Expansion & Contraction

Today I’m sharing my best relationship tool. It’s called expansion and contraction. Expansion and contraction is a simple way to find the rhythm in your family. In fact, it’s probably something you do all the time without even noticing. However, once you bring it to your awareness you will be able to use it with more intention. You’ll find your days flow more smoothly and you view your relationships more positively. In this episode, I’m going to show you how to use it as a mindset switch and as a tool to manage behavior. 

As many of our kids head back into the school year in some way, shape or form, there's a lot of discussion around finding a rhythm for your family. Personally, I think that this idea of finding a rhythm in your home sounds kind of abstract. What does it even mean? So today I'm going to be sharing my favorite tool that does actually help you find a rhythm. It helps you manage the energy and the behavior of your children, but it's also a general tool that I find helps me in relationships across the board, with my partner, with myself, with extended family, it's called expansion and contraction. And I've talked about this in previous episodes have kind of touched on it lightly, but I've had so many requests to go deeper on this topic.

So that's what I'm going to do today. I'll be sharing more about this mindset switch that so many people have told me has transformed their parenting and relationships. And the best part is it's easy. You're probably already doing it, but once it's brought to your awareness you're going to do it with even more intention, and you're going to see even more success. I hope you enjoyed this episode.

Hi, this is Denaye. I'm the founder of simple families. Simple families is an online community for parents who are seeking a simpler more intentional life. In this show, we focus on minimalism with kids, positive parenting, family wellness, and decreasing the mental load. My perspectives are based in my firsthand experience, raising kids, but also rooted in my PhD in child development. So you're going to hear conversations that are based in research, but more importantly, real life. Thanks for joining us.

Before we get into today's episode, I want to bring you a quick 62nd word from our sponsor. The sponsor for today is Prep Dish. I have loved the changes that Prep Dish has made in my family Prep Dish is a meal planning program, each week you get a PDF sent to your inbox and in that PDF, there are three parts. The first is a Grocery Shopping List. The second is a Prep Day List. And the third is a Dish Day List. You designate one day, each week for prep. When I do this, I always tag team with my husband and we get it done quickly together. And I will say that it helps me to feel much more supported in the kitchen because he can't be there to help me meal prep during the week. And once that's done on dish day, when we're actually serving the meal, it only takes 10 or 15 minutes to get it on the table. I never thought that I would need a meal planning service. I thought, you know, there are an abundance of recipes at my fingertips. Why do I need to have recipes sent to my inbox each week?

But it's so much more than that. I invite you to give it a try, go to prepdish.com/families and you'll get two weeks free. All right, back to today's episode today, we're talking all about expansion and contraction. Now, if you've done my simple families foundations program, you know that we have a whole lesson on this. It's something that I have found so valuable. And I know from feedback from many of you that you have found value in it as well. I want to give you a heads up that I am doing a special offer on simple families, foundations starting September 18th. For seven days, you'll get 40% off the regular price and a couple of really great brand new bonuses. So put that on your radar. I'd love to have you join us. Simple families Foundations is my flagship program that provides you with an A to Z approach to simplifying your home and your family.

If you've already done the program with me, then you know, all of that expansion and contraction. So today I want to take this from being conceptual, to being concrete. How do you actually use this? Why does it work? Why does it make a difference? First of all, I want share about where I learned about the concept of expansion and contraction. Back in episode 223, simplefamilies.com/episode223. I talked a little bit about our first year of homeschooling and how I used a program called Oak meadow. Now Oak meadow is Waldorf influenced. If anyone is familiar with Walden and this concept of expansion and contraction does exist in some ways and variations within water fabrication, honestly, it exists within all that aspects of science across the word, physical sciences, life sciences, social sciences. So I was reading the introductory book to this curriculum, Oak meadow, it's written by the founder, Lawrence Williams and I came across the chapter on expansion and contraction.

Now in the book, Williams talks about expansion contraction primarily from a learning perspective. But as I said, I have found it to be so impactful, applying it across all areas of my relationships. So I'll start by talking about it more vaguely, and then get specific with some examples. First, let's think about expansion and contraction on a physiological level, all with our breath. When you take a big breath in, your body contracts. When you breathe out your breath expands, we need both. We need to breathe in and we need to breathe out. It's a rhythm. Similar to the rhythm of the seasons. Winter is a time of contraction when it's cold and all the leaves have fallen. We often find ourselves shut inside in close quarters with the ones they love, maybe cuddling up around the fire or reading a good book, contracting, doing things in smaller spaces.

And we look forward to summer coming and expanding where we can go outside and spread our wings when we're contracting. And when we're coming together, we start to become more aware of the spaces around us. We start to notice our emotional and physical concerns much more, you know the feeling of being cooped up or feeling like the walls are closing in on you, that usually comes after too much time contracting, too much time spent contracting may leave you over-analyzing and feeling anxious. Many, many of us face this during the pandemic and stay at home orders where our entire families work contracting at home, being cooped up in close quarters, without room to breathe without room to move. And when you spend too much time, contracting all shut up, kind of like we do in the winter time, we start to get on each other's nerves.

We all have these internal rhythms where we need to come together, gather, and then we need some space to spread out. And usually as adults, we can honor them. And we can notice that tendency, if you've been sitting at your desk working for too long, you notice, Oh, I think I need to stand up and stretch my legs and breathe. That's you recognizing the need to move from contraction to expansion. You're contracting sitting, hovering over a computer and you decided to get up and stretch and move around and expand. You go back and forth between these two tendencies. As adults we often do a pretty decent job of it. Although I would say that we can still use some reminders from time to time, but our kids also have these internal rhythms and due to many external circumstances, what's going on in the house. What's going on with our agenda and our schedule.

They can't always honor those internal rhythms. They can't always leave their desk when they need to leave their desk. They can't always move when they need to move. So if they're at school and they're told they have to sit in their desk all day and they're not allowed to get up, while they're sitting in their desk and they need to expand, they feel that getting that itch, getting fidgety, they're probably gonna end up getting in trouble because they can't honor that rhythm. They can't get up and move. And if you start tuning in to this, you're going to notice that oftentimes your kids get on your nerves and start to quote unquote "misbehave" when they're really just trying to meet their own needs. One of the ways that this comes to mind is two years ago, we went to pick up our new, AU pair. She came in from overseas and it was a long drive.

I would say we're picking her up in long Island and we're in the Northern suburbs of New York. And it's on a good day, an hour, 20 minutes. I think it took us two hours in traffic to get there. And then two hours in traffic to get back near our house. And I decided it was a great idea to take her out to lunch. We had been contracting all day in the car and then we sat down at a table and we contracted further in a restaurant. Now you might imagine what this looked like. My kids were upside down in the booths could not hold still super wiggly. And I was super irritated. She was just meeting them for the first time, and it was like, Oh great. This is a terrible first impression. But reflecting back on that, well, first of all, I probably should have known better, but you know, we can't always predict these things.

We're going to mess it up. But this was pretty much a setup. It was a setup for failure. I should have known that my kids had been in the car for a really long time and they didn't need to contract even further. They needed to expand. I should have taken them to a playground, not to a restaurant. And at this point in the game asking them to sit still at a restaurant for another hour or so after sitting in the car for multiple hours was just outside of the range of possibility for their bodies. Now we know that kids need to cycle back and forth between an expansion and contraction. And frankly, so do we thinking back to the winter versus summer example, I started thinking about what about these places that have endless summer like Southern California? What happens when we have too much expansion?

Well, kids who run free with no schedule or no agenda, they tend to get antsy and less, less, and have a hard time focusing. Therefore, some amount of expansion, a good amount of expansion is really important, especially for young kids. But we also have to watch and know when to bring them back together and to provide some structure and limits to their days. I noticed this with my kids. If we have playdates with others and they go longer than planned at the age that they're at four and six 90 minutes is usually about a good amount of time. If we go past that unstructured free play can start to get a little bit rowdy and wild. So as parents, it's our job to help recognize when kids need to facilitate between expansion and contraction. As they get older, they'll start to do it better on their own.

You'll start to get easier, but especially in the younger years, kids can have a hard time recognizing the need, especially if you have more than one kid, which is why this is so useful for siblings, because you have two siblings with two very different internal rhythms. One child may be able to tolerate a long periods of contraction and activities in small spaces like Legos or puzzles, that sort of thing. You might have another child who demands a lot more time expanding. You'll probably see that the kid who needs a lot more time expanding, moving, and running is going to end up stepping on the feet and pestering the kid who spends more time contracting. So when kids are getting on each other's nerves, siblings, that is, you're probably going to notice that one or more of the children need to shift their energy they need help.

And they need a little nudge to either move towards expansion and move their bodies, get up and stretch, take a brain break, go check the mail, do somersaults sing dance, or maybe they need to contract. Maybe they need to come together and have some time connecting with you or with another family member. Sometimes we can contract in isolation and sometimes we need to do it within community with the people we love. And I think the need to contract in isolation is really strong and abundant for a lot of people, especially introverts, but with our kids, they often need to contract with us in connection because kids who are disconnected can start to act a little crazy. And the best way to do this is get down on their level. Look them in the eye, give them a hug, really be there for them. You'd be amazed at what an impact that will have on their behavior.

If you have a child whose behavior is feeling really out of control, it may be a sign that they need to come together and contract. Maybe they need more time connecting with you. So when you have kids who have been playing together beautifully, and all of a sudden they get on each other's nerves and they're screaming at each other, avoid the temptation to get angry and punitive about fighting. Take this as a sign that they need to expand. They need to move apart. They need some space. That's not bad behavior. That's human. Now, this is important, not just in the sibling relationship when you have more than one kid, but also in the parent child relationship.

If you have an idea of what flow is this idea of getting into flow, where everything just seems to click days where you're feeling like you're in flow. Things seem so smooth. Everything falls into place. Well, low is hard with kids and with relationships in general, when you're dealing with more than one person as an individual, if you had a day at home by yourself, you will probably find it rather easy to get into flow. You do what needs to get done. You have time to expand. You have time to contract. You can find a rhythm, but once you start integrating other people into the scene who have their own internal rhythms, it starts to get harder. If you're a parent who needs a lot of time to expand and to move apart and to breathe away from your child, you have a child who's very clingy and wants to contract you all the time.

You're probably going to start to feel frustrated. You might see more conflict in this relationship. That's not to say that the relationship can't be strong, but it will take extra effort for both you and your child to honor those needs. And you won't be to honor them all the time. The same goes for partnership. I find that when my partner and I have been expanding and going separate ways and kind of doing our own thing for too long, we start to feel disconnected. And sometimes we need to make an active effort to come back together, to contract in a joint activity, to reestablish that connection. So try it start thinking about your relationships and the relationships of the people around you in terms of expansion and contraction, rather than in terms of getting along or fighting and understand that we need to move back and forth between the two extremes.

There's nothing wrong with that. And the best thing we can do as parents is to recognize it and help our kids meet those own internal needs and rhythms. So I challenge you to start thinking about it for yourself too. How do you expand? How do you contract, can you notice yourself when you need to go from one to the other? It's usually very gradual. How can you tune into your own needs better? Because the more you honor your own needs, the better your emotional wellbeing. I hope you've enjoyed this episode. I appreciate you tuning in I'll chat with you next week. Have a good one.

Denaye Barahona

Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She's a therapist for moms, an author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, Netflix, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, Forbes, and numerous other media outlets.