It was old, no doubt. Some looked at it and saw holes and frayed sleeves, my wife included. She saw a rag, something to use while cleaning or, better yet, something to simply throw away. But I saw so much more. I saw comfort. I saw years of companionship (we’d been together since college). I saw an old friend. Yes, it was “just a shirt,” but we had been through a lot together. My wife saw an old, raggedy t-shirt that need thrown out and replaced. I saw a faithful companion to be respected and even cherished. Perhaps I saw too much (you be the judge). I don’t know. No matter. The fact remains, you’ve likely had a similar experience in your marriage—you saw one thing and your spouse saw another. Who’s right and who’s wrong? I don’t know. It’s a matter of opinion. You could get into a drag-down, all-out fight about it; but that only leads to frustration and distance in the relationship. Or, you can preserve the relationship by listening to your spouse and understanding their point of view.
Listen intently to understand the basis of their perspective. Strive to understand the validity of their belief. Dig deep to see the meaning it all holds for them. Their perspective may differ from your perspective because it rests on a foundation of different experiences and slightly different values. It may hold a meaning for your spouse that you had not considered…nor would you ever consider. It is no less true, but obviously different. When you listen, understand, and appreciate your spouse’s point of view, you validate them even as you “agree to disagree.” You draw closer together as a couple. You come to know your spouse better and gain greater intimacy with your spouse. All because you took time to realize that sometimes a “shirt is more than a shirt.”
Of course, I used a somewhat silly example (although I have had to defend a shirt or two during my marriage, have you?). However, the same holds true when it comes to more significant opinions like politics or childrearing practices, the perfect place for vacation or the perfect place to live. In such cases, the stakes are much higher than the stakes inherent in a disagreement over my comfortable and faithful shirt, but the response is similar. You need to listen intently and understand deeply in order to move toward an appreciation of your spouse’s point of view. Only when you understand so well that you can repeat their rationale back to them and they reply by saying, “Yes! Now you understand!” can you begin to find a compromise, a mutual agreement in which both spouses can find satisfaction.
By the way, I gave up my shirt…over time. My wife allowed me a “grieving period” and bought me a new shirt very similar to the old one. I could wear both, one around the house and the other in public until I was ready to let go of my “faithful friend…oh, the sorrow.” But she listened. She understood. I listened. I understood. We grew together…and I got a new shirt out of the deal!
Self-awareness: the ability to recognize and label the emotions we experience in our lives.
Self-regulation: the ability to cope with feelings in a manner consistent with and relevant to the situation.
Internal motivation: the ability to utilize the energy of an emotion to achieve a positive end like communicating a priority or solving a problem.
Empathy: the ability to recognize emotions in others by remaining aware of their verbal and nonverbal cues.
Social skills: the ability to adjust our behavior in response to another person’s emotions. This allows us to more effectively connect with others, resolve conflicts that arise within our relationships, and negotiate compromises and agreements.
Reviewing the five aspects of emotional intelligence, you can understand how important emotional intelligence is for success in life. Emotional intelligence not only contributes to success in life, it also promotes health. Studies suggest that 80% of health problems are stress related. Emotional intelligence helps us manage stress and so reduce stress related illnesses. Emotional intelligence reduces bullying as well (Why Emotional Intelligence is More Important than IQ). With all these benefit, we surely want to teach our children emotional intelligence. Here are five simple exercises to get you started.
Develop a vocabulary for emotions. Dan Siegel (co-author of Parenting from the Inside) refers to this as “name it to name it.” Labeling an emotion helps “quell” its effect. The emotion becomes more manageable when we can label it. As a result, we can exercise more thoughtful control over it and our behavioral response to it (Why Labeling Emotions Matters ). In fact, the broader and more articulate a person’s emotional vocabulary, the less reactive and more responsive they can become (When Labeling an Emotion Quiets It) .
Listen and accept emotions. All emotions are acceptable, a gift from our Creator to help us communicate priorities and protect those important to us. Of course, not all behavioral responses are acceptable. So let a person express their emotion. Help them label the emotion. Encourage them to define their feelings. Coach them in expressing even difficult emotions. Listen. Accept. Understand. (For more read Teaching Your Child to Handle Emotions)
Identify the priorities underlying the emotions. Emotions clarify our priorities and reveal them to others. Take time to identify the priorities that have led to your child’s strong emotions. Knowing the priority behind an emotion allows you to address the true need. Teaching your child to identify and address underlying emotion leads to a more successful and self-controlled child.
Problem-solve. After you have listened closely and understand the emotion, work with your child to problem-solve. Let the problem-solving focus on how to address the priority underlying the emotion. (For more on these two steps read When Your Children Get Angry.)
Teach perspective taking. A great way to teach your children how to take another person’s perspective is by reading fiction together. Fiction lets us see into the minds of characters, feel their emotions, and understand their motivations. Doing so teaches perspective taking. So, read to your children. Read with your children. Talk about what your children read. It will improve their ability to take another person’s perspective and increase their emotional intelligence. (Read Teaching Your Child Perspective Taking for more ideas.)
These five simple activities can set your child on the path to emotional intelligence…and all its related benefits!
All parents want to raise children with a strong sense of right and wrong. However, most parents don’t realize how early—surprisingly early—this moral behavior and thought begins. Jean Decety from the University of Chicago (and his associate, Jason Cowell) demonstrated that parents influence their children’s moral development as early as one year old! He showed a group of 73 toddlers (12-24 months old) two types of animated videos: one in which characters engaged in helping and sharing or one in which characters exhibited pushing, tripping, and shoving behavior. At the same time, they measured the toddlers’ eye movement (gaze) and brain waves. Afterwards, the researchers offered the toddlers a choice of two toys: one representing the “good” animated character or one representing the “bad” character.
What did they discover? First, toddlers looked at and tracked the “good,” pro-social characters longer. They showed more interest in the characters who exhibited positive moral actions. In addition, toddlers experienced different brain wave patterns when witnessing the prosocial behavior and the antisocial behavior. But, these differences did not impact which toy the toddler chose. There was one factor that differentiated which toy the child reached for, regardless of the length of their gaze at the “good” character or the difference in the brain wave patterns associated with the prosocial/antisocial behavior. An additional distinct brain wave pattern was associated with which toy was chosen. This additional brain wave occurred just after the toddler witnessed the behavior of the animated character and it differentiated which toy the child chose.
Now for the really interesting part! The researchers discovered what may have contributed to that distinct brain wave pattern after reviewing questionnaires completed by parents prior to the research. These questionnaires measured parental values around empathy, justice, and fairness as well as their child’s temperament and demographics. Parental sensitivity to justice distinguished toddlers’ who reached for the “good character” toy from those who reached for the “bad character” toy! In other words, the parents’ values around justice impacted how their children’s brains work and whether their 12-24 month old reached out for the prosocial or antisocial character.
The researchers also gave the toddlers opportunities to share their toys in this experiment. This time, the parents’ ability to take someone else’s perspective influenced their children’s willingness to share, even at 12-24 months of age! So, if you want to raise children with a strong sense of right and wrong, children sensitive to justice, and children willing to share, begin early by:
Cultivating your own sense of justice. Discipline fairly. Do not practice the “Do as I say not as I do” mentality. Instead, set the example of living and accept the just consequences for your behavior. Apologize and ask forgiveness when you make a mistake. Give just rewards for appropriate behavior (which can be as simple as a polite “thankyou” or “I appreciate your help.”). Talk about justice in the community. Read stories together that reveal justice. Cultivate justice in your life.
Practice taking other people’s perspective before reacting to them. Put yourself in your spouse’s shoes, your children’s shoes, your neighbors’ shoes and consider the situation from their perspective. Think and talk about the perspective the store clerk, the police officers, or the teacher.
These simple practices will help you raise moral children…and help create a more moral world for your grandchildren.
Model kindness. You didn’t think I would start anyplace else, did you? Whatever we want our children to learn, we have to practice ourselves. So, be kind to your children. Be kind to your spouse. Be kind to friends. Be kind to strangers.
Encourage children to think kindly about others. Here are three ways you might consider doing this include: Pray for others. Take turns with your children recalling kind deeds you observed during the day. Take turns with your children recalling kind deeds you engaged in during the day.
Let your children take personal responsibility for the acts of kindness they engage in. Instead of giving your child money to donate to a charity, let them earn the money through chores and give a portion of their choice to the charity they choose. Be creative coming up with ways your children can take personal responsibility in their show of kindness.
Teach your children to consider other people’s feelings. You can do this by acknowledging their emotions—“That seems like it really makes you sad” or “Wow, you really look happy.” Acknowledge other people’s emotions as well. Perhaps a friend was mean because “he doesn’t feel well” or a friend was crying because “she gets sad when people tease her.” You get the idea. Help your child look beyond the outward behavior to see the underlying emotion.
Expose your child to need. Of course, we need to do this at an age appropriate level, but do not shelter your child from the needs around them. Depending on their age, they might understand the need for water in some countries, an elderly person’s need for friendly interaction, or a friend’s need for a hug.
Along with exposing your child to need, give them the opportunity to volunteer and meet the needs of others. This can range from helping an elderly neighbor with yard work to working with an inner city food bank to raising money for a mission to taking a mission trip. When you child sees a need and expresses a desire to help, assist them in volunteering.
Create giving traditions. As a family, develop traditions that involve giving to one another and to those outside your family. You might give toys to a charity each year or a financial donation to some charity. Maybe you will give gifts to friends and neighbors at special times throughout the year. Be creative and develop some giving traditions.
Encourage small acts of kindness. Teach your child to pick up trash rather than simply pass it by. Encourage your child to hold the door open for others, speak politely, offer to pick up something they see another person drop, give a hug to a friend in need…the list goes on. Encourage small acts of kindness.
What are some ways your family has carried out these 8 suggestions? What other suggestions would you add? How have you taught your children to be kind?
Who should you think about during an argument with your spouse—me, you, I, us??? That is a good question. We have probably all heard the advice to step back and see our spouse’s point of view during an argument. This common wisdom advises us to see things through the other person’s eyes and walk a mile in his or her shoes. When you do, the advice-giver explains, you will feel less upset. Your understanding will improve. You will more quickly resolve the conflict…so the advice goes. However, recent research suggests this folk wisdom may be wrong! In fact, a study of 111 couples found that taking the other person’s perspective actually made things worse, especially for those with a “less-than-positive sense of self-worth.” Now, let’s face it…in the midst of a fight with our spouse you can bet that at least one person is experiencing a “less-than-positive sense of self-worth.” Anyway, it seems that when a person looks at the conflict from his spouse’s perspective, he begins to wonder what they are thinking or feeling about him. In other words, when I look through my spouse’s eyes I see myself…and begin to wonder what she is thinking about me in the midst of the conflict. Thoughts I imagine my spouse having about me take up my mental energy and focus. “She’s blaming me!” “He thinks I don’t care.” “She’s angry about my work.” “She doesn’t believe I’m trying my hardest.” These thoughts and thoughts like them increase our self-doubt and decrease our sense of self-worth. When the argument is over, the person who looked at things through his spouse’s eyes feels even less satisfied and more insecure in their relationship.
Instead of trying to see the conflict from your spouse’s point of view, take a more objective approach with these two suggestions.
Imagine how you would feel in a similar situation. This is different than seeing things from your spouse’s perspective. Rather than imagining how your spouse feels or how your spouse thinks about this conflict, imagine how you would feel in a similar situation. Couples who did this showed an increase in empathy.
Put on your Sherlock Holmes’s hat and get curious about your spouse. Observe your spouse’s behavior. Take the time to notice how your words, actions, and tone of voice impact them. Respectfully and lovingly modify your words and actions to elicit the most helpful response in the situation. In other words, discuss the difficult issue using a tone of voice that will help your spouse to stay calm and words more likely to elicit a calm response. Go ahead and disagree, but use respectful words and end with a hug. You get the idea. Observe your spouse’s reaction to you and adjust your behavior accordingly.
Forget the folk wisdom…quit taking your spouse’s perspective. Take an objective view. Watch your spouse and work to soothe them as you imagine what you might feel in the same situation…and enjoy a “satisfying” argument.
My wife and I were playing ball with our 3 1/2-year-old daughter. We rolled the ball, bounced the ball, threw the ball…you know the drill. At one point, my wife ran inside to do something. I suggested to my daughter that we “hide the ball from Mommy” and ask her to find it when she returned. With a twinkle in her eye, my daughter agreed to the new game. We carefully hid the ball and waited. As my wife approached, I asked my daughter where she thought her mother would look for the ball. With great confidence, she replied that Mommy would look right where the ball was hidden even though she had no way of knowing where we hid it. Why did my daughter (a bright 3 1/2-year-old girl) believe her mom would know where the ball was? Because children this age believe everyone thinks like them. They believe that everyone sees the world in the same way they see the world. If my daughter knew where the ball was hidden, so would her mother. She could not put herself in her mother’s shoes and see through her eyes. At this young age, there is only one way to see the world…my way!
Fortunately, my daughter has not stayed this way for life. Everyone needs to develop the ability to take another person’s perspective in order to build empathy, compassion, and consideration. But, learning perspective-taking does not happen overnight. Just consider the game of soccer. Imagine this scenario, a scenario that exemplifies the perspective-taking required to play a position and work together as a team. One player dribbles the ball down the field. 1) From his perspective, he sees the goal as well as the opponent between him and the goal. He observes his opponent react to his various moves; and… 2) from his opponents’ perspective, he notices himself fading left and begins to follow that lead. 3) From the goalie’s perspective, he “watches” himself moving toward the left side of the goal. 4) From his teammate’s perspective, he sees an open net as the goalie is hanging toward the left side of the net and his team mate is on the right. After quickly assessing the field from his own perspective as well as the perspective of his opponent, the goalie, and his teammate, he can choose whether to pass to his team mate or take a shot. A 5-year-old simply cannot do this. The 5-year-old can only see the field through his eyes and his eyes only…his own perspective. So, where does the team of 5-year-old players stand on the field? They hover over the ball. They have only one perspective–that of them and the ball. One goal–kick the ball in the goal. They cannot understand the concept of playing a position or working as a team because they cannot see the game through the eyes anyone but themselves.
Even at 9-years-old a child has difficulty taking the kind of perspective needed to play a position and work naturally as a team. I recall one coach screaming at his team of 9-year-olds to “stay in position.” He spent the majority of the game yelling at his players to stay in position, but they kept “forgetting” and falling out of position to get the ball. These 9-year-old players were not being obstinate or disobedient. They were simply not developmentally ready to understand the benefit of remaining in position. Since they still could not consistently see things from another person’s point of view, they could not understand the benefit of playing a position. They will definitely learn from simple prompts to remain in position at this age. (I must add, though, that screaming at them is ineffective. In fact, screaming at children only scrambles their brains and decreases their ability to think calmly.) Zoom ahead and we find that the players at 10 or 11-years-old begin to “stay in position.” They work as a team because they can see the field through one another’s eyes, one another’s perspective. And, it only two 10 or 11 years!
Fast forward just one more time to adolescence. The adolescent constantly sees herself through the eyes of others. She melts down in response to a “bad hair day” or a minor skin blemish on her face because “everyone will see it.” Suddenly, through the eyes of perspective taking on steroids, every minor flaw and small action takes on overwhelming impact…”everyone will notice,” “everyone will laugh.”
Why do I tell you all this? Why run through this little developmental storyline about learning to see the world through other people’s eyes? Because I need constant reminders to base my expectations for a child on their developmental ability. Perhaps you will benefit from this reminder as well. We cannot expect our 4-year-olds to understand another person’s point of view the same way our 16-year-old might. This is true when you think about perspective taking in sports, sharing, showing compassion, resolving disagreements, and even social interactions. Although we cannot demand more perspective taking than our child is developmentally able to give, we still want to teach them the benefits of seeing another person’s point of view and how to do so. After all, taking the time to see the world from another person’s perspective opens up the possibility for true empathy and compassion. It contributes to the ability to negotiate and compromise. It leads to consideration of others and acts of kindness that other people can truly appreciate. So, how do we build perspective taking abilities in our children? As they used to say at the end of Batman…”Tune in next time…same bat station…same bat time…” for 4 ways to promote perspective taking in your children.
“There is no love without forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness without love” (Bryant H. McGill). To maintain the intimate love of family, family members have to practice forgiveness. If we do not practice forgiveness in our family, we will find our family overrun with bitterness, anger, and resentment. Without forgiveness, family will become a place of suffocating tension and unbearable pain instead of a stable and secure refuge from the world. How do we forgive? Here are 5 steps for forgiveness based on Everett Worthington’s model.
1.Count the Loss. This seems almost paradoxical, but the first step in forgiving someone is to objectively define what we have lost as a result of the wrong done to us. Spell out how we have been wronged and what was lost. Remain as objective as possible in this process. God did this through the prophets. He clearly defined how His people had wronged Him through idolatry, unfaithfulness, and stubbornness. He objectively told Israel how their actions robbed them of intimacy with Him and bruised His reputation. Following His example, we begin the process of forgiveness by objectively defining how we were wronged.
2.Realize that we have a right to expect payment for the wrong done to us, BUT (and this is a BIG BUT) we are morally incapable of collecting that debt. We are not a righteous judge. Recall a time in your own life when you wronged another person and they forgave you. Remember how undeserving you were of that forgiveness and how it made you feel to receive it. Even more, recall that our sin against God is thousands of times greater than any sin made by another person against us. When we realize how harshly we have sinned against God and how dramatically we have wronged other people, we can begin to recognize our own moral inability to exact payment for a sin against us. When we realize how freely God has forgiven us and how richly others have forgiven us, we can open up to the possibilities of forgiving another.
3.Drop the rocks of judgment, bitterness, and anger. In humility, give up your right for justice. Throw off resentment and cast off bitterness. Follow Christ’s example by “entrusting” yourself to “Him that judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:21-24). Make a conscious decision to let God act as the final Judge and Arbiter. Trust Him to balance justice and mercy in your life and the life of the one who offended you.
4.Make the first move and commit to follow through. Don’t wait for the other person to change or apologize. Make the first move. Initiate the actions of forgiveness. This act of altruism follows God’s example. In the story of our relationship with God, the one needing forgiveness did not approach God and ask for it. God, the One who was wronged, initiated forgiveness and carried out the work of forgiveness before we even knew what we had done. He made the first move and He followed through with the actions of forgiveness. Make the first move to forgive. Initiate forgiveness. Altruistically offer forgiveness and commit to follow through.
5.Follow through with work of forgiveness. Unforgiving thoughts will pop into your head. Vengeance, bitterness, and resentment may rear their ugly heads in your thought life even after you have committed to forgive. Don’t let them take hold. Take those thoughts captive, remind yourself that you have forgiven, and throw those thoughts out of your mind. Replace anger with compassion and say a pray for the other person. Replace resentment with empathy and do some kind deed for the other person. Seek out opportunities to show that person kindness. Replace bitterness with love and reach out to them in love by seeking opportunities to promote their happiness and contentment.
Forgiveness is not for the faint of heart. Forgiveness is hard work. However, forgiveness can restore relationships. Forgiveness can bring reconciliation, peace, and joy to a family. Make the first move today.
I love this commercial (click on picture to watch). The little Darth Vader suddenly becomes empowered–“may the force go with him.” What does this have to do with parenting? As family shepherds, we don’t necessarily want our children to have “the force go with them;” but, we do want them to have our “presence go with them.” We do our children a great service when we build a sense of our presence into their lives. A child gains a sense of security, personal power, and comfort when they have the realization that their “parent’s presence goes with them.” Like the little Darth Vader in this commercial, children who have a “parental presence go with them” feel empowered. So, like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker taught Luke about “the force,” we want to teach our children about “parental presence” and how it will follow them to protect, nurture, and guide. How do parents build a sense of presence into their child’s life?
First, we hug and hold them. The earliest way a parent becomes present to a child is through bodily touch. So, we hold them, hug them, playfully wrestle and tickle them, and snuggle up on the couch with them. As a child grows, the family shepherd embraces to comfort, gives a high five to celebrate, walks with an arm around a shoulder to encourage, or gives a gentle slap on the back to congratulate. All of this physical touch confirms our presence, our involvement, and our interest in our children’s lives.
We also build our presence into our children’s lives by physically stepping into their world of school. We stop at the school now and again, talk to the teachers and coaches, even the principals. When children see us at school and know that we know teachers and counselors at the school, they become more invested in doing well. They think twice about their own behavior because of the relationship “mom and dad” have with the staff. Besides, you never know when mom and dad might just show up. (Click picture to see video about parental involvement in school from Connect with Kids.)
Take the time to step into their world oftechnology as well. Friend your child on Facebook and make that “friendship” a prerequisite for their Facebook page. I’m not saying to spy on your child’s every move, but casually follow them on your own Facebook page and check out their page now and again. This will help you monitor your child’s safety and appropriateness in the public domains. You can assure that your child does not post information that is too personal or revealing (such as phone numbers or addresses) as well as nipping any potential cyber-bullying in the bud. Learn to text and send your children a text message once in a while. They’ll think you’re a little “weird,” but they’ll know that you are thinking of them and they’ll feel your presence. Keep the phones out of the bedroom after bedtime and in a common area for charging. Too often children and teens stay up throughout the night texting rather than getting their needed sleep. Establish the rule that you can look at their texting history at any time. Children receive inappropriate texts at times–sexting or bullying texts. As family shepherds, we need to monitor this potential to protect our children.
Let your children see you stepping intothe community. Go to the church your child attends. Attend his concerts and sporting events. Let them see you engaging their friends at these events, congratulating and conversing with them. Get to know their friends when they come to your house. Talk about their interests. Sit in with them while they watch a movie together. Also spend time getting to know the parents of your children’s friends. Interact with them at various community events and school functions. Who knows, you might even develop some new friends yourself. And, your child learns that you are present in the community around them.
You may be thinking, “All of these suggestions are just a regular part of life.” That’s true. However, as a parent, these activities take on new meaning. They play a special role in teaching your child that your presence goes with them. That wherever they are, you might show up…or someone you know might show up. This knowledge provides a sense of security and comfort…your presence is there to protect and nurture. It also helps to provide motivation for responsible behavior…your presence goes with them to encourage responsible behavior. Move over Darth Vader, like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, we want to teach our children about parental presence and how it will follow them to protect, nurture, and guide. “Take our presence with you.”