Are You Hindering Your Children’s Growth?

Every parent strives to keep their children safe and healthy. I know I do. We want to provide opportunities for our children to make friends, try new things, and grow. But, many well-intentioned parents cross the line from providing and encouraging to hovering and controlling. Parents often cross this line accidentally, unknowing even, and in response to fears, anxieties, or sensitivities. When that line is crossed, our children suffer. Nicole B. Perry, PhD, from the University of Minnesota, completed a study following 422 children over an 8-year period. Her team assessed the children at ages 2, 5, and 10. The assessments included observations of parent-child interactions, teacher-reported responses, and self-reports from the 10-year-olds. When parents were assessed as hovering (aka, “helicopter parents”), the children were more likely to develop emotional and behavioral regulation difficulties. The inability to self-regulate emotions and behaviors contributed to poorer social skills as well.  What did a “hovering” parent do while interacting with their children? What made them “hovering” parents (3 Signs You Are A Helicopter Parent)? Well, rather than letting their children pick out a toy and play, “hovering” parents told their children what to play with and how to play with it. For instance, they might take over the controls for the video game to show their child how to complete a level, leaving their child to sit passively by and watch. Or, they might explain that tree leaves are green, not purple, and expect the child to color them green because that is more accurate. It’s all done to teach…but it interferes with their children’s opportunities to explore, learn from mistakes, and “think independently.”  Hovering parents also told their children how to clean up rather than simply encouraging their children to clean up (or better yet clean up with them). They often exhibited strict or demanding behaviors during play interactions, such as demanding the play proceed in a certain order rather than following their children’s lead or negotiating. Compared to children of parents who did not hover, children of “hovering” parents exhibited difficulties self-regulating emotions and behaviors. So, what can a parent do to “not hover” and still teach? To encourage a growing ability to self-regulate emotions and behaviors? Good question. Try some of these tips.

  • Talk about feelings and what behaviors might flow from various feelings. Help your children develop a vocabulary for emotions and a behavioral repertoire for managing those emotions. (Read 6 Tips to Make Your Children’s Emotions Your Friend for ideas to help you do this.)
  • Follow child’s lead in play. Spend at least part of your time with children simply following their lead. Acknowledge their actions and report those actions. Doing so communicates as sense of value to your children. It also increases the likelihood that they will follow your lead as well.  So, don’t take the controller to let them watch you beat the level on the video game. Instead, let them experiment and simply report back what they did along with the results. (Investing Time & Attention in Your Children describes a great way to do this!)
  • Negotiate the play. I know this sounds contradictory to the last bullet, but both are true. Sometimes we need to follow our children’s lead in play. Sometimes we need to negotiate the play with our children. Negotiating play teaches our children the skill of cooperation and compromise. It lets them learn that they don’t always get what they want…which in turn increases frustration tolerance. (Sometimes negotiation goes beyond playing. Check out 4 Benefits of Negotiating with Your Child to learn more.)  
  • Give your children chores. Teach them what needs done but allow them the freedom to achieve it in their way.  They may choose to do it the hard way.  Let them. They may take twice as long to do it. That’s ok. As long as they get the job done well, be happy.
  • Send them out to play with friends. Let them engage in unstructured, unsupervised play. They will learn amazing self-regulation skills while negotiating, compromising, and enjoying play with other children. (Give them the tools right out of Your Child’s Toolbox for Play.)
  • Set good example. Let your children see you manage anger and frustration well. Let them see you express joy and sorrow in healthy, appropriate ways. After all, our children learn best by watching us. So, set a good example. And start that example with having fun!

Powerful Hints to Build a Happy Marriage

Linda and Charlie Bloom recently wrote an article in Psychology Today describing essential qualities of happy marriages. They came up with seven qualities by interviewing “50 of the happiest couples” they could find. Their conclusions are very insightful…and I wanted to share a short summary of them with you.

  1. Happy couples appreciate the differences between them and their partner. In fact, many of the happy couples managed and enjoyed profound differences between them and their partner. They saw those differences as adding richness to their relationship. As a result, they could appreciate and express gratitude for their differences. (Appreciating your spouse holds other benefits as well. Read A Provocative Secret for a More Satisfying Sex Life to learn of one.)
  2. Happy couples found delight in bringing greater fulfillment and joy into their partner’s life. They did not consider it a sacrifice to promote their partner’s success and joy. Instead, they found it a pleasure to see their partner find fulfillment and success. (Discover how this attitude helps the family in The Lost Art of Sacrifice in the Family.)
  3. Happy couples kept short accounts of wrongs committed. They practiced quick apologies and forgiveness. They effectively and quickly dealt with any disappointments that occurred.
  4. Individuals in a happy marriage take responsibility for their part in any conflict. They do not blame, become defensive, or scapegoat. Instead, they take responsibility for the impact of their actions and words upon their partner. They acknowledge their responsibility and make amends as needed. (Taking responsibility for our actions may involve saying The Hardest Word.)
  5. Happy couples practice honesty. But, rather than practicing “brutal honesty,” they practice sensitive, loving honesty. They remained sensitive to their partner’s feelings and vulnerabilities when expressing their honest thoughts and feelings.
  6. Happy couples maintained a healthy balance between self-care and marital care. Happy couples saw each partner’s health and well-being as inextricably tied to the health and well-being of their marriage. So, they practiced healthy self-care and encouraged their spouse to practice healthy self-care.
  7. Finally, happy couples practiced gratitude on a daily basis. Gratitude seemed to contribute to an optimistic view of their partner and their marriage. Ironically, this optimistic view of their partner and marriage contributed to even more gratitude.

These seven points are excellent ways to keep your marriage strong. Read them over and talk about them with your spouse.  Discuss how you can begin to practice each one in your marriage. Start today. Your partner will love you for it, your marriage will be stronger for it, and you’ll both discover a growing happiness in one another. Who could ask for more?

Put Your Children to Work For Goodness’ Sake!!

Children thrive when they learn to manage their behaviors and emotions independently. They need to engage in at least two tasks to learn the skills of managing their behaviors and emotions. These two tasks make up the work of children. If they do not do this work, they will fall into our current cultural crisis of self-indulgence and self-gratification. On the other hand, doing work that allows them to learn the skills necessary to manage behaviors and emotions contributes to success, long-term joy, and contentment.  So, let’s put our children to work. Let’s get them on task, engaged in the work at hand. Here are the two basic work tasks in which our children need to engage so they develop the ability to manage their behaviors and emotions independently. Read on…because these work tasks might surprise you. 

  • Unsupervised, unstructured play remains the number one job for our children. When children play with other children they learn to cooperate with one another. They practice the art of compromise. They often need to set aside their own self-gratification for the good of the group and negotiate a solution everyone can live with if they want to continue the game. Each player learns to wait their turn, a discipline in delayed gratification and self-control. They also learn that they cannot “get their way” all the time. In the work of unsupervised, unstructured play our children learn to resolve disputes in a way that keeps everyone involved in the game. Unstructured play also allows children to take healthy risks, learning the limits of their bodies and abilities and when to stop to avoid injury. In other words, unsupervised, unstructured play is a job that teaches our children the skills necessary to manage their behaviors and emotions independently. ( Make Your Child “a Head Taller Than Himself” explains more about the benefit of play for the maturing child.)
  • Significant work in the home or community becomes the number two job to help our children learn to manage their behaviors and emotions independently. Notice, our children need “significant” work not “meaningless” tasks. Our children need work that makes a significant contribution to our home or community. Significant work allows them to feel like an important part of the home, like they are an important wheel in the overall functioning of the family. It informs them that they belong; they are needed. Children also become more confident when they have chores that play a meaningful part in their homes or communities. If, on the other hand, we prioritize our children’s activities to the extent that they no longer have any household contribution, we have set them up for struggles. They can easily slip into self-indulgence rather than community-orientation. They learn to be self-focused rather than community-focused. They miss out on opportunities to develop the discipline of prioritizing “what needs to be done” while making time for other activities as well. By engaging in significant household chores children learn of their self-worth, their contribution to “something bigger than themselves.” In other words, significant chores in the home and community give our children the opportunity to learn to manage their behaviors and emotions independently. (Read Chores: The Gift of Significance for more.)

So, put your children to work. Make time for them to engage in the work of unstructured, unsupervised play and assure they have significant chores that contribute to the home and family.

A Few Random Thoughts About Marital Conflict

There’s a New Yorker Cartoon in which a couple is arguing. One says to the other, “I can’t remember what we’re arguing about, either. Let’s keep yelling, and maybe it will come back to us.”  I chuckled when I saw that cartoon. It’s true. Many couples do not remember what they are fighting about. They remember the emotion, the hurtful words, the dirty looks…but they don’t recall the reason for the argument. They might continue yelling, but they still don’t remember what started the argument. So why blow up over a topic that you may not even remember tomorrow? Avoid the hurtful words, the dirty looks, the angry comebacks…your spouse will remember them and the damage they have on your relationship is huge. Instead, listen, understand, and bless. That will give you something better to remember and will even change quite a few arguments!

Sincere apologies work miracles. It’s true. But, a sincere apology is more than mere words. A sincere apology reveals genuine remorse for what was done and how it impacted the other person. A sincere apology accepts responsibility for the actions that caused the hurt and a sincere apology reassures the other of your love for them. A sincere apology involves the “fruit of repentance” as well, actions that replace the hurtful action and assure it does not happen again. A sincere apology requires humility, responsibility, and change. It’s well worth it though. A sincere apology not only restores relationship, it strengthens relationship. Sincere apologies work miracles. (Read The Top 6 Components of an Effective Apology for more.)

Time out is not just for the kids. Sometimes, couples need a “time out” to cool down. They need to stop the argument for a short time (20 minutes at least), “go to their respective corners,” and calm down. Calming down will require each one to put their mind on a topic other than the one they were fighting about. You can go for a walk, play a game, read a good story, watch a comedy, skim through magazines…whatever it takes to help you put the topic of the argument out of your mind long enough to “calm down.”  After emotions have cooled, come back together over a cup of hot cocoa and cookies (or some equivalent) to talk about the problem that caused the argument. You’ll likely find it isn’t really the big deal it had become prior to your “time out.” In a calm state, you will more easily resolve the differences or simply “agree to disagree.” It all begins with a “time out” to calm down.

One last thought. If you want to resolve an argument more quickly and calmly stop trying to figure out how your spouse has it all wrong. Instead, figure out what your spouse has right. Every perspective has some validity. Find your spouse’s valid point of view. Listen to the emotion and the priority behind your spouse’s perspective. What emotions, priorities, or concerns are driving their passion. Acknowledge their emotion. Accept their priority. Recognize areas in which you can agree with them. Then, build your solution from there. (Turn Your Argument Into the Best Part of the Day provides more tips for resolving arguments in a healthy way.)

 

*Cartoon downloaded from <https://www.art.com/products/p15063422260-sa-i6846321/david-sipress-i-can-t-remember-what-we-re-arguing-about-either-let-s-keep-yelling-an-new-yorker-cartoon.htm?RFID=765957>

Mothers Need the Village Too

The African proverb teaches us that “it takes a village to raise a child.”  Usually we believe this proverb teaches us children need a community of different people interacting with them for them to experience and grow in a safe environment. That is true; but, a recent study presented at the annual APA convention expands the meaning of this proverb to include the supportive village mothers need in the workplace as well. Let me explain.

Dionisi & Dupre conducted an online survey with 146 working mothers and their spouses. They asked the mothers about their experience in the workplace and their feelings of effectiveness as a parent. They asked their spouses about the parenting behaviors of the mothers. They found that experiencing rude behavior at work was associated with parenting behaviors that included high expectations for behavior, demands that their children follow the rules unconditionally, little feedback or positive nurturance, and harsh punishment for even small mistakes. In other words, when women were treated with disrespect, impoliteness, or ignored in the workplace, they exhibited more demanding and less nurturing behaviors toward their children at home. When a mother’s  workplace village ignored them, made derogatory remarks about them, robbed them of credit due for hard work, or blamed them for some mistake, they exhibited harsher and less relation-oriented behavior toward their children in the home.

These “low-intensity negative behaviors” (disrespect, impoliteness, blame, stealing credit, derogatory remarks, ignoring)n experienced in the workplace village “eroded” the mother’s sense of competence.  They then went home and were more likely to treat their children in demanding and harsh ways with little feedback and nurturance. These negative parental behaviors have been associated with many negative outcomes like aggressive behavior outside the home, difficulty in social situations, increased depression or anxiety, and poor self-control. To summarize, how the village treats the mother impacts how she interacts with her children which impacts how the children mature and act in the community. It’s not just the children who need a village for experience and safety. The children also need a mother who has a village that provides her with support, encouragement, and safety. I guess it really does take a village to raise a child…and that village needs to treat mothers with respect to have the best outcomes possible!

My Intelligence Went Adrift in the Sea of Her Eyes

A couple years ago, during my daughter’s sophomore year in college, we went to a high school football game together. She saw a young college age man wearing a sweatshirt from the college she attended. Excited to meet someone who attended the same college as her, she walked up to him and said, “Hey, I go to that college too!” The young man smiled, eyes wide.  She said, “What’s your major?” His arms began to move in motions indicative of speech and he opened his mouth as though to speak, but the words did not flow. After a very brief moment, sounds began to emanate from his moving lips as he stuttered, “Huh…well…I…huh…oh man,” his hand landed on the top of his head, “I can’t remember my major!” He looked hopelessly to his friend and then said, “I gotta go.”  I just smiled.  He did return later and had a more intelligible conversation with my daughter. He was a nice young man…very intelligent actually. He just “got lost in her eyes.” When she “ambushed him” that way his intelligence went adrift in her eyes.

Watching this brief interaction brought two things to my mind. One, I recalled the scene from Inside Out. You can check it out here. Two, it reminded me of a study completed in 2009 in which people interacted with attractive members of the opposite sex before completing cognitive tests (What Sexy People Do To Your Intelligence). Both males and females performed worse on the cognitive tests in the presence of an attractive member of the opposite sex. But males exhibited a stronger drop in ability than women. Why? The authors of the study believed that it had to do with “impression management.” It seems that trying to make a positive impression on another person sucks up enough brain power that our cognitive skills, our intelligence, is weakened. (That must be why I can’t speak intelligently when my wife walks into the room…oh, come one guys…give me a break. I’m trying to earn some brownie points here if my wife happens to read my blog!) My daughter knows about these studies since I talk about them (she would say I talk about them too much). She had compassion for the guy. She was patient and didn’t make a deal out of it.  In other words, she treated him with respect and honor. Teaching our children to respond to others with respect and honor is an important part of equipping them for the world…and making the world a better place. Let’s teach our children these values early.  Let’s give the values of honor and respect a central place in our families and in our training of children. We can still enjoy the intelligence that goes adrift in the sea of beautiful eyes, but we can also admire the compassion, patience, honor, and respect we witness in return.

Fathers…Who Needs ‘Em?

If you watch TV very often you might find yourself asking, “Fathers, who needs ’em?” Fathers, according to the sitcoms, are the bumbling, awkward parents who need a woman to save them and their family relationships. Even in Disney movies fathers often fall short. They need their daughters to save them from their fearful, “dark age thinking” (think Little Mermaid or Moana). Fathers are consistently taken advantage of by the antagonist of the Disney movie (think of the Sultan in Aladdin or Jane’s father in Tarzan). Fathers also play the “bad guy” by restricting their children’s growth and exploration (like Chief Powhatan in Pocahontas or Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins).  Don’t get me wrong. I love Disney movies. But, if they give a true representation of fathers, who needs ’em (fathers, I mean)?

Wait, I know the answer to that question. Who needs fathers? WE ALL NEED FATHERS!!! In spite of the representation we see of fathers in film, we need fathers. In fact, these representations are far from accurate. They dramatically misrepresent fatherhood…and do not show the true value of fathers.

Case in point, consider the findings of meta-analysis consisting of 34 studies on fatherhood completed by William Jeynes’, professor at California State University. The studies in this meta-analysis involved a total of 37,300 participants and highlighted the unique role of fathers in childrearing. Contrary to the depiction that children had to bring their fathers out of their fearful, “dark-age” thinking, this meta-analysis revealed that fathers play a crucial role in the “preparatory aspect of child-rearing.”   In other words, fathers played an important role (over and above the role of mothers) in helping children successfully move into the world as independent adults. Fathers also tended to communicate higher expectations of their children than mothers, helping them become ready for the world outside of home. Rather than restrict their children’s growth and exploration, fathers encourage their children’s growth and exploration. While encouraging exploration, a father’s active involvement still led to lower rates of delinquency and substance abuse in their children. As these few results reveal, we all need loving fathers in our lives! (For more on the impact of fathers in the family read A Father’s Surprising Difference and Fathers: “Committed to a Precious Responsibility”)

So, if you’re a mother, encourage your children’s father to become actively involved in your children’s lives.

If you’re a father, get off the couch, turn off the TV, leave work at a decent hour, and get involved in your children’s lives.  Their success in life depends on it. And, you will never regret that you did it! (The Best Advice for Dads…Ever to learn the best thing I ever did as a father!)

“You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”

You’ve heard songs lament, “You’ve lost that loving feeling….” You’ve probably even heard people you know declare, “I love you; I just don’t feel the love anymore.” That’s great news. Now those “loving feelings” won’t interfere with you revealing your true level of love. After all, true love is a verb, not an emotion. Feelings wax and wane. Emotions come and go. But true love includes more than emotion. True love is a verb that involves decisions and actions. True love engages in loving acts toward the one you love even when the feelings of love weaken or seem nonexistent. Think of those loving actions you engaged in when you first met and began to pursue a relationship.

  • The effort you made to spend time engaged in conversation and getting to know one another.
  • The time spent sharing interests and opinions over a cup of coffee or a meal. 
  • Think about how often you “picked up a little something” you thought “the one you loved” might like and gave it to them when you met. It might have been anything from flowers to a pack of gum to a picture of something you thought they’d enjoy.
  • Recall how often you complimented them on their appearance, their cooking, an achievement, or something they did for another.
  • Remember the times you admired their character as you saw it in action.
  • Think about the simple acts of physical affection like holding hands, sitting snuggled up in one another’s arms, or walking arm in arm.
  • Consider how often you offered to do something nice for them. You might have offered to get them a drink while you were in the kitchen, pick up milk on your way to their apartment, or carry a bag for them while they opened the door.

The acts of love go on. There are many more. Not so surprisingly, engaging in these acts of love reignites those dormant feelings of love.  I fear we often put the cart before the horse when thinking about love. We think loving feelings drive loving actions. While that might be true at times, real growth, real movement toward a stronger marriage, occurs when the horse of loving action drives the cart of loving feelings to a new and better place in our relationship. Of course, the one steering the cart and directing the horse, the coachman, is you and your decision to go in the direction of love. So, if you’re singing the blues (“I’ve lost that loving feeling”), cheer up.  Rejoice in the great opportunity presenting itself to you. Jump in the driver’s seat and take the challenge of driving the horse…eh, I mean, your loving actions. Engage in loving actions, the same type of actions you engaged in when you first “fell in love.” Celebrate the opportunity to reveal your true love in action and the cart of “loving feelings” will follow into an even more beautiful love than ever before.

Let the Children Bump!!

Loving parents establish loving limits for their children. It’s true. We need to do it. We set limits for their safety and the safety of others. We develop limits to teach them polite behaviors and mature attitudes that will allow them to find success outside the home. We put limits in place to guide our children toward becoming the best versions of themselves. But, you know what our children do with those limits. They bump up against them. They push the limits. They try to sneak around the limits and undermine the limits. Sometimes they bump so hard against the limits we get angry and frustrated. Don’t get too frustrated though because children bumping up against limits is a great thing, especially when we respond in love. Children bumping up against limits provides great opportunities and benefits. Let me explain.

  • When children bump up against limits they learn how to manage their frustrations. Life will not give them everything they want. They will encounter roadblocks and limits outside the family. Best to learn how to manage the frustration around limits in the loving womb of family rather than the harsh desert of the world. Let them bump…and help them learn how to manage the frustration of bumping a limit in a healthy, mature manner.
  • When children bump up against limits they learn about our true values. They learn long-term character is more important than immediate gratification or temporary wishes. They learn which values we truly find important and will “stick to our guns” for and which we will “give in” on. They learn which values we truly hold dear and which values we are willing to forfeit to avoid the hassle. They learn which values they really need to internalize and which they leave behind as they leave home.
  • When children bump up against our limits we have an opportunity to show our them love by explaining the reasons for the limit. They learn we believe in their ability to understand the reason behind the limit. They learn we respect them enough to explain those reasons to them in a calm manner. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we argue with them about the reasons. We simply inform them of the reasons. Then we show our love by standing firm and not budging while they bump up against a good limit.
  • When children bump up against a limit we have an opportunity to show them our love by listening to their outpouring of emotion. We can hear their explanation and simply be with them in their frustration. They will learn we love them enough to understand their frustrations and remain present in their anger. They learn we love them enough to hear them and understand their concerns…which brings me to the next bullet…
  • When children bump up against a limit we learn about our children. As they explain their frustration and “everything wrong with the limit,” we gain insight into our children. We may even find their complaint makes sense. We may even discover a need to modify the limit to better support their safety and growth. We will encounter times when our children’s insight and wisdom will influence us to change the limit…and that shows the depth of our love as well.

When children bump up against limits we have established for their safety and healthy development we can become frustrated. But remember, children bumping up against the limits presents wonderful opportunities to teach and love. Let them bump and find a loving, gracious limit that holds them secure. Let them bump and learn. Let them bump and hold them close.

A Gift You’ll Love to Give

We all love to receive a gift. Even more, we love to give gifts to those we love. Who doesn’t like to see our child’s face glow when they receive a gift from us? Or watch our spouse’s eyes glitter when they receive a special gift? Here is a gift you will love to give. Not only will you spouse and children love to receive this gift but you will experience all kinds of benefits…like more conversations, greater joy, and growing intimacy. What is this gift? The gift of attention!

You can give the gift of attention by listening intently. Listen to their words and listen to their tone of voice. Observe carefully. Observe their body language and their facial expressions.  Observe what excites them and what brings them down. Listen intently and observe carefully so you can understand them deeply.

Then, and only then, begin to speak. But don’t move to fast. Use your first words to confirm your understanding. State what you’ve observation. Repeat what you’ve heard. Listen again as they either confirm your understanding or clarify your understanding.

Now, once you understand and your partner knows you understand, you can respond. This sounds like it will take a long time and sometimes it does…but not always. Take this example:

“It’s a beautiful sunny day,” your wife says looking out the window at the flowers in the back yard.

 

“Yes. It is a sunny day. I like how it shines on the flowers in our backyard,” you reply.

This simple interaction includes the observation that your wife is looking out the window when you talk about the flowers she is looking toward. She knows you listened as you repeat her words back to her–“sunny day.” A simple interaction that gives the gift of attention. With a gift this simple, you can give it away to your spouse and children multiple times a day. It’s almost like Christmas. Merry Attention. Happy Listening.

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