A contagion may have infected your home. It spreads faster than the flu and the common cold put together. Wearing a mask, washing your hands, and getting vaccines remain ineffective against it. This contagion can spread through your family causing misery, pain, and heartache at a speed that’s nothing to sneeze at. Researchers at the University of Florida (_______ Spreads Like a Disease) identified this contagion in a series of three studies.
- In one study this contagion was caught after being in close proximity to someone who exhibited the symptoms. Once infected, the infected person’s thought life was impacted with the negative associates that led to ill-mannered and impolite behaviors.
- In a second study, simply witnessing the symptoms of this contagion led to actual infection! The infected person began to interpret other people’s behaviors in a negative light and then respond to people based on those misinterpretations. Uncivilized and insolent behaviors increased as did harsh words and snide, cynical comments.
- In a third study those interacting with the carrier became infected and, once infected, willingly sought revenge by withholding resources from the original carrier. Even more disturbing, the infected were capable of infecting others for up to a week after a single contact with the disease!
You can understand my concern. A contagion caught by simply witnessing the symptoms, lasts a full week, and effects how we think and act toward others is terrible. It’s practically a mini-zombie virus.
What exactly is this contagion? Rudeness. Rudeness has become epidemic. Twitter feuds, Facebook rants, and on-line opinion broadcasting are all symptomatic of a rudeness contagion spreading faster than the flu. Worse yet, rude behavior has found its way into our homes and our family relationships. Children are rude to parents and parents to children. Spouses spout off with rudeness toward one another. All the while, the epidemic spreads…and worsens…and destroys family relationships. But, there is a cure! We can stop this epidemic before it spreads any further. And you can insulate yourself from its insidious effects with the same intervention. That intervention comes in four parts.
- Be polite to one another. Say “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” Hold a door open for someone else. Think about your spouse and children first. Show them consideration.
- Engage in daily acts of kindness. As well as showing one another politeness, be kind. Do a chore for another family member. Offer to help. Let your spouse or child choose the activity. Bring home a special treat. Show a little kindness every day.
- It seems simple, but a smile can change the world. Smiling helps reduce stress (Smile for a Happier Family). It puts other people at ease. Smile.
- Make eye contact. A study from the University of Haifa showed that simply maintaining eye contact reduced mean behavior and rudeness (Eye Contact Quells Online Hostility). Look at the one another, especially when you speak.
The cure sounds so simple…but powerful. I’m starting right now. Will you join me?
We hear certain folk truths all the time. Three folk truths I hear for parenting are: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” “Like father, like son,” and “He’s a chip off the old block.” But a recent study published in the British Journal of Psychology (Read How Far Does the Apple Fall From the Tree for a review of the study) reveals the actual truth is more nuanced than folk wisdom suggests. In this study, researchers looked up 418 German and Swiss families to see “which parents most strongly transmitted their values to their children.” They discovered that parents who encourage AND live out prosocial values like helping, supporting and caring for others, and kindness passed on their values more effectively than those who promoted values like power, position-seeking, and achievement. Interestingly, children also adopted positive traits unrelated to kindness, like curiosity and respect for tradition, from parents who promoted caring values. The authors of the study believe parents who focus on prosocial values also exhibit greater sensitivity and caring toward their children; they “practice what they preach” so to speak. This creates a stronger bond and a stronger bond contributes to children adopting their parents’ values. In other words, children are more likely to replicate the values of an empathetic, supportive parent than one who pushes for achievement and position. Interesting, isn’t it? Adds a whole new dimension to our efforts to raise kind children while pushing them to be “number one,” undefeated, the best in the class… it just might not work.
How does this change the folk wisdom mentioned above? Perhaps we need to rewrite the saying. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree of caring, supportive families…but for the harsh, power-driven parent it may roll down the hill into who knows what.” Not quite as quick and snappy…but it does express a more complete truth.
Want to raise kinder children? Me, too! A recent study (Reading May Make Us Kinder, Students Research Into Fiction Habits and Personality Types Reveals) conducted by a post-graduate student at Kingston University suggests a simple way to do it! The study asked 123 adults their preference: reading fiction or watching TV. The same adults were tested on their interpersonal skills like considering other people’s feelings and their desire to help others. Those who preferred reading fictional stories showed greater empathy, greater consideration of other people’s needs, and a greater desire to help other people than those who preferred TV. In fact, those who preferred TV came across as less friendly and less tolerant of other people’s viewpoints. The author of the study suggests reading makes people think more deeply about characters and, as a result, develop empathic skills and kindness.
Here’s the take home message of this study for all parents. If you want to raise kinder children, children who show empathy and consideration in their desire to help others, chuck the remote and read some books. Turn off the TV and read. Read TO your child…read WITH your child…EVERYDAY. Go to the library, find books that interest your child, and read. You can take turns reading out loud to one another. Or, you can both read the same book and discuss what you’ve read. Whatever you choose, JUST READ. Did you catch the take home message for raising kinder children? Encourage your children to read.
We all want happy families. In fact, I’m implementing a 30-day family happiness challenge in my home and I’d like to invite you to join along. It really isn’t all that hard. But, it will demand doing certain things every day for 30 days. So, set the reminder on your phone, write them on a post-it and stick it on your mirror…whatever it takes to make sure you
remember each action each day. Here they are.
- Give your spouse and each child 3 hugs every day for 30 days. That’s one hug when you leave the house, one hug before bed, and one hug sometime in between. (Learn more in Becoming a Master Hugger.)
- Give your spouse and each child one genuine compliment every day for 30 days. Tell them a character trait you appreciate or something you admire about them.
- Tell your spouse and each child “thank you” for something they did every day for 30 days. This is different than the compliment. The compliment will acknowledge some character trait you admire. The “thank you” will acknowledge something they just did in the moment that day. You can say “thank you” for something as simple as passing the salt or as involved as painting the house. Whether it’s something you expect them to do all the time or a surprise, offer thanks. (Read the amazing benefits of gratitude in 7 Ways Gratitude Benefits Your Family According to Research and Why Thank Your Spouse for Doing Chores?)
- Tell your spouse and each child “I love you” every day for 30 days. I would suggest doing this in the morning and in the evening before bed, but you can pick any time you like. Just make sure to tell each one every day.
- Do one thing for your spouse and each child every day for 30 days. That’s right, do one thing for each person. It doesn’t have to be big, just do something for them. They do not even have to notice it, just do something for them. Unload the dishwasher, sweep the floor, get gas in the car, help set the table, watch a movie together, patiently help with homework, get a treat…you get the idea. Do one thing for your spouse and each child every day.
- Eat one meal together every day for 30 days. During the meals enjoy conversation. Avoid lectures and “touchy subjects.” Just talk about the day. Tell some jokes. You might even give your compliment, “thank you,” or “I love you” during the meal. (Have Fun, Eat, &…What? will show a surprising benefit of eating as a family.)
None of these activities are especially hard; but, you will find they have an amazing impact on your family. Don’t believe me? Take up the challenge. Do each one for the next 30 days…it may make a believer out of you! Either way, I’d love to know what happens so leave a note in the message below.
A research team from University of Rochester recently published an interesting study on marriage and compassion. They had 175 newlywed couples (married an average of just over 7 months) keep a two-week diary recording instances in which either spouse put aside personal wishes in order to meet their partner’s needs. These compassionate acts included meeting needs as well as actions that “expressed tenderness, showed the partner they are valued, or changed plans to accommodate their partner.” Each partner also recorded their own emotional states during the day using a standardized list of emotions. When the research team compared the diary of compassionate acts with each spouse’s emotional state, they discovered:
- The spouse on the receiving end of the compassionate act experienced an “emotional boost” when they noticed the act. However, if the spouse did not know an act of compassion had occurred (perhaps one spouse changed their plans to accommodate their partner but said nothing about the change) they did not experience an “emotional boost.”
- The spouse giving the act of compassion benefited from an “emotional boost” whether their spouse noticed the act or not. In other words, acting compassionately was beneficial to the giver whether the receiver noticed it or not.
I find it interesting that acting compassionately toward one another benefits a marriage even for newlyweds, a couple still enjoying the honeymoon of marriage. Perhaps we can all benefit by building acts of compassion into our marriage. We could even formulate a challenge based on this study—the two-week marriage improvement challenge. Here is how we’ll do it.
- Keep a two-week journal to “jump start” compassion in your marriage. For two weeks write down acts in which you or your spouse act compassionately. These acts might include:
- One spouse setting aside their personal wishes to meet the other spouse’s needs (like watching a show your spouse wants to watch instead of one you want to watch or cleaning the kitchen when you’d rather play golf),
- Expressing affection or tenderness toward your spouse (a hug, saying “I love you,” holding hands, etc.),
- Changing plans to accommodate your spouse’s plans or desires (putting down the game on your IPhone to talk or eating what your spouse likes even if it’s not your favorite),
- Showing your spouse how much you value them (a genuine compliment, a thoughtful gift, a written note expressing your love, etc.).
- At the end of the two week period, sit down and review your journals together. Recall and celebrate your love and each act of compassion.
There it is: A simple two-week marriage improvement challenge based on compassion. Won’t you join the challenge? Your marriage will thank you!
Popular culture encourages us to be kind to ourselves, give ourselves a pat on the back and reward ourselves for a job well done. While this advice may hold some merit, it will not make us happy. Quite the opposite, research reveals that being kind to others makes us happy. As the author of one study points out, “Substantial evidence suggests that what consistently makes people happy is focusing prosocially on others” ( Read One of the Best Ways to Boost Your Mood Revealed by Psychologists for more). When we perform acts of kindness to others, we feel greater joy, contentment, and love. We also nurture positive social relationships. So, if you REALLY want HAPPY kids, teach them to be kind to others!
- Model kindness in your relationship to them and to others, in both word and deed.
- Perform kind deeds as a family. Bake cookies for a friend. Volunteer to feed the homeless. Help mow the grass for an elderly neighbor. Be creative in your kindness.
- Provide opportunities for your children to do kind deeds for others. For example, encourage them to hold the door open for others, carry someone’s tray in the cafeteria, offer a word of encouragement, bring a sibling a drink, or any other act of kindness that arises in everyday life.
Practicing these three tips will help create an environment of kindness in your home and promote more kindness in your family. That’s good because kind kids are happy kids.
Cornell University recently completed an interesting study about the “evolutionary advantage” of a positive attitude. They were able to simulate 40 generations of people while looking at the impact of attitude on survival. (Read a review here.) The results suggested that those who survived for multiple generations:
- Attached more importance to long-term happiness than to momentary happiness,
- Remembered past happiness for longer periods of time, and
- Attached greater meaning and importance to the upswings in their situation than the downswings.
You may be thinking, “But I’m not an evolutionist. I believe in creation.” That’s OK…so do I. One might interpret these results to suggest we were created to live longer and more successfully when we do the same three things listed above. Said in a slightly different way, those who “survived”:
- Attached more importance to the eternal than the temporal,
- Remembered past blessings and kept them in mind each day, and
- Attached greater meaning and importance to times of blessing than the actual struggle itself.
Let me make this a little more personal though. I mean, it’s kind of hard to think about 40 generations. Let’s narrow it down a bit. If we create a family environment that promotes these three actions, our children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren can learn to be happier, more successful, and “survivors.” How do we promote these three actions in our families? Here are a couple of ways.
- Develop an environment of gratitude in your family by thanking one another often.
- Tell family stories of joyful events and successes, funny experiences and surprise blessings.
- Tell family stories of how persistence and effort in times of struggles led to positive learnings or other positive results.
- Practice showing kindness to others as a family.
- Promote rituals of celebration. Mark your family values and happy events with celebration.
- Find ways to experience awe as a family. Watch the sunset. Listen to a concert. Visit a cathedral or the Grand Canyon. Experience awe as a family.
- Make prayer and worship a part of your family life.
A new year has begun. I’m glad. I am tired of the hassle, the bureaucracy, the constant barrage of sensational seeking in the news. I want to shed the heaviness of stress and feel the lightness of joy. So, I’ve decided to start an epidemic in my family. That’s right. I want to become ground zero for sending cheerfulness viral this year, starting right here in my own home with my own family. Perhaps you will join this epidemic to spread cheer and joy in your family and, from there, into the world around us. Here are some ways I plan to spread cheer this year.
Emoticon with big toothy smile
Smile. I am going to find reasons to smile. When I don’t feel like smiling, I will intentionally smile. I will smile at my spouse when she walks into the room. I will smile at my children every chance I get. I will smile at the clerk who rings up my groceries and even the person who cuts me off in traffic. I will smile because I’m happy to be alive. Smiling brings joy to the one smiling and the one who sees the smile. (Read On Safari for the Elusive Smile for more benefits of smiling.)
- Laugh. Yes, I want to laugh. I will seek out jokes to make my whole family laugh. I will laugh at myself. I may even tell more dad jokes (learn about The Power of the Dad Joke) to create more “rolling eye laughter” among my family. A good hearty laugh is good for us. It will reduce stress and draw our families closer together. (More in Laughter is No Laughing Matter)
- Show kindness. Nothing increases cheer and joy more than sharing a kind deed or being the recipient of an unexpected, kind deed. So, this year I will make it a point to show kindness to others. I will hold doors open for my family and the stranger behind us. I will give away the last cookie and let my spouse control the remote—in a real blast of kindness I will even let my children control the remote. I will wash dishes and do other chores around the house. I will seek out ways to help my neighbors. Cheerfulness and joy will ride into our lives on acts of kindness; I’m seeking ways to remain on kindness the whole way into the lives of all those I meet. (Click here to learn about The Mighty Power of Kindness and 8 Ways to Teach Children to be Kind.)
- Express gratitude. In the midst of our abundance, we sometimes lose sight of how richly our families are blessed. We neglect to offer thanks and become burdened with the weight of ungratefulness and even entitlement. This year I will combat that sense of entitlement and say “thanks” to those who wait on my table at a restaurant or ring up my drink at the gas station. I will thank those who teach my children. I will thank my children and my spouse for all they do. I will become known as “the guy who always says thank you.” Wouldn’t you like to know that guy? Wouldn’t you be glad to help that guy? I would. This year, I’m going to “be that guy!” How about you? (Learn about more benefits of Intentional Gratitude in this short blog.)
- Practice acceptance. This may prove one of the hardest behaviors in my search for cheer this year. In the words of the serenity prayer, “I will accept the things I cannot change.” Bureaucracy will continue to mount its assault. Hassles will remain countless. Stressors will constantly arise. But, I will accept these impingements on my joy as reminders of what I have. The hassle of being caught in traffic reveals the blessing of owning a car. The bureaucracy that raises the cost of nearly everything reminds me that I have employment and income and opportunities. The stress of paying bills reminds me of the abundant material blessing I have—running water, TV, internet, heat, air conditioning, transportation, etc.—that many in the world are forced to live without. Which brings me to the final way I will spread cheer this year…
- Practice generosity. Our families truly are blessed. Unfortunately, those blessings sometimes enslave us and we begin to hoard the blessings. This year I will “break out of the hoard” and share…generously…as abundantly as possible. There is joy in giving, great joy. In fact, an ancient writer tells us that Jesus even said, “It is more blessed to give than receive.” Your act of generosity may even get paid forward in another act of generosity, creating a rippling effect from ground zero in the epidemic of cheerfulness (read about a way to Pay It Forward here).
I’m starting this year…ground zero for an epidemic of cheerfulness and joy. I’m making it a point to spread cheer in my family and beyond. The world MAY BE a better place for it; but my family and I WILL BE a happier people because of it. Will you make your family a happier people?
I grew up in the 1970’s, which some refer to as the “Me Generation.” In 2013, Time Magazine referred to the millennials as the “Me Me Me Generation” (read more here), noting “they are narcissistic, overconfident, entitled and lazy, but they just might be new Greatest Generation” (read here). It seems a sense of entitlement and narcissism may have increased over the last forty years. Perhaps we need to change our parenting style to avoid producing a “Me-to-the-4th Generation.” Parents help create narcissistic, self-involved children by overvaluing their children—claiming they have special knowledge, protecting them from consequences, and treating them as though the world revolves around them. You can read The Making of a Narcissist to learn an alternative that will help create grateful children instead.
A recent study of 591 adolescents (published in May, 2015) explored the connection between violence and narcissism. This 3-year longitudinal study confirmed that parenting style influences how children think about themselves and the world around them. Specifically, a parenting style characterized by lack of warmth in the first year of the study was associated with narcissistic patterns of thought by the second year of the study. In other words, a distant relationship between adolescents and their parents led adolescents to think of themselves as entitled. This lack of warmth also led to patterns of thought in which the adolescent expected disconnection and rejection. These adolescents then lived out the self-entitled thoughts and fears of rejection. Such patterns of thought even led to an increase in violence toward parents by the third year.
So how can we avoid raising narcissistic children and adolescents? Based on these studies, here are four ways.
- Develop a warm, intimate relationship with your children. This will require time. Make the time to play games with your children. Share activities with your children. Eat meals with your children. Talk with them about their day and their lives. Learn about their interests and engage them in related activities.
- Develop a consistent and predictable home life. Make the expectations clear and the consequences of misbehavior known. Let your children experience the consequences of their own decisions and actions. Don’t bail them out when they make simple mistakes. Let them learn from the negative consequences of those mistakes. And, let them enjoy the positive feelings associated with accomplishments resulting from hard work.
- Accept that your children are not perfect. All children make mistakes. All children misbehave. No matter how talented, how intelligent, and how friendly, all children have limitations. Teach your children that they do not know everything. Teach them to celebrate the accomplishments of others and their talents. Teach them to accept advice from coaches, mentors, and other adults. You can begin to teach these skills by modeling them in your own life.
- Encourage your children to be polite to others. Rather than “looking out for myself” a polite person “looks out for the other guy.” When we teach our children to “look out for the other guy” they will learn to hold the door open for others, let another person go ahead of them in line, say thank you, and learn that it is “my pleasure” to help the “other guy.” Politeness is a far cry from entitled narcissist.
Let’s begin raising a generation of grateful people instead of the next “Me Generation.” Let’s begin today!
All parents want to raise children with a strong sense of right and wrong. However, most parents don’t realize how early—surprisingly early—this moral behavior and thought begins. Jean Decety from the University of Chicago (and his associate, Jason Cowell) demonstrated that parents influence their children’s moral development as early as one year old! He showed a group of 73 toddlers (12-24 months old) two types of animated videos: one in which characters engaged in helping and sharing or one in which characters exhibited pushing, tripping, and shoving behavior. At the same time, they measured the toddlers’ eye movement (gaze) and brain waves. Afterwards, the researchers offered the toddlers a choice of two toys: one representing the “good” animated character or one representing the “bad” character.
What did they discover? First, toddlers looked at and tracked the “good,” pro-social characters longer. They showed more interest in the characters who exhibited positive moral actions. In addition, toddlers experienced different brain wave patterns when witnessing the prosocial behavior and the antisocial behavior. But, these differences did not impact which toy the toddler chose. There was one factor that differentiated which toy the child reached for, regardless of the length of their gaze at the “good” character or the difference in the brain wave patterns associated with the prosocial/antisocial behavior. An additional distinct brain wave pattern was associated with which toy was chosen. This additional brain wave occurred just after the toddler witnessed the behavior of the animated character and it differentiated which toy the child chose.
Now for the really interesting part! The researchers discovered what may have contributed to that distinct brain wave pattern after reviewing questionnaires completed by parents prior to the research. These questionnaires measured parental values around empathy, justice, and fairness as well as their child’s temperament and demographics. Parental sensitivity to justice distinguished toddlers’ who reached for the “good character” toy from those who reached for the “bad character” toy! In other words, the parents’ values around justice impacted how their children’s brains work and whether their 12-24 month old reached out for the prosocial or antisocial character.
The researchers also gave the toddlers opportunities to share their toys in this experiment. This time, the parents’ ability to take someone else’s perspective influenced their children’s willingness to share, even at 12-24 months of age! So, if you want to raise children with a strong sense of right and wrong, children sensitive to justice, and children willing to share, begin early by:
- Cultivating your own sense of justice. Discipline fairly. Do not practice the “Do as I say not as I do” mentality. Instead, set the example of living and accept the just consequences for your behavior. Apologize and ask forgiveness when you make a mistake. Give just rewards for appropriate behavior (which can be as simple as a polite “thankyou” or “I appreciate your help.”). Talk about justice in the community. Read stories together that reveal justice. Cultivate justice in your life.
- Practice taking other people’s perspective before reacting to them. Put yourself in your spouse’s shoes, your children’s shoes, your neighbors’ shoes and consider the situation from their perspective. Think and talk about the perspective the store clerk, the police officers, or the teacher.
These simple practices will help you raise moral children…and help create a more moral world for your grandchildren.