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March, 2020 (2)
Roughhousing in the Time of Corona

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With rain forecasted, one of my coop's board chairs asked me to write a brief piece on this useful parenting tool to help you all out.


Are you noticing your children have too much pent-up energy?


Is it getting harder to get along?


Are you getting sass, ignored, or increased tantrums?


How about trying a tried and true parenting technique used by mammals of all kinds? I’m talking about roughhousing! Nothing lets off steam, creates connection, inspires cooperation, aids relaxation, and spreads joy like intense close-contact physical play. And bonus: it makes your child smarter!


Roughhousing increases both emotional and academic intelligence because it produces Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF). BDNF has been called brain fertilizer: it is a protein that promotes energy homeostasis and neuronal plasticity, both crucial factors for learning—something that happens whether or not our children are attending school.


Roughhousing makes us all smarter in so many wonderful ways! It improves cognitive flexibility, which trains us mammals to cope well with unpredictability and instability (ahem); it trains us to read subtle, nonverbal social cues, which leads to respect for each other’s comfort levels and boundaries; and it fosters ease with both inferior and superior positions of power, something everyone needs to have as we switch back and forth between learning from and leading each other. It has also been shown to make us mammals more lovable and likable in our social spheres, as well as more joyful in general—something we can all stand to be right now.


So take time to roughhouse with your children every day. An especially effective time to do it is during challenging transitions. Roughhousing has been known to make clean-up a snap, mealtime more convivial, and bedtime into a magical time!


Tips for Doing it Well:


  1. When it’s time to stop, be patient. Roughhousing will raise a child’s energy level, and their nervous system will likely take longer than yours to settle down. Calmly guide your child in quieter activities such as reading one of your children’s books aloud to yourself, rocking to soft music, or just smiling at them calmly as they take their time to down-regulate at their own pace.

  2. Have a silly safe-word. Make sure everyone feels secure at all times in the knowledge that they can stop it whenever they want just by saying “tooty fruity hooty!” Or “peanut butter pickles!”

  3. Have rules in place that prevent punching, scratching, spitting, hair-pulling, kicking, pinching, head-locks or tickling. Stick to pushing, pulling, grasping, and anything that is not deliberate hurting. When rules are broken, stop, remind everyone of the rules, and then start again.

  4. Don’t be scared of anger. It’s natural for big emotions to come up during intensive play. If your child becomes seized by rage, stop the play, listen kindly, block any blows that come at you or anyone else in the play, and problem-solve it all later when the clouds have passed.

  5. Someone might get hurt. If it happens, stop the play and tend to all physical and emotional wounds before starting again.

  6. Get creative. My son, Franky, and I used to kiss-wrestle when he was little. We would both try to kiss each other without getting kissed. And while wrestling is always tried and true, there are many other ways to roughhouse besides play fights if that’s not your or your child’s thing. Here are some ideas:

  7. Become an expert by reading The Art of Roughhousing or watch the Ted Talk.


Adapted from The Art of Roughhousing by Anthony DeBenedet and Lawrence Cohen

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Include Joy

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“Okay kids, it’s summer. We’re going to have fun!”


This was what one of my students told her children when she heard that school would be out. She got them on bikes everyday and taught them a new game called Hide and Seek Tag they loved. This is a time to remember those who are struggling, but that doesn’t mean that we have to put the kibosh on joy. 


Joy is juice for the brain, and we humans are meant to have it.  It is, in fact, one of the things that keeps us feeling human. Letting joy in doesn’t mean you don’t care about people who aren’t feeling it right now. Often, people are afraid that if they allow themselves joy, they might lose sight of caring. I urge you to use other methods of reminding yourself to care other than losing your joy. 


And if things are tough for you, joy can still be felt in the midst of any situation. I’m remembering that famous Steele Magnolias quote, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” If we want our children to feel all of their emotions, we adults must model the same. Sadness, fear, shame, anger, and weaving throughout it all, joy. 


If you’d like to experience more joy, book a session of The Work with me, or make a free call to the Helpline for The Work of Byron Katie to get a clearer view and more balanced experience of these new times.

How are you incorporating joy into this experience? Put your answer into the comment box below.

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Holding Space for Conflict
The Pink Cup Story

Reprint from April, 2018 As days pass in close proximity to your family, you may find yourselves dealing with increased levels of conflict in your homes. ​A great way to handle discord is to hold the space for everyone's feelings, intentions, and points of view.


By standing by attentively and, when emotions get high, narrating what everyone is saying, intending and feeling, the adult gives each participant voice and validation, lowering anxiety and helping everyone stay focused on solving the problem together.

For me, this topic always brings the Pink Cup story to mind. At one cooperative preschool I work in, there is only one pink cup for snack. The teacher decided on a policy to no longer bring out that cup because it caused too much conflict. Seeing a growth opportunity, I asked if we could bring it out while I was there. The teacher agreed.

When the cups came out, there was a big ruckus! "I want the pink cup!" "I want the blue cup!" This put the adults in the room on edge; they were not sure they wanted this growth. I joined with each child by narrating their points of view. "Ramona wants the pink cup! Andy wants the blue cup! Marina wants the pink cup! Alicia wants the pink cup! Etc...."

Narration without judgement of what anyone is saying or doing supports children in sharing and listening to each other's ideas. As children heard their names and sentiments, they settled down for the discussion. Each time a child spoke, to keep them regulated and feeling heard, I paraphrased their thought, expressing the feeling they expressed. "RAMONA WANTS THE PINK CUP RIGHT NOW!" Next, more quietly, "Marina really, really wants the pink cup." Sadly, "Andy wishes there were three pink cups." Silence ensued as everyone thought about that. "Milo says that this is unacceptable and that everyone who wants a pink cup should have a time out!" 

When one person crawled under the table, I stopped the discussion: "Wait! Wait! Everybody's not ready to hear you.... Okay, go ahead, we're all listening." I sat there with them, allowing silences and saying, "Hmm. I wonder what can be done about this?" with no ideas of my own. 


The turning point was when I paraphrased, "Oliver wishes we could eat snack." After a moment, Marina said that she wanted a yellow cup. Alicia then asked for an orange cup. I asked, "Would it be all right if I gave Ramona the pink cup?" Everyone agreed that that would be fine.


Some lessons this teaches:

1) Big emotions can be channeled into passion and determination and stick-to-itiveness.

2) Passion, determination and stick-to-itiveness help a person reach their goals. (Adults with the most of those generally get what they want in life.)

3) Everybody's voice is to be heard.

4) Sometimes it's better not to get our way so we can have things that are even more important to us (like eating snack and peace).


Some skills practiced:

1) Listening to each other's ideas

2) Waiting for a turn to speak

3) Perspective-taking, also called "theory of mind"

4) Collaborative problem-solving

5) Empathy

6) Feelings management

7) Staying connected in conflict

The Pink Cup exercise was practiced two other times. The second time, I warned everyone before snack that, "There's going to be only one pink cup at snack again today. I wonder what will happen?" When snack started and the cups came out, Marina immediately said, "I want the green cup." Alicia wanted a yellow cup. Ramona got the pink cup again.

The final time, it was only Ramona and Alicia who wanted the pink cup. We served snack first, and then discussed reasons why each person should get the pink cup. After much deliberation between the two, I suggested that because Ramona had already gotten it twice, it was Alicia's turn. Ramona rejected that idea, so I asked her how she would feel when I gave it to Alicia. "Really angry!" she said.

"Oh! You will be really angry! Then what will you do?"

"I will run away!"

"You will be so angry, you will run away! And then what will happen?"

"I will never come back!"

"You will never come back! ...Or maybe you will run away, and time will pass and you will feel better. Is there anything we could do to help you feel better?"


"There is nothing we can do! I will give the pink cup to Alicia when you are ready. Are you ready to feel angry?"

Ramona buried her head in her hands.


I waited for her to look up again and said, "I will not give this cup to Alicia until you are ready. I'll wait."

Knowing that her response was imperceptible, Ramona replied, "I nodded slowly."

"Okay. Here you go Alicia." Alicia's face lit up. Ramona ran to the other side of the room and sat atop the plastic slide. She called for her mother over to join her, and within a few minutes, she was ready to engage with the other children again. 

For a training on this, join us online at Broadview Shelter's Staying Connected in Conflict training happening later this month.

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