Archive for September 25, 2011

How to Ruin Your Child with Praise

“Praise your children, it will increase their self-esteem and improve their behavior.” Well, at least that’s the message we hear on the street. In reality though, not all praise is equal. Some praise can actually interfere with your child’s success. It can actual contribute to your child’s failure. Yes, you read that right. Parents can ruin their child with praise. Let me explain four ways that praise that can ruin your child.
     1.      Praising children for global attributes like intelligence or ability sets them up for failure. This global praise (“You are so smart,” “You certainly are talented,” or “You are one great kid”) tends to create children who are extremely image-conscious and performance-oriented. They want to “look the part” of the “smart/good/talented kid.” To fall short of that label through a less than perfect performance would lead to embarrassment. To avoid that embarrassment, they may choose easier tasks or simply drop out of challenging tasks rather than face the stress of potential failure.
     2.      In addition, the child who receives global praise will seek constant approval while working on a task. The global praise of being a “smart/good/talented kid” prevented them from developing the internal motivation to enjoy completing a task for the sake of doing it. Instead, they need the constant motivation of outside approval. Without constant reassurance and encouragement, this child will avoid challenges and run from healthy risks. By time they get to college, they may just as soon drop a challenging class rather than risk being a “smart kid” who only earns a “B.” Global praise has taught them well. Unfortunately, it has taught them to “look good” and avoid any mistakes at the expense of growing through challenging tasks.
     3.      Praising global attributes of our children also teaches them that image, appearance, is the top priority. One way to maintain a praiseworthy image is to tear other people down. As a result, this child may become overly competitive. In the midst of competitiveness, they ridicule their peers in order to maintain their own “praiseworthy image.” They belittle and demean others in an effort to build themselves up and assert their own praiseworthy status as the “smart/talented/good” child.
     4.      Giving a child excessive praise sets them up for failure as well. Excessive praise distorts a child’s motivation, encouraging them to perform just to hear the praise of others. The child who receives excessive praise needs praise every step of the way. They never develop a sense of autonomy or independence. Instead, they constantly look to their teachers and parents for affirmation and assurance in the form of praise. Take away the praise and they quit performing as well. Without praise, they cannot persist in their task. Even more disturbing, they do not learn to engage in an activity or task simply for the sake of personal enjoyment. They have no intrinsic satisfaction or motivation. 
Praising children for global attributes may create a child afraid of risk, avoiding of challenges, in constant need of approval and reassurance, and demeaning of others. Don’t get me wrong, though. I love praise. I do believe that we need to praise our children. Praise is effective and motivating…when done properly. Next week we will learn 4 secrets to making praise effective and motivating for your child.

Beauty, Beast, & Your Family

“There is the great lesson of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.”
Chesterton makes a great point here. Our actions will either bring out the beast or the beauty in family members. We bring out the beast in family members when we:
  1. Constantly interrupt them when they speak
  2. Put our effort into making them understand us
  3. Put family members “in their place” when they get “too confident”
  4. Impatiently criticize them and minimize their effort
  5. Act as though their opinion is less important than our opinion
  6. Make constant demands on them but give very little
  7. Constantly complain that they “didn’t do it the right way the first time” or “didn’t do it good enough”
  8. Make rude comments, gestures, or facial expressions (eye rolls) 
  9. Waste their time by being late or making them do what we could do ourselves
  10. Break our promises
To bring out the beauty in family members make an effort to:
  1. Listen intently and respectfully, without interruption
  2. Put more effort into understanding family members
  3. Encourage them with your words and actions
  4. Accept their opinion and even allow it to influence your behavior
  5. Do something nice for them
  6. Speak to them with kindness
  7. Volunteer to do their chore for a week
  8. Let them have the “shotgun seat” in the car
  9. Keep your promises
  10. Politely hold the door open for them
  11. Say “Thank-you” and “You’re welcome.”
  12. When the other person acts like a beast, do 1-11 anyway!

Learning to Love in the Wilderness of Adolescence

My daughters are currently navigating their teenage years (yes, I have the privilege of fathering two teenage daughters). My wife and I are very proud of them. They have made excellent decisions in life so far; and, they are both wonderful, loving people. Still, my wife and I are now trying to guide them through the wilderness that stretches between the confinement of childhood and the promise land of adulthood. They lack life experience and the related foresight to fully understand the potential consequences of their choices. And, they can be emotionally driven, impulsive, and just plain…well, you get the idea. It’s not that they are bad. They just want to “spread their wings” and test them out, assert their autonomy, and move toward that promised land of independent adulthood…even though they don’t fully understand the struggles involved in keeping that “promised land” flowing with milk and honey.  
I have to tell you, sometimes I find it very frustrating. My wife and I, their parents, have more experience and more wisdom to share. If they would only listen to that wisdom, life would be so much easier! They could avoid so much pain. But, then again, maybe this journey through adolescence is more about my struggle than their struggle. Perhaps this trek through the wilderness is a time for God to teach me about relying more on Him and adding depth to a lifestyle of true love. Consider just these few examples:
      ·         I share “great words of wisdom based on years of experience” and get a “less than enthusiastic response,” to say the least. I help other families deal with adolescent angst. I know the developmental issues, the striving for autonomy and the search for identity. Certainly I should know what my own daughters need to grow up healthy and strong. From the back of my head, a still small voice reminds me that “love is not puffed up.” Love is humble. Those who love do not think too highly of themselves or their wisdom. Love accepts influence from others, listens to understand, and trusts in the ability and wisdom of others to learn and grow. So, I wander through the wilderness of adolescence, humbly trusting that God will protect, that our earlier teachings will guide, and that our loving presence will stimulate continued growth.

·         Most adolescents, my daughters included, don’t seem to understand the great opportunity to learn from a parent’s mistakes and avoid the pain related to those mistakes. Instead, they want to make independent choices, suffer the same consequences, and experience the same pain. I can feel the anger boiling up inside me when they won’t accept a word of advice or turn my mistake into their learning… and then that still small voice whispers in my ear, “Love is not easily provoked.” In the wilderness of adolescence I’m learning that love practices self-control. Love remains in full possession of feelings, gives a blessing for an insult and practices kindness in the face of rudeness.

·         I grow impatient waiting for my daughters to learn from the first and mostly insignificant consequences of some decision, to pull out of the downward spiral before they crash and burn. I even encourage them to pull out by pointing out the dangers. But, they keep trying to fix it. They want to make it right in their own way, with their own effort, by their own power. I find myself impatiently pacing the floor and worrying when I hear that “still small voice” speaks up again, saying, “Love is patient.” Love suffers long and is kind. How do I practice patience in dealing with an adolescent who grumbles about rules and limitation put in place for their own good? It is so difficult to practice patience as our adolescent walks a tightrope between potential disaster and fun? But “love is patient”…and “love hopes all things.” So, I practice patiently waiting in trust and confidence, believing that the seeds of wisdom that my wife and I planted will soon begin to sprout and trusting that their common sense will mature and take shape through the pruning that the simple consequences provide.

·         That voice continues to speak in my ear, “Love believes all things.” It believes the best about our children. Love believes that they act with the best of intentions, not with the intent of hurting us or pushing us away indefinitely. “Love endures all things.” It remains present, through the good times and the bad. Love abides and tarries with kindness, even amidst frustration. Love perseveres even under trials.
Yes, I am learning many things as we wander through the wilderness of adolescence, the greatest of which is love. I make mistakes; we all do. But love covers a multitude of mistakes…and sins. So, I invite those of you with adolescents to join me in learning how to love more deeply as we trek through the wilderness of adolescents. Bathed in prayer and listening to that “still small voice,” we can move toward that promise land of adulthood together. If you have any ideas to share, please do. Share your wisdom in the comment section below.

Accepting Family Members Unconditionally

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Paul in Romans 15:7
Family members accept one another. We do so by allowing each family member into our heart with the intent of showing them kindness. That sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Perhaps if we add a few words–family members accept one another graciously, completely and unconditionally. Still, seems kind of obvious…but what if we really did accept one another as Christ accepted us? Think about it with me for one moment. Christ accepts us while we are still helpless (Romans 5:6). He accepts us in spite of our weaknesses and those things we cannot help. In family life, we accept one another in spite of areas of weakness. For instance, we accept our children even when they act like immature kids in the wrong place and at the wrong time; after all, they are helpless in acting like children because they are children. So, even when our children behave in some inappropriate way that gets on our nerves, we allow them into our hearts with the intent of showing them kindness…we accept them. When our spouses get on our nerves because they act like men or think like women, we accept them into our hearts with the intent of showing them kindness…we accept them.
We can go a step further in accepting one another as Christ accepts us. Jesus even accepts people who sinners (Romans 5:8). In fact, He seemed to seek out those who had “missed the mark” when He came to earth. He came to “heal the sick, not the healthy” and “to seek and to save those who were lost.” He knew that those who “missed the mark” had a deep need to feel connected and accepted. Such people need to be taken by the hand, given access into our heart, and shown kindness. Only from the basis of a loving and accepting relationship could Jesus show them how to live the abundant life. Families building a heritage of grace follow Christ’s example. Like Christ, we allow family members into our hearts with the intent of showing kindness to them even when they do something wrong. Don’t get me wrong–we still discipline. We do not accept misbehavior or inappropriate behavior. We simply accept people. In the midst of any disciplinary action, our family members need to know that we still accept them and love them, in spite of the misbehavior. When our spouse is wrong about something and we end up arguing, we need to assure them that we still accept them in spite of any difference of opinion. We still love and respect them (accept them), even in the midst of the argument. Offer words of acceptance in the midst of any disagreement or argument. Do not get so carried away with emotions that you forget to communicate complete acceptance of family members in the midst of any disagreement, argument, or discipline. Remember, they have a place in your heart from which you intend to show them kindness, even when they miss the mark.
Christ went even further in accepting us. He accepted us while we were His enemies (Romans 5:10). He accepted those who He knew would deny Him and those who would betray Him. He accepted and even served Peter (who later denied Him) and Judas (who betrayed Him) when He washed their feet at the last supper (John 13). He opened His heart to them and showed them kindness even though He knew that they would deny and betray Him before the evening came to an end! To graciously accept family members, we open our hearts to them with the intent of showing kindness even though they may betray us. Even if our children defame the family name… a parent loses control and calls a child terrible names… or a family member leaves the family in anger, in effect abandoning them in need…even then, we work to graciously accept our family members. Once again, I do not mean that wrong behavior goes unaddressed. We still address inappropriate, hurtful behavior. However, amidst all of this, each family member needs to have a keen awareness that they have access to one another’s heart and that the intent of kindness still exists. They need to have a sense of complete and gracious acceptance.

This is no easy task. No, unconditionally acceptance is not easy but well worth the challenge. To give our family total and complete acceptance like Christ gave to us is no less than an act of grace. Will you show this gracious acceptance to your family members?

Do I Discipline or Sabotage?

My two daughters were upstairs arguing…yelling so loud I couldn’t even think. I tried to ignore them and let them work out this minor battle, but my frustration increased with the volume of their voices. Finally, I could take it no longer. I walked to the bottom of the stairs and yelled, “Stop the yelling. We don’t yell in this house!” As soon as I said it, it hit me. Did I just yell that we don’t yell in this house? I suddenly realized that my actions gave a different message than my words—my means did not match the ends I desired. I had to laugh…then I had to walk up the stairs to talk with my daughters about yelling in the house. I look back and laugh now, but how often do we reach for an end by using the wrong means? How often do we use methods that actually sabotage our disciplinary goal? Think about it…
     ·         We rudely reprimand our children in front of everyone for being impolite. I’ve even heard parents swear at their children and call them names for being impolite. Wouldn’t it model politeness if we quietly and politely told them to stop the impolite behavior and took them aside to explain more appropriate behavior if they persist?
     ·         We tell our children to “use your words” when angry, but grab them and physically force them to look at us when we are frustrated. Couldn’t we find a way of using our words in such a situation?
     ·         We encourage teens to think for themselves when confronted with peer pressure, but keep talking in an effort to convince them of our opinion if they do not agree with us. How often could we safely tell them one time and let them learn from their mistakes? Or, even accept that they might have different ideas than we do?
     ·         We insist on the truth, but ask them “if they did so and so” when we know the answer, setting them up to tell a lie in order to save face. Why not just tell them what we know?
     ·         We assume the worst of our children, even if that behavior is outside their normal character, while encouraging them to trust us.
All in all, the method of discipline needs to match the goal we desire. The style of discipline we use has to match the goal of our the discipline or we will be ineffective. Children learn more from our actions than our desires and our speeches. If we want our children and teens to become polite and compassionate adults, we need to discipline with politeness and compassion rather than rudeness and insensitivity. If we want our children to become more self-controlled and thoughtful, we need to model self-control and thoughtfulness in our interactions with them. I needed to walk up the stairs and talk to my daughters about their volume, not throw my yelling into the mix when I try to “stop the yelling.” We, as parents and family shepherds, need to model the behaviors we want our children to learn, even in the midst of discipline.

3…2…1…Oxytocin Release

I have one daughter in 11th grade, one daughter in 8th grade, and I’m an adjunct faculty member at a local university. We all returned to school this month. I like school…but it does come with a boat load of stressful demands and expectations. Getting up and off to school on time, homework to complete after school, long-term projects to plan for, less free-time during the day…. Although my wife does not attend school, she has the demands of open houses, band meetings, “holding down the fort” while everyone is gone for the day, and a myriad of other meetings and school related responsibilities. Really, her job is central to all others getting done. So, school brings a boat load of stress for everyone, whether you attend or live with those who do. This year I decided to wage an “Oxytocin Campaign” to combat the stress of school and the related fall schedule. I invite you to start an “Oxytocin Campaign” in your home as well. It’s really pretty simple. To begin with, you need to know a little bit about the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is often called the “cuddle hormone” because it aids in bonding between mother and child as well as man and wife. When released, oxytocin produces feelings of warmth, cuddling, and relaxation. It enhances bonding, trust, and empathy, opening the door to more intimate interactions. In addition, oxytocin counteracts the effects of stress. Think about it…oxytocin counteracts stress, helps us relax and trust, and increases our empathy and feelings of intimacy toward the other person. Sounds like we need more oxytocin in the world around us. So, the question is: how do we increase the oxytocin in our family? That’s where the “Oxytocin Campaign” comes in.
Oxytocin is released through touch. In particular, a 20-second hug will release oxytocin in both the hugger and the “huggee.” So, I’ve started practicing the “20-second hug” since the start of school, making it a major component of the “Oxytocin Campaign.” My kids think I’m crazy because I hug them and hold on…and hold on…and hold on for 15 seconds before I start the count down. “5…4…3…2…1…oxytocin release” I shout as I release the hug and step back. They laugh and shake their head at the ‘weirdness’ of it all, but walk away with a smile on their face. My wife has joined the campaign, too. We both walk away from our 20-second hug with a smile on our faces. A truly amazing transformation from stress wrinkled countenance to smiling face occurs after the “Oxytocin Releasing Hug.” So, head on out there. Grab a family member, give them a big bear hug, and begin the countdown. “5…4…3…2…1…oxytocin release!” Then watch the stress wrinkles melt as they are replaced with a big glowing smile.

4 Things We Learned at Family Camp

My family and I had a great time during Family Camp at Camp Christian. This year, I had the opportunity to present about family life during family camp. I enjoyed preparing the lessons and presenting them during camp. I truly appreciate the support and encouragement everyone offered in response…thank you. It was a humbling and fun experience (the picture is me speaking on “Grace Begins”). Throughout the weekend, we explored ways to apply honor, grace, and celebration to our families…and I saw people practicing all weekend. It was wonderful. Here are a few things we learned:
    1.      Make deposits of honor into your Family Bank of Honor every day. Jim spoke to me to make a wonderful addition to the idea of Family Banking. He noted that while we can make daily deposits into our account, we can also invest acts of honor in our long-term savings accounts. Those investments of honor impact not only our immediate family, but our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren. When we make regular deposits into the Family Bank of Honor we create an environment of honor that benefits generations to come…we change our family and leave our grandchildren’s children an inheritance of honor! What a great concept. Thanks Jim.

2.      We give grace to our family when we give them our time. Show grace to your family by “tarrying” with them. Jack and I were watching the younger children play in the creek with their parents. They were having a blast, especially when someone caught a frog. The children gathered around to look at the frog and then carefully carried it from parent to parent with the desire to share their treasure. Because their parents were there, giving the gracious gift of time, they were able to share that moment and the treasured frog. Jack noted how much children enjoy these simple acts of togetherness. They don’t need us to make an extravagant show to entertain them or spend big money for fancy toys. We don’t need to rush them from activity to activity so they remain involved. Our children simply need us to “tarry” with them…to give them the gracious gift of our time. We can “tarry” with them in the backyard, in a park, near a creek, or in the living room with a board game. In fact, I have watched children have more fun with a cardboard box than many an expensive toy…and I remember doing the same.  Thanks for sharing this with me, Jack. (This weekend, we even had fun putting a together a four-sided puzzle-see picture)

3.      Keeping a healthy family takes diligence. Bob shared that during a campfire talk one night. Just like keeping a garden, raising a family takes diligence. Satan is out to destroy the family. He sends pests, weeds, and animals to break the family apart. We need to diligently protect our family from those outside forces that threaten to pluck our children up before they are mature enough to protect themselves. We need to fertilize our family with plenty of honor and grace, encouragement and discipline to promote growth and intimacy. We remain vigilant to any signs that little unseen pests like disappointment, discouragement, or fear are eating away at any family member. And, we come to their aid with love, support, and encouragement. We also keep the weeds of over-busyness from growing in our garden, keeping the garden clear and open so our family can enjoy the nutrients found in the soil of a simple, loving family. What a wonderfully rich analogy, Bob. Thank you.

4.      We build our family through celebration. One of the things I love about Family Camp is the celebration…the times of worship celebration and the times of playful family celebration during free time. This year Greg led the worship with Cameron on guitar and Hanna on piano. They did a wonderful job…I could see the joy of worship in their faces. I really love to see the small children praising God with total abandon—singing, dancing, and enjoying the celebration of worship. It makes me smile and reminds of David dancing before God as he brought the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem. Thank you for those times of worship and celebration. They draw us closer to God and to one another.
There are so many people and experiences that make Family Camp so much fun. I just wanted to mention these 4 simple things that added to what I learned about family this weekend at Family Camp. Thanks to each and every one of you. I pray your family was blessed through your experience at camp this year and will taste the fruit of this experience for weeks to come.