Archive for the ‘Family’ category

Telling our origin stories

September 17, 2019

Every superhero has an origin story. Superman came to Earth from a dying planet and chose to use his powers to protect those who are weaker. Wonder Woman chose to leave her idyllic home and fight against evil. Captain America volunteered for a dangerous, experimental procedure to stand against injustice. Whether or not they were born with their powers, they are heroes by choice.

I’ve been thinking about origin stories recently, because of a keynote speech by Lisa Miller, PhD, the director of clinical psychology at Columbia University and author of “The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving.”

During her presentation, Miller shared her experience about trying to conceive a child and then adopting her son, Isaiah.

When he was young, she told him that they traveled by plane, train, and automobile to find him.

When he was older, instead of their journey to find him, she told Isaiah that he traveled down a river to reach them, just like Baby Moses.

When he was eight, Isaiah’s friend told him that Miller was not his real mother. Then Isaiah told his own origin story about his birth mother to Miller: “God whispered in her ear and said that you were crying for me.”

The story I grew up with is that my dad and mom weren’t together anymore, but everyone in my family wanted me. So my aunt, grandparents, and parents raised me, and I might have been a little spoiled.

And then there is the origin story that I told my 13-year old son when he was growing up. He was eager to be born, and I would whisper, “I’m so glad you chose us.” I don’t know why that’s the story I told him; looking back, I think I was trying to teach him that it is a choice, not chance, to be a family.

Societies need their own origin stories too. In Hawai‘i, the Kumukipo is the story of our birth, our family, our ancestors, and our place in the world. There was a time when others tried to re-write Hawai‘i’s history. Native Hawaiians today are still trying to reclaim their stories.

What is your origin story? What story do you tell about your birth or childhood? How does it affect who you are today?


Strengthening spirituality in children

September 3, 2019

Recently, I attended an annual conference whose theme was “Adaptive Change.” Lisa Miller, PhD, the director of clinical psychology at Columbia University and author of “The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving,” was an inspiring keynote speaker who made me think about how I am raising my 13-year old son.

Miller talked about the importance of spirituality in children, for both protective and constructive factors, based on scientific research. Here are some highlights from her presentation:

We are born spiritual beings. Children are born with an innate capacity for spirituality. Around the world, there is a universal global spirituality that involves feelings of interconnectedness, practices that strengthen feeling of connection (such as prayer and meditation), principles of altruism and service, and following a moral code. It is about feeling part of a greater whole. Spirituality does not have to involve religion or even a belief in a higher power.

Spirituality is awakened through rites of passage and relationships. Major life events like puberty, birth, death, and suffering can be opportunities for spiritual awakening. Often, a child’s path to spirituality is through a family member or faith community. Miller pointed out that young children believe in live after death and are comfortable talking about death, unless socialized otherwise.

Spirituality has protective benefits. For children, having a spiritual core is 80% protective against substance abuse, 60% protective against major depressive disorder, and, in girls, 70% protective against sexual risk-taking. Young adults with a spiritual core are less likely to be depressed later in life.

Spirituality has constructive benefits. Looking at brain scans, people with a spiritual core have increased processing power (measured by cortical thickness). In addition, felt pain (the experience of harm) may be reduced, leading to greater resilience.

Inviting people to your guidance table. Miller guided us through an amazing meditation for children and adults. Envision a table and invite those who love you unconditionally to sit at the table. Invite your best, highest self. Invite your higher power. When they are seated at the table, ask them if they love you. Then ask them what they would like to tell you.

Her keynote made me consider the importance of rites of passage in my son’s life, beyond birthdays or school graduation. It made me think about how I could start a spiritual conversation with my son.

Did you grow up with a spiritual family? What spiritual practices do you teach your children or grandchildren? Who would you invite to your guidance table?

Coping with the stress of back to school

August 27, 2019

During the summer, many of us get a little spoiled by more sleep in the morning and a smoother commute to work.

During the fall, many of us wake up earlier – and wake up sleepy kids – to deal with more traffic, tricky school schedules, and homework (when we thought we were done with school).

Children and teenagers face their own stress about school – making new friends, finishing homework, studying for tests, getting good grades, and their own changing bodies.

Mental Health America has an “Are You Stressed Out?” handout that reminds us that stress is normal and can even help us by giving us more energy to handle tense situations. But it can become a bad thing when you feel it all the time.

The key thing to remember is that “You might not be able to change what is stressing you out, but you can control how you react and respond to stress.”

Here are three things we can all do to cope with stress:

Exercise. One of the best ways to handle built-up stress is to physically release it. My 12-year old son still tumbles on the bed and jumps around with a yardstick-turned-lightsaber when he needs a break. (Don’t tell him I said that).

Write down things we are grateful for. Showing gratitude can improve our mood and help us better handle adversity. In a similar way, I encourage my son to focus on positive things, such as the best part of his day. And before I go to sleep, I jot down some good things about each day.

Watch something funny. Laughter can reduce stress hormones, improve our mood, and make us feel more relaxed. One of my co-workers always has a joke to share. Sometimes, my son and I watch bad movies just so we can laugh at them.

We can also try to view the stress of back to school as opportunities to learn. The earlier wake-up time can teach us discipline. The longer commute can teach us patience. The longer work day can teach us to set boundaries between work, school, and home life.

How well do you handle stress at home and work? What stress-reduction methods work for you? What are you teaching your children or grandchildren about managing stress?

Painting reflections of calm

August 6, 2019

“We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.” – Bob Ross

Somehow my 12-year old son discovered Bob Ross (1942-1995), who hosted “The Joy of Painting” on PBS between 1983 and 1994. He enjoyed learning about Bob Ross and watching him paint live on camera. When I suggested that we create our own painting from one of the shows, he readily agreed – and surprisingly, so did my husband.

I didn’t want them to change their minds, so that weekend we prepared to paint. I bought 11”x14” canvas panels, acrylic paints, and art brushes. I asked my son what he wanted to paint, and his only request was that the painting would include a lake or ocean. I found four possible paintings, and he chose “Reflections of Calm” from season 31, episode 1.

Did you know that Bob Ross actually painting three versions of each painting – the first painting, the on-camera painting, and a more detailed painting for his book? How amazing!

Before getting started, I reminded them that we would take inspiration from the painting, but we wouldn’t have to follow it exactly. We could change the colors and textures. We could change the shape or placement of mountains, trees, and rocks. We could make it our own.

Here are versions of “Reflections of Calm” by my son B and myself. You’ll notice that our mountains are greener and neither of us attempted the reflection on the water or the distant mountains. B’s style is more Impressionist and he added waterfalls. My brush strokes are sharper and my tree is grounded on a shoreline.

I have to admit that even Bob Ross’ soothing voice couldn’t prevent us from feeling anxious while we painted, but we finished our paintings, in our unique styles.

Here are four things I learned from our afternoon of painting:

  1. Be prepared and keep some water handy, so you can thin the paint and clean your brush.
  2. Take your time and be ready to press the “pause” button, because Bob Ross makes it look easy.
  3. Keep calm and finish the painting, even if things aren’t turning out the way you want them to.
  4. Paint your scene and don’t compare it with anyone else’s painting.

Have you watched “The Joy of Painting”? How do you express your creativity? What “happy little accidents” have you experienced in your life?


“Reflections on Calm” is copyright by Bob Ross Inc. If you’re interested in books, DVDs, classes, and swag, visit

Just for teens: de-escalating arguments

June 11, 2019

One morning, my husband and 12-year old son were arguing. When I entered the room, they were sitting at opposite sides of the table. I knew I couldn’t sit next to one of them, so I sat at the adjacent side. Then I waited for one of them to explain the quarrel, which involved a negative attitude, being unsocial, and school. As a result, my husband said that he was taking away a school opportunity.

I refused to get caught in the middle, supporting one side. Instead, I agreed that a change could be good, and I suggested that my son do his homework in another room.

My husband was the “complainant” in this argument, so I asked him what would change his mind. He said that he wanted my son to say “I’m sorry” and he wanted to see improvements in my son’s behavior.

Armed with this knowledge, I approached my son. Instead of telling him that he had to say “I’m sorry,” I asked if he really wanted regain the opportunity he lost. Once he said “Yes,” I knew that I could help him.

My son is competitive. When he thinks he is right, he has a hard time letting it go. So I framed these arguments with his father in terms that he could relate to. I told him that when you’re facing a stronger “opponent” and you can’t win, your best strategy is to de-escalate the situation. It doesn’t make sense to win the “battle” (the argument at the time) but lose the war (the opportunity or privilege). The key is to admit that someone else is right, not that you are wrong.

Here are the three strategies I suggested that my teenage son could use to de-escalate arguments:

Distraction. Agree with the facts, and then distract with a related idea. For example, “You’re right. I didn’t really talk to them. They are going on a trip, and I should ask them about it next time.”

Retreat. Agree with the facts, and then make a strategic retreat. You can’t argue with someone if you aren’t there. For example, “You’re right. I should finish that assignment right now. I’ll go my room to get started.”

Redirection. Agree with the facts, and then redirect the conversation to things you could have done or even should have done. By admitting that you are vulnerable, it could make someone feel a little sympathy for you. For example, “You’re right. I did that. I felt uncomfortable that it made me say things I didn’t mean.” Or “You’re right. I didn’t do that. I felt nervous/upset and I should have done that.”

There’s a fourth strategy teens could use, but I didn’t suggest it because it could easily backfire: Humor. Agree with the facts, and then make a small joke about it. It can be really effective or it can make someone even more offended if it’s perceived as sarcasm. For example, “You’re right. I must get it from mom” with a sheepish smile is very different from “You’re right. I must get it from mom” with an eye-roll.

Do you enjoy arguments or are you a peacemaker? How do you respond to conflict?

Teen depression and suicide

May 14, 2019

In Hawaii, 11.97% of teens (ages 12-17) had a major depressive episode in the past year, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2016-2017. Even more alarming, 16.0% of teens (ages 12-17) reported that they seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) data, 2017.

Suicidal thoughts don’t have to be literal, but they’re always dangerous.

That’s one of the first things that I learned at a panel discussion about “Teenage Depression and Suicide” at the 2019 Hawai‘i Book and Music Festival.

Moderated by comedian Pashyn Santos, the discussion talked about how teens (and adults) can respond to sadness or depression. “Happiness is not defined by success or achievement,” Santos reminded us.

Psychiatrist Sonia Patel emphasized that “Suicidal thoughts really mean, ‘I want to feel better’ or ‘I need a break.’” We can help teens recognize their feelings by teaching them to be in the moment and slow down.

Clinical psychologist Sid Hermosura said that mindfulness can help us look at our thoughts, not just feel our thoughts. He emphasized the importance of social connection, relationships, and gratitude.

Associate professor Thao Le said that just as we eat healthy foods to feed our bodies, our thoughts are a form of “mental food.” For every negative thought we have, we need to bring up five positive thoughts to balance it!

Interfaith minster Rev. Bodhi Be challenged teens to identify their “core wound,” the hole that they are trying to fill. When we find out what we love, we can fill that hole and “forget about ourselves” by serving others.

Le shared a mindfulness practice that can help us feel compassion and strengthen our relationships with others. Think of a person (or yourself) and wish them well by saying, “May you be happy, peaceful, and free from suffering.”

What are your happiness tips? Who can you reach out to when you feel sad or depressed?

A better work-life balance

May 7, 2019

Working for a growing nonprofit, I struggle with balancing the things I should do, but can’t do within a “normal” workday; and taking work home. Sometimes it means that my work-life balance is more work than home, and that’s okay – but only if it’s an occasional thing. It’s not okay if it becomes the new normal.

Taking work home is easier than ever because technology and social media are 24/7. It has an even greater impact on millennials, because this is the world they grew up in.

So I was really interested to attend a panel discussion about “Millennial Work/Life Balance” at the Hawai‘i Book and Music Festival last weekend.

Moderated by comedian Pashyn Santos, the discussion centered on how panelists “escape” from social media, their favorite “failure” story, and some of the initiatives that companies are doing to create a better work-life balance.

Psychiatrist Sonia Patel shared that she is no longer on social media at all. She stressed the importance of having structure outside of social media, like getting enough sleep and healthy meals. We have to learn to be advocates for ourselves and our time.

Clinical psychologist Jeff Stern suggested that we use social media as a reward after completing a task or achievement, rather than using it as an escape or avoidance. We need to learn to manage our time, or companies will try to manage it for us. He wondered if companies will start requiring employees to leave their phones at the door.

Stern mentioned an intriguing idea: some companies are offering a pre-cation, a vacation before the first day of work as a way to give employees breathing space before starting a new job.

Jade Snow of Jade Snow Media admitted that “I only realized my [social media] addiction when I experienced burnout and reminded us that we need to set healthy boundaries. She said that we need to appreciate being with people in the moment, and then be more intentional about the time we spend on social media. We should practice gratitude and surround ourselves with people who are like-minded.

Snow speculated that perhaps we are not looking for a work-life balance, but a work-life integration. The goal is to incorporate healthy practices into our daily lives.

KHON2 TV personality Mikey Moniz stated that we need to stop comparing ourselves with who we think we should be. “Have a strong group of friends,” he said. “You become who you surround yourself with.” Moniz added that when going out to eat, he and his friends are trying something new: they put their cell phones in the middle of the table, and the first person who touches their phone has to pay the bill.

Is social media a “reward” or an “escape” for you? Do you think about work at home and think about home at work?