Archive for Family Shepherds

What Your Child, My Child… Every Child Needs!

Schools continue to struggle to determine exactly how to start this school year. Parents and school districts struggle to determine how to balance safety, economic needs, and educational needs during this time. Sports remain an issue of debate. Will school sports’ teams compete or wait until the pandemic is resolved to enjoy competition? While all these decisions remain unresolved, life has become unpredictable for our families and our children. A lack of predictability will create a sense of insecurity in our children; and, insecurity contributes to negative behaviors and even health issues in our children’s lives. So, we need to find ways to help our children feel safe and secure even during the unpredictable nature of our world right now. How can parents do this? Here are 5 things you can do every day to get you started.

  1. Listen. Give your children the opportunity to be heard. Get curious about their emotions, challenges, grievances, and fears. Strive to understand what lies under their misbehaviors (Read Misbehavior: A Call for Love? to learn more) rather than lecture and reprimand. As we listen and understand, our children will feel more secure. They will become calmer and more able to problem-solve as well.
  2. Establish daily rituals. Rituals help to build daily predictability that will contribute to our children’s sense of security. They also provide opportunities to talk and build deeper, more intimate relationships (Is Your Family Like a Scene from RV? Try Rituals).  Rituals don’t have to be complicated. You can build them into your daily life. For instance, rituals might include eating a meal together, reading together at bedtime, establishing a 20-minute conversation time each day, having a puzzle you work on each day.
  3. Invest in your relationship with your children’s other parent. A strong, healthy marriage contributes to a child’s sense of security. Let your children bear witness to your love for one another.
  4. Spend time with your children. Children spell love “T.I.M.E.” Time is the currency of love and security for your children. When they know you will put down your cell phone, postpone a job for a moment to talk, or make time to engage with them, your children learn you value them and care enough to keep them safe. Make time for your children. (How to Spend Quality Time with Your Children.)
  5. Share healthy physical affection. Give a hug. Put your arm around your children. Wrestle. Healthy physical affection increases our sense of connection and an increased sense of connection makes us feel secure. Give your children a hug! (Six Reasons to Hug Your Family.)

I’m sure there are more ways to help your children feel secure during this time of unpredictability. But, these five will give a great start. What ways would you add?

It’s All Fun & Games Until… It’s Something More

Teaching our children to be helpful and generous is all fun and games…at least in part. That is what I learned from a study published in November 2014. Actually, it was a series of four studies. The first study involved 1- and 2-year-olds assigned to one of two groups. In the first group, a researcher engaged a child in reciprocal play such as rolling a ball back and forth, pushing buttons on a musical toy together, or handing large rings to one another. In the second group, the researcher engaged in parallel paly with the child. Specifically, the researcher played with one set of toys while the child played with another set of toys.  After six minutes, the researcher acted as though they needed help reaching an object. Those who had engaged in reciprocal play helped the researcher get the object significantly more often than those who had engaged in parallel play.

The second study involved assigning children to the same two groups as the first study. It also added a third group in which the researcher merely sat nearby and talked to the child while he played. This time, the researcher left the room and a second researcher, who did not know which child was in which group, came into the room and exhibited a need for help. Once again, those who had engaged in reciprocal play helped significantly more often, even though the person they helped was unknown to them, a stranger.

The third study involved 3- and 4-year-olds in the same two groups as the first study: a reciprocal play group and a parallel play group. As in the second study, the researcher left the room and an assistant carried out the rest of the study. This time, rather than asking for help, the researcher offered the child 6 opportunities to give stickers to him- or herself or to the absent experimenter through the assistant. Guess what. Those engaged in reciprocal play were significantly more generous.

Finally, in a fourth study involving 4-year-olds the researcher asked two assistants to play with the child while he left the room to complete a task. One assistant engaged the child in reciprocal play for one minute. The other engaged in parallel play with the child for a minute. Then the experimenter returned. He showed the children a picture of the two assistants and asked them to point to the one they thought would give them a gift, help them open a door, or share a toy with them. The children consistently pointed to the one who engaged in reciprocal play with them.

These studies suggest that engaging our children in interactive play—play that involves sharing, taking turns, working together—nurtures their willingness to show kindness to others, even those they do not know but trust. It also increased their tendency to act generously toward others. Generous and kind children…triggered by our own interactive play with them. Simply playing a different game next to them did not promote kindness or generosity. Neither did sitting next to them and talking while they played. Getting involved in their play, interacting with them—tossing a ball back and forth, sharing play objects (dolls), or working on a project together (Legos)—promoted kindness and generosity. In other words, teaching our children to be generous and kind is all fun and games. So, be generous enough to kindly give your children the time to interact with them in play…and they will grow in kindness and generosity as well.

A Challenge for Families of Teens

The media often tells us about the challenge of teens. We hear about their fluctuating moods, out-of-control hormones, and risky behaviors. We raise concerns about the prevalence ratings of teen sexual activity, drug use, or bullying. But maybe these stories sell our teens short. Maybe there is much more to our teens than the media would suggest. In fact, research published in the Canadian Journal of School Psychology asked 191 ninth grade students to engage in five acts of kindness in a week. In response, the students completed 943 acts of kindness during that week! 94% of the teens reported completing 3 or more kind acts of kindness in response to that challenge. Not surprisingly, after completing one week of kind acts, the students showed an increase in their perception of their own kindness. Binfet, the author of this study, noted that “when encouraged to be kind, the teens surpassed expectations.”

This reminded me of a concept Tony Campolo espoused many years ago in his book Ideas for Social Action. He believed that young people are attracted to challenge more than entertainment, meaningful action rather than “pie in the sky when you die” promises. In this study, Binfet challenged students to kindness and their response “surpassed expectations.”

What does all this mean for parents and families? Perhaps, rather than focus on the challenge of teens, we need to offer our teens a challenge, a challenge to kindness, a challenge to reach out to the others in love, a challenge to live a life of service, sacrifice, and meaning. In response to the study above, Binfet suggested that our teens would benefit from parents and educators finding “ways to best structure opportunities for youth to be kind to help foster their development.” I believe this challenge begins at home. How can we, as parents, provide opportunities for our children and teens to show kindness to others? When we do, I believe we will be pleasantly surprised as our teens “surpass our expectations.” So, rather than bemoan the challenge of teens, lets challenge our teens and our selves to engage in acts of kindness.

Here is an experiment you can try this month. It is a challenge for the whole family, including your teens. Challenge every member of your family, including the teens, to engage in 5 acts of kindness every week for a month. Note the acts of kindness can be done within the family or outside the home toward friends, acquaintances, or even strangers. At the end of each week, talk about the kindnesses each one has shared and how those acts of kindness impacted you as an individual and the world around you.

Early to Bed for Children Reduces…What?

My mother and my adult daughter were talking about childhood bedtimes recently. My daughter remembered having to go to bed during the long days of summer while the sun was still shining. Of course, I was the bad guy, the parent who made her go to bed in the daylight.

My mother found that amusing. It reminded her of how much I had complained as a child about going to bed during the long months of summer while the sun was still shining. Somehow, though, I was still the bad guy, the one who complained about going to bed early. In both cases I was the bad guy ( in good humor, of course).  But, no fear. I reminded them that research is on my side. (You can imagine the rolling of the eyes as I bring this gem into the conversation.)

Research published in Acta Paediatric found that an early bedtime reduced the risk of obesity in a study of 1,258 six-year-old Indigenous Australian children. To summarize, the lead author simply noted that “establishing consistent and early bedtimes may reduce the risk that your child will be overweight or obese.”

I guess I can thank my parents now for setting an early bedtime for me as a child. And, my daughter can thank her mother and me for doing the same. Perhaps they can both acknowledge that I am not such as bad guy after all. I am just a guy looking out for my children’s future health. After quoting the authors statement, my daughter and my mother both said, “Go to bed. Just go to bed.” And wouldn’t you know, the sun was still shining!

10 Daily Activities to Bond with Your Child

A strong parent-child relationship is associated with children who have better school performance, fewer behavior problems, and healthier peer social interactions. The positive parent-child relationship contributing to these outcomes is based on trust and connection within the relationship. Fortunately, parents can nurture this trusting parent-child relationship through small, daily interactions. Here are 10 daily actions you can take to build a great parent-child relationship of trust and connection.

  1. Keep mornings positive. Be aware of what your children need in the morning to start the day well. They may prefer a quiet morning or a morning with music. They may want a big breakfast or just a small one. Graciously provide those things that promote a good start to their positive day. Smile. Stay calm. If you go to work or your children go to school, hug them and tell them you love them as you go your separate ways. You can Start Your Children’s Day with a Memory Boost by simply promoting a positive mood.
  2. Play with your children 20 minutes every day. Follow their lead as you play. You might play a board game or a card game, catch a ball, play basketball, go for a walk…any type of play your children enjoy. If you need a prescription for play, here it is.
  3. “Catch your children being good” and acknowledge it out loud with a simple description of what you see (“You’re playing so nicely with your brother.”) or a “Thank you.” Catch the Little Rascals Red-Handed doing good at least three times a day.
  4. Eat dinner together. Make dinner time a time of friendly conversation, talking about the day or dreams of the future. Keep  the conversation friendly and save the “debates” for another time. And remember, Everything I Needed to Know I Learned at Dinner.
  5. Read to your children. Snuggle up and read a book together. As they learn to read, let them read to you. When they’ve “outgrown” the snuggle-and-read-together time (if we ever do), share information and discussion about the books you are both reading.
  6. Sing. Sing to your young child. Sing with your child. Sing along with the radio. Make up a song. Just “sing, sing a song, Sing out loud, sing out strong. Sing of good things not bad. Sing of happy not sad. Sing, sing a song, Make it simple, to last your whole life long Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear. Just sing, sing a song.” (Sorry, got carried away.)
  7. Allow 10-15 minutes at bedtime for your child to talk about their day and all its “ups and downs,” joys and struggles. Give them your full attention as they tell you about the feelings and activities of their day.
  8. Provide a way for your children to contribute to the home every day. This may be as simple as matching socks. Or it may involve setting the table, washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms—anything they have the ability to do alone, or with you and still a significant contribution to your home life. Put Your Children to Work for Goodness’ Sake.
  9. Show physical affection to your children every day. Give a hug, a high-five, a “side-hug,” or a playful, gentle slap on the shoulder. Share healthy physical affection multiple times a day.
  10. Pray with your children. Ask them how you can pray for them and let them hear you do so. Tell them how they can pray for you. You might even write down your prayers and review them every month to see how God is working in response to your prayers.

Ten ways to strengthen your relationship with your children. Build them into your daily life and watch your relationship to your child grow. You’ll be glad you did.

Parents as Emotional Containment Pods

A teen’s life is full of emotions. They can be happy one moment and angry the next…down in the dumps one moment, then turn around, and be on top of the world.  I’m sure you’ve seen it. School and community do not provide a safe place for them to unload these emotions. Instead, our teens endure the tedious demands of teachers, authority figures, and other teens while they go through their day at school or wander through the community. They put up with annoying peers with whom they need to interact as they navigate the teen challenges of becoming their own person and learn to differentiate from their family. Amazingly, they do this all with a great deal of grace.

Then, they come home. The frustrations, angers, annoyances, hurts, sorrows, and tears of the day remain bottled up until they release them, pour them out right onto us, their emotional containment pods. Yes, as a parent we get the privilege of serving as emotional containment pods for our teens. I say privilege because they come to us, a person they consider safe and who lives with them in a place they consider safe, to let it all out. They are comfortable enough with us to let all the uncomfortable feelings roll right out of their mouth and onto us. We help them contain the mess. We help them manage the emotions and navigate the frustrations. They have given us an opportunity to support them because they trust us! Unfortunately, knowing this does not make it easier for us to manage the frustration of experiencing their emotions wash over us and fill us.  But here are some tips that might help.

  • Remind yourself that you are providing them a way to unload stress so they can “keep it together” while at school and in the community. In addition, this provides an opportunity to teach problem-solving. But, before you move into any problem solving, listen.
  • Listen. Listening will teach your children that you value them.  It also informs them that their emotions are not overwhelming to you, you can handle them. You can help them manage the emotions, contain them in a healthy way.
  • Confirm whether your child wants to vent or complain. Venting simply expresses frustration and allows the “venter” to feel better because they have been listened to and heard. If your child simply wants to vent, listen, empathize, and listen some more.  Complaining, on the other hand, conveys the message that someone else needs to fix the problem. It takes no time to look at the areas of the difficulty “I” can influence. It leaves the complainer helpless. The complainer never feels better. Complaining does not accomplish anything. If your child wants to complain, move to the next bullet.
  • Help your child learn the difference between problems over which they have influence and those they cannot solve. Help them learn where their responsibility begins and ends. Help them determine what aspects of the problem they have influence over. When they have discovered those areas of influence, help them think through a plan of response. For those areas over which they have no influence, encourage them to learn to “accept the things they cannot change.”
  • Set limits. We want to have more relationship with our children than just listening to them vent. Encourage them to tell you positive events of the day as well. Also, sometimes our teens have bad days. They are irritable and snap out at family. They punish their family for their own bad mood with cutting remarks and snarky comments. It is a fair limit to say, “You can vent, I’ll listen. You can come to me and we can problem solve. But, we will not allow you to mistreat us.”

Teen years are filled with stress and emotion. Fortunately, these emotions provide a wonderful opportunity to grow closer with your teen and guide them toward greater maturity.

Mother and Child in Sync…A Husband’s Role?

Little girl baking christmas cookies

A study from the University of Cambridge used EEG’s to look at mothers’ brains and their babies’ brains while they interacted. They noticed that their brain waves synchronized, especially during positive interactions with lots of eye contact. This sharing of positive emotional states allowed mother and child to connect better. It also stimulated the development of their babies’ mental capacities. Although this study dealt with mothers and babies, I think it is likely true that happy mothers bond best with their children of all ages. And, the better the mother/child bond, the better the child grows and matures. With that in mind, a question popped into my mind. How can I, as a husband help my children have a happy mother? Does a mother’s happiness have anything to do with me, a husband and father? You bet. The happiest mothers are those who feel supported and loved by the father of their children. So, if you want your children to have the best relationship possible with their mother and reap all the benefits of that attuned relationship, practice these three tips.

  • Team up with your wife. She needs to know she is not alone in raising your children. Help take care of the home. Do some chores. Cook some meals. Clean the bathroom. Help take care of the baby. Change some diapers. Play with the baby. As an added benefit, know that seeing your do housework will enamor your wife toward you (Read Forget the Flowers…Do The Dishes). Watching you enjoy time with your baby and your children will really enamor her.
  • Emotionally connect with your wife. Share her joys and struggles. When she is happy, rejoice with her. When she is sad, mourn with her. Share your own joys and fears with her. Talk to her about how much you enjoy and love being a father and a husband. Also talk to her about your fears and concerns. You will grow more emotionally connected as you share your emotions with one another.
  • Honor your wife. We honor our wife by assuring she knows how much we value her. So, compliment her. Tell her she looks beautiful. Encourage her. Show her affection. Hold her hand while watching your child play on the floor, in the playground, or in the high school band. Give your wife a hug and kiss every night before you go to sleep and every morning before you leave for the day. Honor your wife. (This may actually be A Provocative Secret for a More Satisfying Sex Life.)

These three simple activities represent ways in which you, as a husband, can help your children have a happy mother. And, when their mother is happy their brains will be better attuned and ready to grow in a healthier way.

Parenting Lessons from the Pool

I like to swim with my family and friends. I love to play in the deep end of the pool knowing that when I tire I can just swim to the edge of the pool and hold on. After a moment of rest, I push off the wall and play safely in the deep water again.

Lisa Damour offers this as a metaphor for one aspect of parenting teens in her book Untangled. When it comes to parenting an adolescent, she notes, our teens are the swimmers and we are the wall of refuge they hold on to when they become tired. Our teen plays in the deep waters beyond our home, wandering into the deep waters of the adult world and all its complications. By doing so, they assert and practice their independence. They smile and laugh with their friends who are playing in the same deep waters. They test the waters that we have worked so hard to protect them from as they grew up. They look like they are having fun, but they eventually get overwhelmed, hurt, or frightened (we all do when swimming in deep waters). When they do, they swim back to us (the edge of the pool) and find their refuge and rest. They hold on to feel loved and protected, safe and secure. Then, when they feel rested and safe, our teens push away from us and back into the deep with their friends. They may push off with a “snarky” comment, a hurtful argument, a nonchalant “I-don’t-need-you-attitude,” or, worse, the “you-are-so-lame” look. While we nurse the pain of their kick-off from the comfort of our side, they return smiling to their friends.

If you are like me, you have felt the pain of being the edge of the pool for your teen swimmer. It feels like rejection…and it hurts. But nursing that pain just gets in the way of them seeking comfort from us in the future. So, how can we limit the pain of the “push off”?

  • Anticipate the push off. Know that it is going to happen. When your teen comes to you, enjoy the time together.
  • Set boundaries on rude behavior. Expect politeness and respect. You may even need to tell your teen that their behavior is hurtful.
  • Do not let your hurt turn to resentment and hinder the secure base your teen finds in you. Do not let the fear of hurt interfere with your ability to remain available. Stand strong. Your teen will continue to return to you in times of need. They need your comfort, your love, your availability.
  • Gather your village. Parents need a supportive village when raising a teen. Invite other teen parents into your life. Find some mentors who have already raised teens as well. Build a supportive relationship with your spouse. These relationships will support you and serve to bolster your strength to respond to your teen’s growing independence with wisdom and grace.

Parenting a teen is stressful. As parents, we have our own deep waters to navigate while raising a teen. We worry. We hurt. We experience fear…just like our teens. But, these four steps can help you provide a loving, safe environment that will allow your teen to grow and become a strong adult. They will also help you navigate the deep waters of nurturing the mature adult you want your teen to become.

The Message Behind the Words

Children and teens are still learning. Parents know this, but we still get angry when they make bad choices. We know children make mistakes. They push the limits. They compound already stressful situations by becoming distracted, breaking down into tears, or even having a tantrum. And we, as parents, respond. The real question is: what is the most effective response? How can teach our children appropriate behavior and responsibility for their actions while still communicating we love and value them? I’m glad you asked.

An effective response begins with the words we use. Our words carry two messages. One message is the objective meaning of the words…the least powerful message of the two. The other message, the more powerful message, is the implied meaning behind the words. Effective parents learn to use power of words by using words that imply an affirmative message rather than a negative message.  Consider these examples.

Implied Negative MessageImplied Affirmative Message
“When are you going to finish cleaning up your mess?” This communicates the negative implication that any effort your child makes is not enough. It’s never going to satisfy you.  “Good start. Looks good so far.” This acknowledges their effort, appreciates what they have done, and leaves room for more work to be done.
“Don’t forget” implies your child needs a reminder because forgetting is their norm.“Remember” expresses faith in their ability to remember and trust in their desire to remember.
“I have no idea what you’re babbling about” communicates that your child is not worth listening to. They are just a “babbler.”“Whoa. Slow down. I’m interested in what you have to say but I can’t keep up.” This implies you value what your child has to say and teaches them to speak in a manner you can understand.
“What are you doing? See those streaks? Are you blind? Do it right.” This statement communicates that your child is incompetent and cannot live up to your standards. There is no room for individuality and growth.“You’re really getting the hang of cleaning the tables now. Let me show you how to avoid leaving streaks on the table.” This communicates a trust in their ability to learn, an appreciation of their growing ability, and an awareness of them as part of ‘your team.’
“Why? Because I said so.” This statement offers a challenge. It presents a power play. Power plays and challenges always invite debate and rebellion.“I love you too much to let you do that. I’m afraid you’ll get hurt because….” This statement expresses concern and a belief in your child’s ability to understand the reason behind the rules.
“You are so careless. Watch what you are doing!” Name calling (“careless”) and global characterizations generally express negativity. How can a careless person watch what they’re doing? They’re careless.“Oops. We better clean that up. You’ll know to be more careful next time.” This statement acknowledges a mistake was made and normalizes that mistake. It also communicates a trust in them to learn from those mistakes.
“Quit crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” Minimizes or dismisses feelings. Makes children feel shame for their feelings. Limits their ability to learn to manage their feelings.“That has made you really sad.” Accepts and acknowledges feelings, which allows children to learn to better manage their feelings as well.
“Relax. What are you so angry about?” Once again, this dismisses their feelings with all the related negative results.“I appreciate your passion. It really shows how important this is to you.” Not only does this accept your children’s feelings, it communicates that feelings have an underlying value, a purpose. It encourages children to look for the deeper priority under the emotion.

What words do you remember hearing as a child? Those words that carried a negative message may have left scars you still experience today while words that carried an affirmative message continue to boost you and propel your forward. We want our words to propel our children forward with confidence and respect for authority. With that in mind, we must ask ourselves:

  • What words do I use with my children that carry a negative message?
  • How can I reword those phrases to send a more affirmative and effective message to my children?

Teen Self-Esteem? Forget About It! (Well, in part anyway)

Teens are hard on one another…and they are hard on themselves. They live under the constant pressure of expectations from parents, coaches, teachers, peers, and even themselves. In an effort to feel good about themselves, to have a positive self-esteem, they often get caught up in comparing themselves with other teens and with the false images of touched-up beauty, staged happiness, and constant success they find on social media. Questions like “Am I good enough?” or “How can I compete with them?” and “What have I accomplished lately?” are ripe with global evaluations that make anyone feel bad. All this judging of one’s self against arbitrary standards of perfection does not promote a positive self-esteem in our teens. But I have an idea. Forget about self-esteem. Focus on self-compassion instead.

Self-compassion allows us to recognize and accept our mistakes and struggles since “we are part of the human race.” Through self-compassion, we realize that “we all make mistakes and struggles. I am not alone.” Teens who practices self-compassion treat themselves with the same kindness and understanding they would extend to a good friend. This may sound naïve, but a study of 235 adolescents and 287 young adults revealed that teens and young adults who practiced self-compassion demonstrated a greater sense of well-being. That’s not all, either. Another study of self-compassion found that teens who practice greater self-compassion had less fear of failure and a greater association with “adaptive academic motivational patterns.” In other words, teens with self-compassion were better able to focus on accomplishing tasks at hand. They have greater perceived confidence and less fear of failure. As a result, they work toward achievement without the hinderances of fear or emotion-based goals. So how can you promote self-compassion in your teen?

  • Accept your teen’s emotions and help them find a name for those emotions. The broader a teen’s emotional vocabulary, the better able they are to recognize and accept those emotions in themselves and others.
  • Confirm that many experiences with which your teen struggles are universal experiences. They are not alone. Explore how other people have dealt with those struggles to help provide them options. 
  • Ask your teen what they would say to a friend in a similar situation. Encourage them to offer themselves the same compassion and kindness they would offer their friend.
  • When your teen makes a mistake or experiences a failure, understand their point of view. Listen carefully to understand. Then, after they know you understand, problem-solve together for similar incidents or situations that may arise in the future.
  • In conversation, use statements that are self-compassionate, statements that accept mistakes and look to the future, statements that show kindness, statements that reveal acceptance.
  • For more ideas, check out Dr. Neff’s self-compassion exercises. (Dr. Neff is an Associate Professor of Human Development and Culture at the University of TX, Austin, and a pioneer in self-compassion research.)

Ironically, as we teach our children and teens self-compassion, their positive “self-esteem” will likely improve as well. So, forget about self-esteem. Help your teen develop self-compassion.

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