Tag Archive for parenting

Are You Hindering Your Children’s Growth?

Every parent strives to keep their children safe and healthy. I know I do. We want to provide opportunities for our children to make friends, try new things, and grow. But, many well-intentioned parents cross the line from providing and encouraging to hovering and controlling. Parents often cross this line accidentally, unknowing even, and in response to fears, anxieties, or sensitivities. When that line is crossed, our children suffer. Nicole B. Perry, PhD, from the University of Minnesota, completed a study following 422 children over an 8-year period. Her team assessed the children at ages 2, 5, and 10. The assessments included observations of parent-child interactions, teacher-reported responses, and self-reports from the 10-year-olds. When parents were assessed as hovering (aka, “helicopter parents”), the children were more likely to develop emotional and behavioral regulation difficulties. The inability to self-regulate emotions and behaviors contributed to poorer social skills as well.  What did a “hovering” parent do while interacting with their children? What made them “hovering” parents (3 Signs You Are A Helicopter Parent)? Well, rather than letting their children pick out a toy and play, “hovering” parents told their children what to play with and how to play with it. For instance, they might take over the controls for the video game to show their child how to complete a level, leaving their child to sit passively by and watch. Or, they might explain that tree leaves are green, not purple, and expect the child to color them green because that is more accurate. It’s all done to teach…but it interferes with their children’s opportunities to explore, learn from mistakes, and “think independently.”  Hovering parents also told their children how to clean up rather than simply encouraging their children to clean up (or better yet clean up with them). They often exhibited strict or demanding behaviors during play interactions, such as demanding the play proceed in a certain order rather than following their children’s lead or negotiating. Compared to children of parents who did not hover, children of “hovering” parents exhibited difficulties self-regulating emotions and behaviors. So, what can a parent do to “not hover” and still teach? To encourage a growing ability to self-regulate emotions and behaviors? Good question. Try some of these tips.

  • Talk about feelings and what behaviors might flow from various feelings. Help your children develop a vocabulary for emotions and a behavioral repertoire for managing those emotions. (Read 6 Tips to Make Your Children’s Emotions Your Friend for ideas to help you do this.)
  • Follow child’s lead in play. Spend at least part of your time with children simply following their lead. Acknowledge their actions and report those actions. Doing so communicates as sense of value to your children. It also increases the likelihood that they will follow your lead as well.  So, don’t take the controller to let them watch you beat the level on the video game. Instead, let them experiment and simply report back what they did along with the results. (Investing Time & Attention in Your Children describes a great way to do this!)
  • Negotiate the play. I know this sounds contradictory to the last bullet, but both are true. Sometimes we need to follow our children’s lead in play. Sometimes we need to negotiate the play with our children. Negotiating play teaches our children the skill of cooperation and compromise. It lets them learn that they don’t always get what they want…which in turn increases frustration tolerance. (Sometimes negotiation goes beyond playing. Check out 4 Benefits of Negotiating with Your Child to learn more.)  
  • Give your children chores. Teach them what needs done but allow them the freedom to achieve it in their way.  They may choose to do it the hard way.  Let them. They may take twice as long to do it. That’s ok. As long as they get the job done well, be happy.
  • Send them out to play with friends. Let them engage in unstructured, unsupervised play. They will learn amazing self-regulation skills while negotiating, compromising, and enjoying play with other children. (Give them the tools right out of Your Child’s Toolbox for Play.)
  • Set good example. Let your children see you manage anger and frustration well. Let them see you express joy and sorrow in healthy, appropriate ways. After all, our children learn best by watching us. So, set a good example. And start that example with having fun!

Put Your Children to Work For Goodness’ Sake!!

Children thrive when they learn to manage their behaviors and emotions independently. They need to engage in at least two tasks to learn the skills of managing their behaviors and emotions. These two tasks make up the work of children. If they do not do this work, they will fall into our current cultural crisis of self-indulgence and self-gratification. On the other hand, doing work that allows them to learn the skills necessary to manage behaviors and emotions contributes to success, long-term joy, and contentment.  So, let’s put our children to work. Let’s get them on task, engaged in the work at hand. Here are the two basic work tasks in which our children need to engage so they develop the ability to manage their behaviors and emotions independently. Read on…because these work tasks might surprise you. 

  • Unsupervised, unstructured play remains the number one job for our children. When children play with other children they learn to cooperate with one another. They practice the art of compromise. They often need to set aside their own self-gratification for the good of the group and negotiate a solution everyone can live with if they want to continue the game. Each player learns to wait their turn, a discipline in delayed gratification and self-control. They also learn that they cannot “get their way” all the time. In the work of unsupervised, unstructured play our children learn to resolve disputes in a way that keeps everyone involved in the game. Unstructured play also allows children to take healthy risks, learning the limits of their bodies and abilities and when to stop to avoid injury. In other words, unsupervised, unstructured play is a job that teaches our children the skills necessary to manage their behaviors and emotions independently. ( Make Your Child “a Head Taller Than Himself” explains more about the benefit of play for the maturing child.)
  • Significant work in the home or community becomes the number two job to help our children learn to manage their behaviors and emotions independently. Notice, our children need “significant” work not “meaningless” tasks. Our children need work that makes a significant contribution to our home or community. Significant work allows them to feel like an important part of the home, like they are an important wheel in the overall functioning of the family. It informs them that they belong; they are needed. Children also become more confident when they have chores that play a meaningful part in their homes or communities. If, on the other hand, we prioritize our children’s activities to the extent that they no longer have any household contribution, we have set them up for struggles. They can easily slip into self-indulgence rather than community-orientation. They learn to be self-focused rather than community-focused. They miss out on opportunities to develop the discipline of prioritizing “what needs to be done” while making time for other activities as well. By engaging in significant household chores children learn of their self-worth, their contribution to “something bigger than themselves.” In other words, significant chores in the home and community give our children the opportunity to learn to manage their behaviors and emotions independently. (Read Chores: The Gift of Significance for more.)

So, put your children to work. Make time for them to engage in the work of unstructured, unsupervised play and assure they have significant chores that contribute to the home and family.

Mothers Need the Village Too

The African proverb teaches us that “it takes a village to raise a child.”  Usually we believe this proverb teaches us children need a community of different people interacting with them for them to experience and grow in a safe environment. That is true; but, a recent study presented at the annual APA convention expands the meaning of this proverb to include the supportive village mothers need in the workplace as well. Let me explain.

Dionisi & Dupre conducted an online survey with 146 working mothers and their spouses. They asked the mothers about their experience in the workplace and their feelings of effectiveness as a parent. They asked their spouses about the parenting behaviors of the mothers. They found that experiencing rude behavior at work was associated with parenting behaviors that included high expectations for behavior, demands that their children follow the rules unconditionally, little feedback or positive nurturance, and harsh punishment for even small mistakes. In other words, when women were treated with disrespect, impoliteness, or ignored in the workplace, they exhibited more demanding and less nurturing behaviors toward their children at home. When a mother’s  workplace village ignored them, made derogatory remarks about them, robbed them of credit due for hard work, or blamed them for some mistake, they exhibited harsher and less relation-oriented behavior toward their children in the home.

These “low-intensity negative behaviors” (disrespect, impoliteness, blame, stealing credit, derogatory remarks, ignoring)n experienced in the workplace village “eroded” the mother’s sense of competence.  They then went home and were more likely to treat their children in demanding and harsh ways with little feedback and nurturance. These negative parental behaviors have been associated with many negative outcomes like aggressive behavior outside the home, difficulty in social situations, increased depression or anxiety, and poor self-control. To summarize, how the village treats the mother impacts how she interacts with her children which impacts how the children mature and act in the community. It’s not just the children who need a village for experience and safety. The children also need a mother who has a village that provides her with support, encouragement, and safety. I guess it really does take a village to raise a child…and that village needs to treat mothers with respect to have the best outcomes possible!

My Intelligence Went Adrift in the Sea of Her Eyes

A couple years ago, during my daughter’s sophomore year in college, we went to a high school football game together. She saw a young college age man wearing a sweatshirt from the college she attended. Excited to meet someone who attended the same college as her, she walked up to him and said, “Hey, I go to that college too!” The young man smiled, eyes wide.  She said, “What’s your major?” His arms began to move in motions indicative of speech and he opened his mouth as though to speak, but the words did not flow. After a very brief moment, sounds began to emanate from his moving lips as he stuttered, “Huh…well…I…huh…oh man,” his hand landed on the top of his head, “I can’t remember my major!” He looked hopelessly to his friend and then said, “I gotta go.”  I just smiled.  He did return later and had a more intelligible conversation with my daughter. He was a nice young man…very intelligent actually. He just “got lost in her eyes.” When she “ambushed him” that way his intelligence went adrift in her eyes.

Watching this brief interaction brought two things to my mind. One, I recalled the scene from Inside Out. You can check it out here. Two, it reminded me of a study completed in 2009 in which people interacted with attractive members of the opposite sex before completing cognitive tests (What Sexy People Do To Your Intelligence). Both males and females performed worse on the cognitive tests in the presence of an attractive member of the opposite sex. But males exhibited a stronger drop in ability than women. Why? The authors of the study believed that it had to do with “impression management.” It seems that trying to make a positive impression on another person sucks up enough brain power that our cognitive skills, our intelligence, is weakened. (That must be why I can’t speak intelligently when my wife walks into the room…oh, come one guys…give me a break. I’m trying to earn some brownie points here if my wife happens to read my blog!) My daughter knows about these studies since I talk about them (she would say I talk about them too much). She had compassion for the guy. She was patient and didn’t make a deal out of it.  In other words, she treated him with respect and honor. Teaching our children to respond to others with respect and honor is an important part of equipping them for the world…and making the world a better place. Let’s teach our children these values early.  Let’s give the values of honor and respect a central place in our families and in our training of children. We can still enjoy the intelligence that goes adrift in the sea of beautiful eyes, but we can also admire the compassion, patience, honor, and respect we witness in return.

Fathers…Who Needs ‘Em?

If you watch TV very often you might find yourself asking, “Fathers, who needs ’em?” Fathers, according to the sitcoms, are the bumbling, awkward parents who need a woman to save them and their family relationships. Even in Disney movies fathers often fall short. They need their daughters to save them from their fearful, “dark age thinking” (think Little Mermaid or Moana). Fathers are consistently taken advantage of by the antagonist of the Disney movie (think of the Sultan in Aladdin or Jane’s father in Tarzan). Fathers also play the “bad guy” by restricting their children’s growth and exploration (like Chief Powhatan in Pocahontas or Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins).  Don’t get me wrong. I love Disney movies. But, if they give a true representation of fathers, who needs ’em (fathers, I mean)?

Wait, I know the answer to that question. Who needs fathers? WE ALL NEED FATHERS!!! In spite of the representation we see of fathers in film, we need fathers. In fact, these representations are far from accurate. They dramatically misrepresent fatherhood…and do not show the true value of fathers.

Case in point, consider the findings of meta-analysis consisting of 34 studies on fatherhood completed by William Jeynes’, professor at California State University. The studies in this meta-analysis involved a total of 37,300 participants and highlighted the unique role of fathers in childrearing. Contrary to the depiction that children had to bring their fathers out of their fearful, “dark-age” thinking, this meta-analysis revealed that fathers play a crucial role in the “preparatory aspect of child-rearing.”   In other words, fathers played an important role (over and above the role of mothers) in helping children successfully move into the world as independent adults. Fathers also tended to communicate higher expectations of their children than mothers, helping them become ready for the world outside of home. Rather than restrict their children’s growth and exploration, fathers encourage their children’s growth and exploration. While encouraging exploration, a father’s active involvement still led to lower rates of delinquency and substance abuse in their children. As these few results reveal, we all need loving fathers in our lives! (For more on the impact of fathers in the family read A Father’s Surprising Difference and Fathers: “Committed to a Precious Responsibility”)

So, if you’re a mother, encourage your children’s father to become actively involved in your children’s lives.

If you’re a father, get off the couch, turn off the TV, leave work at a decent hour, and get involved in your children’s lives.  Their success in life depends on it. And, you will never regret that you did it! (The Best Advice for Dads…Ever to learn the best thing I ever did as a father!)

Let the Children Bump!!

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.

Parents: Do Your Actions Reveal Your True Feelings?

How do you think of your children? I mean, really, underneath all the hubbub and philosophical questions and answers, how do you feel about your children? Sure, we can talk about whether they are born with a propensity for good or evil; or, we could discuss how much they know and whether they manipulate or simply try to get their needs met in the best way they know how. We could even go so far as to make determinations about their ability to know right from wrong, the age of accountability, their moral character…and on and on.  Researchers have explored these areas. But, really, I don’t want to know any of that. I want to know how YOU feel about your children; how YOU think about your children. Most parents cherish their children. They look at their children with great pride when they do well. When their children hurt, they feel that pain just as acutely. They want the absolute best for their children. At times they look at their children with awe realizing “that little person is my responsibility.” They are so smart, so talented, so…beautiful. Regardless of all the philosophical debates and disagreements, parents love their children! Since we love our children, shouldn’t we show them respect as well?

  • We show our children respect by giving them our full attention and listening intently rather than “multi-tasking” with our work, our TV show, our book, or our household chores. I’m not saying we can never talk while doing something else, but to give our children our full attention when they want to tell us something shows great respect. We expect them to give us full attention…and what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. (Learn more in The Gracious Art of Listening)
  • We show our children respect by speaking to them respectfully. Calling our children names or speaking impolitely does not show respect…or love. Making comments that hurt their feelings or degrade their efforts does not show respect. Speaking politely, saying “please” and “thank you,” shows respect. Apologizing when we are wrong shows respect. Speaking words that encourage and gently correct show respect.
  • We respect our children when we value their interests. When we nurture and support their interests we respect our children and their interests. In fact, Grow Your Children’s Dream with these tips.
  • We respect our children when we accept and listen to our children’s feelings. Remember, our children feel differently than we do. They may get upset about things that seem trivial to us but respecting our children means we accept those feelings and respond to them with love. When we respect our children’s feelings, they will learn to respect other people’s feelings as well.
  • We show our children respect by respecting their space and their time. Of course, we still remain responsible and so monitor their phones, assure they keep their space clean, and help them learn to manage their time. We also knock before entering. We do not sneak around behind their back but keep them informed as to expectations. We respect their age-appropriate privacy. (Read Raising Respectful Children: A Self-Examination for more.)
  • We respect our children by respecting their opinion, even when it differs from our opinion. We encourage them to think and explore.
  • We respect our children when we discipline with grace. (Discover more in Parental Assumptions & the Cycle of Discipline.)

We love our children. One way to show that love is to respect our children. The question is: Do your actions reveal your love for your children? Do your actions of respect reveal your love?

It Begins In Your Mind

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?

The Dilemma of Your Emerging Butterfly

I remember the story of a boy watching a butterfly slowly free himself from its cocoon. The boy felt pity as he watched the butterfly struggle to get out the cramped wrappings of transformation. He feared the butterfly was not making progress quickly enough. He feared the butterfly might hurt himself in the struggle. So, to be helpful, the boy got some scissors, cut the cocoon open, and freed the butterfly. Unfortunately, the butterfly did not fly away in gratitude. He fell to the ground with small, shriveled wings. The butterfly’s wings never opened up and he never flew. He was confined to crawling on the ground for the rest of his short life. The butterfly needed the struggle to develop his wings for flight and prepare his body for life outside the cocoon. I don’t know if the story is true or even realistic (I did find a rendition of it at Struggle is Good! I Want to Fly!), but it does make an important point. Sometimes we need to struggle and take risks to grow. 

Did you know that recent research suggests that one contributor to the increase in children suffering with anxiety is overprotective parenting? In a sense, we have become so protective of our children…so careful to prevent their risk, their frustration, their potential harm…that we have prevented them from the very experience they need to grow confident and independent. I learned many important lessons as a child in somewhat risky situations, lessons that helped me build confidence, know my limits, and exercise healthy caution.

  • I learned the limits of speed riding my bicycle.
  • I learned the dangers of playing with fire from a paper towel…and making smores.
  • I learned important lessons about height while climbing trees and small “cliffs” near my house (btw-these “cliffs” look small when I see them as an adult).
  • I learned the need for caution when jumping over things while jumping over fallen trees.
  • I learned the potential for hurting someone and being hurt by playing “pick-up games” of football.
  • I learned to use caution cutting grass by cutting grass and experiencing some “flying debris.”

We learn our capabilities and the limits of those capabilities when we take small risks during our play as children. Our children need the opportunity to play and engage in some independent activities, even ones that carry risk, so they can grow and learn about their capabilities and limits. Of course, we will provide appropriate levels of protection so those risks are age appropriate and not overly dangerous. Even so, they will get bruises, cuts, and scratches along the way. They may experience frustrations and even cry about some of those frustrations. And, they will learn. They will grow. They will become independent. So…how can you begin to allow your child, your butterfly, to emerge from their cocoon and become more independent over the next week?

Raising Royalty

Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle, Prince Harry, Prince William…it seems they’ve been on the news every month this year. I must admit, I don’t know a lot about the royal family. But this year you couldn’t help but see some of the “royal news.” They always look good. They always present well. They smile. They show respect. They interact well with others. It all got me thinking. Maybe we want to raise our children like royalty. Here are a few tips from watching the royal family in the news to help get us started.

  • Royalty dresses modestly. They do not dress pretentiously or provocatively. Instead, they dress in a way that reveals respect for themselves and others. We want to teach our children to dress respectfully and modestly as well. We want them to learn that “it’s hard to speak to a person’s heart when all you can see is their parts.” We want them to learn that their dress contributes to how people see them and what people believe about their character. In other words, we want to teach our children to dress like royalty, modestly and respectfully.
  • Royalty greets people with a smile. They are polite and gracious in their interactions. They show respectful interest in others. Don’t we want our children to do the same? We look on with pride when our children interact with other people respectfully and politely. We teach them to treat others with grace and respect. We teach them to act like royalty. (Read The Chick-fil-A Family Interaction Model and The Mighty Power of Kindness for Families for more.)
  • In this age of social media, royalty posts wisely. It is not befitting for royalty to enter petty disagreements and conflicts. Instead royalty publishes on social media wisely. Let’s teach our children to do the same. (20 Family Rules for Social Media…Straight from God for some practical ideas.)
  • Royalty keeps private things private, not just on social media but in all areas of their life. They limit inappropriate public displays of affection and carefully monitor their speech to remain respectful, refined, and mature. Isn’t it important to us to teach our children the same?

Yes. We want to raise royalty…and these four tips will help us do it right! Why not start today?

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