Mindful families: Fewer meltdowns, more fun

Young boy meditating

Tuesday morning, 7:15 a.m.

Maria and her kids are already late. Her daughter is still brushing her teeth, her son can’t find his folder. Maria crankily yells at them to get moving already. Everyone is quiet in the car, afraid to say much. She realizes that she forgot her purse and work bag. She swears quietly under her breath. Every slow-moving truck and stoplight hinders her. She drops the kids off and rushes back home. Then she hears a siren and see flashing lights – she’s being pulled over for speeding. Now she will really be late, and could get an expensive ticket! She grits her teeth in frustration and feels her heart racing.

Have you had days like this? How can we break out of this rut? One important key is mindfulness. This is not some “new-age gobbledygook,” says mindfulness expert Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. In fact, 60 Minutes has a great 12-minute video on the powerful benefits of mindfulness.

You can bring the power of calm into your family too! Research shows that mindful caregivers and parents have calmer, happier kids. But before you teach your kids how to be mindful, you need to learn this skill yourself. “You can’t teach what you haven’t experienced,” says Dr. Carla Naumberg, author of “Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness with Your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family.”

Mindfulness is not difficult, and doesn’t have to take long. You can find ways to build “mindful moments” into your day, and with practice, these become habitual.

  • Think “connection before correction”. Try to calm yourself so you can figure out what is going on rather than reactively doling out punishments or harsh words.
  • Three “Magic Breaths”. When you feel yourself getting worked up, or can see that your child is starting to spiral, take three deep breaths together. Then talk about what is going on from a more stable point of view.
  • Use cues. When I hang up my keys near the front door, I take a deep breath, let the workday go (with varying success sometimes) and then greet my family. That’s my way of hitting the reset button and getting ready to be more present with them. Or use a small STOP sign to cue: Stop, Take a breath, Observe, Proceed more calmly.
  • Be kind to yourself as you learn. Minds are made to wander! When you try to focus on an activity or even just your breath, your mind will run off like a puppy. When you notice this, gently bring your attention back to your focus (e.g., building with LEGO with your son, raking leaves with your daughter, etc.).
  • Mindful media and technology. Technology is a good servant but a poor master. Constantly responding to the dings and pings of our electronic devices is anything but mindful and often leaves us feeling frazzled and exhausted. Take breaks from the screens and use them with intention and purpose. Take three deep breaths before reading an email or hitting “send”. We make fewer mistakes or rash decisions when we are focused and calm!
  • Try a brief loving kindness meditation. There is growing research on the power of meditation, mindfulness, and a special variety called “loving kindness meditation” (or metta) on promoting health and well-being. There are even structural changes in the brain as the result of these practices.

One quick version is to remember whenever you see an ambulance to send out loving kindness to the helpers and the people who need help. There are many variations on metta, but I particularly like “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you feel loved.”  Even in the midst of a busy day, I can remember that one!

As we all know, stress is everywhere. If you learn how to handle yours better, and model this for your children, you’ll be teaching them skills that last a lifetime!

– Dr. Lori Warner, Ph.D., LP, BCBA-D, Director, HOPE Center at Beaumont Children’s Hospital


Have a fun and healthier birthday party

Closeup of "Happy Birthday" candles

Cropped image. Will Clayton, Flickr. CC license.

Pizza, soft drinks, candy and cake make their appearance at most kids’ birthday parties. While these foods can fit into a healthy diet as occasional treats, these days children tend to have the opportunity to go to more parties and activities making treats a big part of their life. As parents and caregivers, how can we offer more nutritious options for birthday celebrations and still make it fun for all who attend?

Serve a platter of sandwiches cut into fun cookie cutter shapes. Try sandwiches made with whole grain bread and turkey, chicken, cheese, or veggies (cucumber/spinach/shredded carrots). Use avocado as a spread to pump up the color. Another idea would be to cut up a wrap sandwich into pinwheels. Whole wheat lawash makes a good base for a wrap sandwich.

Other ideas to accompany the sandwich platter or offered on their own include:

  • Fruit smoothies in small cups
  • Peel-and-eat edamame
  • Whole-wheat pita triangles with hummus
  • Baked tortilla chips with bean dip and salsa
  • Watermelon slices
  • Apples slices with yogurt dip (mix cinnamon into Greek vanilla yogurt)
  • Clementines
  • Baby carrots, sugar snap peas and/or mini cucumbers with low-fat ranch dip

Turn food prep into a party activity. Not only is it fun, but kids like to eat what they have made. Try:

  • Do-it-yourself personal pizzas using whole-wheat English muffins or pita bread for crust. Top with pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, and fresh veggies.
  • Taco/Nacho station. Children fill taco shells or top baked tortilla chips with taco meat made with ground turkey or fat free refried beans. Add reduced fat shredded cheese, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, salsa and reduced fat sour cream.
  • Make-your-own fruit kabobs.
  • Layered yogurt parfaits with berries, vanilla Greek yogurt and whole-grain cereal.
  • A rainbow salad bar. Let kids choose their own salad toppings from an array of colored vegetables, including shredded carrots, purple cabbage, sliced cucumbers, grape tomatoes, etc.).
  • Mini cupcakes with frosting instead of serving a large birthday cake to trim down portion size. Have the kids ice their own cupcake and include a sprinkle/topping station.

Avoid the fuss of take-away goodie bags filled with empty calorie goodies and/or plastic toys that will most likely end up in the garbage. Instead give the children an opportunity to share a special birthday wish with the birthday boy/girl as they‘re leaving the party. This can be done by writing a wish on an index card that is placed in a decorated birthday wish box or written directly on a blown-up picture or mat of a framed picture of the birthday boy or girl.

Adapted from “Kids Eat Right” by Andrea Giancoli, MPH, RD

– Mary Ligotti-Hitch, R.D. is a registered dietitian with the Weight Control Center at Beaumont Health Center. Learn more about the Weight Control Center.

My favorite children’s book is …

Little girl reading to her teddy bears

Many of us can remember a favorite book from our childhood. Perhaps it’s one you read again and again. Maybe you’ve even shared it with your own child.

So what is it about a children’s book that sticks with us even as we get older? Sometimes it’s a character who makes us care about him, like Curious George, or one that the reader can relate to for some reason. It could be the illustrations that help bring a story to life. Books can even teach us lessons or concepts; how many of us remember reading “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish” by Dr. Seuss? And of course, there are a good number of adults who enjoy reading children’s and young adult literature for the pure enjoyment of the story!

From bedtime books to chapter books for older kids, here are some favorites of our Parenting Program staff and their children.

Bedtime always was time to snuggle in and enjoy a few books together when my kids were little. There were several great ones in the rotation but we always ended with those two. Book stories are melodic and perfectly lulled my littles to sleep. Just hearing the titles conjures wonderful, warm feelings. – Nichole Enerson

This is a very fun book to read with young children. I love the repetition in the words that the children can pick up on and repeat. A beautiful story of exploring the world and making new friends, with a fun surprise at the end, when the cricket actually chirps. – Kelly Ryan

A few years ago I watched my friend’s son, a new dad, read this to his son who wasn’t even a year old. It was a gentle read but with all the appropriate “arrrghs” and expressions. I was touched by the moment and quickly added it to my recommended book list for parents. – Betsy Clancy

This was a favorite book kept at my grandparents’ house. I loved the silly expressions of the two dogs, Fred and Ted, who always did everything opposite of the other. – Becky Bibbs

My kids loved reading these! The books highlight everyday events that children can relate to easily. My kids’ favorite part was turning each page and looking for the carefully hidden critters in the illustrations (e.g., spider, cricket, mouse, frog). For me though, the very best part was the snuggle time. – Deanna Robb

This was a popular favorite for my now 36 and 34 year olds. They still remember the last line, always said with drawn out expression, “and it was stiiiiiilllllll hot!” This was also a favorite of Dad, who was thrilled when I bought him the set of Wild Things figures for his office. He’s just a big kid at heart. – Betsy Clancy

This book tells the tale of a young boy (Max) who after being sent to his room for causing a ruckus, visits an imaginary world filled with wild things that are enamored by his wildness and make him King. He leads them in wild rumpus fun. After becoming lonely, he returns to his home where he eats his dinner. My 3.5-year-old son (King Grayson) absolutely loves this book because it shows that wild energy is what makes you who you are (and can make you a king). It also teaches about a time for fun and a time for family. Every night before Gray goes to bed, he says to me the infamous line from the book, “I’ll eat you up, I love you so.” – Stephanie Babcock

My son and I love reading these books together. Tacky is a penguin that believes in being different from the rest of the colony: Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly and Perfect. In each book, he saves the day by staying true to who he is and in the end, all the penguins agree that “Tacky is an odd bird, but a very nice bird to have around.” – Becky Bibbs

Before my kids could read on their own, they all loved the silliness of the “Duck” books. They were well illustrated, silly, and fun to read. – Nicole Capozello

I was young. A fat man in a cape and underwear was the epitome of humor. – Hannah Schuele (daughter of Lori Polakowski)

With their mixture of adventure, fantasy and history, these books set the stage for my kids’ love of the fantasy genre, and passion for history. – Nicole Capozello

I loved the adventure Roald Dahl takes the reader on traveling through an enormous peach! I read the book over and over and over again; it filled my imagination with wonderful adventures and helped develop a love for reading. – Anna Paterson

This chapter book had clever word play. Lesson: Stop and smell the roses. – Hailee Schuele (daughter of Lori Polakowski)

This is a funny story of a boy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up at Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention camp in the desert, where he is told to dig holes. This was one of my favorite childhood books — not only for the curiosity and interestingly twisty plotline of the main character Stanley Yelnats IV (all the men in their family are named Stanley Yelnats because their last name is Stanley spelled backwards) — but because it helped show that sometimes the tough times we experience in life have a funny way of working out in the end. – Stephanie Babcock

Maniac Magee was a young kid who was constantly handed the worst in life but he always came out on top. That and his ability to treat every human, regardless of their background, simply as a human was/is a really great concept to me. – Hannah Schuele

It is a book about the power of love which celebrates the beautiful individuality of kids. – Nicole Capozello

We read these books out loud together as a family, and then individually as well. The memories we made as a family didn’t end when the books’ closed, but continued as we traveled to Universal Studios Orlando, and as we play the “Harry Potter Alphabet” game to pass time standing in lines or on car rides. To say that these characters were among my kids’ best friends is not an exaggeration. And the lessons they learned about love and loyalty will last their whole lives. – Nicole Capozello

The Face of Beaumont Parenting: Christie Neely

Selfie of Christie Neely

Boonaa Mohammed said, “A good way to forget your troubles is to help others out of theirs.”. So I thought the Beaumont Parenting Program volunteer I would like you to meet next is Christie Neely.

When Christie’s adult children moved out, they left “a large empty gap” in her life. While dealing with the difficult adjustment of an empty nest, she decided, along with her friend and coworker, to “do something . . . that would allow [them] to make a difference in the lives of people.” Rather than dwelling on the ever-changing emotions involved in her situation, Christie chose to become a volunteer for the BPP, where she has served as a group leader, a hearing screener, and a parenting partner. She recently became a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician, which will give her even more tools to be able to help the families of the BPP.

Christie has been a BPP volunteer for almost four years. She is married to her husband, Mike, with whom she has two children: Corissa (27) and Nick (24). In addition to her volunteer service, she works as a sales coordinator at Intraco Corp.. In her spare time, this Rochester Hills resident likes to do anything outdoors, including camping, kayaking and hiking. Something many may not know about Christie is that she is a member of the Detroit Fly House aerial acrobatic family. She finds the other members of the Detroit Fly House supportive and encouraging — which is how the BPP families who  benefited from Christie’s time and efforts would describe her!

I asked Christie if she had any bits of favorite advice to share with new families. She said that she would tell them to “relax and enjoy it. So much pressure is put on parents to be perfect in the eyes of others. Families need to accept that what is good for them may not be good for others and it is OK.” When asked what her favorite part about being a BPP volunteer was, she replied, “Helping the new families navigate the crazy world of being new parents.”

In closing, I would like to share Christie’s favorite quote from Dodinsky: “I do not judge people by the scriptures of their faith, or the scars from their past, I embrace them by the content of their hearts.” As we judge Christie on the content of her heart, we find that the BPP is fortunate to have her as a dedicated volunteer, and the families that she helps are very blessed indeed to have this empty nester help them with the feathering of their own new roosts.

– Nicole Capozello, Parenting Program volunteer

Book clubs: A new chapter

Closeup of woman reading on a beach

In today’s technological society, amidst the electronic devices bathing us in social media, you may be surprised to learn that people do still get together in person from time to time. OK, yes, sometimes we need a good reason to interact face-to-face rather than over the WiFi; once we’re done with work and other commitments, leaving the house for yet another task can be daunting. Sure, we want to go out and have fun, but sometimes we need some incentive to actually crawl out of the couch. And so I present to you the perfect marriage of friendly gathering and obligation: a book club.

Reading is my comfort, my haven, the balm to my soul, the cookies to my milk. I especially enjoy finishing a novel then having a chance to discuss it with others. (Ideally they are people who loved or hated the book as much as I did, so we can both get excited and scream a lot, but I will take whomever is willing to spare the time to analyze with me.)

Right around the time my first child was born, some of my friends decided that we should make the “let’s talk about this book most of us just read” an “official thing.” We would all read the same book, then get together to discuss it at length. This was an exciting development for me, as I had recently quit my job and could already feel the intellectual lobe of my brain mummifying from lack of use. Now I had an assignment, a dedicated purpose, and deadline. And it wasn’t really work, it was reading! With a guaranteed afternoon spent in the company of friends? Marvelous.

Now, of course, book clubs are quite prevalent. For a while, I was simultaneously in three! Many novels published today provide discussion questions tailored especially for book clubs (We shall disregard, for the moment, that these questions often rival college bluebook exams in their complexity). Libraries have entire shelves devoted to novels they consider club-worthy. Start typing “book club” into Amazon’s search bar and recommendations will autofill for you, unfurling lists of books that you may never have even heard of before.

An especially intriguing element of a book club is the myriad genres that can be explored. I usually gravitate toward young adult science fiction (I must be a perennial middle-schooler), but most of the other members of my book club tend toward other interests. Some of them pick books that I would normally never give a second glance. So with a grimace of distaste, I reserve my copy of the selection at my library. Once I have it in hand, I reluctantly open the cover and cringe at the unknown contents within, only to lose myself in the story after a few pages. Ever heard of “Gone Girl?” Yeah. That’s how that novel came into my life, as a dubious selection of my book club, long before Ben Affleck had a featured shower scene in the film adaptation.

Membership in a book club is pretty easy, and free if you successfully stalk a copy of the assigned novel via the library. This can be the most difficult obstacle: Getting your meaty paws on the book, especially when it’s a new release, only available in hardcover and the waiting list at the library is roughly 80 people long. Even non-new releases can be tricky if the book is obscure or overly popular because of the aforementioned Amazon search. I have the misfortune of living in the same small town as another member from my book club; when the title of the next selection is revealed, she and I will race to the library website to stake a virtual claim before the other. She usually wins. The odds are ever in her favor.

In these trying times of frenzied toddler activities and after-school extracurriculars, being in a book club remains an invaluable part of my life. Having the chance to chat with friends and be all literary and intellectual and stuff helps keep me sane and gives me an anchor in the turbulent Ocean of Life.

As the famous philosopher Socrates once observed, “A month without book club is like a night without stars.” Well, someone said something to that effect. Maybe it was Judy Blume.

– Wendy MacKenzie is a mother of four, Parenting Program volunteer, and voracious reader who devours books early and often.

Pregnancy loss: From great expectations to heartbreak

Young girl and little boy siblings

I’m thankful to be Mom to these two.

A blighted ovum. B-L-I-G-H-T-E-D. O-V-U-M.

I had never heard of this before, but it’s what my OB-GYN told me when I was at her office getting my first ultrasound of my second pregnancy. My first pregnancy was successful and I had a healthy 7-month-old girl at home. I was so naïve. I wasn’t expecting these words to come out of my doctor’s mouth.

A blighted ovum is when your body thinks it’s pregnant (hence the positive pregnancy test), but there is no fetus. It was an empty sac of tissue in my uterus. Now I had to tell friends and family that I was no longer pregnant, or never really pregnant in the first place. All those thoughts of baby shopping, starting to pick out names, wondering what the baby would look like, what changes I would need to make as our family grew instantly became unimportant and were replaced with thoughts like what am I going to tell people, how should I phrase it, what are they going to think, why did this happen, I hope they don’t ask me questions.

I definitely understood why people waited to announce their pregnancy. So when I miscarried for the second and third time, I didn’t have to tell anyone but my husband. I had three miscarriages in 13 months all during the first trimester. After the third miscarriage, I fell apart. I was bombarded with questions. What was happening? Why was my body betraying me? What I was doing wrong? Did I need to lose weight? Did I need to wait longer before trying to get pregnant again?

I did my research and then met with my OB. I had an article that reviewed and summarized potential causes for repeated miscarriages and we discussed this article. I also tracked my cycle on one of those apps and was able to show my OB months’ worth of data. She determined that I had Late Luteal Phase Defect, which meant that my body wasn’t producing enough of a hormone to maintain the pregnancy. We made a plan for me to see her immediately if/when I was to get pregnant again. Today I have a healthy 2-year-old son.

I learned a lot during this time in my life and, as a psychologist, I am forever reflecting on what helps and what doesn’t. Below are some tips or suggestions for those that have experienced a pregnancy loss or know someone who has.


Allow yourself to grieve. Fighting the grieving process will only prolong it. Grieving is different for each individual or couple. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and there is no time limit. Grieving gives meaning and purpose to the loss.

Say what?

Many people don’t know what to say or do when a miscarriage or stillborn birth has occurred. Sometimes not saying anything and just being present is all the person needs at that time. During one of the miscarriages that I had, someone said, “God knows what is best” and while my faith is very important to me and I agreed with this statement, at that moment I did not find that helpful. At that moment I was not ready for logic, I was still processing my own emotions and coming to terms with what was happening.

Know yourself

You know yourself best and what you need. Some individuals prefer information and details (like me), others prefer less information as a way to manage stress/anxiety. Some people need to keep busy and occupied others need solitude and quiet. All of the above is OK, but finding balance is important. After the loss of a pregnancy or infant, seeing other pregnant women or going to a young child’s birthday party may be too much to handle too soon. Give yourself permission to not attend events that may be too overwhelming or emotional. There are other ways that you may be able to be involved or provide support (e.g., sending a gift or video message).


Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These are the stages of grief that you may experience after the loss of a pregnancy or infant. However, there are many other emotions that you may experience as well such as jealousy, anxiety or guilt. Postpartum depression can even occur after a miscarriage or stillborn birth due to the rapid hormonal changes that can happen. Monitor your mood and behavior and seek help from a mental health professional if you are concerned.

Help me

“How do I know if I need help from a mental health professional?” is a question that is sometimes asked. If you notice that completing daily activities of living (e.g., hygiene, chores, other routine tasks, etc.) is difficult or you notice significant changes (increase or decrease) with your sleep or eating habits, it may be a sign that professional help is necessary. Also if you notice changes in your mood such as persistent sadness, this may be an indicator. Sometimes though it can be helpful to talk to a mental health professional to help process through your thoughts and emotions about a significant life event. Contacting your physician or insurance carrier can help you identify a mental health professional.

– Carnigee Truesdale-Howard, PsyD, ABPP, Pediatric Psychologist with Beaumont Children’s Hospital Divisions of Hematology/Oncology & Gastroenterology

Pull up a chair

Closeup of a set dinner table

Cropped image. Jamin Gray, Flickr. CC license.

Growing up, we had an open invitation to go to my Grandma’s for dinner on Sunday evenings. It was a time for everyone to get together and share what happened at work, at little league or just hang out knowing that the people in that room always had your back, no matter what. You’d learn who got a promotion; you found out where your cousin was going to college. Big or small, what you learned around that table meant something to everyone.

Sadly, times change; people change. Everyone started having their own families and moving away from Grandma’s house. Sure, there were dinners, but they didn’t have the same feel. You had to rush off to get to work, or home to do chores to get ready for the week. All valid reasons, but that dinner table got lonely, even lonelier when Grandma passed away.

She could make one meal, feed everyone and somehow everyone came away full – even the picky eaters. It’s on record that I was Grandma’s favorite; we had a special bond because as my real mom slipped from the picture, Grandma picked up the slack. It gave us time in the kitchen that no one else in the family got, and I also picked up on some of the recipes that she never wrote down. And when she passed, people asked me to write some of those down, which I did.

But you know what? They never tasted the same. Not because I missed on one of the amounts, or forgot an ingredient. It was because those meals weren’t shared around that dinner table with a houseful of people. Meals taste that much better with the company you share it with.

Recently I’ve been cooking Sunday dinners with my daughters. We go to the store, pick out what we want to cook, then come home and I teach them some of the tricks Grandma taught me. No matter what we cook, it tastes a little better knowing it was cooked with both love and tradition.

Start a new tradition this Sunday and share your favorite meal from when you were a kid with your kids. Even if you burn the whole thing, they’ll have a story to tell future generations.

– Jim Pesta is a Parenting Program participant and father of two girls.


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