Archive for Author John Salmon

Join Your Family in Song

My daughter was just learning to walk when we started singing “Go Down Moses” while dancing around the living room. My other daughter stood up to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” as we solemnly buried a bird that had committed kamikaze against our front window. The toddler we babysat looked at me with anticipation and followed the directions of our impromptu lyrics calling her to step onto a small step and “jump” before laughing and asking to do it again.

When our children seem upset and begin to cry, we sing them a song to help them calm. When they can’t sleep, we sing them a lullaby. When they need to clean up their rooms, we might follow Barney’s cue and sing “Clean up, clean up….” We teach our children the alphabet through song. The list goes on. Music works wonders for a parent…and it continues working right through the teen years.

Children start remembering melodies as early as 5-months-old. At 11-months-old they are more receptive to a person singing a familiar song, even if that person is a stranger. Infants and children feel soothed by music and even begin to use music to calm themselves at a very young age. Who hasn’t heard their very young child, upset about having to take a nap, lying in their crib singing a song rather than crying? Even teens calm themselves through song.

Music brings us together. Whether we sing like a songbird or croak out a tune, it communicates that we are paying attention to the one we sing to and the ones we sing with. It signals that we are all part of the same group, we belong. Music draws us together and bonds us. It allows us to share emotions and even synchronizes us physically.

Why not use music in your family? Sing a song together. Listen to music together. Enjoy music together. Your family will love it. You will experience greater joy and intimacy with your family. Give it a try: “Sing. Sing a song. Make it simple to last the whole night long….” 

Why Do I Have To Do Everything?!

Have you ever asked this question? You’ve made the bed, washed the clothes, and cooked dinner. Now, resentment builds as you wash the dishes and clean the kitchen. In frustration you ask yourself, “Why do I have to do everything around here?” Or, maybe you’ve cut the grass, trimmed the hedges, washed the car, and grilled supper. Now you’re being asked to run to the store. You wanted to sit down and rest. Frustration wells up and you think, “Why do I have to do everything around here?” Perhaps this question has been verbalized during a conflict over who does what around the house…”Why do I have to do everything around here?” or “I do everything around here!” I know I’ve said those very words.  One day, however, I had an epiphany. A light went off in my head as a new insight flashed through my mind. It’s my fault.  My frustration and fear about “having to do everything” was my fault. By complaining about “everything I do,” I rob everyone in my family. I rob them of opportunities to serve and then I became resentful that they allowed me to rob them! As this insight became clear in my mind, I began to smile at how silly my complaining seemed. Then, I decided to make a change. That change led to happier relationships in my family. Let me share what I learned.

  • I do not live with mind readers. No one in my family knows when I feel overwhelmed or when I want help unless I ask. I have a responsibility to ask for help when I want it. I hate asking for help. I like to feel independent. But it’s crazy to resent people for not helping me when I haven’t even told them I need help. Actually, I often tell them I don’t need help even when I want it. You’ve probably had a similar conversation. “Do you need help with the kitchen?” “No, I’m alright.” “OK, I’m going to do some stuff downstairs (translate ‘watch TV’).” In frustration I reply, “That’s fine. I don’t mind” with a more cynical tone than I had intended. “You sure you don’t want any help?” “I’m sure,” comes the short reply and a roll of my eyes. Now I’m cleaning the kitchen feeling like a slave and my spouse is downstairs watching TV trying to figure out what they did to get “yelled at.”  Avoid the whole scenario. Ask for help.
  • I’m not called to play the house martyr. Sure, I can make sacrifices for the good of my family. I can put aside my own selfish needs and serve my family, but I do not have to become a resentful martyr. Instead, I can honestly state my needs. (I know, radical idea, right?) My family needs me to become honest about my needs. If I need their help, if I feel overwhelmed and require assistance, if I just want a break and would like their help…I need to come clean, be honest, and tell them.
  • It’s alright to accept help and it’s alright to expect help. Everyone in the family has a contribution to make to the household. By not stating my need and accepting help, I rob my family of the opportunity to make a significant contribution to the household. I don’t want to rob them of the opportunity to express their love for family through service. I don’t want to rob them of the pleasure of some other activity because of my frustration (see first bullet above). I want to accept their help and have the joy of working together as a family to maintain our household.
  • I need to be honest with myself. To be completely honest with you and myself, I have to acknowledge that I’m not the only one “doing everything around here.” Other family members are doing various jobs around the house as well. My spouse and children make huge contributions to the household.  I need to develop the habit of noticing what they do and thanking them for doing it. I need to develop the habit of gratitude. I need to be grateful for what other family members do.

Four realization and four actions…each one made me smile. And, my smile gets bigger and bigger as I practice each of the four actions—asking for help, being honest, accepting help, and being grateful for help. Give them a try and you’ll be smiling too. 

This Is Your Brain On Kindness

What can we learn about kindness from 36  studies and 1,150 fMRIs gathered over a 10-year period from people making kind decisions? Psychologists at the University of Sussex can answer that question. They analyzed the research of those 36 studies and split the acts of kindness into two categories: strategic kindness (kindness in which the person giving kindness gained a personal benefit) and altruistic kindness (kindness in which the person giving kindness did not gain a personal benefit in return). The research revealed that reward areas of the brain became more active when a person engaged in strategic kindness, kindness with the opportunity for the recipient to “return the favor.”   But wait. The same areas became activated when the person engaged in acts of kindness with no hope of a “return favor.” There was no hope for personal benefit in the act of altruistic kindness, but the reward centers of the brain still became more active. So, whether one engaged in strategic kindness or altruistic kindness, the reward centers of the brain became more active. It appears that engaging in deeds of kindness may be its own reward.

But wait. There’s more. (No, it’s not a ‘Chop-o-Matic.’) Activating the brain’s reward center represents the similarity between the two types of kindness. The research revealed a difference as well. In altruistic kindness even more areas of the brain became active. In other words, altruistic kindness did more than activate the reward centers of the brain; altruistic kindness activated even broader regions of the brain. Want to get your children’s brains active? Give them opportunities to engage in acts of kindness.

I realize we can activate the reward centers and other areas of our brain by engaging in any number of activities; but, might I suggest we engage the brains of our children and families by presenting opportunities to engage in kindness as a family. Maybe if we engage the reward centers of our family members’ brains with kindness and relationship, they will be less likely to engage them in harmful ways (like drug use).  And, engaging in kindness sounds like so much more fun! So, engage your brains and the brains of your children. Activate your reward centers. Enjoy the stimulation of your brain’s reward system. Engage in acts of kindness.

(If you’re stuck for ideas, read The Mighty Power of Kindness for Families or A Family Fun Night to Share Kindness.)

Children Misbehaving? Give Them a Seat

I remember it well. Days of rolling easy as a parent would suddenly come crashing down as our children took a sudden, sharp turn into Crazy Land (I hope they’re not reading this). To make matters worse, we could rarely identify any reason for the sudden shift in behavior…but shift it did! Our kind, caring, well-behaved children suddenly became emotional quagmires of tears, irritability, and demands. Minor acts of defiance often followed. Entitlement and selfish expectations increased.  The change was mysterious, a painstaking step off a cliff into an abyss of emotional turmoil. Even though they would push us away at these times, we knew they needed us to pull them closer. Although they would push against the limits, we knew they needed us to reinforce the limits with kind firmness. In other words, they needed us to give them a S.E.A.T.


  • Set the limits. Restate the limits with kind firmness. Remain polite, but don’t cave. Don’t give in. Children need limits, especially when they seem to be melting down. Give them the gift of security by restating and maintaining firm limits in a manner that reveals your own self-control and confidence as a parent (even if you don’t feel it at the moment). They need the strength of your confidence and self-control, the power of your composure during the chaos of limit setting to help them learn how to manage their own emotions as they mature.
  • Empathize with your children. You can empathize with your children’s frustration over the limit (“You’re really upset that I told you to turn off your game and set the table. It’s hard to stop playing sometimes but I’d like you to help get the table ready for dinner.”). You can empathize with your children by acknowledging their tears, their frustration, and even their anger. Empathizing is not allowing behaviors. It is simply accepting and understanding the pain they feel. Empathizing with your children allows you to connect with them. Even if they don’t acknowledge the connection, know you have connected through empathy…and that connection increases your credibility in their eyes.
  • Accept their emotions. They may get angry. They may break down in tears. They may simply shut down. No matter what, accept their emotion. Emotions in and of themselves are a sign of our shared humanity. They help reveal our priorities. You can set limits with the emotions such as “You can be angry with me, but we don’t hit” or “It’s alright to be upset with me, but you can’t call people names.” Even as you set the limit, accept the emotion and remain present. Let your presence communicate that you are stronger than their emotion. Your children will learn this important lesson: even in the face of scary emotions that make them feel out of control, you are in control. You are a safe haven. You are more powerful than their worst emotions and you will keep them safe.
  • Team up. As you children begin to calm down, reconnect. Hug them. Make sure they know you still love them. Talk about what happened and how they might avoid a similar problem in the future. This may include changes the parent can make, changes the children can make, and changes in communication. In other words, problem solve together. 

As you go through this process with your children you will have given them a S.E.A.T. and the confidence they need to manage their emotions and behaviors better in the future.

Taming the Dragon in Your Marriage…Together

There is a dragon in your house. He rests right between you and your spouse. Don’t worry. It’s not a bad thing. He’s perfectly safe and can even protect your marriage. This dragon has rested between spouses since the beginning of time. Couples used to honor their dragon. They believed love could not live unless their dragon protected it. It was a badge of honor for a married couple to tame the dragon and keep him healthy in the home they built together. Scripture even tells us God owns this pet dragon. It was not until the 19th century that this dragon fell out of vogue. People began to fear it. They began to believe this dragon represented danger to the subdued, secretive emotional life of the family. What if the dragon wasn’t so tame? What if it suddenly went wild, triggered by some threat? After all, there had been incidents in which the docile dragon suddenly went wild, dangerously thrashing about in an uncontrolled fit of anger. Still, these incidents only occurred when something or someone threatened the dragon’s owners or if the owners did not protect the dragon’s sense of safety and security. If the couple cares for the dragon’s home, assuring his sense of security, he remains perfectly safe to have in the house.

This dragon’s name is Jealousy. Jealousy exists when we have a special relationship with someone. He reveals the priority we place on commitment, honesty, and security within our most intimate relationship. In that sense, jealousy remains a sleeping dragon until we experience some threat to our relationship. Something that arouses doubt in our partner’s commitment or honesty or threatens our sense of security in the relationship can make the dragon go wild. At that point, jealousy can feel uncontrollable and inescapable. It can even be tyrannical. “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy” made insecure (Proverbs 27:4). Here’s the thing. Jealousy resides in all our homes. The question becomes: how do we tame jealousy in marriage?  Jealousy remains tame when living in an environment in which he feels safe and secure. So, create an environment of security by doing the following.

  • Learn about your own insecurities. Each of us has our own insecurities that we can cast onto the relationship from time to time. If we view ourselves as unlovable, too fat, not smart enough, not good enough or some other negative epitaph, we are setting the stage for jealousy to go wild. Begin to work on yourself. Unload your own baggage.  Learn to see yourself through the eyes of God. Learn to accept yourself as having many good, lovable traits. Accept that there are areas of growth for all of us and then begin to grow.
  • Build an environment of trust. Follow through on promises. Develop a mindset that seeks to honor your spouse. Focus on and admire those qualities that endear you to your spouse. Verbalize your admiration and gratitude often.
  • Celebrate your love. Create a daily ritual in which you sit down with your spouse to share your daily joys, successes, sorrows, and shortcomings.  Create a weekly ritual in which you share a date with your spouse. You can go out or can stay in for this date. Either way, dedicate the time of the date to your spouse—no cell-phone, no interruptions…just you and your spouse.

These three practices will help you tame the dragon together…and enjoy your love.

Kindness: An Endangered Species

I want to put a new species on the endangered species list. It’s not what you think, but I have considered the criteria. To become listed on the endangered species list, a species “must be determined to be endangered or threatened because of any of the following factors:

  • The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range;
  • Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes;
  • Disease or predation;
  • The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or
  • Other natural or manmade factors affecting its survival.”

We have an endangered species that threatens to destroy our family ecosystem. What is the endangered species? Kindness. Wait, hear me out. Kindness meets the criteria.

  • Kindness is threatened in our society. It’s habitat is slowly being replaced by an environment filled with rude words, a lack of politeness, and the presence of hate groups in the media. The concept of kindness has been slandered as ineffective in helping one succeed in life (“it’s a dog eat dog world” after all) and the domain of the insincere trying to manipulate the naïve. I once pulled over to help a young lady whose car had broken down. She hid behind her car, afraid that my kindness was a ruse for some dreadful behavior. The habitat of kindness is threatened.
  • Some businesses have overutilized kindness for commercial reasons. They use kindness to win the client, make the sale, or appease the angry customer. In other words, kindness has become a tool, a means to selfish ends. This is not true everywhere; but it has proven true often enough to raise our suspicions when we experience kindness. Even the kind stranger is suspect in our eyes as we wait for him to become the beggar asking alms.
  • Kindness is threatened by the societal disease of busy-ness and stress also. We constantly remain on the move from one activity to another. Busy-ness leaves no time for kindness. Busy-ness leads to stress and stress threatens kindness.

That’s three of the five areas in which kindness meets the endangered species criteria, and you only need to meet one criterion to make the list. Perhaps you would make a case that kindness is threatened by existing regulatory mechanisms or other manmade factors as well.  But, already, kindness meets the criteria for an endangered species. When kindness becomes endangered, our families suffer. So, what can we do to save kindness? To stabilize the habitat and family ecosystem and empower it to support kindness? Let me make three suggestions.

  • Stop negative speech. This takes work. Stop venting for venting’s sake. Don’t talk about the negatives unless you are doing so to constructively seek an alternative. That means no criticizing without a compassionate solution. No eye rolling. No sighing in exasperation. No grumbling. No putting the other person down, whether talking to them or to someone else. Stop the negative. 
  • Look for the good. Mr. Rogers says to “look for the helpers.” Rabbi Harold Kushner adds, “If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the Soul.” So, in the words of Roy T. Bennett, “Discipline your mind to think positively; to see the good in every situation and look on the best side of every event.”  Then turn the good you see into kindness by verbally acknowledging it, praising it, lifting it up for all to see.
  • Model kindness. Do something kind every day. Hold a door open. Thank a checkout clerk. Give up your seat on the bus. Let the other driver merge. Help a child with homework. Do something kind every day. Kindness is catchy.  In fact, it’s so catchy it just might “go viral.”  But it can’t go viral until someone begins with an act of kindness. Why not start the kindness epidemic in your family today?

It’s Time…for #redeemingFacebook

I recently saw a friend’s post in which he suggested giving up Facebook for Lent. He was frustrated with the constant bickering, criticism, accusation, and harshness on Facebook. I don’t blame him. What we focus on becomes what we see. Focus on things that frustrate, anger, and divide… and you will see more things that frustrate, anger, and divide. And Facebook seems to have a real knack at bringing the negative into greater focus and seduce us into dwelling in the downward cycle of negativity. So, maybe my friend has a good idea. Give up Facebook. In fact, at least one study found that heavy Facebook users reported greater life satisfaction and positive emotions after only a week-long “vacation” from Facebook.

I wonder, though, if we might find an even better solution. Rather than give up Facebook, maybe we can begin #redeemingFacebook for a better end. Why not redeem Facebook to focus on kindness, goodness, and peace? That would change the focus of Facebook invite us to create an upward spiral in which to dwell. How would we redeem Facebook? Let me suggest a few ways.

  • We could begin #redeemingFacebook for kindness. Rather than posting items that showcase actions and words that frustrate or anger us, post items that showcase kindness and compassion.  See someone do a kind deed…post it. Have an especially attentive waitress…post it. Engage in a “random act of kindness”…post your experience. Post items that tell of people sharing, helping, loving, and encouraging.
  • We could start #redeemingFacebook for the acknowledgement of good in the world. For instance, post stories that focus on the “helpers” in times of crisis rather than the perpetrators. Post stories acknowledging the efforts of those striving to serve others in kindness. Post pictures of  beautiful places. Post descriptions of beautiful actions. Post a positive statement about your community or school. Post items praising efforts at improving difficult situation.  
  • Begin #redeemingFacebook for the pursuit of peace. Rather than making posts about controversial, divisive topics, create posts that showcase people coming together in service. Acknowledge those who reach across lines that divide us and intentionally come together in serving one another.  
  • Start #redeemingFacebook for civil, respectful discussions about things over which disagree. We will always find plenty to disagree about. However, we could begin #redeemingFacebook by keeping our posts civil. No name-calling. No accusations. No demeaning one group. Instead, make  posts that communicate a desire to understand a different opinion. Use posts to find and acknowledge the good in one another, even those with whom you disagree. Work hard to discover the positive intent in those who think differently than you.     

Robin S. Sharma is credited with saying: “What you focus on grows, what you think about expands, and what you dwell upon determines your destiny.” What do we want to determine our destiny and the destiny of our children: divisiveness, anger, and hate or kindness, goodness, and peace?  Imagine if the most common posts on Facebook were about kindness, peace, and goodness and the negative posts were the exception, drowned out among all the positive posts of kindness, goodness, and peace. I don’t know if it can happen, but we can begin by #redeemingFacebook. I’m going to do my part. Let’s start a #redeemingFacebook campaign. Will you join me in #redeemingFacebook?

Who Needs a Prescription for Play?

I read an article that began by stating “A new paper in the journal Pediatrics summarizes the evidence for letting kids let loose.”  I thought, “Interesting.” The authors of this article went on to encourage pediatricians to write a “prescription for play” for their youngest patients. Why would they write a “prescription for play”? Because play, intrinsically motivated and unstructured fun, is disappearing from the lives of our children…and with it the benefits of play are disappearing from their lives. What are the benefits of play? Here are five benefits discussed in the article.

  • Play promotes brain development. Specifically, play promotes the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is important for learning and growing healthy connections between neurons in the brain. In other words, play primes the brain for learning.
  • Play reduces obesity and diseases associated with obesity. Running, jumping, and climbing helps children build confidence in their physical ability. It helps them learn the limits of their body as well. Knowing the limits helps them remain safe (Let Them Take a Risk). The physical activity of play helps them develop into physically active and healthy adults. In fact, children who got the most outdoor time were 42% less likely to be overweight.
  • Play contributes to improved behavior and reduced stress. Children resolve traumatic events through play, working through the troubling aspects of the trauma so they can learn to “put it behind them” rather than let it intrude into their present lives. Obviously, this will reduce stress in the child’s life. Moreover, a study in which teachers engaged children in one-on-one play led to improved behavior in the children who engaged in play compared to a control group. (Investing Time & Attention in Your Children)
  • Play helps families to bond. Play brings people together. It helps us learn to listen and it teaches us to compromise. Play helps us attune to our children emotionally, mentally, and physically. This attunement allows us to help our children learn to manage their emotions in an effective manner. (Make Your Child a Head Taller Than Himself)
  • Play contributes to academic success. Play encourages language development, the exploration of ideas, the ability to delay gratification, and spatial relationships. Each of these skills contribute to academic success. Blocks encourage increased knowledge in putting words, ideas, or architectural materials together. Playing store promotes social skills, math, and negotiation skills. Imaginative play promotes storytelling and self-regulation. Physics, social skills, language development, storytelling, arithmetic, geometry, emotional regulation…it can all be found in play. And children learn it faster and better while playing. (Learn more in Have Fun AND Reduce Childhood Aggression.)

We could expand on this list of the benefits of play, but you get the idea. Let the children play. I’m not a pediatrician, but I am a “doctor” of psychology. So, if you need a prescription, here it is: “Your child is to engage in imaginative, unstructured play for at least one hour per day.” 

Follow that prescription and your children will flourish…and you could find yourself rejoicing in their growth and maturity!

Improve Your Marriage & Have Fun Doing It!

Remember when you first met your spouse? The excitement of new love? The longing to see them as often as you could? The endless conversations as you got to know one another?  Remember the nervousness when you decided to disclose some new personal information to them? And the excitement of experiencing acceptance anyway? How about the laughter and the thrill of trying something new just because your spouse-to-be enjoyed it? These all represent moments of self-expansion, growth, and learning.  They drew you and your spouse together. These moments were the building blocks of intimacy and love.

Jump forward several years, perhaps even to today. Are things getting routine? Feeling kind of bored? Feel like your marriage is in a rut? Maybe you even feel a little dissatisfied and wonder how to “liven things up” a bit. Do you miss the “spark,” the burning ember of love that seems to have slowly cooled and grown…comfortable?  Then I have good news!

Research reported (in 2000) in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology offers a great solution. Turn back to your spouse and do the things you did when you first fell in love. Literally, grab your spouse and do something you both enjoyed but haven’t done since you first met. Or, better yet, do something completely new, something you’ve never done before, not even when you were dating. Play a new game, cook a new meal, try a new activity, take a trip to a new place. (If you can’t think of anything else, try the activity used in the study. Tie yourself to your spouse on one side by the wrist and ankle before crossing a gymnasium floor that includes at least one obstacle. It doesn’t sound exciting…so maybe try taking a hike or flying a kite together.) Whatever activity you choose, make sure it is a novel activity, a new activity for you as a couple.

When you engage in these novel activities, you and your spouse will learn new things. You will grow and experience an expanding sense of who you are as a couple. Even better, research suggests that when you engage in these novel, fun, and exciting activities together, you will feel better about your relationship. You will grow more supportive and accepting of one another. In other words, your marriage will grow stronger and more intimate. Now isn’t that worth a little bit of fun along the way?

Toddlers Prefer What Kind of People?

Two people bump into one another on a narrow street while going in opposite directions. After some interaction, one bows down and moves aside to let the other go on his way. Which one does a toddler like best: the one who bows and steps aside or the one who got his way?

In another instance, two people bump into one another on a narrow street while going in opposite directions. After some interaction, one pushes the other one down and goes on his way. Which one does the toddler like best: the one who uses violence to get his way or the one who was pushed?

In a final scenario, a person is trying to accomplish a goal. One person steps in to help him achieve his goal. A different person steps in to impede him from reaching his goal. Which one does the toddler like best: the one who helps or the one who impedes?  

Researchers have used puppets to explore all three of these scenarios with toddlers.  In the first scenario the toddlers liked the one who got his way rather than the one who bowed and moved aside. However, in the second scenario they did not like the one who got his way through violence and force (read Toddlers prefer winners, but avoid those who win by force for more). In the final scenario, they liked the one who helped the other achieve his goal (Check out Can Babies Tell Right From Wrong on YouTube for more).

Isn’t that interesting? Even toddlers show a preference for certain types of people. Specifically, they like those who win in conflict due to social status without the use of force or violence. And, they like those who help others. They do not like those who are mean or violent. Seems obvious, but think about what this means for parents and families? I think it encourages us to do at least three things for the benefit of our children. 

  • Model kindness in your own life. Be kind to one another within the family and be kind to those outside the family. Not only will this model good values, it will nurture your children’s admiration of, and respect for, you as a parent as well. This, in turn, will increase their willingness to listen, live by family values, and cooperate when family disagreements arise.
  • Accept respect and kindness from others. Let your children see you graciously accept positions of status or prestige while remaining humble. Knowing that you hold a position of some respect can nurture your children’s sense of security…but this is only true if you accept that respect graciously. And, we all hold a position of prestige and respect as a parent. Accept that honor and respect from your children with grace and humility.
  • Do not respond violently toward others. This not only includes physical violence but verbal and relational violence as well. We can become violent in our words, our tone of voice, or our volume just as much as we can through physical stature and actions. We can also show violence in our attitude toward others,  by demeaning another person’s character or undermining another person’s authority in a given situation. Each of these represents violence. Seeing this violence in their parents can reduce children’s respect for, and trust in, them.  Children do not like to be around people who can become mean and violent. It’s scary, frightening. Do not become violent toward your spouse (in how you disagree, talk about them, or talk to them), toward your children (in your discipline, in your words to them, or your descriptions of them), or toward anyone outside the family. Instead, show kindness.

Model kindness. Graciously and humbly accept respect and kindness from others. Do not be mean; do not respond to others with violence of any kind. As you engage in these three practices, you will nurture your relationship with your children and encourage them to grow in kindness and grace. Who could ask for more?

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