Loving parents establish loving limits for their children. It’s true. We need to do it. We set limits for their safety and the safety of others. We develop limits to teach them polite behaviors and mature attitudes that will allow them to find success outside the home. We put limits in place to guide our children toward becoming the best versions of themselves. But, you know what our children do with those limits. They bump up against them. They push the limits. They try to sneak around the limits and undermine the limits. Sometimes they bump so hard against the limits we get angry and frustrated. Don’t get too frustrated though because children bumping up against limits is a great thing, especially when we respond in love. Children bumping up against limits provides great opportunities and benefits. Let me explain.
- When children bump up against limits they learn how to manage their frustrations. Life will not give them everything they want. They will encounter roadblocks and limits outside the family. Best to learn how to manage the frustration around limits in the loving womb of family rather than the harsh desert of the world. Let them bump…and help them learn how to manage the frustration of bumping a limit in a healthy, mature manner.
- When children bump up against limits they learn about our true values. They learn long-term character is more important than immediate gratification or temporary wishes. They learn which values we truly find important and will “stick to our guns” for and which we will “give in” on. They learn which values we truly hold dear and which values we are willing to forfeit to avoid the hassle. They learn which values they really need to internalize and which they leave behind as they leave home.
- When children bump up against our limits we have an opportunity to show our them love by explaining the reasons for the limit. They learn we believe in their ability to understand the reason behind the limit. They learn we respect them enough to explain those reasons to them in a calm manner. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we argue with them about the reasons. We simply inform them of the reasons. Then we show our love by standing firm and not budging while they bump up against a good limit.
- When children bump up against a limit we have an opportunity to show them our love by listening to their outpouring of emotion. We can hear their explanation and simply be with them in their frustration. They will learn we love them enough to understand their frustrations and remain present in their anger. They learn we love them enough to hear them and understand their concerns…which brings me to the next bullet…
- When children bump up against a limit we learn about our children. As they explain their frustration and “everything wrong with the limit,” we gain insight into our children. We may even find their complaint makes sense. We may even discover a need to modify the limit to better support their safety and growth. We will encounter times when our children’s insight and wisdom will influence us to change the limit…and that shows the depth of our love as well.
When children bump up against limits we have established for their safety and healthy development we can become frustrated. But remember, children bumping up against the limits presents wonderful opportunities to teach and love. Let them bump and find a loving, gracious limit that holds them secure. Let them bump and learn. Let them bump and hold them close.
Parenting is hard work. I’m probably preaching to the choir with that statement. If you’re a parent you know parenting demands time and energy and money…and often more than we ever knew we had. But, did you know parenting begins in your mind? How we think about our children and our role as parents plays a tremendous impact on how we parent. It can make parenting more difficult or it can make parenting more enjoyable. For instance, do you think of parenting as being a shepherd or guard? Consider the differences.
- A guard mentality thinks of children as prone to bad behavior. They expect children to misbehave and act disrespectfully. Shepherds, on the other hand, believe children desire the security of knowing they are accepted and safe within a caring relationship. They see misbehavior as communication of some need or fear, perhaps a feeling of insecurity within the relationship.
- A guard focuses on maintaining the rules. They fear grave consequences if those rules are broken. As a result, the guard maintains a position of authority over their children. A shepherd focuses on meeting the needs of their children. Although they maintain a position of authority, that authority is based on relationship.
- Guards discipline from a foundation of punishment, often with a harsh tone of voice. Shepherds discipline from a foundation of relationship and concern. Their voice is familiar and welcome in times of enjoyment and times of discipline.
- Guards maintain order through fear of punishment. Shepherds maintain order through loving structure which provides security and safety.
- Guards focus on making sure everyone knows the rules. They know the rules inside out and expect everyone to know them as well. Shepherds focus on knowing the people under their care. They know their interests, vulnerabilities, strengths, and weaknesses.
- Guards expect compliance. When compliance does not happen, they have the philosophy that “they made their beds let them lie in them.” “They get what they deserve.” Shepherds sacrifice for those in their care. They show a grace that teaches better behavior and restores relationship. They focus on the emotional connections that strengthen and sense of belonging that nurtures growth.
- Guards push those under their supervision to complete, unthinking compliance. They demand obedience. Shepherds walk ahead to lead those for whom they care into “paths of righteousness.” Shepherds lead by example.
You can imagine the impact these thinking styles can have on how you interact with and discipline your children. Which style of thinking best describes your parenting?
Researchers from the University of Arizona surveyed young adults (average 21-years-old) about the frequency with which they engaged in activities such as listening to music, attending concerts, or playing instruments with their parents between 8- and 14-years-old. The survey also assessed the 21-year-olds’ current relationship with their parent. They discovered that shared musical experiences, especially in early adolescence, led to a better parent-child relationship when the child moved into young adulthood. The researchers explain that sharing musical experiences causes the participants to coordinate their actions and even their biology (Learn more in What Do “Twinkle Twinkle,” Oxytocin, & the Saccuus Have in Common…?). This synchronizing leads to better relationship quality. Music also elicits shared emotion. When you listen to music together you share emotions with those listening with you. Sharing emotions brings us closer together. Synchronizing our actions and sharing emotions help us develop a long-term connection with our children that extends into young adulthood. In other words, sharing musical experiences with your children can enhance your relationship with them when they become young adults! (You can even turn sharing music into a family fun night.)
If you don’t play an instrument, don’t worry. Shared musical experiences can be as simple as listening to music together. So, if you want to have a strong relationship with your children as they move into young adulthood, listening to music together as they grow up can help. Turn on the radio. Listen to music in the car and in the house. Dance in the living room. Go to concerts together. Enjoy all kinds of music, especially the music your children enjoy. Introduce music of various genres (classical, jazz, pop, R&B, metal, punk, rap, etc.). You and your children may learn something new about each genre…and enjoy learning about music together. Talk about the different types of music as you listen. Pick out your favorites. Sing along. Whistle along. Clap your hands to the rhythm. A little shared music will build harmonies of love between you and your children that will last a lifetime!
I discovered an amazingly impactful prep school for young adulthood romance, aka, young love. Notice I said “impactful” not “effective.” This prep school can effectively promote healthy romance in young adulthood, but it can also effectively promote problematic, drama-filled and even violent romance in young adulthood. Makes you wonder if we even want our children to attend this prep school, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, you have no choice about whether your children attend. They will and do attend this prep school. Fortunately, you have total control over staffing and curriculum! The prep school is your home. The staff are the parents of your children (that’s you). The curriculum is your marriage and your parenting strategies.
Researchers at Penn state recruited 974 adolescents to assess this prep school (Read about it in Parents May Help Prep Kids for Healthier, Less Violent Relationships.) They met with the young people three times between sixth and ninth grade to gather information about how their families got along, how consistent and harsh punishment was in their home, and how they interacted with their parents. Then, when the children were around 19.5-years-old, the researchers asked them about their romantic relationships including their feelings of love, their problem-solving abilities, and whether they ever engaged in physical or verbal violence with their romantic partner. They discovered three curriculum and staffing guidelines for the most positive and effective prep school for young love.
- A prep school that produced young adults who engaged in better problem solving within their romantic relationships utilized staff (parents) who created a supportive home and practiced positive parenting (Dunkin’ Donuts & A Better Behaved Child tells more). Supportive home and positive parenting practices strike a balance between rules and relationship. Parents in such home lead in love, promote values built on a foundation of love, and discipline from a position of love. (Where are you On the Parenting See-Saw )
- A prep school that produced young adults who felt more love and connection in their romantic relationships promoted a positive engagement between children and staff (parents). Work to create a close bond with your children. This will involve investing time in their lives, following through on promises, and learning about their interests and hobbies. Engage with your children in daily routines, play, and activities that promote connection. (Here are 3 Simple Ways to Bond With Your Child)
- A prep school associated with a lower risk of violence in young adults’ romantic relationships was one which built a more “cohesive and organized family climate.” In other words, the family prep school provided enough structure and love to promote a sense of security and safety. It provides the structure of a predictable daily life that allows each person to have a fair understanding of the “next event” as well as their role in the home. It also provides the love that undergirds each person’s sense of inherent worth and value while guiding them toward a healthier, independent life. This combination of structure that flows from love promotes cohesion and stability. In this balance of structure and love, curriculum includes validation and problem-solving, learning to persist, acceptance of temporary failures as learning experiences.
If you are a parent, you currently run a Young Adulthood Romance (YAR) Preparatory School for your children. I propose you implement these three curriculum and staffing guidelines for your children today. You will be so happy you did when they bring home their boyfriends or girlfriends in the future!
Did you know your parenting style can impact your health? It’s true. How you choose to parent will impact your physical and mental health. Let me explain.
We’ve all heard of helicopter parents. Helicopter parents often parent from a position of anxiety. They hover over their children and rescue them from any hint of frustration or challenge. They engage in constant vigilance to spot their children’s potential struggles and then make heroic efforts to relieve them of the stress and frustration of the challenge. As you can imagine, this can leave the helicopter parent feeling stressed, pressured, and burned out. Helicopter parents live with a constant anxiety that their children might become overwhelmed by stress, frustrated by failure, or saddened by “less than perfect” results. This constant stress and anxiety leaves the helicopter parent vulnerable to a myriad of health problems. For instance, it can leave them vulnerable to depression. Constant stress also increases the risk of gastrointestinal problems like reflux as well as problems like insomnia and a weakened immune system. In other words, the helicopter parent may place themselves at greater risk of catching the very virus from which they are trying to protect their child. (Are you a helicopter parent?)
What about the authoritarian parent? The “I’m-the-boss” parent often parents out of fear. They believe rules can provide a measure of safety and so make rules the priority. “If only we have the right rules in place our children will be safe.” They attempt to protect their children from the “dangers out there” and believe enough rules will offer the protective buffer. With the right rules in place, children will be safe and parents will experience less worry. Rules will save the day. Unfortunately, children eventually rebel in search of their individual identity. They must eventually face the dangers of the world. Yes, they will make mistakes as they face the world and establish their place in the world. Parental anxiety increases during these times. Fears are manifested as anger. Shouting and demand-making escalate as fear and lack of control increase. Anger, shouting, and exploding frustrations take a toll on parental health. Anger triggers the fight-or-flight response. Heart rates increase. Muscles tighten. Blood pressure increases. Cholesterol increases. Risk of heart attack increases. (Read Where Are You On the Parenting See Saw describes the “I’m-the-boss” parent as heavy on the authority side.)
What’s a parent to do? The two parenting styles described above have detrimental effects on health; one parenting style has a preventative effect on our health. What parenting style is this? A parenting style of positive discipline. In positive discipline parents focus on a balance between connection and age-appropriate rules. They work to provide a warm and emotional relationship while also providing age appropriate structure. Parents who practice positive discipline focus on the beliefs and motives behind the behaviors not just the behaviors themselves. They learn more about their children, their abilities, their interests, their fears. By focusing on relationships and encouraging an intimate knowledge of your children, this parenting style boosts confidence in parenting. Those who have greater confidence tend to have great health and longer lives. Confidence and balance helps a parent engage in their children with more patience. This all helps protect against depression. It enhances immunity. It promotes health. (Here’s an example of positive discipline I witnessed at Dunkin Donuts.)
So, if you want to life a healthy life, adjust your parenting style. Practice a style of positive discipline. Oh…there is another benefit of positive discipline. Children thrive under positive discipline. They grow more confident. They listen better. They exhibit fewer behavioral problems. And yes, all this will add to your health as well!
My youngest daughter had a wonderful opportunity to sing at DCINY under the direction of Eric Whitacre in Carnegie Hall. She was ecstatic. It demanded a great deal of work and courage on her part. She had to fill out the application, try out, rehearse independently, and then rehearse with the choir. She also made arrangements with her teachers to make up missed classwork, arrange travel to New York, arrange a stay in a hostel, and manage her time while there. She did an amazing job. I’m very proud of all she did, including her work to grow as a vocalist and as a person who cares for and loves people from all walks of life.
My oldest daughter is preparing to move across the country to begin her next stage in life. She has worked hard to get an opportunity to study music’s impact on identity for oppressed populations. She too is thrilled with the opportunity. She has worked hard to get to this point. She has already begun to make the arrangements necessary for a successful move. It’s exciting to consider who she might meet, where she might go, and what she might learn. I’m very proud of all she has done, including her work to grow as a pianist/musician and as a compassionate advocate and scholar.
I love watching my daughters grow and experience life. I anticipate other wonderful experiences in both their lives. It is all very exciting. At the same time it’s a bit…well…sad. Don’t get me wrong. I am thrilled to watch my daughters grow and encounter new experiences. But, their growth also means they become more and more independent. They do not need me as much anymore. They are learning to manage their own lives without my help. They are learning to do it “all alone.” Go figure. Years of working to get our children to this point and now it’s here. Now, it’s time to let go. Well, maybe I’m not really going to just let go. I’m going to hold on tightly, but with an open hand as I watch my daughters take flight. I’m going to hold on tightly with an open hand so I can watch them “soar to new heights.” I’m going to hold on tightly with an open hand while trusting the relationship we have nurtured to keep us emotionally close, no matter how physically far they travel from home and how independent they become. I’m holding on tightly with an open hand so we can learn from one another, so we can share in the new experiences of life as each of us grow older. I’m holding tight with an open hand as we learn to relate together as adults who serve and encourage one another, support and strengthen one another. It’s an adventure, a frontier we have not yet fully experienced as a family. But it holds great opportunities for all. So we walk this adventure together, holding on tightly to one another with an open hand.
I have bad news. Teen suicide rates are on the rise. In fact, suicide rates for teen girls hit a 40-year high in 2017 (Suicide Rate for Teen Girls Hits 40 Year High). Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens 12- to 19-years-old in 2006 (CDC: Mortality Among Teens Age 12-19 Years Old) and the second leading cause of death for those 10- to 24-years-old in 2015 (National Vital Statistics Report-see page 10 for figure). Many times depression or other mood disorders can be involved (Teen Suicide Statistics). Overall, this is devastating information. Our young people are crying out in need of something. But what do they need? A study presented at the 2017 American Public Health Association conference gives us a hint and tells us how we might stem the rising tide of teen suicide. They presented three conclusions from a 2012 US national Study of Parental Behaviors and Suicidal Feelings Among Adolescents that can cut suicide risk by up to 7 times (These Parenting Behaviours Cut Suicide Risk 7 Times).
- Tell your children and teens you are proud of them. Adolescents were five times more likely to have suicidal thoughts, seven times more likely to have a suicidal plan, and seven times more likely to attempt suicide when their parents rarely or never expressed pride in them. Adolescents need to know we take pride in their actions and their efforts. They need to know we take pride in them!
- Tell your children they have done a good job. This simple action was associated with a similar level of suicidal risk noted above. When we acknowledge a job well done we communicate our teen’s value. We inform them that we notice their and appreciate their work. We express the importance of their place and work in our home and world. We acknowledge their power to do things and the importance of that power in our lives.
- Help your children with their homework. Once again, helping with homework was associated with a similar level of suicidal risk noted in bullet #1. Helping our children and teens with homework communicates love. It lets them know we are interested in their world and committed to their growth. It gives us the opportunity to learn and grow with them, sharing in tasks together. It expresses how much we love them…enough to help them in the work of their daily world.
Once again, these three simple actions significantly reduce the risk of suicide in teens. Unfortunately, many teens do not receive these simple blessings from their parents. Make sure your teen does.
I would add two other important actions we can take to protect our teens from suicide.
- Get to know your teen. Learn about their world of friends and activities. Observe their moods and behaviors. If you see some change in their mood, if they appear depressed or isolated, seek help. Many teens who commit suicide have some type of mood disorder or change in peer relationships (Teen Suicide Statistics). Know you teen well enough to recognize the signs…and get help if they need it.
- Limit the use of electronic devices and encourage face-to-face interactions. In recent studies, Jean Twenge and colleagues identified that teens who spend five or more hours per day on devices are 71% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide. (The Risk of Teen Depression and Suicide is Linked to Smartphone Use) At the same time, getting rid of all devices did not help. Instead, the option resulting in the best mental health limited time on devices while encouraging face-to-face interactions. (Read Just So You Know: Screen Time & Teen Happiness for more on this.)
Overall, these five actions are not hard. They do take time. They mean investing in the lives of our youth. And that’s a great investment…after all they are amazing people with exciting futures who will build the tomorrow in which you and I grow!
Children are an enigma to me, a puzzle. They hear everything…except when you ask them to do something. Swear one time in front of them and they repeat it for weeks at the most inopportune moments…but they still forget to say “thank you” and “please” after a gazillion reminders. They can remember every single one of the countless Pokémon characters in existence, even spouting off each one’s strengths, weaknesses, and evolutions (I’m not even sure I said that correctly)…but they can’t remember to make their bed and brush their teeth. I can’t say I ever figured out this puzzle, but I have learned a few hints to increase the chances that your children will listen to you when you give them a directive.
- First, grab their attention. Gain eye contact with your children before giving them a task. This may mean interrupting their current activity for a moment so you can obtain face-to-face, eye-to-eye recognition. Speak directly to them. You’ve seen your children do it to you. When they want to tell you something or show you something, they repeat your “name” until you turn to look at them. They tap your arm and leg and side until you look at them. They might even grab your chin and turn your face to look at them. Take a hint from your children. Grab their attention before giving them a task.
- Second, make it fun. Clown around a little bit. I remember my children’s allergist. He always found Donald Duck in my daughters’ ears and Bugs Bunny in their other ear. He found amazing characters in their eyes and throat. They couldn’t wait to see him and find out which ear Donald Duck would reside in today. They never fought his ear, nose, and throat inspections. Why? Because he added fun to it. Be creative and make your children’s chores fun. Sing while you set the table. Tell stories while you make the bed. Make dinosaur noises while you walk to school. Whatever your children love, use it to create some fun.
- Third, don’t ask, tell. When children are young they do not understand that a polite question such as “Would you please set the table?” is a directive. If you want them to set the table, make it a polite directive: “Set the table, please.” Once again, you will see this when your children interact with other children. Young children rarely say things like, “Would you please pass me that Lego when you get a chance?” They use a much more directive approach. They say, “I want that one” or “Give me the blue one.” They are not necessarily rude, just direct. They understand direct. They do not yet understand the nuances of indirect requests. So, if you want your children to do something, tell them politely but directly.
- Fourth, slow it down. Be patient. Give them a chance to respond. Children need time to process your request, give them time to do so. If you jump in too quickly, you have just given them an “out.” You have changed the focus from your directive to your impatience. They can’t focus on both. Until their preteen years, they can only focus on one thing at a time and that is generally the immediate or the one with greatest intensity. So, if you jump in with an impatient remark, they will forget the directive and focus on your impatient remark. They find it difficult to keep both in mind. Slow down, be patient, and wait. Give them a chance to respond. If they do not respond, grab their attention again and repeat the directive.
- Finally, give them appropriate choices. Let them begin to make choices from an early age. Do they want to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt today? Should we read then take a bath, take a bath before reading, or read one book before the bath and one book after the bath? Let them choose. Agree on their choice and carry it out. You might be surprised at how well they remember their choice. And, doing this increases their independence over time.
Five practices that will help your children listen well. They will still prove to be an enigma. You’ll still discover those astounding paradoxes that shock you…like their ability to make the most profound, insightful comment just before talking about the Tooth Fairy’s lack of generosity. But hey, at least they’ll listen a little better.
Our children need to develop the ability to communicate well if they want to succeed in this world. Think about it. If you want to effectively resolve a disagreement, you have to explain yourself well. If you want others to understand you, you have to express yourself well. If you want to woo your love, you must declare your love in a way the other person will “hear” and appreciate. If you want to get the promotion at work, you have to make your desire and your ability known. Communication and language are essential to our growth, our maturity, and our success. A recent study from MIT explored how children develop these language and communication skills (Back-and-forth exchanges boost children’s brain response to language). They discovered the number of “conversational turns” between child and parent predicted differences in language skills and even brain physiology. The more back-and-forth exchanges between parent and child, the greater the child’s language comprehension and expressive abilities. In addition, when children who experienced more back-and-forth exchanges with parents listened to stories, they exhibited a more activity in the area of the brain involved in processing and producing language (Broca’s area). In other words, they were more “tuned in” to hearing, producing, and processing language. So, if you want your children to learn to communicate more effectively, don’t rely on Dora, language games, or other TV shows. Engage them. Interact with them. Converse with them about topics of their interest. Play fun language games like Telephone, Mutual Storytelling, or Salad Bowl.
The two most important aspects of any activity geared toward helping your child grow is to 1) make it age appropriate and 2) keep it interactive. So have fun. Interact. And watch your children improve their communication and interactive skills.
Researchers from Penn State University followed 687 families for three years. Each family consisted of a mother, a father, and an adolescent child. The three year period spanned the adolescent’s 6th, 7th, and 8th grade years…the dreaded middle school years. (Read more here.) The study examined whether family relationships impact friendship during middle school. Of course, the short answer is “yes,” “you betcha,” “without a doubt.” But, the study did expose a couple of very interesting nuances to that “yes.”
First, a mother’s rejection, a father’s rejection, and the overall family climate not only predicted changes in the quality of the adolescent’s friendships but their sense of loneliness as well.
Second, feeling rejected by one’s father in 6th grade predicted social anxiety in 7th grade and social anxiety in 7th grade predicted loneliness in 8th grade. This was significant for rejection by one’s father but not so much in regards to one’s mother. It seems (in agreement with other research) that rejection by one’s father impacts how confidently a person moves into the world outside the home.
So, if you want your children to have the ability to develop and maintain high quality, positive friendships in middle school, nurture and strengthen your relationship with them. Their ability to form positive relationships outside the home begins at home…with you. Dads, this seems to be especially true for your relationship with your teen. Here are a few key ways to strengthen your relationship with your children.
- Spend time together…lots of time together. Enjoy uninterrupted time with your children. Put aside the distractions (cell phones, papers, TV) and get to know your children. Learn what they like and who they like. Talk about classes, interests, strengths, and fears. Learn about their struggles in the community and which peers present them with the biggest challenges and why. Enjoy fun stuff and endure boring stuff…together. You’ll be surprised by how much you learn. And, you’ll be amazed at how cool your children really are.
- Listen more than you lecture. The more you lecture, the less they’ll talk. The less they talk the less you will know them. On the other hand, the more you listen, the more they’ll talk…and the more you’ll get to know them. Listen intently. Listen patiently. When they say something that arouses your urge to lecture, Don’t Do It! Instead, show empathy for their feelings around the topic. And, get curious about their thinking about the topic. Ask them questions out of a genuine curiosity to know them better. As you do, they will continue to talk…and you will get to know them better. They will continue to talk…think…and learn. They’ll learn about the topic and you’ll learn more about them as they review their approach to the topic out loud. All you have to do is listen and….
- Problem-solving together. Our children will approach us with concerns and struggles when they know we will listen and empathize. As they recognize our efforts to understand their concern and their point of view, they will open up to discuss and problem solve with us. We will have created an environment of mutual respect that allows for cooperative problem solving. In the process, we will also deepen our relationship with our teen.
Practice these three actions and you can help prevent pervasive loneliness in your middle schooler. You will also increase your middle schooler’s confidence in making friends and the quality of their friendships.