Tag Archive for teach

My Children are Copy Cats…Now What?

My father worked as a chaplain in a nursing home. I often volunteered there on Sundays. One Sunday, while walking down the hall, a patient said, “You walk just like your father.”

My daughter came home from college to tell a story about combing her hair (don’t worry, there’s a point). As she adjusted her bangs, she realized (much to her dismay) that she was adjusting her bangs “exactly like my dad does!”

The point is: children imitate their parents. They don’t even try. They just do it. From the mundane to the exceptional, the subtle to the obvious, children imitate their parents. What parent hasn’t experienced their four-year-old saying something at the most inopportune moment that highlights their keen observation skills and unparalleled ability to imitate our behaviors? We often tell funny and embarrassing stories about such moments; but, why not use this phenomenon to our advantage? If our children are going to be copy cats, why not give them something good to copy?  For instance, I would love it if the copy cats in my house would copy these behaviors.

  1. Thanking the person who prepared the food and complimenting them about something they prepared.
  2. Saying a prayer before each meal and at bedtime.
  3. Turning off the TV, video game, or social media and giving your full attention to your spouse, child, or parent when they talk to us.
  4. Offering sincere compliments to your spouse, children, and parents.
  5. Laughing often.
  6. Practicing polite acts of kindness such as holding the door open for other people.
  7. Offering to get another person a snack or drink.
  8. Rinsing your dish and putting it in the dishwasher. Unloading the dishwasher without complaining.
  9. Doing every household chore with a smile and a sense of gratitude.
  10. Treating cashiers, clerks, wait staff, and others with polite respect.
  11. Calmly discussing what upsets you rather than “flying off the handle” or “freaking out.”
  12. Trying something new like a new food or a new activity.
  13. Really listening.
  14. Stopping to smell the roses, watching the sunset, listening to the music, or some other activity in which you appreciate beauty. Sharing it with your family.

That’s 14 behaviors the little copy cats can copy all they want! But, that does mean we have to practice them. What other behaviors do you want your little copy cats to copy?

Do Your Child a Favor: LOVE Mistakes

One-hundred-twenty-three children played this video game, all 7-years-old.  No, it’s not the start of a bad joke. It’s the start of an interesting study about learning. Anyway, the children played a fast-paced game in which each player helped a zoo-keeper capture escaped animals by pressing the space bar when an animal appeared UNLESS…(there is always an “unless,” an exception) a group of three “orangutan friends” appeared. These “orangutan friends” were helping capture the other animals. They were “allies,” so the player had to refrain from capturing them. Although the children had fun playing the video game, the real purpose of the game was to test accuracy and impulse control (not pushing the space bar when the three “orangutan friends” appeared). One more thing you need to know—the whole time the 7-year-olds played, researchers monitored their brain activity. In particular, they wanted to know what happened in the brain when a child makes a mistake.

They discovered that some children exhibited a significant increase in brain activity about half-a-second after making a mistake, indicating their awareness of the mistake and their attention to what went wrong. These children exhibited improvement in their performance after making a mistake.

Another group of children did not exhibit this significant change in brain activity when they made a mistake. They seemed to “gloss over” the mistake and mentally avoid acknowledging it. Their performance did not improve. They continued to play and make the same mistakes over again.

Of course, the implication of these results seems obvious: when we pay attention to our mistakes we learn from them and improve our future performance. So why do so many children not pay attention to mistakes? Perhaps they have never learned the importance of acknowledging and learning from mistakes. As a parent, you can help remedy this situation and increase your children’s ability to learn by loving mistakes!

  1. Love your own mistakes. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it. No need to get defensive or angry. Simply acknowledge the mistake. Attend to that mistake and figure out how you can avoid it in the future. In other words, learn from your mistake. Talk to your children about mistakes you have made, what you learned from those mistakes, and how you corrected it. Modeling this type of response to mistakes will create an environment in which your children are free to do the same.
  2. Love your children’s mistakes. When you children make a mistake, address it calmly and directly. Don’t belittle them for the mistake, but don’t gloss over it either. Don’t shy away from the mistake with a simply, “It’s OK, you’ll do better next time.” Address the mistake. “You made a mistake. Mistakes happen. Let’s figure out where you went wrong and how we can fix it.” The opportunity to figure the mistake out opens the door for improvement. So explore the mistake. Talk about the mistake and what might fix it. Then enjoy the solution.

When we love our mistakes children will learn to accept mistakes as a learning opportunity. They will delve into challenges with little fear of mistakes or failure because they know mistakes lead to growth. They will pay attention to their mistakes and improve the next time; and, as a result, they will enjoy greater confidence in the present and success in the future.

Parents, HOW You Say It Is As Important As WHAT You Say!

I remember hearing people telling me, “Think before you speak.”  As a child and teen, I could avoid saying hurtful things, stupid things, and unnecessary things when I remembered to “think before speaking.” Unfortunately, I sometimes spoke before thinking…and then suffered the consequences. Well, that advice holds true for parents as well as Sag die Wahrheitchildren. Parents, we need to think before we speak. We need to think about what we say and how we say what we need to say. In fact, how we say what we say will influence how our children learn and grow. Let me offer some examples.

  • Instead of making general statements, be specific. Notice and acknowledge effort. Acknowledging effort encourages persistence in our children and sends the subtle message that hard work is important. For example, rather than making a general statement like “Great job,” say:
    • “That took a lot of patience.”
    • “I can tell you worked hard on that.”
    • “I really like the combination of colors (or “materials” or “details”) you chose.”
    • “That must have taken a lot of time and hard work to finish. You must be proud of it.”
  • Instead of asking an open-ended question offer choices. Choices teach our children they have power; they are active agents in their world. Choices encourage them to take ownership of their power and accept responsibility for their decisions. For example, rather than asking “What do you want for a snack?” say:
    • “You may have an apple or a cookie. Which do you prefer this time?”
    • “Would you prefer green beans or broccoli with dinner?”
    • “Do you want to wear your red shirt or your black shirt today?”
  • Instead of asking “Why?” or making a demand to “Stop” some inappropriate behavior, validate their emotions or desires. Validation communicates the value and importance of their emotions and desires. It helps our children recognize their worth. Instead of saying, “what’s wrong with you?” or “stop that,” try saying:
    • “You seem really sad. What’s going on?”
    • “You are really angry, aren’t you?”
    • “You really want playing with your Legos, don’t you?”
  • Instead of telling your children about the behavior you don’t want, describe an alternative behavior you do want. By offering alternative behaviors, we teach our children the behaviors we value. Rather than saying “Don’t talk to me like that” or a general “Be careful” or “For the last time, you can’t have…,” try saying:
    • “Be polite and use a calm voice please.”
    • “Use both hands when you pick up the pitcher, please.”
    • “Look at this fire truck. You can play with it instead of Tommy’s truck right now?”

Paying attention to how we say what we say does take some effort. It means paying attention to our words, thinking ahead to potential situations, and not speaking in anger. Although it takes some effort, you’ll love the benefit of watching your children grow and mature!

Your Nose Is Growing…& Your Brain Is Declining

Remember what the Blue Fairy told Pinocchio? She said, “A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face.” A research team from University College London recently observed that a lie also results in a declining response in our brains (Read more in How Lying Takes Our Brain Down a ‘Slippery Slope’). Specifically, they discovered the amygdala, a brain area associated with emotional response, reacted strongly when a person first lied for personal gain. However, with each subsequent lie, the amygdala response declined and the magnitude of the lie increased. In other words, one lie Dancing Marionetteset the person on a slippery slope. With each lie, the person lying experienced smaller and smaller negative emotional reactions in response to the lie. This seemed to allow the person to tell more lies and lies of greater significance. That is one slippery slope I want to keep my family off.  Unlike Pinocchio, I want to keep noses short and brains active in my family by promoting honesty…and here’s how to do it.

  • Model honesty. Whether you are speaking to your spouse, your child, or a friend, speak the truth in love. Our children follow our example more easily than they follow our teaching. So, model honesty.
  • Avoid setting your children up. Don’t ask questions that invite your children to lie, especially if you already know the answer. For instance, if you know your child did not take out the garbage, don’t ask “Did you take the garbage out?” If you already know they broke the dish, don’t ask “Did you break the dish?” Don’t invite the lie. Simply state the truth in love.
  • Reward honesty; discipline the lie. When your children tell the truth, acknowledge their honesty. Let them know how much you value their honesty and respect the courage it takes to state the truth. You may still have to discipline misbehavior. However, even while disciplining misbehavior, you can still acknowledge your children’s honesty. On the other hand, dishonesty may result in further discipline. After all, honesty betrays trust and damages relationship…which brings us to the last tip.
  • Teach the value of honesty. You can do this in a number of ways. Talk about a character in a story or movie and discuss how their honesty or lack of honesty affected them. You can talk to them about their own experiences or their friends’ experience of honesty or dishonesty as well. You may also discuss the role models of honesty such as Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, or other people you know from history or current times.

These four tips can promote honesty in your home…as well as shorter noses and more active brains. So remember, a lie is as plain as the nose on your face. Practice honesty.

How to Raise MEAN Kids…or NOT

“Controlling parents create mean college kids.” Having taught at a local college for several military policeyears and having two kids in college right now, that headline caught my attention. I have known quite a few mean college kids. The worst were the ones who engaged in what psychologist call “relational aggression.” They were not physically aggressive, but they could crush someone’s feelings or sabotage a person’s social standing with a well-spoken rumor, a strategic exclusion from some event, or nonchalantly embarrassing them in public. A study out of the University of Vermont suggests one way parents may contribute to this type of behavior. Specifically, this study of 180, mostly female, college students found that parents who use guilt trips or threat of withdrawing affection or support to influence their children contribute to the creation of the mean college kid who uses relational aggression. In other words, parents who control their children with guilt or threat of abandonment create mean college kids. Today, parents can practice this style of controlling influence from a distance, without even seeing their children, with the use of cell phone…just as our children can crush a peer through social media.

Rather than creating a mean kid through guilt inducing and controlling parenting styles, try these ideas:

  • Accept your children’s unique opinions and lifestyle. No need to try controlling their interests, ideas, and passions. Accept the fact that your children may not keep the hairstyle you like. They may not share your interests or political views. They may choose a different style of dress than you taught them. They may choose a vocation you never expected. Allow your children to be themselves. Accept their uniqueness. Enjoy your differences. Celebrate what you can learn from one another.
  • Respect your children enough to let them make their own mistakes. Do not make them feel guilty for the mistake, let them learn from the consequences of that mistake. Don’t control their every move in an effort to prevent “the same mistakes I made.” Instead, give them the dignity to learn from their mistakes without an “I told you so.” Empathize with the pain they experience as a consequence of their mistake, but let them have their own experience of, and opportunity to learn from, that pain. In fact, let them tell you what they learned and acknowledge the wisdom they gained.
  • Be available without clinging. Let your children know you are available to them any time they express a need. You can listen, share experiences, brainstorm ideas, even give advice if they ask…BUT you cannot live their life or make their decisions. Most importantly, whatever they choose, you still love them and remain available to them…without the guilt trip.

In other words, loosen the reins just a little. Appreciate their uniqueness and let them practice some decision making. Let them have some slack and let them learn from mistakes. Most important, always express your love and support.

You Gotta Be Kiddin’ Me

I’m really not surprised by the findings of this study when I think about it…but it took four studies to bring this information to light. Unfortunately, it seems to be some of the common knowledge that has been lost over the last several generations. Research out of the University of Chicago—Booth School of Business explored the impact of sharing food on feelings of closeness, trust, cooperation, and negotiation. The findings from these four studies suggest at least three things. (Read the study here)

  1. Eating similar foods with another person increases a sense of closeness and trust between them.
  2. Eating similar food leads to greater cooperation, a greater willingness to compromise, and faster resolution of differences.
  3. When a person gives information (in the form of a testimonial or advertisement), the information they give is trusted more when the speaker eats similar food as the listener.

Family having a big dinner at homeThese studies were done in terms of business and the authors made several applications to business. But what does it mean for families? First, I think it reminds us that the family meal is a wonderful time to build closeness and trust. As we sit down with our families to a meal in which we all eat “similar foods,” we can discuss ideas and happenings. We build trust. We cooperate and compromise in resolving minor differences.

Second, when you need to have a serious family discussion, put out some snacks to eat while you talk. Everyone does not have to eat the exact same food, but similar foods like “sweet” food, “salty” food, pizza (even with various toppings), noodles…you get the idea. By supplying similar food for everyone to eat, you create an environment geared toward:

  • Increased closeness and trust
  • Greater cooperation
  • Greater likelihood of listening to one another’s points of view
  • A greater willingness to compromise and reach a resolution more quickly.

This may all sound silly, but think about a scenario with me. Your 17-year-old daughter has been consistently coming in after curfew. So, you set out some crackers and cheese before asking her to sit down to talk with you. You pour her a glass of her favorite pop and share crackers and cheese while talking about her growing up and becoming more independent, the continued need for curfew, what she wants, and what you want. Imagine that conversation as compared to one in which you sit down with her at a bare table to talk about curfews.

  • Which will promote defensiveness and which will encourage cooperation?
  • Which will contribute to arguing and which might encourage listening?
  • Which will likely lead to escalating emotions and which will promote remaining calm?
  • Which promotes asserting my needs and which encourages respecting one another?

The answer seems plain to me. Eating together can help us resolve our differences and reach an agreement more easily. It may not produce a miracle, but it can sure help reach a respectful understanding and connection. Give it a try and see what happens.

Two Observations on Parenting (Than Can Save You Money)

Over the years of observing families, I’ve noticed a couple of interesting things about children and their interests. I’m sure you’ve noticed them as well.

  1. Children playing on a cell phone, watching TV, or playing a video game do NOT listen well. They are preoccupied with their TV show, game, text, or pic on the screen. They can sit right next to you, playing on their mobile device, and totally block you out. They don’t listen.
  2. Children love boxes and blocks and dress up clothes. They have great fun with objects that can become whatever they imagine. In fact, I’ve seen preschoolers more interested in the box their gift came in than the gift itself!

These two observations got me thinking. Parents spend a lot of money on mobile devices, TV’s, X-Boxes, etc. Our children delve into these devices. While engaged on their devices, they interact face-to-face with other people less often. They engage in less hands-on activities. They explore the world beyond the screen less often. They even stumble across videos we don’t want them to see.

But, when you give children some empty Tupperware, old boxes, blocks, crayons, and paper they create amazing things. They become curious and imaginative. They explore ways of using the material. They create forts, planes, and dinner out of the same “raw materials.” These “open-ended” materials, or what Magda Gerber calls “passive toys,” become the raw ingredients of imaginative play, explorations, and new ideas. And, in the midst of creating all this, they talk with one another. They share ideas. They ask for help. They negotiate, compromise, and problem solve…together! As they engage, combine, and re-engage these simple objects, they learn and grow. They have fun, too.

I love the poster from Let the Children Play. It explains the benefits of “passive toys” with a simple acronym.

  • Passive toys help children become better PROBLEM-SOLVERS.
  • Passive toys engage children in ACTIVE LEARNING.
  • Passive toys encourage SELF-INITIATED play and SENSORY EXPERIENCES.
  • Passive toys SUPPORT SCHEMAS. They support what children already know and how they already think while supporting them to move up another level in their thought life. As Vygotsky used to say, “In play, a child becomes a child a head taller than himself.” (Read Make Your Child A Head Taller Than Himself for more info)
  • Passive toys throw open the doors for INVENTION, INVESTIGATION, and IMAGINATION.
  • Passive toys are VERSATILE, which nurtures creativity.
  • Passive toys encourage EXPERIMENTATION and EXPLORATION.

I’m not against some screen time, but what video game or TV show can do all that!

The Power of a Father’s Example

I remember watching my father when I was five or six years old. He greeted people as they left the worship service. I watched him closely. I saw the way he shook hands. I listened to how he spoke to people. I observed how he moved and the tone of his voice. I wanted to be just like him.  Several years later, as a teen who wanted only to be myself, I volunteered at Father Daughter Chata nursing home where my father worked as chaplain. One of the residents saw me walking toward her and said, “You’re the chaplain’s son aren’t you?”  “Yes I am. How did you know?” “I could tell by the way you walked,” she replied. “You walk just like him.” I had watched my father closely and become like him, even in actions as subtle as walking.

Fathers play an enormous role in their children’s development. They teach, guide, and discipline their children toward maturity. They also influence their children in subtle ways. Specifically, they teach their children through example. Children watch their father’s closely…very closely. They imitate their fathers. They long to be like their fathers. And, they become like their fathers.  Fathers can respond to that responsibility by carefully considering what behavior they exhibit for their children to imitate.  Strive to exhibit positive behaviors like respect, service, honesty, humility, kindness, and love.

I want to offer one more caveat in this regard. Children not only imitate the good, the trivial, and the bad in their father’s behavior; but, they imitate it without adult constraint. In other words, they will take their father’s behavior “to the next level.” A Jewish story tells of a young man who was caught stealing an apple from the merchant. Upon examination, it became apparent that he did not become a thief “out of the blue.” It began generations ago. His grandfather read from the Torah and related commentaries while exhibiting a false sense of humility. All who saw him praised his pious humility. In effect, he “stole” the admiration of his followers. With his false humility, he became a thief of the people’s praise. His father, following the grandfather’s example, read various commentaries and took credit for the wisdom they offered. He had stolen the ideas of others and passed them off as his own, a thief of intellectual property. The grandson, following the example of his ancestors, stole an apple from the merchant. Each generation followed a downward spiral of imitation.

Very few of us need worry about how we read the Torah and related commentaries. However,…

  • Do your children hear you speak badly about other people? They will likely learn to do the same, but without adult restraint and caution.
  • Do you children see you get tipsy at a party? Perhaps they will see nothing wrong with smoking marijuana or popping a few pills as they enter the teen years.
  • Do your children hear you lie and so breach trust with your employer by saying you are sick so you can miss work? They may learn to lie to cover a breach of trust with their spouse.
  • Do you speak harshly to your wife? Your child will learn to disrespect her as well. Your child will learn to ignore her requests, disregard her rules, and speak to her rudely.
  • Do you come home from work to sit around the house and watch TV rather than remain active in maintaining the household? Your children will learn that helping around the house is not important. In fact, it is useless, not their job. They will come to believe that housework and maintaining a household is their mother’s work. In response, they will become couch potatoes avoiding all housework and playing video games.

You get the idea. Your children are watching…and learning. They will imitate your behavior without adult constraint, taking it to the next level. So, make sure you leave a positive example for your children to imitate. Let them imitate your respect, service, helpfulness, and honesty without constraint. Your home will be a happier place.

A Star Wars Christmas

christmasStarWarsOn a small planet in a distant galaxy, a rebel prince named Satan fueled period of civil unrest. In arrogance, Satan had exploited the vulnerabilities of the King’s forces to form a coup and wrest the kingdom from its Creator. His rebel forces continued to entice, seduce, and enslave the King’s men. As part of his sinister plot, the evil prince even turned the loyalty of the King’s men toward himself. Those who refused to succumb to Satan’s tactics were killed, murdered without remorse. With each man the prince enslaved, he gained power…power to destroy an entire planet.

And then…A long time ago, in a Galilee far, far away, the King revealed His final and most loving battle plan. With a most extraordinary and unconventional strategy, the King initiated His final battle. He infiltrated enemy territory by sending His own Son, not as a warrior, but as an unassuming Baby Boy born in a manger in the midst of enemy occupied land. As this epic battle between good and evil forces progressed, the precious Baby Boy’s safety was entrusted into the hands of mere humans, a teen mother and an innocent father, both members of an oppressed people living under military rule on the planet ruled by the evil prince. Warned in a dream, the young family fled to Egypt to escape the evil prince. Upon return to their homeland & in near silence, the Baby boy grew into a man—an obedient Son and a Servant of the True King. When He suddenly burst onto the scene as an adult, the heavens were torn open and the Spirit descended upon Him. The Baby boy, now a Servant Man, defeated the evil prince in a 40-day dessert battle and began to proclaim the dawning of the Kingdom of God. He revealed the Kingdom of God by making the blind to see, the lame to walk, and the deaf to hear. He began to purge the Kingdom of God by casting out demons, the evil prince’s elite forces on earth. He turned the hearts of men and women back toward the King with words that filled them with amazement.

In a final epic battle, the Son of God engaged in hand to hand combat with death, Satan’s greatest warrior. He felt the power of death’s greatest blow. He willingly succumbed to the pain. He assumed the burden and punishment of our sin, and He experienced the loss of His own life. To all who saw this final battle, it appeared as though death had won. Life was dead!

But, it was all part of the True King’s ingenious plan. In a complete twist of plot, it was through the voluntary, sacrificial death of the Perfect, Unblemished Lamb of God that the battle was won. For when the Son of God became our sin, we gained His righteousness. It was by His wounds we were healed; through His death we gained life. Just as the King had orchestrated from the beginning of time, it was through this seeming defeat, this sacrificial death, that the King won the victory and Satan was defeated. Life was set free and God’s Spirit was poured out to empower all those in the Kingdom of God.

This story continues today. The Kingdom of God continues to grow. Each time we gather at the communion table, we remember the King’s greatest victory. Each time we drink the cup and eat the bread of His covenant, we recall the victory He has won. We rejoice in the knowledge that the King, Jesus Christ, is coming back soon for His final victory parade.

And that final victory begins with a tiny Baby in a manger. Merry Christmas.

A Green-Eyed Monster has Possessed My Preschooler

The green-eyed monster of jealousy can raise its ugly head in all of us. Who hasn’t felt a tinge of jealousy when our loved one gives the attention we desire to another? That green-eyed monster can even possess our sweet little preschoolers, twisting their faces with pain and filling their actions with anger. It’s not surprising that preschoolers experience jealousy. After all, preschool children become very attached to their loving parents and even need that attachment to survive. So, when they see their parent giving the attention they need and desire to another, the green-eyed monster shows up. Preschooler’s also define themselves, at least in part, by their possessions, what they have at the moment. Some developmental specialists even say a preschooler’s identity is “bound up in their possessions.” So, when one preschooler takes another preschooler’s toy, the green-eyed monster of jealousy rises up.

little boy and girl playing with mobile phones

little boy and girl playing with mobile phones

Perhaps the green-eyed monster is not all bad.  In fact, the green-eyed monster may be more informant than monster. He informs us of our children’s affections and love. He reveals our children’s need for “Mom and Dad.” He communicates our children’s fear of losing their parents’ attention, care, and comfort. Jealousy reveals our children’s potential insecurity in relationship to us (his parents). In other words, that little green-eyed informant reminds us that our preschoolers need us. He presents an opportunity for us to learn about our children’s inner world of emotions, fears, motivations, thoughts, and desires. He creates an opportunity for us to connect with our children and teach them important life lessons. How can we respond to the opportunity brought to our attention by the green-eyed informant? I’m glad you asked.

  • First, sit back and take a deep breath. Realize that jealousy is a normal emotion. You do not need to squelch it, crush it, or push it under. Instead, strive to understand it and its source. Become curious and let this green-eyed informant teach you about your children’s affections, thought-life, and motivations. The more you understand your children, the better you can help them overcome their jealousy.
  • Several emotions, like fear and insecurity, can lurk under and fuel your preschooler’s jealousy. You can help alleviate these underlying fears and insecurities by assuring your children receive the love and attention they need. I don’t mean you have to give your children constant, 24/7 attention. But, your children do need daily attention. They need to experience your delight in them. They need to hear you acknowledge them and appreciate their contribution to your life and home. They need to see you enjoy their company and presence. Delight in, acknowledge, appreciate, and enjoy your children every day. Then, when the green-eyed informant shows up, take the opportunity to do each of these things again!
  • Teach your children to acknowledge the green-eyed informant and its underlying emotions. Help them label the emotions and talk about them. In order for your children to have the ability to talk to someone about their emotions or to calmly address whatever contributes to their emotional state, they need to possess the language of emotions. To rethink an emotional experience and gain a more accurate picture of how to respond or act on an emotion, your children need a language of emotion. Take the opportunity presented by the green-eyed informant to teach your children the language of emotion.
  • Teach your children gratitude for “what they have” and “who they are.” Gratitude for what they have will help free them from grasping at possessions or longing for what someone else owns. Teaching children to recognize the blessings in their life will help them focus on the more important aspects of life, like family, friends, love, and life. It will help build their trust in a God who provides. This gratitude will decrease the frequency with which the green-eyed informant shows up.

These four practices will transform the green-eyed monster in your preschooler into a green-eyed informant, a friendly little guy who can help you grow closer to your preschooler and allow you to help your preschooler mature.

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