Tag Archive for family relationships

A New & Improve Family Groove

Have you noticed how easy it is to criticize? How fault-finding and blame seems so natural? Praise and approval, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to come so natural. Just watch the news to confirm this. When was the last time the headline story talked of kindness, sharing, or a job well done? These stories are relegated to the final “30-second-feel-good-story” at best, but never the lead the story.

Unfortunately, this attitude creeps into our families as well. We easily find fault with the way a job is done. We criticize our children and spouse for any number of things. We blame one another when a job is left undone or something goes wrong. We struggle to say a “thank you,” “great job,” or “I was wrong, sorry.” Instead, we say things, “Why should I thank her for doing what she’s supposed to do anyway?”  “Yeah, he helped with the laundry, but he did it wrong. It didn’t help. I had to work harder.” “I wouldn’t have gotten so upset and call him a name if he had done his chores in the first place.” There are more statements. I’m sure you’ve at least heard them.

All this negativity—the fault-finding, blaming, and the criticism—creates a negative cycle of pain, disconnection, and self-doubt. It lays a family groove that perpetuates harsh words, anger, and self-protection that leads to greater isolation. But there is a way to jump out of this negative groove and find a new and improved family groove, a groove that will lead to greater contentment, intimacy, and joy. Here’s the way to do it:

  1. Every day, thank each person in your family for something they have done that day for the family. They may have cooked a meal, washed clothes, gone to work to pay bills, helped clean a room, or simple spoken kind words to a sibling. You may think, “Why should I thank them for doing what they’re supposed to do?” Because you are a polite person promoting kindness in your home. And, you are highlighting the behavior you want to see, encouraging more of it. (Read Why Thank Your Spouse For Doing Chores to learn the power of a simple “thank you.”)
  2. Find an opportunity to do something kind for each family member every day. It could be as simple as passing them a dish at the dinner table or offering to fill their drink when you fill your own. You could complete a chore another person usually does—like loading the dishwasher, emptying the kitty litter, taking out the garbage, running the sweeper. These acts of kindness express love. They move your whole family into a new and improved groove of positivity. (Learn the Mighty Power of Kindness in this short blog.)
  3. Share a positive story from your day. Tell your family about something good that happened to you during the day. If you are on the listening end of the story, listen and share the joy of that happy event. Sharing good stories has a ripple effect that will jump you into a new groove of sharing more joyous moments with one another.

There you have it. Three simple ways to find your family a new groove. It doesn’t sound that hard, does it? In fact, it isn’t really that hard; but you’ll be amazed at the power these simple acts exert on your home and family life. Your connection with each family member will increase. Stress will decrease. Joy and contentment will grow. You and your family will experience greater joy coming home to share the good times. Give it a shot. For the next 14 days, practice the 3 steps above…and enjoy your new and improved family groove!

A Less Stressful Family in Only 20 Minutes!

A study published in Frontiers in Psychology has established, for the first time, the effective dosage for a safe prescription aimed at reducing stress. This study established the most appropriate and effect dosage over an 8-week study in which participants followed various levels of the prescription 3 times a day. The treatment prescription did not involve medication in any form. It only involved spending at least 10 minutes during daylight hours outside “interacting” with nature—no aerobic exercise, no social media, no phone calls, no reading—just enjoying nature. That’s right. Spending time immersed in nature was the prescription.

The results indicated that 20 minutes in nature “significantly reduced cortisol levels,” one of the biological markers of stress. In fact, 20-30 minutes was the “sweet spot” in which cortisol levels dropped at their greatest rate. After 30 minutes, a person still experienced a decrease in stress but at a much slower rate. 

Do you ever feel stressed? Do you ever notice your family feeling stressed? Here is a simple prescription to relieve that stress: leave your cell phones, books, and computers in the car and spend 20-30 minutes walking in the park or the nearby woods or along the creek…you know, in nature. Enjoy the sounds and the colors. Enjoy the birds and other wildlife. Enjoy “Shinrin-Yoku,” or “forest bathing.” Your stress will decrease. Your family’s stress will decrease. If you go with your family, you may find yourself enjoying one another’s company as well. Decreased stress. Increased connection. No negative side effects. Sounds like a great prescription. I’m inviting my family to take this prescription with me today. How about you?

What a 10-year-old Gains Eating with Family!!

Everyone has heard about the benefits of eating together as a family (Read some of the benefits in The Lost Art of Family Meals).  However, a question remained about whether the results associated with eating together as a family reflect a healthy family or truly flow from the activity of eating together. Now, a study from the University of Montreal has attempted to settle that question. They followed children who were part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development from 5-months of age. At 6-years, their parents reported whether they had family meals together. Then, at 10-years-old, their parents, teachers, and even the children themselves provided information on the children’s lifestyle and well-being. The researchers accounted for factors like temperament and cognitive abilities of the child, parent’s education and psychological characteristics, and family functioning. In other words, they were able to factor out any pre-existing conditions that might influence the child’s well-being and focus solely on eating family meals together. What did they discover?

  • Children who enjoyed a positive family meal environment at 6-years of age had higher levels of general fitness and lower levels of soft-drink consumption at age 10 years…regardless of cognitive abilities, parental education, and family functioning.
  • Children who enjoyed a positive family meal environment at 6-years of age also had less physical aggressive, less oppositional behavior, and less delinquent behavior at 10-years of age…regardless of cognitive abilities, parental education, and family functioning.

Positive family meals, in and of themselves, contributed to children’s well-being at 10-years-old. They ate healthier, exhibited less aggression, and less negative behavior. Really, that is not surprising, is it? After all, children engage in social interactions with their parents and siblings during family meals. They learn how to discuss day-to-day concerns and even disagree over various topics in a civil and polite manner. They gain communication skills as they practice expressing themselves. They learn to associate eating well with positive experiences and so have eating well reinforced.  They experience the joy of acceptance at the family table and enjoy the growing bond with family that increases their sense of security (Learn how that security translates to better relationships in Hot Sauce vs. the Power of Relationship).  So, if you want to optimize your children’s communication skills, social skills, and overall maturity, make time to enjoy family meals.

This May Change How You “Do Vacation”

Summer is approaching and many families have started planning their summer activities. Maybe you plan on taking a summer vacation with your family this year. I hope you so. But before you plan your summer vacation, I want to tell you about a study that may change how you “do vacation” this year. This study deals with communication skills. In particular, it explored 6th graders’ ability to read nonverbal communications and emotional cues in others. The researchers divided a group of 6th graders into two groups. One group attended a 5-day, overnight nature camp with no TV, computers, or mobile phones. They had no digital screens for a full five days. Instead, they engaged in group outdoor activities (hiking, archery, learning survival skills) that promoted face-to-face interactions. The other group continued using screen time as usual. At the end of five days, the 6th graders who attended the 5-day nature camp without screens had improved their ability to understand nonverbal communications and to recognize emotions in others. The group that continued using social media stayed the same. It seems that practice leads to improvement…but so what? Who cares if our children learn to better read nonverbal communications and emotional cues in others? Because these skills translate into healthier relationships, better employment, and greater success in life…and we all want that for our children.  

What does this have to do with vacation? You can enhance your children’s social skills and increase their opportunities for healthier relationships, better employment, and greater life success by simply making your vacation free of TV’s, computers, and cellphones. Maybe you think it too much to eliminate them completely. Then you might consider at least cutting down screen time to a mere half-hour per day during vacation. I know it sounds crazy but contemplate the benefit of your children’s increased ability to understand nonverbal communications and emotional cues. Even more, think about the fun you’ll have interacting with one another, playing games, and sharing conversation. Imagine the things you will learn about one another, the experiences you will share, and the intimacy you will gain. It will be amazing…and the long-term benefit for your children’s communication immeasurable!

Join Your Family in Song

My daughter was just learning to walk when we started singing “Go Down Moses” while dancing around the living room. My other daughter stood up to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” as we solemnly buried a bird that had committed kamikaze against our front window. The toddler we babysat looked at me with anticipation and followed the directions of our impromptu lyrics calling her to step onto a small step and “jump” before laughing and asking to do it again.

When our children seem upset and begin to cry, we sing them a song to help them calm. When they can’t sleep, we sing them a lullaby. When they need to clean up their rooms, we might follow Barney’s cue and sing “Clean up, clean up….” We teach our children the alphabet through song. The list goes on. Music works wonders for a parent…and it continues working right through the teen years.

Children start remembering melodies as early as 5-months-old. At 11-months-old they are more receptive to a person singing a familiar song, even if that person is a stranger. Infants and children feel soothed by music and even begin to use music to calm themselves at a very young age. Who hasn’t heard their very young child, upset about having to take a nap, lying in their crib singing a song rather than crying? Even teens calm themselves through song.

Music brings us together. Whether we sing like a songbird or croak out a tune, it communicates that we are paying attention to the one we sing to and the ones we sing with. It signals that we are all part of the same group, we belong. Music draws us together and bonds us. It allows us to share emotions and even synchronizes us physically.

Why not use music in your family? Sing a song together. Listen to music together. Enjoy music together. Your family will love it. You will experience greater joy and intimacy with your family. Give it a try: “Sing. Sing a song. Make it simple to last the whole night long….” 

This Is Your Brain On Kindness

What can we learn about kindness from 36  studies and 1,150 fMRIs gathered over a 10-year period from people making kind decisions? Psychologists at the University of Sussex can answer that question. They analyzed the research of those 36 studies and split the acts of kindness into two categories: strategic kindness (kindness in which the person giving kindness gained a personal benefit) and altruistic kindness (kindness in which the person giving kindness did not gain a personal benefit in return). The research revealed that reward areas of the brain became more active when a person engaged in strategic kindness, kindness with the opportunity for the recipient to “return the favor.”   But wait. The same areas became activated when the person engaged in acts of kindness with no hope of a “return favor.” There was no hope for personal benefit in the act of altruistic kindness, but the reward centers of the brain still became more active. So, whether one engaged in strategic kindness or altruistic kindness, the reward centers of the brain became more active. It appears that engaging in deeds of kindness may be its own reward.

But wait. There’s more. (No, it’s not a ‘Chop-o-Matic.’) Activating the brain’s reward center represents the similarity between the two types of kindness. The research revealed a difference as well. In altruistic kindness even more areas of the brain became active. In other words, altruistic kindness did more than activate the reward centers of the brain; altruistic kindness activated even broader regions of the brain. Want to get your children’s brains active? Give them opportunities to engage in acts of kindness.

I realize we can activate the reward centers and other areas of our brain by engaging in any number of activities; but, might I suggest we engage the brains of our children and families by presenting opportunities to engage in kindness as a family. Maybe if we engage the reward centers of our family members’ brains with kindness and relationship, they will be less likely to engage them in harmful ways (like drug use).  And, engaging in kindness sounds like so much more fun! So, engage your brains and the brains of your children. Activate your reward centers. Enjoy the stimulation of your brain’s reward system. Engage in acts of kindness.

(If you’re stuck for ideas, read The Mighty Power of Kindness for Families or A Family Fun Night to Share Kindness.)

The Impact of Discrimination on Teens

A rather disturbing study came out of the University of Southern California recently. The study followed 2,572 11th grade students from 10 public high schools in L.A. County for a year (2016-2017). These students were male and female: 47% Latino, 19% Asian, 4% African American, and 17% Caucasian. The study followed these students to explore the impact that public displays of discrimination (those seen in their neighborhoods as well as those seen on TV) had on teens. At the start of the study, 26.7% of the teens were “very or extremely worried about societal discrimination.” At the end of the year, 34.7% of the students were “very or extremely worried about societal discrimination.” That’s disturbing…but it gets worse. The researchers also found “significant associations between increased level of concern about discrimination and six different adverse behavioral outcomes.” More specifically, “increasing societal discrimination was associated with higher frequency of substance use, greater number of different substances used, and 11% higher odds of depression and 12% greater odds of ADHD symptoms.”  I find this even more disturbing when I watch the news and see the number of acts of discrimination reported. Somehow, we need to create a change for the sake of our most vulnerable children. That change can begin right in your family with these four tips.

  1. Build strong, intimate family relationships. Those strong family relationships become the model of relationship outside the home. In fact, studies have shown that a strong attachment leads to people acting less on their prejudices and showing greater kindness even to their enemies (You can read about it in one of my favorite studies pitting Hot Sauce Vs. the Power of Relationship).
  2. Don’t be afraid to talk about the acts of discrimination you or your children witness. As Mr. Rogers said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we 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’re not alone.” Don’t limit the talk to those who show discrimination. Teach your whole family to look for those who battle the discrimination. If I may quote Mr. Rogers again, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Those are the people we want our children to emulate. Those are the heroes. Those are the ones who help us live courageously with the knowledge that, even in discrimination rears its ugly head, there are many who do not discriminate. There are many who share love, kindness, and hope.
  3. Find like-minded people, people who do not discriminate. Associate with people who love and share kindness with all people. In so doing, your children meet people from all walks of life and find human kindness resides in every corner of the world regardless of wealth, ethnicity, or gender.
  4. Build kindness into the fabric of your family. Start by being kind to one another (learn The Mighty Power of Kindness for Families in this short blog). Teach your children the joys of sharing kindness with others and the joy of humbly receiving kindness from others. Remember, “we live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes” (Sorry, Mr. Rogers again). Teach your children to be the heroes. That can be as simple as visiting a nursing home or taking food to a friend who is grieving. (A Family Night to Share Kindness is a good place to start.)

Like I said, the study from USC disturbed me but then I started thinking of the study I’d like to see completed. In this study families would be strengthened. They would be coached to talk about their feelings and identify the helpers. They would be given opportunities to build bridges across our superficial differences and engage in family acts of kindness. Then, after a year, the study would measure their level of discrimination and their fear of discrimination. Would their fear go down? Would acting out behaviors go down? I dare say they would. Hey, why not run the experiment in your own home? You might be pleasantly surprised.

The Massacre In Our Home Town

Saturday, October 27, 2018, it happened here…a mass shooting…a horrific exhibition of hate…in a place of worship no less. The New York Times described this shooting as “among the deadliest against the Jewish community in the United States.” Tears filled my eyes as the rabbis spoke during the memorial service Sunday (I didn’t get to attend but saw televised portions of the service…and even that brought tears). Pittsburgh is a city of neighbors, ethnic celebration, & Mr. Rogers; yet such hate, an incomprehensible hate, is present as well. Making it even more insidious, this shooting occurred in a place of worship. As one Jewish commentator noted, choosing to carry out this heinous crime in any place of worship “commits the maximum emotional devastation…striking at the very heart of the spiritual fabric of the community. Houses of God are sources of inspiration for good. They are the foundations of civility, of respect, of the dissemination of values which make possible human survival.” Bringing vile hate into such a sacred space is abhorrent!

We heed Mr. Rogers’ words to “look for the helpers” whenever catastrophe strikes. And, we have seen the helpers arise. People have spoken of the bravery of the response team. Students from Allderdice HS came together to initiate a memorial the day of the event.  Flowers and tokens of support pile up near the site of the catastrophe. The Islamic Center has raised $70,000 (at last count) to support the families of the victims. The list of helpers continues.  “The helpers” have risen to support, comfort, “stand with,” and share in everyone’s mourning. The outrage against hate has been voiced. The helpers have shown up. But what about next week?  What will happen next week? How will we, not just in Pittsburgh but across our nation, begin to address the hate and replace it with love and peace? Dr. Yvet Alt Miller suggests, among other things, that we respond by doing good deeds and finding ways of bringing more good into the world, to speak out against hatred, to “let our charity, our prayers, our mitzvot, our acts of kindness bring light into the world.” All great ideas.  We can’t continue life as usual. We must make changes…not just today or this week but over the next months and years!

My daughter once asked me why I don’t “do more” social activist activities like marches and protests. I told her I write and teach. The Honor Grace Celebrate website and our family workshops are my way of pursuing social change… and I believe they represent a potentially powerful avenue for social change. But how? Why promote honor, grace, and celebration in families? Why encourage families to reflect the love of God?  Because families who practice honor, grace, and celebration can change our society. They will not only experience happier families, they will also bring honor, grace, and celebration into their communities and our nation (Freedom & Family to learn more). When our children celebrate a positive, loving attachment with their parents they are more prone to show kindness to those they disagree with or even hate (Read a fascinating study showing how attachment changes the interaction between divisive groups in Hot Sauce Vs. the Power of Relationship). When we teach our children kindness in the family they are more likely to share kindness in the world (Read The Mighty Power of Kindness and Pay It Forward…The Suprising “Rest of the Story” For Your Family). As we promote honor and grace within our families, honor and grace will be shared outside of family (Give It Away for Family Fun will offer an idea to get started). So, I suggest we add to Mr. Rogers’ words about “looking for the helpers.” Don’t just look. Don’t let the helpers show up today and disappear next week or next month because the immediate crisis has ended and emotions have calmed. Instead, let us, as families, commit to developing more helpers, lifetime helpers. Let us teach and encourage those helpers to become active in reaching out in love to their communities…because your family can help change the world! Let’s build families of honor, grace, and celebration to carry the traditions of honor, grace, and celebration into every relationship they experience. Let’s build families who will carry honor, grace, and celebration into every relationship.

Your Family Can Save What Loneliness Kills

Cigna made a surprising discovery when they utilized questions from the UCLA Loneliness Scale to create a survey taken by 20,000 people 18-years-old and older. ( Read about the survey here.)  The surprising discovery? Young people are lonelier than elderly people. Even more disturbing, those between 18- and 22-years-old (those tied into social media connections) noted more feelings of social isolation than older people. It seems that even though social media offers digital connections, people still long for face-to-face conversation and interactions. Without this face-to-face connection, people feel lonely.

“So what?” you ask. “I’m sorry young people feel lonelier than elderly but what does it matter?” Good question. Here’s the concern. Loneliness is deadly. Studies suggest that loneliness has the same effect on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or drinking more than 6 alcoholic drinks a day! (Social Relationships & Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review). Loneliness is comparable to obesity and physical inactivity in its impact on the longevity and quality of life. Lonely young people can translate into less quality of life, less joy, even shorter lives!  Families can help prevent this type of deadly social isolation and loneliness. Here are five tips to help:

  1. Engage in meaningful family activities like eating meals together, playing games together, going on vacations, making day trips. Enjoy time with your family every day. Build positive relationships with your children, spouse, parents, and siblings.
  2. Get involved. Involve your children in various community activities. Whether you involve them in sporting activities, theatre and the arts, or debate clubs, find a way for your children to become involved in positive activities with other people in the community. Don’t just involve your children. Involve yourself in positive community activities as well. Join a reading club or the booster club. Become involved in a positive group of peers in your community.
  3. Involve your family in a local church. Churches encourage us to worship as a family and as a community. They provide us opportunities to find our place in “something bigger than ourselves” and become part of a supportive, loving community and reducing loneliness.
  4. Volunteer as a family. You might even make your volunteer efforts a weekly, monthly, or quarterly ritual. You will strengthen family bonds and provide the opportunity to meet other people outside the family, decreasing loneliness.
  5. Turn off the technology and play some games face-to-face. Nothing beats loneliness like gathering with other people and engaging in some plain-old-fashioned fun. You can get together to play cards, a pick-up game of ball, a picnic, or a board game. Whatever it is, face-to-face interaction and fun beats loneliness every time!

If you follow these tips, you’ll discover great joy in relationship. Your supportive community will grow. Your family will become more close-knit. And, as Cigna found out, your health and the health of your children will improve. You will live longer…and that means you can enjoy one another’s company and love even longer!

Dona Nobis Pacem: Grant Us Peace

My wife, my daughter, and I went to a choral concert presented by the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh entitled PEACE.  We heard several composers’ choral renditions of Dona Nobis Pacem: Grant Us Peace. We also heard various testimonies and readings from three people who have invested their lives in various avenues of promoting peace within our communities. The whole experience was beautiful, inspiring, and peaceful. Then we left the concert setting and returned to the world of confusion, animosity, and conflict.

Peace seems so distant in our immediate environment of division, antagonism, and hostility. Everywhere we turn dissonant, hateful chatter rises up and floods over the banks of polite boundaries and congenial discourse. Fear and anxiety, resentment and hostility are infecting the lives of our children. Peace seems, at times, a distant dream. But, as we listened attentively to the various renditions of Dona Nobis Pacem and contemplated the readings offered, I realized peace is not so distant after all. Peace is very near. It begins with a God of peace who “is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist….” Peace is our original design. Peace destroyed was restored through the sacrifice of One Man who “is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Paul—Ephesians 2:15). The One who sacrificed for our peace has “proclaimed peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near” (Paul—Ephesians 2:17). Since we have been given peace it is very near to us. We need only open it, pursue it, and promote it (Romans 14:19; Hebrews 12:14).

In all reality, pursuing and promoting peace are integral aspects of our daily life. We can pursue peace by sharing polite words with those you meet. We promote peace by listening, really listening, to understand those who speak. We pursue peace by opening doors for others, literally and figuratively. We promote peace in patiently merging into the various streams of life with others and generously allowing others to merge into those same streams of life. We encourage peace by offering words that build up instead of words that tear down, words that bless instead of words that curse.  We promote peace when we lift one another up, even those who disagree with you, rather than shaming and ridiculing. We nurture peace when we forgive those who have offended and apologize to those you offend.

Truly, peace is closer than we think…but it takes the investment of our words and actions. Begin the peace investment in your home as you treat your spouse, your children, and your parents with honor and dignity, decency and grace. As we do, our families will become the catalyst for peace in our communities. Yes, peace is closer than we think. “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Dona Nobis Pacem: Grant Us Peace.

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