Raising Confident, Capable Kids in a Performance Filled Culture

Children who come to believe that our love, praise, or affection is contingent on their pleasing us and doing what we want them to do become the most vulnerable of all people.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

I have been silently taking inventory of our culture's and many families' perceptions of performance and raising confident/capable kids. What stands out the most is the unintentional reinforced value that performance has on self-worth. What also stands out are misconceptions of grace and confidence which affect children's perceptions of life and faith.

Before we dive in, you must understand as parents, that it is never too late to make improvements. We are easily caught up in performance based parenting and feeling the shame and guilt of not parenting the way we "should" or the way others do. We equate our parenting performance with our self-worth as a parent. We begin to parent out of fear of inadequacy instead out of grace and confidence.

We grow and change much faster when we shed discouraging thoughts about what we have failed to accomplish.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

To get all of us started in making some improvements, I will be referencing and pulling out pieces from these resources: Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen) and What's So Amazing About Grace? (Philip Yancey).

In today's culture we are bombarded with opportunities and pressures for our kids to perform or to prove their abilities. How do we carve out self-confidence, self-validation, self-discipline, good judgement, and a sense of responsibility in our children? These capabilities can be nourished in young people through  1. networking 2. finding meaningful roles 3. exploring 4. celebrating 5. setting limits, 6. developing self-control and 7. modeling grace.

First let's understand "perception." When we think through our experiences, we form conclusions about ourselves and our lives (perception). Children make decisions about themselves based upon their experiences. They think about what they need to do to survive or thrive. When a child's perceptions are threatened or when their perceptions are not consistent with the environment, their brain reacts, which sends a signal to their body to react. You've heard of fight, flight, or freeze. Read more about brain science and behavior here.

Perceptions are unique. Perceptions are keys to attitudes, motivation, and behavior. Perceptions must first be supported and challenged in order to change.

Glenn and Nelsen in Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World suggest ways of helping children process their experiences and examine their perceptions.

1. Identify: What are the important parts of the experience? What happened? What was the outcome? What were your feelings? What was most important?

2. Analyze: Why was that important to you? What were you trying to do?

3. Generalize: How can you use this information next time? What do you need to repeat to achieve the same outcome?

Nourishing Your Child's Capabilities

Networking

The simplest of all networks is friendship.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

People are tribal creatures designed for relationships. We excel when we collaborate, teach, affirm, and encourage each other. Who is in your tribe with whom you can dialogue about the world, about life, and about kids?

Finding Meaningful Roles

Today we need to deal with our young people actively in ways that cause them to believe they are significant contributors rather than just objects or passive recipients of our activities.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

As children find meaningful roles in their family and in their social groups, they develop a sense of importance and personal significance. Focus, direction, a sense of ownership, all help to foster this perception of personal significance. When we listen to our children and take them seriously, we can restore collaboration with them. What are some ways you can offer meaningful roles to your children? How can you incorporate family meetings into your routine? What ritual, tradition, or activity can you devote weekly time?

The need to be needed is often more powerful than the need to survive.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

Exploring

Experience, especially one that’s reflected on, is a far more effective teacher than parents could ever be.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

Too often parents or caregivers step in prematurely instead of allowing a child to do for himself or to experience for himself. When parents are too quick to offer an explanation or expertise, the child is left feeling vulnerable or intimidated. They may form the perception of: I am not capable unless they are here. What would happen if they were not there? Rescuer parents rescue children from inadequacy and then enable them to remain vulnerable. 

By helping our children explore their experiences, they will develop confidence in their ability to learn and problem solve.

Celebrating

When we recognize effort and progress, we get more results.  Sometimes we unintentionally set up a trap for our children by steering them to be independent and then objecting to their way of doing things. Instead, encourage children with specific feedback and acknowledgement of effort.

When we praise the performance or praise the results, we lose sight of the individual and her effort and contribution. Examine how you celebrate your own successes or how you evaluate your mistakes. Do you communicate that self worth and self control are independent of external circumstances?

Setting Limits

Setting limits is an exercise in using our wisdom and experience to anticipate possible problems and solve them in advance.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

Too often we wait until after something has gone wrong to decide what we'll do about it. We often react with anger and say meaningless things. Determining limits together with a child before a situation occurs will help your child's sense of control remain intact. Using firmness and respect to communicate and follow through with a limit provides opportunity for your child to honor the limit and exercise self-control. 

Developing Self-Control

Our children's capability to recognize and acknowledge personal feelings directly affects their ability to select an appropriate behavioral response to a feeling.

Once children become comfortable with the notion that their feelings are, as are the feelings of others, a legitimate, worthy part of their lives, they are ready to take the next step-to self-control.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

Developmentally around eight years old, most children are capable of controlling impulses that bring immediate gratification and instead choosing a behavior that achieves a goal.

Philip Yancey in What's So Amazing About Grace chooses the word gratitude for motivation for "being good." We want our children to strive to do well and to have self-control--not to make their parents or God love them (we already do), but because of gratitude and a sense of love within a relationship. 

Modeling Grace

By instinct I feel I must do something in order to be accepted. Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more. And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.
— What's So Amazing About Grace? (Phillip Yancey)

Take the initiative to model grace by laying down retribution or fairness. Reinforce your love for your children regardless of performance or behavior. Speak truth and life into your children. Speak to who they are becoming. Forgive. Lay down all of your needs for gratitude and compliments.

We are modeling grace when we allow our children to operate from within themselves, to practice self-control, to explore experiences and opportunities, and to practice their abilities. Regardless of performance or failures, we can gracefully communicate to our children through our attitudes, words, modeling, and forgiveness that they are worthy of unconditional love. This sets the stage for them to explore faith, accept spiritual grace, and to realize their greater worth.

Next Steps

You've read through all of this information, now ask your self "What is the most important thing I've come to realize? What behavior change do I want to make? Why is this realization important right now? How can it make a difference in my life or my child's life? Where do I want to first apply it?"

Complete the following statement: As a result of this awareness, the first thing I will do at the first opportunity is....

Freaking Out, Brain Science, and Resetting Your Body

Racing heart. Sweat. Labored breathing, Uncontrollable crying. Chest tightening. You feel like you're going to DIE. Your body is reacting to perceived danger in your brain. Your unconscious mind has picked up a signal that you are unsafe and your body needs to activate for protection. When your brain senses danger, a messenger relays that information to your amygdala from your brain stem before your cerebral cortex can process it and make sense of it logically. The message is Fight. Flight. or Freeze. 

What are "threats" or "perceived dangers" to the brain?

1. Threats to basic human needs both physiological and safety needs. Not only are traumatic experiences threatening, but physiological and love needs can also trigger a response. H.A.L.T stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. Are you feeling any of these?

2. "Shoulds." The "shoulds" are expectations you tell yourself. I should be more...I should have done this...I shouldn't be like that...I should...I should...I should. Go ahead--start writing a list of your "shoulds" as you realize them. We all have the "shoulds."

3. The Unknown. The unknown can be frightening. The unknown of the future. Of the unexpected. Of how your body will respond. Of outcomes. Unpredictability. Really, the unknown can go on for infinity.

4. Contradictory Messages in the Environment: Mixed messages in an environment are threats to the brain. Double standards. Unpredictability. For example: A parent who either encourages or "forces" a child to do an activity, and then criticizes his effort. Or a partner who is a completely different person under the influence of alcohol. 

5. Implicit Memories. These are memories that rise to the "surface" of the brain, although are not recognized as a memory. It is when something happening now stirs up a memory from the past when you felt similarly--even though the current situation may be completely different. There is no time stamp either. For example, a scent associated with a past event may bring about an emotional response, yet the individual is unaware that scent was associated with the memory.

Dysregulation vs Defiance

This physical response to a perceived threat is called dysregulation, and it happens to both children and adults. The difference for a child though, is typically, he/she does not have the tools and skills to express this intense whirlwind. He/she often shuts down or acts out in order to release or suppress that energy. What may look like defiance is actually a physiological response to perceived danger. Defiance is intentional and motivated by a desired outcome. Dysregulation is governed by the nervous system. Try telling a dysregulated nervous system that "there is nothing to be afraid of" or to simply "calm down." Or "he just needs a spanking." It's like sending an email through the mailbox in your front yard. You're sending a message through the wrong channels in the brain. 

Symptoms of Dysregulation

We are all very much aware when a dysregulated individual is in a hyper-aroused state: Aggression, disorganized, alert, excessive motor activity, uncontrollable, irritable, anxious. 

But, a hypo-arousal state looks and feels much differently. It's easier to misperceive. Tired, automatic obedience, appears life-less, non-expressive, numb, lack of motivation, isolated, helplessness.

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Respond More Effectively

Mindfulness is key. Mindful awareness practices activate and harness the power of the prefrontal cortex in order to respond more effectively. As you repeatedly practice something, that state becomes a trait. You rewire your neurons. How cool is that?! Daniel Siegel discusses this here. 

Mindfulness is simply recognizing what's going on inside (our internal experience) in order to shift our internal experience. When we are more aware of what is happening on the inside, then we have more freedom to make a different choice in our response. This self-awareness allows people to stay connected to themselves in overwhelming moments. Self awareness allows the brain to think rationally, thus giving more choice and control over a response. Modeling is the best way to teach mindfulness. Check in with yourself throughout the day, particularly with your body. Notice what is happening to your body in regards to temperature, sensations, and movement. What parts are tight or clenched? What parts are relaxed? Notice and breathe. We want our mind to be an active participant--when we bring our attention to our body, our brain is less likely to "jump to conclusions" about what is happening in the situation or in the environment. The more we model and teach our children to be mindful of the body, overtime, patterns that we have been stuck in, will begin to soften and release.

Reset your body 

Grounding exercises are designed to bring your awareness into the present moment which reminds our bodies that we are actually safe from harm. Adrenaline and cortisol then can be reduced.

Grounding exercises are designed to bring your awareness into the present moment which reminds our bodies that we are actually safe from harm. Adrenaline and cortisol then can be reduced.

When we change our perceptions, we change the symptoms in our nervous system.
— Lisa Dion, The Play Therapy Institute of Colorado

Lisa Dion compiled a list of activities to help return our bodies to a more regulated state.

  • Run, jump, spin, dance, bounce on yoga ball, crash into something soft, roll on the floor
  • Sit in a chair and push up by straightening arms
  • Massages, deep pressure on your arms and legs
  • Eat something crunchy
  • Drink through a straw
  • Take a bath/shower
  • Wrap up in a blanket
  • March or sing during transitions
  • Play music
  • Carry something heavy
  • Do a wall push up, or press hands together firmly
  • Run up/down steps
  • Hang upside down
  • Play sports
  • Doodle
  • Hold a fidget (koosh ball, rubber band, silly putty)
  • Dim the lights/Turn on the lights
  • Swing
  • Yoga
  • Breathe

Seek Professional Help

A healthy and effective therapeutic relationship with a counselor will provide an opportunity for you to examine and understand your perceived threats in a safe, empathic relationship and environment. For children, therapy involving play, sand, and activities will increase self-awareness, acceptance,  regulation, and self-control. A therapeutic relationship can connect at both the brain and heart levels that promotes new growth and neural pathways in the brain as well as heal any hurts in the heart.

 

 

 

The Play Project

The Play Project is a public awareness initiative developed by The Playroom Lubbock to encourage play, movement, and mindfulness in our kids' lives. Play is how our kids make sense of the world. Many of you have an impact in children's lives through play. The message we want to send is that play and mindfulness is an integral part of life for communicating, coping, adjusting, and discovering. At The Playroom Lubbock we provide therapy solutions for kids using play based interventions to help them fulfill their purpose in this life.

TShirt Designs by Kelly Martin, LPC of The Playroom Lubbock and Regina Penney of Penney Photography and Design.

Car, Mealtime, Bedtime, and Device Hassles over the Holidays

During the holidays our schedules and routines change, road trips happen, boredom may settle in, and parents may feel like they are dealing with more behavior hassles rather than focusing on whatever their reason is for the season. Here are some quick tips to implement when there are hassles in the car, at mealtime, at bedtime, and over electronic devices. (Tips compiled from Positive Discipline A-Z by Jane Nelsen, Lynn Lott, and H. Stephen Glen).

Car Hassles

1. If you are having car hassles with the kids, it may be time for some training. Leave plenty of time to get to your destination. When kids start yelling or fighting, simply pull over and wait without saying a word. In this case actions speak louder than words. You've clearly heard loud words coming from the backseat. Mix it up and use your actions rather than trumping the kids' noise level.

2. If the trip is long, make frequent stops so the kids can get out and stretch.

3. Before departing on a trip ask the kids for their ideas that will help make the trip more comfortable and fun for them. 

4. Utilize a calm down box in the car when frustrations arise. Items to include in a calm down box could be: headphones, silly putty, stretchy toy, magna doodle, or a pinwheel.

Mealtime Hassles

1. Trust your kids to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are not. Inadvertently interfering in this natural process could plant the seeds for eating disorders.

2. Sit down as a family and eat a meal together--without TV or devices. Engage your kids' help with setting the table or making decorations. Plan with them what they can do to contribute.

3. If kids know it's ok to choose what they will or won't eat, they are less apt to complain. 

4. If kids complain about the cooking, simply say it's okay not to eat it, but it hurts feelings when they say they don't like it.

5. Schedule your meal time and communicate what time to your kids. Emphasize sharing stories, visiting, and sharing good feelings.

6. Practice good table manners at a time other than mealtime by making it fun, using humor, and exaggerating.

7. If you see mealtime as a time to make kids eat and to lecture about manners, the kids will probably pay you back with bad manners.

Bedtime Hassles

1. Serious bedtime problems are most often as result of parents engaging in power struggles.

2. It's important for kids to have input, but not to run the family.

3. One reason children seek more attention at bedtime is that they haven't received a good dose of it during the day. Be available.

4. Define an allotted time for the bedtime routine and stick to it.

5. Once it is officially bedtime, it's time for you to get out of the room. If you child gets up, kindly and firmly without talking take your child by the hand to his room. Actions speak louder than words.

6. If you child has developed a habit of manipulation it may take 3-5 nights to retrain bedtime routines.

7. If you have engaged in power struggles, admit your mistakes with your child and learn together how to solve the problem and try the routine a different way.

8. If needed, create a bedtime routine chart with your child of what needs to be done.

9. Use humor or make it a game such as Beat the Clock.

10. Children can learn self reliance instead of manipulation skills or dependence on someone else to help them get to sleep. They can learn to respect a parents' need for time alone. 

Device Hassles

1. Involve your children in creating healthy guidelines for the use of electronic devices. Eliminate the "battle" by deciding together, and being kind and firm.

2. Give young children limited choices. For example 1 or 2 shows? Play on iPad for 30 minutes or watch a show for 30 minutes? Play before or after dinner?

3. Notice your own behavior. If you use your device excessively, it will be difficult to convince your kids to limit their time. 

4. Help the kids make a list of activities they could do when they feel bored.

5. Talk with your kids about the addictive qualities of TV or devices so they know why you are concerned.

6. Set up a rotation for sharing devices that they can all live with.

Hopefully some of these tips and tricks will ease hassles during the holidays so that you can continue healthy and productive routines. Or perhaps they will kick start your attempt at more healthy routines. Bottom line: children can learn that they don't always get what they want, that it is okay to feel upset about that, and that they will survive.

How does the counselor involve parents?

Parents are a vital piece to the child's process in play therapy. Here at the Playroom Lubbock, the parents and I work alongside each other during the course of treatment. I usually tell parents when I first meet with them that when they sign their child up for play therapy, they are also signing themselves up for a form of counseling or treatment as well. Vulnerability and personal growth for the parents is just as important to the child's therapy process as is the child's play "work" in the therapy playroom.

One of my favorite authors and speakers, Bob Goff, recently provided this anecdote. One of his favorite things about visiting England was the red double decker buses. When he first saw one he was so excited that he took a picture of it. (See red picture). He was so close to it he lost sight of what it really was. Sometimes we need to back up our perspective so that we can see the whole picture. This is what the process is like for parents. I walk along side them in this process, backing up to see the whole picture, gaining insight, adjusting perspectives.

To help ease your concerns or perhaps fears of your role in the process, I will outline below how I involve parents.

1. Initial parent consultation session. This is the very first session with the counselor, but without the child. It lasts an hour. We will discuss history, concerns, and what progress you would like to see made with your child. I will also explain the therapy process as well as my practice policies and your privacy.

2. Follow up parent consultation session. These typically occur after every 3 sessions that I see your child. Before the session I will send a confidential electronic Parent Report Form where you have the opportunity to rate the stress level, rate the overall progress level, state what changes have occurred in the child's life, and voice concerns or questions you still have.

During the parent consultation meetings you, the parent, will have the opportunity to discuss changes, progress, and concerns.

The counselor (I) will cover these 4 topics: Positives, Themes, Goals, and Strategies

Positives: I will give you positive feedback regarding your child's behavior, emotions, or progress of therapy.

Themes: I will loosely discuss play themes that I have observed over the last few sessions. Play themes are dominant or recurring themes within a child's play. I observe a child's feelings during play, intensity of play, the child's level of including the counselor, a child's level of connectedness, self control, problem solving capabilities, etc. As discussed in the initial Parent Consultation and in your Informed Consent forms, I remind parents of the value of the therapeutic relationship and the trust that develops between the child and me. I will only talk about a child's play to parents in vague terms, not giving many details or specifics. I ask that parents trust that I will communicate to them any "red flags" or concerns that I have regarding the child.

Goals: Based upon parent/school feedback, parents concerns, my observances in the playroom, and the play therapy process, I communicate goals or areas that I would like to see improvements in your child's behavior, emotions, self concept, etc..

Strategies: We will discuss strategies for you to use at home to facilitate and support the goals. These strategies may be in the form of suggesting a book to read or may be more direct suggestions of ways of responding or interacting with your child.

I value the parent child relationship and fully acknowledge that the parent is more of an expert regarding his child than I am. Many times parents will ask me, "Why is that? or What does that mean?" Many times there could be a biological, neurological, psychological, or developmental explanation. Other times, I may not know "why." And I will never pretend to know "why." Sometimes the answer is "I do not know. Let's trust the process."

First and foremost I want to communicate to both the parent and the child: I am here. I hear you. I understand. I care. Relationship is the vehicle for change.

For further reading, check out Collaboration with Parents in Play Therapy

 

A Beginning to a Whining's End

If you've caught yourself with outstretched hands up to your head, clenched teeth, and saying "Stop the whining already!" this read might just be a beginning to a whining's end. 

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Why does my child whine?

1. Whining thrives on unmet needs. Usually that unmet need is attention. Sure, your child probably whines when he/she wants something that he can't have or he/she whines after you've said "no." We will get to that scenario in a minute. If your child is whining, he is getting a response from you. Oddly enough, even negative attention is getting some attention, and the negative attention is helping to fulfill a child's unmet need of attention.

2. Vocabulary. Your child may not have the vocabulary to tell you how he/she is feeling. 

3. H.A.L.T. Is your child hungry, angry, lonely, or tired?

4. Your child has limited control over his life and limited choices.

Why does whining lead to backtalk?

1. Mirroring what is being modeled. Are you reacting or responding to the whining? How does your child perceive your emotions and tone of voice?

2. Is there an atmosphere of power struggles by being too controlling or too permissive?

3. Are you making disrespectful demands or using calm, but firm invitations to cooperate?

4. Disappointment or setting up a situation for frustration/failure.

What can I do?

1. Put down your electronic device. Make eye contact.

2. Depending on the scenario, use physical touch such as a hug, sitting side by side, or a "tickle spider."

3. Reflect with your words how your child is feeling. "You're feeling disappointed you can't go to the park today. You really were looking forward to that."

4. Give choices within your boundaries. "You really want a snack right now. We will have dinner in 20 minutes. You can choose _____or______for snack before bed."

5. Use your sense of humor and laugh. It's ok not to be serious all of the time. Gain some perspective, view behavior as age appropriate, and see the humor in situations with children. Sometimes we misperceive being silly for disrespect. A laugh or a quick joke could diffuse a situation that could have otherwise turned into an unintentional power struggle.

6. Set up a routine or schedule board. Welcome you child's input into creating the schedule. Your child will feel ownership and will feel heard if he is allowed to make some choices or help create the schedule board.

7. If there is a hidden message behind the whine, try to meet that need: Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? Unloved? Reality check: If we as parents are also feeling hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, isn't it that much more difficult to deal with our kids' difficult behaviors?

8. Practice self care. Refresh. Relax. Play.

9. During a peaceful or happy time, brainstorm with your child how she can ask for something without whining. Practice. Role play. Point out the difference between a whiney voice and a respectful, age appropriate voice.

Ignore the whining and find lots of ways to encourage your child.
— Positive Discipline A-Z by Nelsen, Lott, & Glenn

10. Apologize if you have spoken disrespectfully. Model respectful requests and avoid comebacks. 

11. Share your feelings: "My feelings are hurt when you talk to me that way. I am going into the other room until you are ready to talk to me respectfully."

12. Instead of a command, "Pick up that toy before you leave." Try saying, "What about that toy?"

13. Ask your child to repeat to you what you just said. "What was my answer to that?" 

Hopefully some of these tips/tricks you will find useful depending on the situation and the child. Thanks goes to one of my favorite books to help guide this discussion: Positive Discipline A-Z by Jane Nelsen, Lynn Lott, and H. Stephen Glenn. Sprinkled with some personal experiences, of course.

Kelly

Expressive Arts in Counseling

At the Playroom Lubbock we offer individual and group counseling to kids and teens. You've probably heard us talk about play therapy (using toys as a safe medium for expression) and sandtray (using toys/figures in the sand), but what is "expressive arts" that we talk about?  Quite simply, expressive arts is an opportunity to use the arts to safely express oneself and through the process, learn by doing. It uses the arts as a basis for discovery and change. The arts can include art materials, dramatic play, acting, music, dancing, or other artful movements. The emphasis is on the process rather than the product. No previous art background is needed.

 

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When will expressive arts be used at The Playroom Lubbock?

Kids in individual counseling have the opportunity to spontaneously engage in expressive arts because of the assortment of expressive arts materials and toys available to them in the therapy playrooms. The counselor may also incorporate expressive art activities into group counseling or kids groups.

How does the creative process produce change?

Carl Rogers explains that under certain conditions, a person (child) is free to be creative, to be himself, and be open to a new experience of self awareness and change. 

If offered in a safe, empathic, non-judgmental environment, it is a transformative process for constructive change.
— Natalie Rogers in "Giving Life to Carl Rogers Theory of Creativity"

The counselor 1. accepts the child as having unconditional worth 2. listens with empathy and shows understanding of the child through nonverbals and reflective statements 3. provides a non judgmental climate by not making evaluative or critical statements regarding the child or what the child is doing.

The counselor trusts the process that the child (with the help of a safe therapeutic relationship) will take his/her experiences, perceptions, and potential where and when the child needs. *However, there are boundaries and limit setting which can be explained in an entirely other blog post.

A child's expressive art is an image or metaphor representing a child's perspectives, experiences, desires, fears, and goals. Once a child feels emotionally safe and psychologically free, he is able to blossom.  It is through the process of creativity that a child gains awareness, resolve, and ideas to move forward. It is not through a counselor's interpretation or analysis of a child's creative product that brings change.

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What is the ultimate goal for counseling?

You may have very specific goals for your child. For example, control his temper, obey the rules, not be so impulsive, not be anxious, play better with others, learn social skills, etc...Play therapy, expressive arts, and sandtray therapy will address all of those. However, the ultimate life goals for kids (and adults) is to 1. adjust, change, and seek new experiences 2. be yourself in the present moment 3. trust yourself to make the right choices and take responsibility for your choices and 4. treat others with positive regard, respect, and love.

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