Tag Archive for development

My Teen Isolates…Is That Bad?

Parents often ask, “My teen comes home and goes straight to his bedroom, closes the door and isolates. Isn’t that bad?” Well…it depends. Researchers from the University of California and Wilmington College published a study showing not all solitude is the same. Some solitude was problematic. It was a red flag revealing a deeper issue. Other solitude was good, even helpful. It provided a refreshing, restorative time of self-reflection leading to personal growth and greater self-acceptance.

How can you tell the difference? By recognizing the reason your teen is choosing solitude. The motivation for choosing solitude differentiates problematic solitude from healthy solitude. If a teen chooses solitude in response to social anxiety, lack of friends, or rejection, they are at a greater risk of depression. They tend to have a lower level of autonomy and fewer positive relationships.

If solitude is imposed on a teen as punishment, they often feel like they are “missing out” on activities and opportunities. This can lead to feeling left out and lonely. It can contribute to depression and anger.

If a teen chooses solitude to help themselves “calm down” or for “peace and quiet,” it can prove helpful. In this case, solitude provides restorative time for self-reflection. These teens learn the skill of being alone and learn how solitude can enhance creativity and personal renewal.

Still, how can a parent know the difference? One way to determine if your teen is using solitude in a healthy or an unhealthy way is to ask them why they spend time alone. Allow them to explain what they are doing and why. This might be the start of a simple discussion about emotional self-care. You might also ask yourself some questions about your teen, questions you can begin to answer based on your own observations.

  • Does your teen have friends or are they a loner? If they have no friends, their isolation may raise some concerns. Why do they not have friends? Is it due to being bullied? Anxious? Fearful? Sad? This observation may lead to a discussion with your teen about their mood, their perspective on friendships, loneliness, and relationships in general.
  • Does your teen exhibit social anxiety? It’s ok to be shy and introverted. As an introvert they will likely still have a few good friends. However, if a person has social anxiety that interferes with them going places or interacting with others it may be good to seek outside help.
  • Does your teen seem energized after spending time alone? Many teens just need time alone to “re-create” their inner sense of peace after spending all day interacting in a somewhat chaotic and over-stimulating school setting. They need to unwind and enjoy a moment of “peace and quiet.” They need a time of personal restoration. If so, they will often feel energized after a period of solitude. 
  • How does your teen seem overall? Do they sleep well? Do they enjoy times with friends? Do they become tearful often? The answer to these questions can provide a great deal of information about the health of their solitude.
  • Does your teen talk negatively about themselves? Do they put themselves down? Are they excessively self-critical? If so, their isolation may raise some concerns.

These observations may help you decide if your teen’s desire to be alone is a problem or simply a healthy part of their development. If your answers raise concerns seek out some counsel from friends who have older children, a pastor, or a therapist.

The Miry Muck of Parenting

One of the most challenging (if not THE most challenging) job in the world is the job of parenting. Parenting brings new challenges every day. It demands different strategies for different situations and different children. It thrusts us into an awareness of our need for personal growth and pushes us to our limit. Is it any wonder we make a mistake here or there? I know I’ve made my share of mistakes (Read Oops…Parenting Surprises & Lessons Learned for more mistakes I made). Here are 5 mistakes parents often make without even realizing it. By becoming aware of these mistakes, we can avoid falling mindlessly into the miry muck of parenting they create.

  • We make the mistake of constantly pointing out what “not to do.” I often felt myself falling into this pit. “Don’t yell.” Stop running.” “Don’t do that.” “Don’t hit.” “Don’t turn the TV on.” “Stop fighting.” On and on. It’s so easy to tell our children what they are doing wrong. Sometimes they seem to give us so much opportunity to do so. However, it will prove much more effective when we tell them what we want them “to do” instead. “Hold my hand.” “Walk.” “Gentle.” “Tell me what’s wrong.” “Get out a board game.” “Read a book.” Sure, there are times we need to tell them “not to do” something, but always follow it up with what they “can do” instead. Many times, however, we can just tell them what they “can do.”
  • Sometimes we expect more from our children than they know or are developmentally ready to do.  Our children are not born experts; we need to teach them…everything. Teach them how to whisper in the library. Teach them how to load the dishwasher. Teach them how to clean a room “up to standard.” Don’t assume they know; teach them. Teaching them involves more than just telling them what to do. Pull up your sleeves and do it with them a few times. Teaching is a hands-on activity that builds connection and intimacy.
  • Too often, we model the wrong behavior. I know I modeled the wrong behavior at times. If you don’t believe me, read (blogs about parenting failures). We might react in anger to traffic and says something we wish our children had never heard…because now they repeat it all…the…time. Instead of modeling the “wrong” behavior, model as much positive behavior as you can. Let them see you apologize for your wrongs. Let them hear you speak the truth. Let them witness your affection for your spouse. Let them hear you encourage and thank other people. Model the behaviors and words you want them to follow.
  • In exhaustion or frustration, we discipline our children when they are simply being annoying. You know what I mean. Sometimes a four-year-old acts like a four-year-old (go figure) and we get annoyed. They ask questions constantly, a normal behavior that helps them learn; but we get annoyed and tell them to sit in silence. They play chase through the house while we are trying to get some work done so we send them to their rooms. They spill a drink accidentally and we yell at them.  We have disciplined for normal, age-appropriate behaviors that were simply annoying at the time. These behaviors are not misbehaviors requiring discipline. If anything, these behaviors may simply require redirection or simple instruction. Let kids be kids…and teach them to be aware of others.
  • We tend to be all talk and no action. Parenting is not merely a verbal task. You cannot sit in your chair and yell, “Turn the radio down,” “Get your hand out of the cookie jar,” or “Clean up this mess” and expect it to happen. Parenting is a hands-on job. We need to talk less and act more. Nag less and take action. Get out of the chair. Walk over to your child. Put a hand on their shoulder and look them in the eye before giving them a request or directive. When they follow through, give them a high-five or a simple “thank you.” If they ignore the request, follow through with an appropriate consequence. It doesn’t have to be a crushing consequence. Just a simple consequence. Can’t clean the room, lose the opportunity to go out (or watch TV) until it is clean. Won’t turn the radio down, lose the radio for a day. Won’t get your hand out of the cookie jar, no dessert today. You get the idea. Less talk, more action. 

Don’t get caught in the miry muck of parenting by engaging in these mindless parenting mistakes. Stand on firm ground with mindful action that will promote your childrens’ growth.

Parents Learning “Baby Talk”?

If you have an infant in the house and want them to develop strong language skills with a larger vocabulary, then you want to learn a new language. I don’t mean French or Spanish, Chinese or Japanese, or even Swahili. I mean you need to learn “parentese.” That’s not “baby talk.” I’m talking about “parentese,” the language in which a parent talks slowly and clearly with exaggerated vowels and inflections. Parentese still uses real words as opposed to the nonsense syllables of “baby talk.” Parentese involves fully grammatical sentences spoken with an exaggerated tone of voice that sounds happy. Ironically, in this world of division, parentese crosses all boundaries. It is used in all languages and benefits children from all cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. All children who are spoken to in this language are engaged by it. They listen more intently. They even respond more often. At least that’s what researchers at the University of Washington discovered. Specifically, they found that infants of parents coached in parentese when their children were six- and ten-months-old babbled 43% over two days, whereas infants of parents not coached in parentese babbled only 30%. In other words, those who used parentese got more engagement with and responses from their infants. And, at 14-months-old, the children of parents who used parentese produced significantly more words than children of parents who did not use parentese. That’s the result at 14-months. The impact of learning “parentese” continues even into elementary school and beyond. Other studies have shown early language skills predict a child’s learning to read and success in school.

So, if you have an infant at home…or if you have a family friend who has an infant, why not learn the language of infants, parentese? (If you need a little tutoring lesson on parentese, check out this short video.) When you do, you will help them learn the flow of conversation and the art of engagement. You enhance their production of speech. You contribute to their future reading and success in school. Who knows, learning and practicing parentese might just start a whole learning revolution.

The Dilemma of Your Emerging Butterfly

I remember the story of a boy watching a butterfly slowly free himself from its cocoon. The boy felt pity as he watched the butterfly struggle to get out the cramped wrappings of transformation. He feared the butterfly was not making progress quickly enough. He feared the butterfly might hurt himself in the struggle. So, to be helpful, the boy got some scissors, cut the cocoon open, and freed the butterfly. Unfortunately, the butterfly did not fly away in gratitude. He fell to the ground with small, shriveled wings. The butterfly’s wings never opened up and he never flew. He was confined to crawling on the ground for the rest of his short life. The butterfly needed the struggle to develop his wings for flight and prepare his body for life outside the cocoon. I don’t know if the story is true or even realistic (I did find a rendition of it at Struggle is Good! I Want to Fly!), but it does make an important point. Sometimes we need to struggle and take risks to grow. 

Did you know that recent research suggests that one contributor to the increase in children suffering with anxiety is overprotective parenting? In a sense, we have become so protective of our children…so careful to prevent their risk, their frustration, their potential harm…that we have prevented them from the very experience they need to grow confident and independent. I learned many important lessons as a child in somewhat risky situations, lessons that helped me build confidence, know my limits, and exercise healthy caution.

  • I learned the limits of speed riding my bicycle.
  • I learned the dangers of playing with fire from a paper towel…and making smores.
  • I learned important lessons about height while climbing trees and small “cliffs” near my house (btw-these “cliffs” look small when I see them as an adult).
  • I learned the need for caution when jumping over things while jumping over fallen trees.
  • I learned the potential for hurting someone and being hurt by playing “pick-up games” of football.
  • I learned to use caution cutting grass by cutting grass and experiencing some “flying debris.”

We learn our capabilities and the limits of those capabilities when we take small risks during our play as children. Our children need the opportunity to play and engage in some independent activities, even ones that carry risk, so they can grow and learn about their capabilities and limits. Of course, we will provide appropriate levels of protection so those risks are age appropriate and not overly dangerous. Even so, they will get bruises, cuts, and scratches along the way. They may experience frustrations and even cry about some of those frustrations. And, they will learn. They will grow. They will become independent. So…how can you begin to allow your child, your butterfly, to emerge from their cocoon and become more independent over the next week?

The One Trait Kids Need to Achieve

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?
  6. 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.

Talk to Your Children, Change Their Brain, & Their Behavior

You can strengthen your pre-teen’s brain (11-to 13-years-old) and decrease the chances of them abusing food, alcohol, and drugs by engaging in this one behavior. This one behavior strengthens connections in areas of the brain associated with less harmful alcohol use, drug use, and emotional eating at the age of 25! Not to be too repetitive but engaging in this one behavior with your pre-teen can decrease the chances of them abusing drugs, alcohol, or food in their mid-twenties. What behavior could do all that? Greater parent-child communication. Simply keeping the lines of communication open with your children as they move into and through the teen years strengthens connections in the anterior salience network (ASN) of the brain. Connections in this area of the brain are associated with less alcohol and drug abuse and less overeating in the mid-twenties. These results were revealed in a 14-year longitudinal study conducted through the University of Georgia’s Center for Family Research.  How can you maintain a robust communication with your child as they move into and through adolescence?

1.     Listen. The most effective way to keep communication with your children and teens strong, start by listening. Listen to their words and listen to their body language. Listen to their facial expression. Listen to understand their world, their motives, their intent.

2.     Engage your children in conversation and activity. Provide time for conversation. This will require you to spend time, lots of time, with your children. Enjoy time in fun activities with your children. Enjoy time taking them shopping, fishing, playing catch, watching movies, eating. Enjoy time with your children and engage your children every day.

3.     Go deeper than a “because I said so” when explaining limits and life. Talk about the important things of life. Don’t shy away from controversial issues. Enjoy the discussion.  One caveat: don’t expect full agreement on all issues with your teen. Instead, allow for differences. Teach your teens to think through their ideas and beliefs. 

4.     Listen. Did I say that before? It’s worth saying again. Begin and end your interactions with your children and teens by listening.

Have Fun AND Reduce Childhood Aggression

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!