Become Your Child’s Friendship Coach

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

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

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

One Simple Question to Stop the Marital Spat

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

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

Motivating Our Children

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

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

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

Family Happiness in 1938 AND Today

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

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

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

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

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

A Funny Happened on the Way to the…Donut?

Twenty-seven years ago I found a beautiful woman standing between me and a cream-filled chocolate-iced donut. She began to talk with me and I, with one eye still on “my” donut, spoke with her. Ironically, I enjoyed the conversation even more than the donut. Two years later, we married. This month, we celebrate a joyous twenty-five years of marriage. We’ve enjoyed many adventures and traversed many a struggle together during those 25 years. And, we’ve learned a few lessons about making marriage work.  Maybe these lessons can help another couple enjoy marriage as much as we do. I hope you find them helpful.

  1. Connect often. Connect with one another verbally, emotionally, and physically. Connect multiple times each day. There are so many ways to connect that it really isn’t that hard to do it multiple times each day. Talk to one another. Share stories of the day. Share memories. Talk about your joys and sorrows, fears and courageous acts. Give a kiss good-bye, hello, good night, good morning. Hug. Hold hands. Connect often.
  2. Focus on the positive in your spouse. Express gratitude for your spouse. Thank your spouse for what they do for you and your marriage. Tell your spouse what you admire about them. Focus on what makes your spouse beautiful as a person of character (internal beauty) and as a person with external beauty. Let them know the beauty you see.
  3. Work together. Be a team. When times get tough, work together to get through the troubles. Enjoy the good times together as well. Work together to keep your home and work together to raise your children. Working together will demand you talk to one another, discuss areas of difference, and connect to stay on the same page. Although it can prove more difficult to work together when one of you is irritable or suffering some loss, these are the most important times to make the choice to work together. So turn toward one another in hard times and in good. Work together to get through the difficult times, enjoy the good times, and build a great time. (Building a Purpose Filled Marriage)
  4. Play together. “All work and no play makes marriage a dull thing.” Find activities you can enjoy together like games, adventures, or walks in the woods. Laugh together. “Play keeps us vital and alive. It gives us an enthusiasm for life that is irreplaceable. Without it, life just doesn’t taste good” (Lucia Capocchione). I agree with Plato when he says, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” If you really want to know your spouse in a deeper more intimate way, play! (For more benefits of play read Play for a Better Marriage.)
  5. Dream of tomorrow together. Along with playing together, dream together. Dream about what you’ll do next year, in five years, after the kids leave home, after retirement. Dream about trips you can make together and goals you can accomplish together. Share your spouse’s dreams and help your spouse reach their dream. Whether they dream of becoming a better photographer or preparing a special meal for dinner, support their dream and do what you can to help them realize their dream. I loved the scene in “UP” when Carl realizes he helped Ellie achieve her dreams…and it had nothing to do with where they lived.
  6. Bring out the best in your spouse. Help your spouse become the person they want to be. (Read Husbands…Set Her Free.) One way to do that is help them reach for their dreams (see bullet #5). Another way to bring out the best in your spouse is to honor them daily. When we communicate honor for our spouse we liberate them to become the best they can be.
  7. Marry an amazing person. Choose your spouse wisely. (Read How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk to help in this area.) I must admit, this may be the most important one for me. I truly did marry an amazing woman. She has joined me in many adventures and patiently put up with my shortcomings. She has helped me achieve dreams I never thought possible.  (And, I still got the donut when we met!!) I hope I have done the same for her. Thanks for 25 wonderful years. I look forward to another 25.

How to Spend Quality Time with Your Children

Our children crave quality time with us, their parents and families. In fact, they need quality time with us. Quality time is the currency of love in our children’s world. It purchases their sense of security and it is crucial to their emotional and mental health. Quality time creates a sense of safety that allows them to explore their world, learn about their life, and grow more mature. One of the best ways to spend quality time with your children is to enter their world rather than expecting them to enter your world. When you enter your children’s world of play, imagination, and thought you learn so much about them and you help them grow more mature. Of course, sometimes we find it difficult to enter our children’s world. After all, it’s just so… well…childish.  But the benefits to their emotional and mental health are enormous. Here are some tips to help you enter their world.

  • Let them lead the play rather than you leading them. As they direct the play, you can narrate what is happening like a sport’s caster narrating the play. When you do this, your children feel valued and appreciated. They know you consider them significant enough to pay attention to. (Investing Time & Attention in Your Children will give you more ideas for letting your children lead the play).
  • Let your children choose the toy. When children are expected to play with a toy not of their choosing, they quickly become bored. Their attention span shortens and their interest wanes. You actually help increase your children’s attention span when you follow their lead and let them choose the toys and objects of play (For more read Nurture Your Child’s Attention Span).
  • Be available during the play without imposing your desires on them. Instead of suggesting what your children “could do,” delve into what they are doing and enjoy it. Enjoy their imagination, their ideas, and their activities. Your children will learn the importance and power of their ideas.
  • Allow children to enjoy independent, unstructured play while you remain available to them. Studies suggest that children allowed to engage in independent play have higher IQ’s than those who engaged only in adult led and structured play (Read Make Your Child “a Head Taller than Himself” for more).

In other words, a great way to have quality time with your children is to let your children teach you rather than trying to teach them. When we allow our children to teach us, we let them have the joy of discovering themselves.

Raising Respectful Children (A Self-Examination)

Raising respectful children is a goal for every parent. We begin to teach them to respect by demanding they respect us or forcing them to show respect to others. But, I have to wonder. Is that really the best way to start teaching respect?  Do children learn to respect when we demand they respect us? When we force them to respect others in their speech and actions?  I do believe it important that our children respect us and respect others. But, that may not be the best place to start teaching them respect. In fact, children learn more from watching us than from following our demands. They learn more from how we treat them than they learn from how we tell them to treat others. They watch us closely and model our behavior. They learn how to treat others by experiencing how we treat them. When we treat our children with respect, they are much more likely to treat us and others with respect. So, to teach our children respectful behavior, the best place to begin is by treating our children with respect. Unfortunately, I fear we often neglect to respect our children. Disrespect creeps into our interactions through impatience, preoccupation, or fear of failure.  Think about these ways of respecting our children and do a little self-examination.  Consider each bullet and think about how well you respect your children in the way stated.

  • Respect your children’s competence enough to let your children do tasks around the house.
  • Respect your children’s ability to problem-solve and discover creative solutions rather than jumping in to solve every problem they encounter.
  • Respect your children’s age appropriate independence. Let them complete age appropriate tasks alone.
  • Respect your children by establishing and enforcing clear limits. Make these limits firm, but enforce them politely and respectfully rather than harshly.
  • Respect your children’s willingness to cooperate and accept their help…with a smile and a “thank you.”
  • Respect your children enough to state directly what you desire rather than trying to manipulate them with false choices and questions.
  • Respect your children’s need for predictability by establishing daily routines.
  • Respect your children’s ability to learn by not rescuing them. Let them experience the consequences of their own behaviors, both positive and negative.
  • Respect your children’s dignity by never calling them demeaning names or making comments that degrade them directly or indirectly.
  • Respect your children’s uniqueness by nurturing their individual talents and interests. Be excited about their progress and their interests.
  • Respect your children’s ideas and opinions enough to listen, even when they disagree with you. Respect their ideas enough to let them influence your decisions and actions.
  • Respect your children’s intelligence by letting them answer questions asked of them. You don’t need to answer for them or volunteer them for some activity. Respect allows them to answer for themselves.
  • Respect your children’s feelings by allowing them to express a full range of emotions and teach them to do so in an appropriate manner.
  • Respect your children enough to listen intently and fully.

Well, how did you do?  Are you respecting your children?  I’m sure we can all improve…I know I can.  Still, treating children with respect is the place we begin teaching them to respect others. Children who are respected by family become respectful. Start respecting children today and they will become more respectful tomorrow.

Research Says, “Take a Hike for Family Fun”

I enjoyed a short hike along Cedar Creek with my wife and two nieces (6- and 7-years-old). We joined the trail where the picturesque Cedar Creek flows out of the woods and into the Youghiogheny River. We hiked a short distance “up creek.”  With a 6 -year-old and a 7-year-old it was not a quiet walk. But, it was beautiful and very relaxing. We smiled and laughed. We enjoyed the trees and the “cliff.” We even saw some fish and a few caterpillars. When we returned home, I felt more relaxed, happier, even a little energized. Apparently, I’m not the only one to have this experience. A growing number of physicians prescribe park visits and hikes to their patients. Studies show that taking a hike in the woods improves mood and self-esteem, decreases tension, clears the head, and decreases anger and depression. Researchers have also found that taking a “nature walk” decreases repetitive negative thoughts about ourselves. Living in areas with high amounts of “green areas” or “natural spaces” decreases the chance of experiencing depressive symptoms by 20% and suicide attempts by 28% when compared to those who live without “green areas” or “natural spaces.”  (Read Take Two Hikes and Call Me in the Morning) In other words, a hike through “green areas” leads to a better mood, greater happiness, and a greater sense of calm. Sounds like three great goals for our families: 1) better mood, 2) greater happiness, and 3) a greater sense of calm. And, it’s not hard to work for those goals. Simply take the family to your local park and go for a walk! You’ll enjoy fresh air and good conversation. You’ll learn more about one another’s lives and grow more intimate. You’ll come back home in a better mood, happier, and calmer. That is my kind of family activity! (Learn more about hiking and happiness in Hike to a Family Fun Night.)

Improve Your Marriage with One Simple, Daily Activity

I love being married. I find more joy and happiness, adventure and excitement, joy and contentment, even fun and ecstasy with my wife than I could have ever imagined.  But, let’s face it. Marriage is not all fun and games. It’s not always easy. I also experience irritations and frustrations in my marriage that impact me more deeply than any I experience in other relationships. I’m sure my wife can say the same. (Still, I did plead perfection when telling her about this blog. She simply snickered and shook her head in response. Go figure.) Anyway, the Florida State University’s Family Institute suggests a way to increase the positive side of marriage and decrease the negative, increase the joy and excitement while limiting the frustrations and anger. And, it’s based on over 20 years of research! (Full disclosure—I only reviewed some of the studies from the last 10 years.) Based on their research, staff at the Florida State University’s Family Institute suggests an activity that any of us can engage in on a daily basis to improve our marriages. It’s simple, yet powerful; easy to do yet profound in its impact. Want to know what activity they suggest? Praying for your spouse. That’s right. Praying! Coming before God (your Higher Power) to ask that your spouse be blessed and protected. Making intercession with God for your spouse; asking Him to help your spouse achieve his or her goals. One caveat—none of these prayers in these studies asked for their partners to become the person they wanted them to be. No, they offered sincere, unselfish prayers focused on their partner’s well-being. Overall, research suggests that saying prayers for one’s partner has many positive effects. Let me share just a few from the last 10 years of research (Read more here).

  1. Praying for one’s spouse has a softening effect on conflict (Butler et al, 1998). In other words, conflict becomes less harsh for those who have a praying spouse.
  2. Praying for one’s spouse predicts relationship satisfaction beyond what positive or negative behaviors in the relationship can predict (Lambert et al, 2008).
  3. Praying for one’s spouse over a 4-week period leads to greater gratitude toward one’s spouse than did thinking positive thoughts about one’s spouse or engaging in daily activities together (Lambert et al, 2009).
  4. Praying for one’s spouse increases the willingness of the one praying to forgive and did so more than simply speaking positively about one’s partner (Lambert et al, 2010).
  5. Praying for one’s spouse predicts greater commitment to the marriage (Fincham et al, 2010).
  6. Praying for one’s spouse while praying with your spouse leads to a greater sense of trust and unity in the relationship (Lambert et al, 2012).

Increased relationship satisfaction, more gratitude, more willingness to forgive, greater commitment, greater trust and less harsh conflict…all through the simple act of sincerely and unselfishly praying for your spouse. I’m getting started now. How about you?

Why Our Kids Need Time Alone

Sue looked exhausted, frazzled, and run down when I arrived at her house. I thought she’d be more rested at home. We had hoped to go out for coffee and conversation, but she couldn’t find a sitter. So, I figured I’d go to her house and enjoy some time together. It didn’t go as I had imagined. We did not sit at the kitchen table to enjoy conversation while her son played nearby. No, her son demanded her constant attention. She was constantly on the go responding to his unending demands for a drink, a playmate, an interaction…constant entertainment. If he wasn’t making demands, he was getting into something that forced Sue to run over and stop him, redirect him, and then entertain him. We “couldn’t get two words edgewise” because Sue’s son required constant engagement. That’s when I realized the importance of giving our children a place where they can play safely without adult intervention. Giving our children a safe place play alone, without adult intervention, demands some preparation. First, you have to organize a child-proof room. But once you have established that safe area, children can play independently with nothing more than their parent’s observation. Parents can sit comfortably or engage in other activities knowing their children can play safely alone.  And, allowing our children time to play alone without adult intervention will benefit our children in many ways. Let me describe just a few of the benefits of allowing our children to play alone.

  • Playing alone, without adult intervention, sparks children’s imaginations and creativity. Observe your children as they play alone and you will witness dragons, princesses, cowboys, doctors, and monsters come to life. You will see detectives and firemen working together to capture invisible villains and put out imaginary fires. Playing without adult intervention frees our children’s creativity.
  • Playing alone, without adult intervention, gives our children the opportunity to learn problem-solving skills. When we stay out of the way, our children find their own solutions to problems that arise. They brainstorm and find ways to banish their boredom. They learn to negotiate and compromise with one another. They learn to set boundaries and assert themselves kindly. These are all lessons learned in the classroom of play when we don’t interfere with the teacher of experience.
  • Playing alone, without adult intervention, helps children become more comfortable with themselves. They may explore new activities and, in the process, develop their interests. They learn they are “OK” without constant entertainment because they can entertain themselves by exploring novel activities. As a result of these things, they become more comfortable with themselves.
  • Playing alone, without adult intervention, teaches children to manage their time. Rather than having their time managed by scheduled activities, these children learn to enjoy the quiet. They also learn how to entertain themselves.
  • Playing alone, without adult intervention, allows children to learn to soothe their own emotions. They learn emotional management skills like distraction. They learn to focus their attention on what they have rather than what they do not have. They learn to soothe themselves.

As you can see, allowing children time to play alone helps them grow. Children learn so much in the classroom of play when allowed to play alone without adult intervention. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we never need to play with our kids. Our children need time to play alone and they need time when we engage them in play.  Giving our children time to engage in unstructured, independent play without adult intervention carries many benefits we don’t want our children to miss.

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