Archive for Author John Salmon

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.

4 Tips to Help Your Children Overcome Anxiety

The number of children and teens diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression has increase from 5.4% in 2003 to 8.4% in 2011-2012. The percentage of children who experience a clinical level of anxiety has increased from 3.5% in 2007 to 4.1% in 2011-2012. Those may sound like low percentages but take a moment to consider what they mean on a more practical level. Almost one in 20 children suffer from anxiety. Just in your child’s classroom, there is probably at least one child who suffers with anxiety. And, two in 25 children suffer from anxiety, depression, or both. In your child’s classroom there are children who suffer from either anxiety, depression, or both. That’s the bad news. The good news: you can help your child overcome anxiety. You can help them learn to manage their own anxiety with these four tips.

  • Examine your own life and response to your children’s anxiety. Do you accommodate their anxiety by “bending over backwards” to comfort them when they voice anxiety? Do you help them avoid those things that make them feel anxious? If so, you send an implicit message of “I know you can’t do this on your own, so I have to help you. I have to do it for you.” You undermine their confidence. You perpetuate and strengthen their anxiety. Take a serious look at your response to your children’s anxiety and root out any way in which your behaviors may support your children’s anxiety. Then, decide to change those behaviors. You cannot change another person, but you can change your behavior. Consider how you will respond to your children’s anxiety in the future. You can use the tips below.
  • Show empathy. When you children say they are scared or nervous or anxious about something, empathize. Let them know you understand how scary it is. Give voice to their anxiety. Acknowledge it and how it makes them feel. Label the anxiety and any other feelings that may accompany it. But, don’t stop there. 
  • Encourage and empower your children after you empathize. Offer statements that support their ability and strength after you acknowledge their anxiety. “I can see how this scares you, but I know you can handle this.” Rather than give in to their anxiety and accommodate their fear by making it easier, support their ability to manage it, survive, and even accomplish. Giving your children this kind of support lets them know you believe in them. Your children’s confidence will increase as their secure base (you) voice confidence in their ability.
  • Praise your children after they finish whatever task had aroused the anxiety. You don’t have to go overboard. Simply acknowledge their courage to do the task even in the face of their anxiety. Let them know you are proud of their effort. Point out their strength.

Examine yourself. Empathize. Encourage. Praise. As you do these four things in response to those things that arouse your children’s fear and anxiety, they will grow more confident. They may still feel anxiety, but they will also act courageously in the face of their anxiety. They will manage their anxiety in creative ways and accomplish the very tasks that used to make them run in fear. They will learn and grow. (For more read Preventing Anxiety & Insecurity in Your Children and A Daily Activity to Decrease Anxiety.)

Generosity Can Save Your Marriage!!

Every now and again, I bring home flowers for my wife. (Now that I think about it, maybe I should do that today.) We put them in a vase with water and enjoy them…until they wilt. We also have flowers in a flower garden in our back yard. Guess which flowers last longer. You know it; the flowers in our backyard. They are planted in rich, nurturing soil that generously provides the nutrients they need to grow and blossom time and again.

Our marriages also need a rich, nurturing soil to generously provide the nutrients necessary for our marriages to grow and blossom time and again. Each spouse is part of the rich soil in which your marriage is planted. And, from our richness we need to generously provide at least seven nourishing qualities in extravagant abundance to our spouse and our marriage.

  • Generously give your time…lots of it. I’ve quoted it before and I’ll quote it again, “Love is spelled T.I.M.E.” We give our time to those people and things that are important to us. So, make sure your “Daily Planner” reflects the priority of your spouse and your marriage. Give them the time reflective of their value. (Practice a marital sabbath to give time to your spouse.)
  • Generously give your caring attention and presence. Spending time with your spouse is important. However, it takes more than merely being a body in their vicinity. Lavish them with your caring attention. Let your active daily involvement in your spouse’s life, your presence in their life, speak of your concern, love, and affection.
  • Generously give your ears. Remember the saying, “You have two ears and one mouth so you can listen twice as much as you talk.” Give your spouse your ears in abundance. Listen deeply. Listen intently. Listen to understand. Listen. Listen. Listen. (Listening deeply in this way will prove a powerful way to improve your marriage.)
  • Generously give your affection. It’s been said “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth” (Virginia Satir). Don’t keep your marriage on a survival mode. Be generous. Give your marriage what it needs for growth, lots and lots of affection in words and actions every day. (For more on the power of generous hugs and affection read And a Hug to Grow On.)
  • Generously give simple acts of kindness and service. Kindness and service are powerful. They proclaim our love. They melt hearts and restore relationships. They nurture an environment of encouragement. They stimulate greater intimacy. Give kindness and service to your spouse with extravagant generosity. (Try these 31 Acts of Kindness to Strengthen Your Marriage.)
  • Generously give forgiveness. We all make mistakes. We all need forgiveness from time to time. Forgiveness is necessary for a marriage to survive and flourish. Give your spouse forgiveness as often as needed. And, if you’re asking for forgiveness bear the fruit of repentance with great abundance.
  • Generously give prayer for your spouse’s well-being. Notice I say pray for your spouse’s “well-being.” Don’t ask that they change to become the person you want them to become. Accept them and pray for their well-being. Pray for their happiness. Pray for them to feel loved. ….(Read Improve Your Marriage with One Simple, Daily Activity for more on the power of prayer in your marriage.)

Yes, generosity can save your marriage. Throw caution to the wind and start lavishing these seven gifts of grace on your spouse today. And watch your marriage blossom and grow.

Get Your Child on the Sleepy Train

Sleep is crucial for a child’s healthy development and mental health. (See Your Teen & The Importance of Sleep to learn how important sleep is for teen health.) Unfortunately, our world of constant busy-ness and digital stimuli does not lend itself well to healthy sleep routines. In fact, they make it all the more important for parents to help their children develop a healthy, effective, and independent bed-time routine. Even then, our children sometimes “lose the routine” because of bad dreams, transitions, changes in schedule…all kinds of things can impact the routine. I recently discovered three ideas to help establish an effective bed-time routine or get it back on track after it has been derailed. Maybe they will help in your family.

  • Have some practice sessions. We encourage our children to practice their sports, their spelling, their instruments. Why not practice their bedtime routine? These practice sessions don’t actually involve going to sleep. But they do involve going through the pre-bedtime routine. Brushing teeth, saying prayers, getting a snack, reading a book…whatever the routine you have established, go through it during the daytime. As you do, acknowledge how well your child does each step. Gush a little over their efforts and success. Make it fun and light-hearted. You want them to enjoy the routine and find it rewarding in and of itself.
  • Take a break. As you go through your child’s bedtime routine, lie down with them. Then let them know you need to take care of something (like use the restroom or turn off a light) and will be back in a minute. Leave the room, do something that takes a minute or so, return to your child, and lay back down with them. The next night leave for two minutes. The third night, 3 minutes. Each night leave for a minute or so longer. You get the idea. Always return just as you said but let the “break” take longer and longer. Your child will become more independent falling asleep alone.
  • “Excuse me” is an exercise very much like the take a break. However, in this one you note some chore (a 15-20 minute job) you have to get done. You let your child know you’re going to go take care of it and then come back in to check on them. Always keep your promise and come back to check. Even if they fall asleep (which we hope they do), check in and give them a kiss on the forehead. The next morning, acknowledge that they had fallen asleep when you returned. Let them know you kissed them on the forehead and, most important of all, let them know how proud you are of their ability to go to sleep on their own.

These ideas are not difficult. They take some time on your part as a parent. But, think of yourself as their sleep coach. Coaches always take a little time to teach their players a new skill. An added benefit of being your child’s sleep coach? You get to enjoy the time you spend with your child  coaching them in the skill of sleep. (In fact, see The Top 4 Times for Parent-Child Talks for the best times to connect with your child.) Sleep tight.

The SuperPower You Want in Your Marriage

All marriages experience stress—the stress of finances, raising children, getting everything done, household crises, simple arguments, the list goes on.   Sometimes couples respond with a pattern in which one partner demands, nags, or criticizes while the other partner shuts down, withdraws, or avoids (commonly called the demand/withdraw pattern). Of course, this negative pattern proves detrimental to a marriage…UNLESS you have this superpower. No, it is not the ability to fly or become invisible, shoot webs from your wrists to silence your partner, or run at the speed of light to escape. No, this superpower is much simpler than any of these…and more powerful in your marriage. Researchers at the University of Georgia revealed this superpower in a study involving 468 couples. They asked the couples about the quality of their marriage, their communication, their level of financial stress, and their use of this superpower. They discovered that this superpower “can counteract or buffer the negative effects” of negative communication styles like the demand/withdraw pattern described above. And, this superpower was “the most consistent and significant predictor or marital satisfaction” for both males and females. It increases marital satisfaction and commitment. It decreases the “proneness for divorce.” Sounds like a great superpower to have in your marriage, doesn’t it? Well, it’s easy to acquire and use. It may not come naturally, but you can train yourself in the use of this superpower. What is it? The power of gratitude. That’s it. Gratitude!

“Spousal expression of gratitude was the most consistent and significant predictor of marital quality for both” male and female. It increased marital satisfaction and commitment. So, start practicing this simple superpower in your marriage today…right now. Really, go show your spouse some gratitude. I’m sure they’ve done something in the last twenty-four hours for which you can thank them. A simple “Thank you” is all it takes. Now, keep your eyes open for other opportunities to thank your spouse and thank them every chance you get. This superpower will do wonders for your marriage.

“If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say”…& Other Nuggets of Wisdom

Do you remember any sayings and proverbs you learned in childhood? They may have come from Aesop’s Fables or a children’s story like Pinocchio or Proverbs in the Bible. Maybe you heard them from teachers, your parents, scout leaders, coaches, or any number of other adults. They were proverbs that encouraged certain behaviors…behaviors that promoted personal character and corporate civility. Several such sayings came to my mind the other day as I listened to the daily rhetoric of the news. I felt a twinge of sadness and realized how desperately we need the wisdom of these proverbs in our world today. With that in mind, maybe we need to start by reviving them in our families. We begin by teaching them to our children and modeling them in our lives.  In case you need a reminder, here are just a few of my favorites.

  • “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” Ironically, this saying seems to have two meanings. One, if you live in a glass house (are vulnerable) don’t throw stones at the guy who lives in a brick house. In other words, “don’t dish it out if you can’t take it” (which is another saying). On the other hand, we all live in glass houses, don’t we?  We all have our own vulnerabilities. Before we start casting stones at another person’s faults, we need to take a good look at our own. Or, in the words of another saying, “Take the log out of your own eye before you worry about the splinter in the other guy’s eye.” We desperately need to consider all three sayings in our world today.
  • “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  Other than hearing it from my mother, I heard it first from Thumper on Bambi. (By the way, Thumper also has a nice quote about “families that play together.” See them both in this short clip.) Wouldn’t it be nice to hear a little more of “saying nothing” today?
  • Another truth heard in a Disney movie came from the Blue Fairy. She told Pinocchio that “A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as clear as the nose on your face.” You’ve heard the flip side of this proverb in the more popular “honesty is the best policy.” A little more truth and a few shorter noses on the faces of our local Pinocchio’s faces would definitely improve our lives around here.
  • Of course, we can’t forget “Actions speak louder than words” or “He who does a thing well does not need to boast.”  Aesop’s fable of The Boasting Traveler drives this point home. Tell it to your family over dinner or watch it in ChirpyStory. It’s a great reminder to not boast.
  • “There are two sides to every story and the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.” I’d always heard “there are two sides to every story” to encourage me to listen to other people’s ideas.  But experience has taught me the rest of the saying, that “the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.”  Our extremist world would definitely benefit from learning to listen to both sides of a story and then seeking the whole truth.

There are many more proverbs we need to put into practice. We need to teach our children these proverbs and sayings. We need to practice them in our own lives in the presence of our children. As we do, our families will benefit from the wisdom of the ages. Perhaps our children will carry these proverbs into their adulthood and our whole society will benefit from the wisdom of the ages. Let’s start practicing them today. Maybe you have other favorites you think our families would benefit from practicing. Share them below so we can all learn from the wisdom of the ages.

Parents Be Careful What You Say (AKA, Don’t Give Your Power Away)

Have you ever had “one of those weeks”? I have. We all have. Then, you come home and everything your children do and say becomes a source of irritation. Later, you tell your friend (or maybe you even say it to your children), “They were really pushing my buttons.”  And there it is, a phrase that gives your parental authority away. “You’re pushing my buttons” gives all your parental power to the person pushing your buttons…your children.  It disempowers us and leaves us at the mercy of the “button-pusher.”

A similar phrase with similar results is, “You’re driving me crazy.” Just like “They’re pushing my buttons,” this phrase is often followed by the great “giving in.”  “You’re driving me crazy; just do what you want.” “You’re driving me crazy; go ahead and….” After all, no one likes the “drive to crazy.”  We all want to get off the road as soon as possible, hopefully in what’s left of our “little oasis of sanity.”  Unfortunately, we give away power every time we get to the place of “You’re driving me crazy” and blindly drive right by our desired “oasis of sanity.”  

“You’re pushing my buttons” and “you’re driving me crazy” both give away parental authority and place it squarely in the hands of our children. When we make these statements, we have neglected our own power to manage our “buttons” and our “drive.” We have given our power to our children. And, our children know how to use it. Once they know how to “push our buttons” and “drive us crazy” to get what they want, they will do it over and over again.

Instead of letting the little munchkins “push your buttons” and “drive you crazy,” step back and take a breath. Soothe your own emotions. Realize that your children are not in control of your emotions, you are. Take control of your emotions. Take a break and collect your emotions and get back on the road to sanity…take charge of your buttons.

After you take control of yourself and our emotions, get curious. Begin to wonder, “what is actually going on”? Give an objective description of the situation and what led up to it. Make sure you have an objective description of what your children are doing, what they are asking for, and how they are asking. And, get curious about why your children are approaching you in this manner. Have you taught them this type of interaction? Have you been feeling tired and so been a little distant lately? Are they tired? Are they going through a phase of demandingness? Get curious and get some answers.

Finally, seek a solution. Stay calm. Set a limit. Give a choice. Make a deal. Any number of options may prove a great solution to the particular situation in which you find yourself. Get curious, be creative, and seek a solution. As you take control of yourself, get curious, and seek a solution you’ll find your children “push your buttons” less often. They won’t be “driving you crazy” so much. You will have a greater parental authority allowing you to lovingly respond to crises, demands, and requests that arise.

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