Archive for Family Shepherds

Summer Boredom Stoppers

“School’s out for summer!” I hear this familiar refrain from almost every student I meet. But, I also know from experience that many will begin to say the all-too-familiar phrase, “I’m bored,” in a matter of weeks. If you hear that phrase in your house, here are some summer boredom stoppers you might want to stock up on.

  • Art supplies. Make sure to keep a large supply of crayons, coloring books, paper, colored pencils, and water paints to get your children’s creative juices flowing. You might even like to get some clay and, for the super creative group, some “edible jello finger paints” for a snacky art supply.
  • Crafts and hobby supplies. This may include anything from magazines and newspapers for collages to Lego’s to model airplanes. Some children might enjoy a rainbow loom or perler beads. My daughter enjoys knitting. My niece photography. Help your children find the craft or hobby they enjoy. Then encourage their active pursuit of that hobby.
  • Passive toys. Passive toys are simple toys that require active engagement from your children. They often require imagination and some level of planning. For instance, Lego’s and building blocks are passive toys. So are packing boxes which can be made into a fort, a tunnel, a car, or an airplane depending on your children’s imagination and need. Matchbox cars and dolls are also passive toys. These toys encourage imagination, problem-solving, and learning. Keep many such passive toys in your home to beat summer boredom.
  • Books. Books are always a great option for beating boredom. They open doors to new worlds. They encourage empathy. They teach and heal (Books That Heal). Keep a variety of books on hand for your children.
  • Kitchen Band Instruments. Musical instruments are a great boredom buster. You can use empty tupperware filled with rice for shakers, pots and pans for drums, and spoons for rhythms. You might also try a “straw-boe” or simply purchase some fun percussion instruments from a local toy store. Of course, you can always give your children the opportunity to learn guitar, piano, ukulele, trumpet, clarinet, violin, or any other instrument of their choice. They are all wonderful boredom busters.
  • Imagination supplies. Imaginative play will “help your child be a head taller than himself.” Keep a supply of dress-up clothes, toy crowns, fake money, and other such supplies available for imaginative role playing. Your children might play teacher, superhero’s, prince and princess, or family. They might even write, produce, and perform their own play for you.

With these supplies your children will have a great time. All the while they will beat the boredom of the long days of summer.

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.

“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).

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!

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!

Your Parenting Style Could Be Killing You

Did you know your parenting style can impact your health? It’s true. How you choose to parent will impact your physical and mental health. Let me explain.

We’ve all heard of helicopter parents. Helicopter parents often parent from a position of anxiety. They hover over their children and rescue them from any hint of frustration or challenge.  They engage in constant vigilance to spot their children’s potential struggles and then make heroic efforts to relieve them of the stress and frustration of the challenge. As you can imagine, this can leave the helicopter parent feeling stressed, pressured, and burned out.  Helicopter parents live with a constant anxiety that their children might become overwhelmed by stress, frustrated by failure, or saddened by “less than perfect” results. This constant stress and anxiety leaves the helicopter parent vulnerable to a myriad of health problems. For instance, it can leave them vulnerable to depression. Constant stress also increases the risk of gastrointestinal problems like reflux as well as problems like insomnia and a weakened immune system. In other words, the helicopter parent may place themselves at greater risk of catching the very virus from which they are trying to protect their child. (Are you a helicopter parent?)

What about the authoritarian parent? The “I’m-the-boss” parent often parents out of fear. They believe rules can provide a measure of safety and so make rules the priority. “If only we have the right rules in place our children will be safe.” They attempt to protect their children from the “dangers out there” and believe enough rules will offer the protective buffer. With the right rules in place, children will be safe and parents will experience less worry. Rules will save the day. Unfortunately, children eventually rebel in search of their individual identity. They must eventually face the dangers of the world. Yes, they will make mistakes as they face the world and establish their place in the world. Parental anxiety increases during these times. Fears are manifested as anger. Shouting and demand-making escalate as fear and lack of control increase. Anger, shouting, and exploding frustrations take a toll on parental health. Anger triggers the fight-or-flight response. Heart rates increase. Muscles tighten. Blood pressure increases. Cholesterol increases. Risk of heart attack increases. (Read Where Are You On the Parenting See Saw describes the “I’m-the-boss” parent as heavy on the authority side.)

What’s a parent to do? The two parenting styles described above have detrimental effects on health; one parenting style has a preventative effect on our health. What parenting style is this? A parenting style of positive discipline. In positive discipline parents focus on a balance between connection and age-appropriate rules. They work to provide a warm and emotional relationship while also providing age appropriate structure.  Parents who practice positive discipline focus on the beliefs and motives behind the behaviors not just the behaviors themselves. They learn more about their children, their abilities, their interests, their fears. By focusing on relationships and encouraging an intimate knowledge of your children, this parenting style boosts confidence in parenting. Those who have greater confidence tend to have great health and longer lives. Confidence and balance helps a parent engage in their children with more patience. This all helps protect against depression. It enhances immunity. It promotes health. (Here’s an example of positive discipline I witnessed at Dunkin Donuts.)

So, if you want to life a healthy life, adjust your parenting style. Practice a style of positive discipline. Oh…there is another benefit of positive discipline. Children thrive under positive discipline. They grow more confident. They listen better. They exhibit fewer behavioral problems. And yes, all this will add to your health as well!

Have Fun AND Reduce Childhood Aggression

You may have heard a lot about executive functioning over the last few years. Executive functioning is the ability to manage one’s self and one’s resources to reach a goal.  Executive functioning skills include the ability to set goals for a plan and then monitor progress toward those goals as well as skills like sustained attention, memory, and impulse-control. As you can see, these skills are crucial for our children’s maturity. In fact, a recent study from researchers at the University of Potsdam found that deficits in executive functioning during elementary school predicted higher physical and relational aggression three years later (Childhood Aggression Linked to Deficits in Executive Function). Fortunately, executive functioning is a learnable skill! That’s right. You can help your children learn the skills of executive functioning and improve in those skills as they age.  In fact, tools that teach executive functioning are not even difficult to implement. They even provide an opportunity for you to have fun with your children! Let me give you a few examples.

  • Playing games that require taking turns will teach impulse control. Having to “wait for my turn” means managing my desire to go, controlling my impulse and waiting for someone else. “Waiting for one’s turn” also requires a person to keep a goal in mind while someone else takes their turn. While waiting for one’s turn, a person monitors their progress toward a goal while comparing it to the other person’s progress toward the same goal.  Impulse control, focus, planning, monitoring progress while keeping a goal in mind…all while waiting my turn in a game. “Trouble” and “Sorry” take on a whole new meaning with this information in mind.
  • Games like “Mother May I” and “Simon Says” teach impulse control, focused attention, and listening. These are great executive functioning skills.
  • Imaginary or pretend games involve storytelling, planning, managing emotions to fit the story, negotiation, and more. Encouraging children to engage in imaginative play not only nurtures executive functioning skills, it “makes them a head taller than themselves.”
  • Song games with movements teach young children executive functioning skills like focused attention (focusing on the words of the song), self-control, and memory (remembering the words to the song and the movements). As children get older, line dances, marching band, and dance routines accomplish similar goals.
  • Games (board games, card games, or team games) that require strategy teach many executive functioning skills. For instance, strategy games encourage planning, holding a plan in mind for several moves ahead, adjusting the plan as obstacles arise, and working memory to remember the plan. Whether the strategy game is chess, Battleship, Clue, or basketball, it will nurture your children’s executive functioning skills.

I hope you get the idea. There are many more activities that promote executive functioning skills (find more in this “Activities Guide” from the Center of the Developing Child at Harvard University). From participating in sports or plays…to learning to play an instrument…to imaginative play and storytelling you will have a great time enhancing your children’s executive functioning through play… and you’ll decrease the likelihood of aggressive behavior in the future. Our world could definitely thank you for that!

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