Archive for Family Shepherds

Parents Are Students…& Guess Who the Teacher Is?

I was talking with a father of a teen. He was struggling to establish a relationship with his daughter, so I asked him to tell me about her. He struggled to tell me her birthday, interests, likes, and dislikes. He tried to explain his difficulty learning and remembering this information. He seemed so uncomfortable that I changed the subject to sports. He sighed with relief as we discussed his favorite football players. He knew their weight, height, and age as well as their position, speed, college attended, completions, and other relevant stats.

As we talked, I had to ask, “How did you learn all this?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I guess it just like it. It’s important to me. I enjoy the games.”

“Hmmm. Isn’t your daughter just as likable, important, and enjoyable?”

The fact is, we learn about those things we value. We learn about the things we enjoy. And, we value and enjoy our children. Even more, our children need us to learn the details, the stats, of their lives. If we don’t learn their stats, they will feel lonely, unimportant, and uninteresting. They will feel as though we don’t value them and love them.  They will feel unloved. To put it another way, our children will feel loved as we learn and know the stats of their lives.

Guess who will teach you your children’s stats? That’s right. Your children will! They are the teachers and we are their students in learning the stats of their lives. So, become a good student by:

  1. Listening to the teacher. Listen closely as they talk about their lives. Listen to the stories that include their friends, their activities, their fears, their peers, their studies. Listen closely.
  2. Remembering the details. You may have to write some things down in a notebook to help you remember the constantly changing plays, players involved, and opponents. Call it your Children’s Stats notebook. Review the information now and again.
  3. Asking them about the details of their lives. Now that you know the stats of their lives, talk with your children about them. Ask them how that project for English is going. Ask about the argument they had with their friend. Ask them about things that interest them and how they are resolving various areas of discomfort. Then, as they answer, go back to #1 and start again. They will grow. The answers will evolve. The players, the plays, and the opponents will change. The goals will mature. With that in mind, go back to #1 and repeat: listen, remember, and ask.

At least two things will happen as you learn your children’s stats. One, your relationship with them will grow. They will feel loved by you and draw near to you. Two, you will enjoy your relationship with your children more. What’s not to love about that? Learn the stats.

How I Had to “Break Out” to Become a Better Parent

I am not the most emotionally expressive person in the world. Truth be told, I’m a little overwhelmed when people become very emotionally expressive. I would much rather quietly, and privately, experience emotions. My mother recalls my two-year-old self opening Christmas gifts one at a time, calmly setting each down to open the next, with very little emotional expression. My wife smiles at me sometimes because my big display of emotion consists of, “That’s cool.” I think I’ve gotten better, but….

I learned to make some adjustments to my emotional expression in response to my children. My wife and I have two beautiful daughters. Early in their lives they taught me that any emotion they experienced was to be recognized by all, including me. When they were angry, everyone knew. When they were sad, it was heartbreaking. When they were excited, the whole room vibrated with their joy. Don’t get me wrong. They are very appropriate in their emotional expression, but they did express their emotion…and I didn’t. Their emotional expression could easily overwhelm me.  And when I get overwhelmed by emotion, I shut down. John Gottman describes it as “emotional flooding” and I was drowning.

None of this is necessarily bad. They were not wrong. Nor was I. We just have different personalities. But I wanted to connect with my daughters. I wanted to “rejoice when they rejoiced” and “weep when they wept.” I wanted to connect with them and draw closer to them through their emotional experiences. My first instinct, however, was to calm it all down. “That’s exciting; but calm down a little.” “It’s not that bad. Don’t worry about it.” “Quit crying. It’s just a game.”  Anything to reduce the intensity of the emotion. And that just frustrated them and made them more emotional.

In fact, trying to “tame” another person’s emotions devalues their experience, their emotion, and their person.  It can also reinforces gender stereotypes of the non-emotional male. It sends the message that emotions are stronger than the person. It offers no support. It puts up a wall of “your-emotions-don’t-matter” and “I’m-not-strong-enough-to-handle-your-emotions” that separates the one expressing emotion from the one trying to calm the emotion. By proxy, it sends the message “I’m not strong enough to handle your emotions…or you. If can’t hand your emotion, I can’t protect you…or help you.”

To help my daughters grow and to develop a better relationship with them, I had to learn to rejoice with them and weep with them. I had to “break out” of my little emotional box to experience their emotion with them, to empathize with their emotion and so let them know emotions are normal. I had to “break out” of my comfort zone to share their emotion and let them know I value them enough to enter their world of joys, sorrows, celebrations, and fears. I had to “break out” of my fear to validate their emotions as valuable sources of information. I had to “break out” of my tendency to shut down to let them know that we, as people, are in control of our emotions. Our emotions are not in control of us.

My children taught me a lot about myself in this process. And, I had to “break out” and grow. (Parenting will do that to you.) I’m still not what people call “emotive.” Probably never will be. But, for my children’s sake, I had to “break out” of my comfort zone to connect with them and grow with them. Believe me, it was well worth the effort. I’ve learned to share in their emotions in our own way…and draw closer together in the process.

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for GOOD NEWS!!

I have good news. It comes from a study completed by Yoshihiko Koga, a professor at Kyorin University in Tokyo. He gave a group of people three spoons of ice cream to eat upon waking and then gave them mental acuity tasks to complete on the computer. The other group simply got up and completed the mental acuity tasks. And guess what?! Those who ate ice cream exhibited improved mental performance and faster reaction times than those who did not eat ice cream. They were better at processing information and exhibited an increase in alpha waves, which are associated with concentration, relaxation, and mental coordination.

Next, Professor Koga compared those who ate ice cream with those who had cold water to make sure the improved performance was not the result of being “shocked into alertness” by the cold of the ice cream. Once again, those eating ice cream performed better than those who simply had cold water.

Professor Koga believes the ice cream may trigger positive emotions and added energy, thus producing the results noted above. (Ahhh…ice cream does bring back wonderful memories and good feelings.)

Another study conducted by neuroscientists at the Institute of Psychiatry in London scanned brains of people as they ate vanilla ice cream. They found that eating ice cream immediately activated the same areas of the brain lit up by winning money or listening to a favorite piece of music. (Imagine how it would light up if we eat ice cream while winning money and listening to our favorite music.)

If you’re like me, you might be rejoicing that science has already shown what I have always wanted to be true: Eating ice cream is good for you. And, even better than I ever imagined, eating ice cream for breakfast is good for you!! Now that’s some good news. Maybe we should all give our children 3 spoons full of ice cream before they go to school in the morning. Can’t hurt, huh?

If you’re hesitant to go the ice cream route, remember that the researchers believed the ice cream had this effect because it triggered positive emotions. So, you can help your children prepare for the day by eliciting positive emotions in the morning. Make the morning a time of positive interactions. Here are some simple ways to do it:

  • Lay out clothes and pack any necessary school supplies the night before so you don’t have to worry about it in the morning.
  • If you’re not a morning person, get up a little earlier so you can be fully awake and pleasant before your child awakens.
  • Keep the conversation encouraging, friendly, and supportive.
  • Have a good breakfast. (Add some ice cream in if you want…it will really brighten your children’s morning!)
  • Share a simple hug or some show of affection.
  • And of course, break out the ice cream!

Help Your Children Flourish

Parenting is like trying to balance a multi-dimensional see-saw. On one end of the see-saw sits discipline and structure. On the other end is warmth and affection. How we balance these two ingredients contributes to four possible types of parenting:

  • Neglectful parenting, which is low in both discipline and warmth,
  • Permissive parenting, which is high in warmth but low in discipline,
  • Authoritarian parenting, which is high in discipline but low in warmth, and
  • Authoritative parenting, which is high in both discipline and warmth.

The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University published two studies in early 2019 that explored these parenting styles and their impact on flourishing later in life. Not surprisingly, parenting high in both warmth and discipline (authoritative parenting) proved most beneficial in promoting a flourishing life, even as a person matured into adulthood.  Somewhat surprising, permissive parenting—low in discipline but high in warmth—proved the second most beneficial parenting style for promoting a flourishing life. Falling to a distant third was authoritarian (low in warmth but high in discipline).  Of course, a neglectful style of parenting was least effective.

With further study, it appears that warmth (which authoritative and permissive parenting exhibit) is the most important aspect of parenting when it comes to helping our children flourish later in life. Specifically, parental warmth and affection was associated with the following benefits in later life:

  • A 46% reduction in depression
  • A 39% reduction in anxiety
  • A 68% reduction in eating disorders
  • Higher levels of emotional processing and expression
  • Lower levels of cigarette and marijuana use.

Providing warmth and affection to our children tops the list of important ingredients in parenting. When we provide an environment of warmth and affection to our children, they have a better chance of flourishing later in life. With that in mind, here are six simple ways to show your children warmth and affection…and promote their ability to flourish.

“Cheat Codes” for Dads: Your Daughter’s Sense of Security

If you play video games, you know the value of a good “cheat code.” They help the player advance to a new level or gain a special power. Other “cheat codes” help the gamer obtain a special tool or weapon you’ll need in the game.

If you’re a Dad of daughters, you may feel as though you need a “cheat code.” You may want inside information to help you move toward an advanced level of understanding in relation to your daughter. You likely desire a “cheat code” that will provide a gateway to a special power to influence your daughter toward maturity.  If so, I have just what you’re looking for: “cheat codes” for dads raising daughters.

Previous “cheat codes” discussed included:

The next “cheat code” involves making your daughter feel secure!

The Cheat Code: A Sense of Security.

Purpose: Giving your daughter A Sense of Security will…

  1. Increase your daughter’s confidence in the world outside the home.
  2. Give them the freedom to learn habits promoting happiness and success throughout their life.
  3. Decrease behavior problems.

Value: Children need a sense of security. Having a sense of security frees children to explore the world around them so they can learn and grow. A sense of security includes a sense of belonging, both of which promote confidence and courage to try new things. A sense of security will also promote positive behaviors in your daughter, decreasing the need for discipline.

Instructions: Practical actions that will give your daughter A Sense of Security involve…

  • Investing in your relationship with your daughter’s mother. Your daughter will feel more secure when she knows you and her mother have a secure relationship. Invest in your marriage. Keep it strong.
  • If you are divorced, your relationship to your daughter’s mother still matters. Build a positive, congenial relationship with your daughter’s mother. Do not make negative statements about her.
  • Whether married or divorced, do not says negative things about your daughter’s mother. Support her in her parenting efforts. Defend her if your daughter says something negative about her. Build a strong relationship for your daughter’s sake.
  • Express your affection for your daughter in word and action. Tell her you love her. Compliment her. Show her physical affection.
  • When you need to discipline your daughter (and you will), take time to reconnect with her afterwards.
  • Develop rituals of connection with your daughter. Spend time with your daughter. Read “Cheat Codes”: Time and “Cheat Codes”: Confidence for more.

Everyday Conversation That Teaches Kindness

Children are born with the tools necessary to develop empathy and act in kindness. For instance, they are hardwired from birth with mirror neurons in the brain. Mirror neurons “fire” when observing another person engage in some activity. For example, see someone making a sad face in response to an observable cause and mirror neurons “mirror” the observation. Or, in a more visible example, when a toddler witnesses a peer crying at daycare, they often begin to cry as well. 

In other words, children are born with the tools needed to develop empathy and act in kindness. The real question is: how can we, as parents, nurture that empathy? How can we, as parents, help them translate empathy into compassion and kindness? Sometimes all we need to do is verbally guide our children into a greater understanding of their emotions and how to act on them. We can do that in several ways. Let me give you a few examples.

Point out the feelings of other people and ways in which your child can respond to the people experiencing those feelings.

  • You and your toddler are at the park when a friend of your toddler falls and starts to cry. You might say to your child, “Your friend is crying because they got hurt. It might have scared them to fall. Maybe you can ask them if they’re alright.”
  • You are watching a football game with your child. Your child has friends on both teams. When the game ends, the winners begin to jump up and down in celebration. You could simply say, “Wow. They are really happy. How can we help your friend celebrate?” And, as you see the disheartened look on the losing team’s face, you might add, “Your friend is disappointed to lose a game. Maybe we can cheer him up by talking about the good plays they ran.”
  • Your spouse walks through the door after a long day of work and looks especially tired.  They drop their bags and walk into the bedroom and plop onto the bed. You say to your child, “Your mom (dad) looks really tired today. They’ve had a long day at work. I’ll let them know they can rest, and you and I will get dinner read while they do.”

Engage in pretend play. Pretend play is a great way to nurture empathy and kindness. For instance, you can prompt your child to consider the emotions and actions of the character they portray in pretend play. 

  • “I wonder what Barbie feels like when she gets a gift from Ken?”
  • “Those firemen have an exciting job, don’t they? I wonder what they feel like while fighting a fire? How do you think they feel after the put the fire out?”
  • “Can you imagine what that cat feels like when he’s stuck in a tree?”

You can also nurture empathy and promote kindness while reading to your child.

  • Before you turn the page of a children’s book ask, “What do you think will happen next?”
  • Point out the expression on the characters’ faces in picture books and label those expressions. “Look how happy he looks when others are kind to him.” “Look at that big smile after he shared….” “Oh my, that must be scary. Look how scared he looks.”

Of course, model empathy and kindness.

  • Simple phrases like “Thank you,” “Please,” and “You’re welcome” model kindness for your children.
  • Questions such as “Can I help you?” or “What can I do to help?” also model kindness and concern. 
  • Asking “Are you OK?” or saying “Ouch, that looks like it hurt” model empathy.
  • You also model kindness by offering to share or offering to get another family member something to drink while you get your own.

Your children are born with everything they need to develop empathy and kindness. As a parent, you simply nurture that empathy and kindness in your daily interactions with them. You can see from these examples that the opportunities to do so are limitless. And, as you do nurture your children’s empathy and kindness, your whole family will reap the benefits.

“Cheat Codes” for Dads: Household Chores

If you play video games, you know the value of a good “cheat code.” They help the player advance to a new level or gain a special power. Other “cheat codes” help the gamer obtain a special tool or weapon you’ll need in the game.

If you’re a Dad of daughters, you may feel as though you need a “cheat code,” inside information to help you move toward an advanced level of understanding in relation to your daughter. You likely desire a “cheat code” that will provide a gateway to a special power to influence your daughter toward maturity.  If so, I have just what you’re looking for: “cheat codes” for dads raising daughters.

Previous “cheat codes” discussed included:

The Cheat Code: Household Chores.

Value: Household Chores involves helping around the house. When you help around the house you will discover many positive results.

  • When men get involved in household chores, they set an example for everyone else in the family. They also portray the kind of man they hope their daughter will marry, a man who models leadership through service.
  • Studies have shown that daughters who see their fathers engaged in household chores broaden their perceived career options. Daughters who see their fathers engaged in household chores are more likely to become in involved in careers involving leadership, management, or professional positions.
  • One last benefit which has nothing to do with your daughter. Your wife will love you for doing the chores and you’ll discover what it means that “sex begins in the kitchen.” Of course, a stronger marriage will also benefit your daughter.
  • Learn 3 other ways that doing household chores will help your daughter in The Top 6 Reasons for Men to Help Around the House.

Instructions: The instructions for Helping Around the House are simple.

  1. After dinner, help clear the table and wash the dishes (or load the dishwasher).
  2. Help complete the laundry. Put clothes in the washer. Switch clothes from the washer to the dryer. Fold clothes. Put the clothes away.
  3. Take out the garbage.
  4. In the morning, help make your bed.
  5. Run the vacuum, clean the bathtub, or mop a floor.
  6. You get the idea. You don’t have to do all of these. You don’t even have to do the same one all the time. However, doing household chores on a regular basis will have a tremendous and positive effect on your daughter. It’s a powerful “cheat code” for dads of daughters.

Geometry, Infants, & Compassion

What can we learn about compassion from geometry and infants? Researchers at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev answered that question by showing two videos to a group of 6-month-old infants. In the first video, a square figure with eyes climbed a hill to meet a round figure with eyes. They go down the hill together, their eyes filled with happiness and positive feelings. In the second video, the round figure hits and bullies the square figure until it goes down the hill alone, showing distress by crying and falling over. After seeing these two videos, the infant was given the opportunity to choose one of the figures, they chose the “bullied” square figure over 80% of the time. This suggests they felt an “empathic preference,” compassion, for the bullied figure.

Ironically, in a second experiment, the square figure met the round figure on the top of the hill and went down the hill in distress even though the round figure did NOT bully or treat the square unkindly. The square went down the hill in distress for no apparent reason in this experiment. In this case, the infants showed no preference for the square figure or the round figure. In other words, their “empathic preference” was based on context. They had compassion for the bullied figure when distress by some action, but not for the figure that exhibited distress for no apparent reason.

If 6-month-old infants showed over an 80% preference (compassion) for the bullied victim, why does it seem we don’t see compassion for the victim at least 80% of the time in the adult world? And how can we, as parents, nurture that compassion in our children? I’m not sure…the research didn’t address that question. But…perhaps we can make an educated guess about a couple possible reasons.

  • Maybe the media only reports on that smaller percentage of non-compassionate acts. Perhaps compassion is exhibited over 80% of the time, but compassion doesn’t make for good ratings. So, we witness the less than 20% of non-compassionate acts occurring in the world in the headlines, the frontpage stories, and the lead stories. If this is the case, we, as parents need to help our children see the compassion in the world. We need to intentionally point out the helpers in the current world and throughout history.
  • Perhaps parents don’t model and encourage compassion. Could it be that many parents promote a “dog eat dog” world, a world of limited resources for which we must compete? Perhaps our actions suggest that “only a few can get the prize” and nothing short of “the prize” is worth having. At best, we promote ignoring the other guy or, worse, pushing the other guy out of the way to get the limited resource or cherished prize. If this is true, we need to adjust our view of the world. We need to realize that “the prize” is not necessarily the trophy for coming out as “number one” but the glory of playing an honorable game, which at times may result in a prize. We need to nurture the understanding that resources are plentiful when we use them wisely, share them generously, and encourage one another genuinely.   

Let me share a few practical actions we can take to nurture compassion in our children.

  1. Model compassion. Our children’s compassion begins at home. They learn how to interact with the world by watching us interact with the world. Let them see you act in compassion toward others. Let them see kindness in you.
  2. “Look for the helpers” in the present world and in history. Consider not just the atrocity of slavery, but the compassion of those who supported the underground railroad. Don’t just speak of the horror of the holocaust, praise the Righteous Among the Nations as well. Rather than simply talk about various injustices in the world, “look for the helpers” and support them in word and deed. Look for acts of kindness or compassion in the world and point them out to your children.
  3. Volunteer. One way to support the “helpers” is to become one yourself. Look for opportunities to volunteer as a family. Consider ways you can reach out in kindness to those around you and involve your children in the act. They will learn the joys of compassion and it will become a lifelong style of interaction.

“Cheat Codes” for Dads: Shared Rituals

If you play video games, you know the value of a good “cheat code.” They help the player advance to a new level or gain a special power. Other “cheat codes” help the gamer obtain a special tool or weapon needed in the game.

If you’re a Dad of daughters, you may feel as though you need a “cheat code.” You may want inside information to help you move toward an advanced level of understanding in relation to your daughter. You likely desire a “cheat code” that will open a gateway to a special power of influencing your daughter toward maturity.  If so, I have just what you’re looking for: “cheat codes” for dads raising daughters.

Previous “cheat codes” discussed include:

Now it’s time for another.

The Cheat Code: Shared Rituals.

Purpose: With Shared Rituals, you will…

  1. Increase the time you and your daughter spend together. This will help you build a more intimate relationship with her.
  2. With rituals in place, the need to discipline negative behaviors will decrease. (How to Discipline Before You Even Need To.)
  3. In addition, your daughter’s sense of security will increase. She will feel safer in a home with predictability.
  4. Because she feels safer, your daughter will have greater freedom to explore and learn about her world and herself. In fact, The Gift of Freedom is Wrapped in Safety.
  5. Rituals will also help your daughter pursue goals and have a greater sense of purpose in life. (Routines & rituals Add Meaning To Life.)
  6. Your daughter will gain a greater sense of independence and mastery with appropriate routines in place.

Value: Creating shared rituals with your daughter has two great values. First, your shared rituals will guarantee that you spend time with your daughter. Spending time with your daughter in a shared ritual deepens your relationship with her and increases her sense of security. Second, shared rituals build predictability into your relationship and your home. This predictability will increase your daughter’s sense of security. With the knowledge of her close relationship to you and the predictability of her environment, your daughter will feel safer to explore her world and herself. She will pursue greater goals. All in all, routines will deepen your relationship with your daughter, empower your daughter to explore her world, and increase your daughter’s sense of competence. Who doesn’t want that?

Instructions: ThreeShared Rituals to create…

  1. “Daddy-Daughter Time.” Set aside one time a week (an evening, an afternoon, a day…whatever time works best) as time dedicated to your daughter. This will become known as “Daddy-Daughter Time.” Let nothing interfere with that time.
  2. Find out what your daughter enjoys doing. If you don’t know, ask her. If she’s not sure, ask her what kind of activities and foods she would like to try or places she would like to visit. Each week during “Daddy-Daughter Time,” do one of one of those activities with your daughter. Or, go to one of the places you have agreed upon. You might play Barbies, go to a movie, get ice cream, or go rock climbing. Your options are as broad as your daughter’s potential interests and creativity. These first three steps represent what I believe to be one of the most powerful shared rituals you can do with your daughter. You will never regret having engaged her in this way.
  3. Become involved in your daughter’s bedtime routine. This may include reading with her, talking about the day, sharing things for which you are grateful, and giving her a simple hug and kiss goodnight. Bedtime is an amazing time to bond with your daughter.
  4. Create a shared mealtime ritual with your daughter and your whole family. Strive to eat one meal a day together. If you can’t do one meal a day, do at least 3-5 meals a week. Establish the nights and keep the “meal date.” The shared ritual of eating together offers a wonderful opportunity to talk, share, and bond. (Learn the benefits of eating as a family in The Lost Art of Family Meals.)

“Cheat Codes” for Dads: Your Daughter’s Beauty

If you play video games, you know the value of a good “cheat code.” They help the player advance to a new level or gain a special power. They help the gamer obtain a special tool or weapon needed to succeed in the game.

If you’re a Dad of daughters, you may feel as though you need a “cheat code.” You may want inside information to help you move toward an advanced level of understanding in relation to your daughter. You probably desire a “cheat code” that will open a gateway to the special power of influencing your daughter toward maturity.  If so, I have just what you’re looking for: “cheat codes” for dads raising daughters.

Previous “cheat codes” discussed included:

Now it’s time for another “cheat code:” Acknowledge and Protect Your Daughter’s Beauty.

The Cheat Code: Acknowledge and Protect Your Daughter’s Beauty.

Purpose: When you Acknowledge and Protect Your Daughter’s Beauty, youwill…

  1. Increase your daughter’s confidence in her appearance and her overall self.
  2. Help your daughter develop positive boundaries for romantic relationships.
  3. Increase the chances that your daughter will wait to become sexually active.
  4. Increase your daughter’s modesty and appropriate self-protective behavior.

Value: Our daughters receive conflicting messages about beauty, romance, and how to “use” their body. In many ways, I think our society encourages a love/hate relationship with the body. The media teaches girls to use their bodies to get what they want while teaching them to hate that others give them what they want in response to their appearance. However, as a father you can help change this for your daughter. By Acknowledging and Protecting Your Daughter’s Beauty you teach her the true value of her body.  You teach her to value her body as a gift. As you do, you increase her overall confidence and her willingness to establish appropriate boundaries of modesty.

Instructions: Acknowledging and Protecting Your Daughter’s Beauty involves…

  1. Giving healthy hugs and affection. Share healthy physical affection every day with your daughter.
  2. Acknowledge her beauty. Tell her she is beautiful. Acknowledge times when she looks especially nice.
  3. Talk about what she wants in a romantic partner. Rather than asking, “Do you love him?” talk about what she wants in a relationship. What traits does she want her romantic partner to possess? How does she expect her romantic partner to treat her?
  4. Be a champion for modesty. Right or wrong, the way a person dresses impacts how people think of them. In a manner of speaking, a person’s style of dress becomes the packaging that advertises the content inside. Fathers can help their daughters think through what they want to say through their dress. How can their dress reveal the true nature of the content inside?
  5. Teach our daughters that the deeper value of the body is not based on external beauty but on the character they develop. The body allows us a tangible way to live out our character. The body allows us to serve, care for, and comfort as well as rejoice with, celebrate, and connect with others. 
  6. Encourage involvement in sports. This can help a girl learn the joys of a body that is active and healthy.
  7. Practice gratitude for all our body allows us to do. (Read Thank You, Body with your daughter. Print it out & give her a copy so she can read to herself as often as she wants to.)
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