Archive for Author John Salmon

There’s a Killer Loose in Your Family

There’s a killer loose in the family! He’s popping up everywhere: on the news, in social media, from other people. He may live in your home. He may even live in you! Every time he mutters his loathsome words he vandalizes our brains, packing down a neural rut leading to pain and misery. In time he will establish a rut so deep that just a word or even a look will send your whole family tumbling down the pathway toward more of the same agitation, misery, and depression! Who is this vandal? The Constant Complainer! That’s right. Constant complaining creates a neural pathway in our brains that makes complaining easier and more likely to occur. In time it will even become the default pathway…a highway leading straight to agitation, misery, and depression for everyone in the family. It doesn’t matter if the Constant Complainer is a Venter, a Chronic Complainer, or a Sympathy Seeker the result is the same. They suck the energy out of the whole family and leave everyone feeling empty, agitated, and miserable (Read Research Shows That Physically Complaining Rewires Your Brain to be Depressed and Anxious for more). I do have good news though. You can kick the Constant Complainer out of your family by practicing these skills.

  1. Change your expectations. Generally, complaining is unproductive. It accomplishes nothing but increasing frustration, misery, depression, and anxiety for you and everyone around you. In college I hated to wash clothes and I complained about it every time. My complaining fueled my hatred and increased my misery each time I had to wash my clothes. Then it dawned on me. Complain or not, I still have to wash clothes…or stink. Might as well accept it and figure out a way to enjoy it. I changed my expectation from “this is wasting my time” to “at least it gives me a chance to read my book or talk with friends.” I still don’t jump for joy to wash clothes, but I do it without complaint.  Sometimes we have to change our expectations.
  2. If you are going to complain, do it right! Rather than complain for complaining’s sake, make sure you have a positive goal in mind. Pause and think about the reason you want to complain and what you want to accomplish. What is underlying your complaint: anger, frustration, hurt, irritation? What do you really want to see changed to make things better? Who would be the right person to take your concern to? What solution can you offer when you voice your concern? These questions will help you do more than just complain constantly. They will help you find a way to remedy the problem and reach an outcome that will bring you satisfaction. (Read Five Mistakes We Make When Complaining for more details)
  3. Share gratitude. Don’t get stuck in the rut of complaining when you don’t have the power to change something. Instead, think about what you have to be thankful for. For instance, rather than complain about the traffic, be grateful you have a car and can go so many places. Rather than complain about having to do the dishes, be grateful you have dishes and the opportunity to enjoy the delicious meals that result in dirty dishes. Rather than complain about your spouse, consider what they do for your family and you. Be grateful. Make it a habit to voice your gratitude to others. Rather than packing down a neural rut of complaining you will establish a neural highway of joyful gratitude.
  4. Think about the positive memories of your life and family. Even though this is similar to sharing gratitude it adds another positive neural highway to help eliminate complaining from your home. Ponder the positive memories of family vacations. Contemplate the intimate conversations with your wife. Dwell on the memories of laughter with your children. Create more positive memories by participating in family game nights, vacations, outings, family dinners, and family celebrations. Each time you engage in a family activity, intentionally focus on the positive times you are enjoying and the joyous memories you are creating.

Practice these four actions and you will get that killer, the Constant Complainer, out of your home. You will replace those neural ruts of complaining with neural highways to joy and intimacy.

Improving Your Parent-Teen Relationship

Have you ever found yourself constantly irritated with your teen? It just seems that everything they do is done to agitate us and push us away. We begin to wonder where our sweet little girl who cuddled up with us has gone or what happened to our little boy who loved to play games with us. Unfortunately, we seem to notice more and more negative behaviors that reinforce and increase our agitation and worry. Those small but negative behaviors begin to form a filter through which we see every action and hear every word. We begin to hear simple replies as replies filled with attitude. Gestures and faces take on significant and negative meaning. Disrespect grows in our minds while our teens attempt to assure us they do not intend disrespect. Even this seems disrespectful.  Part of the problem we are experiencing was explained over 100 years ago by William James when he said, “My experience is what I agree to attend to.” In the mid-1900’s we learned that the brain only has a limited attentional capacity. We can only attend to so many things at a time (psychologists tell us we only have the capacity to attend to 7+2 chunks of information at a time). In other words, we cannot attend to every aspect of our teens’ behaviors. We are going to attend to and remember only those behaviors we “agree to attend to,” those behaviors we focus on. If we focus on all the things we don’t like, we will begin to see only cause for worry and concern when we see our teens. If, on the other hand, we focus on those things we can admire and be proud of, we will see those things that create further admiration and pride. Don’t worry, we’ll still see behaviors that need corrected. But, we will also increase the joy of having an intimate relationship with our teen. How can you keep the positive aspects of your teen in mind when their hormones and argumentative behaviors seem to overwhelm us? Here are a few ideas.

  • Remember, your teen is growing up. Their argumentativeness is preparing them to take a firm stand for their values in the world. Their risk taking behaviors are preparing them to take the risk of leaving home for college or vocational training. Rather than see these as negative aspects of their behavior, see them as training opportunities. Help them learn to channel those behaviors in a positive direction. (Read The ESSENCE of Adolescence for more)
  • Hug your teen as often as you can each day. Virginia Satir, a highly respected family therapist, once said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.”  Aim to promote growth for your teen by sharing as many hugs as they’ll accept each day.
  • Set an alarm on your watch or phone to remind you to stop three times every day for 10 seconds. During those 10 seconds write down three positive thoughts about each of your teens. At the end of the day, tell them at least one of the things you wrote down.
  • Think of a gesture, picture, phrase, or object that reminds you of your teen. Each day briefly look at the picture or object, repeat the phrase, or make the gesture three to four times. You might do it when you wake up, eat lunch, return home, or before you go to bed. Each time you do, let positive, adoring memories of your teen come to mind.
  • Pray for your teen daily. Prayer really does change things. Ironically, the change often begins with the changed attitude of the one praying.

As you put these five bullets into practice, you will find your image of your teen changes. You will notice more positive behaviors. You will find yourself in a more satisfying relationship with them. You will enjoy their company more and admire their accomplishments.  You will have improved your relationship with your teen!

Benefits of Family Celebration

Healthy families celebrate. They need to celebrate. Celebration creates even healthier families. How does celebration build a healthier family? “Let me count the ways.”

  1. Celebration fosters an abundant family life filled with joy. It’s just plain fun! And fun adds abundance and vitality to life.
  2. Celebration helps families balance their approach to one another and life. Celebrating families learn to not take themselves or one another too seriously. It frees them to experiment with new activities, to explore the world around them and learn about themselves and one another.
  3. Celebration enhances and restores intimacy in your family. Celebration helps us set aside disagreements for a time. It lets us have an experience of joy with the one who disagreed with us. Those who disagreed find themselves in harmony as they celebrate together. They discover a basis on which to restore the intimacy of their relationship, even though they might disagree. Plato reportedly said, “You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than in an hour of conversation.” I think it’s true for celebration as well as play.  Try it out and see if you agree.
  4. Celebration refreshes our perspective of other family members. While we will likely encounter frustrating interactions with family members, celebration teaches us that the same person can laugh. They have an inner playfulness. We learn a whole new side of the people with whom we celebrate. We learn that we celebrate similar things even though we might have disagreements in other areas. We can disagree and celebrate. We can disagree and live at peace. We can disagree and love.
  5. Celebration will energize your family. It culminates in a renewed vitality for life. When we celebrate accomplishments, relationships, or effort, we encourage continued effort. The celebration of effort and achievements revitalizes the desire to keep trying and do more. Why? We all enjoy being recognized and acknowledged.
  6. Celebration reveals and strengthens your family’s priorities and values. We celebrate those things we value. And, we engage in those things we celebrate most often. Celebration will increase behaviors that match your priorities.
  7. Celebration creates an upward spiral of positive experiences and joy for your family. It reinforces the priorities, encourages repeating the priorities, and increases the joy of celebrating those priorities. Celebration will help drive your family toward a future of more success and joy. Who wouldn’t want to do the right thing when you know it will be acknowledged and celebrated?

Yes, healthy families celebrate. Celebration creates an even healthier family. Why not start celebrating your family today?

Denzel Washington’s Wisdom on Fatherhood

Denzel Washington’s most recent movie is Roman J. Israel, Esq, a film about a lawyer, the law and America’s justice system. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I –have enjoyed hearing Denzel Washington’s quotes about fatherhood during interviews about the movie. Here is the quote getting a lot of notice.

“It starts in the home. It starts with how you raise your children. If a young man doesn’t have a father figure, he’ll go find a father figure.  So, you know, I can’t blame the system. It’s unfortunate that we make such easy work for them.” He added, “If the streets raise you, then the judge becomes your mother and prison becomes your home.” (Read more in Denzel Washington on Fatherhood, Family, and Family Values)

I’d like to add something wise and inspirational to his statement, but I really find nothing to add. I completely agree with his statement. If I were to add anything it would be a call to action. If you want to improve our communities and our country, step up as a Dad. Don’t let the streets raise your children. Don’t leave them empty and searching for a father figure. Become actively involved in their lives. Teach them values that will cultivate personal integrity, strengthen family ties, and enhance community stability. Let’s get started today!

A Mother-Daughter Relationship Boost

Watching my daughters grow up I noticed times when their relationship with their mother needed a boost.  You know the times—stressful times, times when everyone seems to be on edge. It happens to everyone. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to give them that boost. Now, thanks to research completed at the University of Illinois, we know at least one simple way to boost the mother-daughter relationship. In this particular study (Read the study at A Walk at the Mall or in the Park?), mothers and daughters (10-12 years-old) met on two separate occasions with researchers. On each occasion they engaged in attention-fatiguing activities (like solving math problems or completed word searches) while listening to loud construction music. Following this stress inducing activity, the researchers gave them a test of attention before sending them out for a walk together. One time, the mother-daughter pair walked in an indoor mall. On the other visit they walked in a nature arboretum. After each walk, the researchers interviewed the mother and the daughter. They tested their attention again. Then they videotaped the mother-daughter pair engaging in a game requiring them to work together. They discovered three results I find very interesting.

  1. The ability to focus and attend was restored significantly after the nature walk, but only for the mother. Both walking in nature and the mall restored the daughter’s attention. The lead researcher thought the daughter’s improved attention might have resulted from spending family leisure time with her mother. The ability to attend during interactions reduces conflict and increase feelings of closeness. It boosts the relationship.
  2. Both mother and daughter said the nature walk was more fun, relaxing, and interesting. Enjoying things together will boost your relationship.
  3. The nature walk also resulted in more positive interactions. The mother-daughter pair showed greater closeness and cohesion after the nature walk. They got along better after the nature walk compared to the mall walk. Walking in nature had a more positive impact on the relationship quality than walking in the mall.

So, if you’re feeling a strain in your mother-daughter relationship, go for a walk. Mothers invite your daughters. Daughters invite your mothers. For best results, go for a walk in a local park, through a neighborhood patch of woods, or maybe a local conservatory. Walk amidst the trees and flowers. Smell the fresh air.  Your ability to attend to one another will improve. You’ll relax and have fun. You’ll find yourself getting along better and feeling a greater sense of unity. In general, your relationship will get a boost!

PS—although this study was done with mother-daughter pairs, it will likely work with any parent-child relationship and even with your marriage. Give it a shot and let us know what you find out.

Raising a Confident Child

How do children form a positive self-concept? How do they come to see themselves in a positive light? How do they develop confidence and learn to esteem themselves well? These questions arise in many a parent’s mind as they interact with and discipline their children. We want to help our children develop a persistent confidence in their abilities while not becoming arrogant. Sometimes we doubt ourselves. We wonder if we are really doing the right thing (at least I do!). We constantly search out practical advice for increasing our children’s self-confidence. Friends, family members, experts, books…we search them all to find reassurance that we are doing a good job and in hopes of finding the “magic bullet” to help our kids grow.  Well, I don’t have a magic bullet, but I have found several practical ideas to help raise confident children.

  • Warm up. Develop a warm relationship with your children. Warm parents show an interest in their children’s activities. They share their children’s joys and excitements. Doing so makes their children feel noticed and valued. It increases their self-esteem. It contributes to their self-confidence. (For more on the impact of a warm relationship, read An Amazing Parenting Insight Learned in Three Parts)
  • Praise effort, not ability. Acknowledge your children’s effort and investment rather than just the end product. Let them know you see how hard they work to make things happen. This helps our children learn their effort impacts their world and their success comes through effort. It teaches them to value effort and notice the successes found in effort, even if the end result was not what they initially intended. Effort, as opposed to waiting for something to “fall in our laps,” leads to success.  And, success builds self-confidence.(Build Your Child’s Success Mindset offers more tips.)
  • Do not overpraise. Our children need us to acknowledge their effort and appreciate their accomplishments, but overpraise will backfire. Excessive praise actually contributes to lower self-esteem. Overpraise can contribute to arrogance. Sometimes extremely positive, inflated praise can contribute to narcissism, a sense of personal grandiosity. Excessive praise can also set our children up to worry about falling short of the standards for which they have already received lavish amounts of praise.  So, go ahead and appreciate achievements. Acknowledge accomplishments. Praise effort and investment. But don’t overdo it. Don’t overpraise. It just gets in the way of healthy self-confidence. (Read How to Ruin Your Child with Praise for more.)
  • Value failure. Treat failure as a time of learning rather than a catastrophe. Failure is simply an opportunity to learn what does not work and explore changes that can lead to a better result. I like Oprah’s quote, “Think like royalty. Royalty is not afraid to fail. Failure is another steppingstone to greatness” (I hope she’ll excuse my changing her use of the word “queen” to “royalty.” If not, I guess I’ll learn from the failure.) Confident people fail gracefully. Confident people know failure is not the end of the world. Confident people recognize failure as a signal for problem-solving, making changes, and moving toward “greatness.” (Do Your Child a Favor)
  • Give your children important tasks to complete. Let them have chores around the house. Chores and tasks build a sense of competence and competence contributes to confidence. (Chores: The Gift of Significance will explain even more.)
  • Model healthy confidence in your own life. Work to improve your self-confidence and your children will follow in your example. Value your failures and talk about what you learn from them. Acknowledge your achievements while focusing on the effort and investment that led to those achievements. Accept their acknowledgements of your success with a smile and a simple “thank you.” Maintain warm loving relationships, especially with your children. Children imitate those they see and admire. They become like those they imitate. Give them a self-confident parent they can look up to and imitate.

Put these six practical actions in place and your children will grow in confidence daily!

Become Your Child’s Friendship Coach

Social skills are foundational to the human experience. They bring us into relationship with others. They give us the opportunity to experience community as well as the joy of intimacy. They enable us to communicate our needs and clarify our desires. They empower us to work together and accomplish greater things. They help us develop friendships. In other words, social skills serve as a foundation to our relationships, our values, and our growth. Let that foundation weaken and the whole house starts to crumble. I mean, the whole house starts to crumble. In fact, poor social skills contribute to poorer mental and physical health (the whole house). One researcher actually notes that poor social skills increase loneliness and chronic loneliness is “as serious of a risk [factor] as smoking, obesity, or eating a high-fat diet with lack of exercise (Read Poor Social Skills May be Harmful to Your Health for more). In brief, our children fair better physically and mentally when they have good social skills. Fortunately, social skills are learned over time and that learning begins in the family. Parents are their children’s first and most significant social skills coach, their friendship coach. How can a parent become a great friendship coach to their children? Here are 6 tips to help you get started.

  1. Enjoy time with your children. One of the best ways to coach social skills is by modeling and practicing them yourself. Interact with your children and practice good social skills in the process. Treat them politely. Show them how friends treat one another. Share. Laugh. Play. Set boundaries. Express emotions. Negotiate disagreements. There is no better coach than one who can play the game well and engages his trainees in the process. Enjoy time with your children. (I love the time of Enjoying Your Child–Priceless!)
  2. Talk about thoughts and feelings with your children. When you watch a movie, talk about the subtext of thoughts and feelings that motivate a character’s actions. When a friend interacts with your children in a way they don’t understand, talk about the subtext of thoughts or feelings that may contribute to that interaction. Explain how your own thoughts and feelings contribute to your actions. Label feelings you and your children experience. The broader a child’s emotional vocabulary, the more understanding they become…the better friend they become. (More tips @ Teaching Your Child to Handle Emotions)
  3. Allow for individual style. Not everyone is an extravert. Not everyone jumps into social settings. Some people are more introverted. Some slowly warm up to activities and interactions. Allow for those differences in style. Let the introvert enjoy interacting with small groups and the extrovert enjoy the loud social settings. Allow time for your children to slowly warm up to an activity if that is what they need. Allow your children to move quickly into an activity if they are comfortable doing so. Allow for those individual styles and don’t force your children into a style that does not fit their personality. (Read Honoring Variety)
  4. Create opportunities for social interactions. When your children are young you do this by scheduling play dates. As your children get older, they can become involved in various groups like scouting, church youth groups, choirs, musical groups, sports’ teams, or volunteer groups. You might also consider family games nights with various board games that encourage social interactions. Invite other families over for game night. Play a few games together then let the children go off to play together while the adults chat for a time.
  5. Turn off the technology and “go face-to-face.” Technology has a way of limiting social skills. Twitter does not allow children to learn the art of reading facial cues or hearing voice tones. Facebook does not let us see the ups & downs of life since people tend to post the happy days. “Face-to-face” interactions, on the other hand, teach us to understand facial expressions and interpret voice cues. They help us learn how and when to ask for clarifications that can deepen our understanding of one another. With this in mind, limit technology. Encourage face-to-face interactions. (More @ Welcome to the Dead Zone for more)
  6. Give your children space. It may sound contradictory to give our children space, but they need time to practice the skills they are learning without our intervention. They need the opportunities to resolve conflicts, negotiate difference, and enjoy age expected interactions with peers. After all, practice makes perfect. So, take a breath, step back, and let them go. Give them space to practice on their own. (Good Parents Do Nothing!! tells more)

Well “Coach,” follow these tips and you are well on your way to “Coach of the Year.” And your children will develop the social skills necessary to navigate their world independently and successfully!

One Simple Question to Stop the Marital Spat

It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? I mean, asking one question to stop a spat with my spouse? How could it be true? But, according to the research, it is true. Amazingly, you don’t even ask this question of your spouse. You ask it of yourself!  And, according to research completed in 2016, it changed the whole conflict (Read more in http://www.spring.org.uk/2017/11/question-improve-relationship.php?omhide=true.) The person who asked this question became more forgiving. They interpreted their relationship in a more positive light. They gained greater insight into the cause of the conflict. All of this reduced the heat of the argument and led to a quicker, more amicable resolution!

Now, want to know the question? Here it is. Ask yourself, “How will I feel in one year about this conflict with my spouse?” That’s it. One simple future oriented question. “How will I feel in one year about this conflict with my spouse?” Repeat that question to yourself. Embed it in the synapses of your brain. Then, the next time you find yourself in a spat with your spouse, dredge it up from the recesses of your mind and ask, “How will I feel in one year about this conflict with my spouse?” It might just change everything!

Motivating Our Children

Have you ever wondered how to motivate your children? They could have better grades but they just don’t hand in their homework or study? They could accomplish so much more but they just seem to “lack motivation”? Researchers at the University of Michigan recently published a study that might just help. In a series of three studies, they explored how positive relationships impact motivation. They discovered that even a brief reminder of a “supportive other” increases motivation for personal growth, even in the face of challenges. The participants who reported actually having supportive relationships showed a greater willingness to accept challenges that promoted personal growth. They also reported feeling more self-confidence (Read For a better ‘I,’ there needs to be a supportive ‘we’ for more on the study). In terms of parenting, having a supportive relationship with your children will help increase our children’s motivation. I’m not suggesting that a supportive relationship will end all motivational woes. It will not result in your children suddenly becoming perfectly motivated to complete every chore and homework assignment given.  However, a positive supportive, relationship with your children will increase their motivation. A positive, supportive relationship with your children will increase the chances of them doing the chores more readily and even completing their homework. The question is: How do we develop and communicate a positive, supportive relationship with our children? I’m glad you (well…I) asked.

  1. Remain available. Our children know we are available when we engage them regularly. We communicate our availability by remaining open to interactions with them, putting aside our own agenda and responding to their direct, indirect, or even awkward attempts to engage us. Let your actions express your belief that being available to your children is more important than the game, your book, the paperwork, or whatever other distraction might pull you away from your children in the moment.
  2. Accept your children. Our children feel supported when they know we accept them whether they succeed or fail, experience joys or fears. They know we accept them when we acknowledge rather than criticize their efforts. They know we accept them when we acknowledge and allow for differences in taste and preferences. And, knowing they find acceptance in us they feel supported by us.
  3. Listen. Our children feel supported when they feel heard. This requires us to listen beyond mere words. We must listen with our ears to hear the words, our mind to understand their intent, and our hearts to understand their emotions. Then, our actions need to communicate our willingness to let their ideas and beliefs influence us. When we listen in this manner, our children know they have found acceptance and a supportive parent.
  4. Encourage. We communicate support through sincere encouragement. Sincere encouragement does not offer false praise. Our children abhor false praise. Nor does sincere encouragement manipulate. It is not offered to push our children in a particular direction or toward some action. Instead, we encourage our children by recognizing their inner dream and promoting it. We encourage them by acknowledging their effort and resulting progress.
  5. Offer honest, gentle correction. Children recognize honest, gentle correction as supportive. They benefit from a supportive parent who lovingly “nudges” them to grow, mature, and become a person of honor. Honest, gentle correction avoids screaming, name-calling, and belittling comments. Instead, it offers clear limits, consistent consequences, and loving correction. Gentle correction teaches from a foundation of love, communicating a value in our children.

These five actions can help our children feel supported. This will translate into a healthier sense of self-confidence and greater motivation to engage in behaviors that promote their own positive growth.

Family Happiness in 1938 AND Today

The year: 1938. The question posed by the Bolton Evening News: “What does happiness mean to you and yours?” Bolton is a town in northwest England. Bolton “reached it’s zenith in 1929” with over 200 cotton mills and textile industries. Recently, researchers from the University of Bolton recovered and analyzed the answers given by the original 226 respondents. Three themes emerged in the analysis of the respondents’ answers.

  1. “Contentment” and “peace of mind” contributed to happiness. In other words, being satisfied with what one has rather than constantly seeking more contributes to happiness. Having a healthy family filled with emotional connection and acts of honor increases a sense of contentment, even when we don’t have the most expensive shoes or the newest gadgets.
  2. “Family” and “home” were important to happiness. A happy marriage, healthy children, loving family contribute to happiness. A home is a celebrating community of honor and grace. As we shape our homes around honoring one another and sharing grace to one another we find greater contentment and more happiness. That is a reason to celebrate!
  3. Helping “other people” contributed to happiness. Actively seeking ways to help other people brings happiness. It turns our focus outward and opens our lives to relationship. Helping others as a family strengthens our family. And family, as noted in #2, contributes to happiness. (Read more in Lessons from the Past on How to be Happy.)

These three themes can still help to build happiness in your family today. Read these blogs to discover ways of building each of the characteristics into your  family.

  1. For ideas on filling your family with “contentment” and “peace of mind” read
    1. The Secret to Family Peace
    2. Recognizing the Benefit of Emotions in Parenting
    3. Beatitudes for a Happy Marriage
  2. To improve your “family” and “home” conenctions
    1. Why Family Honor
    2. Become the Catalyst for an Honorable Family
  3. Help “other people”
    1. The Paradox of Happy Families
    2. Give It Away for Family Fun

You can find many more blogs to build these characteristics into your home and family. Just explore the many blogs on this site, put them into practice, and…find family happiness.

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