Thankfulness is in season right now...however, it has benefits for the family all year round! That's right; an attitude of gratitude and thankfulness benefits families all the time. Let me share a few of the research based benefits of thankfulness so you can use them to strengthen your own family.
· Gratitude makes us happier. Did you know that taking 5 minutes a day to record your gratitude in a journal can actually increase your sense of well-being by 10%? That's the same impact as doubling your income...and taking 5 minutes a day to keep a gratitude journal is a whole lot easier than doubling your income! So, if you want a happy family, take five minutes during supper or just before bed and let each family member name a couple things for which they are grateful. Write them down and keep a journal. Review it once in a while to remind yourself of all you and your family have to be thankful for.
· Gratitude makes us healthier. Want to spend less on family medical care? Want to have a healthier family, allowing your family to get out and do things together? Practice gratitude. Those people who keep a gratitude journal tend to have fewer physical symptoms, less physical pain, more sleep, and increased sleep quality as well as fewer symptoms of depression. Interestingly, in one study a group of people with high blood pressure were instructed to "count their blessings once a week" and had a significant decrease in "systolic blood pressure."
· Gratitude reduces materialism. Becoming aware of and expressing gratitude for what we have shifts our focus away from things that do not really matter. Practicing gratitude helps keep our focus on what does matter—like family, friends, health, and the multitude of blessings we already have. Practically speaking, when our family practices gratitude, family members will ask for less and whine less about "what I wish I had" or the newest gadget "I need." Instead, we will joyfully share with one another from the bountiful blessings we already have and enjoy.
· Gratitude makes us less self-centered. An attitude of gratitude focuses on other people—their acts of generosity, kindness, and benevolence. Gratitude focuses on what I have been given, implicitly turning my focus on the grace and generosity of others. As your family practices gratitude, the whole family will become more giving, generous, and other-focused.
· Gratitude also reduces feelings of envy. Have your children ever said, "But so-and-so has a…" or "But why does my older brother get to stay up later?" Perhaps you have even had that fleeting thought of envy—"Man, I wish I could afford a house like that." Gratitude is the antidote for those feelings of jealousy and envy. Model focusing your attention on those blessings you have...and expressing gratitude for those blessings as well. Teach your children to recognize their blessings.
· Gratitude creates a happy past. The past we recall is somewhat a choice. We can keep the good or the negative aspects of our past in the forefront of our memory. By keeping a mental record of blessings in the forefront of our memory, we recall a more joyous past filled with blessings. As we express gratitude for what we have today, we prime our mind to remember the blessings of yesterday.
· Gratitude strengthens your marriage. Marriage loses passion when spouses become less appreciative and interactions become more negative. Practicing gratitude is one way to counter the loss of appreciation and the increase of negative interactions. In addition, we admire those character traits for which we are grateful. So, being grateful for those positive character traits in our spouse and the positive things they do will increase admiration and adoration for our spouse. Increased adoration and admiration translates to more passion too. Not only is this good for you, but your children will feel more secure and have greater happiness as they witness their parents expressing gratitude for one another and sharing a twinkle of admiration and adoration in their eye as they talk of their spouse.
· Gratitude improves decision making. In one interesting study, doctors were given a patient record that included a list of symptoms and an incorrect diagnosis of lupus. Half of the doctors were also given a token of appreciation to evoke gratitude. Those who were given the token of appreciation were more likely to expend more time and energy to confirm and then correct the misdiagnosis. The doctors who did not receive a token of appreciation were more likely to stick with the incorrect diagnosis. So, if you want your children to think through decisions more often and have increased flexibility to change their poor decisions into better decisions, give them "tokens of appreciation for" (AKA--show gratitude for, thank them for) their efforts and other positive actions. Practicing gratitude toward family members will motivate them to improve decision making. Cultivate the art of thanking one another daily...every chance you get!
Gratitude really does fabulous things for a family. This blog only reviews 8 fabulous family benefits of thankfulness. Check out a full 31 Benefits of Gratitude to discover even more benefits! In the meantime, why not use gratitude to strengthen your family? Model gratitude in your own life so your family can follow your lead. Teach gratitude by asking everyone to share something for which they are thankful. You can do this at dinner time, bed time, or any time when you happen to be talking with one another. Keep a gratitude journal, make a post-it gratitude list on the hallway wall, create a gratitude tree craft on the fridge…. You get the idea, be creative in keeping a gratitude journal as a family. Then, reap the benefits of a grateful family!
Dr. Christine Carter is a sociologist and happiness expert at UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center. She has made a living studying happiness. Fortunately for you and me, she has taken her scientific expertise on happiness and applied it to the art of raising children. In her book Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, she gives practical advice to parents who want to raise happy kids. Don't get the wrong idea. She's not talking about a simple gushy, feel-good emotion. No, happiness is “a set of skills, habits, and mind-sets that set the stage for a wide range of positive emotions” that will last a lifetime. Notice the emphasis on skills, habits and mind-sets that a person can learn and teach. As parents, we have a responsibility to model these skills and teach them to our children...and this book offers practical advice for doing just that! Not convinced teaching happiness will help your child succeed in this "dog-eat-dog world"? Consider this: happy people have higher incomes, greater academic achievement, more job satisfaction, and more friends. Happiness contributes to healthy lasting marriages; and, it helps us persevere through, and successfully cope with, hardships and difficulties. As you can see, raising happy children is a pretty good goal. In her book Raising Happiness, Dr. Carter offers practical advice that ranges from teaching gratitude and self-discipline, helping our children build a healthy support group, taking care of yourself, teaching optimism and more…all of which contributes to happy, resilient children! Each chapter explains the benefits of a particular skill that will enhance happiness (such as forgiveness) in a straight forward, easy-to-read manner and gives practical advice to build that skill in yourself as a parent and in your children. She even includes several "try this" sections with tips, scripts and strategies distilled from the research that you can implement with your family. This book is not just about pie-in-the-sky research either. Dr. Carter has personally implemented these strategies in her own family life as a single, working mother who co-parents with her children's father! She has field practiced it. Overall, this is a great book with great advice for raising healthy, happy children who have all the skills necessary for a lifetime of success. You can read more about this book on Dr. Carter's Website Raising Happiness or purchase it from Amazon through Our Favorite Picks under More Parenting Resources.
It is that time of year. You know, the time of year when people think about gratitude… Thanksgiving. In fact, I have seen several people posting thanks on their Facebook page each day to celebrate a month of thanksgiving. So, if you will bear with me for a moment, I want to share 8 things about family for which I am thankful.
1. I am thankful for my wife. My wife supports me in so many ways. She encourages me and helps me work toward my dreams. She gives wise input to all our decisions and steers me away from unwise choices. All in all, she brings out the best in me.
2. I am thankful for my daughters. I have been blessed with two beautiful daughters. They are talented, kind, and compassionate. I am often amazed at their acts of kindness as well as their compassion. I am very proud of them...and thankful to have them in my life.
3. I am thankful for my parents. I understand more and more each day how blessed I am to have grown up in the family I did. My parents' love and guidance set me on a path that has led to my own joyous family and life.
4. I am thankful for the sound of music that so often pervades our home. Not just the radio, but the singing, piano playing, guitar playing, oboe playing, horn playing…that I so often hear. Music has truly added great joy to my family life.
5. I am thankful for the family dinners we enjoyed. We do not get to have family dinners every night...I often work evenings. We do, however, enjoy family dinners and lunches on a regular basis. Some of my favorite memories revolve around dinner conversations, laughter, and intimate times of sharing. Sometime I will have to share some of those dinner conversations...actually, my family says I better not.
6. I am thankful for times we worship as a family. I remember Christmas Eve services, Thanksgiving eve services, Sunday worship services, and camp worship services in which we worshipped as a family. The joy of seeing my family serve in worship has also been a great source of gratitude.
7. I am thankful for times we serve others as a family. I look back with great fondness at the times of serving in VBS, children's programs, and a mission trip together. Those times of service provided wonderful opportunities for us to connect with one another, share our family love with others, and grow together.
8. I am thankful for our family vacations. Some of my favorite family vacations have included the beach and camping. There is nothing better than sitting and playing on the beach as a family. The relaxed time of togetherness led to deeper conversations and great fun that I would not trade for anything.
As I write this out, it sounds a little gushy…sappy even. But we are called to be a thankful people. When we remember to view the world and our families through the eyes of gratitude, we find more joy and greater intimacy. So, for the goal of joy and intimacy I can sound a little gushy—how about you? What are you most thankful for in your family?
Are you tired of being in the role of parent? Tired of all the decisions, responsibilities, and demands? Well, if you are tired of your role as parent, I have a plan to get you fired! That's right—you can get fired from your role as a parent with one easy step. One step and you will have no influence with your child. One step and your child will just quit listening to you and start arguing, even rebelling. Here it easy, the one step to get you fired as a parent:
Intrude into your child's life. Make every decision for them. Communicate, directly and indirectly, all your doubts about their ability to make any kind of good decision on their own. Force your wise choices on them. If they want an orange, demand that they really want an apple. Remind them that you know what they need better than they do. If they want to hold to some crazy idea like "rap is the best music," hassle them until they finally submit to your desired beliefs (after all, they are the right ones). Lecture them until you convince them of the wisdom and soundness of your ideas. As you put this step into action, you will get lots of practice. The more you hassle, lecture, intrude, and make every decision for your child, the more your child will rebel and do the opposite. Fortunately, their rebellion will simply allow you more opportunity to practice hassling, lecturing, and intruding. Before you know it your child will fire you. It will happen before you know…well, without you even knowing it happened. You will be so caught up in hassling, lecturing, and intruding that you won’t even realize you've been fired. You'll be expending all sorts of energy on a child who has already fired you.
Of course, if you would rather not get fired as a parent...if you would rather have a positive influence in your child's life...try practicing acceptance and listening. Accept that your child may have different ideas than you. Sometimes those ideas differ because they are children...they are simply the ideas of a young and less mature person. Allow them the freedom to discuss those ideas with you. Listen to their ideas. Become curious about their ideas. Explore how they came to have that idea. Help them think about the idea and help them follow it to a logical conclusion. Accepting and listening will give them the opportunity and freedom to mature and grow.
Sometimes your child may express an opposing idea simply to establish their own identity. They want to prove they are their own person; and, they do so by disagreeing with you. Accept their ideas and listen. Become curious about their ideas. You can still voice your disagreement. But allow them the freedom to disagree with you by voicing your disagreement politely and calmly. They will listen more readily to your explanation for your own belief when you remain polite and calm. By accepting that they may believe differently than you, you allow them the freedom to explore both ideas—your idea and their idea—rather than simply defending their own. As they explore both ideas, they will mature and grow.
Whatever the reason for their disagreement, you keep your role as parent by accepting and listening. Your credibility grows steadily stronger, your authority becomes more secure, and your influence grows more compelling as you accept and listen to your child. Sure, you will still have to discipline...and when you do discipline your child will get upset. However, when they know that you also accept them and listen to them, they will become more responsive to your role as a parent…and more open to your ideas. And that is worth all the effort!
When parent-child conflicts arise (and they will!), it does no good if the child always wins and gets his way. The conflict is really not resolved if the parent pulls rank, asserts parental power, and enforces parental wishes either. Just consider how you managed your parents pulling rank and using power to make you do what they wanted. Most children resist, defy, resent, blame or lie. Children in this situation may also retaliate, court the favor of one parent over the other, become fearful of trying anything new, grow insecure in their own ability and seek constant reassurance, or form alliances with siblings against the parents. None of these help children learn, grow, or mature. So, what can a parent do to resolve a conflict and help their child grow during parent-child conflicts arise? I'm glad you asked.
First, realize that most parent-child conflicts arise out of a conflict of needs. Both the parent and the child have a need they want to satisfy…and they clash! Begin a healthy resolution of the conflict by accepting that your child has a legitimate need. Respect their desire to have that need met in an appropriate way. Modeling respect and honor for your child's needs will establish the foundation for the next steps in resolving the parent-child conflict...and, it increases the likelihood that your child will listen to, honor, and respect your needs as well.
Second, take time to discuss the conflict with your child. Set aside enough time to discuss each of your needs as well as mutually acceptable ways to meet those needs. Having this type of discussion does more than offer an opportunity to resolve the conflict. This discussion also helps your child develop thinking and problem-solving skills. It can also lead to better solutions; and, since your child has had input and an investment of time in devising the solution, it may also lead to greater motivation from your child to comply with the solution. To have an effective conflict discussion with your child, you will need the time to cover these 6 steps:
1. Identify and define the problem. This will involve defining the parents' needs and the child's needs. We often need to differentiate needs from requests. For instance, "I need my own room" is more of a request than a need. You can ask what this request will "do for you" to get at the deeper need. Listen closely and attentively to understand your child's needs. The goal of this step is to clearly state the problem and each person's needs in a manner that both parent and child can agree upon and understand.
2. Generate possible solutions. Come up with as many solutions to the problem as you can. Do not evaluate, judge or belittle any ideas. Simple accept the ideas as they arise. Make sure each person contributes to the possible solutions.
3. Evaluate the alternative solutions. Now you can consider each of the solutions from step 2 and evaluate each one. Which ones look best? Which will produce positive results for parent and child? Which are acceptable to each person involved? What are the possible negative results?
4. Decide on the best solution. Based on the evaluations of step 3, agree on a solution to "try out." Remember, the solution is not a rigid permanent requirement set in stone but a flexible dynamic process; you can always try the solution out and modify it as needed. Before moving to step 5, clarify that each person is willing to make a commitment to carry out the agreed upon solution.
5. Implement the solution. This step will most likely include a clarification of how you will implement the solution. Who does what? When? How often? To what standard? Again, remember that these specifics can be modified as needed.
6. Evaluate. After implementing the solution for a short time, check back to evaluate its effectiveness. Are both the child’s and the parent’s needs met? Do you need to tweak the solution to make it more effective? Now is the time to do it.
You may think this process seems time consuming; but, it is not as time consuming as forcing a solution that you then have to enforce, remind, nag, and push. This process brings greater compliance, so less reminding, nagging, and pushing. Of course, this process will not work with every situation (what does?). However, when parents practice this method as often as they can, their children cooperate more, trust grows, conflict declines, and children's problem solving skills increase. Really, isn't that worth the time?
I love this time of year—the leaves are beautiful, the mornings are brisk, and the holidays are approaching. This time of year also brings another of my favorite past times...eating holiday food! Of course, the holidays are about much more than food. I love the holiday traditions—the family gatherings, the magic of giving, the joys of sharing. In today's world of constant rush and activity, we have lost sight of many of these traditions and their benefits. Writing about this subject, William Doherty noted that "we reinvented family life in the twentieth century but never wrote a user's manual." Family has become disjointed and disconnected. But, this time of year can help us reconnect. In fact, in his family user's manual, "Intentional Families," Dr. Doherty explained how rituals and traditions hold our families together. Traditions make a family strong. The traditions we practice provide our family with an identity. They teach our children the family values. They pass on our religious and cultural heritage. The activities involved in our traditions tell the story of our family history. It is through celebrated traditions that we pass on the value of family support, establish an identity as a family that celebrates life, and create a culture of gratitude. We can add to this list...anything from the value of trusting God to the grace of giving to the joyous celebration of family competition in your favorite game. It all grows more secure and remains strong through the generations as we practice our family traditions.
Our traditions also provide our children with a sense of security and comfort. Traditions are predictable. They happen on a regular basis and occur in similar ways each time we celebrate. The predictability of traditions informs our children that no matter how the world changes…no matter if our family struggles…no matter the changing stages of life, we still celebrate our traditions together. We remain a family, connected through our intentional celebration of tradition. As these traditions are celebrated over time, generations come together. We celebrate our traditions with parents, grandparents, children, aunts, uncles, and cousins. We celebrate across the generations. And, generational involvement is associated with fewer emotional and behavioral problems in children…once again, a benefit for traditions.
One of the benefits I associate with traditions involves the creation of lasting memories. If you are like me, some of your favorite memories probably revolve around traditions...whether it be the Monopoly game at Christmas time or the laughter erupting from a joke at Thanksgiving. I love to remember time with my family—laughing, playing, talking, cooking, reading out loud, eating, and so much more! Those joyous, lasting memories contribute to a lifetime of happiness.
Yes, I love this time of year as family traditions take center stage and we celebrate our lives together. I hope you take the time to celebrate together, establish strong traditions, and begin a lifetime of happy memories!
It is inevitable. I'm sorry to say it, but it's true. No matter how wonderful your parenting skills, the time will come when you and your child have a disagreement. You will expect your child to complete a chore and they will not want to. You will want them home by curfew and they will want to stay out later. You will want them to smile and have fun; they will be miserable and cold. It's going to happen...no doubt about it! The important factor at this moment of conflict becomes how you resolve the conflict. In fact, allowing a child to experience conflict and learn how to cope with it allows them to learn and grow. After all, they will experience conflict throughout life. Where better to learn the best way to resolve conflict than at home with someone who loves them? Unfortunately, many parents see this moment of conflict as an "either-or" scenario—either the parent must win or the child wins. Conflict becomes a win-lose scenario. Consider the outcome of these two extremes.
If the parent must win then the parent must announce the solution. The child's input does not matter. The parent knows best; the parent determines the solution; and, the parent tells the child what to do. The child does not have to like it; he just has to do it! If the child does not like the solution, the parent will try to persuade them to do it. If that does not work, the parent simply asserts their power and authority to tell the child to do it. Unfortunately, the parent only has so much power. The child, who often lacks the motivation to actually invest in his parent’s solution, dooms it to failure. If he undermines the solution, the parent has to nag and persuade. And, the parent will find it difficult to enforce the decision in light of the child's sabotaging efforts. Or, the child may simply comply out of fear of punishment and never internalizes the seed of true self-discipline. Perhaps most detrimental, the relationship is undermined and resentment begins to replace love and affection.
If the parent lets the child win they have given up any authority they might have. The child begins to lose respect for authority in general and just "does what he wants." Young children learn to throw tantrums to get what they want, overpowering their parent’s will and energy with the intense emotion of the tantrum. As they grow older, they learn to use yelling, pouting, crying, or accusing to get their way...just like they did with tantrums as a child. A child in a permissive household may also learn to use guilt to persuade his parents to give in. Unfortunately, this child does not develop internal controls. He can become self-centered, selfish, and demanding. He will likely experience difficult peer relationships because he believes his needs are more important than the needs of others. At the same time, this child will often feel insecure about his parents love. Parents will find this child unmanageable and impulsive. They might become resentful, irritated, and angry toward the child. And, once again, the relationship is compromised.
So, if the parent winning does not work and the child winning does not work, what can a parent do? Good question. The answer requires a different paradigm of conflict resolution, power, and parenting, a paradigm different than the win-lose paradigm so often exalted in our society…but, I fear I have run out of time. So, I will explore a different paradigm in my next blog. Stay tuned to the "same bat station, same bat time"...well, you know what I mean. See you next week.
I often have to remind myself about the priorities in my life, the goals I want to accomplish, and the reasons I do what I do. A "time of reminding" has come for me at Honor Grace Celebrate. One of the best ways for me to recall my goals and direction is through writing. So, I want to use this blog to remind myself about what it means to practice honor, grace, and celebration in the family; and, why I write blogs for Honor Grace Celebrate. Hopefully, as I write this reminder we will all be reminded to practice honor, grace, and celebration in our family…after all, I truly believe that when families practice honor, grace, and celebration they find greater family intimacy and joy. I also believe God designed the family to be a place of honor, grace, and celebration. So what does honor, grace, and celebration have to do with family?
Healthy families honor one another. Honor builds a safe haven where family members can find value and esteem; a place where each person is highly valued, like diamonds above coal. In a family of honor, each family member honors one another with words and actions that communicate value and respect. Family members seek to learn about the ones they value—learning about their interests, vulnerabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. And, each person keeps that knowledge in mind when interacting with one another. Healthy families seek out ways to honor one another by accepting differences, engaging in acts of kindness, and showing politeness at all times. Yes, healthy families honor one another.
Healthy families share grace with one another. They become a reliable sanctuary, a secure base, where each person knows grace and feels safe. A person living in a family of grace will receive unconditional acceptance and extravagant generosity...with no strings attached. Family members will share the gift of themselves by generously giving of their time and attention in order to connect intimately with one another. In a gracious family, family members willingly sacrifice their individual wants and desires to enhance the well-being of other family members and to build intimacy and joy in the family. Yes, healthy families share grace.
Healthy families celebrate! A family built on honor and grace opens the door to celebrate, laugh, and play. In a family where everyone experiences acceptance and love, each family member can "let their hair down and completely reveal themselves." In a family of honor and grace, family members can know one another intimately and rejoice in that intimacy. Yes, healthy families celebrate with a gusto known only in communities filled with honor and grace!
At its best, family truly is a celebrating community of honor and grace. Our goal at Honor Grace Celebrate is to give families the tools to build that community of honor and grace...to gain the knowledge that can help make their families a celebrating community of honor and grace. For practical ideas on making your family a celebrating community of honor and grace, you might enjoy our book Family By God's Design. And, if you know someone who might benefit from this type of information, please pass it on so they can follow us on FaceBook or Twitter. Thank you. And may your family become a celebrating community overflowing with honor and grace!
According to John Gottman's research, happily married couples make about 100 invitations (he calls them bids) to connect with one another in a 10 minutes time span. If couples make this many invitations to connect, imagine how many invitations your toddler or preschooler is offering up! That is a huge number of invitations...a lot of opportunities to connect and to nurture an intimate relationship each family member.
When our spouse or children throw out an invitation, they are communicating the desire to connect with us, to receive our attention, affection, interest, support, understanding, warmth, and conversation. We see invitation for connection expressed in a number of ways. For instance, asking questions, making comments, gentle touches, simple gestures, or even facial expressions are all invitations to enjoy connection. So, when your son follows you from room to room, he is inviting you to connect. When your wife looks up from dinner and smiles, she is inviting you to connect. When your daughter says, "I love Justin Beiber" she is inviting you to connect. Unfortunately, invitations to connect can also come across with angry or bitter overtones at times. For instance, your husband comes home from work tired and irritable, walks through the door and snaps "Are we eating or what?" This angry sounding question is most likely an invitation to connect, a request for understanding and affection.
With this many invitations to connect, you have a great opportunity to build intimacy in your family. You can build that intimacy by simply "RSVP-ing" to the invitation. I realize we won't respond to every invitation. However, responding to invitations on a regular basis will build intimacy. Dr. Gottman has identified 3 ways to RSVP to an invitation for connection...only one will build intimacy.
· We can respond with the "turning-against-RSVP-style" by becoming argumentative or critical. Making a sarcastic remark or expressing contempt for the other person also turns us against the invitation to connect. As you can imagine, this kind of RSVP will increase the fear of future angry responses and result in fewer invitations and greater avoidance of conflict. Ultimately, turning against invitations to connect will destroy your relationship.
· We can also respond with the "turning-away-from-RSVP-style." People use this RSVP style when they are preoccupied. It sends the message that my activities are more important than my relationship with you. The turning away RSVP may disregard the person, ignore the person, interrupt the person, or answer mindlessly while engaging in some other activity (like watching TV). Once again, turning away results in fewer invitations to connect. It also results in hurt feelings, increased conflict, and, ultimately, the destruction of the relationship.
· The best way to respond to invitations for connection is the "turning-toward-RSVP-style." When we turn toward the invitation to connect, we give attention to the person making the invitation. This attention may range from passive, low-energy responses to focused, high-energy responses. By turning toward the person making the invitation, we welcome more invitations in the future and set the stage for them to respond to our invitations to connect. Happiness for the inviter and the responder will increase. The relationship will grow stronger and healthier. Intimacy will increase!
I bet your family will send you an invitation to connect within the first minute you are with them. Expect it, watch for it, and actively respond to it...your whole family will benefit and grow as a result!
I had the opportunity to attend a conference focused on attachment relationships this weekend. One workshop reviewed how we encourage growth and change in other people. I realized how much this information applied to our parental role of promoting growth and maturity in our children. So, I wanted to share this process for opening the doors to change for our children. It is not a simple "3-step-plan" to reach 100% compliance from your children. In fact, maturing children do not always comply with their parents. However, this process will open the door for our children to grow and mature, sometimes in unexpected and surprising ways.
Opening the door for our children to change begins with looking at them. Yes, look at them...look at their appearance, their intellect, their humor, their world, their fears, their interests…. I know it sounds strange, but how often do we truly look at our children? I know I have had the experience of suddenly seeing my children and thinking, "Man, they are so grown up...when did that happen?" or hearing a comment come out of their mouth and thinking, "Wow, they are getting smart!" If we do not look at our children on a consistent basis, we will miss their growing maturity. We will think of them as that bright-eyed, adoring child we had so much fun with. So, take a look at your children. Notice how much they have grown. Recognize their interests and how those interests have changed and developed over time. Observe their changing friendships as well as their social interactions with peers in general, teachers, and other adults.
Make eye contact with your children as often as you can. Value them, and your relationship with them, enough to stop what you are doing and look into their eyes when they talk to you. Turn off the TV, put down the IPhone, forget about work, and focus on your interaction with your children. Watch for the sparkle of excitement in their eyes when they tell you about an exciting experience. Notice the tears of frustration that well up in their eyes when they talk about a fight with a friend. Recognize the fire in their eyes when they report an injustice done to a friend. Give them the gift of being valued enough to have your total attention…and eye to eye contact.
Finally, make sure your responses and interactions with your children remain contingent on their need. If they come to you looking for someone to listen, listen rather than teach. If they want to joke around, joke around rather than expounding on the virtues of taking life seriously. When they express sorrow, anger, or fear, accept their emotion. Respond to their emotion rather than trying to talk them out of it or minimize it. In other words, remain aware of their emotions, needs, and desires so you can respond sensitively to your children.
When parents practice these skills and make them their habits, they will develop a stronger alliance with their children. Their relationship with their children will becomes stronger and more intimate. Trust will grow. Children will feel more secure. And, experiencing a trusting, secure relationship will empowers your children to grow. Knowing they have a secure relationship with their parent will open the door for them to explore options, make wise choices, and learn from their experiences. But, it all begins with establishing that trusting, secure relationship built by looking at our children, making good eye contact when they interact with us, and intentionally responding to their needs, not our own.
I loved working with John (name changed for privacy reasons), a seven-year-old boy who had a seizure disorder and was very active. I learned so much spending time with him and his family. Part of my job was to take John to the neurologist for his check-ups. One day, John and I sat in the patient room waiting for the neurologist to see us. John was bored and started to explore...well, explore may be an understatement. He began to spin around in the chair, climb onto the sink and then the shelves. He climbed onto the bed to see how high he could jump. He climbed into the window sill. He started to touch various medical instruments in the room. I tried to stop him but I was young, inexperienced...and obviously had no idea. I just followed him around asking him to stop, trying to redirect him. He simply moved to the next object and touched, climbed, jumped, threw, pushed buttons, flipped switches, and anything else he could. Then the doctor walked in. He looked around the room and realized I had nothing to offer. He smiled at me and quietly walked to the exam table and pulled out a little wind-up toy. He wound it up and set it down. It banged tiny cymbals and then did a backward flip before starting the process all over again. John immediately stopped running around the room and watched the toy. When it stopped, the doctor showed him how to wind it up. John wound it up and watched it go. The doctor left to continue his work, returning several minutes later to see John. I learned an important lesson that day. If you want to change a child's behavior, change their environment. Here are some simple ways Thomas Gordon identified to change a child's environment in order to improve behavior:
· Enrich the environment. Provide lots of stimulating and interesting things for your children to do. Children do best when they have interesting, challenging activities to hold their attention. Pick an area in which your children can play safely and fill it with age appropriate activities that will attract their attention.
· Impoverish the environment. When we impoverish an environment, we reduce the stimulating, challenging activities available. I know it seems contradictory, but we can easily enrich some environments for our children and impoverish others. For instance, we may enrich the family room of your house but impoverish the bedroom. Impoverish the bedroom environment so your children have fewer stimuli to attract their attention when it is time to go to sleep. This may mean no TV, no video games, and no phones in the bedroom.
· Simplify the environment. Modify the environment so your children can do more things independently. For instance, put clothes where your children can get them and put them away independently. Keep a stool by the sink so they can wash their hands without your help. Put unbreakable cups within easy reach. Make the environment conducive for independent, age-appropriate activities.
· Prepare your children for changes in the environment. Children like consistency and predictability. When things happen unexpectedly, or when you have to do something that the children cannot predict, they become upset and act up in their stress. And, as you know, changes happen. Families encounter new or unexpected experiences. When this occurs, do your best to let your children know ahead of time. Discuss with them what will happen. Let them know what is expected from them. Encourage them and acknowledge their cooperation.
· Plan the environment for increasing responsibility and independence. As your children mature, they can become more independent. Plan ahead for this growing maturity. For instance, create a space for teen privacy. Purchase an alarm clock so children can start getting themselves up in the morning for school. Knock before entering your children's room. Create a message center for sharing information when the schedules get busy. Discuss appropriate curfews and make sure family members have house keys.
You can change your children's behavior by changing their environment in any of the ways mentioned above. Of course this won't fix everything, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure...why wait until the misbehavior occurs when you can change the environment ahead of time and maybe even prevent it?
I was talking with a young man (middle school age) about what he liked and didn't like about his family. Interestingly, he liked the family dinners they used to have and he disliked that they no longer had those family dinners. Even as a middle school boy, he missed family dinners. Family dinners provided him the time he desired to reconnect with his family...to slow down, talk, and connect with his whole family. I have to admit, I was somewhat surprised to hear a middle-school-aged child talking about missing family dinners because of the family connection he desired. Nonetheless, he made an excellent observation. Family dinners provide a great time to reconnect and bond with our families. They are a time to relax, tell stories, and talk about our daily lives, laugh, and even make some future plans. Research also indicates that having regular family meals help to reduce the rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression in adolescents. Families that enjoy regular family meals see their children attain higher grade-point averages than children whose families do not have regular family meals. Studies also suggest that "dinner conversation" boosts vocabulary more than reading does! The stories of personal victories, perseverance, fun moments, and family times help build a child's resilience and confidence. As you can see, family meals offer a smorgasbord of benefits for families and their children. So, if you want your family to grow more intimate...if you want your children to grow up happy...if you want your children to grow up physically and emotionally healthy...if you want your children to have a higher grade-point average, set aside the time to enjoy regular family meals. Here are a few tips to help you plan your family meal time:
· Include your whole family in the meal process. The family meal process includes making the menu, preparing the meal, setting the table, and cleaning up afterwards. Include the whole family in these activities. Make the menu together. One day a week, allow a different family member to pick their favorite food items for a meal. Encourage the whole family to help clear the table, load the dishwasher, wash the dishes…and make it fun with conversation and laughter. Come up with your own creative ways to include the whole family in the family meal process.
· Enjoy conversation during the meal. Save topics that you know lead to arguments for another time and focus on conversation that will build relationships. You can talk about the day's activities, each person's dreams, memories of fun family times, and things you'd like to do in the future. Really, the topics available for conversation are limited only by our imagination. If you have trouble thinking of topics, check out these conversation starters from The Dinner Project.
· Make dinner a surprise now and again. I just ate breakfast with a friend today...he ordered a double burger for breakfast and I ordered an omelet. We both enjoyed our meal and his burger was a great meal conversation starter. Your family might enjoy dinner for breakfast or breakfast for dinner. Plan one "ethnic meal night" per week and travel the globe with culinary surprises. Eat your meal backwards, starting with dessert. Plan an "Iron Chef" night and let each family members cook one dish...the family can vote on best taste, presentation, and creativity after the meal. You get the idea. Do something different now and again. Make it a surprise...and have fun.
· Turn off TV's, video games, phones, and any other technology that has the potential to interfere with the moment's face-to-face interaction and family interaction. Learn to enjoy each other in the moment with no interruption.
· A great resource to get your family started with family meals is The Family Dinner Project. You can sign up for their "4 Weeks to Better Family Dinners" for free helps. They also provide ideas for recipes, conversation starters, meal activities, addressing various challenges, and meal preparation. This is a wonderful resource to bookmark and use on a regular basis.
I love the family meal plan to better family bonding, enhanced educational attainment, and better emotional health. It combines two of my favorite ingredients in life--eating and family--in attaining several of the goals I desire for my family and children. With that kind of recipe, why not give a try?!
I remember coming home from the park with my preschool daughters. One would say, "I made a friend today." Her face glowing and her voice bubbling with excitement.
"Really," I would ask. "What's her name?"
"I don't know."
"Where does she live?"
"I don't know." (Both times the "I don't know" reply was said in a nonchalant manner, as though the question held no real relevance at all.)
"How do you know she’s your friend?"
"We played on the slide together," she answered excitedly
"Will you see her again?"
"Yes, Daddy, she comes to the park too," was the confident reply.
This brief conversation, which occurred time and again, taught me an important lesson. Preschoolers build friendships based on shared activities. They don't need to know a lot of information about the other person. They just want to play together. So, my preschool daughter could go to the park for an hour and walk away with a "new best friend" simply because they engaged in a fun activity together. That realization started me thinking (always a dangerous pastime)…if any little kid can become my daughter's "new best friend" by playing together at the park for less than an hour, I could really build my relationship with her by enjoying a fun activity with her each day! We could play hide-n-seek, swing on the swings, make chocolate chip cookies, play catch, kick a ball, read a book...the possibilities are limitless. The activity itself is less important than the outcome. What is the outcome? Having a shared activity with my daughter. In her eyes, that makes us "best friends." And from those foundational preschool "best friend" activities, I begin to develop a lifelong relationship! When she begins to base friendships more on who is a part of her life and world (which she will do in the elementary school years), I will have already laid the foundation of spending time with her. I can continue to spend time with her and become an integral part of her every day world. When she enters her teen years and begins to base her friendships on shared interests and trust, I will have laid the foundation of trust by spending consistent time with her through the preschool and elementary years. I will have laid the foundation of having shared interests with her by involving myself in her world throughout the elementary school years. Building on that foundation, I can remain available throughout her teen years, faithful in my presence and trusted with information. Simply by sharing activities with my daughter during her preschool years, I will have built a relationship that will sustain us into young adult and throughout the rest of our lives. A simple step during preschool will have set us on a trajectory leading to a constantly growing relationship. So, start building relationships early in your children's lives…and enjoy a lifetime relationship. If you missed the beginning, don't worry. You can always start spending time with them now...you can begin to share activities today…you become present in their world today…you can prove yourself trustworthy today. The important thing is to start. Let the relationship begin!
"You have no idea what you're doing."
"You are so lazy."
"You have nothing to cry about."
"You always want the last word, don't you?"
"You just need to listen better."
"You should give your friend a chance."
"You better stop that now or else…"
These statements all have something in common. Can you see it? That's right—they are all about the infamous "you," the other guy. Most likely, we have all sent "you-messages." "You-messages" are other-oriented. They tend to focus on the other person's shortcomings or cast the blame on them for whatever went wrong. "You-messages" impugn the other person's character and minimize the other person's ability to solve a problem. As you can imagine (and probably have experienced), "you-messages" also shatter the other guy's positive self-image. These consequences become even more devastating when we consider how many "you-messages" we have sent to our own family members! Look back over the "you-messages" above and think of others “you-messages” you may have heard or said. They can all have the negative consequence of hurting whoever the "you" is. "You-messages" don't resolve conflict; they escalate conflict. They do not result in deeper intimacy; they create distance. If you want to resolve conflict and create intimacy, replace the "you-messages" with "I-messages."
"I-messages" have three parts...let's make that four.
1. An effective "I-message" includes a simple and objective description of the behavior that is bothering you. Keep this description free of labels and judgments.
2. An effective "I-message" includes the speaker giving an honest appraisal of his feelings about the behavior.
3. An effective "I-message" explains the tangible, concrete way in which the behavior impacts the speaker. Providing you have a positive relationship with the other family member, this brief explanation will provide some motivation for the listener to change her behavior.
4. An effective "I-message" offers the listener a concrete way to help the speaker, a solution to the problem.
As you can see, an "I-message" will be longer than the "you-message." It will take a little more thought; but, it will also accomplish much more. For instance,
· The "I-message" will prove more effective in influencing your spouse, child, or parent. While still giving an objective description of what bothers you, the "I-message" avoids blaming or putting your family members down. As a result, the other person does not feel the need to defend themselves. Instead, they can listen...and consider.
· The "I-message" is more honest about my true feelings. When I use an "I-message," I make myself more vulnerable as I express my feelings about a particular behavior. This models honesty. It also opens the door for intimacy. We connect with our family members through honesty and at points of vulnerability.
· An "I-message is less likely to provoke resistance or rebellion from your spouse, child, or parent. When we communicate objective facts and open up to express personal feelings, there is less "arguable material."
· An "I-message" also communicates trust in your spouse, child, or parent...a trust that they care enough about you to change a concrete behavior that has a negative effect on you.
Most people have to practice to really learn how to drop "you-messages" and use "I-messages" effectively; so, go ahead and practice…make a few mistakes and learn from them. Before long, you'll be using “I-messages” like a pro...and believe me, the results are well worth the effort.
When you find yourself in an argument or disagreement (notice how I say "find myself" in an argument; I never start one...well, maybe once in a while...alright, alright, so even when I start an argument) with another family member, how can you make it bearable? Who is responsible to make it "go well"—the ones who starts it or the ones who finds themselves in the midst of it? Dr. Gottman suggests that both people in the argument (the speaker and the listener) hold responsibility for the outcome; both are responsible to make the argument end well. Here are the 9 ways to help an argument end well, 4 tips for the speaker and 5 tips for the listener.
First, the Speaker’s responsibility includes:
· State your feelings in as neutral a manner as possible. Remain objective and state your feelings in a "soft manner" rather than an intense emotional manner. Intense emotion may overwhelm your spouse and make it difficult for them to hear what you are saying.
· Avoid making “you statements.” “You statements” tend to blame, accuse, and attack your spouse. “You statements” will more often result in defensiveness from your spouse, escalating the argument. Avoid them as much as possible.
· Instead, use “I” statements to state how you feel in this specific situation. Really, the only person you can honestly report on is yourself. So, stick with “I statements” about yourself, not “you statements” about your spouse. Also, stick to one specific situation at a time. No need to throw in the kitchen sink. Stay specific and deal with one situation at a time.
· Convert your complaint about the other person into a positive need (or what your spouse can do to help). This offers your spouse a plan of action, a way to help remedy the situation. It reveals something about you to your spouse, increasing intimacy with your spouse.
When the Speaker follows these four tips, it will change the whole feel of the argument. Instead of saying, “Here’s what’s wrong with you” and “This is what you need to stop” you will be saying, "Here’s what I feel” and “Here is a positive thing I need from you.”
Second, the Listener’s responsibility includes:
· Remember your spouse's “enduring vulnerabilities”—their triggers, buttons, troubling memories, etc. Remembering your spouse's "enduring vulnerabilities" will help shape your response to them. You can honor your spouse by avoiding the sarcastic or implied statements that push buttons and flip triggers. You can show love by responding with comments that calm their "enduring vulnerabilities."
· Turn toward your partner by postponing your own agenda. You will still get to talk about your concerns, but postpone talking for the moment so you can listen. Have the grace to be quick to listen and slow to speak. This will endear you to your spouse and reduce the conflict.
· Make understanding your spouse the goal. Instead of working to make sure your spouse understands your point of view, be gracious and work to understand their point of view. Let them have the first and last word!
· Listen non-defensively by postponing your response and getting in touch with your partner’s pain or emotion. Listen to understand how this situation has made them feel. Underneath all the anger, do they feel unloved, devalued, unworthy, abandoned, inadequate?
· Empathize—respond to their underlying feeling with compassion and empathy. Assure them of your love and respect. Reaffirm your commitment and respond to their feelings with reassurance. You will find it helps everyone remain calm when you can summarize your partner’s view and validate it with a sentence like…“I understand why you feel… because …”
As an added bonus, here are 3 tips for both the Listener and Speaker:
1. If you identify a negative quality in your partner, look for that same quality in yourself.
2. If you identify a positive quality in yourself, look for that same quality in your partner.
3. Look for the similar desires and intents throughout the argument.
Follow these tips and you will find your arguments become the best part of the day...alright, so I exaggerate...a lot. But, honestly, follow these tips and you will find the arguments resolve more quickly and more productively. They become opportunities for growing intimacy…and making up will be a whole lot more fun!
Sometimes teens are hard to talk to. Let's be real...sometimes spouses, children, and even parents are hard to talk to. If I'm honest, I have to admit that sometimes I am hard to talk to. I have discovered a tool to improve communications—a tool to help bridge the communication gap, slow the communication roller coaster, and create better communications with our teens (and any other family member really). We accomplish this amazing feat through validation. That's right...validation. Recognizing and accepting our teen's experience as valid, even if we disagree with it, can build better communication. When we accept our teen's feelings as reasonable, given their understanding and perspective of the situation, we will build more intimate communication with them. Validation builds a bridge to better communication on the pillars of:
· Acceptance. We all desire acceptance. When we validate our teen's emotional experiences, we communicate acceptance of them, even in the midst of emotional pain or physical changes. This acceptance informs them that they belong...we accept them, differences and all.
· Value. Validation not only expresses acceptance, it communicates how much we value our teen, their perspective, their thoughts, and their feelings.
· Respect. Accepting and valuing our teen's perspective expresses respect. We all desire respect. We all respond better to those who treat us with respect.
· Honesty. Acceptance, value, and respect open the door for honest communication. Honest communication, premised on acceptance and respect, allows for more open discussion of differences and an earnest seeking for a healthy, respectful solution.
· Calming one another. When we know a person recognizes, understands, and accepts our emotions and struggles, we feel calmer. The same is true for our teens. The feeling of being understood will help calm them and help them learn to manage their emotions. It also opens the door for more communication and problem-solving.
· Identity. Acknowledging and accepting our teens’ emotions allows them the freedom to explore their identity based on the values of acceptance, respect, and honesty. Validation means your teen will not have to argue to prove their point, put up defenses to save face, or disagree to assert their independence. Instead, they can use that same energy to explore their values and identity.
By validating your teen you build a secure bridge to better communication on the secure pillars noted above. That's all well and good...but how do I validate my teen?
· First, listen. Let your teen complete their story. Let them finish so you have all the information. Listen so you can understand their perspective.
· Second, let them know you get it...you understand what happened from their perspective (even if you disagree). Strive to understand so well that their actions make sense based on their level of maturity, the knowledge they have acquired, and the perspective they have.
· Third, let them know you understand how they feel. Combine the second and third step into a statement of your understanding of what happened and how it made them feel...from their perspective. Keep listening until you can make that statement and they respond with something like "Finally, you understand."
· Fourth, based on their perspective and what they told you, let them know that their emotions make sense. This means really working to see things through their eyes.
· Fifth, empathize with their emotions.
· Finally, problem-solve with them if they want help with a solution.
Validation will build a strong bridge of communication built on honesty, respect, and acceptance. It will bridge the communication gap with your teen…and just about anyone else in the family as well.
I thought I might share a few more "National Holidays" your family might enjoy celebrating (click here and here for some other holidays to celebrate). This time I did not include any food holidays, although food compliments any celebration in my mind. These holidays are all relational and fun holidays. A couple of them even offer some great perks if you watch for them. So, find the appropriate month and let the family celebrations begin!
January 24--National Compliment Day. Make some major deposits in your Family Bank of Honor on this day with a few well-spoken compliments. You may even want to start a Pandemonium of Honor this month and practice throughout the year!
January 31--National Backward Day. Do everything backwards. Have supper for breakfast and breakfast for supper. Eat your meal starting with dessert. Put on your clothes backwards and go out to eat. Walk into the restaurant backwards. You get the idea. Have fun.
February 17--National Random Acts of Kindness Day. Another wonderful opportunity to honor your family with a random act of kindness. Be creative and have fun.
March 22--National Goof Off Day. My kids think I celebrate this day every day. That's OK. The point is to have some fun. So, go ahead and goof off together.
April 27--National Tell a Story Day. I love to tell stories. Tell stories about your dating days, early childhood days, your favorite family vacations. You can make up stories. My kids still remember the stories we made up when they were preschoolers. Read a story together. Whatever you choose, just tell some stories that bring your family together.
June 22--National Listen to a Child Day. Listen to your child...they will love your for it.
July 13--Embrace Your Geekness Day. All you Big Bang enthusiasts rejoice. Today is your day!
August 4--International Forgiveness Day. Forgiveness will change your life and your family life. If you have trouble figuring out how to forgive, read 5 Steps for Forgiving Family.
September 19--Talk Like a Pirate Day. A day of family celebration. Every family member can talk like a pirate and you can watch Pirates of the Caribbean. Invite some friends over and make it a multi-family event! Go to Long John Silver's and order with your best pirate accent. Dress up like a pirate and you might get free donuts at Krispy Kreme.
October 12--National Family Bowling Day. You don't have to be good, just have fun. See who can get the worst score. Bowl behind your back. Plan to knock down as few pins as possible. Put up the bumpers. Whatever it takes, have a fun family outing while you bowl.
November 11-Origami Day. Enjoy time making origami today. Here's some help if you want some.
December 8--Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day. Dress up like you live in Wild West, renaissance England, ancient Rome, Israel at the time of Christ, or your community in the midst of dinosaurs. Whatever time era you think your family might enjoy, travel to that time in dress, food, and amenities. Have fun!
Alright now, get out there...Have Fun and Celebrate Family!
Parents want to talk with their teens but teens are often hesitant to approach their parents. Part of our teens' hesitancy may stem from responses they have received from us, their parents, in the past. Perhaps past responses have communicated a lack of trust or acceptance. Maybe they felt blamed by us or made to feel wrong by our response. I'm sure we, as parents, do not intend to send those messages; but we do, even if we do so unintentionally. And, those subtle, unintentional messages put up roadblocks to communication. They close the bridge to intimacy with our teen. I want to warn you about 12 such communication roadblocks that Thomas Gordon identified. Once you know them, you can work to avoid them...and increase the communication with your teen. Here they are:
· Excessive commands and directives communicate a lack of trust in our teen and a disbelief in their ability to do what is right or needed at the moment.
· Constantly warning and threatening our teen with consequences builds a wall of fear between us and them. When we warn and threaten our teens, we build resentment and invite our teen to test the real bite (the truth) of the warning or threat.
· Moralizing and lecturing often increases feelings of guilt in a teen—a sense that he is "bad." Communicating in this way often leads to rebellion against the "shoulds," "oughts," and "musts" that parents generously sow throughout the moralizing lecture.
· Giving solutions and unsolicited advice sends the message that we have no confidence in our teen's judgment or ability to find a solution independently. If teens "buy" the message about their lack of ability to solve problems on their own, they may become overly dependent on others.
· Giving logical arguments can backfire, sending the message that we believe our teen "doesn't know anything." Constantly giving logical arguments makes our teen think we consider them stupid, inadequate, or inferior. And, a teen may go to drastic measures just to prove the argument wrong and so prove his point.
· Criticizing (judging) and blaming makes a teen feel inferior, unworthy, devalued, and bad. Critical, blaming statements evoke counter-criticisms from teens in an effort to save face. Criticize, judge, or blame and welcome an argument.
· Praising can have several negative effects. Check out How to Ruin Your Child with Praise to see some of these negative effects.
· Name-calling, ridicule and shame all have a devastating effect on any teen's self-image.
· Analyzing and diagnosing (i.e., telling a teen what their motive or feeling is) sends the message that "I know you better than you know yourself. If you disagree, you are wrong." This intrusive communication style only leaves one way for a teen to become their own person—rebel!
· Reassuring and consoling discounts your teen's emotions and sends a message of our own discomfort with difficult emotions. It informs our teens that our emotional comfort is more important than accepting their emotional struggle and connecting with them in that struggle.
· Questioning and interrogating...who likes to be interrogated? Many teens shut down in response to what they perceive as too many questions. Try sitting with a little silence and allow your teen time to talk.
· Distracting and diverting can make teens feel like you are minimizing their pain, excitement, concerns, or joys. They feel unheard and devalued.
When parents consistently respond to their teen in these 12 ways, walls arise, roadblocks get put in place, communication suffers, and intimacy falters. You might be asking, "If these 12 things block communication, what can I do to enhance communication?" I'm glad you asked! To enhance communication, use "simple door-openers." Respond with statements that open the door to more communication...statements like "really," "That's interesting," "Hmmmm." These "simple door-openers" reveal your interest in and acceptance of what your teen is saying. They focus on your teen's ideas, feelings, and judgments rather than your own (See 5 Ways to Look out for Number 1). That paves the way for conversation, bridges the communication gap, and creates intimate relationships!
You have to look out for "number 1," "numero uno," the "big cheese." If you don't look out for number one, who will? So, I encourage you to keep your eye on the goal, the "cream of the crop," the…. Oh, wait. Maybe I need to clarify who "number one" is? When I say look out for "number one," "numero uno," "the big cheese," I am referring to your spouse and your children. When it comes to building a healthy, lasting family, the other guy in your family is "number one." And really, if you don't look out for the other guy in your family, who will? Families flourish when each person in the family considers the other guy "number one" and looks out for the other guy's interests. That is the crux of honoring one another. An ancient family expert said it this way: "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others" (Paul-Philippians 2:3-4) So, well, yeah...I hope I didn't cause any confusion. Looking out for number one is looking out for other family members and here are 5 ways you can do just that:
· Learn about their interests. Each family member has a unique personality and will have unique interests as a result. The "other guy's" interests may not fill you with excitement; but if you take the time to learn a little bit about their interests, you will grow closer with "number one." You will find yourself able to engage your family member in conversation about their interest and, even better, you will be thrilled to watch their face glow with excitement as they discuss this interest with you.
· Listen intently. We can look out for "number one" by listening carefully with the goal of understanding. I don't mean just listening with our ears either. I mean listening with our eyes, ears, mind, and heart. Make sure you not only hear the words accurately but that you can really see things their way as well. Listen so well that you can completely understand why they "think the way they think" and "feel the way they feel." Listen so carefully that you can explain their point of view and behave in a way that informs them that you completely understand and respect how they feel.
· Find ways to express your admiration for each family member...after all, they are "number one." Let them know you take great delight in them. You admire them. Tell them so with your words; and, let them see it in your eyes. Let them feel it in your hugs. Express your love with an encouraging back slap or a high-five. Let them see your admiration and delight for them in your actions.
· Seek out ways to help them fulfill their dreams. Everyone has a dream. Find out about each family member's dream. Share in their excitement. Learn about the topic of their dream so you can talk with them about it. Keep your eye open for opportunities for them to reach for their dream and share those opportunities with them. Help them reach for their dream.
· Learn how you can make them happy. Maybe your kind words make them happy; maybe your acts of service make them happy. Or, you may find that loving touch, time spent together, or little gifts makes them happy. Carefully observe them to learn what brings them the greatest happiness and, most importantly, do it.
It is true: you have to watch out for "Number One." And, you have to make sure that the "number one" you look out for really is the right "one." When it comes to family, "Number One" is not me...it is the rest of the family. Now go to it…watch out for “number 1,” “numero uno,” “the big cheese.”
Raising a daughter is a great joy and a great challenge...especially for a father. A father’s active involvement provides a key ingredient in helping his daughter grow into a woman of integrity, character, and confidence. Most fathers find active involvement in their daughter’s life comes with some challenges. Mark McMinn has identified 3 challenges every father will experience while parenting a daughter—three tightropes every father must navigate between "my little girl" and the mature woman she will become. These areas of tension provide fertile opportunities to grow a strong daughter.
First, fathers support their daughters and know when to let their daughters go. Our daughters desire an emotionally intimate relationship with us...and our daughters struggle for independence. Fathers walk the tightrope between both. On the one hand, we nurture an intimate relationship with our daughters by learning the language of emotions (something that does not come easily to men in our society). Rather than hiding behind our cultural training to "be tough," we maintain our toughness to offer protection while developing our "softer side" of emotional expression. Doing so, we gain an emotionally open and intimate relationship with our daughter. We honor our daughters by spending time with them engaged in activities they enjoy. In a sense, we follow their lead as we participate with them in activities of their choosing. As we do, they often return the favor. On the other hand, we nurture independence by encouraging them to become involved in challenging activities. We lovingly step back and allow our daughters to take risks as they try new things and grow more independent of us. Any father who has dropped his daughter off at college has experienced the tension of letting go and encouraging her to take her next step in life while nurturing an intimate connection with her by expressing the complexity of emotions that accompany this event.
Second, fathers remain a loving authority in their daughter's life while allowing her the "voice" to speak her mind. Fathers provide limits and boundaries to protect their daughters as they grow. As their daughters mature, fathers allow choices to replace directives. They allow their daughters to make choices and voice those choices. Wise fathers will even allow their daughters to experience the consequences of poor choices. A father may find his daughter saying "no" more often as she matures—not in a disrespectful way but in a growing independent way. She may say "no" to some of the father-daughter activities you enjoyed with her as a child. She may say "no" to an activity with you so she can enjoy an activity with her friends. Allowing her to say "no," hearing and respecting the reason behind her "no," and perhaps negotiation around the "no" helps her find her voice and learn to speak her mind respectfully. Discussing the reason behind her "no" encourages her to think for herself. Fathers also encourage independent thinking by listening to their daughters explain what interests them and what does not interest them.
Third, fathers tolerate the tension of disagreement with their daughters. If you have a child, you know that many opportunities will arise to disagree. Disagreement is good...frustrating, but good. Disagreement allows our daughters to think for themselves. It provides us the opportunity to learn about our daughters by listening intently. Disagreement also provides the opportunity to teach respectful ways to voice our disagreement. A wise father will allow disagreement, even discuss the disagreement. During that discussion, a father can model respect. He can model how to disagree while keeping the relationship a priority. One more thing…realize that some disagreements occur because of differences in maturity and experience. Do not expect your daughter to think like you—they lack the maturity and experience to do so. And, let's face it, sometimes we are wrong and they are right. So, allow the disagreement. Allow them to think. Allow them to be right and accept it when you (the father) are wrong.
As you can see, walking the tightrope of raising a strong daughter provides a great challenge. But, we are men. We love a challenge. Step right up, enter the fray, and engage your daughter. Support her and let her grow up. Remain an authority in her life and allow her to speak her mind. Tolerate disagreements and even enter into the disagreement with her knowing she may teach you a thing or two. Most of all, love your daughter and show her the depth of your love every day!