Tag Archive for healthy development

Sure, Children Lie…But Parents?

It’s true. Children lie. But parents? A collaborative effort of four universities from four different countries (Singapore, Canada, US, and China) conducted a study exploring the impact of parental lies…so they must have known parents lie. I had to ask myself…what kind of lies might parents tell their children? As soon as I asked, I began to recall some lies I have heard parents tell their children. “Tell them I’m not home.” “If you don’t behave, I’ll call the police.” “Tell them I’m sick and we’ll go to the park.” “I’m too tired to play” (while working on a home project). “You aren’t tired.”

Yes, parents lie sometimes. But, when parents lie, it seems to carry dire consequences. Which brings me back to the collaborative study exploring the impact of parental lies. The clinicians involved in the study found that lying led to short-term compliance but long-term problems. Sure, the little white lie got the children to behave in the moment, but it led to negative consequences as the children grew up.  Specifically, the more a person reported being lied to as a child, the more likely they lied to their parents as they got older. They also reported greater difficulty managing various psychological and social challenges. They exhibited more disruptive behavior, conduct problems, selfish behaviors, and manipulative behaviors. They reported feeling guilt and shame more often as well.

With so many behavioral, social, and emotional challenges arising in our children from parental lies, you might want to try an alternative.

  • Acknowledge your children’s feelings and your own feelings rather than dismissing them with a lie. (“You can’t be tired.” “You have no reason to be upset.” “I’m not angry!!”) Let your children know it is ok to have various feelings. Then teach them how to respond to those feelings in an appropriate manner.
  • Give your children information. Rather than lie, explain…truthfully. Our children can learn from the truth.
  • Offer choices. No need to lie and tell them the green shirt with the hole in it is dirty when in truth you simply do not want them to wear a shirt with  hole in it. Give them the information. Explain why you do not want them to wear it. Then offer them a choice of other clothes they can wear.

How else might you avoid telling your children lies?

My Teen: A Live-in Boarder?

Anna Freud once wrote that teenagers “live in the home in the attitude of a boarder, usually a very inconsiderate one so far as the older and younger family members are concerned” (1958). This quote describes how a teenager’s developmental work of separating from the family to become an independent person is perceived by others in the home. For many parents, this often feels like a teenager abruptly withdrew from the family and now spends all their time with friends. When they do come home, they immediately sequester voluntarily into their room. Suddenly, they seem embarrassed by a parent’s presence. They appear to desire time with friends more than family. They frown, sigh, and scowl in response to family attempts at interaction but light up with a smile as soon as a friend comes into sight. But who wants a scowling boarder in the home, especially one that doesn’t make any contribution to the household? How can a parent respond to this in a way that will promote their teenager’s growth?

  • First, understand that, as frustrating as it is, this is not unusual behavior. It is normal. Teenagers are preparing to leave the security of home and enter the world of adults. The teenage years of pushing family away allows them to practice leaving before they actually do. It allows them to pretend like they live alone with the safety net of family to catch them if (and when) they make a mistake. They can practice “adulting” from the comfort and safety of home. I like Lisa Damour’s analogy that the teen years of separating from family and practicing independence are like learning to ride a bike with training wheels (found in her book, Untangled). It’s preparation for the real thing. Give them the opportunity to practice adult decisions, adult debates, and adult lifestyles while in the security of your loving and watching eye. Let them have some independence.
  • Allow them some privacy. Let their bedroom become their sanctuary. You can still set limits around technology to help them internalize healthy limits of their own. But let them have their space. Respect that space. Knock before you enter. Don’t go in uninvited.
  • Provide opportunity for increased responsibility. Let them begin to practice some adult skills. Let them contribute to the household in a meaningful way. This may require that you explain how some task or chore you ask them to complete is meaningful. For instance, you might let them wash their own clothes, feed their dog, get a job outside the house, help cook meals, run to the store for you, or volunteer to help the younger children in church. Let them have some adult responsibility. These responsibilities will have to be adjusted as your teen’s schedule changes. But, let them have some responsibility.
  • Enjoy family meals.  I know it’s difficult to get the whole family together every day for a meal. But try to get as much of the family together for a meal on as many days as you can during the week. The research suggests that dinner with one parent has the same positive effect as having dinner with two parents. The important thing is not forcing everyone to come together but getting as much of the family together as often as you can for a family meal. Aim for 5 of 7 days a week. The benefits of eating family meals (What a 10-year-old Gains Eating With Family and the benefits of The Lost Art of Family Meals) will serve as a great motivator for you to encourage family meals. 
  • Take advantage of ideal times talk with your teen. Car time is one such time. When you drive your teen to various places, let them pick the music and spend the ride talking with them about the things they enjoy—their friends, their struggles, their relationships. Another great time to connect with your teen is bedtime. Before you go to bed (or before they go to bed, whichever comes first), spend 10-20 minutes touching bases. Share about your day and listen to them share about their days. Talk about your plans for the coming days and big plans for the coming months. Make this time of connection a simple routine and you’ll be pleased with how well you connect during this time. (Learn more tips to Connect with Your Teen.)

The teen years offer the teen a time to learn how to live on their own, to discover their place in the world, and to learn to trust in their ability to navigate the world independently. What better place to practice than in the safety and comfort of their parents’ loving gaze and care?

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!

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!

Turn Sibling Fights Into Life-Long Skills

Siblings fight. It’s true. They argue. They disagree. They bicker. They have spats. No matter how you choose to say it, siblings fight. And it’s a good thing they do. Disagreeing and arguing helps our children learn important life-long skills like listening, negotiating, compromising, problem-solving, and conflict resolution. (Read Sibling Rivalry-The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly to learn more.) How you respond to their arguments can help or hinder those skills from developing.  For the sake our children, here is a four-step process you can use to help your children learn some important life-long skills.

  1. Set up the game rules ahead of time. Good disagreements involve rules that promote good communication. Set these rules up ahead of time. The rules will include things like no interrupting, no shouting, no name-calling, no insulting and listen, speak kindly, use a calm tone of voice, and be respectful. Your job as a parent is to help your children stick to the rules while disagreeing. Having simple, clear rules will help you do this. You might even write them on a piece of paper and label them “The Good Fight Rules.”
  2. Say your piece…one at a time. Let each child explain what he or she sees as the problem. They will have to take turns to do this and abide by the rules determined earlier.  You will hear two different perspectives in which your children differ about the main issue. You may discover various triggers for the disagreement as well. The children will learn how their behavior impacts others. They will learn that each person may see the world in a different way. As a parent, don’t get caught up in what sounds like irrational reasons for arguments. The goal is to help each child voice their perspective and hear their sibling’s perspective. 
  3. Consider each perspective. Help your children consider not only their own but the other person’s feelings. Label those feelings. Encourage each child to consider how their words and actions impacted their sibling’s feelings. This can help them build empathy. Let them repeat what their sibling described in step number 2. This will help them learn to listen accurately.
  4. Come up with a solution. In the first three steps your children learned to share, listen, respect, and show empathy. Now they can begin to problem-solve. You can help mediate their discussion. But, let them come up with the solution. You’ll be surprised at their creativity and insight in problem-solving.

Children can start learning this process at a surprising young age, as early as 4 or 5-years-old. So, start young. As you practice this process with your children, they will gain life-long skills by arguing with their sibling, skills that will help them in all their relationships and life situations, even as adults. So follow these tips and you can Count It All Joy When Siblings Fight….

How I Had to “Break Out” to Become a Better Parent

I am not the most emotionally expressive person in the world. Truth be told, I’m a little overwhelmed when people become very emotionally expressive. I would much rather quietly, and privately, experience emotions. My mother recalls my two-year-old self opening Christmas gifts one at a time, calmly setting each down to open the next, with very little emotional expression. My wife smiles at me sometimes because my big display of emotion consists of, “That’s cool.” I think I’ve gotten better, but….

I learned to make some adjustments to my emotional expression in response to my children. My wife and I have two beautiful daughters. Early in their lives they taught me that any emotion they experienced was to be recognized by all, including me. When they were angry, everyone knew. When they were sad, it was heartbreaking. When they were excited, the whole room vibrated with their joy. Don’t get me wrong. They are very appropriate in their emotional expression, but they did express their emotion…and I didn’t. Their emotional expression could easily overwhelm me.  And when I get overwhelmed by emotion, I shut down. John Gottman describes it as “emotional flooding” and I was drowning.

None of this is necessarily bad. They were not wrong. Nor was I. We just have different personalities. But I wanted to connect with my daughters. I wanted to “rejoice when they rejoiced” and “weep when they wept.” I wanted to connect with them and draw closer to them through their emotional experiences. My first instinct, however, was to calm it all down. “That’s exciting; but calm down a little.” “It’s not that bad. Don’t worry about it.” “Quit crying. It’s just a game.”  Anything to reduce the intensity of the emotion. And that just frustrated them and made them more emotional.

In fact, trying to “tame” another person’s emotions devalues their experience, their emotion, and their person.  It can also reinforces gender stereotypes of the non-emotional male. It sends the message that emotions are stronger than the person. It offers no support. It puts up a wall of “your-emotions-don’t-matter” and “I’m-not-strong-enough-to-handle-your-emotions” that separates the one expressing emotion from the one trying to calm the emotion. By proxy, it sends the message “I’m not strong enough to handle your emotions…or you. If can’t hand your emotion, I can’t protect you…or help you.”

To help my daughters grow and to develop a better relationship with them, I had to learn to rejoice with them and weep with them. I had to “break out” of my little emotional box to experience their emotion with them, to empathize with their emotion and so let them know emotions are normal. I had to “break out” of my comfort zone to share their emotion and let them know I value them enough to enter their world of joys, sorrows, celebrations, and fears. I had to “break out” of my fear to validate their emotions as valuable sources of information. I had to “break out” of my tendency to shut down to let them know that we, as people, are in control of our emotions. Our emotions are not in control of us.

My children taught me a lot about myself in this process. And, I had to “break out” and grow. (Parenting will do that to you.) I’m still not what people call “emotive.” Probably never will be. But, for my children’s sake, I had to “break out” of my comfort zone to connect with them and grow with them. Believe me, it was well worth the effort. I’ve learned to share in their emotions in our own way…and draw closer together in the process.

Kiss Your Spouse & Live Longer!

Kissing has a long history. For generations couples have enjoyed the “feel-good” benefits of kissing. But, did you know that for generations people have known kissing adds years to your life as well? In the late 1960’s, Dr. Szabo, a professor from the University of Kiel, collected two years of data from physicians and leading German insurance companies. From the data collected, he found that “kissing husbands” earned 20-35% more income and used less sick time than husbands who did not share a “good-bye kiss.” Ironically, not kissing one’s spouse before leaving for work was also associated with a significant increase in the possibility of a car accident. And, those who kissed their spouses before going to work in the morning lived an average of five years longer than those who did not kiss their spouse before leaving for work. 

Perhaps that sounds crazy to you. But a 2009 study noted a decrease in total cholesterol when couples increased the frequency and duration of their kissing. Dr. Szabo and his associates did not believe kissing in and of itself resulted in these outcomes. Instead, they believed it was part of a “positive attitude” that both contributed to the kissing and was enhanced by the love shared in the kiss. In other words, the strong marital bond that promotes regular kissing, and the regular kissing that enhances a stronger marital bond, helped  create a positive attitude and healthy lifestyle that promoted safety, hard work, and life longevity.

What’s the “take away”? Build a stronger marriage and add years to your life, give your spouse a great big kiss today!

“Cheat Codes” for Dads: Your Daughter’s Beauty

If you play video games, you know the value of a good “cheat code.” They help the player advance to a new level or gain a special power. They help the gamer obtain a special tool or weapon needed to succeed in the game.

If you’re a Dad of daughters, you may feel as though you need a “cheat code.” You may want inside information to help you move toward an advanced level of understanding in relation to your daughter. You probably desire a “cheat code” that will open a gateway to the special power of influencing your daughter toward maturity.  If so, I have just what you’re looking for: “cheat codes” for dads raising daughters.

Previous “cheat codes” discussed included:

Now it’s time for another “cheat code:” Acknowledge and Protect Your Daughter’s Beauty.

The Cheat Code: Acknowledge and Protect Your Daughter’s Beauty.

Purpose: When you Acknowledge and Protect Your Daughter’s Beauty, youwill…

  1. Increase your daughter’s confidence in her appearance and her overall self.
  2. Help your daughter develop positive boundaries for romantic relationships.
  3. Increase the chances that your daughter will wait to become sexually active.
  4. Increase your daughter’s modesty and appropriate self-protective behavior.

Value: Our daughters receive conflicting messages about beauty, romance, and how to “use” their body. In many ways, I think our society encourages a love/hate relationship with the body. The media teaches girls to use their bodies to get what they want while teaching them to hate that others give them what they want in response to their appearance. However, as a father you can help change this for your daughter. By Acknowledging and Protecting Your Daughter’s Beauty you teach her the true value of her body.  You teach her to value her body as a gift. As you do, you increase her overall confidence and her willingness to establish appropriate boundaries of modesty.

Instructions: Acknowledging and Protecting Your Daughter’s Beauty involves…

  1. Giving healthy hugs and affection. Share healthy physical affection every day with your daughter.
  2. Acknowledge her beauty. Tell her she is beautiful. Acknowledge times when she looks especially nice.
  3. Talk about what she wants in a romantic partner. Rather than asking, “Do you love him?” talk about what she wants in a relationship. What traits does she want her romantic partner to possess? How does she expect her romantic partner to treat her?
  4. Be a champion for modesty. Right or wrong, the way a person dresses impacts how people think of them. In a manner of speaking, a person’s style of dress becomes the packaging that advertises the content inside. Fathers can help their daughters think through what they want to say through their dress. How can their dress reveal the true nature of the content inside?
  5. Teach our daughters that the deeper value of the body is not based on external beauty but on the character they develop. The body allows us a tangible way to live out our character. The body allows us to serve, care for, and comfort as well as rejoice with, celebrate, and connect with others. 
  6. Encourage involvement in sports. This can help a girl learn the joys of a body that is active and healthy.
  7. Practice gratitude for all our body allows us to do. (Read Thank You, Body with your daughter. Print it out & give her a copy so she can read to herself as often as she wants to.)

Thank You, Body

Our society sends conflicting messages about their bodies, mixed messages that seem to develop a love/hate relationship with our bodies. As a result, a large percentage of people are dissatisfied with their bodies. Perhaps we need to change the focus from external appearance to function and character. We need to teach our children that what a body does for us is more important than appearance alone. We need to teach our children to be grateful for their body. With that in mind, I wanted to share this “body prayer” from Body Prayers: Finding Body Peace—A Journey of Self-Acceptance by Rebecca Ruggles Radcliffe (Copyright©1999 EASE). Share it with your children and let’s begin to raise a generation that appreciates their body.

Thank you hips for carrying me forward this morning.

Thank you legs for being strong enough to push on through the distance I choose to go.

Thank you feet for holding me, lifting me, supporting my every step.

Thank you ribs for sheltering my precious lungs.

Thank you lungs for taking in the sun-filled morning.

Thank you arms for embracing my life, for grabbing onto what is important to me.

Thank you face for feeling the wind and the sweetness of the day.

Thank you eyes for taking it all in, for keeping me centered, grounded, and here today.

Thank you brain for coordinating this amazing journey.

Thank you fingers for being able to stroke my child’s back, fingers, face, hair…

Thank you mouth for swallowing my morning tea.

Thank you heart for being so dedicated, so loyal, so loving.

Thank you soul for wanting so much more.

Thank you stomach for sorting out all that I put in, good and bad.

Thank you intestines for clearing out all that I do not need.

Thank you endocrine system for keeping me balanced, healthy, alive.

Thank you skin for containing me in one miraculous package.

Thank you hair for blowing free and helping me to dream.

Thank you neck for keeping all the communications in my life flowing.

Thank you womb for making me creative, life-producing, feminine, changing, growing.

Thank you teeth for enabling me to bite off what I like and growl at what I don’t.

Thank you ears for listening to the higher voice.

Thank you tongue for helping me to sing.

This is my beautiful body today and always.

Teach Your Child to NOT Take the Bait

You’ve seen it. Your teen and a friend get into a little squabble. They have a minor disagreement. Suddenly, your teen’s friend drops the bait—they make an outlandish accusation, they make some outlandish statement that will arouse unnecessary emotions, or they make an inappropriate and irritating gesture. You think to yourself, “Don’t take the bait….” But your teen takes the bait and they’re hooked. Their friend takes control of the argument while reeling in your teen. Your teen escalates to crush the bait but it’s too late. The hook is set. Self-control turns to thrashing and the whole interaction goes downhill. No one wants their children or teen to get caught in that situation. Instead, we want to teach our teens to avoid taking the bait.

Fortunately, the best way to teach our teens is by example; and, when it comes to NOT taking the bait, our teens will give us an unlimited supply of opportunities to teach them by example. What parent has not found themselves hooked by the bait their teen’s simple eyeroll, angsty accusation, or under the breath comment. Face it, our teens bait us. They try to hook us, take control of the argument, and reel us in to their net. If we take their bait, emotions escalate. Disagreements increase. We fight to maintain control. In the process, our communications decrease, our relationship suffers, and our teens learn nothing. So, teach your teen to NOT take the bait by setting a good example. Do NOT take their bait. Here are some tips to help.

  • Avoid the emotional bait. We love our teens. They will say things that arouse our fear, anger, helplessness, or sense of inadequacy. They seem skilled at it. Do NOT take the bait. Stay calm. Keep your emotions in check. Stay focused on what your teen is trying to communicate, their underlying message. If you feel yourself getting lost in the emotions your teen arouses in you, find the support of a spouse or friend to help resolve that emotional bait.
  • Avoid the bait of “taking it personal.” Our teens naturally pull away from us during their teen years. It’s normal and appropriate. In the process, they will think us “stupid” and “too old to understand.” They will roll their eyes at our “naïveté” and shrug their shoulders with an “I don’t care” attitude. They will respond with more angst and anger than they even intend. You will long for that loving, affection grade school child, but your teen is growing toward independence. Do NOT take it personal. It’s not about you. It’s part of their development. Do NOT take the bait of their teen angst and drama.
  • Avoid the “tit-for-tat” bait. Your teen may let some harsh statements fly. Do NOT take the bait. Do NOT return “tit-for-tat.” Remember, you are the stronger, more mature person. If you take this bait, you inadvertently send the message that their words are stronger than you. This creates a feeling of insecurity for them. So, don’t take it personal. Do NOT take the bait. Avoid “tit-for-tat.” Give them high regard, even when they sink to harsh statements. Show them kindness with firm boundaries, even when they say mean, irritating things. Show them how to NOT take the bait.
  • Avoid the bait of power. Our teens job is to assert their independence, their individual power to control their own lives. We still want to protect and teach, but they want to try out and learn. We want to help them solve their problem, but they want to learn to solve the problem on their own. When we take the power bait and try to teach or solve their problem for them, we often end up making a power play that pits us in a power struggle with out teen.  Do NOT get into the power struggle. Step back. Let them have age appropriate control. Ask them how they are going to solve the problem. Ask them what they want to do. Offer suggestions but let them have age appropriate power. Do NOT take the power bait.

As you can see, we get plenty of opportunities to teach our children how to NOT take the bait. Interestingly, they provide the bait for us to NOT take. So, practice well and teach them well. They’ll be glad you did.

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