7 Ways to Teach our Kids Resilience

image1We can’t change the fact that our children will face certain challenges in life, and we also can’t protect them from every little bump they’ll experience along the way (even though we might want to). With our increased sense of wanting to protect our young ones from life’s growing stressors, we are also seeing a spike in children who develop mental health issues such as generalized anxiety and depression.

(NOTE: This does not include the concerning rate of children being misdiagnosed at the first sign of ‘abnormal behavior’.. which, if you ask me, is a problem i itself and could use it’s own blog post …but later). I’m referring to how we are starting to see more and more children significantly struggling to cope when life doesn’t go their way.

Just like adults, children need an outlet to vent any frustration, anger or sadness (which often comes in the form of a lovely tantrum…. usually in the middle of a busy supermarket 😉  Of course, these are just part of the joys of parenthood, and take on various forms well into adolescence.  There’s nothing to worry about when your child ‘cracks it’ once in a while. But when significant reactions  immediately impact their lives, such as generalized anxiety, panic attacks, severe low self esteem, unrealistic expectations and in some cases even self-harming, it becomes hard to ignore.

Of course, as parents, we don’t want to create these ‘special snowflakes’ that feel like the world owes them and can’t handle negative feedback or hurdles that stand in their way. However, with the increasing urge to micro-manage children’s lives and to ‘protect’ them from common life challenges such as conflict, loss, rejection, failure and change; some parents unintentionally engineer such an outcome according to US clinical psychologist Wendy Mogel. 

She suggests that some parents coddle their children too much, which prevents them from learning from these experiences. “They need to learn from a shallow best friend, an uninspired teacher, or a bad situation. They need to learn these things without us interfering” (Mogel).

Kicking a young child out of the nest and letting them fend for themselves is not necessary, however, helping them build resilience will aid them in managing difficult situations later in life. Resilience is something they can learn and grow from as they develop a certain set of skills that help them tackle the ups and downs in life.

So instead of overprotecting them, or leaving them to fight their own battles, how do we find a balanced way to teach resiliency skills? Below are some suggestions taken from various research articles that have proven to be quite effective.

1. Let them struggle

While your help is much appreciated, it is equally important to let children feel frustrated, so they will attempt to find different solutions to the problem. This can range from your 4 year old’s irritation at her Lego blocks ,because she can’t find the piece that fits: to the university student who can’t handle living on their own because they’ve never had to manage any roadblocks in life before. Let your child find their own way to manage a difficult situation (even if you have the answer ready for them) and be there as their guide rather than doing the job for them. My mother once said ‘sometimes you need to watch your child fall down and scrape their knee so they learn to be more careful next time, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be there to help you back up again’ which really stuck by me.

2. Challenge Negativity 

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that most of us, during our teens, have used the expression ‘this is ruining my life’ at least once. Children (and teenagers in particular) tend to amplify certain setbacks they experience, as they don’t fully understand yet what is happening to them or how to deal with it. Setbacks that might appear minor to us (such as a fight with a friend or missing out on joining a team) might feel like it’s the end of the world as they know it. It’s important not to feed into that and join the drama party, nor can we minimize or push aside what they are experiencing. Ask your child if this one event needs to effect the rest of their day/week/month. Problem solving starts with going through the options, help them take a step back and put things in perspective. Allow them to experience and feel the negativity whilst averting them from being completely swallowed up by it.

3. Take on the ‘big family mindset’ 

Today, the average family consists of one or two children and it’s affecting our parenting style, says columnist Julie Beun. In larger families, parents tend to be more of a facilitator than a micro-manager. The children get more of a chance to be independent problem solvers as they help raise their siblings, get themselves dressed in the morning and eat breakfast. In smaller families, the parents tend to ‘take care of everything’, and although this may make things run smoother, it doesn’t always work in our favor. We need to learn how to take a step back and let our children figure it out (no matter how frustrating it may be waiting around for them to zip up their jacket or put the shoe on the right foot… our time constraints should not get in the way of our child learning how to take care of the little things).

4. When at first they don’t succeed, get back up again 

Like the age old adult expression “sh*it happens” it’s ok to tell our children that mistakes happen (perhaps substitute the word “sh*t” for the time being though 😉  Hall says, we need to tell them it’s ok to make mistakes because it gives us a chance to learn from them. Together with our children, we can ask them what we learnt from our mistakes and how we would do things differently. With smaller children, an in-depth analytical approach might be a bit too much, but a simple “oops, I made a mistake, I will do this to fix it’ could work just fine in showing them how to cope with mistakes and set backs.

5. Confidence in their Competence 

A child’s confidence stems from their competence, and their competences are excelled by their confidence. Focusing on your child’s qualities as well as recognizing their mistakes and how they handled them are a great first step. Comparing them to others (siblings, peers, etc) might create unnecessary competition, rather than showing that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, the desire to protect our children might give them the (unintended) impression that we don’t think they have what it takes to tackle an issue head on, hence trying to empower them to make decisions of their own lets us be there as their guide rather than their carer. In saying that, it’s also important to not push our children to take on things they can’t realistically handle just yet.

6. Being part of a community 

Being resilient is also about knowing and understanding our place in the bigger scheme of things, and that not everything is always handed to us on a silver platter. Having our children do small chores can be a great example of developing this sense of being part of something bigger, being part of a team (and also shows that we often have to work to get things done). Children first learn their contribution counts by doing household chores (young children could feed the dog or put things in the trash , whereas older children can help clean a room or do laundry). It can help them with their problem solving and self regulation says Hall.

7. Teach them how to calm themselves 

When children get upset (especially younger children) it’s easy for a small upset to turn into a full blown epic tantrum. That’s because they don’t know how else to express their anger/sadness/frustration just yet. Reasoning with an upset, young child might not be as easy as trying to reason with an adult. Rather, teach them easy and realistic ways to calm themselves down first, before taking a closer look at what upset them. One of the more popular ways to calm ourselves down (in both children and adults alike) is taking a few deep breaths, breathing into our nose and out of our mouth. This can be easily taught to a small child and done together if they need you there to guide them. Another way to try and help a child bring themselves down from an upset is to count to twenty (or however high they can count) allowing them to shift focus to the task at hand instead of the stressor that upset them in the first place (they essentially break the cycle and engage their brain). Once they have managed to calm themselves down, they have now acquired a new skill that will also help them to reflect instead of react.

8. Discipline is about Teaching, not Controlling or Punishing

Sometimes, when I say we ‘discipline’ our children, people tend to jump to the conclusion that discipline means to control or punish them. I strongly disagree with that stereotype, as disciplining needs to be seen as teaching a child (which can be done without control or punishment). Using discipline to help your child understand that their actions result in certain consequences, could help them understand that they also have the ability to bounce back from a setback.
Dr. Ginsburg summarizes what we know for sure about the development in resilience in children, which is that our children need to know that there is an adult in their life (mother, father, stepparent, grandparent, you name it) who believes in them and loves them unconditionally.
Stress is a part of life, and an important tool in our survival. Resilience is the set of skills that develops a positive and proactive attitude towards stress, and helps us deal with stress, which greatly impact how it affects us. We can grow and encourage  resilience in our children by participating in their self development, role modeling resiliency and most importantly supporting them unconditionally. Being there for them, no matter what, gives them a solid foundation they can bounce back on when their worlds feels like it’s falling apart. Eventually, they will learn that they can create and grow such a foundation for themselves

Positive Psychology: 9 Habits of Happy People

happypeepsOften, when writing psychology related articles, my topics tend to focus on understanding problem areas, dealing with struggles and how to cope with challenges. The stigma around ‘having a problem’, as being the main reason why someone would need to see a mental health professional, is still very present. However, the study of Positive Psychology (or as some are calling it ‘the science of happiness’) is growing and people are focusing more and more on the strengths that lie beneath and how to access these even before any ‘problems’ arise.

There are literally thousands of books and websites claiming they have the solution on how to live a happy life. I’m sure most, if not all, of them are right in their own way. Happiness is different for everyone and changes significantly throughout our lives as our own priorities change along with it (what made you happy as an adolescent might not do it anymore for you as an adult).

Our personality traits, interest etc also determine our individual definitions of happiness. While one person gets great joy from being surrounded by a large number of friends, another person might prefer to hide in a quiet room and curl up with a book.

I won’t be writing anything that hasn’t been written a million times before, but I thought I would summarise for you the 10 habits I’ve witnessed to be most effective on people’s happiness:

1. Be Kind, Always 

People who cultivate kindness tend to me happier and show less signs of depression. Being kind to others and caring for others, tends to make us feel good ourselves (like they say, there are no selfless good deeds). So not only do you better someone else’s life, but you’re also improving your own in the process.

Being kind, doesn’t mean we need to always go overboard and ‘save’ everyone that crosses our path.. Kindness can be shown in the simplest of forms by acknowledging someone with a smile, wishing someone a good day or reaching out to someone who might need your help (however big or small that help is).  It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.

2. Recognise your Strengths and Work with your Weaknesses 

Studies (such as M. Seligman’s research in Positive Psychology) have shown that people who discovered their unique strengths and used them for more than their own personal goals, are generally happier.

I would say this also goes hand in hand with recognising your own weaknesses and working with them, rather than letting them hold you back.

Strengths include, but are certainly not limited to, things such as integrity, critical thinking, humanity, motivation, determination, kindness, open-mindedness and many more.

Weaknesses such as people-pleasing, self criticism, prejudice, discrimination etc should be acknowledged (after all, none of us are prefect), but we can work around or with them in our path to improving ourselves and how we are with others.

3. Mindfulness and Positive Thinking

As a psychologist, the word ‘mindfulness’ and positive thinking, often had some of my patients roll their eyes as they sat back and expected the caricature speech on yoga positions, relaxation exercises and group therapy (even though they’ve all been proven highly effective, but that’s not my point 😉

Mindfulness is focusing on the here and now, and what is around us. It’s being aware of our situation, our feelings around it and the effects they may be causing. Practising mindfulness does not require you to be incredibly spiritual or religious, and it can be done by anyone as it is something we naturally do. However, practising it on a regular basis, allows us to strengthen it as it can help us improve our state of mind.

Positive thinking, in conjunction with being mindful, focuses on our appreciation of the good things we experience and have in life and allows us to better manage the negative flows that often cross our way.

Practising mindfulness does not necessarily require you to be in the seated position surrounded by only quietness. We can be mindful whilst doing every day activities. Pay attention to your breathing, get in touch with your feelings, or get lost in the flow of doing everyday simple activities you enjoy (for me personally, cleaning gets me very relaxed, as I can just ‘switch off’ and focus only on the task at hand) .

4. Laugh 

Laughing truly is the best medicine. Laughing (like exercising) triggers the release of endorphins, which are our body’s feel good chemicals, as well as decreases stress levels and increase our immune cells.

Not only do we see physical benefits form laughter, but it also takes a load of our mental burdens and strengthens our emotional health.

It’s not always easy to find situations in which we can spontaneously burst out in fits of laughter (although the concept of ‘laugh yoga’ is increasingly becoming more popular), but we can find ways to at least spark a grin here and there. Smiling is a good start.. a smile is contagious and can go a long way not just for you but for others as well.

Spend your time with playful people and appreciate the humour in life. It’s important to remember the funny side of things and to appreciate the laughter when it happens.

5. Live healthy and Move 

I could write an entire article alone in this, as everyone has their own definition of what ‘eating healthy’ and ‘exercise’ means.

To put it simply, eating healthy involves eating fresh food, avoiding processed meals, junk food and unhealthy fat/sugar levels. How you want to go about that and to what extreme is your choice. Basically, feed your body what it needs rather than what it wants (ok… from time to time also eat what it wants, because eating a treat often contributes greatly to our happiness as well 😉

Exercise does not mean spending your life in the gym (although if that makes you happy then absolutely go for it!). With exercise here, in order to promote happiness, I mean moving your body every day to get your endorphins going. This can be as simple as a 30 minute walk, taking the stairs instead of an elevator or walking that extra block to avoid taking the bus.

6. Nurture Positive Relationships  

Humans are social animals. Surrounding ourselves with people we care about often has an immediate impact on our levels of happiness. Again, this differs for many people as some are perfectly happy with one or two people close to them whereas others thrive from interacting within a large group.

The number of people in your life isn’t the important aspect here, but rather the effort you put into your relationships that matters.

Social relationships come and go and even the closest of friendships can dissolve in time. Having social relationships takes effort from all parties involved and should not be taken for granted. The focus should not be on ‘how often’ you see someone, but on ‘how meaningful’ it is when you do. Happy people tend to surround themselves with people who make them feel good instead of negative people (misery loves company). Happy people also nurture their relationships by talking about the things that matter and resolving any issues that might come up.

7. Be Inspired to Grow 

There are two different mindsets… People who are ‘fixed in their ways’ and who refuse the notion that they can change because they feel that this is who they are. When confronted with something they don’t know, people with such a mindset might find themselves feeling overwhelmed or hopeless about something they feel they can’t handle. When people show a more open-minded approach, it encourages them to learn from and improve their footprint in the world. Open-minded people don’t shy away from a challenge, which in turn builds the tools we need to manage difficulties in life or make necessary adjustments. Challenges are viewed as opportunities, and succeeding in them leaves us feeling happier with ourselves.

8. Find a Balance 

Being happy doesn’t mean we constantly need to walk around with a smile, making us feel as if we slept with a hanger in our mouth. There is nothing wrong with allowing ourselves to feel the bad things, and to complain as we work through them. Life is not  all rainbows and sunshine and we can often find ourselves in a downright sh*t storm. But even a thunder storm helps the tree get rid of dead branches (how’s that for positive visualisation! ha!)

Let yourself feel the negativity, we can’t live without it, but try to find ways not to let yourself drown in it.

For example, after a negative experience, focusing on what you have learnt from it or how you can improve/avoid it in the future, might help in processing it and moving on.

9. Make an Effort  

Happiness that lasts is built through habits. It’s easy to get sucked in by the daily routines and struggles that sometimes impede on our happiness. It’s also hard to sometimes not let go of the negatives and overthink where we went wrong. We can’t sit around and do nothing expecting happiness to fall in our laps, nor can be expect happiness to stay if we don’t actively do things to maintain it. This should not be seen as ‘work’, but rather as seeing that the mere actions of these habits is what makes us feel happy in the first place. This doesn’t mean we can’t allow ourselves to feel the negatives, it just means that, on some days, we might need to push harder to focus on the positives.

If you want to be happier, or want to continue to strengthen your happiness, try out some of the above habits!

Remember, the definition of happiness is different for all of us, so don’t compare yourself with others, but focus on what is important to you in order to increase your everyday ‘happy’ and dive in, head first …

Mommy Ruler’s Day Off : 9 Things Mom Gets To Do When the Kids are out of Town (in pics)

For the first time in what feels like forever, I am home alone for two whole days … That’s right… two.whole.days! My darling hunk of a husband took our daughters to see the grandparents, leaving me to venture on my own for a bit.

Since the birth of our second little monkey , I honestly don’t think I’ve had any ‘me-time’ like this for longer than a few hours, so I decided to make the most of it  ….

Things mom gets to do when the kids are out of town: 

  1. Read, Read, Read !!!

read

2. Shower… in peace 

shower

3. Have the time to blow dry your hair … and feel like a celebrity

dryhair

4. Take… well…. you know… in peace 

toilet

5. Caricature Mani/Pedi 

Pedi

6. Clean Up … (I mean I know it’s a mini-break .. but I wasn’t raised in a barn !)

washing

7. Still working though …. Gotta make the big bucks ….. (hahahahaahahaaha… well…. ‘bucks’ 😉 

work

8. Haven’t been fully alone like this for a while … eek!

bed

9. And of course, spending time documenting your time off and turning it into a blog, because even though you’re loving your new-found freedom, you secretly miss those little monkeys and all the time you spend with them… warts and everything 🙂 

meh

 

 

 

 

Suicidal Ideation: The Red Flags and How You Can Help

(Also published in ‘Bonjour France Magazine’ July, 2017)

PLEASE NOTE : **Although the author of this personal blog is a psychologist, this article is aimed to provide further information and is not the equivalent of therapeutic intervention. If you believe you or someone you know might be suffering from depression/suicidal thoughts, please contact your local suicide support line or a healthcare professional**

For every attempted suicide, there is thought to be one or more people where the thought of suicide is still very present but has never resulted into an actual attempt. With over a half a million people making a suicidal attempt each year, this translates into a huge problem that largely gets ignored.

Suicide or Suicidal thoughts are very complex. They are often a symptom of mental health concerns such as depression paired with life stressors that only exacerbate the idea of feeling hopeless, being lost or feeling like a burden.

Often people who attempt suicide don’t actually want to die, but see it as their only way out.  Sometimes, such attempts might be viewed as a ‘cry for attention’, but they can’t be ignored.  If you’re concerned about someone who might be suicidal or harbor these thoughts, it’s important to take them seriously.

One of the common misconception about suicide states that someone who is determined to end their life will do it one way or another; this is not true. More often than not, people who contemplate suicide give out warning signs (intentional or not) and you may be in a position to help them before they make a decision that can never be taken back.

Even if you see it as merely a ‘cry for attention’ , it is still a cry for help, regardless, and needs to be addressed.

The following signs are no sure indicators that someone will in fact attempt, but they are red flags to keep in mind and address:

Signs of Possible Red flags Concerning Suicidal Thoughts

1.Talking about suicide

One of the most obvious red flags). They might seriously conciser it or casually mention it’s on their minds, but listen. Sometimes (especially amongst teenagers) it could be seen as ‘getting attention’ or being ‘dramatic’. Regardless of our own prejudges or whether we things the person is just going through a bad spell, it’s important to take this seriously and listen to what they have to say.

2. Alcohol and drug abuse.

Often people who are suffering from depression or anxiety turn to alcohol or drugs as a temporary relief of some sorts. Although this might be a quick fix, more often than not substance abuse only escalates the depression/anxiety as the underlying reasons or not addressed. A band aid might stop the bleeding but eventually it peels off. The risk of suicidal thoughts turning into a more realistic action is greatly increased with substance abuse … someone who may not take that step sober, might find themselves with the ‘liquid courage’ or diminished reasoning to push themselves over the edge and take their own lives.

3. Withdrawal from others.

Another red flag is when someone decides to cut themselves off from their friends and family. They become withdrawn and don’t want to talk to anyone about it as they don’t feel it’s worth the effort. Although the withdrawal might again be a temporary fix, it only enhances their isolation and feeling that they are handling all of this on their own

4. Not seeing a future.

When someone says they can’t see a clear future, sometimes may indicate that they have lost all hope for what’s ahead… they might not find themselves strong enough or worthy enough to get out of this bad period they find themselves in. Again, just because someone doesn’t see a clear cut out future, doesn’t make them suicidal, but put together with some of the other signs we are mentioning here, it could also be a red flag

5.’Saying goodbye’

This isn’t always in a form of a letter or note that has come to be so largely associated with suicide. Sometimes people will make fleeting comments like ‘I won’t be around to bother anyone for much longer’, there’s just no way out of this or giving away personal possessions or getting their affairs in order … These may be indicators that they are contemplating life without them in it

6. They are no longer sad, they are numb, which somehow seems worse

Sometimes an eerie ‘calmness’ might come over someone who has made the decision to take their own life. When someone who is usually very social and outgoing suddenly becomes withdrawn and isolated , take note. When someone who is usually rational and careful, displays reckless behaviors. Take note. When someone seems to ‘not care anymore’ about anything. Take note. Perhaps they’re going through a rough time and suicide is not on their mind at all… but you won’t know that for sure until you listen and talk to them

What can I do to help?
You don’t need to be a mental health professional in order to be part of helping someone who is contemplating suicide. Of course professional help is highly recommended to support someone through the underlying issues that are causing them to feel like there are no other options. But before getting them to see a therapist, doctor, counsellor or any other health professional, here are a few things you could do to help them get there:
     1. Be prepared

Make sure you yourself are ready to hear the possible answer that they are indeed planning to end their own life. What actions would you take to help them and prevent them from making that choice. What are your own beliefs around the topic and how would you handle supporting them)

2. Be direct

You may not want to offend them (because we live in a society where we all step on eggshells around each other when it comes to certain topics) but be direct.  People who have such thoughts may not always know how to ask for help, and they might try and push people away as they try and process what’s going through their own minds.  Ask them if they are thinking of suicide… don’t be vague. If the answer is no, that doesn’t mean they don’t need help … Prevention is not only about stopping a planned attempt, but about helping someone before they even get to that place

3. Don’t panic and stay calm

Focus on asking questions and get as much information on what is happening in their life that got them to feel they have no way out. Panicking could only escalate the situation and add extra misery to an already chaotic mind. Tough love comments such as ‘the coward way out’, it’s selfish and idiotic can backfire as it will only reinforce their own thoughts of feeling useless and unworthy.  Stay calm and help them through this

4. What can I (not) say

As mentioned before, you don’t need to be a healthcare professional in order to help someone you know or care about, just being supportive and a listening ear can be a great start. However, be mindful about the following : a) don’t be judgmental or guilt-trip: they already feel pretty low about themselves b) saying things like ‘don’t worry, it will get better’ may be said with the best intentions, but it may also make them feel like you are minimizing what they are going through or feeling. What may seem trivial or ‘not as serious’ to you, may feel like the end of the world for them. Try and focus on giving examples of how they could work through this c) Everyone’s story is different so don’t tell them you know what they are going through (even if you had a similar experience). This isn’t about you, it’s about them and acknowledging that you hear it’s tough for them rather than claiming you already know what it’s like.

5. Most importantly, encourage them to seek professional help.

Be it a hotline, a general practitioner or a mental health professional. Show them that they have you there for support no matter what, but that speaking with someone could help them work on possible outcomes to work through this…. A network is stronger than one individual.

Responding in a Crisis Situation

When you feel someone’s suicidal thoughts might be putting them at immediate risk of harm, ask the following questions:

– Do they have a suicide plan

– Do they have the means to carry our their plan? (eg: pills, knives, guns, …)

– Do they know when they would do it?

– Do they intend to take their own life?

If a suicide attempt seems imminent, contact your emergency services or take them to the hospital. Remove all weapons, knives, medication or other potentially lethal object from their environment, and never, under any circumstances, leave a suicidal person alone.                                                                              (source: helpguide.org) 

At any one time, people may exhibit many of the warning signs mentioned above, without harboring suicidal thoughts. But a lower rate in a larger population is still a lot of people – and many completed suicides had only a few of the conditions listed above. In a one person to another person situation, all indications of suicidal ideation need to be taken seriously.

Remember, nothing is more terrifying than battling with your own mind every single day.

IMG_0648

We’ve got to stop this “Parent Shaming”

We have got to stop this parent shaming !!!

By a show of hands, who here has been judged, at some point, on their parenting. Now by the same show of hands, who here has judged other parents (*no… you don’t actually have to raise your ha*….. you see what I’m trying to get at here). Call it assessing competition/compatibility or just being plain bitchy, but we’re all guilty of at least thinking it.

Now back in the good old days, judging was done behind each other’s backs and we could just stick to our little groups of people who handled their kids the same way we did. However, fast forward to the Internet age, and on a daily basis my Facebook feed is flooded with propaganda, health articles and ‘new research’ that seems to show me exactly how bad I am doing at this whole parenting thing.

Not only do we have the ‘facts’ (and I use that term oh so lightly), but with that come the many voices that suggest to the rest of us that we’re doing a crappy job. In the age of oversharing on social media and a false sense of anonymity online, people seem to have taken it upon themselves to judge, criticize and sometimes just plain bully others ,without accounting for the consequences their words might bring.

Of course shaming each other seems to be somewhat of a global issue ranging from our religious/political choices, how we view our body image and what foods we prefer to eat (spoiler alert…. it ALL gives you cancer.. apparently.)  With that, I’d like to focus in particular on parent shaming and some of the issues I’ve stumbled upon in my short 3,5 years as a parent of two children (yes, based on the above criteria, that now makes me an expert  😉

1. ‘Fed is best’ (phrase taken from an existing Facebook page)

Both my girls have been bottle fed (*gasp*). They didn’t get any breast milk from the very start (*double gasp*). With the second one we even gave up within the first month (*exists and slams door*). But did you know that I was never able to produce the milk to begin with…. and yes we tried every tip/suggestion/hint we could find or were given… nothing worked. I had the storage… just not the stock. My girls were frustrated, hungry and missed out on bonding with their mom because each feeding session caused more and more stress for all of us (at one point I had a nurse milking me like a cow while another tried to attach my baby to the boob…. very sexy.. and relaxing) In the end, feeding them formula made them just as happy and healthy and we could focus again on the key issue of getting them fed and enjoying the time to bond and love them.

A number of friends have breastfed their babies in public (*gasp*)… they didn’t use a feeding schedule (*double gasp*) and some are even still breastfeeding their toddler (*the crowd goes wild*). But did you know that it makes them feel so much closer to their little ones.. and yes they know formula could do the trick just as much to give them a break…. but they don’t need nor want it. This is their choice and they are happy about that and I don’t see the kids complaining either.

Everyone has their own prerogative on how they feed their children and damnit.. as long as these babies are fed healthy (meaning breast or formula… not whiskey) then they’ll be just fine!

2. Dad’s don’t babysit, they parent

Ok, the breastfeeding can be more relatable to moms (in account of the whole ‘having boobs’ thing) but for too long have I seen the dads be pushed on the bench when it comes to ‘knowing how hard it is to be a parent’. So with this, I would like to do a little shout-out to all the papas out there. Being parents is about being a team, and like any team, everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses that we bring to the field. There is no superhero and the silly side-kick when it comes to parenting (although it’d be fun to start wearing our underwear on the outside).

It bothers me when people refer to daddies ‘babysitting’ to give mom a night out, but I don’t see us paying them at the end of the night and sending them on their jolly way for a good night’s sleep afterwards.

And believe it or not, when mommy’s not there, daddy also knows how not to kill the baby, what lyrics go with ‘Do you want to build a Snowman’ and that ‘snugglebut’ is the only teddy that helps them sleep better.

Just like moms no longer want to be seen as the 1950s housewife who gets excited about the new washing machine, dads no longer want to be seen as the authoritarian parent who couldn’t tell the front or back of a diaper if their life depended on it.

3. What if I told you that our babies slept through the night without using controlled crying nor co-sleeping…

When it comes up that our girls slept through the night from 3/4 months onward, I am often immediately greeted with the “Oh, I could never listen to my baby cry it out”. Often, one style of parenting is joined with a number of assumptions linked to that style and we don’t look at the background of the situation or most importantly…. is the kid happy?

We used somewhat of a schedule when feeding our girls (of course if they were really hungry before their scheduled time… we fed them… duh). But having a bit of a routine for both of them when it came to feeding and bedtime seemed to really work for us and them and of course I also take into account the immense amount of luck we’ve had with good nighttime sleepers… a lot of luck.

In saying that, parents who do decide on controlled crying are not sadists who sit outside their baby’s bedroom door and giggle every time the child cries out … like the rest of us, they are just trying out what works best for everyone involved in finding the right way to get our babies to sleep. We might not always agree on other people’s methods, but everyone is trying to just figure it out as we go..

I also know a number of parents who co-sleep, and even though it’s not something we did ourselves, we seen their kids as happy and healthy mini-humans. Yes, the parents are tired, I can’t think of any parent who isn’t, and no, none of them have gotten squashed just yet.. they’re fine!

Again, as long as the kids are happy it’s ok to find a schedule or a method that works for both the parents and the children. Sleep deprivation is just part of the game… find your own way to make it manageable.

4. If you have found the solution, share, don’t shame

I applaud those parents who have found the light and the only true way to parent their babies effectively. I even more so enjoy their regular social media blasts where they share their newfound enlightenment with the clear assumption that the rest of us are all still in the dark and know nothing or are ignorant and resistant to change.

If you find some interesting articles out there, or new research that could interest others, by all means, do share the love! But don’t shame the rest of us for not knowing this obvious valuable piece of information (even though you just read about it only 2 weeks ago yourself).  I’m glad people have found the light and maybe it is indeed the best way to go… if so, give the rest of us a chance to get their on our own … because your smug attitude will just make we want to rebel even more.

(*side note: not everyone sharing an article on parenting is considered a douche, we’ve got the right to speak our minds (this blog post being case in point)

5.  Don’t make up statistics or facts to prove a point

This is where fictional information on the Internet comes to play, or as our buddy D. Trump calls it ‘fake news’. Some people out there are good at relaying their personal opinions as hard facts. An example, chocking and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) is a big worry for all parents, so please don’t tell a parent that their way to put their child to bed can lead to SIDS unless you have the scientific facts to back you up. We have been told that our use of ‘sleep positioners’ (to stop baby from rolling) could lead to SIDS… bullshit. Some of my co-sleeping friends have been told they could squash and choke their baby while they sleep…. bullshit. We’ll always find that one case where a baby did die etc, but don’t use someone’s horrible (and most likely rare) experience as a statistic to support your opinion on.

6. If you feel very strong about something, that’s fine, but does it need to be said?

In saying that, I feel strongly about this, but vaccines do not cause autism (I’m sorry that is just a scientific fact, we really can’t dispute that one can we?). That doesn’t mean I’ll go hunt down the parents that choose not to vaccinate, nor will I ever confront them about it (however hard it can be). The same goes for people who choose not to have medical, life-saving, interventions for their children because of their religion… I admire doctors who have to deal with this on a regular basis because I know I would struggle at keeping my mouth shut. Again though, this is the parents choice and it sucks big time to see this happen no matter how strongly we disagree with it (I know I do… just write a blog about it instead :p )

As usual, these are all just a compilation of my own personal opinions and suggestions (this being a personal blog and all). If I’ve offended some people with what I wrote please know this was not my intention, but it can be seen as such a ‘taboo’ topic these days that it’s hard to know what you should and shouldn’t write. I guess the main objective I’m trying to get at here is to try and live in a community where we support each other, not to make each other feel bad because we do things differently.

We can’t stop from judging… it’s in our nature.. but think before you speak … is it necessary to say out loud or could we just think it to ourselves?

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*(yep, these our kids watching TV… whaaaaaa?! 😉

The Bystander Effect: Why we don’t always act and what we can do about it

(published in Bonjour France, 19 March 2017)

TheSans titre other day, like many days in this beautiful city, I found myself stuck in the chaos that is the RER A with trains delayed for up to 2 hours. People were naturally frustrated, it being rush hour and all, but someone’s frustration got the better of him as he aggressively lashed out at transport personnel and security was eventually called. Nobody reacted (except for a few head nods) and nobody intervened (myself included).

Our increasingly (false) sense of anonymity, especially when living in a large city, can directly defuse our sense of responsibility as social influence leads us to turn the other cheek when witnessing a distressing situation. Be it out of fear of getting hurt ourselves or just not being aware of the danger the situation poses to someone else, we are more likely to intervene and help someone when no one else is around… in a crowd, we’re a bystander.

The “Bystander Effect” is a psychological phenomenon that refers to situations where people do not offer any kind of help to a victim when other people are present. J. Darley and B Latané first popularised the concept showing how the probability of help can be directly related to the number of bystanders present.

On social media our ‘outrage’ is shown by sharing viral videos of bullying, discrimination and often downright illegal acts against others. We share this with the best intentions to raise awareness and stop things like this from happening again, but when push comes to shove, would we act and help when witnessing such a scenario in real-life?

The Bystander Effect can be seen in many situations from bullying at school or the workplace, harassment in public , to dangerous protests that run out of hand. This does not mean people are scum and we enjoy witnessing others getting hurt.  In many cases, people feel that since there are other people around, surely someone else will leap into action.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons why we freeze and refrain from helping others, and what we could do about it?

CAUSES OF BYSTANDER EFFECTS

Fear and uneasiness 

Sometimes we don’t know the entire backstory of what we are witnessing and doubts lead us to question whether we should intervene or not. We are afraid we might make a fool of ourselves if our intervention is not appreciated and we look to our peers for guidance and asses their reactions to the same situation. If nobody else takes action, perhaps we don’t fully understand what is happening and we best mind our own business, right?

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Often when faced with something out of the ordinary, we don’t immediately recognise what is happening nor how to react to it. Our delayed reaction in helping someone in distress could merely be as a result of our brain still processing what it is witnessing.

“Diffusion of Responsibility” 

Research shows when others are around, our personal sense of responsibility decreases. We believe that someone else would have probably called for help already, or is doing something to help. We are more likely to help others if we are alone, as we feel the responsibility to act relies solely on us.

Minimal knowledge or qualifications 

In some cases (especially medical emergencies) we tend to stand back and wait for someone with the right qualifications or experience. We’re afraid we might hurt the person even more as we wait for a professional to intervene.

Minding our own business 

We’ve all experienced or heard stories where someone has tried to help someone in alleged distress, and their good deed went and bit them right back in the bum as they got involved in a tricky situation and got hurt themselves. To avoid any hassles, we turn the other cheek and mind our own business.

Misinterpretation of a situation 

Adding onto the above point, we often look away because we wrongly assess a situation or are influenced by common misconceptions. You’d be surprised at what is considered ‘okay’ these days as we witness a woman being harassed, even though she was flirty earlier; or we watch a man get into a bar fight with two others, but he’d been drinking so perhaps he started it …

Now that we understand some of the reasons why we don’t always jump to act, we could look at ways to overcome this psychological phenomenon and be more aware ourselves.

I’m not suggesting we all go wear superhero capes and go vigilante on anyone showing inappropriate or dangerous behavior, but rather, how can we start with ourselves in diminishing this diffusion of responsibility and engaging in our own helping behaviors?

HOW TO OVERCOME THE BYSTANDER EFFECT?

Awareness

Recognising the signs can make a big difference. Signs can be noticed, by trusting our intuition or educating ourselves on certain topics.

Example: An air hostess was able to recognise the signs of human trafficking on one of her flights when she saw a well-dressed man accompany a raged and distressed teenager. She approached the girl behind the man’s back and quickly found out the girl was being taken away against her will. She was quick to notify police on the ground, who were waiting to interrogate the man as they landed.

Another example, perhaps more recognisable in our everyday life, was when a young woman was being harassed by a man on the metro. He was not being overly aggressive, however, was subtly whispering threats and harassing her physically amongst busy morning commuters who did not seem to take notice, or thought it was a couple having a small dispute. One woman saw the girl’s irritation/anxiety and pretended to know her to strike up a conversation. The man quickly left the girl alone and excited the train.

Sometimes being aware of a situation and acting, however small this may be, could help someone and change the outcome of a potentially negative or dangerous scenario.

Witness or Role model helpful Behavior 

Sometimes we just need to think what we would want people to do, if we were in the “victim’s” situation. What if that had been my daughter, son, friend, parent, sibling… Sometimes just seeing other people doing something kind or helpful makes us more willing to help others.

If we’re too afraid to get hurt ourselves, or we see that our direct intervention would only escalate the situation, call for help.

If we see that action from a few people could deter the ‘attacker’, make eye contact with others and try to solicit a group intervention.

Sometimes making eye contact with or simply acknowledging the ‘attacker’ and their behaviour can be enough.

Education and Training

Knowing specific ways to help in certain situations can often be enough to give us the confidence to act and help. People who have been trained professionally in assisting in emergency situation, often find it second nature to help others where needed.

We don’t need to go and study for years to get the right qualifications in order to help others. Often we can find community training workshops related to sexual assault, self-defense, bullying, recognizing suspicious behaviors etc. Such programs teach us the best (and safest) way to react in certain situations. When all else fails, we can do some personal e-learning online and read up on topics that may interest us.

For example, since the terror attacks in France, campaigns have increasingly informed people on how to recognize, and report suspicious behaviors, abandoned luggage, signs of radicalization and general safety tips in the event of another attack.

Just remember that it only takes one person to stand up and say ‘this is wrong’ in order for others to see it and act too.

Always try to help somebody in whichever way possible, because you might just be the only one …

7 Life-Related New Year Resolutions to strive for

(posted in bonjourfrance.eu, Dec 2016)

It’s that time of the year, when we note down our New Year resolutions with the best intentions of keeping them. But what if we had a look at some resolutions we could all strive for a little more these days, which could have a direct impact on our life and perhaps on the life of those around us?

This is most certainly not an article where I tell people what to do, even though the title indicates a strong suggestion… If anything, these are resolutions I would like to apply more myself and what better way to get motivated than to drag the rest of you along with me!

  1. Be simple

Life is already complicated enough without us adding an extra topping of trouble. Look up anything around ‘simplifying life’ and you’ll read the same rules over and over again: when you miss someone, just call them. Want to see someone again? Invite them over. When you feel you’re not being understood, explain yourself. If you have questions, ask them and if you don’t agree or dislike something, state it..constructively. Just like when you love something or someone… tell it. When you want something… it’s an automatic ‘no’ until you ask. It’s often really just that simple.

Unnecessary mind-games, in my opinion, were reserved for the wonderful world of dating (but that’s another article to write later). It seems like such pretenses have worked their way into our professional and personal lives. Is it because we’re too sensitive and afraid to offend or do we play along because we’re becoming more and more dishonest?

  1. Complain Less

We’ve all been a culprit and it would almost be unrealistic to ask someone to stop complaining. Life is an adventure and will sometimes throw us some doozies, where we can’t not complain. There is nothing wrong with venting our frustrations from time to time, and like the above point suggests, stating something we’re unhappy about can help in simplifying our lives. But let’s keep it at just that. Let’s blow off steam, and then move on. Why complain about the petty things we cannot change? Do we really need to spend more than 20 seconds of resentment when the RER is late… I know, again, or when some idiot cuts us off in traffic (the latter being one I need to practice a bit more myself… I mean is it really that much of a challenge for them to use their indicator when turning?! ugh)

  1. Eat well and move

Ahhh, the all too common ‘I-wont-eat-junk-for-the-entire-year-but-I-secretly-went-to-Macdo-a-month-in-when-no one-was-looking-and-cried-about-it-after’ resolution.  With this I don’t mean to go on a diet of any kind or to starve ourselves from life’s goodies. After all, we live in France and are surrounded by gastronomic treats everywhere we look.

Explore new cuisines and discover herbs and spices or bring a twist to an old favorite. Eating well isn’t limited to only the food, but also focuses on how we eat it. Turn off the TV and have dinner as a family, eat something fresh every day and pour yourself that glass of wine even though it’s a school night.

It’s a scientific fact that physical exercise makes us feel better. We don’t need to hit a gym or run a marathon to experience the extra energy endorphins give us. Take the stairs, avoid the elevator, walk when you get the chance and heck… go jump on the bed (just don’t let your kids catch you)

  1. Hate less, tolerate more

I don’t want to get into a political debate nor dive into the Pandora’s Box that is ‘religion’. Rather, I want to focus on criticizing each other less just because we do things differently. Let’s focus on tolerating each other more rather than jumping to conclusions and spreading even more animosity in an already prejudiced world. There’s enough bad people out there lighting up hate, why add fuel to the fire?

  1. Forgive

I’m not saying to forgive and forget.’ Not forgetting’ teaches us our life lessons and helps us not to make the same mistakes again (even though sometimes we need to make them a few times over before we truly get it). But forgiving is important… not because people always deserve our forgiveness, but because we deserve our own inner peace. Wasn’t it our buddy Buddha who said that anger is like holding onto a hot stone with the intention of throwing it at someone else… we’re the only ones to get burnt. For the sake of our own peace of mind, and no one else’s… let’s learn to let go.

  1. Investigate

Dr. Wayne Dyer states that the ultimate ignorance is the rejection of something you know nothing about, yet refuse to investigate. With all the fake information that seems to be published these days, isn’t it better we get our information from various sources before we make up our own minds?

Based on the random articles that seem to flood our Facebook newsfeed and certain sites these days, we are lead to believe that Paris has ‘no-go, danger zones’, vaccines cause autism, you haven’t’ lived until you’ve cooked with coconut oil and pretty much anything you say, do, or eat gives you cancer (which can all be cured by drinking apple cider vinegar by the by).

Let’s educate ourselves more and not accept everything we hear as immediate fact. We are being spoon fed information every day and it’s up to us to consider which stories are truthful, important and worth sharing with others.

  1. Laugh a little

Don’t take yourself too seriously. Farts are still funny (prrt). Liking a video of a cat stuck in a bathtub while an Australian guy narrates, does not make you any less of an intellectual, and remember that a smile is contagious and could brighten up someone’s day. (Perhaps not so much if you’re staring at them with a huge grin on your face for an extended period of time… in that case you might just freak them out a little bit).

I hope this article got some of you motivated to join me in making our world just a little bit more bearable.

With this I wish everyone a happy Silly Season and a great start to the New Year… see you in 2017!

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Making the Heart grow Fonder: 7 Tips for when your partner works Long Distance

(Also posted in BonjourFrance.eu, Nov 2016)

Growing up, I remember my father being away for work quite often and we did not see a whole lot of him during the week. With that said, his weekends were for us and us alone (and maintaining the garden, but he’d put us to work in there together so you know… two birds… one stone).  We didn’t have Skype and mobile phones back then, yet seeing my parents work together like a well-oiled machine really influenced my future relationships.

When I met my husband whilst living in Australia, one of the first things he told me about himself was that he was a French national (although the accent kind of gave it away pretty quickly) and that his work required him to relocate on a regular basis. Our relationship kicked off with a long distance stint before I followed him overseas 14 months later. We traveled in Europe and Asia for his job and settled back in France 2 years ago to plant our feet in the soil and settle down. Nevertheless, his job still has him travelling quite often as I stay behind with our two daughters and the dog.

I certainly am not the only person in this situation, far from it, and have connected with a number of men and women that have spouses working away from home. I thought to share with you some of the tools that we have used over the years and that have proven to be helpful at times.

  1. Communication is key

This is pretty much a given. Communication is vital in all relationships, but it doubles in importance when that same relationship must battle the distance. In today’s tech savvy society, we’re extremely spoiled with all the applications and programs available to us to connect with our loved ones. That doesn’t mean communication over the net is as easy as it seems. Although you miss someone every day, you don’t always have a lot to talk about when you get your 15 minutes on the phone together. Often it can feel a bit forced as you try to sift through the day in your mind and share the highlights. Don’t put too much pressure on having the perfect phone call or a deep and meaningful e-mail, simply touching base can be enough to let each other know you’re thinking of one another.

  1. Prioritize each other

Enjoy the small talk and joking around, but also leave room for the bigger issues.  Let your partner know where you’re at, even if it’s not the fun news of the day. I know some of us hold back as we don’t want to worry our partner while they are away (or vice versa, worry the ones at home).

Call each other on the times you agreed and touching base during the day can also minimize the ‘out of sight out of mind’ pitfall. Send a sweet video of the kids or a romantic picture to let your better half know they’re on your mind. (Side note: Be cautious with the romantic portraits though, you wouldn’t want to accidentally send a sultry image to their boss or have your sexy face pop up on their computer during a presentation).

  1. Learn how to Argue Constructively

Like any relationship, clashes and disagreement happen from time to time. It feels almost artificial to follow what the books say and start an argument calmly with “I feel that…” and “How can we approach this together”.  Take away the face-to-face aspect of the argument and there can be even more room for miscommunication and conflicts. There is nothing wrong with allowing yourselves to have a heated dispute at first, where you throw random arguments at each other and even bring up stupid things from the past (like when they said they would be home at a certain time and strolled in an hour later without a text… the drama :p. Release that frustration, albeit somewhat incoherently. Once all issues have been thrown on the table, that’s when we can calmly focus on the bigger picture and work through the important ones together (some of them might simply go away once you’ve said them out loud).

  1. It goes both ways

After a rough day, you might feel  that you’re doing a lot staying behind and taking care of the family, while you think your partner is ‘sleeping in’ at the hotel and having a nice dinner, but that is not always the case.  While it can be exciting to visit new locations and network, the demands of being away for an extended period can cause both physical and mental exhaustion. A few days away might feel like a nice break, but all the comfy hotel beds in the world don’t make up for missing out on the everyday things at home. Working away, while the  significant other stays behind, can be stressful and taxing for both parties. It’s not a competition and being part of a team requires a little give and take from everyone.

  1. Make the best of it

At first it didn’t bother me too much that my partner was away a lot. Before we had children, I took advantage of the ‘me-time’, and indulged in ‘girly-my-husband-would-rather-have-a-lobotomy-than-watch-these’ movies as well as meet up with friends. After the arrival of our daughters however, we became a bit more house bound and our priorities changed. Nevertheless, as soon as those monkeys are in their bed, I might grab a glass of red and put on the corniest series I can find (I have no shame in admitting I’m currently hooked on the show ‘Pretty Little Liars’… well maybe a little bit ashamed). It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling a certain void while your partner is away, but making the best of a less favorable situation avoids cutting into your couples-time once they are back. (e.g.: file paperwork, catching up with your own friends, or finally do that ‘extreme Spring clean’ you’ve been planning… even though it’s November).

  1. Perspective

Whenever I do feel a bit down in the dumps because, yet again, my husband gets called away for a few weeks, I try to put things in perspective. I have friends in the military who can be away from their partner and kids for 18 months at a time… looking at it that way, our measly 2-3 weeks feel modest. This does not mean that your situation is irrelevant nor that it feels any better being apart. However, reflecting on others’ situation could bring a certain comfort in knowing you’re not the only one doing this and people are rocking the long distance relationships every day! It does take a village to raise a child, so don’t be afraid to accept outside help where offered and build yourself a little support network.

  1. You’re a rock star!

Maintaining a relationship from a distance (any relationship for that matter) is not always easy and needs us to be bold and to hang in there. It’s for those who are willing to spend a lot of time alone; in exchange for a little time with the ones they love. It’s for recognizing a good thing when they see it, even when they may not see it nearly enough”. I read that once somewhere (thank you random late-night Internet searches whilst hubs is overseas).

Long distance relationships (however short or long) are hard, but they are also incredible. If you can communicate with, love and respect each other from a distance, well then you can knock it out of the park when you’re together!

“Distance gives us a reason to love harder” (Anon).

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“Tongue tied”: When you think you’re fluent in a foreign language and 7 setbacks that show you’re not quite there yet…

As a Flemish-speaking Belgian; who lived half her life speaking English in Australia; and subsequently married a Frenchman and moved to Paris; it’s safe to say that my linguistic skills range from being a fluent smooth talker to stumbling around like a 4 year old (sometimes even changing levels within the same conversation).

When I first met my husband, my high-school French had to suffice, while I took on extra language courses in my quest to become a bona fide ‘française’ (or at the least, sound like one….) Being a native Flemish speaker as well (which is essentially just Dutch, but with a cooler accent, teehee 😉  I honestly thought I was doing a good job.  However, often I’m met with a few setbacks which take me down a peg and remind me that, no matter how fluent I might become, there will always be these hick-ups. This, in turn, damages my confidence at times and makes me feel like I’ll always be the eternal ‘outsider’.

The following setbacks do not necessarily block the communication, but tend to derail the messages I’m trying to get across. These obstacles are not only limited to my time in France but are based on various experiences my family and I have had over the years, all over the world.

1. Vocal cultural contrast 

I don’t know if this is specific to English-speakers, or if I’m just a talker, but I always tend to add a little backstory or example to ‘further explain’ my messages. Even writing this now, I know I’m not making a lot of sense.. so let me add a backstory to clear it up 🙂  For example, when needing to change an appointment; the French simply call… change the date….say goodbye (they are direct, but still have manners).. and hang up. Me, on the other hand, I feel the need to explain why I am changing the appointment. Doing this in my native language, takes a matter of two seconds: “Hi, I need to change the appointment, I have to pick up my child from school earlier than I thought“. However, throw in a second or third language, and that simple explanation turns into a mumble of excuses! “Hi… I need to change my appointment.. the family… my kid is at school… but they can’t be for long.. I have to pick them up..*fumbles with phone’s translation app* ..*groan*”.  Frankly, no one has time for that; and some lose patience;  which gets you even more tongue tied when you hear someone’s annoyed sighing on the other end. Keep it simple… if you stay simple, chances are you’ll be understood better.

2. The ‘direct translation’ catch 

This one has gotten me on numerous occasions… I know that the basic message is usually received when we translate directly from our native language.. however certain misuses of words can often lead to either comical or awkward situations. I once told my mother-in-law I was excited to see my husband again after 3 months… sounds innocent enough right.. but the word ‘excité‘ in French is more commonly used when someone is excited in the .. let’s say.. more ‘romantic’ sense (yes, I mean horny).  I also once told them I lost my mind which, using direct translation, lead them to believe that I had misplaced my brains. My Belgian friends have had a chuckle or two where I’ve thrown in some expressions directly translated from English. My girlfriend was very confused when I randomly started blabbing about pastries when her partner ‘wanted to have it all‘.. in Belgium, it seems, people don’t “have their cake and eat it too“.

3. You’re not funny in another language

There’s nothing worse than trying to fit in with a joke and being the only one left laughing to an awkward silence or the sound of crickets chirping. Unless the joke is a primary school leveled wisecrack, I’d stay away from using witty humor in another language until you’ve mastered it. Like the above two points, a lot of the underlying wit is often misinterpreted or the message is lost in translation. A direct translation can lead to an entirely different joke and don’t forget the cultural differences in what we perceive as ‘funny’. What may be seen as dirty in one language, can be construed as completely vulgar in another. Also, some things are just funnier in one language and not the other (looking at a play of words, colloquial meanings etc) …. well at least you cracked yourself up right?

4. Some people just switch off as soon as they hear an accent

It’s unfortunately true that some people switch off and stop listening as soon as they hear an accent. This does not mean they are completely ignoring you, nor that they are discriminating (calm down), but they only end up hearing what they want to hear and they no longer put in the effort. For me, this happens most frequently when on the phone. At least in person you could charm them with a smile or sad ‘please-I’m-not-fluent-but-I’m-trying’ puppy eyes. In certain cultures, it is also common that someone refuses to tell you they don’t understand you…. a Chinese person will rather send you clear across town before admitting he did not understand your request for directions (then again, by being sent all over the city is how I got to explore the majority of Hong Kong.. brownie points).

5. An attempt to master the accent ends up in a drunken slur

Sometimes we try to master an accent in order to sound more fluent, however we focus less on the grammar and start making mistakes. We often pick up on these mistakes straight away, but instead of changing our accents mid sentence (because we don’t want to sound like an idiot), we end up slurring or mumbling our way out of it. I think it’s better to speak the language correctly, even if our accents are lousy, rather than sound like a fluent, but moronic, native.

As a side note, I would like to include the actual slurring incidents (usually  as a result of one too many beers) where we think we’re a lot more fluent than what we are (we also think we’re better dancers, philosophers and peacekeepers).

6. The nonexistence of certain words

Anyone who speaks more than one language is familiar with the scenario where you know the perfect word or expression to describe your situation, just not in the language you need at the time. A direct translation of such a saying only results in confusing the person even more. Just like having ‘chickenskin’ (‘kippenvel’ in Dutch) is not the right way to describe goosebumps, neither is ‘becoming a goat’ (devenir chêvre’ in French ) to tell people you’re being driven mad by all the language jumbles. We,multilingual speakers, would kick ass at scrabble if we could just mix and match the languages we know.

7. Language fusion 

Any multilingual family can relate with the vast mixing pot of languages we deal with on a daily basis. Because we all speak the different languages together, often our sentences can start in one language and finish in the other (heck, let’s add a third one in the middle, just for shits and giggles – another expression badly translated by the way). We do it with such speed and accuracy that we don’t even notice the difference.

Fast forward to when you’re speaking with someone who is not part of that same family and you’ve got yourself a very confused listener. Just like our 3 year old, who is currently speaking in three languages… often in the same sentence (seriously, the teachers at her kindergarten have no idea what she’s talking about), I’m often throwing in a word in English hoping no one will notice and think I’m super fluent and oh so funny hahahaaa.. Nevertheless, unlike my 3 year old who will grow out of it soon and master her linguistics, I’ll need some more practice…..

The idea that the world of each language is divided into two groups: “fluent” and “non-fluent” is not realistic . Language is a living thing; it always happens within a certain context and every scenario is different for everyone. Fluency is not purely linguistic but involves non-verbal communication as well . Written fluency won’t help you to understand the meaning of a nod or a gesture. I think that’s why children (well.. children and drunk people) can communicate so well… they focus on what the person is trying to relay rather than how they are saying it.

I know, with time, I’ll hopefully master the French language and walk around like I own the place, but in the meantime I’ll just row my boat on the ‘fluent enough’ plateau and go from there..

I hope some of you could relate, and you’re welcome to share your funny ‘lost in translation’ moments in the comments below for us to have a shared chuckle..

In the meantime I bid you ‘adieu’ with ‘nog een prettige dag verder’ or ‘une bonne journée’

sans-titre

“When we try our hardest not to be a f°ker, but we end up being a bigger f°ker just to outf°k the f°ckers”: Can’t we all just get along?

After a recent rage induced build up, resulting in my first public argument with a total stranger, I got to thinking why the number of ‘assholes’ seems to have increased in our society over the last few years? Have they always been there? Am I just more susceptible to them now? Or worse even.. am I an asshole myself?

I did a little brainstorming session on the possible causes responsible for “assehole-itis” (which funnily enough is actually a term already defined on the internet).

1. Delusional Anonymity

Because the world is becoming vastly overpopulated, it’s only natural we’re running out of space. The morning rush on public transport with a sea of nameless faces, endless traffic jams and access to the Internet behind a hidden desk; all provide us with this false sense of anonymity. We can pretty much do what we want and no-one knows who we are or where they can find us, which in turn could lead us to forget about the consequences of our own crappy behaviors. You see, “we try our hardest not to be a fucker, but people we deal with everyday are fuckers, so we become a bigger fucker, just to outfuck the fuckers” . I read that somewhere a while back, I couldn’t tell you the original author, but they were spot on! I think most of us do try to be the best we can be, but even the best intentions have their limits.

Treatment for this does not require taking drastic measures, like hugging random strangers out of the blue, but rather starting with the basics, like the common smile. When making eye contact with someone, a smile goes a long way (please note: this can be brief and minimal – staring with an overbearing grin for longer than 4 seconds will most likely result in the person freaking out a bit and probably changing seats). If you accidentally bump into someone,that’s okay, sh*t happens, but excuse yourself and continue on your busy day.

When in the car, I know- I for one- have a very short fuse.. It drives me crazy when people don’t indicate, drive careless and don’t even get me started on what I think of texting and driving (idiots). It would be unrealistic to expect we all drive like saints following the speed limit to the dot with our hands on the 10 and 2 position at the wheel…and yes, it becomes a bit of an ‘eat or be eaten’ mentality on the road at times, but just be careful. It goes without saying that if your driving also puts others at significant risk, you’re not considering the consequences (and if you do think about the consequences but still don’t care, well then my friend, you’re an asshole).

2. Social Media overload 

It’s true that social media networks have given every man and his dog a platform to share their ideas. I remember the days where our news feeds were flooded with people’s lunches, holiday pics and baby/pet gushers… but lately the majority of posts seem to comprise more opinion pieces, scary documentaries and 500 different ways on how I will get cancer from pretty much anything I eat…. Don’t get me wrong, I fully support the right for absolutely anyone to share their opinions and info (our differences is what makes us such a dynamic bunch!). However, when social media is no longer based on sharing information but rather aiming towards judging others for not thinking the same and downright spreading the hatred, that’s another story (I’m looking at you, Donald Trump). This isn’t just limited to the big guns like politics and religion though, as people are becoming more and more divided on daily topics (what we eat, marriage equality, how we parent, the things we watch on TV, the fact we even watch TV at all, etc)

Since when did it become an intolerant “us vs them” mentality as opposed to the less aggressive “let’s agree to disagree” attitude? I’m not suggesting we all go hug a tree together, but unless someone’s opinion or actions are directly affecting your life in a negative way, do we really need to break each other down the way we do and create even more hatred in an already pissed-off society?

3. Seasonal Affective Disorder 

This is an actual mood disorder that affects an individual the same time each year, usually starting when the weather becomes colder, and ends when the weather becomes warmer. People with SAD feel depressed during the shorter days of winter, and more cheerful and energetic during the brightness of spring and summer. It seems to be related more to daylight rather than temperature.  That being said, of course, not every Grouchy Marx in winter is diagnosed with this disorder, but I have noticed a difference in behaviors during the colder seasons (especially on the train where people are sweaty from their thick coats and pressed together like sardines).

For those who truly struggle with this, treatments such as light therapy and medication (for more severe cases) are available. For the rest of us who are just grumpier in winter, we need to acknowledge that it’s not our neighbor’s fault that it rained last night nor can the woman on the bus help it that you slipped on that patch of ice earlier (unless she pushed you, then well..).

4. The Departure of Basic Etiquette 

Gone are the days of curtsying, bowing and throwing your coat over a puddle. But it seems that basic etiquette rules have reduced (and a few disappeared all together) for some people. Again, this doesn’t have to go to the extreme case of shaking everyone’s hand in the store and striking up a conversation, but knowing a few basic terms will help us go a long way and not shit on anyone’s day. Words such as “hello”, “thank you”, “you’re welcome” and “goodbye” are still in today’s dictionary… let’s use them more often.

I stopped counting the times where I’ve seen people buy something at the store without eye contact or any form of acknowledgement of the seller, or where strangers tell another stranger to ‘fuck off’ merely because they were standing in their way, and many more examples come to mind.

It’s okay to not be the friendliest, most social person in the world… just don’t be a dick.

5. Someone else’s story 

Of course, anonymous-fast and the furious-Facebook-users standing in the cold, are not the only ones that can act out and behave like an a-hole. We don’t know everyone’s backstory and you could be having the worst day of your life, with someone else’s feelings being the last thing on your mind. But be mindful, that this goes both ways..

Just be kind to people, always, as everyone is battling their own demons that we know nothing about…

The last thing I want, is to encourage a divided society of thin skinned wieners who get offended at the slightest hint of conflict. We can of course still clash with each and show our annoyance at others…we can be angry, grumpy, and downright moody when we need to.. but there are many ways we can do so, and being an asshole is just not a very productive one.

Disagree, just don’t be disagreeable…

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