Tag Archive for parenting

What Bullies & Their Victims Have in Common…Really?

I know it’s a bit of a risk to say, but bullies and their victims have some similarities. At least that’s what a recent study completed by researchers from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg suggests. The researchers obtained data from the World Health Organization who had interviewed approximately 3,000 adolescents from various countries. Specifically, the researchers used data from the United States (an individualistic society), Greece (a collectivist society), and Germany (which is between individualistic and collectivistic). In each of these countries, both victims of bullying and the perpetrators of bullying had several things in common.

  1. They were both more likely to use alcohol and tobacco.
  2. They were both more likely to have somatic complaints like stomach pain, back pain, and headaches.
  3. They were both more likely to suffer from depression.
  4. They both exhibited social difficulties. For instance, they both described difficulty talking to friends or peers and they both described feeling a lack of support in their social environment.

I find it fascinating that these two groups suffer similar pain. Why do I bring this up to families? Because families can help reduce bullying by giving their children the emotional resources both groups need to live healthier, “bully-free lives.” Here are a few of those resources.

  • Develop a positive relationship with your children. Guide and discipline your children in love and grace (Do You Parent with a Club or a Staff?). Don’t bully them into obedience. Remember, relationships rule.
  • Teach your children healthy social skills. Skills like politeness and respect for others carry great power. Model and practice politeness in your family.
  • Teach your children healthy emotional management skills. Learning “emotional intelligence” is crucial for anyone’s success.  So, teach your children to label their emotions and use the energy aroused by their emotion to address healthy priorities in a healthy, respectful manner.  (Here are 6 Tips to Make Your Children’s Emotions Your Friend. )
  • Provide opportunities for your children to learn kindness If You Really Want Happy Kids, kindness is essential. Nurture kindness in your children by practicing kindness IN your family and AS a family. Volunteer together.
  • Create a home environment filled with gratitude, encouragement, and honor. Honor one another enough to verbalize gratitude and encouragement to each family member every day. Doing so will help each person develop a mindset of looking for things they are grateful for in others. As you show gratitude and encouragement, your children will follow suit.

Five things you can do to prevent bullying. It may not end bullying completely But, if enough families develop the habits described above, we might just change they world!

Your Child’s Toolbox for Self-Soothing

Children ride an emotional roller coaster. They get angry, happy, excited, bored, and so much more. You name it, they feel it. Unfortunately, they don’t know how to manage those feelings in a mature way…YET. One of our parental jobs is to teach them the skills necessary to manage emotions in a mature and effectively way.

The first step in teaching your children the skills to manage their emotions well is to make sure you manage your emotions well. (Find tips to manage your own emotion and get your teen to talk while you do in Encouraging Your Teen to Talk with You.)

The second thing you need to do is develop a strong relationship with your child, a relationship that encourages security and open communication. (Read An Amazing Parenting Insight Learned in 3 Parts and Relationships Rule for more.)

Third, develop an “Emotional Management Toolbox” with your child. Find a shoe box. Then sit down with your child to talk about ways to manage their emotions. As you talk about various methods, fill the box with items that will help them carry out the plan. Here are a few items that may prove useful in an Emotional Management Toolbox.

  • A set of emotional face cards. You can download this picture of facial expressions here or here to represent your child’s emotions. Cut them into cards, one emotion per card. Your child can use these pictures and labels to help him name the emotion he is feeling. Being able to name an emotion allows a person the time to think about the best response to that emotion. Naming an emotion is a first step in managing an emotion.
  • A straw to focus breathing. A straw can help a person learn how practice a calming breath. Put the straw in your child’s mouth and have them take a big breath in through their nose and then slowly breath out through the straw. This slow breathing exercise can help calm emotions.
  • Favorite photos. Get photos that remind them of their favorite place, a favorite person, or who they want to become…photos that remind them of their values, their desires, and their relationships.
  • Art supplies. Your child can use art supplies to express his or her emotions in positive and nonharmful ways.  So, get some crayons, markers, paints, coloring books, and paper. You can also get clay, playdough, beads, string…any art supplies your child might enjoy. Mandala coloring books can prove especially helpful with some teens.
  • Candles. Smells and aromas like lavender, sandalwood, jasmine, and vanilla are among the scents that have a calming effect on many people, including children. Scented candles and essential oils may prove a great tool in your child’s Emotional Management Toolkit.
  • Fidget toys and stress balls provide another excellent tool in the Emotional Management Toolkit. (A variety of fidget toys and stress balls can be found here or on amazon.)
  • A reminder to run or bike or do some physical activity. Sometimes a person needs to “blow off steam” to really manage their emotions. So figure out a way to put a reminder in the Emotional Management Toolkit. A picture or an action figure might do the trick…whatever serves as the best reminder for your child.
  • Self-affirmation cards. You and your child can sit down one day and create several self-affirmation cards to keep in their Emotional Management Toolkit. Statements like, “This makes me angry and I can use that anger to talk about what’s important to me.” Or, “I’ve managed this before and I can manage it again.” “I am stronger than my emotions.” “My emotions are not in charge of me; I’m in charge of my emotions.” You and your child can write down the ones that will be most helpful in your family.
  • A journal and pen. Studies have consistently shown that journaling can help us manage our emotions.  Here are four journaling exercises to help you manage your emotions. And, for another journaling help read The Good and the Bad of Journaling.

There are more things you could put in your child’s Emotional Management Toolkit, but I’ll leave that to you and your child’s creativity. Put it together and teach them to use it. In time, your child will be a master at managing emotion.

Parents Be Careful What You Say (AKA, Don’t Give Your Power Away)

Have you ever had “one of those weeks”? I have. We all have. Then, you come home and everything your children do and say becomes a source of irritation. Later, you tell your friend (or maybe you even say it to your children), “They were really pushing my buttons.”  And there it is, a phrase that gives your parental authority away. “You’re pushing my buttons” gives all your parental power to the person pushing your buttons…your children.  It disempowers us and leaves us at the mercy of the “button-pusher.”

A similar phrase with similar results is, “You’re driving me crazy.” Just like “They’re pushing my buttons,” this phrase is often followed by the great “giving in.”  “You’re driving me crazy; just do what you want.” “You’re driving me crazy; go ahead and….” After all, no one likes the “drive to crazy.”  We all want to get off the road as soon as possible, hopefully in what’s left of our “little oasis of sanity.”  Unfortunately, we give away power every time we get to the place of “You’re driving me crazy” and blindly drive right by our desired “oasis of sanity.”  

“You’re pushing my buttons” and “you’re driving me crazy” both give away parental authority and place it squarely in the hands of our children. When we make these statements, we have neglected our own power to manage our “buttons” and our “drive.” We have given our power to our children. And, our children know how to use it. Once they know how to “push our buttons” and “drive us crazy” to get what they want, they will do it over and over again.

Instead of letting the little munchkins “push your buttons” and “drive you crazy,” step back and take a breath. Soothe your own emotions. Realize that your children are not in control of your emotions, you are. Take control of your emotions. Take a break and collect your emotions and get back on the road to sanity…take charge of your buttons.

After you take control of yourself and our emotions, get curious. Begin to wonder, “what is actually going on”? Give an objective description of the situation and what led up to it. Make sure you have an objective description of what your children are doing, what they are asking for, and how they are asking. And, get curious about why your children are approaching you in this manner. Have you taught them this type of interaction? Have you been feeling tired and so been a little distant lately? Are they tired? Are they going through a phase of demandingness? Get curious and get some answers.

Finally, seek a solution. Stay calm. Set a limit. Give a choice. Make a deal. Any number of options may prove a great solution to the particular situation in which you find yourself. Get curious, be creative, and seek a solution. As you take control of yourself, get curious, and seek a solution you’ll find your children “push your buttons” less often. They won’t be “driving you crazy” so much. You will have a greater parental authority allowing you to lovingly respond to crises, demands, and requests that arise.

The Greatest Battles Parents Face

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.

  1. 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!
  2. 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).
  3. 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 decisions.

The Infamous Dad Joke

I noticed it again this year, did you? Every Father’s Day people start to talk about the “Dad Joke.” (What do you call someone with no body and just a nose?  No-body knows.) Someone will bring up the “Dad Joke” with a groan, moaning about “how corny” they are. Usually everyone begins to talk about the “Dad Joke” in a somewhat belittling manner, as if the “Dad Joke” is inferior to other types of joking. Disparaging remarks circulate as each person recalls the various “Dad Jokes” they heard from their beloved father.  Mostly one-liners. (Our dog used to chase people on a scooter…so we took away his scooter.) All simple puns. (What did the baby corn say to the mama corn? “Where’s popcorn?”) All easily understood after a moment’s thought. (Why did the police go to  the baseball game? Because they heard somebody stole second base!) But, the most ironic thing I notice…everyone starts to smile (You’re probably starting to smile already).  Groans turn to grins. The mood lightens. Laughter starts to break through. Faces light up as smiles grow larger. Before long, everyone is having a good time. Why? All because of the “Dad Joke.” ( You might enjoy the “Dad Joke,” but I would still avoid the sushi if I were you…it’s a little fishy.)

Yes, the “Dad Joke” may be simple to understood…but sometimes the wisest statements are those most easily understood. (Treat others like you want to be treated.) The “Dad Joke” is clean and short…no lectures just right to the punch line. (After winter, the trees are “re-leaved.”)  but, wouldn’t the world be a better place if we had fewer lectures and more clean news to watch.  The “Dad Joke” may be looked down upon by many…but it always lifts other people up by bringing joy and laughter into their lives. The “Dad Joke” brings a smile to people’s faces even while being spoken of disparagingly. And, the “Dad Joke” is ok with that because it knows the other person is more important than him. (BTW—having a 12-inch nose is impossible…at that point it becomes a foot.)   Isn’t that just like a good Dad?  Wise but easily understood… always encouraging and lifting their children up by bringing joy and laughter into their lives…bringing smiles to their families because they believe their family more important than themselves. (Did you know Beethoven got rid of all his chickens because they kept talking about “Bach, Bach, Bach?”)  I don’t know. Maybe I’m reaching here. But I think the “Dad Joke” is great…and so are Dads. And, if you think about it, they both come into existence at the same time. Think about it—when does a joke become a dad joke? When it becomes “apparent.” Give your Dad a little loving today. He needs it; and he deserves it.

Alexa, Turn On the Lights?… You Gotta Be Kidding Me

Did you see the Alexa commercial? I usually don’t say anything about commercials that bother me…but did you see that Alexa commercial? A girl comes home from a soccer game and is apparently upset about her game. Her mother “pauses” Alexa (who was reading an audio book to her when her daughter came home) and follows her daughter as though she plans to talk with her about the game. All well and good. In the next scene we see the mother in bed when she is suddenly awoken by “a noise.”  Once again, she speaks to Alexa, “What time is it?” “4:40 a.m.,” whispers Alexa. The mother looks out the bedroom window to see her daughter in the backyard “practicing” her soccer.  What does she do when she sees her daughter playing soccer in the backyard at 4:40 a.m.?  “Alexa, turn on the backyard light.”  That’s it? She turns on the lights before giving a proud nod to her daughter’s early morning practice.

Somehow that commercial really bothers me. What is the message communicated by that commercial? That Alexa, the mother’s only companion and confidante in the commercial, will helps us parent our children? I don’t think so. Alexa has no input…it only offers an obedient response to whatever “parental wisdom” we offer. Not a great parenting partner. No emotional investment. No experiential knowledge. Yeah, not a great parenting partner.

Maybe the message is one proclaiming that persistence and hard work help us achieve our goals…with the help of Alexa of course. But we never see the success…so I don’t think that’s the message. Really, I think I’m bothered more by the missing messages. For instance, where is the message about “a time and a place for everything”…a time to practice and a time to sleep? What about the message of learning to lose a game with grace and dignity? The message that our self-worth is not based on our performance…especially our performance in a single game? What does this commercial teach us about the importance of sleep for our physical and mental well-being…and even for improving performance, especially for teens?  Of course, the commercial is not trying to teach us anything. It only wants to sell us a product. But it does send a message…and I’m not sure I like the message.  Do you? At any rate, I better quit my rambling. “Alexa, turn off my computer.”

The Miry Muck of Parenting

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.

  • We make 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.”
  • Sometimes we expect more from our children than they know or are developmentally ready to do.  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.
  • Too often, 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.
  • In 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.

A Television in the Bedroom

I have to start this blog with a caveat, a confession. I love TV. So, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not against televisions. I enjoy a good show or movie as much as the next guy. In fact, my wife and children would say I even enjoy a bad movie more than the next guy. But, a television in our children’s bedroom?  Bad idea…for children of any age. A study published in December, 2018 revealed a link between having a TV in the bedroom at the age of 4 and higher body mass index, more unhealthy eating habits, and lower levels of sociability at the age of 13 years. A TV in the bedroom of a 4-year-old was also linked to higher levels of emotional distress, depressive symptoms, victimization, and physical aggression at the age of 13 years. This study found these results true regardless of any pre-existing individual or family factors that would predispose such problems. A TV added to these problems on top of any other family or personal issues.

“But,” you might be saying, “I wouldn’t put a TV in my 4-year-olds room?” Dartmouth surveyed 6,522 children between the ages of 8- and 18-years of age in 2003. 59% of these youth had TV’s in their room. The researchers surveyed them again two and four years later. They found that those who had TV’s in their room were more likely overweight two years later. Two and four years later they continued to exhibit a growing body mass index. In other words, they were getting more overweight over the entire time of the study.   

Another study involving 781 adolescents found that older adolescents who have a TV in their bedrooms watched four to five more hours of television per week (over those who had no TV in their bedroom). That’s four to five hours they could be doing homework, playing outside, or helping around the house, making friends, or reading a book! They were also less likely to exercise, enjoy family meals, or eat fruits and vegetables.  

As these studies suggest, whether your child is 4-years-old, between 8- to 18-years-old, or an older adolescent, a TV in the bedroom leads to problems in health, mood, and social interactions. Like I said, I’m not against TV’s. I love a good show. But these studies give me pause; they make me think. Even more disconcerting, these studies focused on television prior to the age of smartphones and iPads. Perhaps we need to exercise even more caution with the extra options for show viewing available to our children and teens today. Take the screens out of the bedroom. Design your children’s bedroom as a safe haven for rest and relaxation, a place to sleep rather than text, binge watch Netflix, post on Instagram, or watch videos. Let them charge their phones outside the bedroom in a public area. Keep all electronic screen devices in a common area rather than the bedroom. Make the bedroom a place of rest, relaxation, and sleep.

Parents Learning “Baby Talk”?

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.

4 Tips for Communicating with Your Teen

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 communication open.

  1. 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 words.
  2. Stay calm. 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 listening.
  3. 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.
  4. Show grace. 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.

« Older Entries