Tag Archive for family relationships

The Anger is Real…Don’t Let It Ruin Your Family

Anger…. There is a lot to be angry about today. I don’t need to list it all for you. You know what arouses the anger of so many people today. Just watch the news and you will see angry people. Scroll through social media and you will find angry people. Have a conversation and you might experience angry people. You might even be angry yourself. I know I am. An article recently published in the American Journal of Health Promotion discusses how news media has become “increasingly negative and polarizing” between 1979 and 2010. (Just imagine how much greater the media polarization has become since 2010.) The article focuses on the impact this has had on public health and offers a solution that calls, in part, for a commitment from those reporting the news to report at least one positive story for every three negative stories and a commitment from viewers to support those news venues that do offer those positive stories. But that is not really what I want to address. My focus is family…and anger is toxic in the family.

The polarization and anger witnessed in our society has crept into many homes. Ironically, it isn’t even that people are angry with their family. They are just angry and that anger bleeds into their home. And, as I said earlier, anger is toxic for families. Anger traps families in their pain. It undermines fun by intruding with constant debate and clarification. It erects walls of guardedness that diminish intimacy as well as opportunities to develop intimacy. It blinds us to the things we admire about our family members as well as their perspectives and simple endearing qualities. We end up arguing and debating, agitated, when all we really want is intimacy and connection with our family members.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a place for anger and a beneficial way to express anger. But when it sneaks into the family, it becomes an undercurrent of toxic emotion, it is not beneficial. It is toxic. So, what can we do? Here are some tips to help us rise above the anger and build love and connection in our families.

  • Ask yourself a few key questions. Do you love your family? Is it more important that you “convince them” of your point of view or that you show them you love them? How do you want them to remember you? How do you want your family to think of you, as an agitated person or a loving person? A person of self-control or a person prone to angry outbursts? Do you want to be remembered as a person who remained calm and shared love or a person who got lost in emotion and snapped out at even the little things?
  • Ask other family members questions…AND listen. In these times we really want to understand one another. Take the time to ask question but take more time to listen. Ask them what it is like for them during these times? How are they managing the stress of the day? Ask what you can do to help them. If they want to discuss issues of the day, ask how you might discuss these issues without it becoming an argument and arousing anger. Let them know you love them no matter what.
  • Give no advice. Simply practice awareness. Too often we give unsolicited advice (I know I do). Giving unsolicited advice sends an implicit message that they aren’t good enough or smart enough to figure things out on their own. Instead of being helpful, our unsolicited advice become rocks thrown at a person’s head. They don’t build relationship. They promote defensiveness. They even hurt. So, rather than give unsolicited advice, practice awareness. Become aware of your family members’ emotions, intent, and perspective. Learn about their priorities and their fears. Become aware of how they express themselves, what irritates them, and what soothes them.
  • Play. Play relieves stress. Play pulls people together. Play builds intimacy. Play washes away the troubles of the day…at least for the moment. Play helps us gain perspective. Engage your family in play.
  • Create “issue free” and “positive news only” zones.  You and your family will benefit from creating times or spaces in which the “issues” of the day are not discussed. In these times you can talk about other things like things you have enjoyed during the day, future family activities, or positive news you have heard. You can talk about a story you are reading, a song you enjoy, or things for which you are grateful.  The possibilities are endless. Just enjoy a time of conversation that can bring joy and connection into your family.

Yes, anger is real. Anger can be legitimate. It can motivate us to create change in positive ways. However, anger can also take over the family. It can be toxic. It can destroy your family. Don’t let anger pull your family apart. Practice these tips and enjoy a loving family.

LEAP Before You LOOK

Did you read the title as it is written or as you usually hear it spoken? Read it again: LEAP Before You LOOK! Granted, it is generally better to look before you leap, to count the cost. But there is at least one time when it is better to LEAP before you LOOK, at least that’s the suggestion of a study conducted by University of California Santa Barbara. In this study, 1,500 participants completed two surveys. The first survey was a measure of the participants’ attitudes about socially desirable behaviors like kindness, forgiveness, and self-accountability. For this survey, the participants were divided into the three groups.  The first group had to answer true/false questions in under 11 seconds. The second group was instructed to wait 11 seconds before answering. The third group simply answered the questions at their own pace. Those who answered in under 11 seconds scored higher in social desirability. They described themselves as more kind and helpful. The longer a person “thought” before answering, however, the more selfish their answers became. Interesting…but why?

To gain a better understanding of why this might be true, the participants took a second survey assessing their core beliefs about humanity. This survey revealed that a person who believed people’s “true self” was generally good AND people who believed people’s true self was generally bad BOTH showed more social desirability under the 11 second time constraint. In other words, their core belief about people did not impact their tendency to be kind and helpful. Still, thinking about being kind and helpful did impact the participants’ actions. The more the participants thought about being kind, the less they responded with kindness and the more selfish their answers became.

In other words, our first impulse tends to lean toward kindness. The researchers suggest that “kindness is a deeper learned habit that comes from a lifetime of associating kind behaviors with beneficial outcomes.” Could be…or maybe we are wired for kindness. I don’t know. That’s an idea to explore and clarify in future studies. (Read Toddlers Prefer What Kind of People? & Geometry, Infants, & Compassion.) At any rate, our first instinct seems to be toward kindness. But we think. We contemplate how needy the recipient of our kindness “really is.” We worry about an audience. We wonder if we are the right person to help. We count the cost of helping and being kind…the financial cost, the time cost, the emotional cost, the reputational cost. Then, after all the thinking is done, the opportunity for kindness has passed. We have talked ourselves out of kindness. In other words, we looked and never leaped.

So, when it comes to kindness, LEAP before you LOOK. We can teach our children this principle of kindness by doing the following.

  • Share kindness with your family. Offer family members a compliment as often as you can. Make them some coffee or tea. Pour them a glass of pop. Do a chore. Sharing kindness requires action. Don’t just think about it. Do it. As you practice and model kindness within the family, your whole family will learn to extend kindness beyond the family unit as well.
  • Read stories of kindness. You might find these in children’s books (Here are 17 Kid’s Books that Teach Kindness from Woman’s World.) or you might find them in various news publications (like Good News Network). Discuss these stories of kindness and how your family might respond in similar situations.
  • When the opportunities arise to show kindness outside the home, LEAP before you LOOK. Don’t just talk about it. Don’t just think about it. Do it. Encourage your children to share kindness. Let them see you sharing kindness. It may be as simple as holding the door for a stranger or as honorable as returning money to a person who dropped it. Whatever the opportunity, show kindness.

As we practice these three steps in our homes, our children will come to know that when it comes to kindness, LEAP before you LOOK.

The Satisfaction of Small, Meaningful Doses All Day Long

Families need a healthy diet of love and connection to thrive. How do we meet our family’s dietary need for love? Some families have one big meal a day to satisfy their “love cravings.” They try to engage in some extravagant show of love once a day (at best) in hopes that it will last until the next big show of love. It doesn’t…it never will.

Other families fear there is not enough love and connection to go around. They fear it will run out so they cling and “act out” to monopolize whatever attention and “love” they can get. This doesn’t work either. It ends up pushing others away.

Others, fearing love resources are limited, dole out love in scanty portions, just enough to keep you hungry for more. Everyone ends up feeling just little disconnected, confused as to whether they are really loved or not.

A better way of maintaining a healthy diet of love and connection is by sharing small but meaningful doses of it throughout the day. A study out of Penn State published in 2020 (see The Undervalued Power of Experiencing Love in Everyday Life for a review) called these small, meaningful doses of love and connection “felt love.” Participants in this study were randomly sampled via cell phone to determine when and where they experienced “felt love,” when and where they felt a connection with another person. Two findings were of special interest to me.

  1. Experiencing small, meaningful doses of love throughout the day led to increased feelings of optimism and purpose. In other words, if you want your spouse, children, or parents to feel greater optimism and purpose, intentionally do and say things throughout the day that will make them feel loved. Give them physical affection. Compliment them. Appreciate something about them. Serve them. Sit and talk with them. Empathize with them. Connect. They will feel love and connection…and their feelings of optimism and purpose will increase.
  2. “Nudging study participants to be more mindful of ‘felt love,’ and encouraging people to recognize random moments of warm-heart connection actually increased their sense of being loved” (Oravecz). Simply raising a person’s awareness of “felt love” and opportunities to express “felt love” raised feelings of being loved and connected.

Based on these findings, we could do at least three things to increase the feelings of love in our families.

  • Encourage each family member to offer a daily diet of multiple, small, and meaningful doses of love to other family members throughout the day.
  • Spend time at dinner or bedtime sharing stories of when each one received love and connection during the day and how each one shared love and connection with another that day. Making this conversation a routine will “nudge” your family members to “be more mindful” of such moments.
  • Model the intentional sharing of small, meaningful doses of love and connection with others in your home and outside your home. Hold the door open for other people. Let the other driver merge. Share the remote. Pay for a stranger’s coffee. Be creative and share small, meaningful doses of love and connection with others, including your family.  

I don’t know about you, but I think our families and our world are hungry for this kind of diet. I know I am…so I’m going to share it with my family now.

Daily Questions to Strengthen Your Marriage & Family

Building a stronger, more intimate marriage is as simple as asking the right questions…and then responding to the answers you’re given. Asking the right questions can also build a stronger family. With that in mind, let me share 10 questions you can ask your spouse, children, or parents to strengthen your family and marriage today.

  1. How can I help you today?
  2. What can I do to serve you today?
  3. What can I do to help you right now?
  4. How can I show my spouse (child, parent) love today?
  5. What can I do to bring joy into my spouse’s (child’s, parent’s) life today?
  6. What can I tell my spouse (child, parent) ‘thank you’ for today?
  7. What can I do or say today so my spouse (child, parent) will know how much I adore them?
  8. Is there anything for which I need to apologize to my spouse (child, parent) today?
  9. What can I say to make my spouse (child, parent) feel special today?
  10. And last, but not least… How can I pray for you?

Survival Tips for Your Family During Corona Virus

The corona virus pandemic has brought major changes to our families. Children are home from school. Some parents are home from work while others have jobs that require them to continue working and take great precautions to not “catch the virus.” Having everyone home 24/7 is a new experience for many families. Family members may have different approaches to risk and anxiety of the corona virus. They may also have different tolerance levels for being “sheltered in place,” the resulting changes in activity level, and mandate of physical distance. With these things in mind, I’d like to suggest 7 survival tips for your family during the corona virus pandemic.

  1. Maintain as many routines as possible and develop new routines as needed. Being “sheltered in place” has disrupted many of our typical routines. You may experience changes in meal routines, morning routines, and routines that involve going out as well as others. Take time to assess your individual and family routines. Which ones can you keep in place? Where do you need to add new routines? This may prove an excellent time to begin a few routines you’ve been wanting to start. (You can even Add Meaning to Life by Building Routine.)
  2. Negotiate differences. Family members may have different needs for togetherness versus alone time. They may worry differently and have different tolerance levels around reduced activity or the mandate of physical distance. Accept your differences. Talk about those differences and determine how you will manage those differences. It may take some compromise so talk about your needs. Anything you can talk about you can resolve…and you can talk about anything.
  3. Enjoy some family time. Yes, some family members may require some alone time. Allow them that freedom. However, we all need family time and family support as well. So, develop some family times. Some great opportunities for family time may include meals, an evening movie, a family game, or reading in the same room. (A great family time involves The Lost Art of Family Meals.)
  4. Intentionally seek ways to serve one another. These are trying times. Workloads change with everyone home. So, notice what needs done and help. Take the opportunity to do something kind for your spouse, your children, your parent, or the whole family.  Send some cards to friends. Do an extra chore. Help cook a meal. Let the possibilities grow. Serve one another.
  5. Remain polite. Everyone is a little “edgy” being “stuck in the house” with their routines disrupted and typical activities curtailed. You can take the edge off with simple politeness. “Please.” “Excuse me.” “You’re welcome.” “Would you be able to…?” Simple politeness will go a long way in keeping the family secure through this time.
  6. Express gratitude. Just like politeness, gratitude is a powerful tool for building and maintaining relationships. Make it a point to thank your family members for the little things they do…even if it’s something they’re “supposed to do.”
  7. Laugh a little. Don’t let humor disappear amidst the stress. Tell a joke. Play a game. Be silly. Have fun. Laughter is great medicine.

The corona virus pandemic may change our daily routines and structure for a time. But it will pass. Your family will last well beyond the current situation. Doing these 7 things will help you draw your family closer during this time of crisis.

7 Things You Can Do to Raise a Healthy Adult

Life is filled with risk factors and protective factors.  Children, in particular, are susceptible to these risk factors and protective factors. In fact, you may have heard talk about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and how they impact our children even into adulthood. Specifically, ACEs include abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual), neglect (physical or emotional), and household dysfunction (mental illness, domestic violence, incarcerated relative, substance abuse, or abuse). The more ACEs a child experiences, the greater the risk that child will suffer from depression or poor mental health. In addition, the more ACEs a child experiences, the more likely they will struggle in developing social emotional supports as an adult. In other words, these childhood traumas impact an adult’s level of life satisfaction and functioning. That’s bad news.

BUT…there is good news. Children can experience protective factors as well. These Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) also have an impact on our adult lives. Recent research identified 7 Positive Childhood Experiences and their impact on adult life by surveying over 6,000 men and women over the age of 18. (Read another review here.) The seven PCEs included:

  1. Having the opportunity to talk with family members about their feelings.
  2. Feeling that their family stood by them during difficult times.
  3. Enjoying participation in community traditions and activities.
  4. Feeling a sense of belonging in high school.
  5. Feeling supported by friends.
  6. Having at least two non-parent adults who take a genuine interest in them.
  7. Feeling safe and protected by an adult in their home.

An adult who had experienced 6 or 7 of these as a child had a 72% lower chance of reporting depression or other mental health concerns than someone who experienced 0 to 2 of these PCEs.   If they experienced 3 to 5 PCEs, they had a 50% lower chance of depression or other mental health concerns. In addition, those experiencing 6 or 7 PCEs reported “always” 3.53 times more often when asked about receiving social and emotional support as an adult than those who received only 0 to 2 PCEs. The most amazing discovery: the positive impact of PCE’s remained true even after accounting for Adverse Childhood Experiences.  

What’s the takeaway? Children are more likely to have better mental health, less depression, and healthier relationships in adulthood if they experience these 7 positive childhood experiences. You can build these positive experiences right into the fabric of your family.

  1. Accept the expression of feelings.  Weep with your children when they weep. Rejoice when they rejoice. Share their anger and celebrate their joys.
  2. Difficult times will arise, anything from their first broken heart to the loss of a pet to the loss of a friend from death. Stand by them. Comfort them. Let them feel your presence.
  3. Participate in community traditions. This may include community fireworks, scouting, sports, or weekly worship. Get involved.
  4. Remain involved in your child’s education. Visit the school. Volunteer to help with whatever club they join. Talk to their teachers. Do what you can to help them feel a sense of belonging in their school.
  5. Encourage your children to invite friends to your house. Have snacks available. Allow your child to take a friend on an outing. Get to know the parents of your children’s friends. Ask about your children’s friends.
  6. Get to know the adults in your child’s life and encourage their relationship with those you trust. They may connect with a coach, a family friend, an aunt or uncle, a minister. Encourage these positive connections. After all, it takes a village to raise a child.
  7. Help your child feel safe and protected in the home. The first step in this process is developing a secure, loving relationship with their other parent. Work on your marriage. Keep it strong.

Build these 7 positive childhood experiences into the fabric of your family. You’ll love the results. And your children will reap the benefits for their entire life!

Learn to Complain Well

Complaining can easily become a habit that traps us in a cycle of finding even more reasons to complain. That cycle is bad for our mood, our health, and even our brain… UNLESS we learn to complain well!

Complaining well has a different purpose and outcome than simply complaining. Simply complaining traps us in the self-perpetuating cycle of negativity that feeds negative expectations and attracts even more negative experiences. How can we complain well and break out of this cycle of complaining? Here are 3 tips to help you do just that.

First, determine what you can and cannot control. Rather than complain and worry about what lies outside your control, focus on what you can control. You cannot control what other people do or say. You can control your response to other people. You cannot control the weather. You can control how you dress for the weather. Notice, those areas we can control tend to evolve around ourselves, not others. Focus on those areas you can control and take action to make a change.

Second, practice gratitude and appreciation. Learn to view your desire to complain as a signal, a light on the dashboard of your “car of life,” that warns you of the need to “fill up” your tank with gratitude and appreciation. When the signal arises (when you feel like complaining) fill up the tank by thinking about those things you appreciate and those for which you can be grateful. Then start sharing your gratitude and appreciation.

Third, voice your complaint with a goal toward resolution. This 4-step plan can help you do this.

  1. Assess why the situation arouses your desire to complain. What value or expectation is being infringed upon? Is it a reasonable expectation?
  2. Determine what you would like instead. What action would better align with your values or expectations? Is it possible and within your control? Is it reasonable?
  3. Give a solution with an appropriate boundary. If it is possible, how can the solution be achieved? Can you enact the solution alone or do you require assistance? If the solution is not accepted, how will you respond? Are you willing and able to respond in this way?
  4. Calmly verbalize this to whoever else is involved. If there is no one else involved in the situation, simply determine what action you can and will take to remedy the aspects of the situation over which you have influence.

At first glance, this may seem more difficult than simply venting and complaining. In fact, complaining is easy. It just doesn’t do anything but make us feel worse. And, habits take intentional effort to change. Changing the habit of complaining is no different. However, changing the habit of complaining will add to your happiness and your health. Perhaps more important, it will enhance your family’s happiness and health. It will improve your relationship with your spouse. And you know that’s nothing to complain about!

To Live the Dream of Emotional Closeness

It’s like a dream, isn’t it? A family in which your spouse and your children come to you to talk about their joys and their sorrows, their accomplishments and their failures, their courageous moments and their greatest fears. But this doesn’t come easy; it doesn’t happen in our sleep. It takes work. It begins with our own willingness to risk the vulnerability of talking to our spouse and children in the same open way we hope they talk to us. That, in itself, represents a significant challenge for me. As we learn to take that risk ourselves, there are other things we can do to promote the emotional safety in our family that will encourage open communication and emotional closeness.

  • First, welcome the expression of emotion. When your child comes to you crying, accept their sorrow. When your spouse comes to you in anger about a coworker, accept their anger. Don’t try to minimize their emotion. Don’t tell them to “calm down.” Simply welcome their emotion. Accept it. Acknowledge it.
  • Second, join them in their emotion. “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” in your family. If you spouse is angry about the way a coworker was treated, be angry in the moment with them. When your child is brokenhearted after breaking up with their boyfriend of 2 months, be brokenhearted with them. They are likely overwhelmed by those emotions. They need you to share that emotion with them, to share the burden of the emotion and so make it more manageable.
  • Third, hold their emotion. This involves empathizing and “sitting” with them in the emotion, whether it be joy or pain, happiness or sadness. Join them and hold their pain with them. Let them know that you are strong enough to sit with them and their emotions. Their emotions do not overwhelm you. Instead, you can feel those emotions with them, share the pain, and so share the burden of that emotion as you manage it together.

There is a scene in the movie Shadowlands (watch it here) in which CS Lewis sits with a young boy in front of the wardrobe of the boy’s recently deceased mother and CS Lewis’s wife.  Together they talk about their doubts and their overwhelming sorrow. CS Lewis welcomes the young boy’s sorrow and doubt. He joins the young boy in his pain. He shares the burden of that emotion. Then, CS Lewis starts to cry. The young boy also starts to cry. They sit together hugging one another as they cry and grieve their loss together. They hold this emotion together. They share the pain.

It is in sharing emotion that we overcome. And, it is in sharing emotion that we grow more intimate with one another. It is in the vulnerability of sharing emotion that we draw nearer to the dream of a home in which emotional safety allows us to stand before one another to reveal our deepest selves and know we have found unconditional love and acceptance.

Good News for Parents of Children with Asthma

Northwestern University conducted a study exploring the interaction between neighborhood environmental conditions, families, and asthma symptoms in children diagnosed with asthma. Using Google Street View, the researchers took a virtual walk through each neighborhood considered to look at evidence of graffiti, abandoned cars, bars on home windows and doors, and abandoned homes. Then they interviewed the children who lived in the various communities about their family relationships, especially regarding support, trust, and conflict present in the family. Finally, they measured asthma outcomes in the children. 

They discovered that children living in neighborhoods high in danger and disorder had fewer asthma symptoms and fewer activity limitations when they had better family relationships. The children with positive family relationships also had better pulmonary functioning.  (In neighborhoods lower in danger and disorder, family relationships did not impact their asthma.)

That’s great news. Positive family relationships helped to decrease children’s symptoms of asthma. It buffered them from the impact of other negative environmental factors that might increase those symptoms (like living in a dangerous neighborhood). So, if you have a child with asthma and you want to help them manage their asthma effectively, build positive family relationships in general and a positive relationship with your child, in particular. Here are some great ways to do it.

  • Spend time in positive activities with your child. Read to them. Play games with them. Go for a walk with them. Talk with them. Develop a bedtime routine that includes time together before bed. Be creative in how you do it but spend time with your children. (Here are some Mundane Opportunities for Quality Time with your children.)
  • Keep your promises. Follow through on your word. Doing so will increase their trust in you. It will also increase their self-control (Teach Your Child the Art of Waiting).
  • Become knowledgeable of their lives. Learn about their interests. Meet their friends. Help them with schoolwork. Show interest in their hobbies. Acknowledge their strengths. Remember Parents are Students…and Guess Who the Teacher Is!
  • Acknowledge the “positives” in their life. Show gratitude for their positive actions. Thank them for doing chores (even if they’re supposed to do them). Acknowledge their efforts. Recognize their beauty. Thank them for dressing appropriately.

These four actions can help you build a positive relationship with your child. If you live in a neighborhood that presents some dangers and disorder, that relationship with help your child manage their asthma symptoms more effectively…and this treatment is free!

What Does This Mean for Your Family

Researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Cologne collaborated to explore what contributed the most to a person’s well-being:

  • Moral thoughts—thinking good things or things that benefit another,
  • Engaging in moral deeds—doing something that benefits another, or
  • Doing something kind for yourself—like relaxing or treating yourself to something nice.

Interestingly, all three things contributed to a person’s happiness and satisfaction with life. Beyond this, however, each thing made its own specific contribution as well.

  • Moral thoughts AND engaging in moral deeds increased feelings of being virtuous as well as social connection. They both led to an increase in feeling empathic, moral, and grateful for the day as well.
  • Only engaging in moral deeds contributed to people feeling less angry, less isolated, more in control, and as if they had a more purposeful life. It had the greatest impact on the greatest number of measures of well-being.
  • Doing something kind for yourself led people to feel less emotionally exhausted.

What does all this mean for you and your family? If we want healthy families, we need to root them in an environment that nurtures well-being. We need to teach our children to live a life that promotes well-being. We need to model a lifestyle that nurtures well-being in the home and in the community. We need to practice that lifestyle and the practice of that lifestyle consists of the three things: moral thoughts, engaging in moral behaviors, and doing something kind for ourselves. Think about each of those three components for a second.

  1. Thinking good things to benefit other people, people in your family and people outside your family. Ironically, in this study, most people reported that they engaged in prayer when told to think thoughts to benefit other people. Great idea. Pray for each of your family members on a regular basis. Think positive thoughts about them. For example, dwell on things you enjoy about them and admire in them. Think about those things about your family for which you are grateful.
  2. Do things that will benefit other people, people in your family and people outside your family. Do a kind deed for another person. Get them a drink. Help them complete a chore. Give a compliment. Encourage. Hold the door open. You get the idea. Do something nice for the people around you, including your family, every chance you get.
  3. Do something nice for yourself. Don’t get carried away. No need to get selfish. But we need to take care of ourselves. We need to make sure we are emotionally, physically, and mentally rested. So, do something nice for yourself every day.

All this reminds me of one of the commands given to the Israelites and buried in Leviticus. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:9-18).  Our family and our world become a better place when we love one another—thinking good thoughts about them and doing things that will benefit them. We love them better as we learn to love ourselves in a healthy way. So, I guess we better do something nice for ourselves as well. Our families will be healthier places for it. Sounds like a good plan to me. How about you?

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