The Brave, the Strong & the Mighty

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The brave are not those who propel their bodies at breakneck speed from coiled expanding rope
Or who neither fear nor flinch from the scariest scenes on screen
The strong are not those who lift great weights or who can hold their breath under water at length
Or who can run a 5 minute mile or build a car or a high tower
The mighty are not those who can scale formidable mountains or rule a nation
Or who make the greatest impression
Or can make a million or maybe tame a hungry lion

No, the brave are those who walk the shiny floors of hospital corridors
Who come face to face with desperation, degeneration or decay
Yet stay and hope or pray
Who make the most of each and every day
Searching for hints of goodness pushing through life’s dirt
And refuse to sigh and walk away

The strong are those who extend hope and healing to the weak and broken
Who get their hands dirty for the sake of showing love, and open
Their arms and eyes to you
Keep hoping
They find meaning in the mess, the madness
Who wipe a brow and squeeze a hand
And advocate for those with no strength of their own

The mighty are the ones who relentlessly pursue justice for the few
Who don’t just talk – but do
Who speak for those without a voice or a choice
And don’t run from hardship or pain, and
Who forgo comfort for the future gain
Of seeing the fruit of love in action
Who know what it means to keep pressing on
When everything’s against them, they find a way to carry on

The brave, the strong and the mighty –
They don’t seem special from the sidelines
They’re mostly under the radar
Without fanfare, fame or acclaim
They just keep on keeping on
Their spirits surging, their hope their song
Undeterred by life’s assaults, they find a way
In the silence, hanging by a thread, they give their all

And if they were to disappear
You’d miss them intensely before they’d barely gone
These are the brave souls, the strong friends, the mighty helpers
Who always think of others above themselves
These are the true winners
Driven by compassion, bathed in light and love
Ever ready to pull others up
They are the ones you can rely on
In your trouble or hour of need

The strong can face any mountain
Overcome it with gritty persistence, with determination
Though they feel your anguish and sense the pain
They will never walk away
The brave promise to go the distance
And always listen
Through the dark of the night
To walk beside you
Through every challenge, every bitter fight
They’ll stay, they’ll be a light
Ever hopeful to the end

The mighty get knocked down
But they get up again

10 Top Tips to Boost Mental Health in Children & Teens

mental-health

There’s been much in the news lately about mental health services in the UK that are overstretched and unable to support all children and young people promptly due to under-funding and under-staffing. While the state of children’s mental health is reaching crisis point in some regions, and increased pressure from school and social media is blamed for this development, parents are desperate to know how they can help their child or teen who may be struggling. Depression and anxiety are on the rise in under 18s.

This post is not meant to provide medical support or guidance, and I strongly advise that young people are seen by a GP and referred for specialist support if they are in crisis. This list is more of a recommendation for parents and carers whose child is currently coping well at this time or may be starting to show signs of poor mental health. These are things that I try to practice with my own children and that I discuss with them as part of their overall health and well-being.

The best things I believe you can do to foster good mental health in children and teens (in no particular order):

  1. A balanced, varied and mostly healthy diet – to include good fats such as fish and nuts. Avoid low fat everything, growing bodies benefit from consuming butter and full fat yoghurt or milk. And of course greens. If you have a fussy eater, just keep buying the one green vegetable that they will eat, e.g. my sons always liked broccoli but would never touch cabbage or courgettes. I’m sick to death of broccoli in meals, but can be assured that my kids are ingesting enough folic acid! However, do not obsess over food (which may also lead to anxiety in some individuals). Occasional junk food never harmed anyone, just try to keep things balanced.
  1. Sufficient sleep. That means enforcing some bedtimes, especially during the week. All those times I’ve ever felt really low always coincided with seasons of interrupted or lack of sleep. A child or young person that is not getting enough sleep regularly will find that it affects their concentration, their mood and their ability to handle tough situations or disappointment. Read more about that here.
  1. Helping them find their niche/thing that they love – whether that’s animals, skate-boarding, singing, acting, gardening, writing, volunteering, whatever…encourage them in that. (It’ll mean trying out lots of stuff but many activities are free, so keep on the lookout for information around your community, at the library etc.) Offer to help your child with their hobbies and pursuits and show an interest in what they love (even if model aeroplanes or horses are totally not your thing). Engaging in meaningful activities will help improve mood and is promoted by occupational therapists. More on that here.
  1. Socialisation. Encourage them out the house to meet other people, engage, do stuff. Get them involved in any neighbourhood or local events/ festivals/ special events in town. Keep them coming to family get-togethers and celebrations even if they’re bored at the thought of visiting their auntie or second cousin. Ask them to join you with an activity or help at an event. Getting out and having face to face interaction is a crucial part of optimum mental health. Find out more here.
  1. a) Limited screen time – especially for under 12s. Too much screen time makes for grumpy kids who lose passion for anything else in life. Tip: no gadgets in bedrooms overnight. Set Wifi limits, so it switches off at a pre-determined time on their devices (Don’t worry, it won’t affect YOUR Wifi access!) This will help immensely with no 2. Once the Wifi’s gone, most have no further use for their device. Also, encourage them to use the internet more to help them with no 3, or to learn skills and be creative (you can learn to do anything on YouTube) rather than just consuming media all the time. Warn them of the pitfalls of social media and wanting to be liked. Keep under 12s far away from social media, they are too young to handle it.
    b) Also keep porn away from your children by installing everything you can get your hands on. (Link to help with that) Porn is depressing and negatively impacts motivation. Read here and here. Teenagers will inevitably come across it, but at least you’ve done your best to protect them as children.
  1. Listen to your kids/teens. Spend some time with them on their own every day, even if it’s just a few mins. A good question to ask them: What was the best thing and the worst thing that happened today? Be supportive, no matter how trivial what they share seems. Above all, enjoy every positive interaction with your child. The negative interactions may be unavoidable, and sometimes the positive moments appear randomly, or you have to schedule them in. Either way, let your child or teen see that you just really like them, even if they’ve been annoying just half an hour earlier. (They know that you love them).
  1. Outdoor exercise and sunshine. Make opportunity for this as often as you can. Encourage teens to sit outside when it’s sunny to do revision. As a parent or carer, model this yourself; don’t lounge about on the sofa during all your free moments. Many young people look pale and may be lacking vitamin D due to spending most of their time indoors. And guess what? Low vitamin D levels are also linked to depression. (Read here.) Just bear in mind that vitamin D is a FAT soluble vitamin – hence the need for consuming some full fat products, otherwise it’s not fully absorbed by the body. (Refer to No 1).
  1. Positive, uplifting movies to watch together. Now and again find a film that promotes strength of character and of the human spirit, something that encourages empathy – e.g. The Hundred Foot Journey, August Rush or The Lucky One. Or check out some from this list. Even if it’s not their type of thing, coax them with popcorn or say you’ll watch their choice of movie next time. And teens are never too old for the occasional feel-good, family flick. The same goes for uplifting songs and music.
  1. Homework stress busters. Offer to help with ideas for how to complete homework more quickly, e.g. good websites to look at, how to plan an essay, suggestions for revision. I recommend a short burst of exercise (e.g. Pogo stick or trampoline) prior to homework, to send oxygen to the brain and boost serotonin levels right before getting stuck into something they might hate. Yep, that ties in with number 7 nicely. Also, do NOT encourage perfectionism with homework. A good job is good enough. Education is important but homework is only a small part of that. Discourage teens from spending all evening doing homework; make time for some downtime.
  1. Read books. When they’re younger, read to them, then read with them. When they’re teens, encourage them to read at least one book in each of the school holidays. Hand them something you’ve read that you’d recommend. When you’re on holiday, maybe have book nights where you read a chapter of something together out on the deck or balcony or outside your tent. Reading is pure escapism from the day to day drudgery or stresses of modern life and has been shown to make you happier.

All the above may not be able to prevent depression or mental disorders in a person who is predisposed to them, but these suggestions can certainly help to bolster a healthy mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Art of Apologising – One of the Best Things My Mother Taught Me

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I could list numerous methods of parenting my mother displayed that were ineffective or regrettable – from nagging about how skinny I was (or, how fat, these days), to moaning about whether I’d been taking vitamins at the slight occurrence of a sniffle. Yet there’s one experience that my mum instigated which has had a profound effect on me as an adult. And it’s in the area of apologising.

I was generally quite a bright and able child at school. Termly reports that came home were mostly pleasing in regard to my effort and progress. My parents had nothing to worry about.

That is, until my year 9 report (the Upper Fourth, back then) – when my form teacher made a scathing comment about my (teenage) tendency to be rude. Yikes, I hadn’t realised that she’d noticed my disdain of her. She was, after all, an unpopular PE teacher – which in a Girls’ Grammar like mine meant that we considered her the lowest of the low, and quite undeserving of our respect. In addition to that, I just didn’t like her. She looked funny and was annoying. She wore unfashionable sporty gear. I certainly wasn’t going to go out of my way to be pleasant to her. In fact, I rather revelled in ignoring her at times and doling out sarky or sulky responses now and again.

My mum was not impressed. She demanded that I apologise first thing the next day. Apologise! To her! I was mortified. I really didn’t feel any remorse, so why should I apologise? Mum threatened some sort of sanction unless I did. (I can’t remember what it was, but it was probably something like being grounded until further notice.)

And so, next morning after registration, as everyone was heading out of class to their lessons, I approached Miss Maddison, feeling totally sheepish and silly. I looked at her briefly in the eye, before mumbling an apology for my rudeness, whilst staring down at my feet. I’m not easily embarrassed but I could feel my face turning red and my heart beating wildly. The teacher acknowledged my apology and I made a hasty exit. It was all over within a few seconds, and wasn’t nearly as bad an experience as I thought it might be.

I wasn’t rude to her again, and actually started to develop some empathy and see things from her perspective for a change. I realised how awful it must be to be in charge of such a snobby bunch of self-absorbed teenage girls.

Since then, this acquired life skill, in which I overcome embarrassment in order to apologise for my behaviour or words, has served me well. You see, I am not always measured in my responses or thoughtful in my reactions – particularly after a sleepless night or stress from children or other outside influences. There are times when I snap, am rude or am unable to contain my displeasure. Just minutes after such encounters, I start to find myself deeply regretting my reaction and wonder what on earth got into me. I know that the only way I’ll ever be able to maintain future contact or relationship with the other party concerned will be for me to apologise. It’s a terrifying prospect – yet wholly necessary, and ever so liberating.

Just a short moment of humility, and the apology is usually accepted, and the wronged person hopefully begins to see me as a flawed, yet decent individual, rather than an absolute, pig headed idiot. I’m loathe to admit that the opportunities that led to apologies in such manner have arisen in a variety of settings, concerning dealings with different types of people – from a stall holder at a market place, to a church leader after a critical comment about kidswork, to my son’s primary headteacher during a meeting regarding a negative incident. Each of these situations could have been avoided entirely, if I had only stopped to think before I opened my mouth; alas, I didn’t. But, each time, I knew that if I wanted to restore any remnant of positive interaction with those people in future, it would depend on me apologising.

And for that, dear mum, I’m thankful that you taught me the importance of an apology. You also demonstrated the importance of apologising for your flaws when you over-reacted at home or responded in anger. If I am also able to instil in my children the value of saying sorry when they really don’t feel like it, I will have succeeded in some small way as a parent.

Post-it Note Marriage

Derek and Meredith from Grey's Anatomy

Derek and Meredith from Grey’s Anatomy

Every so often my husband and I have a little argument. It surfaces out of nowhere, often over something inconsequential, compounded by factors of little sleep or irritability. And in that moment, although things may have been running quite smoothly – we may have had some good times together lately – we let our guard down and what surfaces to the top and out of our mouths is something not very pretty and not very typical of us. The little argument turns instantaneously ugly.

Something like that happened to us just the other day. It happened to be February 14th – the day of celebrated love, but that’s just irony (and no, we weren’t arguing about anything related to Valentine’s Day). The issue itself wasn’t very important, it was more how our interactions went. He said something, I said something. He responded in a condescending way that made me feel very angry, made me feel like he was treating me like a child. At that, I snapped back with venom, throwing in a swear word to drive home the point about my displeasure at being spoken to in that manner. It was childish, it was embarrassing (especially as the boys were listening in, from the other room). And a couple of hours later we were laughing about it, thankfully.

Still, it can be alarming when you think about what you’re capable of saying or doing in the heat of a moment, and how things can change from peace and love to loathsome feelings in just a short while. In most marriages, a time will probably come when you feel absolute hatred towards your spouse – whether for a few moments or a few months. Everything they do or say may start to grate on your nerves, and you may begin to view them as the enemy, rather than the love of your life. They may even become the person you like least in your circle of friends and acquaintances.(Whilst I’ve only experienced these emotions momentarily, I’ve heard from others for whom it has been a longer term struggle.) How could someone you used to love with a passion become the object of your utmost annoyance and hate?

It’s at times like these that I’m reminded of a poignant scene in a very old episode of Grey’s Anataomy (season 5). As the lead characters’ wedding plans go awry due to a friend’s illness, Meredith puts together a light-hearted series of vows on a Post-it note – as a kind of informal wedding ceremony. One of them states the promise to ‘Love each other even when we hate each other’.

post it note

I love that vow – the sheer genius of the nuances contained in the statement – and think it should be written into every modern day wedding ceremony. It’s kind of funny and ridiculous, and yet so very true. Are you willing to overcome any difficulties and bumps in the road that lead to harbouring feelings of hate towards your partner, and aim to work through them, based on actions of persistent, unrelenting love – a love that continues to love against the odds? Knowing, beyond a doubt, that those negative feelings need only be temporary and that love can take root, be cultivated and blossom once again, through humility, patience and the winning of each other’s hearts– just as it first did in the beginning of the relationship?

It’s a risk to love, precisely because love can be rejected and trampled on. How crucial to accept that love in marriage will be assaulted at times from every angle – by pressures and circumstances, by people or situations, by moods and disagreements.

As I said, it’s surprising what you’re capable of when you’re under pressure. The incident with my husband in our kitchen drives home the fact that I am a flawed individual who is easily capable of sin – even that which I may have despised and criticised in others. I need to be very careful, and realise that it’s when I become smug or fall into pride about how good I am compared to others, that I can so easily fall into such sin. And when you mess up in front of others, in this case – my children – it serves as a reminder that you’re so fallible, which is a very humbling experience. Any masks of self-righteousness crumble away and there’s no hiding behind a squeaky clean image.

Yet, at the same time, such moments can allow you to recognise your own shortcomings and to develop gracious attitudes towards others who are struggling or who fall into behaviours that are less than godly. You can become more accepting of others.

Marriage is a perfect environment for the testing of one’s character – as two distinctly different people living in close quarters are forced to learn to give and take and reconcile their differences to enable some sort of harmony to flow. But simply co-existing is not a goal worth aiming for. Love should be the default setting in the relationship, where each one chooses to respond in love and affection rather than anything less, even when hate tries to bubble to the surface. And in Christian marriage that means leaning on grace and learning to love as Christ loves us. The more of Christ in us, the less breeding ground for hate to fester.

Sometimes we can learn something positive from a popular American TV series. In that one quote, all the marriage vows can be summed up. In embracing that one quote, we’re choosing to let love win.

Groped on a plane – that time I didn’t react

As readers express their dismay about the woman on a plane who was groped by another passenger while she slept, lamenting the fact that no-one reported the incident for up to 5 minutes, it immediately takes me back to my flight home from Majorca just a few days earlier. A pretty girl with long, dark hair tied back in a ponytail – around age 9 or 10, sat across the aisle from me – one seat in front. I watched her earlier in the flight as she played with a pink box filled with beads and craft items.

Towards the end of the flight, I witnessed something that enraged me. I was stuck into a good novel on my Kindle, but couldn’t help notice when a man, sitting two rows in front of her, who appeared to be either her father or step- father, came back to the girl’s seat and more or less sat on her lap to give her a sloppy kiss on the mouth. I glanced across briefly but continued to read. Then I frowned as I watched the man slide his left arm under her clothing to more or less grope her across the chest. I squirmed. If I’d been drinking tea, I’m sure I would have splurted it out on my lap.

I know many parents like to kiss their child on the lips; I get that. But this was more like an all out smooch bordering on snog.  When his hand sneaked up her sweater across bare skin and groped around, my eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets – all the while trying to contain myself from shouting ‘WHAT are you doing?!’ Alas, I chickened out; I didn’t intervene. But I glared, and when the man caught my eye, he got off her, with a smirk on his face,  and moved back to his seat, two rows ahead. The girl’s mum was sitting in the seat directly in front; she had an older sister across the aisle ahead, along with a younger brother or step brother. The family were sitting near to one another, but had obviously been split up on the seating plan.

The girl looked a bit uncomfortable, but also accepting of above said activity. This clearly wasn’t the first time. She clearly liked her dad/ step-dad and probably experienced conflicting emotions. During the last stage of the flight, she looked back at me a couple of times and I smiled at her; she smiled back – the unspoken exchange reflecting her acknowledgement that I was somehow ‘in’ on her predicament.  When I shared what had happened with my husband later on, he remarked:

“If he’s okay with doing something like that on a plane, can you imagine what he’s doing behind closed doors?’ I shuddered. Here was a pre-pubescent girl who was accustomed to a close relative putting his wandering hands under her clothes. Sickening. But I was scared. Should I confront the man and stir up a major conflict or altercation? Should I try to whisper to the girl and explain she should tell someone and get help? My three sons were sitting in the row behind her, but hadn’t seen the misdeed. I have no idea if anyone else witnessed what happened. The man would probably argue that he was just hugging his daughter. The incident had occurred in just a matter of seconds – 10-15 at most. Was I overreacting? I’d seen such scenarios before,  on a train or bus – but usually between consenting teens or inebriated twenty-something adults.

In the end, I decided to tear off a section from a page of a magazine and write the girl a note. It went something like this:

Hello,  Just to say I saw what happened and that you don’t have to let anyone touch you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable. Your body belongs to you – not anyone else – even anyone in your family.  Contact Childline. Hope that helps. Take care.

I wanted to add the phone number at the end, but my phone was in flight mode, and I wouldn’t be able to look it up online. And then I struggled with deciding on the appropriate moment to pass her the note. Should I give it her straightaway or wait until the end of the flight? What if someone in her family noticed and thought that I was a dodgy person? Dilemmas! In the end, I popped the note in my pocket and thought I’d wait ‘til we were all at baggage claim, where I could disappear into the crowds and make a hasty exit.

But by the time the plane landed and we went through passport control, popped to the loos and tried to organise ourselves, I lost sight of the girl and her family and completely forgot. It wasn’t until we went to collect our car, that my fingers felt the folded note in my jacket pocket and I felt a major twinge of regret. I had done nothing. I’d observed, I’d reacted and I’d told my husband. But I did nothing to protect this girl from something tantamount to child abuse.  But I didn’t think I had enough to nail the guy. It would just be my word against his, as he’d brush off his actions as merely an affectionate cuddle. At the same time, I realised that this guy was probably a good father 90% of the time. The children looked happy and well looked after. Should I really stir up a hornet’s nest, potentially leading to this girl being removed from her family?

It’s been bugging me for several days, as I rethink how I should have responded differently. I’m now convinced that I should have confronted the man then and there about the inappropriateness of his actions. At least then, the girl would have seen that others did not consider their activities normal and acceptable. At least then, he would have realised that others might be prepared to challenge him. Hindsight is always 20/20.

Instead, the man probably went home feeling invincible. He could do what he liked with the young girl in his charge.  It made me realize how many others must be going through similar scenarios across the country every day.  And it’s up to us to stand up and defend the helpless and confront the perpetrators of such abhorrent behaviour.  What would you have done?

Conscious Uncoupling & Coldplay’s heartfelt lyrics

 

After the high profile celebrity couple announced their separation yesterday, it seemed poignant to post Chris Martin’s latest release. Despite the hype surrounding the choice of words to describe their split, this song hints at the raw side of relationship breakdown.

For further thoughts on this, check out my latest article – Gwyneth, Chris and Conscious Uncoupling – over at Threads.

 

 

On Matters of Motivation

Creative Commons: Arya Ziai

Creative Commons: Arya Ziai

When it comes to getting stuff done, I’ve observed a fair range of behaviours and responses in regard to completing tasks, classwork or other types of challenges.

I’m a parent of three sons under 15 and also work part-time with young people at college. I used to be in the classroom, teaching, and have regularly been part of various teams – both in paid or voluntary settings. I’ve gained experience through tutoring 1:1, too.

As a result, I’ve seen the world of difference in working with those who are self-motivated, and working with those who are not.

You can nag, cajole, persuade, bribe. But at the end of the day, a nagged person will only achieve momentary success for a particular season or project. They’ll constantly need guidance, oversight and assistance to get anything done. In contrast, a self-motivated person will by default become a successful or independent person – in whatever life’s direction they pursue – since they push themselves to achieve more.

The self motivated tend to exhibit the following traits:

  • A positive or can-do attitude – they get going with planning or writing or contributing ideas. Without sighing or whining, as if they’ve been asked to schlep a tonne of bricks to the North Pole.
  • Determination – to tackle the task set before them, despite any challenges or setbacks. Determined people believe that what they need to complete is within their capabilities and act accordingly. They know they can do it, and just get on with the task at hand swiftly.
  • Initiative – willing to try out solutions and work things out by various methods, without constantly asking for someone else’s permission or help. Those who show initiative are quick thinkers.
  • Acknowledgement of their flaws or shortcomings – They are aware of their limitations and will be quick to ask for help or guidance or advice from a variety of sources, when necessary. They don’t wait until it’s right before a deadline before approaching someone for help.

Conversely, the unmotivated are a disgruntled bunch, showing frequent signs of apathy, negativity, discontent and over-reliance on others. They don’t plan or think ahead, and get annoyed when they find something difficult.

It doesn’t need stating, that it is a joy to work with those in the former group. Those who are motivated tend to be happier and more likely team players. They’re committed to seeing through an activity or assignment.  They’re often known as ‘high flyers’.

So what makes someone self motivated?

I think there are several reasons…

  • They see the bigger picture, and are aiming for something beyond the current task. Frequently, they’re working towards a level or an exam which will allow them access to something aspirational – such as a place at university or an award or a vocation. More simply, it could be that they welcome the praise or minor reward to come after completion of the task.
  • They thrive on a challenge. Instead of thinking how difficult or impossible a task might be, they are eager to show others what they can do and what is possible.
  • They have high self esteem and take pride in their work. They can’t bear to give half hearted attempts at anything. They recognise that their work is a reflection of who they are as a person.
  • They place value on quality and success. Average is not an option.

So how can self motivation be developed in children or young people?

  • Help give them something to aspire to, a vision of what they could be or could gain – whether a career or sporting achievement or recognition from someone acclaimed. Let them see that they have potential to do or be something great by praising their good qualities and encouraging them to think about their future.
  • The small things matter. Don’t let them get away with chucking their clothes on the floor or dropping litter. Encourage them to organise themselves and to take responsibility for their possessions and prioritise their time. Model this in the way you organise yourself.
  • Make them follow through on commitments or promises. Don’t let them quit easily or let others down without good reason.
  • Be cheerful and upbeat around them. Discourage any forms of hyperbolic whining or complaining.  Self motivation cannot be fostered in an environment of whining.
  • Encourage them to tackle tasks – even the most boring ones – quickly and efficiently, rather than deliberating for ages.

Fortunately, it is possible to change from unmotivated and downbeat, to self motivated and confident. Young people have great potential for adaptability. Once they hit adulthood, however, it would seem that that they’re more likely to be stuck in the patterns they’ve adopted since childhood.

Not everyone is brilliant or high achieving or clever. But everyone can become self-motivated to ensure they give their optimum to the things that matter.

 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart – Colossians 3:23