Archive for December 28, 2015

Start Your Children’s Day with a Memory Boost

Christmas break will soon be over and our children will soon be returning to school for a new semester. How can we help them have the best day in school? Is there a way to boost their memory and increase decision-making abilities? If so, doing so could benefit their academic happy brother and sister laughing isolated on the whiteachievement and social interactions. And, a recent study suggests a possibility to actually do this (click here for PsyBlog review)! Although this study looked specifically at older adults, the review notes several studies suggest the same is true for young adults and common sense tells us it is true for children and youth. What boosts memory and decision-making abilities? Surprisingly, it is nothing extravagant or complex. In order to increase memory and positive decision-making ability in our children before school is to enhance their positive mood. Sounds simple; but, if you have kids, you know how complex it actually is to enhance a positive mood in the morning for children and teens.  How can you enhance a positive mood in your children? Here are a few ideas:

  • Prepare the night before. Set out clothes. Pack lunches. Put homework in the backpack. Do as much as you can the night before to eliminate the morning rush.
  • Do not discuss emotionally loaded topics in the morning before school. Save the potentially conflictual issues for another time and place. And, when you do have the hard discussions, don’t lecture.
  • Enjoy a healthy breakfast. A good meal helps increase positive moods. Talk with your children about the foods they prefer for breakfast and have those foods available.
  • Be aware of your children’s sensitivities. Some children like quieter mornings. Some children are irritated by bright lights in the morning. Be aware of these sensitivities and set up the environment accordingly. If necessary, dim the lights and turn down the radio. These simple steps may help produce a positive mood which can boost memory and decision-making at school.
  • Get up early enough that your children do not have to rush. Just 15-minutes earlier can provide a buffer of time to reduce stress and enhance positive mood.

Helping to enhance positive mood not only helps prepare for a positive school experience, but may help in those difficult discussions outside of school. When you need to discuss difficult topics with your children, increasing their positive mood may enhance that discussion. Increasing a positive mood in your children before such a discussion may help them make better decisions and remember the decision afterwards. So, tell a joke. Share a story. Sit down for a snack. Enjoy an activity together during the discussion. Whatever will increase their positive mood may also help the conversation go better and the outcome more enjoyable.

Are We Raising the Next “Me Generation”?

I grew up in the 1970’s, which some refer to as the “Me Generation.” In 2013, Time Magazine referred to the millennials as the “Me Me Me Generation” (read more here), noting “they are narcissistic, overconfident, entitled and lazy, but they just might be new Little Super Hero Rescue ChildGreatest Generation” (read here). It seems a sense of entitlement and narcissism may have increased over the last forty years.  Perhaps we need to change our parenting style to avoid producing a “Me-to-the-4th Generation.” Parents help create narcissistic, self-involved children by overvaluing their children—claiming they have special knowledge, protecting them from consequences, and treating them as though the world revolves around them. You can read The Making of a Narcissist to learn an alternative that will help create grateful children instead.

A recent study of 591 adolescents (published in May, 2015) explored the connection between violence and narcissism. This 3-year longitudinal study confirmed that parenting style influences how children think about themselves and the world around them. Specifically, a parenting style characterized by lack of warmth in the first year of the study was associated with narcissistic patterns of thought by the second year of the study. In other words, a distant relationship between adolescents and their parents led adolescents to think of themselves as entitled. This lack of warmth also led to patterns of thought in which the adolescent expected disconnection and rejection. These adolescents then lived out the self-entitled thoughts and fears of rejection. Such patterns of thought even led to an increase in violence toward parents by the third year.

So how can we avoid raising narcissistic children and adolescents? Based on these studies, here are four ways.

  • Develop a warm, intimate relationship with your children. This will require time. Make the time to play games with your children. Share activities with your children. Eat meals with your children. Talk with them about their day and their lives. Learn about their interests and engage them in related activities.
  • Develop a consistent and predictable home life. Make the expectations clear and the consequences of misbehavior known. Let your children experience the consequences of their own decisions and actions. Don’t bail them out when they make simple mistakes. Let them learn from the negative consequences of those mistakes. And, let them enjoy the positive feelings associated with accomplishments resulting from hard work.
  • Accept that your children are not perfect. All children make mistakes. All children misbehave. No matter how talented, how intelligent, and how friendly, all children have limitations. Teach your children that they do not know everything. Teach them to celebrate the accomplishments of others and their talents. Teach them to accept advice from coaches, mentors, and other adults. You can begin to teach these skills by modeling them in your own life.
  • Encourage your children to be polite to others. Rather than “looking out for myself” a polite person “looks out for the other guy.” When we teach our children to “look out for the other guy” they will learn to hold the door open for others, let another person go ahead of them in line, say thank you, and learn that it is “my pleasure” to help the “other guy.” Politeness is a far cry from entitled narcissist.

Let’s begin raising a generation of grateful people instead of the next “Me Generation.” Let’s begin today!

A Star Wars Christmas

christmasStarWarsOn a small planet in a distant galaxy, a rebel prince named Satan fueled period of civil unrest. In arrogance, Satan had exploited the vulnerabilities of the King’s forces to form a coup and wrest the kingdom from its Creator. His rebel forces continued to entice, seduce, and enslave the King’s men. As part of his sinister plot, the evil prince even turned the loyalty of the King’s men toward himself. Those who refused to succumb to Satan’s tactics were killed, murdered without remorse. With each man the prince enslaved, he gained power…power to destroy an entire planet.

And then…A long time ago, in a Galilee far, far away, the King revealed His final and most loving battle plan. With a most extraordinary and unconventional strategy, the King initiated His final battle. He infiltrated enemy territory by sending His own Son, not as a warrior, but as an unassuming Baby Boy born in a manger in the midst of enemy occupied land. As this epic battle between good and evil forces progressed, the precious Baby Boy’s safety was entrusted into the hands of mere humans, a teen mother and an innocent father, both members of an oppressed people living under military rule on the planet ruled by the evil prince. Warned in a dream, the young family fled to Egypt to escape the evil prince. Upon return to their homeland & in near silence, the Baby boy grew into a man—an obedient Son and a Servant of the True King. When He suddenly burst onto the scene as an adult, the heavens were torn open and the Spirit descended upon Him. The Baby boy, now a Servant Man, defeated the evil prince in a 40-day dessert battle and began to proclaim the dawning of the Kingdom of God. He revealed the Kingdom of God by making the blind to see, the lame to walk, and the deaf to hear. He began to purge the Kingdom of God by casting out demons, the evil prince’s elite forces on earth. He turned the hearts of men and women back toward the King with words that filled them with amazement.

In a final epic battle, the Son of God engaged in hand to hand combat with death, Satan’s greatest warrior. He felt the power of death’s greatest blow. He willingly succumbed to the pain. He assumed the burden and punishment of our sin, and He experienced the loss of His own life. To all who saw this final battle, it appeared as though death had won. Life was dead!

But, it was all part of the True King’s ingenious plan. In a complete twist of plot, it was through the voluntary, sacrificial death of the Perfect, Unblemished Lamb of God that the battle was won. For when the Son of God became our sin, we gained His righteousness. It was by His wounds we were healed; through His death we gained life. Just as the King had orchestrated from the beginning of time, it was through this seeming defeat, this sacrificial death, that the King won the victory and Satan was defeated. Life was set free and God’s Spirit was poured out to empower all those in the Kingdom of God.

This story continues today. The Kingdom of God continues to grow. Each time we gather at the communion table, we remember the King’s greatest victory. Each time we drink the cup and eat the bread of His covenant, we recall the victory He has won. We rejoice in the knowledge that the King, Jesus Christ, is coming back soon for His final victory parade.

And that final victory begins with a tiny Baby in a manger. Merry Christmas.

Brain Waves, Toddlers, & Moral Development

All parents want to raise children with a strong sense of right and wrong. However, most parents don’t realize how early—surprisingly early—this moral behavior and thought begins. Kids on Victory PodiumJean Decety from the University of Chicago (and his associate, Jason Cowell) demonstrated that parents influence their children’s moral development as early as one year old! He showed a group of 73 toddlers (12-24 months old) two types of animated videos: one in which characters engaged in helping and sharing or one in which characters exhibited pushing, tripping, and shoving behavior. At the same time, they measured the toddlers’ eye movement (gaze) and brain waves. Afterwards, the researchers offered the toddlers a choice of two toys: one representing the “good” animated character or one representing the “bad” character.

What did they discover? First, toddlers looked at and tracked the “good,” pro-social characters longer. They showed more interest in the characters who exhibited positive moral actions. In addition, toddlers experienced different brain wave patterns when witnessing the prosocial behavior and the antisocial behavior.  But, these differences did not impact which toy the toddler chose. There was one factor that differentiated which toy the child reached for, regardless of the length of their gaze at the “good” character or the difference in the brain wave patterns associated with the prosocial/antisocial behavior. An additional distinct brain wave pattern was associated with which toy was chosen. This additional brain wave occurred just after the toddler witnessed the behavior of the animated character and it differentiated which toy the child chose.

Now for the really interesting part! The researchers discovered what may have contributed to that distinct brain wave pattern after reviewing questionnaires completed by parents prior to the research. These questionnaires measured parental values around empathy, justice, and fairness as well as their child’s temperament and demographics. Parental sensitivity to justice distinguished toddlers’ who reached for the “good character” toy from those who reached for the “bad character” toy! In other words, the parents’ values around justice impacted how their children’s brains work and whether their 12-24 month old reached out for the prosocial or antisocial character.

The researchers also gave the toddlers opportunities to share their toys in this experiment. This time, the parents’ ability to take someone else’s perspective influenced their children’s willingness to share, even at 12-24 months of age! So, if you want to raise children with a strong sense of right and wrong, children sensitive to justice, and children willing to share, begin early by:

  1. Cultivating your own sense of justice. Discipline fairly. Do not practice the “Do as I say not as I do” mentality. Instead, set the example of living and accept the just consequences for your behavior. Apologize and ask forgiveness when you make a mistake. Give just rewards for appropriate behavior (which can be as simple as a polite “thankyou” or “I appreciate your help.”). Talk about justice in the community. Read stories together that reveal justice. Cultivate justice in your life.
  2. Practice taking other people’s perspective before reacting to them. Put yourself in your spouse’s shoes, your children’s shoes, your neighbors’ shoes and consider the situation from their perspective. Think and talk about the perspective the store clerk, the police officers, or the teacher.

These simple practices will help you raise moral children…and help create a more moral world for your grandchildren.

Christmas is a Harsh Taskmaster

Forget the jolly guy in the red suit and the sentimental pics of families peacefully picking out the perfect Christmas tree. Christmas has become a harsh taskmaster. This taskmaster Woman in red Santa costume having a bad headachebegins to snap out orders with the crack of a whip just before Thanksgiving, when the “black Friday sales” start on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. He barks out commands about buying perfect gifts, finding the best tree, putting up the most extravagant display of lights (before the neighbors), baking the tastiest cookies for all to talk about, attending the parties, watching for sales, and paying Christmas bills. The list of demands goes on and the pressures increase. Stress overwhelms as we strive to meet each of the Christmas Taskmasters commands. Yes, Christmas has become a harsh taskmaster.

Obeying the harsh taskmaster of Christmas, I risked life and limb to fight through the gridlock of traffic, cut off by impatient drivers weaving in and out of traffic, to arrive at the mall in search of the demanded perfect gift. I walked through a crowd of people seemingly unaware of personal space and common courtesies bumping and pushing past me to be the first one to buy the “gift of the year.” Suddenly, steadying myself against the tide of crazed shoppers driven on by the taskmaster of Christmas, I caught a glimpse of a manger scene. Quietly, peacefully, Mary and Joseph gazed in adoration at the Baby Jesus, the Son of God. I stopped for a moment and realized they too knew the taskmaster of Christmas. They felt the pressure of living as an oppressed people under the harsh rule of a foreign power. They had traveled to Bethlehem in response to the political demands of the taskmaster. They have fought the frenzied crowds seemingly unaware of personal courtesies. The taskmaster would not even allow them a place to lay their head. Mary and Joseph knew the taskmaster’s accusation against an unwed yet pregnant teen. The taskmaster whip came down hard on Mary and Joseph as they searched Jerusalem for a place to rest.  There is no rest for you, scolded the taskmaster.

Yet now I see Mary and Joseph looking on in worship at the Light of the world, the Creator of all, God Incarnate, Emmanuel. I love that name—Emmanuel. He is the God who was with Israel to deliver them from the harsh taskmaster of Egypt, the One who was with us to deliver us from slavery to the taskmaster of sin. He is the One with us to liberate from the taskmaster of the Law. He delivered and liberated us from the harsh taskmasters, so we have no need to fall under another. Perhaps Mary and Joseph have an important message for us. They were unfazed by the taskmaster’s whip. They simply looked to the Baby Jesus, the Incarnate God who has come to set them free once again. The Christmas taskmaster holds no power and rule over them or us. We do not need to worry and scheme for the perfect holiday experience or struggle and rush to meet the demands of Christmas giving. We simply need to rest in gratitude and amazement. We need only look in quiet trust at the perfect, generous gift God has already given to us, His Son. We do not need to succumb to any taskmaster. We can give ourselves to God and then to others in celebration. We are free! Free to love and wonder, rest and share, serve and bless. We are free to experience peaceful worship of the Christ Child rather than feel the pressure of the frenzied crowds of Bethlehem (or the mall traffic). We are free to celebrate the joyful adoration of seeing the Child in the manger rather than rushing to satisfy the taskmaster’s pomp and circumstance. We are free to love Christ, our Savior, and one another more deeply. Have a joyous and merry Christmas!

4 Tips to Improve Your Marriage from Bob Marley

One of my Facebook friends recently posted a quote by Bob Marley on relationships. He shares four actions that will make our marriages grow and prosper.

  1. Dancing CoupleMake one another laugh AND think. Share fun times together. Joke and play together. This will enhance your relationship. Fun and laughter increase intimacy in marriages; so play some games. Joke. Laugh…a lot. But, don’t forget that serious discussions also increase intimacy. Share your beliefs, values, and opinions with one another. You may disagree. That’s alright. Rather than get upset, refer to #4 in this list. Sharing and discussing these more serious matters also deepens your intimacy. Laugh AND think together.
  2. Admit your mistakes…and then make the necessary change. Apologies are necessary in any marriage. We are not perfect. We will make mistakes. We will unintentionally hurt one another. When you make a mistake, admit it…no matter the circumstance. Apologize—no excuses, just an admission of wrongs done and a simple apology followed by a commitment to change. Then, and this is very important, follow through on the commitment to change.
  3. Hold on tight and share yourself. Commit yourself to the relationship. Emotions may wax and wane. Passions will rise and fall. You will experience good times and bad times in your marriage. However, when you give yourself to your spouse and invest in your marriage, emotions and passions eventually return, bloom, and blossom even more beautiful than the last time. Give your time and energy to making your spouse joyful. Hold on tight through the hard times and enjoy the ride. Your marriage will thank you!
  4. Accept your spouse. Don’t try to change your spouse. Don’t expect more than your spouse can give. Just accept them in all their uniqueness. Cherish their idiosyncrasies. Love them for who they are—the person you fell in love with.

These are 4 wise actions to nurture your marriage. In the words of Bob Marley:

“He’s not perfect. You aren’t either, and the two of you will never be perfect. But if he can make you laugh at least once, causes you to think twice, and if he admits to being human and making mistakes, hold onto him and give him the most you can. He isn’t going to quote poetry, he’s not thinking about you every moment, but he will give you a part of him that he knows you could break. Don’t hurt him, don’t change him, and don’t expect more than he can give. Don’t analyze. Smile when he makes you happy, yell when he makes you mad, and miss him when he’s not there. Love hard when there is love to be had. Because perfect guys don’t exist, but there’s always one guy that is perfect for you.”

Christmas–You Don’t Want to Miss This!

The Christmas Season is a wonderful family celebration. We fill our time with traditions and rituals that draw our families together and remind us of the true meaning of the season. Those traditions and rituals create an emotional bond we can cherish throughout our lives with our spouses and children. This holiday season seems to have been rushed and modified for my family. Still, we look for opportunities to fit each of our traditions into the season and, with each one, grow more connected as a family. Let me share some Christmas Traditions we enjoy as a family and a couple of traditions from other families to fill your season with joy and remembrance. My family enjoys:

  • Dad helping boy to decorate christmas treeReading “A Gathering of Angels” by Calvin Miller.
  • Decorating the Christmas tree. Buying a family ornament for our tree each year. Hiding the Christmas pickle…sort of.
  • Sharing gifts with one another, one on Christmas Eve and the rest on Christmas morning. Christmas morning we play music, sip a hot drink, and pass around the gifts.
  • Listening to the Christmas concerts given by the high school band and chorus.
  • Singing Christmas carols.
  • Contemplating and talking about the birth of Christ. I especially like the story of the shepherds!
  • Enjoying a special family Christmas dinner and enjoying a Christmas dinner with our church family.
  • Attending a Christmas Eve service.
  • Setting up a manger scene.
  • My children bake cookies and I help by eating them. (I love eating them fresh from the oven!)

Some traditions our friends celebrate and enjoy…you might, too:

  • Leave the wise men out of the manger scene and place them somewhere on the other side of the house. Each day, move them closer to the manger scene. They finally arrive at the manger scene the day after Christmas.
  • Bake a birthday cake for Jesus and enjoy it on Christmas day.
  • One of our friends shares with his whole community in a traditional Slovak Christmas Dinner each year, complete with ethnic entertainment.
  • The Elf on the Shelf…who magically moves around the house on his/her own.
  • Watching the Christmas TV specials. Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer are my favorites.

I know the season is well under way, but what are some of your family’s favorite traditions? We would love to hear how you celebrate family at Christmas time. And, who knows, your tradition may help another family celebrate their Christmas this year!

Forget the Flowers & Do the Dishes

A recent study in the Journal of Family Psychology by Matthew Johnson and two other authors (Read abstract here) suggests an association between a husband’s willingness to serve and the couple’s sexual satisfaction. Specifically, 1,338 heterosexual couples were asked about housework (How much housework do you do? What specific chores do you do? Do you have any “beef with the breakdown”?) and their marital relationship. Results indicate that men who take on a fair share of the chores report a higher frequency of sex with their partner and greater satisfaction with their sex life as whole. It appears that acting on the opportunity to serve one’s wife may enhance sexual intimacy. Really, the benefit of living out an attitude of servanthood is not a new idea. The first century evangelist, Paul, stated that we “were called to freedom. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13). Even Christ told His followers, “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45). Christ came to serve His future Bride!

So guys, “Sex Begins in the Kitchen,” with serving, just like Kevin Leman suggested in his book of the same title. If you want a more intimate satisfying sex life, start by serving your wife and family. Do the dishes. Help with the laundry. Cook a meal. Clean the bathroom…. Use your freedom and position to humbly serve your wife. You’ll find the results exhilarating!

Two Skills of Great Parents

Father Daughter ChatParenting impacts children for a lifetime. In fact, some researchers suggest poor parenting impacts people in their sixties as much as the death of a loved one. Parenting built on the two particular skills, however, leads to higher life satisfaction and better mental health even into a person’s retirement!  Researchers gleaned these two skills based on a study that tracked a group of over 5,000 people from the time of their birth in 1946. Over sixty years later, 2,000 of the people in this group completed another series of surveys, one of which focused on their parents. (Read study here) Two pillars of parenting were found to contribute to happiness and well-being in children even into their adult lives: warmth and responsiveness. Let’s take a moment to look more closely at each of these pillars.

Pillar One—Warmth: Warm, caring parents nurture a strong bond between parent and child, enhancing parent-child intimacy. This strong relational bond serves as a secure base from which children explore their world. It also provides a safe haven of comfort and protection in which children find safety and recover from the stresses that naturally arise in life. This supports a child’s improved ability to manage stress and pressure, a sense of competence, and an overall sense of well-being even into adulthood.  Interestingly, paternal and maternal caring equally impacted well-being through middle adulthood but paternal warmth and caring showed a greater impact (than maternal caring) on well-being into late adulthood. With that caveat let me speak directly to fellow Dads… building a warm relationship with your children will enhance their sense of well-being even into their retirement! That is an amazing legacy!

Pillar Two—Responsiveness: Parental responsiveness leads to higher life satisfaction and better mental well-being in children throughout their lifetime. Responsive parents respond to their children’s needs in a loving manner. They respond to their children’s request for help by helping, not taking over. They respond to their children’s need to be heard by listening, not lecturing. As a result, their children gain greater independence. Responsive parents respond to their children’s fears by offering comfort and support rather than criticizing mistakes. When parents are responsive rather than controlling, children learn wise decision-making, confident interdependence, and healthy boundaries. Children who possess these skills become happier adults. They will experience greater life satisfaction even into adulthood.

Build your parenting on these two pillars—warmth and responsiveness–and you will enjoy more intimacy with your children. You will also know the satisfaction of watching your happy children mature and grow into healthy, happy adults with a zest for life!