Mental Health

Nerves On Edge In Your Home?

Delaney Ruston, MD
September 15, 2020
chalk board

Before I even start, I just want to share my deep sadness for all those affected by the fires. The devastation is so unbelievable.

These days, beyond all the painful news, I have also been thinking a lot about stress in homes. I know I am not alone in saying that tense interactions in my home can happen pretty darn quickly with everyone around each other so much of the time. Many of us are now even more locked inside because the air quality outside is at unsafe levels. And, then, the hecticness of online school starting is making things worse.

Today I am sharing some ideas for parents to help decrease tension in the home. Focusing on what we can do – rather than what others are doing that annoys us – is key in bringing down our anxious feelings. And we all know that bringing down our own stress level works wonders in lowering stress in the entire home.  

My college-age son told me about a friend from high school here in Seattle whose parents had gone on a road trip through Oregon, leaving his friend alone to enjoy the house all to himself. But then they had to return due to the fires raging through Oregon. The friend said to my son, “On the one hand, it is not too big a deal that they are back; on the other hand, it was so nice not to experience the little things they do that annoy me SO MUCH these days.”

I know these days, my son feels the same way – he is living here and not at his college. I often remind him – and myself – that he is biologically wired not to be in our home right now. He should be out crafting a life for himself with people his age, and therefore it’s not surprising that so much of what I do (including my mere existence at times) is like nails on a chalkboard, TIMES TEN, to him.

Then there are the parents I hear from who are increasingly frustrated with their kids. For example, some feel incredibly tense that their child can’t be away at college and is home playing hours and hours of video games each day. And of course, not just college-age kids continue to be on lots of games. During an online event I spoke at last week moderated by Jane Fonda, she expressed her concerns about kids who loved to read until they discovered video games and then completely gave up reading.

Here are some suggestions that may be helpful:

1. List Hidden Brownie Points

I have been working hard to bring tensions down while staying true to my needs and boundaries. Much of what I am doing is simply the action of NOT doing things that bug my family. But when I do these things, I get a bit perturbed that I don’t get brownie points for the things I stop myself from doing. Can you relate?

For example, just today, I did not yell downstairs to my son to ask him a question and instead went downstairs to speak to him. But did he know how much self-awareness and self-control it took me to not yell down the stairs?!! Did I get any brownie points? No! Boy, I would love some positive feedback on my self-restraint.

So here is what I recommend if you can relate:

Get a whiteboard, a notepad, a chalkboard (that is what I am using because we have one in the kitchen), and have the family write down any “Hidden Brownie Points.” Model to your kids that you are working to decrease the times you do behaviors that you know irritates them.

Yesterday, I wrote on our chalkboard, “1 Hidden Brownie Point for having not yelled down the stairs.” My son and I shared a little laugh about it (laughter is so needed right now). I encourage others in the family to write down their Hidden Brownie Points as well.

2. List “Anchor Thoughts”

When we feel those uncomfortable parenting feelings and thoughts, plan anchor statements that you turn to, and say or write them down for yourself when triggered. I like to call them Anchor Thoughts because they can anchor you in a calm and wise place and keep you from blurting out something that can elevate tensions.

Here are some examples:

You have thoughts that go something like this, “My child will fall behind academically because their online classes are not working well for them.”

Possible Anchor statement: “Learning is a lifelong process. This is not a race to the so-called ‘best’ colleges.”

Another example, your teen is playing so many hours of video games, and your worried thoughts include, “He will become addicted to video gaming and end up failing in school.”

Possible Anchor Thought: “The vast majority of kids who love playing video games do not become addicted. And people want to succeed in life. I trust that my child does, as well.”

**If you are worried about the risk of addiction, read some of my past TTTs that go into this.

3. Discuss this skill for conflict resolution called “SAIL”

When everyone is in a good mood, review this skill called “SAIL.” It is about helping to work out a conflict with someone — think about sailing to the other side of a conflict.  

S is for stopping. Rather than dive into a conflict, stop yourself.

A is for assessing your emotions. What emotions are happening? Often we think it is only anger, but anger is usually a secondary emotion to many other things, such as feeling insecure that one is getting judged poorly by a parent, or jealous or sad.

I is for using “I” statements in two ways. The first one is, “I feel this. I feel that.” Only talk about how YOU feel about the situation. Second, “What part I have played in the conflict, what have my behaviors been?” For instance, I should have given you a specific amount of time that I expected you to play the game.

L is for listening. When listening, think to yourself, what emotions am I picking up? Am I listening so intently that I could repeat a lot of this back to the person talking? We think a lot about what we say but getting good at really listening to understand the other person is critical. I find it extremely useful to say to the person, “I am listening to you. I think I heard you say XYZ.” I try to use their exact wording as much as possible. Then I follow up with,  “Did I get that right? Did I leave anything out?”

Here are a few questions to get the conversation started:

  1. What is each of us feeling good about in terms of our interactions in the home these days?
  2. What are some of our points of irritation with each other these days?
  3. What things have each of us been working on that go unseen, i.e., let’s talk about our hidden brownie points to give some positive recognition for all that we are doing.
  4. Why not rehearse SAIL? Make it fun by making up a far fetched conflict; maybe use characters from your child’s favorite movie. ** To start using a new communication skill, it helps to bring it up often and model it. So consider bringing this up again in a few days and begin to use it in the face of a real conflict.

Click here if you are interested in hosting an ONLINE screening for your community.

Click here if you want to attend an ONLINE screening.

Click here for information about Dr. Ruston’s new  book

Subscribe to Dr. Ruston’s Screenagers Podcast.

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Mental Health

Nerves On Edge In Your Home?

Delaney Ruston, MD
September 15, 2020
chalk board

Before I even start, I just want to share my deep sadness for all those affected by the fires. The devastation is so unbelievable.

These days, beyond all the painful news, I have also been thinking a lot about stress in homes. I know I am not alone in saying that tense interactions in my home can happen pretty darn quickly with everyone around each other so much of the time. Many of us are now even more locked inside because the air quality outside is at unsafe levels. And, then, the hecticness of online school starting is making things worse.

Today I am sharing some ideas for parents to help decrease tension in the home. Focusing on what we can do – rather than what others are doing that annoys us – is key in bringing down our anxious feelings. And we all know that bringing down our own stress level works wonders in lowering stress in the entire home.  

My college-age son told me about a friend from high school here in Seattle whose parents had gone on a road trip through Oregon, leaving his friend alone to enjoy the house all to himself. But then they had to return due to the fires raging through Oregon. The friend said to my son, “On the one hand, it is not too big a deal that they are back; on the other hand, it was so nice not to experience the little things they do that annoy me SO MUCH these days.”

I know these days, my son feels the same way – he is living here and not at his college. I often remind him – and myself – that he is biologically wired not to be in our home right now. He should be out crafting a life for himself with people his age, and therefore it’s not surprising that so much of what I do (including my mere existence at times) is like nails on a chalkboard, TIMES TEN, to him.

Then there are the parents I hear from who are increasingly frustrated with their kids. For example, some feel incredibly tense that their child can’t be away at college and is home playing hours and hours of video games each day. And of course, not just college-age kids continue to be on lots of games. During an online event I spoke at last week moderated by Jane Fonda, she expressed her concerns about kids who loved to read until they discovered video games and then completely gave up reading.

Here are some suggestions that may be helpful:

1. List Hidden Brownie Points

I have been working hard to bring tensions down while staying true to my needs and boundaries. Much of what I am doing is simply the action of NOT doing things that bug my family. But when I do these things, I get a bit perturbed that I don’t get brownie points for the things I stop myself from doing. Can you relate?

For example, just today, I did not yell downstairs to my son to ask him a question and instead went downstairs to speak to him. But did he know how much self-awareness and self-control it took me to not yell down the stairs?!! Did I get any brownie points? No! Boy, I would love some positive feedback on my self-restraint.

So here is what I recommend if you can relate:

Get a whiteboard, a notepad, a chalkboard (that is what I am using because we have one in the kitchen), and have the family write down any “Hidden Brownie Points.” Model to your kids that you are working to decrease the times you do behaviors that you know irritates them.

Yesterday, I wrote on our chalkboard, “1 Hidden Brownie Point for having not yelled down the stairs.” My son and I shared a little laugh about it (laughter is so needed right now). I encourage others in the family to write down their Hidden Brownie Points as well.

2. List “Anchor Thoughts”

When we feel those uncomfortable parenting feelings and thoughts, plan anchor statements that you turn to, and say or write them down for yourself when triggered. I like to call them Anchor Thoughts because they can anchor you in a calm and wise place and keep you from blurting out something that can elevate tensions.

Here are some examples:

You have thoughts that go something like this, “My child will fall behind academically because their online classes are not working well for them.”

Possible Anchor statement: “Learning is a lifelong process. This is not a race to the so-called ‘best’ colleges.”

Another example, your teen is playing so many hours of video games, and your worried thoughts include, “He will become addicted to video gaming and end up failing in school.”

Possible Anchor Thought: “The vast majority of kids who love playing video games do not become addicted. And people want to succeed in life. I trust that my child does, as well.”

**If you are worried about the risk of addiction, read some of my past TTTs that go into this.

3. Discuss this skill for conflict resolution called “SAIL”

When everyone is in a good mood, review this skill called “SAIL.” It is about helping to work out a conflict with someone — think about sailing to the other side of a conflict.  

S is for stopping. Rather than dive into a conflict, stop yourself.

A is for assessing your emotions. What emotions are happening? Often we think it is only anger, but anger is usually a secondary emotion to many other things, such as feeling insecure that one is getting judged poorly by a parent, or jealous or sad.

I is for using “I” statements in two ways. The first one is, “I feel this. I feel that.” Only talk about how YOU feel about the situation. Second, “What part I have played in the conflict, what have my behaviors been?” For instance, I should have given you a specific amount of time that I expected you to play the game.

L is for listening. When listening, think to yourself, what emotions am I picking up? Am I listening so intently that I could repeat a lot of this back to the person talking? We think a lot about what we say but getting good at really listening to understand the other person is critical. I find it extremely useful to say to the person, “I am listening to you. I think I heard you say XYZ.” I try to use their exact wording as much as possible. Then I follow up with,  “Did I get that right? Did I leave anything out?”

Here are a few questions to get the conversation started:

  1. What is each of us feeling good about in terms of our interactions in the home these days?
  2. What are some of our points of irritation with each other these days?
  3. What things have each of us been working on that go unseen, i.e., let’s talk about our hidden brownie points to give some positive recognition for all that we are doing.
  4. Why not rehearse SAIL? Make it fun by making up a far fetched conflict; maybe use characters from your child’s favorite movie. ** To start using a new communication skill, it helps to bring it up often and model it. So consider bringing this up again in a few days and begin to use it in the face of a real conflict.

Click here if you are interested in hosting an ONLINE screening for your community.

Click here if you want to attend an ONLINE screening.

Click here for information about Dr. Ruston’s new  book

Subscribe to Dr. Ruston’s Screenagers Podcast.

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