Tag Archive for listening

Motivating Our Children

Have you ever wondered how to motivate your children? They could have better grades but they just don’t hand in their homework or study? They could accomplish so much more but they just seem to “lack motivation”? Researchers at the University of Michigan recently published a study that might just help. In a series of three studies, they explored how positive relationships impact motivation. They discovered that even a brief reminder of a “supportive other” increases motivation for personal growth, even in the face of challenges. The participants who reported actually having supportive relationships showed a greater willingness to accept challenges that promoted personal growth. They also reported feeling more self-confidence (Read For a better ‘I,’ there needs to be a supportive ‘we’ for more on the study). In terms of parenting, having a supportive relationship with your children will help increase our children’s motivation. I’m not suggesting that a supportive relationship will end all motivational woes. It will not result in your children suddenly becoming perfectly motivated to complete every chore and homework assignment given.  However, a positive supportive, relationship with your children will increase their motivation. A positive, supportive relationship with your children will increase the chances of them doing the chores more readily and even completing their homework. The question is: How do we develop and communicate a positive, supportive relationship with our children? I’m glad you (well…I) asked.

  1. Remain available. Our children know we are available when we engage them regularly. We communicate our availability by remaining open to interactions with them, putting aside our own agenda and responding to their direct, indirect, or even awkward attempts to engage us. Let your actions express your belief that being available to your children is more important than the game, your book, the paperwork, or whatever other distraction might pull you away from your children in the moment.
  2. Accept your children. Our children feel supported when they know we accept them whether they succeed or fail, experience joys or fears. They know we accept them when we acknowledge rather than criticize their efforts. They know we accept them when we acknowledge and allow for differences in taste and preferences. And, knowing they find acceptance in us they feel supported by us.
  3. Listen. Our children feel supported when they feel heard. This requires us to listen beyond mere words. We must listen with our ears to hear the words, our mind to understand their intent, and our hearts to understand their emotions. Then, our actions need to communicate our willingness to let their ideas and beliefs influence us. When we listen in this manner, our children know they have found acceptance and a supportive parent.
  4. Encourage. We communicate support through sincere encouragement. Sincere encouragement does not offer false praise. Our children abhor false praise. Nor does sincere encouragement manipulate. It is not offered to push our children in a particular direction or toward some action. Instead, we encourage our children by recognizing their inner dream and promoting it. We encourage them by acknowledging their effort and resulting progress.
  5. Offer honest, gentle correction. Children recognize honest, gentle correction as supportive. They benefit from a supportive parent who lovingly “nudges” them to grow, mature, and become a person of honor. Honest, gentle correction avoids screaming, name-calling, and belittling comments. Instead, it offers clear limits, consistent consequences, and loving correction. Gentle correction teaches from a foundation of love, communicating a value in our children.

These five actions can help our children feel supported. This will translate into a healthier sense of self-confidence and greater motivation to engage in behaviors that promote their own positive growth.

Down the Rabbit Hole of Cooperation

Sometimes I am impressed and amazed by the simplest things. For instance, a study on children swinging together recently sent me on a journey down the rabbit hole of cooperation. Let me explain. The University of Washington released a study in which they randomly assigned pairs of four-year-old children (who did not know one another) into one of three groups: in the first group pairs swung in synchrony with one another, in the second group pairs swung “out of synch” with each other, or in the third they didn’t even get to swing (I don’t want to be in that group!). Then, the four-year-old children engaged in a series of tasks to evaluate cooperation. The swinging four-year-olds who swung in synchrony cooperated more than those who swung “out of synch” and those who didn’t swing at all. They “strategized” more often, communicated more effectively, and completed the tasks more quickly. (Read about the study here). With this simple study I embarked on a brief journey down a rabbit hole in search of more information on influencing cooperation. I found:

  1. Joint music-making leads to spontaneous cooperation and increased “helping” behaviors. (Read more here).
  2. Moving in synchrony with an experimenter led infants to be more cooperative with that experimenter (Read more here).

My run down the rabbit hole continued, but you get the idea: engaging in synchronous behavior (moving together, making music together) leads to greater cooperation. So, do you want more cooperative children? Swing in synchrony with them. Dance together. Go for a walk and walk the same cadence…”left, right, left, right, left.” Sing together—the same song in the same key of course. Have fun…together…at the same pace. The result? Children who are more likely to cooperate with you! Now that is worth the fun!

“One Plus Eleven” Ways to Improve Your Family Life

Do you want to decrease arguing and conflict in your family? How about increasing intimacy? Would you like to increase the amount of influence you have with your spouse and children? Here is a single action that can do all that and more: listen! That’s right. listen1Listening to your spouse and children will decrease arguing, increase intimacy, and increase your influence. But, to get the benefits you have to “really” listen, not just “fake it.” You can tell the difference between “faking it” and “really” listening with these eleven tips.

  • You know you’re “faking it” when you are thinking about your response or rebuttal while your spouse/child talks.
  • You know you’re merely “faking it” when you find yourself thinking about points your spouse/child has gotten wrong, misquoted, or misunderstood.
  • You are still “faking it” when you think about ways of defending yourself and your actions while your spouse/child speaks.
  • You are “faking it” when you find yourself looking around the room and not making eye contact with your spouse/children as they speak.
  • You are “faking it” when you review accusations against your spouse/child even as they speak.
  • You are “faking it” when you check your phone or look at your texts during your conversation with your spouse/child.
  • You are “really listening” when you make appropriate eye contact with your spouse or children as they speak.
  • You are “really listening” when you ask questions to clarify and better understand your spouse’s/children’s intent, motives, desires, and emotions.
  • You are “really listening” when can restate your spouse’s/children’s message and they agree with you completely.
  • You are “really listening” when you can identify the emotion behind what your spouse or child is saying and they agree with your label.
  • You are “really listening” when you accept responsibility for your own actions and the impact your spouse/child say those actions had on them.

As you can see, listening takes some effort. It means becoming humble enough to care more about understanding than being understood; humble enough to invest more energy in understanding your spouse than you invest in making them understand you. I offer you a challenge. Practice “really listening” for the next month and see if your family life does not improve. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

The Mighty Power of the Pause

I have a friend who likes to ask about my holidays. I especially remember his question about Thanksgiving. Rather than saying “How was your Thanksgiving turkey?” he places a strategic pause in the question to make it “How was your Thanksgiving, Turkey?” That one minor pause changes the whole character and meaning of the question. The pause has the power to create humor…or subtly insult the listener. We must use it with caution in our family conversations to avoid insulting one another.

Closeup portrait, young, happy, smiling woman showing time out gesture with hands, isolated yellow background. Positive human emotions, facial expressions, feelings, body language, reaction, attitude

A slightly different scenario plays out with my wife and me on occasion. The other day, for example, she said, “I hate that. Can’t you change?” I was stymied. My mind began to race through the current conversation and the previous two days. What did I do? What does she want me to change? Why am I the one who always has to change anyway? What about…?  Suddenly, she interrupted my racing thoughts by finishing her question with the words “…the TV channel?” Oh, relief flowed through my body as I realized she didn’t like the TV show coming on and she wanted me to change the channel. An ill-placed pause left room for my insecurities and racing mind to jump to the wrong conclusions. The pause has the subtle power to create misunderstandings.

Just the other day I had another experience with the power of the pause…a slightly different experience. My wife and I were talking about my daughter moving in to an apartment with her friends. I was faced with a difficult choice: take an unpaid vacation to help her or let her and my wife handle it alone so I could work. I wanted to help my daughter but finances are tight. Frustration gave intensity to my voice. I’m sure I sounded angry and my wife most likely felt my anger pointed toward her. In a moment of wisdom, I sat back and quit talking. In the pause of that silence I could take a breath and collect my thoughts. “I want to be there for our daughter,” I said. My wife replied, “You’re going to miss her aren’t you?” It was true. A pause, my silence and my wife’s willingness to wait through that silence, brought clarity to our conversation and my emotions. It allowed us to understand and connect. It brought us closer. Yes, the pause has great power for good as well. The pause allows for the building of intimacy and understanding.

The power of the pause can result in pain or joy. It has the power to disconnect or build greater intimacy. Be aware of the mighty power of the pause…and use it wisely!

A Back Door to Your Child’s Heart

Have you ever watched your children do something and thought, “What in the world are they thinking?” I have—like the time my daughter wrote herself a note to get out of gym class…in first grade…with a crayon…and signed her own name. For the sake of full disclosure, my parents likely thought the same thing of me. Like the time I drilled a hole in the bottom of their washtub and cut the bristles off a broom to make a washtub bass (it did work, by the way). If you have ever had an experience like these and thought, “What in the world…” then you can benefit from this back door to your child’s heart.

Illustrationen, Icons

The back door to your child’s heart begins with your emotional response to his actions and words. When you feel frustrated, annoyed, angry, or proud of your child, you have just located the back door. Now don’t throw the door open and start to vent, gush, or lecture. Enter with caution and love. On the other side of your emotion (the back door) lies your child’s heart; so step back a moment, take a breath, and consider the door. Look beyond your emotion to what that emotion may be telling you. Let me give you a few examples of what your emotion may be telling you about your child.

  • If you feel annoyed with your child’s irritating behavior, he may be craving your loving attention. Give him a little time and attention.
  • If you feel frustrated with your child because he does not appear to listen, he may need to be heard himself. Take time to listen carefully and assure he feels understood by you. After he knows you understand him, he may listen more carefully to you.
  • If you feel defensive or if you feel a deep desire to justify your decision, your child may need you to appreciate his point of view. Try reflecting on his explanation of the current situation. Discuss it before offering your own.
  • If you feel provoked by your child, as though he is questioning your authority, he may need you to let him practice some independent decision making and experience the consequences of his own mistakes.
  • If you feel helpless in the face of your child’s behavior, he may need to feel empowered. Take time to discuss what he believes will result from his actions and review his responsibility for his choices.

 

In other words, your emotion may actually tell you what your child is experiencing in his heart and mind. Your emotion can teach you what your child needs. It is the back door to his heart. As you begin to show empathy for the deeper emotions that lie beneath his actions and help him explore what seems to be happening in his heart, he may open up. You may find yourself discussing the “why’s,” intentions, and motivations of his behavior as well as his deeper desires. When all is said and done, you will have a better understanding of “what in the world was he thinking.” More importantly, your child will feel heard, valued, and appreciated by you. He will have a greater understanding of his own inner world, which will help him practice self-control and make wiser decisions in the future. Your intimacy with your child will increase. And, he is more likely to listen to you. All these benefits begin when you pause a moment at the back door to his heart and consider what is on the other side (his heart) before rushing in. Rather than burst through with lectures, explanations, and yelling, open the door with gentle curiosity and begin to explore what is on the other side. From your emotional experience to his, you will share an intimate moment…and everyone will grow.

Prime Your Children for Success

Many skills can boost your children’s success, but the ability to communicate well is one of the most important. Effective communication will boost your children’s chance of success in personal life and vocational life.

  • couple talking with can telephoneClear communication will enable your children to effectively express their needs and ideas.
  • Effective communication will empower your children to manage their emotions, harnessing the energy of emotion to work toward a goal they can clearly express.
  • Effective communication involves listening. Good listeners gain a better understanding of other people’s needs and ideas. They respond to those needs and ideas in a practical and useful manner. This decreases conflict.
  • Effective communicators listen in a way that builds relationship and leads to greater intimacy.
  • Effective communicators learn better. They listen well and know how to clearly and politely ask for clarification when needed.

 

Knowing effective communication is essential to your children’s success is one thing; but, how can we teach them to listen well and express thoughts clearly? As with most skills we want our children to learn, the most efficient way to teach them is through every day activities and games. Let me share some examples.

  • The next time you take your children to the park or a local ice cream shop, let them give you the directions to your destination. Follow their directions to the letter, encouraging them to clarify as needed.
  • Play telephone. You know the game. Everyone stands in a circle. The first person whispers a message into the ear of another person, who whispers it in the ear of the next person, and so on around the circle until the message is whispered one final time into the ear of the person who started the process. Will the message remain the same? Depends on how well we listen and how clearly we repeat a message.
  • Simon Says is another game that promotes good listening.
  • Take turns telling stories during dinner. You can tell stories about “a day in our life” or share stories you have read, watched on TV, or heard from others.
  • Play games based on the development and acting out of stories. Playing dolls, dress up, teacher, princess, or mom offer wonderful opportunities to develop communication skills. Encouraging your children to put on a play is another example of activities with a strong theme of communication.
  • Allow your children to blindfold you and your spouse. After you are sufficiently blindfolded, they can give each of you a bowl of ice cream. Then, your children can verbally direct you in feeding one another. You might want to start with something less messy…like popcorn.
  • Encourage your child to speak politely and clearly when ordering in a restaurant. This includes making good eye contact and enunciating while remaining polite.
  • Role play approaching a clerk or teacher with a concern or complaint. You play the clerk or teacher and coach your children in voicing their concern and complaint. Then, accompany them to meet with this person. Let them do the speaking. Your presence merely offers support.

 

As you can see, these ideas represent every day activities and games. I’ve listed only a few ideas; I’m sure you can think of many more. When you do these activities, you will have fun learning to communicate. You will have provided your child with practical experience in effective communication. You have primed them for success.

How to Get Fired As A Parent

Are you tired of being in the role of parent? Tired of all the decisions, responsibilities, and demands? Well, if you are tired of your role as parent, I have a plan to get you fired! That’s right—you can get fired from your role as a parent with one easy step. One step and you will have no influence with your child. One step and your child will just quit listening to you and start arguing, even rebelling. Here it easy, the one step to get you fired as a parent: 

 

Intrude into your child’s life. Make every decision for them. Communicate, directly and indirectly, all your doubts about their ability to make any kind of good decision on their own. Force your wise choices on them. If they want an orange, demand that they really want an apple. Remind them that you know what they need better than they do. If they want to hold to some crazy idea like “rap is the best music,” hassle them until they finally submit to your desired beliefs (after all, they are the right ones). Lecture them until you convince them of the wisdom and soundness of your ideas. As you put this step into action, you will get lots of practice. The more you hassle, lecture, intrude, and make every decision for your child, the more your child will rebel and do the opposite. Fortunately, their rebellion will simply allow you more opportunity to practice hassling, lecturing, and intruding. Before you know it your child will fire you. It will happen before you know…well, without you even knowing it happened. You will be so caught up in hassling, lecturing, and intruding that you won’t even realize you’ve been fired. You’ll be expending all sorts of energy on a child who has already fired you.

 

Of course, if you would rather not get fired as a parent…if you would rather have a positive influence in your child’s life…try practicing acceptance and listening. Accept that your child may have different ideas than you. Sometimes those ideas differ because they are children…they are simply the ideas of a young and less mature person. Allow them the freedom to discuss those ideas with you. Listen to their ideas. Become curious about their ideas. Explore how they came to have that idea. Help them think about the idea and help them follow it to a logical conclusion. Accepting and listening will give them the opportunity and freedom to mature and grow.

 

Sometimes your child may express an opposing idea simply to establish their own identity. They want to prove they are their own person; and, they do so by disagreeing with you. Accept their ideas and listen. Become curious about their ideas. You can still voice your disagreement. But allow them the freedom to disagree with you by voicing your disagreement politely and calmly. They will listen more readily to your explanation for your own belief when you remain polite and calm. By accepting that they may believe differently than you, you allow them the freedom to explore both ideas—your idea and their idea—rather than simply defending their own.  As they explore both ideas, they will mature and grow.

 

Whatever the reason for their disagreement, you keep your role as parent by accepting and listening. Your credibility grows steadily stronger, your authority becomes more secure, and your influence grows more compelling as you accept and listen to your child. Sure, you will still have to discipline…and when you do discipline your child will get upset. However, when they know that you also accept them and listen to them, they will become more responsive to your role as a parent…and more open to your ideas. And that is worth all the effort!

How to Win the Parent-Child Conflict

When parent-child conflicts arise (and they will!), it does no good if the child always wins and gets his way. The conflict is really not resolved if the parent pulls rank, asserts parental power, and enforces parental wishes either. Just consider how you managed your parents pulling rank and using power to make you do what they wanted. Most children resist, defy, resent, blame or lie. Children in this situation may also retaliate, court the favor of one parent over the other, become fearful of  trying anything new, grow insecure in their own ability and seek constant reassurance, or form alliances with siblings against the parents. None of these help children learn, grow, or mature. So, what can a parent do to resolve a conflict and help their child grow during parent-child conflicts arise? I’m glad you asked.

First, realize that most parent-child conflicts arise out of a conflict of needs. Both the parent and the child have a need they want to satisfy…and they clash! Begin a healthy resolution of the conflict by accepting that your child has a legitimate need. Respect their desire to have that need met in an appropriate way. Modeling respect and honor for your child’s needs will establish the foundation for the next steps in resolving the parent-child conflict…and, it increases the likelihood that your child will listen to, honor, and respect your needs as well.   

Second, take time to discuss the conflict with your child. Set aside enough time to discuss each of your needs as well as mutually acceptable ways to meet those needs. Having this type of discussion does more than offer an opportunity to resolve the conflict. This discussion also helps your child develop thinking and problem-solving skills. It can also lead to better solutions; and, since your child has had input and an investment of time in devising the solution, it may also lead to greater motivation from your child to comply with the solution. To have an effective conflict discussion with your child, you will need the time to cover these 6 steps:

      1.    Identify and define the problem. This will involve defining the parents’ needs and the child’s needs. We often need to differentiate needs from requests. For instance, “I need my own room” is more of a request than a need. You can ask what this request will “do for you” to get at the deeper need.  Listen closely and attentively to understand your child’s needs. The goal of this step is to clearly state the problem and each person’s needs in a manner that both parent and child can agree upon and understand.


2.   Generate possible solutions. Come up with as many solutions to the problem as you can. Do not evaluate, judge or belittle any ideas. Simple accept the ideas as they arise. Make sure each person contributes to the possible solutions.


3.   Evaluate the alternative solutions. Now you can consider each of the solutions from step 2 and evaluate each one. Which ones look best? Which will produce positive results for parent and child? Which are acceptable to each person involved? What are the possible negative results?


4.   Decide on the best solution. Based on the evaluations of step 3, agree on a solution to “try out.” Remember, the solution is not a rigid permanent requirement set in stone but a flexible dynamic process; you can always try the solution out and modify it as needed. Before moving to step 5, clarify that each person is willing to make a commitment to carry out the agreed upon solution.


5.   Implement the solution. This step will most likely include a clarification of how you will implement the solution. Who does what? When? How often? To what standard? Again, remember that these specifics can be modified as needed.


6.   Evaluate. After implementing the solution for a short time, check back to evaluate its effectiveness. Are both the child’s and the parent’s needs met? Do you need to tweak the solution to make it more effective? Now is the time to do it.

You may think this process seems time consuming; but, it is not as time consuming as forcing a solution that you then have to enforce, remind, nag, and push. This process brings greater compliance, so less reminding, nagging, and pushing. Of course, this process will not work with every situation (what does?). However, when parents practice this method as often as they can, their children cooperate more, trust grows, conflict declines, and children’s problem solving skills increase. Really, isn’t that worth the time?

Who Should Win the Battle: Parent or Child?

It is inevitable. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true. No matter how wonderful your parenting skills, the time will come when you and your child have a disagreement. You will expect your child to complete a chore and they will not want to. You will want them home by curfew and they will want to stay out later. You will want them to smile and have fun; they will be miserable and cold. It’s going to happen…no doubt about it! The important factor at this moment of conflict becomes how you resolve the conflict. In fact, allowing a child to experience conflict and learn how to cope with it allows them to learn and grow. After all, they will experience conflict throughout life. Where better to learn the best way to resolve conflict than at home with someone who loves them? Unfortunately, many parents see this moment of conflict as an “either-or” scenario—either the parent must win or the child wins. Conflict becomes a win-lose scenario. Consider the outcome of these two extremes.

 

If the parent must win then the parent must announce the solution. The child’s input does not matter. The parent knows best; the parent determines the solution; and, the parent tells the child what to do. The child does not have to like it; he just has to do it! If the child does not like the solution, the parent will try to persuade them to do it. If that does not work, the parent simply asserts their power and authority to tell the child to do it. Unfortunately, the parent only has so much power. The child, who often lacks the motivation to actually invest in his parent’s solution, dooms it to failure. If he undermines the solution, the parent has to nag and persuade. And, the parent will find it difficult to enforce the decision in light of the child’s sabotaging efforts. Or, the child may simply comply out of fear of punishment and never internalizes the seed of true self-discipline. Perhaps most detrimental, the relationship is undermined and resentment begins to replace love and affection.

 

If the parent lets the child win they have given up any authority they might have. The child begins to lose respect for authority in general and just “does what he wants.” Young children learn to throw tantrums to get what they want, overpowering their parent’s will and energy with the intense emotion of the tantrum. As they grow older, they learn to use yelling, pouting, crying, or accusing to get their way…just like they did with tantrums as a child. A child in a permissive household may also learn to use guilt to persuade his parents to give in. Unfortunately, this child does not develop internal controls. He can become self-centered, selfish, and demanding. He will likely experience difficult peer relationships because he believes his needs are more important than the needs of others. At the same time, this child will often feel insecure about his parents love. Parents will find this child unmanageable and impulsive. They might become resentful, irritated, and angry toward the child. And, once again, the relationship is compromised.

So, if the parent winning does not work and the child winning does not work, what can a parent do? Good question. The answer requires a different paradigm of conflict resolution, power, and parenting, a paradigm different than the win-lose paradigm so often exalted in our society…but, I fear I have run out of time. So, I will explore a different paradigm in my next blog. Stay tuned to the “same bat station, same bat time”…well, you know what I mean. See you next week.

Open the Door for Change

I had the opportunity to attend a conference focused on attachment relationships this weekend. One workshop reviewed how we encourage growth and change in other people. I realized how much this information applied to our parental role of promoting growth and maturity in our children. So, I wanted to share this process for opening the doors to change for our children. It is not a simple “3-step-plan” to reach 100% compliance from your children. In fact, maturing children do not always comply with their parents. However, this process will open the door for our children to grow and mature, sometimes in unexpected and surprising ways.

 

Opening the door for our children to change begins with looking at them. Yes, look at them…look at their appearance, their intellect, their humor, their world, their fears, their interests…. I know it sounds strange, but how often do we truly look at our children? I know I have had the experience of suddenly seeing my children and thinking, “Man, they are so grown up…when did that happen?” or hearing a comment come out of their mouth and thinking, “Wow, they are getting smart!” If we do not look at our children on a consistent basis, we will miss their growing maturity. We will think of them as that bright-eyed, adoring child we had so much fun with. So, take a look at your children. Notice how much they have grown. Recognize their interests and how those interests have changed and developed over time. Observe their changing friendships as well as their social interactions with peers in general, teachers, and other adults.

 

Make eye contact with your children as often as you can. Value them, and your relationship with them, enough to stop what you are doing and look into their eyes when they talk to you. Turn off the TV, put down the IPhone, forget about work, and focus on your interaction with your children. Watch for the sparkle of excitement in their eyes when they tell you about an exciting experience. Notice the tears of frustration that well up in their eyes when they talk about a fight with a friend. Recognize the fire in their eyes when they report an injustice done to a friend. Give them the gift of being valued enough to have your total attention…and eye to eye contact.

 

Finally, make sure your responses and interactions with your children remain contingent on their need. If they come to you looking for someone to listen, listen rather than teach. If they want to joke around, joke around rather than expounding on the virtues of taking life seriously. When they express sorrow, anger, or fear, accept their emotion. Respond to their emotion rather than trying to talk them out of it or minimize it. In other words, remain aware of their emotions, needs, and desires so you can respond sensitively to your children.

 

When parents practice these skills and make them their habits, they will develop a stronger alliance with their children. Their relationship with their children will becomes stronger and more intimate. Trust will grow. Children will feel more secure. And, experiencing a trusting, secure relationship will empowers your children to grow. Knowing they have a secure relationship with their parent will open the door for them to explore options, make wise choices, and learn from their experiences. But, it all begins with establishing that trusting, secure relationship built by looking at our children, making good eye contact when they interact with us, and intentionally responding to their needs, not our own.

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