I’ve often heard it said that “parents have to pick their battles.” It’s true. No use battling about eating jello when your child has already eaten their broccoli (Oops…Parenting Surprises & Lesson’s Learned). However, the biggest battle a parent faces does not involve their children. The biggest battle a parent faces involves only themselves…and it is fought on three fronts.
The first front in this battle involves the memories we have of our own childhood. We remember the emotional hurts we experienced in our childhood and teen years. We project our own teen angst and misbehaviors onto our children and work to save them from the pains we remember. We also remember our own teen behavior…or should I say misbehavior, those risky or disobedient or down-right stupid behaviors we engaged in. Once again, we project them onto our teens and fear they will engage in the same behaviors and experience the same painful consequences we did…or worse!
The second front in the battle against ourselves as parents involves second guessing decisions we made when our teens were children. We look back and fear we didn’t do enough of something…or too much of something else…or the wrong thing completely. In reality, we likely did the best we could with the information and knowledge we had at the time. And, our children were (and are) resilient enough to overcome a few of our mistakes. In fact, connecting and loving our children will cover a multitude of mistakes (see part three of this experiment in An Amazing Parenting Insight Learned in Three Parts).
The third front in the battle of parenting is the “great what if.” We begin asking ourselves, “What if my child keeps going down this path?” “What if they don’t do all their homework?” “What if they don’t make the basketball team…or don’t make the school play…or miss the school dance…or…?” The list goes on. Unfortunately, we too often answer the “what if” with the most catastrophic scenarios imaginable.
Each of these battles push us toward
fear-based parenting. They push us to set stricter rules so our children won’t “make
the same mistakes we did.” Fear-based parenting can even lead to a parent invading
their teen’s treasured privacy because “I know what I did as a kid. I know
all the tricks. They’re hiding something in that room (or on that phone).”
Eventually, fear-based parenting turns dictatorial. Fear-based parents focus on
performance and achievement.
Guess what results from fear-based
parenting. You got it. Our children become defensive and even rebellious. Teens
end up engaging in the very behaviors we tried to prevent through our
fear-based frenzy of control, rigid rules, and invasion of privacy.
What’s the answer? How can you avoid this? Begin
by winning the battle against yourself as a parent—your fear of repeating your
past, your fear of making a mistake, and your fear of the “what if.”
Move from a fear-based parenting style to a parenting style guided by love and
recognition of your children’s developmental needs. Also, remember that your
children grew up in a different environment than you did. They had different parents
than you. They have different information than you. They might make different
choices than you. And when they make mistakes, you’ll deal with those mistakes
together. You will take the opportunity provided by mistakes and misbehaviors
to love them in spite of their mistakes and to help them learn from those
mistakes. Rather than let fears (the fears of “what was done” in the
past and the fear of “what if” this happens in the future) determine
your parenting response, let love and knowledge determine your parenting response.
Let your knowledge of your teen as a unique individual, with unique
developmental needs, and a recipient of your unique love guide your parenting
Our children and teens are under a lot of pressure when it comes to body image. They see the “perfect bodies” in pop culture through photoshopped magazine images, bodies of celebrities sculpted by personal trainers and time, and deceptive beauty created by make-up and camera angles on social media. Physical appearance and body image have become a hotbed of insecurity for our teens and young adults. But the University of Missouri has outlined a simple routine that can improve your teen’s body image. You can engage in this routine right in your own home and as a family. To uncover this routine and its benefits, the researchers from University of Michigan analyzed data from 12,000 students from more than 300 schools that stretched across all 50 states and Washington DC. Your children can benefit from this activity if they engage in it without you, but they will gain even greater benefit if you engage in it with them. It only requires a short amount of time and you probably already do it anyway. All you have to do is start engaging in this activity with your child and it can help improve their body image. What is this activity, this routine? Eating breakfast. That’s right. As simple as that. Research suggests that the more frequently a child ate breakfast during the week, the more positive their body image. And, the results were even greater if they ate breakfast with a parent. Eating with a parent allowed the parent to model a positive relationship with food, build stronger a parent-child relationship, and encourage a healthy start to the day. A.A. Gill, a British writer and critic known for food and travel writing, is credited with saying, “Breakfast is everything. The beginning, the first thing. It is the mouthful that is the commitment to a new day, a continuing life.” Breakfast not only serves as a commitment to the beginning of a new day; it serves as the beginning of a positive body image as well. So, buy a box of cereal, toast up some bagels, make some pancakes or fry some eggs. Whatever you choose, enjoy some breakfast with your children.
One of the most challenging (if not THE most challenging) job in the world is the job of parenting. Parenting brings new challenges every day. It demands different strategies for different situations and different children. It thrusts us into an awareness of our need for personal growth and pushes us to our limit. Is it any wonder we make a mistake here or there? I know I’ve made my share of mistakes (Read Oops…Parenting Surprises & Lessons Learned for more mistakes I made). Here are 5 mistakes parents often make without even realizing it. By becoming aware of these mistakes, we can avoid falling mindlessly into the miry muck of parenting they create.
the mistake of constantly pointing out what “not to do.” I often felt myself falling into this pit. “Don’t
yell.” Stop running.” “Don’t do that.” “Don’t
hit.” “Don’t turn the TV on.” “Stop fighting.” On and
on. It’s so easy to tell our children what they are doing wrong. Sometimes they
seem to give us so much opportunity to do so. However, it will prove much more
effective when we tell them what we want them “to do” instead. “Hold my
hand.” “Walk.” “Gentle.” “Tell me what’s
wrong.” “Get out a board game.” “Read a book.” Sure,
there are times we need to tell them “not to do” something, but
always follow it up with what they “can do” instead. Many times,
however, we can just tell them what they “can do.”
we expect more from our children than they know or are developmentally ready
Our children are not born experts; we need to teach them…everything.
Teach them how to whisper in the library. Teach them how to load the
dishwasher. Teach them how to clean a room “up to standard.” Don’t
assume they know; teach them. Teaching them involves more than just telling
them what to do. Pull up your sleeves and do it with them a few times. Teaching
is a hands-on activity that builds
connection and intimacy.
we model the wrong behavior.
I know I modeled the wrong behavior at times. If you don’t believe me, read
(blogs about parenting failures). We might react in anger to traffic and says
something we wish our children had never heard…because now they repeat it
all…the…time. Instead of modeling the “wrong” behavior, model as much
positive behavior as you can. Let them see you apologize for your wrongs. Let
them hear you speak the truth. Let them witness your affection for your spouse.
Let them hear you encourage and thank other people. Model the behaviors and
words you want them to follow.
exhaustion or frustration, we discipline our children when they are simply
being annoying. You know what I mean. Sometimes a
four-year-old acts like a four-year-old (go figure) and we get annoyed. They
ask questions constantly, a normal behavior that helps them learn; but we get
annoyed and tell them to sit in silence. They play chase through the house
while we are trying to get some work done so we send them to their rooms. They
spill a drink accidentally and we yell at them.
We have disciplined for normal, age-appropriate behaviors that were simply
annoying at the time. These behaviors are not misbehaviors requiring
discipline. If anything, these behaviors may simply require redirection or
simple instruction. Let kids be kids…and teach them to be aware of others.
We tend to
be all talk and no action. Parenting
is not merely a verbal task. You cannot sit in your chair and yell, “Turn
the radio down,” “Get your hand out of the cookie jar,” or
“Clean up this mess” and expect it to happen. Parenting is a hands-on job. We need to talk less and
act more. Nag less and take action. Get out of the chair. Walk over to your
child. Put a hand on their shoulder and look them in the eye before giving them
a request or directive. When they follow through, give them a high-five or a
simple “thank you.” If they ignore the request, follow through with an
appropriate consequence. It doesn’t have to be a crushing consequence. Just a
simple consequence. Can’t clean the room, lose the opportunity to go out (or
watch TV) until it is clean. Won’t turn the radio down, lose the radio for a
day. Won’t get your hand out of the cookie jar, no dessert today. You get the
idea. Less talk, more action.
Don’t get caught in the miry muck of parenting
by engaging in these mindless parenting mistakes. Stand on firm ground with mindful
action that will promote your childrens’ growth.
If you have an infant in the house
and want them to develop strong language skills with a larger vocabulary, then
you want to learn a new language. I don’t mean French or Spanish, Chinese or
Japanese, or even Swahili. I mean you need to learn “parentese.”
That’s not “baby talk.” I’m talking about “parentese,” the
language in which a parent talks slowly and clearly with exaggerated vowels and
inflections. Parentese still uses real words as opposed to the nonsense
syllables of “baby talk.” Parentese involves fully grammatical sentences spoken
with an exaggerated tone of voice that sounds happy. Ironically, in this world
of division, parentese crosses all boundaries. It is used in all languages and benefits
children from all cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. All children who are
spoken to in this language are engaged by it. They listen more intently. They
even respond more often. At least that’s what researchers at the University of
Washington discovered. Specifically, they found that infants of parents coached
in parentese when their children were six- and ten-months-old babbled 43% over
two days, whereas infants of parents not coached in parentese babbled only 30%.
In other words, those who used parentese got more engagement with and responses
from their infants. And, at 14-months-old, the children of parents who used
parentese produced significantly more words than children of parents who did
not use parentese. That’s the result at 14-months. The impact of learning “parentese”
continues even into elementary school and beyond. Other studies have shown early
language skills predict a child’s learning to read and success in school.
So, if you have an infant at home…or if you have a family friend who has an infant, why not learn the language of infants, parentese? (If you need a little tutoring lesson on parentese, check out this short video.) When you do, you will help them learn the flow of conversation and the art of engagement. You enhance their production of speech. You contribute to their future reading and success in school. Who knows, learning and practicing parentese might just start a whole learning revolution.
I remember the advice given to me as
my children approached their teen years. “Whatever you do, maintain open
communications with your teen.” Sure, I thought. Great idea. But, how do
you do that? After some research and trial by fire (both my
“children” are now in their early twenties) I have a few suggestions,
ideas that can help keep those lines of communication open with your teen. I
must admit, these ideas were often in opposition to my first impulse, but, when
I was able to implement them, they really helped keep those lines of
When your children or teens come to
you with a desire to talk about something, give
them your full attention. Put down the paper. Turn off the TV. Don’t check
your messages or respond to a text. Don’t google. Just give your them your
attention. Look at them and listen. Watch their expressions. Listen to the tone
of the voice. Hear what they are saying and understand the emotions behind the
They will say things that make you want to jump out of your skin. Don’t do it.
At some point they will say something that triggers your core fears. They may even
say things that hurt, feel like an attack, or arouse your anger. But, if you
want them to continue talking about it and then listen to your response, stay
calm. Remember, sometimes our teens just need to think out loud. Let them do it
in your earshot. When you overreact, they will shut down. If you stay calm,
they are more likely to continue talking, thinking, processing, and even
Listen. When you
want to give a suggestion, listen instead. When you want to criticize, listen a
little more. When you think you understand, listen to make sure you really do. Don’t “spray” them with questions. Instead, use
your questions wisely and sparingly to gain a greater understanding of what
they are saying, what it means to them, and how they think about it. Listen and
repeat back to them what you think they are saying until they know you
understand. Then you can offer advice. But, even in offering advice, keep your
words to a minimum and then…listen.
Grace is the willingness to put aside our own agenda to become a present
witness to the agenda of our children and teens. Put aside your own fears in
order to create a safe haven in which your teen can express themselves without
judgment. Put aside your own ego and create a secure sanctuary where your teens
can voice their fears and anxieties to someone they know will strive to
understand them. Doing so will build a home environment in which they feel
comfortable talking to us…and they will talk with us in that environment.
To summarize these 4 tips, I want to share a
quote from Kenneth Ginsburg, co-founder of the Center for Parent and Teen
Communication at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, “The parents who
know the most and who have the most influence over their child’s academics and
behaviors aren’t the ones who ask lots of questions. They are often the ones
who are the least reactive and who express warm, unconditional love and
support.” Put these tips into action today. They are not easy, but you’ll
be glad you did.
Many parents assess their parenting
skills based on their children’s behavior, successes, and achievements. They
base their parental identity and parental success on their children’s
performance in academics, sports, or the arts. You might be surprised, but these
are terrible measures of parental identity and parental skills. After all,
children misbehave. That does not mean we failed. As children become adults,
some of them make bad choices with lasting consequences. That does not
necessarily mean we were “bad parents.” After all, children have a
mind of their own. Still, parenting has a huge impact on our children. So, how
can we measure our parenting? How can we determine our parental success? How can
we develop a healthy parental identity? I have a suggestion. We can ask
ourselves a few questions in three basic areas. Our answers to those questions
can help us assess our parenting and determine our parental identity. So,
assess your parenting. Ask yourself:
Do I have a relationship with my child? (Realize the relationship you have with your children will
change over time. You will also have times in that relationship when you feel
closer than others. You will even experience times when they are angry with
you. But the question remains an important question: Do I have a relationship with my child?)
Am I available?
Am I approachable?
Am I respectful of their emotions?
Do I listen well? Do they know I strive to understand them?
Do I express my love for my children explicitly?
Do I provide a healthy, age appropriate structure in our
home and my child’s life?
Do my children know the limits and expectations?
Do I allow my children to experience the limits?
Do I hold my children accountable for their actions?
Can I allow my children to suffer the negative consequences
of their behavior?
Do I say what I mean and mean what I say?
Do I set a positive example for my children?
Do I set a good example in self-care?
Do I set a good example in accepting limits and
Do I set a good example in expressing gratitude?
Do I set a good example in admitting my mistakes and making
Do I set a good example in managing my emotions?
In all these areas—relationship, structure, and example—am I
I don’t know about you, but I find these
questions both reassuring and convicting: reassuring because I believe I do fairly
well in several areas and convicting because I fall short in some areas. I need
to work at improving in the areas where I exhibit weakness…which leads me to
one last question: Do you love your
children? If you love your children, you will continue to grow in the areas
listed above and you will remember that when you fall short “Love covers a
multitude of sins” (Peter in 1 Peter 4:8).
I remember it well. Days of rolling easy
as a parent would suddenly come crashing down as our children took a sudden, sharp
turn into Crazy Land (I hope they’re not reading this). To make matters worse,
we could rarely identify any reason for the sudden shift in behavior…but shift
it did! Our kind, caring, well-behaved children suddenly became emotional
quagmires of tears, irritability, and demands. Minor acts of defiance often
followed. Entitlement and selfish expectations increased. The change was mysterious, a painstaking step
off a cliff into an abyss of emotional turmoil. Even though they would push us
away at these times, we knew they needed us to pull them closer. Although they
would push against the limits, we knew they needed us to reinforce the limits
with kind firmness. In other words, they needed us to give them a S.E.A.T.
Set the limits. Restate the limits with kind firmness. Remain polite, but don’t cave. Don’t give in. Children need limits, especially when they seem to be melting down. Give them the gift of security by restating and maintaining firm limits in a manner that reveals your own self-control and confidence as a parent (even if you don’t feel it at the moment). They need the strength of your confidence and self-control, the power of your composure during the chaos of limit setting to help them learn how to manage their own emotions as they mature.
Empathize with your children. You can empathize with your children’s frustration over the limit (“You’re really upset that I told you to turn off your game and set the table. It’s hard to stop playing sometimes but I’d like you to help get the table ready for dinner.”). You can empathize with your children by acknowledging their tears, their frustration, and even their anger. Empathizing is not allowing behaviors. It is simply accepting and understanding the pain they feel. Empathizing with your children allows you to connect with them. Even if they don’t acknowledge the connection, know you have connected through empathy…and that connection increases your credibility in their eyes.
Accept their emotions. They may get angry. They may break down in tears. They may simply shut down. No matter what, accept their emotion. Emotions in and of themselves are a sign of our shared humanity. They help reveal our priorities. You can set limits with the emotions such as “You can be angry with me, but we don’t hit” or “It’s alright to be upset with me, but you can’t call people names.” Even as you set the limit, accept the emotion and remain present. Let your presence communicate that you are stronger than their emotion. Your children will learn this important lesson: even in the face of scary emotions that make them feel out of control, you are in control. You are a safe haven. You are more powerful than their worst emotions and you will keep them safe.
Team up. As you children begin to calm down, reconnect. Hug them. Make sure they know you still love them. Talk about what happened and how they might avoid a similar problem in the future. This may include changes the parent can make, changes the children can make, and changes in communication. In other words, problem solve together.
As you go through this process with
your children you will have given them a S.E.A.T.
and the confidence they need to manage their emotions and behaviors better in
Two people bump into one another on
a narrow street while going in opposite directions. After some interaction, one
bows down and moves aside to let the other go on his way. Which one does a
toddler like best: the one who bows and steps aside or the one who got his way?
In another instance, two people bump
into one another on a narrow street while going in opposite directions. After
some interaction, one pushes the other one down and goes on his way. Which one
does the toddler like best: the one who uses violence to get his way or the one
who was pushed?
In a final scenario, a person is
trying to accomplish a goal. One person steps in to help him achieve his goal.
A different person steps in to impede him from reaching his goal. Which one
does the toddler like best: the one who helps or the one who impedes?
Researchers have used puppets to explore all three of these scenarios with toddlers. In the first scenario the toddlers liked the one who got his way rather than the one who bowed and moved aside. However, in the second scenario they did not like the one who got his way through violence and force (read Toddlers prefer winners, but avoid those who win by force for more). In the final scenario, they liked the one who helped the other achieve his goal (Check out Can Babies Tell Right From Wrong on YouTube for more).
Isn’t that interesting? Even
toddlers show a preference for certain types of people. Specifically, they like
those who win in conflict due to social status without the use of force or violence. And, they like those who help
others. They do not like those who are mean or violent. Seems obvious, but
think about what this means for parents and families? I think it encourages us
to do at least three things for the benefit of our children.
Model kindness in your own life. Be kind to one another within the family and be kind to
those outside the family. Not only will this model good values, it will nurture
your children’s admiration of, and respect for, you as a parent as well. This,
in turn, will increase their willingness to listen, live by family values, and
cooperate when family disagreements arise.
Accept respect and kindness from others. Let your children see you graciously accept positions of
status or prestige while remaining humble. Knowing that you hold a position of
some respect can nurture your children’s sense of security…but this is only
true if you accept that respect graciously. And, we all hold a position of
prestige and respect as a parent. Accept that honor and respect from your
children with grace and humility.
Do not respond violently toward others. This not only includes physical violence but verbal and
relational violence as well. We can become violent in our words, our tone of
voice, or our volume just as much as we can through physical stature and
actions. We can also show violence in our attitude toward others, by demeaning another person’s character or
undermining another person’s authority in a given situation. Each of these
represents violence. Seeing this violence in their parents can reduce children’s
respect for, and trust in, them.
Children do not like to be around people who can become mean and violent.
It’s scary, frightening. Do not become violent toward your spouse (in how you
disagree, talk about them, or talk to them), toward your children (in your
discipline, in your words to them, or your descriptions of them), or toward anyone
outside the family. Instead, show kindness.
Model kindness. Graciously and humbly accept respect and kindness from others. Do not be mean; do not respond to others with violence of any kind. As you engage in these three practices, you will nurture your relationship with your children and encourage them to grow in kindness and grace. Who could ask for more?
One of the most important (and at
times challenging) aspects of parenting a teen involves maintaining a strong
connection with them. They have activities and friends that suck up their time.
They work to solidify their identity by developing their own lives. But research
continues to show teens want a relationship with their parents. They still
desire input and guidance from their parents. That desire is strongest when
they have the positive connection with their parent that they desire. So, how
can you keep a strong connection with your teen? Here are 6 ideas.
Eat with your teen. I’ve always heard it said that “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Well, it’s true for teens as well. If you want a strong connection with your teen, eat with them. Have meals together as often as you can (A Special Ingredient for Happy Families). Keep snacks in the house so you can offer to share a snack while you talk. Sharing food seems to open the heart. So, enjoy a meal, share a snack, and converse with your teen.
Have fun with your teen. You don’t have to have serious conversations and interactions every time. In fact, enjoy as many fun interactions as possible with your teen. Go out just for fun. Enjoy a game. Go to a movie. Go for a bike ride. Let your teen pick an activity to enjoy with you. That might mean engaging in an activity you don’t currently enjoy; but, go ahead and give it a try. It will deepen the connection between you and your teen. (For more read Turn Up the Tunes and A Solid Hint from Icelandic Teens)
Pick your battles. Some battles just aren’t worth the struggle and the potential disconnection they create. Hair always grows back. Clothes styles change (within modest reason). Makeup washes off. Save your energy for those issues that represent danger to your teen’s health or reputation…issues that genuinely impact your teen’s well-being.
Talk with your teen. Along with choosing your battles, take time to talk with your teen. Talk about topics they find interesting. Use those opportunities to learn how they think. Ask them about their day. Talk about their favorite past-times. Don’t be afraid to talk about the serious issues like drugs or sex. Our teens want to learn about our views on such topics. So keep them talking with you (Are You Teaching Your Teen Not to Talk with You?) They need the opportunity to debate and think through their values in discussion with someone more knowledgeable and mature. Give them that chance with you. Stay calm during the discussion and, while talking, be sure to take a lot of time to listen…which brings us to the next point of connection.
Listen to your teen. Hear your teen out. Listen intently to understand. When they have a different opinion than you, listen for the valid points in their opinion. After all, they don’t have to agree with us on everything. If they get in trouble at school, hear their explanation before taking sides. When you listen intently to your teen, you maintain a stronger connection and increase the chance they will listen more intently to you. (Learn the Gracious Art of Listening.)
Recognize and acknowledge positive aspects in your teen. Teens crave acceptance and respect. Let them experience your acceptance and respect by acknowledging their effort. Thank them for helping around the house. Celebrate milestones. Acknowledge their interests and unique talents. Doing so communicates acceptance of their efforts and respect for their interests.
Teens want to connect with their parents. When
you practice these 6 tips, they will more likely connect with you. They’ll be
glad to have a parent who connects with them. And you’ll be thrilled to have a
teen who connects with you!
Did you know girls tend to report a decrease in loneliness between first and fifth grade? It’s true. They report less loneliness as they develop more peer relationships and become more comfortable with their social skills during the elementary school years. There is an important caveat to this trend toward less loneliness though; a subtle factor every father needs to know. Girls don’t all move toward less loneliness at the same rate or to the same degree. Guess what makes the difference in their move away from loneliness? Fathers! That’s right. Daughters who report close relationships with their fathers also report a greater decrease in loneliness over a shorter time period. In other words, a close father-daughter relationship helps your daughter overcome loneliness. Mother-daughter relationships didn’t impact loneliness…only father-daughter relationships! This was revealed in a study of 695 families in which mothers and fathers rated their relationship to their children in grades 1,3, 4, and 5. Children rated their levels of loneliness in grades 1, 3, and 5. The results affirmed the importance of father-daughter relationships in decreasing a daughter’s sense of loneliness. The message: Fathers, you are important to your daughter’s development.
And, if you’re like me, you hate to
see your daughters looking lonely or complaining of loneliness. Now you know YOU can make a difference. Spend time
with your daughters. Pay attention to your daughters’ crazy emotions. Talk with
your daughters. By doing so you will help your daughter feel less lonely! Now that
is an important role and a joyous task!