Tag Archive for communication

Communicating As An “Us”

The party was long and I was getting tired; but, I didn’t want to rudely get up and leave. My wife was across the room enjoying a conversation with another guest. When I looked her way, she caught my eye. She made a very subtle motion with her head and changed the expression on her face ever so slightly for a brief second. Then she returned to her conversation. I knew exactly what she had said. I walked over to the table where I could get a drink and carried it over to her. I handed her the drink and said, “Thirsty?” She nodded and took the drink. “Getting kind of late. I’m tired. Are you ready to leave?” A look of relief spread across her face. “Yes,” she replied, “I’m tired too.”  We quickly said our good-byes and headed home. She thanked me for “hearing” her request from across the room and added, “I thought I saw the same in your face.”

I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience in your marriage. The experience of working as a team, of remaining attuned and attentive to one another in a way no one else is. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s time to learn this crucial skill for a happy marriage. It’s a skill developed and practiced every day in a healthy marriage. Here are some tips to help you get started…or to get even better at it than you already are.

  • Get curious about your spouse. Follow their lead. Learn what they like and don’t like. Learn about their dreams and their fears. Never stop learning. Your spouse will offer new things to learn every day. Get curious and enjoy learning about your spouse. (Develop a “Love Map” with these questions.)
  • Be open & transparent in speaking about what impacts you and how. Talk about your opinions and your feelings. It’s ok to differ in opinion so allow your spouse to know your thoughts.
  • Learn to listen intently—not just for words but for inflection, tone, and cadence as well. Not just with ears but with eyes & touch as well. Listen intently. (Learn the The Gracious Art of Listening.)
  • Turn toward your spouse to work together. Problem solve together. Make compromises. Look for win/win solutions. Function as a team. (RSVP for Intimacy can help you do so.)
  • Develop an identity as a couple. Consider what you like to do together? How do you fit into world as couple? How do you balance couple time with individual time & identity? How can you create overlap? To help you do this, take time to develop a couple’s mission statement. (Include these 6 Traits for an Intimate Marriage in your mission statement.)

Want to have a better relationship, a happier marriage? Begin to practice by communicating a sense of “us” by practicing these tips. Go ahead and get started. You’ll have fun and grow a more intimate relationship along the way!

Boost Your Children’s Communication Skills

Our children need to develop the ability to communicate well if they want to succeed in this world. Think about it. If you want to effectively resolve a disagreement, you have to explain yourself well. If you want others to understand you, you have to express yourself well. If you want to woo your love, you must declare your love in a way the other person will “hear” and appreciate. If you want to get the promotion at work, you have to make your desire and your ability known. Communication and language are essential to our growth, our maturity, and our success.  A recent study from MIT explored how children develop these language and communication skills (Back-and-forth exchanges boost children’s brain response to language). They discovered the number of “conversational turns” between child and parent predicted differences in language skills and even brain physiology. The more back-and-forth exchanges between parent and child, the greater the child’s language comprehension and expressive abilities. In addition, when children who experienced more back-and-forth exchanges with parents listened to stories, they exhibited a more activity in the area of the brain involved in processing and producing language (Broca’s area).  In other words, they were more “tuned in” to hearing, producing, and processing language. So, if you want your children to learn to communicate more effectively, don’t rely on Dora, language games, or other TV shows.  Engage them. Interact with them. Converse with them about topics of their interest. Play fun language games like Telephone, Mutual Storytelling, or Salad Bowl.

The two most important aspects of any activity geared toward helping your child grow is to 1) make it age appropriate and 2) keep it interactive. So have fun. Interact. And watch your children improve their communication and interactive skills.

Parenting “Down to the T”

Ever see those parents who seem to have the whole parenting thing “down to the T.” They just seem to have it all together. Their efforts seem to flow so smoothly. I’m pretty sure it’s not always as it appears.  But, it does get me thinking about to parent effectively, how to make parenting run smoothly, how to get our parenting efforts “down to the T.” If you want to parent “down to the T,” include these three “t’s” in your parenting repertoire.

  1. Touch Touch is one of our first connections to family. Gentle, peaceful, careful touch makes infants feel secure. Rough, impatient, nervous handling creates insecurity. Touch is not just important for infants. It remains important throughout life. One study demonstrated that harsh, aggressive touch from parents increased anxiety and somatic complaints in children while response and nurturing touch reduced withdrawal, decreased depressive symptoms, and decreased somatic complaints. Once again, healthy touch promoted a sense of security and positive emotional health. Even the NBA knows positive touch increases comradery and teamwork (Read A Page from the NBA Playbook for Your Family for more).
  2. Talk Keep the lines of communication open with your children from the time they are born until…well, never stop talking to your children. Tell them your plans before you start an activity. Talk over what will happen and the expectations. Then, when things happen as you said, your children learn they can trust your word. Talking about activities also lets your children feel included and respected. Tell your children what you admire about them and talk to them about areas of growth. Talking about strengths and areas of growth communicates how much you value your children and trust their ability to grow. Speak in a loving voice as often as possible. Even in the midst of anger you can speak with firmness and remain polite and respectful.
  3. Take it slow. Children move quickly, but they need more time to process information. They need time to transition from one activity to another. So slow down. Take your time. Talk about the transition and what to expect. You children will have more time to process what’s happening and they will transition more smoothly. Taking it slow also teaches your children the importance of pacing and resting. It builds a lifestyle of calm rather than a frenetic lifestyle of constant rush. A calm family life creates opportunities to connect and bond with one another. It will also reduce behavior problems (Read Managing Your Child’s Schedule for more).

Practice these three ideas and you will have parenting “down to the T.” Who knows, people may watch you and think, “Wow. They seem to have this parenting thing all together…right ‘down to the T.'”

4 Tips for Raising a Violent Narcissist…OR NOT!!

Have you ever wondered how to create a self-absorbed, entitled, child who becomes violent when they don’t get their way? Probably not. I mean, who wants their child to become a violent narcissist. But, you might raise an entitled violent child unintentionally, by accident, if you don’t watch out. Dr. Calvete and her team of researchers wondered about a possible link between narcissism and violence in adolescents. To explore that possible link, they interviewed 591 adolescents and identified four elements that contribute to the creation of a violent narcissist (Read a review of this study here). Just to make sure you don’t unintentionally practice any of these four elements in your family, let me briefly describe each one.

  1. A distant relationship between parent and child was linked to narcissism in children. A lack of quality time as well as a lack of affection between parent and child contributes to a distant relationship. If you want to raise a narcissist, keep your parent-child relationships distant.
  2. A lack of positive communication helps keep the relationship between parent and child distant. Children who experience little encouragement, acknowledgement, constructive discipline, or intimate connection have a greater chance of becoming an aggressive narcissist.
  3. Exposure to family violence was linked to adolescent aggression directed toward parents. Children learn and practice what they see modeled in the family.
  4. A permissive parenting style sets the stage for an entitled adolescent, one who thinks he deserves everything he wants right here, right now! When he doesn’t get what he wants, he might just become angry and aggressive.

Nobody wants to raise a violent narcissist. We want to raise loving, caring adolescents. To do that, we have to avoid the four elements above. Better yet, replace them with these four family ideals instead.

  1. Develop an intimate family. Spend quality time together. Eat together. Play together. Worship together. Go places together. Share healthy affection like hugs, high-fives, or fist bumps with one another. Learn about one another’s interests. Ask about one another’s day. You get the idea. Develop an intimate family.
  2. Develop a kind and gentle family. Listen before advising. When problems arise, problem-solve together. Learn how to express anger and hurt in a calm manner. Learn to self-soothe. Do not instigate or provoke. Work together to achieve goals. Accept responsibility for mistakes. Lovingly hold one another accountable.  Be kind and gentle, tenderhearted with each other.
  3. Learn positive communication skills. Season your speech with grace. Speak with kindness. Offer encouragements and praise. Address difficulties politely. Offer constructive criticism in a loving manner with the goal of promoting growth. Enjoy intimate conversations. Compliment. Offer words of affirmation and admiration.
  4. Practice authoritative parenting. Authoritative parenting creates an environment in which love and affection thrive and grow within the loving structure of clearly defined limits and boundaries. Both love and limits, relationships and rules, bonding and boundaries are needed to have a healthy, loving family. Practice both in a loving manner.

Put these four family ideals into practice and you will not raise a self-entitled violent narcissist. Instead, you will be the proud parent of a kind, compassionate, and caring young adult.

Old School Time to Nurture Your Marriage

I hardly remember the day (even though it was not so long ago) when we had no cell phones or even pagers. Remember what it was like to have only one phone in the house…and that one attached to the wall? What did married couples do to stay in touch? How did married couples know what their spouse was doing? Well, they sat down at some point during the day to talk! They sat near one another and carried on a conversation. Eye contact was prevalent, even expected. An awareness of facial expression and nuance of speech (like cadence, pace, and volume) added to the meaning of the words spoken. Each partner listened with eyes and ears as they discussed the stresses and joys of the day, plans for the week, hopes for the future, and an appreciation for one another.

The listening spouse learned about the speaking spouse while observing the body language, hearing the vocal inflections, and striving to understand the words spoken. The speaking spouse felt valued and loved as they listening spouse listened intently and responded with understanding and love.

That’s old school quality time at its best. That’s the kind of old school talk that nurtured deeper intimacy and a stronger marriage. Maybe we can take a lesson and put a little old school face-to-face interactions into our marriages from time to time.

You might ask, “What’s the big deal? Why not just send the message in a text?” You can do that; but, according to research, cell phones tend to decrease intimacy during conversation. In fact, just having a cell phone visible limits intimacy. Researchers from the University of Essex discovered this when they placed couples (not married) in a room with comfortable chairs to enjoy a conversation. A coffee table with a book on it sat next to the chairs. For half the pairs, a random cell phone was placed on the book in plain view. For the other half, no cell phone was in the room. A survey following the conversation revealed that the pairs who conversed in the room with a visible cell phone reported a different kind of experience than those who had no cell phone in the room. Specifically, those with a random cell phone sitting in plain sight reported significantly less relationship quality, partner trust, and partner empathy. In other words, just having a cell phone visible to the couple reduced intimacy. Conversation was stilted for fear of the outside world buzzing in and interrupting the conversation.

There is a way to avoid this intrusion, a way to put a boundary around your conversation and keep some of the outside world out.  Go old school! Turn the cell phone off and put it in another room. Sit down with your spouse, look one another in the eye, and enjoy a conversation filled with verbal inflection, facial expression, and body language. Go ahead. Give it a try. You will celebrate the intimacy of old school quality time.

Strengthen Your Marriage…Old School

Sometimes the best way to get something done is to go “old school on it.”  Throw out the newfangled gadgets and just go old school. Drop the gizmos, the 140 letter limit, the memes, and the gif’s…just go old school. In fact, I think going old school could really strengthen your marriage. For instance, go old school and write your spouse a hand-written love letter.  I know you could just send a text. But, a text is so short…and easy. It doesn’t send the send as meaningful of a message as a hand-written letter. A hand-written letter involves effort. You have to get the paper or pick out the perfect card. You have to spend the time to put pen to paper and write out your thoughts. Since it’s handwritten, you can’t rely on spellcheck to correct mistakes or edit mistakes with the simple tap of a back key. No, you have to think, write slowly and mindfully, and possibly even rewrite to refine your expression of emotion…to make it sound just right, the perfect confession of your love. Then you have to find an envelope and address it. You even have to put a stamp on it (yes, the post office still produces stamps). Then you have to walk it to the mail box and drop it in the mail. It takes time. But, doesn’t the investment of time better express the love you feel for your spouse?

Imagine your partner’s curiosity when she receives an envelope with a hand-written address on it. As she open it, the seed of curiosity sprouts into anticipation. Anticipation grows a bud of wonder as she sees a hand-written letter inside. Wonder blooms into joy and love as she reads a letter in your hand-writing that describes your undying love for her. Gratitude swells in her heart. “Awww…he’s so sweet.” The words slip from her lips as she holds the letter close to her chest and considers where she will keep it for all posterity (which you can’t do with a text, btw). You might even find a hug and your favorite dish waiting for you later that day.

There you have it. Intimacy nurtured and marital bliss enhanced…all because of the time and effort invested in a simple, old school, hand-written love letter. I have to say, that’s definitely a bigger bang than you can get for any 140-character text you might send!

PS—Of course the love letter can strengthen your marriage; but, did you know it could also help lower your cholesterol? That’s right. A study published in 2007 found that expressing affection for your loved ones in writing actually contributes to a decrease in cholesterol levels. In this study, participants wrote for 20 minutes on three occasions over a five week period to express affection and gratitude for their loved ones.  The results: participants experienced a “statistically significant decrease in cholesterol levels” after only a five-week experience! Hand-writing a love letter will not only increase the love and intimacy in your marriage, but it may also improve your health so you can enjoy that intimate marriage even longer!

Build Your Child’s Success Mindset

I overheard two college students talking about their classes. I was eating a bagel but I couldn’t help overhearing. Their conversation went something like this:

“I can’t believe you got an ‘A’ on that test. I’m just not that good at math. But you’re smart.”

“Not really. I just sat with the study group and reviewed everything. That was a big help.”

Did you catch the difference in how these two students talked about success? Only the second student talked about studying and believed it helpful. “To study or not to study” flows from the student’s belief systems about self and growth. The first student seemed to believe her math knowledge is fixed. She’s “just not that good at math.” The second student believes study can lead to improvement. In fact, participating in a study group “was a big help.” Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University, would likely say the first student shows a fixed mindset. A person with a fixed mindset believes intelligence and ability are fixed or unchangeable. They spend time protecting their fixed ability by avoiding challenges and only engaging in activities in which they know they can succeed and, by succeeding, maintain their image. They tend to look at the end result for validation rather than the process and effort invested.

The second student displays more of what Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset. People with a growth mindset believe intelligence and abilities can be developed. They embrace challenges and persist in the face of obstacles. They persist because they believe effort will help them grow. When they encounter failure, they consider it an opportunity to learn what they can do differently to obtain greater success in the future.  For instance, they might try a different strategy, focus on a different detail, or develop a certain skill to help them experience future success. In other words, success comes through effort and intentionally improving strategies and skills.

As you can imagine, a growth mindset creates greater possibility for success. Fortunately, parents can help their children develop a growth mindset, one that focuses on the effort, strategies, and process that contribute to success. Parents teach children a growth mindset in the way they talk to their children. Consider the following examples.

Statements Promoting a Fixed Mindset Statements Promoting a Growth Mindset
“You’re really good at that.” “You put a lot of work into that.”
“You did poorly on that test. I guess it’s not your subject.” “You did badly on that test—what did you learn from the ones you missed?”
“You’re the only one who scored.” “What made you keep working so hard to score?”
“Nice job on that piano piece.” “Wow. That took a lot of practice. How will you challenge yourself to keep practicing the next one?”
“You are a good artist.” “I like the colors you chose. How have you worked to improve your talent?”
“That’s just not in your skill set, is it?” “What strategies might help you improve?”
“That was a terrible performance.” “What did you learn from that performance?”
“We won. That was a great game.” “What did you and your team do to make this game go so well.”
“I can’t get this.” “This is a challenge for you. What strategies have you tried? What new strategies could you try?”
“That was a big fail.” “It’s OK to take a risk. What can you do different next time after what you learned today?

Changing statements and questions from those that promote a fixed mindset to those that promote a growth mindset will help your children develop a growth mindset…and that will increase their chances of experiencing success in life!

Vitamin “Be” Encourages Your Children to Talk to You

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!

Parents, HOW You Say It Is As Important As WHAT You Say!

I remember hearing people telling me, “Think before you speak.”  As a child and teen, I could avoid saying hurtful things, stupid things, and unnecessary things when I remembered to “think before speaking.” Unfortunately, I sometimes spoke before thinking…and then suffered the consequences. Well, that advice holds true for parents as well as Sag die Wahrheitchildren. Parents, we need to think before we speak. We need to think about what we say and how we say what we need to say. In fact, how we say what we say will influence how our children learn and grow. Let me offer some examples.

  • Instead of making general statements, be specific. Notice and acknowledge effort. Acknowledging effort encourages persistence in our children and sends the subtle message that hard work is important. For example, rather than making a general statement like “Great job,” say:
    • “That took a lot of patience.”
    • “I can tell you worked hard on that.”
    • “I really like the combination of colors (or “materials” or “details”) you chose.”
    • “That must have taken a lot of time and hard work to finish. You must be proud of it.”
  • Instead of asking an open-ended question offer choices. Choices teach our children they have power; they are active agents in their world. Choices encourage them to take ownership of their power and accept responsibility for their decisions. For example, rather than asking “What do you want for a snack?” say:
    • “You may have an apple or a cookie. Which do you prefer this time?”
    • “Would you prefer green beans or broccoli with dinner?”
    • “Do you want to wear your red shirt or your black shirt today?”
  • Instead of asking “Why?” or making a demand to “Stop” some inappropriate behavior, validate their emotions or desires. Validation communicates the value and importance of their emotions and desires. It helps our children recognize their worth. Instead of saying, “what’s wrong with you?” or “stop that,” try saying:
    • “You seem really sad. What’s going on?”
    • “You are really angry, aren’t you?”
    • “You really want playing with your Legos, don’t you?”
  • Instead of telling your children about the behavior you don’t want, describe an alternative behavior you do want. By offering alternative behaviors, we teach our children the behaviors we value. Rather than saying “Don’t talk to me like that” or a general “Be careful” or “For the last time, you can’t have…,” try saying:
    • “Be polite and use a calm voice please.”
    • “Use both hands when you pick up the pitcher, please.”
    • “Look at this fire truck. You can play with it instead of Tommy’s truck right now?”

Paying attention to how we say what we say does take some effort. It means paying attention to our words, thinking ahead to potential situations, and not speaking in anger. Although it takes some effort, you’ll love the benefit of watching your children grow and mature!

Parenting a Teen Starts Early

One of the best kept secrets in parenting a teen is to start early; in fact, the earlier the better. You can begin parenting your teens when they are children. That may sound strange, but let me explain.Cute Teenage Girl with Serious Expression

  • If you want a teen to listen and talk to you about “anything,” start by listening to them when they are children. Give them a childhood of knowing their parent is interested in hearing their opinions and stories. It will demand patience on your part to listen to your child tell you the same story in excruciating detail for the hundredth time; but, listening with full attention establishes you as the “go to person” in your children’s eyes. It makes you the person they will think of when they have important matters to discuss as a teen. It opens the door for you to have the important life discussions you want to have with your teen.
  • If you want your teen to have a desire to spend time with the family, establish routines that include fun family times. Make dinner time a family time of conversation, laughter, and sharing rather than arguments and lectures. Enjoy playing together. Add in some fun surprise activities now and again. Let your children learn they are part of a family filled with laughter, fun, and sharing. As a teen, they’ll want to return to that family time and again.
  • Practice an open door policy. Encourage your children to invite their friends to your house. Keep a supply of drinks and snacks available for friends who stop by. Get to know your children’s friends. Make you home one that your children and their friends love to visit. Then, when you children become teens, they’ll still come to your house to hang out and have fun. An added bonus—you’ll know where they are and what they’re doing as teens.
  • If you have areas of concern for your future teen, get involved early. For instance, start listening to music together now. Sing together. Listen to the radio and talk about the lyrics of various songs. Expand the options of musical opportunities and availability. As another example, include your children in making choices when shopping for clothes. Allow them to express their unique tastes. Discuss fashion trends and what dress communicates. As your children become teens, these interactions are more likely to continue. Potentially conflictual areas like music and shopping become areas of developing relationships rather than constant arguing.

It’s never too early to start parenting your teen; in fact, the sooner the better. Prepare for the teen years by becoming involved during their childhood. If your child is already a teen, do not fear. Focus on the relationship with your teen because it’s never too late to start parenting your teen!

« Older Entries