Archive for November 26, 2018

The Way You Say the Things You Say

Have you heard the old song “The Way You Do The Things You Do”?  (You can listen to the lyrics here.) “The way we do the things we do” obviously communicates love and commitment, fills our spouse and family with joy,  and even brightens their day. But I want to focus on “the way you say the things you say.” Yes, “the way we say the things we say” can make or break our family relationships. Let me give you a few examples.

  • One area in which “the way we say the things we say” can make or break a relationship involves the cadence of our statements. My friend used to ask me about my thanksgiving every year. He would ask, “How was your Thanksgiving, turkey?” Did you notice that comma? That comma, that change in cadence, changed his question completely. He was no longer asking how the thanksgiving turkey tasted; he was calling me a turkey! Consider another statement I heard this weekend. Hungry children sat at the table and said, “Let’s eat grandma!”  Now, that sentence needs a change in cadence, a pause, because what they really meant to say was “Let’s eat, grandma!” As you can see, how we say the things we say makes a huge difference in how our spouse and children understand what we say.
  • Another area in which “the way we say the things we say” makes a difference involves volume. For instance, a whisper works well when we want to say something to our family without the whole world knowing. Sometimes though, we want to make a point. Our children have done something wrong and they need to stop. We begin to yell. But is that best? Probably not. Yelling scrambles our children’s brains. It signals that we are about to lose emotional control. Our children no longer hear what we want them to hear. Instead, they “shut down” or  focus on our immediate actions. They begin to think things like “There goes dad yelling again. I hate when he does that. He’s so rude. He always yells….” They miss the whole point of why we’re yelling.  Instead of yelling, use a firm voice. With a firm voice you are still in control of your emotions. You can turn to another person and speak in a normal conversational tone. Your children may call it yelling, but they are still able to listen. In fact, they are pulled in to listen. They are compelled to listen by the firmness in your voice. Keep your volume at a whisper, indoor conversational volume, or a firm volume when interacting with family. Avoid yelling and screaming…because the “way you say the things you say” does make a difference.
  • Tone of voice also impacts the “way we say the things we say.” Take the question “is she going out with him?” (I thank the same friend who called me a turkey for this example.) Notice how the sentence changes when the emphasis is placed on different words. “Is SHE going out with him?” “Is she going out with HIM?” “Is she GOING OUT with him?”  Each one says something slightly different and reveals the speaker’s different thoughts about the people involved. Aside from emphasis, you can make the same statement with a contemptuous tone, “Yeah I love you” or a loving tone, “Yeah I love you.” Tone makes all the difference in the world when it comes to “the way you say the things you say.”

Tone, volume, and cadence, “the way you say the things you say,” will endear your family to you or push them away from you. Listen closely and be sure “the way you say the things you say” matches with what you really want to say!

Parenting Goldilocks Style

Remember Goldilocks?  She went into the bears’ house, a stranger’s house in the middle of the woods, and tasted their porridge, their food. One was “too hot.” One was “too cold.” One was “just right.” Then, she laid down in their beds. One was “too hard.” One was “too soft.” One was “just right.” She actually fell asleep in the nice comfortable bed. (Why she felt so bold to do this, I don’t know. Anyway….) A study from the University of New Hampshire found the same can be said of parenting. One parenting style is “too cold, too hard, too much.” Another style is “too hot, too soft, too little.” And one is “just right.” Let me briefly describe each style so you can decide which style describes your parenting practice.

Researchers call the style of parenting that is “too cold….too hard…too much” Authoritarian Parenting. Authoritarian parents love their children but believe rules will make everyone safe and healthy. As a result, they tend to focus on discipline more than relationship.  They set very high standards for their children but remain somewhat distant and cold while enforcing the rules. They have no patience for bad behavior and little trust in their children’s ability to behave without a strong structure in place. So, they punish misbehavior quickly and severely. Research suggests that children do not see the authoritarian parent as a legitimate authority figure. As a result, they listen less and rebel more. They grow discontent, withdrawn, and distrustful. No, authoritarian parenting is “too cold…too hard…too much.”

The style of parenting described as “too hot…to soft…too little” is known as Permissive Parenting. Permissive parents love their children as well, but they hate to see their children suffer or experience any discomfort. They believe warm relationships will cure every ail, fix every problem, and mend every flaw. In their focus on relationship, permissive parents tend to be non-demanding and non-controlling as they strive to be their child’s “best friend.” They have few boundaries and rarely enforce the boundaries they do have…after all, enforcing a boundary results in discomfort for their children. At the same time, they are very warm and receptive, nurturing and caring. Research, however, suggests that children of permissive parents are the less self-reliant. They explore less and learn less self-control. When they do explore, they run the risk of personal harm because there are few boundaries in place to protect them. Permissive parenting is just “too hot…to soft…to little.” Children need more.

The style of parenting that is “just right” is known as Authoritative Parenting. Perhaps the most important word in describing authoritative parents is “and.” They establish rules and develop strong relationships. They can be demanding and warm, set high expectations and remain receptive to their children’s needs. The authoritative parent sets rules and limits and remains willing to explain the reasons for those rules and limits. They listen to their children’s discomfort with the limit and still enforcing that limit for their children’s benefit. As their children mature, they exhibit a willingness to negotiate some limits and make age appropriate adjustments. Children view their authoritative parents as legitimate authorities and become less likely to engage in disobedient and delinquent behaviors. They grow self-reliant, self-controlled, and content under the tutelage and guidance of their authoritative parent. Authoritarian parenting is “just right.”

The question is: which parenting style describes your parenting? Don’t worry if you fall in the authoritarian or permissive style right now. You can always change to become the authoritative parent at any time. When you do, you’ll find it more often works “just right.”

A Gratitude Turkey to Save the Day

Are you a somewhat shy person, an introvert? You enjoy people, but you’d rather not become the focus of attention at a party or suddenly find yourself having to make some spontaneous, impromptu speech. I know the feeling. BTW, if you are not this person, chances are there is at least one person like this in your family. You can imagine the terror that goes through that person’s mind when their Thanksgiving Day host says, “Let’s go around the table so everyone can tell us what they are grateful for this year.” Suddenly the plan to enjoy a meal and share simple conversation has turned into a whirlwind. Their mind goes blank. They look around the table of 20 people and notice all eyes turned upon them as they search their whirling mind for a word, any word, let alone a word of gratitude.

Well, I just saw a great idea to prevent this trauma and still create the opportunity to share gratitude at the Thanksgiving table. It’s called the Thanksgiving Gratitude Turkey. It takes a little preparation, but I think it is well worth the time. First, make a Styrofoam turkey and some feathers (For instructions click here or use the “basket turkey” in the picture). As your guests arrive, give them a feather and ask them to write one thing they are grateful for on the feather. After they have done that, they can stick the feather into the Styrofoam turkey’s butt…er…I mean, they can place the feather on the turkey’s back. Leave extra feathers on a table in case they want to do more than one. By dinner time your turkey will be full of colorful feathers identifying things for which your guests are grateful. Then, during dinner you, or a willing volunteer, can read some of them aloud.

Another idea, would be to make “gratitude stuffing.” Instead of putting gratitude feathers on a turkey you can write  gratitude on slips of paper and stuff them inside a fake turkey, like the real stuffing in the turkey. Then, at dinner time you can pull them out one by one and read them aloud.  Of course, my wife doesn’t like that idea as much as the gratitude turkey (she likes mashed potatoes more than stuffing too; but I like stuffing more than potatoes…and there is just something about stuffing a turkey with gratitude).  Anyway, my wife rather prefers the idea of colorful turkey feathers decorating a lovely centerpiece filled with statements of gratitude for all to see as they enjoy their Thanksgiving dinner. I guess I can see her point. Ok. Forget the gratitude stuffing. Stick with the colorful feathers on a gratitude turkey…and enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Benefits of the “After-School Meltdown”

Does your preschool or elementary school age child “throw a tantrum” every day after school?  You find this tantrum even more frustrating because their teacher tells you how well they behave in school and then when you get them home…it’s another story. You are experiencing the “after-school meltdown.” As frustrating as they are, it is not unusual for our children to have after-school meltdowns. The first step in helping end the after-school meltdown is to take the time to understand what is happening. In reality, you already know what’s happening. You’ve had the same experience. You finish a long day of work and, feeling tired, you walk in the front door of your home. You are irritable and just want a little down time, but you’re immediately bombarded with questions about your day, explanations of what happened while you were away, requests to do this or that…. How do you feel? Want to throw a tantrum? You understand those feelings. Your children are experiencing the same thing. They have put in a full day of work. They had to follow the rules whether they liked them or not. They were forced to listen, focus, and complete work that challenges them. They may have experienced conflict with peers, witnessed other children doing things that caused them stress, or felt the pain of not doing as well as they wanted on an assignment. It is tiring. It’s stressful. They come home tired and irritable. But (here is where you are different) they do not understand those feelings. They do not know how to express those feelings yet. So, the first thing to do when your children experience the after-school meltdown is to remember. Remember they are communicating the same feelings of exhaustion and stress that you have often felt after a day of work.

Not only do you understand those feelings (you’ve “been there & done that”), you also know how to respond to them. You have learned how to soothe yourself and relax, to recover from stress. You know places you can go to relax and “re-create” your sense of calm. Your children have not learned how to do this yet. They need you to teach them…and you do.  First, they learn by watching you take care of ourselves. Second, they learn when you teach them directly. You can teach them about activities that might help them relax and soothe, activities like reading a book, painting or drawing, listening to music, or taking a walk.  You can help them identify places where they feel especially calm and relaxed, places like the backyard, their bedroom, the kitchen as they help cook dinner and talk, a “fort” in the back yard or the family room. I remember how much the walk home from school helped me relax from the day during middle school. Teach your children the skills. Help them practice the skills to “pull themselves together” and recoup after a stressful day.

As you teach them how to soothe themselves, you teach them a lifetime skill. You give them a gift they can use throughout their educational career and even in their work lives, family lives, and parenting lives. And, it all begins with the acceptance of the “after school meltdown.”

A New Beginning

I had the privilege of witnessing the marriage of a young lady I have watched grow from her childhood years. She has had struggles, no doubt. Those struggles, however, have contributed to her growth as a woman of great integrity, perseverance, compassion, and love. I pray I shared in those years of struggle in a way that helped her grow into the strong, lovely woman she is today.  I am grateful to have walked with her and witnessed her growth.  And, I am grateful to have witnessed her wedding day, a day that marks a new beginning in her life with the one she loves. She has joined her life with a wonderful young man who brings her happiness and joy. I remember meeting him in the “Strip District.” She introduced her then boyfriend to my wife, my daughter, and I with obvious adoration in her eyes. He showed the same adoration for her in his actions toward. It was a short and pleasant introduction, but it felt like a little more. I walked away feeling as though I had witnessed a moment of celebration between them. Their wedding was an even greater moment of celebration, not just for them but for their families and friends as well. We witnessed their like-mindedness in the music we heard. We witnessed their united compassion as they gathered socks for the homeless while celebrating the “bridal sock hop dance.”  We witnessed the beauty of mutual adoration and love that surrounded their every movement and glance.  Each person present witnessed the joy of their love, their warmth and companionship. Truly, this day marked a new beginning in their lives…and I’m am so excited for them. Later, as I contemplated the joy of their wedding celebration and the beauty of their love, a Native American Wedding Prayer came to mind. I offer this prayer for their lives together:

Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be a shelter to the other.

 

Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other.

 

Now there will be  no loneliness, for each of you will be a companion to the other.

 

Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before you.

 

Go now to your dwelling place, to enter the days of your togetherness.

 

May beauty surround you both in the journey ahead and through all the years,

 

And may you days be long and good upon the earth.

Making Deposits in a Topsy-Turvy Bank

I spoke with a couple about making deposits into the Family Bank of Honor several weeks ago. They went home and put the discussion into practice. They made loving deposits of honor and grace into their Family Bank of Honor. Much to their surprise, these deposits resulted in a major improvement in their relationship. As we talked about their experience, they realized another important aspect of the Family Bank of Honor. When we think of making deposits, we often try to make big deposits…the bigger the better. However, in the Family Bank of Honor even small deposits carry tremendous value. Small deposits are of great value. In the economy of the Family Bank of Honor, even a deposit of one cent is worth a million bucks! Consider a few examples.

  • Greeting one another with a smile seems like a minor thing. But it communicates the joy you feel in the presence of your spouse. It reveals the affection and admiration you have for your spouse. It tells your spouse how much you desire their presence in your life. That’s worth a million bucks.
  • Holding the door for your spouse seems like another penny deposit. But, by arriving at the door first we have established the right to enter first. By holding the door for our spouse, we give up our right and allow them to enter ahead of us. We have placed them ahead of us; we have made them “as more important than ourselves.” That is worth a million bucks.
  • Offering to get your spouse a drink as you get your own drink seems like a minor penny deposit. But that penny deposit informs your spouse that they are on your mind. You are concerned about their needs and their desires. By offering to get them a drink, you have proclaimed that their needs and desires are important to you. You have voiced a willingness to meet those needs and desires. And that is worth a million bucks!
  • Letting your spouse pick the activity or the movie for a night seems like a slightly bigger deposit than those listed above, but still only a nickel deposit. However, this nickel deposit represents a personal sacrifice, a giving up of your desires so you can satisfy the desires of your spouse. It communicates that you value your spouse’s interests as much as (and at times more than) your own. You care so much about your spouse that you are willing to give up your own interests and desires to satisfy your spouse’s interests and desires. That is definitely worth a million bucks.

You get the idea. A simple, inexpensive, penny deposit in the Family Bank of Honor is actually worth a million bucks to your relationship. The more you make these deposits, the richer your marriage will grow in intimacy and health. Now that’s worth a million bucks!

A Medicine to Cure What Ails You

I am not a medical doctor, so I can’t prescribe medication. Generally, I don’t even promote medications except as a last resort. However, I so like this medication that I will promote it whole-heartedly. It’s a strong medicine that can cure what ails you.  It can release us from so much stress…and that means it can improve our health. The Miami Herald (2014) reported that “according to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. And more than 75% of all physician office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.” I fear we experience stress at an even higher rate today than when that article was written. But, the medicine I want to tell you about is strong enough to cure what ails you, especially when it comes to stress! It’s a medicine that we have used less and less in this era of texting, Instagram, Snapchat, and instant messaging; but is so powerful we need to start using it more again. What is this medicine? The human voice. Studies has shown just how powerful the human voice is for reducing stress and increasing positive emotions. In 2010, a group of researchers recruited mothers and daughters (7-12 years old) to take part in a study exploring how the voice reduces stress, decreases stress hormones, and increases oxytocin (the feel-good, bonding hormone). They found that being able to spend 15 minutes talking with their mother on the phone decreased cortisol (the stress hormone) and increased oxytocin as much as face-to-face physical contact with their mother. There is power in a mother’s comforting words. 

A second study in 2012 by the same researchers showed that a mother’s voice reduced cortisol and increased oxytocin while twice the amount of time instant messaging did not. A third study in 2017 with a different group of researchers explore the power of personal interaction, vocal interactions, and texting in reducing stress. No surprises. Interacting over the phone had a similar impact as face-to-face interaction. Both increased the stressed person’s sense of positive emotion. Texting did not. 

The human voice offering words of comfort and support can decrease stress and increase positive emotion leading to healthier lives. Texting, instant messaging, Instagram, and other social media cannot!

Like all medicine, the human voice does have negative side effects. (This is where you read in a softer, more inviting voice like the medication commercials do.) Using the human voice to yell can increase cortisol levels and so increase stress. It can create changes in the brain areas responsible for processing sounds and language, making them more vigilant, even hypervigilant and more likely to misinterpret the intent of people’s speech. Yelling can also increase symptoms of depression. With that said, (please return to your usual excited voice) the human voice is a medicine to cure what ails you. Here are some ways to use this medicine most effectively. First, stop texting, instant messaging, and posting opinions on face book. Instead:

  1. Use your human voice to offer encouragement. Cheer one another on to greater success.
  2. Use your human voice to offer words of comfort to those who are stressed. Talk to them and communicate understanding.
  3. Use your human voice to express love and affection. Compliment one another. Verbalize your love for one another.
  4. When you must discipline your children, refrain from yelling. State the limits and consequences in a neutral tone of voice. However, when your children do something you like, acknowledge it “with feelings” of love and adoration.
  5. If you find yourself yelling, stop using this medicine (the human voice) and seek professional help immediately (or just go calm down). If you start name-calling while using the human voice, stop immediately. As your mother said, “If you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all!”

The human voice, a medicine that can reduce stress and promote a longer, healthier lifestyle. That’s a medicine I can get behind! Ask your doctor about it today (Actually, forget asking your doctor. Just start using the human voice in a healthy way today!)

Get Self-Expansion Without the Chubbiness

My daughter says the same thing every time we see an older couple walking hand in hand, talking and laughing, looking into one another’s eyes…looking like they’re on a first date. She looks at me and says, “They’re so cute.” And, they are…but what makes them so cute? What gives them such a glow? A study by Laura VanderDrift in 2011 they are experiencing “self-expansion” in their interactions with one another. No, I don’t mean they have gotten chubbier. I mean that each individual in the relationship has learned how their marital relationship enhances their personal competence and increases the resources they need to make their goals attainable.  They have experienced “self-expansion.” And “self-expansion” has led to greater joy and intimacy in their marriage.

How can you experience the joys of self-expansion in your marriage? Good question. There are at least two ways.

  • One, engage in novel and arousing activities.
  • Two, including another person in one’s sense of self.

Fortunately, your marriage can provide both of these experiences. When you do have these experiences in your marriage you begin to perceive your partner as the best partner, more positive than any other alternative. That’s a good thing. It builds trust and faithfulness to the relationship. So how can you experience self-expansion in your relationship?

  1. Have fun together. Discover those activities you both enjoy and work them into your schedule. If you like to dance, dance. If you like to hike, hike. If you enjoy the movies, go to the movies. And do it together. Engage in those activities that bring mutual enjoyment. When you do, you’ll both experience self-expansion.
  2. Have an adventure. You can also do something new that interests you both. Perhaps you’ve both considered taking a cooking class. Why not do it together? Take a ballroom dance class just for fun and adventure. Go on a trip to a new place. Try camping or hiking. Try a new activity. If you’ve never been to an opera, give it a try. Grab you partner and do something you’ve never done before. The adventure will bring greater self-expansion.
  3. Explore an interest your partner enjoys. Learn about their interests. Engage in those interests with them.

Begin today. Begin making time to enjoy activities with your spouse. You will experience self-expansion and your marriage will experience stronger intimacy and greater health.