Parenting & Science

Remember way back in middle school, maybe even elementary school, when you first learned the “scientific method”? If so, you might remember the first step in the scientific method. The very first step any good scientist makes is on of observation. She becomes curious about some event or experience she observed. Her observations lead her to recognize patterns and those patterns raise interesting questions. What’s happening? How did it start? What are the possible outcomes? What forces create the event? Interesting questions then lead to compelling hypotheses and exciting research to assess the possible patterns.

Like effective scientific research, effective parenting begins with observation. Effective parents observe their children with a keen curiosity. When we sit back and observe and, by doing so, we learn about our children. We begin to see patterns in their personality. We recognize their strengths and identify their areas of growth. Observation helps us learn patterns like how they interact, resolve conflict, and solve problems. We learn what bothers them, what interests them, and so much more.  Recognizing all these patterns and characteristics in our children increases our trust in them. We better appreciate their abilities and, as a result, let them practice more independence. Observation also helps us discipline more effectively. We will know how to best intervene when the need arises. In other words, observation helps us identify various patterns in our children behaviors and personality. When something unusual happens, our observations allow us to ask interesting questions. Those interesting questions eventually become compelling hypotheses that help us intervene effectively to teach our children what they need to grow and mature.  (Read Parents as Perpetual Students for more on parenting effectively by observing our children.) So, begin your parenting efforts like a scientist. Sit back and observe. Let your curiosity grow and learn about your children. You will love the results.

A Paradoxical Way to Strong Family

In a previous post I mentioned that the best family advice I’ve ever heard wasn’t even family advice. It was discipleship advice. And, it was given by a man who was single and even alienated from His own family at the time He gave voice to this advice. The advice comes in two parts. Part one was to “deny yourself.”  Part two is to “take up your cross.”  When this advice was first spoken, the cross was a way to punish, in a very public and humiliating way, those who threatened the way the world was organized under the ruling authority of the Romans. To take up our cross as a family means to live a family life that will stand in stark contrast to the world around us, to have a revolutionary family life based on principles in opposition to the “world powers” around us. Let me explain by offering a few examples.

  • The world encourages us to assert our power, stand up for our rights. A family that “takes up a cross” will submit to one another in love and service.
  • The world encourages us to promote ourselves and “build our brand.” We are told to climb the ladder of success on the backs of others because it’s a “dog eat dog world.” A family that “takes up a cross” will encourage one another, promote one another’s success, and build one another up rather than focus on my own success.
  • The world calls us to achieve a status in which we can BE served. A family that “takes up a cross” strives TO serve one another within the family and TO serve others as a family.
  • The world encourages leadership through power brokerage techniques, such as taking charge, delegation, and telling others what to do. A family that “takes up a cross” will lead through love. Each one will want to lead in forgiveness, showing kindness, and serving one another.

The family that “takes up a cross” exhibits different values than the family that lives according to “the world system.” It may, at times, lead to some ridicule or misunderstanding from those outside the family. However, it will also lead to a stronger more intimate family. “Taking up a cross” creates a family whose strength is found in humble service, loving accountability, sincere encouragement, and kindness.  It sounds odd, even wrong, but taking up your cross to build a strong and intimate family is a wise and powerful action to take!

Hard-to-Swallow, But Amazingly Effective, Family Advice

Some of the best family advice I’ve ever heard wasn’t even family advice. It was discipleship advice. And, it was given by a man who was single, even alienated somewhat His own family at the time He gave voice to this advice. Before I tell you the advice, I have to offer a warning. It’s hard-to-swallow advice. It sounds foreign to our ears, dissonant with the prevailing cultural norms; but, it’s still great marital advice. It comes in two parts. The first part of this hard-to-swallow marital advice is “deny yourself.” I told you it’s hard to swallow.  It’s not popular advice. Practiced wisely, however, it will lead to a strong marriage and family.

When you are completely honest with yourself, you probably know this advice is true. But we don’t like it. Culture teaches us to watch out for “number 1” rather than “deny ourselves.” Still, in our moments of self-reflective honesty, we recognize the inherent value of “denying ourselves” for families.  Think about it. Truly effective parents deny their own wishes and desires to meet the needs of their children all the time.

  • Parents deny their desire to go out whenever they want in order to stay home and put the baby to bed or feed them or care for them when they’re sick.
  • Parents deny their own wishes for new shoes or some other purchase to assure their children have nice clothes for school or get that special dinner for their birthday.
  • Parents deny themselves of sleep so they can comfort a crying baby or care for their sick child.
  • Parents deny themselves of the opportunity to avoid those things they find disgusting or gross in order to change diapers and clean up vomit.
  • Parents deny themselves of an afternoon of ease in order to run children to activities, wash clothes, or prepare snacks for their children’s visiting friends.
  • Parents deny themselves when they forget their own agenda for the moment in order to listen carefully to what sounds like child “ramblings” or to engage in child’s play.

It’s not just parents who deny self to express love in action and build a stronger family. Spouses do it as well. It can be seen in simple things like:

  • One spouse denying themselves by giving up control of the remote and watching what their spouse wants to watch.
  • Spouses denying themselves the freedom to go out with whoever they want whenever they want in order to accommodate their spouses’ desires for a night together or because they want to ease their spouses’ concerns.
  • Spouses deny themselves when they forget their own agenda in a conversation and focus on listening intently to what their spouse has to say.

Self-denial may be seen in more extravagant forms as well, like denying oneself of working extra overtime because it will take too much time away from family or being the first to offer forgiveness when a wrong is committed. The point is that healthy families practice self-denial in big and little ways every day. They “consider one another as more important than themselves” and “look not only to their own interests but to the interests of one another as well.” Joseph Campbell expressed the idea of self-denial in marriage when he said, “Marriage is not a simple love affair, it’s an ordeal and the ordeal is the sacrifice of ego to a relationship in which two have become one.” And, from Joseph Campbell once again, “When you make the sacrifice in marriage you’re sacrificing not to each other but to the unity of the relationship.”  To paraphrase slightly, “When you practice self-denial in family, you’re sacrificing the ego to a community we call family, you’re building the unity of your family.”

An Environmental Concern Hits Close to Home

We hear a lot about the environment these days. Just do a google search on “environmental concerns” and around 12,900,000 links come up in a mere .87 seconds. We worry about the polar bears’ habitat, the impact of wasting water and not recycling, and the consequences of global climate change on nature’s backdrop. These are all worthy causes and concerns that deserve our attention. But, in our zeal to address the natural environment, we often neglect an environment just as important and even closer to home, an environment very dear to my heart. If you are a parent or grandparent, it’s probably dear to your heart as well. I’m talking about the home environment in which our children live and grow. This environment will have a long reaching impact on our children and everything they do.  In other words, it will have a long-term impact on our social, political, and environmental world as our children grow up. As a result, the environment in which our children learn and grow needs our full attention.  Even better, we create this environment by our efforts and through our interactions. Let me share three things we can do to create the best environment for our children’s growth and maturity.

  1. Children need a safe environment in which to learn and grow. To keep an environment safe for our children means to keep it clear of anything which poses a significant threat to them at their particular developmental level. This may involve putting up safety gates and installing “baby-proofing” locks on cupboards to keep our toddlers safe. As our children become “middle schoolers,” establishing a safe environment may involve charging cell phones overnight in the kitchen rather than the bedroom. A safe environment also includes plenty of healthy food and sufficient rest. You get the idea. Think ahead and create a safe environment for your children. Creating a safe environment for children also relieves parents of stress. With less stress over their children’s safety, parents can relax and observe their children. They can learn more about their children and grow closer to them each day.
  2. Children need an environment that is cognitively challenging. This will include age appropriate toys and play objects with which children can interact and problem-solve. Things as simple as building blocks, dress up clothes, and balls provide appropriate stimulation. Even objects in nature like trees to climb, bugs to watch, hills to roll down, and water to play in provide opportunities to problem-solve, negotiate, and create. TV’s and video games, on the other hand, rob our children of the opportunities to problem-solve and create. So, the best environment for our children will limit screen-time and provide plenty of “passive toys” (Read Two Observations on Parenting for more.)
  3. Children need an emotionally nurturing environment in which to learn and grow. A key ingredient of an emotionally nurturing environment is an attentive parent. The attentive parent possesses keen observation skills. They use this skill to learn of their children’s strengths and weaknesses, to identify their children’s abilities and areas of growth. Their keen eye will identify ways to modify the environment to encourage positive behavior and stimulate growth, provide success and introduce challenges. The emotionally nurturing parent rejoices when their child rejoices and feels sorrow when their child feels sorrow. Yet, because the parents are not overwhelmed by their children’s emotions, they can help their child temper and manage those feelings in a positive way. Read The Wings on Which Your Children Soar to learn more about providing emotional nurturance for your children.

The environment our children encounter in the world can be harsh and cruel. Create a home environment filled with honor, grace, and celebration…an environment of love. Believe me—it will have a global impact. If you want proof of the potential global impact, check out this fascinating study involving hot sauce and attachment: Hot Sauce Vs. the Power of Relationship.

“Kingdom Family”-Another Great Family Camp Weekend

Just came home from the 2017 family camp weekend at Camp Christian. If you weren’t there, you missed a great weekend of fun, fellowship, and learning of God’s will for our family lives. Ken and Laurie Muller honored us with practical teaching focused on becoming part of the “Kingdom Family.” Using Psalm 128:1 as the primary verse, they described our “one job:” to walk and obey. We also learned about the importance of balance in our lives as we had the chance to walk a “tightrope” that was simply drawn on the ground. Although walking the tightrope drawn on the ground proved nearly impossible, the balance in our lives and our families can be found through the three P’s of prayer to God, provision from God, and peace by God. We then had the opportunity to ride a “bicycle built for two” (really, we got the chance to ride a tandem bike) and learn how communication helps us keep our balance as a couple. We also learned how the three R’s (respect one another, respond to one another, and react to problems with love) help our family run like a well-trained team…with an honoring voice and attitude proving an important aspect of precision teamwork. We even had a visiting knight, William, who encouraged us to be strong in our faith by wearing the full armor of God.

You can see we learned a lot…and we had a lot of fun. I love to see families smiling, laughing, sharing, and worshipping together. And I observed of all four this weekend. As the weekend came to an end, Ken and Laurie gave us “carry out orders” to go. (How often do you get to leave camp with a Chinese takeout container?)  This “carry out order” is a great tool to help us “carry out the orders” of our King, making us stronger kingdom families! Like a said, if you didn’t get to be with us this weekend you missed a great weekend of fun, fellowship, and learning how to live as a “Kingdom Family.”

Jim and Terry, thanks for organizing another great weekend. Ken and Laurie, thank you for sharing God’s wisdom in such a practical and meaningful way this weekend. And, thanks to “Bald Greg and the Dirty Pirates” (the name given our worship leaders by one of “bald Greg’s” students) for leading us in wonderful times of worship. I’m already looking forward to next year.

Back to School Traditions from Around the World

It happened again.  The summer flew by and school is upon us.  I know several parents that struggle with the transition back to school.  I know many more children who struggle with the transition back to school.  Children around the world experience this same struggle and, just like us, their families work to make the transition go more smoothly too. Maybe we can gain a few ideas to add to our own repertoire and make this transition better this year than ever before. With that in mind, here are a few traditions from around that world that might make the transition just a little bit easier. Give one or two a try and see what you think.

  • In Germany, children get a Schultuete on the first day of school. This large decorated paper cone is filled with school supplies and small presents.  Sending your child to school with a modified Schultuete may make the transition easier.
  • In Russia, children give their teachers colorful bouquets of flowers on the first day of school. The children receive balloons in return. Wouldn’t that be fun? It might even help build a better relationship with their teacher. How could you modify this to work with your children in your school district?
  • In Japan, children may pack a traditional first day of school lunch for good luck. The lunch includes rice with seaweed sauce and quail eggs. (Learn more here.) I don’t know if my kids would like that particular lunch, but a special lunch could go a long way in making the school transition a little easier.
  • Parents in Kazakhstan give their children a present filled with sweets, a pencil, and a candle on the first day of school. (Read more here.) Is there a small gift you might give your children to make school transition easier?
  • In India, the first day of school coincides with the monsoon season. As a result, children get a new umbrella to start the school year. Perhaps a new pair of jeans, a new shirt, or a new pair of shoes would work just as well in the US.

When all is said and done, your child will follow your lead as they return to school. Enjoy the transition back to school with your child. Build traditions around the transition. Celebrate the next step in “growing up.”  You can use the ideas from other countries to make it even more fun and educational…even if you have to modify them a little bit.

Don’t Need No App For That!

Seems today you can find an app for anything. People even feel the need to have an app before they do anything.

  • Don’t want to call certain people in a drunken stupor…”there’s an app for that.” (I think it might be better just to avoid the drunken state, but….)
  • Want to track your bowel movements (related diet, stress, bowel texture) and share “all that crap” with friends…”there’s an app for that.” Perhaps hard to believe, but it’s true.
  • On a slightly different note, want to keep track of every place in the world you have “taken a poop” (or would that be “left a poop,” anyway)…. Yes, “there’s an app for that.”
  • Tired of playing games on your device while your cat sits idly by lounging on the floor…”there’s an app for that.” Your cat can “catch” a digital mouse or fish depending on the app you choose. Now you can play your games without the guilt of your lonely cat staring at you with those big eyes. Hmmmmmm.
  • Find your teen’s behavior irritating? Show them whose boss (or whose best at irritating teen behavior) by irritating them with high frequency sounds…Yes, “there’s an app for that.”
  • Ever had to go to the bathroom in the middle of a movie but you don’t want to miss anything good? Well, you guessed it, “there’s an app for that.” This app will tell you the best times to run to the bathroom during a movie and fills you in on what you’ve missed during your trip.

See what I mean? You name it, “there’s an app for that.” Sesame Street even has a song to help teach its viewers “there’s an app for that.”  By the way, in case anyone out there can help create an app, I have a couple ideas for family apps to help families practice honor, grace, and celebration.  I want in on the act, but I don’t know how to create an app and, I guess there’s no app for that.

In the long run, though, you don’t need an app to build a strong family. In fact, focusing on your phone and internet device to play games and monitor bowel movements can really get in the way of family life.  So, I wanted to share just a few “app-free” ways to build a healthy family. The nice thing about each of these tools is you “don’t need no app for that!”

  • Sit down as a family and play a board game or a card game. While you play, talk. Enjoy one another’s company. Laugh.
  • Go for a walk. Get outside and walk along a creek or through a patch of woods or across the field. Walking in nature has a healing effect and it provides an opportunity to share. Take a walk to the store just to buy a drink. Talk and share as you walk.
  • Prepare a meal together. Then sit down and eat together. (Check out the benefits of this activity.)
  • Get your favorite book and read it out loud to one another.
  • Go fly a kite. You’d be surprised at the benefits of flying a kite.
  • Go for a bike ride.
  • Sit on the porch and watch the birds together (I’m doing that as I write this blog).
  • Have a campfire. Make some s’mores. Enjoy one another’s company and conversation. (A great family fun night.)
  • Go to the zoo…or the museum. Then talk about your favorite parts over some ice cream.
  • For more ideas, read this.

You get the idea. These activities are simple and there are many more. Even though they are simple, they build family togetherness. They increase family intimacy. And, you “don’t need no app for that!”

The Happiness of Quadrupling Your Salary

Imagine getting called into your boss’s office the moment you walk into work. Hesitantly, you enter her office and sit down. Butterflies flit about in your stomach as your boss, with a very serious look in her eyes, leans forward to say, “I am so pleased with your work that I decided to quadruple your salary.” Relief chases away the butterflies from your stomach and joy spreads a smile across your face. Can you imagine the happiness you’d feel?  Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Sadly, it will probably never happen.  But, what would you say if I told you another way to increase your happiness the same amount as quadrupling your income? Putman, a professor of public policy at Harvard University, knows a way.  He quantifies how marriage can impact happiness. “The strongest predictors of happiness by far are our social relationships” and “marriage can cause an increase in happiness equal to a quadrupling salary.” (Read more here.) Isn’t that amazing? Marriage can cause an increase in happiness equal to quadrupling your salary.  I agree… with one caveat. Happiness is not increased by any old marriage. Only healthy marriages increase happiness; unhealthy marriages, on the other hand, rob couples of happiness. So, if you want a marriage that increases happiness as much as quadrupling your income, build a healthy marriage. To help you do that, here are ten simple ways to build a healthy marriage.

  1. Greet each morning with a positive and loving statement like “Good morning. I love you.”
  2. Share a kiss any time you part during the day.
  3. Share a hug and a kiss each time you reunite. Make it an intentional 10-second oxytocin hug at least on time each day.
  4. Express gratitude for your spouse every day. Thank them for something they did, compliment something about their appearance, share a character trait you admire, etc. You get the idea. Express gratitude for your spouse every day.
  5. Look at your partner and listen when they talk to you. Put down the newspaper, get off the cell phone, look away from the TV, and look at your spouse. Let them know you understand.
  6. Do one nice thing for your spouse every day. Take out the garbage. Wash the dishes. Make the bed. Wash the car. Clean the kitty litter. Anything. Just do something nice!
  7. Remain polite toward your spouse, even when you’re angry or tired. Remember to use words like “please” and “thank you.” Hold the door open. Let your spouse go first.
  8. Touch…in and out of the bedroom.
  9. Celebrate the good moments of each day together. Take a moment at the end of each day to recall the good and joyous moments of the day.
  10. Ask your spouse what else you could do to make them feel more secure in your relationships, what you can do to show them how much you love them.

I’m sorry I can’t manage to quadruple your salary, but you’ll find the same increase in happiness by increasing the quality of your marriage. Give those 10 tips a try and enjoy the increase in happiness.

Letting Go One Step at a Time

Our youngest daughter moved out of our house and into her college room today. I won’t get to tell her “good night” at the end of each day, hear her come down the stairs in the morning to start her day, or enjoy our “Tuesday Daddy-Daughter Days” now.  On the other hand, I won’t have to ask her to put her stuff away every day or work my way through her leftovers in the fridge. I will really miss her daily presence in my life. Still, I have to say, it’s not the first time I’ve had to watch her take a step away from me and toward independence. This is just another step in a series of steps that began many years ago with the words, “No, I do” as she pulled away from me to zip her own coat. Some of her steps have been sure-footed, some hesitant. Most have proven more difficult for me than they were for her. She has learned the pace most comfortable for her in stepping toward independence. She has grown more confident in her abilities. Me…well, I’m just a “therapist with separation anxiety” (her words, by the way). I don’t completely agree with her assessment, but I have to admit…I have experienced some separation anxiety with each step she has taken. Overall, watching my daughter mature and walk toward independence has increased my joy. But, I have experienced some separation anxiety…and, I have learned at least two things from this adventure of letting go.

  1. I learned the importance of observing my daughter closely. Observation builds a foundation for understanding our children’s strengths and interests. It allows us to learn about their competencies and their developmental abilities. Observation allowed me to see what my daughter had learned, what she already knew, and what she was ready to learn and do. With all this knowledge, I was better able to present opportunities that fit my daughter’s readiness to learn while still challenging her to grow. It allowed me to keep the environment conducive to her abilities. Observe your child closely and you will learn the same things about your children. Even learning all this, you might struggle to learn the second lesson. I know I did.
  2. I learned to trust my daughter to initiate and explore herself and her world. This meant I had to learn to believe in her competence to learn. Sure, I supported her exploring and learning (just check my pocket book), but I had to trust her enough to let her go, to take a step away, and explore more and more independently. I had to trust her ability to manage the discomfort of trying something new with only my distant watchful eye for support. I had to trust her to learn from her mistakes without rescuing her…or sheltering her from future mistakes. I had to trust her to learn her limitations and strengths. And, as she did, she became more confident. Her judgment improved. And, I could trust her more. Trusting your child to takes steps toward independence throughout life will do the same for you as well.

Observing will increase your ability to trust. As you trust, you will observe all the more and rejoice in the growth you see. All the while, you will find yourself letting go one step at a time and trusting each step of the way…even if it does still remain difficult to watch them grow up and leave home.

The Most Important Questions Your Children Never Asked

Remember the age when your children started asking questions? I don’t mean when they asked one or two questions. I’m talking about the age in which they did nothing but ask questions every waking hour of every day. They asked about everything. They even asked questions about the questions! It was a constant barrage of never ending questions. Even in the midst of all those questions your children probably never asked the questions listed below…not out loud anyway. Sure, they wanted the answers to these questions, they even needed the answers, but they didn’t ask them out loud. They asked these questions through behaviors like hanging around your legs, getting under your feet, pushing limits, and even disobeying a request while looking you straight in the eye. What questions were they asking without using their words? The truly important questions like:

  1. Will you set clear and fair rules and limits? Will you enforce those limits consistently or can I make you give in? Your consistency answers another question I have…will you really keep me safe? Am I safe to explore the world under your watchful, loving eye?
  2. Do you delight in me? When I walk in the room, do your eyes light up with joy or do you look bothered and annoyed? Am I lovable and delightful in your eyes…or am I a nuisance?
  3. Do you realize I’m still a kid? I don’t have the knowledge or experience you have. Will you match your expectations match with my ability or will you expect me to do things I don’t have the ability or knowledge to do yet? Will you teach me and help me experience success so I can grow more confident?
  4. I hear you and see you. I’m listening to you and watching you very closely every day. I learn from everything you say and do. What will I learn from you?
  5. Can you hear me? Can you respect my ideas, even if they’re different than your ideas? Can I be my own person or am I trapped being the person you want me to be?
  6. Do you see me or just my grades? My character or just my sporting ability? My dreams or my achievements?
  7. Can we play together? I talk best when we’re having fun. So, can we have fun together?
  8. Will you accept me even when I make mistakes, clumsily spill a drink, act like a 5-year-old, or have a different opinion than you?
  9. Will you ever give up on me? Will I ever do something so bad that you just get rid of me?
  10. Do you really love me?

Our children need to know the answers to these questions even though they may never ask them out loud. It doesn’t really matter if they ask out loud because we answer these questions whether we know it or not. Our children discover the answers to these questions in how you look at them, how we talk to them, how we act toward them, and how we interact with them.  They hear the answers in our speech and see the answers in our deeds. The answers they receive will shape their identity, their confidence, their desire to learn, their character, their self-concept.  So, let me ask one final question: what answers do your children hear from you in response to these questions?

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