Helping Your Child Become Likeable: A Barrel of Fun

Children love to have fun…and having fun is no laughing matter. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Personality (2020) suggests that fun is one of three traits (prosocial behavior, leadership, and fun) shown to predict changes in a child’s “likeability and popularity” between the ages of nine and twelve years. This study, completed in Florida and Colombia, focused on fun. By letting peers nominate who was “likeable” and what made them likable, they discovered that children perceived by others as fun experienced an increase in the number of classmates who liked them over a two-month period. The perception of fun remained a key factor of “likeability” even after controlling for the influence of prosocial behavior, leadership, physical attractiveness, fairness, athletic ability, disruptiveness, and aggression. In other words, fun influenced likability.

Perhaps that’s not too surprising. After all, who doesn’t enjoy being around someone who is fun? But maybe we can learn something important for our families. Instilling a sense of fun into our family life may help our children learn to be fun. We often focus on teaching our children academics, sports, and manners. We teach them to listen and behave appropriately. Sometimes we become so “serious” about their academics, sports, music, and manners that we forget to teach them to have fun. And being fun is no laughing matter. How can we teach our children to have fun?

  • Model having fun. Let them see you engaging in activities and having fun. Even if you engage in a competitive sport, let them see how fun it is.
  • Laugh. Laugh at yourself. Laugh at a joke. Laugh at a funny show on TV. Laugh with your children and laugh as a family. Enjoy the moment and laugh. Teach your family to laugh because Laughter is No Laughing Matter for Families.
  • Encourage your children to do their best in their chosen activity. However, never let them lose sight of fun in that activity as well. Those who have fun are the same ones who do their best. Teach them to enjoy playing their sport or their instrument. Teach them to have fun in the activities they choose.
  • Encourage creativity. Whatever creative activities you enjoy—music, storytelling, art, photography, dance—whatever mode you may choose, enjoy creativity. (Discover Your Inner Musician is one way to encourage creativity.)
  • Play games together and make them fun. You can play anything from “Salad Bowl” to badminton. It doesn’t matter what you play. Just play and have fun. After all, it’s all fun and games…until it’s something more.
  • Tell a joke or two…or three or more. Make funny stories and jokes part of your family heritage. (My favorite joke, of course, is The Infamous Dad Joke.)

I’m sure there are more ways to teach your children to have fun. What are ways you encourage your children and your family to have fun? Don’t hold back. Share them below so we can all join in the fun and watch our children reap the benefits of learning to be fun.

Intimacy…It’s Easier Than You Think

Intimacy—the state of having a close, familiar, and loving personal relationship with another person. We all desire intimacy in our marriages. More specifically, we all desire mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual intimacy in our marriages. But how can we develop that intimacy? It’s not as difficult as you might think. It only involves three ingredients and four steps.

First, intimacy is an interpersonal experience. It involves two or more people. For purposes of marriage, we will limit the intimacy to two people.

Second, intimacy begins with one person engaging in self-disclosure. At least one person must be courageous enough to disclose something about themselves. They might disclose information about their personal history, a life milestone, a past experience, or some emotion. The self-disclosure could be about a positive event or a traumatic event, a positive emotion or a heavy emotion. Either way, the self-disclosure represents a moment of vulnerability and a courageous invitation to connect.

Third, intimacy requires another person to pay attention to that self-disclosure. In paying attention, the person does not try to fix anything or change the person who engages in self-disclosure. They simply notice the self-disclosure, acknowledge it, and express interest in it. In other words, they accept the invitation to connect by showing interest in what the person has disclosed.

These three ingredients—two people in a relationship, one person willing to courageously self-disclose, and one person willing to pay loving attention to the disclosure—combine into four steps of growing intimacy.

  • Step one: one person reveals something personal about themselves. 
  • Step two: a second person responds attentively to that disclosure.
  • Step three: the interaction becomes reciprocal with both people paying attention and disclosing.
  • Step four: the intimacy that grows through this interaction promotes more self-disclosure and attentive responding.

That’s all there is to it. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But these simple steps often present a challenge to us. If you accept the challenge, however, the rewards have a ripple effect that will grow stronger and deeper as it expands. Each intimate interaction becomes a piece of a positive relationship history contributing to the expectation of more intimate interactions. The intimate interactions and the belief that future intimate interactions will occur increase our commitment to our relationship. Our sense of togetherness grows stronger and the safety of our relationship deeper. Self-disclosure becomes easier and paying attention more readily engaged in. And the ripples continue to grow….

4 Questions of “When” for Childhood Independence

We all want our children to grow into mature, independent adults. In fact, children benefit when their parents encourage independence. Whether doing significant chores in the home, in the yard, or in the community, children grow more confident and competent when they engage in independent, meaningful tasks. (Read Chores: The Gift of Significance for more.) But, how can a parent know which tasks their child can complete on their own? And how can a parent move their children toward greater independence in general? Perhaps answering a few questions can help parents find the answers to these questions.

First, is your child developmentally ready for this task? If they do not have the developmental ability to do the task, do not expect them to do it. Make sure any task you ask of your child is developmentally appropriate for them. Asking a child to do a task for which they are not developmentally ready to do dishonors them. It will only create self-doubt and frustration in your child that will interfere with their learning and later independence. If they are not developmentally prepared and able to do a task, do it for them.

Second, does your child know how to do the task on their own already? Is it a task they know how to do and have the ability to do? If so, ask them to do it. For instance, if they can tie their shoes, let them. Of course, the examples will change as the child grows older. Can they sweep the floor, do some laundry, make a bed? Let them do it.

Third, if your child cannot do the task on their own ask yourself, “Can they do part of the task?” Perhaps they cannot cook dinner, but they can cut up vegetables. Maybe they cannot run the lawn mower, but they can pull weeds in the flower garden. Even if they cannot wash clothes, they might have the ability and knowledge to fold the clean clothes. Whatever part of an overall task they have the ability to do, encourage them to help with that part.

Finally, if your child cannot do the task on their own already, ask: can they do it with simple instructions or help? If so, do it with them. As you complete the task with your child, you can teach them how to do it independently. Let your child help with the laundry, setting the table, preparing meals, cleaning the house, doing yardwork…. As you work together, you can teach them how to do the task well and prepare them for doing it independently when necessary. As an added bonus you get to talk and build your relationship with your child while you work together.

We all want our children to grow into independent adults. They can only do so if we begin to teach them while they are home. These four questions can help you teach your children to become more independent at a pace appropriate to their developmental abilities. (For more on how meaningful tasks benefit children while moving them toward independence, read Dear Children, The Real Reason I Make You Do Chores.)

Is Your Marriage Like Chocolate Cake Without Icing?

Research published from Binghamton University has verified a secret ingredient of a stronger marriage. Well…it not really such a secret. Many people know about it without ever reading the research. They would consider it common sense, a “given.” So, maybe it’s not such a secret but…well, let me just tell you about the study and what it suggests.

The researchers of this study included 184 same-sex couples over the age of 18 years in an exploration of the connection between attachment style, touch satisfaction, and marital satisfaction. Not surprisingly, they found a strong association between non-sexual physical affection and a satisfying, strong marriage. Non-sexual physical affection included things like cuddling, holding hands, and hugging.

As always, there was a caveat and I found it extremely interesting. Non-sexual physical affection had a different meaning and impact for men and women. For men, the presence of non-sexual physical affection was associated with an increase in marital satisfaction. In other words, physical affection was a positive contribution to the marriage, “the icing on the cake.”

For women, however, the lack of non-sexual physical affection was associated with relationship dissatisfaction. Its presence did not necessary create greater satisfaction. Non-sexual physical affection was an essential, expected ingredient for marital satisfaction. The lack of it was a negative and resulted in a less satisfying relationship. In other words, women want non-sexual physical affection as a basic ingredient for creating a satisfying relationship.  

As I said, non-sexual physical affection is a “not-so-surprising ingredient of a solid marriage.” What is surprising is how many couples leave this ingredient out of their marriage and so never enjoy a fully satisfying relationship. According to this research, leaving the snuggle and the hug out of your marriage is like enjoying a chocolate cake without the icing (my favorite part by the way) for men.

For women, having a marriage without the snuggles, hugs, or holding of hands is like trying to eat a chocolate cake made without any sugar or sweetener; you can’t even enjoy it.

So, reach out and hold your spouse’s hand while you drive down the road or walk around the block. Cuddle up on the couch to talk, watch TV, or listen to the radio. Give several random hugs throughout the day. Fill your day with acts of non-sexual physical affection. It is a crucial ingredient to your happy marriage. (For more on the benefit of physical touch in your marriage read Six Reasons to Hug Your Family.)

Succeeding in School: On-Line OR In Person

The school year has started. Well, sort of…I mean, it is different. Some of our children are in school part of the week and on-line part of the week. Others are on-line all the time. No one seems sure about school next month…in person or on-line? With all this in mind, how can we support our children in having the most productive, successful school year possible? Here are a few suggestions.

  • First, provide a space in your home for schoolwork. In fact, make this space specific to schoolwork.  Whether it be a desk or a space at the dining room table, having a space set apart for schoolwork will help your children focus. Designate this space for schoolwork only–no social media use or gaming from this spot. Encourage your children to get up and walk away from this designated area when they engage social media or simply need to take a break. This space is designated for schoolwork only. This will help your children focus; and, it will inform others in the family to “not disturb, schoolwork in progress.”
  • Second, encourage working on one task at a time. Set up your children’s work areas so they are not distracted by other screens, TV’s, people, or cellphones (including their own). Turn on the “do not disturb” on their phone and computer to help them focus. Teach them to focus on one class at a time. Do not disturb them with other household tasks during school time. Learning to focus on one task at a time is an important skill leading to success. Multitasking is ineffective and inefficient.  So, set up their “on-line school environment” to encourage a single focus on school.
  • Third, establish a healthy sleep schedule. Our children still need a healthy night’s rest to function well in school, even when they are “doing school” from home. A good night’s rest improves mood, concentration, and ability to learn. Set up the routines that will allow your children to get the sleep they need. Their academic achievement will thank you for it. (Learn about Your Teen & the Importance of Sleep and The Enemy of Teen Sleep)
  • Fourth, start the day off with positive interactions to promote a positive mood. Negative emotions take up space in our mind and interfere with concentration and learning. There is enough going on in the world that threatens to rob our children of a spacious mind for learning. Make your home a haven in which they can experience positive emotions that support positive spaces in the mind for learning. (Prime Your Children for a Good School Day)
  • Fifth, foster their motivation to learn. I believe this represents one of the great challenges of on-line learning. How can you foster your children’s internal motivation to “do school”? Having our children at home increases the risk that we, as parents, might step in to “help out” and accidently “take over.”  Resists the urge to step in. Promote their independence instead. Ask them about their plan to complete homework, prepare for school, or complete an assignment rather than planning it for them. Allow them to experience their own failures rather than bailing them out. Let them experience their own successes rather than doing the nitty gritty for them. Foster their independence and you foster their motivation to learn. (Read 3 Tips to Motivate Your Child to learn more about instilling internal motivation.)
  • Sixth, acknowledge their effort. Our children need to know that we recognize their hard work, especially in these times of uncertainty. Rather than focusing on the final grade, acknowledge their effort. This will help build a growth mindset that will benefit them for a lifetime.

These six tips can help make this school year a productive, successful year of learning whether they “do school” on-line, in person, or both.

A Free Supplement for Your Family’s Health

I take a few supplements to promote my overall health; you know, things like vitamins, minerals, fiber. Recently, though, I have discovered an amazing supplement that decreases physical discomfort, reduces inflammation, lowers blood pressure, and improves sleep. Better yet, this supplement costs NOTHING! What is this “magic pill”? Gratitude! Wait. Don’t quit reading yet. It’s true. It’s not a pill, but it does all those things and more. Consider these examples.

  • A study published in 2015 explored the role of gratitude in 186 people with asymptomatic heart failure. Those who exhibited more gratitude also exhibited better sleep, less depression, lower levels of inflammation, and a greater sense of self-efficacy in maintaining heart functioning.
  • A study published in 2009 included 401 people and found that the more a person exhibited gratitude the better sleep quality and duration of sleep they experienced. They also exhibited fewer daytime difficulties related to sleepiness.
  • Robert Emmons, a leading expert on the science of gratitude, states that “gratitude blocks toxic emotions such as envy, resentment, regret and depression, which can destroy our happiness.” An article entitled Gratitude is Just Good Medicine (and quoting Dr. Emmons) goes on to report that gratitude is associated with higher level of “good cholesterol” and lower levels of “bad cholesterol” as well as higher levels of positive “heart rate variability,” which is equated with less stress and greater mental clarity.  Gratitude can also lower blood pressure and improve immune functioning.

The list of benefits goes on. Gratitude is a powerful supplement that can improve all our lives and the lives of our families. So, here is your prescription for gratitude.

  • Keep a gratitude bullet journal for a month. Everyday write 3 bullets of things for which you are grateful. For instance, today I am grateful for: the rain, a car, and a bed. Do your best not to repeat any bullets; think of three different things every day. When you’re feeling down, enjoy reviewing it for a lift of spirits.
  • “Count your blessings” as a family. Family dinnertimes or during bedtime routines are wonderful opportunities to “count your blessings as a family.” Gather as a family and talk about all the things for which you can be grateful. You can even cut construction paper into strips, write one item of gratitude on each strip. Then make the strips into chain links as you loop them together to make a “blessings chain” to hang in a bedroom or family room.
  • Write letters of thanks to people within the family. Each week pick a different family member—a child, a parent, a grandparent—and create an envelop for them. Throughout the week, family members can drop short statements of gratitude and appreciation into the envelop. At the end of the week, gather as a family to read the statements of gratitude aloud for the person to hear.
  • As a family, write a letter of thanks to someone outside your immediate family. Who has had a positive influence on your family? Who has done something or given something for which you are grateful? Sit down as a family and write them a letter of thanks. Make a batch of cookies. Then take the cookies and the letter of thanks to their home. If you want, read the letter to them as you share the snack. (If you need more info on the thank you note read Forgotten Family Arts: The Thank You Note.)

These supplements of gratitude will improve family relationships, mood, and even health. It’s a great supplement. I am sharing as much of it as I can…and I’ll gladly accept it when others give it to me. How about you?  

Words That Will Build Your Family

Words have power. An ancient king once wrote, “Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit” (King Solomon—Proverbs 15:4, NLT). Our relationships are built up or torn down by our words. I want to focus on how words, our words, can build our families up. For instance, our words can make our spouse and children feel welcome in the home. They can promote their sense of belonging. Simple words, like:

  • “I’m glad you’re home from school (work) now. I missed you.”
  • “I have a job that you can really help me with. I know you would be good at it. Will you help me?”
  • “I’m glad we were able to spend this time together. I enjoyed your company.”
  • “I’d love to share an ice cream with you. Do you have time to get some now or would another time be better.”  

Our words also inform our family of their importance to us, that they hold a significant place in our lives. They let our family know how we keep them in mind, even when they are not physically present.

  • “I was thinking about all the fun we’ve had together. Remember when….”
  • “I heard a song on the car radio that made me think of you.”
  • “I remembered how much you like…. So, I picked some up for you on my way home.”
  • “I really had a good time with you last weekend. My favorite part was….”

Words help us repair damaged relationships.

  • “I’m sorry. That was wrong of me. Will you forgive me?”
  • “I can understand how you thought that. I really didn’t mean it that way. Sorry for the misunderstanding. Can I try to explain better?”
  • “I forgive you. What you did hurt me, but I love you and forgive you.”

Words also encourage and teach persistence and resilience.

  • “That was even better than last time. Your hard work is paying off.”
  • “That didn’t work out the way we had planned. But we learned a lot that we can use the next time.”
  • “Oops. We all make mistakes. Let’s clean this one up and keep going.”
  • “Sometimes we all need a little help to learn how to do something.”

Words can instill a sense of belonging and value. They repair damaged relationships and nurture relationships. Use them wisely for “wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction” (King Solomon—Proverbs 18:20, NLT).

When Jealousy Threatens Your Marriage

Joe arrived in therapy because he feared his wife would “cheat on him.” That fear was ruining his marriage. He admitted that he had no reason to think his wife would cheat on him. She had always been faithful, and she promised to remain faithful. Still, Joe feared the worst. After some exploration, Joe recalled a woman he had been engaged to prior to his wife. His engagement to this woman had ended when she had an “affair” with a man she met at work. Now Joe feared his wife would meet someone at her work as well. His unresolved past emotional injury had crept into his present relationship…and he knew it. Awareness is the first step in resolving this type of emotional injury and relegating it to its proper place—the past.

Another step involved Joe verbalizing his fear to his wife. Doing so accomplished the important objectives of communicating his fear and eliciting his wife’s support.

  • Communicating his fear and the underlying experience that contributed to that fear brought it into the light. Fears always grow stronger in the darkness of secrecy. Bringing the fear into the light weakens its power. It will also allow Joe to begin addressing his sense of self.
  • Communicating his fear also allowed his wife to know him better. It gave her the opportunity to understand him and his struggle better. That growing knowledge also provides the opportunity for greater intimacy with one another.
  • Now that his wife understands Joe’s struggle, she can offer support to help alleviate his fear. Rather than expressing anger and frustration at his unfounded fear, she can express empathy and affirm her faithfulness.
  • With the impact of this past experience on their present marriage “on the table,” Joe and his wife can problem-solve. They can develop a plan to increase the security ad intimacy of their marriage.

All in all, openly discussing Joe’s jealousy, the past that contributed to that jealousy, and how to manage it as a couple brought Joe and his wife closer together. They learned more about one another on a deeper level and so grew in more intimate. They could work together to build a marriage in which they both felt safe and secure. They could grow stronger as a couple.

You can, too, when you reveal the secret, elicit support, and work together like Joe and his wife.

Be Your Child’s Social Coach

Our teens have all kinds of coaches: sporting coaches, academic coaches (tutors), reading coaches, driving coaches (we call them instructors), and music coaches (private teachers) to name a few. The most important coach, however, is their social coach. Do you know the best person to fill the role of your teen’s social coach? You. Their parent. Parents are the most readily available person to offer social coaching. Parents know their adolescent best. Parents have years of experience in managing social situations. But, as always, there is a caveat.

A study published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology explored how parents (mothers in particular) guide (AKA, coach) their children during the transition into middle school and adolescence.  As part of the study, they measured the transitioning children’s level of arousal in response to social stressors like being bullied or teased, experienced rude peers, being harassed by peers, or having problems with a friend. The amount of social stress aroused in response to the social stress determined what type of parental “coaching” was most helpful. 

Specifically, teens who experienced minimal arousal in response to social stress benefitted most from specific advice on how to manage the situation and the challenging peer. These teens benefitted from active, engaged coping ideas specific to the situation.

On the other hand, those who experienced a high arousal in response to the social stresses inherent in peer interactions responded best to a more “hands-off” coaching style. In this style, the parent is less actively engaged and encourages more autonomy and self-reliant problem-solving. They do not offer specific advice. Instead, they ask their teen what they think about the situation. In fact, specific advice seemed to increase the teens level of stress. So, the parental coach helped their teen think about the situation and what they thought offered the best way to work through the stressor without giving direct advice.

Taken together, this study offers great advice about effectively coaching our children and teens in social situation. It starts with paying attention to how much the social situation impacts your child. Specifically, here are two pieces of advice for coaching your teen in response to social stresses.

  1. If they are just a little stressed by the situation, listen and offer specific advice. Actively participate in problem-solving. Reframe the situation. Help broaden their perspective to understand the other person’s perspective. Offer specific advice on ways to communicate and maintain boundaries that encourage respect and appropriate interactions.
  2. But if they are highly stressed by the situation, listen. Then ask about their feelings and thoughts in relation to the stressor. Validate their concern. Strive to understand their perspective. Listening and validating will help your teen calm their emotions. Ask them what they think might be the best way to respond to such situations and trust their abilities in responding.

Coaching our children through the social stresses inherent in moving toward middle school is a challenging task. However, these coaching tips can help. As you remain present and available for your children—offering a listening ear, seeking their input, and offering counsel—your teen will grow and mature into an adult who knows how to manage any social stress that arises.   

A Little “Self-Nudge” Goes a Long Way

Have you heard of the “Quarantine 15”? Maybe you have even gained it. I know I’ve gained a good part of it. Overall, the pandemic has changed our routines, our activities, and our eating habits. It has impacted our moods, our emotions, and our relationships. We are home more, out less, and stressed more. One response to all this stress and inactivity could be choosing what is most comfortable, enjoyable, and attractive in the short run instead of choosing what’s best for us in the long run. The result? Weight gain. Binging our favorite TV shows while neglecting other important duties. Strained family relationships.

There is a way to help avoid this though. Self-nudging. Yes, self-nudging is a behavioral science term (Using self-nudging to make better choices). It describes a way of designing and structuring our environments to make it easier for us to make healthier choices. Although science refers to it as “self-nudging,” I believe we can also practice it within the loving support of our marriages and our families. When we do, it will strengthen our marriages and our families as well. Here are some ways to practice “self-nudging” in your family to promote healthier living and healthier families.

  • Use reminders and prompts. Reminders and prompts can encourage you to make healthier choices on a personal level and on a family level. For instance, putting reminders of your spouse’s birthday, your anniversary, and your children’s birthdays in your phone can prevent those important dates from “slipping your mind.” Leaving notes for your spouse or children to find that remind them of your love for them is another way to use reminders to strengthen your family. A picture in your suitcase can encourage faithfulness while on one of the many business trips you might have to make. The list goes on. Reminders and prompts can help build an environment that nudges you toward intimacy with your family.
  • Practice putting decisions into a different frame that reveals priorities. We often think of choices in light of what we want and find pleasurable in the moment. However, the choice between sitting down to play a video game or talking to my wife about childcare becomes more difficult in this frame. Perhaps, when it comes to our family, we need to frame our choices in terms of how to express love and build relationship. I want to play video games and relax. But talking to my wife about childcare expresses my love and concern for her. It allows us time together to build relationship. Or, I want to sit down and rest but taking my child to their friend’s house expresses love and allows us to have uninterrupted time to talk and build relationship. The choice becomes a little easier when we remember that higher priority of love and relationship.
  • Make the healthy things more accessible than the unhealthy. This self-nudging technique is obvious when it comes to food. For instance, keep more fruit and healthy snacks in your house than sweets and “not-so-healthy” snacks. But what about family? Not subscribing to channels that provide temptations or putting the computer in a common area of the house make unhealthy viewing less accessible. Charging children’s phones in a common area overnight rather than in their bedroom removes the temptation to stay up all night texting friends or surfing the net. Creating an environment in which your family knows you are accessible and available limits their need to turn to other people for their connection, sense of value, and desire for guidance. Keeping yourself available nudges the family toward health.
  • Build positive relationships. Support one another. Be accountability to one another. Use encouraging words to nudge one another toward health. Gentle guidance nudges families toward health. Clear, consistent rules and boundaries enforced with loving discipline will make healthy choices easier to make. Open communication and acceptance will encourage healthy choices.

These four points offers only “the tip of the iceberg” in describing what you can do in each area to “nudge” you and your family toward healthier choices. Get your family together and talk about each area. Let the whole family come up with ideas for “self-nudging” your family toward health. Write them down…and enjoy a healthy, growing family.

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