable.
In fact, a recent study showed men would rather get electric shocks than be alone with their thoughts. Yeah, really.
This is where meditation comes in.
It’s not some magic incantation; it’s a bicep curl for your brain that can tame the thoughts in your head.
By teaching your brain to focus it can allow you to not get yanked around by your emotions, to be able to respond rather than react.
And the results are real:
A 2012 Harvard study showed:
In the mindful attention group, the after-training brain scans showed a decrease in activation in the right amygdala in response to all images, supporting the hypothesis that meditation can improve emotional stability and response to stress.
And after 8 weeks of regular meditation these changes were visible even when the subjects weren’t meditating.
A 2011 Yale study showed:
Experienced meditators seem to switch off areas of the brain associated with wandering thoughts, anxiety and some psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.Researchers used fMRI scans to determine how meditators’ brains differed from subjects who were not meditating. The areas shaded in blue highlight areas of decreased activity in the brains of meditators.
(For more things scientifically proven to make you happier, click here.)
Some people don’t like my fancy brain pictures. They’re still saying, “That wouldn’t work for me.” You’re wrong. Here’s why.

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

People give tons of excuses why they can’t meditate. Dan has heard them all by now and most don’t hold water.
1) “I’m too busy to meditate.”
You can see results in 5 minutes a day. You don’t have five minutes? And how long have you been reading this post for, Mr. Busy?
2) “It won’t work for me. My mind is too crazy.”
Ah, “the fallacy of uniqueness.” Dan says he had the attention span of a 6 month old Golden Labrador. It’s worked for him and many many others.
3) “I’m not a Buddhist.”
I asked Dan about this when we chatted. Mindfulness meditation is secular:
The form of mindfulness meditation that has been studied in labs is completely secular. It’s called mindfulness-based stress reductionand you don’t have to join anything, you don’t have to wear any special outfits or believe in anything. It’s secular and scientifically validated.
4) “I need my anxiety. It drives me crazy but it’s the reason I get things done.”
I was curious about this one, too (you think someone who writes blog posts like this doesn’t have a voice in his head? C’mon.)
Dan always lived by the motto, The price of security is insecurity.1Worrying kept him on his game. But it also made him miserable.
But then Dan asked his meditation teacher, Joseph Goldstein, what he thought of worrying.
Here’s Dan:
He said “Yes, you have to worry because that makes sense in order to function effectively. However, on the 17th time when you’re worrying about that same thing, maybe ask yourself one simple question: ‘Is it useful?’2
At some point, you have thought it through sufficiently and it’s time to move on. What I have learned how to do as a result of meditation is to draw the line between what I call “constructive anguish” and “unconstructive rumination” and that’s made me a lot happier.
You won’t lose your edge. You can still worry a bit. But when it gets out of hand ask yourself, “Is this useful?”
(For more lifehacks from ancient times that will make you happier, click here.)
At this point many of you are saying, “Okay, okay, meditation is good. But how do I actually do it?
That’s up next. And it’s crazy simple — but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

How To Meditate

And here’s how he explained it to me:

It really involves three extremely simple steps.
One: Sit with your eyes closed and your back straight.
Two: Notice what it feels like when your breath comes in and when your breath goes out, try to bring your full attention to the feeling of your breath coming in and going out.
Third step is the biggie. Every time you try to do this, your mind is going to go crazy. You are going to start thinking about all sorts of stupid things like if you need a haircut, why you said that dumb thing to your boss, what’s for lunch, etc. Every time you notice that your mind is wandering, bring your attention back to your breath and begin again. This is going to happen over and over and over again and that is meditation.
Personally, I like to think of it as the toughest and most maddening video game in the world. Dan agrees:
It’s not easy. You will “fail” a million times but the “failing” and starting over is succeeding. So this isn’t like most things in your life where, like if you can’t get up on water skis, you can’t do it. Here the trying and starting again, trying and starting again, that’s the whole game.

It works. And meditation doesn’t cost anything. All you need to do is be breathing, and breathing is something that’s always with you and never stops.
And if it ever does stop, well, you may have more urgent problems to deal with.
(For more on what the happiest people do every day, click here.)
So how do we tie all this together?

Sum Up

You can still see Dan on Nightline and Good Morning America but luckily he’s not having any more panic attacks.
Is meditation going to give you magic powers? No. Even the Dalai Lama loses his temper.
Seriously — Dan asked him during an interview.
“Is your mind always calm?” I asked.
“No, no, no. Occasionally lose my temper.”
“You do?”
“Oh yes. If someone is never lose temper then perhaps they may come from another space,” he said, pointing toward the sky and laughing from the belly, his eyes twinkling beneath his thick glasses.
But research says meditation can make you less stressed and more happy. Here’s what Dan told me:
The bad things in my life are still bad but I am not making them worse than they need to be by adding on a bunch of useless rumination. We assume that our happiness is derived from external circumstances, like how much money we’re making, if we had a happy childhood, if we married well, whatever. The radical proposition of meditation is that happiness is self-generated. You can develop your happiness muscle the way you develop your biceps in the gym. That is hugely, hugely empowering and a comforting notion.
5 minutes a day. That’s all it takes to give your happiness muscle a workout. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

6 Things The Happiest Families All Have In Common


a href="">Pink Sherbet Photography via Compfight cc

Family life is hectic. Most of us play it by ear and hope it works out well.
Or maybe you haven’t started a family yet but when you do you want to do itright.

Aren’t there some legit answers out there about what creates the happiest families? Yes, there are.
To get the facts I called Bruce Feiler, author of the New York Times bestseller,The Secrets of Happy Families.
When writing his book, Bruce knew there were answers already out there — but not necessarily where we’d expect.
He found solutions to common family problems in business theory, Harvard negotiation techniques, and even by talking to Green Berets.
Below you’ll learn:
1.       The #1 predictor of your child’s emotional well-being.
2.      The #1 predictor of their academic achievement — and behavior problems.
3.      And the simple thing that steers kids away from drugs, toward better grades and even improves their self-esteem. And more.

Here’s what makes strong, happy families:

1) Create A Family Mission Statement
I asked Bruce what he would recommend if he could only give one piece of advice.
He said: “Set aside time to talk about what it means to be a part of your family.”
Ask: “What are your family values?” In business-speak: Develop a mission statement for your family.

Here’s Bruce:
Initiate a conversation about what it means to be a part of your family. Sit down with them and say “Okay, these are our ten central values.”
“This is the family we want to be. We want to be a family that doesn’t fight all the time.” or “We want to be a family that goes camping or sailing” or whatever it might be.
When my family did it, it was literally a transforming experience. We ended up printing it and it hangs now in our dining room.
Does “defining values” seem too big and intimidating? It’s really nothing more than setting goals.
Here’s Bruce:
Did we do every one of those things every day, every week, every month? No, that’s not that point. But the point is, when it goes wrong, you have that goal out there. “We want to be a family that has fun together. Have we made time to play recently? No, we don’t. So let’s make time to play. Let’s go bowling or hiking or roller skating.”
You have goals at work. You have personal goals. Why wouldn’t you have goals as a family?

So you and your family discussed your values and came up with a mission statement. What other thing did Bruce say was vital?
Like the mission statement, it’s another story. But it’s not about the future — it’s about the past.

2) Share Your Family History
Research shows whether a kid knows their family history was thenumber one predictor of a child’s emotional well-being.
Here’s Bruce:
…researchers at Emory did this study that showed that the kids who know more about their family history had a greater belief that they could control their world and a higher degree of self-confidence. It was the number one predictor of a child’s emotional well-being.
And research confirms that meaning in life is all about the stories we tell ourselves.
But here’s what’s really interesting: recounting your family history is not just telling kids, “Our family is awesome.”
Recounting the tough times, the challenges your family faced and overcame, is key.
Here’s Bruce:
Understanding that people have natural ups and downs allows kids to know that they too will have ups and downs. It gives them the confidence to believe that they can push through them. It gives them role models that show your family’s values in practice.

Mission statements, family history… that’s a lot of talking. When is all this supposed to happen? Whenever you get around to it? No way.

3) Hold Weekly Family Meetings
You’re not mom or dad anymore — you’re now co-CEO’s. To find the way to keep a family improving Bruce turned to the world of business.
Your family needs a weekly board meeting with all the shareholders present. Sound cold and clinical? Wrong.
Bruce’s wife says it’s one of the best things they’ve done to make their own family life happier.
It’s not complicated and it only takes 20 minutes, once a week.
Here’s Bruce:
We basically ask three questions. What worked well this week, what didn’t work well this week and what will we agree to work on in the week ahead?
And if the kids meet the goal, they get to help pick a reward. And if they don’t, they get to help pick a punishment. They don’t do it without us, but we all do it in consultation.
Bruce did a TED talk explaining in detail how techniques from the business world, like meetings, can improve our families:
So your family has a mission, a shared history and you’re meeting regularly. This is great because everyone is talking, which is crucial.
But what inevitably comes with talking a lot? Arguing. It’s normal and natural and that’s okay.
But you have to have rules so it isn’t a path to hurt feelings and homicide investigations. What’s the proper way to argue?

4) How To Fight Right
Bruce wanted to find the best way to resolve disputes — so he didn’t turn to books about families, he turned to a pro.
Bill Ury is co-founder of the Project on Negotiation at Harvard Law School and co-author of the classic, Getting To Yes,
What can one of the best negotiators teach families about resolving those inevitable everyday squabbles of life?
Bruce outlines three key steps:
Number one, “Separate everybody.” In negotiation speak; this is “Go to the balcony.” Take a moment where you look back on the fight as if it were on a stage and you’re on the balcony and say “Okay, what’s really going on here?” This reduces emotions like anger.
Second, we ask our kids to come up with three alternatives. In negotiation speak; this is “Expand the pie before you divide the pie.”
Bruce admits this part can be tricky. But you need to make it clear nobody is leaving the table until there are three options.
The third stage is “Bring people back together.” In negotiation speak; this is “Build the golden bridge of the future.”
Have the kids pick one of the three that they like best. What’s key is that the children created the alternatives and agreed on the best solution.
As Bruce explains in his bookwhen kids get a say, it works out better for everyone. Don’t be a dictator unless you have to.
(To learn how how you can resolve conflict with lessons from FBI hostage negotiators, click here.)
So mission statements, family meetings and fighting right are great — but what keeps a family together day to day?

5) Have Family Dinner Together… Any Time Of The Day
Research shows having dinner as a family makes a huge difference in children’s lives.
As Bruce writes in his book, The Secrets of Happy Families:
A recent wave of research shows that children who eat dinner with their families are less likely to drink, smoke, do drugs, get pregnant, commit suicide, and develop eating disorders. Additional research found that children who enjoy family meals have larger vocabularies, better manners, healthier diets, and higher self-esteem. The most comprehensive survey done on this topic, a University of Michigan report that examined how American children spent their time between 1981 and 1997, discovered that the amount of time children spent eating meals at home was the single biggest predictor of better academic achievement and fewer behavioral problems. Mealtime was more influential than time spent in school, studying, attending religious services, or playing sports.
I know what many of you are thinking: Our schedules are crazy. It’s too hard to get everyone together. We can’t do it every night.
And that’s 100% okay. “Dinner” isn’t the important part. All that matters is that time together, whenever it is.
And it doesn’t even have to be that much time. How much real conversation happens at family dinner? 10 minutes.

As Bruce likes to say, the rest of the talking is “Take your elbows off the table” and “Please pass the ketchup.”
What’s the best way to make use of those 10 minutes? Here’s Bruce:
So number one, the first big thing to be aware of is that parents do two-thirds of the talking in that ten minutes. And that’s a problem.
So your first goal should be to flip that and let the kids do more of the talking. So that would be issue number one.
Number two, I would say a great thing to do in that ten minutes is to try to teach your kid a new word every day. There’s a tremendous amount of evidence out there that one of the biggest determinants of success in school has to do with the size of vocabulary.
(For more research-based parenting techniques, click here.)
Mission statements, family history, meetings, fighting right, dinners… That’s a lot to do. Heck, it’s a lot to just remember.
What’s Bruce’s recommendation to the family that’s already strapped for time? What overarching theme can we see in all of these tips?

6) Just Try
Ask anyone if they want to make their family happier and, of course, they’ll say yes.
Then ask how many hours they’ve actively invested in that goal over the past month. I’m guessing the reply is going to be “Ummmmm…”1
Reading about improving your family is only the first step. But the second step isn’t all that much harder: Try.
Here’s Bruce:
We know if we want to improve in our career, we have to work at it. And yet, we don’t do that with our family life. We sort of say “It’s the end of the line, they’ll always be there. It’s always going to be stressful. I’ll just deal.” Well, no.
If we work with our families and take small steps to try and make them better, we actually can make our families happier. And in the process, we can make every member of our family happier. So what’s the secret to a happy family? Try.
And the research backs Bruce up.
Studies show improving any relationship is as easy as actively showing interest in the other person or sharing with them.
In fact, pretending time with your romantic partner is a first date makes it more enjoyable for you and for them. Why?
On first dates we make an effort. And that’s the secret here too: don’t just think about it, invest time and energy.
(For three of the most counterintutiive lessons on being a great parent, clickhere.)
So how do we tie all this together?

Sum Up
Here are Bruce’s 6 tips:
1.       Create A Family Mission Statement
2.      Share Your Family History
3.      Hold Weekly Family Meetings
4.      Fight Right
5.      Have Family Dinner Together… Any Time Of The Day
6.      Just Try1
Families come in all different shapes and sizes these days and the world moves a lot faster than it once did. But don’t fret.
Research shows that anyone can have a happy family.
Researchers have found that a loving family life can be created among any group of people. Long-term studies comparing adopted children to children raised by their biological parents find little difference in the children’s feelings on family life, and no difference in their ability to enjoy good relationships with peers.
- Neiheiser 2001