Archive for Family Shepherds

How to Discipline Before You Even Need To

I don’t know about you but I hate to see my children upset, struggling, or in pain. Still, sometimes they misbehave and suffer as a result of that misbehavior. They make foolish choices and struggle with the consequences. As hard as it is to watch, it’s in their best interest to let them suffer. I have, however, discovered a way to limit those moments of suffering and thus our own struggle with watching them suffer. Limit them, I say, NOT eliminate them. It’s a way to teach them disciplined behavior and how to make wise daily actions before trouble begins. It’s not 100% successful, but it certainly made a huge difference in our home and in any home in which I’ve see it implemented. I’m talking about establishing daily routines.

Routines will help your children and your family discipline before you even need to. Many of the benefits of routines stem from the predictability they add to family life. When children know what to expect, positive things happen. One great benefit of routines is watching your children learn disciplined behavior before suffering the consequences of poor choices! Let me share a few other benefits your children will experience when you establish healthy routines.

  • Children become more cooperative and less oppositional with routines in place. Power struggles decrease as routines become the norm. Morning routines replace nagging. Bed time routines replace fighting. Children learn to follow the routine because “that’s what’s next” and what’s next is a healthy, wise lifestyle choice.
  • Children gain a sense of mastery and independence with routines in place. As children learn the routine, they require less prompting. They learn to do more on their own. For instance, a dinner routine which includes setting the table, clearing the dishes, and loading the dishwasher becomes a family activity in which everyone participates and learns how to complete each step independently if needed. A morning routine contributes to competent self-care and an independent ability to prepare for the day, which will be a great benefit to the whole family in middle school, high school, and college.
  • Children gain a sense of security from healthy routines. Routines add predictability to the day. When transitions and changes occur, those routines add stability. Predictability and stability equal safety and security for children. Children who feel safe and secure in the family listen better and misbehave less often. For instance, children who know their parent will read with them before they go to sleep experience a sense of safety in the relationship that allows them to open up and talk about the important events of their life and day.
  • Children gain a stronger identity through routines. Routines help define who we are as a family and as individuals. We are ‘readers’ who read together every night. We are ‘independent people’ who don’t need our mom to get us up for school every day. We are family, supporting one another as we talk during family meals. We are ‘campers’ who go camping one a month. We are ‘people of faith’ who practice our daily and weekly prayers and services. You get the idea: routines build identity.
  • Children bond with family through routines. Family dinners, bedtime routines, routines of taking leave, routines of reunion, and holiday routines all provide the opportunity to bond with family and express love and affection for one another. They provide the time to share experiences, talk about the day, and practice values together.

Overall, routines provide the structure and opportunity to teach appropriate behavior. They allow you to discipline even before it’s necessary! (For more ideas on the benefit of routines and what routines you can establish read Mundane Opportunities for Quality Time and Add Meaning to Life by Building Routine.)

Holding Tightly With an Open Hand

My youngest daughter had a wonderful opportunity to sing at DCINY under the direction of Eric Whitacre in Carnegie Hall. She was ecstatic. It demanded a great deal of work and courage on her part. She had to fill out the application, try out, rehearse independently, and then rehearse with the choir. She also made arrangements with her teachers to make up missed classwork, arrange travel to New York, arrange a stay in a hostel, and manage her time while there. She did an amazing job. I’m very proud of all she did, including her work to grow as a vocalist and as a person who cares for and loves people from all walks of life.

My oldest daughter is preparing to move across the country to begin her next stage in life. She has worked hard to get an opportunity to study music’s impact on identity for oppressed populations.  She too is thrilled with the opportunity. She has worked hard to get to this point. She has already begun to make the arrangements necessary for a successful move. It’s exciting to consider who she might meet, where she might go, and what she might learn.  I’m very proud of all she has done, including her work to grow as a pianist/musician and as a compassionate advocate and scholar.

I love watching my daughters grow and experience life. I anticipate other wonderful experiences in both their lives. It is all very exciting. At the same time it’s a bit…well…sad. Don’t get me wrong. I am thrilled to watch my daughters grow and encounter new experiences. But, their growth also means they become more and more independent. They do not need me as much anymore. They are learning to manage their own lives without my help. They are learning to do it “all alone.” Go figure. Years of working to get our children to this point and now it’s here. Now, it’s time to let go. Well, maybe I’m not really going to just let go. I’m going to hold on tightly, but with an open hand as I watch my daughters take flight. I’m going to hold on tightly with an open hand so I can watch them “soar to new heights.” I’m going to hold on tightly with an open hand while trusting the relationship we have nurtured to keep us emotionally close, no matter how physically far they travel from home and how independent they become. I’m holding on tightly with an open hand so we can learn from one another, so we can share in the new experiences of life as each of us grow older. I’m holding tight with an open hand as we learn to relate together as adults who serve and encourage one another, support and strengthen one another. It’s an adventure, a frontier we have not yet fully experienced as a family. But it holds great opportunities for all. So we walk this adventure together, holding on tightly to one another with an open hand.

If Looks Could Heal…

I stole the title for this blog from the title of a research study exploring the impact of a non-residential father’s involvement in his children’s lives (If looks could heal: Child health and paternal investment). This study explored the relationship between non-resident fathers, their children, and their children’s health. It found, among other things, that “a typical visiting father” who invested one extra day of time per month in his children’s lives “enhanced their health by just over 10% of a standard deviation.” Although this study dealt only with fathers and children who did not live together, I believe it points to an important principle of father-child relationships. A father’s investment in his children promotes their overall health and development in a positive way.  In fact, a father’s investment in his children’s lives promotes healthy children, healthy families, and healthy communities. This particular study suggests a father’s investment impacts physical health. Other studies have shown that a father’s involvement impacts other areas as well. For instance, a father’s involvement in his children’s lives will impact their:

  • Academic Life. School-age children with involved fathers become better academic achievers. They are more likely to have better quantitative skills, better verbal skills, and higher grade point averages.
  • Emotional Life. Father involvement is positively correlated with children experiencing more overall life satisfaction and less emotional stress or mental illness.
  • Social and Emotional Life. Children who have involved fathers are more likely to score high on self-acceptance as well as exhibiting greater personal and social adjustment as young adults.
  • Future Employment. Children who have involved fathers have a greater chance of becoming more successful in work as adults.
  • Social Life. Father involvement is positively correlated with children’s overall social competence and ability to relate to others.
  • Social and Community Involvement. Children with involved fathers are less likely exhibit conduct problems. They are less likely to engage in negative behaviors such as substance abuse or delinquent behaviors that might result in jail time.

A father’s presence in the family and investment in his children’s lives pays dividends for their children’s whole life. A father’s involvement benefits his children, his family, and his community. Get involved today!

(For more specific statistics related to these findings see the following sites: The Importance of Father Involvement, an interesting infograph from the University of Texas; 10 Facts About Father Engagement, from the Fatherhood Project; and The Effects of Father Involvement: A Summary of the Research Evidence, from the Father Involvement Initiative-Ontario Network.)

Rewire Your Brain & Stop Yelling

I love children. I find raising children one of the most amazing and rewarding tasks of life.  But, I have to be honest.  Raising children can be extremely frustrating as well. It can take you right to the edge of sanity. Raising children can make parents want to pull their hair out. Many a parent finds themselves yelling at their children in frustration and then feeling bad about yelling. If you’re like me, you probably realize that yelling isn’t even very effective in the long run. It “scrambles” our children’s brains. They can’t think in the face of yelling. It traumatizes our young children when taken to the extreme. Some studies even suggest it might increase the likelihood of aggression. Most parents don’t want to yell but struggle to stop. How do we stop? It seems like the brain is wired to yell in frustration. If you’re in this boat, I have some good news: 4 steps to help rewire your brain to stop yelling…or at least limit the times you do yell.

  1. Reduce unnecessary We tend to yell more than we think. We often create an environment of yelling in our homes. We yell “Time to eat,” “Dinner’s ready,” “Turn the music down,” “Close the door,” “I’m coming,” and all sorts of other simple comments. We really don’t need to yell these phrases. A much more respectable and polite method of communicating the same message involves approaching the other person and calmly let them know “Dinner’s ready” or “Don’t forget to shut the door please.” Become aware of all the unnecessary times you yell in the home and begin to change those times. Replace those times of yelling with connection: approach the other person, maybe touch them on the arm, and simply talk.
  2. Tame your internal voice. Parents often have an inner voice screaming demands at them throughout the day. It may not be loud, but a harsh demanding internal voice will increase internal stress and chaos. To stop yelling in the home, we need to tame our internal voice. Take five minutes a day to sit down, breath, and meditate or pray to help create an inner calm. That inner calm will quiet your internal demanding voice. The calmer you can keep your internal voice, the fewer times you will use your external voice to yell.
  3. Increase connection. Take time to connect with your child every day. The more connected you are to your children, the more often they will listen. You can also use moments of frustration to connect with your children. In fact, these are powerful moments of parent-child connection. So, when you feel like yelling, connect physically by gently direct your child out of the traffic area (if needed), get down on their level, look them in the eye, and gently touch their shoulder or arm. Then connect emotionally by labeling their emotion. Finally, after connecting physically and emotionally, restate your directive or limit.
  4. Slow life down in general. Sometimes life gets so rushed and serious. When it does, yelling increases. So make time to laugh with your children every day. Take time to connect rather than rushing about. Put in the effort to patiently bless your children with your time and delight rather than blurting out angry words in frustration. Your children will love you for slowing down…and you will yell less.

There you have it: four tips to rewire your brain and tame your yelling. Give it a try over the next month and enjoy the results.

You Can Help Prevent Teen Suicide with These Simple Actions

I have bad news. Teen suicide rates are on the rise. In fact, suicide rates for teen girls hit a 40-year high in 2017 (Suicide Rate for Teen Girls Hits 40 Year High). Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens 12- to 19-years-old in 2006 (CDC: Mortality Among Teens Age 12-19 Years Old) and the second leading cause of death for those 10- to 24-years-old in 2015 (National Vital Statistics Report-see page 10 for figure). Many times depression or other mood disorders can be involved (Teen Suicide Statistics).  Overall, this is devastating information. Our young people are crying out in need of something.  But what do they need? A study presented at the 2017 American Public Health Association conference gives us a hint and tells us how we might stem the rising tide of teen suicide. They presented three conclusions from a 2012 US national Study of Parental Behaviors and Suicidal Feelings Among Adolescents that can cut suicide risk by up to 7 times (These Parenting Behaviours Cut Suicide Risk 7 Times).

  1. Tell your children and teens you are proud of them. Adolescents were five times more likely to have suicidal thoughts, seven times more likely to have a suicidal plan, and seven times more likely to attempt suicide when their parents rarely or never expressed pride in them. Adolescents need to know we take pride in their actions and their efforts. They need to know we take pride in them!
  2. Tell your children they have done a good job. This simple action was associated with a similar level of suicidal risk noted above. When we acknowledge a job well done we communicate our teen’s value. We inform them that we notice their and appreciate their work. We express the importance of their place and work in our home and world. We acknowledge their power to do things and the importance of that power in our lives.
  3. Help your children with their homework. Once again, helping with homework was associated with a similar level of suicidal risk noted in bullet #1. Helping our children and teens with homework communicates love. It lets them know we are interested in their world and committed to their growth. It gives us the opportunity to learn and grow with them, sharing in tasks together. It expresses how much we love them…enough to help them in the work of their daily world.

Once again, these three simple actions significantly reduce the risk of suicide in teens. Unfortunately, many teens do not receive these simple blessings from their parents. Make sure your teen does.

I would add two other important actions we can take to protect our teens from suicide.

  1. Get to know your teen. Learn about their world of friends and activities. Observe their moods and behaviors. If you see some change in their mood, if they appear depressed or isolated, seek help. Many teens who commit suicide have some type of mood disorder or change in peer relationships (Teen Suicide Statistics). Know you teen well enough to recognize the signs…and get help if they need it.
  2. Limit the use of electronic devices and encourage face-to-face interactions. In recent studies, Jean Twenge and colleagues identified that teens who spend five or more hours per day on devices are 71% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide. (The Risk of Teen Depression and Suicide is Linked to Smartphone Use) At the same time, getting rid of all devices did not help. Instead, the option resulting in the best mental health limited time on devices while encouraging face-to-face interactions.  (Read Just So You Know: Screen Time & Teen Happiness for more on this.)

Overall, these five actions are not hard. They do take time. They mean investing in the lives of our youth.  And that’s a great investment…after all they are amazing people with exciting futures who will build the tomorrow in which you and I grow!

A Contract with My Preschooler?

Want to increase your preschooler’s attention span, ability to plan, and self-confidence? Here is an idea borrowed from “Tools of the Mind”.  Let me describe what the teacher does in a preschool where this idea is utilized. The teacher helps children plan their play before they begin their play. They actually discuss what the children want to do and let them “write down” the order of activities they want to engage in. The “written” order of activities may not have actual written words. It may consist of pictures or what appears like scribbles.  Nonetheless, it represents the child’s plan, a symbolic contract.

Children then begin engaging in their activity. As you have likely experienced, they often lose focus part way through the activity and begin to drift to another activity. At that point, the teacher brings the children’s “written contract” out and asks them if they finished what they had planned to do.  Often, the children look at the paper and remember their “plan.”  “Oh yeah. I have to finish….”  A simple reminder and they return to the initial activity and continue with “the plan.”  After the activity, the teacher goes over the “plan” with the children again. They acknowledge the children’s accomplishment. This allows the children to enjoy the accomplishment of completing what they began.  Adding to the benefit, children gain an increased attention span, a better ability to plan ahead, and a greater sense of self-confidence. Who wouldn’t want that for their child?

Reading about this tool got me thinking. Could we do this with our children at home? Sure, it takes a little more time but preschoolers spend a lot of time planning their activities already. And, it really isn’t that hard. We simply begin to talking with our children about the play activities they want to engage in. We allow them to “write down” the activities and “make a plan.” Then, as we engage in play and our children begin to drift from the plan, we ask them about the plan. We even let them look at the “written plan” and ask if they still want to continue with the plan or change it. Many times they simply remember the plan and return to the activity they had initially written down. And in the process they learn to plan ahead, focus, and build self-confidence. How great is that?

5 Strategies to Get Your Children to Listen

Children are an enigma to me, a puzzle.  They hear everything…except when you ask them to do something. Swear one time in front of them and they repeat it for weeks at the most inopportune moments…but they still forget to say “thank you” and “please” after a gazillion reminders. They can remember every single one of the countless Pokémon characters in existence, even spouting off each one’s strengths, weaknesses, and evolutions (I’m not even sure I said that correctly)…but they can’t remember to make their bed and brush their teeth. I can’t say I ever figured out this puzzle, but I have learned a few hints to increase the chances that your children will listen to you when you give them a directive.

  • First, grab their attention. Gain eye contact with your children before giving them a task. This may mean interrupting their current activity for a moment so you can obtain face-to-face, eye-to-eye recognition. Speak directly to them. You’ve seen your children do it to you. When they want to tell you something or show you something, they repeat your “name” until you turn to look at them. They tap your arm and leg and side until you look at them. They might even grab your chin and turn your face to look at them. Take a hint from your children. Grab their attention before giving them a task.
  • Second, make it fun. Clown around a little bit. I remember my children’s allergist. He always found Donald Duck in my daughters’ ears and Bugs Bunny in their other ear.  He found amazing characters in their eyes and throat. They couldn’t wait to see him and find out which ear Donald Duck would reside in today. They never fought his ear, nose, and throat inspections. Why? Because he added fun to it. Be creative and make your children’s chores fun. Sing while you set the table. Tell stories while you make the bed. Make dinosaur noises while you walk to school. Whatever your children love, use it to create some fun.
  • Third, don’t ask, tell. When children are young they do not understand that a polite question such as “Would you please set the table?” is a directive. If you want them to set the table, make it a polite directive: “Set the table, please.” Once again, you will see this when your children interact with other children. Young children rarely say things like, “Would you please pass me that Lego when you get a chance?” They use a much more directive approach. They say, “I want that one” or “Give me the blue one.” They are not necessarily rude, just direct. They understand direct. They do not yet understand the nuances of indirect requests. So, if you want your children to do something, tell them politely but directly.
  • Fourth, slow it down. Be patient. Give them a chance to respond. Children need time to process your request, give them time to do so. If you jump in too quickly, you have just given them an “out.” You have changed the focus from your directive to your impatience. They can’t focus on both. Until their preteen years, they can only focus on one thing at a time and that is generally the immediate or the one with greatest intensity. So, if you jump in with an impatient remark, they will forget the directive and focus on your impatient remark. They find it difficult to keep both in mind. Slow down, be patient, and wait. Give them a chance to respond. If they do not respond, grab their attention again and repeat the directive.
  • Finally, give them appropriate choices. Let them begin to make choices from an early age. Do they want to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt today? Should we read then take a bath, take a bath before reading, or read one book before the bath and one book after the bath? Let them choose. Agree on their choice and carry it out. You might be surprised at how well they remember their choice. And, doing this increases their independence over time.

Five practices that will help your children listen well. They will still prove to be an enigma. You’ll still discover those astounding paradoxes that shock you…like their ability to make the most profound, insightful comment just before talking about the Tooth Fairy’s lack of generosity. But hey, at least they’ll listen a little better.

Has This Contagion Infected Your Home?

A contagion may have infected your home. It spreads faster than the flu and the common cold put together. Wearing a mask, washing your hands, and getting vaccines remain ineffective against it. This contagion can spread through your family causing misery, pain, and heartache at a speed that’s nothing to sneeze at. Researchers at the University of Florida (_______ Spreads Like a Disease) identified this contagion in a series of three studies.

  • In one study this contagion was caught after being in close proximity to someone who exhibited the symptoms. Once infected, the infected person’s thought life was impacted with the negative associates that led to ill-mannered and impolite behaviors.
  • In a second study, simply witnessing the symptoms of this contagion led to actual infection! The infected person began to interpret other people’s behaviors in a negative light and then respond to people based on those misinterpretations. Uncivilized and insolent behaviors increased as did harsh words and snide, cynical comments.
  • In a third study those interacting with the carrier became infected and, once infected, willingly sought revenge by withholding resources from the original carrier. Even more disturbing, the infected were capable of infecting others for up to a week after a single contact with the disease!

You can understand my concern. A contagion caught by simply witnessing the symptoms, lasts a full week, and effects how we think and act toward others is terrible. It’s practically a mini-zombie virus.

What exactly is this contagion? Rudeness. Rudeness has become epidemic. Twitter feuds, Facebook rants, and on-line opinion broadcasting are all symptomatic of a rudeness contagion spreading faster than the flu. Worse yet, rude behavior has found its way into our homes and our family relationships. Children are rude to parents and parents to children. Spouses spout off with rudeness toward one another. All the while, the epidemic spreads…and worsens…and destroys family relationships. But, there is a cure! We can stop this epidemic before it spreads any further. And you can insulate yourself from its insidious effects with the same intervention. That intervention comes in four parts.

  1. Be polite to one another. Say “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” Hold a door open for someone else. Think about your spouse and children first. Show them consideration.
  2. Engage in daily acts of kindness. As well as showing one another politeness, be kind. Do a chore for another family member. Offer to help. Let your spouse or child choose the activity. Bring home a special treat. Show a little kindness every day.
  3. It seems simple, but a smile can change the world. Smiling helps reduce stress (Smile for a Happier Family). It puts other people at ease. Smile.
  4. Make eye contact. A study from the University of Haifa showed that simply maintaining eye contact reduced mean behavior and rudeness (Eye Contact Quells Online Hostility). Look at the one another, especially when you speak.

The cure sounds so simple…but powerful. I’m starting right now. Will you join me?

Boost Your Children’s Communication Skills

Our children need to develop the ability to communicate well if they want to succeed in this world. Think about it. If you want to effectively resolve a disagreement, you have to explain yourself well. If you want others to understand you, you have to express yourself well. If you want to woo your love, you must declare your love in a way the other person will “hear” and appreciate. If you want to get the promotion at work, you have to make your desire and your ability known. Communication and language are essential to our growth, our maturity, and our success.  A recent study from MIT explored how children develop these language and communication skills (Back-and-forth exchanges boost children’s brain response to language). They discovered the number of “conversational turns” between child and parent predicted differences in language skills and even brain physiology. The more back-and-forth exchanges between parent and child, the greater the child’s language comprehension and expressive abilities. In addition, when children who experienced more back-and-forth exchanges with parents listened to stories, they exhibited a more activity in the area of the brain involved in processing and producing language (Broca’s area).  In other words, they were more “tuned in” to hearing, producing, and processing language. So, if you want your children to learn to communicate more effectively, don’t rely on Dora, language games, or other TV shows.  Engage them. Interact with them. Converse with them about topics of their interest. Play fun language games like Telephone, Mutual Storytelling, or Salad Bowl.

The two most important aspects of any activity geared toward helping your child grow is to 1) make it age appropriate and 2) keep it interactive. So have fun. Interact. And watch your children improve their communication and interactive skills.

Just So You Know: Screen Time & Teen Happiness

A recent study published in the journal Emotion noted the impact of screen time (meaning the time on devices engaged in social media, texting, or playing games) on teen happiness. Just to let you know, getting rid of all social media, texting, and electronic game playing did NOT result in the greatest level of happiness! However, as engagement in social media, texting, and electronic game playing increased, so did teen levels of unhappiness. (See The Amount of Screen Time Linked to Unhappiness for more.) Wait. Don’t those two statements contradict one another? Not really. Let me explain.

Over one million teens in 8th, 10th, & 12th grades were surveyed about how they spent their time on their phones, tablets, and computers, how much time they engaged in face to face interactions, and their overall happiness. The results suggested that the more time over an hour that a teen spends in front of a screen engaged in social media, texting, and gaming, the less happy they were. Cutting out screen time altogether, however, seemed to coincide with less happiness as well. In moderation, teens who spent a little less than an hour a day on screen time and filled non-screen time with reading, sports, and face-to-face interactions were happiest.

The takeaway message seems pretty obvious. Allow your teen to enjoy some time on social media, texting their friends, and even gaming. But limit that time. Don’t let them get “sucked in” to the screen time activities. Instead, provide opportunities for your teens to engage in face-to-face interactions like sports, face-to-face games, and simple conversations. Encourage your teen to read. Help them find topics and books that will hold their attention and interest. And, of equal importance, model healthy use of electronic devices in your own life. Do this and you might just be surprised at how happiness increases as non-screen time activities increases as well.

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