Have you ever wondered how to motivate your children? They could have better grades but they just don’t hand in their homework or study? They could accomplish so much more but they just seem to “lack motivation”? Researchers at the University of Michigan recently published a study that might just help. In a series of three studies, they explored how positive relationships impact motivation. They discovered that even a brief reminder of a “supportive other” increases motivation for personal growth, even in the face of challenges. The participants who reported actually having supportive relationships showed a greater willingness to accept challenges that promoted personal growth. They also reported feeling more self-confidence (Read For a better ‘I,’ there needs to be a supportive ‘we’ for more on the study). In terms of parenting, having a supportive relationship with your children will help increase our children’s motivation. I’m not suggesting that a supportive relationship will end all motivational woes. It will not result in your children suddenly becoming perfectly motivated to complete every chore and homework assignment given. However, a positive supportive, relationship with your children will increase their motivation. A positive, supportive relationship with your children will increase the chances of them doing the chores more readily and even completing their homework. The question is: How do we develop and communicate a positive, supportive relationship with our children? I’m glad you (well…I) asked.
- Remain available. Our children know we are available when we engage them regularly. We communicate our availability by remaining open to interactions with them, putting aside our own agenda and responding to their direct, indirect, or even awkward attempts to engage us. Let your actions express your belief that being available to your children is more important than the game, your book, the paperwork, or whatever other distraction might pull you away from your children in the moment.
- Accept your children. Our children feel supported when they know we accept them whether they succeed or fail, experience joys or fears. They know we accept them when we acknowledge rather than criticize their efforts. They know we accept them when we acknowledge and allow for differences in taste and preferences. And, knowing they find acceptance in us they feel supported by us.
- Listen. Our children feel supported when they feel heard. This requires us to listen beyond mere words. We must listen with our ears to hear the words, our mind to understand their intent, and our hearts to understand their emotions. Then, our actions need to communicate our willingness to let their ideas and beliefs influence us. When we listen in this manner, our children know they have found acceptance and a supportive parent.
- Encourage. We communicate support through sincere encouragement. Sincere encouragement does not offer false praise. Our children abhor false praise. Nor does sincere encouragement manipulate. It is not offered to push our children in a particular direction or toward some action. Instead, we encourage our children by recognizing their inner dream and promoting it. We encourage them by acknowledging their effort and resulting progress.
- Offer honest, gentle correction. Children recognize honest, gentle correction as supportive. They benefit from a supportive parent who lovingly “nudges” them to grow, mature, and become a person of honor. Honest, gentle correction avoids screaming, name-calling, and belittling comments. Instead, it offers clear limits, consistent consequences, and loving correction. Gentle correction teaches from a foundation of love, communicating a value in our children.
These five actions can help our children feel supported. This will translate into a healthier sense of self-confidence and greater motivation to engage in behaviors that promote their own positive growth.
Did you know intelligence (IQ) only predicts about 20% of a person’s success? It’s true. Brains alone do not equal success. On the other hand, 80% of what predicts a person’s success involves social and emotional intelligence (More in Why Emotional Intelligence is More Important than IQ). To prepare our children for success in relationships and life, we need to strengthen their emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence includes five components (Daniel Goleman’s 5 Components of Emotional Intelligence).
- Self-awareness: the ability to recognize and label the emotions we experience in our lives.
- Self-regulation: the ability to cope with feelings in a manner consistent with and relevant to the situation.
- Internal motivation: the ability to utilize the energy of an emotion to achieve a positive end like communicating a priority or solving a problem.
- Empathy: the ability to recognize emotions in others by remaining aware of their verbal and nonverbal cues.
- Social skills: the ability to adjust our behavior in response to another person’s emotions. This allows us to more effectively connect with others, resolve conflicts that arise within our relationships, and negotiate compromises and agreements.
Reviewing the five aspects of emotional intelligence, you can understand how important emotional intelligence is for success in life. Emotional intelligence not only contributes to success in life, it also promotes health. Studies suggest that 80% of health problems are stress related. Emotional intelligence helps us manage stress and so reduce stress related illnesses. Emotional intelligence reduces bullying as well (Why Emotional Intelligence is More Important than IQ). With all these benefit, we surely want to teach our children emotional intelligence. Here are five simple exercises to get you started.
- Develop a vocabulary for emotions. Dan Siegel (co-author of Parenting from the Inside) refers to this as “name it to name it.” Labeling an emotion helps “quell” its effect. The emotion becomes more manageable when we can label it. As a result, we can exercise more thoughtful control over it and our behavioral response to it (Why Labeling Emotions Matters ). In fact, the broader and more articulate a person’s emotional vocabulary, the less reactive and more responsive they can become (When Labeling an Emotion Quiets It) .
- Listen and accept emotions. All emotions are acceptable, a gift from our Creator to help us communicate priorities and protect those important to us. Of course, not all behavioral responses are acceptable. So let a person express their emotion. Help them label the emotion. Encourage them to define their feelings. Coach them in expressing even difficult emotions. Listen. Accept. Understand. (For more read Teaching Your Child to Handle Emotions)
- Identify the priorities underlying the emotions. Emotions clarify our priorities and reveal them to others. Take time to identify the priorities that have led to your child’s strong emotions. Knowing the priority behind an emotion allows you to address the true need. Teaching your child to identify and address underlying emotion leads to a more successful and self-controlled child.
- Problem-solve. After you have listened closely and understand the emotion, work with your child to problem-solve. Let the problem-solving focus on how to address the priority underlying the emotion. (For more on these two steps read When Your Children Get Angry.)
- Teach perspective taking. A great way to teach your children how to take another person’s perspective is by reading fiction together. Fiction lets us see into the minds of characters, feel their emotions, and understand their motivations. Doing so teaches perspective taking. So, read to your children. Read with your children. Talk about what your children read. It will improve their ability to take another person’s perspective and increase their emotional intelligence. (Read Teaching Your Child Perspective Taking for more ideas.)
These five simple activities can set your child on the path to emotional intelligence…and all its related benefits!
Parents love to see their preschooler exploring the world around them. We encourage our children to engage in exploration and play. Rightly so…such exploration helps them discover their interests and strengths during elementary school, their passion and identity during their teen years, and their vocation and independence in young adulthood. Exploring is crucial to healthy developmental in each age group. And, if you really think about it, it requires a great deal of courage for our children to explore the world and “become their own person.” Unfortunately, many parents unwittingly embezzle their children’s innate courage, robbing them of the grit and determination needed to develop healthy independence. Don’t embezzle your children’s innate courage, invest in it and nurture it with these four tips.
- Accept your children’s unique style of exploration. I have two daughters. One jumps into new activities and experiences. The other wades in slowly, first one toe and then another before her whole foot slips in. Then she slowly (sometimes painfully slowly) wades further in until she is fully immersed. (She takes after me, by the way.) Eventually, both daughters become fully immersed in an adventure, but they required different kinds of support and encouragement. One needed encouragement to “think before she leaps.” The other needed a hand, support, and even a gentle nudge at times. As young adults, they still have different styles and ways of approaching new experiences; but both of them have become independent and capable of courageous exploration. Accepting each child’s unique style of exploration and nurturing it in a complementary manner allows your child to explore courageously.
- Observe before removing obstacles. Our children will encounter obstacles, problems, and frustrations along the way. It is inevitable. Do not jump in to help too quickly. Step back for a moment and observe. Watch them to see how they respond to the obstacle. Give them the opportunity to solve the problem on their own. Watch a preschooler with a toy and you will see them try several actions with it before settling for the one that seems most appropriate. Let your elementary age children and your teens do the same with challenges that arise. Let them struggle with various attempts to solve the problem before you offer a suggestion. You might be pleasantly surprised at the creative solution they discover. (More on “stepping back” in Do Your Rob Your Teen of Victory?)
- Teach problem-solving. Of course, our children will not have the ability and knowledge to solve every problem that arises. So, when they come to you for help or you see them reach an impasse, teach them problem-solving. Teach problem solving rather than simply solving the problem for them. Ask questions about what they have done and why it did not work. Ask questions to prompt other ways of looking the problem and thus give rise to a potential solution. Help them look at the obstacle from various perspectives and points of view. Come up with three or four possible solutions and let them choose which one they will try first. Learning the process of problem-solving gives children the confidence they need to courageously explore the world around them.
- Acknowledge effort and reframe failures as learning. Children become more willing to explore when they know that effort produces success and failure is simply a step toward success. So, acknowledge and praise children’s effort. When they do make a mistake or fail, return to step three and teach problem-solving. Effort and problem-solving opens up a world of possibility and emboldens exploration. (Read Growing Your Child’s Mind for Success for more.)
These four tips can help increase our children’s courage to explore…and that can help us avoid the “failure to launch” syndrome as they mature. It will also give you the pleasure of watching your child explore the world with confidence and, in so doing, grow more independent and mature.
I’m not very political. In fact, I tend to avoid most political debates. That being said, who can miss the tumultuous political struggle going on right now? Our nation is in an uproar. Division seems to be at an all-time high. Our nation’s struggle intrudes into our daily life on the news, in the streets, and on our social media. Many of the voices are loud, angry, defensive, accusatory, and even offensive. Somehow we have to find a way to create change, a way to build the kind of nation we all desire. So, I’m going to dip my toe in the pond…and hopefully not stick my foot in my mouth. I have a suggestion, a modest proposal with revolutionary consequences. Under this proposal, every man, woman, and child can become actively engaged, on a daily basis, in creating the nation we all desire. We can all become agents of change, creating an environment in which our communities and our nation can thrive. My modest proposal: Elevate Family and Marriage! Every day do something to strengthen your family and your marriage…and encourage those around you to do the same. Empower one another to build healthy families.
I can hear the skeptics now. “What? That’s it? Where are the revolutionary consequences? How can elevating the family create a thriving nation? We need healthcare. We need a better economy. We need equal rights. We need more than just a happy home.” I told you it was a modest proposal. But, hear me out. Elevating the family does have revolutionary consequences.
- Elevating the family and marriage will result in greater health. Happily married men and women live longer, healthier lives. They recover more quickly from illnesses and surgeries. They spend less time in hospitals than those who are unmarried or unhappily married. Married people exhibit the lowest rates of mental illness (California Healthy Marriage Coalition). Do you hear it? A consequence of greater health that will decrease health care costs. I know this won’t end the healthcare crisis, but it’s a start. Yet we spend more money on our wedding and honeymoon than we do on learning what it takes to have a healthy marriage. We need to elevate the family.
- Elevating the family and marriage will result in healthier children, too. Children who live in healthy families are more likely to do well in school and graduate from high school and college. Children from divorced families receive mental health treatment about twice as often as those in healthy families. “The rate of virginity among teenagers at all ages is highly correlated with the presence or absence of married parents.” They are less likely to parent a child as a teen. Living with biological parents reduces the risk of child abuse, too. Children who live in an intact family also exhibit the lowest rate of drug use. They commit significantly fewer crimes. Once again, this won’t alleviate the problems, but it’s a tremendous start. But we invest more money in response to problems than we do in elevating the family that will help prevent the problem in the first place (California Healthy Marriage Coalition).
- Elevating family and marriage reduces the number of people living in poverty. Economists estimate that individuals within a married couple each have a net worth about twice as great as never-married individuals and divorced individuals. “When it comes to building wealth or avoiding poverty, a stable marriage may be your most important asset” (The Case for Marriage).
- Healthy families raise girls who become stronger women. Girls who grow up in a healthy, intact family achieve better in school, are less likely to experience teen pregnancy, and experience positive marriages themselves. A father who is present and active in the home broadens a daughter’s perceived career options, aka-helps create an environment in which women will “break the glass ceiling” (The Top 6 Reasons for Men to Help Around the House).
- Strong families that promote healthy attachments produce more tolerant people. In fact, one study found that simply priming someone with the name of a person with whom they had a strong attachment led to more tolerant and generous behavior toward a long-standing enemy (Hot Sauce vs. the Power of Relationship).
I think you get the idea. Elevating healthy families and marriages can lead to greater health, more financial stability and less poverty, greater tolerance and acceptance of others, less teen pregnancy, less drug abuse, less abortion, stronger women…. It may not fix all the problems tomorrow. But, it is a great start. Any investment in family is ultimately an investment in our community and our nation. Elevate the family and marriage. It truly is a modest proposal with revolutionary consequences. An amazing aspect of this proposal: you can become engaged in the change right where you stand; and, you can become involved today! So, write your congressman. March in the protests. Vote your values. But, in the process don’t forget to LOVE your spouse. NURTURE your children. ENJOY your extended family. SUPPORT your neighbors’ family and marriage. ENCOURAGE those thinking of marriage to take a premarital class. Read a book to strengthen your own marriage and parenting skills. ELEVATE FAMILY!
Healthy marriages provide an opportunity for us to return to the Garden of Eden and stand like Adam and Eve: naked and unafraid. I don’t mean just physically naked. I mean completely open and exposed to our partner—emotional, spiritually, and mentally naked before our partner and still unafraid. That is a vulnerable position; but, in a completely healthy marriage, we can stand before one another in this vulnerable open state and remain completely unafraid. This type of open relationship begins with a very important ingredient: RADICAL ACCEPTANCE. Radical acceptance stands in direct opposition to conditional acceptance. Radical acceptance communicates a complete willingness to love our spouse no matter what. Imagine with me what can happen if we add just a small condition to our willingness to accept our spouse.
- This one condition raises doubt in our spouse’s mind. They will no longer feel completely safe to tell all and show all. A little bit of fear will enter the relationship—the fear that “I might do something to make my spouse love me less or even reject me.”
- Your spouse will no longer feel completely secure in their relationship to you. Feelings of insecurity will arise.
- Rather than risk rejection, your spouse will hide perceived faults and mistakes from you. After all, they don’t want to risk falling short of the conditions for acceptance. It becomes safer to keep faults and shortcomings secret.
- That secret grows into a wall of secrecy. The only way your spouse can keep you from discovering their faults is to create a wall of secrecy to hide behind. You will no longer get to see your spouse completely. You will see and experience only those parts they feel safe exposing.
- Your spouse will guard their heart. They will keep certain parts of themselves guarded, protected from possible rejection. There will be no full disclosure.
- You will sense this change. Trust will decrease. Your spouse’s trust will decrease for fear of rejection. Your trust will decrease due to suspicions of some secrets.
The only way to remedy this downward spiral is RADICAL ACCEPTANCE. Radical acceptance accepts our spouse warts and all. Radical acceptance continues to love in spite of mistakes. Radical acceptance loves in the face of shortcomings. And, radical acceptance opens the door for change. You and your spouse can invest more energy in growing and becoming better people when you no longer have to invest energy in building a wall of secrecy and guarding your heart. You and your spouse will also desire to spend more energy in pleasing one another when you know you will receive radical acceptance…even when you make a mistake. How can you practice radical acceptance?
- See your spouse through the eyes of God. Realize they are God’s workmanship, designed for His purpose. Any non-acceptance of your spouse is a non-acceptance of God and His work of art. Focus on your spouse’s God-given strengths and abilities.
- Keep open lines of communication. Speak the truth in love. When must deal with difficult issues (and you will), do so in love. Speak only about one concern at a time rather than generalizing and throwing in the kitchen sink. This will be easier to do when you resolve differences quickly and keep no record of wrongs. Share the concern without accusation and offer a way to resolve it as well.
- Focus on what you admire about your spouse. Admire and bless. Show gratitude and speak words of encouragement…every day!
Radical acceptance is a gift of grace we give our spouses and our spouses give to us. Radical acceptance is also a gift that keeps on giving. It gives a tremendous return of security, trust, and intimacy…the chance to stand before our spouse completely naked and completely unafraid!
Play offers innumerable benefits to your marriage. Let me name a few.
So, take time to play this week. Go out with your spouse and enjoy some fun. Joke around. Play some games. Laugh. Laugh some more. And enjoy the play as it strengthens your marriage!
Honor is an important ingredient in a healthy family. Many of the blogs I’ve written deal with honor in one form or another…and rightfully so. Honor simplifies life. It establishes a family environment that benefits every member of the family. Consider just these four ways that honor benefits a family.
- Honor simplifies life by allowing us to relax in our trust of one another’s faithfulness. We honor our family members by living an honorable life. An honorable person keeps their word. They are faithful and trustworthy. Living within a family we can trust allows us to relax. We know promises will be kept and relationships maintained.
- Honor simplifies life by allowing us to rest in the security of our relationships. Families filled with honor value one another. They place each other’s needs above their own. They remain committed to family and invested in providing the best for other family members. As a result, relationships grow stronger. Intimacy grows. Each person rests secure in relationship, even during times of disagreement.
- Honor simplifies life by allowing us to walk in the freedom and openness of the truth. We honor one another by living a truthful life. An honorable life is an honest life. When a family practices honesty, the whole family lives in the freedom of the truth. Conflict is recognized, addressed, and resolved more quickly and compassionately. There are no hidden agendas, resentments, or secrets to fear. Living in the truth allows family members to trust one another. Each person knows the freedom of being truly known (not hiding any part of themselves) and still fully accepted.
- Honor simplifies life by allowing us to celebrate the joy of lifting one another up with our words. We honor one another with encouraging words. A family filled with honor uses words to encourage, build up, and strengthen one another.
I had the opportunity to volunteer in a nursing home throughout my teen years. My father was a chaplain in the home and I would help “wheel” the residents to church or some other activity. I also had the opportunity to help at an inner city mission several times during my teens and early twenties. In a different vein, my family often went camping. We spent a week each summer living in a tent, swimming, fishing, building fires, and enjoying (most of the time) family adventures. Little did I know that these different teen experiences were contributing to a budding sense of identity and purpose in my life.
Lecturers at Stanford have identified three factors that come together to foster a sense of purpose in teens: a need in the world, a person’s skills and gifts, and what a person loves to do (Read Greater Good: 7 Ways to Help High Schoolers Find Purpose for more). Let’s take a closer look at these three factors and how we can use them to help our teens find meaning in their lives.
- Skills and abilities. Our teens need the opportunity to explore various skills and abilities rather than getting pigeon-holed in the first activity they enjoy. They may enjoy music but be great at sports as well. Or, perhaps they show talent as an athlete but love to cook. Let them explore a variety of interests and skills. Recognizing their own abilities and interests will help them discover what gives meaning to their lives.
As they explore their interests and abilities, allow them to experience failures and setbacks. Offer support while trusting your teen to survive these setbacks. Encourage your teen to learn from failures and teach them to see failure as an opportunity to grow. As they overcome setbacks and bounce back from moments of failure, they come to better understand their potential and how it fits into the world of need around them.
- What your teen loves to do. As your teens explore their skills, talents, and abilities, they will discover things they love, things that inspire them. They will turn to these activities when they have no other demands on their time. These activities will light them up, bring them to life. Sometimes your teen will love an activity you don’t enjoy. You may hope they become an athlete and they take up theatre…or vice versa. Don’t hold them back. Be excited with them. Remember, you are helping them find purpose for their life not a way to live your
- A need in the world. To gain a sense of purpose, teens need to connect their skills with a need around them. This demands a mature awareness of needs in the world around them. Parents can facilitate this awareness by providing opportunities to serve others. Scouting, volunteering, working in the community, or engaging in service activities will help build this awareness. Traveling, spending time in nature, and contemplation also help increase awareness of needs and how “my skills” may meet that need.
All three of these factors demand our teens have time to explore. It requires we provide them with opportunities to step away from the boring repetition of school, get off the treadmill of over-achievement, and experience the world from a new angle, to see the world with new eyes. The best part of all this: you get to spend time with your child in the exploration. You get to see their eyes light up with excitement as they try new things and discover what they love. You also get to develop a deeper understanding of your teen and a closer relationship with them in the process. Then you get to stand with pride as they actively engage the world in a meaningful way!
I recently had the opportunity to speak on marriage with a local congregation during their worship service. The passage for the morning was Paul’s words to the Corinthians:
“For the love of Christ compels us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
Even though this passage speaks about Paul, it also describes a powerful foundation for marriage—the love of Christ. As believers, the love of Christ compels us to interact with our spouse in a powerful, virtuous manner. Think of it:
- The love of Christ compels us to love our spouse with a sacrificial love rather than a self-serving love.
- The love of Christ compels us to seek ways of giving to our spouses rather than taking from our spouses…to ask “what can I do for you today?” rather than “what have you done for me lately?”
- The love of Christ compels us to accept our spouses instead of striving to make them what we want them to be…to love them “where they are” rather than trying to shape them into the person we imagine.
- The love of Christ compels us to show our spouses grace rather than demanding they earn our acceptance, respect, or forgiveness.
- The love of Christ compels us to seek out ways of expressing our love and initiating that expression rather than expecting our spouse to “love us first,” “make the first move,” or “treat us right first.”
These bullets only begin to touch on ways this passage invites us to love one another as married couples. And, we could write for hours to expand on each bullet. But, you might get bored listening to me. Instead, I invite you to grab your spouse, pour a cup of coffee, and sit down together to discuss what these bullets call you to do in your marriage. That will prove a whole lot more fun than reading any explanation I would offer. And, it will be specific to YOUR marriage. So, have some fun learning how the love of Christ compels you to love your spouse!
“Controlling parents create mean college kids.” Having taught at a local college for several years and having two kids in college right now, that headline caught my attention. I have known quite a few mean college kids. The worst were the ones who engaged in what psychologist call “relational aggression.” They were not physically aggressive, but they could crush someone’s feelings or sabotage a person’s social standing with a well-spoken rumor, a strategic exclusion from some event, or nonchalantly embarrassing them in public. A study out of the University of Vermont suggests one way parents may contribute to this type of behavior. Specifically, this study of 180, mostly female, college students found that parents who use guilt trips or threat of withdrawing affection or support to influence their children contribute to the creation of the mean college kid who uses relational aggression. In other words, parents who control their children with guilt or threat of abandonment create mean college kids. Today, parents can practice this style of controlling influence from a distance, without even seeing their children, with the use of cell phone…just as our children can crush a peer through social media.
Rather than creating a mean kid through guilt inducing and controlling parenting styles, try these ideas:
- Accept your children’s unique opinions and lifestyle. No need to try controlling their interests, ideas, and passions. Accept the fact that your children may not keep the hairstyle you like. They may not share your interests or political views. They may choose a different style of dress than you taught them. They may choose a vocation you never expected. Allow your children to be themselves. Accept their uniqueness. Enjoy your differences. Celebrate what you can learn from one another.
- Respect your children enough to let them make their own mistakes. Do not make them feel guilty for the mistake, let them learn from the consequences of that mistake. Don’t control their every move in an effort to prevent “the same mistakes I made.” Instead, give them the dignity to learn from their mistakes without an “I told you so.” Empathize with the pain they experience as a consequence of their mistake, but let them have their own experience of, and opportunity to learn from, that pain. In fact, let them tell you what they learned and acknowledge the wisdom they gained.
- Be available without clinging. Let your children know you are available to them any time they express a need. You can listen, share experiences, brainstorm ideas, even give advice if they ask…BUT you cannot live their life or make their decisions. Most importantly, whatever they choose, you still love them and remain available to them…without the guilt trip.
In other words, loosen the reins just a little. Appreciate their uniqueness and let them practice some decision making. Let them have some slack and let them learn from mistakes. Most important, always express your love and support.