Bullying, Disabilities, and The Empathetic Heart

I don’t have children, but this would very much be top of mind if I did. To raise a child to be sensitive to others, to have compassion and empathetic view, is one of the most important traits they could have.

I’ve had the fortune to participate in a training on bullying and harassment recently (though this is a long-time hot topic for me, and one I regularly talk about with the kids in our Martial Arts classes. I myself was bullied and harassed growing up, and with the prevalence of cyber methods, it is even more insidious for children these days.) The training focused on bullying as it pertains to all children within a school setting (primarily public in this case), but also with some particular data regarding bullying and children with disabilities.

It might seem alarming to some of you that children with disabilities are bullied approximately 1.3 times more than their neurotypical (non-disabled) peers. (George G. Bear. et al. Differences in Bullying Victimization Between Students With and Without Disabilities, School Psychology Review. March 2015, Vol. 44, Issue 1 cited in Rose and Gage, Exploring the Involvement of Bullying Among Students.)

Bullying in and of itself is horrifying, but the prospect that it is happening even more to children with disabilities is difficult to grasp. My passion lies in not only empowering others by helping them to discover their own inner strengths, talents, and abilities, but to equip them with the tools necessary to manage challenging situations. Martial Arts is my current vehicle – as  one of the instructors under my Sensei, I am able to impart values and knowledge to the children during class. Naturally it isn’t always easy to keep the attention (by the way, not AGE-dependent so much as child-dependent…and time of day!) It is therefore crucial to be both consistent with messages, and to repeat them with frequency. It’s amazing to hear the kids respond to “what is our goal with a bully?” with “TO CONTROL AND NEGOTIATE!” (We encourage the idea that we aren’t learning Martial Arts to injure anyone else – the key purpose is to know how to protect ourselves and others, should we need to, but also to use our skills only as a last resort.)

For children with disabilities, the concept of bullying can be more difficult. Cognitive or physical limitations may result in the child not fully understanding that he or she is IN a bullying situation, let alone how to manage the situation if it is happening. I believe in teaching – I believe in helping individuals to understand how to recognize danger, violence, harassment, and bullying before it happens or, if that window is missed, when it is happening. It is only with the knowledge of what is taking place that we are able to do something about the situation.

I also believe it is vital that each of set the example – whether our own children, our nieces and nephews, kids we see in classes at school or in sports…we are always on the radar. Children are constantly watching and learning from our actions as much as our words (I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of a little one coming out with a mouthful of something hilarious after having picked it up from an adult – you never know what they’ll say next, only that they are ALWAYS absorbing.)

Children will pick up our mannerisms, our prejudices, our attitudes, and our approach to people / places / things. As such, we must keep in mind that what we say / do, and the methods by which we manage situations are likely to be adopted (depending on how much time we spend with them.) Takeaway —> Children are hugely impressionable.

EXAMPLES…

  1. In Martial Arts class, I ensure that I hold EVERYONE to the same standards (including myself)
  2. I am always impeccably dressed (gi, belt, tabi, hair tied up, no jewelry)
  3. I ALWAYS show a “Zanshin” or “ready stance” when I am demonstrating a technique with my Sensei…both before and after the technique, to show it is vital to always be ready for a potential threat (or a threat’s follow-up)
  4. When I see someone acting out or in a bullying manner, I very quickly address it and make sure involved parties understand what happened, and why their actions were not acceptable
  5. I treat everyone equally
  6. I speak in a firm but respectful tone
  7. I reward great behavior with positive, verbal affirmations
  8. Likewise, I don’t tolerate fooling around – a Martial Arts setting is not the place!

My behavior and approach will be modeled, so it is important that I lead by example. I do the same when volunteering – we have a few children with autism who like to get particularly rowdy. I make clear when something is not acceptable in explicit terms, and I encourage and reward positive behaviors.

In daily life I also do my best to lead with an empathetic heart. This doesn’t mean I am necessarily more vulnerable to or unaware of realistic dangers, only that I approach my assessments with some level of compassion. (I am not, let’s be clear, referring to a dangerous situation – during such times, we must act without hesitation. This is its own rabbit-hole conversation!) But. . .in regular, day-to-day activities, I do my best to treat others as I want to be treated, and to have compassion for those in need. I am not raising a child of my own, but that doesn’t mean I don’t impact those around me – I want those children to know the beauty of an empathetic heart, and that it is up to us to champion for those who may be unable to do so for themselves. 

There are many bullying situations in which a child may not fully grasp the danger he or she is in (as above.) While there are no definitive statistics, it is clear that many people stand around and do nothing. To me, that is simply unconscionable.

We encourage the children in our classes to – first and foremost – get an adult. That action is doing SOMEthing. If they are in the midst of it, we show them some of the ways they can be involved and stay as safe as possible. But we don’t say “just stand there and stare!” We want them to recognize danger when it occurs, and know that they have safe options to HELP. At the end of the day, those actions can literally save a life. 

Empathy and compassion matter.

Having tools to use in dangerous situations matters.

Let’s do our part to help children to understand what they can do, and to help them grow into compassionate adults – they need never, EVER be helpless.

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Winning The Lottery

If I won the lottery, I wouldn’t necessarily be running out to buy a fancy car, a hundred pairs of shoes, or a giant yacht. I wouldn’t be spending it with total abandon or throwing it around aimlessly, leaving me where I was before…

If it were me, I’d spend it on special needs education (wouldn’t a PhD of a BCBA be amazing?!), Sign Language classes, Martial Arts training…and giving back to others.

But all that said…if there WAS a creepy castle somewhere…there’s a good chance I’d be there with my love, our two black-cat boys, and a smoke machine. Studying for exams, dressed – of course – like Morticia. *LOL* 😉 

A meme that gave me a giggle…

Halloween 24/7. ❤ 

And the real thing…! ❤ ❤ ❤

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Cat / Ninja Humor – Blending In

Generally I’d say Ninja go black…but the truth is, it’s all about evasion. A little more grey could have worked but then learning to be still and “invisible” is part of training too…

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My Heathy Eating, Japanese Reset

As mentioned in my post Tips For Healthier Eating And Weight Loss – Inspired By Japan I mentioned that I was very eager to have a reset with my own dietary habits. Generally I’m the only person who is aware that I’m puffier than normal, or holding onto slightly more weight than I should… But really, I’m the only one who matters in that equation, right? If I notice I’m not where I want to be and it makes me unhappy, then I know I have work to do. If I don’t do the work, I know exactly where that will land me emotionally – I’m not going to head that direction willingly.

So did my “reset” actually work?

Y E S!

Generally it takes a few weeks to reprogram ourselves into a new habit – a week in Japan wasn’t going to be enough, but it was a jumpstart that I knew I could look forward to. The Japanese don’t eat the way we do in America – I was counting on that! It isn’t that I’ve been through eating disorders or that I don’t think I can handle being around food establishments. I don’t have any fear or anxiety surrounding going out to eat either – most establishments have SOMEthing I’ll like (and in Japan, I knew they would.) I have a willpower the Spartans would have paid me for on top of it, so I’m not worried about seeing delicious items on the menu, splurging, and being disappointed with myself later. Rather it’s that I don’t enjoy being around the over-doing that goes on… At all.

It isn’t about a judgment, let me be clear. I don’t have any right (or desire) to try to guess as to why some people are morbidly overweight, or why someone eats well beyond when their body says “HALT!” It isn’t my place to judge, and there could be a million reasons why – it’s frankly NONE of my business. What disgusts me (and really, that’s the best word for it) is the over-stuffing, over-ordering, over-filling, over-indulging. 

As with everything else, to each their own for sure. What I’ve learned about myself is that I simply don’t want to be around that kind of splurging and binging. If I had to go into McDonalds, I’d take my food and go. You’ll never catch me on a cruise, for example – food is the focus and I am an eat-to-live kind of person. I LOVE to eat, don’t get me wrong, but my long-term goals are more of a priority than the short-term satisfaction. 

I don’t’ care about eating as it pertains anyone but myself – I am the only person / place / thing over which I have control AND, I’m the only person who’s my business! But that also means that pigouts are uncomfortable to be around because I don’t enjoy the over-doing when it comes to food (particularly here in the States.) When asked for nutritional advice, I always preface it by saying “what works for me, may not for someone else – our goals and bodies are different.”

So Japan…Japan was very welcome. The portions are WAY smaller. People don’t over-stuff themselves. People take time eating, and even buffets are healthy. You RARELY see anyone who’s overweight, let alone morbidly obese. Everyone – regardless of age – is WALKING. People are moving around all day, and eating healthily on top of it. Our surroundings matter and I’ll be honest, I really enjoyed that environment.

So, what did I learn? Which habits did I bring home?

I’ve made a few tweaks to my nutrition since I’ve been back, inspired by the change in routine:

1. I eat less at each sitting

I *could* eat more but I don’t serve myself more…because the extra isn’t necessary to feel full. Today I went back for a few more bites (a few times!) because I realized I needed more food and was, legitimately, hungry. But I ate my lunch, I waited. I had some water. And then I realized I needed to add.

2. I use smaller serving vessles

I’m using a bowl half or 2/3 the size of what I used when I left. Big difference! It allows me to fill it (looks like a lot!) but not overeat. I’d have the sensation of being full (before I went to Japan), so why was I forcing myself? No good reason! I’m not starving, and food is not in short supply. There’s more where it came from so I can chill out…

3. I use chopsticks

Yes, for every meal! Why? SLOWS ME DOWN! Seriously…there’s no need to shovel in food, and I can eat way too much way too fast if I’m not careful and paying attention.

4. I use mindfulness

I try to pay attention while I’m eating. Distraction can lead to stuffing myself more than I need to…and also delay my full signal because I’m not in tune. I try to be more aware of my food, and that I’m really enjoying it.

5. I don’t overdo

I don’t over-buy or over-order. I stock up a lot of frozen veggies because it saves me some trips (and keeps other food cold that I might buy while out and about.) But I don’t go crazy with things that I know I’ll just end up eating too much of – saves me the trouble of fighting urges (and losing those battles. Which…I will!)

6. I have lightened up on cruciferous veggies and go for free instead

Some vegetables can upset the stomach. Though I can tolerate a LOT more fiber than the average person (it’s been the bulk of my diet for over a decade – as in, four to eight pounds of veggies a day!) it can still be too much for me. Switching to lesser puffy-producing veggies has meant less stomach aches. I tend not to overeat green beans, snap peas, legumes, or greens as much as I do cauliflower so I’m also having a little less overall. 

What have I noticed with the reset?

  1. I’m feeling better overall!
  2. My stomach doesn’t hurt as much (WIN! I suffer from regular stomach aches)
  3. I’m not as puffy feeling or looking
  4. I probably lost a pound or two (or at least puffiness from too much food and fiber)
  5. I’m not starving. At all!
  6. I have plenty of energy
  7. I’ve been sleeping better overall
  8. I have less anxiety about having to eat right away because my body isn’t responding as poorly to not eating quickly enough (still happens, but not as horribly)

So yes, my ruse worked! BUT…a big part of it is sticking to the plan. I’m making sure I KEEP good habits because it’s easy to revert to poor ones.

My goal has always been to maintain a healthy, happy, strong body…and that hasn’t changed. My nutritional needs, however, have. I’m 40…not 20…so it’s important I listen to my body, and that I try to fuel it with the proper food…not to mention the proper QUANTITY of it. America doesn’t help us a ton there because it’s always about how much can you stuff in for how little money. That is a horrifying concept to me! Again, different things work for different people – because I know what I need, I make sure I’m not around what doesn’t support my goals, or whatever makes me feel uncomfortable. Nothing wrong with looking after ourselves – we do, at the end of the day, have to live with ourselves TRULY 24/7. We deserve to feel – and be – healthy. Period.

Tips For Healthier Eating and Weight Loss – Inspired By Japan

I recently got back from a trip to Japan and I couldn’t have had a more wonderful time. Of the many reasons I was excited to go (primarily to see friends and to train in my Martial Art), I knew that I would also have the opportunity to reset my eating habits…and I was really looking forward to that.

The truth is, I’m one of the healthiest eaters I know – it isn’t only about my wanting to achieve specific results (though that’s part of it), but also because my body is very finicky about what it needs and wants. For example, if I eat processed foods I actually feel ill – lethargic, puffy, stomach ache, the whole bit. Complex carbohydrates are fine but simple ones have the same negative effects. And then there’s those times where I wait too long (in excess of two or three hours) to eat – I get puffy, abdominal pain, headaches… It’s awful! I always do my best to manage it, and believe it’s my body expecting / needing food, but not having any.

Therefore…traveling for me can sometimes be anxiety-inducing because I’m concerned I’ll not feel as good as I do when I’m able to follow my at-home regime. I knew, however, that Japanese people eat very fresh foods and very well. I packed a plethora of snacks just in case (and remarkably didn’t need them all) but I knew I’d be able to find some healthy options (yes, even in spite of lots of noodles and tempura!)

If I eat “so well,” then why did I want a reset? I historically can eat massive portions…and there are several reasons that’s not the greatest idea. Giant portions, notorious (even – ugh! – celebrated in the US) can mean the following:

  • Missing Satiety Signals – Eating beyond the point of fullness causes us to lose touch with the neural reflex we are hard-wired to have (in other words, our “satiety signals”)
  • Excess Calories – As a result of missing our cue, we continue to eat which equates to a lot of extra calories our bodies don’t need
  • Reinforcing Bad Habits – We also, therefore, reinforce the habit of overeating
  • A Bigger Stomach – And overeating over an extended period (not just holidays, but longer-term habitually eating of too-large portions) actually can extend the stomach. BAD NEWS

Going to Japan was a welcome change – I knew that my schedule wouldn’t permit me to necessarily eat as frequently, or eat as large meals as I am accustomed to. I was THRILLED that would be the case because I felt like I need a kick in the butt to get me going.

After coming home…I feel like I’m in better shape. On top of that? My stomach didn’t hurt ONCE! I felt better in Japan that I do at home…and I feel better at home than anywhere else. For me, that’s miraculous. 

So what if you AREN’T taking a trip but you want to lose weight, or to reset your own less-than-healthy habits, you ask? Here are a few tips that can help you on the path, without you ending up starving…

1. UTENSILS CAN CHANGE THE GAME

Yes, seriously… Switching to chopsticks, a la the Japanese, will slow you (and your chompers!) down. If chopsticks feel like too much of a struggle, try a smaller utensil! Try using a much smaller fork or spoon and you will find that you are also forced to slow things down, allowing for the proper, full chewing of food as we are meant to do. You will also take less in each bite, which will ensure you can enjoy and taste what you are having…not just stuff your face and ingest mindlessly.

2. PICK YOUR DISH / BOWL / GLASS WISELY

As with smaller utensils, a smaller serving dish (bowl, plate, cup, what have you) can significantly help your cause. I typically use a large bowl…which always ends up with me needing to fill it to the brim. When I use a smaller bowl and fill that, I not only have the illusion of a lot of food, but I am eating less…which gives me the chance to get full, and not overstuff myself with extra calories.

3. GIVE YOURSELF A MINUTE

We often will “still feel hungry” after a meal. That’s great but it isn’t always an accurate assessment – our body needs a couple of minutes (20 is often suggested) to register our meal fully. If after that time you are still hungry, try a glass of water, wait a few more minutes, and then have a piece of fruit or a healthy (small) snack. No one ever NEEDED a caloric, unhealthy dessert, let’s be honest. There are healthy and delicious options out there to keep you on track (and of course, once in a while, it’s okay to indulge. We are talking about the larger picture and consistency here.)

4. LISTEN!

Listen to your body. When you take your time (the three points above can help you!) you are more apt to hear the “OKAY! WE’RE FULL! Don’t need more nutrients right now!” signal. STOP when you are feeling / hearing that alarm bell – you can always have more later on (leftovers are delicious! 🙂 ) And, if your out, you can always ask to take the rest home – forcing food down your gullet is never a good thing.

5. FOCUS ON THE GOAL AND BENEFITS – YOU WANT TO LOSE / MAINTAIN FOR A GREAT REASON

There are a ton of reasons why eating healthy is important, and why you should make the effort. It isn’t only about how we look – it’s about FEELING great about ourselves and internally. It’s about aging well and staving off unnecessary ailments that do not have to be associated with growing older.

It’s also about operating at a higher level and being able to not only function well, but optimally…at work, at home, in our extracurricular activities etc.. You deserve to feel great on every level! To deny ourselves that opportunity or to make excuses is a huge disservice to ourselves, and the body we have been given.

Having watched my almost-87-year-old Grandmaster demonstrate Martial Arts techniques this past week was inspiring and beyond – his grace, the fluidity and power in his movement, his accuracy… I want to be like that at 87…and so I take FULL responsibility of treating my body and mind as well as I can NOW, so I can get to that point too.

PS: My Grandmaster paints during the break in class. Sips his tea and keeps his mind and body active. AWESOME.

The American way of life when it comes to food is one I’m not ultra fond of. I was when I was about 12 and figure skating hours a week…I could do it then. But I have to accept the reality that I’m NOT that active, not that young, and therefore I don’t have that metabolism. That’s OKAY. It just means I have to approach eating a little bit differently – food is one of the fun aspects of life! We don’t have to be miserable or miss out at all. But it is important to recognize that the fuel we put in the tank matters…and that no one else is responsible for our health except us.

I loved having the opportunity to shift my habits a bit, and I’m working on the very tips I outlined here. We know ourselves better than anyone – how we feel, how our clothes fit, how we are doing overall. A doctor can certainly tell us, but I don’t want to wait to hear something bad from someone certified! I’d rather take the bull by the horns…

There’s inspiration everywhere – the Japanese are a culture of healthy bodies, and it’s noteworthy. A mediterranean approach is another wonderful way of life also…and that’s really the key here. It’s a WAY OF LIFE. There are some incredibly healthy cultures out there (Japanese is consistently among the top ten), so it’s worth taking a look. America is a phenomenal place to be for many reasons, but we aren’t as great when it comes to health…and a monstrous portion of that comes from what / when / how the population ingests food.

 

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Advice From Stephen Hawking

Advice I believe is great for everyone, regardless of circumstances…

As someone who has the honor to work with children and adults with disabilities, I can safely say I have never found a more motivational set of individuals. In spite of sometimes substantial adversity, I watch them not only push their limitations, but sometimes also overcome them entirely. I believe it is absolutely crucial to focus on the positive – the unique talents, interests, and abilities of each individual – and to downplay the weaknesses.

Now, that’s not to say we can’t recognize areas that need improvement – whether for ourselves or another individual, we need to know what in our lives and development needs some TLC (or flat-out hard work!) However, making a point to emphasize our abilities is a surefire way to keep us in the most positive head space possible. When facing some of life’s challenges, a great attitude will make all the difference. 

The other day at a volunteer session, a mother was inquiring about activities for her daughter, including Martial Arts – beyond autism, her child has been through surgeries to correct club foot and other impairments to the feet and lower extremities. The doctor was trying to steer her clear of many activities and yet…here was this young lady actually running around. I spoke to the mother, making clear I have no medical background (but a lifetime’s worth as an athlete), and explained that sports can be modified. So long as we have the proper instructor who is aware of our challenges, there is no reason that many more sports could be available to her than suggested.

For example, this young lady was able to participate in ballet to some degree. I watched her not only walk briskly in our gymnasium, but also run at times, further confirming that she has a great deal more ability that it appears she is (externally) being credit for. I encouraged the mother to look into specific Marital Art programs, and to not be discouraged by the “can’t do”s. As Stephen Hawking alludes to, to handicap ourselves mentally can be incredibly damaging – we needn’t add to our own, or another’s physical difficulties.

The truth of it is, we all have strengths, weaknesses, injuries and physical limitations. In the majority of cases, we all have some mental challenges as well – low self-esteem, insecurity, self-doubt to name a few. To focus on what IS possible, and what we ARE able to do can make a massive difference in the quality of our lives overall, as well as contribute to our success in our activities, careers, and relationships.

I will ever and always be in full support of “focusing on the positive.”  It isn’t about being idealistic, but recognizing that what we focus on can literally alter the course of our lives – what we dwell on becomes our reality and all we see.

Focusing on our strengths not only helps us to weather the working-on-our-weaknesses better, but also the ups and downs of life. It gives us the strength and courage to carry forward, to makes strides in spite of anxiety or fear, and to find happiness, fulfillment and success in spite of tipped scales. The sky is the limit when we have the right attitude. Period.