Talk to Your Children, Change Their Brain, & Their Behavior

You can strengthen your pre-teen’s brain (11-to 13-years-old) and decrease the chances of them abusing food, alcohol, and drugs by engaging in this one behavior. This one behavior strengthens connections in areas of the brain associated with less harmful alcohol use, drug use, and emotional eating at the age of 25! Not to be too repetitive but engaging in this one behavior with your pre-teen can decrease the chances of them abusing drugs, alcohol, or food in their mid-twenties. What behavior could do all that? Greater parent-child communication. Simply keeping the lines of communication open with your children as they move into and through the teen years strengthens connections in the anterior salience network (ASN) of the brain. Connections in this area of the brain are associated with less alcohol and drug abuse and less overeating in the mid-twenties. These results were revealed in a 14-year longitudinal study conducted through the University of Georgia’s Center for Family Research.  How can you maintain a robust communication with your child as they move into and through adolescence?

1.     Listen. The most effective way to keep communication with your children and teens strong, start by listening. Listen to their words and listen to their body language. Listen to their facial expression. Listen to understand their world, their motives, their intent.

2.     Engage your children in conversation and activity. Provide time for conversation. This will require you to spend time, lots of time, with your children. Enjoy time in fun activities with your children. Enjoy time taking them shopping, fishing, playing catch, watching movies, eating. Enjoy time with your children and engage your children every day.

3.     Go deeper than a “because I said so” when explaining limits and life. Talk about the important things of life. Don’t shy away from controversial issues. Enjoy the discussion.  One caveat: don’t expect full agreement on all issues with your teen. Instead, allow for differences. Teach your teens to think through their ideas and beliefs. 

4.     Listen. Did I say that before? It’s worth saying again. Begin and end your interactions with your children and teens by listening.

Build Intimacy Before, During, & After Your Marital Conflict

All couples experience disagreements, even arguments and conflict. But, did you know you can build a more intimate relationship with your spouse before, during, and after the disagreements and conflicts?  Let me count the ways (well, at least five for before, five for during, and five for after).

BEFORE:

  1. Make daily deposits of honor and grace into your Family Bank of Honor by sharing polite words, expressions of affection, and loving touch. (Read The Tongue in the Family Bank of Honor for verbal daily deposits.)
  2. Become a student of spouse. Learn about their likes, interests, vulnerabilities, and fears.
  3. Express gratitude to your spouse every day.
  4. Tell your spouse about the traits you admire in them. Let them know what they do and say that you admire and appreciate.
  5. Show kindness to your spouse every day.

DURING:

  1. Take a breath and remember all the traits you love and adore about your spouse.
  2. Remain calm. Take a breath and maintain the use of polite words.
  3. Listen to understand. Then listen some more to make sure you understand.
  4. Do not threaten, blame, criticize, or show contempt. Instead, be brutally honest with yourself. Humbly take responsibility for any way your actions and words contribute to the argument.
  5. Seek a solution, a third alternative that can show love and the priority of your relationship. (Assume Love explains the third alternative.)

AFTER:

  1. Reaffirm your love for your spouse. Let them know how much you love them.
  2. Apologize. Chances are you did something during the disagreement that requires an apology. So, apologize.
  3. Give your spouse a big hug and a sincere kiss.
  4. Review your contribution to the argument and change your behavior accordingly.
  5. Bear the fruit of a sincere apology. (More in Stop Apologizing & Bear Fruit)

I’m sure there are many more ways to build intimacy before, during, and after an argument, but these 15 ideas will give you a start. What ideas would you add to the list? Let us know in the comment section below.

“This Food May Be Hazardous to Your Child’s Health”

A study completed in 2014 revealed a type of food that impacts children’s intelligence. This study obtained data on 11,740 US students, their consumption of fast food and their academic testing. They discovered that 10% of adolescents ate fast food almost every day. Over half the children ate fast food 1-3 times per week. Those adolescents who ate a lot of fast food performed 20% worse on standard tests of reading, math, and science as compared to those who did not eat any. In addition, the more frequently children at fast food around the age of 10-years, the worse their test scores were three years later. These results are thought to result from a lack of nutrients that enhance cognitive development and too much fat and sugar that have proven detrimental to memory and cognitive development.

I share this information with you because we all want our children to experience success in school, work, and life. Too much fast food can hinder their academic success. On the other hand, enjoying home-cooked meals at home with family has many benefits including:

  • Better academic success.
  • Better nutrition.
  • Better family relationships.
  • Better vocabulary (Have Fun, Eat, and What…?! describes more).
  • Less likely to abuse drugs.  

(You can read more benefits @ 10 Benefits of Family Meals)

Start today. Enjoy family meals. Your whole family will love it…especially your children (Learn what a middle schooler told me about family meals).

The Perfect Cocktail for Love

Young love floods the brain with a cocktail of neurotransmitters that enhance attraction, pleasure, and commitment. In young love, this cocktail can prove dangerous, blinding young lovers to the red flags and flaws of their partner. They are too “drunk on love” to truly discern what everyone around them already knows. But, as time goes on, this cocktail loses its potency.  Neurotransmitter levels return to normal and feelings begin to level out. The love shared by young lovers becomes tested and their true level of commitment becomes apparent.  Mature love, a love that transcends mere passion to incorporate commitment and investment into the relationship, can develop at this time. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the feelings and passion of young love does not play a role in mature love. It just becomes supported by a foundation of commitment and investment. In fact, I really think it’s a great idea for every marriage to add an emotional, passionate cocktail of neurotransmitters to their foundation of commitment and investment.   Not only do I think it a good idea, I have a recipe. It is composed of three ingredients (Taken from The Neurochemistry of Love).

  1. Dopamine is the first ingredient in this perfect love cocktail. Dopamine is a feel-good neurotransmitter. We experience pleasure when it is released. One author notes that dopamine is released in response to “the chase,” the pursuit of love. Dopamine also alerts us that our needs are about to be met. For instance, the smell of the charcoal grill alerts us that our hunger will soon be satisfied by grilled burgers or steak. Ahh, the joy…. Anyway, you can see how dopamine adds to the cocktail of love. You can add it into your love potion by continuing to pursue your spouse. Learn about your spouse and what entices them, excites them, or makes them feel loved ( Discover Your Love Language here). Then pursue your spouse by romancing them with your knowledge of their likes and interests. Put on the perfume he enjoys. Bring the gift that you know she likes. Say the words that “make their heart swoon.” Every time you do, you give them a shot of dopamine. They feel good. You feel good. The pursuit is on. Soon, your spouse will get a little shot of dopamine when you walk in the room with that smile on your face that says something good is on the way.
  2. Oxytocin, the “love hormone” itself, adds the second component in this cocktail of love. Oxytocin is triggered by touch. Something as simple as holding hands or a hug releases oxytocin. When you invest in repeatedly holding hands or hugging your spouse over years of committed relationship, you build an “oxytocin quick release system.” It is more easily released, which is good since oxytocin also promotes trust. Who doesn’t want trust in their marriage? So, bring on the touch and add a shot of oxytocin into your marital cocktail of love. Hold hands. Hug. Sit with arms touching. Put your hand on your spouse’s leg. Enjoy physical touch. (Read An Easy Way to Get in Sync for more.)
  3. Serotonin is the third ingredient in this love cocktail. Serotonin is stimulated by associating with a person of status. You can add this into your love cocktail by building a reputation of keeping your promises. Build a reputation as a kind person, a compassionate person, a patient person. Become known among your friends and community as a person of honor and integrity. As you grow in a reputation of a good person, you spouse will get a shot of serotonin to enhance your marital love cocktail. (More for men.)

These three ingredients will make a cocktail of love to keep your marriage young. Added to commitment, this cocktail can enhance your marriage and your love. Adding them in is simple: 1) learn about your spouse and continue to pursue them with romance; 2) engage in loving touch every day, and 3) build a reputation of honor and integrity.

Your Family Can Save What Loneliness Kills

Cigna made a surprising discovery when they utilized questions from the UCLA Loneliness Scale to create a survey taken by 20,000 people 18-years-old and older. ( Read about the survey here.)  The surprising discovery? Young people are lonelier than elderly people. Even more disturbing, those between 18- and 22-years-old (those tied into social media connections) noted more feelings of social isolation than older people. It seems that even though social media offers digital connections, people still long for face-to-face conversation and interactions. Without this face-to-face connection, people feel lonely.

“So what?” you ask. “I’m sorry young people feel lonelier than elderly but what does it matter?” Good question. Here’s the concern. Loneliness is deadly. Studies suggest that loneliness has the same effect on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or drinking more than 6 alcoholic drinks a day! (Social Relationships & Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review). Loneliness is comparable to obesity and physical inactivity in its impact on the longevity and quality of life. Lonely young people can translate into less quality of life, less joy, even shorter lives!  Families can help prevent this type of deadly social isolation and loneliness. Here are five tips to help:

  1. Engage in meaningful family activities like eating meals together, playing games together, going on vacations, making day trips. Enjoy time with your family every day. Build positive relationships with your children, spouse, parents, and siblings.
  2. Get involved. Involve your children in various community activities. Whether you involve them in sporting activities, theatre and the arts, or debate clubs, find a way for your children to become involved in positive activities with other people in the community. Don’t just involve your children. Involve yourself in positive community activities as well. Join a reading club or the booster club. Become involved in a positive group of peers in your community.
  3. Involve your family in a local church. Churches encourage us to worship as a family and as a community. They provide us opportunities to find our place in “something bigger than ourselves” and become part of a supportive, loving community and reducing loneliness.
  4. Volunteer as a family. You might even make your volunteer efforts a weekly, monthly, or quarterly ritual. You will strengthen family bonds and provide the opportunity to meet other people outside the family, decreasing loneliness.
  5. Turn off the technology and play some games face-to-face. Nothing beats loneliness like gathering with other people and engaging in some plain-old-fashioned fun. You can get together to play cards, a pick-up game of ball, a picnic, or a board game. Whatever it is, face-to-face interaction and fun beats loneliness every time!

If you follow these tips, you’ll discover great joy in relationship. Your supportive community will grow. Your family will become more close-knit. And, as Cigna found out, your health and the health of your children will improve. You will live longer…and that means you can enjoy one another’s company and love even longer!

Turn up the Tunes & Get Close to Your Teen

Researchers from the University of Arizona surveyed young adults (average 21-years-old) about the frequency with which they engaged in activities such as listening to music, attending concerts, or playing instruments with their parents between 8- and 14-years-old. The survey also assessed the 21-year-olds’ current relationship with their parent. They discovered that shared musical experiences, especially in early adolescence, led to a better parent-child relationship when the child moved into young adulthood. The researchers explain that sharing musical experiences causes the participants to coordinate their actions and even their biology (Learn more in What Do “Twinkle Twinkle,” Oxytocin, & the Saccuus Have in Common…?). This synchronizing leads to better relationship quality. Music also elicits shared emotion. When you listen to music together you share emotions with those listening with you. Sharing emotions brings us closer together. Synchronizing our actions and sharing emotions help us develop a long-term connection with our children that extends into young adulthood. In other words, sharing musical experiences with your children can enhance your relationship with them when they become young adults! (You can even turn sharing music into a family fun night.)

If you don’t play an instrument, don’t worry. Shared musical experiences can be as simple as listening to music together. So, if you want to have a strong relationship with your children as they move into young adulthood, listening to music together as they grow up can help. Turn on the radio. Listen to music in the car and in the house. Dance in the living room. Go to concerts together. Enjoy all kinds of music, especially the music your children enjoy. Introduce music of various genres (classical, jazz, pop, R&B, metal, punk, rap, etc.). You and your children may learn something new about each genre…and enjoy learning about music together. Talk about the different types of music as you listen. Pick out your favorites. Sing along. Whistle along. Clap your hands to the rhythm. A little shared music will build harmonies of love between you and your children that will last a lifetime!

A Prep School for Young Love

I discovered an amazingly impactful prep school for young adulthood romance, aka, young love. Notice I said “impactful” not “effective.” This prep school can effectively promote healthy romance in young adulthood, but it can also effectively promote problematic, drama-filled and even violent romance in young adulthood. Makes you wonder if we even want our children to attend this prep school, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, you have no choice about whether your children attend. They will and do attend this prep school. Fortunately, you have total control over staffing and curriculum! The prep school is your home. The staff are the parents of your children (that’s you). The curriculum is your marriage and your parenting strategies.

Researchers at Penn state recruited 974 adolescents to assess this prep school (Read about it in Parents May Help Prep Kids for Healthier, Less Violent Relationships.) They met with the young people three times between sixth and ninth grade to gather information about how their families got along, how consistent and harsh punishment was in their home, and how they interacted with their parents. Then, when the children were around 19.5-years-old, the researchers asked them about their romantic relationships including their feelings of love, their problem-solving abilities, and whether they ever engaged in physical or verbal violence with their romantic partner.  They discovered three curriculum and staffing guidelines for the most positive and effective prep school for young love.

  1. A prep school that produced young adults who engaged in better problem solving within their romantic relationships utilized staff (parents) who created a supportive home and practiced positive parenting (Dunkin’ Donuts & A Better Behaved Child tells more). Supportive home and positive parenting practices strike a balance between rules and relationship. Parents in such home lead in love, promote values built on a foundation of love, and discipline from a position of love. (Where are you On the Parenting See-Saw )
  2. A prep school that produced young adults who felt more love and connection in their romantic relationships promoted a positive engagement between children and staff (parents). Work to create a close bond with your children. This will involve investing time in their lives, following through on promises, and learning about their interests and hobbies. Engage with your children in daily routines, play, and activities that promote connection. (Here are 3 Simple Ways to Bond With Your Child)
  3. A prep school associated with a lower risk of violence in young adults’ romantic relationships was one which built a more “cohesive and organized family climate.” In other words, the family prep school provided enough structure and love to promote a sense of security and safety. It provides the structure of a predictable daily life that allows each person to have a fair understanding of the “next event” as well as their role in the home.  It also provides the love that undergirds each person’s sense of inherent worth and value while guiding them toward a healthier, independent life. This combination of structure that flows from love promotes cohesion and stability. In this balance of structure and love, curriculum includes validation and problem-solving, learning to persist, acceptance of temporary failures as learning experiences.

If you are a parent, you currently run a Young Adulthood Romance (YAR) Preparatory School for your children. I propose you implement these three curriculum and staffing guidelines for your children today. You will be so happy you did when they bring home their boyfriends or girlfriends in the future!

Glimpses of Romance

Ever felt like you don’t have enough time in the day to enjoy romance with your spouse? I know the feeling! What we need are actions that can provide glimpses of romance anytime & anywhere. Actions that promote feelings of connection and adoration. Actions that fill the heart with romantic feelings.  Actions that make deposits into the romantic bank of the heart. Oh man, getting carried away. Let me just share a few actions that will give you and your spouse a “glimpse of romance” even in the busiest of times.

  1. Respond to your spouse. Sounds simple, but sooo romantic. When your spouse says something, stop what you’re doing and respond. Even when they say something in a grumpy tone, respond with interest and concern. Let them know you hear them.
  2. Smile. There is nothing more romantic than walking into a room to see your spouse smiling at you! (Smile for a Happier Family shares more about the benefits of a smile.)
  3. Share a kiss. In fact, make it a six-second kiss for that extra romantic burst. I know I said these are good for even the busiest of times. But think about it…six seconds. Count them: 1…2…3…4…5…6. It has taken you longer to read this paragraph than it will take to share a six-second glimpse of romance!
  4. Share a hug. Now don’t just give a timid side to side hug or a glancing walk-by-hug, although they do give a glimpse of romance. Once in awhile give a bold hug. Pull your spouse in and give them a great big hug. Rest for a few seconds in one another’s arms and enjoy the feel of being entwined with your spouse in a hug.
  5. Hold hands in the car, walking through the store, watching TV, or whenever you want. Hand holding gives a glimpse of romance and has surprising super power (Read An Easy Way to Get in Sync for more).
  6. Share an inside joke. You and your spouse likely have many inside stories and jokes. When you share your inside stories and jokes it takes you to another place and time, one which only the two of you have experienced and now understand. You’re sharing a time and place with only you and your spouse, no one else …how romantic!
  7. Recall the story of how you met. It’s very romantic, even if it’s funny. Your kids will love it. More importantly, your heart will soar with romance. (The Story That Will Change Your Family Life explains more about the power of story for your family!)

Well, that’s seven “glimpses of romance” you can share with your spouse. What are some of the ways you like to share glimpses of romance with your true love?

The Work of Dad

I recently read an interesting article by John A. Cuddeback entitled Reclaiming a Father’s Presence at Home. In this article, he makes a “radical suggestion” that we measure a man’s success in life, his manhood even, by the quality of his presence in his home and with his family. Based on a historical analysis of the diminishing presence of the father in the home, he describes how the success of children and the ongoing success of family are impacted by a father’s presence or lack of presence. Without the active presence of a father, family relationships weaken. The depth of connections become more superficial. Beliefs around productivity and leisure change, succumbing to the more readily available cultural trends that also weaken the family unit (like technology, busy-ness, adult-organized and run activities). It was a very interesting article. I see the validity of his perspective.

Fortunately, the author did not stop with the description of how a father’s lack of presence impacts children and families. He also offered some excellent suggestions for reversing this trend. In my mind, these suggestions reveal the most important work of a Dad, the work that will transcend any other work he will every do. These suggestions reveal a work that will make all other activities of a Dad pale in comparison. Let me briefly share these suggestions for the work of a Dad.

  1. A Dad’s work begins with loving his wife well. A home begins with a man and a woman who love one another. With this in mind, a man’s presence in the home, a Dad’s work, begins with his presence to his wife. In loving his wife and being present to her needs, a Dad sets the stage for his children’s sense of security. From a loving, nurturing marital relationship flows the love and nurturance children need to thrive. When the marital relationship is marred with antagonism, mistrust, and harshness, children lose their sense of security. They experience the world as antagonistic, untrustworthy, and harsh. They become more vigilant, more skeptical, and more self-protective. When a man loves his wife well, his wife flourishes. Their relationship overflows with love and kindness. They function as a team. Children experience the world as loving, trustworthy, and cooperative. Truly, a Dad’s work in the home begins with loving his wife well.
  2. A Dad’s work involves engaging in “home arts” with his family. “Home arts” include activities in which parent and child engage together, generally with the parent acting as mentor. These activities often involved learning together and always mean sharing time together. “Home arts” may include cooking, gardening, carpentry, mechanics, landscaping, music…whatever the interests of your family happen to be. For other families “home arts” may also include activities such as reading, writing, historical explorations, biology, or similar pursuits. Whatever the “home art” that fits with your family, it will involve the Dad making an investment of time and energy in the lives of his children and spouse. It will require spending time together negotiating and pursuing common interests. That is the beauty of Dad’s work in the home. It involves time shared together pursuing a common interest and goal…which leads a third work of a Dad in the home.
  3. A Dad’s work means prioritizing shared activities. Shared activities differ from “home arts” because they often do not involve learning as a goal. Shared activities do allow families to enjoy time together and may, at times, overlap with “home arts.” But the main goal of shared activities is to have enjoyable time together sharing fun and life. One shared activity that research has shown to have a positive impact on family is the family meal. Another shared activity research has shown especially impactful when Dads participate is reading together. Other shared activities can include praying and worshiping as a family, singing together, and outdoor activities like playing catch, bike riding, or hiking. These shared activities provide fertile soil for conversations and deepening relationships as your family solves problems and overcomes obstacles together.

The work of Dad in the home involves his intentional presence. It begins with loving his wife well. From there it flows into “home arts” and shared activities.  Although this work takes intention, it culminates in joy and reveals man at his best! So, Dad, let’s get to work.

What Can Puzzles Teach Us About Self-Critical Children & Their Parents?

What can puzzles teach us about self-critical children and their parents? I must admit…that’s not a question I ever asked myself.  However, researchers at the National University of Singapore did and boy am I glad. They followed 263 children for 5 years starting at 7-years-old. In the first year, the children were given puzzles to solve in a limited period of time. Their parents accompanied them and were told they could help if needed. The researchers’ objective was to watch whether the parent became intrusive and, if they did, how intrusive.  An example of highly intrusive parenting would involve a parent taking the puzzle away from the child to reverse a mistake they had made. The researchers wanted to know whether the parent interfered with their child’s problem-solving opportunities or allowed their child to learn from mistakes. This puzzle assessment was repeated when the children were 8-, 9-, and 11-years-old.  The researchers also tested the children for levels of self-criticalness and perfectionism. Guess what the research uncovered. You got it. Children who had highly intrusive parents engaged in more self-critical behavior and perfectionism. The children in this study who reported increased levels of self-critical behavior and perfectionism also reported more symptoms of depression and anxiety as the study progressed. Consider the progression suggested by this study. Parents intrude upon their children’s activities by interfering with their children’s independent problem-solving. This conveys an implicit message from parent to child that “you can’t solve your own problems; I have to step in to do it for you.” As a result, children never feel “good enough.” Although they feel inadequate, they also recognize their parents’ desire for perfection. As a result, even the smallest mistake leads the child to criticize themselves for not being “perfect,” for not “meeting standards.”  This, in turn, increases the risk for depression and anxiety. I like the quote from the lead researcher: “Our findings indicate that in a society that emphasizes academic excellence…parents may set unrealistically high expectations on their children. As a result, a sizable segment of children may become fearful of making mistakes. Also, because they are supposed to be ‘perfect,’ they can become disinclined to admit failures and inadequacies and seek help when needed, further exacerbating their risk for emotional problems.”

So, what’s a parent to do? Here are 3 ideas.

  1. Focus on your children’s efforts rather than the end results. Acknowledge your children’s efforts rather than comparing their results with someone else’s results. Effort produces success over time. So, focus on effort and nurture an excitement to try new things without fear of failure (which brings us to tip number 2).
  2. Create an environment in which mistakes and temporary failures are opportunities for learning. Ask what your children learned rather than the final grade they earned. When they do poorly on a test or project, discuss what they did well before moving to discuss how to correct the areas in which they did poorly. Discuss what they learned from their mistakes and “flops.” In other words, turn failures, poor performances, and mistakes into opportunities to learn rather than opportunities to evaluate and blame. (Do Your Child a Favor: Love Mistakes)
  3. Let your children struggle to find their own solution. Do not step in to “fix it” or “solve it” for them. Let them work at it. Let them pursue options they think of independently. You can ask some questions to spark their imaginative solutions, but don’t just them the solution. Rather than fix what they did wrong, ask they how they might fix it. When they get stuck, discuss possible ideas and the basis for those ideas. Nurture their ability to think and pursue solutions independently. (Read Do You Rob Your Teen of Victory? to learn more.)

Put these three practices in place and you will help raise children who pursue excellence without becoming self-critical and perfectionistic. And we learn all this because someone asked what puzzles can teach us about self-critical children and their parents!

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