Archive for August 17, 2019

Parents, Are You a Buzz-Killer or a Responsive Encourager

As parents, we want our children to learn and grow. After all, who wants to spoon-feed a child for twenty years?  No, we want them to learn and grow, to become independent and self-sufficient, responsible and mature. And do you know how children learn? They learn by exploring…and they explore everything. From the time they start putting things in their mouths they are exploring and learning about themselves, the people around them, and their environment. Unfortunately, we sometimes hinder their exploring, and their learning as a result, without even knowing it. Let me give you an example taken from an experiment completed at the University of Washington. One hundred fifty toddlers (15-months-old) sat on their parent’s lap while an experimenter sat across from them demonstrating how to use various toys. This experimenter was a “responsive encourager.” The “responsive encourager” showed the toddler the toys’ movable parts and how the toys made sounds. They rattled and buzzed and moved the toys around in response to the toddler’s excitement. The toddlers were intrigued. They leaned forward and pointed. They wanted to explore (aka—explore) the toy. But alas, a second experimenter, the “buzz-killer,” entered the room and sat nearby. The “buzz-killer” complained about the toys. The “buzz-killer” grumbled, complained, and angrily called the toys aggravating and annoying. (You can watch a variation of this experiment on video here. Notice how the child’s whole affect changes!)

The toddlers were then given the opportunity to play with the toys. One group of toddlers were allowed to play with the toys while the “buzz-killer ” sat nearby and watched them or read a magazine with a neutral facial expression. These children hesitated to play with the toys. They appeased the “buzz-killer” by limiting their exploration of the toy. They hesitated to explore the moving parts and the noises. They hesitated to engage in behaviors that would let them learn about the new toy and their environment.

A second group of toddlers had the chance to play with the toys while the buzz-killer left the room or turned her back so she couldn’t see what the children were doing. This group “eagerly grabbed the toys” and began to play with them. They imitated what the first experimenter, the “responsive encourager,” had shown them. They explored the moving parts. They explored the noises. They manipulated the toy and learned about it. They learned how it worked and they made it work. They explored and learned just as the “responsive encourager” had hoped.

Sometimes we complain about our children’s exploration. We become the “buzz-killer.” They make too much noise; we grumble. Their behaviors are aggravating and annoying; we scowl. They ask too many questions; we sigh. They get into too much stuff; we huff and puff. But when we grumble and complain, act annoyed and yell, we become the “buzz-killer” who hinders their exploration…and their learning. We hold them back from learning about their world, themselves, and the people around them. We become the “buzz-killer” in the room hindering our children’s growth.

Yes. There are times we need to set limits. There are times we will ask our children to explore more quietly, at a different time, or in a different room because we are tired or don’t feel well or just need some peace and quiet. However, we want our general response to be that of the “responsive encourager.” We want to encourage exploration, even participate and stimulate greater exploration. Because when our children explore, they learn and grow. So which are you? A “buzz-killer” who hinders learning and growth or a “responsive encourager” who promotes learning and growth?

A Marital Battle: Radical Generosity or Self Seeking

Two ancient sayings have been on my mind lately. Both sayings are recorded by Paul, a Jewish follower of Christ. And, although neither one is written in the context of marriage, they both have a profound impact on our marriages. The first saying is short and sweet: “Love is not self-seeking.” The second one reminds us that “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap bountifully.”

I hate to admit it, but sometimes I get tired and irritable. When I’m tired and irritable, I don’t want to be generous. I don’t want to sow a smile or a kind word or an act of service. Instead, I want to sulk, give short and even sarcastic responses, or isolate. In other words, I become self-seeking. I watch out for “my own personal interests” and desires. In the process, I neglect my spouse. I don’t pay attention to her needs or struggles she may have encountered during the day. You’ve had those days, haven’t you? We all have. If I am going to be totally honest, sometimes I become self-seeking even when I’m not tired and irritable. I just look out for myself sometimes because…well, because I just want things to go my way. How about you? Ever had that experience?

Unfortunately, we also reap what we sow. When we selfishness, we reap disconnection in response. When we sow a sarcastic response or an isolating action in our irritability, we reap sorrow, distance, and maybe even some criticism from our spouse. Our relationship grows more disconnected in response to the seeds of self-seeking behaviors we sow. Intimacy suffers as weeds of loneliness grow deeper roots and we reap sharper thorns. If we allow this self-seeking behavior to continue to grow, we may find ourselves simply engaging in physical intimacy to satisfy our own needs more often than we express love in our intimacy. In general, sowing seeds of self-seeking behaviors reaps disconnection, emotional distance, frustration, and anger.

So, what can end the sowing of self-seeking behaviors? Sow seeds of radical generosity instead. Yes, radical generosity is generosity sown in the hard times, the times we feel tired, irritable, and selfish. Showing generosity to our spouse in the good times is relatively easy. But sharing generosity with our spouse when we are tired, irritable, feeling disconnected, or simply feeling selfish is radical! And when we sow radical generosity, we reap radical intimacy and connection. Radical generosity means giving your spouse a hug and kiss upon returning home, especially when we’re tired. Radical generosity gives a kind answer rather than a short, sarcastic response even when we’re irritable. Radical generosity seeks to give pleasure to our spouse rather than simply seeking our own release and pleasure. Radical generosity serves even when tired. Radical generosity sows all these seeds of kindness, affection, and service while wearing a smile. Radical generosity is the opposite of self-seeking; it is loving. Radical generosity will sow seeds of kindness, service, and love into their marriage in great abundance and reap the same in a bountiful return. Sow some radical generosity into your marriage today and watch the bountiful harvest of love and intimacy grow! I going to go share some radical generosity now…by helping prepare lunch. What about you?  

What Bullies & Their Victims Have in Common…Really?

I know it’s a bit of a risk to say, but bullies and their victims have some similarities. At least that’s what a recent study completed by researchers from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg suggests. The researchers obtained data from the World Health Organization who had interviewed approximately 3,000 adolescents from various countries. Specifically, the researchers used data from the United States (an individualistic society), Greece (a collectivist society), and Germany (which is between individualistic and collectivistic). In each of these countries, both victims of bullying and the perpetrators of bullying had several things in common.

  1. They were both more likely to use alcohol and tobacco.
  2. They were both more likely to have somatic complaints like stomach pain, back pain, and headaches.
  3. They were both more likely to suffer from depression.
  4. They both exhibited social difficulties. For instance, they both described difficulty talking to friends or peers and they both described feeling a lack of support in their social environment.

I find it fascinating that these two groups suffer similar pain. Why do I bring this up to families? Because families can help reduce bullying by giving their children the emotional resources both groups need to live healthier, “bully-free lives.” Here are a few of those resources.

  • Develop a positive relationship with your children. Guide and discipline your children in love and grace (Do You Parent with a Club or a Staff?). Don’t bully them into obedience. Remember, relationships rule.
  • Teach your children healthy social skills. Skills like politeness and respect for others carry great power. Model and practice politeness in your family.
  • Teach your children healthy emotional management skills. Learning “emotional intelligence” is crucial for anyone’s success.  So, teach your children to label their emotions and use the energy aroused by their emotion to address healthy priorities in a healthy, respectful manner.  (Here are 6 Tips to Make Your Children’s Emotions Your Friend. )
  • Provide opportunities for your children to learn kindness If You Really Want Happy Kids, kindness is essential. Nurture kindness in your children by practicing kindness IN your family and AS a family. Volunteer together.
  • Create a home environment filled with gratitude, encouragement, and honor. Honor one another enough to verbalize gratitude and encouragement to each family member every day. Doing so will help each person develop a mindset of looking for things they are grateful for in others. As you show gratitude and encouragement, your children will follow suit.

Five things you can do to prevent bullying. It may not end bullying completely But, if enough families develop the habits described above, we might just change they world!

Your Child’s Toolbox for Self-Soothing

Children ride an emotional roller coaster. They get angry, happy, excited, bored, and so much more. You name it, they feel it. Unfortunately, they don’t know how to manage those feelings in a mature way…YET. One of our parental jobs is to teach them the skills necessary to manage emotions in a mature and effectively way.

The first step in teaching your children the skills to manage their emotions well is to make sure you manage your emotions well. (Find tips to manage your own emotion and get your teen to talk while you do in Encouraging Your Teen to Talk with You.)

The second thing you need to do is develop a strong relationship with your child, a relationship that encourages security and open communication. (Read An Amazing Parenting Insight Learned in 3 Parts and Relationships Rule for more.)

Third, develop an “Emotional Management Toolbox” with your child. Find a shoe box. Then sit down with your child to talk about ways to manage their emotions. As you talk about various methods, fill the box with items that will help them carry out the plan. Here are a few items that may prove useful in an Emotional Management Toolbox.

  • A set of emotional face cards. You can download this picture of facial expressions here or here to represent your child’s emotions. Cut them into cards, one emotion per card. Your child can use these pictures and labels to help him name the emotion he is feeling. Being able to name an emotion allows a person the time to think about the best response to that emotion. Naming an emotion is a first step in managing an emotion.
  • A straw to focus breathing. A straw can help a person learn how practice a calming breath. Put the straw in your child’s mouth and have them take a big breath in through their nose and then slowly breath out through the straw. This slow breathing exercise can help calm emotions.
  • Favorite photos. Get photos that remind them of their favorite place, a favorite person, or who they want to become…photos that remind them of their values, their desires, and their relationships.
  • Art supplies. Your child can use art supplies to express his or her emotions in positive and nonharmful ways.  So, get some crayons, markers, paints, coloring books, and paper. You can also get clay, playdough, beads, string…any art supplies your child might enjoy. Mandala coloring books can prove especially helpful with some teens.
  • Candles. Smells and aromas like lavender, sandalwood, jasmine, and vanilla are among the scents that have a calming effect on many people, including children. Scented candles and essential oils may prove a great tool in your child’s Emotional Management Toolkit.
  • Fidget toys and stress balls provide another excellent tool in the Emotional Management Toolkit. (A variety of fidget toys and stress balls can be found here or on amazon.)
  • A reminder to run or bike or do some physical activity. Sometimes a person needs to “blow off steam” to really manage their emotions. So figure out a way to put a reminder in the Emotional Management Toolkit. A picture or an action figure might do the trick…whatever serves as the best reminder for your child.
  • Self-affirmation cards. You and your child can sit down one day and create several self-affirmation cards to keep in their Emotional Management Toolkit. Statements like, “This makes me angry and I can use that anger to talk about what’s important to me.” Or, “I’ve managed this before and I can manage it again.” “I am stronger than my emotions.” “My emotions are not in charge of me; I’m in charge of my emotions.” You and your child can write down the ones that will be most helpful in your family.
  • A journal and pen. Studies have consistently shown that journaling can help us manage our emotions.  Here are four journaling exercises to help you manage your emotions. And, for another journaling help read The Good and the Bad of Journaling.

There are more things you could put in your child’s Emotional Management Toolkit, but I’ll leave that to you and your child’s creativity. Put it together and teach them to use it. In time, your child will be a master at managing emotion.

Don’t Post Alone for a Happier Marriage

Social media is a wonderful way to share information with family and friends. You can also communicate love and adoration for your spouse through social media. But, studies have shown that sharing information online can also harm your marriage. Too much time spent on social media, becoming overly involved with a person other than your spouse, or sharing intimate information with others online can all have a negative impact on your marriage. What can you do to protect your marriage from the dangers of social media? One option is to open a joint account rather than an individual account. With a joint account, you both share information and have an open awareness of what each person posts.

Another option was recently discussed in a series of five studies completed by Carnegie Mellon University and University of Kansas. Briefly, the first study revealed that on-line self-disclosure lead to a romantic partner reporting less intimacy in their marriage. It confirmed the dangers to a marriage when one partner uses social media to share personal and emotional information.

The second study suggested that attachment style also impacts how a person responds to on-line self-disclosure. Specifically, people who naturally struggle to connect emotionally and experience difficulty building trust (those with an avoidant attachment style) reported less intimacy and lower marital satisfaction as their spouse disclosed a greater quantity of intimate information on line. The third study suggested that people report lower intimacy and lower marital satisfaction when they perceive their partner’s self-disclosure as more self-revealing, more personal or more emotional.

The fourth study found that people felt lower intimacy and lower marital satisfaction when their partner posted emotional or personal information to greater numbers of people versus just to them (and maybe one other person).

In summary, these four studies suggest that revealing emotional, personal information online leads to less intimacy and less marital satisfaction. Their partner may feel left out, unimportant, or insecure. The fifth study in this series, however, suggested that including your partner in posts can change all this and contribute to higher marital intimacy and satisfaction. In other words, if you are not going to have a joint account, be sure to include your partner in your posts. The takeaway of all this? Don’t post alone. Include your spouse in your posts. It will increase intimacy in your marriage and make you both feel a greater sense of satisfaction in your marriage.