Want to raise kinder children? Me, too! A recent study (Reading May Make Us Kinder, Students Research Into Fiction Habits and Personality Types Reveals) conducted by a post-graduate student at Kingston University suggests a simple way to do it! The study asked 123 adults their preference: reading fiction or watching TV. The same adults were tested on their interpersonal skills like considering other people’s feelings and their desire to help others. Those who preferred reading fictional stories showed greater empathy, greater consideration of other people’s needs, and a greater desire to help other people than those who preferred TV. In fact, those who preferred TV came across as less friendly and less tolerant of other people’s viewpoints. The author of the study suggests reading makes people think more deeply about characters and, as a result, develop empathic skills and kindness.
Here’s the take home message of this study for all parents. If you want to raise kinder children, children who show empathy and consideration in their desire to help others, chuck the remote and read some books. Turn off the TV and read. Read TO your child…read WITH your child…EVERYDAY. Go to the library, find books that interest your child, and read. You can take turns reading out loud to one another. Or, you can both read the same book and discuss what you’ve read. Whatever you choose, JUST READ. Did you catch the take home message for raising kinder children? Encourage your children to read.
Our communities and our families are being devastated by addiction. Drug use is destroying –families and we need to do everything we can to stop its contagion. I know this may sound simplistic…and in a way, it is; but I have an idea to help stem the rise of drug addiction. Now, I know that what I am about to suggest will not remedy the problem. It is not a magic bullet. It will only be a small part of a much broader solution. But, what I am about to suggest can play a role in stemming the scourge of drug addiction…and you can begin right in your own home with your own family. What is it? Give your family mega-doses of social laughter. Laugh as a family. Laugh with other families. Giggle, chuckle, or let out a “belly busting” laugh. Laugh Out Loud.
Research has found that laughing together increases the release of endorphins and other peptides in the brain, especially areas involved in arousal and emotions. Because laughter is contagious, its joy can spread through your family like…well, laughter! As it spreads, endorphins are released. Everyone experiences the pleasure and calming effect of this laughter-induced-endorphin-release. This promotes feelings of togetherness, enhancing bonding and connection among those laughing. If we can teach our families to enjoy the natural endorphins of laughing with your family (LOL), why would they want something else? And, who would want to lose the enhanced connection with family that comes through laughter. So, start laughing together early. Laugh often. Laugh hard. Laugh out loud.
“What’s it like to be a parent: It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do but in exchange it teaches you the meaning of unconditional love”-Nicholas Sparks.
I like that quote. It’s very true. Parenting is hard work and it does teach you unconditional love. Although parenting is “one of the hardest things you’ll ever do,” we can make it easier with the right attitude and the skills related to those attitudes. Three of these attitudes can be summed up in the traits of a “hardy personality.” A hardy personality can help a parent become more effective. And fortunately, parents can learn the three components of hardiness and the skills related to those attitudes. With that in mind, let me explain the three components of a hardy personality and how they can help in parenting.
- Challenge. A hardy parent believes that change is an ordinary aspect of life. They accept the inevitable change as a challenge to learn and grow. With every season of life our families change In fact, if anything is constant in a family it’s that families change. Children grow. Parents grow older. Life progresses. A hardy parent responds to these changes by learning and growing. They seek out information about each change they encounter. For instance, they learn about their children’s developmental stages and their personality. They learn effective parenting skills to address their children’s misbehaviors and increase their positive behaviors. They learn the impact of a healthy marriage on their children’s health and then accept the challenge of building a strong marriage. Hardy parents accept the challenge of change as an opportunity to learn and grow.
- Commitment. A hardy parent embraces commitment. They commit to active involvement in their family life and they find meaning and purpose in their families’ lives and activities. To do this, hardy parents become actively involved in their children’s lives and their families’ lives. They commit to give their families their time and energy. They commit to remaining available to their families and fully attentive to the needs of their spouse and children. They commit to growing as a person so they can model integrity and character to their children. A hardy parent commits to active involvement and growth.
- Change. Hardy parents hold the belief that consequences are predictable and, at least in part, within their control. In other words, they have an internal locus of control. When difficulties arise, they seek out aspects of the situation they can influence and focus on those areas. Rather than becoming overwhelmed by difficulties, they focus their energies on the aspects of the difficulty they can impact. They believe they can learn to better control their reactions and emotions, even in the face of difficult situations. They can learn to remain stronger, wiser, and more in self-control than their misbehaving child. They can learn to remain calm and loving even in the midst of disagreements that arise within their family. They believe they can learn better ways to manage their emotions and express their love. They put in the effort to learn and grow. And, as a result, they do.
You can imagine how these three simple attitudes can impact parenting. The hardy parent practices all three. And, you can learn to practice these three attitudes in your parenting. Give it a try. You’ll love the results!
Oh, I did find another quote I really like about parenting.
“Parenting is the toughest job in the world. Good thing my coworker is cute!”-Mum2AFish
When you feel like you can’t learn the beliefs of a hardy parent, ask you “coworker” to help you out. They can do it…and they’re cute!
Optimism is not about wearing rose-colored glasses. Optimism is the muscle that focuses on “what I can do” rather than “what I cannot do.” It focuses on the importance of effort to grow and learn. It also realizes most difficulties are specific to a context and situation rather than “ruining everything.” Difficulties are temporary, not permanent. With this in mind, an optimistic person looks at a difficult situation or a failure and begins to explore what aspects of the situation they can influence. Then, they set about to exert their influence and produce a change. You can see why this muscle helps to prevent depression, increases perseverance, and promotes success. But, how can you nurture the muscle of optimism in your children? I’m glad you asked. Here are four practices that will help develop your children’s “optimistic muscles.”
- Acknowledge effort and strategy rather than global traits. Telling our children they are “smart” or “gifted” leads to children who avoid a challenge so they do not lose their position as “smart” or “gifted.” Calling your children some global label, like “lazy” or “stupid,” contributes to them believing they cannot change. But, acknowledging effort communicates that success comes through effort, an important message. Acknowledging strategies (how your children go about reaching a goal) communicates that a momentary problem can often be overcome with a little strategically placed effort. This also opens the door to discuss alternative solutions when problems do arise. Children who know that effort and strategy produce positive ends learn to become optimistic children.
- Describe specifics rather than end results when praising your children. This helps your children focus on the process, the strategies involved in reaching a goal. It communicates that even if the end result is not perfect, some parts of the process are good. They can be built upon to create a better end in the future. So describe choices made, actions taken, or obstacles overcome rather than looking only at the end result. The trophy becomes more meaningful when the choices, actions, and perseverance displayed in achieving it are acknowledged, recognized, and described. This also helps your children know they have the power to influence the end result (the product) by adjusting their actions and choices during the process.
- Embrace mistakes as learning opportunities. Mistakes do not “ruin everything.” Instead, they represent a “temporary setback,” an opportunity to learn what did not work in a particular time and specific context. Celebrate the mistake as an opportunity to learn. Why did it not work in this situation? Is there ever a situation in which it might not be a mistake? Was the mistake a matter of timing? When, if ever, might it be helpful? How could you do it differently to avoid the same mistake in the future? How could you correct the mistake now? Thomas Edison reportedly said, “I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will” (The actual quote was likely somewhat different but making the same point. Read this from Quote Investigator to learn the documented quote.) Children who realize that mistakes are learning experiences are more likely to accept challenges, persist longer, and be more optimistic about their efforts. Embrace mistakes as learning opportunities.
- Try new things. Go new places. Experience new adventures. Sure, you might have some let downs, but they’re just learning experiences. You’ll also enjoy many exciting adventures. Your children will learn they can overcome obstacles that arise. Their confidence will grow as they step out of their comfort zones and survive…even have fun and thrive.
Put these four practices into place and over time you will see your children’s optimism grow. They can flex those “muscles of optimism” and experience greater success in relationships and life!
Did you know intelligence (IQ) only predicts about 20% of a person’s success? It’s true. Brains alone do not equal success. On the other hand, 80% of what predicts a person’s success involves social and emotional intelligence (More in Why Emotional Intelligence is More Important than IQ). To prepare our children for success in relationships and life, we need to strengthen their emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence includes five components (Daniel Goleman’s 5 Components of Emotional Intelligence).
- Self-awareness: the ability to recognize and label the emotions we experience in our lives.
- Self-regulation: the ability to cope with feelings in a manner consistent with and relevant to the situation.
- Internal motivation: the ability to utilize the energy of an emotion to achieve a positive end like communicating a priority or solving a problem.
- Empathy: the ability to recognize emotions in others by remaining aware of their verbal and nonverbal cues.
- Social skills: the ability to adjust our behavior in response to another person’s emotions. This allows us to more effectively connect with others, resolve conflicts that arise within our relationships, and negotiate compromises and agreements.
Reviewing the five aspects of emotional intelligence, you can understand how important emotional intelligence is for success in life. Emotional intelligence not only contributes to success in life, it also promotes health. Studies suggest that 80% of health problems are stress related. Emotional intelligence helps us manage stress and so reduce stress related illnesses. Emotional intelligence reduces bullying as well (Why Emotional Intelligence is More Important than IQ). With all these benefit, we surely want to teach our children emotional intelligence. Here are five simple exercises to get you started.
- Develop a vocabulary for emotions. Dan Siegel (co-author of Parenting from the Inside) refers to this as “name it to name it.” Labeling an emotion helps “quell” its effect. The emotion becomes more manageable when we can label it. As a result, we can exercise more thoughtful control over it and our behavioral response to it (Why Labeling Emotions Matters ). In fact, the broader and more articulate a person’s emotional vocabulary, the less reactive and more responsive they can become (When Labeling an Emotion Quiets It) .
- Listen and accept emotions. All emotions are acceptable, a gift from our Creator to help us communicate priorities and protect those important to us. Of course, not all behavioral responses are acceptable. So let a person express their emotion. Help them label the emotion. Encourage them to define their feelings. Coach them in expressing even difficult emotions. Listen. Accept. Understand. (For more read Teaching Your Child to Handle Emotions)
- Identify the priorities underlying the emotions. Emotions clarify our priorities and reveal them to others. Take time to identify the priorities that have led to your child’s strong emotions. Knowing the priority behind an emotion allows you to address the true need. Teaching your child to identify and address underlying emotion leads to a more successful and self-controlled child.
- Problem-solve. After you have listened closely and understand the emotion, work with your child to problem-solve. Let the problem-solving focus on how to address the priority underlying the emotion. (For more on these two steps read When Your Children Get Angry.)
- Teach perspective taking. A great way to teach your children how to take another person’s perspective is by reading fiction together. Fiction lets us see into the minds of characters, feel their emotions, and understand their motivations. Doing so teaches perspective taking. So, read to your children. Read with your children. Talk about what your children read. It will improve their ability to take another person’s perspective and increase their emotional intelligence. (Read Teaching Your Child Perspective Taking for more ideas.)
These five simple activities can set your child on the path to emotional intelligence…and all its related benefits!
A middle school boy told me what he liked and didn’t like about his family. Interestingly, he liked the family dinners they used to have. He disliked that they no longer had those family dinners. Even as a middle school boy, he missed family dinners! Family dinners provided him the time he desired to slow down, talk, and connect with his whole family. I have to admit, I was somewhat surprised to hear a middle-school-aged child talking about missing family dinners. Nonetheless, he made an excellent observation. Family dinners provide time to reconnect and bond with our families. They are a time to relax, tell stories, and talk about our daily lives, laugh, and even make future plans.
- Regular family meals help reduce the rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression in adolescents.
- Families that enjoy regular family meals see their children attain higher grade-point averages.
- “Dinner conversation” boosts vocabulary more than reading does!
- The stories of personal victories, perseverance, fun moments, and family times help build a child’s resilience and confidence.
As you can see, family meals offer a smorgasbord of benefits for families and their children. So, if you want your family to grow more intimate…if you want your children to grow up happy…if you want your children to grow up physically and emotionally healthy…if you want your children to have a higher grade-point average, set aside the time to enjoy regular family meals. Here are a few tips to help you plan your family meal time:
- Include Your Whole Family in the Meal Process. The family meal process includes making the menu, preparing the meal, setting the table, and cleaning up afterwards. Include the whole family in these activities. Make the menu together. One day a week, allow a different family member to pick their favorite food items for a meal. Encourage the whole family to help clear the table, load the dishwasher, wash the dishes…and make it fun with conversation and laughter. Come up with your own creative ways to include the whole family in the family meal process.
- Enjoy Conversation While You Eat. Save topics you know lead to arguments for another time and focus on conversations that will build relationships. Talk about the day’s activities, each person’s dreams, memories of fun family times, and things you’d like to do in the future. Really, the topics available for discussion are limited only by our
- Plan a Few Dinner Surprises. Your family might enjoy dinner for breakfast or breakfast for dinner. Plan one “ethnic meal night” per week and travel the globe with culinary surprises. Eat your meal backwards, starting with dessert. Plan an “Iron Chef” night and let each family members cook one dish…the family can vote on best taste, presentation, and creativity after the meal. You get the idea. Do something different now and again. Make it a surprise…and have fun.
- Turn off the Technology. Turn off TV’s, video games, phones, and any other technology that has the potential to interfere with the moment’s face-to-face interaction and family interaction. Learn to enjoy each other in the moment with no interruption.
Put it all together and you have a family meal, the special ingredient of healthy families.
We all want happy families. In fact, I’m implementing a 30-day family happiness challenge in my home and I’d like to invite you to join along. It really isn’t all that hard. But, it will demand doing certain things every day for 30 days. So, set the reminder on your phone, write them on a post-it and stick it on your mirror…whatever it takes to make sure you
remember each action each day. Here they are.
- Give your spouse and each child 3 hugs every day for 30 days. That’s one hug when you leave the house, one hug before bed, and one hug sometime in between. (Learn more in Becoming a Master Hugger.)
- Give your spouse and each child one genuine compliment every day for 30 days. Tell them a character trait you appreciate or something you admire about them.
- Tell your spouse and each child “thank you” for something they did every day for 30 days. This is different than the compliment. The compliment will acknowledge some character trait you admire. The “thank you” will acknowledge something they just did in the moment that day. You can say “thank you” for something as simple as passing the salt or as involved as painting the house. Whether it’s something you expect them to do all the time or a surprise, offer thanks. (Read the amazing benefits of gratitude in 7 Ways Gratitude Benefits Your Family According to Research and Why Thank Your Spouse for Doing Chores?)
- Tell your spouse and each child “I love you” every day for 30 days. I would suggest doing this in the morning and in the evening before bed, but you can pick any time you like. Just make sure to tell each one every day.
- Do one thing for your spouse and each child every day for 30 days. That’s right, do one thing for each person. It doesn’t have to be big, just do something for them. They do not even have to notice it, just do something for them. Unload the dishwasher, sweep the floor, get gas in the car, help set the table, watch a movie together, patiently help with homework, get a treat…you get the idea. Do one thing for your spouse and each child every day.
- Eat one meal together every day for 30 days. During the meals enjoy conversation. Avoid lectures and “touchy subjects.” Just talk about the day. Tell some jokes. You might even give your compliment, “thank you,” or “I love you” during the meal. (Have Fun, Eat, &…What? will show a surprising benefit of eating as a family.)
None of these activities are especially hard; but, you will find they have an amazing impact on your family. Don’t believe me? Take up the challenge. Do each one for the next 30 days…it may make a believer out of you! Either way, I’d love to know what happens so leave a note in the message below.
Resilience: the muscle that gives our children the strength to bounce back from adversity, persist through obstacles, and stretch through the pain toward maturity. It is an essential muscle for all of us, especially our children. Our children need resilience to experience greater happiness and more success. If you are wondering how you can coach your children to strengthen resilience, let me share this 6-step resiliency strengthening program with you. Try it out and watch your children’s muscles of resiliency grow strong.
- Show your children they matter. Let them know you care about them and rely on them. You can do this by giving them your time. Engage them in activities. Learn about activities that interest them. Make time to listen, really listen, to your children as well. Doing so will show them they matter to you. Invite them to participate in household chores with you so they know they matter to your family and home. Become involved in a volunteer activity together, something that makes a difference beyond the home. These activities teach your children they matter to you, your family, and your community. They also discover that their actions influence the world around them and they can wield that influence for positive ends.
- Become your children’s dream catcher. Learn about your children’s interests and passions. Research opportunities for them to gain new experiences in their areas of interest. For instance, buy a book or movie related to their interest. Enroll them in a camp focused on their interest. Introduce them to other adults and children with similar interests. This will cost you some time and maybe even some money. But, it will teach your children they matter (see bullet #1) and it teaches them how to seek out opportunities for themselves. Catch your children’s dream and help make it a reality. (Read Grow Your Children’s Dream for more info.)
- Eat at least one meal together each day. No TV, no phones, no texting…just sitting down as a family to eat and talk. A shared meal is a great way to give your children undivided attention. It’s a wonderful time to talk about the accomplishments and struggles of the day. During that interaction, you can focus on gratitude as well as the inevitable obstacles of the day, both of which promote resiliency. You can also share the family story…. (Check out The Lost Art of Family Meals and Project Mealtime.)
- Share family stories. Your children will love to hear the stories of your life as a child: adventures you enjoyed, how you met your spouse, lessons you learned, etc. Tell stories about family members who overcame struggles and obstacles as well. Family stories build identity. Let your family stories build an identity of growth, perseverance, and resilience for your children.(Try telling The Story That Will Change Your Family Life! for a great start.)
- Acknowledge effort. Rather than simply praise your children for the trophy or ribbon they bring home, talk about the hard work and effort they invested to make it possible. Recall the obstacles they overcame and the times they persisted in the face of hardship. Relish in the story and teamwork of the effort undergirding the accomplishment, not just the end result. (Build Your Child’s Success Mindset give more on acknowledging effort.)
- Problem-solve as opportunities arise…and opportunities will arise. Problem-solving begins with listening intently and earnestly. After the problem is completely disclosed and understood, simply ask, “What are you going to do?” Let your children respond and listen as they begin problem-solving. Gently give input to refine their ideas, suggest possibilities, and guide toward positive solutions. Listen, ask, and expand rather than lecture, direct, and solve…that will teach your children problem-solving.(Read Do You Rob Your Teen of Victory to learn the benefit of letting your children experience the difficulties of life rather than solving the difficulty for them.)
There it is: a 6-step resiliency strengthening program. Implement it today and you will love watching your children grow more resilient as they mature.