I read an article that began by stating “A new paper in the journal Pediatrics summarizes the evidence for letting kids let loose.” I thought, “Interesting.” The authors of this article went on to encourage pediatricians to write a “prescription for play” for their youngest patients. Why would they write a “prescription for play”? Because play, intrinsically motivated and unstructured fun, is disappearing from the lives of our children…and with it the benefits of play are disappearing from their lives. What are the benefits of play? Here are five benefits discussed in the article.
- Play promotes brain development. Specifically, play promotes the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is important for learning and growing healthy connections between neurons in the brain. In other words, play primes the brain for learning.
- Play reduces obesity and diseases associated with obesity. Running, jumping, and climbing helps children build confidence in their physical ability. It helps them learn the limits of their body as well. Knowing the limits helps them remain safe (Let Them Take a Risk). The physical activity of play helps them develop into physically active and healthy adults. In fact, children who got the most outdoor time were 42% less likely to be overweight.
- Play contributes to improved behavior and reduced stress. Children resolve traumatic events through play, working through the troubling aspects of the trauma so they can learn to “put it behind them” rather than let it intrude into their present lives. Obviously, this will reduce stress in the child’s life. Moreover, a study in which teachers engaged children in one-on-one play led to improved behavior in the children who engaged in play compared to a control group. (Investing Time & Attention in Your Children)
- Play helps families to bond. Play brings people together. It helps us learn to listen and it teaches us to compromise. Play helps us attune to our children emotionally, mentally, and physically. This attunement allows us to help our children learn to manage their emotions in an effective manner. (Make Your Child a Head Taller Than Himself)
- Play contributes to academic success. Play encourages language development, the exploration of ideas, the ability to delay gratification, and spatial relationships. Each of these skills contribute to academic success. Blocks encourage increased knowledge in putting words, ideas, or architectural materials together. Playing store promotes social skills, math, and negotiation skills. Imaginative play promotes storytelling and self-regulation. Physics, social skills, language development, storytelling, arithmetic, geometry, emotional regulation…it can all be found in play. And children learn it faster and better while playing. (Learn more in Have Fun AND Reduce Childhood Aggression.)
We could expand on this list of the benefits of play, but you get the idea. Let the children play. I’m not a pediatrician, but I am a “doctor” of psychology. So, if you need a prescription, here it is: “Your child is to engage in imaginative, unstructured play for at least one hour per day.”
Follow that prescription and your children will flourish…and you could find yourself rejoicing in their growth and maturity!
You have likely read articles implicating the smartphone in various types of disasters, like car fatalities, bullying, marital problems, or physical accidents. You may have even watched videos of mishaps caused by smartphone usage, some funny and some disturbing. (That Was Awkward describes my own experience with cellphone distraction!) But did you ever think about how “smartphone distraction” impacts a parent’s ability to parent. An article entitled The Dangers of Distracted Parenting outlines some of the research showing how parental smartphone use impacts parent-child relationships and, as a result, child development. The author sites several studies. Some show outcomes as simple as child ER visits increasing as cellphone usage increased. Other studies suggested more disturbing outcomes for parental cellphone usage, like decreased verbal and non-verbal interactions with their children, increased negative behaviors as children make increasingly demanding bids for parental attention, and children’s decreased ability to learn language when a parent is on the phone. Over the long run, these outcomes translate into poorer academic achievement and poorer social skills if the parent develops a pattern of placing smartphone usage (sending/answering texts, playing games, checking news, etc.) over their relationship with their children.
I remember visiting a local amusement park and watching a father stand in line with his young son (maybe 5-years-old). The father was busy on his cellphone while his son tried desperately to get his father’s attention.(Read A Carnival of Parents for more.) At the time I thought the father was missing a wonderful opportunity to build a relationship with his son and communicate how much he valued his son. And, in fact, his son may have come to believe his father valued his cell phone, the person on the other end of the cell phone, or the game he played on the cell phone more than him. But, now I know that this father being distracted by his cellphone may have done even more damage. If this type of distraction became a consistent pattern, his son may have developed less effective social skills and exhibited poorer language skills.
This all begs the question. What really is more important, your children or your phone? Of course, we all know our children are more important; but, do our actions coincide with that value? Or are we so addicted to our smartphones that they have become a wedge in our relationship with our children. I do know a way to put the question to rest once and for all, a way to discover if you cellphone has become so important in your life that it interferes with your relationship with your children. Put the phone away. I mean turn it off and put it in another room. Then, leave it in the other room while you enjoy dinner and an evening activity with your children, no smartphone even in sight. Then, make this practice a habit, a regular occurrence in the life of your family. Do it nightly or 3 times a week. If doing this sounds hard, or even impossible, it’s very possible that your cellphone has become so important in your life that it’s interfering with your relationship with your children. Don’t let it happen. Take action now. (You have a superpower to use against this problem. Learn about it in A Sense of Belonging “Phubbed”)
We all love to receive a gift. Even more, we love to give gifts to those we love. Who doesn’t like to see our child’s face glow when they receive a gift from us? Or watch our spouse’s eyes glitter when they receive a special gift? Here is a gift you will love to give. Not only will you spouse and children love to receive this gift but you will experience all kinds of benefits…like more conversations, greater joy, and growing intimacy. What is this gift? The gift of attention!
You can give the gift of attention by listening intently. Listen to their words and listen to their tone of voice. Observe carefully. Observe their body language and their facial expressions. Observe what excites them and what brings them down. Listen intently and observe carefully so you can understand them deeply.
Then, and only then, begin to speak. But don’t move to fast. Use your first words to confirm your understanding. State what you’ve observation. Repeat what you’ve heard. Listen again as they either confirm your understanding or clarify your understanding.
Now, once you understand and your partner knows you understand, you can respond. This sounds like it will take a long time and sometimes it does…but not always. Take this example:
“It’s a beautiful sunny day,” your wife says looking out the window at the flowers in the back yard.
“Yes. It is a sunny day. I like how it shines on the flowers in our backyard,” you reply.
This simple interaction includes the observation that your wife is looking out the window when you talk about the flowers she is looking toward. She knows you listened as you repeat her words back to her–“sunny day.” A simple interaction that gives the gift of attention. With a gift this simple, you can give it away to your spouse and children multiple times a day. It’s almost like Christmas. Merry Attention. Happy Listening.
How do you think of your children? I mean, really, underneath all the hubbub and philosophical questions and answers, how do you feel about your children? Sure, we can talk about whether they are born with a propensity for good or evil; or, we could discuss how much they know and whether they manipulate or simply try to get their needs met in the best way they know how. We could even go so far as to make determinations about their ability to know right from wrong, the age of accountability, their moral character…and on and on. Researchers have explored these areas. But, really, I don’t want to know any of that. I want to know how YOU feel about your children; how YOU think about your children. Most parents cherish their children. They look at their children with great pride when they do well. When their children hurt, they feel that pain just as acutely. They want the absolute best for their children. At times they look at their children with awe realizing “that little person is my responsibility.” They are so smart, so talented, so…beautiful. Regardless of all the philosophical debates and disagreements, parents love their children! Since we love our children, shouldn’t we show them respect as well?
- We show our children respect by giving them our full attention and listening intently rather than “multi-tasking” with our work, our TV show, our book, or our household chores. I’m not saying we can never talk while doing something else, but to give our children our full attention when they want to tell us something shows great respect. We expect them to give us full attention…and what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. (Learn more in The Gracious Art of Listening)
- We show our children respect by speaking to them respectfully. Calling our children names or speaking impolitely does not show respect…or love. Making comments that hurt their feelings or degrade their efforts does not show respect. Speaking politely, saying “please” and “thank you,” shows respect. Apologizing when we are wrong shows respect. Speaking words that encourage and gently correct show respect.
- We respect our children when we value their interests. When we nurture and support their interests we respect our children and their interests. In fact, Grow Your Children’s Dream with these tips.
- We respect our children when we accept and listen to our children’s feelings. Remember, our children feel differently than we do. They may get upset about things that seem trivial to us but respecting our children means we accept those feelings and respond to them with love. When we respect our children’s feelings, they will learn to respect other people’s feelings as well.
- We show our children respect by respecting their space and their time. Of course, we still remain responsible and so monitor their phones, assure they keep their space clean, and help them learn to manage their time. We also knock before entering. We do not sneak around behind their back but keep them informed as to expectations. We respect their age-appropriate privacy. (Read Raising Respectful Children: A Self-Examination for more.)
- We respect our children by respecting their opinion, even when it differs from our opinion. We encourage them to think and explore.
- We respect our children when we discipline with grace. (Discover more in Parental Assumptions & the Cycle of Discipline.)
We love our children. One way to show that love is to respect our children. The question is: Do your actions reveal your love for your children? Do your actions of respect reveal your love?
Did you know that children from a lower socioeconomic status often have lower academic achievement than peers from families with higher income? According to several studies, children who live in families with a lower socioeconomic status start school with a disadvantage, they don’t have access to the same resources. As a result, they have lower academic achievement UNLESS… Yes, there is a BUT to this statement. There is one trait that levels the playing field. If children have this one trait, they perform equally well regardless of socioeconomic status! This trait even gives an advantage. Most important, parents can nurture it! What is this all-powerful trait for academic achievement? Curiosity. That’s right. (Learn more about the benefit of curiosity in Parenting the Curious Explorer.)children exhibit curiosity they achieve well regardless of socioeconomic level and even ability to sustain attention (What Science Says is One Trait Kids Most Need to Succeed in School). Fortunately, parents can nurture curiosity. If your curious about how to nurture curiosity, try these 6 tips.
- Ask questions. When your children show an interest in something, even a fleeting interest, ask them questions about that interest. Become a student of your children’s interests. Let them teach you about the object or topic of their interest.
- Let them ask questions. I know…sometimes it gets old listening to our children incessantly ask questions. But, let them ask. Feed their inquisitive nature. Encourage their exploration. If you don’t know the answer, help them look it up. You’ll learn a lot. They’ll learn a lot. You’ll deepen your relationship with them. And, you’ll nurture a curiosity that will contribute to future achievement.
- Make up alternative endings. Enjoy a good book or movie with your children. Then write a new ending. Maybe write two. What happened to Cinderella when she and the prince run off together? What did Moana do after she restored Te Fiti’s heart, what other adventures did she experience? Use your imagination and have fun.
- Allow your children to experience new things. Better yet, encourage your children to experience new things. You don’t have to push them into things. You can do it with them. Take them to free concerts of all types of music. Accompany them to the park, the zoo, the river, the ocean, the conservatory. Visit the aviary and make up stories about the strange birds you find.
- Travel. Traveling is a great way to experience new things and nurture curiosity. You don’t have to travel far. Look around your state and see what would be of interest to visit. There are historic sites, nature sites, and interesting factories. For instance, our family had the opportunity to visit the Crayola factory, the Bluebell Ice cream plant, the Andy Warhol Museum, Gettysburg, and Lincoln’s home among others. Traveling also allows your children to experience different cultures. It all nurtures curiosity. What can you visit near your home or near family?
- Pay attention. When you pay attention to your children and focus on the things that catch their attention, you increase their attention span (Nurture Your Child’s Attention Span) and their curiosity.
I’m curious…what are some other ways you nurture your children’s curiosity? Share them in the comment section below.
We were made for, and we long for, intimate connection. In fact, our attachment with other human beings is crucial, even necessary, for a healthy life. Marriage is one place we hope to find such an enduring connection. Unfortunately, many people find themselves feeling disconnected and isolated in marriage. This disconnected marriage brings pain and misery to everyone involved. A connected marriage brings joy. To get this connected marriage requires a few traits that are often overlooked when we speak about happy marriages. Let me explain a few.
- To have an intimate marriage we need to be trustworthy. Our spouse needs to know we will keep our commitments and follow through on our promises. Our spouse will see our trustworthiness in our actions toward them and our actions toward others. If we want an intimate and enduring marriage, we need to become trustworthy people, people worthy of receiving honor and trust. (Read 6 Pillars of Trust to learn how to develop trust.)
- To have an intimate marriage we must learn to trust. I realize that trusting another person leaves us vulnerable, especially if we have experienced hurt at the hands of those we loved in the past. But, without trust in a relationship both parties feel the need to protect themselves. They struggle to be completely open with one another. A wedge of secrecy and self-protection comes between them and drives them apart. We can avoid this wedge of secrecy and self-protection by becoming trustworthy people and people who trust one another.
- An intimate relationship is built on the gift of empathy. We need to realize our spouse has a valid perspective and opinion even if they disagree with us. Empathy goes a step beyond that realization and demands we strive to understand our spouse’s perspective, to see the world through their eyes. We must work to understand their world so well we can understand the basis of their perspective even if we disagree with it. (Quit Taking Your Spouse’s Perspective may sound like a contradiction, but it really explains how to do this most effectively!)
- A person nurtures intimacy when they remain attentive and available to their spouse. Spouses can make up to 100 bids for connection during any 10 minutes spent together (link). You can attend to these bids for connection or turn away from them, accept them or reject them. Of course, if you reject them you will experience disconnection, isolation, and anger. When we accept and respond to them we enjoy a growing sense of connection, love, and intimacy. (Learn how to respond to those bids for connection in RSVP for Intimacy)
- Spouses who enjoy intimate marriages remain teachable. A teachable person loves their spouse enough to learn about them and from them. They can admit their own mistakes and apologize. A teachable person continues to learn about their spouse. They remain a student of their spouse’s interests, strengths, vulnerabilities, fears, and a myriad other things. Remaining teachable and learning about your spouse provides the necessary tools for building intimacy with your spouse.
- Those who enjoy an intimate marriage exhibit humility. They are humble and learn from mistakes. They change in response to their spouse’s legitimate concerns. Humble people support one another. Humble people allow their spouse to influence them. Humble people enjoy intimacy in their marriages. (For a challenge in humility, become A Leader in Submission in your marriage.)
Ever felt like you don’t have enough time in the day to enjoy romance with your spouse? I know the feeling! What we need are actions that can provide glimpses of romance anytime & anywhere. Actions that promote feelings of connection and adoration. Actions that fill the heart with romantic feelings. Actions that make deposits into the romantic bank of the heart. Oh man, getting carried away. Let me just share a few actions that will give you and your spouse a “glimpse of romance” even in the busiest of times.
- Respond to your spouse. Sounds simple, but sooo romantic. When your spouse says something, stop what you’re doing and respond. Even when they say something in a grumpy tone, respond with interest and concern. Let them know you hear them.
- Smile. There is nothing more romantic than walking into a room to see your spouse smiling at you! (Smile for a Happier Family shares more about the benefits of a smile.)
- Share a kiss. In fact, make it a six-second kiss for that extra romantic burst. I know I said these are good for even the busiest of times. But think about it…six seconds. Count them: 1…2…3…4…5…6. It has taken you longer to read this paragraph than it will take to share a six-second glimpse of romance!
- Share a hug. Now don’t just give a timid side to side hug or a glancing walk-by-hug, although they do give a glimpse of romance. Once in awhile give a bold hug. Pull your spouse in and give them a great big hug. Rest for a few seconds in one another’s arms and enjoy the feel of being entwined with your spouse in a hug.
- Hold hands in the car, walking through the store, watching TV, or whenever you want. Hand holding gives a glimpse of romance and has surprising super power (Read An Easy Way to Get in Sync for more).
- Share an inside joke. You and your spouse likely have many inside stories and jokes. When you share your inside stories and jokes it takes you to another place and time, one which only the two of you have experienced and now understand. You’re sharing a time and place with only you and your spouse, no one else …how romantic!
- Recall the story of how you met. It’s very romantic, even if it’s funny. Your kids will love it. More importantly, your heart will soar with romance. (The Story That Will Change Your Family Life explains more about the power of story for your family!)
Well, that’s seven “glimpses of romance” you can share with your spouse. What are some of the ways you like to share glimpses of romance with your true love?
I recently read an interesting article by John A. Cuddeback entitled Reclaiming a Father’s Presence at Home. In this article, he makes a “radical suggestion” that we measure a man’s success in life, his manhood even, by the quality of his presence in his home and with his family. Based on a historical analysis of the diminishing presence of the father in the home, he describes how the success of children and the ongoing success of family are impacted by a father’s presence or lack of presence. Without the active presence of a father, family relationships weaken. The depth of connections become more superficial. Beliefs around productivity and leisure change, succumbing to the more readily available cultural trends that also weaken the family unit (like technology, busy-ness, adult-organized and run activities). It was a very interesting article. I see the validity of his perspective.
Fortunately, the author did not stop with the description of how a father’s lack of presence impacts children and families. He also offered some excellent suggestions for reversing this trend. In my mind, these suggestions reveal the most important work of a Dad, the work that will transcend any other work he will every do. These suggestions reveal a work that will make all other activities of a Dad pale in comparison. Let me briefly share these suggestions for the work of a Dad.
- A Dad’s work begins with loving his wife well. A home begins with a man and a woman who love one another. With this in mind, a man’s presence in the home, a Dad’s work, begins with his presence to his wife. In loving his wife and being present to her needs, a Dad sets the stage for his children’s sense of security. From a loving, nurturing marital relationship flows the love and nurturance children need to thrive. When the marital relationship is marred with antagonism, mistrust, and harshness, children lose their sense of security. They experience the world as antagonistic, untrustworthy, and harsh. They become more vigilant, more skeptical, and more self-protective. When a man loves his wife well, his wife flourishes. Their relationship overflows with love and kindness. They function as a team. Children experience the world as loving, trustworthy, and cooperative. Truly, a Dad’s work in the home begins with loving his wife well.
- A Dad’s work involves engaging in “home arts” with his family. “Home arts” include activities in which parent and child engage together, generally with the parent acting as mentor. These activities often involved learning together and always mean sharing time together. “Home arts” may include cooking, gardening, carpentry, mechanics, landscaping, music…whatever the interests of your family happen to be. For other families “home arts” may also include activities such as reading, writing, historical explorations, biology, or similar pursuits. Whatever the “home art” that fits with your family, it will involve the Dad making an investment of time and energy in the lives of his children and spouse. It will require spending time together negotiating and pursuing common interests. That is the beauty of Dad’s work in the home. It involves time shared together pursuing a common interest and goal…which leads a third work of a Dad in the home.
- A Dad’s work means prioritizing shared activities. Shared activities differ from “home arts” because they often do not involve learning as a goal. Shared activities do allow families to enjoy time together and may, at times, overlap with “home arts.” But the main goal of shared activities is to have enjoyable time together sharing fun and life. One shared activity that research has shown to have a positive impact on family is the family meal. Another shared activity research has shown especially impactful when Dads participate is reading together. Other shared activities can include praying and worshiping as a family, singing together, and outdoor activities like playing catch, bike riding, or hiking. These shared activities provide fertile soil for conversations and deepening relationships as your family solves problems and overcomes obstacles together.
The work of Dad in the home involves his intentional presence. It begins with loving his wife well. From there it flows into “home arts” and shared activities. Although this work takes intention, it culminates in joy and reveals man at his best! So, Dad, let’s get to work.
You may have heard a lot about executive functioning over the last few years. Executive functioning is the ability to manage one’s self and one’s resources to reach a goal. Executive functioning skills include the ability to set goals for a plan and then monitor progress toward those goals as well as skills like sustained attention, memory, and impulse-control. As you can see, these skills are crucial for our children’s maturity. In fact, a recent study from researchers at the University of Potsdam found that deficits in executive functioning during elementary school predicted higher physical and relational aggression three years later (Childhood Aggression Linked to Deficits in Executive Function). Fortunately, executive functioning is a learnable skill! That’s right. You can help your children learn the skills of executive functioning and improve in those skills as they age. In fact, tools that teach executive functioning are not even difficult to implement. They even provide an opportunity for you to have fun with your children! Let me give you a few examples.
- Playing games that require taking turns will teach impulse control. Having to “wait for my turn” means managing my desire to go, controlling my impulse and waiting for someone else. “Waiting for one’s turn” also requires a person to keep a goal in mind while someone else takes their turn. While waiting for one’s turn, a person monitors their progress toward a goal while comparing it to the other person’s progress toward the same goal. Impulse control, focus, planning, monitoring progress while keeping a goal in mind…all while waiting my turn in a game. “Trouble” and “Sorry” take on a whole new meaning with this information in mind.
- Games like “Mother May I” and “Simon Says” teach impulse control, focused attention, and listening. These are great executive functioning skills.
- Imaginary or pretend games involve storytelling, planning, managing emotions to fit the story, negotiation, and more. Encouraging children to engage in imaginative play not only nurtures executive functioning skills, it “makes them a head taller than themselves.”
- Song games with movements teach young children executive functioning skills like focused attention (focusing on the words of the song), self-control, and memory (remembering the words to the song and the movements). As children get older, line dances, marching band, and dance routines accomplish similar goals.
- Games (board games, card games, or team games) that require strategy teach many executive functioning skills. For instance, strategy games encourage planning, holding a plan in mind for several moves ahead, adjusting the plan as obstacles arise, and working memory to remember the plan. Whether the strategy game is chess, Battleship, Clue, or basketball, it will nurture your children’s executive functioning skills.
I hope you get the idea. There are many more activities that promote executive functioning skills (find more in this “Activities Guide” from the Center of the Developing Child at Harvard University). From participating in sports or plays…to learning to play an instrument…to imaginative play and storytelling you will have a great time enhancing your children’s executive functioning through play… and you’ll decrease the likelihood of aggressive behavior in the future. Our world could definitely thank you for that!
Want to increase your preschooler’s attention span, ability to plan, and self-confidence? Here is an idea borrowed from “Tools of the Mind”. Let me describe what the teacher does in a preschool where this idea is utilized. The teacher helps children plan their play before they begin their play. They actually discuss what the children want to do and let them “write down” the order of activities they want to engage in. The “written” order of activities may not have actual written words. It may consist of pictures or what appears like scribbles. Nonetheless, it represents the child’s plan, a symbolic contract.
Children then begin engaging in their activity. As you have likely experienced, they often lose focus part way through the activity and begin to drift to another activity. At that point, the teacher brings the children’s “written contract” out and asks them if they finished what they had planned to do. Often, the children look at the paper and remember their “plan.” “Oh yeah. I have to finish….” A simple reminder and they return to the initial activity and continue with “the plan.” After the activity, the teacher goes over the “plan” with the children again. They acknowledge the children’s accomplishment. This allows the children to enjoy the accomplishment of completing what they began. Adding to the benefit, children gain an increased attention span, a better ability to plan ahead, and a greater sense of self-confidence. Who wouldn’t want that for their child?
Reading about this tool got me thinking. Could we do this with our children at home? Sure, it takes a little more time but preschoolers spend a lot of time planning their activities already. And, it really isn’t that hard. We simply begin to talking with our children about the play activities they want to engage in. We allow them to “write down” the activities and “make a plan.” Then, as we engage in play and our children begin to drift from the plan, we ask them about the plan. We even let them look at the “written plan” and ask if they still want to continue with the plan or change it. Many times they simply remember the plan and return to the activity they had initially written down. And in the process they learn to plan ahead, focus, and build self-confidence. How great is that?