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.
When I was in college, one of our professors preached a sermon on “Vitamin B.” It was a sermon on the “Be”-attitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. It was a fun sermon. Thinking back on this “got me to thinking about” what “vitamin be’s” might benefit our families and children. Here is the “Vitamin Be” complex needed to maintain an open, intimate relationship with your teen; the “Vitamin Be” complex that will encourage our children to remain open with us, to approach us when they have a need or some issue they need to discuss. Read over the whole “Be-complex” and see what you think.
“Be” calm. When our children approach us, we need to stay calm. Our children may approach us to talk about all sorts of topics…and some topics may surprise and even shock us. Work hard to avoid any outburst of shock, anger, embarrassment, or laughter. When you stay calm, your children learn that no topic will overwhelm you. They will know that no topic will overwhelm you with fear. Instead, you are able to remain present and open with them. As a result, they can remain open with you.
“Be” open. There are no subjects off limits in a family. I love Mr. Rogers’ quote:
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
So, be open. Accept whatever topic comes up. Whatever you can talk about becomes manageable. We can fix the problems together. In addition, that conversation brings us together. It increases our intimacy. And the intimacy increases our influence.
“Be” empathetic. Remember your children are younger, less mature. Make every attempt to see your children’s concern from their perspective. See their concern through the eyes of their developmental level, the emotions of their maturity, and the wisdom of their limited experience. If you don’t understand it completely, ask questions.
“Be” confidential. We hope our children talk to us about those subjects sensitive to them. They need us to respect their privacy and keep their confidence. Listen to them intently but don’t share what you hear. No need to post the “cute story” on FaceBook or tell your neighbor about your teen’s brave struggle. Keep it between you and your child. When you keep their confidence, they learn to trust you! Trust builds intimacy.
“Be” perceptive. Sometimes our children will not tell us they want to talk. They may not know how to approach the conversation. Be observant and perceptive. Notice changes in their mood that might indicate a need to talk. Notice when they “keep showing up” and seem “to be underfoot.” Be aware that their actions may be dropping a subtle hint about their desire to talk. Drop the hint that you’re open to talk. It may just prove to be one of the best conversations you ever had.
“Be” available. Of course, no conversation will occur unless you’re open and available. So make sure you are available. Spend time with your children. Be available at bedtimes, mealtimes, and any other time you can. Participate in their interests. Make a point of attending their activities.
“Be” attentive. Being attentive means listening intently. Listen without distraction. Listen completely rather than thinking about any advice you might want to offer. Listen!
There it is—the “Vitamin Be” complex that will help you keep an intimate, open relationship with your teen!
“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.
I have enjoyed teaching a Lifespan Development course at a local university for over ten years. For the last assignment I ask students to interview an adult over 65-years-old. I love reading these assignments. The students interview grandparents, neighbors, friends…anyone they know over 65-years-old. They interview adults who have been homemakers, newscasters, WWII veterans, political refugees from various countries, politicians…people who have experienced amazing lives, participated in history changing events, and completed significant accomplishments. But, when asked about their “greatest accomplishment” or “greatest adventure,” their answer is family—children, grandchildren, nephews, and nieces. Not just one or two seniors give this answer. More like 98% reported raising children and seeing children raise their own families as their single most significant accomplishment and greatest adventure. When it comes to the most important aspects of life, family rises to the top. President Obama said it well: “What I’ll remember on my last breath…it’s not going to be anything to do with my office…it’s going to be holding my daughter’s hand as we walk to the park and seeing the sun go down and pushing her on the swing.” Watch this video to hear the rest of President Obama’s advice for parenting…some very wise advice I might add.
Nothing on this earth is more important than family—your marriage and your children. Nothing is more important to the future than our children. “Act accordingly.”
By the way, here are a few other insightful quotes from President Obama’s parenting advice:
“Kids demand your attention.”
“Balance comes about easier if you got a partner who’s prepared to share that process with you.”
“When you are home, be home. Don’t be home and just vegging out…be engaged.”
Raising a child is a demanding and difficult task. It raises our anxiety and brings out our greatest insecurities. I don’t know about you, but I have enough personal insecurity without bringing my parenting into the mix! Even worse, the more insecure we feel about our parenting, the less effective we are as parents. Effective parents are confident parents. So, how can we decrease our parental insecurity and increase our parental confidence? Perhaps the answer lies in the old Cherokee fable—the one we feed will grow.
Feeding Parental Insecurity:
We feed parental insecurity with comparisons. When we compare our failed attempts to keep the house spotless or to prepare a healthy three course meal before rushing off to baseball practice with the parent who appears to have it all together, we feed our insecurities. Any time we compare ourselves to another, we feed our insecurities. When we compare our children with other children, we feed our insecurities.
We feed parental insecurity with worry about the future. Insecurity grows quickly when we worry about our children’s future education, athletic career, relationships, or safety. When we think more about the future than our present relationship, insecurity mounts. Statements of fear like, “What if I don’t…my children won’t…,” are lies that feed our insecurities.
We feed parental insecurity with labels that define us by our children’s status or achievements. When we view our children’s success or lack of success as a reflection on our effectiveness as a parent or our worth as a person, insecurity grows. When we let our children missing a basket, singing off tune, or wearing that oddly colored hat define us, insecurity will grow by leaps and bounds. These incidents may bring looks from other parents. Those looks do not define us; they define them.
Feeding Parental Confidence:
We feed parental confidence when we accept our children for “who they are” and “just as they are.” When we become students of children’s interests and strengths and learn to be content in their unique abilities and wonderful averageness, we feed our parental confidence. When we promote activities and opportunities that promote their unique abilities, even if those abilities vary from our interests and the interests of those around us, we will see our children blossom…and that view feeds our parental confidence.
We feed parental confidence when we focus on the present with our children. Rather than getting caught up in worry about the future, turn your attention to the present. Rather than worry about college, invest in tuition today. Rather than worry about future athletic achievement, focus on enjoying sportsmanship and athletic activity together today. Rather than worry about future safety, spend time with your children teaching them how to move safely in the world through your example…today! You get the idea. Rather than getting caught up in worry for tomorrow, enjoy your children today…and feed your parental confidence.
Feed parental confidence by getting a life. Rather than defining yourself through your children’s achievements and accomplishments, joys and sorrows, get a life of your own. Develop your own interests. Enjoy activities geared toward your strengths. Remember, your children will leave home one day to start a life and family of their own. Develop some hobbies, interests, and activities you can continue to enjoy even after they leave home. Doing so will feed parental confidence.
Now the choice is up to you. Which “wolf will you feed”?
I like Pooh…that sounds bad. Let me rephrase and start again.
I like Winnie the Pooh. He brings us a great deal of wisdom. For instance, consider the wisdom in this sketch and Piglet’s request to “be sure of you.” Very wise, especially when it comes to family. Sometimes we just need to know our loved ones are there.
Our spouses need to be sure of us. They need to know our ears are attuned to their whispered needs. They need assurance that we will respond to their subtle requests by turning toward them in love. They need to feel our touch reminding them of our presence and involvement in their lives, assuring them that we yearn to walk hand in hand with them through life.
Our children need to be sure of us. They want to be heard and acknowledged by us no matter how quiet and inept their voice might sound. They need to know we are available to them. They seek assurance that we delight in them and rejoice when they approach us. They long for us to take their hand and gently guide them through the dark woods.
Assure your spouse and children of your presence in their lives. Remind them of your desire to respond to even their subtle needs and desires. Constantly communicate your unending love and delight in them. All it takes is a smile, a hug, or a word of affection…but the joy and comfort it gives will last a lifetime.
I wanted to present this information with a creative flare. Maybe an inspiring story, a personal experience, or an insightful saying would provide the creative boost I wanted. But, I just couldn’t come up with anything. So, I am just have to say it straight out. I have to stick with the direct approach. Here it is: Children need to feel safe. Feeling safe opens the door to healthy development. Specifically, our children need to feel safe in order to:
Have the freedom to explore the world around them and learn about themselves, others, and the world.
Have the freedom to develop into mature adults based on their unique interests and abilities.
Have the freedom to establish healthy, loving relationships with family, friends, and other adults.
Without a sense of safety, our children’s development in each of these areas is hindered, even delayed. The freedom to grow comes wrapped in the package of safety! Parents play a crucial role in helping children develop the sense of safety that allows for healthy development. Let me share four of the most important ways you, as parents, shape an environment that makes children feel safe. In order to create an environment in which children feel safe:
Remain consistently present in your children’s lives. Make time for your children. Remain present even when you are angry at them. Be available even when times are tough. Rejoice with them. Grieve with them. Cry with them. Play with them. Let them know, come rain or come shine, in good times and in bad, you are available and present in their lives.
Build predictability into your family life. Predictability equals safety in your children’s mind. Morning routines, mealtime routines, homework routines, bedtime routines all add predictable structure to a family’s daily life. Rituals to recognize holidays, birthdays, and special effort or achievement also add structure and predictability to family life. These routines and rituals combine to create a safe structure in which variations and unusual circumstances can be understood and integrated. In other words, when children typically experience a loving structure in their home, they can better handle emergencies. They can more easily navigate occasional changes in routine. They can better manage unusual events. Give your children the gift of a predictable structure.
Discipline with confidence. Children need limits to feel safe. They need to know that their misbehavior and outbursts of emotion will not overwhelm their parent. Give them the comfort of knowing a competent adult can and will enforce a limit in the face of any behavior or emotion. On the other hand, children need enough information to make sense of a limit and the related consequence. Establishing clear limits/consequences and communicating those limits/consequences in a concise manner will increase your children’s sense of safety exponentially.
Discipline with empathy. Discipline most often occurs when children’s behavior or desires are at odds with parental decisions. Having a viewpoint that clashes with their parents’ viewpoint can raise your children’s level of anxiety. To nurture a sense of safety in the midst of these opposing views, parents discipline with empathy. Empathize with your children’s frustration, but stand firm. Listen to their reasons for wanting a change in the limit as they mature; but remember, you still have the final say. You determine the limit based on your experience and your knowledge of your children’s abilities and needs.
By establishing these four practices you increase your children sense of safety. In response, they will be better able to explore themselves and the world around them. They will mature into healthy adults. And, they will misbehave less often.
Pirates always seem to have fun in the movies. They search for treasure and share fun times together. (I realize the realism of the movies may be somewhat lacking, but we want families to have fun not suffer scurvy or malaria.) This family fun night will allow your family to “sail the high seas” of adventure in search of the greatest family treasure of all—fun times together. Although this activity involves some planning, it will prove very “rewarding” in the end (I mean you get a treasure…how much more rewarding can it get?)! Here is what you do, step by step.
Think of a simple activity your family enjoys. It can be anything from swimming, getting ice cream, having a campfire, or meeting friends at the park.
Find a picture of that activity. Laminate the picture and cut it into pieces to form a puzzle.
Think of different hiding places for each piece of the puzzle. You can hide the puzzle pieces in your own back yard or, to create a bigger adventure, hide them around your neighborhood or in a shopping center. (Do not hide the puzzle pieces yet. Read steps four and five before you actually hide the pieces of the puzzle.)
Write a clue, on a plain piece of paper, leading to the place you plan to hide the first piece of the puzzle. Then write a clue leading from the first piece of the puzzle to the second, from the second puzzle piece to the third, and so on. When you have a clue leading to each piece of the puzzle, move on to step five.
Hide the puzzle pieces. Keep the clue to the first puzzle piece wherever you plan to start the treasure hunt. Hide the other clues with the puzzle pieces. The second puzzle piece will be hidden with the clue to the third puzzle piece. The third puzzle piece will be hidden with the clue to the fourth puzzle piece and so on. Each puzzle piece will have a clue leading to the next puzzle piece hidden with the next clue.
Now you are ready for a family fun night. Read the first clue and let the treasure hunt begin. When all the pieces are found, put the puzzle together to discover the activity pictured. Then, enjoy the activity together. (I am partial to ice cream as an ending, btw.)
Enjoy your family fun night sailing the high seas of adventure and following the clues to your family treasure.
Everyone loves music. Whether you find the joy of music through singing, playing, dancing or listening, we all have an inner rhythm and harmony. Really, it’s true. If your heart beats and you breathe rhythmically in and out, you have rhythm. If you can walk through a revolving door without getting hurt, you got rhythm. You experience harmony every time you interact with another person and “harmonize” your interests, pace of life, and conversation to keep everyone involved. Why not use your inner musician to have a great family fun night! Here are four “variations on the theme” of a musical family fun night.
Put on your favorite record at home…well, play your favorite CD…ummm, turn up your download…or just turn on Spotify. Whatever you choose, play your favorite music, grab your spouse or child, and enjoy a dance around the living room.
Save up some money and purchase tickets to a concert by your favorite artist.
Get together with your family (and friends if you want) and sing together. You can accompany yourself if you play the guitar, ukulele, or piano. If not, do some karaoke or sing along with the radio.
Come up with your own idea for a musical family fun night…any idea tailored to give your family a great musical fun night!
A young parent asked me to describe ways to help her 12-year-old daughter become less self-centered, more giving, and more compassionate. She asked, “What if we feed the homeless one day so she can see how good she has it?” and “Maybe she should give some of her toys to more needy children…would that help?” This mother had good intentions. She wanted her daughter to grow in happiness, humility, and generosity. However, she needed to think about a couple things. First, she needed to remember the less fortunate are not a tool for our goals. People who have needs are, first and foremost, people like you and me. Of course, when I mentioned this, she agreed. She had not intended to make it sound like she was using the needy to help her daughter. She truly had a desire to help others and share her love, time, and wealth. Still, she was missing one other important ingredient.
She was missing one of the most important ingredients of effective parenting. Without this one ingredient, anything a parent does will prove ineffective. Parents need this ingredient for a child to learn and grow. What is this ingredient? Consistency! That’s right. Effective parenting demands consistency over time. Reaching out one time to those who are less fortunately will only be an event. It will have little to no lasting impact. The sights and smells, feelings and sounds of that day will fade away and become a distant memory. However, if you and your children consistently engage in volunteer work, your children will come to understand the benefit of helping others. They will begin to experience the joy of sacrificial giving and humbly accept their own fortune along with the responsibility to help others.
Consistency is important in other areas of parenting as well. For instance, discipline must be consistent over time in order to prove effective in helping children internalize values and move toward becoming self-disciplined adults. For children to grow into confident young adults, they need to have experienced consistent love over the years of their childhood and adolescence. Consistent teaching allows children to learn how to care for themselves and keep their home. The areas in which consistency are essential goes on, but you get the idea. We teach our children nothing when we do any parenting tasks only one time. Model these skills over time, teach them consistently throughout childhood, and your children will grow into mature young adults. Yes indeed, consistency is an essential ingredient for successful parenting…and it begins today!