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Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Way We Hold Our Babies

It turns out that as important as the skin-to-skin contact we have with our babies in their early years, is the way we hold them.  Unrelated to handedness and widespread across cultures, mothers cradle their babies on the left side.  Even chimps and gorillas favor the left arm hold.  Why, you ask?  Apparently, a few researchers have found that the left-cradling tendency promotes right hemisphere-to-right hemisphere communication between mother and child (Manning et al., 1997; Harris, Almergi, & Kirsch 2000).

The right hemisphere is not only deeply connected with the autonomic nervous system, but is also specialized in perception, the recall of spatial patterns of touch in nonverbal memory, and facilitates affective information necessary for normal brain maturation.  What’s important to know about the right hemisphere is that as the dominant emotional processing center, it controls vital functions that enable human beings to maintain a homeostatic state to support both survival and help cope with stressors. Right hemispheric dominance in terms of facial recognition, emotional information processing, and limbic system homeostasis suggests that both emotional and social intelligence—intrinsic to the development of courage—are dependent on right hemisphere stimulation and maturation through secure attachment

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Courage Tip of the Day

Make a mental list of three things you are thankful for today.  Practice, and talk about with your kids, "an attitude of gratitude".  

Dr. Brené Brown's (2010) research shows that joyful people actively write, say, and offer prayers of gratitude as a primary spiritual courage workout.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Raising a Leader

It’s funny how talking can bring things into action. Since Lisa and I began working on this project about teaching our children courage, we’ve naturally been discussing the topic with our kids. I’ve been sharing more stories with a courage theme with K., and Lisa and I have both talked with our girls about what we call “courage challenges.” Everyone has a different discomfort zone, and the more we can find ways to push against our own boundaries and limitations, the stronger our courage becomes.

“But why keep doing more courage challenges?” K. wanted to know. “We already did one last week.”

Monday, March 28, 2011

Introducing Courage Challenges

As a trained child/family therapist, parenting coach, and family life educator, and most importantly, a parent of two kids, I can relate to the kind of heart-centeredness required to be a loving influence on others.  When I act from a place of love, I am effective in my work and my parenting.  Not only does parenting require listening to the wisdom of our hearts and loving our children completely, it also requires our bravery to allow our children the opportunities to take on life tasks without our protection, constant hovering, and/or insulating them from the consequences of their behavior or choices.  We can’t teach our children about courage through lectures, as much as we can show them through our actions, supporting them as they face challenges in life, and by offering opportunities to build their courage muscles—let’s call them courage challenges.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

First Steps on the Path

Copyright Andrey Voznjuk, Dreamstime.com
I wanted to get back to that bit about navigating the neighborhood, because I think it’s a really big topic -- walking alone is a life skill that takes some courage, but parents can start doing this with small steps.  We've already talked about the 5-minute courage work-out on this topic, but this merits even more attention.  Let's Talk the Walk!

I think parents and kids can take their first steps on the path just start by walking together, the earlier the better. Walking side by side allows for storytelling and conversation without eye contact, letting the child’s gaze wander freely to bring the rest of the world into the conversation. There are wonderful tales, both religious and secular, that have to do with walking, and as a child listens she can imagine herself as the walker in the story. If they live in a town or development with blocks of interconnected streets they can make a regular walk with their kids, teaching how to cross streets safely, how to notice street signs, making a guessing game of which direction to turn at the next intersection in order to return home. Once there is a regular, familiar route, the child can be the leader – follow the leader is fun for a reason!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

"I'm not funny.  What I am is brave." ~ Lucille Ball

Friday, March 25, 2011

5-Minute Courage Workout: A Fate Worse than Death

Compiled and written by Lisa and Jennifer:

Given that public speaking is well known to be #1 on most people's list of dreaded activities, let's start with how to coach your child to give a speech, so that standing in the spotlight doesn't feel like a fate worse than death!

Here's our 5-Minute Courage Workout on Public Speaking by age range, and remember, all workouts are more effective when followed regularly!

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  • Toddler: start with your favorite nursery rhyme. Make it a game of call and response.  For example, teach "Itsy-Bitsy Spider", sing it a few times, then start taking turns with the lines with your child.  Both of you stand in front of a mirror and now play the game!
  • Preschooler: introduce "Roses and Thorns" at dinner time.  What was your best thing about today?  What was your worst thing? Model respectful listening and taking turns as the center of attention.
  • Early elementary student: offer your child the opportunity to say the dinner blessing.  Print off or write out a few possible dinner verses, blessings, or graces.  Have your child cut them out, put them in a grab bag for some mystery, and pull one out at dinner to say standing at the head of the table. 
  • Upper elementary student or 'tween: on your way to school together, or returning home at night (or another convenient time), ask your child to read out loud to you from the book they are reading.  At your next family gathering, ask your child to retell a favorite myth, legend, fable, or family story. 
  • High schooler or teen: play "After-Dinner Speeches" at a family gathering. Everyone writes down the title of a fictitious speech (such as "How snow contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire"; "How spaghetti was discovered"; "My most successful invention"; "If teens ruled the world"), and puts them in a hat;  the first speaker pulls out a topic at random and delivers a 2-minute speech with no hesitations or repetitions, and then passes the hat to the next person.  Don't worry if you don't know a thing about your ridiculous topic!  The goal is to deliver the speech with so much authority and poise that you impress everyone with your amazing knowledge and confidence!
The problem with fear is that it stops you in your tracks.  A powerful way to conquer a fear is to break it into manageable steps, move forward through it, gain momentum, and celebrate your success!  For example, asking some children to deliver an unscripted speech might take social courage, but for others it might take more intellectual courage.   Review the Six Types of Courage to figure out which types your child needs to complete this workout.

If you want more 5-Minute Courage Workouts...

Here's our 5-Minute Courage Workout on Navigating the Neighborhood5-Minute Courage Workout: Talking Dirty, and our 5-Minute Courage Workout on Playing With Fire.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Quiet Alertness

Lisa’s list of the 7 Baby Bs may be poignant for adoptive parents to read – it certainly was for me. There is so much I don’t know about my daughter’s first 8 years, let alone her first eight hours, eight days, eight weeks or eight months. Were these 7 Baby B’s part of her life? What if they weren’t? What do I do? Is it too late? If these foundations of attachment are not solid will my daughter develop courage? My own emotional courage as a parent is put to the test in moments such as this.

Upon reflection, however, I remembered an observation I had made some time ago. My mother and sister and I were visiting old colonial towns in Mexico. It was Holy Week, and many families were out and about, watching the religious processions and enjoying their holiday. After a few days it dawned on me that I never saw any children either in strollers or prams, and then it also occurred to me that I never saw any children having fits or hysterics or being scolded, and I seldom saw babies crying. Everywhere I looked, babies and toddlers were being held and carried, either by parents or aunts or uncles or grandparents or older siblings. Now, to be sure, these almost medieval towns were unsuitable for such wheeled transport, and no doubt the cost was also prohibitive for many families, too. But I think, as well, that they just wanted to hold and carry their babies, and I saw a lot of “quiet alertness” in those children.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Courage In Action

For all our readers in Upstate New York, here's an opportunity to be inspired as a parent and learn more about two mothers who decided to embrace courage instead of fear, in the face of the devastating deaths of their husbands on 9/11, through supporting Afghan widows.  

Special Film Event – This Saturday and Sunday, March 26 &27, 2011:    Beyond Belief

Film (92 mins.) followed by Q & A with Susan Retik
All proceeds donated to Beyond the 11th non-profit organization.

Susan Retik and Patti Quigley were both pregnant when their husbands were killed on 9/11. Family, friends, and support from around the world enabled them to rebuild their lives. Choosing to transcend the prevalent response of anger and violent retaliation, they founded the organization Beyond the 11th to reach out to Afghan widows with whom they felt a kinship. In 2006, Susan and Patti traveled to Afghanistan to meet their Afghan counterparts and see firsthand the work of the organization they founded. Beyond Belief documents this journey. Beyond the 11th is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that empowers widows in Afghanistan who have been afflicted by war, terrorism, and oppression. It supports programs that enable widows to support themselves and their families by providing grants to partner NGOs in Afghanistan and funding education and incomegeneration opportunities that are sustainable and culturally appropriate.
If you would like further information about the film events contact Lisa: info@drlisaparentcoaching.com

You can also rent this movie at your local video store, or order it on Netflix or Amazon. 

Prepare to be inspired by how it is possible from out of the ashes of devastating loss, great courage and humanitarianism can emerge! 

Two showings of the film: (Tickets available at the door)
March 26, 2011

First Unitarian Universalist
Society of Albany (FUUSA)
405 Washington Ave
6:30 pm

March 27, 2011
Gannet Auditorium, Skidmore College
815 North Broadway
Saratoga Springs
3:30 pm

Suggested donation: $10
All donations are 100% tax deductible.  If you are unable to attend the event, consider a donation through http://www.beyondthe11th.org/

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bonding with Baby

"When a child walks in the room, your child or anybody else’s child, do your eyes light up? That’s what they’re looking for." Toni Morrison

Not long after my husband and I brought our newborn son home from the hospital, I was breastfeeding on the couch watching an “Oprah Winfrey Show” segment on the Nobel Prize-winning poetic genius Toni Morrison.  She mentioned the importance of loving connections between parents and children by uttering this quote and parenting challenge. 

Jonathan Fitch, FreeDigitalPhotos.net
It was easy for me to gaze upon my newborn boy with loving, lit up eyes in those early days and months.  I was, at the time, blissfully unaware of the complicated hormonal soup we were all swimming in together. Instinctively responsive as I was to my son's face shape, button nose, and round captivating eyes, I was unaware of how our intense mutual gazes were actually causing endorphin levels to rise in us both.  Endorphin release produces feelings of joy, love, and euphoria associated with ensuring healthy development.  My son's eyes rewarded me biochemically and my visual and nurturing motor responses quickly conditioned to his proximity seeking cues (particularly at around eight weeks when visual acuity improves and a critical period of visual cortex development occurs).  By three months, my son's gazes and smiles showed me his interest in play, his cries and disengagement of attention his disinterest. 

Bonding with my baby seemed intuitive, if not an overwhelming responsibility to do the whole thing “right.”   I was not only led by the zeitgeist at the time “attachment parenting,” but sometimes succumbed to the guilt-inducing messages of some of its followers.  I stressed about the family bed, how long to breastfeed, and the impact of my frustration with the fact that my son didn’t sleep through the night until he was three!  Still, I'm grateful I trusted my gut, imitated what I knew to be true about a healthy mother-infant bond, and followed the attachment parenting advice that fit.  It wasn't easy, but nothing as worthwhile and important as bonding ever is. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Courage Question of the Day

Lion's Whiskers asks: Which fairy tales inspired you as a child? What did they inspire you to create in your life, do you think? (i.e. taking a scuba diving course with hope of glimpsing a mermaid below the ocean's surface)

Which fairy tale is your child's favorite...what particular intellectual, moral, emotional, social, physical, or spiritual possibilities do you think that this tale opens up in your child's imagination? (i.e. designing a house made entirely made of candy, and settling for a smaller scale model made of gingerbread) 

Recommend your favorite fairy tales!

Sunday, March 20, 2011


"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."

"When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking."

~Albert Einstein~

Intellectual courage is a problematic type of courage to discuss. Most people can pretty easily understand what we mean by emotional or moral courage, and certainly physical courage is pretty self-evident. But what is intellectual courage? Why do you need courage to think?

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Chemical Soup Called LOVE

Whether or not your first days as a parent were spent breastfeeding on the couch watching Oprah, like me or not,  psychologists now understand that the bonding between a parent and child (or caregiver and child) occurs in a myriad of ways.  The important thing is that bonding happens!  Without developing the ability to care about ourselves and each other…we rarely possess the kind of heroic heart we need to thrive in life.   

Good news from psychoneurobiology research:  the underlying processes associated with bonding now reassures parents that skin-to-skin contact is also one of the primary triggers for oxytocin’s release. Oxytocin being the stock for the chemical soup that is parental love.  Simply holding our child triggers a release of love-inducing chemicals (opiods, for example—those pleasure-giving, rewarding neurochemicals that calm us, relieve pain, and generally reward life-sustaining behaviors).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

We Just Turned 40!

40 countries that is!  We would like to say "Thank You" to all our readers in the 40 countries who have visited Lion's Whiskers to date.

Please continue to share your parenting experiences and wisdom with us by posting your comments!  We welcome your feedback as we research, write about, and develop our ideas about nurturing courage in our children. 

We recognize the importance of preparing our children to have courage in life, even if they have yet to face their most difficult moments.  We also recognize that sometimes we don't have the opportunity to prepare for the kind of devastation that our readers in Japan, for example, are currently facing with such bravery. 

As we develop the blog, we will continue to feature everyday and heroic tales of courage.  We will also be including interviews with families who are both laying the foundations for courage with their children and who have already faced great difficulty with inspiring courage. We will continue to offer lots of 5-Minute Courage Workouts, activities, and stories that we hope you will find useful in promoting courage in your own lives.  If you wish to share what you are learning about how you are nurturing courage in your children in everyday life and/or during times of crisis, please contact us and share your story, or post your comments.

Please continue to share our blog link, join our subscription list (it's anonymous and spam-free), become a follower, tweet us, "Like" us on facebook, and spread the courage word!

Here's a great courage quote for today:

"Don't stop.  Knocked down, get up; pushed back, keep pushing forward, if it rains down on your dreams, forget shelter, get wet and keep moving." ~ Cory Booker's tweet yesterday on Twitter, the dynamic young mayor of Newark, NJ 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Your heroic theme song!

Do you know what hit songs were on the radio when you were born?  Pick one as your heroic theme song for your own birth story and share the title here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Birth Stories

Like most adoptive parents, I have no birth story to share with my daughter. I wasn’t there. As a poor substitute I thought maybe I could share mine with her.

“I don’t remember a thing,” my mother informs me dryly. “I’ve blotted everything out. All of it.”

This is my mother’s standard response to questions about my early years. Don’t get me wrong – there was no trauma, no tragedy, no tumult. I suspect it’s just the accumulation of unremarkable details in a stable and secure environment – the pot roasts cooked, the laundry folded, the hours spent outside piano lessons or dentist visits or dance class, the birthday presents bought and wrapped – that my mother eventually put behind her like an outgrown shell; with that shell went the pearls, too, I guess. In 1961 fathers were not routinely welcomed into delivery rooms, let alone with cameras, let alone with video cameras. For my birth story I have to be content with a minute examination of my birth certificate, the first record of my existence.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

"Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage." ~ Lao Tzu

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Let's Start at the Beginning...Childbirth

What does our child’s birth have to do with courage?  Birth triggers similar neurological mechanisms and the release of many of the same neurochemicals associated with courage.  If you don’t think it takes courage to give birth, to adopt a child, or unconditionally love another human being then stop reading right now!

Let’s start at the beginning.  I didn’t have the “perfect birth” with either of my kids.  READ: quick, soothing music, no emergency interventions and/or numbing chemical infusions, surrounded by family/friends/a birthing coach/midwife/massage therapist all focused on giving me exactly what I needed when I needed it, maybe even at home!  The kind of birth I’d read about in some of the baby and childbirth books I'd found.  The kind of birth other expectant moms and I proudly and excitedly whispered to each other about having in our childbirth education class or whilst we stretched our swollen limbs together in prenatal yoga class. Or the “natural births” other moms bragged to me about at baby showers or in grocery store lineups where I was, yet again, buying the weirdest combinations of food to stave off my pregnancy cravings and nausea whilst ensuring a hefty weight gain. Well, maybe they weren't bragging, but as a slightly competitive person myself (note the understatement) I definitely heard the brag.  Honestly, I even skipped over the Cesearean sections in all the baby books.  I figured: not going to happen to me, don't need to read it!  Boy, was I humbled and deeply grateful that an OB/GYN I trusted happened to be on-call.

That all said, when my kids ask about the day they were born, I fluff up my fur (a.k.a. my crazy curly hair) with pride, wrap them inside my protective lion mama arms, and whisper how I fell in love with them on the day they were born.  I tell them how brave they were (in their own specific ways) and how their cries could be heard far and wide awakening the world to their arrival.  How their dad and I wept with joy when we first saw them and heard their cry.  But most of all, how grateful we are to know them, to witness them grow every day, and to be their parents. Turns out it's the most “natural thing” in the world to love your child!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

5-Minute Courage Workout: Playing with Fire

Why a 5-Minute Courage Workout on Playing with Fire?  Cavemen and women needed it to survive:  our kids need to know about fire so they can enjoy it and not burn the house down or themselves! 
Fire can be magical and provide necessary warmth.  It can also be hazardous. Our children need to be prepared to deal with emergencies in life.  Talking about and preparing for emergencies are not meant to be activities to create fear.  Preparedness helps reduce anxiety (anxiety being defined as "the fear of something threatening, uncontrollable, and/or unmanageable").  Being proactive and preparing yourself and your child to deal with any number of expected, unexpected, tragic, and/or otherwise disastrous events, like those happening this year in Japan, is meant to build the necessary confidence, skill, and courage needed to cope. 

One of the most effective ways to conquer a fear is to face it.  Henceforth, we offer frequent courage workouts by age range to help you and your child develop the necessary courage muscles to handle both the expected and unexpected, tragic and heroic, events that shape our lives.  We take small steps with these workouts and hopefully make learning to be courageous educational and fun.  Here's more on why to teach your children how to use dangerous things.

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  • Toddler: make dinnertime magical tonight.  Find a candle for the table.  It could even be a used birthday candle hiding at the back of the utensils drawer. Light it, and like your lesson about the kitchen stove, say "Hot" and pull your hand quickly back.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Story Time

I recognize that my lifestyle is very unlike others’. I know that by working at home, and with just one kid in school in a walkable community, I am living in a way that gives me the luxury so many people dream of: time. I have the time to tell my daughter stories. Our weekday mornings look nothing like the stereotype you see in movies or commercials – parents grabbing keys and briefcases while talking on their cell phones, teens reaching for pastries as they race to the bus, kids trying to finish homework while breakfast sits uneaten on the table. Our mornings actually include long conversations!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Courage Question of the Day

Lion's Whiskers asks: Have your kids (or you for that matter) pushed against the boundaries of their own courage, even if it meant getting into "trouble"?
(Like these real-life examples from our parenting and growing-up treasure trove: playing with matches under the bed, playing with firecrackers in the basement, starting or DRIVING the car before being able to see over the dashboard, parachuting off the garage roof with a plastic green garbage bag cape!)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Does Size Really Matter? David and Goliath

The armies of King Saul were arrayed in battle against the Philistines, face to face across the Valley of Elah. From among the ranks of the Philistines came a great giant of a warrior, boldly daring anyone among the Israelites to meet him in single combat. This champion was so powerful and terrifying that none among Saul’s fighters were willing to do battle against him, even with the encouragement of a great reward from their king.
David, a teenager, was bringing food to his older brothers in King Saul’s armies. Hearing Goliath’s taunts, and seeing no-one take up the challenge, David agreed to fight. King Saul urged the young man to take his armor, but David declined, meeting the Philistine armed with only his slingshot and a bag of stones – the weapons he used for driving lions away from his sheep.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

"Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace."     ~ Amelia Earhart

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sharing Family Stories

There is a big difference between my family and my husband’s family.  My family relies on humor as the glue to hold us all together—the funnier the story at the dinner table, the better digested the meal.  We all eventually begin talking over one another, finishing each other’s sentences, eager to have the last word.  We all want to get the biggest laugh, to be part of the family narrative.  The focus in my husband’s family lies more on family loyalty—the nutritional content of the meal, the garden where the ingredients grow, and how it all looks.  My kids value greatly what they learn whilst hanging out on the limbs of each branch of our family tree.  But guess at whose table my kids are learning to become master story-tellers? 

(Not Lisa's real ancestors, they look like they had way more fun than these folks, but you get the point!)

It’s not as if my children don’t appreciate all they learn at my mother-in-law’s table, or most memorably in her kitchen and garden.  It’s just I think I’ve taught them to look more for the funny in life, and less at the ingredients needed for the perfect pie.  Comedy, it has often been said, is = tragedy + time.  So, in my extended family (where we've faced divorce, addiction, death, and other losses and have needed some courage!) we’ve learned to savor the moments together and focus on the funny.  So, it was with great delight that I noticed a warming shift at my in-law’s table during our recent visit:  my kids and their cousins were rising in their ranks, breaking the ice, and becoming leaders in the family discussions by telling their funny stories!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Shout Out

We would like to say a special "Thank You" to a brave young mother and wonderful staff writer at the Times Union in Albany, NY for her great article today about Lion's Whiskers.  To read
"A Lesson in Courage", click here! 

Share this link, join our subscription list (it's anonymous), become a follower, tweet us, "Like" us on facebook, and most of all share your parenting wisdom with us by posting your comments! 

What is Spiritual Courage?

Compiled and written by Lisa and Jennifer:

This will be the sixth in the "Six Types of Courage" that we will explore in-depth. We hope you've already had the chance to read over our page called "The Six Types of Courage" for a brief overview of our definitions.  The examples we give for each type of courage may apply to your children and/or to you please keep in mind, when you are reading this post, that some of these examples may involve taking "baby steps" on your way to spiritual courage!  Every step towards courage is both worthwhile and important. 

Spiritual Courage
"This is my simple religion.  There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy.  Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness."— His Holiness the Dalai Lama
"Here is a test to find whether your purpose in life is finished: if you are alive, it isn't."— Richard Bach
Spiritual courage fortifies us as we ask questions about purpose and meaning.  Of course many people find the foundations of this courage in an organized religion, but there are also other ways to develop spiritual courage.  Spiritual courage means being available to the deepest questions about why we are here, what is my life for,  do I have a purpose?  These are profound existential questions and can be quite frightening, which suggests why fundamentalism of all kinds can gain mastery over us;  thus we yearn for definite answers to these questions and are attracted to ideologies that offer  resolution to our uncertainty.  Spiritual courage means accepting that you are unlikely to find the answers, but asking them anyway.  We all must call upon our spiritual courage when we consider our own mortality. Spiritual courage means opening ourselves up to our own vulnerability and the mysteries of life.

For inspiring true stories, ways to recognize and coach spiritual courage in ourselves and our children...READ ON!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Telling Our Stories

Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it's an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole. -- Eudora Welty, American author

Have you ever noticed how eager our children are to hear stories of our own childhood? It seems as if they yearn to know us as we were, before they existed. We are their “in the beginning,” their creation myths, even when (as in adoptive or blended families) we didn’t actually create them. They see us as adults, they see us as people who successfully got from there (childhood) to here (adulthood) and they are curious how it happened. What is the story of how I became grown? The Anne Sexton poem Lisa shared a few posts back reminds me of this – those moments of courage from our past are our story, the record of our hero journey.
c. Yanni Raftakis, Dreamstime.com

Guest Post Today on www.yourwildchild.com

I've written a guest post for a wonderful blog written by Melynda Coble Harrison, to inspire parents to get outside with their kids and discover the natural world.  Here's the link to read my post about coaching physical courage in our kids and climbing trees!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Follow us on Twitter

Yes, just what you've been waiting for, you can now follow us on Twitter@ LionsWhiskers.  See you there!

Why Attachment is so Important in Learning Courage

As a mom to newborn E. (my now 13 year-old son), I was ripe with the maternal love hormones prolactin and oxytocin.  It's one of the reasons new parents seem a bit dopey.  Biochemicals like oxytocin, prolactin, and vasopressin, in particular, make maternal and paternal bonding possible.  We are all, it turns out, wired for connection.  In those early days with E. it didn’t really matter to me that there were specific centers of my brain, and highly elaborate neural mechanisms activated to ensure my maternal love, recognition of my baby, and the kind of protectiveness that promotes secure attachment.  I was either blissfully oblivious or too darn tired to notice.  Read on for some "good news!"

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Two Parables from Rumi

Here are two parables from Rumi, the 13th Century Persian poet. These are very short and easy to learn, and you can tell them in your own words very easily, just as I have.  If you want some tips on how to tell a story, see this earlier post.

The Lion Tattoo

In a certain city it was the tradition for men to have tattoos, and one day, a young man went to his barber to get his first tattoo. “Make it a lion, a great, brave heroic lion,” he ordered. “Put it on my shoulder blade so that I will have this lion at my back all the time.”

The barber got out his needles and inks and began, but the man was soon howling in pain. “What part is that you are drawing?”

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What is Emotional Courage?

Compiled and written by Lisa and Jennifer:

This is the fifth in the "Six Types of Courage" that we will explore in-depth here on Lion's Whiskers. We hope you've already had the chance to read over our page called "The Six Types of Courage" for a brief overview of our definitions.  The examples we give for each type of courage may apply to your children and/or to you —  when you are reading this post please keep in mind that some of these examples may involve taking "baby steps" on your way to emotional courage!  Every step towards courage is both worthwhile and important. 

Emotional Courage
"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference."—  Elie Wiesel
"We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures."  Thornton Wilder

Emotional courage is being open to feeling the full spectrum of emotional experience, both positive and negative.  Oftentimes, the terms “emotions” and “feelings” are used interchangeably, but it’s worthwhile to be more precise. A simplistic, but helpful distinction between emotion and feeling is as follows:

·    Emotion is the complex psychophysiological experience combining our internal (biological) response to external (environmental) stimuli.
·    As that emotion crosses the threshold between unconscious to conscious awareness, the verbal and non-verbal language of “feelings” comes into play as we engage higher, prefrontal cortical processes to seek to understand, label, express, suppress, and/or make choices based on the lower and middle brain regions’ generation of core emotions.  All emotions evoke feelings, but not all feelings evolve from core emotions.  Some feelings are subtle variations like ecstasy which is related to joy, or melancholy which relates to sadness.  Other feelings are associated with the states between core emotions and are not directly traced to one core emotion as opposed to another.

For example: let’s say there is a loud crashing sound, a stimulus which triggers an emotion.  Immediately, the pulse accelerates, the breathing quickens, and a number of other physiological things happen in a cascade without our conscious participation.  Then the mind creates a feeling based on thoughts about that stimulus: “Hooray, the fireworks are starting!” or “Oh no, the scaffolding collapsed!” 

Researchers such as Paul Ekman  and Antonio Damasio  posit approximately ten core emotions: anger, fear, sadness, enjoyment, disgust, surprise, contempt, shame, guilt, embarrassment, and awe.  Some are genetically-driven.  Others (like compassion, admiration, pride which may also share some of the same core emotion attributes) are social adaptations based on genome potentiality.  The most universal are happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust.  All are associated with biological intelligence and a drive to survive

Our emotions are an evolutionary adaptation to help support our survival.  At a highly unconscious level, the limbic system generates the physical arousal associated with each emotion. Once an emotion intensifies, thoughts begin to form about the emotion, cognition is engaged, and behaviors are generated to deal with the emotion and the needs that must be met.

Feelings can help guide us back to the core emotion we are experiencing; they can help answer our need for connection, wellness, and ultimately survival.  Emotional intelligence is, in essence, a study and practice devoted to supporting human insight and evolution based on emotional awareness.  We start at birth: babies are born with the capacity for fear, anger, sadness, and joy! Then we begin to learn the over 4,000 words  devoted to the feelings that flow from our core emotions and experiences in life!

Here are some helpful resources with feelings broken down into positive and negative emotion.

We can teach our children to become emotionally intelligent by giving them the language of feelings, modeling healthy emotional expression, pointing out the various thoughts/facial expressions/body reactions associated with core emotions, and honoring their feelings as signposts of underlying emotion linked with core needs.  We can observe what is happening in our body, our facial expressions (or those of others) for example, as signposts of core emotions and secondary feelings. 

What we are suggesting by emotional courage, is being willing to be vulnerable, truthful, and aware of your conscious experience of core emotions, which you think about and express often in language as feelings.  When we choose to ignore, suppress, or deny our emotion, we risk a reduction of insight, leading to faulty decision-making, inaccurate mental representation of our experience, and/or even failure to ensure or restore homeostasis and thus ensure our survival. 

Unfortunately, we can't have only positive emotions -- it's a package deal. But, we can choose where to place our attentional focus.  According to Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2000) pioneers in the field of Positive Psychology, when we shift our attentional focus from fear, for example, to experiences that are associated joy or “flow” (an intrinsically rewarding, completely focused, motivation in performance or learning that evokes joy, rapture, and renewed energy for the task at hand) the happier we become.  For example, shifting your focus to gratitude may be one of the easiest ways to diminish irrational fear that results in feelings we label “worry.” 

Emotional courage also means loving yourself, being proud of yourself, and believing that you are worthy of love and happiness.   Essentially, it is related to self-acceptance, coupled with a willingness to move outside our comfort zone, to explore new ways of being that may not be familiar.  It also seems related to the quest for self-realization and fulfillment.  Emotional courage requires digging around and uprooting the tangible and mostly intangible sources of fear resulting in anxiety, worry, sorrow, and depression that can poison the proverbial wellspring of joy. Happiness is the buzz word most associated with emotional courage—having the courage to be unconditionally happy. 

Emotional courage means being willing to give your heart without expecting anything in return.   Remember Princess Di visiting with AIDS patients in early years of the epidemic, listening to their stories, holding their hands, meeting their gaze without turning away?  If your daughter dreams of princesses, tell her what a real princess did.

Here's a fantastic video from the TED.com site that speaks to emotional courage in a thoughtful and often funny way.  It's about 20 minutes long.  If you don't have time for it now, please come back to it later.  You'll be glad you did.

Emotional courage looks like:
  • helping friends grieve a loss
  • confronting a family member about abuse or addiction
  • crying in a therapist's office
  • making friends at sleep away camp, even when you know you might never see them again
  • taking in an injured animal
  • forgiving someone you love
  • laughing so hard the tears come
  • expressing gratitude
  • crying without embarrassment
  • helping a stranger who is in distress
  • public displays of affection
  • maintaining eye contact and smiling
  • working as a social worker, counselor or emergency medical personnel

Lack of emotional courage looks like:
  • looking away, avoiding eye contact
  • walking away from an "emotional" situation
  • covering up or suppressing an emotional response, such as crying
  • laughing off, mocking, or otherwise dismissing someone else's emotional response
  • begrudging someone else's success or happiness
  • embracing the victim role
  • numbing feelings through overuse of drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, food, etc.
  • losing your temper and lashing out at others
  • blaming others for faults or failures that you are covering up in yourself
  • avoiding self-reflection, even after a loved one expresses heartfelt concern
  • kicking the dog
  • never being willing to be alone
  • checking out of your life through obsessive behaviors like excessive t.v. watching, shopping,
 Emotional courage sounds like:
  • "I can do it!"
  • "I can't do it -- yet!"
  • "Congratulations!  I am so happy for your success!"
  • "I love _______ about you."
  • "Thank you!"
  • "I'm angry right now but I know it won't last forever!"
  • "I can see you're angry at me right now and that's okay."
  • "I'm good at ___________."
  • "Let me help you."
  • "I feel___________."
  • "You are amazing/awesome/special."
  • "I'm worthy of love."
  • "I love you."
  • "Are you okay?  Would you like to talk?"
Lack of emotional courage sounds like:
  • "I don't like talking about my feelings."
  • "Boys don't cry."
  • "You're too big to cry."
  • "I never get angry!"
  • "I'm bored."
  • "Don't be sad, I hate it when you're sad!"
  • "Get over it!"
  • "It'll just make me feel worse if I talk about it, and I don't want to feel that."
  • "You're fine."
  • "Oh, grow up!" 
  • "I can't."
  • "I won't talk until you control yourself."
  • "You're getting carried away as usual!"
  • "Why do good things always happen to other people?"

Grab Some Lion's Whiskers!
Here are some tips for developing emotional courage for you and your kids:
  • set goals
  • try acting!  Acting out feelings can help you get used to feeling your feelings.   Role play scenarios your kids may be currently facing
  • learn from your mistakes without punishing yourself or making yourself "bad" or feeling guilty
  • practice gratitude by saying blessings at meals (religious or secular), sending thank you notes, making thank-you phone calls, etc.
  • find a service project that has meaning for your family
  • give your kids meaningful jobs to do at home so they can feel they can make an important contribution to the family
  • acknowledge your own power to choose happiness
  • tell a friend what particular quality makes their friendship special to you
  • develop healthy habits: exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet, minimize the use of alcohol and/or other stimulants/depressants that are often used to numb feelings, and cause psychological, social, or occupational distress and stress
  • tell stories that call upon a wide range of emotions
  • decide on some emotional courage challenges and support each other in their pursuit

Here is a quick "Emotional IQ" test on Discovery Health.
You can also find a number of useful questionnaires on the Authentic Happiness page.

What are your ideas about emotional courage, your parenting tips to promote it with kids, or your favorite emotional courage story (fiction or non-fiction)?  We'd love to hear from you!

Here are some posts on the blog that are related to emotional courage: Getting to the Heart of Courage, Chapter One: Jennifer and the Lovely K., Defining Courage for Yourself, Two Parables from Rumi, Courage as an Antidote to Fear, Healthy Attachment Between Parent and Child, Sharing Family Stories, Let's Start at the Beginning...Childbirth, The Chemical Soup called LOVE,
My Hansel and Gretel Moment,   10 Tips for Talking About the Tough Stuff With Kids
Bonding with Baby, The Way We Hold Our Babies, Raising a Leader, I HEART Snuggling, Never Can Say "Good-Bye"?,   I Can't Do It.  Yet.   ,   The Flyaway Lake,   , Quitters, Campers, and Climbers: Which One are You?, The Black Belt Wall, My Year of Living Fearlessly, Running Plan B

Here's more on the types of courage:
What is Physical Courage?
What is Social Courage?
What is Intellectual Courage?
What is Moral Courage?
What is Spiritual Courage?

Damasio, A. (1994). Descartes Error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain.  NY: A Grossman/Putnam Book.

Lane, R. & Nadel, L. (Eds.). (2000). Cognitive neuroscience of emotion. NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Prinz, J. (2004). Gut reactions: A perceptual theory of emotion. NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Seligman, M. (2000). Positive psychology. In Gillham, J. (Ed.). The science of optimism and hope: Research essays in honor of Martin E.P. Seligman. (pp. 415-430). Radnor, PA: Templeton Foundation Press.