Tag Archive for support

The Superpower You Can Give Your Spouse

I love love…and I love reading experiments about the power of love to influence our lives. If love is powerful, then the love of a spouse is a superpower. For instance, researchers at Brigham Young University subjected 40 couples to intentionally challenging tasks on the computer while measuring their pupil diameter (a rapid and direct measure of the body’s physiological level of stress). In one group, an individual from the couple worked alone on the task. In a second group, the person’s spouse sat near them and held their hand while they worked on the task. Both groups were initially stressed BUT the group that held hands with a loving spouse calmed down much more quickly. As a result, they were able to work on the task with reduced stress levels. Just having a loving spouse nearby holding their hand reduced their stress. That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.

In her book Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson refers to several studies that show the power of love.

  • A study by Mario Mikulincer of Bar-Ilan University in Israel monitored the heart rates of couples as they responded to scenarios of couples in conflict. Those who felt close to their partners (who knew the superpower of a spouse’s love) reported feeling less angry and attributed less malicious intent to the partner. They expressed more problem-solving initiative and made greater effort to reconnect. In other words, a partner’s love decreased feelings of anger and increased the perception of positive intent, even during arguments. That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.
  • In addition, the power of love led to a greater curiosity and willingness to try new things. That willingness to explore and have adventures with the one we love increases intimacy and personal growth. That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.
  • Jim Coyne, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania concluded from the research that the love people share with their spouse is a good a predictor of survival at four years after congestive heart failure. In fact, it’s as good of a predictor of survival as the severity of the symptoms and impairment caused by the congestive heart failure. In other words, the power of a loving spouse is at least as powerful, if not more powerful, as congestive heart failure. That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.
  • One of my favorite studies in this area shows the power love has over pain. At the University of Virginia women received MRI brain scans while under the threat of possibly receiving a small electric shock on their feet. You can imagine the stress of this threat. When a loving partner held the women’s hands, they registered less stress on the MRI. When they did receive a small shock, they experienced less pain! The happier (the more loving) the relationship, the more pronounced the effect. In other words, the power of love is stronger than shock, stress, and pain! That’s the superpower of a loving spouse.

Maybe Huey Lewis was on to something when he sang, “that’s the power of love.” Or, maybe he needed to change the lyrics to “that’s the superpower of a loving spouse.” Then again, that just doesn’t rhyme. Nonetheless, the love of a spouse is a superpower…and I’m going to share that superpower with my spouse. How about you?

Parents, Are You a Buzz-Killer or a Responsive Encourager

As parents, we want our children to learn and grow. After all, who wants to spoon-feed a child for twenty years?  No, we want them to learn and grow, to become independent and self-sufficient, responsible and mature. And do you know how children learn? They learn by exploring…and they explore everything. From the time they start putting things in their mouths they are exploring and learning about themselves, the people around them, and their environment. Unfortunately, we sometimes hinder their exploring, and their learning as a result, without even knowing it. Let me give you an example taken from an experiment completed at the University of Washington. One hundred fifty toddlers (15-months-old) sat on their parent’s lap while an experimenter sat across from them demonstrating how to use various toys. This experimenter was a “responsive encourager.” The “responsive encourager” showed the toddler the toys’ movable parts and how the toys made sounds. They rattled and buzzed and moved the toys around in response to the toddler’s excitement. The toddlers were intrigued. They leaned forward and pointed. They wanted to explore (aka—explore) the toy. But alas, a second experimenter, the “buzz-killer,” entered the room and sat nearby. The “buzz-killer” complained about the toys. The “buzz-killer” grumbled, complained, and angrily called the toys aggravating and annoying. (You can watch a variation of this experiment on video here. Notice how the child’s whole affect changes!)

The toddlers were then given the opportunity to play with the toys. One group of toddlers were allowed to play with the toys while the “buzz-killer ” sat nearby and watched them or read a magazine with a neutral facial expression. These children hesitated to play with the toys. They appeased the “buzz-killer” by limiting their exploration of the toy. They hesitated to explore the moving parts and the noises. They hesitated to engage in behaviors that would let them learn about the new toy and their environment.

A second group of toddlers had the chance to play with the toys while the buzz-killer left the room or turned her back so she couldn’t see what the children were doing. This group “eagerly grabbed the toys” and began to play with them. They imitated what the first experimenter, the “responsive encourager,” had shown them. They explored the moving parts. They explored the noises. They manipulated the toy and learned about it. They learned how it worked and they made it work. They explored and learned just as the “responsive encourager” had hoped.

Sometimes we complain about our children’s exploration. We become the “buzz-killer.” They make too much noise; we grumble. Their behaviors are aggravating and annoying; we scowl. They ask too many questions; we sigh. They get into too much stuff; we huff and puff. But when we grumble and complain, act annoyed and yell, we become the “buzz-killer” who hinders their exploration…and their learning. We hold them back from learning about their world, themselves, and the people around them. We become the “buzz-killer” in the room hindering our children’s growth.

Yes. There are times we need to set limits. There are times we will ask our children to explore more quietly, at a different time, or in a different room because we are tired or don’t feel well or just need some peace and quiet. However, we want our general response to be that of the “responsive encourager.” We want to encourage exploration, even participate and stimulate greater exploration. Because when our children explore, they learn and grow. So which are you? A “buzz-killer” who hinders learning and growth or a “responsive encourager” who promotes learning and growth?

Don’t Make Children Prisoners…Set Them Free

I couldn’t believe my eyes, so I repeated out loud what I had read. Nope…can’t believe my ears either. But it’s true. Prison inmates in an Indiana maximum security facility are guaranteed two hours of outdoor time every day; but a survey completed in 2016 found three-quarters of children in the UK spend less time than those inmates outside each day. Half of the children didn’t even spend an hour outside each day. Twenty percent (that’s 1 in 5) didn’t even play outside at all on an average day! (More in Children Spend Less Time Outside Than Prison Inmates and Three-Quarters of UK Children Spend Less Time Outdoors Than Prison Inmates—Survey.) I imagine these numbers are very similar in the US.  In fact, a study in 2018 found that children spend an average of 10.6 hours on outdoor play per week (Study: Despite Known Benefits, Kids Are Playing Less). That is only 1.5 hours per day. Our children spend less time outside than prisoners even though outdoor play helps relieve stress, teach safety, and increase immunity (Who Needs a Prescription for Play).

It gets worse. Our children’s free time has decreased in the last 50 years. Take the time between 1981 and 1997. Children spent 18% more time in school, 145% more time doing schoolwork, and 168% more time shopping with parents (Read more in All Work & No Play: Why Your Kids are More Anxious, Depressed). Unstructured play time has decreased even though research suggests children need twice as much unstructured play time as structured time (The Decline of Unstructured Play). Once again, our children have become the prisoners to the structures imposed on them. They miss out on the free, unstructured time that allows them to grow and learn.

One last comparison…our children grow increasingly isolated from supportive, non-parental adults as they progress through school. Rather than have a single teacher for most of the day, our children gain a “revolving cast of characters” in their lives as they switch to a new teacher every hour. This change occurs when our children are going through the massive changes of adolescence and they most need the support of caring adults. (Teen Suicides Are on the Rise.)  In effect, they become less isolated from caring adults and more involved with peers struggling with the same issues and who have the same lack of experience as they do. Our children need us.

The big question I had to ask myself as I contemplated these “prisoner comparisons” is: what can we do to break our children out of this prison? Thankfully, there are ways to do it. 

  • Encourage your children to engage in unstructured, self-directed play with peers. Learn the benefits of such unstructured time in How to Spend Quality Time with Your Children.
  • Encourage outdoor play. Outdoor play can accomplish great things. For instance, even risky outdoor play plays a purpose, helping to overcome anxiety…so Let Them Take a Risk.
  • Limit screen time. Limiting screen time can increase levels of happiness and increase our ability to  understand nonverbal communications and recognize emotions in others (See Just So You Know: Screen Time & Teen Happiness).
  • Provide opportunities for your children to build relationships with trusted adults outside the immediate family. In fact, It Takes a Village to raise a child.

Break your children out of prison…beginning right now!

Motivating Our Children

Have you ever wondered how to motivate your children? They could have better grades but they just don’t hand in their homework or study? They could accomplish so much more but they just seem to “lack motivation”? Researchers at the University of Michigan recently published a study that might just help. In a series of three studies, they explored how positive relationships impact motivation. They discovered that even a brief reminder of a “supportive other” increases motivation for personal growth, even in the face of challenges. The participants who reported actually having supportive relationships showed a greater willingness to accept challenges that promoted personal growth. They also reported feeling more self-confidence (Read For a better ‘I,’ there needs to be a supportive ‘we’ for more on the study). In terms of parenting, having a supportive relationship with your children will help increase our children’s motivation. I’m not suggesting that a supportive relationship will end all motivational woes. It will not result in your children suddenly becoming perfectly motivated to complete every chore and homework assignment given.  However, a positive supportive, relationship with your children will increase their motivation. A positive, supportive relationship with your children will increase the chances of them doing the chores more readily and even completing their homework. The question is: How do we develop and communicate a positive, supportive relationship with our children? I’m glad you (well…I) asked.

  1. Remain available. Our children know we are available when we engage them regularly. We communicate our availability by remaining open to interactions with them, putting aside our own agenda and responding to their direct, indirect, or even awkward attempts to engage us. Let your actions express your belief that being available to your children is more important than the game, your book, the paperwork, or whatever other distraction might pull you away from your children in the moment.
  2. Accept your children. Our children feel supported when they know we accept them whether they succeed or fail, experience joys or fears. They know we accept them when we acknowledge rather than criticize their efforts. They know we accept them when we acknowledge and allow for differences in taste and preferences. And, knowing they find acceptance in us they feel supported by us.
  3. Listen. Our children feel supported when they feel heard. This requires us to listen beyond mere words. We must listen with our ears to hear the words, our mind to understand their intent, and our hearts to understand their emotions. Then, our actions need to communicate our willingness to let their ideas and beliefs influence us. When we listen in this manner, our children know they have found acceptance and a supportive parent.
  4. Encourage. We communicate support through sincere encouragement. Sincere encouragement does not offer false praise. Our children abhor false praise. Nor does sincere encouragement manipulate. It is not offered to push our children in a particular direction or toward some action. Instead, we encourage our children by recognizing their inner dream and promoting it. We encourage them by acknowledging their effort and resulting progress.
  5. Offer honest, gentle correction. Children recognize honest, gentle correction as supportive. They benefit from a supportive parent who lovingly “nudges” them to grow, mature, and become a person of honor. Honest, gentle correction avoids screaming, name-calling, and belittling comments. Instead, it offers clear limits, consistent consequences, and loving correction. Gentle correction teaches from a foundation of love, communicating a value in our children.

These five actions can help our children feel supported. This will translate into a healthier sense of self-confidence and greater motivation to engage in behaviors that promote their own positive growth.

Your Spouse & Challenges

I live in Pittsburgh, PA. So, any time I see or hear about a study conducted by one of the universities in the area it catches my eye, especially when it deals with family. Recently, a study by Carnegie Mellon University caught my eye.  This study focused on the impact of spousal support and opportunities. The researchers recruited 163 couples and gave one member of each couple a choice. They could either solve a simple puzzle or compete for a prize by giving a speech. Each person then returned to their partner and discussed whether to do the puzzle or compete for a prize. Participants with encouraging partners were more likely to decide to give a speech and compete for the prize. Those with discouraging partners, or partners expressing a lack of confidence, were more likely to choose the simple puzzle. Not real surprising, is it? But, here’s the part I found really interesting. Six months later the partners who had accepted the more challenging speech competition reported more personal growth, greater happiness, more psychological well-being, and better relationship satisfaction than those who chose the simple puzzle! The encouraging, supportive spouse helped their partner embrace an opportunity to “go for it” and grow. They supported their partners’ growth and in doing so supported their partners’ happiness. That, in turn, likely led to a more satisfying marriage as well!

Do you want to see your partner grow and learn? Do you want them to know greater joy? Do you want a more satisfying marital relationship? Encourage your spouse. Learn about your  spouse’s dreams and encourage them to “seize the moment” when opportunities that arise to pursue those dreams. When challenges arise, express confidence in their ability to meet the challenge and support them in growing through the challenge. Express joy in seeing them move toward their dreams. Celebrate every step of the way. Then, thank Carnegie Mellon University, located in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, for revealing how encouraging our spouse makes life better! (Sorry for the commercial….I guess I’m a proud “yinzer.”)

The 4 Guys You Take on Every Date

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of high school boys about dating. I love speaking to young people about relationship.  I was asked to speak to this group about dating and chose to tell them about the four guys they date when they go out with girl. As you can imagine, they didn’t believe there were any guys involved in their date with a girl. But, let me explain. Every time a guy dates a woman, four guys accompany them.

  1. The woman’s big brother is on your date. My first serious girlfriend had two big brothers and they were big…college football big. I could tell by the way they watched me enter a room or sit next to “their sister” that I better treat her well. They had their little sister’s back. If I mistreated her, I’d answer to them. Every woman has a “big brother.” The big brother may not be a blood relative, but he cares about the woman you are dating and he has her back!
  1. The woman’s father is on your date. Fathers are all for their daughters meeting a nice guy and eventually marrying an even nicer guy. On the other hand, all fathers have at least a small stake in the Dads Against Daughters Dating (D.A.D.D.) club. Fathers are protective. They have high standards for any man who wants to date their daughters. And, daughters adore their fathers. So, if you want to make a good impression on your girlfriend, treat her father with respect. If you want to have any chance at continuing to date your girlfriend, stay in her father’s good graces by treating his daughter well. The better you treat a man’s daughter, the more accepting and supportive of your presence he will be.
  1. The woman’s future husband is on your date. The woman you date will eventually marry. Maybe she will marry you; maybe she’ll marry someone else. Either way, wouldn’t you be upset and even angry if your fiancé told you that some guy disrespected and hurt her…or worse, abused her emotionally or physically? Wouldn’t it be painful to hear her describe how a previous boyfriend mistreated her or took advantage of her? You’d likely be infuriated if you had to work through fears and mistrusts your fiancé struggles with because of how a previous boyfriend treated her! Don’t be that previous boyfriend.
  1. The woman’s heavenly Father is on your date. (Gary Thomas expands on this in his book A Lifelong Love.) Imagine…you stand before our heavenly Father as He sits on the judgement seat on the last day. His gaze falls on you then drifts to His precious daughter, the woman you’re dating (or married to). When His eyes return to you, you will see one of two looks. 1) He may say, “You have treated My daughter well, like the princess I created her to be. I love her so much I’d give my life for her…and you have loved her with the same sacrificial love. Thank you. You’re welcome in my house any time.”  2) He may turn to you with fire in His eyes as He exclaims, “You mistreated My daughter, My princess, the one I love and would give my life for. You hurt her. You disrespected her and took advantage of her. Get out of my house!”  Which look do you want to receive from your heavenly Father?  How you treat your date could make the difference.

Dating is fun. Dating can even prove important for healthy social development. But, dating carries responsibility as well. Keeping the four men you date with every woman in mind can help make your dating experience much more meaningful and enjoyable.

How to Raise Happy, Wealthy, & Moral Children

Do you want happy children? How about children who are academically competent? Would you like your children to have a great sense of security today and a greater chance of wealth in the future? Or, maybe you want children who make positive moral choices.  Well, you can have all this by practicing this parenting style! It’s true. A study involving 5,000 responders (learn more here) identified key parenting factors that promote happiness, academic competence, a sense of security, wealth, and moral choices. The parenting style that combined all these factors and contributed to all these wonderful outcomes is “supportive parenting.” Specifically, supportive parenting includes the following key factors.

  1. Spending time with our children. Children spell love T.I.M.E. Spending time with our children communicates how much we value and love them. It also provides us the opportunity to guide them and teach them our values through example and discussion.
  2. Happy family playingBeing responsive to our children. By spending time with our children we come to know them better. We learn about our children’s needs and the subtle ways in which they express those needs. As a result, we can respond to those needs more effectively. In other words, we become present in their lives, aware of their needs, and responsive to those needs. Our children develop trust and security in response. They become more confident and assured, knowing their needs will be satisfied.
  3. Exhibiting confidence in our children. As supportive parents, we believe the best about our children’s ability to learn and grow. By spending time with them and responding to their needs, we have nurtured a relationship that inspires them to do their best and motivates them to try hard. We trust them to actually do their best. As a result, we allow them age appropriate independence and trust their ability to make wise choices. We have confidence that they will learn from mistakes…and we let them do so.
  4. Balanced rules. This study revealed that adults who grew up in overly-strict homes with an abundance of rules became less happy and more stressed than adults who grew up in homes focused on relationships and balanced rules. Rules simply set the parameters of safety. Relationships instill those values. Natural consequences teach wise decision making. Relationships help us internalize that wisdom. So, supportive families implement balanced rules to support safety and growth while making large investments in relationship.

If you want your children to grow into happy, academically competent, wealthy adults who make positive moral choices, put these four factors of supportive parenting into practice today. You will enjoy a more fulfilling relationship with your children and enjoy watching them succeed in the future!

3 Ways Giving Support Will Benefit Your Family

Paul was on his way to Rome when he called the elders of Ephesus to meet him. He wanted to offer one last message of encouragement to them. That message ended with these encourage-synonymswords: “…In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20:35).  A recent study confirmed the wisdom of this statement in regard to giving support to others.  Specifically, researchers from University of Pittsburgh and University of California (LA) asked 36 participants about receiving and giving support. Of course, both giving and receiving support led to fewer negative outcomes. But these researchers went a step further in their investigation. They used fMRI’s to assess the brain activation of participants engaged in at least three types of tasks.

  1. One task involved participants performing a “stressful mental math task.” During this task, the fMRI revealed that those who gave the most support to others had reduced activity in the brain areas related to stress response.
  2. Another group of participants looked at pictures of loved ones. In this scenario, fMRI’s revealed increased activity in the brain’s reward system for those who gave higher levels of support to others.
  3. A third group had a chance to win money for someone in need. In this group, fMRI’s also revealed increased activity in the brain’s reward system for those who gave higher levels of support.

In summary, giving support to those in need contributed to an improved ability to manage stress and an increased ability to enjoy reward, at least on a neurological level. Isn’t that a great benefit for families?  If we model giving support to others in the family and encourage our family to do the same, we promote more feelings of reward and fewer “stressed out” feelings. By supporting one another’s dreams you can bring a greater sense of reward into your family. Supporting one another when troubles arise will decrease family stress. We really can build a healthier family by giving and receiving support. But, in the long run, it is even better to give than receive!

Do You Rob Your Teen of Victory?

Do you rob your teen? Many parents do even though they don’t even know it. Parents rob their teens by “getting in the ring” with them instead of “staying in their corner.” For instance:

  • Father and son smiling for the cameraParents “get in the ring” to protect their teen from the consequences of poor choices. In the process they rob their teen of the opportunity to learn from the consequences of those poor choices.
  • Parents “get in the ring” and stand between their teen and his peers by getting involved in their teen’s Twitter skirmishes or Instagram battles. When parents become over-involved in their teen’s social media ring, they rob him of the chance to learn how to set limits or negotiate relationship stress.
  • Parents “get in the ring” by fixing each and every problem that arises in their teen’s lives, robbing her of the opportunity to learn creative problem solving and time management skills.
  • When their teen doesn’t get the play time she desires, parents “jump in the ring” to fight for their teen’s right to play…and rob her of the right to learn the hard work necessary to earn a spot or how to advocate for themselves.

In each of these instances, parents jump into the ring and rob their teen of the opportunity to become more independent. Their actions steal their teen’s self-confidence by silently shouting an implicit message of their teens’ inadequacy to “fight their own fights” and achieve their own goals. Parents pilfer their teen’s opportunity to learn from mistakes and improve their abilities. They even embezzle their teens’ opportunity to celebrate success and so rob them of even more self-confidence. Getting in the ring is an act of thievery on a parent’s part.

Parents can avoid robbing their teen by staying out of the ring and remaining in their corner instead. Parents who stay in their teens’ corner play a crucial role in their teens’ life, even their life in the ring. Parents in their teens’ corner do four things that provide and empower rather than rob and steal.

  • First, parents in their teen’s corner listen. When teens talk about problems, frustrations, or difficulties, a parent in their corner will listen intently to understand how the situation impacts their teen. They remain present, not to fix and solve but to support and relate. In this way, teens feel heard and understand, accepted and valued.
  • Second, parents in their teen’s corner validate their teens’ experiences. They help their teens label emotions and more clearly define the problem. Understanding the nuances of a problem situation empowers teens. It allows for a deeper understanding of the people involved and the impact of the context. It opens up possibilities for responding.
  • Third, parents in their teens’ corner encourage their teen by acknowledging strengths and resources available. They identify their teens’ internal strengths and abilities as well as external resources which their teens can access. Knowing a parent acknowledges and believes in their abilities empowers teens. It will build their self-confidence to know their parents believe them adequate and resourceful enough to “meet the challenge.”
  • Fourth, parents in their teen’s corner will problem-solve with their teen. Rather than lecture and advise, parents in the corner offer words of wisdom based on years of experience, wise words of guidance. Rather than direct and command, they will ask questions or tell a story based on their own experience that will stimulate their teen to think of a unique response to the current situation.

If you want your teen to mature and grow more independent, get out of the ring. Let them fight their own battles. At the same time, stay firmly entrenched in their corner. Listen, validate, encourage, and problem-solve. You can do it all in the corner and watch them grow in the ring!

The Mighty Power of Kindness for Families

In this time we call our own and in a home very near to our hearts, there rages an epic battle for the families we call our own. This battle rages between those principalities that wield great power in their efforts to tear the family apart and those in the resistance who quietly, on a daily basis, strive to create and maintain the community of honor, grace, and love we call family. This battle will not be won or lost through legal proceedings or in Parents kissing their cute little babydramatic cultural changes. No, the victory for the family rests on the meek and powerful deeds of kindness we share with one another. That’s right. Victory rises up on the shoulders of every kind deed and polite word that draws family members together. Victory comes to the kind! Don’t believe it? Well, let me share ten acts of kindness that strike terror in the heart of powers opposed to families and foretell victory for your family today!

  • Say “thank you” to the person in your family who cooks, does laundry, cleans, puts gas in the car, takes care of your pet, mows the lawn, etc.…. (Learn other phrases of kindness in Family Investment Easy as 1…2…3…)
  • After you say “thank you,” ask that person how you can help them today!
  • Hold the door open for your spouse or children and let them go first.
  • Encourage one another.
  • Smile at one another (I know this is especially hard in the mornings and for teens…but take one for the family.)
  • Compliment one another often. Giving one another compliments will really complement your family.
  • Offer to get a drink for your parents, siblings, spouse, or children. Give it to them with a smile and a twinkle of delight in your eye. When they say “Thank you,” reply with “You’re welcome” or the standard “My pleasure.” (Read The Chick Fil A Family Interaction Model)
  • Do an extra chore around the house, one usually done by a different family member.
  • Give each member of your family a hug and tell them you love them. (Read how to Become a Master Hugger)
  • As a family, do each of these for people outside your family as well. In fact, do each on for the members of your family and those outside your family on a daily basis.

 

This may sound simplistic. How can we “save the family” by practicing simple kindness on a daily basis? But kindness is powerful. Paul goes so far as to call kindness one of God’s greatest tools in drawing us into an intimate relationship with Him: “Do you think lightly of the riches of God’s kindness and tolerance and patience, knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). If kindness is a powerful tool for God’s victory in our lives, it will surely prove a powerful weapon for victory in the lives of our families. We model our kindness toward family after God’s kindness toward us. As such, simple acts of kindness carry the power to win the battle for the family…and not just any family, your family. With every gentle touch of kindness, you will see intimacy grow. Security and confidence increase. Joy flood into our lives and relationships. With every powerful act of kindness, victory draws near.

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