Tag Archive for parenting

Sure, Children Lie…But Parents?

It’s true. Children lie. But parents? A collaborative effort of four universities from four different countries (Singapore, Canada, US, and China) conducted a study exploring the impact of parental lies…so they must have known parents lie. I had to ask myself…what kind of lies might parents tell their children? As soon as I asked, I began to recall some lies I have heard parents tell their children. “Tell them I’m not home.” “If you don’t behave, I’ll call the police.” “Tell them I’m sick and we’ll go to the park.” “I’m too tired to play” (while working on a home project). “You aren’t tired.”

Yes, parents lie sometimes. But, when parents lie, it seems to carry dire consequences. Which brings me back to the collaborative study exploring the impact of parental lies. The clinicians involved in the study found that lying led to short-term compliance but long-term problems. Sure, the little white lie got the children to behave in the moment, but it led to negative consequences as the children grew up.  Specifically, the more a person reported being lied to as a child, the more likely they lied to their parents as they got older. They also reported greater difficulty managing various psychological and social challenges. They exhibited more disruptive behavior, conduct problems, selfish behaviors, and manipulative behaviors. They reported feeling guilt and shame more often as well.

With so many behavioral, social, and emotional challenges arising in our children from parental lies, you might want to try an alternative.

  • Acknowledge your children’s feelings and your own feelings rather than dismissing them with a lie. (“You can’t be tired.” “You have no reason to be upset.” “I’m not angry!!”) Let your children know it is ok to have various feelings. Then teach them how to respond to those feelings in an appropriate manner.
  • Give your children information. Rather than lie, explain…truthfully. Our children can learn from the truth.
  • Offer choices. No need to lie and tell them the green shirt with the hole in it is dirty when in truth you simply do not want them to wear a shirt with  hole in it. Give them the information. Explain why you do not want them to wear it. Then offer them a choice of other clothes they can wear.

How else might you avoid telling your children lies?

Teach Your Children Hardiness

Times are tough, no doubt. But you can use these tough times to teach your children an important skill: hardiness. Hardiness is a psychological term describing a pattern of managing stress (aka-tough times) in a way that leads to greater success and joy. People who develop hardiness tend to manage stress better, take better care of their health, and view themselves as capable. Doesn’t that sound like traits we want our children to learn? We can help our children grow hardier by promoting the “three C’s” in their lives: commitment, challenge, and control.  Here is a very brief description of each one and things you can say that may help your children grow hardier through the tough times.

  • Commitment. Commitment refers to a sense of meaning and purpose in life. It is marked by involvement instead of withdrawal and isolation. A person of commitment keeps their eye on the larger meaning of life, their purpose. They look at problems within the context of “something bigger,” the context of values, priorities, and meaning. Questions you might ask your children during “hard times” or problems that can promote commitment include:
    • What makes this so important to you? What does this mean for you?
    • What do you ultimately want from this situation? In an ideal world, what would be the perfect outcome?
    • What is most interesting to you about this…?
    • What makes this situation so important to you? Why does it arouse such strong emotion in you?
    • How do you think you can become a better person by dealing with this challenge?
  • Challenge. People with hardiness see the problem as a challenge, an opportunity to learn and grow. Because they are committed to a life of meaning and purpose, they see the challenge, the tough times, as an opportunity to move toward the ultimate goals of their values and purpose. You can help instill a sense of challenge in your children with comments like:
    • What can we learn from this situation?
    • That did not work out the way we/you wanted. But we did learn that….
    • How can you use what you learned in this situation to grow stronger? To bring your life more in line with your values?
    • How can you communicate you values and priorities effectively during this tough time (problem, conflict, etc.)?
    • Remember other times when you overcame problems even when it was hard?
  • Control. Control refers to our belief in our own agency, our influence in the situation or our ability to choose our response. It is the opposite of powerlessness. It combines with a sense of challenge to see what aspects of the stressful situations we have influence over and then seeks to exert that influence to create a positive change. We can help our children grow an appropriate sense of control by asking:
    • What are your options?
    • What will you do now?
    • What parts of this situation can you change?
    • There are a lot of contributors to this situation. Which ones are within your power to change?
    • What mistakes did you make? How will you do it differently next time?
    • How can you improve this situation? Or make this problem better?

Simple questions that can help your child develop hardiness over time…and reap the benefits of growing into a hardy adult.

The Digital Bedtime Story?

I love to read. When my daughters were young, I loved reading to them at bedtime. I also loved lying in the bed with my wife and children listening to my wife read Little House on the Prairie or The Chronicles of Narnia to our children. We read physical books to our children…you know, books made of real paper as opposed to e-books. I’m not sure we had the choice of using e-books when my children were young. Still, the smell and touch of the paper, the sound of a turning page…it all has a certain beauty to it.

Today, you might think to read bedtime stories from an e-book, a nook, or a kindle to your children. But before you do, consider this small study published in 2019. This study involved 37 parent-child pairs. The children were an average of 29-months-old. The researchers observed and recorded behaviors while these parent-child pairs read stories together. In fact, each pair read each story in three different formats: a physical book, an e-reading tablet, and an e-reading tablet on which the story was interactive (touching added sounds, enhanced pictures, read words).

After observing and coding behavior, the researchers found that parent-child pairs using e-readers battled for possession of the tablet more often than they did when using a physical  book. Children moved so the parent could not see the e-reader more often, controlling the parent’s ability to read. Children and parents touched the book more often, pushed the other person’s hand away. Parents and children grabbed the book or attempted to move it out of the other’s range as well. In other words, parent and child exerted more effort to control the e-reader. They exhibited more behaviors aimed at “managing possession” of the tablet.

Why? The researchers note that tablets are generally for solitary use. For instance, parents may use the e-reader as an electronic babysitter for the child, letting their play with it alone while they clean the kitchen. This may increase the difficulty of using it collaboratively as a pair. Children also love to explore what is generally off limits to them. So, when an e-reader, which is generally off limits to them or turned off so they cannot use it, is suddenly presented to them, they may want to possess it. The researchers also suggest that both parent and child may be “mesmerized” by the screens that invite each one into a solitary interaction with the screen. In other words, in the long run, we really do not know why parents and children battled more for control of the e-reader when they can collaborate and share with the physical book. Perhaps that will be the next study we read.

But, whatever the reason, physical books led to greater interactive sharing versus attempts to control and possess. I like what the author of Bedtime Stories in the Digital Age concluded after reviewing this information: “if our parent-child interactions shape our future behaviors (and they do), we might want to read physical books with our children. Doing so is a more collaborative, less controlling interaction.”  And, if our world needs anything right now, it needs more collaborative, less controlling people. So, pick up a couple of physical books and enjoy reading them with your child.

My Teen: A Live-in Boarder?

Anna Freud once wrote that teenagers “live in the home in the attitude of a boarder, usually a very inconsiderate one so far as the older and younger family members are concerned” (1958). This quote describes how a teenager’s developmental work of separating from the family to become an independent person is perceived by others in the home. For many parents, this often feels like a teenager abruptly withdrew from the family and now spends all their time with friends. When they do come home, they immediately sequester voluntarily into their room. Suddenly, they seem embarrassed by a parent’s presence. They appear to desire time with friends more than family. They frown, sigh, and scowl in response to family attempts at interaction but light up with a smile as soon as a friend comes into sight. But who wants a scowling boarder in the home, especially one that doesn’t make any contribution to the household? How can a parent respond to this in a way that will promote their teenager’s growth?

  • First, understand that, as frustrating as it is, this is not unusual behavior. It is normal. Teenagers are preparing to leave the security of home and enter the world of adults. The teenage years of pushing family away allows them to practice leaving before they actually do. It allows them to pretend like they live alone with the safety net of family to catch them if (and when) they make a mistake. They can practice “adulting” from the comfort and safety of home. I like Lisa Damour’s analogy that the teen years of separating from family and practicing independence are like learning to ride a bike with training wheels (found in her book, Untangled). It’s preparation for the real thing. Give them the opportunity to practice adult decisions, adult debates, and adult lifestyles while in the security of your loving and watching eye. Let them have some independence.
  • Allow them some privacy. Let their bedroom become their sanctuary. You can still set limits around technology to help them internalize healthy limits of their own. But let them have their space. Respect that space. Knock before you enter. Don’t go in uninvited.
  • Provide opportunity for increased responsibility. Let them begin to practice some adult skills. Let them contribute to the household in a meaningful way. This may require that you explain how some task or chore you ask them to complete is meaningful. For instance, you might let them wash their own clothes, feed their dog, get a job outside the house, help cook meals, run to the store for you, or volunteer to help the younger children in church. Let them have some adult responsibility. These responsibilities will have to be adjusted as your teen’s schedule changes. But, let them have some responsibility.
  • Enjoy family meals.  I know it’s difficult to get the whole family together every day for a meal. But try to get as much of the family together for a meal on as many days as you can during the week. The research suggests that dinner with one parent has the same positive effect as having dinner with two parents. The important thing is not forcing everyone to come together but getting as much of the family together as often as you can for a family meal. Aim for 5 of 7 days a week. The benefits of eating family meals (What a 10-year-old Gains Eating With Family and the benefits of The Lost Art of Family Meals) will serve as a great motivator for you to encourage family meals. 
  • Take advantage of ideal times talk with your teen. Car time is one such time. When you drive your teen to various places, let them pick the music and spend the ride talking with them about the things they enjoy—their friends, their struggles, their relationships. Another great time to connect with your teen is bedtime. Before you go to bed (or before they go to bed, whichever comes first), spend 10-20 minutes touching bases. Share about your day and listen to them share about their days. Talk about your plans for the coming days and big plans for the coming months. Make this time of connection a simple routine and you’ll be pleased with how well you connect during this time. (Learn more tips to Connect with Your Teen.)

The teen years offer the teen a time to learn how to live on their own, to discover their place in the world, and to learn to trust in their ability to navigate the world independently. What better place to practice than in the safety and comfort of their parents’ loving gaze and care?

Your Children Are Watching…Teach Them Well

I like the words of Alison Gopnik in her book The Gardener and The Carpenter. “Children not only do as you do, they do as you intend to do, as you really ought to have done, and as it would make most sense for you to do.”

It’s true. Children don’t simply do as we tell them to do. They do as we do. They imitate our actions and repeat our words. Who hasn’t had the experience of hearing your toddler shouting out the profanity you said only one time in moment of frustration. Our children learn by observing us. But they learn even more than that. They learn and do as we intended to do, even when we mess up along the way. Consider the study involving 18-month-old toddlers watching someone trying to take a toy apart. As the person tries to take the toy apart, their fingers keep slipping. The 18-month-old children do not imitate the slipping fingers. They recognize the intent and imitate the intent by taking the toy apart without their fingers slipping. (Consider this example too. It’s one of my favorites and it’s An Amazing Parenting Insight Learned in Three Parts). Yes, our children imitate our intended behaviors.

They also do what we “really ought to have done” and what makes most efficient sense. Consider this example. A group of 18-month-old children watch as a person tries to make a box light up. The person’s arms were wrapped up, so he was unable to use them. So, to make the box light up, he lightly bangs his head on the box. The 18-month-old children do not bang their head on the box to get it to light up. Instead, they recognize the intent was to hit the box so it would light up. They also recognize the person’s inability to use their arms and the greater efficiency of using arms. So, they bang the box with their hands to make the box light up. Children do as we “really ought to have done.”

Still, on more caveat about this quote. Children are more likely to do as we intend and as we “really ought to have done” when we have a relationship with them. Children learn best from within a loving relationship. Which leads to a second quote by Alison Gopnik that I really like: “The key to love in practice is doing things together…participating in the world in a way that accommodates the strengths and weaknesses of both of you,” you and your child. Our children learn by observing and imitating. They imitate our intended purpose and will modify their actions to those that are most efficient and effective…even when we mess up. So, love your child by doing things together. Let them observe your patience when interacting with things in the world and your kindness when interacting with other people. Let them participate in the shopping, the acts of kindness, the cleaning, the games, the cooking. Let them observe your patience, your kindness, your joy… and they will imitate. They will imitate our intended actions and attitudes even when we mess up. (Really, this is great news. Consider how great this news is by reading My Children Are Copy Cats, No What?.)

7 Things You Can Do to Raise a Healthy Adult

Life is filled with risk factors and protective factors.  Children, in particular, are susceptible to these risk factors and protective factors. In fact, you may have heard talk about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and how they impact our children even into adulthood. Specifically, ACEs include abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual), neglect (physical or emotional), and household dysfunction (mental illness, domestic violence, incarcerated relative, substance abuse, or abuse). The more ACEs a child experiences, the greater the risk that child will suffer from depression or poor mental health. In addition, the more ACEs a child experiences, the more likely they will struggle in developing social emotional supports as an adult. In other words, these childhood traumas impact an adult’s level of life satisfaction and functioning. That’s bad news.

BUT…there is good news. Children can experience protective factors as well. These Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) also have an impact on our adult lives. Recent research identified 7 Positive Childhood Experiences and their impact on adult life by surveying over 6,000 men and women over the age of 18. (Read another review here.) The seven PCEs included:

  1. Having the opportunity to talk with family members about their feelings.
  2. Feeling that their family stood by them during difficult times.
  3. Enjoying participation in community traditions and activities.
  4. Feeling a sense of belonging in high school.
  5. Feeling supported by friends.
  6. Having at least two non-parent adults who take a genuine interest in them.
  7. Feeling safe and protected by an adult in their home.

An adult who had experienced 6 or 7 of these as a child had a 72% lower chance of reporting depression or other mental health concerns than someone who experienced 0 to 2 of these PCEs.   If they experienced 3 to 5 PCEs, they had a 50% lower chance of depression or other mental health concerns. In addition, those experiencing 6 or 7 PCEs reported “always” 3.53 times more often when asked about receiving social and emotional support as an adult than those who received only 0 to 2 PCEs. The most amazing discovery: the positive impact of PCE’s remained true even after accounting for Adverse Childhood Experiences.  

What’s the takeaway? Children are more likely to have better mental health, less depression, and healthier relationships in adulthood if they experience these 7 positive childhood experiences. You can build these positive experiences right into the fabric of your family.

  1. Accept the expression of feelings.  Weep with your children when they weep. Rejoice when they rejoice. Share their anger and celebrate their joys.
  2. Difficult times will arise, anything from their first broken heart to the loss of a pet to the loss of a friend from death. Stand by them. Comfort them. Let them feel your presence.
  3. Participate in community traditions. This may include community fireworks, scouting, sports, or weekly worship. Get involved.
  4. Remain involved in your child’s education. Visit the school. Volunteer to help with whatever club they join. Talk to their teachers. Do what you can to help them feel a sense of belonging in their school.
  5. Encourage your children to invite friends to your house. Have snacks available. Allow your child to take a friend on an outing. Get to know the parents of your children’s friends. Ask about your children’s friends.
  6. Get to know the adults in your child’s life and encourage their relationship with those you trust. They may connect with a coach, a family friend, an aunt or uncle, a minister. Encourage these positive connections. After all, it takes a village to raise a child.
  7. Help your child feel safe and protected in the home. The first step in this process is developing a secure, loving relationship with their other parent. Work on your marriage. Keep it strong.

Build these 7 positive childhood experiences into the fabric of your family. You’ll love the results. And your children will reap the benefits for their entire life!

Nurture Your Child’s Success in School

I hate to say it, but report cards are not a very good measure of school success. We want our children to learn so much more in school than how to regurgitate enough information to get an “A” on their report card. We want them to develop a joy for learning. We want them to learn how to think independently and to ask insightful questions. We want them to develop a sense of competence. We want them to learn the social skills necessary to become successful in the workforce. And, we want them to develop an intrinsic motivation to learn and grow. Those traits would reveal a child’s success in school. An “A” on the report card just doesn’t reflect all these skills. In fact, pushing for good grades can even undermine this deeper success. Pushing for good grades can devalue the process of learning the skills of life and replace it with a crazed obsession to achieve the end product of an “A” without really learning anything. This anxious effort for an end product can crush the intrinsic motivators inherent in our children, motivators like curiosity, and a desire for competence. It can limit our children’s sense of mastery and leave them feeling anxious, unsuccessful, and less competent to meet the challenges of the world after high school.

If that’s the case, what can a parent do? If grades alone don’t reflect success in school, what does? How can I nurture school success if I don’t push for good grades? Good question. Let me offer a few suggestions.

  • Determine your priorities. What do you really want your child to learn in school and life? What are your educational priorities? Do you really want them to simply recall the dates of Lincoln’s assassination or to develop a compassion for people as well? Which is more important for your child to know: the formulas of calculus or the social skills that will bring them success in the world of work? What Do You Really Want for Your Children? Once you know your priorities, you can encourage the types of learning that reflect your priorities.
  • Celebrate effort. Don’t get me wrong. Grades still have their place. However, if we focus on the end goal of the grade, our children miss out on the real precursor of successful learning—effort. Effort is what contributes to good grades. So, acknowledge & celebrate effort. (Learn more here.)
  • Enjoy the content. Do your best to make learning fun. Don’t focus on the dates or the dry facts alone. Pack the dates and dry facts with stories of the funny, the inspirational, the humane. I love the stories that show the inspiration of heroic acts amid tragedy or the acts of love in situations filled with hate. For math, I like to celebrate Pi day with various pies. Or, talk about the Fibonacci numbers and enjoy Fibonacci in music. For history, discover the Righteous Among the Nations (you can read some of these stories here) and the funny stories as well as the successes of various presidents (For one example, consider William Howard Taft). Make learning fun. Teach your child to enjoy the content. Your creativity is the only limit to how you do this. 
  • Model learning. Children learn much more from the example of their parents’ lives than they learn from their parents’ words and directives. So, what are YOU learning? You can learn something for work or something unrelated to work. Learn a language. Take a class in photography. Take instrumental lessons. Whatever you might enjoy, use it to model learning. And as you learn, talk to your children about the excitement, the struggles, and the joys of learning new things.

Nurture your child’s school success. Learn something new yourself. And, most important, have fun.

Daddy, Can I Date?

I remember the day it happened. My 6th grade daughter asked me if she could date a particular young man. My first thought was, “Is she crazy? My little girl…another man? No way!” Maybe I was overreacting. So, rather than give her my initial thoughts, I became curious. “What does it mean to date someone?” I asked.

“I don’t know?” she answered. “I guess we’d see each other at school and talk.”

Still curious, I pushed a little further. “Would you kiss him?”
“Eww. Daaad. Yuck.”

“I guess that’s a ‘no’?” She shook her head. “Well, are you going to hold hands?”
“No. That’s gross.”

Satisfied that her idea of dating was very different than my initial fears, I said, “Sure. You can date him.”

Dating seems like such a normal part of the teen years. Many consider it an important learning experience for teens, helping them develop their self-identity and social skills. It increases their awareness of others. It helps them learn about their emotions and the emotions of others.  But, is it necessary? What if your teen just doesn’t date? Will they still learn these things? According to research from the University of Georgia, the answer is “Yes.”

The researchers conducting this study analyzed data that followed students from the 6th grade through 12th grade. Every spring, students completed surveys that included information on dating, social and emotional factors, relationships with peers and family, symptoms of depression, and suicidal thoughts. Their teachers also completed questionnaires rating each student’s social skills, leadership skills, and levels of depression.

The results are interesting. First, the self-reports of students did not differ between dating and non-dating students. However, the teachers rated the non-dating students significantly higher in social skills and leadership skills than their dating peers.

In addition, scores on the depression scale were significantly lower for the non-dating students (according to the teachers). The non-dating students also reported being sad or depressed at a significantly lower rate than the dating students. It seems that non-dating teens avoid a great deal of drama and so experience a lower incidence of depression. Overall, it turns out that both dating and non-dating are normal, healthy behaviors for teens. Both dating and non-dating teens learn social skills and grow emotionally. Both grow in their self-identity. No worries. Dating or not, our children can mature into healthy, happy adults.

A Couch Potato Teen? The Good News, Bad News, & Even Better News

What’s wrong with a couch potato? Researchers in the United Kingdom have answered that question. Well…they didn’t ask that question literally, but they answered it nonetheless. They followed 4,000 children using “wearable devices called accelerometers.” These devices record body movements, sort of like a Fitbit. They analyzed the data collected through these devices when the children were 12, 14, and 16 years old. Ironically, their daily sedentary time increased from 7 hours and 10 minutes to 8 hours and 40 minutes over the span of those years. The knowledge they gained about adolescent activity levels comes with good news and bad news.

First, the bad news. This increase in sedentary time was associated with an increased risk of depression. A decrease in activity level contributed to the risk of depression. Specifically, every hour of increased sedentary time during adolescence was associated with an 8-11% increase in a risk of depression at 18-years-old.

Now the good news. The risk of depression decreased by 10% with every hour of physical activity added to a teen’s day. In other words, adding an hour of physical activity to a teen’s day cut the risk of depression by 10%! Adding two hours of physical activity cut the risk of depression by 20%!

But wait. There’s even better news. Physical activity does not have to involve the gym, sports, or a major workout. These are good, but not the only options. Physical activity in this study simply meant moving around. Even light activity like walking to a friend’s house, running errands, standing while talking to friends (rather than “sitting on the phone”), doing chores around the house, or helping set the table helped to accrue physical activity…and decrease depression! That is great news because there are so many options to help your teen gain more physical activity. Really, anything other than the sedentary sitting or lying down while play video games or watching TV is going to help accrue time of physical activity. So, encourage your teen to walk to a friend’s house, ride their bike to the store, play a game of pick up basketball with friends, do some chores…anything to get them on their feet and moving.

For an added bonus, engage in some physical activities with them—walk the dog together, ride your bikes to a movie, do yardwork together, engage them in cleaning the house with you. Not only will the physical activity help decrease their risk of depression, but the time spent with you will contribute to their long-term health and happiness as well.

A Child, A Dream or A Plan?

To have a child is to dream, to hope, to believe in a better world. Parents may be distressed and pessimistic about the future of so many things (the environment, the ability of people to care for and love one another, healthcare, etc.); but, when we fall in love and have children, we make an implicit statement of hope that the world can and will improve. Perhaps we have this hope because our children are born through our expression of love. They are a life created and nurtured by our love. Even more, like the Grinch’s heart, our love grows “three sizes” even before our children breath their first breath and “three sizes” more when they return our love.  With each infant giggle and toddler step, our hopes and dreams grow and rise on stronger wings of love.

But there is a danger in all this. Sometimes we begin to pin our hopes and dreams on a blueprint that we have secretly developed in our minds. We begin to focus on the perceived outcome of our dream, our blueprint, rather than our children’s dreams. We may even label our child as the athlete, the teacher, the little mother, the future lawyer, or the senator based on the blueprint we have in mind. Our label, rather than an admiring and jovial epitaph to hold lightly, becomes etched in stone for all eternity. We start to believe that raising our child is like following the blueprint—carefully follow the blueprint and you will create the end result you always dreamed of and planned for.

The problem, however, arises from the fact that our children are not “the end result” of our neatly designed blueprints and plans. They are not products and outcomes but living dynamic beings in their own right. They will not be confined by our dreams. They have dreams of their own to pursue.

Our children are not the product of our carefully designed plans, but seeds planted in the soil nourished by our love, attention, and vision. They are the tender shoot that grows under the protection of the loving structure we provide. They are the young plants flourishing in the gentle rains and sunlight of our loving discipline. We don’t really know exactly when the wildflower we call our children will bloom, what color it will be, or even what fruit it will produce. We only know that in the soil of our love and structure, they will grow strong and beautiful. They will reach for their own dreams…and we will support their branches.

Yes, Alison Gopnik is right. Parenting is much more like a gardener nourishing a wildflower garden than it is like a carpenter following blueprints. So, pick up your hoe and your fertilizer and start to nourish an environment in which your children can thrive. Then sit back and enjoy the beauty of who they become.

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