Archive for December 11, 2018

Parent Like a Jester

I once heard a story about a king who was about to make a terrible decision that would devastate his kingdom. His advisers tried to talk him out of the impending mistake. They pleaded with him to change his mind. They spoke softly and yelled loudly while repeating the same words over and over again. But, no matter how many times they explained the dire consequences of his decision, the king refused to listen. Then a jester came to visit the king. The jester made jokes. He sang a song. He made himself look rather foolish. The jester—in all his songs, jokes, stories, and antics—gave the king the same message as the advisers. But the king listened to the jester with enthusiasm.  He laughed and cried. Then, when the jester left, the king thought to himself, “You know, that jester made a lot of sense.” And with that, the king changed his mind. He would not make the mistake everyone had warned him about.

Why was the jester effective when the wise advisers were not? Because the jester had a bigger toolbox of interventions; he had more options. The advisers could only repeat their admonitions in louder and more urgent terms. The king would hear none of it. The jester, on the other hand, had a larger toolbox. He could sing, tell stories, offer a joke, make the king laugh. He had options…and the king listened.

What does this hav to do with parenting? Effective parents are like the jester. They have a toolbox filled with options beyond merely “telling” their children what needs done. Take the challenge of getting your children to clean up their room as an example. How you approach this challenge depends on your children’s temperament and developmental stage, your family values, the environment, and more.  So, you might need more than one idea…and you need ideas that can change as your children grow and change. For instance, to get your children to clean up their room you might:

  1. Sing the “Clean Up Song” if they are younger. (Here is Barney’s Clean Up Song.) 
  2. Turn cleaning up into a game of “who can clean up the most.”
  3. Give the toys not put away a “time out.” Put them away where your children can not play with them for a period of time.
  4. Offer a reward for cleaning up. The reward can be as simple as reading a book together, going to get ice cream, or a chance to watch a TV show.
  5. Tell them they cannot engage in something they want to do (like go out with friends) until they have cleaned up their room.
  6. You might also offer specific directionfor cleaning the room, telling them exactly what needs picked up and dusted. Children need us to teach them the specifics of our expectation before they can complete the chore alone.  
  7. Find a way to make the chore fun (Read Family Fun Theory for more).

Or consider the challenge of getting your children to complete their chores. You might utilize ideas like:

  1. Giving or withholding an allowance.
  2. Give them money up front so they can pay someone else to complete the chore when they don’t want to. They can also learn budgeting skills while “getting chores done.” (Read Should We Give an Allowance to learn how this works.)
  3. Make chores a family activity. Children often cooperate better when everyone is involved.
  4. Reward your children with a currency they care about, such as screen time or time with a parent.
  5. Make chores your children need to complete and chores you need to complete into a competition. For instance,create a Tic Tac Toe board. They can be “X’s” & you can be “0’s.” Whenever a person completes one of their chores, they can place their “X” or “0” on the board. Whoever completes their chores quickly enough can win the game.
  6. Use a sticker chart.

The main idea is to fill your parenting toolbox with options based on your children’s temperament and developmental age. Like the jester, when you have more options you become more effective.

The Sacred Moment In Every Conversation

Our families, our marriage, and our children are flooded with information today. TV’s, computers, smart phones, Ipads, social media, 24-hour news…they all throw information our direction faster than…you fill in the blank. With so much information spoken “at us,” it’s hard to get a word in edgewise.  In fact, we jump into conversation with our spouse and family midsentence with a “yeah, but….” Or, we talk over one another, each one talking louder than the last in an attempt to be heard. Once we have the floor, we don’t stop speaking…no breath, no pause, just tell all as quickly as possible and keep it going in an unending filibuster. Throughout the process, each person becomes defensive. The initial topic often gets lost in our ever more emphatic arguments. Each person grows more possessive of “my time” to speak. And…we lose the sacred moment every conversation needs to bring connection between those involved. The sacred moment in every conversation is the pause, that moment of silence between two speakers. The sacred moment means one person has finished speaking for the moment and the other person has received the opportunity to speak. There is no “yeah, but,” no interruption, no filibuster in the sacred moment…just a sacred moment of silence between speakers. Still, the sacred moment provides so much more than mere silence between speakers.

  1. The sacred moment confers appreciation to the listener for patiently waiting their turn to speak.
  2. The sacred moment means the speaker respects the listener enough to pass them the baton of speech, the opportunity to talk.
  3. The sacred moment also respects the speaker by providing an occasion for the listener to think about what was said, to really consider the speaker’s point of view.
  4. The sacred moment allows both parties to confirm mutual understanding about what was already spoken.
  5. The sacred moment grants the time needed to consider areas of agreement before jumping into a defensive posture.
  6. The sacred moment allows all parties to remain calm, to breathe life into themselves and the conversation, to maintain composure and an attitude of affection.

Appreciation, respect, mutual understanding, agreement, composure, and affection all in a single sacred moment. Amazingly, that moment remains very short, a simple pause between two people engaged in mutual understanding as the baton of speech is handed from one person to another. But that sacred moment can save a conversation and a relationship! Don’t you think it’s time we start practicing the sacred moment, the most important moment in any conversation, today?

The Impact of Discrimination on Teens

A rather disturbing study came out of the University of Southern California recently. The study followed 2,572 11th grade students from 10 public high schools in L.A. County for a year (2016-2017). These students were male and female: 47% Latino, 19% Asian, 4% African American, and 17% Caucasian. The study followed these students to explore the impact that public displays of discrimination (those seen in their neighborhoods as well as those seen on TV) had on teens. At the start of the study, 26.7% of the teens were “very or extremely worried about societal discrimination.” At the end of the year, 34.7% of the students were “very or extremely worried about societal discrimination.” That’s disturbing…but it gets worse. The researchers also found “significant associations between increased level of concern about discrimination and six different adverse behavioral outcomes.” More specifically, “increasing societal discrimination was associated with higher frequency of substance use, greater number of different substances used, and 11% higher odds of depression and 12% greater odds of ADHD symptoms.”  I find this even more disturbing when I watch the news and see the number of acts of discrimination reported. Somehow, we need to create a change for the sake of our most vulnerable children. That change can begin right in your family with these four tips.

  1. Build strong, intimate family relationships. Those strong family relationships become the model of relationship outside the home. In fact, studies have shown that a strong attachment leads to people acting less on their prejudices and showing greater kindness even to their enemies (You can read about it in one of my favorite studies pitting Hot Sauce Vs. the Power of Relationship).
  2. Don’t be afraid to talk about the acts of discrimination you or your children witness. As Mr. Rogers said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we’re not alone.” Don’t limit the talk to those who show discrimination. Teach your whole family to look for those who battle the discrimination. If I may quote Mr. Rogers again, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Those are the people we want our children to emulate. Those are the heroes. Those are the ones who help us live courageously with the knowledge that, even in discrimination rears its ugly head, there are many who do not discriminate. There are many who share love, kindness, and hope.
  3. Find like-minded people, people who do not discriminate. Associate with people who love and share kindness with all people. In so doing, your children meet people from all walks of life and find human kindness resides in every corner of the world regardless of wealth, ethnicity, or gender.
  4. Build kindness into the fabric of your family. Start by being kind to one another (learn The Mighty Power of Kindness for Families in this short blog). Teach your children the joys of sharing kindness with others and the joy of humbly receiving kindness from others. Remember, “we live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes” (Sorry, Mr. Rogers again). Teach your children to be the heroes. That can be as simple as visiting a nursing home or taking food to a friend who is grieving. (A Family Night to Share Kindness is a good place to start.)

Like I said, the study from USC disturbed me but then I started thinking of the study I’d like to see completed. In this study families would be strengthened. They would be coached to talk about their feelings and identify the helpers. They would be given opportunities to build bridges across our superficial differences and engage in family acts of kindness. Then, after a year, the study would measure their level of discrimination and their fear of discrimination. Would their fear go down? Would acting out behaviors go down? I dare say they would. Hey, why not run the experiment in your own home? You might be pleasantly surprised.

A Slippery Slope Begins with Knockoff Truths

“It’s a slippery slope…” or so I’ve heard it said. But, now it’s more than just something I’ve heard. Research supports “It’s a slippery slope”…at least for the little white lie. Let me explain. A team of researchers completed four studies to explore how wearing “counterfeit sunglasses” impacted a person’s level of honesty and their tendency to judge other people as dishonest (Read the study in The Counterfeit Self: The Deceptive Costs of Faking It). In each study, the participants, believing they were participating in a study to evaluate types of sunglasses and were assigned to different groups of “sunglass wearing.” One group wore designer sunglasses. The other group wore knockoffs, counterfeits…you know, the ones that aren’t real but make people think you have the real thing. In essence, they wore a little white lie, a “knockoff” of the truth. In the first study, participants who wore the knockoffs were led to believe they preferred to wear counterfeit sunglasses for practical reasons. In the second study, they wore the knockoffs because the researchers assigned them to the group either wearing the “real thing” or the “knockoffs.” They had no choice. In both studies, the participants were given tasks in which they could cheat (or not) and opportunities to self-report on their performance. Those who believed they wore the knockoffs were significantly more likely to cheat and to inflate their performance when self-reporting than those who wore the designer shades.

In the third study, the researchers added a questionnaire related to judging other peoples’ tendency to engage in unethical behavior such as lying or behaving dishonestly. You guessed it. Those wearing the “knockoff” sunglasses were significantly more likely to assume others would engage in unethical behavior, lie, or behave dishonestly than those wearing the true blue designer shades.

Finally, in the fourth study, the researchers “teased out” what might mediate this “counterfeit sunglass” response. They discovered that feeling inauthentic led to the dishonest behavior and the tendency to judge others as dishonest. In other words, the “little white lie” of pretending to have authentic brand name designer shades when they did not, contributed to dishonesty and believing others to be more dishonest and unethical.

What does this have to do with marriage and family?  Good question. Sometimes couples tell a “little white lie” to avoid a conflict or confrontation. One person stops to get a beer on the way home rather than drink it in front of their spouse because “they don’t want to hear it.” Or, they tell their spouse everything is fine rather than discuss some irritating behavior because “they don’t want the stress.”  One spouse withholds information about finances to limit their partner’s anxiety…or a spouse makes a purchase in secret because they fear the purchase will upset their spouse. All little things, but they’re actually “knockoffs” of the truth. Real truth, designer truth, does not withhold information to avoid a confrontation or hide behavior to avoid the conflict. Real truth addresses the concern rather than trying to avoid the stress with a “knockoff truth.” But, this is where it gets worse, a little white lie, a “knockoff” of the truth, opens the door for more lies. Sure, we all know the person telling the lie may have to expand the lie to cover the first. According to the research, though, telling that “knockoff truth” increases the chance of further dishonesty, more significant dishonesty, bigger lies and bigger coverups. And, it increases the chance that the person telling the “knockoff truth” will become suspicious and judgmental of their partner’s motives and honesty. In other words, they may judge their spouse’s sincere motives and behaviors as dishonest and unethical. The stage is set. The slippery slope is covered with ice. The downward slide of dishonesty, mistrust, coverups, and paranoia begins. It’s better just to avoid the whole thing. Avoid the “knockoff truth,” the little white lie. Stick with telling the real truth, the whole truth, the designer truth. Don’t settle for less. Be honest.